It was the Eve of Teotleco, holiest of festivals, the last day in the year House 12 in the holiest year-bundle in history. In a couple of hours the sun would set and the new year, Rabbit 13, begin, let but which pass and we would be in Reed 1, Ce Acatl, the holiest year.
They were sitting at supper in the veranda-like open-room of Shaltemoc's house in Huitznahuacan, with an outlook onto the gardens and neighboring houses below. The sun shone in through the frame of flowering vines that made several panels of the view, for the house faced to the west, as did the main part of the town. The room was well decorated with flowers and greenery from the forest, and the folk who sat supping, each seated on a cushion on the floor at a hassock that served as table, wore an air of holiday and holy day not to be mistaken.
There was something about this sprightliness and genial atmosphere that aroused Pelashil's curiosity. She sensed great things afoot and was watchful for explanations. Not, however, from anyone but Nopaltzin, who interested her hugely. From her place opposite his, she made great love to him in the cooing, eye-illumined manner natural to her three years and undeveloped respect for convention. He was the one, she decided, who both could and ought to make things clear for her; and he should do it.
So the moment that supper was over, she picked up her seat cushion, waddled across with it in her arms and sat down at his side, letting it be known that she was in need of something — at once, and from him. This was the first time she had seen him, because he had gone away just before she was born and had returned only that very afternoon.
Ketlasho, who was Pelashil's mother and Nopal's sister, knew with clear intuition what the something was that Pelashil needed; in fact, she had known it long before Pelashil spoke. Religion meant much to Ketlasho, and this was religion's holiest season. Nopal, her wonderful brother, could tell the story appropriate to it as none else could. Certainly he was not a priest, she would admit, but then . . . look! He would never marry and have children of his own, would he? As good as a priest, one might say . . .
She wanted the story told because Ilanquey was now seven, of an age to offer flowers that evening at the shrines of Tezcatlipoca. Therefore the girl ought not only to know the story, but to have it in mind as she made her offering. As for the other two, it could only do them good; and it might be years before Nopal was with them for Teotleco again. She hoped that Pelashil would be good during the telling, and she had some confidence that five-year-old Iztaman, the boy, would be. She and Shaltemoc, her husband, had known the story, of course, ever since their education began, but she hoped they could still thrill to it, especially with Nopal as the teller.
She was at pains herself to make a proper introduction for the tale in her careful, domestic-pious way. They knew, she said, that next month was called Teotleco, the "Arrival of the Gods," and that this was the night when the gods would arrive. That was why they would all go up, when the sun was setting, to the Top of the Town, where Ilanquey would give her flowers to the Soul of the World. Someday Iztaman would give flowers, and Pelashil too, so they all must listen carefully to the wonderful story Nopaltzin was going to tell them. It was the Soul of the World, our Lord Tezcatlipoca, who would be the first of the gods to arrive.
". . . and you will give your flowers, Ilanquey, dear, to show how glad you are of his coming. Whenever you see flowers, remember that He is the beauty in them, and when you hear music, remember that He is the delightfulness in what you hear. Now Nopaltzin is going to tell you why our Lord will come to Huitznahuacan tonight."
So Nopal began by telling them what it was like before the Rising of the First Sun, reciting the poem as it was written in one of the pictograph books of the priests.
"The Sun," it says, "sat drowsily on the low horizon, nodding, dreaming and nodding, unaware of what he could do, peering out now and again over the world, muttering to himself helplessly. There were neither gods nor men on the mountains, no voices in the valleys. In the blue, unvarying twilight, great white blossoms shone and died unseen.
"Then Citlalicway Teteoinan, the Mighty Mother, hurled down Tecpatl, the Flint-stone, who struck the earth in rocky districts and skipped and slid from boulder to outcropping and from outcropping to boulder. Wherever he struck, there fire was born, until four score-score flames had been kindled and there had leaped up four score-score young, indomitable gods, dancing flamelike on the mountains, singing the Mother's praise. They leaped into being, fire-clad, rainbow-colored, beautiful; they moved like flames along the ridges of the mountains, gliding and dancing. All the time, they were chanting their joy.
"They saw the stars, their brothers, in infinity and regarded them with delight and love. They had their homes in the hollows of the hills; their speech was song; their thought was music; the substance of their being was essential fire. All things seemed to them praiseworthy and excellent. The lily that bloomed was their beloved companion; the snow-white blossoms in the twilight adorned their peace. And thus it was with them through an age, and an age, and the age of ages.
"Then a thought came flying out of the vast and whispered from mind to mind of them, until they hung their beautiful heads and pondered, forgetting to dance from ridge to ridge, forgetting to sing.
"Citlalicway Teteoinan regarded them. 'Children, children, why do you ponder?"
"'There is no noonday, such as we desire,' said they. 'There is neither morning nor eve. We marvel that our Lord-brother, the Sun, arises not. Why does he sit there brooding and slothful, peering out distrustfully now and again over the delicate world? "The Sun heard and made answer to them: 'There are no men; ye have no men to be your Others. Wherefore should I rise when there are no men?
"They looked at each other, nodding their astonishment and apprehension. 'That is true,' said they. 'He would rise if there were men.' For seven cycles of time they pondered, and the lily bloomed and they beheld her not; and the snow-white blossoms in the twilight went unsung. 'How shall we make men?' they asked. 'In what manner are men created?'
"Then was wisdom revealed to our Lord Quetzalcoatl. 'Out of fire from heaven and bones from hell they are made,' said he.
"Then was wisdom revealed to our Lord Tezcatlipoca. 'Our blood is the fire; it is fire from heaven. The blood of the gods is the fire from heaven,' said the Soul of the World.
"None desired to contradict him; all were convinced that it was the truth he told."
Here Nopal paused. So far, he had been quoting directly from the Book of the Green-Shining Planisphere. The next incident he abridged. It tells of the raid the gods made on the realms of Mictlantecuhtli, king of Hell, and of how they stole from him the bones of humanities long forgone in ancient universes forgotten. These bones they moistened or kindled with their fire-blood and made thereof a new race of men. Nopal then went on from the book.
"So they made themselves men, their Others. For every Divine, a human being. But the Sun did not rise.
"'Why do you not rise, O Sun? said they. 'There might be noon, heaven knows; there might be morning and evening in their beauty. Here are men, our Others, who would worship you. Adorable would be the moment of your rising. Consider that!' "'No, no,' said the Sun. 'You know not all things, you gods. Sad will be the moment of my rising; lamentation will be heard in it.'
"'Dear help you better!' said they. 'Wherefore should it be sad and filled with lamentation? Glad it will be, we should think.'
'Sad, sad,' said he. 'Sad and not glad. For when I rise, you will die.'
"They looked at each other doubtfully. 'Die — what is that? said they. 'There is something in this that is not clear to us.'
"'Rising, I shall destroy you,' said the Sun.
"'Alas!' said they. 'You are our enemy! We sought to befriend you; we created you worshipers; we desired your companionship and love. Hateful to us is this grim hostility!' A shadow of deep thoughtfulness had come on them; they had never been thus solemn before. It is not to be said that they were free from grief.
"'Where I am, you cannot be,' said the Sun. 'This is the truth that I tell you: Compelled I shall be to make war on you, to be terrific, to exterminate you one by one. The men, your Others, will not avail you. The world I shine on, you may not abide in.' "Then they spoke quietly, answering him. 'It will be better to delay!' said they. 'It will be much better to take counsel over this. Proclaim you not your war upon us, we beseech you! Rise not now, until we have considered!'
"'You, the gods, invoked my rising, and surely rise I must.' The Sun leaped up from the horizon, armed with his bow and his shining shafts. 'I proclaim my war against you!' said he.
"Then laughed our Lord, the Plumed Dragon; he laughed out loud, making mock of the Sun. 'There is that which is more ancient and abiding than thou art. Against thy war I proclaim my peace!'
"'Blessed art thou, Lord Quetzalcoatl!'" said the Sun, but none heard him at that time.
Nopal explained, "Therefore art thou he who preserves the universe in stability, O Plumed Dragon, O Quetzalcoatl Beautiful, O Shining Peace in the Hearts of the Stars!"
"But the Sun leaped up and came on armed and terrifically singing. Golden was his armor; golden was his person, from the nails of his little fingers to the ends of his hair. He was terrifying, wrathful-compassionate, filling the worlds with a rumor of death. He was gigantic, golden, filling the sky. Amazed were the gods, not desirable their situation. They hated the thought of Mictlantecuhtli's kingdom; they had little understanding, at that time, of death.
"Then laughed our Lord Tezcatlipoca; the Soul of the World laughed out loud, making mock of fate. 'We are the gods; we are the Radiant. Even if he slay us, it will be glorious to go against him, for behold how beautiful he is, how nobly he advances! As for the kingdom of Mictlantecuhtli — are we not the Immortals, the Sons of the Flame?
"'Blessed art thou, Lord Tezcatlipoca!' said the Sun, but none heard him say it, to be encouraged.
"But what the Soul of the World said made the gods warlike and of great cheer. They saw Tezcatlipoca go forward and were proud. Singing, they followed the Beautiful Youth where he advanced, a running, leaping, lovely flame, against the Sun . . . and the Sun then slew them one by one, so that the flames vanished here to be kindled elsewhere; they waned into the daylight and were hidden in the beauty of the day, until only our Lord Quetzalcoatl was left.
"'Why fightest thou not, Lord Plumed Dragon? Why fightest thou not, thou Upholder of the Worlds? Behold thy companions, how brave and beautiful they were, how nobly they died! Emulate them, lest evil be spoken of thee!'
"'Will evil be spoken indeed?' said our Lord.
"'Fight, that thou mayest be at peace where they are, and lest I slay thee unresisted and thou comest by shame!'
"'Shall I come by shame in your deed to heaven?'
"'Lest the sorrows of man become thy sorrows and thou hast no peace because of them throughout the age of ages!'
"Flaming, miraculous, filling the universe, shooting his beams through the kingdoms of the stars, our Lord the Sun came against our Savior. 'Fight,' said he, 'Lord Plumed Dragon!' "Without defense stood Quetzalcoatl; without defense and without fear. 'Slay thou him whom slay thou canst!' said he. 'Against thy war I proclaim my peace; slay thou me if mine is the weaker!'
"Then the Sun dropped bow and quiver, and his shafts fell down through space like tears. 'Alas, thou art stronger than I am!' said he. 'For all I loved thee, thou hast defeated me!' "The Sun wept. 'Ye none of ye knew!' said he. 'I slew them because I loved them, to save them from the griefs of the world. I must shine on; and they hated to be slain, and loved me little. And now thyself hast pronounced thy doom wherefrom I sought to save thee. Where the gods dwell, thou canst not abide; thou shalt be born among men forever in thy cycle; age by age thou shalt oppose men as thou hast me. Against their war thou shalt proclaim thy peace, until thou hast overcome them, O Quetzalcoatl!'
"'Brother, Lord Brother, I have gained what I desired,' said our Lord. 'I shall conquer mankind at last, even as I have conquered thee.'
"But the Sun sighed in his sorrow, foreseeing grief for the one he loved. 'Brother, Lord Brother, I know not,' said he. 'Men will be more stupid than I am; they will not be so easy to conquer.' "So our Lord was not slain by the Sun, nor sent into the Hidden with the other gods; but age by age he is born here among men."
That being the end of the first part of the Teotleco story, Nopal paused, but also because he could see that demure Ilanquey was brimming over with a question. As for the other two, Iztaman sat wide-eyed and round-mouthed, while Pelashil, sweet soul, was fast asleep.
