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Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

MACHO CABALLO PART I: CHAPTER TRECE THE THING AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS
IF LONESOME FALLS AT THE FORD: It had started peacefully enough. Calpern and Francisco had cautiously greeted the group of soldiers guarding the ford at the river. "We were told to meet the boy Ramón Caballo with a girl," said the corporal in charge, "We were to escort them to the top of the puebla." "We represent the boy," said Francisco, "We wish to discuss the matter with the Alcalde." The corporal glanced at the cluster of vaqueros and cowboys and made a command decision. "We can take two of you," he said. "The path is narrow and steep. Please do not give me cause for concern about your conduct." Francisco had swung back to confer with Pablo and a deadly short spear -whickked- by his ear. Someone shouted the alarm and everyone leaped from their mounts as other projectiles thudded about them. Lonesome dived headfirst off his horse, striking the hard stone surface and rolling to get out from under the horses' hooves. He spat bitter sand from his mouth as he got his bearings. A soldado from the Alcalde's guard raised his head, nearby, looking about in confusion and fear. The horses were wheeling and bolting in panic as arrows and spears whistled out of the dark. One horse began screaming in pain from a wound, and galloped back toward the river. Lonesome did not know who had shouted the warning, perhaps a rider, perhaps a soldier, but they were all scrambling for cover as the missles whistled overhead. There as a -fcrack- as a soldier fired his musket, and the corporal upbraided him for his panicky action. Then the attackers appeared out of the shadows and more muskets cracked, then the cowboys pistols were barking and Francisco's shotgun boomed. Lonesome raised to a crouch and drew his own pistol, the palms of his hands scratched and bleeding from the sharp gravel. Clouds of gunsmoke obscured everything, but he could see figures forming in the white gloom as the ambushers ran toward them. They were on the group in an instant, helmeted warriors swinging deadly axes and clubs, while sharp projectiles whispered overhead. Eagle warriors seemed to materialize in the treacherously dim moonlight. One of them spotted Lonesome and started toward him. Lonesome pulled the hammer back, aimed carefully, and pulled the trigger. There was a clack as the hammer fell on metal... the percussion cap had been knocked loose when he had hit the ground. As he threw the heavy pistol at his opponent, he saw the second warrior cast his spear. Lonesome was knocked from his feet by the force of the spear. The warrior swarmed after the spear, racing to dispatch the young cowboy before he could recover. Gasping with pain as he rolled to his side and pulled his belt knife, Lonesome flipped it so he grasped the blade and threw it underhanded, catching the oncoming warrior through an opening in the mask. The warrior seemed to dwindle away as the shock of the wound drew the cowboy down toward unconsciousness. The rocky slope was suddenly clear of the enemy, still and silent as soldier and cowboy alike caught great gasping breaths and awaited another attack. As the silence wore on, Jasper tended Lonesome, who was trying unsuccessfully to extract the spear from his shoulder. Several others held Lonesome while Jasper withdrew the spear and bound the wound, then looked about for other wounded. HOLD NEAR YOUR WOE, AND TROUBLES DEEP: "Chicos!" Sergeant Espuma hissed, and flinched. He stared at the hatchet which Wolfwalker brandished at his face. "Chicos!" he repeated, "I am a friend! Come with me, I know a shortcut to the top of the puebla!" "It is the Sergeant. He brought the message telling us where Ma... the Señora was," said Machita. Wolfwalker reluctantly lowered the hatchet. "I don't trust soldados," he grumped. "Follow this path," instructed Espuma, "It will take you up through an inside path, behind the Alcalde. Now I must return to the Alcalde or he will get suspicious." Machita followed him for a few steps. "Why are you doing this?" she asked. "I want to see that your mother gets away safely," said the sergeant, and hastened off in the gloom. "*My* mother?" Machita stared after him, then rejoined the others as they entered the break in the undergrowth. "Where is Fray Fernando?" asked Gordo. "On the trail below. We will be at the top before he gets there!" laughed Wolfwalker. Frey Fernando saw them above him, as they clambered across a narrow ledge. "I can understand why they would be anxious to get to the top, but we should stay together!" muttered the friar. "We should stick to the ladders... there is no telling what kind of trouble they could get into, with these madmen on the loose, and we have to hurry..." His mutterings faded into incomprehensibility as he mounted the ladder which led to the next level. He was almost to the top of the ladder when his way was blocked. He found himself gazing at the moonlit zapatoes and white pantalones of a man who was gasping with pain and clinging to the ladder with one good arm. "Señor Caballo!" cried the friar, "Are you in pain?" "Of course I am in pain!" snapped the man above him, "I can't