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

   Chapter 31 THE CONQUEROR WILL COME

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 14805

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


A few weeks more,-weeks of pain, vacillation, embassies, and distracted councils to Montezuma; of doubt and anxiety to the nobles; of sacrifice and ceremonies by the priests; of fear and wonder to the people. In that time, if never before, the Spaniards became the one subject of discourse throughout Anahuac. In the tianguez, merchants bargaining paused to interchange opinions about them; craftsmen in the shops entertained and frightened each other with stories of their marvellous strength and ferocity; porters, bending under burdens, speculated on their character and mission; and never a waterman passed an acquaintance on the lake, without lingering awhile to ask or give the latest news from the Holy City, which, with the best grace it could, still entertained its scourgers.

What Malinche-for by that name Cortes was now universally known-would do was the first conjecture; what the great king intended was the next.

As a matter of policy, the dismal massacre in Cholula accomplished all Cortes proposed; it made him a national terror; it smoothed the causeway for his march, and held the gates of Xoloc open for peaceful entry into Tenochtitlan. Yet the question on the many tongues was, Would he come?

And he himself answered. One day a courier ran up the great street of Tenochtitlan to the king's palace; immediately the portal was thronged by anxious citizens. That morning Malinche began his march to the capital,-he was coming, was actually on the way. The thousands trembled as they heard the news.

After that the city was not an hour without messengers reporting the progress of the Spaniards, whose every step and halt and camping-place was watched with the distrust of fear and the sleeplessness of jealousy. The horsemen and footmen were all numbered; the personal appearance of each leader was painted over and over again with brush and tongue; the devices on the shields and pennons were described with heraldic accuracy. And though, from long service and constant exposure and repeated battles, the equipments of the adventurers had lost the freshness that belonged to them the day of the departure from Cuba; though plumes and scarfs were stained, and casques and breastplates tarnished, and good steeds tamed by strange fare and wearisome marches, nevertheless the accounts that went abroad concerning them were sufficiently splendid and terrible to confirm the prophecies by which they were preceded.

And the people, made swift by alarm and curiosity, out-marched Cortes many days. Before he reached Iztapalapan, the capital was full of them; in multitudes, lords and slaves, men, women, and children, like Jews to the Passover, scaled the mountains, and hurried through the valley and across the lakes. Better opportunity to study the characteristics of the tribes was never afforded.

All day and night the public resorts-streets, houses, temples-were burdened with the multitude, whose fear, as the hour of entry drew nigh, yielded to their curiosity. And when, at last, the road the visitors would come by was settled, the whole city seemed to breathe easier. From the village of Iscalpan, so ran the word, they had boldly plunged into the passes of the Sierra, and thence taken the directest route by way of Tlalmanalco. And now they were at Ayotzinco, a town on the eastern shore of lake Tezcuco; to-morrow they would reach Iztapalapan, and then Tenochtitlan. Not a long time to wait, if they brought the vengeance of Quetzal'; yet thousands took canoes, and crossed to the village, and, catching the first view, hurried back, each with a fancy more than ever inflamed.

A soldier, sauntering down the street, is beset with citizens.

"A pleasant day, O son of Huitzil'!"

"A pleasant day; may all that shine on Tenochtitlan be like it!" he answers.

"What news?"

"I have been to the temple."

"And what says the teotuctli now?"

"Nothing. There are no signs. Like the stars, the hearts of the victims will not answer."

"What! Did not Huitzil' speak last night?"

"O yes!" And the warrior smiles with satisfaction. "Last night he bade the priests tell the king not to oppose the entry of Malinche."

"Then what?"

"Why, here in the city he would cut the strangers off to the last one."

And all the citizens cry in chorus, "Praised be Huitzil'!"

Farther on the warrior overtakes a comrade in arms.

"Are we to take our shields to the field, O my brother?" he asks.

"All is peaceful yet,-nothing but embassies."

"Is it true that the lord Cacama is to go in state, and invite Malinche to Tenochtitlan?"

"He sets out to-day."

"Ha, ha! Of all voices for war, his was the loudest. Where caught he the merchant's cry for peace?"

"In the temples; it may be from Huitzil'."

The answer is given in a low voice, and with an ironic laugh.

"Well, well, comrade, there are but two lords fit, in time like this, for the love of warriors,-Cuitlahua and Guatamozin. They still talk of war."

