Lord Herrington stepped up to the podium, gazing out at his audience. The usual learned men of London had gathered for the Royal Society’s monthly presentation, but he also saw a multitude of members of the public in the audience as well, looking eagerly up at him.
With a sigh, Lord Herrington resisted the urge to reach up and adjust his pince-nez. Word of his return from the New World had traveled quickly, making him something of a celebrity among those with an adventurous mindset. They’d come tonight to here him tell his tale, hoping for glimpses of another world, one far beyond their own humdrum lives.
He intended to speak of his observations on the biological variations in life, but he sensed his audience’s hunger for more. They didn’t want to hear about varying adaptations in the hooves of Cervidates to adapt to the moist jungle environment.
So as he wound down his speech, Lord Herrington decided to throw a bone to these common folks who had come out to hear him speak. Perhaps, he thought to himself, he could ensure that they did not leave completely disappointed.
“And so, as I conclude, I want to share a legend that comes from the New World,” he spoke up, noting how several sagging heads in the audience perked up at the mention of a legend. Yes, this was what they wanted.
Herrington smiled a little,his eyes growing slightly misty as he remembered the stream rising up from the sea in midday, the calls of men as they bent their backs over their hollow log canoes. He’d gone out with them, watched their lives unfold, learned about the intrigue and scandal and stories of their little village. And they, eventually, opened up to him with their stories.
“There is an island,” he went on, “known as Isla De La Plata, off the far coast of Ecuador, on the far shores of the sea we know as the Pacific. The island is far smaller than our own, and tough for adventurers to find, as it is oft shrouded in mist.”
Herrington looked up from his podium, his eyes sparkling as he looked around at the audience. “But even more than that – the guide who brought me to Isla De La Plata claims that it moves, and this is why only those from its shore can ever find their way back.”
For just a moment, Herrington let the idea dance in the minds of his audience. “Of course, an island does not move, being a thing of unthinking rock,” he went on after a beat, bringing them back down to reality. “But on my visit to Isla De La Plata, I asked the elders about this fiction.”
“They told me this story, the same that I now tell to you.”
“Long ago, the elders say, all life lived below the surface of the ocean. There was no land, only water. Many creatures lived in the water, big and small, eating and mating and dying, never seeing anything that could be land.”
“But the god Cipatli, the great crocodile, saw that his many children suffered in the water. They were unable to hide from the other predators, and they appealed to their great father for aid.”
“Cipatli thought long and hard, and he feasted upon many of his offspring to gather his strength. With his great might, he dove to the bottom of the sea, scooping up the mud and raising it up, so that it might offer a barrier, a new land where his children could thrive. But he had nowhere to place the mud.”
“Here, the great Huitzilopochtli-” Herrington struggled with the unfamiliar name, but his audience, spellbound, didn’t seem to notice, “-came to Cipatli, with cunning and a golden tongue. Huitzilopochtli convinced Cipatli to hold up the mud on his own back, to create a shelter for his children. Cipatli agreed, and spread the mud across his great back and rose to the surface of the water.”
“But Huitzilopochtli was a trickster,” Herrington warned, holding up a wagging finger. Several listeners laughed at the little gesture. “And the other gods came up onto the land that was formed from Cipatli’s back, claiming it for their own. Cipatli’s children could not fight them off, for they could not call on the aid of their great father, or they would all drown.”
“Cipatli was very angry at this betrayal, but he knew that, if he sank below the waves, all would perish, and his children would be no better than before. So he instead laid dormant, using his own cunning. He told his children to stay near the water, not to move to land like the other gods and their children.”
Lord Herrington, now just as caught up in the tale as his audience, affected a deep, gravelly tone for the voice of the crocodile god. “‘They have taken the land, that which I sought to give to you,’ Cipatli told his children. ‘But over time, they shall find themselves imprisoned upon that which they leapt to claim. They will no longer be able to survive in the water, while you, my children, shall always have both realms. And to remind them, you will wait in the river banks, and you will feast upon them, dragging them back into the water.'”
“And it was so. Cipatli became the land, and he gave up the land to the other gods – but they, and their children, learned to not stray too near the edge of the water, or Cipatli’s children would reclaim them, pulling them back into the water they had abandoned, where they could not fight.”
Lord Herrington nodded, started to turn away – but then, just as the audience began to clap, he turned back, holding up a hand. “Ah, but the island! I did not finish!” he called out.
“You see, the elders believe that, like Cipatli, some of his children grew so big that they also swam down and scooped up mud, becoming land like their great father. It is on one of these offspring that the natives believe they dwell – but unlike the great state of Cipatli’s hibernation, their offspring still kicks in his sleep, drifting around in the mist.”
Herrington coughed. “The idea of living on the back of an animal is, naturally, quite ridiculous,” he finished. “But then again, the natives are content with their idea. And although you will laugh as you walk back to your homes, imagine standing on the shore of a misty island, gazing out into the lapping waves.”
“Now, imagine that the island began to sink, as Cipatli’s children came to reclaim what once belonged to them.”
Out in the audience, Lord Herrington thought that he saw a shudder begin. He smiled a little to himself. “Thank you for listening,” he called out, as the applause rose up to drown him.