Memories in the Dust

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

Diego’s sleep fogged mind heard the deep cry, and his body automatically jerked into semi-wakefulness before he realized what was going on.  Instinctively, he maneuvered himself in front of Minta, even as she scrambled to pull the blanket around her bare torso.  Diego found himself facing his father.  He saw the surprise, hurt and anger on Father’s face and his memories began supplying the full implication of what his father was seeing.

“Father…” he began.

“Diego!  Did those devilish heathens take away your moral upbringing as well as your memory?  SANTA MARIA, WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?”  Alejandro’s voice was strident in his anger and indignation.

“Father…” Diego tried again, getting up, trying to say something that would break through his father’s anger and hurt.  His own agitation, guilt and confusion were warring with good reasoning and the former emotions were winning. 

“Unmarried, sleeping with a woman…under my roof, in my house!  Going against all that I taught you!  Diego, how could you just drop your religion like…like…that suit of yours?  How could you?  Did I teach you nothing?  Was it that easy to forget?”

“Father!  Listen!” Diego tried yet again, his voice rising in anger as well.  If Father would only listen, he would understand.  The younger man remembered the times in the past when his father had voiced displeasure in his behavior and it added to the sting of his hurt feelings now.  This was not what he brought Minta to his home to hear.  Anger grew in his heart.  He stood, naked except for his undergarments, the lines of his body taut with pent up emotion.  He felt his muscles tightening as though readying themselves for a physical fight, and guilt added itself to his other emotions.

From what Alejandro could see, this woman was dark like Diego’s kidnappers and her hair was light, almost white.  Sudden realization dawned on him, this woman, Diego’s teacher was Rantiri.  This was what the Rantiri really looked like.  Diego was lying with one of that hated race.  No wonder his son had been so forgiving toward those people.  His anger at Diego’s transgression was combined with the hate he felt for those who had taken his son.  “And this woman…bad enough that you have sinned against God and the Holy Blessed Virgin by this action of yours, but you sin with one of those…those devilish…Rantiri people.  I cannot believe you would bring one of them into my house; that you would sleep with one….”

“ENOUGH!” Diego bellowed.  He saw a vague shadow behind his father and realized it was Bernardo.  Behind him, he heard Minta stifle a soft cry.  His authoritarian exclamation halted all commotion in the cave.  His father stood quietly, his mouth open in shock, but his body still taut with anger and hurt.  

Diego’s own hurt was almost more than he could bear, his anger at the words against Minta spiraling out of control.  “You do not have to worry, Father.”  His voice was low, but it was terse and cutting, sharp with the knife-edge of his fury  “I would not have Minta stay any place where she is not welcome.  I will not have my wife so vilified and abused.  I only need to get a change of clothing and we will be gone.”  He turned just enough to squeeze Minta’s hand to reassure her.  He wished he could simply walk out now with Minta, but he knew realistically that he could not go anywhere in his alien jumpsuit. “I will be right back, no more than a few minutes,” he whispered to her.  He saw that while there was fear in her eyes, there was also trust and resolution.  She nodded slightly.  Quickly, he jerked the coverall from the rail of the enclosure and pulled it on.   He rubbed his hand down the fastenings as he brushed past his father.  “And perhaps it might be decent if you let my wife get dressed without an audience,” he added acerbically, taking the stone steps two at a time, leaving only silence in his wake.  He noticed Bernardo’s anguished look, but chose to ignore it, only wanting to get what he needed and be gone. 

 

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Alejandro looked over his shoulder in shock as Diego stalked up the steps, and then turned to the woman standing quietly on the far side of the room.  His anger at her people was now directed toward this heathen woman who had so bewitched his son. 

Then he noticed her countenance.  It was full of sadness, hurt and bewilderment.  Alejandro had also seen the look of devotion on her face when Diego had whispered something to her.   What was she trying to do coming here, corrupting my son, he asked himself?  Then…Wife? They are married?  Tears began trickling down her cheeks, like the glistening drops of water that dripped down the cave wall into the small reservoir.  He tried to keep from feeling any sympathy toward this woman, but the word ‘wife’ kept whispering in his mind.

“Please, Don Alejandro, do not blame Diego,” Minta said through her tears.  “He did not remember all of what your religion said about marriage.  It is not his fault; it’s mine.  We realized that we loved each other and wanted to be together forever.   I wanted to…marry him right away.  Dr. Klictis said that we could get married by his faith after we came here.  We thought that if we were uni…married, no one would try to stop me from staying with Diego--my people or your people.  We thought it was all right.  Diego did not remember everything.  This has been so hard for him.”   Then she began to sob, deep, racking, painful sobs, her face in her hands, her tears falling into the hay.   She fell to her knees, still crying softly.

