MAYA LORD

    Chapter 10

    A few days later, the al holpop pulled aside Gonzalo, Ah Mochan, Ah Nican, Ah Natzom, Ah Ziyah and two others
    who were among the older youth. “You are all as ready as I think you can be without experience. We’re going to
    raid Xoctum tomorrow and you will take part. You will go back to the longhouse tonight with these swords. There
    are no plain wooden edges here.”

    “I don’t know much about the way you do battle, beyond the hand-to-hand fighting,” said Gonzalo, only a trace of
    hesitation in his voice.

    “You will only need to listen to your leaders. The nacom, the chief and I decide the plan.” He looked around at all
    six.    

    “But you can know that the fighting will be a frontal assault and it will be hand to hand. I can also tell you this will
    not be a small raid. We have to show them we are in control.” His voice quickened, hardened. “We want the kind
    of captives that will ensure they will not attack us again.” Pausing, he added, “Now go and get yourselves ready
    like the other men.”

    An outright war, thought Gonzalo. Jeronimo had known something, then. But why should the priest wonder if he, a
    soldier, would be ready for fighting, or even death? If he died, at least it wouldn’t be as some slave plowed into the
    field from overwork.

    Back at the longhouse that night seven young men lit incense burners and offered special prayers to the god of
    war. They spread oily red circles around their eyes, adding to the dark body paint they already wore. At dawn,
    Gonzalo and the others took heavy strips of cloth the al holpop had handed out and twisted them around their
    chests and upper bodies for protection.

    “Even though you’ve killed men, Gonzalo, it was as a slave,” said Ah Natzom, looking down at his arm as he
    wrapped it.

    “So you have no jawbones to wear on your arms. But maybe today we’ll all have them, or someone else will be
    wearing our teeth for a trinket, right?”

    The others forced a smile. The day crept by. The al holpop had not told them when to assemble at the nacom’s
    home, and it was afternoon before he summoned them. The plan was to arrive as the enemy village prepared for
    its evening meal. There would be two parties. One would circle to the south and attack the outskirts of the town to
    draw as much attention as possible. The larger force would then march straight in on the main trail. It struck
    Gonzalo as simple but effective, a sort of reverse twist.

    As they walked toward battle, they were led by the al holpop and two men who carried long poles decorated with
    quetzal feathers and a carved jade figure at the top. The pace quickened after they crossed the row of small hills
    leading toward Xoctum. Gonzalo knew they were within a few miles. The ground was more swampy, and there was
    more matted growth on the little-used path. Crowded images tore through his mind—a line of men and women in
    rags stumbling along the same route, a torch-lit temple, an altar, a black knife, an ax bringing vengeance.

    They began to trot, and then they were running toward battle. His heart pounding, his breath coming hard but
    steady, Gonzalo was ready. There was only the sense of battle, the fear of it, the elation of it as it comes to the
    warrior, and the forest was no longer trees and leaves to him but a vision of sunlight and patches of darkness
    filled with the rhythmic thudding of feet and heavy breathing and the sound of his own heartbeat—and other forms
    were moving and flashing beside him, arms and legs and rattling weapons—he saw no enemy, knew no fear but
    heard sounds of the forest noises in the brush, and he felt the coming conflict close in around him—his temples
    pounded like in the battles in Darien, like in the night with the girl in the longhouse, like in the night by the ceiba
    tree at the sacrifice—his eyes focused on nothing but he saw everything—he saw the men running, saw the green
    feathered standard fall, saw the men before him pitch forward, heard their groans, and felt the ground give way.

    Overhead there was the hiss of arrows, more groans and shouts. Gonzalo realized he was in a pit with five others
    near the head of the war party. They had crashed through a trap. Three were impaled on spikes and dead, one
    other was injured. Gonzalo had survived by being one of the last to fall, the al holpop by hurtling himself over the
    loose thatch before dropping into the far side of the pit.

    Another barrage of arrows whistled above them. But the other warriors from Xamancann had already lunged into
    the brush and were fighting hand-to-hand with the enemy, who were armed mostly with bows and arrows. They
    had been hiding behind an ambuscade of poles and thatch just beyond the trap but there were not enough of
    them to hold off the attack and they were not armed for this kind of fighting. Still, a few escaped through the
    swamp before the attackers took the ground.

