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Authors: Zoe Saadia

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Young Jaguar, The

BOOK: Young Jaguar, The
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The Young Jaguar

 

Pre-Aztec Trilogy, book #1

 

by

Zoe Saadia

 

Copyrights 2012 by Zoe Saadia

 

 License Notes

 

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment
only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you like
to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for
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not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and
purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

* * * * *

 

PUBLISHED By Zoe Saadia on Amazon

 ISBN 978 -1476209715

All rights reserved

 

Chapter 1

 

 

“Come on. Hurry up!”

The youth swung his legs over the border stones and
jumped down the wide platform. His companions were already there, whispering
excitedly.

“Shut up,” he said. “They’ll hear us.”

All three peered into the night, listening intently.
A gust of wind swept dry leaves across the road down below. Obviously, the
night cleaners had not done their job properly. The road was supposed to be
clean of anything; the Night Spirits deserved as much.

“Do we jump or do we go back?” whispered the second
youth. He was taller than the rest, and the plain garb of a
calmecac
pupil sat well upon his wide, muscled shoulders.

A drumming poured from the nearby temple.

“We jump,” said the first youth. He squinted against
the flickering lights. “Just pass me the bundle when I’m down and don’t make
any noise.”

The wall was not very high, but he felt the impact
in his knees, and it pleased him to land gracefully. Like a jaguar.

One day he would make it into the elite caste of
warriors, he thought. The warriors, who wore brilliant blue cotton cloaks and
were allowed to carry obsidian swords and dine with the royal family at the
Palace. The finest, the swiftest, the toughest; the best of the nation. A mere
handful of chosen ones, capable of defeating hordes of enemies. His father was
one of them and, with a little luck, if he could excel beyond being a good
student, so one of the veterans responsible for the military training would
express a wish to take him along into a battle as a shield bearer, he’d be
admitted into those exclusive ranks. Ah, but for such an opportunity!

He could hear the flask rubbing against the cold
stones, lowered carefully with a rope attached to its neck. Receiving the
bundle, he gestured to his companions to jump. They would get into grave
trouble wandering around the city without permission. But it might be nothing
compared to being caught drinking
octli
!

He shivered. The punishment for consuming the spicy
beverage could very well result in being expelled from school and maybe even
worse. They would be sure to get severely beaten, and their heads might be
shaved. Still, it was not the first time they’d sneaked out like that. Drinking
octli
was a thrill. That, and wandering around the marketplace after the
sunset.

“Let’s go,” he whispered and led the way along the
stone platform.

The wall towered ahead. It was only two-story high
and belonged to a pyramid dedicated to
Chalchiuhtlicue
, goddess of
water, a counterpart of the mighty
Tlaloc
.

They pressed against the cold stones, feeling their
way along the narrowing ledge. Shreds of conversations reached them from the
wide avenue down below, the voices of passersby carrying clearly on the night
breeze.

 “Atolli, wait.”

The first youth did not turn his head. “Quiet!” he
whispered angrily and squeezed his way past the temple.

Their destination towered a few hundred paces
ahead–a temple of
Coatlicue
, the Mother of Gods, located right above the
western corner of the marketplace.

The clamor below grew and so did the light. Torches
fixed into the walls dispersed some of the darkness, and the shadows danced
wildly above the clusters of straw mats.

Many warriors reclined upon those mats, eating and
drinking, watching the women waiting upon them, laughing with each other. Some
wore not even a breechcloth, sprawling drunkenly, and only by their disheveled
topknots could one have guessed their status. The women rushed between them,
distributing pottery cups and bowls, prominent in their colorful attire.

Atolli stepped back, sinking deeper into the
shadows.

“All right, boys,” he whispered. “Make yourselves
comfortable.”

His friends shifted uneasily.

“Come on,” he said louder, suppressing his own fear.
“They are too drunk to hear us and too busy with those loose women.”

He slipped along the smooth stones of the temple’s
wall, wondering at its cold touch, taking the flask out. The spicy beverage
rolled down his throat, smooth and warm, leaving a burning sensation in its
wake.

“Am I going to drink it all by myself, you pair of
silly women?”

