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


The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 16996

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

If I were writing history, it would delight me to linger over the details of Cortes' management after the arrest of Montezuma; for in them were blent, fairly as ever before seen, the grand diversities of war, politics, and governmental administration. Anticipating interference from the headquarters in Cuba, he exercised all his industry and craft to recommend himself directly to his Majesty, the Emperor Charles. The interference at last came in the form of a grand expedition under Panfilo de Narvaez; but in the interval,-a period of little more than five months,-he had practically reduced the new discovery to possession, as attested by numerous acts of sovereignty,-such, for instance, as the coast of the gulf surveyed; colonies established; plantations opened and worked with profit; tribute levied: high officials arrested, disseized, and executed; the collection and division of a treasure greater than ever before seen by Christians in the New World; communication with the capital secured by armed brigantines on the lakes; the cross set up and maintained in the teocallis; and last, and, by custom of the civilized world, most absolute, Montezuma brought to acknowledge vassalage and swear allegiance to the Emperor; and withal, so perfect was the administration of affairs, that a Spaniard, though alone, was as safe in the defiles between Vera Cruz and Tenochtitlan as he would have been in the caminos reales of old Spain, as free in the great tianguez as on the quay of Cadiz.

Narvaez's expedition landed in May, six months after Cortes entered Tenochtitlan; and to that time I now beg to advance my reader.

Cortes himself is down in Cempoalla; having defeated Narvaez, he is lingering to gather the fruits of his extraordinary victory. In the capital Alvarado is commanding, supported by the Tlascalans, and about one hundred and fifty Christians. Under his administration, affairs have gone rapidly from bad to worse; and in selecting him for a trust so delicate and important, Cortes has made his first serious mistake.

* * *

At an early hour in the evening Mualox came out of the sanctuary of his C?, bearing an armful of the flowers which had been used in the decoration of the altar. The good man's hair and beard were whiter than when last I noticed him; he was also feebler, and more stooped; so the time is not far distant when Quetzal' will lose his last and most faithful servant. As he was about to ascend the stairway of the tower, his name was called, and, stopping, he was overtaken by two men.

"Guatamozin!" he exclaimed, in surprise.

"Be not alarmed, father, but put down your burden, and rest awhile. My friend here, the lord Hualpa, has brought me news, which calls me away. Rest, therefore, and give me time for thanks and explanation."

"What folly is this?" asked Mualox, hastily, and without noticing Hualpa's salutation. "Go back to the cell. The hunters are abroad and vigilant as ever. I will cast these faded offerings into the fire, and come to you."

The 'tzin was in the guise of a paba. To quiet the good man's alarm, he drew closer the hood that covered his head, remarking, "The hunters will not come. Give Hualpa the offerings; he will carry them for you."

Hualpa took them, and left; then Mualox said, "I am ready to hear. Speak."

"Good father," the 'tzin began, "not long since, in the sanctuary there, you told me-I well remember the words-that the existence of my country depended upon my action; by which I understood you to prefigure for me an honorable, if not fortunate, destiny. I believe you had faith in what you said; for on many occasions since you have exerted yourself in my behalf. That I am not now a prisoner in the old palace with Cacama and the lord Cuitlahua is due to you; indeed, if it be true, as I was told, that the king gave me to Malinche to be dealt with as he chose, I owe you my life. These are the greatest debts a man can be bound for; I acknowledge them, and, if the destiny should be fortunate as we hope, will pay them richly; but now all I can give you is my thanks, and what I know you will better regard,-my solemn promise to protect this sacred property of the holy Quetzal'. Take the thanks and the promise, and let me have your blessing. I wish now to go."

"Whither?" asked Mualox.

"To the people. They have called me; the lord Hualpa brings me their message."

"No, you will not go," said the paba, reproachfully. "Your resolution is only an impulse; impatience is not a purpose; and-and here are peace, and safety, and a holy presence."

"But honor, father,-"

"That will come by waiting."

"Alas!" said the 'tzin, bitterly, "I have waited too long already. I have most dismal news. When Malinche marched to Cempoalla, he left in command here the red-haired chief whom we call Tonatiah. This, you know, is the day of the incensing of Huitzil'-"

"I know, my son,-an awful day! The day of cruel sacrifice, itself a defiance of Quetzal'."

"What!" said Guatamozin, in angry surprise. "Are you not an Aztec?"

"Yes, an Aztec, and a lover of his god, the true god, whose return he knows to be near, and,"-to gather energy of expression, he paused, then raised his hands as if flinging the words to a listener overhead,-"and whom he would welcome, though the land be swimming in the blood of unbelievers."

