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"Feeding the Sun"

Feeding the Sun

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8th day of February, 1693


One letter, the most difficult, the last. Then I can get on with what there is left to do. I send this through your friends at the monastery in Vera Cruz, and hope they will find some way to make this reach you - I must risk it. If it’s intercepted by my holy censors here we are lost, but if I do not try to warn you, Carlos, and you are taken, I am the one lost.

I have told them, about the manuscripts - not all, and the papers are safe yet - but that you brought them here, that we had quarrelled months ago, that I turned you away. How fortunate my coldness to you just this once has proven. I told them I did not know what the packet held, but that I thought they were scientific treatises.

So upon your return you must not be manoeuvred into thinking they know more than they do - and while you are away you must contrive an accident, with witnesses, so you may say the manuscripts were destroyed or lost. I have thought and thought and thought through everything I have told them, and this is the one that poses great danger.

You are asking yourself how I could have done this. Or it may be that from me it comes as no surprise. They came so soon after you left....

The almoners brought a bill of sale - as if to say I had purchased these things from myself, only to donate them again. It was as if they were taking them from me twice.

Only now as it all sloughs away like scalded skin do I realize how deeply, bitterly angry I’ve been, and how unjustly. Not coming to you when you came to say good-bye now leaves me sick with remorse. I know you didn’t betray me. Life is not so simple, so symmetrical. The friends of my enemies are not my enemies, any more than your friendship with me makes the Archbishop my friend. Might it be that day he broke your cheekbone with his cane you were defending me? But what I have also come recently to learn is that neither does being the enemy of my enemy make that someone my friend.

And now, what I have come so late to see is that if you’ve left your most precious possessions with me it’s because from this fool’s errand to Florida you never expected to return. What made you think you would be the first to die? Too proud to refuse the commission which may end your life, too sentimental to accept the one which might have saved it. Who is to say you might not have made a life at Versailles? You just can’t leave her, can you, this New Eden of yours? After all these years, this is how you still see her. The ever faithful suitor you see her as she was, not as she’s aged. Faithful generous suitor, you share whatever you’ve learned of her with every passing scholar - a lifetime of discoveries reduced to footnotes in the books of lesser writers.

I have recopied carefully each of these letters of yours from Vera Cruz invested with so much tenderness, and blush at how much less was returned in mine to you. So critical was I of your Americanist project - why invest your life, risk a career on a pursuit so unpromising? To find political virtues in the Mexicas’ tyranny, to make FeatherSerpent out to be the twin of Christ - doubting Thomas, the most sceptical of all the saints. Christ had a brother, Carlos, but his name was Satanael.

Yet you were unworried by consequences, and unwilling to believe me indifferent. How could I be? you asked. These were the stories of my own childhood. Do you have any idea how it felt for me to watch you take possession of those stories, one by one, when I’d let them go?

And now I hold the last remaining account of Moctezuma’s last days even as my own conqueror approaches. All my strength it takes now to look forward without blinking. Carlos, I have sent a plea that Father Núñez return as my confessor. I will not even try to explain. Through Arellano, he has demanded a sign that I at last see the enormity of my transgressions. A sign. I see nothing but signs. I have written for him the one he seeks. Mine, I do not seek.

You think you’ll be the first to die. You may be right. For see how death eludes one who desires it - even death, when in demand, will rise in price. The Archbishop’s auction raised a good part of the ransom, but not all, for they knew I had something left to sell....

How can I ever make you see how I could have thought - for half the span of an hour - that you had brought these things to implicate me? Who has sent him? Does even Carlos know? Who has brought us here, to this pass? How can he do this - after all that has happened, to Fray de Cuadros, to us? I could not understand it - to remind us of what might have been? What cannot be brought back, what we failed to prevent?

You who knew me - surely you could see how dangerous their stories were. The Mexica. The most rigorous and unsparing, unblinking, glaring straight into the sun ... people devouring their idols, people swallowed by the sun. And now Fray de Cuadros is dead. Carlos, I am not indifferent. Carlos, I have not forgotten. Stark, the invitation: Who will feed the sun. How dangerous all the little love stories we tell ourselves of god. The conqueror approaches, see his footprints in the rock...? After each slow step a dust of dreams trails up. The Emperor of Dreams awaits his destiny, awake. He tries to flee, to hide himself within a cave, but the earth will not harbour him. He returns in shame. Furiously he consults the sorcerers, the oracles, the ancient texts - the ones not burned by his own father’s order. Through dream-plagued days and sleepless nights, prodigies, portents, ill-omens drift like smoke through the capital. All who dream of the end of the world, all must come before him. The capital is made to pay a tribute of dreams. The Massacre of the Dreamers is what one day they will call it. So many dreams... Moctezuma sifts them, immersed in one vast dreaming.

Tell me your story.

"I saw a strange bird with feathers like ashes. Its head was a mirror. I looked into it and saw the sky full of stars at midday. I looked again upon a plain full of armed men surging forward on the backs of deer...."

Tell me your story.

"Last night I saw a smoking star dripping fire, like an ear of corn bleeding fire. The night sky was full of blood and smoke...."

Tell me your story.

"The temple on the great pyramid burst into flames. Lightning struck it from a clear blue sky. Even now it’s burning. We keep throwing water on it, great quantities of water, we cannot put it out. We cannot put it out...."

Tell me your story.

"Everyone in our precinct heard her again last night. Weeping for her lost children. Weeping for the city...."

Tell me your story.

"On the lake I saw a waterspout as high as a mountain and through it saw the gods descending...."

Tell me your story.

"Last night the streets were filled with two-headed dwarves and hunchbacks asking for the king...."

Tell me your dreams - who will feed the sun?

Destiny approaches him who knows the histories. The histories he knows himself condemned to repeat, for this history is prophecy.

Tell me your dreams.

The jails are full of sorcerers. But all those brave enough to tell their dreams, the Emperor of Revery has had put to death. The flood of dreams that left the prisons awash in dreamers now runs dry, and more terrible to him than all the dreams is the moment of their ceasing.

"This Christ of yours," he will one day soon now ask the startled Chaplain, "he died to save his father? He gave his heart to feed the sun?" The beautiful interpreter smiles and shakes her head.

Tell me your story. Tell me your story of the end.

Dreamers given death, sorcerers grown still, seers lost from sight, jailed prophets, shrouded, silent ... slowly silence falls.

Drums booming, flutes piping ... the last sounds from the outside world to reach his ears. Soon even the dreams of the Emperor, the last to dream in all the world, fall silent.

Soon enough, soon with great relief he elects the warrior’s death. Death at his captor’s hands. The nobility of the captor vouchsafes the nobility of his dying.

Who will feed the sun? the captive asks, but gets no answer.

I am sorry, Carlos. Can you ever find it in your heart to understand.

Your friend,

Juana Inés Ramírez de Asbaje, la peor de todas...

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