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

   Chapter 23 THE FIRST COMBAT

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 11673

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The 'tzin's companion the night of the banquet, as the reader has no doubt anticipated, was Hualpa, the Tihuancan. To an adventure of his, more luckless than his friend's, I now turn.

It will be remembered that the 'tzin left him at the door of the great hall. In a strange scene, without a guide, it was natural for him to be ill at ease; light-hearted and fearless, however, he strolled leisurely about, at one place stopping to hear a minstrel, at another to observe a dance, and all the time half confused by the maze and splendor of all he beheld. In such awe stood he of the monarch, that he gave the throne a wide margin, contented from a distance to view the accustomed interchanges of courtesy between the guests and their master. Finding, at last, that he could not break through the bashfulness acquired in his solitary life among the hills, and imitate the ease and nonchalance of those born, as it were, to the lordliness of the hour, he left the house, and once more sought the retiracy of the gardens. Out of doors, beneath the stars, with the fresh air in his nostrils, he felt at home again, the whilom hunter, ready for any emprise.

As to the walk he should follow he had no choice, for in every direction he heard laughter, music, and conversation; everywhere were flowers and the glow of lamps. Merest chance put him in a path that led to the neighborhood of the museum.

Since the night shut in,-be it said in a whisper,-a memory of wonderful brightness had taken possession of his mind. Nenetzin's face, as he saw it laughing in the door of the kiosk when Yeteve called the 'tzin for a song, he thought outshone the lamplight, the flowers, and everything most beautiful about his path; her eyes were as stars, rivalling the insensate ones in the mead above him. He remembered them, too, as all the brighter for the tears through which they had looked down,-alas! not on him, but upon his reverend comrade. If Hualpa was not in love, he was, at least, borrowing wings for a flight of that kind.

Indulging the delicious revery, he came upon some nobles, conversing, and quite blocking up the way, though going in his direction. He hesitated; but, considering that, as a guest, the freedom of the garden belonged equally to him, he proceeded, and became a listener.

"People call him a warrior. They know nothing of what makes a warrior; they mistake good fortune, or what the traders in the tianguez call luck, for skill. Take his conduct at the combat of Quetzal' as an example; say he threw his arrows well: yet it was a cowardly war. How much braver to grasp the maquahuitl, and rush to blows! That requires manhood, strength, skill. To stand back, and kill with a chance arrow,-a woman could do as much."

The 'tzin was the subject of discussion, and the voice that of Iztlil', the Tezcucan. Hualpa moved closer to the party.

"I thought his course in that combat good," said a stranger; "it gave him opportunities not otherwise to be had. That he did not join the assault cannot be urged against his courage. Had you, my lord Iztlil', fallen like the Otompan, he would have been left alone to fight the challengers. A fool would have seen the risk; a coward would not have courted it."

"That argument," replied Iztlil', "is crediting him with too much shrewdness. By the gods, he never doubted the result,-not he! He knew the Tlascalans would never pass my shield; he knew the victory was mine, two against me as there were. A prince of Tezcuco was never conquered!"

The spirit of the hunter was fast rising; yet he followed, listening.

"And, my friends," the Tezcucan continued, "who better judged the conduct of the combatants that day than the king? See the result. To-night I take from the faint heart his bride, the woman he has loved from boyhood. Then this banquet. In whose honor is it? What does it celebrate? There is a prize to be awarded,-the prize of courage and skill; and who gets it? And further, of the nobles and chiefs of the valley, but one is absent,-he whose prudence exceeds his valor."

In such strain the Tezcucan proceeded. And Hualpa, fully aroused, pushed through the company to the speaker, but so quietly that those who observed him asked no questions. Assured that the 'tzin must have friends present, he waited for some one to take up his cause. His own impulse was restrained by his great dread of the king, whose gardens he knew were not fighting-grounds at any time or in any quarrel. But, as the boastful prince continued, the resolve to punish him took definite form with the Tihuancan,-to such degree had his admiration for the 'tzin already risen! Gradually the auditors dropped behind or disappeared; finally but one remained,-a middle-aged, portly noble, whose demeanor was not of the kind to shake the resolution taken.

Hualpa made his first advance close by the eastern gate of the garden, to which point he held himself in check lest the want of arms should prove an apology for refusing the fight.

"Will the lord Iztlil' stop?" he said, laying his hand on the Tezcucan's arm.

"I do not know you," was the answer.

The sleek courtier also stopped, and stared broadly.

"You do not know me! I will mend my fortune in that respect," returned the hunter, mildly. "I have heard what you said so ungraciously of my friend and comrade,"-the last word he emphasized strongly,-"Guatamozin." Then he repeated the offensive words as correctly as if he had been a practised herald, and concluded, "Now, you know the 'tzin cannot be here to-night; you also know the reason; but, for him and in his place, I say, prince though you are, you have basely slandered an absent enemy."

"Who are you?" asked the Tezcucan, surprised.

"The comrade of Guatamozin, here to take up his quarrel."

"You challenge me?" said Iztlil', in disdain.

