To my sister, Joy, who has helped me find the hidden author within me.

 Acllahuasi

 

Introduction

 

The Inka Empire is likely the greatest forgotten empire that has ever existed. People may know the name, Machu Picchu or the Inca Trail, but what these institutions meant to millions of people is lost to them. This book will give give the reader a small understanding of the everyday pressures and concerns faced by those that were being conquered by the Inka.

 

The Inka Empire was composed of many cultures, tribes, and lesser empires that they conquered by war or diplomacy. Take a journey with me to modern southern Ecuador where the Cañari culture still thrives. They once were an empire of their own with dominion from the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the Amazon rainforest. They were mighty enough to resist three invasions from the much mightier Inka; however, they were eventually outmaneuvered. In fear of another invasion, the Colla, the Queen, married the the ruler of the Inka Empire, termed Sapa Inka, and thus gave rulership to him.

 

This is a fictional story that would have taken place around 1470 AD. I incorporated as much historical fact as available, but it’s important to remember how much we don’t know. History of the Inka Empire is marred with contradiction, myths, and re-writes. For example, there is an argument that Cañari was conquered by Pachacuti Inka Yupanqui; however, it’s also thought that it was conquered by his son Tupa Yupanqui. Another contradiction is who the Colla, Queen, was of the Cañari Empire when the Inka’s Invaded. Colla is the Quechua word for ‘Queen’ (I would have used the Cañari word, but the native language of the Cañari is extinct), but no one knows what her name was. Some say it was Mama Ocllo Colla, I believe it was, but there are reliable sources that name Mama Ocllo Colla as Tupac’s sister. For this reason, I have left her without a name other than Colla.

Pronunciation

In reading this introduction you have already noticed that I spell the common word of Inca with a ‘k.’ I do that because that’s the proper spelling, just as Cusco is the proper spelling instead of Cuzco.

I use Spanish pronunciation throughout the book, please familiarize yourself with pronunciation.

Ñ/ñ is pronounced as ‘nee’ so Cañari is pronounced as Canee-ari.

‘Ll/ll’ is pronounced as an English ‘Y’ so colla would be pronounced as “Coya.”

‘Que’ is pronounced as the letter ‘K’

‘Qui’ is pronounced as “Key”

 

Chapter One

 

Tara felt the sticky monkey blood descend her robust back, down her short and skinny legs and into her sandals. She changed her stepping pattern from her natural soft steps to a stomp in an attempt to prevent the dirt on the mountain path from mixing with the sticky blood in her shoe. It seemed to work, at least for now.

Tara was a slender girl of around the age when a girl realizes she’s becoming a woman. Her long black hair was tied to her head to keep it from the bloody sac containing the bloody monkeys meant for offerings. She walked with a forward gait and stood at the same height as her mother, Raura, who was beside her. Upon Raura’s back, she carried a large urn of chicha.

Tara was the favorite child of Raura, who was the leader of their region of Cañari which was called Milagro, and she allowed Tara to assist in ruling, despite her young age because she had the wisdom and knowledge of a sage, and love for Milagro that was unmatched. Tara swore Milagro was the most beautiful and tranquil region in Cañari and in the Andes Mountains. She was right.

When Tara smiled, which was often, the coy sprang from their burrows and scurried about. Her beauty was such that many men asked her mother for a promise to marry her when she reached of age, Raura, would tell them to look at her again and when they did they saw upon Tara’s upper left cheek a large white birthmark that they swore wasn’t there before. The men always withdrew their request, not because it made her ugly, but because they had never seen a birthmark so white before, nor knew of anyone with one and it scared them.

“Are you okay?” Asked Raura. She seemed to have noticed Tara’s uncomfortable march.

“Don’t worry about it, I’m just a little tired is all,” said Tara. “I know you always had to carry the monkeys before and I’m happy to be able to help out now that I’m old enough. Now you only have to carry the urn.”

They were on a multi-day journey to Guapondelig for a festival and to meet the female ruler of Cañari, named Colla.

“Your older brothers would be proud of the woman you’re becoming, Colla will be proud of you too. Are you nervous about meeting her tomorrow?”

Raura didn’t smile, she never did since her sons were killed and her husband, Guaman became cursed. Nor was there a smile in her voice. She spoke with an air of superiority, even to those that she loved or those that were above her.

Tara looked down, “I’m a little excited to meet Colla. She has done so much for us, and I won’t have to carry the offerings any further.”

“I know that’s a fake smile, there are no coy running about.”

“There are no coy because it’s dark,” said Tara.

Raura cleared her throat.

Tara moaned, “It’s because you say I’m becoming a woman. You’re a woman, mother, not I. I’m a child. I can’t do anything you do. I don’t have an understanding of the gods and the living landscape as you do, you always make personal sacrifices for the greater good, but I’m selfish and always will be. You’re so wise and you always know what to do. I’m just a little girl and when people tell me that I’m growing into a woman, well, it worries me that I’ll let them down.”

Raura moved closer to Tara, “I remember when I thought like that. One day it will all make sense to you and you’ll see in yourself what we all see.” She stroked Tara’s face.

Tara smiled and three coy ran from the brush beside the road and rubbed up on Tara’s foot and purred before running along to the other side.

“Now I believe you,” said Raura.

They went a bit further down the jungle path.

“Stop! There’s a dead person!” said Tara.

A corpse covered in blood on the side of the road.

Tara dropped the sack of monkeys and ran to him. Raura waited behind and looked around to see what harmed him.

Tara picked up the raised his head, “He’s still alive.”

Raura went to her, “Those are cuts. He was attacked.”

Tara looked up and down the road, “What do you think happened?” She said.

“I don’t know. I’m going to look over the hill to see if I can see anything,” said Raura.

The man moaned and opened his bloody eyes. Tara sat him up and he coughed up blood. He tried to speak but Tara didn’t understand him. He coughed up more blood and mucus and heaved the words, “The Inkas have taken control. Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui is here in Cañari. Don’t go to the Capital. Run!”

Tara dropped his head and jumped to her feet. She picked up a rock and scanned the dark line of the jungle closely. She crouched and threw the rock in the direction of the first sound she heard. She picked up another rock.

“Tara. Tara, calm down,” said Raura. She held her arm and took the rock from her. “What happened that got you so worried?”

“He isn’t dead! He said that the Inkas have taken control of Cañari and that Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui himself is here waiting for us in Guapondelig!” said Tara. She bit her lip.

“Okay calm down, and let’s go help the man,” said Raura.

“Calm down? Really! They murdered my brothers, your sons, and they placed the curse on father. Calm down?”

Tara’s father, Guaman, had flashbacks of war and violent mood swings. Healers, shaman, and spirit-speakers tried to lift the curse but were unable to do so fully. He had moments of his old self but he was nothing like the caring and loving father he was before he went to war against the Inka.

They knelt down beside the man again. He was dead now. Tara closed his eyes and said a little prayer and offering of some of the chicha that Raura carried upon her back.

Raura kissed Tara on the forehead.

Tara stood beside the bag of monkeys and didn’t pick it up.

“The Inkas won’t return ever again,” said Raura. “Not after all of the offerings we gave Pachamama and Mamaquilla. They will protect us. We are safe and will never have to fight the Inka again.”

Tara kicked the bag of monkeys. One of the five dead spider monkeys meant to be an offering partially came out. She bent down to put it back in the sac her father created specifically for this occasion.

“I will fight them. I don’t want anything more than to fight them and to kill Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui. I’m too young now, but I dream of it every night. I will do it even if I die trying. I have to go back to Milagro. I can’t risk seeing the Inka until I am ready to fight. I need to learn how to fight and how to curse people. I need to learn how to use poison.” She stood up and looked back down the trail in the direction they came, “I have to go back.”

Raura stood with her, “Tara, look at me. Look at me, Tara.”

Tara looked at her.

“You will be safe. There’s nothing more that I want than for you to be safe, but remember, should you not go to meet Colla she will be offended and may resend the privileges she granted us. We don’t know who that dead man is. He was probably robbed and was hallucinating. He could have been the thief for all we know. I promise you that if we are in danger I’ll be the first to teach you how to fight and get you to safety, but how about we don’t speak of those Inka monsters on such a beautiful night,” said Raura.

Raura turned around and yelled, “Guaman and Achache, are you still back there?”

A faint yell penetrated the wall of darkness, “We’ll catch up in a bit.”

“Be careful back there, we’re not alone,” yelled Raura.

Tara still bit her lip and she couldn’t stop her fingers from fidgeting with each other.

“You’re still thinking about what he said, aren’t you?” Said Raura.

“Yes, you know I asked the sorcerers of the giant spring what would happen to us and me if the Inkas ever took our land.”

Raura patted Tara on the back, “What did he say?”

Tara wasn’t sure if she was being mocked or if she was sincere.

She gathered some brush to cover the body, but really so disguise her fear, “Tell me it isn’t true, what he told me. He said that because of my beauty the Inka would take me to a strange place called an aclla-huasi and would rape me—” said Tara.

Raura huffed and opened her mouth to speak.

Tara ceased what she was doing and stepped in front of her mother. She made direct eye contact“—I’m serious, Mom. You know he’s always right. They will take me to this place called the acllahuasi and I will never be able to leave those barren walls. There, I will be used for the Sapa Inka’s personal pleasure. When he is done with me he will give you to his—what do they call them, people in charge?—ah yes, curacas. He will give me to his curacas and apus. I will be used for their plaything for the rest of my life. When they aren’t abusing me, they will force me to make textiles and other manly work. These men will ravage my body and try to make it so I can’t have children. If I do conceive, they will starve me and beat me to try to make me lose the child. And should that not work and I deliver, they will treat the child poorly; however, they will allow me to raise it and love it. After it reaches a mature age they will kill the child in front of me, and mix its remains into my food. This is only the beginning of what they do. When I arrive they will—”

“—Okay Tara, that’s enough,” Interrupted Raura shaking her head. “The Inkas are not here. Those people that look like the Inka are not them. What you speak of is nonsense. They are not here they cannot take you—”

Tara’s twin, and only surviving brother, Achache ran up to them. “—eh, eh I, eh, I don’t like thith, can we go back—”

“—Shut up Achache! Can’t you see we’re talking? Why do you have to be so annoying?” Said Tara.

Achache pretended to throw something at her. “I thought you’d want to know that we thaw an Inka thcout party, “said Achache,” Dad told me to run ahead and tell you they are coming toward you. I’m thcared.” He jetted past Tara to his mother and embraced her leg. Chicha splashed out of the large urn she carried on her back. Tara ran forward to support her from falling backward.

“Ha! Inkas here? Not possible, they are probably just another community that looks similar. It will look very suspicious if we hide from our Cañari brothers,” said Raura.

“Father thaid he knew they were Inka becauth they theak Quethua. The language of the Inka,” said Achache. He spoke calmly and didn’t share the fear of them that Tara did. “Emmm, uhhh, what that!” said Achache pointing at the half covered corpse.

“It’s a corpse, a dead person. You’ve seen one before. Stop being stupid,” said Tara. She faced Raura. “We should hide!”

There was a long silence before Raura spoke,  “I do not know what you’re talking about. I’ve seen no such thing, nor ever heard Quechua spoken since the last invasion,” said Raura.

Tara shuttered from fright. “I hear them.”

Achache looked over his shoulder, “I thee torcheth coming.”

Tara’s heart raced, her knuckles were nearly as white as the mole on her face. She constrained her legs from betraying her calm demeanor and taking her away in a frightened run. There were ten of them, and each of them wore the black and white checkered tunic. They passed in a single file, each of the scouts stared at the young Tara and continued without saying a word. Their shodden feet hit the ground in unison, offset by the sound of their spears impact. On their belt, they carried a sling and several small rocks wrapped along the side of it. A couple of them carried long wooden boards inlaid with sharp rocks along their spine, a signature of the Inka.

“Hey you,” said one of the soldiers carrying the weird weapon.  He spoke with a Quechuan accent.

“Are you speaking to me?” said Raura.

“Yes, you. Do you know anything about this body?” said the soldier.

“No, we are simple people going to make offerings to Mamaquilla and came across it. He was already dead and we were covering it when we saw you coming,” said Raura.

She showed no fear or curiosity about who they were.

“What’s going on here?” Asked Guaman. He arrived behind the soldiers.

“Nothing Guaman, we are only explaining to these fine men that we found this body and had nothing to do with his death,” said Raura.

The soldiers closed in on Raura and the leader peered directly into her eyes with a cold stare, “Very well, I believe you. All the best to you and your family, and especially to your beautiful daughter. I think we’ll be seeing you again,”

Tara wanted to hurt him, all of them. The rage inside of her was exploding. She pictured the moment when she would be able to kill all of them, all the way up to Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui. She would do what her brothers couldn’t.

Guaman picked up a couple stones beside the road and lodged them in a pocket in his green cloak.

“Take the body with us,” said the leader of the party to the other soldiers.

Once the soldiers were out of hearing range Tara stepped in front of Raura.

“I’m don’t want to go any further, “ said Tara. “I won’t risk it.”

Raura laughed, “Tara, oh Tara. If you do not go to Guapondelig, Colla will be insulted. She gave us great honor and responsibility to rule over the neighboring settlements. What would she think if we did not all go to thank her? Her leadership has always protected us, and always will.”

“You want me to be taken by the Inkas and tortured for the rest of my life in order to hold onto your honor and say thank you to someone who doesn’t even know we exist?” said Tara.

“Raurah,” said Guaman, “My love, I think Tara may be right on this matter. We should allow her to return home. Those men weren’t from here and their accent resembles those that of some of the soldiers I fought during the last Inkan invasion. I can’t bear to lose another child to the Inkas. At least our sons are at peace with the earth, Tara would be taken to their torture chambers—the acllahuasi.”

Raura ignored her husband, her sarcasm turned firm and serious, “Tara. Your notions of what will happen are false. You are the most beautiful girl in Milagro, but don’t think you are the most beautiful in all of Cañari or would be taken to this so-called acllahuasi. Because of the position that Colla gave us, Achache and Father will be saved from the front lines if war returns. Be a woman and think beyond yourself. Men that look like Inkan scouts are not going to take you away from us, nor will any Inka and that’s if they were here. Which they are not”

“I would rather put a knife into my gut than be taken,” said Tara. She lugged the sac over her shoulder and continued on the path. “And if you didn’t notice, those Inkan scouts haven’t left. They are atop the knoll watching us.”

“I do not see anything,” said Raura.

“Because your eyes aren’t good. Their torches are plainly visible.”

“They are still there,” said Guaman. “Come Tara, if there is any other occurrence that points to the Inkas being here you can leave and return home. Right Raura?”

“Well, considering they are not here, I see little risk in your promise. I agree. Now, let us go.”

Tara walked far ahead of the rest of the family, and no one pursued conversation until they reached the bottom of the mountain.

Fog filled the valley at the bottom and Tara could only see a few paces ahead, still, in the occasional breaks she could see the torches of the stranger ahead. They never got closer, nor further. They were watching them.

The trail meandered along a stream that led into a field of yellow flowers. The fog cleared and the flowers were flowers so bright that they gave off the brilliance of daytime and the sweetest aroma-filled the air. An overwhelming sense of peace overcame Tara. She ceased to worry about the strangers ahead, or of her argument with her family. The beauty of the flowers, as far as she could see, overcame her.

“Perhaps we could just stay here and hide from all bad things,” said Tara when she sensed her family get close. “A life among the flowers would be the most fantastic existence. Better than anything else. They will protect us,” Tara said to no one in particular. She inhaled a long breath of the aroma scented air. An overarching sense of guilt overcame her.

