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Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

Macho Caballo Chapter 22                   2/25/98     15
                        MACHO CABALLO

                      CHAPTER VEINTIDOS

         THE ROAD TO POWER BEGINS WITH A SINGLE STEP



I COULD USE A LITTLE REASSURANCE:

Alboro slurped the coffee loudly and began, "When I was a
young warrior, not so very long ago..."  He looked about the
circle of faces reflecting firelight to see if anyone
appreciated his little joke.  No one was smiling.

"Hmmphhh..." he continued, "When I was a young warrior, I
roamed through these lands like the wind.  I went
everywhere.  I knew these hills like the back of my hand."

"Old man," said Ramon, "We don't need your chatter - we need
a way out of here!"

The old man yawned, "You say they are camped behind us?"

Red Cloud nodded.  She glanced worriedly at Ramon who was
poking at the fire dispiritedly.

"I see.  How do you think they got ahead of us, too?"

Ramon looked up and snapped, "Did you ever think they might
know these hills better than you?"

"Guess I can't do anything, right now," sighed Alboro, "I
think I'm gonna take a nap."  He lay back and pulled his
serape over him.  He was instantly asleep.

Estrellita crowded against Ramon, as though seeking shelter
in his company.

Ramon touched her shoulder, "I am sorry you had to get
caught out here in this," he said, "Maybe we should have
left you at the village."

Her chin came up in defiance, "Well, I'm not!" she said, "I
belong with you guys!"  She touched his fingers, withdrew
her hand and added, "I wanted to ask, though... Are you all
right?  Is everything okay?"

"Well, I'm fine," Ramon went back to spreading the coals, "I
could use a little reassurance from old Abuelo, there.  Why
do you ask?"

"Oh, nothing,"  Noticing Sandy pacing outside the rim of
firelight, she went to talk to him.

Ramon covered himself with a blanket, feeling the chill of
the air.  He intended to get up shortly and relieve Sandy at
guard.  He did not intend to go to sleep.




REUNIONS:

Cinders leapt up the column of heated air rising from the
campfire.  They had not bothered to use a small blaze.  They
did not care if anyone saw.

"You leave a trail like a wounded cow," growled the husky
warrior, "Did you WANT me to find you?"

Espuma smiled vaguely, "You know where I am," he said
smoothly, "As I can always find you.  We are both parts of
the same magical creature."

Machack shuddered.  He lifted a gnarled tree trunk and
shredded it.  The exercise seemed to calm him.  "I prefer to
think we are the upper and lower halves," he growled,
"Perhaps it is time to see if one can live without the
other."

Espuma shifted uneasily and said, "That should not be
necessary.  I was sent to help you.  You have Kaliche's
word."

"I did not ask for your assistance, vile one," Machack's
words spilled out like gravel from a mine chute, "Why did
you precede me?  To get your dishonorable hands on Kaliche's
appointed offering?"

"Do I detect a bit of jealousy, bloodbrother?  What will you
do with the others, once you have the girl in your hands?  I
have seen how you 'test' anyone you consider promising.  Do
you hope to find one, someday, who can best you?" Espuma
said with a sly smile, "Or do you hope to mate with a female
survivor?"

Machack's brow knotted like a thundercloud.  "Some day I
will test you," he promised, "You had best be ready."




A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS THING:

Ramon understood that he was dreaming.  Still, he felt
earthbound.  The fragment of a moon gave enormous light as
he walked the corridors of boulders, stepping over gravel
that crunched beneath his sandals.

The sky was a bold, deep blue, brimming with stars.  A cool
breeze fluttered at thick pulpy stalks of maguey.  For a
moment someone walked beside him, and when he looked up at
him he thought he recognized Mud Wallow, the dirty old man
who had helped cure Doa Mercedes.

"So you are going to learn the ways of power?" the healer
chuckled, "This is good.  Very good."

"I'm not trying to learn anything!  And even if I was, I
wouldn't be a priest," objected Ramon, "I can't do dumb
stuff like sit around and pray all day."

