Monday, July 30, 2012

False Dawn, Part 2.

[Continued from "False Dawn, Part 1."]

The people stood on the cliff, waiting for the sun to rise.

They prayed, they sang and they danced. They adorned One-Hunahpu's statue with fresh flowers and corn-husks. But the statue remained silent, and the sky remained dark.

Then came two priests, bringing a young woman. Seven Macaw recognized her. She was the girl who sold flowers in the marketplace. He remembered her face, smiling amid the blooms.

But she was not smiling now. Her face held a look of grief, fear, and what Seven Macaw would later come to recognize as resignation.

The priests made her lie down on a stone altar. They bound her hands and feet.

Seven Macaw was still too young to understand what was going on. His mother covered his eyes so he couldn't watch. But he could still hear. He heard the priests chanting, the thud of a flint-kinfe, and a scream. He heard something trickling, the sound of something pouring down the stone and running to the ground.

When his mother let him look again, the woman was gone. The stone was sticky with something like tree sap. He knew, without having to be told, that she wouldn't be coming back.

Surely that would be enough to make the sun rise.

But there was nothing but darkness, and stillness, and a few lone bird-calls.

Then, the people felt a chill, as a strange presence began to fill the air. A cold wind poured out from the mouth of a cave. The wind swirled around, stirring the leaves and grass, and flying out of the cave-mouth came a monstrous bird. Its head and wings were like those of a horned owl, its eyes shone red in its grey face, and it had a long red tail like a macaw. Bits of fire and swirls of smoke spun from its tail and wings.

The bird flew around over the gathered populace. "Greetings, puny mortals," it croaked in a  mocking tone. "I am Macaw-Owl, messenger of the Lords of Xibalba. I have a message to deliver. To whom shall I give it?" The bird swooped down to where Seven Macaw was standing with his family. "What about you, little macaw-boy?" the bird asked him, its piercing red eyes staring into his small, frightened face. "Shall you be the bearer of ill tidings? Maybe they will stone you," it jeered.

Seven Macaw clutched his mother's skirt tightly. "Mommy," he said.

Seven Macaw's mother stood straight, gazing back firmly at the bird-messenger. "If the message is for all of us, then speak to all of us," she said.

Seven Macaw's father, Hun Caquix, put his arm on his wife's shoulder, standing like a strong tree beside her. "Yes," he said. "It's easy enough to frighten children. If you have a message, then speak. We already know that someone is going to die. That is the only kind of news you ever bring."

"Not going to die," the bird laughed mockingly. "Already dead." It landed on the head of the statue, perching there affrontingly. "Here is my message, people of earth: The Lords of Xibalba say to you: 'One Hunahpu, who was a god, has died like a mortal. He and his brother came to the Underworld and played a ball game with us, and they lost. Your Sun belongs to us now. Even now the Lords of Xibalba are paying ball with his head.' " The Macaw-Owl flicked its tail, sending out a shower of sparks. "And soon, say the Lords, all the rest of you will join him."

Murmurs, and groans, and cries of dismay went up from the crowd.

The Macaw-Owl flew into the air, hooting as it circled over the crowd amid clouds of smoke and fire. "What do you say to that, People of Wood? How will you live without a sun? You will starve, you will freeze in the cold, you will stumble in the dark, you will fall off cliffs, you will be eaten by wild beasts."

It hooted with malignant glee.

"You have lost your god of light and maize, and even now the other gods are also deserting you. Hurricane Thunderbolt, Heart-of-the-Sky, has already grown tired of you, like a child who is now longer amused with his toys. He has seen that you are not as pretty to look at as he once imagined you. You are rough and crude; your skin is like bark, your heads do not turn, and your limbs lack grace. You do not remember the gods well enough, you do not shower  them with enough praise for the gift of life they gave you." The bird seemed to think this was very funny. "Not only that, but you do not kill each other enough, to pour out sacrificial blood for the gods' nurture and sustenance."

More cries of gloom and misery arose from the gathering. The people stirred together in a tide of fear.

But Seven Macaw's parents, Hun Caquix and his wife, stood firm together like a pair of straight, unbending trees. "What do we say, O Bird of Ill Omen?" retorted Hun Caquix. "Well, I will speak for myself and my family. We say this: If the gods do not help us, we will help ourselves, with our own minds and muscles. We will not lie down and die as long as we can work. We have survived this long without a Sun, and if One Hunahpu does not come, we will mourn him -- and go on living." He planted his hoe firmly on the ground beside him, with his other arm around his wife. And she took the hand of their eldest son, One Macaw, and he took the hand of his brother Seven Macaw, and they all stood together as one before the Messenger of Xibalba.

And when the rest of the people saw this, they too joined hands, and stood together defiantly. Only a few of the priests, and those who were most devout, held back out of fear. But all the rest of them, the farmers and workers, the hunters and craftspeople, the elders and sages, from the oldest to the youngest they all gathered and stood together in resistance against the Lords of Xibalba and the wrathful gods.

The Macaw-Owl shrieked out, "So brave, and so proud! You will only make the gods more angry." Again, it seemed to find this very amusing. "Very well -- I will leave you to your doom. The halls of Xibalba are awaiting all of you."

Cackling and hooting, the Macaw-Owl swooped away in a gust of smoke and sparks.

And so the Wooden People were left standing, proud and sad, in the darkness. They placed a wreath of flowers on One Hunahpu's statue, and they wept for him. And so the Ritual of Waiting became the Ritual of Mourning, and the statue became his tombstone.

And, slowly and sadly, the people turned and walked home in the darkness, knowing there would be no light except the fires they made for themselves, and no morning except in their dreams. And as the years went on, the people turned away from Hurucan and the Sky Gods and no longer remembered them, forgetting the One who had made them and left them to starve.

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