The Toltec Arts

Posts tagged ‘Quetzalcoatl’

Prologue & Chapter 1 (Formal Edit 1) – ReBlogged

PROLOGUE (Formal Edit 1)

Without apotheosis, immortality is worthless. People imagine they would love eternity on earth, ignoring the certainty of tedium and loneliness. The woman whose looks are fading desires an immortal lover to make her like him. The young, who know youth is better than old age, crave immortal transformation. If they look into their hearts, however, they will find that the wish is more about lording it over others. People will kill to receive immortality, but they will butcher for power.

Immortality is not a gift; though, it is an attainment. No one can steal it or sell it; all they can do with it is to teach it to others. No easy methods exist to prolong life. Fifteen years of intensive training were necessary for me to understand how it was possible and more to learn how to do it; it is an art, a Toltec art.

To extend life, basic steps are necessary. We transformed our inner selves before we could make real gains. Our teachers were experts of the heart and mind of man. They showed us how to control our thoughts, feelings and actions. Without that base, man has no chance to become more than he is. Someone who cannot govern the words he allows to escape his mouth cannot command his will.

Today, morality seems out of mode. Yet man has no chance for real power unless he transforms himself into a being of compassion and kindness.

In our tribe, the elders aimed their teachings to the three parts of man: the body, the spirit, and the dreamer. To be a Toltec was to be a lord of the life force. Being a lord of the life force meant that a man controlled all three parts of him and became what the Creator intended, a being who could traverse the three realms. Heaven, all of earth, and the underworld were attainable to us. So was immortality.

We can sustain our lives and choose when to die. Death is a choice. Some accept it and others refuse its touch. We learned to deny it. Perhaps modern man is wiser than we were for never trying to escape death. Death is a friend, at times. I had eons upon the earth to learn that lesson. My time came and went and I have returned.

If a man has an incarnation lasting lifetimes of time and dies, the universe sends him back for one further incarnation. In that life, he must achieve what my lord taught me. He must bring forth the precious twin. Apotheosis occurs when the man commands his body, spirit, and dreamer. They become one and a man is the precious twin. Immortality takes power, but when man is the twin, he is power.

Only then, is it wise to grasp immortality; it was precipitous to reach for it when I did. Now I know that twinning must precede the prolongation of life. Without the twin, time strands a man in a desert, cut off from an ever-flowing river of sustenance. He becomes the starved lizard who must eat his own tail to survive. That survival is finite.

I have already remembered myself and am able to bring it forth from me, for I am the first disciple of the Precious Twin, Lord Quitzalcuat. I am Zaki Raxa Palo.

CHAPTER ONE (Formal Edit 1)

When the experiment at Tulan failed, the Creator cursed our endeavor by scrambling the speech of the tribes. Each tribe knew they must flee in all directions and never see each other again. Before they disbanded fully, the tribes were able to agree upon one symbol of their knowledge, which they could use to identify each other in the future, should they happen to cross paths again. That symbol was the twin boys. In our language, their names were Hunahpu and Xbalanque. All of our knowledge led back to the twins. Perhaps they were real, most likely they were not, but the boys were a subterfuge that contained hidden truths about the nature of man and the power he could attain if he followed specific steps.

We were the Toltecs and we knew how to apply those steps. Now, we were poised to break our secrets open and teach them to the foreign tribes around us. We would teach them about the twin. Knowledge that belonged to the tribes from the citadel of Tulan, we would share with those around us.

Our own tribe had long ago splintered. Recently, we learned that they were still alive and misusing their knowledge to subjugate and dominate the peoples around them. We felt responsible for their continued existence. They worshipped demons disguised as deities. They were idolaters. They were sacrificers of men.

Naualalom, the king, had sent envoys of war to the peoples around us to secure them as allies against the dark ones. Ambassadors and royalty were filing into our city to learn how to protect themselves from our estranged brothers. Pochtecas, landless and itinerant merchants, had also become our allies and were now in our midst. We would make brothers of them all.

So scattered were the original tribes of Tulan that only once had ours heard of the twins from another people. My uncle, the Cabicacmotz, was of a brother tribe. He and his sister shipwrecked on our shores and the tribe accepted them. No one knew where he had come from, not even he. Because the former Cabicacmotz learned that they were from one of the original tribes of Tulan, he was accepted and welcomed into our society. He became the principal teacher of wisdom and the chief advisor to my father, Naualalom.

All children from the noble houses were required to learn with the Cabicacmotz and other teachers. Children from the lower castes would learn alongside us only if an important sign signaled the elders that they must learn how to become lords of the life force. My only friends were from the fieldworker’s class. They were Hac and Cham. Their parents had been elevated to landowners, given a new home and a farm with field hands. To have a child trained to have their genius (naual) emerge was an honor. For me, chance played no role; it was required.

***

Schooling in my day served the same purpose schooling today serves, to give flexibility to the intellect. To be able to think poetically, politically or mathematically gives the mind several tracks in which to choose from when faced with problems. Then, finding a solution through dreaming, movement or gazing supplied the means to deal with life’s troubles. Today, man uses socially acceptable ways to handle the world around him by drawing solely from the mundane. Our means were more esoteric and less constrained than modern man’s methods. In many ways, it was better. We had more possibilities of choice because we were free to draw also from the pool of the sacred and the profane.

The Toltec society was not ideal. None is, but there was beauty and wonder for us. We were wild children in a new world without anyone around to tell us that some things were impossible, that man could not fly. We knew that man could fly because our reality was large and unfettered by the constraints of modern belief. Some things were beyond our abilities, yet we used our perception and wills to prosper and learn what man today has forgotten or never bothered to learn.

The usual endemic problems, which plague any people, we had in abundance ~ the petty cruelties that humans visit upon another that easily break the spirits of the delicate. The ageless play of humanity where the ignorant cast their insults with casualness and the sensitive bear them with utter seriousness was a daily event.

Serious social problems confounded us and we were found wanting. We excelled at savagery. Execution or exile faced male homosexuals, except the most circumspect. Officials locked up adulterous women with the Chuchmox, female warriors, to train them to be faithful wives. I never heard of the males receiving similar instruction. I suspect they received only better advice on how to hide such indiscretions from their wives. If any society has treated men and women the same standard, I do not know of it. Today, it is better, but still unequal.

Modern society teaches its youth to be master merchants, scientists or lawyers. Ours also taught us to become valued members of the tribe. The difference is that our changes concerned three levels and our transformations were true. They taught us to become jaguars, eagles, crows and other animals, while they trained us to be astronomers, warriors, or artisans.

***

At the Festival of Adults, portents determined that I would learn to smoke the seven-pronged leaf from the Etamanel Evan. He was an odd man who dressed like a beggar. His superior, the Tzuhunik, oversaw his instruction, since his slovenly teaching methods were under review. The female sentries, the Chuchmox, would teach me gazing. Ahtoobalvar, a sculptor and a master of the double, was my dreaming teacher. The Cabicacmotz and his teammates, the Jaguars, would teach me how to play the ballgame Bateh and I was an apprentice to my father to learn the art of governance. The one that filled me with fright, though, was the Balam Ch’ab.

On my thirteenth day of instruction in the arts, my appointment was with the Balam Ch’ab. An omen at the festival of Adults had determined that I would learn how to transform myself into a jaguar how he could.

I stood upon one of the temple roofs with the Cabicacmotz and Chahel, my pet jaguar and constant companion, in the early morning. The jungle canopy to the east shaded the barren floor of the complex. The temple tops glinted with a golden hue as if tears of a god had just dripped on them from above. Soon they would come alive like fire. From our vantage point, we could see the fires of the pochtecas who camped in the fields before the jungle. Chuchmox, female sentries, were at their posts, reclined like statues while they kept watch over our lands. Their bright clothing, reflecting their directions, stood out in the shadowed gloom.

I was so nervous that my bowels felt loose. Once again, I questioned the Cabicacmotz about why I had to go and see the Balam Ch’ab. The question never changed and the answer never did, either.

“You must go because a pebble lodged in the heel of your sandal.”

I considered it the feeblest of omens. At the festival, when we were near the Balam Ch’ab’s group, I had to walk on the balls of my feet because of that blasted pebble. The Cabicacmotz explained to me that since the stone had forced me to walk like a jaguar, I was destined to learn that art. Unfortunately, the Balam Ch’ab was the first in his group to see the omen. How I wished the pebble had made me walk on the heels of my feet.

Last night, he had spoken to me at my father’s compound. He did his best to put me at ease, yet I found him too sober and pious. He spoke of many things, like the Creator and his distaste in hearing that I would have lessons with the Etamanel Evan. Being just a boy; I had no defense against his use of words and logic.

When I expressed my lack of faith in the divine because of murder and other things I disliked about the world, he chided me and told me that I was not searching for the Creator, but for a puppet-master.

He said, “You want a god who will protect you from others who are exercising their freewill. You despise the idea of freewill. People talk about how they love having freewill, but that is a lie. Everyone actually would prefer freedom from choice or, at least, freedom from the choices of others. Come to terms with the knowledge that in this world, everything can occur, but the Creator does not sanction everything. We can do anything we please, but that does not make it right. In this world, savagery is possible, but so also is great good. I suppose he has given us autonomy to see what we make of it. Perhaps only through self-governance can we understand his governance.”

His every word appealed to my reason, yet I still felt guilt and anger at growing up without my mother. My mind was a calm sea, rationally taking in everything he said and my heart was a boiling pot, ready to spill liquid and wrath wherever it could. I felt split in two.

When he had shown up at my father’s home, he interrupted a lesson that I was to have with the seven-pronged leaf. He disliked the use of plants, but grudgingly conceded a point to me when I countered his opinions with the example of the Tzuhunik, who spoke and behaved in a clear and orderly manner.

He replied, “I’ve mentioned that plants get you from your everyday awareness to another point of reality so quickly that you can never hope to get there again without the help of the plant. The Tzuhunik has my respect because he has noticed a very important point in the whole process. Plants might get one to another point of reality too fast for one to learn how to do it, but that is not necessarily the true role of plants; it is only one of their drawbacks. Their real role is to provide the possibility of another point.”

I forget the rest of his statements about the weed, but when he saw that I did not understand his point, he clarified it by saying, “Do you see, Zaki? Without plants, man might never conceive that there are other possibilities of being. That is why we need plants. Not because they carry us from everyday reality to extraordinary reality, but because we could never conceive that those states of reality even exist, on our own. That is their gift, possibility.”

His words made me feel better, yet I still knew that the weed might make me lax and weak-willed. I also knew that he would watch me closely to make sure that I did not allow myself to become either.

The Cabicacmotz pulled my attentions back to the temple top. He pointed to a parade of figures in the distance. “Look now; there is the Balam Ch’ab’s father, the Ahtzic Uinac, the master storyteller.”

I saw a palanquin carried by eight men in the group and asked him what it was. Palanquins were seldom used and usually only by visiting royal women. My father had an entourage of guards, but it was his custom to walk in the open.

“The Ahtzic Uinac is a frail and elderly man. He would not be able to get around at all, but for his attendants. To accompany you to see the Balam Ch’ab is beyond his abilities. The training home is deep in the jungle.”

“Why does he need to come along? I do not want to force a man out of his sickbed just to walk into the jungle with me. Why can’t you walk me there?”

The Cabicacmotz looked at me as if I was a fool. After a moment, his face softened and he said, “I forget you are young, Zaki. You never learned how things proceed formally. This is the story-master’s duty. That man has enough will to get out of bed to accompany a prince to his first lesson with his own son, the great Balam Ch’ab. He would never pass along this duty, not even to his named successor. So be polite and listen to everything he says. His story will hold lessons for you regarding the changing of a man into a jaguar.”

He climbed down from the roof of the altar and helped me down.

When I was halfway down the temple, I noticed that he was almost to the base and said, “Uncle, wait for me.”

He looked back with a frown and sat to wait for me. When I reached him, he patted the step he was sitting on to invite me to sit with him. I did. He said, “Zaki, I have been remiss in teaching you formal manners. I told you not to refer to me as your uncle because you would inadvertently do so in front of your fellow students. I am the Cabicacmotz, the blazing star from the Pleiades; refer to me by my title.” He jutted his chin towards the slow moving group we were to meet. “Only call that man Ahtzic Uinac. His time is near; give him the tribute of his title. Do not refer to him in the honorifics of polite social speech. Only use the formal, Ahtzic Uinac. We become our titles. If you do otherwise, you deny him the power of his office and you will diminish his story. In addition, to do otherwise is disrespectful. Do the same with the Balam Ch’ab.”

I was not going to call the Balam Ch’ab anything else. I appreciated the advice. Anything that kept me out of trouble with the man was a worthy activity in my eyes. I nodded and told him that I would do so.

We waited for the palanquin, while we stood before the temple. Pale green cloths that fluttered in the early breeze covered the compartment. I could see that the men chosen to uphold it were all of the same height and build to ensure a smooth ride for the one traveling. When it neared, I heard a man laughing behind the canopy cloths. “What a memory you have, Cabicacmotz.”

“T a kazah r a vach (lower your eyes), and bow your head briefly, Zaki,” the Cabicacmotz whispered to me.

I did what he asked when the child of innocence, Tukumux, parted the curtains to reveal a wizened man with a long white braid. Age and sun wrinkled his face, but still his eyes were sharp and bright.

The old man smiled at me and motioned me with his hand to come closer. “Come, come,” he said. “Let me see you, young prince.”

The closer I came to the palanquin, the more I could smell jasmine. At its threshold, I saw that bits of the vine were scattered around the man. Underneath was the smell of age. Not yet was it the scent, which signals the approach of death.

Again, I did what the Cabicacmotz had told me to do. The Ahtzic Uinac imitated my movements. Then he touched my cheek. His hand was cold and dry, yet soft like a scholar’s palm. “You favor your mother,” he said and looked towards the Cabicacmotz. “Perhaps you will even sprout hair upon your chin like this one did. I see he has tired of using unguents to remove it.”

