August 7, 2076
Wow... I just can't believe I made this milestone, yesterday. 11 more years and I will be as old as Bilbo Baggins was when his nephew Frodo set forth in his adventure out of The Shire. Yes, yes. Old, commercial fantasy book, I know. But it is still a story worth telling, and if we leave anything for our younger generations, it is that: stories.
Our memories become theirs and our knowledge passed down from one person to the next. So it has been since the dawn of intelligence and so it will remain until the end of time. And that very much has to do with my birthday post.
Firstly, let me start by saying that I am so grateful to have seen my daughter, grandkids and great grandkids yesterday. You all made an exceedingly old man very happy. Also, I am extremely grateful for the screen readers and dictation programs of our world today. Being blind as a bat, they make these posts possible. Also, much easier to write when your arthritis is acting up. Hehehehe.
At any rate, I had a great day with you all, and I thank you so much for sharing your time with me. And more importantly, for listening to the story I had to tell you. Which goes back to the opening of my post.
For those of you who only know me online or that were unable to share this event with me, after the lovely dinner was done, I shared with my family a story that has enchanted me since I was a child, and that has done the same for countless other generations of children. It is the story of Popocátzin and Mixtli. And if you would indulge a centenary with your eyes, I would like to share it with you as well:
It was very long ago, in the dawn of time. When the land was new and the old gods of Mexico still whispered to their people. When the land and the mountains had still not taken their eternal shape, Tezozómoc, the then "Tlatoani" (or emperor) of the Mexica people, in the heart of what would later be called Tenochtitlan and much later still the Valley of Mexico, saw the raise of a new people bent on conquest. They were the Aztecs.
The Aztecs had conquered several Mexica territories, with their sights now set on his capital, Tlaxcala, in the heart of Mexico. The Aztecs had already conquered several territories, and were starting to dominate the southwestern shores. They were poised to attack Oaxaca as soon as the seasons rolled, and Tezozómoc decided it was time to stop the Aztecs before they grew any more powerful.
And so, he called on to his greatest general, the Eagle Knight Popocátzin to lead the armies. He promised honors, poems, ballads and land to his name, but Popocátzin only asked for one thing in return: "I will win this war for you, my beloved lord" he said, "and the only thing my heart desires in exchanged for my service, is the hand of the most beautiful maiden in the land. Your youngest daughter, Mixtli".
Tezozómoc doubted. Mixtli had been courted by another one of his great generals, Axooxco, and the old emperor was certain that he would ask for her hand as well. He asked Popocátzin to come back in 3 days for him to deliberate his request. As Tezozómoc predicted, the very next morning, Axooxco came for an audience, also asking for Mixtli's hand as his wife. The old Tlatoani, in his wisdom, went to his daughter and said: "My child. Two men have come to me, and they wish to marry you. One is the great knight Axooxco, and the other is the great knight Popocátzin. Please, tell me what you would have me do, for I cannot decide for your heart."
Mixtli's answer was quick and decisive. "My heart already belongs to one of these men, my father. My soul sings for him like the Quetzal bird crows for the morning's light. And that man is Popocátzin." Tezozómoc looked into Mixtli's eyes and caressed her cheek. "It is done, then. Once he comes victorious from Oaxaca, you two shall be married."
Two days later, Popocátzin and Axooxco came before Tezozómoc to hear who would marry his daughter. Both Mixtli and Popocátzin rejoiced, and they spent the next few days whispering words of love to each other by lakes, rivers and flower beds. While Axooxco watched them from a distance, wondering how he could make Mixtli his.
The week went by in a flash for the lovers, and then it was time for Popocátzin to lead his troops to Oaxaca. He marched fast, with Axooxco close behind him, with his own troops. The two generals, rivals in love and allies in war, arrived at Oaxaca as the season turned, ready to face the Aztecs. They did not have to wait long.
The cries of war and drums roared in the air, and they prepared to face their enemy. "Axooxco, my most honorable friend" Popocátzin said, "Shall I not return from this battle, I beg you to care for Mixtli and give her all the happiness I cannot."
Axooxco thought about those words for a moment. "And that is what shall happen, my friend... should you join our ancestors at the river of the dead." And a dark idea took form in Axooxco's mind. He went to his fastest and most loyal warrior and said: "You, who have bled at my side in countless wars. Let the wind carry your feet as swiftly as it has ever done. As if the gods themselves gave you wings, and bring news to Tlaxcala that Popocátzin has fallen. I will make sure that by the time you arrive, it will be so."
As Axooxco's warrior ran as fast as he could, the general went back to the front lines, standing next to Popocátzin. The Aztecs had now stopped their chants and drums. The battle was about to begin.
Axooxco's eyes were full of purpose and ambition. He was about to make sure Mixtli would be only his, and in doing so, perhaps, one day he would be emperor once Tezozómoc died. Something he could also arrange for, he thought to himself. He could wait no longer and ordered his archers to fire, violating all protocols of honorable war.
The Aztecs were caught off guard, as neither side was yet done doing their prayers and offerings to the gods. "What are you doing, brother!?" Popocátzin screamed, insulted by Axooxco's lack of honor. "I am doing what our Tlatoani commanded us to do, friend. I am saving our lands from the Aztec armies."
