Historic Boys - E. S. Brooks

Ixtlil' of Tezcuco: the Boy Cacique

(Afterward King of Tezcuco, the last of the ruling Aztec princes.)
[A.D. 1515.]

A dusky courier, fleet-footed and wary-eyed, dashed swiftly along the road-way that, three spear-lengths wide, spanned the green plain and led from the royal city to the Palace of the Hill, the wonderful rural retreat of the good 'Hualpilli, the 'tzin or lord of Tezcuco. Through the sculptured gate-way he sped, past the terraced gardens and the five hundred porphyry steps, past the three reservoirs of the Marble Women, past the Winged Lion and the Rock of the Great 'Tzin to where, in the midst of a grove of giant cedars, rose the fairy-like walls of the beautiful summer palace of the king.

"At the baths," said a watchful guardsman, upon whose quilted suit of cotton mail and on whose wooden wolf's-head helmet glistened the feather badge of the 'tzin. Scarcely slackening his speed the courier turned from the palace door-way and plunged into the thick shadows of the cypress forest. He followed the course of the foaming cascade which came rushing and tumbling over the rocks through a mass of flowers and odorous shrubs, and stopped suddenly before the marble portico of an airy pavilion, where a flight of steps cut in the solid porphyry and polished like mirrors, led down to the baths of the 'tzin. For an instant the courier stood erect and motionless as a statue, then, swiftly stooping to the earth, he laid the open palm of his right hand on the ground and next raised it slowly to his head, offering with downcast eyes the scroll he had carried in the folds of his maxtlatl to the inmate of the marble pavilion—'Hualpilli the Just, the 'tzin of Tezcuco.

"From the Council?" asked the 'tzin, as he took the scroll.

"From the Council, O King," replied the courier, falling prostrate on the ground as he heard the voice of his lord.

The face of the 'tzin wore a perplexed and troubled expression as he unrolled the scroll. "Again?" he said; "Is the boy at his tricks again? How shall hot young blood be tamed for soberer duties?"

And what is it on the soft and polished surface of the maguey paper that so disturbs the worthy 'tzin? It seems a series of comic pictures painted in vivid green and red. First, a blazing sun; then a boy with a big head and a boy with a small head topped with two flags; then a misshapen-looking man with a short cloak and a long staff and above his head a plume; then a low-roofed house, a footprint under a blazing sun; and, lastly, a man sitting on the ground. What do you make of all this, as, especially privileged, you peep over the shoulder of 'Hualpilli the 'tzin, in the portico of his porphyry baths? Nothing, of course. But to the dusky king, skilled in the reading of Aztec hieroglyphics, the message from his Council is plain enough. And this is what he reads: "Most dread and mighty lord, the sun of the world! This is to inform you that the noble young cacique, Ixtlil', at the head of forty of his wild boy-followers is raiding the streets of Tezcuco, and has already assaulted and woefully distressed full four hundred of the townspeople. Hasten, then, we pray you, your royal feet, that you may see and believe our statement, lest if we may not stop the noble young cacique in this his dangerous sport, your royal city of Tezcuco shall be disturbed and overturned as if by an earthquake."

"Runs he so rudely?" said the 'tzin. "I will even see this for myself. So much of fighting mettle in a little lad must not waste itself upon those whom he may one day rule," and borne by his slaves to the villa he ordered that his litter be made ready at once. It soon awaited him, gleaming with gold and bright with green plumes. Turning with a sigh from the calm retreat he loved so much, he ascended his litter and commanded: "To the city, straight," and the trained litter-bearers were soon speeding across the green plain, bearing their lord to his royal city of Tezcuco, two leagues distant, near the shores of the great salt lake. But, ere he reached the city walls, he descended from his litter; dismissed his slaves, and, drawing over his kingly dress a tilmatli, or long purple cloak of fine cotton, he mingled with the crowd that surged through the city gate.

Meanwhile, on one of the wide and smoothly cemented streets that traversed the beautiful city of Tezcuco there was great commotion and excitement. For at the head of his amateur train-band of forty Aztec boys, Ixtlil', the young cacique, or prince, of Tezcuco, was charging in mimic fight, past palace gate-ways and low adobe  walls, across the great square of the tinguez, or market-place, and over the bridges that spanned the main canal, scattering group after group of unarmed and terrified towns-people like sheep before his boyish spears, while the older warriors laughed loud at the dangerous sport, and the staid old "uncles" or councillors of the king dared not interfere with the pranks and pleasures of this wild and unruly young son of the 'tzin, their lord and master.

