When the first of the Topiltzin's hosts passed southward, Nauhyo, watching from the Puma's Head, saw them as they came down the Hill of Derision, and called Quauhtli to come see. Quauhtli could make nothing of the procession beyond that it was a new thing. But when the Road had quite lost its loneliness, and go where you would along its length, troops of bearers passed you, their litters piled high with heaven knew what, Quauhtli thought of his last night at Eagle Hermitage, and of what Nopal had told him then about the warring kings of the north. Before long, he had guessed what was going forward.
One day he all but came out upon a camp that was being built in Ahuacatl Glade, which soon became the site of huge activities. The strangers felled trees and built storehouses there; also a rest-house of some pretensions, and lodgment for many men. About half of the bearers who came there, he judged, left their loads and returned northward; the rest went on. He spent much time watching them from secure places along the forest edge and soon found that there were others beside bearers on the Road. They came in from the north, rested the night and went on south, and more came to fill their places in the barracks. They traveled in regular formation and moved to drummed or shouted commands; they carried dangerous-looking things that were . . . weapons of war, he divined.
From the moment he first heard these people speak, a curiosity as to their language awoke in him. Soon there were words he understood. Presently he was catching sentences, and realizing that it was intelligible Nahua, he set himself to mastering the trick of it. He had no doubt but that it was the Nahua of the Toltecs; had not Nopal told him that they spoke the Nahua language? Only, they spoke it slurred and softly, Nopal had said, and not with the grand and crashing mountain tones of the Huitznahuatecs.
One day Quauhtli took Coshcana with him to listen to it and found that he had surmised correctly. Coshcana had lived among the Toltecs years ago and had known their language thoroughly, and the knowledge came back to him when he listened to the soldiers for a while. After that, Quauhtli took lessons from him, foreseeing that he would have need to speak as the Toltecs did.
Ever since the day of the massacre, he had been thinking that as soon as Nauhyo was well enough, it would be his duty to take him back to Huitznahuacan, seeing that it was in Nopal's charge the Master had left him. But then this change in the Road's habit intervened, and farther southward there might be war — heaven knew what. Under the circumstances, he would not risk traveling with Nauhyo.
And where could they be taking this war business but to Huitznahuac? he reasoned — since there was nothing but forest between this and that. War, in Huitznahuac: an easy thing to say; but Quauhtli's imagination, confronted with the seemingly unbelievable was a slow traveler. War meant man-killing on a great scale, Nopal had told him. But how could that be done in Huitznahuac? Those you intended to kill must surely have the same intention toward you. Still, there was much room for anxiety.
And then, Coshcana was wise and true, and Nauhyo loved him, and he Nauhyo. Coshcana could take care of Nauhyo. . . .
Thus gradually Quauhtli was coming to the view that he must go south himself, but alone. He knew that it had been Nopal's destiny to marry Queen Chimalman. He knew also that the Master had had some special feeling about her, or plan for her, divining indeed that hers might be the most precious of human lives. Was there no call for him, then, to be in Huitznahuacan at his fellow disciple's side? Coshcana all his life had been a servant of disciples, was pledged to that service, Quauhtli thought; he could be trusted to guard Nauhyo. . . . So he turned it in his mind, and then awoke one morning with the certain knowledge that he was to go. To set out at once; that was imperative. He awoke Coshcana and told him, laid a hand on the sleeping Nauhyo's head, and went.
It was long after the Topiltzin's passing, and the traffic on the Road was not what it had been. There were troops of porters daily, indeed; officials with their retinues sometimes; messengers in plenty: but there was no unbroken stream of men as before. Beyond Ahuacatl Glade, he kept to the forest as long as it was safe to do so, not wishing that his first encounter with Toltecs should be too near home. Then he came out boldly onto the Road and began systematically putting the leagues of it behind him. That morning's stage was empty of northern humanity; he neither passed nor met anyone.
At midday he came to another Toltec station much like that at Ahuacatl Glade, except that it was without stir or voices. It was empty of humanity, apparently. He had tortillas with him, and with the knowledge that one did not starve on the Road, he had given scant thought to the food question.
But he was hailed from the rest-house when he had passed it. "Don't go past your dinner, Toltec! No wise man will do that, when the caldron that Papantli of Quauchinanco put on the fire is within ten breaths of its taking off." A merry, plump little man stood in the rest-house open-room, beaming at him in most friendly fashion.
"Aye," said Quauhtli, turning, "your Godhead is right; it is later than I thought. My thanks to you."
"Eh? My Godhead?" quoth Papantli, shaking with laughter. "My Godhead, say you? And never a tone in your voice to tell that you are laughing! From what part of the League's dominions do you hail, O strange-spoken brother? Such terms are not bandied between folk who cook meat by the roadside or travel on foot through the forest."
So he chattered, shepherding Quauhtli to a seat in the open-room; but his curiosity stopped pleasantly short of being embarrassing. All he wanted was company, and company that would praise his cooking. "Your Godhead shall dine today as if the title belonged to you; aye, you shall!" he ran on. "Ten breaths and you shall judge; you shall know. It would not become me to speak. But if Papantli of Quauchinanco does not deserve to be the Human Camaxtli's cook — but you shall judge! You shall judge!"
He was hospitable though, this little man. While he talked, he was setting a basin of water before Quauhtli, with soap-root and a towel; busying himself in the kitchen; issuing thence with bowls, knives, spoons, and thick paper napkins; then dishes of fruit and sheets of bread; lastly a notable tureen steaming savorily. It was but to taste of what came from this to know that his self-praise was modesty, as he himself remarked; and Quauhtli, who had the Toltec tongue of Nahua well enough by this time, had no difficulty in keeping him incurious with praise.
Thus a Huitznahuatec turn of speech flicking the little man's inquisitiveness into action evoked, "From what part of the League's dominions —" but there wise Quauhtli had but to come in with, "In all parts, such cooking should be known. The League's subjects should be blessed with such knowledge."
"It is a joy to serve you," cried Papantli, "even above the run of our great Human Camaxtli's messengers" — something of that kind, then, he took Quauhtli to be — "all of whom I enjoy serving, for they are men who can appreciate a Great Cook."
"Great you may say, and not merely good," said Quauhtli.
'Wise you are, and subtle your distinctions! Good cooks there are in the world; perhaps not many, but some. I am told that in Tollan there are two or three, and in the kitchens of more than one Culhuatec noble. The Hierarch of Teotihuacan has a cook whom even I do not despise. But a Great Cook comes not into the world more than once in a year-sheaf of year-sheaves. Aye, we are not more common than the Incarnations of our Lord."
"And when they do come," said Quauhtli, "would one not rather expect to find them in the palace of the Topiltzin of their time than by the roadside in the wild forest?"
Papantli held forth beamingly in reply; perhaps a little blasphemously too. "It is a point for theologians to argue," said he, "whether our Lord, incarnating, would really be born to a throne, as we are taught. For a Topiltzin is Lord of War, and what would He make of war, who is the King of Peace? I have thought it might well be that He would be born among the virtuous downtrodden, sweetening their lot. And how could He sweeten it better than by feeding them divinely? Yet blaspheme not, O Quauhtli of the Forest! Genius is genius; but whatever people think, I am not Quetzalcoatl! Nay, think not that!"
Quauhtli promised that he would not. Then, by degrees he drew the man from theology to passing on what news had come up from the south. Papantli spoke of the great barrier the barbarians had built against the Toltecs passing into their land, and of the road being raised in the canyon to surmount it. When the road had caught up with the barrier — that was when they should see things happen, and Quauhtli was helped to a realization of what the "things" would be. Papantli told it all very happily, much as a joke that he did not doubt his companion would enjoy. News of the murder of Cohuanacotzin had traveled thus far, and perhaps farther, and of the Human Camaxtli's will and oath to avenge him.
"None of the barbarians will be left, not one!" Papantli chuckled. "The Human Camaxtli always does much more than he promises to do, and his anger over this is terrible, they say."
Quauhtli was depressed by the hearing, but still more puzzled. How could they pretend that the Huitznahuatecs had killed the man? It was obviously impossible. The whole tale must be ill-founded. But no; the Quauchinantec had heard a dozen official bulletins read. They were terrible people, these Huitznahuatecs: murderous, irreligious, unspeakable. It was hard to imagine how men could be so base; the gods willed their —
His chatter was disturbed by a shouting from the road northward, which resolved itself into, "The Divine Princess arrives!" A couple of men, stately of attire, came into view, shouting as they trotted, "The Divine Lady Civacoatzin arrives! Prepare!"
"So that, maybe, is why I am here," thought Quauhtli.
Before the men had halted, Papantli was out in the middle of the Road, bowing. "Your Godheads will stop here to dine and rest," he besought them. "Ten breaths, and the pots will be taken from the fire, and your Godheads shall judge if one is not here who should rather be lording it in the Topiltzin's kitchen."
The heralds followed him into the open-room, where they seated themselves, talking together, wasting hardly a glance on Quauhtli, whose nequen clothes, had he known it, betokened him a peasant, and no company for them. Papantli, having bowed them to their seat-cushions, beckoned him into the kitchen. "It is no place for us in there," said he, "with those great dignitaries."
They were not the kind of Toltecs whom Quauhtli was eager to meet thus early in his dealings with the race, and he was pleased enough, little as he understood Papantli's feeling. The one thing he wanted was an excuse for not leaving at once, and that the Great Cook was prompt to supply.
"Quauhtli of the Forest, Quauhtli of the Forest," said he, need you of a truth hurry to go? I am alone here and shall need help, and truly we have been more than brothers. Need you hurry to go?"
"No," said Quauhtli." "I will stay and aid you till the Divine Princess is gone."
So then Papantli set him to washing and cutting up vegetables whilst himself, taking a pot from the fire, waited on the heralds and, in and out of the kitchen, favored him with scraps of information. "The gods be thanked, it is ever the Divine Lady's way to travel retinue-less," said he. "There will be but herself and a waiting-lady and the bearers to provide for." And again: "And but shortly announced, as now. Were she not the most merciful of the merciful, there would be grave trouble for the unprepared."
In due course, the heralds went on, and in due course, the princess arrived, in a great room of a litter, built of some very light, strong wood and borne by a score and a half of young nobles of great strength and stature. Retinue or bodyguard else, there was none, as Papantli had said. They set the litter down at the southern end of the clearing and then came very quietly to the open-room and seated themselves. One, their leader, brought a message from the princess that they were to be served first and that no food was to be brought to the royal litter till they were dining.
"For her Godhead considers us more than we consider ourselves," the young man volunteered, "and thinks we need rest after eating."
So now Quauhtli was kept busy carrying their meal to them from the kitchen. They spoke little and in low tones as they ate, and were markedly courteous in their manner toward him. When about half of them had been served, he heard a gong struck in the litter and saw the leader of the bearers rise and hurry thither. It chanced that he was kept in the kitchen for a while then, attending to something for Papantli, who returned in a few minutes with an altogether new manner on him.
"Quauhtzin," said he, "the Divine Princess would speak with your Godhead." The honorific came now with awe and unction. "She orders that you are to be dressed in noble costume and sent to her. I go to make ready the garments, the best we have here." He bowed low and retired, leaving Quauhtli by no means as surprised as he might have been.
Thus soon after, dressed in the cotton and feathers of a Toltec noble, and looking the part well, Quauhtli announced himself at the door of the royal litter: "Quauhtli of Huitznahuac waits." Bidden to enter, he mounted the steps, drew aside the curtain, and stood in the doorway, bowing in the Huitznahuatec fashion — by no means as one should bow on coming into the presence of Toltec royalty; this he surmised by the look it evoked from the princess's attendant, which disapproval and Civacoatzin's gesture of reproof thereof, and the rich furnishings of the litter, he noted but half consciously. What held his attention, and, in a sense, illuminated the whole place, was the princess's eyes.
