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“I have no choice. The times have changed; never has anyone been so bold as to try and enter our village. The rogues are dangerous, and the elders agree I must do this,” he asserted firmly.
“Then they are wrong too. The gold cannot leave the village boundaries,” Mecailo’s wife cried out in a wail of anguish. Finally finishing her ceremonial Kente Dress for the next joining of community couples, she hung the white silken garment upon a golden pin embedded into the wall. She stepped up to Mecailo, fell to her knees, and embraced his legs firmly. Softly she begged, “Mecailo, please remember the words written on the altar.”
“I know what the altar says, Ani, I swore an oath to those words, but the spirits have left this decision to me. I will follow my own heart this time,” he replied indignantly. Angrily she unwrapped her arms from around his legs. Mecailo yanked her up from the floor and held her close to him; the smell of her cinnamon breath reminded him of his love for her. When she calmed, he whispered, “The spirits will not be angry, Ani,” and walked away.
His ceremonial Kufi Cap passed down through the generations, placed upon a golden spike protruding from the rock wall. Mecailo thought of those who first settled within the caverns. Sorrow seeped through him, which caused a weakness in his limbs, and it was only his determination that sustained him. Mecailo could not look at the elaborate headdress; he had taken an oath to rule the village wisely and protect the gold and his people.
“Don’t do this, Mecailo,” she shouted at him.
He did not bother to respond any further to her objections. He shoved aside the mantle that covered the doorway and stepped outside into the warmth of the sun that shined brightly across the mountain tops. The gold embedded within the hills shined radiantly. Its shimmering sparkles, which once gave him peace, only reminded him of those greedy for wealth and their inward superiority. They justified their actions in believing they could own another life.
Mecailo took the reins of Swiftwater, a prize horse he won in an ax-wielding competition and trusted friend. Even his faithful steed was not his own. Anxiety crept within him, so he rubbed the horse’s soft nose tenderly. The magnificent mount was mostly white with oblong brown spots, the color of dark chocolate around the front of its neck and legs. At seventeen hands, Swiftwater stood higher than Mecailo, and his silky mane and tail were the color of brilliant light. His mane and tail bounced around him as he galloped along, giving the horse a majestic, spectral presence. Almost everyone that saw Swiftwater sought after the impressive stallion; however, the horse was his friend, and Mecailo knew he might never part with him.
“Are you ready, my friend?” he asked, leaping on Swiftwater’s bare back.
As if in answer, the horse reared its head twice, and the silky mane caressed him in the face softly.
“We will go then.”
Along the way, passing the village altar, Mecailo studied the three embossed medallions embedded within the golden face of its northern wall. All three were the size of silver dollars, and their copper substance hinted at a reddish tint that faded into its glimmering golden background. The three of them combined had given life to the village, protecting it from harm and sickness, until now. Mecailo had lost his faith in the meaning of the symbols. The strange writing below them was indecipherable in their common language. He and his brother, Robito, who would assume leadership over the people after his death, only understood their meaning.
The Gold Must Never Leave
“Let’s go Swiftwater,” he said, and the horse gallantly trotted off.
Some distance through the mountain tunnel, a rumble in the peaks above, the ground quaked beneath him. The disturbance alarmed Mecailo, and the voice of his wife resonated stridently in his mind: “The gold must stay.” Swiftwater halted, nickered, and peered forward into the bluish glow of the underground passage. He stopped as if an unseen force were blocking his path.
“What’s wrong?” Mecailo asked as he stared ahead. He saw nothing to cause alarm—only shadows in the dim light from the luminescent crystals hanging from the ceiling. “Move on,” he commanded.
Neighing warily, the great stallion inched forward.
“What is going on, Swiftwater?” His behavior was indeed strange as the horse never challenged his commands, nor did he whinny in disobedience. The horse refused to obey him, and it stood rooted to the ground. It stared into the distance. The mysterious glow from the haunting light in the cavern began to reflect oddly, and this was strange. This peculiar occurrence did not deter Mecailo, though. “Just a Little further, Swiftwater, we’re almost there. The exit is just beyond the next turn.”
Still, he hesitated, and Swiftwater whickered again, tossed his head, and whipped his mane into Mecailo’s face. Mecailo fumed with irritation at the horse’s obstinacy and smacked Swiftwater’s flank brusquely. Nightfall would be upon him soon if the horse continued to resist, and travel in the dark woods to reach the town was always unsettling in pitch blackness. Swiftwater nudged forward slightly but then halted again. A quake rippled through the void around him; the ceiling crumbled. Large rocks crashed down directly in front of him, blocked his way. Swiftwater recoiled and reared powerfully on its hind legs.
“Easy Swiftwater,” he soothed and stroked its sinewy neck. His valued longtime friend pranced on its back legs. He tried to throw him off. Seconds later, Swiftwater bolted forward and raced through the tunnel of falling rocks. Mecailo grasped the reins tightly. He held on with all his might as the horse hurtled through the murky air. His fried horse dashed through the dark bleakness, by memory alone, moving as if he tried to outrun some unseen assailant.
Mecailo felt a warm sensation against his leg and realized the satchel that held the gold smoldered. Searing heat charred through his pant leg and scorched his skin. Hurriedly, he snatched the bag from his sash. He hurled it away. “Stop Swiftwater,” Mecailo commanded, but the horse continued running. Seconds later, Mecailo’s shoulder rammed into something unyielding; the sound of shattering bone in his body sounded out loudly, and intense pain incapacitated him. He dropped the reins and toppled backward. Mecailo slammed onto the rocky ground. “Come back Swi—” Mecailo tried crying out. Powerless to scream, he listened to the sound of his horse’s galloping hooves, which grew ever more distant.
A yellow glow radiated near his feet; it was his satchel, and the straps of the bag were entangled around his sandal strap. Moments later, it exploded into flames, and sparks spat angrily outward as the leather material burned away. Exposed, the shimmering golden nuggets lay next to him upon the ground.
“Mecailo, you can’t take the gold out of the village,” the words of his wife echoed in his mind, one final time, just before a massive boulder plummeted from the ceiling and crushed the life out of him.