Friday, October 26, 2012

Jaguar Sky: Part Five

Part Five of Jaguar Sky, for your reading pleasure. Find all the installments via the link in the navbar on the right side of the page.


December 21, 2010

     Maddie woke in the wee hours of the morning, her bladder urging her out of bed. She got up and padded barefoot toward the bathroom, moving slowly in sleepy semi-darkness. She walked a very long time.
     This is silly, she thought. I ought to be at the bathroom by now.
     She put out her hand to feel for the bathroom door but instead she touched cool plaster. She drew her hand back and peered around in confusion. The bugs sang loud nightnoise that echoed through the room. The clouds broke in the sky outside and a shaft of pale moonlight slid in through the open window. Maddie drew in a breath as brightly colored figures appeared on the smooth plaster wall. Her eyes roved across a long blue-green serpent and clusters of human and animal figures in shades of red, orange, yellow and black. A small golden jaguar crouched in flickering candlelight, its fangs bared. A chill ran down her spine as she looked along the painted wall and up to the thatch ceiling, so low her outstretched fingertips brushed the dried palm fronds.
     Her heart began to pound and goosebumps rose on her skin as she realized that the room was empty – no furniture, no glass in the window, no Joan. Panic rose and gripped her. Terrified, she turned around and bolted in the direction she had come from, praying fervently for her bed to reappear.
     Maddie jerked upright in bed, her heart pounding and sweat beading on her face. She took several gulping breaths and looked around at the moonlit lodge room with its bamboo furniture. Joan breathed heavily in her sleep in the next bed. The insects droned on outside, oblivious to Maddie’s problems. Her bladder was painfully full.
     Her heart still pounding, Maddie slid her feet to the floor. She crept to the bathroom, holding her hands out to keep in contact with the furnishings of the room. She relieved herself and felt her way back to bed quickly and without incident. In spite of her pounding heart she fell back asleep right away.
     Maddie awoke to the buzz of Joan’s alarm clock, the memory of the night’s experiences fresh in her mind. At breakfast she couldn’t keep it to herself.
     “I had the weirdest dream last night,” she said.
     “Really?” said Colin. “Being this far away from home gives you nightmares, does it?”
     She glared at him then admitted, “Well, it was kind of disconcerting.”
     “And?” Ben smiled, nodding for her to continue.
     “And it was really weird. I got up to go to the bathroom – at least I thought I did, but it was a dream.”
     “You dreamed you went to the bathroom?” Colin snickered into his coffee.
     Maddie’s face turned bright red. “That wasn’t the scary part. When I got out of bed I wasn’t in the room any more. I was in – another room.”
     “Sleepwalking?” asked Ben.
     “No, not sleepwalking. I wasn’t in the lodge. I was in a Maya house. Thatch roof, stucco walls with brightly colored paintings on them. But it wasn’t a normal dream. I could actually feel the walls and the roof.”
     Tom looked over at her. “What kind of paintings?”
     “A snake, bright blue and green, with people coming out its mouth. And other people – warriors and kings, I guess – in red, yellow and orange. And Maya writing. But I couldn’t read it.” She gulped. “And a golden jaguar.”
     The old Maya woman who had been clearing the next table dropped a plate. It clattered to the floor but did not break.
     Colin stared at Maddie. “A golden jaguar?” he said, his mouth hanging open.
     Tom nodded. “I guess you’re getting into the spirit of the expedition,” he said casually.
     “She’s been drinking balché for sure,” said Pete with a wink.
     “What’s balché?” asked Ben.
     “It’s a honey wine,” Joan explained. “The Maya make it with the bark of the balché tree. It’s hallucinogenic.”
     “I haven’t been drinking anything!” Maddie insisted.
     “Well, maybe the heat is getting to her,” laughed Colin.
     The Maya woman turned to face them. Though she was short she towered over Colin as he slouched in his chair.
     “There could have been a house here,” she said. “A noble house, with paintings on the walls. This city was huge.” She indicated the whole site with a sweeping gesture of her arm. “We told them be careful where they build things but sometimes white men don’t know how to see, how to look.” She hefted her tray of used breakfast dishes and disappeared into the kitchen.
     Joan shook her head. “Poor oppressed, underpaid peasant woman harboring silly superstitions. You see what the repressive Maya patriarchy has done to her? The only power she can wield is that of ghost stories at the breakfast table.”
     “All right,” said Tom, pushing back from the table, “let’s get a move on before this turns into a free-for-all.”
     The group gathered on the porch in what was becoming a daily routine. They walked to the site in silence, enjoying the sounds and scents of the morning. Maddie was enchanted to watch a flock of long-tailed red macaws fly over their heads along the trail.
At the site Tom and Pete rolled up the canvas walls of the lab tent for more air. They all looked over the graphs from the previous day’s magnetometer survey. Tom leaned over the table, pointing to the numbers Maddie had plotted on the graph paper.     “Maddie, you did a great job on these charts. Good detail, very neat and accurate.”
     “Thanks,” she grinned. “Dr. Lancaster wanted to make sure I did it the right way.”
     Joan pointed out a spot on the chart. “Here, just along the north side of the mound. You see how the figures suddenly rise?”
     Tom nodded. “Let’s see, it’s about eighteen inches square...or round. I’ll bet it’s a small hearth.” He rubbed his chin. “Tell you what, this runs right up into the edge of the mound. I’d like you and Maddie to mark off the area and do a shallow excavation of the two quadrants that show the unusual readings. Let’s go six inches down from our standard surface level. Joan, can you show Maddie how to read the levels?”
     “Of course.”
     “Good. Pete and I will work toward the adjoining area on the mound, just in case your feature extends beyond the edge of your quadrants and into the mound itself.” He clapped Maddie on the shoulder. “What do you know – your first day out and you found something.”
     “I’ll want to take samples for possible pollen grains, carbonized plant matter, that sort of thing in case it really is a hearth,” said Pete.
     “Of course,” Tom agreed. “Let’s get to it.”
     Maddie and Joan went to the suspect spot. Joan showed her a pole that Tom had set in the ground at the intersection of two gridlines. It had a red stripe marked around it just above the dirt, then black permanent marker every six inches up to the six-foot level, just above the height of the top of the mound.
     “This is official ground level.” Joan squatted and pointed to the red mark on the post. “You covered this at St. Augustine, didn’t you?”
     Maddie nodded.
     “All right,” Joan approved. “We’ll run red strings out from here to the next corner posts.”
     “We’ll need a bubble level, won’t we?”
     “Yes. Keep your string level and you’ll have accurate measurements. The surface of the ground isn’t perfectly level but our excavations need to be. We’ll go down six inches from this arbitrary ground level. Keep a ruler and a level with you at all times and check your depth every few inches.”
     Once they had their ground-level strings in place Joan searched through a box and produced two trowels. She handed one to Maddie. Joan knelt down and leaned forward on all fours. She motioned to Maddie to join her.
     “Now, Maddie, you’ll ruin your back if you stoop. This way you save your back and you can keep a closer eye on what you’re digging up.”
     Maddie looked at her dubiously.
     Tom grinned at her. “It’s what we call the archaeological position. You’ll get used to it. We all do.”
     “Yeah,” chimed Colin, “assume the position, Maddie.”
     Joan’s head snapped up. “Watch your tongue, young man,” she hissed.
     Embarrassed, Maddie knelt down and crouched next to Joan. They began trowelling up small bits of grass and dirt.
     Pete sauntered around the mound and stood behind the two women. “Ah, yes, the famed archaeological position.” He smacked his lips. He opened his mouth to speak again but Tom glared at him. Pete trotted back to his work at the other side of the mound.
     Maddie leaned over and whispered to Joan. “Dr. Galloway is a real jerk. I don’t know how you stand him.”
     “I avoid him when I can, Maddie. He’s a well-known name so he gives the department prestige, otherwise Tom would have been rid of him a long time ago.” She scowled and sliced a chunk of sod with her trowel. “The Maya women here would put up with him, though. They’re trained to be obedient, practically slaves. They have no concept of freedom or equality.”
     “That’s too bad. Maybe they’ll learn, someday.”
     Joan narrowed her eyes. “They need the right person to lead the way.”
     Joan and Maddie set to work clearing the two quadrants Tom had indicated. It was slow work. Every trowelful they dug up went into a giant sieve – a wooden box about two feet square with fine wire mesh for its bottom. When it began to get full they held opposite sides of the box and shook the contents through the sieve into a wheelbarrow. They sorted through the retained matter, finding only rocks and sticks.
     “So, Maddie, do you have a boyfriend?” Joan’s voice was casual as she glanced over at Ben, who was busy helping Tom cut a trench across the top of the mound.
     “No, I don’t really date much. I’m here for an education, not the M-R-S degree. I don’t want to waste my time, you know. I worked hard to get into college.”
     Joan let out a breath. “I’m glad you have such good judgment. It’s refreshing to see a young woman with a healthy grasp of reality.”
     After a few more minutes of digging Joan stood up and brushed the dirt off her knees.