There was no feminine allurement in them. Hers was a broad and rather rugged face, much seamed; her age would not have been much less than three score. But there power shone, and life, and energy, and above all, boundless compassion; pain, solemnity, laughter, indomitable will, and again and again, above all, compassion. She sat on a divan facing him, garbed in a headdress sown with jewels, and clothes of a glow and richness that no Huitznahuatec could have imagined; but all was a mere setting for the great, deep glory of her eyes.
She made a sign to which he responded, then dismissed her attendant and bade him enter and be seated. She kept silence for a few minutes, perhaps to give the lady she had just dismissed time to get out of hearing. Then, in a low voice, she said, "Quauhtzin of Huitznahuac — of the Serpent's Hole?"
"Of Puma Rock in the forest, and of Eagle Hermitage, and of the Serpent's Hole."
"The One that was there has taken dragon-wings."
"He has taken dragon-wings," acknowledged Quauhtli, knowing that she alluded to the death of Huehuetzin. "It is your Godhead who is now my Lord and Teacher, and I your disciple and servant."
"For a while," said she. "And now I need your service. Your Godhead is bound for Huitznahuac?"
"I am on my way."
"And I also am on my way there. It is our Master's will; we both have work to do there. My brother has gone south with his armies to conquer Huitznahuac. That was to be. Nations live through their life cycles and die; and death is at hand for Huitznahuac. But Huitznahuac has not sinned or fallen as other nations have, and her death will illumine the world. I know that great good for the whole world will come of it, but it is for us to ensure its coming. For the men of the Dark Tezcatlipoca are at work to prevent it. One of them, the worst and greatest, is with my brother's army. Where is the disciple who saved Nonohualcad's life in the marketplace at Culhuacan?"
"Your Godhead knows that he is Huitznahuatec? That he is Nopaltzin Tecuhtli, my fellow disciple?"
"I did not know his name, although I guessed his nation. What you tell me makes clear much that I did know. He is in Huitznahuac?"
"Either he is king there, or is to be king."
Her eyes lighted. "King there? That should make our task easy. But the conquest was to be; no, there is no preventing that. What can have kept him from making himself known to my brother, if he is king of Huitznahuac? He must make himself known. But there are things you can explain to me perhaps. Your countrymen have built a great barrier in the canyon between Nonohualcatl's armies and Huitznahuac, to keep our Toltecs out. But nothing can keep my brother out; he will go through or over the barrier, for all the bravery of your warriors."
"We have no warriors in Huitznahuac, your Godhead."
"True; I had forgotten. It is the land where war is unknown. But that will not save the Huitznahuatecs. Oh, why did they not welcome Nonohualcatl? Now he is angry with them, and nothing can save them from utter destruction unless I can get word to him before the barrier is passed. How came it that his friend, Cohuanacotzin, was murdered? It was he whom I sent to rescue Nopaltzin from the Teotihuatecs. Your Godhead knows about that?"
"And I know that he and Nopaltzin became close friends. How came it that he was murdered?"
"No man was ever murdered in Huitznahuac, your Godhead. If they accuse the Huitznahuatecs —"
"But they do. Cohuanacotzin's body, shot through with an arrow, was found at the foot of the barrier, which, it seems, he had climbed a night or two before."
"Yet it is impossible that Huitznahuatecs should have killed him. We know nothing in Huitznahuac of the killing of men."
"You know nothing of it — have never seen or heard of it?"
"I have heard of it from Nopal as a thing that is done among the Toltecs. He said that the armies you have there are trained for the killing of men."
"But here in the forest? I have heard that —"
Quauhtli, shuddering, stayed her with a gesture. "Yes," said he, "I have come on it here in the forest, and on this Road."
Then he told her of the massacre on the Hill of Derision, by whom it was done, and at whose command. She had no difficulty in recognizing Yen Ranho as the man whom the Ib Quinames had described to Quauhtli. And Yen Ranho would have been on the Road at the time. She wept over the tale, not for a moment doubting its truth. The hierarch was the priest and agent of the Dark Tezcatlipoca.
"He who compassed the murder of Amaquitzin Quetzalcoatl may have compassed the murder of the Culhuatec lord as well," said Quauhtli. "Your Godhead says that Cohuanacotzin had climbed the barrier; if so, he would have met Nopaltzin in Huitznahuacan. The Huitznahuatecs could not have failed to come on him, and they would have conducted him there in all honor. Then he and Nopaltzin would have set out for the Topiltzin's camp. And fearing Nopal's meeting with the Topiltzin, might not the priest have set men in the canyon to murder Cohuanacotzin?"
"But then Nopaltzin too would have been murdered, as I pray the gods he has not. His body was not found with Cohuanacotzin's. No; he is alive. And Cohuanacotzin's body was thrown from the top of the barrier, and the barrier is high; no arrow could have reached a man at the top of it from below. . . . Well, I must do what I can; I must use power. Your presence here makes that possible."
She sat silent for a while, in deep concentration. Quauhtli, having the understanding of silence, did not speak or stir. Then her face lit up again. "Yes," said she. "And now I must write to my brother."
From a cabinet at her side she took writing materials and was busy for some time. Then, "Is your Godhead trained in pictography?
Quauhtli answered that he was.
"Is the meaning of this apparent to you?"
He took the paper and examined the script. It was like the pictography he knew, but with a difference that puzzled him at first. Then, almost suddenly, he saw the trick of it and read on. "The meaning is very clear," said he.
"Will your Godhead let me hear your interpretation?"
"Your Godhead has written —
"'My Divine Brother,
"'I implore you not to offend the Bright Gods by heeding the counsels of the Dark Tezcatlipoca, who presides over anger and revenge. Not the Huitznahuatecs killed Cohuanacotzin, whose death hurts me. This I know; and you know that sometimes I have means of knowing. From the face of the cliff over against the barrier, the arrow was shot that killed him. The one who shot it lies buried there.
"'Heed this, I implore you: Until you have come face-to-face with their king, slay none of the Huitznahuatecs, or your life will be made mournful till you die. I, your sister, could tell you who their king is, but you are to discover that for yourself.
"'You know that I never advised you but according to the will of the Bright Gods, that you might prosper and be happy. I have never advised you so urgently as now.
"'From your sister, Civacoatli,
"'By the hand of Quauhtzin, her friend'"
"In all things, your Godhead reads as I thought and wrote," said the princess. "And now I pray you take this letter to my brother — in his camp, in the canyon, in Huitznahuacan, wherever he may be. You are a swift runner; the world and the gods need your swiftness now. You will get there many days before I can, and you will carry with you much that your Toltec runners cannot. Carry the letter in this wand," she continued, taking a rod about an arm's length long, opening it with a twist and pressure in the middle, and putting the rolled-up letter in the hollow discovered within.
"Let this be the most visible part of your equipment," said she, handing the reclosed rod to him, "and you will be obeyed and aided by all. Should you tire, it will secure you the best litter and runners on the Road. Take night-litters by night and learn to sleep in them; be traveling always, night and day. And now go. May Zacatzontli and Tlacotzontli tear away the distance from beneath your feet, and the Bright Tezcatlipoca be your companion!"
"My service is your Godhead's," said Quauhtli, and he set forth. Zacatzontli and Tlacotzontli, the gods whose business it is to do so, tore away the distance from beneath his feet. . . .
Nonohualcatl watched the rain of great boulders and brooded gloomily. If the Huitznahuatecs could keep it up, it would strain his genius to pass their barrier; indeed, his genius was strained already. He hurried the raising of his road and drove his galleries forward and up, realizing that it was all a makeshift course, to fill the time till he could find a better.
The barrier now was mountain-high, halfway to the cliff top; how long would it take him to pile his road equally high? As high as to the mountainside above, for example; for, if their rock supply held out, the Huitznahuatecs Would reach that with their barrier-top in time. A stupendous work, but he would do it — unless a way through were found — if it took him a year-sheaf of year-sheaves. He would never go northward unvictorious.
There came a day when no rocks fell, and he was filled with hope. His raised road now ran steeply up to the barrier's face; and the incline, from the bend in the canyon, was notably increased by nightfall. He turned in his mind the possibility of sending an army up that precipice, and had an idea that he would do it somehow. All day long his army worked like ants. But in the evening, news was brought to him that the rocks were falling again.
That night the unprecedented happened. The officer in charge at the road-head had sent his report to the Topiltzin when the first rock fell: at the far end of the barrier, where its fall was to be heard but not seen by him. As he directed the work he went on more or less subconsciously counting the thuds of the falling rocks. His place was at the bend in the canyon; some man-heights beneath his feet lay the remains of a noted archer of the Blue Hummingbird Pygmies.
This officer was familiar with the Huitznahuatec technique. First would come a rock from his right as he faced the barrier, to be followed immediately by one from the other side, the two cliff tops thus alternately dropping their boulders, beginning at the far end and advancing toward the near end and the top. Three-score thuds, he reckoned, would bring the falling stones into view. No; three score and three; there it came on the right. And now three more to fill the last spaces. It was a thing to marvel at, the precision these barbarians used, dropping the great masses as if by magic into place. Four on three-score. The two last ones now, which would put a new head and front on the barrier. At one time one had felt uneasy as one saw those last stones fall into their place.
Down came five on three-score, a monstrous boulder; you could feel the ground tremble at its thud. What? Has it jumped a span toward the middle of the canyon? That is unusual. By rights, one should clear this stretch of road while — Here comes number six on three-score, and . . . no dull thud now, but crash! Its edge strikes against the edge of the jumped other and Tezcatlipoca!
A runner carried the news to the Topiltzin. There would have been five-score men on the incline, and most of them were killed. Smashed by the great rock, the very first thrown down that had not lodged in its place. It jumped where it struck against the other, so that the weight of it leaned outward and carried it over, to roll and leap down the raised road and lodge at last against the cliff at the bend in the canyon, where it killed its last victim: the officer who had been counting the thuds.
The news brought Nonohualcatl hurrying to the spot, where help was already arriving. The rock half blocked the opening. There was no getting litter through onto the slope above; the living must be carried out on tilmatlies. The Human Camaxtli pushed his way through, and those whose business it was followed him. There was really no danger; a new rock had fallen in the place of the murderer rock and lodged safely, and the thuds from the far end of the barrier were audible; it would be many minutes, anyway, before boulders would be falling in front and at the top. Besides, a whole layer had fallen since the disaster; there was no more danger now than there had been at any time. The thuds and tremors drew nearer; but Nonohualcatl was not to be disturbed by them.
Upward of three score had been killed outright; of the rest, some ten, the doctors found, might survive. These were attended to first. While their broken limbs were being set, the Topiltzin spoke kindly to each of them, stroking their heads or the like. Then he turned to the fatally injured; not one of them but he knelt beside him and gave him consolation; and it was worth having, since was he not the Holy Topiltzin, humanity's chief link with the God-world? Four died smiling as he spoke to them, knowing that he would care for their widows and children. When he had comforted them spiritually, the surgeons came, and with a drug gave those still living the physical comfort of death.
Thud, thud, thud, the fall of the rocks came nearer, first on this side, then on that. Those who might live had been removed and carried to the hospital; the fatally injured had been given their peace. Remaining now were only a few more corpses to carry away. The Human Camaxtli — strangely turned human again now that his war had chosen to behave like war — was moving down toward the bend in the canyon and the gap that the fallen rock had left. Above, the final rocks in the course were falling. The last rock but one fell — in place, no doubt; he was not attending to it. And the last — in place? No, by heaven! Thud, crash, crash, thud, and here it comes bounding down the incline and —
He was very near the gap by that time. He turned to look at what they were yelling at, and a giant of a common soldier leaped through the gap, caught him, and hurled him through, just in time. The priest-doctor he had been talking with was killed when the monster boulder, as if malignantly conscious, made for the place where the two had been standing, pounced at it, and then smashed at last, striking out fire and earthquake, against its murderous predecessor.
