If Maxio had gone out through the open-room, she would have seen Nopal coming up from the road on his way to the mountain gate, but because she went by the back of the house, and southward, she missed him. She always went out to meet her husband returning from his work.
On their way back, she and Shollo came on Yanesh at the end of the causeway between the fishponds, making wreaths for the evening's wear. He had finished two — no doubt for themselves and had hung them on the tlapalizqui bush under which he sat working, and was making a third, of extreme beauty and gorgeousness.
"For whom is the royal wreath then, Yaneshton?"
The ancient chuckled slyly, his face puckered into many eight-thousands of wrinkles. For whom should the wreath of divine tlapalizquis be? Ah then, their little Godheads did not know as much as old Yanesh did! For whom should it be but the greatest of mankind — after King Ashokentzin? Not but what his Godhead Shollotzin was a very great man —
"Then it is meant for Nopaltzin Tecuhtli," Shollo laughed. "If only we knew when Nopaltzin Tecuhtli was coming —"
But on that point Yanesh had no doubt in the world. His Powerful Godhead would be here to wear the wreath, or the one that would be made for him, tomorrow or the next day . . . at any rate, while the tlapalizquis were in bloom. The shrubs, one on either side of the pathway, were covered with dark, rich blossoms, smoky maroon in color, as deep as infinity, and with a glow as of fire burning through. For the Tecuhtli had told this very Yanesh, the last time their eyes had been consoled with the sight of him, that in three years' time he would wear a tlapalizqui wreath of Yanesh's making; and that was in this same Teotleco month of Reed Ten. That their little Godheads should know less than Yanesh the Straw!
They heard him chuckling till they turned the corner by the ocelot's kennel, where a descendant of the original Mizquiton rubbed herself, rumbling, against Shollo's leg as they passed. Of course Yanesh was right, and Nopal might be here any day; and their minds would have been full of it but for —
At home, confirming news awaited them. The children had just come in after spending the morning under the mombins in front of the open-room; they were convalescent after the sickness that had kept Nopal's return from their parents' minds. Their nurse, a lean spinster by the name of Shochill, of homeliest features and rosiest imagination, had been in charge of them there; and she had seen, and had been making a great stir of it among the servants, our Lord the Mountain himself, in human or, rather, in God-guise, go in toward the mountain gate. There was this much excuse for her excitement: Perhaps only two or three living had seen that path taken. It was a startling thing to see.
"What was our Lord like, Shochill?" asked Maxio, suppressing amusement.
"Oh, like a mighty god, your Godhead Maxiotzin. Like the Beautiful Youth, or the Plumed Dragon, or any of them. As magnificent as . . . as Nopaltzin Tecuhtli himself."
Whereupon her master and mistress knew whom she had seen, Maxio having the wit to divine, though Shollo had never told her, that Nopal was one of the God-invited. If he were not, who would be? But one must not pry into the Mountain's secrets, and they were at pains to talk of other things over their dinner.
"But I shall come home early," said Shollo on leaving. "And you had better not come to meet me."
"No," she answered. "I shall be busy decorating the house. He can hardly be here till I have finished." Her conscience warned her that she had verged on the dangerous.
When Shollo had gone, she sought out Yanesh and found him dozing by the tlapalizquis. Mostly he would bask in the sun all day, without much change of place; sleeping a good deal; working at such tasks as wreath-making, that did not tax his strength; giving orders to the gardeners, his subordinates, and shrewdly watchful that they were carried out. A great man was this Yanesh, two years older than Nayna the Aged, but encouraging the notion that the two years were ten.
It was he who, ages since, had designed this great Rainflower garden. He boasted, not too hyperbolically, that he had crumbled all the soil of its flower beds between his fingers. He was a village youth when the old house, half a mile west of this one, was burned down, and the then Tecuhtli, Nopaltzin's great-grandfather, had chosen him to lay out the garden of his new home. And with noble genius, he had carried out the work, it must be owned; and had thereby come to be a person of great authority, with many gardeners under him whom he ruled not untyrannically, and some prestige throughout the district. For years, were you the Tecuhtli himself, or his wife, if you wanted stuff from the garden, you had asked Yanesh for it.
He chuckled mightily over Maxiotzin's request for flowers. Her little Godhead might go home and judge whether or not this ancient had foresight. Copil and Coshcosh, good lads, would be at the house before her, with the wealth of Yanesh's garden for the great Tecuhtli's pleasuring. So all that afternoon, Maxio and her maids were at work upon what Copil and Coshcosh brought them: baskets upon baskets of bloom, until the whole house was fragrant. Toward the end, she grew unreasoningly fidgety, fearing that Nopal would come before she had finished, and at last she placed burnt incense in the God-room in gratitude to the Mountain, who had kept him till she was ready. He might come now when he pleased.
But the shadows went lengthening, the light turning mellow, and there was no sign of him. The turkey girls herded their flocks in the meadows with their queer, chuckling, throaty cries and, singing the "turkey song," drove them home to their pens. The dog-herds fed their fattening charges, noting with satisfaction those nearest to marketable plumpness. Turkey pens and dog sties were fortified for the night, for the one thing the wild jaguar or ocelot loved better than fattened turkey was fattened dog.
Shollo came home, later than he had intended, praised the beauty of Maxio's work and retired to prepare himself for the evening. Maxio stole a quarter-hour for her own preparations, and she might have stolen an hour or two, for that matter, for the Tecuhtli did not appear.
Ishcash, the village Priest of the Mountain, came in to supper, news having reached him on his avocations that Nopal was expected. Ishcash was their cousin and very good friend. Village priest meant also village teacher, especially of music. There was no instrument he could not play and teach, nor song he could not sing. Also, all literature was stored in his memory. His presence of an evening was well-loved by the entire household.
For the evenings were the season of general culture. When supper was over in the open-room and the villagers began to come back, and the torches were lit in the sconces, and the floor was strewn with cushion seats, and the women sat at their sewing, and the talk gave place to song or the chanting of poems or the telling of stories, and the riches of the race-mind were set forth — then it was good to have Ishcatzin there. It was very good on this night, for the rumor was that he had a new story to tell, which at any time would have been a cause for high anticipation; and yet he was telling it before ever a soul had guessed it was coming.
For first he called for Catautlish and his xylophone, and for Copil with his flute, and for Tozcaykech and Toshpilli with their teponaztli and tlamalhuilili — drums of different tone and pitch. He arranged these four in place so artfully that none could see what he was leading to; and then he began talking about our Lord the Mountain, suggesting that he must have had many adventures anciently.
And all this Ishcatzin did that the evening's work might get done despite expectation of the Tecuhtli and the excitement that it would cause. And so at last he was telling them of a contest that had been of old between Teotepetl and a mighty king of the tzitzimitls who had come up out of the infinite forest to the south, intent on the destruction of mankind, and first of all, of the spiritual protector of mankind, the Mountain.
Ishcash sat on the dais, the musicians below and in front of him; and soon, as the tale waxed mighty in his mouth, he was conducting them as an orchestral accompaniment. With a glance here and a motion of his hand there, he drew from them the effects he needed. The tzitzimitl made himself into a fire and came up worldwide, roaring and billowing, tossing huge branches high into the air on the crests of his flames; and the base teponaztli boomed and bellowed conflagration-like, and rose into a dreadful fury, ominous and threatening; and above all the sound that Tozcaykech could drub from it, the priest's voice rose clear. And then, at a flick of his hand, the teponaztli sank from its prominence and became distant, and phrases that seemed magical from flute and xylophone soared above its grim rebellion as Ishcatzin told of how the Mountain, beholding unmoved the fire from afar, asserted its calm divinity against the tzitzimitl and summoned the gods to do battle for the world. They gathered and arrayed themselves, and flute and xylophone and high-pitched tlamalhuilili united to describe their assembly and intent.
"'Who will go forward and quell this uprising?' said the Beautiful Youth, said the Soul of the World.
"'Lord Tezcatlipoca,' said King Tlalocatecuhtli. 'Let it be for me and my princes to go; let it be for the Lords of the mountain waters!'
"Then he called up his princes, his heroes; and they rode through the heavens in their beauty. They rode on the purple clouds, the generous masters of the rain; they brought with them the waters of the heavens, the beautiful waters of the lakes and the sea."
So Ishcatzin chanted, the musicians accompanying him: flute and xylophone very sweet and lofty; tlamalhuilili throbbing out the march of the Tlalocs that turned soon into the wild, furious beating of tropical rain; the mountain gods drenching the world; trees beaten down, mighty branches snapping and crashing; the hissing and rattle and thunder of the steam-generating contest; the teponaztli growling and whining; the tlamalhuilili whipping it slowly into silence. Not for nothing had Ishcash trained those same musicians. Then he told of the gods' triumph: of how the Plumed Dragon established peace there; of how Citlalicway Teteoinan herself breathed upon the blackened world; of how the Beautiful Youth restored its beauty. And then of how they came to the Mountain to praise him, and camped in the forests about his feet.
"Even here, where Rainflower stands, the Plumed Dragon abided. And here they dwelt in the seventh silence, awaiting news from our Lord the Mountain, who then considered and pondered deeply and asserted in his heart the divinity of things. And as they waited, listening, behold, the thought in his heart became music, and they heard from the Mountain a strange, divine singing, and —"
A quiver ran through the room; voice and instruments suddenly were silent. For, marvelously, the story had come true. Breaking in on Ishcash's words, song came from the Mountain: A voice unearthly sweet and noble was singing. They rose and crowded into the spaces between the pillars and watched. From the shrubbery that hid the mountain gate, something — or someone — emerged singing, and the song ended as he came. Wonderful moment, when all those eyes might —
But Ishcash whispered to Shollo, who turned and quietly gave orders that all should leave, and that no word more be spoken by anyone, nor this that they had seen be referred to ever. When only he and Maxio and the priest were left, Nopal came in, carrying Nauhyo on his shoulder. The look of gods was on their faces, so that the three to whom they came were awed, and quickened in the heights of their being.
In the morning they were incommunicative, Nopal still radiantly godlike, but Nauhyo a wan, over-grave child rather than the young divinity of last night. He was much in need of her mothering, Maxio thought.
But he was to have none of it just yet. At breakfast, Nopal asked Maxio to have food packed for Shollo, Nauhyo and himself; three meals apiece, for they would be away until tomorrow at noon. If Shollo's surprise did not begin then, it was surely augmented, but neither he nor his wife thought of asking questions, or even to be inwardly curious. Shollo's astonishment was to grow before nightfall.
When they set out, it was, to his awed amazement, quite openly toward and through the mountain gate into the forbidden sanctity beyond. But as Nopal said nothing, he kept silence and forbade his mind to speculate. The path was mostly too steep for running; but even when it sagged, Nopal showed no desire to hurry. The slower the better, thought Shollo, for the place was one to be taken in with deliberate worship.
At noon they lunched beneath the great mahogany tree in the glade, not breaking the silence; and when the meal was over, they sat still speechless, Nopal and Nauhyo preparing themselves for what was to follow, Shollo content to be filled with the divine peace of the Mountain. Presently Nopal rose and led the way into the valley. Then Nauhyo, all of the God-look returned to him, began singing. He sang as they passed through the fold in the Mountain and crossed the garden and paddled across the lake to the island: little songs that seemed pure conjurations of magic-haunting, uninterpretable, triumphant. No wonder they had thought last night that it was our Lord Himself who was singing!
