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   Chapter 7 THE PROPHECY ON THE WALL.

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 14415

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Mualox led them into the tower. The light of purpled lamps filled the sacred place, and played softly around the idol, before which they bowed. Then he took a light from the altar, and conducted them to the azoteas, and down into the court-yard, from whence they entered a hall leading on into the C?.

The way was labyrinthine, and both the king and the 'tzin became bewildered; they only knew that they descended several stairways, and walked a considerable distance; nevertheless, they submitted themselves entirely to their guide, who went forward without hesitancy. At last he stopped; and, by the light which he held up for the purpose, they saw in a wall an aperture roughly excavated, and large enough to admit them singly.

"You have read the Holy Book, wise king," said Mualox. "Can you not recall its saying that, before the founding of Tenochtitlan, a C? was begun, with chambers to lie under the bed of the lake? Especially, do you not remember the declaration that, in some of those chambers, besides a store of wealth so vast as to be beyond the calculation of men, there were prophecies to be read, written on the walls by a god?"

"I remember it," said the king.

"Give me faith, then, and I will show you all you there read."

Thereupon the paba stepped into the aperture, saying,-

"Mark! I am now standing under the eastern wall of the old C?."

A CLANG OF SANDALED FEET

He passed through, and they followed him, and were amazed.

"Look around, O king! You are in one of the chambers mentioned in the Holy Book."

The light penetrated but a short distance, so that Montezuma could form no idea of the extent of the apartment. He would have thought it a great natural cavern but for the floor smoothly paved with alternate red and gray flags, and some massive stone blocks rudely piled up in places to support the roof.

As they proceeded, Mualox said, "On every side of us there are rooms through which we might go till, in stormy weather, the waves of the lake can be heard breaking overhead."

In a short time they again stopped.

"We are nearly there. Son of a king, is your heart strong?" said Mualox, solemnly.

Montezuma made no answer.

"Many a time," continued the paba, "your glance has rested on the tower of the old C?, then flashed to where, in prouder state, your pyramids rise. You never thought the gray pile you smiled at was the humblest of all Quetzal's works. Can a man, though a king, outdo a god?"

"I never thought so, I never thought so!"

But the mystic did not notice the deprecation.

"See," he said, speaking louder, "the pride of man says, I will build upward that the sun may show my power; but the gods are too great for pride; so the sun shines not on their especial glories, which as frequently lie in the earth and sea as in the air and heavens. O mighty king! You crush the worm under your sandal, never thinking that its humble life is more wonderful than all your temples and state. It was the same folly that laughed at the simple tower of Quetzal', which has mysteries-"

"Mysteries!" said the king.

"I will show you wealth enough to restock the mines and visited valleys with all their plundered gold and jewels."

"You are dreaming, paba."

"Come, then; let us see!"

They moved past some columns, and came before a great, arched doorway, through which streamed a brilliance like day.

"Now, let your souls be strong!"

They entered the door, and for a while were blinded by the glare, and could see only the floor covered with grains of gold large as wheat. Moving on, they came to a great stone table, and stopped.

"You wonder; and so did I, until I was reminded that a god had been here. Look up, O king! look up, and see the handiwork of Quetzal'!"

The chamber was broad and square. The obstruction of many pillars, forming the stay of the roof, was compensated by their lightness and wonderful carving. Lamps, lit by Mualox in anticipation of the royal coming, blazed in all quarters. The ceiling was covered with lattice-work of shining white and yellow metals, the preciousness of which was palpable to eyes accustomed like the monarch's. Where the bars crossed each other, there were fanciful representations of flowers, wrought in gold, some of them large as shields, and garnished with jewels that burned with star-like fires. Between the columns, up and down ran rows of brazen tables, bearing urns and vases of the royal metals, higher than tall men, and carved all over with gods in bas-relief, not as hideous caricatures, but beautiful as love and Grecian skill could make them. Between the vases and urns there were heaps of rubies and pearls and brilliants, amongst which looked out softly the familiar, pale-green lustre of the chalchuites, or priceless Aztecan diamond.[20] And here and there, like guardians of the buried beauty and treasure, statues looked down from tall pedestals, crowned and armed, as became the kings and demi-gods of a great and martial people. The monarch was speechless. Again and again he surveyed the golden chamber. As if seeking an explanation, but too overwhelmed for words, he turned to Mualox.

