Sacrifice

"Now, my boy, be quiet. I know you have many questions, and you shall get your answers, but be patient for a bit longer. First, I have a story to tell you. I hear you love stories. I’m sure you won’t have heard this one before."
Entry for The Light That Gets Lost competition about revenge.

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1. Sacrifice

Now, my boy, be quiet. I know you have many questions, and you shall get your answers, but be patient for a bit longer. First, I have a story to tell you. I hear you love stories. I’m sure you won’t have heard this one before.

In the olden days, when our fathers were still learning the ways of the gods, there was a great storm, one which ravaged the earth. The storm raged on for seven days and seven nights, for the gods were angry with mankind. Countless perished, as the earth was cleansed of all its horror—or at least, so it was thought.

Once the great storm cleared, in a distant land untouched by floods, two babies were thrown up by the sea into the sand. Somehow they were still alive, both of them.

It was a whole day before an elderly couple found the pair of them. It was clear they were not brothers, but had been brought together, saved together, by chance. The married pair, childless, saw it as a blessing from gods. Each cradling a shivering baby in their arms, they walked back into their home.

After washing and feeding the two babies, they saw each had a mark on their forehead. They were touched by the gods. One baby had a curling flower bruise on his forehead, and so they named him Ehecati, after the gentle god. The other baby had a dancing bolt of lightning, and so they named him Tlaloc, after the god of thunder.

Many years passed, and the couple raised the two as brothers. The babies grew into boys, like you, and then into fine young men, but though they had experienced every drought and every flood together, they were as different as night and day.

Tlaloc grew up to be a muscular, strong, dark haired young man. He was relentless in his work, and he was the finest hunter in all the land. Stories spread that he could kill oxen from fifty feet away with a spear—while blindfolded.

Ehecati, though, could not wield a sword to save his life. He had tanned skin and straw like hair, and beautiful blue eyes, but he was not muscular, nor strong. No, his talents lay elsewhere. Everywhere he went, he carried a flute with him that he had carved out of the wood from a juniper tree when he was just a small boy. Can you guess what his skill was? He would lift the flute to his lips and music would flow out of it, music so divine that people were certain Ehecati was Painal in disguise, messenger of the gods.

The prowess of these two brothers spread throughout the empire. People from across the land came to see Tlaloc in the hunt, or hear Ehecati playing a song.

Tlaloc enjoyed the fame, bolstered by it. He grew arrogant. Ehecati, on the other hand, was a quiet man. The attention drawn to him simply made him feel uncomfortable.

The two loved each other as real brothers would. Their parents didn’t tell them the truth about their origins. They would spend their time together, laughing and playing games. Nothing could tear them apart.

Nothing, that is, until Metztli came along.

Metztli was part of a wandering tribe. Like many of the wanderers, this tribe eventually came to rest, in the famous city of Tenoch that had once used to be a village, the home of Tlaloc and Ehecati.

Metztli was as beautiful as the moon goddess she was named after. She had pale skin, and sleek black hair, which fell down, cascading past her neck in waves. Her eyebrows were delicate swooping birds, and her cheeks were filled with a rosy blush. It was said that her blue eyes could drive a man insane. Can you imagine that?

Tlaloc and Ehecati could have had any woman they wanted in all the land, but none had struck their fancy. Not until that wandering tribe had arrived, anyway.

Tlaloc and Ehecati, both intrigued by the stories, came to meet her. And instead of the dangerous enchantress they had heard of, they found a graceful, kind young woman.

Quickly they became friends. Metztli had a wild side, and she was soon accompanying Tlaloc in his hunt, and spending time with them in the evenings. She attended every one of Tlaloc’s hunts; she was there at every one of Ehecati’s performances.

It was inevitable that Tlaloc would fall in love with her. It wasn’t a passing fancy. It was the deep kind of love that turned a man into an obsessed creature.

But when the gods released a giant raging bull in the capital of the empire as a test, all the greatest hunters were called up. And Tlaloc was the first on that list. Before he went, he wished his brother goodbye, and promised to himself when he returned, he would marry Metztli.

But he had missed Metztli’s looks of wonder whenever Ehecati played his flute. He hadn’t seen her faint blushes whenever his brother was near. He had been oblivious to her fleeting glances at Ehecati when she thought no one was looking.

And so when Tlaloc returned six months later, having destroyed the bull, of course his brother was the first to greet him. And he was the first to tell Tlaloc the wonderful news—that he and Metztli were married now. He had found love.

I’m sure you can predict how Tlaloc reacted. He recoiled in shock. He pushed his surprised brother away, and ran to the most comforting place he knew. He returned to his parents’ small house by the sea.

There his lonely mother smiled at him. Tlaloc’s father had passed away long ago. She comforted him, looked after him, and eventually she came to a decision. It was time, she decided, to tell Tlaloc the truth of his origins. She hoped it would give him new meaning in life, renew him, to know that he had been touched by the gods.

