Almost a decade into this writing experiment, I might be ending it. I am going to post some of my WIP stories for you.
To Christians across the globe, the year was 675 Anno Domini. In the great Mayan city of Palenque, the magnificent city-state second only to Teotihuacan in size and population it was the sixtieth year of the reign of its ruler K’Nich Janaab’ Pakal, who was known as Pakal the Great. But on this day, the aging king of the powerful city-state did not feel great for the first and only time during his long and successful reign. He sat upon his ornate throne which glistened with gemstones that challenged the colors of a rainbow set in that most precious of metals, gold and listened to his advisers with the unfamiliar emotion of worry etched upon his fine features. A cold hard pit formed in his stomach and for the first time in his life he was began to understand what true fear was. This was a new experience for him, and he was sure it was something he would have preferred to not know of.
“Sire, we have received word from a runner of the neighboring kingdom of Tikal that the underlings have taken over the city and destroyed the Avenue of the Dead! There is rioting in the streets and many thousands of the priests and nobles are dead! The Gods have turned their backs on the city and left it without water for many years, and now there is no food to be found there as well. Sire, we fear they will next come here, and bring their pestilence with them. We are struggling to live as well. The Gods have not forsaken us as they did Teotihuacan, but if their population comes they will bring the disfavor of the Gods with them. What shall we do, Sire?”
Pakal the Great was known as such because of his wisdom and the fact that the people of Palenque loved him due to his general benevolence in a time which saw mass sacrifices in their sister cities. It was his belief that their Gods would be just as satisfied with a sacrifice of a slave captured during a raid as they would be with a member of his city. He thought hard upon this thorny problem before answering.
“We shall take these castoffs as sacrificial lambs to our Gods as they arrive in our city; that will serve a dual purpose. First, they shall be sent to meet our Gods in person and beg mercy from them for their sins which destroyed their city. Second, by becoming a sacrifice they will be taking the place of our citizens. This will allow our citizens to not focus on the troubles within our city walls. But this will not hold their attention long; we must find a way to have our subjects look outward towards a goal, rather than dwelling upon the problems within. They must know we are attempting to appease the Gods so we do not feel their wrath as Tikal has done. But what are we to do?” Pakal began to stride across the throne room, thinking and speaking to himself as he walked. He found this had a calming effect upon his mind and often created a fertile environment where ideas took root. He strode across the floor, muttering to himself as he drew in the scents of incense which burned in the room. As he walked he felt the beginning of an idea form, something on the edge of his senses but not close enough to grasp. Then suddenly, the thought struck him clearly and he knew instantly it was a right choice. Stopping abruptly, he turned to face his priests and advisors and said “I say we will not allow the filth of Tikal within our gates lest they be sent directly to the great Temple to satiate the blood needs of the Gods. Also, we must expand our boundaries in such a way as to bring in more food, wine, and trade goods. We will have a journey undertaken by the very best of our warriors. This we will do immediately!”
The advisors heaped praise upon Pakal. “Oh King Pakal, Pakal the Great! Surely you are the wisest King of all the city states of the Mayan peoples! This will be done in accordance with your wishes! We will gather the people together on the morrow so you can announce this great journey to them!” Prostrating themselves on the floor, they slowly backed out of the room, leaving Pakal alone with his thoughts. He knew this journey would help to dissuade the fear of the people, and by rendering the troublesome people of Tikal to become so much human sacrifice he would be eliminating a possible uprising in the making. But he was still troubled by the fact that the drought had affected his city as well. No relief had come, regardless of how many prayers had been sent to the Gods and sacrifices that had been made in their honor. True, it was not yet as bad as Tikal but he feared it would continue to grow, and with the drought continuing, the unrest would continue, as well.
The next morning he stood high above the people on the top of the Great Temple. All eyes were on Pakal the Great as he stood on the raised dais looking down on the assemblage, watching as they waited to hear his words. He was dressed in his finest robes, resplendent with gold threads, jewels of every hue and a headpiece fashioned from gold in the design of a lunging, snarling jaguar which featured blood red carnelians for eyes. As he stood waiting, the sun broke over the treetops and struck him squarely thus sending rays of light streaming outward from him as he silently waited, gathering his thoughts for what he was about to say to those waiting below. There was a dull roar as they milled about below the dais, trying to anticipate what he had to say to them; in their world everything depended upon what he thought, said, directed. Fear, anticipation, and excitement coursed through the crowd as he raised his hands to still the murmuring.
