Saturday, July 08, 2006
Quetzalli and the Star of the Sea (part 1)
Quetzalli and the Star of the Sea
Once upon a time in a land far, far away and deep below the sacred Isla de Mujeres (Isle of Women) there lived a sirena or mermaid named Quetzalli. Quetzalli had dark black hair that was long and touched with moonlight. Her skin was golden brown and her scales shimmered azure and gold. Quetzalli loved her home under the isle of women and hated to travel away from it, as she so often had to do during the summers when the whole mermaid village traveled to the ocean off the coast of what is now called California.
The village beneath the waves under the sacred isle was beautiful. The waters were of turquoise crystal and the fish were friendly and colorful. Lovely music played in the village and Quetzalli and the other sirenas were happy and content. Above the village was the sacred Isla de Mujeres. This island paradise was sacred to Ixchel, the lovely goddess of the moon.
Ixchel was also goddess of love, rainbows, childbirth, bodies of water, reason, medicine and fertility. She was extremely beloved by both the villagers who came to the sacred isle and the villagers underneath the isle. The villagers on land built beautiful statues of her and placed them all over the island. This island was sanctuary for them but no one lived there on a permanent basis. At the South point of the island was a temple dedicated to Ixchel and every year the land people would journey to worship at her temple and to greet the first rays of the sun. This amazing temple also acted as a lighthouse to the sea traveling villagers from other parts of Mexico.
Under the sacred Isle, Ixchel was also worshipped by the sirenas. There, too was a beautiful temple honoring Ixchel. This temple was built entirely of crushed pearls and decorated with abalone shells. It was luminous and lit up the darkest corners of the undersea village. Every full moon the sirenas would swim to the surface of the sea and be bathed in moonlight as they sang to their beloved goddess. On those nights, Ixchel and her sisters would walk upon the water from dusk to dawn bestowing their blessings on the creatures of the sea.
The sirenas were happy creatures. They had their music, their moonlight and their summers off the western coast. Life for them was simply to be lived worry free and joyous.
Quetzalli was different from the others. She was quiet and studious. She spent most of her time in the library reading stories etched on seashells. She liked to stay close to home. Unlike the other sirenas, she worried about her future. She liked to imagine a different life for herself and grand adventures like she read about in her stories. The other sirenas thought Quetzalli was silly and often made fun of her for being such a dreamer.
One day in the library of shells as she was looking for a story to read, a strange greenish light suddenly appeared in front of her. Startled, she looked up to see a most amazing thing. She saw a column of water shimmer and begin to form the shape of a stunning woman. The column swirled with all the colors of the rainbow and changed shapes until finally, the goddess Ixchel stepped out of the column and stood in front of Quetzalli.
Quetzalli was startled. She dropped the shell book that she held and gazed upon Ixchel.
“Don’t be afraid Quetzalli. It is only I Ixchel who loves my people on the land and in the sea.” The goddess said softly. “I need for you to help me with something. I have a quest that needs to be completed or I will be forgotten. Strange times are coming Quetzalli, strange and dangerous times for my people and my land. I cannot stop what will happen, it is already in motion. All I can do is try to find a way for this land, our beauty and our culture to be saved even if it is only in small parts. Will you help me Quetzalli?”
Quetzalli looked at the Ixchel and saw that the goddess had tears of pearls dripping from her jade eyes. The goddess held in her hand a shiny golden ball.
“Why me?” Quetzalli asked. “Why not one of the above people or why not one of our men?”
“Because Quetzalli, you read and spend time in the library. You are intelligent and educated and most of all because you have vision, you are a dreamer. You can see things others can’t and because of your reading, you are smart enough to recognize them.” Ixchel held out her hand in which the golden ball was spinning. “Take this ball and use it to find your direction. In it you will see your path. I need you to find something for me. Something important that has been lost for a long, long time. “
“But I can’t just leave everyone!” wailed Quetzalli.
“Yes you can. You wonder about a different life for yourself, a life like you read about. Well here is your opportunity. Never, ever say no to an opportunity Quetzalli.” Ixchel said sternly.
Quetzalli took the golden ball, which felt warm in her hand. It hummed quietly and for some strange reason, calmed her and gave her comfort.
“What will I do? What am I to look for?” She asked Ixchel.
