Native American Legends
The Guiding Duck and the Lake of Death
A Zuni Legend
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 traveler 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.
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