The Axolotl and the Emperor
The axolotl never failed to amaze Ce. He would often converse with the strange salamander-like creature from the swamps of Mexico for hours at a time. As it swam around in its tank, it seemed to have the enlightened expression of a wise, ancient sage. Ce observed it as it swam among the new aquarium decorations he bought, which were miniature Mexican pyramids.
“Do you like your new aquarium decorations, Cipactli? The one you’re investigating right now is supposed to look like the pyramid of Cholula. It has the greatest volume of any pyramid in the world” Ce told the creature.
The axolotl turned from its inspection of the ruin to face Ce. It seemed to give an enigmatic smile.
Ce sighed. “It’s really sad how the Spaniards built a church on top of it. Maybe I can get rid of the church when I’m crowned as huey tlatoani of All the Land Between the Waters today. Or maybe I should keep it as a holocaust museum to inform outsiders of what happened to our people. What do you think, Cipactli?”
Of course, the axolotl had no way of answering. The red fringes around its face fluttered as a guest made his way into Ce’s room.
“Ce! There you are! Stop talking to that creature and get ready. You’ll be late for the coronation ceremony. People are coming from all over the Land of the Eagle and the Land of the Condor.”
It was the silver-haired elder, Amoxtli. In his arms, the short man clutched several pages that had been folded up accordion style as well as vials of black and red ink to document the details of the upcoming event.
“This indolence can not be tolerated of an emperor! You know that, Ce.”
“I’ll be there in a second, Amoxtli. I just have to feed Cipactli an earthworm.” Ce said. As he opened the can of worms, the axolotl seemed to sense that it was feeding time. It joyfully darted to the surface.
Ce donned a majestic azure cloak with a crimson trim before he departed. It was decorated in parrot feathers and swept the ground. It matched the colour of his long, embroidered loincloth. He had a look at himself in his obsidian mirror and was pleased to see that his jade earrings looked magnificent. His colourful finery stood out on his cacao-coloured skin, and his long, glossy black hair was embellished with a turquoise pin in the shape of a two-headed serpent.
“Alright, I definitely look regal enough” he decided before setting out for the throne room of the palace of New Tenochtitlan, formerly Mexico City.
Amoxtli was already there, addressing an eclectic crowd made up of various indigenous groups. Even at his ancient age, he remained a charismatic orator.
“My people, we will rise again like a phoenix reborn from ashes! Our centuries of oppression under a foreign regime have come to an end. Emperor Ce will work tirelessly to restore order as he rules over All the Land between the Waters, the two subcontinents of the Western Hemisphere!”
A grand applause rose up from the crowd. Delegates had traveled from every corner of the land expecting Ce to extinguish their worries and to usher them into a Golden Age. They represented the various indigenous people of Ce’s dominion, from tiny nomadic tribes like the Guna people from the Amazon rainforest to the descendents of empires and nation-states such as the Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, and the mound-building cultures from along the Mississippi River. Everyone hoped their leader would bring them glory and spearhead the nation to the zenith of its influence. Ce could see all these expectations plainly on the faces of the diverse crowd. Everyone wore the same serious countenance, for although they all held the same unabashed adoration for Amoxtli the Elder, they let Ce know that even though he had been chosen he had yet to prove himself.
Ce twitched nervously on the dais as he stood in front of his people. He felt butterflies in his stomach like the restless souls of his dead warrior ancestors. He began to present his carefully rehearsed speech.
“My people,” he began his address, “allow me to elaborate on the greatness of our ancient civilizations and how far we’ve come since then. Our ancestors built great cities, like Tenochtitlan with all its canals and causeways, pyramids, palaces, and observatories. It was an island city in the middle of a glistening, blue lake and was the inspiration for this new city we are standing in right now, New Tenochtitlan.” It was the usual theme of many public speeches in the land, and no one in the room was surprised by it. Indeed, they had all heard similar descriptions so many times before that it wasn’t very hard for them to imagine the ancient cities he spoke of. “Or like Qosqo, a city built high in the Andes mountains, laid out in the shape of a crouching Mountain Lion and filled with gold-encrusted temples and palaces with jeweled walls. It had fine fortresses with impressive stonework and green terraces for farming and herding woolly llamas and alpacas.”
He scanned the crowd for reactions and noticed that a high-cheek boned, queen-like woman from Qosqo smiled proudly. Her piercing obsidian eyes were bright and fierce. Ce observed that she wore a necklace with a chakana pendant. It was an ancient Inca symbol and everyone know that she was the descendant of a powerful people. She carried the rainbow banner of Qosqo and looked like some kind of goddess-like apparition.
Ce could hear cheers rise up all around the hall, including from the woman who had caught his eye. Everyone drank in the flowery words of the glorious, eloquent speech. The Elder Amoxtli looked up from his writing and smiled. It was time for him to present Ce with a headdress of quetzal plumes. Great elation stirred in the room.
