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4.8 58
by Gary Jennings

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Here is the extraordinary story of the last and greatest native civilization of North America. It is a story told in the words of one of the most robust and memorable characters in modern fiction. His name is Mixtli-Dark Cloud. Rising above his lowly station, Mixtli's long and tumultuous life takes us on epic journeys through lands and among amazing people


Here is the extraordinary story of the last and greatest native civilization of North America. It is a story told in the words of one of the most robust and memorable characters in modern fiction. His name is Mixtli-Dark Cloud. Rising above his lowly station, Mixtli's long and tumultuous life takes us on epic journeys through lands and among amazing people little known at the time, sharing adventures hazardous, suspenseful, harrowing, and even comic. Mixtli's insatiable thirst for challenge and far horizons reveals the very heart of Aztec civilization from the feather-banner splendor of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan to the arrival of Hernán Cortés and his conquistadores, and their destruction of the Aztec empire. The story of Mixtli is the story of the Aztec's themselves - a compelling, epic tale of heroic dignity and a colossal civilizations rise and fall.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A dazzling and hypnotic historical novel.” —The New York Times

“Anyone who reads, anyone who still lusts for adventure or that book you can't put down, will glory in Aztec.” —Los Angeles Times

Product Details

Buccaneer Books, Inc.
Publication date:
Aztec Series
Product dimensions:
5.83(w) x 8.82(h) x 1.87(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Gary Jennings

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 1980 Gary Jennings
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7653-9217-6



To His Majesty's legate and chaplain, Fray Don Juan de Zumárraga, lately appointed Bishop of the See of Mexíco in New Spain, a charge upon him:

That we may be better acquainted with our colony of New Spain, of its peculiarities, its riches, the people who possessed it, and the beliefs, rites, and ceremonies which they heretofore held, we wish to be informed of all matters appertaining to the Indians during their existence in that land before the coming of our liberating forces, ambassadors, evangels, and colonizers.

Therefore, we order that you shall inform yourself from ancient Indians (having first administered to them the oath, to assure veracity) as to their country's history, their governments, their traditions, their customs, &c. 4In addition to the information that you secure from witnesses, you will cause to be brought before you any writings, tablets, or other records of that foregone time which may substantiate what is said, and you will cause your missionary friars to search and ask for such records among the Indians.

Because this is a very weighty matter and very necessary for the discharge of His Majesty's conscience, we command you to attend to the conduct of the said inquiry with all possible promptitude, care, and diligence, and that your account be set forth in much detail.

(ecce signum) CAROLUS R [??] I

Rex et Imperator
Hispaniae Carolus Primus
Sacri Romani Imperi Carolus Quintus


* * *

S. C. C. M.

Sanctified, Caesarean, Catholic Majesty, the Emperor Don Carlos, Our Lord King:

May the grace, peace, and lovingkindness of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with Your Majesty Don Carlos, by divine mercy eternally august Emperor; and with your esteemed Queen Mother Doña Juana, together with Your Majesty by the grace of God rulers of Castile, of León, of Aragón, of the Two Sicilies, of Jerusalem, of Navarre, of Granada, of Toledo, of Valencia, of Galicia, of Mallorca, of Seville, of Sardinia, of Córdova, of Córcega, of Murcia, of Jaén, of the Caribbees, of Algeciras, of Gibraltar, of the Canary Isles, of the Indies, of the islands and lands of the Ocean Sea; Counts of Flanders and of the Tyrol, &c.

Very Fortunate and Most Excellent Prince: from this city of Tenochtítlan-Mexíco, capital of your dominion of New Spain, this twelfth day after the Assumption, in the Year of Our Lord one thousand five hundred twenty and nine, greeting.

It was but eighteen months ago, Your Majesty, when we, though the least of your vassal subjects, heeded Your Majesty's command that we assume this trifold post as the first appointed Bishop of Mexíco, Protector of the Indians, and Apostolic Inquisitor, all embodied in our one and own poor person. It has been but nine months since our arrival in this New World, and there was much arduous work awaiting us.

