History has left us with little information about the Aztecs. What we have learned and assume is true has been pieced together from artifacts, ruins, colorful pictographic codices and ancestral stories that weave a tapestry of an amazing culture of dichotomies – of beauty and barbarism, of spiritualism and savagery. Exciting discoveries of ancient relics and stone carvings are still being found today. These treasures may help solidify much of what we believe to be true about the Aztecs, but some discoveries only produce greater mysteries and more questions for archeologists and historians to try and answer. It was a few years ago that one such discovery was made.

 

The Story of Itzcoatl

Part I

Discovery

RemoteVillageA young traveling missionary passing through a remote village in the Eastern mountains of Mexico found shelter from a sudden rainstorm in a small merchant shop. He traveled by bicycle to the most remote locations carrying little more than what he could fit into his knapsack, a change of clothes, hammock, disposable camera, notepad and a bicycle-repair kit.

Inside the shop he found piles of unsorted brightly colored blankets and clothes, the nicest of which were displayed hanging from random runs of clothesline throughout the shop which made the shop smaller than it already was. Various cans and jars both new and opened lined an entire wall without any apparent thought as to how to group them. Thick was the smell of incense and mothballs over the dank odor of humidity and spoiling fruit. And religious symbols and folk art filled in every remaining square inch of space.

Seated inside was a short elderly man in a small metal folding beach chair. He stared off into the rain, his jaw twitching as if to converse with it. The crackle of a partially-tuned transistor radio fought with the ebb and flow of the din of the storm for which was the noisiest.

Going almost unnoticed due to the clutter in the shop was a strange small rectangular adobe table covered with strange diamond-shaped impressions in a tight staggered pattern on its surface. The clay surface was faded and cracking with age. On the center of the table sat a small canvas bag containing a number of hand-carved obsidian arrowheads. Its discovery by the missionary made him curious, and he inquired to the elderly shopkeeper about it.

ArrowheadsThough stunned at first by the dialogue of the young man as the shopkeeper was unaware of his presence, surprise quickly gave way to an appreciation for the company and possibility of a sale. ”Itzcoatl” (pronounced ‘EATS-koh-watt-ul’), the shopkeeper said with a gentle toothless smile. Confused, the missionary inquired further. “Itzcoatl? You call the table Itzcoatl?”

The reason for his confusion is that the name ‘Itzcoatl’ (which means ‘Obsidian Snake’) is a somewhat common name for boys native to the region. Itzcoatl was the name of the fourth emperor who ruled the Aztecs from 1428 A.D. to 1440 A.D. He was a powerful ruler who laid much of the groundwork to elevate the Aztecs to dominant power in ancient Mesoamerica, 100 years before the Spanish conquest.

“No, no”, the shopkeeper shook his head. He struggled to stand, but with the help of a nearby cane he did, and slowly hobbled over to the opposite side of the strange table. He reached for the canvas bag and, taking a couple of arrowheads from inside of it, set them in some of the impressions on his side of the table, pointing the arrowheads at the missionary. “Itzcoatl,” he again told the missionary but with more purpose in his voice, emphasizing the arrowheads. He took five more arrowheads and placed them in a staggered line pattern across the table. They appeared to fit perfectly in one half of the diamond-shaped impressions.

He then handed the missionary two arrowheads and gestured to him to place them on his own side of the table. Following the shopkeeper’s example, the missionary placed the arrowheads in impressions on his side when he began to realize what the shopkeeper was telling him. The arrowheads formed an ‘obsidian snake’ on the table. “Itzcoatl!”, he exclaimed, pointing to the arrowheads he placed, which made the shopkeeper’s toothless grin bigger as he knew the missionary understood. The missionary inquired further with an equally big grin. “A game?”, he asked.

The shopkeeper motioned to have the missionary join him back where he was seated. The rain was not letting up, and the shopkeeper was happy to have the company, and to share an amazing story of his ancestors. The missionary, having majored in anthropology in college, had studied the history of ancient Mesoamerica extensively and was surprised to have never heard anything of this game. As much passion as he had for the good work he was doing, he was equally passionate about gaming. The shopkeeper began to tell him the history, and the missionary’s eyes could not have been opened any wider as the old man spoke.

