Sunday, October 05, 2014

Papaloatlitlan Butterfly City

Been doing some world building work these last few weeks on my prehispanic RPG, Papaloatlitlan is the product of this, one of the great altepetls or city-states in Itza. Governed by the huey tlatoani (pronounced wey or wey-ji tlatoani) Huitzilihuitl (hummingbird feather) Papaloatlitlan dominates the western lands of the realm of Itza.

From high above the city in the greatest teocalli or temple Huitzilihuitl levies taxes and offerings from the surrounding altepetls (city-states). Supported by his army led by the brave butterfly warriors he maintains a tight control over his realm and constantly wars with distant city-states to increase his power and might in the name of Itzpapalotl, patron goddess of the city.

The city is a marvel of civil and military engineering. Its canals and causeways provide a means to bring clean water in, take soiled water out, water the gardens and fields and allow merchant ships to easily dock in the tianquiztli, one of the largest markets in the land. In it goods arrive from distant realms by sea, land and even air, as is the case of trade with the cloud city of Coamixtlan.

The market is so big it could rival the size of a medium sized medieval city. In it all sorts of goods are traded: cloth, feathers, cacao beans, coffee, cotton, yute or jute, oil, salt, corn and bean grains, chiles, flowers, spices from distant lands, fresh fish, hueyxolotl (turkey) among other foods such as vegetables and herbs. Also highly prized meals such as fried crickets, maguey worms, and ant and mosquito eggs are sold in the market. Alongside these goods a more valuable item is traded: information. Merchants are known to be spies too. The hear stories, observe the city and report back to their lord. Peace in the land is a fragile and hard to keep thing. Dominating states wish to break free of Papaloatlitlan control and further their own interests and those of their tlatoani.

Surrounding Papaloatlitlan a vast expanse of land is farmed to produce some of the greatest products in the realm and feed one of its largest cities. Peasants farm the land planting corn, the staple food of the land, as well as cotton, henequen, beans and flowers, lots of flowers. Fruits such as mango, bananas and pineapples are also cultivated and traded in the great market. Other goods that are grown and even serve as currency are cacao and coffee beans.

The farmlands are vast and rather empty areas. Spotted here and there with small farming villages or even as little as a few houses. Beautiful and colorful as it is during the day the land is unquestionably dangerous, specially at night. Wayobs and nahuales (were-like creatures and sorcerers) tend to venture out at night looking for prey and victims for their hideous magical rituals. People tend to stay home during the dark hours and journey only over the main roads and trading routes of which the city-states lacks very little of being the trade hub of all the kingdom. The land and roads are usually patrolled by the armies of the king led by one or two warrior-priests, usually a butterfly warrior. They help keep dangers at bay and remind the common folk that the king is always watching.

Located close to the ocean and within eye's reach of the east mountains Papaloatlitlan holds a stranglehold on trade in the area. Movement between the low coastal lands of the north and south is regulated by the city-state. Tight military control of the main passages through the mountains also ensure tribute to the great king Huitzilihuitl. This has ensured the dominance over the past fivehundred years and lead to one of the most powerful city-states known in Itza. A city state that holds total and unquestionable military, cultural and religious dominance over its subject states.

The city has become an important cultural center in which many rulers from allied or dominated kingdoms send their children, or are kindly invited to send their children to learn the art of war and the matters of religion in the calmecac. In the calmecac the children learn to be strong and powerful soldiers who will fill the ranks of the butterfly warriors and further the military interests of the king. They also learn about religion, all that relates to the gods and pleasing them, particularly the patron goddess Itzpapalotl ("obsidian butterfly").

Itzpapalotl, the patron of the city, is the fearsome skeletal warrior goddess who rules over Tamoanchan, the paradise for those victims of infant mortality and the land in which man was created. She is considered to be one of the cihuateteo, women who died during childbirth and are honored as fallen warriors. Their patron days are the beginning of the westward trecenas (thirteen day "weeks" in the 260 day calendar): 1 Deer, 1 Rain, 1 Monkey, 1 House, and 1 Eagle. During these days the cihuateteos descend to Earth and wreak havoc in the land, and are known to hunt crossroads, kidnapping and killing men, women and children alike.

To please the goddess the priests and warriors work continuously to keep the city in good terms with the goddess. Rituals and a close observance of the calendar are followed to the letter. The calmecac (noble school) teaches the soon to be warrior priests how to perform all the rituals and how to properly wage war against the enemy. War is both a military and religious endeavor.

The butterfly warriors are a group of highly specialized warrior-priests. Equivalent to at least captain and bishop, they are obscure figures who wage war in a dark moth like outfit that serves both as a military and religious outfit. It is the armor of the soldier, but also a source of divine power in the battlefield.

Their constantly bloodshot eyes light up as bright red balls of light during battle. Instilling fear into enemy troops. Their deadly macuahuitl (obsidian sword) will not only tear legs, arms and heads of their enemies, it will also seep in their victim's blood and regenerate the very sharp but rather fragile obsidian blades. The more victims they take the sharper and more powerful the weapon and its wielder become.

Yet the end of battle is not the end of the ritual. After defeating the enemy the butterfly warriors and the common troops devour the dead enemy soldiers, keeping the hearts for the butterfly warriors and feeding the rest to the common troop or macehualtzin. Those who survive the battle and fall prisoner to the butterfly warriors are taken back to Papaloatlitlan to serve as human sacrifice to the gods, particularly in the key trecena days (1 Deer, 1 Rain, 1 Monkey, 1 House, and 1 Eagle) when the cihuateteo are expected to descend to Earth.

Offers of sacrifice usually keep the cihuateteo at bay, usually. Sometimes their power or thirst becomes so great it is impossible to keep them back. This is particularly true when the Moon defeats the Sun and blocks it out of the day sky or during the five unstable Nemontemi days of the year count (365 day year). It is during these times that the cihuateteo descend to Earth followed their legion of the most feared inhabitants of Tamoanchan (the paradise in which Itzpapalotl lives), the dreaded Tzitzimimeh.

These bony creatures with clawed hands and feet descend from the stars during the darkest moments of the day to devour all that stands in their way. They are hideous creatures with dark obsidian skin and very sharp obsidian like claws. They have a bony neck and face and a large ornamented head. From their neck hands seem to stick out and are surrounded with the hearts and blood of their victims. They have a long tongue that comes out to strike their victims, tearing their heart out and drinking their blood. Their tongues and mouths are always soiled in blood and dripping the precious liquid from the hearts ripped out by the tzitzimimeh. From their back a snake like tail protrudes with a sharp obsidian tip the size of a small sword. It swings left and right ready to strike with blinding speed.

Here a tzitzimimeh is offered blood, hearts and flesh in return for the well being of the people.

Only one creature in our present day science fiction depicts the tzitzimimeh well and honors not only its image, but also its deadly nature.

Welcome to Papaloatlitlan, the butterfly city. I hope you enjoy your stay.

Image sources

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