Backstory of Ch’en, Maya Vampire, Priestess, and Shaman

Pre-Columbian artifact/Cult of the Camazotz

Pre-Columbian artifact/Camazotz

Ch’en and The Camazotz

The day began with a sense of dread for some of the denizens of the palace. The young noblewoman’s attendants pleaded with her not to make the trek to collect the small shells. Her day of birthing was imminent and the remote beach where they would be found was a day’s return journey. Even her visiting mother, a king’s mother, had tried to dissuade her, insisting that the comfort of the beds in the stone palace was better than walking the long distance—which is what the headstrong, expectant mother would do, rather than ride properly upon a litter as her station warranted.

She answered, “Mother, I feel well and strong. Today is lovely. I will swim in mother sea and receive her blessing. I must have the shells to make the child’s first adornment.” She would not be swayed, even by offers of sending someone for the aquatic treasures.

Her mother, having capitulated, demanded that a midwife join the group of attendants, threatening them with torture should they somehow fail to bring the young woman back safely. The beach where the tiny shells were found lay to the south, and they would not reach it until the Sun observed them from directly overhead. It was the month of Ch’en, when the Sun, Kinich Ahau, made his journey more quickly and with less zeal.

When the noblewoman set off, she was accompanied by a retinue of eight: four warriors to guard her, a midwife, two attendants, and her favorite friend, who was also her handmaid. The highborn wife of the princely high priest at Zama, The Dawn City, she was also sister of the king of Coba.

The warriors carried a litter in case she should become too tired to walk, yet she only needed it for the last leg of the morning’s journey. Once there, she, her friend, and an attendant collected the small, white Marginella shells while the older midwife and second attendant set out a lunch of tamales, papaya and pitaya. After eating, the women swam and chattered. But soon it was time to return, or they’d not make it back before dark. The path from the beach to the road, or sacbe, was long enough and required many steps.

The sacbe, made of crushed and pounded limestone, left white dust on their sandals and on the hems of the women’s dresses. They trudged and sang, until the noblewoman suddenly stopped, a spasm causing her to grab low on her belly. She stared fearfully at the midwife.

Hurry”, the older woman insisted. “Perhaps we can get back. There should be time.”

Carrying her on the litter proved difficult and did little to help as her movements sent the men teetering all over the sacbe. It was easier to walk, stopping only when a contraction came. But as they tried swiftly to make their way, each contraction came far more quickly than it ought. And when the sun had noticeably descended, a fierce one brought her to her knees with a cry. With help, she stood when it finally passed and said, “I do not know if I will make it. We are still so far. What will we do?”

One of the warriors suggested carrying her on the litter again and running. But the midwife, after checking the woman, believed they would not make it. They needed to find a suitable place. And so they carried her a little farther until they came to a place the midwife knew. Not far off the sacbe, there was a cave and cenote, or sinkhole which created a well. It would be a perfect place.

When they reached the spot, the group found a massive Ceiba tree growing over the cave, with its pendulous roots reaching their way down into the cenote, to the crystalline pool at its bottom. They all stared in awed silence, until the midwife hurried them to get a fire built and a bed made. One of the attendants searched the area, shooing off any animals like snakes and dangerous insects. The other cleaned up a suitable space just inside the mouth of the cave and laid leaves and then blankets over the hard limestone. Water was fetched, and the contents of the midwife’s bag were laid out.

All the while, the young noblewoman worked hard to breathe through the ever tightening, ever closer contractions. The pain became otherworldly and she finally curled up tightly on the blankets as the group waited for the baby to come forth.

Night filled the spaces left by the descending sun and all were glad for the fire. A female jaguar’s searching call came from close by, followed moments later by the resounding grunts of a far-off male. Only the impending mother had not heard them through her whimpers. Keeping her calm, the midwife checked to see the labor’s advancement. She ordered the friend to sit behind her as a chair—the mother’s pain was too great to squat.

Accompanied by grunts and soft cries of excruciation, the baby eventually came forth. The exhausted mother slumped back against her friend—her braided and cloth-entwined hair having partially escaped its artfully constructed constraints. An attendant held the infant as the midwife used her obsidian knife to cut the umbilical cord. She then examined the baby and cleaned her, telling the noblewoman than the infant was lovely and healthy. Sending an attendant for more water from the cenote, she handed over the infant, who instinctively searched her mother for a place to suckle.

And then the terrified scream of the attendant stabbed deeply into the silence.

