Bronze Age New World is a collaborative Alternate History in which a better navigation package in the Caribbean leads to a set of New World civilizations that reach a Bronze Age level of technology by the time the European arrive.

We will be exploring what happens when the most powerful American civilization, that of the Tlon who inhabit the Mesoamerica of this alternate 1520, and are quite different from the Aztecs, meet the Spanish.

The prologue and the interludes were written by Doug Muir. The rest of this story was written by Mike Ralls.

More info can be found at http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/banw/

Glossary:

OTL = Our Timeline

ATL = Alternate Timeline

POD = Point of Divergence (When things changed from OTL)

Prologue: Bronze Age New World: In the Garden of Forking Paths

The Garden of Forking Paths covers approximately eighty hectares of elaborately and precisely landscaped ground, just outside the palace of the King Over Kings in Uqbar, the great capital city of the Tlon.

In the Garden there are flower beds, and hedges, and lovely fruiting trees. There are hundreds of statues and carvings; there are stairs winding up and down hillsides and descending into the earth. Water is everywhere, in ponds and streams and small perfect waterfalls, pooled in stone basins or suddenly bubbling forth from the earth.

And of course there are the forking paths.

* * *

The King over Kings is walking in the Garden. He is accompanied by his Eye, who combines the functions of vizier and chief of intelligence; by two of his generals; and by the Minister of the East, who has just arrived in the capital after a swift journey of more than a hundred miles.

The Eye is a small man, altogether nondescript, with thinning hair and what could be mistaken for sympathetic brown eyes. He is very simply dressed except for the insignia of his office: a small fan with a jade handle, a short cape of hummingbird feathers, and an oddly shaped amulet of ancient green bronze.

The two generals are both tall men, burly and scarred. They are dressed for the occasion: light bronze breastplates polished to mirror-brightness, kilts striped white and blue, scarlet cloaks. (1) Normally they would wear helmets with elaborately feathered crests. This would be grossly inappropriate in the presence of the King, however. Instead, each man wears a small feathered plume pinned to his shoulder. The older general wears red plumes, while the younger bears green.

The Minister of the East is also richly dressed, and his jade noseplug and heavy golden earrings are particularly fine. However, the Minister does not seem at ease. Once ruggedly handsome, he now has a haggard and haunted appearance: he has lost a great deal of weight, dark circles ring his eyes, and he has developed a distinct tendency to flinch at loud noises.

_Pink_ men, says the King again.

A sort of grayish pink, says the Minister. Like the color of a dog's belly under the fur.

And their bronze is _grey_. The King's brow wrinkles.

The Eye sighs to himself. They have been over this before. Mysterious invaders are carving a path of blood and fire through the Empire, and the King keeps getting hung up on their color scheme.

Still, it could be worse. The King is not the sharpest piece of bronze in the toolbox, but he usually does manage to chew his way through to a correct decision. Properly assisted, of course. The Eye clears his throat. Grey bronze, sir, as you say. And they have killed hundreds of people in the Eastern provinces, and driven your good Minister here to flee for his life.

The King says nothing; his brow remains furrowed. He and his companions are walking along a stone path. To one side is a field of small, intensely white flowers, all in bloom. On the other, a set of pillars support several disc-shaped calendar stones, taken as tribute from the Maya of the Yucatan jungle. The King pays no attention to any of these things, but the green-plumed general pauses for a moment; it is his first time in the Garden, and he would dearly love to linger.

It will not be. The King moves on, and his servants hurry after.

Tell me about the monster dogs again, says the King after a few moments.

Terrible creatures, Sire, says the general with the green plumes. Two sorts. One like our dogs, but much bigger, and more savage than a hungry puma. The other even larger, bigger than a llama, so large it can carry a man on its back.

Monsters, murmurs the general with the red plumes. A sign of the Final Days.

The Eye sighs again to himself, for the King has overheard this.

Final days indeed, says the King Over Kings. You generals and your prayer books! (2)

The dog-belly men must be demons, says the general a little sulkily. And monsters and demons are two of the Signs and Portents. One does not generally talk back to the King Over Kings, but the general with the red plumes comes from one of the great families of the Tlon, and he is particularly devout.

But so is the green-plumed general, and he has come to a different conclusion. It can't possibly be the end of the world, he says sturdily. The oceans haven't turned to blood. The Warbringer hasn't appeared in the sky.

Hasn't appeared _yet_, says the red-plumed general. That won't happen until after the heroes have responded to the call to battle. Twenty-Four Waxing Venus Scroll Red-and-Black, bottom of the left-hand panel. The death of heroes summons the Warbringer to feast. We must march at once.

March to the end of the world before the Day of Four-Motion? Chokes the green-feathered general. That is a _grossly_ incorrect reading of the sacred scrolls! You would elevate mere bandits to the level of the --

The Eye steps in. The Tlon are not an egalitarian folk in general, but every member of the ruling families considers himself as good as every other one, and religious discussions are often heated and occasionally violent. I think the King is most competent to make this judgment, he says. Don't you?

I don't like all this talk of the end of the world, says the King. You people read too many books.

The two generals struggle visibly to not take offense. The Eye sighs once more. The King, notoriously irreligious, thinks the sacred scrolls are mostly nonsense. Well, so too does the Eye, but he knows better than to say so out loud. And unlike the King, he has actually read the scrolls, and thought hard about them. What he wants to say now is something like the scrolls do contain a lot of gibberish, but in this case it looks like they might provide some useful guidance; they go on for pages about invaders from the sea, and these pink men with their silver bronze are certainly that.

What he says is, his Majesty's meaning is clear. These people are not demons, but neither are they simple bandits. They are invading us. He makes a slow emphatic gesture with his fan of office. Invading _us_, as if we were Hoctecs or jungle Maya.

There's a long pause as the others wrestle with this concept. The Tlon, highly successful imperialists, have not faced a major invasion in nearly two hundred years.

They walk on for a few minutes in silence. The King turns left. The path descends abruptly into a narrow place where moss grows on steep banks.

The path forks. To the left it rises; to the right it descends again. The King turns right. The narrow place turns into a dark cleft, then into a tunnel whose walls are lined with curious carvings. Very likely another branch of the path passes above the tunnel; but then again, perhaps not. It is difficult to know. At the mouth of the tunnel the path goes up a short flight of stairs to another fork, marked by a squat jade statue that smiles enigmatically.

The Minister of the East says softly, in Tabasco they burned... they burned...

The Eye silences him with a glance. The King is still thinking. It is not a swift process, and the Eye does not want him interrupted.

The path descends again, this time down a broad flight of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs is an arch carved with hieroglyphs; beyond that is a triangular chamber ten meters wide. Other paths exit through arches to the left and right. Dust motes dance in a beam of sunlight that descends from a vertical shaft in the center of the high ceiling. Below, in the precise center of the room, a single pale fish swims in slow circles in a marble basin. In the shadowy corners of the room loom three massive statues of winged animals: jaguar, serpent, bear. The King turns right. The others follow.

The path ascends. It curves gracefully up the side of a small hill covered with flowering shrubs. Birdsong fills the air as the walkers emerge into a small clearing that looks out upon the northern face of the Imperial Palace. Beyond it in the distance glimmer the waters of the great lake.

Day-al Farado, murmurs the King. What a strange name.

All their names are strange, sire, says the Eye. But they seem to be related to the primitive fisher people of Cuba. This is one part guesswork, three parts outright lie. The invaders' /Spanish/ shares a few similar sounds with the degenerate dialect of *Arawak spoken on Cuba, but that's probably a coincidence. This bothers the Eye not at all; his job is moving the King in the right direction, not the study of comparative linguistics.

So they're from... somewhere beyond Cuba, says the green-plumed general.

We have two spies in their camp, Sire, says the Eye. The Minister here arranged it. One is a priest who has pretended to embrace their two-sticks god. The other is a woman of the Garden of Ceremonial Chocolate Drinking and Flower Arrangement in Tabasco.

There are appreciative chuckles from the generals. The Eye allows himself a small smile. Not at the reference to Tabasco's most famous pleasure house -- such things interest the Eye very little -- but at the successful planting of the spies. The Minister of the East has been badly shaken, very badly shaken, but this achievement speaks well for him.

Of course, the Minister has privately told him that more than a dozen would-be spies have died, most quite horribly. This is another interesting but extraneous fact that, in the Eye's opinion, would only distract the King from the task at hand.

Here is what the spies have told us, says the Eye. He begins to speak, slowly but to the point.

The design of the Garden is simple in concept, bewilderingly complex in practice. There is one entrance and one exit. Between them is a path. The path forks; every fork presents exactly two choices. No fork is visible from another fork, though. Thus a wanderer in the garden is always in one of three states: approaching a fork, leaving a fork, or on a path with no forks to be seen.

There are no dead ends and no crossroads. Only choices: left or right, left or straight, straight or right. The paths curve and wind and sometimes dive under or over each other; part of the garden is actually underground, tunnels and chambers.

The Eye stops talking. There is another silence. The five men walk on for a few minutes.

An accident has brought them near the center of the Garden. At the next fork stands a curious monument: a throne taller than a tall man, made of a single stone carved into the shape of an enormous flower. The arms and back and seat of the throne are petals. It once supported the rulers of a rival empire -- the last rival empire, in fact. The King's four-times-great grandfather had it laboriously dragged over several hundred miles to the grounds of his new palace. His sons and grandsons would gradually build the Garden outwards around it.

The unobtrusive but meticulous gardeners keep the Petal Throne free of dust and bird droppings, but rain and sun and time are slowly working on it. The hieroglyphs around the base, still barely visible when the King was a boy, have all but disappeared. So too has the small carving of a wildly yapping little dog right at ground level. The King remembers that he used to wonder what that carving was about: religious? The signature of the artist? An obscure joke? Now it's just a vaguely dog-shaped hunk of rock. And one day the whole throne will just be a stone with a somewhat chairlike shape.

Well, then, says the King. Well then.

Long ago, near the point where history melts into myth, the Tlon were not one but many. A coalition of small, poor tribes, they joined together out of desperation in the face of powerful enemies. In those days, says the legend, they did not share a single tongue. The Tlon language came later; but in the beginning, they communicated through an elaborate system of gestures.

Whether the story is true or not, a few of the gestures have survived. The King raises his right arm, elbow bent and palm facing outward. Then his hand swings down sharply, the arm coming parallel to the ground, the fingers contracting into a fist: I have decided.

The Eye folds his fan and taps it three times against his knee, a signal that the audience is over. The two generals and the Minister place their hands over their eyes and bow low. The King turns and walks away; the others follow after him, half a dozen paces behind.

Behind them, the perfect light of late afternoon slants downwards through the leaves, falling across the lawns and the flowerbeds, casting long and curious shadows from the statues and pillars and calendar stones. Birds sing and water flows, but nobody walks there. The Garden of Forking Paths lies empty as night creeps softly in upon the great city of the Tlon.

(1) Tlon armor is rather light, due to the heat of the climate. Heavy metal armor, in a tropical setting, can be more trouble than it's worth (as some unfortunate conquistadors would discover). There is a layer of cloth quilting underneath.

(2) Generals are expected to be both literate and learned. Military science is tied up with history, which in turn is closely linked to eschatology.

BANW 1520: Bronze Against Steel: Encounter at Cozumel

It was the Conquistadors that would dominate the first century of the Spanish in the Americas. These men, while different in many respects, would have been recognizable to their counterparts from centuries earlier. For from 711 AD to 1492 Spain was constantly at war, and the Conquistadors were the ones who did the fighting. Born to the saddle and the sword, well versed in living off the land and snatching booty, these men burned with the twin fires of religious fervor and greed for the wealth that could be won by the sword. The same drives that, in their fathers, had brought final victory over the hated Moors.

In the 16h century, far from their homeland, a new breed of Conquistadors was arising. These men set their sights not on reclaiming lost land, but instead on conquering and baptizing new lands far, far from home. Their playing field was a a new world, alien to much of what they had known. With little to lose, they had much to gain by adventuring through it. This generation of Conquistadors had conquered the Caribbean. Forays to the mainland had so far been few, and less successful, but many a man poor in Spain had found himself rich in the New World. And many had also found themselves dead.

But Spain's recent conquest of Puerto Rico and Cuba (on the second attempt at least) had convinced many of the invincibility of Spanish steel against Indio spears. They believed that their own power and ability would allow them to overcome any odds that this New World could throw at them.

None shared this belief more strongly than the blonde, blue-eyed, charming, charismatic, violent, ruthless, and borderline psychopath Pedro de Alvarado. He knew he would win, and so did the men he led into the Empire of the Tlon. It was a rather mixed force of 14 ships, 602 soldiers, 130 sailors, 50 Indios, a couple dozen African slaves, two Tlon-speaking slaves and 25 horses. [1] Most of these people had never seen each other before, and whether they would become a disciplined fighting force or disorganized mob would depend largly on the management skills of de Alvarado.

This force came prepared with some knowledge of what they would face. They had been grilling their Tlon speaking slaves, picked up at earlier at Izmitl, and so had learned a number of basic (but often incomplete or misleading) facts about the Tlon. The Indians' culture interested them not, their religion was nothing more than a fan for their hatred, but the detailed geography of central Mexico was valuable information indeed. De Alvarado was an unstable killer, but as a military man he knew the value of geography.

After much concentration and planning, for a Conquistador anyway, de Alvarado and his band decided to start their invasion in the Tlon province of Tabasco, where the Gulf Coast of Mexico curves east and then north towards Yucatan. It was not the closest approach to the enemy homeland, but the mountains of central Mexico would force a circuitous route on the invaders anyway, and the province was said to be both prosperous and weakly defended. [2]

Unfortunately for de Alvarado's plans, a hurricane wind forced the ships far to the south of their intended destination. A week after leaving Hispaniola, they found themselves making landfall... but on the wrong side of the Yucatan. They had arrived at the island of Cozumel.

The Cozumelans at first greeted the Spanish with an awed religious silence. For they were a newly conquered people, not yet fully integrated into Tlon society, and their legends spoke of a great warrior of metal who could call forth thunder. He would come from the East and deliver them from their Enemies and regain the glory that was Cozumel. Of course, different legends spoke of a rock man from the Far Far West who would shoot balls of lighting from his hands. However, the fact of the matter was that Rock Man wasn't here and the Spanish were, so those legends were ignored while the legend of the Silver Warrior was shouted by all. The Cozumelans poured forth to honor this savior.

Fernando de Alvarado (one of the three de Alvarado brothers under Pedro's command) was one of the first to arrive. As his cold eyes surveyed the town, with its wondrous architecture, and seemingly subbmisive natives, he barely had time to shout the 16th century Spanish equivalent of "Yippee, It's Mine! All Mine! There isn't enough Gold for anyone else but me. Mine! Mine! Mine!" before setting off for the biggest local building (the Temple) to remove its ornaments. [3]

When Pedro heard of this he gave a brief chuckle (that Fernando, such a hurried little scamp), before ordering his men to grab him a share of the good stuff as well.

The Cozumelans watched this with crisscrossed arms (the local equivalent of bugged-eyed and slack jawed). The Saviors were supposed to bring a golden age of rebirth and renewal to Cozumel. They were not supposed to... loot.

However, the local Tlon were not surprised. The locals, in their eyes, were "peccaries": sly, sullen, and parochial boors endlessly talking about the glory that was Cozumel (insert Tlon eye roll here), and prone to occasional fits of squealing religious hysteria. The Tlon, far more cosmopolitan, had other ideas about the strange invaders. They had heard rumors of a resurgent *Arawak empire in the Caribbean. Obviously this island -- _their_ island, a province of the Empire -- was under attack by this new version of the ancient enemy.

Direct military conflict tended to focus the Tlon mind wonderfully. The sleepy local administration snapped awake. Runners were gasping at the gates of the local garrison half an hour after the first Spaniard had stalked arrogantly ashore. Less than an hour after that, several hundred armed Tlon were assembled and marching towards the town center, alert and eager to see what the peccaries were squealing about.

A brief eyeball figure told the local Tlon commander that he faced roughly one to one odds. Fair enough. Mighty Tlon bronze had defeated barbarian warriors many times their own number in the past. An even fight was nothing that needed to be feared. The commander marched his men towards battle with cheerful confidence.

As the Tlon soldiers approached more closely that confidence began to melt away. It was just too strange: These raiders had some weird shiny metal armor that looked like silver, but obviously wasn't. Their weapons and armor were all wrong, and the warriors themselves looked more alien than even the wildest stories about the *Arawaks. Not only did these invaders possess weirdly shaped Llamas (a rare beast in the Tlon Empire), but they had some how figured out how to ride on their backs! And out in the harbor could be seen the outline of a canoe that was worthy of the Gods.

The commander saw all this, and his brain had trouble accepting it. What _were_ these... people?

"Deploy for ceremonial combat, sir?" asked one eager young warrior.

"Umm... no. No." The commander couldn't quite figure all this out, but he could already tell that this was not a proper venue for individual challenges. Like most Tlon, he enjoyed this good old-fashioned form of combat when the situation allowed, but he also knew that there was a proper time and place for it. War _could_ be honorable and stirring and fun, but it could also be a deadly serious business -- and the Tlonnish rule for determining the difference could be translated rather precisely as 'when in doubt, hack.'

The commander raised his voice. "Chuck and charge, no honor combats. Odd maniples throw first. Get in among them and break them up." Barbarians never could hold formation against a determined charge, everybody knew that. "Back twelve maniples stop and hold, you'll do the follow-up charge."

_Prisoners_, he thought a moment later. _I should have told them to try for prisoners_. But already the even maniples were trotting forward with javelins raised.

The Spanish stopped prying ornaments when they heard a low throaty cry growing louder and louder. "Xogath. Xogath! XOGATH!" [4] They turned and saw a group of men, armed in strange ways, advancing towards them at a brisk march that quickly turned into a charge.

Other sounds quickly filled the square, A yell of command by de Alvarado, the smack of ornaments being dropped, the slapping of footsteps as the Spaniards got into position, a ringing as Spanish steel was drawn from its sheath, the neighing of horses and the cocking of guns.

The cry of Xogath was advancing at a dead sprint to meet these sounds. And seconds later, the sounds of battle between Tlon and Spaniard would be heard for the first time.

[1] OTL this was 11 ships, 508 soldiers, 100 sailors, 200 Cubans, several Africans, a number of Indian women and 16 horses. There are more ships, soldiers and sailors because the greater wealth of this TL's Caribbean has attracted more resources for this trip. There are more slaves because slavery is more common here. There are fewer Indians because the Indians are judged by the Spanish to be more dangerous than in OTL.

[2] OTL Cortes landed further north, at Veracruz. From there he took a very odd route, partly roundabout and partly direct, largely because of political and military considerations.

[3] Landing and immediately taking stuff from the local buildings with absolutely no attempt to talk to the locals first? Too stupid for a sane commander? Possibly, but it is what de Alvarado did in OTL. In OTL Cortez was here to publicly reprimand Alvarado and try to patch things over with the natives, which he did by setting up some trading. In here, there is nothing to restrain the Alvarado brothers but their own scruples.

[4] Originally a sports term used by the Aztecs in the empire. It meant to score a goal by crippling your opponent. Over time it trickled into Army usage and became the generic battle cry.

This is a world in which the Americas are at Bronze Age Level of technology. The Spanish have just invaded the largest Empire, that of the Tlon, under the command of a Really Bad Man. We now present the conflict;

BANW 1520: Bronze Against Steel: Two Fights, Two Flights

With a flash and a bang the first Tlon soldier fell in a war that would soon grow to be bloodier than any this New World had ever known. Some of his companions screamed and panicked at the magic thunder that the Spanish seemed to control. Others were too deeply into a battle frenzy to notice. Those soldiers continued the charge. Tlon spears bounced off Spanish armor, their swords hardly dented Castilian steel, and the strange invaders showed an uncanny knack for organizing themselves; they fell very quickly into a defensive line which smashed back the Tlon charge like a rock throwing back a wave. [1]

The moral of the Tlon was hit particularly hard a minute or so into the battle, when a conquistador took aim with a halberd at a helmet with particularly elaborate plumes, got lucky, and decapitated their commanding officer. A few moments later, when several of those strange Llamas charged (!) the men could take no more and ceased to be warriors. They were now a mob. The Spanish slaughtered the broken Tlon force with the glee of men to whom the spilling of blood was a joyous act.

The Cozumelans watched all of this with awe and began a buzzing murmur among themselves. Strange were the ways of the Saviors. Perhaps their... um... temporary removing of the sacred ornaments was just a way to draw out the Tlon. And now that they had destroyed the Tlon garrison on Cozumel, they would bring about that whole age of Peace and Rebirth thing.

After the battle, the Spanish resumed looting the temple.

Again with the buzzing murmur. This time it was much more intense and finally the Cozumelans decided to send forth their priests to talk with these strange Saviors. Dressed in their most elaborate clothes, clad with the richest jewelry on the island, the priests walked nervously but proudly towards the Spanish force.

They arrived first at one of the de Alvarado brothers who watched the richly dressed unarmed men approach with a broad grin. The priests managed to say four words of the sacred 1000 word prayer of greeting before de Alvarado grabbed his necklace with his meaty fists. The priest fell forward with a painful crash and de Alvarado ripped item after item from his person.

The Priest had no idea of what was happening and forgot for a moment whom he was facing. He punched de Alvarado in the face. That was enough. Out came de Alvarado's sword and off came the priest's head. His fine beautiful cloak, worth more than a large family of peasants would make in two years, was stained a crimson red.

Before the other Priests had time to register what had happened, de Alvarado's sword was after them. Two fell before the rest fled back to the crowd. Quickly the Cozumelans realized these were not the promised Saviors. They scattered and the island quickly fell into a state of panic. Many Cozumelans were slaughtered by the Spaniards and those who weren't fled to the island's interior.

De Alvarado was pleased. He sent a fair amount of booty back to his ships, ate a feast of some of the food found in the city, smashed any idols that wouldn't be worth shipping home, and had his way with a couple of captured women. A pretty good first day, he thought.

It was just a start though. De Alvarado regarded this island as nothing more than a stepping stone to the great Empire he had heard so much about. Reviewing his maps one more time he re-charted his planned invasion. This island (which was really just an appetizer) was on the wrong side of a great penninsula.

So -- sail around or march across? Leave a garrison here, or simply loot the place and move on? And (most delicate, most important of all), what news, if any, should he send to the governor of New Spain, back on Hispaniola? Too long out of touch, and he'd be insubordinate; too much news of easy victory, and rivals might soon be following in his footsteps. Ay, the life of a conquistadore was not always an easy one!

* * *

While de Alvarado pondered, things were happening.

The Spanish had not killed all the Tlon on the island. A handful of soldiers and administrators managed to escape across the straits to the mainland. Soon runners were heading west and south along the Great Yucatan Post Road, with a sad knot of refugees trudging along behind them.

A week later, the runners were in Tabasco. This was a province of about 100,000 people, famous for its rich tradition of arts. It had been a unique culture 100 years ago when the Tlon conquered it, but over that time it had been successfully assimilated. Even the local elite thought of themselves as Tlon first and Tabascan a distant second. But somehow the local culture had fused with Tlon culture to produce an innovative mix that made the Tabascans full of zest and spice. If a Tlon wanted to experience truly great song, great dance, great food, or great sex, he sent for a Tabascan singer, dancer, chef, or courtesan. [2]

The messengers ran into this land of artists with news of great horror. They told their story to the local governor, the Minister of the East. While he disbelieved many parts of it, the Minister quickly recognized that something *major* was happening. He sent a full account of what the men told him to the capitol by runner. It would arrive four days later. The Minister knew the best he could hope for would be to hear back in eight days. That wasn't fast enough. He knew he had to move now. So he did. Orders were given and nearby garrisons began to mobilize.

A week later he had three legions -- about 7,500 men -- and more than fifty ships ready for action. [3]

* * *

Sailing around the Yucatan would involve a tedious beat back to windward, sailing north and east towards Cuba to avoid the treacherous reefs of the penninsula's uncharted northern coast. On the other hand, interrogation of captives suggested that the interior of the penninsula was rugged and (more to the point) poor. True, there were some tribes there who disliked this Empire and might rise against it. But, really... so what? It didn't look like the Spanish would need much help.

Sail around, then. A few days of preparation and the Spanish would be ready to invade the unprepared mainland. Or so the Spanish wrongly thought.

For when the Spanish arrived off the Tabascan coast, they saw many a Tlon soldier and sailor waiting for them. The ships were the biggest surprise, for nowhere in the Caribbean had they seen ships under such an obviously organized command.

They weren't warships, of course. Naval combat barely existed in this New World. The ships of the Tlon were simply large sailing canoes full of warriors, designed to move fighting men quickly along the coast. Against the Spanish their plan was simple: some would pepper the enemy with arrows and javelins, while the biggest canoes would close and board.

A shot was fired across the bows of the largest canoe. De Alvarado slapped the cannoneer for wasting a shot. No warnings for the heathens! Shot after shot was then poured into the fragile ships. Wave after wave of the small vessels broke under the Thunder weapons.

The smaller Spanish ships were too maneuverable to be caught by the Tlon canoes with their crude rigs. The larger ones were not... but the Tlon canoes had to run a gauntlet of cannon fire and then try to send men climbing up the enemy hulls, against pikes and the concentrated fire of muskets and crossbows.

In the end one Tlon ship came back where ten went in. More than a thousand men went down into the warm blue waters, and very few indeed ever made it back to shore.

The Tlon soldiers on the beaches watched this with growing fear. Their ships had failed to stop the raiders in their Super-Canoes. They would now have to face those Thunder Weapons themselves. Truly today would be a day that would be spoken of until the Fourth World.

Today would be a day when Man faced foes who may not even be men. So be it. They were soldiers of the Tlon. The mightiest Empire that had ever been. The center of the world. They would fight and fight hard, no matter who or what they faced.

The Spanish landed, and the Tlon advanced into the unknown. Cannon tore great bloody gaps through the Tlon ranks, but still they advanced. The two forces touched, and clashed. Blow after blow was rained down. The clang of swords echoed loudly. And men struggled and competed against each other for the most important prize in the world, survival.

At even odds, steel against bronze was not a fair fight. But these numbers were far from even. Even after their losses in the sea battle, the Tlon outnumbered their enemies by nearly ten to one. To the Spaniards it seemed as if they might be washed over with a tidal wave of men. And then, as Bernal Diaz del Castillo put it:

"Just at this moment when it seemed we might falter under their weight, we caught sight of our horsemen. But the great host of Indios was so crazed in their attack that they did not at once see them approaching behind their backs. As the plain was bare and the horsemen were good riders, and some of the horses were very swift and nimble, they came quickly upon them and speared them as they chose.

"As soon as we saw the horsemen we fell on the enemy so vigorously that, caught between the horsemen and ourselves, they were squeezed at some length between our sword and the cavalry's lance.

"Then a great fear came upon them; and they broke and ran in all directions; and our brave men, crying upon the name of the King and Santiago, came quickly forward and with great slaughter hurled them from the field."

It was not a costless victory for the Spaniards. They lost over a hundred men killed or wounded, a significant blow for so small of force. But for that price they gained control over Tabasco, a rich and ancient province with a docile and defenseless population.

A different commander may have tried to keep momentum going and continued to march on the Capital. Or he might have tried to find local allies who could aid him in his quest. De Alvarado decided, if that word can even be used, on a different course of action.