climb with a broken arm without hurting it!" "Oh, my saints," muttered Fernando, "May I ask why you are here?" "Sinestro has my wife, good friar. What would you do?" Manuel finally reached the top rung and fell gasping onto level ground. "Actually, the possibility never occured to me," admitted Fernando. He reached the landing himself and examined Manuel's arm. "Curious splint," he said, "I have never seen green sticks of this wood used for a broken limb before." "This wood is flexible when cut, but dries rapidly," said Manuel, "I had to be careful not to move it for half a day, then it became very hard and stiff. But not stiff enough." They continued the climb, with the friar helping the injured man. At a wide landing further up, they came upon Alboro. The old man was sprawled in a pile of bushes, glowering out at the river below. "Father! I am glad to see you! Now you can help us!" Alboro remained silent for several breaths, then flopped backward and atttempted to speak. "Ghii... Nahhh... Not... going on," he growled. "Que? But we need you!" "There is a very evil, powerful man in this mountain," panted Alboro, "He uses blood spells - a lot of them - to protect this place. He puts spells on people. He calls monsters from all over... and under... the country to protect it. My people are going to be slaughtered and I can't go in and help. They won't let me!" "Señor Caballo..." started Fernando, "I have seen madmen dressed in ancient costumes attack us, but I have seen no monsters. And who would not let you go on?" "My guides... have told me that if I go in... they could not go with me," the old man said, "They have told me that I would certainly die... or worse." "Father, can't you at least help us?" "When they tell me they can't go with me, I do not mind. When they tell me that if I go in I would die, I do not worry. When they tell me that they will strike me blind and paralyze me if I try to go on without them, I listen." Manuel moved closer. "Father?" he asked. Alboro reached for Manuels's arm and fumbled with the rough cotton of his sleeve. "Better now," he grated, patting the elbow. "It don't last. That is good. I hate being blind." He returned to glowering at the open sky. "You go on," he said, "They won't stop you. Get the boys back. Get your wife." Manuel leaned back and looked up the long series of ladders. "I'll need some help," he said. "I am here," said Fernando, "But I ask a favor in return." Manuel dropped his gaze to the stout friar. "Name it," he said. "I have not seen you at the church for ten years," said Fernando, "And it would so please the padre to see you there with your wife, when we get her back." "But I have other things I must do..." Manuel turned to his father for support. The old man said nothing, maintaining the intensity of his sour expression. There was moisture leaking down the eroded terraces of his cheeks. Manuel shrugged, grimaced with pain and nodded, "You drive a hard bargain," he said. Fernando chided himself for feeling smug about his minor victory, then said, "We must hurry, there is no more time to lose! I have a bad feeling about this situation the Alcalde has gotten himself into." PAINS SO MY HEART THAT I DO WEEP: "Soon, your son will be here with your - daughter - and you can go back home," Sinestro said. "In Polloverde you at least attempted to appear civilized," said Dolores, "But now you have become a barbarian." "I am pained," smiled Sinestro wryly, "but I can understand why you would blame me for your husband's death." "That and more," said Dolores, "Oh, so much more." "And yet you consider me to have sunk even lower? For what reason are you condemning me?" "You imprisoned Arturo, without reason! And then you kidnapped Elizabeta, and now you are taking their daughter! And you expect me to justify my disgust?" Sinestro appeared nonplused. "I have not kidnapped the man's wife. Oh, I brought her in for questioning, but I let her go, to care for her daughter! As for Arturo, he is very valuable to me. I am protecting him." "From whom?" Dolores flared, "And I have not seen Elizabeta for weeks! I had to take Lucita into my home to care for her, myself, because her aunt was an invalid!" "But I released her! You can ask the sergeant! I sent her back home!" "This proves nothing. You terrorize innocent people, you force them to work in the mines, you kidnap women and children and you... you lie about it!" "I am as mystified by the woman's disappearance as you are, Dolores. Moreso, for I *know* what I have done. I am *protecting* Arturo, for he knows where... he can help me become wealthy. Abduct his family? He would never help me if I treated him that way!" "It is about money. I knew it. It is always about money!" "Dolores, I have done some foolish things in my time. I will take chances, and your husband knew this when he decided to help me. He would have been rich, too, you know, if my plan had worked." "All I know is that you betrayed him. He died, and you escaped. And I..." she clamped her lips shut on the sentence. "He would have done the same to me!" cried Sinestro, "This I believe! He would have done anything to get the money for his `revolution', while I had other goals. Mine were more personal than his. I am no idealist. But our *methods were the same*." "Who betrayed