Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Alejandro stared pensively at the dying flames flickering in the library fireplace, the small glass of wine held tightly in his hand, all but forgotten, his thoughts on his son.  Was he dead?  Was he hurt?  Had he really been carried away into Hell as the bandits had said?  Oh, my son, where are you? he thought.  Heat prickled in the corners of his eyes, testifying to the despair that he had been feeling for the past two plus weeks.  Each time he replayed in his mind the bandit’s words, new pictures entrenched themselves, horrific pictures of torment, pain and suffering.  Dios! What has my son done to deserve this? So why this punishment?  Dios, por favor, bring him home to me.  He is the only comfort I have in my old age.

But God’s only answer came through Father Felipe.  “Alejandro, my son,” he said, breaking into the older man’s reverie.  “If you are worried about Zorro, do not.  This matter is in the hands of God.  I also think that a great deal of what the penitent bandits told me and everyone else who would listen, are the ravings of guilty and depraved minds.   Zorro will return to us.”

Alejandro jerked himself back to the present.  He was sincerely glad that he had been facing the fire and not the priest.  Blinking hard several times, he turned to Father Felipe.  “I am terribly sorry, Father.  I am a poor host indeed, but I cannot help it.  I do worry.  Zorro has done so much for the people here, including myself.” 

“That is true, but all we can do now is pray for him,” Father Felipe said soothingly.  Quickly changing the subject, he asked, “And Diego?  How is his buying trip in Santa Barbara?  Have you heard from him?”

Forcing himself to smile and suppressing the twinge of guilt for lying to a priest, he said, “Sí, he is waiting for the next ship from Mexico City.  It is reported to have several breeding bulls on board and we are eager to improve our stock.”  Could this be why Diego was being punished, he wondered, because of the little lies, subterfuges and somewhat less than honest dealings with people such as Sgt. Garcia?  Surely not! he quickly reassured himself. 

“It is good for him to take an active interest in the running of the rancho,” Father Felipe said with a slight smile.  He finished his glass of wine and got up from his chair.  “It is getting late.  I must get back to the mission.  Ever since the report of ‘demons’ in the area, the morning masses have been very well attended.  So much so, that I have had to open the doors and let people stand outside to listen.  It is too bad that we cannot have that kind of attendance every morning.” 

“Perhaps the peons feel it will have more effect to celebrate the mass in the mission church rather than in the family churches on the various haciendas,” Alejandro observed.  “My own workers have walked to the pueblo church or to your mission to attend mass much more than they did before.” 

Father Felipe nodded in agreement and handed his glass to a servant standing nearby.  “Somehow, I feel that all will end well, Don Alejandro.  But this is God’s will.  It has been good visiting with you.  May God bless you, my son.”   As Alejandro got up and walked the priest to the door of the sala, his stiff, sore muscles reminded him of all the times he had been out riding in the past two weeks, searching for his son.   Every night, for at least part of the night, he had been out searching, hoping, praying. 

And I will go out tonight as well, he thought, dismissing the discomfort as small price to pay if it would bring him some word of Diego.  Climbing up the stairs, the old man paused, turning toward his son’s room instead of going into his own.  Bernardo jerked up from the chair as Alejandro opened the door, his eyes penitent at having been caught sleeping.  He made several quick motions with his hands. 

“Yes, Bernardo, I am going out tonight, too.  And I think that tomorrow it would be a good idea for you to officially ‘return from Santa Barbara,’ at least for a little while.  All of this skulking and hiding has to be nerve-wracking,” Alejandro said. 

Bernardo nodded and signed that another servant had nearly seen him earlier in the day.

The hacendado lightly touched the end of his son’s bed and glanced around the room.  It had almost become a ritual.  “Bernardo,” he said softly.  “I cannot help but wonder if all the searching is futile.  What those bandits said….”

Bernardo laid his hand on the old man’s arm in an uncharacteristic show of familiarity.  He made some more motions, trying also to convey his thoughts in his eyes as well as in his fingers. 

“Thank you, Bernardo.  I agree; if there is any way for Diego to escape those who captured him, he will find it.  Come, it is dark.  Let us ride.  Perhaps tonight, the santos will smile upon us.”  Bernardo nodded.  Alejandro stood in the center of the darkening room, staring at all of his son’s belongings.  Bernardo motioned again, asking if he wanted candles lit.  “No, Bernardo.  I do not need candles to see what is here, nor do I need ears to hear Diego tuning his guitar or my nose to smell the scent of leather and Tornado when he has just returned from one of his rides.  Go saddle the horses, please.  I will be down in a few minutes.”  Again Bernardo nodded and slipping through the little door to the secret room, stepped quietly down the stone steps to the secret cave where two extra horses waited for their nightly ride. 