[1] Before six different people jump in to tell me: yes, I know that good bronze is nearly as strong as steel. The problem here is twofold. One, Tlon bronze isn't actually all that good -- the Mesoamerican Bronze Age is only about 500 years old, and widespread use of the metal only dates back to about the 14th century. So they're still working out the details, and their alloys aren't all that great yet.

Two, Tlon weapons and armor are rather light. This is partly a response to the warm Mesoamerican climate, partly due to the lack of pack animals to help schlep stuff around. Their weapons only have to be heavy enough to penetrate standard armor, which is a light bronze cuirass over cotton quilting. The Spanish armor is inconveniently heavy, but it's quite good at repelling the light swords and javelin points of the standard Tlon infantry.

So, overall the average Tlon warrior is only a little better off than the average Aztec with his brittle but sharp obsidian weapons. The Tlon are better off than OTL's Mesoamericans in a lot of other ways -- doctrine, strategy, communications and logistics, to name just a few -- but their weapons and armor just aren't that great.

And before someone else points it out: no, guns were not superweapons. Especially not the crude guns of the early 16th century. But they did have a powerful psychological impact the first couple of times they were used, before indigenous opponents got an idea of what to expect.

[2] OTL Tabasco was an area of around 40,000. Bronze tools and the potato have more than doubled this. It was not famous for its art, but _some_ part of a country is usually known for its artists and I can't really think of any reason that region couldn't be *Tabasco in this ATL. (And no, it's not called "Tabasco", but let's not complicate things.)

[3] Most of the above would have been impossible for the Aztecs who had no runners, nor nearly as much organization.

A "legion" of the Tlon is about 2500 men, though that can vary widely; their military organization is still rather crude and informal. And no, not all of those 7500 men are from the local population -- Tabasco has a couple of garrison legions, keeping an eye on the extended Yucatan frontier.

BANW 1520: De Alvarado's Province

Pedro de Alvarado surveyed the land of Tabasco with satisfaction. He and his men had paid in blood for it, but as far as de Alvarado could tell, he had conquered more Indios than any Conquistador in the Caribbean. At nearly 100,000 souls (Did Indios have souls? The Church was debating that topic hotly, but de Alvarado didn't think so), he was right. The land was full of people and riches, and he now ruled it. At a price to be sure, but given the obvious richness of this land, the fact that he was able to drive the Tlon from this prize in so short a time caused his contempt for the natives to rise to even higher levels.

Now that the land was his, he felt an intense rush of power. He could do anything here! These heathens were under his rule, and he could treat them anyway he saw fit. Their wealth and labor were now his. Any woman he saw could be taken to his bed. That bed used to belong to the governor of this province, but no more. Like everything else in this land it was now his! Any artifact he saw, he could take and possess. For a man in his 30's who had only commanded small numbers of troops before, becoming lord of a province as rich as any in Spain was an exceedingly heady experience. He could finally do what his heart screamed for him to do. And no one could stop him.

All throughout Tabasco he and his men left a trail of destruction. Homes ripped apart looking for buried treasures, peasants killed or crippled because they were ignorant of proper gestures of respect, women raped and tossed aside like used rags, and temples burned down, regardless of whether anyone was inside them or not. [1]

He did all of this, not just for the pleasure it gave him, but because he sincerely believed this was the proper way to gain control of these people and extract their wealth. De Alvarado knew only a little Latin, but he instinctively understood the old Roman saying about _oderint, dum metuant_: 'Let them hate us, so long as they fear us.'

And in the beginning it appeared to work. After the defeat of the local Tlon forces, the remaining Tabascans were terrified of the Spaniards. Most sought to obey the commands of these pitiless men, as the Tabascons soon knew the cost of not doing what the new lords desired.

If Tabasco had a different history, perhaps there would have been more resistance to the Spanish. But Tabasco had not known invasion for well over a century, and even the last major rebellion in this land could only be remembered by the Oldest of the Old. They were famous for their artists, not for their fighters. So they tried to get along with these strange, heartless, seemingly invincible men.

The Minister of the East had fled with the remnants of the Tlon army to Coatzacoalcos, a large town just beyond the western border of the province. De Alvarado would deal with him in good time. Meanwhile, the remaining figures of authority eventually got a meeting with de Alvarado. The meeting's main purpose in the Spaniard's eyes was as a formal surrender and to help them find any precious items. The Tabascans hoped they could use their influence to soothe these men.

Speaking through the Spanish owned Slave-Interpreters, the Town Councilmen [1] started out by agreeing that the province was now under Spanish control and that they "formally and legally" (whatever that meant) surrendered to de Alvarado and through him to the King of Spain. This religion of which the Spaniards spoke sounded just wonderful and of course they and all citizens of Tabasco province would now convert to it. The Spanish had taken most of the valuables from the city, but there were one or two more things that they could show them.

But it was growing dark and perhaps these brave men would like to enjoy the best food Tabasco's finest cooks could offer? And experience the land's finest entertainment? It would be a night of rest and relaxation before they undertook a long trek to go to the hidden treasures. Surely that sounded nice, oh wise and powerful masters?

The Spanish were caught between their lust for gold, and the weariness in their bodies. Taking apart an entire province was hard work and they were pretty exhausted... oh very well. Let these heathen (yeah, yeah, they converted, right, uh-huh) try to please them.

The Town Councilmen moved fast and found the best dancers, cooks, courtesans, and musicians who were still in the town. They were told that they had to perform tonight as if their very lives depended on it. Because they just might.

* * *

While the Councilmen were running around town, some of the Spaniards decided to kill some time before the festival. Through a slave-translator, they asked for the nicest bar in the area. 'Xaymaca', they were told; place with a red fish-oil lantern by the door, right at the end of Long-and-Large Street.

The Spanish entered a place that was both familiar and eerily different. The clay walls, poorly lit room, and smell of alcohol could have fit any bar from their home towns. But the walls were decorated with the skeletal remains of bizarre creatures, strange gourds were filled with fire to light the place, and the chair of wood had monstrous demons carved into them and were unusually high.

On one wall there was an enormous mural of... well, all sorts of things: men working with metal, women with their arms full of strange flowers, flocks of strange beautiful birds... people dancing with skeletons? Madre de Dios. And what was that _thing_, like a little fisherman's boat but totally flat, hanging over the bar? The translator's answer to that one made no sense at all.

The actual alcohol, of course, was nothing like what they had in Spain. Some of the soldiers quite liked the pulque or corn beer. But one of them, Miguel Rareza, was a bit... odd. He liked getting drunk (what soldier didn't?) but he hated the taste of alcohol. Then, at this bar, he discovered Hard Hot Cocoa. THIS! This is what he had been looking for his whole life. He practically forced all the other Spaniards in the bar to give it a try and he didn't stop there.

In the coming years he would be so enthusiastic about the drink that many began teasing him about it. One particularly embarrassing incident was when he and his Tlon concubine were at a bar and they both ordered drinks. The bartender set the Mug of Tequila in front of him with a bang, and the Hard Hot Cocoa in front of his girl. For obviously he as the man would get the manly drink, and the concubine would get the girl drink. With a sheepish grin he switched the drinks while his friends collapsed with laughter. After that there was no stopping the teasing and soon everyone was calling Hard Hot Cocoa by his name in jest.

Miguel didn't like this, but he had some compensation. For while the names of most of his companions are lost to history, even today people ask for a Miguel Rareza at bars from Edo to Paris and they get a Hard Hot Cocoa in return. It is an immortality of a sort.

* * *

Of course, the Town Councilmen knew that merely serving drinks to a small group of soldiers in a bar would not be enough. The Spaniards were soon gathered in the largest square of the city to see all that Tabasco had to offer. It was a night that would be remembered for a long time, thanks in no small part to "The Rape of Our Town" one of the last Tlon books ever written. As it said:

------------

The traitors turned to them and bowed low to the ground. "Our lords, you are weary. The journey has tired you, but now you have arrived. You have come to your city, for it is yours now and we honor you. You have come here to sit on your throne, to sit under its canopy. The kings who have gone before, are no more. They failed and now we place ourselves before you. The people are now protected by your swords and sheltered by your shields. Please, let us honor you, so that you will rule us wisely and justly!"

When this had been said, the celebrants began to sing their songs. Their voices were like the light of the sun on a dark day. Like the mountain warbler or the little dusky oriole, from silence they brought forth their songs of joy. [3] The dancers brought their embroidered cloaks, their turquoises, their lip plugs, their necklaces, their clusters of heron feathers, their clappers made of deer hooves and moved with a wild energy. Those who played the drums, the old men, had brought their gourds of snuff and their cymbals of bronze and they beat them with vigor. The young musicians twirled their ornamental bones and then blew their flute with all the might they possessed.

The chefs used only the rarest of spices and the juiciest of foods. Servings of dog and turkey, rare iguana and guinea pig, and corn and potato and any food a man could wish to eat were laid before them. Beautiful concubines, with hips like vases, writhed for them. Ah, their eyes were like the morning, their hands quick as hummingbirds! Their lips were painted blood red, and jade hung in their hair!

All that was great and good in our town, the cultural capital of the empire, was offered to them. And I saw them yawn. They were like naked savages of the deepest cloud forest, men who had never seen true civilization before, and knew not how to appreciate it.

And then, suddenly, I heard a cry ring out from their King. He had been playing dice and had suddenly become displeased.

Without warning he began to put us to death.

The Spaniards attacked the musicians first, slashing at their hands and faces until they had killed all of them. Then the singers, and even the spectators, were also killed. This slaughter in the Sacred Square went on for three hours. Then the Spaniards burst into the rooms of the temple to kill the others: those who were carrying water, or bringing fodder for their horses, or grinding meal, or sweeping, or standing watch over this work.

The traitors, and those who had brought food for the Spaniards, protested: "Our lords, that is enough! What are you doing? These people are not carrying shields or macanas. Our lords, they are completely unarmed! Why do you kill them? Why lord? Why?"

--------

Historians have been trying to answer that for a long time. Perhaps his mind couldn't stand music, decoration and dancing so different from what he was used to. Perhaps the dancers bodies, glistening with gold and precious jewels, set off an uncontrollable gold lust. Perhaps he just wanted some fun. But his men followed their captain and slaughtered with him. By all accounts they quite enjoyed it, but afterwards they had absolutely no local allies and little way to administer the area. But this was of little matter to them. For they rounded up the Town Councilmen who hadn't fled after the Dance of Death, tortured them to reveal the existence of the last remaining bits of treasure in area, and finished off their looting. [4]

It had taken some time, but de Alvarado considered Tabasco sufficiently cleaned of valuables to move on. All the treasures this land had to offer, including a number of slaves, were put aboard his ships and sent off to Cuba and from there to Spain. He sent instructions that some of this money was to be spent on recruiting men to come to Tabasco to help him subdue these sheep like Tlon. But not too many. After all, he didn't want to have to split the loot too many ways.

After the last treasure ship was sent off, he assembled his men and began to march west towards the capital. The town of Coatzacoalcos was just a couple of days' march up the coast: there first, to smash resistance and secure the port. Then east and inland, into the unimaginable heart of the Empire.

Meanwhile the Tlon had been making their own preparations...

[1] At this point someone may object that this is getting a bit much. Not so. Not all of the conquistadors were this bad, but this one definitely was.

[2] No, not really Town Councilmen as we use the term. But "A disorganized collection of some of the more notable members of various guilds, temples, businesses, and remaining government structures," takes too long to write out.

[3] Yes, the Tlon have a birdie streak.

[4] Yes Alvarado really was this mad, bad, and dangerous to know. This is heavily, in some cases word for word, based on an OTL incident. Only it goes on longer because he doesn't have Cortez to restrain him.

Bronze Age New World 1520: Bronze Against Steel: Gathering Forces

Tloxandor, King of the Tlon, was about forty years old when the Spanish arrived. In the seven previous years of his reign, nothing of great note had happened. There had been a revolt here, a small war there, a court intrigue in that palace over yonder, but that was all standard fare. All he had to do was carry on with the wise policies of his ancestors and nod sagely when the priests stopped talking. That had been all that was required or expected of him.

Now all that change. For the first time since Xenyokoyidi, the Age Of the Country At War, a province had fallen. There had been setbacks for the Tlon of course, but none of the Barbarian tribes or petty city states that they had faced in the last century could do more than provide stiff resistance.

Now, by all accounts, the *Arawaks had risen again! Far more strange and mighty than any of the Tales of the BeforeTime suggested. They had first taken the small island of Cozumel, and then quickly moved on to the province of Tabasco where they defeated the local army with strange llamas that they could sit on, Super Canoes the likes of which no one had imagined possible, Thunder sticks that shot invisible arrows, and a metal that was to Bronze as Bronze was to hardened Wood.

As he was thinking of this a messenger entered the room. The man's garb alone was cause for alarm. He wore neither the faded green shawl of routine news nor the carmine one of victory. Instead he wore white, which had hastily been edged in orange-red: the color of mourning, amended by the color of disaster. And his long hair was tied in the braids that signified news of the first priority. The overall effect was bizarre and alarming, the closest the system could come to signalling "shocking defeat".

Taking off his shoes, the messenger bowed and crawled forwards calling, "My Lord, My Great Lord. More news from Tabasco." The King Over Kings granted him leave to speak.

The tale he told was of the 'Dance of Death.' He told it well and in full. Tears began to form in Tloxandor's eyes, for the tale was a heartbreaking one. Tloxandor had been entertained by those same dancers on a number of occasions. There was one who always made him smile, a dancing nymph with a kiss like honey. He wondered if she was among the slain.

The Tlon were no strangers to slaughter. They had learned well during the first Arawak invasion and the Dark Age that followed. They enjoyed fighting for fun and honor, but they knew that war could be a deadly serious business. They had killed defeated foes, and wiped out entire peoples before, but that was because they would be troublesome to rule. Tloxandor tried to ponder how anyone could regard the effeminate Tabascans as a threat that needed to be killed, instead of as toys to be enjoyed. He could not do it. Perhaps his advisors could explain it to him.

Before he could go for a stroll with them, however, a second messenger arrived. This one had actually managed to reverse the colors of the last runner -- his shawl was orange-red over white. While the King Over Kings was trying to work that out the messenger blurted out his news: Coatzocoalcos had fallen.

* * *

Coatzocoalcos was a large town rather than a city, but it was rich in history. A local legend claimed that a god-hero, Quetzalcoatl, had departed from the city on a raft made of snakes. It was said that he had sailed into the east, but would return again one day. [1]

Nobody outside the town paid much attention to this. Tlon religion had moved in a different direction -- they were tending more and more towards dualism, as the conflict between the Sun Hero and the Primordial Annihilator slowly replaced polytheism at the core of their faith -- and if anyone ever connected old Feathered Serpent with the new invaders, history has forgotten it.

What interested De Alvarado was not the city's history. He moved on it because it was (1) rich, (2) strategically important, and (3) the rallying point for the Tlon who had fled out of Tabasco.

Just before the campaign began, there was a brief distraction. A day or two before marching, the Spanish received a strange visit. A group of men calling themselves "Maya" came to see them. The "Maya" said that they were the original inhabitants of "Yucatan", the great penninsula to the east. They had no love for the Tlon and were delighted to hear that the Spanish had come to destroy them.

So -- here was a gift of some excellent quetzal feathers. And here was a small calendar stone -- a tiny thing, barely the span of two hands, but guaranteed accurate for the next 270 years. Now, would the Spanish be interested in sitting down to some fresh-brewed peppered chocolate and spending a few hours chatting about weather, women, and the price of jade nose plugs?

For the Maya, this was tantamount to yelling at the top of their lungs "We want an alliance with you! Talk to us!" In sympathy to the Spanish, it must be noted that some of the meaning may have been lost in translation.

In any event, no alliance occurred. The Mayan emissaries were allowed to depart unharmed, mostly because De Alvarado was in too much of a hurry to have them tortured for information.

De Alvarado could have moved on Coatzacoalcos by sea, but on an unfamiliar coastline it might be dangerous; it would be humiliating to lose half his expedition to a reef or a lee shore. Instead, he advanced by a series of rapid marches, covering more than seventy miles in about three days.

The city was not ready. The Minister of the East had assembled two legions -- one from the wreckage of Tabasco, one a fresh levy -- but he wasn't expecting a battle. The Minister was a bureaucrat, not a general, and the Spanish assault caught him completely by surprise.

The result was a lopsided defeat. Although the Tlon now had some notion of Spanish weaponry and armor, they still were unprepared for the mobility granted by horses, nor for the tactical skill of these "barbarians". De Alvarado quite deliberately repeated his previous strategy, sending the cavalry around to break up the Tlon formation and then using the bulk of his force to mop up. It was all over in an hour, the Minister and his army fleeing wildly in all directions.

What followed was a massacre.

Rule by Fear! It is not known if De Alvarado ever actually said these words, but they might as well have been tattooed on his heart. The people of the town were not timid and peaceful Tabascans, and some of then made the mistake of resisting the invaders. De Alvarado had a simple and clear answer to that: kill every third adult male in the town.

In just under 24 hours, de Alvarado's forces killed over 1,500 Indians -- mostly men, but hundreds of women and children as well. The river that flowed through it was choked with bodies; the stench would linger for days.

And it worked. Rule by Fear: after those 24 hours, there was no further resistance to Spanish rule in Coatzacoalcos. Mute and stunned, the natives bowed their heads to the new masters.

De Alvarado nodded to himself with satisfaction. Coatzacoalcos was ideal. It sat on the coast, had a decent harbor, and was defensible... not that this was a /great/ worry, given the miserable performance of the Indios in battle. The local labor force was now docile and broken. Best of all, it was at the mouth of a large river that ran south and then east. If his maps were correct, this river valley would provide a broad and easy path into the heart of the Empire.

* * *

The King's advisors discussed these matters intently amongst themselves with an occasional (simplified) aside to the King. As a great Tlon philosopher of war said during the Dark Ages, 'If you know... then you have won half the battle.' They had to figure out these strange new *Arawaks. They did not seem to act like the *Arawaks... but then one Tlon mentioned how they themselves were very different from the previous Mesoamerican civilization.

This got a number of them thinking. They compared the present day Tlon empire to the previous ones... What if these *Arawaks were the same? What if they had grown like the Tlon have? What havoc could they wreak then? Tales of the *Arawak raids played a large role in the story of the coming of the Dark Ages. Might the Tlon now be fighting for their very existence?

It was soon decided that the Empire had to respond to this threat with its full weight and power. Other wars and squabbles had to be put aside until these . . . men . . . were faced.

Tales of the *Arawak atrocities were sent forth to all corners of the Kingdom, less the subject races think they could get better masters. Orders poured out from the palace on the lake.

From the desert came Beaded Lizard Legion, Roadrunner Legion, One Owl and Two Owl and the Butterflies and Antelope Monster Legion: the blue-plumed warriors of Army Group North. From the jungles of the south came men with red plumes: Choking Vine Legion, Blue Hummingbird Legion, and the various Jaguars. And from the great central valley came the men of Army Group Center, plumed in noblest carmine, the oldest and most honored names of Tlon legend: Water Snake Legion, Eagle Legion, and the dreaded Balancers. [2]

* * *

The Spaniards too were on the move. South they marched, inland at last, up the fertile valley of the Coatza River.

None of the Spaniards knew that they were marching through some of the most civilized lands in America, a valley that had once been a center of the ancient Olmec. All they knew was that the land was fertile and that the natives had all heard of them in advance. There were no large towns, but there were hundreds of bean-corn-squash-and-potato farming villages. The army passed through hamlet after hamlet; they ate, plucked a few choice items, grabbed a few slaves and then moved on. It was a leisurely march, and for the Spaniards a very pleasant one.

De Alvarado occasionally interrogated some locals to see if he could learn anything new. The peasants had nothing much to say. Once again he learned that the great king Tloxandor lived in two magnificent cities beyond the hills and the mountains to the north and east, and that his armies, lined up in a field, would cover it like the waves of the sea.

De Alvarado laughed at this idea, and ordered his men to prepare for a move into the hills. This march was all good fun, but it was time to finish this. They would march directly on the capitol.

Except that the main Tlon field force was now in his way.

* * *

Thirty legions: about 75,000 men.

Auxiliaries -- wild tribesmen from the desert, curiously painted barbarians from the west coast, bowmen and runners and slingers -- another 10,000 or so.

Support troops, surgeons, porters, cooks, and engineers: say 20,000, at a low estimate.

So, at least 100,000 men were moving towards de Alvarado as he prepared to turn west from the central Coatza valley. [3]

Raising such a large force hadn't been a problem. Or anyhow, not _the_ problem. The Tlon had at least three times that many soldiers. The hard part was getting them all in one place on short notice and then keeping them fed. In a Bronze Age Empire that relied on human backs and feet for logistics, this was straining the very bleeding edge of their capabilities.

Nevertheless, they could do it. They had done it. And now they were coming to kill Pedro de Alvarado and every one of his men.

* * *

It was a sight to behold. Never, not even among the tales of ancient Rome had he heard, let alone seen of a force this big. It seemed to stretch mile after mile. [2] He could not see the individual soldiers yet, but if he had they might have erased some of the contempt he had for Indio soldiers. The officers were dressed spectacularly. Their gleaming bronze armor reflected the rays of the sun, their scarlet capes flapped in the wind, the quetzal plumes on their helmets showed their bravado. And they were all leading from the front.

The soldiers that followed them had a variety of guises and weapons, but most had a bronze sword, shield, and helmet. A few carried bows and other missile weapons, but these were in the distinct minority. They were not in anything that could be called a battle line, even with the most generous definition, but they were all marching towards the Spaniards.

They wore armbands of dyed cotton. No Spaniard had any idea what they meant, but the meanings were clear to the wearers: the carmine of imperial pride, the yellow of righteous wrath, the black of implacable intent.

Soon, The Battle of the Dark Forest would begin.

[1] No change from OTL here.

[2] "Army Group North" is actually a fairly close translation. "Legion" is very approximate, but will do for our purposes.

[2] This number is actually lower than what the Aztecs may have had at the Battle of Otumba, so I don't regard having a force this large being assembled in this amount of time as being unrealistic.

Due to a more advanced naval package among the *Arawaks, the Americas produce a number of civilizations that reach a bronze age level of technology. By 1520 the Spaniards have managed to conquer the Caribbean and they just sent their first expedition against the Tlon, the most powerful civilization in the Americas. Under de Alvarado, a ruthless man even by conquistador standards, the Spanish had enjoyed much victory and plunder. But now the Tlon have mobilized against them with every unit soldier they could throw together. We now go to join the Battle of the Dark Forest.

BANW 1520: Bronze Against Steel: Two Handfuls of Sand

The Old World and the New met that day in what would be by far the bloodiest exchange yet. With no allies, and only his 600 or so men by his side, even a man of de Alvarado's temperament must have quailed at 150 to 1 odds.

But if he did, he did not let it show. Instead he ordered his men to advance dead on at a quick trot. Best to show no fear. Unfortunately, though the skies were cloudy it was an extremely hot day, and the quick trot was called off after two men fainted from heatstroke in their heavy armor. De Alvarado silently cursed that he had tired his men out before the battle, but at least hopefully it had made an impression on the Tlon.

It had. The Tlon General, Prince Zaxxon, thought that the Spaniards' rest was a sign of fear at the mighty horde under his command. Excellent. Zaxxon looked at his troops. All the men held tall with their chests in the air, with a courage in their blood and a fire in their stare. It was a grey morning and they were all wondering how they would fare...

The General told them. Zaxxib addressed all of his troops, or at least all that could hear him.

"Who among you does not feel honor and pride in his heart that he is Tlon? Who among you is so cowardly and unworthy that he would cower from Arawaks? I know many of you have heard stories about the strange men we are about to face, but they are MEN! Not gods, but men! And they can be killed as men. You may be afraid of their Thunder Weapons or their Llamas that hold men upon their backs, but why? Do you fear death because it comes in a new form? Or are you soldiers of the Tlon? Members of the Master Race that has conquered the greatest Empire in the world?

"Look! Look at them! They have stopped, because they now see our true strength. They are wise to fear us, for we are many and they are few. And today we shall taste their blood! You will all show bravery and your memories shall live forever! Who doubts these words? Who? WHO??!!"

A cheer arose from the assembled soldiers. Zaxxon finished by repeating some lines of sacred poetry, for he was a pious man, and then he got back to work. His speech had hopefully filled some hearts with some courage. That was all he could do. He now had to put his faith in the Gods, Bronze, and the lessons he had learned.

Beside him, a servant held a wooden tray with twenty slots in it. Each slot held a small, brightly colored fan made of bird feathers. Zaxxon carefully selected two fans and waved them: blue fan, fully open, full swing overhead; black fan, closed, full swing overhead.

Behind him, a team of thirty trained men snapped into action. Six enormous fans, with handles twice the length of a tall man, were lifted into the air. Three blue fans were opened fully; each black fan was kept closed. All began to swing in wide arcs.

The signal went out across the great army:

RIGHT WING ADVANCE

Nearly a mile away across the battlefield, men surged forward. Crazy Puma Legion, Two Owl Legion, Barrel Cactus and Black Jaguar and Woodpecker Legions moved on the Spanish lines, more than 12,000 men against 600. [1]

It might be enough, and then again it might not. But the Tlon knowledge of war extended to the concept of flank attacks. So Zaxxon selected three new fans -- green barred with white, solid green, orange.

LEFT WING ENCIRCLE TO LEFT

To the left was a dark forest; it would take some time to move eight legions, or 20,000 men, through those woods. Well, it was in the hands of the gods now. Zaxxon composed his features and settled down to wait.

* * *

Possibly de Alvarado saw the enemy flanking move. Possibly not. Or perhaps he saw it and thought the Indios were retreating. It hardly mattered; he simply didn't have enough men to spread out his line.

So he fell back on what had worked twice already. He formed a line of infantry, and sent his cavalry off in a flanking move on his left. Hammer and anvil: it had smashed two Indian armies, and it would smash this one. It might require two or three more charges, but the Indios would break. They would break, and this land would be his.

And then the Tlon right wing hit the Spaniards like a tidal wave of bronze swords.

* * *

Zaxxon watched intently. Two Owl legion was decimated by the enemy's strange weapons and fell back in confusion, but Barrel Cactus Legion and the Black Jaguars closed to melee. Weapons rose and fell and the sound of battle came to them, a dull roar punctuated by screams, the clang of blades on armor punctuated by the strange sharp sounds of the enemy weapons.

The Black Jaguars, too, fell into confusion, but Crazy Puma Legion moved up to take their place. Behind them the Woodpeckers pressed forward.

Zaxxon reached for the box of fans.

RIGHT RESERVE FORWARD

* * *

The Conquistadors killed ten, twenty, thirty, or even fifty Tlon for each of their own, but back, back they were pushed. They were continuously losing men while new Tlon soldiers filled the gaps left by their fallen. Steadily, steadily the Spaniards were being pushed towards the woods.

And then came the brave call of a trumpet and the neighing of horses. The cavalry, accompanied by nearly 100 foot soldiers, appeared. They surged forward...

...and ran directly into Antelope Monster Legion, leading the Tlon right reserve.

The impetus of the Spanish charge nearly carried them through the new force of Tlon. But the right reserve consisted of four legions, not one. A hundred men could perhaps punch through ten thousand, if the ten thousand could be broken in spirit. But the Tlon did not break. They stood, and faced the strange weapons and monstrous animals, and they fought. And the Spanish slowed, stopped, fell back.

The hammer could not reach the anvil.

