CRAZY SNAKE AND THE TRIBUTE FOR PACHACAMAC- PART II



CRAZY SNAKE AND THE TRIBUTE FOR PACHACAMAC- PART II, by Eric Atkisson

 

After a high seas chase by mercenaries of Nicaragua’s usurper president, William Walker, Crazy Snake and his loyal horse Aahtaqui are forced to abandon ship near a mysterious, mist-enshrouded isle. The horseman soon encounters a magical “stone man” who demands tribute for someone named Pachacamac. Crazy Snake refuses and barely escapes the creature’s wrath with the aid of a small band of Kunas recently marooned on the isle. Aahtaqui, however, is captured by fanatical followers of Pachacamac, clad in the manner of ancient Incan warriors. Together, Crazy Snake and the Kunas infiltrate Pachacamac’s temple and prevent Aahtaqui from being sacrificed to the god, but all of them save Inakakinya, a brave albino woman who escapes with Aahtaqui, are captured. From the temple’s high priest Crazy Snake learns that the island once resided in a place called Lake Titicaca, where the temple’s presence and human sacrifices angered the lake’s goddess. She banished it from her domain and into a kind of spirit world, but Pachacamac’s power kept the island partly in this world, appearing in one place for a time and then another, but never back in the lake from whence it had been banished.

 

In the course of these wanderings Paapiti acquired visitors who landed or washed up on its shores, oblivious to its magical nature. At first these encounters were random, but over time Pachacamac developed greater control over the island’s movements, placing it in the path of those he felt might be of some use to him, like Crazy Snake, whose chakana—given to him by his mother—has powers that could be used to release Pachacamac from his island prison. And so the high priest and his fellow zealots prepare for the “ritual of ascension” aboard a special boat prepared just for this occasion, in the temple’s central courtyard, with Crazy Snake and the Kuna captives aboard, along with other Kunas now loyal to Pachacamac. Inakakinya and Aahtaqui, meanwhile, return to the temple to find what has become of their companions, only to witness the earth shaking and the sea rushing up the mountain, consuming everything in its path as the ritual nears completion…

 

VII

Iron Jacket had been to the Great Water once, in the year 1840 by white man’s reckoning. That summer a fellow war chief named Buffalo Hump led a band of five hundred Comanches and Kiowas all the way to the coast, where they pillaged and burned a city called Linnville–to avenge thirty Comanches slaughtered at a peace conference with the white man. On the way back Buffalo Hump’s band rode into an ambush at a place called Plum Creek. Many braves died in that battle, felled by the white man’s bullets, but not Iron Jacket. He fought his way through and returned to The People but lightly scathed and full of tales of the coast and the epic raid.

“Water as far as the eye can see,” he said, waving an arm to compass half the horizon, “and none of it fit to drink. Dead fish and other strange creatures rot in the sun upon its shores. It is well we do not live like the Karankawas. Better to follow the buffalo across the open plains where the air is not so foul, and to take the clean water the spirits see fit to give us when the skies weep and the rivers run.”

Listening to the tale, the council fire crackling between them and the elders nodding sagely over their pipes in the dancing light, young Crazy Snake had frowned and sulked in the shadows. Though he was still deemed too young for such a raid, he would not have hung back in awe or fear of the sea like his father. He would have plunged into the waves, perhaps even dared to swim the Great Water or to float upon its surface in a boat as the white man and the Karankawas did. Such were the thoughts of the restless young half-breed on that distant night.

What a fool he had been, thought Crazy Snake now, as the sea came roaring over the walls and swept up the temple’s strange boat like dead wood in a sudden flood, the jolt of it sending spears of agony throughout his bruised and broken body. The water lashed and beat him as well, choking his breath and stinging his eyes. Through it all the voice of the priest and the one who had joined him chanted still, and their vessel remained upright and afloat against all odds.

How long it lasted Crazy Snake could not say. So rough was the passage and his struggle to survive it that time lost all meaning. When at last the roiling seas subsided and the voices fell silent, the horseman coughed saltwater from his lungs, blinked it from his gray eyes, and between the long, soaked strands of black hair clinging to his bronzed face beheld a vision of destruction beyond his wildest imaginings.

In every direction was an unsightly mass of flotsam–tree trunks and branches, bits of rotten timber from sunken ships, jars and cloths from the temple now far beneath them, all bobbing in the dark sea. And gone was the chill air of Paapiti, replaced by the oppressive tropical heat the horseman had grown accustomed to in his strange journeys of the past year.

There was an audible snarl from the center of the boat.

“What is it my Lord Pachacamac?” cried the priest’s voice.

“The mountains. The lake. They are gone!”

And indeed they were. Where before Crazy Snake had discerned the dim outline of mountains surrounding the temple’s courtyard, now there was only the Great Water, as vast as the low, leaden sky above it–a sight that would surely have made Iron Jacket quail.

At length the priest spoke again, in such a servile tone that the horseman–bound to the boat’s prow and unable to see what transpired behind him–could only imagine he was on his hands and knees with his forehead pressed against the deck. “What does it matter, my Lord? Are you not finally free of your prison, with a score of faithful servants awaiting your command?”

There was a long silence, broken only by the pacing of heavy footsteps and the now gentle lap of waves against the boat’s hull.

“You are right, priest. It matters little. She may have kept me from her precious lake, but there are other lakes and other peoples who will kneel and offer their sacrifices to me as in ages past, once they embrace Inti’s light.”

“As my Lord commands! Where would you have us go?”

There was another long silence. “There. Toward that ship.”

Crazy Snake scanned the horizon and saw nothing, but the priest barked the command and all at once the men began to pull at their oars. The boat lurched forward, unevenly at first, but soon began to glide through the flotsam as one of the priest’s lieutenants called in Spanish, “Hale! Hale!” Pull, pull. The horseman strained to his left and right, searching the sea around them, but in vain.

Of Aahtaqui and the Moon Child there was no sign.

 

VIII

For much of her life Inakakinya had felt alone, surrounded by kith and kin who treated her if not unkindly, then as different. But to die alone was another matter, and at sea even worse. There would be no masartulet–no death chanter–to sing of her deeds in life and to send her soul to the Great Mother and Father in Heaven, with its splendid towers of gold and silver and eternal wealth and happiness. No family to tend her grave and offer food to her spirit. No record that she ever existed, and in time perhaps not even the memory of her name.