"There are more powerful methods than prayer," was the dry
response, "But it is a good method."

"So what's better?"

"Prayer is asking.  It is a step.  If someone is bigger and
stronger than you, it only makes sense to ask, first,"  Mud
Wallow gestured with his hand to include the whole desert
floor.  They were suddenly higher in the hills, looking out
over the landscape.  "Do you see all that?" he asked, "Would
you like to own it?"

"No way!" Ramon said, trying to remember something from
words he had heard in the mission schools.  Something about
someone who would take you up on a mountain and promise you
things.  From up here he thought to look for his own
campfire and was surprised to see three fires - his own, one
back toward the desert, and one farther on into the
confusing maze of boulders and paths.

"Good," said the old man, "Because you couldn't have it,
anyway.  It belongs to the spirits, and to the animals who
must live there.  But you can go there and not be harmed.
You can go to the spirits and ask for food... and for water,
and you will probably get it."

"What has this got to do with power?"

"Ahh!" Mud Wallow face loomed closer, "So you ARE interested
in power?"

"Well, just enough to keep from getting beat..."

"You can never have enough for that," sighed the old healer,
"You use power, you will draw others who want power.  Then
if you do not know how to handle it, they take it from you."

"So what do I do, just ask them to go away?"

That evinced another dry chuckle from Mud Wallow.  "There is
another power," he said, "You know they will go away.  Then
they will not come in the first place."

"I don't get it."

Another chuckle as the decrepit healer faded, "You do not
know, yet," he said.

Still he walked on.  The dream was not over yet.  He
clambered down to level ground, going closer to the fires
that he had seen.  At the desert fire there were five men
sleeping around the fire, their horses picketed nearby. A
sixth stood guard, sitting just outside the rim of
firelight.

The guard glanced in his direction and Ramon stood still,
then remembered that he was in a dream.  "If he can see me
then either this is not a dream or he's in the dream, too.
That's too confusing to think about."  As a test, he moved
into the light of the campfire, prepared to duck if the
sentry should start.  There was no reaction, even when he
waved his hand in front of the man's eyes.  Then the sentry
rose to his feet and Ramon jumped back, but the man was only
going over to check the horses.

[This is a peculiar dream,] Ramon admitted as he found the
trail they had followed earlier, [everything is too clear.]

Then he was coming upon the campfire where he had left the
others when an odd thought occurred to him.  He knew he had
gone to the sheriff's campfire and looked around, and then
he had started back, but he could not remember actually -
moving- either way.  He had just *wanted* to be there and he
had gone.

He smiled indulgently at his own silliness.  [Of course,] he
said to himself, [It's a dream, after all.]

The aroma of tobacco smoke caught his attention.  A white
blur ahead resolved itself into Alboro's hunched form,
sitting and smoking his pipe.

"About time you came back," grumbled his abuelo, "You can't
sit still for a minute.  No patience.  You will never
learn!"

"Just walking around," said Ramon defensively, "Everything
seems so strange.  Like a dream.  I saw the sheriff's camp
and I'm going over to look at that other fire."

"No!" Alboro said sharply, "That is enough!  Go back to
bed!"

Ramon came nearer to the camp and realized that he had
walked past Wolfwalker without being noticed, yet the Azuma
warrior was alert, watching the night around him.  Closer to
camp, he came upon another puzzle.  Alboro was standing
behind him, almost at Wolfwalker's side.  There was a shape
under the blanket where Alboro had been earlier.  Curious,
Ramon lifted Alboro's serape and peered at the person
snoring beneath.

He beheld - Alboro.

Whipping around as though to catch someone playing a prank,
Ramon stared at the Alboro standing solemnly before him. The
standing Alboro spoke, "Bring the others all together!"

Then his shoulder shook and the figure faded away.  Again he
shook and felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Wake up!" cried Sandy, "We got trouble!  Somebody's
coming!"

Wolfwalker was stamping out the fire.  "Something woke up
the posse," he said, "They're heading this way."  Lonesome
was hurrying back from his post.

