Cuzco, May 1, 1536
No one took any notice of Gabriel squatting at the corner of Gonzalo Pizarro's cancha. It was approaching noon.
The tunic he had been wearing for week upon week was grimy enough not to draw attention, and he had rubbed clay into his cheeks to camouflage his blond stubble. To the Spaniards, he looked like yet another squalid Indian in rags, one of the many who now populated Cuzco's alleys. And with his square hat, with its odd, pointed angles, pulled low over his face, he looked, to the Cuzco Indians, like some peasant come from Titicaca. A small bronze club hung from a leather strap under his unku, and in this humble weapon he had invested all his hope.
He had arrived in town at daybreak, having traveled by night to avoid the endless stream of warriors called to arms by Manco and Villa Oma, and he had walked from Calca without stopping. He had become lost once or twice in the darkness, and his trip had taken longer than it might have. But his rage and suffering had driven him on, forbidding him any rest.
Only now, as he squatted at the base of the vast, sun-warmed wall, did Gabriel become aware of the hunger and fatigue that caused his limbs to stiffen. Yet the thought of heading off in search of a meal and rest never once crossed his mind. His eyes remained fixed on the cancha's door. He would have time enough later to eat and sleep, should those things still hold any meaning.
He was here to kill Gonzalo. It was his sole remaining duty.
For the better part of two hours, he saw only servants and a few courtesans coming and going from the Governor's brother's house. For Gabriel, they were for the most part new faces, men whose demeanors and dress were still redolent of Spain: They stamped their heels into the dust with all the manifest arrogance of recently arrived masters.
Gabriel was extremely tired, could barely keep his eyes open. He trembled sporadically from thirst and hunger. Yet nothing on earth would have convinced him to give up his watch in favor of finding food and water. He fantasized about the moment when he would strike Gonzalo, at last ridding the world of the man's wickedness. He took a few coca leaves from the cloth pouch slung around his neck next to his skin and chewed them deliberately until his hunger dissipated.
The dwarf's terrible tale still lingered in his mind: "Gonzalo entered Anamaya's room while she slept. She only woke when he already had his hands on her. She cried out; they fought. Manco wanted to kill him on the spot, but Anamaya feared that the Strangers would seek their vengeance against the Emperor. So instead, we fled Cuzco before dawn..."
Gabriel had been turning these abhorrent words over and over in his mind for days. The words had become images that provoked an icy hatred in him, a fury that stung his nerves more than actual hunger or thirst. With each breath of air, he drew in his vengeful plan as though it were nectar. His eyes remained wide open, his swollen fingers tight around the hilt of his bludgeon.
He sweltered in the afternoon heat. The sun befuddled him, and eventually he fell asleep, his mouth full of dust, without Gonzalo having come out of the house. He sunk into a nightmare. He saw Anamaya, cold, distant from him, her face hardened with determination. She wrapped her arms around her gold husband and said to Gabriel:
"We must take up arms against the Strangers -- against you -- because only our love and courage will keep the Mountains and our Ancestors from slipping into the void. I shall be at my gold husband's side when he fights, for that is my right and proper place. You must distance yourself from me, my love..."
He wanted to protest, to explain to her that they couldn't confront each other as enemies. But although his mouth moved, no words came out. He made a heroic effort to be heard. He begged, implored Anamaya to soften her hard gaze. Nothing. No sound, no cry escaped his mouth. He woke so suddenly that he heard himself sob. Haunted as he was by Anamaya, he didn't immediately recognize his surroundings.
The feeling of helplessness that he had experienced in his nightmare followed him into wakefulness. And then, as though driving a dagger deeper into his own chest, he recalled the answer he had given her after their passionate night together at Calca:
"So, we must fight each other. If during the battle your place is at Manco's side rather than mine, Anamaya, then it means that I have become a Stranger in your eyes. And if that's the case, then my place is with the Strangers."
Anamaya's lips had trembled with hurt. Stroking his cheek, she had murmured:
"You are the Puma, my beloved. You are the only man who can reach me, whether here in this world or in the next. You are the one and only who can touch my heart and show me the joy of the world."
