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Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

MACHO CABALLO PART I: CHAPTER DIEZ OF SECRET AIMS AND BARGAINS
THE BRUJO: Manuel sat in the entranceway to the adobe hut, holding his arm, as a flock of birds burst out of the bushes in a flutter of wings. His father strode up from behind the house, breathing heavily. The old man entered the hut, put a pot of coffee on the glowing coals, and returned to the opening. Alboro gently prodded Manuel's arm, receiving in response a sharp intake of breath. "It is a good break," he said, "I will have to set it." "I want to use it as soon as I am able," said Manuel, "The man who did this deserves to suffer." "You went to find my daughter-in-law," stated the old man, "How could you lose your son too?" "Ramón has not been seen since the party. Nor has the rancherita and her abuela... eggkkk...!" Manuel's face became as white as the cloth of his blouse when Alboro pulled the bones into place with a sodden crunch, then used leather thongs to tie green sticks around the arm for a splint. "... but Sinestro does not have them...," he gasped. "In my dreams I walked the mountains," said Alboro, "I talked with the bear, the wolf, and the puma. They tell me they have scented a foul beast which has wandered into this valley." "¿Que?" "It is good that you should ask. They describe a demon-hag, a foul creature which, it is said, devours young children. It has a cold breath which freezes the bravest warrior. Fortunately, it was only a dream." Manuel frowned at him. "Fortunately," he responded, "I thought those things did not travel." "Unless they are called," said the old man, "You must be getting careless, to have allowed this person to touch you." He prepared a sling and tied it behind Manuel's neck, "You never used to stand still and let people hit you." "Don't know too many people who would stand still for a badger attack," said Manuel, "they're little, but they are mean. Whoever this was, he was tough. Wasn't surprised when I jumped him." Manuel took the cup of caustic coffee when it was offered and choked it down. Then he waited while the cup was refilled with pulque. "Been thinking about this man," Alboro said. Holding the cup with his good hand, Manuel sipped the pulque. He waited for the remainder of the thought the old man had begun. His patience waned slowly. "Seen him before?" he asked, eventually. "Sunboy showed him to me, so it must have been important. I decided this man means trouble. So I was watching for him last night." "Why didn't you warn me?" Alboro grimaced, "Because I did not see him," he admitted. Manuel thought about the implications. "A very strong person. He was after Machito. Why would he want my boy?" "I do not know. What did this man look like, when you saw him?" "A stout, bald man, wearing a robe. Long arms, very strong hands. Quick. He batted me out of the air like swatting a fly," said Manuel. He added thoughtfully, "Machito called him 'Señora'." "¿Que?" "Machito would have gone to him if I had not interfered. The boy seemed to trust him." "Hmmm. Tranced, I'll bet." Alboro took the half empty cup from his son and drained it in one gulp. "This is bad. Very bad. I had hoped we would not meet such a one." "Father, you sometimes worry me. What is this person, to make you frightened?" "Sorcerer!" spat the elder Caballo. He climbed the ladder to the roof where he could greet Sunboy. When he did not come down, Manuel stiffly climbed the ladder to find there was no one there. THE BARGAIN: There had been silence for hours, until the gray cloak of dawnlight outlined the cave entrance. None of the young people had slept and the Doña had not awakened. With the sun came another demand for surrender. "Come out and give up the boy!" "We wish to bargain!" called Red Cloud. The group outside consulted briefly before Bluenose answered, "What do you want?" "Bring us some clothes." "We have no dresses for women!" "We are two girls, an old wounded woman, and a man. We need clothes for the man." The stillness of the morning was disturbed only by a hushed muttering, as the warriors considered the request. Bluenose called, "You are magic, no? Make your own clothes!" "If you do not bring clothes, we will have to take them from your son. Do you want that? Do you want your son, stripped naked by some captive girls?" "I will think about this!" Bluenose said hastily. "It would be good enough for him," suggested one warrior. "It is *my* son we are talking about here!" retorted Bluenose. "Hold on, I want to think about this myself," said Estrellita. A moan from Doña Mercedes brought her attention back to their problem, and the blond girl hurried to wet the cloth again and replaced it on the older woman's forehead. "Oh, Abuelita!" she cried, "I'm so sorry!" "Very well, we will bring coverings from the packs," said Bluenose. "Do not do anything foolish." He returned shortly carrying a small bundle. Midway on the trail, he stopped abruptly, threw down the bundle, and backed hastily away. "What is wrong?" asked Red Cloud. "There is a snake in the path," he said. "Diamondback rattlesnake," added the second warrior, helpfully. "Don't tell me they're afraid of a little snake!" said Estrellita. "Not afraid - they respect the snake, and try to avoid