10.19.19.17.19 5 Kawak 7 Mak (Friday, June 14, 1224)
The Grand Ballcourt, Chichén Itzá
Hunac Ceel stood at the top of the stairs of the large building at the south end of the Grand Ballcourt. Its borders were lined with spectators, overflowing into the surrounding area. He had even caused temporary towers to be built to allow more people to see the proceedings. Dignitaries from other cities sat atop the side-walls, closest to the goal rings, which were intricately carved with intertwining serpents and painted in vivid colors. These men were flanked by servants, whose jobs were to keep them cool with parasols, fans and beverages; and (once the game started) to swat away any errant ball which threatened to displace even a single imported quetzal
feather in their splendid vesture. At the other end of the social spectrum, dirty children dangled their legs over the edges of the tower platforms.
Expectant eyes rested on Hunac Ceel, waiting for him to start the festivities. He raised his arms over his head and called out to them. "Welcome, citizens of our kingdom and visitors from other lands! Welcome to Chichén Itzá!" His voice echoed off the walls of the ballcourt, easily heard even at the far end. It was met with enthusiastic applause from the crowd. "We meet here at this glorious ballcourt, as our ancestors watch from the peak of the temple of Kukulcán. Ball players, come forth!" The players came and stood before him, clad in their protective gear and elaborate ceremonial headdresses. The captains stepped forward and bowed low before Hunac Ceel.
"The ball game has always symbolized transition between life, death and a new life," he continued. "At this time of transition, the end of this b'ak'tun
and the start of the next, we mark this occasion by starting the celebrations with another ball game. The stakes are of particular note today. The losing team, as always,... will be decapitated!" A roar of approval from the crowd. "Their blood will be food for the gods, appeasing them and bringing us good fortune and a bountiful harvest. They will pass into Xibalbá, and that road permits no return."
"But on this special occasion, we wish to ask the gods if they will deign to tell us what will come in this new era. Therefore, the losing team's captain will be spared the usual penalty," (a few sounds of disappointment) "and instead will be taken to the nearby Sacred Cenote
. There, before you all, he will be cast in as an offering to the gods!" An even louder approving roar. "And if both he and we are very fortunate, that man will pass into Xibalbá alive, and return with a message for us. Let us begin the game!"
Hunac Ceel held the rubber ball aloft as the players replaced their headdresses with protective headgear and took their positions on the ballcourt. When all was ready, he tossed it into the court, then sat on the painted jaguar throne placed for him at the end of the court to watch. The game itself was pretty dangerous, even without the lethal penalty for the losers. The protective equipment was fairly minimal, mostly just headgear and leather padding on the hips, though some had wrapped cloth around their elbows and knees. The ball was heavy, too; getting struck in the face or gut by a fast-moving ball could do serious damage. Additionally, while the typical game featured between two to four players per team, this spectacle had six players each, making for even more jostling than usual.
The king looked to the bright red rings, positioned high on the walls. Very rarely had he seen a ball pass through one, maybe twice in his whole life. After all, they were mounted very high up on the wall, about five times the height of a man, had an inner diameter not much larger than that of the ball itself, and the players were not allowed to touch the ball with their hands or feet. Simply hitting the ring or the painted area around it was worth points, and usually the game was won on points alone. However, getting a ball through your team's ring was instant victory, not to mention a crowd-pleaser.
Hunac Ceel settled into his throne and watched the players fight for the ball, and by extension, their lives. This promised to be a good game. He looked among his aides and servants around him, and to his dismay he saw that Tutul Xiu was not among them. He wished to go look for his friend, but he could not leave during the game. Afterward he would take time to seek him out.
The spectators watch as the brutal sport plays out, some cheering, some booing, some wincing, some looking away, some beating drums or blowing whistles.