him? Who told the loyalists where he was? Who was so slow to warn him that he could not escape?" "I do not have to answer that!" "Then we have nothing left to discuss!" IF I BARE ME, GENTLY GO: Wolfwalker scouted ahead in the passage through the boulders, while Andalejo guarded the rear. In the still air, the sounds of the three in the middle echoed dully as they slipped through the narrow openings. Sandy dropped back to whisper to Machita, "Say, you were really sick back there, weren't you?" "I thought I had killed that man! I suppose you wouldn't get sick. Have you ever killed anyone?" "Not directly. I been shot at when raiders tried to steal part of the herd, and I shot back. Don't think I hit anything." "Well, I still feel queasy. Why do you ask?" "It is just that... well, I thought a guy would have a stronger stomach than that." Machita pouted, an expression Sandy had no trouble recognizing in the moonlight, and she said, "You just think when I'm a girl I'm weak, that is all!" Sandy looked away. "I didn't say that," he said. They slowed to allow the others to move farther ahead. While Gordo was out of sight, Machita whispered to Sandy, "I have got to tell Gordo the truth! I don't want to stay a girl!" "I've only known you for a short while, and I still ain't got over the shock," said Sandy, "He's known you all his life. How do you think it will affect him?" "What you guys talkin' about?" asked Gordo. He had stopped before a dense thicket of thorn trees. "Ahh... we were talking about different weapons," Sandy said. "Hey, weapons are my life, man!" said Gordo, "Did I tell you about this rifle my uncle had?" The passage through the thorn trees was filled with snags. Gordo and Sandy were discussing weapons and tactics when they heard the fabric rip. Machita's blouse had caught on a snag and a great section had been torn out, exposing her breasts, and she clutched futilely at the shreds. The boys stared while trying not to stare, until Gordo shielded his eyes, yanked off his chaqueta and handed it to her. Sandy ducked his head and ran to the next bend in the wall. "Hey, you gonna hurt yourself, man!" Gordo said after he found Sandy pounding his head against an outcropping. "I shouldn't look! I shouldn't look, but I did! I couldn't help myself!" "Hey, don't make a big thing out of it, man!" "But you don't understand! That's a... a... She's a..." "She's a lady! She is very modest, man! And if you point out what she did, she will be shamed and feel bad. Better we don't say nothing, and play like nothing happened!" "You must be silent!" Wolfwalker cautioned them as he rejoined the group. Andalejo edged in from the rear. Machita noticed the young Apache. "You haven't said anything, lately," she said, "What is wrong?" Andalejo indicated the surrounding darkness. "I am thinking the Sergeant has betrayed us," he said. Club-bearing figures were appearing out of the gloom. Wolfwalker reached for his hatchet, thought better of it. "Apache child, I must agree with you," he said. SOMETHING COMES CALLING: The cell door swung inward on protesting hinges, waking Lucita from a warm dream of parents and sisters. The wan lanternglow behind his back shadowed his face, but the man in the doorway wore the same uniform as the guards who had placed her in the cell. He paused, called back into the corridor, "Find that lazy guard who was supposed to be here!" Then he returned his attention to the child. "I am Espuma," he said, "You should come with me. I will take care of you." "No!" cried Lucita, "I want to stay with my Mamá!" She clung to the sleeping Elizbeta. "Your mother belongs to the master Kaliche," said Espuma, "But you are mine. You are *my* reward." Espuma's face distorted and for a second she could see the fangs and eyes of the creature beneath the skin. "The hag-demon is not the only one who likes delicious little children," he said. Lucita howled with fright and tried to burrow behind her mother. With a visible effort, the thing became Espuma again. He reached for the little girl, then stopped. The hideous smile on Espuma's face slowly condensed into an awareness of small sounds. Something had disturbed the air currents, and a dimming of the lanternlight in the cell told him that someone was behind him. The smile drifted away like smoke as Espuma turned. Selnik was not smiling. GIVE YOUR HEART TO MY CAUSE: Two huge warriors bearing obsidian-bladed axes escorted them past blank-eyed acolytes wearing serapes of dingy gray. Machita felt the blood-pulse of the drums even before they were ushered into the cavern. It sapped her of her strength and caused the strangely shaped columns to appear to sway. The air seemed heavy, as though she were breathing some thick, murky fluid. Torches along the walls flickered in time with the drums, illuminating a raised shelf with symbols carved on it. On the shelf were an altar and a brazier. The bald priest in shimmering red and blue robes was there to greet them. "Come on in, my girl!" the bald head bobbed in humble politeness, "Please be comfortable! I am so *terribly* honored that you have arrived!" Machita pulled back from him, prepared to struggle, but he did not restrain her. His hand on her wrist gently loosed and allowed her to get away. "The events are unfolding, Oh Honored