Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty- four

Wedding Plans

 

Moneta’s dark eyes sparkled with joy at the prospects of the upcoming wedding and her voice lilted musically as she guided Minta around the plaza and into various shops.  “Minta, there are so many things to be done in three short weeks, but first we must buy the material for your wedding dress.”  With her hand resting lightly behind Minta’s elbow, Moneta guided the Rantiri woman into a shop that was small in size, but large in the amount of goods piled from the floor to the ceiling.  Part of one wall was devoted to material of all types. 

A short man, thin to the point of being gaunt, approached them.  His steel gray hair lay in waves all over his head, thick like the beard that bobbed when he talked.  “Ah, señora, señorita, what can I help you with?” 

“Briago, you know very well what we are here for.  News travels through this pueblo like the tide to the shore.  It is fast, powerful and inevitable.  We are here to pick out the material for a wedding dress,” Moneta said with a laugh. 

“Ah, Doña Moneta, you know it never pays to assume anything in this business,” the merchant said with a smile. 

“Perhaps, Señor Juarez, but you know you are the only merchant who deals in the finest silks and satins,” Moneta replied. 

“That is true,” Juarez said, undisguised pride in his voice.   He turned to the wall with stacks of material and pulled down a bolt of black satin.  “Our best,” Señor Juarez announced.  It had a soft luster like that of the rarest black pearl.  Minta touched it, marveling at the smoothness of the luxurious material. 

Moneta looked at Minta, and then at the material, then she looked up at the merchant, fixing him with a hard stare.  “Briago, even you can tell that this will not work.  It is too close to the skin color of the bride.”

“Ah, but señora, this is the customary wedding material,” he protested.  Minta just gazed at the two Californianos without saying anything.  She had learned quickly that even Bernardo was more astute at this game of trade than she was. 

“Maybe customary, señor, but not written on stone tablets,” Moneta retorted.  She gazed at the stack of satins and pondered. 

Minta saw, near the top, a bolt of material of deep sky blue.  “Moneta, is there any kind of taboo against the wearing of certain colors?” she asked.

“No taboo, Minta, black is just the customary color for a bride to wear.  However, there have been so many influences in the past twelve years that I do not think that any becoming color would be refused.  She followed Minta’s gaze.  “And I believe that on you that color would be most becoming.”  She pointed to the blue fabric.  “That one, Briago.”

Soon the bolt of material was sitting on the counter and Moneta held the end against Minta’s chest.  “Ah,” she murmured.  “That will be beautiful, Minta.  It will take Diego’s breath away.”

“Do you think?” Minta asked, excitement building. 

“Think?  I know, my dear.  He will love it,” Moneta replied.  Turning to the merchant, she said, “Briago, send the entire bolt to my hacienda. 

The next stop was to the shop of a cobbler where Minta’s narrow feet were measured and the softest and finest leather selected for her wedding shoes. Visits to other shops followed and by the time the two women had finished their shopping and the items had been loaded into the back of their carriage, the pueblo knew that this was going to be the wedding of the decade. Gossips spoke in whispers, the older members of the community remembered a time of happiness and then sorrow, guilt and shame, and they nodded their approval.  

As they left, Moneta turned to Minta and said; “Now the real work begins.” 

                                  

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Father Felipe sat on Diego’s bed, while the younger man gazed at him from the chair.  After four days in the mission, the priest was pleased with Diego’s progress.  “My son, I have been told that the wedding plans are going very well.”

“Yes, Padre, they are.  Marcos says that the seamstresses have already begun working on Minta’s dress and my new outfit.  I also hear that the children are doing well in their catechism and will be ready for their baptisms just before the wedding,” Diego said, drumming absently on the arm of the chair.  He still tired easily, but his need for rest had diminished a great deal in the past two days.  At times now, he felt closed in, bored and out of touch.  He wanted to be out in the hills, feeling the sun and the wind on his cheeks.  He wanted to be at home with his children.  He wanted to be in the sala planning the fiesta with his father.  He wanted to walk with Minta among the roses that grew along the patio wall, to have a moment alone with her.  Sighing, Diego brought himself back to what Father Felipe was saying. 

“. . . and you realize that there will be many adjustments to be made,” the priest said. 

“What?  Adjustments?” Diego asked, puzzled.  Then he realized what the padre was saying.  “Oh, yes, Alejandro and Maria Isabella will have many adjustments to make,” he agreed.  “As will Minta.”

