Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty- One

 

 

Diego sat on the mat, looking dourly at the blue haired creature standing above him.  Never in all his days of fencing had he been bested like this.  Taking the alien’s outstretched hand, he stood up and faced Wis.  “You do not fight by the proper rules of dueling,” he stated. 

“We never established the rules of our practices.  I am fighting by the rules of Hurfix and you are apparently fighting by the rules established on your world,” Wis said sedately. 

Diego pondered and then the humor of the situation struck him.  His sudden smile turned into a full-throated laugh.  Wis cocked his head to the side and then smiled, showing rows of tiny sharp teeth, much like those of cats.  “Right you are, Señor Wis.  I think it might be a wise thing if we taught each other the rules of the other’s sport.  I am most eager to learn this very physical type of fencing,” Diego said when he stopped laughing. 

This smaller person had been a dynamo of fists and feet, using his short epée-like sword very seldom.  The chunky body belied an agility that had amazed Diego and thwarted his every thrust, advance and riposte.  

With a great deal of patience, Wis began teaching Diego the various body movements that were part of Hurfix, the explosive kicks and turns that demanded great concentration and stamina.  Within the next several days, Diego felt he had mastered most, blending them with the exercises Wis taught him that helped him to focus on each move that his body made, even his breathing.  Muscles that had become slack and weak during his time on Rantir become toned and firm once more.  He felt a great affinity with this master of alien fighting and wished they could have met earlier during the trip.

“Diego, there never was such a thing as a weak or flabby muscle on your body,” Minta said as they lay in bed the night before their departure from the ship.  As though emphasizing her point, she slid her hands down his arms and then back up his chest.  “But I will have to admit, you are even more solid now,” she said with a grin.  She laid her head on his bare chest and sighed.  “We will be leaving on the shuttle in just one more day cycle.  This has been wonderful,” she murmured, delighting in the soft whisper of air in and out of his lungs.  “I almost wish it could have lasted forever.”

“My darling, it has been wonderful, but I will be very happy to be home. I need to be home.  I wish for you to be happy there as well,” he said in Spanish, stroking her soft, white gold hair.  Despite the fact that he had become accustomed to this space ship and all within, Diego also felt a sense that he simply didn’t belong.  As his memories returned, he found himself dreaming more and more of the rolling hills, sunshine and people of California.   

“Querido,” she whispered, reverting to his language, picking up on his subtle hint.  “I know I will love your world.  Everything you have described, the pictures you have painted with your words, it sounds so very beautiful.  And the songs that you have sung to me...”  She sighed. 

“I only hope that Father and Bernardo have not had too much time to grieve.  That is the only thing that I feel badly about; that they would think that I have been dead for all this time,” Diego said, sighing. 

“You described some of the ceremonies on your world.  Have you thought of what you are going to say to explain your sudden appearance if there has been a big… um, what do you call it…funeral?” she ventured.

“No, I really haven’t.  I thought we would arrive secretly in my hidden cave and discuss this with Father before making an appearance.  That will give him time to meet you as well.”

“I am afraid that somehow the kidnapping by demons story is going to be the only way to explain it.  The made-up tale will not be too far from the truth, without the part about visitors from other planets, of course,” Minta said.  “Jerintas really put us into an awkward situation.”

“I do not like the idea of using the demons story,” Diego said, his body tensing.

“But you have to admit, I am the demon who brought you home,” Minta said with a slight smile. 

“NO!” he said in heated emotion.  “We will not use that story! If there were descriptions of my captors at the time of my kidnapping there would be those thinking that you are a demon.  No, we will think of something else, Minta.  I have had time to understand the existence of other worlds, God’s other creations like your world, but there is a Hell, and Lucifer’s minions, his demons, inhabit it.  It is a place of torment and pain.  It is real to me and it is real to my people on my world.  We must be careful not to give anyone the idea that you might be one of those demons.  Once everyone knows you and learns the kind of person you are, we can relax,” Diego said, a note of finality precluding any further discussion of the matter. 

Minta leaned over and kissed him lightly on the forehead, her finger delicately tracing the line of his frown.  “I think I understand,” she murmured. 

With a sigh of appreciation, Diego drew his wife close to his chest, caressing her and feeling the smoothness of her willowy body against his.

“If our first child is a boy, we will name him Alejandro, in honor of my father.  If a girl, Maria Isabella in honor of my mother and dead sister,” Diego declared after they had lain together quietly for a while. 

Minta drew back slightly.  “But how do you know I will have children, my love,” she asked.  “There have never been any births among the Rantiri units.  That was your purpose on Rantir.  To help our race become viable.”

“Hmm, I forgot about that,” Diego murmured. 

Minta could hear the disappointment in his voice and it pierced her, realizing just how important children must be to him. 

