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Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

CROSSING THE RIVER: There were herons lifting off the water as they forded the shallow river, white shadows that rushed overhead and disappeared into the growing dusk with cries of alarm. Three horses and a mule waded the sluggish water. The riders - Ramón, Sandy, Gordo and Fray Fernando, were joined by Andalejo, who jogged tirelessly alongside. The friar had toiled along on his stolid mule, berating the beast in a gentle manner for its habit of stopping to crop the sparse grasses along the trail. "Now, you have to get a drink," he said, "If you did not eat so much, you would not be thirsty all the time." The mule sucked water until it could hold no more, then shivered. "No!" cried Fray Fernando, "You will *not* take a bath right now! You will not..." His objections ended with a splash as the mule lay down and rolled on its side. Fernando sat upright in the water, holding his staff and pouch above his head and muttering. "What was that, Fray Fernando?" asked Gordo, "I don't think I understood that last remark!" "I was calling upon the saints to bless this beast," replied the friar, pulling himself erect with the staff against the weight of his soaked robe. Shortly the mule had finished his toilet and the procession continued. The stink of mud and dead fish assailed their nostrils as the horses climbed the riverbank. "It is not like you to be so quiet," Ramón said to Andalejo, "What is on your mind?" "I am thinking of my father," said the youngest Apache, and would say no more. EARLIER, BACK AT THE RANCHO: At that moment, Bluenose was grimacing as he surveyed the herd of horses. "These are fine ponies," he said, "We could outfit a whole rancheria with these. Except..." Selnik agreed by nodding his furrowed brow, nearly invisible in the gloom, "There is something that is not right." "Yes, let us take them!" Counts His Ponies chattered brightly, "Let us take them all! We could have many ponies for each of us!" Bluenose nodded back at Selnik. "Something is not right," he registered his misgivings, "My belly hurts when I am thinking about my son and his foolish mission." Selnik rubbed his neck thoughtfully, gazing toward the river. "I am seeing many men," he said, "There is much enemy there. Your son could be walking into a trap." "Then let us go!" cried Counts His Ponies, his expression confident, "We will gain much glory, defeating them! There will be songs about our bravery!" Selnik and Bluenose turned to look at their jittering compatriot, then at each other. "We are in trouble," said Bluenose. "Deep trouble," agreed Selnik. Bluenose turned back to the corral. "We are going to need horses," he said. From the great house there came a commotion and the three Apache looked up to see soldiers. Counts His Ponies suddenly quieted. "We cannot fight the soldiers," he whispered, "Let us get away!" "This Señor de Muerte is no friend of the soldier," said Bluenose, "I will go look. You will stay, get the horses." He drifted like smoke through the garden and closer to the house. Through the windows he could see soldiers searching, and hear scraps of conversation. Then two soldiers carried a squirming roll of blanket from a nearby room. He could hear Don Pedro's voice, "Have you gone mad? Does the Alcalde stoop to kidnapping children?" "I regret that this must be done," apologized the soldier, "Don Bertran has assured us that no harm will come to the child. However, he requires her presence in order to negotiate with her father." "Is it `Don Bertran', now? And what does the Alcalde want with the boy, Ramón?" The soldier paused, then shrugged. "I have no knowledge of that, Señor," he said, "Only the girl. Someone else must want the boy." Bluenose hurried back to the corral. "Follow the soldiers, see where they take the child," he commanded Selnik, "I will see about my son. Perhaps they are going to the same place." Counts His Ponies dithered. "Who would you go with?" Bluenose asked. The frightened Apache pointed at him. "I expected as much," sighed Bluenose as his belly muscles twinged. He slowed his steps as a spasm knotted his stomach. It was bad. Someone would die tonight. MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY: "Hey, Machito!" cried Gordo, "How come you don't make the rancherita happy, man?" "How do you know I haven't?" asked Ramón. "I can tell, man. I see her ride by, high and mighty, like she's looking for Señor Perfecto. She wants you, man! So why don't you make her happy?" "Are you saying what I think you are saying?" "Of course! What