Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

Chapter Three

Strangers

 

May, 1833

 

Time moves swiftly for some, slowly for others.  For Diego de la Vega, it was excruciatingly slow, especially when he remembered the two brief times that had been among his happiest.  Those times remembered were his time off Earth when he had shared the love of an alien woman who still continued to inhabit his dreams and thoughts in the quiet, peaceful moments of the night, and the year that he had found love again with the sweet understanding woman from Santa Barbara.  Minta and Conchita, both had given him so much, both had been taken so cruelly. The nights were the longest, when the sweet memories filled him with joy so very exquisite that it was almost like a sword thrust into his chest, and when the pain of his loss was so horrible that he wished he could ride off a cliff and end it all. 

But the sun brought solace, mainly in the form of another Minta, the bright joy of his heart, his six-year-old daughter.  He doted on her, reading books to her, teaching her to read to him, playing hide and seek throughout the hacienda, watching her plan grand fiestas on the patio with her imported porcelain dolls.  His hazel eyes sparkled as he watched his daughter introduce the little doll, Conchita to the governor.  The fixed blue-eyed stare and the ruby red painted lips always said the proper things and made the proper gestures.  The dark hair reminded him of the one for whom the doll was named.

He smiled in pride as she read the simple words from an easy to read version of the story of El Cid to her crippled grandfather.  It was one of the things that had given the older man reason to live after the riding accident that had broken his hip and made it virtually impossible for his father to walk.  And it had given Diego great satisfaction to write the tale in a form that she could read.  He was determined that little Minta, unlike most girls in his society, would grow up lettered and schooled, and he had taken on the role of teacher the previous year.  That determination had been given substance one evening when she had been sitting in his lap while he was writing letters to a friend in Monterey.  She had showed curiosity about the strange markings he was making on the paper, and he had decided to take advantage of that curiosity.

But then there were the nights…and in them there was only the solace of riding as Zorro, of helping his people.  And so life continued….

 

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September, 1834

Juan Batista Reyes, formerly of the Spanish, then Mexican Army, sat at one of the tables of the tavern patio, sipping his wine.  It had been a hot ride from San Pedro with the shipment of silk and cotton cloth, and he was going to take advantage of this short amount of time before he had to leave the pueblo and return home. 

Life was good.  Having wed the not so beautiful, but very eligible Señorita Bastinada, Reyes was in a position to enjoy leisure, despite the fact that the drayage business could get quite busy, especially since the Mexican government imposed few embargos on foreign shipments, such as the Spanish government had.   As he sat alone, however, he missed the companionship of his friends in the Army.  Sgt. Garcia had retired two years ago and was busy on his small plot of land on the de la Vega rancho, or as busy as he could be when he wasn’t trying to flatter something tasty from Lucentia, the cook.  Lugo was a sergeant himself and therefore busy, and most of his other friends were managing their own lands that had once been part of the local missions.   Ah, well, he thought, I have Cristina María waiting for me.  With a contented sigh, he finished the wine in his cup and then looked at the bottle that stood sentinel by his elbow.   It still had a bit more wine.  Smiling, he realized that if Sgt. Garcia had been sitting here with him that last swallow would have been gone a long time ago.  He poured the tepid liquid into his mug and gazed over the plaza.  Sometimes he missed those days.

His eyes narrowed in the hot sun as a pair of strangers rode into the plaza from a side street.  Squinting, he realized that they were both very young, not much more than children.  Perhaps they were still children, he thought, taking another sip and wondering where their parents were.  Sometimes it could be dangerous for children in such rich apparel to ride alone. 

Although they sat their horses easily enough, there was something that told him that they were either somewhat new to riding or that they just hadn’t ridden for a very long time.  He was curious about these two and continued to observe them as they rode toward him. 

Reyes watched as they dismounted and approached. 

“Buenas dias,” the young man said to him.  There was something familiar about the boy, but Reyes couldn’t figure out what it was.  He knew he had never seen him before, but still…  The young man had light brown hair, gray eyes that seemed to sparkle with flecks of bluish-green light and skin that seemed to have seen much sun.  His hands were long with narrow fingers and he used them to gesture as he spoke.  But most striking was his good-natured smile, a smile that seemed to exude happiness and joy.  Occasionally he looked around him with the gaze of one who was seeing his surroundings for the very first time.  They are strangers to this part of California, Reyes thought.  Their accents are different, too.

“Buenos dias,” he responded.  “Would you care to sit here out of the sun for a while?”

