The Rise of the Aztecs, Part XII, The New Emperor

7 April 2014

Ten years after the fall of the Tepanec Empire saw the Triple Alliance evolving rapidly, growing by leaps and bounds, with Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan, the partners of the famous alliance, cooperating readily when needed, while maintaining their city-states’ independence, developing each into its own direction.

Texcoco, the Acolhua Capital, flourished, growing into what our modern-day historians sometimes tend to call “The Athens of the Western World”; the refined, influential city-state, famous for its extensive collection of arts, huge library, cultivation of artists and “people of culture”.

Anahuac

Nezahualcoyotl himself was reported to be a renowned engineer, poet, lawmaker, credited with many personally feats of engineering, from the wonders of his “summer palace” in Texcotzingo – a dry hill completely transformed by stone aqueducts carrying fresh water to nourish huge botanical gardens, complex of palaces, baths, temples, and other wonders of engineering ; to designing of Tenochtitlan’s dike, a huge project of levee that separated the brackish waters of Texcoco Lake from the spring-fed drinkable ones, keeping the frequent flooding of the island-city in check as well.

Tlacopan, the representative of the defeated Tepanecs, kept quiet and docile, satisfied with its smaller role of a junior partner, participating in the alliance’s wars, not put out with its smaller share of the spoils (one fifth of the tribute went to Tlacopan as opposed to the two fifths the Mexicas and the Acolhua received).

Tenochtitlan, the leading partner of the Triple Alliance, flourished more than the others! Their drive to move forward, not curbed by hostile powers or overlords anymore, burst unrestrained, pushing the island-city up the regional map, unstoppable now.

Lead by energetic forceful leaders like Tlacaelel, Tenochtitlan blossomed from the mediocre city-state into a true capital, bursting with building projects aplenty, owner of growing collection of provinces, coping well with its newly gained status and the flow of tribute and manpower.

Anahuac

Tlacaelel’s extensive reforms, social, financial and religious ones, while probably angering some influential people, made this quick transformation possible. For some reason, this prominent, undoubtedly very powerful and outstanding man, had preferred to rule behind the scenes, as he retained his powerful position of the second most influential man of Tenochtitlan until the end of his life, for many more decades to come, serving as the Head Adviser to three emperors in succession, pushing his reforms and making sure his laws remained solid and unwavering, to support the world of clear Mexica domination he was busy ensuring. The Empire of his creation was to spread and hold on for nearly another century, shattered by the Spanish invasion in 1521 and the lethal diseases they brought along. But for the outbreak of small pox that, reportedly, wiped out up to ninety percent of Tenochtitlan’s population alone, the history of the Americas might have looked different today.

An excerpt from “Below the Highlands”, The Triple Alliance Trilogy, book #3

Tlacaelel is working hard to keep our relationship with the towns of the Highlands at peace.” Their hostess seemed to be trying to divert the conversation in safer directions. “He is a great friend of your father and your emperor. As long as he is in power, nothing will ruin our altepetls’ relationship.”

“The Highlands are not looking for trouble. If something happens, it will not be their fault.”

Coatl felt the lightness of his mood evaporating. What would he do if something happened and a war broke? What would Father do? And his brother?

“Tlacaelel will not let anything happen,” repeated his woman stubbornly, her amusement gone. “There will be no war between Huexotzinco and Tenochtitlan, or Texcoco.”

“He has enemies,” said Citlalli quietly. “I hear people talk, in Tlacopan and here. He makes many changes, creates new laws, pushes on radical reforms. Even the priests are angry with him for promoting one new god above the other old ones. Many are unhappy with his way of doing things.”

