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17 September 2014 Comments (8)

The Mesoamerican Saga

First, we will travel to the beautiful, sparkling, bubbling with life Mexican Valley/Anahuac, the place of constantly shifting powers and political games, wars and alliances, great cities and states, well regulated life and laws, incredible engineering feats; the place where Tenochtitlan, one of the most incredible cities of its time, was at its highest just as the world as they knew it came to an end.

Pre-Aztec Series

However, it all starts much earlier – a century and a half earlier – when Tenochtitlan, the mentioned above Mesoamerican gem, was nothing but a petty island full of mosquitoes and cane-and-reed houses, paying a tribute to the previous masters of the Mexican Valley, the mighty Tepanecs and their beautiful capital Azcapotzalco.

At Road’s End

It’s mid 14th century and the Tepanecs are growing as a regional power, expanding through military as much as through a dynamic trading net. Pochteca, the elite long-distance traders, are traveling far and wide, reaching as far as today’s Southwest and the lands of Anasazi, the ancient Pueblo People. It is a truly long way, and not a safe one, so guarding warriors would be usually sent to protect the traders delegation, to keep it safe.

Tecpatl is one such man, a young promising nobleman, a talented warrior with much ambition and aspiration, a perfect choice. And yet, he himself do not see the importance of his mission. On the contrary, to his private estimation this whole expedition is an effrontery to his upbringing, belittling of his talents and skills. Slugging through desert, guarding a bunch of lower class traders seemed to be the worst way of spending his time, while slowing down his budding career.

However, when they encounter the first attacked village, it all changes. Nothing is simple and clear, learns Tecpatl. There is more to life than what he has been taught, growing up in the noble family of a powerful city.

As the days pass and the journey continues, and the troubles and dilemmas escalate, he is forced to learn a few new lessons, and in a hard way.

The Young Jaguar

Fifteen years later, back in the Tepanec Capital, the old Emperor is dying, leaving a firm legacy but more than one heir to aspire to the marble throne of Azcapotzalco’s Palace. The times are changing, and the politics around Lake Texcoco are getting more complicate. A strong ruler is needed to ensure the Tepanec ascendancy. But what if both main contestants to the throne are strong and determined?

Tecpatl, the Chief Warlord and quite an admired leader among the elite warriors, is content to follow the dying Emperor’s edicts. However, Atolli, his eldest son, a very promising but a hotheaded youth, creates a crisis while stumbling into the thickest of the Palace’s politics, drugging his entire family into a whirlpool of trouble and danger.

The Jaguar Warrior

In the meanwhile, the Aztec island is struggling under the Tepanec domination, desperate to gain a measure of independence. In the dangerous sea of Texcoco Lake’s politics, Acamapichtli, the first Aztec Emperor, navigates his way wisely, paying outrageously heavy tribute with the coming of each full moon, careful not to anger the overlords of his city, but as careful to draw no attention to the its rapid growth and development.

Oblivious to these politics and undercurrents, Atolli, now a full-pledged elite warrior, even if still as free-spirited person as he has been ten years earlier, when the Tepanec Capital was in turmoil, arrives at the island city on the mundane mission of gathering warriors for yet another campaign the Tepanec Emperor is ready to launch.

Expecting to have a good time in the strange island of the most notorious tributaries of his city, he is caught unprepared when the past comes to haunt him, bringing forth series of turbulent events that force him to grow up and face himself.

The Warrior’s Way

Back in the Tepanec Capital, the Emperor prepares to launch a campaign against the neighboring cities of the Lake Chalco, those who still do not accept the supremacy of the Tepanecs. The Aztec warriors Atolli brings come as a welcome addition, but the unusual ideas the young man carries along appear to be less acceptable.

Tecpatl, these days the Emperor’s closest adviser, welcomes the changes in his son ardently, even if the young man’s new goals sound strange to him. Even so, he is ready to help, but the price of support he ensues turns out to be heavier than he ever expected. Soon he finds himself facing difficult choices, his troubles as grave as ten years ago upon old Emperor’s death, yet even more difficult to solve.

The Rise of the Aztecs Series

The year is 1415.

Close to forty years have passed since the historical and fictional events described in Pre-Aztec Series, and the Mexican Valley is about to face more political earthquakes. The shifting of powers begins again.

Yet, the challenge to the mighty Tepanec Empire comes not from the Aztec island as expected, but from the other side of Lake Texcoco. The refined, aristocratic city-state of Acolhua people and their capital, city-state of Texcoco, decided that to pay extravagant tribute to the greedy Tepanecs may be something they could do without.

The sentiment sweeps all over the beautiful city, igniting its dwellers’ fighting spirit, commoners and nobility alike, while the Acolhua Emperor, father of yet to become the most famous Mesoamerican ruler Nezahualcoyotl, refuses to pay tribute, takes independent titles, seeks allies among his provinces and neighbors, all the while preparing for the worst.

The Highlander

And into this political turmoil steps Kuini, a young Highlander with rebellious strike.

Leaving the temporary neutrality of his native mountains for the sake of a brief adventure and out of share curiosity, suspicious of nothing, he could not have predicted that his exploits in the beautiful Texcoco were to change his life, while revealing dark secrets concerning his own family.

Crossing Worlds

Two and a half years later, Acolhua, who enjoyed surprisingly long strike of marital success, are put back in their place. The Tepanec Empire was no entity to rise against. Texcoco is lost, the rebellious emperor dead, with his heir, Nezahualcoyotl, fleeing into the Highlands, the only place the Tepanecs did not attempt to conquer or intimidate into paying a tribute.

