The Broken Circle

Reads: 229  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: August 05, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 05, 2019



The Broken Circle

An historical short story

Anna Castle


Copyright 2019 by Anna Castle


* * *


(Note: ‘X’ is pronounced ‘sh’ in Maya, so Ix Cahum sounds like ‘Ish KA-hoom.’)


Conil, Yucatán, May, 1546

Honey trickled slowly into the pot. Ix Cahum struggled to raise the end of the log hive enough to increase the flow without disturbing the bees inside. The logs were a little too heavy for her, especially the ones at the top of the frame. Her husband had been thinking of his own strength when he chose them and hollowed them out, not hers.

It was men’s work to clear the circle in the brush and erect the square thatched roof in its center. Men built the angled frame that supported the hollow logs and said the prayers that summoned the bees from the wild. They tended the hives, harvesting the honey four times a year and carrying it home in heavy clay pots. Then the women’s work began: separating out the wax, filling lidded jars with honey for trade, and brewing the sweet mead called balché for the priests to use in their rituals.

Now her husband was gone. After the fiery pox sent half the Mayas to the Underworld, including the kings in their stone palaces, the princes declared war on one another. She didn’t know why; she didn’t know much about politics. But Ah Ziyah had been called to fight. He died somewhere near Cobá, they told her. They buried him there.

Ix Cahum was left to do his work as best she could. She wore his green cape and his striped headcloth when she went to the hives, hoping the bees would be comforted by the familiar clothing. She sang to them in a low voice as she watched the honey trickle into her pot. When the song ended, she set the log down. The remaining honey would feed the hive until they could make more.

She breathed in the woodsy scent of the copal she’d set smoldering in shallow bowls at each corner of the thatched square, reciting the prayers she’d heard her husband chant so many times. She hoped she remembered the words correctly. She added a private prayer to the Bee Goddess, Colel Cab, asking for forgiveness if she got anything wrong.

A movement in the forest caught her eye, stealing her breath for one frightful moment. The tangled forest must be full of ghosts, so many people had died. There were animals too, stalking through the trees, jaguars and javelinas, emboldened by the lack of hunters.

Then she saw the figure again and recognized a village boy. “Namox Puc!” she called. “Why are you lurking out there? Come speak to me.”

A youth not quite fifteen, all bone and sinew, stepped onto the edge of her clean-swept circle. “I wished we— I only wanted to bring my brother and sister a little honey, Grandmother.”

“I’m not old enough to be a grandmother. But I can spare you a little.” Ix Cahum found a gourd and dipped it into the edge of her pot. “It’ll have some wax in it.”

The boy took it, catching the honey that dribbled down the side with his finger and licking it clean. The hunger on his lean face stung her heart.

“You can’t live on honey, my child.” Those last words turned to dust in her mouth — the dust from the graves of the two children she’d borne and buried. The fiery pox had taken them both, within weeks of one another. That was why Ah Ziyah had been so willing to leave.

And why she never could.

The boy shrugged. “I catch birds and iguanas. Naxoc helps me.”

His little brother, all of ten. Old enough to hunt, barely, and young enough to have known nothing but hunger. The first wave of the pox had come fifteen years ago. Old women went first, then small children, then the mothers who nursed them. Ix Cahum had been horribly sick for a while, but she’d recovered. The Bee Goddess spared her to tend the bees and perform the required ceremonies. The scars pocking her cheeks made sure she could never marry again and abandon the hives.

Some people said the great god of the White Ones sent the plague to clear the land for his own people, like a farmer clearing mice from his granary before bringing in a new harvest. The sickness killed half the Mayas before the first strangers were even seen. In spite of that, the Maya warriors had driven them back into the sea. The first time, anyway. More were coming every day, people said. They came from some place far in the north, which is why they were so white.

