Starlight Dreams

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

As Bernardo and the strange-looking soldiers studied each other, he heard a humming noise and felt a motion beneath his feet.  He looked at the floor asking himself if this was an earthquake, but it didn’t feel like any earthquake that he had ever been in.  Madre de Dios, he prayed, I am too old for all of this excitement.  Protect me in this weird place.  This time he did cross himself, and did it a second time for good measure.  His fear was such that his heart was hammering painfully in his chest and his breath came in short gasps.  Don Diego.  I am here to find Don Diego.  I have to find him! he kept reminding himself, trying to hold to that focus even in the midst of his fear. 

One of the men said something to him, but Bernardo was unable to understand him, so he just shrugged and pointed out his disability.  The soldiers looked at each other, puzzled, talked among themselves and then looked back at him.  One of them beckoned to him.  Not knowing what else to do, Bernardo followed the soldier down a corridor paneled in the same metal as the rest of the strange building. 

The one corridor turned into another one and then it turned to a third.  Each one was identical to the others.  There were no candles, wall hangings, windows or anything but bare, drab metal walls.  Somehow, though, there was lighting.  When they turned the corner of third corridor, Bernardo saw Minta.  Minta!  She has come back! his mind shouted joyfully.  There was someone with whom he was familiar in this strange and fearful place.

Minta was staring at one of the walls…no, it was different, it was not a wall, it was somewhat like the door that he went through to get in this building. She was partly turned away from him and looking toward the floor.  Bernardo saw that her blouse was covered with blood and there was more on her hands, and even some on her tan riding skirt.  His heart beat faster in fear for Don Diego, because he knew that it was his master’s blood that stained the woman’s clothes.  She looked so forlorn that he walked the few paces separating them and tapped her on the shoulder.  Turning, she gazed at him in shock for a minute and then threw her arms around him. 

“Oh, Bernardo!  I do not know how you got here, but I am so glad you are.”  The tears began flowing down her cheeks.  He put his arms around her and held her, much as he would little Minta.  Her voice was almost a whisper near his ear when she finally spoke, “He is badly injured, Bernardo.  He bled a great deal and is in much pain.  It was horrible out there, watching him suffer and not being able to do anything to help him.”

Bernardo pulled back from her and signed,  ‘Is he dying?’  

She looked toward the floor.  “No, I do not think so . . . yes, he is, but the Director thinks that he will live if we can get him to the medical facility on board the orbital cruiser soon.”  She looked intently into his face.  “He has to live . . . he can’t die, Bernardo!  He simply can’t!”

Bernardo nodded in agreement, even though he didn’t understand everything she had said.  Orbital cruiser?  He had no idea what that was, but the words of this director gave him hope.  He signed again.

“Diego is with his children, at his insistence.  He would not let Jerintas give him any sleep medication until he had talked to them.  I believe that he thinks he is going to die.”

‘Children?’ the mute signed, his eyes wide in surprise. 

Minta smiled softly.  “I was with child when I left.  Twins.  They grew up hearing all about their father and about six months ago, they decided that they wanted to come here and meet him.  Their birthday present.   Today is their birthday.” 

Bernardo could only look at her in surprise, then he signed to her again. 

She smiled wanly.  “You are right, this is not exactly what one would wish for on a birthday.  But Alejandro and Maria Isabella are getting to see their father, and when he recovers, they can celebrate in a more suitable manner.”  Her voice was soft and reflective. 

Bernardo signed again.  ‘It will be all right, then.’  Minta only nodded. 

Bernardo pointed toward the strange-looking wall behind her. 

“Yes, that is where he is.” Minta quickly wiped the tears from her face and looked at him quizzically, almost as though really seeing him for the first time.  “Bernardo…how did you get here?” she asked. 

Bernardo looked around and signed a question of his own. 

“This is a space ship,” she said.

Space ship?  Is this what Don Diego told me about so long ago?  No, not Don Diego, but the other one, the one that was created to look like my master . . . he thought.   Looking around, the mute understood better why Don Diego had not talked much about his experiences either.  It was too fantastic and unbelievable to describe.   And how would one come up with words to tell about it?

There was a slight movement in the corner of the room and Bernardo noticed a dark man, one similar in features to Minta.  The Rantiri man, who seemed older than Minta, gazed at him thoughtfully before saying anything to him.  When he did speak it was in a language he couldn’t understand.  To Bernardo’s horror, however, the voice was repeated in Spanish on a little box on the man’s waist.  “You will be taken back to your home as soon as we can arrange it,” the voice said.  “How did you get here?”   Gulping a few times to ease the fear that was like a boulder sitting in his chest, he told his story to both, using signs that were as simple as he could manage.  Minta often repeated for understanding, probably more for the other man then for herself.

