Aztec Empire, Tenochtitlan, 1519
Ayala wiped an arm across her forehead, sweat beading all over her face. She glanced up at the sun, squinting at its harshness. It beat down without mercy. She peeked around, seeing how quickly she was moving in comparison to the other slaves in the fields. It was hard to see anyone over the tall maize plants, but she could tell she was a little behind. Ayala took a deep breath and hurried along with her work, gathering as much maize as possible in her basket. The day continued on, the sun moving across the sky far too slowly for her liking. Finally sunset marked the end of another hard workday. She made her way toward the storehouse, in order to drop off what she had collected.
Suddenly, she heard a commotion to her left, breaking the silence of the hot day. She heard some yelling and scrambling, followed by a female scream. Dropping her gathering without a second thought, she worked her way to the sounds. Pushing the tall stalks out of her way, Ayala began to run, hearing the screams become more and more frantic. She came to a clearing and saw two bodies, one small and feminine mostly hidden by another—a very strong, large male.
It took no time at all for Ayala to figure out what was going on. The woman’s dress had been ripped, possibly in the fight against the larger male. She was underneath him, her wrists swallowed up in only one of the man’s hands. The other hand was working its way down her dress, slowly ripping it more and more, as his hands ventured down her waist. Ayala couldn’t see the woman’s face, but she knew what she had to do. She raced forward and jumped on the man’s back, slamming her fists onto his back repeatedly, then grabbed his tunic and pulled.
A harsh growl emerged from the man as he realized that he was no longer alone. He let go of the woman’s wrists and tried to grab at Ayala. She was too quick for him as she snatched at his face, clawing for his eyes. He yelled out once more and rose a bit, trying to get to his feet. He staggered backwards, unused to Ayala’s weight on his throat. Other people were starting to arrive now, a small circle forming around the group. Hands grabbed for Ayala’s shoulders, trying to pry her off of the man. They pulled at her arms, stomach, and legs, and quickly overpowered her small frame. Arms held her wrists still, and no matter how she struggled, she could not get free. She stopped moving, realizing the fight was futile. Ayala gasped for air, tendrils of fear beginning to take hold. She hadn’t thought of the consequences of her actions; she’d just acted on instinct.
The man who Ayala jumped at finally stood up straight and turned around. A glare so powerfully angry glimmered over his features. He was bald, although he had a single black ponytail on the top of his head, and his pierced nose was adorned with heavy gold jewelry. A chain linked his nose-ring to an earring situated at the top of his ear. He straightened his tunic and brushed off his pants. He was breathing heavily with anger; he was seething with it. The other woman was also coming to her feet, struggling to keep her modesty by holding her shredded dress closed. Tears coursed down her face, but she remained silent. She was tiny, very thin and extremely fragile-looking. She kept her eyes on the ground, and refused to look up at Ayala in any way.
“You,” the man growled. “You do not know your place. A woman such as yourself, but a lowly slave, should never, ever raise her hand at a man. Maybe I should teach you a lesson, right here, right now.”
Ayala stayed silent, lifted her head, and dared to meet his eyes. She would not show fear, not to him, quickly realizing that he must be the head field master. Swallowing deeply, Ayala bravely met his eyes.
The man stared at her, almost daring her to defy him. She did nothing, frustrating him further. He walked up to her, each foot slamming the ground with shattering force. He swung his arm back, and Ayala saw what was coming. She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the slap to fall. Seconds passed, and his hand never fell to her face. She opened one eye warily, wondering why the sharp sting had never burned across her cheek.
Surprise glimmered on her features. There was another man behind the large man. His arm held the large man’s arm, stopping it from swinging to hit her. Ayala slowly opened both her eyes and took in the sight. The other man was slimmer, yet with very clear muscle tone rippling under darkly tanned skin. His face was striking, hazel-green eyes staring back at her. Strong cheekbones accentuated his no-nonsense demeanor; power emanated from every pore. His dress was simple. A tunic of soft beige leather hugged his upper body. A pair of matching pants flowed around his waist. However, the drastic simplicity of his dress did little to hide the power that this man clearly held.
The large man who had tried to slap Ayala looked back quickly, growling at whoever was stopping him from delivering quick justice. Once his eyes fell on the other man, he quieted quickly and withdrew his arm.
An apology flew out of the large man’s mouth so quickly that Ayala nearly laughed in triumph, but she held back due to a rising fear. Who was this man?
“My apologies, sir. I was only trying to solve an issue for you, something too trivial for a man of your standing,” he paused. “Sir,” he added on for good measure.
A quick look from the other man silenced him. With only a glance, the large man moved away. He did not say another word.
“Release her,” the man commanded. Ayala quickly felt her body liberated of the hands that held her, allowing the blood to return to her numbed fingers. The man’s eyes met hers, and Ayala felt herself shrink back. Her legs trembled, fear beginning to bubble in the pit of her stomach. And yet, she forced herself to stand tall and take whatever this man was to do to her, even if it meant death.
