A Gift From He Who Finds The Waters (p. 3)
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The days leading up to the Day of Mit'maq were a time of desperately exuberant festivities, a last chance for young men to indulge in games, women, and before a seventh of them were sent off to labor on the roads, or fight in the thick air of the forests, or otherwise support the Great Peace in the universal coin of labor. The city to which Pacapallu brought Tarmac two days after he consulted the Voice of He Who Finds the Waters was in dutiful compliance with this tradition. Steeply pitched thatch roofs jutted out of the churning cataract of faces and hats like the golden tips of row upon row of sprouting maize growing in soil granted life and a thousand voices.
Pacapallu cringed inward as he searched out the shifting path through the revelers. The wild abandon with which brightly dressed individuals spun by, singing songs of love, war, or drink, and waving large cups of chicha, was unheard of in the solemn and honest emptiness of the open mountain. There, he could feel divinity all around him -- in the cold soil beneath his sandals and fingers, in the purposeful and vital rows of maize or potatoes, in the cool winds that accepted his body's radiated heat in exchange for driving away rain and hail, and in the ever-present, palpable bulk of the Mountain. Yet in the city , with its smooth-hewn stonework, its dense smell of smoke, wool, and strangers' bodies, and its distracting medley of vocalized emotion, gods seemed distant and abstract. The huaca, the bones of his ancestors, and even He Who Finds the Waters were all distanced by the close screen of human works, as if by the heavy smoke of an intervening fire that had been improperly and excessively fed.
Marching next to his father, Tarmac seemed not to react to the unsettling loneliness imposed by human activity .His face was cold, settled in a look that Pacapallu might have called resentment when he first saw it. But Tarmac did not look upon the cookfires, erected upon the charred scars of last year's celebration, or the solid archipelagoes of Łemale musicians sprouting swirls of men dancing to impress them like eddies in the stream gyrating Łor the stones that spawned them, with the necessary contempt. Rather, he seemed to look through them, recognizing existence but refusing to comment upon it. What he saw in his son's face, Pacapallu knew now, was more of forced acceptance premised in denial. His thoughts were directed inward at some invisible conflict, distracting him from the recognition of the festivities that were so obviously the precursor to the apportionment of mit'a.
The only place in the city not choked with celebrants was the plaza that stood before the Great Temple of He Who Finds the Waters. In this pocket in the population, the great dancing contest was being held. A dozen unwed young women, all surely of noble ayllus -- though Pacapallu did not recognize the symbols on their headbands -- stood in an arc facing a knot of young men, presumably also all nobles.
The music began with the drum corps, five maidens with varying sizes of hide drum slung over their shoulders with brightly colored straps. They manipulated short wands with knobs on either end, spinning them through their fingers to strike the drumheads in a rich waltz-time cadence. At a prearranged moment, a chorus of panpipes, ranging in size from those no bigger than the hands that held them to others that forced the young woman playing them to stand nearly on tip-toes. Two large harps, sitting on pyramidal sound chambers, hummed out deep bass tones. All this time the women moved no more than necessary to play their instruments, with the exception of a drummer and a pan piper who bobbed their heads slightly to the strong beat. Music, being a matter of fine skill, was well within the feminine domain, but dancing, being a task of strength, was thoroughly masculine.
Now a man detached himself from his brothers and moved into the open space, stomping and turning in intricate patterns with the compelling drone of the drums. No spectators joined in, for fear it would distract the man executing his complex steps before the band. Sweat soon formed on his exposed skin.
"Perhaps," Pacapallu commented to his disinterested son as he led him around the dance floor to the Great Temple, "If he dances well enough, one of the girls will pick him as her husband at the end of the contest." But Tarmac was not intrigued, shocked, confused, or even relieved to see the method of noble ayllus for creating matrimonial pairs. His mind was still focused elsewhere, shutting out the fact of his presence in the city.
Pacapallu and Tarmac approached a huge cyclopean wall, whose gray stones seemed each a different shape, yet all somehow fitted together to form a solid and formidable wall, like the unique people fitting together into a functioning ayllu, or the ayllus and cities each fulfilling their role in creating the Great Peace. A single door broke the gray face, a portal whose lintel was shorter than its threshold. A passageway splashed with shadow by the noon sun led through the pace-thick wall to the Great Temple's courtyard.
