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About the Author
The author of more than thirty-five novels, Lane loves such diverse activities as hiking and playing the piano, not to mention her latest hobby—belly dancing. She blogs regularly on Petticoats and Pistols (www.petticoatsandpistols.com) and Unusual Historicals (www.unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com). You can learn more about her and her books at www.elizabethlaneauthor.com.
Read an Excerpt
As you get older, María, you'll hear the horror tales of the 7Aztecs and their passion for human sacrifice--how the emperor Ahuitzotl had twenty thousand hearts ripped out on the altar to celebrate the completion of the huge pyramid-temple on the very site where the cathedral now stands; how no day could begin without fresh blood to feed the Aztec sun god, Huitzilopochtli, in his journey across the sky. Believe them, my daughter. These things and worse were true.
My father, Tenepal, was the tlatoani, or chief, of Oluta, and had long been opposed to the Aztecs and their human sacrifices. In spite of his unimposing appearance, he was respected by his subjects. From the young children on up, all had heard the story of how a younger Tenepal, with the ferocity of a jaguar, had led his warriors against the forces of the Aztec emperor, Ahuitzotl, who had decided it was time to bring Oluta under his rule. My father's wife and younger son were carried away, along with many others, to be sacrificed on the bloody altars of Tenochtitlan, and the elder of his two sons was killed in the fighting. Tenepal himself, gravely wounded, was carried from the battlefield by night and hidden in a cellar where his followers kept a deathwatch over him. He made a surprising recovery and went on to govern his people under the chafe of Aztec dominion; to marry the beautiful Cimatl, young daughter of the ruling family of nearby Xaltipan; and, in his old age, to become my father. He also became increasingly outspoken in his hatred of human sacrifice, a practice that showed no abatement under Ahuitzotl's successor, Moctezuma.
Iremember passing with my father in front of the Aztec temple of Huitzilopochtli, which stood at the entrance to the marketplace. The temple steps and altar reeked of human blood, and the wisp of black smoke rising from the teocalli at its summit mingled with the odor of burning human hearts and stung my nostrils. Shaking his head in disgust, my father muttered, "Who fed the sun before these Aztec vultures came to Oluta?"
And I, child that I was, could only parrot what I'd been taught by the Aztec priests at the temple school: "If he's not fed human blood, the sun god will not have strength to rise. Tlaloc, the rain god, must have gifts of human hearts or he won't send rain. And in order for spring to come, we must give to Xipe Totec, the Flayed One, gifts of--"
"I know!" my father sputtered under his breath. "Before Ahuitzotl took Oluta we worshipped gentle gods--Quetzalcoatl ... Xochipilli, the Prince of Flowers ... Tlazoteotl, the Eater of Sins. End gods! We gave them flowers, butterflies, an occasional turkey at the most, and they were satisfied!"
He stopped and watched the thin column of black smoke rise into the sky over the pyramid of Huitzilopochtli, then looked sternly down at me. "I'm taking you out of the temple school, Malinalli." he said. "Well find a teacher who'll educate you at home."
It was only a few days later that he found such a teacher, when we happened to be in a far corner of the market where slaves were sold. The slaves, perhaps a dozen of them, stood in a dejected row Some were well-dressed and unfettered. Others, mostly young men, slumped into the wooden collars around their necks, hostility in their eyes.
"Tenepaltzin, my lord! How can I serve you?" The voice of the slave dealer was as oily as his appearance. His long hair was elaborately coiffed in an imitation of the Aztec calpixque who came to town every few months to collect the tribute for Moctezuma. Around his neck he wore a broad collar of hammered gold. His abundant flesh hung in loose, quivering folds over the top of his loincloth, and even in the coolness of early morning he was glittering with perspiration. A tiny, naked boy stood beside him, wielding a fly-whisk made of reeds.
"Perhaps your wife needs a girl to care for her clothing and dress her hair." He turned to the line of slaves and pulled roughly forward a girl of thirteen or fourteen with huge, frightened eyes. She was wearing a simple cotton huipilli, well made but soiled. Her hair was unbraided and tangled.
