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The Guiding Duck And The Lake Of Death

Source: Myths And Legends Of California And The Old Southwest

Zuni (New Mexico)

Now K-yak-lu, the all-hearing and wise of speech, all alone had been
journeying afar in the North Land of cold and white loneliness. He was
lost, for the world in which he wandered was buried in the snow which
lies spread there forever. So cold he was that his face became wan and
white from the frozen mists of his own breath, white as become all
creatures who dwell there. So cold at night and dreary of heart, so lost
by day and blinded by the light was he that he wept, and died of heart
and became transformed as are the gods. Yet his lips called continually
and his voice grew shrill and dry-sounding, like the voice of far-flying
water-fowl. As he cried, wandering blindly, the water birds flocking
around him peered curiously at him, calling meanwhile to their comrades.
But wise though he was of all speeches, and their meanings plain to him,
yet none told him the way to his country and people.

Now the Duck heard his cry and it was like her own. She was of all
regions the traveller and searcher, knowing all the ways, whether above
or below the waters, whether in the north, the west, the south, or the
east, and was the most knowing of all creatures. Thus the wisdom of the
one understood the knowledge of the other.

And the All-wise cried to her, "The mountains are white and the valleys;
all plains are like others in whiteness, and even the light of our
Father the Sun, makes all ways more hidden of whiteness! In brightness
my eyes see but darkness."

The Duck answered:

"Think no longer sad thoughts. Thou hearest all as I see all. Give me
tinkling shells from thy girdle and place them on my neck and in my
beak. I may guide thee with my seeing if thou hear and follow my trail.
Well I know the way to thy country. Each year I lead thither the wild
geese and the cranes who flee there as winter follows."

So the All-wise placed his talking shells on the neck of the Duck, and
the singing shells in her beak, and though painfully and lamely, yet he
followed the sound she made with the shells. From place to place with
swift flight she sped, then awaiting him, ducking her head that the
shells might call loudly. By and by they came to the country of thick
rains and mists on the borders of the Snow World, and passed from water
to water, until wider water lay in their path. In vain the Duck called
and jingled the shells from the midst of the waters. K-yak-lu could
neither swim nor fly as could the Duck.

Now the Rainbow-worm was near in that land of mists and waters and he
heard the sound of the sacred shells.

"These be my grandchildren," he said, and called, "Why mourn ye? Give me
plumes of the spaces. I will bear you on my shoulders."

Then the All-wise took two of the lightest plumewands, and the Duck her
two strong feathers. And he fastened them together and breathed on them
while the Rainbow-worm drew near. The Rainbow unbent himself that
K-yak-lu might mount, then he arched himself high among the clouds. Like
an arrow he straightened himself forward, and followed until his face
looked into the Lake of the Ancients. And there the All-wise descended,
and sat there alone, in the plain beyond the mountains. The Duck had
spread her wings in flight to the south to take counsel of the gods.

Then the Duck, even as the gods had directed, prepared a litter of poles
and reeds, and before the morning came, with the litter they went,
singing a quaint and pleasant song, down the northern plain. And when
they found the All-wise, he looked upon them in the starlight and wept.
But the father of the gods stood over him and chanted the sad dirge
rite. Then K-yak-lu sat down in the great soft litter they bore for him.

They lifted it upon their shoulders, bearing it lightly, singing loudly
as they went, to the shores of the deep black lake, where gleamed from
the middle the lights of the dead.

Out over the magic ladder of rushes and canes which reared itself over
the water, they bore him. And K-yak-lu, scattering sacred prayer meal
before him, stepped down the way, slowly, like a blind man. No sooner
had he taken four steps than the ladder lowered into the deep. And the
All-wise entered the council room of the gods.

The gods sent out their runners, to summon all beings, and called in
dancers for the Dance of Good. And with these came the little ones who
had sunk beneath the waters, well and beautiful and all seemingly clad
in cotton mantles and precious neck jewels.

Next: The Boy Who Became A God

Previous: Sand Painting Of The Song-hunter

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