History: Pizarro and the conquest of Peru

By: Frederick A. Ober

Chapter 11


THE cavaliers were invited to dismount and partake of refreshments; but as it was late they were in haste to return, and accepted only a foaming beverage called chicha, which was handed up to them by dark-skinned Hebes, and which they drank from golden goblets gemmed with emeralds. Their fingers itched to snatch those precious vessels from the fair hands of the Indian maidens, and bear them back as trophies to their commander; but they forebore — the time was not yet come for pillage.

They rode back to camp in the darkness, the white road showing them the way, gloomily discussing the strength and martial aspect of the Inca’s army. They were now convinced of his power, as well as of the grandetu* of his court, and were more than dubious as to the result should he appeal to arms. Their fears they communicated to Pizarro, who, though he also realized the critical nature of their situation, affected to scoff at their misgivings.

«Fear ye not,» he exclaimed. «Have I not known this all the time? Have I not been dwelling upon this situation by night and by day ? And, think ye, comrades, that I have not a scheme ? Ay, that have I. This is it. Listen, attend, and obey, for all our lives depend upon the success of it!»

They were gathered within the fortress on the height, where Pizarro had posted their artillery, consisting of two falconets, or small field-pieces, in charge of Pedro de Candia. The cavalry were quartered in the barracks, the infantry in the «House of the Serpent»; sentinels paced their rounds in the upper and the lower fortress. All due care having been taken to secure the camp against surprise, Pizarro and his captains had assembled for a council of war.

«I hold that we are of one mind,» continued Pizarro, » which is that ours is a most desperate case. Whatever happens, whichever way we turn, we cannot retreat. Neither can we go forward, nor stay still. We cannot engage the army of the Inca in the open field—it is too vast. We might hold our own here for a time, if attacked; but we have only a scanty supply of provisions, and even this is owing to the bounty of the Inca.

There is only one thing to do. I have pondered it long, but only this day did it appear to me how it could be done. What think ye it is, brothers and comrades?»

No one replied, for each one feared to guess aright, as that would have vexed their commander.