The Conquistador

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Chapter 7

The hawks flew gently above the great grey city. One main street was bare and brown, shops and houses hugging the sides of rock and dirt. A big temple stood at the center of the town. It was as dark grey color but had small tints of gold embedded onto the steps. The Aztec flag blew gently at the smallest step of the temple.

Conversations in the main square quieted to a whisper as the Spanish and the Tlaxaca troops marched through. Agustin couldn’t help the large smile on his face. His heart burst with pride and joy. Dora would be saved! They’d get the cure and return to Spain in time to give his precious sister the antidote they needed to help her feel better!

“What’s the plan”? Agustin whispered to Hernán.

“I have a meeting with King Montezuma now. When we go there, we’ll bribe his time long enough to catch him off guard. Then, when I give the signal” Hernán put two crossed fingers behind his back and Agustin craned his neck to see. “We’ll attack. Leave no prisoners. Understand”?

“Understood” Agustin said. Hernán nodded and took an extra step, claiming his spot at the front of the group. As Agustin looked down to fix the strap on his dagger, he caught the feet of a young girl. He looked up and saw her running into the arms of her intimidatingly muscular father. His heart squeezed and he briefly looked back to Antonio. The buff ex-general kept his head down and hand on his gun. His dark, brown eyes glued themselves to the ground, but Agustin could feel the hurt and betrayal radiate from them. He shut his eyes and turned to face the looming temple. He steered himself and took a deep breath, glancing one last time behind his shoulder before squaring his shoulders and pressing his feet deeper into the dirt to keep them from heading back. He scratched his bumpy arm and forced a dry cough from his throat. His body ached and his head pounded, but he looked away, at Hernán’s dark hat.

“One step at a time Agustin” he warned himself. He winced and willed himself not to look back “Dora comes first”.

*****

Montezuma stood patiently at the threshold of the temple. His kind, wise, dark brown eyes drank Hernán in warmly. The bright red and blue feathers atop his crown stirred uneasily and his beads hissed on his dark skin. He assessed Hernán and the troops with a soft, calculating eye. Surely this was the sun god himself, was it not? The man was quite young and had acquired himself a native wife. He must have some power to gain such a lovely woman.

Hernán’s eyes slowly traveled down the Aztec king’s body. Not a single muscle tense, nor a guard within five feet of him. He wore a simple tunic and his tattoo’s glowed warningly in the light sun. Hernán gulped. The Aztec’s were more prepared that he thought. He’d have to tread lightly if he wanted this to work.

“You’re highness”. Hernán bowed to the Aztec king, who in turn bowed to him.

“It is an honor to have you here, your highness” Montezuma said. Hernán frowned.

“You’re...highness”? He asked. Montezuma nodded, not once loosing his calm demeanor. It almost made Hernán sweat, as if the king knew something he didn’t.

“Yes. You need not flatter us, O Mighty Sun God”! Montezuma bowed again, and if it could, Hernán’s pride grew even bigger. His eyes narrowed and his chest puffed up in pride.

“Thank you, good subjects, but that is not necessary”. Hernán eyed the piles of gold that lay near them, his hand clenching on his gun.

Agustin’s jaw was clenched. His eyes were stony and his posture was stiff. He forced the large cough piling up his throat to a meek scratch and replaced his hand back on his dagger, unsheathing it slowly. An Aztec warrior’s eyes followed the suspicious movement, but he made no move to attack.

“Come. I have presents for you” Montezuma said. Hernán’s eyes lit up as Malinche translated and he eagerly followed the King to a large stash of gold and other jewels. If possible, his eyes widened.

“All...for me”? Hernán asked. Montezuma nodded.

“Yes, your grace” he said, bowing again. As his eyes were closed in front of Hernán, all his guards did the same. Their weapons dropped to the ground and they murmured prayers to Hernán, who basked in all the attention put upon him, even if his eyes kept traveling to the large pile of treasures merely a few feet away from him.