"And now does Montezuma believe his servant dreaming?" said the paba. "Quetzal' directed the discovery of the chamber. I knew of it, O king, before you were born. And here is the wealth of which I spoke. If it so confounds you, how much more will the other mystery! I have dug up a prophecy; from darkness plucked a treasure richer than all these. O king, I will give you to read a message from the gods!"

The monarch's face became bloodless, and it had now not a trace of scepticism.

"I will show you from Quetzal' himself that the end of your Empire is at hand, and that every wind of the earth is full sown with woe to you and yours. The writing is on the walls. Come!"

And he led the king, followed by Guatamozin, to the northern corner of the eastern wall, on which, in square marble panels, bas-relief style, were hierograms and sculptured pictures of men, executed apparently by the same hand that chiselled the statues in the room. The ground of the carvings was coated with coarse gray coral, which had the effect to bring out the white figures with marvellous perfection.

"This, O king, is the writing," said Mualox, "which begins here, and continues around the walls. I will read, if you please to hear."

Montezuma waved his hand, and the paba proceeded.

"This figure is that of the first king of Tenochtitlan; the others are his followers. The letters record the time of the march from the north. Observe that the first of the writing-its commencement-is here in the north."

After a little while, they moved on to the second panel.

"Here," said Mualox, "is represented the march of the king. It was accompanied with battles. See, he stands with lifted javelin, his foot on the breast of a prostrate foe. His followers dance and sound shells; the priests sacrifice a victim. The king has won a great victory."

They stopped before the third panel.

"And here the monarch is still on the march. He is in the midst of his warriors; no doubt the crown he is receiving is that of the ruler of a conquered ci

ty."

This cartoon Montezuma examined closely. The chief, or king, was distinguished by a crown in all respects like that then in the palace; the priests, by their long gowns; and the warriors, by their arms, which, as they were counterparts of those still in use, sufficiently identified the wanderers. Greatly was the royal inspector troubled. And as the paba slowly conducted him from panel to panel, he forgot the treasure with which the chamber was stored. What he read was the story of his race, the record of their glory. The whole eastern wall, he found, when he had passed before it, given to illustrations of the crusade from Azatlan, the fatherland, northward so far that corn was gathered in the snow, and flowers were the wonder of the six weeks' summer.

In front of the first panel on the southern wall Mualox said,-

"All we have passed is the first era in the history; this is the beginning of the second; and the first writing on the western wall will commence a third. Here the king stands on a rock; a priest points him to an eagle on a cactus, holding a serpent. At last they have reached the place where Tenochtitlan is to be founded."

The paba passed on.

"Here," he said, "are temples and palaces. The king reclines on a couch; the city has been founded."

And before another panel,-"Look well to this, O king. A new character is introduced; here it is before an altar, offering a sacrifice of fruits and flowers. It is Quetzal'! In his worship, you recollect, there is no slaughter of victims. My hands are pure of blood."

The Quetzal', with its pleasant face, flowing curls, and simple costume, seemed to have a charm for Montezuma, for he mused over it a long time. Some distance on, the figure again appeared, stepping into a canoe, while the people, temples, and palaces of the city were behind it. Mualox explained, "See, O king! The fair god is departing from Tenochtitlan; he has been banished. Saddest of all the days was that!"

And so, the holy man interpreting, they moved along the southern wall. Not a scene but was illustrative of some incident memorable in the Aztecan history. And the reviewers were struck with the faithfulness of the record not less than with the beauty of the work.

On the western wall, the first cartoon represented a young man sweeping the steps of a temple. Montezuma paused before it amazed, and Guatamozin for the first time cried out, "It is the king! It is the king!" The likeness was perfect.

