Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

Chapter 8

Rescue 

 

 

Minta cradled Diego’s head and shoulders in her lap and then pressed the bandage against his wound, wincing as he bit off a soft moan.  Her tears flowed freely, her grief almost more than she could bear.  Why did I even come back? she asked herself.  This was not what she had envisioned when she had made the decision to return.  Diego’s eyes continued to follow her as she cared for him.  Then they looked beyond her shoulder and she felt the presence of another.  Looking up, she saw Jandro staring at them.  Ai, thank you, God, she thought, seeing the answer to her prayers standing before her.  She wanted to laugh with relief, to take her son and hug him, but time wouldn’t allow either.  He stared at his father, their eyes seeming to lock on one another.

“I didn’t mean to,” the boy said.  There was remorse in his voice and anguish in his eyes.

Although confused at Jandro’s remark, Minta didn’t have time to figure it out.  “I do not know what you are talking about, Jandro, but you have to go back to the ship and get Jerintas.  Tell him that the Designated One is badly injured and needs medical help immediately.”  Jandro stood immobile.  “NOW, Jandro!  Do it now!” she shouted at him. 

Diego was confused.  There was something so very familiar about this boy, something he felt he should know.  What was it?  “In the plaza.  You were in the plaza,” Diego murmured.  Jandro nodded, the beginning of tears forming in the corners of his eyes.  The injured man felt Minta’s hand on his wound and took comfort in it.  He felt some measure of returning alertness.  It was as though Minta’s presence, her touch, had lent him strength, but then, he thought, she had always given him strength, even from the beginning. 

“If you don’t, your father will die,” Minta said, speaking Wis’ language, one that she knew was unknown to Diego.  The boy jerked as though struck and then turned his gaze to Minta.  “Alejandro, where is your horse?” she asked more softly, reverting back to Diego’s language, seeing that she had broken through whatever shock the boy was feeling. 

“Near the top of the far slope, tethered,” he replied, still staring at his wounded father. “I . . . I didn’t think to ride him.  I ran to keep up with you.” 

Diego understood what Minta was trying to accomplish and knew that it would take time for the boy to get his own horse.  While he wasn’t sure that the stallion would let the boy ride him, it was something that had to be attempted.  His thoughts slowed.  He kept staring at the boy.  What is it about him?  His mind seemed to flow like the tar in the La Brea pits.  “Tornado.  He is here,” he said.  “I think he might…let you ride him.  But let him smell you first.” 

Tornado, having remained close by when Diego fell off, allowed the boy to approach, only snorting once.  He cautiously sniffed him and at a murmured command from his master, allowed Jandro to mount.  The boy talked soothingly, and rubbed him along his neck.  Finally, he lightly touched the satiny side with his heels and rode the stallion out of the valley, slowly at first.  Diego followed their progress, and when he saw the pair speed up as they crested the hill, he returned his gaze to Minta.

“This is no dream?” he asked Minta.  Jerintas? he thought, remembering what Minta had said to the boy.  He’s here, too?   His thoughts ran in befuddled circles.   

“No, it is not a dream, Diego.”  She continued to cradle his body next to hers, drinking in the wonder of his nearness...of the reality of his being in her arms even under these horrible circumstances...until she must send him back to the other person in his life.

She thought of what she should be doing for him while they waited.  Adding another bandage to the one already pressed against his wound, she admonished him to keep firm pressure when she removed her hand.  She saw the slickness of his blood on the palm of her hand and she wiped it on her riding skirt.  She saw that her blouse was now red instead of the crisp white that it had been when she had put it on that morning. Diego’s blood.  There is so much of it, so very much.

Jandro had left the weapons he had confiscated laying near the boulder.  Somehow, she felt it was important to have them close by.  She took two of the pistols and stuck one of them in her waistband, while she left the other one within reach. 

Diego watched her, his eyes showing approval of her actions.  “There is another one…by the musket.  Hand it to me,” he told her.  She looked at him curiously, but complied.  He laid the weapon near his side where he could easily grab it.  “We do not know…how many bandits are alive.”  He paused and grimaced as a new wave of pain stabbed at him.  Then he had to swallow several times, trying to dispel the feeling of nausea that added to his misery.  “Who was the boy?  I saw him…in the plaza yesterday.  With a young woman. They disappeared…before I could talk to them.” 

Minta realized that he needed to be lying in a different position to help slow the flow of blood.  She gently helped him to lie flat on his back, folding the remainder of the cape and putting it under his head.  She raised his knees and then sat beside him, putting one hand back on his to keep pressure on the bandage.  With her other hand she ran a finger down the side of his cheek, forcing herself not to cry.  Although he looked better than he had initially, she didn’t doubt that there might be significant internal bleeding and she was afraid that the temporary respite wouldn’t last.  “I think this will help you feel better,” she said.

