Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

Chapter Four

The Past Returns

 

“Jandro, are you crazy?  We had the opportunity to meet him.”  Maria Isabella, nicknamed Mari, stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at her twin in something akin to disgust mixed with disbelief.  After all this time, the memories were about to become a reality and her brother got nervous and backed out. 

“It wasn’t the right time…and keep your voice down,” Alejandro said, glancing around at those passing by on the busy side street. Their horses stood placidly, chewing on their bits.

“Why?  Things have changed since Mother was here,” she countered.

“Maybe they are more tolerant of strangers, but we still can’t take a chance,” he said, his voice low.  To anyone passing by, they could have been speaking Russian, Italian or Chinese; it wouldn’t have mattered.  There was only one person in this entire pueblo who might be able to understand what they were saying and he was in the plaza.  “And I want to talk privately, not with others around.”

Mari looked thoughtful.  She turned and stroked the soft velvet nose of her palomino gelding.  “Yes, I suppose you are right about that.  We have waited twelve years, another day or two will definitely not matter.” 

“Let’s go and tell Mother what we have found out,” Jandro said, mounting his bay gelding.  His feelings as he had seen Diego de la Vega approach were mixed.  While he ached to meet this man who had almost been the stuff of legends for the past twelve years, he also felt fear.  Would the Designated One want to meet him?  There was a little girl he was taking care of now, and it was clear even without Señor Reyes’ account that he dearly loved the child.  Would there be room in his heart for two other children?  Two children he didn’t even know he had?

Jandro had been amazed at how closely his father had resembled the memory-accessed pictures his mother had put up in their room.  He only looked a little bit older; the mustache was the same, the eyes the same, the smile was almost the same, only a little sadder, not so bright.  The features, the stride, the voice, all almost like his mother’s memories.  He had worn out the disks watching his father, over and over again.  Perhaps he is a bit more filled out, Jandro thought, but essentially he’s the same man who had shown up on Rantir thirteen years ago.

He turned and watched Mari mount.  Her face was contemplative.  As they rode out of the pueblo in a direction roughly northeast, the minutes stretched into a long silence.  After they had ridden beyond the small homes and huts at the outskirts of the little town, Jandro pulled back on his reins and let Mari ride up beside him.  Her face still appeared thoughtful.  Then she turned to him, smiling brightly. 

Uh, oh, he thought.  She has a plan.  Aloud he said, “What’s on your mind, Mari?” Jandro asked, knowing his sister well.

“We don’t tell Mother what we found out, we arrange for them to meet,” she suggested, her voice raised in happiness.

“Mari, you’re the one who is crazy!” Jandro exclaimed.  “How would we do that?  How do we know he wants to?  What if they don’t like each other anymore?”

Sighing, Mari began explaining as she would to a much younger sibling.  “Jandro, he still loves Mother, he named our half-sister after her.  Señor Reyes said he loved her very deeply before and that he still did.  And we know Mother still loves Father.  She has never formed another union and told me she still considers herself united, since she didn’t say the words of dissolution. 

“All right, then.  How do you plan to bring them together?” Jandro asked bluntly.

“Hmm, I haven’t thought of that,” she said, with a slight frown.  “But I’ll think of something.”

 

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Diego knew he was dreaming, but there seemed nothing he could do to stop it, nor at the moment, did he want to…

Her skin was warm against his body, its smoothness satiny against the coarse hair of his chest.  He caressed her arm, brought his fingers under her chin and tilted it up until her lips met his.  The kiss began gently, but soon turned fierce, two people hungry for one other and not able to get enough. When they finally pulled away from each other, they were panting slightly.  Diego pulled Minta’s white-gold hair back from her face brushing his fingertips lightly across her cheek.  He saw her shiver slightly. 

“Are you cold, querida?” he asked. 

“No, mi amante, it is your touch that thrills me so.”

“Then I will touch you some more,” Diego said, a large grin on his face.  His hands worked their way down her torso, massaging, gently touching, feeling her excitement, and letting it add to his own.

