Those new regions, which we found and explored with the fleet... We may rightly call a new world... A continent more densely peopled and abounding in animals than our Europe or Asia or Africa; and, in addition, a climate milder than in any other region known to us.

Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512)

Letter called “Mundus Novus” (1503) to Lorenzo (The Magnificent?) Pier De-Medici

“Good evening. This is your captain speaking. We are about to land. Please fasten your seatbelts and remain seated until the plane has stopped moving. Thank you for flying Pan American and welcome to Peru.” [current time and weather conditions (warm, chance of rain, etc., and temperature)]

Robert closed his briefcase and stared out the window into the night. Below, the people of ancient America had built civilizations that we can scarcely comprehend. Layer upon layer, one after another, they had evolved and then been surpassed by succeedingly more advanced and sophisticated societies. Although the Spanish Conquistadores and the Catholic priests had done their best to destroy these great civilizations, pieces of the puzzle remained. Scattered and few, they were nonetheless enough to have an idea of what it had been like. But there were major pieces missing. Like, for instance, why did one of the greatest of all of these societies vanish without a trace, nearly five hundred years before the first Spanish explorers had arrived.

Here in his hands. Robert held an explanation from one of the Maya themselves. It was incredible. This codex was more important than he had imagined, and this was only the first one. What could possibly be in the other eleven? This set of “old books” might prove to be the most important anthropological find in the twentieth century.

While waiting to get through customs, a slight man wearing glasses, in a cream-colored suit, approached through the crowd.

“Meester Clairbourne? Mr. Robert Clairbourne?”

“Yes, I’m Robert Clairbourne. Doctor Ortero?”

“No, señor. My name is Wilfredo Avilos Davila. Please, call me Willie. I am to be your driver and guide, senor. Doctor Ortero sent me to pick you up and bring you to the university. If you would like to stop by your hotel first, we have time.”

“I still have to get through this...” Robert pointed to the line in front of him.

“I have already taken care of it, senor.” Willie took one of Robert’s bags, the wallet from his hand, and walked toward a gate.

Robert picked up the other two bags and followed him. At the gate, a guard quickly looked at him, stamped his passport, and waved him through. He had not been looking forward to the long wait he had assumed was ahead. Robert didn’t like airports. Especially ones with heavily armed guards; they made him uncomfortable.

The limousine was right outside. Willie put the bag in the trunk and, after holding the door for Robert, got into the driver’s seat. Robert looked at all of the traffic trying to get to the small terminal and was surprised at the special treatment he seemed to be getting. He had been “in the field” many times before and this was a little different than usual. The protocol in this profession was usually bureaucratic, sometimes efficient, but rarely luxurious.

Nestled in the cool interior of the Cadillac, Robert tried to picture this scene as it must have looked four hundred years ago. He couldn’t. All he could think about was the codex. [note: describe drive to Cuzco]

The Deluxe suite at the Cuzco [Hilton?] might not be his idea of local color, but Robert thought he could get used to is without too many problems. As he changed his shirt, he asked Willie about the codex. Willie said that Doctor Ortero had asked him not to say anything about them. He wanted Robert to make his own opinion. Willie had worked for the Doctor seven years and was his special assistant. He had graduated from the university due to the Doctor’s patronage. He was very proud to be working together with the Doctor on re-discovering his people’s heritage.

Robert walked into the bedroom and told Willie to fix himself a drink. Willie took a soda because he was driving, and because he always drank soda. The hotel operator took a few minutes getting long distance, and then Robert heard the familiar voice of Cindy Meyer, Jim Sanders’ secretary, thousands of miles away.

“Hello, Mr. Clairbourne, how was your flight? While I’ve got you, why don’t you give me your number! The Cuzco Hilton? Boy, they’re taking care of you, aren’t they? Okay, let me get Mr. Sanders for you. Sure, I’ll give Amber a call and make sure she’s ok. Bye...

“Robert, I’m glad you called. How was your flight? I’m not sure how to break bad news to you, so I’m just going to come right out with it. It looks as if we’ve been deceived. The radiocarbon dating tests have come back and the results were so strange, I had them redone. We’re sure that the deerskin pages can in no way be from even the latest and last of the Mayan periods. In fact, they seem to date to around, and probably after, the first white contact. Sorry, Robert.”

“Well, Jim, I’ve got a bit of a shocker for you, too. None of what you said surprises me in the least. In fact, it just confirms a suspicion that has been gnawing at me lately. I’ve just completed my preliminary translation of the first book, and was it full of contradictions and revelations. First of all, it was definitely written by a Mayan scribe; in fact, it seems to be some sort of diary or journal.”