Part II

The Farmer’s Tribute

Rainstorm

“We are grateful for this storm.” The elderly shopkeeper spoke in broken sentences as he slowly made his way to his folding chair. The travelling missionary sat on a large pile of blankets stacked next to him. “When my people do not get rain, we go hungry.” He looked out and briefly got lost in remembrance of times past as he stared into the deluge of rain. The missionary smiled and empathetically nodded, waiting patiently for his words.

A moment passed. He slowly turned to look at the seated missionary and remembered his train of thought. He gave him another gentle, mostly toothless smile. “Another time long ago, my people did not have rain,” the shopkeeper said.

The shopkeeper proceeded to tell the missionary a story of a harsh summer his ancestors experienced a time long, long ago. It was a time shortly before the rise of the Aztecs, almost one hundred years before the Spanish Conquest.

A poor merchant farmer had not been shown favor by the gods. With the aid of a cane he walked but with a noticeable limp. He did his best to grow food to survive a brutal summer and unlucky crop season, but his family was hungry, and he had nothing to offer the pilli (pill-LEE: the land owner and nobelman) in tribute who provided him the land on which to grow crops. The farmer’s heart filled with dread as harvest time returned and the tiquitlato (tee-queet-LAH-tow: the tribute collector) returned to collect. He ordered his family to stay inside their small one-room wattle-and-daub hut. A farmer that could not pay tribute would be forced to work as a slave until his debt was paid, but because of his feeble condition, he knew this might mean his children could be taken to serve as slaves instead.

The farmer hobbled over to meet the tiquitlato before he arrived on his land and desperately tried to convince him to accept what little he had grown. The tiquitlato was all too familiar with this behavior, and found the crops were spoiled and unworthy of tribute. He circled the property while the farmer pleaded with him, trying to keep step with his pace. There was nothing here worthy of tribute payment.

The tiquitlato became angry as he knew his pilli would not be pleased. Despite the farmer’s cries, he stormed into the meager hut to find anything that would serve as payment. His abrupt entry startled the farmer’s family inside. The farmer’s wife instinctively jumped up and ran over to shield her two sons and young daughter from his gaze, who were huddled together on the floor, in a dark corner of the hut, on top of the family’s sleeping mats. The farmer caught up to him inside, all the way pleading to the gods and to the tiquitlato for sympathy. The tiquitlato quickly glanced around the rest of the tiny dwelling and found nothing of value. He pushed passed the farmer who fell feebly to the floor. He then eyed the farmer’s family, huddled in fear, like a wolf choosing his next meal.

ChicomecoatlHis eyes became affixed on the farmer’s young daughter, and he paused. He then thought of the upcoming harvest. “Chicomecoatl…” (chee-COH-meh-coh-WATT-ul), he murmured to himself, which was overheard by the children’s mother. Tears welled up in her eyes and she began to shudder. “No… no…” she said quietly sobbing, as her face lost its color. “No…no…” she wailed, as she attempted but failed to make her daughter disappear completely behind her.

The harvest for which tribute is being gathered is for the Ochpaniztli (oach-pan-EASE-tlee) festival, a twenty-day celebration of sweeping the streets and spiritual cleansing. The harvest is also celebration of nourishment provided by Chicomecoatl, the corn goddess. Despite the harsh summer, Chicomecoatl will again feed the people of the land, but only if they provide her a sacrifice, the blood of a young girl dressed to represent her.

The father stuggled to stand as the tiquitlato reached out and grabbed the young girl by the arm. The farmer’s wife fell to the floor, unable to overcome the tiquitlato’s strength. The young girl let out a shriek of panic, grasping for what she could. The brothers sat terrified, huddled and whimpering together in the corner, just out of her reach. She grabbed the only thing she could, the sleeping mat she was sitting on, and as the tiquitlato pulled her from the corner, the mat came with her.