She couldn’t have predicted the consequences.

When Tlaloc learned that the sea had spat him out, that Ehecati was not his real brother, that his whole childhood had been a lie, his heart hardened. No more did familial connections hold back.

He would kill Ehecati, and take Metztli as his own. He would have his revenge on the fake brother that betrayed him; his supposed best friend who had stolen his loved one.

His mother, though, seeing what had happened to Tlaloc, warned Ehecati. Ehecati took Metztli and their young, newborn child, to the neighbouring city, Titlan.

But it didn’t stop Tlaloc. He gathered a group of his most loyal hunters, and made his way to Titlan.  

When Ehecati heard of this, he knew it was hopeless. There was no chance his family would be spared. Unless…

And then, Ehecati prayed. He prayed to his namesake, the gentle god of the wind, and his wishes were answered.

The winds themselves came down and protected the city. Tlaloc and his hunters could not enter, no matter how hard they tried.

But Tlaloc was patient. No matter how long he had to wait, he would get his revenge.

He returned to his home city, Tenoch. There he claimed it, proclaiming himself lord of the city. He would bide his time, and eventually he would get into Titlan.

Years passed, and still Titlan was protected. Ehecati had more children, and his children had children. He lived a peaceful life with Metzli, one that was marred only by the broken relationship with his brother. Eventually, he and Metzli passed away in their sleep one night. And finally, the wind barrier came down.

Despite Ehecati’s death, Tlaloc’s revenge had not even started. He wanted to kill every single one of his descendants. But Titlan had grown in its strength, enough to match Tenoch. At Tlaloc’s command, the two cities went to war.

It was a horrible war, full of blood, distant relatives killing each other. There seemed to be nothing that could stop it, the only thing fuelling it one man’s desire for vengeance.

But eventually, Tlaloc died, as all mortals do, as both you and I shall. Rumours spread. Some said he had been killed in battle. Some said he had thrown himself off his tower at the hopelessness of this never-ending conflict.

With the great king dead, the two cities stopped. Why, they wondered, were they still fighting? And so, the elders of both cities decided, there would be peace. They would merge cities, and the bloodshed would end.

But even in the afterlife, Tlaloc was not satisfied. His spirit lingered, and after a while, he called upon the god of thunder and rain, the one he was named after, to do something.

There was a great drought. Rain did not fall for four whole seasons. Many perished. Was there nothing, they wondered, that they could do to end their endless suffering?

Until one priest had an idea. Ehecati and Metzli’s descendants were common. His blood could be recognized by their musical skill, their talent with the flute. To please Tlaloc, the priest took one of these descendants, and sacrificed him in the ritual of the snake.

And suddenly, the drought ended. The punishment stopped. The city flourished.

The merged city, Tenochtitlan, learnt to sacrifice one of Ehecati’s descendant every year to the gods, for fear that another drought would occur. And that was how they prospered. A whole city, built on revenge.

****

“Our city has the same name!” The young boy noticed happily. “Are we named after that city?”

The priest smiled at the boy. They were in the sun chamber of the temple, an isolated, empty room. The walls of stone were adorned with images, and through the glass oculus, the sun shone on them.

“Yes,” he told the boy. “Did you like the story?”

The sun reflected off the boy’s recently shaved head as he nodded. Its rays even made his simple brown cloth attire look magnificent. “I liked Ehecati. I felt sorry for him.”

“Why?”

The boy shrugged. “I play the flute too. My father taught me. He says I’m the best my family’s seen in generations.”

“I know,” the priest said kindly. “In fact, that’s why you were chosen.”

"But chosen for what, master? I still don't understand—"

"All is about to be clear. You need not do anything. The gods shall take it from here." The priest's gaze lowered to the wooden box in his hand, and delicately, he opened it. Inside was an ebony snake with gleaming scales and bared fangs. It hissed.

“Shush,” the priest cooed. He picked up the snake, letting it curl around his hand. He offered it to boy. “It won’t hurt you,” he lied, his tone reassuring.

The boy hesitated, before reaching for the snake. The priest’s smile widened as the snake's deadly tongue flickered.

“The next part you must do alone,” the priest told the boy, whose blue eyes widened. The priest walked out of the chamber, the guards sealing it behind him with a large stone slab, a loud creak indicating it had been firmly put in place.

On the stone was painted a large face, of a muscular man with dark hair and stormy eyes. On his forehead was a strange mark—like a dancing lightning bolt.

Sacrifices had to be made, especially in the name of revenge. 

The priest bowed at the image. “For the Lord Tlaloc.” He murmured his prayer, before walking away, leaving the adorned, thick slab of stone behind him. 

But even the stone wasn’t enough to muffle the screams of the little boy. 

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