The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K'uk of Palenque (The Mists of Palenque)

BOOK: The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K'uk of Palenque (The Mists of Palenque)
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Sak K’uk of Palenque

Born 584 CE – Acceded 612 CE – Died 640 CE

by Leonide Martin

Mists of Palenque Series Book II

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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are used fictitiously, or have been created by the author for this story. These are not meant to be taken as actual portrayals of any places, locals, events or persons, living or dead.

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Martin, Leonide

The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K’uk of Palenque

Mists of Palenque Book II

ISBN: 978-1-61339-633-9

1. FICTION / Action & Adventure 2. FICTION / Romance / Historical/Ancient World 3. FICTION / Historical


Map of Central and Southern Maya Regions

Map of Palenque (Lakam Ha)


Sak K’uk – I

Baktun 9 Katun 8 Tun 12

(606-607 CE)

Sak K’uk – II

Baktun 9 Katun 8 Tun 14

(608-609 CE)

Sak K’uk/Muwaan Mat – III

Baktun 9 Katun 8 Tun 14 – Baktun 9 Katun 9 Tun 0

(610-613 CE)

Sak K’uk/Muwaan Mat – IV

Baktun 9 Katun 9 Tun 1 – Baktun 9 Katun 9 Tun 2

(613-615 CE)

Sak K’uk – V

Baktun 9 Katun 9 Tun 5 – Baktun 9 Katun 9 Tun 8

(618-621 CE)

Field Journal
Francesca Nokom Gutierrez

Archeological Camp (1994 CE)
Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque
Mists of Palenque Series Book III

Tz’aakb’u Ahau – I

Baktun 9 Katun 9 Tun 9 – Baktun 9 Katun 9 Tun 12

(622-625 CE)

List of Characters and Places

Dynasty of Lakam Ha

Long Count Maya Calendar

About the Author

Author Notes and Orthography (Pronunciation)


Other Works by Author

Central and Southern Maya Regions in Middle Classic Period (500-800 CE)

Names of cities, rivers and seas are the ones used in this book. Most are known Classic Period names; some have been created for the story. Many other cities existed but are omitted for simplicity.

Inset map shows location of Maya Regions in southern Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula and Central America.

Lakam Ha (Palenque) Western and Central Areas Older Sections of Settlement circa (500-600 CE)

Dark boxes are fictional structures added for the story. Structures important to the story are labeled. This does not signify that these structures were actually used for purposes described in the story. The city extends further east, but these sections were built later.

Based upon maps from The Palenque Mapping Project, Edwin Barnhart, 1999.

A FAMSI-sponsored project. Used with permission of Edwin Barnhart.

“On the back of the ninth katun, god was lost; ahau was lost. She could not adorn the Gods of the First Sky . . . On the back of the 3 Ahau Katun, Ix Muwaan Mat could not give their offerings.”

Temple of the Inscriptions
, dedicated to K’inich Janaab Pakal

Completed by his son Kan Bahlam II, circa (c. 684 CE)

Based on translation by Gerardo Aldana,
The Apotheosis of Janaab’ Pakal

University of Colorado Press, 2007

“Today, in the immediate wake of the nearly complete decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs, much of our information about Maya history, beliefs, and experience comes directly from the Maya themselves, through the writings they left behind in books, on monuments, on tablets, and in many other media.”

David Stuart & George Stuart,
Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya

Thames & Hudson Ltd., London, 2008


Baktun 9 Katun 8 Tun 12
(606 CE – 607 CE)


Pakal’s nursemaid was worried. Creases marred her smooth forehead, her lips drawn tight as a purse-string. She scurried through long corridors, eyes darting to every door and scanning the small chambers within. Crossing the inside patio, she quickly assessed each corner and glanced behind benches and plants.

Not yet two solar years old and the child was a master of escape. How far could his toddler’s legs carry him? Her mistress would be most annoyed that he once again eluded supervision. Or much worse if any harm came to him.