* * *

The Spanish main force had fallen back to the edge of the forest. And then, as the Tlon surged towards their fleeing prey, there came a terrifying sound. From deep within the trees, the Tlon Horn Blower Contingent blew their mighty bronze horns and conch shells twice. And after these horns sounded out from the woods poured the vanguard of the Tlon left wing, two legions who had been waiting for this moment.

The Spanish were forced to fight for a while in heavy woods where their guns where less effective. Zaxxon had no idea this would be the effect, but he quickly learned of it, and would remember it. [2]

The Conquistadors stood their ground bravely for long minutes. But they were now being squeezed from three sides, and they had seen their cavalry chased away. They fought, and they fought, but in the end they broke.

With one last ditch effort, 50 of them surged north and sliced their way through the encircling Tlon. They joined up with the cavalry force, which had also been reduced to 50 or so men. Together, these 100 men began a run that would lead them back to Coatzacoalcos.

De Alvarado was one of these 100. Of the rest of his force, some thirty men had been captured alive. All the rest of them lay dead on the field.

* * *

Zaxxon viewed all this without any change of expression. A prince-general of the Tlon kept his dignity in all circumstances, whether victorious or destroyed. But when he saw the Spanish survivors break free, he reached once more for the box of fans. Yellow, black-and-white, black...

PURSUE AND DESTROY

* * *

Nightmare.

The Spanish marched as fast as they could. They dropped armor, then weapons. They dropped food and water. They dropped the precious gold that they had gone to such trouble to gather.

PURSUE AND DESTROY

But still the Indios came on behind them. The Spanish could not sleep; they could barely rest for the half part of an hour. The Spanish marched through the night, but when the sun rose high they could see the dust of their pursuers just a few miles back. Always behind them came the Indios.

The Spanish had horses, but not nearly enough. A few men could rest by riding, but soon the horses were also too tired to go faster than a walk. Every hour a wounded man fell behind. None were seen again. By the second day of marching men were beginning to drop from simple exhaustion.

PURSUE AND DESTROY

Somehow, the news of their defeat seemed to have reached ahead of them. The natives in the villages fled and hid themselves, but any Spaniard who stepped away from his comrades was likely to be the target of an arrow shot from ambush. De Alvarado could rage and order the empty houses burned, but "Rule by Fear" meant little when the would-be rulers were running for their lives.

PURSUE AND DESTROY

And still behind them came the Indios.

* * *

Many miles behind them, Zaxxon was beginning to interrogate some of the captured soldiers to see what he could learn. He had a stroke of luck in that one of the interpreter-slaves was also captured. Zaxxon would learn a great deal about the "Zabaniards," one way or another. He also soon learned that his troops had managed to capture four of the strange Llamas alive. That was a wondrous prize indeed. For the first time, Zaxxon allowed himself a smile.

And then he composed his features again, and clapped his hands for a sedan chair. It was beneath his dignity to run, of course. But six of the strongest and swiftest men in his army would carry him after the fleeing Spanish.

Zaxxon wanted to be in at the kill.

* * *

De Alvarado spit out a glob of blood and grimaced. He forced his legs to keep moving, far past the point when they were screaming at him to stop. Unlike most of his men, he had kept much of his armor. To throw it away would have been to admit defeat, and he was not about to do that. This was bad, this was very bad, but Pedro de Alvarado was not beaten.

He would reach Coatzacoalcos. He would rally his small garrison there and defend the walls until reinforcements arrived from Cuba. And then... oh, Dios, and then...

His armor had chafed bloody scrapes all over his body. The blisters on his feet had burst and scabbed and burst again. But that no longer mattered. They were almost there. Though tormented by hunger, desperate fatigue and the pursuing Tlon, what remained of his army could see Coatzacoalcos up ahead.

And they got close. Close enough that he had one of his precious remaining horsemen rush ahead to see if reinforcements were there. They were, but the town was in complete revolt.

Somehow, word had gotten ahead of them. And it seemed that, despite de Alvarado's massacres, the people of Coatzacoalcos still had some fight left in them. The reinforcements would have to fight their way through.

And that allowed just enough time for the main Tlon force to catch up with the Spanish.

Of those 100 fleeing soldiers (and a few auxiliaries), only 12 managed to escape this time. The rest were caught in the Tlon vice and squeezed until their blood flowed from their bodies.

De Alvarado was not one of the 12. However, he did see the end coming and he was determined to go out like a true caballero. He slashed down a Tlon soldier and made a dash to the east.

This surprised the Tlon for to the east was a sheer cliff that was too wide for any man to jump, let alone one who was wearing steel armor and who had been marching without rest for three days. But he jumped nonetheless, and his body sailed towards the other side of the cliff. Closer. Closer. For a moment he felt like he was on top of the world, and many who saw the jump swore he sailed further than any man has before or since. But in the end, it was not close enough. He fell, his heavy armor banging against the side, rock after rock, until he hit the bottom. [3]

Even them he was not dead. Pedro de Alvarado ended up suffering a worse fate. For he had lost his weapons, been knocked unconscious, broke many of his bones, and was more or less completely helpless. Soon some Coatzocoalcans, who had been watching the battle, went to investigate. They remembered his strange face well, and were quite glad for the chance to repay the kindness he had shown their town. De Alvarado did not die for quite some time.

* * *

Meanwhile the small garrison, dashing forward to save their comrades who were now mostly dead, met up with the main Tlon force. The Tlon were very tired, and these men were fresh, so the Tlon did not perform as well against them as they did against Alvarado's fleeing troops. After a short and bloody scuffle, they fell back from the walls of the town.

But the Spanish realized they had to retreat anyway. Afterwards they would say that this was because once "The Twelve Survivors" (as they would forever after be known) informed them that there was no one else to rescue, they had little reason to stay. However, the Twelve also mentioned that there were another 50,000 or so screaming Indian warriors just a few hours down the road that were coming on at full speed, and this may have influenced the Spanish a bit too.

As Coatzacoalcos burned around them, and the Tlon advanced on the town's walls, the Spanish fell back to the docks.

* * *

The final scene of the mad Spanish scramble for the boats was a joyous one for Zaxxon. He had arrived outside the walls in his sedan chair just as the Spanish began to board. Dismounting, he took personal command of the first few maniples to enter the town. And so he was able to watch the Spanish flee in their super canoes which, after firing a few parting shots at his forces, took them far over that incredibly blue sea.

When the last ship was out of sight Zaxxon fell to his knees, grabbed two handfuls of sand, and cried out, "All Praise the Gods! This land is once more that of the Tlon!"

[1] The Tlon signal system is sort of like the dancing bear: it's not how well it dances, it's that it dances at all. The fans are clumsy and fragile, and the whole thing breaks down if conditions are bad: fog or rain on the battlefield, or a heavy wind that makes the fans impossible to handle.

On the other hand, when it works, it allows instantaneous communication over distances of a mile or more. Which is not bad for a Bronze Age civilization that has only just figured out the wheel.

It's backed up with runners, of course.

[2] In OTL the Maya came up (near the end) with a number of tactics for combating some of the Conquistador advantages. These included picking fights in heavy woods and fog, both of which helped neutralize gunpowder.

Here, the Tlon may have a change to learn a trick or two as well, before it's too late. Or then again perhaps not.

[3] But this jump lived past him. For one of the 12 fleeing survivors managed to see this tale and spread it far and wide. In time, it became a tradition among Conquistadors to yell "Alvarado" whenever they jumped over something large and dangerous. Kind of like "break a leg" in showbiz. In time this passed into popular culture and is now most commonly yelled during a skydive.

BANW 1520 - 1522: In The Meantime: Book 'em

After the final battle, Zaxxon, the Prince General of the Tlon, learned that he had killed around 600 of the enemy, not including auxiliaries. [1] But this cost him the lives of several thousand of his own soldiers. A high price indeed. The enemy dead were burned and a stench vaguely like roasted pork filled the battlefield. The Tlon dead, meanwhile, were prepared for a mass rendering. Their bones would have to go to the Ossuary, of course, but in order to do that... well, let us gloss over the details, and merely note that the rest of the army had a grimly busy couple of days.

But when the last of the Spanish dead were thrown onto the great Bonfire, and the last package of fresh bones had been given to porters to carry north to the capital, a tremendous cheer went up among the Tlon Army. It was now time for the sacred cleansing ritual.

Some Army leaders didn't follow the rituals, especially when time was of the essence, but not Zaxxon. [2] He always made sure the entire cleansing procedure was enacted in full. Each soldier washed and groomed his companion on an adegan, a small board with a human figure carved on it. He then wrapped his comrade in clean leaves after which a raw egg was rolled across their body and smashed on their head, thus removing all impurities. The wrapped soldier then tore off the leaves and washed himself to signify that the blood lust of battle was gone from his stomach (where the Tlon thought the soul resided) and that he was once again in control of his being.

Before the final phase, a "soul calling" was held at the grave of the Tlon's enemies. Small offerings were made to souls of the their defeated foe. This was to induce them to hold no grudges, and to quickly leave the land.

When this was done the Tlon began singing and marching. Despite their heavy losses there were smiles on many faces. For they were going to the last, and most favorite, step of the ritual. Every soldier looked forward to the Visit To the Sacred Prostitutes.

The 30 captured Spanish watched much of this, even in some instances the last phase, with eyes wide in amazement. Everything was so strange and different that their minds had trouble processing it. Many were still amazed that they had lost to Indios. Many of these men had been born, or lived most of their lives, in the Caribbean. They were used to having Indios under their control. Having the world turned upside down this way was deeply unsettling.

On the other hand, everyone knew stories of men who had been captured by the Moors and enslaved, sometimes for years. Some of those stories had happy endings. Okay, many of them did not, but...

The Spanish were marched or carried back to the Tlon capital of Uqbar. Their eyes grew wider still when they saw a city bigger than any had ever seen. Bigger than many had thought possible. It seemed to stretch for miles along the shore of a vast shining lake.

The people of Uqbar turned out in droves to gawk at the strange men with the pinkish-white skin. Sometimes citizens (for almost all who watched the Parade were Tlon) threw garbage, dung, or even rocks at those who had attacked their Empire. But for the most part the Tlon watched in silence, too amazed by the aliens to do anything but gape.

After the parade the interrogation began. It went slowly, for in the beginning the Tlon lacked enough translators to communicate with more than one or two Spaniards at a time. But over the months improvements were made. They were questioned by all manner of people in the kingdom. Boat-makers questioned them on their incredible ships. Merchants questioned them on their goods. Generals questioned them on their ways of war. The Eye questioned them on their politics. Priests questioned them on their religion.

Even King Tloxandor interrogated some Spaniards a number of times. Their conversations were full of long pauses and many questions of irrelevance. Still, the King's sessions often produced better results than most. For Tloxandor never tried to fit the Spaniards into Tlon religion. While others would be asking if they were harbingers of the Fourth World or if their land possessed The Red Eyed Sloth of Pain, the King would just ask them about their horses. For the tenth time.

Slowly but surely the Tlon's understanding of the Spaniards increased. They made some mistakes; for example they mistranslated the words "infidel" and "Moor" as being equivalent to the Tlon word for "blood-drinking sexual demon", with interesting results for their interpretation of recent Spanish history. Still by 1522 the Tlon had learned the following:

The Spanish sought to take over their entire Empire, as they had the Caribbean.

The Spanish were motivated by a God that accepted no other, and they sought to convert the Tlon to this God. Tlon gods would be crushed and mocked.

The Spanish did not come from Caribbean, but from a land unbelievably far away.

The Spanish BigLlamas were not Llamas, but some new animal that came from that same far away land.

Their strange Bronze was not Bronze, but some new metal.

The Spanish Thunder Weapons used a strange powder that caused small pellets to go faster than the fastest sling.

But perhaps the most important knowledge the Tlon gained was a fairly accurate knowledge of Spanish tactics. At first, they had some trouble grasping something so strange, so _new_. They literally had difficulty talking about it.

Then the Eye of the King quickly came up with a way around that. He had several priests condense the notes on the Spanish captives into a scroll-book. It was a big one, made up of three distinct volumes. Freely translated, these were entitled "Religion of the Spanish" (there were three copies made of this), "The Strange History of the Spanish" (five copies of this one) and "Weapons and Tactics of the Spanish". It's not clear how many copies of this one were made, because they went out the door as fast as the scribes could finish them, but there were at least a hundred.

The Tlon military elite understood about scroll-books. If it was in a scroll-book, it was Accepted Knowledge. After all, it was in the Great Library. So it had to be true. Many a general spent a long night burning the palm oil lamp over "Weapons and Tactics".

Within six months, they were arguing about it in the streets. "No, a 'mooleta' is different from a 'kabadzo'. The kabadzo is bigger and is used only for 'riding' into combat. The mooleta is a completely different animal. Fourth scroll, panel twenty-three, second quadrant."

"Hmm. Well, it says right at the bottom of panel twenty _five_ that the mooletas don't reproduce. So, how can they be a different sort of animal?"

"Isn't it obvious? They're eunuch cabadzos."

"Ah, no doubt that's why they don't fight. Makes sense."

Meanwhile the captive Spanish were being moved on to the next phase of their fate. After a prisoner was judged to have been sufficiently interrogated, he was paraded around the country in a wooden box. Frequently a story-teller or dancer would accompany them and tell of the destruction they had wrought in Tabasco. [3] Soon every province, every city, and most villages were shown that these invaders were not invincible gods. They were men who had been defeated by the might of the Tlon and were now held captive for Tlon amusement.

These Spaniards had a pretty hellish life. Trapped in a box that bruised their bones at every bump in the road, fed a strange and meager diet, poked and prodded in dozens of towns, and forced to curl up in a ball for weeks without rest, most longed for death and soon received it.

But they had a perverse revenge. For one of them was asymptomatic for mumps. Another had a nasty case of shingles. Two of them had head colds. And one unfortunate Spaniard, whose name has been lost to history, had been walking around for months with a shallow cough that just wouldn't go away... a cough that, by the time he left the capital, was starting to bring up the occasional bit of blood.

[1] To the Spanish, this is a huge loss. The loss of 850 people (some auxiliaries but most soldiers) to the Spanish colonists in the Caribbean is roughly equivalent in demographic and proportional terms to the losses of France in WWI or the White South in the American Civil War. This is really really bad for them. Everybody knows somebody who died and those people will be missed. Now, there are cultural differences to these loses (the Spanish colonists saw 1 in 2 of their companions die through starvation in the first year, for instance), but the elimination of so many experienced hands will have a noticeable effect on the culture and climate of the Spanish Main in the 1520`s.

However, a big difference is that the Spanish settlers can make up those losses, demographically speaking, a lot easier than the White South or France. Because it can always just get more men from Spain. But those men would be unfamiliar with the New World. Spain just lost a lot of experienced men with important knowledge. It will take some time, and some stupid mistakes, before that level of knowledge is regained.

[2] For the record, the double x in his name represents a consonant cluster that's completely incomprehensible to Spanish. You can think of it as the Slavic 'shch' if you like.

[3] The Dance of Death,which which commemorating the Rape of Tabasco, was performed for the first time during this period. Justly famous for its frantic energy, powerful rhythm, and brutal movements (many a dancer has been hurt performing it), this dance is still enacted today, mainly for the tourist market.

Bronze Age New World: Interlude -- Barbados

"One can see why the Spanish called it Barbados, yes," says Captain Loboe.

The First Mate nods. From half a league offshore, the island has an oddly shaggy appearance. There's a low, grassy highland, surrounded by lowlands covered in scrub forest. From this angle it's easy to see it as an enormous face, bald but wildly bearded, staring endlessly up into the blue tropical sky.

There's a line of white beach at the edge of the island, then a fringe of white surf beyond it. The collar and necklace of the island-giant, perhaps. A small boat is working its way through the surf, very carefully.

"The Spanish, of course, are hoof-handed swine in the service of brutes and morons. There is not a Spaniard alive who has any sense of culture or decorum." The Captain delivers this judgment without rancour; he might be commenting on the weather. "They are all scum, and the Castilians are the worst. Cruel and stupid. They do not deserve these islands, or indeed this New World."

The First Mate nods again. His captain is a strange one, but few Portuguese would disagree with this assessment.

Half a century has passed since the War of La Beltrana, when the slut Isabella and her Principe de Ladroas Ferdinand stole the throne of Castile. It should have gone to Isabella's neice, the daughter of her older brother and the wife of the King of Portugal. Alas, little Portugal was unable to support so great a claim. Instead of becoming a subordinate province of Portugal, as the Lord surely intended, Castile joined with Aragon to create the absurd and dangerous nation called Spain.

Half a century, and relations between Portugal and Spain have wobbled up and down, from cool correctness through frosty hostility to undeclared war. Today, in the autumn of the Lord's year 1521, they are cold and getting colder.

"They cannot even give these seas and islands proper names," continues the Captain. The First Mate struggles to control his expression.

He deeply respects his Captain; the Marquis Loboe is young, but he is already a battle-hardened commander and an excellent leader of men. Nevertheless, he has read too many books. The First Mate lives in fear of another lecture. Theology, philosophy -- he has learned to heartily loathe such names as Boethius and Erasmus -- classical learning or, worst of all, aesthetics.

"'New Spain'," murmurs the Captain. "'Saint John', 'Saint Dominic', 'Rice Port' and 'the Sea of Cities'. Pah!" He shakes his head. "The wild beauty of unknown continents, and all they can think of are the little saints of Spain."

The boat from the island is close now. Sailors wave from the Captain's flagship. There will be fresh fruit, and news from the little colony ashore. They stopped there just over a month ago, of course, but it seems much longer. Since then they have seen, just as the Captain puts it, the wild beauty of a new continent: a great forested land to the south, full of strange beasts and stranger men.

"That is why, I believe, they have failed in their effort to conquer the great empire to the west." The Captain is talking to himself now, but the Mate's ears prick up. Everyone knows that the Spanish campaign last year ended in disaster, but it's almost certain that the Captain knows more. Maybe much more. Their expedition was assembled in great haste, after all, and there have been certain mysterious orders...

But their young Captain is maddeningly cryptic; elusive, allusive, dropping hints and then changing the subject, salting plain talk with references to some Italian named Dante or some boy-loving Greek who had been dead hundreds of years before the Lord walked in Israel. What's an honest sailor to think?

And now he has changed the subject again. "Forty white men, a few of them with their wives. And as many slaves again, both Moors and African, most of them women. Six months later all are alive, and they report three births, of which two are still alive. Plus which, they have purchased two more slaves from the local Indios, after entering into friendly relations with them."

"So it seems our new colony is a success, sir." The Mate is trying to play along.

The Captain raises his shoulders in the most minimal of shrugs. "Success can be measured in many ways. This colony is not likely to bring great wealth to Portugal, that is certain."

_Then what is it for?_ wonders the mate, but he knows better than to ask. The Captain will just say something incomprehensible, then laugh and say he has not read his Thucydides. Or some such.

Still, he can try. "Well, sir, the Spanish are unlikely to contest our claim now. After all, they haven't settled anywhere near here."

The Captain smiles. "Oh, my friend, I rather hope the Spanish do contest our claim. I truly hope they do."

_Why?_ wonders the Mate, but the Captain has turned away to look at the island again. Just below them, sailors are clasping hands, lifting the colonists out of the boat. There is laughter and embracing. The Captain pays this no heed at all.

"Barbatus."

"Sir?"

"Mark it on the charts. From now on, this island will be known as Barbatus."

"Ah... sir."

The Captain smiles, and then laughs. The Mate shudders just a little. The Captain very rarely laughs.

_What in the name of the Virgin's holy mother does that mean?_ he wonders.

"Barbatus was a god, my man." The Mate can't help himself; he jumps a good couple of inches. He /hates/ it when the Captain does that. "One of the pagan idols of the ancient Romanes. He was a small god, but then this is a small island. And he held a most particular and special portfolio."

"Uh... portfolio, sir?"

"His task, his divine function. His area of authority." The Captain turns and strolls away. "Yes, Barbatus. It is not inappropriate, I think." The conversation is clearly at an end.

The Mate sighs. One day perhaps he will find out what that was all about.

Meanwhile there is cargo to be loaded. Perhaps the colonists will have some news. And... just perhaps, over the next few years, there is an empire to be won.

Bronze Age New World: Interlude -- The Red Breath

There were small dark nodules all over the place, in her gut, stomach, liver, pancreas. We cut down further into the groin, and they were in the lymph nodes also... it struck us that they looked like watermelon pits.

We cut open some of these nodules. The inside was granular, powdery, lighter colored... [we] cut out two vertebrae. Nodules in the spinal cord as well -- central nervous system infection. It occurred to us to begin to feel a little spooked. We put on another pair of gloves…

We started to open up the chest. We cut through the skin and then sawed through the rib cage… And normally, if you slice through the diaphragm, the whole rib cage should just lift off, like magic, displaying a luscious pair of lungs and a heart below. We cut along all the dotted lines, but the rib cage wasn't budging. We pulled at all sorts of angles until we could see -- the lungs were completely adhered to everything -- to the diaphragm, to the rib cage, to the heart. This was drastically wrong. We yanked at the rib cage, cut underneath a bit, yanked some more, and suddenly it pulled loose along with all the adhered lung.

We leapt back. Jesus fucking Christ. Fluid was oozing out every which way. It was thick and milky and smelly and fibrous and splotched, with pieces of things in it. If you were to find yourself in hell and you got thirsty and ordered an ice cream soda with blood and cherries thrown in, this is what you would get. Then we realized -- this wasn't some fluid oozing out of the lungs. This was the lungs themselves oozing away. Her lower lobes had just melted.

Our bravado was gone. We procrastinated before getting up the nerve to examine the remnants of the lungs. There were the nodules everywhere, in the chest wall, the trachea, the tracheobronchial lymph nodes as well. But the lungs. Nodules. But also splotches, hemorrhages, explosions of blood and pus here and there, implosions, and more lung melting away all the time. We eventually touched them. The lungs were bony. Maybe not even bony. They had some sort of cartilaginous superstructure, pockets of rock hardness, other parts that were like hard eggshells that then burst, dripping away more of the lung. This was insanely wrong, as wrong as eating yogurt and having to stop to pick the bones out of it.

We began to dissect and cut open and palpate and scrape. There were chunks of cartilage-type stuff connecting nothing to nothing. There were white parts and black parts and hemorrhaged red parts and garish yellow-green parts. There were hard spheres that split open to release thick yellow ooze that left behind little soft kernels of coagulated hemorrhage... The remaining lung was adhered to everything, there was no definition to the lobes anymore. There were gaping holes in the trachea...

Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky, (2001), describing the dissection of a tuberculosis victim lacking resistance to the disease

Tuberculosis is ancient in the Old World. Tubercules have been found in mummies from Egypt's Old Kingdom, and there are references to the disease in Babylonian texts.

It was traditionally an urban disease. _Mycobacterium kochii_ has one great weakness: even in its most virulent form, it spreads only slowly from person to person. Its primary vector is airborne transmission -- coughing -- but this is not very efficient. The microbe dies easily outside the body and so does not usually travel very far. Therefore, it usually takes a great many coughs in close or crowded quarters for TB to jump to a new victim. Thus it was (and to a great extent still is) a disease of crowded populations -- cities (especially slums), ships, and prisons.

Tuberculosis has had millennia to coevolve with its host population. It has done so with considerable success. Although the disease is usually lethal without treatment, it can take months, years, or even decades to kill. Meanwhile, the victim walks around feeling only slightly weakened, occasionally running a mild fever... and coughing, coughing, coughing. The microbe thus maximizes its chances of finding another host.

Things didn't work quite this way in the New World, though. Native American populations lacked resistance to TB. Infections were likely to produce the horrific results described by Dr. Sapolsky. The bacterium would run amok in the victim's body, infecting not just the lungs but the digestive system, the central nervous system, and major internal organs. Death would follow within days.

(Tuberculosis is, in a sense, the inverse of smallpox. While it wreaks spectacular havoc with internal organs, it does not produce very dramatic symptoms on the outside. A victim caught without natural resistance develops a nasty, painful cough, then a high fever. She coughs up some blood, goes into a coma, and is probably dead within a few days from some combination of oxygen deprivation and shock. It's not a pleasant death, but it does not present grotesque external symptoms -- there are no pus-filled blisters, no raving delirium, no bloody flux.)

Paradoxically, despite the natives' lack of resistance, TB was slow to establish itself in the New World. There were two reasons for this. One was that the Americas lacked large urban centers. Most Native Americans were either hunter-gatherers or just barely agricultural. Even in Mesoamerica and the Inca empire, cities were relatively few and mostly rather small -- Tenochtitlan being the single and spectacular exception. And long-distance travel was much less common than in the Old World, reducing the microbe's opportunities for dispersal.

The other problem was that, in a population without resistance, TB was just too damn lethal. Instead of walking around coughing for months or years, victims would collapse within days. This meant that the disease tended to produce short spectacular outbreaks and then disappear. The human hosts were simply dying too fast to let it spread.

In the Bronze Age New World, things are somewhat different. Mesoamerica is much more urbanized. There are a dozen cities with populations in excess of 50,000, and many more large towns. Furthermore, long-distance trade is much more common. The better navigational package has given rise to coasting trades along both coasts. Inland, the relative peace and unity of the Tlon state has encouraged trade links. The Tlon are not a commercially oriented people, but they like good roads and encourage their use.

As a result, TB will be a much more significant killer in BANW Mesoamerica. In the long run, it will still tend to burn itself out. But in the short run, it will be able to ravage most of the region's major urban centers.

It won't kill as many people as smallpox did OTL. (The Tlon will have to face smallpox too, of course. Just not quite yet.) But it will have a disproportionate impact because it will kill in cities, where the political and administrative elite are concentrated.

Which is not to say that it will destroy the Empire. The Emperor and the aristocracy are important, the literate priests and administrators even more so. But at the end of the day the Tlon are an ethnicity, not an aristocracy, and the majority of them are not nobles or priests. The backbone of the Empire is the yeoman farmer-soldier, self-identifying as ethnic Tlon. In the Imperial heartland the TB epidemic, though devastating, will not break the Empire's ability to resist. The Tlon have a strong tradition of bottom-up organization, especially in military matters. Killing off the aristocrats and priests and generals will make it more difficult for them to field large armies and coordinate strategy, but it will not cause the Empire to collapse.

In areas where the Tlon are few on the ground, though, it will cause major problems. Local Tlon populations, cut off from the central administration, will be isolated and vulnerable. Even without the Spanish, the Tlon will have great difficulty supporting themselves in the outer provinces of the Empire. Regions that could be held by a small garrison and a handful of administrators will suddenly be isolated and thrown on their own resources. Recent conquests will rebel, and even long-held provinces may undergo a drastic renegotiation of power relationships. And then, at some point, there will be the Spanish to consider.

Tuberculosis will not be the only plague, of course. The captive Spaniards will also bring mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, and several upper respiratory infections. Smallpox (by random chance) will not arrive for a little while yet, but dozens of other deadly microbes, from influenza to measles, will soon be making their presence felt. But all that will come later.

So it is that just a few months after the great victory over the Spanish, the people of Uqbar and Orqwith begin to die. And in the seventh day of the plague, Tloxandor, King Over Kings, starts coughing. Tloxandor is not a clever man, but neither is he a fool; the Tlon have some notion of epidemic disease, and he understands the danger. He orders his sons sent away from the palace and has himself closeted safely away from all but his most immediate advisors.

It's too late. The King Over Kings begins coughing blood, grows rapidly weaker, loses control of his hands and feet, gasps for breath. Then he falls into a sleep from which he cannot be wakened. On the next day, the tenth of the plague in Uqbar, he dies. The next day comes the news that both his sons have begun to cough as well.

