A Gift From He Who Finds The Waters (p. 1)

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The huaca of Crooked Bolt ayllu was a cleft in the stone face of the Mountain above Hidden Skunk field, from whence issued the stream that supplied the ayllu's water. Hidden Skunk lay fallow this year, its soil bound down by a patchy cover of wild grasses that bowed before the wind, paying homage to the power of the great open sky. That sky was gray on the feast of Curac Otay, the Separation of the Potatoes. In the two cultivated fields, the women of the ayllu were sorting the potatoes that had been brought in by their husbands over the past week; making piles of those that would be freeze-dried in the sun of the day and the cold of the night, and those that would be placed in the underground cairns to be used as seed for next year.

In Hidden Skunk field, the highest men of the ayllu community had gathered to conduct the rites to the huaca, the shrine that marked Crooked Bolt ayllu's place on the Earth. They stood in a semicircle around the dark fissure that marked the entrance to the huaca. Twenty-one wrinkled faces, chafed and brown from the long years of alpine sun and cold wind, pondered the small brook that ran out through the door of the huaca, the source of Crooked Bolt's water, an artery that nourished the people of the ayllu through their crops and their animals, like the people must in turn nourish the huaca with the blood of their animals and the produce of their fields. One smooth face pondered the brook also. His head bowed, most likely to offer a prayer to He Who Finds the Waters, the deity who had led the ancestors of Crooked Bolt ayllu to their huaca.

Pacapallu placed a weather-browned hand on his son's shoulder, gripping hard on the snail-motif poncho that the boy's mother had spent the last month weaving in preparation for the feast of Curac Otay. The boy must have a new garment to wear when he goes before the huaca, she had said, the finest we can provide. And she had done well, which was no surprise to Pacapallu. He had always said that his wife was the finest weaver in the upper settlement of Crooked Bolt. His own red-striped poncho, which clung to his chest in the wind that traversed the terraces of Hidden Skunk field, was among the warmest he had ever known.

A tall man, wearing a heavy red poncho and a knitted woolen cap topped with a scarlet tassel, stepped forward from the circle. He held a long staff covered in soft, silent owl feathers, a furry brown and white streak against the crimson of his outfit. A single gold chain -- incomparable wealth in a farming ayllu such as Crooked Bolt -- lay dully on the man's chest. It was a bad omen that the holy light of the sun remained hidden by the gray poncho worn by the sky, a vestige of the damp growing season. No sunrays shot down from that golden orb to sparkle on the chain and blind the assembled with heavenly glory. But the rites of Curac Otay would go on.

The man held aloft a large black cup, and around the circle all of the men did likewise, raising tumblers filled with chicha -- corn beer brought from the lower fields where grains could grow. Only the boy Tarmac had no chicha, for it was a man's beverage. Only a man may drink and participate in the rituals of the ayllu.

"To you, O mighty lords, we give thanks. You bring the water which nourishes us, and the sun which warms us. All we have comes from you!"

The man in red tilted his cup, letting a generous portion of the fragrant golden liquid fall to the earth. The other men followed, splashing the soil with chicha. "He Who Finds the Waters, we praise your wisdom in bringing us to this place, where our potatoes grow large, and our corn grows tall, and our guinea pigs grow fat under the care of the water to which you guided our ancestors. May your name forever be praised!"

A second libation fell from the cup to the cold ground. Tarmac shifted impatiently. Pacapallu dug his fingertips into the cool wool of the snail-motif poncho. The rituals could not be rushed, lest the deities bring misfortune on the ayllu. The boy, sensing his father's disapproval in the pinch of his fingers, cast his face downward, chastised. "And to the huaca of Crooked Bolt, our grandfather and our brother, who nourishes all under its care, we offer all that we have. You who sustain our lives, focus of our adoration."

A third time the man in red spilled chicha, as did the others gathered, forming a puddle the color of the dried cornstalks that slowly sank into the hard, cold soil. "And to our ancestors, most beloved of He Who Finds the Waters, original possessors of all the land, we give thanks." Then, slowly, all of the men assembled raised the cups to their lips and each took a swallow of the mild liquor.

"There is one here who is to be initiated to the higher mysteries, to become a man and a member of our circle. As a boy we called him Tarmac. If the huaca allows, we shall call him a man."

With one hand, Pacapallu guided his son into the circle to stand before the red-garbed priest.

"You are in the presence of the huaca, and of your ancestors, and of our lord He Who Finds the Waters. You are bound to truth and solemnity. Are you prepared to become a man of the ayllu?"

"I am," replied Tarmac in a halú-choked voice.

"And have you purified yourself, fasting from all meat and spices for the past week?"

"I have."

"And do you swear to love and revere your lord He Who Finds the Waters, and your ancestors, and your huaca, giving them the bounty your day's labors as they give to you?"

"I swear."

The men stood in silence for a moment. The priest in red closed his eyes, listening to the wind whispering between the peaks as breath across panpipes. Pacapallu felt his heart pounding, remembering the day when he had stood before the holiest men of the ayllu to be raised to manhood.

Finally, with a curt nod of approval, the priest drew a small cup and a tiny knitted bag out of the folds of his poncho. With shaking hands, Tarmac accepted them.

"You may chew the coca, the holy leaf that will open your mind to the divinities." So saying, the priest brought a few small, dried leaves out of the pouch that hung at his neck and, with the ease of long practice, placed them in his mouth. Tarmac imitated him, taking his coca from the small pouch in his hand. They chewed in silence for a moment. Then, pushing the cud of coca to one side of his mouth, the priest said, "Now, drink this chicha, and with it commit yourself to the ayllu." He poured a small amount from his own capacious tumbler into the cup that Tarmac held. Pacapallu watched intently as his son lifted the cup, gulped, choked, and forced the rest of the beer down. Pacapallu remembered the fire which had assailed his throat when he became a man, taking that as the excuse for Tarmac's hesitation. "Now,let us enter the holy place of our ancestors." The priest turned and walked into the crevice of the huaca, treading carefully along the bank of the stream. Pacapallu reluctantly let go of his son's shoulder, following the no longer boy -- but not yet man -- into the huaca.