Gabriel smiled, not realizing that tears were running down his clay-covered cheeks.
Yes, there was no doubt that she loved him as much as he loved her.
And yet, it was impossible between them. The distance was too great: The sad realities standing between the sorceress wife of an Inca lord, dead many years past, and a Stranger who was nothing, even among his old brothers-in-arms, were too many and too much.
All that remained for him was to kill Gonzalo.
And it would be a welcome gift of destiny should he die at the same time.
What he had been waiting for finally occurred just before night enveloped Cuzco.
A great commotion woke him from his reverie. Terrible cries pervaded the alleyways. Gabriel sat up, his knees cracking, his thighs painfully stiff. A swine emerged, its mouth wide open, an enormous, hairy pig as black as night, a true Andalusia serrano, weighing fifty pounds at least. It bared its tusks sharp enough to gut a horse.
From behind it burst a herd of others: at least thirty, running with their heads down, bawling as though their throats were being slit. The males stormed straight ahead, crashing their heads into the cancha's wall, while the big-bellied sows dragged their udders through the dust. A dozen terrified piglets squealed from behind and scurried between the legs of the inept, yelling Indians, these last trying as best they could to herd the foul-smelling drift.
These mud-splattered peasants -- recently promoted swineherds -- thrashed their long sticks through the air; yet they dared not use them to strike the pigs' rumps. Rather, they seemed ready to bolt each time a piglet bumped into them. A crowd of locals, gathered at a judicious distance, looked on, laughing at this strange cavalcade.
Gabriel let out a roar as he bound into the middle of the alleyway. He kicked a few plump pig rumps, grabbed a young male by the ears, and thus blocked the chaotic flow of ham. The pigs stopped dead in their tracks, instantly ceased their squealing, raised their snouts, and gazed around complacently.
The swineherds, flabbergasted, gazed suspiciously at the newcomer. Gabriel greeted them in Quechua to reassure them. But when he asked where the animals were bound, he met with silence. He realized that his accent must have bewildered them as much as his attire, the dried mud flaking off his face, and the green coca juice dribbling from his lips. Eventually, one of them pointed at Gonzalo's house.
"They're for the Stranger. They're his animals. He had them brought from Cajamarca. He plans to eat them."
The man seemed amazed by the idea, though his tone remained deferential. In a flash, Gabriel understood that chance was smiling upon him.
"I shall help you," he said. "I know how to manage these beasts."
It still required unusual effort to get the entire herd through the cancha's narrow trapezoidal door.
And once inside, the pigs continued to cause quite a stir: The excited animals alarmed the Indian servant girls, bolted around the courtyard, knocked over and broke several jars, and annoyed the horses being groomed.
Gonzalo's house hadn't changed much in the two years since Gabriel had last visited. Solid doors now divided the rooms -- doors finely worked by Spanish carpenters -- and a bridle-rail had been erected in the courtyard.
Gabriel abandoned the pigs and stood in the center of the yard. He had only been there a short while when he heard shouts and laughter approaching. He recognized that hated voice.
A small group appeared, including Gonzalo wearing a ruffled shirt, velvet breeches, and shining boots. The others were a couple of his courtiers. They took no notice of Gabriel, mistaking him for an Indian, and continued their frivolous play. One of them grabbed a young servant girl by the waist, up-ended her, and brought her face-to-face with the fiercest piglet, introducing them. Before the swine had a chance to charge her, however, Gabriel whipped out his studded club and brought it down hard on the idiot's arm, forcing him to release the young girl.
"By the blood of Christ!" cried the fop. "You damned monkey, you almost broke my wrist!"
Gonzalo and his friends were furious and they made to strike the stranger, but when Gabriel threw back his hood, they stopped dead in their tracks. He rubbed away some of the mud from his cheeks with the back of his hand, revealing his identity.
After the initial shock, however, Gonzalo quickly recovered his old sarcastic aplomb.