As soon as they had landed on the island, Nopal led Shollo away to the work they were to do, and the latter saw nothing more of Nauhyo for the time being. Their work took them to the shore opposite, a bare bowshot from the island, by a causeway a couple of feet below the surface, and to a cave in the cliff nearby, where logs of ocotl wood, all cut to a length and squared evenly, were stored. These they began carrying to the island and building up on the highest point of it, in such a way as to leave steps up to the top of the pile as it grew. Little had Nopal divined in the old days for what purpose he and Quauhtli had been bidden to cut and store those logs.
They worked hard and speedily, Shollo without speculation but keenly aware of a sacredness in the labor. By sunset the pile was finished, and Nopal led him into the middle house of the three. Then Shollo understood what was toward. "The funeral of a god," he thought. Nauhyo was there, watching beside the frailness that now they carried out and laid on the pyre.
Night fell as the smoke, and then the flame, began to rise, and Nauhyo to sing again, more wonderfully than ever; and all amidst a strange silence of the forest that struck soon on Shollo's hearing, used as he was, at Rainflower, to the concert, or pandemonium, for which nightfall always gave the signal. But here jaguar nor ocelot nor puma squalled or roared; howler-monkeys were silent; even the frogs were chorusless. Was it always like this on the Mountain, he wondered.
The wood was very dry and burned up fiercely; the flame leaped high, a steadfast, roaring pillar, bloom-capitaled, loosing quivering sheets above to sail nightward and vanish, summoning into strange, momentary visibility this point and that on the heights — a jutting rock here, there a grand tree standing lonely. "So may my love go up to you in song!" thought Nauhyo and Nopal. "So has your passing illumined the lofty places of the soul!"
It grew late; the flames no longer soared skyward; Nauhyo had long ceased singing. Nopal, standing so near the fire that one would have thought his clothes would have been scorched, presently noticed his silence, looked down at him and saw that he had fallen asleep. He lit a torch at the fire and signed to Shollo to pick up the child and follow him into the southern disciple-house. It had been Nauhyo's latterly, and his bed was in the inner room. Nopal put him in it; then, while Shollo was supping, brought in Quauhtli's bed for him from the other house.
"Where will you sleep then?" asked Shollo, and was answered with a gesture that he took to mean there was another bed somewhere. But Nopal had no mind for sleeping that night. He would watch and keep company with a Sacred Memory.
So he went up to the top of the island again and sat down by the fire . . . and knew who inhabited the vast night above him, and with what keen serenity of joy. He set himself to recalling the days he had spent of old with the Holy One in this holy place; and though there had been many score-scores of them, he doubted there was one he missed, with such a light did they shine in his memory. Every day of them, with all of its incidents, came to him. He remembered Huehuetzin's laughter and playful moods; and again, the severe and lofty lessons he had learned from him: when the Master had caused him, but always wordlessly, to see, face and conquer some lurking weakness in himself that Nopal had known nothing of before. Who else could have done that? Who else could have laid such trains of happenings, seen the end, and worked for it, of such remote chains of causes and effects . . . and all of it that the disciple might learn and grow?
For your kindness manifested as kindness, Master, you were to be loved and honored, — but oh, far more for your compassion manifested as severity, and for the pain you caused in your disciple! Gratitude, gratitude and utmost love to you, Great and Wonderful Being, to whom now by death's most holy magic, your disciple is so much more closely united than ever when life stood between! Be it all that is uneternal in me, whose soul is your creation, that this fire has burnt up and destroyed!
He rose and paced up and down on the island shore, the Presence still with him, converting the night into myriad benediction. Stars rose and stars set. Above, the flames had died down, and the glowing mass, with here and there still some structure to it, was falling along its slopes in little silvery cascades of vermilion-hearted ash. Suddenly the unwonted silence struck him, and he stood still to listen.
Something fell in the fire, and a momentary flame and spark shower shot up, and as his eyes chanced to be on the shores beyond the lake, he saw why the night was silent. Or . . . had he really seen that picture of the water's rim lined with all of the forest's population: deer and jaguar side by side, gazing intent on the fire? There was just one flash, and then it was gone.
Nopal awoke in the dead time before dawn, with no memory of having lain down or invited sleep. Nor could he have been sleeping long, but the world had changed altogether. Inside and out, it had changed. The starry sky was covered away, and the air smelt of the coming of rain. His clothes were damp, and he was chilled through and through. And . . . the Master was dead.
He went down and lit a fire in the empty disciple-house which had been his own. Then, in the dying darkness, he stripped and bathed in the lake, toweled himself dry, found fresh clothes in the wardrobe, and dressed. The light grew, but it was gray and cheerless. It was months too early for rain, but rain there was going to be, he saw.
In the store cupboard he found chocolate, the only provision left up there, which he prepared and heated; it would be best for them hot. They must get back to Rainflower at once; this place was — Well, it had been the secret eye of the world, and the world's heart of holiness; and now the eye had gone blind and the heart had ceased to beat. He had better call the others now, and bring them in here to breakfast. He went across to the other disciple-house.
The rain was nothing as yet, but it would be heavy before long. Still, they must go down to Rainflower. The clouds, purple-gray and gravid, covered away the heights above and even rested over the immediate hilltops. As soon as ever they had breakfasted, and that hurriedly, they would start. He went in and called Nauhyo and Shollo, bade them hasten over to the other house, and went back to wait for them.
Soon Shollo arrived, saying that Nauhyo was not himself this morning, that he seemed depressed. They waited, and the thunder began booming and rattling overhead. The rain burst on the world like a host of drums beating, and Nauhyo did not appear. Nopal threw on a rain-cloak and went out to look for him and at last found him prostrate beside the dead fire, or where it had been until these few minutes of rain had washed away the remains of it in ashy runnels into the lake. He was soaked through, of course, and convulsed with sobbing, and Nopal, when he had carried him into the house, found little to say of consolation. Death used not to be like this; something adverse had stricken the world, to put this seeming of dire finality on things. For both of them, the high realizations of yesterday were gone; what filled the world was that the Master was dead.
There were plenty of clothes in the wardrobe, and Shollo, having children of his own, knew what to do for Nauhyo and did it. But he was sure that the child was in a fever and wished he had him at home and in Maxio's care. "But we can hardly get him down there in this rain, can we?" he observed.
Nopal, however, would hear of no delay; they must start as soon as they had drunk this chocolate. There were three rain-cloaks available: his own, that he had left hanging in the wardrobe three years since; one of Quauhtli's that would do for Shollo; and the Master's, which he made no scruple about fetching. They would wrap Nauhyo in it and then take turns in carrying him. Oh, but the rain came down!
By the time they were ready to start, the downpour had actually filled and sunk the boat at its mooring; and if they fished the craft up out of the shallow water and emptied it, it would sink again before they could get across.
"We will take the causeway," said Nopal, a proceeding that might have seemed to Shollo more impossible still but for his habit of trust.
"I know it very well," Nopal continued. "We used to cross it blindfolded when we were children, the Master looking on the while."
Who the "we" were, Shollo was not to learn, and that was the only time he heard mention of the Master.
They might as well have been blindfolded now, for there was no seeing through the rain. Nopal led the way and made straight for the causeway, Nauhyo in his arms and Shollo following with a grip on his brother's rain-cloak behind. The grim tension of Nopal's mind, allowing for no thought or consideration and so throwing the work of path-finding on his instinct, brought them over in safety. Even so, Shollo slipped and fell in the water at one point, and there was a struggle to get him on the causeway again.
Then the rain redoubled in fury, and it was hard work to come to land; and the wind rose, and they were thrice beaten to the earth before they had left the valley. And the Master was dead. What had made the valley beautiful was gone. The light of the world was put out.
It was the wildest journey ever either had made, with torrents constantly to be crossed; steep, slippery places to be descended; trees falling in front or behind; blinding rain and forest-flattening wind. They arrived soon after nightfall, the brothers quite exhausted, Nauhyo in high fever and unconscious. Maxio had him in bed at once, with Nayna the Aged — who, Maxio thanked the Mountain, happened to be in the house — in charge. Nayna, she said, was worth all the doctors in Huitznahuac, and "We simply could not have sent for her in this rain." And Nayna said that Nauhyo would be well in a month. Then Maxio gave her mind to mothering Nopal and Shollo.
Nopal remained at Rainflower for the rest of the month of Teotleco, during which time the Tlalocs, having invaded the world so unseasonably, hardly retired to their heights but deluged things incessantly, so that the Mountain was hidden always. Hidden, too, from Nopal were all the peaks and beauty of his being. It was the darkest period of his life. He knew that in the evolution of every soul — especially of one pledged, as he was, to discipleship — there is a time when the Law that teaches men must, in order that men may learn and evolve, carry them up to the lofty places of consciousness and then hurl them suddenly into the depths. It was the lesson set for Nopal now.
The god in him who had sat enthroned, as never before, during those two days of his exaltation, lord of all the provinces of his being, had withdrawn into hidden realms and left him lonely in an empty world — trying to hide his desolation from those around him.
It was the morning of the Tlalocs' Day, the Feast of the Mountains: the first of the month of Tepeilhuitl, which took its name from this festival. But Ketlasho reproached herself with being in no mood for a time so holy.
That was not because Shollo and his family had failed to come in for the day. She loved Shollo dearly, but he was not Nopal; and Nopal had come, and he ought to be here. They could have Shollo any year, and mostly they did; but Nopal had not spent a Tepeilhuitl with them since they came to Huitznahuacan. And now look!
The moment he arrived yesterday, she had seen that something terrible had happened. The pain was shining through his eyes. Why couldn't he stay here sensibly and let her take care of him? Maxio was the dearest of women, but sisters-in-law weren't sisters, were they?
Didn't you see his trouble when he was telling the children about Tlaloc-cakes last night? For her part, she had never heard such wisdom, and she was sure that Ameyatzin, the Tlaloc-priest, would say so too. The children had been standing round her while she kneaded the dough, and pestering her with questions till she was sure the cake would be a failure; and then Nopal had come to her rescue and told them all that to keep them amused. Ten words were not out of his mouth before they were as quiet as lizards in the sun, and it was enough to make you weep to hear his grand and gentle language, all fired and molded with his sorrow. The Tlaloc-cake would tell you: Wasn't it the best you had ever seen? That was because she had been listening to his explanations while she made it, and lifted by them into the true Tepeilhuitl mood —
— which is like that of the thirsty earth when it receives the rain-blessing of the Tlalocs —
— and had risen this morning as happy and thankful as she could be, even at such a god-season as this. And now it was nearly time to start . . . and he had slipped out before breakfast without a word to anyone, and there was no sign of his coming back!
She had dressed herself and the children in their best; she had inspected Shaltemoc closely, patting and pulling his holiday tilmatlies till they sat to her taste; she had arranged and rearranged the wreaths and garlands on herself and her daughters, and spent time on the blossoms her husband and small son were to wear over their right ears — and still no Nopal appeared. They would have to set out without him, almost the saddest thing that could happen on such a morning, because the crowd would be much too great to allow her any hope of joining him at the Top of the Town. It was very disappointing; indeed it was!