Lifting the mat exposed something to the tiquitlato, something most unexpected, resting on the floor in the corner of the hut where the children were huddled. It was a strange adobe slab in a dark corner of the humble residence. The slab had diamond-shaped impressions in perfect staggered rows across its surface. Tucked away behind the slab in the corner was a small stone grinding bowl filled with obsidian arrowheads. Some of the impressions had arrowheads placed in the grooves.

The discovery startled the tiquitlato to the point he let go of the young girl, who raced over to where her father had joined her sobbing mother on the floor, and she hid herself in between them. The tiquitlato went over to inspect the slab. It looked like a game, but one unlike he had seen played before. His pilli was a passionate player of patolli (pah-TOLL-ee, an Aztec game similar to Parcheesi.) He picked up one of the arrowheads and examined it. His anger softened a little as he placed it back in the same impression he removed it from. He grabbed the still whimpering boys by their arms, lifted them up and sat them down on opposite sides of the adobe slab. “You will show me,” he announced to them.

Frightened and confused, they sat frozen for a moment staring at each other, waiting for the other to act. “Play! Play!” the tiquitlato exclaimed. This startled the oldest son out of his frozen state who reached into the grinding bowl, grabbed an arrowhead, and placed it in one of the impressions on the table. The younger boy hesitated, but mimicked the actions of his older brother.

The boys continued to take turns drawing arrowheads from the bowl, placing them or removing them from the board’s impressions, turning some of them around on the game field in different patterns. Fascination grew in the eyes of the tiquitlato as he watched them play. As the boys continued, they sensed the tiquitlato softening, and a sense of relief began to wash over the inhabitants of the small house. Perhaps this could serve as tribute payment to his pilli. “What is it called?” he asked, looking at the boys with a slight grin.

“Itzcoatl.” The farmer had managed to lift himself off the floor and interrupted his sons before they could speak.

The tiquitlato turned to the farmer and the grin quickly left his face, replaced by a look of confusion tinged with anger. The sense of ease in the house disappeared as fast as his face changed expression. He ordered them to cover the game with the sleeping mat. He must consult with his pilli about the matter of tribute, and would return later that day. He left as quickly as he had entered.

The boys ran over to the embrace of their parents, still huddled on the ground with their daughter. Still shaking, the mother huddled all three of her children in front of her and sang to them as she swayed back and forth. Exhausted from the experience, they fell asleep in her arms. The farmer grabbed his wife by the arm and did his best to give his wife what little reassurance he could. They too fell asleep.

A few hours later just before nightfall the tiquitlato returned to the hut, accompanied by the pilli and a number of his slaves. The family was still asleep when two slaves we ordered into the hut and awoke them. The slaves retrieved the slab and bowl full of arrowheads from the hut, still covered with the sleeping mat, and placed it at the pilli’s feet.

FarmersHutThe tiquitlato rushed into the hut and ordered the family outside to present themselves to the pilli. He then ordered the two sons to sit down by the slab and remove the mat. The reveal of the game did not seem to pique the pilli’s interest. He then ordered the sons to demonstrate the game. Twilight fell and everyone silently observed as the boys began to play.

At first exuding and air of disinterest, the pilli watched more intently. He realized that as the boys placed arrowheads in the impressions on the slab they were each forming their own obsidian snake as they played. This realization seemed to startle the lord who darted his gaze from the game to tiquitlato, to the farmer, and then back to the tiquitlato. “Itzcoatl?”, the pilli inquired to the tiquitlato, but in a cautious tone.

“Itzcoatl.” Confirmed the tiquitlato.

The pilli eyes opened wide with thought. Twilight gave into the night and his face lost expression as he ordered the boys to stop playing and step away from the game. He ordered his slaves to put all the arrowheads back in the bowl, cover the game up with the sleeping mat and take both with him. He whispered to the tiquitlato so that he could not be heard, turned and walked away into the darkenss with the slaves carrying away the game. The boys returned to where their father, mother and sister were standing. They huddled together.

The tiquitlato approached the family. “Tonight, you travel with us”, he said.

“I do not travel well”, replied the farmer. “Where do we go?”

“Tenochtitlan”, he said.

