I am the one they call Tapirmon. I once lived in the celebrated realm of Itzamnaaj K’awiil, the most powerful ruler of the Yucatan. Indeed, there were plenty of wars in those days, always a terrible slaughter, but Emperor K’awiil was always considered the most feared of the Mayan kings. He was the wealthiest ruler in the Yucatan, next to Emperor Dark Sun of Tikal. Gold and coral, quetzal feathers and eagle feathers, and shell jewelry galore—Itzamnaaj had it all. Though rich and powerful, and ruthless as a warrior, he was known to be a fair and kindly ruler.
On the other hand, the rule of Dark Sun was a reign of tyranny. Slaves, craft workers and harvesters were plentiful in those days. Human sacrifices were a constant feature—sacrifices to the moon goddess Ixchel and the sun god K’inich and the gods of war, especially the “war star” Chak Ek. Everyone was in constant fear of the “glorious privilege” of being sacrificed to the gods.
Now I dwell in the Better World. It is a beautiful place here, with everyone at peace, even peace among the animals and insects. The gods of the Afterworld are, for the most part, kindly—that is, if you do what you are told. There is no war, no slavery, no human sacrificing and no sickness here. It is Paradise, really! ….
The person I miss most from the Old World, though, is my delight of delights—my little Honeybee. When I last saw her, Honeybee was five rains old. I loved the way she would greet me when I came home from a hunt. It did not matter if I returned with a rabbit, or maybe if I were lucky I would return with venison. No matter what I brought home, my little Honeybee always came running down the trail to meet me and would hop into my arms and kiss me all over my face. That is why I called her “my little jumping frog.”
That was then, before I foolishly decided to go out on a hunting expedition alone to conquer that venomous enemy of ours: the yellow-jaw Tommygoff. You see, he was the worst snake in the Old World, always making trouble for my humble people, the Mopanians. The problem was, neither the shaman nor the witch doctor had any cure for the deadly bite of the Tommygoff. That is why I am here, because I lost the battle.
* See Pronunciation Guide at the end of the story.
A Sacrifice for Ixchel
850 A.D. Yucatan Peninsula.
Evening darkness over the Mayan jungle was greeted with reverberations of sacrificial drums and chanting of “Koom Kamenkamen! Koom Kamenkamen!” which could be heard for miles around.
In the subtropical forest, hissing, howling, buzzing, growling, hooting and chattering were the noisy sounds of life, whereas the chanting of “Koom Kamenkamen!” portended certain death for one sacrificial victim.
In expectation of a tasty meal, a great condor was drawn inexorably by the droning mantra for Kamenkamen to come to the sacrifice. The condor skimmed the jungle until he arrived at the source of the chanting voices. He began a downward spiral, descending slowly upon waning thermals above a section of earth that had been cleared in the forest. The clearing was dominated by a stone edifice—Xunantunich—a temple for worshiping the sun, moon and stars. The massive ziggurat was of red painted limestone, a place of sacrifice, and tomb of the former emperor Itzamnaaj K’awiil.
As the condor circled around, that largest of vultures observed a gathering throng of worshipers congregating at one spot, drawn by the beckoning drums and chants of “Koom Kamenkamen!” Dark skinned peasant men and boys were clad merely in loincloths. Peasant women and girls wore drab tunics. They came from the jungle and entered the clearing via the main thoroughfare known as “Avenue of the Dead.” The broad way ran from the jungle’s edge and led directly to Xunantunich. A few yards west of Xunantunich was Kamenkamen’s single-story palace, built of limestone and likewise coated with red hematite.
On either side of the Avenue stood ten majestic cohune palms, twenty in all, each bearing a flaming torch fastened at a man’s height from the ground. On each side of that approach to the temple was an assortment of stone dwellings and thatched huts. Worshipers of various ranks also streamed from those homes and joined the growing throng on their way to Xunantunich. Aristocrats were in costumes of colorful cotton robes and tunics, with feathers, shells and jade jewelry, whereas the peasants were not richly clad.