“Sí, indeed we would,” the young man answered.   “My name is Alejandro and this is my sister, Maria Isabella,” he added. 

The girl looked to be much darker than the boy, almost a mulatto, but Reyes was not going to even question familial relationships.  Although there were differences in the two there was something in their features that told him that the boy was telling the truth.  The girl’s eyes were of a violet that would rival the color of amethysts.   Her hair was only a bit lighter than her brother’s.  Her hands also had long slender fingers.  “You are not from here, sí?” Reyes asked.

“You are right, we are not.  We have come to see if this would be a good place to settle.  Our family wants to join with another here in the Pueblo de Los Angeles…for a business venture,” the boy said.   

Hope rose inside as Reyes contemplated the richness of the young people’s clothes.  The calzoneros and the chaqueta on the young man were embroidered with gold and silver braid.  The young senorita’s white blouse was ruffled and decorated with small white pearls.  Her riding skirt seemed to be made of very good cloth, too.  “Any particular family?  My wife and I have a drayage company and I am sure we could arrange a very good partnership,” Reyes said hopefully.  

The girl laughed.  It seemed almost musical, like the happy singing of birds and Reyes found himself smiling. “No, we are here seeking an . . . alliance with the de la Vega family,” she said.

“Oh,” Reyes said, trying hard to hide his disappointment. 

“Could you tell us about Señor de la Vega?” the girl asked.

“You mean Don Diego?” Reyes asked.  They both nodded. “Don Diego does not come into the pueblo and socialize as much as he used to.”  His eyes got a look in them as if he were remembering the past.  “He is quite busy managing the hacienda, and spends the rest of his time with his daughter.” 

“Daughter?” the young man named Alejandro asked.  He seemed surprised.

“Sí, she is seven now, going on eight.  Her mother died when she was born and Don Diego has raised her alone,” Reyes explained.  He could have sworn that the pair sighed an audible sigh of relief.  Looking out over the crowds of peons, merchants and gentry in the plaza, he saw Don Diego and the little señorita at one of the stalls, looking over some of the material that he had recently brought in from the ships docked at San Pedro.  “In fact there is Don Diego and little Minta now,” he added, pointing. 

The pair looked in the direction he was indicating.  At the same time there was a gasp from the girl and the boy put his hand on her sleeve as though to calm her.  This pair was getting more and more puzzling. 

“Minta?” Alejandro asked, surprise clearly evident now. 

“Sí.  Minta Conchita.  According to Don Diego, he named her after his fiancé, a foreign woman named Minta and his wife, Conchita,” Reyes said.  “The first Minta had to return to her home because some of the towns people thought she was a witch and beat her.  It was very sad.  Don Diego was very much in love with her.  He was very sad for well over a year.  In fact he was more than sad.…”  He leaned toward the young people and with curiosity etched on their faces they leaned toward him.  “Many say that he almost went loco.  He was not himself for a very long time.  Do you want to hear a rumor?”  They both nodded.  Although the girl’s eyes showed sadness for what she had just heard, she could not stifle her interest in what he had to say.  “It is said by some, although I do not believe it, that Father Felipe married them before the young woman was beaten.  It was also said that she may have died from her injuries and that is why she suddenly disappeared.  But whether it is true or not…I do not know.”  He leaned back and looked at the pair to see the result of his comments.  To his surprise, they looked as though they already knew that news.

“But he united…er married another?” the young man asked.

“Sí, Don Alejandro felt that his son needed a wife.  It is said that the old patrón got tired of Don Diego’s sadness, and after two years he arranged a marriage for his son with the youngest daughter of the alcalde of Santa Barbara.  I think Don Alejandro thought that Don Diego would fall in love with her and be happy.”

Young Alejandro looked intrigued.  “And did he?” 

“Yes, I believe he did.  Maybe not at first, but later, I think he truly loved her.  Even from the beginning he was always kind to her and treated her with great deference.”  Reyes leaned forward and lowered his voice conspiratorially again.  “But just between you and me, I think that he is still in love with the foreign woman.  That is why he named the little one after his fiancé.  It is sad to be in love with someone you cannot ever have, especially if she is dead.  But the little girl makes him happy.”

The pair smiled at one another almost as though they were sharing a secret.  “So we need to see this Don Diego in order to talk about a business arrangement, sí?”

“Sí,” Reyes said. 

“Graciás, we will tell our mother,” the young man said.  “Now we have another question, if you have the time.”

“Of course I do.”

“What about the bandit, Zorro?” young Maria Isabella asked before her brother could say anything. 

