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


The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 11025

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

And now was come the time of all the year most pleasant,-the time when the maguey was greenest, when the cacti burst into flowers, and in every field women and children, with the strong men, went to pluck the ripened maize. Of the summer, only the wealth and beauty remained. The Goddess of Abundance divided the worship which, at other seasons, was mostly given to Huitzil' and Tezca';[40] in her temples the days were all of prayer, hymning, and priestly ceremony. No other towers sent up such columns of the blue smoke so grateful to the dwellers in the Sun; in no other places were there such incessant burning of censers, presentation of gifts, and sacrifice of victims. Throughout the valley the people carolled those songs the sweetest and most millennial of men,-the songs of harvest, peace, and plenty.

I have before said that Tezcuco, the lake, was the especial pride of the Aztecs. When the sky was clear, and the air tranquil, it was very beautiful; but when the king, with his court, all in state, set out for the hunting-grounds on the northern shore, its beauty rose to splendor. By his invitation great numbers of citizens, in style suited to the honor, joined their canoes to the flotilla composing the retinue. And let it not be forgotten that the Aztec loved his canoe as in Christendom the good knight loves his steed, and decorated it with all he knew of art; that its prow, rising high above the water, and touched by the master sculptors, was dressed in garlands and fantastic symbols; that its light and shapely canopy, elegantly trimmed within, was shaded by curtains, and surmounted by trailing streamers; and that the slaves, four, six, and sometimes twelve in number, dipped and drew their flashing paddles in faultless time, and shone afar brilliant in livery. So, when the multitude of vessels cleared the city walls, and with music and songs dashed into the open lake, the very water seemed to dance and quiver with a sensuous pleasure.

In such style did Montezuma one pleasant morning leave his capital. Calm was the lake, and so clear that the reflection of the sky above seemed a bed of blue below. There were music, and shouts, and merry songs, and from the city the cheers and plaudits of the thousands who, from the walls and housetops, witnessed the pageant. And his canoe was the soul of the pomp, and he had with him his favorite minstrel and jester, and Maxtla; yet there was something on his mind that made him indifferent to the scene and prospective sport. Some distance out, by his direction, the slaves so man?uvred that all the flotilla passed him; then he said to Maxtla, "The will has left me. I will not hunt to-day; yet the pastime must go on; a recall now were unkingly. Look out for a way to follow the train, while I return."

The chief arose, and swept the lake with a bright glance. "Yonder is a chinampa; I can take its master's canoe."

"Do so. Give this ring to the lord Cuitlahua, and tell him to conduct the hunt."

And soon Maxtla was hurrying to the north with the signet, while the monarch was speeding more swiftly to the south.

"For Iztapalapan," said the latter to his slaves. "Take me there before the lords reach the hunting-grounds, and you shall have a feast to-night."

They bent to the paddles, and rested not until he saw the white houses of the city, built far into the lake in imitation of the capital.

"Not to the town, but the palace of Guatamozin," he then said. "Speed! the sun is rising high."

Arrived at the landing, Montezuma set forward alone to the palace. The path led into a grove of cedar and wild orange-trees, interspersed with ceibas, the true kings of the forests of New Mexico. The air was sweet with perfume; birds sang to each other from the coverts; the adjacent cascades played their steady, muffled music; and altogether morning on the lake was less beautiful than morning in the tzin's garden. In the multitude of walks he became bewildered; but, as he was pleased by all he beheld, he walked on without consulting the sun. At length, guided by the sound of voices, he came to the arena for martial games; and there he found Hualpa and Io' practising with the bow.

He had been wont to regard Io' as a child, unripe for any but childish amusements, and hardly to be trusted alone. Absorbed in his business of governing, he had not observed how increase of years brought the boy strength, stature, and corresponding tastes. Now he was admonished of his neglect: the stripling should have been familiarized with bow, sling, and maquahuitl; men ought to have been given him for comrades; the warrior's school, even the actual field, had been better for him than the nursery. An idea of ambition also occurred to the monarch. When he himself was gathered to his fathers, who was to succeed him on the throne? Cuitlahua, Cacama, the lord of Tlacopan? Why not Io'?

Meanwhile the two diligently pursued their sport. At the moment the king came upon them, Hualpa was giving some directions as to the mode of holding the brave weapon. The boy listened eagerly,-a sign that pleased the observer, for nothing is so easy as to flatter the hope of a dreamy heart. Observing them further, he saw Io' take the stand, draw the arrow quite to the head, and strike the target. At the second trial, he pierced the centre. Hualpa embraced the scholar joyously; and thereupon the king warmed toward the warrior, and tears blinded his eyes. Advancing into the arena, the clanging of his golden sandals annou

nced his presence.