This is not how it should end, she thought bitterly, as the foaming wall of sea rushed up the mountain and she braced herself for death.

But death never came.

Something bumped into her from behind and she opened her eyes. She was crouched on the road where she had been standing, but there was no mountain and no temple to be seen now, only a circle of foaming sea around her and Aahtaqui, whose thick brown leg was pressed against her. The circle–a whirlpool, she realized now, as she looked up–rose as high as a tree, perhaps fifty feet, with a circle of gray dawn sky above. The horse backed in one direction and then another, nickering, eyes flared wide.

“Great Mother,” Inakakinya swore.

Do not be afraid, said a woman’s voice.

Inakakinya spun around but saw no one. The voice had been soft, gentle even, and Aahtaqui seemed calmed by it, for he stopped moving other than to swish his tail and raise his head.

“Great Mother?” This time it was not a curse.

I am not the Great Mother of whom you speak. I am a friend.

“A friend of who’s?”

Of any who would resist the power of Pachacamac.

“I do not understand.”

Water seeped into the bottom of the whirlpool and Inakakinya drew back, but it stopped short of her feet and began to flow up, forming a column about a head higher than the Kuna. From there it resolved slowly into what Inakakinya could only comprehend as a sculpture made entirely of water, of a woman with long, flowing hair and shapely, unclothed form. The only thing of substance to her other than the water was a long necklace of seashells draped around her neck.

There is no time to explain. My power is weak here, between the worlds. I can save you but there is something you must do.

“What is it?” Inakakinya asked, though a thousand other questions screamed in her thoughts.

You must stop Pachacamac.

Stop him? How?”

That I cannot say. Even I could not destroy him, but only hold him for a time. But know this: He is no god, and he will be weaker for a time. He can be stopped and he must, or he will destroy everything and everyone you hold dear.

“But… what do I do?”

He will head for the nearest land, and so must you.

Inakakinya looked at the swirling whirlpool around them. “How?”

The woman smiled. She removed the necklace of shells from around her neck and approached Aahtaqui. The horse swished his tail again and made a low, gentle nicker while the woman worked the necklace over his long head and dark mane until it hung around his neck. The whirlpool began to change then, the top of it no longer above them but moving further away, dragging the long funnel of air with it until it stretched up at the angle of a steep hill.

Aahtaqui nickered louder now and stamped his feet, nostrils flaring.

You will ride.

Inakakinya swallowed. Perhaps she had already drowned or was drowning still and this was all a dream or an elaborate illusion in the afterlife, as Balikwa believed the island to be. But the thought of the old man, and of Machigwa, and of her fool brother brought Inakakinya back to her senses. There were others who would do her people harm, and it was her duty to protect them, whatever it took.

She was a Sipu. That had to mean something.

She put her hands on Aahtaqui’s flank, and Water Woman helped her up.

Ride fast, child. The necklace’s magic will only last until the sun sets.

Inakakinya nodded.

The woman’s form began to quiver and lose shape.

Go now. My strength begins to fade.

What was it Crazy Snake had shouted in the temple to spur Aahtaqui forward? Ah, yes. There was a flash in the depths of Inakakinya’s bright green eyes as it came back to her then, along with a string of silent prayers. But there was no time for that now, as the funnel too began to quiver.

Heeyah!” she cried, jamming her heels against Aahtaqui’s flanks.

The horse charged.

 

IX

“Faster!”

Crazy Snake opened his eyes. He had passed out again and stayed out for some time, to judge from the sun’s height–faint though its glow was behind a ragged veil of dark gray clouds. To the south the gray faded to black, where a sudden fork of lightning flashed against the dim haze of distant rain. The priest’s lieutenant barked his command again and the men pulled faster at their oars. The sea was surprisingly still here and the boat glided across the glassy water as fast as human strength could compel it.

Straight ahead, perhaps a quarter mile distant, was a ship. It had a low, sleek hull, two tall masts, and more sails than the horseman could count. Flying from the taller mast was a flag, and though it was only partially visible at this distance, Crazy Snake knew it all too well, with its three horizontal stripes–two the color of a cloudless sky with a white one in the middle–and a red star in the center. It was the flag of William Walker, the white usurper president of Nicaragua, flying upon the same ship that had chased La Libertad to the very edge of Paapiti’s mists and was named, in Walker’s honor, El Filibustero.

The horseman began to laugh.

There were footsteps behind him and the priest snapped, “What is it? Why do you laugh?”

Crazy Snake only laughed harder, until jolts of pain in his chest and back turned his laughter into a long, anguished groan.

“Bring him to me,” said Pachacamac.

Several pairs of feet scurried across the deck. Rough hands grabbed Crazy Snake from behind while others loosened the ropes binding him to the prow. They pulled him into the boat, still groaning, dragged him across the floorboards, and dropped him on his knees at the feet of their throned god, who looked exactly as he had in the temple but for a faint smile and the chakana of Crazy Snake’s mother around his neck. His gold armbands, rainbow-fringed tunic, and scarlet robe were bright against the dark sky, and the aura of bad medicine about him was strong.

On one side of him, seated on the deck and lashed back to back, were Balikwa and Machigwa. On the other, leaning against his throne, were Crazy Snake’s tomahawk and buffalo hide war shield.

Chacapoya,” Pachacamac drawled in a tone of amusement, contempt, or both. “You recognize that boat.”

Crazy Snake raised his eyes to meet Pachacamac’s but said nothing.

“Speak when our Lord addresses you!” the priest hissed.

“There is no need, for I already know the answer. Did I not see the Chacapoya and his chakana from afar, when I was still but a prisoner myself? He was fleeing this ship. There are white men on it, armed for war.” Pachacamac leaned to the side, grabbed the shield, and held it up to study the symbols Crazy Snake had painted on it, of a flaming man-bat and a woman with a horse’s skull. “Such primitive artwork, so very unlike the Chacapoyas. Are you truly all that is left of their line?”

“The ship is signalling us, Lord. How shall we respond?”

Pachacamac waved his hand. “Whatever you must. Let them know we are no threat.”

“Lord?”

“Just do as I say.”

The priest nodded and hurried toward the prow.

“They will kill you all or take you prisoner,” said Crazy Snake. “Your men will not stand a chance against their guns.”

Pachacamac leaned forward, as if to study Crazy Snake closer.

