Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

Agony in Ecstasy

 

With a speed that he didn’t know still existed in his body, Zorro reached the woman, and shoved her aside.  As she fell to the ground next to him, he stared at her in astonishment.  It was Minta.  Despite the darker color of her hair, it was Minta!  Remote and forgotten was the bandit.  When the ball hit him, Zorro felt himself lifted off the ground and shoved backward.  Then he was laying flat on his back in the dust, feeling a radiating, pulsating pain that seemed to shoot throughout his body.  He gasped for the breath that seemed to have fled when the musket ball had hit him.  The pain felt like knives and he cried out before he could stop himself. 

Minta’s face came into his view, her amethyst eyes filled with fear.  After the echoing report of the weapon died away, there seemed to be a split second of silence, where it almost appeared as though time stood still.  Then the crack of an explosion rent the false stillness, the shuddering of the ground beneath him quickly following.  The cattle bellowed, their cries high pitched in their terror, and they began pushing toward the barricade, those behind forming an inexorable wedge that threatened to crush those ahead of them. 

“The cattle…they are breaking through the barricade!” Minta gasped, her fear making her voice crack.  “We are in the open, in their path, they will trample us.”

“Lee of the boulder,” Zorro said, feeling the muscles below his ribcage knot and spasm.  He bit his lip, stifling this cry of pain into a moan. “Get there…you will be safe,” he gasped.

“Not without you,” she said.  And he knew she meant it.  How did she get here? he asked himself as he pushed himself upright on one elbow.  When he pushed himself up to his knees, Zorro felt wetness spreading across the front of his shirt.  He heard the frenzied bellowing of the steers, their fright palpable in the air.  He heard the splintering of poles as the cattle tried to push their way toward freedom.   A final crash behind him told him that the barricade was down, but while the rest of the world seemed to move normally, it was as though he was moving through quicksand.

Suddenly Zorro felt something grab his shirt and he was lifted to his feet.  Realizing that Minta was the one who had pulled him up, he looked at her in surprise.  Next she jerked one of his arms around her shoulders and began pulling him toward the nearest boulder.  He realized that she could not drag him the entire distance, despite the fact that she had just pulled him from the ground.   He concentrated first on moving his feet in time with hers, then on forcing his legs into faster movement.  Ignored was the stabbing pain and the weakness that seemed to accompany it.  Her safety depended on his; he had to keep moving. 

They reached the far side of the boulder just as the first of the cattle began sweeping by, funneled by their rock shelter into two compact lines that forced their way out of the narrow neck of the valley.   Nearby, Zorro heard hoarse screams, suddenly cut off that told him that some of the bandits had not been able to get away.  As the panic-stricken cattle streamed by, Minta drew him close, her arms enveloping him tightly as they leaned against the boulder.  Panting, he reveled in her presence.  He felt her heart beating against his chest, even over the thundering vibration of the herd of cattle.  She’s back!  By the saints, she is back!

He gazed at her, bewildered . . . it was too unbelievable.  Suddenly he grinned, ignoring the pain in his gut.  “Minta, enamorada, you have returned.”  She smiled back at him, unable to pull her eyes away from his.  His knees felt weak, but he ignored that as well.  His happiness seemed disjointed from the feelings of his body and he began to laugh. He laughed with joy until the searing pain jerked his laughter into a moan, but still he couldn’t take his eyes off of her face.  Back!  She is back!  He continued to laugh mentally.  “You are back,” he murmured.  His eyes drank her in and his soul filled with happiness. 

“Diego, sit down.  Let me look at your wound,” Minta said, her voice trembling.  Amidst the bellowing and thundering of the stampede rushing through the two narrow passes that their shelter created, Zorro did as he was asked, the weakness in his knees precluding argument.  He watched silently as she pulled away his sash and opened his shirt.  He noted that the front of her blouse was stained with blood.  His blood.

“Oh, Dios mio!” she breathed, seeing the steady welling of blood from the wound.  Undoing the cord of his cape and slipping it from over his shoulders, Minta bit and jerked at the edge of the cloth until the fabric separated.  She tore the satin into wide strips and then folded one of the strips into a large bandage, placing it against the wound.  “Diego, I want you to put your hand against this and hold it there,” she said. 

Zorro began feeling a peculiar kind of detachment as though he was in a dream.  Yes, that is it.  I am dreaming…if I could just wake up.  But no, if I did, Minta would go away.  He kept staring at her face.

“Diego!  Do as I say!” Minta shouted in his ear to make sure he heard over the noise of the stampede. 