     “I have some other work to do on site, something I’m looking for. Finish out this quadrant and that one,” she pointed to the next square, “and I’ll be back.”
     The professor sauntered off into the jungle. Maddie punched the dirt with the tip of her trowel.
     Damn it, she thought, she makes me do all the work and I don’t even have Kin to talk to.
     As if on cue the squat figure appeared at the edge of the clearing and marched toward her.
     “Hello, Phoenix.”
     “Hi, Kin. I’m glad to see you.”
     He looked around. “Where is Dr. Lady?”
     Maddie giggled at Kin’s name for Joan. “I don’t know. She went off like this yesterday, too. Said she had other work to do on site. I think she said she was looking for something.”
     Kin scowled. “Which way she go?”
     Maddie pointed to a path that entered the jungle a short distance down the treeline.
     “Yesterday, too?” said Kin.
     Kin turned and trotted over to the lab tent where Johnny was helping Pete arrange some equipment on the table. Kin spoke with Johnny briefly. Maddie could see Kin gesture first at her and then at the path Joan had taken into the jungle. Maddie saw Johnny talking on his walkie-talkie as Kin crossed the clearing toward her.
     “Kin, do you know a lot about Lamanai?”
     He grinned. “Oh, yes, I know all about it. It is my job.”
     “I’ve heard rumors that the temples are...they’re still used.”
     “They are not dead, I tell you.”
     “What is it they say, they’re not dead, only sleeping.”
     “They are not sleeping either, Phoenix. They know to keep quiet when white men come around.”
     Goosebumps raised on Maddie’s arms. She fingered the paper in her pocket, the paper on which Kin had drawn the square-within-a-circle.
     “Phoenix, you want to know my people’s story?” He knelt next to her and began digging up bits of dirt with a beat-up trowel.
     “You mean your mythology? I know that some of it is written in the Popol Vuh. I think I saw a copy of it in the lodge library.”
     She threw a trowelful of dirt into the screen. She grimaced to see Colin standing near the screen, watching her. He turned away and carried a handful of baggies to Pete.
     Kin chucked his trowel into the soil. “It is better to hear living words that stay in your heart once your ears hear them.”
     “You don’t like books?”
     “Books are fine, Phoenix, but they give excuse not to remember things. I know all the stories by heart. Better that way. Do you know how everything came to be?”
     “Well, I know about the Big Bang theory and I’ve read the Genesis story in the Bible. I read some other creation stories in a mythology class I took, too.”
     They trowelled up bits of topsoil as they talked.
     Kin grinned. “Well, Phoenix, let me tell you how it really happened.” He winked at her.
     “OK,” said Maddie, laughing.
     “You know about Xibalba?”
     “Shee-bal-BA,” she pronounced, accenting the final syllable.
     “It is the Otherworld. Everything that is not created.”
     Maddie nodded. “The Void. Emptiness.”
     “The only thing in Xibalba was Lying-Down-Sky, the deep black ocean. But then Divine Being had a dream. When Divine Being had this dream, Divine Being made the dream vision into words. As the words issued forth, three came into being.”
     Oh my God, thought Maddie, if that sort of thing happens to these people, I wonder what I have created by talking about my dreams.
     “Those three were Jaguar, the two Stingray Paddlers and Black-House-Red-God.”
     Maddie counted on her fingers. “But that’s four, not three.”
     “No, three. The Stingray Paddlers are two but one. How you say, two sides of one coin.”
     “OK, I think I understand. They were like twins, right?”
     He nodded. “These three laid the three hearthstones in the center of Lying-Down-Sky at First-Three-Stone-Place and that was the beginning of creation.”
     “Is that why your people always use three hearthstones to put their griddles on for cooking?”
     “Yes, now you understand. We create creation all over again every day. Creation did not happen once. It is always happening. Now these gods, they painted the hearthstones with their own blood. It was the first sacrifice.”
     Maddie grimaced and reached for the spot on her arm that had been injured by the acacia thorn two days earlier.
     “Phoenix, blood is life. That is why we sacrifice. Only blood speaks to the ancestors because our blood comes from them.”
     Maddie’s face flushed and her ears began to buzz. She forced her eyes to focus on the soil and willed her hand to move the trowel.
     “Now let me tell you the rest of the story, Phoenix. Do you know where the three hearthstones went?”
     “They’re not still in the Otherworld?”
     “Only one of them is. But you know, there are three worlds. Three hearthstones, three worlds.”
     “Three worlds?”
     He let out a sigh. “They do not teach you much at your school, do they?”
     “Maybe not,” she conceded.
     “You see that tree by your lab tent? The big one with roots that stand up on top of the ground?”
     “Yes. It’s huge.”
     “White men call it ceiba tree.” He pronounced SAY-bah. “We call it Yaxche.”
     “Yah...Yash-chay,” said Maddie with great difficulty.
     “Means ‘first tree.’ But we also call it Pom. You can say that. It is easier.”
     “OK. I do have trouble pronouncing some of your words.”
     “Pom is first tree because first there was the tree then the animals. If trees perish then animals perish. People, too.”
     “Wow, you’re a real environmentalist.”
     “All life is one life, Phoenix.” He gave her a friendly smile. “Pom tree is the center of the universe. Its roots reach down into the Underworld, its trunk is here with us on Earth and its branches reach up into the Upperworld.”
     “Oh, yes,” Maddie said with sudden recognition. “I understand. It’s just like the ash tree in Norse mythology.”
     “If you say so,” said Kin. “The Pom is the center of the universe. Every Maya village has a Pom tree at its center.”
     “So what about the three hearthstones?”
     “You see, only one of the hearthstones stayed in Lying-Down-Sky in the Underworld. When First Father raised the tree between the three worlds he took one of the Underworld hearthstones and put it here on earth with us. It is the center of all our great temples.”
     “Wait, let me get this straight. The one Pom tree is the center of every village and the one hearthstone is the center of every temple.”
     “Exactly right, Phoenix.”
     “This is making my head hurt.”
     “You hear my words with your head and your head aches. Hear my words with your heart,” he said, thumping his chest, “and you understand.”
     “I don’t know.”
     “Just listen, Phoenix, and you will learn.”
     “Okay, so the one hearthstone stays in the Underworld and the second one is here on earth. What about the third one?”
     “First Father lifted the third hearthstone into the night sky. It became three stars together. They are in the middle of what you call Orion.”
     “Orion’s belt?”
     “Yes. And the smoke around those three stars is the smoke from the gods’ first sacrifice, the one that bring life into being.”
     “Smoke? Oh my God, you mean the Orion nebula!”
     “I do not know about that, Phoenix. But when I go out in the mountains, away from the light of town, I can still see that smoke so I know that the gods are still sacrificing to make life here for us.”
     Kin made a sound like a dog snarling and Maddie jumped.
     “What’s the matter, Kin? Did I do something wrong?”
     “Not you,” Kin said through clenched teeth. “Him.” He stabbed his trowel toward the lab tent where Father Angelico stood talking to Colin.
     “Do not talk to him, Phoenix. He is…not good.”
     Kin set his trowel down, stood up and strode away.
     “Wait, Kin, don’t leave me alone!” Maddie pleaded.
     “You will never be truly alone, young lady.”
     Maddie flinched at the sound of the priest’s voice. She sprang up and took two steps back from him.
     “Your name is Maddie, if I recall correctly.” He flashed her a friendly smile.
     “Maddie, I hope you are enjoying your time here. It is such a lovely part of God’s creation.” He took a step closer, towering over her, still smiling. She smelled incense on him, the kind they use in Catholic churches.
     “It’s all right,” she said. “It’s the first real traveling I’ve ever done.” He acted so nice, and his smile was so friendly, that Maddie couldn’t resolve the voice in the back of her head that told her to turn and run as fast as she could.
     “Your colleague over there,” he nodded toward the lab tent where Colin was working, “tells me you have been having interesting dreams.”
     “Colin just likes to pull my chain. It’s nothing, really. Just nerves because I’ve never been this far away from home before.” She hoped her voice sounded convincing.
     “I see. Please, if you need someone to talk to, do not hesitate to ask. That is part of my job.” He tapped the white collar on his black shirt.
     “OK, thanks.”
     “You are in a new world here, Maddie.” He looked over at Kin, who was now helping Tom shake a sieve full of dirt. “Do not allow the natives to confuse you about what is real and what is not. Fairy stories are for children, not for intelligent adults.” He tried to catch her gaze but she looked down at her hands. “I will let you get back to your work. I do not wish to upset Dr. Davies by detaining you.”
     “Thank you.” Maddie gripped her trowel and gazed down at the quadrants with their red and white strings.
     Father Angelico turned to go, then turned back again. “Oh, Maddie, I am especially curious about jaguars. They are a personal interest.” She looked up at him, her eyes large. “If you hear any tales about them, please do not hesitate to share with me. I would be delighted to log them in my journal.”
     Her heart raced. She managed to mumble “OK” between clenched teeth.  Shaking, she dropped to her knees and began randomly trowelling up bits of dirt, tossing them into the sieve with a trembling hand. When she looked up again the priest was gone.
     I don’t have anything to feel guilty about. She stabbed the soil and flipped a chunk loose. I haven’t done anything wrong.
 A few minutes later she was relieved to hear Tom call everyone to lunch.