Part III

Journey to Tenochtitlan

“It is teotl’s gift.” The farmer finally broke his silence, stopping in his tracks to answer the incessant prodding of the tiquitlato, and also to catch his breath. Two-hours into a night’s long journey along a rugged path led the evening travelling party up into the mountains to the East. Even though every additional step seemed to cause the farmer more discomfort, his true pain was the feeling of unknowing of his family’s fate. His wife marched with him side-by-side, trying to mask her own fear, giving him a reassuring squeeze to his arm every time he winced. His two boys and young daughter walked in tow, quietly whimpering.

The response to his questioning confounded the tiquitlato. He was never taught to comprehend teotl, but knew just enough to show great reverence to the gods. The farmer’s answer extended the family’s respite a few extra moments, much needed due to the higher elevations of their journey. The farmer adjusted his grip on his cane and marched gingerly forward, past the tiquitlato who still stood silent unable to make sense of the farmer’s answer as his eyes darted about searching for understanding in the darkness. Unsuccessful, he knew he must consult with the pilli, though he realized at that moment he had fallen behind the small caravan. “Keep walking!” He shouted as he snapped himself out of his own thoughts, loud enough to ensure his words could be heard by his pilli who was leading the party many lengths ahead. He dashed by the farmer and family and raced to catch up to his pilli.

part3The pilli brought four slaves for the journey, two of which lit the way with torches, one at the front of the caravan, the other guarding the back, behind the family. The other two slaves walked in-step with the pilli, one carrying the mysterious adobe game board and pieces, the other caring for his thirst needs with a gourd filled with water.

The tiquitlato met up with his pilli to relay to him the farmer’s response. They were far enough ahead on the path that the discussion could not be heard by the farmer, except for the emphasis the tiquitlato put on the word, teotl. Silhouetted by torchlight, the farmer watched as the pilli tempered the frustration of the tiquitlato. A moment’s silence between them, and the pilli turned to look briefly at the pained farmer. “Go.” He told the tiquitlato with a wave directing him to go walk with the farmer and his family. The tiquitlato lowered his head, turned and walked back to join the approaching family, lifting his chin high into the air. “We will not stop again,” he sneered.

The pilli called for his slave carrying the water-filled gourd. After taking the gourd and drinking a few sips, he ordered the slave to pour some of the water into his cupped hands. He splashed the water on his face. He then ordered the two slaves carrying the adobe game board and water to walk ahead with the torch carrier so that he may walk alone. “Is this a trick of Tezcatlipoca (tez-kaht-lee-POE-kah)?” he pondered, as the answer to the question of the game’s existence was clouded even more by the farmer’s response. “Only the one who speaks can answer,” he concluded to himself.

The party continued their journey into the night through the Eastern mountains, made more difficult by the rises and dips of the rough path through the rockier parts of the trail. The farmer hid his distress in silence and persevered, doing his best to show what strength he could for his family along the night-long journey.
After many hours of travel the mountains opened up to a great valley. In front of them, they could see a reflection of the moon off the great Lake Texcoco in the distance. They would reach Tenochtitlan (Teh-NOACH-tee-tlahn) just before sunrise.

To this day, this is the only known answer the farmer gave to explain how he came to possess the game Itzcoatl. Some believe that the game may have been acquired by him as trade during better harvest seasons with mysterious travelers from the East. Others speculate it may just have been a unique interpretation of other known strategy games such as Alquerque or Kolowis Awithlaknannai.

It may also be true that the farmer himself was the creator of the game. It is said the farmer had ambition as a youth to become a great warrior. His father was a nobleman skilled in the art of masonry and temple building. This permitted him to go into the advanced calmecac school for warrior and priest training. When he first arrived at the calmecac, he witnessed a number of special training exercises that fascinated him. He caught a brief glimpse of the specialized training of warrior-priests. In a small adobe hut, trainees sat silently gazing into a burning fire for hours in a trance-like dream-state, attempting to realize and control their nahualli (naw-HWALL-lee: their animal spirit twin). He also watched an exercise of strategy and teamwork as opposing teams of warriors tethered themselves together to form two opposing serpent teams, the object was to create a break in the opposing team’s chain.