It was the first evening of the full moon. On such an occasion, a great sacrifice was traditionally offered to the moon goddess, Ixchel. While the condor hungrily circled around, he eagerly anticipated the climactic event.
Xunantunich was torch-lit all around. Posted on the temple and around the grounds were twenty-four painted warriors in loincloths and decorative feathers, each wearing a fearsome mask and clinching a spear and shield. At the base of the temple, near the wide stone stairway, were two feathered priests beating on log drums; and two others were blowing on conch shells and dancing wildly, beckoning for Kamenkamen to come.
Still circling and watching from above, the condor panned the eight hundred worshipers kneeling in the dirt at the south courtyard that was known as “Courtyard of the Moon.” In time with the pounding drums, they repeated over and over, “Koom Kamenkamen! Koom Kamenkamen!”
Out in the jungle, there could be heard the menacing roar of a hungry jaguar. But howler monkeys and screeching parrots were safely protected high up in the treetops. Even if someone at Xunantunich sacrilegiously listened for those sounds, such a one could hear nothing except the drums, horns and chanting. However, no one was listening to the sounds out in the jungle.
It was midnight. Waiting. Drumming. Blowing on horns. Dancing and chanting. Seemingly endless chanting. Knees of worshipers ached. Nostrils stung from the courtyard dust. Lungs were heavy with smoke from the torches all around. But it was midnight, and the ritualistic behavior was reaching a feverish pitch. ….
Meanwhile, kneeling in the dirt with the eight hundred worshipers were a young mother and her nine-year-old daughter. Both of them were clad in simple beige cotton tunics, though the mother’s dress was embroidered with a few turquoise butterflies. The child complained, “Why do we have to be here, Mother?”
Whispering, her mother warned, “Be still, my love. The guards!”
“I want to leave.”
“No, Honeybee. We have to appease the moon goddess—and your father. It is the law.”
“Why is Ixchel so blood thirsty?”
An unknown crier among the worshipers startled everyone. “Ya-hee!”
The chanting ceased.
With that, a muscular, fiercely-masked wild man in feathers and a loincloth leaped from the body of worshipers and danced and chanted halfway up the stone steps, his long black braid flipping as he swayed. When this masked man, known as Milintica, arrived at the lower altar, he stopped, faced the worshipers down below and shouted in a deep voice, “Koom Kamenkamen!”
Worshipers chanted back at him twice: “Koom Kamenkamen! Koom Kamenkamen!”
The muscular emperor and high priest Kamenkamen lurked in the shadows of the doorway behind Milintica. He leaped from the shadows brandishing an obsidian knife that glistened in the torch light. Drums beat, “Boom! Boom! Boom!” Conch shells blared, “A-oo-ga! A-oo-ga!” Worshipers chanted, “Koom Kamenkamen! Koom Kamenkamen!”
With a look in his eyes that would frighten even a man-eating jaguar, Kamenkamen demanded, “Bring the sacrifice!”
Peasants, including Morning Glory and Honeybee, trembled in the dirt.
“Mother, I hate this place!”
At the same time, an elderly man knelt in the courtyard beside his grandson and warned, “Do not look up! It is bad luck. If you meet eyes with the Grim Selector, you could be the next one picked.” The boy kept his head down.
Up on the Royal Platform, Ramenkamen whispered in a low tone, “Come on, Milintica. Get it over with!”
In time with the words “Koom Kamenkamen,” Milintica chanted and danced his way back down the stone steps of Xunantunich pyramid. No one seemed to be breathing. No one dared to make eye contact with the masked dancer, not even those on the Royal Platform. Zlenka whispered with her head down, “The suspense is killing me.”
Down in the dirt, Morning Glory prayed to Ixchel. “Please God, do not let him look my way. I have a child to raise.”
Honeybee mumbled to herself, “I wish I could be with Father right now.”