Near the serpent-sculptured wall of the great teocalli, or temple to 'Huitzil' the Aztec god of war, a number of citizens, unwilling to be longer badgered and persecuted by a boy, cacique though he was, had gathered to make a stand against the rough play of the turbulent lads! Round from the great market-place, with the shrill Aztec whistle that, years after, the Spanish invaders learned to know so well, swung the corps of youthful marauders, their uniform a complete mimicry of the brave Tezcucan warriors. Gay cotton doublets, surcoats of feather-mail, bristling wolf-crests dyed with cochineal, plumes and lances, banners and devices, gleamed in the clear Mexican sunlight, and, leading all this riot, came a boy of scarce fourteen, whose panache, or head-dress, of bright green feathers denoted his royal birth as it drooped over the long black hair that covered a face of pale bronze. In his hand, he brandished a broad maquahuitl, or sharp Aztec sword made of the polished itzli  stone.

"Ho, yield ye, yield ye, slaves!" he cried; "tribute or bodies to the lords of the streets!"

"Tribute, tribute or bodies to the young cacique!" shouted his boy-followers. "Way there; way for the grandson of the Hungry-Fox!"

Their rush was irresistible, and the terrified townsfolk, repenting of their determination to stand in their own defence, when once they had caught the gleam of the maquahuitl, and faced the fierce presence of the boy cacique, turned to hurried flight beneath the walls of the great teocalli.

"What, are ye all cowards to flee from a pack of boys! Women and daughters of women are ye, and not men of proud Tezcuco!"

The taunt came from a tall and well-built man who strode into the midst of the rout. His tilmatli, or cotton cloak completely enveloped his figure, while the long staff in his hand showed him to be a traveller, a visitor probably from Tenochtitlan or distant Cholula. "Back, boys, back," he commanded, "back, I tell you and let me pass!"

The shrill war-whistle of young Ixtlil' rang out loud and clear, and his fierce young troop with a startling war-cry clattered round the daring stranger.

"Now by the fire plumes of Quetzal'!" cried the headstrong young prince, "who be ye to brave the son of the king? To me, comrades all, and down with the stranger!

The becloaked unknown backed against the stout walls of the teocalli. With an easy turn of his staff he parried the vicious sword thrust of the boy cacique and sent his polished maquahuitl  spinning through the air. Then with a swinging sweep he laid lustily about him, right and left, scattering the throng of boy soldiers until a good dozen or so lay on the cemented roadway or with aching heads scud out of range of that terrible staff. With a sudden dash the stranger grasped the young cacique's feather-cloak, and catching him by the nape of the neck shook him so roundly that the green panache  tumbled from the lad's head and his princely teeth chattered with the shock.



The timid citizens, reassured by this signal discomfiture of their boy-pests, had drawn to the aid of the stranger, but they trembled at this rough handling of the young prince, and the lad's boy-followers, still at a respectful distance from the stranger's staff, cried loudly: "Ho, rescue, rescue for Ixtlil' the cacique! Death, death to the sacrilegious slave who dares lay hand upon the son of the 'tzin!"

The wolf-casques of the king's spearmen came pouring from the market-place, pressing close behind the royal banner of Tezcuco, the golden coyatl, or winged fox. A hundred copper lance-heads, aimed for flight, pointed at the bold stranger's heart. But all unmoved he raised his staff. "He who lays hands upon the favored of the gods," he said, "must needs know when and why he does so"; then casting off the purple tilmatli  and drooping hood, that had disguised him, "Now, who shall say me nay?" he asked, and valiant spearmen, timid citizens, and bold boy-soldiers, with a startled cry of surprise, went down in the dust in abject homage before their lord and master, 'Hualpilli the Just, the 'tzin of Tezcuco."

With a loud whistle the 'tzin summoned the slaves who bore his litter. They came hurrying to his call, and soon, followed by the youthful and somewhat sobered band of boy-soldiers, wondering townsfolk, and a mass of royal spearmen, the wild young cacique accompanied his father to the great palace of the kings of Tezcuco.

Upon the map of modern Mexico you can readily find Tezcuco, now an insignificant manufacturing town, some sixteen miles northeast of the city of Mexico, near the shores of the salt lake of Tezcuco. Its adobe or mud houses shelter scarce five thousand squalid inhabitants, and of the former grandeur of the "Imperial City" of the old Aztec days there remains, as one traveller remarks, "not a wreck—not even an epitaph."

