"Mama, mama, mama! Visitors! Visitors!"
The small child's voice echoed between the stone buildings as he ran, alerting not only his mother but every person for blocks away of the approaching guests. A crowd was already gathering when the strangers entered through the city gates. There were four of them; one woman and three men, all dressed in green clothing that made it seem as if they had melted right out of the forest surrounding the city. They stopped just inside the gates, exchanging cautious looks with the gathered crowd. Neither side had made any hostile move yet, but neither had decided that the others were peaceful either.
A wave swept through the crowd and it parted, the people in the front carefully avoiding to get closer to the strangers as they moved out of the way of a woman flanked by several soldiers carrying massive double edged axes. The woman was tall and walked with the obvious confidence of a leader who held the respect of her people. Her clothes signaled status as well with bright colors and a grand feather headdress atop her long white hair. The hair stood in contrast to her face; the bronzed skin was smooth and wrinkle-free around a pair of bright blue eyes.
As the woman stepped into the circle that had formed around the strangers silence fell. Every whisper and scuffle stopped and all eyes turned attentively in the same direction. The woman let the silence stretch out, taking the time to study the strangers thoroughly. Her eyes landed first on the woman on the far left and she pondered if she might be the leader of the group, since she was the only female. Her hair was light, yellow, and cut into a short style that shifted slightly in the soft wind. The clothes they all wore were unflattering to her, giving no shape to her feminine body. If she had been the leader she would most likely have arranged for better suited attire. The way she held the weapon across her chest, casually but ready, also communicated she was more of a warrior.
Next she turned her gaze on the men, the largest dark-skinned one drawing her attention at once. He seemed different than the others. His bald head was adorned with a gold emblem and he carried a different weapon; a long spear of some kind with a blunt head. If he hadn't worn the same clothing as the others she would not have guessed he belonged with them. He was even clearer a warrior than the woman, his stance leaving no question as to his power and fighting ability.
The eldest one stood between the woman and the dark one. His hair had glints of gray in it, but she sensed it would be unwise to count him out because of age. His brown eyes shone of strength and cunning. It seemed likely he was the leader, especially considering the somewhat protective position he was taking in front of the others. He didn't hesitate to meet her eyes either; appraising her as she was appraising him. She was about to speak to him when he suddenly took a half step back and gestured the fourth member of the group forward.
This one was definitely different. He was not a warrior, she could tell by the way he moved and the fact that he was not carrying any larger weapon. He looked young as well. A mop of hazel brown hair framed the blue eyes sitting behind a strange glass contraption on his face. He smiled widely and approached her with open hands.
"Hello, I am Daniel Jackson, and this is Colonel Jack O'Neill, Captain Samantha Carter and Teal'c." He pointed at each of his companions in order as he spoke; first the eldest one, then the woman and last the dark-skinned. "We are peaceful explorers from the planet Earth. Are you the leader of this people?"
She nodded, the feathers of her headdress dancing from the motion.
"I am Xilah, queen and high priestess of Coyolxauhqui. I welcome you to the city of Mixcoatco. Come! Share a meal with me and we shall be friends and talk."
"Just eat it, Jack."
The colonel frowned, but didn't deign to answer Daniel's whispered admonishment. His attention was squarely focused on the piece of so called food in his hand. It was some kind of meat, that much he could figure out, but it smelled funny and no matter how many times Daniel told him so he would not believe it tasted 'just like pork'. Barely trying to hide a disgusted grimace he put the morsel down and opted for a piece of fruit instead. It looked like pineapple, and smelled like it too. Much safer.
Daniel sighed at his childish behavior; himself taking a large bite of meat and chewing slowly while nodding appreciatively to their host. The taste wasn't bad. It was really similar to pork, even if there was an unusual sweet accent to it. Perhaps a local variant of pig – or maybe it's just the cooking. The meat was grilled but cold, and Daniel drew the conclusion it must have been prepared earlier. It was obvious this people had some kind of preservative storage, though it was unlikely it was anything like Earth's refrigerators. They didn't seem advanced enough for that kind of technology.
"What brings you to our fair land, noble visitors?"
Daniel swallowed quickly.
