Zuni Folktales by Frank Hamilton Cushing
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HOW ÁHAIYÚTA AND MÁTSAILÉMA STOLE THE THUNDER-STONE AND THE LIGHTNING-SHAFT
Áhaiyúta and Mátsailéma, with their grandmother, lived where now stands the ancient Middle Place of Sacrifice on Thunder Mountain.
One day they went out hunting prairie-dogs, and while they were running about from one prairie-dog village to another, it began to rain, which made the trail slippery and the ground muddy, so that the boys became a little wrathful. Then they sat down and cursed the rain for a brief space. Off in the south it thundered until the earth trembled, and the lightning-shafts flew about the red-bordered clouds until the two brothers were nearly blinded with the beholding of it. Presently the younger brother smoothed his brow, and jumped up with an exclamation somewhat profane, and cried out: "Elder brother, let us go to the Land of Everlasting Summer and steal from the gods in council their thunder and lightning. I think it would be fine fun to do that sort of thing we have just been looking at and listening to."
The elder brother was somewhat more cautious; still, on the whole, he liked the idea. So he said
"Let us take our prairie-dogs home to the grandmother, that she shall have something to eat meanwhile, and we will think about going tomorrow morning."
The next morning, bright and early, they started out. In vain the old grandmother called rather crossly after them: "Where are you going now?" She could get no satisfaction, for she knew they lied when they called back: "Oh, we are only going to hunt more prairie-dogs." It is true that they skulked round in the plains about Thunder Mountain a little while, as if looking for prairie-dogs. Then, picking up their wondrously swift heels, they sped away toward that beautiful country of the corals, the Land of Everlasting Summer.
At last,—it may be in the mountains of that country, which are said to glow like shells of the sea or the clouds of the sunset,—they came to the House of the Beloved Gods themselves. And that red house was a wondrous terrace, rising wall after wall, and step after step, like a high mountain, grand and stately; and the walls were so smooth and high that the skill and power of the little War-gods availed them nothing; they could not get in.
"What shall we do?" asked the younger brother.
"Go home," said the elder, "and mind our own affairs."
"Oh, no," urged the younger I have it, elder brother. Let us hunt up our grandfather, the Centipede."
"Good!" replied the elder. "A happy thought is that of yours, my brother younger."
Forthwith they laid down their bows and quivers of mountain-lion skin, their shields, and other things, and set about turning over all the flat stones
they could find. Presently, lifting one with their united strength, they found under it the very old fellow they sought. He doubled himself, and covered his eyes from the sharpness of the daylight. He did not much like being thus disturbed, even by his grandchildren, the War-gods, in the middle of his noonday nap, and was by no means polite to them. But they prodded him a little in the side, and said: "Now, grandfather, look here! We are in difficulty, and there is no one in the wide world who can help us out as you will."
The old Centipede was naturally flattered. He unrolled himself and viewed them with a look which he intended to be extremely reproachful and belittling. "Ah, my grandchildren," said he, "what are you up to now? Are you trying to get yourselves into trouble, as usual? No doubt of it! I will help you all I can; but the consequences be on your own heads!"
"That's right, grandfather, that's right! No one in the world could help us as you can," said one of them. "The fact is, we want to get hold of the thunder-stone and the lightning-shaft which the Rain-gods up there in the tremendous house keep and guard so carefully, we understand. Now, in the first place, we cannot get up the wall; in the second place, if we did, we would probably have a fuss with them in trying to steal these things. Therefore, we want you to help us, if you will."
"With all my heart, my boys! But I should advise you to run along home to your grandmother, and let these things alone."
"Oh, pshaw, nonsense! We are only going to play a little while with the thunder and lightning."
