tenochititlan

Tenochititlan
Tenochititlan

A sound of the pronunciation of Tenochititlan [teh-noh-cheeteet-lahn], the Aztec capital. The name is thought to mean “Among the prickly pears [growing among] rocks”, but this is contested.  It was situated on an island on lake Texcoco and served as the home of the Mexica, where Mexico inherited it’s name. It’s ruins are where Mexico city was built.

Tierra Firma

A/N: This is the first of many asides that are from Spain’s point of view.

Spain ordered for certain things to be brought to his chambers immediately. He had work to do. Although he had triumphed over The Aztec Empire, he was not yet done.  He needed this land to be his, completely and officially. The shimmering, extravagant capital city had made it clear that there was wealth here. If he could control this land, Spain could be richer than any other country in Europe, richer than he ever dreamed possible. He, the discarded bastard son of Rome, would no longer be a collection of warring kingdom; he would be an empire of his own. He now held everything he needed to establish that dominance in the form of a young boy.

Aztec’s son had cried against him as they had left Tenochititlan, but the tears had dried quickly, leaving only dry shudders in their place. Apparently exhausted by the grief, he had fallen asleep. Spain’s heart had fluttered as the child wrapped his tiny arms around his neck instinctively for comfort. Something paternal that Spain had not thought himself capable of stirred deep within.

For a while, the child had been peaceful. He had awoken on the ship once Spain had already ordered it to set sail. Spain was glad that the boy had been asleep when they had rowed out to the ship, otherwise it would have been hard to get an irrational child onto the row boats when he had never left his city before. Spain doubted that the child had ever been on a seafaring vessel before, and explaining that the sea would not swallow him whole would not be easy with no language in common.  He wouldn’t understand this was for the best. This was much easier with the possibility of escape back to the savage jungle gone.

But now the boy, who did not yet have a proper Christian name, was awake and had decided to sit in the corner of the room. His silent stare communicated a mix of emotions. His gold eyes looked as though they were attempting anger, but were still too lost in sadness and fear. A meek knock on the door of the cabin, and Spain knew that at least one of the items he had asked for had been brought to him.

He opened the door to a timid young Mayan girl, who would serve as translator. It was impossible to communicate with the child, since he spoke no Spanish and Spain knew nothing of the savage tongue.  He immediately instructed her, “Talk to him. Ask him why he is looking at me like that.” It was really not necessary that Spain get an answer. He already knew what emotions must be warring in the child’s mind. He was grieving for his mother. He was leaving his homeland behind. Both were weighing heavily on him and Spain knew it. Likely, the feelings would be paralyzing for a while.

The translator girl kneeled down and bowed her head to the boy in a gesture that seemed reserved for royalty before speaking in the Aztec language. Spain could feel himself growing impatient waiting for the answer. He reminded himself that this was the only translator he had and he could not kill her, even if her service was annoyingly slow. But he wished that he could simply speak to the boy.

He watched as the boy responded to her, but he could only guess at the meaning of the words. It was maddening to be so reliant on another person. Finally, she turned back to him and said, “He wants to know where he is and how soon he can go home.” The question seemed to be strange. Spain had thought he had made it clear that there was no possibility of Mexica going back to that strange city with its towering pyramids and long causeways. But, he had to remember how young and sheltered the boy was. He could not possibly understand that his past was receding away with the shoreline. There was only one way to make it perfectly clear.

Spain turned to the door of his cabin and said to the translator, “Make sure he follows me. I have to show him something.” He assumed that she communicated his message to the boy, and he opened the door to the cabin. He charted a quick path to the upper decks, certain that this was the only way to make his point clearly. Spain stopped only momentarily to look behind him to make sure that he was being followed. Once he was certain that he was, he walked all the way to the railing of the ship.

Once there, he turned again and waited as patiently as he could for the boy to reach him. He reminded himself again that the child was young and could not keep up with a full grown man. Well, as much of a man as Spain could be at the age of 18. He had only recently come to terms with the idea that he was a fully fledged country. Especially with his brother surpassing him in all exploration. But, this conquest would change all of that.