Into the last light cast by the embers of the campfire
strolled the mare.  Behind her there was the nearing glow of
torchlight and the sound of more horses.

"Oh, no!" cried Lonesome, "I knew I should have shot that
animal! She's leading them right to us!"

Ramon had stumbled to his feet.  It took him a moment to get
his balance, but he was soon strapping his saddle on the
bay.  He looked around and saw that everyone was together,
but through the muffled grunts and noises of assembly he
noticed that one figure was missing.

"Where the heck is my abuelo?" he wondered.

That was when the wind howled and the pebbles danced, rocks
knocking against each other in an incessant rumble.  Dust
and blowing sand mingled with uprooted bushes and flying
grass to throw a curtain between them and the desert.

"Earthquake!" cried Sandy.

In the confusion that followed, blowing sand and dust
obscured all vision.  Horses nickered and reared, forcing
them to divide their attention between holding on and
keeping the grit out of their faces.

Through the folds of his bandanna, Ramon saw Red Cloud's
horse lose its footing and sprawl among the flat boulders.
After he had dismounted from the bay he careened through the
gale to Red Cloud's side and found Wolfwalker already there,
protecting her from flying debris.  Ramon joined him to
shelter her.  Before they vanished into the murk, he saw the
cowboys moving to help Estrellita.

The very earth creaked and the rocks underfoot trembled as
large monstrous shapes seemed to materialize and vanish
before them.  Ramon saw a shape like Alboro's jackass gallop
wildly past with someone who looked like Alboro in the
saddle, waving and taunting the monstrous shapes into
chasing him.  Then the jackass vanished as though it had
never been, followed by the gargantuan phantasms who were
howling in anger, roaring and howling to shake the world.

Then there was stillness.  From the bushes not far away a
mockingbird called, and a thin line of light announced the
rising of the sun over unfamiliar hills.

Ramon staggered to his feet.  He reached down and helped Red
Cloud as she rose, also.  Wolfwalker was already up and
pacing about the bare area of sand on which they stood. They
were surrounded by low trees and shrub, their horses were
nowhere to be seen, and their companions had vanished.

"Where are we?" Ramon wondered.

"Use your eyes," growled Wolfwalker, "We are not where we
were."

"I know that!" snapped Ramon, "But where are we?"

"Beyond the hills," supplied Red Cloud, "We have taken a
giant's step."



IN THE KITCHEN:

Dolores had coffee waiting in the kitchen as Manuel pulled
on his clothes and dried his hair.  "I have always
considered Seor Sinestro to be a hard man," he said, "But
he has exceeded even my worst expectations."

Francisco, his stool propped against the table, held out a
cup for a refill.  "Our Alcalde is a man of many talents,"
he said, "The Azuma say he is a man of hunger."

Manuel sipped his own cup, "He is hungry for something that
is on the de Muerte property," he said, "To get it, he is
prepared to turn Don Pedro's son against him by claiming
that he is endangering his own granddaughter."

"Surely, as reckless as Estrellita is, Estabon would not
believe such a charge."

"Estabon and Carmen may be overly generous with their
daughter, but they are not indifferent.  When they find that
Estrellita has followed our son into a dangerous land, they
will become very concerned."

"But Doa Mercedes has already told them about Estrellita!"
cried Dolores, "I helped write the messages myself!"

"You forget that all messages go through the Alcalde's
office," frowned Manuel, "He has delayed them and plans to
claim that they were never sent.  He guards the roads in
case someone tries to take a message by hand.  A hard man,
and cruel."

"I had a chance to shoot him, once," said Dolores soberly,
"Now I wish I had done so."

"Someday we will talk about those times," Manuel said to
her, gently, "But not now.  I am angry that anyone would so
coldly threaten my patron in his own home.  It was all I
could do to keep from revealing my presence."

"Don Pedro knew you were there, listening?" Francisco raised
an eyebrow.

"He was aware.  I must confer with him when the snake
leaves."

"I think we should all go and talk to him," said Dolores,
"Bertran spoke to me of a hidden treasure, the Aztec hoard."