Morning Glory warned in a whisper, “Be careful what you wish for, child!”
The chanting, drums and horns quit. Even the forest was quiet. Everyone waited, but to everyone’s astonishment, Honeybee was chosen.
“No!” cried Morning Glory. “She is my only child, my only reason for living!” She clung to her daughter, but Milintica pushed her away. His powerful hand clinched Honeybee’s shoulder. Unable to resist this man of muscles, Morning Glory accepted Milintica’s decision, recovered her composure, and spoke to her daughter softly, consolingly, “Have courage, my love. It is the will of the gods.” Tears streamed down the mother’s face.
“If that is true,” said Honeybee, accepting her fate rather reluctantly, “…I will see you on the other side.”
Without a word, the frightfully masked Milintica tugged on Honeybee’s arm.
“Just close your eyes and you will be instantly with Father,” Morning Glory said.
Drums and horns restarted the jungle din as women wept. Milintica clamped his hand around Honeybee’s petite arm and led her up the stairs, and then flung her onto the dreaded altar that smelled of decaying flesh. Lying on her back, she closed her eyes and prayed aloud, “Father, I am coming to you.”
On the Royal Platform, one of the female servants named T’xamara stood next to Ramenkamen’s wife in the front row, and she begged, “Please Ixchel, spare Honeybee!”
Kamenkamen raised the knife high with both hands. From Morning Glory’s perspective, the knife was framed by the full moon. She closed her tear-filled eyes and muttered, “Why, Ixchel, why?”
Unexpectedly, clouds gathered and the moon went dark, as a breeze whipped up. Worshipers murmured about the possible meaning of the portent. One of the older female servants on the raised Platform mumbled to the younger, skinny servant, “Bad omen, Chicahua.”
From the clouds, a bolt of lightning struck downward and blasted a corner of the temple stones apart. Kamenkamen dropped the knife and covered his ears. During the blinding flash, seemingly in pixilation, a large horned owl flew overhead and dropped something onto the altar. Willing to settle for any small offering, Condor swooped down and tried to greedily pick up what the owl dropped, but Milintica removed his mask and chased the vulture away.
Looking down at Honeybee, Kamenkamen’s expression changed from that of a frightful high priest to that of a concerned parent. In a very deep, soft voice he asked, “Child, why did you not try to escape?” Honeybee was dizzy and speechless.
Kamenkamen noticed something on the altar beside the child. He picked it up and held the dead toucan aloft. To the crowd, he made the surprising announcement: “Look! Our compassionate moon goddess sent Spearthrower Owl to provide a sacrifice in place of the child!”
Priests returned to drumming, and blowing on their horns, as worshippers began to celebrate. Jungle animals also exulted. Even the guards smiled!
Morning Glory looked heavenward and whispered, “Thank the gods!”
Ramenkamen and Zlenka gestured disappointedly, but T’xamara likewise praised the gods.
The unmasked Milintica held up his hands and the crowd quieted down immediately.
The emperor asked of the child, “Xch’uupal, bix a k’aaba?” (Young girl, what is your name?)
“Tene’ Kaab in k’aaba.” (As for me, my name is Honeybee.)
“Daughter, for your courage in not trying to escape, and as an everlasting remembrance, you will henceforth be called ‘Toucan of the Moon.’”
Worshipers chanted, “Toucan of the Moon! Toucan of the Moon!” but the child was very confused by the sudden turn of events.
Kamenkamen demanded, “Bring the parents of the child before me.”
“Excuse me, Majesty,” said Toucan Moon.
A little miffed by Toucan Moon’s interruption, the emperor asked, “What is it, child?”
“Well, um, my father is not here.”
Kamenkamen’s voice became harsher, with a slight tone of irritation. “Your father is not present on this holy…?”
“He dwells in the Better World, your majesty. But my mother is here.”
“What is the name of your mother?”
“Bring Morning Glory before me!”
Toucan Moon stood beside the altar, waiting for her mother.
