that they would strike the shrine in this way. My heart chilled. The deity whose temple now lay in ruins was Tezcatlipoca, the very god whose image I had scratched upon the terracotta tiles of my home.
T he fire I had struggled to douse was not the only disaster to befall TenochtitlÃ¡n at that time. Some days later, a second temple in the south of the city â that of the god Quetzalcoatl â was struck by a bolt from the sky and burst into flames. I did not see it happen, but word of it spread like a chilling breeze, causing menâs brows to furrow and women to whimper softly with fear. There had been no storm, no preceding rumble of thunder, and so it was whispered that the temple had been hit with a blow from the sun. Why the gods should thus turn on each other was a mystery no priest could explain, but there could be no doubt it boded ill.
After that came a day of bright, brilliant sunshine. The sky was clear, the air crisp, with a biting edge that warned of the winter to come. With some determination, I laid aside my own anxiety, telling myself sternly that nothing could happen on a day of such beauty. Taking the honey I had drawn from our rooftop hives, I went alone to the lakeside to barter. Mitotiqui had expressed a desire to eat fresh fish, and I sorely wanted to soothe his ruffled temper.
The fisherman I was used to trading with was in his canoe, some distance from the shore. I would wait for his return. The day was lovely, the lake calm; I welcomed the chance to enjoy a little tranquillity. For too long, it seemed, my heart had been unsettled. Solitude would ease away my troubles.
Sitting myself down beside the lake in the shade of the willows, I watched the fisherman cast his net as if it were a weightless thing. I knew well that it was not. Once â long ago â he had let Mitotiqui and me try the skill for ourselves. Standing on the ground, we had barely been able to lift the complex construction of knotted twine from the earth. If we had attempted such a thing in a canoe we would certainly have toppled overboard. How he had laughed to see us struggling, tangling ourselves in the net like a large catch! I smiled to recall it.
Moments later the fisherman hauled, hand over hand, pulling his net out with ease, the scales of many fish glinting silver in the sun. But as I watched, the distant fish became so dazzling that I had to blink hard, shutting my eyes against their glare. When I opened them, it was no better. The whole lake seemed suddenly ablaze. In the blinding light I could barely trace the fishermanâs outline. He stood frozen in his canoe, back bent, head tilted skywards in awe of the spectacle above him.
I looked up, and expelled a sharp cry. I backed away, desperately looking for a place to run, to hide. But where could I run? How could I hide from the sky itself? For above me a ball of fire was tearing across the heavens. Larger than the sun, it lit the world below so brightly that I was seared by its brilliance. It split the sky, ripping it apart and leaving a black wound to mark its passing. Then it fell where the sun rises, trailing a shower of sparks like a hail of red-hot coals.
It took less time to pass than it takes to roll a tortilla. When it was gone, a dreadful quiet remained. I could see no one but myself and the fisherman, but I could feel the sense of horror rising from the city behind me as strong as the heat of summer. After the last spark came to earth it was as though every inhabitant stood mouth open, unable to speak. Then, with one breath, all began to gabble at once. From the edge of the water where I stood, the fearful chatter seemed almost visible, hanging like smoke above the buildings.
The spell was broken.
The fisherman rowed to shore, but when he reached me I saw that his boat was empty. He had lost both catch and net, letting them slip through his fingers as he watched, rigid with terror.
Another incident then occurred which was of longer