Tonauac walked through the empty streets, alone to his thoughts. Although there was no enforced curfew in Tenochtitlan, it was a taboo to be outside late at night. At least nobody would ask where he was going.
Tonauac repeated the strange words over and over again in his mind.
The foreign syllables were becoming increasingly cloudy in his mind, he wished he had more time to learn the Spaniard’s language.
Tonauac snapped out of his spell. A warrior popped out of an alleyway, beckoning him to follow. The strange warrior led him down a pitch black alleyway before pointing down a set of stairs.
“Are they ready?” asked Tonauac.
The man nodded, slipping away into the night.
Tonauac made his way down the staircase, completely dark except for the occasional dimmed torch. The staircase came to an end, a single stone slab slanting down to a brightly lit room with a doorway adorned with twirling snakes catching hold of jungle birds.
Tonauac cleared his mind, making sure his reports were straightened away.
A single voice thundered from inside the room.
Tonauac stepped forward into the light, squinting as his dark eyes adjusted to the brightness.
The room was circular, carved right out of the bedrock. The walls were similar to the doorway, featuring beautiful painted murals of colorful snakes catching prey.
It was a sacred council room, built hundreds of years ago by the first of the Mexica to settle what would become the dazzling capital Tenochtitlan.
All around the room were seats raised high, exquisite thrones with their carvings faded from use over the centuries.
However, most were empty. Most of the council was absent, leaving only three gazing down on Tonauac as he stepped into the paved center of the room.
The old man in the center throne rubbed his wrinkled chin, looking to his fellow members on his left and right as Tonauac fell to his knees in respect.
The left councilman, dressed in a long orange cape that wrapped around his shoulders, gestured for Tonauac to rise.
“Rise, Tonauac. We have assembled the council in this ancient meeting place for a very good reason. Your mission is the most important assignment in the entirety of the Empire. The Mexica people and our way of life rests on the fruits of your endeavor.” The councilman leaned forward in his ancient throne, as if staring deep into Tonauac’s soul. “Tell us young warrior, what have you?”
Tonauac stayed resolute, blocking any signs of fear from showing.
“I have infiltrated the Emperor’s palace as you have commanded, regardless of the laws against a commoner’s presence in the holy home of our Emperor. I was unable to reach their leader due to the distrust of these Spaniards, but I managed to secure the role of a servant for one of the leading officers in their ranks, a powerful man by the name of Pedro de Alvarado. It seems the Gods have smiled upon us, for not a day after I was assigned to Alvarado was he placed as the new commander for their forces in the city. As you so wisely advised, I befriended him quickly, playing his personality and demeanor.”
The councilman on the right, a small, wizened man with a peppered beard, interrupted Tonauac.
“You were ordered to assign yourself to their leader, regardless of any obstacles in your way. How do you know this lesser officer knows anything about their intentions?”
“I apologize for my failure, but it is of little consequence. This officer met with their leader just moments before he so mysteriously left. It is very likely Tonati-.....the officer knows everything that their leader does from that meeting.”
The center man raised an eyebrow.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because he has already told me much. Although my understanding of their language is very basic, I remember exactly what he uttered. These Spaniards have one purpose here, to establish a colony in the name of their nation, some place called Espana far, far away. Their leader, Hernán Cortés, is not their king, as previously thought. They fight for a man by the name of Charles V, presumably far off in this land of España.”
The councilmen sat silent before erupting in a storm of whispering. Tonauac couldn't hear but he thought he heard the names of the many Gods being mentioned many times.
The councilman in the orange cape called out to Tonauac.
“This is grave news. It seems these Spaniards are stronger than we have ever thought before. We had prayed that the entirety of their nation was gathered here in Tenochtitlan, but it appears the Gods have given us a challenge. Perhaps punishing us for our lack of faith, or our lack of sacrifices. It is very likely their leader embarked to gather more of the white men.”
The center councilman’s chin shook with anger as he pounded his fist upon the arm rest.
“Then this has made everything clear! Whether or not these foreigners are planning to take us over by force, we must form a resistance. We cannot afford to harbor more of these men and the cursed Tlaxcalans in our city, and we can no longer take the offence of having our Emperor, our sacred Tlatoani, imprisoned any longer. I want you, Tonauac, to continue your espionage mission. Keep talking to this officer, find out more about how they fight. In the meanwhile, our council will strengthen the garrison here in Tenochtitlan, and assure the Tenochtitlan garrison is ready for war.”