However, would the Highlanders be able to help the highborn but fleeing youth with more than an offer of a shelter. And would they be willing to do that? Kuini believes in the more promising scenario, counting on his influential father’s help, but the life proves to be more complicated than the youths of eighteen summers would naturally assume. Both Kuini and Coyotl are to face their fair share of trouble, while growing up and maturing along the way.

The Emperor’s Second Wife

The highlanders may have considered it premature to extend an actual help to the displaced Acolhua heir, yet if nothing else, Coyotl receives a valuable advice. He is to try and make the Aztecs involve in his case. He is to make friends with Tenochtitlan’s young Emperor Chimalpopoca while letting the mighty Tepanecs know that he, Nezahualcoyotl, is harmless and no threat, even if alive and well.

Until 1418 and the fall of Texcoco, the fierce Mexica islanders played a careful game, switching sides from time to time. In the Acolhua-Tepanec War they had kept neutral until pressed by the Tepanecs to send more than a token amount of warriors. Then they joined the fighting with their usual zeal, apparently tipping the scales.

And yet, harboring a personal sense of resentment or not, Nezahualcoyotl, the displaced Acolhua heir, needs the Aztecs, so the pride and memories of wrongdoings had to be put aside. Thus, Kuini and Coyotl arrive at the Aztec island, only to find that they are expected to take part of quite a few Palace’s intrigues, getting rid of the Emperor’s mother who is in reality ruling instead of her underage son’s, being only one of them.

Currents of War

The year is now 1426 and the Aztecs’ discontent with their Tepanec overlords is growing by leaps and bounds. Tezozomoc, the old Tepanec Emperor, the one who had made this empire so strong and invincible, died, and his heirs already began squabbling for Azcapotzalco’s beautiful marble throne.

The Acolhua are still subdued, with Nezahualcoyotl still living in Tenochtitlan but allowed to travel to Texcoco as a visitor after years of convincingly good behavior. All the while, the Aztecs, who were allowed to build their first aqueduct a few years ago, to carry fresh water to Tenochtitlan all the way from the mainland, are quiet but not overly happy with their water construction that is breaking down too often, build out of inadequate materials the Tepanecs allowed them to use.

The revolt against the stern masters of the Valley seems to waft in the air, but Chimalpopoca, the young ruler of Tenochtitlan, is afraid to make something drastic, striving to resolve the matters peacefully, to the chagrin of his closest advisers Itzcoatl and Tlacaelel, who believe it is actually time to act, that the indecisive policy is a mistake.

In the meanwhile, Kuini, now a minor leader of warriors and a man with a family of his own, is mixing in Tenochtitlan’s politics, ever ready to protect his Acolhua friend, carrying out affairs that make even the Emperor angry with him in particular. Careless and sure of himself, he was yet to discover that some politics, and politicians, may have been too devious not to take seriously.

The year is now 1428 and the revolt against the Tepanecs is finally happening. Not at the time of Tenochtitlan’s or Texcoco’s choosing, as yet. But the moment Nezahualcoyotl manages to convince the Highlanders to send an impressive warriors’ force, the things starting to look more promising.

The siege the Tepanecs put on Tenochtitlan was a brief affair, and the moment the Acolhua soon-to-be Emperor came down the eastern mountains, followed by thousands fierce warriors, the Tepanecs’ attempt to discipline their rebellious tributaries was over, with the Masters of the Valley fleeing and the Acolhua, the Highlanders and the Mexica hot on their heals.

And so the tides has reversed, with Azcapotzalco now under attack, besieged, fighting on the defensive.

The Fall of the Empire

For the citizens of Azcapotzalco the things did not look actually too bad. The Emperor and the nobles, along with the first-class traders, might have been worried, but the commoners went about their business unperturbed. The Tepanec warriors were always invincible. The problems with rebellious subjects and tributaries would be solved soon.

Tlalli, a market girl who had sold herself into Palace’s service for the time being, certainly wasn’t worried. She had her own pressing problems to solve, setting score with the Emperor being one of them. But for her friend Etl, the trader of the second-class, she might have gave the war outside the city not even a passing thought.

Neither was Etl overly worried. On his last expedition outside the besieged city, he overheard the news of the approaching relief force under the leadership of the renowned Tepanec warlord. All will be well, he knew, as the Tepanecs were always victorious and he has his ascending career to think about.

But the invaders had heard about the relief force as well – Nezahualcoyotl, Kuini and Tlacaelel, each leading their own segment of armies – and they’d had their warriors ready. The battle of Azcapotzalco was reported to be very long, very bloody affair.

But the aftermath of it was even more complicated, surprising the invaders and defenders alike, even the innocent bystanders like Tlalli, catching them completely unprepared.

The Sword

Three years later, in 1431, Texcoco is back in the hands of its rightful owners, with Nezahualcoyotl once again occupying the throne, ready to restore his beautiful capital back to its former glory, and then take it up to the greater heights.

The ceremony of his anointment is a huge affair, to which all the prominent allies are invited, the members of the Triple Alliance that has been formed upon the smocking ruins of the conquered Azcapotzlaco between Acolhua, Mexica-Aztecs and the remnants of the Tepanec Empire, the city of Tlacopan which helped the conquerors when they needed help.

