I hurried along the trail until I reached the canyon rim, where I stopped and grinned. The canyon cut across the land in front of me—maybe more of a ravine, really, several miles long but only a quarter-mile across and a few hundred feet deep. The bottom looked shady and cool, while the sun lit up the small ruin to my right.
The now-roofless structure wouldn’t impress anyone but an archaeologist—except for the way it perched recklessly atop a thirty-foot boulder. The boulder sloped at a sharp angle, so it looked like the whole structure should slide into the canyon. And it had been there for over 700 years! I skimmed the pamphlet and confirmed what I remembered: Stronghold House was part of a large pueblo that once filled the canyon slope below. Ironically, the lower floors built down in the canyon had crumbled and been washed away, so now only the top story remained, safe on the enormous boulder.
I spotted carved hand and toeholds in the rock, leading up to the low doorway. I tried to imagine the Anasazi living there centuries before, scrambling up the steep side of the boulder as easily as I walked up the stairs to my second-floor apartment. I half-closed my eyes to blur my vision and tried to picture the way it must have been before the walls crumbled and the roof collapsed. I imagined small, tanned people in loincloths, women on the roof, crouched over their work, children playing nearby, men returning from hunting or working their cultivated fields. I could almost hear their cheerful shouts.
I opened my eyes and turned down the path along the canyon rim, humming with pleasure.
The next structure, called Falling House, looked even less accessible. It clung to a rugged outcropping of rock separated from the canyon rim by a five-foot crevasse, as if a piece of the canyon wall had peeled away but stopped short of falling. Several ruined walls still stood, the jagged line of their crumbled tops silhouetted against the blue sky. A diagram in the pamphlet showed several rooms and a round kiva or ceremonial room.
I couldn’t wait to explore further. Of course, regular tourists weren’t allowed to leave the trail, but one of the perks of being an archaeologist was special access. For the next few weeks, this would be my playground.
The next site on the map was just a vandalized rock shelter, and the trail guide complained that people had torn down the walls before it could be excavated. Only part of one wall and a jumble of stones remained. But the guide also mentioned that the site might have yielded storage jars or food remains, had it been left for archaeologists. Since my interest was ancient food, I decided to creep down for a closer look.
I moved carefully, so as not to disturb the loose rocks, and squatted near the biggest pile of rubble. I gently lifted a few broken pieces, putting them back in the same place after I’d examined them. I couldn’t do much with the fragments, but as always, I marveled over touching something from the past.
Tomorrow would be soon enough for scientific method, for testing and hypothesizing. Tonight I only wanted to touch the magic of this ancient world. I closed my eyes and tried to feel some ancient presence, to hear whispers from the past. The air seemed to tremble with possibilities. If only I believed in magic—
A shout slashed the air. I twisted so fast I tumbled onto my backside.
I gaped up at the man towering over me. Bare chest, muscular and bronzed. Black hair pulled back from a face full of sharp planes and angles. Dark eyes fierce under scowling brows.
My heart jolted painfully. I’d come face to face with an ancient warrior. He was gorgeous.
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