Our Little Aztec Cousin of Long Ago - C. V. Winlow

The King's Messenger

Many days later Coyotl felt as if he had been on the road for ever. The years in the quiet, echoing halls of the temple school among the silent priests were as if they had never been. Even those few days in the flowery courtyards of Amotl's home were like a dream to him.

But the hours of tramping along the dusty roads, talking infrequently with the burden-bearers whose words grew less as the day grew later, seemed now to comprise his entire life. Not having been used to walking long distances every day, the strain on his muscles began to tell upon him, and it seemed as if must ask them to stop and wait for him.

"I just can't go on," he thought to himself. "I almost wish he had sold me at the market. And this will last for months. I would give my sandals for a drink of water."

As if in answer to his thought, the whole cavalcade came to an abrupt halt, and the men began murmuring among themselves:

"What's the matter? What's the matter?" Up and down the line there came an uneasy stream of questions.

"Is it time for chocolate?" asked Coyotl hopefully.

"It can't be. We never halt the morning march until midday," replied one of the burden-bearers, whose packs consisted of caked chocolate, one of the chief articles of food on the march. "Can't you tell by the shadows what time of day it is?"

But before Coyotl could answer, one of the leaders of the march came running back swiftly down the road toward where Coyotl stood at the end of the line. His coat streamed behind him, and his feet beat up a cloud of dust as high as his knees.

"The water carrier! The water carrier!" he shouted. "Come at once. The King's courier is dying of snakebite!"

Excitement seized every man in the train. Two of the men whose burden consisted of the water bags, always carried because the cavalcade never could definitely count on streams or springs along the way sufficient for all, ran forward, and Coyotl, forgetting all his weariness, ran after them toward the scene of the excitement, far ahead. The front of the caravan was out of sight around the slope of a hill.

Panting and burning with thirst himself, Coyotl edged and pushed his way through the men who surrounded Amotl's litter.

Amotl himself was standing over the figure of a strange man who had been laid on the cushions of the litter, and was widening a black, ugly hole in the man's bare brown leg just below the knee.

Amotl's flint-tipped dagger dripped with blood, and after a moment, to Coyotl's surprise, Amotl knelt down and set his lips to the wound, and sucked, spitting out the blood at intervals.

"Let us have the water," he gasped, and immediately some was poured into a shallow cup and offered him. He rinsed his mouth and spat out into the dust. Then, dipping the blade of his knife in fresh water, he again opened the wound.

The man in the litter lay breathing with a rasping sound, his eyes closed. He said nothing, but the occasional, involuntary twitching of his muscles, and the rapidly swelling and darkening leg, were indications enough that he was in pain.

The men standing about murmured with sympathy, and shook their heads discouragedly, as if they had no hope for the man who had been bitten.

"We found him here in the road," some one of them said under his breath to another who stood near Coyotl. "A rattlesnake. He had not stopped. The King's courier may not stop. But here he had fallen."

"What if he dies?" asked another. "What becomes of the King's message?"

"Oh, will he die?" asked Coyotl, and someone answered him, "Who knows? Amotl is trying to suck away the poison, and bring the clean blood, but it may be that we found him too late."

"If he dies," said another voice, "we can only hope that he wakens long enough to tell the message to some one of us, so that we can run with it to the next post house. The King's messages must be carried."

Coyotl suddenly remembered the small buildings they had passed a league behind, when they had come out upon the main highway. Each of those two small stone buildings had been patrolled by soldiers of Montezuma, and in one of them Amotl had rested for a few minutes, and exchanged courtesies and news with the keeper of the garrison. And they had occasionally passed the King's Couriers, running in swift relays with news for the Sovereign.

The man in the litter stirred and sat up suddenly and Amotl ordered his men to stand back. The King's courier looked at his blackened and swollen leg, and touched it with his hand. Then, without a word, suddenly and decisively, he drew out of his girdle a small roll of paper.

"I cannot go on," he said, his voice low and choked with pain. "Someone must take the message. There is war in the North."

He sank back on the litter sweating and writhing. Amotl seized the scroll and thrust it into the hand of the man beside him.

"Throw off your burden and run!" he commanded. "Stop for nothing until you come to the post house. Montezuma was afraid of war. All Anahuac will be fighting."

But before the man could unloosen the leather thongs that held his fifty-pound burden on his back, there came a wild shout from the rear.

"To arms! To arms! We are attacked!"

In a twinkling burdens were hurled on the ground. A cloud of dust rose through which Coyotl could see men dropping behind their packs, drawing out their bows and setting their arrows into them. Hasty commands were shouted. Amotl's voice rose above the others: "Don't waste your arrows! Wait until they are nearer!"

Suddenly Coyotl felt a stunning blow on his shoulder which knocked him to the ground. As he got up slowly he realized that his right arm was numb, and that he could do nothing in the defence.

He looked around for a place to hide, and saw that the man to whom Montezuma's message had been entrusted had also been hit and was lying unconscious on the ground, totally forgotten in the press of the sudden fighting. Instantly deciding to be himself the courier, he snatched the message from the wounded man's hand, and began to creep behind the packs stacked up around the litter looking for a way to make his escape.

Aztec landscape


He saw a ravine some yards distant, heavily grown with cactus and maguey, through which he hoped to gain the road back to the post house. As he ran toward it the distance seemed endless, and the dust in his nostrils made him gasp. Finally, however, he fell forward on his face in the ravine, expecting when he turned over to find a brigand above him. But as he panted in the dust, the moments went by, and he finally realized that no one had seen him.

By wriggling along on his stomach, he made some progress down the ravine. The shouts of battle were still high as he gathered courage and began, half-crouched, to run. At last he dared to stop and look back. Around the packs still swung a maze of fighting men. He watched them for a moment. Then, suddenly realizing that if he could reach the post house, he could not only deliver the message of the King's courier, as he had planned, but could also summon help, he began to run with all his might as if he had never known the weariness of an hour before. His breath came gasping and sobbing, and his throat hurt. But he stumbled on.