“Little Maria Isabella will be soft like you,” he murmured, his hand resting lightly on her stomach.  “And Alejandro will be lithe, but tough, his fingers hard from using the rope and riding the hills with the vaqueros.”

Children?” she asked, puzzled. 

Diego looked at her eagerly and then realized where her bewilderment came from.  He drew back suddenly, the passion of the moment gone in the flaring of disappointment. 

“I am a unit, Diego. Units have never conceived and borne children,” Minta murmured, her face showing remorse for causing him pain. 

“Did you not say that I was kidnapped for that purpose?” Diego asked. 

Remotely in his mind, he wondered at this scene, it didn’t seem right, as though there was something wrong. 

“But I can only guess that such a thing takes time,” Minta explained. 

“Yes, mi amor, nine months,” he replied, chuckling, trying to salvage the awkward moment. 

“Diego!  I am not teasing.  I may not be able to have children,” she said, sadness deepening her voice.

Then he saw her in the coffin, still and lifeless, her stomach swollen with a child she could never have.  The red-flamed candles flickered their cruel indictment to his ineffectualness.  He cried out in his anguish, but only a mocking echoing laugh answered him…

No children…no children…no children…..     

Diego woke up, sweat dripping down his neck, his breath coming in short gasps.  He had thought the dreams were finally finished, that he had finally let Minta go.  In the past five or so years only fleeting thoughts that disappeared quickly when he awoke had haunted his sleep, fleeting variations of moments with Minta.

This one, though, was vivid, as powerful and devastating as the ones he had for the first year after Minta had left, as forceful as the ones that had almost driven him mad. This was more or less a parallel of the conversation they had had during their journey on board the ship.  What was most similar, though, was the bitter disappointment he felt, and Minta’s sadness and her look of guilt that accompanied his disappointment.  Then there was his guilt at making her sad. 

Those children in the plaza; they could have been his if they were a bit younger.  They appeared to be about fourteen or fifteen.  How could such a coincidence occur?  How could two children have the very names he had planned on christening his children?

Diego groaned, rubbing his hand over his face, feeling the wet slickness of tears on his face.  When would he be able to totally let her go?  Since Minta had left, the only times he had ever cried was in his sleep.  Sleep was his release, but it was also his personal Hell.  It was exquisite, those dreams, exquisite in the sweetness of the memories, however changed they might be, but he always woke up feeling the intense pain of his loss.  For the first years of little Minta’s life, he had also dreamed of Conchita, sweet dreams of her gentle caring mixed with the horror of her death, but those had, even then, been interspersed with dreams of the first Minta.  Now, when his dreams of Conchita had faded to only soft memories of her healing love, he still had dreams of Minta, vivid, sometimes, like this one, harshly painful nightmares.

Most of the time these dreams happened after a long, hard day, or when he had been out riding as Zorro and was tired.  Tonight was no exception. He had visited the camps of the vaqueros during the day to check on the culling of steers for slaughter.   During the evening Zorro had ridden, trying to find those who had attacked Pepito’s camp, injured several vaqueros, two severely, and stolen all of their cattle.  From what he had been told, this had also happened the night before at one of Don Julian Delgado’s camps.  He had been unable to find the whereabouts of the rustlers and had returned home exhausted.

Knowing that there would be no more sleep tonight, Diego slid out of bed.  He pulled off the damp nightshirt and tossed it on a nearby chair.  In the wardrobe, Bernardo had hung a clean white shirt and a pair of riding calzoneros for the new day.  Putting them on, Diego thought about the effort that his mozo, whose joints were slowly stiffening due to arthritis, still went to in order to serve him.  He stepped out of his room where he stood on the balcony, gazing over the patio and beyond that, the hills of the de la Vega lands.  Quietly, Diego padded down the stairs, feeling solace in the cold of the stone beneath his feet.  He strode through the sala, and on into the library where he lit two candles.  They illuminated the room enough to allow him to see the books on the bookcase, although he figured he could find the various titles blindfolded.  Reaching up to a particular shelf, he pulled down The Life and strange and surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.  He had always had a copy since his university days, but until the end of Spanish rule, it had been in a more discreet place.  Now he got it out often, transcribing parts into simple Spanish for little Minta to read out loud to him and his father. 

