Memories in the Dust

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Five

 

 

“Here is a communiqué from Captain Irios, Director.  He is in orbit around Earth,” Gerol said, handing Jerintas a note.  He could not bring himself to say more. 

Jerintas read the communiqué and then stared at it in horror, his eyes unfocussed, his thoughts in turmoil.  “She didn’t come back,” he whispered, his voice barely audible.  “She stayed on Earth with the Designated One.  She stayed!” he cried out.  He looked up at Gerol, who also appeared upset.  “She may cause the very thing that we were trying to avoid in the first place when we got into this . . . situation.”  He got up and paced. 

“Get Captain Irios on the hyperspace communications line right now.  Immediately!  From my desk!” Jerintas shouted.  Surprised at the outburst from the normally calm director, Gerol jumped behind the desk and began keying in the communications codes.  He typed and waited. 

“I have him, Director,” Gerol finally said after several minutes of waiting. 

“Tell him to go back and get her.  She is not to stay on that planet.”

Gerol typed furiously and then sat back and watched the screen.  When it lit up, his eyes widened in shock.  “Captain Irios gives his regards and understands your position, but that order was not given in advance and he is not going to go back and look for the girl now.  He says the weather is atrocious, the couple disappeared into rocky hills where detecting them would be difficult and he also pointed out that he is not the intergalactic police force,” Gerol repeated, waiting for the outburst.  There was no outburst.  After some more pacing and muttering, the Director stood quietly before him, his voice controlled and seemingly calm. 

“See if the New Hope or a similar scientific vessel is available for a hyperspace jump,” he ordered. 

“Are we going to go and get her?”  Gerol asked tentatively.

“I am.  A scientific vessel should get to Earth in a fraction of the time that it took for Minta and the Designated One to get there, perhaps less than thirty day cycles if the jump is direct,” he explained, then added, “I want you to remain here.  I am appointing you the Designated Director in my place until my return, and am leaving you to resolve the problem with the Late Comer.  You have concluded the computer models of its destruction haven’t you?” Jerintas asked.

“Yes, Director, and so far everything is very promising.  No anomalies have appeared, nothing to cause any doubt as to the success of this project.  We have only to wait for the correct conjunction to occur.”

“Good, continue on that course then.  If there are any problems, contact me immediately,” he told his assistant.  “Now if my own problems were so easily solved,” he murmured.  He only hoped that Minta would not make it difficult for him, either to find her or to convince her that she could not live on the Designated One’s primitive planet.

                                    

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 Diego stood silently in the tiny room hidden behind the secret panel in his bedroom, staring at the weapons hanging from pegs on the wall.  There was his sword, cold steel in a plain dark scabbard, waiting for him to wear it once more.  Next to it, a whip and a pistol.  He touched the sword, running one finger down its cold, hard length.  Deadly power emanated from it.  How did my substitute wear it?  How well did he use it? he wondered.  He must have worn it well, from what his father had said. 

He thought of the time just a few hours before, when the four of them, he, Minta, Bernardo and his father, had sat together in the outer chamber of the secret cave, talking, discussing the future, and the past.   As they talked of their union, he saw the hurt in his father’s eyes.  The idea that they were married, regardless of the fact that it was not a Church wedding, without him being there, had hurt Father terribly, even though he had not said anything. 

In this, Diego felt a small amount of anger toward his kidnappers.  But even in his resentment, he couldn’t totally fault the Rantiri.   It was their almost obsessive desire to have whatever it was he possessed that had pushed them to kidnap him.  He could even forgive them taking his memories away so that he could adapt to their world.  But, on the other hand, he could not quite get over his anger at the pain and anguish that the Rantiris’ actions had caused to those he cared for the most.  Even Minta had been unprepared for the tidal wave of emotion with which his father had greeted her.  And Father…

Diego still felt the rightness of what he and Minta had done on board the ship, but the guilt of disappointing his father yet again stabbed at him.  He sighed sadly, wondering once more, why the joy he felt at finally being home was tempered with so much pain.  He shut his eyes, wishing he could close out the guilt he felt as well. 

