The Toltec Arts

I asked the Ahtzic Uinac for leave to speak with Tukumux. It was impermissible to address or speak to a lord’s guards. To do so was tantamount to attempting to ingratiate oneself to them and divide their loyalty from their lord. Should danger strike, a guard’s personal feelings must not prevent him from protecting his master first. To speak to a servant was merely considered an impropriety. The rule for guards was extended to servants when the person was in new circumstances as I was. He told me that Tukumux was not truly his servant and that he was only accompanying them because he was going to introduce him to friends of his who were weavers and traders.

Chahel ran off into the trees after I indicated to her that she should hunt. Tukumux seemed sad to see her go. I had to explain to him that these were her hunting lands. I also told him that I wondered why he was going to see the weavers.

“I did a bad thing, they told me,” he said.

This took me aback because there was not a mean-spirited bone in him. I asked him what he did.

“I did something and I made your sister cry,” he told me.

“To Maricua? Why?”

“No, not Maricua. Marilya. I ruined her hair for the wedding feast.”

Pain shot through my chest. I had not been invited to the celebration. Marilya was the eldest daughter of the eastern wife. She was as beautiful outside as she was horrid on the inside. She was a viper disguised as a woman.

A time before, Maricua had been called upon by the prince of the tribal kingdom, which lived to the east of us. Maricua, with a stick, almost beat the poor man to death. This act was completely outside of her character. Our father was mystified until he learned that the man she wanted was the Cabicacmotz. He arranged for her to marry his brother-in-law. Things were uncertain for a time, but the young man accepted Marilya’s hand instead and everyone was pleased. The prince was, even now, the friend of both Maricua and the Cabicacmotz. I felt sorry for him. A daily beating from Maricua was a kinder fate.

I could easily imagine why Tukumux was in the middle of things. Tukumux might have been a child of innocence, yet he was a genius when it came to spatial puzzles or problems. He could look at a braided hairstyle and understand its intricacies, at a glance. Because of this, his services were in demand by the women of the city. One woman would wear the exclusive hairdo that a personal servant of hers devised. Then other women would become envious and hire Tukumux to replicate it for them. He made enough jade and gold to provide for himself and his parents and keep them all in comfort.

In general, the braiders of hair were our confessors. They provided that spiritual comfort as they helped people keep their hair tidy and presentable. It was an esteemed and well-regarded profession. Its practitioners were trusted for their silence. Indeed, they swore oaths of secrecy before they were allowed to perform their duties.

Tukumux was not a proper confessor, no child of innocence could be. To tarnish the purity or naiveté of these children was seen as a serious transgression. The women were allowed to let him braid their hair, but they could not burden him with their moral dilemmas or divulge their sins to him.

I asked him what he had done to ruin Marilya’s wedding feast as I silently prayed that he be blessed for all of his days.

“I thought she would be happy. She was marrying the eastern prince and his hair is new. You know how the women love the new hair,” he said between sobs.

It was true. The eastern tribe’s prince had an unusual hairstyle when compared to those of our men and women. He had bangs above his eyebrows and his hair did not even reach his shoulder. Instead, it was cut in a rounded shape. Our tribe wore their hair long and braided. The farm workers would shear the hair above their ears to the nape of their necks, but they were another matter.

“I gave her front hair like his,” Tukumux said.

I laughed with delight. I knew I should not, but Marilya had never spoken one kind word to me. Like her mother and the rest of my father’s wives, she would escort my other half-brothers and sisters away when I was around. They learned to avoid and hate me for no reason. Until Hac and Cham, I had no friends of my own age.

“The Ahtzic Uinac says I should have another job.”

“Maybe. I think I need to go back and talk to him again.”

When I returned to the story-master’s side, he asked me if I agreed that Tukumux would do well at weaving. I told him that it was likely since he was gifted at understanding plaits in hair.

“Yes, I think so too. His role is too uncertain with the women. What will he do if they tire of him or a better braider comes along? He takes care of his parents. He should learn a new trade that he can turn to if things go badly for him.”

“Do you think it will?”

“Who can know? The women will probably avoid him until Marilya leaves to go to the east with her husband. Afterwards, they will probably shower him with gifts,” he said with a knowing grin. “She is a difficult woman to like, Zaki.”

Without preamble, he began speaking about our ancestors. “Legend tells us that the first humans were four men: True Jaguar (Iquibalam), Jaguar Night (Balam Aqab), Jaguar of the Tribe (Balam Quitze), and Black Tailless One (Mahohkutihax). These men were almost as gods upon the earth, so great was their knowledge and vision. They would see and they would know. They could see the planets with their eyes. When they spoke to their makers, their speech was clear. They understood. Be aware that the legends also tell us that there was more than one creator involved in the making of man. When they saw how perfect the vision of man was, they discussed it amongst themselves and decided that man’s vision should not be so acute. It had to be diminished. To accomplish this, they divided man in three. When he was body, spirit and dreamer, his sight was hindered. The spirit received the greater part of vision, the body another part and the dreamer received the rest, which was the least of all.”

“The four men went out into the world remembering how wonderful their sight had been. They knew something had been done to them, but they knew not what. They tried everything in their power to regain their sight.”

“Since the jaguar was the most dangerous predator on earth, they deduced that its sight must be the greatest among the animals. They attempted to transform themselves into jaguars in order to benefit from its greater sight.”