Early in his warrior training, a tragic injury crushed his leg, leaving him lame and unable to pursue his ambition. Distraught, he abandoned the calmecac and disappeared from his noble family one night in shame, choosing to live the life of an anonymous poor farmer . Remembering the masonry skills taught to him by his father, it is said he handcrafted Itzcoatl himself, basing the game on the warrior training exercises he was never able to participate in.

real-boardThe very existence of Itzcoatl was a problem to the pilli. He had a great affinity and adeptness for board games, and was quite prideful of his knowledge of them. For so insignificant a man as this humble farmer to possess this game of legend, and on the pilli’s own land, left him baffled, and perhaps the only reasonable explanation is that the farmer was given a gift of teotl (tay-OH-TULL)– the divine energy of the gods.

How can this be? The farmer was certainly not one that could comprehend teotl the way that only the educated nobles do. How can a man of so little means, so clearly unable to know teotl, be so blessed by it? Could the farmer have passed a test of Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god of night, and of all material things? Is Tezcatlipoca angry and creating chaos in the universe? Or is the pilli himself being tested by him now? These questions are not for the pilli to resolve, only the one who speaks for all, the Tlatoani, can possibly provide an answer.

The traveling party had reached the bank of Lake Texcoco, just as the first moments of daylight could be seen. The pilli stopped and ordered his slave to give him the water gourd. He drank what was left, then ordered the slave to refill it with the lake’s water as he waited for the farmer, his family and the tiquitlato to catch up to him. He could see the farmer was now clearly in great distress. He took pity on the farmer and ordered him and family to take a moment to rest. He ordered his slave bearing the water gourd to hand it to the farmer. He passed it to his children first, his wife, and then took a drink himself.

As dawn began to break, the farmer’s children were awestruck at what lay before them. In front of them was a great causeway that led to a great city on island in the center of the lake. Surrounding the island floating in the lake were beautiful chinampa gardens, rich and ripe with plants and fruits unlike anything the poor farmer had ever been able to grow before. There were more buildings and temples there than the children could possibly count with huge temples the size of which they couldn’t have comprehended set in the center of the island. Though fear had been replaced by exhaustion, their eyes developed a sense of wonder. “Tenochtitlan,” the farmer said to the children quietly, who did his best to turn his pained grimace into a comforting smile.

With that, the pilli waved his hands, directing everyone in the party to continue the last leg of their journey. The sun began to show behind the mountains that lay in the distance behind the great city. The farmer’s wife and two boys lifted their father up and became his supports as they headed down the long causeway that would lead them directly into the great city of Tenochtitlan.

Part IV

The Wrath of Tezcatlipoca

The long night’s journey had taken its toll on the farmer, who could no longer support his own weight. The farmer’s two young sons served as his support as they made their way down the long causeway that led into Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capitol city. The farmer’s wife stood close behind to try to help catch him in case he stumbled. The tiquitlato walked almost in step with the family but also was feeling the fatigue of the long night’s walk.

The pilli and his slave escorts had already arrived at the gate, and had immediately summoned a couple of the guards at the gate to his attention. The sun had already risen high above the great city and the mountains that lay behind it.

As the family finally caught up with the pilli, one of the summoned guards ran into the center of the city. The pilli ordered the family to line up and sit against the city wall next to the gate, and ordered his slaves to line up next to them. The tiquitlato walked over and joined the pilli and remaining guard who stood silent and waited.

Though exhausted and frightened, the children looked about and began to take in the visual wonders that the great city offered them. They saw many people adorned in beautiful, brightly colored clothes, jewelry, flowers and feathers. A merchant near the gate offered exquisite jewelry and pottery of amazing detail. Everywhere they looked they saw beautiful architecture and lovely gardens. There was a bustle of activity around the great temple that stood in the center of the city. It was growing even higher than its already majestic size as scores of men placed giant adobe bricks around and upon the existing temple. Skilled craftsmen were seen carving effigies of the gods in stone already in place. They were gorging on the visual feast of splendor the city presented them, and the sound of flute and drum music permeated throughout the city adding to their experience.

