From the Galpoghor Series:
The Aztec Sun
Before the Sun that now shines brightly over Mexico came into being, there had been other suns; four in all. Each died away in turn before our present Sun appeared.
The fourth Sun, Chalchuitlicu, had been a water goddess, copper-colored and dressed in emerald green. For hundreds of years she provided light and warmth; and in that time the first men and women appeared on Earth. But other gods grew jealous of the Sun God; some reproached her for giving fire to humans -- for they did not always use it wisely.
One night, the black God of Darkness, Tezcatlipoca, began to torment the gentle copper Sun while she was resting in the gloom. He said she'd grown too vain and selfish. In her hurt at these false words, Chalchuitlicu burst into tears and lost control of the waters thus released. The tears put out her light and then the sky rained down upon the Earth in torrents.
The land vanished into darkness beneath a mighty flood, which drowned all human life: every man and woman turned into fish; all, that is, save one lone family, which survived to start the human race again.
When the sky thus fell on Earth, the gods opened up four roads beneath the land, where they created four giants and some sturdy trees. And then, together -- the gods, the trees, the giants -- all tried to lift the Earth from under the vales of tears. They heaved and pushed until the land rose upwards and the waters fell away. At last they managed to fasten the land securely to the sky.
But the Earth was still plunged in utter gloom; it had no dawn, no dusk, no sunlit days. The vales of tears were salty: there was thus no fresh water, for no Sun appeared to draw the tears back up to heaven and change them into rain.
It was then that the gods resolved to give the world a fifth and final Sun. They assembled at Tectihuacan, Place-of-the-Gods, and argued loud and long. Eventually, it was decreed: There had to be a Sun.
And there must be moonlight while the Sun was at its rest.
But who would do the job?
After all, the first four suns had died away. The gods ordained a sacrifice: whoever volunteered would not live to see themselves as Sun or Moon, but would have to change their form so that the Sun and Moon could last forever.
Only one god came forward: Tecuciztecatl, God of Snails and Worms. He was rich and strong and vain. He thought by sacrificing himself he would gain immortal glory. He wished therefore to be the Sun.
No one else was willing. Uneasily the gods looked about them; there had to be a second sacrifice to make the Sun and the Moon. Their gaze fell at last upon a humble goddess in their midst: Little. Nana, the unsightly one. If she agreed, the gods declared, they would transform her body.
Poor Nana did not want to die. Yet she smiled gently when they told her she might light up and warm the Earth; for she might help little children not yet born.
The gods began their preparations. Two tall stone altars were erected: one for the Sun, one for the Moon -- though which was which had yet to be agreed. Both sacrifices were bathed and dressed in their own way.
The God of Snails and Worms put on a fine plumage and brightly colored robes, earrings of turquoise and jade, and a collar of shining gold.
Little Nana had no such finery. So she daubed her red-raw body white and donned a thin, torn paper dress through which her puny body showed.
Meanwhile, beneath the altars, the gods had built a sacrificial pyre. So many logs of wood were heaped upon it that the heavens seemed to light up in the roaring blaze. At this sight, the God of Snails trembled in fear and bit his lip; yet Little Nana sat quietly by, her hands folded in her lap.
Tecuciztecatl was honored to be first to leap into the flames. At the gods' command, he drew near the pyre and stood tall and grand upon his pillar of white stone, his plume of red and green and yellow streaming in the breeze. But his courage failed him and he drew back abruptly, pale and trembling. Three times he was summoned, and three times he nervously stepped back.
The gods finally lost patience and turned to Little Nana, crying, 'Jump!'
She stepped forward instantly and stood unflinching on the pillar's edge. Then she closed her eyes, smiled bravely as she thought of her sacrifice for the people, and leapt into the red heart of the flames.
Angry and ashamed -- but more afraid the noble power of the Sun would not be his -- the God of Snails and Worms shut tight his eyes and jumped. But his leap was to one side, where the fire was weakest and the ash was thick.
Just then an eagle swooped from nowhere into the flames, then out again so quickly only his wingtips were singed. He flew upwards swiftly with a bright ball of fire held in his beak -- like a fiery arrow through the sky -- until he reached the eastern gates of Tectihuacan.
There he left the ball of fire -- for thus Little Nana had become -- and she took her seat upon a throne of billowing clouds. She had golden shining tresses strung with pearls and precious shells, shimmering in the mists of dawn; her lips were brightest scarlet.
Never was the dawn so beautiful. A great roar of pleasure issued from the gods and rumbled through the morning sky.
And then a hawk swooped into the burning embers of the fire and was scorched a charcoal black; it emerged at once with a glowing, ash-colored ball of fire held in its beak. And this it carried to the sky and placed beside the Sun.
Thus the cowardly God of Snails became the Moon.
The gods were angry with the feeble Moon and one flung a rabbit at him -- the nearest thing at hand. The rabbit flew straight and true, striking the Moon full in the face. Ever since, when the Moon is full, you may see the scars left by the rabbit's long ears and flying feet.
As the Sun makes her journey around the world, bringing warmth and light, the Moon sets off in vain pursuit. But he is always slow to start; and when, cold and weary, he reaches the west, the Sun has long since set; by now his once-fine robes have turned to tatters.
That is the story of the fifth and final Sun.
(Retold by James Riordan)
(R) thedailystar.net 2007