Some of the last delegates that had arrived from the furthest regions of the empire now started to settle in. They brought their heraldry with them. Ce caught a glimpse of the purple flag of the Iroquois confederacy. Some of the very last people to arrive were from Nunavut, carrying flags baring its red inuksuk symbol. It was part of the Inuit’s vast Arctic homeland, the northernmost part of the new nation. Ce heard the stomping of large boots and knew it meant that the Aónikenk people had arrived from their even colder homelands in Patagonia, near in proximity to Antarctica. They were greeted warmly by the Inuit.
“I see some more people have arrived. Welcome, brothers and sisters!”
The Inuit and Patagonian groups were the last ones to arrive since they had to come to Ce’s capital of New Tenochtitlan from so far away, but their presence was of great symbolic importance, showing that the new confederacy of indigenous nations was united from north to south, from the Land of the Eagle to the Land of the Condor.
The Elder finally crowned Ce with the feathered headdress. Ce felt powerful knowing that the feathers towered above him and made him look tall and formidable. He was handed a golden chalice by Amoxtli. It had been carved with a design of two birds, the mighty eagle of the North and the condor of the South, the emblem of the new nation.
“When you indulge in the luxurious chocolate elixir that I have had handed you in that chalice and then proceed to sit on your extravagant throne, don’t be fooled. Beware! It will seem like the most comfortable chair in the world at first, but it is really a seat of pain. You were chosen by the people because they thought you would be strong enough to endure struggle throughout your reign.” The Elder declared.
Ce drank deeply from the golden chalice, taking care not to spill a drop of the frothy chocolate drink. It was sweet at first, but the aftertaste was bitter. Then Ce felt a burning sensation in his mouth, because it just wouldn’t be complete without added chilies and allspice. Every ingredient had been a metaphor, of course. Ce had to be careful not to let the childish thrill of being huey tlatoani consume him, just like he couldn’t expect the chocolate drink to be sugary and sweet throughout.
He could become corrupted with his power, and his subjects could end up feeling bitter towards him. Even though the Land of the Eagle and Condor had survived many hardships, it still had many dangerous and powerful enemies all over the world, but mostly in Europa and even some within its own borders.
Ce could never be sure of making it through the next day alive, as someone could easily slip poison into his food, as unexpected as chilies in a chocolate drink. It had happened to Tizoc, an ancient ruler of the old Tenochtitlan, so perhaps it could someday happen to a ruler of the new. His people would have no use for a dead huey tlatoani.
Ce’s paranoid thoughts were interrupted by the Elder declaring that a feast would commence in honor of the coronation. It was the most lavish and beautiful feast that you ever would have seen, and it was a miracle that such a young nation was able to provide so much food to its citizens. Almost every dish had used one of the Three Sisters or a healthy ancient grain like quinoa. There were smoked tamales and stuffed turkeys, slabs of pemmican with fresh Saskatoon berries, Navajo tacos on loaves of fry bread, pozole soup served in gourd bowls, duck nuggets, wild rice, and rabbit stew.
For dessert, the Inuit had brought something they called ice cream, or akutaq. They offered it to the huey tlatoani.
“I’m sorry but I don’t think I can have that. I’m lactose intolerant.” Ce said.
“Do not worry, Revered Speaker,” an old Inuk said, with wrinkly skin much paler than Ce’s. He had long, straight hair the colour of dark chocolate, and laugh lines around his small, brown eyes with epicanthal folds that had evolved to guard against the cold, icy wind of his homeland. Ce recognized him as the man who had brought in the red inuksuk banner of Nunavut, and learned that he was named Atka after the midnight sun.
“Our akutaq just has caribou fat, cloudberries, seal oil and some tundra greens, all mixed in with snows from our Arctic homeland. None of it contains the white man’s dairy products.” He chuckled.
Ce smiled and tried some of the strange concoction, knowing that it would be rude if he didn’t and he didn’t have his lactose intolerance an excuse anymore.
As the feast progressed, Ce took some more time to make speeches.
“All of you have democratically elected delegates to represent you. These delegates will travel back to their sub-nations once the festivities that have commenced my reign have ended. I believe this system shall work to make sure all of the diverse cultures of this land are represented in some form or another. ”
Ce Tepuzmachiyopilcac ended up being the only one who dared to try the Inuit ice cream that night, along with the Inuit themselves and their new friends the Aónikenk of Patagonia, who thought the dish was a genius invention and wondered if penguin fat would work just as well as caribou.
The dessert for everyone else was squash smoothies with chia seeds, maple syrup candies, and of course liquid chocolate. Oceans of it.
“As our beloved elder has suggested, I’m also going to appoint two people who will help me rule and keep my power in check. One of these viziers will be from the Land of the Eagle, while the other will be from the Land of the Condor. But don’t worry, this won’t be some kind of dictatorial triumvirate.”
“Anything’s better than the white man’s way” Atka grumbled.
“You all have the right to rebel, for it is not the people who must fear their emperor but the emperor who must fear his people.”
And so the feasting and merriment continued throughout the evening, signalling the dawning of a new age for the people of All the Land between the Waters. In time Ce would learn that the revolution had been the easy part.