The warriors sprang into action and disappeared into the darkness. The noblewoman, her friend, one attendant and the midwife, and the baby, remained visible within the golden, red light of the fire. Another scream pierced the silence—and then another. After a fourth, one warrior burst into the light flickering against the trees, terror enhanced by his facial piercings and tattoos. But before making it to the cave, dark shapes beat massive wings as he was suddenly grabbed by his arms and lifted into the Ceiba tree canopy. His scream stopped abruptly, and the quiet was absolute—until his body crashed down through the branches, landing in the pool of the cenote with a sickening splash.

After several moments, faint, rhythmic, watery sounds came from the hole. He was alive, at least. The cenote did not have the shear walls that surrounded many. He could make it out, but without the help of the women who clung together inside the cave entrance. Whatever was attacking them was fearsome and not a normal creature of the night. These flew and were large, like people.

The noblewoman whispered, “Grandmother—what were those things? They were not jaguars. Not owls. They looked like—” But before she could say more, a soft, ominous flapping sound announced the descending of the demons—for that is what they surely were. The women drew closer together, just as the drenched warrior made his way out of the cenote. It seemed as though the beasts were hunting him.

He had lost his spear, but still had his macuahuitl and readied it as he took a stance between the cave and the cenote.

The beasts appeared—huge things flapping darkly to land on the other side of the cenote.

The attendant and friend shrieked while the new mother slumped into exhausted, fright-fueled unconsciousness. The midwife quickly grabbed the baby before she slid off of her mother to the cave floor. As the warrior stepped back in shock at what he saw, the midwife squinted. Her eyesight was not what it had once been; the slight milkiness of her cataracts hindered her for a moment. And then, as the beings moved around the cenote, she could not believe her vision. Man-sized bats headed swiftly for the warrior, loping on all fours, exactly like the tiny blood-drinkers that preyed upon sleeping human feet and ankles in the city at night.

Their massive dark wings folded so tightly that their long front limbs had become skinny arms ending with a strange, clawed digit. It was their thumbs upon which they balanced. Their fur, dark in most places and lighter in others, covered their bodies, stopping at the knees of their hind legs, which were connected via a leathery skirt of wing flap. One bat turned its head on a thick, short neck to stare with round, glossy obsidian eyes. As though thinking of the women as an audience, it seemed to widen its wedge-shaped, evil grin.

Horrified, the midwife held the infant in a tighter protection as she thought that nothing could be sharper than those arrow-like teeth.

When the bats neared, the warrior swung at them with his wood and stone club. But they anticipated his moves and maneuvered more quickly than their size seemed capable—not at all like normal men and animals. They hopped and flew around him, keeping a triple moving target that disoriented him. He swung with such strength that the momentum toppled him and he landed hard on his tattooed, naked back. The bats leapt upon him, each biting as he flailed.

The women gasped, too fearful to scream. As the bats continued their attack, the warrior lost beneath a vicious, pile, the midwife gained enough self-preservation to stand, escape being her only thought. Holding the infant close, she reached out to gently smack the cheeks of the unconscious mother. After gesturing to the other two women, she watched as they stood and lifted the mother with them. The mother woke with a quiet groan. When her eyes widened at the equally quiet slaughter taking place outside the cave mouth, the midwife whispered, “You must stay strong—for your baby. We must try to escape!”

The noblewoman knew the old midwife had seen much, but her courage was shocking, until she saw the quivering of the old woman’s elaborate hairstyle, belying her calm. The young mother reached out to touch her baby girl, and replied, “We must try.”

goldbat

Gold bat figure

“But, Grandmother,” said the favorite friend. “The Camazotz will follow us. Can they not see in the dark better than we?”

Camazotz? The old woman dared to glance at the giant bats as they now calmly lapped at bloody divots they had bitten into the warrior, who had stopped his struggle. He appeared to still be live, based on his slight movements. She had thought them ordinary demons—if a demon could be ordinary. But yes, perhaps they were the bat gods told of in the sacred text of the Popol Vuh, like the one to whom the hero, Hunahpu, literally lost his head—the head that became a ball used by the gods to play their ball game.

Crowded together and holding fast to each other, the women slipped as silently as possible from the cave and crept quickly toward the sacbe, taking as wide an arch around the feasting bats as possible. The wind shifted to blow the scent of the creatures, which smelled similar to the scent in normal bat caves—but this smelled also of the warrior’s death. Truly, they were death bats—Cama zotz.

Once they’d reached the trees, the women ran as fast as their leather clad feet would carry them with the new mother keeping pace. They were careful to avoid the skin bubbling Chechen trees, despite their terror, even though they knew the Chaca that grew alongside it was an antidote. It would take too long to stop and treat if anyone got the toxic Chechen sap on them.