One," hurried the priest, "Forgive me. My name is Kaliche. I have waited for many years... Oh, you would not *believe* how many years! And now you are here! I am overwhelmed!" "I want outta here!" said Machita. She stumbled away a few steps then faltered as the pulse of the drums eroded her will. The dark eyes sagged in disappointment. "But that would ruin *everything*," Kaliche sobbed, "Can't we convince you to stay? We have a celebration planned that is simply spectacular! It is beautiful! You would not regret watching it, not one little bit!" Machita felt his nearness as a deep pit drawing her closer. She pressed against the column to get away from him. "What am I doing here?" she asked. "Quite simple, really. I cast the auguries, and they gave me your name, which is Lucha. Then I cast the compelling spell, to cause you to dream and come to me. And just in time for the rites! Isn't it perfect?" "You see the way he is bowing to her?" whispered Gordo to his companions, "She is somebody *special*, man!" ATOP THE PUEBLA: "Come, Dolores, look!" waved Sinestro, "Look out there! Now, there is nothing but brush and shrub, but think what it would be with irrigation and a new city! We could have a culture equal to or greater that Mexico City!" "Who could have possibly have filled your head with such nonsense?" cried Dolores. "All it needs is money, the filthy money you so despise. And I almost have it in my grasp! All the money you could ever dream about! More! I am talking about the ancient hoards of the Aztecs!" AND BENEATH: "Come, Lucha, look!" waved Kaliche. He snapped his fingers and the solid walls of the cavern became as clear as glass, so they could gaze out upon the moonlit valley. "Look out there! Now, there is nothing but brush and shrub, but think of how it could be! There at the bend of the river, I will place my palace, behind it the pyramid and the courts for the conduct of everyday life. And on this side, the ball fields where youths of all countries will vie for the greatest honors of the world! You have a tremendous part to play in this dream!" "Hey, this wall disappeared!" cried Gordo, rubbing his nose, "There ain't nothing holding up the ceiling!" "You just ran into the wall," sneered Wolfwalker, "This is an illusion." "Oh, yeah? I'll bet you didn't know that until I hit the wall. I proved the wall was still there!" Machita cried, "But I'm not a girl! I'm a guy! You've made a mistake!" "Not at all. Oh, I can see your curse, a nimbus which floats about you. Curious. But you change sex easily enough. It is a simple spell to counter." He snapped his fingers, and Machita felt a gust of cold air against her cheek. After a brief inspection of her more salient features, she asked, "What is supposed to happen?" "Only a simple condition," repeated Kaliche, and he snapped his fingers more loudly. Again the gust of air, and again the brief inspection. "Nothing," she said. Kaliche shrugged and grabbed a bowl of cold water. This time the results were positive. "As long as you are a girl when the ceremony starts," he said, "who cares?" "And I came here for my mother! I don't know anything about your dreams!" cried Ramón. "You haven't felt a pull to this place? You haven't awakened with memories of former times? Odd. The link should have prepared you." "WHAT link?" Wolfwalker and Gordo were face to face, snarling insults, too preoccupied to notice the change, when Gordo glanced over at their `host'. "Awww man!" cried Gordo, "He's got Ramón, too! This is lookin' bad, man!" "You don't have the turquoise pendant?" the stout bald man cried in anguish, "But you must have it! Centuries ago, I set into motion the events which brought you here today! Nothing could change them - they were blood spells, the most powerful known!" "What!!?" "I said, `Centuries ago, I set...'" "I *heard* that part! Just how old *are* you?" demanded Ramón, "Are you actually an Aztec priest? You can't be that old!" "Those children? I am older than that! Oh, I am older than them, you can be sure! A thousand, at least! I studied in Bablylon! I have travelled with the Phonecians!" The light fell across his face and Machita could see the cold deadness in the eyes. No, not a priest. Definitely not like any priest Ramón had ever known. "Any way, I'm somebody else. Doña de Muerte called me Lucha, but that is not my name. I'm..." Ramón drew back as the dead eyes seemed to leap toward him. "You must have the pendant! You *must* have it!" "Well, I don't! Now let me go!" "What do you mean you do not have the link? You are useless to me without it! You *have* to have the link! It was designed to stay with the bloodline!" Kaliche's shoulders slumped. "Very well, then," he said, "there is nothing we can do now, it must be later. I will have to wait until next cycle to activate my cult of Huitzilopochtli. You may go free." The boys had just released an explosive breath when the bald sorcerer waved his hand at the rest of them. "Release him. Kill the others," he said as he went through the portal. The youths looked about in alarm as gray-clad acolytes swarmed into the room past the two warriors. --------------- Glossary (of sorts): chaqueta: jacket. puebla: a village, usually. in this case, a cluster of cliff-dweller's buildings. --------------- Return to main page