Her search of Sak K’uk’s quarters in the palace was fruitless. She enlisted help from other attendants, but none could locate the child. The sun was near zenith, its intense brightness almost blinding when reflected off white stucco walls and plazas. There was nothing to do but report Pakal’s absence and muster a larger search.

Trembling and bowing low to the ground, Tunsel approached Sak K’uk, whose temper was well known among her attendants.

“My Lady, much is it my sorrow to report we cannot find your son, the sun-blessed Pakal.”

Sak K’uk’s face was stony, her voice hard.

“So it is, yet another time, you have failed in your duties. What is so difficult in knowing the whereabouts of a child? Find him at once, or I shall dismiss you this day.” She signaled to the palace guard standing nearby. “Summon several men and search the entire palace complex. Bring Pakal to me as soon as you find him.”

Tunsel and the guard rushed away and Sak K’uk dropped onto a stone bench. Tears smarted her eyes and she blinked them away, loath to reveal any weakness. But she was concerned, not just about her son’s safety but her own abilities as a mother. Though the depth of her love for Pakal surprised her, mothering did not come naturally. She was not mesmerized by babies as were other women. She did not enjoy their nonsense babbles and disliked the drooling and feeding and toileting that seemed to go on endlessly. Those functions she gladly relinquished to nursemaids.

Any good mother should know where her children were, however. Simply because supervision was delegated to nursemaids did not absolve her of responsibility.

She would rather be in the Popol Nah, Council House, discussing Lakam Ha governance with leaders and interrogating messengers about happenings in the B’aakal polity. Especially so, since her brother was proving an ineffective ruler. She never respected Aj Ne Ohl Mat despite his attempts at leadership; his mind did not grasp political subtleties and he had little skill in the art of influence and intimidation. Only the abilities of her father and husband kept the ahauob in line and the city functioning. She stayed away from the Council House because she might lose control of her tongue and berate her brother in front of his courtiers.

The sun began its afternoon descent as Tunsel conferred impatiently with guards and palace attendants. None had seen the child despite repeated searches within the palace complex. They agreed to widen the search to nearby complexes and walkways. The nursemaid was frantic, gripped by fear for her charge and also herself. Dismissal from service to the ruler’s sister would bring shame upon her family. Their standing would fall in status-conscious Maya culture, reducing opportunity for lucrative positions and advantageous marriages. Tunsel came from minor nobility, and her palace affiliations were much prized by her parents.

“Where can the boy be?” she moaned to herself, reviewing where she last saw him and what he was doing. It was at the edge of the patio adjoining his quarters, and he was throwing handfuls of dust into a beam of sunlight breaking through slots in the roofcomb. She left briefly to fetch a cloth for cleaning his hands, and upon returning he was gone.

The sun! Suddenly her mind was sharply focused. Pakal loved the sun; he sought it and often danced in sunbeams. In fact, his first word was “
” as the Maya called the sun. He must be in search of the sun, trying to get closer. That meant climbing a hill or temple pyramid. Someone would see him climbing a pyramid, but brush on a hill would easily conceal his small form.

Her legs pummeled as she raced toward the nearest hill, rising just west of the palace complex, the beginning of foothills that soon soared to cresting heights. Racing through the west plaza and crossing the footbridge spanning the Bisik River, Tunsel marveled that no one sighted the child on his excursion. Though his legs were long for his age, it was surprising that he could cover this distance. How she knew with such certainty that he took this path she did not question.

She sighted the trail wending across the hill, but saw no small form along its path. Sandals crunching on pebbles, Tunsel bounded up the trail with pounding heart. She gasped for breath, cursing her laziness from soft palace life. That life she would soon lose, or perhaps all life if she did not find Pakal soon. The hill summit was just ahead and she called inwardly for the goddess Ix Chel’s largesse: let the boy be there!

Salty sweat mingled with tears as she ascended the final rise and spotted the boy. He was standing on a small boulder, arms lifted to the sun, singing in a high sweet voice. She rushed up and grabbed him into her arms. The surprised boy thrashed momentarily then relaxed into her embrace as she dropped to the ground. He reached to wipe away her tears and smeared her dusty face.

