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B16.1 The Altar (2,430) Ikart

The Altar – B15.1 /SM14 04-03-24  (2,430)
Narrator – Narrator
Time: D10 4:40a
Location: On the Huaytapallana Trail near Huancayo, Peru

The morning sun was ascending over the Huaytapallana Trail in the Peruvian Sierra.  A startled rodent darted across a dirt path to a protective sanctuary of rocks. The diminutive bushy-tailed creature stood on its haunches and began chattering angrily towards a large and menacing group of threatening offenders. The angered viscacha was attempting to woo a mate when he was rudely interrupted by the arrival of an old man, a beast of burden, and his pack of cur.

Rarely was this trail used; the main path had been diverted ages ago and became a forgotten trail for most trekkers. However, some believed a legend that there was Spanish treasure buried near an ancient wall, originally constructed by Spanish conquistadors. This wall did not protect anything, yet one mysterious stone had etched into it, ‘No Entrar.’ DO NOT ENTER. However, many treasure hunters had walked and trampled this remote area.

Many treasure hunters came to this same spot to locate Spanish treasure and enrich themselves. Nothing of value such as gold or precious stones was ever found. Interest from fortune hunters with other motivations resurfaced from time to time. Some snoops tried to find old artifacts that could propel their aspirations of fame and fortune. Again, nothing. Without hitting paydirt, the natural progression of a path and wall without purpose is neglect. Years ago, the wall had fallen into disrepair, becoming the home of a grateful viscacha family. But the old man had a different purpose and knew exactly where he was and why.

The man’s eyes sparkled with a keen interest in the structure beside him. His horse, Encanto, stood steady as the old man removed several bags. After unloading the horse, he took off his Andean hat, a chullo, exposing another sort of hat. Underneath his chullo, the old man wore a patka to keep his hair tidy and clean.  The patka is a strange garment in these parts of the Andes since they are normally worn in India by Sikh adults under a turban to manage their hair. The old traveler was not Sikh but allowed his hair to grow uncut while maintained neatly. But truth be told, he wore the covering out of respect for his father.

His father, Manjit, was originally from the Punjab province in Pakistan. Manjit brought his wife and son Achet to Mambai, India just before the Partition of India in March of 1947. The old man had not been called Achet since the death of his father. Achet did not know much of the details of what happened with his mother but vaguely remembered having to leave in the middle of the night to travel to Peru with his father. He could hear the angry mobs gathered in the town as they went on a killing spree. Many Sikhs died that night including his mother. Many women killed themselves and their children to avoid being captured, raped, and tortured. His childhood friends were all hung or beheaded.

Achet was a lucky boy with providence on his side. He also demonstrated a clever mind and an uncanny ability to learn languages. He spoke Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara within the first year of arriving in Peru. He also learned to heal small animals and did so for the poor farmers that he met. He grew up carefree and naïve about the violence that had entered his life without invitation and had a clear idea about what vocation he wanted to choose once he became an adult. Achet wanted to be of service to his community. He desired to be the best medical doctor for his patients and care for everyone without regard to their ability to pay.

Now, the old traveler prepared to lie prostrate on the ground and his mind wandered to recall fondly how he had come to this wall as a youth with his father to pray to Madre Tierra, Mother Earth. He remembered that he was daydreaming about his mother and not thinking about what his father wanted. He daydreamed about how his mother had supported his interest in medicine, but his father wanted Achet to work in the family business. The boy’s dream came to an end when his mother abandoned her husband and child when they fled to another country. Achet did not know the truth that she died accidentally at the hands of his father as they argued about the future of their son. The tragedy happened before the angry mobs arrived.

Achet’s father secretly smuggled his son from Mumbai to Huancayo. Achet worked with his father to hire girls for their business. The girls trusted the handsome and educated Achet and did anything he would ask. Achet became very successful in building his father’s business and bar in Puerto Maldonado. In just a few years, Achet became financially secure, and the most knowledgeable about plants and methods to heal a variety of illnesses and situations.