“In the beginning of time when the sacred isle above rose from the sea, there existed a wondrous gem called the Star of the Sea. It was from this gem that the isle was created and the sirenas were the keepers of this gem. One day long ago, an evil sorcerer who cursed this land with the dangerous times to come stole it from the sirenas. This land will change, I have seen it in my visions. Many of my people will die at the hands of these new people who come from over the water. They bring disease and violence. My temples and those of my fellow Gods will be destroyed and desecrated. Our time is ending on this land. The Mexica and the Sirena will forget us and once forgotten, we can never return. We will fade away and protect this land no more. We will be powerless. If this Star of the Sea can be found, I can create a new land, a new Mexico. I can save the sirenas; I can save some of the tribes for many centuries to live in the Star of the Sea until a safe time when I can recreate this world as it is meant to be. The golden ball that you hold will guide you. It is connected to the Star of the Sea in strange and mysterious ways. The wicked sorcerer is dead but the Star of the Sea is lost and has not been seen in many eons.
You may have to travel far and the journey will be dangerous. Strange men are coming to this land seeking gold and land. If they find you, your quest will end and the Star of the Sea will be lost for all time. I will try to guide you and keep you safe, but I fear that I will be needed here. Already my people begin to wail their prayers to me. Things are happening fast.”
Quetzalli bowed her head. She thought for a moment of all she was leaving behind and she thought too of the huge task the goddess was entrusting her with. When she lifted her head to look at Ixchel, her face was solemn and set.
“I will do as you ask beautiful goddess of the moonlight. I shall go say goodbye to my parents and then I will begin my journey. Is there anything else I need to know?”
Ixchel smiled sweetly and touched Quetzalli’s glossy black head. “No my dear, there is nothing else. Go to your parents, chiquita and say your goodbyes. I will watch over you as much as I can. Remember to consult with the golden ball.” With her last remark, the goddess began to shimmer and before Quetzalli could say another word, Ixchel was gone.
Quetzalli quickly swam to her parent’s undersea cave to tell them of her quest for Ixchel. Her parents quickly understood how important her journey was to the world of the Mexica as well as to the undersea people. They were frightened for her but knew she had to complete this quest. Her father thought it was an honor for her to be chosen for this quest.
Quetzalli’s mother packed a bag made of an overgrown seaweed pod full of good things for Quetzalli to eat on the way. She also packed her beautiful pearl comb and gave Quetzalli her own special instrument, a small harp made entirely of coral and strung with sea fairies hair.
“This harp is magical.” Her mother said. “It was given to me by my mother who in turn got it from hers. This harp holds all our ancestors’ songs and music in it. It will protect you from harm and calm dangerous waters. Keep it well, my daughter.”
Her father gave to her his own special dagger made of the bone from an ancient sea monster killed centuries ago by his ancestor in a mighty battle still sung about today. The blade was curved wickedly and was so sharp that it sang. The handle was studded with pearls, turquoise and jade in the shape of Tlaloc’s face.
“This knife has special powers,” he said. “No enemy can harm you while you hold it. If you cast it to the sky, it will call down the powers of Tlaloc in all his glory of thunder, rain and storm. Keep it well my daughter and it will keep you safe.”
Quetzalli kissed and hugged her parents and then holding the little golden ball in one hand and wearing the bag with her food and family treasures, she quickly swam south.
Days passed where Quetzalli consulted the ball and swam and swam where it directed her with its misty images of landmarks and signs. In the nights, she found rocks to rest on and sat in the moonlight, bathing her hair in its light while she combed with her pearl comb and thought about her parents and the task ahead. She often played the coral harp and sang sweetly to the moon, telling Ixchel in her songs of her journey.
Quetzalli swam through Ah Cuzamil Peten (the Land of the Swallows – now Cozumel) yet another spiritual center dedicated to Ixchel and rich with salt and sea honey. She traveled on to Xama-ha and Xcaret and then on farther to Zama the City of the Dawn. She kept on swimming and the ocean changed, became unfamiliar.
She saw many marvels and extraordinary mysteries. She met other sirenas along the way, often stopping to eat or rest in their villages. She told the story of her quest and the sea folk promised to watch out for her and help her along the way. The dolphins and sea turtles kept her company often and swam with her great distances. They too promised to watch over her and to tell others of their kind of her quest and of the need to protect her. Quetzalli was grateful for all the help she received and for the kindness shown to her by so many. They truly were united as a people under the water and she ached that it should also be so on land.
Weeks passed and there were small trials and big ones, small dangers and many nights spent wishing for home and her beloved library. She cried sometimes for her parents and wished with all her heart that she could soon go home.
One day, after more than a month had passed the golden ball began to glow a strange blue color. Quetzalli had never seen it turn this color and she wondered aloud at the strangeness of it. The ball grew bluer and bluer until it was the deep blue of the deepest ocean cavern. Slowly, slowly the ball began to split open and before Quetzalli could understand what was happening, it lay in her hand like the petals of a blue and gold flower. In the center of the strange flower rested a huge golden pearl that glowed from within with an eerie light. Quetzalli gasped at the beauty of it and her heart filled with joy at the magical warmth that spilled from the golden pearl. The pearl slowly lifted itself off of the center of the strange flower, rotated seven times and then, suddenly opened and Quetzalli was shocked to see a that the golden pearl was an eye that was staring right at her.
