Posts Tagged: ebook

Historical fiction and the Aztecs

18 September 2012 Comments (4)

I am happy to announce the release of my new book

The Highlander

the first of The Rise of the Aztecs series.

My “Pre-Aztec” series ended toward the second half of the 14th century, leaving Mexican Valley under the stern rule of the Tepanec Empire; empire which spread around Lake Texcoco, encompassing it, holding many provinces and city-states in its firm grip.

A few decades passed and some of the city-states began feeling they could do with more independency. The tribute the Tepanecs demanded could be difficult to pay and some of the large cities felt the sting to their pride as well.

So in these series the action shifts to the other side of Lake Texcoco in time for the turbulent Mexican Valley’s history to start boiling.

The year is 1409 and the war is brewing, because Texcoco, a very large, very aristocratic city-state decided to stop paying the Tepanecs the required tribute.

But will the Aztecs help their old allies against the mighty Tepanecs?

Kuini, the young highlander who belongs to neither side and who shouldn’t be there in the first place but for his unexplained attraction to the might and the politics of the Lowlands, is trying to understand it all.

As the story progresses and his troubles are mounting, he learns much more than he wanted to know about the Lowlanders’ politics and about his own dark family secrets.

Born in the Highlands, Kuini thought his life was simple. You hunt and you fight, defending your towns against the raids of the Lowlanders and then raiding their lands in turn. His father was the Warriors’ Leader, and he wanted to be just like him.

Yet, Texcoco, the mighty Capital of the Lowlands, seemed incredibly beautiful, sparkling, its pyramids magnificent. A friendship with the Lowlander boy, the First Son of the Texcoco Emperor, seemed harmless in the beginning. They were just boys, and their clandestine meetings were always fun, providing great entertainment.

However, on the day Kuini agrees to finally enter the magnificent city, it would all change. He expected to get into trouble, but he could not foresee the extent of the trouble and, worst of all, he did not expect to uncover hidden secrets concerning his own family.

An excerpt from “The Highlander

She glared at him, attractive in her righteous anger.

“So, where are you from?” he asked, mostly to keep her from turning and storming away. She looked like she might do just that.

As she pondered her answer, he studied her face. Shaped in a sort of rectangle, her wide, sculpted cheekbones narrowed toward her gently pointed chin. A beautifully carved, perfectly polished, wooden mask, with a generously applied layer of copper, and two large obsidians for eyes.

“It doesn’t matter where I come from. I can find my way home,” she said finally. “And I do thank you for saving me. You were very brave.” Her face twisted. “They are such savages, those Aztecs.”

“Are all of them like that?” he asked, curious, yet not liking the word savages.

“Most of them, yes. Warriors, commoners, they are all the same. A wild, unpredictable lot.”

“That Chief Warlord of theirs looked like a sensible man,” commented Kuini thoughtfully, remembering the broad, noble-looking face.

“Oh, he is the most unpredictable of them all! He has had the reputation for ruthlessness and unpredictability for summers upon summers, since before any of us were even born.”

“Did he come to join your upcoming war against the Tepanecs?”

The girl shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. With those Aztecs, one never knows.” She peered at him, lifting one pointed eyebrow. “And what are you so excited about? Those are your Tepanecs we would be warring against.”

“I’m no Tepanec!” he cried. “Why does everyone keep assuming that?”

“No Tepanec? But you do look like one. Except for the tattoos of the savages.” She frowned. “And I heard you saying to the Aztec that you are from Tepanecapan.”

“Where is this Tepanecapan?”

“Here in Texcoco. Where else?” She narrowed her eyes. “You are not from there, are you?”

He tensed. “It doesn’t matter where I am from. I have to get out of the city. Can you show me to the Great Pyramid? I’ll find my way from there.”

She studied him carefully. “All right. I’m kind of lost too, but the Great Pyramid is a good landmark. We’ll find it together. I’ll know my way from there too.”

“All right.” He pressed his palms against his forehead. The clubs pounding inside his skull grew worse by the moment. “Let’s go.”

“So you won’t tell me where you come from?” the girl asked as they made their way back toward the main road.


“Then I won’t tell you where I’m from either.”

He glanced at her, amused once again. “There is nothing to tell. You are from Texcoco, it’s obvious.”

She lifted her eyebrows. “Texcoco is not a village. There are four large districts here. Tepanecapan is one of them. Where do you think I live? Guess!” He liked the way her eyes danced.

