This short story is a celebration of the fact the my computer works (a different story). It is a compilation of several Maya legends from the Yucatan and draws several quotes from the amazing work of J.M. Barrie. As of yet, it is still not finished, but this is the first chapter. Enjoy.
Soft and smooth, the gold syrup bubbled up along the ridges of the yellow, yellow wax. The wrinkled hands trembled softly as the woman gently held the delicate comb by its edges and poured the honey into the dark earthen pot. The clean comb, she set in a tight weave basket, humming tunelessly in a slight drone that matched the voices of the bees snuggling in her grey-streaked black braids.
She smiled a she worked, a toothless grin, gums glowing pink in the hot sticky light. The shadows danced as the sun beat down overhead, sweat glistening like water in the ravines of that old granny apple face. Finally, the old woman looked up from the clever log bee house that had captured her attention for so many hours with its treasure of waxy sweets.
With an a seeming ease that belied the effort it took her, the old woman pushed herself off the ground, feet and legs standing first, with her hands firmly planted on the ground for extra support. Then, the woman grabbed her basket and stood the rest of the way, black eyes glittering defiantly from deep folds of caramel skin as she placed the basket on her head. Last, but not least, the she firmly gripped her pots full of honey and headed back to the village.
You know that place between sleeping and awake, that place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always think of you.
? J.M. Barrie
The route from the bee hives to the village was long, even for a person in the prime of their life, but that day the route seemed longer than usual. Somewhere along the way, the woman stopped, set down her burden, and thumped down alongside the path, breathing hard. As she caught her breath, she studied the landscaped around her and was surprised to find that she was no longer following the dirt path to her village. Somehow, it had changed; the ground beneath her was the white stucco of a sac be, the shadows dancing on the road an emerald green she had never seen before, translucent leaves catching the light and throwing off in strange patterns. The sounds and smells of the jungle were the same, but so much stronger, as if they had been distilled to their very essence. The toloques that darted between the trees were larger than she had ever seen and brilliant as jewels. Totally lost, the woman looked up and saw the blue green of a quetzal shoot across the sky, accompanied by the rustle of leaves and the mocking chatter of monkeys.
My village is to the east of the beehives, the woman thought, I know I went east. Yet, it would appear that I am on the Long West Road… “Grandmother,” a deep voice broke her reverie, “You seem lost. May I help you find what you are looking for?” She started and looked at the young man, as distilled as her surroundings. His black hair was shaved on one side, the other left long, longer than she had seen on even the greatest of warriors in her village. The labrets in his ears were real green jade, set with obsidian jaguar heads. Yet, her attention was caught by the jeweled beetle bound to his chest with a gold chain that pierced the flesh above his heart.
“I was heading towards my village,” she told him staring at the insect in fascination as it raised its head to look back at her. “Yet, I think I have embarked upon the Long West Road, though I not quite sure how I got here.” The bug crawled up the man’s shoulder, the gold chain growing longer to allow it greater mobility, and snuggled up against his ear, chittering. The man nodded when the bug finished and looked at the old woman; “We can lead you back to your village” he offered. “We?” she wondered aloud. The man nodded, “Yes, we. The princess and I.”
The woman looked around more confused than ever, “Princess?” The man smiled sadly and caressed the beetle on his shoulder, “Yes, the princess.” “The maquech?” “You know of the maquech?” the man asked surprised. “Yes, of course,” the woman said as she pushed herself to her feet with effort while the stranger had picked up her basket and pots of honey, and was waiting for her. “They protect the bee hives from threats; a stronger warrior and more loving creature does not exist.”
They took to the road, the old woman painfully putting one foot in front of the other and the man waiting patiently by her side. Curiosity finally getting the better of her, the old woman asked “So…. Why do you have a maquech chained to your heart?”
