While Axayacatl was busy recruiting his army, which in as giant an island city as Tenochtitlan was not an easy or a short process, the independent city-states of the Toluca Valley weren’t idle as well. Not only Tenantzinco sought alliances outside of its immediate surroundings. The altepetl‘s of Tollocan and Matlatzinco had ideas of their own.
To the north of the Toluca Valley lay various city-states belonging to the Otomi people, who generally inhabited the Toluca Valley along with their Matlatzinca neighbors, coexisting there since the times of the legendary Toltecs, or maybe even prior to those. The Mexica considered the Otomi to be fierce, skillful warriors, if not highly civilized or otherwise worthy, according to Sahagun, Duran and Torquemada to name a few. In the latter-day Tenochtitlan, there was a special combat unit called Otomitl, where the Mexica warriors of special valor were expected to display great fits of courage worthy of elite fighters, their peers Eagle and Jaguar warriors.
Yet, besides their reputation on the battlefield, the Otomi people were considered to be barbaric, less civilized than their Mexico Valley peers, prone to be compared to the legendary Chichimecs, the ferocious invaders who were said to destroy the Toltecs some centuries ago. As a matter of fact, Mexica themselves admitted to having such origins in their own lineage, however civilized they claimed to become later on, claiming Toltec ancestry as well. Clearly influenced by traditional Mexica narrative, Sahagun, in his “General History of Things in New Spain” (Codex Florentine) says: “…some Chichimec people, such as the Otomi,… knowing agriculture, living in settled communities, and having a religion devoted to the worship of the Moon…”
Until 1474, the Otomi settlements from northern Toluca Valley seemed to be more interested in their western neighbors, the Purepecha/Tarascans, fighting off occasional advances of this organized and strong regional power. However, with the conflict in the southern part of the valley brewing, they seemed to become more involved in their southern neighbors’ affairs as well.
B’otzanga, or Tlilcuetzpalin, as the man was known in the Nahuatl-recorded history (both words mean Black Lizard in different tongues) was reported to be a war leader of Xiquipilco, an influential Otomi settlement in the mountainous northwest. Clearly an ambitious warriors’ leader, the man was reported to bring considerable reinforcements to the Tollocan and Matlatzinco’s assembled armies. Today, he is still remembered among the modern-day Otomi as a national hero, even though other sources claim that his famous duel with Axayacatl happened later on, when the victorious Mexica invaded his native mountains of the northwest. In any case, a spectacular battle and a duel of two worthy war leaders was imminent, awaited probably by both the Mexica ruler and the Otomi warlord, if the spying activities in both regions were as widespread as reported.
In the meanwhile, Tenochtitlan, busy with its war preparations which, when it came to a faraway campaign, usually took up to eight days to organize without paralyzing the giant city’s daily life, faced an annoyingly rebellious lack of tribute payment from none other than their troublesome neighbors, the newly conquered Tlatelolco. A tribute which the formerly independent altepetl was to deliver once every four moons was reported to be paid only partly, without due eagerness and goodwill. According to Duran, “… eighty days later, when the first payment of tribute was due, the Tlatelolcans did not bring slaves as they had been instructed… they excused themselves, saying that they had been unable to obtain them…”
The reaction of Tenochtitlan was neither lenient nor violent. Busy with his war preparations, Axayacatl did not seem to be tempted to bring his newly gathered warriors’ force to the neighboring city in order to punish it. Instead, he decreed that “…the noblemen of this city are no longer to wear splendid mantles… they must use maguey cloaks, like people of low rank…”; Duran says that Tenochtitlan went as far as prohibiting Tlatelolcan nobles from wearing jewelry, or maybe even sandals, detained from certain appearances in public offices and places – “… like women, they were to stay at their houses until eighty days after their second payment had passed…”
That served to bring Tlatelolco back to its senses and not to be late with any further payments. Codex Mendoza, on the other hand, while going into great detail, listing every item of tribute that was to be delivered each fourth moon, does not mention any trouble in the initial payment.
An excerpt from “Morning Star”, The Aztec Chronicles, book #5.
The man nodded with surprising acceptance. “We’ll go and look there all the same. Maybe they are still around, lingering nearby.” His wide shoulders lifted briefly, decisively. “The maps and the tales of our courageous villager should reach your emperor before he sets out. They are good and extensive and they may influence your redoubtable ruler’s plans. I wonder if that boy learned something even more interesting while staying in the vicinity of the renowned Otomi leader who has no business sticking his nose into those lowlanders’ affairs.”
Necalli couldn’t help it. “Tlilcuetzalin?” It was difficult not to remember the Emperor’s reaction to the word of some fierce Chichimec or Otomi coming to join the enemy Tenochtitlan was about to engage in fighting, the unbecoming agitation he never expected to see on the Tenochtitlan ruler’s face. And that ominously spectacular name, TlilCuetzalin, Black Lizard.
“Oh yes, that’s the man. So now you know his name as well. Interesting.” The smile twisting the Texcocan’s lips held nothing but amusement this time. “I bet the Tenochtitlan emperor’s wish to be on his way tripled after your news. No wonder he looked agitated, that one. Loves spectacular ends to spectacular battles, that emperor of yours. But Tlilcuetzalin, or B’otzanga as he is known among his own people, is no Moquihuixtli of Tlatelolco, far from it. He will give your emperor a decent battle and a challenging hand-to-hand if they get to it. Remember my words, YoloNecalli. It might be a battle worthy of watching, its outcome not as certain as the one we managed to glimpse back in Tlatelolco.”
A gesture of the wide palm invited Necalli to leave the comforts of the shade the Great Pyramid provided. Fascinated, Necalli followed obediently. “Who is this man?” he asked, remembering the royal hand-to-hand upon the top of the Tlatelolco main pyramid, the glimpses he managed to snatch while keeping an eye on Moquihuixtli’s exquisite chief wife on behalf of this same man of Texcoco, saving the lady from the worst aspects of conquest.
“The Otomi leader from the western valleys?” His companion grinned without much mirth. “Oh, he is a renowned warrior and Axayacatl must have heard about him as well. Your villager friend’s news surely took the sleep out of Tenochtitlan ruler’s eyes. He won’t rest now and he will hurry his advance toward the west more ardently than before. Predictable that.” The frown came suddenly, replacing the amusement. “Botzanga is a great warrior and a skillful leader, a ruthless man of great merit, very sharp, very perceptive. I hope ItzMiztli did not come too close while spying after this one. He is not skilled enough yet to handle such a man. I would rest easier if it was he himself who came here to tell us the news of this man’s forces joining the Tollocans. One doesn’t go tracing a jaguar on its path, daring to follow its actual footprints, without proper training and skill.”
Necalli’s stomach twisted uneasily. “You think he managed to come close to such a man? How? It should be difficult, shouldn’t it? He is not a noble pilli and this Otomi leader must be a noble in his lands.” He tried to remember what they had been taught about the mysterious Chichimecs, the fiercest warriors and the wildest people with no scruples and no morals.