Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-five

Bitter Winds from the Past

 

 

The day after the second bans had been read, Minta stood in front of a tall mirror in the guest room of the de la Vega hacienda.  She gazed at her reflection critically.  The shiny blue material hung down her willowy body.  It was unadorned as yet, but still showing off her graceful figure that had changed very little in thirteen years.  A seamstress moved around her, pulling material in and pinning it, measuring, letting some material out, finally standing back and gazing at Minta with a critical eye.  The older woman’s dark brown eyes seemed to catch every seam and thread, gather and stitch in the half-finished dress.  She pursed her lips, cocked her head and continued gazing. 

“Is something wrong with it?  Is it that bad?” Minta asked. 

The woman shook her head, but before she could say anything, a man’s voice came from the doorway.  “Nothing at all wrong,” Diego said.  “You are very beautiful.”  He was leaning against the doorframe, he arms crossed over his chest, his eyes shining in merriment.  Both women could tell that he had been standing there silently for at least several minutes, admiring the view. 

“Don Diego!” the seamstress cried out.  “You should not be in here.  The dress is not finished and you should not see it until your wedding day.”  She turned and glared at him in indignation, her hands on her hips, her face showing that she would brook no breach in custom.

Diego laughed and withdrew from the doorway.  “I will be in the sala, my love,” he said as he left. 

Minta couldn’t help it, she laughed, too, and then gazed at the seamstress.  “Will you be finished soon?”

“Almost, señora,” the older woman said, her eyes twinkling in good humor, despite the previously serious tone of her voice. 

Minta was getting used to the difference in titles.  Some called her señora, assuming that the rumor of a previous marriage was true, and some called her señorita, assuming that the rumor about her previous visit was true and that she and Diego had enjoyed some pre-nuptial bliss before her departure.  While the idea that many considered the twins illegitimate bothered her, Diego had assured her that he would take care of that problem. 

Right now, Minta only wanted to go and see him.  She had been so busy with wedding arrangements that even though they were both staying at the mission, they had not seen much of each other.  Apparently, Diego felt that they would be together more often if he was at the hacienda.  

A little gray and white kitten scampered into the room, little Minta right behind her.  The girl stopped short when she saw Minta standing there. 

“She hid under my skirt, chiquita,” Minta said. 

“Oh,” the little girl said.  Gazing at Minta, she finally said, “The dress is beautiful.  You look very pretty, Tia Minta.”

“Thank you, Minta,” the Rantiri woman said.  With her toe, she gently nudged the kitten from under her dress.  Little Minta quickly scooped up Ojalá and held her close.  Then the seven-year-old turned and galloped out of the room.  Minta smiled.  Soon she was out of the dress and into her more casual skirt and blouse. 

Entering the sala she saw Diego sitting in a chair near Don Alejandro.  Her beloved looked a bit tired, probably from the trip to the hacienda, but otherwise very well for someone who had almost died two weeks previously.  His smile was the same, though, dazzling her as soon as he saw her walk into the room.  Joyfully, she crossed to him and kissed him, quickly pulling back before his father said anything.  Jerintas sat nearby, slowly sipping some de la Vega wine. 

“Diego tells me that the wedding dress is coming along nicely,” Alejandro said, his eyes gleaming in pleasure.  “‘Angelic’ is the term he used, I believe.”

Minta couldn’t help it, she giggled.  Señora Morales said that the prospective groom is not supposed to see the wedding dress before the wedding.”

“The bride in the finished dress, querida,” Diego corrected her.  “I promise that I will not peek when the dress is finished.”

“Only two more weeks, Diego.  That is all we have to wait,” she said, meaningfully.  “Then our dreams will be reality.”

Nodding, he said simply, “Yes.”

Minta turned to Jerintas.  “Did you bring the gifts?” she asked.  Diego and Alejandro looked puzzled. 

“Yes, Minta, I did,” the director said, setting down the glass and picking up the small chest next to his chair.  He put it on a stool next to Alejandro’s chair and handed him tiny key.  “These are gifts from the bride and her family, the people of Rantir,” he said, somewhat formally to the older man.

“Please, you open it, my son,” the old man said, handing the key to Diego.  

Diego stiffly knelt down in front of the stool and put the key into the lock.  When he opened the lid, he gasped in surprise.  Santa Maria!” he breathed.  Alejandro leaned over slightly and gazed into the chest.  The perimeter of the box was lined with small golden ingots; the space in the middle was filled with an assortment of jewels.  Looking up, Diego first glanced at Jerintas and then at Minta.  “But why did you feel that you had to bring such gifts?” he asked.

Before Minta could say anything, Jerintas explained.  “What little Minta knew of your customs, she told me.  Minta is the equivalent of a queen to the people of Rantir, and what is in this box is only a fraction of her total worth, that is, if one could put a monetary value on someone so precious.” 

“Oh,” Minta said, almost inaudibly, her eyes shiny with tears.  “Jerintas, you flatter me too much.”

Diego gazed meaningfully at the director.  “No, Minta, mi preciosa, he does not.  In fact the director is being very modest,” Diego said softly.  There seemed to be messages passing between the two men, but Minta turned away, embarrassed by all the praise. 

Alejandro cleared his throat.  “The gifts are welcome, Director.  Our sincerest thanks to you and the people of Rantir.”

A servant had come into the room with another bottle of wine just as Diego was opening the chest.  Only now did he open the bottle up and fill the empty glasses of those in the room.   He eyes seemed glued to the chest and its contents and he kept sneaking looks at the Rantiri director and Minta.  Alejandro smiled.  “Thank you, Jorge.  This will be enough for now.  If you would have Silvana prepare the guest room for Don Diego to sleep in for the next few days, I would be most grateful.”