Suddenly, it hit him. All the guards were at their feet, their weapons a good few feet away from them. Montezuma wasn’t looking, his head bent. They were all...vulnerable. Hernán barely suppressed a cackle. He looked behind his shoulder, where Agustin stood. He hissed and put his two crossed fingers behind his back.

Heat crept up Agustin’s shoulders and neck. He nodded, the knot in his stomach only tightening with anticipation as he walked to the nearest artifact, a clay pot. He glanced at Hernán, and a strong, burning anger fueled through him. Flashes of his family, of Daniel’s smirk, of Hernán’s evil plans. They all added oil to the fire. Agustin heaved the pot and hurled it at the wall.

Montezuma didn’t even flinch. He kept his position as kneeling in front of Hernán as the soldiers began to rise. Spanish and Tlaxcan troops flooded the temple and the war began. Screaming and crying echoed from the outer walls of the temple, but Agustin, in his renewed anger, didn’t hear them.

He smashed pot after pot, jar after jar as the Aztec’s pounced. His wild eyes caught a young warrior who was barreling towards him. He whipped his dagger out and threw the pot at the boy. The boy cried in pain and dropped to the ground. Agustin pounced. His dagger danced through the air as he rolled with the boy. His hair whipped around his face and he slashed blindly at the boy. A scream pulled Agustin’s attention away from the boy and he took the opportunity to stab Agustin’s bumpy arm.

Agustin howled in pain and threw his dagger, impaling the boy in the stomach. The boy screamed raggedly and dropped to the ground. Red dots flashed through Agustin’s eyes and he attacked vigorously.

“Yes! YES! Get them Agustin”! He heard Hernán roar from behind him. The fire in him burned brighter and Agustin felt himself slowly melt into the animal he was always compared to, a wild cat. He stabbed anyone who came near him, friend or foe. His hair tangled in front of his face and blood was smeared all over his body, but he let out roars of triumph whenever he killed someone.

“Hernán’s turning him into a monster”! Mateo exclaimed. He had a dark cut on his forehead and was bleeding at his side. Antonio grunted and swiped a sheet of sweat from his forehead, Behind him fires devoured the city and its people, their screams serving no comfort to him.

“What can I do about it? Huh? He won’t listen to me”? Antonio ducked and rammed his head into the Aztec’s stomach. The man grimaced and toppled to the floor.

“Try”! Mateo screeched. Antonio sighed. Even in battle he had to be mediator. He turned to look for Agustin while fighting off the next few young boys. He was in the center by Hernán and Montezuma, whose head was still bent.

“Ahh”! Antonio cried. He’d been so distracted by Agustin that one of the boys had managed to nail him in the arm. He growled and punched the boy straight in the guts, sending him flying into the wall.

Agustin’s wild streak was suddenly put to a halt. His stony eyes melted and he surveyed the scene with a horrified look. A soldier came barreling into his side, but he merely threw a dagger in his direction, sending it straight through the man. He watched as Antonio’s eyes looked pleadingly to him, begging him to stop this madness. His horror soon intensified when an Aztec loomed over an injured Antonio.

“ANTONIO”! Agustin leapt over the dead men and slammed his dagger against the Aztec’s spear. The spear flew out of reach and before he could react, Agustin plunged the dagger into his body. With a final shriek, the soldier crumpled to the ground.

“Are you alright”? Eerily quietness blanketed the temple as Agustin knelt next to Antonio, who held his arm and winced.

“I will be” he murmured. “Why’d you stop”?

“What do you mean”?

“You were fighting like a madman...why did you stop so suddenly”?
“I-I heard you scream and...I got scared”.

“Why”? Agustin looked at him as if Antonio had said the stupidest thing on the planet. “What”?

“Antonio” Agustin began slowly “You’re my friend. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for a friend like you”. He paused to hack a cough and Hernán took the opportunity to make his presence known again.

“It’s over Montezuma” he snarled, catching Antonio, Agustin, and any other soldier who was still alive attention. Agustin growled.

“What’s he gonna do”? He whispered to Antonio, helping him stand. Antonio shrugged, wincing.

