The Avenue ended in front of an adobe mountain beside what Katie called ball courts.
“Basketball?” Lockhart joked. He knew better.
“Similar,” Katie said. “Except the ring the ball needs to go through is twenty feet up and turned sideways, and no hands or feet allowed.” To Lockhart’s curious look, she added, “Head shoulders, elbows, chest and knees only.”
At the end of the Avenue, roughly thirty men, looking like warriors but mostly older men, stood on a three-foot platform to stand above the crowd, a place where they could talk down to the people. Aapo, Yochi, and Eme bowed deeply. The people crowded around to hear what the rulers might say. The soldiers waited, patiently, and kept the crowd from coming too close. Katie and Lockhart stepped forward, followed by Lincoln and Alexis. The horses, not having any grass to nibble, and wary of the crowd around them, also waited patiently for their riders.
“We are…” Lincoln started to speak but found Alexis’ hand over his mouth. He meant to speak to Lockhart and Katie, but no doubt other ears would hear.
Aapo went into a long and fanciful tale about the travelers appearing out of nowhere, and coming from the west, which seemed important. He told about the horses being poisonous, but how they were good servants to the gods. He named Gukumatz, and the others that he knew. He talked about how they flew over the narrow ledge on the mountain and embellished everything to make the tale almost unrecognizable. He finished. He waited like a man waiting for judgment.
Cadmael stepped up, bowed briefly, and added one word, militarily short and to the point. “I see no trouble from these people.”
Silence followed as Elder Stow shuffled up from behind, his eyes glued to his scanner.
Katie and Lockhart took a step forward, and Katie spoke. “We come in peace and pray that peace may extend to all of your people.”
“My father,” Elder Stow spoke to Lockhart as quietly as he could, but Gott-Druk are not good at whispering. “I am picking up a storm over the water in the northwest.” He stopped talking and stared at the group of elders. Katie sensed what was coming.
One of the elders pushed to the front of the group. He held a spear which he threw at Katie. Katie stepped aside in time, but the spear struck Elder Stow, who fortunately had turned on his personal screen as soon as they got surrounded by the crowd. The spear bounced off and Katie caught it. She growled.
“That was not smart.” Lockhart spoke softly into the hush that followed. Katie snapped the spear in two. She threw the pieces to the ground. Boston pulled her wand and shot a stream of fire which burned the weapon.
The elder who threw the spear screamed something unintelligible and reached for a second spear. Decker fired his rifle. The man spun around, fell to the ground, and died. Two other men in the elders group quickly dropped their own spears.
“That was foolish,” Katie yelled, while Lockhart turned to Elder Stow. Elder Stow pulled himself together enough to finish his thought.
“At its rate of travel, the hurricane should be here by tomorrow afternoon. It will probably be a tropical storm by then, the way you folks judge things, but still destructive.”
Katie kept yelling. “We came in peace. We are not your prisoners. We are not your sacrifices. We are not your enemies, and you do not want to make us your enemies.”
“Cadmael,” Lockhart interrupted and looked at the man. Cadmael had his hands up which somehow indicated to his warriors that they should not interfere. “Is that the way to the main city?” He could not remember the name. He reached for Katie’s hand.
“Tikal,” Lincoln escaped Alexis’ hand and filled in the name.
Cadmael nodded, then shook his head. “It is beyond the temple.” He pointed to the pyramid.
“Take us,” Lockhart said before he turned to the elders.
“You should be kind to the strangers in your midst,” Katie finished yelling. The elders looked unmoved.
Lockhart raised his voice. “A hurricane is coming. You will face the storm after mid-day tomorrow. Consider this your warning.” He waved Cadmael to move on, and the man did not argue, but Alexis spoke up.
“We need grain for the horses.” Alexis reminded them all of what they talked about earlier, and she turned to give Aapo a hug. She hugged Yochi and Eme and thanked them for their help. Boston and Sukki joined in the hugs. Lincoln suggested they go straight home and prepare their families for the coming storm, and they did, appearing anxious to get away from there.
“I would not expect any grain from these people,” Katie said, not quite out of steam.
“I can help with that,” Cadmael said. He bowed to the unmoving and silent elders on the platform and waved to his warriors. The warriors formed up and the crowd parted for them. The travelers soon got behind the pyramid.
“This is the causeway to Tikal,” Cadmael explained. “It is five days journey. There are turns, crossways, places to stop and shelter, and places to avoid. I will go with you.” Before any of the travelers could object, Lincoln interrupted. He had the database and talked with Boston, who checked her amulet.
“Six days if we stop and shelter from the storm,” he said. “Yamaya should be another day beyond Tikal.”
