Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

 

Stealthily, Diego padded along the secret corridor to his father’s room.  Because it was seldom used, the door squeaked softly on its hinges, but the grumbling of thunder hid its complaints.  His father mumbled and groaned in his sleep, apparently dreaming.  A chair sat near the bed and Diego quietly pulled it closer.  For a second he hesitated waking him up; sleep was a precious commodity on a large rancho. 

A flash of lightning illuminated his father’s face, showing a sorrow that told Diego the dream was not a pleasant one.  Then the darkness closed over the room again, leaving Diego to wonder what his father was dreaming about that caused him so much suffering.  “Diego,” the older man murmured, deep sorrow in his voice.  “Diego, my son.”

Me? he asked himself.  There could be no more waiting.  He had to let his father know he had returned.   And he, himself, had waited for this moment ever since he had left Rantir, ever since he had distinctly remembered Father.  He reached out and gently laid his hand on his father’s shoulder.

“Father,” he said softly.  How much had his father suffered thinking that he was dead?   “Father.”  The silver haired man moaned and rolled over.  Diego laid his hand on his father’s other shoulder and shook gently.  “Father, it’s me, Diego.”

Suddenly the older man stiffened under Diego’s hand and partially sat up, his eyes peering into the dark for the source of the voice and warm touch of the hand.  “Wh…what?  Who is it?”

“It is Diego, Father.  I have come home,” he said softly.

“No, Diego is dead.” The voice seemed confused, befuddled with sleep. 

Diego continued to talk softly, keeping his hand on his father’s arm.  “No, the other was a substitute taking my place.  I am truly your son, Diego.  I am alive and I have finally made it home.” 

There was the slight hesitation of one finishing the transition out of sleep and into full wakefulness.  Then the old don jerked upright in bed, the outline of his body only barely perceivable.  “Diego?” he asked, his voice trembling with the expression of tentative joy.

“Yes, Father.  I have returned.”

The man in the bed made a moaning sound deep in his throat.  He started to say something, but was so overcome that he only reached for Diego instead.  The young man grasped his father tightly in a hug that spoke volumes of longing and anticipation.  His father reciprocated, punctuating it with a choking cry of overwhelming happiness.  Then he began to sob, his chest heaving, even as he hugged his son tight.  Diego felt his heart would burst with happiness.

“Oh, Diego, my son.  My son!  Santa Maria, how often I prayed for this,” Alejandro murmured.  Relief washed over him, and deep, overwhelming joy.  He felt the strong muscles in his son’s back and shoulders, the dampness of the cloth, the warmth of Diego’s living body.  The tears that he had held inside during the last four weeks were finally released and they slid down his face and onto his son’s shoulder.  He heard the voice that he thought he would never hear again except in his dreams.  His dreams!  Could this be just another one? One more vivid, sent to haunt him, torment him with almost fulfilled desire?  No, this is real!

But he had to see his son, had to verify his reality, to prove that this was not one of the dreams that had haunted him every night for the past four weeks.  Pulling back, he fumbled on his nightstand for the candle and the flint and steel.  As though reading his father’s mind, Diego found the candle and lit it.  The first thing the soft glow showed was his son’s bright smile.  “It’s you?  It is really you,” Alejandro said in a whisper.  “I was told you would return, but it seemed so impossible, so remote.  Bernardo has told me to keep faith, he told me to believe.  And you are here…”  His babbling, trembling voice trailed off as he stared, almost drunk in the vision of his son in front of him.  Diego wore a suit of a type unknown to him; it appeared to be a one-piece outfit with no evidence of buttons or other fastenings.  And from the dampness of the front of his nightshirt, it was obvious that Diego had been in the storm.  He reached out, one trembling finger touching his son’s face.

“I am here, Father.  I am home,” Diego repeated.

A sudden thought occurred to Alejandro.  One that made him wonder again if he was dreaming.  Diego seemed to know him, as though there had been no time or space missing between the time of his capture and the present moment.  But how?  “And you remember?” he asked.