Unlike the men of my tribe, the Cabicacmotz had a small beard that he kept trimmed close to his face. In the sunlight, it was almost golden, marking him as foreign.

The men exchanged polite words until the Ahtzic Uinac clapped his hands lightly and Tukumux pinned the curtain of the palanquin back. The other attendants set the story-master down and rubbed their hands. Two fresh attendants took hold of the rear bars and lifted them up so the Ahtzic Uinac’s face tilted towards the sky. In the compartment, he stretched his legs and rested them against a foot brace. He seemed to be leaning back when they began dragging the palanquin towards the jungle. “Come, young man. We are off to see my son.”

We left the Cabicacmotz behind. Chahel walked next to Tukumux with his hand on her neck. I should not have been surprised; my cat had many friendships that I was only now learning she had.

“You come from an esteemed line, Zaki,” the Ahtzic Uinac said. “Your father, mother, and uncle have the blood of genius. To assure succession, it is good that the king have more than one wife. In that manner, your uncle can further combine his blood with your father’s blood. Much is expected of you and any offspring he and your sister, Maricua produce.”

The Cabicacmotz was soon to marry my half-sister. She was the first and only child of the first eastern wife that my father married. Unfortunately, Maricua’s mother died before I ever knew her. The current eastern wife was a harridan. When she married my father, she refused to accept Maricua and forced my father to build her a new home. Her property was the East-East home. Maricua and I lived in the West-East home, where she grew up. My mother had loved Maricua and treated her as if she was her own child. My father had thrown protocol to the winds and taken on a fifth wife, my mother. Many in the tribe considered mine a bastard birth even though the sacerdotal chief, before the whole tribe, had united them through the marriage rite.

“When I was a young boy, I watched the famed building engineer, Puch’um Maram, build the temple you and the Cabicacmotz descended.”

His statement excited me. Never had I seen the building of one of the great temples. Even now, in such an early generation, myths guarded the secrets to the building of the temples. The architects and masons were a close-lipped group and deliberately restricted knowledge of proper construction. If someone hoped to learn anything, he had to ask the men who built roofs. The two groups were always at odds and despised each other. The roofers wanted no part in secrets and refused to help the others give themselves airs. I asked him to tell me how they built the temples.

He smiled and said, “In the most obvious way. They used sand.”

“Sand? For what?”

“Think about it. Dragging a large stone with a rope across the ground is another matter entirely from lifting that same stone up steep and narrow steps. Why did you think that the temple complex was so devoid of any greenery? We are on the same level as the jungle, but the jungle is verdant and fertile. Life blooms easily in its soil. Here, it is the barren sand of wastelands and deserts because we see the deep sand, which the temple builders dug up to assist them in their works. They spread it around the construction site and the job was easier for them.”

I told him about a game I played with, when I was a young child, which consisted of small blocks of stone. I often built pyramids with them.

“But did your temples have rooms inside?”

“Only on the top-most level, like these do, did I include rooms.” I always believed that I had built accurate and perfectly formed temples.

He leaned out towards me, beyond the shade of his canopy and whispered, “These do have rooms inside.” He chuckled softly and leaned back when he saw my eyes widen.

Now it was my turn to lean towards him. “What do you mean, Ahtzic Uinac?” I said in a low voice. “Do you mean that they are hollow inside?”

He grimaced and tilted his head side to side as if unsure how to answer my question. “Not completely. Some only have a small room and some have more.” He raised his eyebrows and jutted out his bottom lip. “What do you think about that?”

I was amazed because there were no indications that they were not solid. They had no openings. “What did they put in there? Are they tombs?”

“No, they are not tombs. We utilize the temporary tombs for three days on the topmost level before removing the sarcophagus. After that, we transfer the body to the earth or to flame. Your question would be more apt if you asked me about what they put in there now.”

My speech stuttered when I asked him.

“Two or three priests or acolytes are always at attention within each opening. When they hear a particular noise from their comrades, they push the stone outward and other attendants push the stone back in.”

His statements confounded me. I looked at the temples in fascination. The knowledge that people were in there in the darkness filled me with horror. “What do they do in there?”

“Indeed, that is the question.” His lip curled up in disgust. “Beware of those who call themselves solely by the name of Balam.”

“Do you mean that I should be scared of your son and the Cabicacmotz?” My body was in a state of alarm and the heat of the day could not take away the goose bumps on my arms and neck.

“No. No. I do not mean that. My son is the Balam Ch’ab. The Cabicacmotz plays with the Balami, the Jaguars. No. They are both honorable men and you have nothing to fear from them. No. I mean the priests who call themselves only by the unadorned title of Balam.”

I did not know what to say. Never had I spoken to one of the temple priests. Many times, I had seen them in the marketplace or around the temples. They always wore black and seemed somber and unapproachable. My father disliked them and refused to take any for an advisor. Because of that, there had never been any opportunity for me to meet any of them. From what I had heard, my father was not the only one who disliked them.

We were at the entrance to the pathway into the jungle. The two attendants gently set the palanquin on the ground while eight men prepared to carry it back up. No longer could they drag the conveyance. Level earth was behind us.

 ***

 Although our society expected and often forced individuals to conform, there was a deep appreciation for the different and the unusual. Occasionally children were born with deformities or imperfections. Now, surgery eliminates any indication that the child was born different. Such a thing would have been unthinkable and odious to us. We celebrated it and expected much of those who were born different if their intellects were undiminished.

Dwarfism, in particular, was a fortunate occurrence. The birth of a dwarf was a marvelous omen of luck for the whole tribe. The Zaqui Coxol, the White Sparkstriker, was a famous dwarf in our oral history who had the ability to see into the future. These were not things to be ashamed of; physical manifestations outside of the norm decreed that power touched the child. The name Jaguar Paw or a similar name was common for children born with a clubfoot or malformed hand. Everyone considered the blind, deaf and mute special, especially in esoteric ways because they sensed the world through alternate means. Those who had what is now termed Down’s syndrome or other forms of mental retardation were valued workers because of their sweet manners, ability to focus on detail, and facility in keeping secrets. These people taught diplomacy to our outgoing ambassadors, such was their renown for courteousness. We called them the children of innocence.

Their schooling was more fluid than ours was. Often it would take time to see what their particular strengths were, and then they trained their talent.

Each member of the tribe who was born different was in the thick of things. We discovered many unknown talents that man was capable of through them. We did not marginalize and relegate them to sanitariums or the inside of the parental home. The different did not face contempt or pity; they were simply another member of the tribe. Never did our society engender in them the bitterness that can only adequately express itself through sarcasm.

***

I asked the Ahtzic Uinac for leave to speak with Tukumux.

To address or speak to a lord’s guards was impermissible; to do so was the same as 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 a minor impropriety. Many heated quarrels occurred, though, involving particularly clever servants being enticed away to other houses. The rule for guards 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. No one invited me 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 to look like a woman.

A time before, a prince of the tribal kingdom to the east of us called upon Maricua. She almost beat the poor man to death with a stick. 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 while they helped people keep their hair tidy and presentable; it was an esteemed and well-regarded profession whose practitioners were trusted for their silence. Indeed, they swore oaths of secrecy before they could 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 a serious transgression. The elders allowed the women to employ him for braiding, 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 while I silently prayed for him to receive eternal blessings.

“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.

He spoke the truth. 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 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 excelled 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 like 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. They decided to diminish it. To accomplish this, they divided man in three. When he was body, spirit and dreamer, his sight was imperfect. 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 limited 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. Thus, 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 and 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, dipped it into the pool, and then took it to the Ahtzic Uinac, who stayed seated on his cushions.

When 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 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. No one knows beforehand what 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. Your use of the seven-pronged weed will hinder their efforts, 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 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. Individuality comes into play, though, so 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 the loveliness of the dark jaguar enchanted him. 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. I could not understand why we did not meet him at the gate proper. 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, when she slipped and lost her footing, and then she vanished behind the wall.

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

Jaguars: Initiation (Book 1) Prologue & Chapter 1

PROLOGUE

As the wheel turns in the stone calendar, so also do our collective definitions of truth and humanity. My interest lies in what is beyond the wheel, in what is the origin and finality of our essence. Time does not itself change, but times do. I can attest to it because having retained my awareness for thousands of years, I enjoyed and suffered countless lifetimes. Due to a confluence of events, and more than one deal, the miracle of a new body was granted to me through the vehicle of incarnation.

My previous existence was spent as a seer in the Golden Age of my people, the Toltecs. There, a rare art rendered me nearly immortal. Since man first learned that death lurked, waiting for us all, he has contrived to avoid its touch. My people unraveled the mysteries of longevity and I became the recipient of the secrets of how to prolong my life.

Only one problem confounded me. Immortality is worthless without apotheosis. Man must evolve himself into a power before reaching for immortality. My master, the great Lord Quitzalcuat, understood the timing of such a feat. In my haste, I reached for the prize prematurely. This time within the wheel, I will temper my ambition and pluck the fruit of my labors when it is ripe.

My season upon this earth opened when humans knew the secrets of perception, shape shifting and the fluidity of time. When ziggurats were the storehouses of knowledge and scant wisdom, I danced around, upon and in them. In those days, my people were not savages, but one would not truly call us civilized, either.

Portents and the paths we walked upon determined what our names would be. Strong omens dictated the name that I would be given. I am Zaki Raxa Palo, named for the white churning waters of a sea chilled green by the hurricane that blew through my land at the time of my birth. I refer to myself as Zaki, Raxa, Palo, or other names that I give myself now and again. The names are not important, but the missive is.

Even today, my chosen names must always have meaning and significance, even if it is only personal. To do otherwise would be to sever myself completely from my origins and symbolically repudiate them, to lose myself truly in time. Such a modernity is too progressive for an old-fashioned thing as me. I could not bear it.

Ask me who I am and I will tell you that I am a dreamer who knows the exultation of being the enemy of the creatures of the abyss. As a dreamer, I released my stare upon this world and saw wonders beyond the curtain of my eyes. I have lasted to this day because of my resolve and because I entered the eternal order of those who wage war against the enemies of humankind. Those enemies are called the Xibalbans.

They turn man against man, they use owls as messengers,

they foment sin, wickedness, and cruelty,

they are lords of falseness and hypocrisy,

their true flesh is black and white,

lords of folly, lords of confusion,

as it is stated. They disguise themselves as what we most fear

to despair us, to separate us from hope.

Popol Vuh, Part Three

They are indeed black and white. I know because I have seen them. Their realm is the underworld. Once again they are in our midst and active. They are abominations. The story of how they can be battled must be told. That battle was, eons ago, only capable of being waged by a player on the grand ball-court. Times have changed. The arenas are many.

Now, it is the duty of every member of mankind to fight those beings. The game has already begun. The stone markers are mounted and the ball is in motion. The stands are filled with the fans of the opposing team and few of ours are there to wish our side well.

We are currently losing. We must change that.

We must fear.

The man who fears nothing has never seen Xibalba, and he loves nothing.

PART I – CHAPTER 1

Up in the banyan tree, the jaguar climbed. Silently pacing the wild peccary that lingered beneath the shade, she maintained her position out of its sight.

The peccary sensed danger and pawed the ground with its hooves, tasting the air for predators with its snout. Every few feet, it changed the direction of its path. Beady eyes scanned the jungle beyond the clearing of the banyan, searching to discover the reason for the stillness in the wood.

Undeterred by the peccary’s erratic path, Chahal walked along the massive tree’s limbs. Fluid and sinuous, she flowed through the canopy like ocean water past anemones. Her careful steps did not warn the beast of her approach. Only the atmosphere noted the passing of menace. A careful huntress, she had taken time to rub herself against trunks and branches that the peccary left its scent upon, a hunter’s camouflage.

The banyan she was on possessed seven trunks. Thick lattices of branches connected the differing trunks with a network of walkways up in the air. The clearing they were in bordered the jungle.

Outside of a dense wood, a banyan would ravage and strangle weaker plants. Our banyans were sacred and often their growth was guided to create sanctified earth. Those places abhorred the hunt. This glade, having seven trunks, could only be natural. No priest would fashion a septenary temple. Here, blood could be spilled freely.

Blowgun in hand, I looked up to where I last saw Chahal and could not see her. After having spent a long time looking at the green in the jungle around me as I tracked the peccary, the sun filtering through the leaves distorted my vision and rendered the jaguar invisible. Giving my eyes time to adjust, I saw her perched a man’s length away from the animal, above him. Her yellow fur and black rosettes became discernible only when I focused on them.

Chahal caught my gaze and looked to my left, indicating that I should circle around to cut off the beast’s escape.

The peccary snuffled the ground, using its snout to sniff underneath the fallen leaves.

I waited for the wind before moving beyond the bush where I crouched. Soon the wind would envelope everything in the clearing under the banyan tree. Shadows ghosted among the greenery as I watched it approach the peccary.

The gusting wind stirred the large dry leaves around the beast, giving me audible cover. Hunched low, my feet touched bare ground instead of leaves as I ran watchful of my path. Almost parallel to the peccary’s position, I found myself in mid-stride when the wind died.

“Craaack,” the dry branch, under my foot, sounded.

I grimaced as my extra step disturbed the silence of the jungle.

The peccary took off. Grunting and wild-eyed, it ran my way.

Chahal pounced, missing the beast by two man lengths.

Flustered, I dropped my blowgun. The peccary did not change direction and I realized it was charging me. Hooves pounded the earth in its efforts to escape Chahal. I scrambled up a trunk of the banyan moments before it could gore me to leave me wounded behind for its enemy.

The jaguar growled as she barreled past me after the fleeing swine.

Staying up in the tree for a while, I waited for my heart to calm. A short time later, I spotted my blowgun and various darts on the ground and climbed down to pick them up. After I retrieved them, I looked around and turned to look behind me.

