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   Chapter 39 THE CHRISTIANS IN THE TOILS

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 11578

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Let the azoteas be cleared of all but my family. You, my brother, will remain."

So saying, the king arose, and began walking again. As he did so, the cross slipped from his fingers, and fell, ringing sharply upon the roof. Nenetzin sprang forward and picked the symbol up.

"Now, call the messengers."

When the chief was gone, the monarch stepped to Cuitlahua, and, laying a hand upon his arm, said, "At last, O brother, at last! The time so long prayed for is come. The enemy is in the snare, and he is mine. So the god of our fathers has promised. The messengers bring me his permission to make war."

"At last! Praised be Huitzil'!" exclaimed Cuitlahua, with upraised hands and eyes.

"Praised be Huitzil'!" cried Tula, with equal fervor.

"Malinche began his march to Tenochtitlan against my order, which, for a purpose, I afterwards changed to invitation. Since that, my people, my army, the lords, the pabas, the Empire, have upbraided me for weakness. I only bided my time, and the assent of Huitzil'. And the result? The palace of Axaya' shall be the tomb of the insolent strangers."

As he spoke, the monarch's bosom swelled with the old warrior spirit.

"You would have had me go meet Malinche, and in the open field array my people to be trodden down by his beasts of war. Now, ours is the advantage. We will shut him in with walls of men as well as of houses. Over them he may ride, but the first bridge will be the end of his journey; it will be raised. Mictlan take our legions, if they cannot conquer him at last!"

He laughed scornfully.

"In the temples are seventy thousand fighting men, gathered unknown to all but Tlalac. They are tired of their prison, and cry for freedom and battle. Two other measures taken, and the war begins,-only two. Malinche has no stores; he is dependent upon me for to-morrow's bread. What if I say, not a grain of corn, not a mouthful of meat shall pass his palace gate? As to the other step,-what if I bid you raise the bridges? What then? His beasts must starve; so must his people, unless they can fly. Let him use his engines of fire; the material he serves them with cannot last always, so that want will silence them also. The measures depend on my word, which, by the blessing of Huitzil', I will speak, and"-

"When?" asked Cuitlahua, earnestly.

"To-morrow-"

"The day,-O my kingly brother!-the day will be memorable in Anahuac forever!"

The monarch's eyes flashed with evil fire. "It shall be so. Part of the invaders will not content me; none shall escape,-not one! In the world shall not one be left!"

All present listened eagerly. Nenetzin alone gave no sign of feeling, though she heard every word.

The couriers now appeared. Over their uniforms was the inevitable nequen. Instead of helms, they wore broad bands, ornamented with plumes and brilliants. At their backs hung their shields. The prince, proud and happy, kissed his mother's hand, and nodded to the sisters. Hualpa went to the king, and knelt in salute.

"I have been waiting since noon," said Montezuma, coldly.

"We pray your pardon, O king, good master. The fault was not ours. Since yesterday at noon we have not ate or drank or slept; neither have we been out of the great temple, except to embark and come here, which was with all possible speed."

"It is well. Arise! What says the god?"

Every ear was strained to hear.

"We followed your orders in all things, O king. In the temple we found the teotuctli, and the pabas of the city, with many from Tezcuco and Cholula."

"Saw you Mualox, of the old C? of Quetzal'?"

"Mualox was not there."

The king waved his hand.

"We presented ourselves to the teotuctli, and gave him your message; in proof of our authority, we showed him the signet, which we now return."

The seal was taken in silence.

"In presence, then, of all the pabas, the sacrifices were begun. I counted the victims,-nine hundred in all. The afternoon and night, and to-day, to the time of our departure, the service lasted. The sound of prayer from the holy men was unintermitted and loud. I looked once to the palace of Axaya', and saw the azoteas crowded with the strangers and their Tlascalans."

The king and the lord Cuitlahua exchanged glances of satisfaction.

"At last the labors of the teotuctli were rewarded. I saw him tear a heart from a victim's breast, and study the signs; then, with a loud cry, he ran and flung the heart into the fire before the altar of Huitzil'; and all there joined in the cry, which was of rejoicing, and washed their hands in the blood. The holy man then came to me, and said, 'Say to Montezuma, the wise king, that Huitzil', the Supreme God, has answered, and bids him begin the war. Say to him, also, to be of cheer; for the land shall be delivered from the strangers, and the strangers shall be delivered to him, in trust for the god.' Then he stood in the door of the sanctuary, and made proclamation of the divine will. And that was all, O king."

"To Huitzil' be the praise!" exclaimed the king, piously.

"And to Montezuma the glory!" said Cuitlahua.

And the queens and Tula kissed the monarch's hand, and at his feet Io' knelt, and laid his shield, saying,-

"A favor, O king, a favor!"

"Well."

"Let not my years be counted, but give me a warrior's part in the sacred war."

And Cuitlahua went to the suppliant, and laid a hand upon his head, and said, his massive features glowing with honest pride, "It was well spoken, O my brother, well spoken. The blood and spirit of our race will survive us. I, the oldest, rejoice, and, with the youngest, pray; give us each to do a warrior's part."

