The Victory at Quito

by Mark Anthony Signorelli (April 2010)


Down the mountain pass to Quijos
 In the quarter of the north,
The captain Benalcázar
 And his squad came rushing forth,
With their old world armor gleaming
 Down the length of their hot train,
And their snapping flags declaring
 All the pride of martial Spain.
 
And before them Rumiñavi
 Fled alone along the path
From the ever-nearing clamor
 Of his foes’ impending wrath;
And his limbs were faint and trembling
 From the labors he had born,
And his feet were raw and bleeding
 From wounds the rocks had torn.
 
Still the liege of Atahualpa
 Persisted as he could,
And still the regal Spanish
 Thundered through the wood,
Till they gained a florid clearing
 In their fierce celerity
Where they found the warrior leaning
 On a lonely boxwood tree.
 
And they set at once upon him
 With a great triumphant shout,
And they dragged him off to Quito
 Where the flames had not gone out;
Then they threw him in their prison
  Bound fast as any beast,
And retired to their quarters
 For the revel and the feast.
 
And when morning light in Quito
 Peaked from the hills once more
The captain Benalcázar
 Stood at the prison door;
And he strode into the chamber
 With an air of high disdain
And sneered down on his captive
 Who slept upon his chain.
 
Then he kicked him in his fury
 And spit upon his head,
And demanded all the lucre
 That his heart so coveted;
But noble Rumiñavi
 Said not a word at all,
And only sat serenely
 Against the granite wall.
 
So fuming Benalcázar
 With a flourish of his hand
Urged on some rock-browed soldiers
 Who stood at his command;
And they seized the famous general
 Who they then began to beat
With the flat side of their sabers,
 With their fists, and with their feet.
 
But the lord Rumiñavi,
 For all that they could do,
Had not a word of riches
 To give that frantic crew;
So then frowning Benalcázar
 Turned sharply to depart
With the white heat of his anger
 Searing at his heart.
 
The august and warlike condor
 Had soared against the noon;
The furtive owl had chanted
 To the forest-gilding moon;
And when the yawning morning
 Had stirred the town once more,
The captain Benalcázar
 Stood at the prison door.
 
He demanded all the jewels
 From the Incas’ ancient hoard,
But the lord Rumiñavi,
 He answered not a word;
So the Spaniard took a torchlight
 And burned his captive’s feet
Till the flesh was all but swallowed
 By the devouring heat.
 
But for all the wicked torments
 That his captors could impose
The noble Rumiñavi
 Only smiled at his foes,
And so thwarted Benalcázar
 With a curse and with a scowl
Pushed through his wondering soldiers
 And departed from the gaol.
 
The sleek and sable puma
 Had gone hunting through the shade;
The viper long had slumbered
 In the fatal nest he made;
And when again the morning
 Flumed through the valley floor
The captain Benalcázar
 Stood at the prison door.
 
Then he strode across the dungeon
 With a fixed impatient air
Until he stood astraddle
 His passive prisoner,
And with eyes all red and glaring,
 And beard all flecked with spray,
He demanded of his captive
 Where the Inca treasure lay.
 
“I have come here Rumiñavi
 One final time to know
Where the fabled wealth of Quito
 Your dirty minions stow;
And I swear by all the power
 That my greater gods display
If you cross my will this last time
 You will surely die today.
 
The streets of Cajamarca
 Where your barbarous pomp has been
Are obstructed with the corpses
 Of the Incas’ bravest men,
And your lord Atahualpa,
 Whom they used to hold in dread,
Now dons his royal tassle
 In the kingdom of the dead.
 
 
The palaces of Cuzco
 And the fat of Jauja’s lands,
At once alike are gathered
 In the Spaniard’s stronger hands,
And the hour is quickly coming,
 Before many years are through,
When San Jago’s holy standard
 Will fly over all Peru.
 
So now the time is proper
 For the viceroy of the north
To accept the iron status
 Of matters going forth;
For fortune is a tyrant
 Whom we must accommodate –
So all wise men acknowledge
 Whether soon or late.”
 
Then noble Rumiñavi
 Who all this time sat by
In a long disdainful silence
 At last made his reply,
As his chest grew broad in anger,
 And his chin grew tense in spite,
And his voice rebounded loudly
 Like one mindless of his plight.
 
“If my lord Atahualpa
 Now lies sepulchered,
It is only since he trusted
 Too mildly to your word,
And that bent of royal honor
 Proved greatly to his cost –
But the profit of your treachery
 Is a shameful thing to boast.
 
It is true your shining army
 Has brought us many harms,
And carried half the empire
 Before your novel arms;
But in this I find no reason
 To do homage to your king –
The decrees of chance and justice
 Have never been one thing.
 
 
Once the sun’s resplendent children
 With their golden staff in hand
Left the quiet vale of Tampu
 To sojourn in our land,
And to guide the wayward Inca
 To their father’s perfect will,
So their place among the nations
 They could at last fulfill.
 
They taught the love of duty,
 And the prize of fortitude,
And the cost that every zinchi
 Owes to the general good;
So as Viracocha willed it
 In our dawn-elated prime,
So shall Rumiñavi follow
 Even in this waning time.”
 
Then the soldiers came and bound him
 With rigid cord and mesh
That bore in their hard fastness
 Into his naked flesh;
And they dumped him in a wagon
 And pulled him to the square
Where the smoke of devastation
 Still hung heavy in the air.
 
And before him Benalcázar
 Sat on a pilfered throne
That some Inca hand had fashioned
 From the timeless Andes’ stone;
And his face twitched with the fever
 Of the fierce expectancy
Of destroying the one object
 Of his fear and enmity.
 
But noble Rumiñavi,
 Like one without a care,
Fixed his eyes upon the captain’s,
 And returned a placid stare;
As they led him up the scaffold
 And tied him to his place,
That expression of indifference
 Never left his face.
 
 
Then they killed the Incas’ general –
 With the garrote in their fists
They extinguished his defiance
 With a few deliberate twists,
And when the silent warrior
 Seemed to cough his final breath
Two Spaniards came and struck him
 To be certain of his death.
 
Then they took his naked body
 And cast it in the street,
Where forsaken dogs were prowling
 In search of food to eat;
And captain Benalcázar
 With his soldiers all around
Took up their happy standards
 And marched proudly from the town.



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