THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK THREE:  BOOK of the PACIFICATION

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

          A week after Vega's departure, Chankik informed the Mexican priest that one of the visiting indians had informed him that a whole village to the north had fallen ill, and that it was his Christian duty to journey there and perform the sacraments. The Padre, regretting his decision to allow Chankik to participate in his Catholic services, refused initially, but the old man produced a youth whom he had taught the simple duties of the sacristan and, further, allowed as how he, Chankik, would be honored to assume temporary charge in Santa Cruz should "His Grace" insist upon making the journey himself... a prospect which struck the comfortable old priest as insanity.

          "Can we allow so many to pass from this world without the blessing of the Lord and all His saints?" Chankik wheedled, playing upon the good priest's zealous sympathies by mentioning, again, the number of small children who would otherwise die unsalved until Padre Juliano released Chankik from his obligations for two weeks. If he and General Bravo had had more respect for one another, he might have asked after the location of the village, information the General might have found useful. But Bravo was a Cientifico; he allowed as the Church was a good thing for the indians, but did not seek out the company of its priests.

          The old sorcerer had not exactly lied, merely withheld certain information. It was true he was going north. It was also true that he would bring Christian sacraments to more than one village which he encountered in his journey, for the sublevados... no matter what Mexico might say... faithfully believed themselves Christians; in fact, the true Christians, following the explicit orders of Juan de la Cruz. And it was true that he would be passing villages where the blood-vomit had revealed its pitted face.

          But Chankik's final destination was a village that had not been regularly occupied for centuries. The Mexicans, in their entire course of occupation and for many decades previous, persisted in the belief of a great Mayan metropolis, surviving underground or in the depths of the monte. Bravo even had ordered his officers to look for such places in their foraging expeditions, for Europeans and Americans had come to Belize and Merida looking for old stones to buy - no questions asked. But the great cities of the time before the conquest were occupied only for a few days, at the season of their aspect, and the Mexicans had often passed them by, perceiving only vine and shrub covered hills and broken stones of no value even to foreigners.

          The largest of these cities in the territory, in all of the East of Yucatan from Xcalak to Cabo Catouche (or, in the Mayan, Conex Catouche) in the far north was Coba. It had ceased to be a population center in the year 1461 when the Cacigazgo of Ekab was joined and the capital moved to Tulum on the coast. Like so many other such "retired" cities of the peninsula, it became a religious center, visited only for one week at midsummer. Now that time was at hand. The sublevados, and even settled Maya from the plantations of eastern Yucatan, found such excuses as they could to leave their homes and make procession to Coba... milperos from the west, chicleros of Quintana Roo (who neither knew nor cared that their forests had new boundaries and a new name) from the south. The curses of mayordomos were heard in Valladolid and Peto, even in Merida's salons the old complaints of the unreliability of peons circulated.

          The remains of the Cruzob would be at Coba, too.

          Miguel Chankik covered a hundred and fifty kilometers in four days, walking day and night with the mosquitoes of the monte whining in his ear. As he neared the ancient capital, a thin, warm rain began falling and, an hour later, sentries posted to the southern entrance of the city met him and escorted the curandero into Coba.

          Silvestro Kaak had arrived at Coba two days previously... heading a party from Chumpom whose duty, as advance guard, was to be sure that the ceremonial center was free of Mexicans. Their idols had been established, not among the great stone ruins but in a dilapidated hut of bamboo and palm thatch used only at this time and, otherwise, allowed to fall into disrepair to confound the Mayans' enemies.

          "Welcome father," Silvestro said, and showed Chankik into the hut and that which had built at its rear. A mahogany box lay upon an altar of stones, and a palm tent protected the articles of the Cross from insects and from the drizzle that continued to seep through the old roof. Next to this, Chankik placed the old pouch he had carried from Santa Cruz which, he had told Padre Juliano, contained holy water, oil and copal incense to bless the afflicted, besides tortillas and dried meat to speed his journey.

          Something else passed out of Bravo's city with the curandero. In a year since the fall of the sublevado capital, half of the survivors of the Talking Cross had perished, with the toll of the blood-vomit being greatest among the oldest of the Cruzob.  Prudencio Pat had not had long to enjoy his dominion... his limbs had begun to wither in December and his breath turned foul. Dying in agony, his last hours were consumed with the hallucinations of his crimes.

