Authors: Marella Sands
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For Mom & Dad
This one belongs to them.
Thanks, first of all, to the Alternate Historians: Mark Sumner, Thomas Drennan, Deborah Millitello, N. L. Drew, Laurell K. Hamilton, Rett MacPherson, Sharon Shinn, and W. Augustus Elliott. Without a great critique group like this I never would have sold anything. Nor would I have gotten the wonderful surprise of a chocolate cake sculpture of Teotihuacan. Thanks, Mark! Friends are definitely one of life's greatest joys.
Thanks to my agent, Shawna McCarthy, and my editor, Claire Eddy, for getting Sky Knife's adventures into print.
Thanks to Keith Berdak, for doing a favor for a friend. My mother and I appreciate it very much.
to Aziz Ben, our guide in Morocco, who gave me insights into Whiskers-of-Rat.
A warm hello and many [[]] to all the folks on the Dominion with whom I trade posts. And a big thank-you-very-much to those who have stopped by my web site and have said nice things about it.
Finally, it would be hard to write without the help of my little furry rat friends. Whether they're snoozing on my shoulder, putting nose prints on my monitor, or pressing the ESC or CAPS LOCK key at exactly the wrong time, they are always a delight. So I say
and thanks to those who have brightened my life but have moved on:
ChiekâI'll miss you always; Rascal & Tirzaâshine together forever; Salomeâyou were a jewel. And welcome to Smudge, Snip, and Kelsa. I hope we have years to write and play together. (You can press that old CAPS LOCK key anytime you feel like it.)
Many of the ideas about Teotihuacan life presented in this book, such as the importance of a masked goddess of the Pyramid of the Sun and a Storm God of the Pyramid of the Moon, can be found in
Teotihuacan: Art from the City of the Gods
by Kathleen Berrin and Esther Pasztory. Other important sources for ideas such as king-twins and the stick ballgame were
The Flayed God: The Mesoamerican Mythological Tradition
by Roberta H. Markman and Peter T. Markman, and
The Mesoamerican Ballgame,
edited by Vernon L. Scarborough and David R. Wilcox. Of course, I changed the ideas presented in these works, and others, to suit my own ends.
My Lord sits under the
Itzamna sits under the sacred
And listens to my prayer.
So many souls have fled to you, Lord.
Soul of my father, soul of my mother,
Soul of my brother, soul of my firstborn.
Shelter them in your green land,
Support the fruits that bring them delight,
And let their laughter bubble forth from the stream.
Sky Knife, His Prayer
Sky Knife, Chief Priest of the god Itzamna of the Mayan city of Tikal, looked up the slight rise ahead of him, excitement overriding the aching in his feet and back. On the other side of the rise was the valley of Teotihuacan.
Jewel of the North. The most splendid city in the world.
Sky Knife's excitement at arriving at his destination was marred by homesickness. His wife, Jade Flute, was due to deliver their second child in the month of Pop, which started in twelve days. Sky Knife's heart clenched in sadnessâ
the father, should be there to cut the newborn infant's cord and spread the blood over the red corn cob. Also, his child's birth might be his only chance to meet his child. His firstborn had lived only a day before the tiny spirit had moved on to a new home in another world.
Sky Knife did not want to miss knowing his second child, not even for a day, though it could not be helped. He was High Priest,
Sacrificer and Diviner, subject to the will of the king. Storm Cloud had ordered him to Teotihuacan, and he had gone. For the past five years, since the rogue priest Stone Jaguar had killed a Teotihuacano merchant, no other Teotihuacano merchants had come to Tikal, although they visited the surrounding cities. Tikal could not afford to be left out of the main trade routes much longer. Not and maintain her sway over the cities near her. The mission was important enough that Storm Cloud had felt sending his Chief Priest was the way to underscore his seriousness in the matter.
Sky Knife only hoped he could talk to the Teotihuacano king about resuming trade relations and return to Tikal quickly. If his child did not live the several months it would take him to complete his task and return home, then he would never meet his child. That was a grief he did not wish to bear.
Sky Knife took a deep breath, shouldered his small pack, and trudged up the hill.
“Itzamna,” whispered Sky Knife as he caught sight of what lay beyond. He caught his foot on something and almost tripped, but barely noticed, for in front of him, under a bright morning sky, was Teotihuacan. Never,
had Sky Knife's imagination been adequate in picturing the city.
