Wiraqucha, the creator god, loves and will not destroy the people and empire he has created, so he appoints others to watch over his creations while he continues his explorations of the heavens and the earth. After one hundred years, his appointed custodians must return to their home in the sky, leaving the people of the Wira Empire without the daily presence of those they believe protect them.
In accordance with this and other prophesies, and almost all at once, the Wira Empire loses their sun god, Inti, who succumbs to the ravages of the human form as Wiraqucha plans to flood the village in order to protect it as a place of rest for his future visits.
Pascac, son of Inti, leads villagers to safety in Sacsayhuamán, the sanctuary overlooking Qusqu—the capital city built by the god of civilization, Manqu Qhapaq. Despite their will to live and prosper, those things may not be within the grasp of the new settlers. Supay, the god of death, and other gods rage against them—seemingly intent upon wiping out the entire civilization and those who rule them.
Through it all, the scribe, one of only a few who knows the ancient art of glyph drawing, endures hardship and tragedy to fulfill her life’s purpose of recording history and creating books for the Wira descendants so they will know the story of how they came to be.
Cyndie Shaffstall’s new historical fiction is based upon the legends of Peru’s Wira and Inca gods and the theories of modern-day ancient astronaut theorists concerning their origins. You will be transported through the ages to join the villagers in the trials and tribulations of establishing their new home in the sanctuary on the hill.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wrote Glyphs after a trip to Peru where I became fascinated with their history and religious beliefs—especially those that predate the arrival of the Spanish. Though now they are primarily Catholic, they’ve not left behind their legends—despite the lack of a written language. I wanted to write a story that could provide an explanation for their beautiful cities.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Most of the characters are based—at least in part—on their legends. The narrator is a completely fictional character, in a role that is also—according to history—also fictional. Here again, I wanted there to be a record of their history, a record of their writing, so I created both.
After four months of waiting, a chasqui enters the anteroom where Anta-Anclla and I work. Several of the mamakuna are present and tending to her smallest children, close enough she can watch them, but far enough away small hands do not grab at the paper and ink.
Anta-Anclla waits for the young relay runner to speak—he is out of breath from his run and has trouble catching it so he can tell her the news. Finally he announces that Emperor Sinchi Ruq’a has sent a message from Piccho, though he was at the time preparing to return to Qusqu. The proposal for the mit’a has been accepted and is now the official law of the Wira Empire.
Anta-Anclla is thrilled with the news and runs out of the room to tell her brothers. I too am happy and thank the chasqui for bringing us word. The young man, unsteady on his feet, begins to acknowledge my thanks but collapses to the floor before he can speak. Another woman and I rush to his aid and find him fevered with small red sores forming on parts of his body. I call for servants to carry him to a private room and send for the healer.
I follow as they carry the now unconscious young man and place him on borrowed bedding in a vacant room. The healer removes his tunic, and we are all shocked to find the sores cover most of his body. The healer sends for his herbs and stays with the young man for days attempting to see him through his sickness.
On the third day, another chasqui arrives to tell the sapas of a great sickness that has devastated Piccho—nearly every resident is sick or dying. Those well enough to do so have abandoned the citadel. The emperor had already vacated before the sickness was discovered and is in residence in Qusqu. The sickness seems to have followed, however, and many of his court have also fallen ill. The emperor remains healthy and is now isolated.
On the afternoon of the tenth day since the arrival of the sick chasqui, Anta-Anclla’s oldest child also falls ill, and by nightfall, all of her children have been afflicted. I too begin to feel feverish and lie in my bedding with an unquenchable need to sleep away the pains afflicting my head and back. The bile rises often in my throat and I kneel over a small pot to allow it to leave my body. Unable to go in search of help, I lie here and sleep fitfully for days—red spots appear on my face, hands, forearms, and chest—these turn into small blisters filled with clear fluid, which then turns into pus. I scratch at the sores and those turn to scabs. My nose, mouth, and eyes have sores as well and they too scab.
Under every blanket I own, I shiver with fever and bargain for sleep. It is the darkest of the night and Inti comes to me and consoles me in my ravaged dreams. He lays moistened towels on my brow, gives me water to quench my parched body, and tells me the stories of the Wari people—encouraging me to continue to live in this city built for me.