The jaguar sat among the bromeliads, watching me. Calmly she sat, as if the chase had never occurred.

I walked towards her and she stood. Turning her back on me, she led me to the edge of the jungle, where cultivated fields lay nearby. When I stepped on to the plain that marked the boundary between the wild and the domesticated, she left me and returned to her hunts.

I tried to follow her back into the jungle and pushed aside foliage to peer back in, but could not see my cat and sole friend. Skilled though I was with the blowgun in the privacy of our home, the hunt revealed my deficiencies in stealth and action.

She had given me the chance to hunt with her and I spoiled the hunt. Many suns would pass before she allowed me to try to hunt with her again.

I turned to the west, towards my tribe’s lands, and saw our temples glistening beneath the late afternoon sun and made my way alone.

Not yet was I a man. I carried no bounty home.

***

Among my people, a boy became a man when he could survive alone in the jungles or when his body was capable of producing semen. Girls became women when they had their first menses. Manhood and womanhood depended upon the potentiality to reproduce. Every child looked forward to the day when he could enter the fellowship of adults. I was not the exception.

How they precisely knew when a boy became a man is unknown to me. I suspect it was the duty of the matrons, who cleaned my quarters, to check my mat, bedding, and clothing for moisture. They needn’t have bothered. I was so proud of my issue that I took my proof, a soiled loincloth, to my father Naualalom, our king.

“Father. Father. Look. X el nu puz nu naval pa nu varam (I had a wet dream). I’m a man,” I yelled as I ran into the throne room. He was there with his advisors and a common man who had come in for assistance or judgment. The men backed away and grimaced when I passed by them, holding out before me the brown cloth I had worn to sleep, which was still shining with wetness.

The throne room was in an underground cavern, lit by resin torches and perfumed with incense. Various natural shafts led to open air, which allowed fumes to escape. It was a much-coveted room in the cavern system. Some of the other smaller caves smelled dank with stagnant air. Here, however, the air was fresh, easily supporting the flames of torches and incense.

Ornate murals covered the walls. At various paces, large niches were carved into the walls. Some led to passageways and others were solely recesses without any escape. Woven tapestries and large painted cloths blended with the murals. The walls without openings had benches carved into the walls. In the farthest region from the main entrance, my father’s throne stood flush with the wall. The benches stopped two man lengths from the throne, so that its back did not have a recess behind it.

My father sent everyone away, even the guards. When we were alone, he told me, “Ah, you have finally become a man.” Glancing down at the cloth I still held, he laughed. “What a fine thing.” Ruffling my hair, he rejoiced and congratulated me some more.

I loved his laugh. Never was it reticent or restrained. Instead, it was full and rumbled out of him like thunder, causing his belly to shake. He was not an overweight man, but he was stout and had a bit of a paunch. I had not inherited his bones. Instead, I was skinny and slight. His thick hand could wrap both of my wrists easily.

How different we were. Full lips lent color to his round red face. My mouth was smaller and my weight caused my cheekbones to jut out. His brows were straight, lending him a cruel look unless one noticed the playful glint in his eyes. We dressed alike, however, and both wore our hair in long braids that went past our waists. That was typical of the men in my tribe, though, I could not claim it as a true trait that we shared. If I looked more like my father, I would not feel like as strange as I did. How I envied the russet skins of my siblings.

“My son has entered manhood, and overnight, nonetheless. As your father and the first man you told, I am obligated to teach you two things before you go back to your quarters. Are you ready for your first lesson, my son? Here it is. When I am holding counsel, you are not to burst in again as you did today. From now on, you must carry yourself as a man would.”

This was not what I expected. I was crestfallen. Immediate celebration had been what I envisioned. Apparently, that was not to be.

He moved his head back to peer at me. “You are how I was when I was your age. It was a fine thing you did. I would not have had it any other way than for you to be yourself, Zaki. Now, however, you are a man and have been declared as such by the king of your tribe. No, as my son and future heir, you will not be allowed to burst in again as a child would. You will enter as an adult and will observe the customs of conduct, which are used in the places of authority. You will learn all of these things. It is time.”

He stood and seated me upon the throne, a large stone platform cushioned with the symbol of his authority, his ceremonial mat. He knelt on one knee and looked up into my face. “There is a promise you must make me now.”

“What is it, father? Anything you ask, I will do.” I was apprehensive about his solemn demeanor and felt that I would do anything possible to make him smile or feel pleased again.

“You must learn as much as you can and you must come to me whenever there are questions you are too shy to ask others. Do you understand? There will be times when your heart will not allow you to approach or bother another living being. I know this because I was only a bit older than you are now when I first sat upon the grand mat of ruler-ship. My own father passed away soon after I became a man and now all that I have of him are memories of being his child. Few memories do I have of him after I became a man. We are fortunate that I am still here with you. You must come to me whenever you need to discuss what you have learned and seen. Let conversation bind us, as father and son. Allow me this.”

“You will have what you ask, father. You shall be my confessor.”

“I do not need to be your confessor. There are others who will supply that need as they braid your hair. No, I need to be with you as my own father was not with me. It is enough that I can hear from you about everything you learn.”

“Why do you speak of such horrible things, father?” His words about my grandfather pained me; I did not want to think about becoming an orphan. In addition, the superstitious part of me believed that to speak of death was to invite it. My mother died giving birth to me and my only full blood relative was my father. My half-sister, Maricua, raised me and was a mother to me. I had other half-siblings, whom I rarely saw.

“Nonsense. You are now a man. I am telling you to cherish it. Time has the curious quality of forever flowing on, regardless of our presence.”

“Why must we speak of this?” I asked.

“I speak of this because today I have been reminded of how little time we have. I want you to learn and be aware of everything that goes on among our tribe. One day, you will sit upon my mat and rule our people.”

“What happened today?”

“When you ran in here, you reminded me of how I was when I was your age. This led to thoughts of my father.” He paused for a moment, as if weighing his words. “To speak the full truth to you, today my oldest advisor left his body behind. He was the last of my father’s counselors and now he has gone,” he said.

The man he spoke of was an elderly man whom I had seen accompanying him many times. He was kind to me and always produced a sweet treat for me whenever I ran to my father and he was around. I didn’t know his name and regretted never having learned it. It shamed me to ask my father what it was, so I didn’t.

“Now,” he said looking intently at me, “It is customary for me to ask if you have a question for me. My only requirement is that I answer you as if you are truly a man… who you now are, unless you have collected sap from a tree and tried to pass it off as something else.” He winked at me and grinned. “Well?”

His question caught me by surprise. I didn’t know what to ask him, so I asked the first question that floated through my mind. “Why don’t we wear leaves as clothing?”

He looked at me for a few moments and chewed his upper lip. I soon realized that he was trying to keep himself from laughing.

“I don’t know,” he finally said. “If humans were alone in the matter and although I wasn’t there, I would guess that too many people got rashes from the plants. Since man did not know, at first, which ones were bad for wearing, they probably took them haphazardly and experimented with different leaves. Some of those must have been poisonous, of course. Then, we need to broach the subject of dry leaves. They tend to crumble and make great homes for insects. Clothes that cause itching have never tended to be too popular. They aren’t often stylish, either.”

We laughed, he with heartiness and me with embarrassment.

“So?” he asked. “Were you serious when you asked me that question?”

I shook my head and admitted that I hadn’t actually been interested in learning about that, but had not been able to come up with a better question. He laughed until he was hoarse.

Back then, a part of me wanted to be the noble man of rhetoric, but I was far from eloquent. Many days, I would sit anywhere where men congregated, in order to watch them speak. In court, I watched the men argue the merits of certain courses of action or the fates of other people. I admired those who were able to speak well and answer rapidly. Sometimes, I would merely delight in the cadences of their voices without listening attentively to what they said. Their rapidity of speech dazzled me. I yearned for the ability to answer questions and converse without having to mull everything in my mind before I said it. My quickness to answer my father was the result of this wish. I had spoken without the requisite thought that must accompany speech.

He watched me with soft curious eyes. We sat in silence until one of the guards approached to advise my father that he had a visitor.

“Go on, Zaki. Go see your sister, Maricua. Tell her that I will be by later to speak with her. Also, think of another question that you would rather ask of me. It isn’t right that your first question should be without relevance.”

I left. Chahal waited for me at the cavern entrance. People were accustomed to seeing her, yet they gave her a wide berth whenever they had to pass her.

We walked home, side by side.

*******

A festival, celebrating the boys who had become men, occurred once every year. My father would announce to the court that I had reached manhood and they would allow me to attend. It was to take place eight days after I stormed into my father’s court with my dirty undergarments.

There was no end to the relief I felt from not having to wait another year for the festivities. No one of minor age could take part or attend.

Once, when I was younger, I sneaked out to try to see what went on at the festival, but Maricua caught me as I reached the outskirts of the crowd. Well, soon I was to see the whole thing. A sense of exhilaration filled me whenever I imagined being a part of those throngs of tall people celebrating.

In the late afternoons, it was my custom to sit in the walled garden outside of my sleeping quarters. Lush plants, fruit trees, and flowers of intoxicating fragrances were in bloom. The seclusion and quietude of my little orderly wilderness often put me to sleep or led me to reverie.

Chahal lazed under a citrus tree.

The garden led to a larger enclosed area, which ended near the river. Since it was not the rainy season, the water ran warm and sluggish. I took a swim to cool off, but it did not ease my discomfort. It was very hot outside and as soon as I dressed myself again, I was sweating.

When I reached my quarters, twilight was near. Calling Chahal to me, I parted the curtains leading to my rooms and allowed her to enter before me. She seemed to love these little courtesies. How I knew that, I didn’t know, but I was certain of it. It pleased me to pamper her.

Servants had already lit the torches beside the entryways. Somehow, I preferred the evening’s false lights to the sunlight. When the shadows danced along the walls, I would often sit for hours and watch them. That night, however, I didn’t watch shadows on the wall or play with Chahal. I tried to imagine what the festival would be like, when I heard footsteps in the hall.

Maricua and my father came in and sat down in front of me. Her face was flushed and she would not meet my eyes. I had no idea why she was upset. It was rare for her to pout or frown. Her face was alien without her customary grin. Her face was formed for smiles and laughs, only. She held her hands clasped and stared down at them, while my father grinned from ear to ear.

“So, how is our little man?” he asked.

“I am fine. What is happening? Maricua? What is it?”

She would not look at me. Something was definitely wrong and I felt a horrendous sensation of expectancy in the pit of my stomach.

“Oh, Maricua is just worried about you, dear boy. Don’t worry. It is just that she expects that you will stay her little brother forever, but we all know that such things are not to be. It is the natural order that we all grow up and come to have responsibilities. She will get used to it,” my father told me. “I have arranged everything.”

“Arranged what?”

“Your schooling.”

Maricua began to cry. She was certainly not one to cry gracefully. Her body was racked with sobs and her delicate bronze face soon became red and swollen. If I had not seen it happen, I would have not believed that she could change so rapidly. Never had I seen her cry before. Seeing her, that way, put me into a near state of panic.

I leaned forward to brush tears from her face. She grabbed my hands and held them to her face. Hot tears soaked my hands. After a time, she began to calm and let go of me. I looked over at my father.

He did not look upset or worried about her and merely shrugged. “She will be fine, Zaki,” he said as he stood up. “Come with me, we have things to discuss.”

I hugged her and then went to him. He smiled and put his arm around me to lead me to the hallway. I looked back. Maricua was watching me with a sad face. When my eyes met hers, she grimaced horribly yet nodded and motioned for me to go with my father with a wave of her hand. Only then did I feel comfortable leaving with him. I saw her lie back and close her eyes.

My father shrugged again and said, “She’ll be fine, I assure you.”

As we walked, my father said, “Today is the burial day for my eldest personal advisor. You have never been old enough to come with me to attend a funeral procession, so watch what I do and learn from it. Let us take our time walking there, though, because there are a few things I want to tell you.”

I nodded my head. I felt guilty about leaving Maricua distraught. We reached the main entryway of the estate Maricua and I shared and began walking towards the temple grounds. Four guards surrounded us, two beside us and two behind us. They were unobtrusive and I was used to having them near whenever I walked with my father outside.

“Not tomorrow, but the next day, you will begin learning under the Cabicacmotz.”

“Who is that?”

“Remember all of the times that you have tried to get my attention, but my guards would not let you through to talk to me?”

Many times, I had sought him out, only to be rebuffed by the guards. Most of the time, they let me through with impunity, but every once in a while they would stop me. I told my father that I believed it was a joke they played on me occasionally to amuse themselves when they didn’t see Chahal with me. Since it did not happen often or regularly, I didn’t pay much attention to it.

“Well, that was because I was with my special advisor, the Cabicacmotz. He is the lead teacher of wisdom as well as my closest friend. He is one of the few people I trust implicitly. He and I studied together. His understanding and knowledge are the meat of legends. He has invited you to be his pupil, after I made it known to him that you had become a man. It is a great honor. Tell me, what do you think of that?”

He was guaranteeing me entrance into a world that I knew nothing about but had heard whispers of. I was intrigued with the possibility of becoming a great man like my father and those around him.

One thing made me pause, however. I thought of Maricua. Perhaps she knew better than I did what was happening. She was sad or, worse yet, horrified about this. As my surrogate mother, she was unparalleled as my protector. It was a joke between us that every victory of mine was equally hers since she felt pride whenever I accomplished anything worthwhile. She had taken the responsibility of raising me after my mother died while giving birth to me. She took care of me and dried my tears. My father’s other wives did not even glance in my direction.

