Read The Moche Warrior Online

Authors: Lyn Hamilton

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Detectives, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Social Science, #Toronto (Ont.), #Antique Dealers, #McClintoch; Lara (Fictitious Character), #Archaeology, #Archaeological Thefts, #Women Detectives - Peru, #Moche (Peru)

The Moche Warrior (22 page)

BOOK: The Moche Warrior
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For some reason I couldn’t take my eyes off the plait of hair. It seemed so vulnerable, pathetic almost, lying there on the surface like that. Steve watched me. “Human hair lasts for thousands of years in the ground,” was all he said. It should never have been disturbed, I thought. For some reason, seeing that plait of hair affected me in a way that Ines’s warning hadn’t.

Cuidado al arbolada!
To succeed, you must beware of the woods. Slowly I turned my head to the left. There was a wooded area, filled with carob trees, or algarroba, the branches heavy with thorns. Were these the woods? Don’t be ridiculous, I told myself.

“Do you think we’re too late?” Tracey asked, leaning down and picking up a small piece of bone. The sound of her voice pulled me back to reality. “Do you think they found and looted the tomb?”‘

“Don’t know,” Steve replied, shielding his eyes, as I had, and scanning the hill. “It’s a huaca, all right. They’ve been digging on the top. You can see the depressions. Practically flattened it too. But if they found something, and removed everything, then what was Guerra doing putting up that wall? Let’s have a look around. Maybe we’ll try a couple of test trenches at the foot of the huaca.”

“Are you saying that hill is a huaca?” I asked.

“Yup,” Steve replied. “To you it looks like a hill. But remember, the people of this area built their structures of adobe brick, which is essentially mud brick, not stone. So this was once a pyramid-shaped building. The furrows you see running down the sides would be caused by torrential rains, past El Ninos, perhaps, over the intervening centuries, which would, in a sense, melt the brick. See, there’s another little one over there, and there.” I looked in the direction he was pointing. There was indeed a smaller hill, or huaca, off in the distance, a couple more even farther away.

“Okay, let’s take a quick look around,” Steve called to the group. “We’ll start in earnest tomorrow.”

The group had barely started out when what proved to be the first of many accidents happened. “Ouch!” Tracey yelled, and started hopping around. We all went to her aid, and it was quickly apparent what was causing her distress. She’d stepped on one end of a dead branch of a thorn tree; the branch had swung up, and one of the thorns had imbedded itself in her leg, a little above the ankle, just over the top of her boot. It had gone right through her sock and into her leg. Tracey was hurting, that was obvious. Both Steve and I tried to remove it, but we couldn’t dislodge it.

We took her in to the doctor in Campina Vieja. He had to freeze the spot and cut the thorn out. She hobbled out of the office, white-faced, a large bandage on her leg. “Very nasty, those thorns,” the doctor said. “Keep the foot elevated as much as possible, and if the redness and swelling moves past here,” he said, pointing to a spot a few inches up her leg, “bring her back. Had to put two stitches in, so she’ll have to come back in ten days to get them out.”

“Sorry about this.” Tracey grimaced. “I mustn’t have been paying attention.”

By ten o’clock that night, Tracey was running a fever and her ankle was badly swollen and red. I took a tray up to her at dinnertime, but she was unable to eat. In the night, she called out a couple of times, once for her mother, the second time for Steve, and I rushed to her bedside. After that, I took a candle into her room and sat at her bedside for an hour or two. Around about three, Steve tapped on the door. “Saw the light,” he whispered. “How is she doing?”

“She’s running a temperature and having bad dreams, I think. We’d better get her back to the doctor first thing in the morning.”

“See if you can get her to take a couple of these,” Steve said, handing in a bottle of pills, antibiotics. I woke Tracey and managed to get her to take two, along with a couple of aspirin for the fever.

I sat with her awhile longer, hoping she would rest better, but she continued to sleep fitfully. There wasn’t enough light to read, so I entertained myself by looking around the room, which was jam-packed with reminders of home. There were photos everywhere: her darling car, top down, Tracey behind the wheel waving; a very attractive photo of her with a nice-looking young man, Jamie, her boyfriend; a dog looking playful in a Santa hat; and a family photo with Tracey, a young man who was probably her brother, the dog again, and an attractive couple I knew to be her mother and stepfather. She called them Ted and Mary Anne, although I noticed she’d reverted to Mommy in her dreams. They were all standing in front of a very elegant home, two storey, red brick, pillars at the entrance, and what was probably a sweeping, circular drive. There was also a photo of Tracey, Ted, and her mother at a podium with a Save Our Museum, Save Our Community sign above them, with her father presenting a check, it looked to me.

Pillars of the community, that family, I decided. I didn’t really know much about them, of course. I was a little old for the college dorm thing, and while we got along just fine, I hadn’t encouraged the sharing of little confidences with Tracey, because, as Rebecca, I didn’t have any to share. I wondered if it had occurred to Tracey that I didn’t have a single photograph of anyone with me, and if it had, if she found that strange.

By the next morning she wasn’t any better, and Steve asked me to stay around the hacienda as much as possible to keep an eye on her. I did pick up Ines as usual and took her in to the market. When I told her how ill Tracey was, Ines insisted on going to a part of the market I’d never been, known to the locals as that of the witch doctors. This section of the market was darker than the rest, and smelled very strongly, but not unpleasantly, of herbs. The stalls had bunches of dried herbs hanging from every rafter, fresh ones piled high on tables. Some, like the tiny flowers of chamomile, I recognized, others I did not. There were vials of various herbs and roots in some kind of liquid, and various objects, talismans of some sort, offered for sale. Ines stopped at one stall, which appeared to be unstaffed, until a very old man, skin wrinkled more than I would have thought possible, hobbled out of the darkness at the back. Ines explained the problem, and he mixed up a packet of various dried herbs and gave them to Ines with instructions.

