“I was thirteen when King Jasaw took over my city, Tikal,” Ichik said. He had a candle, and now he, Mahaway, and Yochi sat in a circle, watching each other through flickering light.
“We were his first city, after he overthrew his own city and became king. At first, things were fine. He brought food and supplies with him, so we were happy. Earlier that year there had been a drought, and we weren’t sure there would be enough resources to sustain us through the dry season.”
Mahaway nodded. “Yes. The same thing is happening here now.”
“Well then you know what happens when people start getting desperate for food and water.”
“What?” Ichik said.
“Only when they let the desperation get to them. That’s why we have rules, and systems—”
“That’s not always enough.” Ichik glared at Yochi. “What happens when you run out? How can you ration nothing?”
“Ok, ok, arguing is not going to help,” Mahaway said. She gestured to Ichik. “Please, go on.”
“My father sensed that something bad was going to happen. He was an architect, so he had studied and designed many of the pyramids and monuments. According to him, all the old buildings had secret rooms, like the one we’re in now.”
Mahaway gently patted Ichik’s arm. “You said, ‘he was’? What happened?”
Tears glistened in Ichik’s eyes. “Yes, he was killed. Shortly before my 15th year, a few months after he started teaching me his secrets. He was forced to fight, but he died in his first battle, and once he was dead, they drafted me into King Jasaw’s stupid army.”
Ichik spit. “I hated it—being torn away from my mother, my brother. For the first year I tried really hard. I followed all my orders blindly, I didn’t even flinch when I killed someone. My hope was that they would notice I was doing a good job, and let me go home. But we kept marching, farther and farther from home, and I started to give up hope. I just did what I had to, to survive. And then I couldn’t take it any more. I’ve been marching for two years now, and when we got to Ox Te- Tuun, when I saw another city about to fall into ruin at our hands, I snapped and ran away.”
Mahaway was quiet for a moment. “I’m so sorry Ichik—but how did you end up here?”
Ichik wiped his face, and looked down at the ground. “Like I said earlier, my father was an architect. He taught me some things, such as how every building has these secret rooms. Based on what he told me, it wasn’t hard to find this one. He said some of these rooms are where the royal families hid the work their best scribes and astronomers did.”
“What are you talking about?” Mahaway said, remembering how some of her fellow scribes had been called away earlier that day.
“According to my father, every royal family had a group of trusted scribes and astronomers who tracked the seasons and cycles for them in calendars,” Ichik said. “By having the knowledge of time, they could claim to control the cosmos and maintain their power.”
“Does Jasaw know about this place?” Yochi suddenly looked worried. “If he does, we are not safe here.”
“Probably not yet,” Ichik said. “There’s been…evidence in other cities that he knows about the secret rooms with the hidden calendars. But since he was not born into power, he has had to find these rooms on his own. Jasaw has ended up wrecking each city he conquers, and I think it’s because of his search for these rooms and what they may contain. Something having to do with calendars. It’s hard to find these rooms individually, unless you destroy everything. But what he doesn’t know is a hidden tunnel links all of the secret rooms in each city. He usually spends a few months in each city, before eventually destroying them and moving on. My guess is he takes the time initially to find the calendars, but then he gets frustrated.”
Mahaway’s eyes grew wide. “Yesterday we overheard Kish talking about getting close to something. Do you think this is it, this room?”
“If that’s true, we need to get out of here right now.” Yochi stood up and tried to grab Mahaway’s hand.
“Relax,” Ichik said. “This room is particularly far from the city center, and Jasaw got here only a few weeks ago. He probably doesn’t know about this place yet. Besides, for now it’s the safest place for me—almost no one can find me here.”
“I don’t like how any of this sounds,” Yochi said. “I’m getting out of here. Come on Mahaway, we need to finish our stela.”
Mahaway ignored him. “Ichik, what do you know of the calendars Jasaw seeks?”
“Not too much,” Ichik said. “Just that they track the stars and seasons. But I never learned how to read, so once my father was killed, I couldn’t learn any more about them.”
Yochi started rubbing his arms. “Why would a king need that? He’s already successfully conquered a bunch of cities, and his power is growing.”
“It would seem so, but my father suspected Jasaw was actually losing power. Wherever he goes, he consumes too many resources. Too many people are going hungry, and they will eventually revolt. But, the calendars may give him the answer to keeping all of his power, forever. Then he can just keep conquering and forcing people to work for him.”
“Well then,” Mahaway said, standing up. “We have to find Ox Te- Tuun’s calendar first.”
Late that afternoon, Yochi finally got Mahaway back to the stela. They had promised to meet Ichik again the next day and bring him food, but Yochi was worried Nacon might check their progress. He didn’t want to take any risks.
“Where do you think the calendar could be, Yochi?” Mahaway tried to work as quickly as possible. Now that there was a plan she felt better about creating a stela.
“I have no idea, Mahaway.” Yochi chipped away at the rock. “I don’t think we should get involved—what can we do anyway? We have no power, no resources. What would we even do with the calendar once we found it?”
“We’ll worry about that later.” Mahaway winked. “One step at a time. Besides, if we have the calendar, we can use that as leverage so Jasaw doesn’t destroy our city, our home.”
Yochi sighed in surrender. “I guess, if we have to.”
“Yochi, come here!” Mahaway shouted. She waved him over, excited. On her side of the rock, underneath several layers of dirt she had uncovered, were some words. She could only see a few letters, so she took a stick and started scraping off more dirt.
“What is it?” Yochi continued to work.
“I don’t know yet. Come help me.” Mahaway kept scraping until Yochi came over. She handed him her stick. “Here, you scrape and I’ll read.”
They kept at it for a few minutes. “Ok, I think I can read it now,” Mahaway said, shooing Yochi away. She stepped back, and then leaned forward again, squinting. “It says something about a hidden cavern?”
“Let me see,” Yochi said. He had better eyesight than Mahaway. “The directions to the calendar are in a hidden cavern.”
Mahaway grabbed Yochi’s hands and started jumping up and down. “I bet it’s where Ichik is! Remember, there was some writing on the walls? I didn’t get a chance yet to look at it closely, but that must be what this refers to. I mean, what else could it be?”
“You may be right,” Yochi said. “But if this is true, then we need to be extra careful. Help me cover this up. We need to carve this stela so Jasaw and his men never know about this clue.”
They worked together until it was too dark to see. Most of the writing had been carved out and replaced with images of Jasaw as a great warrior, but Yochi was still worried. “It’s too dark to tell if we got it all,” he complained.
“It will be fine,” Mahaway said. She wasn’t sure herself, but she didn’t want Yochi to worry. “Besides, we’ll be here first thing tomorrow to finish, so we can check then.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Yochi continued to stare at the spot where the writing had been.
“Come on,” Mahaway said, ushering him away. “Let’s get back before anyone notices we’re missing.”