"Will he be born next year?" asked Ilanquey.
Her elders saw where her thought had traveled. All the world knew that when Quetzalcoatl incarnates, he is born always in a year Ce Acatl, Reed One, the fourteenth of every year-bundle, and Reed One follows Rabbit 13, naturally.
"Who can tell, dear?" Nopal answered. "He comes when the world needs him, we may be sure. Perhaps it needs him now. But listen to the story of the First Teotleco."
Pelashil awoke, commanded him to proceed, and went to sleep again promptly. Nopal proceeded.
"So now the Sun rose, and there were morning and noon and evening, sunlight and starlight; but they brought no happiness into the world. For men went mourning for their Lost Others; they knew nothing of the war of the gods against the Sun. They wandered the earth disconsolate, seeking the Bright Ones they could not find; and they hated the sunlight that hid from them that which they adored. There was no music among the mountains; the speech of the gods was silenced; men did not know how to imitate the speech of their Lost Others. They listened to the wind in the forests; they listened on the seashore and where waters fell; and sometimes they thought they heard, for a moment, an echo or a dying refrain, but it was hard to tell.
"Now at the end of an age of seeking, the servant of Tezcatlipoca came to the margin of the sea. The Sun shone far and low in the west beyond the heaving greenness of the waters; the winter clouds hung mournfully roseate and purple; in white and ghostly ranks the waves rode moaning in; the cold spray blew shoreward. There was no hope or pleasure in the world, thought the servant of Tezcatlipoca. He had come to the rim of the world and found no sign of his Other, and there was no farther to go. The gods, whose presence had made the world delightful, were lost.
"So he paced the wet beach, weeping. With bent head, he paced the sand, the wetly shining, sparsely shell-strewn sand — the wave-lined, weed-rimmed sand, where the cold waves came moaning in, frantic along the sand. The Sun flashed green on the sea rim and was gone from heaven. The waves roared in their grand lamentation along the sand . . . and what was this ghost of fluting that stole through the crash of the waves? What was this specter of light that gleamed and flickered along the sand?
"He stood still and gazed. As if it were a glow on evening waters, lo, there the Beauty at the heart of beauty! — the eyes wherein beauty shines, and enchantment; the cloak of celestial hummingbirds' feathers; the youth that seemed to be eternal; the grace beyond computation by men. As if it were a picture reflected from infinite worlds afar, there stood the semblance of the Soul of the World.
"'Why do you mourn, my servant, my Other? What causes you to wander, mourning and searching?'
"'Lacking you, our gods, our Others, we mourn and wander, searching for beauty through the grief-encumbered world.' "'If ye spoke not with man-speech but with god-speech as we speak, ye would not wander, ye would not mourn.'
"'Barren our lips; harsh-sounding the world. How should we achieve it, to speak like the gods?
"The Master of Beauty spoke and said: 'In the House of the Sun is a thing called Music; had ye that, it would teach ye. Flute and serpent, drum and kettledrum; there they are, unused and useless. Obtain you them and you shall not mourn.'
"The radiance died away. There was only the night-brink over the world. The servant of our Lord was in doubt. The completeness that had seemed to be was incomplete again. He bowed his head and wept; his vision had been of unrealities. Without satisfaction, he was turning away.
"Then out of the edge of the ninth wave's foam a voice spoke to him: 'Come you now upon a voyage with me!' said the Turtle of the Western Billow.
"As well go as not go; there was no satisfaction or complacency in the world. So westward they journeyed, he standing on that sea-lord's carapace. 'Sing, servant of our Lord!' said the Turtle. 'Sing now pleasantly, and it will be better! Speak you in the god-speech, I implore you. Desolate and perilous is this traveling where there is no sweet song.'
"'Gladly would I sing, but my lips are barren. Song is the speech of the gods, our Others; it is not like our speech. It rises and falls and dances through the universe, and dies away beyond the brink of things. It soars and swoons and trills and ripples and warbles, as keen with delight as the winter stars and as deep and solemn as starless midnight. It is like the wind that rides over the tossing forest when the trees bow down and strain and moan; it is like the mountain runlet among the rushes and pebbles. It is like night seas that thunder on the cliffs, or blue-bright seas of noonday that lisp and whisper and forget.'
"And even as he spoke, he rejoiced and marveled, for although the words had their passage between his own tongue and his teeth, the sound of them in his ears was like the god-speech.
"'Pleasant is journeying where there is song,' said the Turtle.
"Rank on rank the waves fled by and nodded greeting as they passed. Friendly was the night sky, friendly the sea. The Soul of the World is at hand, they thought, and troubled themselves to be courteous. The servant of our Lord mourned no longer; he held converse with his Lord Other. He told out his heart to the Soul of the World, and when he spoke, his speech was the god-speech. So they traveled a long age.
"'Up through the black-blue depths of the sea, I behold a rosy ray shining,' said he.
"'Do you behold it already?' asked the Turtle. 'Without doubt, it will be from the eye of Cipactli, the great sea-creature of the Wave beneath the Sun. I may not come into his kingdom.' "So there they waited. Up came Cipactli through the smothering foam: Cipactli, that vehement ancient, homely of beard and visage; Cipactli of the energies not to be tamed.
"'I heard singing,' said grand Cipactli. 'I heard glorious sound. Evil on my beard if I heard not the god-speech, and the conversation itself of the Soul of the World.'
"'It is the Lord Servant of Tezcatlipoca,' said the Turtle, bowing profoundly. 'Of your courtesy, Lord Cipactli, bear you him whither you know, and he will sing to you on the journey, causing you delight. Yea, delight profound and limitless.' Then he said, 'Servant of our Lord, go you with the venerable Cipactli. Mount you upon this sovereign sea-beast and depart!'
"Cipactli bellowed and wallowed in his glee. 'Come,' said he with lofty courtesy. 'O Singer of God, I know what you seek, even though yourself may know not. Leave therefore this princely turtle and condescend to travel further with me.'
"So he mounted upon Cipactli, and they went forward. And now the rosy eye-beam shone down through the curious gardens of the sea-gods and now up into the dark caverns of the stars; and the sea fled away behind them, and the stars fled eastward overhead, so swift was Cipactli, so vigorous that ancient one, despite the innumerable ages of his life. And ever the voyager desired to praise Tezcatlipoca, and as he praised, the god-speech resounded over the sea.
"Cipactli, snorting, lunged and glided forward, rejoicing in his profound and antique heart. The waves that wander over the solitary sea and heave themselves gigantically starward bowed, as it were, their heads in assent and reverence, beholding that which the Other of our Lord beheld not and the passage of the All-Beautiful between the stars and the waters.
"They came at last to the source of the Wave beneath the Sun.
'Woe is me!' sighed grand Cipactli. I have forgotten whither thou wouldst go.'
"'To the House of the Sun,' said the servant of Tezcatlipoca, aware now of what the gods desired of him.
"'Dear, indeed,' sighed magnanimous Cipactli, I cannot go there. I cannot take you!' Tears fell from the eyes of him, salting the saltiness of the sea. 'This it is to be old and feeble,' said he. 'If I were as I once was, a flip of my fluke and thou wert there! But now thou must trust to thy singing.'
So the Other of our Lord sang, and Cipactli searched the deep with his eye-beam and rosily illuminated the enormous foundations of the sea, but there was no help there that he could discover. Then he turned his eye-beam into the dark planisphere and kindled up the vastness beyond the stars . . . and a light shone there like a diadem of stars. And a light shone there like the young moon. And a light shone there, nearing, nearing, like the beaming Sun when he sinks into the sea.
"'Oh, I saw the eye-ray,' said the Dragon of the Planisphere. I heard the singing,' said the Master of the Azure Void. 'What goes forward with you now, Lord Cipactli of the Deep?'
"'Swimmer of the Empyrean,' said tremendous Cipactli, 'lo, here is the servant of the Soul of the World. He who desireth to journey to the House of the Sun.'
"'For the sake of his song and of our ancient friendship, he shall journey there,' said the Dragon. 'Mount you upon me, Lord Servant of the Beautiful Youth! Forsake my kinsman, the austere Cipactli, and be enthroned between the azure and the emerald of my wings!'
"The servant of Tezcatlipoca bade farewell to renowned Cipactli and journeyed with the Dragon toward the House of the Sun, and as he journeyed, he sang. The Sun heard and looked forth and beheld, wing-glinting through the far-off blueness, the Dragon of the Planisphere approaching, and between the azure and the emerald of its pinions, one whom he could not fully recognize. 'For Tezcatlipoca, I slew,' said he. He watched, pondering deeply. 'I foresee danger in the approach of this singer.' "'What are we to do? asked the officers of his household. 'Command you us, and you know that we shall obey.'
"'It is rather what ye shall not do,' said the Sun. 'Ye shall not exchange words with yonder singer. For all the delightfulness of his singing, let it be with ye as if ye were aware of nothing.' "'Our Lord desires little of us,' said they. 'In our deed to our Lord the Sun, it is little he desires of his proud servants!'
"The servant of Tezcatlipoca raised a shout as he came to the gates of the Sun. 'I searched the world for my Lost Other; I saw a star shine upon the margin of the sea.'
"They went upon their offices proudly; they remembered that they were the ones whom the Sun trusted, and had never trusted in vain; it was not likely that they would fail him now. But ah, the marvel of the singing against which they must shut hearts and ears!
"He raised his shout a second time: 'Riding the turtle, I traversed the waves.'
"They went about their duties determinedly; they would not fail their Lord. The Beautiful Youth who was singing would not long remain there tormenting them.
"A third time he shouted: 'Cipactli magnanimously carried me. We traversed together the infinite sea.'
"They hung their heads and faltered. How could they pretend they heard nothing when everywhere the ether was alive with song?
"'Riding the Dragon of Heaven I came!' he cried.
"The grief streamed from the eyes of them. 'Wonderful,' they said, 'is this loveliest of singing, and yet more wonderful is the singer!' For they could not but look forth and behold the Dragon and the one who rode between the beauty of his wings. 'Lo,' they said, 'the eyes wherein shines all enchantment; the cloak of celestial hummingbirds' feathers; the youth of him that would seem to be deathless; the grace beyond computation of ours!' So they spoke, describing the one they saw.
"They said, 'My heart will burst unless I listen to this.' And they said, 'Unless he receives what he desires, a wind, verily, from Mictlan will blow the stars into the sea!'
"'What is it you desire, O Beautiful Singer? What quest do you follow, Lord Soul of the World?
"'Lord Soul of the World' they called him; they spoke but as they saw. He was the Servant of Tezcatlipoca; they saw him the Soul of the World.
"'I desire the music that is in the House of the Sun: the drum, the flute, the serpent, and the kettledrum.'
"'Ah, how heaven would mourn unless you received them! How the Sun would feel injured if you went empty-handed away! What disasters would follow if we impiously stood in the way of your quest!'
"So now is the drum delivered to him, and the serpent of gold, and the flute, and the kettledrum. If he should play now, would not the stars follow him? Would not the Sun bow down in love? He has the flute at his lips; his fingers are on the stops of it; he blows into the delicate flute; he knoweth the science of it that he never learned. What went in breath comes forth music; what was air now is magic; what was nothing now is God. Never would he mourn for his Other again, because with him now is what joins the seen and the invisible, what creates the god-world in the man-world, what breaks down the barriers between this and that.
"He came among men and brought with him the music, and in the music, Tezcatlipoca. On the Night of Teotleco he came, and in the morning the world was full of the Others again.'