*                   *                   *

     Maddie sat quietly at lunch, picking at her food. She kept a careful watch for Father Angelico but he never appeared. Ben finished off his portion of fried plantain, dug into his chicken molé and turned to Tom.
     “Dr. Davies, what did the Maya eat? I mean, what foods are native here?”
     Tom speared a bite of plantain with his fork and examined it as he spoke. “Let’s see, the staple food was corn. That’s pretty much all the poor people ate. The better-off Maya also had beans and chilies. The modern Maya still eat pretty much the same diet in rural areas.”
     “Not exactly a thrilling menu,” Colin intoned.
     “Believe it or not, Colin,” said Tom, “those three foods provide pretty damn good nutrition. The Maya also grew manioc, sweet potatoes and several different kinds of squash. They had the local wild fruits and, of course, the cocoa bean for their sacred drink.”
     “Mmmm, chocolate,” Maddie hummed.
     “Chocolate is a growing export here, too. Green and Black’s now makes Maya Gold chocolate bars with organic cocoa beans entirely from Belize. They’ve really given the local farmers a boost.”
     Maddie nodded enthusiastically. “Maybe we could make some hot chocolate like the Maya did. Yum.”
     “I don’t think you would enjoy their recipe, Maddie. They used cocoa beans, chili peppers and water to make their sacred drink. It was bitter and spicy, not sweet and milky.”
     “That’s not the only problem with it,” said Joan. “Women and slaves were considered such low life forms they weren’t allowed to drink the sacred cocoa. Slaves were even paid for with cocoa beans. How very backward.”
     Tom rolled his eyes. “Joan, things aren’t like that any more.”
     “Maybe not,” she harrumphed, “but the situation still isn’t what it should be.”
     Back at the site that afternoon Maddie squatted in her quadrant, lifting trowelfuls of dirt into the sieve and daydreaming about the beginning of time. Colin walked around the mound and stood watching her.
     “Hey, Maddie.”
     She looked up at him, her train of thought interrupted. “Yes?”
     “Did I hear you correctly this morning when you said you weren’t dating anyone?”
     “Yes, Colin.”
     “So Ben’s not your boyfriend?”
     “No, he’s not,” she said, annoyed. “We’re just friends. We grew up in the same town.”
     Colin nodded. He took a swaggering step toward her and squared his shoulders.
     “Maddie, I have a proposition for you.”
     “A what?”
     “A proposition. Apparently you have some talent since you’ve already found a feature on the site. Of course, we don’t know yet whether it will amount to anything but you did the work.”
     “If you’re trying to compliment me you’re not doing a very good job.”
     “I’m just saying you have potential. But we both know you don’t have any money or connections and I do.”
     “Hooray for you.”
     “You’ll never get anywhere with that groundskeeper. You don’t know how to handle natives. You wouldn’t even know what to do with the jaguar if you lucked up and found it. What say we form a partnership?” He stuck out his hand for her to shake.
     “What jaguar?” She scowled at him. “Kin and I are getting along just fine. And why on earth should I be partners with you? You’ve been nothing but a creep and a jerk to me.”
     “I can’t be seen buddying up to someone of your background, you know. But now that it looks like you’re worth something – in terms of talent, anyway – all that can change and we can actually accomplish something on this trip.” He flashed her a smile, his thin lips creasing at the corners as if his face were not accustomed to the gesture. “You’re attractive enough to suit, though not stunning, certainly.”
     Maddie stood up and looked him in the eye.
     “Let me get this straight. You’ve been nasty to me all along to keep up your highbrow social image but now you’re offering to be nice to me because you think you can get something out of me?” She lifted her trowel and aimed its point at his chest.
     He put his hands up in mock surrender and laughed. “Hey, don’t take it so hard. You’re not likely to get a better offer.”
     “Colin, you amaze me. I never knew someone so conceited could also be so dense. I have work to do, if you don’t mind.”
     She squatted back down and poked the trowel into the dirt.
     “OK, Maddie, but the offer won’t be open forever.”
     “Oh, darn.”
     “Don’t be a fool and lose your golden opportunity.”
     “Don’t worry, Colin. When I find my golden opportunity I’ll take it and I’m pretty sure it won’t have anything to do with you.”
     She turned her back to him. He shook his head and walked back to his work area.
     Maddie worked on. From time to time she wondered where Joan was but mostly she enjoyed the feeling of competence and purpose the dig gave her. After a while she stopped, pulled a bandana out of her shorts pocket and wiped the sweat off her face. She picked up her water bottle and took a long drink.
     “Too warm for you in December?”
     Maddie looked up to see Kin ambling toward her, a trowel in his hand. He grinned as she chugged more water.
     “I thought Florida was hot, Kin, but Belize has it beat.”
     He squatted down next to her and joined her work. “How we doing?”
     “Great.” She motioned to the edge of the area where she was digging. “See the dark spots in the dirt there? Dr. Lancaster says it’s carbon -- burnt wood. We found our hearth.” She beamed.
     Kin looked around. “Dr. Lady is gone again?”
     Maddie nodded. “Is she in trouble, Kin?”
     “I do not know. Are you in trouble, Phoenix?”
     Her eyes widened. “Did I do something wrong? I didn’t mean to!”
     “No, no, Phoenix. I mean the priest.”
     “Father Angelico.” She spat out the name. “I wish you hadn’t left me like that. I had to deal with him alone.”
     “Did he hurt you?”
     “Heavens, no. He was perfectly nice. Why would a priest hurt anyone?”
     Kin scanned the work area. The other team members were out of earshot. “Phoenix, priests are usually nice. The one in the village is a good man. Sometime he disagree with me but he always helps.”
     “That’s his job.”
     “Father Angelico is not like that.”
     Maddie shivered in spite of the heat. “He gives me the creeps. I don’t know why, Kin, he just does. He was asking about my dreams. He specifically mentioned jaguars.”
     Kin took a deep breath. “I hope this would not happen.” He looked Maddie in the eye. “I know this man. He was here long ago. Probably before you were born.”
     “That’s what he said at lunch yesterday.”
     “He talked to everyone, Phoenix. Threatened us. Wanted to know where all our sacred things were. He called them idols.”
     “What do you suppose he wanted with Maya things? He’s Catholic.”
     “What do you think, Phoenix?”
     The realization slowly dawned on her. “But the church hasn’t done that sort of thing since the Middle Ages, Kin. They don’t destroy native cultures any more. Do they?”
     Kin pressed his lips together. “They want all the power. That is what they want. We have our own power. They want to take it away. And now Father Angelico is back.”
     “But can’t your local priest stop him? This is crazy. The church has rules about this kind of thing now.”
     Kin shook his head. “Long time ago, when he was here before, he got very angry because we did not give him the things he wanted. The day after he left we found two of our men drowned in the river.”
     Maddie gulped. “I’m sorry, Kin.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper. Her eyes filled with tears. “No one should have that happen to them.”
     He patted her on the shoulder. “We protect our power. The sacred things are still here. He will not touch them.”
     Maddie pulled back and looked at him. “You mean there are Maya sacred objects at Lamanai? I guess you just need to know where to dig, and he doesn’t know that.”
     “No digging, Phoenix. The things are in our hands.” He patted himself on the chest, winked at her and ambled off.