The plague took women and children; the princes’ wars took able-bodied men. Those petty wars made the gods so angry, Chaac stopped the rain for three long years. Corn stalks withered in the fields, flowers wilted and dropped from the trees. People starved. First the mothers, giving what food there was to their families, and then the children.

Once the people had been duly punished, the rains started again. Two years of diligent prayer and observance had restored some things — the bees, the little turkeys, the fruiting trees. But the lost people were gone forever.

“Where’s your mother?” Ix Cahum asked. The boy’s hair was matted and the front of his long loincloth was dirty and torn.

Namox hung his head. The bleakness on his face answered her question. He was mother and father now, to his brother and two small sisters.

“I’m sorry.” Ix Cahum beckoned for him to return the gourd and dipped it again, filling it to the brim before handing it back. “Come back to the village, Namox. You can have my brother-in-law’s house. It’s clean and waiting. I swept it with ceiba branches and censed it with tobacco. I could help look after your little ones.” It would be good to have someone to take care of again.

“We can’t come back, not ever.” He sounded torn between fear and longing. “Mother said the village is cursed. Everyone who lives there dies.”

“I haven’t.”

The boy shrugged. He touched his forehead to her and disappeared into the forest.

Ix Cahum opened another hive and scooped the waxy sacs of honey into a fresh pot, singing a gathering song as she worked. She kept an eye on the woods while she tilted the log to drain out the rest, but saw no one besides a yellow-breasted kiskadee. There must be more people out there than the Puc children. So far, they’d respected her hives, but if she stopped coming, stopped sweeping the clearing and burning the incense, how long would that last?

People left Conil every week, it seemed. She would go out to visit a friend, perhaps to borrow a little salt, and find the house empty. Better than finding them lifeless on their cots, though then she’d be warned by the unforgettable stink of death. An empty house smelled only of damp ashes and moldering corn husks.

Some people believed all the villages of the Maya were cursed. They fled into the forest to live like wild animals, with no corn and no temples, not even knowing what day it was. Soon their clothes would shred to tatters and they’d run naked like monkeys until they even forgot how to speak their prayers.

The filled pots were heavy; she could only carry two at a time. She’d come back that afternoon to fill two more. The honey harvest must be finished before the rains started, which her brother said would be soon. He was one of the few priests left at their small temple, still guiding the survivors in their cycle of prayers and ritual chores; the duties that kept the wheel of time turning in its eternal circle.

She took another breath of copal smoke before covering each dish to keep sparks from flying into the dry grass. She said a prayer of safekeeping and picked up her pots, holding one against each hip.

She heard nothing as she walked but the pat of her sturdy feet on hard earth, the twitter of birds deep in the thickets, and the snapping of grasshoppers in the tall grass. If she stopped walking to and fro every day, the narrow path would soon close up. The grass would take it back. Wild tamarinds would crowd into the clearing around her hives, making it easy for wasps to kill her defenseless bees.

She came into her patio, scolding the little turkeys out of her way. She’d long since stopped calling out to her lost family. Grandmother Icte had lived in her own house on the west side of the common area. She’d been the first to fall prey to the fiery pox, being the oldest.

It started with fever. They’d sweated her and soothed her brow with cool leaves. Then she grew weak, too weak to sip tea, and the puckered, red rash spread across her face and limbs. They’d made a poultice of red mamey fruit to absorb its fire and censed her with sage and tobacco, but nothing helped.

By the time she died, dozens more had come down with the same sickness. Her husband’s brother, his wife, and three children, all gone. Their house on the north side of the patio stood empty, their cots folded against the wall. She’d washed their thick cotton blankets in her big wooden trough, with juice from many limes and crushed fiddlewood leaves, laying them across the shrubs behind the house to dry in the hot sun. She had corn meant for two families stored up. She could feed the Puc children well if she could lure them to her patio.

She set the honey pots on the table. Then she went inside to remove her husband’s clothes, tying her own knee-length skirt around her waist. The thatched roof of her one-room house made a cool shade and kept her floor dry. She’d have to learn to repair the thatch too, one of these days.