“And what of you, Chacapoya? What would these men do with you, after such a chase as that which brought you to Paapiti?”

The horseman shrugged.

“Ah, but to come so far, only to be put in shackles and paraded before your enemies, perhaps even returned to the distant land you left behind. Is that really how you want it to end?”

“I am already a prisoner. I have no choice.”

Pachacamac leaned back with a smile. “Oh, but you do have a choice. Not perhaps the same choice Kantule made, or the others here–there is too much of the proud Chacapoya in you to expect that, though you will embrace the Light of Inti soon enough. For now you can choose to do what you have always done. To fight.”

The horseman began to laugh again, and again it was cut short with a groan. “I cannot even stand, much less fight. And if I could, what makes you think I would fight them and not you?”

“The lives of your friends here,” said Pachacamac, and one of his men took position behind the two bound Kunas with a large knife in his hand. “It is not my desire that they should die now, but if that is the part they must play then so be it. And consider this.” He leaned forward again. “I know the answers you seek about your mother’s people: where they came from, where they went, why they left. Everything.”

Crazy Snake coughed and tasted more blood on his lips. To the south, the dark bank of clouds seemed larger and a sudden breeze brought the smell of rain and the low, angry rumble of thunder. Death, it seemed, was drawing near from every quarter. He looked at El Filibustero, so close now he could see the faces of the bearded white mercenaries along the deck, their mouths agape at the sight of the Incan vessel and its strangely armed and attired crew, many of whom had lost their plumed helms in the escape from Paapiti, exposing their bald, tattooed heads. As the eyes of the white men passed over this strange assemblage one of them saw Crazy Snake and came to life, grabbing the man next to him and pointing at the horseman. There were shouts then, commands to pull alongside the ship and prepare to be boarded.

“Yes,” said Pachacamac. “Only one choice now. What will it be?”

The horseman sagged. “I would kill them if I could, and then I would kill you. But soon we will both be dead and my spirit will soar free, like the Great Eagle.”

“That is where you are wrong, Chacapoya.” Pachacamac arose from his throne and stood before Crazy Snake, gazing down at him with a look almost of pity as the two vessels bumped against each other and rope ladders dropped from El Filibustero, accompanied by more shouts and scurrying feet above. “Because you lack faith.”

He laid a hand on the horseman’s head and began to chant.

At first Crazy Snake felt nothing, but then a warmth began to spread through his body, starting at the top of his head and seeping down, as if he was bathed in the full light of the sun after a long day in the cold dark. The various hurts he had suffered in the temple began to fade and the exhaustion from his recent ordeals subside. In the span of a few moments it felt as if he had slept for a week and awoke refreshed and ready for any challenge. Nothing he had ever experienced at the hands of a shaman among The People or any other tribe compared to this.

“You will have your precious freedom, Chacapoya,” said Pachacamac, “but first you must play the part fate has ordained for you. When my staff begins to glow, avert your eyes. You will know what to do after that.”

“Send the Comanche up the ladder!” shouted the ship’s captain, as burly and heavily whiskered a white devil as Crazy Snake had ever seen. “His shield and tomahawk, too.”

Pachacamac returned to his throne, slower than he had left it, and nodded.

“Of course,” said the priest, turning from his lord to look up at the muskets pointed down at the boat. “We have no quarrel with you gentlemen. We are only seeking safe refuge from the storm.” He nodded, and the three Kunas led Crazy Snake toward the ladder. Kantule brought his shield and tomahawk.

Crazy Snake paused at the end of the ladder and looked up, then back at Pachacamac, whose faint, cryptic smile had returned–though he seemed wearied now. The horseman shrugged and took hold of the ladder, then climbed up and over the ship’s starboard gunwale with ease. About a dozen white men awaited him, all armed and pointing their guns at him.

“Thought you could get away that easily, did you?” said the captain. He spat. “You ain’t going nowhere but back to Nicaragua and the hangman’s noose, injun.” He glanced down at Pachacamac’s ship. “Okay. Now his shield and tomahawk. President Walker will want those, too. And what happened to his horse?”

“Drowned, I am afraid,” said the priest.

“Pity. The reward was higher with the horse.”

Kantule climbed up the ladder next with the shield strapped to his back and the tomahawk tucked into his belt. Once aboard he handed them both to the captain, who seemed as amused to hold them as Pachacamac had. Finally he passed them to a subordinate and looked at Kantule.

“Where’s that boat from, boy?”

“Paapiti.”

“Never heard of it. And where you going?”

“Kuna Yala.”

The captain nodded his head to the west. “Them puny, godforsaken islands? What in hell for?”

Crazy Snake watched the Kuna closely. His expression seemed clouded for a moment, but it passed as quickly as it came and his features hardened. “To take the islands for our Lord Pachacamac.”

The captain laughed and made a show of seeming impressed.

“That a fact? Just the lot of you in that little boat?”

“Yes.”

“And this Pachacamac fella. He the one sitting in the chair with a big gold rod across his lap?”

“Yes.”

“Real gold?”

Kantule shrugged. The captain looked at Crazy Snake, who only stared back.

“You there,” said the captain, looking now at Pachacamac. “Give us that stick of yours, and you’re free to go about your business.”

The priest leaned toward Pachacamac and spoke softly. The latter spoke in return, too quiet to hear from the deck of El Filibustero. The priest nodded, then turned back to the captain. “And if he refuses?”

“Then my boys here shoot every last one of you savages, we take the damn stick and your fancy boat, and we leave your corpses for the sharks and the gulls. How’s that sound to your highness?”

Again the priest spoke to Pachacamac, and again he received an answer. This time both seemed visibly agitated and a quiet argument ensued. It was, Crazy Snake had to admit, a good act.

“Very well,” said the priest at last, and he took the staff from Pachacamac, who let go only with reluctance. The priest brought it forward and held it high while one of El Filibustero’s crew reached down and grabbed the other end, pulled it up, and handed it to the captain. Thunder rumbled in the distance, closer now.

The captain was surprised by the weight of the staff. He unsheathed the knife at his side, gently scraped the staff’s surface with it, and held the blade up close to his eyes. Now he could no longer hide his delight.

“This is gold all right, or I’m a–what the hell?”

The staff began to glow and Crazy Snake closed his eyes and turned away. There was a bright flash and cries of surprise and pain. When he turned back, he saw that the captain had dropped the staff and was stumbling blindly across the deck as was his crew, many of whom had reflexively covered their eyes, too late, and dropped their muskets in the process.