“The Star of the Sea lies two days hence” said the Eye in a high, eerie voice. “Swim south one day and east the next. Beware of the strange, giant ships in the sea. Dangerous men are aboard them who will hunt to kill you if they catch a glimpse of you. The other danger is that they are hungry for gold and treasure and may think that you can lead them to it. They may try to capture you. These men are evil. Beware, beware Quetzalli the Brave. I have enjoyed your music and your singing. It has been a comfort and a blessing Gentle One. Because of this, I will grant you two wishes but consider them carefully for they will only be two. Do not waste them.” The eye blinked, became a pearl once again and settled back into the flower which then closed and became once again the golden ball.
Quetzalli thought long and hard but could think of nothing to wish for. She swam down to the depths of the sea to find a cavern to rest in for she was very weary. She saw a cavern in the distance and sleepily began to swim her way to it. She was also very hungry and did not have much food left her bag. She thought to herself that she would eat what was left, sleep for a bit and then hunt for food to eat as well as to replenish her bag. As she approached the cavern she came upon an ancient sirena sitting on a hill and crying.
“Why are you crying old one”? Quetzalli asked.
“I am crying because this I have lost my way to my village and am hungry. I am too old to hunt and I am afraid,” said the ancient sirena.
“Here” said Quetzalli. “Take this and eat. It is all I have for now but follow me into this cavern and before I sleep I will hunt for you.”
“Thank you, child. What is your name?”
“I am Quetzalli, grandmother. What is your name?”
“I am called Citlalmina the Old, child,” the old woman said as she swam along slowly.
Quetzalli noticed that the old sirena was having problems with making her way. She swam back to where the old woman was struggling along and lifted her onto her back. Tiredly, she swam with the old woman who was surprisingly heavy until they came to the cavern she had seen from the distance. She put the old woman down and checked to make sure the cavern was empty. Once she was certain that everything was safe, she swam back to the old woman, picked her up and carried her into the cavern. Quetzalli made beds for them both of soft sea kelp and then tucked the old woman into her bed. Quetzalli yawned and then went out hunting for enough food to feed them both and stock both their travel bags. She swam back to the cavern and cooked for herself and the old one before falling exhausted into her bed of kelp. When she awoke, the old sirena was sitting nearby digging into a ragged old bag.
“You have been more than kind to me Quetzalli. I will not forget it,” said old Citlalmina. “Should there ever be anything you need rub this shell and I will help you.” So saying, she placed a bright pink shell into the Quetzalli’s small brown hand.
Quetzalli smiled at the old sirena and carefully placed the shell into her bag. She didn’t think anything would ever come of it but she was far too kind hearted to hurt the old ones feelings. They visited for a while and then old Citlalmina swam off to find her village and Quetzalli began her swim south.
The sun was high in the sky when Quetzalli decided to swim up to the surface to feel its warmth on her skin. She found a flat stone with room to stretch and lie down to sun her. She felt so good and relaxed with the sun shining its golden rays upon her that she began to drift off to sleep. All of a sudden she felt a yank to her hair and woke to find a strange creature pulling her hair and jabbering in a strange tongue. Quetzalli struggled to get away but the strange creature that looked like a man but not held fast. Panicked, Quetzalli fought and struggled to be free and as she twisted, she saw more of the creatures coming towards her yelling in the strange language. She realized then that these were the dangerous men that Ixchel and the Eye had spoken about and her heart stood still in terror.
The strange man thought that she had calmed so he relaxed his hold just enough to give Quetzalli room to reach for the golden ball. She wished with all her might that she would be free of these evil men as her fingers grazed the ball in her bag. Suddenly, the sky opened up with roars of thunder as fierce lightening crackled and the hard, pelting raid of Tlaloc’s wrath began to fall in torrents. The man started in fright and Quetzalli wriggled away and dove deep into the ocean. She swam and she swam as far down as she could go until she came to a crevasse in the undersea rock. Wedging herself into it, she quietly cried and trembled in fear. After some time, Quetzalli realized they weren’t coming for her, that she had gotten away. She resolved to be more careful and not to swim above the water until her task was completed. She realized how close she had come to failing and it struck terror into her soul. Quetzalli stayed quietly in the crevasse for a while then once again began her swim southwards searching for the Star of the Sea. (Part 2 next week).