They squatted beside him, and he thrust the gourd flask
into Mecatl’s hands, smiling derisively, challenging his best friend. They had
grown up together, playing on the roofs or the adjacent grounds of their
families’ estates, both sons of prominent leaders, the elite warriors, the
noblest of the noble. Although while Mecatl’s mother was a noblewoman of
Azcapotzalco’s origins, Atolli was born by a savage woman from the Far North
his father had brought along while still a young warrior.

Atolli loved his mother, but often had wondered why
his father would not rectify the matter by taking another wife of some very
exalted, preferably Toltec, bloodline. A half-brother or sister of an
impeccable origin would serve him well. Mecatl had two of them. His friend’s
father was sensible enough to add a Toltec woman to the collection of his
numerous wives and concubines.

However, some fathers did act strangely, thought
Atolli, taking another swig from the flask when it was returned to him.

“I think the Goddess will get angry with us,”
murmured the third youth.

He was not as well developed as the other two, his
calmecac
gown hanging vacantly upon his thin shoulders. He was trained to be a priest
and not a warrior, yet he came along on a sudden impulse, wanting to prove he
did not lack his share of courage, and now he was regretting the futile
gesture. They should not have been out there, drinking
octli
and
watching warriors taking the whores of this dubious part of the marketplace.
They were sure to get caught.

“Try to relax and enjoy yourself.” Atolli laughed
and bent over the border stones.

Below, the warriors on the nearby group of mats,
laughed loudly, obviously having gulped more than their share of the spicy
beverage.

The colorful garbs of the women, bringing more
pottery cups, fluttered with the slight breeze, the embroidered cotton moving
gracefully around their legs as they knelt in front of the drunken men.

Atolli stared at the generous cleavage of one of the
women, taking in the way the flickering light of a nearby torch reflected off
the golden skin. He wished he was a warrior already.

“Take a look at this one!”

Mecatl’s hands pulled him back. “Are you insane?
They’ll see you.”

Atolli laughed and wrenched the flask back from his
friend. “We came here to watch, didn’t we?”

“To watch
carefully
!” Now it was Mecatl’s
turn to lean over the edge. “You know what I keep thinking?” he asked, turning
back and squatting comfortably against the stone wall. “I keep thinking how
embarrassing it would be to spot my own father among this particular crowd.”

Atolli choked on his drink. “Your father is just the
man to come here,” he cried out when able to speak. “With all his wives and
concubines, he may just like a little diversion.”

Even the third youth giggled.

Mecatl raised his eyebrows. “I think
your
father
is more likely to visit those ladies, having only one wife. Just imagine that.”

Atolli’s face darkened. He didn’t like this
particular subject. “He likes it that way.”

“But the custom dictates that he take more than one
wife,” said the third youth gravely, his priestly training taking over.

“So what? It’s only a custom.”

The future priest narrowed his eyes. “Customs should
be observed. We are a civilized nation. Not like savages from all kind of
places.”

Atolli’s hand shot forward, grabbing the cotton
material around the thinner boy’s chest.

“What are you trying to say?” he hissed, pulling so
hard the future priest lost his balance and almost toppled over the edge.

“Are you crazy?” cried Mecatl, leaping to his feet.
He grasped his friend’s arm. “Let him go. Have you lost your mind?”

“Maybe I’ll just drop him down there, to see how
civilized he’ll look landing among this crowd.” His hands trembled so hard he
could see the terrified face of his offender jerking up and down.

Mecatl thrust himself between the two boys, putting
his considerable weight against his friend’s leaner frame.

“Let him go,” he repeated, composed now. “You’ll get
us all into trouble.”

Atolli made an effort to control the wild tide of
his rage. He was still unable to unclench his fists, but, at least, he seemed
capable of thinking once again.

He eased his grip slowly.

“You mention savages to me once again, and you are a
dead man!” he said, crushing the thin boy against the temple’s wall.

The assaulted youth slid down the wide stones and
remained seated, legs and arms spread, breath coming out in gasps. A heavy
silence prevailed.

Atolli turned away to watch the marketplace below,
the lack of his former interest obvious. His chest hurt. The taste of the spicy
beverage was suddenly nauseating.
How dare he, this slim son of a whore?

