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   Chapter 58 IN THE LEAGUER

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 14188

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

By and by a Spaniard came out through the main gateway of the palace; after brief leave-taking with the guard there, he walked rapidly down the street. The 'tzin, observing that the man was equipped for a journey, surmised him to be a courier, and smiled at the confidence of the master who sent him forth alone at such a time.

The courier went his way, and the great movement proceeded.

After a while Hualpa and Io' came down from the turret where, under the urn of fire, they too had been watching, and the former said,-

"Your orders, O 'tzin, are executed. The armies all stand halted at the gates of the city, and at the outlet of each canal I saw a division of canoes lying in wait."

The 'tzin looked up at the sun, then past meridian, and replied, "It is well. When the chiefs see but one smoke from this temple they will enter the city. Go, therefore, and put out all the fires except that of Huitzil'."

And soon but one smoke was to be seen.

A little afterwards there was a loud cry from the street, and, looking down, the 'tzin saw the Spanish courier, without morion or lance, staggering as he ran, and shouting. Instantly the great gate was flung open, and the man taken in; and instantly a trumpet rang out, and then another and another. Guatamozin sprang up. The alarm-note thrilled him no less than the Christians.

The palace, before so slumberous, became alive. The Tlascalans poured from the sheds, that at places lined the interior of the parapet, and from the main building forth rushed the Spaniards,-bowmen, slingers, and arquebusiers; and the gunners took post by their guns, while the cavalry clothed their horses, and stood by the bridles. There was no tumult, no confusion; and when the 'tzin saw them in their places-placid, confident, ready-his heart beat hard: he would win,-on that he was resolved,-but ah, at what mighty cost!

Soon, half drowned by the voices of the captains mustering the enemy below, he heard another sound rising from every quarter of the city, but deeper and more sustained, where the great columns marched. He listened intently. Though far and faint, he recognized the susurrante,-literally the commingled war-cries of almost all the known fighting tribes of the New World. The chiefs were faithful; they were coming,-by the canals, and up and down the great streets, they were coming; and he listened, measuring their speed by the growing distinctness of the clamor. As they came nearer, he became confident, then eager. Suddenly, everything,-objects far and near, the old palace, and the hated flags, the lake, and the purple distance, and the unflecked sky,-all melted into mist, for he looked at them through tears. So the Last of the 'Tzins welcomed his tawny legions.

While he indulged the heroic weakness, Io' and Hualpa rejoined him. About the same time Cortes and some of his cavaliers appeared on the azoteas of the central and higher part of the palace. They were in armor, but with raised visors, and seemed to be conjecturing one with another, and listening to the portentous sounds that now filled the welkin. And as the 'tzin, in keen enjoyment, watched the wonder that plainly possessed the enemy, there was a flutter of gay garments upon the palace, and two women joined the party.

"Nenetzin!" said Io', in a low voice.

"Nenetzin!" echoed Hualpa.

And sharper grew his gaze, while down stooped the sun to illumine the face of the faithless, as, smiling the old smile, she rested lovingly upon Alvarado's arm. He turned away, and covered his head. But soon a hand was laid upon his shoulder, and he heard a voice,-the voice of the 'tzin,--

"Lord Hualpa, as once before you were charged, I charge you now. With your own hand make the signal. Io' will bring you the word. Go now." Then the voice sunk to a whisper. "Patience, comrade. The days for many to come will be days of opportunity. Already the wrong-doer is in the toils; yet a little longer. Patience!"

The noise of the infidels had now come to be a vast uproar, astonishing to the bravest of the listeners. Even Cortes shared the common feeling. That war was intended he knew; but he had not sufficiently credited the Aztec genius. The whole valley appeared to be in arms. His face became a shade more ashy as he thought, either this was of the king, or the people were capable of grand action without the king; and he griped his sword-hand hard in emphasis of the oath he swore, to set the monarch and his people face to face; that would he, by his conscience,-by the blood of the saints!