    The al holpop was enraged. He realized they had been spotted well ahead, so there would be no surprise now.
    But they had to go on. He barked orders to those above. They pulled the survivors from the pit, left the dead and
    injured by the path with one man to tend them, and began the race again.
    Gonzalo ran on now, knowing the enemy was ready, seeing in his mind the fighting to come. There had been just
    a moment to think but no time to reconsider, no desire anyway to turn back. When they got to the outskirts of
    town, the forest thinned, and they could see the enemy had not had a chance to set up another ambush. The
    town did not seem ready for a full-scale attack.

    The warriors of Xoctum came straight out from the center of the village, firing arrows and spears, drawing swords
    and copper and stone axes, rushing together against the attackers. The fighting was furious enough but the
    carnage was not overwhelming, since the stone-edged swords and the arrows wounded many but killed few
    outright. The invaders pushed their way toward the center as the defenders fell back. The enemy was now
    fighting on two fronts, since the nacom had at last arrived with the main force. Gonzalo’s group had only been
    intended as a diversion. But in part because the Spaniard left his place in the center of the pack and came to the
    front swinging both ax and sword, they pressed the defenders back still further toward the center of the village.

    The attackers either captured or drove off the remaining warriors. They took as captives the enemy’s chieftain,
    nacom, al holpop and several of their priests, along with a dozen or more common warriors and five or six women.
    In the aftermath of the battle, Xamancann’s warriors looted the homes around the main plaza and wandered
    among the dead bodies to hack off jawbones. Before the enemy could have any thought of regrouping, the
    nacom ordered a return to their own village.

    His chest heaving, Gonzalo stood watching the others and looking about the town for more fighting, more
    captives. Now he turned in surprise at the nacom’s order. He spotted the al holpop and ran to his instructor’s side.

    “Why are we leaving now?” he asked. “There’s more booty, more slaves! And the village, the village can be
    destroyed.”

    The al holpop looked at him blankly, “For what? We have what we need. We can support only so many slaves.
    We have enough leaders for sacrifice. It will be a long time before they dare attack us again.”

    “But...”

    The al holpop stopped abruptly and faced Gonzalo. His anger was moderated by his knowledge that this bearded
    man had not been taught from his childhood, was only now learning.

    “The gods would surely punish such excess, such greed. They’ve given us what we want. There is no need to
    cause further suffering and destruction.”

    Gonzalo turned his back on the desolation in the village and fell in with the others marching back to Xamancann,
    where they would celebrate their victory and give proper thanks to the gods who ordained it.

    One group of warriors was sent back along the southern trail to pick up the dead and wounded who had been left
    back at the site of the ambush. When Gonzalo and the others arrived at the longhouse without Ah Mochan, the
    young men who had been left behind were silent but noted his absence. About an hour later, while the warriors
    were telling their friends details of the successful raid, Ah Mochan was carried in by two other warriors and laid on
    his pallet. An arrow had struck deep into his stomach. Back on the path near the enemy village, waiting for the
    return of the other fighters, Ah Ziyah, the least injured of the wounded, had tried to work the arrow out. He
    succeeded but the point had stayed in. This was seen as a bad omen. The ah men was called along with the
    young man’s father and mother.

    Gonzalo watched closely as the ah men made a poultice of leaves mashed together with a small egg of some kind
    and fluids that looked like urine and blood. The priest rubbed it into the wound, and then lit three burners of
    copal. “Oh, mighty Ah Puch, lord of death, take not Ah Mochan. Let him continue to see the light, to serve you
    and to sacrifice to you. Give him health, Kinich Ahau and Ix Chel. He will pray to you.”

    Ah Mochan stirred. The coolness of the shade, the smell of the incense, the chanted prayer—whatever aroused
    him, he looked at the ah men and at his comrades, then stared ahead toward his parents and back at the
    underside of the thatched roof with pools of smoke circling under it.

