“The King’s Fifth” is an adventure as well as a history novel that brings us back to the 16th century. This exciting novel shows us the conquests of the Spanish conquistadores that won over great areas of South America while putting under their command the native tribes.
The novel is divided into 32 chapters and beside them, there are episodes that describe the cell from which the main character Estevan de Sandoval tells us stories about his adventures in search of the treasure of the Seven Gold Cities. The story it being told from Esteban’s perspective.
In the novel we get to know the main character Esteban who is in the fort San Juan de Ulua in New Spain. We find out that he was accused of hiding one fifth of the found gold from the king. Esteban then tells us his story that began two years prior to the arrestment, on the ship San Pedro. Esteban was an educated boy that got his degree in cartography from Casa de la Contratación (founded in 1503 in Seville, similar to today’s hydrographical institutes). In the beginning he didn’t fantasize much about treasure because his primary goal was to become famous for his maps and that was his main opposition in reference to the greedy captain Mendoza. In the meantime the journey changed him and in the end he turned into the greedy captain Mendoza. He didn’t want to share his treasure, especially not with those who, in his opinion, didn’t deserve it. His behavior cause his faithful chaperone Zia, which helped him do the maps, to leave him. In the end he is left alone after his father Francisco died. Esteban realized that gold was evil and decided to get rid of it.
Except for the treasure hunt, the author shows us the lives of the native people. On one hand, the author shows us the people who live a modest life and do not understand Mendoza’s infatuation with gold and one the other hand there’re the people of Tahwi who live surrounded by gold and during their rituals their leader Tracing enters the lake covered in gold. The author also describes the lands through which Esteban passed and the descriptions of the untouched, amazing nature make the novel even more interesting.
Esteban de Sandoval is in a cell and tells how the jailer brought him some chickpeas to eat. The name of the jailer was don Felipe de Soto y Rios and he asked Esteban for the gold he allegedly hid in Cibola. Esteban was in the dungeon because he was accused of hiding the gold by the Royal Court. We also find out that Esteban is a cartographer and that Don Felipe asked him to draw him a map that will lead him to the gold hidden in Cibola. Esteban will turn 17 on the day of the trial and he decided to put on paper everything that had happened to him so far. He decided to write the events that followed admiral Alarcona’s arrival to Cortez’s sea.
When Alarcona came to Cortez’s sea he saw the island California from one side and the shores of New Spain from the other. He meets with Captain Mendoza who questions him about his map which he didn’t draw from the beginning. He was actually filling in the map from admiral Ulloe. Esteban is from Ronda. Medoza tells him he plans on occupying admiral’s ship, place him shackles and look for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. Esteban didn’t want to join him because he was a part of admiral’s crew. Mendoza gives him some time to change his opinion and tells him he’ll become famous everywhere if he will be the first to draw a map of unknown places. Esteban heard of the Seven Cities as the cities where the houses were made of gold as well as the streets.
The next morning admiral Alarcon orders to anchor his ship San Pedro and tells he’ll send some of his men to look for military commander Coronado. He also says that the leader of the searching crew will be Blas de Mendoza. He asks the men who’d like to go with Mendoza to take a step forward. The men who took a step forward were Torres, Lunes, Roa, Zuniga and Esteban.
They stood away from the ship and Mendoza told them to forget about San Pedro because they won’t return to it. He tells him they look for the Seven Cities as long as it takes. They survived a strong storm and their journey didn’t start very well because they couldn’t reach the shore and they were running out of water so they only had one sip of water at noon per person. Lunes decided to take the captain’s sword and paddle to the shore. Esteban tells him that he won’t make it because the boat will be destroyed. Lunes jumped into the sea and they didn’t see him again. Mendoza told Esteban that they were out of water but that they’ll keep it their secret. Roa couldn’t stand the thirst and he grabbed the sea water. He told everyone that the water was sweet and until Mendoza didn’t try it no one believed him.
Now we go back to the cell, the date is September 24th, 1541. Esteban was given a lawyer that shall defend him. Esteban confessed to him that he kept a secret the king’s gold but that he’ll never say where it is. Don Felipe asked him was he making any progress with the map and Esteban told him he’ll be needing his notes that are in Ciudad de Mexico, near Zocola. Don Felipe told him he’ll send someone for the notes.