"There," said Nopal. "That is the story. That is why this month is called "The Arrival of the Gods," and why Ilanquey will give her flowers this evening at the shrines of Tezcatlipoca, and why Queen Shuquentzin will take the new robe to the temple, for tonight in every year there is a new coming of our Lost Others into the world."
The silence that followed awoke Pelashil, who chirruped drowsily to him to go on and then fell asleep again. Ilanquey's mind was aglow; this was "religion," which all grown-up people — and therefore also Ilanquey — were bound to enjoy. Iztaman's mind was peopled with mysterious creatures, sovereigns of dim kingdoms in the sea — whatever "the sea" might mean.
A strain of personal feeling mingled with Ketlasho's religious exaltation. Which of the priests could chant the great story like that? All Huitznahuac should have listened. Shaltermoc no doubt would have said so too, had it been suggested to him, for he was a great admirer of Nopal. But, meanwhile, there was a matter that called for correction. She broke the silence with: "Not Queen Shuquentzin. She is dead these two years. And Ashokentzin is dead."
A glance and a monosyllable from Nopal demanded information. He had been in the city hardly an hour before he began the telling of the story, and he had heard no Huitznahuatec news for three years.
"There is no king," Shaltemoc vouchsafed. "The Princess Chimalmatzin is queen these four months. She will make her invocation this evening."
A shadow of perturbation flitted across Nopal's eyes, and a train of thought of this kind flickered through his brain. At least it had been some comfort to him in these last three years to tell himself, "Still we have that grand Ashokentzin!" Chimalman — he did not think he had ever seen her. She had been a child at Blue-wind when he started for the north and would be Ashokentzin's great-granddaughter. Where then were Ashokentzin's three surviving sons — if indeed they still survived: Acatonal, Acamapichtli, and Amaqui? Great men, all three of them . . .
He checked that mood with a timely reminder: Huitznahuacan was much too far away for even the Toltec Topiltzin's armies to reach. What difference who was on the throne?
That wise little woman, Ilanquey, whether or not feeling that he needed a rebuke, spoke sententiously: "In Huitznahuac, we love our queen."
"Yes?" said Nopal.
Placid, silence-loving Shaltemoc blew from his pipe a ring of yetl smoke meditatively. "It is true," he said, and after a pause, "You will see."
Huitznahuacan, capital of Queen Chimalman's kingdom of Huitznahuac, climbed the lower western slopes of Mishcoatepetl — Cloud-Serpent Mountain — from the valley floor to about two-score man-heights up. The Townmouth, by which it was entered, was not more than a dozen leaps from the river and the bridge,, and was the one place in the valley from which one could see the town, because Mishcoatepetl thrust out encircling arms westward that hugged Huitznahuacan to itself. The Townmouth was in the gap between these two hills, wide enough to contain the posthouse and the road, and no more.
Thence, for about five-score long strides, what was called the Street ascended gently as far as the koo of Teteoinan by the market steps on the right and there forked and began to climb in earnest. The northern branch was called the Street of the Tzinitzcan; the southern, the Street of the Quechol. Each wound about and turned and twisted pleasantly and was cobbled and steppered unevenly all the way up with quaint, unexpected landings here and there and little flights of steps, up or down, leading into the big dwelling-dotted garden between the two streets. Huitznahuacan consisted of three such gardens, plus the marketplace and the Top of the Town. There were no lateral streets, but only paths through these gardens.
In a niche on one of the landings on either street stood the stone figure of a bird: a tzinitzcan here, with arched neck, and beak combing its splendid plumage; a quechol there, most royal of its tribe, with proud feathers fluffed out; and from these, the streets had their names. The birds had been there time out of mind, and none knew who had carved them; they appealed to the popular imagination and were held to be symbolic of the city. Huitznahuac was as proud of them as of the streets they adorned or as of Huitznahuacan itself — the only city in the world as far as Huitznahuac knew. It was Ulupi's sacred capital.
Whereof the very heart and glory was the Top of the Town, into which either street debouched. This was an open space, well-leveled and kept weedless; twice as long from north to south as the other way; and large enough, probably, to hold the whole population of the kingdom. It was bounded eastward by the House of the Kings on its terrace; on the north, by the koo of Tezcatlipoca, crowned with his little square temple; on the opposite or southern side, by the koo of Quetzalcoatl, round-templed (these two being the largest and most important koos in the town); and on the west, by a large stage, or platform, forty strides or more deep and about two thirds of a man-height above the level of the arena, which was, in fact, the roof of the Calmecac, or college, where the Huitznahuatec boys were educated. The building itself extended from street to street, having its front in the garden below.
This Top of the Town was the sacred center in which, at least once in each of the eighteen twenty-day "months" into which the year was divided, Huitznahuacan celebrated some deity's festival. The koos and the terrace were of the same height and sloped back at the same angle; each had its wide stairway up the middle, on which the graver part of the audience at such festivals found sitting room, while the younger and more active squatted on the stepless slopes. Palace and temples were one-storied, equal in height, facaded with quaint, much-carved pillars, and silverwashed, as were all of the buildings in the country, with a preparation of gypsum kept polished till they shone. From mid-arena one saw all three, backed by forest-covered mountainside: the two spurs of Mishcoatepetl behind the temples, and Mishcoatepetl himself, forest on forest, crag above precipice, rising steeply skyward behind the House of the Kings.
Toward the Top of the Town all Huitznahuacan was making its way an hour or so later that evening. Shaltemoc's house was in the northern of the three gardens, so they went up by the Street of the Tzinitzcan, and slowly because of the children. Everyone who overtook them had warm greetings for Nopal after his three-year absence, but it was to be noticed that none asked where he had been. He had Pelashil on his shoulder, and in his mind a less comfortable burden: the remains of the apprehension that Shaltemoc's news had aroused. It was entirely absurd, and he resented its insistence; but nevertheless, it kept him aloof. The air was full of the smell of the Huitznahuatec mountains, and his ears savored the dignity of Huitznahuatec speech. Every sight and sound kept singing home! to him, and yet —
"Wherever you have been all this time, you will have seen no street like this," Ketlasho broke in reproachfully on his musings.
To that, at any rate, he could smile acquiescence. There were no Streets of the Tzinitzcan in the great cities of the north. Here, in places, as many as eight men could walk abreast, and he had seen armies thunder through the streets of Culhuacan in the north, two-score shouting warriors shoulder to shoulder in line . . .
As they came by the end of the Calmecac, Amaquitzin, the Quetzalcoatl-priest, emerged from that building and hailed him. He was King Ashokentzin's second surviving son and the new queen's great-uncle. He had been Nopal's Quetzalcoatl-teacher at the college, of which he and his elder brother, Acatonal, had been joint heads for decades. A hale old man, clear-cut and serene, widely loved and revered, he was reputed to have a laugh that could be heard from the Middle Market to the Queen's Garden.
Being also bound for the Top of the Town, he walked along with Nopal, telling him about the changes of the last three years, and chiefly about the new queen, of whom he evidently thought very highly. He urged Nopal to make himself known to her without delay, saying that she had heard of him and was interested and that he was the only one of her subjects she did not know. By the time they came to the foot of the palace steps, he had half made an appointment with Nopal to meet him after the evening's events that he might take him up to the House of the Kings and introduce him. But he knew better than to make things too definite, and Nopal, whom he had given little chance to say he would not come, for some reason hoped they would miss one another. He did not want to think about the girl-queen just yet. So Amaquitzin left him, and much as he loved his old teacher, Nopal was not sorry.
His desire was to realize Huitznahuacan, not to be talking or listening much. How near and beautiful, here, was the God-world that had been so far away from him in the north! Palace and temples glowed, warmly reflecting the now-kindling west, where, beyond the Calmecac roof that hid away the town and middle distance, the sun rested on a world-rim of burning, roanpurple mountains, with holy Teotepetl like a white feather in the midst; and overhead were skies, as deep and tender, thought he, as only the Huitznahuatec skies know how to be. And then, in the business of the evening — the giving of offerings at the shrines —how near and beautiful was the God-world!
At every crossroad in the country there was what was called a God-seat, put there for the benefit of deities wandering unseen and that men might have before their eyes reminders of the Invisible Divine. In the arena were four of these, and as always at Teotleco, the Calmecac youths had made green arbors, or shrines, of them, in which the offerings were to be laid. Starting at the southwestern corner, the crowd went around in silence, each person leaving a sprig or a blossom at each shrine.
For Ketlasho, it was a pleasing, important duty to induct her elder daughter into this sacramental custom. Hand in hand, they did their devotions at the shrines. Pelashil, still riding on Nopal's shoulder and though quite lacking in reverence, was resolute against being left out. If she might not yet make an offering, at least (she held) she might speak her friendly mind out loud to the Soul of the World.
When all was finished, the crowd climbed the slopes and disposed itself to watch the play, of which the subject was always the story that Nopal had told the children; but a new thing was made of it annually, and surprises were to be looked for and enjoyed. It began; and the players, as usual, took for granted their audience's imagination. Whatever god was slain by the Sun went through the ritual of dying, then walked across to the palace stairway, where a place had been kept for him, to wait until he should be needed again. It was all more dance than drama, with comic interludes of Cipactli. But though they thus eschewed vulgar realism, it did not fail to suggest to Nopal discomforting thoughts and pictures.
The rest knew nothing about war. He did. Violent or unnatural death of any sort was unknown in Huitznahuac. What would happen to these youths now so gaily playing at being killed if war came their way in earnest? If it should occur to, and be possible for, the tremendous Toltec Topiltzin to come south with his hosts — and with the Otomi priesthood in his train — for example?
Thank the gods, they were too far away to need fear it! The tremendous Toltec Topiltzin would almost certainly die without ever having heard of Huitznahuac — if one had but the common sense to hold that fact in mind, excluding suggestions the play was never meant to give. Come now, attend to Cipactli!
But Cipactli failed to hold him tonight. For talking about the Otomi priesthood — what vastly different things the word priest meant, here and in the north!
In Nopal's college days, Amaquitzin had been concerned to teach his pupils how to live: moment by moment masters of their thoughts and feelings, and quite free, because not self-hampered, in action. And then there had been their Tezcatlipoca-teacher, that greatest of poets, Acatonatzin, whose work had been to awaken in them the Tezcatlipoca-knowledge, or wisdom, or vision; there was no other way to define that grand and living learning. You learned it through poetry, through music, through silence; from stars, from flowers, from mountains; from the hidden god in yourself and the manifest divineness of the universe. And having learned it, you became a member of the brotherhood of natural things. How to live, and how and what to know: Education meant learning just those two things, and what else could it mean? Those were and must always be the two sides of it: interdependent and mutually complementary, the one not to be attained without the other. You could not live Quetzalcoatl-wise without the Tezcatlipoca-vision; you could not attain that vision unless you lived the Quetzalcoatl-life. What else that was true could be said about education?
Very little, you would think. Oh, but that was not by any means the way it was in the Anahuacs!
There, as far as he had been able to learn — and Cohuanacotzin had told him much-there was practically no Quetzalcoatl-teaching, only mere rules of conduct, taught out of books and such, categories of "Thou-shalt-nots," nothing real. And for the Tezcatlipoca — wisdom, they taught a lot of what they called "sciences," which he made out to mean facts about this, that and other subjects — the gods knew what! Or, more probably, the gods knew nothing about it, being above such substitutes for knowledge.
