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   Chapter 14 A TEZCUCAN LOVER

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 11267

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Traces of the supper speedily disappeared. The screen was rolled away, and pipes placed in the monarch's hand for distribution amongst his familiars. Blue vapor began to ascend to the carved rafters, when the tapestry on both sides of the room was flung aside, and the sound of cornets and flutes poured in from an adjoining apartment; and, as if answering the summons of the music, a company of dancing-girls entered, and filled the space in front of the monarch; half nude were they, and flashing with ornaments, and aerial with gauze and flying ribbons; silver bells tinkled with each step, and on their heads were wreaths, and in their hands garlands of flowers. Voluptuous children were they of the voluptuous valley.

Saluting the monarch, they glided away, and commenced a dance. With dreamy, half-shut eyes, through the scented cloud momently deepening around him, he watched them; and in the sensuous, animated scene was disclosed one of the enchantments that had weaned him from the martial love of his youth.

Every movement of the figure had been carefully studied, and a kind of ?sthetic philosophy was blent with its perfect time and elegance of motion. Slow and stately at first, it gradually quickened; then, as if to excite the blood and fancy, it became more mazy and voluptuous; and finally, as that is the sweetest song that ends with a long decadence, it was so concluded as to soothe the transports itself had awakened. Sweeping along, it reached a point, a very climax of abandon and beauty, in which the dancers appeared to forget the music and the method of the figure; then the eyes of the king shone brightly, and the pipe lingered on his lips forgotten; and then the musicians began, one by one, to withdraw from the harmony, and the dancers to vanish singly from the room, until, at last, there was but one flute to be heard, while but one girl remained. Finally, she also disappeared, and all grew still again.

And the king sat silent and listless, surrendered to the enjoyment which was the object of the diversion; yet he heard the music; yet he saw the lithe and palpitating forms of the dancers in posture and motion; yet he felt the sweet influence of their youth and grace and beauty, not as a passion, but rather a spell full of the suggestions of passion, when a number of men came noiselessly in, and, kneeling, saluted him. Their costume was that of priests, and each of them carried an instrument of music fashioned somewhat like a Hebrew lyre.

"Ah, my minstrels, my minstrels!" he said, his face flushing with pleasure. "Welcome in the streets, welcome in the camp, welcome in the palace, also! What have you to-night?"

"When last we were admitted to your presence, O king, you bade us compose hymns to the god Quetzal'-"

"Yes; I remember."

"We pray you not to think ill of your slaves if we say that the verses which come unbidden are the best; no song of the bird's so beautiful as the one it sings when its heart is full."

The monarch sat up.

"Nay, I did not command. I know something of the spirit of poetry. It is not a thing to be driven by the will, like a canoe by a strong arm; neither is it a slave, to come or go at a signal. I bid my warriors march; I order the sacrifice; but the lays of my minstrels have ever been of their free will. Leave me now. To you are my gardens and palaces. I warrant the verses you have are good; but go ask your hearts for better."

They retired with their faces toward him until hidden behind the tapestry.

"I love a song, uncles," continued the king; "I love a hymn to the gods, and a story of battle chanted in a deep voice. In the halls of the Sun every soul is a minstrel, and every tale a song. But let them go; it is well enough. I promised Iztlil', the Tezcucan, to give him audience to-night. He comes to the palace but seldom, and he has not asked a favor since I settled his quarrel with the lord Cacama. Send one to see if he is now at the door."

Thereupon he fell to reflecting and smoking; and when next he spoke, it was from the midst of an aromatic cloud.

"I loved the wise 'Hualpilli; for his sake, I would have his children happy. He was a lover of peace, and gave more to policy than to war. It were grievous to let his city be disturbed by feuds and fighting men; therefore I gave it to the eldest son. His claim was best; and, besides, he has the friendly heart to serve me. Still-still, I wish there had been two Tezcucos."

"There was but one voice about the judgment in Tezcuco, O king; the citizens all said it was just."

"And they would have said the same if I had given them Iztlil'. I know the knaves, uncle. It was not their applause I cared for; but, you see, in gaining a servant, I lost one. Iztlil' is a warrior. Had he the will, he could serve me in the field as well as his brother in the council. I must attach him to me. A strong arm is pleasant to lean on; it is better than a staff."

Addressing himself to the pipe again, he sat smoking, and moodily observing the vapor vanish above him. There was silence until Iztlil' was ushered in.

The cacique was still suffering from his wounds. His step was feeble, so that his obeisance was stopped by the monarch himself.

"Let the salutation go, my lord Iztlil'. Your courage has cost you much. I remember you are the son of my old friend, and bid you welcome."

"The Tlascalans are good warriors," said the Tezcucan, coldly.