else is there?" "Gordito, you have only one thing on your mind... besides food, that is," Ramón grinned in the dark, "Have you ever made any woman happy?" "Oh, all the time! There must be dozens of them! Only, now I am thinking I should settle down. I have found someone who has put them all out of my mind." After a moment of strained silence, Ramón ventured, "Who might that be?" "Oh, there is this girl, the new girl in the village. She is so lovely! Like the flowers in the moonlight! Her name is Machita... like yours is Machito... but you wouldn't like her." "I wouldn't? How do you know?" "She is too old for you. She is too wise. I think you need someone young and innocent, like the rancherita." "Innocent?" Ramón chuckled at the memory of a night when he had been too tired and too female to accept what Estrellita had been offering. "Moon's coming out," said Sandy, "How much farther?" "The trail starts just ahead, and we'll have to leave the horses," Ramón said, "We'd better rest before we start up." "So what do we do, just ride up and tell Senor Sinestro to give up your mother?" "Fray Fernando wants to talk to him first." Gordo shivered and pulled his jacket about him. "Why would he want to meet out here, when he has the whole village to hide in?" he wondered. The friar, despite having been dunked in river water and wearing wet robes, seemed to be comfortable in the chilly air. "Se¤or Sinestro does not want to be seen doing anything disreputable," he said, "It is our one advantage. If he sees that I am there, with the weight of the church on my side, then he may relent and release Señora Caballo." MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE MINE: At the mine entrance, Francisco pulled his pony up before the group, having completed a search of the area. His pony stamped nervously. "I have found no one," he said, and the others echoed his words. "Compadre, I have been thinkin'." said Calpern, beside him. "We are on a - what you say - wild goose chase?" "It's a wild goose chase, alright!" growled Calpern, "Here comes someone hellin' it from the rancho. What else could go wrong?" "Señor Francisco!" cried the rider, "Soldiers from the town have taken the little girl! And Indians have raided the horses!" "You wondered what else could go wrong, Señor Calpern. Now we must split up to follow the soldiers and guard the rancho." "That is not all," blurted the rider, "The boy Ramón received a message from Sinestro telling him to come to the puebla on the cliff. Don Pedro says 'I want you to go help them. Forget the rancho, we can look after that ourselves'." "Compadres!" cried Francisco, "You have heard the man! Let's ride!" They headed for the ford in the river, their horses at a gallop. TAKING INVENTORY: Ramón said, pensively, "Those soldiers we saw on the other side of the river - they were not very alert." "We were just lucky they did not hear the mule," said Sandy. "Now that you mention it, Machito, they should have been waiting on this side of the river. It is what I would have done," said Gordo, "There are only a couple of trails over here and they could block both of them easily." Andalejo sniffed the air. "There are many dead things here," he said, "Coyote. Lynx. Many rabbits and birds, even the mice are dead." "Then what could have killed them?" Fernando asked, "Only a plague could have killed everything!" "I would feel better with my uncle's pistols," admitted Gordo. "I have my riata," said Ramón, "and a knife." "Well, I have my pistol and musket," said Sandy. To Gordo, he said, "What is that long scabbard you have hung around your neck?" Gordo grinned, his face half in shadow from the low moon, "This is a special knife. I got it from my uncle, who..." "... Died in the revolution, I know," said Ramón. "Did he give you everything he had?" "Hey, he was a good fighter, man!" objected Gordo, "I can't help it if he had a lot of stuff." "What kind of knife is it?" Sandy wanted to know. "They call it `el toro'," said Gordo, "It has two blades. One on each end of the handle." "Just don't stand close to me when you unlimber that double- barrelled toadsticker," said the cowboy. "I have seen few who could use this weapon," said the friar, "You must be very skilled to avoid cutting off your own arm." "I have been told this," admitted Gordo, "Fray Fernando, how do you know so much about fighting?" "I was not always a scholarly friar," said Fernando, "I have seen a few brawls. But I have never used a knife, only the quarter-staff." While they dismounted and let their horses rest, Ramón studied the looming cliffs in the moonlight. The dim glow