I decided that there might be reason for caution. Maricua’s love for me was evident in everything she did. Knowing that she was not given to emotional outbursts or fits of crying, I suspected that there were valid reasons for her concern. This tempered my joy and I began to ask my father questions pertaining to what I would be doing and what I could expect from going through with it. There was really no question as to whether I would go, of course. I knew I would, if only to please my father. Still, I had to uncover information that I could use to placate Maricua and put her at ease with the situation.

“You will be given the keys to unlock power and knowledge,” he told me. “There is not much to tell, really. Once you go, it is self-explanatory. I will be here to answer your questions at the end of the day, but no words of mine could prepare you for what is ahead. It is an adventure. Just remember that you are there as my son. As such, you are expected to behave yourself with the utmost diplomacy and discipline.”

“That’s all that you can tell me? You have made me even more curious, but I still don’t know what to expect.”

He laughed and put his arm around my shoulder. “Then expect what you don’t expect, because it is what will happen. Don’t be surprised by the feats of other humans,” he cautioned. “Whatever you see, remain calm at all costs. There is more to people than meets the eye, or there could be if they just trained themselves properly. We are fortunate to have the means to better ourselves.”

We walked in silence along the dirt path until we reached the base of one of the larger stone temples and sat down on the steps. Twilight was almost over and many people held torches. The guards positioned themselves before us in a fan arrangement.

“Let’s stay here until the crowd leaves,” he said as he indicated the people walking in single file towards one of the smaller pyramids. “Let us allow them to give their tribute in peace.”

A grand procession of the tribe was paying homage to the memory of my father’s friend. Up they went, laden with gifts that properly showed their respect. They came down empty handed. Many cried. Others were calm or did not know him well enough to cry tears for his absence.

“Have you thought about the question you would like to make me answer?” he asked.

For once, I was prepared. “Yes,” I told him. “I would like to know how you met my mother and where she came from, since she was not of our tribe.”

He looked at the ground with a sad smile on his face and said, “Ah, the eternal gap in the one-question rule. Make the question complex.” He took a while to compose his thoughts and finally spoke. “She came from beyond the sea. She and her brother were found shipwrecked on the little atoll west of here.”

“What? She had a brother? I had an uncle?”

“Yes, you have an uncle.”

“He’s still alive? He survived?”

“Yes, he’s still around. You will meet him soon, I promise.”

My mind reeled. “Why has he never wanted to come and see me? Does he understand that, other than you, he is my only full-blooded relative?”

“He spent a lot of time with you when you were a baby. The rest is considerably more complicated. He has been away for quite some time and has only recently returned completely. Perhaps he will tell you the story of what happened to him. I assure you that there are valid reasons as to why you have not seen him for such a long time.”

I didn’t know how to respond to his words. Clearly, he didn’t want to disclose to me why I hadn’t seen my uncle for a decade. I wanted to question him further on that, but instead I asked, “Where were they from?”

“I honestly don’t know. I did not recognize their descriptions of their land. From what I gathered, they were from a place beyond the sea, on the other side of the world.”

Although modern Western man has experienced the embarrassment of knowing that in their recent history their ancestors forgot that the world was round, my people always knew it. We were foolish in other ways, but nothing could have made us ignore the obviousness of that one fact.

“Did they look like our people?”

He smiled broadly and shook his head as he ran his hand over my head. “No.”

Was he indirectly telling me that I also looked foreign? Could it be? Was that why no one wanted to claim me as his or her brother, except for Maricua? Foreigners were welcomed, in my tribe, but they were not trusted implicitly, either. The thought that I might be considered an outsider in my own land, frightened me. “Do I look foreign?”

He tilted his head and pursed his lips as he looked at me. “Perhaps. Your hair is a bit different. Instead of red highlights, you sometimes have yellow highlights when the sun touches your hair. You are also a great deal lighter than most of our people. You don’t notice that because you have spent years allowing the sun to kiss your body. I know that you are not this dark naturally; I saw you when you came into this world. Your skin was the shade in between your mother’s and mine. You are a mix of the two of us. You do not look foreign to most people because the features are a blend, but I see her in you.”

“Was she pretty?”

“Son, she was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Her hair was a silk of brown and gold. And her eyes! Her eyes were gold. Never have I seen eyes like that. Oh, every once in a while, a green or a blue eyed one lands on our shores, but never a one with golden eyes. Her brother has told me that it was not a common thing from where they came from, either. I cannot properly convey to you her beauty. I will have to take you to my private home one of these days because one of the plasterers captured the exact likeness of her face as she looked when asleep. It does not give one a good idea as to what she actually looked like, with her beauty, but you will at least be able to see her features.”

“I would like that very much,” I said.

“We can talk more about her some other time, Zaki. In fact, it is not right that you should use your first question in manhood on things that I should have told you about before. Please think of another question. We will talk about this again, so do not worry that the subject is closed. If I were you, I would spend a little time with the Cabicacmotz before I asked my question. Your question should concern the subject of being a man, not wasted asking me about things that you have a right to know, such as your heritage.”

I nodded.

The crowds of people were now only a trickle. My father and I sat on the steps, in a comfortable silence, and waited until everyone left. The moon was low on the horizon, and it was in no shape to illuminate much.

The guards were now carrying torches and I noticed that the darkest man wore a bundle on his back, making him look like a hunchback. I wondered where it came from, since I had not noticed it earlier. Could he have had it the whole time or did I simply fail to notice when he picked it up?

The guards were solemn men and took their post seriously. They were ever alert, yet they were in repose, never seeming to make sudden movements unless they detected a threat to my father’s safety. When they needed to move, they were like wind. One could also ignore them easily for they kept to the background. They were like gliding statues, gracefully moving, yet never expressing sound.

My ruminations about the mystery stopped when my father stood and indicated that it was time to make our way towards the temple.

As we walked, we conversed and reminisced about the entombed man. I was only able to mention that the sweets the man gave me were the best I had ever tasted and that I appreciated his kindness. My father explained that it was customary to approach a grave while speaking well about the life that the person had led. Naturally, this led to the subject of his succession.

“You do not yet know whom he chose to sit on his mat after him, do you, Zaki?” my father asked me as we reached the base of the stepped temple.

I was at a loss for words. While I could identify some of the people in my father’s court, I was never a fixture there and knew only a few names and faces. I didn’t want to let him know that I had not bothered to learn who was in his court and said, “No, I don’t. Who is it? Do I know him?”

Father laughed. “How is it that you do not wait to have your first question answered before you ask another and another? It is like the little boy who grabs at sweets and reaches for more before he has even swallowed one. You are a glutton. Except that, you won’t become obese. Rather, perhaps, you will become engorged with information. At least I can console myself that my son does not have one of the more difficult vices to contend with.”

“No, he doesn’t,” a man spoke from behind us.

My first reaction was to look at the guards. They did not react to the newcomer among us.

I turned around and saw the man who spoke. He wore a dark hooded cloak that concealed his facial features. My father did not look back at him and kept facing forward. It annoyed me that someone had intruded into what I considered a time meant solely for my father and me. It was private and I felt, somehow, cheated. “Who are you? And do you often butt into conversations that don’t concern you?” I asked as I walked towards him.

Still facing the temple, Naualalom whispered to me that I should shut my mouth. The man raised his head and laughed. Just the sound of his laughter made me want to hit him. I knew that he was having fun at my expense. I could have sworn, at that moment, that he had rudely insulted me. My mind raged and I cherished the thought of having the guards seize him and whip him for his insolence. How dare he insult me in front of my own father?

“No. Pride and violent thoughts are his vices. They intoxicate him,” the man said.

Red fury filled my eyes and I moved to strike him, confident that my father’s guards would help. My fist moved through the air and struck only empty space. Where was he? I looked around. The man had only been an arm’s length away from me and now he was gone.

I turned to look at my father for an answer and was surprised to find that he also was not there. All of the guards were looking up at the temple. I looked upwards to see what they were seeing. My father and the hooded man were almost to the top of the pyramid, looking down at me. Oddly, the guards were there as well. When I glanced to where the guards had stood a moment before, they were gone. What was happening? It was impossible. Determined to find out, I ran up to them.

When I neared, I saw the look on my father’s face. He glared at me with eyes that were cold and fierce. They were not the kind eyes of my father. Never had I seen him look at me like that. I knew that my father had no compassion towards me, at that moment. I felt his desire to kick me down the steps. I realized that I had embarrassed him before someone very important to him and that he was ashamed of my behavior. I knelt. “Forgive me, father.”

“It is not me whom you should be apologizing to, Zaki.”

I turned to the man at his side. “Please forgive me my irreverence; I did not realize who you were.” I didn’t know who he was, but it sounded good to my ears.

The man glided towards me, over the steps, as I stood up. My eyes widened with surprise and my mouth hung open. His movements were unnatural and I became very frightened. I stepped back before he reached me. My fear that he would touch me was so great that I felt that I would vomit.

“You still don’t know who I am, but don’t be frightened, little one,” the man said. “I am not going to touch you or strike you as you intended to do to me. Your apology has been accepted.”

He then became a blur and was gone.

Father looked at me and said, “The next time I tell you to shut your mouth, do it. If that was your best effort at diplomacy, then you are going to have a very difficult time of it with the Cabicacmotz. It is he whom you just insulted.”

There were no words to express my regret. I sat down. “What have I done?”

“Unfortunate as it is, the ugly truth is that you insulted the man who has offered to teach you all that he knows and who could, quite literally, squash you like a beetle under his foot, if he so desired it.”

My regret was complete. I began to retch and would have fallen down if my father had not grabbed me by my braid. When I was finished, I looked up at my father and saw him grinning down at me.

“Don’t worry too much. I happen to know that he won’t step on you like a bug. He’s my friend. He will do everything he can to turn you into a man of wisdom. When a man reaches the stage that the Cabicacmotz is at, he has overcome his anger at others. He reins himself in. He’s probably having a good laugh about you right now.” He began to snicker. A few moments later, he was fully laughing at my predicament.

I was in the throes of desperation and he tried to console me. I had to banish any remembrances of how the man glided over the steps like a phantom or else I would get sick again.

“He probably saw a lot of me in you, Zaki. Oh, I was once unruly and incorrigible, so I was quite capable of making our teacher pull his hair out of his head. But, like you, I was the son of the ruler, so he took my best interests upon himself and wound up scaring me half to death.”

“He has come into my dreams and will not give me a moment of peace,” my father said in a ridiculous falsetto, like a woman’s voice. “I told my father, ‘He is haunting me. What am I to do?”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing, of course. He knew that I had to bring myself to order and that my teacher was merely doing what I needed to have done to me.”

“Is that supposed to cheer me?”

“Don’t be so dour. Either you never act like the brat you are, as you did back there, or you get the crap scared out of you. I am sorry. Perhaps I did not spend enough time with you while you were still a boy. It is clear you need outside disciplining. The basis of your view on life should not be based solely on what Maricua and I have told you. Someone else will now demand your attendance and attention. I have given the Cabicacmotz permission to teach you and to do whatever is necessary to mold you into a man of genius. Try not to act like a complete fool, please.”

I was aghast. There was my father, telling me that I behaved like an idiot child and that he was leaving me in the care of a man who terrified me. “What have you gotten me into, father?”

“The adventure of a lifetime. It is not easy for the teacher when the student does not make the necessary effort, though, so strive to learn how to command all of your energy,” he said. “Let’s get along now to Zotabah’s tomb.”

We climbed down and went to another temple, the smaller one where the people had gone into.

Instead of climbing the outer steps, we entered through a small opening at the base of the structure that led to a steep inner stairwell. This was the eeriest temple we had and its sole purpose was for the dead. None of the other pyramids, to my knowledge, contained inner chambers.

It took us a while to climb the steep stairs. Normally, I would run up the steps, but that would have been unseemly for a funeral. Finally, we reached the place where the mourners had ascended to, upon the roof of the temple.

A short distance away, on top of the temple, stood another structure. There, a large room awaited us. Two guards were posted inside the entrance. They stood alongside the largest torches, which stood at the portal. Several smaller torches were arrayed throughout, illuminating every corner and suffusing the room with a golden glow.

My father told the guards to wait outside to prevent any who might have entered the subterranean route behind us. After my father’s personal guards satisfied themselves that no one else was in the room with us, two kept watch with the others over the passageway while the other two protected the entrance into the room.

Flowers, pottery, and jewelry filled the chamber. A long sarcophagus, adorned with shiny stones, was in the center upon a platform. The walls of the room were formed from large square blocks of stone, which had been carved to show scenes of warriors engaging in various endeavors. One of the blocks had been removed. I looked for it and did not see it around.

“Why is this missing?” I asked as I traced the edges of the hole.

“Tomorrow, he will be placed in there.”

I looked at the sarcophagus. It did not look as if it could fit in the hole. “How?”

“Yes, it doesn’t seem as if it could fit in there, but I assure you that it will for it has been perfectly measured. The sarcophagus will reside in the temple, with his body, for a period of seven days. Thereafter, it will be placed inside the earth.”

“Where is the stone that covers the hole, though?”

“One of the stone workers is carving the inside of it to include an image of him. Don’t bother with worrying about that, Zaki. Look around.”

I examined the articles that people had left behind.

My father was pleased. “Look at how revered he was. Tomorrow when his wife comes, she will see the testaments telling her how much people loved him.”

“Then, these are gifts for her?”

“In practicality, yes. She may take them home if she so desires it. I doubt that she will, though. She already has many possessions. Among the people who have no wealth, the wife takes what is left for him. Our customs take into consideration the fact that the widow may need assistance, but she, as I said, is already wealthy and may decide to have many things placed inside with him or she may even give it to the poor.”

“Everything will stay here, for now, then?”

“Certainly, unless some buffoon tries to steal something. I would feel very sorry for that person.” He looked around, smiling with satisfaction. “Burial rituals are strange, are they not? People leave things for him, but no one is stupid enough to believe that Zotabah could take these things with him. There is, however, a chance that his spirit will become curious about his burial and may come back to look it all over. Then he will see what those people who loved him left. That is a possibility. Who knows? Either way, the practical result is that he is no longer here and no amount of riches or keepsakes could entice him to come back to life. I am happy for him. My feeling is that he has accomplished what he needed to do here and is now enjoying himself every moment. He certainly deserves that. He was a wise and good man.”