The strange vibration that he had felt since coming on board this ship changed, its voice seeming more labored.   There was a slight jerking motion that caused him to gaze around in alarm.  “We are docking . . . meeting the larger space ship.  Do not worry, Bernardo, we are safe,” Minta explained and prodded him to return to his story.  He continued until interrupted again.  “So Diego’s daughter dreamed that he was shot?” Minta asked, incredulous.  “That must have been who I saw in my dream.”  She looked at him in amazement.

Bernardo nodded, signed some more and pointed to his abdomen. 

Minta’s eyes widened in shock.  “That is exactly where he was shot!” she gasped.  “How could she know?”

Bernardo shook his head.  He could not understand the little girl’s second sight.  In a way it was almost frightening.   But if it frightened him, he could only imagine how the seven-year-old might be feeling now having experienced this.  He signed again, ‘Do you know how she could do this?’

Before Minta could answer, the door suddenly slid open and a younger version of Minta walked out. Bernardo saw some of Don Diego in her features as well.   She spoke to her mother and to the Rantiri man in a foreign language and then motioned inside the other room.  Bernardo held his breath as the man, Minta and her daughter walked through the door.  Aching to know about Don Diego, he followed, shaking off a hand that reached out to stop him.  He saw his patrón lying unconscious on a table surrounded by and attached to devices that clicked, whirred and made other unfamiliar noises.  It almost reminded the frightened servant of a monstrous spider’s web, and he shook his head to rid himself of the analogy. 

The face that lay amongst all of this was pale; almost as pale as the pillow his head was lying on.  Bernardo’s vision blurred, obscured by the tears that he tried vainly to blink away.  Several other beings passed by him, approaching Don Diego’s bed.  Soon they were taking his friend from the room, moving the strange bed into the corridor.  It had no wheels, it just floated, but that was something that only remotely reached his thought processes.  His every thought was for his patrón.  Reaching out, he touched Don Diego on the hand. 

“He will be all right, Bernardo.  Believe that,” Minta said as she followed her beloved.  “I have to leave it to you to protect his identity and provide an excuse for his ‘disappearance,’ she added.

The mozo nodded, wondering how he would do that, trapped as he was in this metal building.  Then he remembered the other Rantiri’s promise to return him to his home, and he relaxed a bit.  A tap on the shoulder brought him from his thoughts and he found himself looking into the violet eyes of Don Diego’s first daughter.

“You are Bernardo,” she said.  He nodded.  “I am Maria Isabella, Mari for short.  This man,” she pointed, “will take you back to the airlock . . . the door.  Either me or Jandro will come and give you word as soon as we can.”  She gazed at him for a brief moment, stepped closer and kissed him on the cheek.  Then she quickly turned and followed the rest of the family.  Touching the spot on his face absently, Bernardo turned and followed the same man who had led him here.  Soon he was back to the place where this strange journey had begun, staring at the door . . . airlock, he corrected himself.  He waited patiently as the ship seemed to jerk itself loose from something.  Remotely, he wondered why air would need a lock, but shrugged, knowing that was of little consequence right now.  The vibration changed to something that was smoother and more reassuring and lasted until a solid thump told him that there had been yet another change. 

The door slid open and bright sunlight flooded in.  Bernardo was surprised that no more time had passed.  It had seemed an eternity on that ship, but it appeared that only an hour or two had passed since he had entered this strange vessel.  At a motion from his guide, Bernardo stepped down the ramp, feeling the continued protesting of his knees.  He walked away from the space ship, and then turned to look at it, curious to see what it actually looked like from the outside.  There was a sound, like the flapping of many wings, then a wheezing noise and then a whine, but there was nothing for his eyes to see.  It was just like just before he had entered the ship. 

Santa Maria!  This was too strange to understand.  He crossed himself, then looked around to get his bearings and began walking up the hill in the direction of home.  I only hope I can make it, he thought as he stumbled, his beleaguered muscles telling him that he was asking too much of his old body.  In his mind, though, he kept seeing little Minta.  She needed to be told. 

Finally he was able to reach the top of the hill and he looked for the easiest path down the other side.  To his astonishment, he saw not only his gelding, but also Tornado, placidly grazing on the hillside.  The stallion, ever vigilant, jerked his head up and gazed at him.  In response to a motion of the manservant’s arm, the ebony horse trotted up the hill and stood before him, snorting a greeting.  Gratefully, Bernardo scratched the velvety nose and then rubbed his hands down each side of the arched neck. 

What has he been doing? Bernardo mused.  There was dried sweat on his neck and withers and the white foaminess of still damp sweat under the edge of the saddle.  Feeling along the stallion’s legs, he found no evidence of any injury.  There were a few scratches but nothing else.  The gelding had followed and, grunting, the mute pulled himself into the saddle of the more placid horse.  The gelding also had dried sweat and would need to be thoroughly groomed, too.  With a sigh, Bernardo settled himself into the saddle, glad to get off his feet. 

