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) (6 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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Choovio made a hand sign that meant
consider it done
and left.

Sowi and Kopavi jogged to her store of arrows. Tuwa nodded to himself. In a short time, they would be as ready as they could be. He watched Sowi take a large bundle of arrows toward the roof. He used to be afraid the talkative boy would bolt and run. But Sowi’s actions rarely matched his words. When trouble came, he always knuckled into it.

Tuwa saw Kopavi begin waking the young ones. He admired how she crafted deadly arrows, and could even shoot faster and better than Sowi, yet she also kept a sense of motherly gentleness about her.

He found his bowl of soup sitting still full and cold. He raised it to his lips and drank it in three swallows without noticing the flavor. He wiped his mouth and looked at the sleeping old woman.

“Grandmother,” he whispered. Her eyes fluttered. “More soup?”

“No,” she said, smacking her lips. She sat up. “It’s not spiced well enough to waste on an old woman.”

Tuwa smiled and imagined how feisty she must have been as a young woman.

“I know you are tired, Grandmother, but I must know more about what is going on here. To help my people.” He said it to mean the Pochtécans. But he realized it could also be taken to mean all the people of his homeland.

The woman sat up straighter. “Fetch me a drink of water and I’ll answer your questions.”

Tuwa refilled her drinking bowl and she slurped it empty. “Now. You ask. I will answer.”

“No, Grandmother. We don’t have enough time. Tell me what you think I need to know.”

“Who are you to say no to the Eldest Woman?” she snapped. Tuwa tensed at having offended her, and said nothing. She moved her hand loom to her lap. Then sighed. “You’re right, Grandson. This is not a time for manners and customs. You listen. I will talk.”

Tuwa noticed Sowi on the roof above. He quieted the other archers and listened. Choovio had stopped working and stood beside the dying fire, his right ear pointed toward them. In his hands, he held a short bow strung with an arrow. Archery did not come easily to him, and he tried to compensate by often holding a bow and arrow, as if he would acquire the skill to use them from handling the tools.

The old woman spoke of violent men who arrived at Center Place Canyon from the dying civilizations to the South before and after the Day Star, more than she could count. She told how a man called The Builder convinced the ruling Southern Alliance that large structures, higher than any before, would make the Earth-gods happy and bring ever-greater power to them. Tókotsi, chief of the Alliance, embraced The Builder and gave him the title of High Priest. Hordes of crazy Másaw-worshipping warriors arrived after that and Tókotsi appointed a man named Pók their chief with the directive to induce the local farmers to provide food and labor for The Builder’s projects.

Tuwa glanced at Sowi when Grandmother said “Pók,” and saw him nodding his head and gesturing his hand in obscene laughter. It sounded similar to the word for dog excrement,
Póku
. Even Tuwa allowed himself a tight grin.

Grandmother Haki said it had been the hand of Pók that sacrificed so many during the first full moon after the Day Star, on that awful altar with The Builder as High Priest giving his blessing. After the Day Star faded from the day sky, but still shined bright at night for two more winters, Pók directed Másaw Warriors to terrorize and force more and more men from outer villages to shape and haul stones for the new high-reaching structures of the canyon. Men like Grandmother Haki’s husband. After Grandfather’s death and the collapse of the Northern Alliance, there was little resistance.

She scanned the plaza with eyes that did not see and worked her mouth as if she sucked a piece of gristle. Tuwa watched the first young orphans begin marching into the night, full burden baskets on their backs, following girl guides from the town. He felt empty inside, a pause before something awful happened. Even though the younger ones would be spared, he worried that a large force of warriors would surprise them at any moment and murder them all. What should he do? He wished The Pochtéca would awaken and be himself and tell them what to do.

“Man corn,” the old woman spat. Tuwa startled and looked at her, confused. “That’s what they tried to feed us. Your Grandfather was only the first. After him came many, many others. Two from every village and town every day as long as the Day Star showed itself. We cursed it. I still do.” She spat.

After another drink of water, she explained how the warriors forced the cooks to make man corn to feed the men like her husband who worked even in the dark, to the light sometimes of only stars and the wicked Day Star That Faded. And even more Másaw-worshipping, pointy-toothed warriors arrived from the South, and Pók fed them the same, but they liked it. Even after the Day Star became a Night Star That Faded, they sent out patrols to kill and eat entire villages, mainly those to the north, to force the remaining villages to send more corn and beans and squash and wood.

