Page 11 - Five_Dances_Short_final_1

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Surrounded by my enemy’s family at the platform above my goal, Dew gave Talon a big smile. She was seven that summer, and her smile had lots of missing teeth. Like the other children of her age, she wore her hair short. Her broad face and round eyes were just like her mother’s; in fact, she resembled my wife Broken Plume so much that I almost cried out in pain. How stupid was I to have lost her. I waved to her, and she regarded me as if I were a stranger. An old woman next to her, who seemed annoyed with the excitement of the crowd around them, pointed at me and said something to Dew. My team dominated the next few passes amidst the boos and whistling of the spectators, and we almost made it that time. But Talon def lected the ball I threw to the goal and, keeping it in the air with his knees, dashed to my side of the field. With a powerful twist of his hips, he almost scored.

The crowd erupted into a cacophony of screams. Playing to that passion, the Game Master picked up the ball from the ground and held it high above his plumed head, yelling praises to the Mexica. As I stood brooding, Eagle tapped the rubber helmet on my head. “Listen,” he said, “I know Talon wanted your daughter to watch this game.” “So?”

“Do you want us to take her away?” “Why would I want that?”

“So you can focus on the game. You’re distracted.”

With surprise, I noticed that he seemed sincere. “I’ll have her see me win,” I said and pushed him away.

The Game Master returned the ball to the game. Mist caught it on his chest and passed it to me. I was good at the game, having played it since my early days in a temple school with the boys from our clan. I attacked, and soon we dominated the field once more. My thighs went numb from hitting the solid rubber ball, yet we carried on attacking.

Our enemies were accomplished players, too. Stern Lord and Eagle concerned themselves with blocking our offense, and Talon kept changing his manner of play to confuse us. At times he seemed bent on getting to the goal on his own, playing as if his teammates

didn’t exist. Then he’d fall into defense, and we’d all but forget about him, until he appeared out of nowhere to threaten our ring.

Once, I broke through and positioned myself to the left of the enemy’s ring in one of the best spots from which to score. I felt the eyes of the spectators on me, heard their booing, and caught the expressions of hate on their faces. Among that hostile mob, only one smile lit up for me, right above the target, where my daughter sat. “Papa!” she yelled.

So unexpected was her scream that I almost halted. How did she recognize me, a stranger only a short while ago? Did someone in Talon’s retinue point me out to her?

I bounded into the air, giving the ball a careful kick with a knee. Suddenly, someone smashed into me from behind, sending me headlong into the wall. I was crushed against the stones, but never took my eyes off the ball.

A second person slammed into me, and my head struck the wall just when the ball neared the ring.

I stood despite the pain, trying to make sense of what had hap-pened. Had I scored?

No one was watching me; all the eyes were on Talon, dancing his way around my teammates, bouncing the ball to Eagle and back. With a roar, I dashed after him.

I was late. Moving with confidence, Talon placed himself to the left of the ring, received the ball from Eagle, and sent it into the goal. It was a beautiful hit, an act of skill. He scored.

Dew understood that the game was lost, I believe, for she sat there staring down at me as I stood in the court looking up at her. She appeared oblivious of the audience raging with joy all around. Just as she opened her mouth to shout something to me, the old matron led her away.

Talon gave me a friendly pat on the back. “Are you crying, brother? You mustn’t be disturbed. I’m treating my slaves well.” “Sell her back to me,” I said.

“To you?” He removed his helmet and spat on the ground,

Page 11 - Five_Dances_Short_final_1

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