Memories in the Dust




Chapter Twenty-two



Minta stood just inside the outer door of the airlock, looking out at the long awaited land of Diego’s birth.  The flight on the long-range shuttle had only taken a few day-cycles and had been restful and sedate.  They were the only passengers, and while they pretty much had the run of the tiny vessel, most of the time they had kept to their cabin. 

She remembered Dr. Klictis’ admonition to be careful and his assurance that things would probably be difficult, but would work out in the end.  She would miss him.  As grotesque as his appearance might be to most humanoids, he had a gentleness about him that reminded her of some of the descriptions that Diego gave her of his father.  Klictis was fatherly.  She would also miss Wis.  Diego had warmed up to him quickly, and the two became friends, as well as teachers of their various martial arts skills.  Most of all, though, she would miss the serenity that the voyage had provided for her. 

She was afraid.  Even though she would go into the depths of Diego’s Hell with him, she was still afraid of the days ahead.  Would Diego’s people accept her?   Would she be able to adapt to the primitive conditions?   Of course I will adapt, she scolded herself.  I will have Diego.

Her face was wet with rain that blew in at the whims of the capricious winds.  Heavy rain drummed on the outside of the shuttle, making communication near the doorway almost impossible.  The night was dark, made darker by the thick, lowered clouds and heavy rains.  Lightning lit the sky at random intervals, booming thunder making her jump.  

Diego had been confused when they had finally reached Earth and established orbit.  He had tried to describe his homeland as clearly as he could, but while his language skills had fully returned, there were still limits to his knowledge that had nothing to do with his enforced amnesia.  He had been able to give description of the land in terms of plant and animal life, he could describe homes and people.  He remembered, for the most part, what his hacienda looked like, but to give landmarks discernable from space was beyond his capabilities.  As they had shot through the atmosphere and approached a land mass, Diego had excused himself, unable to watch the high speed transition from space to landing. 

Captain Irios had been most patient throughout it all, having brought along a very reliable exo-geologist.  It had taken a day of intense detective work, but from Diego’s descriptions of the topography of his homeland, they had narrowed the choices to three landing sites.  This was the second one.  The first elicited no recognition from Diego, only disappointment, but this one he recognized immediately.  She could see from the moment he looked out of the airlock into the stormy night that this was the right place.  

Diego stood outside, almost far enough from the shuttle to be unseen, his face upraised, his countenance one of sheer joy.  Within minutes of leaving the ship, his clothing had been soaked and was plastered to his body.  He turned, the ecstasy still on his face, and beckoned to her.  As she started out into the storm, she felt a hand on her shoulder and heard a voice in her ear.

“We need to leave soon, Elo Minta.   You must say the words of dissolution and then he can return to his people and we can take you home to yours,” the shuttle pilot said.

It was as she thought.  This pilot knew of her position just as the captain of the larger spaceship did.  They all expected her to simply leave Diego behind and go back to Rantir.  “Captain Irios, what if I wanted to stay here?  This world is clean and fresh,” she ventured. 

“I was told that only the young man was staying, the rest of us were leaving,” he answered. 

She ventured a bit further, hoping not to antagonize the young humanoid into forcefully holding her on board ship, but wanting to see how far his orders had gone.  “But if I chose to stay…”

“I was assured that you were coming back with me, but I have no orders forcing you to.  It would be your choice, Elo, although I was told that this world is dangerous.”

“Perhaps, but I am willing to risk it.  Thank you, Captain Irios.  What I have in the bag is of little importance, you do not even have to send it back to Rantir,” she said and walked out into the elements.  By the time she reached Diego she, too, was soaked to the skin. 

“Is it not beautiful?  The rain is life, the air is cleansed and we are home!” Diego shouted.  He gathered her in his arms and swung her in an arc lifting her off the ground.  Then he crushed her to him in a fierce embrace that took the wind from her lungs. 

Pressing her lips to his ear, she asked, “How quickly can we get to someplace where it will be difficult for them to find us?” 

His body stiffened slightly in surprise, but Diego caught on and quickly said, “There are caves all over these hills, and if my memory of our surroundings is correct, the secret cave is nearby.  Why?” he asked, his voice registering alarm.

“The captain had no orders to detain me, but that might change if he contacts someone before taking off,” she said as they trotted hand in hand up one hill and over its crest.  The rain slid in her eyes, blurring her vision.  “Does it do this all the time?”

“No, querida, it does it more at certain times of the year.  I have apparently been away for quite a while.  It was into the dry season when I was abducted and here it seems to be in the middle of the rainy season, February or March I would say,” Diego explained, with a soft laugh that was drowned out by the ominous rumble of thunder.  “Wait here.  Let me see what the ship is doing,” he added motioning for her to wait for him.  He went back up to the ridge, hunched over and secretive.  Within a minute, Minta could no longer see him and she thought it somewhat funny that he would take such precautions in such heavy darkness. 