    The priest leaned over. “Young Ah Mochan, you must confess the evil you have done in this life. You must
    account yourself with the gods so they will have nothing to hold against you. Tell me your wrongs.”

    Ah Mochan’s eyes moved, only his eyes. He looked at the old man, then back at the ceiling for a long time. Finally
    he spoke, slowly, deliberately. “In practice for war, I cut a comrade badly on purpose because he slighted me...I
    stole a fish from a neighbor’s drying pole....”

    Gonzalo turned away and looked off into the growing dusk toward the impatient jungle beginning to spread again
    into the clearing behind the longhouse. He did not want to hear the rest. Later, several slaves carried Ah Mochan
    to his parents’ home. He died there two days later, a few hours before dawn.

    Gonzalo looked on in embarrassed silence when Ah Mochan’s father came to the longhouse to collect his son’s
    belongings, which, Ah Ziyah explained, would be buried with the young man under the family home.

    “The women of his family will weep quietly for him today,” said Ah Nican after the father had gone, “but tonight we’
    ll hear loud wails, and his mother may cut off one of her fingers to put in his grave.”

    “That’s terrible,” said Gonzalo.

    “No, it is correct,” said Ah Ziyah. “She has lost a part of herself.”

    “Yes, Zi,” said Ah Balam, “and he will be rewarded by the gods for the way he died.”

    They all rose together then to burn their copal and say their morning prayers. Gonzalo, as usual, did not so much
    pray as let his mind wander. He saw images of the battle. He tried not to think about Ah Mochan’s death. He hadn’
    t liked the young man but he was sorry to see a brave soldier die. Despite all he had been through the past few
    days, he now sat gazing quietly at the curls of smoke rising from his burner and felt more at ease in his new life,
    following his new routine. He didn’t think things were so different or so much worse for him than before he fell into
    Maya hands. A soldier was a soldier. The men around him prayed, sinned and confessed, fought and died.

    While Gonzalo followed his morning rite, his countryman sat with the slave Ah Kun on the same shore where
    Jeronimo had fished his first day in Xamancann. They had been up for hours.  Jeronimo and Ah Kun already had
    more free time since the arrival of the new slaves and today, with the chief’s permission, they had gone to fish for
    themselves. Their small basket full, the nets put away, they rested before starting the long walk back to the village.

    “One of Gonzalo’s fellow warriors died in the night,” said Ah Kun.

    “I know,” replied Jeronimo. “Ah Mochan Mac.”

    “Well, he is in heaven now,” observed the slave languidly.

    “Heaven? Why do you say that?” asked Jeronimo. “From the little I saw of him, he was mean spirited. Just being a
    heathen alone will keep him from seeing the face of my Lord. But I’d think his kind would be more worthy of
    punishment than reward, even in your religion.”

    Ah Kun stared at the sea, unperturbed by the priest’s outburst. “Jeronimo, surely you know that, having died in
    battle,

    Ah Mochan is guaranteed paradise.”

    “But his other actions,” insisted Jeronimo, “his lack of moral character.” He heard his voice rise and was somewhat
    surprised himself at his strident tone. “Isn’t an evil man punished, a good man rewarded after death?”

    Ah Kun shook his head more in confusion than disbelief. “Good, evil, what do these mean to the gods?” He
    looked down at his own worn hands, then at Jeronimo. “The gods reward those who obey the priests and follow
    the prescribed rites. Failure in that is what brings their displeasure.”

    Jeronimo stood and lifted the basket. “Ah Kun, my friend, if you still believe such nonsense, I may as well despair.”

    And Ah Kun, amused but a little hurt, rose to walk with Jeronimo back to the duties of their shared slavery in
    Xamancann.      

Maya Lord  Maya Lord  Maya Lord  Maya lord  Maya lord  Maya Lord  Maya Lord
Maya Lord  Maya Lord  Maya Lord  Maya lord  Maya lord  Maya Lord  Maya Lord
Maya Lord  Maya Lord  Maya Lord  Maya lord  Maya lord  Maya Lord  Maya Lord
Maya Lord  Maya Lord  Maya Lord  Maya lord  Maya lord  Maya Lord  Maya Lord