And as he swore, here and there upon the adjacent houses armed men showed themselves; and directly the heads of columns came up, and, turning right and left at the corners, began to occupy all the streets around the royal enclosure.

If one would fancy what the cavaliers then saw, let him first recall the place. It was in the heart of the city. Eastward arose the teocallis,-a terraced hill in fact, and every terrace a vantage-point. On all other sides of the palace were edifices each higher than its highest part; and each fronted with a wall resembling a parapet, except that its outer face was in general richly ornamented with fretwork and mouldings and arches and grotesque corbals and cantilevers. Every roof was occupied by infidels; over the sculptured walls they looked down into the fortress, if I may so call it, of the strangers.

As the columns marched and countermarched in the streets thus beautifully bounded, they were a spectacle of extraordinary animation. Over them played the semi-transparent shimmer or thrill of air, so to speak, peculiar to armies in rapid movement,-curious effect of changing colors and multitudinous motion. The Christians studied them with an interest inappreciable to such as have never known the sensations of a soldier watching the foe taking post for combat.

Of arms there were in the array every variety known to the Aztecan service,-the long bow; the javelin; slings of the ancient fashion, fitted for casting stones a pound or more in weight; the maquahuitl, limited to the officers; and here and there long lances with heads of bronze or sharpened flint. The arms, it must be confessed, added little to the general appearance of the mass,-a deficiency amply compensated by the equipments. The quivers of the bowmen, and the pouches of the slingers, and the broad straps that held them to the person were brilliantly decorated. Equally striking were the costumes of the several branches of the service: the fillet, holding back the long, straight hair, and full of feathers, mostly of the eagle and turkey, though not unfrequently of the ostrich,-costly prizes come, in the way of trade, from the far llanos of the south; the escaupil, of brightest crimson; the shield, faced with brazen plates, and edged with flying tufts of buffalo hair, and sometimes with longer and brighter locks, the gift of a mistress or a trophy of war. These articles, though half barbaric, lost nothing by contrast with the naked, dark-brown necks and limbs of the warriors,-lithe and stately me

n, from whom the officers were distinguished by helmets of hideous device and mantles indescribably splendid. Over all shone the ensigns, indicia of the tribes: here a shining sphere; there a star, or a crescent, or a radial sun; but most usually a floating cloth covered with blazonry.

With each company marched a number of priests, bareheaded and frocked, and a corps of musicians, of whom some blew unearthly discords from conchs, while others clashed cymbals, and beat atabals fashioned like the copper tam-tams of the Hindoos.

Even the marching of the companies was peculiar. Instead of the slow, laborious step of the European, they came on at a pace which, between sunrise and sunset, habitually carried them from the bivouac twenty leagues away.

And as they marched, the ensigns tossed to and fro; the priests sang monotonous canticles; the cymbalists danced and leaped joyously at the head of their companies; and the warriors in the ranks flung their shields aloft, and yelled their war-cries, as if drunk with happiness.

As the inundation of war swept around the palace, a cavalier raised his eyes to the temple.

"Valgame Dios!" he cried, in genuine alarm. "The levies of the valley are not enough. Lo, the legions of the air!"

On the azoteas where but the moment before only the 'tzin and Io' were to be seen, there were hundreds of caparisoned warriors; and as the Christians looked at them, they all knelt, leaving but one man standing; simultaneously the companies on the street stopped, and, with those on the house-tops, hushed their yells, and turned up to him their faces countless and glistening.

"Who is he?" the cavaliers asked each other.

Cortes, cooler than the rest, turned to Marina: "Ask the princess Nenetzin if she knows him."

And Nenetzin answered,-

"The 'tzin Guatamo."

As the two chiefs surveyed each other in full recognition, down from the sky, as it were, broke an intonation so deep that the Christians were startled, and the women fled from the roof.

"Ola!" cried Alvarado, with a laugh. "I have heard that thunder before. Down with your visors, gentlemen, as ye care for the faces your mothers love!"