She checked herself. These were not Tlaloc-Day thoughts! One should be laying one's heart open to the spiritual influences of the Mountain-gods, ascending in thought to their lonely and lofty places, quite freed of the unrest of personality and daily business. The whole family had better wait in the God-room, bathing their minds in the religious silence there that was never broken. Even Pelashil would be quiet there, and she was sure that Shaltemoc would be no less the better for it than herself.
Besides, the Tlaloc-cake was in there on the altar; and very likely the sight of its perfections was what would best help her into silent-mindedness.
Everyone knew that the Tlaloc-cake was, domestically speaking, the centerpiece of the season's celebrations in every house in the land. It had to be made the evening before, baked in the night, and by dawn placed on the altar in the God-room. Its size was to be in proportion to that of the family, every member of which was, for the next ten days, to eat a sacramental piece of it lest he should lose something of the Tlaloc-benediction, which was the spiritual counterpart of the rain. One's heart, while one ate, was to be among the peaks and snows and pine forests; one's imagination with the Tlalocs in Tlalocan, that paradise of the gods that was the essence of the beauty and wildness and exaltation of all mountains everywhere.
The cake itself was designed to help one to such lofty thought. It was built up around two pottery figures — headed the one like a child and the other like a serpent — that fitted together standing back to back. The dough was made of maize flour well flavored with amaranth seeds, then modeled around these two figures to represent, as nearly as one were artist enough to do it, the mountain Mishcoatepetl, which the wise housewife had done her best to learn thoroughly in many litter-borne excursions around its base. The child-peak of Mishcoatepetl looked to the east, and the serpent-peak to the west, and thus the cake was to stand on the altar. The last perfection was certain clouds of the lightest puff-pastry set to float, as it were, about the mountain top: the supreme gift being to make it seem as if the child and the serpent were keeping them aloft with their breath.
Improbable as it may appear, there was a way to do this. But one had to be most exact, not only in the proportions and manipulations of the dough, but in having the right verse on one's lips at this crisis and that, and the right ecstasy in one's heart always. Most successes were only approximate, but hers, Ketlasho felt, was perfect this year, and that was because of what Nopal had been telling the children.
The Tlaloc-cake began to restore her peace as soon as they were settled in their seats in the God-room. Watching it, one could so easily imagine mountain things: the rocky precipices; the swish and whisper of pine boughs; the dark slither and foamy tumult of the torrent among its boulders — all those mountain sights, sounds, and scents that make gladness for the gods in men.
She began turning in her mind what Nopal had said about Tlaloc-cakes, and mountains. First, there was that we see when we look up to the slopes and peaks. We look away then, from the common world in which we eat and sleep and do things, into a lofty world that endures, knows itself, and is secure.
"You turn from your daily mind, where the little thoughts drift and flutter, toward the summit of your being, where lives the god in you who is eternal: your Lost Other, that someday you will become."
And he had gone on to explain that the serpent meant antique time, duration, eternity — she could not quite remember why — and that the child meant newness and futurity and what is always coming into being. Those two stood together he said, there in the midst of the cake to tell us what is at the heart of men and mountains alike: our Others — the gods, who are as ancient as the Serpent of Eternity and as young and proper to the ever-arriving future as childhood, and as serene and unshaken as the great mountains we adore. And it all meant much besides, he had assured them, saying it would be a great thing for anyone in a whole lifetime to learn all that the child and the serpent meant.
Brooding on these things, Ketlasho succeeded in smoothing out her mood entirely, so that when the time came to start, her thoughts were sufficiently near the peaks, and that though Nopal had not come.
On arriving from Rainflower at midday of the day before, Nopal had taken Nauhyo straight to the Calmecac, intending to present him to Arnaquitzin or Acatonatzin and return at once to Ketlasho's for dinner. But Amaquitzin had persuaded him to dine and spend much of the afternoon in his company, succeeding in this because evidently a most unusual mood was upon the teacher, and his face shone. It came out that he had a feeling that the gods were nearer to mankind than ever they had been, that something great was toward. He was agog with it and had begun to sense it a couple of days before the extraordinary rains began.
The minds of all whom he had contacted seemed to have been grandly ennobled in some way; had Nopal noticed anything of the sort? "You yourself," said he, "I feel to be a far greater man than you were when I saw you at Teotleco." Nopal was sure that he was very wrong there, but said nothing. It was only when Children of the Dragon died, said the priest-prince, that such spiritual influxes came from the God-world to exalt the world of men: The great of soul could not go out without leaving their equivalent behind.
"What then," thought Nopal, "does he know what has happened?" But he did not ask, for at that point someone came into the room and the subject was changed. Later on, Amaquitzin chanced to ask if Nopal would see Ameyatzin, the Tlaloc-priest, on the next day —
At which, whether the question was asked by deep design or was haphazard, Nopal ceased to hear or heed him. That all this while he should have been forgetting! The Master had left him directions, after all: in that pictoscript he had found in the open-room on his arrival at the Serpent's Hole, telling him that he was to see Ameyatzin on the morning of the Feast of the Mountains — Ameyatzin, who therefore would, no doubt, give him directions from the Master as to his future life. Nopal rose abruptly to take leave but found that his old Quetzalcoatl-teacher was in the midst of telling him something he must in courtesy hear to the end, and he sat down again.
Amaqui was speaking of the queen, urging that Nopal should not delay in making himself known to her, just as he had done at Teotleco. Had Nopal seen the thought behind Amaqui's mind, it might have driven him out of Huitznahuac then and there by the northern road. As it was, he was merely reminded that he was to give the queen a message from the Master; he would remember presently what it was. But the priest-prince's thought was this: Chimalmatzin must marry and leave an heir to the throne; and she had met, and shown no inclination for, every young noble in Huitznahuac but this Nopaltzin Tecuhtli, whom he and his brothers thought the fittest of them all to be king.
In the morning, Nopal woke early, his mind held by something he had not thought of the night before: namely, that if he was to have word with Ameyatzin this morning, he could hardly seek him too early, for by breakfast time, the Tlaloc-priest would be much too deep in the great affair of the day to grant an interview to anyone. So he made all haste away, not troubling to leave word with the house servants, who alone were abroad at that hour. He would be back to breakfast in any case.
A walk of a few minutes brought him across the town and up throughthe marketplace to the courtyard behind the koo of Tlaloc: the quietest, most secluded spot in Huitznahuacan. Arneyal was sitting in his open-room when Nopal appeared. An ocelot from the forest was playing in front of him, her four white paws in the air.
It was a familiar sight. That quiet courtyard was a favored haunt of the creatures of the wild; it was said that the peccary herd came there sometimes and that the Tlaloc-priest preached to them. Whether or no, there was the ocelot pleading for attention she was not likely to get, for the old man wore on his face something more than the remote sacerdotal expression proper to official occasions. This Nopal saw at a glance. Then the ocelot saw him and vanished in a streak onto the roof, but nothing disturbed Ameyatzin.
He and Nopal had always been the best of friends. He had often been a guest at Rainflower in the old days and had made much of the lad, recognizing him for what he was. So now Nopal arrived with his old affection in his mind, and something more, for was not Ameyal now, in a sense, his link with the Master?
But Ameyal showed neither surprise nor pleasure at seeing him, apparently unknowing of who he was. What the priest said was: "I have been expecting you, King Tlaloc's Milnaoatl."
"Your Godhead, no! I am not the Milnaoatl, but Nopal of Rainflower. Your Godhead has a message for me?"
"Help me to my feet," said the Tlaloc-priest, and when Nopal had done so, he turned to the inner door. "Come! Iyaca will bring you the Milnaoatl breakfast."
"But Ameyatzin —"
"Come!" said the Tlaloc-priest and led him into the house with a manner so final and lofty that Nopal could not oppose him. But he went groaning inwardly to think that the Master's plan had broken down and that the message Ameyatzin was to have given him would not be given. When Iyaca came in, between them they would be able to break this dream of the Tlaloc-priest's and then Nopal would be free to go home and quiet Ketlasho's perturbation, for perturbed she would be at his absence. Or at the worst, when the time came for going up, the right Milnaoatl would appear and set this wrong one free, but the Master's message would not be given. This Ameyatzin, his mind plunged in illusory dream, was not the one who could tell him what the Master desired his disciple to do.
Nopal had been the Milnaoatl in his time, and so he knew well that to take that part lay each year between a dozen or more of the young men at the head of the Calmecac, one of whom would have been chosen months ago and ever since would have been preparing. There were the hymns to be memorized; there was the deep searching into the springs of his life, and the severe selfdiscipline he would have to undergo, all the while hiding from the world the fact that he was the one chosen, The last thing possible in the world was that a Milnaoatl should be chosen on Tepeilhuitl morning.
All the same, supposing that Ameyatzin had really selected no Milnaoatl until this most preposterous moment; the old priest was bound to realize that no one would know of it but himself and Nopal.
Iyaca, in due course, did bring in the Milnaoatl breakfast; but as things went, it was impossible even to catch his eye. Ameyal was present, and it was Iyaca's business to see no one but Ameyal, whose look was that of a sage illuminated in meditation, not that of an old man lost in dreams. Nopal knew that his own mood, if he were really to be a votary, should be high and holy . . . but he could not attain to a holy mood now.
They breakfasted together in silence, and the true Milnaoatl did not appear. He should have arrived by that time, as the votaresses would soon be coming and it was his duty to be there before they came. Nopal began to think of the hymns, which he remembered in a general way, but certainly not accurately in detail. If the worst came to the worst —
But then Iyaca brought his master certain pictoscripts, and Ameyal said: "Let Tlaloc's Milnaoatl listen!" And he began reading from them the hymns that a Milnaoatl must know. Nopal listened eagerly, struggling the while with a kind of anger that arose within him. He was not fit to go.
By the time Ameyatzin had chanted all of the hymns thrice, Nopal knew them well. After all, he had been the Milnaoatl before. It was a high and solemn duty that had thus been thrust on him: one that no one before, in all history, he supposed, had taken twice, or had taken in so unhallowed a mood. The votaries were made, for the day, sacred to Tlaloc: appointed to approach on behalf of sovereign and people the Masters of the Clouds and Torrents; to set in motion that of which the reaction should be, physically, the rains of the coming year, and, spiritually, certain down-flowings of mountain grace to keep men mountain-hearted and life wholesome.
What a case was his, then, whose sole preparation for it was that hope had gone from his world! But it became clearer and clearer that he would have to take the role. The Tlaloc-priest led him into the robing room and bade him robe himself, and there was the familiar Milnaoatl costume laid ready. He could but obey, struggling with himself the while toward the mood it behooved him to inhabit, but with no commendable success. He heard the votaresses arrive, and presently the litters came, and the Tlaloc-priest and the five were borne up to the Top of the Town. And again, he was not fit to be the Milnaoatl.
In the arena, the dance ebbed and flowed about him, ebbed and flowed, and brought him no nearer to fitness. And when, in the course of it, all five votaries were led away and up into the Queen's Garden and to the gate at the southeastern corner, through which they should set out to climb the holy mountain, there was one of them, the Milnaoatl, who hated going and knew himself unworthy to go. It had never happened thus before.
