In forgotten times, in the days of our ancients, at the Middle Place, or what is now Shíwina (Zuñi), there lived a youth who was well grown, or perfect in manhood. He had a pet Eagle which he kept in a cage down on the roof of the first terrace of the house of his family. He loved this Eagle so dearly that he could not endure to be separated from it; not only this, but he spent nearly all his time in caring for and fondling his pet. Morning, noon, and evening, yea, and even between those times, you would see him going down to the eagle-cage with meat and other kinds of delicate food. Day after day there you would find him sitting beside the Eagle, petting it and making affectionate speeches, to all of which treatment the bird responded with a most satisfied air, and seemed equally fond of his owner.
Whenever a storm came the youth would hasten out of the house, as though the safety of the crops depended upon it, to protect the Eagle. So, winter and summer, no other care occupied his attention. Corn-field and melon-garden was this bird to this youth; so much so that his brothers, elder and younger, and his male relatives generally, looked down upon him as negligent of all manly duties, and wasteful of their substance, which he helped not to earn in his excessive care of the bird.
Naturally, therefore, they looked with aversion upon the Eagle; and one evening, after a hard day's work, after oft-repeated remonstrances with the youth for not joining in their labors, they returned home tired and out of humor, and, climbing the ladder of the lower terrace, passed the great cage on their way into the upper house.
They stopped a moment before entering, and one of the eldest of the party exclaimed: "We have remonstrated in vain with the younger brother; we have represented his duties to him in every possible light, yet without effect. What remains to be done? What plans can we devise to alienate him from this miserable Eagle?"
"Why not kill the wretched bird?" asked one of them. "That, I should say, would be the most simple means of curing him of his infatuation."
"That is an excellent plan," exclaimed all of the brothers as they went on into the house; "we must adopt it."
The Eagle, apparently so unconscious, heard all this, and pondered over it. Presently came the youth with meat and other delicate food for his beloved bird, and, opening the wicket of the gate, placed it within and bade the Eagle eat. But the bird looked at him and at the food with no apparent interest, and, lowering its head on its breast, sat moody and silent.
"Are you ill, my beloved Eagle?" asked the youth, "or why is it that you do not eat?" "I do not care to eat," said the Eagle, speaking for the first time. "I am oppressed with much anxiety."
"Do eat, my beloved Eagle," said the youth. "Why should you be sad? Have I neglected you?"
"No, indeed, you have not," said the Eagle. For this reason I love you as you love me; for this reason I prize and cherish you as you cherish me; and yet it is for this very reason that I am sad. Look you! Your brothers and relatives have often remonstrated with you for your neglect of their fields and your care for me. They have often been angered with you for not bearing your part in the duties of the household. Therefore it is that they look with reproach upon you and with aversion upon me, so much so that they have at last determined to destroy me in order to do away with your affection for me and to withdraw your attention. For this reason I am sad,--not that they can harm me, for I need but spread my wings when the wicket is opened, and what can they do? But I would not part from you, for I love you. I would not that you should part with me, for you love me. Therefore am I sad, for I must go tomorrow to my home in the skies," said the Eagle, again relapsing into moody silence.
"Oh, my beloved bird! my own dear Eagle, how could I live without you? How could I remain behind when you went forward, below when you went upward?" exclaimed the youth, already beginning to weep. "No! Go, go, if it need be, alas! but let me go with you," said the youth.
"My friend! my poor, poor youth!" said the Eagle, "you cannot go with me. You have not wings to fly, nor have you knowledge to guide your course through the high skies into other worlds that you know not of."
"Let me go with you," cried the youth, falling on his knees by the side of the cage. "I will comfort you, I will care for you, even as I have done here; but live without you I cannot!" "Ah, my youth," said the Eagle, "I would that you could go with me, but the end would not be well. You know not how little you love me that you wish to do this thing. Think for a moment! The foods that my people eat are not the foods of your people; they are not ripened by fire for our consumption, but whatever we capture abroad on our measureless hunts we devour as it is, asking no fire to render it palatable or wholesome. You could not exist thus."
"My Eagle! my Eagle!" cried the youth. "If I were to remain behind when you went forward, or below when you went upward, food would be as nothing to me; and were it not better that I should eat raw food, or no food, than that I should stay here, excessively and sadly thinking of you, and thus never eat at all, even of the food of my own people? No, let me go with you!"
"Once more I implore you, my youth," said the Eagle, "not to go with me, for to your own undoing and to my sadness will such a journey be undertaken."
"Let me go, let me go! Only let me go!" implored the youth.