“Robert, that’s incredible. The only other two [exact copies’ the Dresden and the Madrid, are astronomical charts and records of rituals.”

“That’s just the beginning, Jim. Many of the glyphs, at least twenty percent are not Mayan at all, but Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Even these are split between familiar, previously deciphered glyphs and totally new ones.”

“How have you been able to translate them?”

“Mostly by their context, but also the fact that the original author seems to have developed his own unique style. One that is so logical and consistent, that this book takes the level of their written language to a new and, heretofore, unprecedented height. It approaches a complete system for the recording, not only of basic and simple facts and figures, but shades of emotion and specific, detailed descriptions of people, places, things, and, most importantly, thoughts.”

“Robert, this is far beyond anything yet discovered, even the latest Aztec writing had not progressed as far as you claim this has reached. Not to mention there are still many Mayan glyphs we have yet to be able to translate.”

“Not the case with this codex, Jim. This author, by the way he calls himself Itzan, he has simplified many of the idiograms that stand for whole words or thoughts and uses the phonetic symbols without the double meanings (entendre) present in most other Mayan writing. He has learned the trick of simplicity and was aware that the usual embellishments mostly served to confuse and obscure the intent. Between his own input and the use of Aztec symbols for thoughts and objects that the Mayans were not familiar with, this is the clearest, easiest to understand writing I’ve ever seen from Pre-Columbian America.”

“Ah, yes as to the date. What about that?”

“Well, I’ll have to work out the other books before I have a definite answer, but it seems your radiocarbon testing is correct. Itzan’s life seems to have been current with the actions immediately preceding the Spanish conquest.”

“The author seems to have been born the second son to a religious leader, which meant he did not follow in his dad’s footsteps, but he became an official scribe. For a while, I thought it was a description of the unexplained fall of the Mayan culture, but it turns out to be five hundred years later. He describes the political systems and conquest by Aztec tribute collectors. He also seems to have done a good bit of traveling within the so-called Aztec empire. I’ll get back to you with a written report as soon as possible. But for now, no explanation as to how it got to Peru.”

Robert left his unpacking until later. He washed his face and quickly changed his shirt. He grabbed his briefcase and went quickly back to the car. Even after the long flight, by the time the limo pulled through the gates at the university, Robert was anxious to start work. Doctor Ortero received him in his office. [note: describe Dr. Ortero]

“Mr. Chairbourne, good of you to come. Jim could not make the trip himself?”

“He’s leaving the Institute. Got himself a real job at the Met.” Robert smiled trying to make light of the situation.

Dr. Ortero didn’t get his attempted humor. “I see. Well, he mentioned that you were the best man for the job. Looking over your credentials, I must agree. I’m sure you have many questions and are eager to see the other books. I have made an office available to you and Wilfredo will be at your service. Please, follow me.”

They walked down a long corridor and through several locked doors, the last of which had an armed guard who locked the door behind them. An officer entered the room through one of the other three doors. Doctor Ortero spoke to him in Spanish, “Capitan Ramirez, El Senor Clairbourne de Los Estados Unidos va estar trabajando con los libros.” Turning back to Robert, “The Captain has orders to allow you access to the books whenever you like. Is there anything else I can do for you, Senor?”

Robert looked at the Captain and the guard, “Is all of this really necessary? I had assumed this would be a standard archaeological investigation.”

“Doctor Clairbourne, our country has many enemies, internal and out. Many of them would like to rob us of our heritage. We must protect such an important find. Don’t you agree?” It was a rhetorical question, for Doctor Ortero quickly turned and left the room.

As the captain went to get the books, Robert asked Willie exactly where the find was made. Willie took a map from the desk drawer and pointed to a small red mark that had been drawn on it. “Here, Senor, a cave 5oom in the mountains near the site of [Machu Pichu]. It was carved from the live rock. We believe it was sealed after Pizzaro had conquered Cuzco. There is still a team at the dig. I would be most glad to take you there.”

The captain returned with three of the codices. And gave them to Robert. They appeared very similar to the first one he had seen. Robert went back to his office and told Willie to pick him up at about six. He began the translation:



In my tenth year, my father, Ometec, High Priest of the Mayan God Itzamna’, was commanded to the royal presence of Ahuizotl, Revered Speaker for the Mexica. My older brother was left in Uxmal to care for the regular duties of the temple. I would escort my gather to Tenochtitlan and the service of the royal temple.

