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




Montezuma's Audience

Three days had gone by, and now Coyotl and Amotl and his men were but a day's march away from Azcapozalco where Montezuma was collecting together his army from all parts of the kingdom.

Twice since that evening of the banquet which Fluid had cynically given the man he had robbed, Amotl's company had stayed in or near army garrisons, and there amid the bustle and excitement of preparations for war, the little boy had learned more about his country than he had during many long quiet days in the cool schoolrooms of the temple in Mexico City.

Anahuac was allied by thin ties of promises and mutual benefit, with two strong powers to the north. Now one was in rebellion, and the other likely to follow suit. If they broke away from alliances with Anahuac, the country to the south would turn against Montezuma too, and all the fine scientific, agricultural, and scholarly civilization that had been built up in the years of peace would go down. Captures would be made, and the captives would he carried away in slavery, to labor for another land, or to be sacrificed to the grim gods of war.

Because of the war, the courts had not taken long to hear Amotl's case, and to restore him his goods, as well as a percentage of Huitl's grain, as recompense for the disturbance to him, and to the families of the men who had been killed in the fight on the road.

The court had sat, in a nearby town, and had listened to the evidence for both sides, even though Huitl had escaped Montezuma's soldiers the night of the banquet, after his treason was discovered. His family, according to Aztec custom, sent a representative to the court for him.

The judge, in his feathered robes, had heard the testimony of Amotl and of a representative of Huitl. Coyotl had been asked to tell his story of everything that had happened.

A black line was drawn through his portrait by the magistrate, and Huitl's family wept and buried his clothes, considering him as one already dead. Even the court, held out in the shining sunlight, in midday, had interested the boy. The garrisons, and the soldiers, and the look of their bright cloaks and banners as they marched away to join Montezuma to the south, caught his fancy and stirred his strong natural patriotism.

But now he was sad, for tomorrow they would be in Azcapozalco, and there Amotl had said he would be sold. Sold to some other master, taken who knows where, made to do who knows what unpleasant and dull duties. His heart was heavy as they set out, at dawn, on the last march.

Amotl sat in his litter, silent and tired. He had not wanted to go on this journey in the first place. But Montezuma had commanded. Montezuma had not known how soon the flames of war would appear, red and menacing, behind the smoke he had sniffed when he sent Amotl out toward the north, to search out traitors under cover of selling tortoise-shell and feather-work.

Coyotl trudged behind, among the men. He loved Amotl, but Amotl was severe, and Coyotl knew that he would not be persuaded to change his plan. Coyotl knew he would be sold at Azcapozalco.

"Boy, your sandal .. . ."

One of the men pointed down at Coyotl's feet.

The knots of his sandal thongs had come undone, and had fallen behind, somewhere on the road. His sandal flapped uncomfortably, and then came off altogether.

"I shall have to go barefoot," said Coyotl, and unconsciously he flinched a little, for the road stretched long and hot ahead under the glaring blue sky.

"What is this?" Amotl leaned out of his litter, and looked back at them.

"It is my sandal," said Coyotl. "The thongs wore through, and I have lost them."

"You will ride with me in my litter," decided Amotl, and he ordered his bearers to stop. Coyotl shyly took his seat at one end, being sure to leave enough room for Amotl to loll comfortably as he had before.

Amotl said nothing to the boy, as the miles slipped away behind them—miles of dark golden-tan plain, touched with the blue spots of maguey, rimmed in the distance with the purply-blue hills. Yet Coyotl was happy, and little by little he built a small castle of hope in his heart—hope that Amotl might keep him, after all.

But near sunset, the walls and. house-tops of Azcapozalco came into view, and outside the city a detachment of Montezuma's soldiers came marching, pennants and banners flying in the breeze that lifts just as night falls. Along the walls the fires began to burn, and even the moon as it rose, seemed colored red like the war cloaks of the army.

The soldiers stopped Amotl's party, and asked for the leader.

"I am he," called Amotl, and he commanded his bearers to lower the litter so that he might descend.

"Are you Amotl the merchant?"

"Yes."

"The Emperor, Montezuma, awaits you in the city. Follow us."

"Shall I get out now?" asked Coyotl in a small voice.

"No," said Amotl, and laid his hand kindly on the boy's arm. "I want you to come with me."

So it was that Coyotl really saw Montezuma.

Montezuma was waiting for Amotl in the inner room of the central temple. The room was scantily furnished, but a little fire burned in a rock basin, and the benches were covered with thick and lovely feather robes.

Montezuma was dressed in his war clothes—quilted cotton vests and leggings, and a thick cloak. Around his head he had tied a cotton band of red. His gold and feathered helmet lay to one side—too heavy to wear indoors.

Amotl bowed deeply, but Montezuma raised him almost immediately. Coyotl remained on the floor, his forehead on the ground, and he was trembling with pride and with awe to be in the presence of the great emperor of the Aztecs.

"Let the boy rise," said a deep voice, and as Coyotl rose he looked into the dark, worried, but kind eyes of his King.

Amotl said, "You know all—the attack upon us—the treachery of the noble Huitl, who had evaded taxes, and who was a leader of rebellion . . .?"

"Yes."

"I have little else to tell you, except that preparations for war go fast. Huitl's fate must have frightened any others who swayed between loyalty and treachery. I think there is nothing to fear until you reach the border."

"We will conquer at the border," said Montezuma fiercely. "The gods have promised victory. They have promised that our alliance will hold, and that we will remain a sovereign state for many years to come. Until we shall be swept away forever. . . . But that I shall not live to see."

Amotl spoke then.

"Majesty, I crave pardon for bringing into your presence my slave. . . ."

"Your slave?"

"Yes. But he has done you services. It was he who escaped from the fighting and ran back to the post house with the message of your courier, and he who by sending help saved me and my men. And it was also he who discovered the proof of Huitl's treachery."

Montezuma looked hard into Coyotl's face.

Montezuma

'I SAY THAT HE IS A SLAVE NO LONGER.'


"This boy is no slave. He is of good blood. And his deeds are good. Let him be free. I say that he is a slave no longer."

Coyotl fell on his knees and tried to stammer his thanks and his pride. And yet sobs rose in his throat and made talking difficult.

Montezuma put out his hand, took the boy by the arm, and drew him near. "Why this?" he asked kindly and wonderingly.

"Amotl is a great man," breathed Coyotl thickly. "I would like to serve him. But he meant to sell me anyway."

"I say you shall not serve any man but me," said Montezuma.

Here Amotl cleared his throat, and shifted his weight from foot to foot embarrassedly.

"The boy is young to go into war, sire."

"Ah. You are interested in him, then? Had you plans for him then, other than selling him?"

"I am a stern man, Majesty. I believe in discipline, and this boy had broken discipline twice at the temple school. That is why they gave him to me. I told him I would sell him, and I meant to keep my word. But I had arranged that a proxy buy him for me, and then free him. I am an old man now, and I do not wish to marry again. I would like a young son. I was going to adopt him."

Coyotl seized Amotl's hand and pressed it against his forehead.

"He is now free," said Montezuma. "And if you acknowledge him before me as your adopted son, it is enough. I am the law."

"Before you, I acknowledge this boy, and he shall be my son," said Amotl, and he raised the boy and clasped him fondly.

"I will be a good son," said Coyotl, and he meant it, for his heart was bursting with gratitude and pride and happiness.