Princess Ona and The Aztecs
A tale of cultural exchange
Princess Onatuhauka stared across the sunset plain at her fellow Ohuka tribespeople. Their band of 40 came from a tribe 10,000 strong, living in what is today modern Texas. She was on a southward journey of a hundred nights, and today it was the 90th night. Traveling by moonlight was preferred over the scorching day, with nothing but flatness ahead and her hopeful people behind. She was on an important mission, voluntarily.
“Hey Ona, why so serious?” cried her nephew Onntako. “We’re almost there!”
Onntako was a playful boy of just 14 summers. Despite coming from Chieftain blood, he was short for his age and branded a rare obsidian blade by his hip. He spent most days wrestling with the dogs and chasing deer, which his father angrily disapproved. Youthful potential like his should be spent on hunting buffalo, not getting dirty with dogs.
“You know, you won’t make things any better by staring off into the distance Ona!” teased Onntako. “Or maybe, are you thinking of your boooyfriend?”.
“Shut up Onntaka!” snapped Princess Onatuhauka. “I’m thinking of how to best do my job!”
“What’s so hard about it Ona? All you need to do is show off your pretty furs, complain about how difficult the journey was, and offer a trade deal.” said Onntako. “I do that every day!”
“It’s not that simple Onntako.” rebutted Ona. “The Aztecs are a warlike people. Long distances aren’t enough to deter them from conquering faraway lands if the rewards are good enough.”
“What could the Aztecs possibly want from us?” retorted Onntako. “Father said this obsidian blade is worth more than an entire buffalo, so Azteca must be very wealthy. Why invade when you can trade?”
“That’s what the Naukhuli tribe thought too, and look what happened to them!” snapped Ona. “It’s a very delicate balancing act. We can’t offer too much that we become a tempting target, and too little would be insulting. Besides, we don’t even know if they want our furs.”
“I think you’re overthinking it Ona” said Onntako. “Father said the Aztecs respect those who go out of their way to show them respect. A hundred nights of travel is quite out of the way, don’t you think?”
Onntako was right, but he didn’t have all the information. The night before their band left home, Princess Onatukauka and her father, the Grand Chieftain, discussed the gravity of her mission.
For many years, reports of Aztec cruelty spread across the central American plains. Horrible beatings with blunt clubs where proud warriors were bullied into submission, defeated but alive. They would be forced to march months through mountain and jungle to the magical city on a lake — Tenochtitlan. No one knew exactly what they were brought there for, but human sacrifice was the prevailing guess. Supposedly, honor to the Aztecs was ritual death.
But no normal father would send his daughter to be sacrificed. The Grand Chieftain heard, confirmed, and re-confirmed that various tribes across the plains were successful in arranging trade deals with the Aztecs, in exchange for the promise of peace. At the same time, being the Grand Chieftain meant he could not be a normal father. If necessary, he was ready to offer one of his daughters in marriage to a regional Aztec prince if it secured peace.
When they spoke about the mission, he was surprised to hear Ona’s reaction. Despite being only 15 summers old, and a middle child, she had the maturity of a Queen. She agreed that it was her duty as princess to bring peace to her people, and if arranged marriage was necessary, she would do it. Even death by sacrifice was an option.
That night, she was forbidden from seeing her beloved — Ohca, a kind and loyal boy 17 summers old. Childhood romances did not matter in the real world. After sufficient crying, Ona pushed thoughts of him aside and prepared herself for the hundred-night journey ahead.
By the 104th night, they arrived at the Tamaulipas jungle. After setting up camp at the border, they waited for Aztec scouts to discover them. It did not take long, and out of the bush, six Aztec Eagle Warriors walked into the camp. After exchanging initial gifts, the band began to pack up for the humid journey into the unknown jungle. It was a short 4 hour trek, ending in a small stone city. Small by Aztec measures, but large to the Ohukas.
