Here's the opening to a novella I'm completing that I call "The Enigma of the Grandest Gardener of Texcoco." It's an historical fantasy set against the background of what is known of the history, culture and peoples of the Valley of Mexico, fifty years before el pinche Columbus started the illegal European immigration. It's got nagual animal-spirits, gardeners who use enchantment, a tragic princess and, yes, Tezcatlipoca--one of Ernesto Hogan's favorites. Monsters and mayhem, demons and deities, yes, and even a strange bit of romance.
Of course, if you know of an editor or publisher or agent looking for a unique 20k-word cross-over story, let her or him or me know.
es todo, hoy,
The Enigma of the Grandest Gardener of Texcoco
In the course of the 16th Century subjugation of the Mesoamerican civilizations, Spanish soldiers and priests destroyed nearly all of America's manuscripts and every single library. Most of the peoples' lore was lost, including the magical, and the range and depth of that knowledge remains a mystery. Among other achievements, their wondrous gardens like Xochimilco and Texcoco were fabled even by the invaders. If only we knew all of what these cultures created. . .
[the Tezcozinco Imperial Gardens, Texcoco. 1445 A.D.]
When space opened up on the next bench, Menq smiled and gathered his cotton quimilli bundle that had come undone. He re-rolled it and secured the strap; safeguarding its contents was critical to his interview today and would spell the difference between common failure and glorious achievement. Satisfied with a thumb-tapping to check the tightness of his small huehuetl drum, he shuffled over onto the seat warmed by previous occupants.
Alerted by its master's stirring, his nagual dog-spirit Roorootl rose from napping to stretch its leg and back muscles. It shook off the metallic flakes of gold that always snagged in its predominantly white coat when it slept. With every shake, the large emerald-hued spot on its back fluctuated between the ethereal and corporal dimensions of time/space, making the dark oval blur, then resharpen and brighten.
Roorootl found a new location immediately by its master, giving the man's ankles several licks to reaffirm their bond that would span the mortal's entire life. Of course, Menq's ankles stayed dry, since the nagual's tongue and saliva possessed no substance in the Valley of the Mexica.
"Only three more benches to go, Roorootl," Menq merrily commented to the creature, as if that wouldn't mean more hours of tedium. Though no substitute for a wife and family, his dear nagual's companionship had given him much support. Menq knew he'd likely need both to make it through this day.
Since dawn, Menq had endured his time here by also relying on his self-discipline and sense of duty. That's how he'd memorized every square foot of the entry to the Imperial Gardens courtyard and could close his eyes and describe the major patterns in the plastered lime that coated the unassuming walls with tezontle-graveled pumice. A sign posted there prohibited "Picietl poctica", which was fine by him; using the mystical smoke would've just morphed the time into days, anyway.
"How are you, Caretaker Menq?" He didn't remember the name of the fellow gardener who'd greeted him, so he just waved back.
In contrast to his lauded title Caretaker, everyone simply called him Menq, since the twenty-five characters in his proper name Menqtlapantehuizcalcuhtli that his zealous father had blessed him with were a marathon in articulation, even for the highly educated. So long and detailed, the tongue twister matched the love and guidance his doting parents had given him.
From the age of six, Menq had yearned and studied to become a great gardener. That he would tend someone else's garden in the Valley of the Mexica--like those of the royal families of Tlaxcala, Texcoco or the Aztec's Tenochtítlan--was exactly what he prayed for, what he applied for today, a greater challenge than any xochitlas he ever maintained. In truth, he hadn't picked gardening as his nonequixtil, the life-passion he'd forever carried. The plants themselves had chosen him and repaid his devoted nurturing in curiously special ways. Like in his earliest experiment . . .
"Menq, what've you been doing out here so early in the morning, Son?" his mother called out. "You need to get ready. You don't want to be tardy for telpochcalli."
The boy hoped to finish his work with the plants before obeying her, though a dutiful son he was. He simply was following the Elders' Precepts for six-year-olds to acquire a love of labor. "So that I do not spend my time in idleness, and to avoid the bad vices idleness tends to bring," he rotely mumbled.
But Menq also knew that the tiniest bit of sloppiness could break the spell he'd put on the root splicing. "Just one more minute, Nantli." He forced his inexpert stubby fingers to attempt the delicate interlacing of the transplant's rhizomes around and through the nodes of its new neighbor.
It wasn't made easier by his nagual spirit Roorootl making digging motions like an armadillo burrowing for its life. Although the nagual pup's ethereal paws couldn't physically connect with dirt, he did interfere when the large molcajetl-shaped emerald spot on his back blocked the view, the otherwise white coat specked with black eyes and snout.
His supernatural birth-partner had already learned to transmit thoughts into Menq's mind. But Menq too had to improve communicating his needs to the spirit, since naguals accompanied one throughout life, though never visible to others.
After nestling his creation with dark loam, Menq evenly sprinkled the topmost layer and whispered the reassuring quitemoa phrase to both xitómatls so they'd know that their new partner would indeed seek the other out as friend.
"Nantli, I finished joining these two xitómatl so their baby fruit will grow blue instead of green."
"But xitómatl is supposed to be green!"
His eyes beamed toward her, as much with his joy that he'd invented a new form of life, as from the heartening burst of energy the grateful bushes emitted to envelop his small body. "I know. But they told me they needed my help, and it will make them so much happier!"
Unlike his nagual who spoke directly into his mind, plants sent feelings of love or hate, or sensations like heat or sweetness, or dreams or visions to connect with Menq. Sometimes they utilized all three. This message had been simple: love + warmth + blue + tiny fruit. In less than a decade he'd learn to translate more complicated information coming from his gardens' residents.
"Blue xitómatl! Pray that Tezcatlipoca doesn't strike you blind for doing better tricks than him. Come, get the math and science amoxtlis you studied last night, so you won't be late."
In time, Menq honed his knack for originality, often guided by the plants or flowers communicating their preferences to him. The symbiotic relationship sparked a dream most commoners never aspired to. That would culminate the day he arrived in the Tezcozinco Gardens courtyard. . .
– fin –