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Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo


                        MACHO CABALLO

                PART 2: CHAPTER VEINTISEIS

                       DRAWING CLOSER




INVITATIONS AND OBLIGATIONS:

It was the next morning, at the Apache camp.

The black of night slowly became shades of gray, with darker
lines and traces leading back and forth across the roof.
Ramon could not remember how long he had lain, gazing up at
the poles supporting the roof and walls of the wickiup.
Somehow the dream from the night before, about the regal
chamber and the bald priest, had blurred into indistinct
shadows.  The memory was banished by the glow of a single
beam of sunlight through the opened doorway. The aroma of
some kind of stew was drifting in.

Wolfwalker's sleeping mat was rolled up and stowed, while
Red Cloud had folded her blanket and was sitting quietly,
watchng the dawn.

Ramon rubbed sleep from his eyes and asked, "Where is that
old woman who was in here last night?"  When the Mexican
youths had been shown into the wickiup, there had been a
greyhaired old woman occupying it.

"She was outside, cooking," replied Red Cloud as the light
fell soft upon her face.

There was a polite noise at the doorway, which darkened for
a moment as someone paused outside.

A slight woman entered, smiling, the beads and fringes on
her buckskin dress glowing from the sunlight behind her, her
quick eyes taking in the occupants of the dwelling.
"Forgive my intrusion," she said, "I am looking for my
daughter's sister."

"She's not here!" blurted Ramon.  He stood hastily, bending
to keep his head from hitting the roof.

"She went to the spring," Red Cloud elaborated.

"I wanted to meet her," said the woman, "My daughter has
told me about her sister, but she has not met the rest of
you.  Are you part of her family?"

Ramon glanced uncertainly at Red Cloud, who shrugged.

"I... I'm her brother," said Ramon, "I only found out about
her a little while ago."

Lucha's foster mother was so slight that she was able to
stand in the wickiup without stooping.  She came near Ramon
and looked up at him.  "Yes, I can see the resemblance.  You
are definitely related," she said, then asked bluntly, "Are
you going to take Lucha away from me?"

Ramon shook his head.  "I do not know," he admitted, "It is
for her to decide, whether to go with us or to stay.  But...
her mother needs to see her.  She really wants to meet her.
For years she has thought her daughter - my sister - was
dead."

Lucha's mother gathered her shawl about her and shuddered.
"It is good of you to say this," she said, "You are a good
brother and son."

Ramon kept silent as the birdlike woman retreated through
the doorway.

"I will tell my daughter that I have met you," she promised.

"Wait!" called Ramon, "Do not tell her, please.  I will tell
her myself, when we meet."

"Such a *nice* young man!" she said to herself, then
abruptly turned back to them.

"The people who own this wickiup will be back, soon," she
said, "You will need a place to stay.  It would be good if
you could stay with us in our wickiup.  I will go and
prepare it."  Before he could reply, she was gone.

"Oh, boy," groaned Ramon.




FEEDING ON THE SLY:

"You know, Daughter, you really are very good."

"Why, thank you, Mother."

"Don't play coy with me, child.  You think that by waiting
until four days are over you can get out of making a
decision.  You secretly care for the ponies because you have
a soft heart.  You don't realize that turning down all your
suitors will make them look bad.  This will reflect on you
when you really do want to get married and settle down."

Lucha looked away, saying, "What makes you think I have been
doing anything?"

"These horses are restless, for they have been tied up and
unable to run.  But they are not complaining as they should
be after two days without food and water.  Someone has
tended them, someone who can hide their tracks very well.
You can move like the breeze when you wish, Daughter. I know
this."

"I did not start this.  Someone else placed my hair on the
post."

"It does not matter.  You had your chance to stop it, and
you did not.  You stumbled around like some love-besotted
fool and let everybody think what they wanted to think.
Tell, me, are you ill?  Has someone put a curse on you?"

"Of course not - " Lucha suddenly remembered the tea Yucca
had been practically forcing on her, lately.  Where was
Yucca this morning?  She was late.  Why did the thought of
more tea bring an uneasiness to her throat?  The last cup
she had sipped had tasted so bad that she had thrown it out.

Lucha adjusted the pendant.  The stone did not fit her hand,
somehow, and she remembered that she and Machita had swapped
pendants.  Nevertheless, the thought of it seemed to make
breathing easier.




OLD FRIENDS:

Yucca Blossom gathered the burden basket up and left the
camp for a hill nearby where she could find herbs and roots.
Espuma was waiting for her there, silently whittling a
blowgun out of a shaft of arrowwood.

Espuma had always been the sort to plan ahead.   He had been
the one who noticed the calendar, that the time most
propitious for the ceremony was drawing near.

Not having the same faith in Kaliche's powers that Kaliche
had in himself, Espuma had begun searching for the
sacrificial subject on his own.  He did not find her with
her family.  Instead, he found a boy.

Puzzled, he let the subject drop for the while and went back
to cultivating the Alcalde in his search for gold.  Kaliche
wanted gold for his plans almost as badly as he wanted the
pendant.  Sinestro wanted gold because... because he wanted
gold.  Circular logic.  Splendid!

