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

   Chapter 38 THE IRON CROSS

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 12981

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"My lord Maxtla, go see if there be none coming this way now."

And while the chief touched the ground with his palm, the king added, as to himself, and impatiently, "Surely it is time."

"Of whom speak you?" asked Cuitlahua, standing by. Only the brother would have so presumed.

The monarch looked into the branches of the cypress-tree above him; he seemed holding the words in ear, while he followed a thought.

They were in the grove of Chapultepec at the time. About them were the famous trees, apparently old as the hill itself, with trunks so massive that they had likeness to things of cunning labor, products of some divine art. The sun touched them here and there with slanting yellow rays, by contrast deepening the shadows that purpled the air. From the gnarled limbs the gray moss drooped, like listless drapery. Nesting birds sang from the topmost boughs, and parrots, flitting to and fro, lit the gloaming with transient gleams of scarlet and gold: yet the effect of the place was mysterious; the hush of the solitude softened reflection into dreaming; the silence was a solemn presence in which speech sunk to a whisper, and laughter would have been profanation. In such primeval temples men walk with Time, as in paradise Adam walked with God.

"I am waiting for the lord Hualpa," the king at last replied, turning his sad eyes to his brother's face.

"Hualpa!" said Cuitlahua, marvelling, as well he might, to find the great king waiting for the merchant's son, so lately a simple hunter.

"Yes. He serves me in an affair of importance. His appointment was for noon; he tarries, I fear, in the city. Next time I will choose an older messenger."

The manner of the explanation was that of one who has in mind something of which he desires to speak, yet doubts the wisdom of speaking. So the cacique seemed to understand, for he relapsed into silence, while the monarch again looked upwards. Was the object he studied in the sky or in his heart?

Maxtla returned; saluting, he said, "The lake is thronged with canoes, O king, but none come this way."

The sadness of the royal face deepened.

"Montezuma, my brother," said Cuitlahua.

"Well."

"Give me a moment's audience."

"Certainly. The laggard comes not; the rest of the day is yours." And to Maxtla he said, "In the palace are the queens, and the princesses Tula and Nenetzin. Inform them that I am coming."

When the chief was gone, the monarch turned to Cuitlahua, smiling: "Yes, the rest of the day is yours, and the night also; for I must wait for the merchant's son; and our mother, were she here, would say it was good of you to share my waiting."

The pleasantry and the tender allusion were hardly observed by the cacique. "I wished to call your attention to Iztlil', the Tezcucan," he said, gravely.

"Iztlil'? what of him now?"

"Trouble. What else can come of him? Last night at the house of Xoli, the Chalcan, he drank too much pulque, quarrelled with the good man's guests, and abused everybody loyal,-abused you, my brother. I sent a servant to watch him. You must know-if not, you should-that all Tenochtitlan believes the Tezcucan to be in alliance with Malinche and his robbers."

"Robbers!" said Montezuma, starting.

The cacique went on. "That he has corresponded with the Tlascalans is well understood. Only last night he spoke of a confederacy of tribes and cities to overturn the Empire."

"Goes he so far?" exclaimed the king, now very attentive.

"He is a traitor!" replied Cuitlahua, emphatically. "So I sent a servant to follow him. From the Chalcan's, he was seen go to the gates of the palace of Axaya'. Malinche received him. He is there now."

The two were silent awhile, the cacique observing the king, the king gazing upon the ground.

"Well," said the latter, at length, "is that all?"

"Is it not enough?"

"You are right. He must be arrested. Keep close watch on the gates of the palace, and upon his coming out, seize him, and put him safely away in the temple."

"But if he comes not out?"

"To-morrow, at noon, if he be yet within, go to Malinche and demand him. Here is your authority."

At that, the monarch took from a finger of his left hand a ring of gold, set with an oval green malachite, on which his likeness was exquisitely cut.

"But," said the other, while the royal hand was outstretched, "if Malinche refuses your demand?"

"Then-then-" And the speaker paused so long that his indecision was apparent.

"Behind the refusal,-see you what lies there?" asked Cuitlahua, bluntly.

The king reflected.

"Is it not war?" the cacique persisted.

The hand fell down, and closed upon the signet.

"The demand is just, and will not be refused. Take the ring, my brother; we will at least test Malinche's disposition. Say to him that the lord Iztlil' is a traitor; that he is conspiring against me; and that I require his person for punishment. So say to him; but go not yet. The messenger I await may bring me something to make your mission unnecessary."

The cacique smiled grimly. "If the Tezcucan is guilty, so is Malinche," he said. "Is it well to tell him what you know?"

"Yes. He will then be careful; at least, he will not be deceived."

"Be it so," said Cuitlahua, taking the ring. "I will bring you his answer; then-"

"Well?"

"Bear with me, O king. The subject I now wish to speak of is a tender one, though I know not why. To win the good-will of the Tezcucan, was not Guatamozin, our nephew, banished the city?"

"Well?"

"Now that the Tezcucan is lost, why should not the 'tzin return? He is a happy man, O my brother, who discovers an enemy; happier is he who, at the same time, discovers a friend."

Montezuma studied the cacique's face, then, with his eyes upon the ground, walked on. Cuitlahua went with him. Past the great trees, under the gray moss, up the hill to the summit, and along the summit to the verge of the rocky bluff, they went. At the king's side, when he stopped, was a porphyritic rock, bearing, in bas-relief, his own image, and that of his father. Below him, westwardly, spread the placid lake; above it, the setting sun; in its midst, a fair child on a fair mother's breast, Tenochtitlan.

"See! a canoe goes swiftly round yon chinampa; now it outstrips its neighbors, and turns this way. How the slaves bend to the paddles! My laggards at last!"