Before the moon has waxed and waned one more time, the 'red breath' will have killed all of the King's immediate family. It will also have gone a long way towards decapitating the imperial ruling class in general. By the end of the year, it will have killed one person in five between Chiapas and the northern deserts, rising to one in three in the cities and large towns.

Bronze Age New World 1520 - 1522: In The Meantime: Holding the Center

The TB plague, and the lesser pestilences that followed along with it, wreaked havoc upon the Tlon. The death toll continued to grow and grow. In the first year, every family knew someone who had died by the diseases. In the second, every family had itself lost someone.

Entire cities were deserted by people trying to flee from this new terror. Things weren't quite as bad in the country side, but still there were many regions where the potatoes rotted in the ground because nobody was left to harvest them. And armies seemed to melt away as one soldier after another fell coughing out of march and never stood again.

All fields of Tlon society were touched, including that of the all highest. For in the year 11 [1], in the time of the plague in Uqbar, died Tloxandor, King of the Tlon.

Even amid so many other deaths, the Tlon mourned for their King. He had not been a particularly wise or clever King, but he had been well liked nonetheless. Who would lead the Tlon now?

After the usual behind the scenes power struggle, a new King was chosen. He was smart. He had experience in war. He was often blunt and abrasive. And he was an utter religious fanatic -- that is, very pious, even by Tlon standards. He was Zaxxon, the general who turned back the Spanish invasion and killed de Alvarado.

And he knew what these Spaniards _really_ were. They were the harbingers of doom. The demons of the end times. The slayers of his world. The Enemy.

Zaxxon spent the next year and a half struggling to restore order to the Empire. The empty towns were repopulated. The fallow fields were redistributed. New priests were consecrated, and junior officers were promoted to be new generals. The dead could not be replaced, much of the damage could not be fixed, but in the home provinces the Empire began to recover.

(And, of course, religious obligations could be attended to. The dead Tlon had to be gathered up, their bodies lovingly dissected and rendered, and their dried bones provided to the Ossuary in Orqwith. The newly promoted priest-architects of the City of Bone found themselves with an overwhelming surplus of building material. They decided that, once this pesky labor shortage had abated, they would build an immense new structure -- a veritable cathedral of bones.)

In the outer provinces things were more difficult. Several subject peoples chose this moment to revolt. Local populations of Tlon were besieged or expelled, or even wiped out. Even friendly subject peoples, like the Lalamuri of the far northwest, found themselves under sudden attack by newly emboldened neighbors.

The new king handled these problems ruthlessly, efficiently, and on a case-by-case basis. Here, he could move in some legions and smash the revolt; he did so. There, the thing was impossible; too many rebels, too few Tlon, the regional Army Group still too disorganized by the plague. The Tlon were evacuated and the province let go... for now. Elsewhere, the locals were just beginning to murmur. Swift action could prevent trouble later; hundreds of troublemakers were killed, thousands more deported to a distant province.

The new King did this ruthlessly, but not without sorrow. Plague and misery, war and famine, refugees and slaves: all these things were signs of the End Times, when the followers of Sun Hero would have to fight the Great Darkness. And it was the freakish Pink Men who were that Darkness' servants and emissaries. Binding the wounds of the Empire was but a holding action. The real struggle was yet to come.

So when, near the end of the second year of his reign, he received the news that the Spanish had once again landed in the Tlon Empire, he knew what to do. He travelled to the Lonely Fort, high on the treeless slopes of a volcano that would never be called Popocateptl, where the finest warriors of Balancer Legion kept watch against the dark. He entered the temple at the fortress' heart. And there he swore an oath before the gods, slowly cut his hands until enough of his blood filled the Bronze Cup of Malkor, and then doused the flame that had once been sacred to the Jaguar but was now the symbol of Sun Hero.

It was a complex gesture. Tlon society was awash in speculation as to what it meant, and historians continued this debate ever since.

For when the King filled the Bronze Cup of Malkor, it was a signal that he would fulfill his oath or offer himself as sacrifice in atonement. [2] Dowsing the sacred flame meant that an age was coming to an end, but dropping blood into it meant that ones soul was being burned free of its Na'to (an evil grayish goo that sucks all that is good from ones soul).

The most common interpretation of this is that he was saying that he was now pure enough to defeat the Spanish, but that an age would come to an end anyway. For, after all, they were but servants and harbingers. The battle with them would just be the opening act of the conflict that would end this cycle of the world.

[1] The Tlon calendar is based on the years of a King's rule.

[2] This sort of thing had been done occasionally in the past, although only by kings and members of the First Families. Some had succeeded in their oaths and some had failed. When push came to shove some weaseled and said, "Well in a WAY, I've accomplished my oath," but a surprising number followed through with their oath.

If his religious symbolism was complex, his oath was simple. "I, Zaxxon, First Prince of the Tlon and King Over Kings, do hereby swear on my blood that the Spaniards will be killed."

BANW: 1520 – 1522: In the Between Time: The Spanish

The Twelve Survivors, all that was left of de Alvarado's original expedition to conquer the Tlon, looked upon the shores of Cuba with eyes wide with longing and anticipation. They were home. They had made it. They had seen all of their compatriots fall to the Indios but they... they had survived. How would the Caribbean react to the news of their shocking defeat?

Not very well.

In the decades and centuries to come the Twelve Survivors would be venerated, especially their most famous member who would go on to greatness, but in the immediate aftermath they were treated with suspicions, fear, and resentment. One of them was even thrown in jail for a supposed lack of bravery during the campaign. Although this seems harsh, the men were not surprised by it. They lived in a harsh age, in a harsh Empire that punished victory as often as not. They had lost, and they knew it. Until they redeemed themselves, through time or through deeds, they expected, and received, no good will.

One reason for this was that the Spanish Caribbean was very used to defeating Indios by this time. Another was that losing over 600 men was a hard blow for such a small population. Everyone was no more than two connections away from a death. "José died? Miguel's boy? Madre dios. I remember when he..."

The Caribbean colonists were no strangers to death, but now they had twice been visited by it in an unfamiliar form, that strange disease of five years ago and now a defeat on an unprecedented scale. Some screamed and cursed the heathen Indios, and took out their frustration on their Caribbean slaves. Some asked the Twelve Survivors why they returned when the others had not. Others looked within themselves for fault, and asked God how they could gain his good graces again.

A debate soon developed, in Spain as in the Caribbean, as to What Went Wrong. [1]

Many citied the incident that happened right before the expedition left. Vasco Nunez de Balboa, conquistador turned man of God, had preached a sermon at Alvarado's men. Balboa had told them that they should strive above all else to rid themselves of their greed, and instead of seeking Gold they should join him in his quest for God.

Alvarado had gravely insulted Balboa, who then charged at him. Balboa, being blind, missed Alvarado and fell to the ground. With all the grace and dignity he could muster, Balboa had picked himself up, turned to his mockers, and said simply, "God will be watching you. For your own good, act accordingly."

It was probably no coincidence that Balboa's sermons grew much more popular, and his influence greatly increased, after de Alvarado's death. He preached that it was de Alvarado's inhumanity and gold lust that had caused him to lose God's favor. Once de Alvarado's actions became widely known, he did not lack for examples of this. Balboa came to become the leader of a faction that pushed for more emphasis on religion, instead of gold. He was all for conquest, and believed it was a moral duty, he just wanted religious conversion to be at the aim, not loot.

Many listened to this, but many a military man dismissed it. Sure, converting the natives was good, but from reports they had heard, the expedition had been facing 100 to 1 odds against soldiers more powerful and battle ready than anything the Caribbean had produced. The problem was too few soldiers. Case closed, simple as that.

Still others thought the basics had been right, but that de Alvarado should have been a little more tolerant towards the natives and looked for allies. He didn't have to treat them like they were Christians or anything, but if you were trying to kill a lion, where was the harm in tossing a wolf a bone so it didn't attack you when you were busy?

Bars, houses, plantations, ships, and barracks were all filled with animated discussion about what to do next. Some friendships were made or broken based on the answer. Perhaps an additional reason for why the debate was so strenuous, was that news from beyond was equally grim.

First the Portuguese, the lousy stinking Portuguese, had apparently taken over some fairly large group of Indios, called "Buhuraen" or something like that, down South. Someplace called the Amazon. The Spanish had begun to think of the Americas as theirs. While the Portuguese had already had a small base before this conquest, having as many Indios as there were (or rather used to be) in Cuba come under non-Spanish control was a hard blow to their damaged pride. Why did the Portuguese succeed when they had failed?

This news, as bad as it was soon paled to insignificance when information of an even graver sort began flowing in. The _Patria_ was being decimated. Literally decimated, by the same disease that had hit them Caribbean colonies five years ago. The Indians called it Tloggtle, but in Spain it became known as _La Fiebre Cubana_, the Cuban death. One in ten Spaniards died, and another 1 in 20 was blinded or crippled. Those few colonists who returned home to the Fatherland reported an even worse degradation in their social standing.

Being a colonist, even a rich colonist, was no great thing in Spain. But now that some new and fearsome disease had sprong forth from the Caribbean, it had become a plague mark. Something best to be avoided. Fiercly jealous of their standing in society, the Spanish colonists in the Caribbean were hurt by this loss almost as much as they were by the lost expedition.

But they did not allow this pain to hurt their patriotism. When the _Santa Junta_ (Holy League) was formed and rebellion spread throughout parts of the Empire, many a colonist swore loyalty to Spain, and volunteered to return to fight for her. [2]

Those few soldiers who did return home were surely of very little practical help and most had to know this. And most of them stayed for less than a year before getting back on the boat for New Spain. So perhaps it was just a cynical ploy to get into the good gracious of the Empire. Perhaps. Regardless, it was much appreciated by the Crown. So it was no coincidence that those soldiers who had returned, however briefly, were often the ones chosen for future expeditions.

Given the fact that de Alvarado did manage to send home boatloads full of the riches of Tabasco, it is surprising that it took two years before the next expeditions were launched, but there were many reasons for this.

The foremost was probably that the Caribbean had lost a generation of experienced New World hands. The men who went with de Alvarado were not fresh off the boat from Madrid. They had either spent years or decades in the Caribbean, or in some cases had even been born there. They knew the shape of the land, the currents of the ocean, the ways of the natives. It had become second nature to them. They would not easily be replaced.

Then there was the general shortage of manpower. It should have been fairly easy to find men willing to adventure for gold, god and glory, but the Empire was under immense pressure at the time, and then of course there was the pestilence. So it took some time for the new conquistadores to fill our their ranks. [3]

And then there were the Portuguese again. Late in 1521 the Spanish discovered that the meddlesome merchants had planted a colony on /their/ island of Barbados. Soon came reports of non-Spanish strangers appearing among the islands of the Lesser Antilles and along the mysterious coastline to the south. And then, a few months later, a Spanish vessel encountered Portuguese _traders_. The wretched Portuguese were selling European goods to the Indians -- including iron weapons and guns! [4]

The Spanish colonial government found itself faced with a serious dilemma. The Portuguese were few in number and could easily be crushed. But that would mean diverting men and ships away from the new expeditions against the American mainland. For the King had given royal licenses to not one but three conquistadores. And these three men, though very different in almost every respect, agreed on one point: they would accept no delay in their planned attack.

[1] "Nuestra Derrota," Bernal Diaz del Castillo's first hand account of the de Alvarado expedition, was not published until the debate was only carried out among historians. If it had been published earlier... perhaps things would have gone differently. Perhaps.

[2] In OTL their was also a revolt in Spain, but here the increased chaos brought about by the Melting causes it to be even larger and more powerful. This will be covered, a long, long time from now, in the next Brave New Old World series.

One other point: OTL Spaniards of the 1520s were still almost as likely to think of themselves as Castilians, Galicians, Aragonese, etc., as "Spanish". The kingdom of Spain was only about 50 years old and was still in many ways more like a federation than a true unitary state. However, this regional feeling tended to be much less among the colonists, who were much more likely to consider themselves "Spanish". This was true OTL; in the BANW, it's even a bit more so.

[3] New men is the key word. In OTL Cortez led men experienced in the ways of the new world. Here, the future expeditions will be staffed largely with Spanish soldiers fresh off the boat. This will have numerous differences from OTL.

[4] No, they haven't reached the Mesoamerican mainland. Yet. The Caribbean is a big place and the Portuguese are still nosing around from their rather modest base on "Barbatus".

But it's still grossly offensive behavior from the Spanish POV.

BANW 1522: Three Caballeros, Part 0

And then there was that unique Iberian trait of legal conquests. Despite the loss of de Alvarado, there were literally hundreds who would have jumped at the chance to lead another expedition. But they lacked a_capitulacion_, a royal license to conquer, and that made all the difference.

For without a _capitulacion_ someone could conquer the Tlon, take their gold, put up Churches in every cities, and in the end they would wind up in jail, while their superior would wind up with the gold and the glory. The _capitulacion_ had been around for generations, and it had been adapted quite smoothly to the New World. It is no coincidence that no conquistador went anywhere without one. [1]

King Charles was trying to centralize his power. The last thing he wanted was for some hidalgo to crown himself "Emperor of the Tlon," which given the distances and travel times was not an unreasonable fear. By means of the _capitulacion_ system, he made sure that expeditions were done by the book. (The Crown used other methods as well. For example, they made sure that every expedition was accompanied by at least one loyal priest, who would be outside the conquistadores' chain of command.)

Charles wanted to look long and hard for reliable commanders who would not make the mistakes that de Alvarado had made. But he was busy with other things at the time, so this was not his highest priority. And then, his hand was forced by other matters, most particularly the Portuguese presence in the Caribbean. The idea of the Portuguese in _Spain's_ New World was offensive; the fact that they were selling arms to the local Indians added injury to insult.

It was a provocation so gross as to invite war... except that Charles really could not afford a war just now. Well, not a war in Europe, anyhow. He had his hands full and his pockets empty.

But -- ah hah! -- if this rich barbarian empire could be conquered, likely it would provide a nice little hit of gold. And then, perhaps, the Portuguese could be shown what was what and who was who. So. Obviously, then, the wisest course was to hurry up and grant some _capitulaciones_, get some conquistadores on the ground, and get that gold flowing back to Madrid. (2)

(Meanwhile, the Portuguese bases in the Caribbean could be... um, suppressed. Not a war, exactly. Call it a clarification. The phrase "spheres of influence" has not yet entered the European world of this TL, but _clarificacion_ is about to.) (3)

The wheels of Charles's empire began to turn faster and decisions were now quickly made. He would allow three different Conquistadors to lead three separate conquests, as this Empire was obviously too large to be conquered by just one man. [4] As for the Portuguese, the Governor in Hispaniola was given a couple of ships, a handful of men, a nudge, a wink, and the assurance that should he fail, Madrid would deny all knowledge of his actions.

Thus, in 1522, Francisco Pizarro, Juan Ponce de León, and Juan de Grijalva, set off to conquer the Tlon. These three men would live forever in history as the Tres Caballeros. And every school child would learn the little poem that told of their fortune.

[1] OTL Cortez was the only, partial, exception to this. And even he got a retroactive license.

The legal system of being a Conquistador does not get nearly as much attention as it should. Mainly because it isn't as exciting as the conquering part. But if you look closely at the records of various Conquistadores, many of them were more worried about the legal niceties than they were about the actual conquest.

(2) He's a Hapsburg. You want financial brilliance, get a Tudor. Hapsburgs are very good with horses, mind you.

[3] The warm and cordial relations between Spain and Portugal play a large role in the history of colonization OTL. Even more so here, where there's no treaty line keeping them out of each others' way.

[4] This also had the added bonus of making it less likely that the "One Man" would declare himself King. If any of the three tried that, they would have to face the other two. A coup attempt by one was plausible, three coups were not.

BANW: The Three Caballeros 1522: El Castigar

Many areas of Spain produced conquistadores, but the province that towered above all of them was Estremadura. Called "The Cradle of the Conquistadores," it was from here that Pizarro, the first of the Tres Caballeros, came from and where he and others recruited their best men. Even looking at it today one can see why. It is still a stark land: a high inland plateau with wide vistas and small villages perched on the rocky outcrops of its hills. Even though its days of glory are long past, looking at the old castles and fortresses that still dot the landscape, one can not help but feel the stirrings of a martial spirit in the air. It's a hard land that has bred many a hard men.

Pizarro was born into this land as the bastard son of an infantry Colonel and a humble woman of the town. He received little care from his parents, and never learned to read or write. On a particularly nasty day at his job as a swinehearder he decided that this was not the life for him. Talking it over with his brother, who was also unsatisfied, they both left for Seville and sailed to the Americas.

There, in 1510, Francisco Pizarro had an experience that changed his life. In a tiny Spanish settlement on the north coast of South America [Columbia] he, like everyone else, was gripped with gold fever. There was a rumors of an Indian chieftain who rolled in gold dust (GOLD!), so of course the brothers and almost the entire colony went tramping off looking for "El Dorado", the gilded one.

It was only when he was cradling his dead brother's corpse, and hiding from the deadly bronze-tipped blowgun darts of the Indios that he realized just what a mistake the poorly planned expedition had been. He might have shared his brothers fate if not for the timely arrival of Vasco Nunez de Balboa who rescued him and other Spaniards.

The death of his brother had a lasting effect on Pizarro. [1] It seemed to leave him both embittered and energized. He left the settlement in search of something to fill his heart. He found it when he met with Diego Velasquez, who was going off on his second attempt to Conquer Cuba. Within two years the island had been mostly pacified, and Pizarro had seen much action. Throwing himself into fight after fight, it was almost as if he was personally seeking a way to punish the Indios for the death of his brother. It was as if any Indio fighting against the Spanish was a personal affront to him.

It was in Cuba that he earned his nickname, "El Castigar." Depending on context, this could mean "the Whipper", "the Beater", or... "the Winner". [2]

It had two meanings. One was that he was an extroardinarily brave, ruthless and determined commander. The other was that he was a real son of a bitch to his men. 16th century Spanish soldiers were not noted for their sensitive and empathetic leadership style, but Pizarro was a tough SOB even by the standards of the day. He wasn't a sadist, nor randomly unjust, but he was a ferocious disciplinarian who didn't hesitate to whip his men for the slightest infraction.

Some of his men respected him as tough but fair. Others came to hate him, but followed him anyway because he led them to glory and loot. El Castigar didn't care which, as long as they obeyed.

He fought on in Cuba until the very end, gaining in reputation and rank as time went by. He had just returned from the far west of the island, where he had fought the last major skirmish against the Cuban Indios, when he found many of his friends dead from the Tloggotl virus that had struck the Spanish on the island. It was a harsh blow for him, and once again he seemed to take it personally. Vasco Nunez de Balboa went blind from the virus, and as Pizarro felt he owed the old Conquistador his life, he helped him out through his hard times. [3]

After Balboa got on his feet and became a priest, Pizarro sold his land and slaves in Cuba and returned home to Spain. He had enough to live on now, and there just didn't seem to be much in the Caribbean to be worth staying for. He had won a little glory, and he'd made enough money to retire, not in great wealth but at least as a minor country gentleman.

Pizarro might have passed into obscurity if he had not been at the right place in the right time. When Toledo rose up in revolt, he was in _just_ the right spot. Not too close as to die, but not too far away to be unable to do anything. He organized some men and fought against the rebellion, producing a minor victory. He quickly became famous for this, because at that time even minor victories were much appreciated. His quick thinking had earned him the gratitude of the King.

It was then that he learned of the loss of the de Alvarado expedition. He was not quite as thunderstruck as many. After all, /he/ had fought the Indios and lost. If the odds were high enough, and the commander not of the right sort, than Indios could win. He knew that instinctively, but it seemed some people had never learned that lesson. Perhaps... perhaps _he_ could have do it better.

He had been in the Old World for three years and had now decided that the Americas were too much in his blood. [4] He had come to miss the colonies, and thought he could be of better use to the King there.

He petitioned His Most Catholic Majesty and, after much political maneuvering, he received one of the three _capitulaciones_ to Conquer the Tlon.

Despite El Castigar's reputation as a harsh disciplinarian, men flocked to his banner. With the last of his money, he raised a force in Spain and sailed across the Ocean.

After a long voyage, he and his soldiers arrived in Cuba to rest and refit. His ex-soldiers, mercenaries, and sea dogs, who had never left Spain before, looked around in wonder. Everything was so different. The Plants! The Buildings! The Ocean! The Indios! Look! Look at those Indios! And those Negro Slaves! They were so different! What a weird color of skin!

Pizarro gave a sigh at this. If this was how they reacted to settled Cuba, the most Spanish part of the Americas, how would they react in a land where the Indios ruled? He sighed again, ordered a couple of men whipped for gawking instead of paying attention to duty -- no point in relaxing discipline -- looked around, and thought, "Yes. This feels right. I guess this really did become my home."

Soon all of Cuba knew that he and his men would be leaving to try and conquer the Tlon. Nobody said, "Leave to conquer the Tlon." The loss of de Alvarado's men had hit too deep. So it was, "Try to conquer the Tlon" Some had so little faith that they called Pizarro and his men the "company of lunatics."

Pessimists. Pizarro remembered the disappointment of the first attempt at Cuba, and how the second try had succeeded. This would be just like that.

He came up with a strategy. It was not, it must be said, very imaginative. It could be called the Hey-Diddle-Diddle Straight-Up-the-Middle Strategy. It was basically a repeat of de Alvarado's route, only more direct, and with more horses and more men. [4] He would invade at Coatzacoalcos, and then continue his march inland to the capitol city.

It was Alvarado's strategy, but without the stupid mistakes. He wouldn't brutalize the Indians unnecessarily. He would get a firm grip on his coastal base. He wouldn't be surprised by huge Indio armies. He was confident that it would be just like Cuba.

It wasn't.

* * * * *

[1] In OTL Pizarro's brother died in Peru, and it permanently embittered him, so much that it seriously influenced his life and actions afterwards. Same here.

[2] Yes, really. 16th century Spanish. The meaning has shifted a bit with time.

The Pizarro of OTL was not exactly a Sensitive New Age Guy, but this one is a right bastard. He's not a sadist like de Alvarado, but he's got a nasty cold temper and a very bitter view of the world. He won't torment the Indians pointlessly, but he'll be pretty tough on them nonetheless. After all, he doesn't hesitate to punish his own men harshly.

[3] This is a somewhat advanced progression of power and rank for Pizarro over OTL. It comes about from a different timing of events (There was no second Cuban expedition for him to join in OTL, for instance) combined with the increased drive he gets due to his brother's death.

[4] Being an immigrant is a strange thing. Often you miss your homeland when you are away, and you miss the new land when you are back home. Also, Pizarro has spent his New World wealth quicker than he thought he would, so this may have played a role. And it's hard to imagine him being too happy for long as a small-time country squire, even if it was a much higher position than where he'd started out.

[5] He's more experienced than Pizarro was at this point in OTL, but I still don't regard the guy as any mental genius. I think he was definitely a lesser conquistador than Cortez, and not nearly as smart. IMO he was mainly a copy-cat, quite deliberately modelling his plans on those of successful predecessors -- Cortez, most particularly. So that's what I have him doing here.

Bronze Age New World 1522: The First Line

Pizarro's reception in Coatzacoalcos was quite a warm one. It was obvious that the province was a dagger pointed at the heart of the Empire, so it was not only on constant alert, but also had an unusually large contingent of men nearby. As before, Tlon ships could not even make a dent in the "super-canoes" and Pizarro's men were able to get ashore without any difficulty.

However, within seconds of the sighting of his ships, runners were screaming the news to the local garrisons, from there to the local administrators, from there to the Minister of the East, and from there to the Two Cities By the Lake.

The Minister of the East had been preparing long and hard for this day. He was not a military man, but after he had walked through the burned remains of Tabasco, seen the corpses littering the streets, smelled the stench of decay, and wept over the remains of the Garden of Ceremonial Chocolate Drinking and Flower Arrangement, he had studied and prepared a great deal. So had his soldiers and Generals. All of them knew that his plan was now being enacted. That all of the most important personnel and many of the troops would even now be... running away from Coatzacoalcos.

That had been planned for a long time. Coatzacoalcos, by itself, just could not support enough of a garrison to stop the enemy at the sea. Especially given the disasters brought by the recent plagues. Its garrison would fight of course, the Zabaniards (the name was known and cursed thoughout the Tlon Empire by now) had to be slowed down, but the main force would be further down the road.

Pizarro's first battle was not a difficult one, but it went on for some time. The Indios seemed to be constantly retreating only to reform and fight again. [1] The various city walls and the nature of the terrain made it difficult, but Pizarro finally managed to maneuver his horses into position and do the old hammer cavalry and infantry anvil that finally smashed the Tlon force.

After they were chased away or hunted down, he found the local town leaders and explained that the Spaniards were back. Coatzacoalcans could remember back to the bygone time of two years ago when every third male had been killed by these Spaniards, so this news was not greeted with enthusiasm. Pizarro said that he would rule fairly and justly, but that his orders had to be obeyed and that they must convert to Christianity.

A curious incident occurred at this point. Coatzacoalcos had a leader, Cipactli. Call him the Mayor (although "senior surviving town councilman and head of the reconstruction effort" would be more accurate).

Mayor Cipactli was psychologically at his limits. He had survived the first massacre. He had to defend the actions he had taken during the occupation, against the charges of men who were far away when the heartless Zabaniards looked invincible. He kept his position, but only with many bribes and sacrifices. And then the plagues had come. Cipactli had lived while his wife and two of his children had died. The Minister of the West had placed him in charge of the town after all the other senior leaders had died or fled -- an unusual responsibility, and one that was as much punishment as reward. It had also been his duty to organize the disposal of all the bodies that began to fall in the streets. He had seen his town lose so much of which it had once possessed. And now the Doom Bringers were back.

He could not take it. Cipactli turned to the Spaniards, and said, "Lord Pi-Zar-Ro, I have assuredly done my duty in the defense of my city and my vassals, and I can do no more. I am brought by force as a prisoner into your presence and beneath your power. I can not live in this world anymore. Take the dagger that you have in your belt, and strike me dead immediately."

Pizarro, hard and bitter bastard though he was, could respect an honorable opponent. Admiring the Mayor's valor and dignity, he pardoned him.

What he did not realize was that the town leader was demanding to be sacrificed, so as to hopefully make amends for what he had done to bring about this calamity. Human sacrifice in the Empire of the Tlon was rare, and voluntary, but far from unheard of; and in Tlonnish psychology, it was viewed as appropriate for... not atonement, precisely. More like the ultimate demonstration of sincerity of purpose before the Gods.

Pizarro would not follow through with the Mayor's request, but when Cipactli proved unwilling to cooperate, he did have him thrown in jail and tortured. El Castigar would not slaughter an unarmed captive, but neither would he take any backtalk from the defeated leaders of a conquered town.

Pizarro did not move out of the city right away. Part of this was because his men, fresh from Spain, seemed to be having troubling adjusting to the Americas. They were inordinately sick and queasy at times. [2] Odd that.

But he also spent a long time fortifying his position, finding a few locals who would overcome their intense distrust and work with him, and sending out scouts to try and determine the location of the enemy. When he fought them he wanted it to be on his terms.

This was wise, but it also gave the Tlon time to prepare.

When Pizarro finally marched forth, he left a garrison strong enough to hold the town even if it revolted. He wanted no repeat of the de Alvarado expedition there. But shortly before his departure, there was a curious incident.

