At the palace the Otomi soldiers handed their guests over to the servants, who guided them to their accommodations. Daniel opened the door to his luxurious room and stifled a gasp of amazement. The walls were covered with thick tapestries and drapes. The centre piece of the room was a large bed made of dark wood covered with intricate carvings. As he took a closer look and let his hand slide over the three dimensional figures, there was a knock on the door.
"Come in!" he called and greeted the four young women who entered with a smile. "Hello."
"Greetings, Tlatoani." They bowed with reverence. Oh no, not again, Daniel thought and hurried over to them.
"No, no. You don't have to do that. I'm not your king."
One of the women straightened up and stepped forward. She was a few inches shorter than him and fairly young. He guessed she couldn't be more than sixteen or seventeen years old. Her black hair was pulled away from her face but fell in soft waves around her shoulders.
"We have come to aid you in your purification for the celebrations in the morrow."
"Ehm? Oh!" Daniel felt his cheeks flush red when he realized what she meant. "That…won't be necessary. I can…p…purify myself."
"With all respect, Tlatoani." She bowed again. "Our queen insists we aid you. It is possible your customs are different than ours, and it is most important you are cleansed in the proper way before entering the temple of our gods."
"Wait, did you say 'enter the temple'?" Suddenly his embarrassment was forgotten. The young woman nodded vigorously.
"Yes. Tomorrow's celebration is in your honor."
"And if I'm not…properly…purified…?"
"You cannot approach the divine."
And without the celebration we can probably kiss the treaty goodbye, Daniel added in his mind. Jack wouldn't be very happy about that. And I wouldn't want to miss a chance to see a working Aztec temple. When in Rome…
"Alright," he said.
The young woman smiled, her face transforming with an inner light when she spontaneously expressed her relief that he had agreed, and Daniel couldn't help responding in kind. She grabbed his hand and led him to the far side of the room. Hidden behind a drape was the entrance to a stone tiled bathroom, almost as large as the bedroom. The majority of the floor space was taken up by a shallow pool fed with fresh water through a series of waterfalls. Steam rose from the pool and Daniel assumed the water must be led in from a natural hot spring.
The woman began unbuttoning his BDU shirt, while the other three arranged a row of objects on a stone table. There were several sponges, a couple of bowls with flowers and soap, a large jug of oil and finally a few empty bowls. Intrigued by the decorative paint on the vessels Daniel hardly noticed he was being undressed until he felt a tug on the waistband on his pants.
"Woah!" he exclaimed and grabbed a hold of his pants. The woman backed away startled, cowering into a deep bow.
"Forgive me, Tlatoani."
Daniel heard fear in her voice and realized he had shouted louder than intended.
"No, no. I'm not angry," he assured her. "I just…I'd rather do it myself."
She straightened up a bit and he managed to get eye contact. He held her eyes and tried to smile calmingly.
"By the way, my name is Daniel – you shouldn't call me Tlatoani. What's your name?"
"I am called Cuatl." Her voice was still a little hesitant, but Daniel's heaven blue eyes and open kindness were already working their magic on her. Before Daniel had fully removed his boots and pants, her confidence had almost completely returned.
"Danil…you must remove all your clothing."
He looked down on his boxers; the only item that stood between him and serious embarrassment. His face heated again. Oh, Jack's gonna have a field day with this one. I'm never going to hear the end of it. He scanned the room. There was nothing to hide behind, and unwilling to offend or unsettle the women further he decided he couldn't refuse. Maybe if I just get them off quickly and get into the water. He hurried to pull the underwear off and descended in the pool, feeling like the shade of red was spreading to his entire body.
The women let him soak for a while. The water was a perfect temperature with just enough warmth to slowly seep into his body and relax the muscles. He closed his eyes and for a moment he almost forgot he wasn't alone in the bathroom.
