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   Chapter 27 THE KING AND THE ’TZIN.

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 15325

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The visit was unexpected to Guatamozin, and its object a mystery; but he thought only of paying the guest meet honor and respect, for he was still the great king. And so, bareheaded and unarmed, he went forth, and meeting him in the garden, knelt, and saluted him after the manner of the court.

"I am glad to say the word of welcome to my father's brother. Know, O king, that my house, my garden, and all you behold are yours."

Hualpa left them; then Montezuma replied, the sadness of his voice softening the austerity of his manner,-

"I have loved you well, Guatamozin. Very good it was to mark you come up from boyhood, and day by day grow in strength and thought. I never knew one so rich in promise. Ours is a proud race, and you seemed to have all its genius. From the beginning you were thoughtful and provident; in the field there was always a victory for you, and in council your words were the soul of policy. O, ill was the day evil came between us, and suspicion shattered the love I bore you! Arise! I have not crossed the lake for explanations; there is that to speak of more important to us both."

The 'tzin arose, and looked into the monarch's face, his own suffused with grief.

"Is not a king punished for the wrong he does?"

Montezuma's brows lowered, chilling the fixed look which was his only answer; and the 'tzin spoke on.

"I cannot accuse you directly; but this I will say, O king: a just man, and a brave, never condemns another upon suspicion."

The monarch's eyes blazed with sudden fire, and from his maxtlatl he drew a knife. The 'tzin moved not; the armed hand stopped; an instant each met the other's gaze, then the weapon was flung away.

"I am a child," said the king, vexed and ashamed. "When I came here I did not think of the past, I thought only of the Empire; but trouble has devoured my strength of purpose, until my power mocks me, and, most miserable of men, I yearn to fly from myself, without knowing where to find relief. A vague impulse-whence derived, except from intolerable suffering of mind, I know not-brought me to you. O 'tzin, silent be the differences that separate us. Yours I know to be a tongue of undefiled truth; and if not for me now, for our country, and the renown of our fathers, I believe you will speak."

The shame, the grief, and the self-accusation moved the 'tzin more than the deadly menace.

"Set my feet, O king! set my feet in the way to serve or save my country, and I will tread it, though every step be sown with the terrors of Mictlan."

"I did not misjudge you, my son," the king said, when he had again perfectly mastered his feelings.

And Guatamozin, yet more softened, would have given him all the old love, but that Tula, contracted to the Tezcucan, rose to memory. Checking the impulse, he regarded the unhappy monarch sorrowfully.

And the latter, glancing up at the sun, said,-

"It is getting late. I left the train going to the hunting-grounds. By noon they will return, and I wish to be at the city before them. My canoe lies at the landing; walk there with me, and on the way I will speak of the purpose of my visit."

Their steps as they went were slow, and their faces downcast and solemn. The king was first to speak.

"As the time requires, I have held many councils, and taken the voice of priest, warrior, and merchant; and they agree in nothing but their confusion and fear."

"The king forgets,-I have been barred his councils, and know not what they considered."

"True, true; yet there is but one topic in all Anahuac,-in the Empire. Of that, the tamanes talk gravely as their masters; only one class asks, 'Who are the white men making all this trouble?' while the other argues, 'They are here; they are gods. What are we to do?'"

"And what say the councils, O king?"

"It could not be that all would speak as one man. Of different castes, they are differently moved. The pabas believe the Sun has sent us some godly warriors, whom nothing earthly can subdue. They advise patience, friendship, and peace. 'The eye of Huitzil' is on them, numbering their marches. In the shade of the great temple he awaits, and there he will consume them with a breath,'-so say the pabas. The warriors are dumb, or else borrow and reassert the opinions of the holy men. 'Give them gold, if they will depart; if not that, give them peace, and leave the issue to the gods,'-so they say. Cuitlahua says war; so does Cacama. The merchants and the people have no opinion,-nothing but fear. For myself, yesterday I was for war, to-day I am for peace. So far I have chosen to act upon the advice of the pabas. I have sent the strangers many presents and friendly messages, and kept ambassadors in their camp; but while preserving such relations, I have continually forbade their coming to Tenochtitlan. They seem bolder than men. Who but they would have undertaken the march from Cempoalla? What tribes or people could have conquered Tlascala, as they have? You have heard of their battles. Did they not in a day what we have failed to do in a hundred years? With Tlascala for ally, they have set my word at naught, and, whether they be of the sun or the earth, they are now marching upon Cholula, most sacred city of the gods. And from Cholula there is but one more march. Already from the mountains they have looked wistfully down on our valley of gardens, upon Tenochtitlan. O 'tzin, 'tzin, can we forget the prophecy?"