High up on Mishcoatepetl, and not so far from the Serpent Peak, there is a valley said to be always delicate with the blooms of fairyland, and a lake in which was the goal of the Tepeilhuitl votaries, who alone of all mankind ascended Mishcoatepetl above the town.
Before starting, they were each given by the Tlaloc-priest, a paper boat to launch on the lake, with a paper figure in it: that of a man in the Milnaoatl's; of a woman in the votaresses'. Around these figures, in some mystical way, were the aspirations of Huitznahuac centered. The boats would float out from the shore, the launchers the while intoning the prescribed hymn, until a current bore them to a kind of whirlpool under the cliff on the other side, where they sank, bearing the kindness of humanity to the kindly Princes of the Rain.
That was the purpose of the pilgrimage; and yet, a votary might, and sometimes did, serve a higher purpose and attain a nobler goal without ever coming near the lake and the valley at all. The Lords of the Mountains, on this, their sacred day, might intercept any of the five midway and take that happy one into Tlalocan — the Copal-Incense Garden of King Tlaloc — which was held to be within, or in some magical propinquity to, the mountain, and there make known to him or her the secrets of Spiritual Beauty. This was done to express the Lords' great goodwill toward mankind; for when a votary was taken, it signified the Tlalocs' promise that fortunate times were at hand.
It happened once or so in a year-sheaf. A votary would return late or in unusual fashion and tell the tale — but only to the Tlaloc-priest — of his or her adventures in the Heartland, and thereafter it would be seen that his or her life had been enriched marvelously, and that for all of Huitznahuac, the noble augury of it would be fulfilled in some way. It rarely happened more often than once in a year-sheaf, and only twice or thrice in all history had more than one votary been taken in a year.
But it was possible that all five might be taken. It had happened once, in Ulupi's time, and it had presaged the coming of Huanhua; and who was to know in what year so supreme a miracle might not happen again? That was the feeling in Huitznahuac in every Tepeilhuitl. Who was to know? This very Rabbit 13, for aught one could tell, might be signalized wondrously, as in their turn might be the Reed One, Flint 2, House 3 and Rabbit 4, which were coming. So it was a day very salutary to the Huitznahuatecs, one that drew them by chains of golden expectation toward the God-world.
There were paths and paths on Mishcoatepetl, made by whom, and why not long since overgrown and lost, only the Tlalocs could tell. All of them led at last to the lake and the valley, but not one of them was the path. When the votary went up into the mountain, the Tlalocs would guide him according to his own inner standing, according to the particular thing that the ages of his evolution had made him. It was said that in all time no two votaries had gone up by the same path.
The first rule was that one must go in faith; faith was to be the guide. Whether one came to the pilgrim's usual goal or to holy Tlalocan, nothing but faith could bring him to it — which is as much as to say that one must allow the Tlalocs to lead. The votary left his course to them, taking viewless divinity by the hand. He had put self away to begin with. He had been for months training himself, and being trained, to do just that. Then he followed the path at his feet, even if it appeared to lead him, at a dozen strides away, to the brink of a precipice. His thought was to be with the gods, who chose the way and led him in it.
As now they led in turn the Tepos, the Shochiteca and the Matlalqua as each passed out by the mountain gate from the Queen's Garden and walked on in sight of the rest to an open space called the Raingods' Glade and there disappeared from view. All three, after long wandering or short, came happily into Tlalocan.
After the Matlalqua came the Mayavel, who was Queen Chimalman. She went out into the forest as to a lover, her heart entirely for Mishcoatepetl. She had never had a human lover, nor looked at any man with interest of that kind; she did not know what it meant. The mountain thrilled her to a more starry elation. . . .
For the sake of impersonality, the votaries went cloaked and hooded in town and till they had passed the Raingods' Glade; it was better that none should know who they were or think of them as but the characters they represented until their return. But now, when it was lawful to do so, this Mayavel threw back her hood and went bareheaded, worshiping, singing. Until noon, she was mostly ascending. There were pleasant, lawny slopes, mysterious edges of the forest, solitary trees that beckoned, wooded heights full of whispering motion-all of them surcharged with a gay, dynamic friendliness to feed her joy. By noon, she had quite lost herself, there was no other world than this mountain world. Her path wound on mazily through silent, shallow valleys, a sunlit loneness peopled by the unseen. There was soft grass; the occasional grayness of boulder or outcropping; shrubs, scattered or in thickets, with orange-colored berries and leaves richly bronze-green or gold-green.
Someone was ahead of her; she could not tell how she knew. Someone was ahead of her at four- or five-score strides away; because of the winding of the way, she could not see that far. She sang her hymn, as was appointed, to Tlaloc Quitzetzelohua, the Down-scatterer of Jewels, and divined that the one ahead of her would be he . . . and then, at a turn and a change of the landscape, she caught sight of him for a moment: a gigantic, beautiful being, fiery-mist-bodied, who, in that same moment, became a precipice, one of seven by whose bases, she saw, she was to pass.
For now the green valley was gone, and the way wound down in shadow between these great cliffs, which, she thought, were human-profiled at their tops, and this nearest one with the face of the Tlaloc she had seen. They were watching her with calm, eternal eyes; but when she looked up to them, the faces were gone.
But before that changing of what had been vividly living into motionless rock, the god had dropped a jewel by the wayside; she had seen it fall, and saw it now as she approached, gleaming on the ground and sparkling. Nearing, she saw what it was: a chalchiuhite dragon — the Chalchiuhite Dragon; and then it rose in the air on wings and circled about her head, and soared up among the peaks that she knew were watching her from above; and her song rose and soared with the dragon, which shone above there like a star, but was always visible for what it was and advanced as she advanced, lighting the crag tops that were always human- or god-visaged, except when she looked at them directly. And so it was until she had passed the seven of them; and as night fell, she came out from the defile and stood on the brink of the abyss.
A great part of her kingdom lay below, dotted here and there with the lights of farms and houses; above were the dancing myriads of the stars. Among them, brightest of all, was the Chalchiuhite Dragon; she saw it flash across the heavens and take station above the peak of Teotepetl to the west and shine there the Star of Quetzalcoatl, the Evening Star.
A whisper came down from the peaks: "Let the dragon be a sign for you!" and the question rose in her mind: "A sign of what?"
"Now, that he is coming; and then, that He is coming!" came the answer. "Look yonder!"
And there in front of her, where she had thought the abyss had been, and a great part of her kingdom beneath it, lay stretched in twilight, in daylight, in a light more brightly mysterious than day's, the lovely Garden Tlalocan, and approaching her by the path between the living waters came the Star of Quetzalcoatl, came the Chalchiuhite Dragon . . . in the hands of the Stranger of Teotleco.
When the Mayavel had passed out of sight, the Tlaloc-priest had given the signal for the Milnaoatl to start, and Nopal had gone out into the forest.
He went singing the hymn appointed: an invocation of the Tlaloc Tepahpaca Teaaltati, the Purifier. He sang it because it was the hymn appointed and had been used by the Milnaoatl at Tepeilhuitl since the beginning of the world; but his heart was elsewhere, and he was no fit votary for the pilgrimage. All the doors of the God-world were shut against him, and what he was doing was meaningless. He sang his hymn only as best he could, and it was unlikely that the Tlaloc would hear.
His way led under great trees that grew not too close together for blossomy shrubs to riot into luxuriance between. It was his business to invoke the Purifier in these and all the forest things through which Teteoinan the All-mother burns up into beauty and multiplies her occasions for joy. To invoke a god in them means to exchange consciousness with them in some sort, reminding them of their kinship with men and giving back delight for delight. What delight could he give? To the best of his belief, he quite failed in his invocation.
That, possibly, mattered little to the good Tlaloc he invoked. Teaaltati was abroad that day, intent on his grand Tepeilhuitl purposes and not to be set back by trifles. He would flood with his own divine Mountain-consciousness the mind, heart, and life of anything human he might find singing invocation to him on the mountain. By midday he had begun to have his will of the Milnaoatl, and through the afternoon he went molding him to the mountain's desire.
In the valleys, the silence became music; in the pine woods, the wind became vocal, and august voices whispered in consultation; steep rock-surfaces beckoned to be climbed. But, Nopal mused, was it not the Master who had bidden him go to Ameyatzin this morning, and therefore was he not, perhaps, Milnaoatl by the Master's own order, in obedience to him making this pilgrimage on the mountain? And the Milnaoatl he became, fulfilling the part: a disciple again, completely trusting in life and the innate divinity of things.
At the brink of darkness, he came to a torrent that must be crossed, for in that way lay the path. There was no leaping across, but he might be able to leap to that rock in the middle. The water was deep and too swift for swimming, and the sudden darkness too near for hesitation. He leaped . . .
Nopal thought he must have been dreaming something, though now, on waking, the dream escaped him. Well, he had had many dreams as wonderful in this so-familiar room of his on the island in the Serpent's Hole. . . .
With a pang he remembered that the noble years of his life there had come to an end and that today he was to go . . . to go beyond the limits of the known world on an errand for the Master. It would not really be exile. . . .
But he must hurry; Quauhtli was calling.
When they had breakfasted, the time came to start. "We shall cross the lake with you," said the Master. Ah yes. His dream had been that the Master was dead!
So they went down to the steps, the Master's hand on his shoulder. In the boat, Quauhtli took the paddle so that Nopal might be free to listen to what the Master was telling him. It was about the new queen. Of all the sovereigns of Huitznahuac, said the Master, only Ulupi, before her, had heard the divine fluting at Teotleco, and her glory should exceed Ulupi's, and by much.
Nopal was to tell her that. He was to say to her that none of her predecessors had been exalted as she would be. He was to tell her that the gods expected more of her than they had of any of the kings, her ancestors. She was 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 glory. Say that 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 our world and men. You are to say those words to her, and make her know they are from us. She is to trust until her trust becomes knowledge and what we expect of her is fulfilled. Whatever happens, she is to trust. Let the Chalchiuhite Dragon be her sign."
They came to the landing place on the far shore of the lake and Quauhtli drew the boat in. "Here we shall leave you," said the Master. "No, we will not go ashore. And now tread carefully, for the rock is moss-grown and slippery!"
The Master's hand in his, Nopal stepped out of the boat . . .
. . . onto the rock in the midst of the torrent on Mishcoatepetl. The Master's voice was still in his ears. The daylight was gone; he could not see the bank he was to cross to. The swift transition from his vision bewildered him. But he was to give a message to the queen, and at once. He looked this way and that, and —
Light broke in on the left: golden daylight, by all that was wonderful. It came through an arch in the rock and showed him that he was standing on a causeway that led in through the arch and out into open sunlight beyond. Of course . . .
He went in — into the Copal-Incense Garden. And there, coming down the path toward him, was the one he was seeking, the one to whom he was to give the Master's message.
And, meanwhile, Huitznahuacan was beginning to be agog with a rumor that none of the votaries had returned. If One were to think of what that might mean — and that unless they had been taken into Tlalocan, surely they would have come back by now. Groups went about the stepped streets exultantly telling each other so. This Rabbit 13 might be the year of years. . . .
And, mind you, next year would be a Ce Acatl. Next year would be a Ce Acatl!
A mood of high expectancy grew through the next two days, during which three of the votaries returned with tales to tell the Paloc-priest of the high things they had seen in Tlalocan. Then the anticipation was wonderfully enhanced on the morning following.
