Warren Murphy: King's Curse

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    King's Curse
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New York graffiti artists are leaving their marks everywhere. Even on museum exhibit Uctut, the massive stone idol of the Actatl tribe, who had secretly survived since Cortes and his conquistadors. They are avenging the insult by killing museum trustees and a congressman - by the ancient ritual of cutting out their hearts! Remo and Chiun are entering the fray with ancient Sinanju, and Actatls biting the dust as the tribe musters to do battle with CURE. Meanwhile, Remo is acquiring two camp followers. One can't keep her mouth shut, the other can't keep her clothes on . . . the odds are sure loaded against CURE.

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* Title : #024 : KINGS CURSE *

* Series : The Destroyer *

* Author(s) : Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir *

* Location : Gillian Archives *



The stone was old before the pale men on four high legs with metal chests and metal heads followed the path of the sun in from the big water you could not drink.

Before the king-priests, the stone was; before the warrior-kings, it was. Before the Aztec and the Toltec and the Maya, it was. Before the Actatl, who served it and acknowledged it as their own personal god, the stone was.

The stone was a king's height, and if you did not know that the circle outlined in its belly was carved by the very gods themselves before man came from the mouth of the turtle, if you did not know that, then you were not Actatl. And you would not be allowed in the palace of the god, and you would not be allowed near the sacred stone, lest the god be enraged by an unbeliever's finger touching it.

And the people called the sacred stone Uctut.

But only the priests knew its real name.

In the first years of the pale men the warrior king of the Actatl called the five priests of Uctut to the palace, which was 142 steps high and protected Uctut from the north wind and the north light. He asked the priests what they thought of the new pale men.

"Moctezuma says they are gods," said one priest

"Moctezuma thinks the gods breathe when he vents air after a feast," said the king.

"Moctezuma is a king that is more to god's way," said another priest reproachfully. "It is known that the Aztec of Moctezuma follow their gods better because their king is a priest."

"Life is too short to spend it preparing for its end," the king answered. "And I believe that the rain falls without a baby's heart being thrown into the well that feeds Uctut, and I believe that new babies come even if the hearts of women are not sent into the well, and I believe that I win victories, not because Uctut has been fed with blood, but because my men fight from high places and others from low."

"Have you never wanted to know the name of Uctut? The real name? So that he could speak to you as he speaks to us?" another priest asked.

"What for? Everyone has a name for something. It is just a breath of air. I have not called you here to say that after so many years I have come to your way. Let it remain at this: You give the people your gods, and I do not take the people away from you. Now I ask you, what do you think of the men colored like clouds?"

"Uctut thinks he must have their hearts for his water," said one priest.

"Moctezuma thinks we should give the tall ones with four legs the yellow metals they seek," said another.

And another said, "Moctezuma has also said we should give the hearts of these white men to Uctut."

"Did Moctezuma say the Aztec should give the hearts of these white men with their death sticks?" the king asked. "Or did he say the Actatl should take these hearts?"

"He said it was such a good sacrifice, we should be pleased to make it to Uctut," said a priest.

"Then let the great Moctezuma take their hearts," said the king, "and he may offer them up to Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent god."

Another priest responded, "He said the Aztec honored the Actatl by not taking this rich sacrifice for themselves but allowing us to take it for Uctut, to make our god rich and red with the finest hearts."

"Then this I tell to Moctezuma, great king of the great Aztec, from his most respectful neighbor, king of the Actatl, holder of leopards, who protects Uctut from the winds of the north, conquerer of the Umay, Acoupl, Xorec. To Moctezuma, I say, greetings neighbor. We appreciate your generosity and in turn, we give gifts to the Aztec and their great king."

While the king spoke, the priests all made sacred marks, for they were knowing of the mysteries, how one man could place a mark on a tablet of stone, and how another man seeing that mark could divine a thought from it, even though the maker of the mark had gone many years before to the other world.

Five hundred years later, in a land where almost everyone read and there was no mystery to it, archaeologists would engage in a favorite pastime of wishing they could talk to inhabitants of the dead cultures they studied. They would say they could get more from a half-hour conversation with someone who lived in that culture than they could get from a lifetime of studying the marks on the tablets they had found.

Yet, if they had talked to the average Actatl, they would have gotten only that the marks were mysteries, that the king lived high, the people lived low, and the priests served Uctut, whose real name only the priests knew and were allowed to speak.

But the stone that was Uctut would last. The Aztec would be no more, the Maya and Inca would be no more. The name of the Actatl would be destroyed, and the Umay, the Acoupl, the Xorec, the inland people they had conquered, would not even be remembered.

All would be forgotten. Yet Uctut would survive and in that far-off time, in a land called the United States of America, blood and horror would be visited upon many, in a royal sacrifice by the Actatl to their god of the stone.

And that blood sacrifice started from what happened that day when the king of the Actatl attempted to avoid facing in battle the Spanish invader, whom he suspected was not a god, but just a man of a different color.

And so the priests made their marks and the king spoke. The gift he and his people would give to the Aztec would be the sole rights to the hearts of the pale men on four high legs with metal chests and metal heads.

One priest protested that this was too generous an offer, that Uctut would be jealous of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec's chief god. But the king signalled for silence and the message was over.

For Uctut's approval a small sacrifice was chosen, a young girl of budding breasts from a fine family, and she was dressed in a royal robe of yellow feathers and placed upon the stone above the well that held the waters that fed Uctut.

Now if her family seemed to be forcing tears and only pretending to wail, there was good reason. For many generations now the Actatl had bought slaves and kept captives for just such a ceremony, and when the priests called for a sacrifice from the ranking soldiers and from those who directed the farmers and the building of roads, they would dress those slaves kept just for this purpose and offer them to Uctut.

One priest held one ankle, and another priest held the other ankle, and two other priests held the wrists. They were strong men of necessity because the bodies struggling for life often had great power. This girl's skin was smooth, and her teeth were fine, and her eyes were shiny black. The fifth priest nodded approvingly at the family, who would be pleased with themselves later; now they lamented as if the child were their own daughter.

With delicate care, the fifth priest unfolded one side of the robe and then the other, and so careful were his hands that the girl smiled hopefully up at him. Perhaps he would let her go. She had heard other slaves say that sometimes they would bring you to the big rock and let you go. Not often but sometimes. And she had placed pebbles in a circle on a grassy bank to the gods of the streams who, while not as strong as Uctut, could sometimes outwit him. And her only request since she had been brought to the special building from the fields was that her god would outwit Uctut and let her live.

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