“Those are the things that need to be done,” cried out their hostess, obviously having a hard time restraining herself from jumping to her feet. “He creates a new world, because the old one is not good anymore. It cannot evolve without radical changes, and people should be grateful for all the work he does instead of criticizing his every step, looking through eyes clouded with jealousy and their own small prejudices. They cannot see beyond the tips of their noses, while he sees to enormous distances, like an eagle.” Her cheeks burning with red again, she glared at them, obviously upset. “He is working so hard, giving everything he has for the future of this altepetl. While all they can do is criticize and lament the passing of the good old times, and the old ways of doing things. Hearing them, one can think it was so very good for Tenochtitlan to exist under Tezozomoc’s crushing paw.”

Coatl glanced at Citlalli, trying to warn her not to argue.

“The Adviser is not always right,” said the girl mildly, ignoring his stare. “He is changing too many things, and he doesn’t have respect for the old ways.”

“But the old ways are not good enough! Can’t you see it?” exclaimed Tlacaelel’s woman. “Mexica people can’t be powerful or important as long as they behave like a small island. Tenochtitlan can’t be ruled by the council of the districts’ elders. It is not practical anymore.”

The Aztecs and the Atlatl

5 April 2014

I’m honored to present a guest post from , Spanish Bilingual Interpreter at American Translators Association, an expert on Mesoamerica and its various pre-contact nations and cultures.

The Aztecs and the Atlatl

As they fought their way across Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, Cortez and his Spaniards were harassed by showers of arrows and light spears. So heavy was the hail of weapons that one of the chronicles says “…the Mexicas furiously hurled their javelins. It was as if a layer of yellow cane was spread over the Spaniards…”

What the chronicle described as “javelins” were actually light spears thrown with a weapon new to the Europeans. A stick the length of a man’s arm, with a grip at one end and a hook to engage the spear at the other, these spear throwers were called atlatl in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and their neighbors.

Most of our understanding of Aztec warfare comes from the chronicles of the Spanish and the documents written by the Aztec and their neighbors after they had been conquered. Like any other expanding power, the Aztec Empire engaged in wars of conquest, supported an elite class of noble warriors, and sent expeditions against neighboring states.

War was aimed at expansion, but at the same time it was also full of high drama and religious ritual. Elite warriors gained glory by capturing opponents for sacrifice, so hand weapons and close combat were emphasized.

The atlatl was an ancient and important weapon in the Americas when the Spanish arrived. Although different forms of atlatl were invented sometime in the Upper Paleolithic Ice Ages in both the Old and New Worlds, they had been replaced by bows and arrows in most places.

In modern times atlatl survived in a few places such as Australia, where the bow never arrived, and alongside the bow and arrow in the Arctic and parts of Latin America. In Europe and much of North America we know them only through archaeological finds.

The leverage of the long atlatl allowed a thrower to fling a light spear much farther and faster than by hand alone. Tipped with a sharp point of obsidian, bone, or hardened wood, these spears (usually called darts by atlatlists today) were dangerous weapons. It is frequently claimed that they would have penetrated metal armor.

This is not true, but most of the Spaniards would have worn lighter chain mail or leather and padded cotton armor similar to that of the Aztecs, and Garcilaso de la Vega, a veteran of Indian fights in Peru and Florida, complained that atlatl darts would pass clear through a man.

Nevertheless, we know a lot about atlatl, or spear throwers as they are also called. In a few recent societies, atlatl remained in use long enough to be observed by modern anthropologists.

The best known examples are some of the Inuit (Eskimo) groups in the Arctic, and the native peoples of Australia. Since modern guns have become available everywhere, there are now very few people who continue to use atlatls for hunting or because they wish to hold onto traditional ways.

The deity entwined with a snake on the British Museum atlatl could be Huitzilopochtli, a warrior deity, or Mixcoatl, a hunter god from the north, or one of several other gods in the complicated Aztec religion.

Although the Spanish explorers who met Aztecs and others using atlatls mentioned the weapons in their chronicles, their accounts of these unfamiliar weapons are brief and often unclear.

The atlatl itself was also an important symbol of warfare and magical power. Most of the important Aztec gods were sometimes shown holding atlatls or darts. Zelia Nuttall, who wrote the first important study of Mesoamerican atlatls, noted that atlatls are often shown with snake designs or associated with serpents.