The impact brought a dozen men to the ground on top of the Human Camaxtli where he had been thrown, his rescuer among them. By the mercy of the Plumed Dragon, the first rock held; for a minute, heaven only knew whether or not it would go rolling down the canyon, mangling its score-scores. But it held; and presently Nonohualcatl, grim-featured, was on his feet, and those whom the shock had brought down on top of him were trying to look unself-conscious. —Earth here! Pile up your basketloads, you coming up, at the base of this rock! So! And now, who was the man who had thrown down his Topiltzin?
A gigantic Otomi prostrated himself in a quivering silence. "My life is forfeit, Lord Human Camaxtli," he got out.
"It is," thundered the Topiltzin, checking his laughter. "Take him away; let him be given five-score —"
"Lashes," thought the Otomi.
"Quills of gold dust," thundered the Human Camaxtli, "and the uniform of a sergeant in my bodyguard. Stop! Who are you? Of what regiment?" Being employed on the earth-carrying, the man wore but a nondescript mashtli.
He was an Otomi of the Tlilcuetzpalins, it seemed; his name — "Your name is Cuetzpalin, and you are a Culhuatec of the Guard, my personal servant." His Majesty was to be troubled with no unpronounceable Otomi names. "Station him, when properly dressed, at my door. He shall fight beside my litter in battle and stand at my back in peace. Go, Cuetzpaltzin!"
The fellow was ennobled, no less: to be styled Cuetzpaltzin, and your Godhead! He went off with his escort as if in a dream.
In the Republic of New Otompan, all the days were golden. No day passed but was golden. They wandered free in their paradise, did Huhu and Natzo; they traversed the lakes of a Tlalocan of which they themselves were the Tlalocs undisturbed. Daily they made for themselves duties, at which they worked strenuously, responsible to none but themselves; and when the mood to lounge overtook them, they lounged. Did they desire change, there were always new scenes and valleys in which to wander.
They explored at leisure their carefree, pestless world, so wonderful in its inaccessible isolation. Unless they had not escaped into it, they thought, men would never have known of it.
In a great belt of land north of Huitznahuac, leagues and leagues deep, hidden away marvelously, lay the pleasant valleys of their New Otompan. The river made a magnificent loop and nearly encircled it; the mountains had cunningly arranged their precipices to keep it from the knowledge of prying men. Nonohualcatl would have given ten cities to get news of it, ten cities and their provinces. Perhaps even the mountain sheep that bred in it knew of no way out, but had bred and remained there for ages.
Valley opened into lake-floored valley, and by these waterways the two Otomies went cruising, fishing as they went, paddling anon in the deeps, or in the shallows punting their raft with a pole, but mainly carried by a gentle current. Rarely did raft and stores need portage over land, but it had happened once or twice.
The valleys were a maze, their waterways continually winding. They came on herds everywhere that knew no fear of man; and now and again they came on groves of fruit-bearing trees, or fruit trees that stood alone on hillside or meadow. The fruit was as good, they told themselves, as if men had cultivated it; but there was no sign that it had ever been cultivated. At first they would land and load their raft with it after eating their fill; later, they would land only to feast on it when the desire took them, and then go on, confident of finding more. In the evenings they would moor their raft when and where the fancy took them, and pitch their tent for the night. Or not pitch it, but sleep under the stars, with or without a fire. When the fancy took them, they would remain in one place for days and, as they said, found a city there. It would be a hut or a shelter of some kind. To all of their halting places they gave the names of cities in the north.
One evening they discovered squash, a whole wilderness of it, ripe for the cooking. They spent a five-day week beside it, till their taste for squash was sated; then they moved on. One noon Huhu espied, five-score strides or so up the hillside on their left, what surely was maize, almost hidden by a ridge of rocks between, and they left their raft to explore. Maize it was, and ripening. They fetched their tent and possessions and camped beside the maize-patch waiting for the cobs to ripen, planning the bread they would make. In the end, they made nothing but common tortillas and atolli; and of the latter, a porridge against hunger and a pleasant drink against thirst. The maize, they held, was but little poorer than the best you could buy in the Otompan market. As they harvested it, they sang the proper hymns in praise of Lady Centeotl, the Maize-queen. Not that they called her by that name, which was of the Nahua tongue; but their Otomi allowed for a proper substitute.
They built an altar on the hillside above the maize patch and sacrificed an armadillo that providentially appeared; it knew no better than to render itself up peaceably to these beings whose like neither it nor its forebears had seen. Its spirit went up, they supposed, as a fitting gift to Centeotl; its corporeal part, picked out of the shell after the roasting, went well with their first maize feast.
There they remained for many days, hunting or fishing or idling . . . and praying, for the finding of the divine food awoke a religious instinct in them. When they embarked and went on their way, it was with sacks, once priestly robes, of ground maize — they had devised a mill with stones — cobs, and grain for planting.
"We will burn down a copse somewhere and plant them beneath the ashes in the way our Lady ordained," said Natzo.
They embarked in the morning; they had worked hard the day before, and feasted until late. It was a hot and golden day; the waters were unrippled, apparently utterly still. But they would not trouble to paddle. They did not care whether they made progress or not; who were the lords of New Otompan? They lay on the raft and grew drowsy basking in the sun. And in New Otompan there could be no possible danger, they had long since given over keeping watch at any time. Blue here; yonder the reflections of the trees . . . no possible danger. . . . But a current was carrying them while they slept.
When Huhu awoke, black night covered him, and he was shivering. The strangeness of these facts crept slowly into his mind; then suddenly came fear. He sat up and felt for Natzo. "Natzo," he cried, "awake!" and shook him by the arm. "Awake! Death has overtaken us!"
"Fire-sticks!" cried Natzo, himself at once. He felt for and found what he wanted and twirled them till he had a torch alight. He contrived in the process that a spark should fall on the trembling Huhu's leg.
"Ha, you felt that?" said he. "Your body is on you, friend; you have not passed from life."
He stood, holding up the torch. A cavern roof was above them, not far away; cavern walls were a few arm's lengths off on either side; the dark water flowed placidly beneath, a gentle current.
"Let us paddle back to the world of men," urged Huhu; and Natzo was willing; though as they went, he talked incessantly of this great and secret empire they had won for themselves; their palace should be a mountain.
They passed through great halls, sometimes water-floored, sometimes with but a narrow waterway through; and by mid-afternoon, they came out into a spacious cave mouth and daylight. Mountain-high precipices reared here, making an angle in the valley at its forest-clad extreme. This was the limit of New Otompan, or of that part of it which lay open to the sky.
"For all that is in the mountain is ours," Natzo brooded, his imagination on fire.
By the cave mouth they built their city: their capital, they decided it was to be. New Teotihuacan this should be, appropriately named The City of the Gods — "For who knows what deities inhabit our mountain?" They might voyage on those dark waters and come out into Tlalocan itself, yes, the city should be New Teotihuacan, situated at the northern limit of the republic, as New Otompan was at the southern.
They built their city and made their plans. There was to be a great naval exploration of the dark subterranean sea. They would load their raft with food and firing, and discover the inmost of things.
Now that war was behaving like war and he had suffered losses, Nonohualcatl Totepeuh Carnaxtli was freed for the time from the gnawing of his gloom. The rocks had fallen and slaughtered his men; his whole scheme was obviously at the mercy of the Huitznahuatecs. It appeared that the end of things had come as far as his expedition was concerned, which might have depressed a lesser man. But not Nonohualcatl Topiltzin. Having dismissed his Otomi rescuer, he remained an hour or so at the road-head infusing the highest of high spirits into his officers and men, who were made to feel, before he left them, as if a great victory had been won.
It may be that a lurking superstition in him whispered that without losses, there could be no gains. At any rate, the gloom was gone; tomorrow a new plan would present itself. In his mind he had already abandoned the raising of the road. He was Nonohualcatl Totepeuh Camaxtli, and he could not but be victorious.
He found his new Otomi bodyguard on duty at the pavilion door: a promptness that pleased him. "Here already, little rogue?" he condescended.
"To do you service, Omnipotent Camaxtli!" said the Otomi, hesitantly bringing out the foreign tongue he had had to learn in the military school.
"Service perish!" quoth Omnipotent Camaxtli. "Find me a way through the mountains and I will call that service."
"The Omnipotent Camaxtli behaves sensibly. Let him not be troubled further about this, since at last he has given the work to a man."
"Eh? Learn the Nahua, knave! Learn the Nahua! Who is to understand your jargon?"
The man was not afraid to explain himself laboriously, without regard to the conventions. "Your slave said that Camaxtli had at last bidden a man find the way who would certainly find it, and not fail as others have done."
Well, well, well! the Camaxtli thought. It seemed that he had found something of value tonight, something novel and amusing. He arrayed his brows in kingly thunder to hide the chuckle in his throat.
"Find it, rogue! Find it! And before tomorrow dawns or the whipmen shall deal with you!"
Cuetzpaltzin, who had been flogged before and could endure it as well as another, gave himself to no unpleasant anticipations. He had done his Topiltzin a kindness and intended him another; and his Topiltzin was as decent a man as himself, or almost. Besides, he knew that he would find a way through the mountain before morning; he had not the slightest doubt of that. Otomis were mountaineers, and had brains; Toltecs were but crude plainsmen.
When, shortly afterward, he was relieved of duty, instead of seeking his quarters and sleep, he slunk off into the cross canyon behind the royal pavilion. At that point it was quite a bowshot wide, but it narrowed rapidly eastward as he advanced, till he must push a sidelong way through narrow intricacies and windings beyond the place where the runlet had sunk into the ground. This was the way to take, he considered; there were no busy-bodies here. He would be uninterrupted and unnoticed; this was a time when greatness of soul demanded solitude for its work: a grand project that must not be disturbed by encroachments of the envious imitative. Certainly the Human Camaxtli had been wise at last. . . . To an Otomi mountaineer . . . and of Otomis, to a man of the Tzo family. . . .
He was deep now in the intricacies, where a hue and cry might not have found him. He had climbed the southern canyon wall to other intricacies and windings. Despite his lofty musings and the treacherous moonlight and shadows, he went competently to his work; he was not the man to forget an inch of the way he had traveled: not an inch of the way, nor a bush nor crevice, nor rain-worn wrinkle in the canyon wall. He was a man of the Tzo family —-the one man, alas, now available, of that so-gifted line.
For where now was he of whom their sacred father, Yetzo, had prophesied that he would found a new republic if there should be room in the world to hold it? Room enough in these southern wilds, had the sainted Yetzo but known of them! Room enough for many new republics here! Ah, where was —
Eh — what was that?
Some kind of movement on the moonlit cliff face above, nothing so definite as a shadow . . . but something! A ghost, or smoke it was. It was to be investigated, certainly, by one commissioned to find a way through for the Omnipotent Camaxtli. Some stiff climbing brought him out onto a moonlit ledge that widened out on his right toward the place from which he judged the smoke, or ghost, had emerged.
He sidled along the ledge till it was wide enough for decent walking; it was quite impossible that he could be seen. Yes, there it was again. Smoke certainly, and rising from behind that clump of bushes below. And — what was that? There were sounds . . . like far-off voices in conversation, like mountain goblins talking together. Well, they might know something, could one but overhear them. He lay flat along the ledge, craning out his head to catch something, curiosity precluding the possibility of fear.