All eyes focused on Morning Glory. She was noticeably embarrassed. The tall, slender woman straightened her silky black hair and her tunic. Then, escorted by two guards, she hurried up the steps. The crowd was cheering so loudly when Morning Glory arrived at the altar that Milintica had to hold up his hands, and he roared, “Quiet!” The peasant mother’s beauty surprised the Grim Selector. Indeed, the unmarried emperor was also stunned.
Nonetheless, she ignored Kamenkamen and wrapped her quaking arms around the equally beautiful, unharmed child. “My dearest, are you all right?”
“I am okay, Mother. It was nothing. ”
Kamenkamen cleared his throat.
“Oh, I am sorry, your majesty!” responded Morning Glory, as she and her daughter prostrated themselves at the emperor’s feet.
“You may rise,” he said quietly, extending his hand; and then he raised his voice for all to hear, “By decree, and in honor of my deceased wife, if Morning Glory will accept my hand, she will henceforth be called Lady Xunan, wife of Kamenkamen and Empress of Mopan Valley.”
Morning Glory looked at her daughter with disbelief, but Toucan Moon held her head in pain. “Mother!” she exclaimed.
“What is it, my child?”
She tried to shake off the pain. “Just a little dizzy.”
Kamenkamen’s hand was still extended towards Morning Glory.
The crowd murmured: “Will she accept?” “Should she accept?” “What will the family of the emperor think?”
Ramenkamen grumbled, “If you will accept? How dare our brother ask a peasant to be the next queen?”
Zlenka replied, “Making a peasant child into a privileged princess is unheard of!”
“The sisters-in-law should be next in line to marry our brother,” said Ramenkamen, with his fist clenched. He smacked his knee in disgust when Morning Glory reached out and accepted Kamenkamen’s proposal. In spite of that, a multitude of sighs could be heard throughout the congregated throng.
Finally, the emperor himself smiled as he proudly made the decree: “Henceforth, this sacred temple will no longer be called merely ‘Itzquatl’ in honor of the gods, but ‘Xunan Tunich’, Maiden of the Rock, in honor of the mother of this bravest of daughters.”
Worshipers chanted, “Xunan Tunich! Xunan Tunich!”
“Milintica,” ordered the emperor, “…you and Coyotl, escort Lady Xunan and Toucan Moon to the palace in preparation for the wedding.”
Milintica quickly switched roles, from Grim Selector to Mighty Warrior, as he slammed his fist on his muscular bare chest and replied, “Yes, Majesty!” He and the stocky warrior-guard Coyotl, second to Milintica in command of the Royal Army, led the mother and her child down the wide stairway.
Kamenkamen shouted to the worshipers, “The sacrifice is concluded!” Drums, horns and shouts of gladness resounded.
Ramenkamen and Zlenka were frowning and gesturing negatively.
The eight hundred worshipers chanted, “Long live Kamenkamen! Long live Xunan! Long live Toucan Moon!”
On her way through the crowd, Toucan Moon grabbed her head and collapsed into her mother’s arms.
Kamenkamen supervised the continuing merriment, unaware of Toucan Moon’s condition, as Milintica and Coyotl made a path through the crowd, clearing the way for the new royalty.
A New Life
The next morning, Toucan Moon awoke in a strange bed. She was astonished by the opulence of her new home—the mahogany canopy bed, the luxuriant covers of various animal furs all sewn together, the polished mahogany wall paneling, and on the ceiling, gold-plated panels with engravings of children playing with jungle animals, and hieroglyphics that underscored those scenes. After looking about, Toucan Moon yawned widely. Then she was startled by the presence of a skinny woman standing in the doorway who said smugly, “You do not deserve the childhood bedchamber of our great emperor.”
“Who are you? And where is my mother?”