Mayor Cipactli escaped from prison. Well, these things happen -- the prison guards would be whipped, of course. But the next morning, a bizarre spectacle greeted the inhabitants of the town, Spanish and Indian alike.

The Mayor was standing on a wooden raft or barge, floating in the harbor just a hundred yards or so offshore. The barge was rather elaborately painted and carved, and decorated with flowers. Obviously Cipactli had had some help. (More whippings.) It was slowly drifting out to sea, into the rising sun. And on it, the Mayor was... dancing. Though weakened by days of captivity, he was dancing with a great deal of energy and vigor.

Pizarro ordered a boat to recapture him. But before it could leave the shore, the Mayor paused in his dance. He reached down into the bottom of the raft and came up with two things. One was a wooden plunger with a cord attached. The other was a bag tied with a cord. As the barge began to fill with water, The Mayor untied the cord and emptied the contents over his head.

Snakes! Dozens of them! And as the slithering mass poured over him, the Mayor began to dance again, more wildly than ever, his feet splashing in the water that was rapidly filling the boat. As the Spanish watched in horror, the serpents struck at him again and again, drawing blood from his arms and legs.

Moments later, the raft gave a great gurgle and sank. Cipactli's face contorted in an expression of agony or ecstasy. He raised his arms, still holding the bag and the plunger. For a moment he was outlined against the sun, and then... gone.

The Spanish turned to each other in astonishment. What in the name of the Virgin had that been about? But the inhabitants of the town nodded to themselves and went quietly about their business. The more observant Spaniards noticed that they seemed to be rather satisfied about something, but there was no time to interrogate them for details. For it was time to march on the Empire.

* * *

One week later, and a hundred miles away. Pizarro's scouts reported a major army coming towards them. The scout had seen a campsite of at least 30,000 men. [3]

Pizarro considered it. That was less than de Alvarado had fought, and he had more men. Would it be enough? ...Yes. He had faith. Second time would be the charm. An order rang out and the men prepared for battle.

The Tlon, whose scouts had also spotted the Spaniards, were quickly aware that the Spaniards were coming for them. Good. They had been waiting here a while for that purpose. This spot was prepared and the commander was ready.

When he saw the Tlon Army, it was not quite like what Pizarro had been expecting. The Tlon Army seemed more... organized, somehow... then what he had expected based upon the reports that he had heard. Well, no matter. You could only learn so much from a secondhand report. He had a bigger hammer, and a bigger anvil than de Alvarado, and he was fighting against a smaller enemy. The groud was good, a nice flat plain with room for his cavalry to maneuver. It was time to kill some Indios.

The first big surprise happened when the cavalry swung around to smash the Tlon. The horses were thundering, pounding towards the Tlon, who were just sitting there staring and waiting. They didn't even have their weapons ready. The commander thought this was going to be easy. Until the Tlon reached down and pulled up a number of big pointy sticks and tightly held onto them as the Spanish horses ran into them. Pikes! They had pikes! No one had mentioned this! [4]

Now, a line of pikes is not something that can easily be done right the first time. If there is a solid organized line, and everyone stands his ground and hangs on to his pike, it will probably work. But some of the Tlon warriors inevitably panicked. And when the Spanish recoiled, others of the Tlon foolishly dropped their pikes to pursue them. But the real problem was with the "solid oranized line". The Tlon had little notion of a battle line. So instead of an organized mass of pike points they had a lot of sharp bits pointing in all directions.

It was very good for a first try, but it wasn't quite good enough. It gave the Spaniards one hell of a surprise, broke their first charge quite effectively, and killed a number of horses and riders. But once the Spanish cavalry had recovered they were able to get in among the pikemen and come at them from all sides. In a few minutes the Tlon were throwing down their pikes and fleeing.

The Spanish pursued... and found that the Tlon had not exhausted their ingenuity with the pikes. There was a new obstacle to overcome. Trenches. With staked pits.

At one stroke one of Pizarro's most powerful weapons was cut in half and forced to retreat.

After that, the surprises kept coming. Several of the vicious war dogs who had proved so effective in the Caribbean died rolling on the ground after they had been fed poisoned meat. Tlon facing cannon spread out instead of bunching up in masses for easy killing. They used missile weapons much more, shooting arrows or rushing to javelin range, flinging, and then running away. These tactics were new, and intended to neutralize the Spaniards' advantages as much as possible. The Spanish fought and fought, but these Tlon did not break.

With his cavalry badly mauled, and the day growing late, Pizarro retreated to more defensible positions. The day had not gone well. Still, unlike de Alvarado, they had never been enveloped, and if need be they could retreat to Coatzacoalcos. Besides, these were Indios. [9] They would rest at night, and one more day of fighting would finish them off. Pizarro ordered their camp fortified, and multiple lines of sentries were set out. Then he ordered another round of whippings for soldiers who had shown signs of disobedience or timidity -- discipline had to be maintained -- and then he retired to his tent.

That night the Tlon attacked. Night attacks were particularly hard to plan and execute, but the Tlon General judged that it was worth the confusion to neutralize the muskets and cannon of the Spanish. Plus he figured that since his force was so big it would be easier to envelop the Spaniards at night.

He was half right. The muskets and cannon were largely neutralized, for what this was worth, but he did not envelop the Spaniards. They had placed sentries and were able to react quickly. Still in the confusing melee that followed it was hard to keep track of where the fighting was happening, and the battle often became very confused. To this day, no one is quite sure of all that happened on that night.

When the light of day came, two facts became clear. The Tlon had retreated back to their base camp and they had left very many Tlon corpses but very few Spanish ones. This was strange as it was obvious that the company had lost a significant amount of men in the night. But soon, a number of blood trails were found leading away from the campsite. The Spanish realized that the Tlon had taken their dead. This was most unsettling for the Spaniards and it took a long time to discover who exactly had been slain. (And, Madre de Dios, for what horrible purpose had the bodies been removed?) [6]

Among the missing was Francisco Pizarro. There were multiple stories of how he died, and even today no one is quite sure of which one is true. Some say it was a lucky spear, others say one too many blows with a club. The most popular stories about his death are those that say he died valiantly, as a true conquistador would.

But there is another tradition. Several Spanish veterans, telling their stories long afterwards, would swear that they saw El Castigar fall to a spear... in the back.

Some said it was an officer who had been unfairly punished for cowardice. Others said that the officer /was/ a coward, and that he killed Pizarro to end the battle and escape. Still others claim that it was an enlisted man who had been driven to the edge of madness by his commander's harsh punishments.

We can never know for sure which is the true story. But whatever really happened to Pizarro, his disappearance shook the soldiers who were still quite unused to this strange land. The second in command, now first in command, had a tough decision to make. Fight it out, or retreat? One could literally walk all over the battlefield and step on nothing but Indio corpses, but still his men had been worn down and the cavalry was a shell of it's former self. With thoughts of de Alvarado's expedition in his mind, and the unexpectedly advanced tactics used by these Indios, he didn't think he had much choice. He gave the order, and in good formation the Spaniards began a cautious retreat back to the boats.

The Tlon commander was glad to see them go. He followed, but at some little distance. He might have attacked if he had sensed a good opportunity, but the new Spanish commander retreated in good order. Very well. The Tlon General knew his men were exhausted, bloody, mauled, and quite shaken by the losses they had took against so few men. He didn't want to risk a full frontal assault if he could help it.

When the last Spanish soldier boarded the boat back to Cuba, they did a final head count. Half. One man was leaving where two had come in. [7] Would His Catholic Majesty ever rule this land?

In time there came to be a little poem that school children would memorize in order to remember what happened to The Three Caballeros. Pizarro's expedition had written that fist line of that famous poem. His line, in its entirety, would read:

One dead.

Soon, the next two lines would be written as well.

* * * * *

[1] This is ultra-top of the line high skill fighting for the Tlon. A planned fighting retreat is pretty hard, and these guys were chosen for it because they were considered some of the best of the bests.

[2] Going from one environment to another is hard enough in our day of sanitized water and Pepto-Bismol. In those days... ooh-whee. I am amazed they got anything done. Soldiers who have lived years in the Caribbean definitely have some advantages over those fresh off the Boat and this is just one of them.

[3] It was actually closer to 45 thousand. The scout didn't see all of the Tlon force.

[4] This, and many of the other tactics used by the Tlon are similar to what both the Maya and the Incas were doing at the end of their wars. The Tlon have learned a great deal from their prisoners and they have been thinking hard about what to do if the Spaniards come back.

[5] Attitudes die hard. Pizarro can't help thinking about the lessons he learned in Cuba, and a lot of those just don't apply here.

[6] Actually, they were after the armor. This particular General has ideas about borrowing and using Spanish armor, even if it is hideously ugly. In the confusion of battle it was easier to lug the entire corpse than to strip it of its armor. The unnerving effect on the Spanish was unintended but effective.

[7] Most of these soldiers would return to Spain, and swear that they would never to go to the new world again. They ended up spending many a night in various bars telling how in the Americas they expected you to take on 100 to 1 odds, and that only a fool would go and wage war in such a land. As their age increased, so did the odds they had faced.

BANW: The Three Caballeros 1522: Out of Florida

By 1522 Juan Ponce de Leon had perhaps the most formidable reputation in the New World. He had first made his mark upon the Americas in 1509, when he conquered, and then became Governor of, Puerto Rico. This lush island could have easily turned into Spain's main base in the Caribbean, were it not for the conquest of Cuba a few years later.

De Leon did an adequate job ruling Puerto Rico, but it was not enough for him. He soon heard whispers of great riches, and a wondrous kingdom where the Tree of Life grew. So he gathered up a band of adventurers and sailed north.

He landed in Florida where he encountered the Indios known as the *Timuchan. The *Timuchan were a relatively young civilization but in many ways a promising one. They had agriculture, bronze, and a number of large towns. Their swampy environment and their isolation had limited their development, but they were developing a number of fascinating innovations in art, wooden sculpture, dance, and urban planning.

Unfortunately, none of these things enhanced resistance to disease, and the *Timuchan had the bad fortune to be hit by a series of plagues right before de Leon and his men came. The fight did not take long, and soon de Leon had conquered another land.

It was a rich land, if somewhat flat and wet, and there were enough *Timuchan left to provide a pretty good pool of labor for the new master class. It was still mildly disappointing though, as there was little gold to be had, and no Tree of Life anywhere to be found. And one could never entirely relax; the Indios in Florida, just like those in Puerto Rico, had a number of incessant uprisings against de Leon and his men. They were never a serious threat, but they were annoying and forced him to be on his guard. [1]

Still, while Florida was not all that they had hoped, de Leon and his men did manage to become feudal barons and rule over the remaining *Timuchan. They brought pigs and cattle, and were pleased to discover that they bred well in the wild. Two of the *Timuchan towns became regional capitals, with a handful of Spanish priests and bureacrats. The rest fell into disrepair as the population shrank steadily. The former conquistadors lived on large ranch-estates. Served by dozens or hundreds of Indios, they passed the time by drinking, gambling, riding long distances to pay social calls on each other, and most especially hunting -- swamp panther, wild boar, black bear, and the monstrous water lizards known as _el gatoro_.

The Florida colony produced a modest trickle of exports, dried meat and hides and slaves and a bit of *Timuchan gold. With little to attract new colonists, though, it quickly settled down as a pleasant but remote and primitive backwater of empire. The rulers in Madrid viewed it a little askance; it was not usually their policy to leave conquistadores in command of the land they had conquered. But the colony was so small and sparsely populated that it wasn't worth the trouble of sending a bishop with full clerical entourage, an _asiento_ council, or most of the other tools of centralized government. So Ponce de Leon was allowed to remain as governor, his rule only lightly overseen by Madrid.

The years passed, and as labor in Cuba grew scarcer, more and more *Timuchans were shipped there as slaves or indentured servants. By 1520 many of de Leon's band had sold all their Indios and returned to Cuba. Nobody could quite explain why, but it was clear that the colony was not prospering. The soil was not that great, and the swamps bred diseases once the population got above a certain level. And although the Spanish didn't realize it, much of the nicest land had been laboriously reclaimed by generations of *Timuchan carefully diverting the slow natural flow of the swamp. When the *Timuchan population dropped below a certain level, the complex system of canals and levees fell into disrepair, and the swamp began to creep back in.

The Spanish settlers didn't grasp this, but they did notice that one of their provincial capitals was slowly sinking into mud, while many of their ranches were becoming boggy, buggy, and generally unpleasant. Meanwhile it got harder and harder to get good help; the Indios were dying off, or slipping away to the north and west. The Florida colony was failing, and everyone could tell. [2] Ponce de Leon also grew tired of his job. He began to crave something more, he just didn't know what. His attempts to find the Tree of Life had been exhausting. Year after year he had tramped forth, questing, searching, exploring, and it had all come to nothing. Sure, his most Catholic Majesty now had a number of very good maps of Florida, from the Keys clear up to the Oquifenoqui. (And every Indian settlement on the penninsula larger than a village had received at least one visit from the Spanish, with the result that there were very few Indian settlements larger than a village left.) But after many fights and near misses with the Indios, he had not found the Tree of Life. He still believed it existed somewhere, just not in Florida.

He was thinking of this when news of de Alvarado's expedition reached him. The tale of de Alvarado's failure was told to him, and Ponce de Leon thought long and hard about it. He felt... he knew, that there must have been something special helping the Tlon. That they could not have won so decisively if they did not have some help. Perhaps... perhaps they had what he sought. The will to believe was a strong force for many a Conquistador, and Ponce de Leon had this feeling stronger than most. He now knew that the Tree of Life was to be found in the Tlon Empire.

He petitioned the King, and given his years of service and high level of experience, it was not surprising that he received one of the three _capitulaciones_. (Some carefully distributed bribes back in Madrid didn't hurt, either. De Leon had accumulated a certain amount of wealth during his tenure, and there hadn't been many opportunities for him to spend it.) He sold his holdings in Florida, recruited a mixed force of experienced Caribbean hands (hard to come by, but de Leon's reputation helped) as well as fresh off the boat Spaniards, and at the age of 48 he set off to Conquer the Tlon.

As he fitted on his armor, it felt much heavier than when he had conquered Puerto Rico. This would perhaps be his last chance. He had won twice already, and was confident that his third major campaign would be even more successful, despite his growing age. [3]

It is recorded that on the voyage south he talked about how well it felt to be out of Florida and that he hoped the climate in the Tlon Empire would be more comfortable. He wanted to get away from the heat and humidity and the constant rain of Florida. If that was his primary goal, he could not have picked a worse place to land.

He did have good sound reasons for invading the Yucatan though. As so often happens in history it all began with an incident that nobody thought of any great importance at the time. In the dark days immediately following the de Alvarado disaster, the Spanish kept away from the Central American mainland. But one Spanish ship was blown south and west by one of the terrible storms so common in these waters. The captain, desperate for supplies, stopped at a town on the Yucatan coast.

He was lucky that this small port was in an area where the Tlon grip was tenuous to non-existent, otherwise he might not have made it back to Cuba. As it was, he was approached by the Maya who ruled the the town, the Tlon procunsul being several days' travel away and otherwise engaged in his chief concern (writing letters to the capital asking for a transfer). The Maya gave him some very nice gifts and then sat around trying to talk to him about the price of quetzal feathers, whether chihuahua dogs boiled in chocolate should be served with a side order of peppered corn mash or not, and the weather. The nervous captain had very little idea what was going on. Nevertheless somehow, despite vast gulfs of language and culture, a deal was struck. The Spaniard could be re-supplied as long as he ferried some Mayan chiefs to the Far Away Land, so that they might give gifts and talk about the weather a second time.

As the Spanish captain wrote in his log, "I say this be a fair deal. For if these Indios are received well, the Governor will look favorably on me bringing them to he. And if not, he who holds an Indio holds gold!" [4]

But the Maya did not end up in the slave markets of Havana. Their reception in Cuba was not all they might have hoped, but they did make something of an impression. They talked with any Spanish official who would see them. These meetings were often short, as the Spaniards grew tired of dealing with the Mayans and their strange communication style. But eventually the message came through clearly: We want an alliance.

This was not unprecedented, but neither was it the normal way. Perhaps it might have been different if the Spanish had first met a less rebellious people than the descendants of Arawak slaves. For during those first crucial decades, when general opinions were being formed, the Indios were either seen as not being trustworthy enough to ally with, or too weak to be worthy of an alliance. The Spanish had managed to conquer many islands in the Caribbean (and Florida too) with virtually no help from a single Indio tribe. As they made their first steps onto the mainland this policy began to change, but slowly.

The Maya would be the first major break towards a future policy of alliance with various Indio groups, and it would come about through Ponce de Leon. He was having a tediously long conversation with the Maya and was about ready to give up on these weird Indios when an Old Wise Mayan, with a long white beard and rich cloak of red feathers looked him deep in the eyes. As de Leon wrote, "It was as if Time did stop. With eyes full of many years, the old Indio, who had been silent for the entire conversation, did speak to me and said, 'East most peninsula is the secret.' But what was truly remarkable was that he said this in Spanish! I felt my heart give try to leap forth from my breast. I begged the man to explain himself, but he closed his eyes and then he passed from this world! I interrogated the other Indios as to what he meant, but none knew! But I did. With his last breath, he was telling me where to find the Tree of Life!"

While this story is colorful and plays a large role in various history books, there is reason to doubt that it ever happened. And even if it did, it is doubtful that de Leon made his decision to ally with the Mayan based solely on this episode. He had worked out a number of deals with his Indios in Florida over the last decade, after all, so he knew that one could get advantages from working with the natives. His arrangements really couldn't really be called alliances, of course; more like treaties. Very one-sided treaties. But still, there was precedent. Of course, frequently something would upset the Indios (de Leon never quite understood what) and they would have to be put down with the sword. But de Leon was sure that God would will this to work, at least for the short term.

And so the Indios, those who had not died in Cuba, [5] were sent home to make preparations. Some would die long slow deaths at the hands of Tlon interrogators, but still the message got out. The Spaniards were going to invade the Yucatan, and when they did the Maya would rise up and destroy the hated Tlon.

[1] In OTL Ponce de Leon was plagued by rebellions from the natives he conquered throughout his career. Since it was multiple occasions I assume that he just couldn't or wouldn't learn how to be more effective at preventing them. So he doesn't get any better at this in this TL despite his extra experience.

[2] The natives were more advanced and numerous than in OTL, so Ponce de Leon and his gang were able to set themselves up as overlords from the get go. But southern Florida is just not that great a place to try and start up a civilization without at least industrial era technology. European agriculture just won't work there, so once the natives are gone, the Spanish colonists will be reduced to a mixture of ranching and hunting-and-gathering.

(Not that this will necessarily mean the end of the colony. This was the pattern for the Spanish in a number of sparsely populated frontier areas, most notably California in the years around 1800. If you weren't too picky about the finer things in life, and didn't mind a diet that was heavy on free-range beef, it could be a rather pleasant existence.)

[3] Many conquistadors went back for a second or even a third try, even if they had won on the first two. Ponce de Leon seemed to have a strong will to go on to constantly bigger and better things.

[4] Slavery of the Indios is a lot more common in this TL, so there's a strong temptation for the Floridians to sell their servants south for quick cash.

This, plus de Leon's multiple and highly disruptive expeditions, plus the complete collapse of *Timuchan society, plus European diseases, will result in the New World's most rapid and spectacular demographic catastrophe to date. Between 1510 and the 1530s the Indian population of Florida is going to decrease by nearly 90%. The *Timuchan culture (with its accompanying dances, arts, and novel ideas about urban design) will disappear completely, and only four words of their language will ever be written down.

[5] Disease was really a big killer for Indian diplomats. No, not everybody died but large numbers of them did.

Bronze Age New World: The Three Caballeros 1522: Rainy Season

And in the beginning everything went according to plan. The Spanish, guided by the Maya, brought their ships into a vast lagoon at the south-west corner of the penninsula. De Alvarado had missed this great brackish bay, which emptied into the sea only through a couple of small channels. The eastern and southern shores of the lagoon were swampy, but at the western end was a large town: Xicalango.

Xicalango had been under Tlon rule for more than 50 years, and despite the Tlon's Time of Troubles, it still was. The plague of the Red Breath had stretched the Tlon very thin in this region. They had withdrawn their garrisons from all the other towns around the great lagoon, and most of the Tlon settlers had left too. But they had hunkered down in Xicalango, which was a major trading center and the only large town between Tabasco and the not-really-pacified Yucatan. Losing Xicalango would mean the end of Tlon rule over any part of the penninsula, and might even expose Tabasco province to Maya attacks. So the town had a strong garrison.

Unfortunately for them, they were surrounded by a hostile Maya population. They had taken this into account, and made preparations against a Maya uprising. And they had also made preparations against the possible appearance of the strange white men who had ravaged Tabasco. What they hadn't prepared for was both at once. The Spanish alliance with the strange Indios paid its first dividends when Maya spies in the city memorized the exact numbers and location of every group of armed Tlon and recited them to the translators waiting at the far end of the lagoon. [1]

A week later, a very pleased Ponce de Leon, his sword still dripping blood, was climbing the steps of the great temple-pyramid at the heart of the town to look forth upon his newest conquest.

With Xicalango taken, de Leon had an interesting choice. He could march west along the coast into the rich province of Tabasco. Somewhere to the west, a week or so of marching, was Coatzacoalcos, where Francisco Pizarro had landed just a few weeks ago. They _could_ join forces...

...but then, on the other hand, de Alvarado had been through Tabasco with sword and fire just over two years ago; he'd surely grabbed whatever gold there was. And Francisco Pizarro, well, Ponce de Leon knew little of the man and what he did know, he didn't much like. ("El Castigar", indeed.) Besides, working together meant dividing the loot. Forget that.

No, instead he would march in a great arc, first southeast and then southwest, along the border marches of the Tlon Empire. The Tlon would be spread thin here, and there would be lots and lots of Maya to work with. It wasn't striking directly for the heart of the Empire, but that was all right as long as there were towns to conquer and temples with golden ornaments to loot.

And, for a little while, there were. None were nearly as large or as rich as Xicalango, but they were easy pickings. The Tlon were spread painfully thin in this region, and the temptation to smash them was a strong one for many Maya. So, after a few more towns, the Spanish had not only sent back several respectable loads of loot, but had also gained a fairly large auxiliary army of disorganized Mayans. It wasn't Amadis of Gaul, but it was a very encouraging start.

The only bad part was how it was raining so much, and there was some disturbing grumbling from the Indios over this. The Mayans kept saying that soon the Rains would be upon the army (wasn't it already raining?), and that they must set up camp, and that it would be impossible to travel when the Rains came.

Ponce de Leon and his men openly mocked this. No wonder they were having such success. These Indios were scared of fighting in a little rain, despite the fact that the expedition kept having success after success while it was already raining! Who could understand an Indio mind?

It was when de Leon decided to go south that real opposition started. He had heard that the Tlon had major bases in Chiapas at Tuxtla and Nezohualco, [2] and de Leon thought that the only possible reason for having bases in such a wild area was to guard the Tree of Life. The Mayan had never heard of the Tree of Life business and the last thing they wanted to be was to be down south fighting during the Rainy Season, but de Leon was adamant. He wasn't about to let a bunch of Indios dictate his campaign.

As the rains grew worse and worse the Mayan began to melt away. Some stayed, but many were not willing to follow this crazy foreigner on such a trek. Ponce de Leon was furious at this. He ordered his men to stand guard against the Maya and not allow any to leave. As was inevitable, incidents happened because of this policy and Spanish-Mayan relations quickly deteriorated.

So did the ground they were marching over. Men began to sink up to their knees in mud. The forest grew thicker and then turned to jungle. The terrain got worse -- rugged hills covered in a thick coat of impenetrable green. But still the Spaniards marched. [3] Ponce de Leon knew that this must be the land where the Tree of Life grew, what else could explain a climate such as this?

His men grew sicker and sicker as they walked through night and day of pouring rain. Tempers frayed, voices rose, and clashes with the Mayan auxiliaries grew more frequent until they finally erupted in full scale rebellion. The Spanish won but at a high cost. The loss of Spanish troops was always regrettable, but the loss of their allies, and most of all their guides, provided especially damaging.

After the rebellion, the expedition wondered around in the wrong direction for a long time, as various villagers took one look at Ponce's sword and said, "Tree of Life, YEA! It's that way! Right over there!" And the Spanish marched east only to later march west.

And always the rain. The incessant rain that soaked the men, chilled their bones and never gave them a moments respite. For though the sun sometimes appeared through the clouds, it was never more than a taunting interlude between shower and downpour. [4]

After far more time than was planned, and with far more casualties from disease and fatigue than anything else, the Spanish arrived at Tuxtla. The Tlon garrison fought a defensive battle, which given the weather and geographical conditions was an even greater advantage than would normaly be expected. Yet the Spanish still won.

They got little comfort from this as they found little treasure and no Tree of Life. De Leon's men were incensed now. They had pushed themselves to their limits, marching through this miserable land, and they had precious little to show for it. Ponce de Leon gave a rallying speech in which he promised them that at Nezohualco, oh at Nezohualco, what treasures they would find. (5) The Spaniards, and those few Maya who still remained, grumbled at this but they were willing to give it one more try.

(The army stayed for about ten days in Tuxtla, and while they were there, a few adventurous Spaniards snuck off to ascend the mountains to the south. It's incredible that they still had the energy, but they had heard a vague rumour of, you guessed it, gold. They didn't find any, of course. But they did manage to climb the Sierra Madre de Chiapas and so become the first Europeans to cross Central America and catch a glimpse of the Pacific. When they got back, Ponce de Leon bawled them out and the rest of the expedition rolled their eyes. More water... just what they needed.)

From Tuxtla they marched north and east down a river that led to Nezohualco. To their amazement, they soon discovered that their path led through an enormous canyon. They didn't know it, but they had "discovered" Sumidero Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Mexico. Mile-high peaks, covered in green forest and shrouded in cloud, towered all around them while the river, swollen with rain, roared brown and white at their feet. Brilliantly colored birds skimmed the surface of the water, while in the distance monkeys shrieked and a jaguar snarled. It was the most spectacular thing anyone had yet seen in this New World. To make matters better, it even stopped raining for a few days so that they could enjoy the scenery. (They didn't know it, but the rainy season was coming to an end.)

Unfortunately, Nezohualco proved an even bigger disappointment than Tuxtla. The rainy season closed in again as they approached the town. It was awash with Tlon soldiers, who the Spaniards had to fight for every bloody patch of soggy mud, but little else. De Leon managed to win several very impressive victories against greatly more numerous foes in very difficult terrain, but historians would take little note of this and neither would his men. They were sick, they were hungry, they were wet and there was no gold anywhere.

If de Leon had not been wounded during his last fight, he very well might have faced a violent mutiny instead of a silent one. As it was his men put him on a stretcher, ignored his fever induced ravings to continue looking, and started on the long slow road towards home.

Getting back with what little treasure they had found proved even more difficult than getting there, and a great many Spaniards died from this effort alone, but at least the rain started to let up. In fact, after a couple of weeks it hardly rained at all any more. (It was hard not to see this as some sort of sign.) The Spanish decided to take their chances with the busy brown river that flowed north. After all, it was going in the right direction, and rivers eventually had to reach the sea. No way were they going back through those jungle-clad hills again.

Sure enough, the river took them north and back towards home. They had to fight a few more times, but at least it wasn't raining. And eventually, the river brought them into a fertile, prosperous land full of peaceful and beautiful people who didn't want to fight them. It was Tabasco, the province they could have taken months ago by marching a day or two west instead of southeast.