offending him," explained Red Cloud, "And they're very careful not to harm him... or allow him to harm them." "You want the clothes?" called Bluenose, "Come get them... if the snake will let you have them!" "I can see the snake from here," said Machita, "It is huge!" Red Cloud walked out of the cave to the path, where she found that the serpent was indeed a large rattlesnake. It was coiled up on the heap of leather breeches dropped unceremoniously on the ground. "Old one, are you so confident?" asked Red Cloud as she looked down at it. The rattlesnake opened its mouth, baring tremendous fangs, and bobbed its head. "I suppose you want me to make it look good, don't you?" Red Cloud stepped closer to the snake, which tightened its coils and struck at her. The fangs stopped barely short of her leg, and the snake drew back as if to strike again. "What do you want, a ceremony?" demanded Red Cloud, "How about the one we use to banish hiccups? You'll have indigestion for a week!" There were sounds of disbelief from the hidden warriors as the snake withdrew and slid into a crevasse. "Boy, you are fearless!" cried Estrellita as Red Cloud brought the garments into the cave, "Facing that snake, letting it strike at you. It could have killed you!" Red Cloud showed a thin smile, and nodded at Machita, "That was no snake," she said as she handed the bundle to her. "We would speak with you," called Bluenose. The offer of negotiation came with a note of respect not heard before. "We're listening," said Machita. "Let the boy go. We will leave you unharmed." "The old woman is hurt. She needs a doctor," Red Cloud paused, then added, "Your boy is free. You may come and get him." Bluenose advanced carefully, eying the spot where the snake had disappeared. He frowned and brushed a hand across his belly. "I have seen that you are an unusual woman," he stated, "Let us be allies." "That is good," agreed Red Cloud. Ramón appeared from the back of the cave, wiping water from his hair. He was wearing the new breeches and shirt, and Bluenose regarded him cautiously. "We did not know that your magic could do these things," said Bluenose. "We thought it was simple magic to fool the eye. I have seen such things." "It is not magic," said Ramón, "It is a curse." "Speak for yourself," said Red Cloud. The Apache boy rubbed the circulation back into his wrists and said, facing the wall of the cave, "Father, I am ashamed. I allowed these women to capture me." Bluenose stirred uncomfortably, looking from Red Cloud to Ramón. "It is better forgotten," he said, and looked pained. "Can we get Grandmamá to a doctor?" said Estrellita, "She's still unconscious and I am getting worried about her." While they constructed a travois to transport the Doña, Ramón asked Red Cloud, "What did you mean, it was not a snake?" "What, you don't recognise your own ancestor?" Red Cloud teased him with a wicked smile. "I'm not ready to believe that," said Ramón, "Grandpapá can play tricks, but he is not *that* good." "Add it to your worry bag," suggested the Indian maiden as she tied the poles into place with ropes across the pony's saddle horn. Estrellita in her party dress rode the pony side-saddle, with one stirrup shortened so she would not slide off. Ramón and Red Cloud walked together as the raiding party escorted them toward the nearest settlement, watching the travois carefully to be sure that the wounded woman was not being bounced too badly. The Apache boy joined them. They talked and found that his name was Anda Lejos (Walks Far), which he had earned by doing just that. His friends called him Andalejo. "I am thinking I have seen you before," said Andalejo. "I have been among the Commanche, but not the Apache," offered Ramón. "Perhaps it was during a hunting vision," Andalejo said. "You are a little young to be hunting," said Red Cloud, but the Apache boy pretended not to hear, "You are lucky they let you come on this raid. What did you do, guard the camp?" "I am not a camp guard!" Andalejo retorted. "Oh," said Red Cloud, "Then how do you explain your weapons? Only girls carry atlatl, the spear thrower." The boy nodded, "I have outgrown it. I was going to throw it away, but that would be a waste. Do you want it?" Red Cloud shook her head. "I prefer the bow," she said, "Perhaps Ramón could use it." "I will get a club," said Andalejo, "a skullcrusher like the older warriors use. It is a man's weapon. You must be close to your enemy and look him in the eye when you use it." "What do you mean, 'Ramón could use it'? Do you think I could only handle a girl's weapon?" Ramón cried. "Part of the time, it would be perfect," said Red Cloud. "Take the spear-thrower," insisted Andalejo, "I do not wish to keep it. As a warrior who has gone on a raid, I should not use it and perhaps you know of a girl who would like it." Ramón thought of Gentle Rain. "Yes, I do," he said, "but I have nothing to give you in return." "There was a dress that you... that she..." Andalejo stopped in puzzlement as he attempted to work out the semantics. "There was a girl we captured who had a dress," he began again, "... is that your...??" The pain of intense concentration contorted his face as he tried to frame the question of who owned the dress. Finally he said, "You are a man. She was a girl. Where is she? What