*                   *                   *

     That evening Tom squirmed through dinner. The dining room held only a dozen tables, putting Shonna less than twenty feet away. She sat alone near a window, scribbling on a note pad as she ate. Once she waved at the team and offered them a cheery smile but she made no move to join them. Maddie wished she would. The team’s conversation focused on the work of the day and after just two days on site Maddie was getting tired of hashing over every trowelful of dirt they had dug up. After dinner she retreated to the library again.
     “Are you this studious all the time?”
     Maddie turned to see Tom standing in the doorway.
     “Oh, Dr. Davies, I’m not studious, just frustrated.”
     He strode into the room and looked over the books that lay open on the table in front of Maddie.
     “Anything I can do to help?” he asked.
     Maddie sank back in her chair. “I hope so. I just can’t manage to understand the Maya.”
     “Anything in particular about them? I don’t know that I’m up to explaining the whole civilization.” He pulled up a chair next to her.
     “This is all Kin’s fault,” she explained with a laugh.
     “The groundskeeper?”
     “Yes. We’ve been talking to kill time while we work and he’s been telling me stories about the Maya. You know, their mythology.”
     He leaned back and narrowed his eyes at her. “So you have a new teacher, eh?”
     “Oh, Dr. Davies, don’t be jealous,” she joked, “Kin and I are just friends.”
     He picked up a book off the table, avoiding her gaze.
     “So,” he said, reading the book’s cover, “are you studying the Maya calendar?”
     “Yes. But I don’t understand the way they counted time. I mean, I can memorize the parts of the calendar – days and months and years and so on – but I still don’t get it.”
     “You have to realize that the Maya considered the whole universe to be very personal and very alive. That includes units of time. Their concept of time had more to do with religion than science.”
     “You’re going to give me a headache.”
     “It’s really not all that complicated. You can look at Maya glyphs and literally see what they mean.” He held the book out toward her.
     “How to Read Maya Hieroglyphs by John Montgomery. I’m not trying to read glyphs, just understand the calendar.”
     “I know. But this book has a great explanation of the calendar and you’ll understand it better if you see how the Maya depicted their divisions of time.” He flipped pages in the book until he found what he wanted. “All right, here are the glyphs for the numbers and dates. What do they look like to you?”
     She peered at the drawings. “People and animals, I guess, but they all look really weird. What does this have to do with time?”
     “You see, Maddie, each god is a number. Each number carries the day name of a date on its back. Here, look.”
     He pointed to an image of a human being carrying a load on its back by a tumpline.
     “OK, Dr. Davies, I see someone – a god? – carrying stuff on his back.”
     Tom nodded. “It would be like us saying that the number 1 carries January on his back until the end of the day on January 1st. Then he hands over his burden to the number 2 who carries it for the day of January 2nd.”
     “So each number god carries the name of the month, or what’s the word, winal for a day and then passes it on.”
     “Yes and they also carry the tun, k’atun and b’aktun. The gods carry time from zero to infinity. Or you could say that time is an endless chain of gods passing their burdens from one to the next.”
     “The gods are the movers of time.” She rubbed her forehead. “I bet the Maya got a lot of headaches.”
     He smiled. “Remember, only the priests knew about the calendar. It wasn’t like today when everyone knows what the date is. They calculated an accurate solar year so they could keep track of when to plant and harvest crops but they also kept this sacred calendar that we’re talking about here. They used it to determine the timing for rituals, sacrifices and warfare.” He patted the open page of the book. “The sacred calendar was far more important to them than the solar calendar was. The solar calendar connected them with the seasons of the earth but the sacred calendar connected them with the seasons of the cosmos.”
     “They used the sacred calendar to decide when to go to war?”
     “Everything they did had an astronomical basis.”
     “Star wars.” She laughed. “So the priests kept track of this whole complicated calendar system.” She looked over the page of intricate artwork that represented Maya time.
     “Yes and I’ll bet they went through years of training to do it, too. Maya math is all base twenty so you need twenty of each calendar unit to make up the next larger unit.”
     “Base twenty?”
     He nodded. “Just like the ancient Celts. We use base ten; they used base twenty. We can speculate that it has to do with the total number of fingers and toes but no one really knows for sure.”
     “At least that makes it easy to count.” She marked a pretend tally on her fingers.
     “Remember, they had the day, referred to by the Maya word k’in, plus the winal.”
     “That’s a twenty-day month,” she said.
     “Plus the tun.”
     “Which is eighteen winals . . .”
     “The correct plural is winalob.”
     She grimaced. “Sorry. The tun is eighteen winalob or 360 days. About a year.”
     “Twenty tunob makes a k’atun and twenty k’atunob makes a b’aktun, which brings you up to 144,000 days. It’s just like our time system, in a sense.”
     “I don’t understand.”
     “We have days, months, years, decades, centuries and millennia. We learn them all from an early age so it doesn’t seem so complicated to us. The Maya system is similar. We count our time from the approximate birth of Jesus Christ. They counted their time from the starting date of August 13, 3114 BCE.”
     “Why that date?”
     He waved her question away. “Then, of course, they also had the 260-day Tzolk’in calendar they used for divination and the Calendar Round as well.” He winked at her. “And a lunar cycle calendar, and a nine-day cycle based on the Lords of the Night, and an 819-day count based on the four directions. Oh yes, the Long Count date divisions actually go higher than b’aktun, all the way up to alautun, which is about 63 million years.”
     She gasped. “That’s a lot to keep track of.”
     He leaned toward her and gave her a mock conspiratorial look. “Well, I have a theory. The Maya had a term called lub.”
     “Loob.” She giggled as she pronounced the word.
     “Yep. It means the sacred woven mat which is the resting place of the god for the current day. A place for him to hang out while he carries that burden of his.”
     “And there are five gods for each date, right?” She counted on her fingers. “One god each for k’in, winal, tun, k’atun and b’aktun.”
     “That’s right. These five gods sit on this mat each day. My theory is that there were actual objects, some sort of number and date markers that the priests used to keep track of the calendar. They put the correct ones for each day out on a sacred mat of some sort.”
     “That makes sense. It’s way too much information to keep in your head.”
     He handed her the book. “Have a ball. It’s fascinating stuff.” He went out of the library.
     She flipped the book open to the index and looked for the word jaguar. She began searching the page numbers listed in the index but found nothing beyond a cursory mention of the animal. In frustration she stared at the book, willing it to give up the information she wanted.
     “If you look at it hard enough it might break,” Shonna laughed as she flounced into the room.
     Maddie leaned her head back and groaned. “It’s just so much information. Dr. Davies makes it all look easy.”
     Shonna slid into a chair next to her. “Believe me, he works hard at it. If he knows something it’s because he worked his butt off to learn it.”
     “Will he be mad if he knows you’re talking to me?”
     “Maybe.” She winked. “But he can’t stop me, now can he?”
     “Look, I don’t want to get in trouble.”
     Shonna patted Maddie’s hand. “I’m not going to get you in trouble, Honey. Tom is just having a little testosterone fit, that’s all. He’s prone to them. So tell me, what are you reading about?” Shonna peered at the book.
     “The Maya calendar. Dr. Davies thinks all that stuff about the Maya predicting the end of time is bogus but I think there’s something to it. There has to be some significance to the way they set up their calendar and the fact that it just plain ends in 2012. Or starts back over again at zero. However you want to put it.”
     Shonna nodded. “I’ve always thought the same thing myself. In fact, that’s part of what I’m researching for this book I’m writing. The Maya knew something we didn’t and I’m going to figure out what it is. In fact, I think the secret may be even more ancient than the Maya.”
     “Wow, really?”
     “Absolutely. Edgar Cayce connected the most ancient Central American cultures with Atlantis. First of all, the Maya received all the prominent landmarks of their culture from the Olmec, an ancient civilization on the southern gulf coast of Mexico just north of the Maya area.”
     “Landmarks?” Maddie leaned forward.
     Shonna counted off on her fingers. “The calendar, the symbols for the moon and sun, the bar-and-dot system for writing numbers, human sacrifice, the shaping of babies’ heads, a serpent with green feathers, and a jaguar god – or half-jaguar, half-human – high up in their pantheon.”
     Maddie gasped. “I’ve been looking up the jaguar.”
     “You won’t find what you’re looking for in this book. Probably not in any books in this library. They’re all too mainstream. These authors,” she gestured at the bookshelves, “already had their minds made up before they started their research.” She pursed her full lips. “Just like Tom.”
     “But he knows so much.”
     Shonna stood up. “I’ll be happy to point you to some useful resources but you’d better not let Tom know about it. He has some very narrow-minded attitudes and I don’t think he’s likely to change them, not even for someone as pretty as you.”
     She swished out of the room, leaving a faint aroma of lavender and patchouli to heighten Maddie’s growing headache.
     Maddie opened her book again and read about the Maya calendar until she came to the symbol for tun, the 360-day “year” made up of eighteen winalob, or twenty-day months. The caption in the book said that the word tun means both stone and time.
     Maddie wrinkled her brow and peered at the picture, all scrolls and dots and curlicues, until its image resolved and she saw what the Maya wanted her to see – the feathered serpent, the quetzal-god Kukulcan. Startled, she began flipping through the book, looking at all the glyphs. Her heart beat faster as she picked up another book and examined pictures of glyph carvings from stelae and tombs.
     The carvings and drawings made little sense to her. All the animals and people were highly stylized and nearly unrecognizable. Sometimes the figures curled up into balls; sometimes they stood on top of each other or hung in mid-air. Maddie couldn’t even tell which figures were supposed to be illustrations and which were supposed to be glyphs – Maya writing.
     She turned the book sideways to scrutinize a photograph of a very worn painting. The caption said it was from some Maya documents called the Books of Chilam B’alam.
     As Maddie stared at the curlicues and faded lines of the painting prickles crept up the back of her neck. The picture touched something deep in her mind and she recognized the jaguar-god, standing on his hind legs, wearing the sacred water lily on his head.
     “Water-Lily Jaguar,” she whispered to the painting. “Raining moon.”
     In her mind she saw a black shadow eat away a curving slice of the silvery full moon. Goosebumps rose on her arms. She slammed the book shut and hurried off to bed.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Jaguar Sky: Part Four

Below is the fourth installment of Jaguar Sky. As always, you can find all the installments by clicking the link in the righthand navbar. I hope you enjoy it.


