Starlight Dreams

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

Complications

 

Garcia continued to stare at the children, as though they had been conjured up by some wizard’s spell.  “But how?  Don Diego and Minta?” he sputtered. 

“Sergeant, when Minta’s people returned for her, after she had been beaten so badly, and took her away with them, no one knew that she was with child.”

“But they, I mean, they were not…”

Alejandro wished he knew the best way to explain this, but in the end, it seemed that just telling the facts as close to the truth as he could, would be the best.  “Diego had the mistaken impression, when he met Minta, whose customs are very different than ours, that he could marry her by her rituals and then sanctify the marriage in a ceremony at San Gabriel.  I suppose that the old saying about love being blind is really true.” 

“Then Don Diego was married when he came back with the señorita, er señora?  But he said…”

Again Alejandro sighed.  “Yes and no.  Not by California law, and certainly not in the eyes of the Church.  In her people’s eyes, yes.  I suggested to Diego in a post that when he returned, he should present Señorita Morlif-Brocnor as his fiancé.  Unfortunately, things did not happen as we had planned and he had to send her back with her people, hoping they would be able to save her life.”

,” Garcia said sadly, remembering that terrible time, and also remembering his small part in the incident.  But after a moment he looked up, a smile on his face.  “What joy Don Diego will have finding out that they did save her and that he has more children!  A long time ago, Don Alejandro, you did say you wanted many grandchildren to bounce upon your knee,” he said brightly, his joy taking in the young people at the table.  Then he paused, pondering for a moment.  “But then they look a bit big to bounce on your knees,” he finally said.

, much too big, but I am grateful for them even so,” Alejandro said, looking at his grandchildren warmly. 

“But where is Don Diego?” Garcia suddenly asked.  “I have not seen him since the day before yesterday.”

Alejandro was jerked out of his warm feelings of gratitude and turned from the children to the former soldier. “That is a good question, Sergeant.  Apparently he was still worried about the vaqueros and went out some time yesterday to check on the more remote camps.  I sent out several men this morning to search the hills for him, just in case.  What I suspect happened is that he found himself too far from home yesterday evening and stayed at an inn someplace.  San Fernando, maybe,” Alejandro explained.  “We should hear from him today.  Unfortunately, this was one time he did not inform me of his plans.”  Alejandro had had many years to perfect these half-truth excuses, but he felt that the events of the last day had caught him by surprise and left him only partially prepared.  He now wondered what kind of excuse he could come up with for Diego’s injury.  Ai, I will tackle that problem when it becomes necessary.  Hopefully there will be another day or so before that happens, he thought.  

“You are probably right, Don Alejandro,” Garcia agreed, continuing to tackle the mound of food that he had gathered during their conversation. 

For her part, Mari looked down at her less amply filled plate, trying hard to hide the fear with which the corpulent sergeant’s words had filled her.  She took a bite and glanced at Jandro.  He had a thoughtful look on his face, as though considering the options of some kind of plan.  Suddenly, Mari felt a fire igniting on her tongue and burning all the way to her stomach.  Her throat constricted, her eyes watered and she grabbed for the cup of chocolate.  When she had finally stopped choking and felt that the inferno in her mouth might be under control, she looked up sheepishly through tear-filled eyes.  Bernardo was by her side ready to help her.

Abuelo was gazing at her gratefully, as though she had planned this diversion to take away from the awkwardness of the conversation.  “That burned my mouth!” she finally said.   Everyone laughed, more in relief, Mari thought, than real humor.

“What?  The beef and chilies?” Garcia asked, incredulous.  “Actually, they are quite mild.” 

“Mmm,” Mari said, taking a spoonful of the pumpkin soup and finding it rather sweet and deliciously bland, especially after the beef. 

Garcia shrugged and continued eating.  It is their loss and my gain, looking gratefully at the large amount of beef left in the bowl. 

 

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Later in the day, Jandro paced in his father’s room.  After they had gone on a short ride around the rancho, Mari decided to take a self-guided tour of the casa grande.  He had left when she had begun watching the servants at work and asking them innumerable questions.  The problem of what to do to cover for his father had become too intrusive to ignore anymore, so he left her with the vaquero who had accompanied them and came to this room to think. 

