Raana used to dream of becoming a warrior for the High Priest, but his brother objected and pressured the recruiter in the village to reject him. Raana hated his brother for that, and hated him even more when he spoke in opposition to the warriors after they demanded more tribute in corn and dried meat and victims for human sacrifice.
So when Ihu and his two dozen warriors murdered his brother in the courtyard, Raana felt relief. He worked less and told the other stonemasons what to do more. Life got better.
But then these thirteen strangers appeared, orphans, they said, who had been with the old traveling salesman, The Pochteca. Raana remembered him well. A trader of turquoise and cotton and little copper bells made far to the south. Now came this new man, smooth of face with a distant air about him, and dressed like The Pochteca but not acting like him. He showed no interest in trade. He seemed only to want to kill warriors. Raana didn’t like him.
“Will you join me?” The Pochteca imposter who introduced himself as Tuwa asked.
“It’s pretty risky,” said Raana, thinking he should kill the orphans. But the warriors needed to feel threatened to even notice Tuwa and his group. They weren’t yet worth a reward.
Tuwa waved his hand at the other men in the village, “If they tasted victory against the warriors, do you think they would rise up?”
Raana shook his head no, but said, “Maybe. The villagers are farmers and stonemasons and hunters, not fighters.”
Tuwa gave the villagers their taste two days later. His Pochtecans captured and strung Ihu up on a buffalo-hide stretcher and with hundreds of men from nearby villages and the Maasaw Warriors watching, Tuwa cut his heart out with a short stone knife like the priests of the canyon used and threw the heart into the fire without taking a bite. Raana wondered what kind of man would do such a thing without fear of Maasaw, the god of the warriors. It puzzled him.
Tuwa e challenged the village leaders to fight the warriors, then he and his band of orphans withdrew to the side of a hill to watch. Many village men wanted to fight and Raana didn’t know what to do, so he sent his nephew Tootsa to the warriors for instructions.
“What did you find out?” Raana asked the boy when he returned.
“The warriors smell bad,” Tootsa said. Raana slapped him hard, knocking him to the ground. Then he grabbed the boy’s shoulders.
“You have too much of your father in you. I’m glad Ihu killed him. Now tell me what they said.”
Tootsa blinked. A trickle of blood ran from his nose. “They said to get the men to attack. They said they’d teach them a lesson.”
Raana threw the boy to the ground and started to kick him, but a woman carrying a water jar walked by and he helped the boy stand and told him to keep out of the way.
Then Raana went to Tuwa and offered his help. He argued to the council that two hundred village fighters could easily take two dozen warriors, and during the battle he shouted encouragement to the villagers.
But to his dismay, even though the warriors put up a great fight and two-thirds of the villagers lay dead and dying, not a single warrior survived.
This made Raana distraught, and his mood matched that of the villagers. He blamed Tuwa and his band of orphans for the tragedy, and vowed that when the opportunity came, he would kill them.
The next morning, Raana learned that Tuwa and his band had departed in the night after gathering the headdresses and clothing from thirteen of the slain warriors. Raana didn’t even try to contain his anger. He attracted a crowd by preaching that the Pochtecans were evil and must be shunned and killed. People nodded.
Raana overheard men say he should be the new village chief, which filled his mind with so many possibilities he barely slept that night. Early in the morning he wanted Tootsa to run to the herb woman for a headache remendy, but no one had seen him or knew where he was. But Raana couldn’t find Tootsa’s walking stick, the only thing his father had ever given him. After the way he had treated him, Raana knew. The boy was gone for good.
He thought about it for a moment before it hit him. Just as he’d once envied the Pochtecans, so now did Tootsa. The boy had run off with them.
What would he tell them? What would they believe? It didn’t matter, Raana told himself. The warriors in the canyon would cut them down like grass.
But if that didn’t happen. If Tuwa survived. Raana stared across the straw of the grassland that rippled in the wind. He hoped Maasaw would protect him.