But there are undercurrents. Not all Acolhua old aristocracy is happy about the policies of their young ruler. Some think they might do better occupying Texcoco throne. Some Texcocans are unhappy about the alliance and sometimes too-close cooperation with the neighboring Aztecs.

Thus Nezahualcoyotl must face his first crisis as a ruler, while his most loyal of friends, Kuini the Highlander, now Texcoco Chief Warlord, is required to solve more than just political problems of his friend and sovereign, having his family entangled in the same trouble as well.

The Triple Alliance (Below the Highlands)

Eight more years have passed and while the Triple Alliance was prospering, the Aztec island had grown into something unrecognizable. From a medium sized city of ambitiously industrial people, Tenochtitlan turned into a true capital, a large altepetl-city-state with provinces and much influence. Even among its partners in the Triple Alliance it was gaining more and more power, turning more influential, dictating the Alliance’s foreign policies and campaigns.

Tlacaelel, the Head Adviser of Itzcoatl the Emperor, now undeniably the second most powerful man of Tenochtitlan, is busy reforming everything and anything, from laws and state regulations, to distribution of wealth, to internal and foreign affair and even religious procedures. He knows that to grow successfully, his capital should start to think big, should stop acting like a small island .

And yet, his reforms are angering many influential people, priests and those who used to be in power, even if behind the scenes. A plot against the Head Adviser may be afoot, with his old friend’s, the Highlander’s, wild sons, happening upon it by mistake.

The North American Saga

The Peacemaker Series

This time we travel to the Great Lakes of North America, the bountiful forests, magnificent rivers, sprawling valleys and hills.

It is mid-12th century and the people who inhabit these lands are numerous, powerful nations who might have enjoyed their well regulated life but for the long tradition of ferocious warfare.

Five powerful nations of people, whom we know today as Iroquois, inhabited the southern shores of Lake Ontario (upstate New York), while on the other side lived Wyandot People, four nations of similar life style and relatively related languages.

The Great Peacemaker was reported to come from among these people, but it were Haudenosaunee, the Iroquois, who had listened to his message of peace, accepting his incredibly detailed, intricate set of laws, turning into one of the earliest, most progressive democracies of their times.

Two Rivers

The year is 1141 and on the northern side of the Great Sparkling Water – Lake Ontario – all is not well. Too much war, too little harvest. The people are not starved, not yet, but there is enough trouble to make farsighted members of the community worried.

The enemy is made to suffer, made to pay for the past wrongdoings, yet the balance of power remains the same despite the efforts to tip it. There are just too many people to war against, hostile neighbors and the terrible enemy from the other side of the Great Lake, the enemy who is so un-human that their leaders are reported to feast on human flesh and to have twisting snakes for a hair.

Even though annoyed by such wild rumors, Tekeni, the captive youth from across Lake Ontario, doesn’t dwell on any of this. His life is too frustrating to bother with silly stories. Held to be a troublemaker, a wild boy unwilling to adapt, he has enough on his plate as it was. With no possibility of running away, he does his best to live up to his bad reputation, instead.

Two Rivers, on the other hand, is a respectable hunter and warrior, a man with strange ideas and unconventional way of thinking, but still a satisfactory member of the community. Still, his notions are unacceptable and his way of telling his mind is irritating at times. To talk to the enemy? To stop warring on the neighboring nations? No, no one considered such suggestion seriously. Not even Tekeni, the despised enemy in himself.

However, when the paths of these two cross and intertwine, everything changes. Not always for the best.

Across the Great Sparkling Water

On the other side of the Great Lake the matters are as bad, if not worse. The war is relentless, pursued ferociously, claiming a heavy price. Not always enough food is stored for the winters. The danger of perpetual raids prevents fields from being tended properly, and sometimes hunting expeditions receive lower priority than the war parties. Wise people are worried, but they are at loss as to the proper solution. Something must be done, but what?

Two Rivers’ arrival on this side of the Sparkling Water is greeted with doubt. But Tekeni’s ever-ready translating services and his independent explanations, often accompanied with much embellishment as to the mysterious visitor’s mission, help. Challenged but not too often, they are making a good progress, gathering allies, overcoming suspicion.

Yet, Tekeni has a promise to keep, a promise that doesn’t go well with his loyalty to the man who had saved his life. And the true challenge is still ahead of Two Rivers. The test of the falls in the lands of the Mohawk People will prove the divine nature of his mission, will make them listen, but first he needs to survive it.

The Great Law of Peace

With the first powerful nation convinced, Two Rivers, now accepted and held to be the Messenger of the Great Spirits, began working for real. To organize the Mohawk People was a challenge in itself, but to make them share a pipe with Oneida People, their closest neighbors to the west, turned out to be even more difficult.

And then on, to the west, to draw in more nations, Seneca and Cayuga, and the last, the most difficult people to convince – the Onondagas. Countless gatherings, endless councils, solving problems, dilemmas, impasses, the task of organizing the League of Five Nations seemed to be impossible at times. But he was the Messenger of the Great Spirits and the man of the vision.

Yet, will the Great Peace demand of both Tekeni and Two Rivers sacrifice their private happiness for its sake?

The Peacekeeper

A full year have passed since the First Gathering, when the Law of the Great Peace was delivered to the Five Nations, memorized, sanctified, regulated with the government composed out of fifty representatives instructed as to the ways of conducting their future annual meetings. Time to convene the Second Gathering.