The horseman moved quickly, seizing his shield and tomahawk from the deck. With a shrill cry he fell upon the nearest shipmate, slamming the side of his head with the flat of his tomahawk blade and kicking him down, then upon another, swinging in the opposite direction. Behind him the men of Paapiti came aboard as fast as they could, swinging their own axes, maces, and clubs. Within just a few minutes the entire crew of El Filibustero was subdued, a few of them never to rise again. And standing everywhere were Pachacamac’s men, now armed with the same guns that minutes earlier had been leveled on them.

Pachacamac himself stood in their center, between the masts, leaning on his golden staff with a triumphant grin. His faithful priest stood beside him, and at their feet was the captain, blinking, bloodied, and groaning like the rest.

Savages,” Pachacamac said. “Is that how you see us? And yourselves as the civilized ones? Ironic. You are but a pale mockery of the men who once walked this earth. You are less even than the animals they once sacrificed to me by the thousands.”

The captain struggled to rise, but Pachacamac brought the end of his staff down on the man’s forehead, striking him senseless.

“Still, there is hope for you yet. Every one of you who would live, rise to your knees and swear fealty to me, Pachacamac.”

It did not happen all at once, but one by one the shipmates rose, some quicker than others. Each in turn took in his situation at a glance, saw that escape was hopeless, and chose to submit with a mumbled “I swear”. The wind picked up as they did, and the first fat drops of rain began to splatter against their faces and the ship’s deck.

Through it all Pachacamac watched Crazy Snake, who returned the gaze without expression and at length finally lowered his tomahawk and tucked it into this belt.

“And what of the captain, my Lord?” said the priest.

Pachacamac turned and raised his face to the rain, exultant.

“Though he be unworthy, I have chosen him for a special role… in honor of my return.”

 

X

At the eastern edge of Kuna Yala was a string of tiny cays and islets, scarcely inhabited but for a hardy few who preferred the solitude and the abundance of lobsters and fish for the taking: barracuda, blackfin, grouper, wahoo, yellowfin, and sometimes even blue and white marlin.

This day one such Kuna named Kauiti returned to shore early, discouraged by the approach of foul weather to the southeast. He pulled his canoe onto the sand, stashed it beneath his stilt-raised hut, and was about to climb the stairs when something far out to sea caught his sharp eyes. It was just a speck but seemed to be drawing closer–a boat perhaps, though the shape seemed wrong and its approach too fast. He stood for a time watching it with a curiosity that turned slowly to doubt and then to fear. He would have fled if he could, but there was nowhere to go on the little islet but a clump of palm trees and the far shore beyond it, so he stood frozen, watching in astonishment as horse and rider galloped out of the waves and onto the little strand he called home.

“You there,” said the rider, a pale-skinned, red-haired Sipu. “What island is this?”

The man’s eyes blinked but he remained otherwise frozen. Aahtaqui snorted and Inakakinya snapped, “Speak quickly!”

Kauiti’s mouth began to move and after several failed attempts and a growing look of frustration from Inakakinya he finally blurted out, “It has no name!”

“Then how far is it to Acuadup?”

Kauiti pointed to the west. “About twenty miles.”

Inakakinya cursed and paused to think.

“I need your help. A great danger approaches our islands and the… Great Mother… has sent me to warn our people. This is no dream and no illusion. I am Inakakinya of Akkwasichit, daughter of Aipan, and I am real. This horse is real. And the threat to our people is real. Do you understand me?”

Kauiti nodded, though his dumbstruck expression did not inspire Inakakinya with much confidence.

“We do not have much time. You must take your canoe, paddle to the nearest island, and warn the people there that bad men are coming this way and mean us harm. Tell them to make for Acuadup, where we will gather as many Kunas as possible for their safety. Do you understand?”

Again Kauiti nodded, this time with more resolve.

“Good. Then go now and paddle fast!”

Kauiti did as he was told, pushing the canoe back out to sea and paddling hard toward the west, where other small islets awaited. Inakakinya spared only a glance back at the approaching storm, then spurred Aahtaqui away once more, his hooves splashing upon the sea as if it was no more than a shallow puddle. As before an unseen current seemed to carry him faster still, Kauiti and his canoe soon passing into the distance. At this speed Inakakinya might hope to reach Acuadup by dusk, but she could afford no further delays.

Inakakinya held tight and prayed once more that she was doing the right thing, and that the others–Kantule, Machigwa, Balikwa, Oliwitinappi, Mantiwekinya, and Crazy Snake–were still alive and out there.

Somewhere.

 

XI

The captain died screaming in a violent gale, El Filibustero’s furled sails and rigging slapping hard against masts and spars as the priest drove the ceremonial knife into the man’s chest. Lightning forked across the sky, and a blue light played briefly upon Pachacamac as he flung his arms wide and raised his face once more to the raging heavens.

“To your stations, men!” cried the priest, wiping the blood from his blade. “We set sail at once.”

“We can’t raise the sails in this weather!” shouted one of the crew. “It’ll tear the ship apart!”

“Do it or join your captain in death!” replied the priest as several of Pachacamac’s faithful pointed muskets at the man. “You are about to witness the power of your new Lord, the Son of Inti.”

The man needed no further prompting. He shouted commands to the rest of the crew, who scrambled to their assigned places. Soon the sails were unfurled and the boat lurched violently with the wind, throwing men to the port side. From where he stood on the center of the deck Pachacamac raised his golden staff and began to chant as he had during the escape from Paapiti. At once the winds lessened, the ship righted itself, and the crew began to guide it under the direction of Oliwitinappi and Mantiwekinya.

Toward Kuna Yala.

Crazy Snake clinged to the gunwale with the rope ladder wrapped around his wrists and one ankle as an added precaution. Again he thought of Iron Jacket’s warning about the sea and cursed himself for a fool. It would have been better to stay and make his last stand in Nicaragua, on land, for the Great Water had brought him nothing but misery. No sooner had he finished the thought than a wave the size of a small hill lifted their previous boat high into the air and swallowed it from sight.

He turned toward Pachacamac. Were it not for the heaving deck it would be an easy thing to charge him now and put a tomahawk in his skull before his fanatical followers shot the horseman down. Of itself that was no great deterrent to Crazy Snake, who still abided by the fatalistic code of The People. But whether this supposed god could be killed in such fashion seemed doubtful, especially now when his bad medicine was so strong.

