We Will Need Leaders – a flash historical story

Kunak raised his war club above his head and joined in the battle cry. Across the plain, the enemies of the Incan empire were emerging from the jungle. Foreigners from across the ocean. The so-called Emperor Manco, who had accepted the crown from their hands. The men who followed him.

Here, outside the capital of Cuzco, the true Incas would rain death upon them.

Kunak and his comrades were old friends, veterans of the fighting in the north. The stone heads of their war clubs were well polished, their wooden shields scarred by past fights. They stood proudly behind their commander, Quehuar. He had only recently inherited his father’s place, but he had the bearing of a great man.

Drums and flutes sounded the advance.

The warriors began a marching chant, voices raised in unison. As they advanced across the field they sped up, rushing to catch the smaller enemy force while it was still unprepared. Everyone had heard about the strange beasts and magical weapons these Spaniards wielded. They would grant them no other advantage.

They crashed into the first of the enemy, a line of Manco’s men. Kunak smashed a warrior in the head and slammed another with his shield. Already, the enemy were in retreat.

The veterans cheered and advanced again.

Then came a sound like thunder. From the left, monsters tore into the Incan line. They had four legs, wild eyes, and maws that foamed with fury. From their backs, Spaniards lashed out with spears three times a man’s height.

Some men were crushed beneath the feet of the beasts. Others were run through by the spears, their cotton armour no protection against those deadly sharp points. Others turn and fled, only to be hacked down as the Spaniards drew weapons that glittered like silver in the sunlight.

All around Kunak, men ran. The line collapsed. He wavered, caught between duty and terror.

“With me!” Quehuar shouted, placing a hand on Kunak’s shoulder.

The sight of his commander, of the fire in his eyes, that was enough to lend him strength. Kunak gripped his club tighter and followed.

At a signal from Quehuar, men closed in around one of the beasts. Kunak stood directly in front of it. Its feet hammered at his shield and he felt as if his arm might break at any moment, but he stood firm. The circle of shields tightened, trapping the beast.

Quehuar leapt, landing on the creature’s back. He flung its rider to the ground. The man screamed. Warriors closed in, smashing him with their clubs.

The beast leapt, soaring over Kunak’s head, and for a moment he thought it must kill him. But it kept going, galloping away from the fight, a thing of beauty and of horror that vanished into the jungle.

Quehar lifted up the helmet he had taken from the Spaniard, blood dripping from its strap. Their whole warband whooped with the thrill of victory. Kunak’s pulse raced and he grinned with wild excitement.

Then came another thundering sound, different from the one that had come before. The man to Kunak’s left fell to the ground, blood pouring from the ruined side of his face. Another man spun and fell, his arm torn away as if by an invisible hand.

Kunak’s mind went blank with shock. He stared down at friends suddenly slain, struck down by some incomprehensible force. He watched a man’s grip loosen on the handle of his club and the weapon slowly role out of limp, dead fingers.

Chaos swept over him. Screaming. Shouting. Crashing. He saw Manco’s men coming and old instincts kicked in, letting him parry an attack and break his attacker’s leg with a blow from his club, even as the world approached him through a distant haze.

Then his senses snapped back, bringing a terrible clarity. Amid the smells of blood and smoke he wheeled and twisted, lunged and parried, desperately fighting for his life.

Somewhere along the way he found Quehuar, one arm hanging limp by his side. Together they fought their way toward the edge of the plain.

The whole army had collapsed. Clusters of men fought on but more were fleeing as the enemy, these traitors and invaders, pursued them with wild glee. There could be no victory, only survival.

“Run!” he shouted, pushing Quehuar toward the tree line. “I’ll cover your back.”

“What about you?” Quehuar asked, and Kunak knew that he had made the right decision.

“After this, we will need leaders,” Kunak said. “Men like you. Go. Run. Save the empire.”

For a moment, he thought Quehuar might resist. But the fight had been beaten out of him. He turned and ran.

The tree line was three hundred yards away. Quehuar was halfway there when a rumble approached Kunak.

A monster was galloping toward him, the rider carrying one of those terrible spears. Kunak raised his shield, ready to sell himself dearly for his leader’s life.

The beast swerved and ran past him. He lashed out with his club, but it bounced off the armour on the rider’s leg. He watched in horror as it headed straight for Quehuar.

Quehuar turned. With a determined expression, he raised his club.

The spear struck him in the chest, skewering him in a spray of blood.