And the gods themselves, at least in Teotihuacan, where one heard most about them, seemed to be things to be feared and worshiped extravagantly, who derived a depraved satisfaction from the self-abasement of men, from hearing human beings call themselves miserable sinners and the like! There appeared to be no time in that mad rush of a northern world to let the Plumed Dragon have his perfect will of men's lives.
Thus Nopal brooded, glad to reassure himself of this better state of things called Huitznahuac. In the north, it had been difficult to believe in Huitznahuac: One had been tempted to think, "I must have imagined that." But here it was, the mountain land where one thinks so little about sins and so much about innate divinity, and kinship with the stars and the mountains. "We are your brothers, O Plumed Dragon! O Soul of the World! O Lords of the Mountains!" said the hymn.
Yes; it was those here who were rich and favored, not the Toltecs, despite the vastness of their myriad cities and the stringent circumstance of their religion. When should one find among them the Soul of the World thus friendly brooding and glowing over the peace of a mountain evening, or to be felt, as now, in the grave happiness of a crowd? From their coming into the arena here, these people had been a part of the holy quiet of the nightfall; they did not affront the divine vastness above and around, as would any concourse in the north. And there were no traces of vice or disease, no signs of wrecked life, among them, such as one so often saw in the Anahuacs; only noble physiques, beauty of form and feature, grave dignity. In the north they dressed better, he supposed. One must concede them that, with their rich cottons and plumes for our homely nequen. Yes, but even then . . . was there a mashtli, tilmatli, or gown on man or woman here that had not been made and painted for this occasion as a work of religion? Had not the womenfolk watched the universe for hints of the designs they had used, believing that images from the God-world might be revealed to them through natural things? Did they not hold their art sacred, and was not the result beautiful? And was not beauty the only real riches?
Pelashil, waking from a long nap, cooed and gurgled in his ear. The play was over, and the people were moving down into the arena. Nopal went with the rest, and then his instinct to be alone made him forget that more was to follow. He started homeward and was halfway to the top of the Street of the Tzinitzcan before his brother-in-law overtook him. Just then, too, the place became alive with the grumble and chatter of drums, with which the players had been supplied from below.
Nopal turned and looked up whither Shaltemoc was pointing. There he saw a little group at the head of the palace stairway. "The God's robe," said Shaltemoc, and Nopal understood. Chimalmatzin would take up into the temple the robe she had made for the statue of the Beautiful Youth.
The rest of the family joined them at a dozen strides or so from the koo of Tezcatlipoca, directly before the stairway to the temple. From that point Nopal watched the procession come down from the palace, headed by the three Royal Uncles, the late king's sons. Sculptural grand faces, he thought, that owed nothing to their trappings: Amaqui's, all serene and kindly wisdom; Acatonal's, keen spiritual insight; Acamapichtli's, command and strength of will. At least they would dominate the girl-queen. She might wear the royal headdress, but it was Acamapitzin who would be king.
The procession came down into the arena, and the crowd opened a lane for it to pass. But it was some distance in front of Nopal, so that even if he had not been preoccupied, he would not have seen much of the queen. What those better-placed saw was a girl of about twenty, her nequen cloaks and gown white all over; copious black hair loose on her shoulders in the style proper to maidenhood; above it, the royal headdress of gold-plated leather shaped like the head of a fish, with the lower jaw broken back and hanging behind. Inches shorter than the princes she followed, she yet looked tall; and her face, beautiful by any standard, showed high potentialities of courage and tenderness. There was something in it of her great-grandfather, Ashokentzin, something also of spiritual kinship to her great-uncles: a suggestion that, latent in her and yet to be discovered, rested a will like Acamapichtli's, a serenity like Amaqui's, a lofty perspicacity like Acatonal's.
The crowd was silent as she passed, but thrilled to her nonetheless, so that she felt as she went a constant increase of that inner wealth she hoped she was bringing to the temple. Its outer symbol was the robe she had made for the statue of Tezcatlipoca, according to the yearly custom of the queens, her ancestors since the days of Ulupi herself. Four women followed her, carrying it. At the top of the koo, she took it from them and, entering the temple alone, invested the statue with it.
There none ever came but the Tezcatlipoca-priests and, on these occasions, the queens. She felt the breathless, sweet holiness of the place; it winged the invocation she repeated mentally.
"So be thou clad, but more nobly, in our thoughts and deeds; so make we thy robe, the Visible Universe, Divine!"
She remained there while one might have counted a couple of score-score, directing her thought to the Eternal. On the wall above the statue there hung a flute and a bow, brought to Huitznahuac by her ancestor, Huanhua, who, before ever he came to Queen Ulupi from beyond the western sea, had been, in some far land, a prince, and the servant of Tezcatlipoca. Huanhua was the same who brought the music from the House of the Sun, but, as most held, in a later life. The flute was that of his Lord Other; the bow was his own, and the world he came from had been famous for it. It was a bow that had never missed its mark, men said. So might she not miss hers, while it was the Soul of the World she aimed at!
Then she went out, and standing before the altar in front of the temple, facing the people below, recited the Invocation to be Used by One Succeeding to Sovereignty, from the Ritual. Ashokentzin's reign had been a long one, and only the very old had heard it before; and the voice in which she uttered it was so clear-toned and thrilling that the effect was as if a kind of triumphal magic had been used. The very air seemed vibrant with divinity.
Nopal's eyes were on her as she stood unstirring and gazing into the infinite after the tones of the invocation had died away. Suddenly he caught his breath, for he knew what it was that made her face shine with ecstasy.
Out of the night above there breathed an unearthly, a spiritual, music-flute music, remote, and of stellar quality — that she must have heard before he did, and that blew by and was gone. Perhaps it had not outlasted a dozen heartbeats, or half a dozen, or even a single one, and yet it had revealed eternity, as if he had looked through some infinitesimal fissure in the continuity of time into infinite worlds of wonder. It was gone, and he remembered nothing of the . . . omnivision he had possessed while it lasted, except that it had been omnivision and that the girl standing up there before the altar had possessed it too, and in fuller measure than he. But Ketlasho, as it chanced, looked down from Chimalman's face to Nopal's while it lasted and tried to draw her husband's attention to the marvel that she saw on both.
The lane through the crowd had formed itself before Nopal was in the world again. He had heard the fluting of Tezcatlipoca, and the queen had heard it. There could be no Toltec or other troubles in this reign . . . for what could it have been but the same fluting that Ulupi heard at the Teotleco of her accession, to augur the coming of great Huanhua and the serene ages of Hutznahuatec history that followed?
He was called back to his surroundings by a sudden wriggle of excitement on the part of his small, comfortable burden — for he was still carrying Pelashil, who could not let her queen pass without making some manifestation of loyalty. The wriggle came near her undoing, and would have been but for Chimalman.
Small arms were thrown out vigorously; a dusky little plump hand reached and stroked the royal cheek; a crow and a gurgle proclaimed adoration; and the queen caught up the child before she could fall, caught her up with the tenderness and compassion her God-mood had evoked in her; and it was a moment before she realized that this was no miracle, but Shaltemotzin and Ketlashotzin's daughter, whom she must give back to her father now, and she held her out, smiling, as she supposed to Shaltemotzin, from whose shoulder the child had jumped or tumbled. It was not Shaltemotzin, though, but a complete stranger, whose smiling eyes she caught for a moment before going on . . . as this ceremonial occasion demanded she should.
Only . . . she had caught this stranger's eyes, and they had been, she thought, different from any other eyes in the world.
And then. . . . there were no strangers. How could there be? The idea of a sovereign having subjects she did not know!
For the time being, she had forgotten that there was one such — just one. She might have reasoned from Ketlashotzin's daughter to Ketlashotzin's brother, and no doubt she would presently; but the night and her mood were superrational.
On the night of the Arrival of the Gods, every priest in Huitznahuac watched in his deity's temple for the Divine Event. Thus the Royal Uncle Acatonatzin, being Tezcatlipoca-priest, watched from the koo of the Soul of the World.
He sat in the doorway of the temple, sinking his thought deeper and deeper into the luminous silence behind the mind and exploring that inwardness for signs of the Beneficent Approach. He knew how to prepare himself for the Teotleco: stilling the mind and leaving it forgotten, while the consciousness ascended ever, gazing into bright infinity for the gathering there and the deepening of a star.
Near the Peak of his Being, an impulse came to him, or he heard a command issued, to "Look down. . . "
And he saw the world of men outstretched below: Huitznahuacan, Huitznahuac, the mountains and forests beyond, an infinity of peopled territories far and near, and all of them glowing with light. Though "the world" to him, as to all of his countrymen, had always meant Huitznahuac and nothing more, this vastness of it, with realization of what the vastness meant, caused him no surprise. "Lands beyond lands beyond lands," he thought — or heard said — "and in all of them happiness and exalted peace. It is humanity after the Rising of the Fifth Sun."
Then, around the limits of his vision, shadows darkened and came encroaching inward until only the small space that was Huitznahuac was left glowing. "The shadows are ignorance, false religions, passions, and ambitions," said the voice.
The picture was terrifying. Dim forms like demons rioted in the dark; he saw men slaughtering men. But even as the shadow converged on it, the light that was Huitznahuac intensified, glowed deep and valiantly against the grim invasion, flashed forth to repel it, and then at last suddenly flared up and broke, shot out rays far into the darkness, and died. But the rays, mingling with the substance of night, maintained themselves in the midst of it, ate into its being and produced light there, so that the darkness went thinning away.
"Time decays in its cycle," said the voice. "The Fifth Sun is not exempt from the fate of its predecessors, but a Star — even Quetzalcoatl, the Morning Star — shall arise from Huitznahuac."
And then the light came upon him: the illumination that was the Teotleco, or the Arrival of his God. . . .
Facing Acatonatzin, with the arena between them, sat his brother, Amaqui, in the doorway of the Temple of the Plumed Dragon. He too rose into the golden silence beyond thought and was at one with the peace wherewith his deity had conquered the Sun in the beginning, and would conquer man before the end.
In that intense, teeming vacuity, life began to quicken, or a star to glow, or motion to uplift itself and thrill outward . . . till, as it were, a Winged Serpent occupied infinity and descended into conditioned existence and the realms of time . . . into Huitznahuac . . . into the flesh.
"Prepare, prepare!" sang the spaces thronged with their hierarchies. "Next year shall be the Ce Acatl!" And Amaquitzin staggered to his feet and fell unconscious, overwhelmed with the glory of the Arrival of his God.
There was but one man whom the Huitznahuatecs considered as holy as, or even holier than, Amaqui: Ameyal, the Tlaloc-priest, the oldest man in all that long-lived nation.
He had begun his career, in days none but he remembered, as Priest of the Plumed Dragon, and Quetzalcoatl-priest he might have remained to that day but that he had insisted, when Amaqui was old enough to take it, on giving up that office to him. The king's son, he thought, rather than the king's cousin, should be the legate of the Lord of Peace. The result was that he raised the priesthood of Tlaloc, not a very high dignity before, to equality with those of Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, and both Amaqui and Acatonal revered him as their teacher and consulted him often on the deeper aspects of their wisdoms. It was said of him that at least a year-sheaf ago, he had forgotten his own existence, that he was like a mountain with its peak above the clouds, and carried his head in skies of timeless universality.
From the doorway of the Temple of Tlaloc, where he sat that night, nothing material was to be seen but a corner of the southern end of the Calmecac roof and the Temple of Tezcatlipoca beyond; and the moon that drew toward the west made a ghostly glow on those two silvery-polished fragments of architecture. Ameyal was aware of them at first; they helped him into loftier regions, their intrusion on it stressing the vast superhumanness of night.
