The day dawned clear and bright on the city: as the Fifth Sun emerged from His night journey, He was welcomed by the drumrolls and conch-blasts of His priests – a noise that reverberated in my small house until it seemed to fill my lungs. I rolled to my feet from my sleeping mat, and made my daily offerings of blood – both to Tonatiuth the Fifth Sun, and to my patron Lord Death, the Fleshless One, ruler of the underworld.
This done, I put on a simple grey cloak, and headed to my temple – more for the sake of form, for I suspected I wouldn’t remain there long, not if the army were indeed coming back today.
As I walked, I felt the slight resistance to the air, the familiar nausea in my gut – a feeling that everything wasn’t quite right, that there was a gaping hole beneath the layers of reality that undercut the Fifth World. I’d been living with it for over three months, ever since the previous Revered Speaker had died. His successor, Tizoc-tzin, had been crowned leader of the Mexica Empire; but a Revered Speaker wasn’t confirmed in the sight of the gods until his successful coronation war.
Today, I guessed, was the day I found out if the hole would ever close.
The Sacred Precinct, the religious heart of Tenochtitlan, was already bustling even at this early hour: groups of novice priests were sweeping the courtyards of the temple complexes; pilgrims, from noblemen in magnificent cloaks to peasants in loincloths, brought offerings of incense and bloodstained grass-balls; and the murmur of the crowd, from dozens of low-voiced conversations, enfolded me like a mother’s arms. But there was something more in the air – a tautness in the faces of the pilgrims, a palpable atmosphere of expectation shared by the cotton-draped matrons and the priests with blood-matted hair.
The Temple for the Dead was but a short distance from my house, at the northern end of the Sacred Precinct. It was a low, sprawling complex with a pyramid shrine at its centre, from which the smoke of copal incense was already rising like a prayer to the Heavens. I wasn’t surprised to find my second-in-command, Ichtaca, in deep conversation with another man in a light-blue cloak embroidered with seashells and frogs, and a headdress of heron feathers: Acamapichtli, High Priest of the Storm Lord. Together with Quenami, High Priest of the Mexica patron god Southern Hummingbird, we formed the religious head of the Empire. I didn’t get on with Quenami, who was arrogant and condescending – and as to Acamapichtli… Not that I liked him any more than Quenami, but we’d reached an uneasy understanding the year before.
Master of the House of Darts / Aliette de Bodard
Interview with Aliette de Bodard at The Faster Times