Starlight Dreams

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

Reunions 

 

As he pondered, Father Felipe remembered something that Minta had said.  “Jandro?  Who is this Jandro?  And does he know Diego’s secret?”

“He is my son, Padre,” she said.  “Jandro is short for Alejandro.”

“Yes, you mentioned a son.  You also married again?” he asked.

“No, Padre,” Minta said.  “I was with child when Jerintas took me away.  I have a girl and a boy.  They turned twelve yesterday,” Minta told him. 

“Twins?  You and Diego have twins?” he asked.  Minta nodded.  “That is something that I will have to ponder as well.  With the Church not recognizing a non-Catholic marriage…”

“There is a possibility that I will not be staying, so that may not even be an issue,” she said, her voice lowering in sadness.

“Not staying?  My child, why?  Why come all this way just to turn around and leave?” Father Felipe asked in surprise.  Gone was all consideration of legally sanctioned marriages and relationships and explanations of past events. 

“Diego almost died in that valley, Padre.  I had his blood all over my clothes and on my conscience.  I do not think I could bear to have something like that happen to him again.”

“Diego almost died when you left, Minta, my child,” Father Felipe said quietly.

“What?”  Her eyes widened in shock.  Could Jerintas have been right?

“Diego was not himself for well over a year.  The first few months he spent here, in the mission, withdrawn from everyone except myself.  He blamed himself for your beating.  He blamed himself for even bringing you here.  Zorro did not ride during that time.  His manservant made an occasional appearance.   I prayed for Diego with a desperation that I had not known before. Even after he went back home, he was morose and moody.  When Zorro rode, it was with vengeance in his heart.”

Minta listened, open-mouthed in her shock.  This did not sound like her Diego at all.   “What brought him around?” 

“Several things, my child.  I listened.  Diego talked for hours about you and I let him, never interrupting.  He spoke of his dreams for a future that was never to be, he spoke of his guilt, he spoke of the futility of being a hero to people who would so easily accuse and try to beat an innocent to death.  He spoke of his anger against them.”  Father Felipe paused and looked toward the ceiling.  “And the second thing was time.  After a while he began to be aware of how deeply his pain was affecting others.  And time dulled the hurt inside him as well.  He began to push the horrific last days of your time on Earth back into the deeper recesses of his brain.  There was no humor there yet, but a form of normalcy was slowly emerging.”

“And then there was the soldier.”  The priest paused again and sighed.  “A soldier had fallen in love with one of the bar maids.  Then he found out that she was interested in another man.  The soldier took her out of town and began to beat her.  When Zorro found them, the girl was half dead.  The scene brought back that night when you were almost beaten to death.  It brought back all that he had tried to suppress.  For a few moments, he lost control.  When Diego came to his senses, he found he had almost strangled the man to death.”

“Oh, Diego,” Minta murmured, her heart going out to her beloved. 

“That was when he told me that he had to put what happened behind him or give up Zorro all together.  What he did was to totally separate Zorro from Diego.  It sounds strange, but Diego recently told me that during that time, when he put on the mask, it was as though a curtain fell, keeping everything out of his mind except what he had to do in his disguise.  However, as Diego, he was still moody, and finally Don Alejandro could stand it no longer.  After two years, he arranged a marriage with the daughter of the alcalde of Santa Barbara.  Diego was totally against it, but he had no say in the matter.  I, myself, married Diego and Conchita Innocencia Maria Alvarez in this church.”

“Did he love her?”

“Will it bother you if he did, my child?” Father Felipe asked bluntly.

“Maybe a little, but I think it would bother me even more if he married and lived with someone he did not love at all,” Minta replied, remembering her time with Loris.

The priest smiled, feeling he had rightly anticipated her answer.  “Yes, he eventually grew to love her.  Not the way he loves you, but he loved her nonetheless, and loved her deeply.  He was so very deferential and kind to her.  And Conchita helped him to heal, to feel happiness and to love again.  Diego now had someone else to care for, and someone who cared for him.  She adored him.  I saw Diego smile again -- really smile, several months before he told me that Conchita was expecting their child.  When the baby girl was born, Diego was elated.  But his elation was bittersweet, overshadowed with Conchita’s death even as the child was born.  I administered Conchita’s last rites.”

Minta bowed her head and felt the tears sliding down her cheeks.  So much suffering.

“He had learned to deal with grief by then and he had a baby girl to care for.  That is where much of his energy has gone in the past seven and a half years . . . into little Minta Conchita.  Conchita may have helped him to heal, but his daughter completed the process.  He still missed you, and still dreamed about you, but he had his little girl there when he awoke.”  Father Felipe sat back and pondered a moment.  Minta was silent, pondering as well.  “How did you cope?” the priest finally asked.  “I am assuming that your grief was no less than his.”

“I had the babies to keep me busy.  Teaching them about their father helped me to heal.”