When they came to the river’s estuary they drank as much as they could. On the third day, they grabbed their stuff and went to the Southeast. On the fifth day, they sent Roa to find some village and bring help. When they set up their camp they saw Torres coming their way. Soon he was joined by Roa.
One night they encountered Coronado’s army that was also looking for Cibola with one young Indian and a monk. Gomez, the leader, told him that the army was in the valley waiting for admiral Alcorona to take away his food supplies and Mendoza told them there was a big storm and that he doubts that the admiral was still alive. He didn’t reveal Alcorona’s real intention and that he was waiting for Coronado’s army.
They went to the valley where Coronado’s military was and Esteban met Zia for who she firstly thought was a boy. Zia told him all about her family and asked Esteban to show her his maps. They came to Coronado’s camp and after 8 days of walking they came to Chichilticala, the Red House. Some used to say that it was one of the Seven Cities but they were wrong. The only discoveries were two old men that brought to them as gifts some larvae and grasshoppers. Coronado told his people that they can go home if they want to but that the rest keep on the search for the gold. Zia translated the words of one Indian who told them that in 20 Suns they’ll arrive to Hawikuh, the first of the Seven Cities.
Again we go back to the cell on September 23rd, 1541. Esteban said at court that he is aware of the accusations but not of the crime. He denies finding the gold and places the guilt on Mendoza. We find out that the gold was in the form of powder. He tells the court that he can’t tell them where the gold is until they give him access to his notes. The plaintiff postpones the trial until the notes are found and Esteban is thrown back to his cell.
The area between the Red House and Hawikuh was a vast wasteland called Despoblado. Coronado sent his captain Cardenas to patrol. Everyone was hungry and especially the horses so Coronado ordered everyone to walk in order to take the burden off of the horses. Mendoza’s horses were healthy and the horseman caught a few Indians who told them that the headman Hawikuh was a sworn enemy to all Spaniards and that they should be cautious. Early in the morning they saw Hawikuh but they didn’t see gold. The city was build out of mud. They heard the sound of a horn and realized they fell into a trap. A great battle occurred. Even Esteban had to fight and Coronado was badly injured. All of the soldiers entered a small hole that was actually the entrance to Hawikuh. Esteban fought and in the end Medoza saved his life. Esteban spent the next few days resting so he only knows the details of the battle from other people’s stories.
After Coronado got hurt the leadership fell into Cardenas’s hands and he chased away all the Indians but they still hadn’t found any gold. When Coronado got better he went to a hill with Mendoza. There they talked the headman of that area who told them that in the southwest they’ll find Tusayan and that the seven cities are in it. Coronado didn’t believe him so he decided to keep some soldier in Hawikuh and to take some of them with him. Pedro de Tovar went one direction and Cardenas the other. Mendoza took a path he picked for himself and he went around the nearby villages. In the meantime Zia was very worried about Esteban. Mendota came back with good news which he didn’t want to share with Coronado. They went on a journey and Zia was convinced by Esteban to be their guide.
In the cell on October 6th, 1541 Esteban was visited by his lawyer Gamboa which he asked about the duration of his sentence in the case his notes were found. The lawyer estimated his sentence will be five years but that was too much in that jail. He came back to the courtroom where he was asked about the weight of the found gold. Esteban told them they carried the gold on 8 donkeys and 4 horses so the prosecutor calculated there should be around 60.000 inches of gold. Esteban didn’t confirm anything.
After 12 days of journey they came to the Red Cliff which signalized the nearness of Nexpan. Mendoza as told that there was a river under the cliff and that near the river was a big city. They stumbled upon a chasm and didn’t know how to get to the river that they haven’t even seen. They had trouble finding the river and it took them two days to do it. The Indians of Nexpan spotted them and that was a sign that the city was close. Mendoza,w with the help of Zia, talked to the headman of the Indians Quantah who told them there was no gold.
In the evening Mendoza saw something sparkling in the river and he came to a conclusion that the river was carrying the gold. Esteban saw something on the bottom of the river and he decided to take it. It was gold.
The next day they came to the city Nexpan. The headman talked to Esteban’s father Francisco and for him Mendoza’s infatuation with gold was unreasonable. Francisco didn’t like their pagan rituals so he started telling them about Jesus Christ. Roa, Zuniga and Mendoza came out of the river and said that it was very cold. Mendoza wanted to kill the sheep so they would use their fleece to take the gold out but the headman forbid it.
