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Authors: Hazel Hunter

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BOOK: Words of Love
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She blinked at the first time he’d used her nickname.

“Call it a Principal Investigator decision,” he said, smiling. “And that would be me.” Then his smile faded a bit. “Because you
do
fit and I
do
need you. And I have to know you’ll be all right. The doctors in the capital will hopefully be able to confirm that it’s nothing more than side effects. But you can’t switch drugs mid-stream. If they can’t do anything for the side effects, then…”

He didn’t need to finish the sentence. She knew. If the dizzy spells continued, she’d have to go home.

Finally, she nodded.

“When the rain is over, then,” he said.

Although she couldn’t see the cave entrance, she looked that way anyway.
 

All of a sudden, she wished the rain would never stop.

CHAPTER TEN

“Last one,” said Frederico. “Take it or leave it.”

They stood staring at the single Mayan vase on the table. It was a tall cylinder, nearly two feet in height and about six inches in diameter. The black and tan painting stood out clearly from the cream colored background. Though the images were somewhat eroded and faded, they were still recognizable: yet another great lord sitting cross-legged on his throne.

The buyer stared hard at it. He’d thrown back the hood of his slick rubber poncho, which was dripping all over, though he was careful to keep it away from the vase.

Frederico glanced at the rain through the screen on the window. It was still coming down in buckets. Although it happened to be the first storm of the season, it was the biggest storm Frederico had experienced. The buyer had come by road, not an easy thing in this weather. But the river was impossible.

He looked back at the buyer. For a moment, he considered killing the man.
 

The big truck he drove would come in handy. As his fingers settled on the handle of the machete hanging at his side, he imagined hacking the man’s throat. He looked down at the man’s front pants pocket. The serious buyers always brought cash. And this was a serious buyer. There was probably at least five thousand dollars in his pocket.
 

Frederico stared at the pocket as the buyer circled around the vase, still careful not to touch it or drip water on it. But here was the problem, always the same problem. If he killed the buyer, he couldn’t buy anything in the future. He could have the truck and five thousand dollars now, but that’d be it. And if too many buyers disappeared, they’d all stop coming.

Frederico folded his arms over his chest.

“Take it,” he said. “Or leave it. Five-thousand.”

“Wait a minute,” the man said, finally looking at him. “You just said it was four-thousand.”

“That was before. Now you’re wasting my time.”

Frederico put his hand back on the machete. The man stared at it, then glanced at the vase, and then back at the machete.

“All right,” he hissed. “All right.”

He dug into his pants pocket and removed a roll of large bills.

Frederico smirked.

“When will you have more?” the man asked.

Frederico glanced through the screen and looked at the muddy river in the distance.

“When the rain stops.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The glyphs were changing.
 

Jesse sensed it more than saw it. The deeper they went into the Mayan ruins of the cavern, the darker the glyphs became–their look, their feelings, and their meanings.

She had finally convinced Brett that she was feeling fine–and she was. They had agreed that the fainting and dizziness were the side effects of the antimalarial drug she’d chosen.
 

Brett had been
so
understanding. It was her first time in the field so it was hard to know how the drugs would affect her. Going back to Guatemala City had to grate on him more than her but he seemed to be taking it in stride. For her part, she felt the need to get as much translation done as possible in whatever time was left.

“I’m convinced the Red King is in the seventh cave,” Brett said. “And not just because the other caves don’t seem to have a burial. You’ll see what I mean.”

They’d used lanterns to navigate through the long main corridor that led from the first cavern, the location of the main plaza and their camp. As they’d passed the other caverns, he’d pointed them out and talked about each.
 

Cavern two had a
cenote
, a deep well into which sacrificial offerings were thrown–offerings that sometimes included people. Cavern three had a ball court where the hard rubber ball passing through a stone ring decided the fate of the players. Cavern four had contained a forest of pillars and number five was the temple of the high priest. They had just passed the sixth.

“An enormous platform with an equally huge
tzompantli
,” Brett said. “I promise I’m going to show all this to you but I want you to see the seventh cave.”