The river did eventually reach the sea. (The surviving priest, who had a classical education, murmured "Thalassa! Thalassa!" while the other Spaniards stared at him blankly.) Circling wide to avoid the province's still-powerful Tlon garrison, the Spanish limped along the coast and finally completed their circular march at, once again, Xicalango.

There they shipped their loot home and started to have a good long discussion. This trip had not been profitable. It had seen very little good, for very much effort. The rain... don't even talk about the damn rain. And always in the back of their minds was the de Alvarado expedition.

In the end it is not surprising that they decided to return to Cuba. They reasoned that they might return in a few months, and resume fighting the Indios under more favorable conditions. In fact they were just sick and fed up.

Ponce de Leon raved gainst this, but he was still too weak to command effectively. Perhaps he had a premonition of his future. Certainly he would have been heartbroken to learn that all of his efforts would be summed up abruptly, as the second line of a three line poem;

. . . .

One Fled.

. . . .

This is somewhat unfair as he had never meant to flee, and if given the chance he would have most assuredly have come back. But he was never given the chance and hence never returned to the Empire of the Tlon.

He managed to mostly recover from his wounds, but the rest of his years would not be happy ones. His mission had not turned up vast riches; thus many questioned the wisdom of it. Those first few boatloads of loot, so encouraging at the time, quickly disappeared to debts and lawsuits. His decisions on campaign were criticized. Various breaches of protocol and etiquette were found and thrown at him in court. He would spend the rest of his life defending himself, but in the end he would die in a Spanish prison, [6] babbling about his crushed hopes and dreams, and more than a little mad. [7]

[1] As in OTL, the Maya speak half a dozen separate languages. Dislike of the Tlon is the only thing that unites them.

[2] The Tlon were planning a future campaign against the Rain forest Mayan in Guatemala, but the Time of Troubles put a stop to that. However, the bases still remain, and there are still significant garrisons there.

[3] The Spaniards did things during the Conquests that would make the most EXTREME Sport Adrenaline Junky guy of our age wince, and go, "Whoa, Dude. Take it easy man. How about a nice game of Bingo?"

[4] The climate in this region seems to have mellowed quite a bit in the last 500 years. In the 1500s, it was a lot rainier -- possibly because deforestation hadn't really started yet, possibly just one of those long-term climate hiccups like Europe's Little Ice Age.

Even today, though, the peak of the rainy season can be impressive. The area around Tuxtla still gets 80% of its rain in three months, and it's not bone-dry the rest of the year. It's just unfortunate for the Spanish that they're marching south at this particular time.

[5] This town is under water today, as the Grijalva River has a rather large hydroelectric dam in it right about there.

[6] This was a not uncommon fate for unsuccessful Conquistadors, or successful ones for that matter.

[7] If things did not turn out the way Ponce de Leon had hoped, the Maya could hardly have wished for more.

Granted the strange foolish Spaniard had tried to kill them when they resisted his stupid plans, and then a lot of people who spent time with his soldiers had gotten very sick. (In fact, people were still getting sick. Oh, dear.) Buut after that he smashed the main Tlon garrisons and then he left! He left, leaving the Maya to pick up the pieces!

Which they quickly did. Tlon rule, never firm anywhere east of Tabasco, began to slip away like a hill side in Chiapas. With so many other pressing needs the Tlon were never able to replace the lost troops. Within two years of de Leon's expedition the entire peninsula had fallen back into the hands of various squabbling Mayan warlords. Tabasco itself was raided by a joint Mayan-*Arawak expeditionary force (armed in part with Portuguese guns) in 1525.

The Maya would be ravaged by European diseases, and their economy would suffer from the massive disruptions of trade caused by the Tlon- Spanish wars and their own constant internal bickering. Nevertheless, the expulsion of the Tlon from their territory would give them deep and lasting satisfaction, and incline them to look more kindly towards visiting Spaniards. At first.

Bronze Age New World: The Three Caballeros 1522: Is, Or Can Be, My Friend

Juan de Grijalva was well liked among the people of Cuba. He was considered somewhat of a "softie" in regards to the Indios, but besides that small flaw he was seen as a community leader who deserved all of the respect he got. In his time on the island he had made many good friends and when it was time for him to leave and try to conquer the Tlon, they saw him off with many a hearty farewell and numerous fond wishes.

At his goodbye banquet he was toasted by no less than the Mayor of Havana, Hernando Cortez, with the cheer, "May the advance be as swift as the cause is righteous!" Grijalva bowed in acknowledgment, but it occurred to him that the toast might have more than one meaning. For Grijalva knew that certain rumours were true, and that Cortez would soon be embarking on a mission of his own. Well, that was Cortez for you.

And now at last he was off. He should have gone two years ago, commanding what had become "the de Alvarado expedition". Illness had pried leadership of that expedition from his hand, and it had been an expensive illness indeed. De Alvarado, his second in command, had made many disastrous decisions. His men had been defeated and then butchered in an alien land.

Grijalva bore that on his shoulders. He was heard to say, "I know we are human, and therefore we will not always be victorious. For every kiss, a bullet in the face. But I can not help but to think that it would have been different if only I were there. I just can not help but think it."

Bernal Diaz, who gave history's most famous account of the de Alvarado expedition, agreed with Grijalva and wrote wistfully in his memoirs of how much better things would have been if the original captain had not taken ill. He made a compelling case, not least of which was his striking comparison between the two leaders, but in light of future events it must be remembered that Grijalva faced a different situation in 1522 than de Alvarado did in 1520.

The Tlon only had to face one group of Conquistadors in 1520, while in 1522 they were spread out trying to combat three. The Spanish had not learned just how strong the Tlon were. But the greatest difference was that in 1520 the Tlon had not yet been ravaged by the diseases that would leave them so vulnerable.

That vulnerability was shown the first day of the invasion, with Grijalva's landing on the Tlon coast near present day city of Tuxdan de Rodriguez Cano.

This coastal region was inhabited by a people who might as well be called the Totonacs. [1] The Tlon administration of Totonicapan had been severely weakened and the town's garrison was badly undermanned. The local Tlon had enough of a problem keeping the locals in line, and up against the Spaniards they were brushed aside quickly and easily.

The locals, well versed in horror stories about the Spaniards, hid and mostly did their best to stay as far away from the strange aliens as possible. But then something happened that the Indios had not expected, Grijalva began to try to talk with them.

The Totonac had not expected this. Perhaps the Empire's proclamations were not entirely accurate. It would not be the first time they had been lied to by those barbarous sub-human vultures who squatted on the corpse of the sadly fallen but still glorious Totonac Empire. There was little love between the two groups, and the bulk of Totonacs still resisted the Tlon despite, or perhaps because, of being under their control for generations. For the Totonac were once a mighty empire themselves, and folk memories of the time before the fall speak of a land where the crops were always bountiful, and where vanilla was drunk by even the lowest of the low. [2] They wished they could return to those days, but they were weak and the Tlon were strong so they sullenly accepted their lot. Very sullenly.

The Empire did not like this, and the Tlon stomped down numerous revolts, with much bloodshed and sometimes cruelty. They stuffed slogans and songs and plays downs the Totonac's throats, all of which that the Tlon were just great and that everything was just horrible before the Empire. They dragged off troublemakers, had spies in ever bar, and slit those throats that needed slitting. Yet still every once in a while a Tlon Administrator's wife would awake to find her husband dead; his mouth stuffed with his own testicles. Perhaps in another hundred years...

For it _had_ gotten better in the last two generations. Totonicapan was no longer the hardship post of the Empire, that dubious honor went to South Chiapas, but instead it was rather merely an unpleasant place to serve that was slowly getting better as Totonac culture was being absorbed into that of the Tlon. Some of the Totonacs sensed this, as more and more of their most ambitious youths severed their ties with the tribe of their birth, and became Tlon. As one famous Totonac author said, "Time passes, and people forget. They forget their history, they forget their oaths, they forget their family. Time passes like a river, and though we can slow it with damns it, no man and no men can not stop it. In a hundred years... in a hundred years we will be washed away like silt."

But now it looked like those hundred years would never come. Here were new invaders who had defeated the Tlon, and were at least willing to talk! It was far from ideal, but it did present an opportunity that the Totonacs were prepared to grasp. Those few non- Tlon head men that the town could find, eventually worked up the courage and talked with the leader of these strange men.

That these Indios wanted to be free of the Tlon, and that they were willing to work with the Spaniards to do it, was soon understood by Grijalva. He too was prepared to grasp this opportunity with both hands. For to him it was natural to figure out what the natives wanted, and he couldn't understand why other conquistadores didn't try to do the same. Grijalva welcomed the idios while his men conspicuously display their firearms and cannon for the visiting dignitaries so that they might recognize the power of the Spaniards. Then they began to talk. The Totonacs were much impressed by what the Spaniards had accomplished but the parley between them and Grijalva was still tense. Going through linguistical barriers was hard enough, but the cultural ones were often harder. But when two men both desire something, and feel they need the other to get it, much can be overcome. It was not long before a loose alliance was formed. Various local toughs began to form themselves as an auxiliary army to Grijalva's men, oaths of friendship were sworn, the head men officially welcomed the Spaniards as their new allies, and the supplies of the town were freely given to the Spaniards. This last act may have chiefly came about because of the implication that if enough supplies were not freely given, more would be freely taken.

With a well fed army, Grijalva began to establish himself fully in the town. He had no desire to move ahead only to face a revolt in his rear like de Alvarado, so he spent a few days making basic defensive and administrative preparation for his first conquest. There appeared to be no large problems in this and soon he was convinced that this town could easily be kept under Spanish rule. He was glad, for he knew this was just a small start to a large campaign and he quickly moved out with his new found allies. After some consultation he decided to make direct push to the nearby city of El Tajin.

According to the Totonacs, that city had fallen completely into chaos since the plagues began. There was hardly a Tlon left and the inhabitants would welcome the Spaniards with open arms and large glasses of Hard Hot Chocolate heavily laced with Vanilla.

This exaggeration was one half wishful thinking and one half exaggeration on the part of the Totonacs. As a result of deliberate Tlon policy to flood the cities with ethnic Tlon, most cities in the Empire had a larger than average percentage of Tlon, and El Tajin was no exception. After the plague, many Tlon had indeed fled, and if one wanted it to be true that the city was on the edge of chaos . . . than it did appear to be true. However, an objective observer would probable have said that the city looked unstable, but that those Tlon who remained would certainly fight hard for their city.

Luckily for the Spaniards Grijalva did not trust every word his new found allies had spoke, so he was fully prepared for a tough fight. He was therefore not surprised when as he approached the city he saw a mighty army. The Tlon had assembled every soldier that could be found in the area, including the young and the old.

The Tlon fought with all their might, but in the end they did not have enough men to overcome the Spaniards quality combined with Totonac quantity. El Tajin's garrison had suffered the bad luck of being struck by a major epidemic mere weeks before the Spaniards arrived. This gutted the ranks and left a stench of death in the men's mind. Demoralized and under strength they were no match for Grijalva, his men, and their Totonac allies.

Many a Tlon died that day, and after the victory many a Tlon fled the city. The result of both of these actions was that by the time the Spaniards had fully occupied El Tajin, the majority of the population was Totonac and other non-Tlon. Grijalva was prepared to make the most of that, and more and more of the Totonacs began to look towards this strange Spaniard.

[1] These people are not exactly equivalent to the Totonacs of OTL. Most of the ethnic map of Mexico looks very different from OTL. Some ethnic groups have disappeared completely, others have been transformed, and some haven't been effected to any large degree. (The Maya are still pretty much the Maya, for instance.)

These *Totanacs have a heavy *Arawak influence, and have also mixed much more with the tribes of the interior. However, at the end of the day they're surprisingly similar to the Totonacs of OTL -- a bit more geographically widespread, and rather more technologically advanced.

Very roughly speaking Totonicapan comprises the state of Vera Cruz and the Zacatlan district in Puebla. This is different from our history where northern Vera Cruz was not part of Totonicapan.

[2] The Totonacs practically worshiped the vanilla bean. It's flavor was celebrated in food and drink, as well as being a large part of their myths, religion, and culture. They used it in everything from insect repellent to aphrodisiacs. Same for the *Totonacs.

Bronze Age New World: The Three Caballeros 1522: The Kingmaker

The Spanish-Totonac arrangement had its problems of course. For example, in one small seaport, a group of Totonacs began to get exceedingly angry at the way the spoils were being divided. Some Spaniards tried to explain just why the Europeans were entitled to all of the gold, all of the silver, and three-quarters of the slaves including all the young and attractive ones, but that didn't make things better and soon a full scale mutiny broke out.

As one of the Spanish soldiers who fought in the engagement reported, "We showed the heathen dog-men no mercy! And as they were small in number they fell quickly fell to our might. The other Indios quickly learned that it was better to be with us Spaniards than against us. We really taught those damned Indios not to get above their station."

Juan de Grijalva, the leader of the Spanish, was not pleased with this action, or the attitude expressed by this soldier. He did not like the idea of his new army fighting amongst itself. He regarded the fight as a dreadful event, and in this spirit he named the harbor Puerto de Mala Pelea, and ordered the men punished. [1]

Grijalva had very quickly come to see the Totonac alliance as not merely useful but crucial to success. Because of this, he was willing to go to quite some lengths in order to keep the allies happy. For instance, at one meeting, the citizens of El Tajin dressed Grijalva in a golden crown, breastplate and bracelets. In turn, as Bernal Diaz reported, Grijalva dressed the chieftain of the city in "a green velvet doublet, pink hose, a frock, espadrilles, and a velvet cap." Diaz added that the headmen also presented gifts of food (potatoes, maize, zapotes, and roast fish and fowl), as well as many cotton mantles "finely painted in diverse colors," and pipes filled with perfumes.

When Grijalva said that these things were nice, but that they were _particularly_ interested in gold, "they brought gold cast in bars, and the captain told them to bring more of this. On the following day they came with a beautiful gold mask, a figurine of a man with a half mask of gold, and a crown of gold beads with jewels and stones of various colors." This greatly pleased the Spaniards, as they had this "thing" for gold, and it quickly silenced the murmurs about "dressing up like an Indio".

Grijalva was no saint, and he appreciated the gold as much as the next man, but he was also interested in the ways of these strange men and talked with great length to them. Some of his men mocked him for this, calling him "He Who Talks With Animals" behind his back, but others argued that their comandante must have some deeper motive for these conversations. And he did. It was through these talks that he saw how loose were the bonds by which the Indios tribes were connected to the Tlon.

He began analyzing them in terms which his contemporary Machiavelli would have readily recognized. He lacked the modern vocabulary of political science, but his basics were sound and soon he understood how the Tlon system operated better than most of the Tlon. This was to be an invaluable tool.

Also contributing to his success was that in general he was perhaps the least cruel of all Conquistadors. It's not clear whether this was because he was unusually moral or just because of his particular experiences. He had seen the Indios of Cuba reduced to a fraction of their earlier numbers, and this had severely hurt the economy of that Island. He knew that preservation of the Indios on the mainland would insure eventual prosperity for the Spaniards, provided the Indios gradually accepted European ideas.

In this he regarded the Church as the main instrument for the education of the Indios. His relations with the clergy were very cordial, he did all he could to introduce missionaries, and Balboa mentions him favorably numerous times.

As the Catholic Encyclopedia would later say of Grijalva's conduct in El Tajin, "The idols were thrown down to the foot of the temple and burned. When the pagan temple was cleansed, the priests preached the Christian Faith and celebrated Mass before the assembled natives. The contrast between the simple beauty of this impressive ceremony and their own barbaric worship made a deep impression on the minds of the Indios, and at the conclusion those who desired were baptized. Through Grijalva, Christianity achieved its first victory in Tlondom." [2]

But the main effects of the Church were in long term, and Grijalva had to win in the short term to get there. To do this, he had to beat the Tlon, and to do that, he needed /loyal/ native allies.

Well, there were ways and there were ways.

The Totonacs hadn't ruled themselves since the Tlon conquest well over a century ago. The old ruling families had long since disappeared. But even under occupation, differences of class and status remained. Some had more land and some had less, some were of "noble" clans and some were not. And some were ambitious.

One day a Totonac warrior, of a particularly large and well connected family, announced that he was the heir of the lost royal family and the rightful king of Totonacan. While the rest of the Indians were trying to parse this -- they hadn't ever really /had/ a king, exactly -- Grijalva threw his arms around the "monarch", had him baptized as "Juan Cristo I" in a particularly large and lavish ceremony, and announced that the Spanish were making a formal alliance with this friendly Christian monarch.

Another large family, traditional rivals of the "royal" clan, registered a vigorous protest. Or started to. It was abruptly discovered that they had been collaborators with the Tlon. Of course, everyone had collaborated to some extent -- they'd been occupied for more than a century, after all. But several members of the rival clan, after arrest and interrogation, revealed that they had still been in contact with the Tlon. The whole clan had been ready to betray Totonacan from within!

Within two days every member of the rival clan was arrested, tried, sentenced and shipped off to Cuba in chains. Grijalva announced that Spanish friendship extended to supporting allied monarchs on their throne. Since King Juan Cristo was meanwhile distributing the lands and possessions of his late enemies with a lavish hand, few were inclined to quibble. Meanwhile Juan Cristo sealed the alliance with a lavish gift of gold, silver and precious stones, which Grijalva graciously agreed to accept.

But Grijalva wasn't finished. He abruptly took most of his force and marched nearly a hundred miles in four days. In a sharp fight he captured the city of Cempoalla... and installed another Totonac there as King Fidel. King Fidel also wished a treaty of alliance with the King of Spain and was willing to cement it with another lavish gift of gold, silver, etc. Which Grijalva again graciously agreed to accept.

King Juan Cristo wasn't completely delighted about this, but it gave other ambitious Totonacs cause for deep thought. Surely Totonacan had room for at least another king or two, once the Tlon were gone. Rather than conspire against Juan Cristo or Fidel, maybe they should turn out for the Spanish in force too. Oh, and get baptized, whatever all that was about. [3]

Grijalva was had won two fair sized battles so far, had conquered two major cities, and had flipped two provinces over to his side. So far, so good! But he also knew that he had yet to face anything even remotely comparable to what de Alvarado had faced on that cloudy day more than two years ago.

The chief reason he had yet to meet such a host was that it no longer existed, and never would again. The Tlon had lost too many soldiers, too many officers, and too many administrators. Chaos had spread its tentacles through the Empire. Keeping the subject races down was requiring more men, out of a smaller pool, than it had a mere two years ago.

If the armies were the limbs of the Empire, the bureacracy was its nervous system. And that system had fallen into twitching and spasming disarray. The Tlon could still field large forces, but they could no longer be sure of getting the right amounts of food to the right place at the right time. Armies would now have to live off the land, in whole or in part. Warehouses full of corn and potatoes might rot in this province while peasants and soldiers starved in that one, because there were no longer enough men who could read and count and give the necessary orders.

So the Tlon would never field a force as large and powerful as they did at the battle of the Dark Forrest. But what they could field was impressive enough.

The Empire could not keep a single large army in the field anymore? Very well, it would deploy three smaller ones. Three armies would march on Totonacan. The Spaniards and their treacherous allies might defeat one, but they could not stop them all. Thirty legions -- all of Army Group Center -- began to converge on the Spanish enclave on the coast.

[1] Harbor of the Bad Fight. Discipline was always a problem for the conquistadores. Officers in particular tended to regard their commanders as _primus inter pares_ at best.

[2] It's the Catholic Encyclopedia.

[3] There's no precise OTL equivalent for this. OTOH, Grijalva really needs reliable allies. "Kings" who are dependent upon him to keep their thrones fit his mindset. And OTL quite a lot of Indian nobles did manage to hang on to their lands and titles for a generation or two after the Conquest. The social and economic system of New Spain, as it matured, did eventually force pure-blooded Indian leaders against the wall. They either had to intermarry, assimilate, and be knocked down several rungs on the social ladder, or refuse to do so and be knocked down much further. But all that came quite a bit later.

So I don't think it's wildly unlikely that Grijalva would try something like this. You could consider it the ATL equivalent of Cortez having his soldiers vote themselves a new "municipality", with himself as legal head.

Whether the bureaucrats and courtiers back in Castile will buy into this is another question.

Bronze Age New World: The Three Caballeros 1522: The Destruction of Army Group Center

Marching west from Cempoalla, the Spanish encountered something very strange: an enormous wall. It was made of huge blocks of stone, fitted together without mortar. It was twenty feet wide, nine feet tall, and broad enough at the top that three men could easily walk abreast.

And it was more than seven miles long. (1)

The wall blocked the mouth of a broad valley between steep mountain slopes. Yes, the locals explained, this valley went up and west, towards the highlands that were the homeland of the Tlon. A natural invasion route, it had been used by legendary raiders from the sea, many centuries ago, to reach the central plateau and wreak havoc there. Then, just five or six generations back, the Tlon had come the other way, down from the highlands to the broad fertile plains of the coast.

Their own ancestors -- the fathers of their grandfathers' grandfathers, and their fathers -- had built the wall. At enormous effort, they had plugged the gap in the mountain wall. With this, they would keep the Tlon up on their plateau, and live their lives in peace.

So what happened, asked the Spanish commander.

The natives shrugged. But in the center of the wall was an enormous gateway. Once two great doors had stood there, hardwood bound with bronze. The doors had been thrown down and shattered -- they still lay on the grass, a little distance away, green bronze on rotten wood. And on the pillars of the empty gateway were inscribed the the loop-symbol of the Tlon Empire.

The Spanish commander -- his name was Olin -- hesitated only a moment. Then he stepped through the gate and hammered a cross into the grass on the other side.

Walls or no walls, Spain was determined to rule this land.

* * *

Juan de Grijalva wasn't the best general among the conquistadores. But he was an intelligent man who had firmly grasped certain principles of operation. His vocabulary did not include phrases like "getting inside the enemy's decision loop," or even "firstest with the mostest". Nevertheless he had the concepts down. So the news that three Tlon armies were marching on him didn't alarm him as much as it might have.

De Grijalva's force now included many men who had marched with the other two Spanish expeditions -- Pizarro's bloody fight to a draw, and Ponce de Leon's fascinating but ultimately pointless trek across half of Central America. He had carefully interviewed these men, and he had come to some conclusions.

One was that the Tlon had a pretty good spy system. They had been waiting for de Alvarado and Pizarro too. Ponce de Leon had managed to surprise them because he had trekked through mountains and jungles. (Of course, he'd broken himself and his force in doing so.)

Another thing that was clear was that it was a bad idea to fight the Tlon on /their/ terms. There were too damn many of them, for one thing. For another, they weren't stupid. They had that fan- signalling business -- the Totonacs had explained about that -- which let them move units around as well as any European general. And they were already trying to develop tactics for dealing with horses and war dogs and cannon.

But. Grijalva was also talking to the local Indios, encouraging them to tell their own tales of war with the Tlon. And they had some very interesting tales to tell.

Generations ago, when the Tlon had defeated the Totonacs, war had been a strangely ceremonial affair. There were armies, sure, and men died, but... it was almost more like a medieval joust. (2) According to the Totonacs, the armies used to march to the battlefield, then send out heralds to with challenges. Then the heroes, the best fighters of each side, would engage in single combat -- sometimes for two or three days, or even longer. The armies would watch from a little distance, cheering but not fighting. Only after that would there be a battle.

And it would have a curiously gamelike quaility to it. Everybody would wear their brightest and showiest outfits. Tricks like night attacks and flanking maneuvers were rare. The defeated side would recognize defeat and run away fairly quickly.

The goal seemed to be to get tribute, slaves, and elaborate surrender terms, rather than to destroy the enemy army. If the old stories were correct, the Totonac had given up while they still had thousands of men able to fight... because the Tlon had, in essence, overawed them.

Now, it was clear that the Tlon had evolved beyond this. They rarely started battles with a contest of champions any more. They knew all about flank attacks and night maneuvers. And they were capable of pursuing a defeated foe with intent to exterminate -- as the (very few) survivors of de Alvarado's expedition knew all too well.

Nevertheless... at the bottom of it all, there was still that idea that war was like a very bloody sport. One thing came clear: both the ancestral Tlon and their modern descendants tended to fight fixed battles, on fields where the enemy had either tacitly or explicitly agreed to meet. They weren't accustomed to unexpected combat; the Ponce de Leon expedition, appearing at random out of the wilderness, had defeated several much larger forces.

So, Grijalva took two steps. First he set his Totonac allies to an elaborate campaign of counter-intelligence, especially what would later be called disinformation. False rumours of all sorts were passed along to towns that were still loyal to the Tlon, while the Spanish moved first north, then south in a very confusing fashion. Grijalva set a few of his subordinates to help the new Totonac kings with this job. One of them, a young fellow named Guzman, showed a real flair for the work. Guzman had an unpleasant bloodthirsty streak but he was cunning and he got results.

And then, when he got the news that the Tlon were marching against him, he _moved_.

The Tlon knew about horses and their use in combat. But they still hadn't really grasped how fast a group of armed men with remounts could move. Nor did they realize that their spy network was no longer working properly... until three hundred mounted Spaniards showed up at their camp one night, killing the pickets and charging straight in.

The Spanish were vastly outnumbered; there were ten Tlon legions, about 20,000 men plus auxiliaries. But they weren't interested in fighting a battle. They just killed everything that moved and then disappeared into the darkness, leaving death and chaos behind them.

This happened to first one of the armies, then -- just a day later -- to the second, miles away. Meanwhile the Spanish infantry, accompanied by their Indian allies, was marching very quickly on the third.

Unfortunately for the Tlon, the commander of this third army was a rather stupid prince-general who believed the old stories about Tlon heroes whipping five or ten Totonacs at a time, and the survivors then grovelling in gratitude for being incorporated into the Empire. In other words, he severely discounted the Spaniards' native allies. (3)

Still, the resulting battle was not a walkover. The Spanish, moving quickly, were able to catch the Tlon while they were still marching in column. The vigour of their attack threw the Tlon into disarray (and completely negated their fan-signals, which depended on units staying organized). But then the Tlon regrouped and the Spanish were thrown back. The Spanish brought up their cannon; the Tlon brought in more men.

What finally decided the battle was the prince-general's unwillingness to engage with the Totonacs. He left just two legions, 4,000 men, to guard his flank against more than double that number. Fishing Eagle Legion and Blue Parrot Legion did their best, but in the end they were overwhelmed. And suddenly the Tlon army was collapsing.

But it was not this engagement, but rather its aftermath, that was decisive. The Totonacs, having won a great and bloody battle, wanted to rest. De Grijalva insisted on pushing onwards instead. The Tlon were fleeing south, towards the second of the three armies. Grijalva pursued them all through the day, harassing them and killing many.

Then, at the end of that day, the Spanish cavalry came up from the south. The mounted Spaniards were able to kill Tlon by the thousand. The resulting "battle" became known as "the Rabbit Hunt", as the Spanish coursed back and forth, killing almost at will.

Worse was to come. The second Tlon army -- still recovering from the Spanish night raid of a few days earlier -- was abruptly overwhelmed by thousands of terrified and completely demoralized refugees. While they were still trying to sort this out, the main Spanish force arrived on the scene. De Grijalva, correctly judging that the enemy's morale had been badly shaken, ordered an attack. The second Tlon army wavered... and then broke, thousands of men streaming away back towards the capital in panic.

The fleeing Tlon threw away weapons, armor and ornaments. Most of this was bronze, which interested the Spanish only a little. But here and there they found arm-rings and necklaces and helmets decorated with silver, semi-precious stones, or -- yes! -- gold. De Grijalva, with an eye towards long-term public relations, promptly announced that this battle would hereafter be known as the Field of Gold.