She turned to Raura.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you. Forgive me. I know you know best and only want to keep me safe. I’m sorry I questioned you.”

Raura didn’t answer her but looked frustrated.

Tara removed the sac of monkeys from her back. She did not mind the gooey blood that pulled at her skin as she removed the sac. She ran into the field and danced.

Coy chirped from beneath the flowers where they played.

Achache ran after her to join the fun.

They ceased when they came upon the most beautiful of the flowers; a white flower twice as tall and bright as the rest, reaching to her thighs. She bent over, closed her eyes and smelled it.

“I’ve never theen that kind of flower before,” said Achache.

“Neither have I. It’s amazing! It must be a huaca, a portal into another world. Achache, give me something to offer to it,” said Tara.

“I don’t have anything,” he said.

Tara got on her knees and withdrew from her pocket a small brown wooden figurine of herself her eldest brother gave to her the last time she saw him.

She buried the figurine beside the flower.

“Achache, the flower doesn’t have any roots. It’s floating upon the dirt.”

“Ath it for thomthing. You know if you give a huaca a gift, it might lithen and give you thomthing back.”

“Shut up Achache! I already know that.”

She couldn’t think of anything she wanted most, the one thing? She couldn’t decide. To be kept safe or that the Inkas wouldn’t be in Cañari, or that her mother would keep her safe even if they were. What about—

“—Tara! We need to keep going,” yelled Raura.

Tara jumped.

“Remember me dear huaca, I will return for my request.”

She ran back to her parents alongside Achache.

Raura put her hand over her heart, “You bring together each thing of a Cañari woman. You were angry with me, yet you forgave me. You were having a good time in this flower field, and still, you listened to me when I called for you. You are strong, yet sentimental. You carry a heavy load on your back, yet enjoy the scent of the flowers. You are wise but humble. I do not know how I was given such a daughter.”

They spent the night in a nearby mud and straw hut. Instead of dreaming of the acllahuasi and the strangers, she dreamt of the flower.

 

Chapter Two

 

The strangers were nowhere to be seen the next day, but Tara felt they were being watched, almost as the insects and animals of the jungle were watching their progress to Guadondelig. To her, it felt that instead of going to Gupondelig, they were approaching a storm, a torrential storm that would make their progress almost impossible. She didn’t mention her delusions to her family she could only imagine Raura’s response. She distracted herself with kicking a stone down the pathway and wondered what she would ask the white flower. Nothing was more exciting than discovering huaca. This lasted until they reached the clearing around Guapondelig which was filled with the thousands of people who arrived for the festival, yet didn’t fit within the confines of the city.

Achache ran ahead toward the city, “Yay! We’re finally here!” He tripped on a hidden mound of dirt.

Tara laughed.

Guaman ran to him and helped him up.

They made their way through the throngs of people.

“Mother,” said Tara. She interrupted a conversation between her and an old friend who married outside of Milagro. “Look at the entrance of the city. Who are those people?”

Raura looked in the direction. “We will find out soon enough.”

“They don’t look like they belong here,” said Guaman.

Tara and Guaman slowed their approach.

Tara referred to several people dressed in clothes and ceremonial decor that she hadn’t seen before. As they drew closer she saw these people were dressed in figurines of mutations between humans and pumas, others dressed as serpent looking humans. The man that caught Tara’s attention most was a man wearing a large brown and white checkered cloak made of feathers, and a golden chest plate. He wore earplugs large enough for Tara to put her arm through. Beside these foreigners were idols of Inti, the Sun God of the Inkas.

Guaman stopped and grabbed Tara’s arm. “I’m scared to go any further because if they are the Inkas, then, no, no, no. You will experience things far worse than I if they are the Inkas. Stay here until we figure out what’s going on.

“Come on you two,” said Raura, “this is nothing, they are merely trying something new.

“I don’t know my life, I think these are Inkas, straight from Cusco.”

The strangers from the trail the previous night reappeared behind them and were closing the gap between themselves and Tara’s family with a quick march.

“We would know if the Inka was here because if the Inka were here, there would be war,” said Raura. “I’m sure there’s a reason why. Let’s keep going, Colla will explain all. Remember all it takes is a slight insult to Colla and she can strip us all the privileges and honors she has given us. Do you wish to go back to the fields? Do you want to have to return the new clothes that don’t leave you itchy?” She pointed toward the entry pathways into the city. “Come on.”

The man the golden chest plat approached them from the front.

“Mama!” said Tara in a trembling voice.

Guaman’s breathing grew deep and he gripped his chest. He was slipping into a flashback.

“Tara, go. Go now,” said Guaman. “They’ll take you! Go back to Milagro, you’ll be safe there.”

“What are you talking about?” said Raura. Do not insult the family, and the llajta, Tara. I know you’re scared, but there is little risk of that which you fear. They won’t take you,” said Raura.

“I think there is a huge risk,” said Tara.

“Tara,” said Guaman. He breathed heavily and lowered himself to the ground as he spoke. “If you want to avenge your brothers as you tell me so often that you want to, go now. Go now!” said Guaman. He cowered his head into his arms.

The decadent priest was only a few paces away from them and the scouts were in a full sprint coming toward them.

“Guaman, what happened to your fearlessness, your courage? You’re an embarrassment to me. To all of us,” said Raura.

“Mother, the Inkas are what happened to him, and you’d let them ruin me as well if only to protect your honor. You promised you’d help me.”

Guaman wheezed, “Run.”

Tara dropped the monkeys by her mother’s feet and cried, “Here are the offerings. If Colla doesn’t understand, I hope Mamaquilla will.

She ran.

“Tara! If you don’t come back you will no longer be my daughter!” Yelled Raura.

“Run!” Yelled Guaman harder than Tara ever heard him yell before.

Chapter Three

 

Tara focused on the tree line. The scouts chased her and they were only a few paces behind her.

Faster!

Faster!

“Little girl! Stop!” Yelled one of the scouts.

Each step she pushed further into the ground. She panted with each breath.

Almost there!

A low hanging twig cut her eye. She felt the blood run down her face like a tear. She collapsed into the towering jungle underbrush and crawled in it until she found a hidden log lost in the underbrush.

“Where did she go?” Asked one of the scouts.

“I think she went this way.”

“You and I will stay here and search,” said another scout.

Tara heard their footsteps come near her as they combed the thick brush.

She tried to hold her breath, but her heavy panting won. She hoped the sound of the birds and insects were loud enough to drown the sound.

She felt around the log and found a spot that burrowed into the earth. She lowered herself into it and something sharp cut deep into her leg. She was too scared to feel the pain.

A monkey screeched from afar and several birds took off in flight.

“You think she’s over there?” said one of the men combing the area.

“Who knows, it could be her, it could be a snake, “ said the other man. “It could be anything, it’s impossible to say.”

The continued to search the area, occasionally she heard their footsteps come near, other times they were distant. She felt powerless because her view of what was happening was blocked by the foliage above her.

“We’re not going to find her, it’s not like looking for someone in Cusco, this jungle is too thick. Let’s go back,” said one of the scouts.

They searched for a short while longer and then Tara heard their footsteps disappear and their voices grew fainter until they disappeared.

Tara’s courage slowly returned and she pushed herself out from the hovel beneath the log. She poked her head up from the thick foliage. The scouts were gone.

She limped down a game trail at a quick pace mindful but didn’t run, the pain of her leg wound was getting worse.

The rain ceased a short distance away from Guadapolig and the heat returned, beads of sweat rolled into her cuts and stung them, others rolled down into her mouth. She spit out the sweaty saliva.

The trail converged upon the road. The road was still dangerous, and she didn’t feel safe on it, but the valley was giving way to a narrow canyon between low bluffs and it was the only way back home.

The day continued to get hotter, much hotter than it ever got in the mountains. There was the sound of the rushing cool river on the other side of a narrow stretch of thick trees and she found a small game trail that led from the road to the river. The water felt refreshing and helped numb her throbbing leg. She swooped her hand into the water and destroyed her beautiful reflection, “I wish I were ugly! I hate you! I hate being beautiful.” She scooped up some mud from the beach with her fingers and put it on her face and in her hair until she could feel it dripping off of her. She picked up a handful of gravel and threw a rock into the river, “I hate being beautiful!” She threw another and then another until she was throwing handfuls.

“That’s for abandoning us, Pachamama, and allowing the Inkas into our lands!” She threw another so hard it hit the other bank.

Rocks went everywhere, up, into the water, and onto the opposing bank.

“That’s for abandoning me! And not allowing me to be ugly and safe!” She kicked the water, “That’s for…that’s for…that’s for protecting me and helping me escape. Thank you.” she said. “Thank you,” she said softly. She lowered her head and sat down on the beach and allowed her feet to flow in the current.

She rested her head on her lap and the rain started again, albeit just gently enough to ward off the bugs.

Darkness chased away the daylight within a few moments.

A shout from the road on the other side of the trees woke her. Tara was lying on the side of the river and using a moist log for a pillow and the sun had yet to rise from behind the towering mountains on the horizon, not that she would be able to see it through the hovering fog that blanketed the jungle.

The shout that woke her sounded like a military command in Quechua, the language of the Inkas. Hundreds of men yelled in response simultaneously.

She tried to listen, but she couldn’t hear them over the sounds of the awakening jungle. She rubbed off some of the mud that blanketed her. There was so much of it, she was unable to open her eyes fully.

She heard footsteps approaching on the small trail to the river. She slowly looked over her shoulders at the trail but her vision was too blurry to discern anything. The men’s voices became clear as they approached clear. The approaching people spoke Quechua, the language of the Inkas. She grabbed her sandals and darted into the jungle.

Mother, father! Why aren’t you here? Dear Pachamama, help me. Oh my God, please. Anything, help me!

She hid in a plant that had leafs the size of her body and from a place she could see the road. She saw the regiment of soldiers on the road. A few men broke off from the group and went to the river. A few women that were following the regiment to support them, followed them to the river with empty urns. Tara’s heart pounded so hard that it shook the plant she hid in.

With all of her might, she held in the sobs that seemed on the verge of breaking through despite her resistance.

The soldiers were in the river, splashing each other and swimming. One of the women was filling her urn, and she called out

“Men, look. There are footprints!”

The soldiers in the river quickly swam to the beach.

FOOTPRINTS! She bit her lip so hard that she tasted blood. She cowered into the bush to fully conceal herself. She didn’t want to breathe anymore, she looked around for anything that could be used as a weapon, should it come to that.

There was nothing.

The soldiers followed the footprints to the edge of the jungle. The grabbed their weapons and took a step into the green.

“Topa and Manco, come here! Look at this,” yelled the commander from the road.

Two soldiers forfeited their inquisition and ran up the trail to the regiment, and the others with them followed.

Tara slowly stood up and moved to another bush where she could better plan an escape. There, she saw what had drawn the soldiers’ attention: two speckled bear cubs playfully fought one another. They tumbled down and across branches high up in the trees.

One bear tried to flee the other and jumped to the adjacent tree and its pursuer tried the same maneuver, but he missed and landed with a thud on the road just in front of the commander of the Inka troops. He took a step back. The soldiers laughed.

Tara examined her options to escape, but there weren’t any, she knew she couldn’t run faster than the soldiers and there weren’t any other trails she could use to get away. There was the river, but she knew from experience not to trust the current of an unknown river-she watched more than one friend disappear doing that.

Tara sank into the shrubbery where she could watch the soldiers and the bears and be unseen.

The bear that remained in the tree ran down and gently mauled his friend across its head. The bear that fell did not move. The bear mauled his friend again. Still nothing. The bear lowered his head and smelled his fallen playmate. Failing to arouse it, the bear laid next to his playmate and cried. The soldiers awed. But then, the bear that appeared dead jumped up and landed upon his friend with such a rapid movement that his friend did not have time to react.

The soldiers yelled and the bears vanished into the jungle. A couple of soldiers ran after them and after a moment returned with several scrapes across their faces and their tunics torn. Their comrades laughed at them, as did Tara from behind her hiding place.

Coy chirped from their hiding places and Tara felt one run over her foot.

The soldiers nearest her, those that were at the beach, looked directly at her, she covered her mouth. She laughed louder than she realized. They approached the edge of the road and the wall of the jungle, “I would bet you half of my field of potatoes that there’s someone there watching us,” said the soldier from the beach.

“What are you two looking at over there?” yelled the commander.

“There were footsteps going into this area from the beach, and I just heard someone laugh.”

“I saw the footprints as well,” said one of the women, “They were recent. I think we’re being watched.”

The women ventured to them.

“A week’s worth of coca leaves for whoever finds the spy,” yelled the commander.

The hundreds of soldiers ran into the jungle.

She stood up and stepped backward. The pain from her injured legs returned. After a couple backward steps, she turned with the intent to run. But she couldn’t, she was trapped, there were soldiers in front of her and a river in her rear. On each side of her was a dense jungle. The pain was too great. She tripped on a raised patch of soil and fell backward onto a thorny bush. Before she wiggled herself free, the soldiers picked her up and pinned her against a tree. Her breath ceased and she felt her pants become wet.

The commander emerged from between the ensuing crowd and Tara was brought to him. She was held by two guards, both holding one of her arms.

A man with a heavy accent introduced the commander, “This is Waranga Hualpa Inka of Hanan Cusco. That means he is the commander of many men, and he belongs to the Inka family, the most powerful family in the world. Whatever he tells you is the law, and whatever he says is the truth.”

The hareld withdrew a towel from his bag and wiped the mud off of her face and hair.

“Oh my god! Would you look at this girl!” said Waranga Hualpa. He spoke loud and seemed drunk. “You are beautiful. You could be an aclla.”

Tara struggled, but the soldiers held her tight.

“Relax, that was a compliment. Many girls wish they were as beautiful as you,” said Waranga Waranga Hualpa. He caressed her cheeks, and then her shoulders and arms. “You Cañari women are so beautiful. It’s a shame we didn’t conquer you earlier and it’s a bigger shame your men make you do all the work. If the women in Cusco were nearly as beautiful, we should never run out of children to offer to the sun. We shall fix that though, now that we have control of Cañari. Isn’t that right men! WE HAVE CONTROL OF CAÑARI!” said Waranga Waranga Hualpa.

The soldiers yelled.

Hualpa’s caresses continued. He pushed on her chest, “No breasts yet. How old are you?” He asked.

Tara kicked him in his shin. He raised his hand to slap her but stopped immediately before her cheek.

Tara did not flinch. “I won’t be an aclla!” She said.

She tried to kick him again.

“This little girl is braver than most of you,” said Hualpa to his men.

They laughed.

“If you don’t want to be an aclla, we can make you ineligible to be one. You see, the Acllahuasi only accepts virgins. If you’re not a virgin, you can’t become one. There are 199 men here, well, 200 if you count me. One of us, despite your youth, may be so inclined.”

Tara slammed her the back of her head into the nose of one of the guards holding her arm. He grasped his face and freed her arm. She gouged the eyes of the other soldier, and he let go.

Tara, now free of their grasp, looked around. She was surrounded by them, she couldn’t escape.

Everyone laughed.

Five more soldiers grabbed her.

“Don’t hurt her soldiers, don’t hurt her,” said Hualpa. He turned to Tara, she was dripping with sweat. “We are here to help you, but a little laugh doesn’t hurt now and then. Tell me, what is your name, and what happened to your leg?”

Tara ignored him.

Waranga Hualpa yelled something in a language Tara didn’t understand. Another man dressed differently than all the others emerged from the thick of them and lowered himself to look at her leg. He said something Tara did not understand to Waranga Hualpa.

“Beautiful girl,” said Waranga Hualpa. “This is the man that can heal your leg. Whatever you did, you hurt it very badly.”

