The Chalchiuhite Dragon: A Tale of Toltec Times by Kenneth Morris
Theosophical University Press Online Edition
1. The Little Gods of Forgotten Plain
2. The Toltec Topiltzin Arrives
4. Cohuanacotzin's Adventure
5. The Hierarch Acquires Information
6. Cohuanacotzin's Return
7. Nopal Returns
8. Nonohualcatl's Anger
9. Road and Barrier
10. Civacoatzin's Message
11. The Rocks Fall
12. The Tzo Family Reunited
13. A Place of Refuge
14. Quauhtli's Journey
15. The Kings Meet
16. Nonohualcatl's Debt
17. Teotleco — The Arrival of the God
Forgotten Plain lay north of the Canyon at the End of Things. It was the Saltmen who had given it its name. To the tribes of the forest, it was unknown — forgotten possibly; but that was not why the Saltmen called it Forgotten Plain. Their idea was that the gods themselves had forgotten it.
Which may have been largely true, at least of the greater gods. Tlaloc could have known nothing of it; rain never fell there. Would Citlalicway Teteoinan be aware of a land where no green thing grew? As for the Beautiful Youth and the Plumed Dragon, was not their compassion chiefly concerned with the regions where most are men? So the Saltmen argued, and they concluded that the gods would have forgotten a place like that.
Still, it had godlets of its own.
It was rimmed around, except on the forest side, with barren mountains, blue-purple and rose-purple, with a dim glint of silver where the polished rock reflected the sky; and these mountains were the strongholds of the godlets. They knew themselves — in the third person — as Pweeg and Pfapffo and Ttang, and not one of them had ever heard of either of the others. Not one of them but believed that he was the sole deity in existence. Of course there were the coyotes and vultures, but they did not think of them as gods.
Each regarded a third part of the plain as his playground and workshop, school and house of dreams. Their duty — but none ever knew who appointed it to be their duty, or when — and their pleasure were to flow out over the plain, occupy it, and be absorbed in its vast, clear sunlight, and in its dust and stillness, and, as it were, to pattern the silence of it with the clicking, stridulous, chirring rhythm of their song. They were creatures of routine, loving to do what they had always done.
Needless to say, they occupied no lofty position in the grand deific hierarchies; incense burned to them in never a temple in the world. But they had gifts of their own and served their purpose, doing the best a godlet could do. They had genius for the inhibition of mental activity and inquietude. They absorbed thought and turned it into sun-soaked loneliness and silence. And they did it without the slightest idea that they were doing anything at all.
Not that much thought came their way, or had come for sheaves and sheaves of years. But it was the same to them whether it came or not, or from whence it came. No rumor could pass them, northward or southward; and so, to Huitznahuatecs and people of the forest alike, the plain was something outside cognition, beyond the End of Things.
As one to these godlets were the speech of men and the ki-yi yeowing of coyotes on the horizons of the night; whatever of desire, thought, or feeling lay behind either, the godlets absorbed them and remained untroubled. They could make their consciousness like a clear pool that reflects only the cloudless sky; it was the easy and natural thing for them to do. Whatever emanations of the human mind were blown to them from the south or north fell into them without a ripple.
So it happened that in the northern world, although there had been a rumor through the ages of a road that ran south into the forest as far as to the Brink of Things, there had been no rumor of a kingdom Huitznahuac lying beyond it, not until the priesthood of Teotihuacan, omniscient for its own ends, spread it about. And so it happened that in Huitznahuacan, although the Saltmen told their tales well and wondrously, none believed them till the Toltec ambassador arrived.
The place of Ttang was in the south of the plain, nearest the canyon; Pweeg took the northeast, toward the river; Pfapffo the northwest; and there daily they worshiped the sun. When anything human approached, they shrank back into their mountains like a snail's horns withdrawn at an unrecognized contact, or as if on a light breeze blown outward from the center of the plain. Only, for ages and ages, nothing human had approached, not ever, except the Saltmen.
And they, really, were very wonderful people when you came to think of it. They did not destroy the potency and value of Forgotten Plain, because they knew better than to affront or inconvenience the Little Gods. They made always the proper apologies for their intrusion, which the Little Gods in due course absorbed and enjoyed. They had the right poems to chant: those the vibrations of which were peculiarly pleasing to that class of deity. And furthermore, the poems they chanted toward the south were of the kind most delectable to Ttang; nothing could have pleasured Pfapffo like those they chanted to the northwest; those they chanted toward the northeast were calculated to produce a noteworthy complacency in Pweeg.
Again, their predecessors had, in their great wisdom, set up three altars on the plain, and it had been the custom of the Saltmen from time immemorial to burn a pictoscript on each whenever they passed. It was essential that each pictoscript should have a meaning. Gibberish would not do. Something in the nature of human thought must be liberated when the paper was burned. It must be the soul — as what the flame consumed was the body — of the sacrifice. It might be "For every man there is a god," or "The universe is indestructible, without beginning or end," or it might be "People eat food." Nothing could be too abstruse and lofty, nothing too jejune.
The Little Gods would scent the thought, and it would be to them a call to what was both duty and pleasure, and they would say, each to himself, "Ah, this is something I must absorb; this is food delicately cooked for me. Were I to neglect this, I should sin!"
So out they would flow from their mountains as soon as the Saltmen had passed and establish themselves on the plain again, lolling luxuriously, and gather up, each of them, every mental trace of human passage, which they would then digest in the sun-soaked vacuity of their consciousness, and make all vacant and nonentitous again, and the plain as lonely as ever. The coyote, as gaunt and fleet as a shadow, would pass over the very footsteps of the Saltmen and scent nothing, and never dream that anything alien had passed.
That way things had been for ages. Each of them believed that he had been there always, and always would be; or certainly it had never occurred to them to think otherwise. But change is the one thing certain in this universe of ours. Change came at last, and their world became different.
It was when Nopal passed that way, sent by the Master into the north. He came out of the canyon and onto the plain. He had nothing about him, mentally, of the kind that the Little Gods were on the watch for or delighted to absorb. He came out in the early morning, and all he was doing was worshiping the sun. There was not a thought about him more personal than that. To worship the sun was so much the Little Gods' natural mode of existence that they did it unconsciously; it was the disturbance of sun-worship that they heeded. So no thought-scent, as it were, was blown ahead of Nopal to apprise Godlet Ttang of his coming, whereby Nopal almost ran into that deity. He passed within a span of the center of Ttang's consciousness and saw nothing but a little whirl of dust rise from the ground a stride to the right of him, and he paid no heed to it.
But to Ttang, this was the most momentous event in history. His attitude to humanity had been one of mixed fear and attraction, as heaven, no doubt for its own purposes, had arranged it should be. But now the fear could not come into play, because what had happened had come too suddenly for anticipation. He had contacted the human thing without injury and had received huge exhilaration from the contact. It had dilated his being into a vast, magnificent surprise; he was no longer receptive and quiescent, but active, volatile and whirling.
He rolled himself out over the plain, self-expanded to extreme tenuity, and encountered simultaneously Pfapffo northwestward under the mountains, and Pweeg northeastward toward the river.
"Ay-yah! ay-yah! ay-yoh!" Nopal heard it whispered over the plain . . . by the wind, he supposed.
"Ay-yah! ay-yoh!" sighed Godlet Ttang. "Behold what cometh!"
At contact with him, Pfapffo here and Pweeg there were kindled from their quiescence into tumultuous bliss such as his own. They reared themselves up like waves and expanded outward like ripples on water. They took cognizance of Nopal as he passed, and the three of them, like flames over dry grass, ran and whirled out, their forces no longer in equipoise. Nopal felt the place somehow in commotion. Sometimes he heard on all sides a faint sound of crackling, snapping, and roaring, as if some far inner world were on fire. Sometimes it was as if the ghost of a great wind were howling, or as if the hissing and drumming of rain pursued him and passed and died afar — although no wind blew, and no rain was falling.
Had he but consulted the Saltmen before starting out, no doubt they would have taught him their own procedure, and he would have gone through without upsetting the balance of things. Then perchance the Little Gods would have remained in ignorance of each other's existence. But now no longer did they dwell solitary, each in his station performing his duty; but they converged, and met in the south or the northeast or the northwest to brood on their ancient sorrow and present bliss, for they were convinced that before they knew each other, their lives had been wretchedly lonely. Or they would riot and dance together from forest to canyon and from mountains to river. But brooding or dancing, they paid attention to nothing but themselves. Thought might come and go, and they remained oblivious of it; it was no diet for them now. They worshiped each other and forgot how to worship the sun.
In the forest, quite near the plain of the Little Gods, lived the Viridian Pygmies; their village was within two-score strides of the plain's edge. But the plain's edge was a thing not for them to know about. They looked and went the other way; not one of them had ever seen or heard of it. They knew that it was impossible to go south of the huts, that the world ended there, and one might come upon something frightful. The lucky thing was not to think about it at all — and these people were good at not thinking about things. So it had always been.