As if somehow knowing she must remain silent, like a newborn fawn, the infant did not cry or move. At the sacbe, rapid breath searing their lungs, they took a moment to regroup. The midwife had left her precious tools, herbs, and cloths, including the knife. She scrutinized the mother, whose body had obviously rid itself of anything left in her womb. The young noblewoman was exhausted and uncomfortable, but alert as a doe.

Through heaving breaths, she whispered, “Will they follow? Where is the other attendant? Is she . . .”

The midwife anxiously shrugged. She had no idea what could happen next, but doubted the other warriors and attendant would survive, if they were still alive. She knew bats tended to exist in much larger numbers than three; she was sure they’d met the same fate as the last warrior—based on their screams. So she turned and headed north, toward home, praying rapidly to the Goddess Ixchel to protect them on their journey. The old woman cast her gaze to the sky, finding the dark space where she knew the Moon had gone to her well, or Ch’en. The new moon comforted her as sure as though it were full. Surely Ixchel had not deemed the child worthy to be brought forth only to allow the Camazotz kill her.

Then suddenly it came to her in a flash so strong she knew the Goddess was demanding it. The child would be called Ch’en, no matter what the priest said. He would give her two other names based upon what the calendars dictated, but Ch’en would be her truest name.

As they hurried along the pale road, bright even in the moonless night, the old woman announced to the others what she had just come to understand. She was grateful that the young, noble mother agreed—but only so long as they all made it back to Zama alive. They had lost half their group. The warriors were the best the city had; their deaths were a massive loss—however the manner of their death was creating a creeping shock in the women.

They had loped slowly along for some time when the baby stirred in the midwife’s arms, searching insistently for her first proper meal as a person in this world. The midwife stopped and called to the mother. As the baby was handed over, the almost tearful mother asked, “Am I ready to feed her? How can I do this now?”

The mother’s friend said, “But what if the Camazotz come for us?”

“If the baby doesn’t eat soon, she will begin to cry and alert them to us. Here, eat some Yaxox nut as we walk.” the old woman produced some dried Mayanuts from a pocket in her dress to help the mother’s milk come more quickly. She then ripped a wide and long piece of cloth from her dress and created a carrier so that the mother would have a free hand to eat.

But just as the baby latched on and they started forward again, a whispering, high-pitched noise came from above. Dark shadows and a soft flapping announced the presence of something sinister. The women soon realized they were surrounded as many Camazotz descended through the open cut of the road in the tree canopy.

The women quickly gathered together, back to back, as they formed a defensive circle. They had no weapons. They were exhausted, hungry, and utterly terrified—soft palace-dwellers with few defensive skills and clothing that didn’t permit unfettered movement. And as the huge, dark shapes landed, then crawled with deadly focus toward them, the old midwife, with her years of wisdom, fell to her knees and begged of Ixchel, the Moon, “Please! Save us, save this child. We have caused no harm and beseech you for your mercy and protection!”

But the Moon was in her well, or Ch’en, and maybe she couldn’t hear.

By the starlight reflected off the sacbe, they could see white teeth exposed by the terrible grins of the bats now—triangular daggers, each face bearing six. Two pointy top front incisors and fangs slightly farther back. Soon they were surrounded by so many that counting was futile. When the gap between the women and the creatures was only four arm’s lengths, a shrill chirping sound emanated from above.

The crowd of furred monsters stopped advancing, but made a space for a lone bat to land. It did so with incongruous grace. All kept an even distance from it, crouching low, as if in submission. Something was different about this one, as it stood slightly taller and more erect. It gazed at the tight clump of women, obviously evaluating them as they too subconsciously crouched a little, together, in an attempt to huddle like prey.

The bat took a step forward, giving a squealing hiss when the other bats moved with it. They stopped in unison and shuffled back several paces. It continued to approach, it’s ears swiveling and its nose quivering. A lance-like tongue flicked out, either in anticipation of blood or to taste the human’s scent.

“You have a newborn child,” it said, and thereby causing two of the women to nearly faint. The speech had been so unexpected that no one responded initially. The bat’s accent, inflection, and pronunciation of the various sounds was exactly what would be expected of a creature that had a pointed tongue and only six sharp teeth—but it had spoken clearly enough to be understood.

The midwife slowly stood and finally answered, “Yes . . . great Camazotz.”

The bat pointed its brachycephalic head toward the sky, the better to catch the individual human scent molecules. “Let me examine her,” it commanded.

The noble mother whimpered and held her baby closer, sure they were all to die and that the infant would simply be an aperitif. The infant fed, oblivious. The bat squinted at the woman and suddenly bounded forward, winding up with her fanged face inches from the suckling, succulent child. The women froze as it sniffed her.