Kunak’s legs gave way beneath him. He sank to the ground, watching in horror as the Spaniard lowered his spear and let the remains of a bold leader slide to the floor. The sense of loss was overwhelming, a weight that pinned Kunak to the earth.

He had thought that something could be saved from this horror. But all he had left was loss.

At the jungle’s edge, the Spaniard raised his fist and let out a battle cry.

* * *


At last, I can announce the reason why I chose the Incas as the subject for these stories.

Coming later this month from Peachill Publishing, Inca: The Golden Sun is a novella all about the conquest of the Incas by Spanish conquistadors. It’s a tale of ambition, greed, envy, and desperation, as two very different worlds collide. It’s a collaborative writing project on which I was one of the writers, turning someone else’s plot into the prose you see on the page. So if you’re enjoying these stories, please consider pre-ordering a copy now.

Embers of the Shining City – a flash historical story

Picture by Ben Grantham via Flickr creative commons

As he approached the shining city of Cuzco, Samin slowed his pace. The roads here were better, paved with stone and neatly laid, but he was not eager to reach the end of his journey. The masses of men gathered outside the city spoke to the turmoil he had heard of inside – an army mustering to face traitors and invaders, while great lords argued over the fate of a nation whose emperor had been murdered by strangers from across the sea. Samin was a simple government inspector. He liked order. He didn’t want to be a part of this.

Behind him, a train of peasants and llamas, weighed down by the supplies he had been ordered to bring, also slowed their pace.

On the outskirts of the city he met Poma, one of the great lords. Poma was not as grandly dressed as when in court, only a single gold plug in each of his ears. Around him were men with clubs and cotton armour.

Samin spread his hands and bowed deeply.

“Good, you’re here,” Poma said. “Some of the others went to Manco.”

Samin carefully said nothing. He had not considered joining the Emperor Manco, the man raised up by the outsiders, these infamously vicious Spaniards. But if the old order was being overthrown, perhaps he would be better off joining the new one. And if he brought supplies with him…

“I’ll take these,” Poma said, gesturing to the column of supplies.

Perhaps it was just coincidence. Perhaps he had seen the doubt in Samin’s eyes.

Better not to be here to find out.

“I should go up to the palace,” Samin said. “They may have orders for me.”

“Fine.” Poma dismissed him with the merest of waves, concerned only with his new supplies.

Walking up into Cuzco, Samin faced the unfamiliarity of a place he had been a hundred times. There were clusters of frantic activity, people making weapons or plans. But for the most part, everyone kept off the streets. All the gold had been stripped from the temples. Few of the nobles wore their jewellery. Cuzco had become a desolate place.

If this was the way of things then Samin wanted out. He would take his chances with Manco and his Spaniards.

Just not while anyone was looking.

He waited until dark, visiting a friend at the edge of the city to fill time. Then he slid out into the night.

The plains outside Cuzco were still busy. Men sat in clusters around fires, talking and tending to their weapons. The roads were under guard. He would have to be careful.

A servant of the Incan crown learnt to walk softly, so as not to intrude upon his betters. It was easy for Samin to apply that skill here, sliding from shadow to shadow through the armed encampment. He overheard snatches of conversation, some angry, some bitter, some bewildered. The world had been turned upside down. Men were determined to fight to set it right, but they were far from confident.

All the more reason not to be on this side.

As Samin crept past the dying embers of an abandoned fire, a voice called out to him.


He looked around. A lone figure sat on the ground a few feet from the fire. As he turned his head, there was a brief glint from a gold ear plug.

“Lord Poma.” Samin turned to bow, rigid with tension.

“What are you doing here?” Poma asked. His voice wasn’t loud or demanding, but it was firm.

“I…” Samin struggled for words. He had never been imaginative enough to make a good liar and now his life depended upon it. The fate of a man going to join the traitors could only be terrible.

“Let me guess.” Poma rose, brushing dirt off his white tunic. “You believe that Manco is the rightful heir. You fear the Spaniards. You are just curious and will be back soon. Any of a dozen excuses will do.”

As he spoke, he walked closer to Samin, until there was only a hand’s breadth between their faces.

“I understand,” Poma said softly. “I’m a better man than you and I considered it.”

Samin still trembled with fear, but the slightest of hope was starting to emerge. Maybe he wouldn’t die. Maybe they would just beat him and set him back to work.

