THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK NINE: BOOK of the JAGUAR PRIEST
The Cruzob retreated, with a prayer, to the larger office on the first floor of the building, where there were a few chairs that looked like they could still bear the weight of a man.
"Pancho Villa says that schools must deal with health and agriculture and the raising of children besides reading and arithmetic," said the persistent Oficiale. "When the revolution is completed, schools will be the instrument of our redemption. They stand opposed to politics and cynicism."
"Yes, yes, of course," said the Tatoob with a weary smile. "I heard so much of the same when a wealthy hacendado in the north decided to teach the children of his laborers to read. But when their education had finished they had no more books and no one to write to. And, so, they cut sisal like their fathers, except that a few who could not distinguish the dreams in their schoolbooks from their lives ran away, and brought shame and debt upon their families. Go there..." he pointed upwards "and throw that Mexican rubble outside." The two men without rank jumped at his order and the Tatoob sauntered to the door, looking out across the porch. A dozen of the mazehualob wandered through the deserted Plaza, peering into windows, kicking dirt.
"It seems so long," said the Oficiale.
"Only three months," replied the Tatoob with a grimace, for he had spied the zopilote insolently staring from its new perch. He raised a fist but the hulking bird had no respect for this without a fire stick or cutting stick, and turned its head to comb its feathers for some parasite that was causing one of its wings to itch.
"What matters is that we are alive, and now we are here," he added, leaving the buzzard to its search. "Now that the dzulob are truly, finally gone, we'll bury our dead and get on with the business of life." His lip twitched again in an involuntary smirk. "At least there ought to be plenty of corn for the mouths that remain."
"Wars and epidemics often lead to a surplus," acknowledged Pedro, "for that first year... until the shortage of hands to tend the corn result in a famine, the second. But I cannot agree with the choice of this city for our settlement. It is unholy, in so many ways!"
"Juan de la Cruz would have objected, were it so," the Tatoob replied. "He is the one to determine what is clean and what is not, and this is ours, our holy city."
"Juan de la Cruz may be counterfeited," the Oficiale replied, boldly. "He speaks through the magicians. And you know as well as I that the dzulob sent spies in the form of Juan de la Cruz to deceive the old chiefs. You were there when people called out to Silvestro Kaak, and you answered them. Those magicians brought a lot of gold to the old chiefs, the ones who are dead. Dzulob gold! Where has it gone, Tatoob?"
"You know as well as I that it was spent in the resistance."
"What resistance?" the Oficiale asked, but the Tatoob cut him short, pointing out one of the windows.
"Those orange trees," he reflected, "produce a caustic fruit that burns mightily when it is rubbed into the wounds of arrobas. I have seen it done."
"You wouldn't dare," the Oficiale said. He gripped the handle of his machete as the footsteps of the other two passed beneath the window carrying their little burden.
"Is this, then, your time?" the Tatoob asked mildly, without a motion to his own weapon. Instead he looked into the face of the Oficiale, searching out and discovering the boy hiding behind the young man's eyes, a frightened boy. And Pedro knew this also. This Tatoob, the man Silvestro Kaak, had killed eight or nine men (some, also, with earrings) who had objected to his command... besides, of course, at least a score of Mexicans. He was only nine years older than his challenger, but he had danced with Santa Viruela and bore the face of one who had lived to tell of it.
The hand of the Oficiale slumped downwards and the Tatoob beckoned from the window. "Have this man taken to the plaza and tied to one of my orange trees." He returned to the back room and stared at his reflection, frowning at something he saw within the glass. He searched quickly but no whip was to be found. Under a bench, however, was a Mexican walking stick that left a sharp red line across his palm when he tested it.
When he glanced at the mirror again, the face of a Chief stared back... one to whom he could nod respectfully.
"No man, even an Oficiale, may give offense to his Jefe," Silvestro had told the mazehualob who'd gathered in the plaza. There were perhaps thirty of them... men and women, all below the age of forty and no child under ten, although a few protruding bellies augured the persistence of the Cruzob. He measured Pedro's back with the walking stick and gave the Oficiale six arrobas, ordering that a sour orange be ripped from the tree. The orange was one of the last remaining now, in late October, and where a respectable orange of such age would have grown moist and sweet with sugar, the bitterness of the Territory's summer had seeped into this fruit and its juices were thick with a corrosive poison that assailed his nostrils as he sliced it in equal pieces and burned his palms as he squeezed the halves into the bleeding wounds.
Pedro began howling like the youth that he was, losing what respect had been left him following this chastisement.
"So this is the power of the Jefe Politico," thought the Tatoob, reflecting on the face reflected back at him from Bravo's old mirror, and finding little compassion for the pain which he had inflicted upon one of his own men. "Pedro endangered me no less than one of the dzulob," he reasoned, "like them he must suffer. More so for the schools he brags of; those that would destroy my Christians will not be imposed by the sword, but by subtleties and by those who work from within, like corn worms. Truly I am a man of mercy to leave him with his life," he concluded and one of questions that had bothered him as a Jefe Militar... that he must ultimately assume responsibility for the extermination of unclean ideas... flew away to a place of uneasy peace as on the wings of zopilotes.
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