"It is said," replied the Eagle calmly. "Even as you wish, so be it. Now go unto your own home for the last time; gather large quantities of sustaining food, as for a long journey. Place this food in strong pouches, and make them all into a package which you can sling upon your shoulder or back. Then come to me tomorrow morning, after the people have begun to descend to their fields."
The youth bade good-night to his Eagle and went into the house. He took of parched flour a great quantity, of dried and pulverized wafer-bread a large bag, and of other foods, such as hunters carry and on which they sustain themselves long, he took a good supply, and made them all into a firm package. Then, with high hopes and much thought of the morrow, he laid himself to rest. He slept late into the morning, and it was not until his brothers had departed for their fields of corn that he arose; and, eating a hasty breakfast, slung the package of foods over his shoulders and descended to the cage of the Eagle. The great bird was waiting for him. With a smile in its eyes it came forth when he opened the wicket, and, settling down on the ground, spread out its wings and bade the youth mount.
"Sit on my back, for it is strong, oh youth! Grasp the base of my wings, and rest your feet above my thighs, that you may not fall off. Are you ready? Ah, well. And have you all needful things in the way of food? Good. Let us start on our journey."
Saying this, the Eagle rose slowly, circling wider and wider as it went up, and higher and higher, until it had risen far above the town, going slowly. Presently it said: "My youth, I will sing a farewell song to your people for you and for me, that they may know of our final departure."
Then, as with great sweeps of its wings it circled round and round, going higher and
higher, it sang this song:
Pa shish lakwa-a-a--
Pa shish lakwa-a-a--
As the song floated down from on high, "Save us! By our eyes!" exclaimed the people. "The Eagle and the youth! They are escaping; they are leaving us!"
And so the word went from mouth to mouth, and from ear to ear, until the whole town was gazing at the Eagle and the youth, and the song died away in the distance, and the Eagle became smaller and smaller, winding its way upward until it was a mere speck, and finally vanished in the very zenith.
The people shook their heads and resumed their work, but the Eagle and the youth went on until at last they came to the great opening in the zenith of the sky. In passing upward by its endless cliffs they carne out on the other side into the sky-world; and still upward soared the Eagle, until it alighted with its beloved burden on the summit of the Mountain of Turquoises, so blue that the light shining on it paints the sky blue. "Huhua!" said the Eagle, with the weariness that comes at the end of a long journey. "We have reached our journey's end for a time. Let us rest ourselves on this mountain height of my beloved world."
The youth descended and sat by the Eagle's side, and the Eagle, raising its wings until the tips touched above, lowered its head, and catching hold of its crown, shook it from side to side, and then drew upon it, and then gradually the eagle-coat parted, and while the youth looked and wondered in love and joy, a beautiful maiden was uncovered before him, in garments of dazzling whiteness, softness, and beauty. No more beautiful maiden could be conceived than this one,--bright of face, clear and clean, with eyes so dark and large and deep, and yet sharp, that it was bewildering to look into them. Such eyes have never been seen in this world.
"Come with me, my youth--you who have loved me so well," said she, approaching him and reaching out her hand. "Let us wander for a while on this mountain side and seek the home of my people."
They descended the mountain and wound round its foot until, looking up in the clear light of the sky-world, they beheld a city such as no man has ever seen. Lofty were its walls,-- smooth, gleaming, clean, and white; no ladders, no smoke, no filth in any part whatsoever.
"Yonder is the home of my people," said the maiden, and resuming her eagle-dress she took the youth on her back again, and, circling upward, hovered for a moment over this home of the Eagles, then, through one of the wide entrances which were in the roof, slowly descended. No ladders were there, inside or outside; no need of them with a people winged like the Eagles, for a people they were, like ourselves--more a people, indeed, than we, for in one guise or the other they might appear at will. No sooner had the Eagle-maiden and the youth entered this great building than those who were assembled there greeted them with welcome assurances of joy at their coming. "Sit ye down and rest," said they.
The youth looked around. The great room into which they had descended was high and broad and long, and lighted from many windows in its roof and upon its walls, which were beautifully white and clean and finished, as no walls in this world are, with many devices pleasing to the eye. Starting out from these walls were many hooks or pegs, suspended from which were the dresses of the Eagles who lived there, the forms of which we know.
"Yea, sit ye down and rest and be happy," said an old man. Wonderfully fine he was as he arose and approached the couple and said, spreading abroad his wings: "Be ye always one to the other wife and husband. Shall it be so?"