And then, the day after Nopal passed to the north, Quahh, a youth among them of whom great things had been prophesied, was seized by a tremendous inspiration, which was that if one walked that way, by taking only two-score strides, one would live forever! Either the scheme of things had been changed or the ancestral spirit — a howler-monkey — had lied lest his descendants, attaining immortality, should become his equals.
Quahh resolutely turned his face southward and pressed on, daring ineffable terrors . . . until he looked out through the leaves and thicket onto a world most unimaginable, most sublime. Pressing forward, he stood on the plain's edge, unabashed now and unterrified, because thrilled through with the immortality the wondrous spectacle had created in him. From height to height of dizzy speculation, it sent his mind soaring. Here, then, was no snapping of the Universal Jaws, no End of Things. There was a beyond, and beyond. Howler-monkey, howler-monkey, look to your throne!
He turned back and was seen coming into the village from the south; and thenceforth he was worshiped, for on his forehead was the light that marked him as one who had conversed with heaven.
He said nothing of his discovery, knowing that the language had no words to describe it and that the brains of his people lacked the expansion that would enable them to understand. But on that very night, three men of the tribe dreamed that they journeyed southward and were none the worse, but rather the better, for it; the End of Things was not just beyond the huts.
And then someone in the tribe north of them got the same inspiration, and it was bruited abroad in the villages. These people had no means of communicating with the Viridian Pygmies, whom they regarded only as potential food; they did not, therefore, get the news from them. They had indeed known that the plain was there, as the pygmies had not; but they had known of it as the limits of the universe. Now they were telling each other that beyond it there were other forests, other tribes.
People by people, all at war with each other, became obsessed with this wonderful knowledge, till it reached the Quiname tribes — from the Gholb Quinames in the south to the Appa, from the Appa to the Hlun, and from the Hlun to the Ib Quinames to the north. From them the news spread on; it was as though a wave of thought had gone rolling by, stirring utterly new concepts and interests among peoples whose languages lacked words, mostly, for things beyond the range of present vision. It followed Nopal northward and reached, in due course, Quiche and Maya, Chiapanec, Zapotec and Tarasco, and, finally, the Toltec and Otomi lands.
There Yen Ranho's propaganda was marvelously aided by it. Since there was a south beyond the jungle, men said, of course it must be conquered by the League. Since there was a south -- for now men began to "know" that there was. By the time that Nopal went to Tollan, it was a matter of common belief, or knowledge. The wonder is that he was never suspected of being Huitznahuatec himself.
But as for the Little Gods, their dominions came to be disturbed more and more by human passaging, and less and less did it trouble them. They knew nothing of it when Nopal returned south, or when Quauhtli passed to the north a few days later. Yacanetzin of Tollan came, but the Little Gods were busy under Pfapffo's mountains, and it was to them as if Yacanetzin had never been born. They were trying to remember the ancient times and the age when they had known each other as brothers; for they had concluded that such an age had been.
And then came the Otomi embassy, and then the Ib Quinames, intent on expiation. Then the Topiltzin's own ambassador, Cohuanacotzin, the Culhuatec, his the greatest train that had passed there yet. But the Little Gods knew nothing of their comings or their goings.
Then the plain became no more alien to humanity than another place; its old aloofness and desolation vanished. Pweeg now played host to his companions; they related to each other histories antique and endless. It seemed to them that they remembered what had been before they were commissioned to the plain. They had forgotten, however, how to absorb thought and turn it into sunlit silence. Their minds had lost the art of reflecting, like calm waters, only the sky; they could no longer make themselves vacant but for the slow traveling of the sunlight. One or another of them was always talking; all three of them were busy with what they listened to or told.
And so presently they knew nothing of it when the plain was covered with a great host. They sat beyond the river, where no one came, whilst the solitude they had loved became filled with the business and disciplines of men.
The shadow of the Topiltzin had fallen on the Road, from Culhuacan to Forgotten Plain. His agents were everywhere enlisting the tribes and paying them munificently for their service. Their task was not difficult, since the savages knew that the gods were in this affair. It had to do with the revelation, lately vouchsafed to them, that there were men, kingdoms and mysteries beyond the forest and the End of the World. These, of course, the gods would wish to conquer. What had not been known to the tribes would not have been known to the gods; the newly discovered was as much as to say the newly existent. Above all, that Master wonder-worker, the Great Priest of the Gods' City, had let them know that the Topiltzin's agents were not different from agents of his own. It was by his will that they were at work, and so the tribesmen must help them.
However, the forest peoples were not enlisted to fight; the League had its well-trained army, which no savage on earth might hope for the honor of joining. What was wanted of the tribesmen was their power to carry burdens and provide food for the hosts of the north. The Topiltzin had the world mobilized for this unique campaign, and there never had been a time when the Road was more crowded. At every stage — each half a day's journey from the last — a camp had arisen, at which masses of food were stored. Hosts of porters ran back and forth, day after day, from capital to first stage, from first stage to second, and so on.
In the forest, hunting was done systematically. Herds of deer were driven daily by wary savages to this stage or that and slaughtered by the regiments as they arrived; what was not eaten was dried or salted and sent on. Word had gone out that there was to be peace and cooperation among the tribes, and men who had been for ages stalking each other through the thickets with murderous and dietetic intent now beat the woods in company, Toltec officers superintending them.
Forgotten Plain came to be the apex of all this vast activity, the reservoir into which it flowed. A Culhuatec noble named Cocotzin was the first of the Topiltzin's generals to arrive there. He came with a huge army of porters and a force sufficient to protect them. With these he transformed the plain. He dammed the river not far from its emergence from the canyon and led it by a score-score of ditches over the land that had been dry and sterile. He set up rows of tents and interspersed them with kitchen gardens. He found building clay and built storehouses. He burned back the forest a mile or two all along, and under the ashes he planted fields on fields of maize and beans and squash.
One might complain that this burning back would dislodge the Viridian Pygmies; in fact, it did leave them and other tribes homeless. Nonetheless, having no gift for foresight and faring for the present excellently under the change, they rejoiced and regarded Cocotzin as a very great god. They had no foes to fear now, and the Toltecs, being of a strange, superior order, were kind to them and enjoyed their sense of fun.
Of all the forest people, the pygmies were perhaps the most adept in forest craft. They had need to be, having no warrior-like qualities wherewith to meet their better-statured neighbors, who would have eaten them all long since but for their quicker wits. The beast that could outwit the pygmies was hardly to be found, a result of their long training in the fear of men.
As was proved, for instance, by the fact that no less than thrice they drove great herds of peccaries out onto the plain, inducing the doomed creatures, as though by magic, to go out by the Road, keeping clear of the newly planted fields on either side. If peccaries know that they are being driven, it is a poor thing for the would-be drivers; so one must influence them, as it were, psychically, throwing vague notions of distress or desire into their very warlike consciousness, whilst keeping one's own presence unsuspected. Once out in the open, these herds thought nothing of meeting the Topiltzin's armies in battle — every man of them, if need be. They perished, poor beasts, under arrow fire, with no chance of striking back and no shadow of fear in their breasts.
Whoever knows enough to cheat a herd of peccaries need fear nothing in the forest; the she-jaguar with her kittens is child's play to him. The pygmies drove out onto the plain, eventually, every jaguar, puma, ocelot and other wildcat in those parts, and the soldiers finished the work of exterminating them. No food pleased the pygmies so well as the flesh of these creatures, which they understood nourished lithe, sly, fierce and catlike qualities in the eaters. They relished this flesh far above meats edible by civilized men.
Well, the fewer the beasts of prey, the more numerous the beasts they preyed on; and jaguar and ocelot skins made noble cloaks for officers. So Cocotzin kept bowmen and spearmen always at the beck and call of the pygmies to kill their quarry for them, and to be, to the best of their ability, kind and fatherly to the little knaves. What more pleasant meat was driven in was dried in the keen sunlight and stored, or eaten, or smoked over brush bonfires and stored; and every day there came armies of porters with stores; and every day the arrivals of the day before set out northward again, burdenless and at good speed, for the appointed station on the Road, there to rest, reload their litters, and thence to return.
On the plain too, and in the kitchen gardens, and on the burnt forest lands, the first crops were ripening. Soldiers hoed and irrigated and weeded; and presently they harvested their labors' results. The Topiltzin had given this work to a man with high genius for it; Cocotzin deserved praise.
He went far beyond what he imagined was necessary. The Topiltzin made his conquests without difficulty or great delay, and no doubt he would do so now. But one could not predict with certainty, for this was a new kind of war. Cocotzin was there to see that nothing devised by gods or men could happen to make the army hunger or go unfed.
So the camp grew — the vastest that history had ever seen. In due course, the fighting regiments began arriving and kept on coming in day after day, eight thousands upon eight thousands, in ranks a score abreast, with their litter-borne officers. They came swinging up out of the forest at a wolf-lope, until the innumerable tents that had been erected were filled with their complement of men. Thereafter it was the pomp of war that flaunted itself over Forgotten Plain. Daily, from dawn to dusk, some or another of those eight thousands, to drummed commands — wolf-lope, dog-trot, quick march, slow march — went through the mazy evolutions of their war drills.