Please release me from this life, Inti. I will join you in the heavens.
He insists I cannot—he is not ready to have me join him. I still have much life to live and joy to take from and give this earth. He lies next to me and holds me in his arms the way he did when he, himself, lay dying. He whispers words of comfort into my ear and speaks of a love to last eternity. He stills my shaking body with his own and covers my face with kisses. I let my tears fall onto his chest and finally, finally sleep.
A big, furry muzzle sniffs at my face and a wide tongue leaves behind a wet trail. I swat at the face and open my eyes to large black noses, so close their whiskers tickle my cheek. I look around the room lit with Inti’s rays and realize Supay has left my room without me. I throw back the covers and put my feet on the cold stone floor and stand. I take my time walking to the ceramic pot in the corner to relieve myself and then to find water. My head aches from the previous days’ illness, but I do not know how many days it has been.
I dress and venture out and through the halls to take stock of the extent of Supay’s anger. I can still hear the wailing that started long before I too fell ill, but it does seem to be less so. I call in to open doorways and offer whatever assistance I can provide. There are requests for blankets, water, food, and the comfort of a helping hand. I spend the day providing what I can. The dead are everywhere, even fallen bodies in the open plaza—as though they died while enjoying a bit of sunshine of late spring.
We have angered Supay, the god of death, and he has shown his displeasure by visiting the door of every home within Sacsayhuamán. Hundreds, perhaps a thousand, are sick and dying, and those who are not, are likely already dead.
It is with such fury, we’ve not been able to wrap and bury our loved ones for their journey to the heavens before another dies in our arms. Bodies of mothers, fathers, and children still lie in the bedding where they fell ill. Our oracle, priest, and priestess hold vigil in the Temple of the Sun and beg the god’s forgiveness, but he ignores their pleas and offerings of gold, silver, and our treasured textiles.
There are too many bodies to adhere to our tradition for individual ceremonies and burials. We must do what we can to honor them and yet remove them from our homes so that they can quickly begin their journey to the afterlife. The stench of rotting flesh is overwhelming and reminds everyone of the death within.
I seek out the sapas to ask for help. I turn back, tempted to go through the hall of arches to the tower, but know my mission is too important to stop for conversation with Inti. I enter the main doorway of the sun temple and hurry to the halls situated behind the dais. They are eerily quiet, no servants rushing to fulfill requests, and absent the smell of cooking food. I walk toward Anta-Anclla’s quarters. A warrior stands to bar the way. I call out to Anta-Anclla and ask to enter. I tell her I have had the illness and it has passed. She grants permission for me to enter and the warrior stands aside.
Anta-Anclla lies in a heap on the floor surrounded by her dead children and brother-husband, Ozcoc. Her clothing is filthy and the braids of her hair loose and matted. I am certain she has not eaten in a week. I pull her up and walk her to her bedding and cover her with blankets. She does not yet have sores upon her body, but I can see that the illness has found her. I bring her water and demand she drink, but she doesn’t take much in her weakened state. I tell her to sleep. The gods and I will look after her children.
I call for the warrior to bring me textiles. When he returns, I wrap each child as tightly as possible though I have no herbs for preserving their flesh. The warrior and I carry the small bodies and their possessions one by one to the quarry beyond the plaza—from where Inti cut the stones used to build his sanctuary. We place the children sitting so they can look at our beautiful temple and wait for their journey to heaven where they will mingle with our ancient ancestors and gods.
I sit by Anta-Anclla’s bed the entire day and force water into her each time she stirs to ask about her children. When she shivers, I add blankets; when she sweats with fever, I drop water into her mouth—she swallows in her sleep. I have not seen another live person other than the warrior, even in my trips to the cooking and storage areas to gather food. I watch the guard carefully for signs of sickness, but he displays none. He is grateful for the food and water I bring him, so he may continue to stand vigilant at his post.
On the second sunrise, Anta-Anclla opens her eyes knowing the sickness has passed and the god Supay has spared her as well. She asks about her children and her brother-husband, and I tell her they have gone to the heavens in search of our gods. She cries openly. I ask for permission to leave so that I might tend to others and she waves me away to submit to her grief in solitude.
