By Gary Jennings
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2001 Eugene Winick
All rights reserved.
To His Most Excellency Don Diego Veles de Maldonato y Pimentel, Conde de Priego, Marqués de la Marche, Knight of Santiago, Viceroy of New Spain by Appointment of His Most Catholic Majesty Emperor Felipe, our Lord King
As Capitán of the Guard for Your Most Excellency's prison, it has been my duty to examine one Cristóbal, known to all as Cristo the Bastardo, a notorious bandit, seducer of women and leader of rabble.
As Your Excellency knows, this Cristo is of tainted blood, specifically that category of mixed blood the law defines as a mestizo because his father was a Spaniard and his mother an Aztec india. As a mixed blood, he is without the protection of the law given to Spaniards and indios, and there are no legal prohibitions against either his torture or execution.
The examination of this thief and murderer of uncertain parentage and tainted blood has been neither pleasant nor profitable. Your instructions to me are to pry from his lips the location of the great hoard of booty that he seized by banditry, treasure acquired by insult to His Most Catholic Majesty in Madrid and to you and other citizens of New Spain, the rightful owners thereof.
You also commissioned me to obtain from his lips the whereabouts of the Aztec india who is said to be his mother. The woman has publicly denied birthing the bastardo but whether that is the truth or she has contrived such a story because of his tainted blood will not be answered until we find her and give her a taste of the truth-extractors we have in this dungeon prison.
I confess, Most Excellency, that the task you have given me is more difficult and odious than the Herculean labor of cleaning the cattle stables of King Augeas. It is most repugnant to have to question this half-caste son of a puta, a street whore, as if he were a legal person, rather than simply hanging him. However, the dead tell no tales and despite my ardent wish I am forced to simply seek the information by torture rather than dispatching him to el diablo, his master.
We began the interrogation with the cord-and-water method. As Your Excellency knows, we place the knotted cords around the prisoner's limbs and twist them with a rod. Five twists are generally sufficient to elicit the truth, but it did nothing to this madman except excite laughter. We then increased the twists and wet the cords to create shrinkage, but still no words of confession or repentance spilled from his mouth. We could not use the cords on his head for fear it would pop his eyes out and prevent him from being able to lead us to the treasure.
The water-and-cord treatment works well on shopkeepers and women, but it is not the equal of a determined rogue like this bastardo. Our small, colonial dungeon lacks the implements of a large prison. I have requested on a number of occasions instruments more suitable for the third degree of questioning than what we have available. My special interest is in one I observed when I was a young guard in Madrid's Saladero, that most famous of all prisons. I speak of the "Bull of Phalaris"; the mere threat of it often loosens the most silent tongues.
The bull is said to have been the invention of Phalaris, the tyrant of ancient Acragas in Sicily. To create this monster, Phalaris had a great bronze statue of a bull constructed, with the inside of the beast hollow. Those put to the question were shoved inside the bull through a trapdoor and roasted by a fire built underneath. Their shrieks thundered from the bull's mouth, as if he were roaring. It is said that Perilaus, the designer of this fiend's delight, was the first person to experience his own creation when Phalaris had him placed in it. And that Phalaris himself was ultimately roasted in it.
But I am certain you know all these facts, Excellency. Perhaps in the next dispatch to Madrid, we should request one of these bulls. Its bellowing would reverberate throughout our small prison and crack even our most recalcitrant felons.
Because I realized this Cristo the Bastardo was not an ordinary criminal but a demonio, with your permission I sought out a man who has experience dealing with those whose lips are sealed by the Dark Master. My search led to Fray Osorio, a Dominican monk in Veracruz who has gained great expertise at examining for the Holy Office of the Inquisition secret Jews, Moors, sorcerers, witches, warlocks, and other blasphemers.
Your Excellency may have heard of this priest. As a young man he was one of the examiners of none other than Don Luis Rodriquez de Carvajal, the notorious Judaizer who was burned along with his mother and sisters before a large crowd and all of the notables of our Most Loyal City of Mexico.
It is said that Fray Osorio heard the recantations of the Carvajales and personally strangled each one of them at the stake before the burning. As Your Excellency knows, once the condemned is tied to the stake, if they repent an iron collar is placed around their neck and twisted by a screw device from behind until the person dies. Garroting those who repent at the stake is not the province of a priest, but the fray acted with great piety and mercy in performing the task since strangulation kills quicker than the flames.
I was new in the viceroy's service at that time and can testify to the truth of this matter because I was assigned to the burning as a guard.