I noticed several ornate pieces of jewelry and was surprised that mourners had left such costly objects. “Why do some people leave such valuable things?”

“Perhaps that person has wealth and is not bothered with leaving it or they may have given it from their heart regardless of its value. Or both, maybe. Whether a person has truly given or just pretended to is often hidden. Some people may leave an arrangement of art showing what the person meant to him, others leave things that held special significance to the two of them. Their reasons for doing so are as varied as the number of people. Notice the flowers, Zaki.”

“Why?”

“It is evidence that he was revered even among those of our tribe who do not have riches. The widow might even see this display and decide to donate the valuable articles to the poor.” He thought for a moment before continuing, “The poor, when they walk to the grave of those whom they loved, pick the most beautiful flower that they can find and leave it as a token of their respect. It is a custom among them. They have little upon this earth, which is why they are often the ones who leave the most appropriate and beautiful of articles in a grave. It finely echoes the transitory nature of life… Anyway, I tell you that when a man can earn the respect of the poor, we know his true worth.”

“How is that? I don’t understand what you mean.”

“It means that the man did not treat them as if they were unimportant or worthless. He saw them as people. If only those with riches visit a man’s tomb, we can conclude that he never learned where the true wealth of our tribe lies. These flowers mean to me that he affected those who did not have our advantages, and that they knew him as a friend. He made progress into making their lives more manageable or easier. The exact circumstances, I don’t know, but I see that he did not confine his interactions to those who hold court. That impresses me and it should impress you as well.”

I looked into a clay jar that sat near the base of the sarcophagus. Oval stones of many colors filled it. Some had intricate designs carved into them. Many were polished, while others were rough. The only thing similar about them was their size. “How curious, father. What are these?”

He came over to where I was and peered into the jar. “Those are probably from his students. He was the man who knew how to use stones and taught others how to use them. His knowledge was formidable.”

“Yes, but what are they for? They’re all rounded and about the same size.”

“They fit into the navel.”

“Really?” I took a blue one out and tried to place it in my belly button. My father slapped my hand and sent the stone rolling to the floor.

“Don’t ever do anything like that again!” he yelled.

His reaction stunned me. Why would he care that I had tried on someone else’s jewelry? I asked, “Why not?”

“Because it’s dangerous. These stones were on another person and are not toys. They are not mere decorations. They were devices to focus the attention of warriors and men of power.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but I did not want to argue with him. Tonight had been strange enough and here I was adding to my problems because of my ignorance. I vowed to keep my hands at my sides and not touch anything else.

My father removed a strange cylinder from under his robes and placed it upon the sarcophagus. I did not know what it was and did not ask. I removed one of my bracelets and placed it next to my father’s gift. We left and walked in silence back to our home, the home he most often stayed in, in any case.

*******

In general, the men in my tribe only had one wife per man. Tradition demanded that the king have four wives.

They represented the east, the west, the north, and the south. Each woman represented a cardinal point. Certain familial lineages belonged to different directions and each direction demanded that the king take a wife from one of their lineages.

My father, much to everyone’s chagrin, once had an extra wife. That wife was my mother. I would have been considered a bastard except for two very important reasons. I was the first son and he married my mother in a ceremony before the whole tribe where he declared her the wife of his spirit. She was the only one that he had truly chosen for himself. Being a foreigner, she had not been in the line of women who would marry him.

The marriage was a renegade maneuver. One that would cause me untold grief, but I had no standing to complain since I would not otherwise have been born.

None of the other wives had been able to bear him a son before she came into his life. To their horror, however, she had become pregnant with me three years after my father married her.

I had six older sisters when I was born. Maricua was father’s first-born child. She was the daughter of his first wife of the east. The current easterly woman married my father after Maricua’s mother died. My mother was the only wife who was glad to have Maricua around and who was willing to share a home with her. When my father married my mother, she, reportedly, was happy to move into the home occupied by one of my father’s former wives. Maricua became a daughter to her. When my mother died while giving birth to me, Maricua took over my care. Therefore, the home I lived in was once the first eastern woman’s home.

Sadly, the wives of my father were touchy and selfish. For three years, Maricua was alone after her mother passed. Since none of the other women wanted to care for another woman’s child, my father was forced to keep the east estate solely for Maricua, her maids, and guards. He quickly had the workers prepare and build the new east wife’s home to the east of Maricua’s home.

As to the physical locations, my father’s home was in the middle ground, a place of solitude. The women were only allowed to enter the outer courtyards. Why this was so, I have no idea, but that was the tradition. Adjacent to the masculine home were the private homes of the women. These were sprawling one-storied estates, surrounded by gardens.

Because the current east wife’s estate was to the east of our home, it was called the East-East. We lived in the West-East. The East-East was not as pleasant as ours was. I’m sure the east wife was not pleased to be relegated to the outskirts of my father’s private properties, especially considering that we had the choicest land. Being unwilling to compromise, sometimes works to one’s detriment. She was such an unpleasant woman, that I was quite pleased to imagine her jealousy whenever she looked towards the west, towards us.

A hastily built home is never as durable as one that has been there for many generations. For a few years, the other wives were envious of her home. It looked new and pristine. Over the years, however, the lack of time spent in planning and building it became quite apparent. Many walls failed and had to be repaired. Something was always wrong with it and the woman came to regret her inflexible stand towards my eldest sister.

One of my father’s duties was to have as many children as possible, it seemed. He was always spending his evenings at the women’s homes. These homes were considered his, of course, and he kept a private suite in each home. Curiously, though, he always slept at his own estate or in the suite he kept at our home.

 

*******

Cover

Here’s a copy of the cover of “Jaguars – Book Two: Balam Ch’ab”

Let me know if you like it. Hmmmmm……. It looks kind of blurry on here, I wonder why.

Chapter 3 – Part 1 (First Draft)

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

The next morning, the Balam Ch’ab sent me home with Chahel.

When we neared my home, I found the Tzuhunik and the Etamanel Evan exchanging words with a group of the Chuchmox.

“There he is,” one of the women said when she saw me.

Women crowded me, demanding that I go with them to their underground citadel.

The Tzuhunik, trailed by the Etamanel Evan, stepped forward. “You women have no legitimate claim to Zaki. Last night it was agreed between the Cabicacmotz, the king, and the Balam Ch’ab that Zaki would have a lesson with us. We must not fight among ourselves like this.”

The last thing I wanted to do was spend time with anyone, except Hac and Cham. Maricua or the servants probably made a meal for me and it waited for me while the adults argued back and forth.

One of the women pushed the Etamanel Evan after he accidentally stepped on her foot. His face paled as hers reddened. Soon they would come to blows and he clearly could not match her ferocity.

“Stop,” a matronly woman cried, when it appeared a melee was at hand. The woman’s eyes were out of focus, as if her thoughts turned inwards. “The Paqal Paray has decreed that the men should be allowed to accompany the boy to the citadel. He can take his lesson with them while he learns from us.”

The Tzuhunik readily agreed, stating that it was an intelligent compromise. The Etamanel Evan seemed both relieved and frightened.

I could not believe how quickly the situation settled. I was not going to go off without food, though. When I told the women that still crowded me that I needed to go home to Maricua and a meal, they told me that Maricua knew I would not be home today and that they had food. Without giving me time to protest, someone put a hand on my back to move me forward. I tried to see who it was and saw it was the Tzuhunik.

“Be quiet and move. Don’t argue with the women,” he said. “We go as they say.”

Chahel roared a growl then. A path opened up for her through the crowd. I expected to see the women scared of Chahel or scream as she approached them, but instead they acted as if nothing was wrong and that there was no danger. A moment later, Chahel was walking at my side.

We arrived at the foot of a large hill that was west of the citadel proper. Everyone knew the hill because the sun set behind it every day. What people did not know was that it was the home of the Chuchmox, the female sentries. Underneath the great mound was an underground cavern system that hid these women. They could fight like men and their power was prodigious.

The women veered towards the southern ridge of the hill. At a juncture between two boulders, they turned into a short canyon. The canyon was devoid of life except for a cactus draped with long weeds. Behind the weeds was a jagged narrow entrance. We filed in and the women in front of me lit torches and small gourds to fill our path with light.

Winding halls of rock led through the system. A woman in the back, who wore a long skirt, instantly obscured the sandy ground where we passed. In that way, we left no trace. Dark pathways were constantly around us. I could not figure out how the women were able to direct us through the maze. Almost immediately, I lost my bearings. No longer could I discern where east and west were.

The Tzuhunik walked behind me. I heard him mutter to the Etamanel Evan that we were going in circles. I tried to remember the cavern walls around me to see if he was right, but the darkness prevented me from noticing features of the rock.

A short while later, no longer were they behind me. Instead, a trio of young women walked behind me. Someone, I realized, diverted them to different sections of the underground.

Moment by moment, my anxiety grew. The darkness in the passageways seemed to peer at me. My old fears, about the giant bats that dwell in caves, made me feel that my heart was being compressed into a small cage. I told myself not to worry as I placed my hand on Chahel’s neck. I calmed down when I realized she had no fear of the cave.

“Where are my other teachers?” I asked. The stale air of the mound thinned my voice and the rock absorbed the excess sound, causing my voice to sound hollow and dead.

“They are being shown their quarters for the evenings to come.”

This alarmed me more than anything else could. I could tolerate the idea that we would spend a night here, but more than that I could not bear. How horrible it must be, I thought, to live in darkness and not see the sun and breathe the clean air of the surface.

A few women behind me giggled, as if they heard my thoughts. Those giggles more than anything caused me to have an attack of nerves so severe that my thinking became disordered and frenetic. I walked without noticing anything around me as I tried to reorder my thoughts.

Soon I became angry at being forced to come here. The women around me looked like leering demons in the flickering flames. They looked like skulls when the lights hit their faces, especially when it blackened their eyes and under-eye areas. They were callous and rude, I thought, to listen in to my personal thoughts.

An old woman walking next to me said, “No thoughts are ever private, young prince. Ideas are communal and are shared by everyone, whether you like it or not.”

I turned towards her to argue when I realized who she was. To my horror I knew the woman.

At a war council of my father, this woman asked what the dark Toltecs had done with body parts of dead warriors. The spies reported that many foreign warriors were unmanned with obsidian knives when they fought against them and she asked what they did with the men’s amputated members. The Cabicacmotz told me that she was an expert in matters of black magic and rituals.

“When will we stop?”

“When you accept that you are here until we give you leave to go,” she answered.

“How did you divert the Tzuhunik and the Etamanel Evan. They were right behind me.”

“We took them away when they suffered moments of distraction at the same time you did. That is the time to perform such maneuvers. Men do not realize how attuned women are to them. We can sense distraction like a jaguar smells fear.”

“Like a dog that takes advantage of his master’s moment of daydreaming and eats a turd when he’s not paying attention,” one of the young women behind me said.

“You are not helping, Kaq Lez. Stay silent. No more colorful examples.”

I glanced behind me and saw who Kaq Lez was. She was a pretty girl with a grin on her face. When she saw me looking back at her, she turned to me and made a face that destroyed her appearance of prettiness. She put the oil lamp to her chest, so the light cast ghastly shadows on her face. Then she narrowed her eyes and stuck out her front teeth in a buck-toothed grin as she nodded.

The old woman turned around and before she finished turning, Kaq Lez lifted the lamp back up and put on a blank look. Now she was stunning.

The old woman humphed and shook her head. “Every sun, the girls seem to act younger and younger.” She looked over at me and said, “I know who you are, Zaki. Why do you not know who I am?”

“You have not told me,” I said.

“A great advantage can be had if one knows who is speaking. If you do not know, ask. There is no sense in your learning the art of governance if you do not take into account the personalities and specialties of the members of council. Governance is not a cold art, it is a breathing and living one which remains fluid and ever-changing because it involves humans,” she said. “What kinds of people, do you suppose, your father consults?”

I thought back to my day at court, when I heard the hideous reports of the spies. All of my teachers seemed to be there. Now I knew who she was.

“You must be the Pacal Paray, then.”

“Ah, good. I am glad to see that my brother’s son is not a dull-witted fool.”

“You are my aunt?” I asked.

“Not by blood, Zaki. I refer to your father as my brother because…well, we came into our power at the same time. We are cohorts.”

Chapter 2 – First Draft

When I reached the top of the Balam Ch’ab’s wall, I almost fell and could understand why Chahel growled. There were patches of a slippery substance on the rounded top. With care, I flipped my body over it to position myself to climb down the other side. The uppermost stone was a sand-colored marble, in the shape of half-cylinders, which matched the rock under it. It was slick and smooth.

Once I was inside the camp, I smelled my hands. They were greasy and smelled like smoked animal; it was lard. Either the Jaguar Knights were messy eaters or they took irritating measures to make their camp difficult to enter. The height of the wall was well over a man’s height, but someone could climb over it with assistance. The lard was merely an annoyance. I could not imagine that it would impose much of an impediment.

The training camp had fooled my eyes from the outside. Inside, I could not see the other side of the camp. The area I was in was broad with a worn perimeter path inside the wall. Beyond were footpaths through gardens leading to a trio of wooden huts. Behind the huts were trees and bushes. I could not see Chahel, yet felt that she was in the bushes.

The nobility, to indicate their territory, often used stone walls. They, however, would never accept homes made of trees. For a roof, it was acceptable, for a dwelling, it was not.

The Balam Ch’ab caught me laughing and asked me why. I told him that the place appeared to house nobles, beyond the wall, but inside it seemed that it housed peons.