I go next to Rimac’s quarters and find many dead, but also many alive. Five children lie motionless in their blankets. I ask for his help in removing the bodies of our loved ones throughout the city so that the sickness can leave us. He sees the wisdom in this and gathers himself, thankful for an occupation beyond sitting and looking at his own dead children. He instructs his sister-wife, Pinca-Huaco, to prepare the children’s bodies for burial. She, too, seems glad for the diversion, even one so terrible for a mother to perform.
Rimac goes through the great room and enters the plaza; the scene shocks him. He calls out to his people and those who are able stumble from their homes to hear his proclamation. He instructs all who are able to assemble here before him in order to carry out plans to drive from our city the illness Supay has left behind.
I leave Rimac to rule his people and go in search of Pascac. I walk again through the great room of the Temple of the Sun and cross through the wide halls. I walk past the room where Anta-Anclla still cries for her brother-husband and children; past the room where Pinca-Huaco wraps the bodies of her dead children, and I enter the completely silent rooms of our primary sapa. The silence brings with it a fear I have known only one other time in my life, the morning of the death of Inti the sun.
I call out from the doorway, but there is no response. The smell of death demands I enter and examine the handiwork of Supay. A body lies dead in every bed: Pascac’s sister-wife, his sons, his daughters. There is no life in this room.
There is also no Pascac.
Leaving the job to no other, I go to the storage rooms and take as many bolts of fabric as I can carry and return to Pascac’s quarters. With the care I would show my own children and sister, I wrap each body in preparation for their journey to the heavens. Those children small enough to carry, I take to the quarry with possessions to entertain them. For those I cannot, I enlist men who have made this their purpose. As I carry a small child past Rimac, who is still in the plaza giving directions, he asks about Pascac and his family. I tell him what I know.
His sister-wife and children have died, but I have not found Pascac.
His face saddens and he waves me on my way so I may complete my wretched task.
After clearing the quarters of the sapas, I continue in my quest to locate those who still need help. I enter the rooms of the young mamakuna—my sisters. Many of the thirty-five women are dead and lie silent in their beds; others cry and stretch their arms toward me, begging for my assistance. I find the water vessels and bring water to all those who are alive to drink it. I pull blankets from the dead to cover the living. I spend the night in that room without sleep and force water into all who stir. In the morning, four more are dead, but two rise to help me in my duties. By the end of the sunlight, six more women rise.
With the nightfall, torches are stuck into the ground to light a path across the plaza toward the quarry so our mission can continue. I return to help Rimac’s sister-wife, and note Anta-Anclla is no longer in her room. I will have to look for her some other time; people are still in need of help, but my exhausted body reminds me, there is little left within me to offer—soon I must sleep. I cross the main hall and continue looking for those in need of nursing or burial. The rooms are empty, so I press on. I walk past the hall to my quarters, and though they call to me with promises of great comfort and sleep, I walk past them and enter the hall of arches with the intent to enter the plaza through the open doorway of the tower and continue my search for others.
The hall is dark, though torches in the plaza cast light through the vertical windows. As I near the end of the hall, I realize a body lies at the foot of Inti’s tomb. I know immediately who it is and rush forward to Pascac. His body shivers with the sickness, and sores cover him. I run to the open doorway and shout to whoever in the plaza can respond and ask for help with Pascac, their sapa. Several men rush in and I direct them to carry him to my quarters. They lay him on my bedding and stand looking lost, great concern etched into faces that have already seen far too much death. I push them out; they have other jobs, I will look after Pascac. I pull back the blankets long enough to strip his filthy clothes from him—clothes covered in death as though he held all of his dying family to his breast for days. I cover him with every blanket, and still he shivers. I lift his shoulders and give him water to replenish what has been lost.
In the same way I did with his father, so long ago, I remove my clothes and join Pascac in between the bedding, covering his body with mine, and tucking the blankets in around us. Pascac’s body warms and calms within minutes, but I lie there still. I look at the face marked by sores, but also marked by his father. I cannot remember what made me so angry that I could push this man from me.