As he turned the horse’s head to go home, he suddenly stopped short.  Witnesses!  What if there were witnesses?  He had seen nothing as he walked up the hill, but that did not mean that there might not still be someone.  With trepidation Bernardo rode in a circle around the valley, checking for any remaining bandits.  There were several tied up in the rocks of the next valley.  Several more were dead, trampled by the stampeding cattle, he surmised, and three dead from gunshot wounds.  He saw no evidence of there having been more.  He would have to get word to Sergeant Lugo, so the lancers could come and ‘capture’ the remaining rustlers.   Zorro was very busy before his injury, he thought with a slight smile.  

Bernardo turned his horse’s head toward home, his mind pushing his discomforts and the mystery of the stallion away and thinking mainly about his friend and master.  Tornado followed docilely behind.  How was he going to explain away Don Diego’s absence?   How long will he be incapacitated?  Surely a wound such as that would take a great deal of time to recuperate from.  Don Diego was right to feel he was dying, he thought, feeling the prickling of tears in the corners of his eyes.   

But what kind of excuse could he use?   Bernardo thought of Don Diego’s recent activities.  He had been out checking on the vaqueros with the herds.  That was where he had found out about the rustlers.  Could he have gone out this morning, found the missing herds and been caught in the stampede?  In a way that was true.  The hooves of the steers are hard and can do damage that takes a great deal of time to heal.  Hmm, an idea worth pursuing, he thought, and certainly one worth discussing with Don Alejandro.  Although almost bedridden due to his injury suffered in a fall from a horse, the older man’s mind was still as sharp as it had ever been.  Once he had gotten over the shock of his son’s injury, he would throw himself into this problem, his mind working furiously at a solution.  Don Diego and his father often consulted for hours at a time on the operation of the rancho, even though he knew that his patrón could have just as easily, perhaps easier, in fact, done everything without talking with his father. 

As he rode over the hill that overlooked the hacienda, he looked back and found the black stallion nowhere to be seen.  Ai, a smart one, this one is!  Just like his sire.  Tornado was probably waiting in the cave by now.  He would have to add that to his list of things that he had to do before his day was over.  He felt the need for at least two flagons of wine and a nice long bath.  However, right now he had to see how the little one was doing and he had to report everything that had happened to the old patrón. 

A stable boy helped him down from the horse, supporting him while he moved around enough to get the circulation back into his legs.  Signing his thanks, he slowly made his way toward the patio.  Selena, one of the house servants, rushed up to him and began signing; all the while speaking so fast that her words ran together. 

“DonAlejandrowantsyoutogotohimimmediately!”  The mute could not understand either the signs or the words.  He signed for clarification.   ,” she said, nodding and pointing.  “You must go up now!”  Bernardo looked up the stairs in chagrin.  He had hoped that the old man might have been sunning on the patio, but such luck was not his this day.  He began to make his way up the steps, hearing his knees protest as he lifted his legs to each step. 

Suddenly he felt the strong hand of Manuel, one of the de la Vega vaqueros, taking his arm.  He nodded his thanks when they had reached the landing.  Knocking on the door, he opened it even as the voice inside was shouting “Enter.”

As soon as he opened the door, Bernardo felt two sets of eyes on him.  Little Minta sat up on the end of Don Alejandro’s bed, her eyes wide with fear.  Apparently her vision of what was happening did not extend past what she had seen this morning.  Poor child, he thought.  What she has certainly gone through this day, wondering and worrying about her father.  Too much for someone her age to deal with.  He still could not help but wonder how she had seen that vision, though. 

The old man watched him silently, his eyes filled with bewilderment.  He sat propped up in the bed, dressed, as though he was resting before going to a fiesta.   Even on days when his pain was such that he could not leave the bed, Don Alejandro still insisted on dressing in a good suit of clothes. 

His body seemed tense and anxious, and Bernardo could only surmise that the child had not told him anything.  A fitting action for the daughter of Zorro, he thought, in slight wry amusement.  As soon as he shut the door behind him, Minta leaped off the bed, her eyes panicked, all pretense of secrecy gone.  “Papá!  How is Papá?” she cried.

“Ai, Minta, what are you thinking.  Bernardo cannot…”

The mute signed to the old man.  ‘She knows.’

‘Everything?’ Don Alejandro sketched in the air.

Bernardo nodded as he held the girl close to him. 

“What?  By the Saints, would you tell me what is going on?” he demanded out loud.  “One of the servants told me that Minta woke up seeing a vision this morning.  A vision of Diego hurt.  But this child is every bit as cagey and tight-lipped as her father and would not tell me…” He looked at Bernardo and seeing the expression on the mute’s face, stopped.  “Is it true?” he asked in a softer voice. 

Minta pulled back from him.  As Bernardo felt the eyes of both the girl and her grandfather on him, he could only nod. 

 

 

Chapter Eleven
Chapter One
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