The Alcalde talked freely, given a modest push in the right
direction, and he dumped his entire sordid history into
Espuma's waiting ears - betrayal, murder, theft -
fascinating listening.  In one of their conversations,
Sinestro let something slip - about the family where the
pendant and the sacrificial subject were supposed to remain.
The Alcalde mentioned a daughter, captured by Comanche whom
he in turn betrayed, for a modest profit.

Espuma's search had begun in earnest, and the results...

"Do you remember when I first found you?"

Yucca bared her teeth in anger, seeking a way to escape from
him.

"Ah ah ah!  You must not struggle, so!  Why, just the
thought of your poor, sick brother, dying of the same
disease that drove your mother mad...."

It was as though a string had snapped inside the Apache
girl's body.  She stopped struggling so suddenly that she
almost fell.  Her gaze became fixed on the rocks ahead as
she stood.

"That is better, now.  When I taught you how to use herbs to
facilitate implanting a series of commands... Oh, what's the
use.  You were so worried about your dear brother that you
were practically screaming it.  You gave me the trigger."

He walked around her while she ignored him.  "You have
filled out a little," he said, "But you are so pathetically
eager to please.  It would be no challenge to take you.
Anyway, I need you for something else."  She blinked when he
waved his hand before her face.

"Do you remember when I found you?  You were so filled with
that disgusting `love of life' that you thought everything
was good, that nothing would hurt you.  I had to set you
straight, correct your way of thinking.  I gave you a weapon
to defend yourself with, taught you how to use your `voice
of power'.  Have you been using it?"

Yucca blinked once again.  "Yes," she whispered.

His face contorted into a knowing leer, Espuma asked, "Have
you used it to get a boy?"

"There is a boy..." she began, then finished, "No."

"And have you been giving Lucha your `calming tea'?"

She nodded.  "She resists," Yucca said as she stared ahead,
seeing nothing, not even the man who slouched across the
rocks beside her.

"No, wait," said Espuma, "This boy you like - he is the
Mexican, is he not?"

"Yes," Yucca stirred her memory enough to recall, "Yes, he
is."

"And you like him, don't you?"

"He is... handsome.  Yes, I like him.  Very much."

"Very well, then, you can have him.  Never let it be said
that I was not generous with other people's lives," Espuma
made a show of studying the clouds, then added, "And the
girl, Machita.  You do not like her."

For the first time she became animated, "No!  I hate her!
She repulses me!"

"Excellent!" he clasped his hands with glee.  "Then I will
require of you that you use your power to dominate this
Machita.  Humble her.  Make her your slave.  If you do this,
then I will give you Ramon, the Mexican boy.  Better yet - I
want you to protect the boy, at all costs, and at the same
time I want you to hurt, humiliate, and shame the girl.  And
then, you can kill her.  No one will care."

Yucca stared at the ground, watching a scene which only she
could see.  "No one will care," she murmured, and shuddered.

"Oh, this is exquisite!" chortled Espuma, "You will try your
best to follow both commands, and they will tear you apart!
I wish I could watch this!"

He stopped suddenly, all serious again, and whispered,
"Machack, where are you?  Are you still on the road?  It is
just as well, you would not appreciate this.  This is beyond
your dull senses.  You would march straight into the camp,
slaying all who resisted, and try to take the girl by force.
What a feast of pain you would miss, by taking the direct
route!"

When the presence of the girl intruded into his awareness,
he gave her instructions: get Lucha away from the rest of
the camp.  If possible, include the two Mexican girls. After
that, he dismissed her to her mundane chores.

"Well, I, too can take the direct route, in my own way.  I
will storm the camp, defying them to strike at me!  I will
go straight to the girl and take her, and they will not be
able to stop me!"  He considered a moment and added, "They
will beg me to take her!  I will humiliate them, these proud
creatures!"




YOU CAN'T STOP NOW:

"I've had enough of this!  I'm going to clear it up, once
and for all!" grumbled Machita as she made her way with a
canteen of cold water to Lucha's wickiup.  Lucha was talking
to the woman who had spent the night with them in the
`guest' wickiup.

The old woman saw Machita and a puzzled look came over her.
"You will want to talk, Daughter" said the old woman, "I
must be going along."

"Yes, Mother.  I know where there is a tree.  I will get
someone to help as soon as I see the shaman."

Facing her sister at the doorway, Machita said, "Lucha, I
want you to see this."

Lucha moved out of the way of two boys racing for the other
side of the camp.  She shaded her eyes against the sun's
glare said, "Why do you wear the men's clothes, again?"

"I have to show you something," said Machita, as she lifted
the canteen.  There was a shout of warning and suddenly
someone crashed into her.  The canteen went tumbling,
spraying its contents over the dry grass.

Machita found herself sprawled on the ground.  "Caramba!"
she cried, "I did not get a drop on me!"

Her assailant picked himself up and said, "I am sorry,
Sister!  I did not mean to run into you!  But I was in a
hurry, trying to catch the others, before they could get to
the other side of the camp.  We were playing `hoop the pony'
and I had the hoop, and... are you She Goes Ahead?"

"Good morning, Andalejo," Machita said dryly.

"This is wonderful!  I did not know that I would find you
here, at this camp, when the last time I saw you was back at
the rancho in Mexico where we... " the lad stopped for a
moment as though puzzled, and said, "But you are a girl! Why
are you not...." he stopped talking and stared beyond
Machita's face.

