Read The Next Skywatcher: Prequel to The Last Skywatcher Triple Trilogy Series (The Last Skywatcher, Anasazi Historical Thrillers with a Hint of Romance Book 1) Online

Authors: Jeff Posey

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The Next Skywatcher: Prequel to The Last Skywatcher Triple Trilogy Series (The Last Skywatcher, Anasazi Historical Thrillers with a Hint of Romance Book 1) (3 page)

BOOK: The Next Skywatcher: Prequel to The Last Skywatcher Triple Trilogy Series (The Last Skywatcher, Anasazi Historical Thrillers with a Hint of Romance Book 1)
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Finally, The Pochtéca broke the deadlock of silence. He lifted his staff and pointed at the campfire. “Council fire,” he said, meaning all who wished could speak, with The Pochtéca having the final word. The eldest girls flung wood onto the fire and everyone stood, even the youngest. The Pochtéca’s tradition held that no one sat until the first speaker began, then those who forfeited their chance to utter a word were allowed to sit. He liked to point out that most villagers allowed too much sitting, which he said encouraged far too much debate and indecision. The Pochtéca preferred short and to the point when others spoke. He, on the other hand, would often stand and tell rambling tales until the midnight stars were overhead and his audience had fallen asleep.

Tuwa knew he must speak first. He took a deep breath and turned to the dozen orphans who stood with him, realizing that they, like him, had not unburdened themselves. He felt grateful to them, but uncertain of himself as a leader. He hoped they had not made a horrible mistake.

He felt the sudden urge to run away. He needed to think before he spoke. Tuwa stooped and set his jar on the ground, finding a place it would not roll on its round bottom, then turned away from the council fire without glancing at anyone and jogged uphill. He stopped below the rim and looked down. The Pochtéca still stood, staring where Tuwa’s chest had been. The faces of all the orphans turned to Tuwa. He knew they wondered why he had run away, and that The Pochtéca would be angry. He looked over the plain below toward the land of his childhood, remembering Grandfather. The way he spoke at council, how he often said a man should say nothing if he did not know exactly what words he wanted to come out of his mouth, and how he would take hours, sometimes days, to answer a question.

Do not be rushed
, he heard Grandfather say. He often imagined Grandfather’s voice and even had conversations with him, out loud if he thought no one could hear.

“What am I doing?” he mumbled.

Something you must do
.

He breathed deeply again and looked across the hazy plain to the southern reaches of his homeland, a side he did not know well. He had been from the far north, the mountains, where trees grew like grass on the prairie. With The Pochtéca, he had trekked to the far South, the source of evil that infiltrated all the way to Center Place Canyon, where warriors without honor killed those Tuwa loved most. Grandfather. The albino woman who raised him like a mother, Nuva, hair like snow, eyes like the pink nose of a possum. And another whose face had begun to elude him, but whose slender body he remembered with painful clarity, the touch of her hand, the smell of her hair, the way his heart clenched when he thought of her. Chumana. He rarely let his mind pronounce her name.

He saw the waiting council through a blur of tears. He would
not
cry like a child.

What is worth living for? And dying for?
Grandfather rarely spoke of death.
The answer is more simple than you think, my grandson
.

Tuwa nodded. He tried to think of the right words. Simple, he thought. It feels complicated, but it is really very simple. What had Choovio said when they planned this moment?

“I want to go home,” Choovio said. “To our village. I want to be top man, like my father. Grow good crops. Have children. Become old.”

But Tuwa had argued with him. “If you have too much to live for, you may not be willing to take the ultimate risk. It could make us fail.”

Choovio had made him think, though. If they survived, what did he want? He imagined Grandfather’s breath on his neck, he was so close. Standing in his circle of stones at the Twins, watching the night sky, keeping the string record that had been passed down through generations of skywatchers. Tuwa wanted to do that. Resume Grandfather’s life work. Grow old in the village that Choovio ran. Become the next skywatcher.

The Pochtéca deserved honor and respect, and therefore truth. Even now, he showed his fairness in allowing Tuwa to explain himself. But The Pochtéca intended to travel to that dark, two-hearted canyon for trade. Tuwa couldn’t do that. Not for mere trade. Going back filled him with dread. It terrified him. He did not want to go there. Yet, he knew he must.

But the truth was too complicated, too hard to explain.
It is more simple than you think
, Grandfather said again.