I tell Pascac the story of the Tawantinsuyu and the Wari sapas—his birthright—the one told to me by Inti, and recorded in my own book of history. I talk to him of his children and his sister-wife and their journey to the heavens to join the gods who left Amantaní. I remind him of adventures we shared as children and recall the many times we sat at the top of Pachamama watching his father, the sun god, take leave of the day. I tell him of the love and pride his father has for him still.
I fall asleep there on top of his sick body, speaking of the history of the Wari man loved by so many: the story of Pascac. Each time he stirs, I wake to provide water and offer words to console him.
Many hours later, Pascac wakes, no longer a slave to Supay. He pulls his arms free and wraps them around me and buries his face in the hair across my shoulder.
Please forgive me, Pascac.
He cries and pulls me closer. When sleep takes him away again, I slip from the bed gently so as not to wake him. Though I would prefer to stay here with him, I do not have that luxury. I bathe, dress, and rush to the cooking and storage areas for sustenance. I take as much as I can carry and go to the plaza where I know Rimac still stands. I offer him food and water, which he takes gratefully, and ask for instructions on how best I can help him. He begs me to return to his brother. I assure him Pascac will sleep for some time, but that already he is better. I should be put to use elsewhere. He relents and asks me to look after the priest. He has not seen him or the other guardians of the temple. I rush away not waiting for him to finish his request.
I enter the private quarters of the priestess and find her on the floor next to her bedding. She is alive, but only barely. I am not certain she will live through the day. I pull the blankets over her and hold her head up to take water, but she is too ill. I settle for wetting a cloth and dripping water into her mouth as I tip back her head in the way I did for Anta-Anclla. She sputters, but eventually swallows the water. I wait a few minutes and start again. I continue until she slips away from me in slumber, with shallow, ragged breaths. There is no more I can do for her at this moment and I know she needs the sleep in order to heal. I go next to the quarters of the oracle. He sits in the corner of his room covered by blankets and flies. He has been dead for many days.
I call out to the priest and hearing no response, look through his rooms. The rooms are empty. I go to the storage room for more cloth and take a bolt to the room of the oracle. I wrap his body and then return to the plaza in search of someone to carry his body to the quarry.
It has been several hours; Pascac may wake soon. I go to my quarters to check on him. My dogs sleep at the door guarding their charge within. Pascac is awake. I bring him water, which he drinks as though his organs have been removed in preparation for the afterlife and he needs to fill the empty space. I tell him I must leave again and continue to help the others. He reaches for my hand and holds it to his breast and thanks me.
It is my job to look after Inti and the son of Inti—in their life, their sickness, and death.
I smile, kiss his forehead, and hurry away.
I leave the great hall and walk to the furthest point, the observatory, and check to ensure no one lies within. It is empty. I wish for only a moment I could go to the platform and look out at the horizon. I realize nearly as quickly, the horizon would be dark with death and it is not a sight I wish to see.
I retrace my steps, entering every doorway and calling out. I enter to ensure the room is empty or if it contains those who are too ill to respond. The plaza is a beehive of activity with those who have passed the sickness, or who were not afflicted, all rushing to take orders from Rimac, and returning promptly for their next assignment. If I find people in need of care, I call to the plaza for help and leave a woman with them as nurse. If it contains bodies, I call for textiles so I can wrap them, and then ask for strong men to carry them away. I continue through the labyrinth that is Sacsayhuamán. Winding toward my own quarters, I have done what I can do for the day, so I return to Pascac.
He sits as his father sat, covered by blankets. In the waning light, I would swear it was Inti sitting there as he did on those last days. I sit facing him and put my hands in his lap. He clasps them and caresses them, meeting my eyes.
I tell him the story of the people today, the sick, the dead, and those who live and provide aid as needed. I tell him of his brother and watch his face as he feels pride over the younger man’s efforts. I tell him of Anta-Anclla and her lost family.
His eyes brimming with tears, he speaks of his family also and how he sat and held each dying child and then his beloved sister-wife while Supay lorded over watching, eager to snatch them away. His tears flow freely, and I comfort him with words of the heaven to which they now travel.
He allows me to continue my story and wander through the past days’ events. I tell him of his father visiting me while I was ill. He pushes my hair away from my brow and smiles, telling me he sat in this room and watched as his father visited my dreams and I called out to him to take me to the heavens.