"And for that reason better victims," added the king, quickly. "By the Sun, I know not what we would do without them. Their hills supply our temples."

"And I, good king-I am but a warri

or. My heart is not softened by things pertaining to religion. Enough for me to worship the gods."

"Then you are not a student?"

"I never studied in the academies."

"I understand," said the king, with a low laugh. "You cannot name as many stars as enemies whom you have slain. No matter. I have places for such scholars. Have you commanded an army?"

"It pleased you to give me that confidence. I led my companies within the Tlascalan wall, and came back with captives."

"I recollect now. But as most good warriors are modest, my son, I will not tell you what the chiefs said of your conduct; you would blush-"

Iztlil' started.

"Content you, content you; your blush would not be for shame."

There was a pause, which the king gave to his pipe. Suddenly he said, "There have been tongues busy with your fame, my son. I have heard you were greatly dissatisfied because I gave your father's city to your elder brother. But I consider that men are never without detractors, and I cannot forget that you have perilled your life for the gods. Actions I accept as the proofs of will. If the favor that brought you here be reasonable, it is yours for the asking. I have the wish to serve you."

"I am not surprised that I have enemies," said Iztlil', calmly. "I will abuse no one on that account; for I am an enemy, and can forgive in others what I deem virtue in myself. But it moves me greatly, O king, that my enemies should steal into your palace, and, in my absence, wrong me in your opinion. But pardon me; I did not come to defend myself-"

"You have taken my words in an evil sense," interposed the king, with an impatient gesture.

"Or to conceal the truth," the Tezcucan continued. "There is kingly blood in me, and I dare speak as my father's son. So if they said merely that I was dissatisfied with your judgment, they said truly."

Montezuma frowned.

"I intend my words to be respectful, most mighty king. A common wisdom teaches us to respect the brave man and dread the coward. And there is not in your garden a flower as beautiful, nor in your power a privilege as precious, as free speech; and it would sound ill of one so great and secure as my father's friend if he permitted in the streets and in the farmer's hut what he forbade in his palace. I spoke of dissatisfaction; but think not it was because you gave Tezcuco to my brother, and to me the bare hills that have scarcely herbage enough for a wolf-covert. I am less a prince than a warrior; all places are alike to me; the earth affords me royal slumber, while no jewelled canopy is equal to the starred heavens; and as there is a weakness in pleasant memories, I have none. To such as I am, O king, what matters a barren hill or a proud palace? I murmured, nay, I did more, because, in judging my quarrel, you overthrew the independence of my country. When my father visited you from across the lake, he was not accustomed to stand before you, or hide his kingly robes beneath a slave's garb."

Montezuma half started from his seat. "Holy gods! Is rebellion so bold?"

"I meant no disrespect, great king. I only sought to justify myself, and in your royal presence say what I have thought while fighting under your banner. But, without more abuse of your patience, I will to my purpose, especially as I came for peace and friendship."

"The son of my friend forgets that I have ways to make peace without treating for it," said the king.

The Tezcucan smothered an angry reply.

"By service done, I have shown a disposition to serve you, O king. Very soon every warrior will be needed. A throne may be laid amid hymns and priestly prayers, yet have no strength; to endure, it must rest upon the allegiance of love. Though I have spoken unpleasant words, I came to ask that, by a simple boon, you give me cause to love. I have reflected that I, too, am of royal blood, and, as the son of a king, may lead your armies, and look for alliance in your house. By marriage, O king, I desire, come good or evil, to link my fortune to yours."

Montezuma's countenance was stolid; no eye could have detected upon it so much as surprise. He quietly asked, "Which of my daughters has found favor in your eyes?"

"They are all beautiful, but only one of them is fitted for a warrior's wife."

"Tula?"

Iztlil' bowed.

"She is dear to me," said the king, softly, "dearer than a city; she is holy as a temple, and lovelier than the morning; her voice is sweet as the summer wind, and her presence as the summer itself. Have you spoken to her of this thing?"

"I love her, so that her love is nothing to me. Her feelings are her own, but she is yours; and you are more powerful to give than she to withhold."

"Well, well," said the monarch, after a little thought; "in my realm there are none of better quality than the children of 'Hualpilli,-none from whom such demand is as proper. Yet it is worthy deliberation. It is true, I have the power to bestow, but there are others who have the right to be consulted. I study the happiness of my people, and it were unnatural if I cared less for that of my children. So leave me now, but take with you, brave prince, the assurance that I am friendly to your suit. The gods go with you!"

And Iztlil', after a low obeisance, withdrew; and then the overture was fully discussed. Montezuma spoke freely, welcoming the opportunity of securing the bold, free-spoken cacique, and seeing in the demand only a question of policy. As might be expected, the ancients made no opposition; they could see no danger in the alliance, and had no care for the parties. It was policy.

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