“You have not…answered my question,” he said and then paused.  “Yes.  I do feel better.   But I think I would rather…be in your lap.”

Minta couldn’t help it; she laughed at his last comment.  Then she sobered quickly, wondering how he would take the news she was about to tell him. “That was Alejandro.”  She gazed at him, saw that he was fairly cognizant and decided to tell him about their children.  “The girl was Maria Isabella.” 

“I know that.  I was told their names.  But who are they?” he asked, pausing between each sentence.  “They…look like you.”  Minta saw a look of confusion that held a hint of insight.  Then his eyes widened and she felt that he was beginning to understand the implications of the children’s names. 

“They are the children of the Designated One and the First Mother,” she said simply, watching his face change with the array of emotions he was experiencing.

Diego’s mind reeled.  He had three children!  Alejandro and Maria Isabella were his children.  His children and he didn’t even know about it.  The cruelty of it cut him more painfully than the bullet, and yet the joy of knowing they were his was an exquisite sweetness on his tongue.  His children!  “Dios!” he finally said after a few moments of assimilating what her words.  “You were pregnant?”  Then he felt stupid for asking such an obvious question.  Of course she was!  Then something else occurred to him.  “Twins?”

“Yes,” she said with a mischievous smile.  “Do you think the Designated One would do anything less?”

Now it was his turn to chuckle, but he immediately he regretted it.  His laughter turned into a bitten off cry as the pain shot through him like a twisting knife.  “Twins,” he finally murmured.  He gazed at her in wonder. “You did a fine job . . . raising them.  Alejandro looks older . . . than his years.  Strong.”  He felt the lethargy returning and struggled to stay awake.  My family has increased almost three-fold, he thought dreamily.  His consciousness wavered from the reality of his pain to the netherworld that gave him a slight release from it.  Always when he awoke, he saw her there beside him and was comforted.  

During one lucid moment, he looked up at her and asked, “Can you bring…Maria Isabella to me?  I want to see her before….   Please, I want to talk . . .to both of them.”  He thought dreamily of what he could have done with these two children during the past twelve years.  Riding through the hills, the fiestas, the nights in the library, reading.  Hearing his father tell the stories of his youth, of the land, of the old country.  They would have learned to cull out and break the best of the young, wild colts, they would have learned to play the piano and the guitar.  Would he have dared to secretly teach Alejandro how to use a sword?  He probably would have.  But there had been no opportunity. 

“Diego, when Jerintas gets here you will go to the medical facility on board the orbital star ship and they will take care of you.  I will not let you die,” she said, choking back the despair and trying to sound brightly optimistic.

“But I almost . . . let you die,” he whispered, his voice filled with sadness and regret. 

“NO!” she cried out.  “It was something that happened.  It was something that neither of us could stop.  It was not your fault.”  And the thought occurred to her that if she had only stayed on board the ship, Diego wouldn’t be laying here more dead than alive with a bullet in his body.  He would have broken up the rustling gang and been back home with his wife and child.  Before she could stop herself, she began to sob, and great tears forcing themselves between her tightly shut eyelids.

“You are right, enamorada,” he said, as though reading her thoughts, “there is no fault…in either case.”  His free hand caressed her arm lightly and she felt the exciting chill that his touch gave her shooting through her body.  She felt guilty at her feelings now, knowing that he was united to another, but still she wanted him to continue.  Instead his hand fell away after a few minutes and she saw that he had again lost consciousness. 

She sat beside him, letting the sun fall on her back, while she continued to hold the bandage against the wound.  Soon the heat became almost unbearable, but still she sat between Diego and the hot September sun.  Where is Jerintas? she asked herself in anguish. 

                                 

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Jandro leaned low over the neck of the stallion.  Forced to the back of his mind were the recriminations of his deed.  There was only the necessity for speed.  He had to get to Jerintas in time.  As they sped along, Tornado suddenly jerked to a stop, nearly unseating the boy.  The force field!  Pulling the horse back, he pondered.  They had communicators, but his was on the ship.  He had disdained taking it with him when they had arrived, because he was determined that he was going to stay here on this planet with his father.  He wanted to get used to this world without the benefit of off worldly technology.  Now he wished he had brought it, knowing that he could have called back from the little valley.  What could he do?  How could he get in? 

Tornado pranced nervously.  The horse wouldn’t go through the force field, but surely he could.  He had to.  Dismounting, he patted the stallion on the neck.  “Thank you, Tornado, you have done well.  Now go back to Father.”  The horse snorted.  “Go back to Zorro,” he said.  Pushing against his hand, Tornado blew his warm breath on the boy’s arm and then pivoted and galloped back the way they had come. 