What? The mountain goblins of these parts spoke Otomi? — as, naturally, all things would that had not perversely been taught to do otherwise. Craning out his head here and yonder, he brought an ear to the right place again, and once more he heard the tones, the rhythm. Yes, of Otomi. All the better; for mountain goblins might be bribable; one need not hesitate to offer from the Topiltzin's wealth. . . . He turned his head, brought it lower, and lost the sound; moved it again and regained the hearing of tones and rhythm, but he could make out no words. Could one lower oneself into that clump of bushes?
One could, and did, although for most it would have been a risky business. Now he needed something to stand on, and room at least to move his head and neck a little so as to catch those tones and accents again. He swayed to the right and the left, his head close to the cliff, eager to pick them up.
Then suddenly, in the midst of a motion, he heard quite plainly. . . . . . . . . . . thinking, Huhu?"
"Of my wife and children, Natzo."
"Natzo!" gasped Nratzo-Cuetzpalin from above.
"Since I have none, I can but think of my brother, my only relation in the world we have left."
"Divorced your wife, Natzo?'
"Aye, I decided that at the maize patch. We will not speak of her, but of my brother Nratzo. He was said to be the most talented member, but one, of the talented Tzo family. To me he seemed dull at times, but a good fellow. My good Nratzo. I wonder where he is now."
Nratzo put his mouth to the crevice and shouted into the mountain, "Here in the world, you fool!"
"Ha — what was that? Natzo, I thought I heard someone whispering."
"You did, Huhu. We are here on the brink of Tlalocan; you heard the voice of the dead. O Soul of my brother in Tlalocan, speak to me, I conjure thee! How camest thou to die and be taken into the company of the Blessed?"
"Die, brother? It is you who are dead! I am here in the world of men, on the canyon wall, seeking a way through into Huitznahuac for the Human Camaxtli, my patron!"
"It was the soul of my brother speaking, Huhu. I caught but faint sounds, a word here and a word there."
"I caught this, Natzo: that he is seeking a way through into Huitznahuac. What should the soul of a dead man desire in Huitznahuac? Maybe it is where the wicked are punished; maybe Mictlantecuhtli is the king there."
"No, Huhu; he was my brother; he was not of the wicked. I am puzzled indeed. O, that thou couldst come to me, my brother! For Huhu and I, alone of mortals, know the way that thou seekest."
"You do?" Nratzo soliloquized. "Then if you do, I do."
Soon he was below in the cross canyon, shouting at the top of his voice, "O Human Camaxtli, the way is found!"
Of the brothers' meeting, some day or two later, nothing need be said here.
During all these months, Chimalman, watching at her husband's bedside, was, in a sense, keeping guard over her thoughts. Only in a sense, because her thoughts naturally and without constraint were with the gods. Many times a day she repeated to herself the Master's message, and she found it not difficult to obey his command. The shocks that time had brought her — the murders of Amaqui and his suite, of Acamapichtli and Cohuanacotzin, and of Nopal himself, for he was dying — had but served to drive her inward to a lofty mood of trust. The Master would not have asked for her trust had he not known that her path would be arduous and trouble-strewn. So she trusted in the gods, knowing they needed her trust, and lived in a world she made for herself.
Her feeling for Nopal may be called love; it was deep enough not to be dismayed by his approaching death. What was hers, was hers forever; and he was hers in a way. Together they had been in Tlalocan, and together commissioned to a work; his death, or hers, would be no break in that. She felt that although he lay unconscious, he was carrying it on still; quite unreasonably, she never doubted that wherever he was, he shared her mood to the fullest. He was not thinking of her, she felt, nor she of him; but their thoughts were together on the Master's work, on the Divine Companion, on that which was to come.
There were times when she felt that he was with the Master, times when she believed that the Master and he were there with her in the room and that a light and beauty on the wasted face on the pillow confirmed her belief. Ishmishutzin, living now for her patient's sake in the House of the Kings, marveled at two things: that her science, or something beyond its scope, had kept the king alive for so long, and the serene untroubledness of the queen.
The state rested on the shoulders of Acatonatzin — the wise and indefatigable. Poet and philosopher he had been; now he found within himself and put to use energies and executive power not less great than his brother Acamapichtli's. He was in the palace, in the marketplace, on the mountainside. Chiefly on the mountainside, where Huitznahuac was at work. There he kept alight Huitznahuac's courage, watched to alleviate its weariness, and kept its hope singing. Chimalman left all decisions to him and followed all of his suggestions; and he, seeing what was to happen, was eager to give her peace.
What was to happen was the birth of her son.
Son, and not daughter, she was convinced it was to be. She would hallow for him his way into the world. The Divine Companion and the Master's message, the glory that was to be more than Ulupi's, all had to do with this. And the Chalchiuhite Dragon had to do with it. The dream she had dreamed about it returned to her. Once more in her sleep she was watching the Evening Star, and Quetzalcoatl enthroned in it. And a star fell from the star. Our Lord, stooping, tossed it down, and she saw the shining thing before it fell into her heart; it was the Chalchiuhite Dragon. Waking, she found the little image on the bed beside her; there was something altogether strange about the way that little image would appear and disappear, be found and lost.
She went in radiant gravity through the day, and through the days that followed. So as not to lose the Chalchiuhite Dragon again, she placed it where it might be seen: on a shelf in the alcove by Nopal's bedside. Ishmishutzin Teteoinan, coming in, regarded it curiously, with something like awe.
"Does your Godhead know anything of that strange jewel?" asked the queen, and the old priestess by way of answer repeated the passage from The Book of Our Lord and Huanhua: "Thus I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the good, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness," and then changed the subject determinedly, busying herself with attention to Nopal. But the Inner Sun shone bright in the mind of Chimalman.
The Huitznahuatecs had thrown a bridge across the canyon something to the north of the barrier; and it was on this bridge that Acatonatzin was generally stationed, accessible from either side and in a position to observe what went on below. There he was on the night when the two boulders fell onto the road and killed the Toltecs. He heard the shrieks of the victims of the first, and by the Toltec torchlight saw enough to guess more.
His face turned ashen; the sweat dripped cold from his forehead. His mind cried out in the silence, "On me only be the guilt!" Fortunately, he was alone on the bridge. "They must not know of this!" was his second thought; no Huitznahuatec must know.
Except from the bridge, there was neither seeing nor hearing what went on below; the cliffs cut off the sound and threw it skyward. He went out among the men on the western cliff and spoke with Shollo, who was directing things there; it was the earth-course that was falling then.
"There must be greater care," he said. "The front rock on this side has fallen."
Alarm shone on Shollo's face: "Did it —?
"No", Acatonatzin said. "But there must be much greater care. Let the barrier-front be put back ten paces, with very deep earth-beds at the top."
So Shollo gave that order and was for sending a messenger with it to the other side, but Acatonatzin stayed him; he would go himself.
But before he could start to go, men came and represented to them that the wooden runway was prepared for the front stones of the next three courses and that men were actually holding back the boulders with ropes; not to loose and drop them now would involve great expense of labor, and might even be impossible. — Well, those three courses might go, but double the earth-beds at the top. And then alter the grades of the runways and set them back; let the new face of the barrier be ten good strides back, and not so steep. Push the runways back a stride at each course.
He left Shollo then, and crossed over and gave like orders to Shaltemoc, to whom it seemed that he had aged suddenly. The second boulder to reach the raised road fell while they were talking.
In the morning Acatonatzin was on the bridge again and soon began to note that the Toltec work below was lagging. As the day went on, he grew more certain of this. When night fell, no torches burned there; no work was being done. He called Shollo to him on the bridge and pointed into the unlighted depths beneath.
"They have given it up," said Shollo.
Then Shaltemoc was summoned; he would have it that the boulder-dropping should not be halted, and Acatonatzin agreed with him. But that dark silence could only mean that the work had ceased down there; activity that had never flagged before now was quite at an end. "And it has been decreasing all day," said the priest-prince.
Shollo supposed that the Toltec was tired of his folly and had returned to his kingdom, or was preparing to return. Shaltemoc was less hopeful: They might be planning to climb the barrier tonight, relying on having thus put us off our guard. Acatonal sensed inwardly that the Topiltzin had not departed, and would not; and he was vaguely troubled. The boulder-dropping must go on through the night, but without strain or hurry.
The next morning he sent out scouts: a thing, strangely enough, that had never been done before. Except for the place where they were working and the road they had made to it, this was unknown country to the Huitznahuatecs. But there was no possibility of these scouts coming where they could see the cross canyon behind the Topiltzin's pavilion, or the territories of the Republic of New Otompan.
One of the scouts who went out westward had news to tell in the evening. Some score of miles away he had seen, far beneath him, a great company of Toltecs who seemed to be lost in a maze of chasms; they appeared to be hungry and in desperate plight. So Acatonal had food-litters dispatched and their contents let down by ropes to Huemac's contingent thus entangled in the mountain; it was what saved many of their lives.
The priest-prince kept them raising the barrier all that day, but halfheartedly, for most of the men were resting. In the night he had bonfires lit on the barrier's top and watch kept, but no work was done. Nothing was going on in the canyon below now; that fact was certain. The Huitznahuatecs, learning of it, were in a gay mood. They had known that the invaders would tire and go; and now they were gone. They waited for a word from Acatonatzin to turn their backs on their work and on the mountain; but the word was slow to come. The Toltecs might still be waiting for them to stop work and go. . . .
It was by no means clear in the priest-prince's mind what a Toltec invasion would mean. He had heard that they killed people, but he could not realize the possibility of slaughter here. It did not occur to him; his anxieties and forebodings were formless. It would be an evil thing, a very evil thing, if these northern people got through; that was as much as his thoughts formulated. The wish was still with him that he had been able to draft the menfolk off to build a new Huitznahuacan in the unknown south. But he did not know that they would get through; he did not know that they had found a way. It appeared that all but he were certain that they had not.
It began to rise on his perceptions that it would be well to hide the queen. And the king too, perhaps, if he were still alive. The Toltecs might get through; they might have found a way, and they might still be harboring the scheme their first ambassador had broached, that of marrying the queen to one of their kings. Yes, we must hide Chimalmatzin; if they get through, they must not find her. Ulupi's line must not be broken.
Long ago, as a boy, he had been taken to a hidden valley on Teotepetl; a God-man had sent for and talked with him, perhaps with this very eventuality in mind. For it grew on him now that that God-man's will would be that he should send or take the queen there and place her under his high protection. If only he could find the way, but he knew that he could not. Who could? To that question, put to the Unknown, the answer drifted into his mind: Shollotzin Tecuhtli, now Lord of Rainflower since Nopal had become king. Rumor, hardly even whispered but widely believed nonetheless, was that the lords of Rainflower had a mysterious relationship with the Mountain that was God, a kind of lay-discipleship as it were, or perhaps hereditary guardianship as against the world. He would take Shollotzin Tecuhtli with him to Huitznahuacan.
They arrived there at noon of a gloomy day, the third after the fall of the boulders, and found Chimalman at Nopal's bedside, with Nayna the Aged from Rainflower, whom Acatonal did not know, and Ishmishutzin Teteoinan. To them, in a low voice, he told his news. It might be, he said, that the Toltecs had given up their attempt —
"They have not given it up," said Nayna the Aged. "Even now they are on the march through hidden valleys, and there can be no stopping them."
"Your Godhead knows this?" asked Acatonal.
"Alas, I know, although I cannot tell how. And therefore I must hide Chimalmatzin; she must not be here when they come. I must hide her in a secret place on the Mountain that is God."
"Your Godhead suggests that? You know of . . . a certain valley? It is what I came here to propose. There is a valley there wherein she would be safe?"
The old woman drew him down and whispered in his ear: "Hast thou heard of the Serpent's Hole, Acatonatzin Tezcatlipoca?" Their eyes met then; his, lit with awe. He turned to Chimalman.
"My child, you must go," said he. "They would not find you where her Godhead has leave to place you, though all their armies were on the mountain searching."