The stars came up from behind Mishcoatepetl. Above the glimmer of the temple, constellation by constellation, they came; and although they were without him, yet also they were within him. Watching them, enlightenment came.
"Aye," said he. "I must do that tomorrow, that the Great Thing the world is waiting for may come to pass."
On Teotleco night, the priests remained in the temples only until their gods arrived; then they retired to their homes. Iyaca, the Tlaloc-priest's disciple, missing his master in the morning, went up to the temple in search of him. Finding him asleep in the doorway, he withdrew discreetly to lie in wait.
Waking, Ameyal was in deep humiliation. Fourscore and seven years a priest, and never until now — What priest in all history, until now, had let age and physicality master him on the wonder-night? There had been no Teotleco for him: His god had come and found him sleeping. He remembered taking his seat in the doorway and watching the stars come up from behind the mountain, and nothing more.
But to give way to remorse would be to prevent the grace of one's Divine Other from shining through into the world, and he forbade himself that mood quickly. And there was something — some tremendous duty — that he must do.
Watchful Iyaca had him home and persuaded into breakfasting within a few minutes of his waking, treating him the while with a new profundity of reverence and affection. Iyaca, like the rest of Huitznahuacan, was due to make holiday in the country that day. He was loath to go, but Ameyal, when they had breakfasted, dismissed him in a manner that there was no withstanding. The Tlaloc-priest, though ten years frailer in look than yesterday, and with shame still besieging, but not admitted into, his heart, seemed also of loftier holiness; an impersonal grandeur had descended on him. So Iyaca left him to the gods.
Alone, Ameyal set out at once to do what he had to do. It had not occurred to him to think what it was or where he was to do it. But, without hesitation, he crossed the ravine by the bridge at the bottom of his garden and went up by an easy path through the forest to a place called the Raingods' Glade, which he might visit when he would. Thence he took what was called the Votaries' Path down into the Queen's Garden, with no thought that it was to the Queen's Garden he was going, but with the knowledge that it was there that his tremendous duty was to be done.
The garden lay between the House of the Kings and the rise of the mountain and consisted of two or three acres of land, very unevenly surfaced and sloping down from northeast to southwest. Huitznahuatec monarchs had worked and dreamed and delighted in it since the beginning. From the highest part a stream flowed down in chains of ponds, narrow and deep, with cascades and intervals of rapids between, so arranged that the whole surface was almost as much water as land. There were no wide spaces of either, but the brook divided and intertwisted mazily among rocks golden or copper-green with saxifrage; paths wound between and across deep pools not much wider than themselves. There was a bewilderment of singing or whispering waters; here and there nestled a pond a little wider, with perhaps a statue of recumbent Tlaloc beside it; everywhere were rock plants, water plants, blossoms, rushes, reeds. Right in the midst was a more solid piece of land, sheltered from the north by a high rock ablaze with ruby or purple-chaliced creepers; and here, against the rock, was a low stone seat with raised jaguar heads carved at the ends, and squat, distorted jaguar legs for support.
To this place Ameyal picked his way and sat down — still unaware of where he was, but well aware that here his Mayavel would come to him. Quetzalcoatl would send her; she would come with Quetzalcoatl's symbol of symbols in her hand, and thereby he would know her when she arrived, and the purpose of the ages would be accomplished.
The Mayavel was one of the four Votaresses of Tlaloc, who, with a fifth votary, a youth, would climb Mishcoatepetl on behalf of all Huitznahuac at Tepeilhuitl, the Feast of the Mountains, in the month of the same name that followed this month of Teotleco; it was the festival and holy season of the Tlalocs. Four of the votaries were chosen, according to a rule only the Tlaloc-priest knew, from the elder students of the Girls' College, and the youth from the Calmecac; and they should have been chosen, and under preparation, months since.
But Ameyal, in a silver peace, knew that he was where gods and men, sun and mountains, depended on him to be. The morning sunlight and silence, the solitude and the shadows of the forest, the fish flocks-blue, vermilion-speckled silver, ruby-red and gold-green — that poised themselves or flickered through the dark water at his feet . . . all of these things were his companions and part of himself. They shared with him the knowledge that that was on the brink of happening for which ages had been waiting, for which he himself had been waiting through the long years of his life. All the future depended on his being where he was, to find his Rabbit 13 Mayavel . . . that our Lord might conquer mankind at last, as of old he had conquered the Sun.
Meanwhile, Chimalman was at her housework. The queen of Huitznahuac was sweeping her palace. This being the day when everyone went out into the country, she had packed off her servants, old Ocotosh and his wife, Eeweesho, to their son's farm east of the mountain; they had started in a litter soon after dawn, having in turn sent home the couple of maids whose labors Eeweesho directed. The Royal Uncles were away touring the districts. Chimalman herself had been going to Blue-wind, but after last night, she had decided not to go. She wanted to be alone with the newly arrived gods.
Eeweesho had laid injunctions on her to do no housecleaning on Teotleco Day. Everything necessary had been done yesterday, and would be done again tomorrow. Queens did housework, true; from Ulupi downward, all of them had been used to sweeping their floors, but Eeweesho had an idea that this queen was intended otherwise, and had come rather to be worshiped than to work. Eeweesho and Ocotosh had served her father at Bluewind long before she was born. But if one is to be with the gods, one must work; or, at least, that is the easier way. So Chimalman swept the palace floors.
The last room she came to was the one she lived in except during the rains and the cold weather; it was at the end of the south wing, and on three sides wall-less, pillared, and with balustrades between, except where the steps led down into the garden. (The palace, we should note, was shaped like three sides of a square, the two wings stretching back toward the garden and the mountain, with a terrace between.)
As Chimalman worked here, and when she had nearly finished her work, the clink or dap of some hard thing falling on the floor behind her caught her ear. Turning, she saw lying there the noblest carved chalchiuhite in the world: a little dragon, the symbol of Quetzalcoatl, not much bigger than her thumb. "Now where could that have come from?" she thought, picking it up. The touch of it thrilled her strangely; she had seen chalchiuhites as large or larger, but none so liquidly and glowingly green. It could have fallen from nowhere but the ceiling, or that tlapalizqui bush in the big pot. It seemed to flash in the sunlight, to throb with life in her hand.
Then she saw the Tlaloc-priest out in the garden and thought for a moment that he must have thrown it to her for playful reasons of his own; but she realized that, in any case, he was too far off. But she would question his wisdom about it, for surely it was a treasure of the gods and no ordinary gem. Out she went by the doorless doorway and down the steps into the garden, calling "Ameyatzin!"
But it was an Ameyatzin quite new to her — one, apparently, who did not recognize her. "Child," he said, "have you brought the jewel?"
Awed by his voice and manner, she held it out to him with no more words than "Your Godhead knows. It fell while I was sweeping the sunroom."
He looked at it and bowed, but he did not take it. "Yes," he said, "my god has chosen you. The Plumed Dragon verily has chosen you, that the rays of it may shine into your heart. You are to be the Mayavel of this year's Feast of the Mountains."
Now the fact was that each year since her coming to the capital, if Chimalman had not envied the Tepeilhuitl votaresses, she had certainly thought them the most fortunate of women. The mountain was, after all, her closest friend, since no human being can be in adorableness quite what a mountain is, though he may be equal in constancy and faith. Blue-wind Mountain, Cloud-Serpent Mountain — their spirit was the same. The gods, in all their ultimate dearness, had always been accessible to her in her childhood on the one, and she had always known that they would be so on the other. But none might ascend most holy Mishcoatepetl except those yearly votaries at the Feast of the Mountains, one of whom she had thought she might never be, because of the way they were chosen. She had not been educated at the Girls' College; her father had taught her at home, which was the custom for the heir to the throne. But now, by the favor of this inspired Ameyatzin, she would go to her great lover, Mishcoatepetl . . . .
"My gratitude is to those who have chosen me," she said. "You will teach me the hymns, Ameyatzin?"
But a change was working in him; he made no answer, but seemed bewildered, and after a while, "My work is finished," he said. "I must go."
He rose to his feet with difficulty, no longer the sublimity he had been, but an old man, dazed and tremulous. She would have taken him into the palace and tended him there, but that he so clearly wished to be at home. So, very slowly, she led him down by the Street of the Quechol and up through the marketplace to his house behind the koo of Tlaloc. There she laid him on his bed, covered him and coaxed him to sleep, then prepared a meal against his waking of what she found in Iyaca's larder.
Later, while they were dining, she discovered that Ameyal knew nothing of what had happened in the garden. This became clear when she asked him to teach her the hymns. . . "since I am to be the Mayavel." He was obviously surprised, but exceedingly happy over it.
"Will you indeed?" said he. "Ah, Tlaloc will be pleased — Tlaloc will be pleased!" Later he brought out the pictoscripts and taught her the Mayavel hymns, and thus they were engaged until Iyaca returned. It was dusk when she left the old priest.
In the Lower Market, she remembered the chalchiuhite dragon, about which she had not thought to question him. She felt for it in her pocket, but it was not there; nor could she find it in the garden when she searched there the next morning. But that night she dreamed that it fell into her heart and shone there until the distant heavens were illumined, and she heard the stars praise it, singing, "Hail, Quetzalcoatl! Hail, Star of the Morning and the Eve!"
No, Nopal could not spend Teotleco at Huitznahuacan; and Ketlasho, although disappointed, knew better than to press him. She had rather stressed the information — this was on their return from the Top of the Town — that, all being well, Shollo and Maxio and the children would be in town for Tepeilhuitl, and hadn't Nopal better stay with them until then? He might come in for Tepeilhuitl, he answered, but he must go now. At dawn tomorrow morning.
So Ketlasho, for all her disappointment, let the matter drop. He was Nopal, and you had to be careful not to set up your will against — you did not know what. One of the first lessons she had been taught was to accept the unexplained, especially where Nopal was concerned.
So now she packed a day's rations in his deerskin traveling sack: tamales she could vouch for, and three cherimoyas of the most luscious. And she even refrained from asking what had happened when the queen had made her invocation and the strange light had shone on her face and on his. She had told Shaltemoc about it on their way home. "It was Chimalmatzin who might have been his sister, and both of them gods," she had said. "You never saw such a likeness."
By sunrise on Teotleco morning, Nopal had left the town, crossed the bridge, and was settling down to the steady dog-trot, four miles or more an hour, proper to a day's journey, and also into a happiness he had not known since he started for the north. True, he was going to Rainflower Manor, as he had told Ketlasho and Shaltemoc; and Rainflower Manor was his birthplace and still, nominally, his home. But that was not the prospect that swelled his heart. He loved Rainflower, but there were two places among these mountains that he loved still more, and he was bound for both of them now. Tonight he would be with Quauhtli at Eagle Hermitage; tomorrow, with Huehuetzin, the Master in the Serpent's Hole.
And then, perhaps, he would learn why Huehuetzin, having sent him on that unprecedented journey to the Anahuacs, had bidden him to so time his return as to be in Huitznahuacan last night, witness of its wonder. Had Huehuetzin foreknown the accession of Chimalmatzin at this time, and that the omen of bright omens would be vouchsafed her, and that Nopal would hear it too? Probably he had, for the Master was intimate with the inwardness of things and shared their knowledge with the rivers and the stars.
