Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-six

 

The two men looked at her, dismayed that they had not thought of such a possibility.  Don Alejandro spoke first.  “Then our plans will be delayed for a day.  I will bring in a gelding for you to get used to, then at night, we will teach you to ride well enough to get by.”

“Minta, come and greet Tornado.  He will be your first teacher,” Diego said brightly, one hand on the horse’s neck, the other held out for his wife. 

She put her hand gently in his and let him pull her toward him. Tornado snorted, shook his head, then snuffled their joined hands.  Not waiting for Diego’s instructions, Minta reached up, her fingers lightly touching the ebony stallion’s nose. 

Alejandro audibly sucked in his breath, remembering the substitute’s initial problem with horses. 

Tornado stood statue still, only his nostrils quivering, blowing warm breath on her hand.  “It’s so soft, like… like…”  She paused and looked up at Diego, unable to find the right word in her adopted language. 

“Like velvet,” Diego prompted. 

“Yes, whatever that is,” she said, with a soft musical laugh. 

“Stroke along his neck,” Diego said.  “He likes that.”

She did and was delighted when the magnificent stallion turned and nuzzled her, gently running his rubbery lips along her arm.  Alejandro let his breath out in a whoosh. Puzzled, she turned and looked at Diego’s father curiously. 

Diego turned with her.  “I cannot help but feel that you expected something else to happen,” he said. 

“Your substitute had to work hard to get the horses used to him.  They were frightened at first,” Alejandro explained. 

“It is because Tornado trusts me,” Diego said matter-of-factly.  “And Minta is unafraid.”  He turned back to the stallion.  “We will go out tonight and race the wind, my friend,” he murmured. 

“May I go with you?” Minta asked, eager to learn what is was like to ride the wonderful animal. 

“Minta, mi amor, this is Zorro’s horse,” Diego said simply.  “We can begin your riding lessons after I return,” he added.

“He is a fitting companion to Zorro, I think,” she said, turning back and stroking the arched neck.  Diego handed her a brush and showed Minta the proper way to curry him. As she stroked the glossy hide with the brush, Diego walked to his father’s side and stood next to him, watching Minta intently. 

“She has a natural affinity for animals, I think.  I hope the other horses feel the same way toward her as Tornado, my son,” Alejandro said, his arms folded across his chest and a smile on his face.  He turned to Diego and said quietly, “She has strength, Diego.”

“I know she does, Father.  She found out who I was and planned my escape.  Fate or my patron saint had a hand in our meeting.” 

“That, Diego, is an understatement,” Alejandro said with a chuckle.  “In no other way could something so unbelievable happen to a person.”

Diego laughed with his father.  Minta continued currying Tornado, working her way from his withers to his hindquarters. 

“You are going out tonight, my son?”

“Sí, I think that Zorro should make an appearance.  You did say it had been several weeks since my duplicate died?”

“Yes, and Tornado has been roaming during part of that time,” Alejandro said, and then paused, watching Minta work while his mind dwelt in the past.  “But I doubt very much that Bernardo would have wanted to go out even if Tornado had been here,” he added, seeing the neglected cape heaped near the horse’s little stall.

Diego simply nodded and stepped forward to join Minta when she turned to him, beaming with pride in her accomplishment.

“Oh, Diego, he is so beautiful.  So magnificent!  Are all the other horses this marvelous?”

Taking the brush from her and putting it with the other tack, he then took her hands in his.  He laughed softly.  “No, querida, there is no other horse like Tornado.”  Raising her hands to his lips, he kissed them, his eyes fixing on hers and lingering there.  “Soon,” he murmured.  “We will be officially married according to my customs and then it will be like it was on the ship.”

 

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

 

In the darkness of the late night, in the little secret room off of his bedroom, Diego put on each part of his disguise as Bernardo handed it to him.  The shirt, the sash, the bandanna, the mask, the sword in its scabbard, the cape and the hat.  As each piece went on, more bits of memory fell into place, until he felt almost as complete in his mind as he did in his clothing.  He was awed by the process and knew he had dressed much more slowly for that very reason.  When he turned to Bernardo, the manservant had a broad grin on his face.  It was as though the mute was feeling the same emotions. 

“All is right with the world, eh, Bernardo?” Diego asked happily.  The mute nodded brightly as he watched the black clad man grasp the sconce and head down the stone steps. 

And, indeed, as far as Bernardo was concerned, all was right with the world.  He watched his patrón slip out of the room, like a black ghost, the lantern in the gloved hand causing shadows to dance on the cave walls and ceilings as he passed.  With a smile the mute began dusting off the brocaded clothing that had been left behind. 