“Minta, this may be the first time that Diego almost died of a wound, but it’s not the first time he has received one.  I have bandaged him up more than once and so has his manservant, Bernardo.  And he almost got himself killed trying to save me from a Mexican official who had a clear disliking for Franciscan priests.”  Reaching over, Father Felipe took both of her hands in his and gazed deeply into her eyes.  “My child, we have no idea of the length of our days on this earth.  I have been here for sixty-five.  I recently buried a child who lived for only five days.  I do not presume to understand it.  But I do know this, we have to do what we can to make those days the happiest they can be.  We cannot be happy if we are always worrying about what might happen.”  He sighed and sat back against the pew.  “It is ironic.”

“What is, Padre?” 

“I remember the night of your baptism.  I told Diego that everything would be all right.  It was not just my wishful thinking; it was more powerful than that.  After you left, I wondered just where that message had come from.  I wondered why God would send me such a message and then not allow it to be fulfilled.  Now I know that the message was correct, because you are here.   It will be all right, believe me.  But you cannot leave him again.  That would destroy him.  And God meant for you two to be together, my dear child.”

Looking into the priest’s eyes, Minta felt her fears falling away and trust taking its place.  Yes, she thought, it will be all right.

“You believe that, sí?” he asked. 

“Yes,” was all she could say.  Suddenly she was so overwhelmed with emotion that she couldn’t speak.  Her indecision gone, she suddenly felt the rightness of her being here.  Minta felt an overwhelming desire to be with Diego growing until it were almost choking her.  She felt joy and peace, and new tears flowed down her cheeks.  “Thank you, Padre.  I must get back to Diego now.”

“Good, my child.  Tell him that I am praying for his speedy recovery.  And Minta…the mission is a very nice place for one to recover from injuries incurred when one has been looking for stolen cattle.”

As she stood up, she smiled.  “Thank you, Padre.  I think you are right, it would be a good place for him to recover.” 

Vaya con Dios,” the priest said as she walked down the aisle and out the door.  In the darkness she almost had the wraithlike appearance of a ghost and he felt wonder at her sudden appearance after almost thirteen years. God does indeed work in mysterious ways, he thought, joy filling his heart.

 

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“Mari, I left the horse tethered down there,” Jandro said in sudden alarm.  “We have to find Mother and then go down to the surface.”

“I promised Bernardo that we would let them know about Father’s condition as soon as we could.  They will be worried.”  Mari added her own worry. 

Almost as soon as they left their cabin, they ran into their mother.  She seemed very happy, almost in direct contradiction to her appearance since Father’s operation.  When they had told her their concerns, she nodded in agreement.  “You will have to be careful, though.  Padre Felipe is going to send someone to the pueblo at first light to let the soldiers know about the rustlers that you left tied up.  If you left now, you could get the horse and ride to the hacienda.  I don’t want you doing anything other than that.  In fact, I want you to stay there.  I don’t want anything happening to you or anyone else.”  She looked at these old/young children of hers.  They had been her main source of joy for these past years and she was so very proud of them, but right now they had a great deal of responsibility on their young shoulders.  

Turning, she led them to the shuttle commander, who raised his eyes in exasperation at her request.  “Elo, we just returned from the surface.  It will soon be daylight.  Due to yesterday’s incidents, the captain does not want a shuttle on the surface during the daylight hours any more.  Even with a force field hiding it.”

“You will not have to stay on the surface.  My children are going to get the horse that was left at the site of the Designated One’s rescue and then ride to his ranch, where they will stay until nightfall.  That is when I will meet them.  They have been allowed on excursions to the surface before.  There should be no problems if they follow my instructions,” Minta explained, turning to look at her children.  And you will follow my instructions, her look said.  Both of them nodded, lowering their eyes, realizing the importance of what she had said.  “All I ask is that you make sure they are safely on their way before you lift off.”

Sighing, the pilot nodded.  “Elo, please, let me clear it through the captain.”   After a brief conversation on the communicator, the man sighed again and motioned the children toward the airlock. 

After the ship landed, Jandro stared into the darkness of the predawn night, pondering all that had happened in the short span of twenty-four hours.  Tiny glimmerings of light tinged the east.  Motioning to Mari, he quickly made his way up the slope that had been the sight of so much horror the morning before.  Now there was only the noise of insects, and in the distance, animals howling at one another.  Slight noises near the rocks around him were evidence of the abundance of life here in this seemingly arid place.  He remembered the conformation of the tree where he had tied the horse, but when he reached it, there was nothing.  The horse was gone.  Puzzled, Jandro examined the ground, but was unable to find any clues. 

“Jandro, I found a rope,” Mari said. 

Jandro looked at it and looked at her in alarm.  “I would almost swear that it’s the same one I used to tether the gelding with.  Someone was here after us.  I wonder if any of the bandits got loose?” 

“Jandro, I think we need to get back to the shuttle.”

“No, I have to see if the rustlers were let loose.  If they were, they might have seen what happened in the valley,” Jandro said.  Quickly, he retraced his steps of the previous day, and was gratified to find three bandits tied up.  Watching from behind trees and rocks, he determined that they were still alive.  Then he remembered.  “I didn’t tie up the first one!  By the Ancestors, if he woke up before Jerintas came, he would have seen a great deal.  We have to let Mother know.”