"Well, well, isn't this a pleasant surprise! My friends, allow me to present to you Gabriel Montelucar y Flores, who has come with the swine. Well, my dear fellow, it seems that you have found your place at last!"
The others had already unsheathed their swords. Gabriel ignored them.
"Rumor had it that you'd disappeared, run, or even died," continued Gonzalo, feeling himself to be on a roll. "But no, here you are, alive as can be and filthy as ever, I find. Am I to understand that my dear brother Francisco has at last decided to be done with you?"
Gabriel's eyes shone with violent rage. Gonzalo and his sidekicks instinctively took a few steps back.
"Hell awaits you, Gonzalo," snarled Gabriel, swinging his club. "The day has come for you to take your place there."
"Hola! If you think that you're going to frighten me with that...implement!" guffawed Gonzalo.
"I'm going to crush your balls with this implement, Gonzalo. You're out of luck. I'm not one who waits for God to punish scum like you. I shall have the pleasure of doing it myself."
Gonzalo's companions tried to hide their fear, tightening their mouths. Gabriel lunged forward. His bronze club clashed against their swords and he flung them aside with a fierce backhand swipe. Gonzalo jumped back and pulled a dagger from his breeches. He made a short, awkward thrust at Gabriel's arm. But his blade sliced through nothing and, meeting no resistance, he lost his balance. Gabriel ducked to avoid the other blades whistling through the air and simultaneously dealt Gonzalo a severe blow to the thigh.
Gonzalo crumpled in a heap, screaming in pain. Gabriel made to continue his attack, but a sword sliced through his unku and brushed past his ribs. He rolled to the ground as the two Spaniards whipped their swords through the air above him. He held them off with his club, but its handle, repeatedly gashed by their blades, was weakening.
He thought of the horrible powerlessness he had seen so many times when Inca warriors had had their weapons destroyed by Spaniards. Like them, he would soon have nothing with which to defend himself. But suddenly an idea occurred to him.
He let out an enraged cry and windmilled his club like a sling before releasing it at his nearest enemy's face. The Spaniard had no time to dodge, and the bronze bludgeon slammed into the side of his face, smashing his jaw, and splintering his bones with a loud cracking sound. He collapsed, already unconscious, while the other man froze in terror. Making the most of their stalling, Gabriel dove onto one of the piglets panicked by the fight, picked it up, and brandished it at arm's length, like some strange, wriggling shield, just as his assailant lunged forward to run him through. The sword plunged through the animal as though it were butter, and so deeply that the weapon became stuck. Heaving with all his might, Gabriel flung the piglet across the courtyard, and the sword twisted deeper as it landed with a thud, tearing the poor animal's guts out. The beast squealed in agony as Gabriel kicked the now disarmed coxcomb in the gut. Then he threw himself at Gonzalo and grabbed him by the throat like some crazed demon.
"It's over, Gonzalo," he growled. "It's all over for you, the world has no use for your kind!"
Hypnotized as he was by the eyes popping out of Gonzalo's asphyxiated head, Gabriel didn't hear the voices or the footsteps approaching from behind. A steel-capped boot clobbered him in the ribs, and it was surprise as much as pain that made him lose his breath.
He let go of Gonzalo's neck and fell across his legs. Another blow, this one to his head, almost knocked him out cold before he had a chance to pick himself up. He was hardly conscious of someone holding his hands behind his back. His rage and frustration gave him one last burst of energy. Gathering all his remaining strength, he tried to get up, hoping that whoever it was would finish him off for good.
But the back of his neck exploded in pain, and he fell into blackness.
The liquid dark first turned a confused red before brightening into a lucid pain. His head felt as though someone were hammering nails into it. Gabriel was astonished to discover that he could feel his hands and that they obeyed him. He ran his fingers over his face. He opened his eyes, letting them adjust to the blinding light. He took stock of his surroundings.
He was lying on a beaten dirt floor. He recognized the room: It was the same one that he had stayed in a long time ago now, before Don Francisco had ordered him to leave Cuzco.
Still stunned, he sat up.