The child finally stopped right next to Spain and looked up at him. Spain made sure to look straight at the translator before pointing out across the waves and saying, “You came from there. But, that is not home anymore.” He turned sharply on his heel and pointed the other direction, “That is where we are going. My home lies beyond this ocean in Madrid.” He used the name of the city even though he knew it would mean nothing to the boy. He might as well start getting the boy used to the sound of the word.

Mexica was looking up at Spain with wide, wondering eyes. The sunlight played off the gold shards in his eyes, making his eyes seem even wider. There was something entrancing, Spain noted, about how the color in the boy’s eyes shifted to reflect his emotions. It was the same eye color as Aztec, but in the child it didn’t remind Spain of a feral cat.

Mexica spoke slowly and the curiosity in the words was clear across the language barrier. When he stopped speaking, the translator said, “He wants to know how this is possible.” Spain smiled to himself. To a European country, there would be no wonder in sailing. But, this child looked so impressed that it was hard not to smile at it.
With a slight laugh in his voice, Spain said, “We’re on a boat, it allows us to travel over the ocean. Explain that to him.”

The girl looked at him with confusion and said, attempting to explain, “We don’t have words for that, sir. I don’t know what to say to him.” Spain sighed. He didn’t need this frustration, especially with Mexica expecting an answer from him.
He said, employing the most commanding tone he could, “If you cannot explain, then what do I need you for?”

If he was still wearing a sword, he would have put his hand on the pommel to make his threat clearer. She clearly understood, her eyes filling with terror. She quickly said, “I will try to find other words.”

She then kneeled down next to Mexica, made the same gesture of respect, and then spoke again to him. Spain watched as she attempted to convey how sailing worked with a few words and her hands. But, the expression on the boy’s face indicated that she was making very little sense. Spain sighed again before saying, “Stop, you’re only confusing him.”

Spain glanced around, looking for a better way to explain. His eyes lighted upon the provisions that were kept on deck for the crew while they worked. The hard biscuits would serve well enough for an example. He walked over and grabbed one before returning to his newest colony, who was now making a charmingly haughty face. How typical, Spain mused, for the heir to an empire. In a man, the expression would have been impudent, but on such a small child it was actually amusing. With time, Spain could train out that pride. The child would learn to be a colony with time, just as Hispaniola and Cuba had. For now, Spain didn’t need to correct it.

Spain drew a knife to start working on his demonstration. Mexica’s face immediately flashed fear and he put both of his hands over his stomach, which seemed like a strange response to the appearance of a knife. But, Spain felt a small twinge of guilt at the look of fear on the child’s face.

He quickly carved the biscuit into the shape of a little boat. It was rudimentary, but it would at least show the way that a hull could float in water. It would not show how a boat could be steered, but that was not the important point. Once he was done making a crude boat, Spain put the knife away as to not scare the boy. He didn’t mind using fear to keep other colonies in line, but he didn’t want this one to fear him for reasons he couldn’t quite explain. The paternal feeling that had stirred earlier was telling him to be gentler, at least with this one.

He turned on the mortal girl again, “Make sure he follows me.” If this demonstration was to be successful, then he needed to have an audience. Spain walked over to a barrel of water kept on deck, and pulled open the top. This would only take a few minutes and then everything would be put back in place by mortals. Then, Spain looked behind him to see if he was indeed being followed and it appeared the boy had understood to follow without any translation. Spain wondered idly how long this would last. Surely when the child became more comfortable, he would drift away.

But, for now, he was going to continue with his plan. He placed the impromptu boat in the water before turning back to Mexica. He was far too small to be able to see the surface of the water himself without any help. Spain knew that the biscuit was hard enough that it would not dissolve in water if left there for at least another ten minutes. Without a qualm, Spain kneeled down and offered his hands to Mexica, who considered him with suspicion for a second. Considering the righteous destruction Spanish soldiers had inflicted on the Aztecs, Spain could understand the hesitation. But, it would be easier to not force him quite yet. It was not in Spain’s nature to be patient, but for this instance he could.

Slowly, he saw curiosity overtake caution. Mexica let himself be picked up, but the look on his face showed that he was not yet placing trust in his conquerer. This, Spain noted, was something he would have to improve on. Either he harnessed the fear, or build trust. Trust would be harder, but more permanent.