But, according to the historians of that wonderful achievement of four centuries back—the Conquest of Mexico—Tezcuco, "City of Rest," was, in the year of our story, 1515, the mighty capital of one of the most fertile and lovely sections of the old Aztec land of Anahuac, a city of over one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, and second only in population, power, and magnificence to the royal "City of the Cactus and the Rock"—Tenochtitlan, known ever to Europeans as the City of Mexico. Temples and palaces, schools and gardens, aqueducts, causeways, streets, and walls adorned and defended the beautiful "City of Rest," and so great was its culture and refinement that, as Tenochtitlan, or Mexico, was called the Venice, so Tezcuco "claimed the glory of being the Athens of the New World."

In one of the long and richly decorated arcades which led from the king's apartments to the baths and gardens of the low-walled but far-reaching palace of Tezcuco, two boys with their scorers were playing at totoloque  the day after young Ixtlil's street combat. Now totoloque  was the favorite ball-game of the Aztecs, young and old. It consisted simply of pitching balls, made of some hard and polished substance, at a mark, at long or short distances, according to the expertness of the players, the first complete score of five throws to take the prize. The game was frequently close and exciting, as was the case in this particular game in the arcades of the palace. And the brown-skinned little Tula was scoring for the cacique Ixtlil', while the young prince Cacama scored for the cacique Tecocal', the opponent of Ixtlil'. Now the prince Cacama was the eldest son of the 'tzin 'Hualpilli, and, as older brothers often will—modern ones as well as ancient—he liked to assert his authority and superiority over his younger brothers and half-brothers. For that great palace in old Tezcuco held a large family of boys and girls.

"There, Teco," the cacique Ixtlil' cried triumphantly, as the golden ball struck fair and square against the golden target; "there 's my fifth throw and the game is mine again. Oh, there is no use in your trying to pitch against the champion. So, pass over the golden quills, Cacama!"

"That will I not," exclaimed the prince Cacama. "We know enough not to trust to your scoring, and I've kept tally too. Show me the maguey, Tula."

The little girl handed the parchment to her brother. "I thought so; I thought so," he cried. "See here, Teco: she 's scored one for the time when his ball plumped into the fish-fountain, and one for the shot that knocked over my cup of chocolate! what do you say to that!

"Ixoxal; ixoxal!" exclaimed the young Teco; "then it 's not fair and the game is ours, Cacama!"

"But, Cacama," pleaded little Tula in her own behalf, "It wasn't my fault; I only put down what Ixtlil' told me to."

"Ho, Tula," cried young Teco, contemptuously; "haven't you played totoloque  enough with Ixtlil' to know how nimble he is with his score. Why, he could fool Maxtla the juggler with his eyes open. Don't give him the gold quills, Cacama. He didn't win them."

"I say I did," shouted the angry Ixtlil', snatching at the gleaming quills. "Give me the gold quills, Cacama, or I'll order up my boys and force them from you."

"Oh! will you though!" Cacama said, mockingly; "well, my valorous young captain, take my advice and don't be quite so ready with your young ruffians. Our father's councillors have reminded him of the starmen's prophecy since your frolic of yesterday, and have advised him to do what the wise men suggested when they cast your horoscope."

"And what was that?" asked the young cacique carelessly, as he tossed the golden balls in air and caught them dexterously.

"Why, to take your life at once," replied the prince Cacama; "lest when you grow to manhood you overturn the throne of your fathers and give up Tezcuco to the strangers and to blood."

"What!" exclaimed the boy, turning quickly upon his elder brother, "the old dotards dared advise my father to take my life? And you, you, my very loving brother, stood by and let them live after such rebel words?

"And why should I not?" coolly answered Cacama. "The boy who can pitch his poor nurse into a well because she doesn't please his little lordship will not hesitate to throw a nation into strife if so the fancy takes him. The boy who tries his hand at ixoxal  in totoloque  will not stop at darker work when the prize is a throne. If the king our father were not such a believer in fate and in this fable of the return of the white god to Anahuac, my word for it you would ere this have been sacrificed to "Huitzal' as the old 'uncles' did advise."