"She's from Xaltipan, your wife's town. What do you think, eh? The girl's healthy and well formed. In no time she'll be a beautiful woman." His eyes gleamed suggestively.
My father shook his head. "You know my wife. Cimatl likes old women to wait on her. She wouldn't want a girl this age." He spoke the truth. Even at my young age I sensed that my mother would stand for no competition with her own beauty.
The little eyes of the slave dealer almost disappeared in the folds of his fat face as he gave a rueful smile. "Ah, yes, I'd almost forgotten what Cimatl said when I tried to get you to buy that pretty seventeen-year-old from Xochitlan. Ay! My ears stung for a month! You should have bought her anyway, Tenepal, just to show your wife that you were master."
My father sighed. "I can't function without peace in my house. Whatever the price of that peace, I'll pay it."
The slave dealer, motioning the girl back to her place, glanced down the row of slaves and singled out a tall young man with a wooden collar around his neck. "Now here's a fine specimen for you. Handsome as a god. Just before you came by I was talking with the priest," he said, referring to Cozcaquauhtli, Moctezuma's representative in Oluta. "He mentioned that something special would be needed for the New Year ceremony. This fellow is being sold for the third time, so he can be bought for sacrifice."
"I don't buy sacrifices," my father growled. "If Cozcaquauhtli wants a slave for his altar, let him do the buying." He studied the young man, who was of above-average height, finely proportioned though slender, with proud, classic features, lustrous deep-set eyes, flawless teeth, and thick, shining hair cut square at the shoulders. "The third time, you say? What's wrong with him? He looks intelligent enough."
"I won't lie to you, my lord. He's as lazy as he is handsome. He was here sold twice because neither of his masters could get him to work." He shrugged, his heavy flesh rolling with the gesture. "But that should make no difference to the gods."
The young man had been bending forward as far as the long pole attached to his collar would let him. "Great lord," he begged, "won't you let me speak for myself?"
"You have no right to speak," the slave dealer rumbled. "But perhaps if the tlatoani has the time and wants to hear you..."
My father nodded.
"You think I was born to this?" The slaves eyes were melancholy. "My name is Itzcoatl, from Tochtepec and of noble birth." His fine voice breaking, be told of how his father had died when he was sixteen, and how he'd been sold by an uncle to pay his debts. "They put me to work in the milpas and made me carry loads that almost broke my back. They'd have killed me if I'd let them. Great one, I'm well educated. I can write letters, keep accounts, sing, recite poetry, play the flute ... the teponatzli..." He swallowed a sob. "Is it my fault my masters didn't put me to proper use?" He fell to his knees and gazed up imploringly at my father, his eyes brimming. "Buy me! I can keep your accounts, teach your children music, history, poetry. I can entertain your guests with my singing. You'll never be sorry." His hands clutched at my father's legs. "I don't want to be sacrificed!"
My father stepped backward at his touch. "Stand on your feet. I like dignity in a man, even in a slave. You say you can keep accounts?" The young man nodded. "I have a storehouse fall of tribute for Moctezuma. Keeping track of what goes into it is nothing but a trial for me. If you can do it accurately you'll be worth any price I have to pay for you." He restrained Itzcoatl from falling at his feet again. "When you're networking in the tribute house you can tutor my daughter." He turned to the slave dealer. "What are you asking for him?"
"Very little, my lord," the slave dealer answered quickly, rubbing his chin. "Only four bundles of cotton cloth."
"I believe the customary price for a slave who is being sold the third time is two bundles of cloth," my father said. "I'll have them delivered to you before midday. When you have the cloth, set this fellow free from his collar and kindly direct him to my house."
"He'll run away. You'll never see the rascal again!"
"The man promised to serve me. If he's not to be trusted, better he make his disappearance at once." My father fixed his gaze on Itzcoatl. The slave was trembling with joy and would have kissed his new master's dusty sandals if the rigid wooden collar hadn't prevented it.
"I won't run away, my lord," he breathed. "You can trust me with your life!"