Machita turned to see what had stricken him silent.

"L...Lucha...." Andalejo stuttered, his face flushed.  He
released the hoop and it rolled away a few feet before it
wobbled to a halt and fell over.

The older girl frowned uncertainly.  "Has he been in the sun
too long?" she asked.

"I think he likes you," said Machita.

"Oh," Lucha rolled her eyes, but gave the boy a smile as she
re-entered the doorway.  Andalejo sighed and returned to his
hoop.  He had a grin stretching the length and width of his
face.

"Come on, Senor Puppylove," said Machita, "We have got to
talk."  She led him away to explain why she did not want him
to give away her secret.

[But I was all set to tell her!] she thought, [Now I will
have to gather the courage again!]




THINGS SEEN DIMLY:

"What is this all about?" Andalejo asked, "Should you be the
girl when you want your sister to know you are a boy?  Why
are you rushing me away from her?  I did not know that SHE
was your sister!!!  If I had known that... If I had known
that... I could have asked you to..."  He finally stumbled
to a stop, unable to speak.

It was a rare moment, which Machita exploited.  "I want to
be the one to tell her!" she said, "She deserves to hear it
from my lips.  I have no reason to keep on deceiving her."

At the `guest' wickiup, Machita splashed back to Ramon.
Andalejo, shy about the process when it went in the reverse,
watched with interest as Ramon shot up several inches and
changed in face and build.

Bluenose met them at the doorway.  "I have someone I want
you to meet," he said, "He has been asking about you."

"May I go, too?" Andalejo asked eagerly.

"I do not know," said Bluenose, "This will an important
meeting, and I do not want it spoiled by your chatter."

"But I can be as quiet as the chipmunk!" declared Andalejo,
"I will be silent and not make a sound!  If you want, I will
stay at the farthrest end of the shelter and never..."

"Son," sighed Bluenose, "Andalejo."

The boy clamped his mouth shut and gulped.  When his father
called him by name, it meant one thing.  He was in trouble -
or he soon would be very busy.

"I am thinking that I would like a smoke..."

"Father!  You left your pipe and tobacco back at our
campsite!  Please don't make me go back and get it!  I will
miss what you say!"

Bluenose sighed again.  "Can you really keep quiet?" he
asked.

His son nodded vigorously, eyes wide.

The shaman from the Loose Foot group looked upward
beseechingly, then stepped off without a word.  At a shelter
different from the brush wickiups he paused.  It was a tipi,
covered with skins painted with many symbols: figures of men
and animals, mountains, trees, clouds, and the zigzag of
lightning.  Here, he turned to Ramon.

"This person is an old and dear friend of mine.  We never
speak directly any more, because of a terrible thing that
happened to his sister.  I cannot go into his tipi.  Perhaps
it is best that my son accompany you."

Andalejo broke into a giant grin.

There was a soft chanting arising from within the tipi when
Andalejo pushed aside the doorskin and led Ramon inside.
Beyond a small fire huddled an old man, spreading corn
kernels about on a blanket.

"He is talking to Corn Planter," whispered Andalejo, "We
must sit over here and be very quiet."

Ramon sat where he was told, amused by the restraint the
younger boy was showing, although he seemed about to burst
at the seams.

Broken Cloud pushed the kernels back into a pouch and looked
up.  "Aiyuh," he murmured, "My seeing was true.  And now I
can look upon you again."

"You were at the sweatbath!" said Ramon, "You were the one
who said he did not see anything!"

The old man nodded, watching the air around Ramon, rather
than looking at him directly.  "Aiyuh.  This is a strange
thing you have done.  I do not understand why you would want
this particular power.  Why would you become a girl?"

"It was not my fault!" cried Ramon, "It is a stupid curse
because... because..."

"You mean to say you are not happy with it?"

"I did not ask for this!  No, I am not happy with it!"

"A power is not to be taken lightly, even a simple one which
does not seem very useful.  This is a very strong magic, and
must be treated accordingly."

"Not so strong!  I get weak, and slow, and... womanly!"

Broken Cloud rubbed his chin.  "Then something must be
wrong," he said, "Or else you did not understand when the
power was given to you.  Sometimes the spirits give a power
for a reason.  Find that reason and you can be cured."

"What?  Does that mean there is a chance I can be cured?"

"That is what I said.  But why would you want to be `cured'
of a power?  Are you not grateful?"

"No!"

The old man turned to Andalejo and commanded, "Fetch some
hot water," and watched Andalejo's reluctant withdrawal.

"I just got changed back to normal.  Do I have to go back to
being a girl?"

"For only a moment.  I did not see you change in the
sweatbath, or I would not need to see it, now.  I can feel
the possibilty of change in the air around you, but I must
see it."

"Can you help me?" Ramon asked, afraid to hope.

"Probably not.  But I would like to understand what happens.
And do not despair.  Sometimes these powers wear off."

Andalejo returned with a gourdful of hot water, then turned
his back as Ramon was splashed.  "I do not want to watch
this part," he explained, then added, "Someone is coming!"

Lucha pushed through the doorway.