"Cacama," burst out the young Ixtlil' now hot with bitter passion, "you are a coward tarnane! and, as for those open-mouthed councillors who would have my father take my life from me—from me, the Cacique Ixtlil'—from me, the boy captain—by the white robes of Haloc! I'll make them rue their words ere yet this day's sun cross the dome of the Smoking Hill! If I am to overturn the throne of my fathers as the lying star-men prophesied, then shall not these same babbling 'uncles' live to see the day!" And ere his brother could stop him the enraged boy flung the golden totoloque  balls into the sparkling fish-fountain, dashed through the curling clouds of incense that wreathed the wide door-way of the sculptured arcade, and breathing out threatening and slaughter against the offending gray-beards, hurried from his father's palace.

Once again terror and commotion filled the streets of Tezcuco, as, at the head of his boyish band, Ixtlil' the young cacique, bent on instant revenge, stormed the houses of the old lords of his father's council and, one after another, dragged them from their homes. The people, thronging the azoteas, or broad, flat roofs of the low-walled houses, looked down in wonder and dismay upon this strangest of sights—six gray and honorable "uncles" or councillors of the king, bound neck to neck by the "manacles," or poles with leathern yokes, and driven through the city streets by a band of forty boys.

Young Ixtlil's vengeance was sharp and sudden. Ere night fell upon the city the dreadful garrote—the strangling stick and cord—plied by the boy executioners had done its dreadful work, and the six offending councillors lay dead in the tinguez, by the order of the fierce boy whom they had offended. And only when the last gray head had fallen a victim to boyish wrath did the stupor of surprise that had held the people give place to action. Then the bowmen of the king swept down upon the boy's brigade, and overcoming all resistance, took the young leader captive and dragged him for speedy sentence before his father, 'Hualpilli the 'tzin.

Ixtlil' the cacique knew what to expect. He could hope for no mercy from the king, who was called by his subjects the Wise and Just. He had committed an offence against the state that was punishable with death, and he remembered how, years before, this same wise and just king, his father, had condemned his eldest son to death for breaking the laws of the realm. But with the same Indian stoicism that marked the Aztec, as it did the less cultivated Algonquin and Sioux, the boy went, unresistingly, to meet his fate.



The 'tzin 'Hualpilli sat upon the "King's Tribunal" in his great hall of judgment. A gorgeous feather canopy emblazoned with the royal arms of the lords of Tezcuco hung above his head, and, seated thus, he gave audience to subjects and embassies, and sent out his fleet runners with royal dispatches to his governors and vassal rulers. Turning his head as he heard in the outer court a sudden and great commotion, his face grew troubled and anxious as he saw the cause of the tumult to be his favorite son, Ixtlil', bound, and in the hands of his officers of justice. For, spite of the lad's wild ways, the good 'tzin loved this unruly young cacique, and saw in his excesses and troublesome pranks the promise of a courage that might make him, in the years to come, a stalwart soldier and defender of the throne of his fathers. But justice must take its course and 'Hualpilli the 'tzin was called the Wise and Just.

"What charge bring you against this lad?" he asked, as captive and captors prostrated themselves before the "King's Tribunal." And when he had heard the details of the terrible crime of the young cacique he simply demanded of his son, "Are these things so?" and the boy boldly answered, "Yes, my Lord the King."

Then the face of the 'tzin grew stern and sombre. Rising, he said: "This is now no prank of an idle boy. It is a crime against the state and against the gods who rule the state. Lead him to the 'Tribunal of the Gods,'" and, attended by fourteen of his lords of highest rank, the king walked solemnly to where, across the great judgment-hall, another throne, called "the Tibunal of the Gods," faced "the King's Tribunal." It was the seat from which sentence of death was pronounced, and was a marvellous creation. Above a throne of pure gold was suspended a great feather canopy of many and brilliant hues, from the centre of which gleamed a blazing sun, made all of gold and jewels. Rich hangings of rare and colored fans, looped up with rings of gold and embroidered with many strange devices, lined the walls of the alcove which held the awful throne. Before the throne, high on a heap of weapons of war, shields and quivers and bows and arrows, rested a human skull, circled by an emerald crown and topped with a crest of feathered plumes and jewels.

Placing the triple crown of Tezcuco upon his head and taking in his hand the golden arrow of judgment, the 'tzin said to his son: "Ixtlil-o-chitl, cacique of Tezcuco, I charge you in the presence of the arrow and the skull to say, if you can, why sentence of death should not now be spoken against you for this, your wicked deed."

