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   Chapter 29 THE KING DEMANDS A SIGN OF MUALOX

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 10822

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Next morning Mualox ascended the tower of his old C?. The hour was so early that the stars were still shining in the east. He fed the fire in the great urn until it burst into cheery flame; then, spreading his mantle on the roof, he laid down to woo back the slumber from which he had been taken. By and by, a man, armed with a javelin, and clad in cotton mail, came up the steps, and spoke to the paba.

"Does the servant of his god sleep this morning?"

Mualox arose, and kissed the pavement.

"Montezuma is welcome. The blessing of the gods upon him!"

"Of all the gods, Mualox?"

"Of all,-even Quetzal's, O king!"

"Arise! Last night I bade you wait me here. I said I would come with the morning star; yonder it is, and I am faithful. The time is fittest for my business."

Mualox arose, and stood before the monarch with bowed head and crossed hands.

"Montezuma knows his servant."

"Yet I seek to know him better. Mualox, Mualox, have you room for a perfect love aside from Quetzal'? What would you do for me?"

"Ask me rather what I would not do."

"Hear me, then. Lately you have been a counsellor in my palace; with my policy and purposes you are acquainted; you knew of the march to Cholula, and the order to attack the strangers; you were present when they were resolved-"

"And opposed them. Witness for me to Quetzal', O king!"

"Yes, you prophesied evil and failure from them, and for that I seek you now. Tell me, O Mualox, spake you then as a prophet?"

The paba ventured to look up and study the face of the questioner as well as he could in the flickering light.

"I know the vulgar have called me a magician," he said, slowly; "and sometimes they have spoken of my commerce with the stars. To say that either report is true, were wrong to the gods. Regardful of them, I cannot answer you; but I can say-and its sufficiency depends on your wisdom-your slave, O king, is warned of your intention. You come asking a sign; you would have me prove my power, that it may be seen."

"By the Sun-"

"Nay,-if my master will permit,-another word."

"I came to hear you; say on."

"You spoke of me as a councillor in the palace. How may we measure the value of honors? By the intent with which they are given? O king, had you not thought the poor paba would use his power for the betrayal of his god; had you not thought he could stand between you and the wrath-"

"No more, Mualox, no more!" said Montezuma. "I confess I asked you to the palace that you might befriend me. Was I wrong to count on your loyalty? Are you not of Anahuac? And further; I confess I come now seeking a sign. I command you to show me the future!"

"If you do indeed believe me the beloved of Quetzal' and his prophet, then are you bold,-even for a king."

"Until I wrong the gods, why should I fear? I, too, am a priest."

"Be wise, O my master! Let the future alone; it is sown with sorrows to all you love."

"Have done, paba!" the king exclaimed, angrily. "I am weary,-by the Sun! I am weary of such words."

The holy man bowed reverently, and touched the floor with his palm, saying,-

"Mualox lays his heart at his master's feet. In the time when his beard was black and his spirit young, he began the singing of two songs,-one of worship to Quetzal', the other of love for Montezuma."

These words he said tremulously; and there was that in the manner, in the bent form, in the low obeisance, which soothed the impatience of the king, so that he turned away, and looked out over the city. And day began to gild the east; in a short time the sun would claim his own. Still the monarch thought, still Mualox stood humbly waiting his pleasure. At length the former approached the fire.

"Mualox," he said, speaking slowly, "I crossed the lake the other day, and talked with Guatamozin about the strangers. He satisfied me they are not teules, and, more, he urged me to attack them in Cholula."

"The 'tzin!" exclaimed Mualox, in strong surprise.

Montezuma knew the love of the paba for the young cacique rested upon his supposed love of Quetzal'; so he continued,-

"The attack was planned by him; only he would have sent a hundred thousand warriors to help the citizens. The order is out; the companies are there; blood will run in the streets of the holy city to-day. The battle waits on the sun, and it is nearly up. Mualox,"-his manner became solemn,-"Mualox, on this day's work bides my peace. The morning comes: by all your prophet's power, tell me what the night will bring!"

Sorely was the paba troubled. The king's faith in his qualities as prophet he saw was absolute, and that it was too late to deny the character.

"Does Montezuma believe the Sun would tell me what it withholds from its child?"

"Quetzal', not the Sun, will speak to you."

"But Quetzal' is your enemy."

Montezuma laid his hand on the paba's. "I have heard you speak of love for me; prove it now, and your reward shall be princely. I will give you a palace, and many slaves, and riches beyond count."