“Understand that the life of man had not yet been made finite. Later the powers would correct this, but these men had incredible amounts of time to experiment with to learn to see again. They discovered four ways to increase their sight. Never was it the same, but they discovered the secret to becoming jaguars. They learned to become jaguars by forming and utilizing their double. Each man became a jaguar double through a different method than the others. There are four ways to reach it.”

The Ahtzic Uinac looked around, stopping his story. He told me that we would stop for a time to allow the men to rest and that he would continue his tale later.

For a while, we had been hearing the sound of water. Now it was very loud and close. We entered into a small green clearing with a cataract. Chahel was waiting for us there, daintily picking at a rabbit she had run down. The pool underneath the fall was clean and bluish. It was a welcome sight because of the long walk in the heat. After they had set the palanquin down, all of the attendants and I went to the water’s edge to drink. Tukumux carried a gourd and dipped it into the pool. After it was filled, he took it to the Ahtzic Uinac, who stayed seated on his cushions.

As soon as everyone had drank enough water, half of the men jumped in. Tukumux and I were the last ones in, preferring to enter it slowly. All of us swam around and relaxed in silence, avoiding each other’s eyes. I do not know if the Ahtzic Uinac’s retainers would have spoken among themselves if we had not been there, but I suspected they would not have. They seemed comfortable with the silence. Tukumux was not. Several times, I had to stop him from speaking to the men. A while later, the men left the pool to replace the guards around the story-master and the rest jumped in.

Once we were on our way, the Ahtzic Uinac resumed his tale. “Each of the four men is the grandfather of a lineage. The line consists of men who attain the jaguar double through the same means he used.”

Abruptly, he changed the topic. “Have you learned the hidden meaning to the name the Chuchmox call themselves?” he asked.

The name Chuchmox had two meanings. One was the feeble-minded women and the other was the women of the left. To the outside world, they were considered stupid women, but they were nothing of the sort. The Chuchmox were gazers who watched and protected our territory. Their true name meant women of the left. They had shifted their sense of self to the left side of their bodies. They were warriors, sentries.

I told him that I knew about them.

“Very well. The first of these lineages is that of Iquibalam. We tell outsiders that his name is True Jaguar, but his real name is Dream Jaguar, Ichiq Balam. He reached his knowledge through dreaming.”

“Next, we have Balam Aqab, Jaguar Night. To us, he is Balam Q’abar, Drunken Jaguar. He attained knowledge through intoxication. The intoxication can be from any substance except the mushroom because of the next lineage.”

“Then there is Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar of the Tribe. He is Balam Aqoz, Mushroom Jaguar. The mushroom, which gives man visions, was his means to obtaining his knowledge.”

“Finally, there is Mahohkutihax, the Black Tailless One. His true name is Mahohcuatah, Lord Who Gathers His Twin. His means was his will.”

“When any man attempts to transform himself into another being, one of these methods will be his means to achieving it. It is impossible to know beforehand which method will work for him.” He looked me over and said, “Right now, we can probably exclude the mushroom since none of the omens at the festival indicated that you should learn about the mushroom. More likely one of the other methods will work. You are learning dreaming, you are ingesting the weed, and my son and the Cabicacmotz will show you how to tune your will. Their work will be undermined by your use of the seven-pronged weed, but it is still a possibility. Of course, if none of these other methods work, you will be compelled to use the mushroom.”

“Are you saying that the Balam Ch’ab will only teach me to become a jaguar through the method of Mahohcuatah?”

The Ahtzic Uinac placed his chin in his palm and thought for a few moments. “Yes, that is what I am saying. Do not worry, though, his methods will prepare you well to become a jaguar no matter which lineage you eventually fall in to. Not all of his men are of his same line. He is simply the leader of the Jaguar Knights. The men who can transform into jaguars are called the Balam Qotih, the Double Jaguars, regardless of which lineage they come from. All such men are required to work as Jaguar Knights. The means are not important, the goal is. The exercises he will make you perform will affect your thoughts while under the weed and they will be memorable enough that you will recall them in your dreaming. We are all interested in seeing which lineage will claim you.”

“If the Balam Ch’ab belongs to the lineage of Mahocuatah, the line that uses the will, why then was he spotted and with a tail?” I asked.

He laughed at my question, as if it was the question of a young child. “That was how the grandfather of the lineage appeared when he formed his double. It does not mean that his whole line will be the same way. When a man uses the will to change, he must keep in mind all of the qualities of the jaguar. Perhaps he was enchanted by the loveliness of the dark jaguar. Personally, I believe that he chose it because it requires less thought and he would not have to use extra energy in willing his spots into existence. The same thing probably happened with his tail, he did not consider it worthy of the energy it took to form it. Our Jaguar Knights have come very far in their art since those days.”

The trees gave way and before us was a wall of stone, taller than the height of a man. We walked a little ways and saw the Balam Ch’ab seated on top of it. There did not seem to be any gate. He looked me in the eye and nodded. He did not smile or welcome me. He reached behind him, threw a rope ladder down the wall, and climbed down.

“Go into the training camp and wait for me,” he told me. “I must greet my father and see him off.”

Chahel leaped up to the rounded top of the wall. She growled, as she seemed to slip or lose her footing. Then she was lost to sight behind the wall.

I said goodbye to the Ahtzic Uinac and Tukumux. Then I climbed into the camp.

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