In the outer chamber, Minta continued staring at the wondrous animal before her.  He had his saddle and bridle on and he seemed eager to leave.  His front hoof was pawing at the hard rock floor; his head was bobbing up and down, causing the reins to shake in anticipation.  A slight noise behind her caused her to turn.  She assumed that Diego had returned, or perhaps the mute servant, Bernardo.  She gasped at what she saw.  It was a figure all in black, masked, cloaked and walking with all the grace of a hunting brisal.  At her look of surprise, the figure smiled, his eyes behind the mask full of good humor and mischief. 

“Zorro!” she exclaimed, realizing that this was the alter ego that Diego had told her about.  “So this is what Zorro looks like,” she added, noting how the black costume made him seem leaner, more feral, and grim, but the smile tempered that seriousness.    

“You are quick, cara mia,” Zorro told her with a soft laugh. 

“How could I not recognize you?  I know you intimately by now, querido,” Minta countered with a smile.  As he approached, she reached out and touched the fabric of his sleeve.  It was a deep, dull black.  Her fingers were only slightly lighter in color.  He is like two people.  One is Rantiri and one is Californiano.  Yet the person who looks most Rantiri is the dangerous one, the person who must use violence, while Diego, who looks so different from my people, is gentle and more like a Rantiri inside, she thought, wondering at the irony of her musings. 

He paused and looked into her violet eyes, and then he held her gently in his arms and kissed her passionately.  When he stepped back, he touched her cheek lightly with one gloved hand before opening the little stall, leading Tornado out and mounting.  With a salute, he swept through the brush and was gone. 

Zorro rode into a night that had been freshened and cleansed by a recent rain.  As he and Tornado stood on the crest of a hill, he reveled in being in this spot.  There was a slight breeze that blew under the brim of his hat, and ruffled the cape that flowed down his back.  There was a slight hint of blossoms and wet earth, all vying for ascendancy with the smell of juniper and pine.  It was heady, almost like the first taste of a vintage wine, and Zorro continued to stand quietly, drinking it in. 

Finally, he smiled, laughed out loud, startling a roosting owl into a burst of indignant commentary, and then he lightly kicked Tornado into a gallop, heading toward the pueblo.  Instantly complying, the stallion ran freely and easily.  His several weeks of freedom had toned muscles and increased wind. 

Zorro let the stallion run at his own pace, along roads that his recently restored memory supplied with names.  Tornado kept up his pace until just outside the pueblo, only easing to a canter as he swept down streets and between buildings toward the plaza.  A broken down cart was blocking one street.  With only a nudge of his knees and a tightening grip on the reins, they sailed over it, landing lightly on the other side.  A dog barked once at their passage and then ducked into a doorway.  The night watchman’s announcement of the midnight hour went only half said, the words frozen on his lips as the dark pair rushed by.   When he had recognized who it was, gotten over his shock and resumed his announcement, it was in a slightly happier voice. 

Riding to the back wall of the cuartel, Zorro motioned to Tornado to wait for him.  Then he stood on the horse’s back, climbed onto the roof and sped stealthily across the thatching.  Feet and mind remembered numerous similar forays.  He wanted to laugh again, but he didn’t want his first excursion after his return to be his last.  Who knows, the sentries may have been practicing in his absence.  He chuckled softly to himself, the exhilaration of his midnight ride almost too much to contain. 

He easily avoided the one sentry walking languidly just inside the slightly open gate, jumping lightly from one roof to another until he had reached the rooms where the soldiers were billeted.  He easily remembered which room was Sergeant Garcia’s.  Although there was a window to the obese soldier’s room that would have made access easer, Zorro was enjoying the little things that he had missed for so long.   Easily grasping the edge of the roof and swinging on to the balcony, the outlaw slipped silently to Garcia’s doorway.  Testing the latch, he found it to be unlocked.  The latch, to his relief, slid up quietly.  Not that it matters, he thought. My good friend snores loud enough to wake the dead saints!  He crept inside, slowly unsheathing the sword and using its point to tickle the underside of the sergeant’s ample chin. 

The snoring paused, continued a bit softer, paused again.  Garcia snorted and sucked in air.  Finally, as the sword continued to tickle, he began coming to full wakefulness.  He woke to see in the dim light, a shadow, something so dark that it could only be seen by the vague and shadowy outline.  There was a tiny gleam on the edge of the sword.  “Z…Zorro!” he finally gasped.  