“Do not get snippety with me, child! I am Chicahua, your nursemaid. As for your mother, Lady Xunan is being groomed for her wedding. You will see her soon enough.” Sneering, she continued, “You also must learn royal etiquette, for you will be standing before emperors and dignitaries of other kingdoms, and you must not embarrass our great emperor by your peasant behavior!” Chicahua left abruptly.
The nine-year-old pulled the covers over her head and muttered to herself, “I do not think I will like living here.” ….
Soon, the spectacular wedding was ready to begin. It was a perfectly clear, cloudless night.
On the Royal Platform in Courtyard of the Moon stood the Emperors of Naranjo, Caracol and Yaxchilan, accompanied by their wives, several concubines and many children, along with their own servants and military guards, all standing and crowding together with Kamenkamen’s family, servants and guards…waiting in eager expectation.
Considering that there were over a thousand worshipers and well-wishers present for such a happy occasion, there could always be the possibility of an assassination attempt; so security was at its highest level. Warriors were posted everywhere—on the temple, around the courtyard and at jungle’s edge.
To begin the proceedings, a priest was positioned at the base of Xunantunich with a hand drum sounding out a slow rhythm. Kamenkamen stood behind him. They faced the temple, waiting for the perfect moment. Emperor Kamenkamen had an armload of sugar cane. He was dressed in a ceremonial robe of white cotton, studded with semi-precious stones, and a gold circlet headdress, with black-and-white condor feathers rising above his long black hair that went down to his shoulders. His costume was garlanded with several necklaces of shells, jade and stone beads, and his handsome face was caressed with “peace paint.” He faced the wide stairway and looked up.
Kamenkamen was waiting, waiting. He finally commenced the proceedings by reaching forward and giving the priest a tap on the shoulder. They slowly walked up the fifty steps, went past the lower altar and kept climbing, their feet hitting each step in time with the priest’s hand drum. When they went another fifty steps, they arrived at the temple summit. Kamenkamen placed the sugar cane stalks on the blazing altar. Poof! As the smoke and sweet-smelling odors ascended heavenward, he faced the standing throng of worshipers and raised both hands over his head triumphantly. The crowd shouted, “Happiness belongs to Kamenkamen!”
The priest returned to the temple base and led the way, as Xunan walked slowly, pompously, up the long stairway in time with the drum. Toucan Moon, who was carrying a wreath of white orchids, followed her. When they climbed the hundred steps and arrived at the pinnacle altar, the beautiful princess handed the white orchids to the priest, and then prostrated herself before the emperor. The priest, in turn, muttered a few sacred words and handed the wreath to Kamenkamen, who in turn removed Xunan’s wreath of quetzal feathers and placed the orchids upon her braided black hair that was wrapped in a circle on top of her head. She held her chin high, and her face was radiant with joy and pride. “With this wreath,” Kamenkamen promised, “I take you as my everlasting partner.”
He kissed the new queen ever so softly upon her lips, as the priest poured a golden cup full of sacred, sweet-scented oil over the kissing couple’s heads, causing the crowd to erupt with jubilation.
When the baptismal rite and confession of marriage were concluded, conch horns blared and log drums beat triumphantly in Courtyard of the Moon, with the merriment continuing on into the night.
By that time, Condor was no longer hovering above Xunantunich. He had flown far away, and was circling above another magnificent edifice of red-painted stones—above Tikal—where that temple was also illuminated by torch lights. A thousand worshippers knelt in the courtyard dirt, chanting ominously, “Koom Quatzl! Koom Quatzl!”
Condor spiraled above the huge structure, while a black jaguar hid among the fronds of a majestic cohune palm at the east edge of the massive courtyard near a wild boar pen, crouching, yellow eyes watching, ears perked, listening to the goings on.
Condor now settled down on the pinnacle altar beside a sacrificed victim, a lifeless male lying upon the altar; and Condor began tearing at the meat. But a masked Grim Selector—the tall, husky, war-painted, loin-clothed warrior named Wawatu—chased the vulture away. “Away with you!” said Wawatu with a gruff voice, waving his hands. So Condor took to flight, but kept circling the torch-lit temple.