It was that of a market day, as every fifth day was in Huitznahuacan. All of the town, and much of the country, was in, or represented in, the marketplace, disposing of the results of its past five days of labor and acquiring what it would need during the five days to come. Your tastes would be farfetched indeed if you could not find there all that you desired.
A walk through from the Market Magistracy to the koo of Tlaloc will prove that to you; so imagine, please, that you are a farmer from Blue-wind, Rainflower or Greenjaguar and that you started out early this morning with, say, three litters — one for yourself and two for your produce — and a double relay of bearers, who made their five miles or more an hour without trouble and brought you into town in six hours. From such districts as Burntbread or Losthistory, you would have had to start out on the day before and spend the night in the guest house of some intervening village.
Arriving, you leave your litters at the posthouse in the Townmouth, where your men unload and shoulder your goods, thence carrying them to where the Street forks and up the stairs on the right, just this side of the koo of Teteoinan, to the Market Magistracy, a large building facing the Street. Some two-score steps lead up to the terrace on which it stands, and it is colonaded in front, with cornice and pillars curiously carved, and glistens silverly in its coat of polished gypsum — as all the buildings in Huitznahuacan do. In it, the Market Magistrate, normally the reigning sovereign presides; but Acamapitzin for the present is taking Chimalman's place there, as he took that of the old king, his father, during the latter years of Ashokentzin's reign.
You could pass to the left into the Lower Market without entering the Magistracy, but you do not. Acamapitzin is a man you greatly respect and like; and in any case, you would go in to greet him. Having brought those litter-loads of farm-stuff with you, you go in as well to have them entered in the accounts of the market by clerks whose skill and intuition in pictography fit them for the work. When you leave, they will also note down all you take from the market, and at the end of the day they will see to the collecting of what suitable foodstuffs are left over, and presently to the drying, salting and storing of them. All of the buildings on the hillside to the west of the Upper Market are storehouses and contain, as a rule, what would carry Huitznahuac through a year or more of disastrous crops.
Your business there finished, you leave the Market Magistracy by a door in the east wall and descend by five steps into the Lower Market. Here, to your left, is the koo of Teteoinan, with the stalls of the flower-suppliers at its base. In front and to your right is an irregular semicircle of pillared gallery, with houses on houses piled up on the steep hillside above. To this gallery every market day poets come and chant their verses for any audiences that may gather; you will find a crowd listening to them always. At some time in the day, everybody spends an hour here, and the poets are kept busy. If you have luck, you may even listen to the priest-prince Acatonatzin, greatest singer of his age. One keeps silent here mostly; greets one's friends, but with a gesture; indicates the flowers one wants without speech. All of the flower-suppliers are women attached to the Temple of Teteoinan.
At the southwest corner of the Lower Market, a flight of some twenty steps-with the small koo of Centeotl, the Maize-queen, at the left on top-leads you to the next level, where the potters, cabinetmakers, stoneworkers, carpenters and goldsmiths carry on their trades and display their wares on market days. From any one of them you may have what you want for the asking.
Cross this Middle Market diagonally and another stairway brings you to the foot of the koo of Shewtecuhtli, the Fire-god, at the lower end of the Upper Market, the largest of the three and the center of things socially on market days. It slopes up from there south to the koo of Tlaloc but curves to the east in the middle, so that the one koo is not to be seen from the other. Here your bearers bring the loads they brought in and then distribute themselves, unless ordered otherwise, in quest of a day's enjoyment. There is plenty to be had, here and below, to fill their time until you need them in the evening.
For instance — not to speak of the poetry in the Lower Market, and depend on it, they will all spend an hour or two down there drinking it in — the Huitznahuacan storyteller, and two or three others of that profession from the villages, will be in attendance up here during the afternoon. And the Greenjaguar jugglers, the best in the kingdom, come in, and the tumblers from Losthistory, so that all day long there will be something to see or hear, as is but fitting in this great Huitznahuacan, capital of the world. To be a litter-bearer, and run your twenty or thirty miles under a load into the city on a market day, is a privilege much sought after by the young men of the villages; it is their chance to see the wonders of the age, and it gives them matter to talk over until their turn for it comes again.
The Upper Market supplies all needs in the way of food and clothing: the latter in the long gallery under the hill on the east; the former on the other side, under awnings on the terrace of the lowest tier of storehouses. There the hunters bring carcasses of deer, peccaries, rabbits and so forth, according to the needs of town and country; and the farmers bring fatted dogs and turkeys from their herds. There come the fishermen with what the rivers afford of fish and of frog-spawn in season. And there in season you will find baskets or piles of chiles, bright green and bright scarlet; tomatoes; maize, in grain or on the cob; onions and garlic; pochotl seed; beans of many sorts; many kinds of edible roots; also of fruits — zapotes, black, yellow or green; cherimoyas and mombins; cashews and sugar-apples; soursops, texocotls, quauhtzapotls, papayas, and a score of kinds beside. Here too, to one side or the other of the Upper Market, the agave-farmers bring all the products of that master-plant: roots and sections of stem to be roasted, roasted and roasted, or stewed, stewed and stewed, into wholesome edibility; raw fiber to be dried, cured and woven into nequen cloth or pulped and made into paper; dried leaves disthorned to thatch sheds or build fences withal; pins, needles and hooks made of the thorns.
Up here, too, at the Shewtecuhtli end, are the cooks who cater for folk, like yourself, in from the country — the very best of cooks, be assured! — these mincing meat with garlic and fiery chiles, wrapping it in maize dough and with maize leaves outside all, and baking the result in their clay ovens into excellent tamales; those making a dozen different types of flat loaves or tortillas; these others preparing roasts or stews of venison, turkey or dog meat with tomatoes, mushrooms and garlic; or, farther up, pounding cocoa beans with maize flour and pochotl seed, and boiling, cooling, and frothing the mixture into chocolate, halfway between liquid and solid-food or drink as you please.
In the gallery you can get all of the nonedible products of the agave worked up into their final manufactured form, especially nequen cloth. Nequen cloth dyed or undyed, by the piece or cut into garments, wondrously little tailored, in sepias, umbers, siennas, terra-cottas, brick-reds, dark blues, leek-greens and jadegreens, rich yellows, and pale but vivid blue-greens, such as are worn now by the happy crowd that fills the place. Oh, yes — everything imaginable, you may say, is to be had in the Huitznahuacan market.
And the unimaginable, too, this morning, for you are delighted to see the awnings of the Saltmerchants in front of the Fire-lord's koo, and the tales you shall hear from them may well be called unimaginable. Indeed, there is a streak of the supernatural in their very existence; but for them, "human" and "Huitznahuatec" would be synonyms. They cannot come here without, in a sense, unsettling the bounds of the universe, and yet we are used to them, for they do come, one or another party of them, half a dozen times or more in the year. When you come to think of it, the apparition of a god would, on the whole, be less surprising. . . .
For we know the bright realms of beauty that lie inward of the man-world and of which the solid mountains are the shadowed projections, as it were; all have visited them in dreams. Between death and rebirth, we traverse and make our homes in them. But who has passed the legendary Canyon at the End of Things or walked in the unknownness of the north? Who knows what infinite mystery girdles around the eight thousand of mountains we call Huitznahuac?
None but these Saltmen. Understand or believe it who can, their very presence here proves that they do.
They are excellent, entertaining fellows: merchants and strolling players. Highly gifted men, we all think them. They call themselves Chiapanecs, whatever that may mean, as we call ourselves Huitznahuatecs, and say that they come from a land called Chiapas. They are a kind of link for us with that which, to say the truth, we never could quite find it in our hearts to believe in: a world beyond Huitznahuac. Imagine, then, what a source of wonderment they are! Our literature of humor is mainly built on the tales they tell us, and how magnificently farcical and fanciful it is!
They come with their trains out of the north, spend a day here and go back the way they came. During the morning and afternoon, they are providing us with salt — and romance — in the marketplace; toward evening we feast them in the guest house; later they perform for us in the arena. We count them very benevolent beings thus to leave their mystery-world and make the roads of space their home that our needs may be supplied, and to get nothing for it in return. Well, nothing really! Truly there are the bags of uncut chalchiuhites we press on them as tokens of our affection. Chalchiuhites aplenty are to be found at Blue-wind.
There are several parties of them, with three merchants in each, but those here today are our favorites: by title and names, the Philosophers Hax, Been, and Quicab. They have not a tale to tell, of all their countless eight thousands, but what is a keen joy to listen to: quaintly fascinating, most original, preposterously unlikely! They fill the vastness we know not with what queer figments of fancy please them — and to be sure, please us too, and marvelously! And we have much too much sense of humor ever to ask, "Is that true?"
For instance, when they tell us that their salt comes from a lake in the northern world and is, in fact, dried water, what bad manners it would be to take them seriously! And when they go on to say that in those parts — those surely nonexistent parts — there are many cities larger than this immense Huitznahuacan! And that men can speak from a mountaintop through a thing called a far-speaker and be heard fifteen-score miles away in any direction!
In brief, their imagination is infinitely fertile, and Huitznahuacan is having infinite enjoyment of it this morning. They are at their best when descanting upon a people they call the Toltecs, concerning whom their wildest tales are told. Not so long ago we had never heard of these Toltecs; the Saltmen were, till recently, reticent as to their native regions, and our literature of humor is not a year-sheaf old. We might well be thankful that they have changed their habit!
This morning they had needed clothes for some of their porters; the need was obvious. What they must do, then, was to accept the best mashtlies and tilmatfies in the market. The clothiers were insistent, as was all Huitznahuacan. There was no way of paying for these clothes. To offer more salt than was asked for would be to elicit the question, "What for?" — we of Huitznahuac having no conception of sale or barter. So, when they had taken what they must, Shalternoc, Nopal's brother-in-law, sensing a trifle of embarrassment in them, switched the talk to the Toltecs with, "Let the philosophers tell us now about the clothes their Toltecs wear."
The crowd urged the suggestion. It was early, and there was plenty of time. Everyone took more or less of a holiday when Philosopher Hax and his partners were in town.
Sleek and well-fed Quicab responded; he had the glibbest tongue in the world. What that tongue could make of it here, lean Hax and large Been were interested to discover, since how could you tell Toltec tales on this matter without seeming to disparage the garments — excellent garments, mind you! — that generous Huitznahuacan had just been giving you?
Philosopher Quicab felt this too; and his tongue, glib as it might be, and artful enough as it was elsewhere, in Huitznahuacan distinctly aimed at truth. "Clothes?" said he. "Oh, your Godheads must understand that the Toltecs have no such wearing apparel as you have. For your clothes, it is understood, are good clothes. They are well-made, durable, and artistically colored. Oh dear, no; the Toltecs have no such clothes as these!
"'You see, they are afflicted with what is called foppishness; many of them decidedly are fops. That is, they do not dress sensibly, those people. To speak with quiet reason, they have no such sensible habits in dress as you have here."
Hax and Been applauded inwardly, imperceptibly exchanging glances. After all, Rogue Quicab was telling a kind of truth.
"They have not —" that philosopher continued, still feeling his way and with less than his usual eloquence "— they have not the art of dying nequen that you have. Indeed, they commonly use a substitute for nequen, a stuff they call cotton." He mentioned it with convincing contempt.