December 20, 2010

     Maddie woke up refreshed. If she had dreamed the night before she had slept so soundly that the memories never made it up to her conscious mind. She tucked into breakfast with a relish, eager to get the day started. As she ate she looked around the dining room, scanning the same collection of people who had been there the day before. She glanced over to the corner, where the lone priest sat, and he caught her eye. His gaze bored into her. The short hairs stood up on the back of her neck. She dropped her eyes and returned her attention to Tom, who was explaining the working arrangements.
     “We’ve got nine days to dig,” he said, “three professors and three students. That works out very neatly. What we have decided to do is have each student work with each faculty member for three days, in rotation, so you three can get a taste of the way each of us works. Today Maddie will begin with Joan, Colin with Pete and Ben with me.” Tom took a sip of his coffee. “And we’ll be walking to the site from now on. The trucks were just for delivering our equipment.”
     The students groaned.
     Tom set his coffee cup down. “It’s a nice fifteen-minute walk. Good for you.” He motioned to the students. “I know this is a new and exciting site but don’t get your hopes up, expecting to unearth the next great find and get your picture in the newspaper. The unfortunate truth is that most of archaeology is gruntwork.”
     “Yes, Dr. Davies,” said Ben. “We’ve all taken your classes and we understand.” He grinned.
     Tom returned the grin. “OK, just as long as we have that straight. Now, the point of an archaeological survey is to gather as much information as possible, so record everything. I’d rather have to sift through a bunch of notes that turn out later to be irrelevant than miss a tiny but valuable piece of information.” Everyone nodded. “This is a clearing excavation unless I notify you otherwise. We’re not going to dig deep trenches here because there’s probably nothing underneath. There’s so much usable land here, anyone building anything after the Postclassic period simply claimed a new piece of ground. So we’ll be clearing the mound and the surrounding quadrants to a shallow depth only.”
     “This sounds complicated,” said Maddie.
     Tom waved away her worry. “It’s no more complicated than what you did at St. Augustine.” He leaned over and rummaged in his field bag. After a moment he produced a spiral notebook and held it up for everyone to see.
     “This is our Field Specimen Inventory Record.” He flipped a page to show columns already labeled. “If you find anything at all, write it in here. Description, location, depth and so forth, plus your initials. This notebook stays in my custody at all times. Everything we find will be logged, cleaned and packed up for the site superintendent. Nothing, I repeat nothing, leaves the site.”
     “Yes, Sergeant,” said Ben, saluting.
     Tom laughed. “We’ll see how well you march once you’re knee-deep in dirt.”
     “We’re going to be really busy, aren’t we?” said Maddie. “This is a lot to do in just a few days.”
     Pete looked up from his eggs. “I thought we were going to have help.”
     “We are,” said Tom. “There are several groundskeepers who work here. They’ll be helping us as they are available. We’re supposed to have two of them assigned to us all the time as long as they’re not needed elsewhere on the site.”
     “So,” said Colin, “they’re our grunt labor.”
     “No,” said Tom, “you are. The groundskeepers will be here to help in general and to make sure we don’t do anything naughty, like try to take artifacts back home with us.” He gave Colin a pointed look. “I’ve been assured that they’re familiar with archaeological technique. They assist other teams here as well.”
     “What are their names?” said Maddie.
     “I don’t know,” said Tom. “I expect they’ll be at the site this morning. He swallowed the last of his coffee. “All right, make sure you’ve got all the necessities and meet me on the front porch in five minutes.”
     “Necessities?” said Ben.
     Joan rattled off the list, counting on her fingers. “Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug repellant, water bottle, gloves.”
     “That’ll do it,” said Tom.
     They took off from the front porch ten minutes later, walking a different route than the vehicles had followed the day before. The road they had taken to haul their supplies to the work site by truck angled through the jungle, connecting the temples and other major ruins. The footpath they followed this morning ran straight from the lodge to the team’s work site, then branched out and continued on in several different directions. As the team members walked down the path a canopy of cohune palm fronds arched eighty feet above their heads. Already the air was heating up and the creatures of the jungle began to move about.
     “A few people have seen jaguars on the site,” said Tom, “but don’t panic. They’re pretty reclusive so you’re not likely to be eaten. Do keep an eye out for snakes, though.”
     “S-snakes?” Maddie stuttered.
     “There are fer-de-lances around here, very poisonous. Plus coral snakes.” He met her worried gaze. “Just don’t go traipsing off into the underbrush, OK? And keep your boots on.”
     “No problem,” Maddie assured him. “What else lives here that likes to eat people?”
     Tom chuckled. “Well, this is the jungle but most of the wildlife will keep its distance from us.” He thought a moment. “Ocelots, margays, coatimundis, iguanas, tapirs, peccaries. But you’re not likely to actually see any of them.”
     Just then a low sound churned up from deep in the jungle. It grew to a deafening roar that continued for a full minute before it softened and then stopped.
     They all stood frozen in their tracks.
     “Please tell me that wasn’t a jaguar,” whispered Ben.
     “It wasn’t a jaguar,” Tom grinned, complying with the request. “Actually, it was a troop of howler monkeys announcing that they are now awake.”
     “Damn,” said Colin. “What a lot of noise first thing in the morning. Someone should teach them some manners.”
     “I don’t think so,” said Tom. He glared at Colin. “Besides, they dislike people. With a passion. They’re interesting animals but let’s keep our distance, please.”
     “Humph,” Colin snorted.
     The team continued on down the trail. Halfway to the dig site Maddie pulled her jacket off and marveled at such balmy weather in December, even compared to her home in Florida.
     Pete stopped in the middle of the path. “This is a breadnut tree,” he said proudly, pointing up toward the top of a tall, spreading tree. It was garnished with pairs of round, greenish fruits the size of small apples.
     “Breadnut?” Ben repeated.
     “Yes. Brosimum alicastrum, to be exact. The local common name is Horse’s Balls. If you’ll notice, the fruits all hang from the branches in pairs.” He scratched his crotch.  “It was an emergency food for the Maya when their corn crops failed. They fed the fruits to their animals, too.”
     “So their draft animals would be strong even in times of famine, eh?” said Colin.
     Joan shook her head. “The Maya didn’t have draft animals. They carried their loads on their backs by a tumpline just like the poor Maya women around here still do.”
     “What’s a tumpline?” Maddie asked.
     “A cord that wraps around the forehead so a poor, oppressed peasant woman can carry a heavy load on her back, in backpack fashion, as if she were a mule.”
     Tom glowered at Joan and she looked the other way, pretending to examine the breadnut tree.
     “This whole area was heavily built up in Classic times.” Tom gestured with a wide sweep of his arm. “A thousand years ago this wild jungle we’re walking through was full of stone houses and shops crammed together along narrow streets.”
     They walked on, listening to the wildlife sounds. When they came out into the clearing at their work site Maddie saw two men sitting in the shade of the lab tent. The men stood up when they saw the group arrive. The pair cut an odd image, one man tall, thin and very dark and the other short, squat and golden tan. Tom ambled over and stuck out his hand toward them.
     “I’m Tom Davies. Are you two going to be helping us out this week?”
     The black man spoke first, smiling. “Johnny Young, at your service.” His Creole accent was faint but definite. “I’m the head groundskeeper for this site. I work for the Belize Department of Archaeology. Unless we have an emergency I’ll be assisting you while you’re here.”
     Tom shook his hand. “Glad to have you here.” He turned to the golden-tan man, offering his hand again. The man grinned and a gold tooth gleamed.
     “Kin Cocom,” he said, pronouncing keen koh-kohm. “Kin is short for Tikinxik, hard for you to say. I am a groundskeeper, too.” He spoke with an accent Maddie couldn’t place.
     Tom shook his hand. “We appreciate your help.” He turned to the rest of the group. “Today Pete and I will begin measuring and mapping the mound. Ben and Colin, you’ll help us record the data and maybe dig a test trench or two. Johnny, can you help us with that?”
     “Sure thing, Dr. Davies.”
     “Please, call me Tom. Now Joan, you’re surveying the clearing around the mound with the magnetometer, right?” Joan nodded. “OK, you and Maddie set out the quadrants and then get to it. Kin, if you would help them?” The golden man nodded. “All right, then, let’s get a move on. It may be December but it’s going to get warm today.”
     Joan and Maddie crossed to the lab tent with Kin following close behind. Joan wrinkled her nose. “Are there any women groundskeepers here?” she asked him.
     “No,” he answered. “They are busy with the cooking and the children.”
     “I should have known.” She opened a box and set several items on the table.
     “Maddie, have you ever used a magnetometer before?” she asked.
     “No. I’ve never even seen one except for a picture in a textbook.”
     Joan shook her head. “We’ve got to get you up to speed if you’re going to compete with the old boy’s network. Here’s the sensor.”
     She indicated a contraption that looked like a giant white sledgehammer with a cord coming out the end of the handle.
     “You hold it like this to take measurements.” Joan hefted the magnetometer and held it at her side with the four-foot-long handle parallel to the ground. “It takes two people. One person walks the grid with the sensor and the other person records the measurements.” Joan looked at Maddie. “You do understand what a magnetometer does, of course.”
     “Of course.” Maddie swallowed. “It registers changes in the magnetic field of the earth. Like, if there are big rocks or pieces of metal or places where there was a fire, those things will have a different magnetic reading than just plain dirt.”
     “Correct. We’re not expecting metal since the Maya were a Stone Age culture. And the buildings here aren’t really buried, just covered in brush and debris. So we’re looking for signs of fire – hearths, kilns, that sort of thing.”
     Joan set the sensor down and began fiddling with switches on a box that looked like a portable television.
     “There.” Joan clicked a switch and the small screen began to glow. “The readings appear on the screen here. One person walks the quadrants in an orderly fashion and the other person records the readings on a grid.”
     I can’t imagine you doing anything NOT in an orderly fashion, thought Maddie. “OK. When do we start?”