Opposite the entrance, a wall twice as high as the first faced east, footed with shadow now that the sun was past its zenith. From a low doorway in it came the stream whose spring was the city's huaca, running in a deep, stone-lined channel to the center of the courtyard and then cutting to the right and out into the city. Its water filled the courtyard with a rumbling murmur, the voice of He Who Finds the Waters. It was not a shout, a coherent message to the people as the prophetic cataract that swirled around the carved stone far downstream, but instead a low whisper, reassuring those who listened that their god was with them.
Only now that whisper was far dimmer. Where once one could see the dynamic intertwining of dark water and white chips of light set afloat on it, now there was only the static unresponsiveness of newly set stone pieced in over the channel, denying He Who Finds the Waters a place in what had been His temple.
Pacapallu's eyes followed the covered channel to the high wall. The stonework was still the same, row upon row of carved waves etched into the granite by urban laborers before the Great Peace, though likely enhanced by those assigned mit'a in the temple afterward. But now that mighty symbol of He Who Finds the Waters was overshadowed.
From an altar directly in front of the door through which the stream issued rose a gargantuan statue, shimmering and refusing to commit to a single solid color, instead taking on the reflected shades of everything around it, as only highly polished gold can. The image was a man, one clenched fist aloft, the other lowered and opened, palm outward. Between his hands ran a delicately braided gold quipu, its branch strings swaying in the slight breeze, the knots knocking against each other as if in imitation of the holy voice of He Who Finds the Waters.
"That must be how the city men see He Who Finds the Waters," commented Tarmac, who had never seen the temple before.
"No ..." replied Pacapallu. Then an image overtook him.
A tall man, wearing only the blue tabard of the Officers of the Great Peace without a poncho so as to display deep brown muscles like perfect eyeless potatoes, stood before the ranks of men drawn from the city and surrounding countryside. Among them was Pacapallul waiting to be assigned his third and final mit'a to the Great Peace. He watched the plumes that fanned out from the Officer's helmet and the strings of the great quipu slung over his shoulder as they swayed in the breeze that somehow invaded the Great Templels courtyard.
The officer's hands were raised to the sun that stood directly overhead, addressing it as nearly as possible without tilting his ornate headdress off its place atop his head: "Our great lord He Who Lights the Way, hear me! You who instructed civilized men in the arts that separate us from the jungle barbarians, whose hand is on the shoulder of the quipucamayoc and the sculptor and the weaver, bless this day! Lend your great wisdom to the apportioning of mit'a, counting off on your great quipu the place of each man and guiding us to see it. You who taught us the Great Peace, now help us to make it fruitful!"
Now he bent to take hold of the great pitcher of chicha that sat before him, all that remained after all the assembled men had been given a cup of drink and libations had been made to He Who Finds the Waters. He spilled it out onto the pavement, where it began to dry slowly in the dim winter sun. All of the men likewise emptied their cups onto the stones underfoot, darkening the dull tan courtyard with liquor.
"No, that must be He Who Lights the Way, the god who taught the city men their arts," replied Pacapallu in a thin voice.
"Where did He Who Finds the Waters go?" There was a note of fear in Tarmac's voice.
"He didn't go ... I guess this is just not his temple anymore. The cult of He Who Lights the Way has grown in the cities ..." Pacapallu started forward again, dodging around the other arrivals from the countryside. Most of those who came from far afield to participate in the Day of Mit'maq spent the preceding night in the Temple courtyard, sleeping next to each other like kernels in a giant ear of corn. It was early enough yet that there was still plenty of open stonework showing among the spattering of bedrolls colored as randomly as a wild llama herd -- white next to red next to brown striped.
Pacapallu set his blankets -- a maroon checker pattern -- on a space of light tan stone under which he could hear the murmuring of He Who Finds the Waters, not fully ousted from His temple.
The clouds that littered the sky on the Day of Mit'maq had all of the Officers of the Great Peace on edge. The light that came and went as the sun traversed the maze of cloud cover, turning the statue alternately into a cold, stiff figure jingling hollowly, and an eye-searing second sun of white fire, shouting with the golden quipu that no one could bear to look upon.