Diego jerked back in surprise.  “What do you mean,” he asked, “remember?”

“I mean you have your memories, you remember me.”

“Yes,” Diego said, his voice tight with emotion.  “I remember most things now, although not everything.  It wasn’t always so.  It has taken months for my memories to come back.  It was very hard.”  He laid his hand back on his father’s shoulder.  “How did you know?”

Alejandro placed his hand on top of his son’s.  “The one who was sent to replace you told me.  He also said that you would be coming back.  He tried to wait in order to give you back your memories.  I am not sure how he was planning to do that…”

“He told you what happened before he died?”

“Yes, he did.  He said he felt that I should know.   I am grateful to him for that.  I am grateful for the hope that he gave me,” Alejandro gazed into Diego’s eyes, reveled in the recognition that he saw there.  “I had expected you to come home and not know me.  That was so very hard for me to imagine.” 

“If I had come home several months earlier, I would not have recognized you.  It was as the duplicate said, there were no memories at first.  But they began to return, a little bit here and then some there.  It was sometimes very confusing.  I am still remembering.”

“How?  The duplicate did not seem to think it would be possible,” Alejandro said, incredulous. 

“I do not know, it just happened.  Their memory machine apparently did not work right,” Diego said and then gave his father some of the details of his recovery from the induced amnesia.  His thoughts kept returning to the one that looked and acted so much like him that he was able to fool his father and everyone else in the pueblo.  “How did he die, Father?” Diego asked softly.  It was obvious from the way his father talked, from the tone of his voice that his duplicate had served well in his absence. 

“One of El Diablo’s men shot him in the back.  He covered for you, gave you an alibi for when you returned, but he was unable to fight off the fever from the wound.  He went against the wishes of his leader because he came to understand what you were doing here.  He went against those monsters that take who they want and do anything they see fit with them, discarding them when it suits them.”  Alejandro’s voice rose in indignation before he reined in his emotions.  Diego looked at him curiously and then looked down at the ground.  He had been prepared to come home and find his father mourning his death.  But this he did not expect.  There was mourning, but there was a deep and abiding resentment along with that sorrow, an anger bordering on hatred not only for what had happened to him, but also what had happened to his duplicate.  Diego suddenly felt uncomfortable in his father’s presence. 

“Jerintas,” Diego murmured, then he looked back up.  “Father, most of the Rantiri are good people, their leader simply made a mistake.  And it does not surprise me that my substitute acted the way he did, he had my memories, feelings and beliefs that were taken from my mind.” Diego paused.  “He had more of me when he died than I have right now,” Diego said softly, his voice almost a whisper. 

Alejandro heard only Diego’s first sentence and felt himself bristling at its condescending tone.  “How can you say that about people who took you away, tried to steal your past, your soul, tried to use you, who even used one of their own in such a monstrous manner?”

“Father, are we so much better than they?” he asked, worried about his father’s rancorous and biting comments.  He thought of Minta and his assurances to her.  Now he wasn’t so sure.  “You are tired, we can talk more about this tomorrow,” Diego said soothingly.

“Yes, you are right.  Now is not the time to talk about unpleasant things.  I am sorry.”  Alejandro was incredulous at his son’s power of forgiveness.  “How did you escape, my son?” he asked, changing the subject. 

“I had help.  My teacher found out what had been done and found a way to bring me home.  The leader decided that kidnapping me was wrong and he helped as well.”

“Bring?  This teacher is here now?” Alejandro asked, not hearing Diego’s last statement.  Was this teacher from Rantir?  Did he have one of those creatures in his house?  But no, that cannot be.  It has to be someone else who had helped Diego, he thought. 

“Yes, asleep,” Diego said.  Suddenly, he didn’t want to say anything else about Minta to his father.  He felt fear deep inside his heart, fear for his beloved.  All he wanted to do was go back to her.  There was a short silence as he tried to think of some way to leave decorously.