"Does a prince of Tezcuco, son of 'Hualpilli, require a blow? Take it then."

The blow was given.

"See! Do I not bring you princely blood?" And, in his turn, Hualpa laughed scornfully.

The Tezcucan was almost choked with rage. "This to me,-to me,-a prince and warrior!" he cried.

A danger not considered by the rash hunter now offered itself. An outcry would bring down the guard; and, in the event of his arrest, the united representations of Iztlil' and his friend would be sufficient to have him sent forthwith to the tigers. The pride of the prince saved him.

"Have a care,-'tis an assassin! I will call the guard at the gate!" said the courtier, alarmed.

"Call them not, call them not! I am equal to my own revenge. O, for a spear or knife,-anything to kill!"

"Will you hear me,-a word?" the hunter said. "I am without arms also; but they can be had."

"The arms, the arms!" cried Iztlil', passionately.

"We can make the sentinels at the gate clever by a few quills of gold; and here are enough to satisfy them." Hualpa produced a handful of the money. "Let us try them. Outside the gate the street is clear."

The courtier protested, but the prince was determined.

"The arms! Pledge my province and palaces,-everything for a maquahuitl now."

They went to the gate and obtained the use of two of the weapons and as many shields. Then the party passed into the street, which they found deserted. To avoid the great thoroughfare to Iztapalapan, they turned to the north, and kept on as far as the corner of the garden wall.

"Stay we here," said the courtier. "Short time is all you want, lord Iztlil'. The feathers on the hawk's wings are not full-fledged."

The man spoke confidently; and it must be confessed that the Tezcucan's reputation and experience justified the assurance. One advantage the hunter had which his enemies both overlooked,-a surpassing composure. From a temple near by a red light flared broadly over the place, redeeming it from what would otherwise have been vague starlight; by its aid they might have seen his countenance without a trace of excitement or passion. One wish, and but one, he had,-that Guatamozin could witness the trial.

The impatience of the Tezcucan permitted but few preliminaries.

"The gods of Mictlan require no prayers. Stand out!" he said.

"Strike!" answered Hualpa.

Up rose the glassy blades of the Tezcucan, flashing in the light; quick and strong the blow, yet it clove but the empty air. "For the 'tzin!" shouted the hunter, striking back before the other was half recovered. The shield was dashed aside; a groan acknowledged a wound in the breast, and Iztlil' staggered; another blow stretched him on the pavement. A stream of blood, black in the night, stole slowly out over the flags. The fight was over. The victor dropped the bladed end of his weapon, and surveyed his foe, with astonishment, then pity.

"Your friend is hurt; help him!" he said, turning to the courtier; but he was alone,-the craven had run. For one fresh from the hills, this was indeed a dilemma! A duel and a death in sight of the royal palace! A chill tingled through his veins. He thought rapidly of the alarm, the arrest, the king's wrath, and himself given to glut the monsters in the menagerie. Up rose, also, the many fastnesses amid the cedared glades of Tihuanco. Could he but reach them! The slaves of Montezuma, to please a whim, might pursue and capture a quail or an eagle; but there he could laugh at pursuit, while in Tenochtitlan he was nowhere safe.

Sight of the flowing blood brought him out of the panic. He raised the Tezcucan's arm, and tore the rich vestments from his breast. The wound was a glancing one; it might not be fatal after all; to save him were worth the trial. Taking off his own maxtlatl, he wound it tightly round the body and over the cut. Across the street there was a small, open house; lifting the wounded man gently as possible, he carried him thither, and laid him in a darkened passage. Where else to convey him he knew not; that was all he could do. Now for flight,-for Tihuanco. Tireless and swift of foot shall they be who catch him on the way!

He started for the lake, intending to cross in a canoe rather than by the causeway; already a square was put behind, when it occurred to him that the Tezcucan might have slaves and a palanquin waiting before the palace door. He began, also, to reproach himself for the baseness of the desertion. How would the 'tzin have acted? When the same Tezcucan lay with the dead in the arena, who nursed him back to life?

If Hualpa had wished his patron's presence at the beginning of the combat, now, flying from imaginary dangers,-flying, like a startled coward, from his very victory,-much did he thank the gods that he was alone and unseen. In a kind of alcove, or resting-place for weary walkers, with which, by the way, the thoroughfares of Tenochtitlan were well provided, he sat down, recalled his wonted courage, and determined on a course more manly, whatever the risk.

Then he retraced his steps, and went boldly to the portal of the palace, where he found the Tezcucan's palanquin. The slaves in charge followed him without objection.

"Take your master to his own palace. Be quick!" he said to them, when the wounded man was transferred to the carriage.

"It is in Tecuba," said one of them.

"To Tecuba then."

He did more; he accompanied the slaves. Along the street, across the causeway, which never seemed of such weary length, they proceeded. On the road the Tezcucan revived. He said little, and was passive in his enemy's hands. From Tecuba the latter hastened back to Tenochtitlan, and reached the portico of Xoli, the Chalcan, just as day broke over the valley.

And such was the hunter's first emprise as a warrior.

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