Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

Zorro and Son 

 

Jandro picked up the heavy silk cape and ran one hand down its length.  He pictured his father as Mother remembered him, tall, strong, the cape covering him like a cloak of mysterious dark power.  The cloth shimmered in the candlelight.  It reminded him of the stars in hyperspace, flowing like graceful dancers.  As he continued to hold the cape, Jandro felt something radiating from it, as though it was alive, something mysterious.  It made him shiver with anticipation, prickle with fear.  How did it make Father feel, putting this on for the first time?  Did the excitement run up and down his spine like it does for me? he wondered.

The boy closed his eyes, still feeling the power around him, not just from the cape in his hand, but from the very air he was breathing.  The room seemed alive with it and Jandro could only imagine that it was the aura of the man who had ridden and fought for his people for so long.  That man whom he called Father. 

Carefully folding the cape, Jandro reached for the wide sleeved shirt and slipped it on over his own shirt.  Knowing that he had neither the height nor the breadth of shoulders as his father, the boy decided to wear the costume over his own clothes.  The sleeves draped loosely around his arms, almost enveloping him.

The trousers came next, then the boots.  The extra length of the pants ended up tucked into the boots. The sash was pulled tightly around his slender waist.  Jandro then reached for the headscarf and tied it on.   Putting his hand out for the sword and its scabbard, he hesitated.  Do I dare strap on something that someone else has used so ably for so long? Jandro asked himself.  Wis had taught him both kinds of fencing, his father’s as well as the alien’s, but the boy just didn’t feel confident enough to strap on his father’s sword.  He left it on the peg.  Jandro put the hat on, feeling it sit loosely on his head, so he tightened the cord to fit snugly under his chin.  The cape, gloves and mask he would put on just before mounting Tornado.  With a piece of charcoal, the boy duplicated, to the best of his ability, his father’s mustache.

Taking the candle in one hand and the rest of the costume in the other, Jandro carefully negotiated the stone steps in the too large boots.  Tornado nickered, recognizing the black costume as a signal for action.  Taking down the slender pole from across the stall, the boy led the horse to the entrance and mounted.  He was very grateful that he had had the foresight to put the horse’s tack on before he had changed.  It would have been awkward trying to bridle and saddle Tornado in the overly large and unfamiliar clothing.  Placing the mask across his face, he tied it tightly in back, then put the cape on and placed the hat back on his head.  It felt strange seeing the world through the holes of a silk mask. 

Tornado knew what he was supposed to do, and needed only slight guidance from Jandro to do it.  They burst through the brush and out of the cave into the sparkling darkness of the dark-crystal night.  Stars shone large and bright in the ebony vault above.  The breeze had tempered the heat of the day and was cool and brisk.  Tornado snorted and pawed the earth while the boy tried to get his bearings.  From this part of the rancho, and at night, he could not tell in which direction the pueblo lay.  Finally Jandro shook his head, and nudged the horse with his heels, pulling the reins in the direction that he felt was most likely to take him to the pueblo.

The stallion shot across the small valley and then up a hill.  They reached a narrow dusty road and Jandro turned the horse onto it, reveling in the fluidity of Tornado’s muscles.  Despite being raised in a world of commuters and space ships, the boy felt an exhilarating rush as the wind whipped past him, causing the cloak to billow and snap behind him.  He gave himself to the wind, the sound of Tornado’s hoof beats, and the cries of various night animals.  Jandro gazed at the brush, rocks and trees flowing past them, almost at hyper speed, it seemed, and he laughed at the sensation that came from the back of this powerful animal.  

Then as they rushed over yet another hill, Jandro felt his overly large boots slipping, and when Tornado jumped a branch in the middle of the road, disaster struck.  One boot slid out of the stirrup and he began slipping out of the saddle.  Grabbing for the saddle horn, the boy was unable to get a solid grip wearing the unfamiliar and overly large gloves.  He tumbled out of the saddle, hitting the dusty road hard enough to force the air out of his lungs. 

