A History Lesson

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Most of the hired hands (and slaves, if they could still be considered that) were finishing dinner in the same cabin they slept in when David got there. The sun wasn't quite ready to disappear for the evening but all the work was done for the day.

David, who was wearing his mostly-dry shirt and cloak again, strode over to where Kunturi sat. He was the resident wood expert and would be a good person to ask. "┬┐Could you give me some help when you finish?"

Kunturi looked up in surprise. "I thought Mark said everything was done."

"It is. I don't know how to say what the problem is."

"OK," said Kunturi then hurried through the little food that he had remaining. He was using this as an excuse to withdraw from the conversation that the others were involved in about Mallqu. Politics was a popular subject among these men too.

Mark saw what was happening and invited himself along. He was a little worried that David wasn't waiting around to grab some of the food.

The walk back across the property and through the trees took almost half an hour. The shadows were beginning to disappear into obscurity as the sun sank below the horizon. David had a hard time explaining about the coup that the trees had performed against him his first day in "Hatucha," as the land had been called.

Explaining in English was much easier. Mark had stifled his laughter when David told him he had found one of those dreaded trees. Unfortunately he wasn't able to help with the explanation to Kunturi, who had to wait until they found it again.

When they did come across it, Kunturi began to laugh. The other two hadn't known the words to describe a trap or even cage, so they had been saying that the trees had hunted David. He recognized the tree, as anyone else from that land would have.

Kunturi offered to explain on the way back, but Mark wanted to take a closer look at the tree he had only heard a description of. The trunk was as straight as a processed board. The bark was white and smooth. Each branch had the same precision and you could almost have used the distance between each limb as a unit of measure. Everything was that precise.

Mark shook his head and retreated to join the other two. He knew Kunturi had laughed about it, but there was something very strange about the tree. If they really were able to trap people as David had said, he didn't know what to think. It couldn't be a tree and yet it sure looked like one.

As they wove through the bushes and avoided the occasional thorny vine, Kunturi began to tell of his people in centuries past.

"At the height of our civilization there were a lot of exciting things that were happening. Builders were starting to make big cities and they found a way to grind flour faster and easier." He looked at Mark. "You heard the guys earlier arguing over whether Mallqu is crazy to think that they could even trade with other worlds. I don't think they could.

"Anyway, they did learn how to control the world around them better than anyone alive now knows how to. They could tell a tree how tall to grow or even give it certain commands that it could follow."

Mark interrupted. "How is that possible? Trees can't move."

"Ay, I really don't know. The knowledge that allowed it seems to have been forgotten. At its height, some of the trees were used to catch wild animals for hunters. They were made to grow in the shape of a circle. When a big animal walked in between the trees, they would lock it inside until somebody came along with the word to open them.

Mark let out a laugh and told David in English, "It had a password."

They had cleared the edge of the woods and the gathering twilight made it more difficult to see. Mark was still able to see the questioning look on Kunturi's face.

"Oh, sorry," he said in Runasimi.

Kunturi shook his head and continued. "Something about how they modified the trees changed their appearance. For us to only see one is strange and I didn't know we had any on Ch'uya's land. Most kids learn to stay away from them when they are young. They are left over from the past and nobody knows how they work. From what we know now, they could all be broken as old things often are. Some were even intentionally broken during the Great War."

David asked, "Great War?"

"Yeah, it marked the end of our great kingdom. Three of the king's sons wanted their father's throne. Each of them had loyal supporters among the people. While they fought, a new warlord came from the North. He raided and burned everything that had been important to us.

"In two more weeks we celebrate the 108th year of freedom since their power over us was broken.

"Ever since we drove their people out, mine have wanted to restore the old ways." Here Kunturi's tone turned to one of resignation. "They allow anybody to rule as long as he promises to make us great again. They don't realize that we live now and can only move forward.

"They even put up with this war. Mallqu is always telling us that the final puzzle pieces are 'out there,' in the lands we used to control."

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