And then at last, when all was ready to receive him, came Nonohualcatl Totepeuh Camaxtli, the Toltec Topiltzin himself.
And the other chiefs of the League were with him: Huemac, king of Tollan, and the two heads of the Otomi Republic. They came escorted by their bodyguards: three wonderful regiments, the flower of the north; giants, with their gianthood enhanced by yard-high panaches on their helmets. It was a fine emblazoned thread that had been drawn through the green of the forest. Ahead were the Culhuatec guards, flashing in gold and ocelotskins and scarlet; then the kings and their allies; the Otomis in black and gold and crimson; King Huetzin's guard from Tollan in their jaguar skins and purple and silver.
From north to south, the Road had been lined to watch such splendor go by; it seemed to the savage watchers that the pantheons verily were on the march. Even the litter-bearers appeared to be more than human; and as for those wondrous figures they carried — what forest speech of theirs, they wondered, could be framed into the telling of their glory?
That Golden Being (the Topiltzin) in the gem-encrusted litter, the second from the left there in the midst, where most of the banners flashed and glinted — no sane tribesman could mistake him for less than the high-commander of the God-world, the strongest strength in universal nature. And the one on the left (Huetzin), borne in a litter only less splendid than the other, although not quite so mighty a deity, would be darker and subtler. Possibly he had keener insight into the wicked contents of men's hearts than even that third one, the hierarch, undoubtedly had. The latter's atmosphere of lofty benevolence, coupled with what was already known of his power, was impressive. On his right rode one of whom little could be ascertained; he was possibly the more dangerous for that. This was the Otomitl, military head of Otompan: a spare, tough little man without sympathy for ostentation, who rode where he did only because the Topiltzin, knowing his worth, insisted upon honoring him.
In due course, they reached the camp on Forgotten Plain and were received by Cocotzin and the army. And now the world undoubtedly was about to be shaken. Tremendous events portended. But the Little Gods knew nothing of these things.
The morning after his arrival, it was the Topiltzin's whim to go exploring the canyon; he wished to see for himself the barrier the Huitznahuatecs had raised. He took with him the Otornitl for his sagacity; Cohuanacotzin because he was his closest personal friend and always his companion on adventures; and Yacanetzin of Tollan because, as Huemac's ambassador, he had been in Huitznahuac.
They assembled while the sky was graying with dawn and made their way quietly through the camp southward. They took no weapons; their wear was the patternless nequen of peasants and of a dusty, indeterminate color that would blend well with the landscape. Only King Huemac and Cocotzin were to know that they had gone.
The sun was well in heaven before they had left the plain and come to where the Road, bearing eastward, entered the mountains. Side by side with the river, it ran through a valley that ever grew narrower and deeper. There was no occasion for great vigilance as yet, and they came upon no branching of the way a man, much less an army, might take. The gorge was not yet so narrow but that now and again great sweeps of Mountainside, slope, and cliff were visible above. At one point they sighted mountain sheep, minute specks skyward, cascading down what seemed sheer precipice; and again, a little later, a flock grazing on an emerald slope between the forests. Those heights, at least, were untroubled by men; no Huitznahuatec outposts were on the watch.
But Yacanetzin, enlarging on the unmilitary nature of the Huitznahuatecs, scouted the idea that they would know what outposts were.
"But that can hardly be," said the Topiltzin. "Where there are men, there will be war. It is the natural way of things."
"Your Godhead will find these Huitznahuatecs thoroughly unnatural," chuckled Yacanex.
They wasted no time; hosts of way-finders would be crawling over every inch of this territory presently. The object now was to see the barrier before nightfall and form conclusions. Cohuanacotzin, who had seen the beginnings of it, held that it implied the presence of skilled military engineers in Huitznahuac and a knowledge of war unreconcilable with Yacanetzin's views of Huitznahuatec civilization. The Topiltzin, and by his desire, the Otomitl, would see and judge for themselves.
They were at the fork of the canyon by noon, and there they rested and lunched. After refilling their water-skins by a climb down to the river, which now they were leaving, they turned to the right and struck up into the canyon proper. The enormous height of the cliffs on either side increased always; they seemed to jut inward above and to almost meet overhead; but along the Road, fifteen to twenty men might travel abreast anywhere.
When they reached the barrier, little daylight was left; although above, the sun might still be some way from his setting. The Huitznahuatecs had raised their obstruction at the point where the hierarch had camped on the night the Quinames had despoiled him. The venturers turned the corner where the savages had captured the sentinel Huhu and saw it at the end of some four-score strides, perhaps, of straight road. No work was being done on it; no rocks were falling. They judged it to be about a dozen man-heights high — not beyond a man's climbing, but if defended reasonably from above, utterly beyond an army's. Its foundation was a thing to admire: an enormous rock that must have been dropped from the cliff tops; but dropped, apparently, neatly into the place intended for it, so that it filled the whole width of the canyon. It was a nice piece of work, one that certainly suggested military engineering.
It was impossible to leave the destruction thus imperfectly examined, and they had two days' supplies with them. Near the spot where the Quinames had ambushed the exploring Huhu, there was a cave in the western wall of the canyon; it suited the Topiltzin's mood that they should not only spend the night in it, but they should have a fire in its mouth for their comfort. — A fire, and reveal themselves to possible watchers? — Why, certainly. The glow would flicker on this opposite cliff, which had its back to the barrier, on which, anyway, no work was being done tonight. All was silent there, as they knew. And it had never been intended, that barrier, to be climbed down and up by casual explorers of the canyon. The Huitznahuatecs had probably raised it and left it, trusting in it and the gods. Start that fire, and dismiss them from your minds.
A fire needs fuel, however, and where was that to be found? — Look at all this kex on the ledges — the lifeless, one-time tenements of the green growth that last season had gained what foothold it could find on the canyon walls. Would that not serve for a beginning? And then, had they not seen excellent fuel some two-score strides or so back? Ah, his Godhead, the Otomitl, had noticed it!
Two-score strides or so back the Topiltzin led them and pointed it out. On that western wall of the canyon, four or five man-heights up or more, was what appeared to be a wide ledge. Up there the light was a little better, and one could make out that pioneers from the pine forest above had found lodgment there, and had captured a dozen such small citadels on the cliffs face. Not much more was visible than the dark treetops; the way up to them seemed none too difficult.
"This is work for us, not for the head of the Otomi Republic," said the Topiltzin. "Come, you two!"
Up then the three went. But the Otomitl, amused inwardly at the implication that his greater age was at a disadvantage — thus he interpreted it — had a mind to follow them, and he did so, as agilely as any, he considered, as soon as Yacanex had disappeared over the edge above. Yes, there was a little wood. None of the trees were much over a man-height high, and several of them dead. The ledge might be twenty strides deep at its widest. The Toltecs busied themselves breaking off dead trunks and branches and throwing them down. It occurred to the Otomitl, whose coming they had not seen, to explore a little.
He found a narrow passage, or gully, behind the wood, leading upward and toward the barrier. He scrambled past obstructions and came out onto a small platform well in view of the barrier's top, an easy bowshot away. Although by this light he could see little of what might be doing there, by daylight the place might be useful: for spies, and perhaps for sharpshooters. Returning, he was down in the canyon before the others. Having discovered really nothing, there would be no need to speak of it now.
In the cave, when they had made their fire and supped, the Topiltzin developed a vein of geniality. He dropped his military wisdom and became the holiday schoolboy out for fun. None but mountain sheep had seen them all day long, said he. No one was coming down over that barrier to molest nequen-clad nonentities like themselves. Why, then, was it needed to keep watch? Yacanex, suiting his mood to his leader's, opined that the enemy certainly did not know what watch-keeping or spying meant. The enemy would, he said, spend their nights abed, to the last man of them, wishing us well as they went to sleep, if they thought of us at all. Cohuanacotzin demurred and thus roused the Topiltzin to overruling him.
"Think of a man, said Nonohualcatl, "and your thoughts will go buzzing in his ears like mosquitoes, drawing him to remembrance of you. We will forget the Huitznahuatecs for tonight, and that is all the protection we shall need."
"Is none to keep watch, then?"
"No, none. We are all to have a good night's rest."
"But it is true that to think of a man is to set him thinking of you," said Yacanex, and he related a story in point.
To that the Otomitl added another tale, a memory from his boyhood. "Aye," said Cohuanacotzin, "and I will go further and say that to think of a man means often that you will come upon him, though you supposed him at the other end of the world."
"Were that true," said Nonohualcatl, "I should have come on that Quanetzin of Quauhnahuac before now."
"Your Godhead certainly thinks of him often," said Cohuanacotzin.
"Aye, I do. I dearly wish that I could find him."
"May we know who that Quanetzin was?" asked the Otomitl.
Then Nonohualcatl told the story of the attack on him in the Culhuacan marketplace and of how Quanez had saved his life. "Nequen-clad he was, but never born to wear nequen, by Cipactli!"
"Your Godhead is right there," said Cohuanacotzin. "He was a very great gentleman."
"You knew him then, Cohuanacotli?" the Topiltzin asked.
"Does your Godhead remember sending me to Teotihuacan, at the instance of the Divine Princess, to rescue a man from the priesthood there?"