"I have been there," said Chimalman. "I know the way, and I will go. But Nopaltzin —?"
"The Light awaits him here," said Ishmishutzin. "To take him would be to disturb his passing."
"He shall live to confront the Toltec king," said Nayna. "Aye, and he shall confront him. I will bide here and see to it; it is a promise. A place is prepared for you, little Godhead. Shollotzin Tecuhtli shall take you. He too knows the way. You and Ketlashotzin and her children shall go."
Shollo, although he had known Nayna all his life, and knew that but little was hidden from her, was startled to hear her announce that he knew the way. "Yes," said he, "I will take your Godhead; I know the way."
"Leave me with my husband till the litters are ready," said Chimalman. So they left her.
When, a little later, she parted from Acatonatzin at the Townmouth, he saw no sign of grief or fear with her at all. Under dark skies, indigo and purple with their storm clouds, she rode away.
The princess's despatch-rod stood Quauhtli in good stead. At posthouses where there was but one night-litter, it was he who got it, though messengers from the Regency at Culhuacan might be thereby delayed. They never questioned his precedence. On foot during the day and but for one meal at a rest-house, eating the little he needed as he ran, and sleeping by night in the night-litters, he made as much speed as a human being could. Day after day his pace was the wolf-run, where normally all that was asked of a messenger on a long journey such as that was the dog-trot. He found the sway of the night-litters excellently conducive to sleep.
One morning he awoke aware of a change in his surroundings. The forest solitude had gone, and he was in the midst of human life and works. The litter had been set down in the southernmost rest-house of the camp on Forgotten Plain.
In no long time he was on his way again. The Road, which had been quite unmarked here, now ran between rows of tents and was everywhere well crowded with soldiers and porters, the latter bearing loads southward, or returning with empty litters from the south. In spite of the crowds, an excellent order was kept; at sight of the despatch-rod, all made way for him.
At every seven-score strides or so there stood an official who cried as he came up, "Straight on!" or "This way!" or presently, "On through the canyon!" — and he understood well enough that they were directing him to the Topiltzin. He was making better speed than any litter could; or these same topillies, or whichever of them first saw signs of flagging in him, would have drummed up a litter and bearers then and there and seen that he mounted it.
When he came into the canyon, he found it, in comparison, empty. The camp that had been there had been struck and the tents repitched elsewhere. Porters going and coming; a regiment on the march that he passed; a stretch of solitude; more porters; another regiment — thus the need for speed was borne in on him.
In mid-afternoon he passed the cross canyon where the royal headquarters had been. The topilli stationed there gave him a direction, to which Quauhtli, in his intentness, and knowing the way very well, paid no heed. Then the man's attention was diverted, so that he took no immediate note of the fact that the Divine Princess's messenger had gone on by the raised road. Quauhtli after a while took thought to wonder why this new work, this rising incline, that had cost such tremendous labor, had been deserted, for his way led through solitude now. It was ominous, and urged him to new speed, whereby the runner the topilli sent after him failed to catch up with him.
Past these two great boulders; and, ah, there was the Huitznahuatecs' barrier: high, but it must be climbed. They were not at work on it now; in any case, he must take the risk. The Toltecs were beyond, of course; they had gotten through. Or had they? He went up to the top without too great difficulty. A buzzing of flies that rose, blackening the air at his appearance, sickened him. Soul of the World!
He was left in no doubt now. The Toltecs were in Huitznahuac. These smashed bodies were those of the Huitznahuatecs, and they had been thrown down from the cliff tops. The place was piled thick with them; it was difficult to pick a way. And there . . . one face not damaged at all: Shaltemoc's, Nopal's brother-in-law, whom he had known since they were together at the Calmecac. The face was almost lifelike, the body shapeless . . . Soul of the World!
He staggered down the slope, his muscles gone loose and flaccid, and vomited by the roadside at the bottom. Speed, speed, Quauhtli! A great wrench of the will and he mastered his physical misery and ran on. Ah, here a tent, and a jar of water in it, not too stale. They were here not long since, then. He drank, and poured what remained over his head and body and ran on. It was a mystery: The Toltecs had not come this way, but they were in Huitznahuac. There was no time to give way or thought to one's sick physicality now. . . .
Night had fallen when he came out onto the plain and found it a camp crowded with warlike northern humanity. He held high his despatch-rod as he came into the torchlit ways, and it brought him the same deference as in the morning. Ahead! The Human Camaxtli is ahead! Make way for the Divine Princess's courier! The first topilli he passed drummed up a litter and courteously ordered him to enter it. He did so, for the sake of better speed, so insistent was one's physicality in its reaction to its first glimpse of war. . . .
His bearers were of the best and went along splendidly. Though inwardly he fretted at their slowness, he knew that their speed was better than his own could be just now. But, resting, he was also recovering himself. He contrived to ask them where was the Topiltzin and understood their answer to be that he was at the end of this torch-starred plain — on the verge of Tzontecoma's district, in fact, where populated Huitznahuac began.
And there, indeed, they halted before a pavilion which, had he had attention to pay it, would have astonished him; but his mind was on the talk exchanged between the leader of his bearers and a group of officials at the door. One of the latter pointed along the road to Huitznahuacan, whereupon Quauhtli made his decision. His body was his own now; the rest had restored him. He leaped down from the litter, overthrowing — quite unintentionally — a couple of the bearers, and sped on his way south.
Despite all that he had done that day, he knew well that he had never run as he was running now. The way was well lit for him by the full moon above the hills, and by the glare of burning farmsteads, whence came the shouting of havoc-working Toltecs and the screams of their victims, which set him shuddering though he was scarcely conscious of hearing them, or aware of anything but that he must reach the Topiltzin before the Topiltzin reached Huitznahuacan.
At a bend in the road, a shrieking girl and the soldier in pursuit of her ran out in front of him; the man was about to seize her when Quauhtli felled him and passed on, hardly knowing what he had done, or that the girl escaped into the woods on the other side, or that the man lay still where he had been thrown. A mile or so from the city, the Road rose, then swerved to the left and downward. At the top of the rise, he saw lights at the Townmouth and that the Toltecs were there. Still, he might reach the Topiltzin before that one and his tzitzimitl host came to the Top of the Town; thus he might save the queen. Speed, Quauhtli! Speed!
With Civacoatzin's staff held high, he tore down that last, long incline, the sweat in his eyes half blinding him. And then, opposite the Townmouth, he came upon the man he was seeking, and was left in no doubt of that fact. He was enthroned there, enjoying his revenge.
"Stop!" yelled Quauhtli, and hurled his messenger's staff at the executioner, felling him. It was Acatonatzin's life he saved thereby, at least for the moment. And then, loud above the outraged commotion while they seized him: "Here is a letter from the Princess Civacoatzin to the Toltec Topiltzin, and this vile killing must cease till the Toltec Topiltzin has read it!"
Someone handed up the despatch-rod to the Topiltzin, whose fury had been quelled by the news that Quauhtli had shouted. A gesture from him put a stop to all further activities while he read. Executioners and their victims — the old men, the women and children of the town — awaited his word for the massacre to begin again. Two burly Toltecs held Quauhtli but did not molest him otherwise.
By the light of the torch held up to him, the Topiltzin first glanced down the letter, then became intent on it, his face losing its brooding savagery as he read. That was because the letter enforced conviction, on one point at least: The dead pygmy he had seen on the ledge opposite the barrier came to his memory at once. Yes, it was with an arrow such as the pygmies used that Cohuanacotzin had been killed.
Civacoatl knew; he did not know how, but he knew that she had means of knowing what she wished to know. So his fury against the Huitznahuatecs was foundationless; he, whose pride and whose instinct it was to be magnanimous, had been led into this. . . .
"Repeat the order. Let there be no more Huitznahuatecs killed or molested in any way!" he commanded, and immediately the drummers began drumming out the order. Drums farther off took it up, and drums would repeat it till every Toltec in Huitznahuac had heard.
"Does the courier know the contents of this letter?" he brought out at last.
"I do," said Quauhtli. "The lady who wrote it discussed it with me."
"You are that Quauhtzin who is mentioned?"
"Of what city, O strangely mannered Quauhtzin?"
"Of Huitznahuacan! And yet you bring me a letter from the Divine Princess. There never was a Huitznahuatec in the Anahuacs."
"There was, and he was known to the Topiltzin. And the princess is on the Road and will be here before long. What she says is true, king of the Toltecs."
"That it was the forest pygmy who killed my friend? Yes, I see that that is true."
"And that the Topiltzin's life will be made mournful till he dies because of the Huitznahuatecs he has murdered."
The onlookers gasped. Here was one speaking to their sovereign with tones of pity, as from a superior to an inferior; they had not heard the like before. They waited for the sign that would be Quauhtli's death warrant, but no sign came. Nonohualcatl sat there embarrassed and uncertain, quite unlike himself.
"Who was the Huitznahuatec that was known to the Topiltzin?" he asked at last.
"He was called Quanetzin of Quauhnahuac, O king of the Toltecs."
"What" cried Nonohualcatl, down from his throne in a moment. "Quanetzin a Huitznahuatec? Where is he? Your life is forfeit if you lie to me, Quauhtzin!"
"No Huitznahuatec is to die, Toltec, till you have met the king of Huitznahuac."
"No. No Huitznahuatec is to die. But — where is Quanetzin?"
"You shall know, if the king of Huitznahuac permits."
"Yes, I was to see the king of Huitznahuac. Can you bring him to me?"
Quauhtli addressed Acatonatzin. "Can your Godhead bring the king here?"
"No," said the priest-prince. "Nopaltzin lies dying in the House of the Kings."
Dying? It was news for Quauhtli to digest. Only not now. There was this business of the Topiltzin to attend to first.
"The Topiltzin is answered," said he. "But if the prince whom you would have murdered permits, I will bring you to the king of Huitznahuac." The Topiltzin's eyes sought Acatonatzin, who inclined his head in assent.
"Come then; I follow your Godhead, Quauhtzin," said Nonohualcatl. "Drummers, summon all the army to this place. Until I return, all shall be under command of this lord" — and he indicated Acatonatzin, adding, "If your Godhead permits." Then he admonished his men: "See that no Huitznahuatec is harmed."
He followed Quauhtli through the Townmouth. The Huitznahuatecs had not killed Cohuanacotzin; his anger had been baseless. And Quanez of Quauhnahuac was a Huitznahuatec. Perhaps one of those thrown from the cliff tops . . .
Quauhtli hurried on, the Topiltzin following him: past the koo of Teteoinan, up the Street of the Quechol, across the arena, and up the steps to the House of the Kings. They did not speak on the way. Quauhtli's mind was filled with a stern pity for this man who had worked such mischief in his blindness and who must now, in mercy, be made to see and realize the harm he had done. He kept silent lest, speaking, he might interfere with the workings of the Law.
The Topiltzin could not feel himself Topiltzin in Quauhtli's presence. He could assert no superiority; shame and remorse were working in him; above all, uneasy apprehension. His anger had been reasonless; and he wished to be thought magnanimous, and indeed, was magnanimous in his better moods. Civacoatzin had said that if he killed Huitznahuatecs before meeting the king of Huitznahuac, his life would be made mournful till he died; and he had killed perhaps the whole manhood of Huitznahuac.
Who was the king of Huitznahuac? And why was he to see him? Where was Quanetzin, the so-called Quauhnahuatec — the one man, as he had superstitiously come to feel, who could solve all of his problems and make the world again sane for him? These questions were on his lips to ask, but Quauhtli's demeanor kept them from being spoken.
Thrice Quauhtli knocked at the palace door, not loudly. Then a shuffling footstep was heard from within, and old Eeweesho opened to them. "Quauhtzin!" said she. "Ah, Quauhtzin!"
