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) (8 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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Pók expected the same usual boring report from the runner, but he always insisted on hearing them before The Builder. He learned long ago that information—or even just the appearance of having information—gave one as much strength as killing worthy adversaries. Especially in a place like Center Place Canyon with its layers of priests and Owl Men and Southern Alliance council members, a manmade fantasy land of political posturing and religious fanaticism thicker than a congealed bowl of man corn. But all of it relied on one man, Pók, and the hundreds of Másaw Warriors at his command. Without them, the canyon would wither and die from lack of food and labor.

So it was a small but imperative thing for him to instill in this runner the rules of his job. Only new, enthusiastic runners from outlying towns, who truly believed they served only The Builder as High Priest did not understand who they truly reported to. Pók went up a ladder and across a small courtyard to The Builder’s round chamber, a room lit by the single sputtering flame of a yucca fiber wick in a bowl of bear fat. Pók loved that smell and paused to appreciate it with his eyes closed. Only The Builder’s chambers burned with that rich, rare smell. He found the runner standing in full formal regalia, the feathers of his headpiece nearly touching the ceiling. He looked frightened.

“Sit and rest,” said Pók in a soft, friendly tone. “You have had a long run. Have you had water?”

The runner signed
Yes
, his eyes wide.

“Good,” said Pók. He indicated the boy’s headdress, a mantle of buffalo fur and eagle feathers. “Please. I know that is hot for you. Set it aside and rest yourself.”

The boy’s eyes never left Pók’s face as he removed his headgear and sat on a stone bench along the curved wall. Pók smiled, more to himself than for the benefit of the boy. He remembers his own face and clothing still had the gore of his recent kill. He must look a sight. That was good. It would make the right impression.

“Now, tell me, what do you have to report?” asked Pók.

“I am a runner for the High Priest. I report to him.” The boy’s voice pitched high.

“It’s okay. Everything is fine. You can tell The Builder. Nobody will stop you. But he’s asleep, and he doesn’t like to be wakened unless it’s very important.”

The runner stared at Pók. “I should tell The Builder first.”

“As you wish,” said Pók, sitting beside the boy. “I’ll wait with you.”

The runner cowered from Pók as he sat on the bench.

“We should wake The Builder,” said the boy.

“Go ahead,” said Pók. “We’ll take you to him.”

The runner shivered. “He must know.”

“Of course.”

The runner stared at Pók. “What happens if…?” the boy didn’t finish his question.

“What’s that?” Pók asked absent-mindedly. “What happens if he doesn’t like that you woke him? Well,” Pók smiled, “the last couple, they were tough. You runners are hard to chew. No matter how long they cook you.”

The boy began shaking. “What…what…?”

“What happens if you tell me instead? Why, nothing. I value nothing more than accurate and quick information. And The Builder never harms those who give me that information. I am, after all, chief of the Másaw Warriors.”

The boy nodded and swallowed. “Maybe you need to know more than The Builder, anyway.”

Pók nodded in unison with the boy. “Whatever you decide. I trust your judgment.”

“Seven warriors were killed in Black Stone Town yesterday,” blurted the runner. “Ihu escaped and took over my patrol that happened to be camped a half-day away. He sent me here to report, but gave no message to deliver. They should be to Black Stone by now.”

Pók took great care not to react and frighten the boy. “Seven warriors,” said Pók. “Who did it?”

“Ihu said children of the red-hat man.”

“Children!” Pók resisted the urge to stand and shout at the absurdity.

“That’s what Ihu said. That’s all I know.” The runner raised his hands, to explain or to defend himself, Pók couldn’t tell.

“Calm yourself, boy. I’m not going to hurt you. I take care of all my best runners. I’ll send you a special prize tonight that you’ll like. An older, experienced one. They’re best for your first time. It will be your first time won’t it? Of course, of course. Now. What else can you tell me? What
children
committed these deeds you report?”

“All I know, all I know is what Ihu said. He said children of the red-hat man. I don’t even know what that means.”