"Yes, I remember that."
"It was Quanetzin I rescued."
"What became of him? Where is he now? Why did you not tell me it was he?"
"Your Godhead must ask the Divine Princess that last question, " said Cohuanacotzin. "By her request, I took him to Tollan and nursed him back to health in Huetzin's palace."
"To health?" asked the Otomitl.
"Aye, to health, your Godhead. Your colleagues at Teotihuacan have a way of treating their prisoners . . . as you know."
"It must be owned that they are an unsoldierlike lot," said the Otomitl.
"You must judge the republic by Otompan, not by Teotihuacan."
"But what became of Quanetzin, Cohuanacotli? Where is he now?"
"Why, I was a year at Tollan watching over him, by the Divine Princess's orders. Then he disappeared."
"She has her reasons for what she does," said Nonohualcatl. "She must have wished me not to know. But I wish I had known. The business of this war has kept many things from my memory, but I shall have a search made for him one of these days. Was he really a Quauhnahuatec, Cohuanacotli? It did not seem to me that he spoke with a Quauhnahuatec accent."
"He had a very marked accent, but it was nothing like the Quauhnahuatec," said Cohuanacotzin. "I was puzzled a good deal over that. I am quite sure that he was not a man of the Anahuacs at all, but he said nothing as to his place of origin and I could not ask him. I am sure too that our civilization was new to him, and yet that some form of the Nahua was his native tongue."
"He must have been a Huitznahuatec," volunteered Yacanex, not seriously, "for they speak a dialect of Nahua that was never heard in the Anahuacs."
But Nonohualcatl failed to smile at that. . . .
When the time came for sleep, the Otomitl chose his place with care; he, at least, had no intention that no watch should be kept. He waited till the others seemed to be sleeping, then vanished into the darkness without; two who were on the alert in the cave saw nothing of his going. He went around the bend and toward the barrier, feeling his way, and satisfied himself that none was breathing in the gloom there. The moon crept over the cliffs edge above, and soon her blue-gray witchcraft brought the barrier into visibility. Nothing stirred up there.
A footfall from below sent the Otomitl deeper into the shadow and close against the wall before the Topiltzin came into view. There was no real reason why the Otomitl should be undiscovered; he was an ally, not a subject. The Culhuatec king's decision against watch-keeping was, with respect to him, but as much as to say, "We Toltecs will sleep; let your Godhead also spare himself." But the Otomitl ever loved his own counsels too well to part with them till he must. Nonohualcatl passed him and made no sign, and he proceeded to watch for what might happen.
The Topiltzin advanced to within a few strides of the barrier and stood still. The Otomitl could make out that his head was thrown back as he scanned the Huitznahuatecs' work. Was he going to attempt to climb it? For a moment his ally thought so and prepared to come forth and stop the venture at any cost. A great soldier — and one could not but love the man — but the dark gods take this unmilitary spirit of risk-taking! However, after a while, Nonohualcatl turned and came slowly down the canyon, relieving the Otomitl of his apprehensions. The latter followed him when he passed, as far as to the cave, and there ambushed himself to await the Topiltzin's return. Thus these two spent the night that was to be matchless: Nonohualcatl from time to time on guard against possible Huitznahuatec reconnoitering parties; the Otomitl on guard against rash doings by the Topiltzin. At dawn they were both in their places in the cave.
And with daylight, they were astir: all three of them. Three, for Cohuanacotzin was missing. They were out in the canyon in search of him in a moment, the Topiltzin disturbed and alarmed, the Otomitl mainly ashamed that Cohuanacotzin could have cheated his vigilance. But he showed them the Culhuatec's tracks from cave mouth to barrier foot and made it evident that Cohuanacotzin had climbed the barrier and that he had not been captured down here. Huitznahuatecs had not been in the canyon during the night. What was to be done?
A sudden event provided the answer: nothing! For a great boulder fell from above onto the barrier, followed by another, and another. The enemy was at work on the cliff tops; there could be no passing the barrier or exploring it now. There must be a truce presently. They must parley, bargain for the return of the prisoner — "If they have not killed him," said the Topiltzin.
The Otomitl suggested that His Godhead consider that if they had killed him, they would probably have thrown down the body to tell us so. But Yacanetzin would have none of it. They were far more likely to spend the day feasting him and reciting poems in his honor. And very fine poems too — once you caught the trick of understanding them.
Ever wary against his daredevil moods, the Culhuatec lords were wont to watch over their Topiltzin, and none so carefully as his closest friend, Cohuanacotzin. So when that one, chancing to wake, missed Nonohualcatl from the cave, he came at once to alertness and anxiety. The Human Camaxtli had, in truth, been tempted to climb the barrier; it was just the sort of thing he would do. Cohuanacotzin caught the thought and did not stay to question it, but made straight for the barrier. Coming in sight of it, he thought he saw something nequen-clad disappear over the top. Moonlight cheats the senses; perhaps it was the shadow of a wind-swayed tree he saw. He did not doubt where his duty lay.
The ascent was not too difficult. The moon served him till near the top. Then came a tense darkness that made the last man-height the worst; but he achieved it. And all the while, Nonohualcad and the Otomitl were prowling in the canyon beyond the cave. And now, where was the Topiltzin?
Cohuanacotzin gave an owl-cry that Nonohualcatl would understand, and as chance would have it, he was answered from in front, perhaps by a real owl. His lord was ahead then, and summoning him to follow. He dropped to hands and knees, the only way to move in this thick darkness.
The ground seemed to be fairly even; the boulders dropped had been well covered with earth. If the Huitznahuatecs had abandoned their work at this stage, it would take no time to surmount the barrier — even if they attempted defense, using the weapons the Toltecs had provided. He himself had left the war furnishings of half an eight thousand at the barrier's foot when he came as Culhuatec ambassador. (It was the League's custom thus to arm its enemies.) But arms would not serve here. Their true defense would be to go on dropping down — What was that?
He crouched motionless. Could it have been breathing he had heard? No, the black night was soundless, tenantless. He felt his way forward again and crept on, and could not free himself from the feeling that he was not alone. He whispered once, twice, "My Topiltzin?" and, naturally, was not answered. But the darkness, he came to be certain, was full of silent motion that surrounded and went on with him. It could not be the Human Camaxtli or he would have answered; it could not be wild beasts, or he would smell them. Then it must be Huitznahuatecs. It was so dark that, passing his hand before his eyes, he could not see the movement of it. And then, as he felt forward cautiously, he touched — human flesh.
A foot. He was certain of that, although it had been withdrawn at once. He waited, breathless. Then, with infinite caution, he rose to his feet and felt out on this side and that, before and behind. On all sides there were nequen garments, covering human bodies; and he might call himself a prisoner. It was just as well, since presumably the Topiltzin was a prisoner too, and would need him.
With a laugh in his voice, he said, speaking slowly and clearly in view of Yacanetzin's report of their speech: "If your Godheads could produce a light —"
Several surprised voices answered. He could not make out what they said, but the tones were reassuring — as courteous and friendly as his own. And, by the Sun and Cipactli! for all their unfamiliarity, somehow familiar, waking an echo in his memory. Fire-sticks whirred; a little flame was born; soon torches were alight. He was in the midst of some twenty young men, unarmed and magnificent of physique; more than his equals in that way. His equals, too, he was quick to see, in other ways: They were nobles. Their faces were lit with interest and appeared quite friendly. They were his captors, of course, and he their prisoner; but not until the next day did he realize that he had been the only one there conscious of that.
"Your Godhead is a stranger here, a Toltec perhaps?"
So he made out their question and answered that he was; and then it broke on him why their tones seemed familiar. Quanez of Quauhnahuac used to speak with that accent. Surely! Quanez of Quauhnahuac, of whom they had just now been talking in the cave! Think of a man and — But it was miraculous if Yacanetzin's jest should prove to be truth and that Quanez was really a Huitznahuatec!
They invited him to accompany them and showed solicitude in lighting the way for him. They said — he was beginning to understand them now — that he was most fortunate to have come on that night and at no other time, but surely Acamapitzin must have known he was coming? Seeing that he was puzzled, they went on to explain: The rocks usually were dropping night and day, but Acamapitzin had ordered that on that night the work was to stop and they were to remain on the barrier top. But he had not told them why. His Godhead would see Acamapitzin in the morning. That, they supposed, was what he would wish?
Cohuanacotzin postponed forming conclusions, but he took it that the Topiltzin had not been captured; probably he had not climbed the barrier at all. But . . . had this Huitznahuatec really been Quanetzin's method of speech, or had the earlier talk in the cave misled him into imagining it?
He slept out the night in a tent farther up the canyon, careless as to whether he was guarded or not. In the early morning they woke him; a litter and bearers were in waiting, and he was invited to mount. It certainly was Yacanex, not the hierarch, who was right about these people who thus made an honored guest of their prisoner. He had not to persuade himself, but knew that he was as safe with them, although caught spying, as an ambassador would be in Culhuacan.