"Eeweeshotzin, where are the king and queen?"
"The queen is — hush!" said she, noting the presence of a stranger. "And the king — ah, Quauhtzin, your heart will be wrung! Your soul will be wrung to see him!"
"What has happened, Eeweesho?" Then he remembered. "Acatonatzin said that he was dying. Yet we must see him, Eeweeshton!"
"Ocotosh, Ocotosh!" she called softly. "Bring a light!"
The old servant, her husband, came with a lighted torch, and the two went in, following the servants. "Ah, Quauhtzin, Quauhtzin, you will mourn!" murmured Eeweesho. The aged creature was weeping. "He is in the sunroorn," said she, "if he is in the man-world at all."
"How comes it that he is sick and dying, Eeweeshton?"
"The tzitzimitl shot him in the canyon; the same who killed Acamapichtli and that foreign lord, Cohuanacotzin."
Nonohualcatl caught his friend's name, and as much of the rest to know that reference had been made to his murder. "What is this, Quauhtzin?" he whispered.
"The demon that shot and killed your ambassador shot also the king of Huitznahuac, and he is dying of the wound," said Quauhtli. "Cohuanacotzin was your ambassador, was he not?"
A door was opened, and Eeweesho ushered them into the dimly lamp-lit sunroom, then retired with her husband. Heavy curtains hung in the arches, shutting out the moonlight and muffling the night noises of the forest. On a low bed of quilts lay a motionless figure, deathlike. Beside it, on a stool cushion, sat an aged woman who lifted a hand to hush them as they entered; also to beckon Quauhtli over to the bedside. And there, she holding the light, he saw his fellow disciple wasted to utter death semblance, to all appearances, dead. He felt a new wave of stern pity for the warmaker who had brought all this to pass. . . .
Nonohualcatl must see this fruit of his ambition, however; if it — that is, if the dying, or dead, Nopalton should be recognizable by him — as the God-world grant he might be! That thought in his mind, Quauhtli caught Nayna's eye, and she turned and beckoned to the Topiltzin, who came on tiptoe across the room, curious and apprehensive, and looked intently at the dying man.
He could not tell who it was, nor yet escape the impression that he should know. Quauhtli himself might hardly have recognized Nopal, had he not known who lay there.
"It is the king of Huitznahuac?" whispered Nonohualcatl. "Yes. Do you not know him?"
"No . . . no."
There flashed through Quauhtli's mind then a herb that grew nowhere but at the Serpent's Hole, which, rightly used, would bring the dying, or the dead, back from this side of the Clashing Mountains and give them semblance of life and health, and all of their mentality, for a few minutes at least. To have that herb here might be the saving of the rest of the Huitznahuatecs from slaughter, and this Toltec's soul from the hideous damnation of the crime he had contemplated. But —
Nayna the Aged touched his arm. "I have it here," she said. "I brought it against this need."
"You have what?" asked Quauhtli.
"The Serpent-herb from the Serpent's Hole."
Neither paid the least attention to Nonohualcatl, but spoke in low whispers so that he might not hear. Indeed, he realized that he counted for but little here. But something in Quauhtli's tones had reminded him of someone, and the dying man in the bed reminded him of someone; and he thought that he was within a little of guessing who. And till this interview was over, he would hear no news of the man who had saved his life once and would save — perhaps it was his honor he would save now.
"Wait," whispered Nayna. She took a packet from the breast of her gown and produced from it two or three sprigs of an herb, well dried. Breaking off a leaf, she put it between Nopal's lips, then touched a sprig to the lamp flame till, slowly, a spark glowed at the end of it, from which rose at once a surprising volume of silvery-yellow smoke. This sprig-censer she waved slowly before Nopal's nostrils and across his face. They watched her do this for a few moments till the smoke cloud had grown to envelop her.
"Out, both of you!" she whispered, troubledly, as Quauhtli thought, and with a curious emphasis, pointing to the curtain in the nearest arch. Quauhtli held it back, motioned to Nonohualcatl to pass, and followed him into the moonlit garden. As he went, he saw that the room was quickly filling with the pearly lamp-lit opacity.
They were both glad to be out of it, for the fumes, pungent and acrid, had begun to hurt their eyes and nostrils, and even their skin. From a few paces away in the garden, they heard Nayna the Aged chanting in a strange rhythm that rose and quickened, then sank and grew slow, and at last ceased in a kind of gasp or sob.
Then Nopal's voice, as strong as ever in his life, called, "Quauhtli, are you there?"
"I am here, Nopalton!" Followed by the Topiltzin, he reentered the room.
Nayna was not in sight, but there was Nopal, sitting up in the bed, with no death-seeming on him at all, but as Quauhtli had last seen him at Eagle Hermitage; as Nonohualcatl had seen him in the palace at Culhuacan.
"Quanetzin!" cried the Topiltzin.
"Yes," said Quauhtli, "your deliverer from the assassins in the Culhuacan marketplace: Nopaltzin, king of Huitznahuac, against whom you are at war."
"Quauhtli, Quauhtli, what does it mean?" began Nopal.
" Nopalton, Nopaltontli, listen! Dear heart, it is death the bright that has come to you."
"Death?" exclaimed Nopal, his face lighting up to serenity.
" Yes. We have called you back from the edge of the Clashing Mountains that this man may recognize you and know who you are."
"This man?" Nopal peered closely at Nonohualcatl. "Why, he is the man I told you about: the Toltec Topiltzin, my good friend. It is a happy thing to me to see your Godhead."
But the Topiltzin, standing with bowed head, had no answer to make.
"But . . . but . . . where am I, Quauhtli? How does the Toltec Topiltzin come to be here? I thought I was in the House of the Kings at Huitznahuacan."
" Yes, you are in the House of the Kings; you are in your own house, Nopaltontli."
" Yes, but . . . I was dreaming before you woke me, and I am to tell you my dream. I was going with Cohuanacotzin, the Culhuatec — did you know Cohuanacotzin, Quauhtli? It was he who rescued me from the hierarch at Teotihuacan; I told you about that. The Topiltzin sent him to rescue me; your Godhead sent him, you know." This last was spoken to Nonohualcatl.
"We were going to visit you; you had come to conquer Huitznahuac. When was it? This morning, I think. Or yesterday, for I must have been sleeping a long while. Yes. We were going over the barrier and down through the canyon to the Topiltzin's camp, for it seems that he had brought an army here to make war on us. Don't laugh, Quauhtli! If I had not been in the Anahuacs and come to his rescue when those men attacked him, fearful things might have happened here; for you know — I told you — they do practice that ghastly business of war, although they are not tzitzimitls, but men; and good men, many of them. Their Topiltzin is of a noble and magnanimous nature. I thought I saw him here just now, but that must have been a bit of my dream. Yes, fearful things might have happened if Cohuanacotzin had not come to us and if he and I had not gone to the Topiltzin's camp on Forgotten Plain.
"But did we go to the camp? Did we, Quauhtli? Because . . . hush! There was something . . . there on the barrier." A look of horror came over his face. "There was a demon . . . on the face of the cliff opposite. I can see it now: a demon with a bow and a quiver. Look! He changes. No, there is someone standing over him; can't you see? Look! Can't you see, Quauhtli? Nonohualcatl Topiltzin, your Godhead, can see him there — standing over the tzitzimitl, there on the cliff face: the priest who was my judge when you rescued me at Teotihuacan, Quauhtli: the hierarch of Teotihuacan. And he, or the tzitzimitl, shot three shafts; and the first killed Cohuanacotzin, my friend; he fell down into the canyon. And the third killed Acamapitzin, there on the barrier he had devised and built; and the second . . . did something; it grazed someone's shoulder, and he said, 'It is a scratch, nothing!' but he fell; it killed him. Who was that third man who fell? The dream became indistinct at that point."
Nopal sat forward, leaning on his elbows, gazing intently into the invisible. "Yes, it was the king of Huitznahuac, a fellow disciple of yours, Quauhtli. It was Nopal of Rainflower. . . .
Curious! By the Soul of the World, Quauhtli, that is who I was! I was Nopal of Rainflower — in my last life!"
He spoke with growing excitement and intensity, the power of the herb burning up in him, reaching at this point its brightest; then, suddenly, dying away. Quauhtli's arms were about him as he died. . . . . to lay back his body in the bed.
No armed men, though many Toltecs, were left in Huitznahuac. On all of the farms in the country, soldiers worked for the Huitznahuatec women, and woe betide the man who was lazy or disobedient. The officers in charge of them — Culhuatecs all never knew when to expect the visits of their Human Camaxtli, who permitted himself no rest in the labor he had undertaken. One day at Losthistory, inspecting the work of his men there, the next at distant Burntbread or Rainflower, he saw to it that the women were reverenced and obeyed. He was driven by remorse, possessed by desire to pay the debt he felt he owed to the gods and to Huitznahuac, depressed by a sense of the inadequacy of his efforts to pay it.
It preyed on him that his warmaking had brought about the death of Nopal. Setting a superstitious value on his own life and greatness, he set a superstitious value on the saving of his life back then in the marketplace, and felt himself accursed because he had been the cause, however indirectly, of the death of the man who had saved it. Yet there was a manly element in him too; his remorse expressed itself not in brooding apart and inactivity, but in this active will to repay. Quauhtli accompanied him on his tours and mediated between him and the widows left owners of the land.
He had wished to give Nopal a funeral more magnificent even than Cohuanacotzin's; but that, Quauhtli forbade. There should be no meretricious and spectacular atonements. Life should teach unhappy Nonohualcatl its great lessons; he should take no refuge in unrealities. Uncondemning, sternly compassionate, Quauhtli played, one might say, a fellow disciple's part to him, watching for what signs of spiritual reality might appear in the man thus chosen by the Law to meet the full blast of experience — the effects of his own actions, his own thought, his own soul and being.
There were times when Quauhtli believed that the result of it all would be the awakening in Nonohualcatl of that will, that fire, that soul-dedication leading to discipleship. Nonohualcatl made no attempt to play the king in Huitznahuac, but deferred always to Acatonatzin, who reigned in the House of the Kings: a frail and silvery old man now, utterly impersonal, waiting on the gods.
Huemac, with the remains of his army, had been rescued; the Otomitl had been found and brought back; both of them were in the camp on Forgotten Plain. Nonohualcatl had not seen Huemac, but he had sent for the Otomitl to come to Huitznahuacan, where Acatonatzin had given him the Calmecac to be his headquarters. There those two, the Topiltzin and the Otomitl, had talked over the hierarch's exploits.
"He never should have left Teotihuacan," said the Otomitl. "It was unwise; war is not a priest's business at all."
"Is massacre a priest's business then?"
"It is not, and for that reason he shall cease to be a priest."
"Your Godhead will —"
"Conduct a revolution, an easier thing to do here than it would be in the Anahuacs. Otompan shall depose Teotihuacan and assume full headship of the republic. He is here with a few score priests, and I am here with the Otomi army."
"But there is my brother, Huemac. He loves the hierarch."
"The thing shall be done with some privacy, your Godhead. It might be well if an invitation were sent to Huetzin to attend you here in Huitznahuacan."
And it was done with very great privacy. The Otomitl, returning to the camp, brought an urgent message to Huemac, which caused him to set out immediately for Huitznahuacan, where Nonohualcatl told him of the crimes that had been done but not, at first, of the name or identity of their perpetrator. Huemac's religious susceptibilities were tremendously wrenched by the news that the Road had been violated.
"But the savages do not do such things, Nonohualcatl." He paced up and down the room. "They would never have thought of it. Someone must have set them on to it."
"We know who set them on, Huemac."
"Then he has been punished? He is dead?"
"You give your word and your judgment that he shall die?"