After a short pause he added, “We will still be happy.” 

“Oh, Diego.  I am so sorry.  I…I did not think of that when we were united.”

“Now who is talking about whether we would have married or not.  It does not matter, Minta.  I would still have formed the union with you.  If the santos allow, by some chance, a miracle, you will be a great mother.  If not, you still will be.  We will take in children and give them our name.   Señora de la Vega, I love you and nothing can change that,” Diego said, whispering in her ear.

As Minta felt herself enveloped in his arms, she wondered just how much disappointment he was hiding, but she let that thought drift away as he continued to caress and touch her, expressing his deep love for her.

 

                                      ========================

 

“No, no more,” the Rantiri Diego said weakly, turning his head away from the glass containing the mixture of fruit juice and medicine.

“My son, you must.  You have had nothing yet today,” Alejandro said, his countenance filled with undisguised despair. 

“No, I have fought to live for….  How long has it been?  Seems forever.”

“Six days ago.  You were shot a little over six days ago,” Alejandro said woodenly. 

“I have done what you asked.  I have fought for six days.  I am dying.  I am too tired to fight any more.”  Diego turned his fever bright eyes on the older man, hoping for understanding.  He only saw sadness and despondency.  “Thank you for trying.”  He closed his eyes to concentrate on fighting the nausea and dizziness that swept through his body.  He heard Tornado moving around, the clopping of his hooves almost musical against the stone floor of the outer chamber.  Slowly he drew in breath, feeling the sluggishness of his remaining lung, knowing that he had developed pneumonia.  It was all he could do to keep from coughing.   It was all he could do to lay still and keep the pain from tearing through his chest. 

He opened his eyes and saw a tear sliding down the sun darkened cheek of the one he considered Father.  He laid his hand on the older man’s sleeve.  “It was good for me to be created for this purpose.  I have had what no other Rantiri has had.”  He paused, struggling to pull in more air.

“What, my son?” Alejandro asked huskily.

“I have had a father,” Diego answered and sighed.  Would that all the Rantiri could experience this special relationship.  Yes, it was worth all this pain, he thought, contented.

“And you have held my son’s soul well.  You have carried it nobly.  I can say that I have had two sons,” Alejandro said softly taking hold of Diego’s hand.  It was so hot and dry.  It had been such a hard struggle, and while they had lost, he felt he had also won.  This Rantiri had worn the guise, the mantel of Zorro and Diego well.  He was proud.  He only hoped that there was enough left of his real son to give all of that back.  He only hoped that he could truly get his Diego back.  His heart wrenched in agony.  Even though this was not his real son, the pain of this man’s death was almost overwhelming.  Alejandro fought to keep from showing more emotion. 

Diego remembered the time just before he left the ship, after he had received the memories of the Designated One, after he had been taught how to control this body.  He had discreetly visited the host of his memories.  The real Diego de la Vega lay serenely in a bed, his eyes open, but not really aware of what was around him.  He was still amazed at his newly created body, still awed by the assignment that had been given to him, and still trying to assimilate all of the Rantiri memories that had been implanted in him as well, reconciling them with those of the man on the bed. 

Suddenly, Diego de la Vega had turned his head and looked at him, his stare blank for the most part.  There was something that made him uneasy, though.   There was something behind that veiled and vacant look.  Suddenly it came to him; there was inquiry and curiosity.  Diego understood now.  There was something left, something that was still Alejandro’s son. 

He brought his focus back to the present and the man who was still holding his hand.  He gazed into the tear-obscured eyes and opened his mouth to speak, but to his shock, nothing came out.  He couldn’t get enough air to make sounds; he couldn’t speak.  It was important to tell Alejandro that he knew his son would still have something of his ‘soul’ inside him when he returned.  But he couldn’t.  He felt tears of frustration form in the corners of his eyes, but all he could do was gaze into the eyes of the man next to him. 

Then he realized what he had somehow already known in his heart . . . the real Diego de la Vega would come back and he would have in his soul the part of himself that made him what he was.   Somehow, his people had not stripped everything away.   He only wished he could tell Alejandro de la Vega this to ease the pain that this man . . . this father was feeling.   But eventually, he would come to know that, too.  The inner drive, personality, and, yes, the spirit that resided in Diego de la Vega had partly come from Alejandro de la Vega.  With that realization came relief and surrender from anxiety and frustration.  He smiled.

Diego heard Bernardo playing softly nearby; he could see the tears streaming down the mozo’s face and he wished he could say something to comfort him.  His chest refused to take in air, his heart seemed to hammer, yearning for oxygen, and then it began to relax.  The cave seemed very dark.  One of the lanterns must have gone out.  He felt his heart still, his pain disappear.  Blessed Virgin, I thank you, he thought.  It was good to do this, to be this man, to be a part of his world.  The room darkened until it was black and then the only thing he was aware of was the sweet and soft sound of Bernardo’s guitar playing.  It swirled him into the oblivion of memories borrowed and then into nothing….

