Tlatelolco, indeed, had taken a dubious course when, following the demonstrative competition upon the Great Plaza described in the The Rise of the Aztecs Part XIII, Moquihuixtli and his adviser Teconal began sending messengers to various independent cities of the mainland, asking for help and support against Tenochtitlan. Custom dictated that an offer of “shields and swords,” or sometimes other weaponry of offense, constituted an invitation to participate in this or that altepetl‘s war preparations, for the recipients of those to accept or send back according to their consideration.
Chimalpahin claims that such messages were delivered to many towns and even large altepetls. Even the members of the Triple Alliance – Tenochtitlan’s partners, Texcoco and Tlacopan – received their share of the offered weaponry. According to his account, Chimalpopoca, Tlacopan’s vigorous, warlike ruler, flatly refused to even receive the Tlatelolcan delegation and their dubious cargo – “… as lord of Tlacopan, I am of no consequence except for my kinsman, my relative, the lord of Mexica Tenochca…” he was reported to state.
Texcoco, on the other hand, is said to listen to the Tlatelolco messengers and then declare that they would rather stay neutral – “… I stand on both sides… if all are to be endangered by the lord of the Mexica Tenochca, I shall go in favor of the lord of Tlatelolco. But if all are to be endangered because of the lord of Tlatelolco, I shall go in favor of the lord of the Mexica Tenochca…”. A somewhat puzzling statement in the light of many decades of mutual cooperation and closest of ties both Tenochtitlan and Texcoco maintained since 1428, when they resisted and then conquered the might of the Tepanec Empire side by side. According to Chimalpahin, the famous Acolhua emperor Nezahualcoyotl was still alive, even though other sources state that he was dead by this time, succeeded by his son, Nezahualpilli. In the light of this puzzling reaction, I preferred to go with the claim that the old Texcoco Emperor was not alive while the aforementioned events took place. Otherwise, his response is not an easy one to understand or explain.
Yet, having received no encouragement from the Triple Alliance’s members, Tlatelolco did not steer from its warlike course. Various less important towns and settlements were approached with the offering of “swords and shields.” Toltitlan, Cuauhtitlan, and several other towns of the mainland were reported to accept the offer, even though the Lake Chalco rulers went as far as arresting the Tlatelolcan messengers while sending them bound and under an ample escort to Tenochtitlan and its emperor’s judgment.
Which is how, according to Chimalpahin, Axayacatl came to learn about the involvement of the mentioned above settlements towns. The captured messengers were made to talk and so warriors were dispatched to watch the road leading to Toltitlan and Cuauhtitlan through the town of Acachinanco. Needless to say, their mission was successful and thus no positive answer reached Tlatelolco.
Not to be deterred, Moquihuixtli, at Teconal’s instigation, according to Duran, devised another plan; that of a midnight surprise attack. “… Their plan was one of treachery… they suggested that Tenochtitlan should be attacked suddenly in the middle of the night… King Axayacatl was still young, they said, and once the leading men in whom he confided were dead, there would be no need to worry about him…”
Yet, such an enterprise demanded laborious preparations and, according to Duran, some of it managed to “leak”, while alerting Tenochtitlan dwellers. There were incidents of marketplace brawls between shoppers of both altepetls, with the Tlatelolcan women yelling at their Tenochtitlan peers that soon they would be made to pay for their insolence, or even sell their inner parts on the marketplace of Tlatelolco. “… So you want to sell your intestines, your liver, or your heart?…”
Reported to Axayacatl, such words made the young emperor suspicious, and so spies were sent to the neighboring city, to walk its markets and streets and listen to what had been said and done.
In the meantime, Tenochtitlan messengers went to the mainland cities and settlements as well, probably asking to keep away from this conflict rather than to participate in the war on Tenochtitlan’s side. It seemed that Tenochtitlan was much more than a match to the smaller Tlatelolco, lacking in provinces and tributaries as it was.
Still, the nightly attack went on as planned. On the day before it happened, Moquihuixtli was reported to confide in his wife, Axayacatl’s sister, who begged him not to do it, but to speak to the Tenochtitlan ruler and try to make amends. According to Duran, the Tlatelolcan ruler was having second thought; however, his adviser Teconal would not divert from his chosen course of warring.
Further disheartening, according to Duran, were the omens that the Tlatelolco ruler encountered while strolling through his Palace, a man talking to a dog and being answered back, birds dancing in the boiling pot in the kitchen houses, a mask hanging on the wall beginning to “… moan in a sorrowful way…”, the mask that the distracted ruler was reported to pick and dash against the floor.
Spies sent to Tenochtitlan reported a lack of awareness on the part of Axayacatl, who was said to spend his day “…playing ball with his noblemen… ignorant of any trouble…”. Yet, according to Duran, “… the Aztecs had done this intentionally so as to mislead the Tlatelolcas and convince them that nothing was known of their plans…”.
