Heart of the Phoenix (Part 4 of 5)

“You got some of them herbs? I could use me a vision of a bed right about now.”

Sandy chuckles. “Sorry, fresh out. Got me a load of greenbacks. Don’t suppose you wanna smoke those?”

You cough as the smoke from the fire drifts over your bedroll. “Not hardly. Rather buy me a bed with those.”

“Fair enough,” smiles Sandy and stokes the campfire with a stick. “We got another long ride at sunup. What say I finish this tomorrow night?”

“Hell no, you’ve already thrown the hatchet! I wanna hear how the little Injun fares in the dust up.”

“Alright then,” sighs Sandy, clearing his throat before continuing.

After a week’s preparation, Xipil and Tonauac made the journey back to their village disguised as a nobleman and his son from a distant land. Entering the village the flame of hatred ignited in Xipil’s gaze. He stopped for a time and stared at a new cabin that stood where he was raised by his mother Yolotli. Sensing Xipil’s hesitation, Tonauac turned and watched as Xipil’s rage laid siege to his heart once again. Placing his hand on Xipil’s shoulder, Tonauac looked deep into his eyes before he spoke. He reminded Xipil that he must let go of his rage and give all his attention to the contest if he were to succeed. After a deep, cleansing breath, Xipil nodded and they continued on their way to the ceremonial hall. The hall was full of excited villagers and young contestants from throughout Xiuhcoatl’s kingdom. Xipil’s heart plummeted as their animated speech reminded him of his mother’s native tongue. Tears welled in his eyes as he recalled her tender face, the sound of her voice when she sang to him as a child. Once again, his master Tonauac put a hand on Xipil’s shoulder and looked deep into his eyes, sharing his grief. The strength in Tonauac’s gaze gave him courage and Xipil remembered the Shaman’s words on the trail; that this contest would challenge not only the strength of his muscles, but also the resilience of his heart. Xipil closed his eyes and felt the grief lift as he took another deep, cleansing breath. Nodding to Tonauac, they made their way to the front of the hall where they partook of the great opening feast.

At first light the next day, Xipil gathered with the other contestants upon the field of battle, surrounded by the many villagers. The King sat upon his stage, specially built for the occasion, the maleficent Phoenix perched beside him. As the village chieftain rose to speak, the crowd hushed. After making his obeisance to the king, the chieftain turned to the contestants and announced they would face three challenges. The first challenge would be marksmanship, followed by feats of strength and finally conquest. The contestants gathered their weapons and moved to the archery range, where the targets were placed 25, 50 and 100 paces distant. Warriors who managed to place an arrow in the centre of the first target would be allowed to shoot in the next round at 50 paces. The shooting would continue and those who scored a bullseye would be allowed to loose at the furthest targets. Xipil was mortified! He’d brought only the single prophesied arrow with him. In his haste to prepare, he hadn’t thought to make more. The contest began as he searched the crowd for any sign of his master, but Tonauac was not to be found. He would only get one shot on the range.(Turn to Page 2)