Yet, eastward to Texcoco, over the high ridges where the Nahua people were not yet present at force, one person of importance was hiding, sheltered from the Tepanecs’ wrath.
Nezahualcoyotl, the heir to Texcoco throne, a man who would matter greatly in the future, but only a youth of seventeen at those times, had managed to survive. With no choices left, he had fled into the Highlands, the traditional enemies of his people.
Surprisingly, the Highlanders, people of Huexotzinco (or Tlaxcala, according to some sources), did not harm him, giving him a shelter instead. Whether due to the Tepanec invasion and the uncomfortable necessity to grow accustom to the new dangerously aggressive and power-hungry neighbors, the new masters of the Lowlands, or for some other reason, the Highlanders, a mix of Nahua, Otomi and Mixtec were inclined favorably toward their highborn refugee.
For three or four year, the heir to the Texcoco throne had lived among the highlanders, making friends and leaving a good impression as it seemed. Good enough to make those people back him up when, a few years later, his chance to fight for his Acolhua altepetl and provinces had come.
However, neither he, nor his new-found allies, hurried the events. What they waited for was the death of the Tepanec Emperor, the mighty Tezozomoc. The ruthless, greedy, brilliant ruler was very old, so a youth like Nezahualcoyotl could afford to take their time.
And not that, while waiting patiently, Nezahualcoyotl remained idle. Although grateful for the support of the fierce Highlanders, he knew that to take his lands back he would need more than that. His own defeated people needed to be made aware of his plans, needed to be reminded that not all was lost. So, disguised and drawing no attention, he had traveled Acolhua lands, not stirring trouble, not yet, but talking to people, reassuring, letting them to arrive to all sort of ideas all by themselves.
He visited Tenochtitlan too, making friends with Chimalpopoca, Tenochtitlan’s young emperor. Whether he felt resentment at the betrayal of the Aztecs, when those sided with the Tepanecs in the war against his people, or not, he didn’t let his feelings show. At some point he even moved to live in Tenochtitlan, when Chimalpopoca interceding with the Tepanecs on his behalf. Being a grandson of Tezozomoc, Chimalpopoca seemed to be, nevertheless, inclined toward his newly acquired Acolhua friend. Together they commissioned many building projects, among those another causeway and the first aqueduct that was destined to bring fresh water to Tenochtitlan, carrying it all the way from the mainland and the springs of Chapultepec. Nezahualcoyotl was reported to design this construction personally.
Yet, the water construction was the one to bring trouble – between the Aztecs and the Tepanecs this time. Having no foothold upon the mainland, Tenochtitlan needed to acquire the Tepanec permission every time the aqueduct broke and more building materials to repair it were needed. Built from a double row of clay pipes running along the earthworks, the aqueduct ceased functioning on a regular basis, leaving the island-city with no fresh water frustratingly often. Permission to commence the repair works and the list of requested materials were forthcoming but slowly, reluctantly. The Master of the Valley felt that the Aztecs were asking for too much.
The tension grew but then, before the trouble broke, Tezozomoc had finally died, leaving the Tepanec royal house in turmoil, with multitude of heirs, some more dissatisfied than the others. Nezahualcoyotl held his breath. Did his chance to rebel was coming after all? He liked living in Tenochtitlan, enjoying the hospitality of the Aztecs, but he wanted his Texcoco back.
An excerpt from “Crossing Worlds”
The man’s smile widened, yet the twinkle was back.
“Oh, I’m sure you would have learned much, given a chance. You are a smart youth and very observant. But you won’t have this chance.” He laughed while Coyotl struggled to regain his composure, banishing the stunned expression off his face. “What? Did you think you would live here in peace, hunting and fooling around with local girls until it’s time to roll down our mountains in force? Oh no, Future Emperor. You’ll have to work, to work hard. You’ll have to get things all ready for my warriors to go and take your Texcoco back. Don’t tell me you are afraid of hard work.”
“No, I’m not,” mumbled Coyotl, hating the acute sensation of helplessness. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“Well, then let me explain the situation to you. In the Lowlands people don’t know what’s happening. They don’t know where you are. They have no idea if the Emperor’s heir is dead or alive. So, first of all, they have to discover you are alive and well, and that your spirit is not broken. The Acolhua people have to see the fine, young man who was supposed to become their next Emperor.” One rough palm came up, extending one finger. “That’s the first thing – Acolhua people coming to all sorts of ideas all by themselves. Now,” another finger came up, “the Tepanecs. They also should know about your existence. This would be a more difficult task. You would have to convince them that you are completely harmless.
You would have to let them know that the only thing you crave is to live quietly somewhere around the Lowlands. They won’t let you go back to Texcoco. Not right away. But eventually they might, if convinced of your usefulness and your harmlessness.”
“Do I just go down there then?” asked Coyotl, his mouth dry. It didn’t make any sense, yet the man in front of him seemed so wise. There had to be a reason for his proposal.
The Warriors’ Leader shook his head vigorously. “No, of course not. You’d be put to death quietly and efficiently. Or maybe with great pomp. Depends on Tezozomoc’s mood.”
“You’ll need someone influential and in a good stance with the Tepanecs to intercept on your behalf. Someone who would be willing to be responsible for your behavior until the Tepanec Emperor was convinced by your performance.”
Coyotl stared at the narrow, wrinkled face, refusing to ask any more questions. He had made a complete fool of himself so far, promising to be a good emperor, then proceeding to show how simple and unsophisticated his thinking was.
The amused smile playing upon the man’s lips made him understand that he did not need to utter the question to make matters worse.
“You’ll have to go to Tenochtitlan.”