Atlatls were also elaborately decorated with feathers, and associated with birds of prey, not too surprising for a weapon that threw a deadly feathered dart.

In any case, the few atlatls that survive from the Aztec and their neighbors are highly decorated.

The British Museum specimen is probably one of the gifts sent back to the king of Spain by Cortez, which then were passed around the royal houses of Europe. It is elaborately carved, and gorgeously gilded, a work of art fit for tribute to a king, or the weapon of a noble warrior. It is, however, perfectly usable, and we should not be surprised that fine weapons, symbols of power and religious war, were richly decorated. It seems likely that simpler models were used by most warriors, but we don’t know.

Major battles had apparently begun with a barrage of arrows and atlatl darts, before the warriors closed with macuahuitls – wooden swords edged with razor-sharp obsidian. It is quite likely that Aztec warfare was rather similar to the medieval warfare of contemporary Europe where noble knights fought hand to hand with swords and won glory and ransom, but peasant archers with bows and cross bows did most of the damage and actually decided the outcome of battles.

For the original post and more information, you are invited to visit Andres Michel Amezcua’s Facebook page

The Rise of the Aztecs, Part XI, The Triple Alliance

13 March 2014

After Azcapotzalco, the Tepanec Capital, and other important Tepanecs towns fell, the Mexica-Aztecs and the Acolhua people found themselves with a new challenge to face, this time of creating and not destroying.

Their independence achieved, or almost achieved, as the Acolhua were yet to re-conquer Texcoco, their capital, new dilemmas and questions were born. What will the new world look like now, with the Tepanec domination gone, subdued, squashed into insignificance?

A question both leading conquerors, Tlacaelel and Nezahualcoyotl, faced differently.

After storming Azcapotzalco, Nezahualcoyotl and his Acolhua and the Highlander allies stayed for long enough to conquer the city of Coyoacan, where Maxtla, the last Tepanec emperor, fled, having left his own capital for the invaders to sack. But the moment the cowardly ruler was executed, they hurried back home, crossing the Lake Texcoco, seemingly uninterested in inheriting the fallen Tepanec Empire for themselves.

The Highlanders headed for their mountains, to enjoy the fruits of the successful campaign, while Nezahualcoyotl went to re-conquer his Capital, altepetl of Texcoco, and reorganize its old provinces, disrupted by the long years of the Tepanec domination.

In the meanwhile, Tlacaelel had different goals. Somebody had to take care of the wreaked Tepanec Empire, and in his opinion, his Mexica Aztecs were the perfect candidate to do that.

So, instead of heading back for his island-city, to enjoy the tribute-free existence, he led his warriors on, to subdue towns and altepetls who might have not understood the nature of the changes as yet.

One such, altepetl of Xochimilco, presented a challenge, their strategy of not offering battle but blocking every access to the city not working, not against the fierce Mexica.

By the time the victorious Mexica finally headed home, Tenochtitlan was beginning to enjoy a flow of tribute. Not something out of the ordinary, but it was a beginning.

Tlacaelel intended not only inherit their previous overlords’ realm. His plans reached farther and wider than the visions of anyone else. He intended his people to evolved into true power, true greatness.

The Tepanecs were sloppy, he would say again and again. They conquered, intimidating their neighbors into obedience, but they didn’t bother to manage those whom they subjugated. Their tribute system was sporadic, robbing some out of existence, taking next to nothing from others, distributing conquered cities among their allies with no pattern and no sense.

This was no way to run an empire, he would say, staring at the distance, or sometimes smiling at her, challenging her to ask questions. A tribute system should be well-organized, leaving the conquered to prosper enough to produce this tribute and to be content, but not enough to think silly thoughts of rebellion. Take the altepetl, change its ruler, put a tamed person who would be accountable to you, the conqueror, and then leave it be. Don’t force the regular people, the minor nobility and the commoners, to give up on their way of life. Leave them content, well-fed and well-clothed, to go on with their lives, enriching themselves and you, the conqueror, producing the tribute, contributing to the might of your empire. Oh, how wise he was!