“Our high country was…there are few left,” she said in a weak, tired voice. “Only women and old men in hiding, keeping the secrets and wisdom of the old ways. Many villages stand empty. Most of what we had is lost forever.”

After they’d terrorized all the villages to the north, she said, they started raiding from the ones on the south side of the canyon.

“This town may be the first, I don’t know. Our top man resisted at first. So they took all the men and the strongest women. Then Ihu came three days ago saying Tókotsi had given this town, called Black Stone because of the color of the rocks from which it was built, to Ráana, Tókotsi’s grandson. He also announced that the red-hat trader was coming.” She breathed audibly for a few moments, her anger deeper than her words. “These people are willing to destroy anything, even as they build those pointless empty stone buildings in the canyon. This will distress you because you know more of it than I. It distresses me because I suspect they meant the long accumulation of knowledge by our people. Two summers ago when the Day Star still shined at night and my sight had not yet left me, I saw a great pile of string smoking and smoldering. Special string, my husband said. Your Grandfather would have known. Pók called them ‘evil sky strings.’”

Not the string records! Tuwa remembered Grandfather’s long string with knots and different lengths of side fringe that indicated sun and moon cycles and changes in moonrise and moonset, the movements of the wandering stars, the comings and goings of long-haired stars that passed across the sky. Tuwa remembered Grandfather saying the string record of observations through the Twin Giants, where generations of skywatchers measured sky patterns between the two giant columns of rock, went back seventeen generations. He kept it carefully coiled in a sacred jar that Nuva hid beneath stones in the floor.

“I remember Grandfather’s string record,” whispered Tuwa. “He handled it as if it were the most precious thing in the world.”

“And so it must have been,” the old woman said. “To Pók and his handlers, they were a threat, something to be destroyed. They must have gathered them from all the northern skywatchers. They burned them on the same altar where our people were….” She stopped, a catch in her throat. “We wanted nothing to do with it. We preferred starving ourselves. My husband was glad when he became too weak to work. I hated seeing him go, but I did not want him to add another stone to their works. Many felt that way. Most of them gone now.”

She hesitated and shifted her weight. Tuwa looked up and saw Sowi staring along the road to the north where Ihu had escaped. Choovio, too, scanned in all directions, wary of sudden attack.

“Many others, though,” Grandmother Haki said after she’d settled herself, “mostly from the southern towns and villages, feasted and made merry as if a herd of elk had been killed, not their own brothers and sisters from the north. They ingratiated themselves with the Southern Alliance and The Builder and Pók. He’s the worst. An evil, small man. To be big, he had to bloody his hands. To keep control of those wretched Másaw Warriors, he had to go beyond what even they would do. He reveled in the butchery. He coated himself in blood. Even the blood of your grandfather.” The woman seemed to cower at the mention of Grandfather.

Tuwa remembered. A small man cavorting about Grandfather, who had been stripped naked, hands tied behind his back, forced to stand on a stone platform on the altar, The Builder in his High Priest garb behind him.

“I saw,” said Tuwa. The words barely choked out of him.

“You witnessed? Your Grandfather?”

“Yes. Choovio, too.”

The old woman’s breath cut short. “Too many became orphans that day.”

“Half of these,” Tuwa said, nodding at the Pochtécans. He forgot she could not see.

“Poor children.”

Tuwa gathered himself. He hadn’t remembered so clearly for a long time. Perhaps since it had happened. The image burned in him, the High Priest behind Grandfather, and the small man thrusting the knife.
Nukpana
, Tuwa named him after it happened. Most evil one. Most hated. The deepest corner of his mind coined the name with the first thrust of his knife that day long ago. The last moment of Grandfather’s life. Nukpana. The High Priest’s executioner and chief warrior. The man he now knew as Pók.

Both men Tuwa had killed, one in the southlands traveling with The Pochtéca, one today, had been Nukpana to him. His sudden burst of anger made him strike with an intensity that frightened him even as it gave him advantage. He had a ferocious first-strike ability possessed by few others. The power of hatred ran deeper than his own soul. He would do anything, go anywhere, for just one swipe of his knife at Nukpana. At this dog excrement called Pók.