was her name?" "She goes on ahead," said Red Cloud, "We'll see her later, maybe. That will be easier to think about." "You can have the dress," said Ramón, "My mother made it, so I can give it away. Is it for your girl friend?" Andalejo nodded. Already he had talked far more than a warrior should talk, so he became silent, except when asked directly about his love. "She is a hunter," he said, "and very good with the bow. She too has outgrown the atlatl." Estrellita called a halt. Doña Mercedes had become increasingly restive, jounced by the rough ride on the travois. Estrellita climbed down from the saddle and rode on the travois with her, cushioning the Doña's head in her lap. When they started out again, the Apache raiding party had disappeared. "They just melted away," said Ramón, "I didn't see them go." "I didn't, either," admitted Red Cloud. She fell to watching the horizon, paying particular attention to a butte off the West. "I saw movement up there," she explained, "But it may have been an animal." The day grew warmer and Estrellita called for a stop to allow the Doña to rest. A grove of trees offered some scant shade and they paused there. "How much farther?" asked Estrellita. "There is a road over the ridge," said Red Cloud, "It would be good if we had the coach, but it is back the other way." "Where is the other coach-horse?" asked Estrellita. "You don't want to know," said Red Cloud. "Don't tease her," said Ramón, "I saw one of the Apache ride North earlier today, very much in a hurry." "He will ride it to death and his village will eat well tonight," said Red Cloud. "You do not like the ways of the Apache? You were quick enough to accept them as allies when they wanted that boy back." "They are still allies, until something happens," Red Cloud frowned, "But I can think of better uses for horses." They sat in silence, watching the eagles soar above the butte. Finally, Estrellita gently extricated herself from the travois and said, "Will you go with me, Red Cloud?" "Where are you going?" asked Ramón. "Where do you think?" snapped Estrellita, "Men! They are so dense!" Ramón used a trickle of water from the canteen to wet down the rag on the Doña's forehead. She stirred and moaned, and he brushed a strand of hair from her face, feeling helpless. He saw Red Cloud coming back up the trail when Estrellita screamed. Ramón pushed to his feet and grabbed the atlatl and two of the short spears before running after Red Cloud. He found Estrellita clinging to the Indian maiden and shaking. "I came around a turn and there was a man standing there!" she cried, "He looked ferocious! He almost scared the life out of me! Then he turned and ran off!" "Was he Apache?" asked Ramón. "No. I know how the Apache look! He was different from anything I've ever seen!" Estrellita said as they returned to the Doña and the horse. She added, "He was carrying a club and wearing some kind of thick coat. And he had a mask on, like a bird's head." They resumed the trail quickly, Estrellita cradling her grandmother as the travois bounced ungently in their hurry. Both Red Cloud and Ramón were watching the trail and the brush around them intently, but nothing more disturbed their travel. Eventually they reached the road and a passing farmer helped them lift the Doña onto his cart and took her to the rancho. Evening would found them safely at home. THE SERGEANT: From his position on the portico, Don Pedro commanded a view of the road for nearly a mile in both directions. Thus he was not surprised when the small detachment of soldiers came through the gate and approached the house. The sergeant stepped down from his horse and saluted Don Pedro. "Perdon, Señor," said the sergeant, "I am Sergeant Espuma. There is a matter of great importance of which I must speak." "The Alcalde's men are always welcome," said the Don, though his voice belied the sincerity of his words. "The Alcalde is not aware of my visit," Espuma said, "And I must beg you to say nothing of it to him." "Done," Don Pedro frowned. "My superior and I do not always see eye to eye," explained Espuma, "I have been given a message which is for you. I believe it has something to do with the woman being held for ransom." "For ransom? We have had no word of ransom!" The sergeant looked alarmed, "Did not the Señorita deliver the note?" "The Señorita has not returned. I have had all my men searching the countryside for her and the Doña." "This is terrible!" cried the Sergeant, "My men will assist in the search immediately, of course!" Don Pedro's attention was drawn to a lone figure running up the road. By the time it had entered the gate he was sure it was Ramón. The runner spied the soldiers and slipped back out of sight. "I am grateful for your help, the sooner the better. But first, give me this message you bring." Sergeant Espuma handed over a pouch of coarse paper which contained a folded sheet of paper of the same rough texture. He then saluted and directed his detachment of four horsemen back toward town. When they had gone, Ramón hurried in with his bad news about Don Pedro's wife. THE DREAM: She clung to the lodgepole and saw things that had never happened. The visions were coming when she was awake, now, when everyone in the tribe was expecting her to be grateful for their help. Her