And they knelt and kissed the earth.

"Stand up!" he said, with the smile which gave his countenance a womanly beauty. And to Hualpa he added, "I thought your palace by Chapultepec would be more attractive than the practice of arms; more credit should have been given the habits of a hunter. I was right to make you noble. But what can you make of Io'?"

"If you will give the time, O king, I can make him of excellent skill."

"And what says the son of Tecalco?"

Io' knelt again, saying, "I have a pardon to ask-"

"A pardon! For wishing to be a warrior?"

"If the king will hear me,-I have heard you say that in your youth you divided your days between the camp and the temples, learning at the same time the duties of the priest and the warrior. That I may be able some day to serve you, O king, I have stolen away from Tenochtitlan-"

Montezuma laid his hand tenderly on the boy's head, and said, "No more. I know all you would say, and will ask the great Huitzil' to give you strength and courage. Take my permission to be a warrior. Arise, now, and give me the bow. It is long since I pulled the cord, and my hand may have weakened, and my eyes become dim; but I challenge you both! I have a shield wrought of pearl and gold, unfit for the field, yet beautiful as a prize of skill. Who plants an arrow nearest yon target's heart, his the shield shall be."

The challenge was accepted, and after preparation, the monarch dropped his mantle, and took the stand. He drew the shaft to his ear with a careless show of skill; and when it quivered in the target about a palm's breadth below the mark, he said, laughing, "I am at least within the line of the good bowman. A Tlascalan would not have escaped scarless."

Io' next took the bow, and was so fortunate as to hit the lower edge of the heart squarely above the king's bolt.

"Mine is the shield, mine is the shield!" he cried, exultantly. "O that a minstrel were here! I would have a song,-my first song!"

"Very proud!" said the king, good-humoredly. "Know you, boy, the warrior counts his captives only when the battle is ended. Here, lord Hualpa, the boaster should be beaten. Prove your quality. To you there may be more in this trial than a song or a golden shield."

The hunter took the vacant place; his arrow whistled away, and the report came back from the target. By a happy accident, if such it were, the copper point was planted exactly in the middle of the space between the other two.

More joyous than before arose the cry of Io', "I have beaten a king and a warrior! Mine is the shield, mine is the shield!"

And the king, listening, said to himself, "I remember my own youth, and its earliest victory, and how I passed from successes at first the most trifling. Ah! who but Huitzil', father of all the gods, can tell the end? Blessed the day when I can set before him the prospect of a throne instead of a shield!"

The target was brought him, and he measured the distance of each arrow from the centre; and when he saw how exactly Hualpa's was planted between the others, his subtile mind detected the purpose and the generosity.

"The victory is yours, O my son, and so is the shield," he said, slowly and thoughtfully. "But ah! were it given you to look with eyes like mine,-with eyes sharpened by age for the discovery of blessings, your rejoicing would be over a friend found, whose love is proof against vanity and the hope of reward."

Hualpa understood him, and was proud. What was the prize lost to Montezuma gained?

"It grows late; my time is sacred," said the king. "Lord Hualpa, stay and guide me to the palace. And Io', be you my courier to the 'tzin. Go before, and tell him I am coming."

The boy ran ahead, and as they leisurely followed him, the monarch relapsed into melancholy. In the shade of a ceiba tree he stopped, and said, "There is a service you might do me, that lies nearer my heart than any other."

"The will of the great king is mine," Hualpa replied, with a low reverence.

"When I am old," pursued Montezuma, "when the things of earth begin to recede from me, it would be pleasant to have a son worthy to lift the Empire from my shoulders. While I am going up the steps of the temple, a seeker of the holy peace that lies in worship and prayer, the government would not then be a care to disturb me. But I am sensible that no one could thus relieve me unless he had the strong hand of a warrior, and was fearless except of the gods. Io' is my only hope. From you he first caught the desire of greatness, and you can make him great. Take him as a comrade; love him as a brother; teach him the elements of war,-to wield spear and maquahuitl; to bear shield, to command, and to be brave and generous. Show him the ways of ambition. Above all,"-as he spoke he raised his head and hand, and looked the impersonation of his idea,-"above all, let him know that a king may find his glory as much in the love of his people as in his power. Am I understood?"

Hualpa did not look up, but said, "Am I worthy? I have the skill of hand; but have I the learning?"

"To make him learned belongs to the priests. I only asked you to make him a warrior."

"Does not that belong to the gods?"

"No: he derives nothing from them but the soul. They will not teach him to launch the arrow."

"Then I accept the charge. Shall he go with me?"

"Always,-even to battle."

O mighty king! was the shadow of the coming fate upon thy spirit then?

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