As soon as he had breath, Jandro pulled himself up from the ground, feeling his legs protest.  His right hip was numb, one wrist throbbed where he had landed, a knee felt scraped, but thankfully he noticed that the trousers material was not torn.  He picked the hat up from the ground and readjusted the mask.  Then Jandro looked around for the stallion, fearing that he had run off, but Tornado stood on the other side of the road gazing placidly at him.  “Being Zorro isn’t as easy as it looks,” he said peevishly to the stallion.  He felt stupid, trying to do something that he was too young and inexpert to do.  Tornado walked over to him and nuzzled against Jandro’s chest, as though he understood and forgave the boy for his inexperience.  “Thank you, Tornado,” he said, mounting stiffly. 

Bernardo was waiting for him when he rode through the cave entrance.  Looking him over and frowning, the mute made signs. 

“Yes, I know I did something stupid.  And yes, I fell off Tornado,” Jandro confirmed, looking down at his boots, ashamed.   “I only wanted to help Father.  And you.  I thought I could do it.  I thought I could impersonate Father just for this one time.  But I cannot.  Only Father can.   I…I do not have what it takes to be Zorro.”

Bernardo tapped him on the arm.  The boy looked at him and watched in growing surprise as the mute signed.  “I look like Father?” he asked, wanting to make sure he had understood what the servant had said.

With a happy grin on his face, the mozo nodded and then pointed at the mustache.  ‘You will have to grow into that, though,’ Bernardo signed.

Jandro laughed.  “I really did not do a good job tonight, did I?”

Bernardo gazed at this youth who had so much of Don Diego inside him.  The boy, like his father, had the courage to take on this awesome responsibility.  The mozo saw strength of will, a persevering heart, as well as compassion; all things needed to become Zorro.  His own heart swelled as he thought that his master would now have someone to teach; someone who would be at his side as Don Diego began to relinquish this role he had taken on fifteen years before.  ‘You only need practice as you grow taller and stronger,’ he pointed out in sign.  ‘You have your father’s heart and his soul.  Someday you will make a good Zorro.’

“Do you mean that?” Jandro asked when he understood all that Bernardo had signed to him.  “Will you . . . will you help me?”

The mute nodded and signed.  ‘I will fix the clothes to fit better and help you practice riding in the costume.  Tomorrow night you can ride.’

Jandro smiled.  “Thank you, Bernardo.”  He watched as the mozo signed again.  “And yes, I would like a hot bath very much.”

'I will have a servant fill the tub for you,' was Bernardo's response.   'You rest.  Tomorrow will be a busy day.'

 

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

 

Minta stood at the shuttle’s airlock door, her fingers folding and unfolding in front of her.  Jerintas stood behind her, seemingly unconcerned, but she knew that he, too, was nervous. 

“We are within sight of the Designated One’s house, Director, First Mother,” the shuttle pilot informed them. 

“Stop calling me First Mother,” Minta said automatically. 

“Yes, Elo,” came the automatic response. 

She looked over her shoulder at the director.  “Jerintas, why are you coming with me?  You know how Don Alejandro felt when you came to get me before,” Minta queried.  “He can be quite volatile, even if he is a nice man most of the time.”

“I know, but resolving those feelings is only part of the reason.  I have other reasons as well.  I read what you wrote about the customs of union among these people.  It bothered me that you would have no representatives from your ‘family’ to speak for you during the . . . arrangements for your wedding,” he said.  “I need to discuss these things with Don Alejandro.”  He pulled at the gloves that covered his hands, particularly the part that covered his two last fingers.

Minta gazed at him in awe.  “You are willing to do that for me?”

There was a slight pause.  Then, “Yes, Minta, I would do anything for you.  However, I will have to be discreet, so I will most likely not be at any public celebrations.  I, like Diego, do not want to compromise your safety.”

She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly on the cheek.  “Thank you, Jerintas.  I would be honored for you to stand in for a father in the pre-nuptials as well as at the wedding . . . if you so choose.” 

