Saturday, April 26, 2014

Thus, a tale begins......

                                                Every breath you take
                                                Every move you make
                                                Every bond you break
                                                Every step you take
                                                I'll be watching you............
                                                                     Every Breath You Take
                                                                                            Written by Sting

Leah stopped singing when she reached the fork in the path. She pushed up her Twins cap and swiped her forehead with the back of her arm. Her t-shirt stuck to her skin, soaked through with perspiration. Rivulets trickled down her back; she squirmed against a growing pool of sweat at the waistband of her shorts. With a deep breath of hot, humid forest air, she reminded herself that had she been, at that very moment, back in Minnesota, she would most likely be freezing; instead of trotting through the forest, she would be stomping snow off her boots. This, she thought with a grin, is certainly preferable to that.
She peered down one path, then the other; her eyes could follow the trails only so far before they disappeared into the thick growth. Somewhere in the distance, she caught the low rumble of a big cat, probably the jaguar. The jaguar. The same one she always heard when she traversed this part of the forest. Over the months she had been there, Leah learned to differentiate between sounds. This sound was, in an odd way, comfortingly familiar. Hector told her about the cat: he belonged to the Mamacuna, was very well fed, and for all intents and purposes, rather tame. Although she had never seen him, she heard his deep, rumbly voice with great regularity. Leah suspected he kept his eye on her much the way the villagers kept their collective eye on her. She couldn't always see who was watching her movements through the forest, but she knew she was always watched. She didn't mind. "Okay, Hector," Leah said out loud, "where are the steles?" She looked down the path to the left, then checked the map again. "That's gotta be it," she muttered as she readjusted her pack.

A chain of accidents, beginning almost twenty years earlier, brought Leah to this peaceful world. Dr. Hector Morales stumbled onto the people when he fled Trujillo after the great earthquake. He was permitted to stay because he convinced their high priestess he would not reveal where he found them. He remained with the people for three months before he felt ready to return to what was left of his home. There, he resumed his research in urban epidemiology, but every chance he had, he ran back to the forest.
In time, Hector found he could no longer divide his time between Trujillo and the people he had come to love. He closed up his laboratory, resigned from the hospital, and found the perfect place to perch a small clinic. From there, he could tend the people while keeping one foot in the modern world. He devoted his days to the clinic, but at night he worked in his little lab and wrote long papers on the transmission of tropical disease.
Hector was the only link between the people and the outside world. His clinic, an abandoned sheep ranch, sat on a ridge at the edge of the forest. The residents of the modern hamlet closest to the clinic knew some of what lay behind the curtain of green, but they wanted no part of that ghost world. Whatever the doctor did out there in the forest made them think he had spent too much time in the hot sun around his little house. Even the local padre had given up trying to convince Hector to keep out of the forest.
And that was fine with Hector. "Let them think what they want," he told those few who knew the truth, "all the more reason for them to stay out." Still, Hector knew the days of people staying out his corner of the world were numbered. There were mining expeditions much too close for comfort as well drug dealers looking for prime coca growing land. Eventually they would find their way to this eyebrow of the world and the people would lose their home. It was simply a matter of time. The outsiders would come.
Leah Fine was an outsider, but she was the kind of outsider he needed. As a doctoral candidate in anthropology, she would be able to record the people's world before it disappeared. She had written to him after his article on folk medicine appeared in an anthropological journal. From the moment she stepped from Paolo's silver bird onto the little landing strip near his house, he knew had made the right decision. She was everything he wanted her to be, and then some. She came speaking the language well enough to make a smooth transition to the old dialect; she had an air of calm about her, of confidence and ease. He liked her from her letters, but he loved her in person. He had no hesitations at all when he walked her into the forest to the ayllu where she would live for the next year. Leah had not disappointed him. Willingly, he gave her new keys to the kingdom every time she set a foot on his doorsill.

On Hector's advice, Leah was using this trip back to her ayllu for a little side research. Convinced that his charge understood the vagaries of the rain forest, Hector offered Leah a chance to see something quite unusual and, as he expected, she jumped at the opportunity. Hidden deep within the forest were nine huacas, shrines, dedicated to Mamaquilla, the Moon Goddess who shared the Supreme Throne with her male counterpart, Inti, joining together to become Viracocha, the Great Faceless Deity.
"I've never made the pilgrimage myself since I am a man and it would be inappropriate," explained Hector when he gave her the map, "but you, a woman, can make the pilgrimage without desecrating the huacas."
Leah had heard whispers about the huacas, but no one had offered to show them to her. All she knew was that they were hidden along the edge of the forest along the line where the forest gave way to the first foothills of the Andes. "I figured eventually I would ask Saba about them."
"Before you can ask, niña, you have to know what questions to ask. Saba didn't ask you to join her at the summer solstice, did she?"
Leah admitted she had not, much to her disappointment. She knew about Janajpachallacta, the Village of the Sky, where the Mamacuna and her council of sages lived apart from the ayllus. The major religious ceremonies were held there, including the two solstice ceremonies so central to the people's spiritual consciousness. Although she had hinted she wanted to go, Leah was told she could not even enter the stone village nestled in the mountain without an invitation from the Mamacuna herself.
"That was because you haven't made a pilgrimage," laughed Hector. "It's a sort of Catch-22, if you don't mind the reference. One cannot ask; it must be done in secret. Once you have made pilgrimage to the huacas, Saba will have no reason not to ask the Qewa Ñawi to the winter solstice, the big situa, in June."`
Leah smiled at the use of her local nickname. Whenever he wanted to remind her she was still a guest of the people, he referred to her as Grass Eyes. "Okay, janpeq," she countered using his own nickname, "how long will it take?"
"Not long. If you leave here early tomorrow morning, you should reach your ayllu in three days, instead of her usual two."
Her smile lit up the darkest corners of his house. "Hector, you're on. Tell me what I have to know."

Suddenly, Leah spied the steles almost completely overgrown by forest brush. The first marker on Hector's map, they stood between the path and a long deserted shrine to San Francisco de Assisi, left by monks of the last century. Three neglected, yet carefully mounded stone graves, probably belonging to the members of the order who perished in the forest, sat a few feet behind the weatherworn statue of Saint Francis. Leah paused long enough to take a swig from her canteen before she followed the path which the map indicated would lead to an arroyo.
The swiftness of the waters, coupled with the greenish color, told Leah this was no little creek, but rather a deep stream. She found a footpath on the rise above it, and followed the track for a couple of kilometers. The next marker was easy to spot: two carved monuments, far more ancient than the first set and clearly Chimu in design. Pulling the little Nikon from her pocket, she photographed the pillars from all sides and then sketched the fine details in her black notebook. According to Hector, this was the gateway to the pilgrims' path.

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