“And you will, also,” Father Felipe added.

“Me?” Diego asked, puzzled.

“My son, you have lived the life of a bachelor for so many years, with your father and your dear little girl the only other people in the house, other than servants,” the priest said.  “And now you are doubling your household.”

Diego gazed at the crucifix on the opposite wall.  He wondered what changes had already been made.  The twins had been living on the hacienda for a week now.  Little Minta seemed the same, if not a bit happier for having them there.  During everyone’s visits there was nothing to indicate any problems.  Diego hoped that things were not being hidden from him.   Regardless, the adjustments would have to be made; Minta and the twins were here and had every intention of staying.  Soon all links with Rantir would be broken.   Then a bit of anxiety entered his heart.  Surely they would feel they could adjust enough.  Certainly they would not change their minds and leave!

Pushing that thought from his mind, he then wondered how the twins would accept his authority.  He sighed.  “Yes, Padre, it will be necessary for all of us to make adjustments.”   

“And I will presume that you will establish the twins as hijos naturales,” Father Felipe added. 

Diego blinked.  Of course! he thought.  “I had not thought of that, but yes, of course, I will.”

“Good, they are your children, after all,” the priest replied with a smile.

Diego stood up and buttoned his vest over his still sore stomach.  Smiling, he said, “It is hard to believe that just a week ago, I had no idea I had any other children.”

“Do you remember me saying that everything would be all right?” the older man asked.

“Yes, and I thought eight years ago, that you might have meant my marriage to Conchita,” Diego said solemnly. 

“Maybe I did, at least in part, my son.  But the road to ‘everything being all right’ is lined with hard work and some disappointments.  We only pray that the hardest disappointments are behind you." 

Diego said nothing, pondering the words that had just been spoken.  As he left to meet Marcos del Bosque in the vestry, he nodded his agreement.

 

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Private Pablo Ramirez mounted his bay and rode out of the cuartel, his thoughts on the evening before him.  His destination was a hut near the edge of the pueblo, its occupant a woman who knew how to turn a hard day into a pleasurable night.  At the tavern, he bought two bottles of wine.  Stopping at a stall near the edge of the plaza, he bought a shawl of the deepest, darkest blue.  Maria Louisa would surely like this gift.  The peso he received back in change would be appreciated by the señorita as well. 

As he rode toward her little house about a quarter mile from the edge of the pueblo, he sighed.  Although she was often moody and sometimes bad tempered, he still loved her.  And although she was well beyond marriageable age, he still wanted her for his wife.  Ever since he had first seen her almost a year ago, when she had come to the pueblo from Monterey, he had determined to marry her.  So far his efforts had been in vain.  It was as though there was something in her life she had to accomplish first, but even she didn’t seem to know what it was. 

He did know that she had been badly treated when she was younger.  Exactly how, she wouldn’t tell him.  That she still nursed a great resentment toward those who had wronged her was very evident.  His affections only partially assuaged her resentment and he longed for Maria to tell him who had so badly hurt her.  He ached for her and wished he could avenge that hurt and purge the hatred from her soul. 

As he rode up to her little house, he also added the wish to provide her with something better than the rough one room, one-windowed adobe.  The roof was a mixture of rounded pottery shingles and branches, and even that was an improvement, one that he had made several months ago to keep Maria from being rained on inside her house.  The sill of the single window was crumbling, while the curtain covering it was dingy and threadbare.  The whitewash on the outside was no more than a memory. 

Maria pushed aside the tattered blanket covering the doorway and blinked as the late evening sun hit her eyes.  Pablo could tell that Maria had experienced a bad day.  Her eyes looked puffy and red from crying, her lips were held in a thin, tight line.  She looked angry, angrier than he had ever seen her.  Dismounting, Pablo attempted to hand her the shawl, but Maria turned and reentered the hovel, letting the blanket flap close in his face.

He paused in surprise, and then pushed his way past the musty covering.  In the dimness, he saw her sitting on a stool in the corner, her head bowed.  Putting the shawl on a rickety table, he crossed the room and squatted down in front of her.  “Maria,” he said.  “What is it?  What is wrong, querida?

She sat silent, avoiding his eyes.  A single tear slipped down her dusty cheek. 

“Please, my darling, tell me.  I love you.  If there is any way I can help you, please tell me,” he implored her.  He saw her eyes squeeze shut and another tear trickle down her cheek.   “Please,” he pleaded, gently laying his hand on hers.