“Hear me, People of Palenque! Know that I, Pakal the Great, ruler of Palenque, Chosen One of the Gods of your forefathers, demand this of you! A contest shall be held in my honor to determine who will be chosen to go forth on a great journey to spread the word of my greatness, and to add to the land that is the Mayan kingdom! This contest is to be held on the feast of Dzun. One thousand warriors will be chosen: the fleetest, strongest, and most fearless from among you. This is to be a great honor. Go forth and spread the word to all corners of our land. Hear me!”
The roar from the crowd below drowned out any further words he had to say. With this, he waved once more and turned to return to his chambers. Outside, the commotion continued for some time before the crowd began to disperse. Runners were sent out the next day, bearing word of the great contest to be held. Long before they returned people from outlying areas had moved closer to the city and set up their camps, awaiting the celebration. The people had heard of the misfortune of Tikal and feared the same fate would befall their fair city. If such a catastrophe were to come they knew human sacrifices would increase, taking not only the slaves and captives, but the citizens of Palenque as well. They fervently prayed to the gods to send the rain from the heavens so they could plant the maize that was their lifeblood. Without it, they would surely perish the same as Teotihuacan.
The day of the games finally arrived. There were several thousand men in the city bent on qualifying for the journey to the undiscovered country. Wrestling matches, races to find the fleetest of foot, archery contests, all to find the greatest warriors of the Mayan city of Palenque. For many hours the contests went on, watched over carefully by the priests of the city. Pakal watched over the contests, as well; although he held court far above the floor of the city. Finally, after several days and nights, the final contests were completed and the winners announced by the glow of a massive bonfire. Standing high above the assemblage, Pakal addressed them all. “Citizens of Palenque! Meet your champions! The greatest warriors of our city! These are the ones which will carry our names with them as they leave to travel into the unknown world and claim more of that land in my name! Pakal the Great shall be known everywhere as the ruler of Palenque, as a god walking upon the earth, and as the greatest Mayan ruler of all time. Feast now, and then revel in your victory! In seven days, you shall depart on a journey to places not dreamed of by any in this city!”
One week later, the champions had gathered as much food and weaponry as they could carry, said their farewells and marched off in search of a world none of them had any idea how to find. The citizens of Palenque turned out en masse to see their champions off. The warriors wore their finest, all decked out in feathered capes made from exotic birds, many decorated with gold and jewels and carrying their weapons as they marched out of the city to the greatest fanfare they had ever know. Armed with instructions handed down to them from the priests at Pakal’s directions they marched out of the city, never to be seen or heard from again; lost to all that they knew, to their friends and family and to history. Within a few years the great ruler Pakal had died, and the city began to fall apart. His sons attempted to carry on his rule; first one, then the other. But the drought that had laid low other Mayan cities eventually caused Palenque to fall as well. The jungle overtook the city, and those who remained either died or moved on to another city.
Once the warriors left Palenque the priest designated to lead them, Dakhu, headed north for thirty days. There was an abundance of food to be found along the way and spirits were running high. These were the finest warriors their nation had to offer and they moved quickly, often making close to forty miles in a day. They encountered several rivers and saw few other Mayan’s, but no great abundance of people was seen. Finally, they came to a great desert. Dakhu made a fateful decision at that time. He had heard of a civilization to the West; they could go no farther North; and they had come from the South; so, they turned East. East, towards the rising sun; East to a place none knew of and where they would disappear in time; East, to an unknown fate.