“Sí, Sergeant.  You are lax these days,” Zorro said, his face lit with a bright smile.  

“It… it has been a…long time, Señor Zorro,” Garcia stammered. 

“There have been terrible rumors, sergeant….” 

“Rumors?  Oh…about you?  Sí,” Garcia said. “The soldiers have been laying wagers as to whether you are dead or not.” 

“I simply came here to lay that rumor to rest.  I am very much alive and well.”  A perfectly wicked thought came to his mind then.  “Adios, sergeant,” he said, saluting the disheveled man and slipping out the door.  Quickly he padded along the balcony until he came to the stairs, where he once again climbed to the roof.  On the other side of the cuartel, he climbed down once more, standing in front of the comandante’s office.  He picked up an iron bar and began ringing the triangular metal alarm.  It’s clanging resounded in the stillness of the early morning.  Thumps, muffled cries and opening doors soon accompanied the ear shattering clanging.  Soldiers poured from their barracks, trying desperately to pull on trousers without tripping.  Some succeeded, while others did not.  Zorro laughed, lay down the metal bar and once again climbed to the roof.  The soldier at the gate simply stood, gaping at him, his musket at his side. 

“Lancers, I am here to settle a bet.  Those of you who bet that I was dead have lost.  I congratulate the winners.  Adios, muchachos,” he called out, laughing loud and long.  As he raced across the roof toward the place where he had left Tornado, Zorro heard someone remind the guard that he had a gun.  He barely heard the click of a musket hammer being set into place.  Crouching, the outlaw kept his running pace, still grinning over his ‘welcome home’ joke.  The musket banged, the boom reverberating in the now still air.  The ball whistled well to his right and he laughed yet again.   Standing tall, he gave the half-dressed men a full two armed salute, with a partial bow before he turned and raced away.  He reached the edge of the roof, glanced over, calculated his jump, and dropped, landing squarely on Tornado’s back.  The stallion snorted, and then at his master’s direction, galloped toward the plaza.  Zorro was still laughing as he swept across the plaza and out of the pueblo. 

The night air was exhilarating, filled with the mysterious sounds that he had come to enjoy so much.  Tree frogs peeped, coyotes cried to one another, owls hooted.  A small creature screamed quickly before the sound was cut off.  Something would eat tonight, he thought, giving Tornado his head and letting him pick the trail as well.  At the crest of a hill, Zorro pulled the stallion to a stop and listened.  There were no sounds of pursuit, no sounds at all except for natural sounds of the land.  It was as he figured.  The lancers were too stunned by his appearance to act quickly and Sgt. Garcia would most likely tell them not to bother.  

Zorro set a leisurely pace back home, dismounting before entering the cave, hoping not to make too much noise.  Most likely Minta would be already asleep.  Just inside the entrance, there was the old gelding that had been selected for Minta, placidly chewing on hay.  Zorro uncinched Tornado’s saddle and placed it in the corner where the tack was kept.  He did the same with the bridle.  Before letting the stallion into his stall to eat, he brushed him, taking more pleasure in that chore than he ever had before.  When he was finished, he watched with great satisfaction as Tornado chewed on his grain.  Suddenly he felt arms around his middle and reached down to feel Minta’s hands. 

“Mi amor,” Minta said.  “I am so glad you got back safely.  Was it a good ride?”

“Sí, it was a very good ride,” he answered.  “Now, tell me what you think about your horse.”

“He is nice, but not nearly as magnificent as Tornado.  He didn’t want me to come near him at first, but he is fine now.  I even got up on his back and walked around outside the cave on him,” Minta said, her voice full of excitement.  “And I didn’t fall off once.” 

“Ah, querida, I will make a horsewoman of you yet,” Diego said with a chuckle. 

She grinned mischievously and then reached up with one hand, loosening the knot that held his mask in place.  With the other hand, she gently pulled his disguise away from his face and kissed him. 

Laughing, Diego said, “Now what will I do with you, enamorada?  You have unmasked Zorro.”

“You can kiss me,” she answered, her laugh echoing musically in the cave.

He kissed her tenderly, and then with more passion.  After a short while, he reluctantly pulled away.  “If we keep this up, my father will be down here to chaperone us,” he said with a sigh.  “But I am sleepy.  You must leave me until morning.”  Diego walked up the steps to his bedroom, where he made sure that the outer door was locked securely before he returned to the secret cave and his bed of hay.  He lay awake feeling lonely without his wife.  Finally, with a sigh, he rolled over and fell into a dreamless sleep.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-seven
Memories Prologue
Zorro Contents
Main Page