For an additional map with more historical information visit http://www.famsi.org/maps/index.html
When the time came, she knew it, just like her father promised her that she would. She saw the signs as her rulers became friendly with the strangers, and she listened with fear as they became ever less cautious. Nimah watched with her own horrified eyes as the singers and priests of the others were finally allowed to walk brazenly into her city and she cried as her neighbors welcomed the invaders.
Of course, the strangers’ warmth disappeared quickly when they did not get their way. When Nimah’s king would not convert to the new religion like they had so clearly expected, the strangers responded to the fine hospitality of the Itza by sending soldiers to convert them by force. The Itza fought back valiantly.
“The day on which you must act will not be long after that,” her father had cautioned. So in the months since that attack, Nimah had been actively preparing herself and her two sons for today. At twenty-six, Nimah thought of herself as responsible and mature, one who took her obligations seriously. She had learned well her people’s history and religion, and her people kept fine records, so there was much to know.
She knew that she was part of the Kan Ek, the ancient race whose rulers were descended from the Gods. She knew that once, more generations ago than there were days in a moon cycle, her people had been far more structured. The lands were bigger then, with many more families, and there had been many cities and giant gatherings where customs were shared. There had been much more wealth and, some had said, much more greatness. But Nimah thought not. She had also learned that lives had been more stringently controlled back then and that there had sometimes been cruel penalties for those who failed or wandered astray.
Many people of that time appeared to have believed that the greatness of the Maya would go on forever. Nimah knew, she had studied their texts. But, over hundreds of years, the carefully recorded famines and droughts and wars had brought an endless string of hard times to the seemingly invincible people. Nimah had studied how, over time, her people had been forced to huddle closer together for strength and how the resulting battles for food and water had shrunk her world. Finally, her own people’s realm encompassed only the area around Tayasal itself, the beautiful town built on the remains of the great old city of Noh Peten.
Now her people, those of the majestic Lake Peten Itza, were free to develop their own rules and more flexible ways. Nimah personally thought that they had evolved, that they were now an older race, one filled with more enlightenment and compassion. So Nimah was glad that she had been born when she was, not at the time when her kings ruled over the most amount of land, but at the time when her people themselves had never been better.
Outsiders were of three types now. There were those who were Maya also, but who hailed from the other surviving communities that had fought with the people of Lake Peten Itza many years ago. These outsiders would travel to the low flatlands of the Peten Itza region for trade and for news. As they were no longer enemies, they were welcomed and cared for. Goods and information were exchanged before these visitors returned to their homes.
Then there were the Xiu Maya, from the Northwest, who before Nimah was born had grown weary of fighting off the others and had instead joined forces with them. They were not to be trusted and were never welcomed.
Finally, there were the strangers themselves, the new people. Not so new, really, Nimah thought, seeing as they had been here before her great-grandmother. They called themselves Spaniards. At first they mostly came looking for gold and other treasures, although over the last generation or two they had been increasingly eager to take land and cities as well. For years now, they had been sending more visitors, showing more interest in the land and in the towns of Nimah’s people.
The Itza response had been to lay low. To appear to have nothing. To tell the strangers very little. That had worked well for over five generations as the Spanish sought their riches everywhere else. But it looked like they had finally run out of other places to look. Soon, they and their ways would be here and before that happened Nimah had to act.
It was too bad that her husband had been taken by illness five years ago. She could have used his strength on this day, in more ways than one. But luckily, in the intervening years, her two sons had grown larger and stronger. Now at twelve and ten they were close enough to men, and Nimah was confident that they were ready to assume their roles in this family obligation.
She woke her boys and gave them a simple breakfast as they went over the instructions. Today, the three of them would take the largest and heaviest of the three boxes and would hide it carefully in one of the small caves on the other side of the lake. Nimah had found the perfect place months ago, and had spent weeks preparing both the hiding spot and the document that she would place in the box.
Tomorrow she would say goodbye to Ichik, her dear oldest child, and send him off towards the rising sun. He was larger and he could better carry the heavier of the two remaining boxes. In that direction were flatlands and friendlier people, and Nimah thought that the boy would have the easier journey. This would be good, because for all that she loved Ichik she knew that he was just a little bit lazy. He had a calm and somewhat meek animal spirit guiding him. It was just a fact that he would never make much of a fighter. She needed him to keep walking until he reached the sea, and Nimah had no idea what the boy would find at that edge of the earth. Nimah hoped fervently that it was not something that would require him to be fierce.
On the day after that, Nimah would send Balam, her second son, off into the setting sun with the smallest box of the three. This boy was still slight in stature, but fierce in spirit. Nimah would also tell him to journey all the way to the water, to make a home there, to hide and guard the box he had brought for as long as he lived, and then to ask his sons and their sons to do the same.
Thus each boy and his descendants would keep safe a valuable piece of the puzzle, just as Nimah’s father had asked. Nimah, now alone with her eight-year-old daughter, would devote the rest of her life to protecting the biggest box, left behind in the cave, and to guarding its secrets. And her daughter and her daughter’s children would do the same.
One day, Nimah’s father had promised, all of his descendants would be freed from this burden and all three boxes would be reunited. When it was time.
Few other family members knew about Nimah’s task. Those who did assumed that her father had entrusted her, a daughter, with this important job only because she had such a clever mind for puzzles. But Nimah suspected it was for more reasons than that. Underneath her love of riddles, Nimah was a self-disciplined woman, one who knew better than to dread or to ignore the inevitable. She, among all her father’s children, could take instructions and follow them through to the tiniest detail. And she would. She did this not only to honor her own father, of course, but for the sake of her own descendants and the descendants of all of the Maya. She even made this sacrifice for any others who were not as greedy or cruel as these Spaniards.
The day was particularly hot and muggy for December as Nimah and her two boys made the short hike to the cave while Nimah’s daughter was left to watch the house. Nimah knew that the boys were hiding their fears and doing their best to stay strong. She had never been more proud of them then on this day when she was about to say goodbye to them both forever.
They helped her carry her burden, and watched silently while she opened the thin, beautifully carved obsidian box that she had spent so much of her adult life designing and then years more creating. Inside the box, there was a paper made from the fig tree, carefully prepared and soaked with her best preservative. Nimah gently smoothed the paper as she looked at it one last time. Neither boy spoke until her oldest son finally read the words at the top of the page, and started to laugh.
“The greatest treasure ever?” Ichik said raising an eyebrow. “Don’t you think this perhaps exaggerates a little, mom?”
“No,” Nimah shook her head firmly. “I don’t. I don’t think so at all.”
Genre - Speculative Fiction
Rating – PG
Connect with Sherrie Cronin on Goodreads