I had expected someone to pull a fast one on us. I had thought they were leading us off to either another dungeon or to an arena for execution. Since no one had tried to take my pistol from me, I couldn’t see any reason for causing trouble now.
With Eric and the woman, I followed the officer as he began to climb the steps that lead up into the white building. There were massive pillars holding up the roof, wide doorways that seemed to contain no doors and huge, open windows without glass in them. The front of the building was covered with carvings and designs including swirls, serpents, and sun bursts.
As we reached the top step, two dozen men poured from the building. They were all dressed in black and carried black shields. They had on black boots and held obsidian spears. They formed two ranks, on either side of the door but didn’t try to keep us from entering.
When the officer led us through the great door and we stood in a marble and stone area that had to be a hundred feet in diameter. A staircase wound around the wall, leading to a second and third level. The walls were decorated with woven rugs showing a wide variety of scenes. The one that struck me was a picture of a large battle. Men such as those I had seen lining the plaza fighting with white bearded men who were dressed like Spanish conquistadors.
A man dressed in the finest white robes I had ever seen appeared on the steps. The robe was trimmed with red and yellow and his arms were wrapped in gold. He came down a few steps and stared at us.
The officer lifted his sword in salute and said something I didn’t understand as he bowed. He backed up and disappeared behind us.
The man on the stairs came down and stopped in front of us. He spoke in the strange language and when neither Eric nor I responded, he switched to Spanish. It had a strange accent, but I could understand what he was saying. He rambled for a few moments, talking about Manco Capac and the ruler of the universe that blazed in the sky above us.
When he wound down, I stared at him and asked him, in Spanish, “Why have we been brought here and treated as enemies?”
He seemed taken aback by the question. He blinked rapidly and then said, “It came to me in a vision. White men would come into our realm, as they have come before. Some would be evil men, interested in killing and enslaving. Others would be friendly but we wouldn’t know which was which.”
“That’s all fine,” I said, “but doesn’t answer my question. Why have we been brought here?”
“You are my guests,” said the man. “Regrettably, I had to test you before I allowed you to enter my home.”
I thought about the dead men scattered in the plaza and the prison and wondered about a ruler who allowed his subjects to die in the tests of stranger’s motivations.
He bowed and said, “I am Pachacuti, Ruler of all that you see. Ruler of the world.”
“I am Stone,” I said. “And my friend is Jansen. We are explorers and scientists.”
“Ah, men of learning. Good. We will have much to talk about,” said Pachacuti. “But surely you are tired after your journey.” He clapped his hands once and a tall, slender woman with blond hair appeared. She wore a very short, white skirt, sandals and nothing more.
I looked at Pachacuti and then her. She was on her knees, her head pressed to the marble floor. In Spanish, I asked him about her.
“You may keep her as my gift,” said Pachacuti. “Come. I will show you to your quarters where you may bathe and eat and then rest.”
My head was beginning to spin with the sudden turn of events. One moment we were fighting for our lives in the plaza and the very next we were being offered the finest quarters, food and companionship available.
Pachacuti spun and climbed the steps. We followed. I paused at the top and saw the black garbed guards enter the palace. They halted then and waited. I was sure that Pachacuti was always within easy reach of his guards. He seemed to be taking the big risk by keeping them almost out of our sight, but maybe he was just attempting to gain our trust.
Pachacuti lead us across the floor, to a large, dark wood door. He pushed it open and waved at the giant room. The floor was marble and on the opposite side was a massive balcony that looked out on the plaza. There was little furniture in the room. A couple of chairs, a single table covered with golden trinkets including a decanter and four large goblets, and dozens of pillows spread across the floor. At the far end, in the darkest corner, near a heavy curtain that could be drawn by ropes to the side, were two beds.
“Please, make yourselves comfortable. If you desire anything, please inform Christine. If she fails to supply it, her head is forfeit.”
“Well,” said Eric, spinning slowly so that he could take in the whole of the scene around us. He stopped, facing Christine and said, “You are not of these people.”
She didn’t respond. Her eyes were downcast, staring at the floor.
Without looking up at me, she said, “I am Christine. I am here to serve.”
“Yes,” I said. “But you are not from here. You were born elsewhere.”
“I was born in Neuve Macchu Picuhu.”
“Never heard of it,” I said.
Eric moved to the table and was looking at the treasure spread across it. “If I didn’t know better, I would say the old boy is trying to bribe us with beads and bobbles just as the English tried to buy the Indians.”
I glanced at him and turned my attention back to Christine. “But you are not one of these people.”