made the white adobe far above seem to float in the chill air, while the trail was sunk in darkness. "So, you want to make this Machita happy?" Ramón tried to keep his voice casual, "Does she know this?" "Well," Gordo admitted, "I did not discuss it with her. You have to take these things slowly, you know." "You haven't even talked to her, have you?" "Ahhh. Come on, man, give me a break. I only met her yesterday!" Gordo peered into the darkness, "Hey. Ain't that your abuelo over there?" "What?" Ramón looked in the direction indicated. A patch of pale haze resolved itself into Grandpapá Alboro. He appeared to be saying something, but he made no sound. The apparition pointed back the way they had come, frantically motioning him to go away. Quickly. "Grandpapá? What do you..." With a resounding thwack the image shattered, collapsing into a large cactus with a spear embedded in it. "Get behind something!" shouted Ramón as he drew back from the cactus, "We are being attacked!" The moon rose higher on silence all about them. Night noises resumed; insects and coyotes and occasionally the shrill of a wayward bat. Fray Fernando chanced a look over the boulder he knelt behind. Nothing happened. Gordo retrieved the spear. "I have never seen anything like this!" he shook his head. "It's a short spear," said Ramón, "You fit the end into a handle and throw it." Gordo tossed the weapon aside. "It don't look very dangerous to me," he said. "It can be deadly," said Ramón, "and very accurate. Whoever shot it at me was not trying to hit me." "Trying to scare you?" "More like trying to hit my Grandpapá," said Ramón, "But he really wasn't there." "Man, it sure looked like your abuelo!" said Gordo. "I am beginning to think my Grandpapá hasn't told me everything about himself," said Ramón. The friar's mule suddenly raised his head and stared at the trail ahead. Then it turned and headed back in the direction they had come, dragging Fray Fernando with it. "Alto!" cried the friar, "Stop!" but the mule kept going. The other horses stirred uneasily, disturbed by some scent drifting on the night air. THE FIRST BARRIER: A figure rose from the path ahead, dimly seen in the moonlight, but clearly another warrior with the bird mask. It sprinted toward them. "Is it real?" asked Sandy. "Hey, it looks real to me!" cried Gordo, "Shoot it!" Sandy leveled his musket and released the hammer. There was a flash of powder and a puff of smoke as the weapon misfired. As they scrambled about, trying to escape the oncoming warrior, the boys became tangled and fell. The warrior was upon them before they could recover, and he drew back a club to dispatch Andalejo. There was an ugly thud and the warrior stumbled backward. Immediately they heard the -fcrack- of a musket and the clatter of horse's hooves on the hard trail. The youths looked about. "Ain't nobody rides a horse all out in the dark like that," said Sandy, "Except a ..." "Father!" shouted Andalejo. Bluenose pulled his pony up in the clearing, but the horse did not want to stop. Around and around it went, as the Apache tried to dismount. When Bluenose finally released his grip and landed roughly on his rump, the pony took off toward the adobe walls. "Crazy Yanqui horse!" cried Bluenose as he rubbed his back, "That pony wants to go fight!" They could hear the crash of the pony breaking through undergrowth, until all sound died away. "Where's that bird guy?" asked Gordo. "I did not see him," complained the friar. With Fray Fernando, Gordo searched the ground where the warrior had fallen, but there was no trace. In searching, he stumbled over a dead rat and held it up. "This is all I found," he said, "This thing got a hole in its middle like it was shot." He dropped the rodent and came back to the others. Andalejo forgot composure and ran to greet his father. "It is good to see you, Father!" he said, "I was thinking..." "You thought your father would stoop to stealing ponies and chickens when there was work to be done?" Bluenose chuckled. Andalejo abashedly nodded. "Well, we did `borrow' some ponies..." THE DEMON-HAG: The scream of the terrified run-away pony rent the night air. The sound came from the base of the cliff, followed swiftly by the pony itself, fleeing toward them on the trail. Seeing the group, the pony left the trail and became enmeshed in brambles. It screamed again as it tore itself free of the briars and vines and bounded out of the bramble patch away from them. In an area white with sand, silvery steam seemed to rise from the boulders. The group had to pass a shadowed cleft in the rocks as they surmounted the trail. Everyone