And they both, smiling, said "Yes." And so the youth married the Eagle-maiden. After a few days of rest they found him an eagle-coat, fine as the finest, with broad, strong wings, and beautiful plumage, and they taught him how to comform himself to it and it to himself. And as Eagles would teach a young Eagle here in this world of ours, so they taught the youth gradually to fly.
At first they would bid him poise himself in his eagle-form on the floor of their great room, and, laying all over it soft things, bid him open his wings and leap into the air. Anxious to learn, he would spread his great wings and with a powerful effort send himself high up toward the ceiling; but untaught to sustain himself there, would fall with many a flap and tumble to the floor. Again and again this was tried, but after a while he learned to sustain and guide himself almost wholly round the room without once touching anything; and his wife in her eagle-form would fly around him, watching and helping, and whenever his flight wavered would fan a strong wind up against his wings with her own that he might not falter, until he had at last learned wholly to support himself in the air.
Then she bade him one day come out with her to the roof of the house, and from there they sailed away, away, and away over the great valleys and plains below, ever keeping to the northward and eastward; and whenever he faltered in his flight she bore his wings up with her own wings, teaching him how, this way and that, until, when they returned to the roof, those who watched them said: "Now, indeed, is he learned in the ways of our people. How good it is that this is so!" And they were very happy, the youth and the Eagle-maiden and their people.
One day the maiden took the youth out again into the surrounding country, and as they flew along she said to him: "You may wonder that we never fly toward the southward. Oh, my youth, my husband! never go yonder, for over that low range of mountains is a fearful world, where no mortal can venture. If you love me, oh, if you truly love me, never venture yonder!" And he listened to her advice and promised that he would not go there. Then they went home.
One day there was a grand hunt, and he was invited to join in it. Over the wide world flew this band of Eagle hunters to far-away plains.
Whatsoever they would hunt, behold! below them somewhere or other might the game be seen, were it rabbit, mountain sheep, antelope, or deer, and each according to his wish captured the kind of game he would, the youth bringing home with the rest his quarry. Of all the game they captured he could eat none, for in that great house of the Eagles, so beautiful, so perfect, no fire ever burned, no cooking was ever done. And after many days the food which the youth brought with him was diminished so that his wife took him out to a high mountain one day, and said: "As I have told you before, the region beyond those low mountains is fearful and deadly; but yonder in the east are other kinds of people than those whom you should dread. Not far away is the home of the Pelicans and Storks, who, as you know, eat food that has been cooked, even as your people do. When you grow hungry, my husband, go to them, and as they are your grandparents they will feed you and give you of their abundance of food, that you may bring it here, and thus we shall do well and be happy."
The youth assented, and, guided part of the way by his faithful, loving wife, he went to the home of the Storks. No sooner had he appeared than they greeted him with loud assurances of welcome and pleasure at his coming, and bade him eat. And they set before him bean-bread, bean-stews, beans which were baked, as it were, and mushes of beans with meat intermixed, which seemed as well cooked as the foods of our own people here on this mortal earth. And the youth ate part of them, and with many thanks returned to his home among the Eagles. And thus, as his wife had said before, it was all well, and they continued to live there happily.
Between the villages of the Eagles and the Storks the youth lived; so that by-and-by the Storks became almost as fond of him as were the Eagles, addressing him as their beloved grandchild. And in consequence of this fondness, his old grandfather and grandmother among the Storks especially called his attention to the fearful region lying beyond the range of mountains to the south, and they implored him, as his wife had done, not to go thither. "For the love of us, do not go there, oh, grandchild!" said they one day, when he was about to leave.
He seemed to agree with them, and spread his wings and flew away. But when he had gone a long distance, he turned southward, with this exclamation: "Why should I not see what this is? Who can harm me, floating on these strong wings of mine? Who can harm an Eagle in the sky?" So he flew over the edge of the mountains, and behold! rising up on the plains beyond them was a great city, fine and perfect, with walls of stone built as are the towns of our dead ancients. And the smoke was wreathing forth from its chimneys, and in the hazy distance it seemed teeming with life at the moment when the youth saw it, which was at evening time.
The inhabitants of that city saw him and sent messages forth to the town of the Eagles that they would make a grand festival and dance, and invited the Eagles to come with their friends to witness this dance. And when the youth returned to the home of his Eagle people, behold! already had this message been delivered there, and his wife in sorrow was awaiting him at the doorway.
"Alas! alas! my youth! my husband!" said she. "And so, regarding more your own curiosity than the love of your wife, you have been into that fearful country, and as might have been expected, you were observed. We are now invited to visit the city you saw and to witness a dance of the inhabitants thereof, which invitation we cannot refuse, and you must go with us. It remains to be seen, oh my youth, whom I trusted, if your love for me be so great that you may stand the test of this which you have brought upon yourself, by heedlessness of my advice and that of your grandparents, the Storks. Oh, my husband, I despair of you, and thus despairing, I implore you to heed me once more, and all may be well with you even yet.