And yet, the Peacemaker is unable to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his work. More people should be drawn into the Great League, he maintains, while traveling far and wide, talking to distant nations, inviting their representatives to come and sit around the Central Fire of the Great Council. A questionable business, according to some of the local leaders.

However, the real trouble arises when the delegation from across the Great Lake arrives, invited by Two Rivers himself. A natural invitation. Weren’t his former people good enough to participate in the union of his creation?

However, those who wish him harm see a different sort of opportunity, not beneath acting dirty, proving too devious even for Tekeni, now an influential leader despite his young age, brilliant in organizing and getting things done.

The problems escalate fast, but will they threaten the Great Peace itself and not only its creator? Tekeni is determined to safe both, but when the past comes to haunt him, he finds himself with too many troubles on his hands to cope with them all.

People of the Longhouse Series

Close to thirty years later, the Peacemaker’s creation, The Great League of the Iroquois/Longhouse People was thriving, slipping into the leading regional power quite naturally, its impact on the entire region of Lake Ontario and far beyond it unquestionable.

Five nations, five families, five hearths, one longhouse – this is how the Great Peacemaker had put it, while giving the Longhouse People his exhaustive, intricate, wonderfully detailed set of laws. What worked for families and clans, apparently worked for nations as well. And even though this remarkable man had mysteriously disappeared after the first, or maybe the second, gatherings, what he left behind had flourished and prospered, developing into real regional power.

In the far east, along the Hudson River, relative newcomers had found a new home, people who had migrated to these areas over the recent decades or more, people who had nothing to do with the Great League to their west. Known to us today as Mahicans, they called themselves River People, making their living by working the land, hunting and fishing, dwelling in mid-sized villages and towns that spread all over the bountiful rivers and woods. To the Great League, particularly the Flint People (Mohawks), called the Keepers of the Eastern Door by their fellow league’s members, the Mahicans seemed to be a threat. Taking their responsibility of keeping that same ‘eastern door’ of the metaphorical longhouse safe, they felt obliged to sent more and more warriors parties, to raid those newcomers and maybe make them leave.

Beyond the Great River

Kentika, the daughter of the War Chief in her people’s village, was never happier than while sneaking away from her women’s duties and into the woods, feeling more at home while roaming around, reading the earth, running or climbing, even shooting occasional rabbit with her small children’s bow. When on one such foray she spots a warriors force from the lands of the setting sun, her skills of running and reading the earth comes in most handily, even though they are, as always, not appreciated at first.

Okwaho knew they were being watched. Whether by spirits or a wandering local, he could not ignore the feeling of the wary, frightened, hate-filled eyes staring out of the forest, burning his skin. But of course! Of course, the local woods distrusted them. He and his people were invaders, not coming to trade or engage in other peaceful dealings, but to raid these settlements. The enemies from the lands of the rising sun were bad, evil, impossible to understand. And yet…

Desperate to prove their worth, both Kentika and Okwaho go out of their way to make their leaders listen, bringing along a clash that would influence many lives, their own included.

The Foreigner

Back in the Great League’s lands, trouble was brewing. The notorious Crooked Tongues from the other side of Lake Ontario, rumored to now be organized into a sort of an alliance, were posing a threat, more so than ever before. And yet, the War Chief, out of all people, was the one advocating negotiations, insisting on seeking a peaceful solution to the generations-long hostility and war. His followers were puzzled, the opposition outraged.

Meanwhile, Kentika has her own troubles to face. Was it ever easy for a foreigner to fit into a new life? For a girl who never even fit in among her own people, the challenge was becoming nearly impossible. But then, on top of it all, the political trouble hit.

Troubled Waters

The question of who his mother was puzzled Ogteah, but not to the extent of bothering him for real. His other troubles, the results of his life as a gambler and a lightweight, breezy and free of responsibility, were the ones to land him in trouble time after time. The people of his own hometown frowned, more and more direfully as the summers passed, until his mounting transgressions made him leave for good, mainly to stop embarrassing his father. A great leader and a very dedicated person, his father was working hard to create an alliance between their own people and their various neighbors, mainly in order to contain the traditional enemy from the other side of the Great Lake.

Gayeri wasn’t concerned with political developments, powerful leaders, or their less successful sons, either. No troublesome newcomers entered her thoughts or caught her attention, certainly not a good-for-nothing gambler with a mysterious past. Having survived a brutal kidnapping but determined to forget all about it, she was busy carving a new life in her new surroundings, set on ensuring that it would shelter her from any more dangerous happenings. Large-scale politics were of no consequence, whether those of her former Longhouse People or her new Crooked Tongued countryfolk.

And yet, the formation of the four Wyandot nations’ union was to interrupt their lives, to demand their involvement and participation, causing them to influence each other’s lives more than any of them could have imagined or foreseen.

The Warpath

All was not well in the lands of the Erie/Long Tails People, on the western shore of Lake Ontario and around Niagara Falls. Tucked between two growing unions, the mighty Great League and the newly formed alliance of the Wyandot to the north, the Long Tails tried to remain neutral, playing for time, doing little while earning no respect from their powerful neighbours on either side.

However, there were some who were enraged by the shameful neutrality. Although Aingahon was not one of those. His reasons for hating the Great League were personal, his desire to take the warpath originating in a thirst for revenge. Leading a serious faction of rebellious elements from his town and its surroundings, he was determined to make the enemies of his people pay; still he got nowhere, until Tsutahi, the mysterious girl from the woods, had crossed his path, changing his world in ways he could never have foreseen.