King Quatzl stood halfway down the stone stairway. His face was painted and gruesomely masked, and he wore a ceremonial black robe, with beads, jade and shell jewelry, and a condor headdress. With bloody hands, he removed his mask and shouted to the kneeling worshipers, “Have you heard? This very night Kamenkamen, in Mopan Valley, is taking a new wife.”
Worshippers looked up and shouted back, “Kill him!”
Facetiously, Quatzl continued, “I was a little too preoccupied to make the journey there, but whenever it is that the War Star rises behind the moon…” his eyes became murderous, “…I will most certainly go and ‘congratulate’ our neighboring emperor!”
Worshippers kept chanting, “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!”
“Wawatu!” demanded Quatzl. The Grim Selector, also serving as the emperor’s chief bodyguard hastened down from the vicinity of the pinnacle altar and bowed before his majesty. “Feed that miserable sacrifice to the hogs.”
“As you wish, my lord.” Wawatu stood up and smiled fiendishly through destroyed teeth. He snapped his fingers, and four servants in loincloth hurried up the stairs. “Feed that miserable sacrifice to the hogs,” he repeated. They lifted the dishearted man by his arms and legs and carried him down to the boar pen and tossed his body over the wooden corral, to be feasted upon by the hungry beasts, much to the circling condor’s disappointment.
At the same moment, Black Jaguar leaped from the palm tree, startling the hogs, and rushed into the forest, and Condor flew away.
Condor returned to Xunantunich, as the wedding celebration was continuing on into the night. The huge vulture settled down on the pinnacle altar just above Kamenkamen, who was standing fifteen steps down from the altar and facing the crowd of partiers. The smell of sour wine, crazy grass and smoke filled the air as Kamenkamen directed the music and the dancing from that lofty position.
Near the lower altar, the new queen and princess sat on the edge of the temple and were looking up and watching the emperor, unaware that Condor had landed above them all. Milintica was unable to shoo the vulture away because he had posted himself on the wide stairs between Kamenkamen and the queen and princess.
Thus, with her arm around Toucan Moon, Queen Xunan asked, “So, my sweet, what do you think about this new life of ours?”
“I am still undecided, Mother.” Xunan frowned, but Toucan Moon gestured toward the celebrants and made her point. “I mean, it could be fun and all, but I still hate war. I think slavery is wrong; but most of all, I absolutely loathe…is that a word…?” Her mother nodded. “Well then, I absolutely loathe human sacrificing. I am sorry, Mother, but that is just the way I feel.”
“Cover your eyes, dear. I do that, sometimes.”
“No,” complained the nine-year-old, who was very mature for her age. “It is the screaming and the drums and horns and chanting…the whole thing. Mother, it sickens me. It really does.” Her voice was a little too loud.
“Sh-h-h, the emperor…” In a softer tone, Xunan added, “I know what you mean, though. I wish the day would come when the gods of war and of harvest—all the gods—would no longer require such sacrifices.”
“I long for such a day!” Toucan Moon hugged her mother tightly. “Oh, Mother, do you think that day will ever come?”
Rain clouds formed in the heavens above, signaling the seasonal change. Feeling the cool breeze, Xunan shivered, and then changed the subject. “Looks like the rainy season is about to begin.”
“Would You Defy the Gods?”
After the passage of two rainy seasons, Kamenkamen was kneeling at the open end of his stone sanctuary, called “Porch of the Rising Sun,” and he was dressed in his red robe of relaxation, on one knee, praying, “O Chak Ek, god of rain and thunder, have we not had sufficient nourishment for this season?”
Toucan Moon was eleven years old, and she was present in the emperor’s sanctuary that rainy morning, occupying a rosewood lounger cushioned with furs; and she was wearing her pink tunic embroidered with young jaguars. At age eleven, she was comfortable calling the emperor “Father,” but she got very nervous when she decided to ask a touchy question: “Father, is it not wrong what we do?”