     “As soon as we have the quadrants marked off.”
     “At least I know how to do that.”
     The two women collected a box of two-foot-long wooden stakes, several balls of heavy twine, a hammer and a metal tape measure out of the lab tent. They carried their tools to the edge of the mound and set them down. Kin stood silent, watching them.
     Joan shouted across the top of the six-foot-high mound. “Tom, where do you want us to start with the quadrants?”
     Tom came around the mound. He surveyed the ground and pointed to a spot a few feet away. “Just lay your first line at the edge of the mound and work out from there. We’ll call this the datum point.”
     He pulled a Sharpie out of his pocket, printed the word ‘datum’ on one of the stakes and stuck it in the ground.
     He looked at Joan. “Are you using a three-foot grid?”
     “All right. Please give me four squares all around. That should be enough to find anything associated with the mound.”
     Joan turned to Maddie. “You measure and I’ll stake, all right?”
     “OK.” Maddie got out the tape measure and squatted next to the mound. “Dr. Lancaster, what’s a datum point?”
     “Our point of reference, the center point from which we’ll take all our measurements. You should know that from the St. Augustine field school.”
     Maddie looked away, doing her best not to count up the mistakes she had already made in just two days.
     Joan pounded a stake into the ground then held out her arm next to it, examining her watch. She pointed across the edge of the mound. “That way is north. Always lay out your grid on the compass points. That way you have an easy reference for finds.”
     Maddie measured one meter and poked the tip of a stake into the ground. Joan hammered it halfway down into the dirt.
     “Dr. Lancaster, why do scientists, even American ones, use meters instead of feet and yards?”
     Joan’s face was stern. “Because, Maddie, the metric system is the world standard. It’s only the degenerate English and their self-important colonies who still use Imperial measures. The foot and yard and all that go with them are positively medieval. To think of using parts of the king’s body as standards of measure. It’s the ultimate in chauvinism. It’s a wonder they don’t have a measurement for the length of the king’s penis.”
     They measured and laid out the grid all the way around the mound. After they hammered each stake into the ground Joan labeled it with a Sharpie. Each quadrant had a letter and a number, much like the reference grid on a road map. Maddie ran string between the stakes to outline the quadrants. When she was finished she tossed the remaining string into the box of stakes.
     “Please put the box back in the lab, Maddie. And tell that groundskeeper to come over here and help us.” She motioned to the lab tent where Kin was helping Pete open boxes of instruments and supplies. “Bring a pad of graph paper with you, too.”
     Maddie did as instructed, returning with the groundskeeper, a clipboard, paper and a pencil.
     “All right, Maddie,” said Joan, “line off your graph paper. Nine squares together for each square meter.”
     Maddie knelt down and rested the clipboard on her knee. Joan watched as she drew squares on the graph paper.
     “Dr. Lancaster, you’re making me nervous.”
     “I just want you to learn these things the right way so you’ll have an easier time as you move toward a career. Now you,” she motioned to the groundskeeper, “you carry the sensor while Maddie records the measurements.” She hefted the magnetometer and shoved it at the groundskeeper. He took it and stood silent.
     Joan continued, “Maddie, he’s going to walk the gridlines and also the crossing lines within each grid.” She indicated the smaller squares within the large ones Maddie had drawn on her graph paper. “The monitor hangs around your neck by this strap.” She hung the monitor around Maddie’s neck and adjusted the knobs on the display. “The cord isn’t very long so you’ll have to follow him around as you write. Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s get going.”
     “All right,” said Maddie, “how about we start at the far edge so I can keep track of this grid more easily.” Maddie smiled at Kin and motioned him toward the quadrants. He began to walk next to the marking string, holding the magnetometer horizontal at his side, stepping over the crossing strings as he came to them. She trailed about ten feet behind him, leaving just a little slack in the power cord that connected his sensor to her monitor. She scribbled frantically as he walked.
     “Wait,” she said. “Go slower, please.” He nodded. “Thanks. That’s much better.”
     “Well,” said Joan, “I see you two have things well in hand. Go ahead and do the whole area we’ve staked out. I have some research to do in another area of the site.”
     She stepped across the quadrants and disappeared down a trail into the dense jungle. Maddie and Kin worked on for a few minutes. Maddie finally broke the silence.
     “What’s your name again?” Maddie asked. “I mean, your whole name, not just Kin.”
     “Tee-KEEN-sheek.” She puzzled a moment. “Is that a Maya word?”
     He grinned and one front tooth glinted gold. “Dried chili pepper, old and dry and spicy. It knots your tongue,” he laughed. “Call me Kin. Easier for you. By itself, Kin means sun and day.”
     “Are you Maya?”
     He looked at her, puzzled. “What do you think I am?”
     “I thought you were Hispanic. Um, Spanish.”
     “I speak Spanish. I learn English in school but I am Indian, you know, Mopan.”
     Maddie’s eyes grew large. “You’re really Maya?” She took a step back and looked him over. His short, wiry frame looked unremarkable in khaki pants and a blue cotton workshirt. He was just a bit bowlegged. Maddie couldn’t figure out how old he was, though he was definitely much older than her. And try as she might she just couldn’t see him in jaguar skins and quetzal feathers. But his forehead sloped back from a long arched nose and his eyes – dark brown, almost black and very slightly crossed – twinkled in amusement at her.
     “You do not believe me?” he said.
     “I believe you. It’s just that, well, chili pepper is kind of a funny name.” She looked at him sideways, hoping she hadn’t offended him.
     “It is a nickname. My real name is Nine Kimi Four Keh.”
     “Nine what? I’m sorry, I don’t speak Maya.”
     Kin grinned. “Nine Kimi Four Keh is the day I am born. We are named for the day we are born.”
     Maddie puzzled. “I guess that’s kind of like Eastern Orthodox Catholics who name their children for the saint on whose day they’re born. I had a friend in high school who was Eastern Orthodox.”
     Kin shook his head. “I do not know about that.”
     Maddie smiled. “Well, I don’t know much about the Maya calendar, so we’re even.”
     Kin narrowed his eyes at her. “Not many people know about our calendar.” They moved to another quadrant and began taking readings again. “I told you about my name. Now you tell me about yours.”
     “There isn’t anything to tell. I wasn’t named Friday.” She laughed and Kin smiled.
     “I hear them call you two names, Maddie and something else.”
     Maddie grimaced. “Maddie is a nickname for Madeleine. They call me Madeleine when they want to irritate me.”
     “Your name is Madeleine.”
     “Madeleine Phoenix.”
     Kin pronounced it awkwardly. “Fee-niks. This is your family name?”
     Maddie nodded. “It’s actually from European mythology. My ancestors, I guess. The phoenix was a great bird who brought glory to its people but eventually it burst into flames and died. The phoenix rose again and was reborn from its own ashes. Kind of a strange story, really.”
     Kin’s eyebrows shot up. “This is your name, this bird that dies in fire and rises again?”
     “This bird is the quetzal,” he said.
     “That’s what Ben said. They also said that the quetzal means the priesthood, you know, that the priests used to wear quetzal feathers. They were sacred.”
     “Yes. In my language we say kukul.” He emphasized the second syllable.
     “Koo-KOOL,” Maddie repeated. “Like in my dream.”
     “You dream of kukul?”
     “No, Kin, I didn’t dream about quetzals. I dreamed about some Maya people.” She hesitated. “It sounds really dumb but that’s why I’m here. That dream. I just felt compelled to come.”
     “Tell me about your dream, Phoenix.” Kin smiled kindly at her.
     Encouraged, Maddie continued. “Well, the Maya people were all dressed like jaguars and they were talking about some golden jaguar, saying that I had it. They called me by a funny name and kukul was part of it.”
     “A Maya name?”
     “I guess so. It sounded like chool-eesh-kookool. Or something like that.”
     “They call you this in a dream?”
     Maddie nodded.
     He squinted at her, examining her face. “You American?”
     “My family’s English, originally.” She squirmed. “Most of them.”
     “Hmmm. In your dream they talk about jaguars?”
     “Not jaguars plural, just one jaguar. It had a weird name – the Golden Jaguar of Itzamna.”
     Kin’s head popped up. His gaze darted around and he shushed Maddie. His hands quivered and the magnetometer shook.
     “What’s the matter, Kin? Did I say something wrong?”
     Kin jerked his head in the direction of a man walking around the clearing near them. The man was not a member of the team. He was watching Kin and Maddie, staring at them. Maddie narrowed her eyes at him.
     “That’s the priest from the dining room at the lodge,” she whispered to Kin.
     “You see him before?” he replied in a low voice.
     Maddie nodded. “Maybe he’s a guest here, like we are.”
     “I do not think so.”
     She studied the man as he strolled around the site. He was about as tall as Tom, six feet or so, but leaner, which made him look even taller. His long strides were smooth and graceful but vigorous, as if his strolling had a serious purpose. Maddie guessed him to be just a bit older than her parents -- late forties or early fifties.
     He wore a short-sleeve black shirt with a clerical collar, a straw fedora, khaki pants and hiking boots. He was good-looking, with shiny light brown hair and dark eyes that took in every detail of the site, lingering on Maddie and Kin.
     That man gives me the creeps. Maybe it’s some kind of guilt complex for not going to church. She laughed at herself a little and blew out a breath.
     The priest examined the dig site without touching anything. Maddie saw him lean over and speak to Pete, who pointed to Tom. The priest strolled over to Tom and began chatting. He talked with Tom for several minutes before continuing his stroll around the clearing. He stayed on Maddie’s side of the mound, ambling back and forth in the clearing. He never got close enough to talk to her and Kin but he never went very far away, either.
     Kin lapsed into silence and refused to be prodded into further conversation. All he would do was move the magnetometer systematically from place to place in the quadrants. Shortly before noon Joan reappeared out of the jungle. She ignored the priest and went straight to Maddie.
     “How much have you completed?” She peered at Maddie’s hastily scrawled data. “Good, good. We’ll re-do your plotting after lunch and see if we have anything worth digging into.”
     Tom stood up, stretched and called for a lunch break. Kin and Johnny went off on their own while the others headed to the lodge. The priest followed behind them.