He felt too tired to do any translating tonight, but he did want to re-read some parts.  Diego simply let the book open to whatever page it would and his eyes fell on a particular passage, “In a word, as my life was a life of sorrow one way, so it was a life of mercy another…”  Laying the book on his lap and sighing, he stared at the embers in the fireplace, seeing the face of his dear Minta, the kind features of his second wife, Conchita, and the smiling, mischievous countenance of his little one.  He blinked and still saw little Minta. 

“Papá, may I sit in your lap?”

“Of course, my darling,” Diego said, placing the book on a little table next to the chair and taking his daughter in his arms.  “But you should be in bed.  It is entirely too late for someone your age to be up,” he admonished.

“But Papá, it is too late for you to be up, too,” she replied, her voice too bright to give credence to the stern tones.

“Ah, sometimes I cannot sleep, little one,” he answered. 

“Were you calling for her again?” she asked.

“Again?” Diego asked, a bit puzzled. 

“Sí, Papá.  I have heard you often.  At first I thought it was for me and I would come to your door and listen, but then I knew it was for her…”

Diego had thought his dreams were muted and fleeting until tonight, but apparently they were not.  “I am sorry to have awakened you, pequeña,he murmured, kissing her lightly on the forehead.  And indeed he was sorry.

“Papa, did you love Mama?”

“Chiquita, what a question.  Of course I did.” 

“But you never have called out Mama’s name like you do the other lady,” Minta said, laying her head on Diego’s chest. 

Diego felt his heart constrict for his child.  He had dearly loved Minta’s mother as he had the first Minta, and he had felt deep sorrow when she had died, as well as genuine loss.  “I loved her differently, Minta.  Your mother was sweet and gentle like you.  She helped me to . . . to get well.  She was very pretty, just as you are.  But she and I did not choose each other for marriage.  It took me a while to learn to love her.”

“I know.  Grandfather Alejandro and Grandfather Joaquin picked Mama for you.”  She paused and then looked up into his eyes.  Her dark brown eyes were full of questions, but then, he thought, they usually were.   “But you and the other lady did choose each other?” 

“In a way, little one, we did, and yet, we did not.”

“I just wish you had named me a regular name, like Maria or Innocencia or Marguerita.  Miguel laughs at my name,” Minta said with a sigh.  She snuggled deeper on his lap, reaching her arms as far around his chest as she could.

Diego reciprocated, wrapping his arms around her.  He knew that the children on the hacienda sometimes teased her about her name, especially Benito’s son, Miguel. “Minta, if you knew the story of the first Minta, you would not think so.  I named you after her because you are both special.  And do not forget, I also named you after your mother.  I . . . just could not call you by her name then.  It was . . .”  How in the world can I explain this? “ . . . It was too soon after your mother died, chiquita.   The story of the first Minta is a long and strange story, but then you have never wanted to hear about her,” Diego said gently, but a bit reproachfully.

Minta sat quietly in his lap and he began to think she had fallen asleep, but then he heard her sigh again. 

“Papá, tonight I dreamed of her, too.”

Diego jerked his head up in surprise.  “You did?  How did you know it was her?” 

“She was dark, as dark, almost, as Zorro’s horse and her hair was like the sunshine.  She was looking for you and calling your name, Papá, like she was lost.”

“But, Minta, you have always refused to let me talk to you about her.  How could you know?”

“Grandfather Alejandro told me a little bit about her, even when I did not want to listen,” she said.   “In the dream she said she loved you, Papá.  And she wanted to see you again.”  Minta looked deeply into his eyes.  “Could you tell me about her now?”

“Yes,” Diego said, his voice husky with choked off emotion.  “I can tell you about her.”  The soft murmuring of his voice continued until shortly before the sun rose, when they fell asleep in each other’s arms, their dreams filled with the peace of happy memories and loving hearts.

 

 

Chapter Five
Chapter One
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