“Fine, that’s fine. You did very good, very good. We’ll do well together, boy,” Pók said with a forced smile. “I’ll give The Builder high praise for you. Good work. You’re an asset to the canyon.”

“Thank you, sir.” The boy stood and gathered his headdress, shied from Pok, and hurried from the room.

“You there,” Pók called to an aide. “Tell the captain of the guard to send a patrol to back up Ihu in Black Stone Town, at top speed. This is blood secret. Tell no one else. And send that runner a used woman and post a sentry outside his door. I don’t want him going anywhere until I say he can.”

After the aide left, Pók paced in the light of the single flame breathing the scent of burning bear fat and muttering. “That cursed trader and his children! Killing my warriors. Just before the gathering of the Summer Council.” He shook his head trying to imagine what and how this had happened and what it would do to him if word leaked out that
children
had killed his warriors. “We must keep this quiet,” he whispered. “Very quiet.”

The Danger of Children

After a bath
, a few hours’ erratic sleep, and a leisurely breakfast of sweet corn cakes, Pók strolled to The Builder’s council chamber. He wanted no one to suspect him worried or distracted, so he behaved with painstaking aloofness, his normal demeanor among the insufferably spoiled people who ran about the canyon as if their actions justified the existence of the entire world. He found The Builder sitting on the floor drawing with a piece of charcoal on a stretched coyote skin. Pók had expected The Builder to sleep long and delay his daily council as usual, but discussions were already underway. He disliked being late. He nodded to The Builder, who raised his eyebrows as if to say, “Look who’s late
this
time.” Fine, Pók thought, let him have his childish victory. He noted three others in the room, none of whom acknowledged his presence. The same way the stronger boys treated him as a child. He forced a small, thin smile, promising himself a day of reckoning, and listened.

“This is what we finished yesterday,” said The Builder, showing a row of rooms along the top of the crescent-shaped palace. “And since you were here last, we finished this row of rooms across the back. That made the fifth level. Now we’re almost halfway through the sixth level. And above that, these faint lines, that’s a half-room
seventh
level. And I’m thinking in the middle, above that, a small platform to make an
eighth
level. From there you could see everything, and everyone could see you. You’d be almost to the top of the canyon wall.” He cupped his jaw in his hand. “I wonder if we could make it a two-level platform? Nine levels? Ten? Hmm. Maybe.”

“Are you quite through now?” asked Tókotsi, top man of the Southern Alliance. As foolish as Pók regarded The Builder at times, he admired his single-minded devotion to building higher and larger than anyone before him. Tókotsi, on the other hand, couldn’t likely stack three stones atop one another, devoting himself instead to political intrigue and self-aggrandizement. That the two could work together was a testament to the power of mutual self-interest.

“Yes, yes,” said The Builder, gazing at his drawing and absently wiping his charcoal-blackened fingers on his shirt. He was a man who looked like the blocks of stone Pók’s warriors forced men to shape and carry to the masons on the high walls. His cheeks and jaw were wide, his forehead high and angular, and his hair cut in a square block that lay on his otherwise plucked head like a tiny black bear pelt.

“That’s good work on the higher levels,” said Tókotsi. “I’ll want my Southern Palace to be just as high. Or higher.” He was the physical opposite of The Builder, a reed of a man, with a long, narrow nose with no hook, white hair cut in an upside-down bowl-shape, wearing a flowing cotton robe and dozens of strands of bluestone beads around his neck. He liked to make men squirm under political pressure just as Pók liked to make men squirm under physical pressure.

“Oh, if we can make it work here, we can make it work on yours. Even better. There’s always something new we figure out.”

“Excellent. You remember my grandson, Ráana, I’m sure,” said Tókotsi, introducing a young man with eyes that bulged from their sockets. He blinked slowly.

“You were smaller when I saw you last,” said The Builder.

“I’ve just made him chief of my Southern Guard. He’s quite a boy. Did I tell you how he won the harvest race?”

