A Display of Force
From Potonchan, the fleet pressed on to the Isle of Sacrifices where
Juan de Grijalva had landed the year before. Cortés was received
warmly there by the Totonac people. The Totonacs remembered
Grijalva, who had been careful to be kind them, and thought
that the Spanish might become allies in their war of liberation
against the Mexicans.
Several days later, the steward of the
great king of Mexico, Montezuma, arrived. The steward's name was Teudile, and, like all functionaries
of great kings, he was very aware of his own high status, gorgeously
turned out in a parrot-feather cloak. Montezuma had instructed
his steward to supply and feed his guests, and to offer them
gifts of precious stones, and featherware. As he conveyed Montezuma's will, Teudile put a damp
finger to the earth and raised it to his lips ("to eat dirt"
was a gesture of respect in Aztec diplomacy), then he lit incense,
and, to the Spaniards' surprise, bled himself and offered them
his blood on straws.
Cortés presented himself as the ambassador of a king
who ruled "the greater part of the world." Cortés
asked after Montezuma. Teudile replied he would send a message
to Montezuma to find out his wishes. Cortés then gave
the Aztecs a demonstration of his guns and horses. His cavalry
charged along the beach at full tilt with swords flashing and
bells tinkling. If that were not intimidating enough, the big
cannon were fired, at which Teudile and his men literally fell
to the ground in fear.