Slowly a small gathering of people from the city began to form and look upon the seated family. They talked in whispers. The farmer’s wife almost cracking a smile through her exhaustion at the wonderment of the city began to realize that her family was the true attraction that morning. She ordered the children to sit quietly, eyes forward. She turned to look at her husband, who through the pain had fallen asleep. She smirked, comforted by his slumber, rubbed his arm with reassurance, then turned back and joined her children sitting quietly with eyes straight ahead.

After about forty minutes the guard returned with four additional guards. “He waits for you now,” he told the pilli. “He who speaks for us must not wait.”

The farmer’s wife turned and tried in vain to wake her husband. He was too exhausted to stand on his own. The pilli ordered two of his slaves to lift the farmer up like a rag doll from the ground and drag him. His wife and children cried out as they watched their father carried away, escorted by the tiquitlato and two guards, into the heart of the city. His wife jumped up to reach out for him in vain but was held back by a guard. Another guard ordered the pilli’s two other slaves, one of whom was still carrying the sleeping mat covering the game board and pieces, was ordered to follow the farmer, and was escorted by the pilli.

The crowd had grown significantly. They were abuzz over the drama unfolding in front of them. It continued to grow as they followed behind where the farmer was being dragged to. After most of the crowd left the area by the gate, the remaining guards lifted the children from the ground. The farmer’s wife and the children were told not to make a sound and follow the crowd.

The family was escorted by two of the remaining guards into the center of the city. They quietly held hands as they walked in sadness and fear, not knowing what had happened to their father, let alone what fate has in store for them.

The new large crowd of at least one hundred people formed a large half circle as they approached the great temple. At the moment the family finally caught up to the crowd the din of crowd noise suddenly went silent. The guards pushed the gathering of people to the sides to reveal the scene to the family.

In front of them, at the foot of the great temple in the late morning sun was the exhausted farmer on the ground on his hands and knees. Next to him was the sleeping mat covering the adobe game board and bowl of obsidian arrowheads. Before him, on the bottom steps of the great temple stood a man of great stature. He was ensconced in a long flowing robe with intricate patterns and a brightly colored sash. He wore a large turquoise-laden tunic necklace and held a great spear in his hand. His long flowing black hair was adorned with an exquisite gold crown of jewels and feathers. His eyes were deep and soulful. This was the tlatoani, the one who speaks for all, the ruler of all the Aztecs.

He looked down at the farmer. “Who is this?” He asked simply, looking back up and meeting the gaze of the pilli.

“He is responsible,” said the pilli, “responsible for this.” The pilli ordered the tiquitlato forward who pulled the sleeping mat away, revealing the game board and pieces to the tlatoani. He displayed no reaction. The tiquitlato scanned the crowd for the farmer’s two sons. Upon spotting them, he rushed over, grabbed them by the arms and again sat them down at the gameboard. “Play! Again!” he demanded.

The boys looked around at the large crowd, but began to place obsidian arrowheads in the impressions on the game board as ordered. The boys played back and forth for three turns each.

“Enough.” Exclaimed the tlatoani with a wave of his hand. He directed the boys to rise and step back with the farmer and family. After a long pause, the tlatoani knelt down to the farmer. “It is called?” he asked.

The farmer did not have the strength to lift his head. In a whisper directed at the ground, he said, “Itz…Itz…coatl.”

“Louder!” exclaimed the tlatoani.

The farmer, through great pain and exhaustion mustered the strength he could. He cleared his throat and lifted his head to speak, “Itzcoatl.” he gasped for all to hear, and then slumped back down.

A collective gasp could be heard over the large crowd. The tlatoani stood stone-faced, while the gathered crowd watched and waited for him to react.

To insult the tlatoani could mean immediate death by sacrifice for a nobleman, let alone a poor farmer, who could suffer the same fate for simply speaking his name. The game Itzcoatl or the mythos behind it had never found their way into the gates of the great city of Tenochtitlan, and for good reason. Those that had heard the rumor of the game’s existence kept it to themselves for fear of insulting the tlatoani.