Then from nearby, a flash of lightning lit the sky and she was able to see Diego in an instant, a small compact form just below the crest of the hill.  She blinked at the sudden light, and the darkness enveloped him once more.  She crouched in the dark, the rain running down her face and into her eyes.  The wind picked up, making the warm rain suddenly cold and harsh.  Shivering, Minta tried to hold her arms tightly to her chest, but that didn’t seem to help.  The thunder continued to roll across the sky, shaking the ground.  Lightning on most worlds was dangerous if one was on higher ground.  She wished Diego would come back down the hill.

“They took off.  I saw the ship about twenty feet above the ground and as the light faded, it just shot up, like the ball from a musket,” he shouted by her ear.  Minta jumped, startled, not having heard him approach. 

“Then can we find a place to dry off?” she asked, half joking and half serious.   

“Of course.  The hacienda is dry and warm.  If I can remember which direction it’s in,” he answered, taking her hand.  Then feeling her shivering, he pulled her close to him, enveloping one arm around her shoulders.  They made their way down the slope, slipping and sliding on wet gravel and mud, their only illumination the occasional flashes of lightning.  “Querida, I wish I remembered better.  You are cold and to be in the rain like this for too long is not good.”

“Oh, Diego, please, do not worry about it.  We will find something soon.  Even the best of memories would have trouble in this terrible storm.”

They walked over another hill and alternately slid and stumbled down the slope.  Another lightning bolt lit the hillside and an instant moment of recognition crossed Diego’s features. “There is a cave here.  A small one, but shelter nonetheless.”  He pulled her by the hand to a place further down the hillside.  Then he stopped, groped and stood quietly pondering.  As Minta was about to say something, another bolt of lightning illuminated the sky. 

Diego was puzzled, staring at the wall of rocks in front of him.  “I remember there was a cave here, at least I thought there was, but…”  More lightning lit the sky to day brightness.  “Rocks have been piled her recently,” Diego added, looking more closely at the rock wall.  He jerked around trying to see into the storm.  “It is too dark, I cannot remember well enough.  We will continue along this arroyo until we find something that is out of the storm.   Tomorrow, I will be able to see better and then I will find the secret cave,” he said, his lips close to her ear.

“That will be fine, Diego.  We will be able to keep each other warm tonight,” she reassured him. 

They slipped and slid along the slope, holding on to each other, feeling the chill of the rain settling under their skins, and on into their bones.  Minta shivered.  Lightning flashed again, revealing a ghostly landscape around them, full of rocks and brush.  Diego gave a cry of triumph.  “This is it!  The secret cave should be behind this brush.”  In the darkness, Diego groped for the opening that only he, Bernardo, and his father knew, and of course, Tornado.   Holding back the largest branch, he guided Minta into the dry interior of the cave.  Immediately the fury of the storm was muted, the thunder becoming a soft growling, the lightning, only dim flickerings.   Ahead of them, it was pitch dark, a stygian darkness that seemed foreboding, and Minta shivered from more than cold and wet.  And it was empty.   To Minta, it seemed as empty as a tomb, ominous and mysterious.  She huddled closer to Diego, finding comfort in the nearness of his body.  This was his world; he was the expert now.   

“Querida, it is usually not like this,” he said as though reading her thoughts.  Tornado is usually here, especially on a night like this.”  He stood statue still, but it was not from fear, it was as though he was gathering in all the information and deciding the next course of action.  His breathing was even and his body warmth along with his renewed confidence lessened her fear as well as her shivering.  

She waited, trusting that he would know what to do, and amazed at the difference four months made. 

“You are going to have to wait while I find a lantern, cara mia,” he said finally.  Slowly, carefully, he led her near something that softly gurgled and pulled her into a sitting position.  She found herself on a fairly flat rock.  The gurgling was a tiny spring, the water flowing from some unknown access point nearby.  “Do not go anywhere.  I will be right back.”

“Diego, I have no intention of moving anywhere right now,” she said in the pitch-blackness, as his fingers slowly slid out of her hand.  She listened carefully, alternately hearing the muttering of the storm and his footsteps.  After what seemed an interminable time, the soft glow of light broke the total darkness.  It illuminated an area of rock walls, ceiling and floor.  The rough wall tapered up to a point near where she was sitting but was more room-like where Diego had found the lantern.  She got up, looking around at the small enclosure near her, the pile of hay beyond that.  Several things lay near the enclosure along with a wooden-wheeled cart.  One of the things was made of leather and seemed to have the shape of something that one could sit on, especially on the back of a creature like the ones that Diego had described.  Minta concluded it was a saddle.  A pile of hay also lay in the chamber where Diego held the lantern.  His eyes were troubled, although there was still anticipation in their depths.  