The violence and incoherency astonished the 'tzin, and as he looked at the paba fixedly, he was sensible for the first time of a fear that the good man's mind was affected. And he considered his age and habits, his days and years spent in a great, cavernous house, without amusement, without companionship, without varied occupation; for the thinker, it must be remembered, knew nothing of Tecetl or the world she made so delightful. Moreover, was not mania the effect of long brooding over wrongs, actual or imaginary? Or, to put the thought in another form, how natural that the solitary watcher of decay, where of all places decay is most affecting, midst antique and templed splendor, should make the cause of Quetzal' his, until, at last, as the one idea of his being, it mastered him so absolutely that a division of his love was no longer possible. If the misgiving had come alone, the pain that wrung the 'tzin would have resolved itself in pity for the victim, so old, so faithful, so passionate; but a dreadful consequence at once presented itself. By a strange fatality, the mystic had been taken into the royal councils, where, from force of faith, he had gained faith. Now,-and this was the dread,-what if he had cast the glamour of his mind over the king's, and superinduced a policy which had for object and end the peaceable transfer of the nation to the strangers?

This thought thrilled the 'tzin indefinably, and in a moment his pity changed to deep distrust. To master himself, he walked away; coming back, he said quietly, "The day you pray for has come; rejoice, if you can."

"I do not understand you," said Mualox.

"I will explain. This is the day of the incensing of Huitzil', which, you know, has been celebrated for ages as a festival religious and national. This morning, as customary, lords and priests, personages the noblest and most venerated, assembled in the court-yard of the temples. To bring the great wrong out in clearer view, I ought to say, father, that permission to celebrate had been asked of Tonatiah, and given,-to such a depth have we fallen! And, as if to plunge us into a yet lower deep, he forbade the king's attendance, and said to the teotuctli, 'There shall be no sacrifice.'"

"No victims, no blood!" cried Mualox, clasping his hands. "Blessed be Quetzal'!"

The 'tzin bore the interruption, though with an effort.

"In the midst of the service," he continued, "when the yard was most crowded, and the revelry gayest, and the good company most happy and unsuspecting, dancing, singing, feasting, suddenly Tonatiah and his people rushed upon them, and began to kill, and stayed not their hands until, of all the revellers, not one was left alive; leaders in battle, ministers at the altar, old and young,-all were slain![47] O such a piteous sight! The court is a pool of blood. Who will restore the flower this day torn from the nation? O holy gods, what have we done to merit such calamity?"

Mualox listened, his hands still clasped.

"Not one left alive! Not one, did you say?"

"Not one."

The paba arose from his stooping, and upon the 'tzin flashed the old magnetic fl


"What have you done, ask you? Sinned against the true and only god-"

"I?" said the 'tzin, for the moment shrinking.

"The nation,-the nation, blind to its crimes, no less blind to the beginning of its punishment! What you call calamity, I call vengeance. Starting in the house of Huitzil',-the god for whom my god was forsaken,-it will next go to the city; and if the lords so perish, how may the people escape? Let them tremble! He is come, he is come! I knew him afar, I know him here. I heard his step in the valley, I see his hand in the court. Rejoice, O 'tzin! He has drunk the blood of the sacrificers. To-morrow his house must be made ready to receive him. Go not away! Stay, and help me! I am old. Of the treasure below I might make use to buy help; but such preparation, like an offering at the altar, is most acceptable when induced by love. Love for love. So said Quetzal' in the beginning; so he says now."

"Let me be sure I understand you, father. What do you offer me?" asked the 'tzin, quietly.

"Escape from the wrath," replied Mualox.

"And what is required of me?"

"To stay here, and, with me, serve his altar."

"Is the king also to be saved?"

"Surely; he is already a servant of the god's."

Under his gown the 'tzin's heart beat quicker, for the question and answer were close upon the fear newly come to him, as I have said; yet, to leave the point unguarded in the paba's mind, he asked,-

"And the people: if I become what you ask, will they be saved?"

"No. They have forgotten Quetzal' utterly."

"When the king became your fellow-servant, father, made he no terms for his dependants, for the nation, for his family?"


Guatamozin dropped the hood upon his shoulders, and looked at Mualox sternly and steadily; and between them ensued one of those struggles of spirit against spirit in which glances are as glittering swords, and the will holds the place of skill.

"Father," he said, at length, "I have been accustomed to love and obey you. I thought you good and wise, and conversant with things divine, and that one so faithful to his god must be as faithful to his country; for to me, love of one is love of the other. But now I know you better. You tell me that Quetzal' has come, and for vengeance; and that, in the fire of his wrath, the nation will be destroyed; yet you exult, and endeavor to speed the day by prayer. And now, too, I understand the destiny you had in store for me. By hiding in this gown, and becoming a priest at your altar, I was to escape the universal death. What the king did, I was to do. Hear me now: I cut myself loose from you. With my own eyes I look into the future. I spurn the destiny, and for myself will carve out a better one by saving or perishing with my race. No more waiting on others! no more weakness! I will go hence and strike-"

"Whom?" asked Mualox, impulsively. "The king and the god?"