When Pascac tires, I help him back to the bed and lie next to him. I put my head on his chest and he wraps me in his arms.
Before dawn I walk the silent halls to tell Inti of the death of his people and try to sound joyous when I talk of their travels to meet him in heaven. Given all that I have seen over the past few days, it is difficult. I am certain Inti could hear the deception in my voice, but if he did, he did not say so—forever silent except in my dreams.
Much later, I return to my room. Pascac is gone, as are my dogs—apparently not ready to give up protecting their charge. I lie alone and pull the blankets to my face and smell Pascac—perhaps Inti as well, since these were his blankets before mine. I feel quite lost, no longer needed in the plaza, Pascac gone, and not even a dog’s ears to stroke. I sit up, light the torch, and pull my writing implements from the shelf. I draw the glyphs of the story of Supay’s wrath.
It is not yet morning when Pascac returns, my dogs at his heels. He is too exhausted for conversation, so I require none of him. I pull his clothes from his body and push him toward the bed. I cover him and go back to my writing, sleep dancing away far too quickly for me to catch and hold.
As Pascac quietly snores and the sun threatens to rise, I put on my sandals and shawl and leave the room. I walk down the hall, through the great room, and out the open doorway of the Temple of the Sun to the steps of the plaza. I hear the priestess in her quarters, singing a beautiful song of hope. I stand in the doorway and listen to the words of the jailli she sings about our city and the new verse she adds asking Wiraqucha to call home his son, Supay. She sings of hope and of the celebration of our loved ones now on their journey to the heavens. Her song finished, I take the steps down and enter the plaza; darkness clings to the sky. Rimac still stands there. I doubt he has slept since he took this office. I approach him.
Rimac, you must sleep. You will be more useful to us if you are rested.
He looks around; no one is rushing toward him in need of an occupation. He sits on the ground. I go to a stack of blankets and bring them to him. I lay them out as a bed and promise to wait here, watch over him, and wake him if he is needed. He nods and speaks his gratitude as he lies on the blankets and falls into a fitful sleep. I look up at the horizon where Inti will soon appear.
Inti, god of the sun, bring rest to your child.
Inti, in the sky for some time now, tells me midday is near. Many sleep in the plaza as he shines upon them—where fresh air is brought to them on breezes starting in the mountains across the valley. There is still a strong smell of death, but not nearly as suffocating as in the halls and homes. Rimac stirs and shades his eyes with his hand. He jerks quickly to a sitting position worried he has shirked his duties. I speak to him reassuringly.
The city sleeps, Rimac.
He looks around and sees his people sleeping on the grass, live bodies having replaced those who lay there dead just days ago. He asks about his brother and I assure him he is well, and that he too sleeps.
…or perhaps not…
Pascac approaches us and pulls his brother to his feet, clasping his hand to his chest and hugging him. The men extend their embrace and whisper their sorrow to one another over the loss of their families and their people.
The people of Sacsayhuamán rise also from their sleep and gather around Rimac and Pascac. Anta-Anclla walks toward us, coming from the quarry. I now realize, she has probably been sitting there looking after her children. Her brothers welcome her with tears, all glad to have survived, all sad to have lost, all hopeful for their loved ones’ journeys.
Rimac turns and speaks to the people and tells us we have much work to do. We must restore our great city, we must honor our dead, and we must prepare for a feast. There is quiet agreement where normally there would have been a raucous cheer—but it is a first step out from under the darkness of Supay’s fury.
Pascac tells Rimac he must leave to survey the small communities surrounding Qusqu and Sacsayhuamán—perhaps Supay’s anger extended to them as well. Rimac agrees and Pascac chooses a dozen men to accompany him. Pascac takes my hand and promises to return as quickly as he can, and then turns to lead the volunteers on what may become a dreadful search.
I watch him go and am proud of him—his concern going beyond his own people once again.
He is his father’s son.
Rimac speaks with Anta-Anclla about the funerals and the celebration of death, but suggests the event be held only once Pascac and the others return. She agrees and takes leave in order to gather women and servants to begin the arrangements—with so few citizens left, it will be difficult.