In the meanwhile, the Acolhua reclaimed Texcoco and many of their old subjected provinces. So in 1431, Nezahualcoyotl was finally able to assume what was taken from him and his father more than ten years ago by the conquering Tepanecs – the throne of Texcoco.

His coronation was reported to be a grand event, attended by many neighboring powers, Mexica Aztecs included. The close contacts between the two powerful altepetls remained as it was – a strong bond.

Which actually caused some discord among the old Acolhua nobility. There were those who did not forget the first Tepanec War, when the Aztecs helped the Tepanecs conquer Texcoco. Some of the influential Acolhua neither forgot not forgave. Thus close to his coronation, Nezahualcoyotl might have faced his first crisis as a ruler.

An excerpt from “The Sword”, The Triple Alliance Trilogy, book #2

He stood her gaze, suppressing a shrug.

“And yet, a further cooperation, a true alliance and friendship, will benefit both our people. You should let the past rest.”

“My people will do better alone, with no cooperation of the people led by a ruler they cannot trust,” she said stubbornly, her eyes blazing. “Many important people are sharing this opinion of mine, and there will be more of these soon. My brother will be made to listen.”

“Neither your brother nor your husband will do anything to change their policies.”

“You may be surprised.”

Something in the way she said it made his skin prickle. She was up to something. He knew it now. Something more tangible than a pure hatred and a desperate wish to sway Coyotl to her side. The ruler of Texcoco was a pleasant man of great manners, but he was not a person to have his policies dictated to him. If Tlacaelel might have had any doubts before the battle of Azcapotzalco and Coyoacan, he had learned what the well-mannered Acolhua was made of.

A pure marble, very hard, even if beautifully polished, pleasant to deal with, but impossible to break. Nezahualcoyotl would not be told what to do, neither by the influential Texcocans nor by his favorite sister.

As to his Chief Warlord, this woman could move the Smoking Mountain of the Highlands sooner than she would make her husband betray his most trusted friend. He was not a man anxious to please his women to that extent, letting them tell him what to do. He would sooner send her packing. Unless…

He watched the beautiful face, trying to find a clue. What devilment do you have planned, or maybe have already done? he thought. He had better set his spies in this palace to work at once.

“I wish we could reach an agreement,” he said, non-committal, anxious to escape, to think it all over. She would not yield any more information, he knew. She had told him too much already. He had seen it in her eyes, suddenly worried, guarded, apprehensive.

“I hope so too.” A reserved nod of the royal head and she headed toward the closest cluster of mats, her maids trailing behind, ready to serve her refreshments or find a scroll the mistress may wish to read.”

Historical fiction and the true rise of Tenochtitlan

4 March 2014

I am happy to announce the release of another new book

Below the Highlands

The remnants of the 13 years of his reign, Itzcoatl, the fourth Mexica-Aztec emperor, spent on the attempts to inherit as many of the former Tepanec provinces as he could, making it clear to every neighboring town or city-state who the next rising power of the region would be.

The Acolhua were busy reestablishing their old territories and influences, but the Mexica-Aztecs had no such claims of the past. Only the bright future to look up to. They were the rising power, and they made sure everyone understood that.

With the troubles on the immediate borders settled, the allies turned their eye to the greater distances. The fertile lands of Cuauhnahuac and its surroundings in the south were reported to be a mutual enterprise, with the Mexica and the Acolhua, and their junior Tepanec partners of Tlacopan, acting in tandem, conquering side by side, sharing the spoils and the tribute, leaving a little to their junior partners of Tlacopan to pick.

“I speak for myself and for myself alone,” she said, her gaze wary but firm, not wavering, not dropping. “I do have eyes and ears and a mind to think, and what I see is a blatant inequality.”

Nervously, she licked her lips, but went on, her words coming in a rush.

