As she spoke, a ripple of excitement ran through the crowd, and all heads turned. They witnessed an amazing sight. At first they thought it was a vast thick red carpet being rolled out, but quickly realised it was an unending stream of red-painted Mayans who lay on their fronts in a long continuous line.
Eight tall natives carrying a ceremonial litter walked over the backs of the chain of red bodies. As the litter passed, people shook themselves free of dust, ran forwards, and lay down again as part of the human carpet.
Dan and Sara absorbed the scene silently. This was Ramona, the Mayan leader’s arrival.
His litter was fashioned from snakeskin. It was an astonishingly bright tapestry of kaleidoscopic colour. He sat upright, his face impassive, completely covered by the skin of a jaguar, its proud head sitting above his face.
The procession stopped at the foot of the steep temple steps, the crowd parting to allow the human carpet to roll right up to the base of the vast pyramid.
Seven natives, dressed in shimmering silver costumes, blew long golden trumpets to still the crowd.
The bearers set the litter down, and Ramona alighted, jaguar skin glistening in the sunlight. The animal had been a magnificent specimen, its fawn coat beautifully patterned with distinctive clusters of dark brown spots. It had been tailored to Ramona’s figure and he wore it like a vast cloak, its paws stretching over his hands. Its teeth and bright yellow eyes glowed as if still alive.
As the tall impressive ruler started to climb the steep narrow steps, the crowd began a steady chant: “Ra-mo-na! Ra-mo-na! Ra-mo-na!”
He turned to face the crowd, and quietened them by raising his arms. On his forehead gleamed a bright yellow stone, like a tiger’s eye. He wore a necklace of precious stones – amber, citrine and topaz. His chest glistened with oil.
For a moment, he looked straight at Dan and Sara. They were sure a flicker of recognition crossed his face, and were stunned to see images of his life flash before their eyes.
They saw him as a small child being taught by the scribes in an observatory; as a teenager practising his sword skills with a weapons teacher; as an adult hunting and killing the jaguar with one throw of his battle spear; and as a ruler presiding over the headsmen of the different cities with Parimanu at his side.
He spoke in a loud clear voice: “My people, we have awaited this day with patience and dedication. You have all earned this rich reward. We go with our ancestors. We join our parents and their parents too. We have wrestled with our daily toil for long enough. Many months and years of supporting each other, of giving strength and energy to our friends and to our neighbours have brought us here today. Our minds are open. Our spirits are prepared. There will be an end to sacrifice and suffering, and the start of a new eternal kingdom at the time of the end.
Our people are ready. We cross over to our future now.”
A huge cheer rang out and he shrugged off the jaguar skin, continuing his ascent. He entered the temple through a doorway at its second level.
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