Brighter grew the monarch's eyes.

"Your will be done," he said to Io'. "Arise!" Then looking toward the sun, he a

dded, with majestic fervor, "The inspiration is from you, O holy gods! strengthen it, I pray, and help him in the way he would go." A moment after, he turned to Cuitlahua, "My brother, have your wish also. I give you the command. You have my signet already. To-morrow the drum of Huitzil' will be beaten. At the sound, let the bridges next the palace of Axaya' on all the causeways be taken up. Close the market to-night. Supplies for one day more Malinche may have, and that is all. Around the teocallis, in hearing of a shell, are ten thousand warriors; take them, and, after the beating of the drum, see that the strangers come not out of the palace, and that nothing goes through its gates for them. But until the signal, let there be friendship and perfect peace. And"-he looked around slowly and solemnly-"what I have here spoken is between ourselves and the gods."

And Cuitlahua knelt and kissed his hand, in token of loyalty.

While the scene was passing, as the only one present not of the royal family, Hualpa stood by, with downcast eyes; and as he listened to the brave words of the king, involving so much of weal or woe to the realm, he wondered at the fortune which had brought him such rich confidence, not as the slow result of years of service, but, as it were, in a day. Suddenly, the monarch turned to him.

"Thanks are not enough, lord Hualpa, for the report you bring. As a messenger between me and the mighty Huitzil', you shall have reason to rejoice with us. Lands and rank you have, and a palace; now,"-a smile broke through his seriousness,-"now I will give you a wife. Here she is." And to the amazement of all, he pointed to Nenetzin. "A wild bird, by the Sun! What say you, lord Hualpa? Is she not beautiful? Yet," he became grave in an instant, "I warn you that she is self-willed, and spoiled, and now suffers from a distemper which she fancies to be love. I warn you, lest one of the enemy, of whom we were but now talking, lure her from you, as he seems to have lured her from us and our gods. To save her, and place her in good keeping, as well as to bestow a proper reward, I will give her to you for wife."

Tecalco looked at Acatlan, who governed her feelings well; possibly she was satisfied, for the waywardness of the girl had, of late, caused her anxiety, while, if not a prince, like Cacama, Hualpa was young, brave, handsome, ennobled, and, as the proposal itself proved, on the high road to princely honors. Tula openly rejoiced; so did Io'. The lord Cuitlahua was indifferent; his new command, and the prospects of the morrow, so absorbed him that a betrothal or a wedding was a trifle. As for Hualpa, it was as if the flowery land of the Aztec heaven had opened around him. He was speechless; but in the step half taken, his flushed face, his quick breathing, Nenetzin read all he could have said, and more; and so he waited a sign from her,-a sign, though but a glance or a motion of the lip or hand. And she gave him a smile,-not like that the bold Spaniard received on the temple, nor warm, as if prompted by the loving soul,-a smile, witnessed by all present, and by all accepted as her expression of assent.

"I will give her to you for wife," the monarch repeated, slowly and distinctly. "This is the betrothal; the wedding shall be when the war is over, when not a white-faced stranger is left in all my domain."

While yet he spoke, Nenetzin ran to her mother, and hid her face in her bosom.

"Listen further, lord Hualpa," said the king. "In the great business of to-morrow I give you a part. At daylight return to the temple, and remain there in the turret where hangs the drum of Huitzil'. Io' will come to you about noon, with my command; then, if such be its effect, with your own hand give the signal for which the lord Cuitlahua will be waiting. Strike so as to be heard by the city, and by the cities on the shores of the lake. Afterwards, with Io', go to the lord Cuitlahua. Here is the signet again. The teotuctli may want proof of your authority."

Hualpa, kneeling to receive the seal, kissed the monarch's hand.

"And now," the latter said, addressing himself to Cuitlahua, "the interview is ended. You have much to do. Go. The gods keep you."

Hualpa, at last released, went and paid homage to his betrothed, and was made still more happy by her words, and the congratulations of the queens.

Tula alone lingered at the king's side, her large eyes fixed appealingly on his face.

"What now, Tula?" he asked, tenderly.

And she answered, "You have need, O king and good father, of faithful, loving warriors. I know of one. He should be here, but is not. Of to-morrow, its braveries and sacrifices, the minstrels will sing for ages to come; and the burden of their songs will be how nobly the people fought, and died, and conquered for you. Shall the opportunity be for all but him? Do not so wrong yourself, be not so cruel to-to me," she said, clasping her hands.

His look of tenderness vanished, and he walked away, and from the parapet of the azoteas gazed long and fixedly, apparently observing the day dying in the west, or the royal gardens that stretched out of sight from the base of the castled hill.

She waited expectantly, but no answer came,-none ever came.

And when, directly, she joined the group about Nenetzin and Hualpa, and leaned confidingly upon Io', she little thought that his was the shadow darkening her love; that the dreamy monarch, looking forward to the succession, saw, in the far future, a struggle for the crown between the prince and the 'tzin; that for the former hope there was not, except in what might now be done; and that yet there was not hope, if the opportunities of war were as open to the one as to the other. So the exile continued.

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