“Tell me how you got here.  It must have been difficult for you to get away.”  Alejandro saw fatigue in Diego’s face and realized that this must be the reason for his son’s sudden reluctance.   But he couldn’t just let him leave now.   There was so much he wanted to tell him.  And he just wanted to keep looking at the son he thought he might have lost forever.  Diego told him some of the details of his departure from Rantir.  It seemed so very simple and sedate, not at all like he thought it would be.  

“Father, I am so very tired.  It was hard finding the cave in the storm,” Diego said with a yawn.  Then he smiled.  “I promise I will not go anywhere.  I will still be here when the sun rises,” he said, as though reading his Alejandro’s mind. 

 “Yes, you must be tired as well,” Alejandro said, looking at the pocket watch sitting on the nightstand.  Even though it seemed as though Diego had just shown up, they had been talking for over two hours.  “Are you staying in your room?” 

“No, in the secret cave.  We wanted to see what had happened here, what effect our appearance would make before just showing up.”

“Very wise, my son,” Alejandro said, wondering again about this mysterious teacher of Diego’s, feeling a bit of apprehension.  “Diego, you and your companion sleep for whatever is left of the night and then we will talk some more tomorrow morning and plan for your ‘return’ from your business trip.  And get something dry from your room on the way back down, you must have been soaked out there in the rain.” 

“Yes, Father, we did get a bit wet,” Diego said with a wry smile.  “Your idea is a good one.  I am tired.  Con permiso.”  He grasped his father’s arms once more in a tight grip of reassurance before turning to the secret doorway.  “It really is good to be back home.”

“Yes, my son, it is.  My life feels renewed now.” 

Diego slipped out, suddenly feeling as tired as he claimed.  His father’s vitriolic outburst against the Rantiri disturbed him, but he didn’t have any idea what to do about it at the moment.  He would have to talk to Father in the morning before introducing Minta to him, hoping that would soften the blow.  Diego could only imagine what it must have been like to take care of his dying ‘twin.’  Bernardo might be able to give him more information, but he hated to wake the manservant up at this hour.  Tomorrow.  Everything could be taken care of tomorrow.  Now he had to get back to Minta.  She was the one who was in a strange and unfamiliar place.  Padding quietly down the secret corridor, he paused near his room.  Shaking his head, he went down the stairs without going inside.  He would just let his outfit dry in the cave and change in the morning. 

Then Diego thought about Tornado.  He had neglected to ask about the stallion.  Had his father been so upset that he had let the horse go?  This was just one more question to be answered later.  He stumbled at the foot of the stairs and caught himself.  His body demanded rest; it had been a very tense, stressful day and night.  The lantern was dim and appeared to be running out of fuel, but that wouldn’t matter that much, it would be daylight in a few hours and they would probably sleep until the mid-morning sun softly illuminated the outer chamber of the cave.   As he approached their makeshift bed, Minta murmured softly in her sleep, turning over to face him, but not totally waking up.

Diego remembered her question about the candles and his answer to her.  He thought about the religion that had shaped his life, giving him direction even when he wasn’t able to remember specific things.  His rapidly returning memories now told him that his religion did not recognize his union to Minta.  He sighed mentally.  There were still things that he did not remember, things that would be too hard to explain to Minta.  Frustrated, he shook his head.  It was so good to be home, but if that was so, why was he still feeling so confused?  Diego sighed aloud.  He still believed in this union that he had formed with her, and that was what was important now.  He would talk to the padre and work this out with him. 

The padre.  What was his name?  As he had done in the past, Diego racked his brain trying to think of what was missing.  Padre Felipe!  Yes, he would talk to him, he thought, picturing the short, stocky, kindly man.  He remembered the priest saying that all was in the hands of God.  Dr. Klictis, different though he was, had said that all would work out and Diego believed him. 

