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

   Chapter 22 THE ’TZIN’S LOVE

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 14948

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The minstrel stayed a while to dress his harp with the vine.

"A woman would have done it better; they have a special cunning for such things; yet it will serve the purpose. Now let us on!" he said, when the task was finished.

To the palace they then turned their steps. As they approached it, the walk became more crowded with guests. Several times the minstrel was petitioned to stay and sing, but he excused himself. He proceeded, looking steadily at the ground, as is the custom of the very aged. Amongst others, they met Maxtla, gay in his trappings as a parrot from the Great River.

"Good minstrel," he said, "in your wanderings through the garden, have you seen Iztlil', the Tezcucan?"

"I have not seen the Tezcucan. I should look for him in the great hall, where his bride is, rather than in the garden, dreaming of his bridal."

"Well said, uncle! I infer your harp is not carried for show; you can sing! I will try you after a while."

When he was gone, the minstrel spoke bitterly,-

"Beware of the thing known in the great house yonder as policy. A week ago the lord Maxtla would have scorned to be seen hunting the Tezcucan, whom he hates."

They came to a portal above which, in a niche of the wall, sat the teotl[34] of the house, grimly claiming attention and worship. Under the portal, past the guard on duty there, through many apartments full of objects of wonder to the stranger, they proceeded, and, at last, with a current of guests slowly moving in the same direction, reached the hall dominated by the king, where the minstrel thought to find the princess Tula.

"O my friend, I pray you, let me stay here a moment," said the warrior, abashed by dread of the sudden introduction to the royal presence. The singer heard not, but went on.

Standing by the door, the young stranger looked down a hall of great depth eastwardly, broken by two rows of pillars supporting vast oaken girders, upon which rested rafters of red cedar. The walls were divided into panels, with borders broad and intricately arabesqued. A massive bracket in the centre of each panel held the image of a deity, the duplicate of the idol in the proper sanctuary; and from the feet of the image radiated long arms of wood, well carved, crooked upward at the elbows, and ending with shapely hands, clasping lanterns of aguave which emitted lights of every tint. In the central space, between the rows of pillars, immense chandeliers dropped from the rafters, so covered with lamps that they looked like pyramids aglow. And arms, and images, and chandeliers, and even the huge pillars, were wreathed in garlands of cedar boughs and flowers, from which the air drew a redolence as of morning in a garden.

Through all these splendors, the gaze of the visitor sped to the further end of the hall, and there stayed as charmed. He saw a stage, bright with crimson carpeting, rising three steps above the floor, and extending from wall to wall; and on that, covered with green plumaje, a dais, on which, in a chair or throne glittering with burnished gold, the king sat. Above him spread a canopy fashioned like a broad sunshade, the staff resting on the floor behind the throne, sustained by two full-armed warriors, who, while motionless as statues, were yet vigilant as sentinels. Around the dais, their costumes and personal decorations sharing the monarch's splendor, were collected his queens, and their children, and all who might claim connection with the royal family. The light shone about them as the noonday, so full that all that portion of the hall seemed bursting with sunshine. Never satin richer than the emerald cloth of the canopy, inwoven, as it was, with feathers of humming-birds! Never sheen of stars, to the eyes of the wondering stranger, sharper than the glinting of the jewels with which it was fringed!

And the king appeared in happier mood than common, though the deep, serious look which always accompanies a great care came often to his face. He had intervals of silence also; yet his shrewdest guests were not permitted to see that he did not enjoy their enjoyment.

His queens were seated at his left, Tecalco deeply troubled, sometimes tearful, and Acatlan cold and distant; for, in thought of her own child, the beautiful Nenetzin, she trembled before the remorseless policy.

And Tula, next to the king the recipient of attention, sat in front of her mother, never more queenly, never so unhappy. Compliments came to her, and congratulations, given in courtly style; minstrels extolled her grace and beauty, and the prowess and martial qualities of the high-born Tezcucan; and priest and warrior laid their homage at her feet. Yet her demeanor was not that of the glad young bride; she never smiled, and her eyes, commonly so lustrous, were dim and hopeless; her thoughts were with her heart, across the lake with the banished 'tzin.

As may be conjectured, it was no easy game to steal her from place so conspicuous; nevertheless, Nenetzin awaited the opportunity.

