Prologue from Buried Heart

July 20 2009

Since it’s mid-July, and summer is poised to heat up, I’m heading for Washington, D.C. to attend the National Conference of the Romance Writers of America this week.  This just has to be the right time to share a clip from my very first published novel, due out in October, 2009.

Buried Heart by A. Y. Stratton

Prologue: A village in the Yucatan, 1562  

Deep inside the cave, Brother Guillermo stumbled on shards of clay and collapsed against the bottom step of the Temple of the Serpent. He let his eyes adjust from the unceasing glare of noon to the flickering light of smoking torches, glanced around him at the vast, conical chamber and shivered. The niche Guillermo sought must be high and out of sight. He must hurry, or his absence from the fires would be noted. Death would catch him.

With his dangerous prize tucked beneath his arm, he gripped the first ledge and clambered past the eyeless stone warrior with the bulbous lips and clenched teeth. Righteous fury drove him up the next wedge of stone past the blood-red fangs of the serpent and higher into the darkness, sweat blurring his eyes, torch smoke stinging his throat, decay polluting his lungs. He scaled the third stone step and paused to listen. Bats whirred and dipped at his head. That was all.

After a year of living so far from his home in Seville, Spain, Guillermo had befriended a local priest who helped him learn the native language. In secret, the priest had also shown Guillermo sacred documents. As Guillermo’s new friend narrated, the strange symbols painted on folds of tree bark disclosed astonishing scientific discoveries and violent, bloody battles.

The sessions ended abruptly after Bishop de Landa, representative of His Holiness the Pope, decreed the blasphemous works destroyed. Earlier that morning Guillermo had followed orders, flinging manuscripts into the torrid flames, his mind an angry sea. Was it the devil that made Guillermo’s hands rescue a scroll from the pile? No matter. Once he had slipped it beneath his cloak, his path was set. Perhaps his fate was too.

Feigning illness, he limped back to his cell and then veered toward the caves where the natives had worshipped their gods long before Spain arrived from across the sea.

A shout nearly caused Guillermo’s sweaty hand to slip off the ledge. His pounding heart muffled all sound as he shrank behind the mammoth head of a feathered monster and fumbled along the rough walls for an opening large enough to hold the precious folds of paper.

His fingers detected a cavity below the serpent’s claws, and Guillermo whispered his prayer. “Lord, help me do your will!” The folded parchment slid in so perfectly he knew the Lord had answered.

Below him, howls of fear ricocheted off cavern walls. Guillermo flattened himself against the temple step to keep from falling. Hosts of natives burst through the narrow passageway and spilled into the courtyard below. Behind them soldiers exploded into the cavern. Armor clanking and swords slashing, they skewered bodies and hacked off arms and legs, hands and heads, painting the ground with blood.

The soldiers roared into the next passageway. In the sickening silence, Guillermo sobbed and asked God to bless the dead and forgive his compatriots.