Slipping out of the modified crewman’s uniform and laying it across the top bar of the enclosure, Diego lay down next to his wife and pulled the blanket over him.  “I was missing you, my darling,” Minta murmured in his ear.  Turning over to face her, he kissed her tenderly, running his fingers through the silken softness of her hair and down the smooth contours of her body. 

“Father had to know that I was back,” he answered, between kisses. 

“Of course he did.  I am looking forward to meeting him.”

“I have to talk to him more before that happens,” Diego said hesitantly. 

“Oh?” Minta asked.  There was a puzzled quality in her voice. 

“It would seem that the duplicate unit told him a great deal of what happened and he is very upset that your people would do such a thing,” Diego explained.  “It will be all right once I explain things to him.  We were both tired and now was not the time to discuss it, although he does know that my ‘teacher’ brought me back home.”

Her long fingers found his lips and shushed him; their bodies touched and they found comfort in each other.  Soon the only sound in the cave was the soft trickling of water into the small reservoir, and the deep sighing breaths of the two sleepers. 

 

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Alejandro sat in bed, thinking in wonder at the recent conversation with his son.  He marveled at Diego’s return, he relived the moments over and over again, thanking the Holy Virgin for his son’s return.  He thought about Diego until his eyelids drooped and he dozed off.  It seemed only a few seconds later that he woke to the sound of water dripping from the roof and birds joyfully greeting the day.  He looked around him and saw the burnt down candle stub.  Diego had lit that candle last night, Alejandro thought euphorically.  Pulling off his robe he felt the damp spots where his son had embraced him.  Ai, it was true!!  He is home!  He is home!  

Quickly, the old don scrambled out of bed, hurriedly washed up, only taking his time as he shaved.  Jerking off his nightshirt and throwing on clean undergarments, he pulled a dark suit out of his wardrobe.  He slipped on and buttoned the calzoneros, put on a plain white shirt, finishing off with the embroidered vest and chaqueta.  As he was pulling on his low cut boots, he heard a knock at the door.  “Enter,” he said happily. 

When no one came in the door, Alejandro knew it must be Bernardo.  Walking to the door, he opened it to find the mozo on the other side, a small tray in his hands.  Gesturing for him to come in, Alejandro closed the door behind him.  “Bernardo, it finally happened,” he said happily, almost dancing with joy. 

Bernardo put the tray down on the bed and helped the older man with his tie.  Then he stood back and gestured furiously, a look of hope on his round face. 

“Yes, Bernardo, Diego is home.  He came during the night and spoke to me briefly,” Alejandro said.  With eyes bright with emotion, the mozo gestured some more.  “No, he stayed in the secret cave, just to make sure that everything was all right before he made an appearance.  He said someone helped him return, a teacher, he called him.”

There were more gestures.  “Yes!  Bernardo he remembered me!  He told me a little bit about his kidnapping, but we were both tired, so I sent him to get some sleep,” Alejandro explained.  “I want you to discreetly take some food down to the cave for him and his companion.  That is where I’ll be.” 

Bernardo grinned happily and pointed to the tray.  “No, I’m not hungry.  You can take this as well.” 

Bernardo nodded, and leaving the tray, went back to the kitchen to get another bowl of porridge and cup of champurado.  Alejandro went through the small secret door and stepped lightly down the stone steps.  There was no noise in the outer chambers, but he assumed that walking through the storm had worn his son out and he and the teacher were still asleep.  The scene that greeted him as he walked into the room was anything but what he had expected.  On a mattress made of hay, curled up together, arms entwined, lay his son and a dark-skinned female. 

Santa Maria, what leave of senses has Diego taken?  What did the Rantiri do to him that he would forsake everything that was sacred and live in this sinful state?  Dios, help me to understand, he cried out in his mind.  But he couldn’t understand.  Sorrow and anger filled his heart, mind and soul.  He cried out in anguish, and then, as Diego and his companion jerked up in surprise, he realized that he had cried aloud. 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-four
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