The servant’s hands passed the oils through Huemac’s hair with the usual tense delicacy. Huemac struggled to keep his impatience a secret to his waiting staff. Finally finished, another servant placed a luxurious robe over the lord’s shoulders, soon followed by a headpiece of pressed gold squares. Huemac stood and adjusted the robe around him. He felt eager, too eager to bother with all the formalities of stately dress. It was night outside and the messenger from Momotzli had told him that his guests had arrived some time ago. However, as eager as he was, he wouldn’t dare show it to his waiting captive.
Waving his servants away Huemac walked from his dressing room towards the hall where everyone waited. Ahead of him he could hear his runners shouting his approach, moving anyone careless enough to be in the way. Huemac felt his heart begin to purr like an animal as he continued on his way. Stopping just outside the entrance to the hall the lord of the city was joined by the High Priest, Momotzli.
“Are you well my lord...?” the priest asked.
“Of course.” Huemac tightened up, guessing some kind of anxiety was leaking out from somewhere within himself. “Have you seen them?”
Huemac nodded, finding himself standing idle as he waited for Momotzli to go inside. After a small moment the High Priest silently acquiesced and turned to enter the hall. Huemac followed behind with his head raised high and chest full. He took his seat beside Zyanya, who was gazing endlessly above her. As the lord took his seat the young queen regarded him with a lazy smile.
“How much longer must we wait for the High Priest’s surprise? It’s getting late... my lord.”
Huemac ignored her. “You,” he called to a servant. “I am ready, bring them.” As the servant ran to the other end of the hall Huemac felt his hands become clammy and moist. The answers to his suffering were behind those doors at the end of the hall. He called to Momotzli, “Stand here, I wish to share this with my High Priest.” Momotzli stood between the seats of Huemac and Zyanya. The young queen only shrugged and propped her head on her hands in wait.
The fires in the hall had never appeared so bright to Huemac as the door at the entrance opened. The shadows on the walls waved in honour of Yaotl as the giant of a man stepped forward, skin still dirty with travel. Behind the warrior trailed a limping and sorry looking prisoner whose head was isolated above the wooden noose around his neck. Necalli looked a sorry state. Huemac could still remember the formerly honourable warrior standing tall at the front of battle. But now he seemed like a man broken by a life of useless living -a life away from the luxury of sacrifice to the gods.
Yaotl finally stood before the throne of lord Huemac and bowed deeply. “My lord... “ he then turned to the High Priest, “Father. I have done as required and brought the betrayer.” Yaotl silently stepped aside and let the throne room look at the captured man.
“And where is the child?” Huemac anxiously asked.
A servant came forward, carrying something wrapped in cloth. Kneeling before the throne he presented Tenoch. Huemac at last truly felt the destiny of the moment. He turned to his priest, “Is this truly the son of Necalli...?”
Momotzli stepped forward, taking Tenoch from the servant. The High Priest inspected the boy like livestock, turning him over with callous hand and eye. “This is my brother’s son - Tenoch.” The High Priest handed the boy back to the servant with little compassion.
Huemac turned to Zyanya, but his young wife seemed unable to remove her eyes from Tenoch’s twisted body. “This boy is why you are without child, and why this city still lives in fear of the empire,” the excited ruler said. “Have you ever seen anything like it...?”
Zyanya for once seemed lost for words, “Is that child in pain...?”
Huemac laughed, “Child? This cursed boy is older than you! I don’t know if he is in pain, and I don’t care – don’t ask such silly questions.” Standing from his throne Huemac walked past Tenoch with only a sneer, pausing before the captured Necalli. “It has truly been a long time. Tell me why you broke our agreement... why you saw fit to break the covenant that kept us safe, that protected us...? Tell me, was she worth it? Were her breasts that irresistible?”
Necalli looked up at the lord from behind a bruised and swollen eye, and gave a bloody and toothless grin. “If I must tell you the truth... they were simply the best pair I ever laid eyes on – perfect!”
Huemac felt like he could have laughed, and admired that even after so much, Necalli still had a sense of humour. “I was always very fond of you Necalli, but now you’ve put my city at risk. The people must have an heir.”
“Well maybe if you were more fond of women than you were of me there wouldn’t be a problem... I mean your young bride over there looks desperate for a good pounding...” Necalli was interrupted by Huemac’s hand striking across his mouth.
“Don’t test my kindness!”
Slowly recovering from the blow, Necalli met Huemac in the eye, “Then I will test your honour. Let Tenoch go. I offer myself in his place, after all it was my blade that started this.”
Momotzli interjected as suddenly as a clap of thunder, “It is not a question of honour - it is about what is right! You began this curse, and you caused it to continue with your weakness. Tenoch is the result. It is his blood that Huitzilopochtli will drink.”
“Huitzilopochtli drinks nothing but your fear,” Necalli sneered.
“And do you not fear Huitzilopochtli? Have you lost so much of your sense in these long years?” Momotzli scowled as though he could have bitten his brother’s face off.
Necalli calmly showed off his toothless smile, “You will understand that whatever happens will happen. There is only the will of Teotl. Nothing to fear, it is just something to accept.”
