Spring/Summer 2021 Issue

Ik’ Balam

Kira Buckmelter

Darkness. It completely surrounded Ik’ Balam. He reached his hand out in front of him and could only feel the rough wood of the cage up against the palm of his hand. He retracted his hand and sighed as the cart carrying his cage lurched forward. As the cart continued moving, torches were lit so that the movers could see where they were going. Soon, Ik’ Balam could see the peak of a pyramid peeking out from behind some trees. He had hoped to never return here: his home.  

After some time, they approached the base of the pyramid. There were stairs ascending upwards and from where Ik’ Balam was he couldn’t see the top of the pyramid. There, the cart stopped rolling and Ik’ Balam’s cage came to a stop. 

“We wait for sunrise.” a rough voice told one of the guards. With the dim light, Ik’ Balam could see the other guard nod. Ik’ Balam let out a sigh. He had returned to the one place he never wanted to see again: the K’iche’ kingdom. The K’iche’ kingdom was one of the largest kingdoms in the Mayan world. One that he had betrayed. 

He never meant to betray the K’iche’. It had just happened. He had defied the gods, and thus the K’iche’ too. He was supposed to be executed for his treachery against the gods those seven years ago, but he escaped. Oh, how he ran and ran and ran. He ran barefoot, feet bloody and callused as they touched the hard forest floor. Ik’ Balam gave a small shudder at the memory.

He had run for days, maybe even weeks, until he arrived at the edge of another kingdom: the Kaqchikal. They were kind enough to take him in and give him safety and shelter from the K’iche’. Or, at least they did until the K’iche’ invaded Kaqchikal and took prisoners. Unfortunately, Ik’ Balam had been caught too, becoming a prisoner of war. 

“Filthy traitor.” One of the guards sneered at him as he walked past Ik’ Balam’s cage. Ik’ Balam curled his lip into a sneer and glared back at the guard. The guard gave the cage a kick, and Ik’ Balam tumbled into a corner as the cage lurched. Ik’ Balam shot him another glare, but the guard had already walked away.

Ik’ Balam let out another sigh and curled up into a ball in the corner of his cage. He wanted to fall asleep, but knowing that torture, slavery, or even death, awaited him, he just couldn’t. He stared into the torches next to the base of the pyramid. The flames danced across his line of sight and when he blinked, he could see red spots on the back of his eyelids. Oh, how he wished that those torches would fall and burn the K’iche’. At least then he could escape again and avoid whatever punishment awaited him. Or he would burn with the K’iche’. That didn’t seem too bad either.

“Ik’ Balam?” a hushed voice rang out from the darkness behind him. It was a female voice, with a fairly young tone. It sounded familiar, but with all the sounds of the jungle, Ik’ Balam couldn’t quite match the voice to a face. 

Ik’ Balam turned around in his cage and looked into the darkness. He squinted and when his eyes adjusted, he could see the outline of a young female figure. He felt like he knew the person, and as the young woman stepped a little more into the dim light, he could make out her figure better. 

“Ixtel?” he asked in a whisper. He could vaguely see the figure give a nod. Ik’ Balam wanted to run to her, to kiss her, to hold her again. But his mind told him he was a traitor, a nobody, a no good husband. He listened to his mind and backed away from Ixtel.

“Why are you here?” he asked quietly, but with a harsh tone. 

“Because, I needed to ask,” Ixtel said, her tone sounding desperate. “Did you actually steal that money from the pyramid those seven years ago?”

Ik’ Balam closed his eyes and wished he could disappear. He wanted his old life, one where his wife loved him. But he was not going to be the same after sunrise when his punishment was decided. He decided what he needed to say.

“Of course I did.” He said with a small snarl. “I am greedy and I wanted the money.”

Better to have her hate him and think he got what he deserved than to love him and watch him suffer.

Ik’ Balam heard a sniffle from the corner and he closed his eyes.

“They built a new pyramid,” Ixtel said in a quiet voice. “It was finished yesterday.”

Ik’ Balam froze. 

“Good luck” Ixtel told him and he watched as her outline turned away and faded back into the shadows. 

A new pyramid. That could only mean one thing. Ik’ Balam bit down on his lip as his mind raced a million miles an hour. They weren’t just going to kill him. 