Braziers of llama dung had been lit earlier that morning by the men of the ayllu, but lighting the way into the smoky cavern. Eerie red light reflected off the unshaped stone walls. The scuff of soft boots on the stone and soil was loud here away from the wind of the exposed heights. No daylight could negotiate the oblique angle into the cave.

Ten paces into the mountain, the fissure opened into a small, silent room. Coals glowed in a firepit at its center, complementing the llama-tallow candles rippling in small cups cut into the huaca walls. Their smoke twined with that of the llama dung, creating a particular mild odor in the confined space. Shadowy, round objects formed a double row around the edge of the floor, each decorated with designs painted in red. These were the skulls of the high men of the ayllu, all of those who had been initiated since He Who Finds the Waters had first led Crooked Bolt ayllu to this place. Even in the dim candlelight, Pacapallu could find his father's skull, a relic Pacapallu had given to the huaca less than a month after attaining manhood.

The cities, he thought bitterly, The cities killed my father. He remembered the night -- almost fully dark, and clear, with a cold wind that would turn undried potatoes to stones. The soldiers of some city -- Pacapallu did not know which one, nor did he care to know -- had come upon the house at the end of their long march, a crowd of tough men wrapped in cotton-padded armor and surrounded by a cloud of exhalation. Pacapallu remembered running to the door to see what was the commotion. Outside, his father was arguing with a man whose lance was bound in gold, and whose white helmet bore a fan of tropical birds' feathers. He heard the word mit'a -- the periodic tribute of labor or produce. He heard the soldier declare that his men were tired and hungry from a long march, and that they had just won an important victory over a neighboring city. He demanded to collect mit'a from Pacapallu's father. Pacapallu heard his father refuse, saying that his mit' a obligations were filled.

Then he saw the soldier grasp his bronze-headed mace and strike Pacapallu's father down. Pacapallu and his mother and siblings had spent that night huddled in a corner of the house while the soldiers helped themselves to the potato crop that had not long ago been freeze-dried.

Pacapallu forced down those recollections. Now there is the Great Peace, he told himself. All of the cities about Crooked Bolt ayllu have joined the Peace. War will not touch us.

At the back of the huaca squatted a shadowy bundle, half as high as a cornstalk, which seemed to preside over the chamber. It was bound up in thick coils of woolen cord, woven in crenellated patterns of red and white. On the front a mask of thin pounded copper hung, reproducing the visage of the ayllu founder whose mummified remains were encased therein.

In the dim light, Pacapallu cold see his son's shadow trembling, the boy's every motion amplified in the dark doppelganger. He should not be shaking like that, thought Pacapallu with a tightness in his stomach. The holy essence of our ancestors and our huaca cannot accept and infuse him as fully if his mind is distracted with tension.

A third man joined father, son, and priest in the skull-lined room. In his short-fingered hands he cradled a large guinea pig, fattened to the size of a large rabbit. The animal's fur was uniformly white, free of even the slightest blemish. Its pink eyes flicked back and forth nervously as it grasped at the man's thumb with its forepaw. Pacapallu was reminded of his son, which shamed him. The boy is just nervous about the mysterious rites of manhood, he told himself. But I have prepared him for this. He will not disappoint us.

The newly arrived man placed the guinea pig in the priest's hands. Without acknowledgment, the priest turned to hold the animal over the firepit.

"0 Tucupache, revered ancestor, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of Crooked Bolt ayllu and all the men in it, hear us! Open your ears, blessed one who was taken into the confidence of He Who Finds the Waters and first set eyes upon this huaca from which our life springs and to which it returns!

"We bring before you one of your lineage who desires the gift of the holy knowledge which you share with myself and the other men gathered outside. He has been tutored in the mysteries, and has taken the chic ha and the coca. Open your arms to him. As he nourishes you with the blood and chicha of the sacrifice, so nourish his soul with divine initiation. Bring him into commune with yourself with the huaca of Crooked Bolt and with our lord He Who Finds the Waters."

The red-garbed priest stepped to the side, turning as he did so that the guinea pig remained suspended before Tucupache's mummy.

Nobody moved. A moment of tense silence passed before Pacapallu dared to give his son a tiny nudge. Lifting his eyes from the floor in front of the ancient, cord-bound body, Tarmac shuffled forward. The priest pressed the fat guinea pig into the boy's hands, and then a short stone knife. Tarmac stared at the animal and the implement in his shaking hands.

Pacapallu wanted to cry out: Get control of yourself! This is insulting to your huaca and your ayllu and your father!

"Come on, boy!" hissed the priest. Pacapallu could see the disapproving scowl, heightened by the shadows from the limited lighting, on the face of the man who had brought the guinea pig. If Tarmac did not feed the huaca, how could he hope to receive acceptance as a full man?

A clank and a thump rang through the huaca as the knife and guinea pig hit the ground in front of the mummy. The man who had brought the animal lunged to capture it before it could regain its bearings. The face of the priest was colder than the copper mask of Tucupache's mummy.

Pacapallu closed his eyes as the animal was thrust back into Tarmac's hands. Have you no respect? Have you no appreciation of what you have been given by Tucupache, and the huaca, and He Who Finds the Waters? Do you wish to remain a child forever?

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