"Danil?" Cuatl's voice brought him back to the present to discover her standing at the edge of the water. She had removed her blouse and knee-length wrap skirt, but to his relief she wasn't entirely naked like him. Instead a number of sashes had been wrapped around her to form a kind of bikini. In her hands she held one of the bowls of soap and a sponge.
"It is time to scrub you with the chipahuatl."
Chipahuatl? Chipahua means clean, and atl is water. Clean water…must be their name for soap.
While Daniel busied himself with the linguistics Cuatl stepped into the water and sat down next to him. The bowl she held was carved out of wood and floated on the surface when she let it go to soak the sponge with water. With a mumbled prayer she dipped it in the soap and began to gently rub it across his shoulders. She made no sign of noticing his flinch, or the once more returning blush on his cheeks.
The three women on the side of the pool however were not so considerate. Their giggles echoed back and forth between the stone walls, making the blushing worse. Daniel ducked his head and tried to hide behind his long hair, eliciting another wave of giggles.
Cuatl shot out of the water like a rocket. The other women silenced and cowered just like she had in front of Daniel. She didn't have to tell them twice; another step in their direction and they disappeared out the door with a backwards bowing scuttle. Without another word Cuatl returned into the water and commenced her scrubbing. The low hum of her mumbled prayers soothed Daniel again as she moved on from his back to his arms and legs. When she reached his thighs she met his eyes and offered him the sponge with only a hint of a smile. He accepted it with a smile of his own resounding with the gratitude he felt, and finished the cleaning of his more private parts.
When he was done Cuatl motioned for him to come out of the water and handed him a soft cotton towel. While he dried off she prepared the next step of the purification. She mixed the different flowers in an empty bowl and gently crushed them with a pestle until they released their scent. Next she divided the flower paste in two separate bowls and added some oil to one of them. With the two mixtures prepared she turned to Daniel.
"This is for your body," she said and showed him the bowl with just flowers, "and this is for your hair." This time she pointed to the bowl that had oil in it and he nodded that he understood.
Taking his nod as a sign she grabbed the first bowl and approached him. She took up a bit of the pasty content and rubbed it into the skin on his arm, brushing the loose crumbs of petals away before moving on to the other arm. His legs and torso received the same treatment, but she didn't go up under the towel he had wrapped around his waist. Next she pulled out a wooden stool from under the table and asked him to sit. The content of the second bowl was poured over his head and he felt Cuatl's fingers massage it into his scalp and hair.
"Now you are purified," she said when she had finished. "We have brought some clothing for you to wear at the celebration. If you please I could show them to you?"
Daniel nodded and Cuatl led the way into the bedroom. After being dismissed from the bath the three other women had made themselves useful and laid out the clothes on the bed. Cuatl gave them an approving nod and sent them to clean up in the bathroom.
"The queen sends you several sets of clothing to choose from." She held up one of the garments that looked like a long scarf. "This is a maxtlatl. May I show you how it is worn?"
Daniel nodded again, but immediately regretted it when she motioned for him to remove his towel. He was curious though, so he took a deep breath and lowered the fabric. With a quick movement Cuatl wrapped the scarf around his hips and tucked it between his legs before tying it in a knot. The leftover fabric at the ends draped between his legs but in Daniel's opinion it left quite a bit to be desired in terms of coverage. Cuatl picked up another garment.
"This is tilmahtli. It is a mantle to be worn with the maxtlatl. The queen honors you greatly by sending you such fine garments. This one has threads of gold and silver laid into the pattern." She draped the mantle over his shoulders and tied it at the front. The big piece of fabric covered his entire body all the way to the ankles, but Daniel still felt naked. Regardless he smiled at Cuatl.
"It was an honor to aid you, Tlatoani." She bowed her goodbye and called the other women with her to leave.
Left on his own Daniel retrieved his BDU's from the bathroom. Then he wriggled out of the Aztec clothing and carefully laid them out over a chair. He hoped he wouldn't offend anyone by not wearing them to the feast the next day. Back in his familiar attire he crawled into bed and was soon fast asleep.