parents had not been allowed to go with her, when the priests had come. Father said goodbye in a dignified, restrained manner, but she could tell he was very proud. Mother tied the turquoise pendant, her most precious jewelry, around her neck. There was something awful in the strained smile that Mother held, as though she feared terrible calamities might befall her before she could reap the honors due her at the festival. But she was proud, also. She must be. The priests said it was so, and her presence would insure another bountiful harvest for the year. It was a great honor to serve as the messenger to the gods, to carry to them the prayers and praise of her people. The priests were full of praise. The only part that saddened her was the sight of the tears in her mother's eyes. Why was she unhappy? AND THE APACHE: There was a low bluff overlooking the end of the valley, with boulders tumbled about its crown. The huge stones made a good landmark, and provided a vantage point from which to scout the valley. Bluenose placed the precious brass cylinder of the telescope back into its leather case and turned to his companions. There were only three others - his son, another warrior called Counts His Ponies, and the one they called Selnik - the remainder of the party having returned home with their plunder. "They have many horses, much food," said Bluenose. "Many women," chimed in Selnik. "Many hounds," added Counts His Ponies gloomily. Andalejo crept up to the ledge to see for himself. He would not admit that he was hoping for a glimpse of his companions. "What do we do now?" he wondered. "We wait," said Bluenose, "There is magic, here. The girl who changes to a boy is strange, but seeing it happen did not make my stomach tremble. The girl who changes to a tigre has a strong magic, but she also has a good heart. But I am thinking that there is bad magic here, too. There is a bad thing beyond the river." Selnik nodded. "Something was watching us on the trail," he said, "Something bad, but not magic." "I didn't see anything," said Andalejo. "When you open your eyes, you will learn," said Bluenose. "We should go back home," Counts His Ponies lifted his head to view the trail they had followed to reach the boulders. "We wait," said Bluenose. OF SECRET CODES: Fray Fernando dried his hands as he came out of the Doña's room. "She has suffered a blow to the head, as the children have described," he said, "All we can do is make her comfortable, keep her warm, and pray." Estrellita hurried past him into the sickroom. "We are grateful to you," said Don Pedro. "There is little I can do, with my poor knowledge of medicine. But I consider her a good friend and I am glad to do anything I can to help." The friar said, noticing the paper in the Don's lap. He said, "May I see that?" "This is paper made from yucca plant fibers, a method used long ago," he said after examining the message. "Where did you get this? It should be in the church vault for study." "The Alcalde's sergeant dropped it off earlier today, shortly before the children and Doña Mercedes returned," said Don Pedro, "The message is in pictures and we cannot read it." "Hieroglyphics. I have seen them on the codices we studied at the school. Perhaps I can help you decode it. But I see that I was wrong. This ink is still fresh, not faded with age." Spreading the paper out on a nearby table, he ran his finger down the panel. "The writing does not necessarily go from left to right. You must look at the whole picture and decide what the images mean. For instance, this one looks like a building." "Against a cliff." "Yes, and this one near it is a hole... no, a pit. Also, there is a person - a woman, I suppose - and a man standing in front of her, facing away from her. A guard. The woman has her head bowed." "The Señora Caballo." "Is that who it is? But the building on a cliff, and the pit. What could that be?" "There is an old, abandoned copper mine beyond the river, and near it are the ruins of a puebla, a dwelling made by Anasazi -the cliff dwellers. The message may be telling us that this is where Sinestro has hidden the Señora!" Fray Fernando pondered the rough paper. "But who sent this message?" he wondered aloud. "I do not know," said Don Pedro. He produced another sheet of fine Spanish paper, with legible handwriting on it. "This is a demand that we surrender a child as ransom for her." "'Bring the daughter of Arturo Estabano, known as Lucita, to the abandoned copper mine the day after tomorrow. We must talk'," Fray Fernando read. "Why, this is brigandage!" AND SECRET AIMS: Ramón sighed as he slumped into the chair and slowly leaned back. He ached all over after running ahead of the cart bearing the Doña, and the harsh wooden chair was as luxurious as a throne. The comfort did not ease the sliver of sorrow which ran across his gut, however. Because of him, Doña Mercedes lay wounded. If he had not gone with them, Sinestro would have given Estrellita the note and everyone would be well. He tried not to think of what the note demanded. Alongside him he heard the creak and rumble of Don Pedro's wheelchair as Marie pushed him into his favorite spot. "How is Doña de Muerte?" asked Ramón, watching the evening bats flit about. Anything to keep from facing the hacendado. "It is out of our