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

   Chapter 10 GOING TO THE COMBAT.

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 15824

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


As the morning advanced, the city grew fully animate. A festal spirit was abroad, seeking display in masks, mimes, and processions. Jugglers performed on the street-corners; dancing-girls, with tambours, and long elf-locks dressed in flowers, possessed themselves of the smooth sidewalks. Very plainly, the evil omen of the morning affected the king more than his people.

The day advanced clear and beautiful. In the eastern sky the smoke of the volcano still lingered; but the sun rose above it, and smiled on the valley, like a loving god.

At length the tambour in the great temple sounded the signal of assemblage. Its deep tones, penetrating every recess of the town and rushing across the lake, were heard in the villages on the distant shores. Then, in steady currents, the multitudes set forward for the tianguez. The chinampas were deserted; hovels and palaces gave up their tenantry; canoes, gay with garlands, were abandoned in the waveless canals. The women and children came down from the roofs; from all the temples-all but the old one with the solitary gray tower and echoless court-poured the priesthood in processions, headed by chanting choirs, and interspersed with countless sacred symbols. Many were the pomps, but that of the warriors surpassed all others. Marching in columns of thousands, they filled the streets with flashing arms and gorgeous regalia, roar of attabals and peals of minstrelsy.

About the same time the royal palanquin stood at the palace portal, engoldened, jewelled, and surmounted with a panache of green plumes. Cuitlahua, Cacama, Maxtla, and the lords of Tlacopan, Tepejaca, and Cholula, with other nobles from the provinces far and near, were collected about it in waiting, sporting on their persons the wealth of principalities. When the monarch came out, they knelt, and every one of them placed his palm on the ground before him. On the last stone at the portal he stopped, and raised his eyes to the sky. A piece of aguave, fluttering like a leaf, fell so near him that he reached out his hand and caught it.

"Read it, my lords," he said, after a moment's study.

The paper contained only the picture of an eagle attacked by an owl, and passed from hand to hand. Intent on deciphering the writing, none thought of inquiring whether its coming was of design or accident.

"What does it mean, my lord Cacama?" asked the monarch, gravely.

Cacama's eyes dropped as he replied,-

"When we write of you, O king, we paint an eagle; When we write of the 'tzin Guatamo, we paint an owl."

"What!" said the lord Cuitlahua, "would the 'tzin attack his king?"

And the monarch looked from one to the other strangely, saying only, "The owl is the device on his shield."

Then he entered the palanquin; whereupon some of the nobles lifted it on their shoulders, and the company, in procession, set out for the tianguez. On the way they were joined by Iztlil', the Tezcucan; and it was remarkable that, of them all, he was the only one silent about the paper.

The Iztapalapan street, of great width, and on both sides lined with gardens, palaces, and temples, was not only the boast of Tenochtitlan; its beauty was told in song and story throughout the Empire. The signal of assemblage for the day's great pastime found Xoli and his provincial friend lounging along the broad pave of the beautiful thoroughfare. They at once started for the tianguez. The broker was fat, and it was troublesome for him to keep pace with the hunter; nevertheless, they overtook a party of tamanes going in the same direction, and bearing a palanquin richly caparisoned. The slaves, very sumptuously clad, proceeded slowly and with downcast eyes, and so steadily that the carriage had the onward, gliding motion of a boat.

"Lower,-down, boy! See you not the green panache?" whispered Xoli, half frightened.

Too late. The Chalcan, even as he whispered, touched the pavement, but Hualpa remained erect: not only that; he looked boldly into the eyes of the occupants of the palanquin,-two women, whose beauty shone upon him like a sudden light. Then he bent his head, and his heart closed upon the recollection of what he saw so that it never escaped. The picture was of a girl, almost a woman, laughing; opposite her, and rather in the shade of the fringed curtain, one older, though young, and grave and stately; her hair black, her face oval, her eyes large and lustrous. To her he made his involuntary obeisance. Afterwards she reminded many a Spaniard of the dark-eyed hermosura with whom he had left love-tokens in his native land.

"They are the king's daughters, the princesses Tula and Nenetzin," said Xoli, when fairly past the carriage. "And as you have just come up from the country, listen. Green is the royal color, and belongs to the king's family; and wherever met, in the city or on the lake, the people salute it. Though what they meet be but a green feather in a slave's hand, they salute. Remember the lesson. By the way, the gossips say that Guatamozin will marry Tula, the eldest one."

"She is very beautiful," said the hunter, as to himself, and slackening his steps.