Alejandro tried to keep his anger fanned to match what had been in his heart when the substitute Diego had died, but he felt it beginning to melt away, leaving him confused and empty.   He was being drawn to her just as he had been to Diego’s substitute.  Could there be something good about these people, despite this heinous act that they had done to Diego? he asked himself.  He looked at the young woman again, heard her sobs, remembered the look of pure devotion as she gazed at Diego. He turned and paced a short distance into the cave’s interior.  Back and forth he went, thinking.  He remembered Diego’s words when he came into his room in the early morning hours.   ‘Most of the Rantiri are good people, their leader simply made a mistake, and, Father, are we so much better than they?’  Are we so much better than they? he repeated in his mind.  No, we are not, I suppose, he answered himself, at the same time thinking that he would still never understand the reasoning behind Diego’s abduction.   And to her credit, this ‘wife’ of his had managed to figure out how to bring his son’s memories back and how to get him home.  Gratitude began to slowly fill some of the spaces left empty by the retreating anger. 

Remotely, Alejandro was surprised at her command of his language.  No doubt, Diego had been teaching her and had done a very good job.  But even more surprising was the emotion behind her words.   She truly loved Diego.  This woman of another race, from another world, loved his son deeply. 

“You and Diego are married?” he asked, his thoughts in total disarray.  She looked up, startled at the softer tone in his voice, her violet eyes still sad and fearful.

“Y…yes, on board the ship that brought us here.  A spiritual advisor united us and we said the words of union.  My people’s beliefs do not allow cohabitation without a union…marriage.”

Surprised, Alejandro could not say anything for a moment.  A tap on his shoulder pulled him out of his thoughts.  Turning, he saw Bernardo motioning something about Diego.  He would go to Diego.  Absently, the older man nodded.  He needed to talk to his son, but first he needed to talk to this woman of another world, this girl who had done what no other woman had been able to accomplish, that of falling in love with and marrying his son. 

“Would you like me to leave while you get dressed?” he asked her softly and then cringed mentally at the inanity of the question.  Of course she did.  She nodded, her violet eyes showing a hint of hope.  “I will go up the stairs a bit and you call me when you are…decent,” he said.  Kneeling in the hay, naked except for the blanket wrapped around her body, she gazed at him, tears still falling down her cheeks.  She reminded him of a frightened doe, caught unaware by wolves in a box canyon.  There was a look of despair in her eyes, but it was tempered by hope. Again she nodded and he turned and walked down the corridor. 

As he waited, his thoughts still churned furiously.  Regardless of what they had said, his son and this girl were still living in sin.  They would have to go to Father Felipe immediately.  He was sure that Diego’s amnesia would mollify the priest and with her not being baptized….   He assumed that she was not baptized.  She would be under no condemnation.  He sighed.  Then there was the talk.  This girl was certainly different than any of the upper class women of California that Diego could have chosen.  Not that there weren’t mulatto men and women in the upper echelon of California society, but there was a difference.  Her light hair and violet eyes were not among the norm here.  He hoped that would not cause a problem for Diego.  And just what was her position in her society?  Ai! he thought.  Things would have been so much simpler if I had betrothed him before he went to Spain.

“I am ready, Don Alejandro,” she called, her voice echoing softly against the walls of the cave.  He noticed that it had an almost musical quality. 

He returned to her part of the cave and saw that she had changed into a garment that was very much like Diego’s.  It accentuated her willowy figure, but he thought that a lovely dress would be much more fitting.  She had also hastily washed her face, and though it erased the evidence of her tears, it still didn’t totally hide her confusion and fear.  He walked over and stood before her.   “What is your name?” he asked mildly.

“Minta de la Vega y Morlif-Brocnor,” she said promptly, definite pride in her voice.  

The thought that Diego had chosen to marry without him being in attendance was not lost on him and he felt a stabbing of hurt.  “While these are not the best of circumstances to meet under, I will do my best to be a gracious host and will also try to keep an open mind.”  As his emotions kept trying to rebel against contact with one of the same race as his son’s captors, he nevertheless took her right hand and lightly kissed it.  It was then that he noticed that she had five fingers and a thumb.  He drew back and gazed at her hand thoughtfully.  This would make things much more difficult. 

“I have one more finger on each hand than your people do, Don Alejandro,” she murmured, stating the obvious.

“Yes,” he said softly, not wanting to go into what the people of the pueblo might think of such a deviation.  “And for right now, I think that it might be much better if you wear gloves in public.  I can have some made.”

They looked at each other for a moment, not sure what to say, each waiting for the other to say something.  “I came here because I love Diego,” she finally said.  “My leaders will not be happy that I did this, any more than you are happy that Diego married out of your religion and race.”

Sighing, he motioned for her to sit on an overturned bucket.  He pulled another one over and sat down in front of her.  “I apologize for my harsh words and my anger.  I cannot fully express my gratitude to you for bringing Diego back home…”  He wanted to say “to me,” but he realized that Diego had someone else with whom to share his life now.  The die had been cast; Diego had chosen and had slept with this girl.  He wondered if she was aware of Zorro.  Probably she was, he thought, as she had learned of his past as soon as Diego had.  “Please tell me how you came to be so close to my son.  What led you to decide to marry him?”