As he lay prostrate on the ground, the old traveler’s body pointed toward Huaytapallana, the highest peak near Huancayo. The traveler decided to put aside his reminiscing and prepare his heart to pray as he did when he was young. He set aside his ambitions and began to earnestly ask Jehovah for skills, wisdom, peace, and prosperity. He had done this since he was a boy. But he felt hurt and a hole in his heart. He gritted his teeth as he begged for divine intervention to provide opportunities, destroy his enemies, …  and, ironically, to walk the good path. Once he finished his prayer time, he rose. There was sweat on his brow that he wiped off with his sleeve. The dogs had arranged themselves around the old man as he prayed. But now that their master was up again, the dogs ran after the viscacha to have a tasty meal.

The old man thought about what needed to be done. He glanced over at the wall and focused on the knife. He felt fatigued and his recent injuries began to affect him. The sojourner’s weathered face, slightly muscular physique, and fast strong gait concealed his age. He was very much an outdoorsman with worn brown pants or bombacha, an alpaca poncho, and a tattered pair of hiking boots. He had these boots for a long time. and he wore the same boots. He was wearing the last remnants of clothes he had received from his father. Tragically, he now wandered the Sierra from Bolivia to Peru including Columbia and parts of Ecuador. The wanderer’s given name was forgotten, even by himself, and was known only as P’aqo, the Quechua name for, ‘healer.’

P’aqo reached into his backpack and pulled out a small pouch, a hollowed-out gourd, and a tin bowl. It was not yet time for the knife. His knife was sharp and ready. He poured some water from the calabash gourd into the bowl; then he let the dogs come over and refresh themselves. P’aqo coughed up some mucus and smeared it into the dirt. He rubbed the wet sticky dirt on a finger and blessed each dog with the mud, chanting a prayer the entire time.

After wiping his hands on his trousers, P’aqo took a swig of water before pulling out some coca and a ball of lugia with a mix of ash from the pouch. He placed a small handful of coca leaves in his mouth, moved the moistened leaves to the side of his mouth with his tongue, and added black ash into his mouth. After a few minutes of gazing out towards the landscape, the old man returned the gourd, bowl, and pouch to his pack. Again, the knife came to mind. He had cleaned all the blood from it. It was sharp. After closing everything up, he reached into his chullo and pulled out a figurine – a small llama carved from wood.

P’aqo laid out a cloth on the top of the wall and rested the figurine on the cloth. He then extended his arm, reaching out towards a stone in the wall, but did not touch it. He focused his mind on the knife and promised the stone that he would deliver the knife at the appointed time. He imagined as his arm extended; the knife was in his hands. His arm remained extended as he summoned the spirit of this stone.

Once the figurine began to glow, the old traveler began to hum a Huayno tune. He knew the spirit had been evoked. His hand moved from one stone to another evoking the spirits to cry out. This man was no ordinary carbonite. He felt no pain or cold despite the bone-chilling wind. P’aqo was happy; he was among friends. And his friends shared the knife.

The wall had been built in antiquity by outcast Incan priests practicing their magic in the Sierra near Huaytapallana. Each stone strategically held powerful spirits captive. But the true nature of the wall could not be seen unless the Apus were honored. The Apus wanted the knife and they required blood to flow.

The wall was hidden from the gaze of ordinary carbonites who accidentally wandered down the trail. Only those who spoke with nature could see the Spirits within the wall the master shaman had built. P’aqo honored nature. P’aqo would often say the ancient mantra, “If the mountain is angry with you, you will become sick. If the mountain is pleased with you, you will prosper.” P’aqo closed his eyes and muttered a prayer, “Apu Ausangate, Father of all Mountains, protect us and reveal the Spirits of the Stone.”