Not sooner Axooxco finished that sentence, the Aztec responded back with their own volley of arrows. Thousands of Mexica and Aztec warriors then rushed at each other, screaming and offering battlecries to their gods as they did. The sounds of death and the smell of blood filled the air for hours, and then, in the middle of the battle, Axooxco found Popocátzin.
He talked him from behind and lowered his body like a jaguar about to pounce on his prey. Popocátzin turned around as his own ally was jumping at him, with an obsidian-studded mace at the ready to deliver a killing blow. Popocátzin raised his shield to block the attack and readied his own mace to strike back, but his eyes widened in surprise when he recognize his attacker. "What are you doing, brother? I am not the enemy!" Axooxco looked up at him with murder in his eyes. "Indeed you are not, my friend. But you are still my rival."
Axooxco swung his mace as if he wanted to knock Popocátzin's head clean off, but the brave warrior ducked and dodged the attack. Axooxco attacked him repeatedly, but Popocátzin only kept blocking him, refusing to go on the offense against his now former ally.
"Mixtli will be mine!" Axooxco screamed, Mexica and Aztec warriors alike falling around the two generals. "Her heart is only hers to give!" Popocátzin screamed back as he kept blocking the attacks. "You came here to fight for her hand, brother! Then do so or die by someone who will!" And it was then when Popocátzin understood. Axooxco would not yield. He would not stop. Only one was to marry Mixtli, and that someone would be the one to come back alive.
The two generals locked in a fierce combat. Throwing blows, dodging, losing their weapons and picking up new ones. They were two wild ocelots ready to die for their love. And as one, Axooxco leaped up and then went down with his mace using all his strength and ruthlessness. Popocátzin tried to cover himself with his feather-adorned shield, but the punishment it had taken was too much already and it snapped in two. Popocátzin felt a rush of pain as his rival's mace mauled his arm and knocked him to the ground.
"Fear not, my beloved friend." Axooxco said as he picked up an obsidian sword, ready to cut Popocátzin in half. "I will honor our promise and bring to Mixtli the happiness you will not." Popocátzin looked up to see his rival rushing at him, a victorious smile on his face. But the noble warrior quickly grabbed a broken speak with his only working arm and set it in the path of Axooxco. The spear sunk deep into Axooxco's right side and his triumphant grin became a surprised visage of pain.
Axooxco fell to the ground, panting heavily as the battle began to die down, with the Aztecs in retreat. "You may have bested me in combat, brother... but you have not beaten me. To Mixtli, you are already dead." Popocátzin's eyes widened and he grabbed the throat of his felled opponent with his good arm. "What did you do, Axooxco? WHAT DID YOU DO?" His once-friend didn't respond. Axooxco merely laughed in his face. Popocátzin, furious and betrayed, simply walked away in response, leaving him to die in the battlefield.
The Aztecs came back the next morning. And the morning after than. And so they sieged Oaxaca for a week until the Mexicas, under Popocátzin's leadership were victorious. They all celebrated as they took the trip back to Tlaxcala. Popocátzin could not contain his happiness. Soon, he would marry the woman he has quietly loved for so long. Her big black eyes, like obsidian mirrors. Her dark hair, flowing like a spring. her brown and soft skin, like a pure autumn flower. Soon he would grow old with her, and nothing filled his heart with more joy.
The Mexica armies came into the city of Tlaxcala with their heads held high and their hearts soaring, but the mood was somber and eerily quiet for a victorious campaign. Popocátzin rushed to his emperor's palace, where his lord was already awaiting him at the steps. "Oh, my son! My heart feels such joy to see you, but at the same time, nostalgia tears it apart by knowing you alive and triumphant."
"My lord, your welcome confuses me." Popocátzin said. "Are you not glad to know your empire remains safe? Or is my arrival unwelcome because it means I shall take the most beautiful princess from you?" Tezozómoc placed a hand on the shoulder of his most honorable general. "Your words hurt me, my son. No one is happier to see you alive. But the cause of my grief is another." The emperor paused, tears swelling in his eyes. "Two weeks ago, we got word you were dead, and my daughter's heart was overtaken by anguish and sadness. The shock of knowing the man she loves dead was too much for Mixtli's fragile and broken heart, and she has not awoken for a day."
Popocátzin rushed to her side, where she lay cold in her bed. "Do not fear for my return any longer, my love." He whispered as he took the body of his princess in his arms. "It was destined that our souls would be as one from the beginning of time, and I will make sure the designs of the gods are fulfilled." And so, he took her in his arms and carried her into the unknown.
He walked and walked with his love his his arms. He climbed the highest mountains so that he could be close the the heavens, hoping the gods would allow them to fulfill their destiny together. Heartbroken, he laid her at the top of the mountain as he placed a tender kiss upon her lips. Popocátzin grabbed a torch and kneeled on the mountain in front of his beloved, watching over her eternal sleep. Then he waited. Moons and seasons passed by, and still he waited.
Snow covered them both as generations came and went, and still, he waited. The lovers became mountains, and the people who had forgotten their names, began to call her Iztaccíhuatl (the Sleeping Woman) and they began to call him Popocatépetl (the Smokey Hill).
And ever since, they have been together in silence, where he still waits for the gods to wake her up. And sometimes, when he reminisces about his beloved, the eternal passion burning in his heart rekindles his torch and covers the skies with the saddest smoke.
Whenever you go to Mexico City, look for them in the horizon and wish the gods hear a warrior's cry. Because someday, we will all become mountains.