Automatically, he clamped his hand across his abdomen and felt her hand settle over his.  The pressure that at first had seemed to increase his discomfort, now seemed to ease the nausea that he had been feeling along with the pain.  He looked into her eyes again, this time in bemusement.   “This is a most unusual dream,” he said, smiling slightly.  Her face wavered in the clouds of dust created by the passage of the stampeding cattle.

“This is no dream, Diego.  We have to get medical help for you or you are going to bleed to death,” Minta said.  How am I going to get that help? she thought, desperately.  She couldn’t leave him.  She prayed to all the deities that she ever knew for the help she so desperately needed. 

Minta looked down at the partially disguised face of the man she had fallen in love with thirteen years ago, the man she had never stopped loving.  She remembered the first time she had removed his mask.  It had been such a happy time, a time of hope and promise. 

Gently, she pulled off the mask, anxious to see his face after all these years.  The march of time is inexorable, but it had been kind to him.  Diego still had the youthful appearance he had when she first met him, although there was a bit more fullness to his face.  He gazed at her hungrily.  Querida,” he whispered.   He reached up with his free hand and gently touched her cheek. 

The dust generated by the stampede continued to rise in cloying billows, causing them both to cough and choke.  She pulled Diego close to her again as the cattle seemed to press upon them in their headlong flight of terror.  Would it never end? she thought.  Minta knew that the valley was huge when her horse had entered but this rush of cattle seemed to go on forever.  She had come so far and now she couldn’t lose him, not again.  Tears trickled down her cheeks.   She pressed the bandage harder against his stomach as he choked on the thick dust. 

Diego leaned his head against her shoulder when the coughing spasms became too much to bear.  He breathed through the fabric of her blouse, feeling her warmth and smelling the faint fragrance of blossoms, partially forgetting his agony in the pleasure of her embrace.

“I have never…had a dream…where this happens,” Diego finally said when he was able to catch his breath.  “I will be awakening soon.  Feeling my daughter in my arms,” he added.

“Daughter?” Minta asked, her voice cracking.  That was the one possibility that she had not thought of, that he would have married and had a family in her absence.  A daughter?  Alejandro and Maria Isabella had not mentioned a daughter.  What had they mentioned?  Almost nothing.   Diego must have been alone when they saw him. But why didn’t they talk to someone about it? she asked herself. No, but they wouldn’t have known.  Her thoughts were like the racing of little hreevals in a cage, chasing each other frantically. The tears that had been trickling down her cheeks over Diego’s injury were intensified by disappointment.  It is not fair! she cried mentally. The last of the cattle ran past them and out of the valley.  They were now alone with the dust and her tears.

“Yes, my little one,” he said softly, laying his head back against the boulder.   “She is beautiful…as you are,” he added, again reaching up with his free hand and running one finger down her cheek, this time wiping away her tears.  “Dream or reality…you are beautiful, Minta.  Kiss me, please?”  His eyes had a bewildered look in them as though he wanted reality but was afraid of the same disappointment he had experienced every time he had dreamed and then awakened.  She knew the look.  It was the same gaze that had stared back at her from her mirror over the past twelve plus years every time she had dreamed of Diego.

Knowing that he was married, she wanted to refuse him, but she couldn’t.  It was something that she ached to do for so long, for so very long.  She leaned down and placed her lips over his.  Their lips molded together and became one, their mouths forming a union for their bodies.  Diego’s free hand found the back of her neck and he pulled her even tighter against him.   He moaned and Minta didn’t think it was entirely from pain.  When she pulled back, his eyes were closed, but there was a slight smile on his lips. 

She looked around in despair, but saw no rescue, no help.  There had to be something she could do.  Looking up, she saw Tornado standing on the hillside, pawing and calling out.  Even though it would increase the bleeding, even though she was doubtful that Diego could even stay up on the horse for long, she could not just sit here and watch him bleed to death.  From her study of the reports that had been made on Diego when he was on Rantir; from her knowledge of her own children, how they were like her and the subtle differences that made them part human, she knew that the ball could not have hit him in a more dangerous area.  The ball had penetrated at the lower part of the rib cage, gone through his diaphragm and had probably lodged itself in the lower quadrant of the liver.  Holy Mother, help me! 

If only she could get him to the shuttle.  “Diego, listen to me.”  He opened his eyes and blinked.  They had the slightly glazed look of someone going into shock, but finally he focused on her.  She talked to him as she pulled his sash around his body and drew it over the bandage.  “We have to get to the shuttle.  There you will get the help you need.”

“Shuttle?” he asked, puzzled.  He winced as she drew the sash tight and tied it in a double knot, to make sure it wouldn’t shift. 

“Yes, a small space ship.  It can take you to the large one in orbit where there is a good medical facility.”

“Oh,” was all he said.  Minta wasn’t sure if he totally understood all she had said or not.