Finally she looked at him.  “She is back,” Maria whispered, almost inaudible. 

“Who?” he asked, alarm growing in his chest. 

There was a long silence.  Maria looked back at the ground.  The silence grew until it filled Pablo’s heart with deep despair.  He wanted to hold the woman in front of him, wanted to plead with her, make her tell him what had hurt her so very much.  But he knew from experience that there was nothing that would force her to talk to him until she was ready.  The silence grew, as did the shadows in the room. 

“The demon,” she eventually said, her voice still low.

“Demon?” he asked, confused, not expecting that kind of an answer.

Another silence.  Finally, “Yes, the demon who appeared and then disappeared almost thirteen years ago.  I thought we had chased her back to Hell.  But she is back.”

“Who is she?” Pablo asked.

“The black witch who almost married Don Diego,” Maria said.

“Are you talking about the foreign woman?” Pablo asked.

“Yes.  She is a demon.  She ruined my life.  That is why I have been in Monterey for the past eleven years.  I could not live here any more after I tried to save Don Diego and send her back to her evil master,” Maria explained.  “Even my mother conspired to send me away.”

Pablo laid his hands on hers and then enveloped them, her thin fingers in the safe cocoon of his strong ones.  “Tell me about it,” he coaxed, his voice low and soothing.  “Please.”  And she did.  She told him about the demon’s six fingers, the abduction of Zorro, Don Diego’s turning against her, and her mother ordering her to leave the de la Vega hacienda.  She poured out her soul; she spread her emotions all over the room.  He felt battered by the intensity of her feelings.  Pablo wanted to take her in his arms, hold her tight and comfort her.  As she spoke, he began seeing the foreign woman in a different light.  Now she seemed a sinister presence, rather than a curiosity.  He saw the stranger’s subtle effects on those around her, the underlying subterfuge in her quick and ready smile.  He saw something strange about her violet eyes, light hair and her dark skin.  Pablo shivered, feeling Maria’s fear, her anger and her determination to protect the people from this demon and her spawn. 

He also felt some of Maria’s anger against Don Diego de la Vega.  Pablo wondered if there was something else, something that she was unwilling to divulge yet.  He chose to wait until she was ready to tell him the rest.  In the meantime, he would continue to love her, and comfort her.  “Maria, what can we do?”

“We can get rid of her. Take her away from here,” Maria hissed.

“Kidnap her?” Pablo asked, incredulous. 

“No, take her away.  Send her satanic influence away from this pueblo,” Maria replied. She looked at him intently.  There was a fire in her eyes; a fierce fire flamed by her hate.  “How much do you love me?” she asked suddenly. 

Pablo was taken aback.  “You know I love you.  I have asked you to marry me.  What more can I do to show you my love?”

“Help me get rid of the witch!” she spat out.

“Where did she come from?” he asked, wondering which country she could have come from.

“From Hell!  Do you not understand what I am saying?”

Pablo was silent. 

“She came with a horde of demons thirteen years ago.  They took El Zorro, but he soon escaped.  Then when everyone thought they were gone for good, she came.”  Maria Louisa then detailed her meeting with the dark woman.  As she spoke, Pablo shivered, visualizing the scenes that Maria was painting.  He felt the same horror and righteous hatred that this woman he loved had felt as a girl.  He began to feel the indignation of not being believed, except by a few. 

“The priest?”

Padre Felipe was taken in by her devilish charms.  He even went through the motions of baptizing her.  Somehow she withstood the power of the Holy Water.”  When Maria Louisa was finished, Pablo shuddered, staring into the dark corners of the hut.  The sun sat on the horizon, its orange glow accenting the mood he was now in.

“What do you think she wants?” he asked.

“Don Diego first and then anyone else she can entice,” Maria said.  “Help me rid the pueblo of her.  Please, Pablo.  Do this for me.”

Pablo watched the sun fall behind the western horizon.  He envisioned it falling into the sea, making it boil like a witch’s cauldron.  “Yes,” he heard himself say.  “Yes, I will help you.  What do we do?”

“If no one objects during the reading of the second bans, then we take her far away and exorcise the devil from her.”  Maria Louisa gazed at him, her eyes bright with desire.  Then she broke into a smile, the first he had seen in days and Pablo felt her desire transfer to him.  Finally she came to him and put her arms around his waist.  He bent down and kissed her, long and deep, and he felt satisfied. 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-five
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