The man examined her leg and withdrew some ointment from a bag he carried. Tara moved her leg away from him. He looked up, “Please…” with such a strong accent Tara couldn’t understand his Quechua.

Tara, still could not keep her leg from the stranger long, and soon he was applying the ointment to her leg.

Waranga Hualpa caressed her cheek again.

Tara screamed.

“Woooo, calm down. Just answer my questions and I’ll be able to help you. What are you doing out here, do you need food or shelter?” asked Waranga Hualpa.

“Don’t take me to the acllahuasi, please! Don’t take me there. Let me go!” said Tara.

“It is not our duty to take you to the acllahuasi. I was joking with you, do you remember that laughing thing I said? You should try it. There are special men who come and find girls to be acllas and we are not them. We are just soldiers. Besides, even they were told that there would be no acllas gathered from Cañari without Colla’s permission, what I said was only meant as a compliment to your beauty. Our orders are to only find those in need along the road, and see that they are provided for and safe. That is why we are here, now, I ask again, are you hungry, and do you have a place to stay?” Asked Waranga Hualpa.

Another man approached Waranga Hualpa and gave him a sort of bread that Tara had not seen before with ají, a pepper paste that Tara loved, spread on it.

“Eat this. I know all you Cañaris love ají. That’s why I brought extra,” said Waranga Hualpa.

“I don’t trust you. You are evil, you wish to ruin everything we have here. You killed my brothers, monster!” said Tara.

Waranga Hualpa pushed the bread closer to Tara, “I’m sorry for the loss of your brothers. This is the first time I am in Cañari so it couldn’t have been I that killed him. I’m here to care for you, look at your leg, it feels better, doesn’t it? Eat this and let us know you are okay and we will be on our way.”

Tara looked at her leg, it was wrapped with a soft cloth and didn’t hurt anymore. She looked around at the soldiers.

“What choice do I have?” said Tara.

“You don’t actually have a choice,” said Waranga Hualpa.

He smiled.

She pulled her right arm free from the soldier holding it and took the bread. First, a small bite to see their reaction, there was none. The bread tasted as though the bread was made from maize with some salt and the ají was more delicious then she remembered it being. As per custom, she returned the bread to Waranga Hualpa and he took a bite before returning it to her.

“The rest is for you,” said Waranga Hualpa.

She devoured it.

Another soldier came and gave Waranga Hualpa a ceramic cup with two nozzles protruding from the top.

“It’s morada,” said Waranga Hualpa.

Tara looked at him questionably,

“Maize juice,” said Waranga Hualpa. He pushed it closer to her. He nodded at the soldier that still held Tara’s arm, and the soldier let go.

Tara’s leg no longer hurt, and each part of her wanted to run, but Waranga Hualpa was kind and if he wanted to take her, he could have. She put one of the nozzles to her lips and took a sip. The morada was sweet and pacified the spice of the ají in such a way that it left a sweet desirable taste.

She gave the urn back to Waranga Hualpa who drank from the other nozzle.

“Why are you here?” said Tara. “We won the last war and you were not supposed to return,”  She looked Waranga Hualpa directly in the eye when she asked.

“It’s called diplomacy. Sapa Inka Tupacc Yupanqui married your Colla and gave her his word that he would protect the Cañari’s as if they were his own children. We are fulfilling his orders to do such. You didn’t hear that we are friends. No wonder you were so afraid, you thought we were enemies,” said Waranga Hualpa laughing. He put his arm on her shoulder. He became very serious. “We are no longer enemies, but friends. I’m sorry you did not know that. Here, take this as a token of my remorse. It’s called a chuspa. It’s a small bag that you wear around your elbow, it’s a convenient way to carry things.”

The small chuspa was full of food.

Tara raised her head and gave a small smile to Waranga Hualpa, “Thank you for your kindness to me. My name is Tara. I am from Milagro and my parents are expecting me in Guapondelig. Now please, allow me to go. You have fed me and healed me and I have a place to stay and I will be safe. But I must go now if I am to make it before night,” said Tara.

“You’re from Milagro did you say? That is where we are going. I’ll look forward to your return there,” said Waranga Hualpa.

Tara squinted at him, unsure if he was joking.

 

Chapter Four

 

The soldiers departed in the direction of Milagro and left Tara standing on the side of the road. It was quiet and the humid air felt empty. There were no sounds from the thousands of insects or birds. No branches brushed against each other in the wind. Even the sound of the river seemed quieter than before. She took several paces toward Milagro, the squish of her sandals against the mud-path disrupted the serenity.

Could it be? Could those soldiers be going to Milagro? No. NO! They don’t know Milagro exists. They couldn’t, that’s my place, that’s my home! She paused, and then looked behind her toward Guapondelig.

She climbed a nearby hill with a clearing on the top to watch the regiment. Waranga Hualpa told her the truth, he and his 199 soldiers took the turn in the road that led into the mountains and directly to Milagro.

She felt a pit of anger grow in her side and her breathing deepened, there was nothing she could do. She heard faint war horns and disciplined shouts of men from each direction that were carried in the wind of the coming storm. No matter how faint the sounds were, if they were even there at all, each pierced her ears. “Cañari is gone. It is gone,” moaned Tara.

She didn’t feel like she was in Cañari anymore. She crouched on the ground and hugged her knees. In such depressed moments, she would cling to her mother and would tell her stories of how Pachamama-the Earth-was always caring for her, but for the first time in her life, neither mother was in reach.

She laid down on the ground and looked straight upward at the gray sky. A raindrop hit her cheek, and soon another followed, and thunder shook the ground.

She sniffled and craved for an embrace from her mother or father, or from any anyone to make her feel safe, but the only physical touch was that from the darkness of the storm that overcame her. It grew thick and heavy until it seemed like it was night time and the sirens and sounds of the armies were drowned by the rolling thunder.

“Oh mother, what have I done, what have I done by abandoning you? I ruined your favor with Colla. I know you worked long and hard to gain it, and you did it for me so that I might be safe. And now here I am on top of a mountain, cold, wet and crying to myself,” cried Tara. “How can I ever fix this?”

She lost sense of time and wished that one of the multiple lightning strikes would hit her and take the shame away.

The thunder ceased for a moment the hideous screech of a condor that filled the void.

She jerked from fright, “Leave me at peace condor. I want to be alone.”

Thunder pierced the sky and in the lonely silence that followed it the condor hissed again.

“Leave me to my misery!” She hollered.

Tara heard a thump as something hit the ground, and the condor screeched again.

She opened her eyes slightly to see where the condor was but there was no condor. She moaned and hit her wet forehead, of course, there was no condor, it was raining.

Then what did I hear?

She rolled over to see what hit the ground, it was a tall white flower that illuminated the dreary meadow overtaken by the gray clouds. It grew where there had only been grass and now it stood without a leaf nor any sign of a root.

Lightning stuck next to it.

Tara wiped her eyes and crawled through the mud to it. It was the same flower that she encountered on her way to Guapondelig, the one she buried the figurine beneath. There the flower stood, just like before and it was dry despite the rain.

She knelt before the flower and placed her hand into the mud with the faintest hope to find the wooden figurine her brother made for her. To her surprise, she felt it. She withdrew it from the mud, but the object she bore was not the figurine but rather a red mullu shell-the most prized item in the world. These shells, Tara was told, were only found in distant lands that were covered in salty water called an ocean. There were holy men whose task was to discover where they were hidden beneath the ocean. She didn’t believe in such tales but it was the only explanation she was as to from where the shells came.

The clam-shaped shell was slightly smaller than her palm and long red spines protruded through the layer of mud that encapsulated it. She held it in the pouring rain, the mud dripped off and the red brilliance was as great as the glowing flower that stood to mysteriously before her.

“Thank you, Pachamama. With this, I will be able to find forgiveness with mother and she will be able to regain the favor that she lost due to my selfishness. It will also protect me from the Inkas, if they try to take me away I can give this to them instead.”

Tara commenced her return journey to Guapondelig and left the storm behind her.

Chapter Five

 

As one of the first festivals that Tara remembered attending, young Tara and her toddler friends spent the time running around the fields outside of Guapondelig. They chased each other and played different games as their parents performed ceremonies and visited each other. While playing she found a large stone tower built into the wall of the city that had a window on the outside of it, a feature that was very rare among Cañari buildings. The window looked large enough for her to squeeze through and she wanted to hide from her friends. After a failing to reach the window after a few jumps her friends found her and she quickly forgot about it. Until now. She could slip by the Inkas that watched the entrance of the city by slipping through the window if she could find it again, and if it were large enough for her to squeeze through.

She descended the bluff and returned to the road. She came across an Inka patrol and she wanted to hide. Each muscle in her body was tense and she shook, but the memory of her mother’s confidence calmed her. She allowed them to pass by walking along the side of the road, just as her mother did. The patrol didn’t stop her, but many of the men admired her beauty as they passed they muttered such phrases as, “Boys, an aclla walks among us”. Or, “It’s Mamaquilla’s child.” She returned their praises or insults, she was unsure what they were, with a small smile.

She emerged in the crowded clearing between the jungle and Guapolelig where she used to play as a child.

Tara casually passed the thousands of people surrounding the city as she made her way to the portion of the wall with the window. Each group of people prepared foods native to their region and the scent of roasting corn and aji, llama meat, coy, potatoes with salt, maize bread, and the sweet smell of chicha perfumed the damp air that vibrated with the music and songs created by all. But no men were present. No men at all.

She found the window without delay and looked up at it, the tips of her fingers could grip the edge of the base. It looked too small to fit through and too high for her to reach.

It will be risky. Mama needs me. The family needs me.

The window was in plain sight of hundreds of people so she considered waiting until nightfall, but whatever was inside of the building, or whoever, was more likely to not be there. She decided to give it a single try and if she failed she would return after nightfall. She looked around and ran to the window. She lept as if she were leaping across a great chasm and gripped the ledge of the window as if it were a branch on a tree so high, letting go would mean certain death. Her foot found a ledge and she pushed herself into the window. With a small squirm, she pulled herself through with such force that she tumbled down the other side and landed on a wooden box.

She stood up and pulled string from her tunic from the corner of the stone window that got caught.

The room was an empty storage room with a foul smell and several ceramic vessels. She heard songs and music from the main gathering as if it were on the other side of the door on the opposing side of the room. She tip-toed through the room to the door which was outlined by the light flowing through the edges. The wooden door opened with a creek and she peered through. It opened to a small empty and walled courtyard that consisted of entrances to several stone houses. There was a gap in the wall between two of the houses that appeared to lead somewhere. She sprinted through the courtyard to the gap which was the beginning of a passage between several tall red and white painted brick buildings. The noise of the songs and horns echoed between the buildings as she slowly made her way to the end of the passage where there was another wooden door, albeit larger than the first. She opened it and jumped through, and slammed it behind her.

She was in the thick of the festival.

“Hey, what were you doing in there?” shouted one of the two guards that watched the entrance.

Tara looked at him, smiled, and then disappeared into the crowd, made primarily of women. She walked as fast as she could, and squeezed between the strangers. She aimed for the densest portion of the boisterous crowd. After several moments she found herself in a small gap between the bodies, just large enough for her to consider her surroundings.

The way forward was blocked by the dense crowd, and the looming Temple to Mamaquilla plated in silver, stood in magnificent reverence beyond them-built atop the gentle incline creating a scene that touched the innermost parts of the heart that in her haste Tara paused.

As Tara took in the grandeur of the temple, Colla who stood upon the platform, stood to speak.

The crowd hushed.

“My people, Mamaquilla gave us an abundant year as never before, but it was marred by war and fear. Now, after the offerings we gave Mamaquilla she provided a way for us to live in peace. Never again, shall we starve, never again shall we have to fight the people of the Sun, and for always we shall be able to worship Mamaquilla. Because of this.” Colla pointed to the man dressed as the Inka tyrant that sat next to her. “I would like to present to you my new husband Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui.”

The crowd gasped and several people, including Tara, yelled.

“You know him as an enemy, but now he is the greatest friend and ally we have. He will assist in ruling Cañari and ensure that we always have plentiful years as we have this year. , as he promised me—”

While Colla spoke the crowd swelled forward. They pushed themselves toward the platform with such zeal that Tara was unable to maneuver between them. She pushed and shoved to no avail. She squirmed when the crowd pushed against her that her feet no longer touched the ground and she was held up by those pressure exerted on her by those around her. She floated among the crowd as a branch in a river flowing in the direction they were going: toward the platform.

She panicked, she dare not speak while Colla spoke and focused her kicks onto those around her until she was exhausted. She ceased fighting to save her strength and while resting she examined the figures atop the platform. Colla stood at the front of the platform as she spoke, she was dressed in a silver-colored tunic and scarlet headband. Behind her, and standing as well, were princesses, guards, and several priests and priestesses. Some dressed in silver like Colla, others in the black and white checkered pattern of the Inka. The Inka Tyrant wore a red fringe wrapped around his head with three feathers ascending from it. He had air plugs in his ears the size of a grown man’s wrist and wore a golden collar the thickness of a hand over a tunic with a blue and golden checked pattern. His cloak was pale yellow and his long black hair flowed down the back of it.

She thrust her elbow into the person next to her whose walking stick was pressing into her armpit.

She wanted to get away from the horrid sight of the Inkas and be near her family.

She pushed herself to the ground and crawled between the legs of the spectators. Colla finished speaking, the crowd loosened, and before long she continued on her way to her family.

“Tara, is that you?” said one of Raura’s best friends named Ocllo. She pushed the onlookers aside as she ran to Tara.

Ocllo was skinny and relatively tall, worked harder and was stronger than any other woman in Milagro. She laughed at everything and played jokes on everyone, always at the worst of times. She was the complete opposite of Raura and that’s why Tara thought they were so close.

“We’ve been worried about you. Your poor mother, she looks like she’s aged 10 years in the last couple of days. Dear child! Doing things like that to your poor mother will come back and hurt you in the future. Oh you child, oh you bad child. Come with me, you are going to go to your mother and apologize for the rest of your life.”

She grabbed Tara’s wrist and pulled her with such force, Tara almost fell on her face.

Chapter Six

 

Achache threw down his food, ran to Tara and hugged her legs, “thithter you’re back!”

“Achache, come back here. Don’t make her trip,” said Raura.

Tara kicked him off of her legs and scowled at him. His shoulders slumped over and he returned to his meal.

Tara reached into her bag and withdrew the shell.

“So you decided to come back, huh?” said Raura. She was a couple pace away and was yet to see the mullu shell.

Her kin gathered around her.

“Mother, I’m sorry. I was selfish and did not consider how my actions would affect you. I brought you something so you can regain the favor with Colla,” said Tara.

Raura was shocked at the sight of the mullu and almost went for it. But she refocused on her daughter, “Did you learn anything from your venture?” asked Raura.

“I did, when I was—”

Raura pushed Tara’s hand to the side and hugged her. “I did not realize how afraid you were at being taken as an acllya.” Raura held her for such a long time that Tara wondered if she’d ever release her.

She finally released her at the urging of the other women who were gathered there. She held onto Tara’s shoulders.

“You were right. The Inka are here. I spoke with Colla and she said not to fear, she won’t allow you or any other girl to be taken as an acllya.”

Tara jumped and hugged her mother again.

“Mother, where’s father and the rest of the men?” Asked Tara.

Raura didn’t answer immediately, but took the mullu shell from Tara and examined it. After looking at the shell she answered Tara in a flat voice, “The Inka ordered that our men be instructed on how to be men of the Sun. He says that men should do more work and not only be warriors as they are now. He is teaching them how to farm as they do in Cusco and to perform other tasks. Us women are going to be instructed on how to sew and make textiles, it’s all so weird. They should be back soon.”