All very well; but we had heard of marvelous mantles of fur and feathers and felt that we were not getting all we deserved. An old man named Opochtli reminded them of these things.
"Oh, yes," said Quicab. "Those are their fopperies, you see. They trick themselves out in gauds and frippery in the vanity of their habit. A barbarous custom, you may call it."
Philosopher Been here interrupted tactfully, seeing his partner without resource. "They go into battle cotton-mailed," said he, "the cotton quilted and twisted so that no arrow could pierce it."
He had turned the matter off into humor, relieving his partner neatly. The Huitznahuatecs strove to keep face.
"Battle, Philosopher Been?" This was their most preposterous, and so our favorite, subject.
"Ah," said Hax. "That is a matter your Godheads know nothing of." Hax always vaguely disliked talking about war when visiting Huitznahuacan.
But we did know, of course. We knew well what "battle" meant; it was what happened between the gods and the Sun of old. The absurdity was to speak of it as happening between men and men.
Philosopher Been went on to extend our ideas. "War," said he, "comes about when one king marches against another and subdues him."
"But how subdues, your Godhead?" Thus we draw our friends out, inducing them to practice their art.
"By killing his men. In this warfare, you must understand, men take bows and arrows, spears and terrible macuahuitl-swords, and ruthlessly slay those who oppose them."
For all our restrained habit, we must laugh a little at such a farfetched, quaint, fantastic imagining. Philosopher Been's expression as he spoke was quite serious — even, you might say, pained.
We drew them out on the subject of the Toltec towns, and Quicab became eloquent presently. "Are they really like that?" asked old Opochtli, wonder on his face.
"A deal better live here in quietness than amidst that pomp and bloodshed," growled Been, and the other two grunted agreement.
Just then a clerk came up from the Market Magistracy to stop the distribution of all fresh foodstuffs, because it might be needed for certain strangers who were —
Yes. It was something that had never happened before. A herald, if you please, had just come in to announce that an embassy from — the Soul of the World knew where — would be in the city before noon, so we must reserve what provisions had been brought in this morning until we knew what these guests of the queen would need. And would their Godheads, the provision-dealers, have their porters take what they had up to the guest house at once? And would their Godheads, the cooks, repair thither with all their paraphernalia and do their best with what the porters would bring? For we hear that there are score-scores coming; the guest house itself might not be big enough. And would not the rest of their Godheads present like to go out northward along the Road to meet and welcome the ambassador?
Indeed they would, and with a will! Lucky that, being a market day, all were here assembled and ready! The Chiapanecs' aspect, from serious, had turned glum indeed, but none noticed that. We had other things to think of as we poured down toward the Lower Market, the Townmouth, and the Road beyond. An ambassador was coming; but how could an ambassador come? Where was he to have come from? And after the glorious omen of Tepeilhuitl! What like of man was the herald, your Godhead Quanetzin? — this to the clerk who had brought the news. Had he human- or God-seeming? How was he clad? Had you opportunity to take note of him, for instance?
Oh, yes. Good opportunity. He had human- rather than God-seeming, Quanez thought; but how anyone, being human, could yet be so little like humanity, it was for their Godheads to ponder. "And yet, if you can understand me, noble. Noble, my conception is. And speaking so strangely that one had to guess at his meaning, though there were many words one could catch. These extra-mundane people must be sadly crippled in the matter of communication by speech.
"But the apparel! The marvelous splendor! The woven fur and feathers, such as the Salt-purveying Godheads had spoken of. The scintillant glow of harmonious colors! And this one merely a kind of servant, sent forward to announce his master's coming.
"A Toltec!" quoth Opochtli. "Depend on it, sent by that great northern monarch the philosophers have told us about." He was passing with the crowd out through the Townmouth; unlike the rest of us, he was unhumorous and had sometimes inclined to belief in the Saltmen's Toltec tales. But now his remark caused no amusement. What if it were true, after all? We had certainly heard of those cloaks of fur and feathers.
We questioned the Saltmen in passing; but those philosophers had become, contrary to nature and precedent, quite unapproachable. Tush, they had no opinion at all; they knew nothing in the world, they said. — Were their tales really true? Was there such a people as the Toltecs? — Let their Godheads who wanted salt come for it: market days were for getting in the things one needed. It might be necessary for us Chiapanecs to take the road earlier than you thought, so you will do wisely to acquire your salt now! — But would you not come down with us to see this great sight, the arrival of the first ambassador in history? — Yes, but not just yet; later perhaps. They must attend to this and that first. So the crowd passed on and left them presently alone.
And we went growing toward belief in their stories, forgetting, however, those about war. And we thought of this latest portent — the ambassador's coming and the new world it implied — in connection with the high happening of Tepeilhuitl. Oh, we were on the brink of glorious things; the Feast of the Mountains had foreshadowed them! At least men were divine, the Others of the gods themselves, for which reason we addressed each other as "your Godhead." So to come into contact with a new mankind would be to increase our wealth and knowledge of divinity, to gain untold riches of the spirit. A happy and most blessed time!
Thus Huitznahuacan, passing out through the Townmouth and trailing along the Road to the north, was uplifted, and presently meeting the so marvelous ambassador, made quite clear to him the joy it had in his coming.
The Chiapanecs, sitting disconsolate, watched the townspeople depart. When the last had gone, Been broke a long silence with, "Our last visit here, then!"
"Half a dozen hours behind us," groaned Hax. "Had we dawdled, we should have been overtaken. A good pestilent curse on someone!"
"On the hierarch, then!" growled Been. "He will be at the bottom of it."
"I am going to see before I believe it," said Quicab, rising.
"And be recognized, and have them know we come to Huitznahuac?" said Hax.
"I won't be recognized. Wait you!"
Quicab hurried off toward the koo of Tlaloc, knowing that somewhere behind it there was a way up to the Top of the Town. He soon found it. East of the Tlaloc-priest's house, the hillside rose steeply; up the face of it, in zigzags, stairways had been cut, which Quicab took at a run. These brought him to the back of the koo of Quetzalcoatl. Ascending, he trusted that Amaquitzin would be somewhere below, busy about the ambassador. He could devise a tale, he hoped, that would satisfy anyone else.
On the top, he crawled toward the temple with a mental "Excuse-me" prayer to its deific owner; he would arrange a more formal apology presently through his own deity, the hook-nosed Yacacoliuhqui, God of Merchants. The temple was empty, as he had hoped, so now there was nothing to fear from behind. Still crawling, he made his way to the northwestern corner of the koo top and surveyed the world.
Yes, there on the Calmecac roof were the three Royal Uncles in consultation — to his surprise, without the queen. They were too deep in their counsels to be likely to look his way. Still — As he watched, they turned and went down the stairs into the Calmecac. None else was in sight, and so he might dispose himself as he would.
He stood up to get the better view. The city seemed quite emptied of its people. The whole southern half of it lay visible: there the Townmouth; there the Street; nearer, some twisted bits of the Street of the Quechol. How long was he to — Ah, there they came!
A most triumphant host, pouring in through the Townmouth: Huitznahuatecs, and islanded in the midst of them, gorgeous strangers, a litter-borne procession, at the head of which was a banner bearing the arms of . . . he peered, focusing his keen vision to make it out when the flag should front him —
Of Huetzin, King of Tollan. The coat of arms of King Huemac. Of course! Only a fool would have dreamed it could be otherwise.
He watched the crowd down there, tossing his head with impatient pity. They were treating the Toltec — who was, yes, Yacanetzin of Tollan, a great lord whom Huemac often sent on such missions — as if he were one of the greater gods come to deliver them from bondage. With flowers from the marketplace, they were piling up the Toltec litters, crowning and garlanding the ambassador and his suite, even to his bearers and escort.
These same bearers had been relieved of their loads, each one's place under a litter having been taken by a Huitznahuatec, by whose side the displaced and bloom-bedecked Toltec walked. The procession hardly moved forward at all, so great was the press of good feeling that surrounded it. "If they but knew why their guests have come!" sighed Quicab.
Well, he had seen enough. Yacacoliuhqui be thanked, the Chiapanecs had pitched their camp well to the south of the city, where these Toltecs, unless cursedly inquisitive, would not see it. Not but what Yacanetzin was a gentleman.
Soon Quicab was back with his partners in the Upper Market. They looked their question, which he answered with, "Yacanex of Tollan." They spat in silence.
Somebody appeared from below, looking for someone else, and said that the ambassador was being taken to the guest house and would not their Salt-bringing Godheads proceed thither to help entertain him? They promised to go, and so got rid of him, having however no idea of keeping their promise and thought it wise to retire behind the koo of Tlaloc, where they would be unlikely to be disturbed with more such invitations.
A score-score times in history, the Canon of Ulupi had been found to have foreseen things apparently unforeseeable. And so now. When the Royal Uncles went down into the Calmecac to consult it, they found everything they needed. Even on ambassadors: "Should be received in audience by the sovereign, or by four or three of his next of kin."
But the sovereign was missing; and so soon after Tepeilhuitl, it would be improper to inquire why. How long might the audience be delayed? "Must be received within four hours of his arrival." Must be received, then, by themselves and Ameyal, the Tlaloc-priest, unless the sovereign should appear meanwhile. And the Tlaloc-priest was not forthcoming; the messengers sent had failed to find him. There was nothing to be done, then, but go down with the Calmecac students to meet their guest and conduct him to the guest house with song.
They met the ambassador in the Street, where the crowd was making much of him, and they were favorably impressed. His clear-cut, scholarly face, with its air of self-possession, under that high panache of tzinitzcan feathers and above the scintillant splendor of his robes, was certainly impressive. His expression too was friendly; how could it be otherwise? To say the truth, he had been a little perturbed at the warmth of his welcome.
Cities against which they came to stir up war were not wont to treat the League's envoys like this. The ambassador wondered if these simple people could know the nature of his mission, or was it that they themselves were heartily in love with war? He had given up even trying to maintain the distant air proper to his errand, and he smiled back the affection in their eyes. His escort was overcome likewise, and fraternizing with the enemy-to-be.
These Huitznahuatecs, the ambassador thought, seemed to be the finest and kindliest people in the world, and would make splendid soldiers for the Topiltzin once they were conquered and annexed. It was even a pity that they should have to be conquered. He almost hoped for the success of his mission, which, from the first, had been intended to fail. Had they a queen, he wondered, one in a position, or who could be induced, to listen to Huemac's proposals?
The Royal Uncles found him listening with courteous sympathy to the extemporary verses of greeting that the poets had come down from the Lower Market to chant in his honor. The ambassador understood a third of them fairly well, and the spirit of all of them. He had been a student of the archaic forms of the Nahua language; this was archaic Nahua with a difference, and he was glad of this opportunity to listen to it, for presently he must make himself understood by them. When the students arrived and sang, he was still more delighted, and he came to the guest house a good friend to Huitznahuac.
When the Toltecs had been nearly four hours in the city and the time for the audience drew near, Amaquitzin took upon himself a huge and, as he felt, almost sacrilegious responsibility. He left the guest house unostentatiously, taking with him — as Nopal was not there — Nopal's brother-in-law, Shaltemoc, of whom he begged a favor. Together they went to the arena, where Amaquitzin got Shaltemoc to blindfold himself with a tilmatli, after which he led him here, there and yonder, and then to the mountain gate in the Queen's Garden. He asked Shaltemoc to wait there and tell any two persons who might come by that they were needed at once in the throne room of the palace, and why they were needed.
