Then, just as we prepared to go to the fallen deer, a male puma, which is nothing but a cat, though fifty times as big, that had been watching the buck from above, dropped down from the boughs of the ceiba tree full on to the shoulders of the prince Guatemoc, felling him to the ground, where he lay face downwards while the fierce brute clawed and bit at his back. Indeed had it not been for his golden cuirass and helm Guatemoc would never have lived to be emperor of Anahuac, and perhaps it might have been better so.
Now when they saw the puma snarling and tearing at the person of their prince, though brave men enough, the three nobles who were with us were seized by sudden panic and ran, thinking him dead. But I did not run, though I should have been glad enough to do so. At my side hung one of the Indian weapons that serve them instead of swords, a club of wood set on both sides with spikes of obsidian, like the teeth in the bill of a swordfish. Snatching it from its loop I gave the puma battle, striking a blow upon his head that rolled him over and caused the blood to pour. In a moment he was up and at me roaring with rage. Whirling the wooden sword with both hands I smote him in mid air, the blow passing between his open paws and catching him full on the snout and head. So hard was this stroke that my weapon was shattered, still it did not stop the puma. In a second I was cast to the earth with a great shock, and the brute was on me tearing and biting at my chest and neck. It was well for me at that moment that I wore a garment of quilted cotton, otherwise I must have been ripped open, and even with this covering I was sadly torn, and to this day I bear the marks of the beast’s claws upon my body. But now when I seemed to be lost the great blow that I had struck took effect on him, for one of the points of glass had pierced to his brain. He lifted his head, his claws contracted themselves in my flesh, then he howled like a dog in pain and fell dead upon my body. So I lay upon the ground unable to stir, for I was much hurt, until my companions, having taken heart, came back and pulled the puma off me. By this time Guatemoc, who saw all, but till now was unable to move from lack of breath, had found his feet again.
‘Teule,’ he gasped, ’you are a brave man indeed, and if you live I swear that I will always stand your friend to the death as you have stood mine.’
Thus he spoke to me; but to the others he said nothing, casting no reproaches at them.
Then I fainted away.
THE COURT OF MONTEZUMA