October 19th, 1527
El diecinueve de Octubre. Mil cincocientos veintisiete
Bak'Tun 11, K'Atun 15, Tun 7, Winal 13, K'In 13
The conquering army of Francisco de Montejo crawled like a slow, undulating serpent made of armored swordsmen, horses, pike men, and brown-robed Franciscans. Legends of the burning ships of Cortez and myths of gold hidden in buried stone vaults kept the Spanish troops moving through defending vine, cactus, and thorn-thicket undergrowth in the arid forest of low, twisted trees. From time-to-time, the serpentine army snaked around the larger bole of a ceiba, a towering tree that rose up, broke through the lower canopy, and reached twisted limbs for the heavens.
Rarely, the army chanced on water pooled in hidden, chalky pits.
Near the tail of the serpent of men, Ignacio rocked in the saddle of his white mare, Rosario. While all his brother soldiers sweated in their leather and armor, Ignacio shook with fever chills in spite of relentless sun, his scratching horsehair penance shirt, and his keeled breastplate cuirass.
Ill and fevered, he saw things the other soldiers could not. After four days of fever, he knew most of the things he saw weren't real — couldn't be real.
Still, he saw them.
Reddish-brown people no taller than Rosario's knees darted from shadow to shadow amid the roots of the trees. The roots of the largest, the ceibas, broke though the chalky earth near the tree trunks like the shoulders of raven's wings flying upward to escape from Hell. One root could hide a small man. The forest could hide an army of small men.
Rosario lumbered along the trampled forest trail. Ignacio, rocking slowly back and forth in his saddle, let his head loll back against the cold, hard collar of his cuirass. He looked upward along the smooth bark of a towering ceiba. Ignacio spied movement in the first fork of spidery, sharp-angled branches. He steadied himself on Rosario's back and struggled to see past the tangle of lower trees and into the branches of the ceiba.