She hung Ah Ziyah’s clothes on their peg. She could almost hear his warm voice, always somewhere close behind her, as she smoothed the folds of his green cape. She didn’t know how he’d found his way back from where he’d died, but she was grateful to have his ghost nearby. Sometimes she thought she could see her children through the gaps between the wooden poles of her walls, chasing each other and laughing, the way they used to do. Sometimes they appeared in the form of birds fleeting past, usually little white-winged doves or sometimes yellow flycatchers. Always a pair, always together. She knew who they were.

They should move on to the place in heaven reserved for good people, to wait their turn to be born again, but she couldn’t let them go yet.

She went out again to the patio. She set her clay sieve over the mouth of her big cooking pot and poured a mess of wax and honey into it. That would drain while she went to the cenote for clean water. She’d have to wash the wax several times to remove all the honey, preserving the sweet water for brewing balché.

She took up her yoke and water buckets and walked through the center of the village, hoping to see someone to talk to. She got her wish, in the bitter way the gods had of granting favors these days. Ix Kukil Xiu and her two daughters came out of their house — one of the finest in town — wearing thick sandals for walking and short capes to cover their breasts. Each one had a basket as large as she could carry strapped to her back. They were leaving.

“Where are you going?” Ix Cahum asked.

“To the new city of the White Ones, in the west. They call it Mérida.”

“Is it far?”

“Four or five days to Ciudad Real, then four or five beyond that.” Ix Kukil used the strangers’ name for the great city of Chichen Itza, or what used to be a great city. War had destroyed it, they said, after the White Ones came. She didn’t know if it had been Mayas or strangers who did the destroying.

“Ten days of walking. What will you find there?”

Ix Kukil shrugged. “They say the fiery pox doesn’t kill the White Ones. Their great god protects them. If we go to their city and work for them, we’ll be protected too.” She glared at Ix Cahum, a scowl on her round face, as if expecting an argument. “You’re lucky; your children died within weeks. I had to watch for months as my youngest starved. I want to know these two will have food. I want them to live, so they can take care of me when I grow old.”

“I don’t blame you,” Ix Cahum said. “But I’ll miss you.” She nodded at the two girls, who must be twelve or thirteen by now. They were too thin, but strong and growing. They’d be as tall as their mother in a few more years.

“Come with us,” Ix Kukil said. “We can wait while you gather your things.”

Ix Cahum thought about it, imagining how it would be. She and Ix Kukil had been friends since childhood. They would walk together, the four of them, and talk about everything — their lost husbands and sons, their parents, the way things were before the plague. The rains might start before they got to the new city, turning the road from dust to mud, but cooling their hot chests and faces.

Ten days of walking. She’d never been farther than her husband’s cornfield, though she knew there were many other villages in the Maya lands. Some of them must still have people. Maybe they wouldn’t have to go all the way to the White city.

But who would care for her bees? Who would say the prayers that kept fresh water bubbling into their cenote? Who would dance to call down the rains and dance again in gratitude when they came? Her brother had taught her that each village had a duty, a vital role in the cycle of ceremonials. If no one was left in Conil to say prayers, there’d be a hole in the world.

She shook her head. “I can’t leave. The honey harvest started today.”

Ix Kukil studied her face, her dark eyes flicking over the scars on Ix Cahum’s cheeks as if counting them. “Everyone else is leaving. You can’t live here alone. Come with us. I would be glad to have one old friend in my new home.”

“But what will we do?” Ix Cahum saw no poles of backstrap looms sticking out of their baskets. “The White Ones don’t wear the clothes we make. What kind of work will you find in their big city?”

Ix Kukil gave her a bitter look. “What kind do you think?”

They kissed each other goodbye, knowing they would never meet again. The mother and daughters took to their road.