The Field of Gold was a great victory, but it would be the last battle of the campaign. This time the Spanish were just too tired to follow up. It wasn't necessary, though. One Tlon army had been almost completely destroyed, a second decisively defeated. The third was now withdrawing just as fast as it could. Army Group Center had been destroyed, and the road to Uqbar lay open.

De Grijalva would later be criticized by some historians for not advancing at once. But he had good reasons for pausing. His men were exhausted, and many were wounded. They were also heavily loaded down with loot -- gold and silver where they could find it, bronze where they couldn't; enough worked bronze could be swapped for a slave, after all. And the Totonacs were coming up only slowly, still adjusting to this new way of war.

And also... of the three expeditions that had set out, Grijalva's was the only one still left on the mainland. This weighed on him. Counting de Alvarado's, three Conquistadores had lost, and yet here he was. So much was depending on him now. He had gambled, and won a great victory; he was not inclined to gamble again. He would hold his winnings for now, cautious but safe. (4)

And if the campaign had shattered the confidence of the Tlon, perhaps it had left the Spanish just a little intimidated too. Surely these Tlon were too powerful to be conquered in one fell swoop. It would take time, and effort and pre-planning. So Juan de Grijalva would hold what he had conquered, and wait for reinforcements.

Meanwhile, he had won a great victory, and now he would rest. He retired to his camp. As commander, he was entitled to the largest share of the loot. Bronze weapons and armor were piled high around his tent. Very little of this was gold, but the legend grew up that he had won a pile of treasure so huge that he could pitch his tent on the top of it. Storytellers and artists embroidered this theme until the idea of the weary but victorious conquistador bedding down on top of a small mountain of plunder had become firmly embedded in the popular imagination.

Thus he wrote the final line of the Three Caballeros' poem:

One Dead, One Fled, One Safe in a Golden Bed.

(1) The Great Wall of Mexico. It's real. It existed OTL, and was built for exactly this reason -- only against the Aztecs, not the Tlon. (See, frex, Prescott's _Conquest of Mexico_, Book III, Chapter 1.) It worked, too. The coastal peoples paid tribute to the Aztecs, and walked in fear of them, but they were never actually conquered.

Unfortunately, it was a very convenient source of building material; and the Spanish were great builders. Today only a few tumbled stones remain.

(2) Not very, but that's as close as a European can get.

(3) The odd tendency of the Tlon military elite to make war "by the book" has already been noted. This was often a great strength to the Tlon -- once something was in the Library, it quickly became doctrine and SOP. Unfortunately, this also meant that prejudices, doctrinal errors, and outright untruths, once written into the system, would perpetuate themselves too.

(4) It's been a real PITA finding information in English about Juan de Grijalva. He repeatedly appears as a minor character in histories of other people -- Cortes, Velasquez, de Alvarado.

Still, some things do come through. He was smart. He was, for a conquistador, a thoughtful man; he preferred trading to fighting, and tried to deal more or less fairly with the natives. He sought to gather as much information as possible instead of charging ahead blindly. And he was (again, for a conquistador) a relatively conservative and cautious leader. So while it's easy to imagine him winning a major victory, he's not quite the sort who would advance boldly into the middle of enemy territory with a handful of men.

Bronze Age New World: 1522-1523: An Oath Fulfilled

When Zaxxon received news of the final failure to repulse the Spaniards, his face remained a mask of indifference. It was as if he had been receiving news of the yearly sewer budget. This assault had taken almost every troop the Empire could spare. All those who were not urgently needed to hold down the provinces had been pushed forward onto the bloody rocks of Totonac. And they had failed. The survivors marched home to the capital in the gloom of multiple defeats.

All of them were greatly saddened and strained, but some more so than others. After a full year and a half of futile warfare, one legion had reached a breaking point. There is only so much that human bodies can take, and the men of Dipper Bird Legion had passed that point long ago. This legion had been slaughtered in the fight with de Alvarado, rebuilt, slaughtered again in the fight with Pizarro, rebuilt, and finally slaughtered one final time. When a rumor (false as it later turned out to be) reached them that they were to return to Totonac one more time, they simply snapped. They tried to storm Orqwith to dispose of Zaxxon and stop the senseless bloodletting.

They were unorganized, and so failed to even breach the city walls. Soon the sons of the Dipper Bird broke and ran. Those who were captured were flayed alive for their treason, but the brief revolt made a deep impression on Emperor Zaxxon.

Once more it proved that this was the Third World, and that the Third World was truly doomed. The Spaniards were the avatars and servants of the Warbringer and they had turned hero against hero in a cycle of senseless bloodshed. The plagues were a sign of the End Times. Soon the Great Beasts would come forth out of earth, sea and sky, and then the great earthquake would come to destroy all, leaving the way clear for the Fourth World to rise anew upon the ruins.

Zaxxon wanted to see that. He wanted his ears to bleed at the roar of the Red Eyed Sloth of Pain, he wanted to dance when the clouds rained blood, and he wanted to laugh when the Primordial Annihilator feasted on his mind and his soul. But all those joys would be denied to him, for he had failed in his oath. He had not been quick enough, or smart enough, or strong enough, to repel these Spaniards from his land. They had conquered Totonac and in that land their rule was now supreme.

So be it. He had made his promise, and he would fulfill his oaths. Let his successor deal with the Spaniards. As for Zaxxon... he might grieve inwardly with the deepest of religious despair, but he was still a prince-general of the Tlon. He would show no more emotion than a player who has been eliminated from the socket-ball game before the final round.

He gave appropriate orders, drank a cup of very good hot chocolate, and watched the moon rise from the ramparts of the Imperial Palace. And then a rope, made from finest llama hair, was placed around his neck and he was ritually strangled, then drawn and quartered.

* * *

Men in black and white and scarlet went forth wailing into the city. Soon all of Orqwith was echoing with miserable cries, from the Great Pyramid to the sacred confines of the Ossuary. Within a few minutes the news was out across the lake. The Goombahs on their slum-island in the center heard it. These primitive and thuglike tribesmen had never been particularly loyal subjects, but the death of the King Over Kings affected them strangely. They shrieked incomprehensible epithets in their strange Nahuatl language and slashed each other with knives of obsidian. Dozens of them hurled themselves into the dark waters of the lake.

* * *

In a small and obscure room in Uqbar, the Eye of the King raised his head to listen. The Eye had survived the Red Breath plague, though sometimes he wished he hadn't. He was stooped and hairless and wheezing, his lungs a mass of dead tubercules and puckered scar tissue, every breath a gasp and an effort. His walk was a painful shuffle. One hand was a black and withered claw.

But he still had his eyes and his ears and his cold, sharp mind. He turned his gasps into dire punctuation, forcing listeners to lean close to hear his whispers. He had taken to dressing in robes of scarlet darkened with salts of sulfur, the color you see when you close your eyes in pain. Where before he had been a figure of fear, now the more superstitious regarded him with outright terror. Some said the pestilence had given him new and terrible powers. Others said he /was/ the pestilence, the Red Breath made flesh. The Eye heard these whispers and nodded to himself.

He had argued... well, one does not argue with the King of Kings. But he had known, after the Red Breath and the second wave of Spanish invasions, that the Empire was in desperate straits. And that desperate measures would be called for.

He had expected Zaxxon to delay a little longer. But _piously punctual to the last, my King,_ he thought to himself. _So now we throw the dice again._ Zaxxon's way had failed. Perhaps a new strategy could succeed.

In the small and obscure room, a man cowered before him. The Eye took a deep slow breath. He would need to frighten this man badly without breaking him. He could do this. He stepped forward, his limping shuffle slow and sinister and deliberate, eyes glittering, black hand slowly rising.

Outside the wailing grew stronger.

Bronze Age New World: 1522-1523: We All Fall Down

This is another installment in the Bronze Age New World, where a more advanced navigation package in the Caribbean has led to a pre- Columbian America that is generally more advanced than in OTL.

More advanced, but still far behind 16th century Europe. And the great Empire of Mesoamerica -- the Tlon, this TL's very rough analog to the Aztecs -- are having some difficulty with the Spanish, and vice versa.

It's 1522. The Spanish, after several false starts, have clawed off two coastal provinces. In response, the Tlon ruler has just committed elaborate ritual suicide. Word goes out...

* * * * *

Many across the Empire mourned Zaxxon's passing, but many more were too busy with survival. That year a new pestilence swept the land and caused much havoc. It was a terrible thing of fever and madness and red, oozing boils. The few surviving Spanish captives gave it a name of terror: smallpox.

Before this latest plague, the decline of the Empire's population had been slowing. After smallpox was released on the land, the population seemed to go into a complete freefall.

Times were tough for the Tlon. Cities were being emptied, provinces were falling into disrepair, finances were in ruin, morale among the army was wavering, subject tribes were taking charge of their fate, the Spaniards ruled two of the Empire's most precious territories. And while all this was going on, a new King of Kings had to be chosen.

Luckily the deceased Emperor had a clear and direct male heir, Prince Kungaloosh. Better still, he had stated clearly and repeatedly -- the last time just before that final cup of hot chocolate -- that Kungaloosh was his designated heir, and he had instructed the priests to write that down and put it in the library. Claims didn't get much more solid than that.

Kungaloosh was big for a Tlon, and in remarkable health. Most had to think hard before they could remember a time when he had been sick. Even the great plagues seemed to pass by him. He towered over all his advisors and it was rumored that he could bend bronze with his bare hands.

He was a rather socialable King and had much experience in manipulating his advisors. The Eye, who had served three Emperors now, found him the most difficult to manage. Kungaloosh had many contacts with various nobles, was respectably religious, had a decent intellect, and a perfect claim on the throne. [1]

In such circumstances the transition should have been quick and easy, but these were not normal times. Kungaloosh's direct and unchallengeable claim to the throne... was challenged. The widespread chaos seemed to create a frantic energy in men's souls that bubbled over in revolt. First one prince challenged Kungaloosh, and then another, and then finally a third. One tried a purely legal argument for his challenge. The other merely hinted that he might try to use force. Both were captured and then burned alive. [2]

But the third pretender to the throne, Prince Arhat, preached that he was really the Primordial Annihilator. And that if made King he would spare all who served him and bring them to the Forth World with him.

In normal times he would have been ignored, but when you saw your entire society collapsing around you, who would say that it wasn't the End Times? And who could say that this prince _wasn't_ the Primordial Destroyer? He spoke and preached so eloquently. He sounded as if his voice was that which first spoke the sacred scrolls. His utterances seamed to enrapture men. After hearing him yell, "Prepare yourselves, oh my little brothers, for the white twin of heaven has come and he will castrate the sun, bringing the night and sadness and the weight of pain," many soldiers wondered how one could _not_ join him.

With a flaming torch as his only weapon, he stayed at the front of his growing army as it marched on the Capitals. When word of this reached Kungaloosh he called up his most loyal and trustworthy forces to meet the rebels head on. Would they fight? Or would they turn themselves over to the Pretender?

M/E/A/N/W/H/I/L/E

The Spanish reacted to the failure of two of their expeditions with scorn. Ponce de Leon was especially singled out and reviled. (At least Pizarro had possessed the decency to die.)

But as so often happens it was not the truth that doomed de Leon, but rather a mistold tale. During his fever induced illness, de Leon had once screamed, "Madre de Dios! Es El Pollo Diablo!" The men had laughed at this and given the nature of the comment it is not surprising that the story quickly mutated and spread. When it reached the Caribbean it morphed itself beyond recognition and de Leon was portrayed as an absolute coward, fearing his own shadow. [3] De Leon's reputation sunk even lower once this story gained wide currency.

If Pizarro was forgotten in death, and de Leon reviled in life, then Juan de Grijalva was honored and celebrated. He had brought the Spaniards everything they wanted from their conquistadores: money, victory, and new converts to Christianity. In time he became one of the great figures of the European Renaissance, the perfect Machiavellian blend of will power, a kind of proto-humanism, and not least of all, a possessor of good luck. And is reputation still had further to grow.

Back in Europe it was the money that interested King Charles the most. He was in desperate need of cash for his European adventures. The influx of gold from Juan de Grijalva's plunder of Totonicapan was much appreciated at court, yet still the King apparently briefly considered replacing Juan de Grijalva with a governor. After all, it was long-settled policy that conquistadores shouldn't be trusted once the conquest was complete.

But on the other hand, this conquest was not yet complete. There were still major military actions to be taken in the territory and further conquests to be made.

De Grijalva himself had written to the King about the military situation. He explained that with his current forces he could hold his territory indefinitely, but that further conquest would be extremely difficult. He desired to serve his most Catholic majesty with all his heart, and add even more territory to the King's dominion, so could he please have more men?

King Charles considered this very carefully. He very much wanted to conquer the Empire of the Tlon. It was filled with treasure, had those natural slaves the Indios in it, [4] and possessed all sorts of new and different exotic goods, like the strange new vegetable he had just received. What was it called again? Oh yes, el patata. [5]

But the request for more men was not that simple. He did not want just one man to win such a rich land, nor did he want to risk everything on one roll of the dice. He had allowed three expeditions and only one had come back in glory. It would be best to spread things out.

Thus he not only approved of more men for de Grijalva, but he also gave four new _capitulaciones_ to four new eager conquistadores as well.

Juan de Grijalva, heavily reinforced, began his advance into the Tlon Empire at the same time as the four other Conquistadores made their assaults. And those assaults began at the same time as Arhat the Pretender's march on the capital.

[1] Kungaloosh, like all Tlon Emperors, is based on the rolls of a pair of electronic dice. He got a natural 20 on health so he'll probably live through the plagues. If he doesn't die by some other means.

[2] Not a normal practice among the Tlon, but brutal times require...

[3] Indeed the story has grown even until the current day when "El Pollo Diablo" is used to mean an unreasonable and unfounded fear.

[4] Charles never met Bartolomeo de las Casas in this TL, what with the priest being quite dead. As a result he doesn't really care for natives.

[5] Yep, the potato just got introduced to Europe a generation early. It hasn't been planted yet, but Europe knows it exists so it won't be many years until someone sticks it into European soil. Given that the potato had such a huge effect on Europe in OTL, introducing it a bunch decades earlier will be one more radical change I'll have to deal with. Ugh.

Bronze Age New World: The Fall of the Tlon 1523-1528: The Sound of Inevitability

Emperor Kungaloosh held a bird in his hand. The bird was chirping softly. It had been in human hands many times before, and while this hand was larger than most it was not an uncomfortable feeling. The hand was petting it softly and the big eyes were looking into its own, as if looking for an answer to some problem that had none.

The bird gave a squeak of surprise as someone entered. That owner of the hand said something to the man, and the man began to talk. As the talking continued the hand began to squeeze the bird. The bird gave a chirp of protest at this, but the hand did not seem to notice. The bird squeaked again, but the squeezing continued to slowly increase. In immense pain, the bird began flailing and pecking with all its might. It drew blood from the hand, but still the relentless squeezing continued. It could no longer breath. Its muscles were being crushed. Its bones were being splintered. And finally its heart broke and it was dead.

When the messenger stopped talking the Emperor was silent. "Very well. You may go," he said in a calm and collected voice. Kungaloosh then looked down at the bloody mess of feathers and bones in his hand. His eyes were cold and dead. A bowl of water and a towel were called for and brought to the Master of All He Could and Could Not See. Soon the blood was washed from his hands.

Would that anguish could be washed from his mind as easily. The messenger had been wearing carmine laced with red -- Victory With Disaster. There was good news and bad news. The Tlon Army had stayed loyal and fought Arhat the Pretender's Army to its destruction. But not to the destruction of Arhat. For he seemed to be cursed and gifted with Xinxwind luck. [1]

The Battle of The Two Armies [2] had been a decisive win for the Emperor's troops. The Pretender's force broke and ran. They were fleeing, and were all set to be slain like guinea pigs, when the Spanish arrived. Their untimely arrival had also allowed the Pretender to escape, for the Tlon now had a more important fight on their hands.

The Second Battle of the Two Armies [2] did not go so well as the first. The Spaniards and their treacherous native allies slaughtered the weakened Tlon force with ease. Runners sprinted ahead, but at their current rate the Spaniards were two, at most three, days away from approaching the capital.

It was not the only bad news. This was no isolated Spanish incursion. According to spies in Totonicapan, not one but five Spanish armies were invading the Empire. One was pushing due north, one north-west, one south, one south-west, and the biggest and largest one, under the command of Gri-ja-la-va was heading due West - straight for Uqbar and Orqwith.

Five armies. Five. Emperor Kungaloosh knew how stretched the Empire was. The plagues had swept through the land, leaving chaos and desolation in their wake. Everything was falling apart. The subject races were rebelling, the armies were revolting, finances were non- existent, and now he had to deal with not one but five invading armies.

He did not give into despair. There was a fate and a destiny to the lives of men. All Tlon knew this to be so. If the Tlon Empire was facing its destruction, let no one in the Fourth World say they went quietly. They would honor the Sun Hero and face the Primordial Destroyer like true Sons of Tlon. Let their tale of courage and sacrifice live into the next age. They would fight, and fight, and fight. Kungaloosh would never surrender.

Orders were given. Those few precious soldiers still in the capital marched to their positions. The City Walls would be defended to the last. If the Spanish wished to fight, it would have to be on Tlon terms.

---

Juan de Grijalva was struck silent by the awesome sight of the cities on the lake. It seemed like an enchanted vision, this first glimpse of things never seen or even dreamed of before. So large. So strange. So beautiful. And so deadly.

Grijalva could see the formidable city walls of Orqwith, and scouts reported that those of Uqbar were no less impressive. He had been gaining auxiliaries as he rode, but as he drew closer to the heartland of the Tlon, new allies grew fewer and farther between. Instead of being a minority, here ethnic Tlon were a majority. The people looked at him silently, fear and loathing in their eyes. He could expect no friendly revolts here.

Even with his auxiliaries, the Tlon capitals still had vastly superior numbers to his and they were behind thick hard walls. His decision was not an easy one. The Spaniards could lay siege to them, but Grijalva felt that could be too time consuming. The other conquistadors were all making headway in their lands, and King Carlos' favor depended very much on what one had done for him lately. If the others achieved quick results, and he slow ones, his conquest of Totonicapan would be forgotten. He had to out think as well as out fight these Tlon.

He began to lay siege to Orqwith. The Tlon had expected this and made preparations. As hard as food was to come by in these troubled times, they had still stored some away. With dread at the hunger that would soon fill their bellies they began to prepare for a long slow struggle over Orqwith.

Which was just what de Grijalva wanted them to do. For a fortnight into the siege, his men, as silently as possible, picked up their gear and began to sail and march to Uqbar in the West. Half of his force (mainly auxiliaries with Spanish commanders) was going by land, half (mainly Spaniards, both veterans and new troops from the Fatherland) by the ships he had secretly built during the "siege". The Tlon might have copied some tricks from the Spaniards, they might vastly outnumber his men, but their puny weapons would be no match for his superior intellect. He was going to put his faith in gunpowder, horses, steel, and his own mind.

---

Disaster. The Spanish had landed, LANDED, in Uqbar. Emperor Kungaloosh could barely believe this. There were no defenses on the coast. Who had ever expected Uqbar to be invaded over water? Not one single Prince General, that's who, and also not he. And there, out his window, he could hear the sounds of fighting at dawn. The sunrise was a bloody red. How appropriate. He was lost in thought when a voice called to him.

My Lord.

My Great LORD!

You must flee. You must!

A long and disgusting cough followed. The eyes were pleading with him.

I will not run.

You have not the freedom to choose to die, your highness. The Empire needs you alive. If there is any hope, it rests with you.

A silence, broken only by faint sounds in the distance: the crackle of flames; the strange barking noises of the Spanish fire-weapons; screams.

Can you come with us? The Emperor asked the Eye.

The Eye knew he could not. His keen intellect did not allow himself the luxury of such wishful thinking. A mad dash for safety, possibly followed by a trek across the Empire, would be beyond his withered form.

I will stay and serve the Empire. However I can.

More bloody coughs.

The Emperor closed his eyes for a few seconds, then turned and strode from the room without a word or gesture.

The Eye looked after him, and then shuffled out the way he came in. He had been prepared for the worst for some time. He had a backup plan.

---

The Spanish looked around and were amazed by the city. Thousands lay dead and rotting in the streets, but those were just corpses, and the Spanish had seen plenty of those by now. What was amazing was the art and architecture of the place. The Spaniards had seen plenty of gruesome carvings and statues, and plenty of skull and bones, plenty of pyramids and palaces, and plenty of paved streets and great open plazas before, but nothing on such a monumental scale as this. For this was the seat of the Empire, and for hundreds of years the finest artists the Tlon possessed had worked on this city. And it showed.

Well, that part of the city that wasn't gutted by fire showed it anyway. For many Tlon homes were now in shambles, and many of their most beautiful buildings had been destroyed by fire or defaced by bullets and cannon shot. Still, there were plenty of absolutely fantastic, alien, gorgeous buildings left. The best were taken and used to house the city's new rulers.

There were wonders in this city, and horrors, and things that were a little of each. On the second day of exploring Uqbar the Spanish entered an enormous building, which they took at first to be a palace. But it turned out to contain nothing but books. Books in panel-scroll form, beautifully hand-written, and decorated as carefully and as colorfully as any manuscript of medieval Europe. Thousands... no, tens of thousands of them. (3)

For some reason the building contained many mirrors of polished bronze, so that the rows of books were endlessly reflected and re- reflected. Light came from a few windows and shafts to the roof, very curiously designed. The interior was full of shadows. The rooms themselves were bizarre: hexagonal, with each wall either a corridor entry, a bookshelf, or a mirror. The building's corridors were straight, yet they branched and re-branched in a way that was very confusing. A man could get lost in there, easily, and wander among the intersections and reflections, blundering ever further from the light of the sun.

Shall we burn them, sir? Asked one eager soldier.

Juan de Grijalva thought for a moment. These books were heathen, and the Church would undoubtedly be happy to see them burned. And the Library, frankly, gave him the willies.

But... he remembered a similar situation in history. About 500 years ago the armies of Christ had captured Toledo from the Muslim hordes. There they had found a great many books of antiquity that might have been lost if they had just burned them. Now these Tlon obviously had no contact with the ancients, but perhaps, just perhaps, there could be something useful in them.

No. Leave them be.

And that rather odd garden?

Grijalva turned. From the roof of the palace he could see the garden. The view was somewhat obscured by smoke -- part of the city's docks were still burning. But the rising sun was laying streaks of gold across the flower beds and terraces and the intricately twisting paths.

The garden was full of pictures and statues of every imaginable sort of pagan idol.

It was very beautiful.

Grijalva opened his mouth, and then closed it again.

A breeze started blowing the smoke away. Somewhere a bird began, very hesitantly, to sing.

[1] Xinxwind is a minor god in the Tlon pantheon. If you are graced with his luck you are both gifted and cursed. Gifted in that you always seem to escape from situations were it seems like you should have been killed, but cursed in that you kept getting into situations were you were likely _to_ be killed.

[2] The commanding Tlon Prince General was remarkably lacking in imagination.

[3] There are only a few thousand texts, but many of them have multiple copies.

The odd design of the Library is partly for religious reasons and partly for very practical ones: fire protection and safety. The mirrors reflect light deeper into the interior so that it's less necessary to bring in lamps or torches. Branching corridors and small rooms make it harder for fire to spread.

And, of course, they help ensure that nobody but the librarian- priests can find anything.

Bronze Age New World: The Fall of the Tlon 1523-1528: Not Long Before the End

One of the Emperor's courtiers looked back at his flaming city and broke down in despair.

Where shall we go now, oh my friends? The smoke is rising, the fog is spreading, the waters on the lake are red. Cry, oh cry, for we have lost the Tlon nation.

Kungaloosh ordered him thrown over the side of the boat. Fear was contagious, and so was despair. He could not afford to let them spread. He needed his men to have hearts and souls not just of bronze, but of steel. That was the only way they could ever reclaim their lost capital, or at the very least, prove themselves worthy to the gods.

---

"You can always expect me to do the unexpected." It is not known if Grijalva actually said these words but they would later be attributed to him. His invasion of Mudville, or as it is known by the inhabitants, Tenoqtitlan, is a perfect example of why people would come to believe that he'd said it.

That conquest was the last thing that the Tlon had expected. The island slum had never been of more than marginal importance to the Tlon. But Grijalva thought it would be a useful logistical step to conquering Orqwith, and so he had invaded it and the conquest had been rather easy.

Most of the buildings on the island were decrepit structures made of rotting wood and reeds. But there were also several large buildings of lime and sandstone, one a pyramid with the statue of a jaguar on the top. A hole was cut in this statue's head for perfumes or incense, and nearby was a stone basin filled with blood. [4] The blood was a day or two old; it had congealed, and flies buzzed lazily around it. Two posts nearby were draped in textiles which concealed a plume-headed idol facing the statue.

Grijalva described a grisly scene of "two masonry houses very well built, each house with steps leading up to some altars, and on these altars were idols with evil looking bodies, and that very night five Indians had been sacrificed before them; their chests had been cut open, and their arms and thighs had been cut off, and the walls were covered with blood... At all this we stood greatly amazed, and gave the island the name of the Isla de Sacrificios, and it is so marked on the charts."

His local allies told him that the island's inhabitants were a savage race, distinct from the Tlon. Grijalva hawked and spat. He wasn't a bloodthirsty man, but this was foul. For two silver bits he'd burn the whole filthy settlement and use the wreckage for...

Hmm.

---

From a low room in the city of Uqbar, the Eye of the King stretched out his will.

Resistance began. Here a Spaniard died with a bronze blade in his neck. There a merchant who had been too friendly with the new rulers disappeared. His flayed skin would be found later, neatly dried, salted, folded and packed into a bale of his own goods. Fear stalked the streets of Uqbar. A new name was whispered in darkness: the Red Ghost, the spirit of vengeance.

It wasn't enough. There were too many Spaniards and too many traitor native allies. And they were all too willing to play the game of reprisals. This sort of thing would annoy them, but could not reverse their conquest.

The Eye needed more information. He already spoke the rudiments of the Spanish language. Now he ordered that a Spaniard should be captured alive and brought to him.

The invaders were men. Just men. And men, however strange, could always be bought, be broken, be turned one against the other. And if he could do that...

For a little while, the Eye forgot his broken body.

---

Juan de Grijalva is sitting up late. On a table of polished jade, by the light of a soapstone lamp in the shape of a yawning lizard, he is writing a letter to his uncle.

This is a delicate matter. Grijalva's Uncle Velasquez is the Governor of Cuba. He is a successful conquistador, rich and powerful, and a political force to be reckoned with.

When Grijalva had set out for the mainland, he had been "the nephew of the Governor of Cuba". That seemed a long time ago. Today it is Uncle Velasquez who is "the uncle of the Conqueror of the Tlon". This has not been an easy transition. Grijalva can tell from his letters that his uncle is wobbling between paternal pride and joy on one hand, seething resentment and jealousy on the other. It is dangerous. Velasquez must be brought on side, and kept there. How?

There are other issues. The other conquistadores are advancing, some fast, some slow. Dividing the spoils is going to be a very interesting exercise. They'll expect him to claim predominance, for conquering the capital; and they'll be prepared to resist that.

