CHAPTER ONE then
The Chanka Scout
Hunchback Hill, Kingdom of Qosqo
15th Century CE
Ramram smelled something, something animal, but didn't think much of it. The trail was steep and rough, and he hoped it was almost at its end. He sensed something up there, some strong Kamay, living spirit.
The Rumipuqyu, Stone Spring Village, volunteers, seven boys and men, climbed the faint trail over a rocky spine and continued up a steep hump of hill, passing down one arroyo and climbing again, edged anticipation beating in their hearts. None of them were warriors but they were going to war. Chonta, Ramram’s dad, pointed out ghosts of smoke over a crest ahead, that might be the Inka army. Or the Chanka enemy. Or charcoal burners. They must be almost there.
They had come at the call of Prince Kusi Inka Yupanqui, the outcast son of the Sapa Inka Viracocha, King of the Inka people. Unique Ruler Viracocha had abandoned Qosqo, the sacred city, and run with his court, army, the mummies of his ancestors, and his people, to his eyrie high in the hills over the Valley of Yucay. He hoped that the invading Chanka would not bother to follow him there. The prince had not run. He had sent an officer to Rumipuqyu. He made this offer:
"The Sapa Inka commands you to follow his Royal Person to safety. This is your duty to your Lord. Do it.
"Prince Kusi Inka Yupanqui offers you death by the spears of the Chanka warriors, who have never known defeat. Those who choose to die Inka, be in Qosqo in ten days. Weapons for fifty are stored in the town qolqas for your use."
Strangely, seven had taken up weapons and set out for Qosqo. Who knew why. Ramram had because he was pretty sure the warrior Chankas would have no use for a sixteen year old boy who wandered the hills looking for stones with souls.
Ramram was a lean boy, hard-stomached, strong-thighed from ranging the mountains. Unafraid of heights, blade-nosed, with thick, glossy black hair, large deep eyes and sharp-carved lips. He laughed easily, loved the feel of the ground under his feet, the way it pulled him to it. His neighbors and kin looked at him sidelong because of his strange power and compulsion; he would not inherit his father’s work; but they valued what he brought to them, and he held them close in return. Now they were gone for safety, except for these few on this trail.
Ramram saw that they were scared. They trod dry-mouthed, shifty-eyed, light-footed, shallow-breathed, twitching, yawning, licking their lips, with pinpoint pupils, their sweat stinking of fear. They pissed too often and farted too much. They walked weak-kneed in a fog of dread, afraid to die.
Ramram wasn’t afraid to die, most of the time; he had always known that Pachamama, Mother Earth and Time, moved through everything coming, here, and gone. That was nature. He was afraid to kill. Afraid that in doing that he would lose Pachamama’s hand on his head and heart, lose his ability to sense Kamay in waka; stones, river eddies, twisted trees, caves, wherever spirit lived. To lose the gift of his communion with Eff Ram, his visitor from another time and place, one that had not happened yet, to see through each other’s eyes and limbs and minds and hearts into their different pachas, their times and places.
So they walked in fear. But on they shuffled, hoping to find an army organized and confident, knowing better.
“What do you think your sexy new wife is doing right now?” Achuqalla laughed. Uchuchukuy laughed with him, unworried, as the path threaded into some low thorn bushes by a short cliff, where a bladed club took off the top of the newlywed's head, disintegrating it in a red spray from east to west. Achuqalla, smile melting, staggered backward into Chonta, whose macana mace had reflexively lifted, so both stumbled backward another step, clearing the way in front of Ramram, who froze, gawking at his first Chanka warrior. Whose scent was animal strong.
The Chanka scout was sharply defined, vibrating with energy. He was small, thin, many stiff braids exploding from beneath his black-and-yellow feathered helmet, eyes hot and quick. In a blur, his spear sped underhand from behind his wide round shield, sending the bronze point unerringly into Achuqalla's throat. The words "I'm dead," spoke distinctly in Ramram's mind as his eyes shot to his father and Chukuri teetering on the steep edge. He threw himself at their tangled bodies, propelling all three of them into space.
The Chanka spun, quick as a cat, following the impetus of his heavy club, coming back to a solid fighting stance on the lip of the drop. He looked down at Ramram. "Kunan wañuki, maqta," he growled in accented Quechua, "now you die, boy," and he leapt.
Ramram scrambled backward, feeling rough rock slam into his spine, asking himself in a honeyed suspension of time if he was hurt and if he could still move. He saw the Chanka's club rise in the sky above.
In that timeless instant a rich, surging energy sucked into his nerves, emanating from the rock at his back. The five-bladed weapon above slowed, and the grimacing grin of the Chanka writhed like a snail on salt, while he himself moved in accelerated time, rolling onto his chest and over the crest of the stone upon which he had landed. He could see it clearly now, the stone, long, knobbled, plated with textured medallions and crusts of lichen, orange, black, pale green. It seemed a living thing, a breathing reptile, a dark spot above its nose like an eye.
He got his feet under him as the murdering enemy stepped forward, the club descending a blink too late, missing Ramram, swinging away to subvert his balance, making him stagger a step.
Ramram heard his father and the potato farmer recovering themselves, risked a quick glance to see one-eyed Waywash coming up behind. "Run," yelled the old farmer, grabbing Chonta and Chukuri by their unku tunics, turning them around, "up the hill! Run!"
Ramram turned, strangely at ease, to see the Chanka soldier reset his feet, teeth clenched, puzzled by his own weakness. He wrenched the jagged-edged javelin from Achuqalla's corpse, and thrust it at Ramram.
Ramram had never been in a violent argument, much less a physical fight. He was not that kind of boy or man. But then, what was he here for? Crackling energy made his club light as a wand, his hands fast, he felt all-powerful. The spear jabbed at his face, he deflected it with his shield, bringing his stone club down hard on the man's temple below the helmet.
For an instant Ramram was sure it would glance harmlessly off, only making the deadly warrior madder. But the skull imploded, an eye popping out of the shattered socket, the face collapsing. Ramram’s heart filled with a shy hope. His cudgel swung across his shoulder. He brought it back through, taking the Chanka in the cheekbone, tearing his jaw loose, filling the crisp mountain air with teeth and red spray. The Chanka flopped onto the rock, bounced off, and died.