"I need some cold water," said Machita, but the shaman shook
his head, indicating with his chin Machita's sister.  Lucha
stood uneasily, fingering the turqoise pendant.

"That must wait," said Broken Cloud.  He went to Lucha and
accepted the gifts, placing them to the side as he peered
closely at her face.  "You are having trouble with your
balance," he announced.

"Since a few weeks ago," admitted Lucha.  She did not seem
surprized to see Machita, and barely noticed the slack-jawed
Andalejo who was trying to disappear behind a pile of skins.

"Something you are eating does not agree with you," said the
old shaman, "You should try a short fast."

"I have fasted.  It did not help."

"You ate nothing?"

"Nothing, just water and some tea Yucca has been bringing
me.  She says it is supposed to help, but it doesn't make
any difference."

Machita moved closer, and the dangling pendant reflected a
stray gleam of light from the doorway.

Broken Cloud had felt a powerful premonition come upon him
as he saw the two girls together.  He staggered as from a
blow, sat down hard on the floorskin.  They rushed to steady
him.

"Something about the pendant," he said, "There is something
strange about it.  Let me see your necklace," he demanded.

Both girls handed him their jewelry, the familiar pendant he
knew to be Lucha's but now being worn by Machita, and
another being worn by Lucha.  As he weighed them in his
hands he felt a prickly sensation in the hand with Lucha's
pendant.  "Keep this safe," he demanded, "It can be a very
powerful charm."

Reluctantly, he handed the silver and turqoise ornaments
back.  What he had felt, a sensation of doom and disaster,
was somehow tied up with that pendant.  Something about the
pendant, but not caused by it.  He must ask Spider.

"Go," he said, indicating the doorway.  "Do not drink any
more tea."  To Machita, he said, "See that nothing upsets
her for awhile."  Machita, bigeyed, nodded understanding.
The two girls were followed by Andalejo as he shadowed them
out the doorway.

Danger.  Danger to everyone, but especially to Lucha.  He
had been given a glimpse of someone, something stalking the
camp.  Someone powerful.  After Lucha.  A witch.

And Yucca was not helping matters by feeding her that tea.
He could guess what the ingredients were, but not why.  What
could she gain by controlling Lucha?  They were friends.  He
was puzzled, but more concerned with the witch.  Yes, he
would have to talk to Spider.




THE RITE STUFF:

"Who was that old woman who spent the night in our wickiup?"
Machita asked of Lucha, "Why did you call her `Mother'?"

"She was a friend.  She was concerned that you and the Azuma
girl were in a house with a man, alone, and she wanted to
see that your reputations did not suffer."

"Oh.  Yeah," Machita hesitated, wondering again how long it
would take the gossip in the small camp to get around.  The
old woman who had been talking to Lucha was already
wondering.  Lucha would hear strange tales about her sister
very soon, and Machita had to let her know the truth.  She
said, "I just wanted to tell you..."

Lucha was absently watching the racing boys.  She
interrupted, saying, "During my puberty rites, that woman
was my attendant.  We became very close, she calls me her
daughter and I call her my mother.  So I suppose now I have
three mothers."

"Ahhh...Puberty rites?"  Machita remember overhearing chance
remarks about puberty.  Puberty... puberty... something
about girls... that was when... her eyes suddenly became
very wide, and she swallowed with an effort.

"When I came of age.  The celebration lasted four days,"
explained Lucha, "I suppose Mexicans do not have puberty
rites.  Did you not celebrate when you became a woman?"

"Ahhh... yes, no... they do, sort of...." Machita stuttered,
"Of course, Mama seemed pleased."  She recalled Mama's
reaction when she had discovered Ramon's curse, and thought
[At least, *I* did not celebrate!]

Lucha was still watching the race and did not notice that
Machita's cheeks were flaming red.  "Come with me," she
said, "They are preparing a big feast and you can help me.
I am supposed to find some honey.  And get some decent
clothes on, will you?"





VISIT TO A SMALL CAVE:

"Tell me about your... our family."

Machita kicked her skirts out of the way as she scrubbed her
mocassin through the grass along the trail.

"Mama is a warm, understanding woman," she began, "Although
she sometimes gets an idea in her head and won't let go.
Papa... Well, he is not your Papa, he is mine... Papa is a
horse trader.  Sometimes he traveled a great deal in his
younger days.  That is how he met Mama, when he bought her
from the Comanche.  She did not tell him about you, at the
time."

"I have dreamed about my family coming for me.  When I was a
child, I would lie awake, watching the stars, and wonder
what they were like..." Lucha corrected herself, "...What
you were like.  Tell me about *my* father."

"I can't," Machita replied, soberly, "Mama would not admit
to me that she had lost a daughter, until recently.  All I
know is that she was in some fighting, your father was
killed, and then the Comanche found her... and you. Somehow
you were separated, and then Papa bought her."

"And the N'de found me.  My moth... Willow Woman says that
all the Comanche were dead, already."

"It might be nice to have two mothers," mused Red Cloud as
she walked behind them, "Especially when you know both love
you."

"If she loved me so much, why did she not tell someone?"

"She let Papa know," said Machita, "He searched for years,
and sometimes I went along.  Then one day someone told him
that you were dead, and he quit looking."