And there was Balikwa and Machigwa to consider. Why they remained in bondage, tied to the base of the forward mast, was a mystery, since Pachacamac showed no concern about leaving Crazy Snake himself free. The horseman owed nothing to the old man and the boy, and yet he felt somehow responsible for them–if for no other reason than the brief ordeal they had shared on Paapiti.

Such thoughts reminded him of Inakakinya and Aahtaqui, and he felt a sickness in his heart–more for the horse, given their many years together, though he was not without regret for the Kuna. She was a brave warrior and, though he was surprised to think it, the kind of traveling companion he would have welcomed at his side–headstrong and good in a fight. Perhaps it was for her that he felt an obligation to protect her kinsmen–even Kantule if he could be saved.

For now the horseman braced himself against the nauseating rise and fall of the ship and began to chant an old song in the tongue of The People to steady himself and fend off unwelcome thoughts. Soon enough the storm passed and the winds and waves died down, though the ship continued to cut through the water at a steady pace, Pachacamac still planted on the center of the deck, once again a kind of living statue as he had been when Crazy Snake first saw him.

“Land, ho!” cried a voice from somewhere up the mast–it amazed the horseman that anyone had been foolish enough to climb it in the storm–and Crazy Snake followed the eyes of the crew toward the horizon. At first he saw nothing, but after a time his eyes alighted on a small island, only visible for the handful of trees that grew there.

The priest consulted with the three Kunas and then looked at the crewman piloting the ship.

“Stay your course. It is an island of no great consequence. There will be others.”

When they passed it, Crazy Snake saw that in fact the only man-made feature was a small hut on stilts, apparently abandoned. Before long they passed other islands like it, sometimes wild and empty, sometimes with single huts like the first, and sometimes with clusters of them, all empty. It appeared as if whole communities had simply vanished.

The priest, too, grew ever more perplexed.

“Where is everyone?” he asked Kantule.

“I do not know.”

“Is there any reason they would simply vanish like this?”

“No,” said Kantule. “Unless…”

“Yes?”

“Unless they were warned.”

“Impossible. Could they have spotted us coming and fled?”

“Perhaps, though they could not have outrun us in their canoes. They would need more time.”

“Strange,” the priest murmured.

“They were warned,” said Pachacamac, his eyes now open. “I have seen them, gathered on a larger island not far from here.”

“But how did they know, my lord?”

“It does not matter. There are not many of them, and they are no match for our faithful. Their conversion will be easy and without much glory, but another small step toward greater ones to come.

“But first there is another matter that requires our attention.” Pachacamac turned toward Crazy Snake. “It is time for you to make a choice, Chacapoya. Swear your loyalty to me and I will tell you everything your heart desires about your mother’s people.”

All eyes turned on the horseman, even those of El Filibustero’s crew, who no longer seemed discomfited by their situation as prisoners–nor did the men of Paapiti bother to guard them, the horseman noted, though they still carried the muskets.

“I swear loyalty to no one.”

“No? Come now. Every man is loyal to someone or something, if even just himself. That is why they need their gods, to place their loyalty in something higher and nobler than themselves.” Pachacamac waved a hand to several of his followers and pointed at Balikwa and Machigwa, who they began to untie. “So we will see which kind of man you are. Perhaps you will surprise yourself.”

The two Kunas were brought forward and the priest stood behind them, a hand on each.

“One of these two will have the honor of being my next sacrifice unless you swear fealty to me. What say you? Will you bend your knee to Pachamacac, last of the Children of Inti, or refuse and watch your friend perish?”

Crazy Snake looked at Balikwa and Machigwa, at the armed men scattered around the ship, and at the sea. Growing up among The People, he had always had a horse and the wide open plains, a freedom he took for granted. Even the few times he had been captured there always seemed a way out. This time there was no escape he could fathom save for his own death, which would accomplish nothing. Though it galled him, to submit would at least buy the three of them some time, but at what price?

“Yes,” he said at last.

“Yes, what?” the priest demanded.

“I swear my loyalty.”

“On your knees, and address our Lord when you say it.”

Crazy Snake frowned but slowly took a knee and looked at Pachacamac.

“I swear my loyalty to you.”

“Good,” said Pachacamac with a generous smile. “You have chosen well, and you will not regret it. To commemorate the occasion, let us have a sacrifice.” He turned to the priest. “Prepare the boy for the honor.”

Crazy Snake arose with a snarl, tomahawk already in hand. “You said you would not kill them.”

“I said one of them would die unless you swore your loyalty, and I spoke true. You have spared the old man, of whom I spoke, but not the boy.”

Crazy Snake took another step, heedless of the hammer clicks of the muskets around him. Pachacamac waved them down and stood exposed to the horseman, making no attempt to defend himself.

“Go ahead, Chacapoya. If you feel you have been wronged strike me with your axe. I will not resist, nor will my men defend me.”

The horseman raised his tomahawk, or thought that he had, for though he had willed it his hand had remained where it was, poised only at waist level. Even now it would not move.

Pachacamac saw the consternation on the horseman’s face and laughed.

“That is how it begins. Once you have welcomed even the smallest ray of Inti’s light through your loyalty to me, it grows within you whether you would wish it or not, chasing out the darkness until all that is left is the light. In the beginning I had only my loyal stone men, whom I created by my own hands. But in time–as the people brought more sacrifices to please me–my powers grew, and I found that like my father I could wield his light to make men of flesh and bone just as loyal. No mortal can long resist. Not even a stubborn one such as you, with the blood of the Chaca–”

While Pachacamac spoke, Balikwa grabbed a knife from the belt of his nearest captor and–faster than Crazy Snake could have imagined the old man capable–plunged it into Pachacamac’s side. There was a cry of horror from everyone on board save the horseman and the boy, and the same captor whose knife had been stolen clubbed the back of the Kuna’s head with the butt of his rifle, dropping him to his knees.

Pachacamac pulled the knife from his side and cast it to the deck. He parted his tunic, looked down at the wound, and seemed almost surprised by the blood.

The priest was immediately at his side, aghast.

“Infidel!” he screamed at Balikwa. “What have you done?”

“What someone should have done a long time ago,” said the old man.

