Below, their defenders huddled together as they discussed their final plans. Necalli held his breath still, like the tree against which he clung. Looking down he could see already there was not a warrior amongst them, which meant that today would be a blessed but uneventful day. And as he faintly heard their pitiful strategy, a flicker of sorrow passed through him. For when Huemac gave the signal, 60 Eagles would descend on this quiet village, and by the end, every male would be well on their way to Mitclan – and the most challenging aspect of it would have been his climb of this tree.
Below him, he watched as his brother and his group slithered almost invisibly along the forest floor, until perfectly poised on the cusp of the clearing. All warriors, even Necalli, were jealous of the way the forest loved Momotzli; he could pass through it with no sound as if he were born of the wood and leaves himself. It was obvious why he had found so much favour with Huemac, and with the gods.
Necalli checked for the sun in the sky; it had just gone past sunrise and he prayed to the spirits of darkness that they wouldn’t chase the sun away, that they would let Tonatuih stay high in the sky so that the killing of this day could go on and on, until arms grew tired, and mouths full of the splatterings of enemy blood.
On the soft air came the eager call of a bird of prey - they were close. Necalli called back, letting them know he was ready. And then he watched as the poor villagers only too late realised the forest was coming alive from all around them. Below him Momotzli surged out of the clearing like a lethal spear, his dark frame like the obsidian at its tip. Carried over the chaos below, the village erupted in screams as Huemac rushed out from over the surrounding ridge on the other side, completing the jaguar’s teeth that were snapping and soon to tear the life from this piece of earth.
Necalli now couldn’t resist the call of the fire in his blood as the attack began. He watched Momotzli hack into the defenders with unrivalled jealousy and couldn’t scale down the tree faster. Momotzli may be Huemac’s favourite, but Necalli was still the older brother.
His feet had barely touched the forest floor before he had unfastened the sword tied to his back and was bounding forward furiously into the wake of Momotzli and his warriors. His heart was a joyous war drum as he met his first target, a man clumsily holding a spear. Necalli dodged to the left while swinging the obsidian edge of his sword into the man’s skull. A villager came at him from a hut that was being set alight, Necalli whacked the man’s thighs with his sword, splitting the flesh and shattering the bone above the knees. He struck another across the throat, disappointed he wasn’t able to take the head off. A bloodied villager, with the skin of his forehead flapping over his eyes, came with spear in hand but it was too easy for Necalli to knock the thrust away and hack the dying man’s arm from his torso.
Necalli knew he couldn’t get carried away. Momotzli and his men were deeper in the village, fighting with the last of the defenders, and although his heart lusted to share in the bloodletting he set his mind to task. The screams from the other end of the village had ceased, which meant Huemac had already begun taking his captives.
Necalli called to a group of young warriors at the back of Momotzli’s charge. They hadn’t yet seen the thrill of battle up close, but they would be good enough to help. “You three! Come here.”
They scurried over, smiling in such a youthful manner that Necalli felt like cuffing them. “Follow me, you little shits,” he barked over the awful screaming of men being cut down not too far away. “Catch anyone I don’t kill.”
They followed, and Necalli soon had their young smiles melting into quivering grimaces. The young warriors struggled to keep pace as Necalli dived into a hut full of women and children, sending them fearfully into the waiting nets and clubs outside like fleeing mice. Without even checking to see how many were caught and how many slipped by, Necalli rushed into the next one.
Just as his head passed the threshold, the veteran warrior was forced to bring his sword above him to block a heavy club. The women and children fled just as Necalli pivoted to his right, blocking another swing before smashing the attackers face apart. Just as the man fell Necalli drop-rolled on to one knee as a toothless elder loosed a black shaft from the back of the hut. The arrow skimmed over the warriors head, meeting a piercing scream as it flew out the door. Necalli sprung forward and using his shoulder speared the old man senselessly through the other side of the huts brittle wooden structure.
Quickly finding his feet Necalli dragged the old man up, whacking him across the face to sedate his writhing before dragging him to front of the hut. One of the young warriors lay dead with the old man’s arrow buried within his skull. The old man began to speak, but Necalli brought his sword down with a murderous two handed swing to the back of the head, spilling blood and bone across the forest like a shattered jug of water. The timing was perfect as the captured women and children saw the killing and were instantly silenced. Necalli bared his teeth to them as the old man’s blood dribbled off his nose and chin.
With his heart still beating a menacing rhythm, Necalli swung his head around looking for the next catch. All around him women and children ran here and there as homes were set alight and husbands and fathers hacked down like nuisance vines. This was only a lightly defended village, but the strength of the cities warriors that he had trained was evident. A man carrying his little girl sprang out from a bush to the left, running head down for freedom. Necalli took a step, suddenly alert and ready to hurl his sword, but the man was struck with an arrow through the neck and the child taken by another party. Necalli cursed, looking to the sky, he could see the day was still young but it seemed like the killing had already come to an end.
