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   Chapter 2 QUETZAL’, THE FAIR GOD

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 9537

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"I was speaking about Quetzal', I believe," said the old man, when all were fairly on the way. "His real name was Quetzalcoatl.[4] He was a wonderfully kind god, who, many ages ago, came into the valley here, and dwelt awhile. The people were then rude and savage; but he taught them agriculture, and other arts, of which you will see signs as we get on. He changed the manners and customs; while he stayed, famine was unknown; the harvests were abundant, and happiness universal. Above all, he taught the princes wisdom in their government. If to-day the Aztec Empire is the strongest in the world, it is owing to Quetzal'. Where he came from, or how long he stayed, is not known. The people and their governors after a time proved ungrateful, and banished him; they also overthrew his religion, and set up idols again, and sacrificed men, both of which he had prohibited. Driven away, he went to Cholula; thence to the sea-coast, where, it is said, he built him a canoe of serpent-skins, and departed for Tlapallan, a heaven lying somewhere toward the rising sun. But before he went, he promised to return some day, and wrest away the Empire and restore his own religion. In appearance he was not like our race; his skin was white, his hair long and wavy and black. He is said to have been wise as a god, and more beautiful than men. Such is his history; and, as the prophecy has it, the time of his return is at hand. The king and Tlalac, the teotuctli,[5] are looking for him; they expect him every hour, and, they say, live in continued dread of him. Wishing to propitiate him, they have called the people together, and celebrate to-morrow, with sacrifices and combats and more pomp than was ever seen before, not excepting the time of the king's coronation."

The hunter listened closely, and at the conclusion said, "Thank you, uncle. Tell me now of the combats."

"Yes. In the days of the first kings it was the custom to go into the temples, choose the bravest warriors there set apart for sacrifice, bring them into the tianguez, and make them do battle in the presence of the people. If they conquered, they were set free and sent home with presents."[6]

"With whom did they combat?"

"True enough, my son. The fight was deemed a point of honor amongst the Aztecs, and the best of them volunteered. Indeed, those were royal times! Of late, I am sorry to say, the custom of which I was speaking has been neglected, but to-morrow it is to be revived. The scene will be very grand. The king and all the nobles will be there."

The description excited the listener's fancy, and he said, with flushed cheeks, "I would not lose the chance for the world. Can you tell me who of the Aztecs will combat?"

"In the city we could easily find out; but you must recollect I am going home after a long absence. The shields of the combatants are always exhibited in the tianguez the evening before the day of the fight. In that way the public are notified beforehand of those who take the field. As the city is full of caciques, you may be assured our champions will be noble."

"Thank you again, uncle. And now, as one looking for service, like myself, is anxious to know with whom to engage, tell me of the caciques and chiefs."

"Then you intend entering the army?"

"Well, yes. I am tired of hunting; and though trading is honorable, I have no taste for it."

The merchant, as if deliberating, took out a box of snuff and helped himself; and then he replied,-

"The caciques are very numerous; in no former reign, probably, were there so many of ability and renown. With some of them I have personal acquaintance; others I know only by sight or reputation. You had better mention those of whom you have been thinking."

"Well," said the hunter, "there is Iztlil', the Tezcucan."[7]

"Do not think of him, I pray you!" And the good man spoke earnestly. "He is brave as any, and perhaps as skilful, but proud, haughty, soured, and treacherous. Everybody fears him. I suppose you have heard of his father."

"You mean the wise 'Hualpilli?"

"Yes. Upon his death, not long since, Iztlil' denied his brother's right to the Tezcucan throne. There was a quarrel which would have ended in blood, had not Montezuma interfered, and given the city to Cacama, and all the northern part of the province to Iztlil'. Since that, the latter has been discontented with the great king. So, I say again, do not think of him, unless you are careless about honor."

"Then what of Cacama?[8] Tezcuco is a goodly city."

"He has courage, but is too effeminate to be a great warrior. A garden and a soft couch delight him more than camps, and dancing women better than fighting men. You might grow rich with him, but not renowned. Look elsewhere."

