After another forty-five minutes of walking parallel to the mounds along an actual path created by the Mayan tribe, they were led into a small tent village not much bigger than the campsites the foresters had created for the team.
The tribe seemed to use similar camouflaging techniques by only clearing as many trees as necessary, leaving the canopy intact. This site didn’t look permanent or that it had been occupied for long. The trees were freshly cut.
Nicholas smelled the food and almost sighed with relief. The quickly lowering sun was a concern if they were going to have shelter before night and that was the most important issue, he reminded Levi. “Ask them if we can set up our tents.”
“Je’el u páajtal k instalar k koonolo’ob ba’atelilo’?” Levi asked the tribal chief’s daughter then pointed to the sun going down. “Ma’ili’ ti’ u ponga le k’iino’.”
“Mi je’ele’.” She held up a hand indicating the team should stay right there and wait for her. Then she lifted her chin and headed straight for the largest tent.
Nicholas reached for Becky’s hand and pulled her close, wishing he could promise everything would be okay, but knowing he couldn’t make such promises.
After a few minutes the chief’s daughter emerged, holding open the tent flap for a large man wearing a similar headdress as his daughter, but much larger. His bare chest and arms were tattooed and muscular.
All the team members straightened their stance, and the warriors stood at attention.
His daughter spoke privately to her father and pointed at their group. Levi took one step forward and the warriors moved in on them.
“Venimos tu Jets’ óolal,” Levi called out to the tribal leader. “Je’el u béeytal k p’áatal ta wéetel le áak’aba’? I asked them if we could stay here tonight and told them we come in peace.”
“Baʼax a kʼáat?” the tribal leader called back. That question seemed to come up a lot this evening. Everyone wanted to know what the others intended.
“We want to sleep here and talk,” Levi said, then translated. “Táak k weenel waye’ ka t’aan.”
“Untie my tent from my backpack,” Nicholas said, turning his back to Levi. “Show them we have shelter.”
Levi quickly did as his brother suggested and held up the tent for the tribe to see. “Yaan k tu’ux u yookoj maaki’.”
The tribal leader crossed the small clearing and stood before Levi, reaching out to touch the sturdy canvas.
“Je’el u páajtal k ts’áik k koonolo’ob Ma’ili’ ti’ u ponga le k’iino’?” Levi asked. “Can we set up our tents before the sun sets?” He pointed to the sun again.
The leader nodded once and took a step back, retreating to stand beside his daughter. The warriors barely relaxed their offensive stance while the team’s site manager, Jonas, started barking out orders.
“Set up your tents similar to how you would have if we were at the prepared campsite,” Jonas said. “Act natural as if this is no big deal. So far, they haven’t been hostile. Let’s keep it that way.”
With very little further communication, the team of exhausted archaeologists set to work preparing their tents in the waning light. As each completed their own tents, they helped each other so that everyone would finish as quickly as possible.
Levi was one of the first to return to the tribal leader and his daughter, allowing Nicholas and Becky to finish setting up his tent. Even from this distance, Nicholas could hear their conversation but didn’t understand a word.
Gradually the team members returned to the clearing and stood close to the campfire where they were given small bowls of meat stew with vegetables and herbs drenched in a heavenly gravy.
Nicholas bypassed the food temporarily and took his place at his brother’s side, still holding Becky’s hand. Timothy, the excavation director, also joined them.
Levi began introductions and told the leaders each of their names. Then he turned to his team. “My friends, may I present Chief Gabor Sayid and his daughter, Tiani Sayid.”
“Sayid?” Nicholas asked. “Are they related to the princes of Madain Saleh?” Nicholas had heard the stories of their uncle’s best friends who had once been heralded as princes in some Middle Eastern nation that no longer existed.
“Marcos Sayid leti’e’ ka’ach in bisabuelo.” The chief lifted his chin with pride.
“Prince Marcos was his great-grandfather,” Levi said with creased brows and a suspicious undertone to his words. “But that doesn’t make sense. He’s too old.”
“Not if he’s referring to Prince Marcos’ grandfather,” Nicholas said. “Benjamin’s father.”
“I thought Benjamin was an only child,” Levi mumbled.
“Apparently there are more branches of the Sayid family tree than we realized,” Nicholas answered his twin. “What an interesting twist to this already confusing day.”