Authors: Sue Guillou
THE MAYAN PRIEST
This Edition Published 2011. Copyright Sue Guillou 2011.
The Right of Sue Guillou to be identified as the author of the work has been asserted in accordance with the Coyright,Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means other than what was intended
without permission of the author
Gillian frowned as she sprayed insect repellent on her tanned torso and cursed loudly when another fat, blood filled mosquito landed on her cheek. She wiped her face and looked about, noting that the streets of Guatemala were exactly as she expected. It was hot, sticky and overrun with residents competing for a meagre income from the tourist trade. She grabbed hold of Fred, eager to avoid the crush of the crowd as they hurried to the waiting van driven by an old white-haired guide.
As they were the only passengers that morning, Gillian sat behind the driver, next to her fiancé, and reached for his hand. He did not return her affection, so she looked at him in confusion.
Fred was an attractive man, pretty almost, with his thick black hair, piercing blue eyes, chiselled chin and lithe, well-muscled body from years at the gym. She had first thought he was shallow, too focussed on his body image and how the public viewed him to be worth a second thought, but her opinion changed dramatically when she witnessed him in a pair of shorts. He had two large scars running vertically from his knee to his ankle, caused by a motorcycle accident that nearly took his life. The doctors had informed him that only extensive physiotherapy and muscle building exercises would restore full use to his legs, hence the hours at the gym.
Gillian felt particularly small for misjudging him, and their relationship had developed from their unified love and dedication to archaeology. Unfortunately they were equally articulate, determined and very competitive, leading her to understand that he considered this dig to be another contest. She was annoyed and dropped his hand, fearing that her father’s dislike for Fred had some weight to it. He did not like Fred and openly voiced his opinion at every available opportunity, much to her vexation.
This was something she had to fix, but how? She did not know.
Gillian subconsciously moved away from Fred, wiped her auburn hair from her eyes and mopped the sweat from her brow. Fred looked equally uncomfortable in the humid climate and she knew he would have much preferred the dry atmosphere of Egypt, but the discovery of a vault on the outskirts of Tikal was too much to resist.
The call had come three days ago from her friend and mentor Professor Richard Deinhart, a kindly sixty-one year old archaeologist with medium length grey hair, a full moustache, beard and mischievous grey eyes. He had been nicknamed ‘Santa’ by his six year old granddaughter Eva, but his wicked sense of humour and enjoyment of practical jokes far removed him from the Christmas icon. He had been her history lecturer during her studies at the University of Houston, Texas, and was a staunch advocate of and advisor on the board of the Archaeological Institute of America. He was well loved and respected by all who knew him.
‘Jilly … something has come my way which I know you won’t be able to resist. It’s just your thing,’ his voiced boomed down the phone line.
‘Well … don’t keep me in suspense, Professor,’ laughed Gillian, the professor’s strong but cheerful voice bringing memories of times she spent poring over books with him. It had been two years since they had caught up and she missed his company.
‘A colleague of mine has spent the last few weeks excavating on the outskirts of Tikal and they have come across a vault … not unusual in itself, but the hieroglyphics indicate it belongs to someone of importance which is odd considering it’s located in the midst of the farmers’ precinct. I thought you might like to take a look.’
‘Wow … you really know the way to a girl’s heart,’ teased Gillian as she heard the professor chuff in amusement.
‘It’s been a while, but I still know you well, Jilly,’ referring to her passion for the ancient american cultures.
‘So, when and where?’
‘I have arranged for my good friend Mitchell Coates to accompany us. If you remember, he’s an expert on hieroglyphics.’
‘Us … who’s coming?’ queried Gillian, recalling Mitchell Coates with a smile. He was a small man, determined and set in his ways with an ageing body that defied nature. He could outrun and outwork anyone half his age, including Fred. He was Richard’s best and most loyal friend.
‘You didn’t think I’d miss out on this adventure, did you? I’ll meet you on Friday,’ he paused before continuing, ‘bring Fred if you want,’ he added as an afterthought before hanging up the phone with a loud clunk.
‘Are you all right? It’s not like you to miss the scenery,’ nudged Fred as the small van hit a bump, forcing her sideways into Fred’s arm.
‘I was thinking about Professor Deinhart. I’m looking forward to seeing him,’ mused Gillian as their driver unexpectedly sped up, racing towards a raucous crowd of native Americans blocking the road less than six hundred feet in front of them.
‘Hold on!’ he yelled, his accent thick and emotionless as he gave the old vehicle as much stick as it could manage. It responded faithfully, lurching forward and pelting directly into the crowd, much to Gillian’s dismay.
‘What are you doing?! You’ll hit them!’ she yelled.
‘They want your money. If we stop now they will most likely rape and murder you,’ responded the elderly man as the van picked up momentum on the downward slope. It was almost as if the crowd refused to believe that they would lose their booty waiting until the last second before moving aside. Gillian felt stupid and naïve. The native Americans were well-practised in the art of deception and if Fred had not insisted on using a guide, they could have been killed.
As they neared Tikal, Gillian cursed her decision to drive from Aurora Airport to Tikal via Flores. It took six hours longer then if they had flown, and she feared that Richard had started without them. Normally calm and collected, she was now in a minor state of panic. Her life revolved around timeliness, imposed by her father, and she was stressed when she was late.
‘We‘re there,’ tapped Fred as she looked up and found herself staring directly at the Temple IV, which at two hundred and twenty-five feet high towered over the adjacent treetops. Gillian gladly stretched her legs and paid the bus driver a small tip before disembarking and proceeding with enthusiasm to the ruins.