“Ah, Zorro,” Reyes said.  “He still rides, sometimes more, sometimes less.  He rides only when there is need.  It is said that he will be around forever.  It is also said that he cannot be killed, even by demons.  He proved it many years ago.”

“Has he ridden lately?” the young man asked. 

“I am not sure.  I spend most of my time in San Pedro.”

“Please tell us about him,” the girl begged.  They looked more like children now in their eagerness. 

“Pick one story, even a small one, please,” Alejandro wheedled.

Reyes looked thoughtful.  “There are so many stories.  But I suppose that my favorite is when I had just married Cristina María Bastinada.  Some bandits supposed that she would be carrying a great sum of gold since she was rich.  Maybe they thought she would have her dowry with her.”  He thought of that day eight years ago and the fear of it still lingered, just as the vivid memory of it did.  He saw his listeners sitting attentively, their chins in their hands, their eyes glued on his face.  Now they certainly looked like children and he wondered just how old they were. Sometimes they looked young and sometimes they looked old.

“The bandits had torn through our belongings in the coach trying to find something of value, but they only had the watch that my dear wife had given me.  Angry, they were about to lay hands on Señora Reyes when a whip sang out and the bandit closest to my wife screamed in pain, clutching his bleeding wrist.  The others turned as Zorro continued to lay into them with his whip.  They did not even have time to pull out their pistols.  As they were running to their horses, Zorro chased after them and sliced a Z in the back of one of the bandit’s vests.”  He saw that they were eager for all the stories he could tell them, but he needed to get back to San Pedro soon and his own curiosity had not been taken care of.

“Where are you from?  Are you far from home?” he asked.

“Yes, we are from far away,” Maria Isabella said, looking at her brother in that knowing way that Reyes had begun to expect. 

“Are you from somewhere in California?”

“Yes, in a way.  Our father is Californiano,” Alejandro said evasively. 

“He is?  But what part of California did you come from?” Reyes asked, his curiosity not to be denied. 

“We didn’t grow up in California,” the girl said, then seeing that such an answer wouldn’t satisfy their host, she continued, “We lived in KurlisRintl for a few years.”

“Oh.”  Reyes pondered, knowing that he was not very smart in geography, but still never having heard of a place by that name.   “Is it a pretty place?” 

“Sí, it is very pretty.”

Reyes looked up and smiled.  The two young people turned around and gasped audibly.  Coming toward him from across the plaza was Don Diego.  “What a pleasure to see you!” Reyes called out, standing.  Glancing toward the two young people, he was surprised to see only vacant chairs.  How did they do that? he thought, not having even heard their departure, much less seen it.  Then he turned his attention back to the tall man approaching him.  It seemed that Don Diego had aged little from the time he had returned from Spain over fourteen years before.  Oh, he had lost that boyish look, but there was still the quick smile, especially for his daughter.  No, Reyes thought, we should all be fortunate to age so well.  He decided that it must be the little one; that is what was keeping the patrón so young. 

“And it is very good to see you as well.   May I join you?” Don Diego asked as he approached.  Minta skipped along by his side, her little feet making puffs on the dusty ground.

“Sí, of course.”  He gestured to the bar maid to bring more wine and another cup. 

“And who were your friends?” Diego asked.  “They seemed to leave in a hurry.  And they seemed rather young.  Of course they left before I could get too close, so I may be mistaken about their age.”

“Sí, they seemed quite young.  They talked about making some kind of business arrangement with you.”

“Oh?”  Diego frowned as he sat in one of the seats vacated by the departing strangers.  “I do not usually discuss business with children.  Did they say where their parents were?”

“They only said they were getting information for their mother and that their father was a Calforniano.”

“Intriguing, and what did you say their names were?  Maybe I have heard of their family.”

“They said their names were Alejandro and Maria Isabella…um, they did not tell me their last name,” Reyes said.  Then he looked at Don Diego.  His face seemed to pale slightly at the mention of the young people’s names.  As she sat in his lap, Little Minta alternated her gaze between her father and Reyes. 

“What did you say their names were?” Diego repeated, leaning over and almost whispering his question. 

Reyes repeated himself.  Diego only nodded, but seemed distracted as he drank his wine. Soon afterward, he got up, excused himself and gathering up his daughter, strode across the plaza to a carriage.  Soon they were gone.  With a sigh, Reyes followed suit, heading down another street that led toward San Pedro. 

   

 

 

Chapter Four
Chapter One
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