Silence reigned for several minutes; the warrior took a deep breath and very slowly let it out. The maquech chattered. Then the man spoke:
“‘Aten-hut!’ Right hand to your chest. Left hold your weapon straight, perpendicular to the ground, a 45-degree angle from your left side. Head straight ahead. Don’t look around. The mosquito on your knee means nothing. The sweat dripping in your eyes means nothing. The blisters and exhaustion mean nothing. Face forward. Eyes straight ahead. And be still; stiller than the steale that last forever, stiller than the days before Chac-Mol sends the rain, stiller than the Jaguar waiting its prey. Boom-che-che – Boom – ce-che – Boom. Quiet, heart, don’t beat so loud, the Devine Lord of us All, Halach Uinik of Uxmal will hear.
“Bow!” Weapon and head parallel to the ground. Drop to your knees. Back straight. Chest out. You are a warrior. Even bowing, you must look it. Your weapon must never touch that of the man in front of you. Every warrior knows that. To touch the man in front of you is to mark him, is to curse him and bring him to the attention of your enemies and their barbaric gods. Every man here knows that, so who touches my shoulder, who curses me to feed my enemy’s gods?
“Soldier!” The voice rasps like broken shards against my ears. Boom-che-che. Stay bowed. Boom-che-che. “Sting of the Red-Blue Frog, My Devine Lord” the training master tells the King of Uxmal, the being who marks me. That is what I am called here, though it is not the name my mother gave me. “Blue-green Blessing of the Great Kukulkan” she called me. She always hoped I’d be a bard, a scribe and a scholar, communing with the Gods and creating masterpieces from mathematics, but such is not the destiny of a poor second son of an artisan. My father knew that. Yet, a jaguar knight; he never dreamed of that.
“Rise.” Knees strait. Weapon out. Head straight ahead. The face looking at you does not matter. The hot breath of the master on your neck does not matter. The sweet scent of gardenia from the diminutive third figure that has been silent this entire time does not matter.
“I like him, Father.” Music. The wind blowing through the trees, the voices of the birds in the sky, the call of the great Kulkulkan himself cannot sound as sweet, cannot send the conch call through my veins the way that voice and the whisper of Gardenia. “Then he shall be your bodyguard, My Sweet.” How can such ugliness as the voice of my Devine Lord, father something so beautiful? Head straight. Do not look at her. Do not move. Stay quiet, oh faithless heart. Boom-che-che-Boom.
A poor boy become jaguar knight in service to the royal household: it is a tale fit for legends, too good to be true. A blessing, but perhaps the Gods are fickle or perhaps, I was never blessed at all, but indeed cursed, being touched while in formation. But that’s the nature of a good curse right, you are thankful for it until the very end, when you realize that it was all just a game, a game where you and your loved ones are simply rabbits in the paws of the jaguar.
It was five years later and I had fallen in love with my royal charge, the divine princess, and she with me. But she was destined to marry another, the evil prince of Chichen Itza, and to melt away his evil with her goodness, transforming enemy to friend. And there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that she could do it. The princess was so pure and so good that she could light even the darkest of places; she could go to the Inframundo and win with love the blessings of the Lords of Hell, blessings that the hero twins could only take by treachery and lying games. And nobody worried for her, except me, the poor boy turned warrior who knew only too well the strange vagaries of destiny.
“I love her, My Lord, and I will give my life and my soul to see that she is safe for all eternity,” I told my Divine Lord, begging him to let me go with my princess to Chichen. He smiled benevolently, almost as if he were proud of my foolish outburst, and granted my wish. My mission: I was to accompany the princess to Chichen Itza and ensure that she was delivered into the hands of his rival king safely and that the Lord of the big city followed through on his promise.”
His voice died and they walked on, story teller lost in memories and old woman hanging on to his words, a child again along the winding sac be. “We are at your village.” The words rang like gongs, cold and harsh, though the now soft twilight air. “What happened?” the old woman demanded. The warrior looked surprised, as if he had forgotten that he had shared the story aloud.
“We arrived in Chichen, both us desperate to be together and yet too dutiful to break our promise to our Divine Lord. Heartbroken, I accompanied my princess to the palace and we walked the steps of the great pyramid. Boom-che-che-Boom-che-che-Boom. Something was wrong. My heart had not pounded like this since the day I was assigned to the royal guard. We reached the top of the steps. “Bow.” A voice like broken shards resounded and a hand touched my shoulder. A voice and a hand I will always remember: that of my Devine Lord.