Sí, patrón,” Jorge said, taking one last glance and then turning and leaving.

Alejandro laughed.  “Well, it will not take long before the news of Diego’s royal fiancé is all around the pueblo.   And that is probably to the good.  It has been a long time since there has been any one of high birth in the area to marry one of our citizens.  Your standing has risen to a new level, Minta, my dear,” Alejandro said, raising his glass to her. 

Minta just looked down, embarrassed by the whole incident.   “I simply wanted to bring something to this marriage other than my love, Don Alejandro.   These are all things easily accessible on  . . . in my homeland.  I have no intention of going back to Rantir again and I simply traded all my assets into what I felt was probably valuable here.”

“It was not necessary to put it all into such a gift, though,” Diego said, slowly rising from his position on the floor.  He took her hand and kissed it tenderly, his lips lingering on her smooth, warm skin.  She felt the old tingle that she had felt thirteen years previously and shivered inside in anticipation. 

 

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Maria Louisa and Pablo faced a group of about fifteen squeezed into the confines of the little adobe home on the outskirts of the pueblo.  Señores,” Pablo began.  “You are here because of an enemy, one so subtle that many were thinking her to be a friend.  We are here to exorcise a demon from our midst.  She appeared thirteen years ago, seduced one of our own and retreated to her home in hell when confronted by those who had discovered her true nature.  We are here to rid our peaceful home of the black bruha, this time forever.”  Pablo took a deep breath and gazed at those whose faces he could see.  There were a few soldiers.  There were also some vaqueros from various ranchos, some peons and a few who worked in the stores in the pueblo.  Their eyes showed agreement of his words. 

Over the past week, those whom Pablo and Maria Louisa had determined would believe them were carefully approached.  It surprised Pablo that most of those who had been asked to join their cause were not totally devout members of the Mother Church.  He had felt that their greatest asset would be using her demon origins against her.  Most devout members of the Church greatly feared the effects of Satan and his followers.  But in this Maria over-ruled him.  She chose most of those who were standing shoulder to shoulder in the crumbling hut.  

The soldiers in this group were gamblers and drinkers, whose excesses sometimes got them into trouble with the comandante.  Pablo knew that most of the vaqueros were drifters, braggarts who enjoyed fighting.  Others had grudges and seemed most willing to do something that might have repercussions against their masters who had welcomed the rich bruha, after such a long time.  Almost all had never known the witch from her previous visit. No one had been approached who seemed the least bit disposed to feel kindly toward Don Diego’s fiancé.  

Pablo also suspected that some of those whom Maria had cultivated were men who had been very close to her, closer than he cared to think about. It bothered him that she still made most of her living selling herself to others, even though he gave most of his pay to her for her support.  But she had promised that after the witch was gone, she would marry him.  Her promises that the others meant nothing fell sweetly on his ears and in his mind he felt the renewed warmth of her caresses.

“Time is short.  We must act soon before the witch marries Don Diego.  She must be captured alone if it is possible,” Pablo addressed the group. 

“What about her children?” a voice asked from the back of the crowd. 

Pablo cringed.  When he had told Maria that the two children who had showed up almost the same time as the bruha were obviously Don Diego’s, she had almost exploded with rage.  It had taken over an hour for him to calm her down.   Despite their origin, he felt a wrenching in his stomach when he contemplated the beating of children.   And he did not wish to involve Don Diego in the kidnapping of his fiancé either.  The caballero had never given him any reason to dislike him, indeed, he had always been respectful of him.

“If they are with her, it is all the better,” Maria hissed.  “They are the spawn of her seductions and have the demon blood as well.  If we get the children, so much the better,” she added. 

“How do we take this witch?” someone else asked.

“It doesn’t happen often, but she does occasionally slip out and go riding alone on the de la Vega lands,” Pablo said. 

“You are right.  It does not happen often.  She usually has a chaperone,” yet another voice sounded. 

“We can take care of the chaperone.   The opportunity will arise soon,” Maria Louisa said.

“One of the de la Vega servants was gossiping in the plaza today.   In celebration of the fact that Don Diego was well enough to return home, he and his fiancé are going on a picnic in two days,” a vaquero informed the group. 

“Ah, that would be perfect,” Maria Louisa.  “Enrique, you and Miguel find reason to mingle with the de la Vega servants and find out more about this picnic.  Find out what time they will be going, where it will be held, how many chaperones or vaqueros will be with them.   Come and report to me this evening all that you have found out,” she ordered. 

Maria Louisa smiled brightly as the group left her house. “Finally,” she said, “Finally, I will have my revenge.”

“Yes,” Pablo murmured as pressed her against his chest.  “I thought there was more to this than a simple quest to exorcise evil.”

“Yes, of course.  Holy passion is not my only motive, querido.  I want to make the bruha pay.  She ruined my life, ruined what could have been!”  Her eyes blazed with fury.  “I could have lived in a fine house, had fine clothes, been someone special.”

“But you are someone special,” Pablo assured her, pulling her even closer.  He was disturbed by her reference to marriage to someone else, someone much more important than he would ever be. For a moment she felt stiff in his arms, and then she looked up at him and put her arms around him.  Her eyes softened and took on a more loving look.  She smiled again, but this time the smile was for him and he felt warm in its radiance.

“Thank you, my love,” she said in a soft voice, laying her head against his chest.

“Soon this will be over and we can marry and you will live in a much finer house than this,” he promised. 

She answered by opening several button on his tunic and running her hands up and down his chest.  Pablo felt an answering warmth within his body and, with a laugh, he pulled her over to the only decent piece of furniture in the little one room hovel . . . a bed.   

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-six
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