"I? Of course I do, Nonohualcatl. It was their ambassador who was killed, you say, and on the Road. Divine and human law broken; the gods would forsake us unless we executed the criminal. "
"Good. And now we will talk of other things."
That night the Otomitl called on the hierarch in his tent. "What brings your Godhead here so late?"
"A matter of instant business. There was a massacre sometime since on the Road; an ambassador and his suite were slain."
"Your Godhead is no longer hierarch of Teotihuacan."
"That is a matter, sir, that concerns only the priesthood at Teotihuacan."
"Truly your Godhead is right," said the Otomitl, "and therefore you will start tonight for Teotihuacan. As I shall be here for some little time with the army, it should be easy for your Godhead to arrange things at home to your satisfaction."
"Think of another course, Otomitl. King Huetzin —"
"Is visiting his brother at Huitznahuacan, your Godhead."
He clapped his hands, and a guard of ten men entered. "Take his Godhead, the ex-hierarch, to his closed litter," said he. "Then you know your orders. Yes, a gag, and bound hands and feet; it will be wiser. You will loose him and leave him a day's march into the forest; his priests will be his bearers from that time on. No, you will have no other escort, Yen Ranho. It was you who desecrated the Road."
So that night the priestly contingent disappeared from Forgotten Plain. It never reached the Anahuacs. The Road had been desecrated; the spell that kept it free from murder had been broken. The Ib Quinames were no longer at their village by the Hill of Derision; another tribe, which came from deep in the forest, had taken possession of their territories and knew nothing of the tradition of the Road. And there was no god now on Puma Rock. . . . When the army passed that way, going north, it was found necessary to burn leagues of forest on that side of the Road, in the neighborhood of the Hill of Derision, and to exterminate the folk that lived in them. But Huemac, first of the allies to return, was careful; if a savage got onto the Road, he was safe; he was merely enslaved and taken to the Anahuacs.
Ochpaniztli, the last month of the year, was drawing to a close when Civacoatzin arrived at Huitznahuacan. Nonohualcatl was not there when she came, and she did not go to the Calmecac: Acatonatzin, having heard that she was coming, met her at the Townmouth and brought her to the House of the Kings. Those two understood each other well from the first. It seemed to him that although a Toltec, she was utterly Huitznahuatec in outlook. While talking with her, he remembered his vision on the koo of his god at Teotleco and understood that what had happened was what had to happen, and even knew that some great good was to come of it. The untimely deaths of his two brothers, of the king, of all of the manhood of Huitznahuac — each one of them now in antiquity and along the path of his evolution — had sown the seed whose dark fruit was this. But must they be considered unfortunate? Must it be thought that what they had suffered was other than the experience they needed in order to advance? Not death nor suffering, but ignobility, was to be mourned, and not one of these who had died had been less than noble. He remembered the light that had shone from dying Huitznahuac, in his vision, over a vaster world than Huitznahuac had dreamed existed, and he was able to take thought for the future.
It was the princess who suggested to him what that future should be, but his own mind had almost formulated it before she spoke. War had made its way into Huitznahuac; and where it had come once, it might come again. Wild tribes, with their dangerous weapons, might wander south, and for many years there would be none but women to oppose them. It would be wiser to abandon Huitznahuac and take what remained of the population into the north.
That northern world, so vast and powerful, was weak in all of those gentle greatnesses in which the Huitznahuatecs had been so strong; and they would be held in high honor there, Civacoatzin assured him. Nonohualcatl would see to that. And they would be, he was to consider, wick and tallow for the Flame that was to be kindled there. . . . So it was decided between them; together, later, they would convince and comfort the people. Acatonatzin, meanwhile, would take litter for the districts and prepare the people.
An hour or two after he left, Nonohualcatl arrived in Huitznahuacan; messengers had gone seeking him on the day Civacoatzin had come. Eeweesho brought him to her in the sunroom; he would have taken Quauhtli in with him, but Quauhtli preferred to wait in the garden. Nonohualcatl had aged much since she saw him last; he might now well be between his two and three score, although his years were but a score and twelve. All that belongs to youth had gone from him.
"Civacoatzin!" His tone showed that what hope he had was centered in her.
"My poor Nonohualton"
"Your letter was true. It was in this room that I saw the king of Huitznahuac die. He was the man who saved me from the assassins; we called him Quanetzin of Quauhnahuac."
"And Huitznahuatecs had been killed before you saw him — before you knew!"
"All of the men had been killed."
"My poor Nonohualton!"
"I owed him my life. You know how I sought for him in the Anahuacs. The desire was on me then to make him chief among my nobles."
"He had other work to do, Nonohualton. It was I who prevented your finding him."
"Your Godhead is wiser than I. But if I had known that he was Huitznahuatec — that he was king of Huitznahuac! I owe a debt, Civacoatzin, a heavy debt! And Cohuanacotli is dead too. You know the truth about that. It was a pygmy of the forest killed him, and I know who set the pygmy on to it."
"It was the Dark Tezcatlipoca, Nonohualton. Through his servant, Yen the Hierarch. I passed that one in the forest, but he was disinclined to communicate with me. You should have sent a strong escort with him; the Road had become dangerous for him because of his crime. He had the Huitznahuatecs massacred on the Road and sent information of it to Huitznahuacan, hoping they would kill him for it when he came here and that the League would then exterminate the Huitznahuatecs. And he had Cohuanacotli murdered with the same end in view: that you might go mad with anger against them. Ah, Nonohualton, Nonohualton! Men who cherish anger in their hearts are under the power of the Dark Tezcatlipoca, and he betrays his servants to suffering. It is a heavy debt you owe — to the king who died here, and to the Huitznahuatecs, who gave you no offence, and to the Bright Gods, whom you have sinned against."
"I would make expiation, Civacoatzin."
"There may be a way; even now there may be a way. Listen, Nonohualton. The gods had preserved Huitznahuac until now for their grand purposes. It was very old, but it was sinless, and therefore they were able to preserve it. Nations, like men, have their hour to die; they cannot live forever. Do you think that Culhuacan will endure forever, or Tollan, or the League? They will die when their time comes. They will be conquered and absorbed by their conquerors, and their conquerors will be conquered in their turn. But none of them will live through long ages as Huitznahuac has lived, and none of them, dying, will leave the world a benediction as Huitznahuac will.
"For, because of the sweetness of the life that has been lived here, and because the Dark Gods have never here been worshiped, from the death of this nation a great light shall shine. A star will rise from this sunset and it will beautifully illumine the darkness to be. That is true, Nonohualton.
"I knew — the Children of the Serpent knew — that this should be. The Dark Tezcatlipoca knew, and plotted against the star's rising. His hierarch, Yen Ranho, plotted, as we knew. Their will was that Huitznahuac should be utterly destroyed, and not a soul left living. To that end, the hierarch hoped to be killed in Huitznahuacan. But the Huitznahuatecs lived very close to the God-world; it was a beautiful people your destiny ordained that you should destroy, a destiny you made for yourself. The Huitznahuatecs would kill no man. That hope failing Yen Ranho, he plotted further, as you know, and brought you under the power of his god. It is a power that destroys the soul, and revenge and hatred lay the soul open to it.
"When will you understand this, my poor Nonohualton? But perhaps you understand it now. The Law leads us on from our thoughts to our actions, and from these to their consequences, which teach us, in the end, to be wise. You assuredly have done great evil and earned heavy suffering for yourself. Grow wise thereby! It is what the Law intends. Not by conquering Huitznahuac, for that was to be. You might have conquered Huitznahuac and shed no blood, and taken the people to the Anahuacs to make the life of the Anahuacs sweet. It was your anger that was the evil, your anger that caused so many to be murdered. You do not guess what the gods may have lost through that. Their will was that the Huitznahuatecs should dwell in the cities of the north. Child, I would weep for you did I not know that through this crime and its punishment, you may learn to be a man!"
"To be a man, Civacoatzin?"
"Aye, poor heart, to be a man! Do you admire your warmaking now? Does conquest seem desirable now?"
For answer, he but hung his head, and she went on.
"The Huitznahuatecs who are left — the women and the aged and the children — you must take to Culhuacan and see that they are held in highest honor, because this great light, this great help, is to come from the Huitznahuatecs. I have spoken with King Acatonatzin, and he understands. It must be the business of every Culhuatec to guard them against what might cause them sorrow."
"All this shall be done, Civacoatzin. They shall be the highest in Culhuacan. But it will leave my debt to the man who saved me unpaid."
"You grow, my Nonohualton! Take courage; you are learning! Your debt to the man who saved you, Nopaltzin, king of Huitznahuac — yes, that must be paid, to the last quill and bean, or you are dishonored. Now listen and understand.
"War — that is your trade, as it was our father's. Well, it is the business of time and the universe. Forever and forever the gods make war on hell, and hell is the shadow of the gods. Where there is light, there also is darkness. The gods are our Lost Others. For every man there is a god, the Star within and above him, out of which his being proceeds; and for every god, and for every man therefore, there is a tzitzimitl, the dark shadow of the god. The war that endures forever is the war between our Bright Others and their Dark Others; and the souls of men that stand between are the spoils they fight for.
"Who is Camaxtli, the god you worship, Nonohualton? He is the will of all the God-world to oppose and hold back evil and to liberate mankind. He is the war of the gods against the tzitzimitls. And the Dark Camaxtli, his shadow, is the one who moved you to hurl the Huitznahuatecs from the cliffs. So with all the gods. The Bright Tezcatlipoca is the delicate wisdom that keeps the brightness in the stars and unfolds the fern frond's tracery. The Dark Tezcatlipoca is the fountain of all sorceries, of evil you could not endure the knowledge of.
"If you must have war, Nonohualton, there is but one way you shall escape the Dark Camaxtli. Follow this rule: Love your enemies! For hatred is the widest gate of hell.
"They are plotting all the time, the dark gods are, to bring the world to sorrow, violence, ignorance, and destruction. They are marvelous plotters, secret and sinister, infinitely cunning. But the Bright Ones watch their plottings unperturbed, because they know the cycles of time and that what has been sown must be reaped, and that men's thoughts are the seeds whose fruit is destiny. Huitznahuac was holy, and is dead. When that which is holy dies, the world is lighted. Passing into the Light of Light, holiness holds open the gates, and the glory streams through into our darkness to purify us."
For a while she sat silent, gazing out and up toward Mishcoatepetl; then, slowly, as if reading words written in a difficult script in the air, she said, "Nopaltzin saved your life; you caused his death. What do you owe him?"
"Two lives of mine, each to be his slave while they last, I think."
"You look too far, Nonohualton. But there are two lives to consider: that of the queen, his widow, and that of their son."
He caught the thought and answered eagerly: "May it be thus, Civacoatzin? She shall be queen of Culhuacan, yet I will never touch her. I will be her servant; she shall rule and I will obey. I will know no woman till I die. Her son shall be my son, my only son, and my heir."
Her face lit with a grave happiness. "Yes," said she. "In this way, you shall make expiation. Poor little heart, you must suffer, but in your suffering, you shall do what the gods desire of you, and that is the path that leads to the end of suffering. It is a pledge, Nonohualton!"
"It is a pledge," said he, the beginning of hope in his voice.
Yanesh the Straw sat drowsing in his flower garden at Rainflower Manor. It had gone wild a little in these last months, but he might still take pride in its profuse beauty. Bushes, billowing over with bloom, had thrown out long, irregular trailers and grown to what shapes they would; seedlings had sprung up and blossomed in the paths. It was a long time since he had had men under him to order about. No matter! It was but a new kind of loveliness that overtook the garden. Copil and Coshcosh were good boys, though one had not to let them know one thought so. What had become of Copil and Coshcosh? He had not seen them for months, nor any of the menfolk. And one never saw the Tecuhtli now, nor even Shollotzin.