She examined the mullu shell again and looked back and forth from it and Tara.

“Now, tell me, where did you get the mullu? Never before, I mean, it is magnificent, but…we’re in the mountains and it comes from the ocean. Did you go to the ocean? And how did you get the Guayaquil to—”

Tara put her hand over her mother’s mouth. “—I’ll tell you all, but first I promised Pachamama I would give it to you so you can regain the favor you lost due to my disobedience and to seek your forgiveness. Really Mama, I’m so sorry, I learned soon after I left how much I need you.”

“I do not need to regain my favor with Colla because your absence did not cause her to be angry with us. She inquired of you and I explained to her it was your love of our gods that you scared and run off because of the idols of Inti. She laughed and we spoke of other things. We shall offer the shell to the gods as a thanksgiving for your safety,” said Raura.

“Mother, let’s just stay here, far away from the temple. I think it’s better this way. We can give it as an offering in Milagro when we return home,” said Tara.

“You are growing paranoid again Tara,” said Raura. She turned toward Achache. “Come Achache, we are going to the temple again to the place of offerings. We will eat when we return,” said Ruaca.

Tara hesitated, but followed her mother’s direction and followed her toward the temple.

She’s right, I’m paranoid is all.

Tara allowed the thought to escape her mind and told her mother the long story of all that happened to her after she left. Before she knew it, they were in the midst of hundreds of people.

“Hurry up Achache!” Stammered Tara. She looked behind her and saw Achache staring directly at the temple platform.

“Achache, you’re not supposed to stare at the platform, didn’t you hear—”

“—Tara, that man in the weird cloth’ ith looking at you,” said Achache.

“What?” She followed to where he pointed, to atop the platform, her eyes locked with Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui’s who was looking directly at her. She jerked her head away and laughed.

“Tara and Achache, hurry up,” shouted Raura from a few paces ahead.

Tara ran ahead to her mother. She wanted to tell her, but no, she didn’t believe that out of the thousands of people in the courtyard the Inka Tyrant, the most powerful man in the world, the son of the sun, commander of an army of 100,000, noticed her. No, it was just a coincidence.

They got to the beginning of the long line of people waiting to give their offerings. At the end of the line was a pair of priests, one from Cañari, a woman and dressed in traditional Cañari vestments, and the other a man that appeared to be a priest from the Inkas. He wore furs that Tara couldn’t identify over his checkered Tunic that descended to his knees. He wore a large golden chest plate and a llautu around his head. He disappeared from view.

She looked at her mother to see if she saw the Inka priest, she did. Tara wanted to run, but her mother had been right so far, she decided to trust her.

Tara felt a heavy gaze upon her from above as they patiently waited in line. She wanted to look up one more time, even just to see out of the top of her eye if what she felt was accurate.

She shook her head and picked up her story where she left off, She was at the part of the story where she found the mullu buried beneath the flower. She stumbled on the details and interrupted the narrative with long pauses as she considered what would happen if the Inka Tyrant was looking at her.

They drew nearer to the looming temple, its shadow fell upon her. She knew she was so close that if she were to look up now she should be able to see the imperfections on the face of Colla and the Inka tyrant. She may even be able to see the texture of their hair and the white of their eye. She gave into her yearnings, she had to look. Just for an instant. She could not resist.

Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui stared directly at her with such an intense gaze that Tara could not look away again. Their eyes locked and she felt that he saw her, all of her. Inside and out, her shame, or thoughts, the small hairs upon her legs. She felt violated. The world faded from her mind. All of the sounds around her echoed within her head.

She felt as if an invisible person punched her in the chest, and she started to sweat. Hualpa’s words bounced back and forth in Tara’s head. “We were told that there would be no acllyas gathered from Cañari without Colla’s permission. You’re safe.”

There was a nudge on her shoulders, “Are you okay Tara?” Asked her Raura.

“Huh?” Tara mustered the strength to break the stare.

“What’s wrong Tara, you don’t look well.”

“He saw me. He stared at me. He knows exactly who I am,” said Tara in wisps.

“Who?”

“The Inka Tyrant,” said Tara.

Raura laughed.

“No! Don’t look. He has powers and you can’t look away,” said Tara.

“There are thousands of people here, why do you think he saw you?” said Raura. She looked up to the platform where Sapa Inka Tupacc Yupanqui sat and immediately turned back to Tara. “He is still looking at you. He is standing upon the edge of the platform looking directly at you. Quick, say your prayer and leave,” said Raura.

“I told you not to look!” said Tara.

“I know, but you also told me I would not be able to look away. I am not worried but go present your offerings so we can be gone. I do not like the way he was looking at you.”

What does that mean? He sees me, it doesn’t mean he can do anything?” said Tara.

“Tara, he is married to Colla, he very may be able to do what he pleases. And what he desires no one knows. But still, why would he select you, out of the thousands of girls, to be an acllya? You are beautiful, but there are hundreds of other beautiful girls here,” said Raura.

The confidence that Tara had dissipated and the pain caused by the stick wound in her leg returned as they approached the pair of priests that accepted the offerings for the silver idol of Mamaquilla mounted to the side of the temple. She sensed that every move she made, small or large, was being watched and admired from atop the platform.

I’m just paranoid, there are thousands of girls and Colla wouldn’t allow me to be taken.

“Your offering please,” said the Inka priest.

Tara jumped from fright.

She stared at the furs he wore. Beneath it all was his checkered tunic barely visible hidden behind the robes and a large golden chest plate shaped as a beaming sun. He had earplugs nearly as big as those of the Inka Tyrant. His llautu was wrapped around his head and had several feathers inlaid into it.

“You like this fur?” He asked with a deep voice. “It’s a white jaguar. You won’t believe me, but Inti gave me the power to kill it with words alone. I spoke to it with such cunning words and gave it such sweet gifts that one day it followed my commands. I led it away from the safety of its home into a trap I made. I threw a rope around its neck and strangled it to preserve the white coat.”

“Such a rare animal as a white jaguar would be revered as a huaca here in Cañari and no one would be allowed to kill it,” said Tara.

“Well, aren’t you the abrupt one? That’s a sure way to get yourself to be punished, maybe someone will be wearing your beautiful skin someday.” He laughed at his own joke.

“The offering?” She asked

“Oh yeah, right. Please, present your offering to Mamaquilla and Inti.”

Tara reached into the bag that Hualpa gave her and withdrew the mullu shell. “I present this offering to Mamaquilla for thanksgiving.”

The priest admired the mullu shell. He tilted his head and looked questionably at Tara. He held it up so Colla and the Inka Tyrant on the platform above them would see it.

“For what are you so grateful to give such an offering, an item that is usually so precious it is usually buried with the noblest of people?” said the priest. He lowered the shell but held onto it, he didn’t put it at the base of the idol along with the other offerings.

Tara hesitated for a moment and then blurted out, “EVERYTHING!” She covered her mouth, surprised by the volume of her words.

“Everything? You have to be more specific than that.”

“I’m thankful for my family, my life! My fields, my home, my llajta. And that Colla is not mad at Mother for my dishonorable and cowardly acts. I’m thankful that Hualpa let me go…”Tara continued listing more things, even down to the quality of the maize they grew.

Raura tapped her shoulder.

“Oh yeah, and that’s about it,” said Tara with an exhale.

“I see now why you have such an offering” The priest smiled. “Now, Mamaquilla and Inti may return a favor upon you. If they were to do so, what is it that you would desire?” The priest leaned against the wall, expecting her list to take awhile.

“I don’t think there is anything to gain from it besides forgiveness for disobedience. But should Mamaquilla, in all of her wisdom, desire to reciprocate by giving something to me I would ask her to keep me safe from being taken by the Inka Ty—”Tara paused before finishing the word tyrant and tried to remember the proper name of the ruler, “I mean Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui and forced to become an —”

“—Raura and Tara of Milagro llajta?” Interrupted a voice that sounded smooth, like a clear night with a full moon reflecting the stars off of a still lake.

Tara didn’t finish her sentence and looked up. There stood a daughter of Colla standing before them on the white stairs that led to the platform. The princess wore a light grey dress that reached her ankles. Over her shoulders, she wore a loose shawl that was light purple, with dark purple moons stitched into it. On top of her head covered in long flowing black hair, she wore the noble llauta, yellow tassels that were wrapped around her head several times and inlaid with beautiful and rare feathers.

Tara froze.

Raura pushed Tara down onto her knees and they both kneeled before her. “Ñuestra, what have we done to earn the presence of someone so great?” said Raura.

“Rise, I do not come down to you to be bowed to, but on account of your beautiful daughter. I ask that you would allow her to come to the top of the platform and present her offering to us instead of Amauta Villac,” said Ñuestra.

Achache ran off.

“Amauta Villac?” Asked Tara.

“I am Amauta Villac,” said the priest that Tara had given the offering to.

Raura stepped between Tara and Ñuestra. “Allow me to bring the mullu shell to them. I know the rituals better than she and would be better suited to present such a valuable object.”

Ñuestra smiled, “Colla appreciates your offer, but Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui wishes that your daughter go and personally present it to him and that you accompany her. Besides myself and Colla, she is the most beautiful girl among us. And Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui wants to see the white birthmark on your cheek. He says he’s never seen such a mark before, the blanch color is so pure that he must see it,”

Tara was so afraid she bit straight through her lip. Blood flowed into her mouth. She gripped Raura’s hand.

Amauta Villac put the mullu shell back into Tara’s limp hand and held it there until Tara clenched it.

Ñuestra extended her hand to Tara to escort her to the platform.

Color fled Tara’s sight, everything blurred and her head felt light like it could fly, but it was heavy, so heavy she couldn’t support it. Her vision darkened until it was a small funnel of light. She reached for the wall of the temple to catch herself.  She fell against it and felt herself slide down the brick wall.

She did not lose consciousness, only strength.  A crowd encircled her. She felt a burning sensation in her legs. Hands grabbed her and lifted her up.

She tried to stand but the world faded again she fell. Raura caught her and held her tight against her breasts.

“Help me, Mother,” she wheezed.

“Oh Tara, I should have listened to you, my baby. I promise, he will not take you away from me,” whispered Raura back to her. She stroked the white birthmark “Now gather your strength and do what they command you with such confidence. You are a Cañari woman, show them what that means,” said Raura in a louder voice.

 

Chapter Seven

 

Tara grasped her chest, it was pounding. She concentrated on lifting her legs, one after another, up the steep and narrow stone stairs with silver plated walls on both sides. The light from above shined and reflected off of the silver-plated walls. She squeezed her eyes closed due to the blinding brilliance. Up she went, feeling the way up the stairs with her feet.

Amauta Villac followed behind her, and her mother in front.

When she ran out of stairs left she opened her eyes and put her gaze directly into the Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui’s.

“Do not look him directly in the eyes, he shall blind you,” said Amuata Villac.

“Then blind me,” said Tara spitefully.

The guard that stood beside the Inka tyrant stepped forward, “This is Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui, Ruler of Tahuantinsuyu, Son of the Sun—”

“—I know who he is. He’s the man that’s here to destroy Cañari,” said Tara.

The guards jumped forward to tackle Tara, but the Sapa Inka raised his hand to his guards to hold them.

“We could have thrown you off of the platform for saying that,” said Amauta Villac. The sun reflected off of his chest plate and stuck Tara in her eyes.

“You will throw me off the platform? Well here, I’ll do it for you,” said Tara. She dashed edge of the platform, but it was higher than she expected and Achache at the bottom looking up at her. She hesitated for an instant. Several hands grabbed her from behind and pulled her away from the edge.

“I said I could have you thrown off, not that we would,” said Amauta Villac. “Here, give me the offering and I shall present them to Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui.”

“No, I shall take it directly,” said Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui in a slow and deep voice. He spoke to Tara. “You have a mullu shell that is as spectacular as you, do you not?”

He approached her. She did not break eye contact with him.

He caressed the birthmark on her face.

She clenched her jaw and used all her strength to maintain her composure during this violation of her dignity. He moved his hand to behind her ear and removed a white flower.

Tara grabbed her ear shocked that a flower was there. She never put it there, nor did she feel it. The flower was the same one that gave her the mullu shell, the one that bore no roots or leaves.

The Sapa Inka put it to his nose and inhaled, “Never have I smelled such an aroma. Where did you get this?”

Tara did not answer him.

He walked back to Colla and gave it to her.

“You are a daughter of Mamaquilla and Inti. Only a daughter of gods can wear such a flower and as a daughter of the gods you will no longer be considered a Cañari but as an Inka. You will be an Inka by privilege. You shall be taken from this land of which you do not belong and go to Cusco. You shall reside only in the holiest of the acllahuasis,” said Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui.

Tara closed her eyes and cried.

“You, a most obstinate little woman breaks down in tears at this honor. You were just afraid, weren’t you?” asked Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui.

“These aren’t tears of joy. I would rather die than go there,” said Tara. She lunged toward the nearest guard and gripped his sheathed knife. The guard grabbed her hands to keep her from taking it. She pried her legs against his legs to leverage it free, but she was not strong enough. Several men pulled at her shoulders and sides to get her off of their comrade, but she wouldn’t let go. She twisted his hands so the knife pointed directly at her belly. She wiggled free and sent herself toward the sharp blade point with strength enough to impale herself. The guard with whom she wrestled collapsed causing Tara to miss the blade by a fingers width.

During this brief scuffle, Raura yelled and cried but no one heard it. She ran to Tara and held her close. She turned to Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui, “Such a calling—”

“—No one shall not speak to Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui directly,” interrupted Amauta Villac, “What is it that you wish to tell him and I shall relay it for you.”

Raura looked from the Sapa Inka to Tara, who was pinned to the ground by several guards, and back to the Sapa Inka and then addressed Amauta Villac. “Such a calling for one’s daughter is all a mother desires,” said Raura. “Please forgive her, and the family. It’s an honor for her to go to the acllahausi, she is just afraid. Please remember, oh dear Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui, she is young and unfamiliar with the customs of such a great one as yourself.”

“I hate you,” Tara mouthed to her mother.

Amauta Villac relayed the message.

Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui stood up and approached Tara. He lowered himself next to her, “Colla told me that the women of Cañari are very strong. I believed her, but until now I did not see what she meant. Young Tara,” he said and he held her hand and lifted her off of the ground. “The women of the acllahuasi are strong too, and they are what makes us Inkas such a great civilization. What is it that you desire that will convince you to go to Cusco to the acllahuasi?” said the Sapa Inka.

“I’ll never go,” said Tara.

“Knowing my daughter, “said Raura to Amauta Villac. “she would that you treat us with tradition ayni. Provide her gifts and a feast and she shall then go to you without resistance.”

“There is no other way, the law of reciprocity that we call ayni shall always be honored,” said The Sapa Inka.

“Amauta Villac, I want you to personally oversee that Tara and her family are brought back to Milagro safely and until she understands the privilege that has been bestowed upon her and her family, do not allow her to leave your sight.” He finished and dismissed them.

“Oh, and have Tara carried on a litter,” he added as they descended the stairs.

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

Tara and Raura set on their way to Milagro as they were ordered. They were joined by the rest of the women from Milagro and the surrounding communities that were at Guapondelig, and by Tara’s newly appointed guard.

Tara didn’t speak for the remainder of the day, nor the following day, or the next. She knew her desires and opinions were naught and so she saw no reason to grace them with her voice, or with her breath, her breath that she wished would stop. Everything within her, life itself, was absent. The moment they left Guapondelig Tara jumped off of the litter and walked at such a slow pace it took the group four days to return to Milagro instead of the normal two.

