Aapo led the way with his son Yochi and his daughter-in-law Eme. Eme stayed with the old man and helped him over some rough spots in the path. Yochi kept a firm grip on his spear and kept his eyes open. Lockhart looked around as well, wondering if there might be jaguars, puma, or other dangerous or wild animals in the area, but eventually Lockhart figured Yochi mostly kept an eye on them, like he did not entirely trust them. No doubt Yochi questioned their being messengers of the gods and wondered if Lockhart was actually Gukumatz. He did keep his distance from Decker, probably to be safe in case Decker turned out to be the god of darkness.
The path narrowed in spots, but nothing that ghost and the wagon could not handle. Tony got down and led the mule from the front, and Ghost responded well to the gentle hand. The path also got steep in a couple of places and Decker had to get out his rope. He tied one end to a corner of the wagon and the other end to his saddle so Ghost and Decker’s horse could pull the wagon up the steep places together.
The sun felt hot that day, but the travelers imagined it was better than a rainstorm. Mud would have made the journey unnecessarily hard. Eventually, they came to the top of the mountain and a place the wagon could not cross. The path became a narrow ledge, barely as wide as the wagon. A rocky hill went up one side and a thirty or forty-foot cliff fell off on the other. The travelers had to stop and think, so Aapo, Yochi, and Eme stopped to watch. Yochi smiled a little wondering what these so-called messengers of the gods would do with their so-called wagon. Yochi nearly choked when Elder Stow volunteered to fly over to the other side to see how far the ledge went.
“I better go with him,” Sukki said. She knew her adopted father tended to focus on one thing at a time. He might fly right into trouble and never see it until it was too late. So, the two of them flew around the bend in the path while the rest of the travelers got out their blankets to cover their horse’s eyes.
“Better for the horses not to see the cliff and get nervous,” Katie explained to Aapo, even as Elder Stow and Sukki returned.
“About a hundred of your meters or yards and it turns into a meadow,” Elder Stow reported. “The path looks improved and begins to go downhill.”
“Yes,” Aapo agreed. “Downhill to the city and the road.”
“It’s all downhill from here,” Boston said, and giggled.
Elder Stow took a few minutes tuning his discs and handing two to half of the travelers. “We will have to go in two shifts,” he said. “One disc for the horse and one for the person. You won’t be able to fly, but if you slip off the ledge, you should float long enough to be pulled back to the path.”
“Wait,” Alexis interrupted and took the disc back from Boston. “She is an elf. She can dance safely on the head of a pin” Alexis explained. “You are just tempting her to deliberately step off the ledge just to see what floating feels like.”
Boston gave the disc back without arguing, but grinned a true elf grin, almost too big for her face, and nodded vigorously, while Decker explained quietly to Nanette. “She might have done that if she was still human. Becoming an elf did not change her much as far as I can tell.”
“Hard to believe,” Nanette said with a shake of her head, but she sounded like she believed it.
Sukki grinned with Boston as she helped Elder Stow attach two discs to the wagon, front and back. Then she and Elder Stow lifted the wagon right off the ground and flew it to the meadow on the other side. Lockhart, Katie, Lincoln, Alexis and eventually Sukki led their horses while Tony led Ghost across the ledge. Lincoln was the only one who said anything.
“I wouldn’t mind a blanket over my eyes.” He tried hard not to look down.
Yochi and Eme held two ends of Yochi’s spear so the old man would be trapped on the inside of the ledge while they walked. When they reached the other side, Sukki flew back with the discs so Decker, Nanette, and Boston could cross. Sukki brought Tony’s horse.
Once safely on the other side, they began the decent to the city. This time, Decker had to use his rope and horse to slow the wagon on the steep parts.
“Don’t worry,” Katie explained. From Kaminaljuyu north, the road will likely follow the rivers right out of the highlands. Most of the Mayan homeland in the north is on the relative flatlands of the Yucatan.”
“Good thing,” Lockhart responded. “Obviously these people did not build their roads with wheeled vehicles in mind.”
“No horses or oxen to speak of,” Katie answered. “They invented the wheel, but without big domestic animals to carry the load, they never bothered with things like wagons.”
On the way down, the sky clouded over, and it started to drizzle. Fortunately, they got to the valley area before the ground got too slippery with mud. As they approached the city, they saw the path, now nearly a road, along a causeway that had been built up like a man-made ridge, three to five feet above the rest of the ground. Most of that ground outside the road looked like swamp or marsh.
“Like a moat,” Katie suggested. “Any enemy army would pretty much have to stick to the road to prevent snake-bite and who knows what.”
Lockhart nodded, but he had a question and turned to look back. “Lincoln. When was the last time we were in this place?”