He looked at the huts and told me that they only housed the finest men and women, adding that the vast majority were from the noble classes.

“Women visit their men in the training camp? How can you allow that?”

The Balam Ch’ab raised his eyebrows and blinked a few times as if unsure what to say. He smirked and seemed about to say something when he burst out with a deep snort and began laughing. “What do you think we are doing out here, Zaki, running a hiding place for sin? Do not tell me that you did not know that some of our knights could be women.”

I protested that I had not known and that it was unthinkable that they allowed women to become warriors and killers. Women should stay at home cooking, cleaning, and raising children, I told him. Underneath my words was the belief that women were not strong enough. I believed men should protect them and shelter them away from the realities of war. “Why are we burdening them with such awfulness and strife, don’t they do enough?”

The Balam Ch’ab doubled over and clutched his sides. The origin of his braid was at the top of his head, so it bounced more than a regular one. The braid danced along his back like an agitated snake. Irritated that he was laughing at me, I stressed my points over again.

Laughing, he laid face down on the grass with his hands stretched to the sides. I ended my argument with the words, “Once I am king, no longer will the women have to do these dreadful things.”

“Oh, please stop.”

I saw that tears were running from his eyes. Aggravated that he did not give my arguments the attention they deserved, I walked away and stared at the wall. When I was there for a short time, I realized, with wonder, that I was no longer nervous around the Balam Ch’ab and that I had argued with him. A cold feeling overtook me; it dispelled the heat I felt when I voiced my beliefs in anger. Now I felt exposed and foolish, and began worrying that the Balam Ch’ab would punish me somehow. I turned around to see where he was.

He sat up and brushed dirt from his palms. He looked over to where I was and motioned me to return and sit with him.

When I was before him, I began to apologize for my outburst, but he stopped me.

“Quiet yourself and sit down. Do not say another word or I will begin laughing again.” He waited for me to sit in front of him and told me that he had not laughed that hard in many years. He even thanked me.

Before he could stop me, I told him that I did not recognize myself and that I was not usually argumentative.

Stopping my apology with a wave of his hand, he said, “That is your reaction to stressful or difficult circumstances. Do not bother apologizing. You were unafraid and you thought clearly about your arguments. That is a good quality for a jaguar knight. I am pleased. Only afterward did you worry about your actions. In the fury of the moment, you are no coward.”

I slouched with relief. As soon as I relaxed, I noticed that I had been clutching all of my muscles, especially those in my buttocks.

“We do have to clear a few things up before we begin, though,” he said. “We use huts here because we are in the jungle and many creatures live in it. Occasionally, if we are not vigilant, we must set fire to the huts and build new ones. We could not easily clean stone buildings with fire.”

Mice infested the huts a few years back, he told me, and several knights and students died because of them. It was after a long rainy season, when the trees were particularly fruitful. Because of the abundance of food, the mice bred more profusely. They spread and began looking for hiding places and food. They chanced upon the training camp. Since the presence of the knights kept natural predators away, especially jaguars, the mice quickly reproduced and nested in the walls and roofs of the huts. The droppings were everywhere. No one noticed since the dirt floor was dark in color. The mice were stealthy and would hide or be still when people were about.

“Many breathed in that filth and died. We thought they only had minor fevers, but within days, they were dead.”

“How did you realize what was wrong or know how to fix it?”

“We called in the healers. They could not overcome it because it killed so rapidly. The Cabicacmotz came after they were baffled and saw into the problem. He also gave us the solution. Fortunately, we noticed quickly that those who slept in the huts were the ones who fell ill. Not one of those people were old or infirm, Zaki. We burned the huts and they scorched the earth when they fell. Fire kills, but it also cleanses.”

I asked him whether the original huts were stone and he told me that they were not because the outer wall made it too difficult to bring in stones.

“Why do you not use the main entrance?”

“There is no entrance to the camp. Either one enters it as a jaguar would or one is provided with a ladder as you were today.”

“Can you not cut a hole for stone to be brought in, then?”

He looked at me with disgust. “The wall is our most splendid tool for teaching the steps of the jaguar. We would never mutilate it for a mere luxury.”

I decided not to ask any further questions when I heard the acid in his voice.

“Come. We have sat for long enough,” he said. “I will show you where to leave your satchel and where you will sleep.” He walked to the smallest hut and I followed.

My spirits sank when I saw the crude lodgings and the hammock where I was to sleep. Only peons used hammocks. To sleep on a mat or bed indicated that a man was wealthy enough to have servants ensure its cleanliness. Recently, I saw my father’s home for the first time and was surprised to see that he slept in a hammock. It shocked me and made me feel embarrassed for him. A thought occurred to me.

“Was my father a Jaguar Knight?”

The Balam Ch’ab smiled with delight and said, “He trained here, but he cannot be a knight.”

It hurt me to ask, but I finally said, “Was he unable to transform himself?”

He shook his head. “Of course he could turn himself into a jaguar, Zaki. He is a talented and capable man. Never think otherwise. He cannot be a mere knight simply because he is the king who commands us.”

“Take off your clothes,” he ordered me, “and remove your stone.”

I protested, telling him that I did not wish to take a nap and that Zotabah, Ahtoobalvar and the Cabicacmotz demanded that I always wear my navel stone.

“You are mistaken if you think I will let you take a nap so soon. It is time for work. I am going to show you the wall.” He looked me over, focusing on my necklace. The stones were the same as the one I used in my navel. “Don’t worry about the navel stone, Zaki. The necklace will suffice to keep you safe. This way you will not lose your stone or ruin your belt. Now, remove your clothes while I fetch you a proper training garment.”

He left me in the hut. I took off my tunic and removed the leather belt that kept my navel stone in place. Afterwards, I stored the belt and stone in my satchel and threw it onto the hammock. His story made me paranoid about vermin. A few moments later, he peered in and handed me a leather thong that tied on either side of my hips. With chagrin, I put it on and emerged from the hut. The crotch area was too thick and unwieldy; it hindered my gait. I complained that it made me walk like a monkey.

I stopped complaining when I looked up and saw that he was wearing an identical thong. He did not walk funny in it, however. It looked well worn and discolored.

“Make sure that your sides are tightly tied,” he said as he walked to the largest hut. “This is what we wear for the wall. The wide crotch is used because no one wants their privates to fall out while they straddle the wall.”

The hut was a few times larger than mine was and it was as austere. There were a few more hammocks and some trunks of trees for seating.

Near the entrance, there was a large clay vat of lard. He directed me to apply the lard to my leathers, thighs, stomach and chest area. When he saw that I was being sparse applying the lard to my groin, he told me that I would be uncomfortable until the lard seeped into the leather and made it supple. After hearing that, I slapped it on as thick as I could. I sniffed myself and knew I smelled like a roasted boar.

The Balam Ch’ab deftly applied his own lard and then dipped his hands in a vat of talc. He told me to do the same, telling me that the talc would soak up the oil on my hands and make them less slippery.

When we reached the stone wall, he told me to stay on the ground while he demonstrated what he wished me to do. He climbed the ladder and straddled the wall.

“The first step to becoming a jaguar is to learn to move like one,” he said. “The jaguar is a being composed of balanced sides. Its sense of self is located primarily upon its spine at the base of its head and its awareness switches from the left to the right side alternatively. The eyes connect to the shoulders. You will see.”

***

The sense of self was a concept that my uncle, the Cabicacmotz, had acquainted me with. It consisted of tracing backwards to where my sense of self originated. To even notice is difficult. While it sounds simple, it is difficult to do because we do not wish to expend the effort. Keeping a thought at the forefront of our minds is an exertion of will.

If a man sees that the sight of a mountaintop gives him a sense of joy and he wishes to replicate that feeling, he must move his awareness from the point before his eyes that he associates with the joy. The joy does not come from the mountaintop; it comes from the sight acting upon the man. He traces it back to the point behind his eyes that emitted the joy. Joy is a burst that erupts from a man. Recently I had followed the Cabicacmotz’ advice and followed the source to come from behind my heart. How odd it was to discover that my sense of self was not always located right behind my eyes or even connected to them. The place of self could be anywhere.

Both the Cabicacmotz and the Balam Ch’ab gave me instructions to perform the check upon my sense of self whenever I felt or encountered strangeness. If I could feel where Chahel was, without the use of my eyes or hearing, I was to trace my sense of self to determine where that sense of knowing came from. I was lazy and could not remember to do it, however, unless I was relaxing and remembering what my teachers spoke to me. Finding the burst of joy was a fluke for me. Most times, I forgot the technique existed.

***

“When the jaguar runs, it hunts prey. He is a creature of efficiency and purpose. His focus is on what he must do. If stalking, he creeps. When chasing, he runs. His shoulders lead his forward movement and his sense of self confines itself to the tight wire of his spine. Usually the sense of self is where his skull meets his neck, but it can be anywhere. He is balance incarnate and can easily switch his awareness from the right to the left. With that, he maintains balance. That movement is connected to his shoulders and eyes. Remember that the sense of self is separate from awareness.”

His words confused me and I began to ask him to explain.

The Balam Ch’ab told me that only action could resolve my questions and he demonstrated the actions I should perform on the wall. “For now, you must tuck your feet behind you, so they rest on the wall.” He pulled his legs up and rested the front of his feet on the rounded edge, soles to the sky. What I thought was a carved line of adornment in the wall was a ridge that was three hand-lengths from the top of the wall. The Balam Ch’ab put his hands on the line and pulled himself forward, going counterclockwise on the wall.

I ran along the perimeter path beside him while he used his hands to slide along the wall. The training camp was enormous. We passed a stream twice that flowed in and out of the camp through a shallow hole in the wall. The rest was trees, pasture and gardens. It resembled the estate I shared with Maricua, my sister.

When the Balam Ch’ab completed his circuit around the camp, he did not appear out of breath. His ride ended at the other side of the ladder. I was anxious to get up and try it. I waited for him to climb back down.

Instead, he sat up and said, “One of the most important things for the transformation is the knowledge of where the jaguar’s sense of self resides. As men, we feel that our sense of self is often dependent upon a line that is vertical. We are upright beings. The jaguar is not, it is a horizontal creature. It parallels the ground. We are earth to sky; he is earth to earth in forward motion.”

He climbed down from the ladder and came to where I stood. “All right, Zaki. You need to get up there and position yourself the same as I showed you. Remember to tuck your feet up on the back.”

I climbed the ladder as quickly as possible and positioned myself. It was a relief to discover that the line for the hands was at a comfortable distance for me. He decided that I needed to apply some lard to the front of my feet to avoid blisters. From a small pouch hanging from the ladder, he found some lard and applied it to my feet. I was ready to go and almost pushed off, when he grabbed my ankle and held me there.

I wanted to get going, but he wanted to bore me with more talk about the jaguar’s sense of self.

He crouched down, resting on his haunches, and drew a straight dotted line in the sand of the perimeter walk. There was an arrow at one point. Next, he drew an inverted arrow, a vee, whose point originated midway along the dotted line. The ends of the vee extended a small bit from the end of the line with the arrow.

He stood up, brushing dirt from his hands. With his toe, he pointed at the dotted line and said, “This is the spine and tail of the jaguar.” The arrow indicated the advancing movement of the jaguar. The vee was a difficult concept for me to grasp.

“Always,” the Balam Ch’ab said, “the two separate lines of the vee flow from the origin of the spine. Physically, they attach to the shoulders of the jaguar. The jaguar leads with its shoulders. Watch Chahel sometime and you will see the truth of my words. Even when she walks in that languid way of hers, she leads with her shoulders. The difficult thing is to keep in mind that the awareness attaches to the movement of the shoulders and alternates with the shoulders. Right, front and back while the left does the same. The sense of self shifts slightly, though not as largely as the sense of awareness shifts. It will feel as though it is moving in a half circle. Its forward motion balances at the spine. When the cat runs, the balance can be anywhere along the spine.”

I pretended to know what he meant since I was restless and eager to push off. I nodded with a serious look on my face as if I was weighing his words, when all I could think of was the fast ride he took upon the wall and how it looked like incredible fun.

“The jaguar’s sense of self is parallel to the ground and is always at the level of his spine. It moves forward and back along that level. A man’s sense of self can be anywhere and strives to go up as far as it can. The jaguar’s strives to move forward. Our natural inclination is to move upwards, the jaguar’s is to go forward.”

I needed to put a stop to his explanations and said, “I’m having a bit of trouble imaging what you said. Maybe I have to feel it while I am moving.”

He gave me a sly half-smile and said, “Perhaps. One final piece of advice: imagine that your hands are claws while you use them to grasp hold of the ridges along the wall.”

Without waiting for him to change his mind, I grabbed hold of the ridged line and pulled myself forward.

I zoomed on that wall. With the lard lubricating me, I was able to reach speeds that I found incredible. The more momentum I gained, the less effort it took to move faster. Several times, I almost slipped from the wall and had to unhook my feet to balance myself. There is something magical about speed. It somehow unleashes the elation we hold inside of us. Decorum demands a great price from us, it requires us to subdue our delight and only evidence it with a smile. Nothing held me back when I was on that wall. I whooped and yelled my happiness without a care about how I looked.

After my fifth circuit around the camp, the tips of my fingers hurt. When I was close to where the Balam Ch’ab sat waiting for me, I felt a familiar stickiness on my hands. I did not dare look to check, but I knew that my fingers were bleeding.

The Balam Ch’ab stood up and came to where I waited for him, still atop the wall. He glanced at my hands and said, “Come. We must clean them and apply a salve to them. I tried to stop you after your first run, but there was no stopping you, boy.” He threw the ladder over the wall before me and urged me to climb down.

I tried to move forward. My body did not wish to cooperate. My feet, hooked at the ankles, felt weighted and glued together. The muscles of my thighs refused to unclench and did not ease enough for me to move them. Even my hands froze in a clawing grip. “Balam Ch’ab, I cannot move. Something is wrong with me.”