How wonderful he had made life for Nopal; how he had illuminated the years! Twenty-six or seven years it would have been; it was hard to tell which now. But it must have been in Reed 12 or Flint 13 of last year-sheaf, when Nopal was three or four, that his father first took him up Teotepetl, the Mountain that was God. The day was unforgettable, in whatever year it had fallen, and Nopal began recalling it to mind as he ran: a good mental discipline when one was going to the Master.
His father had carried him up through the forest and left him under the big mahogany tree in the glade, with the command not to stir whatever happened. And then first the monkeys had come, and he had had hard work not to be terrified; but, just in time, the Voice in the Silence had ordered them away. He heard it; and the monkeys obeyed it; but he was still sure that it had made no sound. And then the peccaries; and they heard it too, and as he distinctly remembered, they laughed and came and made friends with him. And the deer; and the tapir that sniffed at him with wiggling snout; and lastly, at nightfall, the jaguar. Well he recalled how its desolating hunting squall had changed into a cough and a whimper, and then into ecstatic purring, as the Voice in the Silence became a living man, whose hand had taken his. . . .
Thereafter Nopal had never feared anything, nor lost the sense that came to him on that day of having Unseen Protection always, and the Heart of the Invisible for his companion; for the hand that took his hand, and the voice that said, "Come, Nopalton!" had been the Master's.
He wondered how long he had stayed in the Serpent's Hole that time, both Quauhtli and he waiting on the Master daily and receiving from him endless benediction. Through the months of Quecholli and Panquetzaliztli, he suspected. It was the first of many visits. His absences from home were always arranged by his father and never referred to at Rainflower. At the end of that first visit, Ashopatzin had fetched him from beneath the mahogany tree; and he, eager to tell his news, had begun, "Tatzin . . ." But Tatzin's finger had gone to his lips, and a smile had come to his face that somehow made Nopal understand that he must never speak about his adventures on Teotepetl. And he never had.
Thus when, years later, he had been sent to the Calmecac at Huitznahuacan, and the first boy he met there was Quauhtli, neither had shown by so much as a sign that he had known the other elsewhere; and in all the years since, they had never spoken of the Serpent's Hole except at the Serpent's Hole itself or at Eagle Hermitage.
Thus Nopal mused, running southward and at midday eating his lunch as he ran, until he had left the Road behind him —and the cultivated fields and gardens, and Queen Chimalman's kingdom — and come far into the uninhabited regions beyond. The Heart of Things took hold upon him, as it always did when he approached the Master. An electric joy was growing in the air. He crossed the Quinames' Bridge, where the northern ends of Quiname and Eagle Mountains converge, and took the road that ascends along the eastern flank of Quauhtepetl, Eagle Mountain.
A bridge and a road in these wilds? Yes, built in ancient ages, the Master had told them, by the Quinames, those proud and sorcerous giants who had flourished and fallen with the Fourth Sun. Both now seemed works of nature only, for the mountain and forest gods had so disguised them: the bridge covered deep with soil and jungle, but with the torrent roaring beneath; the road a great scar of bare rock on the mountainside. None ever used it but the Master and his two disciples; the Master very rarely, for these parts were unknown to the Huitznahuatecs, and the nearest forest savages dwelt many months southward.
It was all lit with wonder, and a sense of its holiness grew on Nopal as he went. Over the dark valley floor of treetops below on his left, the sudden flash of a macaw's flaunting scarlets, blues and yellows thrilled him strangely, as if it had been a flaming of inspiration from the God-world.
Near sunset he came to the highest point on the road, just before it swept around onto the southern slope of the mountain. There, climbing a rock by the roadside on his right and pushing aside the fern and undergrowth, he came soon into a great glade edged with precipices on the far side and with a pile of rocks called the Quinames' Altar in the midst, beneath which pile, in a kind of cavern it roofed over, he found fire-sticks, tinder and a torch, and had a light before darkness fell. But he would have needed the light even in broadest daylight, for his way now lay underground by a passage from the end of the cavern and through a maze of what might have been ancient mine-workings, which, since Quiname times, no one had been there to mine. Then he passed up through a long tunnel, stairwayed all its length, and so out into Eagle Hermitage. This was a shallow canyon, rich with the night breath of flowers and vocal with running waters. Turning to his right, he came soon to the head of it, and to the cave; and in the mouth of the cave, there was Quauhtli, expecting him.
Quauhtli of the wonderful physique, the tallest and strongest of the Huitznahuatecs; he whose parentage was unknown and uninquired into; he who had been with the Master since his memory began. And who was now, Nopal soon saw, a nobler and grander Quauhtli than ever he had seen him, so that to come into his presence was almost like coming into the presence of the Master.
Before the fire at the end of the cave they supped, saying very little, for the habit of being silent together was an old one with them. But that impression of Quauhtli's new greatness grew on Nopal, until at last, when the meal was over and the bowls washed and put away, he sought an explanation.
"What is it that has happened?" he asked.
Quauhtli looked across at him, a marvelous light in his eyes; but he answered only, "He said it was you who were first to tell me about the north."
So Nopal leaned forward, chin in palm, and gazed into the fire, collecting and sorting his memories, and presently he began to speak.
"Having passed through the Canyon at the End of Things," Nopal began, "I was three months on the road, running my best through the forest. It was as the Master said it would be: The people of the lands I went through fed me daily, and I might lie down by night anywhere on the road without fear.
"Then I came into rich, cultivated regions and passed cities every day, and later, every few miles. They were all vastly larger than Hultznahuacan, but not so pleasant to the heart. The people I came among at last were those Toltecs of whom the Saltmen tell their tales. The tales are true, but not true enough. The Chiapanecs never told us more than half."
"The tales about their wars could not have been true," Quauhtli objected.
"They were true," said Nopal. "It is what all those peoples do. They destroy each other's cities and kill each other's men. It is an amazing country. But you shall hear.
"You know, the Master told me which cities I was to visit. They were to be the three most important in the Anahuacs, which is what the northern world is called. The first was to be the capital of their power, he said; the second, the capital of their religion; the third, the capital of their culture. I found that there were three such cities and that their names were Culhuacan, Teotihuacan, and Tollan. Here is a thing that surprised me: the number of languages in the world. Not a word you knew would you hear in the forest, where, I was told, the tribes, or some of them, speak the Quiname language — the Quiname!"
"They may be the descendants of those ancient giants," said Quauhtli.
"They are wild men now, with no rag of clothes on them, and their hair matted and unclean. They eat human flesh when they can get it, I was told; but they put food out on the roadside for travelers."
"Still, it may be that they are Quinames," said Quauhtli. The Master taught me the Quiname language at one time, saying that I should need to know it someday. To him, all things were known, I think." His face was covered with his hands while he spoke.
"They are," Nopal agreed. "However, it is our Nahua you will hear again if you go far enough, for the Toltecs speak it. Not as we do; one must speak slowly to be understood by them at first; but after a time, one comes to speak it as they do. I could already talk with them fairly well when I reached Culhuacan, the capital of their power, and found work in the clothmakers' district. In all of their cities, each trade has a district of its own, very few of which are not much larger than Huitznahuacan.
"They make their cloth of a stuff called cotton, which is finer than nequen. Four days in the week I served the cottonmakers in their factories; on the fifth, I would give out their goods in the marketplace in exchange for bags of cocoa beans or quills of gold dust. The guild I worked for gave me such bags or quills for my work, and with these I could, as they say, buy what I needed beyond the food they supplied. You know what I was to do for the Master?"
"To wear a badge in your cap?"
"Yes, this one," said Nopal, handing him a chalchiuhite shaped like the one Chimalman found in her sunroom, but smaller.
Quauhtli examined it. "It is not the Chalchiuhite Dragon," he said, "because that is said to be as big as a woman's thumb, and to glow and flash."
"What is the Chalchiuhite Dragon?"
"He told me a story about it once, I think before you came. It was a gift from the Sun to Quetzalcoatl, when the Sun foretold his fate. Or it may have been that Quetzalcoatl gave it to the Sun; I forget. Anyway, the Sun would throw it down into the world whenever our Lord was about to incarnate among men; and the woman who was to be his mother was to find it, and this would be a sign that our Lord was coming. No doubt the tale has some spiritual meaning. I remember the Master said that it was a living thing, though a green jewel; and that it would be of the size of a woman's thumb."
"But still," Nopal said, "this one might have some connection with . . . the same idea. There may be something — but you shall hear when I come to it.
"Many people in the marketplace used to look curiously at the dragon on my cap, and some seemed on the point of speaking. But none actually did ask the questions I was to expect. I was to stay there for a year, you know. When sixteen months of it had passed, the king of Culhuacan returned from a war he had been waging somewhere. Nonohualcatl Totepeuh Camaxtli is his name, the 'Camaxtli' being the name of their God of War. Besides being king of that city, he is the head of all the Toltec race — his title is Toltec Topiltzin — and all the other kings are his subordinates. I must tell you something about him, because in some ways he is typical of his race. You could not find so puzzling a character here.
"In the first place, it is he, most of all, who is concerned with warmaking. It is his favorite occupation; he goes to it every year, and is famed and praised as a great conqueror. Such a one, I thought at first, must be a tzitzimitl in human guise; but later I saw that to judge these people, you must make yourself in thought one of them, feeling and believing as they do. Things we shudder at are part of their lives and rouse no disgust in them; and yet none of them seemed to me other than human, and most of them I liked. One would not like a human tzitzimitl, but I certainly liked the Toltec Topiltzin.
"On his return to Culhuacan, everyone went out into the streets to welcome him, I with the rest. He came throned in a litter carried on the shoulders of his guards: a huge man — not even you are huger — noble of bearing, magnificent in his plumes and jewelry.
"I found out later that when at Culhuacan, he had the habit of wandering the city by night, meanly dressed, to see for himself how his people live. Right at the end of my stay there, while he was doing this one evening, three men attacked him, and I was able to prevent their killing him. Oh, yes — people do get killed like that in the streets of those cities! I did not know who he was at the time, but the next day he sent for me, and that was how I came to meet the Princess Civacoatzin, his sister. He was . . . well . . . making a great deal of what I had done when she came in. She took note at once of the dragon in my cap and said that she must speak with me. So he dismissed his courtiers and asked if he was to retire too; but she told him to stay, that what she had to say to me concerned him, although he would not understand it. She called him 'Nonohualton,' but he her 'Civacoatzin' — one could see that he held her in high reverence. And then, if you please, she put the Master's questions to me, and I gave the answers thus —
"'What news do you bring, young lord? said she.
"'News from where, your Godhead? said I.
"'From the Serpent's Hole.'
"'That the fourth year will be Ce Acatl.'
"Up to that, questions and answers had been as the Master taught me them, and you may guess how thrilled I was to hear his words spoken by her. But then she put a question of her own. It was, 'What motto will you give for the fourth year that will be Ce Acatl?' She spoke in a low voice, but with a quick, decisive intentness. I said that I did not know how to answer that. 'Then this is the answer you shall report in the Serpent's Hole,' said she, and gave me that text from The Book of Our Lord and Huanhua: 'Thus I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the good, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness.
"There can be no doubt of what she meant," said Quauhtli.
"There can be no doubt. Quetzalcoatl will be born on earth next year. "
"And in the north, where you were sent to prepare the way for him. Oh, the Master told me that, Nopalton. And that you would meet the princess. She too is of the Children of the Serpent."
"The Topiltzin himself told me so after she had gone. He said, 'She is of an order called the Children of the Serpent and has a wisdom I know nothing of.' But the first words she spoke told me that she was of the Master's kin. Blessed be he! I shall see him tomorrow."
