Many times since the Azteca came into the valley had the years been tied into bundles, each bundle being fifty-two years. And many times at the Tying of the Years had the fires been quenched and a new fire lighted on the breast of a sacrificed man. Many times had that festival come round that is called the Knot of the Years, and many times had the king and the priests consulted about the portents that chow themselves when the fires are quenched and a new fire lighted.
Montezuma the Conqueror was king at that Tying of the Years. And the portent that showed itself was in a pair of great sandals that were found upon the floor of the Temple of Huizilopochtli, the War God of the Azteca. Montezuma the Conqueror said, "This is a sign from Huizilopochtli; it signifies that he will never leave the Azteca." And he said to the priests, "Bear these sandals to Coatlicue, the mother of our god. She dwells in Aztlan the White Place. Out of Aztlan the Azteca went in the old days, guided by Huizilopochtli. They made themselves possessors of the valley; they conquered the tribes of the valley and the uplands; they built the great city Tenochtitlan. Go, tell Coatlicue all this. And say that by my arms they have now subdued the people farthest away, and have taken captives for the sacrifices from them. Huizilopochtli will never leave a people who have proved themselves such conquerors. Go; bear these sandals in all reverence to the
mother of Huizilopochtli; they will be a sign to her that her son will not return to Aztlan the White Place."
So the priests of Huizilopochtli searched in their books and found out the ways that led back to Aztlan the White Place. It was a mountain that waters surrounded. The waters were filled with fish; flocks of ducks swam around; birds delighted those who dwelt there with the sight of their green and yellow plumage and enchanted them with their songs. And there, in the caverns of the mountain, the Azteca had dwelt for unnumbered generations. All the good things they had had been brought from there--the maize, the beans, the fruits. For on the waters there were barges, and on the barges grew all nourishing things. And when the men and women of the Azteca went out of the caverns that were filled with precious stones they would go in canoes amongst the floating gardens, and watch the ducks swimming, the cormorants diving, the herons flying overhead; they would gather the bright flowers of the gardens and listen to the enchanting songs of the birds.
But Huizilopochtli roused up many to depart from that place; they left the mountain and their floating gardens, taking with them, however, many of the plants that grew in the gardens. They went upon the land. The herbs of the ground pricked them; the stones bruised their feet. Plains that were filled with thorns spread out before them. Jaguars lay in wait for them, and sprang upon stragglers and tore their flesh. But aroused by Huizilopochtli and guided by him the Azteca went on. They went through deserts where famine wasted them. Then they reached the Place of the Seven Caves where they rested and were at ease for a while. Then they came to where there was a tree broken by lightning, and there some stayed. Others went on, Huizilopochtli still guiding them. And at last they came to the Lake Tezcuco. They beheld a high rock with a cactus growing on it. Upon the cactus was an eagle. Up he rose; he flew towards the rising sun, and in his talons he held a serpent. The omen was good; the Azteca halted their march there. Many battles did they fight there; they subdued the tribes that dwelt in the valley, and they built Tenochtitlan, the greatest of cities.
And now the priests of Huizilopochtli, the ambassadors of Montezuma the Conqueror, travelled the ways back to Aztlan the White Place. In Tollan, which is the navel of the world, they found four magicians who guided them across the deserts. Then they beheld a
mountain that rose out of the midst of waters. The priests went towards it, leaving the magicians behind them. The smell of flowers came to them on the airs of night; in the morning they heard the songs of birds. On they went, and they saw the gardens upon the water; they saw the flocks of ducks swimming around, and the cormorants diving from the juttings of the mountain, and the herons fishing or flying overhead. They saw the birds of green and yellow plumage flying from garden to garden, and they heard them singing from the branches of fruitful trees.
The people who were there spoke to them in a language that the priests knew, and asked them why they had come across deserts to them. The priests said that they had come back to the ancestral place. They brought to Coatlicue, they said, the sandals of her son Huizilopochtli.
But when the priests mentioned the name of Montezuma the Conqueror and mentioned the names of his lords, the people of the waters said that those who had gone from them in the old days had borne no such names. They named the lords who were with the Azteca when they went from Aztlan the White Place. Then the ambassadors of Montezuma said, "We know not these lords; we have never seen them; they are long since dead." Then the people of the waters were surprised, and they said, "We who knew them are living yet."
The priest of Coatlicue came to bring them into the presence of the Goddess. She lived on a peak of the mountain. As they went upward the feet of the men from Tenochtitlan sank in the ground, for the mountain became like a heap of loosened sand. "What makes you so heavy?" their guide asked them. He was an ancient, but he went lightly upon the ground. "What do you eat?" he asked them. "We eat flesh, and we drink pulque," the ambassadors of Montezuma answered him. "It is the meat and drink you have consumed that prevent your reaching the place where your fathers dwelt. Here we eat but fruits, and roots, and grain; we drink only water, and so there is no clog upon us when we walk." As he said this a swift wind came and brought him and brought the ambassadors up to the peak of the mountain and into the cavern where Coatlicue dwelt.
They saw her; her dress was of serpents, and they were terrified of her. When she looked upon the sandals they laid before her she
lamented, saying, "When Huizilopochtli went from Aztlan he said to me, his mother, 'When my time is accomplished I shall return to your lap; until that time I shall know nought save weariness. Therefore, give me two pairs of sandals, one for going forth, and one for returning.' And now, you say, he will not return to this lap of mine." Then the Goddess put on a garment of mourning, and the ambassadors went from the cavern where she dwelt.
They did not think that they stayed long in Aztlan the White Place. But when they returned to Tenochtitlan they found that the years were again being tied into a bundle, that the fires of the land were quenched, and that a new fire was being lighted on the breast of a sacrificed man. A king who was called the Second Montezuma ruled over the Azteca. Many and dread portents showed themselves at that Tying of the Years. A fisherman caught a strange bird: a shining stone was in the head of that bird, and when that stone was brought to him, the Second Montezuma looked into it and he saw wars being waged against the Azteca in which strange and more death-dealing weapons than he had ever known were being used. And at the time of the quenching of the fires his sister had died; she had been buried, but now she was seen seated at a fountain in a garden of the palace. Montezuma and his lords went before her. She told them that she had been brought to the Eastern Sea. She had seen great ships upon the sea, and in the ships were fair-faced and bearded men who carried more death-dealing weapons than any that had ever been seen in the land of the Azteca. And after that a pillar of fire appeared in the east, and it seemed too cast fire upon the whole land. Rejoicings were heard amongst the captives, and lamentations were heard amongst the old men: it was thought that the pillar of fire in the east presaged the destruction of the Empire of the Azteca.