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THE slanting light that reached into the little room brought golden glints from Oello's tawny skin and brought a cool green glitter from the emerald collar that circled her slender throat. Her face remained lovely and untroubled as she turned from the narrow window, but all the splendor that Felipe's kisses had coaxed to her dark eyes was gone.

"Ten more llamas," she sighed, "and loaded until they can hardly walk."

Francisco Pizarro's interpreter sombrely regarded the caravan that was adding to Atahuallpa's ransom. In another few days, Oello and all the other wives of the captive Inca would go with him to freedom.

"Suppose Pizarro does turn him loose?" Felipe challenged. "You and I can go to the coast. Atahuallpa can't reach us, there."

Oello did not answer. Felipe caught her arms and drew her from the sill. He repeated, "Pizarro and the Inca can do without us!"

He was an Indian from Tumbez, but only his crisp black hair and swarthy skin marked him apart from the Spanish invaders whom he served; he wore a purple doublet and hose, none the worse for having been discarded by Ferdinand de Soto, who was second in command. A sword and a wine colored cape hung across the foot of the low couch.

The Inca's wife regarded her lover with widening eyes. He was about the age of Atahuallpa, and though his features lacked the fine modelling of the sacred Inca clan, he had a strong face and resolute mouth. His chin thrust out as he sensed Oello's blend of dismay and horror.

Felipe answered her unspoken exclamation: "He may be the Child of the Sun to you people of the mountains. But in Tumbez, Atahuallpa's a conqueror who sends Inca nobles to tell us what to wear, what to think, what crops to raise."

She was young and shapely. Beneath her flowing mantle of silk-soft vicuña fleece she wore a skirt and blouse of fragile cotton. The embroidery that enriched the frail fabric was heavier than the garments themselves. And though the heart beat of her close pressed body whipped his own pulse, Oello's beauty could not distract him from his wrath.

The heightened color of her olive tinted cheeks, the misting of her long lashed eyes confirmed his resolution. As their lips parted, he said, "Atahuallpa's an upstart. Huascar's the lawful Inca. You know that."

Oello smoothed her rumpled blouse, then flung back her heavy black braids. Stolen kisses were in themselves a high crime against the Inca; but somehow, outright desertion seemed even more sacrilegious.

Outside, a trumpet drowned the wrangling and gambling of the Spanish soldiers. Felipe picked up his cloak and sword and said to Oello, "There's a way of doing this. I'll tell you more tonight. Now, you'd better go back. The officers will be meeting Pizarro."

FERDINAND DE SOTO, the only one of that hard bitten lot who had any pity for Atahnallpa, spent each afternoon rolling dice and playing chess with the captive Inca. But now that the trumpet summoned Pizarro's officers, Atahuallpa would turn to the viva who had accompanied him in captivity. It was time for Oello to leave.

Felipe watched her slip stealthily down a shadowy passageway. If Atalmallpa died before he won his freedom, Oello would have no further qualms.

Later, the interpreter saw his chance. There are more ways than one to kill a captive king. But neither tall Pizarro nor his assembled captains knew what a stake Felipe had in this deadly game of gold and kingdoms.

Torchlight gleamed on their full armor. Ever since that fatal half hour in which Atahuallpa had become a prisoner, Pizarro's small force had slept under arms, lest sudden revolt catch them off guard.

"The Inca," said Pizarro, "says we ought to turn him loose."

He spoke slowly, weighing every word. His thin face was strengthened by a long, straight nose; a slow, patient man, immovable and remorseless as the Andes. Though born a swineherd, and for all his sixty years unable to write his own name, Francisco Pizarro commanded the respect of hidalgo and ruffian alike.

"Tum him loose? Por dios! You're crazy if you don't kill him!"

A short, one eyed man waddled forward a pace. Diego Almagro had spoken it all in a breath. Standing beside the handsome Ferdinand de Soto, Almagro seemed more toad than man. His broad shoulders and stocky legs made him appear shorter than he actually was. A twisted nose, somewhat the worse for having been broken and crudely set, combined with his one protruding eye to make him the ugliest man of the army.

"Blood of God!" seconded several others. "Almagro's right! The quicker you kill him, the sooner we can go to Cuzco."

Pizarro gravely stroked his beard. De Soto's generous mouth hardened. Felipe's eyes brightened. Thank God for Almagro!

Finally de Soto found a lull. He said, "Don Francisco, the Inca has paid for his freedom. He has done us no harm, only favors. You can't kill him, after accepting the biggest ransom ever o?ered by any king."

"Caballeros," resumed Pizarro, "when reinforcements arrive from Panama, we can march to Cuzco. And safely release the Inca. Right now, we can't risk it with our small army, going so far inland."

"Sangre de Cristo!" Almagro raised a warty fist. "You've hogged all the first loot, just because my men weren't here when you blundered into Cajamalca to grab the Inca, mainly by fool luck! Listen, Don Francisco! I've got two hundred men—good ones, and more than you have. We're marching to Cuzco, whether you do or...

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