Part 7 - Forward

Just beyond the rabble of huts directly outside the city the ground underfoot firmed up considerably. It gave the right level of bounce and resistance for Itzli to sprint at his best. The trees closed in around him but it didn’t slow his advance. He moved over the massive roots and through the pillar-like trees - an animal of the forest itself.  He was being careless, and he knew, even a blind man would be able to follow his trail. But there was no time for caution on this. He had to use speed to his advantage and put as much distance between himself and his uncle’s men as possible. They wouldn’t waste time following him. 
Yet if there was one thing Itzli was more cautious of than any other, it was the creeping sun. He struggled to track it as the canopy above him hid and distorted its light. He knew very well that his success in reaching the lands of the north were dependant on him being faster than the ball of fire above him. 
The forest ahead of him was interrupted by a stream. Oddly there was no break in the trees – if anything they seemed even more closely bunched, as though the woods were being compressed into a giant bush. He didn’t want to stop, but he needed water. He had been running for some time - the last glance of the sun he had seen placed him at mid-afternoon. He was making good progress, but if he wanted to maintain the pace he would need to break. 
He splashed his way into the stream, falling to his knees and dousing his skin in its cool water. Itzli measured his breaths, trying to recover as quickly as possible. The breeze that twisted through the trees helped. It carried with it the sound of laughter, which Itzli could only assume came from someone further up the stream. Itzli scooped a handful of water into his mouth before calling out, “Hello! Can you hear me? I travel north, are you familiar with the way?” 
His voice disappeared into the trees, and he was met with only more soft laughter floating on the wind.  He didn’t call again. Slowly backing up, Itzli made to leave the stream. Scooping one last handful of water he raised it to his lips and nearly sipped the horrible black liquid that was now in his hands. Startled the young warrior threw it to the groundBefore his eyes the innocent stream now ran with foul black liquid. 
The liquid began to hiss and bubble as it swelled in volume. Whether a trick of his uncle or an act of the gods, Itzli didn’t waste time finding out. Startled into readiness he turned into the thickening woods on his course north. His thirst would have to wait.  
Without even thinking on it, he could already feel the change as the sun slowly ticked round its course. The sky had altered above him and the air had grown cooler. The approach of dusk had never been so horrific to him as it was now. 