Kamenkamen ignored the child and continued praying quietly.
“I mean, all of the wars and slavery and…” she shuddered “…human sacrificing?”
The emperor stopped praying and, without a word, turned his head toward Toucan Moon. Anger radiated from his face. “Child, how many times have I told you not to interrupt me while I am approaching the gods?”
Disrespectfully, she snapped back, “But I think it is wrong, what we do!”
The chief bodyguard was posted outside the sanctuary, so Kamenkamen demanded, “Milintica, take this impertinent child from before me!”
The muscle-bound guard entered and heartlessly dragged Toucan Moon away, her face streaming with tears as she cried, “Father, it is wrong what we do. It is wrong, I tell you. It is wrong. It is! It is!” Those words kept echoing down the stone corridor as Toucan Moon was physically carried away.
A blinding flash of light, followed by deafening thunder, awakened the young princess from sleep. She lay motionless on her cot, eyes closed, pretending to be asleep, relieved that it was only a dream.
The emperor continued kneeling at the open end of the sanctuary, praying quietly. When he had finished, he retired to his rosewood lounger. An orange jaguar named “Futu” and a black one called “Putu” purred peacefully on either side of their master. “Futu, Putu, will the rain ever stop?” They merely grumbled in response. After taking a sip from his gold goblet, he looked at the princess and asked very quietly, “Are you awake, my dear?”
She yawned. “I am now.” After two years, she was comfortable around the adult jaguars. Ignoring them, she asked, “What are you drinking? Hot chocolate?”
He disregarded her question. “I have been thinking.”
Smiling, she asked, “You have?”
“I am serious.”
T’xamara entered through the doorway strung with beads. She carried a large circular fan made of colorful feathers. Kamenkamen waved her off, but Toucan Moon requested, “Oh, um, I would like a little chocolate, Aunt T’xamara.” The servant promptly returned with a small gold cup of the drink. “Thank you.” T’xamara nodded and silently went out.
A female dwarf entered next. “Your mirror and brush, Princess.”
“Thank you, Coaxoch.”
When Coaxoch had left, the emperor began anew. “Now where was I? Oh yes, your mother spoke with me last night...something about you not being happy because of missing the association of your peasant playmates.”
Brushing her hair, Toucan Moon bristled at the word “peasant.” She responded, “That is true, Father.” Looking in the mirror, she added, “It has been two rains now, and I really miss my friends! They are peasants, I know, but…” Her hand began to tremble. Emboldened by her dream, though, she cautiously went on. “…their parents are good people, honest and hard working, loyally and proudly supporting you, their emperor, in everything.” She paused for a rebuttal, but got none, so she continued, “I see how everyone here treats them—like dirt. Father, those ‘peasants’ faithfully worship the sun, moon and stars, just like you. They are human beings, just like us!”
“That is your opinion.”
“Well, if I had your power…”
“Which you do not.”
Raising her voice, she said, “…I would put an end to slavery and human sacrificing!”
In a burst of anger, Kamenkamen threw his goblet across the sanctuary. “They are our property!” he yelled. “We risk our lives at war to amass servants, craft workers, harvesters and special sacrifices for the gods.”
“Well, I hate war too!”
“We are Mayas! Warriors. Would you destroy our religion, our culture, our whole way of life? Would you defy the gods?”
Disrespectfully, she retorted, “I would!” Starting to cry, she added, “I already lost one father when he waged war against the yellow-jaw Tommygoff. I just do not want to lose you, or any of my friends or relatives.”
Softened by her tears, Kamenkamen left his recliner and, with strong arms, easily lifted Toucan Moon up and hugged her, wiping away her tears.
“There, there, little pet. Do not cry.”
“Father, when you kill someone in battle or in sacrifice or for whatever reason, you are not killing an animal, but a person, the father of somebody, or a son, or brother, or mother, or—”
Toucan Moon was fearful, remembering her dream.