"Cuitlahua, Cuitlahua!" And the laugh rises to boisterous contempt. "Why, he has consented to receive Malinche in Iztapalapan, and entertain him with a banquet in his palace. He has gone for that purpose now. The lord of Cojohuaca is with him."

"Then we have only the 'tzin!"

The fellow sighs like one sincerely grieved.

"Only the 'tzin, brother, only the 'tzin! and he is banished!"

They shake their heads, and look what they dare not speak, and go their ways. The gloom they take with them is a sample of that which rests over the whole valley.

When the Spaniards reached Iztapalapan, the excitement in the capital became irrepressible. The cities were but an easy march apart, most of it along the causeway. The going and coming may be imagined. The miles of dike were covered by a continuous procession, while the lake, in a broad line from town to town, was darkened by canoes. Cortes' progress through the streets of Iztapalapan was antitypical of the grander reception awaiting him in Tenochtitlan.

In the latter city there was no sleep that night. The tianguez in particular was densely filled, not by traders, but by a mass of newsmongers, who hardly knew whether they were most pleased or alarmed. The general neglect of business had exceptions; at least one portico shone with unusual brilliancy till morning. Every great merchant is a philosopher; in the midst of calamities, he is serene, because it is profit's time; before the famine, he buys up all the corn; in forethought of pestilence, he secures all the medicine: and the world, counting his gains, says delightedly, What a wise man! I will not say the Chalcan was of that honored class; he thought himself a benefactor, and was happy to accommodate the lords, and help them divide their time between his palace and that of the king. It is hardly necessary to add, that his apartments were well patronized, though, in truth, his pulque was in greater demand than his choclatl.

The drinking-chamber, about the close of the third quarter of the night, presented a lively picture. For the convenience of the many patrons, tables from other rooms had been brought in. Some of the older lords were far gone in intoxication; slaves darted to and fro, removing goblets, or bringing them back replenished. A few minstrels found listeners among those who happened to be too stupid to talk, though not too sleepy to drink. Every little whi

le a newcomer would enter, when, if he were from Iztapalapan, a crowd would surround him, allowing neither rest nor refreshment until he had told the things he had seen or heard. Amongst others, Hualpa and Io' chanced to find their way thither. Maxtla, seated at a table with some friends, including the Chalcan, called them to him; and, as they had attended the banquet of the lord Cuitlahua, they were quickly provided with seats, goblets, and an audience of eager listeners.

"Certainly, my good chief, I have seen Malinche, and passed the afternoon looking at him and his people," said Hualpa to Maxtla. "It may be that I am too much influenced by the 'tzin to judge them; but, if they are teules, so are we. I longed to try my javelin on them."

"Was their behavior unseemly?"

"Call it as you please. I was in the train when, after the banquet, the lord Cuitlahua took them to see his gardens. As they strode the walks, and snuffed the flowers, and plucked the fruit; as they moved along the canal with its lining of stone, and stopped to drink at the fountains,-I was made feel that they thought everything, not merely my lord's property, but my lord himself, belonged to them; they said as much by their looks and actions, by their insolent swagger."

"Was the 'tzin there?"

"From the azoteas of a temple he saw them enter the city; but he was not at the banquet. I heard a story showing how he would treat the strangers, if he had the power. One of their priests, out with a party, came to the temple where he happened to be, and went up to the tower. In the sanctuary one of them raised his spear and struck the image of the god. The pabas threw up their hands and shrieked; he rushed upon the impious wretch, and carried him to the sacrificial stone, stretched him out, and called to the pabas, 'Come, the victim is ready!' When the other teules would have attacked him, he offered to fight them all. The strange priest interfered, and they departed."

The applause of the bystanders was loud and protracted; when it had somewhat abated, Xoli, whose thoughts, from habit, ran chiefly upon the edibles, said,-

"My lord Cuitlahua is a giver of good suppers. Pray, tell us about the courses-"

"Peace! be still, Chalcan!" cried Maxtla, angrily. "What care we whether Malinche ate wolf-meat or quail?"

Xoli bowed; the lords laughed.

Then a gray-haired cacique behind Io' asked, "Tell us rather what Malinche said."