A figure intruded into his thoughts. The one who did those awful things to Grandfather. The man who murdered him, with a long line of others waiting their turn behind Grandfather: Choovio’s parents, Nuva, Chumana, and others too numerous to count. All massacred on that high altar hastily constructed of earth in that frenzied half-moon after the Day Star appeared. The High Priest standing with his arms raised, blessing the actions of that one wild man who reveled in the butchering. Tuwa imagined the man’s head in his hands. He squeezed so hard it popped like a gourd.

That gave him clarity. He looked at The Pochtéca again. “I know what to say now, Grandfather,” he whispered. “I’ll speak it like you.”

Tuwa trotted back to where he had been standing and faced The Pochtéca, whose eyes drilled into Tuwa’s chest. He lifted the dried-meat jar to his shoulders, again The Pochtéca’s rule: Unburden your lips before you unburden your body.

“I understand your ways,” Tuwa said, his voice cracking and weak. He cleared his throat and put more energy into it. “You are like a father to us all and I respect you. But I understand your ways. You go into this evil, two-hearted place for trade. That is enough for you. It is honorable. It is right. For you. But I cannot go back to this place for the sake of trade. It fills me with dread. The guiding spirits of those who rule here are an affront to all that is right, all that is holy, all that my forefathers believed in and lived for. I cannot willingly go into this place. And yet I will. I will go with you. But not for your trade. I go for one reason and one reason only.”

Tuwa paused and let the wind blow. He remembered how Grandfather used to delay his final word and how people would hang on it, even hold their breaths. He waited until he could stand his own silence no longer.

“Revenge,” he said, raising a clenched fist. “I go only for revenge.”

The Pochtéca stared at Tuwa’s throat.

Tuwa stood and let the hot surge he felt inside blow away from him in the wind, and he cooled. No one made a sound. A warm gust blew through the boulders and died. Tuwa sank to the ground where he had been standing, the meat jar between his legs.

Now Tuwa stared into The Pochtéca’s chest, waiting for his reply. No one else would speak. The Pochtéca had called two councils since Tuwa had been with him, and both times Tuwa had been the only one to stand and talk.

Tuwa felt a movement to his left and realized with surprise that Choovio had raised his fist. “Revenge,” he said softly, and sat, his knee touching Tuwa’s thigh.

Kopavi, the eldest girl and arrow-maker, stood beside Choovio. The massacre in the canyon had taken her entire family, aunts and uncles, cousins, everyone. She gripped a single arrow in her fist, held it high. “Revenge,” she said in a clear, defiant voice, and sat beside Choovio.

One by one, all those who had been orphaned during that crazy, bloody month after the appearance of the Day Star stood before The Pochtéca with a raised fist and said one word:
revenge
.

Then Sowi, the third-eldest boy after Tuwa and Choovio, a fast runner not from this place and an endless talker, stepped forward. “I don’t really know, of course, but this place seems like any other place to me, and if that’s where The Pochtéca wants us to go, then that’s where I guess I’ll go. But just because I didn’t come from here doesn’t mean I didn’t come from someplace where something really bad happened just like here. And for that, and because Tuwa and Choovio are my brothers, then I guess….” He shrugged, glanced at Tuwa and Choovio, then back to The Pochtéca. “Revenge.” He sat like a sack of dried corn dropped to the ground. A few of the boys from other places, the older ones left standing, muttered
revenge
as if obliged to do so, and sat. All the others had given up their right to speak.

Most if not all of the other Day Star orphans had seen worse than what Tuwa witnessed. Grandfather had been the first, and Tuwa couldn’t bear to watch. He rolled off the backside of the big house, the High Priest’s palace in the canyon, and dropped to the ground after they began to dismantle Grandfather’s body for the cooking pots. The other orphans, he learned later, had waited to witness their own people slaughtered. Choovio saw both his parents. Kopavi hid and watched through days of killing and celebration until everyone was too gorged on human meat to move. Yet, though he had asked them, none remembered the last moments of Nuva and Chumana. Tuwa should have stayed and watched. Out of respect for their spirits and for his own certainty. At least he would know how they died. That they died. There was no way they had escaped. There had been too many Southern warriors, too much bloodlust, the crowd too vocal in support of more.

