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

The Home of the Rich Noble

Hours later,—almost a day later—Coyotl woke in a fresh bed in a small dark room, and lay there thinking drowsily of all that happened. He could scarcely believe it, except for the arrow wound which throbbed still in his shoulder.

The frightened, terribly long, dusty run—gasping and forcing himself—back along the road they had come. At last, exhausted and thirsty and frantic, he had arrived at the post house, and the soldiers, already worried about where the king's courier might be, had carried him into the small cool room, and had given him water.

"Bandits attacked us—they are fighting—the King's Courier is dead of snakebite—his message was that there is war in the north. . . . Send help. . . ."

He didn't remember what had happened then, except that a sense of darkness and peace and comfort had enveloped him, and he had slept.

They awoke him, some time later, and he learned then that soldiers had been sent in haste along the road, and that Amotl had been rescued, and the marauders driven away. But there were dead to be buried, and Amotl's goods had been strewn along the highway. It had taken time to gather them up, and sort out the merchandise which had not been too badly damaged, and repack it.

While another courier had been dispatched along the road with the message of war for Montezuma, a second had been sent to the home of a rich noble near-by to pray that he take in the weary and wounded merchant and his men, and give them hospitality and protection until they could take the road again.

The noble had sent litters for those who were hurt, and had made them all rest at his home. It was there that Coyotl opened his eyes some twenty-four hours after these anxious moments of running wearily and wretchedly down the road toward the post house.

Coyotl sat up and tried to look around him. It was dark where he lay, but the bright yellow streaks of sunlight glinting in through the cracks, and dancing with motes, told him that it was day outside. After a moment he could see more clearly.

He was in the grain room. Cotton sacks of corn had been heaped about for him, and on them he lay, covered by a quilted robe.

There was nobody else there with him. That frightened him faintly for a moment, until he heard happy voices outside, and remembered that probably they had left him to sleep as long as he wished just because he was a young boy, and had brought the help that saved Amotl.

He moved about luxuriously, and wondered whether or not he should get up and go about in search of food. But he decided to sleep a little longer. Still, the sacks of grain were tightly filled, and could have been more comfortable. He got up and began pulling them about in order to make a better bed. He tugged at one, and then another. Reaching down to grasp a third, hidden somewhat under the others, he was startled to feel something of a definite shape, and hard, among the tiny grains of corn.

He felt it carefully. Undoubtedly a dagger! Startled, he could scarcely believe it. Why conceal a dagger here?

He began to feel carefully among some of the other half-hidden bags of grain, and to move them about. Yes. Filled with weapons,—or so it seemed to Coyotl. His heart failed him. There could be no good reason for this. He might ask Amotl about it. He felt further. A handle! A trap-door! Hidden here, under the grain!

Now he was too wide-awake even to want to lie lazily about. He felt his way toward where the sunlight glinted in, in a squarish pattern. It was a door which swung open, and led up a flight of little steps onto the courtyard floor. Coyotl had been put to sleep in a grain cellar.

As he went up the steps he saw that it was about four o'clock in the afternoon. The men of Amotl's party sat about in the sun lazily. Some were polishing their weapons. Others were smoking. They looked disheveled, but rested, and fairly well content.

The courtyard was wide and pleasant, although it was not paved. There were trees, and some flowers, and instead of a fountain, there were water jars hanging suspended from the trees, their damp sides looking deliciously cool, as indeed the water tasted. Coyotl went immediately to get a drink. He was thinking hard. He decided to keep his council, but to do a little quiet investigating.

He looked about him. The low rooms of the house extended ramblingly over the flat plain a great distance, and he could see many little courts within courts, for the noble had wide lands and many soldiers and servants. As far as the eye could see, new corn waved, and the maguey bushes grew in serried ranks like armies.

He went and sat beside one of Amotl's men, a young fellow, whose burden had been one of the choicest packages of jewels.

"Whose house is this, do you know?" asked Coyotl.

"A noble's. His name is Huitl. I do not like his face."

"When did you see him?"

"He was here in the courtyard, not long ago, asking us how we were faring. Amotl was with him, and I know the merchant well enough to feel that I can tell when he does not like someone, too. I should say that Amotl distrusts Huitl."

"But then we will not be here long, will we?"

"We are to have a great feast tonight. Amotl will attend the banquet of the family and friends, and we will show some of our wares. We may be leaving tomorrow. But if there is war in the north. . . Who knows? We may be turning back."

"Where did you sleep?"

"Most of us slept out here, in the courtyard. He brought coverings enough for us all, and fed us well, but he does not let us have a roof over us. I do not like that. Hospitality should mean the roof as well as the hot bowl and the pipe of tobacco."

"I slept inside. In the grain room."

"Amotl insisted. Huitl would have left you outside too."

"Where are those who were hurt?"

"In the next court. The women servants are washing their wounds and binding them up."

Coyotl walked across the sunlit earthen court to the well, and through the little gate into the next one. Here was a paved patio, where flowers grew, and a little artificial stream meandered through among the bushes. By this stream knelt a servant woman, with a bowl and cotton cloth. One after the other, the wounded men crouched beside her, as she laid damp cloths over their hurts, and bound them on with fresh dry ones.

Coyotl spoke to one of the men.

"Did we . . . lose many?" he asked.

"Half as many who started will get home again," said the man whose arm was swollen around the ugly red cut left by an arrow.