“In this same Tepanecapan.” He said laughing. “Or anyway, somewhere away from this marketplace. Aren’t you supposed to know your way around here?”

“Oh, this is the first time I came here on foot, silly. I visit the marketplace from time to time, but in a litter. With servants.”

He grinned. “Of course.”

“You don’t believe me?” She stopped abruptly, all sorts of expressions chasing each other across her face. He was hard put not to laugh the way her eyes flickered, undecided, offended and amused at once. There was something about this girl, something frolicsome and mischievous.

Bathing twice a day

26 June 2012 Comments (15)

In Mesoamerica of 16th century the dilemma was simple.

Was it better to bath once a day or once a month?

The state policy of reorganized by the Spanish authorities Tenochtitlan stated that once a month was more than enough. Any more frequent visits to temazcalli – Mesoamerican traditional steam bath – was illegal and open to a government punishment of “one hundred lashes and to be bound for two hours on the marketplace”. Not a pleasant experience. But then to go about stinking, sweat-covered and lice-ridden was not a much better option. Mesoamerica was not a happy place in the post-Columbian times.

However, only a century earlier, in pre-contact Mexico, the things were quite different. All over Mexican Valley and its surroundings, Highlands and Lowlands alike, no settlement, however small, would exist without more than a few traditional bath-houses. How could they? After all, those bath-houses combined pleasure with health. A happy combination.

The word temazcalli means just that – temaz-bath, calli-house. The old goddess Temazcalteci, the grandmother of the baths, was watching over the medicine practice in general, worshipped by healers, surgeons and midwives. With steam baths being the integral part of a healing process, the goddess’s image would adore many respectable bath-houses.

Mesoamericans of all ages and sexes would enter the small, mushroom-like construction, squeezing in through a low doorway into the dark world of heat and humidity, shaking off the worries of the day, exchanging the agitation of the gushing outside life for a chance to sprawl and relax, to have a good conversation or simply to connect with one’s inner self.

The bath-houses were usually built to resemble a shape of a woman’s womb, so, after sweating profoundly in the unbearable heat, after scrubbing one’s body with bunch of twigs or grass, the bather would emerge back into the world cleansed, at peace and as though reborn.

The system worked simply. A large fire was maintained, blazing next to one of the walls – usually the wall facing the east, in a deference to the sunrise – until it was red-hot. Then the bath operator would enter, pouring buckets of water over the glowing bricks, filling the crammed space with so much steam, the bathers would be hardly able to see themselves.

The medical benefits of such a pastime were amazing. From various skin and liver deceases to blood circulation, rheumatism, arthritis, muscular pains and colds, temazcalli would help with any of those and more, while maintaining Mesoamerica clean and sweet-smelling.

An excerpt from “The Warrior’s Way

A new outburst of steam clouded the air as the slave came in, in order to splash more water upon the glowing red-hot wall. Atolli stretched, then raised his hand lazily, reaching for a bunch of twigs.

“I could stay here for all eternity,” he muttered, sinking back onto the stone bench padded with grass. “I hope we stay in Azcapotzalco for another day. Fancy enjoying the benefits of the civilized living for a little longer.”

In the thick mist of the swirling fumes he could hear his brother growling.

“I’ll switch with you anytime. You stay here to slumber and sweat and I’ll go against the Chalcoans.”

Atolli laughed. “Relax, young hothead. There will be more campaigns. We won’t finish the Chalcoans in one miserable raid.” He began scrubbing the sweat off his shoulders using the twigs. “I wonder how our Aztec reinforcements will fare in the sands of the east. I bet they haven’t seen anything like that.”

“How was that altepetl of theirs? How it really was?”

“I told you yesterday.”

“You said nothing yesterday. Mother kept getting all agitated and you kept being so very careful. ‘Yes, a nice city. Yes, they dug some canals.’ Come on! I don’t believe you did nothing but train warriors.”

“All right, we did some things. I told you about the whores with the blackened teeth, didn’t I?”

“What did you do the next night?”

“Nothing. We’d had enough of their marketplace by that time.”

“So you didn’t get to sample any of the local girls at all?”

“No. No doing cihuas. I will make sure to rectify that matter when I bring their warriors back.”

“Why would you bring their warriors back? Someone else can do that. You are too good to be sent on such errands.”