Cadmael sent most of the men home to prepare for the storm. He did not doubt the warning the travelers gave. Some came back temporarily with bags and clay pots full of grain and food for the road. Tony directed them to fill the wagon. The causeway looked like a reasonable road, at least in the city. No telling how bad it might get in the wilderness. One good thing, though, was the land was not solid jungle, like it got in the future. In fact, much of it was cleared for farm fields, so Tony figured if the road got too rough in a country not made for wheels, he might do better driving across the relatively flat farm fields.
Cadmael returned with two men to speak to Lockhart and Katie. He introduced them. “The young one is Xipetec. He is not married and has brothers and sisters to take care of the home. The old man is Kaax”
“Itzenkaax,” the man said. “But they call me Kaax, and I’m not that old.”
Cadmael nodded. “His wife died three years ago from the sickness, and his son left with the others to prepare his family for the storm.”
“The three of you will show us the way to Tikal?” Lockhart asked, wanting to be sure what the arrangement was.
“The magic number,” Kaax said, and pointed up. “Like the three stars that stand side by side in the heavens.”
“Orion’s belt,” Katie said. “I smell some Shemsu in that. Boston,” she called.
“I only smell human beans,” Boston responded, and no one corrected her, though Alexis rolled her eyes and imagined she had been hanging out with too many imps and dwarfs.
“No, actually,” Cadmael shook his head. “These are the only ones courageous enough to travel with you.”
“Good.” Decker butted up to the front. “Three wisemen. Now, can we get moving before those elders think of some way to attack us.”
“Right,” Lockhart heard. Boston and Sukki rode off a short way down the road. The rest walked their horses and followed on foot.
The causeway proved good, about twenty feet wide and relatively flat, though mostly it wound around the hills. “Good to not have to climb over the hills,” Decker remarked.
“But not good winding like a lazy river,” Tony responded. “Give me Roman roads every time. Straight as an arrow.”
“And the Romans built bridges,” Nanette added. They arrived at a riverbank. The river did not appear to be too wide or deep, but it guarded a small city on the other side, one that did not appear too friendly. Thirty men stood on the opposite bank, and they were armed.
Cadmael stepped out front and shouted across the river. One older man shouted back, but eventually the travelers would be allowed to cross. Cadmael turned to explain to Lockhart. Lincoln, Alexis, and Boston all listened in. “They will let you pass, but you must go around and not come into the city. I know a way where you can bring your wagon.”
“We are not that scary,” Lockhart protested.
Cadmael shook his head. “You are strange and different. That is enough for some. And these people are afraid of Caracol. They are not bad people. There is much jade here along the river. They dig what Copan does not take, and they trade well, but now, they are afraid.”
“El Porton,” Lincoln named the place. “That is what it is called on my map.” He showed Alexis.
“My father,” Elder Stow walked up with Katie. “I have set four discs on the wagon, front, back, and both sides. Sukki and I can float it across without getting it wet. Tony will bring the mule. Decker will bring Mudd. Nanette will bring Sukki’s horse, Cocoa.”
“Better let me take Cocoa,” Boston interrupted. “Cocoa and Strawberry go together.”
“But, my father,” Elder Stow continued, and looked up at the drizzling rain that started again an hour ago. Everyone glanced up, following Elder Stow’s lead. “The storm has sped up. It will arrive tonight. I recommend high ground in case the river overflows. We need somewhere the horses can graze. I can set my screens around a large enough area to keep out the worst of it.”
“We need somewhere that won’t become a mud slide,” Katie said
Two hours later, as the sky darkened beneath the clouds, they arrived in a meadow just north and up the hill from El Porton. “I told them the storm is coming,” Cadmael said. “But I cannot say they will listen.”
“The telling is the important thing,” Katie said. “You have no control over what they hear and believe.”
Elder Stow threw the switch and young Xipetec stood and let out a shout. “What happened to the rain?”
“Magic,” Boston blurted out, the second time Boston tried that line. Alexis gave her a hard, motherly stare.
“Come,” Alexis said. “I will show you.” She led the young man to the edge of the meadow and showed him where the screen stopped, and the rain began to pour.
Lincoln turned to the old man, Kaax. “You’re not curious?”
Kaax shook his head. “But I am looking forward to a piece of deer that isn’t drowned.”
Cadmael just laughed.
The storm had plenty of lightning and thunder, but Elder Stow tweaked his screens to shade them from the great flashes of light and deaden the sound of the rumbling thunder. They stayed most of the next day. Finally, Lockhart made them move two hours north where they found a new campsite. He was not about to let them go back to El Porton and see what they could do to help the people and with whatever damage might have occurred. That might have delayed them for a week, but he only told Katie that was what he was doing.
The travelers run into big problems on the way to find Yamaya. A whole army blocks the path, and a dragon intervenes. Until then, Happy Reading