Waranga Hualpa stood in front of his regiment of one hundred and ninety-nine soldiers to welcome the residents to Milagro. He assured them that the presence of his army wasn’t to cause harm and only to assist them with building a brighter future.

He ran to Tara when he saw her, “Tara, I didn’t know if I should believe you when you told me you were from Milagro, I see you have come. Welcome home.”

She passed him without giving him a glance and went to her family’s small hut nestled on a nearby knoll in the forested hills that smelled of guavas and the delicate flowers that surrounded the house. The twelve assigned guards tagged along behind her, the litter behind them, and Raura behind it.

Raura convinced the guards to remain outside while she was inside and she entered through the cloth door of the one-room stone house, Tara was in the darkest corner laying down.

“Tara,” she said as she put Tara’d head on her lap. “I did not see any way to refuse the Sapa Inka’s request, running is not honorable. Don’t be mad. Our honor is higher than any other llajta because of you, Tara. The benefits given to our llajta have already started arriving because of your reputation, did you see the sacks of coca leaves that Waranga Hualpa and his soldiers have for us? You being an aclla is a great thing, why aren’t you happy about all this?”

Tara only stared at her. Raura sighed when she realized that she wouldn’t receive an answer.

“I have reason to believe that the guards do not know about Achache,” said Raura. “I do not know where he is, but maybe that is best, I need at least one child left. Do not mention his name or refer to him. Ugh, what am I talking about, you won’t even talk.”

Raura removed Tara’s head from her lap and made her way to the door.

“After whom would you prefer that I name my children after? Those children that will result from my rape? How about I name them after you, Raura. It will be the name of the woman that’s responsible for their existence and their ultimate miserable death,” said Tara.

“I hope, I hope…” said Raura. She tore the cloth door from the fastener. She picked it up and threw it and left. Tara heard her yell orders to the women to ready the community for the arrival of the Sapa Inka.

Tara didn’t leave the hut for the following days. She was so miserable to be around that no one visited her, and Raura found another place to sleep. Her guards stood outside and occasionally peeked in for the first few days, but after seeing her in the same place and position, they ceased watching her. She overheard their conversations and they decided that it would only require two of them to watch her. The other ten left to join Hualpa’s regiment and spent their time readying the area for the arrival of the Sapa Inka, but mostly chasing girls.

One evening she was awoken by the deep-voiced song being sung not to impress, but one of reflection, like the singer didn’t know his song was being heard. It reminded Tara of her eldest brother who used to do the same. After several verses of the song Tara felt a spark of energy within her, it was enough for her to emerge from the dark hut and see who sang this song.

The two guards that remained to watcher her sat against the wall of the hut, drunk and asleep. Their bronze and stone weapons stood beside them.

She imagined using the weapons to kill the two guards and escaping into the dark jungle of the savages. She heard stories of girls doing so before, but the attackers and their families were put to death in brutal ways. She supposed it would be better to kill herself.  She was drawn to the small dagger that the guards carried. It was the same kind that she tried to stab herself with on the temple platform at Guapondelig. She imagined the warm blood flowing down her neck as life left her, how good the cut would be. She smiled for the first time. A coy ran across her foot and disappeared under her hut.

Tara took large steps toward the guards, she was mindful to be as quiet, she watched for branches, rocks, anything that made noise and could wake the guards. The closer she got to them, the more excited she grew. She would put the dagger into her abdomen, one thrust and slice until she lost all strength, no, she would slit her throat. There is nothing to be done to save a life after the throat is slit. Or, she felt her heartbeat, I could try to stab myself right in my heart, the ultimate way to dye.

She bent over and put her finger along the dagger blade and it bore blood. She felt exalted watching it come out of her. More! Let more leave me!

She felt the empty and sadness pouring out of her. She sliced her palm and laughed out loud as the blood flowed down her arm. She got distracted from her reflection in the polished bronze of a battle ax. What is so pretty about this face that even the Sapa Inka takes notice of it? Is it my white mole?

She hesitated, unable to decide whether to make the cut of death with the ax that bore her reflection or the small dagger.

The soft singing started again.

She picked up the dagger and put it against her throat. She felt more alive than she remembered at any point in her life. Peace overtook her.

Just cut!

The song filled the air. It sounded exactly like her brother’s voice.

Brother, I’m coming to you!

She slid the dagger across her neck, but just a little and wish such weak force that it hardly cut her delicate skin. She examined the blad and was shamed by the pitifully small streak of blood. She put the dagger on her neck again and the image of her dead brother singing by the river flashed in her mind with such a vivid picture that she thought it was him. The sweet idea of being free of the world didn’t seem as fulfilling anymore, not until she saw who sang.

She placed the dagger by the guard’s side and tiptoed to a nearby vantage point to see who was singing while holding the slit on her throat with one hand. After she saw who was singing she was going to return to finish killing herself.

She poked her head around the corner of the hut next to hers, from there she saw the river. The light of a million stars lit up Waranga Hualpa sitting alone making a pair of shoes and singing to himself. He looked up and saw her.

“Tara! Where have you been? I’ve been wanting to say hello. Come, come sit with me.”

Tara ducked back behind the corner.

“Oh, come on, really Tara? Come back here,” demanded Waranga Hualpa.

She heard him stand up. She dashed back to her cabin, where the soldiers slept. She still had enough time to slit her throat.

Why had I been so stupid to look!

The guards were awake and were in a frenzy looking for her.

She hesitated for a moment while she decided which course of action would result in less of a punishment. She went back to the river and sat beside Waranga Hualpa with her legs in front of her and her weight supported by her hands behind her. She said nothing.

“So now you come over here and act like we’re best of friends, do you now? What is it that you want from me?”

Tara didn’t respond but wiped the blood from her neck.

“And what happened to you there? Every time I see you there’s something wrong with you,” he said. He wiped her neck with a small towel he pulled out of his chuspa. “It’s not that bad, it’ll heal up within in a couple of days.”

Tara expressed no gratitude.

“Fine, have it your way then. I heard you caught the attention of the Sapa Inka and he was so taken by you that he gave you access to the acllahuasi in Cusco. I don’t recall any time other time that a non-Inka girl was allowed there. I guess that’s congratulations!” said Waranga Hualpa.

There was a tear in Tara’s eye. She wiped it.

“I know, I remember you saying you are afraid of being an acllya, but really though, it’s a wonderful life, or so I hear. I actually can’t go inside one, but everything will be provided for you, and you will participate in the holiest rituals in the entire empire. You will be held in higher esteem than I am, a man that’s given everything to give to fighting for the Sapa Inka’s glory. You! This little girl sitting in front of me will be a child of the—”

She stood up while he spoke and put her face right up against Waranga Hualpa’s,

“—I don’t want to be an aclla, I don’t want to be raped or have my children killed in whatever ritual you think your God commands. I will find a way to rally an army to fight you, or I will kill myself. I hate you SO much,” said Tara.

Waranga Hualpa backed away and created distance between them,

“You won’t be raped or ravaged and I don’t know where you heard that but they are wrong—”

“—how do you know? You just said that you don’t know what goes on in the Acllahuasi. You have no idea.”

Hualpa stared at her and then chuckled.

“I just reached a peaceful mindset from my music after a long day and now you come to ruin it. Understand this, you may get your battle, but know that if you do get it that the Inka will order your entire village destroyed, everyone killed, farms burned and the fields salted—”

“—There is no salt here—” interrupted Tara.

“—Stop. Interrupting. me.”

Hualpa’s lips were pressed together and he was breathing heavily. He didn’t blink as he stared down at Tara.

Tara thought that he might hit her.

He calmed down and then continued.

“The Sapa Inka will have salt brought here and it will render your land useless. But it will also be forbidden to be inhabited again, forever. Your holy places will be degraded, your histories will be forgotten, your honor and any prestige will be gone. In short, Milagro will have never existed.”

Tara opened her mouth to interrupt again, but she saw Hualpa’s temper flare and she decided to let it rest.

“But really, you confuse me, little girl. The Sapa Inka has given you the greatest honor a girl can ever hope to receive. He did more than that, he allowed you to live after insulting him, and he honored you higher than any girl I know of. This is how you say thank you by threatening war? This is how you fulfill the principle of Ayni that rules all time and space?  I have seen women less beautiful than you stop armies of 20,000 in their tracks and beg for mercy for their people and it was given. You are more powerful than any army you can muster and you decide to waste it” He picked up his drum and turned away.

Tara gaped as she watched him leave, “LIES! YOU ARE A LIAR!”

He raised a fist to her.

Tara felt angry. It was the first thing she felt since learning of her fate. Anger unto hatred. She ran past the guards and back to her hut. She collapsed on the straw covered floor, but she felt life within her simmering and the depression and sleep wouldn’t overtake her like they did the previous days. She laid there and pretended to sleep for the rest of the day and after so long of laying there, she didn’t know if she was awake while she laid there or if she had dosed into a light revere. When she came to it, the world of the insects was alive and the humans had been overtaken by a moist solemn stillness. It seemed to her that she was alone in the world.

She got out of bed and paced in the sticky darkness.

She opened the flap on her hut. In the fog, she saw the aura of a torch burning in the distance. Her guards were sitting down outside the hut sleeping in the exact spot with a vessel of chicha next to them. She stepped over one of their arms and slowly walked to the plaza. She heard a muffled yell that traveled a little distance in the fog. And another yell from the other direction.

She jumped behind a bush and waited a moment. Both screams were silenced and followed by the same insect-filled darkness.

Is everyone dead? Did Waranga Hualpa kill them all for her outburst?     The more she thought about it the more she realized it’s what happened.

He killed everyone! They are all dead. And now I am truly alone.

She continued on the path until she reached the torch. It stood alone and she saw no indication of why it was there or who put it there, but she didn’t stop. She was almost to the place where she could see the plaza. She felt the suspense, she knew she would see a massacre happening or having just happened. She wanted to stop it.

There was another scream in the distance.  She was a few paces away from the vantage point and the fog was lifting, she held her breath. She wanted to sprint there to see what was happening, but a hand covered her mouth and another grabbed her waist.

“Shhhh,” said her captors.

They gagged her and threw her over someone’s shoulders.

 

Chapter Nine

 

Tara kicked and punched her captors as they carried her deep into the jungle. She paused here and there to try and discern who they were, the color of their cloaks or the style of their hair, but to no avail. It was too dark and they were disguised.

She resumed her struggled.

After Tara exhausted herself, her captors set her down with care not to hurt her.

“Tara, be very quiet,” it was a woman’s voice. Tara recognized it. Tara tried to punch her, but her captor caught her fist and laughed.

“This is Ocllo, your mother’s friend and Tanto from the neighboring llajta. We are here to rescue you.”

Ocllo made a whistle that sounded identical to a bird call. “That’s the signal that I found you,” said Ocllo.

Tara was initially relieved to hear that she was being rescued. Then she was angry at them.

“I’m going to let go of your mouth. Do you promise not to scream? I am a friend.”

Tara shook her head in the affirmative.

They loosened the ropes and gag.

“WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST TELL ME THAT AND I WOULD HAVE COME WILLINGLY! I thought you were the Inka,” said Tara in a harsh whisper.

Ocllo and Tanto laughed, “Where’s the fun in that, my dear?” said Tanto.

Tara bit her lip and glared at Tanto. In any other circumstance, she would attack her as she had so many times in the past. She held her ground.

“Well, thank you both for rescuing me, even though I don’t appreciate how you did it.”

“Eventually, you’ll laugh about it,” said Tanto.

Tara ignored her, “So what’s going on and where is everyone? Where are we going?”

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re out of your little depression,” said Ocllo, “We’ll fill you in as we walk to the gathering point.”

Ocllo lit a small torch and led her along small trails a little way into the jungle to a tree covered clearing. They continued down a small path that Tara never knew existed.

“Your brother Achache found your father and he raised a band of men to cover our escape from Milagro. After learning about your fate, all of the women are afraid for their own daughters and demanded that we escape. When we learned of Achache’s actions, we poisoned the chicha of many of the men, but the main force is still asleep. It’s only a matter of time until they awake and see what happened. When that happens,” Ocllo paused for a moment, “At least we’ll have each other. That’s the most important thing.”

By the time they arrived the fog and clouds disappeared and the sky lit up with the colorful cosmos.

“A good sign, the gods are looking over us,” said Ocllo as they entered into the small meadow with a turbulent stream of clear water cutting a path through the middle of it. Hundreds of women and girls huddling together, many of whom Tara had never seen. Whispers filled the air.

Raura ran to Tara and embraced her. Tara pushed her away and she fell backward.

“Don’t touch me! Because of you, my life is ruined, BECAUSE OF YOU! I hate you, I hate everything thing you’ve done for me. You’re the worst person that in the world, even the Sapa Inka is better than you!  I hope whatever he gave you in exchange for me causes you to suffer as much as I will,” said Tara.

Raura got back up and hugged again, this time harder so she couldn’t push away. “I am sorry I did not listen to you, I am so sorry that took me this long to realize that you were right. You will not go with the Inkas, we are running. I love you eTara, please forgive me.”

“You told me that honorable people don’t run.”

“Fuck my honor! I want my daughter,” said Raura.

Tara ceased resisting her mother’s embrace. As angry as she was, as much as she despised her, there wasn’t anything she wanted more at that moment than her embrace.

The sound of a Cañari battle horn jetted over the jungle and filled the air.

All of the women gasped.

A foreign horn, one much stronger and loud answered.

A steady rumbling of drum beats overtook the sound of the birds and insects.

“We should have already started our journey into the dark forest,” said Raura.

She climbed a lone boulder that was in the middle of the stream that flowed through the meadow.

“Ladies of Mamaquilla-Ladies of our lunar mother-the Inkas have shown us that they don’t care for our daughters, our customs, or the promises they made to Colla. They are forcing us to flee our homes and place the hope of our survival in our former enemies in the Forest of the Flatlands. Our fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons are fighting a much stronger foe where victory is impossible so that we can escape. If we do not run fast enough the Inkas will destroy all of us, take our daughters to the acllyahausi, and will make it that we are forgotten forever. We will only be able to outrun them with the help of Pachamama and Mamaquilla. At this time, give your offerings to the Earth and beg her that she will help us.”

Raura jumped from the boulder to the grass. She removed a blanket from her bag, it was the blanket that she swaddled her eldest son in when he was a babe. She wiped her tears with it, got onto her knees and gently set it into the rushing stream.

The other women, mother, and daughters did the same. They sang songs, cried, and begged Pachamama and Mamaquilla for her help as they fled.

There was a louder horn this time, and it blared in repeated intervals. It was the Cañari command to arms.

“Let’s go!” Yelled Raura.

She picked up her bag and running along a game trail. Tara followed her and the dozens of women and girls behind her.

Tara sprinted to catch up to Raura and when she caught her breath she asked Raura, “When will Achache and father be back with us?” asked Tara as she ran alongside her mother.

“They may not be back with us. They aren’t fighting to win, they are fighting to provide us an escape,” said Raura.

“Then who will honor them, Mama? When Papa and Achache die, who will tell their stories? And if running doesn’t save us, who will remember our stories? And our gods? And…and…everything?” said Tara.

An Inkan battle horn blared from the direction they ran. Several birds took off in flight.

Raura stopped running,

“They’ve surrounded us,” said one of Tara’s aunt’s.

“This way, down the cliff,” said Raura. “Pachamama will help us.”

They ran down a narrow game trail that cut through vegetation so thick that it nearly cut out all light from the morning sun. The trail led down the wall of a steep canyon. At the base of the towering walls was the river that led to the Forest of the Flatland.

The hundreds of women followed one another down the trail forming a long slow moving line. Raura insisted that Tara remain in the lead with her. They both knew but dared not say, that the line stretched so long that it was likely the trailing women wouldn’t make it.