"He is not my god," said the 'tzin, interrupting him in turn. "The enemy of my race is my enemy, whether he be king or god. As for Montezuma,"-at the name his voice and manner changed,-"I will go humbly, and, from the dust into which he flung them, pick up his royal duties. Alas! no other can. Cuitlahua is a prisoner; so is Cacama; and in the court-yard yonder, cold in death, lie the lords who might with them contest the crown and its tribulations. I alone am left. And as to Quetzal',-I accept the doom of my country,-into the heart of his divinity I cast my spear! So, farewell, father. As a faithful servant, you cannot bless whom your god has cursed. With you, however, be all the peace and safety that abide here. Farewell."

"Go not, go not!" cried Mualox, as the 'tzin, calling to Hualpa, turned his back upon him. "We have been as father and son. I am old. See how sorrow shakes these hands, stretched toward you in love."

Seeing the appeal was vain, the paba stepped forward and caught the 'tzin's arm, and said, "I pray you stay,-stay. The destiny follows Quetzal', and is close at hand, and brings in its arms the throne."

Neither the tempter nor the temptation moved the 'tzin; he called Hualpa again; then the holy man let go his arm, and said, sadly, "Go thy way,-one scoffer more! Or, if you stay, hear of what the god will accuse you, so that, when your calamity comes, as come it will, you may not accuse him."

"I will hear."

"Know, then, O 'tzin, that Quetzal', the day he landed from Tlapallan, took you in his care; a little later, he caused you to be sent into exile-"

"Your god did that!" exclaimed the 'tzin. "And why?"

"Out of the city there was safety," replied Mualox, sententiously; in a moment, he continued, "Such, I say, was the beginning. Attend to what has followed. After Montezuma went to dwell with the strangers, the king of Tezcuco revolted, and drew after him the lords of Iztapalapan, Tlacopan, and others; to-day they are prisoners, while you are free. Next, aided by Tlalac, you planned the rescue of the king by force in the teocallis; for that offence the officers hunted you, and have not given over their quest; but the cells of Quetzal' are deep and dark; I called you in, and yet you are safe. To-day Quetzal' appeared amongst the celebrants, and to-night there is mourning throughout the valley, and the city groans under the bloody sorrow; still you are safe. A few days ago, in the old palace of Axaya', the king assembled his lords, and there he and they became the avowed subjects of a new king, Malinche's master; since that the people, in their ignorance, have rung the heavens with their curses. You alone escaped that bond; so that, if Montezuma were to join his fathers, asleep in Chapultepec, whom would soldier, priest, and citizen call to the throne? Of the nobles living, how many are free to be king? And of all the empire, how many are there of whom I might say, 'He forgot not Quetzal''? One only. And now, O son, ask you of what you will be accused, if you abandon this house and its god? or what will be forfeit, if now you turn your back upon them? Is there a measure for the iniquity of ingratitude? If you go hence for any purpose of war, remember Quetzal' neither forgets nor forgives; better that you had never been born."

By this time, Hualpa had joined the party. Resting his hand upon the young man's shoulder, the 'tzin fixed on Mualox a look severe and steady as his own, and replied,-"Father, a man knows not himself; still less knows he other men; if so, how should I know a being so great as you claim your god to be? Heretofore, I have been contented to see Quetzal' as you have painted him,-a fair-faced, gentle, loving deity, to whom human sacrifice was especially abhorrent; but what shall I say of him whom you have now given me to study? If he neither forgets nor forgives, wherein is he better than the gods of Mictlan? Hating, as you have said, the sacrifice of one man, he now proposes, you say, not as a process of ages, but at once, by a blow or a breath, to slay a nation numbering millions. When was Huitzil' so awfully worshipped? He will spare the king, you further say, because he has become his servant; and I can find grace by a like submission. Father,"-and as he spoke the 'tzin's manner became inexpressibly noble,-"father, who of choice would live to be the last of his race? The destiny brings me a crown: tell me, when your god has glutted himself, where shall I find subjects? Comes he in person or by representative? Am I to be his crowned slave or Malinche's? Once for all, let Quetzal' enlarge his doom; it is sweeter than what you call his love. I will go fight; and, if the gods of my fathers-in this hour become dearer and holier than ever-so decree, will die with my people. Again, father, farewell."

Again the withered hands arose tremulously, and a look of exceeding anguish came to the paba's help.

"If not for love of me, or of self, or of Quetzal', then for love of woman, stay."

Guatamozin turned quickly. "What of her?"

"O 'tzin, the destiny you put aside is hers no less than yours."

The 'tzin raised higher his princely head, and answered, smiling joyously,-

"Then, father, by whatever charm, or incantation, or virtue of prayer you possess, hasten the destiny,-hasten it, I conjure you. A tomb would be a palace with her, a palace would be a tomb without her."

And with the smile still upon his face, and the resolution yet in his heart, he again, and for the last time, turned his back upon Mualox.

* * *

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