“They fought alongside the Mexica warriors in Cuauhnahuac. They sent the required amount of forces, and they did everything you and your warriors did. Yet, they now receive only one fifth of the tribute coming from these lands. Why? Have our warriors not fought as bravely as yours? Are our efforts not as valuable as those of the Mexica or the Acolhua people?”

Indeed, the Triple Alliance shared its spoils in not an entirely equal way.

Two fifths of the collected tribute went to Tenochtitlan, located most conveniently between its two allies, in a position to hold the balance of power carefully and wisely, and in the way that put Tenochtitlan in a leading place.

Two fifths went to Texcoco, the aristocratic Acolhua capital, back in power but as always in a refined, reserved manner.

The last fifth went to Tlacopan, an equal partner of the Triple Alliance but only in name. The Tepanecs were defeated, and even though Tlacopan made a wise choice by joining the winning side in time, they were not in a position to demand full equality.

Tlacaelel’s hand came up, stopping the words of protest that were forming upon the girl’s stubbornly pressed lips.

“Tlacopan could not be the equal companion in the Mexica and Acolhua partnership. It will never be a full-time partner in our Triple Alliance. The Tepanecs have lost, young princess. Your husband’s father made the best out of the situation, but in the new world, the Mexica are the leaders, the rulers, the dominant power. The Mexica and the Acolhua,” he added, not sounding convincing for some reason.

Itzcoatl died at 1440, a relatively old man. His mark on Tenochtitlan, and the entire Mexican Valley’s history, was significant, impossible to underplay. Thirteen years that shone on his rule brought the Mexica island-city from an insignificant status of a small vassal city of the Tepanec Empire to a prominent place of a great altepetl, an owner of vast provinces and influence, growing richer and more powerful with each passing moon, feared and respected by every local power, even the distant lands over the Eastern Highlands.

Tenochtitlan mourned the passing of its liberator from the Tepanec yoke, but afraid they were not. Tlacaelel, cihuacoatl, the Head Adviser, the man who had actually conquered Azcapotzalco and other Tepanec city states, the man who had architected these critical changes, was still alive, relatively young and full of power.

True to his word, he declined the offer to became the next emperor, casting his considerable influence behind a candidate of his choosing, his half-brother, Moctezuma Ilhuicamina.

In the Aztec Capital, Tlacaelel, the Head Adviser, is busy reshaping the island-city to fit its rapidly changing status from a regular city-state to a true capital, an owner of provinces and tributaries. The old system is not working anymore, but Tlacaelel’s radical reforms and changes anger influential people, from priests to elders of districts, those whose power is dwindling due to his reforms.

During a ballgame being held between Texcoco and Mexica teams to celebrate the upcoming winter festival—a fierce competition that will add much honor to the winning city-state—one of the players, Coatl, a promising warrior, the Texcoco Warlord’s son, is prepared to do anything in order to win. What he was not prepared for was becoming entangled in a political intrigue that starts while he is busy chasing a pretty girl, with the unexpected arrival of his twin brother complicating matters even further.

An excerpt from “Below the Highlands”, The Triple Alliance Trilogy, book #3

“Good answer.”

The Adviser grinned, then picked up a piece of tortilla soaked in the meat juices. “Our people will not war with each other as long as great leaders like Nezahualcoyotl and your Father are leading Texcoco.”

“And as long as Tenochtitlan is led by great people like you and your emperor,” said Coatl politely, believing in his words.

“Yes, that too.” The man nodded affably. “I hope your emperor decides to join the war against Chalco altepetl. You will enjoy this campaign. It would be the first great-scale war for you, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, yes.” Eager to attack his plate, he forced his thoughts off the tantalizing aroma. “Father wants to join this war. He was advocating our full-time involvement. I hope the emperor listens.”

“Why wouldn’t he?”

He concentrated under the penetrating gaze, not sure how much of what he knew he could relate here, in the Mexica Palace.