"That is a legend!  I cannot believe he is chasing after an
old tale that prospectors tell other on cold nights."

"He believes it is real.  He almost killed our son, and my
daughter, because of his greed for gold.  I must warn Don
Pedro."

"We will all go," agreed Manuel.




A CHANGE OF PLAN:

"This watchdog is proving to be interesting," Machack
scowled at the ridge, where sand and bits of rubbish were
falling from a clear sky.

Espuma was not so unperturbed, "They have cheated!" he
cried, "Now I must leave tonight!"

"Unless I read my signs wrongly, they are going to travel
very far, very fast," the warrior said, "What profit is
there in hurrying?"

"The master has entrusted me with a few small articles,
including an apparatus to go very fast," gloated the smaller
man, "I know where they are going, and I can get there
almost as soon as they do."

"I was wondering about your reason for being here," growled
Machack.  He laid his hand on his knife, "Now I will know.
Or else."

Espuma sidled away from him.  "I am to make them welcome,"
he said, "I could take you, as well.  Otherwise, you will be
days catching up."

"I am to collect the girl," the warrior's voice was a deep
rumble of warning, "The girl will be unharmed.  You *can*
die, you realize.  I know how."

"There will not be one hair on her head out of order,"
promised Espuma, "As for the people around her, I will make
no such promise."

"You know how important this mission is, and you want to
play your games?  I do not need you!" thundered Machack,
advancing on him.

"Can you find her?" countered his companion as he stepped
backward, "I can.  I have been there."

The husky warrior ground to a stop, his fist inches away
from Espuma's face.  Espuma smiled, but it was a wan smile.

"How are you going to do this?" asked Machack.

"Since we know the boy is going to the Apache, we will make
the Apache come to us."

"That tells me nothing!"

"Just come with me, and I will show you," the ex-sergeant
pulled a spindly mechanism from his packs and began to
assemble it.

"I will not place myself at your mercy.  Go, fly.  I will be
there.  You said yourself that I can always find you,"
Machack shrugged, "I say I can follow your stench.  But hear
this... harm the girl, or let her escape, and only one of us
will return to apologize to the master."

Espuma turned his back to the warrior, attaching a sling to
the device with stout rope.  Machack saw with some
satisfaction that the ex-sergeant's hands were shaking.




PREPARING THE WELCOME MAT:1

The whole world was beginning to taste bitter.  First, there
were the ponies - three of them.  Considering the relative
poverty of the tribal group, this was a lot.  Three young
men were announcing that they wished to be considered as
suitors for her hand.  Three out of so few.  Her family had
no wealth, her foster father was dead, and she could not
cook or sew to please her foster mother.  She did not
encourage them, so why did they think she would choose one
of them?  Oh, yes.  Tradition.  Already their families were
preparing the customary gifts in hopes that she would pick
their son.

But she was not ready.  When she had been much younger, she
had wished that her real family would come to get her, a
father who was bold and strong, a mother who was soft and
warm.  Perhaps even a strong brother who could ease the
feeling of `differentness' which haunted her.  Finally, she
had resigned herself to being content to live alone, and now
even that was being denied her.  Life was bitter, like the
tea she was drinking.  It made her feel slightly ill.

Lucha smiled a bitter smile as she lifted the pendant down
from the wall hook and put it around her neck.  She had
social obligations; someone had a wickiup with a leaky roof
and several maidens were going together to help mend it
under the close supervision of an elder.

Outside her door, she saw the ponies and shuddered.  They
had been there since dawn.  If they were not cared for, they
would shortly become thirsty and hungry.  She could not ease
their discomfort; any favor she showed would be interpreted
as favor toward the pony's owner.  The finest pony, a black
and white mare with a beaded halter, belonged to Buffalo
Wattle.  She knew who the other two ponies belonged to, but
they did not matter; within a day they would come and claim
their horse because they would have 'reconsidered' after
getting a talk from Buffalo Wattle.

"It is good that you are an accomplished huntress," smiled
Yucca Blossom as they walked toward the wickiup, "But there
is more to being a good wife than merely hunting."