“No clue. Maybe kill him”? They all watched as Hernán deliberately circled Montezuma, who kept his head bent. Malinche stared in horror at the ruckus outside and a spike of pity grew in Agustin’s chest. Her large black eyes and tangly hair. She was distraught, even if they were her enemies.

“Speak, you insolent idiot”! Hernán barked. Montezuma still didn’t move from his bent position on the floor and Hernán snarled in agitation. He pointed to two wounded men by the door.

“You! Take him down to the cells. We’ll see how long he’ll remain quiet then”! He said. The men, though tired and shaken, still nodded and each took Montezuma’s arm, dragging him down the hall, their steps heavy. Antonio closed his eyes and pinched his nose and Agustin hung his head.

*****

“Hernán”!

“Hm”? Hernán looked up lazily from the golden throne he sat atop from. A few weeks had passed since he’d conquered the Aztec Empire and he was living life at its best, if not for Agustin’s constant nagging and whining. Honestly can’t he just let a man live in peace?

“You still haven’t answered my question”! Agustin barked. He stomped up to the dias and glared at the new King. Hernán slowly turned to look Agustin. His chocolate eyes leveled him slowly and his hands wrapped behind his head in a pose of indifference. It made Agustin’s eye twitch.

“Which is”? Hernán asked. Agustin snarled.

“Where. Is. The. Cure. For. My. Sister”!

“Who”?

“Oh to hell with you”! Agustin cried “My sister! Dora! You promised there’d be a cure for her here”!

“Did I”? Hernán drawled. He stroked his beard gently, tugging the wiry strands. Whereas most would be scurrying to the door by now, Agustin stood his ground. His dark eyes burned with a fury Hernán hadn’t seen since the Aztec massacre weeks ago.

“Where’s your friend? Is he still your friend or did you break up”? Hernán asked instead. Agustin’s jaw ticked and he clenched his fists to his sides. His dagger was still starched in blood from the fight and Hernán wanted to be nowhere near that.

“What”? Antonio appeared from the inner corridors of the palace and stared bewilderingly at the two arguing men. “I-I heard my name...“?

“Excellent timing”! Hernán chirped. He eyed Agustin’s sharp dagger for a moment before turning his stale chocolate eyes to Antonio. “You’re just in time for my surprise”!

“Surprise”? Antonio and Agustin questioned simultaneously. Hernán grinned. His dark eyes glinted in the light and almost looked reptilian.

“Yes. I did say you’d help your...sister, didn’t I”? Hernán asked. He glanced frantically around for a moment, in case someone were to jump out and claim he was lying, but thankfully, nobody did.

“But...you just said-“! Agustin shut his mouth as Hernán pushed himself and Antonio down the vast corridors of the great palace. Artifacts of gold and other rare gems stood on pedestals of dry clay and stone. Rough, stitched carpet covered the stony floor and muffled the clicking sounds of their boots.

“Where are we going”? Antonio asked suspiciously. He’d long learned not to trust Diego, and Hernán was no exception, being Diego’s own pupil!

“We’re going to the room in which I stored the antidote in” Hernán said. His voice shook slightly and his hands trembled on their backs, but both men continued to follow him down the grey stone steps to the cells.

It was quiet down there, all except for the muffled breathing of ex-king Montezuma. He lay motionlessly in his cell on the floor, staring up at the ceiling and smiling at nothing. He turned to them when he heard their footsteps.

“Ah! Visitors! You do have a kind heart, your highness” he said quietly. Agustin gaped at him. This wasn’t the same, proud king he’d seen just a few weeks ago. This king had bedraggled hair and dark circles under his eyes. His skin was slit and bruised and his clothes were torn. He had been stripped of all his jewelry and his feathered crown, only wearing a few strings around his neck, wrists, and chest, and a white loincloth around his waist. It did little to cover much, hanging loosely by his hips.

“They’re not here to visit” Hernán snarled. He reached for the keys hanging by the cell and unlocked the door. He glanced back and Agustin and Antonio, taking the seconds they were distracted by Montezuma’s state to push them into the cell. “They’re here to stay”.

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