But now he had to force himself to the present, find out how to take care of his people. The itch of the returning warriors bored painfully into his brain. Even if they escaped, where would they go? What would they do? Who might help them?

“I need to know more, Grandmother.” Tuwa said in a hoarse whisper. “Is there no one left here who will help?”

The old woman breathed deeply again, her chest wheezing, and she seemed to grow weary with a heavy burden. She laid her head back.

“Yes, there are some who will still fight them, Grandson. But they are well-hidden, and any power they have is not physical.”

“How will I find them?”

“Mostly they will find you.” She paused and breathed, a rattle in her chest. “There is a sign. A secret sign among women. I have never shown a man before.” The old woman paused, as if making a final decision about Tuwa. “Take my hand, my left hand.” Tuwa reached for her hand. “Look at the tips of my fingers, three of them. Is there light enough to see?”

Tuwa needed no light to see. He already knew what she meant. A shiver ran from his spine to the back of his neck.

“I see,” he said. A single dark mark on the tip of each finger.

“We make them with wet splinters of wood coated in fine cedar ash. One each for Mother Earth, Father Sun, Sister Moon. Find fingers like these and you will find a friend.”

“I know them,” Tuwa said. “I’ve seen them before. On the hand of the woman who raised me. I’ve seen her make the mark on others.” She had, in fact, given him the same marks.

“Who?” she asked.

“Nuva, the albino woman. She took the place of my mother in the house of my Grandfather. The village women there treated her poorly.”

“I have heard stories of her, Grandson,” she whispered. “She may yet live. A secret White Priestess who never comes into the light of the day is said to live in the palace of The Builder, but I do not know if it is the woman who raised you.”

Tuwa’s heart pounded. “Could it be her?” The last he knew, she stood in line for sacrifice behind Grandfather. With Chumana at her side. Could they have escaped?

“I don’t know, Grandson. The world has been crazy these last three summers.” Her voice faded to an exhausted whisper. Tuwa patted her hand.

“You have helped us, Grandmother. I am grateful. Sleep now.” He found a worn turkey-feather blanket and tucked it around her.

He stood, needing to think. He walked fast into the night along the road to the north, the way Ihu had escaped. Choovio and Sowi followed close, and the other orphans hesitated, then abandoned their posts and strung along.

Tuwa only vaguely noticed them following and began to jog until he came to the hill where Ihu had bested him. He stood in silence watching the world and thinking. Stars smeared across the dark heavens. The growing half-moon would set soon and plunge the rolling prairie into starlight-only darkness. He startled when he noticed Sowi and the others coming along beside him.

Sowi, in a fit of agitation, spoke first. “Did you hear what that Eldest Woman said? Thousands of warriors. Crawling all over the place, like ants! What are we doing here? We’ve got to get out, now!”

Some of the others murmured in agreement.

Tuwa looked at them in surprise. “You should be at your posts! We must go back.”

“No,” said Sowi. “We must talk. There’s too much going on. The Pochtéca is no good to us right now. Staying here doesn’t make any sense. We’re all going to be killed when that bald-headed Ihu guy gets back with a bunch of those warriors. I don’t want to be here for that. Do you? And we don’t have much time.”

“Tomorrow morning. Or three days,” said Choovio. For the largest of the Pochtécans, he had the fewest words and the softest voice.

“We can get a long way by morning. And far, far away in three days,” said Sowi. “Unless they all run like Ihu.”

The words stung Tuwa. He was The Pochtéca’s eldest and top boy. But because he didn’t catch Ihu, he felt his power ebb and said nothing to defend himself.

“What if The Pochtéca never gets better?” asked one of the orphan boys.

“Yeah, we need a new top man,” said another.

“I remember how they used to do it back home,” said one. “Everybody who wants to be top man turns his back, and everybody else talks about them until we decide who we want.”

“Yeah!” said several boys. Even in the dim light of a setting half-moon, they looked like a bunch of tramps, with homemade and second-hand clothes, thin as saplings, muscles like knotted vines. They leaped around like young animals when they had no loads to carry.

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)
13.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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