"Are you mad?" cried the broker, seizing his arm. "Would you bring the patrol upon us? They are not for such as you. Come on. It may be we can get seats to see the king and his whole household."

At the entrance to the arena there was a press which the police could hardly control. In the midst of it, Xoli pulled his companion to one side, saying, "The king comes! Let us under the staging here until he passes."

They found themselves, then, close by the spears, which, planted in the ground, upheld the shields of the combatants; and when the Tihuancan heard the people, as they streamed in, cheer the champions of the god, he grieved sorely that he was not one of them.

The heralds then came up, clearing the way; and all thereabout knelt, and so received the monarch. He stopped to inspect the shields; for in all his realm there was not one better versed in its heraldry. A diadem, not unlike the papal tiara, crowned his head; his tunic and cloak were of the skins of green humming-birds brilliantly iridescent; a rope of pearls large as grapes hung, many times doubled, from his neck down over his breast; his sandals and sandal-thongs were embossed with gold, and besides anklets of massive gold, cuishes of the same metal guarded his legs from knee to anklet. Save the transparent, lustrous gray of the pearls, his dress was of the two colors, green and yellow, and the effect was indescribably royal; yet all the bravery of his trappings could not hide from Hualpa, beholding him for the first time, that, like any common soul, he was suffering from some trouble of mind.

"So, Cacama," he said, pleasantly, after a look at the gages, "your brother has a mind to make peace with the gods. It is well!"

And thereupon Iztlil' himself stepped out and knelt before him in battle array, the javelin in his hand, and bow, quiver, and maquahuitl at his back; and in his homage the floating feathers of his helm brushed the dust from the royal feet.

"It is well!" repeated the king, smiling. "But, son of my friend, where are your comrades?"

Tlahua, the Otompan, and the young Cholulan, equipped like Iztlil', rendered their homage also. Over their heads he extended his hands, and said, softly, "They who love the gods, the gods love. Put your trust in them, O my children. And upon you be their blessing!"

And already he had passed the spears: one gage was forgotten, one combatant unblessed. Suddenly he looked back.

"Whose shield is that, my lords?"

All eyes rested upon the plain gage, but no one replied.

"Who is he that thus mocks the holy cause of Quetzal'? Go, Maxtla, and bring him to me!"

Then outspake Iztlil'.

"The shield is Guatamozin's. Last night he challenged me to this combat, and he is not here. O king, t

he owl may be looking for the eagle."

A moment the sadly serene countenance of the monarch knit and flushed as from a passing pain; a moment he regarded the Tezcucan. Then he turned to the shields of the Othmies and Tlascalans.

"They are a sturdy foe, and I warrant will fight hard," he said, quietly. "But such victims are the delight of the gods. Fail me not, O children!"

When the Tihuancan and his chaperone climbed half-way to the upper row of seats, in the quarter assigned to the people, the former was amazed. He looked down on a circular arena, strewn with white sand from the lake, and large enough for man?uvring half a thousand men. It was bounded by a rope, outside of which was a broad margin crowded with rank on rank of common soldiery, whose shields were arranged before them like a wall impervious to a glancing arrow. Back from the arena extended the staging, rising gradually seat above seat, platform above platform, until the whole area of the tianguez was occupied.

"Is the king a magician, that he can do this thing in a single night?" asked Hualpa.

Xoli laughed. "He has done many things much greater. The timbers you see were wrought long ago, and have been lying in the temples; the tamanes had only to bring them out and put them together."

In the east there was a platform, carpeted, furnished with lounges, and protected from the sun by a red canopy; broad passages of entrance separated it from the ruder structure erected for the commonalty; it was also the highest of the platforms, so that its occupants could overlook the whole amphitheatre. This lordlier preparation belonged to the king, his household and nobles. So, besides his wives and daughters, under the red canopy sat the three hundred women of his harem,-soft testimony that Orientalism dwelt not alone in the sky and palm-trees of the valley.

As remarked, the margin around the arena belonged to the soldiery; the citizens had seats in the north and south; while the priesthood, superior to either of them in sanctity of character, sat aloof in the west, also screened by a canopy. And, as the celebration was regarded in the light of a religious exercise, not only did women crowd the place, but mothers brought their children, that, from the examples of the arena, they might learn to be warriors.

Upon the appearance of the monarch there was a perfect calm. Standing awhile by his couch, he looked over the scene; and not often has royal vision been better filled with all that constitutes royalty. Opposite him he saw the servitors of his religion; at his feet were his warriors and people almost innumerable. When, at last, the minstrels of the soldiery poured their wild music over the theatre, he thrilled with the ecstasy of power.