It happened that Maxtla was quite as anxious to get the monarch's ear for the benefit of his friend, the Chalcan,-in fact, for the introduction of the latter's newly invented drink. Experience taught the chief when the felicitous moment arrived. He had then but to say the word: a page was sent, the liquor brought. Montezuma sipped, smiled, quaffed deeper, and was delighted.

"There is nothing like it!" he said. "Bring goblets for my friends, and fill up again!"

All the lordly personages about him had then to follow his example,-to drink and approve. At the end, Xoli was summoned.

Nenetzin saw the chance, and said, "O Tula, such a song as we have heard! It was sweeter than that of the bird that wakes us in the morning, sweeter than all the flutes in the hall."

"And the singer,-who was he?"

Neither Nenetzin nor Yeteve could tell his name.

"He charmed us so," said the former, "that we thought only of taking you to hear him. Come, go with us. There never was such music or musician."

And the three came down from the platform unobserved by the king. When the minstrel's message was delivered, then was shown how well the Tezcucan had spoken when he said of the royal children, "They are all beautiful, but only one is fitted to be a warrior's wife."

"Let us see the man," said Tula. "How may we know him, Nenetzin?"

And they went about eagerly looking for the singer with the gray locks and the vine-wreathed harp. They found him at last about midway the hall, leaning on his staff, a solitary amidst the throng. No one thought of asking him for a song; he was too old, too like one come from a tomb with unfashionable stories.

"Father," said Tula, "we claim your service. You look weary, yet you must know the ancient chants, which, though I would not like to say it everywhere, please me best. Will you sing?"

He raised his head, and looked at her: she started. Something she saw in his eyes that had escaped her friends.

"A song from me!" he replied, as if astonished. "No, it cannot be. I have known some gentle hearts, and studied them to remember; but long since they went to dust. You do not know me. Imagining you discerned of what I was thinking, you were moved; you only pitied me, here so desolate."

As he talked, she recovered her composure.

"Will you sing for me, father?" she again asked.

"O willingly! My memory is not so good as it used to be; yet one song, at least, I will give

you from the numberless ills that crowd it."

He looked slowly and tremulously around at the guests who had followed her, or stopped, as they were passing, to hear the conversation.

"As you say," he then continued, "I am old and feeble, and it is wearisome to stand here; besides, my theme will be sad, and such as should be heard in quiet. Time was when my harp had honor,-to me it seems but yesterday; but now-enough! Here it were not well that my voice should be heard."

She caught his meaning, and her whole face kindled; but Nenetzin spoke first.

"O yes; let us to the garden!"

The minstrel bowed reverently. As they started, a woman, who had been listening, said, "Surely, the noble Tula is not going! The man is a dotard; he cannot sing; he is palsied."

But they proceeded, and through the crowd and out of the hall guided the trembling minstrel. Coming to a passage that seemed to be deserted, they turned into it, and Nenetzin, at Tula's request, went back to the king. Then a change came over the good man; his stooping left him, his step became firm, and, placing himself in front, he said, in a deep, strong voice,-

"It is mine to lead now. I remember these halls. Once again, O Tula, let me lead you here, as I have a thousand times in childhood."

And to a chamber overlooking the garden, by the hand he led her, followed by Yeteve, sobbing like a child. A dim light from the lamps without disclosed the walls hung with trophies captured in wars with the surrounding tribes and nations. Where the rays were strongest, he stopped, and removed the hood, and said, earnestly,-

"Against the king's command, and loving you better than life, O Tula, Guatamozin has come to say farewell."

There was a great silence; each heard the beating of the other's heart.

"You have passed from me," he continued, "and I send my grief after you. I look into your face, and see fade our youth, our hopes, and our love, and all the past that bore it relation. The days of pleasantness are ended; the spring that fed the running brook is dry. O Tula, dear one, the bird that made us such sweet music is songless forever!"

Her anguish was too deep for the comfort of words or tears. Closer he clasped her hand.

"O, that power should be so faithless! Here are banners that I have taken. Yonder is a shield of a king of Michuaca whom I slew. I well remember the day. Montezuma led the army; the fight was hard, the peril great; and after I struck the blow, he said I had saved his life, and vowed me boundless love and a splendid reward. What a passion the field of fighting men was! And yet there was another always greater. I had dwelt in the palace, and learned that in the smile of the noble Tula there was to my life what the sunshine is to the flower."

