The Serpent, The Puma, and The Condor: A Tale of Machu Picchu
Itasca Books, PB
Itasca Books, HC
Published by: Mnemosyne Books
Release Date: January 22, 2019
The story begins in the sacred city of Machu Picchu when a temple virgin is immaculately impregnated by Inti, the Sun God, during the June Solstice of 1511. Her child will become a prophet and will be a boy, because all children conceived in this manner are male. But for the first time in the history of The People, the child born nine months later is a female and carries a birthmark on her forehead in the shape of a condor, the sacred bird that delivers the souls of the deceased to the Celestial River.
From an early age, Umiña’s clairvoyance and ability to communicate with animals and even plants become apparent. Seeking to improve upon her natural gifts as a healer, she convinces a shaman to take her on as his apprentice. With his help, she becomes aware of the strange details of her birth and of a secret prophecy – that one day her land will be invaded by tall, white strangers from across the sea who will tear down The People’s sacred sites and cause their gods to be forgotten. Knowing that everything happens for a reason, Umiña comes to believe that her destiny is to somehow prevent The Prophecy from occurring.
Father Cigueña is a Spanish priest who has broken eight of the Ten Commandments. Fearful of condemnation to everlasting hell, he confesses his sins and is forced to travel to the New World where, as his penance, he is to convert the “soulless heathens” and build a church. Among the other Spaniards on the ship bound for Perú is Rodrigo de Cotero, a peace-loving atheist who finds himself surrounded by brutes looking forward to killing their first "savage".
When the three meet in the land of the Incas, the clash of cultures and faiths results in a stunning conversion for one of them.
June Solstice, Machu Picchu, 1511
Their heads bowed in reverence, ten young women file silently past the high priest’s palace, each selected for her grace and purity, each dressed in an identical white tunic of the finest vicuña wool woven through with shimmering threads of gold and silver. As they walk, deep slits in their garments reveal strong, copper-colored thighs and slender ankles, while belts of pure gold set off curves above and below their slender waists. Their long black hair stirs gracefully in the gentle morning breeze. It is June, the southern hemisphere's Winter Solstice, the day of the ceremony of Inti Raymi, God of the Sun, and one of these ten women is to be his bride.
Last in the queue, Miski pauses to run her hand along the cool stone wall, tracing the perfect, mortarless seam with her fingertip. With a deep breath, she summons her courage and follows the others up the long series of steps that lead to the highest point in the city of Machu Picchu – the Saywa Stone – its flat base large enough to hold a llama. Miski pauses for a moment next to the sacred block of granite, and her apprehension returns. Looming over her, a rectangular stone pillar grows up from the Saywa Stone’s center. And atop the pillar sits a transparent column of crystal quartz in the shape of an immense phallus.
The high priest waits next to the pillar. With a stern look, he wordlessly directs the young women to sit in a semi-circle while he methodically stacks the palo santo tree’s sacred wood near the base of the Saywa Stone. The maidens watch in silence as he lights the fire and gently breathes life into its flames. As the smoky scent of citrus, pine, and mint envelops Miski, she contemplates her fate.
The priest then places his forehead against the Saywa Stone, invoking Inti to endow him with clear vision into the spirit world. He turns and approaches the women, pausing to chant a blessing over each of their lowered heads, and then he motions for them to lie down in the shadow cast by the stone pillar. A divine quiet falls upon them save for the cooing of a pair of doves.
Slowly, very slowly, as the Sun rises in the sky, the shadow cast by the granite pillar grows ever smaller and then vanishes. In that moment, the Sun’s rays strike the quartz phallus, and Inti sends a searing radiance onto the forehead of his Chosen Woman.
Miski feels Inti’s warmth enter her and, as she closes her eyes against his brilliant glare, she is calm. Behind her closed eyelids, vibrant colors meld from one to the next – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and finally violet-white. And in her heart, Miski knows that while she has never lain with a man, she will soon bear a child. Though she would have preferred a daughter, she knows the baby will be a boy, for all of the children conceived in this way are males and will one day become a Willaq Umu, a son of the Sun.
March Equinox, 1512
Mach’ácuay lay well hidden at the base of the terrace wall, her scales dark triangles of olive and gray that so closely resembled the stone, even the iguanas weren’t aware that she was there. Nearly seven feet long, the serpent’s body was thick and heavy, her broad, flat head the size of a woman’s hand. She lay in wait, watching as a little girl accompanied by a woman heavy with child unknowingly made their way toward her. When the two humans stopped to let the woman catch her breath, Mach’ácuay, cautiously raised her head to taste their scent with her tongue, then lowered herself again when they continued on, their every step bringing them closer to her hiding place.
The child was lovely, a lithe spirit of only five winters, too busy looking to the sky for birds and butterflies to watch where she stepped. Mach’ácuay scrutinized the bare copper legs flashing in the Sun. But it was the thighs of the pregnant woman, revealed by a deep slit in her long tunic, that commanded the serpent’s attention.