“Jandro, we can send a message to her.  I think right now our obligation is to get to Father’s hacienda.  There is really nothing we can do about the bandit now,” Mari said. 

Jandro nodded, seeing the wisdom of her words.  All they could do was hope that the escaped rustler hadn’t seen anything. 

When they returned to the spacecraft, the shuttle commander sighed yet again and bent over the map that had been drawn of the area.  His finger hovered over the marked out area indicating the Hacienda de la Vega.

“Yes, that is where we need to go.  If you could get us as close as possible to the casa grande, the main house, we would appreciate it,” Jandro told the pilot.  Just before the sun peeked over the eastern hills, the shuttle landed in a small valley close enough to the house so that the twins wouldn’t be walking a great distance, but far enough away so that none of the inhabitants would see them until they walked over the hill.  As an added precaution, the commander had turned on the force screen allowing them to land totally unseen.  “By the Ancestors, that was a good one,” Jandro breathed, knowing how much more difficult it was to land a shuttle with a force shield running.  The pilot’s scalp lock waved slightly in his pride.  

“You will be all right?” the commander asked. 

“Yes, we will be with our grandfather,” Mari said, giving the pilot their message for their mother.   They stepped out of the craft and began walking toward their father’s house.  As they hiked up the hill, they heard the whuffing, whooshing sound of the shuttle lifting off, but Jandro barely paid attention to it.  He felt his anticipation growing at being able to meet his grandfather and see the house where his father lived and grew up.  At the top of the hill they both paused and sucked in their breath at the sight before them. 

The sun had just risen above the hills, bathing everything in a golden glow that seemed ethereal and dreamlike.  Mari let out a cry of awe.  “It’s beautiful!”   The house below them, the roads, the trees and the ground itself seemed to be painted in shades of burnished gold.  “So this is what Mother tried to describe to us,” she added.  Jandro nodded in agreement.  Even the sunrises of the past several days had not matched this one.

After standing entranced for the few minutes that the vision lasted, they began walking down the hill toward the de la Vega hacienda.  At the gate a young boy dressed in plain off-white trousers and shirt greeted them.  He wore sandals on his feet and a band of cloth around his head to keep his long hair from falling in his face.  Buenos dias.  Is there something I can do for you?” he asked politely, trying hard to look discreetly behind them for their horses or carriage. 

“We need to speak with Don Alejandro de la Vega,” Jandro said with as much authority as he could muster. 

“Don Alejandro may still be sleeping,” the boy said, wondering about these two young people, who were without any means of transportation.  They looked to be only a few years older than himself.  “Perhaps you can wait in the sala while I check.”

“My mother told me that he is an early riser.  I have very important information for him that he will want to hear,” Jandro insisted.  Still the boy looked doubtful.  “It is about his son,” Jandro added.

The boy jerked his head in surprise.  “You are the messengers that I was told would be coming yesterday?”

“Yes.  We came as soon as we could.  Please take us to him.”

The boy motioned them through the heavy wooden gate and led them up stairs to a second story balcony.  At the first door, he knocked.  “Don Alejandro, the messengers are here.”  Almost immediately an anxious voice bid them enter.  The boy motioned for them to go on in. 

Jandro walked in first, followed closely by Mari.  The room’s one window, or rather a door that led to a very tiny balcony, was open, allowing the early morning light to filter in.  Several candles were still lit, their glow illuminating the silver-haired old man laying on the bed, clothed in a richly embroidered jacket, vest and pants.  The end of a dark blue banda hung over the side of the bed.  The sunlight shone on the spot where the twins were standing, suddenly shy, waiting for their grandfather to speak first. 

His eyes were riveted on Jandro, their dark depths seeming to bore into his.  Santa Maria!” Alejandro breathed, his voice shaking.  “It is like the past coming to visit me in the present.  You look just as Diego did when he was a youth.  Come closer, both of you.”  They did and he stared at them for several minutes before saying anything else.  Alejandro gazed at the two young people, his grandchildren, in wonder.  Dios mio.  Bernardo told me that my son had children from his . . . union with Minta, but I wondered if I had understood him correctly.  I would only have to see you to believe.  What are your names, my children?”

“I am Maria Isabella and this is my brother, Alejandro.  We are so glad to finally be able to meet you, Abuelo,” Mari said, finding her voice first.

“I hope that you not only came to meet me, but also to tell me how my son is.  The night has been long and filled with worry.”

“He is going to be fine, Abuelo,” Mari said.  “The doctors were not sure at first, but he came through the surgery well and is recovering nicely.  We are sorry that we did not come sooner.”

“Ai, praise be to God!” he cried out softly.  A tear trickled down his cheek. After a few minutes, he motioned to them.  “Come close to me, my children.  For all these years, I have felt blessed to have one grandchild and here I suddenly have three.”  When they stood by the bed, Alejandro reached out and pulled them even closer to him, enveloping them in his arms, drawing his newly found grandchildren into his heart.  Both children threw their arms around him and hugged him back, the tears flowing freely, their joy full. 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen
Chapter One
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