Who was it, desiring to be facetious with ancient Yanesh, had told him that the Tecuhtli was king? Ha, ha! you could not take in Yanesh the Straw with a tale like that! Ashokentzin was king, of course, and was so when this Yanesh was a boy, and it was not likely things would have changed.
But now there was none to carry Yanesh's blossoms into the house, none to come asking him for flowers — none, since Little Godhead Maxiotzin went, to wear of an evening the wreaths he made. No Tecuhtli; no Shollotzin; no Maxiotzin. Still, one never knew. They would come back sometime. It was wisest to go on making wreaths for them; they might be here this evening. Well now, and of course they would! Wasn't this the last of the No-month Days — the Eve of Teotleco — the last day of the year? Of course they would be here for Teotleco.
And the tlapalizquis were in bloom by the causeway between the ponds; and had not the Tecuhtli said that he would be here to wear a wreath of tlapalizquis? Up, Yanesh the Straw! You must be busy! Wreaths for their three Godheads — tlapalizqui wreaths for Teotleco!
So, with that rare thing, a purpose, born in his dream-bewildered soul, he rose slowly and came to the causeway and the place where the wonder-bushes bloomed. There he cut blossoms and sat down to make wreaths of them, and to dream. Mostly to dream, whereby it happened that the sun was within an hour of setting when he hobbled up to the house with his three wreaths. The world might call Shollo what it pleased: Nopaltzin was the Tecuhtli for Yanesh.
And he was not disappointed. There they came in their litters, up from the road, and dismounted under the mombin trees. He met them in front of the open-room.
"Ah, Yaneshton!" said Quauhtli.
"Ah, Shollotzin!" replied he. "Yanesh has not forgotten your Godhead's Teotleco wreath." And to the princess, "Ah, Maxiotzin! Sacred blooms for your little Godhead tonight."
Her voice was all tenderness as she answered him: "Ah, Yanetzin, you do not forget!" And she bent that he might hang the wreath about her neck.
He advanced then toward the Topiltzin. "Ah, Tecuhtli!" said he. "I knew that you would come when the tlapalizquis were in bloom. Deign to receive a wreath from Yanesh Ancient; never has he made it better." Nonohualcatl inclined his head in thanks and took the wreath, but said nothing.
"It is a good omen, Yanetzintli!" said the princess. "It is a good omen, Nonohualton!"
"Is there no one here, Yaneshton?" asked Quauhtli, but the old man had grown vague in his thoughts and was wandering off.
They left the bearers under the mombins and followed Quauhtli into the open-room; he then went on into the house and called, but no one answered. Everywhere there were signs that the place was quite deserted. It did not matter, since they had brought food with them, and one of the men, shown where to go by Quauhtli, brought water from the well. They supped in silence in the open-room; the bearers, five-score strides or so away, rested under the trees. Civacoatzin bore an air of suppressing information. Nonohualcatl, as dependent wholly upon her, was listless still, but with a gleam of hope in him. Quauhtli, awaiting events, was reverent in manner toward the princess. As for the Topiltzin, he was noncommittal and unpartisan.
When the meal was finished, Nonohualcatl broke the silence, almost nervously, with, "Do we go farther? Is it time for the bearers to make ready?"
"There will be no bearers, Nonohualton; we shall walk."
"But you, Civacoatzin?"
"I also shall walk. No bearers could come where we are going."
"Nor must they see us go," Quauhtli said.
"Where can we put them?" asked Civacoatzin.
"There are lakes and orchards yonder," said he; "The house would hide us from them."
She rose at that and went out to the bearers. "Children," she said, "you have had a long journey. Beyond the house, over yonder, there is a lake, and there are pleasant orchards in that neighborhood. You are to go and refresh yourselves now. After that, come back to the house for your sleep. I can trust Culhuatecs to harm nothing. We shall need you in the morning or sooner. Go now!" It was her way, they knew, to think of the comfort of those who served her, and bowing and murmuring their thanks, they went.
"I will show you the way," said Quauhtli, accompanying them. Returning after a while, he fetched torches from the storeroom: "We shall need these," said he. "And now will your Godheads come?"
He led them across the lawn and by the path through the flower bed and shrubbery to the door in the wall, and out into the forest beyond.
"Through the forest — by night!" exclaimed Nonohualcatl.
"Yes, through the forest, Nonohualton, and by night. Quauhtzin Tecuhtli knows."
"But it will be dangerous — for you, Civacoatzin!"
Quauhtli asked, "Why should it be dangerous, your God-head?"
"Are there no wild beasts-no jaguars, no peccaries, to stumble on?"
"Yes, there are jaguars, and peccaries; but why should they be dangerous?"
"You don't understand, Nonohualton," said Civacoatzin. "We are in Huitznahuac now, where men have never killed each other. The wild beasts would not be dangerous if men were not."
No moon was in the sky, so Quauhtli twirled fire-sticks at once and soon had the torches alight. The sunset finished as he did so, and with the sudden fall of darkness, the forest awoke, with all of its noises. Close by, a jaguar squalled its hunting cry.
"We should have brought arms," said Nonohualcatl.
"We shall not harm the creatures," said Quauhtli. "Arms are not brought onto the mountain. See here, your Godhead!" He gave a long, purring call and then repeated it lower. In an instant two green stars shone out of the darkness that rimmed the circle of their torchlight, and into that light, unafraid and unangry, stalked the king and terror of the forest, tail swinging. It sniffed at one after another of them, then elected to walk by the princess, purring, pleased that her hand should stroke its head.
"It is the Land of the Gods," said Nonohualcatl.
They went on, the path proving not too rough or difficult, though there were fallen trees to clamber over at times. "Where do we go?" asked the Topiltzin.
"To the Serpent's Hole, little brother."
"It is a holy place, Civacoatzin?"
"Aye, it is a holy place. It is where you shall pay your debt, Nonohualton . . . or begin to pay it." Nonohualton answered with only a sigh.
The path ascended and crossed hilltops and ridges under the stars, where the gloom of the forest tops made black abysses beneath. "The night grows quiet," said Civacoatzin. When they spoke now, it was in whispers.
A howler-monkey that had been ululating in the distance had gone silent; the squalling of the great cats had grown infrequent and ceased; the rhythm of the frogs was dying out; a pulsing soundlessness had fallen on the forest. As they went on, they became aware that this unnatural quietude was rife with rustlings and hushed patterings. A macaw in startling plumage flashed across the sphere of torchlight against the lighted tracery of branches above, from the darkness behind them to the darkness in front.
"The forest makes pilgrimage," whispered Quauhtli. "Look!" He turned, holding up his torch of ocotl wood, and pointed to a herd of peccaries coming on; deer amongst them; a tapir; three tapirs; jaguars, ocelots, pumas. And the trees were alive with monkeys, but there was no noise or chatter from them. Like all the creatures, they came on in silence, a curious intentness on them, something resembling awe.
"Aye, the forest makes pilgrimage!" said Civacoatzin. "And well it may!"
"It is Ce Acatl," whispered Quauhtli, a catch in his breath. "It is the Teotleco night of Ce Acatl!"
"Ah, Quauhtzin Tecuhtli! It is written in the Book of Our Lord and Huanhua. "
"It is written," said he, and he quoth: "'I produce myself among creatures whenever there is an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world.'"
And Civacoatzin took it up: "'Even though myself unborn, of changeless essence, and the Lord of all existence.'"
"Then it will be tonight?"
"Yes," she whispered. "I think it will be tonight. Look!"
They had come out onto an open ridge under the stars and could see the cone of the mountain in front, and all the forest: opalescent, mystical, every tree outline illumined by the glory that shone above the cone. Light, or fire, played up from it into the dark infinities. It was a fountain magical, displaying blooms snow-white, cream-white, rose-rimmed, yellow, momentarily changing. And then song broke from the songbirds in the forest; it seemed that every winged musician in Huitznahuac had flown hither, making pilgrimage, to add its power to the hymn of adoration.
Ah, but more than the birds were singing! "Hark!" whispered Civacoatzin and laid a hand on an arm of each of her companions; and they heard the stars singing, the anthem of the Hierarchies of Light. "Come!" said she, tears of joy streaming from her eyes. "Our Lord is born among men!"
In the inner room of what had been the Master's house on the lake island in the hidden valley on Teotepetl — the Serpent's Hole — a white form reclined on the bed, the face white, wasted, joy-lit, serene. Ketlasho, standing by, was certain that a heavenly radiance, actual light, shone from the mother and the newborn child. The child with the wonderful eyes, the child who has not fretted at all . . .
"What is it you say, my darling?" she asked Chimalman.
"That I am wonderfully happy, that the gods have been dearly good to me, who has trusted utterly in them. Read to me the message, dear."
Ketlasho read: "'The gods promise that you shall serve them more wonderfully than any of your predecessors did. They expect more from you than they did from any of them. You are to be assured of that, and never to doubt it. You are never to forget that we are with you to guard you and lead you to your greatness. You must trust in us who trust in you; you must trust, and go on trusting, and never cease to trust; that your trust may open a path between us and men. You are to trust until your trust becomes knowledge, and all we hope of you is fulfilled. Whatever happens, you are to trust."
"Thank you, dear." Very faint and far away was the dying queen's voice. A long silence followed; then: "My trust has become knowledge. What the gods hoped of me is fulfilled. Oh, if I could tell you! Let my eyes rest upon my Lord!"
Ketlasho took the child from the cradle and held it before her. Slowly she opened her eyes, and her face lighted with adoration. Then, closing them in weariness: "Our Lord's father will come. Listen, Ketlashton! Do you hear them coming?"
Ketlasho smothered a sob and went out into the open-room to listen, seeing that it was what the queen wished her to do. The child's father was dead; everyone was dead, or dying. But the dying goddess had sent her out twice to listen and to see if he were coming; this was the third time. She did not understand, but she obeyed.
And now she saw three coming up from the landing place, and waited for them. "It is I, Ketlashotzin," Quauhtli said. "I bring the Toltec Princess Civacoatzin, of whom the queen has heard, and the king of the Toltecs."
"She is expecting you," said Ketlasho. "Come!"
They went into the room. Civacoatzin knelt beside the bed and whispered to the one who lay there.
"Lift my hand," said Chimalman, and when it was done, she contrived to caress the princess's face with it. "You have brought me the one who is to be our Lord's father?"
"Here, Nonohualton! Kneel here, and pay your debt."
The Toltec Topiltzin, weeping now, knelt and took the queen's hand. "He shall be my only son," he vowed. "He shall reign over my empire."
"Peace, poor heart! It is you who were to be his father." Very, very faintly the words came. "Go now!"
The Topiltzin rose and went out, a hand over his eyes. Civacoatzin leaned over the queen and put an arm under her head. "His name shall be?" she asked, whispering.
"Ce Acatl; and the name he bears in the God-world. His name shall be — "and then, out loud "— Quetzalcoatl, Prince of Peace." And, whispering again, "Oh, I am happy!" she passed on.
But Quauhtli's eyes and adoration were for the Lord thus born again among men; born to inherit not little, lone Huitznahuac, but the mighty empires of the north. With bowed heads, they stood while Quauhtli repeated the scripture —
"'Even though thyself unborn, of changeless essence, and the Lord of all existence, yet in presiding over Nature, which is thine, thou art born thus through thy mystic power of self-ideation, the eternal thought in the eternal mind. Thou producest thyself among creatures, O Lord of the Universe, whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world; and thus thou dost incarnate from age to age, for the preservation of the good, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness.'"
All night long in the holy valley, the songbirds of Huitznahuac sang, hymning the Teotleco of the ages, the Arrival of the God. All night long the bloom-fires of beauty played over the peak of Teotepetl, signaling the event for whose sake Huanhua of old had crossed the western sea to Ulupi.