Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

The Boy Becomes a Man 

 

With Bernardo’s help, Jandro strapped on the sword in its scabbard and felt it settle comfortably against his hip and leg.  Again, as he had the previous night, he felt an aura of power as he changed in the little room off of his father’s bedroom.  This time, however, it was not nearly as intimidating.  Rather it seemed to be something more comforting now, a sustaining presence that buoyed him up.   He had felt the same thing when he had talked to his father on the shuttle.  Remembering that all too brief time, he wondered how Father was and looked down to see his hand wrapped around the hilt of Zorro’s sword.  Father’s sword.   The one he had practiced with after supper in the secret cave.

After spending most of the previous day with Grandfather, who told him of his father’s proposal to his mother, and riding the ranges of the Hacienda de la Vega, he felt more resolve than ever to live among his father’s people and become a member of this world’s society – to be with his father.  They would be a family, together and whole. 

It had been a glorious day, that second one since their arrival.  Everything had intrigued Jandro, the sight of the hawks in the air, the smell of the junipers and sage, and the salty tang of the ocean over the western hills.  He listened intently to the calls of the meadowlarks and the bluebirds in their dusky blue coats—everything.  He had helped the vaquero, Pepito, gather wild rice for their dinner, he had watched the cook chip the dried beef into a large stew pot, adding corn and beans and other delectable smelling foods and spices.   He had been fascinated as he watch promising new colts culled from the herd that ran free in the hills.   Pepito had even mentioned that his father would probably let him choose one to train for himself.  A thrill shot through Jandro even thinking about having his own horse.

Bringing himself back to the present, the boy looked at the lantern flickering in the coolness of the secret room, and realized that even with all the exciting things that he had to look forward to, it would still be hard.  Already, he missed using his microcomputer and the memory disk player, but as he put on the altered costume, he felt the assurance that he was in the right place.   He just hoped that Father would be proud of him. 

Bernardo stood behind him and helped Jandro slide the cape over his shoulders.  The boy pulled the ends of the cords and tied the cape on, while the mozo stood in front of him and perused Jandro carefully.  With a smile, the old servant pulled out a small piece of charcoal and etched a thin ‘mustache’ above the boy’s lip. 

When Bernardo stood back, his jaw dropped.  Last night, he had seen striking similarities between young Alejandro and his father, but tonight….   Except for the height, the youth looked just like a very young Don Diego in the costume.  Slight differences in his eye color and skin color were noticed after the first perusal, but that only to one who intimately knew Zorro as he did.

He signed and saw the boy grin in appreciation.  Even in that, Bernardo saw Don Diego.  His patrón would be proud of what this son of his was doing . . . after he had finished berating the boy for taking such risks, that is. 

He motioned for Jandro to draw his sword and go through the basic exercises that Don Diego had taught him secretly down in the cave all those years ago.  It had been obvious when they had practiced earlier that this boy had learned some type of fencing before coming here.  Jandro had the fluidity and grace of someone who had trained formally.  After a short while, he motioned for the young man to sheathe the sword and go down to the lower cave.  Jandro dashed down the stone stairs with the same lightness of step that his father had so many years before.  Bernardo followed more slowly.  When he finally reached the outer cave, he saw that Jandro had the stallion ready and was only waiting for him out of courtesy, not any particular need. 

The boy’s stance was one of eagerness, the lines of his body taut with energy.  Bernardo signed to him and showed him a map.  ‘You will ride through the pueblo.  The vendors will just be arriving to set up their wares.  Be careful as you ride through the streets, but do not stop.  Then ride north toward the mission.  The neophytes will be just be waking up, but there will be some out and about.  They will report to Father Felipe.  Then return home as quickly as you can.  Before you enter the tunnel, make sure there is no one about.  The sun will be rising by then.’  Tornado pawed at the rock floor of the cave, his own eagerness evident. 