Fray Osorio answered our petición for assistance and graciously left his duties with the office of the Holy Office in Veracruz to interrogate this bastardo with the given name of Cristóbal. The good fray practices the dictates of the founder of his Dominican order, the sainted Dominic, the first inquisitor, who advised that when dealing with blasphemers and heretics, we must fight the devil with fire and told his followers that "when kind words fail, blows may avail."
The fray began by loosening the prisoner's tongue with blows from a gato desollar, a skinning cat. The hemp cords of this whip are soaked in a solution of salt and sulfur and imbedded with small, sharp pieces of iron. It can reduce the skin and flesh to pulp in a short time. ¡Qué diablo! Most men would repent and beg for mercy at such a taste of this venomous tail, but lashing of this devil worshipper opened a flood of the most blasphemous and treasonous statements from his foul mouth.
He further insulted the entire royal realm of Spain by screaming that he is proud of his mixed blood. This state of mind by a mestizo is enough to have the man put to death immediately. As we of the City of Mexico know even better than the rest of New Spain, this infliction of tainted blood caused by the mixture of pure Spanish blood with the blood of indios creates a most foul and noxious deformity of character, often resulting in human lice who pollute our streets, social outcasts we call léperos, social lepers who are lazy and stupid, making their way in life by stealing and begging.
Mixed-bloods are sin razón, without reason, yet this bastardo claims that he has practiced the medical arts and has gained knowledge that mestizos and others of mixed bloods are stronger of body than those with pureza de sangre, the purity of blood that those of us capable of holding honorable positions in life possess.
He shouted under the lash that the mixture of Spanish and Aztec blood results in men and women who do not fall as sick to European diseases like the pox and the French disease that have killed nine out of ten indios, nor do they fall sick from the tropical fevers that have taken so many of our Spanish friends and family.
He has blasphemed that some day all of New Spain will be populated and governed by mestizos, who instead of being regarded as social lepers, will be the proudest in the land.
Dios mio! How did this lowly street leper conceive such ideas? I give no heed to this insane babbling of a madman and stand witness to these vile utterances and will testify to such before Your Excellency or an Inquisitor of the Holy Office.
Continuing his extraction, Fray Osorio obtained sulfur from the makers of gunpowder and placed it in the wounds and under the man's armpits. He burned the sulfur. Then the prisoner was hoisted upside down, hanging from his left leg with his hands tied behind him and his mouth gagged. While in this position, water was poured down his nose.
When these further methods failed to assist his powers of recollection or stem the flow of foul utterances and blasphemies, his fingers were put in thumbscrews. The thumbscrew is a favored device of persuasion because it exerts tremendous agony with little effort. The thumbs and fingers are put into a screw device between two crossbars with ribs, and the bars are slowly screwed down. This was done until the screws tightened and blood squirted from his thumbs and fingers.
The most agonizing persuasion, one that makes any man shiver in his skin, is often the most expedient. It is a particular favorite of mine, one that I have used since my days in the Saladero. It is deceptively simple but agonizing in the extreme: Each night my jailer sweeps up the vermin from the floor of the dungeon and spreads them on the prisoner's body. The prisoner is kept tied up so he cannot scratch or brush the creatures off.
I am pleased to report that never from the mouth of this devil had I heard more beautiful musica than his screams as they crawled over his naked body and squirmed into his open wounds.
All of this was performed the first day. But ¡ay de mí! Excellency, still no confession flowed from the prisoner's mouth.
After those methods failed to loosen his tongue for other than insults and profanos, Fray Osorio tried other and varied methods of persuasion he had learned from over three decades with the Inquisition. I regret to inform Your Most Excellency that after seven days of the most severe persuasion, this mestizo has not disclosed either the location of his hoard of stolen treasure nor the whereabouts of the Aztec bitch from whose útero this mal hombre dropped.
However, I am pleased to report that a physical examination has revealed even closer links between the mestizo and the devil. When the man was stripped naked to be bathed in hot oil, Fray Osorio made notice of the fact the man's male member not only was of extraordinary size, but was deformed — its foreskin had been cut back in a most unsightly manner.
Although neither of us had personally observed such an alteration of a man's body, we had heard of such blasphemy and realized that the unsightly deformity was a sign of the most foul evil and depravity.
At the good fray's suggestion, we requested an examination of the man's virile part by an officio of the Holy Office of the Inquisition with experience in such matters. In answer, Fray Fonséca, a most scholarly priest who had been successful at uncovering from their physical appearance Protestants, Jews, Moors, and other worshippers of the archfiend Mephistopheles, was sent to conduct further inquiry here in the dungeon.