Ix Cahum would rather be turned into a monkey than become a whore of the White soldiers. But perhaps the girls would be spared. They could work as cooks. Men couldn’t make tortillas, after all. And they could wash the fat cloth the strangers wore. Her brother had shown her a piece of it, thick and scratchy, but very tough. It must take a lot of washing.

She walked on to the cenote and studied her face in the still pool. The scars from the red pox looked like splats of mud, dried in ugly hard circles on her cheeks. She’d been a pretty girl — beautiful, Ah Ziyah had said. She’d been proud of her beauty, so Lady Bee took it from her. Or maybe the goddess had covered it to protect her from the White soldiers. Maybe both reasons, in equal measure.

She filled her buckets and went home again. She moved the sieve to another pot and poured water over the pieces of wax left in the bottom, stirring them gently with a stick until the wax was clean. Then she kneaded it smooth and pressed it into a ball, setting it on a tray lined with ceiba leaves. She put the sieve back over the honey pot and filled it with another load.

Then she went inside to fetch a bowl of corn meal, coming out to stir up the embers in her cooking fire. She patted out a batch of tortillas, cooking them two by two on her stone griddle, turning them briskly with her fingers. She ate one as soon as it was cool, folding it around a piece of boiled egg. She packed the others into a woven bag, which she slung over her shoulder. Now that most of the temple servants were dead, she brought the midday meal to her brother.

Ah Kin Chan Cab was a priest at the temple of Chaac on the eastern side of the village. It wasn’t a great stone temple like the ones at Tulum and Cobá, which he had described to her in admiration. The temple in Conil was only earth, heaped in a high mound with a steep ramp on each of its four sides. On the top stood a square house, built of thick poles like her house, but faced with smooth clay and painted with images of Chaac, the god of rain and lightning, in all his awe-inspiring manifestations.

They said you could see the ocean from the top of the temple. Women weren’t allowed up there, but they often danced in the square at its foot. There weren’t enough to form a full circle any more, but they could still dance, those who were left. In the beginning, after the creation, there must also have been only a few people. Surely Chaac would understand and accept their lesser offering.

The priests lived in small houses behind the temple. Ix Cahum found her brother folding his ceremonial cape — the one trimmed with green parrot feathers — into a tall basket. He wore ordinary clothes, a short white kilt and sandals with a necklace of red coral beads. He’d twisted his long black hair into a topknot, holding it in place with a thong strung with shells and bright blue motmot feathers. His strong chest and arms were decorated with tattoos and old scars from past offerings to the gods.

“Are you leaving too?” She couldn’t keep the panic from her voice. He was her last living relative.

He nodded, his face closed against her dismay. “I’ve been invited to join the priests at Tulum. We’re all going, or we few.”

He’d served his long apprenticeship at the great temple city of Tulum and had always longed for a permanent place there. His skills were exceptional — he could calculate the conjunctions of the lunar and solar calendars in his head — but their father had not been important enough. Now everyone ahead of him had died.

He smiled at her bag. “Is that our lunch? Let’s go outside.” He took a rolled-up mat and spread it in the shade of a huge ceiba tree.

Ix Cahum followed him, noticing that the other small houses looked empty. And smelled empty: no wood smoke, no sharp-smelling herbal potions bubbling in pots. “Are all the priests going with you?”

“There aren’t enough of us anywhere anymore, Sister. We must consolidate, join our strength. There aren’t enough people left in this village to support a priesthood. It’s time for Conil to return to the forest.” He tried to give her a piercing look, a warning look, but she refused to meet his eyes.

She knelt on the mat and unpacked her bag, laying out the stack of chubby tortillas, still warm in their cloth wrapper, and three boiled eggs, still whole in their speckled shells. She peeled one for him, splitting it into pieces with her fingers over a tortilla.

He folded it as he picked it up and hummed with pleasure as he took a big bite, as if it were something special. “You’re a good cook, Sister. Better than most. Come with us. We can wait one more day.” He smiled this time, trying sweetness instead.