She walked slowly to the other chamber, her eyes sliding from side to side, wondering at this domain where Diego’s secret resided.  She saw melted candle stubs in a nook in the rock wall, bottles on the floor, blankets, brushes and clothing.  Curious, Minta walked over to the clothing and felt its soft silkiness.  In the candlelight, its sheen was lustrous, seeming to give the black fabric life and power.  Looking carefully at its length, she saw that it would fit Diego perfectly, loose over his shoulders and hanging down to his knees.  “This is for Zorro?” she asked.

“Yes, except this is Bernardo’s costume.  It usually hangs in the same little room as mine does, but for some reason it was left here,” he answered, looking around the room as well.  Leaving the lantern sitting on the floor, he perused the bottles, taking the cork out and sniffing each one.  “Medicine,” he murmured absently.

“What, mi amor?” she asked. 

“I would guess that my ‘substitute’ was cared for in here.  I would also guess that he did, indeed die, and was carried out on that cart.  Normally there isn’t one in here.  Let me move this old hay away and get some fresh hay.  We may have to stay here for the night until I find out what has happened.  It might be awkward if the servants saw me and thought I was a ghost,” he added with a slight smile.  It seemed forced to her.  

“I will help you.”

Nodding, Diego took a pitchfork from the wall near the little enclosure and began tossing the old hay into a pile in the outer chamber.  Smelling another pile of hay near the enclosure, he seemed satisfied and began making another heap in the inner chamber near the little niche that contained the tiny piles of burnt wax.   “Why was there a need for candles if there are lanterns?” Minta asked as she helped him carry hay.

“It would seem that Bernardo burned candles for me, or rather my double.  I can only guess that one was his, the other Father’s and I am not sure about the third.”  Seeing her puzzled look, he continued.  “It is part of my religion, enamorada.  You light a candle to help one find the way out of purgatory, or to help one find the right way in life.  I will have to ask Bernardo about the third candle.”  He formed the hay into a semblance of a mattress with her help and gestured for her to sit down.  He sat down next to her. The smell of the hay was earthy and soon she even found herself getting used to the prickly feel of hay stubble. “I will go up and get blankets in a minute.  I will also find something in the kitchen.  You look cold and hungry.”

“A little, but Diego, you seem sad,” Minta said quietly, leaning against his arm.

“There is sadness here, where usually there is life, vitality,” he said.  “I feel something is not right.”  He sat quietly, only his chest rising and falling while his eyes seemed to focus on more than the walls of the cave.  “I will go and get the things we need, then I will find my father.  Wait here, querida.  You will be safe.  If Tornado comes in, just ignore him.  He will probably be hungry and just want to eat and rest.” 

“I will, Diego,” she said as he slowly got up and walked down a stone corridor into the darkness.  The certainty of his steps indicated his sure knowledge of the cave since he didn’t take the lantern.  Minta waited in the soft glow of the lantern, wondering how Diego must be feeling about all of this skulking around, and she realized that it was part of the reason for his melancholy.  This homecoming wasn’t what he had hoped or wished for.  Lying back in the slightly musty, pungent, crinkly hay, and despite her best intentions, she closed her eyes and found herself dozing into a light sleep.  

Minta woke to Diego’s soft footsteps and the feel of a blanket covering her.  Opening her eyes she smiled, genuinely happy at his return.  She wondered if she would feel the same way after he had been out on his nocturnal rounds and she felt that she would be even happier.  He sat down by her side and handed her a piece of bread.  “There is fresh beef hanging, so there were no pots of dried beef simmering in the coals.  This cornbread and the tortillas are not much, but they should keep us from starving to death until morning.  And I brought wine.  It is not the same as that drink on the ship, but it is good de la Vega vintage.” 

Minta munched on the bread, savoring the slightly crunchy, and somewhat different flavor of it.  He set the wooden platter next to the hay mattress and opened the bottle, pouring some wine into a pewter cup for her to drink.  She felt the sweet tang of the wine as it slid down her throat.  “This is very good, Diego.  It tastes almost like sunshine.  Won’t you have some?” she asked, handing the mug to him.

Shaking his head, he said, “No, I’m going to see my father.  Everyone is in bed, so I am assuming that it is past midnight and he’s in bed, also.  But I feel that I need to see him, reassure him and then I will be back down.  You go on to sleep.”

“Give your father my love, dearest,” she murmured, still eating the cornbread.

“I will,” he said, and was gone into the darkness once more.  With a sigh, Minta finished the morsels in her hand, drank the last swallows in the cup and lay down to wait for him, feeling strange going to sleep without him by her side.



Chapter Twenty-Three
Memories Prologue
Zorro Contents
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