The cry of an eagle rang out over the sobbing of the captives and screams of the wounded, forcing its way past the excited throbbing of blood in Necalli’s ears. From behind him he heard the clamour of Momotzli’s men as they came forward at a gentle run. Momotzli’s smile could have been seen from the other side of the village, and it grew wider as he saw Necalli’s catch.
“Brother, you did well. Five women and eight children,” Momotzli said. “For once you’ve caught more than you’ve killed!”
Necalli shared in the joke as Momotzli’s warriors broke into laughter. “And what sbout you, little brother?” Necalli looked over Momotzli’s men, all with blood stained and heaving chests. “By the looks of it, you and your boys got carried away.”
“All their warriors are dead – the men here must be cursed with weakness. But I see, you’ve gone and upset another mother!” Momotzli gestured towards the fallen child warrior. Necalli snapped at the remaining two, ordering them to pick up the body of their companion and take it back to the boy’s mother, whoever she was. “You’re developing quite a fearful reputation, brother. Women are going to start hiding their kids when we ask for warriors,” Momotzli said as he swung his arm around his older brother.
Necalli snorted, “Well it’s like I keep saying, if you don’t want to be mourning the loss of your child then raise one with the common sense to not get killed. I don’t know what those mothers have to complain about anyway, would they prefer their kids to die in their sleep?”
A clamour slowly rolled towards the men as Huemac and his warriors strutted from across the other side of the village with a sorry chain of captives behind them. The young lord stood proud amongst his followers, his sword arm painted thickly in blood and his face awash with a darkening crimson. He dragged with him a reluctant young village girl, her stomach swollen, and her eyes full of tears.
Necalli and Momotzli bowed their heads as Huemac came before them. “Good!” the young lord declared, “I will make the god of war a sacrifice the likes of which he has never seen. You chose well when you scouted this place, Momotzli. We can leave the rest of the killing to the kids; hopefully they’ll come back as men.”
Momotzli grinned, accepting the praise, before letting his eyes fall on the young girl trembling in Huemac’s grip. Huemac threw the girl to the ground before him. “She’s a fiery one. Came straight for me... I guess my boys were sleeping...?” Huemac glared behind him, turning the faces of his warriors into downcast masks of failure. “Anyway, I thought I would gift her to one of you. Necalli, take her.”
Necalli, laughed; was the Emperor’s delegate taking him for a joke? “Lord Huemac, I think you meant to gift this to my brother. I have a wife, and her belly is swollen just as much, if not more.”
As the girl squirmed on the forest floor Momotzli stooped and grabbed her up by the neck, laughing as he showed her off to the waiting warriors. “Brother, you should take it, it would be rude not to accept a gift from our future ruler. And besides, you wouldn’t want to return empty handed.”
Huemac grinned, speaking loud enough for all the surrounding warriors to hear. “Necalli, were you not going gift your catch to me, in exchange for this lovely young bride?”
Necalli could feel his blood boiling – how dare they humiliate him like this! And for what? He had a right mind to challenge Huemac right here and let Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, be the judge of what is fair – although he knew well enough that as soon as he drew his sword one of the six-hundred and fifty three men around him would strike him down in an instant. Momotzli tossed the girl over, and Necalli inspected her with a thorough harshness.
As Necalli held her by the throat the girl cried, “Please, let me go... Have mercy, let the will of Teotl guide you to mercy...” But Necalli had no patience for this, no patience for such an insult. Tacking a dagger from his waist he turned the girl around so she could face lord Huemac. Her first scream was a short and breathy one as Necalli stuck the dagger into her belly. She cried again as he ripped his obsidian blade across her swollen stomach, opening her abdomen like a gutted pig.
Necalli grinned at his brother and the young lord, “I accept the girl as a gift, lord Huemac. But the baby can stay here.”
Huemac and Momotzli chuckled savagely, pointing at the girl as she failed to hold her stomach together. Huemac slapped Necalli across the back, “Your brother was right about you – too tightly wound up!” They laughed for some time more before Huemac called to the warriors, ordering them to collect their spoils.
However Necalli found his appetite for the fruits of conflict greatly diminished. With bitter mind, Necalli stepped back as the eager warriors rushed to collect what they could from the dead, with the kids triumphantly dispatching any wounded as though they had brought down giants. From the corner of his eye Necalli could see his brother smirking. Clearly Momotzli’s time with the young lord had given him a big head – something Necalli would need to address the next time they were alone.
“Wait...!” The strained voice of the wounded girl called from behind. Necalli and Momotzli turned to see her standing not so far away, while her quiet village, now a mess of bodies, burned amidst black smoke behind her. Her hands pitifully clutched at her stomach as her insides poured down like a crimson skirt. “May you all suffer, suffer until the day you learn to fear the will of Teotl...” she screamed. “May your lives bring only misery and pain... May Teotl see you all dead with fear and suffering in your hearts!”
Necalli laughed as he turned his back on the dying girl – he had lost count of the times he had been cursed. However, for now the day was still young, and he could feel the power of the war god within him, making him tremble with violent energy. To his right Momotzli continued to grin and chatter away with some of the other warriors. Necalli reminded himself to show his younger brother that he was not to be made the subject of jokes.