Jandro had tried to discuss the problem with Abuelo in the library, but his grandfather had told him not to worry about it.  How could he not worry about it?  He knew that Bernardo had occasionally ridden as Zorro in the past, but he also knew that the old manservant was in no condition to do it this time.  He was limping around even now trying to make sure that they were comfortable and had rooms in which to stay.  Jandro knew that he could ride as the masked bandit, even if he didn’t have his father’s height and build yet.  He was every bit as tall as the manservant and Tornado was used to him already.  When they had discussed the matter, Abuelo had quickly dismissed the boy’s suggestion, but Jandro remembered that he had not been expressly forbidden to ride!

“Alejandro?”   Minta’s soft voice spoke from the doorway. 

?” 

“Do you really think you could take Papá’s place?” she asked, as she came in and shut the door softly behind her.  He looked at her in surprise.  At seven and a half, she was already very adept at stealth and secrecy, even though, according to what Bernardo had told Mother, she had only just found out her father’s secret.  He had no idea that the little girl had been in the other room listening to his and his grandfather’s conversation.   

Jandro had a quick reply, but thought about her seemingly simple question for a moment before answering.  “Not really, Minta, but maybe I can help get rid of the rumor that Zorro was badly hurt.  Then no one would think that Father is Zorro when he shows up injured.”

Minta giggled.  “If the people see Zorro riding, they will think that the rumor is just the silly gossip of someone who was out in the sun too long.” 

Jandro chuckled with her and then thought some more about the little girl’s question.  Could anyone ever take Father’s place as the masked rider?  It was an interesting question.   “I have a problem, though.”

“What?”

“I do not know where the entrance to Father’s secret cave is.”  He looked expectantly at her, hoping that she might know, but she only shook her head. 

“I do know that Papá has disappeared out of his room without coming out the door,” Minta added quickly, seeing his look of disappointment.  

“And Mother talked about coming into Father’s room from a secret cave.   So there must be an entrance somewhere in here…” he said thoughtfully.  Jandro looked all around the bedroom, trying to figure out the best place for such an entrance.  The wardrobe?  No, not a piece of movable furniture.  It has to be somewhere along the wall.  Not the outside wall and not the wall along the veranda.  Jandro carefully examined each of the other two walls, tapping carefully.  “I think it’s over here somewhere,” Jandro muttered, facing the fireplace.  He and Minta looked and felt and went over every inch.  But still they weren’t able to find the door to the secret cave. 

With a sigh, Jandro returned to the bed and sat down, his chin in his hand.  Minta sat beside him, also with her chin resting on her hand. 

“Does that mean you will not be able to be Zorro and help Papá?” she asked, her voice low, disappointment very evident. 

“Not until we can find a way into that cave,” Jandro answered morosely, not knowing what to do next.  At the very least, however, he had to let Mother know about these recent developments.  He looked at his little sister and suspected that, although Minta had been told a great deal about himself, Mari and his mother, and where they came from, she probably really did not understand.  To hear stories about modern technology is one thing and to actually see that technology when you are not used to it is another.   He didn’t want to frighten her now that she was getting used to them.  There was a great deal of it he didn’t even understand, so he could imagine her confusion if she was confronted with gadgets that seemed magical.

“Minta, I am totally stumped right now.  Maybe if you spy on Bernardo, you can find another entrance to the secret cave,” he told her.

She smiled conspiratorially, nodded and dashed out of the room, carefully shutting the door behind her.  Jandro pulled out his communicator and pushed several buttons.  He had to do this carefully, since he suspected that his mother would feel the same way about him posing as Zorro as his grandfather did.  When he finally heard his mother’s voice, he told her everything that Sergeant Garcia had related to them at lunch.  He heard her sigh.  How am I going to do this? he thought. Then an idea occurred to him.  “Mother, Bernardo is having a little trouble with his knees, so I want to take care of Tornado for him.  But I don’t know the way into the secret cave from Father’s room,” he said. 

Jandro heard her sigh again.  “I am not sure of the exact place that your father pushed or pulled to get the door to open, but it is on the left side of the mantle.  I’m sorry; I cannot help you any more than that.  Why don’t you ask Bernardo?”

“He’s busy right now,” Jandro said evasively and then he paused.  The silence on the communicator became uncomfortable.  “If you can take care of Father, we will take care of Zorro,” he finally blurted out.