In accordance with the mandate of this appointment, we have striven zealously "to instruct the Indians in their duty to hold and worship One True God, Who is in Heaven, by Whom all creatures live and are maintained" — and likewise "to acquaint the Indians of that Most Invincible and Catholic Majesty, the Emperor Don Carlos, whom divine Providence has willed that the whole world should obey and serve."

Inculcating these lessons, Sire, has been far from easy or expeditious. There is a saying among our fellow Spaniards here, extant well before our arrival: "The Indians cannot hear except through their buttocks." But we try to bear in mind that these miserable and spiritually impoverished Indians — or Aztecs, as most Spaniards now refer to this particular tribe or nation of them hereabouts — are inferior to all the rest of mankind, and therefore, in their insignificance, deserve our tolerant indulgence.

Besides attending to the Indians' instruction — that there is only One God in Heaven, and the Emperor on earth, whose subjects they have all become and whom they must serve — and besides dealing with many other ecclesiastical and civil matters, we have attempted to comply with Your Majesty's personal adjuration to us: that we early prepare an account of the conditions of this terra paena-incognita, the manners and ways of life of its inhabitants, the customs, &c. formerly obtaining in this benighted land.

Your Most Lofty Majesty's royal cédula specifies that we, in providing the chronicle, shall inform ourself "from ancient Indians." This has necessitated something of a search, inasmuch as the total destruction of this city by Captain-General Hernán Cortés left us very few ancient Indians from whom to seek a credible oral history. Even the workers currently rebuilding the city consist mainly of women, children, the dolts and dotards who were unfit to fight in the siege, brute peasants conscripted from the outlying lands. Oafs, all of them.

Nevertheless, we were able to ferret out one ancient Indian (of some sixty and three years of age) capable of providing the desired account. This Mexícatl — he repudiates both the appellations Aztec and Indian — is of a high grade of intelligence (for his race), is articulate, is possessed of what education was heretofore afforded in these parts, and has been in his time a scrivener of what passes for writing among these people.

In his lifetime he has had numerous occupations besides that of scribe: as warrior, as courtier, as traveling merchant, even as a sort of emissary from the late rulers of this place to the first arriving Castilian liberators, and those envoy duties have given him a passable grasp of our language. Though his Castilian falters seldom, we of course desire precision in all details. So we have provided an interpreter, a young lad who has considerable proficiency in Náhuatl (which is what these Aztecs call their guttural language of lengthy and unlovely words). In the interrogation room, we have also seated four of our own scribes. These friars are adept in that art of swift writing by character, known as Tironian notes, which is employed at Rome for making memoranda of the Holy Father's every utterance, and even for recording the entire proceedings of many-peopled conferences.

We bade the Aztec sit down and tell us his life story. The four friars, busily flicking away at their Tironian squiggles, did not then or since lose a single word that drops from the Indian's lips. Drops? Better say: words that cascade in torrents alternately loathly and corrosive. You will soon see what we mean, Sire. From the very first opening of his mouth, the Aztec evinces disrespect for our person, our cloth, and our office as our Revered Majesty's personally chosen missionary, which disrespect is an implicit insult to our sovereign himself.

The first pages of the Indian's narrative follow immediately after this explanatory introduction. Sealed for your eyes only, Sire, this package of manuscript will depart Tezuítlan de la Vera Cruz the day after tomorrow, in the keeping of Captain Sánchez Santoveña, master of the caravel Gloria.

Your Caesarean Majesty's wisdom, sagacity, and discrimination being universally known, we realize that we risk your imperial displeasure in presuming to preface the enclosed pages with a caveat, but, in our episcopal and apostolic capacity, we feel that obligatory upon us. We are sincerely desirous of complying with Your Majesty's cédula, of sending a true report of all there is worth knowing of this land. But others besides ourself will tell Your Majesty that the Indians are paltry beings, in whom one will scarcely find even vestiges of humanity; who do not even have a comprehensible written language; who have never had any written laws, but only barbaric customs and traditions; who have been or still are addicted to all kinds of intemperance, paganism, ferocity, and carnal lusts; who have but lately tortured and slain their own fellow beings for the sake of their misbegotten "religion."