By noon the men paying mit'a this year had all returned from their foot race up the nearby mountain peak to prove their fitness -though slacking brought only punishment, not excuse from mit'a -- and had regrouped in the Temple courtyard, all dressed in new white smocks. They stood in silence to allow the gods' voices to come through in a stream broken only by heavy breathing and the rustle of wool as blue-clad Officers of the Great Peace moved up and down the rows, pouring chicha from huge clay vessels bearing a stylized picture of the same god who rose in such lifelike golden glory from the men's' midst. Pacapallu remembered being in their situation, his legs glowing with a pain as though they were wool being carded, his stomach shrunken by anticipation as the Officers slowly made their rounds.
Tarmac was in the front of his line, Pacapallu saw, his white smock still unblemished by the Officers' paint. His eyes stared intensely ahead out of an uncreased face, revealing an emotion Pacapallu was unable to define.
Now came the invocation to He Who Lights the Way just as Pacapallu remembered it, calling on the god to bless the ceremony. But there had been no prayer said to He Who Finds the Waters, no acknowledgment of the original lord of this place. How could the new cult so thoroughly usurp the original owner of this ground? Then came the libations.
Tarmac discreetly -- or so he apparently thought -- reached his arm out to splash his drink on the lighter stone that covered the waterway. Pacapallu scowled. The Great Peace seemed to have taken a dislike to He Who Finds the Waters, and he was not sure how they would react to being reminded of the people's true loyalty.
After the ground was given enough drink to give an entire ayllu a hangover, the Officers of the Great Peace began their most solemn task. Moving up and down the rows with a quipu over one shoulder and a paint brush in one hand, they stopped before each man. They examined each briefly, the decided upon an appropriate mit'a. Each assignment was recorded as a knot in the quipu, and marked in sticky black paint on the man's white chest.
An Officer stopped briefly in front of Tarmac. He spent a moment in investigation, then quickly marked a sign. As he moved away, Pacapallu smiled. Scribed on his son's chest was a narrow triangle, like a highway traveling straight and true to the horizon -- the mark of the roads crew.
Without warning, Tarmac let out a shout and fell to his knees on the hard stone. Pacapallu involuntarily took several steps forward before he remembered that observers were not to interfere with the ceremony.
"0 lord He Who Finds the Waters!" called out Tarmac, loud enough to penetrate the new stones of the courtyard. "You who brought our ancestors to our huaca, I give you thanks!"
All of the Officers of the Great Peace had stopped their rounds. The nearest walked quickly to Tarmac, but not before the young man emptied the remainder of his cup -- meant to be drunk at the end of the ceremony in celebration of their mit'a -- onto the lighter pavement over the city's stream. The Officer grabbed Tarmac by the white smock and hauled him to his feet, snarling something Pacapallu couldn't make out. He moved closer to his son, reaching the edge of the spectators' area.
"May I not worship He Who Finds the Waters in His own temple?" demanded Tarmac.
"This is the temple of He Who Lights the Way," replied the Officer. "Now stand up and shut up so that we can finish this ceremony."
"May I not simply thank my god for sparing me service in the army?"
The officer let out an exasperated sigh and snapped, "That was the mercy of He Who Lights the Way."
The sun moved out from behind a cloud, lighting the statue to a vindictive fury and illuminating a wet bullet that sped from Tarmac's lips to splash in the Officer's face.
Suddenly, the blue-clad man yanked Tarmac around and sent him flying at the pavement. The young man hit at an awkward angle.
"You wish to insult the god who gave you this," asked the Officer, gesturing to the other participants in the ceremony as he moved to stand over the fallen Tarmac, "The god who gave you the Great Peace?"
"He is not my god." Tarmac's words were strained.
The Officer grabbed Tarmac with one fist, jerking him up into the other. The young man fell back to the stones, blood streaming from a mangled nose. He clutched his head protectively as the officer delivered kicks from the hard tip of his sandal with military precision. Eventually Tarmac lay still.
For the second time in his life Pacapallu entered the huaca of Crooked Bolt ayllu alone. He carried with him a cup of chicha and a skull painted with red designs. In the rows of white and red faces that grinned at him in the near-darkness, he quickly found his father's cracked skull, at the end of one row. He placed his hand on the cold dome and muttered a prayer. Then he set the new skull, the older one's grandson, next to it.
Pacapallu quickly moved it away, setting it in the next row beside the head of some unidentified elder. The picture he had initially laid out was too disturbing -- the one killed for lack of the Great Peace, the other killed by it.
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