Mualox bent his head, and was silent. Enjoyment of a palace meant abandonment of the old C? and sacred service. Just then the wail of a watcher from a distant temple swept faintly by; he heard the cry, and from his surplice drew a trumpet, and through it sung with a swelling voice,-

"Morning is come! Morning is come! To the temples, O worshippers! Morning i

s come!"

And the warning hymn, the same that had been heard from the old tower for so many ages, heard heralding suns while the city was founding, given now, amid the singer's sore perplexity, was an assurance to his listening deity that he was faithful against kingly blandishments as well as kingly neglect. While the words were being repeated from the many temples, he stood attentive to them, then he turned, and said,-

"Montezuma is generous to his slave; but ambition is a goodly tree gone to dust in my heart; and if it were not, O king, what are all your treasures to that in the golden chamber? Nay, keep your offerings, and let me keep the temple. I hunger after no riches except such as lie in the love of Quetzal'."

"Then tell me," said the monarch, impatiently,-"without price, tell me his will."

"I cannot, I am but a man; but this much I can-" He faltered; the hands crossed upon his breast closed tightly, and the breast labored painfully.

"I am waiting. Speak! What can you?"

"Will the king trust his servant, and go with him down into the C? again?"

"To talk with the Morning, this is the place," said the monarch, too well remembering the former introduction to the mysteries of the ancient house.

"My master mistakes me for a juggling soothsayer; he thinks I will look into the halls of the Sun through burning drugs, and the magic of unmeaning words. I have nothing to do with the Morning; I have no incantations. I am but the dutiful slave of Quetzal', the god, and Montezuma, the king."

The royal listener looked away again, debating with his fears, which, it is but just to say, were not of harm from the paba. Men unfamiliar with the custom do not think lightly of encountering things unnatural; in this instance, moreover, favor was not to be hoped from the god through whom the forbidden knowledge was to come. But curiosity and an uncontrollable interest in the result of the affair in Cholula overcame his apprehensions.

"I will go with you. I am ready," he said.

The old man stooped, and touched the roof, and, rising, said, "I have a little world of my own, O king; and though without sun and stars, and the grand harmony which only the gods can give, it has its wonders and beauty, and is to me a place of perpetual delight. Bide my return a little while. I will go and prepare the way for you."

Resuming his mantle, he departed, leaving the king to study the new-born day. When he came back, the valley and the sky were full of the glory of the sun full risen. And they descended to the azoteas, thence to the court-yard. Taking a lamp hanging in a passage-door, the holy man, with the utmost reverence, conducted his guest into the labyrinth. At first, the latter tried to recollect the course taken, the halls and stairs passed, and the stories descended; but the thread was too often broken, the light too dim, the way too intricate. Soon he yielded himself entirely to his guide, and followed, wondering much at the massiveness of the building, and the courage necessary to live there alone. Ignorant of the zeal which had become the motive of the paba's life, inspiring him with incredible cunning and industry, and equally without a conception of the power there is in one idea long awake in the soul and nursed into mania, it was not singular that, as they went, the monarch should turn the very walls into witnesses corroborant of the traditions of the temple and the weird claims of its keeper.

Passing the kitchen, and descending the last flight of steps, they came to the trap-door in the passage, beside which lay the ladder of ropes.

"Be of courage a little longer, O king," said Mualox, flinging the ladder through the doorway. "We are almost there."

And the paba, leaving the lamp above, committed himself confidently to the ropes and darkness below. A suspicion of his madness occurred to the king, whose situation called for consideration; in fact, he hesitated to follow farther; twice he was called to; and when, finally, he did go down, the secret of his courage was an idea that they were about to emerge from the dusty caverns into the freer air of day; for, while yet in the passage, he heard the whistle of a bird, and fancied he detected a fragrance as of flowers.

"Your hand now, O king, and Mualox will lead you into his world."

The motives that constrained the holy man to this step are not easily divined. Of all the mysteries of the house, that hall was by him the most cherished; and of all men the king was the last whom he would have voluntarily chosen as a participant in its secrets, since he alone had power to break them up. The necessity must have been very great; possibly he felt his influence and peculiar character dependent upon yielding to the pressure; the moment the step was resolved upon, however, nothing remained but to use the mysteries for the protection of the abode; and with that purpose he went to prepare the way.

Much study would most of us have required to know what was essential to the purpose; not so the paba. He merely trimmed the lamps already lighted, and lighted and disposed others. His plan was to overwhelm the visitor by the first glance; without warning, without time to study details, to flash upon him a crowd of impossibilities. In the mass, the generality, the whole together, a god's hand was to be made apparent to a superstitious fancy.

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