The king, while speaking, rubbed his hands gleefully. For the time, Cuitlahua and his question

were forgotten.

"The lord Hualpa has company," observed the brother, quietly.

"Yes. Io'."

Another spell of silence, during which both watched the canoe.

"Come, let us to the palace. Lingering here is useless." And with another look to the city and lake, and a last one at the speeding vessel, yet too far off to be identified, the king finally turned away. And Guatamozin was still an exile.

Tecalco and Acatlan, the queens, and Tula, and their attendants, sitting on the azoteas of the ancient house, taking the air of the declining day, arose to salute the monarch and his brother. The latter took the hand of each, saying, "The gods of our fathers be good to you." Tula's forehead he touched with his lips. His countenance, like his figure and nature, Indian in type, softened somewhat under her glance. He knew her sorrow, and in sympathy thought of the 'tzin, and of the petition in his behalf, as yet unanswered.

"All are not here, one is absent,-Nenetzin. Where is she? I may not sleep well without hearing her laugh once more."

Acatlan said, "You are very good, my lord, to remember my child. She chose to remain below."

"She is not sick, I hope."

"Not sick, yet not well."

"Ah! the trouble is of the mind, perhaps. How old is she now."

"Old enough to be in love, if that is your meaning."

Cuitlahua smiled. "That is not a sickness, but a happiness; so, at least, the minstrels say."

"What ails Nenetzin?" asked the king.

Acatlan cast down her eyes, and hesitated.

"Speak! What ails her?"

"I hardly know. She hardly knows herself," the queen answered. "If I am to believe what she tells me, the lord Cuitlahua is right; she is in love."

"With Tula, I suppose," said the king, laughing.

"Would it were! She says her lover is called Tonatiah. Much I fear, however, that what she thinks love is really a delusion, wrought by magic. She is not herself. When did Malinche go to the temple?"

"Four days ago," the king replied.

"Well, the teule met her there, and spoke to her, and gave her a present. Since that, like a child, she has done little else than play with the trinket."

Montezuma became interested. He seated himself, and asked, "You said the spell proceeds from the present: why do you think so?"

"The giver said the gift was a symbol of his religion, and whoever wore it became of his faith, and belonged to his god."

"Mictlan!" muttered Cuitlahua.

"Strange! what is the thing?" the king persisted.

"Something of unknown metal, white, like silver, about a hand in length, and attached to a chain."

"Of unknown metal,-a symbol of religion! Where is the marvel now?"

"Around the child's neck, where I believe it has been since she came from the temple. Once she allowed me to see if I could tell what the metal was, but only for a moment, and then her eyes never quit me. She sits hours by herself, with the bauble clasped in both hands, and sighs, and mopes, and has no interest in what used to please her most."

The king mused awhile. The power of the strangers was very great; what if the gift was the secret of the power?

"Go, Acatlan," he said, "and call Nenetzin. See that she brings the charm with her."

Then he arose, and began moodily to walk. Cuitlahua talked with Tecalco and Tula. The hour was very pleasant. The sun, lingering above the horizon, poured a flood of brilliance upon the hill and palace, and over the flowers, trailing vines, and dwarfed palm and banana trees, with which the azoteas was provided.

Upon the return of the queen with Nenetzin, the king resumed his seat. The girl knelt before him, her face very pale, her eyes full of tears. So lately a child, scarce a woman, yet so weighted with womanly griefs, the father could not view her except with compassion; so he raised her, and, holding her hand, said, "What is this I hear, Nenetzin? Yesterday I was thinking of sending you to school. Nowadays lovers are very exacting; they require of their sweethearts knowledge as well as beauty; but you outrun my plans, you have a lover already. Is it so?"

Nenetzin looked down, blushing.

"And no common lover either," continued the king. "Not a 'tzin, or a cacique, or a governor; not a lord or a prince,-a god! Brave child!"

Still Nenetzin was silent.

"You cannot call your lover by name, nor speak to him in his language; nor can he speak to you in yours. Talking by signs must be tedious for the uses of love, which I understand to be but another name for impatience; yet you are far advanced; you have seen your beloved, talked with him, and received-what?"

Nenetzin clasped the iron cross upon her breast firmly,-not as a good Catholic, seeking its protection; for she would have laid the same hands on Alvarado rather than Christ,-and for the first time she looked in the questioner's face straight and fearlessly. A moment he regarded her; in the moment his smile faded away; and for her it came never again-never.

"Give me what you have there," he said sternly, extending his hand.

"It is but a simple present," she said, holding back.

"No, it has to do with religion, and that not of our fathers."

"It is mine," she persisted, and the queen mother turned pale at sight of her firmness.

"The child is bewitched," interposed Cuitlahua.

"And for that I should have the symbol. Obey me, or-"

Awed by the look, now dark with anger, Nenetzin took the chain from her neck, and put the cross in his hand. "There! I pray you, return them to me."

Now, the cross, as a religious symbol, was not new to the monarch; in Cozumel it was an object of worship; in Tabasco it had been reverenced for ages as emblematic of the God of Rain; in Palenque, the Palmyra of the New World, it is sculptured on the fadeless walls, and a child held up to adore it (in the same picture) proves its holy character; it was not new to the heathen king; but the cross of Christ was; and singularly enough, he received the latter for the first time with no thought of saving virtues, but as a problem in metallurgy.

"To-morrow I will send the trinkets to the jewellers," he said, after close examination. "They shall try them in the fire. Strange, indeed, if, in all my dominions, they do not find whereof they are made."

He was about to pass the symbol to Maxtla, when a messenger came up, and announced the lord Hualpa and the prince Io'. Instantly, the cross, and Nenetzin, and her tears and troubles, vanished out of his mind.

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