He faltered, then continued brokenly,-

"He had honors, palaces, provinces, and crowns to bestow; but witness, O gods, whose sacred duty it is to punish ingratitude,-witness that I cared more to call Tula wife than for all the multitude of his princeliest gifts!"

And now fast ran the tears of the princess, through sorrow rising to full womanhood, while the murky chamber echoed with the sobs of Yeteve. If the ghost of the barbarian king yet cared for the shield he died defending, if it were there present, seeing and hearing, its revenge was perfect.

"If Guatamozin-so dear to me now, so dear always-will overlook the womanly selfishness that could find a pleasure in his grief, I will prove that he has not loved unworthily. You have asked nothing of me, nor urged any counsel, and I thank you for the moderation. I thank you, also, that you have spoken as if this sorrow were not yours more than mine. Most of all, O 'tzin, I thank you for not accusing me. Need I say how I hate the Tezcucan? or that I am given away against my will? I am to go as a price, as so much cocoa, in purchase of the fealty of a wretch who would league with Mictlan to humble my father. I am a weak woman, without tribes or banner, and therefore the wrong is put upon me. But have I no power?" And, trembling with the strong purpose, she laid her hand upon his breast. "Wife will I never be except of Guatamozin. I am the daughter of a king. My father, at least, should know me. He may sell me, but, thank the holy gods, I am the keeper of my own life. And what would life be with the base Tezcucan for my master? Royal power in a palace of pearl and gold would not make it worth the keeping. O 'tzin, you never threw a worthless leaf upon the lake more carelessly than I would then fling this poor body there!"

Closer to his heart he pressed the hand on his breast.

"To you, to you, O Tula, be the one blessing greater than all others which the gods keep back in the Sun! So only can you be rewarded. I take your words as an oath. Keep them, only keep them, and I will win for you all that can be won by man. What a time is coming-"

Just then a joyous cry and a burst of laughter from the garden interrupted his passionate speech, and recalled him to himself and the present,-to the present, which was not to be satisfied with lovers' rhapsodies. And so he said, when next he spoke,-

"You have answered my most jealous wish. Go back now; make no objection to the Tezcucan: the betrothal is not the bridal. The king and Iztlil' cannot abide together in peace. I know them."

And sinking his voice, he added, "Your hand is on my heart, and by its beating you cannot fail to know how full it is of love. Take my blessing to strengthen you. Farewell. I will return to my gardens and dreams."

"To dreams! And with such a storm coming upon Anahuac!" said Tula. "No, no; to dream is mine."

Up, clear to his vision, rose the destiny prophesied for him by Mualox. As he pondered it, she said, tearfully,-

"I love my father, and he is blind or mad. Now is his peril greatest, now most he needs friendship and help. O 'tzin, leave him not,-I conjure you by his past kindness! Remember I am his child."

Thereupon he dropped her hand, and walked the floor, while the banners and the shields upon the walls, and the mute glory they perpetuated, whispered of the wrong and shame he was enduring. When he answered, she knew how great the struggle had been, and that the end was scarcely a victory.

"You have asked that of me, my beloved, which is a sore trial," he said. "I will not deny that the great love I bore your father is disturbed by bitterness. Think how excessive my injury is,-I who revered as a son, and have already put myself in death's way for him. In the halls, and out in the gardens, my name has been a jest to-night. And how the Tezcucan has exulted! It is hard for the sufferer to love his wrong-doer,-O so hard! But this I will, and as an oath take the promise: as long as the king acts for Anahuac, not imperilling her safety or glory, so long will I uphold him; this, O Tula, from love of country, and nothing more!"

And as the future was veiled against the woman and dutiful child, she replied simply, "I accept the oath. Now lead me hence."

He took her hand again, and said, "In peril of life I came to say farewell forever; but I will leave a kiss upon your forehead, and plant its memory in your heart, and some day come again to claim you mine."

And he put his arm around her, and left the kiss on her forehead, and, as the ancient he entered, conducted the unhappy princess from the chamber of banners back to the hall of betrothal.

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