They were going to sacrifice him.

-+-+-

The sun started to peak over the horizon. It burned into Ik’ Balam’s eyes and he squeezed his eyes tight in an attempt to block out the light. When his eyes started hurting, he opened them and repeatedly blinked to get adjusted to the new light. The light shot into his eyes and he really wished he could have slept just a bit longer. Ik’ Balam turned on his side to avoid the light, but a howler monkey screeched in the distance, forcing him to remain awake. Ik’ Balam gave up his hope of sleeping a little longer, and the monkeys seemed to laugh as Ik’ Balam sat up. 

“So the traitor awakes.” One of the guards said to him. He shot that guard a glare before he turned to look around at his surroundings. Just like Ixtel had said, there was a newly finished pyramid. It had been built next to the main pyramid that also served as the temple of K’iche’. There was a tap on the cage behind him and Ik’ Balam turned around. Standing there was a priest, dressed entirely in blue and holding a blue headdress in his hand. 

“It’s time to get ready.” the priest said, holding out the headdress to Ik’ Balam. He hesitantly took it, knowing he had no other choice. 

All of a sudden, his cage swayed forward and Ik’ Balam tumbled towards the front. The cart was being pulled towards the base of the new pyramid. At this point, a crowd was starting to form. 

People began to gather around his cage and watched as he was pulled by his arm out of the cage by the priest. The priest took a gourd of a substance and threw it on Ik’ Balam. The substance was blue and it covered him from head to toe in blue. Once the priest was done, Ik’ Balam placed the blue headdress on his head. 

“Is that Daddy?” a young voice said from the crowd. Ik’ Balam turned around. There, he saw Ixtel with her arm around the shoulder of a young girl. Ik’ Balam tilted his head in confusion. He didn’t have a daughter, and Ixtel was always a faithful wife. It didn’t add up.

Unless, he did have a daughter. 

“Shh.” Ixtel hushed the young girl. “He’s not your father anymore. He did bad things.”

Ik’ Balam’s eyes grew wide. A daughter. He had a daughter! 

He couldn’t die now. He needed to be a father for this new daughter. He was innocent. 

“Stop. Please,” he whispered under his breath. The priest stopped and turned to look back at Ik’ Balam. Ik’ Balam looked at the priest with tears in his eyes. “I’m innocent. I never stole.”

The priest shook his head sadly. “Even if that’s true, you ran. You deserted the K’iche’ Therefore, you must die.”

“Please, at least not in front of my daughter.” Ik’ Balam pleaded. The priest thought for a minute. 

“Please,” Ik’ Balam begged.  

“I suppose I can grant that one wish.” the priest said and motioned for Ixtel and the young girl to leave. They did so and before their outlines faded into the distance, Ixtel looked back, tears in her eyes. Ik’ Balam noticed her lips move and Ixtel gave a slight smile at him before she turned and walked into the distance with his daughter. 

He had wanted to protect Ixtel from thinking he was an innocent man going to die. Now, Ixtel and his daughter both probably thought he was guilty and getting what he deserved. How had he messed up so badly? A tear trailed down his face, leaving a streak in his blue painted skin.

Ik’ Balam was led up some stairs and waiting for him at the top were four more priests dressed in blue. One stood to the North, one stood to the South, one to the East, and one to the West. The main priest led him over to a stone table and motioned for Ik’ Balam to lie down. Ik’ Balam did so and the four cardinal directions held him down. 

Everything seemed so much more vibrant as he took one last glance around him. The treetops were as green as emeralds, the sky as blue as the ocean. The sounds of the forest seemed to sing. Ik’ Balam let out a sigh and gave a small smile to the sky before closing his eyes for the last time. At least the Gods would be happy.

“For K’iche’!” The priest shouted as he held the sacrificial knife high in the air.

“For K’iche’!” The crowd yelled back.

“And to the gods.” The priest whispered as the knife came down.

The knife seemed to move in slow motion, and Ik’ Balam felt nothing as it entered his body. All he could feel was a warm substance surrounding it, and as the darkness consumed him, he could hear the pounding of his heart. Even when he was completely engulfed in darkness, he could still feel the beating of his heart, until there was nothing.