MoboReader> Literature > The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico

   Chapter 3 A CHALLENGE.

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 5616

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


In the valley of Anahuac, at the time I write, are four lakes,-Xaltocan, Chalco, Xochichalco, and Tezcuco. The latter, besides being the largest, washed the walls of Tenochtitlan, and was the especial pride of the Aztecs, who, familiar with its ways as with the city, traversed them all the days of the year, and even the nights.

"Ho, there!" shouted a voyageur, in a voice that might have been heard a long distance over the calm expanse of the lake. "Ho, the canoe!"

The hail was answered.

"Is it Guatamozin?" asked the first speaker.

"Yes."

"And going to Tenochtitlan?"

"The gods willing,-yes."

The canoes of the voyageurs-I use that term because it more nearly expresses the meaning of the word the Aztecs themselves were wont to apply to persons thus abroad-were, at the time, about the middle of the little sea. After the 'tzin's reply, they were soon alongside, when lashings were applied, and together they swept on rapidly, for the slaves at the paddles vied in skill and discipline.

"Iztlil', of Tezcuco!" said the 'tzin, lightly. "He is welcome; but had a messenger asked me where at this hour he would most likely be found, I should have bade him search the chinampas, especially those most notable for their perfume and music."

The speech was courteous, yet the moment of reply was allowed to pass. The 'tzin waited until the delay excited his wonder.

"There is a rumor of a great battle with the Tlascalans," he said again, this time with a direct question. "Has my friend heard of it?"

"The winds that carry rumors seldom come to me," answered Iztlil'.

"Couriers from Tlascala pass directly through your capital-"

The Tezcucan laid his hand on the speaker's shoulder.

"My capital!" he said. "Do you speak of the city of Tezcuco?"

The 'tzin dashed the hand away, and arose, saying, "Your meaning is dark in this dimness of stars."

"Be seated," said the other.

"If I sit, is it as friend or foe?"

"Hear me; then be yourself the judge."

The Aztec folded his cloak about him and resumed his seat, very watchful.

"Montezuma, the king-"

"Beware! The great king is my kinsman, and I am his faithful subject."

The Tezcucan continued. "In the valley the king is next to the gods; yet to his nephew I say I hate him, and will teach him that my hate is no idleness, like a passing love. 'Tzin, a hundred years ago our races were distinct and independent. The birds of the woods, the winds of the prairie, were not more free than the people of Tezcuco. We had our capital, our temples, our worship, and our gods; we celebrated our own festivals, our kings commanded their own armies, our priesthood prescribed their own sacrifices. But where now are king, country, and gods? Alas! you have seen the children of 'Hualpilli, of the blood of

the Acolhuan, suppliants of Montezuma, the Aztec." And, as if overcome by the recollection, he burst into apostrophe. "I mourn thee, O Tezcuco, garden of my childhood, palace of my fathers, inheritance of my right! Against me are thy gates closed. The stars may come, and as of old garland thy towers with their rays; but in thy echoing halls and princely courts never, never shall I be known again!"

The silence that ensued, the 'tzin was the first to break.

"You would have me understand," he said, "that the king has done you wrong. Be it so. But, for such cause, why quarrel with me?"

"Ah, yes!" answered the Tezcucan, in an altered voice. "Come closer, that the slaves may not hear."

The Aztec kept his attitude of dignity. Yet lower Iztlil' dropped his voice.

"The king has a daughter whom he calls Tula, and loves as the light of his palace."

The 'tzin started, but held his peace.

"You know her?" continued the Tezcucan.

"Name her not!" said Guatamozin, passionately.

"Why not? I love her, and but for you, O 'tzin, she would have loved me. You, too, have done me wrong."

With thoughts dark as the waters he rode, the Aztec looked long at the light of fire painted on the sky above the distant city.

"Is Guatamozin turned woman?" asked Iztlil', tauntingly.

"Tula is my cousin. We have lived the lives of brother and sister. In hall, in garden, on the lake, always together, I could not help loving her."

"You mistake me," said the other. "I seek her for wife, but you seek her for ambition; in her eyes you see only her father's throne."

Then the Aztec's manner changed, and he assumed the mastery.

"Enough, Tezcucan! I listened calmly while you reviled the king, and now I have somewhat to say. In your youth the wise men prophesied evil from you; they said you were ingrate and blasphemer then: your whole life has but verified their judgment. Well for your royal father and his beautiful city had he cut you off as they counselled him to do. Treason to the king,-defiance to me! By the holy Sun, for each offence you should answer me shield to shield! But I recollect that I am neither priest to slay a victim nor officer to execute the law. I mourn a feud, still more the blood of countrymen shed by my hand; yet the wrongs shall not go unavenged or without challenge. To-morrow is the sacrifice to Quetzal'. There will be combat with the best captives in the temples; the arena will be in the tianguez; Tenochtitlan, and all the valley, and all the nobility of the Empire, will look on. Dare you prove your kingly blood? I challenge the son of 'Hualpilli to share the danger with me."

The cacique was silent, and the 'tzin did not disturb him. At his order, however, the slaves bent their dusky forms, and the vessels sped on, like wingless birds.

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