Three times Hualpa struck the great drum in the sanctuary of Huitzil'; and as the last intonation rolled down over the city the clamor of the infidels broke out anew, and into the enclosure of the palace they poured a cloud of missiles so thick that place of safety there was not anywhere outside the building.

To this time the garrison had kept silence; now, standing each at his post, they answered. In the days of the former siege, besides preparing banquettes for the repulsion of escalades, they had pierced the outer walls, generally but little higher than a man's head, with loop-holes and embrasures, out of which the guns, great and small, were suddenly pointed and discharged. No need of aim; outside, not farther than the leap of the flames, stood the assailants. The effect, especially of the artillery, was dreadful; and the prodigious noise, and the dense, choking smoke, stupefied and blinded the masses, so unused to such enginery. And from the wall they shrank staggering, and thousands turned to fly; but in pressed the chiefs and the priests, and louder rose the clangor of conchs and cymbals: the very density of the multitude helped stay the panic.

And down from the temple came the 'tzin, not merely to give the effect of his presence, but to direct the assault. In the sanctuary he had arrayed himself; his escaupil and tilmatli, of richest feather-work, fairly blazed; his helm and shield sparkled; and behind, scarcely less splendid, walked Io' and Hualpa. He crossed the street, shouting his war-cry. At sight of him, men struggling to get away turned to fight again.

Next the wall of the palace the shrinking of the infidels had left a clear margin; and there, the better to be seen by his people, the 'tzin betook himself. In front of the embrasures he cleared the lines of fire, so that the guns were often ineffectual; he directed attention to the loopholes, so that the appearance of an arbalist or arquebus drew a hundred arrows to the spot. Taught by his example, the warriors found that under the walls there was a place of safety; then he set them to climbing; for that purpose some stuck their javelins in the cracks of the masonry; some formed groups over which others raised themselves; altogether the crest of the wall was threatened in a thousand places, insomuch that the Tlascalans occupied themselves exclusively in its defence; and as often as one raised to strike a climber down, he made himself a target for the quick bowmen on the opposite houses.

And so, wherever the 'tzin went he inspired his countrymen; the wounded, and the many dead and dying, and the blood maddened instead of daunting them. They rained missiles into the enclosure; upon the wall they fought hand to hand with the defenders; in their inconsiderate fury, many leaped down inside, and perished instantly,-but all in vain.

Then the 'tzin had great timbers brought up, thinking to batter in the parapet. Again and again they were hurled against the face of the masonry, but without effect.

Yet another resort. He had balls of cotton steeped in oil shot blazing into the palace-yard. Against the building, and on its tiled roof, they fell harmless. It happened, however, that the sheds in which the Tlascalans quartered consisted almost entirely of reeds, with roofs of rushes and palm-leaves; they burst into flames. Water could not be spared by the garrison, for the drought was great; in the extremity, the Tlascalans and many Christians were drawn from the defences, and set to casting earth upon the new enemy. Hundreds of the former were killed or disabled. The flames spread to the wooden outworks of the wall. The smoke almost blotted out the day. After a while a part of the wall fell down, and the infidels rushed in; a steady fire of arquebuses swept them away, and choked the chasm with the slain; still others braved the peril; company after company dashed into the fatal snare uselessly, as waves roll forward and spend themselves in the gorge of a sea-wall.

The conflict lasted without abatement through long hours. The sun went down. In the twilight the great host withdrew,-all that could. The smoke from the conflagration and guns melted into the shades of night; and the stars, mild-eyed as ever, came out one by one to see the wrecks heaped and ghastly lying in the bloody street and palace-yard.

All night the defenders lay upon their arms, or, told off in working parties, labored to restore the breach.

All night the infidels collected their dead and wounded, thousands in number. They did not offer to attack,-custom forbade that; yet over the walls they sent their vengeful warnings.

All night the listening sentinels on the parapet noted the darkness filled with sounds of preparation from every quarter of the city. And they crossed themselves, and muttered the names of saints and good angels, and thought shudderingly of the morrow.

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