After many weeks of steady marching the group came upon a great canyon. This land was ancient and the canyon, while still wide and deep, had run its course and had long ago begun to wear down. They made a camp in this canyon, prepared to spend the coming winter gathering food for their sustenance. Deer, elk, bison and bear flourished here. There was a great tall bird that walked on its legs and ran faster than a man could run. It had a beard that hung down from its chest and once one had been taken and cooked they found its flesh to be wonderful. The Mayans had never before seen a bison and the great shaggy beasts were intimidating to them. It took a great deal of effort to learn how to bring one down but once down the carcass could feed many warriors easily and the hides could be made into robes. After one successful hunt the warriors heard some warlike cries approaching them. Gathering their weapons they made ready to defend themselves. What came into view was a massive tribe of Seneca warriors and they fell upon the Mayans with a fury. The Seneca’s considered this their land and their ferocity caught the normally mighty Mayans off guard. A strategic battle ensued with the Mayans falling back to the banks of the once mighty Buffalo River. The Seneca’s desired to either annihilate the intruders or at the least move them out of their territory. Moving ever downstream a running battle ensued for several days. The Mayans continued running along the river until they came to a seemingly unscalable bluff. Trapped between the deep water of the river and the heights of the bluff, the Seneca Indians thought their prey was in hand and they prepared to close in for what they felt was surely the final battle with everlasting glory to be had by all. With hard smiles upon their countenances and their weapons gripped firmly, they advanced.
One of the advance Mayan scouts shouted that he had found an almost nonexistent trail leading up towards the top of the bluff. Crying out for the others to follow him, he began to scale the bluff higher and higher. When he reached a point nearly three hundred feet above the river a trail could be seen which ran along under a ledge hiding them from above. Nothing but a goat could move easily here but the Mayans had no choice. Moving cautiously they eased along the trail, knowing there was nothing between them and the river below but several hundred feet of empty air. For almost a half a mile they crept before finding a way down. The Seneca refused to travel the trail and instead clambered higher until they came out on top of the bluff. There they ran as fast as they could to try and head off their enemy all to no avail. The Mayans were actually able to increase their lead due to the trees and underbrush the Seneca’s had to move around and through hampering them until they were clawing and hacking their way using their weapons as tools. The last Mayan off the trail stopped for a moment and picked up a rock. He hammered a symbol into the stone to indicate their escape then tossed the rock off into the air, not waiting to hear it land so far below. He then ran to catch up with the others as they searched for a refuge from their pursuers. The Seneca’s eventually found a way back down to the river and took up the chase once more, hounding the Mayan’s until they were backed up into a valley through which flowed a small creek. Trapped by the end of the valley, the Mayans fought valiantly but the mighty Seneca tribe had sent runners to some neighboring tribes seeking assistance in destroying the interlopers. The combined strength of these tribes fell upon the Mayans with a vengeance. Close to nine hundred of the Mayans had fallen before Dakhu located a small cave they could move into and defend. The Seneca’s pinned the Mayans there and fought bravely. But the battle reached a stalemate as the Mayans held the Seneca warriors at bay, and managed to kill enough to cause the Seneca’s to retreat.
Eventually, the remaining Seneca tribe left to return to their homes. They had done their duty in driving off the intruders and killing the vast majority of them. The few that were left would assuredly perish in the coming time of cold. When they left, the Seneca thought no more of them save tales told around a comfortable fire of a great victory over a strange and mighty enemy. They took many trophies from the dead such as cloaks made from multi colored feathers far beyond any the Seneca’s had ever seen before. They also took something which was to play a part in the coming years, a part which would lead to their own destruction: gold and jewels.
Dakhu emerged after the Seneca left to look around the valley. What he saw was a lovely valley with a clear stream flowing through the bottom of it joining up some distance downstream with the river. The river was teeming with fish, and deer and the strange tall bird roamed the bottoms in large numbers. Elk moved through here, as well as the great shaggy Bison. “We will winter here” he said to himself. “In the spring we will make our way back home.” He turned and went back to the cave to his warriors. Gathering them together, he gave them instructions on what to gather before he sent them on their way. He kept a few back to guard the cave’s entrance. A fire was started with some dry tinder and he made a series of torches to light the interior of the cave. It was not large, but did extend back a good ways and would hold all of the remaining warriors comfortably.
Dakhu pointed to two of those warriors who had remained behind, telling them to take up a torch and follow him. He led the way deeper into the cave holding a torch high before him to light the way. The cave extended some hundred feet or so back and was high enough that he need not bend over. Near the rear it sloped down from above to end at a crack several feet in width but too small to fit through. Turning he made his way back to the entrance. As he approached he saw another chamber entrance off to his left. This portion was only some thirty feet deep or so and sloped upwards before it ended in a chamber large enough to hold the remaining Mayans. This would be a good place to sleep, as the entrance was hidden from view from someone entering the cave from outside. Should someone enter the cave they would walk past the entrance not knowing someone could be hidden in the darkness, thus providing a perfect vantage point for an ambush.