The news startled Pók. He didn’t even know Tókotsi had a chief of his Southern Guard. He knew the captain of their three patrols, who reported to Tókotsi and who had been trained by Pók. He looked at Ráana, who sat beside Tókotsi staring into space with only the slightest of smiles on his lips. The arrogant little bullfrog, Pók thought, twisting Ráana’s name slightly to sound like the word for a frog that croaked.

“I think maybe you have mentioned it a time or two,” said The Builder, getting up and pacing behind his official seat, a pile of seventy-two mats, one from each significant outlying village that gave fealty and paid tribute to the High Priest of the canyon. Without the work of Pók’s warriors, there would be perhaps a dozen mats, at most.

Pók rolled his eyes when Tókotsi plowed ahead with his story. “When two other boys got ahead of him,” Tókotsi said, using both hands to illustrate, “he picked up rocks and threw them as hard and as straight as arrows. He ran and threw, ran and threw, stooping to pick up more stones along the way. He hit them a dozen times each until they were bloodied and fell back, then darted around them like a lizard and won the race!” The old man laughed, rocking where he sat on several layers of mats, and beamed at his grandson. “He may not have the fastest feet, but from that moment, I knew the Shadow Gods had given me just the kind of grandson I wanted.”

Ráana flicked his frog eyes to Pók, who took it as a sign of warning or challenge. He’d heard this story from others who had been there and believed it had not been Ráana throwing the stones, but his henchmen. Ráana had fixed the race, just as his grandfather had ensured his position as chief of the Southern Alliance. Family members of those who spoke against him tended to suffer “accidents,” which made opposition to him vanish. For the moment, Pók and Tókotsi had a truce and worked together, though nothing among men like them was anything but temporary. But this Ráana could become a problem. Perhaps Pók would have to make the young man croak like a frog.

Pók eyed Tókotsi. Even without imposing physical presence, he ruled the Southern Alliance, the chiefs and priests of all the towns and villages south and west of Center Place Canyon, with a hand of hard stone, relentlessly pounding those who did not please him, and granting favors to those who did. If he trusted him, Pók would feel a kinship of spirit, even camaraderie. But Pók trusted no one.

A few moons after the Day Star, Tókotsi commissioned the completion of a large stone structure he called his Southern Palace, the foundation of which had been laid generations ago, so close to the palace of The Builder that the shouts of workers could be heard one to the other. The Builder, who pretended to be ruler of all within the sphere of influence of Center Place, owed his position to the Southern Alliance and could say nothing in protest, but Pók knew he disliked being crowded in his own domain.

The Builder himself was more than he seemed. He appeared more stonemason than priest, which was true. He spent far more time designing and directing new stonework than on religious duties, which he mostly ignored, and he often played the part of simple-minded commoner to lull his opponents into believing him gentle and even soft-hearted. But Pók knew him to be a shrewd politician, with just the barest of pretense to serve the gods. Pók’s power aligned more with The Builder than Tókotsi at the moment, and he knew he must show loyalty to him until a better opportunity presented itself, which it would. Without Pók, The Builder had the defenses of a newborn. If The Builder ever crossed him, Pók would easily come out on top. Tókotsi, on the other hand, could be a more formidable opponent. Especially if he had designs on frog-boy taking command of his Másaw Warriors. He would have to be, as always, vigilant.

The remaining person in the room bothered Pók the most because he had no access to her. To The Builder’s left, and a half-head lower than him, sat a figure in a full bluestone body mask, unmoving, unspeaking, the only sign of life an occasional shift of a foot or twitch of an elbow. His network of listeners told Pók she was a young woman of exceptional beauty, unblemished skin, straight hair, and narrow hips. She lived in the former chambers of The Builder himself, tended by an albino woman Pók suspected he knew from long ago, an unreliable witch he would eliminate when the opportunity presented itself, even with the taboos on killing albinos of any kind. They hid themselves well in the dark depths of the palace. Pók had never even glimpsed them, except when this one attended council in her costume.

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)
3.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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