The Pochtéca didn’t keep them waiting long. He erupted into rolling thunderous laughter. “How incredibly lucky for me,” he finally said, wiping his eyes with his fat little fingers. “I have these bulky gifts that all of you are good enough to carry for me. And I wear this heavy shirt with countless bells. What we carry is treasure. This shirt in particular. You know I have been collecting these bells for many, many years. Those of you who watch and think already know. In the South, where they make these,” he jingled his shirt, “these are common. But here they are rare and magical. In return for this shirt and what you carry, I will have bluestone, top-quality, the finest anywhere, enough to make me rich beyond belief for the rest of my life and forever afterward. Every top man of every village in all directions will trade anything for just one little piece. I will never have to walk forever again.”

His sharp eyes darted to the orphans, some of whom had been with him since he started his collection of bells. They treated him as a father. And he treated all of them, even Tuwa and the rebels standing apart with him, as a small court of admirers who he used for his own entertainment and protection as well as porters. He continuously encouraged them to practice defending themselves, and with Tuwa and Choovio as eldest boys and role models, they had become better than most grown warriors. But their real protective benefit came simply from being children. Even the most ruthless trail thieves hesitated to attack a man surrounded by children. The Pochtéca had taught them to take full advantage of hesitation and opportunity.

“I need a few to help me carry my bluestone, and look, there are more than enough who are not blinded by revenge. You will gladly help me, will you not?” He waited for each of the remaining ones to give an almost imperceptible nod. “There. That’s wonderful. Now. For the rest of you. Please continue to carry what you’ve brought here. We’ll be safe to enter, I’ve made sure of that. The shadow worshippers want this shirt of bells, and will trade dearly for it after we negotiate for a day or two. I will get my bluestone. These youngsters will carry it out with me. Then, after that, all you hothead revenge-seekers can do as you please. But I warn you. This is not a place to make mistakes. They do not forgive even the slightest infraction here. You, Tuwa, know that best of all for the mistake your sky chief grandfather made.”

Tuwa almost burst. He wanted to jump up and deny it, call The Pochtéca a liar. But members of the council never interrupted the top man speaking his final words. He pressed his lips together in frustration, and The Pochtéca smiled when he saw Tuwa’s reaction.

“Yes, his great mistake. You are old enough to face it, Tuwa. Your grandfather failed to predict the new star that shone even during the day for a month, and at night until the winter before last. You all saw it. You all remember it. For a sky chief of his stature not to foresee something of such magnitude meant he lost all respect. Worse, he refused to see the grave danger his failure put him into, along with you and your albino nurse mother, and everyone else who lived at the Twins. He marched to his own certain death without the wisdom to see his fate. You may imagine you are nearly as wise as your grandfather, young Tuwa. But if you go into Center Place Canyon for no reason other than revenge, then you are as blind as your grandfather.”

Tuwa felt hot tears well in his eyes. They soaked his lashes but didn’t spill down his face. The Pochtéca took his time to study the faces of each boy—and the one girl—who sided with Tuwa. He bounced on his feet as if testing new sandals, which gave him an air of boyish energy. “There is something you must do for me. If for no other reason than because I have tried to treat you well and with honor. So for me, I ask this: Allow me to depart before you do whatever it is you think you will do. After I am two days’ gone, what you do is up to you. Do you agree?”

It seemed reasonable. The Pochtéca waited as Tuwa and the revenge-seekers gave silent nods of their heads.

“Good. For me, this is good. For you, maybe not. But we each decide where to place our next step. I wish you luck and the protection of the gods of light. This council is finished.”

He leaned his head back and looked at the sky. The wandering evening star shone brightly where the sun’s disk had been only moments before. Time to pay respects to the six directions. The Pochtéca turned to where the sun had set to begin his ritual. All the other children, even Tuwa, had learned it and joined him every evening and morning. But this time, Tuwa faced only north toward his homeland. He tried to see what lay ahead there, his mind adding three summers to the places he had known as a child. Had all become as dark as that night Grandfather and so many others walked to their death? Had that evil burnt itself out? Or did it still froth in death and blood? He would soon find out. They would all soon find out.

Outrun

BOOK: The Next Skywatcher: Prequel to The Last Skywatcher Triple Trilogy Series (The Last Skywatcher, Anasazi Historical Thrillers with a Hint of Romance Book 1)
2.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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