“Kill him!” shouted one of the faithful and then other. Soon they had all taken up the cry, even some of the ship’s original crew. The priest looked to his lord, who waved away the concerned followers clamoring to attend his wound. Even now it was closing, slowly, before their astonished eyes.

“Am I not a god, oh ye of little faith?”

“Of course, my Lord,” said the priest. “But even so the infidel must die for this atrocity, for it is a crime of the highest order to lay a hand on the Son of Inti, Wielder of the Golden Staff.”

“Yes it is. Let his death serve as a warning to the infidels. I bring light and glory to all those who swear unto me, and darkness and desolation to those who do not. It is a choice the rest of his people must soon make. Let us hope for their own sake they choose wisely.”

 

XII

The business was done quickly and without mercy. While those who could not be spared kept the ship on course toward an island that grew closer every minute, the rest gathered on the center of the deck. One man slipped a noose around Balikwa’s neck while two others held fast to the far side of the rope, which they had thrown over a yardarm more than twenty feet above.

While the priest intoned on the enormity of Balikwa’s crime, Machigwa looked at each of his other three kinsmen in turn but found no sign of hope or relief there–only the wild zeal of those who had lost all sense of their true selves. Last of all he turned to Crazy Snake, who had hung back at the rear of the crowd, all but forgotten after his oath of loyalty to Pachacamac.

The horseman shook his head. Though part of him yearned to fall upon the crowd and cut a bloody swath through their ranks, he knew it would be a hopeless cause. And though it surprised him, he felt that in some sense it would be wrong to do so; that there were rules to be followed, laws to be observed, and that the old man was only facing the proper justice for his actions.

Justice. The horseman shook his head again. That was not how he had been raised. The People knew no laws and their rules were few. And though they could be harsh in their punishments, even cruel, Balikwa had done nothing wrong by their measure–had in fact acted bravely and done what Crazy Snake himself would have done not so long ago.

But that life was behind him now. A year ago he would have sworn loyalty to no man, not even a Comanche chieftain. But he had a new master now. And no mere man but a god. Imagine all that The People might have accomplished, might have become, with a god such as Pachacamac leading them into battle.

A god who bled like a man, but still…

“Balikwa of Kuna Yala,” the priest finally concluded, “the time has come to pay for your crime. Will you plead for forgiveness or die an unrepentant sinner in the eyes of god and man?”

Balikwa had a strangely serene look upon his weathered face. He took a deep breath of the air, the briny smell of the sea now mingled with the rich fragrance of the island’s palm trees, which his eyes passed over with a wistful smile. “It makes no difference. If I am not already dead, then at least I will die at home.”

“So be it.” The priest nodded and the men holding the other end of the rope began to pull. Balikwa rose into the air, grabbing at his noose and kicking his legs while the rest of the crowd–Kantule, Oliwitinappi, and Mantiwekinya included–howled in bloodthirsty rage. Before long the old man’s movements ceased and his body went limp, swaying above them with the rocking of the ship.

Machigwa lowered his face and wept.

Crazy Snake dug his palms into his eyes, trying to silence the arguments raging in his thoughts. It was as if a new version of himself had taken residence there, while the old refused to leave without a fight.

“We cannot waste any time, my Lord. We should begin the sacrifice at once, should we not?”

“No. It must be done the proper way.” Pachacamac pointed to the island’s highest point, a low forested ridge some distance back from the beach and the village they could now see as they passed into a wide, open harbor. “No more boats or insolent white men. The boy’s sacrifice will be the beginning of something greater than his people can possibly imagine. When these islands are lined with the huacas of the dead and my power has reached its zenith, we will take our army of faithful to the mainland and march to the south, converting or destroying all who stand in our way.”

“Yes! It will be a glorious campaign, my Lord! Though it does not seem we will find much resistance here, praise be to your name.”

Awaiting them on the beach was a crowd of perhaps fifty villagers–the men clad plainly and the women in brightly colored, intricately patterned blouses and headscarves, with beaded bands on their wrists and ankles. Aside from the occasional fisherman’s spear or net, none of them appeared armed for a fight. They simply watched as the ship glided into the center of the harbor, furled its sails, and weighed anchor.

The priest gestured for Kantule, who rushed to his side. “What do you make of this? Will they fight or submit to our Lord?”

“They will not fight. It is not their way.”

“Good. Then let us not keep them waiting.”

Pachacamac’s faithful lowered the ship’s two smaller craft and put as many aboard as they could, leaving the remainder to man the cannons that were pointed at the village. Those who came carried either the muskets of El Filibustero’s crew or the clubs, maces, and axes of Paapiti. Pachacamac stood as they rowed, resplendent in his rainbow-fringed tunic, scarlet robe, and gold armbands. The sky had even cleared as if to herald his coming, and as the sun dipped behind the far side of the island those clouds that still lingered in the east were lit in spectacular hues of red and gold that seemed to match the god himself.

Crazy Snake came ashore with the second boat and studied the crowd. Like the Kunas he had met on Paapiti these were short, and he was surprised to see among them several men and women as pale as Inakakinya, with the same blondish-red hair. An old man stepped forward from the crowd and came down the beach to greet them. He wore a necklace of seashells and shark teeth and colorful, beaded arm bands not unlike the women’s. His face was grave. Crazy Snake took him to be their chief or holy man.

Pachacamac’s priest stepped forward as well, though he looked past the old man. “Greetings, people of Kuna Yala! Do you know who it is who stands before you now?”

“We know,” said the old man.

“Oh? And how is that?”

“The Great Mother and Father warned us of your coming.”

The priest frowned, while the men behind him shifted restlessly.

“Your Great Mother and Father are false gods. There is only one true god and he stands before you now. Will you kneel before him or have your people suffer for your defiance?”

“They have already suffered.” The old man pointed at Machigwa, who had been brought ashore under guard with the others, and then he pointed at the ship, where Balikwa’s body still hung from the yardarm. “We have no quarrel with strangers, except those who capture and kill our loved ones.”

“It is not your place to question the will of Pachacamac, infidel!”

Two men seized the old man, while those with muskets raised them toward the crowd. The other Kunas began to back away, but not in panic.

“People of Kuna Yala, we offer you one more chance. Swear allegiance to your new god, Pachacamac–Son of Inti, Wielder of the Golden Staff!–or fall before his wrath. Which will it be?”