The other councilmen grunted in agreement. Tonauac gave a slight bow.
“I will continue my search for information against this new enemy. But I am not yet finished with my report, ancients.”
“Speak.” croaked the wizened councilman.
“I was able to find out a great deal about their armories, and some about how their ranks are ordered.”
Tonauac closed his eyes, focusing on the strange words he had burned into his memory.
“The Spaniards are armed with many weapons, some I have yet to see and some I have been able to personally inspect. The crossbow, halberd, arquebus, and the sword.”
Tonauac watched as the council struggled to understand the words.
“....Describe these weapons.” stated one of the elders.
“As we thought, their metal armor and weapons are forged and hammered, similar to our process for shaping gold. But their equipment is silver in color, and much tougher than any gold trinket. I doubt our arrows can penetrate their plates, and I doubt our shields can stop their weapons.”
Tonauac shook his head in despair. These foreign men weren’t gods, but they were armed with otherworldly items.
“Their swords, are thin, light and sharp handheld piercing weapons. Their crossbows are devices for launching projectiles with increased power and speed, the officer compared them to our atlatls. I regret that I was unable to ask about the functions of the other weapons, but we can send others to eavesdrop around the Spaniards to find out more, now that we know what they’re called.” said Tonauac.
The councilmen sat, pondering this influx of information.
“What about their monstrosities? The beasts they ride, and the fox creatures?”
“I am not yet finished with my mission, wise one. I will travel with the officer as he supervises his men, I will see more as the days go by.”
“Very well. You will meet the council the day after the festival of Toxcatl for another debriefing. You have given us much to think about, much to plan. You are dismissed, Tonauac. May the Gods guide you.” said the center councilman, nodding to Tonauac.
Tonauac gave a gracious bow, bending low in respect. He left the ancient chamber, the whispers of the councilmen piercing the hallowed air of the chamber.
May 4, 1520, weeks later
Pedro accepted the small wooden mug from Tonauac. He sniffed the warm vapors rising from the cup.
“It doesn’t smell good at all.”
“It not supposed to. Drink.”
Pedro sipped the xocatl, his face contorting in disgust.
“Why, it's terrible! How do you drink this?”
He snatched the cup from Pedro’s hands.
“It sacred drink, Tonatiuh. Drink that bind heaven and earth, drink of health. Give wisdom.”
“Why would anyone with wisdom drink that?” snorted the Spaniard.
Tonauac’s thick eyebrows drew together in anger.
Pedro gently took the drink back, attempting to calm Tonauac down.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll drink the whole mug, alright?”
He continued to scowl, but Pedro could detect the hint of a smile. He had observed Tonauac grow increasingly friendly these last few weeks, the two spending nearly every day together administering to the affairs of the city.
Pedro soon learned to be a great commander to his contingent in the city, and Tonauac helped translate and advise him in his dealing with the Mexica. Pedro was increasingly grateful for his friend’s support, more so with every passing day. He didn’t know if he could have done this without him.
The boom of Tonauac’s voice startled Pedro from his thoughts.
“Very late in morning, Tonatiuh. Remember what happen last time when late to meeting?”
Pedro rubbed his eyes, yawning.
“Yeah, I know, I know...But we don’t have anything planned today, right? We took care of all our troubles yesterday. Unless Juan broke into the tobacco storage again.”
“Dirty, fat man.” growled Tonauac, thinking back to the incident.
Pedro stretched his shoulders, yawning again.
“My thoughts exactly. If one of the green vipers around the palace bit him I wouldn’t bat an eye. Good riddance.”
Tonauac grinned, picturing the man convulsing as the venom coursed through his body.
“Well I can't be absent, my men would worry. Let’s get going.” muttered Pedro, standing up from his bed, drink in hand. He stumbled into the hallway, still half asleep. Tonauac quickly followed, stooping out through the doorway.
As Pedro let his body ease into full wakefulness, he observed the servants rushing around the palace, carrying around baskets of food and drink.
“What’s this? Is one of the nobles holding a feast?” asked Pedro, watching three servants team up to drag an immense basket of papayas through the hallway.
Tonauac stroked the red feathers in his cap, making sure he looked presentable.
“How you not know? All city is readying for festival of Toxcatl, word everywhere. I thought you knew, no point tell you.”
Pedro raised an eyebrow.