*                   *                   *

     The hungry team gathered at their usual table in the dining room. Tom pulled a chair from another table and set it between him and Maddie. He motioned the priest into the seat. Everyone took their places, eager for the roast chicken, rice-and-beans and cabbage salad the waitress brought them. Maddie edged her chair away from the priest and toward Ben.
     Tom cleared his throat. “Everyone, I’d like to introduce Father Angelico.”
     Tom went around the table giving everyone’s name and their credentials on the dig -- botanist, archaeologist, student. The priest nodded and smiled at each of them in turn.
     “Father Angelico tells me he’s an antiquarian having a vacation here.”
     “On sabbatical,” the priest corrected with a faint, unplaceable European accent. He smiled and a row of perfect white teeth gleamed. “I’m staying with friends in the village but I enjoy the food here at the lodge. I did mission work in this area years ago, probably before you were born.” He nodded to Ben and Colin then turned to Maddie. She quailed and dropped her gaze to her food, her heart beating fast. “I’ve been in Rome since then, many years.”
     “Now you’ve returned to the old haunt, eh?” said Tom.
     “Just in time to find your marvelous team and its work. I have always been fascinated by the native people here. Tell me, what sorts of things do you hope to discover in your dig?”
     Tom shook his head. “Nothing fancy, I’m afraid, Father. Probably a grain storage building of some sort. We just want to uncover and identify it, and hopefully date it, so it can be added to the map of the site. It’s important that we know when the various areas of Lamanai were occupied.”
     “Of course.”
     They turned to their meal. Father Angelico ate with impeccable manners. Maddie watched his long, graceful fingers tipped with perfectly manicured nails as he ate, European style, with his fork always in his left hand and his knife always in his right.
After a few minutes Ben spoke.
     “Dr. Davies, are there any of those sacred wells here at Lamanai?”
     “You mean cenotes?” Tom said, pronouncing seh-NO-tays. “They’re not man-made wells, Ben. They’re natural sinkholes and there aren’t any in this region, as far as I know. Wrong geology. They’re all in the limestone of the Yucatan.”
     Maddie looked up from her food. “I thought they were kind of a requirement for Maya sacred sites.”
     Father Angelico turned his smiling gaze to her. She squirmed in her chair and looked at Tom, waiting for him to answer her question.
     Tom shook his head. “Where cenotes exist they were certainly used, as natural wells and occasionally for sacrifice. The Maya believed that, since the cenotes are underground, they connect to the underworld. And since they were used as a water source they were also sacred to the rain god Chac. That’s pretty important in an area like the Yucatan where there are no rivers or other freshwater sources. But we have the river here.”
     “Just a moment,” said Joan. “The sources I read mentioned the deity associated with the cenotes as Tlaloc. Is that another name for Chac?”
     “Nope,” said Tom. “Tlaloc is Toltec. Say that three times fast.”
     “I don’t get it,” said Ben. “Why would the Maya worship a Toltec god?”
     “Because theirs wasn’t giving them what they needed. One of the many factors that contributed to the downfall of classical Maya civilization was a drought that lasted, on and off, the better part of a century.”
     “You’re kidding,” said Ben.
     “Not at all. They made every sacrifice they could to Chac and the rain still didn’t come. There were some political and military shifts about that time, with the Toltecs moving into Maya territory, and that’s probably how the Maya were introduced to Tlaloc.”
     Father Angelico clucked his tongue. “How sad, all those people making desperate prayers to idols. And the rain never came.”
     Ben looked at the priest. “You think the rain would have come if they had prayed to the Christian God?”
     Tom glared at Ben. “It’s a very complicated situation, all things considered.”
     “It usually is,” said Joan, “when you’re trying to reconstruct events that occurred centuries ago. The collection of known facts about situations in the ancient world often doesn’t make sense when filtered through our modern preconceptions.”
     “What?” said Maddie.
     Tom grinned. “It’s hard to understand what happened in a culture that is remote from us not only in time but also in mindset.”
     “Yeah,” said Ben, “none of us worship Chac.”
     Maddie puzzled. “I thought there were still Maya people living all around Central America. We’ve got one of them working on the site with us.”
     “It’s not the same, Maddie,” said Tom. “They’re as separate from their past as we are.”
     “Yes,” said Father Angelico. “And in reconstructing their past for educational purposes we must ensure that we reconnect the people with their history but not their superstition.”
     When the group returned to the site after lunch Johnny was waiting for them but Kin was nowhere to be found. Joan sat Maddie down in the lab tent and instructed her to plot the magnetometer data neatly on a clean sheet of graph paper. Then Joan headed off into the jungle again, muttering that she was on the trail of something important.
     Maddie settled down to work in the quiet shade at the treeline. Tom had rolled three walls of the tent all the way up so Maddie had a good view of the site and a nice breeze as well. All the other team members were busy around the mound. Suddenly the back of the tent shook and Shonna burst in.
     “Hi, Honey. Are you busy?”
     “Um, sort of.” Maddie looked up at Shonna. The older woman had traded the previous day’s solid red tunic for a Hawaiian print one and had on a fresh set of bangle bracelets in multiple colors to match the tunic’s fabric. She had topped off the look with a wide-brimmed straw hat with a long red scarf tied around it for a hatband, along with her usual bright red lipstick and strong perfume. Of everyone at the site, Shonna alone was untroubled by mosquitoes and other insects. Maddie wondered if her overpowering perfume repelled bugs as well as people.
     With a clacking of bangle bracelets Shonna pulled a folding chair out from the work table and sat down next to Maddie. She leaned over with a conspiratorial air. “So tell me, have you found anything stupendous yet?”
     Maddie shook her head. “I’m just plotting numbers from our magnetometer survey of the area. A magnetometer is an instrument . . .”
     “I know what it is,” Shonna said. “Tom and I were both anthro majors, did fieldwork together and the whole bit.” She squinted at him across the clearing. “Is he still dead serious all the time?”
     “I don’t think he’s too serious. I mean, he’s an expert and all so I guess he has to take his work seriously.”
     Shonna waved her hand in the air. “Some things never change. I think he’s never forgiven me for making better grades than he did. I made Phi Beta Kappa, too, and he didn’t.” She looked around the lab tent. “I tell you what, Honey. If you don’t mind, I’d like to watch you work every now and then. I won’t get in your way and it’ll sure help me out with this book I’m writing.” She patted Maddie on the knee.
     “Um, OK. You could watch the others, too.”
     “Maybe. But I’d really like a woman’s perspective on this kind of thing. Men’s minds don’t work the same way, you know.” She winked.
     “So what are you writing about? The Maya?”
     “In a manner of speaking. I have some theories about the secrets ancient civilizations used to achieve their great feats of architecture and mathematics. The Olmec, for instance, were probably the source of many of the Maya . . .”
     “Shonna, I’d appreciate it if you’d let my student work.” Tom stood at the edge of the lab tent, gripping a trowel tightly in his hand.
     “Oh, Tom, we were just chatting.” Shonna stood up and straightened out her clothes.
     “I know the kind of chatting you do. We’re strictly a conventional outfit here. Real archaeology, not hocus-pocus and dime store novels.”
     “Let’s not get into it again, please, Tom. We’ve agreed to disagree. That’s the chivalrous thing to do. Let’s leave it at that.”
     His face darkened. “Chivalry is fine until you show up and interfere with my dig. I don’t want you spouting your so-called ideas to Maddie or any of the others. They’re my students. Is that clear?”
     “Crystal.” She beamed him a broad smile. “I never meant to cause a problem. Just being friendly.” She adjusted her hat and flipped the ends of the scarf-hatband behind her. “I’m sure we’ll get along just fine for the next week or so.”
     “Turns out I’ll be here until the 29th, just like you. I’m spending my winter break here. I’m sure we’ll have a ball. Well, toodle-oo!” She swished out of the tent and back down the trail toward the lodge.
     Tom shook his head. “Maddie, don’t listen to a word she says. She’s a fringe writer, not an archaeologist.”
     “You don’t like her, do you?”
     “It’s not a matter of liking, Maddie. Facts are facts. Scientists have rules to work by, rules to live by if they want to be taken seriously.” He pulled a bandana from his pocket and mopped the sweat off his forehead and upper lip. “Just keep your mind on your work, all right? You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. You’re a valuable member of this team as long as you don’t get infected with her sort of insanity.”
     “All right, Dr. Davies. I need to get back to plotting these numbers.”
     He looked around. “Where’s Joan?”
     “She went that-a-way.” Maddie pointed toward the head of the path Joan had taken into the jungle.
     He squinted at the path and stomped back over to the mound.
     Maddie flipped the pad of graph paper to a fresh sheet and began her work. She was busy copying numbers, her head bent over the paper, when she heard a familiar voice.
     “Hello, Phoenix.”
     “Hi, Kin. I was afraid I offended you.” She gave him a searching look. “You wouldn’t talk to me after I told you about my dream.”
     “Your dream does not offend me, Phoenix. The priest does.”
     “He give me the creeps, too. I don’t know why.”
     “Priests do not like my people’s ways. They do not like me to tell stories and talk about…things. This priest…I know him. He does not do God’s work.”
     “Maybe he won’t be around much.” Maddie shuddered. “Let’s change the subject. Tell me something happy.”
     Kin offered a broad smile. “I have lunch with my grandfather.”
     “That sounds nice.”
     Kin peered at her paper. “You find anything?”
     “I think so but I’ll have to check with Dr. Lancaster to be sure. Maybe we’ll get to dig. Hey, Kin, do you know what this mound was? A storage building or something?”
     He laughed. “I am not that old!” Then his face turned serious. “You want to learn about my people?”
     “Oh yes, Kin, I do.”
     He nodded. He tore a fresh piece off Maddie’s pad of graph paper and picked up a pencil. He drew a circle about three inches in diameter then neatly scribed a square inside it. The corners of the square just touched the outline of the circle. Maddie looked at the picture, puzzled.
     Kin pointed at the figure. “Hunab K’u,” he said. “Absolute Being.”
     “Hoo-nahb koo,” Maddie repeated. She couldn’t say the k quite the way he did, no matter how hard she tried. “What does that mean?”
     Kin screwed up his face, thinking. “You go to church, Phoenix?”
     She shrank back and looked around for the priest. “No Kin, I don’t. Technically my family is Presbyterian but I haven’t been to church more than half a dozen times in my life and that was for weddings and funerals.”
     “You know about God?”
     “Of course. Everyone knows about God.”
     Kin pointed to his drawing again. “God. Hunab K’u. Absolute Being.”
     Maddie squinted at the drawing. “I don’t get it.”
     Kin patted the paper. “You keep picture. You understand later.”
     He headed over to the mound to help the others. Maddie folded up the paper and stuck it in her pocket, still puzzled. She finished plotting the numbers on the fresh graph paper then studied the figures, looking for patterns of higher readings. She found several spots where the numbers were higher than the surrounding area. She circled those spots and daydreamed about finding hidden treasures of the Maya. Some time later Joan reappeared.
     “Maddie, have you finished plotting the readings?”
     “Yes, Dr. Lancaster. There are several areas that look like there’s something there.” She showed Joan the paper.
     “Let’s see what the numbers say.”
     Maddie and Joan went over the figures and determined that there was only one real spot of interest, a small area just north of the mound.
     “So, do we get to dig there?” asked Maddie.
     “I’ll discuss this with Tom and find out what he wants to do. Yes, I imagine we’ll dig, though we’ll only need a shallow excavation. Ground level for the classical Maya was only a few centimeters below today’s ground level.”
     “Dr. Lancaster, do you know much about Maya artifacts?”
     “As much as most people in this field do.”
     “Have you thought about looking for some of the rare ones while we’re here?”
     “There’s not much point. They’re in various museums all over the world.”
     Maddie twisted the pencil in her fingers. “What about the Golden Jaguar of Itzamna?”
     “Don’t be foolish,” Joan snapped. “There is no such thing. But this,” she pounced her finger on the graph paper, “is real.”