"We are explorers. We search for knowledge and friendship with your people. Would you please tell me of your culture? What do your people call yourselves?"
"We are Mixcoatl's children," Xilah responded with pride. "He built this city for us in honor of his daughter Coyolxauhqui. And now he has blessed us with a visit. We are honored to receive you."
"We are honored to be here, and I hope our meeting will lead to friendship between our peoples."
"I hope so too. You must stay a while; we will have a feast and celebrate – then consolidate our treaty."
"Of course we will. And we would also like to see more of your city and learn of your culture."
The queen nodded and with a wave of her hand summoned a couple of soldiers to her side.
"My Otomi will accompany you and show you anything you would like to see. Meanwhile I will begin the preparations for the celebration. When you are satisfied with the sights rooms will have been prepared for you here in the palace. Tomorrow we will feast to the honor of the gods."
"We don't need…"
"Jack!" Daniel halted the colonel's protest and thanked Xilah for her concern while Jack muttered something unintelligible under his breath.
With two soldiers in tow SG-1 wandered out into the city. As promised they were shown everything they asked for, even the barracks and weapon smithies. Jack was more than a little surprised; he had only asked to be able to gauge the soldiers' reactions.
Their sightseeing had brought them all the way down to the city wall. Daniel had informed his teammates that the smithies were placed there to keep the potentially dangerous fires of away from the living quarters. Next that Daniel asked to see their most important cultural or religious place and the team was led back up through the streets. Along the way he took the opportunity to study the buildings they passed, often stopping to take a closer look at a colorful wall or street decoration. There weren't a lot of people around and to his disappointment the ones they saw didn't seem to want to talk to him.
"I think they're a little afraid of us," he said to Sam who at the moment was walking next to him.
"I'm sure they'll come around."
"I guess so," Daniel sighed.
Jack was a few steps behind them and paying close attention to their surroundings as well, but with a completely different agenda. As the ever vigilant battle strategist he was memorizing the city plan – in case they would need to make a hasty departure. It wasn't easy; the streets were laid out in a complicated pattern that led the thoughts to a labyrinth. Why would anyone build a city that's a labyrinth? Must be hell running errands around here.
They reached the foot of a huge set of stairs and Daniel stopped to take in the majestic temple rising up before them. It was an immense pyramidal structure built out of big blocks of stone. The side that was facing them seemed to consist completely out of steps, leading up to an arch-like shrine at the top.
"May we go up?" Daniel asked the soldiers, his eyes shining with excitement. Jack recognized the expression on his face and thanked his lucky stars that for once he wasn't at the receiving end of the puppy-dog pleading. To his surprise the Otomi soldier hardly blinked, then shook his head and moved in-between the curious archaeologist and the temple.
"Only the priests may enter the temple outside of a celebration. The gods would strike you down, Tlatoani."
Daniel tried his best to hide his disappointment and didn't object when the soldier suggested they retire to the palace. Jack sidled up to him.
"What did he call you?"
"Tlatoani? It's Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec. I'm pretty sure these people are their descendants. The city looks just like the ruins that have been discovered in Mexico. Not to mention the temple; it's practically a copy of the pyramid of Santa Cecilia Acatitlan. It's smaller than Templo Mayor, the great temple of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, but..."
"Yeah, yeah, but what does 'Tatoni' mean?"
"Oh…that's Tlatoani, Jack. It means speaker. It's a term for the ruler, or king, of an altepetl. That's what they called a city-state like this one. The Aztec Empire mostly consisted of city-states that were independent apart from a system of tribute-paying. In the Early Aztec period there was a lot of competition between different city-states, but they still remained the most preferred form of local government even after the empire was formed…"
Jack let Daniel ramble on in his lecture mode and simply zoned him out. He found it funny that the guy could be such a genius and still so clue-less. He knew what the soldier had called him meant but seemed to completely miss the implication. He'd called him a king, and for Jack that confirmed his impression that they perceived Daniel as the leader of the team. He didn't mind; he wasn't territorial about his command – unless it was a question of keeping his people safe. Then he made sure they knew who was in charge. At the moment though there seemed to be no danger and he happily left the diplomatic equivalent of the city maze to Daniel.