My father and I stood in silence at the bottom of the panel as we looked at the name carved there – Jaime Domenech – a brave ancestor from many years ago.
It was the chief councillor who broke into our thoughts at last.
“Now you know what happened to your ancestor. He did not die. He lived, and he and his men gave life to this valley, this village. The Indians did not go away. They camped outside the valley, making it impossible for Jaime Domenech and his soldiers to escape.”
“Very soon, they found that they did not want to escape. They liked the tranquillity of the valley. There were many Indian villages in the hills and mountains around. In time the Indian maidens came to the valley. The attraction of the strange fair-skinned men overcame their fear of Quetzalcóatl. In fact, they believed the newcomers were the children of Quetzalcóatl, and they were pleased to come and live with them. They married the soldiers. More and more the Spanish and Indian bloods mixed. The children of these marriages were brought up in the traditions of old Spain. In time the population increased to over 600 souls.
“Then the maidens stopped coming. The Indian tribes moved away. Slowly the numbers in the valley started to fall. We are now less than one hundred, with few young men and no young women to continue our village. In a few more years our village will be empty; a home for ghosts and memories. It will be returned to Quetzalcóatl. We had hoped that we would go without anyone ever knowing we had been here.”
“We are the first white men to visit this valley in all those years?” My father’s voice was hushed.
The old man nodded. “Yes Señor. No man from Cortez’s force found the soldiers. The maidens that came never returned to their villages so building on the fear of Quetzalcóatl that kept the Indian warriors out. Everyone here can trace their ancestry to one of that first brave band; the band led by your ancestor Jaime Domenech.”
My father and I stood there silently, thinking about the life these people had led over the previous 400 years.
At last my father spoke: “It is a strange story you tell, Señor. My son and I have many questions to ask but that would be prying into your private history. You said you wished to leave this valley as you came, with no one knowing you have been here. We will respect that wish.”
He reached into the shoulder bag that lay at his feet. “All the notes I have made in coming to this valley of yours are in this book. I give it to you to do with as you wish. Your secret will remain safe with us. No one will ever find your valley because of us.” With that, father handed his journal to the elder who took it with a smile.
“Thank you,” was all he said.
We left the valley, escorted by the same two men we first met. They took us past their cottage to the edge of the valley near where we had entered. As we stood on the ridge, looking back to the edge of the valley and the village my father turned to the two men.
“One question, if I may, my friends. What is the name of your chief councillor, the man we have been talking with in the large hall?”
It was councillor Blue Belt who replied in that strange lilting tongue so like, and yet so unlike, our own. “His name, Señor, is Jaime Domenech. A direct descendent of the leader of the band of soldiers who first came to this valley. You and he are of the same family, Señor.”