The trail they followed came and went, and more of the time the leaders were creating a new trail through the dense bushes and shrubbery full of insects, spiders, and snakes. As they worked through cutting through one particularly thick patch of thorny bushes that protruded a vile smell that made those cutting it vomit.

A message was passed to them from the women in the rear that while running, a young girl tripped on a protruding root and split her head open. As the message was relayed to Tara and Raura, the blood from the girl’s head streamed down the moist trail and pooled at their feet.

Raura and Tara followed the stream of blood back to where the girl fell. She was surrounded by her mother and her other relatives, all who carried supplies and babies on their backs.

Drum beats and screams echoed off of the opposing canyon wall.

“How are they gaining on us!” Yelled Ocllo.

“Pachamama will guide us,” said Raura. She looked down at the child lying in blood.

Raura lifted the child’s arm and it was stiff.

“She is dead, we can hardly outrun the Inkas carrying what little we have. We will have to leave her.”

The mother of the girl yelled and the other women gasped at the idea. Such an insult to leave a child’s body on the trail wasn’t even fit for the children of the enemy.

“No mama, she’s still alive!” said Tara. “Look, she’s breathing, hardly, but more so than nothing.”

“Tara, she is as cold as any other dead person, look at all that blood, there is no way she is alive,” said Raura.

“Please Tara, carry her for me,” said the mother. She carried her twins on her back.

“Nobody will be left here alive or dead for the sake of my life,” said Tara. She picked her up and put her body around her shoulders.

“I hope you will be able to keep up,” said Raura. She resumed running.

The blood from the child’s wound trickled down her front, and down her legs until it wet her feet.

They continued their journey which was reduced to a slow walk due to the darkness and difficulty of the trail.

When they returned to the front of the line, the forage was cleared, but the jungle grew thicker and the trail became more treacherous. Everyone was reduced to a slow walk.

She felt the shallow breaths of the girl. Everyone else said the girl was dead, but Tara felt that she was alive. Soon Tara’s shoulders were numb from the weight of the small girl, but she didn’t dare put her down or show any weakness.

“Tara,” said the girl on her shoulders.

Tara jumped and almost threw the body.

“I’m going to die because of you. Should you have only done what you were supposed to do I would have a long life ahead of me. How many more will die while you try to run from your fate? Do you really think you can outrun the most powerful man in the world, the son of the sun? Can’t you see that Pachamama wants you to go with them?”

“It’s too late!” Yelled Tara.

The women around her looked at her.

“Nothing, sorry, I’m just hearing—never mind.”

“The darkness is bothering all of us, don’t worry, we’ll hear the river any moment now,” said Tanto. “We have to, we’ve been going for what seems the entire day.”

“And then what?” said a woman that Tara didn’t know. “We get to the river and what? We wait for the Inkas to kill us there?”

“No! We will follow the river to the Forest of the Flatlands, to the land that is ruled by our new friends,” said Raura.

“You mean, who we hope will be our new friends and not just more people that will kill us,” said Tanto.

A series of horns echoed down the canyon.

The dead, or dying girl spoke to Tara again, “Are all these women going to die just so you can live your life that you deem more important than theirs? You are, I know you are. You’re just like your mother and only think of yourself and your honor.”

“I won’t ever be like her!” Yelled Tara.

“Tara, what’s wrong?” said Tanto.

“The girl on my shoulders, she’s—”.

“—It’s the river!” Yelled Raura. She was running back up the trail. “We’re at the river, just a little further. I hear it!”

Tanto took of running, along with the other women around them. Tara walked behind them. She was too weak to run.

“If they try to cross the river, you’ll all die,” said the child on Tara’s shoulders.

“Shut up!”

The river was much larger than any river that the women had seen and they stood on the banks gaping at the size of it. It smelled of mud.

The cliff the trail descended stood behind them like a wall, sometime in the darkness the opposing canyon wall gave way to the flatlands, but no one saw because of the dense jungle.

“There’s no way we can cross this,” said a woman.

No one replied but just stared at the river.

“Pachamama will guide us,” said Raura moment later. “There has to be a way.”

“No, Pachamama will not guide us!” said Tara.

She placed the child on a small patch of grass.

“The only guidance Pachamama has given us has been given to me. Each time I try to run she guides me back to the Inkas, it’s clear to me now, I must go and submit myself to them. It’s the only way. I can plead for our lives and for them to forgive us. Hualpa told me that the Inka will always forgive. Because of me, we will not be forgotten,” said Tara.

Raura gave Tara a blank stare. “What are you talking about Tara? You have gone mad,” said Raura.

A barrage of rocks fell upon them. Tara looked up, the Inkas stood on a crag far above them and dropped rocks.

One of the rocks hit Tacto on the head. She fell over and didn’t get back up.

“Quick, get cover!” Yelled Raura.

Tara met Raura’s glare.

“Mama, this is the day when I become a woman. I thought I couldn’t make a personal sacrifice for anyone else but myself. Now I know I must, I understand what the gods what me to do. The men are at war with weapons that are meant to fight, but my beauty is meant to win!”

“We are running because of you, and now you are going to give up?” Said Raura.

“No, you’re running for the protection of everyone else. I was just the first one to be taken. Allow me to protect them. Only with me sacrificing myself will the others be protected.”

The bodies of two Inka soldiers and one of the Cañari fighters fell onto the beach in front of them.

The women jumped from freight. It appeared the Cañari soldier pushed the two Inkan men off of the cliff and they pulled him with them.

“Absolutely not Tara,” said Raura. “They will just kill you despite your beauty and offerings. They will then continue until we are all dead unless if we get to the other side of the river. Think of all the men that have already died fighting for you.” She pointed at the dead Cañari soldier on the beach.

“Mama, everyone will die. This is a hopeless flight and our loved men are fighting a hopeless battle. Don’t you realize, the flower that appeared behind my ear in Guapondelig was meant to win me favor with the Sapa Inka, the mullu shell I found was so he would see value in me. My birthmark is meant to gain his attention, and my beauty is meant to win this war. Mother, please listen to me, let me go.”

“Think of them,” mumbled Raura. She pointed at the corpses of the unknown Cañari soldier, the child on the grass, and Tacto.

Muffled drum beats mixed with the orchestra of insects filled the air as Tara and Raura stared at each other.

”If I don’t go,” whimpered Tara, “all those that fell will be forgotten, and we’ll all be forgotten when they kill us or drown trying to cross the river. Even if you cross the river, the people of the Forest of the Flatlands will just kill you. I am willing to go through torture for the rest of my life, be raped and ravaged so you can live, so our stories can survive. Just let me be remembered.”

By this time the other women that surrounded them voiced support for Tara to surrender herself. If all it took was Tara to sacrifice herself to end the ambush they argued the trade was well worth it. The women with daughters including Ocllo didn’t want to delay any longer.

Tara started to cry.

“Mother, I was given the name of Inka by privilege, no one in all of Cañari can say that. Being my mother makes you one of the most honored women in Cañari. I know the slaughter of our people will only end once you give me up,” said Tara between sobs. “I’m going to go with or without your blessing. Come, Mother, make me beautiful in all the reds and valuable textiles we have with us so that the men will be powerless in my presence.”

She stroked her mother’s cheek like how Raura always stroked hers when she was a toddler.

Raura went to argue again, but the collective voice of the women that agreed with Tara overcame hers. “Let her go! Let her go!” They repeated.

“Fill a basin with water from the river and any soap that we have. Go and gather scented flowers so that we can make her smell good,” shouted Raura to the women nearest her.

The basin was brought and Raura placed Tara’s hair in a basin of soap and water and washed the filth of the jungle out of it.

“Mother, I can hear the screams. They are drawing nearer though, hurry so I can stop them,” said Tara.

Raura stopped washing her hair. “I cannot do this Tara. I made the mistake of allowing you to go to Guadepolig when you knew it was the wrong thing to do. This is my chance to redeem myself.”

“Mama, I know you can. Listen to that loud screaming, the horns, and the drums. That’s death coming for you that only I can stop. Please, mother, do this for everyone you love, for your home, for Milagro,” said Tara.

Ocllo put a towel into the water in the basin and wiped Tara’s face. “Come, we shall work on your face next. We will make your face look like a goddess painted on the finest ceramics of the Chimor Empire. I know the men in Cusco liked them beyond any others.”

Tears flowed down Tara’s face.

 

Chapter Ten

 

Tara ascended the path and followed the sounds of the screaming and horns which filled the jungle around her. Not far up the path from where the river, Tara stepped over the dead body of Ocllo’s eldest son and an injured Inkan warrior who sat against a bush too hurt to press on. She heard sporadic fighting around her, grunts groans and screams, but the vegetation and terrain hid them. Three men fought a ways off on her left. She was afraid to pass them but she didn’t leave herself a choice and she continued. When the soldiers saw her they ceased fighting and followed her up the trail.

Her smooth black hair was oiled and reached her mid-back with a braid along the sides. She wore the formal wooden ring around her head. She put a feather behind one ear and carried a yellow flower in her hand. She was the only hope that Milagro had, everything and the lives of everyone depended on her. She knew that if she failed, all would be lost.

She came upon four men engaged in a fight, two Inka and two of her countrymen, their fight blocked her path through the dark jungle. Three bodies laid dead at their feet.

“Excuse me, may I pass? I’m seeking Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui,” said Tara. When they saw such a beautiful young girl, more beautiful due to the grime and blood that made up their surroundings, all fight left them. They led Tara for a while and cleared the path of the dead bodies. Any man, both Inka and from Milagro, that saw her ceased his activity and assisted in clearing the path and the others surrounded her to protect and escort her to Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui.

Tara’s dress was azul inlaid with black condors. She didn’t give heed to the fighting, her mind was occupied with each individual person that depended on her.

They reached the clearing at the top of the steep trail.

“Tara?” She heard a man yell. It was her father. He stood against a heavy tree and blood came down his black hair covered scalp and ran along his left ear into a puddle on the ground. Next to him laid four slain Inkan soldiers.

Tara stopped and turned to her father. He extended his arm to her, she stood erect with no indication of going to him. Guaman yelled, “What happened, why are you walking with them?” He pointed to the soldiers that escorted her. He pushed off the tree and limped to her. Tara commanded that her assumed guard lower their weapons and allow her father through. He looked confused.

“I am going to surrender myself, Father. You protected me my whole life, and now it’s time for me to save you,” said Tara.

“I don’t need you to save me. I was saved by your brothers, and now I’m alive and they are dead. They ruined what used to be me,” said Guaman. “I won’t let that happen again.”

He raised his club to fight her escort.

“NO! NO FATHER!” Tara yelled. She pulled down his arm and stood between the soldiers and her father. Once the tension eased Tara turned to him.

“Your sons saved you so you could walk with me at this moment, at this terrible moment. I go to surrender to save their memories, our gods and our lives. If I don’t do this, their memory will die with me and you. The memories of all our heroes will be gone,” said Tara.

“Walk with me,” Tara whispered. “don’t let me do this alone. I’m so scared.”

Guaman hugged her.

Tara saw over Guaman’s shoulders Achache as one of the slain people. She ran and knelt next to him. He was still breathing.

“Achache, brother, don’t die. I’m making things right, I’m going to fix this.”

“I’m thorry. I tried to thave you but we aren’t throng enough. I will come rethcue you out of Cuthco. I promith! And then, maybe you’ll love me and treat me like I thee other girlth treat their brotherth,” said Achache. Tara hugged his weak body.

“Don’t come and save me, they’ll kill you. Stay here and take care of mama and papa and live a good life. That is all I want, live the life that I won’t be able to!”

Tara held him.

“I must return now, the longer I delay, the more people that die. Goodbye, brother!”

“Goodbye Tara,” said Achache. He coughed.

Tara returned to her escort, who by that time had created a litter out of the available material and their clothes. They placed Guaman upon it so that he could go with his daughter. When Tara saw this, she kissed each man on the cheek who carried it. Their wounds healed with the kiss.

Not far beyond where Gualpa and Achache fell, was the meadow with the stream down the middle where Tara and the other women gathered that morning. It was covered in bodies and the stream was red with blood. Waranga Hualpa stood on the far side of it, engaged with a man that Tara didn’t recognize. Tara’s escort remained at the edge of the clearing.

“It’s time,” said Tara. She kissed goodbye to Guaman and instead of the kiss healing him, like it did the other men, his face softened and he smiled like a little boy. Then he died. She kissed him again and closed his eyes. She wanted to cry and hold onto him, “Sleep well, Papa. You deserve a good rest.”

She turned to Waranga Hualpa who sliced his opponent’s abdomen open with his weapon, a long wood panel inlaid with several sharp stones on the sides. The unknown man dropped his club and fell forward into the stream. Waranga Hualpa picked up his fallen opponents club and gripped it with both hands. He raised it over his head and crushed his skull. The splash of water and blood flew far. Some landed up Tara’s face.

Tara screamed and Waranga Hualpa looked up at her. He left the club where the man’s head had been and raised his weapon. He jumped over the stream in an intimidating leap and ran at her. Tara hardly recognized him. He wasn’t the kind looking man she previously met, but savage and his face was covered with slime and blood. Tara realized it was a horrible decision to surrender, mother was right!  She turned and ran. Tara knew it was her final sprint, these were her final moments. Waranga Hualpa yelled a yell that was just as savage as his appearance and he lunged in front of her. Tara froze, and when she thought it was her end Waranga Hualpa burst out laughing.

“Oh Tara, you should have seen your face. Oh my god, your face!” He laughed so hard and deep he couldn’t stand up straight. He was missing several teeth she saw him last. Waranga Hualpa regained his composure he stood up straight. “Aclla Tara, it seems like there are many men that want to die for you,” he motioned around to the fallen. From where she stood she could see at least 10 of her countrymen dead upon the ground and more moaning with their injuries. “I can’t stop but wondering, does that increase your value to the Inka or anger him? But I think that depends on why you come to me.”

“Where is Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui? I want to surrender myself and beg for the life of my people and to give myself to him. He may use me for whatever purpose he desires so long as this battle ceases. You said you’ve seen a beautiful woman stop an army of 20,000. Do you think I can stop one made of only a few thousand men?”

Hualpa smiled his horrible smile. His remaining teeth were red with blood, “Whatever purpose he desires, you say?” He spit blood before continuing, “Didn’t you tell me that he was going to impregnate you and then feed your child to you after you grew to love it, and you’re telling me you’re okay with that?” Waranga Hualpa spit more blood.

Tara bit her lips.

Hualpa put his bloody hand on her head. It was missing a finger. “I’ll bring you to him. I don’t know if you can stop this army, maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe he’s going to tell me to kill you right then in front of him. Do you know what I’ll do if he commands that?” said Waranga Hualpa.

“Kill me in front of him?” said Tara.

“You are correct, and without hesitation. You see this weapon here? BOOM! It’ll be in your beautiful face,” said Waranga Hualpa. He swung it at her but stopped right before he hit her. He laughed again, “Oh your face. Your face! Be sure you don’t let the Sapa Inka see how funny your faces are when you’re scared, he might command me to kill you just to see that dread. Really though, I’ve never seen someone wince like that before. Like how your eyes go upward like you’re already dead.” He patted her on the back so hard she thought she would fall forward.

“Enough of this Hualpa. Take me to him or I might go back” said Tara.

“No, no response to my insults? Nothing?” asked Waranga Hualpa. He laughed again. “Very well. He’s just up on the knoll. He is very mad because of your betrayal, I’ve seen him massacre thousands of people for slights smaller than what you did. Here, let me wipe this off.” He wiped the blood off of her face and hair that he left on her.