“I was assigned to be his teacher.  When a new unit…person is created, they are unable to do anything for themselves.  They are assigned a teacher to help them learn how to take care of themselves.  I saw from the beginning that Diego was no ordinary unit.”

“But he was not created,” Alejandro interrupted. 

“Of course not, Don Alejandro, but at the time I didn’t know that.  I figured that out as Diego’s memories began coming back to him,” she explained and then she continued her story.  Alejandro listened in rapt attention.

 

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Bernardo slipped into Don Diego’s room and watched his angry master for the briefest of moments before carefully tapping him in the shoulder.  Diego jerked around, the scowl on his face evidence of the anger that had expressed itself in the recent volatile outburst.  Bernardo motioned a question.

“Leaving?  Of course I am leaving!  What else should I do after what Father said?”

Bernardo motioned some more.  ‘You could calm down,’ the fingers said. 

“Why?” came the terse response.

‘Because your father has waited for so long,’ the fingers answered.  ‘And he loves you.’

“He has a strange way of showing it,” Diego snapped.  “I have been up here too long.  I need to finish and leave.”  He turned away and, grabbing a white shirt, threw it in a small cloth satchel.  Another tap caused him to turn back around.  “Bernardo, I do not have time for this!”   More finger movement.  “Father is doing what?” he asked in alarm.

‘Talking to your wife,’ the motions told him, with more signs being added.

“What?!” Diego cried out.  “What is he saying to her?  Why did you leave them alone?”

Bernardo signed.  ‘Calm down.  They are talking, not arguing.’

As the servant signed, Diego did indeed feel himself calming down, and listening more closely to what his mozo was saying.  Relief tempered his hurt. 

“Do you think I need to go down?  Will Minta be all right?” Diego asked.  Bernardo nodded and signed some more. 

“He has calmed down now?”  Diego paused, the article of clothing in his hand temporarily forgotten as he remembered his father’s outbursts of the past.  Remembered also was his father’s normally fair-minded disposition.  He sighed and closed the lid of the trunk.  Bernardo signed again.

“Yes, I had a slight notion of the implication of marrying outside of the Church. . . after our union.  I have a greater idea of it now.  But the need to marry on board the ship far outweighed the slight niggling doubts that I was feeling.  I do not regret it,” Diego answered with a slight smile. 

Then he gazed into Bernardo’s eyes.  He suddenly realized just how much he had missed Bernardo, whose advice always tempered his ardor.  “I missed you,” he added, his voice quiet. 

‘I missed you as well,’ the fingers said. 

Suddenly, Diego sat down on the edge of the bed, overwhelmed with the past day, of finally being back on his own world, in his own house, on his own bed.  It had not been the way he had dreamed it would be, and he realized that there were still some rocks in the road of his homecoming.  There were still memories that needed to be remembered, mistakes to be rectified.  He gazed at his hands, unable to do anything else, or think of anything to say.   Bernardo tapped on his arm, his fingers forming another question. 

“No, I am not sick, Bernardo, just confused, unable to believe that I am finally here,” he said, looking into his mozo’s concerned eyes.  Standing up, he grasped Bernardo in a fierce bear hug.  “Despite everything, it really is good to be home.”  Releasing Bernardo, he added, “I think it is time to see what is going on downstairs, then we must do some serious planning.”

Bernardo nodded and motioned toward the secret door.  Diego slipped through and turned to the servant as they stood in the secret room.  “Has Zorro ridden since the death of my duplicate?”

Bernardo shook his head and held up four fingers to indicate the number of weeks since the death of the substitute.  He then signed more about the circumstances surrounding the death of the other Diego.  So it has been over four weeks since Zorro has ridden.  More than enough time for the speculation mongers to wag their tongues, Diego thought.  He nodded and they continued down the steps.  “I am sorry that he died like that.  It sounds as though he served California well in my place.”  Bernardo signed his agreement.

In the chamber where Diego and Minta had made their bed, the two men found the young woman in deep conversation with Alejandro.  When Minta saw him, she smiled broadly, her eyes gleaming with happiness.  “Your father says he will help us talk to the priest,” she said. 

Diego felt her happiness, but said nothing, walking over to his father where he bowed slightly and said, “Father, please forgive my rude and angry words.”

“Diego, my son, it is I who needs to be forgiven.  I am sorry for the reception I gave both of you.  While I do not totally understand you marrying without me present, and especially of marrying outside of the Church, I understand better your reasoning now.  If you will let your companion finish her story, we can plan for the future.” 

Diego simply nodded happily and sat down in the hay at Minta’s feet.  

 

 

Chapter Twenty-five
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