Suddenly, P’aqo became angry and struck the wall with his walking stick two times, “Reveal my true Spirit! Damn you, Jehovah!” Even Encanto was startled and stood up on his back legs but settled quickly down when his master raised his hands. P’aqo’s gnarly hand, rough from years of hacking through the jungle, hovered over a stone’s surface for a short while before caressing a select stone embedded in this ancient wall. This Spirit spoke as Huaytapallana directed.

Huaytapallana knew P’aqo’s true nature. P’aqo was a healer. P’aqo did not anticipate that the Apus would find flaws in his spirit; he expected that Jehovah had fixed everything for him. But he could not hide from nature what was within his damaged spirit. P’aqo had witnessed the brutal event that killed his father. He had been unable to save his father who had been attacked by a Serpent. He could not heal his father. He had saved countless others, but not his own family.  When his father died, P’aqo realized he was a mortal carbonite and became a wanderer. He had lost his purpose. As he walked the earth, P’aqo’s feelings became more and more intense. He felt betrayed and became angry. P’aqo’s soul swelled with pain and anguish. Like something broken, he gathered where he fell. P’aqo fell hard into bitterness. In his brokenness and bitterness, the master no longer restored life. P’aqo, rather, commanded spirits, the same way that the Gods commanded spirits and all of creation. The Apus knew this about P’aqo.

His request had been granted, but P’aqo felt shaken up by the Apus. He always wanted to be a great healer but now he had left his calling. Once P’aqo recuperated, he continued to meander a bit higher on the Wall and touched another stone; the spirits spoke to P’aqo as he directed his hands and gazed towards its container in stone. At times, the old man was yelling out at the sky. And at other times, when some spirits in the rocks would call out, the old man passed in silence.

The sun was out but the morning was still partially illuminated with sparkling stars and the bright full moon. Several shadowy figures could be seen moving on the lunar surface. P’aqo diverted his eyes back to the dark path. The path became illuminated by thousands of bamboo trees that glowed with an orange luminescence.

All but one of the dogs circled P’aqo as he cast his first spell. The earth shook for several seconds as these cur morphed into small thin men draped in brown garments wearing pointy caps. One small young dog named ‘Pasa‘, remained at the old man’s side. P’aqo reached down and picked up the black pup. The pup looked at his master with loving eyes and licked his stiff cold fingers. P’aqo kissed the pup and placed her down at his feet. The trees, the stones, and voices from the mountains and streams began chanting in Quechua, “P’aqo is our Healer. Jehovah is our Leader.” Soon, these words would be tested by divine judgment. Despite the heavy weight of judgment that soon would be passed, P’aqo maintained his calm demeanor without any fear.

As he moved to his left, his energy diminished, but P’aqo was building his army. His next spell transformed the bamboo trees into angels draped in orange armor with bows and arrows made of shiny metal. Performing these spells took a lot of energy and used the immense tore of prana he had. When the master became too weak, he leaned out to balance himself, his skinny arm reached, his withered hand and gnarled fingers stretched out to touch the stones in the wall. The stones in the wall held the prana P’aqo needed. Once his energy was refreshed, the spirit controller continued. The surges in power created great gusts of wind. But with each touch, Paco’s body healed, and the spirits of the stone spoke prophecies.

Despite the strong winds, P’aqo was determined to move on once the altar had been prepared, but he had to wait for the right moment. The old carbon had nowhere to be except to be at his appointed destiny at the appointed hour. He was a wanderer prepared to learn his fate. But he had a chance to get one good fight in and perhaps help his master. P’aqo reached into his backpack and pulled out his ritual knife for the required sacrifice. The morning sun reflected off the blade. P’aqo felt the presence of his adversary, a woman who was pursuing and nearby. But he did not care if he was confronted, she was inexperienced and of no consequence to him. She would pay with her life. He calmly slit the throat of the small black puppy and tossed her to the floor. The men in pointy caps feverishly stabbed the black rag with sharp bamboo sticks.

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