After that came a coronation scene. The teotuctli was placing a panache[21] on Montezuma's head. In the third cartoon, he was with the army, going to battle. In the fourth, he was seated, while a man clad in nequen,[22] but crowned, stood before him.

"You have grown familiar with triumphs, and it is many summers since, O king," said Mualox; "but you have not yet forgotten the gladness of your first conquest. Here is its record. As we go on, recall the kings who were thus made to stand before you."

And counting as they proceeded, Montezuma found that in every cartoon there was an additional figure crowned and in nequen. When they came to the one next the last on the western wall, he said,-

"Show me the meaning of all this: here are thirty kings."

"Will the king tell his slave the number of cities he has conquered?"

He thought awhile, and replied, "Thirty."

"Then the record is faithful. It started with the first king of Tenochtitlan; it came down to your coronation; now, it has numbered your conquests. See you not, O king? Behind us, all the writing is of the past; this is Montezuma and Tenochtitlan as they are: the present is before us! Could the hand that set this chamber and carved these walls have been a man's? Who but a god six cycles ago could have foreseen that a son of the son of Axaya' would carry the rulers of thirty conquered cities in his train?"

The royal visitor listened breathlessly. He began to comprehend the writing, and thrill with fast-coming presentiments. Yet he struggled with his fears.

"Prophecy has to do with the future," he said; "and you have shown me nothing that the sculptors and jewellers in my palace cannot do. Would you have me believe all this from Quetzal', show me something that is to come."

Mualox led him to the next scene which represented the king sitting in state; above him a canopy; his nobles and the women of his household around him; at his feet the people; and all were looking at a combat going on between warriors.

"You have asked for prophecy,-behold!" said Mualox.

"I see nothing," replied the king.

"Nothing! Is not this the celebration to-morrow? Since it was ordered, could your sculptors have executed what you see?"

Back to the monarch's face stole the pallor.

"Look again, O king! You only saw yourself, your people and warriors. But what is this?"

Walking up, he laid his finger on the representation of a man landing from a canoe.

"The last we beheld of Quetzal'," he continued, "was on the southern wall; his back was to Tenochtitlan, which he was leaving with a curse. All you have heard about his promise to return is true. He himself has written the very day, and here it is. Look! While the king, his warriors and people, are gathered to the combat, Quetzal' steps from the canoe to the sea-shore."

The figure in the carving was scarcely two hands high, but exquisitely wrought. With terror poorly concealed, Montezuma recognized it.

"And now my promise is redeemed. I said I would give you to read a message from the sun."

"Read, Mualox: I cannot."

The holy man turned to the writing, and said, with a swelling voice, "Thus writes Quetzal' to Montezuma, the king! In the last day he will seek to stay my vengeance; he will call together his people; there will be combat in Tenochtitlan; but in the midst of the rejoicing I will land on the sea-shore, and end the days of Azatlan forever."

"Forever!" said the unhappy monarch. "No, no! Read the next writing."

"There is no other; this is the last."

The eastern, southern, and western walls had been successively passed, and interpreted. Now the king turned to the northern wall: it was blank! His eyes flashed, and he almost shouted,-

"Liar! Quetzal' may come to-morrow, but it will be as friend. There is no curse!"

The paba humbled himself before the speaker, and said, slowly and tearfully, "The wise king is blinded by his hope. When Quetzal' finished this chapter, his task was done; he had recorded the last day of perfect glory, and ceased to write because, Azatlan being now to perish, there was nothing more to record. O unhappy king! that is the curse, and it needed no writing!"

Montezuma shook with passion.

"Lead me hence, lead me hence!" he cried. "I will watch; and if Quetzal' comes not on the morrow,-comes not during the celebration,-I swear to level this temple, and let the lake into its chambers! And you, paba though you be, I will drown you like a slave! Lead on!"

Mualox obeyed without a word. Lamp in hand, he led his visitors from the splendid chamber up to the azoteas of the ancient house. As they descended the eastern steps, he knelt, and kissed the pavement.

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