Back in the lands of the Great League, the generation of younger leaders, Ganayeda and Okwaho – not to mention Ogteah, the newcomer facing new troubles and challenges – sensed the winds of change as well. The relationship between the Five Nations, conducted just like the Great Peacemaker’s legacy prescribed, wasn’t enough, not anymore. A closer cooperation between the nations might be needed, a mutual help and support, even if it came to sending reinforcements and fighting in wars that were not strictly theirs.

The War Chief’s sons’ way of going about pushing their plans was as unconventional as it was forceful and decisive. To bend laws and customs was not the same as breaking them. Or so they thought, heading toward the inevitable clash with the notorious Long Tails from the west, a clash of proportions neither side could have foreseen or foretold.

Echoes of the Past

When approached with a request to spy on his former people, Ogteah rejected the mere idea of it vehemently, even though it made his loyalty to his current people suspected, to a degree. Still, he wouldn’t do it. It was shabby, unfitting, more suited of the old Ogteah from his previous life. Yet, with the circumstances conspiring against him, he had found himself plunging into the vastness of the Great Sparkling Water, nevertheless, alone and armed mainly with their unofficial warriors’ leader’s instructions and some goods to trade, a meager attempt to camouflage his true purpose.

In the meanwhile, the Wyandot from the other side of the Great Lake were working hard, anxious to convince the rest of the local nations into joining their union, perturbed by the Great League’s growing power and might, troubled by it. Even the defeated Long Tails did not keep quiet, recovering some of their former fighting spirit, the unlikely survivors among their leaders, people Ogteah certainly didn’t care to meet or remember.

All this and more awaited Ogteah as he headed across the Great Sparkling Water, against his and everyone else’s better judgment.

The Mississippians

Mississippians is a general term for culturally related people, who had flourished from Midwest all the way to the Southeast of today’s USA, dealing with large-scale agriculture, wide network of trade, ambitious architecture undertakings in the form of huge earthwork pyramids serving several purposes and more. Their society was usually complex and the separation classes not uncommon, especially in the largest urban central of them all, Cahokia – the beautiful gem of the Mississippian culture.

Settled around the 7th century, Cahokia gradually evolved into a great urban center, populated more densely than London of the same time. Over hundred mounds spread through the busy bubbling, noisy city, with its crowded neighborhoods, plazas, marketplaces and different-size pyramids, some ridge-top for the burial purposes, some flat, platform-top for the ceremonial ones. Wooden stockade, fortified with watchtowers, enclosed the important, ceremonial center of the city, separating the nobility from the lower classes. The royal Great Mound, ten storey tall, spacious and terraced, hosted main temples and the large dwelling of the ruler, who was tracing his dynasty straight away to the Sun God himself.

The Cahokian

It’s mid 13th century and the royal house of Cahokia is in turmoil. The old emperor is dead and his nephew, who was to inherit according to the all-important tradition, is not a satisfactory replacement. The city is restless, some say even in decline, with more bad than good harvests, series of hurricanes, and general unrest among the population. A stronger ruler is needed, or so some of the royal family members think, having in mind their own candidates for replacement.

Acoto, a hardened veteran warrior and an ambitious leader, doesn’t wish to be involved in any of that, but when he is summoned back to the city he learns that to keep away from the whirlpool of royal intrigues might prove impossible. Maneuvered into doing the unspeakable, he still hopes to reach his goals by sailing to the far northeast, to restore the fading glory of the empire against encroaching ‘barbarians’.

However, the League of the Iroquois is not an easy target. Before the day of the crucial battle is over he discovers his life is about to take a very unexpected turn.

Take a stroll on the marketplace

4 March 2013 Comments (0)

If you happened to miss a large scale ceremony while touring prominent cities of the 14th-15th centuries Central Mexico, don’t think your trip was ruined. Stay for some time and wait for the arrival of the market day.

Such day would be well spent and, anyway, you won’t be forced to wait too long as the market interval, the equivalent to our way of counting the weeks, would usually last for no longer that 5 days, unless you got stuck in a small town or village, which, as a tourist, you would be careful to avoid, anyway. So, just tour the beautiful pyramids and plazas until the dawn of the market day arrived, then stay for a treat.

The marketplace in the large altepetl, city-state, was a colorful affair of bubbling activity and clamor, a swirl of sights and smells. Before the dawn-break the traders would already be there, spreading their mats, erecting their stalls, ready for a busy profitable day.

Coming from all over the valley and having started their journey with the nightfall of the previous day, some traders might had been quite tired, but this was the custom, to embark upon the journey at dusk, whether for a purpose of a short trip to the neighboring town or for a moon-long trading expedition to the other side of the valley or the continent.

Yet, no matter how much time a trader would spend on the road, he would never dream to start selling his goods before reaching his destination. To do so was to show disrespect to the gods who were watching over the market business. It was also in violation of the pochteca, the trader guild’s laws, and no merchant in his right mind would risk angering the powerful guild, who were extremely influential and whose watchful eyes and the punishing arm would reach everywhere.

In the all encompassing legal system of courts and laws (and the Aztecs were very law-abiding society) the trading guild was one of the few independent bodies, functioning outside the intricate legal system.

It all happened in 1473, according to quite a few accounts, when Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan’s sister-city, revolted against the growing dominance of their pushy neighbors, the leaders of the Triple Alliance, who only half a century earlier had conquered the Tepanec Empire, and had grown too powerful ever since. The revolt was crushed easily, some say with the active help of the leading merchants from the rebellious city, who struck a deal with Tenochtitlan’s emperor, Axayacatl, accepting his patronage and offering to act as his spies and the independent merchants of his ever-growing empire.