"I am alive!"

"My Papa does some dumb things, but he would never have
given up if he had known.  We went to a Comanche camp where
they took him and showed him a girl about your age.  She was
dying.  I think Papa and Mama both lost heart at that time."

Red Cloud said, "His father came from our tribe.  He is
honorable."

Lucha looked closely at Machita, eyeing her features.  "That
would make you part Azuma, wouldn't it?" she asked.

"Sorta," admitted Machita, "But we stay with Mama.  She does
not like for him to do Azuma things."

"What did you do when you were at the camp of the Comanche?"

"Oh.  That.  I... umh... wrestled a girl."  Machita tensed
at a rustling noise in a nearby thicket.

"That sounds fair.  Who won?" Lucha asked.

"I did," Machita sighed, "I cheated.  I used my fists."

"But you won."

"Yeah.  What difference does that make?"

Lucha remained silent as they negotiated a narrow path
between boulders and she pondered the question.  "It
matters," she said, finally.

"What is that animal I am hearing?" asked Machita.

"It sounds like a javalina," said Lucha, "They will not
bother us if we leave them alone.  But beware if you see
their young.  They are very protective."

"What happened to Yucca?" wondered Red Cloud, "This trip was
her idea, wasn't it?"

"Moth... Willow Woman asked me to go.  Yucca was going to go
with me, because I have been feeling dizzy and she said I
should not go out alone.  But she had to do something else
so she thought it would be good if you went.  She said that
would give us a chance to talk and get to know one another,"
Lucha pointed up the slope at an immense oak tree with bees
clouding around a gray mass in the limbs, "And we can get
some honey while we are at it."

While Lucha readied a burden basket and started a small,
smoky blaze in a depression, Machita and Red Cloud studied
how to get the hive down from the tree.  "We'll use a
sling," suggested Red Cloud.

"Okay," Machita readied four braided ropes with a diamond
shaped buckskin pouch appended and found a suitable stone.
Red Cloud brought out her own sling and used it to bounce a
stone off the hive, which resulted in the cloud of bees
becoming thicker and several bees coming down to buzz around
at ground level.

Machita's stone flew dead center.  While this marksmanship
did the job and knocked the hive free of the tree, it also
brought the hive's guards closer to their attackers.  Lucha,
safe behind a screen of smoke, laughed at their frantic
attempts at evasion as the bees chased them about the
clearing.  When they finally made it to the partial security
of the smokey fire, they sat about counting stings and
pulling out the stingers.

"Yucca has some balm for that, but it will have to wait
until we get back to the camp," said Lucha, "Now we will
have to wait for the bees to give up and go away."

"That will take all day," grumbled Machita.  She collected
their ropes, tied them into a long riata and used it to snag
the hive.  Pulling the hive closer to the smoke she warned
the others, "Better be ready to run!"  The bees were
reluctant to enter the smoke-filled depression, however, and
after they soon had a load of honey for their burden basket.




LUCHA HATES BOYS:

"Javalinas are very fierce," said Lucha, "I have known them
to follow a man for days, waiting for the chance to attack
him.  But they are not very smart.  If they show themselves,
we will move away from them."

"What else could be making those noises?"

"I have seen boys tease girls by pretending to be animals,
making fierce noises.  Sometimes a boy from an unfriendly
tribe might come here, trying to do something brave.
Sometimes a boy will go to another camp to explore.  If he
is not a friend, he may try to steal something."

"Or spy on the girls?"

Lucha laughed, "Of course, some Elder will criticise us for
going out without an escort, anyway.  There will be an older
person coming with us when we go to the storage cave,
later."

"Don't they trust the boys?" Machita wondered.

"Most Apache boys are painfully shy, with one exception,"
said Lucha with a grimace, "No member of our group is going
to behave unsociably," said Lucha, "But there are men from
other tribes around."

"I'll bet there are boys you don't know about," said Red
Cloud.  Machita wrinkled her nose at her.

"If a man tried to surprise us, then I would first make him
not a man," Lucha said savagely.  She drew her knife,
showing off for her little sister, "Then, I would slit his
nose, to show others what he has done."

Machita gulped, staring at the knife and the gleam of
certainty in her sister's eyes.

"Uh-oh," she gulped.

"It looks like rain," said Red Cloud.

Machita was near panic.  "We better hurry!" she cried.




COLD WATERS RUN DEEP:

"It is not much farther," said Lucha, "We'll have to cross a
stream and go up that hill.  Beyond the crest we can get
back to the main trail."

Again Machita gulped.  "Stream?" she said in a voice that
quavered slightly, "Cold water?"

"You can walk across," Lucha assured her, "Only your feet
will get wet."

"He... she has a problem with cold water," said Red Cloud,
"An old illness.  It could flare up again at any time."

"Very well," sighed Lucha, "There are stepping stones up
this way.  I don't want you to get sick."

"I could get *really* sick," Machita promised her,
remembering the gleam in her sister's eye as she waved her
knife.  What would Lucha think if a boy suddenly appeared
beside her?  How quickly would she strike before Ramon could
explain?  Machita swallowed again.  Was it even possible for
him to explain?