“Our emperor does want to fight along with his allies, but he wishes to know more detail before he commits his warriors and their leaders.”

“Well, he would not be required to join us with his eyes blindfolded.” Tlacaelel shrugged, reaching for an exquisite goblet full of clear water. “We would never expect our most esteemed allies to follow us like a subjected nation would.”

“But you would require that from the other less highly esteemed ally of yours.” Citlalli’s voice rang loudly, startling them all. She had been so quiet in her corner, they had forgotten her existence.

The Adviser pressed his lips, while the mistress of these rooms frowned in distress.

“All our allies are highly esteemed and respected, young lady.” Tlacaelel toyed with his cup, his face losing much of its previous mirth. “I don’t think Tlacopan has anything to complain about. It has been treated with an utmost fairness, all things considered.”

“What is there to consider?” Not taken aback by the barely concealed reprimand, Citlalli straightened her shoulders, her yellow eyes sparkling, bringing back the girl Coatl grew up with. It didn’t suit her to be all ladylike, he thought, unsettled by her outburst, but amused at the same time. The Head Adviser would be better off to not engage in this particular battle. “Tlacopan is supposed to be a full-time partner in the Triple Alliance, but it’s treated in exactly the opposite way. It is anything but an equal ally, never consulted or apprised of the plans the way the Acolhua Capital is.”

The Rise of the Iroquois Part III, Haudenosaunee, the People of the Longhouse

27 February 2014

With the People of the Flint (Mohawks) firmly behind him, the Great Peacemaker could now begin implementing his plans full time.

First the National Council of his current hosts has to be organized, to be conducted in the way of the town councils, with its representatives being nominated by the Clan Mothers, promptly replaced should the chosen man be noticed neglecting his duties.

Next, the neighboring nation, the People of the Standing Stone (Oneida) was to be approached. Surprisingly, the People of the Standing Stone gave the Peacemaker no trouble, joining the union promptly and with great excitement. In a matter of a few gatherings the old enmity of long moons and summers was forgotten, to be replaced by a brotherhood and a firm agreement. The laws of the Peacemaker’s constitution were strong and uncompromising.

Yet, not every nation received the message of the Good Tidings of Peace with enthusiasm. The Onondaga People were still unheeding, still resentful, with Hiawatha, encouraged by the Peacemaker, back and struggling, but Tadodaho proving difficult, impossible to convince, or even intimidate, into listening.

To the west, the People of the Great Swamp (Cayuga) greeted the changes most eagerly, but their neighbors, the powerful People of the Mountains (Seneca) wouldn’t hear any of it. They were divided too, with two prominent leaders agreeing but in one thing, as it seemed – in their resentment of foreigners presuming to manage their people’s affairs. To convince the People of the Mountains another miracle was needed, but by this time the Great Peacemaker seemed to be growing impatient.

So it was August 1142, when he arrived at Genesee River, a river that crossed Senecas’ lands, making a boundary between the two parts of the nation.

The gathering was called, with both leaders coming promptly, but with their minds closed to reason. The argument that ensued must have been long and tedious. Seneca people seemed to be wary of the idea of peace and mutual management alongside with the people considered their bitter enemies for long summers that passed.

And then the sun began disappearing from the sky.

The list of fulltime solar eclipses shows that, indeed, one such occurred over this area in August 1142 (and again somewhere around 1451), according to the list displayed on NASA Eclipse Website.

Whether it was the Great Peacemaker’s doing or not, upon seeing such a terrible phenomena, the People of the Mountains brought forward no more arguments. Having recovered from their fright but awed beyond reason, they joined the proposed union with no further delays.

Which left the Great Peacemaker free to deal with the Onondagas and their difficult Tadodaho.

According to many versions of the legend, the Peacemaker and Hiawatha went to see the evil sorcerer together, armed with their words and little else.

The daylight hours passed while they talked and talked, with the evil man refusing to listen. Snakes twisted in his hair, and his body was contorted, terrible to look at.