Just to stabilize himself, the boy put his arm on Spain’s shoulder. The Spaniard felt the same warm feeling rise in his chest, making him smile in spite of himself. It took him a moment to remember why he had picked the boy up at all. There was something so perfect about having this weight in his arms that felt right. He looked at the young boy and realized that the child was looking at the model boat with the same wide eyed wonder and a sweet, innocent smile. It was so perfect, so pure. Spain found himself continuing to stare at that smile, entranced by the innocence in it.

How could this boy be the child of a woman who offered the hearts of her enemies to the gods? He had none of his mother’s savagery, perhaps his nature was inherited from his father. To further amuse the boy, Spain gave the little boat a slight push. As it moved, the Mexica’s smile widened as he understood. Spain felt himself cheered by the other’s excitement.

But, the moment shifted as further understanding dawned on Mexica and his face beyond to fall. The beautiful excitement was replaced with something akin to horror. He turned and looked back at the sea, back to where he had come from. His eyes glazed over, as though he was trying and failing to see lands that were now far away. Mexica reached out his hand towards the shore that he could no longer see. The corners of his eyes began to fill with tears again. And it began again, the mourning.

Spain wished he would smile again, the look had been so endearing. He used the hand that wasn’t holding the child to take hold of the outstretched hand. He folded it gently against the boy’s chest. Those expressive eyes turned to Spain again, this time both questioning and hurt. The child didn’t speak any Spanish, but Spain didn’t need any language to understand the emotion.

It was best that Mexica didn’t know the truth about his mother’s death or this grief could turn to hate. It was best that he thought small pox was the culprit. Spain put his hand to the boy’s face, trying to express comfort without words. It was all he could do for now; once the boy learned his language everything would be easier.

For a moment, they looked directly at each other and understanding passed between them. But, there was still that undeniable sadness in the depths of the Aztec boy’s eyes. Spain realized that there was a mortal standing nearby, look at him with an impatience that was only restrained by discipline. It was only proper to allow him to deliver whatever message he had been tasked with. Spain turned to the mortal and said,  “What is it?”

The man, apparently relieved to finally be acknowledged, replied, “The things you requested have been brought to your cabin.” Spain simply nodded to show that he understood. Then he looked around, realizing how lost in the moment he had been. The translator was looking at him with an expression of shock, as though he was committing the worst of heresies. Was it really so taboo to treat Aztec royalty the way he was doing? Was this boy’s flesh really so sacred to her? Well, when she was educated by a priest she would realize her folly.

But, Spain’s own men were also looking at him with a strange confusion. Instead of confronting any of the looks mortals were throwing at him, he resolutely turned and carried the boy back below the deck. He knew that the translator  would have to follow, or fear consequences for her uselessness. Once they reached the cabin, Spain finally put Mexica down. The child had been surprisingly peaceful in the Spaniard’s arms. The lightness when he left also felt strange to Spain. Spain shook off any thought that he was doing something wrong and turned to the tub he had ordered.

It was important that he began to civilize the child as soon as he could. Instituting a standard for dress and hygiene was the first step. He had done this before with every other colony. Spain took the pitcher that had been brought to fill the tub. The water was not hot, but it was as warm as could be expected on a ship. As the water splashed into the tub, Mexica looked at it with an expression of confusion. Surely it was not the concept of bathing that escaped him; Spain had noted how almost unnaturally clean the Aztecs had been. Perhaps it was only the idea of doing so in a tub instead of the river.

Still, Spain didn’t have time to wait. He spoke to the translator again, “Do whatever you have to to convince him to get in the tub.” Then he returned to his own concerns. Was it best to baptize the child now, or wait until he could understand some part of the latin? The longer he went without a baptism, the more peril his soul was in. There wasn’t a reason to delay, but it would have more meaning if the child had some understanding of the church. Spain decided that he would sleep on it and decide in the morning. It would be easy once he decided, since his personal chaplain was on hand for his own confessions.