And the boy cacique, first prostrating himself before "the Tribunal of the Gods," rose and said: "O most dread Lord, my father and my king, I have in this matter done no more than is my right as a cacique of Tezcuco and as your son. For you have ever told me that to prepare for the life of a soldier is the best and noblest work befitting a son of Tezcuco and of Anahuac. You have said that this ambition was the only one worthy a cacique who, as I am, is the son and grandson of mighty kings. You have told me that a soldier is justified in defending his life, for that his life belongs to the state, and, more than this, that the life of a royal prince is doubly the state's. These your councillors, whom I have justly punished, have sought to turn your affection from me, your son, and only because I wished to prepare for a soldier's life, and to train my band of boys to deeds of daring and to love of war. They sought to take away my life, and I have acted but as you, my king and father, did counsel me. If they have suffered death, then have they only obtained what they had intended for me. I struck before they could seize the chance to strike at me—even as in totoloque, O King most Just and Wise, the game was rightly mine, because my score was reached the quickest and my aim was surest."

And the old Tezcucan chronicler says that "the king found much force in these reasons." Removing his crown from his head and dropping the arrow of judgment from his hand, he stepped down from "the Tribunal of the Gods," and, taking his son's hand, said: "Hear, people of Tezcuco! I cannot, in justice or in right, sentence this lad for what was not malice, but simply the overflow of a boy's daring spirit—a spirit that may in after years do great deeds in your defence and for the state's security," and so with a lecture and a stern warning "not to do so again," the boy culprit was set free—an unjust and far too lenient judgment it seems to us at this distance for so foul a deed.

Years passed away. The words of the good 'tzin proved true enough, as the boy cacique grew to be so dashing and daring a warrior that, before the age of seventeen, he had won for himself the rank and insignia of a valorous and trusted captain in the armies of Tezcuco. Still the years passed, and now 'Hualpilli the 'tzin, the Wise and Just, was dead. Amid great pomp and the sacrifice of three hundred slaves his body was cremated on a funeral pile, rich in jewels and incense and precious stuffs, and his royal dust, sealed in a golden urn, was placed in the great teocalli, or temple of 'Huitzel. His sons, Cacama and Ixtlil' both claimed the throne of Tezcuco, and as in duty bound laid the question for settlement before Montezuma, the lord and sovereign of all Anahuac. The Mexican emperor decided in favor of the elder brother, and hot with rage and wrath the defeated Ixtlil' withdrew to his little mountain princedom among the Cordilleras, biding his time for revenge. For the vindictive spirit of the boy, you see, never disciplined, increased with his years. The day for revenge arrived all too soon, for in the year 1519 came the Conquest. The Spaniards, first hailed as gods by the Aztecs, because of their fair skins, their "canoes with wings," their armor, their horses, and their artillery, conquered the country, laid waste the fair cities of the lakes and the valley, and, with iron heel, stamped out the last vestiges of Aztec civilization—"a civilization that," as one historian says, "might have instructed Europe."

And foremost in this work of destruction and of death stood Ixtlilochitl of Tezcuco, a traitor to his home-land, the vassal and the ally of Cortez the Spaniard. The prophecies of the "star-men" and the warnings of his father's councillors were fulfilled. He "united with the enemies of his country and helped to overturn its institutions and its religion."

Raised to the vacant throne of his father by the sword of Cortez ere yet he was twenty years old, Ixtlil' the cacique reigned for years as the last king of Tezcuco, and, converted to Christianity, was baptized under the Spanish name of Don Fernando, by which he was ever afterward known. Through all the dreadful days of Spanish conquest and Aztec patriotism he remained the firm friend and ally of the conquerors of his native land. For nearly a hundred years, in the grimy little chapel of St. Francis in the city of Tezcuco, the bones of these two friends lay side by side—Spaniard and Aztec, Cortez the conqueror and Ixtlil' the vassal, the once fierce and vindictive boy cacique of Tezcuco, who, wayward and hot-tempered as a lad, became the recreant as a man. Out of his hatred for Montezuma and for the brother who had supplanted him, Ixtlil', the last of the Aztec princes, turned his sword against the brave and beautiful land that had given him birth, thus achieving, says Prescott, the brilliant historian of the conquest, "the melancholy glory of having contributed more than any other chieftain of Anahuac to rivet the chains of the white man round the necks of his countrymen."