“Nothing is wrong with you, Zaki, except that you enjoy excess. If you had not pretended not to see me trying to stop you, that is your own fault. This occurred because you over exerted yourself on the wall. You are in fine company, however, because it happens to almost every student.”

He came over to me and first unhooked my ankles. Then he took my clawed left hand in his, wrenched my fingers into a natural position, and massaged them. Next, he climbed the ladder and straddled the wall. He did the same to my right hand. He directed me to let my hands and legs hang down the wall to get the blood flowing to them.

I did as he told me and experienced the painful prickling of renewed circulation.

When he saw the faces I made, he told me to swing my arms and legs back and forth to relieve the sensations. After a while, I was able to make my way to the ladder and begin climbing down. If had not assisted me, I would have slipped because I was still clumsy and stiff.

As soon as I was on the ground, I looked down at my bloody hands. A few of my nails had split and the skin on the tips of my fingers was raw and red.

We walked to the stream in the camp and he told me to leave them in the flowing water for a while. The cool water felt good on my wounds. The ride on the wall removed most of the lard on me, but there was still a bit on me. The Balam Ch’ab told me to sit in the stream and use a sea sponge that he packed with sand from the bottom of the stream to rub off the rest of the lard. I removed the thong and did so.

When I got out of the water, I almost dried my fingers in my hair, but he admonished me and told me to let them dry naturally because it was more sanitary. There were some aloe plants around and he cut off a leaf, removing the thorny edges with his knife. I squeezed the leaf and rubbed the sticky goo into my fingers.

We then went to the large hut and he opened a covered gourd filled with a green salve and handed me a large flat brush. I had to dip the brush in the salve and paint my body with the salve, except my face, groin and feet. The salve irritated some cuts I had, but soon turned cool and numbed my muscles. Then I put my tunic back on.

The Balam Ch’ab settled down on a hammock and told me to do the same. I took the one next to his and kept my eyes on the thatched roof.

He told me that it was common for new students to feel worn out after a few circuits along the wall. “Most of them do not overdo it as you did, though. After the third round, they are usually too tired to continue. The wall looks easy, but it is hard on the hands and the need to maintain balance demands watchfulness. This creates a tension of the body that is difficult to sustain.”

We were through with the wall for the day, he said, because my hands needed time to adjust and that eventually I would notice that the tips of my fingers developed protective calluses that would let me ride the wall for longer periods.

“Did you notice where your sense of self was on your ride?” he asked.

I told him that the wall was so exhilarating that I thought of nothing else.

“That is a pity,” he said. “I hoped that you would keep my words in mind. I cannot blame you, though. We do not have such devices in the city. It is only natural that you would drop all thoughts.”

Sleepiness was overtaking me even though it was early in the day. I nodded at his words and decided to look over at him to see if he saw me nod. He reclined on his hammock staring at the ceiling as I had. He nodded to himself as if he had seen my nod.

“Before you fall asleep, Zaki, I wish to ask you about the story my father, the Ahtzic Uinac, told you. What did he say?”

I told him about the four lineages as best I could.

“I suspected something like that would occur,” he said.

I did not understand and asked him to explain.

“My father is old. I fear he tires of telling stories. Lately, he prefers to tell unvarnished truths without the cushion of formal tales. The proper method would have been for him to have one of his apprentices accompany you and whisper in your ear as he speaks his tale. He must have purposely left the apprentice behind. That way, he could reveal the hidden truths within the story himself.” He sighed. “I have not decided whether it is a result of dementia or determination. I should not interfere.”

I did not want to appear callous by not saying anything, yet I did not really know what to say to him. After a brief time, I said, “Then it must be determination, Balam Ch’ab, because he was quick and clear in his conversation. He was kind enough to teach me about several things. His eyes were not the dull eyes of an old man; they were as shiny as an eagle’s eyes and seemed to notice everything. Tukumux was with us because your father worried about him.  He was taking him to some weavers to learn a new trade. You are lucky to be able to claim him as your father. He is kind and intelligent.”

My words must have relieved him because he smiled.

After that, we both fell asleep for a time.

We woke up later in the afternoon when the shadows covered the camp.

***

We sat on the grass with our backs against some squat stones. The remains of the stew and fruits we ate for dinner were next to us on the grass.

“Balam Ch’ab, how does riding the wall help one turn into a jaguar?”

“One must acquaint oneself with the different parts that compose the jaguar. One part involves the outer physical-ness, feeling the shape and skin of the cat and still another part involves knowing the sensations that occur within the jaguar. Your voice must even become that of the jaguar… for who ever heard of a jaguar speaking as a man? Only the man speaks as a man. The jaguar rolls his growls and his audible vocabulary is singular. Unlike man, he does not engage in idle chatter. Everything the jaguar speaks is to be listened to. His inner voice is harder still for it is composed of assurance and power. His demeanor is one of watchfulness coupled with the assuredness of triumph should battle be called for.”

He stood up then and began pacing around me aimlessly, caught up in his thoughts. “All of this is difficult to explain because you do not yet have the proper background to appreciate my words or put them into context within your own life. You have never bothered to feel how your skin feels wrapped around your muscles or even observed your breath as it flows in and out of you, have you?”

With great embarrassment, I softly shook my head to indicate that I had not done any of those things. Truly, they had never occurred to me.

Still pacing around, he grabbed his lower lip, doubling it as he thought. “Right now, your lessons with the Cabicacmotz are suspended until things settle a bit regarding the pochtecas and the visiting tribes, but soon he will have to address these deficiencies. Or someone else will have to.” He sighed loudly, “Since I have noticed, I must correct it. It is imperative that you notice everything about you, Zaki. Feel which parts of your head are virtually hairless and which are hirsute. Go on now, feel.”

His demand sounded silly to me, but I complied. I felt the smooth curve of my cheek, without the benefit of my hands, and then I felt the fuzzy covered feeling of my scalp. From my scalp, I could only feel a short distance before the feeling diminished and vanished. It was as if my hair no longer connected to me the farther it was from my head. He made me feel the parts with my hands and forearms. Then I repeated the exercise without hands again.

After that, he made me observe how it felt when I swallowed and how often, how my heart felt beating inside my chest and its rhythm, and the sensation of sitting on grass.

He told me that I was to watch myself carefully to observe what I felt, sensed, heard, saw and imagined. I complained that such activities would consume my days and force me into inactivity or useless introspection.

“If you think you can come into the camp and ride the wall without any other work on your part, you are fantasizing. I have no regrets throwing a hopeless student out, especially one who will never work as a Jaguar Knight. Your being here is a gift to you, not me. I will tell you that any undertaking in your schooling is a battle and no battle has ever resulted in triumph without the proper groundwork and knowledge. You are the base in all this and you will get nowhere without knowing everything about yourself because the task is to become a jaguar. How can you transform into something if you do not even know how the original being works and feels? You. When you have to know and keep in mind everything about the secondary being, the jaguar? It cannot be done.”

Feeling lazy after our dinner and not finding work attractive then, I was trying to find a way out of further work. “I know myself, Balam Ch’ab. I know that I will become so immersed in observing myself that I will be unable to step out of my house.”

“You barely know yourself, Zaki. You have not even scratched the surface of your personality and faults. No one can do this work for you; you must do it. I have only called your attention to your physical feelings and they are so foreign to you that they seem to be arcane facets of life. What will you do when you must move your awareness or sense of self to other locations to change into the jaguar? Do you realize that you must view your place on this earth from another perspective than your own? When your sensibilities must be those of the jaguar and not those of a human prince? The only way I know of to buttress you for that shock is for you to know yourself.”

“I warn you that I am going to go into a monologue, about becoming the jaguar, which you must hear. I will be as precise as possible, but you must not interrupt me, unless I ask you a question. I know I have been speaking for a long time. I have an ability to do so even though I do not have the knack to be a storyteller. I am the leader of the Balami as well as the leader for those who are in Mahohcuatah’s left lineage.”

“Because you are also a dreaming student, you have already heard about the dreamer, the body, and the spirit. Man goes in a circle, one could say. His dreamer is to his left and his spirit is to his right, a few feet before him in normal circumstances. I belong to Mahohcuatah’s lineage, so my training involved honing my will and learning to see. This seeing is specialized because it involves seeing energy that is invisible because this energy it is not composed of matter. One approaches the dreamer while one is in the body. Having the dreamer’s sight be secondary to those of the physical body is a good trait for the Jaguar Knights. To have the dreamer be the primary eyesight is dangerous because those will have bad eyesight and attack any living things before them.We have some of those and they have their uses.”

I raised my eyes at this to show how bad an idea I thought that was.

He caught my expression, shrugged and looked somewhat sheepish as he said, “I know. It sounds crazy, but those men must work as Jaguar Knights because they have learned how to become jaguars. We must waste nothing, especially genius. First, we tried only using them on one night, but they decimated the animal life and we never allowed it again. Now we are able to control them better. Do not ask me how, but it involves bringing in the spirit-jaguars. I will discuss that later with you.”

“To belong to my lineage, you must have great will and be able to see energy. I would prefer that you quickly grasp the ability to see energy so we will tackle that the next time you come. It is something that must be done during the day.” He had an afterthought and corrected himself. “Is it true that the Etamanel Evan placed a woman on your belly to help you see the lights in the sky?”

I nodded. The technique was to keep the sun behind my head, bring in my awareness to just behind my eyes and watch as swooping tangles of light illuminated the sky. The sight was wonderful.

“Do not think for a moment that the technique belongs to the seven-pronged. It belongs to mankind itself. Here is what I want from you Zaki, perform that exercise every afternoon or morning. Try to do it when the sun is halfway to its zenith or the horizon. Given your propensity in gazing to excess, have a guard or Chahel with you as the others have commanded.”

“The second part of turning into a jaguar for those of my line is to know their selves so completely that they begin by feeling their body and one by one replacing each quality with the corresponding quality that the jaguar has. You feel your breathing and you replace it with the type of breath that the jaguar breathes. You run down your inventory of how the jaguar differs and put it into practice, leaving behind your humanity, yet retaining your intellect. In addition, the more one does it, the easier it gets. It becomes second nature and men transform immediately by will, they know that state so completely. Otherwise you would have sat in the tent for a great while at the festival”

At the Festival of Adults, before my eyes, the Balam Ch’ab disrobed one moment and became a jaguar the next. My eyes could not believe what they witnessed.

“If you are taking the path of Mahohcuatah, you must keep this in mind. If you take the part of the dreamer, these techniques will show your dreamer the way into that particular sensitivity of being. If intoxicated, you will perform these actions in your mind and you will relive them and find a way to make them a reality. I cannot speak to you of the mushroom because those men are few and I am not one of them. There is something wild and fluid about those men. Personally, I find them rather terrifying because I cannot fathom what they know for they have summoned order from chaos itself, I believe. Likewise do I feel about dreamers because I have never much liked dreaming.” He opened his arms to indicate the realm around us. “This is my world and where I have influence. Do you have any questions?”

“If you belong to the left part of Mahohcuatah’s line, who composes the right line and why?”

A wry look passed over his face and vanished. “You have pre-empted my later explanation of the spirit-jaguars being paired with dreamer-jaguars, but I will answer you anyway as the night is early.  He took a deep breath before he said, “You understand the spirit is the companion of man and stands at his right? The dreamer is also man’s companion and stands to his left.”

I told him that Ahtoobalvar and the Cabicacmotz had already described them.

“Well, the right and left are predilections like all others and they are not carved in stone. One day, I might choose the right, but for now, I am more comfortable going left to my dreamer. When that day comes, I must relinquish my leadership of the Mahohcuatah line of body-jaguars and become a novice among the spirit-jaguars.”

“What is the difference?” I asked.

“Purity of spirit, basically. A man’s spirit may reject him if it finds him unworthy. The man must be a paragon of virtue. The spirit enables man to climb to the heavens, therefore miracles manifest for the spirit. Since this is a physical change, the spirit-jaguar must bring the miraculous down to earth, but he cannot enter heaven in that state because he is bound with a body of his own choosing and not the Creator’s.”

“When the body-jaguar is made with the dreamer, the man has chosen a body whose realm is that of earth and the underworld. The realm of the underworld is one of magic and wonders. I long to combine my body with that of the spirit, but I realize that my post might require me to kill a man and my spirit will not allow itself to be tainted in such a manner.”

“Why then must the spirit-jaguars accompany the jaguar-dreamers who cannot see well and are dangerous?”

“Because they can reverse the mistakes of their charges and bring the dead back to life. Indeed, that belongs to the miraculous. To countermand death is a divine gift. Magic is useful, but miracles are manifestations of heaven upon earth.”

“Be careful, Zaki, that you do not get lost in our taxonomy of terms, many overlap. There are four lineages, but we often refer to those in them by the terms body-jaguar, spirit-jaguar and dream-jaguar. These terms do not refer to any one lineage; they are just convenient ways of looking at things. Body-jaguar refers to when the body combines with the dreamer, yet the eyes of the body are dominant. A spirit-jaguar means that the spirit is used, in any combination. Even if the eyes of the body are the primary ones, the spirit has so much power that the combination is called a spirit-jaguar. A dream jaguar results when the governing sight is that of the dreamer and the secondary sight is that of the body. All of these permutations can be found within the lineages.”

He looked up at the stars and said, “It grows late. Go to your hammock and sleep. Tomorrow, the Cabicacmotz will arrive early to retrieve you and bring you back to your home. Apply more aloe to your fingers before you sleep.”

The Balam Ch’ab stood up and went to the large hut. When I went into the small hut, I saw that Chahel was already there, asleep under my hammock. Sleep came easily.

Chapter 2 – Part 2 (1st Draft)

The sense of self was a concept that my uncle, the Cabicacmotz, had acquainted me with. It consisted of tracing backwards to where my sense of self originated. To even notice is difficult. While it sounds simple, it is difficult to do because we do not wish to expend the effort. Keeping a thought at the forefront of our minds is an exertion of will.