She turned and called out to the stallion that was watching her from the side of the hill.  He pranced and whinnied, but came no closer.  “Diego, you have to call your horse.  He will not come to me.” 

He was still watching her; more lucid then he had been a few moments ago.  Nodding, he pursed his lips and whistled, then gasped in pain.  Dios mio,” he hissed. 

Minta was gratified to see Tornado approach until he was standing within a few feet of them.  He snorted, pawing the earth.  “I’ll help you as much as I can, but we will have to get on Tornado so we can get to the shuttle,” she explained.

“Yes,” he murmured.  “I…”   Words were useless, Diego decided, and he concentrated on trying to push his weakness from the forefront of his consciousness.  Pulling his legs under him he reached behind him and grasped an outcropping of rock.  Minta grabbed his other arm and helped him stand.  The world seemed to sway around at first and then the dizziness and nausea eased.  Looking up, he saw Tornado.  Leaning on Minta, he walked haltingly toward the ebony stallion.  Each step seemed like a mile, his breath coming in ragged gasps, the fiery pain tearing at him.  He seemed to dimly remember saying something to Sergeant Garcia a long time ago about the impression of bullets in stomachs.  Now he knew what impression a little bullet would make.  He smiled slightly at the irony as he remembered.  And then he wondered at the speed with which it had debilitated him.  Am I that weak?

They finally reached the horse and Diego grasped the saddle horn with one hand, hanging on tightly.  “Diego, you keep hanging on like you’re doing.  I’ll boost you into the saddle,” she instructed.

“Let me rest a moment,” he replied.  

“There’s no time.”

He nodded and grabbed the saddle horn with both hands.  I have to do this, he told himself.  I have to do it.  Cannot let them find me out here.  And not with Minta here.  He pulled himself off the ground, but could not seem to find enough strength to swing his leg over Tornado’s back.   He slid back to the ground and leaned against the stallion’s side, panting. 

“Try it again, Diego!  Let me boost you up,” Minta said.  She cupped her hands and put them under one foot, pushing him up.   Again, he was able to pull himself halfway into the saddle, then he found the strength to pull himself all the way up.  Another wave of nausea hit him and he bit his lip.  Minta was soon sitting behind him, one arm firmly around his waist, the other grasping the reins.  With a gentle nudge, she eased the stallion forward and out of the valley.  She chafed at the slowness of their gait, but it was progress. 

Diego felt Minta’s body pressed against his back, her arm around his waist.  He felt the sharp, intense knife-edged pain of his wound, the warmth of his own blood slowly trickling down his right leg, but most of all he felt Minta.  She had returned, she was not a dream, she was real, come back after all these years.  How he wished he could take her in his arms, crush her to him, feel the soft fullness of her lips against his.  Later, his befogged mind said.  Later.  Right now he had to concentrate on staying upright, conscious.  With his free hand, he grabbed the saddle horn, but it kept slipping off.   Why do I feel so weak?  Why so quickly? he asked himself again.

Minta felt Diego’s body sag against hers and she despaired at reaching the shuttle.  While he was still trim, he was by no means light.  “Diego!  You have to stay awake,” she said in his ear. 

“Yes,” he said weakly.  “I am trying, but so hard . . . so hard.   Do not understand.  So quick.” 

Minta wondered what he didn’t understand and then it hit her.  It was the speed at which the wound had debilitated him.  “Diego, the bullet is in a bad place.  You’re bleeding a great deal.  That’s why we must get to the shuttle.”  They rode out of the end of the valley and into the next, one that was not so steep sloped or rugged.  Diego was only semi-conscious, but he was managing to stay in the saddle.  Minta began to feel hope.  They slowly made their way across this valley and were beginning to scale the slight rise.

“Feel sick,” he murmured, shuddering, and suddenly his body went slack in her arms.  He began to fall forward out of the saddle.  She couldn’t hold him upright anymore, and taking him tightly in both arms, she slid out of the saddle with him.  Luckily, Minta remained semi-upright as she fell.  Diego’s weight still pulled them both inexorably to the ground.  He landed on top of her and the sharp stones and hard earth cut and bruised her, but it was her failure to get help for Diego that stabbed most cruelly at her. 

Apparently he realized that she was underneath him and pushed himself off of her body to lie quietly beside her.  She quickly got up and knelt next to him, sobbing.  No, not this way!  Not now!  “Minta,” he whispered.  “I am sorry.  I tried.  Leave now . . . before other rustlers . . .”

It was not supposed to be this way, she thought bitterly, her tears flowing unheeded. “Never!  Never again will I leave you, Diego!” she exclaimed, but she was beginning to feel that he would be leaving her before they even had a chance together. 

 

 

Chapter Eight
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