They found Sapa Inca Tupac Yupanqui in the plaza of Milagro. He sat on his golden stool at the head of the feast that was supposed to be held between the leaders of the Inkas and of Milagro. The food was put out as if the feast was going to happen, although his guards were the only ones present besides himself. When he saw Tara he motioned to a place beside him on the ground where an Inka style plate, basin, and chicha vessel were placed.

“This is where you beg?” whispered Waranga Hualpa to her.

Tara lowered herself on her hands and knees and approached him looking to the ground and crying. She lowered her face onto the ground. “Oh, dear Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui. I know that you are the Son of the Sun and I always knew that you were, but I was afraid because of your glory. I beg you for forgiveness. You gave me an honor that is saved for only but the gods, and in my foolishness I was scared and I ran away. I did not run to insult you but I am afraid that I am too simple and that I am not who you think I am and will be disappointed in me.”

While Tara spoke, Amauta Villac arrived and stood next to Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui. Tara didn’t acknowledge him but continued.

“I see the error of my thoughts and actions and I beg you, please dear Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui, to forgive me and not to punish my countrymen. They fight for me, they fight because of me but I give myself to you to do what you may. Their reason to fight is lost, you have won. Please, I beg for mercy for them. If you take me and cease fighting they will stop, they know of your greatness and the miracles you perform and will become your most willing vessels. I personally am not worthy of mercy, if you are mad and seek vengeance slay me and allow me alone to answer for my weakness and arrogance. I have heard that you are the protector of the poor, Most Powerful Man in the World, they are the poor. They hope for your mercy so much so that it was they that bade me to surrender. If you decide in your infinite wisdom to spare me, know that I will be your most loyal follower, the one that will preach your goodness and mercy to all people. I will go with you to Cusco and become an acllya that has learned the power and might of the Son of the Sun. An acllya that once feared your glory, to one that gives herself freely.”

Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui turned to Amauta Villac and spoke to him, who in turn spoke to Tara.

“You may rise,” said Amauta Villac.

Tara stood up but still looked down.

“Your betrayal angers the Son of the Sun. What he would normally do, and what I told him that he should do is to kill you and continue the battle until everyone is dead. Then salt the earth to kill the land and the ancestral spirits that reside within it. But the honor he gave you in making you an Inka by privilege is rare. He did so because he believes your mother is Pachamama, and he won’t kill you now because he still believes it. He doesn’t glory killing people who don’t deserve to die. You asked for forgiveness and he shall give it to you as long as you promise to never betray him again. He shall spare your people so long as they submit to him, and allow the Inkas to control the land how we do our other lands: they shall give the Inkas their most sacred idol to be stored in Cusco, they shall allow thousands of loyal Inkan families Inkas to co-inhabit this land to ensure loyalty and submission, they shall appoint one among them to report to the Apu of Tumipampa, they shall give the harvest of one third of their land to the Inka, and another third to the sun, they shall grow what the Inka commands that they grow, they shall provide men to fight when summoned, they shall—”

“—Stop. I think she understands,” said the Sapa Inka.

“They will do whatever is necessary, just stop killing them!”

The Sapa Inka waved to Hualpa and he ordered that litter be brought for Tara. They carried her a short distance alongside Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui and Amauta Villac.

“Get on it,” said the Sapa Inka.

Tara did as she was ordered.

“Stop the slaughter,” said Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui.

Waranga Hualpa raised his horn and played a staccato pattern. Scores of horns answered it and the Inkan warriors emerged from the thick forest carrying their wounded. The battle was over. Milagro would not be ruined. She turned her head away so no one could see her and she wept like a woman.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

Tara covered her small ears. She didn’t want to hear the beat of the drum.

“Don’t do that, the Inkas will see and get mad,” said one of the captive Cañari girls that was tied securely to an imposing tree on the boundary of the Inkan military camp.

“I’d rather have them mad at me than listen to it. Do you know what that drum is made out of?” Asked Tara.

The captive shrugged.

“It’s made out of our friend Pirca. They commemorated their victory by making a drum out of her skin,” said Tara.

What!” Said the girl with a disgusted face. The face one makes when tasting one’s mouth after vomiting.

“Look at it, you can see her sad face sown to the side of it,” said Tara as she covered her ears again.

The young captive girl covered her ears as well.

Tara knew she ought tor return to the wooden platform that they built for her so would be able to watch the victory celebration. She looked back at it, it stood about as tall as she. She told Amauta Villac and the other Inka nobles that sat with her that she needed to relieve herself. She took the time to venture over to the edge of the camp to see the captives.

She didn’t have long before they came looking for her.

Tara wanted to cry, but she dared not. Not now. She couldn’t show any weakness, not in front of the Inkas, and especially not in front of the captives that were meant to be sacrificed.

The celebration was taking place in the military camp, and the military camp was built over the field of yellow flowers. At least that’s what Tara thought, but she wasn’t sure because there weren’t any flowers left, only the perfectly white tents of the Inka army and dirt. And lots of their alcoholic beverage of choice, chicha. Urns and urns of it in several black and white checkered urns as tall as children. Several servant women busied themselves with topping off the vassals of the soldiers, and their accompanying women, with chicha and providing food to them so they could drink more.

Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui and Waranga Hualpa Inka departed with their entourages earlier that day upon their golden litters, carried by dozens of porters. If they had remained, Tara figured these Inkan men and women wouldn’t have allowed themselves to descend into the disgusting state that they were in. They left to quell uprisings, similar to the one at Milagro: there were many llajtas that disagreed with Colla’s decision of inviting the Inkas into Cañari and were fighting to the last woman and child to keep their independence.

Hualpa and Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui were to return in weeks. Or months. Or years. It didn’t matter. She hated them and wished they would be killed. Would it be too much to ask that they never returned? But now, Tara was alone among hundreds of drunken soldiers that would want to kill her if they learned her true identity. At least Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui and Hualpa protected her.. They would say they were doing God’s work. Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui announced that she was his daughter from a previous voyage to Cañari. A lie, but it silenced the rumors. No one dared question what he said except one man, his brother, Amauta Villa who was in charge now that Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui and Hualpa were gone.

“You look so beautiful Tara, in those jewels and the feathers inlaid in your robes and your black hair oiled and braided,” said the young captive girl.

Tara gripped the gown she wore, made of the finest materials, and pulled on it. She hated her beauty.

“Tell me, who were you before you were a captive?” asked Tara. She addressed a captive on the tree next to the young girl. This captive was an older woman that Tara didn’t recognize.

“My name is Sycri. I am the daughter of a tradesman from Amboto to Quito and he tasked me with finding a route to the rainforest to trade for the sacred tea ayahuasca that allows for communication with Pachamama. He wants to bring it to Quito so that there would be peace.” Sycri sniffled, “He told me not to go this way, but I told him it would be fine. Now look at me.”

Tara wiped a tear from her cheek.

“My village of Milagro is near to the rainforest where they have ayahuasca. Should we have known each other in different circumstances I could have helped you,” said Tara. She stoked the thick brown ropes made of agave fibers that bound her to the tree while she spoke. “I’ve known many people that have partaken in the ayahuasca. When they wake from their conversation with Pachamama they become wise and peaceful.”

“You can still help me by cutting the ropes that bind me and setting me free,” said Sycri. “The guards left us to go join the drinking. No one will see, they are all too drunk.”

Tara studied the large knot on the back side of the old tree, “I can’t cut them because I don’t have a knife, but I think I can untie it and I will do so if you promise to go to Milagro and tell my family that I am well,” said Tara.

“I promise I will,” said Sycri.

The prisoners tied to the trees beside Sycri echoed the same promise if she freed them as well.

Tara forgot about her troubles and began to untie them, “You must run fast. Go and live a good life, become who you are meant to, all of you and fight these Inka invaders,” said Tara. “Fight them no matter the cost or the compromises you have to make.”

“If you come with us, we’ll be able to put up a better resistance,” said Sycri.

Tara struggled with loosening the knot, but eventually figure it out and moved onto the next captives. Sycri ceased crying and helped her untie a boy slightly older than Tara who tried to look brave, but his chin wouldn’t stop shaking. Tara recognized hi as a boy from a community on the other side of the large while where her family farm was located; meanwhile, Tara untied a young girl, younger than her, that cried uncontrollably,

“Thank you beautiful Tara, thank you so much! The guards said they were going to sacrifice me by making me walk to the top of a mountain until I froze to death” Cried the girl.

“Don’t call be beautiful,” said Tara. She turned her attention from the bindings to the party.

“I think the guards are returning,” said Tara.

Sycri shot a look up at the party, “If they are, you have to come with us Tara. They will kill you for freeing us,”

“If I leave here they will kill my family and everyone I’ve ever known. They will burn Milagro and salt the soil to kill the earth beneath it. I have to stay and go to this dreadful place they call the acllahuasi to protect them,” said Tara.

She stopped talking when she felt tears coming like a volcano erupting. She swallowed hard, “Hurry! They are coming.”

“You’re going to the acllahuasi?” Said Sycri, “I’m so sorry for you. We in Quito are taught to never allow our attackers to get the satisfaction of seeing us hurt. Do that to those that will rape and torture you and it will anger them so much that they will stop—

“—they won’t stop.” Interrupted Tara, “Nothing can stop them. It’s my fault for being beautiful.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Sycri. She finished untying the boy who ran into the bushes without saying a word.

“HURRY!” said Tara again.

Sycri put her hand on Tara’s shoulder that was covered with her robe made of the finest material, which was almost equal to the fabric which Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui wore. “I’m so sorry.” She repeated.

“RUN!” Said Tara. She pushed Sycri’s hand off of her. “Get out of here! I’ll untie the rest.”

Tara jumped to the next captive, he was naked and covered in filth. Tara used the base of her skirt to wipe his face. It was the husband of one of the rulers of Milagro. She hugged him before sending him after the others.

The soldiers that Tara believed saw them relieved themselves on a nearby tree and returned to the party with no regard to the prisoners.

Tara jumped from captive to captive freeing them until all of the captives were freed.

The last captive that Tara freed, a young boy that once loved Tara, placed his hand on her shoulder, “Every day you are mistreated by the Inkan soldiers, remember that I will be in Milagro fighting any changes they try to make. I will make you remembered forever.”

He kissed Tara on the lips and ran into the jungle. Tara looked back at the empty ropes limp at the base of the gigantic trees. It was as if the captives vanished. Tara was left alone, Tara Inka, Tara of Milagro, Tara of Cañari. Tara whatever. It didn’t matter, what does a name matter if there is no one to call it?

She returned to her post on the stone platform and sat down on the small stool reserved for the most important people in Tahuantinsuyu.

The large platform was empty, everyone had joined the party. She looked down upon them where the celebration had descended into chaos. there were piles of chewed coca and the humid air smell of chicha. The monkeys descended from their sleeping places and joined the party joined the drinking and danced with their human counterparts.

At the beginning of the night, the songs were victory songs, but now they sang of the horrible things they did. Their dances went from celebratory to reenacting events that never happened dancing between human and monkey, monkey and monkey, human and human, all to the beat of the drums made from Pirca’s skin. The men and women already too drunk to dance dispersed on the ground slept or died.

Soon the songs and dances became about the invasion at Milagro, the one that Tara surrendered herself at. The dancer that portrayed her father was dressed her father as a lizard, her mother and herself as a spider, and Achache, as a snake, all the most vile of creatures. They were portrayed as an incestuous, lude, dishonest and dirty people who led their filthy followers to defy the glorious and wholesome Inkas.

Tara stood on the edge of the platform, “Stop! Stop! The Cañari’s are kind people, smart and wholesome!” She didn’t think anyone would hear her, but Amauta Villac dropped his urn of chicha. It shattered on the ground. He glared at her.

He dressed in a pompous white cape made of small feathers, which matched his shin-length skirt. Both were lined with red fabric inlaid with golden plugs. His chest was open and upon it rested a golden chest plate that spread from nipple to nipple.

He stepped toward her and his foot was cut by one of the shards of pottery. He didn’t seem to notice the thick trail of blood behind him emerging from the cut. He tried to climb the steps to the platform but his bloody foot slipped on the third step. He hit his forehead on the edge of the platform. He continued his approach without giving indication that he noticed his forehead was bleeding. Tara step backward, away from Amauta Villac, until her heels hung off of the hard edge of the platform.

He regained his footing and went so close to Tara that when he spoke, the spit landed upon her face and she could taste sweet chicha. “What does the little spider say? You’re the most disgusting thing I’ve seen, thinking you can become an Inka. We’ll see about that. We’ll see.”

Tara pushed him away from her and regained her footing on the platform. “Call me what you want” said Tara, “but you will portray our history and culture correctly. You will tell the stories of our gods and heroes accurately. You know it as well as I that our men defeated you Inka trash twice and the only reason you won this time is because Colla decided to marry Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui. You would have never won otherwise.”

Amauta Villac gripped her tunic between her breasts and held her over the edge of the platform.

“We won without difficulty, it was simple and it doesn’t matter what you think because it’s I that chooses how it’s remembered. This is your history and culture now. Our heroes and gods are yours now.”

“The prisoners are gone!” Yelled one of the guards. He ran from the area where the captives had been tied.

Tara smirked and her eyes met Amauta Villacs’s. He lunged forward and grabbed her tunic from between her breasts. He held her over the edge of the platform.

Tara resisted screaming or looking down at the ground below her, instead glared directly into his eyes. She didn’t see the anger in his eyes like she expected, nor any sign of life. Behind the bloodshot black eyes was an abyss of humanity and filled with stone, hardened with hate and anger.

“How did they get loose, and where did they go?” Asked Amauta Villac.

“They turned into birds and flew away. Don’t ask me where they went, I’ve been here the whole night,” said Tara.

“Tara,” said Amauta Villac slowly, “tell me the truth or else we’ll punish you.”

“That is the truth. If you believe all those lies, how about you just believe that they turned into birds and flew away. So sorry I can’t help you,” said Tara.

“Then turn into a bird and fly.”

The Amauta Villac dropped her off of the platform. She fell directly onto her back onto the dirt below her.

“Bind the girl!” Yelled Amauta Villac, “She is an enemy of ours! And chase down the captives.”

The soldiers split into two groups. The smaller group grabbed Tara’s hands and legs while other men and women disappeared into the jungle in search of the escapees. They were so drunk that several of them stumbled and fell before they reached the jungle wall.

Amauta Villac descended the stairs. He slipped on the same step as before and slid down the stairs. He threw a nearby figurine of Inti into the nearest tent and yelled. His head bled more than before.

The men that bound Tara brought her to Amauta Villac.

He wiped the blood off of his forehead, and put his face a finger’s width away from hers.

“You will learn your place. You will! And you will learn that what you think doesn’t actually matter.”

“You can’t treat me like this, you are under orders to protect me,” said Tara. She spoke with the same spite that he addressed her.

Amauta Villac Backed away and laughed, “I’m under orders to keep you alive and I’ll be sure you don’t die.”

“Tie her up over there” he mumbled. One of the servant woman placed another vassal of chicha into his hands. He emptied it and the woman brought him another.

The soldiers dragged her by her feet. The dirt tore through her tunic and by the time they stopped her back ware bare and the skin was torn. They tied her to a pole near the fire in middle of the celebration. They used larger ropes than had been used on the captives to tie her midriff to the pole. They tied her arms from her elbow to her wrists. The bindings were so tight she lost sensation of her fingers.

“Please, tie me up where the other prisoners were, not here. The fire is too hot, it’ll burn me,” cried Tara.

Amauta Villac picked up an armful of wood, “Sorry, I can’t. Maybe your god Pachamama will save you from the fire.”

