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

   Chapter 5 THE CHILD OF THE TEMPLE.

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 8162

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


There were two royal palaces in the city; one built by Axaya', the other by Montezuma, the reigning king, who naturally preferred his own structure, and so resided there. It was a low, irregular pile, embracing not only the king's abode proper, but also quarters for his guard, and edifices for an armory, an aviary, and a menagerie. Attached to it was a garden, adorned with the choicest shrubbery and plants, with fruit and forest trees, with walks strewn with shells, and fountains of pure water conducted from the reservoir of Chapultepec.

At night, except when the moon shone, the garden was lighted with lamps; and, whether in day or night, it was a favorite lounging-place. During fair evenings, particularly, its walks, of the whiteness of snow, were thronged by nobles and courtiers.

Shortly after the arrival of Iztlil' and Guatamozin, a party, mostly of the sons of provincial governors kept at the palace as hostages, were gathered in the garden, under a canopy used to shield a fountain from the noonday sun. The place was fairly lighted, the air fresh with the breath of flowers, and delightful with the sound of falling water.

Maxtla, chief of the guard, was there, his juvenility well hidden under an ostentatious display. That he was "a very common soldier" in the opinion of the people was of small moment: he had the king's ear; and that, without wit and courtierly tact, would have made him what he was,-the oracle of the party around him.

In the midst of his gossip, Iztlil', the Tezcucan, came suddenly to the fountain. He coldly surveyed the assembly. Maxtla alone saluted him.

"Will the prince of Tezcuco be seated?" said the chief.

"The place is pleasant, and the company looks inviting," returned Iztlil', grimly.

Since his affair with Guatamozin, he had donned the uniform of an Aztec chieftain. Over his shoulders was carelessly flung a crimson tilmatli,-a short, square cloak, fantastically embroidered with gold, and so sprinkled with jewels as to flash at every movement; his body was wrapped closely in an escaupil, or tunic, of cotton lightly quilted, over which, and around his waist, was a maxtlatl, or sash, inseparable from the warrior. A casque of silver, thin, burnished, and topped with plumes, surmounted his head. His features were gracefully moulded, and he would have been handsome but that his complexion was deepened by black, frowning eyebrows. He was excessively arrogant; though sometimes, when deeply stirred by passion, his manner rose into the royal. His character I leave to history.

"I have just come from Iztapalapan," he said, as he sat upon the proffered stool. "The lake is calm, the way was very pleasant, I had the 'tzin Guatamo' for comrade."

"You were fortunate. The 'tzin is good company," said Maxtla.

Iztlil' frowned, and became silent.

"To-morrow," continued the courtier, upon whom the discontent, slight as it was, had not been lost, "is the sacrifice to Quetzal'. I am reminded, gracious prince, that, at a recent celebration, you put up a thousand cocoa,[14] to be forfeited if you failed to see the daughter of Mualox, the paba. If not improper, how runs the wager, and what of the result?"

The cacique shrugged his broad shoulders.

"The man trembles!" whispered one of the party.

"Well he may! Old Mualox is more than a man."

Maxtla bowed and laughed. "Mualox is a magician; the stars deal with him. And my brother will not speak, lest he may cover the sky of his fortune with clouds."

"No," said the Tezcucan, proudly; "the wager was not a sacrilege to the paba or his god; if it was, the god, not the man, should be a warrior's fear."

"Does Maxtla believe Mualox a prophet?" asked Tlahua, a noble Otompan.

"The gods have power in the sun; why not on earth?"

"You do not like the paba," observed Iztlil', gloomily.

"Who has seen him, O prince, and thought of love? And the walls and towers of his dusty temple,-are they not hung with dread, as the sky on a dark day with clouds?"

The party, however they might dislike the cacique, could not list

en coldly to this conversation. They were mostly of that mystic race of Azatlan, who, ages before, had descended into the valley, like an inundation, from the north; the race whose religion was founded upon credulity; the race full of chivalry, but horribly governed by a crafty priesthood. None of them disbelieved in star-dealing. So every eye fixed on the Tezcucan, every ear drank the musical syllables of Maxtla. They were startled when the former said abruptly,-

"Comrades, the wrath of the old paba is not to be lightly provoked; he has gifts not of men. But, as there is nothing I do not dare, I will tell the story."

The company now gathered close around the speaker.

"Probably you have all heard," he began, "that Mualox keeps in his temple somewhere a child or woman too beautiful to be mortal. The story may be true; yet it is only a belief; no eye has seen footprint or shadow of her. A certain lord in the palace, who goes thrice a week to the shrine of Quetzal', has faith in the gossip and the paba. He says the mystery is Quetzal' himself, already returned, and waiting, concealed in the temple, the ripening of the time when he is to burst in vengeance on Tenochtitlan. I heard him talking about it one day, and wagered him a thousand cocoa that, if there was such a being I would see her before the next sacrifice to Quetzal'."

The Tezcucan hesitated.

"Is the believer to boast himself wealthier by the wager?" said Maxtla, profoundly interested. "A thousand cocoa would buy a jewel or a slave: surely, O prince, surely they were worth the winning!"

Iztlil' frowned again, and said bitterly, "A thousand cocoa I cannot well spare; they do not grow on my hard northern hills like flowers in Xochimilco. I did my best to save the wager. Old habit lures me to the great teocallis;[15] for I am of those who believe that a warrior's worship is meet for no god but Huitzil'. But, as the girl was supposed to be down in the cells of the old temple, and none but Mualox could satisfy me, I began going there, thinking to bargain humilities for favor. I played my part studiously, if not well; but no offering of tongue or gold ever won me word of friendship or smile of confidence. Hopeless and weary, I at last gave up, and went back to the teocallis. But now hear my parting with the paba. A short time ago a mystery was enacted in the temple. At the end, I turned to go away, determined that it should be my last visit. At the eastern steps, as I was about descending, I felt a hand laid on my arm. It was Mualox; and not more terrible looks Tlalac when he has sacrificed a thousand victims. There was no blood on his hands; his beard and surplice were white and stainless; the terror was in his eyes, that seemed to burn and shoot lightning. You know, good chief, that I could have crushed him with a blow; yet I trembled. Looking back now, I cannot explain the awe that seized me. I remember how my will deserted me,-how another's came in its stead. With a glance he bound me hand and foot. While I looked at him, he dilated, until I was covered by his shadow. He magnified himself into the stature of a god. 'Prince of Tezcuco,' he said, 'son of the wise 'Hualpilli, from the sun Quetzal' looks down on the earth. Alike over land and sea he looks. Before him space melts into a span, and darkness puts on the glow of day. Did you think to deceive my god, O prince?' I could not answer; my tongue was like stone. 'Go hence, go hence!' he cried, waving his hand. 'Your presence darkens his mood. His wrath is on your soul; he has cursed you. Hence, abandoned of the gods!' So saying, he went back to the tower again, and my will returned, and I fled. And now," said the cacique, turning suddenly and sternly upon his hearers, "who will deny the magic of Mualox? How may I be assured that his curse that day spoken was not indeed a curse from Quetzal'?"

There was neither word nor laugh,-not even a smile. The gay Maxtla appeared infected with a sombreness of spirit; and it was not long until the party broke up, and went each his way.

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