Taking a step back, it observed the mother, then said, “You are different than these others. You are more adorned. More than any humans I have seen. Why?” When the bat cocked its head almost like a human, a tiny spear of hope jabbed at the woman’s mind.

“I . . . I am sister to a king, wife of a high priest.” She ventured on to say, “My husband rules at Zama.”

“That is the human colony to the north, by the sea?” questioned the bat, which sat back, having to crouch slightly as it did so. After the mother nodded, the bat said, “Your daughter is a princess. I too have daughters. They too are princesses. For I am Queen of the Camazotz.”

Carving from Copan

Carving from Copan

Unexpected as an earthquake, the women shuddered with shock at the revelation. The bat was not only female, but a Queen!

She raised herself high again and lifted her front wing, showing a little membrane as she pointed at them with her long, clawed thumb. “This goddess, Ixchel, to whom you pray. She has given you to me—she has given the infant to my service. And you will all assist the infant in this. You will groom her as a priestess for the Camazotz. She will choose sacrifices for us from among the humans. And she will be brought to the cave of her birth once a year, on this very night, that I may inspect her.”

“I—Inspect her?”

“You will not augment her. You will not bind her head. You will not change the color of her skin with images. You will not pierce her skin. She must remain as she is this very moment.” When the exhausted mother began to cry, the bat squinted at her. “What is wrong with you? Humans are strange with their watering eyes.”

When the blubbering mother didn’t answer, the midwife offered, “If we cannot adorn her, how will she be seen as a beautiful noble. She must have a husband.”

The bat snorted and stamped her delicate feet. Her expression twisted, making her very frightening. “She has other purposes. She must also learn healing arts. I command this!” And then the Queen of the Camazotz let out an ear-piercing, complex song. Soon, another bat flew down to her, carrying several things with it’s strange thumb. When it landed, it threw the items to the ground before the women in a clatter.

“These are the adornments of your warriors. You will take them and tell your mate, the ruler at Zama, that I will come for as many men as all my colonies can eat if I am not appeased—and that is more than the population of men at Zama. He knows we drink from the forest-dwellers and villages. He knows other cities sacrifice to us. But we will have our tribute from Zama too. If you do all this, I let you live.”

The mother’s crying had ceased and she quickly affirmed with an exaggerated gesture.

“Bring her to the well of her birth on exactly this day when the seasons have turned again. I will send a group to follow and protect your journey home tonight. But do not allow the warriors that protect your journey back next year to come near, or we will kill them. Only you, mother, you, old woman, and one more female attendant. Now go!

Without waiting to see the women begin their march, the Queen of the Camazotz took flight and was gone. Her hoard took time to leave in her wake. There were too many of them to all simultaneously take to the wing. They left in an orderly fashion, which appeared orchestrated, but without a conductor. Their scent overpowered even the strongest odors emitted by the jungle.

And so the little girl, Ch’en, grew. At every milestone or unusual request of her impending profession, the Maya society to which she belonged balked or attempted to box her into the feminine roles it dictated. More than once, interfering males from the city were found covered in red divots, utterly exsanguinated. After the first, Ch’en’s father never again interfered. He simply stayed as far away as possible, bringing in teachers, shamans, priests and healers to teach his only, and alienated, daughter.

Her mother loved her highly precocious daughter, but as Ch’en grew into her adulthood, it became apparent that the Camazotz mattered more to the young woman than her fellow humans. High born men came to ask for her in marriage, finding her beautiful (or her power attractive) despite no adornment or augmentation, only to be rebuffed every time. Those who persevered were found, having become a nighttime snack. Somehow, Ch’en was communicating her wishes to the bats. Her yearly sojourn to the place of her birth was clearly not the only interaction she was having with them, but no one ever saw how.

After a young lifetime of lessons and initiations, Ch’en assumed her mantle as Priestess to the Camazotz. The other priests hid their derision and prejudice out of fear, but they took their alienation of her to the farthest limit she would accept. Some even came from afar to see her for themselves. And she was perfectly fine with that. It wasn’t only that she was female, but that she took so many roles, absorbed them, synthesized them, and became far more than they had ever imagined was possible. She didn’t want their company. She didn’t really want the company of humans.

In truth, she wanted to join the Camazotz as one of them.

She even tried drinking blood, as they did. But after a few sips, she found it made her ill. She was stuck being human, with their pettiness, stupidity, and untrue hierarchies. But eventually she accepted it and became slightly more kind to them—but only slightly.