“No,” she agreed. “I am not one of the chosen.”
I was fascinated by Christine. She was so out of place here. She looked like she belonged to a Viking village, not among the shorter, squatter people here. I had seen no one, other than her, who was fair and blond.
I realized that I was ignoring the other woman. She was crouched on the floor near the door, her eyes on our feet. I said to her, “Who are you?”
“I am Huana,” she responded. “I am chosen for the capacocha. You have won me for your time here.”
“What’s the capacocha?”
“A sacrifice. I was due for the capachocha this morning, as were you, but your escape has won all of us a reprieve.”
Eric, holding a goblet in one hand and a large pear-like fruit in the other came toward us. He said, “I don’t like the sound of that. A reprieve.”
To Christine and Huana, I said, “You may feed yourselves. Please go to the table.”
As the two women stood and moved away, Eric said, “Which one do you fancy?”
I stared at him for a moment and then walked across the floor until I had reached the balcony. I walked out into the hot sunshine, or what would pass for sunshine on the surface. I leaned my hands on the sun warm railing and looked down, into the now vacant plaza. All this, everything about it was vaguely familiar. It stirred memories of my schooling but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The clues were all there, I was sure, if I could just take the time to figure it out. The natural assumption was that we had somehow found a lost tribe of Aztecs, but that wasn’t quite right either.
Eric joined me on the balcony. “Was it something that I said?”
“No, not at all.”
“Then, if you don’t mind, I’d like to have the small, dark one.”
“Eric, these people are people, not pets. You can’t just have one like you would a dog.”
“Why not?” he asked, unreasonably.
“We just fought a war so that people wouldn’t own people and you come up with that.”
“Our war was fought to end all wars,” he said. “We didn’t fight the Civil War.”
“The principle is the same,” I said.
“All right,” he said, but I didn’t think that he agreed with me. “So, what’s our next move?”
I turned and looked at him. “You’re the leader of this expedition. What do you think?”
“I think that I know everything that I wanted to know. I have learned that my father was right. I think it’s time that we get the hell out of here.”
“I do too, but I don’t think they’re going to let us just walk out.”
Eric grinned. “Then we wait for dark and slip into the jungle.”
“And we’re going to need someone to help us through the jungle. We don’t have any idea of which way to go to reach tghe river.”
I leaned forward and looked down. Directly under us was a garden of some kind. There were several men tending the plants, cutting the leaves and trimming them. Flowers in wild colors bloomed everywhere.
“Before that,” he said, “I think we ought to eat and sleep. There’s not much we can do now.”
When he spoke of sleep, I realized just how tired I was. The little sleep I had gotten on the beach had not been all that restful. And neither of us had eaten in a long time. I turned and entered the palace again. The women were sitting on the floor, a large, golden platter of food between them.
I walked to the table and picked up one of the pear-like things. I bit into it. Juice dribbled down my chin. I found the flavor sweet. I ate it and then poured a goblet of the liquid that had been supplied. It was some kind of dry wine with an unusual aftertaste. I wondered if we had been poisoned, and then wondered why they would have gone to that much trouble. They could have killed us easily a dozen times before showing us to the rooms and they hadn’t done it.
I plucked another of the green pears from the table, poured another goblet of the wine and glanced at Christine. Although I felt tired, there were a dozen, a hundred questions that I wanted to ask her. I moved toward the beds and told her to follow.
When I laid down, she crawled onto the bed to lie right beside me.
“No,” I told her. “You sit there. Over there. I want to talk to you.”
She looked hurt, unhappy, but didn’t say anything. She did as I told her. When we were comfortable, I asked her to tell me about herself.
She had been born far from here, to a mother and father who were like everyone else in their village. Tall, thin, blond. She had thought nothing of it. Then, one day, the shorter, darker people entered the village and took away a number of the children. Both boys and girls. None of the parents protested. They were marched through the jungle until they arrived here. They were given rooms inside the pyramid and began instruction in the languages, history of these people and were told what their ultimate duties would be.
I listened to her, fascinated by the story. I liked the sound of her voice. But I was suddenly so tired that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. There was a disturbance at the far end of the room. A clatter of a goblet to the hard marble floor and then a cry of despair. A feminine cry.
I thought about sitting up to discover what had happened, but found that I didn’t have the energy to do it. The curiosity burned and I pondered the question with half my mind, but it seemed to be too much of an effort. Besides, Christine seemed to be unconcerned about the noise because she continued to talk. And then I could no longer hear her voice either. I slipped down, into the blackness of sleep, unaware fo everything that was happening around me.