“Well it's not my fault big man, I don’t even speak their language. They’re not exactly inclined to tell me about their leisure activities.”
Tonauac smirked, now more than used to Pedro’s sarcasm.
“Well what's it about anyways? How does the festival go? Should I attend to show a good public image?” asked Pedro.
Tonauac froze, seemingly unsure of what to say. Pedro watched as he searched for words.
“Toxcatl is sacred holiday for Tezcatlipoca, god of night wind and sky, jungle cat, storms, sorcery, obsidian, and the North. He is...the Smoking Mirror in your tongue.”
Pedro nodded, listening intently. The Mexica culture never ceased to surprise him. He learned more about their peoples every day.
“How does the festival go? How is this Smoking Mirror honored?”
Tonauac hesitated, knowing Pedro would disapprove of what he was about to say. He had urged his people to abandon the public festival and do it in secret, but it was too late. The people had refused to give up their traditions, and had continued with the public spectacle. Tonauac knew Pedro would find out eventually.
“...A war captive is chosen, from the enemy land of Purempecha or Tlaxcalans. He grow up, learn music and song, and dressed in the image of Tezcatlipoca. Worship as image of god by peoples of Tenochtitlan, smoke tobacco and burn incense. After one revolution of Earth around Sun, captive begin final days of ritual. He left alone with his wives for four days. On fifth day, he ascend Great Temple, placed on altar. In honor of Tezcatlipoca, he is sacrificed, his heart cut from chest, head cut from body, skin flayed and eaten by nobles.”
Pedro recoiled as the words of the horrid sacrifice reached him. He stepped back from Tonauac, eyeing him suspiciously. Tonauac had been dreading this moment for weeks, and he stepped towards Pedro to reassure him.
“What are you talking about? Your people agreed to halt all barbaric sacrifice. You swore you would end the devilish cannibalistic practices. Already the people were beginning to accept the words of Christ. Was it all lies?” said Pedro, his voice rising in anger.
“I understand. Mexica halt daily killing on Great Temple in respect to Spaniards. But people won’t give up tradition, way of life, holy rituals.”
Pedro threw down his mug with a shatter, his face flushed with seething anger.
“The rituals are not holy! This cursed holiday cannot take place, not under my authority! Not another soul will be lost to these satanic practices, that's an order.”
Tonauac tried to calm him down, but his own temper was flaring.
“The people will not take this, Tonatiuh! You cannot halt way of life, tradition and sacred codes! If you try, you will be crushed!”
The rush of the palace halted as their fighting increased in volume. Hearing Pedro, multiple Spaniards stood at attention, waiting for an order from their commander.
Pedro gnashed in teeth, now completely furious.
“You too Tonauac? Are you going to the festival, to watch a man get flayed and eaten like a Christmas ham?”
Tonauac clenched his fists.
“I have shown you way of my people. I have shown you way to peace. Yet you choose way of war, way of annihilation for all Spaniard!”
Pedro thought back to Hernán’s words from weeks ago, recalling what he had said before he was forced to leave the city.
“Form a plan to halt all human sacrifice,
that will be the first step in establishing civilization here,
eventually making this a colony for Spain.
If all else fails, show them the power of our guns.”
Pedro pushed past Tonauac, facing his men. He pointed to the lieutenants, giving them orders.
“Pérez, call up the arquebusiers. Eduardo, activate the crossbowmen. García, somehow gather the Tlaxcalans. We’ll need them for sure. I’ll gather the infantry. Meet me in the plaza, outside the Great Temple. Stay inconspicuous, and holster your weapons until I give the command when I get there. With haste!”
Pérez and Eduardo ran off down the hallway, the rest of the soldiers following.
Pedro took a step before being halted by Tonauac’s hand on his shoulder.
“What do you want?”
Tonauac looked him straight in the eyes.
“Don’t do this, Tonatiuh. The people will not accept this. I won’t.”
“I won't accept cannibalism.” said Pedro, clenching his jaw. He shook off Tonauac’s hand, hurrying down the hallway.
“This will end peace between Spaniard and Mexica! This will start war, this will begin era for killing and death!” Tonauac shook his fists in anger, nearly foaming at the mouth. “In name of the Gods, Tonatiuh, you kill one man, I kill you!”
Pedro stopped in his tracks, looking over his shoulder back to him.
“Then you’d better find a weapon.”
He disappeared around a corner, gone from Tonauac’s sight.