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“The Revolt Begins”

by Lana M. Harrigan

Trail at Acoma Pueblo, ca. 1882-85“Trail at Acoma Pueblo, ca. 1882-85,” Ben Wittick (Photographer)

This excerpt from K’atsina: A Novel of Rebellion takes place on the eve of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Aurelio—whose grandmother was Spanish and Catholic—meets his foster brother, Diego, at his Acoma home. Diego, an angry young man with Apache and Spanish parentage, has been plotting a revolt with the leader Po-pé against everything Spanish. Aurelio is anxious: his wife is about to give birth, and he worries that the rebels may threaten his family because of his Spanish blood.

~ ~ ~ ~

By the next moon, Diego returned. The small, wiry Apache seemed made only of hardened sinew. In his black, piercing eyes burned a fire so intense it might have had its origin in Hell. No emotion showed on Hishti’s face as the husband she had not seen for over four years appeared in her doorway. It was as if she had forgotten him, had never known him—which was nearer the truth than she herself knew.

“‘The mountain lion, my namesake, will protect me. Do not be afraid.’”

She was no happier than was Aurelio to see Diego’s return, and the Mountain Lion felt a dark apprehension spread over him. That night Diego spoke to them of Taos.

Aurelio knew what was coming before Diego said the words.

“The plans are laid. We shall not fail.”

Later that night Diego went to Mauharots. Aurelio knew he must also go, although it was the last thing he wanted to do. Mauharots was hot and stuffy, the air charged with tension. There was scarcely anywhere to sit. The word had spread, and all wanted to hear the words the Apache brought from Taos.

“‘In one thunderous voice, with one terrible arm, we will strike our oppressors.’”

“A runner will arrive,” Diego began, his strident voice the only sound in Mauharots. “Around his waist will be a knotted yucca cord. That is our proof, our signal. Each day when a knot is untied we shall know how many days remain. When the cord no longer has a single knot, that will be the day to carry out the sacred plan. To every village a runner will go; every village will have a knotted cord. On the appointed day every village in this land will rise! In one thunderous voice, with one terrible arm, we will strike our oppressors. With the swift destruction of a lightning bolt, we will fall on our enemies, and our land will run red with their blood. Their blood shall water our crops, and the rain shall return with their deaths. No one will be spared. Neither man nor woman nor child nor priest—not one drop of Spanish blood will be left to taint this land!”

There was a moment of silence, then a deafening roar rose in the kiva. Gyatyu’s father would not speak against it nor would his friends nor their friends. Neither would Aurelio speak. The die had been cast. There was no turning back. Like a red tide, the people would rise. And when the tide fell, it would leave its bloody mark across the land. What Po-pé had plotted would be successful. He had achieved the one thing necessary for success: unification.

Five years had passed since Aurelio witnessed the hangings and beatings in the plaza at the villa of Santa Fe—five years in which Po-pé had worked. The Tegua medicine man would not be Moses leading his children out of the wilderness and to the Promised Land. He would be the Avenging Angel falling on their oppressors and returning their land to the promise of the K’atsina.

“A joyous excitement, long repressed, ran through the village.”

The dancing in Mauharots lasted until dawn. A joyous excitement, long repressed, ran through the village. A heady sense of power filled the men, and they felt strong once again. Prayer sticks were made, clubs fashioned, and the warriors fasted ritually.

The day after Diego returned, Aurelio and Gana moved to the house of her mother. There was now a man in Hishti’s household; there was none in Gana’s mother’s house. Tradition dictated that daughters return to their mothers’ homes when they married.

Hishti was beside herself with grief, but she tried not to show it. She lived now with a total stranger. She knew there would never be a child to ease her pain—she accepted loneliness as her lot for the rest of her days.

Aurelio told Gana, her mother, and Wiika what had been spoken in Mauharots. “We await now the arrival of the knotted cord,” he said.

Fear showed in the faces of all three women. Gana was heavy with child, and her mother had said the baby would not delay more than a few days. Instinctively Gana pressed her hands to her stomach as if protecting the child she carried there.

“There is nothing to fear,” Aurelio said. “What will happen is going to happen, but this household will be safe.”

He knew that with certainty, but he also knew that he had to be very cautious. Blood was a powerful intoxicant, and once a mob had a taste of it, the murderous throng frequently did not stop until its thirst was quenched many times over.
 
For several nights Gana did not sleep well, the weight of the baby precluding any comfortable position. Aurelio saw worry on her face and knew its source, although she had not spoken.

“I am Acoma,” Aurelio said to comfort her. “You know that I am Acoma; the K’atsina know that I am Acoma. They and the mountain lion, my namesake, will protect me. Do not be afraid.”

Gana tried to smile but could not.

Aurelio hoped beyond hope that the knotted cord would not arrive, but early one morning he saw the runner enter the village, the rope tied around his waist. Only two knots remained. Aco was many days from Taos.

“It is done,” Aurelio said to himself. “It is done.”

A sudden dread filled his chest. He trotted home and went to the highest rooftop of his house to pray, first to the K’atsina and Iyatiku.

“Protect Aco,” he asked of them. And then he prayed to the Castilian god—to the god whose children would soon be lying dead.