Indeed convinced, Moquihuixtli put his trust in Teconal and his strategy, and so half of the Tlatelolcan warriors hid in “… the city limits of Tenochtitlan…”. The other half was sent to block the causeways that led out of the city, and probably to attack the accessible parts of the island-capital as well.
The strategy, Tenochtitlan heard all about from its own spies, and so at midnight, while signal had been given, a surprise awaited none other than the attacking Tlatelolcans. The battle Duran reports was bloody but short, with the Tlatelolcan warriors slaughtered in great numbers, forced to retreat to their own city limits and try to barricade any possible access to it as best as they could. According to Duran, their anger was as great as the humiliation of their defeat.
An excerpt from “Field of Fire”, The Aztec Chronicles, book two
“We don’t have time for all this,” she said, pouring from the half-empty flask, disgusted to discover that the water was honeyed to the point of being barely liquid, rolling rather than dripping, annoyingly thick. “You must leave before Father talks to the Emperor. It should happen tonight.”
The woman was on her feet, staring, wide-eyed. Tlemilli tried to drink the thick liquid despite the nausea it brought, grimacing. Was there no water around these quarters at all? “What is your game, girl?” This came in a relatively normal voice, no strident shouting.
She put the cup back in its place, her hands remarkably steady, just like her mind; cold, uninvolved. It was a good feeling.
“My father will prevail upon the Emperor to have you executed for treason. You should leave this Palace, return to Tenochtitlan. You must have ways to do that.”
“And why would I listen to the advice of the little snake who spied on me and betrayed me, turning even the messengers of my brother against me, hurrying to inform her vile monster of a father in order to implicate me?” Again, the climbing tones.
Tlemilli shook her head tiredly. “You don’t have to trust me or like me or listen to me,” she said, wondering where this patience to talk and elaborate was coming from, she who had always been notoriously renowned for impulsiveness, for childish tantrums and hasty deeds. Now it was as though she had been a grown-up person, with everyone, from the shrill princess looking as though about to throw her pretty pottery cup at her, to helplessly weeping Citlalli, to Father who was lashing out with no care, beating his own daughters in front of the entire Palace or attacking the invincible city with not much thought or even a much-necessary declaration of war; to the uncertain Emperor even, afraid of omens but unable to stand up to his forceful adviser. Oh, but didn’t they all behave like children, with no discretion and no sense?
“I came to warn you because I have my reasons to do that. I hate you as much as I did before, as much as you hate me.” A shrug came with difficulty, the memory of his worried admonition to keep away from that dangerous woman and their devious politics threatening to shatter the walls of her newly found, wonderfully numb indifference, the memory of his voice and his arms. She clenched her fists tight. “But what I tell you is true. My father will talk to the Emperor against you, will bring evidence of your disloyalty. And if the night attack on Tenochtitlan succeeds, the Emperor will be forced to execute you with no fear of reprisal.”
But this came out well. She marveled at the sound of her short speech, so neatly composed, so eloquent. The woman was staring at her as though she had sprouted another head or limb, like this old water monster in one of Tlaco’s stories. Briefly, she wondered if her maidservant was still in her old quarters, not harmed by Father already. Later, not now.
“The night attack?” The princess’s lips lost much of their pretty coloring, turned as pale as her face became. Their movement was barely noticeable and the words they produced difficult to hear. “But he said he won’t do it.”
She remembered Citlalli’s stories. “Yes, the Emperor doesn’t believe it will bring us victory, but it will be done all the same. It will happen this night.”
Actually, she wasn’t certain about that, having no information besides Citlalli’s reported conversation with the Emperor. Still, Father wanted it to be done this way. He had schemed, planned, and prepared, tunnels with weaponry and the rest. His tunnels! Another wrong turn of thought. She forced her gaze to concentrate on the woman in front of her. Not a haughty, hostile, dangerously mean fowl, not anymore. Lost, frightened, staring, the full lips having no color, almost invisible, opening and closing, emitting no sound.
“It will happen tonight and then you will not be safe in this Palace and this city.” She kept listening to herself, her thoughts crystal clear, like her words. “Should we win or lose, it will not make difference to your safety here. Yours and your son’s. You should try and sneak away before nightfall. You must have enough faithful servants and others to help you with that.”
Another heartbeat had passed. The woman in front of her was changing again. She saw the lips pressing tighter, gaining no color but somehow turning strong with decision. The eyes lost their haunted spark, turned resolute. The cup in the royal hand – obviously a chocolate drink, such a heavy sweetish aroma – made a soft clanking sound as it touched the surface of the reed podium, not crashing at it, fallen with no will, but being put there with much care. The woman straightened up, her eyes still boring, piercing, but now probing rather than accusing, willing to listen.
“What do you want from me in exchange for your warning?”
Somehow, she knew it would come, a straightforward question requiring a straightforward answer. No flowery speech of high nobility, not in such a moment.
“I want you to deliver a note from me, a message.”
“Whom to?” The high forehead creased slightly in genuine puzzlement.
“That boy. The one who was spying for you.”