stopped and backed away when they sensed motion within the dark cave. A hissing whisper echoed from the depths of the cave, "Send the girl to me!" "Did you hear that?" shuddered Sandy. The elder Apache raised his eyes to the brambles and brush before them. "This is not a good place," he said. "There is an evil spirit in there!" shivered Counts His Ponies. "I know. I can feel it." "Can't we leave? There are many places we could go." "We must stay here." "There is a nice warm cave over there. We should hide there. Yes, we would be safe there!" "Thank you, old friend. Now I must deal with this spirit." The mouth of the cave appeared to fog over as steam and mist billowed forth. Bluenose faced the frightful apparition advancing from the cave, a monster that appeared to be an old hag with long fangs in a gaping mouth and long, clawed arms. "Who goes on my land?" demanded the creature, in a hoarse voice which echoed of frozen moss and brittle grass. "I am called Bluenose," said the Indian, "Let us pass." "I see you, the man called Bluenose," purred the ghastly demon-hag, "You are the first real people I have seen since I was invited to live here. You make an old woman happy. I will let you go, but you must leave one of your young boys here. I am so hungry, and I am not allowed to eat the girl." Bluenose said to the boys, "I will fight her. Counts His Ponies will guard the horses. Take them beyond the river. The rest of you must go and find the Señora." Andalejo did not argue. Ramón gladly backed away, his flesh crawling with disgust. He, Sandy, and Gordo started around the creature. "What girl?" whispered Gordo. No one answered. "Man called Bluenose, you can't let them go!" cried the hag, swaying to intercept them, "They smell so delicious! Let them stay!" "This cannot be done," said Bluenose. He readied his weapons, thrusting his lance into the soil and placing his arrows head down in a stack. The hag cackled with the shiver of breaking glass, "Oh, I see you plan to shoot me! And what will you use to wound me, my delicious morsel?" "My arrows and my lance," said Bluenose resolutely. "Then come get me, foolish mortal! No mortal weapon can harm me!" "Hag from the otherworld, these are no ordinary arrows!" Bluenose plucked a shaft from the stack at his feet, drew his bow to his cheek, and loosed the string. An icy howl of pain followed the arrowsong, and the hag was on him before he could draw another arrow. Buffeted by the long arms, scratched by the brambles as he tumbled through them, Bluenose climbed to his feet and drew a flint knife from its scabbard. The delicate pink blade seemed too fragile to harm a leaf. He began to chant in monosyllables, a refrain of commands to banish the demon. "You wish to sing me to sleep? How charming!" purred the hag. Wisps of steam seeped from the arrow-wound, but it moved as smoothly as though it were freshly rested. "And what will you do without your precious arrows? I'm standing on them, you know. I could stomp on them, and you would have no weapons at all!" "Stomp them," urged the Apache, "They are charmed. They will stick to your feet and burn you." A movement from behind him startled Bluenose and he shifted his position to see an old man sitting on a boulder, watching him. "What do you want?" he asked the old man. "I came to help," said the old man, "but it appears you do not need it. So I will sit back and enjoy the fight." Bluenose looked back at the demon-hag to find it almost upon him. He stumbled back, weaving a pattern in the air with the frail, pink flint blade. Where the blade passed, a faint luminescent glow remained, and when the demon-hag touched the glowing lines, steam burst forth from its skin. The demon-hag screamed in pain and backed away. "I will eat you alive!" howled the demon-hag, "I will eat you slowly! Your flesh will burn for days while you plead for your death!" It skirted the glowing lines and leapt into the air toward him. Bluenose scrambled for his life, back to his cache of arrows. He lifted his bow only to have it knocked from his hands as the demon-hag surged past. The creature rebounded from the high rocks and soared above him, preparing to hit him with claws from back legs and front hands, but Bluenose had time to roll over and grab the lance. He thrust it up to pierce the plummeting demon-hag through the breast. The demon-hag squalled and howled, thrashing the ground and by chance throwing the warrior out of danger into o relatively soft sand. The demon-hag had ceased moving. Bluenose sat plucking thorns from his side as the old man sauntered up. Breaking a small clay