We cannot believe that a worthwhile or edifying report can be procured from an informant like this arrogant Aztec, or from any other native, however articulate. Also, we cannot believe that our Sanctified Emperor Don Carlos can be other than scandalized by the iniquitous, salacious, and impious prattlings of this overweening specimen of a dunghill race. We have referred to the enclosure herewith as the first part of the Indian's chronicle. We fervently desire and trust that it will also, by Your Majesty's command, be the last.

May God Our Lord guard and preserve the precious life, the very royal person, and the very catholic estate of Your Majesty for uncounted years, with the enlargement of your reigns and dominions as your royal heart desires.

Of Your S.C.C.M., the ever faithful servant and chaplain,

(ecce signum) Fr. Juan de Zumárraga

Bishop of Mexíco
Apostolic Inquisitor
Protector of the Indians


The chronicle told by an elderly male Indian of the tribe commonly called Aztec, which narrative is addressed to His Excellency, the Most Reverend Juan de Zumárraga, Bishop of Mexíco, and recorded verbatim ab origine by Fr. Gaspar de Gayana J.

Fr. Toribio Vega de Aranjuez
Fr. Jerónimo Muñoz G.
Fr. Domingo Villegas e Ybarra
Alonso de Molina, interpres



My lord

Pardon me, my lord, that I do not know your formal and fitting honorific, but I trust I do not hazard my lord's taking offense. You are a man, and not one man of all the men I have met in my life has ever resented being addressed as a lord. So, my lord

Your Excellency, is it?

Ayyo, even more illustrious — what we of these lands would call an ahuaquáhuitl, a tree of great shade. Your Excellency it shall be, then. It impresses me the more that a personage of such eminent excellency should have summoned such a one as myself to speak words in Your Excellency's presence.

Ah, no, Your Excellency, do not demur if I appear to flatter Your Excellency. Common report throughout the city, and these your servitors here, have made plain to me how august a man you are, Your Excellency, while I am but a threadbare rag, a frayed raveling of what once was. Your Excellency is attired and arrayed and assured in your conspicuous excellency, and I am only I.

But Your Excellency wishes to hear of what I was. This has also been explained to me. Your Excellency desires to learn what my people, this land, our lives were like in the years, in the sheaves of years before it pleased Your Excellency's king and his crossbearers and crossbowmen to deliver us from our bondage of barbarism.

That is correct? Then Your Excellency asks no easy thing of me. How, in this little room, out of my little intellect, in the little time the gods — the Lord God — may have vouchsafed me to finish my roads and my days, how can I evoke the vastness of what was our world, the variety of its peoples, the events of the sheaves upon sheaves of years?

Think, imagine, picture yourself, Your Excellency, as that tree of great shade. See in your mind its immensity, its mighty boughs and the birds among them, the lush foliage, the sunlight upon it, the coolness it casts upon a house, a family, the girl and boy who were my sister and myself. Could Your Excellency compress that tree of great shade back into the acorn which Your Excellency's father once thrust between your mother's legs?

Yya ayya, I have displeased Your Excellency and dismayed your scribes. Forgive me, Your Excellency. I should have guessed that the white men's private copulation with their white women must be different — of more delicacy — than I have seen them perform forcibly upon our women in public. And assuredly the Christian copulation that produced Your Excellency must have been even more

Yes, yes, Your Excellency, I desist.

But Your Excellency perceives my difficulty. How to enable Your Excellency to see at a glance the difference between our inferior then and your superior now? Perhaps one summary illustration will suffice, and you need trouble yourself with no more listening.

Look, Your Excellency, at your scribes: in our language "the word knowers." I have been a scribe myself, and I well recall how hard it was to render onto fawnskin or fiber paper or bark paper so much as the unfleshed bones of historical dates and happenings, with any degree of accuracy. Sometimes it was hard even for me to read my own pictures aloud, without stumbling, after just the few moments the colors took to dry.

