“How long will it take to walk to Tikal?” Timothy asked Tiani and Chief Gabor, holding the satellite phone and maintaining his communication in Spanish. The temple pyramid behind him shown in the late-morning sun streaming through the tree canopy, reminding Levi why this trek to Tikal and then south to Flores was so important.
Chief Gabor glanced at his daughter and they both shrugged. The chief answered in Spanish. “Four hours, maybe.”
“Wow, a little different than a three-day trek over the mounds,” Becky said. She seemed so relaxed since marrying Nicholas. She had literally let her hair down, almost to the point of looking disheveled. Levi knew his twin liked his wife this way. From the moment they’d met she’d been poised and professional. But Nicholas had asked her to wear her hair down for their wedding and she hadn’t twisted it back up in its professional style since that day. She finally looked like the crazy scientist she was rather than a businesswoman.
“Maybe we should wait until tomorrow,” Timothy suggested, hesitating with the satellite phone ready to call for the Jeeps. They planned to meet them at the edge of the jungle where the tribe exited near the trading post at Tikal.
“Yeah, we need that will and testament that Prince Marcos Sayid left for the chief’s grandfather,” Nicholas said. The paperwork was on the other side of the mound separating the village from the temple pyramid. This pushed back the time of departure even further.
“And before travelling over there we should research this bank a little more,” Levi said. Knowing the will and testament had been written three generations prior gave him pause. “We need to make sure the bank actually exists before we drag the tribal leaders and a third of our excavation team away from the pyramid.”
“Let’s leave at first light tomorrow,” Timothy suggested. “I’ll have the Jeeps pick us up late morning in Tikal and we’ll try to return to the village before dark. This may be a long process to purchase the land surrounding the temple pyramid, possibly even several months, but at least we’ll find out how much money we have to work with.”
“That will give us the rest of today to prepare everything,” Nicholas said, nodding in agreement.
Kaden, the site administrator interrupted. “What would you have the rest of us doing while the most important people on our team are missing? We’re already days behind and running out of time before the rainy season starts.”
“Our geoarchaeologist, Isaiah, can handle preparing each stela for capturing high-resolution photographs as well as, or better than, I can.” Nicholas smiled fondly at Isaiah. “Every one of you should be using every digital device available to take the photographs, even your cell phones. They’re not much good for anything else this far out in the middle of nowhere. Besides, you’d be surprised what detail shows up on one camera compared to another, plus differences in lighting, glare, shadows, shutter speed.”
Levi added his thoughts. “Jeremiah, our finds manager can collect the data and organize the digital images the same way he would catalog bones and pottery fragments. All of you should be helping with soft brushes to clean the stela and prepare them for photographs. One of you use the drone to capture video and photographs of the upper most parts of the temple pyramid.”
Nicholas jumped back into the instructions. “Every bit of data you collect will help us conduct analysis later. As an environmental archaeologist, and linguist, my and Levi’s job will require a great deal of research to piece together the past and the present. The in-situ data collection is only the beginning.”
“Okay, people”—Timothy clapped his hands together once— “you heard the boss. Hop to it.”
“Timothy, I thought you were the boss,” Levi joked out of the side of his mouth.
Timothy patted Levi on the back and grinned. “He who has a billion dollars and offers to purchase a pyramid and the thousands of acres surrounding it… is the boss.”
They all laughed except the tribal leaders.
Levi turned to them and spoke in Yucatec. “We were just telling everyone on the team what to do while we’re travelling to Flores to purchase your land.”
“These people speak too many languages at the same time,” Tiani said in Yucatec, folding her arms across her chest. The colorful hand-woven textile dress she wore was designed to showcase her high standing in the tribe by accenting the feathers in her headdress of ornately carved wood. Her hair was pulled back and intricately braided around her headdress, then cascaded down her back. As he’d just been thinking of Becky letting down her hair, Levi wondered if Tiani would ever be willing to do the same. She nodded toward the team of scientists gathered around the computer table and glared at Levi. “They mix Spanish together with your English language and we cannot understand them.”
Levi realized most of the recent conversation had morphed into a passionate mix of English and some Spanish, and the tribal leaders were probably beyond lost. He spoke directly to them in Yucatec, hoping to bring them up to speed.
“We were telling the rest of the team to collect photographs of the whole temple so we can translate them, while we travel to Flores to purchase the land. This team of scientists who discovered your temple pyramid may have been the first, but they won’t be the last. More scientists will come here if we don’t find a way to make their presence illegal.”
“Most of what you just said made no sense to me, even in Yucatec.” Tiani pursed her lips and lifted her chin, her voice growing more animated. She stepped closer to Levi and pushed her hands against his chest. “I am tired of you giving me one sentence answers to translate an entire conversation. You need to translate better.”
Levi was startled by her touch. His eyes fixed on hers and his words, spoken slowly and in her native language, conveyed a meaning beyond science. “I will do whatever you ask of me, my princess.”
She gave him one more shove then seemed to realize what she’d done in touching Levi and her eyes grew wide. She took a step back and stared at her traitorous hands then tucked them behind her back, glanced at her father, and then back at Levi.
“What the heck was that all about?” Nicholas asked in English, a near whisper, speaking only to his twin. “What did you just say to each other?”
“Uh… I’m not entirely sure.” Levi still couldn’t pull his gaze from Tiani’s and her perfect façade was completely broken. A tear ran down each of her cheeks and she was shaking. “I think I may have just pledged myself to be her humble servant for the rest of eternity.”
“Now you understand,” Nicholas whispered, even closer to Levi and softer.
“Not quite the same,” Levi whispered back. “The chief had a spear to your chest insisting you marry Rebecca. He’s going to have a spear to my back, running me out of his village.”
“I don’t think so,” Nicholas mumbled. “Look at his eyes. He respects you.”
“I can’t pull my gaze away from hers,” Levi said. “I’m making a fool of myself right now, aren’t I?”
“Nah.” Nicholas patted him on the back. “Anyone who doesn’t understand has never been in love.”
“Is that what this is?” Levi asked, his eyes glassy.
“You tell me,” his twin challenged.
“I have no idea,” Levi mumbled.
“Let’s go purchase some land so you can prove yourself worthy of a Mayan princess,” Nicholas said.
“Worthy…” There was no such thing. No man could ever be worthy of this woman.
“You need to teach me English,” Tiani demanded in Yucatec interrupting the twins’ whispered conversation. Then she turned on her heel and stormed away.