Cajamarca

The sight spreads like wildfire. Two Inca children scramble to their feet as they watch Pizarro’s procession pass, before running to alert their communities of these pale-skinned strangers who carry firearms and mount animals. When the exhausted Europeans enter the city, they discover that in the face of the 80,000 Inca troops being notified of their approach, they are helpless. As night falls and they warm themselves, eyes weary from the sleepless journey and clothes battered by the elements, many begin to prepare for their last night on earth. Today is the last night they will be able to whisper the names of their family members to themselves in the dark; today is the last night that they will hear the snores of their companions as they toss on the unforgiving earth. Tomorrow, conflict is inevitable.

Unlike the Spanish army, the Inca army sleeps comfortably that night. As the first evidence of light seeps into a starless sky, dancers lead the Inca army into the city square. Their arms swing in perfect unison. Column after column is led into the formation, all dressed in traditional clothing, all bearing the proud signs of their culture, until thousands are assembled. “Where are the European dogs?” the Inca emperor, Atahualpa, cries. “They have fled in the face of the magnificent Inca!” a soldier shouts, and a whoop fills the square.

But this whoop turns into a scream as steel, horses, and guns come crashing down on the city square in the form of the European army. The psychological shock of seeing horses and iron weaponry for the first time throws the Inca army into chaos. Fatally unarmed and mortally disadvantaged, the same battle lines that once subdued the west coast of an entire continent are crushed with sickening speed. Here a soldier who two minutes ago stood proudly at Atahaulpa’s side is slashed down the face and falls, reeling from the taste of the warm, sticky blood that spurts into his mouth. Here another is pinned to the ground by the hoof of a raging European horse and shot in the head by a vengeful European rider. The air is filled with the clanging of swords and the braying of war horses, but the worst part is the clamor of the living and dying alike, for it does not cease. When the chaos is over, thousands of Inca lay slain. Yet sitting stoically on their jaded beasts, breathing heavily as they observe the destruction in stunned silence, are just as many Europeans as began the battle, for not a single Spaniard has been badly hurt.

Death is not content with these few thousand. As the Spanish roam through the land, coming into contact with the Inca people, invisible pathogens slip into the noses and invisible germs into the mouths of unprotected citizens. Isolated from Afro-Eurasia for centuries, these people have no immunity against Afro-Eurasia’s deadliest diseases. With grave faces, parents bend over the face of a child covered in sores, trying to drain the viscous fluid that seeps out, only to find a few hours later the symptoms of smallpox on their own bodies. Wealth dies too. From the hold of a prison, Atahualpa watches thousands of gold pieces melt in a cauldron, filling the air with the smell of scorched riches and smoldering legacy. Within weeks, like a confused child, he is listening to a quiet prayer at the site of his execution. Death’s chilling wind has swept through the entire civilization and will cut its population in half, leaving the wasted land open to conquest and colonization.

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