"Shall I say what I think? Will the king hear me?" asked Guatamozin.

"For that I came. Speak!"

"I obey gladly. The opportunity is dearer to me than any honor. And, speaking, I will remember of what race I am."

"Speak as if you were king."

"Then-I condemn your policy."

The monarch's face remained placid. If the bluff words wounded him, he dissembled consummately.

"It was not well to go so often to the temple," Guatamozin continued. "Huitzil' is not there; the pabas have only his name, his image and altar; your breast is his true temple; there ought you to find him. Yesterday, you say, you were for war; the god was with you then: to-day you are for peace; the god has abandoned you. I know not in what words the lords Cuitlahua and Cacama urged their counsel, nor on what grounds. By the Sun! theirs is the only policy that comports with the fame of a ruler of Aztecs. Why speak of any other? For me, I would seek the strangers in battle and die, sooner than a minstrel should sing, or tradition tell, how Guatamozin, overcome by fear, dwelt in their camp praying peace as the beggar prays for bread."

Literally, Guatamozin was speaking like a king.

"I have heard your pearl-divers say," he continued, "that they never venture into a strange sea without dread. Like the new sea to them, this subject has been to your people; but however the declaration may strike your ears, O king, I have sounded all its depths. While your priests were asking questions of speechless hearts; while your lords were nursing their love of ease in the shade and perfume of your palace; while your warriors, forgetful of their glory, indulged the fancy that the new enemy were gods; while Montezuma was watching stars, and studying omens, and listening to oracles which the gods know not, hoping for wisdom to be found nowhere as certainly as in his own royal instincts,-face to face with the strangers, in their very camp, I studied them, their customs, language, and nature. Take heart, O king! Gods, indeed! Why, like men, I have seen them hunger and thirst; like men, heard them complain; on the other hand, like men, I have seen them feed and drink to surfeit, and heard them sing from gladness.

What means their love of gold? If they come from the Sun, where the dwellings of the gods, and the hills they are built on, are all of gold, why should they be seeking it here? Nor is that all. I listened to the interpreter, through whom their leader explained his religion, and they are worshippers, like us, only they adore a woman, instead of a great, heroic god-"

"A woman!" exclaimed the king.

"Nay, the argument is that they worship at all. Gods do not adore each other!"

They had now walked some distance, and so absorbed had Montezuma been that he had not observed the direction they were pursuing. Emerging suddenly from a cypress-grove, he was surprised to find the path terminate in a small lake, which, at any other time, would have excited his admiration. Tall trees, draped to their topmost boughs in luxuriant vines, encircled the little expanse of water, and in its midst there was an island, crowned with a kiosk or summer-house, and covered with orange shrubs and tapering palms.

"Bear with me, O king," said Guatamozin, observing his wonder. "I brought you here that you may be absolutely convinced of the nature of our enemies. On that island I have an argument stronger than the vagaries of pabas or the fancies of warriors,-a visible argument."

He stepped into a canoe lying at the foot of the path, and, with a sweep of the paddle, drove across to the island. Remaining there, he pushed the vessel back.

"Come over, O king, come over, and see."

Montezuma followed boldly, and was led to the kiosk. The retreat was not one of frequent resort. Several times they were stopped by vines grown across the path. Inside the house, the visitor had no leisure for observation; he was at once arrested by an object that filled him with horror. On a table was a human head. Squarely severed from the body, it stood upright on the base of the neck, looking, with its ghastly, white face, directly toward the entrance. The features were swollen and ferocious; the black brows locked in a frown, with which, as was plainly to be seen, nature had as much to do as death; the hair was short, and on the crown almost worn away; heavy, matted beard covered the cheeks and chin; finally, other means of identification being wanted, the coarse, upturned mustache would have betrayed the Spaniard. Montezuma surveyed the head for some time; at length, mastering his deep loathing, he advanced to the table.

"A teule!" he said, in a low voice.

"A man,-only a man!" exclaimed Guatamozin, so sternly that the monarch shrank as if the blue lips of the dead had spoken to him. "Ask yourself, O king, Do the gods die?"