"All right," replied the old Worm; "sit here and wait for me." He wriggled himself and stirred about, and his countless legs were more countless than ever with rapid motions as he ran toward the walls of that stately terrace. A vine could not have run up more closely, nor a bird more rapidly; for if one foot slipped, another held on; so the old Centipede wriggled himself up the sides and over the roof, down into the great skyhole; and, scorning the ladder, which he feared might creak, he went along, head-downward, on the ceiling to the end of the room over the altar, ran down the side, and approached that most forbidden of places, the altar of the gods themselves. The beloved gods, in silent majesty, were sitting there with their heads bowed in meditation so deep that they heard not the faint scuffle of the Centipede's feet as he wound himself down into the altar and stole the thunder-stone. He took it in his mouth—which was larger than the mouths of Centipedes are now—and carried it silently, weighty as it was, up the way he had come, over the roof, down the wall, and back to the flat stone where he made his home, and where, hardly able to contain themselves with impatience, the two youthful gods were awaiting him.
"Here he comes!" cried the younger brother, "and he's got it! By my war-bonnet, he's got it!"
The old grandfather threw the stone down. It began to sound, but Áhaiyúta grabbed it, and,
as it were, throttled its world-stirring speech. "Good! good!" he cried to the grandfather; "thank you, old grandfather, thank you!"
"Hold on!" cried the younger brother; "you didn't bring both. What can we do with the one without the other?"
"Shut up!" cried the old Worm. "I know what I am about!" And before they could say any more he was off again. Ere long he returned, carrying the shaft of lightning, with its blue, shimmering point, in his mouth.
"Good!" cried the War-gods. And the younger brother caught up the lightning, and almost forgot his weapons, which, however, he did stop to take up, and started on a full run for Thunder Mountain, followed by his more deliberate, but equally interested elder brother, who brought along the thunder-stone, which he found a somewhat heavier burden than he had supposed.
It was not long, you may well imagine, so powerful were these Gods of War, ere they reached the home of their grandmother on the top of Thunder Mountain. They had carefully concealed the thunder-stone and the shaft of lightning meanwhile, and had taken care to provide themselves with a few prairie-dogs by way of deception.
Still, in majestic revery, unmoved, and apparently unwitting of what had taken place, sat the Rain-gods in their home in the mountains of Summerland.
Not long after they arrived, the young gods began to grow curious and anxious to try their
new playthings. They poked one another considerably, and whispered a great deal, so that their grandmother began to suspect they were about to play some rash joke or other, and presently she espied the point of lightning gleaming under Mátsailéma's dirty jacket.
"Demons and corpses!" she cried. "By the moon! You have stolen the thunder-stone and lightning-shaft from the Gods of Rain themselves! Go this instant and return them, and never do such a thing again!" she cried, with the utmost severity; and, making a quick step for the fireplace, she picked up a poker with which to belabor their backs, when they whisked out of the room and into another. They slammed the door in their grandmother's face and braced it, and, clearing away a lot of rubbish that was lying around the rear room, they established themselves in one end, and, nodding and winking at one another, cried out: "Now, then!" The younger let go the lightning-shaft; the elder rolled the thunder-stone. The lightning hissed through the air, and far out into the sky, and returned. The thunder-stone rolled and rumbled until it shook the foundations of the mountain. "Glorious fun!" cried the boys, rubbing their thighs in ecstasy of delight. "Do it again!" And again they sent forth the lightning and rolled the thunder-stone.
And now the gods in Summerland arose in their majesty and breathed upon the skies; and the winds rose, and the rains fell like rivers from the clouds, centering their violence upon the roof of
the poor old grandmother's house. Heedlessly those reckless wretches kept on playing the thunder-stone and lightning-shaft without the slightest regard to the tremendous commotion they were raising all through the skies and all over Thunder Mountain; but nowhere else as above the house where their poor old grandmother lived fell the torrent of the rain, and there alone, of course, burst the lightning and rolled the thunder.
Soon the water poured through the roof of the house; but, move the things as the old grandmother would, she could not keep them dry; scold the boys as she would, she could not make them desist. No, they would only go on with their play more violently than ever, exclaiming: "What has she to say, anyway? It won't hurt her to get a good ducking, and this is fun!" By-and-by the waters rose so high that they extinguished the fire. Soon they rose still higher, so that the War-gods had to paddle around half submerged. Still they kept rolling the thunder-stone and shooting the lightning. The old grandmother scolded harder and harder, but after awhile desisted and climbed to the top of the fireplace, whence, after recovering from her exertion, she began again. But the boys heeded her not, only saying: "Let her yell! Let her scold! This is fun!" At last they began to take the old grandmother's scolding as a matter of course, and allowed nothing but the water to interrupt their pastime. It rose so high, finally, that they were near drowning. Then they climbed to the roof, but still they kept on.