Momotzli grabbed his brother by the hair, dragging his face up to his, “Then will you accept that your son will be sacrificed? His blood let to flow for Huitzilopochtli’s contentment! Will you accept that you have consigned me to turning blood? Or this city to be without heir? Because I would not – I could not!” Momotzli looked as though he was about to do more, but after a moment of ration threw his brother’s head back. “I would long to hurt you, like the way you have hurt me, and the people of this city. But I have grown beyond rage... Tenoch will be prepared and sacrificed. This our way, the way of our ancestors and the way the gods have decreed for us. I will say no more.”
The hall fell slowly silent as the High Priest’s words finished their last echoes. Huemac stepped forward again, unsure of what he might say, but keen to have the last word before ordering Necalli to be taken away. It was then that the hall was interrupted with a calamitous servant stumbling his way forward. He brought with him a mortal urgency and a distant reverberation of painful cries.
“What is the meaning of this?” Huemac hissed.
The servant tripped and rolled further forward, obviously in discomfort as he clutched his stomach. Before he could get any closer, Yaotl sprung forward to put a stop to his advance. The servant immediately cried in pain. “My lord... my lord! He demands his brother and father...”
“Who?” Huemac glared a blank hole into the wounded servants face.
“He never said his name... he arrived not long ago... we asked him to leave... but he attacked us. Too many of the warriors have gone with the captives, we couldn’t call for help.”
“How many did he bring?” Huemac asked, erroneously letting his anxiety show. Would the empire have brought an army so soon? – if so there would be no way he could mobilise his troops. “Yaotl, ready what men you have, call anyone old enough to bear sword. It seems the Emperor has finally decided to remove me.”
“Wait...” the servant groaned. “There is no army. There is only a boy... a possessed child...!”
Without even the time to react Huemac found himself being shoved backwards by Yaotl. The hall grew into a melting pot of noise as the sound of conflict busted its way through along with its crimson colour. Breastplates and weapons were smashed, and men fell to the floor mingled with limbs and mortal screams.
Warriors backed into the hall, defending themselves from vicious sword swings. The storm at the front of the attack had no face. It glared through a mask of drying blood as it moved with the sole purpose of killing. Huemac watched in horror as the defending warriors were cut down in mere moments, the last shooting blood across the hall as his jugular was smashed open.
There was no calm in the eye of the storm as its gaze fell on the shocked ruler. It came forward suddenly as if to remove the head of the snake. Yaotl sprung almost from nowhere to halt the attack. Huemac looked around to find Momotzli had already ushered Zyanya and the cursed child to the rear of the hall. The sword clashes grew closer as Huemac turned to see Yaotl on the back foot. It was astonishing – the blood stained intruder fought as though he were twice the size of the giant warrior. Huemac barely had time to think if the renowned warrior would survive, before he came to another realisation.
Pulling the chin of Necalli up, he pressed his dagger against the captured man’s throat. “Stop!” The lord bellowed. “Stop or I will carve this man’s throat out!”
There was one last almighty clash of swords before the intruder stepped back, his fearsome aura broken by the look of concern under the blood stained facade. And it was through the dried blood and raging eyes that lord Huemac could see this sudden intruder was only barely a man in age. Pressing the dagger deep enough to break the skin on Necalli’s throat, Huemac demanded, “Boy, speak your name and your reason for intruding into my palace and rendering your life forfeit?”
The boy stepped away from Yaotl, taking brazen strides towards Huemac, only halting when the Emperor’s vassal tightened his grip on the dagger to Necalli’s throat. The boy spoke without even a blink. “My name is Itzli. And you have my father and brother. Return them to me or – “
“Enough!” Huemac snapped. “You have no place to make demands of me. You are the son of a deserter, a traitor. Your once glorious family name is now only carried by your uncle, my High Priest, Momotzli. How dare you attack me and my people, and for this man...?” Huemac pressed the dagger deeper against Necalli. “Do you even know what he has done to me, and your uncle, this father of yours? You would not have known that this city has been devoid of heir, while your uncle has been given the curse of foul blood. Your father broke the agreement that kept us in health. He knew the consequences.”
A party of thirteen warriors at last arrived in full battle garb, stepping over their dead and dying comrades to surround Itzli. The giant Yaotl was handed a club, and with it stood between Huemac and the wild boy. “And what are these consequences?” The boy growled. “For my brother to be sacrificed, my father murdered? Because I make a covenant with you here, Huemac – I will see you made the lord of piss and shit in Mitclan if that ever comes to be.”
Huemac laughed and drew his dagger back, poising himself to delve the blade into Necalli. The boy tried to surge, but now surrounded, he was held. Yaotl swung the broad end of his club deep into Itzli’s gut. “Bind him,” Huemac ordered.
While being suppressed by Yaotl’s violent swings, the boy was finally subdued. Huemac smiled as he brought the boy’s father before him. Taking his dagger, and without a moment of hesitation he peeled Necalli’s ear off the side of his head. Both father and son screamed as though their pain was shared.
Huemac let the traitor Necalli fall awkwardly back on his bound arms, while he knelt before the viciously lashing youth, Itzli. “Your words are hollow. Your life, like your brother and father’s are now mine. You may not fear me, but you will fear what I am capable of.”