By daylight they were out on the plain, where now Huitznahuac had come northward; it was not the empty place it had been. A small town stood by the riverside, and houses were scattered elsewhere. To the little town they brought him. In the open-room of its chief house, an old, most princely man rose to greet him. He guessed rightly that this was the Acamapitzin his captors had spoken of, and he gave his own name in reply to the announcement of his host's name. Cohuanacotzin of Culhuacan. Acamapitzin's manner, which had been gravely courteous, took on some color of interest and cordiality, as if the name meant something pleasant to him.
When they had all breakfasted together, the young men went out, and with a certain reserve, Acamapitzin began to question his guest. "Your Godhead," said he, "is from the far north of the world, I think?"
"Your Godhead is not in error."
"I am glad it is you who has come." A long pause ensued. Then, "Of late, an ambassador came to us from those regions, from Huetzin, king of Tollan." He pronounced the names with some caution.
"Your Godhead has the names accurately. Yacanetzin of Tollan would have been with you in the month of Tepeilhuitl."
"And then came another."
"Another ambassador, in the month of Quecholli."
Acamapitzin was slow to go on, as if doubtful of how the next point should be presented. "Priests, perhaps, are but little honored in the Anahuacs?" he brought out at last.
"There your Godhead is mistaken. Priests are highly honored in all civilized lands." There was something of conventionality in his tones, though.
"In the Anahuacs there is a practice called 'war'?"
That startled Cohuanacotzin, who, in spite of Yacanex's report, had settled it in his mind that the great gentleman he was talking with, who certainly would imply no falsehood, was also a great soldier. Acamapitzin's mien and bearing evidenced it, and there was that grand piece of engineering in the canyon to confirm the impression.
"War?" said he. "Yes. It is the Toltec League's custom to punish by war peoples who oppose or disobey the wisdom of our kings."
"And your Godhead has come with the kings of the Toltec League to punish us of Huitznahuac?"
"It is true that my sovereign has come to include your Godhead's country in the domains of the League."
"Your Godhead's word was 'punish.' We are wondering for what crimes the Huitznahuatecs are to be punished."
"Your Godhead drives me to embarrassment. But did not the king and queen of Huitznahuac insult the ambassador of the Otomi Republic?"
"Your Godhead then thinks that it would be possible to insult . . . that person?"
It was a hit, expressing an opinion not uncommon in Culhuacan itself. Cohuanacotzin recovered with, "I also came here as an ambassador, your Godhead, but you refused to receive me."
Acamapitzin was startled in his turn. "It was your Godhead who left the gifts in the canyon? Then we did unwisely; we did ill." He drew in and blew out a cloud of yetl smoke, and another. "And your Godhead is Cohuanacotzin of Culhuacan, and you are a friend of the king of that city. But not, I think, of the Priest of Teotihuacan?"
"Your Godhead asks —"
"There was a Lord Quanetzin, said to be of Quauhnahuac —"
"Your Godhead knows Quanetzin?"
Acamapichtli rose, Cohuanacotzin thought, with the shadow of a smile in his eyes. Said he: "An affront was given, and now amends must be made. Your Godhead will deign to ride into the city, where the king will make amends for the affront."
His manner said so clearly that the conversation was closed that the Culhuatec, bewildered a little, found nothing to say. The litter outside, to which Acamapitzin led him, was a closed one, for the morning was gray and sweet-aired with the expectation of rain. The bearers had prepared for it by discarding hats and tilmatlies; they would run in mashtlies and sandals alone.
While the litter was crossing the plain, the air darkened and filled with moisture, and a cool wind rose. The Huitznahuatec hills, when they reached them, glowed heavily green under the wild slate-purple of heaven. To Cohuanacotzin, there seemed nothing unfriendly in these aspects; it was as if the Tlalocs of this far southland had been gods of his own; they were as companionable as their human Others, the Huitznahuatecs, the friendliest of mankind. He had settled it in his mind by this time that Quanez, called of Quauhnahuac, must have been Huitznahuatec. How else should Acamapitzin know about him?
Then the Tlalocs spoke. Rain leaped out of the air; its silver spears aimed themselves at the greenness, hid away hills and trees with its glinting opacity, rioted and rejoiced over the world. Were the young men not to consider themselves and take shelter? — Not unless his Godhead insisted. For their part, they were on splendid terms with the mountain Tlalocs, who loved mankind. They spoke with sincerity, and the Culhuatec, thinking of floods in the north, which often slew men and beasts, wondered. He thanked them and begged them to follow their inclinations, using the terms of courtesy: the "your Godhead" that at home one used only to equals or superiors, but that here seemed appropriate for all. There could be no danger, he thought, if they felt there was none.
He wondered whether they knew that he belonged to the host that had come to conquer their country and that he was a prisoner of war. Clearly, they had little understanding of what was taking place. They themselves, he supposed, would be killed, or enslaved, presently. There were unattractive aspects even to war, he was surprised to find himself thinking. But great human ends often worked themselves out through the sufferings of individuals. Nothing could count against the supreme advantage of being brought under the just and civilized Toltec rule.
So they brought him into Huitznahuacan, and up to the House of the Kings.
"Cohuanacotzin, my friend!"
"Quanetzin of Quauhnahuac!"
Nopal laughed. "Yes, in the Anahuacs. But here, Nopal, the queen's husband." He turned to Chimalman. "Cohuanacotzin rescued me from the priests."
Her welcome to him had in it a womanly cordiality and affection, but with some leaven of queenly reserve. "Your Godhead comes here as an ambassador?" she asked.
But no, he did not. He was, in fact, a prisoner of war. Or worse still: To be exact, he was an enemy caught spying. "In the Anahuacs, I should be put to death. Only, now that I find there is no war between us and that my Topiltzin is your Godheads' devoted friend —"
"Your Godhead is our friend, Cohuanacotzin. But the Topiltzin . . . has he come with his armies?" This from Nopal.
"He has come, but by the Sun and Cipactli, he has not come against Nopaltzin-Quanetzin of Huitznahuac-Quauhnahuac!"
"Would it make a difference? Would he not attack any land that remained unconquered?"
"Never think it! When he finds that your Godhead is king here, he will propose paying Huitznahuac a yearly tribute. Only last night he was talking of you, of his longing to find you."
"Your Godhead will take him the news?" asked Chimalman.
"It is the first thing that must be done. You will come with me tomorrow, Nopaltzin? The Human Camaxtli must see his deliverer with his own eyes."
But then the hierarch's bitterness came to his mind, and his report of the insult he had received in Huitznahuac: a complication that might make the happy issue less easy to come at, if only slightly. And there was Acamapitzin's cryptic question about the possibility of insulting such a man. Cohuanacotzin determined to come to the heart of things at once, to break through the reserve he felt in their cordiality.
"Would it displease your Godheads to tell me what happened when the Otomi ambassador came?"
They told him. Of the massacre of their embassy on the Road, and of Yen Ranho's guilt in the matter. "And we decided that none should come into Huitznahuac from the north."
His face paled at the story, then darkened with anger. He was aghast and furious by turns; not even of Yen Ranho could he have believed this. And yet he did believe; he had no option. The one feature of the League that no Toltec gentleman, except for religious King Huemac, loved too well was the alliance with the Otomi priesthood; with the military side of the Republic, they were friendly enough — the military had their code and their religion of war, their point of honor and their punctilious observances. But every fine traditional instinct in this Culhuatec gentleman was outraged, and violently, by the priest's crime.
"It must be atoned for," he said when all was told. "My Topiltzin will know what to do; the Otornitl will be the first to demand the criminal's life. Yes, there will be full atonement." His mind kept harping on that, and the thought framed itself, "Unless Yen Ranho is executed, I will pay for it with my own life."
But no, they said; Huitznahuac would have none slain. To kill the priest would not right the wrong, but make it wronger: a point of view that Cohuanacotzin did not understand. So they dismissed the matter; Nopal would go with him to the Topiltzin in the morning. In the meanwhile, they made much of him.
The Otomitl might be judged to have been secretive; he was, perhaps, not more so than a great soldier ought to be. If he was judged also an honest fellow, it is well. Many had had good from him; none, but in the way of his business, harm.
Being an honest fellow, without personal ambitions and incapable — except in the science of tactics — of plotting, some part of his mind had been vaguely troubled by the hierarch's presence with the army. War was a soldier's job, not a priest's. It was the greatest of sciences; more, it was an art capable of evoking the best of which one's wits and will were capable. Killing was no essential part of it. You did kill people, but you must not blame war for that.
Someday, when the whole world had grown civilized, common sense would prevail, and undesirable features would disappear. Then, when the war season came, the League would march out under a great strategist, its Topiltzin, and a great tactician, its Otomitl, and seize fine positions in the territories of enemies who, realizing their military and cultural inferiority, would do the sensible thing and thereafter enjoy the blessings of Toltec-Otorni rule. Thus the whole world would be at last united: an end surely to be desired.
Meanwhile, what one had to do was to make the best use of one's faculties and to give the weight of one's opinion toward achieving magnanimous terms for a conquered nation. An enemy, in any case, was a man to whom you had much to be thankful for; there was no sense at all in hating him. When hatred came into it, the pleasure had gone from war. Without an enemy, how could one exercise one's art? Rather should the enemy be loved than hated; respected; held to be noble; so, surely, should the greater glory accrue to his conqueror.