Tracey was no better when we got back, and the swelling was getting perilously near to the point where the doctor had said to bring her back in. By this time she’d had another round of antibiotics, but I knew they’d take a while to kick in and I was getting really worried. Ines carefully measured out some of the herbs, made a tea of them, which she then strained, and got Tracey to drink it. Within twenty minutes, Tracey had fallen into a sound sleep. “She’ll be fine now,” was all Ines said.

And she was. Partway through dinner that night, she appeared at the dining room door. “I’m starving,” she said, and we all beamed.

“Wonderful stuff, that penicillin,” Steve exclaimed, but I knew better. In a pinch, I was sticking with Ines. By the following day we were more or less back to normal. Ricardo Ramos had headed back for Trujillo, saying he’d come back and give us a hand in a few days. Tracey and Ralph were at work in the lab, and I went back to the site in the
algarrobal.
The team had very quickly dug a couple of test pits at the foot of the huaca but had come across nothing that would warrant more extensive work, and thus had begun work on the huaca, the hill itself. I heard a shout and, shielding my eyes from the very bright sun, could make out Steve, a black shadow against the light, waving at me from the top. “Come on up!” he called, and I climbed up the forty or fifty feet to the summit. Here too was massive evidence of looting, large pits, some of them reasonably fresh-looking, marring the surface. “I’d have to say someone’s been here before us,” I said ruefully, picking up a potsherd that looked recently broken even to my untrained eye. “Does this mean we’re too late?”

“Not necessarily,” Steve said. “The Moche built their huacas in stages, platforms on top of platforms. So even if
huaqueros
have found a tomb here and cleared it out, it doesn’t mean there isn’t another below that, which would be an even earlier burial. We’re starting to clear this area now,” he said, gesturing toward the activity around us. “Jose,” he said, stopping for a moment, “move that back dirt farther away, please. We don’t want any cave-ins. And, people,” he added, “remember, go for the
mancha.”‘’‘

“The
mancha?”
I asked dubiously. “What kind of stain would we be looking for?”

“From what we’ve been able to glean from Moche art, and from what we’ve seen on previous digs, we know the Moche had particular ways of burying their dead. It varied a little depending on the status of the particular individual being buried, but essentially it involved digging a shaft and then a chamber down some distance. On Moche pottery, you can see depictions of bodies being lowered down these shafts and then sideways into the chambers. Once the body—or bodies, as the case may be—was placed in the tomb, the shaft would be sealed up. But its position can be determined by the appearance of the soil which differs from its surroundings. In other words, the
mancha
or stain. So we look for this
mancha,
which, with a little luck, will reveal the presence of a shaft, and hence a tomb.”

“We seem to learn a lot about the Moche from their art,” I said.

“Well, they had no written language, so they couldn’t leave us ritual texts. But I think their art, like the scenes and rituals on their ceramics and the murals in the huacas we’ve been able to uncover, are an extraordinarily vivid record of the times.” Then he grinned. “For some inexplicable reason, and with absolutely no evidence yet to support it, I have a good feeling about this place! Now I gotta get back to work.” He waved to Hilda, who was down below, supervising the photography of the two test pits before they were filled in.

I stood at the summit and surveyed the surroundings: the
algarrobal,
the thorn tree forest, dark and brooding, hiding its secrets in the shade of the broad, umbrella-like branches of the trees, and way off in the distance, if I shielded my eyes, the sweep of the dunes and then the sea. In the other direction, I could see the silver thread of the Panamericana, and along the trail that led to the site, a little caravan of motorcycles and a couple of trucks, dust billowing in their wake.

“Steve,” I called out. “I think we have company!” Steve looked in the direction I was pointing.

“Trouble!” he yelled down to Hilda, as the convoy moved closer.

The vehicles pulled up, blocking the way out, and a gang of
campesinos,
Rolando Guerra among them, made their way toward the site. They were armed with shovels and axes, which they waved threateningly in Hilda’s direction. “Get out of here or you’re dead,” one of them yelled.

“You get out of here, or you’re dead,” Steve yelled from the top of the huaca. He had grabbed a short shovel and, balancing it on his shoulder, was holding it as if it were a rifle. The men looked up, but blinded by the sun, would see only what I could just a few minutes ago, a dark figure silhouetted against the light. “I mean it,” he yelled. “Get out of here.” Pablo, behind Steve, grabbed another shovel and mimicked Steve’s stance.

For a moment, nobody moved. I held my breath. Then one of the men, an older man who’d held back a little from the pack, said something I couldn’t make out. Slowly they all got back in their trucks or on their motorcycles, and gunning the engines, then circling around menacingly a couple of times, finally pulled away.

“Whew,” Steve said, putting down his shovel. “Sure was worried the sun might go behind a cloud!” A titter of nervous laughter swept through the group.

“That was brilliant,” I said, admiration in my voice.

“Oh, I’m not just a pretty face.” He grinned. “But to think that just a moment or two before they arrived, I was cursing because the sun was so hot. They’re just bullies, that’s all,” he added. “Nothing to worry about, really.”

I wanted to believe him, so I did.

For the rest of that day, and the next, the work on the site progressed at a steady pace, with hopeful signs, according to Pablo, all around.

The following day, however, the second accident occurred. While we were working away, there was a crack, and the ladder on which one of the men, Jesus Silva, was standing to set up the camera, collapsed. Jesus was hurled into one of the pits and just lay there, conscious but groaning in pain. It was only with real difficulty that we were able to get him out. We stretched him out on the back of the truck, and I drove as carefully as I could into town. He had, as it turned out, dislocated his shoulder and cracked three ribs, and would be off work for the balance of the season.

BOOK: The Moche Warrior
3.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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