 

Alejandro felt the hand in his hand go slack, and the old don checked for a heartbeat and for evidence of breathing.  He found nothing.  Gently, he closed Diego’s eyes, feeling comfort in the fact that there was a smile on the young man’s lips, that he had apparently died content and pain-free.  He looked up and realized that Bernardo had stopped playing.  His eyes asked the question, knowing already what the answer was.  

“Yes, he is gone, Bernardo.  He fought well, but he has gone.”  Alejandro looked back down at the dead man at his feet.  Biting back a sob, he thought in despair, He has gone and taken my son’s memories with him.  My son’s soul.  How can Diego come back?  What will bring him back? Isabella, what am I going to do?  You are gone; Diego is gone.  I am left alone.  His chest constricted, tightening with a fear of sorrow and loneliness that threatened to overwhelm him.  A tear escaped from between his tightly closed eyelids and slid down his cheek. 

Then he remembered what this Diego had told him.  His son would return.  But how?   By having enough left inside his soul to be guided back here to his home.  Maria Isabella, watch over our son.  Wherever he is, bring him back.  The pain eased a bit and he opened his eyes. There was much that had to be done now.  There was no time for self pity.   This gallant warrior from another place needed to be properly laid to rest.  

The mute gently laid down the guitar and want to the little niche in the wall where he had kept a candle burning for much of the almost six months since Diego had been kidnapped.  “Please light one for me, too, Bernardo,” Alejandro said quietly, laying Diego’s hands on his chest.  “I wish there was a way for him to have had the Extreme Unction….”  But there was.  He had done that very thing when his infant daughter, Maria Isabella had died.  It was late in the night, too stormy for the priest to get to them, so he had said the words.  “Bring me fresh water in a clean bowl, Bernardo.”  As soon as the mute had done so, he sprinkled a few drops on the still warm brow and said the words that would make him a member of the Holy Church, adding the name Rantir to the end of his name.  Then he said the words that would send a soul to the hereafter in comfort.  He hoped that this worthy substitute would feel comforted.  He, himself, certainly did.  “And we will bury him the best we can in the dignity that befits a hero such as he was; such as befits a de la Vega.”  He felt wetness in his beard, but didn’t bother to wipe it away. 

Bernardo waited until Don Alejandro was done and then pulled another candle from the little box he kept nearby.  When the two candles were lit, Alejandro felt something was missing.  Finally, “Light another one for Diego, too.  He would appreciate what this man did for him.”

Without speaking, Alejandro went up the secret stair and into Diego’s room.  He gazed at the fireplace, the bed, all of the things that belonged to his son.  Bernardo had eliminated all signs of sickness from this room.  It appeared as it always did when Diego was away, clean, tidy and ready for his son to return.  Taking a deep breath, Alejandro moved the coverlet aside and pulled off the linen sheet, folding it almost reverently and holding it to his chest as he turned to the wardrobe.  He pulled out a new white shirt, a pair of plain riding calzoneros and clean undergarments.  While he was doing this, he again felt an anger burning in his chest, intense anger at those Rantiri who were responsible for this.  It was a consuming hatred, but he fought it down in order to do the task that was ahead of him.

All of the things he had gathered were held close as he went through the secret doorway and down the steps.  He found Bernardo combing Diego’s hair, having already shaved the previous four days’ growth of beard from his face.  Alejandro helped as best he could, but felt awkward and clumsy.  Bernardo took the new clothes and adroitly put them on.  When they were finished, Alejandro had to turn away for a moment.  The Rantiri Diego looked as though he were sleeping. 

The burial took place at midnight in a tiny cave just inside the boundaries of the de la Vega lands.  The weather matched the mood of the men, dreary, stormy and bleak.  Thunder growled and boomed overhead, lightning flashed, illuminating their path and causing the dark stallion to prance nervously.  The small cart bumping behind him agitated Tornado, who was not used to a harness, but he continued following the men leading him.   The rain soaked them to the skin within minutes, but that was ignored as rocks were piled in front of the little cave until it was entirely sealed.  “Puede usted reclinarse en la paz, mi hijo,” Alejandro said softly as the weary pair finished.  Finally he turned and taking hold of Tornado’s reins, walked back toward the hacienda.  Before they reached the entrance of the secret cave, he undid the harness to the cart, took off the bridle and released the stallion.  “Remember your home, Tornado, but for now, roam freely,” Alejandro called out over the howling storm.   

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Two
Memories Prologue
Zorro Contents
Main Page