Shortly after the kidnapping, Bernardo had brought the horses to the cave, leaving Tornado the freedom of the box canyon, a precautionary measure, as there was almost always someone in the stable who might see the two men slipping out at night.  Don Alejandro had determined to use Zorro’s cave as an access for his nightly rides.  Resolutely, the mute saddled the two geldings, thinking of the news of that night sixteen days ago when word had spread through the area like wildfire. His heart had almost given out when he had heard.  How could that be, he thought, that messengers from Hell had carried away the most just man in the pueblo? 

For over two weeks, Bernardo had pondered, prayed and wondered, trying to find another explanation for what had happened.  But he could think of nothing.  He had ridden into the pueblo the next day after Don Diego’s capture, on the pretext of getting mail brought in by the early morning coach.  His wanderings had taken him near the cuartel where the bandits were being held. Their loud voices could be heard even outside the gates and the mute had listened carefully, all the while playing with his little cup with its ball on a string.  ‘But they were pitch black, with long fingers!  They grabbed at Zorro and dragged him inside the furnace of Hell.  We saw it!’ they said, their voices raised high in agitation.  That they had seen something frightening was a fact.  Their tone of voice wasn’t that of someone just trying to cause a commotion.  They had been genuinely terrified.  He had continued to listen, but received nothing more to help him in his quest for understanding.  The demons were tall, thin, white-haired and silent.  With relative ease, they had overpowered his patrón, dragging him inside the bright, seemingly fire-lit orifice.

Now, after two weeks, Bernardo was almost beyond his wit’s end.  The story of Don Diego’s trip to Santa Barbara could not hold off speculation forever.  It was also inevitable that sooner or later he would be discovered by another servant.  The mute had brushed Tornado and the two geldings until they had protested.  He had practiced with Don Diego’s epée, and had prayed.  He was bored nearly out of his mind.  

He sighed as he heard Don Alejandro walking slowly down the stone steps.  Don Diego might have been able to handle the long nights in the saddle, the furious pace of his ventures as the black-cloaked rider, but clearly the old don was wearing himself out.  Worried, Bernardo motioned to the older man.  

“No, Bernardo.  As long as there is the least bit of hope, I will ride.  Who knows?  Maybe tonight we can find that opening where they dragged Diego and we can rescue him,” Don Alejandro conjectured, as he mounted. 

Bernardo wondered about that, too.  The place where the banditos had seen Zorro disappear was just over the crest of the hill, just to the southwest of the mission, but when he had gone there, the mute had not found a thing.  Curiously, there had only been flattened grass and something that had the appearance of monstrous footprints.  Shrugging, Bernardo mounted and followed the old patrón through the brush hiding the entrance of the cave.  They rode silently, close together in the darkness.  Although their primary purpose was to look for the younger de la Vega, they also had to watch out for El Diablo’s men who still roamed in the area.  Even though the appearance of “demons” had subdued the gang, they still made their presence known, occasionally coming out of the hills and raiding a rancho, and with the passage of time they had become bolder. 

Only the night sounds greeted them, a few birds, the flapping of bats, and the distant calling of coyotes. Suddenly Alejandro’s horse neighed, snorted and stopped short, shaking its head causing the tack to rattle.  Both men sat quietly, peering into the stygian dark of the moonless night, listening, straining to hear what the horses heard.  Alejandro drew his pistol from his banda, holding it ready before him. Then faintly, they heard footsteps. Demons?  Bandits?  Or could it possibly be Diego?  Alejandro felt his heart hammering in his chest and chided himself for being an old fool, to be so frightened of noises and shadows.  

Then, suddenly, in front of them appeared an apparition-like figure, tall, imposing, dignified.  The remnant of the black costume was torn and dirty, evidence of a fierce struggle.  The cape was missing as was the hat, the sword and headscarf, but the man wearing the bedraggled clothing was seemingly unhurt.  

“Diego!” Alejandro shouted, jumping off his horse, dropping the now unneeded pistol and grasping his son in a fierce hug.  Tears flowed from the corners of his eyes, coursed down his leathery cheeks and found refuge in his beard.  His son had returned.  Diego was back.  He laughed, he cried, he grasped his son, feeling his warmth, the strong muscles of his arms, his happy laughter. 

Diego returned the hug, laughing with joy as well as relief.  “This walking is not for the civilized man, Father.  I would like to go home,” Diego said blithely.  He looked at Bernardo, who had jumped off his horse and was standing at Alejandro’s side, grinning broadly and signing a welcome.  Moisture was evident in the corners of the mozo’s eyes. “Yes, my friend, it is good to be back home.” 

“Ah, Diego, you cannot imagine how I worried about you.  But thanks be to the santos for returning you to me.  Indeed, let us go home.”  Clapping his son on the back, Alejandro motioned him to get on his horse.  As Diego reached for the saddle horn, though, the horse snorted and shied away.  With a puzzled look, he tried again with the same result.  The horse pranced nervously. 