But hatred had been brought in here, and by His Godhead, Yen Ranho, and by religion — a matter that ought to be kept clear of war. Or rather — how shall one put it? — every true war had, of course, its plain and honest religious motive: desire to extend the power, glory, and dominion of the Toltec-Otomi gods. The hierarch had, no doubt, his own ideas as to the nature of these gods; but to a soldier's way of thinking, they must be held to be magnanimous. Why, then, should Yen Ranho be injecting what would blur the cleanness of our warfare, fomenting hatred against the Huitznahuatecs? Why could not the hierarch have stayed at home?
The Otomitl would have been still more disquieted had he known what went forward in the hierarch's tent on the day he spent with the Topiltzin in the canyon. Yen Ranho needed information that day, and he had his own means for acquiring it.
The Blue-Hummingbird Pygmies dwelt northeast of Forgotten Plain, a league or so into the forest. They were a wonderful people in their way. Yen Ranho feasted the tribe on the riverbank near his tent and selected one of them as being likely to serve his purpose. He gave them potations so marvelous that it was a wonder so much of blissful heaven could slide down the gullet of man. They were a great-eyed people, with a look of seeing into the secrecies of night in the forest; and this Ikak, whom the hierarch chose, had more of the look than any. His imbibings were different from the others', and more blissful. Where they were sodden in common drunkenness, he was let loose into space, a bodiless delight floating and soaring. He, or his body, was carried into the hierarch's tent; they were kicked and rolled down to the water's edge by humorous Otomi soldiers, put on boats, rowed down and dumped unceremoniously in their own part of the forest, or somewhere near it.
In the tent, the hierarch remained with the entranced body of the pygmy during the rest of that day and the night that followed. Those on guard about the tent knew that Yen Ranho was not to be disturbed.
No one ever knew what sorceries went forward there to bring about what happened. What Ikak remembered was that he flew through the air along the canyon, watching four men, noting every action, aye, and every thought of them, seeing all they saw and understanding all they said. Then, as he remembered, he followed one of them over the barrier, to Acamapitzin's house by the river, to Huitznahuacan and into the palace, hearing, seeing and understanding all. What Yen Ranho got from it was the knowledge he wanted.
There was some talk that the voices of those whom the pygmy watched spoke audibly through the pygmy's entranced lips; some talk of all he saw being reflected — in the air, in a mirror, in a pool of blood — for the hierarch personally to see. This, history does not know; there were mysteries, and unclean ones, not wholesome to be recorded.
Blue-Hummingbird Ikak never saw his forest home again. When he — that is, his body, with himself in it by that time —left the hierarch's tent, it was to take the way his soul had taken in the trance, or in part of it. He went as far as to that platform on the cliffs face, over against the barrier that the Otomitl had found, and noted that an arrow might be shot from it to kill a man on the barrier's top.
Blue-Hummingbird Ikak went by night, armed with a bow and a sufficiency of poisoned shafts.
Early in the morning after his arrival in Huitznahuacan, Cohuanacotzin set out on his return to the Toltec camp; Nopal, of course, was accompanying him.
The Culhuatec had his reasons for hurrying. Today the army would begin to move, and it would be as well to get their business done with the Human Camaxtli before any major steps had been taken. Not that it would make much difference to Nonohualcatl, who might be relied upon to turn his war plans into an immediate ovation for Quanez of Quauhnahuac. But Cohuanacotzin himself was a general, and hated irregular ways.
The sun came up over Mishcoatepetl as they left the House of the Kings, which was still in shadow, although the Calmecac roof across the arena shone gilt with morning. Chimalman was for showing her guest the city. She would walk down with them to the Townmouth; they should take litters there. Nopal, who knew what the Culhuatec was used to in the way of urban grandeur, was amusedly pleased to help acquaint him with another kind of city; he felt that he knew Cohuanacotzin well enough to believe that he would appreciate its quality.
So down they went by the Street of the Quechol: Chimalman, gay and unreservedly friendly now, explaining; Nopal smilingly watching; Cohuanacotzin touched strangely by the dear little place he saw, with its wonderful atmosphere of quietness and clarity. The Street of the Quechol was rain-washed like the air, and here and there sunlit. Its twists and windings, landings and stairways, were engaging, as were the gardens on either side, accessible up steps or down steps, and the houses scattered throughout. All was clean, well-kept and prosperous-looking; here and there an early riser was at work among the plants and shrubs, and every face was aglow with that strange Huitznahuatec friendliness. It all confirmed in him the idea that he had come among a people simpler, nobler, and sweeter than one could find in the north, and he was happy to believe it. What joy the Human Camaxtli would have in these newly discovered royalties of the far south: the king, his savior of old; the queen, so amazingly sovereign and girlish! How, above all, the Divine Princess would delight in her, should they come to meet, as, heaven knew, now that things had taken this turn, they well might. . . .
For Nonohualcatl would be little content not to come down this way, long as the journey might be, as often as affairs allowed; and this royal pair, no doubt, would be seen at times in the Anahuacs. There was a vitality in this Huitznahuacan that made one walk like a boy again. It might be, after all, that its innocence of war had kept the country holy. A month in the south, one suspects, would have quite converted Cohuanacotzin from his belief in war.
At the posthouse in the Townmouth, litters and bearers were awaiting them; also deer and jaguar skins to wrap about themselves against the chill of the early morning. So there Cohuanacotzin took leave of the queen of Huitznahuac — for the day, perhaps, or for two days. Tomorrow, or the next day, he would surely return, most likely with his sovereign, or else their Godheads would be his sovereign's guests at the camp. Until then, then!
Taking leave of her husband, the radiant queen whispered to him, "The Divine Companion go with you!"
They started out at a good pace; some of the best runners in Huitznahuac were carrying them. It was a morning of mornings for seeing that country, with the most gracious of suns lighting diamonds everywhere. The Culhuatec found himself in love with the scenes he passed through, half wishing that this mountain land were his own. So he told Nopal; by no means speaking insincerely. There was something piquantly magical about it, an antiquity, a romance, a gentleness; it seemed to share in its people's fineness and kindness, to bear some kind of spiritual affinity with their character.
Cohuanacotzin had met many Huitznahuatecs in the House of the Kings the night before, and he had been quite alive to their quality. It was the same quality that had made him love Quanetzin at Tollan and on the way thither, a couple of years and more ago. He was convinced that that quality would be universal here; that go where he might among these mountains, he would meet Nopals and Chimalmans, Acamapitzins and Acatonatzins — women and men to respect, wonder at, and love.
Well, from this time out, the Topiltzin would, of course, keep an ambassador at Huitznahuacan; might he be the man! He told Nopal of this hope of his as they rode side by side between the hills and the river. Nopal reciprocated the wish earnestly and spoke of it to the litter-bearers, and they too joined in it; they were well within the circle of their king's and his guest's friendship. So they passed on through the Northern District and across the plain.
At his house by the river, they gave their news to Acamapitzin, who then signaled word up into the mountains that work on the barrier was to stop. He had his means of thus giving orders: men stationed within sight and hearing of each other from there to the mountainside and to Huitznahuacan, who by daylight backed their shouts with the sign-language and by night with torch signals. The old prince's relief startled Cohuanacotzin, who still could not quench the feeling that this was a man born for war preeminently, by nature a very great soldier. It made him eager to introduce Acamapitzin to the Human Camaxtli; he was not sure but that those two were the most warriorlike men living. He urged therefore that the prince should accompany them to the Human Camaxtli's camp, which Acamapitzin was very ready to do.
Cohuanacotzin had great delight in Acamapitzin now. What reserve there had been yesterday, on both sides, was gone, and he saw that the prince's great strength was founded on gentleness and benevolence. He might be akin, indeed, to Nonohualcatl; nature might have designed him to be a conqueror, but — Warfare as an ideal went receding in the consciousness of Cohuanacotzin; his conversion was proceeding apace.
They must both, he said, take advantage of the Topiltzin's return northward to visit the Anahuacs. They must be his guests, supposing the Human Camaxtli would allow anyone less than himself to play host to them. They should see the world in a manner that Nopaltzin had had no opportunity to see it when there, for they would move courted among the great, and not in disguise among the trades. He made no mention of Yen Ranho, and kept himself from thinking of religious Huernac's friendship with that priest. But he spoke of Yacanetzin of Tollan and his admiration for what he had seen in Huitznahuac, and of the Otomitl, who would convince them that his race produced fine gentlemen, worthy of their friendship. And he spoke of the Divine Princess and of his desire that she should come to know the queen of Huitznahuac.
Thus cheerfully conversing, they rode through the canyon as far as to the tent where the Culhuatec had slept out on the night of his capture. There the youths who had captured him had prepared lunch for them. They met as old friends. In a happy mood, he gave them the news that their king was counted a great hero in the Anahuacs and that there would be no attack on their country. They replied that they had known it was for some happy purpose that he had come to Huitznahuac, and they could not make enough of him.