The boy watched carefully, nodding to show his understanding.  Whether he totally understood or not, Bernardo suspected that he would not ask for clarification anyway.  Most of what he was saying was just a repetition of what they had gone over earlier that night before he had sent Jandro to bed to get some sleep.  Somehow, the mozo doubted that he had slept much.  With a smile, Don Diego’s son swung on the stallion, waved and ducked as Tornado slipped out of the cave through the thick brush. 

Sighing, Bernardo went back toward the stone steps, stopping to light a little candle that stood in a niche in the cave.  He briefly prayed for the Holy Mother to protect his patrón’s brave young son.   Young Alejandro had the desire to do this, he had the ability, even as young as he was, but he was still naïve to the dangers in the night.  The mozo crossed himself and then turned to go upstairs.

 

 

Jandro felt his confidence carry over to the magnificent black stallion, whose strides were so long that it almost seemed as if he were flying.  The cape snapped behind him as the wind whistled past his ears and plucked at his shirt.  A slight chill ran up and down his spine, the chill of exhilaration combined with a touch of fear.  Following the instructions that Bernardo had given him, Jandro rode unerringly toward the pueblo.  The mozo had begun showing him the constellations and the means to find his bearings using them and the boy looked skyward briefly to confirm his location.  They were so bright that he felt as though he might be able to reach up and touch them.  On impulse he pulled out the sword and, standing in the stirrups, reached skyward with the point of the saber, watching the tiny flecks of starlight twinkle and flash along its length. 

“El Zorro!” came a voice from ahead of him.  Startled, Jandro clumsily sat down in the saddle.  He saw a figure by the side of the road, a vendor pulling a tiny cart, and quickly composing himself, the young Zorro grinned and swung his sword in a salute to the peon.  He swept by and continued toward the town, passing several more early comers to the market, all of whom greeted him joyfully.  Like the wind itself, he flew into the plaza, through it and on out toward the mission.  There had not been many peons in the square itself, but those he had passed on the road would serve to pass the word along that El Zorro was well enough to be riding the night. 

A slight glint of light on the tops of the eastern hills told the boy that dawn was not too long in coming, but at the speed they were going, it would still be dark when they reached Mission San Gabriel.  Pulling back slightly on the reins, Jandro was gratified to feel the stallion’s stride slow to a canter.  He had been afraid that his control over the animal might be tenuous at best, especially after he had ridden so clumsily the night before.  “But you would not do that, would you, Tornado?” he said.  The stallion only snorted as he ran.   

Just as the early morning sun was peeking over the eastern mountains, bathing the far hills in gold, he saw the mission, standing large and majestic, its plastered white walls reflecting the gold of the newly risen orb, looking ethereal and otherworldly.  Some of the Indians were already in the orchards and fields and they stopped and pointed as he brought Tornado to a quick halt and urged him to rear.  With a loud cry, the horse pawed the air before returning earthward.  Jandro waved and turned back toward the hacienda, slowing the stallion to a fast trot as they returned home.  It had been a good ride and the boy was well pleased.  The rumors of Zorro’s injury would be laid to rest, hopefully giving his father more time to heal.   Jandro looked forward to seeing him again. 

 

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Diego woke to find Minta looking at him, the tendrils of a smoky dream still drifting through his brain.   He knew it was about little Minta, but like fog before the hot sun, it was drifting away rapidly.  It was not a bad dream, but he felt a bit wistful, knowing that part of it was an indication of how much he missed his daughter.  He wanted to go home. 

“Diego, do not look so down-trodden.  I have your promised breakfast,” Minta said, a bright smile on her face. 

“I am sorry, I was dreaming about Minta.  I miss her.”   He sighed. 

“I know, Diego, and as soon as it is possible, you two will be reunited,” Minta said.  A thought crossed Minta’s mind.  “Do you realize there will be two women in the hacienda with the same name?”  She smiled.  “What will you call me?”

Querida,” Diego said without hesitation.  Enamorada, carina, cara mia, mi amor.  Will you answer to those?”