Montezuma smiled, either at his own alarm or at the ghastly argument.

"Whence came the trophy?" he asked.

"Have you not heard of the battle of Nauhtlan?"

"Surely; but tell it again."

"When the strangers marched to Tlascala," the 'tzin began, "their chief left a garrison behind him in the town he founded. I was then on the coast. To convince the people, and particularly the army, that they were men, I determined to attack them. An opportunity soon occurred. Your tax-gatherers happening to visit Nauhtlan, the township revolted, and claimed protection of the garrison, who marched to their relief. At my instance, the caciques drew their bands together, and we set upon the enemy. The Totonaques fled at our first war-cry; but the strangers welcomed us with a new kind of war. They were few in number, but the thunder seemed theirs, and they hailed great stones upon us, and after a while came against us upon their fierce animals. When my warriors saw them come leaping on, they fled. All was lost. I had but one thought more,-a captive taken might save the Empire. I ran where the strangers clove their bloody way. This"-and he pointed to the head-"was the chief, and I met him in the rout, raging like a tiger in a herd of deer. He was bold and strong, and, shouting his battle-cry, he rushed upon me. His spear went through my shield. I wrenched it from him, and slew the beast; then I dragged him away, intending to bring him alive to Tenochtitlan; but he slew himself. So look again! What likeness is there in that to a god? O king, I ask you, did ever its sightless eyes see the glories of the Sun, or its rotting lips sing a song in heaven? Is Huitzil' or Tezca' made of such stuff?"

The monarch, turning away, laid his hand familiarly on the 'tzin's arm, and said,-

"Come, I am content. Let us go."

And they started for the landing.

"The strangers, as I have said, my son, are marching to Cholula. And Malinche-so their chief is called-now says he is coming to Tenochtitlan."

"To Tenochtitlan! In its honored name, in the name of its kings and gods, I protest against his coming!"

"Too late, too late!" replied Montezuma, his face working as though a pang were at his heart. "I have invited him to come."

"Alas, alas!" cried Guatamozin, solemnly. "The day he enters the capital will be the commencement of the woe, if it has not already commenced. The many victories will have been in vain. The provinces will drop away, like threaded pearls when the string is broken. O king, better had you buried your crown,-better for your people, better for your own glory!"

"Your words are bitter," said the monarch, gloomily.

"I speak from the fulness of a heart darkened by a vision of Anahuac blasted, and her glory gone," returned the 'tzin. Then in a lament, vivid with poetic coloring, he set forth a picture of the national ruin,-the armies overthrown, the city wasted, the old religion supplanted by a new. At the shore where the canoe was waiting, Montezuma stopped, and said,-

"You have spoken boldly, and I have listened patiently. One thing more: What does Guatamozin say the king should do?"

"It is not enough for the servant to know his own place; he should know his master's also. I say not what the king should do, but I will say what I would do if I were king."

Rising from the obeisance with which he accompanied the words, he said, boldly,-

"Cholula should be the grave of the invaders. The whole population should strike them in the narrow streets where they can be best assailed. Shut up in some square or temple, hunger will fight them for us, and win. But I would not trust the citizens alone. In sight of the temples, so close that a conch could summon them to the attack, I would encamp a hundred thousand warriors. Better the desolation of Cholula than Tenochtitlan. If all things else failed, I would take to the last resort; I would call in the waters of Tezcuco and drown the city to the highest azoteas. So would I, O king, if the crown and signet were mine."

Montezuma looked from the speaker to the lake.

"The project is bold," he said, musingly; "but if it failed, my son?"

"The failure should be but the beginning of the war."

"What would the nations say?"

"They would say, 'Montezuma is still the great king.' If they do not that-"

"What then?"

"Call on the teotuctli. The gods can be made speak whatever your policy demands."

"Does my son blaspheme?" said Montezuma, angrily.

"Nay, I but spoke of what has happened. Long rule the good god of our fathers!"

Yet the monarch was not satisfied. Never before had discourse been addressed to him in strain so bold.

"They see all things, even our hearts," he said, turning coldly away. "Farewell. A courier will come for you when your presence is wanted in the city."

And so they separated, conscious that no healing had been brought to their broken friendship. As the canoe moved off, the 'tzin knelt, but the king looked not that way again.

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