hands," said Don Pedro, "Fray Fernando has said that she is getting weaker. There may be swelling inside her head." "I'm... I..." Ramón found he could not speak. Tears flowed freely, and he could not will them to stop. "Do you blame yourself?" asked Don Pedro gently, "There is no need of that. She would not have changed a thing. If you had not wished to go, she would have found a way to convince you." "But if I hadn't insisted...!" "Let me tell you something about the Señora," said Don Pedro, and the corners of his mouth lifted slightly. "She would never have you feeling guilty about her. She has far too much guilt of her own to allow someone else to share it." "What could *she* have done wrong?" "You have heard the tale of my bad legs?" "Yes," Ramón pulled himself upright in the chair, the better to pay attention. "Then you have only heard half of the story. Promise you will say nothing to her when she gets better. This is for your ears only, what I must tell you now," Don Pedro leaned forward while Marie plumped up a pillow for his back, then eased back into it and got comfortable. "Years ago, when I went to a position in South America, I brought along my beautiful wife. She was brave and capable, a good travelling companion, and pleasant company. Not many wives that I have met would have braved that wilderness to be with their husband. The town to which we were going was civilized, so we thought it safe. Unfortunately, conditions along the route we took to get there had changed." "I have always known that she was brave," said Ramón. "Well, one day we went through the hunting grounds of a tribe of hostile natives. They captured me and propped me up in sight of our camp so my men could see me being tortured, but all they could see was my back and the face of the man who held the knife. The Indians figured to demoralize my men since there was nothing they could do about it." Don Pedro pointed to faint scars on one cheek, slightly above the reddish-gray beard. "They were succeeding. My men were ready to mount a sally to rescue me, an effort which would have failed because they were greatly outnumbered. Then my brave, gentle wife took a rifle, a hunting weapon bought from a Yanqui trader, and removed the reason for their attack. With me apparently dead or dying, the savages faded into the jungle and were not seen again." Ramón gulped, "She shot you?" "Ahh, you are very perceptive," smiled Don Pedro. "She says that she was trying to kill me so I would no longer suffer. An inch to the right or to the left, and she would have succeeded. But I tell her that she was too selfish to let me go off without her, so she aimed for the backbone, and it stopped the bullet," he stopped for a moment, then continued, "She is a strong woman. She will live. As long as I am alive, she will live." "I hope so," said Ramón. Don Pedro remained still, watching the bats and the fireflies, and said no more when Ramón left him. Ramón stretched out on the horsehair bench in the den and tried to sleep. Red Cloud had gone home to her village. Estrellita could not speak to him without breaking into tears, and the weight on his heart kept him from stirring out of the building. Don Pedro and his vaqueros, along with the older Yanqui cowboys, had talked long into the night on the front porch, making plans which they refused to share with Ramón or Sandy. Sandy was feeling helpless also, either reclining on the end of the porch or walking about in the patches of lampglow in the yard, kicking dust about. Ramón finally arose from his bench and joined him on the steps and they tried their conversational skills, sitting almost shoulder to shoulder. "I am tired of doing nothing," complained Ramón, "And Estrellita thinks it is my fault." "She is... is... unhappy?... upset," the Yanqui youth fumbled with the words. Ramón looked over at him. "I think she likes you, a little," he said. "Wouldn't know about that," said Sandy, reverting to English. "Are you sunburned? I didn't notice how red your face was." "I just get nervous around girls, okay?" Sandy pulled his face back out of the light. "Um," said Ramón, and dropped the subject. "Just wisht I could do something," Sandy said. Ramón nodded, seeing the sadness in the Yanqui's shadowed face, "Why?" he asked. "Kinda liked the old lady. Y'know, she was... is... a tough old bird." "¿Que es 'tough'?" "Maybe I should say 'hard'... no, 'durable'." "Ah. dura." "Yeah. She's a tough one." "More true than we know, Señor Sandy," Ramón agreed. Boots clumping over the portico floor made them look up. Francisco paused and said, "Don Pedro wishes us to get some rest. We are all tired." Sandy headed for the vaquero's bunkhouse, and Ramón went back to his bench in the den and pulled a blanket over him. He was awakened in the hours before dawn by a thumping at the front door. Fray Fernando, bleary-eyed from his long vigil, shuffled past the den to answer the door before the servants could respond. The friar drew back in astonishment and fear, as he beheld Bluenose and three more Apache standing tensely at the doorway. CHAPTER DIEZ: END --------------- Glossary (of sorts): dura : hard, tough espuma : scum largo : long, large paseo : walk que : What (among other things). (For Japanophiles... 'Que?' = 'Nani?') --------------- Return to main page