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
“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
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
“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
“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.
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.
“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
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.”
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.