It would be a good life for her, she had to admit. She could tend her brother’s house while he did the work of the gods. He spent many nights up on top of the temple, studying the stars, watching for the signs that directed his calculations. The calendar he helped to maintain defined their lives, connecting them to each day’s gods and each day’s destiny. His work was essential, and she could help in her small way. She could make hot corn atole for him to drink before he went to his bed at dawn and make sure his house was free of pests.

It would be a useful life — a contented life — but she shook her head. “I can’t leave. You know why. Lady Bee spared me to serve her here. And did you know that there are children — our village children — living in the woods?” She told him about giving honey to the Puc boy that morning. “I’ll persuade them to come back. The boys can plant the corn and the village can go on.”

“How will they know when to plant? How will you know which prayers to say on which days? You started your honey harvest on the day I determined for you. But what about the next one and the one after that?”

Ix Cahum had no answer. Without priests and diviners, they’d be cast adrift in the endless stream of time, day following each changeless day. Moons would wax and wane, but which months? She’d soon lose track. The rains would surprise them with the corn unplanted, or worse, its male tassels would produce their white pollen, ready to fertilize the female ears, after the dry season stole upon them unprepared. The vital pollen would crumble to dust and the ears would wither unformed.

“Our parents are buried here,” she said at last. “And my children.”

“Let them go, Ix Cahum. The circle is broken. Our parents have no grandchildren to carry their names forward.” His words were harsh, if true, though his brown eyes were soft with sympathy. He understood why she couldn’t leave. Her grief had not yet discovered a path toward peace.

He ate another egg, wrapped in the last of the tortillas. He stood up and dusted the crumbs from his hands. She folded the cloth carefully around the crumbs and tucked it into her bag. The turkeys could have them in thanks for the eggs. “Will you ever come back, Brother?”

He held out a hand to help her up. “After I get settled. In a few months. You’ll be ready to leave by then.” He gave her a look she remembered seeing on her father’s face, when she refused to stop splashing in the puddles and come in out of the rain.

She met his warm eyes, her father’s eyes. For the first time she felt he might be right.

He saw the change and nodded. “Harvest your honey. Find those children in the forest and bring them into your home. There are a few men left; let them plant the corn. We’ll pray for you. We’ll pray for all the Mayas. And when the corn is ready to harvest, I’ll come back for you.”

“Come after the harvest, unless you want to help.” Priests never got their hands dirty.

He grinned at that, but added a final priestly word. “Be careful, Sister. They say the strangers are traveling our roads, counting and measuring. They mean to stay and they want land for their big animals and their great plaster houses.”

“I’ll hide when they pass by.”

He smiled again, a tight, sad smile, not quite ready to say goodbye. “They call themselves Espan Yols, did you know that?”

“What does it mean?”

“I don’t think it means anything. If they do come, watch for one wearing a black dress that covers his body from chin to feet. Those are their priests. Some of them have Mayas walking with them to translate. They might trade you something for your honey, perhaps some of their cloth or a metal pot.” He pulled a blue feather from the thong around his topknot and handed it to her. “Be safe, my sister. May Lady Bee protect you until I return.”

She wrapped his feathered cloak in plain cotton to protect it, wishing he’d given her a chance to bake corn cakes for his journey. He said they had enough food, dried venison and fruit. Ah Kin Tzab’s wife was going with them and would make tortillas in their camp each night.

Ix Cahum didn’t object when he kissed her forehead and said a blessing over her to ward off sickness. She’d survived all that. She didn’t fear it anymore.

And she made no attempt to beg him to stay. He needed a high temple from which to view the stars; the higher, the better. More, he needed other priests with equal skills to study and perfect their exquisite calculations. He needed the whole vast sky full of stars turning and turning, year after year, like the great wheels of the calendars, turning one within the other, circling and cycling to interpret the will of the gods and keep the world in order.