Tikal was an enigmatic place overwhelmed by an invasive, fast growing forest that added to its mystery. Indeed it looked like something from a fairytale, with the lichen covered buildings, vast green plateaus and lofty canopies that threatened to engulf the city like a spider on its prey. Gillian shivered. The city was beautiful with its monumental pyramids, ancient palaces and numerous outbuildings, but Gillian knew that they had barely scratched the surface of the treasures this metropolis offered. At one time, approximately 500 AD, Tikal spanned some eight miles and was home to 200 000 people and almost 300 000 buildings of which only a fraction had been uncovered to date. She also found it eerie to be standing on ground that was once a bustling hub of activity. Thousands of men, women and children had walked on this very soil, undertaking their daily duties, and here she was, many lifetimes later standing in the same spot. The feeling was akin to wandering through a long abandoned graveyard, the experience causing shivers to run up her spine.
She allowed herself the luxury of a moment to imagine the colour of Tikal in its heyday. The bright Mayan costumes, the clean fresh limestone buildings towering into the hot sunny sky, the highly decorated palaces no doubt covered in jade and obsidian, fancy corbelled arches wrapped in hieroglyphics and engravings and highly painted iconology probably in the colours of their compass – white (north), red (east) yellow (south) and black (west) and green for the centre of the earth.
Gillian smiled to herself in delight, her reverie broken by the screeches of the howler monkeys and a familiar looking figure walking towards her – Professor Richard Deinhart
‘Professor!’ she cried unashamedly as she raced towards her friend and jumped into his arms.
‘You haven’t changed much,’ said Richard, his Irish accent thick with joy as he gave Gillian a peck on the cheek. Richard was born and raised in Ireland until the age of fifteen when his parents immigrated to America. He had been an American citizen for forty-three years, but he still carried his heritage with pride.
‘I know, but I do have a new appendage,’ she teased, referring to Fred who scowled at her attempt at good humour.
‘I’ve heard. Nice to meet you, Fred,’ said Richard, offering his hand in greeting.
Gillian noticed the two men sizing each other up. Fred had a smile of ‘you might know a lot, but you’re old’ and Richard’s eyes reflected ‘ah, another young whippersnapper who wants to be like me’. Gillian grinned.
‘So, where from here, Professor?’
‘We’re headed about 300 feet past what is known as “the Plaza of the Lost World”. It is one of the earliest occupied sites at Tikal, having been built somewhere during the Middle Pre-Classic period around 500 BC. My young friend has discovered the ruins of a farmer’s building,’ said Richard as they made their way down the Miler Causeway, through the Great Plaza and Central Acropolis before heading past Temple V built around 750 AD.
‘What’s strange about that? I’m sure there are thousands of them,’ mocked Fred, pausing to take a couple of photos of the ancient buildings on their way past.
‘Most common buildings were made of wooden poles, thatch and limestone slabs, but this one is entirely of limestone in the shape of a pentagon. It is most unusual, something so unique that we took the trouble to excavate the inner courtyard,’ replied Richard, ignoring Fred’s comments.
Gillian took Fred’s hand and squeezed it gently. She knew Fred was feeling uncomfortable in Richard’s company. The professor had a manner about him that reeked of intelligence and this threatened Fred. Fred squeezed back and smiled at her.
‘Can you imagine our surprise when we discovered a slab in the courtyard, most unusual considering courtyards are usually dirt, but then when we removed part of that slab, we found another one underneath, identical and built at the same time. Someone had obviously taken great pains to carry out concealment. Mitchell found this imbedded in the very centre of the base foundation,’ said Richard as he opened his palm to reveal a pentagonal shaped tile about the size of a fifty cent piece with a logogram engraved in the centre.
‘I know that symbol. It stands for “holy”,’ said Fred excitedly.
‘Yes … usually representing a holy place or person, so I wonder what it was doing in the middle of a commoner’s home,’ mused Gillian as she viewed the ancient tile with much thought.
‘That’s why I’ve asked you to join us. When we removed this small tile, a greater tablet was found behind it. The tablet was sitting above a large stone block, which we have shifted, albeit with great difficulty. It has revealed a set of stairs leading almost vertically underground. We are yet to venture into the unknown, keen to ensure that we have correctly deciphered the tablet first,’ said Richard.
With that Gillian laughed aloud, unable to contain her amusement. ‘Don’t tell me that you have waited for me to decipher the hieroglyphics for you. You are the professor – my professor. The person who taught me what I know. Why ask me?’
‘Because you have far exceeded my own miserly skills, my dear. Even I know that,’ replied Richard with a chuckle as Fred just looked on, a nonchalant gaze flickering across his eyes.
‘Come on, let me introduce you to the team,’ grinned Richard as he marched them pass the Plaza of the Seven Temples which dated back to the Pre-Classic period and contained three ball game areas and the unexcavated Southern Acropolis.
They veered left and headed out beyond the Lost World Pyramid and into the dense jungle surrounding the outskirts of the city centre, coming quickly to a roped area which they proceeded to climb under. The farmer’s home was virtually indistinguishable, having been concealed by 1500 years of dirt, vines and other unidentifiable vegetation. The limestone walls were barely standing and no roof remained. Still, Gillian could see that this house had been built with care and she found it strange that it was situated just behind the Lost World Pyramid, which had been used for rituals although this would be in keeping if it was the home of a priest or holy man.