She gauged the distance between stones carefully before
taking a step.  The first stone was flat and dry.  The next
stone was damp and mossy, but comfortably close.  When she
stepped on it, however, it wobbled.

Poised on tiptoe, feeling her foot slide gently down the
mossy surface toward the cold water, Machita bent at the
waist and flailed her arms.  Still she felt her balance
teetering from the perpendicular to the potentially very
wet.

The next stone beckoned, another mossback slab with a
rounded top, a long distance away.  Her foot slid faster.

She flexed her knees and jumped for the next stone.  The
moss was slippery here, too, and she danced desperately as
she tried to keep her balance.  Not waiting to see if she
would slide off, she stepped on another flat mossy slab, and
then she was on dry earth.

Lucha was watching with a trace of exasperation.  "Do you
always have that much trouble crossing streams?" she asked.

"I didn't, before I got like this," Machita muttered.

"You need some lessons in self-confidence," said Red Cloud,
"You should have gotten used to it by now."

"That's what you always say," grumbled Machita, "I don't
think more lessons is the answer."




BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR:

"I didn't ask for this!" cried Machita, "All I did was go
and borrow a dress, now I'm expected to go help with a feast
and then I have to go into the hills to get some food when
it might rain at any time!"

"Your sister must like you."

"You couldn't prove it by what she was calling me!"

"Just give her a chance to get to know you.  The best way is
to go with her."

"Not as a girl.  I don't like dresses.  I am uncomfortable.
I itch.  My head feels scratchy.  I am going to tell her the
truth, so I don't have to pretend."

"Your hair is too dry," said Red Cloud, "Let me rub some
lotion into it."

Machita shook her head dourly.  "As soon as I can get away
from this place I'm going to find some water and wash my
hair myself."

"You can't change yet.  They expect you to be a girl, now."

"Fine!  How come no one remembers that I am a boy?"

"Well, Mexican prisoners might be exciting, normally.  But
they have many visitors and some kind of a meeting going on
right now," Red Cloud said as she carefully lifted a tiny
clay pot from her pack.  It was wax-sealed and intricately
carved, with tiny creatures parading about its sides.

She added, "But if you start changing in front of their
faces, they will not be able to overlook it.  Perhaps this
will help."

"Perhaps this will help," said Red Cloud as she carefully
lifted a tiny clay pot from her pack.  It was wax-sealed and
intricately carved, with tiny creatures parading about its
sides.

"What is that?" Machita asked, squinting to see it better in
the dim light.

"This is a part of my medicine," explained Red Cloud, "It is
a kind of lotion, made of clarified fat from a bear who..."

"You want to rub me with bear-grease?" said Machita,
screwing up her face, "What good will that do?"

Red Cloud's eyes narrowed.  "If nothing else, it will make
your skin smoother," she said, "Besides, the person who
donated this..."

Again Machita interrupted, saying, "I don't care about
smooth skin. All I want is to get out of this mess!  Take
that junk away!"

"You were the one who wanted to find his sister," Red Cloud
reminded her, "Besides, you ought to care a little about the
person who made this unguent for us.  When he grew old and
knew he was about to die..."

"Oh, rub it on!" snorted Machita, "It's not like it is going
to do any good, anyway!"

Red Cloud sat for a moment before opening the clay pot, as
though she would say something else.  The moment passed.
With a sigh, she began to rub the ointment onto Machita's
hair, arms and back.

After a moment the sensation was so calming that Machita
began to loll her head back and forth in rhythm.  Suddenly
she snapped upright.

"I wasn't falling asleep!" she protested.  Her hair felt a
little sticky but was quickly drying.

"Now, you must rub some on your legs and the rest of your
body," said Red Cloud.

"All I needed was a little in my hair."

"Your hands and your skin are much too rough," said Red
Cloud, "They will wonder what kind of person your sister has
for a family."

"Do I have to? I am tired, and I want to rest."

"You are feeling sorry for yourself.  I will leave you here.
Remember, rub it all over you.  Every part."  Red Cloud left
while Machita complied with a grumble.





MEMORIES:

There were games of hoop and pole in the field, while close
by a stout lad and a slim youth had begun the wrestling.
Taking a break from helping prepare the food, Lucha found a
hummock to relax on.  Willow Woman sat beside Lucha with a
sigh.

"I remember the day he brought you to me," said Willow
Woman, "You were so tiny, and so fierce.  You were about two
summers old, and you were so sure of yourself.  You already
knew your name.   You would not answer to any other.  My
husband said, `I would have brought you a boy, but we found
this one among some dead Comanche, and I could not leave
her.'  He wanted to capture a boy.  He never told me who
killed the Comanche, but I do not think it was him."

Her eyes misted over even as she made a sign to ward off
ghosts. "The thing I loved about him was the care he took of
such a little one, all the way home from Mexico."

Lucha fidgeted uncomfortably.  "Mother," she said, "You have
seen the ponies?"

Her foster mother nodded, but she was sober and restrained,
not delirious with excitement as Lucha had feared.

"I could hardly miss them, tied outside the doorway," Willow
Woman said, "What are you going to do about it?"

"I don't want to marry anyone," said Lucha, "I am not even
certain that I did this thing, telling everyone I was ready
to chose.  My head feels full of wool, but I would remember
cutting my hair to hang on the doorway.  And when I try to
tell everyone that there has been a mistake, I begin to get
dizzy."