A
tzompantli
, Jesse thought grimly, the wall of skulls where the heads of sacrificial victims were placed on long wooden posts, stacked twenty high. Each cave had something more grisly than the previous. She was glad they weren’t stopping. As they neared the entrance, their feet moved quicker but Jesse felt a growing dread.

“Blood Gatherer,” she said.

“Yes,” said Brett, as he led her by the hand. “The Red King.”

He hadn’t stopped talking about him since they’d left camp. And despite the strange glyphs they’d passed, she couldn’t help but be infected by his excitement. But something nagged at the back of her mind.

“There’s a reason for his name,” she said.

His pace slowed a little as he looked at her face.

“You said that in the first cavern,” he said. “At the stelae.”

“Something’s coming,” she said, looking ahead to the dark mouth of the last cave. “The glyphs say so. I think we’re heading to Xibalba.”

As they’d passed the other caves, each entrance had been marked by a stela. Although they hadn’t paused, she’d read them quickly as they passed.

“Do you feel it?” she asked, as he came to a stop.

“Xibalba is the underworld, the realm of the dead,” Brett said, still holding her hand. “It doesn’t really exist. You know that.”

Jesse looked at the dark cave entrance ahead of them.

“The Red King wasn’t supposed to exist either. Or his realm of Tulan Zuyua.” That was something Brett could hardly argue about. She gestured around them. “He’s gathering blood, Brett. I don’t know how but he’s still gathering blood.”

Brett took her by both arms.

“He’s dead, Jesse. For thousands of years. He’s dead.” Then his eyes lit up. “And we’re going to find him.”

He didn’t see it. He didn’t see the way the glyphs looked.

He tugged her toward the last cave. A stela was set up in the corridor just in front of it. The glyphs seemed to jump out at her.

“Brett,” she said, as he started to pass. “Brett, have you read this?”

He slowed but didn’t stop.

“I read the top part but nothing seemed to have anything to do with the Red King.” Then he paused. “Why? What does it say?”

Though the glyphs were the colors that she usually visualized, there was a deep vibrancy that was new. They were darker and richer colors and yet somehow just as bright. She blinked a few times as she approached. As she reached up to touch the first row, she felt a sudden chill in her fingertips. She gasped and stood back.

Brett immediately had his arm around her waist.

“What is it?” he said, staring at her.

“It’s the glyphs,” she said, unable to take her eyes off them. “They’re cold and dark. What’s beyond will be cold and dark.”

They both glanced at the cave entrance.

Suddenly, the words started to form as her internal dictionary of glyphs began to whirl in midair. She began to read.

“These are the words. If they are not understood by the chiefs of the towns, ill omened is the star adorning the night. Frightful is its house. Sad is the havoc in the courtyards of the nobles. Those who die are those who do not understand.”

“Well,” said Brett. “I didn’t get exactly that reading.” He squeezed her waist. “That’s why you’re here.”

A feeling of anxiety started to fill her.
 

“It’s the test,” she whispered. “The test of kings.” She looked at Brett, suddenly afraid. “It’s the secret kingly language and it’s a test. If you don’t understand what it’s trying to say, you’ll die.”

“But you just read it. You understand what it says.”

She shook her head.

“It’s not that easy,” she said.

“I guess you make it look easy.”

He tugged her hand and went to a rough electrical box on the floor, beside himself with excitement.

“No, that’s not what I mean,” she said.

Brett flipped the power switch and light suddenly flooded the last cavern and poured out through the entrance. As he pulled her through, Jesse couldn’t help but gasp.

• • • • •

For once, Brett didn’t need to stare at it himself. He’d seen it enough. Instead he watched Jesse. The utter astonishment on her face made him grin.

“A
pyramid
?” she said. “A
pyramid
? In
here
?”

As Brett gave her a few moments to take it in, he remembered what it’d been like the first time he’d seen it. It’d only been with a lantern and a headlamp but it might have even been more dramatic that way.