Her faith lived in the little things, the everyday things: the packed earth floor of her house, swept clean every morning; the green cotton cape still smelling of her husband’s hair oil; the chortle of turkeys browsing on the patio, waiting for their corn; the slap of the masa between her hands as she made her daily bread. Her prayers went to the gods of her patio and the cenote where she fetched water every day, and to Lady Bee.

She didn’t want to live in either the new White city or the old stone temple. She wanted to live in the thatched house her husband’s father had built, beside the graves of her children and parents, until their spirits told her it was time to go.

That night, she went outside to smell the air before bedtime, wondering how far her brother had walked. The weight of the wind was changing, its flavor rich with moist smells from beyond the horizon. The rainy season was edging toward them.

The silver crescent of the new moon hung in a black sky dazzled with stars. The time of growth had come around again. She would plant beans in the morning, after visiting the hives, and some more peppers and tomatoes. And she would start marking days on the earthen floor of her grandmother’s empty house. Every time she reached twenty, she would make another mark to count the months and start again. She’d learned to count that high as a child, alongside her brother.

Six days went by, the moon growing brighter every night. Clouds began gathering in the east late in the afternoon. Ix Cahum had harvested almost half the honey and found three families still living on the outskirts of the village, two with men who could work the corn fields, with a help from the women.

She was coming home from the hives one morning with two pots of honey when she heard heavy feet pounding on the road behind her. She turned to see huge beasts with long mouths full of teeth, champing at pieces of black metal. Their spindly legs drove flat feet like mallets into the road, stamping toward her. White men in metal corsets and metal hats sat on their backs, their faces shrouded in hair.

She screamed and dropped her pots to run toward the forest, but one of the beasts got in front of her, blocking her way with its stinking, sweating hide. The White One shouted at her in his barbarous language. She screamed again and he laughed, showing blackened teeth. She fell to her knees, pressed her forehead to the earth, and began to pray for a swift death.

But then a man spoke to her in the real language. “Rise up, Little Mother. They won’t hurt you. Father Francisco only wants to ask you some questions.”

She lifted her head and saw a normal person, a clean brown face with a strong nose and brown eyes that smiled at her, to reassure her. He wore a plain cotton shirt with a skirt that covered each leg separately. He held out a hand and she let him help her up. She dusted her skirt, then touched the scars on her cheeks as she saw his smile falter. He recovered his courtesy and introduced himself. “I’m Ah Mucuy Xoc.”

‘Mucuy’ meant ‘dove.’ Perhaps his words would turn out to be true.

Someone said something in the White language and the Espan Yol on the monstrous beast in front of her moved away, stamping back to join the other three of his kind. Now she saw a man in a long, black dress, just as her brother had foretold, getting down from a fourth beast to walk toward her. He wore a black hat with a wide brim. The hair of his head was yellowish-brown and hung only to his shoulders, but darker hair sprouted from his chin and grew all the way down to the place where his heart might be, underneath his black clothes.

He said something in his language and Ah Mucuy translated. “Where can we sit and talk?”

Ix Cahum didn’t want to lead the men in metal clothes, who must be soldiers, into the village, so she pointed east, to the temple. The priest nodded, so she picked up her pots and led the way, struggling not to weep with terror as the heavy-footed beasts tramped along behind her.

The soldiers and their beasts stopped at the grassy sward overtaking the plaza. The priest sat on one of the stones used to prepare sacrifices. Ah Mucuy started to say something, but then shot a sly look at Ix Cahum and held his peace. His humor soothed her fears. The priest was only a man, who could be fooled and even mocked.

She set down her pots and knelt in the grass before the White priest. He took squares of yellow paper from a black box along with a pot of ink and a pointed brush and began asking her questions, writing down the answers. At first, she spoke to Ah Mucuy, but he didn’t look at her as he translated; he looked at the priest. So she began to speak directly to the priest as well.