For now, he would concentrate on the physical rather than the spiritual. When he looked again, Mexica had somehow been coerced into the tub. He was shivering slightly in the lukewarm water. There was something precious about it, this boy stripped of his regalia, made completely human. He did not look like a strange gilded and feathered creature. He was like any other child, but his round face seemed, if possible, even sweeter. His shaking made him seem all the more fragile. Again, Spain wondered how this child could be born of a woman so unnatural? They seemed to share none of the same traits.

Spain kneeled for the second time that day and reached for a cloth, which he dipped in the water. Then, he reached for Mexica, but the boy pulled away. Distrust flashed across his eyes again. The only way to show that Spain wasn’t going to hurt him was simply to start. Thankfully, Mexica couldn’t flee too far from him. Spain touched the cloth to the dark skin and the child winced, but it became clear almost immediately that the cloth was not a threat.

With an almost comical ruffled pride, Mexica allowed Spain to run the cloth over his body. There was admittedly little grime for Spain to get rid of, but he preferred to think that he was washing away all traces of barbarism and creating a clean slate on which he could create a perfect colony.

He noticed as he ran the cloth over the boy’s chest that there was a black band around his arm. He immediately turned his ministrations to it, hoping the remove the pattern from the skin. But, the band did not react to the water or the pressure of the cloth. Spain dare not press too hard in case he hurt the boy. But, the dark pattern would not yield. Spain had seen truly permanent marks on skin in envoys from deep, black Africa. But, he had never imagined someone would place dye permanently in the flesh of a child so young. But, this acted like no paint he knew. For now, Spain had to let it stand.

There was one aspect that did require immediate attention. Spain stood up and walked around the tub so that he was behind Mexica. Then, he kneeled down and, as carefully as he could, took a handful of the boy’s long black hair. It felt like black silk in his hand, and for a moment the thought of sparing it crossed his mind. But, no civilized colony could have hair that rivaled most girls. Spain would grant no exceptions. He drew his knife and cut straight through the hair.

A few strands of black hair escaped his hand and swung forward around the boy’s face. But, they would soon be dealt with. First, Spain put the hair he had already cut on the floor. Then, he took his knife to the pieces that had attempted to escape. As he cut away the curtains of black hair, he realized that there were more markings across the child’s back. These were in the shape of a stylized eagle. Spain resisted the temptation to run his fingers over it.
It was a mercy that the boy had stopped moving, even shivering. His stillness made it easier to cut his hair and shape it into something that looked decent. Spain would let a proper barber fix his mistakes when they reached Madrid. For now, the important work was done. He sheathed his knife, and the sound of metal sliding into a scabbard seemed to serve as a trigger for the boy. His little shoulders began to heave again as sobs echoed from his chest.

Spain sighed again and prayed that God would grant him the patience for this. But, each of these bouts of melancholy only affirmed Spain’s decision to lie about his mother’s death. The boy was an innocent and would likely crumble under the knowledge that he was in the care of the man responsible for his mother’s death. It had been a necessary death though; the woman had been beyond hope of saving. For now, the lie was also necessary. Perhaps in the future Spain would be able to tell him the truth, but that would have to come in time. If he needed to maintain the lie forever, he would.

To remedy the sobs, he grabbed a towel and offered it to the boy. Mexica’s eyes were filled with pain again as he looked at Spain, but he stepped out of the tub into the towel anyway. Had he not seen joy and light in those eyes, Spain might not have believed that it existed.

He had had clothing already made for the boy and left on the bed in the chamber. Figuring that it may be better for Mexica to be with his own kind, Spain swiftly instructed the translator, “Make sure he gets dressed. I will return soon.” He closed the door quietly behind him, and finally allowed himself to take a calming breath. He was not used to these emotional changes. Mexica could go from being curious to sobbing far too quickly.

Spain could not remember himself ever mourning for Rome’s abandonment like that. The nearest he had come was sobbing over the death of Queen Isabella. She was as close to a mother as he had, and when she died it had been hard. But, he had been a teenager. Now, he wondered what it would have been like to lose her before he was able to stand on his own.