A week passed before Prince Azthicas welcomed Princess Onatuhauka and her band into his court, where Naukhuli translators stared with wide-eyed shock. From Ohuka to Naukhuli to Aztec, the parties communicated their messages of peace and trade, which the Prince absent-mindedly agreed to. His attention was focused on Ona. How her black hair curved over beautiful tan skin and slender graceful figure. Perhaps after a few weeks of feeding, he could get her to an ideal plumpness.
“Please give the Princess and I an opportunity to speak alone,” said the Prince.
Onntako glanced worryingly at Ona, concerned for her safety.
“Leave us.” said Ona. Her confident voice hid the nervous fear underneath her throat.
The room cleared, except for the translators. Prince Azthicas did not hesitate to speak first.
“You are very beautiful, Princess. Was the journey here difficult?”
“Yes, it was a long and hard travel of more than one hundred days. We are a humble people, but we have soft furs to offer” replied Ona.
The Prince laughed. “If you have not yet noticed Princess, Azteca is a hot and humid land. We have no need for furs. I am sorry, but your journey will be in vain.”
Ona was stunned by his response. She had not considered how useful the furs would be to the Aztecs, and realized she had been misled by her tribe’s preconceived notions of value.
“But,” the prince said, “there is something else your tribe may offer.”
Ona’s heart dropped. It was too damn predictable — she knew exactly what he meant. She kept her composure, but internally, she wanted to scream at the men of her tribe. For nights, she listened to them debate about what to bring for trade — canvas, arrowheads, furs, tobacco… everything of value to Ohuka people. How naïve they all were. Perhaps secretly, the men knew that a princess was a sufficient backup gift and did not think to open their minds. Now she would pay the price. This angered Ona, and in an impulsive action she said,
“What do you mean, no? You haven’t even heard what I have to say!” laughed the Prince.
“I know what you are going to say. You want me, and the answer is no.” Ona said in a shaking voice.
Angrily, the Prince yelled. “You are a foolish girl! Do you know what will happen to your people if you do not accept my generous offer? Do you realize what you are doing?”
Scared and intimidated, she thought back to her family. She did not want them to be hurt, but at the same time she did not believe that the regional Prince had enough clout to start a war.
“Listen, my Princess. Us Aztecs do not take multiple wives. We choose one lover and faithfully care for them all our lives.” Prince Azthicas soothed. “I can take care of you.”
His false reassuring words had no effect on Ona. All she could think about was her friends and family back home.
“I am a kind man my Princess. I can protect your people.”
Eons passed in her mind, but a few moments later she conceded,
“Okay. I will be yours.”
A wide smile flashed over the Prince’s face. With a loud foreign yell, he ordered a slave servant into the room and said to him,
“Tell the Ohuka band that I accept their trade deal. But I do not want furs, I want maps. Go now, and take the Princess to her group. But bring her back by the end of the day.”
Ona was escorted out by the slave servant, walking proudly without letting the slave touch her.
That night Onntako cried many tears. The band was solemn, despite being loaded with rich gifts of jewelry, obsidian and smoked meats. By accepting the gifts, it implied that maps would be given in exchange. But that was a dangerous trade, and to make things worse, the Aztecs would keep Princess Onatuhauka. Onntako and Ona hugged one another and spoke softly, with a message for Ona’s lover back home.
“Tell Ohca that he is a good man, and that I love him” said Ona. “And don’t worry about me. Take care of our tribe Onntako. I will be ok, and you can visit me with the trade caravans.”
Soon they parted ways. In her mind Ona imagined how Ohca would react to the news, and holding back tears, she forced solidarity. That night, as the Ohuka band travelled through the jungle and into the plains, a blood moon appeared across the sky. The group looked nervously at the bad omen, and prayed that Princess Onatuhauka was alright. In Prince Azthicas bedroom, blood was smeared across the sheets. He smiled in relief at the confirmation of her virginhood, and snored happily that night. Ona could not fall asleep.
