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.