Dakhu returned to the main portion of the cave and turned towards the entrance. As he approached it, the firelight flickered off some stones in the wall to his right. Turning towards the flicker he saw two things. First he saw some yellow substance that he quickly identified as gold. Gold! Here in this country! His king would be thrilled with this discovery! The excitement quickly faded as he realized he might never see his home again. Shaking his head, he looked around for more of the ore and saw yet another offshoot of the cave. This one was just above his head in height and ran parallel to the ground some six feet above the floor of the cave and roughly two feet in height. He handed his torch to the man next to him and climbed over the rocks to fall into the hidden chamber. He recovered his torch and turned to examine the room he found himself in.
About ten feet wide, perhaps twenty feet long and ten feet high described the room he found himself in. Along the far wall was a small exit from the room. Walking over, he knelt down and looked down the tunnel. It continued for as far as his light could shine. He told the men he was going to explore a ways, and entered the tunnel. After roughly fifty feet, he was forced to lie down on his stomach and hold the torch before him while he pushed with his toes and pulled with his elbows. The tunnel grew tighter and tighter and had he been a fearful man he would have succumbed to the darkness and fear surrounding him. On and on it went, curving this way and that, up and down until it emptied into another chamber. Standing, he turned and looked around. This chamber was huge! His torch could not light the uppermost reaches of it, and a yell elicited an echo from a long distance away. He wandered around for a bit, taking care to not lose his way out of the chamber. After almost an hour he realized he had found a secure location for his men. It would be some work to move them into here, and to set up a group of torches to light their new home, but a more safe and secure location he would never find.
At the rear of the chamber was a shaft that ran straight up. Standing beneath it, he could look up and see the sky far above him. Continuing on, he found a small spring flowing from a crack in the wall, creating a small creek that flowed across the floor of the cave until it met up with a wall and descended into a crack in the floor.
“Fresh air, water, security. All that we could want for now. Food we will find; there are plenty of animals in the valley to supply all of our needs. We will stay here.” He turned and made his way back out of the cave and to his men. After describing the cave to them, he bade them follow him into the depths of the cave.
Eventually, the Mayan’s secured enough food and hides to survive the winter nicely inside of their new home. They ventured out for supplies when they were required to do so; but by and large they stayed deep within this cave system. Dakhu eventually found another exit from the chamber into yet another cave that wandered around before exiting on the other side of the valley. It was a monastic life; but they lived quietly and time passed. They spent their time digging the gold, hunting and remembering their home from far, far away.
Perhaps two summers had passed before they had any contact with another person. While foraging and hunting one day, the hunting party heard sounds of a small group coming from the top of the next hillside. Settling in to wait and watch, they saw a group of Indian women and children wandering the hillside in search of mushrooms. As they closed on the Mayan warriors, they saw and heard nothing until they were swiftly set upon and captured.
The Mayan warriors brought their captives back the cave and Dakhu. He stood quietly before the band of ten women and a handful of children before he addressed them. In sign language he attempted to get his thoughts across. Their fate was to become part of their tribe; to work for and act as wives for the warrior men. The children were to be raised as Mayan children. With that they were ushered into the cave, never to be seen or heard from in the outside world again.
In later years, the descendants of these Mayans would on one occasion meet an Indian that they did not feel was a threat to them, and ventured to trade with him. He had salt they desired for they were without this spice and desired it greatly. The trader was a wise man and understood he had something precious to this strange tribe and bartered carefully. Eventually a cup fashioned of gold was brought forth, one of the items the Mayans had fashioned for daily use. While they knew the value of gold, they desired the salt in order to cure their meat. Some sign language led to a compromise: the trader would show them where the salt lick was nearby and they would in turn relinquish the cup. The trader knew he had made a good deal and drew a map detailing where the Mayans could find the salt lick. He then left the tribe, continuing south and west and eventually crossing into what would become Mexico. There he traded his golden cup for enough money to last him to the end of his days and therefore halt his travels. He settled down and told his tale of a strange people living far to the north and east who ate from plates of gold and drank from cups of the same substance. He took a wife and had many children, telling the tales of his youth to them and their children before dying of old age in the early 1200’s. Others took up his stories and told of a fabled land teeming with gold far, far away. The directions became confused but the tale of a golden city lived on for many, many years.