“Are you ready, Director, Elo Minta?” the shuttle pilot asked.   When they both nodded, he dimmed the lights and flipped a switch that opened the airlock door.  The air was dry, but cool and Minta took a deep breath.  The freshness of the air thrilled her, and motioning to Jerintas, she walked toward the house that stood only yards in front of them.   The night was dark in the absence of the moon, but Minta was still able to barely make out the outline of a path and they were soon at the patio door.  No servants stood nearby to greet them, so Minta just pushed the gate open and walked through the patio.  It had remained almost the same.  Smooth wooden pillars had replaced the rough timbers holding up the balcony, but otherwise it could have been thirteen years in the past.  She knocked on the door.  Jerintas waited behind her. 

The big wooden door slowly opened to show Bernardo.   His face creased into a happy smile when he saw her, and he beckoned them in.  He glanced at Jerintas for a moment, recognizing the director almost immediately, then he bowed slightly to both of them before leading the way into the library.   Sitting in a large chair near the fireplace, was Don Alejandro, a book in his hands.  Little Minta sat at his feet, listening to him read.  A little gray kitten sat in her lap purring contentedly.  Both the man and the girl looked up at the entrance of the two Rantiri.  The girl’s open-mouthed wonder at the two individuals was blatant, but not hostile. 

“Minta!” Alejandro cried.   “Your children said you would be coming.  How good…”  His voice faltered when he saw Jerintas behind her.  “You are . . . you must be Jerintas.  What are you doing here?”  A scowl crossed his features.

Minta realized with chagrin that Jerintas had not brought a translator.  She would have to translate for him, making an already awkward situation even more difficult.  But as she began to tell Jerintas what Don Alejandro had said, the director began speaking.

“Yes, Don Alejandro, I am Director Jerintas.  I am here for several . . . reasons,” he said in only slightly halting Spanish.  Minta gaped at him in surprise, but he ignored her.  “The first is to apologize for all the hurt and suffering that I caused in the past.  I did not look beyond anything other than what the Rantiri people needed.  While much good came of it, the action of kidnapping your son was still inexcusable.”

“Yes, it was.”  Alejandro continued to stare at the director, his frown deepening.  “Even to the suffering and sacrifice of one of your own.  It has taken me thirteen years to understand that and I still don’t—not entirely.”

“The whole history of the Rantiri people has been that of sacrifice, Don Alejandro.  Can you deny that your own son has sacrificed so very much for your people?”

“But that was his own choice, Jerintas.  Even though he felt obliged to help, he was not forced to, unlike the Rantiri who took my son’s place,” Alejandro retorted, realizing that he had not invited the pair to sit down.  “Minta, would you care to sit by the fire?” he asked her. 

Minta looked uncomfortable with the situation, but at Jerintas’ nod, she moved to an empty chair close to Don Alejandro’s.  The director glanced down at the little girl and then looked questioningly back up at her grandfather.

Nieta, go and find your sister and brother,” Alejandro said to Little Minta, understanding the need for privacy.  What he wanted to say to this individual should not be said in front of a child.  She looked disappointed, but acquiesced, gathering her little kitten as she left.   “Continue,” the old man ordered, seeing the need of the dark man standing before him to say more. 

“Yes, that is true, Don Alejandro, and I cannot make any excuses as that has been the way of our people for hundreds of years.  Never before, though, had we gone to another world and taken one of its people.  I truly regret that.”  He paused.  “We are still sacrificing, but in a different way now, a way that has brought honor and equity to our people.”  He paused again and the silence of the room was broken only by the crackling of the tiny fire. 

“Honor?  What honor?” Alejandro hissed, leaning forward slightly, his eyes reflecting the inner as well as the outer fire. 

“The honor of not having to sell the services of our people to those on other worlds in order to survive,” Minta interjected.  “We have finally fulfilled the directive that our ancestors laid upon us and there is great honor in that as well.”