But your word knowers and I have been practicing, while awaiting Your Excellency's arrival, and I am amazed, I am struck with wonder, at what any one of your reverend scribes can do. He can write and read back to me not just the substance of what I speak, but every single word, and with all the intonations and pauses and stresses of my speech. I would think it a talent of memory and mimicry — we had our word rememberers, too — but he tells me, shows me, proves to me, that it is all there on his page of paper. I congratulate myself, Your Excellency, that I have learned to speak your language with what proficiency my poor brain and tongue can attain, but your writing would be beyond me.

In our picture writing, the very colors spoke, the colors sang or wept, the colors were necessary. They were many: magenta-red, ochergold, ahuácatl-green, turquoise-blue, chocólatl, the red-yellow of the jacinth gem, clay-gray, midnight-black. And even then they were inadequate to catch every individual word, not to mention nuances and adroit turns of phrase. Yet any one of your word knowers can do just that: record every syllable forever, with a single quill instead of a handful of reeds and brushes. And, most marvelous, with just one color, the rusty black decoction they tell me is ink.

Very well, Your Excellency, there you have it in an acorn — the difference between us Indians and you white men, between our ignorance and your knowledge, between our old times and your new day. Will it satisfy Your Excellency that the mere stroke of a quill has demonstrated your people's right to rule and our people's fate to be ruled? Surely this is all that Your Excellency requires from us Indians: a confirmation that the victor's conquest is ordained, not by his arms and artifice, not even by his Almighty God, but by his innate superiority of nature over lesser beings like ourselves. Your Excellency can have no further need of me or words of mine.

My wife is old and infirm and unattended. I cannot pretend that she grieves at my absence from her side, but it annoys her. Ailing and irascible as she is, her annoyance is not good for her. Nor for me. Therefore, with sincere thanks to Your Excellency for Your Excellency's gracious reception of this aged wretch, I bid you

My apologies, Your Excellency. As you remark, I have not Your Excellency's permission to depart at whim. I am at Your Excellency's service for as long as

Again my apologies. I was not aware that I had repeated "Your Excellency" more than thirty times in this brief colloquy, nor that I had said it in any special tone of voice. But I cannot contradict your scribes' scrupulous account. Henceforth I will endeavor to temper my reverence and enthusiasm for your honorific, Señor Bishop, and to keep my tone of voice irreproachable. And, as you command, I will continue.

But now, what am I to say? What should I cause your ears to hear?

My life has been long, as ours is measured. I did not die in infancy, as so many of our children do. I did not die in battle or in holy sacrifice, as so many have willingly done. I did not succumb to an excess of drinking, or to the attack of a wild beast, or to the creeping decay of The Being Eaten by the Gods. I did not die by contracting one of the dread diseases that came with your ships, and of which so many thousands upon thousands have perished. I have outlived even the gods, who forever had been deathless and who forever would be immortal. I have survived for more than a full sheaf of years, to see and do and learn and remember much. But no man can know everything of even his own time, and this land's life began immeasurably long ages before my own. It is only of my own that I can speak, only my own that I can bring back to shadow life in your rusty black ink....

"There was a splendor of spears, a splendor of spears!"

An old man of our island of Xaltócan used always to begin his battle tales that way. We listeners were captivated on the instant, and we remained engrossed, though it might have been a most minor battle he described and, once he had told the foregoing events and the outcome of it all, perhaps a very trivial tale hardly worth the telling. But he had the knack for blurting at once the most compelling highlight of a narrative, and then weaving backward and forward from it. Unlike him, I can but begin at the beginning and move onward through time just as I lived it.

What I now state and affirm did all occur. I only narrate what happened, without invention and without falsehood. I kiss the earth. That is to say: I swear to this.

* * *

Oc ye nechca — as you would say, "Once upon a time" — ours was a land where nothing moved more rapidly than our swift-messengers could run, except when the gods moved, and there was no noise louder than our far-callers could shout, except when the gods spoke. On the day we called Seven Flower, in the month of God Ascending, in the year Thirteen Rabbit, the rain god Tlaloc was speaking his loudest, in a resounding thunderstorm. That was somewhat unusual, since the rainy season should have been then at its end. The tlalóque spirits which attend upon the god Tlaloc were striking blows with their forked sticks of lightning, cracking open the great casks of the clouds, so that they shattered with roars and rumblings and spilt their violent downpour of rain.