She laughed and handed him his tray.  Diego gazed at it in anticipation and then he looked puzzled.  “What is this?” he asked, looking at the unfamiliar array before him.

“A light meal, my dear.  Even if you are feeling better, you are still healing inside and have to be careful,” Minta explained.  “No beef for a while yet.”

“I am not sure that I want to eat something that is purple, though,” he quipped. 

“It’s a sweet, Diego.  Try it.”

With a bit of hesitation, he did and was pleasantly surprised.  Breakfast was soon consumed.  As Minta was taking the tray away, Jerintas walked in, a rotund creature behind him.  The newcomer wore a cloak that hid most of his body, but his head, arms and legs were of a yellowish tint and very puffy looking.  The face was round, like the full moon and the fingers were like sausages. 

“Ah, I see that your appetite is good.  How do you feel?” Jerintas asked. 

“I feel somewhat tired, but otherwise fine,” Diego answered.  “How long has it been since I was shot?  I have lost all track of time.”

“It has been three days,” Jerintas told him, then he pointed to the person next to him.  “This is Dr. Brennis.  He was the head of the surgical team that worked on you.”  Dr. Brennis nodded to Diego, his bright gray eyes continuing to watch the injured man closely.   “He was wondering if you felt like standing up for him.”

“Yes, of course,” Diego answered, wondering about the term ‘surgical team.’  It took more than one man to take the bullet out of him?  “But it seems that there are devices everywhere and they are all attached to me.”

Jerintas smiled, and he and Minta helped Diego ease off of the bed in such a way that nothing was disturbed.  To his surprise, Diego found himself clutching on to the director for dear life.  His legs felt like corn mush and there was a momentary flickering of dizziness.  Soon the vertigo passed, though, and his legs felt more stable. 

Still holding on to Jerintas, Diego took a step and then several more within the confines of the attached devices, feeling surer with each step.  Finally Dr. Brennis stopped him.  The doctor said something unintelligible to the Californiano, but Jerintas translated.  “Dr. Brennis is pleased with your progress, Diego, but he says that you have done enough for now.   He wants you to rest.  Later you can get up and walk some more.”  Jerintas paused while the doctor spoke again.  Then he translated once more.  “He did not hold much hope for you when you were brought in, but he finds you to be surprisingly resilient.  I had assured him of that at the time and now he believes me,” Jerintas translated, with a smile.  Diego returned the smile, conscious of tight muscles pulling as he had moved around the room.  As they helped Diego get back in bed, Jerintas continued.  “I hear that you are eager to return home.”

“Please do not misunderstand me,” Diego said to Dr. Brennis, looking to Jerintas for translation.   “I am very grateful for your care, and for my life.  But I have a child…”   He paused, glancing at Minta.  “I have children waiting for me. Yes.  I would like to finish my recovery in my own hacienda.”

“I think that you may get your wish.  It would seem that your disappearance has been noted and there are some who are getting somewhat frantic about it.  Your father has had to play along.  And there is also a rumor going around that Zorro was badly injured,” Jerintas said.

“So I have to be ‘found’ somewhere, ?” Diego offered.

“Yes, and soon, I’m afraid,” Jerintas agreed and then frowned.  “I personally feel that you need the more specialized care that we are giving you here for at least a week.  You may be feeling fine and the regenerative medicines have certainly put you well on the road to recovery, but I do not think you are well enough to handle the rigors of your primitive world.”

“Primitive to you, perhaps, but it is my home,” he said, “and that is where I long to be.”

Jerintas sighed, knowing that this was the only answer he expected from the Designated One.  “Dr. Brennis seems to think that if you are careful, you will be all right, if a bit less comfortable.  We will land shortly before daylight tomorrow and you will be ‘found,’ as you put it.   Minta has arranged that part with Padre Felipe.  I will be there as well and be able to give the medications that Dr. Brennis feels are important to your recovery.”