Alejandro looked at his son and then back at the horse.  “What is wrong with him?” he asked in exasperation, only wishing to take his son home, talk with him and find out what had happened to him.   Or maybe just sit by the fire and revel in his presence.    

“I do not know, Father,” Diego said.  “I can only think that they smell the scent of those who captured me.”  Alejandro nodded.   “Perhaps if you get on first, Montesor will be reassured.  Then I can ride behind you.”

Alejandro concurred, mounting.  He patted the gelding on the neck, reassuring him, at the same time pulling his foot from the stirrup.  Diego talked soothingly as he approached, carefully watching the horse’s feet.  With a quick motion and before Montesor could react, Diego was on the horse, behind his father.  Both horses snorted, but soon calmed down.  

“Ah, my son, you cannot imagine how happy I am to see you alive and well.  When we get back home, you will have to tell me all about your escape,” Alejandro said, feeling comfort in his son’s proximity. 

“Let’s just get home first,” Diego de la Vega answered, feeling inside some things, which seemed familiar alongside of those things that seemed totally unknown.

 

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“Minta, what is wrong?  Are you sick?” Diego asked, concern very evident in his voice.  

Yawning, Minta shook her head, “No, I am just tired.  I had trouble sleeping.”  Indeed she had.  After she had finished her conversation with her friend, Minta had determined to find out just where Diego had came from.  Thankfully there were public records of the recent space flight and she had been able to pull up the account of the New Hope’s latest voyage.  There were two new planets visited, but she narrowed the search when she read the characteristics of the last one.  Clear blue waters, blue sky, Diego had said.  She read, avid to learn all she could about her student’s home world and before she knew it, the sky had started to lighten with the approach of a new day. 

But a basic dilemma had remained… how to get Diego back home.  While she had prepared for the new day and during her ride to the hospital, she had pondered.  The descriptions of his world had given her the vision of a very lovely, pristine, though in places, stark world.  She thought of Diego, his memories not totally excised from his mind, but somehow suppressed.  What would his life here on Rantir be like when he remembered more?  That he was independent was so evident.  That there was courage and strength behind that still childlike demeanor, she knew without a shadow of a doubt.  His kidnapping was totally abhorrent to her, foreign to all she had been taught of the Rantiri codes of behavior.  She tried to think of a way to get him back home, realizing that the director would not listen to her arguments.  After all, Minta was just one teacher of units among many.   A great deal of effort had been made to make Diego act like any other newly created unit.  All she had known was that she was determined to get her charge back to his rightful home.  However, her tired brain was unable to think that far ahead.

“You can lay down on my bed,” Diego suggested, bringing her back to the present.  “I can look at the books you brought me while you sleep.”

Minta smiled appreciatively.  “Can you imagine what would happen if someone caught me sleeping on the job… and in your bed?”

Diego puzzled momentarily over a few of her words, but soon got the basic idea.  Then a thought from the inner recesses of his mind came to the forefront and he began to laugh merrily. 

Now Minta looked puzzled.  “What’s so funny, Diego?”

He pointed to her and then to the bed and himself.  “You caught sleeping in my bed,” was all he said. 

Minta puzzled for a moment and then her eyes showed a bit of humor mingled with embarrassment.  “Diego!  I cannot believe you said that.  You know I… I mean… Diego, you are my student and….   I mean you are like a fellow unit,” she stammered.  Then she gazed into his eyes.  “But you are special,” she added softly, knowing that he really was more than just a student to her.

Diego suddenly looked self-conscious and thoughtful. “Why?” he asked.

“Why?  Oh...” Minta paused.  Exactly what made him special, she wondered?  There were many reasons, most of which she was unable to express in words.  

“Is it because of my skin and hair?” he asked.  

“Oh, no, Diego, those are only things that make you different. You are special because of what’s inside,” she said, pointing to his head and heart. “You are caring, gentle, intelligent, inquisitive and courageous.” 

Diego shook his head.  “I don’t understand all of your words, but I see… things in your eyes and your voice.  Thank you, Minta.  You are special as well.”

Minta felt her cheeks grow warm.  “Why, Diego?  Why do you think I’m special?” she asked, curious to hear his reasoning.  She could see him trying to think of words to go with his thoughts. 

“You help me…all of the time.  You care; you are a friend.  You are… soft,” he said seriously, pointing to her heart, and frowning slightly as though the word picked wasn’t quite what he was looking for.  Then he smiled, “And you are soft on the outside, too.”  He ran his fingers lightly down her arm.

Minta shivered, feeling something she had never felt before with another unit.  Mentally shaking herself, she motioned him to sit on the edge of the bed and they looked over the books until the end of her shift.  Somehow, after only a short while, she found that they had both moved closer together until their bodies were touching.   Minta found that she did not mind that at all. 

 

 

Chapter Six
Memories Prologue
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