“Tunsel cry?”

“Tunsel happy Pakal is safe. Can we go home now?”

He studied her face solemnly and nodded. Then he turned his face toward the sun and burst into a huge smile. His almond eyes shone and he pointed at the sun.

“K’in Ahau. K’in Ahau loves Pakal.”

“Yes, and Pakal loves his Father Sun.” Tunsel in turn studied Pakal’s face. “You are k’inich, sun-faced. We must call you K’inich Janaab Pakal. That is perfect, let us tell your mother and perhaps she will forgive us.”

“Mother wants Pakal now?”

“Yes, let us go home now. Your mother waits. I will carry you; your legs must be tired from such a long climb.” Rising with renewed vigor, Tunsel held the child tightly as she descended, silently thanking Ix Chel and resolving to never let Pakal escape her sight again.

Torchlight flickered from the walls of the dining chamber in Sak K’uk’s quarters. Dusk settled over the plateau of many waters as attendants served bowls of bean and squash stew seasoned with peppers and green herbs. Only two dined this evening with Sak K’uk, her father and husband. She regaled them with Pakal’s latest adventure, his quest to reach K’in Ahau-Sun Lord on the hilltop.

“Tunsel conferred a new title on him, calling him k’inich, sun-faced. The cadence of this pleases me – K’inich Janaab Pakal.”

“It is most fitting for the royal ahau of Lakam Ha,” Hun Pakal said.

“So it is. We are descended from Hun Ahau, the son of the Sun Lord who we also call K’in Bahlam, the Sun Jaguar. The Bahlam family and the Sun are inseparable.” She smiled at her father, while noticing how he had aged since her mother’s death. Strange that only two years could reap such havoc, but he and Yohl Ik’nal had been exceptionally close and he missed her terribly.

“You should dismiss that girl,” Kan Mo’ Hix opined. “Tunsel does not watch Pakal closely enough. The boy is always running off. It makes me concerned.”

“Hmmm,” murmured Sak K’uk. She dipped maize cake into her bowl of stew and chewed thoughtfully. She disliked contradicting her husband, they had enough issues already ripe for conflict, but she had decided to retain Pakal’s nursemaid.

“That I have considered,” she replied. “Pakal is very fond of her. Think on it, I must.” Quickly changing the subject, she asked, “What transpired in Council today?”

“More debate over extracting tribute from Usihwitz. That testy contingent of our ahauob cannot let go of our defeat in the ballgame. This sully on the reputation of Lakam Ha seems more important than our prosperity and peaceful life. And Aj Ne Ohl Mat does little to deflect their criticisms. I doubt he has one creative political thought, devoting all his talents to poetry and music.” Disdain fairly dripped from Kan Mo’ Hix’s voice, and his hand sign conveyed dismissal.

“Peace and prosperity indeed are the problem,” observed Hun Pakal. “They are bored; they have not enough to occupy their small minds. Warriors want to ply their skills in more than Flower Wars or ballgames. Some ahauob thrive on conflict, their lives lack spice without it.”

“Aj Ne cannot manage this situation,” Sak K’uk said flatly. In her heart she believed she could, but her brother was ruler.

“We must find ways to divert this wave of discontent,” said Hun Pakal.

“Is not the artist Uc Ayin among the circle of opposition? And also frequent courtier in Aj Ne’s artistic gatherings?”

Sak K’uk’s eyes caught her father’s in unspoken caution. They knew the questionable role Uc Ayin had played in Usihwitz’s unsuccessful raid several years earlier. Only by leaving the city had he escaped death.

“Uc Ayin could be a source, yes, if we can obtain his cooperation, for he does move among camps,” said Kan Mo’ Hix.

“If he can be trusted,” Hun Pakal noted.