* * * * *
From the uppermost terrace, Miski looked down on the plaza below, where people were just beginning to gather for the celebration of the Equinox. Some of them, including her husband, Inka Wayna Cápac, were already drunk on chicha and would remain so for the next ten days. She found a place to sit where she could lean against the wall, and carefully lowered herself to the ground.
Turning toward the sound of swiftly beating wings, she saw a large hummingbird flitting among the purple morning glories that clung to the terrace wall. Her eyes wandered to the jungle-covered flanks of the sacred mountains surrounding her, some of them touching the sky at over nineteen thousand feet before falling steeply away into deep, emerald canyons. In front of her sat the mountain called Willka Wiqi, bathed in warm pink from the recent sunrise. To the south, the solitary snow-capped peak of Salkantay dominated the skyline, and to the north, nearby Wayna Picchu rose seemingly straight up above her, serving as a verdant backdrop for the sacred city of Machu Picchu.
Far below and barely visible through a thin veil of clouds, the Urumbamba River flowed gently this time of year, quietly coiling itself around the base of Wayna Picchu. In the spring, it would run swift and brown all the way to the mighty Amazon, churning and rumbling as it carried the spirits of the mountains in the form of melted snow.
Miski turned her attention to her niece, who was skipping among the large granite boulders, singing softly to herself and stopping here and there to pick wild flowers. Sighing contentedly, she hiked up her tunic to expose her legs to the Sun’s warmth and dreamily closed her eyes.
* * * * *
Slowly, carefully, Mach’ácuay began to make her move, undulating through the grass along the stone wall. Now within easy reach of her prey, she slithered into a series of S-shaped coils, paused momentarily, and then struck with quick and deadly force, sinking her fangs deep into the dozing woman’s Sun-warmed thigh.
The woman’s scream brought the child running, and Mach’ácuay began to retreat. But just as the little girl fell to her knees next to the stricken woman, the serpent suddenly reversed herself, poised to strike again, and then stopped. Events had already been set into motion, and attacking the child would have no effect on The Prophecy. Satisfied with her work, Mach’ácuay turned and disappeared into the long grass.
* * * * *
Miski stared in horror at the venom seeping from the twin holes in her thigh. Her entire leg began to throb and burn, and she felt the venom’s fire begin to seep through her veins. Tamya, frozen with fear, stared at the wound, her eyes wide, her hand over her mouth as if to stifle her own scream.
“Go, quickly, Tamya. Find the curandera and the Inka. They will know what to do. Go. Now. But watch for the serpent. She may not have gone far.” A cloud passed overhead, blocking the Sun as a deep fear planted itself in Miski’s heart. She did not want her sister’s child to see her die. “And stay there, Tamya. Do you hear me? Do not come back.”
Miski eased herself into a more comfortable position, intuitively knowing she needed to remain calm. She watched to make sure Tamya had understood her task, then closed her eyes and began counting long, deep breaths. Breathing in . . . one. Breathing out . . . two. In . . . one. Out . . . two. Her fear was as intense as her pain, and even the simple task of counting became nearly impossible. With one hand, she gripped the large emerald pendant that hung from her neck as her other hand stroked her belly to comfort her unborn child. One . . .. Two . . .. One . . .. Two.
The poison was swift. As a swollen bruise formed around the bite, Miski felt her heart quicken, each beat reverberating as a painful throb in her thigh that made her nauseous and too dizzy to even sit up. She raised her head just high enough to see a group of people running toward her. The Inka and several other men were in the lead, and behind them she could see the long flowing hair of Suyana, the curandera.
Be calm, she told herself. One . . ..Two . . .. One . . .. Two. The child in her womb was frighteningly still.
Suddenly, there were people around her, all talking at once, all asking her too many questions.
“What kind of serpent was it?”
“Did it bite you more than once?”
Unable to respond, she closed her eyes.
“Should we carry her to the Inka’s palace, or will you treat her here?” one asked the curandera.
“What about the child?” asked another.
Miski forced her eyes open and raised her head in an attempt to speak, and then she turned to the side and vomited. She could not help but notice the concern in Suyana’s eyes as the curandera wiped the spittle from her lips. When the cloth came away, it was dark with blood.
“It would only make matters worse to move her,” the curandera said. And even though she whispered, Miski heard the words, “I cannot save her. I doubt that I can save the child, but I will try.”
“You can deliver the Willaq Umu?” Miski heard her husband ask.
“Yes, but we will have to take him.”
“I will have to cut her open in order to remove him from her womb.”
There was a pause, and then the Inka said in a quiet voice, “Do it.”
Miski felt her head being raised and a cup held to her mouth. The liquid was thick and difficult to swallow, and almost immediately it laid a gauzy curtain over her mind. She remained aware of her surroundings, of her clothing being cut away, of the curandera’s touch, of the cold silver of a blade, of a scream she knew to be her own. She felt hands reaching into her insides and a weight being lifted from her, and she heard a far away woman’s voice say, “Sapa Inka, something is wrong. The baby is . . . a girl.” Her husband’s response would be the last words Miski would ever hear.
“Impossible. This cannot be. Get rid of both of them.”
* * * * *