Alejandro stared at both of them, alternating his gaze from one to the other.  Diego had tried to explain the Rantiri social system to him, but he had never totally understood, or rather, he hadn’t wanted to.  Now he thought back to what both his son and Minta had tried to tell him.   “Then your people were under a kind of slavery?”

“More or less, Don Alejandro.  Since our people were created beings, they were considered lower class,” Jerintas explained, trying to use terms that would be familiar to the man in front of him.  “When they first created us, our ancestors told us to strive to become like them.  In order to do that, we had to be able to reproduce ourselves biologically. As your people do.  To have babies.  We had to create and sell some of our own people to pay for the research to do that.  Although this does not make what I did thirteen years ago right, your son made that dream and goal possible for us.  Alejandro and Maria Isabella are the first children born to a Rantiri unit.  Our people are now complete; we are one with the Ancestors.  There are no more created units.”

Now Alejandro sighed.  “Diego never could harbor any hatred toward you, even after he remembered everything that happened during and after his capture.  He did say that he would never forget the fear that he felt, or the despair.”  He pointed to another chair.  “Sit down, please.”  Jerintas did so with a nod of deference toward the old man.  Alejandro shifted painfully in his chair and continued, “Thirteen years is a long time to harbor hatred.  Mine has cooled somewhat in that time.  I believe that I understand a bit better now.  Just do not ask me to sympathize right now.”

“I understand, Don Alejandro and I will not.” 

“It is my understanding that you are or were the leader of your planet.  I do not think that you need to call me ‘don.’”  Alejandro motioned to Bernardo to bring in some wine.  The servant nodded and left the room. 

“I do it out of courtesy, señor,” Jerintas said, feeling lucky to have gained these small concessions from the man. 

“I suspect that you may have another motive for coming,” Alejandro said matter-of-factly.

, Jerintas responded.   “I am the only representative of Minta’s ‘family’ so to speak, therefore I am here to negotiate her marriage to your son.”

There was a distinct silence that was broken only by the arrival of Bernardo with a tray.  He served the wine to each person and then found a chair and sat unobtrusively in the shadows. 

“So, Diego, who was on death’s doorstep less than two days ago, has already proposed marriage,” Alejandro said, taking a sip of his wine.  He smiled and then began chuckling.  “Ai, in this case, I can only think of my brother-in-law, Esteban, God rest his soul. He was not a de la Vega by blood, but some of the fire in his veins apparently found its way into Diego’s.”  Raising the glass, he added, “To hot-blooded de la Cruz males.”  His face suddenly became more somber and he almost looked ready to cry.  The room was silent for several minutes. 

Minta slid out of her chair and sat at his feet, her hand resting softly on his knee.  Her eyes were filled with empathy.  Alejandro looked down at her and then laid his hand on hers.  It was then that he noticed that her hands had the same number of fingers that his had.  “You changed your hands,” he whispered, his eyes wide in amazement.

“Yes, Don Alejandro, I did.  For the return.”  She paused and looked deeply into the old man’s eyes.  “It is all right.  Diego will be fine,” she said.

He sat alternately gazing at her hands and into her eyes for several minutes.  Finally he cleared his throat.  “Excuse me, this is just the emotional vacillations of an old man.  Initially, I was told that Diego was fine, then throughout the day, the children have told me just how terribly he had been hurt, how he almost died.  Finally they told me of his suffering. You cannot believe how terrible the past day and a half has been for me.  I am too old for this.”  When he took another sip of the wine, Minta saw his hand shaking slightly.  “To know that Diego is feeling well enough to propose marriage, to plan for the future, to think of raising his family, gives me more happiness than you can imagine. "It is a much more comforting message than just telling me he will be fine."

Minta reached over with her free hand and gently took his hand in hers.  “Don Alejandro, this marriage has been in preparation for thirteen years.”

“Yes, my child, I know.  When I first met you, your marriage to Diego was only to legitimize what you two had already begun with your . . . union.  Then as I got to know you, I realized just how much you both loved each other.   I also realized what a wonderful daughter-in-law you would be.  And I see the manifestation of that deep love thirteen years later.”