Finally, after many persuasive speeches the stubborn leader deigned to see the reason, agreeing to join the Good Tidings of Peace. At this point the Peacemaker was reported to comb the snakes out of his difficult adversary’s hair, making the twisted limbs straight again.

Whether it was that simple, or was the Peacemaker forced to bargain, offering much in exchange for a partnership and cooperation, we don’t know. The various legends say nothing about the actual terms.

What we do know is that the Onondaga People received many concessions, having gained an advanced position in the union that was to prosper for the centuries to come.

There was no inequality in the wonderfully democratic set of law proposed by the Great Peacemaker, still the Onondaga enjoyed a very prominent position, indeed, with the gathering of the Great Council being held permanently in their lands, giving them a certain measure of power while authorized to summon the Great Council’s meetings. The closing word was always to be theirs, with the Onondaga representatives being the last to sound their opinion on any issues deliberated by the council.

It was a sort of vetoing powers, but the proceeding of the council rendered that advantage useless. With the unanimous voting being required, it came to every member of the council having a power of vetoing any decision, anyway.

And so the Great Council of the Five Nations was born then and there, to survive for centuries and to give the later-day’s European newcomers their version of the modern-day USA constitution.

An excerpt from “The Great Law of Peace”, The Peacemaker Trilogy, book #3.

Unable to stop himself from doing so, Tekeni looked up, a stony fist squeezing his stomach. What started as the dark crack on the edge of the blazing sun was now a blot of ominous blackness, swallowing the shining deity like a snake devouring its prey, unhurried, sure of itself. He almost shut his eyes, his senses clinging to the familiar voice, so calm and well measured. Didn’t Two Rivers notice that something was amiss?

“You are the fifth family, the keepers of the western door. Without you, our longhouse will not be whole.”

Most people were staring at the sky now, some gaping, some pointing, murmuring, looking around, their fear unconcealed.

“It all sounds very well,” the younger leader’s voice boomed, overcoming the growing hum. “But what happens if we refuse to join? Will the Great Spirits direct you to gather the warriors of the four nations in order to force us into your union? What will you do if we refuse to guard the western door of your metaphorical longhouse?”

Two Rivers got to his feet, looking suddenly tired, almost exhausted.

“I think the Great Spirits are not trying to conceal their displeasure,” he said quietly, his jaw stubbornly tight, but his eyes clouded, thoughtful and oh-so-very sad. “Listen to this.”

Gesturing widely, he pointed toward the forest behind their backs. Not a chirp of a bird came from between the swaying trees. Even the insects kept quieter now, as though afraid of the darkness.

“What does it mean?” the people were shouting. “What is happening?”

“The Great Spirits are displeased.” Two Rivers’ voice rang calmly, but there was an obvious tension to it now.

Unable to fight the urge, Tekeni came closer, but whether to protect his friend in case someone decided to attack him, or to seek the safety beside the man who seemed to be doing all this, he didn’t know.

The cold was growing, definite now. And so were the shadows. He noticed the flowers down the clearing were closing up, as though the night were nearing.

People were rushing about, openly afraid, peering at the sky, murmuring prayers. Two Rivers stood there alone, watching the sharpening shadows, his jaw tight.

“Your dream?” whispered Tekeni, stepping into the void surrounding his friend. Even their people kept away from the Crooked Tongues man now, stealing terrified glances.

The warm palm rested on his shoulder, heavy and reassuring. “Yes. But it is going to be all right.”

The distant shadows loomed over the western side of the lake, like a gathering storm.

“What is happening?” He swallowed, hearing his own voice husky and high, full of panic. The urge to run away welled. It was obvious that the Left-Handed Twin was coming to claim their world for himself and his underworld minions and followers, the bad, poisonous uki and the giants that were still reported to roam the earth. The cry of an owl confirmed this assumption. An owl in the middle of the day?

“I don’t know,” Two Rivers’ voice shook now too, his self-assurance gone. “I wish I knew!”

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