Hualpa shook his head. "The conversation was tedious. Everything was said through an interpreter,-a woman born in the province Painalla; so I paid little attention. I recollect, however, he asked many questions about the great king, and about the Empire, and Tenochtitlan. He said his master, the governor of the universe, had sent him here. He gave much time, also, to explaining his religion. I might have understood him, uncle, but my ears were too full of the rattle of arms."

"What! Sat they at the table armed?" asked Maxtla.

"All of them; even Malinche."

"That was not the worst," said Io', earnestly. "At the same table my lord Cuitlahua entertained a band of beggarly Tlascalan chiefs. Sooner should my tongue have been torn out!"

The bystanders made haste to approve the sentiment, and for a time it diverted the conversation. Meanwhile, at Hualpa's order, the goblets were refilled.

"Dares the noble Maxtla," he then asked, "tell what the king will do?"

"The question is very broad." And the chief smiled. "What special information does my comrade seek?"

"Can you tell us when Malinche will enter Tenochtitlan?"

"Certainly. Xoli published that in the tianguez before the sun was up."

"To be sure," answered the Chalcan. "The lord Maxtla knows the news cost me a bowl of pulque."

There was much laughter, in which the chief joined. Then he said, gravely,-

"The king has arranged everything. As advised by the gods, Malinche enters Tenochtitlan day after to-morrow. He will leave Iztapalapan at sunrise, and march to the causeway by the lake shore. Cuitlahua, with Cacama, the lord of Tecuba, and others of like importance, will meet him at Xoloc. The king will follow them in state. As to the procession, I will only say it were ill to lose the sight. Such splendor was never seen on the causeway."

Ordinarily the mention of such a prospect would have kindled the liveliest enthusiasm; for the Aztecs were lovers of spectacles, and never so glad as when the great green banner of the Empire was brought forth to shed its solemn beauty over the legions, and along the storied street of Tenochtitlan. Much, therefore, was Maxtla surprised at the coldness that fell upon the company.

"Ho, friends! One would think the reception not much to your liking," he said.

"We are the king's,-dust under his feet,-and it is not for us to murmur," said a sturdy cacique, first to break the disagreeable silence. "Yet our fathers gave their enemies bolts instead of banquets."

"Who may disobey the gods?" asked Maxtla.

The argument was not more sententious than unanswerable.

"Well, well!" said Hualpa. "I will get ready. Advise me, good chief: had I better take a canoe?"

"The procession will doubtless be better seen from the lake; but to hear what passes between the king and Malinche, you should be in the train. By the way, will the 'tzin be present?"

"As the king may order," replied Hualpa.

Maxtla threw back his look, and said with enthusiasm, real or affected, "Much would I like to see and hear him when the Tlascalans come flying their banners into the city! How he will flame with wrath!"

Then Hualpa considerately changed the direction of the discourse.

"Malinche will be a troublesome guest, if only from the number of his following. Will he be lodged in one of the temples?"

"A temple, indeed!" And Maxtla laughed scornfully. "A temple would be fitter lodging for the gods of Mictlan! At Cempoalla, you recollect, the teules threw down the sacred gods, and butchered the pabas at the altars. Lest they should desecrate a holy house here, they are assigned to the old palace of Axaya'. To-morrow the tamanes will put it in order."

Io' then asked, "Is it known how long they will stay?"

Maxtla shrugged his shoulders, and drank his pulque.

"Hist!" whistled a cacique. "That is what the king would give half his kingdom to know!"

"And why?" asked the boy, reddening. "Is he not master? Does it not depend upon him?"

"It depends upon no other!" cried Maxtla, dashing his palm upon the table until the goblets danced. "By the holy gods, he has but to speak the word, and these guests will turn to victims!"

And Hualpa, surprised at the display of spirit, seconded the chief: "Brave words, O my lord Maxtla! They give us hope."

"He will treat them graciously," Maxtla continued, "because they come by his request; but when he tells them to depart, if they obey not,-if they obey not,-when was his vengeance other than a king's? Who dares say he cannot, by a word, end this visit?"

"No one!" cried Io'.

"Ay, no one! But the goblets are empty. See! Io', good prince,"-and Maxtla's voice changed at once,-"would another draught be too much for us? We drink slowly; one more, only one. And while we drink, we will forget Malinche."

"Would that were possible!" sighed the boy.

They sent up the goblets, and continued the session until daylight.

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