"By the bones of the dead! why did we not think to come here before? 'T is ten times as fine up here. See him shoot!" cried one to the other, as the lightning sped through the sky, ever returning.
"Hear it mutter and roll!" cried the other, as the thunder bellowed and grumbled.
But no sooner had the Two begun their sport on the roof, than the rain fell in one vast sheet all about them; and it was not long ere the house was so full that the old grandmother—locked in as she was—bobbed her poor pate on the rafters in trying to keep it above the water. She gulped water, and gasped, coughed, strangled, and shrieked to no purpose.
"What a fuss our old grandmother is making, to be sure!" cried the boys. And they kept on, until, forsooth, the water had completely filled the room, and the grandmother's cries gurgled away and ceased. Finally, the thunder-stone grew so terrific, and the lightning so hot and unmanageable, that the boys, drawing a long breath and thinking with immense satisfaction of the fun they had had, possibly also influenced as to the safety of the house, which was beginning to totter, flung the thunder-stone and the lightning-shaft into the sky, where, rattling and flashing away, they finally disappeared over the mountains in the south.
Then the clouds rolled away and the sun shone out, and the boys, wet to the skin, tired in good earnest, and hungry as well, looked around. "Goodness! the water is running out of the
windows of our house! This is a pretty mess we are in Grandmother! Grandmother!" they shouted. Open the door, and let us in!" But the old grandmother had piped her last, and never a sound came except that of flowing water. They sat themselves down on the roof, and waited for the water to get lower. Then they climbed down, and pounded open the door, and the water came out with a rush, and out with a rush, too, their poor old grandmother,—her eyes staring, her hair all mopped and muddied, and her fingers and legs as stiff as cedar sticks.
"Oh, ye gods! ye gods!" the two boys exclaimed; "we have killed our own grandmother—poor old grandmother, who scolded us so hard and loved us so much! Let us bury her here in front of the door, as soon as the water has run away."
So, as soon as it became dry enough, there they buried her; and in less than four days a strange plant grew up on that spot, and on its little branches, amid its bright green leaves, hung long, pointed pods of fruit, as red as the fire on the breast of the red-bird.
"It is well," said the boys, as they stood one day looking at this plant. "Let us scatter the seeds abroad, that men may find and plant them. It seems it was not without good cause that in the abandonment to our sport we killed our old grandmother, for out of her heart there sprung a plant into the fruits of which, as it were, has flowed the color as well as the fire of her scolding tongue; and, if we have lost our grandmother, whom we
loved much, but who loved us more, men have gained a new food, which, though it burn them, shall please them more than did the heat of her discourse please us. Poor old grandmother! Men will little dream when they eat peppers that the seed of them first arose from the fiery heart of the grandmother of Áhaiyúta and Mátsailéma."
Thereupon the two seized the pods and crushed them between their hands, with an exclamation of pleasure at the brisk odor they gave forth. They cast the seeds abroad, which seeds here and there took root; and the plants which sprang from them being found by men, were esteemed good and were cultivated, as they are to this day in the pepper gardens of Zuñi.
Ever since this time you hear that mountain wherein lived the gods with their grandmother called Thunder Mountain; and often, indeed, to this day, the lightning flashes and the thunder plays over its brows and the rain falls there most frequently.
It is said by some that the two boys, when asked how they stole the lightning-shaft and the thunder-stone, told on their poor old grandfather, the Centipede. The beloved Gods of the Rain gave him the lightning-shaft to handle in another way, and it so burned and shrivelled him that he became small, as you can see by looking at any of his numerous descendants, who are not only small but appear like a well-toasted bit of buckskin, fringed at the edges.
So shortens my story.