bottle, the old man began to apply stinging ointment to the torn skin and finally sewed up the worst wounds with needle and sinew. The Apache gazed at him and said, "Just what would you have done if I had failed, old man?" "Why I would have ran, as fast as I could," said Alboro. DRAWN BY THE BEAT: They were edging along the walkway beneath the high wall when they came to a place where steaming water fell. Sandy jerked away from it, convinced that it was scalding hot because of the steam rising from it, but it proved to be merely warm. Then the deep sonorous pulse of drums began, and he stumbled into the person before him. "Are you hurt?" asked Sandy, suddenly realizing that his friend Ramón was gone and he was talking to the girl named Machita. Machita swayed dangerously close to the edge of the walkway. "No, but I feel strange. Those drums are doing something to me!" "Strange time to be playing drums," commented the cowboy, wiping the water from his shoulders. "They are pulling me!" "What?" "The drums are pulling me! I can't help myself, I have to go up there!" "You are crazy!" Sandy said, reverting to English. "Keep me here! Don't let me go!" pleaded Machita. "I'm not touching you!" declared Sandy. But when Machita reached for him, the sandy-haired cowboy reluctantly took her by the wrist and held her back. "Get me away from here!" she begged. Hurrying to rejoin the group, Fray Fernando saw the two moonlit figures as they retreated from the wall. Ramón's voice seemed strained. The boy must have been injured, he concluded, and returned to check on him. THE DRUMS SPEAK: She heard the drums. Deeper than the dance drums which provided music for the rituals, softer than a whisper. She was not certain that they were real, only another fancy. The others in the village did not worry about her 'visions', saying she was eager to begin her new life. Perhaps no one else could hear them, and she was not sure enough that they were real to ask anyone else. They would say she was having the pre- nuptial jitters, and laugh at her. With the memory of the sound came a vision. She was in sumptuous chambers, her every need cared for, servants to do her bidding. But still she felt unease. The throb of the drums, almost below the level of hearing, came mostly when the sun was rising. The servants refused to discuss the sound with her. Her handmaid brushed it off as `only another ceremony', and offered her a chocolate sweet. She would not take it, but remained in her bed the rest of the day. THE FRIAR'S PREFERRED WEAPON: They had reached a broad ledge once used for raising crops when a familiar voice hailed them. "I am a friend!" called Wolfwalker. "Hey, where did you come from?" asked Gordo, "We don't need you!" "Ramon's father sent me to look after him. Where is the wimp?" "Somewhere back there, with the friar," said Gordo. "Wouldn't you know he would get lost just when I get here? Now how can I take care of him when he won't stay around?" Ramon forgot his shape for a moment and cried, "We don't need your help, Wolfwalker!" Gordo bumped into Machita and rebounded with surprise and delight. "Machita!" he cried, "What are you doing here? Were you were being held prisoner, also? I am so glad you have escaped! Fray Fernando!" "Oh, no," groaned Machita. "Senorita, you cannot stay here!" cried the friar, "It is far too dangerous!" "She's going to help us get the others," said Sandy. Machita nodded, determined to make the best of the situation. "How did she get here?" asked the friar, but no one seemed inclined to answer his question. On the other side of the clearing, a shape had formed in the moonlight. "It's a ghost!" cried Andalejo. "That is no ghost!" shrilled the friar, "That is an eagle warrior! He is alive, and he is real!" The moonlit bulk assumed shape. It was indeed a birdmask warrior like the one Machita had seen at the spring. The warrior walked with disdain past the shocked youths, seeming to see in the friar the first adversary to dispatch. He was wearing a bulky garment with bright blue and red designs on it, visible even in the bright moonlight, and holding an ax with a long obsidian blade along the edge. Fray Fernando stared at the creature. "This is impossible!" he cried, "They vanished centuries ago! It is an illusion, a mirage!" The warrior stopped before him, then almost disdainfully looped the ax over his head and swung at the friar. Fernando's reflexes saved his arm as he whipped the ironwood staff into guard position and deflected the blow. His hands stinging with the impact, he counter-attacked with rapid blows to the head, moving closer so he could