"Then

there is the lord Cuitlahua."[9]

"The king's brother, and governor of Iztapalapan!" said the merchant, promptly. "Some have thought him better qualified for Chapultepec than Montezuma, but it is not wise to say so. His people are prosperous, and he has the most beautiful gardens in the world; unlike Cacama, he cares nothing for them, when there is a field to be fought. Considering his influence at court and his love of war, you would do well to bear shield for him; but, on the other hand, he is old. Were I in your place, my son, I would attach myself to some young man."

"That brings me to Maxtla, the Tesoyucan."

"I know him only by repute. With scarcely a beard, he is chief of the king's guard. There was never anything like his fortune. Listen now, I will tell you a secret which may be of value to you some time. The king is not as young as he used to be by quite forty summers."

The hunter smiled at the caution with which the old man spoke of the monarch.

"You see," the speaker continued, "time and palace life have changed him: he no longer leads the armies; his days are passed in the temples with the priests, or in the gardens with his women, of whom there are several hundreds; his most active amusement now is to cross the lake to his forests, and kill birds and rabbits by blowing little arrows at them through a reed. Thus changed, you can very well understand how he can be amused by songs and wit, and make favorites of those who best lighten his hours of satiety and indolence. In that way Maxtla rose,-a marvellous courtier, but a very common soldier."

The description amused the young man, but he said gravely, "You have spoken wisely, uncle, and I am satisfied you know the men well. Really, I had no intention of entering the suite of either of them: they are not of my ideal; but there is a cacique, if reports are to be credited, beyond all exception,-learned and brave, honored alike by high and low."

"Ah! you need not name him to me. I know him, as who does not?" And now the merchant spoke warmly. "A nobler than Guatamozin,[10]-or, as he is more commonly called, the 'tzin Guatamo-never dwelt in Anahuac. He is the people's friend, and the Empire's hope. His valor and wisdom,-ah, you should see him, my son! Such a face! His manner is so full of sweet dignity! But I will give you other evidence."

He clapped his hands three times, and a soldier sprang forward at the signal.

"Do you know the 'tzin Guatamo?" asked the merchant.

"I am an humble soldier, my master, and the 'tzin is the great king's nephew; but I know him. When he was only a boy, I served under him in Tlascala. He is the best chief in Anahuac."

"That will do."

The man retired.

"So I might call up my tamanes," the merchant resumed, "and not one but would speak of him in the same way."

"Strange!" said the Tihuancan, in a low tone.

"No; if you allude to his popularity, it is not strange: if you mean the man himself, you are right. The gods seldom give the qualities that belong to him. He is more learned than Tlalac or the king; he is generous as becomes a prince; in action he is a hero. You have probably heard of the Tlascalan wall in the eastern valley;[11] few warriors ever passed it and lived; yet he did so when almost a boy. I myself have seen him send an arrow to the heart of an eagle in its flight. He has a palace and garden in Iztapalapan; in one of the halls stand the figures of three kings, two of Michuaca, and one of the Ottomies. He took them prisoners in battle, and now they hold torches at his feasts."

"Enough, enough!" cried the hunter. "I have been dreaming of him while among the hills. I want no better leader."

The merchant cast an admiring glance at his beaming countenance, and said, "You are right; enter his service."

In such manner the conversation was continued, until the sun fast declined towards the western mountains. Meantime, they had passed through several hamlets and considerable towns. In nearly the whole progress, the way on either hand had been lined with plantations. Besides the presence of a busy, thriving population, they everywhere saw evidences of a cultivation and science, constituting the real superiority of the Aztecs over their neighbors. The country was thus preparing the stranger for the city, unrivalled in splendor and beauty. Casting a look toward the sun, he at length said, "Uncle, I have much to thank you for,-you and your friends. But it is growing late, and I must hurry on, if I would see the tianguez before the market closes."

"Very well," returned the old trader. "We will be in the city to-morrow. The gods go with you!"

Whistling to his ocelot, the adventurer quickened his pace, and was soon far in the advance.

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