Thus Amaquitzin made certain that if the queen was on the mountain and should return before the audience was over, she would come straight to it and not go down, as the custom was, to the Tlaloc-priest's house. As all the town was at the guest house, the blindfolding could be done unobserved and Shaltemoc's placidity could be trusted neither to be disturbed nor to be speculated upon.
At the audience, the Royal Uncles sat on the lower level of the dais, facing the Toltecs: Acatonal in the middle; Amaqui and Acamapichtli on his left and right. They were the only Huitznahuatecs present. Behind the ambassador, who was seated, stood the members of his suite: secretaries, soldiers and bearers, half a score-score perhaps, glittering richly in the shadowy light. When the ceremonial pipes had been smoked, Acatonal, in a low voice and without rising, welcomed the Toltec in the name of the queen of Huitznahuac — "There is a queen, then!" thought Yacanetzin of Tollan — and invited him to deliver his message.
Very deliberately, and after a long pause, Yacanetzin did so. Slow speech became his office, and now he must use the archaic forms, translating his thought as he went, imitating his hosts' accent. He gave them time to get used to the result, first framing elaborate compliments on their mountains, their city and their customs, by no means without sincerity. When he felt sure that they were understanding him fairly well, he came to what he had to say. The Human Tezcatlipoca, Huetzin, King of Tollan, Lord of the Anahuacs and Third Illuminous Potentate of the Toltec League, asked that the queen of Huitznahuac add his realm to her illustrious dominion, and Huitznahuac to the empire of the League, by becoming his wife.
An adequate silence followed, broken at last by Acatonatzin, speaking in like low, deliberate tones. He too paid lofty compliments with sincerity. He said that they had thought of his Godhead's city as built of rainbow-stuff on some happy hillside in Tlalocan, rather than in the man-world; it was inspiring to learn that there were Toltecs, beings like themselves — human, and their brothers — to be their friends henceforth. The queen, he said, would be grateful to the lofty Huetzin for his proposals.
Then Acamapitzin spoke. But could the kingdoms be united indeed? he asked. He understood that they were far apart. Here had been kings and queens since Ulupi's days, to whom Prince Huanhua of the Mighty Bow came from beyond the western sea, forgoing his sovereignty abroad. It would be a long way for King Huetzin to travel when he desired to be with his bride.
After another silence, Amaquitzin spoke. Who could answer for a woman's heart? said he. Their sovereigns chose for themselves, and chose from among their friends, whom they knew. Let the king of Tollan become one of these; let him come in person to ask.
While he was speaking, the queen and Nopal entered by a door on the dais, behind the Royal Uncles, and so were unnoted by them. They had come down from the mountain together; the blindfolded Shaltemoc had given them Amaqui's message at the gate. She heard only the last sentence spoken, and now her voice, with a new and sacred power in it, thrilled through the hall.
"Let the king of Tollan come," said she, "and Huitznahuac shall seem to him to be his own, and we, the king and queen of Huitznahuac, will be to him as his brother and sister. Let the lord ambassador convey this to him."
She sat down and motioned to Nopal to be seated beside her. The princes, who had risen at the sound of her voice, went up and took their places standing behind the two.
"King and queen," thought Yacanex. "The mission fails." He rose to reply and spoke very solemnly, with bent head. The news that the queen was not unmarried, said he, would cause King Huemac great grief. It might cause grief elsewhere also. Who could tell? There might be mourning among both peoples, and many cities lamenting their dead.
For now the gods were tired of their old unconcern with human things and proposed to be the masters of the world of men. They had commissioned their servants, the Toltecs, to unite mankind in one empire and one religion, and it would be impious to disobey.
The king of Tollan had hoped, as had his allies of Culhuacan and Otompan, that this far and beautiful Huitznahuac might be brought peacefully and by marriage into the God-ordained Communion of the Toltec League, so that from here to the limits of the universe southward, Toltec order, culture and religion might prevail. But now they must take new counsels and devise new means, and none knew what the end would be. But let the Huitznahuatecs be of great heart, since no disaster could overtake the brave.
"Practice yourselves in arms and discipline," said he, "lest it come to warfare between you and us!"
The Huitznahuatecs heard this phrase and, except for Nopal, were puzzled. "Lest it come to" — what?
"My sovereign," Yacanex continued, "has been mindful of your needs in this respect; understand, then, how truly he is your friend."
He turned and summoned certain of his bearers and had them unpack their bales in front. "This one first!" said he. They took from it wonders of royal raiment, woven of scintillant hummingbirds' feathers: robes for Toltec monarchs such as the kings of the south had never dreamed of, the colors of them burned in the somberness of the hall. Then came arms and armor of equal magnificence, the uses of which the queen and the princes could not guess: suits of cotton mail, terrible macuahuitls toothed with obsidian, hardwood shields, and helmets gorgeously panached. These he had the porters arrange along the sides of the hall.
When all of the bales were unpacked and the equipment of a Toltec regiment set forth, he spoke again, not to explain these strange gifts, however, but in a few words to bid his hosts farewell. His hosts had taken in the meaning of nothing before he was gone, his suite at his heels, down by the empty Street of the Quechol to the Townmouth and away, all of their spare baggage-litters laden with provisions by the Huitznahuatecs.
And meanwhile in the crowded marketplace, it was known that wonderful things were afoot, and all in connection, of course, with the so-lately mythical Toltecs, whom yesterday none had believed in at all. How propitiously they had revealed themselves! Half-gods rather than mortals, as their splendor testified. How fortunate we were that they had become our loving friends! Come, your Salt-dealing Godheads, Philosophers Hax and Been and Quicab, rejoice with us; fill our ears now with your marvelous true tales!
But their Salt-dealing Godheads, for some reason, were not to be found.
Ameyal, the Tlaloc-priest, should have been in consultation with the Royal Uncles that morning, but Acamapichtli's messengers failed to find him, and the princes could not afford to wait. Perhaps never before on a market morning had he been absent from his temple, where it was his duty to be. Iyaca, who watched over him lovingly, and these days with more care than ever, supposed that he was there as usual; and he would surely have been told he was not but for the excitement in the town.
Ameyal was, in fact, up on the mountainside, in meditation in the Raingods' Glade, having wandered out there early instead of ascending the koo. Since the Feast of the Mountains, he had been more than ever of the God-world, in a curious elevation of mood, with temporal things but shadowy to him, and divinities rather than men for his companions. At about midday he returned, for no reason that his mind was aware of, going down by the path through the forest and by the bridge over the ravine at the bottom of his garden. He found the Saltmen seated on the lowest step of the koo stairway, looking thoroughly disconsolate.
They had been his good friends for many years and had, as usual, begun their day in Huitznahuacan with a visit to his temple, bringing an offering. They had been as surprised not to see him then as they were to see him now — supposing him, of course, to be with the ambassador — as he came up through the garden. For all his aloofness, he noted their depression at once and would have probed for their hurt with a view to healing it, but that Hax anticipated him.
"Your Godhead need not ask," said the lean Chiapanec. "It is the ambassador who came this morning."
Ameyal's eyes, strangely lit up, questioned them. He himself had lately sent out ambassadors, the only kind he knew of, or that there were for him to know of, on behalf of Huitznahuac to the gods of the Mountain . . . .
"The ambassador of the Toltecs, your Godhead," explained Quicab. "You will have heard —"
But he had heard more than they guessed. News so holy never before had come to him. "Toltec," as it chanced, was a new word to him; he had never been in the way of hearing the Saltmen's tales. There were no human kings to send ambassadors, who could therefore but come from inner realms. So what he heard from explanatory Quicab was not "ambassador of the Toltecs," but "ambassador of the Gods" — Teteo.
They marveled at the way his face shone. He seemed to lose interest in what they had to say, to become unaware of their presence. The gods had sent their ambassador into the world, and he, as Tlaloc-priest, must go up to meet that august being. As Tlaloc-priest, as Quetzalcoatl-priest, the Plumed Dragon's emissary, the herald of the Evening Star — his thought was beyond him. He heard a music out of grander worlds, was called, and must go.
"Your Godhead —" began Been.
Ameyal turned again, blessed them with a sign, and left them amazed as he entered his house.
"Come," said Hax. "We had better go back to the marketplace." He meant, "This place is too holy for the likes of us."
Ameyal dressed himself in his robes of ceremony and set out for the Raingods' Glade again. Very slowly he went. There was little strength left in his body, but he knew nothing of that; his spirit was more than in its prime. The supreme moment of his life had come. He was on his way to meet the gods' ambassador, and the flowers of Tlalocan bloomed about him as he went, and the zacuans of Tlalocan sang to him. Nearing the glade, he walked more and more in the glory of the God-world. Entering it, he beheld the Beatific Vision: King Tlaloc himself. Or, no, one greater than King Tlaloc: the Plumed Dragon, shining wonderfully, drawing to himself the worship of the worlds. . . .
He came following what Ameyal at first did not see: two shadows that were for some reason wearing Tepeilhuitl robes Mayavel and Milnaoatl robes. Together the three passed some three-score strides in front of him and went down by the path toward the Queen's Garden — the first two in a kind of penumbral unreality; the third, shining more clearly visible than anything Ameyal had seen in his life. . . .
After some while it occurred to Ameyal to go back to the temple. That was his place, of course; and, yes, the One that had come would expect him there. He went down through woods that were flooded with divinity and vocal with melodious adoration. All things wore at last their true semblance, which is hidden usually from the eyes of the incarnate. The sky was visibly the splendor of Quetzalcoatl. At the end of every forest vista there shone the robe of celestial hummingbirds' feathers, the youth that seemed to be eternal, the beauty beyond computation by man. . . . the she-jaguar slunk at his side, purring; the mother deer with her fawn, expecting his affection. . . .
By the time he had crossed the bridge and come up into the garden, his years had dropped from him and he was a young man again — in his last year at the Calmecac, and the Milnaoatl, about to ascend the Mountain. Outwardly and visibly, it was the koo of Tlaloc he was ascending; inwardly, it was Mishcoatepetl. Every step of the way he had traveled in his youth, he traveled again now, and he came to the lake in the valley, where he launched his votive paper boat.
The craft floated out; he watched it glide across the waters, rosy with sunset, to the whirlpool under the precipice and there disappear. And still he watched — for the boat that should come for him. For he knew that he would not return to Huitznahuacan; he would not be needed there now, since the gods' ambassador had come. The boat he looked for came, rising out of the whirlpool. It seemed to be of golden and violet fire; the figure standing in it was that of a deity bodied in fire . . . was himself, but of a strength and beauty beyond human.
So that wondrous One came to land and took the frail Ameyal in his arms; and the being of Ameyal became his being, and at last the Tlaloc-priest knew himself fully for the god he was. And he went forward in the boat, the lone god in the boat, on the waters of dream-wrought Tlalocan, through gardens past imagining, by temples built among the stars. . . .
Later in the day, when the audience was over and the Toltecs were gone, Acatonatzin went up into the temple of Tlaloc and found there the body of the old Tlaloc-priest, sitting as if in meditation, and the atmosphere of the place almost a visible light with holiness.