He dropped the wood on the fire.

Tara scorned the bonfire.

Amauta Villac returned to the platform and ordered a new song and dance depicting what just happened. In the new dance, Tara turned into a snake and tried to kill several soldiers until the heroic Amauta Villac cast a spell on her that bound her.

The soldiers that pursued the escapees returned with some of the captives and brought them to the base of the platform. The dances ceased and the Inkas formed a circle around them.

“Kill them,” said Amauta Villac. “I am only under orders to make sure Tara doesn’t die, not these things. Stone each captive individually so the others can watch and then burn their body in the fire nearest that traitor,” he said while pointing to Tara. “While the body is burning, stone another captive, and then burn their body.”

His orders were carried out and Tara and the other escapees were forced to watch as they burned the bodies until they were crisp black.

Tara felt the skin on her face slowly wither and smelled the scent of burning hair, her hair, while the fire increased in size to consume those she tried to save.

 

Chapter Twelve

 

Tara tried to break free or to speak, but the ropes were too tight.  She could hardly breath due to her position and the gag. She cried h tried to yell so much that she throat opened and she tasted blood in her mouth. The size of the conflagration increased as the bodies took fire.

When the soldiers noticed the pain that Tara was in, they complained that it was getting cold and so they increased the bodies on the fire to two at a time.

“Tara, I’m sorry I failed you!” Yelled Sycri as she was being drug to the middle of the circle to be stoned.

Tara yelled, but it was muddled.

The fire was so fierce that Tara was sure it was only a matter of time til she, herself, caught fire. At one point the gag binding Tara’s mouth caught on fire. After a good laugh the soldiers dumped the latrine water on her to put it out. The dirtied water stung so bad, it felt like lightening bolts entered her skin and stuck to her core and down her legs. There could only be one reason for such pain, her skin was raw from the fire. She would be scared and ugly forever. Maybe now the Sapa Inka would let go free. It would be better to be ugly and with her family then beautiful and in Cusco.

The burned part of the gag was easily freed by Tara when she rubbed it against the pole to which she was bound. “SYCRI, DON’T GIVE THEM THE SATISFACTION OF SHOWING PAIN SYCRI!” Yelled Tara.

There was no response but the partiers continued to throw the rocks so she must still be alive. The monkeys yelled and jumped from shoulder to shoulder of the murders and occasional threw a stone themselves.

Tara tried to free herself, but her hands were still bound too tight. “I’m going to tell Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui about my treatment! He ordered to treat me well! And even I know Inkas treat prisoners better than this” She yelled in her coarse and raw voice.

Still nothing.

The stones that were thrown were so bloody that as they were thrown they misted the crowd with droplets.

An ember from the fire landed on Tara’s leg. As it burned through the skin she could hear the sizzle. She wanted to scream so bad, but if Sycri hadn’t screamed from being stoned to death, she couldn’t scream either.

She should have stayed with her mother and fought. It would have been better than being burned to death by a fire fueled by her friends’ burning bodies to the sounds of a drum beat made of her friends stomach.

So this is what people are capable of when they believe lies about others. This is how people become worse than the shit they excrete, they allow a hollow dead man teach them how to see the world. If I am still brought to Cusco never, never again will a lie be spread in Tahuantinsuyu.

Tara’s revere was split open by Sycri’s scream. The savages roared. They finally got what they wanted. Tara screamed, but a hand from behind her covered her mouth. No sound came out. She looked and there was no one.

A pierce cracked the air and a roar of thunder so loud that it almost took the air out of Tara. The sound broke the sky and torrents of rain descended on them. Tara never saw such sudden downpour in her life. She thought for a moment that Pachamama came to her aid and was sending a flood to wash the Inka away, but no, they partied harder and louder than before, except now when they danced they sent mud stained red with blood flying onto her. It didn’t take long before she was covered.

The cold rain extinguished the fire, but the icy mud on Tara’s parched skin hurt like she was burning all over again.

The soldiers brought Sycri’s bloody and disfigured dead body to the now dead fire. They tried to revive the fire back to life but instead the ash became a mud pit. One of the soldiers fell into it and disappeared.

They left Sycri’s body on the ground to go get more chicha and material to build a cover for the fire pit. They had to burn the body because a dead body was as bad as a live body if it remained intact, she heard one of the Inka men say.

Tara looked at the limp body and said, “You told the gods to save me. You sent the downpour, thank you.”

The bloody lips of her Sycri moved and said to her: People always believe they are incapable of committing such atrocities as this, until they do so. Tara, it is up to you to hold onto the memory of what happened. Without you our extermination and deaths will be forgotten and this will happen again.

The soldiers dredged through the mud with the material to build a cover for a new fire and another two urns of chicha.

A flash flood washed through the camp and took with it all of the tents and most of the soldiers and women. Sycri’s body resisted the flood for some time, but eventually washed away as well. Tara later learned that her family discovered her body and buried it. Where they buried it became the choicest spot for ayahuasca ceremonies. It became a huaca and people suffering from the worst problems would come away from it with the greatest wisdom.

When the deluge finally stopped, there were only a few Inka soldiers that hadn’t been washed away. They walked through the area that had been their camp and assessed the damage. Tara didn’t hear the outcome, but whatever it was it was bad enough to make them end the party and organize search parties. None of them were successful because they were too drunk.

This was her time to escape. They would blame her absence on the flood. She would be among those that were lost.

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

The embers from the fire damaged the ropes that bound her wrists. She reached for the rocks that made the fire ring. The only rocks she could reached were as smooth as a babies cheek, she whimpered for an instant but regained her composure and rubbed the bindings against the rock that her freedom depended upon. She pressed on for the remainder of the night. If the few Inkas that remained noticed, they didn’t show interest. They were busy trying to save their camp and drowned countrymen.

The rain eased as the night progressed and Tara’s bindings wore thin. Her arms cramped. Tara stretched and raised her head for the first time.The clouds disappeared and he yellow flowers that the camp covered had grown back and took back their rightful place in the field. The peaceful scent of the flowers filled the air. Any indicator of the struggle the night before was gone besides the tent canopies lodged in the trees and the bodies of the Inkas, soldiers and their women, that the flowers grew around. The tents that remained safe from the deluge were overcome with vines and pulled into the ground.

Tara smiled, the scab on her face cracked and she winced from the pain. She returned to wearing through the ropes against the rocks.

A short time later, she heard horns, the horns that announced the approach of Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui and his army.

She worked more furiously than before to cut her ropes, the final fiber were fraying against the smooth stone. Her arms cramped worse than before. She broke into a sweat. The horns and drums grew louder and she could hear the marching of the thousands of men and women that accompanied the Sapa Inka.

She yelled when she realized she wouldn’t be able to break free and hid her arms between her legs as the Sapa Inka and his golden entourage came into view.

Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui rode upon his golden litter covered with the most exquisite cloth and carried by 50 porters, just as he left days before. Slightly behind him and on side of him was another litter carrying Hualpa. His litter was made of wood with gold trimmings with a wooden seat built into it, just as it had been. He was covered by textiles that looked almost as fine as those that the Sapa Inka had. His litter had 12 porters. Behind them was their entourage consisting of thousands of soldiers, acllyas, and priests.

“I don’t know where the flowers came from or where the camp went,” said the man that Tara figured retrieved the Sapa Inka and Hualpa. “But as I told you, there were problems here from the moment after you left.”

“Where is Amauta Villac?” Yelled Hualpa to the remaining Inkas, most of them hiding in the tall flowers or in the jungle.

“He’s assisting pulling men and women out of the river,” said one of the soldiers brave enough to face the uncertain wrath of the most powerful man in the world.

“What river? There isn’t a river here,” said Hualpa. He got off of his litter and rushed the soldier.

“There is now!” said the soldier. He hesitated, visibly contemplating running away from Hualpa.

“Don’t harm him,” called the Sapa Inka to Hualpa. “This was the work of gods, not a mere soldier.” He spoke in such a deep voice that it could have been the river itself.

Hualpa ceased his rush and returned to his calm composure, “No matter where he is, send for him.” He said nicely to the freighted soldier. “And don’t show fear, that is basic, you are a shame to us and your community.”

The soldier ran off and Hualpa and the Sapa Inka examined the field of flowers that was their camp the previous day. Hualpa pulled a vine off a tent that was being pulled to the ground. When he pulled it off, two more vines kept up the side of the pure white cotton wall of the tent. He threw the vine and walked away, “I hate this place! Give me the order I will remove each one of these flowers each day.”

The Sapa Inka remained in his litter and his porters took him around. He didn’t respond to Hualpa’s comment.

Hualpa saw Tara slumped over and looking at the ground. Her arms were still hiding between her legs. “Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui, look who’s still here!”

Hualpa went over and the Sapa Inka ordered that his litter be brought to her. Her hair was singed on half of her head and there were several blisters on the same side of her head. They were yellow a, green and blue. Her white mole was gone and her festive outfit was in tatters and held over her shoulders by two strands.

The Sapa Inka got off of his golden litter and both men stood in tandem and examined Tara in silence.

Amauta Villac arrived. His white feathered skirt was now brown and matted. He either removed or had lost his cape. The golden medallion around his chest had leafs and branches from the river stuck in it.

“My dear brother, even though you were only gone a day I cannot express how happy you are here again. Having you hear gives me strength and wisdom,” said Amauta Villac. He faced the ground.

The Sapa Inka told him to stand.

“I don’t know what happened.” He walked to Tara and stroked her blistered face, “Ugh, she’s become so ugly. I think we should kill her and return her to Milagro. She is not an acllya, never was and now you can’t fake it anymore,” he said.

“Yes, let me go back. I’m ugly now and of no service,” said Tara.

The men ignored her whimper.

Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui stood motionless as he examined her for another moment.

“Why is she tied up and not on a litter?” said Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui. He slowly turned his head to Amauta Villac, and when he looked directly at Amauta Villac he fell into a slouch to show reverence.

“I saved her life. She revealed that she was Cañari and the soldiers grew angry that she was to become an acllya by privilege and their daughters, who are Inkan by birth, were not given the privilege. The women were jealous for the same reason. They wanted to kill her and put her in the fire and I pulled her out. This was the compromise that she should be tied up like the others but she kept interrupting the celebrations with her lies.”

Amauta Villa paused and seeing that neither Hualpa nor the Sapa Inka tried to stop him from speaking he continued.

“Now, her disrespect wasn’t just revealing who she was after you tried to save her by changing her identity, but she freed all the prisoners that we had take. You see dear brother, I did the best I could In fulfilling your orders. That is the reason she is tied up. I saved her life.”

He appeared confidence and showed no fear that his brother wouldn’t believe him.

“And that is why you are my brother and my closest advisor,” said the Sapa Inka. “You always find a way to fulfill all of my commands and you kept her alive,” said the Sapa Inka.

” I created stories of what happened in a way that it glorifies you, and I gave our men and women that sacrificed so much for this victory a celebration worth remembering, just as you commanded,” said Amauta Villac basking in the appreciation he received.”

The Sapa Inka put his hand on his shoulder.

“Hualpa will bring her back to Cusco. I need you to go ahead and resume your previous role. We need another army, but I need more men to suppress the small uprisings throughout the land that are straining our army.”

While the Sapa Inka spoke with the Amauta Villac, Hualpa approached Tara and looked her up from down.

“It looks like you finally got your wish. You’re ugly now. Your face is ruined, it’s covered in burns and you’re covered in mud like the first time I saw you. Did you do this as revenge,” he asked pointing to the ruined camp, “or as a thank you?”

“Amauta Villac is a liar. He tied me up moments after you departed and he’s the one that tried to burn me to death. Tell me, while he was assaulting me, how could I, this little girl who you pointed out doesn’t even have breasts yet, have done this? Why do you even ask. You’re ridiculous.”

“You didn’t answer my question, did you do this?”

“I was tied up so I couldn’t have,” said Tara.

The Sapa Inka finished with Amauta Villac he joined Hualpa’s and Tara’s conversation.

“Of course she’s the one that did it. Look at the flowers that have grown over my camp, you personally oversaw the removal of each and every flower from this area to be sure they were gone. But now that she’s here and they came back.” His voice was no longer as deep, but he spoke slowly and over enunciate each word.

Tara didn’t lower her head or show any respect to him.

“That isn’t what happened,” she shook her head! “I was in a struggle for my life—”

“—How dare you contradict the Sapa Inka. What he says is what happened,” said Amauta Villac. He finally noticed the sentiments stuck in his medallion and was trying to clean it without taking it off.

Tara looked past him at the Sapa Inka “Look at me. Your evil brother tied me up next to the fire and it was burning me. My only focus was on saving myself from the flames,” said Tara.

“And so you sent a deluge,” said the Sapa Inka.

“Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui,” cried Tara, “these are bad men and they are insulting my people. They stoned my friends to death and with their bodies fed the fire that burned me. If you insult my people, you are insulting Pachamama who would have sent the deluge, not me!” said Tara.

“Amauta Villac, what are the stories she speaks of?” Asked the Sapa Inka.

He looked up from his medallion. “It’s not true. I mean, where’s the proof. Everything was washed away. She can say anything she wants at this point.”

“Tara Inka,” said the Sapa Inka. He lowered himself to her, “we are a civilized people. None of us would do these horrendous acts you speak of. Stoning children to death? Maybe that’s something you did in Cañari, but I assure you it will not happen now that I am in control. Certainly, we are more decent men than that.”

He spoke kindly to Tara, and she could see from Hualpa’s awestricken face that such kindness was not usual for the Son of the Sun.

“But he did!” Plead Tara. “Not only that he has everything wrong, he was calling my parents a spider and a snake in the stories,” said Tara.

“Tara, what you saw is not the history we record. I am the Sapa Inka and the history that we record is that which makes me look good,” said The Sapa Inka slowly. He looked to Amauta Villac to finish what he was saying.

“As I tried to tell you yesterday, dear Tara, changing the story is what gets you remembered how you want to be, that is why the Sapa Inka is a God, what he says becomes the truth. He creates the world as he sees he wants it. His father, the sun, gave him the power to change stories and pass them off as true for a reason. These soldiers around you didn’t know that you weren’t always an Inka, only I knew. By your insistence that the story we made up to protect you was revealed to be just a story, your heritage was revealed. That doesn’t change the fact that you are an Inka. You are still an Inka because my brother, Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui said so. Should you have just stayed with what he said, you would have been spared a horrible night.”

“That is true,” said the Sapa Inka. He turned to return to his litter.

“LISTEN TO ME!” She called after him,”You can’t change what happened. No matter if you call me an Inka, I am Cañari. That cannot be changed no matter the lies you tell others. Should others treat me poorly for being a Cañari, fine, but it’s better than being treated for something I am not. Those false praises hurt more than the true insults, it hurts more than being burned alive. I say this for Sycri. For Guaman. For Milagro!”

She felt smaller than a woodpecker trying to bore a hole through a monolithic tree, smaller than a drop of water in a cataract that would be lost in a grand river. She felt like a hair on an alpaca. She was a simpe fiber meant to be shone, dyed, weaved, and formed into something that she wasn’t.

The porters lifted Sapa Inka Tupac Yupanqui’s litter.  Several of the yellow flowers were caught in it. The Sapa Inka picked one of the flowers from its stolen position and admired and put in his hair. He covered his legs with several alpaca blankets.

“I can make my own history. There is no stone thrown unless I say so,” said the Sapa Inka.

“Amauta Villac, on second thought, I will find someone else to raise an army. I need you to search Tahuantinsuyu for the cure to Tara’s new ugliness. I want her beauty restored. And Hualpa, you will accompany her to Cusco.”

 

To be continued…