The champions for the god then came in; and as they strode across to the western side of the arena the air was filled with plaudits and flying garlands; but hardly was the welcome ended before there was a great hum and stir, as the spectators asked each other why the fourth combatant came not with the others.

"The one with the bright panache, asked you? That is Iztlil', the Tezcucan," said Xoli.

"Is he not too fine?"

"No. Only think of the friends the glitter has made him among the women and children."

The Chalcan laughed heartily at the cynicism.

"And the broad-shouldered fellow now fixing the thong of his shield?"

"The Otompan,-a good warrior. They say he goes to battle with the will a girl goes to a feast. The other is the Cholulan; he has his renown to win, and is too young."

"But he may have other qualities," suggested Hualpa. "I have heard it said that, in a battle of arrows, a quick eye is better than a strong arm."

The broker yawned. "Well, I like not those Cholulans. They are proud; they scorn the other nations, even the Aztecs. Probably it is well they are better priests than soldiers. Under the red canopy yonder I see his father."

"Listen, good Xoli. I hear the people talking about the 'tzin? Where can he be?"

Just then within the wall of shields there came a warrior, who strode swiftly toward the solitary gage. His array was less splendid than his comrades'; his helm was of plain leather without ornament; his escaupil was secured by a simple loop: yet the people knew him, and shouted; and when he took down the plain shield and fixed it to his arm, the approbation of the common soldiery arose like a storm. As they bore such shields to battle, he became, as it were, their peculiar representative. It was Guatamozin.

And under the royal canopy there was rapid exchange of whispers and looks; every mind reverted to the paper dropped so mysteriously into the king's hand at the palace door; and some there were, acuter than the rest, who saw corroboration of the meaning given the writing in the fact that the shield the 'tzin now chose was without the owl, his usual device. Whether the monarch himself was one of them might not be said; his face was as impassive as bronze.

Next, the Othmies and Tlascalans, dignified into common challengers of the proudest chiefs of Tenochtitlan, were conducted into the arena.

The Tlascalans were strong men used to battle; and though, like their companions in danger, at first bewildered by the sudden introduction to so vast a multitude, they became quickly inured to the situation. Of the Othmies, a more promising pair of gladiators never exhibited before a Roman audience. The father was past the prime of life, but erect, broad-shouldered, and of unusual dignity; the son was slighter, and not so tall, but his limbs were round and beautiful, and he looked as if he might outleap an antelope. The people were delighted, and cheered the challengers with scarcely less heartiness than their own champions. Still, the younger Othmi appeared hesitant, and, when the clamor somewhat abated, the sire touched him, and said,-

"Does my boy dream? What voice is in his ear that his heart is so melted? Awake! the shield is on the arm of the foe."

The young man aroused. "I saw the sun on the green hills of Othmi. But see!" he said, proudly, and with flashing eyes, "there is no weakness in the dreamer's arm." And with the words, he seized a bow at his feet, fitted an arrow upon the cord, and, drawing full to the head, sent it cleaving the sunshine far above them. Every eye followed its flight but his own. "The arm, O chief, is not stronger than the heart," he added, carelessly dropping the bow.

The old warrior gazed at him tenderly; but as that was no time for the indulgence of affection, he turned to the Tlascalans, and said, "We must be ready: let us arm."

Each donned a leathern helm, and wrapped himself in a quilted escaupil; each buckled the shield on his arm, and tightened the thongs of his sandals. Their arms lay at hand.

Such were the preparations for the combat, such the combatants. And as the foemen faced each other, awaiting the signal for the mortal strife, I fancy no Christian has seen anything more beautiful than the theatre. Among the faces the gaze swam as in a sea; the gleaming of arms and ornaments was bewildering; while the diversity of colors in the costumes of the vast audience was without comparison. With the exception of the arena, the royal platform was the cynosure. Behind the king, with a shield faced with silver, stood Maxtla, vigilant against treachery or despair. The array of nobles about the couch was imperial; and what with them, and the dark-eyed beauties of his household, and the canopy tingeing the air and softly undulating above him, and the mighty congregation of subjects at his feet, it was with Montezuma like a revival of the glory of the Hystaspes. Yet the presence of his power but increased his gloom; in a short time he heard no music and saw no splendor; everything reminded him of the last picture on the western wall of the golden chamber.

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