After discovering the entrance to the cave and the first cavern, he had raced through them all, almost as they’d done just now. It was the day he knew his career was made. Although he hadn’t known it then, though, it was also the day his obsession with the site had begun, and his marriage had ended.

“I don’t believe this,” Jesse said.

Now she took
his
hand and tugged him along.

As though she had a homing instinct, she zeroed in on the exact stela he’d wanted her to see. Unlike the other stela and glyph panels, she didn’t run up to it. She was holding back this time and her hand grasped his in a slick but tight grip. She stopped several paces away. Although she couldn’t possibly reach it, her other hand stretched toward it and moved as though it were running over the lines. Her lips began to silently move and then the words began to flow.

“So it was said on high, so it was said. Construct for me the large hat. Make it very large with the white rattle in your hand. A green jaguar is seated over the sun to drink its blood.”

Again, not exactly what he’d thought it said, but pretty close. Even so, he had no idea what it meant. How could you make a hat using a rattle?

The pyramid had defied every effort he’d made to penetrate it. He’d been in the building at the top. He’d been all around the periphery. He’d been over every square inch of the staircases on all four sides. There was no way in. And yet, that’s where the Red King was buried. He
had
to be.

Jesse blinked and took in a deep breath. As Brett waited for her to return from her private world, he realized she was sweating. A small trickle of moisture slipped down the front of her throat and into the dip between her breasts. The tank top was wet just below them. It was warm but not
that
warm.

“It’s the first test,” she said, turning to focus on him. “It’s the language of Zuyua.” She glanced at the glyphs. “So that means,” she paused as though she were doing division in her head. “We need to find a plumeria flower.”

Now it was Brett’s turn to blink as he shook his head.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “A what?”

“The white flower,” she said again, as though it were obvious. “The sacred flower of the Maya.”

“Okay,” said Brett. “You’ve lost me. What does a large hat have to do with a flower?”

“It’s the test,” she said. “The language of Zuyua. It’s like a riddle. Well, not really a riddle.” She paused. “Okay, it’s a pun. Think of it as a pun.”

Brett shook his head again. This was not helping.

“A pun? You mean like a joke?”

Jesse quickly shook her head and scowled.

“Oh no. Not a joke at all. A sound-alike word.” She grimaced a little. “That’s not right either. What am I trying to say?” She glanced at the glyphs. “A metaphor.”

“The rattle is not the
thing
,” she said. “The rattle is the sound. It’s the sound that a rattlesnake makes. But the way that rattlesnake is written is actually lord snake.”

“Okay,” Brett said, nodding. “The white rattle is lord snake.”

Jesse smiled and nodded her head quickly.

“Exactly. But lord snake is also the lord of the twentieth day on the cyclical calendar. And the word for the twentieth day of the calendar is
tonalamatl
or flower. And the most sacred of all Maya flowers is the plumeria and it’s
white
.”

“Whoa,” Brett said. “Take me through that again.”

She repeated the sequence–the chain of soundalike words and look-alike glyphs, tracing the thread of the real meaning from start to end.

“Wow,” Brett said quietly.

It was more than a metaphor, much more. It was several ancient dialects, the images used in the glyphs, the calendar–he shook his head.

“How do you do that?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But I wish you could see how I see it.”

Suddenly, he remembered where he’d seen a flower.

“I know where it is,” he said, grabbing her hand. “This side.”

As they rounded the right corner of the pyramid, Brett could almost see it.

“There,” he said pointing.
 

The central staircase was flanked on both sides by wide, flat seams of stones that went from the top to the bottom. But, at the bottom, the seams ended in ornate carvings. They were blocky and roughly the shape of a cube but they were plumerias–both of them, though not identical. They had always bothered him and now he knew why. Instead of the correct five petals, the one on the right had a strange looking sixth one. The flower on the left had five petals but the glyph of a jaguar at the center.

He and Jesse stood between the two, at the center of the staircase. He crouched to see them from eye level. There had been no way for him to know to concentrate here. The entire pyramid was covered with symbols like these. He must have walked past them dozens of times but, without knowing they were important, they were just more architectural detail.

BOOK: Words of Love
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