But maybe that's not the way to go. Grijalva has no illusions about being ruler of New Spain... no, not even viceroy. Soon the Crown will be asserting its authority here. Already there are rumours of an _audiencia_ -- a combination appellate court, auditing body, and oversight committee. It may take years, but it will happen. And then of course there are the priests and bishops. The new province will eventually be firmly under the thumb of the Crown, the Church and their respective bureacracies. And the conquistadores will be pushed firmly aside.

But what if, instead of one province, there were to be... more than one? Then Juan de Grijalva might perhaps emerge as the biggest fish in a still quite large pond.

Ah, but he is getting ahead of himself. The Conquest is not complete. The siege of Orqwith has dragged on for more than a month now. And the unrest in the other city is... disturbing. Grijalva senses there is more here than the simple resentment of a conquered people. Some deep, organizing power is at work. Grijalva sighs unhappily to himself. He knows the answer, though he does not like it. Nuno Guzman must come to the capital. (2)

Grijalva sighs again, then stretches. Outside his window a ragged fingernail of moon is rising over the lake. The city is very quiet.

Sometimes, late at night, Grijalva wonders what might have been. Suppose he had not fallen ill, more than three years ago? Suppose he and not de Alvarado had commanded the first expedition?

Well then, very probably he would be dead today. De Alvarado made some terrible mistakes, but in the honest hour before dawn, Grijalva is not sure he would have done much better. His greatest strength has been to learn from the mistakes of others. (3)

And anyhow, it is fruitless to think of such things. God in His wisdom has put him in this place. Foolish to second-guess Him! Juan de Grijalva's duty is to go forward as best he can, in Spain's service, which is also God's...

"Juan?"

Grijalva turns. A very beautiful young woman stands in the doorway. The lamplight strikes gleams from her long black hair; gold jewelry shines against her copper skin. Her cotton shift is very fine, and more or less translucent. Grijalva feels his thoughts descending rapidly from the sublime to the profane.

"Is very late, Juan."

"So it is, _querida_." Her Spanish is coming along very well, much faster than his Tlon. But then, she is clever as well as beautiful. At first, Grijalva had thought that her family had bargained her to him, to seal a relationship between the Pretender and the new conqueror. In the weeks since their "wedding" ceremony, he has come to think she herself had more than a little to do with it.

So, beautiful, clever, and ambitious too. Grijalva has no problem with that. His eyes drift to her midsection, which is just beginning to swell with pregnancy. Their fates are intertwined now, and her ambitions support his.

Grijalva sprinkles a little sand over his half-finished letter. Tomorrow he will finish it and, yes, summon Guzman as well. And a hundred other things as well. He rises up from the writing table, picks up the lamp, and reaches out to take her hand. It is small and very warm, and she smells of unknown flowers and vanilla.

Tomorrow.

---

In the far north and west of the Empire is the country of the Lalamuri, the Runner People. (4)

The Lalamuri must run to live; and so, making a virtue of necessity, they live to run. They are the greatest runners in the world. They start running as soon as they can walk. They run up and down the rugged mountains of their homeland, which is beautiful but desolate, and they run across the deserts to the north and east.

And some of them run south. The Lalamuri are perhaps the oldest and most loyal allies of the Tlon. Bonds of blood and friendship have linked them for more than three hundred years, since the days when the Tlon were just a hungry coalition of petty tribes. When the founding Princes of the Tlon needed refuge in a desperate hour, they stayed for six years with the Lalamuri, until they could return and reclaim their lands. And two generations later, when the Lalamuri were threatened by the hideous Yaki, it was the Tlon who came to their aid.

The Tlon have gone on to build an empire while the Lalamuri have stayed in their mountains, but the friendship has remained. The Lalamuri symbol -- a zigzag horizontal line across a circle -- is inscribed next to the Tlon "aleph", all across the Lalamuri lands, and the Tlon Pantheon has accepted Runner Hero as the friend and ally of Sun Hero. Many Lalamuri men have served the Kings Over Kings, as scouts and as heralds and, above all, as runners. They are the backbone of the Imperial courier system, running from northern desert to southern jungle and from one sea to the other.

It is a good thing for the Lalamuri to serve their old friends, the Tlon. Of course, some stay home and that's good too. When the ones who go away come back, they bring trade goods, ornaments of jade and silver, and enough stories to last the rest of their lives. Meanwhile the ones who stay at home have been chewing peyote and discussing philosophy. The travellers bring the world to the philosophers, the philosophers explain things to the travellers. It's all good.

But the great courier system has been falling to pieces, ravaged by plague and war. The couriers come home maimed by battle, ravaged by sickness, or -- mostly -- not at all. And now one of the two capitols of the Tlon has fallen, and the other is besieged.

Out of the south comes a man running. He wears colors of terror and woe, and he carries a scroll case made from the shinbone of a man. The scroll inside is written in the Lalamuri language using the Tlon alphabet. It bears the seal of the Eye of the King. Its message is short:

Be ready.

---

When Captain Olin looked at his artillery park, he thought his heart would burst with pride.

Shiny metal tubes gleamed in the tropical sun. The guns had been brought from Spain to Cuba, Cuba to Veracruz, and then laboriously overland all the way to the city by the lake. The Commander had ordered it months in advance, before they had even begun their invasion. He had arranged it all with his uncle, the governor of Cuba. The other conquistadores had lacked such foresight. And that was why they were elsewhere while the Commander was preparing for the final assault on this, the greatest city left to the enemy.

But that wasn't the best of it. No, the best part was that the powder and shot had all been made right here in the Tlon lands! Weeks ago, he himself had taken two companies of men up the volcano to gain sulfur. There had been a very strange temple up there, and it had been necessary to deal severely with the heathen priests. But now...

Olin was a cavalry officer, not an artilleryman. This mastery of guns was really artificer's work, beneath his dignity as a gentleman. But the Commander had ordered him. And he had found, to his surprise, that he loved these guns. The Indios were learning about horses -- learning very fast -- but cannon still /terrified/ them.

And, after all, there were some things a horse just couldn't do.

Olin lifted his gaze to the city. The siege had dragged on for weeks, but very soon it was going to end. The enemy still had many soldiers in the city, but they were hungry and sick. The Commander's boats ruled the lake. The Tlon had burnt the causeway from Tenochtitlan, but the water was shallow; the Commander had simply replaced it with a long berm of earth and fill from the mud- city. The berm was now less than a hundred yards from the shore of Orqwith. (5)

Tomorrow cannon -- _his_ cannon -- would be mounted on ships. They would sweep the enemy docks clear of archers and spearmen. The Commander had already built a new causeway, in sections. By the following day it would reach from berm to shore, and men could pour across into the city. Meanwhile, more of his cannon would be knocking down the city walls outside, preparing the way for their Indio allies. And then...

Olin smiled. It was a good thing to work for the Commander.

---

Again the Emperor's city was in flames. Running to Orqwith had only provided a short respite. The Spaniards were invading his new city as well, and the defenses were crumbling. Again, he had to flee.

Where to your highness?

To Tamaulipas. Or Durango. Or even up to the Lalamuri. We must go north. We must keep moving. We must keep far away from these Spaniards. We must keep reforming the armies. We must fight on. We must.

---

Juan de Grijalva looked at an immense cathedral-like structure made almost entirely of human remains.

Hundreds of thousands of ribs, hips and femurs formed walls and buttresses and arches; and at every juncture, tens of thousands of human skulls grinned out at the city. It was as large as any European cathedral and had required just as much craftsmanship and effort. The beautiful design had had taken centuries to perfect. Thousands of nameless but fiercely dedicated men had worked on it for generations. The amount of loving detail that went into it was astounding.

"Burn it. Burn it to the GROUND!"

It was made so.

And in all the years, and then decades, and then centuries to come; paintings, pictures, and finally movies would try to recreate what the Ossuary looked liked. And none of them ever got it exactly right. There was always some off piece, or wrong vibe, or corruption to the recreations. What the Ossuary actually looked like was lost to humanity forever.

Newly crowned King Arhat danced on its ashes. He was the Primordial Annihilator, and if these servants of his wanted to help him destroy the Third Word, well he could use all the help he could get. Tear it down! Tear everything down! Leave nothing of the old! Let the Fourth World God, the God of the Criss-Cross, be all!

[1] The Zazteks are going though another one of their customary outbreaks of religious fanaticism. This one was brought on by the chaos of recent years, and has seen a drastic increase in human sacrifices. The sacrifices are quickly put to an end to by the Spanish, but are used as imperial propaganda forever after.

[2] Guzman is a real OTL figure. He has been called, no kidding, "The Himmler of New Spain".

He was probably the scariest of the second generation of conquistadores. He played a major role in the downfall of Cortes, then used a combination of manipulation, lies and terror to make himself the dominant power in Mexico for several years. He controlled the _audiencia_ that was supposed to watch things for the King, and kept the Church in line through a combination of favors and brutal intimidation. It only came apart when Bishop Zumarraga managed to smuggle a letter out to Madrid.

In this TL, he's presently serving as Grijalva's Chief of Intelligence -- a job he does very well.

[3] In alternate histories, it seems that whenever anyone thinks "what if", they think about /our/ time line.

But Grijalva has no reason to imagine "WI there were no Tlon at all, but a more primitive group called the Aztecs instead". So he doesn't begin to think of a TL where he's a second-string conquistador, modestly successful but no more, who never quite gets out from under his uncle's shadow, and ends up half forgotten by history.

[4] OTL's Raramuri. http://www.mexonline.com/raramuri.htm

These Lalamuri are a bit more numerous and prosperous, but otherwise much the same. They're proud, shy, conservative, and fiercely loyal. Several anthropologists have also described them as natural philosophers who dearly enjoy long, slow discussions of reality and the meaning of life. And yes, they still may be the best runners in the world.

[5] Multiple berms actually, but we're keeping it simple. Not too different from what the Spanish did OTL, actually. Olin is a historical figure, BTW -- one of Cortes' lieutenants.

Bronze Age New World: The Fall of the Tlon 1523-1528: Flowers and Songs of Sorrow

Nuno de Guzman had a stupid face.

He looked like a hayseed, an innocent country cousin. His eyes were always open wide, perpetually a little bit surprised at the strange and wicked world. His most typical expression was a rather loose and idiotic smile. People looked at him and instantly decided that he was friendly, naive, and not very smart.

They were horribly wrong.

Nuno Guzman was extremely intelligent. He was ruthless. He was ambitious. He was more than a bit of a sadist. And he was an absolutely effortless and completely convincing liar. (1)

Juan de Grijalva had figured this out some time ago, which was why he hesitated to bring Guzman to the capital. Better to hold the serpent at arm's length.

But Guzman was just too useful. In Totonican, he had been Grijalva's chief of spies. And counterspies. Through torture and bribery, he had found and eliminated most of the Tlon agents around them. And through subtle and convincing lies, he had prevented the rest of them from knowing Grijalva's plans.

He was very good at his job. And de Grijalva needed someone very good. The situation in the two conquered capitols was getting worse, not better. Not only were the Spanish facing constant low-level resistance, but someone was starting to spread dissent among the ranks of the conquistadores themselves! What had started as a nuisance was rapidly becoming a serious threat.

So, Guzman must come to the capital. Along with his special assistants, Indios and Spaniards who have proven particularly skilled at the horrible art of torture.

De Grijalva privately made preparations. If he had to clasp the serpent to his breast he would at least wear a breastplate.

---

The journey was a long and arduous one. Even Emperor Kungaloosh's robust body was weary from the trip. But they had made it. They were in Durango, one of the last outposts of the Empire.

Durango was a pretty little town in a high valley, surrounded by steep mountains. The air was thin and dry and smelled of pine. Nearby was an extinct volcano whose forested slopes held placer deposits of tin. The tin was the only reason the Empire had bothered coming so far north. Oh, there was also some copper, but it was hardly worth carrying from so far away.

To the north and the east were barren lands, dry plains or lethal deserts. To the west and northwest the mountains rose higher and higher, towards the continental divide and the high valleys of the Lalamuri.

And there was a trade route, an ancient footway that snaked north across the barren lands. At the other end, rumour said, were distant kingdoms of turquoise and silver, where men lived in tombs and worshipped giant lizards. A few of the refugees eyed this road thoughtfully. But the King over Kings turned his face back towards the south.

Here he was far away from the Spaniards' clutches, and here he could attack and harass them. He could hold on to what little power he still had, he could rally the Tlon, and he could continue the war.

He no longer thought of winning. He merely wanted to fight to his dying breath. He led raids personally, traveled clandestinely around the country, and sparked resistance to the Spanish throughout all of Tlondom. It was thus that he gained his title of The Night King.

---

It was three months after the conquests of the capitals that de Grijalva saw the birth of his son, Jos・ His mother, an extraordinary Tlon woman, was the interpreter, the lover, and the woman of Grijalva. Through sex and language she established the central fact of the future of this new world, which was that its destiny lay with the mestizo. She bore the child of the conqueror. She was the mother, symbolically, of the first child of New Spain, the first child who was both European and American. And to those children the future of Tlondom would belong.

----

The duel between Nuno de Guzman and the Eye of the King lasts for thirteen months. It inspires legends that will last for centuries.

Guzman has taken quarters at the farthest end of the palace in Uqbar. After careful searching, he has found a room that suits him. It is close to the torture cells. It has thick walls. It has a back door that is not obvious. And it has a very convenient secret hidey- hole. Some Tlon noble or courtier kept who-knows-what there. Now Nuno Guzman keeps... things of interest.

Guzman holds the high ground, but it's hard. Very hard. The Eye and his agents move like fish through the water of the Tlon population. And the damned Eye always has a backup plan. /Always/.

At one point Guzman seriously proposes that both capitol cities be burned to the ground. Burn them from the lake: it's the only way. Grijalva stares at him coldly. He is not about to burn two of the King of Spain's cities because Guzman cannot do his job.

Cursing inwardly, Guzman smiles his foolish smile and nods and lopes away. Grimly he returns to the battle. He will find the Eye. And he will make him pay.

---

Most of the trade fleet had rotted at anchor. The great sea-crossing canoes had not left port since the Red Breath plague. Sending the annual trade fleet south to the Inca had been a major effort, and the Empire no longer had the organization, the supplies or the men to support it.

Nearly four years later, most of the ships were simply ruined. The sails had rotted or been stolen; the hulls were fouled beyond repair.

But a few of them had been kept in decent condition and used for the coasting trade. They were really too big for that, but the surviving sailors were reluctant to let all of them decay.

And now, perhaps, they had found a new purpose. Wave after wave of refugees were crowding into the western port. The Spanish were coming.

The great canoes could take some of them away... to safety, just perhaps. Somewhere. Not south and east down the coast, though. The Spanish had been there once already, in Chiapas, and rumour said they were coming back. South was no longer safe.

North, then.

* * *

Gold and silver flowed into Juan de Grijalva's hands. Very carefully, he spent it.

He had set aside a large lakeside estate for his Uncle Velasquez, and sent him presents of slaves and gold. Perhaps more useful, he had sent him letters filled with flattery, asking his help and advice... and warning of conspiracies against him at court. Velasquez had decided that being the uncle of the Conqueror was perhaps not such a bad thing. Now they were working together to assure that the family's interests would be protected.

Slow and ponderous, the Crown was still deciding what to do with its new conquests. Boundaries would eventually be drawn. And one day -- not this year, but the year after that, or the year after that -- there would be an _audiencia_.

Grijalva was determined to be ready.

----

One dark night, when the local Spanish guards had gotten drunk and passed out, a secret ceremony was held, for the last time, in the Library of All Books. In the past, when a new book was inducted to the Library, numerous priests and princes were on hand to beg the Gods' favor that the knowledge in this book would always be true and that its inducement into the Library would forever reflect the glory of the Tlon. Now there were precious few princes and priests left, so the Librarians were making due with two city councilman and one head acolyte. They were the only ones the Librarians had found who could be trusted.

This book, The Fall of the Tlon, was outlawed by the Spanish. Its mere possession could be punished by death if a local Spaniard was feeling brutal that day. But it was so rich and lovely, and told the story so well, that the Librarians, who still worshiped the old gods and the old ways, did not feel they could let it pass by without gaining access to the sacred hall of the Library. They inducted it, and then hid it in a secret cabinet, where they hoped no Spaniard would ever see it.

It was discovered almost two hundred years later. By that time it had decayed and only partial fragments of it could be read. The most famous of which is this poem;

Flowers and Songs of Sorrows

Nothing but flowers and songs of sorrow are left in Uqbar and Orqwith, where once we saw warriors and wise men.

We know it is true that we must perish, for we are mortal men. You, the Giver of Life, you have ordained it.

We wander here and there in our desolate poverty. We have seen bloodshed and pain where once we saw beauty and valor.

We are crushed to the ground; we lie in ruins. There is nothing but grief and suffering in Uqbar and Orqwith, where once we saw beauty and valor.

Have you grown weary of us? Are you angry with your servants, O Giver of Life?

----

Smallpox burns through the Tlon lands.

Totonacs die, Tlon die, Maya and Raramuri and Tabascans die. A few Spanish die too, but not many. This is widely seen as evidence that the gods favor the Spanish. In Durango, Emperor Kungaloosh's young son falls to the horrible new plague, as do several of his closest companions. The Emperor now has no direct heir.

In Orqwith, half the Eye's spy network dies between one moon and the next. His plan for a massacre of the Spanish leadership collapses. A week later, Guzman arrests several members of the Eye's inner circle. The Eye himself barely escapes. Guzman's Indian agents have his house surrounded. But he has made sure there is another exit -- always a backup plan -- and he hobbles and wheezes into a hidden passage moments before the door is broken down.

Three days later Guzman, careful as always, gives a bit of his morning meal to his dog and waits. Moments later, the dog expires in convulsing agony.

That's not so bad. But a month after that, a priest announces that he has evidence that Guzman is a secret Jew. The accusation involves three Spanish witnesses and some remarkably good forged documents -- forged documents in Spanish.

Guzman musses his hair and smiles his loose and stupid smile. Me? A Jew? What foolishness, good father. Inwardly he snarls with rage. He knows the witnesses have been bribed, and he knows who has done it. /Always a backup plan./ But they are out of his reach unless he can prove it. Until he can shake this charge, he will be badly distracted.

Shake it he will. The torturers will work long into the night, every night.

In another low room, far across the city, the Eye sits in silence. His lungs hurt all the time now. He is very tired.

----

Juan de Grijalva was appointed Governor, Captain-General, and Chief Justice of the province of New Spain. He passed his time presiding over the reconstruction of Uqbar, Orqwith, and Tenochtitlan, dealing with local politics, and bringing colonists from Spain to make their homes there. It was often hard to get enough colonists, so more and more he began to rely on his native allies and tributaries. (2) The Spanish owned the commanding heights of the economy and political structure of course, but there was also always a place for a smart Indio. If he knew his place.

One who did not was King Arhat of The Capitals. He had sworn allegiance to his Majesty in Spain, converted to Christianity (proclaiming it the way of the Fourth Orb), but he never seemed to realize just what he was. He was always complaining that his "orders" weren't being carried out, and eventually he had stepped too far when he decided to rewrite the Bible because God had told him too. As a result he was now buried somewhere at the bottom of Lake Mexico (named after the Tenoqtitlans, who were proving useful in being local goombahs for the Spaniards).

Hopefully his successor would learn how things worked. If not... well, there was always plenty of room at the bottom of the lake. (3)

----

The refugee fleet had become a microcosm of the Tlon world, complete with prince-generals and priests. It moved slowly north along the coast, very slowly. The great canoes were surrounded by a swarm of fishing boats. For fresh water and fruit... well, they traded when they could. Otherwise, the backwards natives were no match for trained Tlon warriors.

But eventually they would have to stop. Where?

Ahead of them lay the Long Narrow Sea of the North. It was not inviting. The east coast rose sheer to mountain heights. The west was a barren and rocky penninsula, mostly desert. At the north end was a great brackish swamp where a mighty river flowed into the sea; beyond that, more mountains, more desert. The Long Narrow Sea itself was full of sharks, and the sun blasted down mercilessly from the cloudless sky.

Now what?

----

"So this is the Red Ghost."

Juan de Grijalva contemplates the wreck of a man who stands chained before him. It's hard to believe that this poor consumptive cripple is the enemy who has come so close to prying New Spain's grip off this land.

But then he looks into the man's eyes. And he looks again at Nuno Guzman. For once the mask of hayseed idiocy has slipped. Guzman's face blazes with hatred and triumph.

"I see," murmurs de Grijalva. He turns to Guzman. "But why did he choose Olin?"

"Because Olin... had reason... to hate you." Grijalva jumps. The man's voice is low and gasping, but his Spanish is perfectly comprehensible. "He is... a _caballero_... and you made him... a mechanic."

Guzman moves to strike the man, but Grijalva raises his hand. "As it turned out, he did not mind that so much. And if he felt resentment, his honor was more important." He speaks calmly, but his mind is reeling a little. The degree of... comprehension, here, is astounding. This man understands the Spanish mind, too well. (4)

The cripple shrugs. "I had to... take... a chance." He pauses and struggles for breath. Something bubbles in his chest. "Remove you... and let him... take your place... and it could all... still be... undone."

"Olin could have killed me, but he could not have taken my place," says de Grijalva sharply. "He is not senior enough. And even if he did, my uncle would come against him in force. Eventually, so would Madrid."

"Not... Olin." The Eye jerks his head towards Guzman. "Him. He writes... to your uncle... and to Madrid... as well."

A small silence falls. Grijalva notices that Guzman has folded his face back into its normal expression of amiable doltishness.

Grijalva shakes his head. "Such lies," he says gently. "Still trying to subvert and divide us, eh? For shame, sir. For shame." He sees Guzman relax, ever so slightly.

There is a strange sound in the room. A sort of faint and ghastly gurgling. It is the Eye. He is laughing. Grijalva blinks in amazement.

"All... this time... I was waiting..." The laughter shakes his frail body in spasms. "Waiting... for the Emperor... who was not a..." He begins to cough uncontrollably, blood spraying from his mouth. "Not a... not a..."

Grijalva shakes his head. "Poor mad creature. Take him away, Guzman. And... good work."

After they have left, there is another small silence. Grijalva sits without moving, looking at a bronze mirror on the wall. He hears the door behind him swing open. A small warm hand rests on his shoulder. There is a faint scent of vanilla and flowers in the air.

Juan de Grijalva looks into the mirror, and wonders if the Eye had found what he had been waiting for.

----

In a few years the Spanish pounded out enough stability in Tlondom that they could devote significant energies to the guerrilla problem. One reason for the delay was that they were constantly squabbling among themselves. The Empire of the Tlon was divided up into no less than five administrative regions, one for each conquistador. Their borders were rough and ready, and they frequently clashed with each other over who owned village X.

This infighting would continue until the King of Spain had to intervene in 1527 and draw official boundaries. New Spain was the largest and wealthiest viceroyalty, encompassing a bulge roughly running from Totonicapan to the capital cities. The other four were, roughly speaking, equally divided sections of the North, the Far East, the South, and the South-east of the former Tlon Empire. Some of these would be joined together in the future, but never again would they all be one. Tlondom, united and one, became a dream.

Tamaulipas and Durango, the last Tlon outposts, fell rather quickly once the Spaniards got around to it. Those towns had collected the largest numbers of refugees, those who would not or could not bear to live under Spain's rule and would take any risk to avoid that fate. Some of these lost all hope with the fall of their new adopted cities.

But some decided to strike North. The Lalamuri would take them in, just as they had taken in their ancestors so long ago. The Lalamuri lands were rugged and poor, but there were lands beyond the Lalamuri.

North and west and north again marched the refugees. They were small in number, but they managed to survive and formed a small colony that would escape Spanish rule for a long time.

----

The Eye dies after just a few minutes of interrogation. Before it's even properly started, really. He just... lets out a long breath, and doesn't take another one.

It's infuriating. Especially since his last words had been mutters about gold, hidden gold. Guzman grinds his teeth. He knows that by tomorrow both cities will be murmuring about the Treasure of the Red Ghost.

Much worse is to come. Guzman returns to his rooms to find himself under arrest. Somehow, they've found his hidden room. (How?) The secret hoard of money. The forged documents. The missing evidence. And, worst of all, the secret correspondence. (How? How?)

Over the next several months, Nuno Guzman fights desperately for his life. From his prison cell, he pulls every string, calls in every favor, blackmails and bribes and squirms. He doesn't waste much time trying to understand how de Grijalva caught him. Once, a completely insane idea occurs to him. After all, the Eye always had a backup plan. Could it be that, at the end... No. And anyway, it doesn't matter. He goes back to fighting for his life.

And at the end, a year later, he is alive and free. Penniless and disgraced, but alive and free.

From the deck of the ship he watches New Spain recede in the distance. Behind the foolish smile, his brain boils with rage and hatred. He will be back.

----

Emperor Kungaloosh would not join the Exodus. He would not flee to survive, he would only flee to fight on. And this he did. He ran, escaped the Spanish, and continued to fight, and scheme and plot. The Night King struck again and again.

He was very lucky to have lasted as long as he did, but eventually his luck ran out. Late in 1527 Emperor Kungaloosh was betrayed by a companion. The Spanish surrounded his band, and he was killed in combat. His last words are supposed to be, "Do not forget what we once were." His betrayer received 100 acres and 4 slaves for his troubles.

Emperor Kungaloosh's story would become an epic legend, and was told secretly to Tlon children in the coming generations. Whenever Tlon plotted against Spaniard, Kungaloosh would always be brought up as a symbol of resistance. His memory was secretly toasted with thoughts of a different tomorrow. Today, in modern Tlondom, his story is openly celebrated and his name is used as the traditional cheer before drinking. In bars from Tamaulipas to Xicalango, the cry of "Kungaloosh" echoes throughout the night.

---

One year after Kungaloosh died, 1528, the conquest of the Tlon was declared over.

There was plenty of work still to be done in New Spain, of course. All around the periphery of the Empire, subject peoples had risen against the Tlon. Many of them were now independent and not inclined to accept a new master after having finally thrown off the old. But these were negligible. Petty kingdoms, small city states and half- civilized tribesmen, they could be picked off as Imperial Spain got around to it. It was the densely populated heartlands that mattered.

And in these areas, no organized resistance remained to Spanish rule. Those Tlon who remained were beaten down and had mostly come to accept the end of their world. Too much death, and too much destruction had rained down upon them. They could fight no more. Henceforth, the lands of the Tlon would be ruled by Spain. The Tlon Empire was no more, and never would be again.

[1] Nuno Guzman is a real conquistador from OTL. See the previous installment for details.

[2] The tloggotl virus has reduced Spain's surplus population, so the pool of potential immigrants is smaller. New Spain is also somewhat less attractive than in OTL: it's richer, but on the other hand more wracked by war and pestilence. Fewer colonists means the Spanish elite will have to rely more heavily on Indian allies, and later on mestizos.

[3] The treatment of the Indians is going to be different in this TL, and in complicated ways. Worse, because de las Casas dies young, the Indians are seen as more hostile and more dangerous, and the Crown is much slower to intervene for Indian rights. Better, because there are fewer Spanish immigrants, and because de Grijalva's success is suggesting that a (relatively) nice conquistador is a successful conquistador.

The net outcome is, very roughly, it's worse to be a poor or lower- class Indian, or a captive in war. The Indian elites, OTOH, are going to be significantly better off than in OTL.

[4] The Eye is a genius, a man born in the wrong time and place. It's pure random chance, but there must have been men like him. They never got into the history books because a Bronze Age society would be unlikely to recognize them, or celebrate them if it did.

Sometimes being a lone genius isn't enough.

The End

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