The silk cape lay draped neatly across the little table under the sword.  He fingered its smoothness.  It, too, exuded a feeling of dark, lethal power.  He saw memories of his sorties as Zorro, not totally complete yet, but still enough to show him the deadly choice that he had made.  Frowning, Diego tried to remember the first time he donned the mask.  He saw in his mind a ship, the one of his early dreams.  He saw another man with a sword, dueling with him.  It was a friendly fight and he won.  He saw Bernardo, a letter…it was from his father.  He remembered a decision there; the germ of what soon became Zorro.  He saw so much and yet, he felt that there were still tiny pieces missing here and there.  He had felt joy when he had donned the disguise and saved a man, and he had felt hurt when he remembered the look in his father’s eyes, a look that spoke volumes about disappointment when the old man thought his son was a coward.  He felt the same kinds of joy and pain now as well.  It seemed that such things never ended.

So intent was he on his inner turmoil that he did not realize that someone else was in the room with him until he felt a hand on his shoulder.   “Diego, my son.”  Alejandro’s voice was low and full of emotion, but which emotion Diego was unable to tell.

“Homecomings are supposed to be joyful,” Diego said simply, before he could stop himself.  

Alejandro’s grip tightened before the hand loosened and fell away.  Alejandro’s own hurt didn’t keep him from seeing the inner turmoil that his son was dealing with.  “Yes, the first one was not very pleasant either, was it?”

“No, and I caused you pain then, too.”  

“Diego, my son…” Alejandro began and then waited.  After a short pause, Diego turned to him.  Their troubled eyes locked.  “I do not think that I will entirely forgive these Rantiri for what they did to you,” Alejandro said.  “I have found your . . . wife to be charming, intelligent and totally devoted to you.  She loves you.”  He paused, not knowing how to quite express the feelings that he had in his heart at the moment.  “But she reminds me of the people who took you, caused you so much pain and suffering.  I keep seeing in my mind, the one who took your place, who had a piece of your soul, who was left here to sacrifice himself for this cause of theirs.  It is so painful for me, because it was like seeing you die.  I . . . I suspect it will fade as I get to know Minta even more, learn to love her as a daughter, but you will have to be patient with me, Diego.”

Diego nodded.  “Father…” he also paused, reining in the tumultuous thoughts, trying to sort them.  “Father, I deeply apologize for the hurt my decisions have caused you.  The marriage…”

“Diego, it is not just the idea that you married out of the Church.  I understand that better now.  You did not have all your memories back.”

“Father, I do not regret uniting with Minta, even now, even after most of my memories have returned.  It is that you were not there.  That causes the most pain for me.”

“You do not regret marrying her out of the Church?”   A touch of irritation flared, but he squelched it. 

“No . . . not really.  Even then, I wondered about the repercussions of this decision, but there is something that told me then and continues to tell me now, that there is a reason we went ahead with the marriage.  There is an ultimate purpose,” Diego explained, feeling that the words were inadequate.  “I cannot explain it, Father.  It just is.”

“I cannot understand it, either, my son, but I will do my best to respect the decision you made.  I hope that you will do your best to respect what you have been taught now that you are home,” Alejandro said, his voice stern enough to tell Diego that there was no arguing with his decision. 

“Of course, Father.”  Diego paused and then gave him a reassuring smile.  “I have only kissed Minta once since this morning and that was in your presence,” Diego teased mildly.  

Alejandro gazed deeply into his son’s eyes, and was satisfied to see that along with the touch of humor, there was also a serious understanding of what he was saying.  He also saw the intense suffering that this ordeal had caused his son.  He saw it heaped up on the anguish and emotional turmoil that Diego had experienced since his return from Spain.  Oh, my son, my son, so much pain, he thought.  Could he possibly cause more hurt and suffering over one who had brought a touch of joy and brightness into his life?  Even if she belonged to a race he could neither understand nor sympathize with?  No, he couldn’t.  If Minta brought Diego happiness, he had to do his best to make her welcome.  He sighed.  And it was easy to see why his son loved her so. 

Suddenly his feelings overwhelmed him.  “Oh, Diego, my son.  It is so good that you are home.”  No more words would come, he could only grasp his son in a fatherly embrace that spoke of the intense love and pride that he had for his only son.  

“It is good to be back home,” Diego returned, his arms wrapping around his father. 