He asked her for the names of things, many things, in no particular order: pots, mats, maguey, tamarind, brown birds, deer, water, wood, paste, corn tassels. Most of her words were the same as Ah Mucuy’s, but sometimes they were different. Those were the ones that pleased the priest; he smiled as he wrote them down. Then he asked her what she knew about god, as if there were only one. She told him about Lady Coleb Cab, the Bee Goddess who had saved her from the fiery pox. He studied the scars on her face and asked her what she called them.

“Pock marks,” she answered. He wrote that down too.

Then he asked what was in the pots. “Honey,” she said. “I’m halfway through the harvest.”

He dipped a long white finger into one of the pots and pulled it out covered with golden honey. He licked it clean with a blissful look on his pale face. Then he smiled at her and suddenly looked more like a real man, perhaps from the crinkles around his strange blue eyes or something boyish in his smile. “You’re in luck, Ix Cahum Cab. Because I like honey more than those fellows over there like women.”

She felt a shiver run up her spine. She hadn’t realized death had come so close.

The priest took both pots of honey, but promised to send some people back to Conil — Maya people. He said his men needed corn for their beasts and he wanted her to build more hives. Next year, he said he might have new bees for her, bigger ones that made more honey. They lived in woven houses, he said, like overturned baskets. He would send someone to show her how to tend them.

She didn’t like the sound of that, or the loss of her pots, but she would agree to anything to make those big-toothed monsters with their metal soldiers leave the village. She told Ah Mucuy about Ix Kukil Xiu and her daughters, who might still be on the road somewhere. He promised to do what he could, if they met them.

The moon waxed and the men still living in Conil prepared themselves to plant their corn. A few more had come in from the forest, smelling the chaparral cooking fires and the spicy achiote simmering in the bean stew.

On the day before the night of the full moon, Ix Cahum knelt on the mat by her fire, sipping her breakfast of hot atole. Two white-winged doves flew under the patio roof and perched on a hemp rope strung between two poles. She watched them as they watched her, birds and woman more curious than alarmed. Then the doves nodded at her and twittered something in their language. She didn’t know the words, but she understood the meaning. She nodded back, and they flew away.

She smiled for the first time in a year, as tears rolled down her scarred cheeks. Then she sighed and finished her corn drink. She rose and began to pack a carrying basket with cold tortillas, a jug of balché with a skin cap, and a flat basket to hold poinciana flowers to be picked along the path to the cenote.

She would offer thanks to the Lords of the Underworld today for guiding her children to Xibalba at last.


Author’s Note


Readers will be happy to know that the Yucatec Maya survived plague, famine, wars, and conquest, holding on to their culture and their language. Today there are over 800,000 native speakers of Maya, as they call their language. (Linguists call it Yucateco to distinguish it from the nearly thirty other Mayan languages.) You could learn Yucateco yourself at the Maya Summer Institute in Mérida if you liked. Nowadays, Yucatecos work in every field — medicine, archaeology, biology, construction — but some also still grow corn the old way. Maya women are reviving the indigenous methods of beekeeping as well, tending the native stingless bees. They say the honey is sweeter, but more rare.

I’ve been to the Yucatán peninsula several times, purely for touristic purposes. But I wrote a grammar for my dissertation of another indigenous language of Mexico called Zoque. This language is still spoken by a handful of old folks in a town on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Oaxaca. I spent many hours listening to people tell stories and learning about the work of both men and women, which still largely revolves around the seasons of rain and drought, planting and harvest. The people are Catholics now, but they still have a communal obligation to carry on the annual cycle of rituals and celebrations that keep the world turning, the rain falling, and the corn growing.

* * *


Thank you for reading The Broken Circle. For news on upcoming books and free reads, sign up for my newsletter, the Castle Circle. or visit my website,, to learn about my books and short stories.


This is a work of fiction. Characters, places, and events are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


© Copyright 2020 Anna Castle. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

More Historical Fiction Short Stories