pivot from the center of the staff and strike with first one end and then the other. The warrior, shaken with the force of the pummeling, merely rolled his head and readied another massive swing. Fernando altered his attack. Moving away and grasping the end of the staff by both hands, he struck the warrior mid- body with full force, to no effect. The garment the warrior was wearing was absorbing the force of his blows. This time, the warrior dispensed with the overhead swing and swung a round-house blow which the friar only evaded by ducking down and again deflecting the razor-sharp blade with the staff as the ax whistled overhead. A chip from the staff looped overhead to fall to the sand behind the warrior. Panting with the exertion, Fernando again moved in closer and began using alternate ends of the staff to poke at the warrior's midriff armor, dodging swipes of the ax. The warrior rocked back with the force of the blows, but kept coming. Before his strength was entirely gone, Fernando had an insight; using the staff as a spear, he aimed a blow at the warrior's face. Unprotected by the mask, the warrior's unguarded face took the full force of the blow and the warrior went down. "Awful heavy for an illusion," said Sandy as he pulled the limp body to one side. Machita hefted the war-ax. "This blade is some kind of stone, like flint but darker," she said. The warrior stirred, and it soon became apparent that he was not out of the fight. He pulled a bronze knife from his belt and lurched to his feet, striking again at the friar. Machita grunted as she lifted the heavy ax and brought it up to strike at the warrior's head. The weapon moved so easily and with such power that she could have easily split the man's helmet and cracked his skull if she had not twisted the war-ax to strike with the blunt edge. Blood spurted from the blow and the warrior sprawled back to the ground. "You handled the war-ax well, Little One," Wolfwalker said, taking it gently from her, "But you could do more damage if you turn the blade forward". "I don't care!" gulped Machita, "I think I'm going to be..." She ran to the wall, and was very sick. "Hey, Señorita, do not be so upset!" Gordo tried to comfort her, "He was trying to kill us!" Machita pulled her arm from him. "I don't care what he was trying to do!" she shuddered, "I killed him!" She arched her back and was sick again. Gordo looked on in anguish, reaching for her, then pulling back before he could touch her and make her shrink away from him again. He was not feeling much better, himself. "Do not blubber so, Woman," said Wolfwalker, "This one is not dead... yet. Why don't you finish him off?" "Hey, take it easy, man!" cried Gordo, "Don't you see that she is sick?" The Azuma youth sneered, "If you want to let him live, at least tie him up!" Fernando was muttering to himself. Aloud, he said, "We must hurry. There is no time to lose! Oh, my saints, there is no time at all! He does not know the evil forces he is dealing with!" SLUMBER IN A CELL SO DEEP: "Your mother is in here," the soldier said as he pushed her into the cell. In the instant before the door closed and shut out the light, Lucita saw a huddled form on a stone slab. "Mama!" she cried, but there was no answer. "Mama?" Moments ached by as her eyes began to accommodate the gloom. The crack under the door admitted a thread of lantern light, enough for her to make out her mother. She crept closer and said again, her voice rising into tears, "Mama?" A muffled grunt came from outside the cell door, then a pained wheeze. Lucita watched the door expectantly, but nothing more happened. Once again her mother claimed her attention. Elizbeta lay as one in a deep slumber, not responding when Lucita brushed the hair from over her mother's face and tugged her mother's limp arm so that it lay over her as she crept onto the cot. Her mother's warm breath upon her ear was the only sign that she was still alive. ECHOS OF THE FALL: On the trail beneath the first ladders, the party prepared to ascend. The -fcrack- of a musket echoed from near the river, followed by many barks of pistol-fire. Francisco's scattergun boomed loudly. "I gotta go help!" cried Sandy. "No!" commanded Fernando, seeing him rise to go back down the path, "We have to go ahead! There is something truly diabolical happening here!" Beyond the youths, he thought he saw the figure of a soldier, but so familiar was the sight that he was many steps up the trail before he questioned what he had seen. When he looked back he was alone. The trail they had climbed was empty, and the youths were gone. Return to main page