“I promised their ruler.”

He could hear Tecuani sitting upright. “Why?”

“It’s a long story. Maybe I’ll tell you when I’m back from this raid.”

The slender, slightly foreign-looking face swam into his view as the young man leaned forward, peering at Atolli through the dispersing mist.

“I have a bad feeling about this one,” the youth murmured, a frown not sitting well with the fine-looking gentle futures. He remembered Tecuani as a boy, unruly and full of mischief.


The young man shrugged, his eyes suddenly guarded.

“Bad feeling about what?”

“This raid. Back in the gardens, when we were messing around, I suddenly… I don’t know. It felt bad and ominous. I had a feeling we will never be the same after this campaign.”

“It always feels like that before raids. It’s nothing. You get used to it.”

“I’ve been to wars!” cried the youth hotly. “I did a summer of shield bearing and I’ve been a warrior for more than a few moons. I know how it feels before, after and in the middle of the raid. I’m not a calmecac pupil anymore!”

Atolli sat up. “Calm down. I know all about you, oh Great Warrior.” He slapped the youth’s thigh. “Relax and get over your bad feelings. You feel that way because you can’t go with us. But Father is right. They may send for reinforcements, if you think about it. So just make sure you are available and we will yet get to fight together in the very near future.” He lay back. “Now let me enjoy my bath.”

The Rise of the Aztecs Part IV, Azcapotzalco, The Tepanec Capital

10 June 2012 Comments (0)

In ‘The Rise of the Aztec Part III’, we dealt with the Aztecs struggling to make their island-city, Tenochtitlan, more presentable, so the snobbish tourists from the altepetls around Lake Texcoco would not look down their long haughty noses and sneer.

Energetic and forceful, the Aztecs went about building their city, in the decade to come completing a causeway, connecting the city with the mainland settlements, digging more canals, building more temples and pyramids. They had enlarged their island even more, enveloping it with a screen of floating farmlands.

Allowed to campaign independently, they launched series of raids against the southern shores and its settlements, taking much of their floating farms, thus allowing the population of Tenochtitlan to grow.

The trade flourished and the markets expanded. The Aztecs began to eat better and dress in cotton instead of the plain maguey gowns and cloaks.

All the while, the Tepanecs shrugged and let it pass. They were busy elsewhere. The settlements of Lake Chalco, located to their southeast, needed to be reminded who were the Masters of the Mexican Valley. So the war against Chalco confederacy lasted for over ten years.

Always ready to help, the Aztecs took a part in this warfare for the benefit of their Tepanec overlords. The relationship between the Aztecs and the Tepanecs warmed considerably.

With no state-city able to rival the mighty Tepanec Empire, the Tepanecs now attacked another confederacy to the northeast of Azcapotzalco. The Aztecs helped them there too, gaining some lands as a bonus for good behavior.

Yet, not every city-state was happy to pay the Tepanecs a tribute. Some influential altepetls began thinking that the Masters of the Valley were too greedy.

In the next post The Rise of the Aztecs Part V Texcoco, The Acolhua Capital’ we will see what would happen to those who rebelled and how the Aztecs would deal with the conflict between their overlords and the old allies from the other side of the Great Lake.

An excerpt from “The Warrior’s Way

Ocelotlzin, the Emperor’s Nephew, and his followers had already reached the shadow of the Great Pyramid, standing under the massive stones, eyeing the colorful crowd filling the Plaza with its multitude of tents, warriors, leaders, servants and commoners. Such a hubbub!

“Your son did surprisingly well,” commented the Emperor’s Nephew. “I wonder how he had managed to make the Aztec ruler give away so many of his precious warriors. Their island must have been left completely unprotected.”

“Maybe we should take an advantage of this,” chuckled one of the minor warriors’ leaders.

Tecpatl frowned, glad to take his thoughts off what preyed on his mind. “Their altepetl could not be large enough to contain more than this amount of warriors.”

“Exactly!” The squat man grinned. “I would love to hear more. Your son is sure to tell you all about his stay there. I hear their ruler is an enterprising man.”

Tecpatl forced a smile. His son was sure not to show his face anywhere around his vicinity between now and the nearing raid to the Lake Chalco shores, but all he said was: “Of course. In the meanwhile I would love to hear more about your plans for our southeastern neighbors. Come to think of it, the Aztec island would be right across our path.”