The gleaming white city of Teotihuacan stretched for miles through its valley and up the slopes of the surrounding hills. The city glittered in the sunlight like a giant crystal. In the center of the city rose two massive earthen pyramids. The largest, Sky Knife knew, was dedicated to the mysterious goddess worshipped by the Teotihuacanos. The smaller was dedicated to the god of storms, who watched over the rulers of the city. On top of the pyramids sat gleaming white temples. Their bases were surrounded with white buildings striped in red.
The roads to the city had been crowded, but even that was nothing compared to the thousands of people moving around in the city. Sky Knife felt a sudden urge to run awayâthe horde was too large a thing to deal with. It moved as if it were an animal. It writhed through the alleys and streets of the city like an army of wriggling centipedes.
Sky Knife stood, his mouth open. He walked slowly toward the city, then more and more quickly, as if its gleaming soul drew him forward like a moth to the flame. The ache in his feet spread up his legs, demanding a rest, but Sky Knife paid no heed. The city was magical, beautiful.
Sky Knife stopped in a large plaza just inside the city and looked around. Naked children ran with small dusty brown dogs barking at their heels. Three women talked shrilly and waved their arms about their heads in what appeared to be an argument. Their long black hair hung loose down their backs and their simple cotton dresses were unadorned by any jewelry. Shawls of undyed cotton were wrapped about their shoulders. Old men in loincloths, the skin of their chests sagging and dark as cacao beans, sat in the center of the plaza and dozed. Their sparse white hair waved idly in the breeze.
Clumps of people moved around, the crowd swirling this way and that, so that Sky Knife could see only some of the plaza at a time. People continually brushed against him. He couldn't help but jump at the contact. Sky Knife clasped his arms together in front of him as if that could give him protection from the multitude.
Sky Knife tried to stand his ground, but the constant bustling of people kept knocking him off balance. Breathing heavily in near-panic, Sky Knife jerked away from the people and leaned against the smooth plastered white wall of a building.
“Come, come,” said a deep voice in the liquid sounds of the Teotihuacano language. A tall thin man stepped out of the crowd. He was taller than Sky Knife, anyway, but the same could be said for almost all Teotihuacanos. “It
a bit overwhelming, eh?”
The man wore his hair loose but long, in the Teotihuacan style. It fell in black waves down his shoulders to touch his elbows. His red tunic draped down to his knees. Embroidered birds and deer danced across its surface in bright yellows and greens. Yellow and green tassels on the man's sandals matched the embroidery.
But the thing about the Teotihuacano that grabbed Sky Knife's attention most was his nose. It was small and pointed, like a rodent's. It made the man look very foreign in Sky Knife's eyes.
The man walked over to Sky Knife and patted him on the shoulder. “Come with me. I'll show you the city. It is no problem.”
“For a fee,” said Sky Knife, too flustered to worry that this might be offensive. Storm Cloud, his king, had taught him the Teotihuacano language and some of their customs. The king had mentioned a guild of men dedicated to showing foreigners the grandeur of the Jewel of the North. But their services were not free.
“Well, of course,” said the man. “My name isâ¦”
Sky Knife's ears refused to make sense of the string of syllables the man rattled off. He suspected in the upcoming days he would find many such holes in the vocabulary Storm Cloud had taught him. He did recognize one familiar word.
“Rat?” he asked the man. “Your name is Rat and something I didn't understand.” Sky Knife was tempted to guess “nose,” but he didn't want to offend the man.
The man smiled and twirled his fingers beside his face. “Long hairs on the face of an animal.”
“Whiskers,” said Sky Knife in Mayan. “Your name isâ¦”
“Whiskers-of-Rat,” the man said slowly. This time, Sky Knife understood.
“Sky Knife,” he said.
“Well, Sky Knife, as I was saying, I am a guide. A
guide. Unlike those who would merely take your money and leave you lost in some far corner of the city, I am sanctioned by the guild of professional guides to take foreigners to various places in the city. And I can provide many interesting historical facts as well.”
“Wellâ¦” began Sky Knife.
“The price is reasonable,” persisted Whiskers-of-Rat. “Set by the guild.”