If a man sees that the sight of a mountaintop gives him a sense of joy and he wishes to replicate that feeling, he must move his awareness from the point before his eyes that he associates with the joy. The joy does not come from the mountaintop; it comes from the sight acting upon the man. He traces it back to the point behind his eyes that emitted the joy. Joy is a burst that erupts from a man. Recently I had followed the Cabicacmotz’ advice and followed the source to come from behind my heart. How odd it was to discover that my sense of self was not always located right behind my eyes or even connected to them. The place of self could be anywhere.

Both the Cabicacmotz and the Balam Ch’ab gave me instructions to perform the check upon my sense of self whenever I felt or encountered strangeness. If I could feel where Chahel was, without the use of my eyes or hearing, I was to trace my sense of self to determine where that sense of knowing came from. I was lazy and could not remember to do it, however, unless I was relaxing and remembering what my teachers spoke to me. Finding the burst of joy was a fluke for me. Most times, I forgot the technique existed.

 

***

“When the jaguar runs, it hunts prey. He is a creature of efficiency and purpose. His focus is on what he must do. If stalking, he creeps. When chasing, he runs. His shoulders lead his forward movement and his sense of self confines itself to the tight wire of his spine. Usually the sense of self is where his skull meets his neck, but it can be anywhere. He is balance incarnate and can easily switch his awareness from the right to the left. With that, he maintains balance. That movement is connected to his shoulders and eyes. Remember that the sense of self is separate from awareness.”

His words confused me and I began to ask him to explain.

The Balam Ch’ab told me that only action could resolve my questions and he demonstrated the actions I should perform on the wall. “For now, you must tuck your feet behind you, so they rest on the wall.” He pulled his legs up and rested the front of his feet on the rounded edge, soles to the sky. What I thought was a carved line of adornment in the wall was a ridge that was three hand-lengths from the top of the wall. The Balam Ch’ab put his hands on the line and pulled himself forward, going counterclockwise on the wall.

I ran along the perimeter path beside him while he used his hands to slide along the wall. The training camp was enormous. We passed a stream twice that flowed in and out of the camp through a shallow hole in the wall. The rest was trees, pasture and gardens. It resembled the estate I shared with Maricua, my sister.

When the Balam Ch’ab completed his circuit around the camp, he did not appear out of breath. His ride ended at the other side of the ladder. I was anxious to get up and try it. I waited for him to climb back down.

Instead, he sat up and said, “One of the most important things for the transformation is the knowledge of where the jaguar’s sense of self resides. As men, we feel that our sense of self is often dependent upon a line that is vertical. We are upright beings. The jaguar is not, it is a horizontal creature. It parallels the ground. We are earth to sky; he is earth to earth in forward motion.”

He climbed down from the ladder and came to where I stood. “All right, Zaki. You need to get up there and position yourself the same as I showed you. Remember to tuck your feet up on the back.”

I climbed the ladder as quickly as possible and positioned myself. It was a relief to discover that the line for the hands was at a comfortable distance for me. He decided that I needed to apply some lard to the front of my feet to avoid blisters. From a small pouch hanging from the ladder, he found some lard and applied it to my feet. I was ready to go and almost pushed off, when he grabbed my ankle and held me there.

I wanted to get going, but he wanted to bore me with more talk about the jaguar’s sense of self.

He crouched down, resting on his haunches, and drew a straight dotted line in the sand of the perimeter walk. There was an arrow at one point. Next, he drew an inverted arrow, a vee, whose point originated midway along the dotted line. The ends of the vee extended a small bit from the end of the line with the arrow.

He stood up, brushing dirt from his hands. With his toe, he pointed at the dotted line and said, “This is the spine and tail of the jaguar.” The arrow indicated the advancing movement of the jaguar. The vee was a difficult concept for me to grasp.

“Always,” the Balam Ch’ab said, “the two separate lines of the vee flow from the origin of the spine. Physically, they are attached to the shoulders of the jaguar. The jaguar leads with its shoulders. Watch Chahel sometime and you will see the truth of my words. Even when she walks in that languid way of hers, she leads with her shoulders. The difficult thing is to keep in mind that the awareness is attached to the movement of the shoulders and alternates with the shoulders. Right, front and back while the left does the same. The sense of self shifts slightly, though not as largely as the sense of awareness shifts. It will feel as though it is moving in a half circle. Its forward motion is balanced at the spine. When the cat runs, the balance can be anywhere along the spine.”

I pretended to know what he meant since I was restless and eager to push off. I nodded with a serious look on my face as if I was weighing his words, when all I could think of was the fast ride he took upon the wall and how it looked like incredible fun.

“The jaguar’s sense of self is parallel to the ground and is always at the level of his spine. It moves forward and back along that level. A man’s sense of self can be anywhere and strives to go up as far as it can. The jaguar’s strives to move forward. Our natural inclination is to move upwards, the jaguar’s is to go forward.”

I needed to put a stop to his explanations and said, “I’m having a bit of trouble imaging what you said. Maybe I have to feel it while I am moving.”

He gave me a sly half-smile and said, “Perhaps. One final piece of advice: imagine that your hands are claws while you use them to grasp hold of the ridges along the wall.”

Without waiting for him to change his mind, I grabbed hold of the ridged line and pulled myself forward.

Chapter Two – Beginning / 1st Draft

When I reached the top of the Balam Ch’ab’s wall, I almost fell and could understand why Chahel growled. There were patches of a slippery substance on the rounded top. With care, I flipped my body over it to position myself to climb down the other side. The uppermost stone was a sand-colored marble, in the shape of half-cylinders, which matched the rock under it. It was slick and smooth.

Once I was inside the camp, I smelled my hands. They were greasy and smelled like smoked animal; it was lard. Either the Jaguar Knights were messy eaters or they took irritating measures to make their camp difficult to enter. The height of the wall was well over a man’s height, but someone could climb over it with assistance. The lard was merely an annoyance. I could not imagine that it would impose much of an impediment.

The training camp had fooled my eyes from the outside. Inside, I could not see the other side of the camp. The area I was in was broad with a worn perimeter path inside the wall. Beyond were footpaths through gardens leading to a trio of wooden huts. Behind the huts were trees and bushes. I could not see Chahel, yet felt that she was in the bushes.

The nobility, to indicate their territory, often used stone walls. They, however, would never accept homes made of trees. For a roof, it was acceptable, for a dwelling, it was not.

The Balam Ch’ab caught me laughing and asked me why. I told him that the place appeared to house nobles, beyond the wall, but inside it seemed that it housed peons.

He looked at the huts and told me that they only housed the finest men and women, adding that the vast majority were from the noble classes.

“Women visit their men in the training camp? How can you allow that?”

The Balam Ch’ab raised his eyebrows and blinked a few times as if unsure what to say. He smirked and seemed about to say something when he burst out with a deep snort and began laughing. “What do you think we are doing out here, Zaki, running a hiding place for sin? Do not tell me that you did not know that some of our knights could be women.”

I protested that I had not known and that it was unthinkable that they allowed women to become warriors and killers. Women should stay at home cooking, cleaning, and raising children, I told him. Underneath my words was the belief that women were not strong enough. I believed men should protect them and shelter them away from the realities of war. “Why are we burdening them with such awfulness and strife, don’t they do enough?”

The Balam Ch’ab doubled over and clutched his sides. The origin of his braid was at the top of his head, so it bounced more than a regular one. The braid danced along his back like an agitated snake. Irritated that he was laughing at me, I stressed my points over again.

Laughing, he laid face down on the grass with his hands stretched to the sides. I ended my argument with the words, “Once I am king, no longer will the women have to do these dreadful things.”

“Oh, please stop.”

I saw that tears were running from his eyes. Aggravated that he did not give my arguments the attention they deserved, I walked away and stared at the wall. When I was there for a short time, I realized, with wonder, that I was no longer nervous around the Balam Ch’ab and that I had argued with him. A cold feeling overtook me; it dispelled the heat I felt when I voiced my beliefs in anger. Now I felt exposed and foolish, and began worrying that the Balam Ch’ab would punish me somehow. I turned around to see where he was.

He sat up and brushed dirt from his palms. He looked over to where I was and motioned me to return and sit with him.

When I was before him, I began to apologize for my outburst, but he stopped me.

“Quiet yourself and sit down. Do not say another word or I will begin laughing again.” He waited for me to sit in front of him and told me that he had not laughed that hard in many years. He even thanked me.

Before he could stop me, I told him that I did not recognize myself and that I was not usually argumentative.

Stopping my apology with a wave of his hand, he said, “That is your reaction to stressful or difficult circumstances. Do not bother apologizing. You were unafraid and you thought clearly about your arguments. That is a good quality for a jaguar knight. I am pleased. Only afterward did you worry about your actions. In the fury of the moment, you are no coward.”

I slouched with relief. As soon as I relaxed, I noticed that I had been clutching all of my muscles, especially those in my buttocks.

“We do have to clear a few things up before we begin, though,” he said. “We use huts here because we are in the jungle and many creatures live in it. Occasionally, if we are not vigilant, we must set fire to the huts and build new ones. We could not easily clean stone buildings with fire.”

Mice infested the huts a few years back, he told me, and several knights and students died because of them. It was after a long rainy season, when the trees were particularly fruitful. Because of the abundance of food, the mice bred more profusely. They spread and began looking for hiding places and food. They chanced upon the training camp. Since the presence of the knights kept natural predators away, especially jaguars, the mice quickly reproduced and nested in the walls and roofs of the huts. The droppings were everywhere. No one noticed since the dirt floor was dark in color. The mice were stealthy and would hide or be still when people were about.

“Many breathed in that filth and died. We thought they only had minor fevers, but within days, they were dead.”

“How did you realize what was wrong or know how to fix it?”

“We called in the healers. They could not overcome it because it killed so rapidly. The Cabicacmotz came after they were baffled and saw into the problem. He also gave us the solution. Fortunately, we noticed quickly that those who slept in the huts were the ones who fell ill. Not one of those people were old or infirm, Zaki. We burned the huts and they scorched the earth when they fell. Fire kills, but it also cleanses.”

I asked him whether the original huts were stone and he told me that they were not because the outer wall made it too difficult to bring in stones.

“Why do you not use the main entrance?”

“There is no entrance to the camp. Either one enters it as a jaguar would or one is provided with a ladder as you were today.”

“Can you not cut a hole for stone to be brought in, then?”

He looked at me with disgust. “The wall is our most splendid tool for teaching the steps of the jaguar. We would never mutilate it for a mere luxury.”

I decided not to ask any further questions when I heard the acid in his voice.

“Come. We have sat for long enough,” he said. “I will show you where to leave your satchel and where you will sleep.” He walked to the smallest hut and I followed.

My spirits sank when I saw the crude lodgings and the hammock where I was to sleep. Only peons used hammocks. To sleep on a mat or bed indicated that a man was wealthy enough to have servants ensure its cleanliness. Recently, I saw my father’s home for the first time and was surprised to see that he slept in a hammock. It shocked me and made me feel embarrassed for him. A thought occurred to me.

“Was my father a Jaguar Knight?”

The Balam Ch’ab smiled with delight and said, “He trained here, but he cannot be a knight.”

It hurt me to ask, but I finally said, “Was he unable to transform himself?”

He shook his head. “Of course he could turn himself into a jaguar, Zaki. He is a talented and capable man. Never think otherwise. He cannot be a mere knight simply because he is the king who commands us.”

“Take off your clothes,” he ordered me, “and remove your stone.”

I protested, telling him that I did not wish to take a nap and that Zotabah, Ahtoobalvar and the Cabicacmotz demanded that I always wear my navel stone.

“You are mistaken if you think I will let you take a nap so soon. It is time for work. I am going to show you the wall.” He looked me over, focusing on my necklace. The stones were the same as the one I used in my navel. “Don’t worry about the navel stone, Zaki. The necklace will suffice to keep you safe. This way you will not lose your stone or ruin your belt. Now, remove your clothes while I fetch you a proper training garment.”

He left me in the hut. I took off my tunic and removed the leather belt that kept my navel stone in place. Afterwards, I stored the belt and stone in my satchel and threw it onto the hammock. His story made me paranoid about vermin. A few moments later, he peered in and handed me a leather thong that tied on either side of my hips. With chagrin, I put it on and emerged from the hut. The crotch area was too thick and unwieldy; it hindered my gait. I complained that it made me walk like a monkey.

I stopped complaining when I looked up and saw that he was wearing an identical thong. He did not walk funny in it, however. It looked well worn and discolored.

“Make sure that your sides are tightly tied,” he said as he walked to the largest hut. “This is what we wear for the wall. The wide crotch is used because no one wants their privates to fall out while they straddle the wall.”

The hut was a few times larger than mine was and it was as austere. There were a few more hammocks and some trunks of trees for seating.

Near the entrance, there was a large clay vat of lard. He directed me to apply the lard to my leathers, thighs, stomach and chest area. When he saw that I was being sparse applying the lard to my groin, he told me that I would be uncomfortable until the lard seeped into the leather and made it supple. After hearing that, I slapped it on as thick as I could. I sniffed myself and knew I smelled like a roasted boar.

The Balam Ch’ab deftly applied his own lard and then dipped his hands in a vat of talc. He told me to do the same, telling me that the talc would soak up the oil on my hands and make them less slippery.

When we reached the stone wall, he told me to stay on the ground while he demonstrated what he wished me to do. He climbed the ladder and straddled the wall.

“The first step to becoming a jaguar is to learn to move like one,” he said. “The jaguar is a being composed of balanced sides. Its sense of self is located primarily upon its spine at the base of its head and its awareness switches from the left to the right side alternatively. The eyes connect to the shoulders. You will see.”

***

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