“He rides the winds of advantage. I will cultivate him; that will be flattering. He did spend much time in my father’s house but comes less often now that the ruler includes him as a fellow artist. What need have we of artists as leaders? Warriors, men trained in skills of strategic attack and managing resources make the best rulers.” Kan Mo’ Hix gestured toward Hun Pakal. “You or I would be a better ruler for Lakam Ha. This designation of Aj Ne Ohl Mat as heir, his selection for succession, was a mistake. Not to imply disrespect for our late ruler, your honored mother.” He nodded toward Sak K’uk.

It took great determination for Sak K’uk to withhold her caustic remarks. She chewed a piece of maize cake furiously. Kan Mo’ Hix was oblivious to both the embedded insult and exposure of ambition in his remarks. It was becoming apparent that her husband aspired to rulership. “Fine ruler he would make,” she thought, “with such lack of diplomacy.”

Hun Pakal’s face was clouded, but he said nothing.

Their meal finished with cups of cacao laced with chile. They agreed to meet again once Kan Mo’ Hix obtained information about the opposition’s objectives. He left first, bowing and touching fingertips with Sak K’uk in a gesture of affection. She responded as expected, reaching toward his fingers with hers and smiling, though her true feelings dictated a slap.

When her husband disappeared through the door drape, she sank down with a sigh.

“Often he is insufferable,” she whispered to her father.

“Insufferably ambitious. I doubt that he would make an admirable ruler. This situation we have is not good. Aj Ne is weak and distracted, discontent is mounting, and Pakal is years away from being capable of acceding. Were it not so disruptive, I might even support the idea of Kan Mo’ Hix as ruler.”

“Father, this is not wise. He would bring difficulties to us, for he is rash and lacks judgment. He is too reactive about the Usihwitz situation. Can you imagine him spreading the cloak of reason and calmness over our nobles?”

“Ah, no. He would create quite the opposite effect. There is trouble gathering in that recalcitrant city, however. Never believe that Ek Chuuah is finished with his lust for revenge. It is certain he has used these years to perfect his plans, even though the defeat he suffered in the first raid diminished his status in Usihwitz. Would that our intelligence were better.”

“Lack of information about polity cities is a major detriment,” agreed Sak K’uk. “We cannot be prepared without some knowledge of hostile intentions. It appears we must work with the leadership situation we now have, faulty as it may be. Can we not give more support to Aj Ne?”

“Perhaps we can. I will again try to interest him in court rituals and council strategy, though he shows little aptitude. Your mother was a master at courtly arts; it is regretful that he inherited so little of it from her.”

Hun Pakal cast his eyes down, but not before his daughter caught the shadows of sadness in their depths. After a few moments, he wistfully said, “The poetry of Aj Ne is quite good, think you not?”

Sak K’uk placed a hand on her father’s shoulder.

“Mother was a great ruler. I also miss her presence, her strength and vision so much. Yes, Aj Ne does write poetry well.”

They sat in silence, sipping cacao. Sak K’uk cared little for her brother’s poetry, but she yearned to give comfort to her father, some acknowledgement of his son’s value.

“You are intelligent and determined.” Hun Pakal simply stated facts with no hint of flattery. “Perhaps you can improve your husband’s judgment and hone his leadership abilities.”

Caught by surprise, Sak K’uk laughed aloud. Seeing that her father was serious, she conceded. “It might be possible. Yes, I will try applying my intelligence to this daunting task.”

They embraced warmly and Hun Pakal left. Sak K’uk reflected on how different her parents’ marriage was than her own. By custom, Maya nobles each had private sleeping chambers and different sets of attendants. Her parents, however, slept together more often than not. Their closeness was remarkable, something she admired but did not understand. In her own marriage, Kan Mo’ Hix visited her sleeping pallet often enough, but never stayed with her through the night. She enjoyed the physical contact, but could easily remain alone for long periods. It was not correct timing for them to conceive another child, and she was taking herbs to prevent pregnancy, so frequent intercourse was not necessary.

BOOK: The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K'uk of Palenque (The Mists of Palenque)
8.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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