"Is the rope ladder ready?" asked Acamapitzin. It was; nothing remained but to lower it. "Let your Godhead see to that," he ordered one of the young men, who then went out barrierward. "And when we are down, let the bearers follow, and then lower the litters to us."
That would not be difficult to do, they said; they had the ropes and tackle in place. So then all climbed the slope to the top of the barrier. — And now, has any man been seen down there this morning? — None, nor yet yesterday. — All well then; it is but to make the descent.
"Your Godheads must allow me to precede you," said the Culhuatec. "Should any of our people appear there before we are all down, it would be as well for them to find me, and not either of you, there."
They saw the force of his argument and begged him to proceed. But they did not see Blue-Hummingbird Ikak on the platform over against them, nor the bowstring drawn back to his shoulder.
Cohuanacotzin stepped forward to the top of the ladder.
Pat, pat, pat, came the arrows. A cry of horror issued from the Huitznahuatecs. But between the second pat and the third, old Acamapitzin, lightning-swift, while the arrow that killed him was flying, shot the shaft that killed the pygmy, and fell.
Nopal, since his marriage that had made him king, had been filling the royal office of Market Magistrate, leaving Acamapitzin free to direct the work on his barrier. The morning he rode out with the Culhuatec to visit the Topiltzin being that of a market day, Chimalman determined to take his place. There was a certain grave brilliance about the queen that morning: a new aspect with her, to be accounted for perhaps by the ending of this trouble with the Toltecs.
She found no difficulty in her duties in the marketplace; with the help of the clerks of the market, she mastered the whole business of it before she had been there half an hour. It was a very different affair now from what it had been; even the clerks were women. One never saw a man under fourscore in the marketplace; it was women who brought in the foodstuffs from the farms, and women who, after what was needed in the town had been taken from it, bore the rest out in litters to the mountainside, where all Huitznahuac was at work. From the districts north of the town, the farm produce was taken there direct, and not brought to Huitznahuacan at all.
At noon, because of these abnormal conditions, the work was finished and the market closed; and Chimalman went home, crossing, however, to the north side on the way and seeking there Shaltemoc's house. That was because she wanted Pelashil, the need being on her, for some reason, for the company of a small child.
"May I have her until the evening, Ketlashotzin?"
"But she will be a trouble to your Royal Godhead," the mother expostulated.
Expectable protestations on both sides followed, which ended with the queen's capturing Pelashil and marching off with the mite in her arms. When she had gone, Ketlasho made note of the cause of her changed appearance. Chimalman's hair was done up in a pile on the top of her head, in wife-fashion; but yesterday she had been still wearing it, although married these many months, hanging loose on her shoulders, maidenwise. Well, queens determined their fashions for themselves!
Through the afternoon Chimalman devoted herself wholeheartedly to entertaining her small guest with songs and stories and picture-books. The theme of all of them was the life — and lives — of Quetzalcoatl: his victory over the Sun and the doom it imposed on him, that he should incarnate among men from age to age; his rejection, life after life, by the people he would save; his unending purpose that would triumph at last.
They dwelt in that high story, Chimalman inspired with the reality of it, Pelashil listening, eyes wide with wonder. It mingled with a kind of love new to the heart of the queen: mother love. She had had joy in Pelashil before, but now it was different. . . . And she was to trust, and go on trusting, in the gods who trusted in her. How near the gods were to her today!
In the evening, she took the child home to Ketlasho; then she had the whim to go down to the Townmouth, to meet possible news from the canyon and the Topiltzin's camp. She did not expect that Nopal would return today. No, the Topiltzin would keep him for a while; Cohuanacotzin had said so. But something, through her high mood and faith, she expected.
At the Townmouth, the posthouse master's wife, now in charge there, showed a desire to keep her chatting for a while; and she, expecting news now in some keen way, was compliant.
"Your Royal Godhead brings such serenity," the woman said. It is as if our Lord himself were here."
But she had no more than seated the queen before sounds of a party coming townward from the north called her away, and as she left Chimalman, she mused, "As if our Lord himself were here . . . our Lord Quetzalcoatl, the Divine Companion . . . Take refuge there now, Queen of Huitznahuac! Fortify yourself in the knowledge of that Wonder-Presence!"
Chimalman became aware of lowered voices, with something ominous in their tones. But the woman had been right; it was as if our Lord himself were here — the Divine Companion, who had come down with her and Nopal from Tlalocan. So real, so actual now, that should she turn her head, she might see him; should she reach out her hand, it might be clasped. . . .
"Your Royal Godhead!"
At her side stood the posthouse mistress, such a look of grief on her face as Chimalman had never before seen on human countenance. Chimalman rose and took her in her arms, eager to provide comfort, her lofty mood turned now into instant compassion. But the woman's tears, it seemed, were mainly for Chimalman.
"Your Royal Godhead must be prepared, my darling —"
"Come, dear soul," said the queen. "I will go; I will see to it."
She went out with the weeping woman, accompanied by . . . Overshadowing Divinity? She had no tears to shed — not even when she saw the burden the litter-bearers bore.
She issued orders quietly and incisively. To one, "Take a message to Ishmishutzin Teteoinan that the king is sick and needs her instantly at the House of the Kings".
Others had come beside the litter-bearers, to meet such a need as this. One of them she sent up in haste to Eeweesho and Ocotosh, to bid them prepare. Then, "Come," she said. "We dare not delay; you shall tell me later."
What she was told later was, of course, of the arrows shot by the tzitzimitl: the first, that had killed Cohuanacotzin; the second, that had grazed Nopal's shoulder; the third, that had slain Acamapitzin.
Cohuanacotzin had risen early to go to his Topilzin; his Topiltzin had risen even earlier to send in search of him. The sun rose over the camp on Forgotten Plain to find it the scene of great activity: the army, to the last man, on parade in full splendor of accoutrement; the Human Camaxtli, a figure of glinting glory, enthroned to review it.
They had built a triple throne facing north over the wide space that Cocotzin had left open for drill field and parade ground: a raised dias ascendable on either side by flights of steps; highest in the middle, where the Topilzin's seat cushions were set; with lower levels to right and left, where were the seat cushions of his allies of Tollan and Otompan.
Here these three sat now, with the Culhuatec guard below surrounding them, to watch regiment after regiment thunder past at their quickest pace, the wolf-run; all of them encased in their cotton mail and tossing up in salute hands that held their regiment's favorite weapon — bows or spears or javelins or hardwood swords — and shouting, an endless musical shout taken up by rank after rank as they came by; now swelling into bass thunder according to the duty of that — the Toltec Zacuans, for example, whose business was rather to sing their comrades into battle than to take any foremost part in it themselves.
And then the sound would change from song to squall as the Otomi Jaguars followed in their cloaks of jaguar skin, their hardwood helmets carved to a likeness of the head of that jungle topiltzin and terror of the woods; and from that to an eagle's bark with the coming of Huemac's Quauhtlis and Cozcaquauhtlis, eagles and vultures, the first eagle wing helmeted, the second helmeted hideously like their namesakes of the air. They came late onto a battlefield and cleaned things up as cozcaquauhtli cleans up a skeleton.
Then came Otomi Tlilcuetzpalins, with their curious, swaying, lizardlike rush and the scalelike green lizard-glitter that art had imparted to their cotton mail; and the Culhuatec Thunderbolts, and Ometochtlis — strict and sober men, these last, for all that they were named after Two-Rabbits, God of Drunkards and Drunkenness. For it was said that to express the stupidity of the drunkard, you had to double that of the stupidest creature living, the rabbit; but Ometochtli acquired a certain fell dignity when considered as a peril to mankind, and the name of the regiment signified that it was as dangerous as pulque to the Human Camaxtli's enemies.
Regiment after regiment, they came past and took up their stations in order: the armies of Culhuacan, Otompan and Tollan. Before mid-morning, a great part of them was on the march. A regiment was to go west with Huetzin into those barren mountains from which the Little Gods originally came, to seek in that direction a feasible way into Huitznahuac. A regiment was to cross the river and go east, under the Otomitl, with the same end in view. Three regiments of sappers and miners under Yacanetzin were to advance at once into the canyon. Arrived at the barrier's foot, Yacanetzin would signal to the Huitznahuatecs, learn the fate of Cohuanacotzin and negotiate for his return. Yacanetzin was the man to do it, being famed in the Topiltzin's circle as the Huitznahuatecs' friend. . . . Nonohualcatl himself had much to do in the camp.
Late that night a runner bearing a pictoscript letter from Yacanetzin in the canyon arrived before Nonohualcatl's pavilion and demanded access to him. A secretary came out from the inner recesses and brought the man before Nonohualcatl, who was seated smoking among the cushions of a low divan, dictating orders to seven scribes, expert pictographers. Each of these wrote according to his individual genius; thus, with seven versions for the receivers to compare, there could be no doubt as to the imperial meaning.
Nonohualcatl took the letter, glanced at it, scrutinized it with face grown rigid. Then he called to the first of the scribes and gave it to him, bidding him read it and pass it on to each of the others in turn. Each groaned as he read it.