A man as round as a barrel was carefully hammering shut a shackle around his right ankle, its chain fixed to the wall. He worked with astonishing precision, despite his size. Gabriel noticed that his black eyes showed neither cruelty nor pleasure, but rather weariness. Four others surrounded him and gazed upon their prisoner with grim, menacing eyes.
"What's your name?" asked Gabriel.
"Enrique Hermoso, Don Gabriel, but my friends call me Kikeh."
"Well then, Kikeh, do what you must do, and don't worry too much."
Kikeh sighed and continued with his task. Gabriel grit his teeth. He tried to distract himself by examining the others, whom he did not know. They wore new thick leather vests emblazoned with the Pizarro coat of arms: a pine and apples girt by a pair of bears walking on slate. Also new were their halberds with sickle-shaped blades, which they held carelessly against their shoulders. And it was with no real surprise that he saw them make way for a large man wearing a well-groomed beard and a spotless starched lace ruff: Don Hernando Pizarro.
"I shall be finished this instant, my Lord," said the fat man.
He brought the hammer down onto the shackle one last time, but it slipped and came down on Gabriel's ankle instead, bruising it horribly and drawing a cry of pain.
The jailer chortled awkwardly and said, "Well then, with this chain on his paw, Don Hernando, he's not about to cause any trouble, much less dance a saraband!"
"Just so, Enrique," said Hernando, amused. "Rather we shall invite señor Montelucar y Flores to a dance of our own devising."
As the fat man rose to his feet, breathing heavily, Gabriel stood also, gritting his teeth to smother any hint of the giddiness gripping him. His leg was so painful that it barely held him up.
Hernando shook his head.
"The passing of time has seen little change in you, Don Gabriel. I leave you hot under the collar and I find you exactly the same some thirty months later! Although, looking at your dress, you have changed somewhat after all. Now you are even lower, even closer to the manure that is your proper place!"
Gabriel spat blood.
"Very well," Hernando said, "and that explains the stench floating about since your arrival."
One of the men in the leather vests made to move forward, but Hernando held up his hand.
"This time, Montelucar, you shan't be able to count on Don Francisco to save your skin. I am master here now. My good brother the Governor was so happy to see me back from Spain that he very officially nominated me lieutenant-governor. What's more, the scales have at last fallen from his eyes in regards to you. He has learned how you abandoned the mission with which he had entrusted you."
"It won't help you," said Gabriel, leaning against the wall. "A grandiose title can never hide the mediocrity of its bearer. Pig's shit you are, and pig's shit you will remain, Don Hernando."
Hernando slapped Gabriel hard in the face with his gloved hand, splitting his upper lip and sending him to the ground.
"You're in no position to be insolent, you whoreson dog!" spat Hernando. "I could crush you like the insect that you are this very instant. I could leave your fate in Gonzalo's hands, whose most fervent wish is to gut you with a spoon! But that would be too good for you. In Toledo they were particularly insistent on the importance of trials. Well then, I'll give you a trial, my friend, in due and proper form! That way all of Spain shall know why we hanged the bastard excrement of the Montelucar y Flores family. All of Spain shall learn the name of the crown's first traitor in the new world!"
An odd snigger came from Gabriel's bloody mouth.
"You'll have to run your trial quickly, Hernando. Your charming brothers treated Manco and his people with such amiable courtesy that the Inca are now baying for blood. Manco and his generals have amassed tens of thousands of men in the valleys north of Cuzco. I saw them with my very own eyes. There are more than a hundred thousand of them! Tomorrow or the day after, they'll be twice that, and they'll be here."
His words had the desired effect on Hernando's men. They looked at one another, their gazes hard and grave. And Hernando uttered a laugh a little too disdainful, too obviously defiant.
"Well, that's what I call news! If those wretches imagine that they're going to take back their city with sticks and stones, then they shall be cut to pieces once again. If I were you, Don Gabriel, I wouldn't place too much faith in them. And since those savages can't save you from your inevitable fate, I suggest you turn to prayer!"
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