At the end of that momentous market day, Huitznahuacan was suffering from the intrusion of the external. The people had known but of two worlds: that of men like themselves and that of the gods. Now a disconcerting third had thrust in, to the detriment of both of them. Or rather, of one of them, and that the invisible and more important. The Toltecs having invaded the people's minds, the gods were receding.
When Acatonatzin came down into the marketplace and told of what he had found in the temple of Tlaloc, his news did something to restore things, but not quite enough. Death was so much less startlingly strange than were the Toltecs, even the death of one so beloved.
From house to house that evening messengers bore the news; and where they went, talk and speculation ceased, and the altars in the God-rooms were draped with the Tlaloc colors. Yet there was still that feeling that Ameyatzin was not being truly honored, that where the death-peace should have been, and the quiet reaching out into the light and beauty of his passing, there was, at best, an effort to keep thought of the Toltecs out. The night was cheapened a little, that they should have offered up clean and holy to their friend.
The next day the tidings went out over all Huitznahuac, and from every district those who could, set out for the capital. There still the silence was kept all day, and on the funeral morning that followed. But the blue serenity of that morning shone over a Huitznahuacan that shared its mood but imperfectly. The people gathered at the Top of the Town, consciously avoiding thought about the strangers. Ameyatzin had gone through the peaceful gates between this and beauty, and had held those gates open for a while to let the grace of Tlalocan shine through . . . onto a world that had been too thoroughly disturbed to feel all the benediction of it.
Nothing went quite well until Amaqui, either acting on intuition or remembering words of Nopal's, went down onto the Calmecac roof and sought out Nauhyo among the college boys, led him up onto the koo of Quetzalcoatl, and whispered to him at a break in the Ritual, "Sing, my child!"
What should have followed was silence as the flames rose from the pyre in the arena, but into that silence Nauhyo's song came stealing, and as he gained confidence, soared above the throng: songs of the Mountain Teotepetl and the holy valley there, one after another, restoring the Huitznahuatecs to their right mood, till not a soul of them but stood cleanly in the presence of sun and sky, gods and mountains, on the very verge of that beloved Tlalocan into which their friend and helper had passed. Nauhyo had come so lately to the college that few of the citizens had taken note of him, and none knew of his power of song. Not even the queen, in whose mind it sowed the seed of an intent that bore fruit presently.
Nopal, hearing the song as he came up the Street of the Tzinitzcan in search of the queen, learned from it that a funeral was taking place, and knew, of course, that it was Ameyal's funeral. That was why the Tlaloc-priest had been so much in his mind over the last two days. He stood silent and sped his farewells, with those of the crowd above, into the light into which the Shining One had passed.
This was the first that Nopal had heard of the death. After the audience, as soon as the Toltec ambassador had left the hall, he too had slipped out, but by the way he and Chimalman had come in: through a curtained doorway behind the throne. In the amazement the whole business had caused, he went unnoticed, and when he had gone, the rule applied again: One did not inquire as to Nopal's whereabouts. The people were gathered in the marketplace, and he met no one on his way. He went down to his sister's house, where he obtained food — a two-day supply — from her, and changed his Milnaoatl robes for everyday wear. Then he sought the forest on that northern side of the town and began ascending the mountain, keeping well toward the east. He had matter for long meditation and must be alone.
In an hour or so, he had reached the place he was seeking: a cabin in a little glade, with the precipitous northern side of Mishcoatepetl behind. Water came trickling down the rock wall into a basin in which, upon arrival, he bathed. Then he broke his long fast, smoked, retired into the cabin, wrapped his blanket about him, and slept. His physicality needed that much; it, at least, had had neither food nor ordinary sleep since the morning of the Feast of the Mountain.
Waking sometime after midnight, he came out, lit a fire, and sat under the stars, considering his problems.
The queen had told the Toltecs that he was her husband. And she had come with him from — somewhere. Down from Mishcoatepetl; Shaltemoc had met them at the mountain gate in the Queen's Garden and told them that an ambassador was in the House of the Kings, awaiting their arrival. Their arrival, not her arrival; so Shaltemoc had said. And she had taken him by the hand and led him across the garden and into the audience-room.
And before that . . . before Shaltemoc spoke to them, there had been something that linked him to Chimalmatzin, some bond between them. But this of husband and wife . . . had he not always known that marriage was not for him? Was he not long past the age when men married? Neither he nor Quauhtli —
But what was it that had happened on the other side of the mountain gate? He made a silence within himself, reaching out toward memory . . . as if for a dream out of which Shaltemoc's voice had awakened him.
They had come down from Mishcoatepetl, since they had entered the garden by the mountain gate; and . . . why certainly they had been wearing the robes of Tepeilhuitl votaries. Then before his mental vision there came suddenly a picture of Ameyal, the Tlaloc-priest, not looking old and worn as he had last seen him, but with a look of health and strength on him, an extraordinary light of happiness on his face. A look, too, as if he were searching in Nopal's mind for the answer to a question. Why, yes, of course; it was Ameyatzin who had given him a message from the Master on Tepeilhuitl morning, who had sent him, at the Master's bidding, as Milnaoatl onto the Mountain. And it was returning from that pilgrimage that he had come with the queen.
He lived over again his ascent of the mountain until he came to the torrent that must be crossed at nightfall; then, marvelously, his memory carried him away from Mishcoatepetl and to the Serpent's Hole; it insisted on that. The next thing that had happened was the Master's charging him with a message for Chimalmatzin; and it was clear now, word for word. In his mind, he repeated it. That picture of the Tlaloc-priest came before his inner sight again, and now the face wore an expression of eagerness, of encouragement. There was a mystery about what had followed. Had he seen Chimalman and given her the message? He could not remember that, nor anything further until Shaltemoc spoke to them at the gate. But, of course, he had come down the mountain with her.
No; there was more. Who was it that had come down with them? And where had that one left them? He was not there when Shaltemoc spoke.
The sun rose and set while Nopal turned these things in his mind. There was much he could not understand, need not trouble to understand. But this was quite clear: He must deliver the Master's message to the queen, and carry out too the commands laid upon himself in it. Then if she chose, he would —
Again Ameyatzin appeared, and now his face shone with approval. Yes, Nopal would become her husband. He could carry out the Master's orders that way. When or how he had received those orders, he could not tell, since his memory necessarily was lying when it told him that he had been with Huehuetzin in the Serpent's Hole on the evening of Tepeilhuitl Day. It did not matter. The words were in his mind, and the tones in which they had been spoken. . . .
It was midnight before he reached his decision, and having reached it, he lay down to sleep again. The Tlaloc-priest must be thinking strongly of him, that he kept seeing these vivid mind-pictures of him. In the morning, but not too early, he would see Chimalman.
In the morning, when he came up the Street of the Tzinitzcan and heard Nauhyo singing, his decision was further confirmed. The Master had left him word that he was to share with Chimalmatzin responsibility for Nauhyo's upbringing, which was almost as much as to say that he should marry her. He had been accustomed to the thought that a disciple must make no such ties, must not divide his loyalty — and yet, as he remembered now, his own father had been in some way a disciple.
Since there would be no going up through the arena while the funeral was in progress, he went around past the front of the Calmecac, across the Street of the Quechol, and behind the koo of Quetzalcoatl, and joined the crowd unnoticed on the slope of the terrace under the House of the Kings.
As the crowd was dispersing, a messenger brought him word that the queen wished to see him and conducted him to her in her garden. She rose from the jaguar seat as he approached.
"Your Godhead is the Tecuhtli of Rainflower?" she asked.
"Who brings your Godhead a message," said he.
She dismissed the maid whom she had sent for him and pointed to seat cushions by the waterside, desiring him to be seated. "I think I knew that you had a message for me," said she. "Will your Godhead deliver it now."
"It is this," said Nopal. "I am to tell your Godhead that the gods promise you shall serve them more wonderfully than any of your predecessors. They expect more from you than they did from any of your fathers; you are to be assured of that, and never to doubt it. They say that you are never to forget that they are with you to guard you and lead you to your greatness, that you must trust in them, because they trust in you. You must trust, and go on trusting, and never cease to trust, that your trust may open a path between the gods and men. I was to say these words to your Godhead and to make you know that they come from the gods. You are to trust until your trust becomes knowledge and all that the gods hope of you is fulfilled. Whatever happens, you are to trust."
She would have him repeat the message thrice. Then she repeated it herself with no prompting from him; and after that, she pledged herself in silence to obey. Following a long pause, she looked up at him.
"It was on the mountain that your Godhead was given this message for me?"
Nopal, his mind on a mountain other than Mishcoatepetl, answered, "It was on the mountain."
"Did you give me the message on the mountain when we were together there?"
"I do not know. It is true that we came down from Mishcoatepetl together."
"And one other was with us."
"Your Godhead knows that too?"
"It is a mystery. When Shaltemotzin spoke to us at the gate, that Other was there no longer. We were three days on the mountain, Tecuhtli."
"Three days?" Nopal had not known that. The meaning of it was obvious: They had been in Tlalocan.
"Was your Godhead given the message for me in Tlalocan? And did you give it to me there?"
"I cannot tell, your Godhead. I remember only going up on Tepeilhuitl Day and coming down to the mountain gate with you and with that Other."
A long silence followed; and then, from Chimalman: "There is another matter on which I must speak to you, Nopaltzin. You remember what I told the ambassador?"
"I did not know that my words were untrue." She spoke very slowly. "We had just come down from the mountain, and I was not yet used to this world. I think I had memories then, long memories, that have gone from me since. I was amazed afterward at what I had said, but it seemed to me then that it was true, and had always been."
Nopal bowed his head.
You know that there must be a king here, Nopaltzin. My wish is that what I said should be true."
"It shall be true, your Godhead." "My gratitude to you, Nopaltzin!"
There followed ten days during which much business was accomplished: preparations for the marriage, preparations for dispatching the embassy to the north. The marriage was to come first so that Amaquitzin, as ambassador, might represent the king and queen of Huitznahuac, and he was to be accredited not to Tollan and King Huemac, but to the Toltec Topiltzin at Culhuacan. Nopal's knowledge of the northern world had suggested this. And — this was the intent Nauhyo's singing at the funeral had awakened in the queen: Nauhyotontli should go with Amaquitzin. His power of song, they considered, would conquer the north; none could hear him and be unaffected.
As to the marriage, Amaqui was hugely delighted that his wish was to come true. In all Huitznahuac, he thought, and his brothers agreed with him, none was so fit as Nopal to be king. And so much the fitter, all agreed, because he was the only Huitznahuatec who knew the north; and the north would now concern them greatly. All Huitznahuac was happy over it.
The marriage took place on the tenth morning. They passed from temple to temple for the ceremony, ending at that of Quetzalcoatl with the blessing of Amaqui as Quetzalcoatl-priest, whom then, as ambassador to the Toltecs, the king and queen accompanied to the northern limits of the kingdom. Then Nopal took his bride to Rainflower and thence on foot up Teotepetl to the Serpent's Hole. Ten days they spent there, he telling her all he could of the Master and of his old life there as the Master's disciple.
They were as fellow disciples together, their whole effort to come nearer to the God-world, laying their humanity in the God-life of the mountain and of that sacred vale.