He ground his teeth. How dare he imply Atolli’s
father had not observed tradition by marrying a savage? His mother’s origins
may have been dubious, but she was an impeccable woman. There was nothing
savage about her. Or was there?

“I think we’d better go back,” said Mecatl. “I guess
we’ve had enough for one night.”

Atolli shrugged. “You two go back. I didn’t even
begin to enjoy myself. Thanks to this worm!”

The third youth, back on his feet by now, edged away
carefully.

“I’m going back,” he said quietly. “I never believed
when they said how crazy you can get, but now I do!” He took a few additional
steps to get out of Atolli’s possible reach. “I will not tell anyone what you
two have been up to, but you will never touch me again.” He turned away, the
unadorned back of his
calmecac
garb soon swallowed by the darkness.

“Congratulations on making another enemy,” murmured
Mecatl. “What’s wrong with you? Why do you get so annoying and bad-tempered at
times?”

Atolli shrugged once again. “I can’t stand the
priests, you know? Always holier than the gods, always think they know better.
This worm is so slim, so weak, so insignificant. How dare he judge a leader of
my father’s virtue?”

“He just said the customs were important, that’s all.
He didn’t say a thing about your father.”

“Oh, forget it!” Atolli picked up the flask and took
another swig of the spicy drink. Its taste gave him no pleasure this time. He
thrust the gourd cup into his friend’s hand. “Have some.”

The women below were talking rapidly. Some pointed
in the direction of their wall. One of the warriors straightened up, peering
into the darkness above.

“You, boys, get out of there!” shouted a woman
shrilly.

Atolli grasped his friend’s hand and pulled him into
the darkness of the temple’s wall. The din down below grew rapidly as more
agitated voices joined in. A stone crashed against the temple, followed by
another one. The laughter of the drunken warriors was infectious.

“Come on!” Atolli grabbed his friend’s shoulder, and
they burst into an awkward run along the uneven surface of the wall.

Panic-stricken, instead of disappearing into the
merciful darkness in the direction they had come, they ran on toward the
flickering lights of the marketplace, clearly visible now against the
illumination of the temple’s torches.

More stones followed them, accompanied by roars of
drunken laughter. The warriors clearly welcomed an unexpected diversion from
their usual activities. They might decide to try to hunt the intruders down,
thought Atolli in panic.

A small stone smashed against his shoulder, causing
him to waver and fight to regain his balance. He almost toppled onto the other
side of the wall, into the grounds of the goddess’s temple.

As he regained his footing, he felt more than saw
Mecatl’s bulky figure swaying, his broad palms waving, trying to grab the empty
air. It was a funny sight, and under different circumstances he would have
doubled over with laughter. Instead, he caught his friend’s wrist, pulling him
back from the brink.

Another stone hit him below his knee.

“Jump!” he cried and saw Mecatl nodding urgently. It
was always like that. Atolli made the decisions and Mecatl would follow, never
questioning his friend’s judgment.

The dry grass of the temple’s ground rubbed against
their skin as they rolled over to soften their landing, small pebbles
scratching their limbs. Mecatl cried out but was quick to silence himself. More
stones came flying over the wall.

“Let’s get out of here. Quick!” breathed Atolli. The
priests were sure to come out to check what was amiss.

He leaped to his feet, but Mecatl just groaned and
lost his balance once again.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. I think I hurt my stupid ankle or
something.”

Atolli cursed. “All right, lean on me, and I’ll get
us out of here.” He placed his friend’s arm above his shoulders. The gourd
flask hit his upper back. “You kept the flask!” He smiled. “I can’t believe it!
You
are
a worthy warrior.”

They burst out laughing, each taking a swig in his
turn. This time the wine tasted good.

Atolli looked around. “First, let’s get to the
opposite wall. Then, we’ll think of the way to get us over it with this stupid
ankle of yours.”

Mecatl cursed. “Get me another swig, so it’ll hurt
less.”   

A figure with a small torch materialized out of the
darkness. The small light flickered warily, hesitantly. “Who is there?”

Startled by the voice, Atolli straightened up. Had
they jumped onto the wrong side of the wall? The girl’s voice was melodious,
its accent lilting like that of the highest nobility, her figure obscured by
the long unadorned robe. He tried to see her face.

BOOK: Young Jaguar, The
6.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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