In response there was a cry from the trees on the north side of the beach. Machigwa and the old man ducked, and a hail of flaming arrows suddenly sailed in a low arc from the darkness of the forest and tore into the ranks of Pachacamac’s followers. Men went down screaming while others scattered, and the crowd that had been gathered a moment before disappeared into the village with shouts and cries of defiance, a score of men covering their retreat behind canoes turned into hasty barricades.

“Fools!” Pachacamac thundered. “You dare resist me?” As if on cue, a cannon boomed from aboard El Filibustero and there was an explosion of dirt and wood from the center of the village, followed by screams. “And for what? These puny islands? Your pathetic hovels and your stinking fish?”

While he spoke, those with muskets had formed into a loose line and, on command from one of their number, fired a deafening volley into the trees. While they reloaded, another hail of arrows was loosed from the darkness, and a line of Kunas came charging out, dropping bows and brandishing knives and spears as they ran.

Behind them came a horse, brown with white spots, and astride it was Inakakinya. She notched another arrow, aimed, and let it fly, taking one of Pachacamac’s followers square in the chest.

Until then Crazy Snake had clustered among those forming a protective ring around Pachacamac and his priest. The cannon aboard the ship fired again, and again there was an explosion of debris from within the village. But the sight of Aahtaqui held the horseman fast, oblivious to the rest of the battle. The part of his true personality that still remained rejoiced at the horse’s appearance, but it was weaker now, like a distant memory. Why should he care about such a creature at all when Pachacamac was all that mattered?

Inakakinya spurred Aahtaqui forward, joining the charging Kunas now among Pachacamac’s men, slashing and jabbing those who had not already fallen beneath the arrows.

“Go!” Pachacamac commanded, and the followers protecting him moved to the relief of the others, while Pachacamac and his priest remained behind. He raised his staff and began to chant, and as he did the earth began to shake.

All fighting ceased as friend and foe alike stumbled and swayed or lost their balance and fell. As before on Paapiti, fissures snaked across the earth, but this time they radiated from six different points across the beach. One by one shapes arose from each point–crude sand caricatures of the stone men that had perished with Paapiti.

“Destroy everyone who resists me!” Pachacamac cried. “Everyone!”

Three of the sand men strode toward the village, smashing canoe barricades in their paths and sending Kunas fleeing before them. Three others turned on the bowmen who had charged from the forest, clubbing aside those too slow to move out of their paths. Inakakinya, who had barely hung on to Aahtaqui while the earth convulsed, spurred him around the nearest sand man, straight toward Pachacamac.

Without thinking Crazy Snake rushed to protect his god, but before he could reach him a seventh sand man erupted from the beach in front of the horse. Aahtaqui reared back on his hind legs, throwing Inakakinya to the ground, while the sand man wrapped his thick arms around the horse and pulled tight. There was a sickening snap, and he threw the horse to the ground.

Something snapped in Crazy Snake as well.

It began with a roar that welled up from the deepest recesses of his mind and spilled out into the night as he charged. Pachacamac and the priest turned in time to see the horseman barrel into the god with his shield, knocking him to the ground and sending his golden staff flying.

All at once the sand men collapsed where they had stood.

Pachacamac did not even have time to shout. Crazy Snake rose to his knees and brought the tomahawk down fast, striking a ferocious blow to the god’s chest and then another. Before the third could fall the priest grabbed him from behind, but he was no match against the Comanche’s raw strength. Crazy Snake threw him aside as easily as the sand man had thrown Aahtaqui. He turned back toward Pachacamac, but the god was already climbing to his knees and toward the staff.

There was another boom of cannon, but of a different pitch than before, followed by a terrible crash and rending of wood from El Filibustero. The skeleton crew left aboard the ship began to shout and run about in confusion. Beyond them in the harbor was the silhouette of a smaller vessel, a sudden lick of flame from its bow and another boom and splinter of wood as a cannonball tore into the larger ship.

The priest turned toward the sound while Pachacamac reached out a hand to seize the staff, but Inakakinya got there first. She grabbed it and hurled it away, toward the village, from which men, women, and children were pouring forth. Emboldened by the collapse of the sand men and the sudden appearance of the smaller ship, they trampled over the staff as they surged toward the remaining intruders, carrying every makeshift weapon they could find. The priest was the first swallowed by the mob, his cry of alarm swiftly silenced by the hard blow of a paddle.

But Crazy Snake was aware of none of this. Again he fell upon Pachacamac, who threw up his arms to block the vicious blows of the tomahawk, but it was not enough. The horseman struck again and again, slicing skin and bone, the roar of man and god alike drowning out even the thunder of cannons from the harbor. At last Crazy Snake proved too fast, landing a swift blow to his quarry’s skull.

Pachacamac slumped back, dazed. “No… I am… a god.”

“You are nothing.” Crazy Snake spat. He grabbed the rawhide thong that held the chakana, pulled it over Pachacamac’s head, and tucked it into the medicine pouch around his own neck. When he looked up, he saw Inakakinya watching him.

“Aahtaqui?”

She turned away, tears in her eyes.

Crazy Snake could see the horse from where they stood, his head rising and falling as he tried to stand, though the rest of his body would not respond. Pachacamac, too, was trying to stand, some of the lesser wounds to his arms and chest already healing. Crazy Snake looked from one to the other and then suddenly seized the god by his shoulders and dragged him across the beach, toward the horse.

One of the few faithful who had not already been subdued or slain slipped between his Kuna attackers and charged Crazy Snake, screaming in outrage at the sight of his fallen god, but Inakakinya threw herself into the man’s path and sunk the blade of her long knife into his chest. He dropped to his knees, eyes wide in horror and muttering “Sacrilege…” before he slumped to the ground. Inakakinya pulled the knife out.

The horseman kept dragging Pachacamac until he was at Aahtaqui’s side. The horse nickered and swished his tail when he saw Crazy Snake, and again he tried to stand, but the horseman stopped him.

“Ssshh. I am here.” He stroked Aahtaqui’s mane with one hand while pulling Pachacamac closer with the other. He grabbed the god’s blood-streaked face and wrenched it toward the horse. “Heal him.”

Pachacamac laughed, weakly, and coughed up blood as he did.

“Why?”

“Because I will kill you if you do not.”

“You… cannot… I am… immortal.”

Crazy Snake punched his face, grabbed one of Pachacamac’s hands, and forced it onto Aahtaqui’s side.

“Heal him!”

Again the god laughed, and again Crazy Snake struck him.

