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Blood, Feathers and Holy Men -- Historical Fiction
This is a story of Quétzalcoatl – a major Toltec, Mayan and Aztec deity, connecting the ancient myth to a Tenth Century European Irish priest, a handful of young monks, two Norsemen, and an Irish slave-girl.
When Hernando Cortésarrived in Mexico in 1519 Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, believed him to be the god Quétzalcoatl returning, as promised.
In 910, an Irish priest and five monks are shipwrecked in the Hebrides and taken as slaves by Norse traders. Through a series of cataclysmic geophysical events, the Norse ship is pushed to a strange new land, where the priest, three monks, the Irish girl and two Norsemen are left to learn the ways of the natives.
One monk – the priest’s spiritual rival – marries a chief’s daughter and eventually becomes a shaman, opening the gate to a new understanding but contributing to a spiritual crises for the priest who escapes into madness. The mad priest and his companions travel on, reaching the Gulf of Mexico. The priest recovers his sanity and the Europeans seem content to remain among the fishermen natives.
Miraculously, they find remnants of the serpent-headed Norse ship and decide to rebuild her. With a large contingency of Toltec warriors, the Europeans sail to Yucatan where the priest founds a new Toltec capital city in the desert, is made king, and becomes an historical embodiment of the Mayan-Toltec god Quétzalcoatl.
The shaman-monk is summoned by visions to rescue the priest from forces of evil. Battles are fought and good men die. When everything seems to have been resolved, fate steps in fulfilling the mystery, beauty and horror of the Quétzalcoatl myth.
Thrashing on his bed of cedar boughs, Mountain Thrush fought his nightmare. His head ached and pounded with the spirit drums that always heralded shamanic visions. Hot tears scalded his cheeks. His throat burned dry.
Years before, he'd followed the line of four planets to that same spot and when a shower of fire stars signalled “Stop” he crouched beneath an ancient tree, thanking the tree for its presence there. Then as now, he placed his body in a hollow between large roots, down among the stones and needles, drawing strength from the tree whose wisdom came from many many generations.
The Tree Spirit took him into its very core. Mountain Thrush counted more than nine hundred golden rings, telling the tree's age. The tree's wisdom spoke to him of what it had seen and what the ancestor trees had seen and those before, even when the land was under ice and when the inland sea came to those ancient hills. As always, when the visions came, he felt overwhelmed.
This time, long silver strands stretched to the distant mountains. From the east, upon those silver strands came screeching monsters belching smoke and steam. As the monsters passed, the buffalo fell in heaps amid piles of bones and rotting flesh. Flies feasted while nations starved. Teepees, no longer made of buffalo hide but of thin fabric, fluttered ragged on their frames.
Furious fevers ravaged men and women, children, babes. Fields of corn, squash and beans wilted in the blazing sun, unpicked. Forests turned to tangled brush. Irrigation ditches filled with blowing sand. The rains no longer came to cool the land.
He felt his bones age and turn to dust. He watched his people herded from their land. He saw children being seized and sent to spend their youth in ugly buildings of wood and stone. He heard their cries as they were forced by pale-skinned men and women to speak a foreign tongue, forbidden to speak their own. He saw hunters no longer permitted to hunt and fish for food. Spirit voices cried to him that the sweat lodge, spirit dance, and potlatch were prohibited. He smelled the vomit-bitter breath of men and women, boys and girls, as fiery water burned their bodies and minds and ruined their lives.
“No more. No more. I beg you, show no more.”
A powerful wind howled through the highest branches. In a hail of falling pine needles, he saw a flash of brilliant light and, high above the hill, a mushroom cloud. The air turned sour with sooty haze. Plants and trees withered in the blast. When eagles dared to challenge the metal birds, they died before they left their perches. Giant trees crashed to lie in stacks by riverbeds. The endless prairie was razed. Hot rain burned the only trees still standing.
In a final vision, Mountain Thrush knew the earth could stand no more. He watched in horror as the land heaved and rumbled her rebellion against the poisonous waste of all that she had given men so freely. Great stacks of wood and stone and metal fell in flaming heaps. Wild men fled with flashing lights of red. Green had vanished.
Nature hid to await another sun.
Ben Nuttall-Smith taught Music, Theatre, Art, and Language until he retired in 1991. He now lives in Crescent Beach, near Vancouver B.C.
Ben is publicity chairperson for the Canadian Authors’ Association, Fraser Valley representative for the Federation of British Columbia Writers, BC rep and Editorial Board member for the Canadian Poetry Association quarterly magazinePoemata and member of TheWriters Union of Canada.
Publications include an historical novel – Blood, Feathers and Holy Men, Libros Libertad, January 2011, three books of poetry Word Painting, Splashes of Light and Scribbles from Afar and a 3500 word illustrated children’s book – Henry Hamster Esquire.A second novel, Secrets Kept / Secrets Told will be published by Libros Libertad January, 2012.