Padre Felipe will help.  I will let you know more later, Jandro.  Take care of your sister and give my love to Minta and everyone else there, too.  Your father has awakened several times, is doing well, and sends his love.”

Jandro turned off the communicator and then put it away before Mother could wonder about the reasons for his questions and his comment about Zorro.  Meticulously sliding his fingers around the mantle piece, the boy finally felt a slight indention.  A narrow door to his left clicked open and he peered into the little room.  A cool breeze floated past his cheeks and ruffled his light brown hair.  After the heat of the day, it felt very refreshing.  Stepping inside, Jandro saw a change of clothes hanging on pegs that had been pounded into cracks in the wall.  Opposite him was an opening where a set of stairs went downward into the darkness.  He didn’t see a lantern, so he turned back into the bedroom and picked up a candle.  Using a flint striker he found nearby, the boy lit it, and with his hand cupped around it, walked into the little room again.  Checking around the doorway, Jandro found a metal ring, which when turned, shutting the door behind him with the barest of whispers.  Grinning, he set the candle down on a small table and examined the room. 

Jandro opened a trunk and found a black suit that matched the one his Father had been wearing the day before.  Pulling out each piece of silk and satin clothing, Jandro mentally dressed himself, hoping that he would be able to put it all on correctly when night fell. 

Hanging the costume on empty pegs, Jandro picked up the candle and walked down the stone stairs, peering around him, wondering what spooky denizens lurked in the shadows of the ceilings and the walls.  He shivered, and not just from the chill air that wafted up from below.  A very appropriate den for the dark fox of the night, Jandro thought, holding the candle up to try and see into all the black corners. 

After some exploration, he finally reached the lower end of the cave.  Soft afternoon sunlight filtered through thick brush at the far end and from a narrow crack above him.  To his right in a small makeshift stall, stood Tornado.  The stallion whinnied softly, shaking his head.  The nostrils quivered, taking in his scent and Jandro slowly approached, hand outstretched.  The horse blew on him, reacquainting himself with Jandro’s scent.  Gently, Tornado nibbled the ends of the boy’s fingers with his rubbery lips.  The dark eyes looked into his and Jandro saw recognition and complete acceptance. 

“You and I will be going on a ride tonight,” Jandro murmured, his heart beating a bit faster in anticipation. 

 

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“Jerintas, Diego may have to return home sooner than we had anticipated,” Minta said.  She ran her hands through her long silken hair and turned to face the Rantiri director.  They were standing in the corridor just outside the medical facility.

While he had been gratified that she had changed her mind about leaving Diego, his heart tore at him over the impending separation.  He knew it was impossible to have her the way he would have liked, but at least he had been in proximity to her for the past thirteen years.  You are too old to even dream of such things, you fool, he told himself.

“He needs to stay at least a week,” he answered bluntly.  “That way he would get the full benefit of the plasma regenerative therapy.  Each day here takes off several days of conventional recovery.” 

“I know, I know, but there are rumors floating around that Zorro was injured.  And Diego is being missed as well,” Minta pointed out with a sigh.  “Eventually people will put two and two together.”

“It has only been a little more than twenty-four hours since his surgery.  At the very least, he needs another two days before he can be safely transported to his home.” 

Minta nodded.  “But he won’t be transported home.  He will be ‘found’ and taken to the mission,” she corrected the director with a slight smile.

“Mission?”

“Yes, where all this began.  Where you found me after I had been beaten.”  She turned and looked meaningfully at Jerintas.  “Jerintas, Diego has been walking a fine line for fifteen years, trying to help his people while staying incognito.  As much as I agree with you, in order to keep his secret, in order to keep this magnificent secret, he will have to go home early.”   The two Rantiri gazed at each other silently for several minutes.  Finally, when Jerintas slowly nodded, she looked toward the door.  “I think I need to let Diego know of these latest events.  I have been told that he is somewhat alert, asking for me as well as for something to drink.  I am not sure in what order those things have been requested.  I will go and see,” she added with a soft laugh, approaching the medical facility door.  As the portal hissed open for her, Jerintas could not help but take in the fact that her steps had much more bounce to them and her smile seemed much happier than he had seen for some time. 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen
Chapter One
Zorro Contents
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