Urgently, the chief bodyguard entered. He was wearing a loincloth, with a hand ax in his waist belt, and yellow-jaw snakeskins wrapped tightly around his massive biceps, with a long braid hanging over his shoulder. Clutching a golden spear engraved on the shaft with hieroglyphs, he shouted, “Your Holiness!”
“Relax. Our young princess wants to invite some of her village p—, um, playmates. She says they are good children that must be treated with dignity and respect.”
Toucan Moon nodded at the emperor’s words, watching Milintica’s confused reaction. Kamenkamen returned the child to her lounger, and then sat on his own recliner and began stroking the black jaguar’s head.
“But your majesty, they are…you know—”
With a downward-thrusting emphatic gesture, the powerful emperor inadvertently smacked Putu on the head. “I say, invite them!”
The black cat growled and showed his teeth. Futu also growled and swatted at Putu in defense of his master.
Toucan Moon ordered, “Futu. Putu. Stop that!”
Down the stone corridor, about forty paces from the emperor’s sanctuary, inside the Royal Children’s Nursery, one of the two nurses whispered to the other, “Did you hear that?”
Chicahua answered nonchalantly, “Yes, they are at it again.”
“I wish the emperor would control those animals better. They scare me! One of these days someone is going to get hurt. Toucan Moon is sleeping in there, you know.”
“And what of that?”
“Chicahua, you should try to say something positive about Toucan Moon instead of always thinking negatively. She has some good qualities, you know.”
“Xochitl, all I know is I just do not like her, and that is that!”
“Now see what you have done! Sh-h-h! Go back to sleep, children. It is too early to get up.”
Back in Porch of the Rising Sun, the jaguars had calmed down by the time three guards with body armor rushed in, their copper hand axes ready.
“At ease, men... By the gods, Milintica, can you just invite the friends of Toucan Moon and be done with it?”
“As it pleases, my lord. When the rains stop?”
“Yes, yes, when the rains stop.” He gave a terse wave and dismissed all of the men. When they were gone, Kamenkamen shot a glance over at Toucan Moon. “What?” he asked.
“That was close.”
“Not to worry. I have killed cats bigger than these with my bare hands. Oh, I am sorry. I should not say that.”
“I am the one who should apologize. Sometimes I get a little outspoken.”
Under his breath he started to say, “Kind of like your mo…”
“What was that?”
“Oh, um, I was just thinking. I should not be losing my temper in front of you like that.”
“I must admit, your deep voice is a bit frightening when you are angry.”
“A king must be commanding, but you truly are a brave little princess! You stood your ground when Futu and Putu got into it.”
“Of course. I was petrified!”
Kamenkamen got up and sat next to the young princess and wrapped a loving arm around her petite frame. “Still frightened?”
“No,” she said as she hugged the emperor.
“What was that for?”
“For being such a wonderful, understanding father.” She gave him a peck on the cheek.
“Thank you! Oh, and Toucan Moon, we will talk about those other matters on a more appropriate occasion.”
With a stern face he added, “One thing more. When the rain lets up, I command you to prepare for fun with your pea... um, your village friends.”
She gave a silly laugh. “Yes, O king!” Then she jumped up and started to skip her way through the string beads, but she froze in place. Kamenkamen cast a disapproving glance over his shoulder. “I know, I know. Walk like a lady.”
When she got a few paces past Milintica, she giggled and resumed skipping along on her way to the nursery. The chief bodyguard motioned, “Sh-h-h!” and whispered, “The children are still sleeping!”
The rain was creating a watery screen as it ran down in front of Kamenkamen, blocking his view of the jungle. He stood away from his recliner and returned to the open end of the sanctuary, knelt on one knee and prayed, “Why, O god of the dawn? I always wanted a son. Instead, you gave me a daughter—dainty, yes, but tough in many ways.” He stopped and pondered for a moment. “She gives me much joy, true, but she wants to end wars and human sacrificing. What am I to do?” ….