A voice pulled him out of his thoughts, “I’m sorry if this is impudent, sir. But, what are you doing?” 
Spain looked up to see Cortes standing directly in front of him. He responded with a voice that resonated authority, “What do you mean?”
The mortal didn’t mince words as he fixed his dark eyes on Spain and said, “Why are you keeping that savage boy?” 

Spain caught the implication and immediately bristled at it. He had killed many, but the idea of killing a child was beyond repulsive. He gritted his teeth and said, “I don’t expect you to understand the ways of my kind. As long as I have that child, I have the right to all his mother’s wealth.”

Cortes showed his usual brashness when he quickly replied, “If that’s the only way, then keep him under lock and key. Do not parade him around in front of the men. Do not treat him so kindly.”

Spain scoffed. He had been nothing to favor the boy; certainly not anything he had not done with the others. He said, slowly, “I am not treating him any differently than any of the others and I have yet to have a problem.”
 He didn’t want to discuss this with a mortal, especially because something about this conversation was unnerving. But the man did not relent, “With all due respect, sir, they were sparsely inhabited islands. I would not expect them to resist. This one is different. You fought his mother. With that blood in his veins, there is no chance he will submit to your rule.”

Spain shook his head, refusing to cave to such logic. He could not fear a child, especially not this boy who had such sweet moments. He had his rebuttal ready, “He is just a child. He is not capable of that kind of will.”

This time the mortal scoffed and the sound was both a breech of discipline and a strong dismissal, “I may not completely understand your kind, but I know this: Children grow.”

The country ran one hand through his hair out of frustration. He wanted nothing more than for this conversation to be over. He did not want to listen to these words. He responded with as much tact as he could, “I will teach him. In a hundred years, he will be unrecognizable as her son.”

This he expected to be the end of the conversation, as he had laid out his entire plan. He intended to civilize Mexica as New Spain and use the income to expand his influence in Europe. For once, they would all be forced to respect Spain. He would no longer be the half-Muslim outcast, nor would be forced to grovel to his brother.

Cortes did not allow the conversation to end though. He said, “With time that boy will become the image of his mother. Better to get rid of the threat now.” 
The feeling of disease finally took shape and rose to Spain’s lips. He knew now why this conversation had felt so wrong. He said, his voice taking on a strangely sinister tone, “If the Moors had followed the same logic, my Roman blood would have sealed my fate and neither of us would be standing here now. If that is all, I have a colony to attend to.”

He left the mortal standing there, but he heard one more question, “Was Rome your father?”
Spain looked back for only a moment to say, “Ferdinand of Aragon was the only father I needed.”

Then, unencumbered by any other awkward conversations, Spain returned to his cabin. When he reached the door, he realized that the Mayan girl was standing outside. He ignored her though; he was done with her services for now. He entered the room, where only a few candles were lit.

Apparently, the girl had only done half of her job. Mexica was curled up asleep on Spain’s bed with the white linen shirt balled up in his arms, as though he had been holding onto it for comfort. It was still early in the night, but the trauma of the past few days must have been enough to exhaust a young boy.

Spain didn’t feel particularly tired, but he lied down next to the boy on the bed anyway. He contemplated his young colony. Without curtains of hair obscuring it, it was clear that his face had an angelic beauty. In the peace of sleep, he looked like a dark skinned cherub. The savage patterns on his arm did not ruin the picture of serenity.

Certain that the boy was deep enough in sleep to not notice, Spain put his hand on Mexica’s cheek. That almost paternal feeling stirred in him again. Perhaps he had lied to Cortes; this one was different, even special. As he ran his thumb over the skin of the boy’s cheek, he whispered, hoping the words would find their words into the boy’s dreams, “You are going to make me very rich, Nueva España. I will teach you everything I know and you will be my greatest possession.”

The idea lighted on his mind, he would baptize the boy tomorrow and give him a proper Christian name. The name was already formed in his mind. This proud, fascinating little boy would be named after the great hero of Greek antiquity. Spain smiled to himself, the name of a general and a conqueror would fit him. He would be Alexander.

For a reason he could not quite place, putting that matter to rest quieted Spain’s mind. He leaned forward and kissed Mexica on the forehead, and brushed back small bits of black hair that were still too long. In his heart, Spain knew that this would all turn out well. He felt it in his very soul.