The sun outside was easing, and the heat of the morning had lost much of its edge as the day turned into afternoon. For Momotzli the uncertainty of this whole event threatened to crumble the fragile orb at his cenrte. The High Priest took in gulps of air between his very measured words towards Huemac and princess Zyanya. He had waited until the ridiculous public display was long over and they were left to some privacy. 
“Utter foolishness! Nothing but sheer vanity and greed!” He clung to the walls under where the torches sat, absorbing the warmth like a cold blooded creature. “That boy is dangerous; you saw what he did to those men? Cut them down like shoots of wheat. Who’s to say he won’t launch another attack on the city at first night? Or disappear into the lands of one of our enemies? You underestimate the threat he poses to us.” 
Huemac was unmoved by Momotzli’s rant, and beside him the young Zyanya seemed infinitely more unimpressed. Huemac barely moved his lips as he addressed the High Priest - he had regained much of his composure since the events of the night previous, clearly held aloft by the promise of Huitzilopochtli’s favour. “Does this boy truly pose a threat to me? The same boy who kneeled before me this morning, and as we speak runs himself to exhaustion for my cause? The boy is a fool – he may as well be trying to shoot an arrow through the moon. But you and I both know that if he succeeds he would have achieved something that has claimed the lives of many men, something that has never been done before. 
 Momotzli’s reply was interrupted eagerly by Zyanya, “My lord, I don’t believe the boy poses a threat to you at all. In fact, he is only a threat to his uncle. Imagine, when the boy brings back a goddess of fertility, such as Chiconahui, imagine the grace that the god of war will bestow upon us – the glory! And I will at last carry your child. And it wouldn’t be the work of the High Priest that achieved this, but the sweat of a wild boy, ignorant to our ways. What good would the High Priest be then…? 
The girl’s words were designed only to inflame his temper. Momotzli surged from the wall in a heavy breathing lunge. Zyanya jumped in her seat, but soon relaxed into a smile. Momotzli dared not touch the wife of lord Huemac. 
Princess, what makes you so sure that this boy will succeed?” queried the High Priest.  
“What makes you so sure he will fail?” Zyanya replied confidently. 
“I’m not sure he will – that is the problem. This is more than just a matter of glory, much more is at stake.” 
“Like your reputation...” the princess chided. 
Momotzli didn’t want to entertain her comments, but she was brimming with something that looked like cunning or mischief. It unsettled him greatly. 
Denying her a response, Momotzli addressed Huemac, “We must begin preparations for Tenoch to be offered to Huitzilopochtli. He must be sacrificed as soon as the third sunset arrives, there can be no delay.” 
Huemac now seemed completely disinterested, “A true leader must realize opportunity and seize it. I can order a thousand men to search for a god to bring before as sacrifice. But why curse a thousand good men when that boy is foolish enough to wish such a fate on himself. If he has failed, then he has died. If he succeeds, he returns with the greatest offering known to man. I have no fear he will return before then. He may not fear me, or my warriors. But he most certainly fears what we can do to his loved ones. Of course, a side of me knows he will fail, that this is impossible. But regardless of what happens I will see my curse removed and the glory of Huitzilopochtli bestowed on me in three days. 
Momotzli sneered at Huemac’s arrogance, “And how did you divine such a rare gem of wisdom!” 
The stern faced ruler almost replied, before realising Momotzli’s tone. Huemac firmed his jaw, “You have 3 sunsets to prepare TenochI will send guards to watch you.” Huemac waved his hand, dismissing Momotzli from his presence. The High Priest could only accept his lord’s foolishness and make a slow and heavy shouldered retreat. As he left Huemac and his princess he could hear the sniggers of Zyanya dancing on his back.  
He had heard the women of the palace describe princess Zyanya’s laughter once as the very laughter of a goddess. But to Momotzli, as he tightly wrapped his robe around his wiry frame, the sound was an enraging torment. Leaving the horrid girl and foolish husband behind him, he made his way into the main court of Huemac’s palace where he was greeted by his son. Yaotl observed the pained look upon his father’s face and immediately asked of his health. 
Momotzli batted the question away, “Are you ready for travel? You will need five of your best men - they must be fast and they must be ready to leave now.” 
“Lord Huemac has given permission to go after the boy?” 
Momotzli swiftly clapped the giant on the side of his face. “Do not question me on this! Lord Huemac has lost his mind, and it seems I must take the action he is too foolish to understand is necessary.” 
Yaotl was not a man easily cowed, but his father was fearsome, oftentimes even more so than Lord Huemac himself. Where Huemac was easy to please with bounties of slaves, and triumphs in battle, Momotzli seemed to hold a standard that not even his son could reach. Yaotl’s father was the High Priest – and it was not easy pleasing a man who speaks to the gods. 
Momotzli pulled his son to one side, “Yaotl, our very survival is in the balance. The survival of what we hold dear to us is being threatened by the short sightedness of Huemac. And I refuse to trade one curse for another.” 
“Father wait, do you believe this boy will bring back a god? Such a thing is impossible! He will run himself to exhaustion somewhere in the mountains and die.” 
“How can my child possibly be so stupid! Nothing is impossible. Do you think I am a High Priest in name alone, that I have not seen the gods for myself? Do you believe your great power is from man and woman alone? 
“No, of course, I know, but how can that child possibly bring down a god… as strong as he is, he is still just a boy, barely a man!” 
Momotzli felt his brow knotting together and his heart thud on the inside of his chest. But this was not a time for chastisement, “Boylisten to me well. The order of belief is what holds our world together, not the gods, but order, made by man. I have seen the gods, my spirit has travelled to Aztatlan on many a night. They do not fear us, but they fear what we are becoming – masterless, wild and uncivilised. They fear that one day we will hunt them down and seek their destruction. That is why they curse us, interfere with our lives, to remind us of the order that we put in place to maintain balance. And that is what Huemac refuses to see. One day a man may kill a god to gain favour with another, how long before the gods play man against man? Then how long before man plays god against god? The world will fall into anarchy and with no one to protect our lands, we will destroy ourselves and become but slaves. 
It all seemed slightly overwhelming to Yaotl, who pondered over something for a while. “So even the mighty Huitzilopochtli has fearof men?” 
I do not know. Huitzilopochtli is a god amongst all the others. If he fears us, then he does not show it. Let us not lose sight of the task. It is time for us to protect our way of life and our lands.” 
Yaotl filled himself with confidence, “Then I shall protect them. I will gather my finest hunters. We will find Itzli and cut him down.” 
The words brought a smile to Momotzli’s face. He had tried to explain to Yaotl without going into too much detail, but it seemed at any extend the gravity of the situation was somewhat lost on the giant. However, it was not Yaotl’s understanding that Momotzli required, but his willing. “My son, I am truly proud to be your father. You must bring Itzli down at the soonest. While he was imprisoned here I sent message to some of my men along the northern check points to hold any lone travellers. But I doubt their skill. That is why you must go, and ensure that he becomes a feast for the maggots.”  
Yaotl grinned and clasped his father’s shoulder. Momotzli nodded firmly, and with that Yaotl went off to gather his men. At last the feeling of uncertainty began to recede, much like the sun above. The first sunset was approaching. The illness of his curse meant that the winds passed through him well enough to chill his bones, even in relatively warm seasons like this. As the day was cooling off, Momotzli clutched his robe tightly about his shoulders, before returning to his quarters.  
As he went by, he just caught a glimpse of the last servant girl of princess Zyanya’s entourage quickly slipping away. He imprecated the outspoken brat under his breath as he carried on his way. He had no time for the trivial schemes of that little girl. 

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