Quauhtli's face was hidden in his hands. After a while he looked up and asked, "And what next?" Nopal saw a grave glory on his face, which he remembered afterward.
"Next I went to Teotihuacan, which is the chief city of their religion. The people there are called Otomis. They are quite different from the Toltecs; they have been in the Anahuacs much longer. I did not like them so well. The place is full of priests. All the priesthood of those northern nations is trained at Teotihuacan.
"I tried to get work in the guilds there, as at Culhuacan, but always I was turned away, and soon I knew that it was the Chalchiuhite Dragon that set the guild-masters against me. When all of my gold and cocoa were gone, I sang in the market to get more, for men starve to death in those parts if they have no quills of gold dust or bags of cocoa beans.
"A priest passed as I began my singing, eyed me with alarm, and went into the Market Magistracy, out of which came, a few minutes later, a party of topillies — the men who keep order in the streets — who seized me and dragged me before certain priest-judges, and I was discussed by them in Otomi, which I did not understand; no one told me why they discussed me. But there are people there who break the laws, and they are treated as I was. I was brought before the judges several times during the year, and kept meanwhile in a stone cell that — well, before they had done with me, I was too sick to know what was happening. Those priests are cruel; they do cruel things to human beings. They did to me. I could not tell you . . .
"The next thing I remember is lying in a litter under the sky, doctors tending me, and a kind and noble face in the background that smiled at me as I opened my eyes. It was that of a Culhuatec named Cohuanacotzin, a friend of the Topiltzin's. He was as good to me as you could have been. He told me afterward what had happened. Civacoatzin had bidden her brother send someone posthaste to Teotihuacan to save the life of a man on the point of being sentenced to death by the judges, and the Topiltzin had sent Cohuanacotzin. It seems that he arrived just in time; they were about to cut my head off when he arrived.
"He took me on to Tollan and nursed me back to health in the king's palace there, the time I was to spend at Teotihuacan being past. The king of Tollan, by name Huemac Tezcatlipoca, is the Topiltzin's brother; Cohuanacotzin is a favorite with them both. Twice or thrice the king visited me, but neither he nor Cohuanacotzin knew about my having rescued the Topiltzin. Cohuanacotzin was endlessly kind. He is a great man at war, loves fighting. But you would love him, as I did.
"In four months I was well and I left him. He was loath to let me go from the palace, but Civacoatzin's orders had been definite and strict. I went out into the town and found work in the guilds. I understood that he had gone back to Culhuacan, but I found out later that he stayed in Tollan as long as I did, keeping a kind of watch over me in case of danger. For Huemac, though of noble nature, is said to be rather under the influence of the Otomi priesthood, whose power, my protector feared, might reach me in Tollan. It did not, for Tollan, in spite of its king's predilections, is by no means a priestly town. I liked its people even more than I did the Culhuatecs.
"My work there was much the same as at Culhuacan, but at Tollan no less than three-score people put the Master's questions to me, and two-score and fifteen of them pledged themselves. So I think it is to Tollan that our Lord will come. And now . . . you have something to tell me, Quauhton?"
Quauhtli sat silent for some while before answering. "We ought to sleep now," he said at last. "For both of us, there will be much to do tomorrow. If there is news, you will hear it then, Nopalton."
Eagle Hermitage was within a couple of score-score feet of the summit of Quauhtepetl and so girt round with precipices that there was no coming to it but by the glade, the Quinames' Altar, and the tunnel. From the cave, a long and winding canyon sloped down and southward. The cave mouth looked east, and a bowshot or two from it, in that direction, was the place where the hermits from of old had meditated at sunrise. This was on the edge of the precipice above the Quinames' Glade. Between it and the cave were the canyon floor and a ferny hollow between two hillsides, the southern one ascending gently and of no great height, the northern one steep and lofty to the peak. On that side a rill came tinkling and pouring into a basin and flowed thence into a pool. From the basin the hermits drew their drinking water; the pool was their bath. It was rimmed round with rushes and clean sand, and was deep enough to dive into, wide enough to swim in, and of water cold and delectable with mountain vitality and sweetness.
The stream overflowing from it wandered down through the canyon, here watering orchards or flower or vegetable gardens, there filling chains of lily ponds with little waterfalls between, to be carried away at last through untraversable conduits in the mountain. The whole canyon, narrow and deep in parts and in parts wide and sunny, had been loved into garden richness by long generations of hermits. Neither crop-destroying deer and rabbits came there, nor the jungle cats that prey on them.
The hermits had always been there, and their duties had always been the same. They were to spend a certain time daily in meditation, their thought in the God-world; and they were to cultivate the garden, making themselves hands and minds for Shilonen and Centeotl in the maize rows, or for Coatlantona, who manifests through flowers — all this for the spiritual health of mankind.
The garden provided Nopal and Quauhtli with their breakfast the next morning. They ate it in the cave to the music of the stream and of a zacuan that sang in the canyon below. When these two were together, they rarely broke silence till the sun had been three hours in heaven; nor did Nopal wish to do so now, although daylight revealed to him, far more than last night's torchlight, the new grave greatness of his fellow disciple. His own mood, on the other hand, was gay; his silence covered laughter-lit anticipation. . . .
While they were at breakfast, without a word or sign, Quauhtli rose and went out.
Nopal finished his meal, put the cave in order, and expected Quauhtli's return. Then he went out himself, to wait for him beside the pool — where even waiting was joy, where existence thrilled with gladness, where purity and peace came up with the ferns and grasses and one could feel a loving mystery brooding on the heights above. The worlds visible and invisible exchanged sympathy with him; the mountain received him into its divine mood. No wonder Quauhtli had grown so great: Eagle Hermitage had become as the Serpent's Hole itself. The sun had but to be a little higher in heaven, and the hour for speech arrived, and Quauhtli would —
Ah, and here came Quauhtli — from behind him and the edge of the precipice. This was strange, as Nopal had not seen him there when he came out. He turned his head to see and then started to his feet in delight, for the One who came, and made the fern as he passed through it break into green flame for joy of his coming, and the morning to burn up suddenly deific and triumphant, made him forget even Quauhtli. . . .
It was some time before Nopal realized that he had been dreaming. Even after he awoke, it was some time. But — yes — he was alone.
It meant, of course, that the Master had sent him a thought, had turned his mind in Nopal's direction, and that had caused the dream. It had often happened before but never quite like this. In dreams, as in waking life, one could readily recognize the Master's humanity, even though it was eight thousand times more beautiful, forceful, and vivid than that of other men. But now —!
To dream of him was always to awaken with this elation and sense of momentous spiritual victory achieved, and that was what counted. The details might or might not be important; often it was one's own brain that supplied them. As now, for example, the stretch of sand by the pool. . . .
But there were no pictographs written on it, as a half-involuntary glance assured him. In the dream, he had seen Huehuetzin writing there with his finger, and he had but to shut his eyes now to see him there still, tracing on the sand the characters Nopal had understood so clearly, and remembered so . . . but did he remember them? No; they were gone.
It was not worth a moment's regret, after all, since in a few hours he would be with the Master. It was time to start now, and he would — as soon as Quauhtli had told him the news.
But . . . where was Quauhtli? He did not answer when Nopal called. He was not in the cave, nor anywhere in the canyon below. From the precipice brink, Nopal scanned the road, far away and beneath, up which he had come yesterday; bits and stretches of it emerged into view and then were hidden again behind out-juttings of the forest. His eye caught motion on one such road fragment, and he fixed his gaze on it. Yes, that was Quauhtli, making good speed northward.
Well, but one would be with the Master soon, as soon as one could get to Teotepetl and the Serpent's Hole. Quauhtli would only be carrying out the Master's orders. . . .
Nopal put fruit and a couple of tortillas in his road sack, kindled a torch to light himself through the tunnel, and started out. His way led west and down across the southern slope of Quauhtepetl, and then northwest through lowland forests, where the wild things knew nothing of man. An hour before noon, he came out into Huitznahuatec land again and crossed the Rainflower at the ford, and was on his own, or Shollo's, estate. A little later he passed right in front of the house, from the open-room of which anyone might have seen him come up from the road and go through the mountain gate; and more than one did see him, but he was too intent to think of it . . . because the day was more wonderful than any he remembered.
The feeling had been growing on him as he approached the Mountain that was God. The visible world hardly concealed the invisible that shone and sparkled through it. The Master must be flooding sunlight and shadow with his thought, to make the veil of sense so thin, the heart so drawn to exultant worship. As he went up by the path that had never been trodden but by feet on errands like his own, he marveled more and more. The air was soaked with holiness; he could feel the pure meditation of the trees . . . .
He came into the glade where his father had left him that morning so long ago, and there among the roots of the mahogany tree where he had waited then, a small boy was waiting now, gravely watching the head of the path for his coming.
The child rose when he appeared and with an air of portentous seriousness, said, "It is your Godhead, isn't it?"
Secure of his meaning, Nopal answered, "Yes, it is I'" "He said you would tell me your name."
Nopal told him.
"Yes, he said it would be that. I do reverence to you, Nopaltzin Tecuhtli. " He bowed low, touching the earth at Nopal's feet, as disciple to teacher, adding then, "I am Nauhyo. Has your Godhead heard of me, please?"
Yes, in the dream by the pool at Eagle Hermitage! Of course! That was one of the things the Master had written on the sand. . . . Looking down into the grave eyes full of question that searched his own, he answered, "Yes, I have heard, Nauhyotontli!"
The child-face lighted up for a moment at hearing that affirmation coupled with the affectionate-diminutive form of his name, but then grew grave again. "He says that you are to come here again tomorrow, you and Shollotzin," — he pronounced the name a little doubtfully — "and that you may bring me also if you wish to, but I am not to ask; and then you will do what is to be done. And He says that I am to go home with you this evening, Nopaltzin, and that I am to remember always. He said I was to go and that He blessed me, and that He would not need me anymore. So I came here to wait for your Godhead, as He told me to. Only please, Nopaltzin, I did not want to go!"
Nauhyo paused there, struggling with himself, to Nopal's amused wonderment, then added, "Please go to HIM now, Nopaltzin. I will wait here for you; only please go quickly now!"
So Nopal went. The joy and sanctity that had taken possession of the forest afternoon quieted his mind from speculation. Certainly he would take Nauhyo home to Rainflower that evening since the Master did not want them to spend the night on the mountain. In a world so goldenly holy, there was little room for formulated thought. A secret laughter ran through the lustrous metallic greens of the foliage, the darting jewelry of the hummingbirds, the painted, lazy sails of the great butterflies, and the richness and stillness of the blooms.
It was as if some triumphant happiness were overflowing into the life of the forest, as if the Mighty Mother were laughing through all things visible her delight over the birth of a god, the emergence of some new, most sacred force from the Unknowable into the world. Never had this fold in the mountain, sacred at all times above any spot elsewhere, shone so marvelously still and intent as now.
It was a narrow ravine that began not far from the glade; the entrance to it was something that an army might camp on Teotepetl seeking, and never find. It broadened out as it wound on inward and upward into a bloom-scented solitude with green mountain shoulders high above and, now and again, blue peaks visible, or rose-dim chasms skyward; or forest slopes white-streaked here and there with the snow-bright thread of a waterfall, or kindled by the flight of some startling-plumaged bird. Wilderness passed insensibly into garden, with fruit trees planted in no order and, on all sides, luxurious banks and tangles of blossom as the hillsides receded, winding still, and the space of flowers widened.