Resolutely, Jandro turned toward the shuttle’s landing site.  As he approached the edge of the force field, he began to feel a revulsion, a desire to leave, to run away.  The air wavered in front of him, making his stomach lurch and his head spin.  Closing his eyes, Jandro slowly forced his way forward.  He felt a cessation of the horrible revulsion and opened his eyes again.  His feet had turned of their own accord and he was again walking away from the shuttle.  Despair gripped him.  I have to do this!  By the ancestors, I have to do this for Father.

He turned again, this time he kept his eyes open, seeing past the wavering, shimmering barrier and keeping his body on a direct course toward the other side.  His stomach again lurched and he felt bile rising in his throat.  Still he pushed his way forward, even though his steps faltered.  It seemed so very endless.  Why didn’t they see him and shut it off? Finally as he began to see the end of the shimmering, nauseating effect, it suddenly stopped and the shuttle appeared out of mid air.  

Mari ran from the air lock toward him.  “Jandro!  What is wrong?  Where is Mother?  Where have you been?”

“Mother’s horse ran away from her and she was captured by bandits in a nearby valley,” he answered, swallowing and trying to get control of his stomach. 

“What?!”

“She is all right, but Father, who was trying to rescue her, was shot,” he said quickly, then paused.  He couldn’t tell her the rest.  Not now anyway.  “We need to take the shuttle and get him.  He’s dying, Mari and only the doctors on the orbital ship can help him.”

“Dying?  Father?” she asked.  Tears began falling down her cheeks. 

“Who was shot?” Jerintas asked, striding down the ramp of the shuttle.  “Where is your mother?”

“She is not too far from here, but we have to go to her.  Father is badly wounded and will die if we don’t hurry,” Jandro cried out. 

Jerintas’ eyes widened with shock and he stood frozen for a moment.  Then it was almost as though he visibly shook himself.  “Come inside, quickly.  You can explain the whole thing as we find the captain.”

                       

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After what seemed a long time, Diego awoke once more, moaning, his heels digging into the ground as he tried to get some relief from his torment.  When he finally opened his eyes, he gazed at Minta’s face for several minutes, clearly happy to see her still there.  Then his eyes looked beyond her face. “Hair.  Darker,” he said.  “Why?”

“So I wouldn’t stand out, Diego, like I did the last time,” she said.  To her surprise, Diego picked up the pistol by his side and aimed it just above her head.  She turned as he shot and saw one of the rustlers falling to the ground, clutching his chest, his loud scream dying as he hit the ground.  Another bandit rushed toward her and she grabbed a pistol.  Without thought, she, too, fired.   He gaped at her as though not believing that she would actually shoot him, then he slowly dropped to the ground, his eyes still on her as his life blood flowed onto the dried grass of the valley floor.  Only then did she realize that she had killed a man, and she began shaking, dropping the pistol to the ground.  What have I done? she thought. I have actually killed an entity.  Never cause harm to another, the ancestors said.  Thou shalt not kill, my adopted religion tells me.  She felt the hot tears in the corners of her eyes. How has Diego learned to deal with this? she asked herself, the tears beginning to flow.

“He would have . . . killed you, querida,” he said, reaching out to touch her, seeing her reaction and feeling her pain.  He pulled her hand to him, stroking it, trying to comfort her with his touch. 

A sighing whisper accompanied by a wheezing thump told her that the shuttle was in the valley.  Minta realized that the force field had been adjusted so that the ship wouldn’t be seen as it flew its sub-orbital path.  She knew it was dangerous, because a force field shielding the ship like that could interfere with the ship’s navigational equipment.  To fly during the day, though, made it a necessity, a chance the captain had to take.  Diego’s puzzled look told her that he had heard the strange noises, but didn’t understand what they were.

“It is the shuttle, Diego.  Jerintas is here and you will be taken care of.  You will get well so you can return to your wife and daughter,” she said, feeling relief wash over her. 

His thoughts wavered.  Her words confused him.  “Wife?” he murmured.  “What?”  Then it dawned on him what she was thinking.  “Minta, querida.  I only . . . have a daughter.  Her mother . . . died seven . . . years ago.” 

Diego’s words shot through her like electricity.  He is not married!  She bent down to kiss him, wanting to laugh, feeling the tears of happiness roll down her cheeks, but he was unable to say or feel anything else.  He had finally sunk into a total oblivion where the pain couldn’t reach.   

 

 

 

Chapter Nine
Chapter One
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