 

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Throughout the day, plans were made, discussed at length, discarded or accepted, changed, and discussed some more.  Finally it was decided that Diego and Minta would leave the secret cave under the cover of darkness and travel to San Pedro, telling everyone they had just ridden from San Diego.  There they would get rooms at the inn, arriving at the hacienda the next day. 

It was decided that Minta was a visitor from a far country, that they had met while he was on his trip, and that they had fallen in love.  All of this was true to the extent that it went, and would hopefully explain Minta’s physical differences.  Alejandro found a pair of his wife’s riding gloves that were still in useable shape and gave them to her, admonishing her to keep them on in public.  He then sent Bernardo into the pueblo after something more suitable for her to wear when they rode into San Pedro, something that was plain, and that would not be recognized by the merchant as his.  The mozo had looked embarrassed until Alejandro gave him a note for the merchant explaining the outfit was for his niece in Monterey. 

“But why is it so important, Don Alejandro?” she asked.   “This is the second time you have said something about my hands.”

“Because when Diego was kidnapped, there were witnesses,” Don Alejandro said, seriously.  “They described demons with black skins, white hair and long, spider-like fingers.”  He looked a bit embarrassed.  “I am sorry, but I am just repeating what circulated until the other Diego, and consequently Zorro, returned and laid those rumors to rest.”

“I will do my best not to give anyone reason to think that I am a demon,” Minta said to both men with a slight smile. 

“It is no laughing matter, my dear.  As you have probably surmised, Hell is a very real place.  We do not question its reality.  It is inhabited with those who are Satan’s followers, in all forms and guises.  Your people, by their actions, fit that description very easily.  I tell you these precautions so that your life with Diego will not be troubled by such things.”

Minta sobered quickly, remembering Diego’s reaction to the spaceship.  “I know, Don Alejandro, Diego pointed that out to me, and I appreciate your concern.  I will be careful,” Minta said, contritely.   She wished that there was a way to change her hair color, but there seemed to be nothing that was available to do that.  What she most appreciated was Don Alejandro’s willingness to listen and accept her after his initial outburst.  She still felt embarrassed by her display of tears and she couldn’t understand her explosive outpouring of emotion, but it seemed to have been the very thing that was needed to make Diego’s father rethink his own feelings.  Now she was seeing him the way Diego had described him, warm, caring and concerned.

“And as soon as you are back, you and Diego will go see Padre Felipe,” Alejandro added sternly. 

“Yes, Father,” Diego said, simultaneously with Minta’s “Yes, Don Alejandro.”

Minta thought about the plans that had been made, wondering what made her feel that something was missing.  Suddenly, from behind her, she heard a noise, a patterned clopping of something hard against the stone floor.  Then a snorting that seemed to come from something very large.  Before she could turn around, she heard Diego’s exclamation, “Tornado!” 

When she turned, she saw what seemed to her a huge animal, black as midnight, with bright flashing eyes.  This must be the horse that Diego had told her about, Zorro’s stallion.  He approached the animal with no hesitation, but Tornado snorted again and backed up.  Turning, Diego looked questioningly at his father. 

“Ah, Diego, you smell strange to him.  It took Tornado some time to get used to your substitute,” Alejandro explained.  “And he was free for a couple of weeks, roaming and servicing the mares in heat on the hacienda.  It took Bernardo and I two nights to coax him to a nearby box canyon.”  He paused and then added in a more somber tone, “We could not bring him back here, because it was too hard for us to come down to the cave to take care of him.”   Nodding, Diego turned back to the stallion.

Minta heard Diego’s soft voice murmuring comfort to the stallion and soon saw the eyes of the animal change from fear to recognition.  The soft looking nose rubbed against her beloved’s chest and Diego laughed, his pleasure evident.  He rubbed Tornado’s muzzle and then around his ears and down his neck.  “Ah, my friend, we will have to go for a ride sometime soon, you and I.”  Tornado nickered, pushing against Diego’s chest with his nose. 

Then as she watched the interplay between the horse and her husband, it hit her.  “I have never been around an animal such as that.  I don’t know how to ride one,” she said, looking at the huge black stallion with a touch of fear.  How in the world can we pull off this subterfuge if I can’t even ride a horse?  She looked anxiously at the two men, whose anxious faces probably matched her own.   

 

 

Chapter Twenty-six
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