Go with us tonight to the city you saw, the most fearful of all cities, for it is the city of the damned, and wonderful things you will see; but do not laugh or even smile once. I will sit by your side and look at you. Oh, think of me as I do of you, and thus thinking you will not smile. If you truly love me, and would remain with me always, and be happy as I would be happy, do this one thing for me."
The youth promised over and over, and when night came he went with the Eagle people to that city. A beautiful place it was, large and fine, with high walls of stone and many a little window out of which the red firelight was shining. The smoke was going up from its chimneys, the sparks winding up through it, and, with beacon fires burning on the roofs, it was a happy, bustling scene that met the gaze of the youth as he approached the town. There were sounds and cries of life everywhere. Lights shone and merriment echoed from every street and room, and they were ushered into a great dance hall, or kiwitsin, where the audience was already assembled.
By-and-by the sounds of the coming dance were heard, and all was expectation. The fires blazed up and the lights shone all round the room, making it as bright as day. In came the dancers, maidens mostly, beautiful, and clad in the richest of ancient garments; their eyes were bright, their hair black and soft, their faces gleaming with merriment and pleasure. And they came joking down the ladders into the room before the place where the youth sat, and as they danced down the middle of the floor they cried out in shrill, yet not unpleasant voices, as they jostled each other, playing grotesque pranks and assuming the most laughter-stirring attitudes:
"Hapa! hapa! is! is! is!" ("Dead! dead this! this! this!")--pointing at one another, and repeating this baleful expression, although so beautiful, and full of life and joy and merriment.
Now, the youth looked at them all through this long dance, and though he thought it strange that they should exclaim thus one to another, so lively and pretty and jolly they were, he was nevertheless filled with amusement at their strange antics and wordless jokes. Still he never smiled.
Then they filed in again and there were more dancers, merrier than before, and among them were two or three girls of surpassing beauty even in that throng of lovely women, and one of them looked in a coquettish manner constantly toward the youth, directing all her smiles and merriment to him as she pointed round to her companions, exclaiming: "Hapa! hapa! is! is! is!"
The youth grew forgetful of everything else as he leaned forward, absorbed in watching this girl with her bright eyes and merry smiles. When, finally, in a more amusing manner than before, she jostled some merry dancer, he laughed outright and the girl ran forward toward him, with two others following, and reaching out, grasped his hands and dragged him into the dance. The Eagle-maiden lifted her wings and with a cry of woe flew away with her people. But ah, ah! the youth minded nothing, he was so wild with merriment, like the beautiful maidens by his side, and up and down the great lighted hall he danced with them, joining in their uncouth postures and their exclamations, of which he did not yet under stand the true meaning--"Hapa! hapa! is! is! is!"
By-and-by the fire began to burn low, and the maidens said to him: "Come and pass the night with us all here. Why go back to your home? Are we not merry companions? Ha! ha! ha! ha! "Hapa! hapa! is! is! is!" They began to laugh and jostle one another again. Thus they led the youth, not unwillingly on his part, away into a far-off room, large and fine like the others, and there on soft blankets he lay himself down, and these maidens gathered round him, one pillowing his head on her arm, another smiling down into his face, another sitting by his side, and soon he fell asleep. All became silent, and the youth slept on.
In the morning, when broad daylight had come, the youth opened his eyes and started. It seemed as though there were more light than there should be in the house. He looked up, and the room which had been so fine and finished the night before was tottering over his head; the winds shrieked through great crevices in the walls; the windows were broken and wide open; sand sifted through on the wind and eddied down into the old, barren room. The rafters, dried and warped with age, were bending and breaking, and pieces of the roof fell now and then when the wind blew more strongly. He raised himself, and clammy bones fell from around him; and when he cast his eyes about him, there on the floor were strewn bones and skulls.
Here and there a face half buried in the sand, with eyes sunken and dried and patches of skin clinging to it, seemed to glare at him. Fingers and feet, as of mummies, were strewn about, and it was as if the youth had entered a great cemetery, where the remains of the dead of all ages were littered about. He lifted himself still farther, and where the head of one maiden had lain or the arms of another had entwined with his, bones were clinging to him. One by one he picked them off stealthily and laid them down, until at last he freed himself, and, rising, cautiously stepped between the bones which were lying around, making no noise until he came to the broken-down doorway of the place.