Esteban dedicated himself to drawing his map and decided to name one island La Isla de la Señorita Zia. Mendoza decided to kill the sheep without letting the headman know about it. Francisco built a bit wooden altar and a wooden cross with the Indians. He decided to baptize all of them. All of the sudden Esteban heard a voice he didn’t quite understand. Mendoza told them that they had to go because obviously someone realized what he had done. Roe and Zuniga went to get the sheep’s fleece to carry it to their camp. When Zuniga came for one more fleece he died in an arson which was planted by Mendoza.
Back in the cell and on the trial the prosecutor asks Esteban about his fight with Mendoza and about Esteban’s alleged death threats to Mednoza. Esteban suspected immediately that those lies came from Torres.
The crew managed to gather only two helmets of gold. Mendoza decided to go to Tahwi, The City of Clouds, because he believed that there was more gold. The snow fell and it was hard for them to travel so they hid in a cave. The wind was strong and Esteban woke up. He noticed that Torres and Zia were gone. He went outside and saw Torres on Mendoza’s horse carrying the gold they’ve found. He thought that Zia betrayed them but then he saw she was injured. Roa also came but they couldn’t catch Torres. Mednoza wanted to catch him on another horse but all of the saddles were destroyed. Zia told them that she heard the horse and woke up to see Torres riding across the river. When Torres saw her, he jumped off of the horse, grabbed her hand and hit her. They decided to move towards Tahwi but they came there in April.
The Indians surrounded them immediately. Tlascigo came out of the mass and made a trade with Mendoza. Tlascingo told them that gold can be found in the mountains but that only he and his six soldiers know about it. Esteban suggested to Mendoza that he trades in one horse and Mendoza accepted it. He also asked in return as much gold as a horse can carry. They came to the lake and realized that the bottom of the lake was golden. The next day they witnessed a ritual held on the lake. Tlascinga was covered in oil, sprinkled with powder and he looked like a golden statue. After that Tlascinga entered the lake and Mendoza and Esteban realized why the bottom of the lake was covered with gold.
Mendoza said goodbye to Tlascinga and told him he’ll return in two days. In the meantime they had to sew bags in which they will carry the gold. Mendoza’s plan was to damage the dam so that the water covers the main square and the houses. When the bags were filled Mendoza decided to go back to Tlascinga and he left Esteban in charge of the horses. When Esteban knew it was time to move he saddled the horses and went underneath the cliff. All of the sudden bags of gold started falling on to the horses.
We’re back in Esteban’s cell and courtroom. This time Toress came and falsly testified by saying that Esteban and Mendoza fought and thatEsteban had threatened to kill him. Besides he said that he abandoned them because of their arguments and not giving him the part of the gold that belonged to him
After getting the bags they went to Hawikuh and go drunk in the entrance of the mountain. Mendoza said it will be difficult to climb up with the gold so Francisco suggested it would be best to bury the gold. Mendoza didn’t want to do it and he said Roa to go east and get six horses from Hawikuh while they head west. Mendoza observed the map frequently while Zia made dinner. Tiger, their dog who saved them once from the Indians, used to steal their dinner. One night Mendoza got angry at the dog that bit his throat and killed him. His crew buried him in a shallow grave and Francisco decided to dig another hole for the gold. The gold wasn’t buried in the end and Zia and Francisco told Esteban he turned into Mendoza. Zia stumbled upon some people from her village and decided to leave with them.
The trial continued on October 20th, 1541. Esteban heard Zia coming because of the silver bells on her hat. The prosecutor asked her about the gold and he wanted to get her to lie about seeing Esteban burying the gold but she said that she wasn’t there and that she saw nothing. She also added that she would never go back there and no one questioned her about Mendoza’s death. After the trial, Esteban and Zia managed to talk and she told him she’ll work on the maps with him again.
Esteban decided not to go to Hawikuh and he went to Avipu and then to Culiacan. Francisco was with him enjoying the flowers and plants they stumbled upon and he gathers them for his herbarium. They traveled for a very long time and Francisco kept on pushing him to bury the gold but Esteban didn’t want to. Unfortunately, Francisco died and while Esteban buried him he constantly heard that the gold was the plague. Esteban buried the treasure at the end and carried on without all that weight.