*                   *                   *

     That night after dinner Maddie went to the lodge library and leafed through several books. She had intended to do some reading about jaguars in Maya mythology but none of the books had much information along those lines and none of them mentioned the Golden Jaguar of Itzamna. Instead she ended up spending an hour going through a book about the Maya of the Cloud Forest in the highlands of Guatemala. She read with great interest the section about quetzals, their place in Maya cosmology and the sacred manner in which their long, iridescent green tail feathers were harvested. She sat cross-legged on the floor next to the bookcase, the book open in her lap.
     “I wondered where you had gone.” Ben stood in the library doorway. “I was kind of hoping for a little front porch conversation.” He smiled at her. “How was your first day with Matilda the Hun?”
     Maddie laughed. “It wasn’t that bad, really. Dr. Lancaster’s not into small talk, that’s for sure, but I learned a lot.”
     “So is that why you’re here? Did she give you homework?”
     “Oh, no. I wanted to find out about jaguars.” She sighed. “I couldn’t find what I wanted so now I’m reading about quetzals.”
     “Yeah. You were talking about how phoenix means quetzal and then Kin said the same thing today so I looked it up.”
     “Kin?” Ben walked over and sat down on the floor next to her.
     “That Maya man who’s helping us – you know, the groundskeeper.”
     “You didn’t believe me but you’ll believe him?”
     “He just acted funny about some things I said so I wanted to see what I could find in the library.”
     “And what did you find out?” He leaned over and peered at the open book in her lap.
     Maddie flipped pages in the book. “You were right. The quetzal is the symbol of the priesthood but it’s kind of mixed up with royalty, too, because only the aristocracy were priests. There were people whose job was to travel to the mountains and harvest quetzal feathers and only those people were allowed to touch the birds.”
     “Wow. So did they kill off all the quetzals?”
     “Oh, no.” She turned a page and pointed to a photograph of an iridescent green bird with an absurdly long tail. “It was illegal to kill the birds. You kill a quetzal and the Maya kill you. No, they would catch them in nets and pluck out those long tail feathers…”
     “Ouch!” Ben grimaced.
     “Then set the birds free. Quetzal-catchers were really rich since the feathers were so valuable. It says here that the son would inherit the job from his father. Maya kings...I guess they should be called priest-kings...wore huge headdresses of quetzal feathers.”
     Ben leaned up against Maddie to study the photo of the bird. “Wow, that must have been spectacular.”
     “Yeah,” said Maddie. “Quetzals used to freak out the Maya because they don’t jerk their heads back and forth like other birds do. Quetzals turns their heads slowly around like people do. And they do this wild dive from high in the sky down into the trees with that long green tail trailing behind them.” Something connected in the back of her mind. “Maybe that’s where they get the image for one of their gods, the feathered serpent – that long, snakey tail trailing behind the falling quetzal.”
     “So what does that tell you about your name?”
     “Nothing, really.” She pointed to a page in the book. “I’m just getting into the chapter about the quetzal’s mythological significance. Apparently it represents Venus.”
     “Like Dr. Davies said.”
     “Yep,” said Maddie. “He knows a lot about this stuff but if I tell him why I’m interested he’ll think I’m nuts.”
     “It’s not crazy to want to know more about the quetzal, especially when a real Maya person talks to you about it. And then there’s your great-grandmother.”
     Maddie looked away. “But I didn’t tell you about the dream.”
     “The one you mentioned before, when we were talking about your great-grandfather?”
     “If I tell you, promise you won’t think I’m loony?”
     “Sure, I promise.”
     “The dream was all about the Maya. About me being with them and being an archaeologist. That’s really why I applied for this fieldwork.”
     “So, it’s like intuition, right? That’s not so weird.”
     Maddie fidgeted with the corner of a page. “Well, I just had to come, you know? And when I told Kin about the dream he acted funny and wouldn’t talk about it when that priest was around.” She swallowed. “I’m not crazy, am I, Ben?”
     Ben pulled the rumpled page from her fingers and squeezed her hand. “I’ve known you a long time, Madeleine Phoenix. I’ve thought you were a lot of things but I never thought you were crazy.”
     Maddie rocked her head back against the bookcase.
     Ben still held her hand. “Will you tell me more about the dream?”
     Maddie looked sideways at him.
     “I won’t think you’re crazy, cross my heart.” He made the gesture on his chest.
     “All right, you’ve always been into weird stuff anyway.” She looked down at the photo of the quetzal. “It was the night before the application deadline. Dr. Davies had given me the paperwork and suggested that I apply but I really wanted to go to Venice next summer instead. It seemed more…”
     “Adventurous. I had forgotten entirely about the Belize trip. Then I had the dream.” She leveled her gaze at him. “In the dream I was standing in the mud and it was raining and a bunch of us were digging at the site. I found a big stone stela but no one would listen to me, no one would help me. Then these Maya people appeared.”
     “That’s pretty cool.”
     “Actually, that’s when it turned into a nightmare. They called me by some weird name and started asking me about a, um, jaguar. Then they dragged me off to one of the temples in the jungle. That’s when I woke up.”
     “Well, it sounds to me like you wanted to go on the trip but were afraid to and the dream is your subconscious trying to work it all out.”
     “You mean, the Maya dragging me away were my fears or something?”
     Ben nodded. “Sure. And the other archaeologists wouldn’t listen to you. Isn’t that what you were worried about, since you have the least field experience of anyone on the team?”
     “Gee whiz, I guess I’ve been all worked up over nothing.” She rifled her bangs with her fingers.
     “Well, I’m glad you’re here,” said Ben. He looked at his watch. “We’d better get to bed. Dr. Davies will be cracking the whip first thing in the morning.”
     “You bet I will.” Tom stood in the library doorway, smiling.
     Maddie and Ben got up off the floor.
     Ben smiled to Maddie. “I’ll see you in the morning. Good night, Dr. Davies.” He headed down the hallway to his room.
     Tom watched as Maddie collected her books and returned them to the shelves.
     “Well, Maddie, I’m happy to see you so interested in this project.”
     She put away the last book. “Yeah. I’ve talked Ben’s ears off tonight. I guess I’m just excited.”
     “You and Ben spend a lot of time talking, don’t you? You must be really good friends.”
     She shrugged. “I guess so. We’ve known each other since grade school.”
     He gripped the back of a chair and cleared his throat. “You might want to pay attention, Maddie. I think Ben may be expecting a level of friendship that you’re not.”
     She gave him a puzzled look. “Oh, Dr. Davies, don’t be so serious. We just happen to be interested in the same subjects.”
     She waved goodnight and breezed out of the library toward her room.