"I gave you the gifts for Broken Cloud to pay for his
services.  Have you not spoken to him about this?"

"Mother, I know you had to borrow those things we gave to
him.  Since Father died, you have had no one to take care of
you.  If I do not marry, you will have to beg."

"Hush," said Willow Woman, "No one begs in this camp. Anyone
who kills a deer must give part to widows and cripples.  And
you are a huntress, also.  The other day you brought in a
good deer," She turned aside from the sport to face Lucha,
"But I saw you do a curious thing.  Why did you turn aside
from Buffalo Wattle?  Was he asking for a share?"

"Him?  He would die of shame, first.  He wanted to carry the
deer into camp so he could have the honor of giving away the
best parts," Lucha dropped her gaze, "I was prideful.  I
would not let him do it."

"I have always thought Buffalo Wattle to be a good boy, and
now a fine man," said Willow Woman pensively, "But if you do
not want him, it is for you to say."

"I do not know what I want," admitted Lucha.  The bout ended
with the stout lad yielding and she arose with Willow Woman
to cheer.




YOU CAN'T STOP NOW:

Outside the wickiup Machita paused, tight with apprehension,
as Lucha appeared.  She seemed refreshed and almost happy.
Machita braced herself for the inevitable explosion, the
bitter tirade Lucha would launch when she saw that Machita
was actually a boy.  What would she call him?

"Hey, listen!  Lucha!"

"What is it?  When you call my name I think you want
something important!"

"It is important, really," Machita said, then added, "What
should I call you?"

"I think you came looking for your sister.  How about `She
Who I Sought'?"

"That is too cumbersome.  How about `Sister'?"

Lucha nodded, not displeased.  "That would do.  Now, what is
so important?   And why do you wear the man's clothing
again?  Are you going somewhere?"

"Look at this," Machita said, and she poured the cold water
over her head.

"You really ought to put your dress back on," said Lucha,
"You are going to look silly wearing pants."

"But this is..." Machita gasped and examined herself
closely.

"If I am to tell others that you are my sister, then you
must stop acting so strange.  People will say you are crazy
if you go about feeling of yourself all the time."

"I didn't change!" gasped Machita, "The curse didn't work!
Maybe it wore off!  That means..." The full import of the
revelation hit her with a the force of a bull elk.  "But...
but... That means I am stuck as a GIRL!"





MANO A MANO:

Wolfwalker had stretched and worked his muscles until they
sang in the cool morning air.  The bedding in the wickiup
had been too small and too narrow, and his shoulders had
complained until he finished his morning sprint.

Now, as the day wore on, he was waiting for the wrestling
matches to begin.  He saw Buffalo Wattle stride imperiously
past with his retinue of young warriors.  Wolfwalker
followed them to the open area where the contests were to be
held.

Buffalo Wattle saw him and called back to him with a sneer,
"Ho, Azuma child. Do you wish to give up now, before you get
hurt?"

"No, Skirttail-hider," Wolfwalker said with a grim smile,
"I shall be there waiting for you."

"Take all the time you want," growled Buffalo Wattle, "I
shall beat you just as solidly whenever we meet."  He turned
aside from his friends and went to greet a girl who had
walked up from the main part of the camp.

His return taunt dying in his throat, Wolfwalker gazed at
the girl.  There was something about her, something
familiar, that he could not clearly identify.  Something
else about her called to him, and he started abruptly when
he realized that he had been staring at her.

"She is... beautiful," he whispered.  He did not see the
younger girl with Lucha who had ducked back out of sight
upon spying him.

"She is MINE!" Buffalo Wattle whispered back harshly.

"Who IS that?" demanded Wolfwalker.

"My wife-to-be!" snapped Buffalo Wattle, "So you can keep
your eyes off her.  She is mine!"

"She did not seem very happy to see you," noted the Azuma
lad.

They faced off and Tall Horse dropped his hand, signaling
the commencement of hostilities.  Buffalo Wattle surged in
close immediately and attempted to yank Wolfwalker from his
feet by grabbing his leggings and jerking upward.
Wolfwalker retained his footing and got an arm around
Buffalo Wattle's thick neck, and they settled into grappling
for leverage.




SPIDER'S WARNING:

The second entry into the beyond land was rougher than the
first.  Broken Cloud was weary from his first dream.  The
bitter brew clawed at the back of his throat and threatened
to re-emerge violently as his stomach protested.  He held it
down as long as he could.

Spider was waiting for him, trying to choke him and strangle
him before he could get his bearings.  Defeating Spider
exhausted him, but the many-legged creature managed to talk
to him for a short time before he had to fight again.

Monsters, creatures of evil intent, coming to strike the
village.  He must warn the people, tell them how to fight
the demonic beasts.  While Spider gave instructions he began
to awaken, losing words, though he clung with all his might
to the dream.




A SPECTATOR SPORT:

Lucha sat on the hummock, fighting the urge to scream.  She
did not want to endure this.  Two warriors, both eyeing her
as they battled.  Both thought to impress her with their
skills and strength.  Boring.  Around her, other girls were
calling for their favorite to win, some for Buffalo Wattle,
some for the stranger.