A powerful shaman from a land far to the north had somehow learned of her and came to teach her how to master astral journeying.  The older man then insisted she must reward him by bearing a child by him—one who would, with their parentage, be a sorcerer for the new world to come. One who would defeat the men who came in dark, giant canoes from a land across the eastern ocean.

Soon after, he had a fatal nocturnal meeting with the Queen of the Camazotz herself.

Despite his ethical digression, (which she was pretty sure was a tale told merely to lay with her) Ch’en was grateful for the teachings of the northern shaman, because it meant easy escape from daily drudgery in the city of Zama. She could go on exploratory journeys without ever leaving her small, but elegant home—which had been built apart from, but also connected by a hall to the main palace. Most did not feel very comfortable in her presence, for fear of insulting her, and thereby coming to the notice of the Camazotz.

On one particular evening, she felt compelled to do a ritual before embarking upon a spirit journey. News had travelled that the smelly, hairy-faced men in metal from the East had taken a great western king captive. While she knew they were far away, she also knew this was somehow greatly important.

Ch’en brought in her pet crow and made the bird sit quietly by attaching a thin rope to its leg, and then to a sitting post, then gave it some specially-prepared tapir meat. She got a handful of aromatic copal resin burning in a brazier and settled onto her cushions with a cup of herbal ‘travelling’ tea. It contained a carefully calculated mix of psychotropic plants most people would be too fearful to attempt.

By the time the crow had finished its snack and settled in for a drug-induced nap, Ch’en’s tea had taken effect and her breathing was no more than a faint wind, rustling leaves. She flew West across the land, then water, then land again, and eventually found the invading men. She observed through the eyes of a phantom crow—a manifested avatar of her pet that most could not see. After much time observing them, she came to one simple conclusion: that these conquering men would eventually be horrifyingly successful—that her people’s civilizations would be destroyed, their wealth stolen, and many communities and most of their knowledge would disappear. Her life, and those of the Camazotz, would be forever changed.

Despairing within her trance, she spent time wandering and wondering how she and the Camazotz could evade this devastation. It would be easy to assume the land was big enough; that Zama was too far from the invaders. But the Queen’s range was much, much bigger. It encompassed all of the land she knew of. The Queen’s colonies were spread far and wide—only topography and weather created the boundaries of her Queendom.

Some magic would work against the foreign men, but she doubted it would be enough. In her state of dread, she found herself suddenly racing back to the East—over Zama and the coastline. She flew despondently over the ocean until she spotted a giant canoe, like those told of the conquering men—like that described by the northern shaman.

She was compelled to explore it.

Her crow’s avatar swooped down and around the dark vessel, seeing weary, pallid, thin men, many of whom appeared in a sort of daze or trance themselves. They methodically did their work or stood around, simply staring. They were close enough to the coast, despite being far from sight of the shore, that gulls approached. The gulls could not see the crow avatar—which moved in closer. She could see marks on the men—on their necks, their arms, even their hands. They appeared to be bite-marks with four equidistant punctures. Oddly, the occasional gull would swoop in with an attack to one of the men. It was all very strange, since gull behavior was on par with crows, which ate the dead, but certainly not the living.

Ch’en was deeply drawn to see what was inside the building within the giant canoe. Someone or something powerful was in there—the energy of which she could smell like the burning copal. It was a pleasant scent, but belied something dire, she knew.

Slipping through the molecules of the wooden hull, she first saw objects that looked like storage. She found several large rooms with a few very ill men in them. She was sure one was dead. Moving farther to the back of the vessel, she swooped up to a special room, the one she felt held a special presence. And once inside, she discovered how special it was.

Double-headed gold bat from Sitio Conte burial

The darkened space held a bed, a desk, and trunks. She could see by the light that permeates all when viewed from the astral realm. Upon the bed lay a man in strange, fine garments. He was the longest person she’d ever seen and had facial hair like the other foreigners. She floated close and stared at his light face. His short, swept-back hair was the color of fire, which intrigued her. It was red-gold, just like flames. He was a b’alam, or lord, she was sure.

She stared intently, wishing she could touch, and then his deeply hooded eyes opened, his gaze virtually seizing her. She was shocked to see eyes the color of dark jadeite or the forest itself! His smile developed slowly, exposing a set of fangs easily as wicked as those of the Camazotz. His lips then sealed and the meaning behind the smile was unfathomable. Was it evil, or was it—promise of a long future? She only knew for sure that he’d been able to see her clearly within the crow’s avatar.

And as Ch’en, the Priestess to the Queen of the Camazotz, shrank back, then flew for all she was worth to escape the strangely colored demon man and his horrible dark vessel, she felt true terror for the first time in her short existence. He had whispered unspoken words she knew meant that he was coming for her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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