It was impossible for Nopal not to know that the silence was growing, that the valley was packed with a bright silence of a kind new to him. The thin, far-off drone of the waterfalls made no difference to it. He knew what it all meant. The Master would be in deep meditation, in a deeper and holier meditation than ever before in Nopal's time. Only that could account for the golden, spiritual stillness whose grip was on all things. The blossoms by the way, the green sprays of the vines, hung hushed in a motionlessness that seemed rather an assertion of eternity than an absence of sound. Great white waxlike trumpets of bloom drenched the sunlight with solemn fragrance, the aroma of their tense adoration, and one could see that they participated in the Master's lofty mood.
A turn, and the garden widened out into a large valley, lawny and well-wooded, with a lake in the midst. Shiningly blue, ripples dancing, peace and holiness brooding over it, the water lay; and yonder rose the island, green and tawny against the purple shadow beyond, with the three little two-roomed stone houses hidden by the crest of it, the midmost of which was the Master's. . . .
Nopal put off in the boat, rowing it around to the southern side of the island, where the landing place was and, above it, the houses. No one was in the open-room of the middle house, where he expected to see the familiar figure in meditation, and yet the feeling was strong on him that he had never been welcomed there so dearly and intimately as now. He went up to the house and entered the open-room, not lifting his eyes to glance into the room beyond. On the cushion seat where the disciple sat when the Master had occasion to talk to him, he took his place to wait until he should be called.
He composed his mind for meditation, or it composed itself. All the valley was meditation, and filled with the highest mood that man's consciousness can attain. The Master's thought pervaded it . . . . From blue sky and green heights, something laughter-laden was watching him, something that beckoned him into the Great Freedom, until at last he forgot conditioned existence in the splendor of a light that —
In a world of formless loveliness, the Master was speaking to him . . . of the divine fluting at Teotleco, which, said he, only the queen and Nopal had heard. He enlarged on the importance of that. Ulupi, he said, had heard it at her accession, and never a sovereign since until Chimalman. Did not that mean that Chimalman's reign would be exceptional? Her glory would exceed Ulupi's . . . .
It was for Nopal to bring that news to her. He was to make Chimalman understand that she would be the greatest and most fortunate of Huitznahuatec rulers.
"You are to tell her this," said the Master. "The gods promise that she shall serve them more wonderfully than any of her predecessors did. They expect more from her than they did from any of them; she is to be assured of that, and never to doubt it. She is never to forget that we are with her to guard her and lead her to her greatness. She must trust in us who trust in her; she must trust, and go on trusting, and never cease to trust, so that her trust may open a path between us and men. You are to say those words to her and make her know that they are from the gods. Say that she is to trust until her trust becomes knowledge and until all we hope of her is fulfilled. Whatever happens, she is to trust.
"And you are to help her and be her servant and guardian. It was for this I trained you, and your father before you. It was for this I trained you, dear son!"
Nopal was waking, drifting farther and farther from his dream. The light and vision were gone, and the last words of the Master seemed to float to him from remote spaces. He was half aware of his material surroundings, though still encompassed by some laughter-laden noble consciousness that watched him from the heights. And the dream was not all gone, for again words came, far and faint. "Remember that I trust in you!"
And again, when he thought he was quite awake — but now whether heard by the ears or in the heart, he was uncertain — "I give you my peace!"
The second wonder-dream today! And surely no disciple had ever fallen asleep in the Master's house before!
Strange that the divine fluting on Teotleco Eve, and the queen's and his own hearing it, should have —
A sheet of paper fluttered down from somewhere and fell at his feet; it was covered with pictographs in the Master's handwriting, and his own name was at the top of it. It was for him, and he had better read it now while he was waiting. What numbers of unexpected things were happening on this day!
No pictographs could be easier to read than the Master's, and Nopal had no difficulty in gaining the sense of these. He was to be, they indicated, in Huitznahuacan for the Feast of the Mountains next month; he was to put Nauhyo in the Calmecac on the day before; on the morning of Tepeilhuitl, he was to apply to Ameyal, the Tlaloc-priest, who would have a message for him. He was to adopt Nauhyo, whom he was to take back to Rainflower with him that evening, and tomorrow he was to bring his brother Shollo, and Nauhyo also if he wished, here to the Serpent's Hole to do what was necessary; and now he was to enter the inner room.
That last was puzzling, but he could make it mean nothing else. Now he was to enter the inner room — where no disciple had ever been. . . .
He rose from his cushion and on tiptoe, with heart strangely beating, went in. And knew why the valley and the mountain, earth and sky, were thrilled to such solemn elation. . . .
Nopal went out and climbed to the crest of the island, and turned toward the flushed sky above the mountain shoulders — and understood.
The sun drew to his setting in just such deep, conscious trust in the Divinity of Things as enriched himself, because Huehuetzin, the Master, going inward into the wholeness of that beautiful mystery of which they too were fragments, had held the door open, and the golden knowledge that is the air and light of that world had shone through and flooded this world with its sublimity. Golden knowledge there; trust here. It was the same thing. All this divine glory of the sunset, this rapt aspect of the world, was but the visible manifestation of that knowledge, or trust.
In the trees south of the lake, a bird gone wild with ecstasy sang out its heart in worship; Nopal could hear the very words of the song: "Love to you, praise to you, love to you — you who are gone, you who are gone!" Far up, the waterfalls droned their sleepy monotone as accompaniment; but louder than bird or water was the silence by virtue of which both became intelligible; and he was aware that his mood of love and faith was not his alone, but his as a part of universal nature. The bird was pouring it out into the evening, glorified by death, pouring it out on behalf of things animate and inanimate, including himself, because that force — that divinity Nopal had known embodied in the Master — now was set free into all visible beauty and the lofty places in the human soul.
Nopal was conscious of nothing in himself but the God-part, of nothing in existence but the divine. The Master was not lost, but now, for the first time, really found, since there was now no veiling personal identity between that Great Soul and the soul in himself. He was one in adoration with the universe.
"Love to you, praise to you, love to you — you who are one with us, you who are gone!" sang the bird.
Rainflower Manor was Nopal's by law, as well as in Shollo and Maxio's feeling. It had come to him, as the eldest son, when his father died and left him, Nopaltzin Tecuhtli, head of the family. But to own and cultivate land and leave a son to inherit it would never be for him, he thought; and despite the entail, he had resigned it wholly to Shollo, whose son, Shelwa, would one day be its lord in name as well as in fact.
But it was his home when he chose, and Shollo and Maxio wished that he would choose more often. To Shollo, as to Ketlasho, he was of a higher order of being, at least halfway to godhood, and Shollo had infected Maxio, his wife, with much the same belief. He had acquired it as a child, thus —
Rainflower Manor was at the foot of Teotepetl. The wall, beyond which the forested mountainside began, was not more at its nearest point than seven-score strides due north of the house. It was built high against four-legged marauders from the wilds that might imperil crops or livestock, but hidden by flowers and shrubbery, so that one saw nothing of it from the garden. But at one place, a little east of the house, a flagged and winding path led in through this screening border to a gate in the wall, which was the district's heart of mystery. It was the only way onto the mountain.
Everyone knew that the gate was there; everyone knew that Teotepetl was, by the run of mankind, to be approached only spiritually. There were three sacred mountains, visible assurances of religion: this one, and Blue-wind, and Mishcoatepetl; and this one, even though King Tlaloc had his paradise on Mishcoatepetl, was the holiest, and itself one of the greatest of the gods. And yet there was a path and a gate by which men might enter and go up into it.
All Huitznahuatecs knew these things, including the children at Rainflower Manor and village. Teotepetl was forbidden ground, not only to themselves, but to the whole grown-up world, and forbidden not merely by one's parents, nor by the king, but by the Ruling of the Universe itself. By the Sun and the World-Soul; by the Blue Air, who is Quetzalcoatl, and by the Mountain, who is God; by all Benevolence Disembodied and the Invisibility we Adore. This was fundamental knowledge. One would as soon doubt the divinity of things. Ages and ages had bowed down to our Lord the Mountain and profited spiritually by doing so; and the doctrine nested naturally in every mind that put forth its first cognition buds within sight of Teotepetl. Children knew it as soon as they knew anything.
But the path and the gate asserted something they knew only less well: that there were those who had leave to go up there, invited by our Lord to visit him in his fastnesses. There were people as lofty of soul as that. "Oh, if we could but know who they are!" thought the Rainflower children, "How we would love and revere them! — we by whom our Lord is to be worshiped only from afar in the valley . . ."
And first Shollo, and then Ketlasho, very young children still, had seen their brother go all alone in through the path to the mountain gate, and had been thus made to realize that Nopal was one of those who might wander on the steep acclivities of God. . . .
When Nopal was at home in those early days, he and Shollo had had wonderful times together. They were inseparable, wandering through sun-drenched days by the river or through gardens and farmlands, the elder's arm over the younger's shoulders, counseling together — oh, so gravely and wisely — about everything but Nopal's absences from home. Or, for days together, they played games of their own devising, wherein twigs and leaves and pebbles became mysterious beings, magically gifted; or they made the tame creatures about the house and farm take part with them, consciously or perhaps not, in extemporized dramas, the characters represented being the amazing inhabitants of time-submerged worlds. Chief among these actors willy-nilly were Cuetpatzintli, the whimsical coati, and sleek Mizquiton, the ocelot, and the toucan, whose agility and huge bill made him a favorite in such parts as Cipactli's, where a sense of humor was required. And then there were the four or five tame monkeys of various species; and if you came to that, the turkeys and the dogs, too.
Cuetzpatzintli, the coatimundi, with the long, inquisitive snout and feathery brush of tail, had the run of the kitchen and barns, and a marvelous appetite for crop-destroying vermin; all that was asked of him was that he would respect the big yellow mombin trees in front of the house, and here his conscience must have been effective, for the zacuans, sweetest of feathered singers, nested and sang in them season by season. In drama you had to give him rather indefinite parts and leave the interpretation of them to his own genius.
Mizquiton, the ocelot, you were to remember never to unchain while the turkeys were grazing in the fields; and religiously you were to keep her away from the sties where the hairless dogs were fattening for the Huitznahuacan market. She had learned, more or less, not to wander of her own accord into temptation; and it was not fair that you, whom she regarded as morally, though perhaps not intellectually, her superior, should lead her where her appetite could not but become unmanageable. She had gotten her name, Mizquiton — "nice little death" — not merely from the soft suddenness of her paws and her extreme lithe beauty, but from what happened once in her first days at Rainflower, when she got loose in the dog sties — a thing, mind you, that must never happen again!
But she loved the children dearly and never scratched or bit them except in affection. Generally, she must act her parts whilst rolling on her back in the dust and sunlight before her kennel, her four delightful paws sparring at the universe above; whereas Cuetzpatzintli was good, all allowances made, as a messenger; he could be sent to steal music from the Sun, or the bone from the Hell-king wherewith our Others first made men. He would nearly always come back sometime with something, though usually he ate it.
Ketlasho had less part in these memories; she was very early in taking the mistress-ship of Ashopatzin's house, and long before she took it, her dominating interest had been to learn the business of it. There was a nice gradation of character in his family, from Ketlasho to Nopal. Her being was fulfilled, and generously, in the care of her household in Huitznahuacan; the altar in her God-room was the center of her spiritual life. And in Shollo there dwelt a kindred basic home-affection, but also he must have God the Mountain above him and in daily sight, and no altar in the world would have taken its place. She must have her roof above her; he must feel the sky above his roof, while for Nopal, the sky was all-important and roofs meant nothing.