We hoisted this Cristo the Bastardo up with his arms behind him and provided good light for Fray Fonséca to make a close examination of the man's male part. During the examination the recreant spieled an endless flow of the most foul words at the good priest, actually accusing him of fondling the pene for pleasure rather than purposes of holy inquiry.
The bastardo made outrageous boasts of the most loathsome kind, shouting that Spanish wives, mothers, and daughters have all tasted his oversized male member in every orifice of their bodies.
I swear by my father's grave, Excellency, when the bastardo shouted that my own wife had squealed with pleasure at the insertion of his pene into her, it took four men of the Guard to hold me from plunging my dagger into the man's heart.
In truth, Excellency, Fray Fonséca's investigation revealed that we were correct in our assessment that the deformity of the virile part is evidence of Satan's influence. It is exactly the type of mayhem that Jews and Moors do to their sons. The good fray suspects that rather than the pene having been intentionally deformed with a blade, as is customary among nonbelievers, that the bastardo's condition is a mark of Cain, revealing him as a devil worshipper.
Fray Fonséca found this case a most curious and important one and has requested that the prisoner be transferred to him and Fray Osorio at the conclusion of our interrogation so that he may make a closer examination of the suspicious male part.
Because this mestizo has neither recanted his evils nor revealed the hiding place of his treasure hoard, it is my recommendation that he be turned over to His Catholic Majesty's Holy Office of the Inquisition for further interrogation and repentance before he is executed.
While I await Your Excellency's instructions, I have given the prisoner pen and paper at his request. Can Your Excellency appreciate my astonishment when the devil made claim that he can read and write like a Spaniard? I confess my surprise was even greater after I had him compose a sentence and found that he indeed placed written words on paper like a priest. Teaching a mixed blood to read and write is, of course, offensive to Your Excellency's policy of providing a lifestyle for them commensurate to their station in life as servants and laborers.
However, because you believe that he may inadvertently provide a clue as to the location of the treasure he has hoarded, I have given him paper and quill to record his babbling.
As you have instructed, the writings of this madman, no matter how absurd, will be sent to Your Excellency for examination.
The Lord bears witness to the truth of this testament to Your Most Excellency, Viceroy of New Spain.
Para servir a Ud. May God our Lord watch over and preserve Your Most Excellency on this first day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred twenty and four.
Capitán of the Guard
"NI THACA!" We are also human!
The Aztec words of a dying man who had been branded like a farm animal by his Spanish master cry in my mind as I prepare to record my thoughts on this fine paper the Viceroy's dungeon master has provided.
I am also human, are words I have spoken many times in my life.
As I sit in my cell, the light of a single flickering candle barely makes a hole in the darkness. The capitán has taken my clothes to give the vermin easier access to my flesh and wounds. Ay, what tortures the cunning of man can devise. It would be less agonizing to have my flesh frayed, cut away like a deer being skinned, than have these little creatures tickle me with their hairy legs and bite me with their snapping jaws.
Cold damp stone presses my naked flesh, and I shiver uncontrollably. The gnawing cold and the sounds of other prisoners keep me aware that I am still human. It is too dark to see their faces, but I hear the fear of other prisoners and feel their pain. If I was less deserving to be in this dungeon, perhaps I would feel more aggrieved at my captors' rough handling. But I confess, I have been many things in this life the good Lord has granted me and my shadow often climbed the gallows steps. No doubt I have earned every moment of pain given me.
But, gracias a Dios, today I am a king among prisoners for I have not just a candle, but quill, paper, and ink so I can record my thoughts. I do not think the viceroy is wasting fine paper as a gesture of mercy. He wants me to write my secrets, extorting the words by letting me dribble thoughts on paper when he could not extract them with hot pinchers. But perhaps my secrets will not be that easy for the viceroy to discover because I have two pots of ink: one pot as black as the spiders in this hell hole and the other pot of mother's milk.
You ask, Cristo, where do you get mother's milk in a dungeon?
From Carmelita, mi amigos. Lovely, sweet Carmelita. I have never gazed on her, but I am certain that she has the face of an angel. Yet we speak often, Carmelita and I, through the open crack in the wall between our cells. Poor sweet señorita, she was tried and sentenced to hang for opening the gut of a soldado, a king's soldier, who raped her without paying. ¡Oye! Poor Carmelita. Imprisoned for defending her property against a thief, the right of any merchant.
Fortunately for Carmelita, the depravities of men are not just the vices of soldiers. The vile jailers of this dungeon, these carceleros, took turns with her when she was imprisoned and now she is with child. Ah! Clever girl — a woman with child cannot be executed! This puta knew exactly where the jailers kept their brains. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Aztec Blood by Gary Jennings. Copyright © 2001 Eugene Winick. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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