The battle strayed from the open area into the main camp,
and still they strove... separating long enough to catch a
breath, coming together with a grunt of exertion, vying for
a hold, pushing apart again.  Self-proclaimed referees
cleared spectators away to make room for the combatants.

Still, the stranger seemed to be holding his own.  Behind
her mask of boredom, she watched him as he fought.

"We made some corncakes for the children.  Would you like
one?" Willow Woman handed her a snack which Lucha guarded
against the dust knocked into the air by the combatants.
"Who do you favor?" Willow Woman wanted to know.

Lucha made a noncommittal response, which Willow Woman chose
to interpret as being favorable to Buffalo Wattle.  Beaming,
she added, "The children are as hungry as mountain lions.
They have been begging for pinon nuts.  As soon as your
favorite wins, we will need to go to the far storage cave."
Lucha took a small bite of the corncake and shrugged.

The stranger looked up at her and she realized that she was
staring at him, so she turned her face away.

When she turned back, she was looking into a horse's face.
With a loud snuffle, the horse wrapped a long mottled tongue
about the corncake she had been munching and pulled it out
of her hand.  Surprised, she pulled away from the beast,
jostling Little Mouse, who was seated beside her.  Little
Mouse said excitedly, "Lucha has fed a pony!"

"What?  No, I did not!" flared Lucha.

"Yes!" laughed Little Mouse, "Look!  Lucha has selected a
pony!"

"Does that mean she has selected a suitor?"  Someone else
asked, "Whose pony is it?"  Then others started laughing
when they realized that the mare belonged to the Yankee
cowboy.

"Are you going to marry him?" they teased.

"No!  Of course not!" cried Lucha, but everyone was laughing
so hard that they could not hear her.

Wolfwalker had his elbow around Buffalo Wattle's bull neck
and was improving his grip when he heard the commotion, but
resolved to not let it affect him.  Blocking Buffalo
Wattle's weakening struggle, he was concentrating so hard on
the hold that when Buffalo Wattle cried out and uncoiled
toward Lucha he was taken by surprise.  They were
dangerously near a cooking fire and Wolfwalker lost his
balance, bounced off a pot of scalding water.

Buffalo Wattle, hurrying to his self-proclaimed wife-to-be,
heard a yip of pain and glanced back at his adversary.  He
saw no one except a small gray shape with a white diagonal
line across its back as it streaked out of camp.

It was too late to stop the story of the muffin munching
mare - it was all over camp.  Lucha, indignant about the
whole thing, gathered her blankets and headed for her
wickiup, where she ran head-on into Lonesome who had come to
get the mare.  Irritated, she stared at him stonily while he
glared at her.  About this time the crowd caught up with
them, carousing and laughing about the irony of it all.  For
a moment she stood, face to face with the Yanqui cowboy,
until she fled to her wickiup.

Buffalo Wattle protested, ranting about how the incident
meant nothing since she did not INTEND to feed the animal.

Lucha, eager to get away from it all, went to get ready to
get the food supplies from the storage cave.  Yucca was
waiting for her.

At the overturned pot, Red Cloud picked up the soaked
leggings and pondered them.  She hurried back to the wickiup
where she had seen Machita.




ENGAGEMENT:

There were a group of Apache men clustered about Lonesome.
They did not appear to be menacing him, so Angie was not
worried until he broke out of the group and stomped toward
her.  "I'm ready to leave," he announced.  Several of the
men were laughing uproariously, and the object of their
humor appeared to be Lonesome.

"Daddy left long ago," she said, "What's the joke?"

"They think its funny," snarled Lonesome, "That dang mare
ate this gal's food, and now they say I have to marry her."

Angie had to cover her mouth with her hand.  She did not
want to laugh a at Lonesome's embarrassed  expression.

"You have to tie your horse in front of her wickiup in order
to qualify," she said, "And you wouldn't be bound by their
custom, anyway." Seeing his expression become slightly
grimmer, she asked, "You didn't...."

Lonesome nodded.  "I thought that was their hitching area,"
he said, "Anyhow, she pulled loose."

Angie could not help herself. She laughed until the tears
rolled down her cheeks.

"I guess we'll have to get you unengaged," she was finally
able to say, "Fortunately, the shaman is a friend of ours.
He'll set things straight."

Broken Cloud stopped his singsong murmur when he felt their
presence at the doorskin.  He looked at the couple and he
could see their true forms, shining about them like the mist
of the waterfall.  "Aiyuh, Little Comstock," he said, "What
troubles you?"

"Forgive us, Uncle," began Angie, pausing long enough to
swallow a giggle, "We have a problem for you to clear up."

His eyes were bleary from want of sleep, and he had much to
do before the day was over.  The others had to be warned,
told how to fight the demons.  But not now.  Something
whispered that this, too, was important.

As the white woman explained the situation, he shrugged.
Yes.  This was an answer to one of his prayers.

"So, you see," finished Angie, "We need you to tell everyone
it is a joke.  Okay?"

Broken Cloud sat upright and faced her.  "It is not a joke,"
he intoned, "She must marry him and go with him."

Angie's face dropped.  "What!?!?" she cried.




CHAPTER VEINTISEIS:  END