Breaking the warrior’s code for the first time I my life, I looked up and saw that the man who was to take my beloved was no prince of Chichen, but King of Uxmal. She screamed upon seeing her father. “What are you doing here?” I managed, half strangled. He laughed a laugh more at home in hell than on the planes of this earth. “So, you would think to love another, you foolish girl,” he roared. And in a single sweep, he slapped her across the face, sending her down the steep, steep steps of the Great Pyramid. “No!” I ran to save her, but was bound by vines that sprang from the ground and held me tight.
“And, you, young fool! You think you can dare love my daughter. She is too good for the likes of you? How dare you sully her with your impure thoughts! No, she will never be yours. She will stay by side forever, like the gods intended, when they gave me the power to take the body of your weak and pathetic half-king.” And he laughed, the evil cackle of a madman, power streaming from his fingertips and enveloping the fair body of my princess. She screamed, crying like no person has ever cried before and never will since and her long black hair swirled around her, chocking her, wrapping her in a cocoon of black silk, strangling her cries. I fought with all my strength to reach her and to stop the Lord’s evil magic. I failed. The first and only time in my existence, I failed. And the king laughed.
But his laughter was cut off, as the voice of the sacred Ix-Chel filled the air. “You may curse them all you want, Oh Petty King, but you will never keep them apart. Never. Never while their love is strong.” And the black cocoon burst open, hundreds of Maquech flying out, but one glowing so beautiful and bright, her shell encrusted with the fairest jewels in the land. But I wouldn’t have needed jewels to recognize her; she glows so brightly, even in this form. Ix-Chel smiles as I caught my beloved and the air glowed gold around us. When we awoke, we were deep in the jungle, a gold chord binding us together, the reminder of our love.
And the monster who would tear us apart reigns still. From the joint thrones, he works his evil magic and reigns terror upon the people of the city. Old woman, be glad you live here, in this small and blessed village.”
All children, except one, grow up.
– J.M. Barrie
She didn’t remember the egg, but there it was when she woke, sitting in the fire pit outside, quite unlike any egg ever seen before: round and red, rounder then the earth itself and redder than the setting sun. The old woman stared at the egg, glowing and pulsing slightly in the pre-dawn grey, drawn to it, mesmerized. Something felt alive. Alive not in the way all eggs are, but alive as if whatever lived inside was awake, conscious and listening for the right moment to make itself known.
She studied it, not quite sure what to do with this magnificent treasure, a deep chocolate brown now swirling in the depths of the bloody red. Slowly with her shaking hands, the old woman reached out to the egg and caressed it.
She knew the smooth perfection of the egg better than anything else in this life; so she knew even before inspecting it that something had changed. Nothing seemed different on first inspection, but it was dark in the little house and her eyes were old and worn. She set down the pots of honey in their usual place and went to the egg, nestled in its bed of leaves exactly as she had left it in the clay chalice she had shaped for that purpose.
She ran her fingers along the surface, as cold and as smooth as ever. Or perhaps not as smooth; perhaps not as cold. Heat blossomed beneath the surface of the egg and hair thin cracks radiated from the chocolate depth.
She woke, startled, in the still of the night. Immediately, she turned towards the egg and saw that it was broken. A tiny hole had been punched through the shell and a miniature hand waved, five perfect plump caramel fingers with tiny fingernails danced in the dark; the little body inside the egg rolling around and crying to get out. Hurriedly, the old woman went to the egg and removed it from the chalice, sitting down and placing it in her lap. Then she set to helping the poor little creature escape.
A more beautiful child never existed, his honeyed skin soft and perfect, lashes thick and dark over wide, sleepy black eyes. Already, he had a full head of hair, softer than silk and shinier than the stars in the sky. Five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot, miraculous in their smallness. He stared up at her and open his mouth in that unformed expression of happy babies everywhere. Gently the old woman brought the child to her chest, hugging him close and rubbing his back. Her fingers brushed across something that was not skin. Startled, she turned the baby around. In the soft grey pre-dawn light, she gasped. Embedded in the baby’s back were jewels, jewels she had seen once upon a dream in a land far too true to be real.