Minta’s eyes blurred with tears.  “Thank you,” she murmured.  Again there was a brief silence, in which all three adults sat quietly with their own thoughts, listening to the fire dancing merrily in the hearth.

“However, you are both a bit premature,” Alejandro said with a smile.   “My son is still officially ‘missing,’ you have not publicly ‘arrived,’ so the announcement of a wedding agreement is a bit hasty.  But from what little Minta has told me, Diego is going to have to return home soon.  Even the servants are beginning to add the clues and it will not be long before they begin speculating.  But I fear for him.  From what I have been told of his injuries, coming back this soon could be disastrous for him.”

“I agree, Don Alejandro.  The treatment he is under is speeding up his recovery tremendously, but he has to have no less than another day.  And even that is sooner than I would like,” Jerintas said.  “Three days on the ship will give him a good start, but he will still be weak and vulnerable.”

“It was not unheard of for Diego to decide on something and act upon it without consulting me, especially since I have been laid up with this accursed injury of mine, but I began sending out vaqueros this morning, even before a friend heard and spread a rumor about Zorro’s injury,” Alejandro said.  He mentally cursed the bad luck for Sgt. Garcia to pick up the lone rustler.  “I wish I could have just concocted a story about Diego traveling to Santa Barbara for business purposes, but it was well known that he had been traveling to the vaquero’s camps to make sure that they were all right, and that is the excuse that I used before I could think of anything else.”  He sighed.  “So I am afraid that you have come ‘calling’ on Diego for the purpose of arranging a marriage in vain.”  He paused, as though thinking.   “For so many years I have helped my son hide this secret of his.  It only gets harder with age.  And I never could think things through as fast as Diego.”

“I always thought that primitive societies were simple, and easy to deal with,” Jerintas mused.  Alejandro shot him a slightly irritated glance.  “But Diego,” he paused. “…and Minta have shown me that such is not always the case,” the director added. 

“The children have already been invited to stay and wait for the arrival of their father.  I make the same offer for the two of you,” Alejandro said. 

“Don Alejandro,” Minta replied.  “While we appreciate the offer, I think that staying here might not be the best idea.   I agree that we need to establish that we are in the area, but we need to stay at the inn, or even better, at the mission.  I have been in contact with Padre Felipe and the last time I spoke with him, he made the same offer that you have.” 

Alejandro looked puzzled and he noticed that the Rantiri leader did as well.  “Why do you feel it unwise to stay here?” he asked.

“No offense, but the last time I was here, I lived in your hacienda.  I loved it here, but…”  Minta’s voice trailed off as she remembered.   “I think that those who might still harbor old superstitions would be somewhat more mollified if we stayed at the mission,” she explained.  “And besides, that is where we had tentatively thought of having Diego recuperate after he has been ‘found.’  It would be a nice place for a reunion.  Perhaps our calling on you will help us in the end.  The children, impatient as the young are, came to you first, looking for their father.  We followed in order to meet with you and Diego, and to make arrangements for a marriage between the two of us.  That is if he still wanted to marry me,” Minta explained, a slight twinkle in her eye. 

“I see the wisdom in your reasoning,” Alejandro said.  “I suppose, Director, that we should discuss a few pre-nuptial agreements in the likely event that our two children desire this union,” Alejandro added, winking and returning Minta’s smile. 

Jerintas nodded.  “Yes, that would be good.  Despite the fact that I have learned your language and despite the fact that I am aware of a few of your customs, my knowledge is woefully lacking.” 

Even before Alejandro could motion to him, Bernardo was refilling the wine glasses.  The old man raised his glass in the air.  “To Diego’s quick recovery and happy marriage.”  Four glasses rose into the air, but Alejandro noticed that the one for whom he had harbored such resentment for so long, seemed a bit sad as he raised his glass.

 

 

Chapter Nineteen
Chapter One
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