[note: describe trip from Yucatan]

I had never been outside land peopled by the Maya. Our cities were old and mostly in disrepair; their greatness, a thing of long ago. So it was with wonder that I gazed upon the lakes of the Mexica valley, from the mountain trail, before our descent.

To the south was the fire mountain [Popocatepetl], to the north, its sister, Ixtaccihuatl, both covered with white ice and belching smoke. The pass between them was so high that the clouds cast no shadow and instead engulfed us in their cold embrace.

Below we saw our first view of the vast valley and its lakes from which rose scattered islands. We descended to a fine town called Tamanalco which, although only a suburb of the great capital, was yet many times larger than my own Uxmal. In course, along the lake’s south shore, we passed through one great city after another: Ixtapalapa, then Xochimilco, and finally Coyoacan. From here, a wide and beautiful causeway led over the water straight north to the city of Mexico, Tenochtitlan. On all sides there were giant towers and palaces and pyramids with great temples. All was clean and beautiful and full of people from the many corners of the one world.

The causeway was interrupted at intervals by bridges of wooden beams that could be raised to allow boats to pass and to protect the city. There were watch towers on either side manned by soldiers, resplendent in their warrior costumes of eagle or jaguar. The streets were paved with stone. There were other streets of water on which canoes traveled with the commerce of a thousand places.

The street we entered on was two miles long with fine, large houses plastered and painted on either side. We passed many courts for the ball games that all of our people loved. And temples to all of the gods, not only of the Azteca themselves, but also of the many nations they had taken under their protection, including of course, my own Maya.

There were large markets with foodstuffs of many varied forms. The people bought and sold their wares of all kinds and were entertained by marvelous acrobats and jugglers. Most beautiful of all were the stalls of the sellers of feather capes. Only people of good breeding could wear these magnificent vestments. The color shimmered when the slightest breeze blew and the smallest movement was exaggerated into a thing of sublime beauty. The most beautiful of all were the feathers from the quetzal bird and these were reserved strictly for use by royalty.

For over forty miles north to south, and almost twenty east to west, the great system of connected lakes and islands dominated the valley. Many towers and villages lined the shore and approaches. In the center of the western lake waters stood the city of Mexico on its low island. This lake was brackish with salt water where no fish could live, but a dam held back the lakes to the east and south and these were sweet and full of fish. Drinking water was carried into the city from the fresh lakes and mountain streams by aqueducts and spouted in numerous public fountains.

The streets and canals laced the island in a dense network that was always alive with the busy traffic between the far shores and islands.

On our way to audience with the speaker, we passed the army barracks that were surrounded by canals. The streets passed over these and led to the center of the city and the great plaza.

It was an incredible sight for my young eyes. Enclosed on all four sides by high, thick walls, with gateways in the center of each, which were about a quarter of a mile long. There were many buildings, sixteen of which were very large. Of these, ten were temples. Except for one, which was shaped as a cylinder, all were pyramids with temples on their flat tops. They were made of stone but covered with plaster in a pale shade. Each seemed plainer in relation to the others.

On one side of the plaza, stretched the pillared façade of the long, low official palace of the speaker we had traveled so far to see. Across from it was the main temple, that of the sun. It had two alters at its top and was over fourteen hundred steps high, that ran in two parallel flights to the altars above.

Here, too, were the chambers of the priests and soon to be our own quarters. There were many towers, each very high, that could be used to observe the heavens. Three sides of the main temple had a repeating design of serpent heads with huge jaws and enlarged gangs, ready to strike.

It was a majestic place, but one that also brought dread to my heart. For while we Mayans made sacrifice to our gods, they did not begin to match the scale of massive death that was everywhere here to be found.

Of course, the sun must be fed daily with the very blood that it warmed in living creatures. For if it wasn’t, it would die and if it should die, so would all the earth and life upon it. So we believed. But the Aztecs made so much sacrifice that all other people could have stopped their offerings and the sun would still have more blood than it could consume at a time. With thoughts like these, it was a good thing that I did not have the privilege of following my father’s career in the priesthood.

Notes for Chapter 2:

Itzan befriends Prince Moctezuma

They play and grow up together

Ahuizotl dies leaving Moctezuma as new emperor

Itzan leaves Tenochtitlan on trading expedition with his uncle, Balancuan

They meet with Columbus off the coast

F I R S T - P R E V I O U S - N E X T

Jose Rosa

Jose Rosa

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