"I do it to get out of the village," sighed Lucha.  She had
to watch where she placed her feet.  The dizziness had
returned, "I do not have that many friends here... only
you."

Yucca hid an embarrassed grin, "They would like you if you
would stay and talk with them."

"I would not want to gossip, it is boring.  Sewing,
preparing hides, cooking... it is boring.  I want to
travel."

"That is why some say you are not acting like a woman.  I
say they are wrong," Yucca frowned as she avoided two
puppies growling and tearing at each other in playful
abandon, "Still, you should be prepared to tend to your
husband, so he can provide for you and your family."

Lucha brushed her sleeve across her face as though to move a
stray tendril of hair that had gotten into her eye, or she
could have been brushing back a tear.  "My mother is the
only family I have," she sniffed, "I can take care of her."

"Aiyyeee," said Yucca, "and what of yourself?  Do you not
dream of a handsome man once in a while?  Who will look
after you?"

"I need no one," Lucha stopped as she saw the group of young
men standing outside Yucca's wickiup.  Buffalo Wattle was
among them, standing in front.  Yucca walked up to him and
handed him a leather bag crusted with beads and feathers.
Buffalo Wattle sent a guarded look at Lucha before he led
the group across the compound and toward the south.




THE PARTY OF THE SECOND PART:

The -fcrack- of a musket interrupted the distant lowing of
cattle, and echoed across the sparse rolling grass of a
small pasture. Sandy walked woodenly back to the others, his
chin set and his lower lip quivering.  Estrellita lifted her
hand to touch his shoulder, hesitated, and withdrew it as he
passed her.

"Lucky we didn't lose more," Lonesome said, facing away from
the others.

Sandy finished wiping down the barrel and slid the musket
into its saddle holster.  "Reckon we could spread the packs
among the other horses," he said, "Ramon and them will be
needing their horses when we find them."

Estrellita limped up to Lonesome.  "We could put the packs
on your pet horse," she suggested.

"Is that nag still here?" cried Lonesome, "How do I get rid
of her?"

The mare came when Estrellita called, and seemed eager to
take on the burden stripped from the dead packhorse.
Lonesome took the pack from her before she dropped it.  "You
took a spill back there, didn't you?" he asked.

"I've fallen off taller horses than this one!" snapped the
rancherita, but as she walked past Sandy she stumbled and he
caught her before she fell.

"We'd better find the rest and get going," said Lonesome.

While Sandy mounted his steed and scouted about for the
remainder of the group, Lonesome tied the bay and the other
two horses into a string with the mare bringing up the rear.
Estrellita seemed more secure once in the saddle.

"Nothin'," Sandy reported after his sweep, "They could be
any direction... no telling where that wind blew them."

"I'll just be doggoned if I can figger," said Lonesome as he
puzzled over the unfamiliar landmarks.

"Now you're startin' to sound like Mister Calpern," Sandy
chuckled.

"Old man has a head on his shoulders, you got to grant."

"Yeah," agreed Sandy, "Don't know nobody I'd rather have
guarding my back in a fight... `Ceptin' maybe you."

"That's mighty big of you, Kid, seeing's how you ain't never
seen me in a fight."

"How about back at Aguas Calientes, at the jailer's house?"

"That weren't no fight, Boy.  That was just clearin' up a
misunderstanding.  Come a real fight, maybe somebody don't
walk away."

"All the same..." Sandy shrugged.

Lonesome frowned.  "I got no *idea* how we got here, but I
know where we are.  Came through here a couple years ago.
There's a town just up that road, and they got good grub."

"I want to go!" Estrellita roused enough to say, "I'm dying
for a decent cooked meal!"




THE OLD GUARD:

Chief Tom Goose watched the band of boys - young men,
actually - as they left the girls and ran past on their way
into the land south of the rancheria.  He said nothing, but
an alert person would have noted pride reflecting from his
eyes when they came to the young man leading the group.

"They follow Buffalo Wattle as though they were on a raid,"
commented his companion and brother-in-law, the shaman.  His
name was Broken Cloud, for the way the clouds had split the
sky when he was on a trek in the desert, searching for his
calling.