“I’m not even going to stop you,” Poma said. “But consider this. You used to work for a great and civilised empire. You used to bring your reports and your tithes to the most magnificent city in the world. These foreigners tore the beauty from our temples and turned civilisation into strife. Is it better to live in fear and let that corruption spread or to take a risk and have somewhere worth living?”

He stepped back and gestured out across the plains.

“Your choice,” he said.

Then he sat back down.


Samin ushered the grain bearers up the slope into the fort above Cuzco. The other administrators had agreed with him, better to hope for victory and plan for defeat.

He looked out across the city, no longer shining as it once had, to the plains beyond. There was movement at the edge of the jungle, perhaps the enemy finally arriving. Outside Cuzco, the army prepared to meet them.

Samin had seldom felt more afraid. But never before had he felt proud.

All the Gold in Cuzco – a historical flash story

“…and so, just as the power of the divine Sun shines upon the heart of our emperor, so too does shine upon our hearts from here, the most sacred of temples.”

Titu smiled as he finished his speech. Dozens of children looked up at him, wide-eyed. It was a perfect moment, the sunlight blazing from the gold plates on the great temple of Cuzco, bathing them in that divine glow. The noise of the city seemed to fade away, leaving only Titu, these youngsters, and the ever-present gods.

“Now thank the priest for his time,” said one of the mothers.

“Thank you,” said a chorus of infant voices.

One little boy reached up to grab at Titu’s layered robe.

“When I grow up, I want to be like you,” the boy said.

“So you should,” said Titu. “Service to the divine Sun is a noble thing.”

As the children were led away, the high priest approached. His expression was grim.

“A runner has arrived,” he said. “You’ve heard about these outsiders, these so-called Spaniards who seized the emperor?”

“Of course,” Titu said. “Soon, the gods will punish them for their transgressions.”

“Perhaps,” the high priest said. “But for now, some of them are coming to Cuzco. The emperor has ordered us to let them take the city’s gold.”

Titu frowned. “He is giving them the holy metal?”

“All of it,” the high priest said, looking up sadly at the embossed gold panels of the temple.

“No,” Titu whispered. The gold was a conduit between the people and the divine. To let these outsiders take it would be to cut off the Incas from the creator of all things. “It can’t be.”


Titu’s palm was sweaty. He wiped it on his priestly robes, then took a firm grip around the war club he had borrowed from a neighbour.

He had to stop this.

The Spaniards had arrived. Three of them, each carried on a litter by royal slaves. A vast crowd had gathered to see them and Titu had to push to get near the front.

The strangers had stopped. They were doing something with square white leaves beside a pack llama. This was his chance.
“This has to be stopped,” Titu announced, stepping forward.

He tried to raise the club, but someone had grabbed hold of his arm. He turned to see the high priest beside him. There were others as well. They wrenched the weapon from Titu’s grip and dragged him back through the crowd.

“What are you doing?” he said. “We can’t let this sacrilege continue.”

“If we don’t, then they will kill the emperor,” the high priest said.

“Cut us off from the divine and we are as good as dead!” Titu struggled against the hands holding him. He kicked the high priest in the crotch and the old man doubled over in pain. Titu almost managed to squirm free, but other priests were holding him. Now they had his legs as well.

Desperately, Titu struggled against them. Everything he loved was about to be ruined. The beauty of the temple defiled by these greedy foreigners.

Over the heads of the crowd, he saw the three Spaniards ascend the platform at the foot of the temple. One of them gave a speech in their ugly, unintelligible language. Then they thrust bars behind a gold plate and heaved.

An exquisite sheet of embossed gold fell to the ground with a clang. The crowd gasped. Titu wept and wailed.

As he watched, they tore off another sheet, and another. Slaves arrived to carry the gold away, piling it up in baskets for the strangers.

Nobody tried to stop them. The whole city just watched in stunned horror.

Titu had gone limp, exhausted from crying, too tired to struggle. His fellow priests let him go. None of them looked him in the eye.

A little boy looked up at Titu.

“Does the divine Sun still shine on our hearts?” the boy asked.

Titu shrugged off his layered, priestly robes, the costume of a caste who had abandoned their mission. Dressed in nothing but a loincloth and sandals, he turned to walk away.

“Does it?” the boy asked again, his voice trembling and urgent.

“I don’t know,” Titu said.

With heavy steps and a heavier heart, he walked away through the crowd.

Behind him, the clang of falling metal echoed through the streets.