          No successor had emerged. The chastened rebels had split into several small groups, each of whom considered itself as the true guardian of the Cross. But they had not the strength to fight among themselves, realizing also their precarious position at the mercy of the Mexican army. Also falling to the blood vomit was their scribe, Lorenzo Umil, and his Books of God had been passed into the possession of Miguel Chankik. He kept these hidden and neither Juliano or Bravo knew that their simple, doddering sacristan was scribe to all the Cruzob, an office that would have been rewarded with certain, painful death if discovered. He talked with Silvestro late into the night, for the leader of the party of Chumpom was a Christian of rising influence and Chankik had heard many things in the confessions made to him by Cruzob who had visited the capital in their first year of exile.

          Those assembled had constructed flimsy huts of sticks with thatched roofs, but Chankik slept that evening in the rain, by the door to the shrine, a cloak of palm leaves covering his head and shoulders. The mazehualob from all portions of the territory, from Yucatan, even a few from the far distant places of Campeche, Costazul, Belize, Guatemala... even a party from Honduras... arrived all through the next day and through evening; by nightfall there were over seven hundred of them at Coba and, if Bravo had chanced to place an informant among them, he would have had opportunity to deal a death-blow to the Maya insurgency.

          After the loss of Santa Cruz, responsibility for the ceremony of the warriors had been assumed by Prudencio Pat and those nearest him; this was not altered by the circumstances of his appalling death. Already it was assumed that the military failure and the killing plague that had followed had been the design of Mayan gods executing the will of Juan de la Cruz. Rumors of the sacrilege committed by Prudencio Pat circulated freely. Further, vital ceremonies had been allowed to fall into neglect; idols to be carved hastily and with errors, dances performed in a clumsy, indifferent manner.

          Among the Cruzob blame was placed, as often is the case, upon the dead. Felipe Yama, a great chief, had grown careless and turned his face from God in his old age. Prudencio Pat had been a usurper and murderer; his death by the blood vomit a just retribution, a torment indescribably more painful that that which he had dealt to the Chief whose life and rank he had taken.

          No man had dared assume full responsibility for military command of the insurgence to this time. Juan de la Cruz, at Coba, would make his preference known. The example of Prudencio Pat had been a mighty deterrent to ambition.

          Now, the evening before the dance, Silvestro again sought out Miguel Chankik... for he had spent much time preparing his mind and soul and a problem had occurred to him which would not be stilled. In the belief of the mazehualob, the abode of the virtuous dead was held "Jerusalem" a place to the south, neither particularly pleasant nor unpleasant. Sorcerers and murderers... excepting, of course, Christians who killed in war... were banished to Metnal, the nine layers of Hell beneath which dwelt the cizinob, a breed of devils apart from those who took on the aspect of Mexican soldiers. Paradise or Gloria was reserved for only the Nohoch Tatas, the great men... although, in the last few years of chaos and tribulation, it was whispered that valiant death in war might elevate a man of even humble origins.

          "Don Miguel," Silvestro asked, "do you believe that the soul of Prudencio Pat has gone to Heaven or, because his position came to him upon the murder of his Chief, to Metnal?"

          Chankik took his time in reply. "The Nohoch Tata," he began, "is chosen by the gods. If Prudencio Pat had not been ordained as one to become a leader in his time, however short, his attempt would have ended in failure. It was the will of Juan de la Cruz to enter into Felipe Yama three days for the purpose of instruction, after which his death was also ordered.

          "There are six celestial planes to which the souls of the great men go." Miguel Chankik was seated upon a stone, and he now began to draw a figure in the dust. "Each may be reached by a ladder of vines and, atop the sixth, there is the seventh heaven, where is found the one Christian God. It would be my reasoning that Felipe Yama's soul passed directly to the sixth heaven, where are housed many saints, also the greatest kings of the mazehualob... those who caused the stones to rise or temples to be built. Or if not, perhaps the fifth... for only Juan de la Cruz knows the balance of all men, the good and the evil. Prudencio Pat, on the other hand, was but a tool of God and has a long climb. Perhaps he will live again – as a man or even an animal, a pig or a donkey, as the Chinos believe - the plan of Juan de la Cruz which none save saints may know has a need of such men. They affect greatly the course of events but are of little importance themselves; the ease with which the plague took him attests to this."

          "But what you say," Silvestro persisted, "is that the fact that he was Halach Uinic was of more importance to the Cross than that he was a murderer."

          "That is the truth," the curandero declared. "For the Oficiale is sabio, he knows what lesser men do not, and builds his place on Earth and Gloria by the secrets he keeps." And a seed took root within the mind of Silvestro Kaak, a seed of power which would sprout and grow in his dreams, and Miguel Chankik saw this thing appear, attributing it to another of the imponderable whims of Juan de la Cruz.  Silvestro Kaak would also be a man of importance.

 

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