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32

F I V E D A N C E S W I T H D E A T H

33

“You drove them back the last time,” Rainbow said.

I didn’t respond. We hadn’t driven them back. It was a Flower Battle invented by my father to keep the Moonwalk People at bay while still fighting the inevitable autumn wars with them. The agreement was to fight at the border, mostly with the noble warriors so as not to reduce our peasant populations, and disengage when an agreed-upon number were killed or captured. Those battles, my father argued, helped us stay free, and they kept our noble youngsters on their toes by having to face death every year. Static as they were, such battles always had an essential premise. If one side faltered, the other would turn the battle into a real war of conquest.

In the battle Rainbow mentioned, the unspeakable almost happened. Charging Eagle, who at that time led the Moonwalk army, broke through the ranks to my father and deafened him with a club. My father survived, although his hearing never quite returned, and he developed such headaches that he decided to give up the military leadership in our alliance. Later that year I was chosen as his re-placement, but there were others who had staked claims to that role. My servant now rushed back onto the roof. He panted from his dash up the stairs, and it took a few moments before he was able to speak. Finally, he touched the f loor with his fingers and brought the dust to his lips in the customary gesture of deference. “Lord, they brought the boy,” he said.

lead my people into battle, so will be his.”

Flint dangled the dead hummingbird over his little sister’s face. A tiny blue feather landed under Joy’s nose, and she gave a feeble sneeze, sending the feather deep into her many wraps.

“Funny little monkey,” Flint said. He crawled into my lap and cuddled with his head under my chin, seeking my cheek with his lips. “Don’t kiss,” I pushed his head away with my finger. “Mama says it’s alright to kiss you, Papa.”

“When you grow up, you can kiss girls, but never kiss a warrior, not even your father.”

He made a noise of throwing up. “Girls are weak.” Rainbow sighed, but said nothing.

His hair tickling my neck, Flint began telling of his adventure in the forest. As much as he tried to remain brave about Hurricane’s death, he couldn’t conceal his distress and confusion. He spoke in much detail, repeating himself and jumping from one part of the story to another.

“Wasp, what’s going on?” Rainbow whispered. “I don’t under-stand. Hurricane was a sweet boy. I gave him fruit just yesterday. He brought me a toy in return.”

I gazed at her perfect Toltec face, where her widely set eyes seemed to look more inside herself rather than at the world around. She was the pride of my family and my bid to equality with all the rulers in One World. Having a real Toltec wife was as important to enter the select clique of nobility as having land for the peasants to cultivate. Through this woman I was connected with the ancient masters of our land, the Revered Speakers of Tollan. Marrying her had put me on a par with all the rulers around the Nahua-speaking lands. I didn’t love her. I needed her.

I looked away from her, interrupting the familiar chain of thought. “I hope those weren’t the Moonwalk People,” I said. “Thieves, runaway slaves, outlaws—I can deal with them all.” But not another war, I thought, not now when the blockade had all but brought my small nation to its knees. We needed alliances, food, and warriors, not another war just yet.

C H A P T E R T H R E E

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