The last pages of the novel bring us back to the cell where Esteban said to Felipe that his notes will bring him to the gold but that they won’t find it because it was in the bottom of a deep crater.
The day of the verdict arrived: Esteban was free of the charges of killing Mednoza but not from the charges for hiding the gold. He was sentenced to three years in prison. He says goodbye to Zia who promised him she’ll never leave him again and he finishes the maps he had started. Captain Martin came to his cell and tells him he wants to set him free. He asked Esteban to bring the gold to Cibola where they can split it. Esteban rejected the offer because he preferred staying in prison and reading Francisco’s book.
Genre: adventure and history novel
Theme: the search of the Seven Golden Cities and the gold they hide
Time: 16th century
Place: Spain, Cortez’s sea, fort San Juan de Ulua (Veracruz), Chichilticale, Hawikuh, Nexpan, Tawhi
Esteban de Sandoval – the main character Esteban is introduced to us as a 17years old man locked up in the fort San Juan de Ulua for denying the king his part of the gold. Soon Esteban tells us how he got locked up.
Esteban drew maps on admiral Alarcona’s ship and after he decided to join Mendoza on his gold hunt his adventure began. Through his journey he drew maps and socialized with Zia who he liked. He is and honest boy who listens to the orders he is given. After Mendoza’s death he turned into him and didn’t want to give up his gold so Zia abandoned him. He was with Francisco but when he died he decided to get rid of the burden so he threw the gold into a deep crater. In court he spoke only the truth and declined captain Martin’s offer to escape.
Captain Mendoza – he has an insatiable thirst for gold. He didn’t stop before noting to get it. Even though he defended his men he wasn’t a stranger to murders so he killed many Indians in his search. He didn’t stick to his word so he also killed the sheep to use their fleece to gather gold from the river. When he damaged the dam and flooded the city many people were left with nothing. He was killed by a dog who got angry at him.
Zia Troyano – she always kept her little animal Montezuma safe. She was smart, spoke several languages and served to Mendoza as his guide and translator for his interactions with some tribes. She was Esteban’s friend and spent a lot of time with him. She was interested in his maps and observed his working process. She loved horses and took a lot of care of them. Zia abandoned Esteban because he started to act like Mendoza and she hated him for all the things he did to Indians.
On their journey, we are introduced to many other characters. Tlascing was the only headman who cared about the gold while other Indians saw no meaning in it because they didn’t know how to use it. In the beginning Torres, Lunes, Roa and Zuniga stand out. Torres testified against Esteban on the trial and he also stole bags of gold while he was with Mendoza. Father Francisco was present through the whole journey and he wanted to baptize the Indians and draw them away from their pagan rituals. He told to Esteban that the gold was evil and that they should bury it. Francisco also enjoyed nature, flowers and was building his own herbarium. He died on the journey and Esteban buried him. In the fort San Juan de Ulua we also meet the jailer don Felipe who treats Esteban well because he was hoping he’ll draw him a map that leads to the gold.
Scott O’Dell Biography
Scott O’Dell is an American writer who wrote mostly for young people, but he also wrote three novels for adults and also a few non-fiction books. O’Dell is born in 1898 in Los Angeles, USA. His first name is Gabriel Scott but it was incorrectly published in his first published book, so he kept the name, Scott O’Dell. O’Dell grew up in California, and went to Occidental College, then at the University of Wisconson, and after that in Stanford, and finally in the University of Rome. He works as a cameraman and technical director. He was also a book review editor. In the WWII he served in Air Force.
O’Dell started his writing as an article writer. Then he started to write fictional and non-fictional books for adults. Finally, in the late 50s, he started to write children’s books. He mostly wrote novels for youth, placed in historical California or Mexico. His most known children’s books are Island of the Blue Dolphins, Zia, The Amethyst Ring, The King’s Fifth, The Black Pearl and others.
O’Dell won Andersen’s prize in 1972. for his literary work and contribution in child’s literature. His most famous novel is
Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction is established in 1981. And his novel Island of the Blue Dolphins is adapt as a movie in 1964.
O’Dell died in 1989.