Thus the symbolic relationship of the Aztec royal house and the Pochteca traders was defined. It helped to strengthen the economy of the developing empire and added the much needed spying services of the long-distance traders gathering information as they traveled far and wide. With the passing of time Tlatelolco was turned into a huge marketplace, functioning on almost a daily basis, able to accommodate up to 60,000 people on the major market days.

The Pochteca were responsible for the foreign and local trade and had twelve powerful guilds located in major cities-states. They had their own rituals, ceremonies and patron deities and, more importantly, their own legal system.

Very rich and powerful, the leading merchants were nevertheless careful to conceal their riches. Being the typical middle class, they did wise by not flaunting their fortunes before the arrogant, fierce, dangerous nobles. In exchange for taxation, the traders’ guilds were granted the power to regulate the economy, represent themselves before the emperor, judge all law suits relating to the merchant class and ensue their sentences to those who were found guilty of violating the commercial laws.

Each village or town had at least one marketplace, with larger cities having multiple markets. Large markets would meet every 5 days, while the smaller ones would meet less frequently. People would travel far and wide to reach a market where they could buy and sell, hear the local news and socialize with friends.

Much of the selling-buying activity was based on barter, but there was an agreed upon currency too, with the main one being cocoa beans or a certain length of cotton cloths called quachtli. The exchange rates varied at times, from 100 cocoa beans to 300 being worth of a full length cotton cloak. Copper ax blades and quills filled with gold dust were used to determine the pricing for various items too.

All this and more was regulated most scrupulously by inspectors, who were always there, mixing with the crowds, making sure the items were sold at appropriate exchange rates, checking the quality of the products as well. Certain goods could be sold in certain areas, designated by the market judge who required every vendor to a pay a tax in cloaks or cocoa beans.

Everything was sold by number and measure instead of by weight, and the inspectors made sure to check the measures, destroying the false ones if such were discovered. The offender then would be dragged to a market court, to be judged and sentenced by a panel of judges.

Such courts governed all disputes between the traders, required to deal with any issues related to the marketing. In a case of false measures the offender would be fined, with his goods confiscated, sent to bring the rest of the fine from his family to pay up. Other crimes, dealing with stolen goods or with counterfeiting, was sentenced more harshly, with the most serious of the offenders being beaten to death in the center of the marketplace, for everyone to see and learn the lesson.

Still, there were many ways to cheat the system, and undeterred some traders kept mixing in poor quality products. Cocoa beans were easily susceptible to counterfeiting as vendors could remove the outer shell and fill it with dirt, or heat shriveled beans to make them look larger, or create entirely false beans out of wax or amaranth dough. These beans would then be mixed with real beans for sale in the marketplace. (The Florentine Codex includes a description of a bad cacao seller: "... he counterfeits cacao... by making the fresh cacao beans whitish... stirs them into the ashes... with amaranth seed dough, wax, avocado pits… he counterfeits cacao.... Indeed he casts, he throws in with them wild cacao beans to deceive the people...)

So, as we can see, the pochteca courts were never out of job and the marketplace was anything but a boring place to spend one’s time at, either buying or selling good or just hanging out with friends.

An excerpt from “The Emperor's Second Wife

Her anger rose once again, here in the crowded marketplace as intense as it had back there, in the dimly lit warriors’ hall.

Clenching her teeth tight, she pushed herself away from the safety of the wall, stepping back toward the road. Oh, she was not a burden, not a ‘girl that is making no trouble’. She was a person, and she could take care of herself. And when he found that she was gone, he would be sorry.

Picking her way carefully between the multitude of mats and stalls, jostled every now and then, she went on stubbornly, not bothering to mark her surroundings. In her entire life she had never lost her way, always remembering the places she had passed, being those forest’s paths or town’s alleys.

Her fear began calming down, and, looking around, she noticed that not only people were plentiful in this place. Food, clothes, and jewelry piled all over the alley, crammed upon the mats or arranged prettily, sparkling in the midmorning sun. Eyes wide, she began stealing glances, and then, giving in, she gaped openly, amazed at those unbelievable riches. So much of everything!

Still not sure enough of herself to stop and peer closely, she turned into a smaller alley in an attempt to escape the crowds. Here, the aroma of cooked food enveloped her, making her stomach churn. People squatted or sprawled on mats, in the shade of the high wall, talking idly or throwing beans while eating and drinking. No one paid her any attention. Reassured, she slowed her steps and watched the sweating old man toiling above a steaming pot.

Neatly, the man fished out small bundles of something wrapped in maize husks, placing them on a wooden plate, oblivious to the scorching heat.

Fascinated, Dehe watched him working as the man from the nearby mat got up.

“Let us see what you’ve got here, old man.”

“The best tamales you ever tasted,” grinned the stall owner, interrupting his activity to unwrap one of the bundles. His nimble fingers picked the steaming tamale, dropping it neatly onto a smaller plate.

“I’ll have another one for my companion,” said the other man.

“Next time wait patiently until I’m done,” the cooking man grunted, complying with the request. “I’ll have the rest of my tamales burned because of you.”

“Oh, I bet a cocoa bean you’ll find a way to force those burned tamales on your other customers,” laughed the man, heading back to his mat.