There, as he passed out, his foot tripped against a splinter of bone which was embedded in the debris of the ruin, and as a sliver sings in the wind, so this sang out. The youth, startled and terrorized, sprang forth and ran for his life in the direction of the home of the Storks. Shrieking, howling, and singing like a slivered stick in the wind, like creaking boughs in the forest, with groans and howls and whistlings that seemed to freeze the youth as he ran, these bones and fragments of the dead arose and, like a flock of vampires, pursued him noisily.
He ran and ran, and the great cloud of the dead were coming nearer and nearer and pressing round him, when he beheld one of his grandparents, a Badger, near its hole. The Badger, followed by others, was fast approaching him, having heard this fearful clamor, and cried out: "Our grandson! Let's save him!" So they ran forward and, catching him up, cast him down into one of their holes.
Then, turning toward the uncanny crowd and bristling up, with sudden emotion and mighty effort they cast off that odor by which, as you know, they may defile the very winds. Thlitchiii! it met the crowd of ghosts. Thliwooo! the whole host of them turned with wails and howls and gnashings of teeth back toward the City of the Dead, whence they had come. And the Badgers ran into the hole where lay the youth, lifted him up, and scolded him most vigorously for his folly.
Then they said: "Sit up, you fool, for you are not yet saved! Hurry!" said they, one to another. "Heat water!" And, the water being heated, nauseating herbs and other medicines were mingled with it, and the youth was directed to drink of that. He drank, not once, but four times. Ukch, usa!--and after he had been thus treated the old Badgers asked him if he felt relieved or well, and the youth said he was very well compared with what he had been.
Then they stood him up in their midst and said to him: "You fool and faithless lout, why did you go and become enamored of Death, however beautiful? It is only a wonder that with all our skill and power we have saved you thus far. It will be a still greater wonder, O foolish one, if she who loved you still loves you enough after this faithlessness to save the life which you have forfeited. Who would dance and take joy in Death?
Go now to the home of your grandparents, the Storks, and there live. Your plumage gone, your love given up, what remains? You can neither descend to your own people below without wings, nor can you live with the people of the Eagles without love. Go, therefore, to your grandparents!"
And the youth got up and dragged himself away to the home of the Storks; but when he arrived there they looked at him with downcast faces and reproached him over and over, saying: "There is small possibility of your regaining what you have forfeited,--the love and affection of your wife."
"But I will go to her and plead with her," said the youth. "How should I know what I was doing?"
"We told you not to do it, and you heeded not our telling."
So the youth lagged away to the home of the Eagles, where, outside that great house with high walls, he lingered, moping and moaning. The Eagles came and went, or they gathered and talked on the housetop, but no word of greeting did they offer him; and his wife, at last, with a shiver of disgust, appeared above him and said: "Go back! go back to your grandparents. Their love you may not have forfeited; mine you have. Go back! for we never can receive you again amongst us. Oh, folly and faithlessness, in you they have an example!"
So the youth sadly returned to the home of the Storks. There he lingered, returning ever and anon to the home of the Eagles; but it was as though he were not there, until at last the elder Eagles, during one of his absences, implored the Eagle-maid to take the youth back to his own home.
"Would you ask me, his wife, who loved him, now to touch him who has been polluted by being enamored of Death?" asked she.
But they implored, and she acquiesced. So, when the youth appeared again at the home of the Eagles, she had found an old, old Eagle dress, many of the feathers in it broken; ragged and disreputable it was, and the wing-feathers were so thin that the wind whistled through them. Descending with this, she bade him put it on, and when he had done so, she said: "Come with me now, according to the knowledge in which we have instructed you."
And they flew away to the summit of that blue mountain, and, after resting there, they began to descend into the sky which we see, and from that downward and downward in very narrow circles.
Whenever the youth, with his worn-out wings, faltered, the wife bore him up, until, growing weary in a moment of remembrance of his faithlessness, she caught in her talons the Eagle dress which sustained him and drew it off, bade him farewell forever, and sailed away out of sight in the sky. And the youth, with one gasp and. shriek, tumbled over and over and over, fell into the very center of the town in which he had lived when he loved his Eagle, and utterly perished.
Thus it was in the times of the ancients; and for this reason by no means whatsoever may a mortal man, by any alliances under the sun, avoid Death. But if one would live as long as possible, one should never, in any manner whatsoever, remembering this youth's experience, become enamored of Death.
Thus shortens my story.
The Youth and His Eagle
A Zuni Legend
Frank Hamilton Cushing, Zuni Folk Tales, 1901