Diego nodded, “Bueno, but what about Zorro?”

Jandro has assured me that Bernardo is taking care of everything,” Minta told him.

Frowning, Diego said, “That may be too much to ask of him.  His knees and his back…”

“Yes, I know, cara mio.  I saw how difficult it was for him to move around when he was looking for you.  But we have to leave this in his hands.”

Sighing, Diego nodded, but he clearly wasn’t happy about it.

 

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Jandro swept into the cave and slid off the back of the great stallion, an exultant grin on his face.  Bernardo, who signed an inquiry to him, was waiting for him.

“It went very smoothly.  The vendors who were out clearly recognized me, as did the Indians at the mission.  Hopefully this will take care of the rumors that would link Father to Zorro,” Jandro said jubilantly.  He pulled Tornado to the side and uncinched the saddle, grunting a bit as he carried it to the corner where the tack was kept.  When he turned back around, he saw Bernardo pulling off the bridle and patting the ebony stallion.  “He was perfect, Bernardo.  It was like yesterday never happened.  It was like being part of the wind.  It was wonderful,” Jandro added, finding a curry brush and stroking along the horse’s hide.  Tornado snorted his pleasure.  Together the boy and the servant finished taking care of the stallion and then slowly walked up the stone steps to the secret room, where the mozo helped the young man off with his costume. 

‘Your father will be proud of you,’ Bernardo signed when they were finished.  Jandro blushed but said nothing.  At breakfast it was hard to contain his excitement, but listened closely while Grandfather told him and the girls more about his mother’s visit of the night before last.  What was surprising was the fact that Jerintas had been with her.  Grandfather had not told him about that.  

“I invited them to stay with us, but they felt that until your father was found, it would be better to stay at the mission.  In fact, they felt that, because of circumstances so many years ago, it would be better to stay at the mission until the bans have been said.”  The old man paused and affected a worried look.  It appeared to Jandro that the worry may not all have been pretend.  The boy wondered if there were still those around who might cause problems like those of so many years ago.

“I have been told that Padre Felipe is sending out some of his neophytes to look for your father,” Abuelo said with a sigh.  With servants coming in and out of the room, they had to keep up pretenses. “Between them, the vaqueros and others, I sincerely hope that he is found soon.”

“He will, Abuelo, he will,” little Minta chimed in as a servant girl brought in mugs of thick, foamy champurado.

“Oh, Don Alejandro, forgive me, but have you heard the news about Zorro?” the servant asked. 

Alejandro noticed that his grandfather had a startled look on his face and remembered Bernardo telling him that he had not told Abuelo about his ride yet.  Grandfather glanced at him before looking back at the servant girl.  “No, I do not believe that I have, Juliana.  What about Zorro?  Good news, I hope,” the old man answered hesitantly. 

“Oh, sí, patrón, very good news.  Juanito saw Zorro riding toward the pueblo as he was taking some pots to sell.  He said that Zorro was magnificent, raising his sword as though it would catch and hold the light of the moon and the stars.  Juanito told everyone he saw and Pepe told us,” she told him.

“That is excellent news, Juliana.  Thank you for telling us,” Alejandro said.  She bowed and left.   He turned and saw Jandro grinning from ear to ear.   He only grunted, determined to talk to the boy privately later about the dangers of riding as the Fox. 

“Would it be all right for us to go to the mission and visit Mother?” Mari asked. 

“Of course, my child.  As soon as breakfast is finished, I will have Marcos ready a carriage for you,” Alejandro said, sighing again.   He had forgotten how much anxiety was mingled with happiness when younger children lived in the household.   “Yes, I am sure that your mother would be happy to see both of you, after I have had a talk with your brother about riding responsibly,” he said, looking meaningfully toward Jandro.  The young man’s grin faded a bit, but there was still a pride in his eyes that Alejandro couldn’t help but feel himself.   

 

 

Chapter Twenty
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