At first, it was difficult for Ona to get accustomed to Aztec life. There was always lots of food, and she did get more plump like the Prince had planned. It was very clear that the Aztecs were a warlike people, even in times of peace. Several instances, Prince Azthicas was wounded defending Ona from envious rival princes. By the 50th day, she began to feel some form of affection towards her forced lover, as she tended to his wounds.
“Why do you Aztecs fight so much?” she carefully asked Azthicas.
“My Princess, do you feel fear when you enter the jungle?” he replied. “How far can you see in the bush?”
Ona immediately put the pieces together. Growing up on the plains, she could see incoming threats from miles away. But here, she reasoned, anywhere could be an ambush.
“Sure, you have to keep your guard up. But why fight with your own kin? That I do not understand.”
The Prince glanced at her in confusion. “My own kin? My Princess, do you know how many people live here under Aztec rule?”
“How many?” she asked.
“At least 500,000. More if you count the half bloods.” Replied the Prince. “I myself am only half Aztec. My mother was Mayan, and like you, she married for peace.”
Ona was surprised by his answer. In the plains, the 10,000 Ohuka were considered a large tribe. How could anyone govern 500,000 people?
“Where are the Mayans now?” she asked.
Azthicas looked into the distance, and after a few moments of silence, said “This was Mayan land, now it is part of Azteca. The Mayan people… they are all around us as slaves or servant teachers. Except the men, they are dead.”
Before Ona had a chance to react, loud bangs echoed through the thick wooden doors of Azthicas’ chambers.
“Who dares disrespect my silence!?” yelled the Prince.
Azthicas grabbed his large obsidian warclub and swung open the heavy door. On the other side were three armed Jaguar Warriors, each wielding their own warclubs. Azthicas recognized two of the men, rival Aztec princes with a history of disrespect towards his family.
“Half-blood bitch!” yelled one of the Jaguars, pushing Athicas forcefully backwards. “You think you can marry a foreign slut and dilute your Aztec blood?”
The Jaguar scowled at Princess Onatuhauka and spat, “Did he promise to marry you? Either he is a liar or truly a fool unfit to govern Aztec land.”
With a sudden blow, the Jaguar fell to the ground with blood dripping down his head. Azthicas redrew his warclub and prepared to defend against the next Jaguar.
But it was too late. By the time Azthicas regained his footing, sharp obsidian pierced his face, snapping his jaw. Another impact later, he was dead. The two remaining Jaguars turned their focus to Princess Onatuhauka.
“Hello Princess, are all your people so beautiful? Put down your knife and come here.”
Ona was trembling with fear and gripped her obsidian blade harder. Blood began to drip down her hands. The Jaguars walked in her direction with lust in their eyes. After a brief second of paralysis, Ona ran towards the open tower window.
“Get back here!” yelled one Jaguar.
Only half of Ona’s body was outside the window. The Jaguars pulled her from her legs and began to strip her naked. They fought back her kicks, but she managed to draw blood with a forceful heel-to-nose impact. Suddenly, her body went limp.
The Jaguars dragged the Princess’s body inside, only to discover her dead fearful eyes staring back, with a river of blood gushing from her neck. Her obsidian blade was still lodged inside.
There was silence in the chambers as the Jaguars realized what they had done.
“No one can know” said one Jaguar Warrior to the other. “She killed Azthicas”.
“Yes”, replied the other Jaguar. “And she killed our fellow Prince too, when he walked into the scene.”
“But what about his honor?”
“What honor? Atigirus was killed by a half-blood. Might as well been killed by a woman.”
“Azteca will want revenge for this, brother.” Replied the Jaguar.
“Of course. And we will lead the campaign. The distance is too far to bring back male sacrifices, but if we’re lucky, there will be some beautiful women.” Laughed the other Jaguar.
The two looked at each other with a secret grin.
“I will speak to Father. He has the Naukhuli maps.”