But to understand how this mysterious game could be construed as an insult to the tlatoani requires us to know his name. This tlatoani, the fourth ruler of the Aztecs, was named ‘Itzcoatl’.

Finally, Itzcoatl smiled. He picked up the adobe game board himself and held it above his head, as the arrowhead pieces the boys had placed there fell to the ground. “Itzcoatl!” He exclaimed, holding it up and circling around for the crowd to see. The crowd exploded into cheers, exclaiming the tlatoani’s name. “Itzcoatl! Itzcoatl!” they chanted.

Itzcoatl received the game of his namesake as a reverent appreciation by the farmer, and he was pleased. The children and his wife rushed to the farmer’s side. He again smiled gently.

Itzcoatl announced to the crowd that the farmer and his family would be honored guests at the upcoming Ochpantli celebration, and the boys were to teach the people of the city how to play the new official game of Tenochtitlan.

A number of slaves assisted the family up off the ground and escorted them to a nearby dwelling where they received robes and were given gourds of water to drink from. They were presented with a room with five separate sleeping mats, but that day the exhausted family chose again to fall asleep together.

Normally Itzcoatl relies on the counsel of his highly respected and cunning nephew, Tlacaelel. When the farmer and family arrived to Tenochtitlan, Tlacaelel was travelling between local friendly city-states Texcoco and Tlacopan, making arrangements for the great celebration of Ochpantli and to maintain alliances in the region. He arrived a week after, and he found Itzcoatl with a copy of his namesake game board. When told about its discovery, Tlacaelel went silent and fear washed over his face. “I wish you had consulted me,” he said to Itzcoatl. “This is not what it seems, it is a mask of teotl.”

ItzcoatlTlacaelel warned Itzcoatl that he saw this as a harbinger of chaos and imbalance in the universe. “This is making you too prideful, as prideful as the gods,” he exclaimed. “You will bring about Tezcatlipoca’s wrath. You and all of Tenochtitlan will be destroyed!”

Itzcoatl dismissed the words of counsel from his nephew, telling him there is nothing to fear from the gods, who will be honored at the upcoming festival.

That night, a great wind blew through Tenochtitlan. The sound of breaking clay pots could be heard throughout the city. The howl awoke Itzcoatl who jumped up in great fear. It is said the wind even knocked over Itzcoatl’s crown. By dismissing the wise counsel of his nephew for his own ego Itzcoatl had angered Tezcatlipoca. Now he and all of Tenochtitlan was the target of his wrath. “What have I done?” he asked himself. He woke his slaves up and ordered them to bring Tlacaelel to him for immediate counsel.

Upon his arrival, Tlacaelel told him that for balance to be restored, Itzcoatl must be destroyed and wiped from history. By order of Itzcoatl, any evidence of the game’s existence must disappear. The farmer’s game must be smashed, along with any copies created. All arrowhead game pieces are to be destroyed, and any recently created pictographs demonstrating the game’s play are to be burned or painted over. It is even said that the serpent team exercise that was performed in the calmecacs was to be stopped and never used again.

Sadly, the farmer and his wife would not be able to escape their fate. As the great wind continued to howl he was seized from his family’s residence by a team of four guards to be sacrificed immediately to appease Tezcatlipoca. He turned to reach out to his family but the four guards pushed him out too quickly to let him say goodbye. Knowing that this fate would befall the entire family and knowing she had only a few moments before the guards returned, the farmer’s wife fought through the panic and tears and called her children together one last time. She ordered her children not to be afraid but to run. They must run as far away as they can into the mountains to the East, never to return to their farm or to Tenochtitlan. She handed her oldest son a deerskin bag containing the arrowheads from the original game. “Go!”, she cried. Together the children fled and disappeared into the darkness, just before the guards returned and seized their mother. The children were never found.

Tlacaelel commanded the city guards sieze the pilli, his slaves and the tiquitlato. Tezcatlipoca was still angry, and they were responsible for exposing Itzcoatl and the whole city of Tenochtitlan to danger. Their sacrifice to Tezcatlipoca is necessary to appease him and save the city.

And the next evening, the great wind was gone.