"Now," said the Topiltzin, "what is it that Yacanetzin reports? What is this that has happened?"
"May the glory radiate!" said the first scribe. "It is news too foul for divine ears."
"Yet must your ears hear it. Speak!"
"The Huitznahuatecs have murdered Cohuanacotzin, and thrown his body from the barrier-top."
"Go!" said the Topiltzin. "Wait in the pavilion; I shall need you presently."
His face was drawn and taut; it was not the insult to his dignity that he was feeling then, but the loss of his friend. Of all his subjects, Cohuanacotzin was the one he loved and trusted most, the one who was nearer to him, and more like-minded, than even Huemac, his brother. That had been so ever since their school days. His grief was not long in changing to anger, however.
The drums were beating soon; at once the plain was covered with lights and with the grumbling of drums. The Topiltzin would do honor to his friend before he avenged his death. So all night the army was at work: cutting trees in the far-off forest and building a pyre on the plain. He would have everyone at work, for the pyre should be gigantic. He himself felled trees, striking grimly and savagely. None slept or breakfasted till all was over. He set the torch to the pyre at sunrise and dedicated himself, as he did so, to his new and bitter purpose. It was a grim and sullen Topiltzin, whom none had seen before.
Afterward, when the camp was resting, orders were sent abroad and up the canyon. No communication was to be held with the Huitznahuatecs; no faith was to be kept with them. They were to be killed without quarter or question. Written messages from them, should they attempt to send any, were to be burned unread by the finders; nothing from them was to come to the Topiltzin, or to any of his generals or officers. And when the time came, all Huitznahuatecs were to be exterminated.
Meanwhile, where was the man who could take Cohuanacotzin's place? The only man in all the Anahuacs who could take his place? He had worn nequen in the Culhuacan marketplace; he might be wearing a private soldier's uniform in the army now. Search was made, but Quanez of Quauhnahuac was not in the army. Swift runners started north; search was to be made throughout the Anahuacs. Quanez was to be sent to the Topiltzin. The desire to have him there grew in Nonohualcatl's mind as the days passed. Superstition entered into it; he could not succeed without Quanez. It became a passion with him, as strong as his passion for revenge.
The camp was a sad and silent place. The son of Mishcoatl Mazatzin, whom none could help loving, had gone; in his place was a Human Camaxtli none too human. . . .
Cocotzin was again in command on Forgotten Plain; headquarters had been removed into the canyon. At a wide lateral break in it, whence vistas of peak and precipice were to be seen, among the fruit trees by a stream Nonohualcatl had pitched his tent. Daily he sent out scouts into the heights and kept them searching, searching and searching; and based on their reports, he issued new commands and plans. He pressed the work against the barrier; thought out, contrived and fashioned new means of hurling energies against the barrier; nursed his will for revenge; hated the Huitznahuatecs; and waited anxiously for Quanez, or news of Quanez, to arrive from the Anahuacs.
The scouts sought among the high precipices for a way through, and sought in vain. The gods who loved Huitznahuac had made it inaccessible except through the canyon. Runners, too, came in from Huemac and from the Otomitl, who had gone groping west and east seeking a passage; they brought the same message always. West and east, the mountains had pushed those generals back northward, and no passage was to be found.
From the Topiltzin's pavilion to Forgotten Plain, the canyon was one long camp, filled with regiments, whose quarters always left room for a continuous stream of food-litters to pass. Their route lay between headquarters and the barrier. Relays worked there day and night digging out sections in the canyon walls; a man to every stride and a half. With the earth dug out, they filled baskets, each of a size to contain a man's load; then came other regiments in files, two endless processions. They shouldered the baskets and bore them south as far as to the bend in the canyon where one came in sight of the barrier, there and on the way emptying them, till the road had a new level and sloped upward to that point. And still and always came the two processions, and the tons and tons of earth; and still and always the level of the road went rising. From the road-head thus raised, new tons were emptied down into the canyon, and the road-head drew nearer to the barrier.
And day by day, the barrier-top was raised also. The Toltec officers in charge at the road-head rarely saw men at work up there; but always the great rocks came down, then the cataracts of earth that filled in the spaces and made a bed for the next boulders. As far as they could see, the falling rocks never rolled or jumped, but sat at once where they were meant to be: in front, where one could see them; or behind, where one could but hear their thuds. "With the start they have," thought the officers, "it will take us an age to catch up with them."
And whilst they thus looked up and thought, the endless files of men came on with their basketloads, dropped by the way or dropped from the road-head, trodden down hard by other endless files of men; and the road-head advanced and mounted. How was it that the officers could stand there superintending, and the endless files come up with their loads, and never a shaft or a boulder was directed at them by the enemy? They might make what havoc they would here, thought the Toltec officers, if they dropped their rocks from farther up the mountainside. Let the gods see that they will not think of it!
A great shield of basketwork and quilted cotton had been prepared to shelter the men at the road-head from arrows, but it was discarded after a while as a hindrance: No arrows came. The Topiltzin himself was often at the road-head, in all the blaze of his imperial accoutrements; but though the enemy might have stationed sharpshooters at a score of safe points, never a shaft was aimed at him. He was hate-blinded against understanding, or he might have guessed that they had no desire to harm him or his people, that they could never be made to think the killing of men justifiable. In truth, it was a tzitzimitl, and not a human being, that Acamapitzin had shot at and killed.
The Huitznahuatecs had nothing in their own nature by which to interpret their enemies' mood. They divined, indeed, some appalling, incomprehensible inhumanity in the northern peoples that made it necessary to keep them out, and for that reason, they raised their barrier. But they made excuses for the Toltecs; their feeling for them was pity, not hatred. Perhaps it was only here, and in relation to Huitznahuac, that by some unlucky star influence, they became evil. In their own land, and under proper conditions, perhaps these killings would not be committed. And perhaps they would tire of their will to enter Huitznahuac long before the rocks on the mountainside gave out.
The Toltecs practiced war, they had heard; and war meant killing. But that could be only a legend. They had had Cohuanacotzin's word for it that the Toltec king would condemn and abhor the murders in the forest; and it was a tzitzimitl who had done the murders they had seen; and it could not have been the Toltecs who had set the tzitzimitl on, because the first it had killed had been the Toltec Cohuanacotzin. . . .
On with the work then. Drop the rocks and raise the barrier; it was for the Toltecs' own good, since here they worked only evil! The princes murdered; King Nopaltzin lying between death and life with his wound. It would take generations to get the poison of these times out of their memories; generations of the old, clean, quiet peace — and hard work every waking moment now.
Why the poisoned arrow that grazed Nopal's shoulder had not been quite effective, none knew. Those arrows were designed to kill if they but scratched the skin. Perhaps a god, for his own purposes, interfered to delay things. Cohuanacotzin fell down into the canyon, Acamapitzin on the barrier-top.
"I am not hurt," Nopal had said. "A scratch-nothing!" But before they had laid him on a litter, he was vomiting and staggering; and then he fell.
Not a Huitznahuatec in all time had heard of, or conceived of, the possibility of poisoned arrows; but a youth came forward who behaved as if he had. He threw back his prostrate king's timatli then and there, saw the wound, and sucked it for his life. No one knew what his action may have served; all were inclined to fall back on divine intervention. Nopal was still alive when they brought him into the House of the Kings, but the youth who had sucked his wound was dead.
And since then the king had lain wasting in a kind of trance, and the queen had reigned from his bedside, fighting for his life, with Ishmishutzin, the Teteoinan-priestess and chief repository of Huitznahuatec medical science, for her aide. Acatonatzin, priest of Tezcatlipoca, took command on the mountainside, with Shollo and Shaltemoc, Nopal's brother and brother-in-law, for his chief lieutenants.
The work was not allowed to suffer by the loss of Acamapitzin. The barrier-top went on rising; all Huitznahuac was intent to hasten its rise. There was but one will in the country: The north should be kept out. But the road-head went on rising too, as the files of men came up and and dropped their basketloads of earth. Acatonatzin, watching, saw that sooner or later, if they kept on, road-head and barrier-top must reach the mountainside above. Or perhaps — for sometimes the road-head gained on him, so furiously did Nonohualcatl impel his Toltecs to their work — they would come to where they could climb onto the barrier-top. If so, work here must be stopped and no more boulders thrown down: He could not risk killing them. Oh, that he could afford to draft men from here into the south; into the far, unknown south beyond Quinatepetl and Eagle Mountain, there to build a new Huitznahuacan where the Toltecs could never come!
The road-head had risen to a certain height and turned the bend, so that now it faced the barrier. Nonohualcatl came up on his morning visit. "Phew!" said he. "What a vile stench is here!" Up came the files and poured down their earth in front. Up came the files and emptied their earth at his feet. He stepped up onto the earth thus last emptied out and saw what lay on a shelf in the cliff face now level with his head. "Empty your baskets there and cover it," he said.
Although he thought no more of it then, the significance of the remains of Blue-Hummingbird Ikak was perhaps lodged in his mind. A dead forest pygmy, the arrow in his breast of a different type from the arrows on the shelf beside him: a picture perhaps later to be remembered. . . . . and understood.
Book III, Section 2