Tom Goose merely nodded in acknowledgment.  "His mother
would have been content," he said, "He is headstrong, but he
is a good leader... if only..."

"And Yucca Blossom is becoming a fine young woman,"
continued the medicine man as though the chief had not
faltered, "Already the boys are noticing her.  You can see
them follow her with their eyes as she walks past."  He
laughed, "They pretend to be examining the ground.  Ahh,
youth!"

The chief nodded again.  The hills to the west had lost
their rosy glow and were subsiding into lumps of stone ready
to receive the warmth of the sun.

"Brother, I must ask of deeper matters," said Tom Goose, "I
have felt the shadows again."

"Aiyuh," muttered Broken Cloud, "Others are disturbed, as
well.  No one enjoys crouching in his home while things walk
about that he cannot fight," the medicine man watched his
face as he asked, "It is the dream, is it not?"

"As it has been for years.  Since before Yucca Blossom was
born and her mother..."  He paused again.  No one liked to
talk of ghosts, "I thought it was over.  We once were a
large group," he continued, "Now, families leave and no one
joins.  Look at us.  A handful of families stay.  Now Deer
Finder has gone.  Tell me, my brother... are we truly
cursed?"

Broken Cloud took his time answering, "Not by spirits. I
have asked, and they tell me this.  The bear spirit says we
have taken in something which can harm us, but then he says
we had to do it.  He says we must come together with our
fellow clans to talk about it." The shaman blinked and
looked at the shimmering hills, "And then he says something
I do not understand, about my eyes."

Tom Goose remained troubled.  "Whom could we have offended?"
he wondered, "What could we have done?"

"I cannot say.  It is for this reason I have laid aside my
quarrel with the medicine man of the Loose Foot group and we
have agreed to meet and discuss the problem during the clan
gathering.  While you and your fellow chiefs discuss Chief
Red Sleeves and his pacifist teachings, we will talk about
this village."

"That is one less thing for me to worry about," said Tom
Goose.

"Let us talk of more pleasant things," smiled the medicine
man, "I would rather be remembering the days when I was
chasing off across the country, like those boys."



RIO PELIGROSO:

Rio Peligroso stood at the base of a cliff, a gaggle of
adobe huts clustered around an old mission.  A single main
street angled out from the river with several stores on
either side, making it a fair-sized town for the area.  The
river, from which the place name derived its name, trickled
between the town and the cliff, perilous only in the spring
when runoff from melted snows in the hills brought the
trickle to a raging torrent.

Lonesome and his companions crossed the fearsome river a
half-dozen times, in water ankle deep at the most, on their
way to the town.


"We've got no doctor here, but I've patched a few cuts. What
seems to be her problem?" the stout woman named 'Ma Brown'
who ran the boardinghouse told them.  She wiped her hands on
her apron and put it away before looking at the girl in
Lonesome's arms.  Sandy stepped out of her way, but remained
close.

"She fell off her horse a few miles back," offered Lonesome.
The stout woman lifted Estrellita out of his arms and
started up the stairs.

Estrellita stirred and mumbled, "Let me alone.  I want to
sleep."

"Don't see no broke bones," the lady said over her shoulder,
"Could be she's just tuckered out.  I'll put her to bed. You
don't mind if she spends the night, do you?  Cost you fifty
cents."

"Fine," said Lonesome, "She can stay here.  I have to go
look for someone.  They might show up here."

"I stay with her," volunteered Sandy.

"I'll let you look in on her," promised Mrs. Brown, "But you
don't roost in there by yourself.  This ain't that kind of
place."

"I'll be on the porch," promised Sandy as he tried and
failed to keep the embarrassment off his face.



_______________________________
1 Apache customs described in this story are not intended to
be absolutely accurate, and may be modified to a) enhance
the storyline, b) combine a feature from several different
groups, c) protect the innocent.  In the same vein, the
names are not intended to represent actual persons.  They
are not changed to protect the innocent, they are made up to
further the story.