“Come with me,” he told her, every word dripping with command. He turned quickly and began to walk away.
Ayala did what she could to make her jelly-like legs move. What was going to happen to her? Her mind raced as she followed, forcing her feet to take step after step, trying to keep up with his quick pace. He walked along the dirt paths of the fields, slowly edging toward the city. Ayala quickly followed, knowing she had little choice in the matter.
Breaking free of the maize fields, they walked quickly toward the grand city of Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec empire. Crowds bustled in the distance, shopping through the markets or selling their wares. The grand temple rose in the center of the city. Everything Ayala could think of was sold there, from gold and jade jewelry, to handmade pots, to all different types of food. Surrounding the city was the great Lake Texcoco. Seemingly, the city rose from the lake, built up from the center. Temples, grand towers, and homes all built from stone met her sight, rising in the distance.
The man paused in front of a noble-looking house, relatively close to the fields she was working in. He walked to the door and opened it. He looked back, waiting for her to obey and enter the building ahead of him. She kept her eyes on the ground as she passed him, moving through the threshold of the door, feeling as though she was walking to her doom.
Ayala blinked, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dimmer indoors. Some light streamed through the windows, illuminating the inside of the noble home. Furniture made of dark wood decorated the room. Lush, elaborate, and colorful carpets lay on the floor of stone. There was a table in the center of the room, multiple straight-backed chairs pushed up against it. There was a fireplace tucked into the wall, flames flickering and snapping within it. A hallway led to other rooms unknown.
She had never been in such luxury. The cabin she lived in was a single room with a hearth at the center and was shared with some of the other slaves who worked the fields. A hole in the ceiling allowed the smoke to escape, and she slept on a straw mattress in one of the corners of the room. It was scratchy and uncomfortable, with only a few blankets.
She walked to the table and stood, turning to face the strange man who had ushered her away. Ayala was silent, trying to behave, as a woman in her culture should, subservient to men. She kept her eyes downward, not wanting to unintentionally pose a challenge.
“Tell me, do you often run around the fields saving women you do not know from the hands of strange men?” he said softly, compassion emerging in his tone of voice.
Ayala looked up in surprise, having expected something much crueler. She met his eyes, not knowing what to say.
“I… I … I’m sorry, sir,” was all she could think of. She wrung her hands, unsure what to do with them.
“What is your name?” he said quietly.
“Ayala,” she replied, quickly adding a “sir” afterwards, hoping to please him.
“Ayala,” he said, almost as if he could taste it. “That is a very pretty name,” he added, allowing it to roll off his tongue. “My name is Lord Eiotan. I own the fields that you work in. You belong to me.”
Her mind raced, but she kept her eyes on the floor. This was the man who owned her mark, the man who held her freedom in his hands. The Aztecs, in a territory not too far away, had captured her people. She was young and strong and could work, and therefore had been taken to the capital and sold. Ayala had never seen the man who owned her before.
She felt him come toward her, but she didn’t dare move. Her body began to quake with fear. His hand cupped her chin and pushed it up. She slowly met his powerful gaze, feeling very small in his presence. He smiled at her, his features warming with kindness. She felt oddly safe for a moment, before she quickly remembered who he was.
“I like you. You seem like a woman who can think for herself. I don’t think you belong in the fields any longer. I think I will take you as my personal servant instead. Would you like that?”
Ayala opened her mouth to respond, but no words came forth. His hands dropped to her shoulders, almost cradling her with reassurance.
“It would be easier work for you, but you would have to follow my rules, or face the consequences of disobeying me.”
Ayala swallowed past the lump in her throat. “By that, sir, you mean my death,” she stammered. Execution of servants was commonplace within the Aztec community. She let her eyes fall again.
He was strangely silent, gazing down at her. He used his fingers to pick up her chin, silently encouraging her to meet his eyes.
“No, not at all.” He paused. “The way I punish my servants is through a spanking. I would pull out a chair from that table and sit down, and then I would bare your bottom, and spank you until I feel you are truly sorry for what you have done.”
Ayala opened her eyes wide. She was a grown woman! Her own mother had not spanked her since she was a little girl. All she remembered was that it hurt, and it hurt an awful lot.
“You would spank me?” she whispered. “But I am grown; I do not need to be punished like a child.” She stuck out her chin a bit, feeling slightly defiant.
“Should you agree to work for me personally, misbehaving and disobeying my orders is something a child would do, therefore qualifying you for a punishment as such.”
Ayala narrowed her eyes a bit before responding, chewing his response over in her mind. “You would not kill or torture me for such an offense? I have heard stories, and seen the trials. Slaves have little rights here.”
“I will not kill or torture you, I promise.” He walked over to the table and pulled out a chair, placing it away from the table with a wide berth. Nervous butterflies flew through Ayala’s stomach. What was he doing?
“If what you say is true, I agree to serve you, sir,” she managed to stammer out as he sat down in the chair, a distance too far from the table for her comfort.
“Then come over here, young lady, I am going to show you what shall happen should you disobey me.”
“I am going to spank you, right now.”