“Heal him!”

“He will not help you! Kill him!” Inakakinya handed Crazy Snake her long knife.

The horseman took it and looked again at Aahtaqui. The horse’s eyes were beginning to lose focus and his tail had stopped swishing.

With a snarl Crazy Snake plunged the knife into Pachacamac’s chest and began to cut, first one way and then another. The god jerked and twitched but was too weak to do more than feebly claw at the horseman’s arms. At last Crazy Snake had cut all that he needed and threw aside a bloody mass of ribs and flesh, exposing the beating heart beneath.

Pachacamac opened his mouth, but no words came out.

Crazy Snake wrenched the heart out and held it over Pachacamac’s face, dripping blood.

“Tribute,” he said with a sneer.

His other hand he laid on Aahtaqui’s chest and began to chant, softly at first. As Aahtaqui’s eyes began to flutter shut and his heart’s beating slowed, Crazy Snake’s voice grew louder, and though he did not realize it the words began to change until he was no longer speaking the tongue of The People, or any other he had ever learned. At that moment, as clearly as if it had just happened, he could see his mother’s face from that long ago day in the tipi, when she was setting his leg and smiling with pride.

At last Pachacamac’s heart ceased beating and Crazy Snake cast it aside. Inakakinya pulled a still-burning arrow from the sand and skewered the heart with it while Crazy Snake laid both hands on Aahtaqui now and gently shook the horse.

“Come back to me, my friend. Come back.”

The horse did not move.

“Come back, Aahtaqui.”

Still he did not move.

“Come back.”

And then Aahtaqui’s heart, too, ceased to beat.

A tear streamed down the side of Crazy Snake’s face, the first he could remember having ever shed. Death was a way of life for The People and grief a luxury they rarely indulged, even for their own. Inakakinya knew no such taboo and knelt beside him with tears of her own, though they were both otherwise silent. Behind them, the Kunas were cheering. Crazy Snake and Inakakinya turned and saw that every one of Pachacamac’s men had been killed or captured, and a ship the horseman recognized even in the twilight as La Libertad was grappled to El Filibustero, the brief combat there already over. The flag of William Walker was being lowered, as was Balikwa’s body.

Crazy Snake took a deep breath, raised his face to the night sky, and let out the longest and loudest ululating Comanche war cry that ever escaped his lips, a wail of victory and of grief, to send his horse’s spirit into the afterlife in a manner befitting such a magnificent and loyal creature.

And beneath his hand, Aahtaqui stirred.

 

XIII

“What in God’s name happened here, my friend?”

God. Crazy Snake shook his head. Gods were the last thing he wanted to think about now. No wonder The People had none.

Chamorro had told him of how La Libertad eluded El Filibustero, circled back the next day, and found nothing where the mists had been but flotsam. Running before the storm, they had caught glimpses of El Filibustero in the distance and decided to follow. Once they saw it enter the harbor they sailed wide of the island and came back at dusk, hoping to catch it by surprise, only to find a small battle already in progress.

In turn, Crazy Snake told Chamorro only what he needed to hear. There was no island in the mists, as Crazy Snake had believed. He and Aahtaqui had found only the flotsam, enough to keep them both afloat. Thus had the crew of El Filibustero found them, as well as a smaller boat full of strangely clad men, the members of a “crazy cult” from some distant island. The cultists had overpowered the ship’s crew and piloted it to this island, where their belligerence toward the locals had precipitated a fight.

There were many things about the story that made no sense to Chamorro, but there was no one to contradict Crazy Snake’s account. The survivors of the cult and El Filibustero’s crew–including Kantule, Oliwitinappi, and Mantiwekinya–had all been in a dazed and unresponsive stupor since the battle’s end–a consequence the horseman surmised, truthfully, of the cult leader’s death, so strong was his influence over them.

Chamorro shook his head in wonder. “It is a strange tale indeed, but my heart is glad that we defeated these jackals and that you survived–though I still have no idea how they managed to pull your horse from the ocean. Or how we will get him back on my ship, without a proper dock.”

Crazy Snake turned. Aahtaqui was standing on the center of the beach, chewing grasses that had been brought and laid in great heaps before him. Dozens of Kunas surrounded him, Machigwa and Inakakinya included, taking turns stroking his flanks in obvious reverence. This too puzzled Chamorro, and he did not seem entirely convinced by Crazy Snake’s explanation that they had never seen such a horse before–though this, too, was the truth.

He did not tell Chamorro what Inakakinya had told Crazy Snake, of her encounter with the Water Woman and Aahtaqui’s subsequent ride across the sea. Even after all that he had experienced since leaving Comancheria and plunging into the unknown, this had strained the horseman’s beliefs. But he had no reason to doubt Inakakinya. She had earned his absolute trust.

Nor did he tell Chamorro what the Kunas were calling Aahtaqui in their native tongue. He himself could not pronounce it, so Inakakinya had translated it into Spanish for him: The Horse Who Rode Upon the Sea and Cheated Death.

Crazy Snake smiled.

“Aahtaqui will not be coming with us. He has a new home now.”

This surprised Chamorro almost as much as finding his friend on the beach had. “A Comanche without a horse? Who has ever heard of such a thing?”

The horseman shrugged. “I told you before. I am only half Comanche.”

“So you did.”

Crazy Snake watched Inakakinya. She was telling the other Kunas, in animated fashion, what he could only imagine was the tale of Paapiti and her ride across the sea. Her eyes caught his and she paused a moment to smile and raise a hand. Crazy Snake raised his as well. He recalled their desperate fight in the Temple of Pachacamac, back to back, and all the men that had fallen beneath their blades. Hard to believe that such a small, pale figure–and a woman no less–was possessed of such boundless courage and skill.

He thought again of that distant day when he stood atop the cliff at the river’s bend with the world spread out before him and the cries of “Jump! Jump! Jump!” coming from below.

“But if you have room for one more,” he said, summoning his courage and pulling himself away from Chamorro, toward the group of Kunas, “there is someone else who might be joining us.”

 

END

_____________________________________________

Born in Texas, Eric has lived in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio (appropriately near an old Comanche lookout), though he spent most of his youth in Wisconsin.  He and his family now live in Northern Virginia, where he writes speeches for a living and fiction for fun–when not dabbling in photography or “acting” as an extra in historical TV dramas.  Follow him on Twitter at @ENAtkisson.



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