The old man cursed, returning back to his steaming pot. “Those will cost you more,” he called out more loudly.

“It’ll round your whole meal to a whole cocoa bean, so don’t bet any of it before you pay me.”

“What a thief!” The man with the plate dropped beside his companion, grinning broadly. “You can go on dreaming about those cocoa beans, old man. I don’t see any warriors or other nobility around your stall.” He caught Dehe’s gaze. “Here, maybe this little slave came here with a bag full of beans. Didn’t you, girl?”

Frightened, Dehe took a step back, but the man’s attention shifted back to his plate and the bowl of thick sauce upon another tray.

Breathing with relief, she turned to go, glancing again at the steaming pot. The spicy aroma tickled her nostrils. Having been too angry to eat on the previous evening, she had slipped away well before dawn, before any chance of getting her morning meal. She wanted him to wake up and find her gone. He may have not paid her any attention on the previous day, but he did come to cover her with a blanket before going to sleep. She pretended to be fast asleep too, hoping he would recline beside her and try to wake her up, but he just caressed her hair fleetingly and went back to his mat, leaving her with her eyes shut, and her heart thundering in her ears. He did care for her, he did, even if just a little!

Another man neared the stall, picking a tortilla from the side tray. Leaning against the wooden pole, he consumed it unhurriedly, deep in thought. Dehe hesitated. Could she just pick one for herself too, the way this man did? The grumpy old man seemed to take this sampling of his goods kindly.

Historical fiction and the trouble in the Aztec Capital

19 December 2012 Comments (0)

I am happy to announce the release of another new book

Currents of War

the fourth book of The Rise of the Aztecs series.

It wasn’t until 1426, after living for more than a hundred years and ruling for almost half of this time, that Tezozomoc, the old Tepanec emperor died, leaving many sons to rule many provinces.

His death did not plunge the Tepanec Empire into a chaos, as the conquered or oppressed nations expected. Tezozomoc’s eldest son and his appointed successor, Tayatzin, seemed to be a reasonable man and a good ruler.

Yet, not everyone was satisfied with this arrangement. Maxtla, one of the other numerous royal offspring, appointed to rule Coyoacan, apparently thought that the marble throne of Azcapotzalco would suit his talents better than the petty province of Coyoacan.

Too busy to pay attention to the discontent offspring of the royal Tepanec house, Tenochtitlan faced its own problems. The water supplies. Though the first aqueduct was built successfully, carrying fresh water into Tenochtitlan all the way from the mainland and over the lake’s waters, it also brought along much trouble. Built of clay and other inadequate materials, the water construction broke down alarmingly often, leaving the island with no fresh drinking water again and again.

The Aztec engineers worked hard, fixing the problems, maintaining the important construction, yet the lack of appropriate building materials thwarted their efforts; this and the necessity to ask for the Tepanecs permission to do the repairs each time the need arose.

The relationship between the Aztecs and the Tepanecs began to deteriorate once again, with Aztecs being much stronger this time, backed by many of the neighboring nations.

Seven years later, the Aztecs are ready to revolt against the mighty Tepanec Empire. However, while the young Emperor is trying to solve the problems peacefully, his warlords and advisers believe he is making too many mistakes along the way. A much stronger leader is needed, but is there a way to change Emperors with no bloodshed?

Kuini, now a promising leader, but still considered a pushy foreigner by some, is about to find out that meddling in the Aztec politics could cost him more than he is prepared to pay.

An excerpt from “Currents of War

The Highlander’s smile was wide, back to his light, unconcerned, cheeky self.

“I like that vision of yours, Chief Warlord. I’ll join you in this undertaking, too.” His grin widened. “That is, if you still want me among your forces.”

“You? You will take Azcapotzalco single-handedly. Of course, I will bring you along.”

“Back in that dung-filled Palace, you promised this would be the last time you would trust me.”

Tlacaelel frowned, the thought of Tlacopan’s Palace spoiling his mood. “Back in that stinking, manure-infested place, I was angry with you for going into the city without permission. I thought you were after a flask of octli.”

The Highlander’s eyes sparkled. “I did get this thing. More than a pitiful flask, too. Their octli is nice, more delicate tasting than Tenochtitlan’s brews.” He pitted his face against the wind, smiling happily. “People always talk more readily when you buy them a round of drinks. I found this out some time ago, when I finally began to get those cocoa beans in reasonable amounts.”

“You are a hopeless drunkard. What else did you hear?”

“I told you everything already. Plenty of changes our dear friend Maxtla is planning, plenty of changes.”

“Maxtla is stupid. He is nothing but a dirty son of the cheapest whore from the filthiest corner of the marketplace!” Tlacaelel clenched his teeth. “And what he doesn’t understand – but why should he, when all he knows is how to poison people or try to trap them otherwise? – is that with Itzcoatl for an Emperor he’ll have a more difficult time. He hates Chimalpopoca, because Chimal was rude to him, and because Chimal supported his brother too openly. Stupidly too, if you ask me, but they did not bother to ask me, or to listen to my advice.” He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, watching the hills sweeping by. “But what ruler, what leader, would allow his personal passion of revenge to cloud his judgment? Only a stupid manure-eater like him.”

“So Itzcoatl is the sure thing? No chance of you taking Chimal’s place?”

“No. I don’t want any of this. Even if Itzcoatl drops dead the moment he gets rid of Chimal, I won’t take the throne.”

“Does he plan to get rid of Chimal?”