The afternoon advances and pushes me from the plaza to the observatory. I take the familiar steps to the platform and step out to watch Inti be chased into the next day by long shadows. The valley below is as beautiful as always, the lazy river holding the edges at bay. With the terrible death of the past few days, I somehow expected it to look different—dark shadows, the pall of death—but it does not. If anything it declares hope.
I stand until Inti has completely gone and make my way to the body he has left behind. I enter the open doorway of the tower and touch the cold stone lid to trace the intricate carvings and ornaments—reading aloud the story they tell.
The doorway allows a fresh breeze to enter and kiss my bare neck.
Pascac and his men remain away while we continue to bind and carry our dead to the quarry. The sickness has finally left Sacsayhuamán; the god Supay apparently satiated by the sacrifices we have made. I squat in the shade of the temple on steps overlooking the plaza and watch for Pascac. On the third day, I see him approach. There are others with him—many others—leading llamas that carry the dead. Those with burdens veer left and take their precious cargo to the quarry to join other family members who have already begun the journey to the heavens. Pascac climbs the steps to sit down heavily with me. He tells me the devastation is far reaching—beyond what they could determine in just three days. They were not permitted to enter the city of Qusqu, for fear they still carried the sickness, but the trails to north, east, and west are strewn with bodies, as is the trail southeast to our ancestral home of Amantaní. It would take them months to survey the extent of Supay’s anger.
He points to the men walking toward the quarry—those who lived in the small villages around Qusqu, the only survivors. The entire valley has been decimated.
I take his hand.
Pascac, you brought life to this valley once, you will bring it again.
As though to assure Pascac what I say is true, the cries of a newborn baby are heard from a nearby home. I smile.
See? It has already begun.
* * *
I leave my room and walk to the tomb before Inti’s light enters the sanctuary. The days of Supay have left me sad and though this is the day of the funerals and celebration of our loved ones’ travel to the afterlife, I feel desolate and worn. Barefooted, I walk the dusty hall toward our sun god and seek answers for questions I cannot express. It is silent within the tower, but already, the people of the valley gather in the plaza to sing and dance the glory of life, of afterlife, and of the heavens.
I place my hand on the jeweled lid and ask Inti for guidance. In response, he crests the horizon and lays a ray upon my face to warm me. I touch my cheek and am thankful this god still looks over me—over us. I walk back to the great room and sit on the steps of the temple as I watch Inti light the valley and join us in celebration.
As a people united, we stand along the edge, encircling the quarry in our finest clothing to hold a mass burial ceremony for the dead who rest below gazing with unseeing eyes at the home they leave behind. Our priest and priestess speak to the gods and ask them to safely guide our loved ones on the journey to join them in the heavens. The priestess sings the song I heard before, and sand is thrown onto the bodies as a promise of the burial to come. This is not our custom, but we know we must adapt. Our loved ones need to begin their journey to the heavens.
I stand next to Pascac; next to him stands Rimac; and next to him stands Anta-Anclla—our sapas who survived this terrible plague in order to continue to lead their people. As one, we remember, and then we begin the celebration and feast of well wishes and blessings. We dance and thank the gods for our bounty. As darkness pours into the plaza, citizens step to the great fire and tell the stories of their ancestors and of their descendants and of the loved ones who now join them. More than seven hundred people within Sacsayhuamán have died and only three hundred sixteen remain to remember them.
Supay is a brutal god.
Cyndie Shaffstall, a quintessential entrepreneur in the software industry, wrote her first book in 1992, QuarkXPress: Making the Most of Your Negative Experiences, followed quickly by a dozen after-market computer manuals. In the years since, she has further contributed to the design and business industries as the editor and publisher of X-Ray Magazine and more recently, revealing some of her successful business practices in Small-business Guide to Winning at Web Marketing. Cyndie Shaffstall is a prolific writer of eBooks, case studies, press releases, blog articles, and other online content for her company, Spider Trainers—a provider of automated marketing—and as a contributing blogger to Target Marketing Magazine, among other print and electronic publications. Cyndie Shaffstall is the inventor and patent holder of Sassy Strappings, a fashion accessory. She lives in Denver with her two dogs, Felix Trinidad and Oscar de la Hoya—boxers.
Have you read this book or others by this author? Tell us in the comments how you liked it!