In the afternoon of that day, in the tumult of that storm, in a little house on the island of Xaltócan, I came forth from my mother and began my dying.


Excerpted from Aztec by Gary Jennings. Copyright © 1980 Gary Jennings. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Gary Jennings was known for the rigorous and intensive research behind his books, which often included hazardous travel—exploring every corner of Mexico for his Aztec novels, retracing the numerous wanderings of Marco Polo for The Journeyers, joining nine different circuses for Spangle, and roaming the Balkans for Raptor. Born in Buena Vista, Virginia in 1928, Jennings passed away in 1999 in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, leaving behind a rich legacy of historical fiction and outlines for new novels.

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Aztec 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
bbb57 More than 1 year ago
To date, the best book I have ever read in my life. Gary Jennings is the master of historical fiction. This book is a miracle of literature that PUTS YOU THERE to feel the whole gamut of emotions. A character and story that capture your imagination and leave you wanting for more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book for the first time in 1982. I have read many times over and have had to replace the first book I bought as it was falling apart. I wish they would make it available for the Nook! My copy is in need of replacing, once again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I first picked up this book for a history review, I wasn't sure what to think, because I had never really been interested in ancient Aztec culture. But as I started reading, I was instantly absorbed by the story and the character. Aztec, by Gary Jennings, is not your typical book about Aztec history. It is full of magnificent and vivid detailings of the main character Mixtil's life as an Aztec during the time period of their powerful empire. Jennings writes not only about the amazing Aztec culture, but also touches on personal subjects to draw the reader in on a personal level. Reading this book enabled me to learn about the culture of one of the most powerful ancient empires once in existence, and experiencing it through this character's eyes. I chose this because I have heard good things about Jennings' other novels, and this one definitely didn't disappoint. I would reccommend this to students looking for a historical novel with an interesting plot, and also to anyone looking for something good to read.
PeterWilliams More than 1 year ago
Great account of the triple alliance and the invasion of the Spanish.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was well thought out and written. Hollywood should make this book into a movie instead of remaking old movies from the early and late 90's.
imkevbo More than 1 year ago
An excellent read and incredible story telling which brought a long lost civilation to life for me. MESMERIZING
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best historic novels I have ever read. Jennings takes one of the greatest and most powerful cultures of all time and turns its demise into a heart-wrenching story. With a main character who has deeply personal experiences that allow you to connect on a personal level with him, Jennings weaves a masterpiece that is a fantastic read. Once started, you won't want to put it down. Once finished, you'll be craving more!
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AztecQueenCece More than 1 year ago
I absolutley love this book,I am still not done reading it, but i do luv it. I feel in love with this book since i first picked it up, and there have been many days when I'd rather saty home from work or school and read it from cover to cover. I highly recomend this book to anywone who wants to read a turly good, exciting, intriguing book, the love stories, sex, and growth the main character goes through throughout his life is magnificent, an i have to say i fell in luv with Mixtil...His character was so strong and loving, he was what I hope more men were like. Nonetheless, this boook is one of my favorites I have ever read, i plan on purchasing more of Mr. Gary Jennings books. I hope everyone has a chance to read this and when they do they too will fall in love with it. Every night i read more and more of this book I have visions and dreams of how beautiful and wonderful, strong and magnificent the AZTEC culture was, and being a Mexican woman, I have much pride in my ancestors for who they were and their stregnth is surely following through my veins.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished this gripping book today. It's a tad slow to start, but it's SO worth the read. I live in Mexico and have always been intriuged with the culture - this book gives the more true version, I believe. It's SO well researched and thought out...I will read it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm not much of a reader. I normally have trouble getting into a book, but not with Aztec. I was hooked from the begining and I couldn't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Absolutely loved it! Amazing description of details helped visualize the story. Enjoyed all of Mixtli's journeys! I learned some geography lessons and other substantial information. Would love to see the story develop in theaters! Mel- where are you???