Tlacaelel glanced at the suddenly guarded face of his friend. “Who knows?”

“You, for sure.” The Highlander wiped his brow, then waved away an insistent fly. “Well, it’s too much politics for one evening. There is only a certain amount of the Lowlander’s devious activity that I can take in one day.”

“One good turn deserves another.” Making sure no one was within hearing range, Tlacaelel touched his friend’s arm. “Keep away from the politics for some time. Don’t come near the Palace, or near Itzcoatl, if you can help it.”

The Rise of the Aztecs Part VII, Nezahualcoyotl, the heir to Texcoco throne

26 November 2012 Comments (1)

In ‘The Rise of the Aztecs Part VI’, we left the Tepanec Empire ruling the lands around Lake Texcoco, holding the whole Valley of Mexico in their firm grip.

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.

Nezahualcoyotl

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.”

“Then how?”

“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.”

Historical fiction and Tenochtitlan

27 October 2012 Comments (6)

I am happy to announce the release of another new book

The Emperor’s Second Wife

the third book of The Rise of the Aztecs series.

In 1419, having conquered Texcoco and its provinces, the Tepanecs were the undeniable masters of the whole Mexican Valley, spreading further and further, strong and invincible. Curiously indifferent, they took the coastal towns, including Coatlinchan, but the altepetl of Texcoco they had given to their worthwhile allies, the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan.

Yet, Tezozomoc , the Tepanec Emperor, who, through his enormously long and fruitful life, had achieved all that, was growing very old. His death was imminent and there were many who awaited this event with eagerness.

In Tenochtitlan the opinions varied. While benefiting from its newly gained stance with their mighty overlords, having received the rich Texcoco as a gift for good behavior, some of the leading Aztecs were not happy with the way their city was turning into yet another Tepanec province. The rich pickings may not have been worth the loss of independence.

So, by the time Nezahualcoyotl , the surviving heir to Texcoco throne, reached Tenochtitlan, after spending some time hiding in the Highlands, the island-nation was ready to receive him, quite cordially at that. Busy expanding, building another causeway and the water construction, the Aztecs still tried to keep the Tepanecs happy, but it all was destined to change.

Back in the Aztec Capital, the troubles were brewing. While benefiting from its neutrality in the Texcoco-Tepanec War, many influential Mexica-Aztecs grew wary of the way their city was becoming absorbed in the mighty Tepanec Empire.

Upon their arrival in the great island-city, Kuini and Coyotl are quick to discover that something dangerous is about to happen, and that they are expected to take a part in it.

An excerpt from “The Emperor’s Second Wife

Only when they turned another corner and he could hear no footsteps but their own, did he allow his senses to shift to the young man walking beside him. Another First Son of another Emperor? The heir to Tenochtitlan’s throne? No, it could not be true. Tenochtitlan already had an Emperor, a mere child according to Father, and Father would know. If this youth was the First Son, he would have become the Emperor upon his own father’s death, wouldn’t he?

“You are not the First Son,” he said finally as the clamor of the marketplace grew stronger.

“Of course I am.” The lifted eyebrows of his companion made Kuini want to smash the broad face into a bloody mess. Coyotl was the First Son, and the heir, and he was never arrogant or haughty.

“How come you are not the Emperor then?”

The merry laughter was his answer. “You are such a provincial. It is not that simple, you know?”

“It is simple enough in civilized places like Texcoco.”

“Oh, stop bringing up this stupid new province of ours.”

Kuini clenched his fists. “Texcoco is not your province. This altepetl is more civilized, more beautiful, more magnificent than yours will ever be. Without your betrayal they would never have lost. They were victorious for more summers than your petty altepetl ever existed.”

To his surprise, Tlacaelel did not take offense. “So you are from Texcoco, aren’t you? I would never have guessed. You look like a Tepanec, but you speak like a foreigner. And your tattoos look completely savage.” He shrugged. “Whatever the reasons, your Texcoco is our province now, and they deserved that. Pitiful losers and worthless warriors.” The deeply set eyes measured Kuini once again. “So what are you doing here in Tenochtitlan?”

Taking a deep breath to control his temper, Kuini clasped his lips. “Nothing. I just came to look around.”

“And?”

“And nothing. So far, I ran into too many hostile warriors and strange royal family arrangements.” He studied his companion in his turn, taking in the broad, well-developed frame and the muscled arms. “If you were the First Son you wouldn’t be going around looking like a warrior, picking fights. That warrior was right. You would be escorted and well protected.”

“Would I?” Tlacaelel laughed again. “You obviously know nothing about Palaces and royal families. The Emperor, his wives, and his heir are moving about escorted. The rest of the royal family can do as they please.” The broad face darkened. “As long as they don’t stand in someone’s way.”

“So which son is your current Emperor?”

“The second,” said Tlacaelel lightly.

“Then why did the second son become the Emperor? Was the first one that unfitting?” Delighted, Kuini saw the deeply set eyes darkening with rage.

“You are still pushing it, aren’t you foreigner?”

“I’m curious.”

“Well, you will have to go and figure it out all by yourself. Go back to the Plaza and ask the people around. I predict by the nightfall you will learn a thing or two.”

Pleased with his companion’s obvious loss of temper and, therefore, loss of dignity, Kuini grinned.

“Weren’t we supposed to fight somewhere near your marketplace?”

Tlacaelel’s glare made him feel vindicated. “Yes! I was about to kill you, and this place will do.”

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