“I remember Otapec and Maya, and their children,” Katie said, while Lincoln got out the database to look it up.
“Ixchel,” Katie reminded him. We met her all grown up, not that long ago.” She also looked at Lincoln.
“About a year and a half ago, travel time. That was twenty-eight time zones back. About fifteen hundred years, normal time,” Lincoln said, without ever lifting his eyes from the database. “Ozma—Ozmatlan. La Venta Island when the Olmec civilization fell apart due to Monkey Brain Fever.” Lincoln paused to shiver at the memory.
“About fifteen hundred years ago?” Lockhart asked.
“Yes,” Lincoln confirmed. “We left the time zone about where Yamaya is located in this zone, between Tikal and Calakmul if Boston is right and if I am reading my maps correctly.”
“Between Tikal and Calakmul, you mean between Athens and Sparta like in a war zone?”
Lincoln shook his head. He read some, and everyone stayed quiet to listen. “Tikal got beaten down about sixty years before Yamaya was born. They pull it together enough just before Yamaya became queen of Calakmul to build a new trade city in the north, but that goes sour. Tikal doesn’t really get it back together until about forty years after Yamaya dies.”
“Passes on to her next life,” Boston interrupted. Lincoln nodded.
“So, maybe the war isn’t going on at the moment,” Lockhart concluded.
“I would guess,” Lincoln agreed. “But the database reports that Ch’en II, the Calakmul ruler after Yamaya’s husband dies is a warlord who always appears to be fighting someone, and he rules for about fifty years.”
“Enough,” Katie said. “We have unauthorized ears listening.” She nodded at Yochi, whose eyes looked really big, and Eme, who seemed to have a hard time blinking. Aapo, walking between the two, kept smiling and looked like he might start whistling any moment.
People quieted just in time for some forty warriors to rise up out of the muck on either side of the causeway. A dozen more came from the trees to block the path to the city. One stepped forward.
“Aapo,” the warrior said, apparently knowing the old man. “I see no baskets of grain for the Holy Lords of the city. What do you bring as an offering?”
Aapo smiled. “I bring messengers of the gods,” he said. “Gukumatz and his consort, the yellow haired daughter of the sun. I’ic’ ajaw, who you can plainly see, and his woman. The girl who carries fire on her head, and the animals that serve them. Does the king of Kaminaljuyu not wish to see them?”
“And these others?”
“I have feared to ask their names,” Aapo admitted. “But they claim they have come to see the Serpent Queen. I thought it right to bring them here first.”
“I saw the old man and his daughter fly through the air like the serpent itself,” Yochi shouted and Eme nodded.
“And these animals?”
Katie spoke up. “They serve us and are filled with poison lest you be tempted to try and eat them.”
“And this box. How does it move?”
“Magic,” Boston lied like an elf and let the fire come up into her hand. She tossed the fireball into the swamp where it sizzled and steamed, and the men in the swamp all took a step back.
“Only right,” Alexis agreed. “The Kairos has mentioned that often enough.”
“Yeah,” Lincoln agreed. “When he has not been telling us to keep away from kings and things.”
The poor man looked stymied, before he sighed and waved for his soldiers to lower their weapons. “At least you are not warriors from Caracol.”
“You were expecting soldiers from Caracol?” Katie asked.
The man nodded. “They defeated Naranjo this last year, and the king fears they may seek to extend their territory.”
“Good thing to keep watch,” Decker said. The soldier looked at him like he was surprised the Lord of Darkness would speak.
As the travelers walked slowly down the central avenue of Kaminaljuyu, Tony suggested that the city had seen better days.
“Adobe bricks.” Katie pointed to a couple of structures that appeared to be crumbling. The people did not seem to be concerned about fixing the structures. “Further north, in the Mayan lowlands, the structures and pyramids are made mostly of limestone blocks, if I recall.”
“They must not have many Shemsu around to cut and lift the blocks, and keep things repaired,” Lincoln spoke up from behind.
Aapo led the procession like a conquering hero, though Yochi and Eme looked wary. As soon as they reached the outskirts, the head warrior, Cadmael, sent runners ahead with the news. He had his men line up on both sides of the travelers as soon as there was room. Lincoln thought it made them look like prisoners. Nanette, in the back with Tony, Elder Stow and Decker, called it an honor guard. Alexis, in the middle, countered the two of them by saying that might be the same thing. In fact, they discovered when they reached the broad central avenue, that the main function of the soldiers was to keep back the crowd. People gathered to see, maybe a thousand on each side of the avenue.
Boston and Sukki walked up front, just behind Aapo and his family. She turned to Sukki and grinned. “And you’ll find all sort of toys at Macy’s.” She giggled, though of course Sukki had no idea what Boston was talking about.