MACHO CABALLO PART II: CHAPTER TRIENTA Y DOS A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SCHEME
After a while you learn to ignore the sky, when your nose is sharper than your eyes. In the still air, beneath faint stars, you could navigate the Apache camp with your nose alone... provided that nose was sharp enough and close enough to the ground. Drift past a wickiup and the leather within the shelter brushes the inside of your cheeks with warm authority. Dried strips of deer meat tantalize, hanging high on the racks outside the wickiup. From the clogging scent of the creosote bushes at the faint edge of the camp to the salty sweetness - among other odors - of the dried grass near the horse corral, each area announced itself with the aroma hanging about it. Outside one wickiup the odor was distinct. Fur. Fur and tough wet leather and wolf pup saliva. The fur was inhabited by an indignant Wolfwalker, and Wolfwalker was tied to a stake, replacing a pony. This is how he got there: A PLACE FOR THE NIGHT: Just when he thought he was home free, just when he was loose and about to scamper to the springs to splash in cool water, it happened. Wolfwalker yelped as he felt himself gripped by the scruff of the neck and lifted into the air. He cut off the exclamation and growled tinily as he recognized the face of the person holding him. "Ah! I have you, little furbag!" the person exulted, "Undoubtedly you thought to escape my clutches, but no one gets away from Buffalo Wattle! Especially not you, my charming little pest!" The chief's son gazed with satisfaction at the wriggling bundle of fur in his grip. "The fair Lucha shall be missing her cute little pet," he grinned. "I shall make certain you are there to greet her when she awakens in the morning." He looped a leather thong about the wolf pup's neck and tied it to a post outside Lucha's wickiup. Wolfwalker snapped at the fingers holding him and Buffalo Wattle decided against rubbing his fingers through the wolf cub's fur. "Stay here," the Apache commanded. "Be cute. Be helpless, so she will want to hold you. Women like helpless, adorable little creatures. They are more satisfied to stay home and keep house." He chuckled as Wolfwalker strove mightily to bite him. The wolf cub growled after him and chewed at the leather restraint long after Buffalo Wattle had gone. There were people who passed him in the night - Yucca drifted by, watching the shadows; Red Cloud slipped out the doorway and headed for Cornsilk's fire; and Lonesome accompanied a shaman to the outskirts of the camp. Consumed with his own problems, Wolfwalker paid scant attention to them. He lay his muzzle on his front paws and fought down the urge to send a mournful howl to the heavens. WATCHING: Yucca stood warily, struggling to keep her eyes open. She had to be watchful. She had to remain alert. She could not sleep. He could be anywhere. He was good at hiding. He had seemed to come out of nowhere, that time when she was returning from her quest. Her heart was clear, before he appeared, her mind was as cool as the high waters. Then he had simply appeared before her, shimmering into visibility as would a mirage, blocking her path and denying her escape, and nothing seemed to be clear any more. There was something else that had happened. Yucca strove to recall the event, the man with the morbid expression striking away her will and causing her to freeze into immobility. "He struck me!" she recalled. She glanced about, as cautious as a fieldmouse watching for a snake. Weariness made her stagger against a bush and she had to free her skirt from the brambles, a task made more difficult by the dim light and her terrible need for watchfulness. She had to see him first, before he could get close to her. "No, he did not strike me at first. First, he...." As accustomed as she was to the peculiar actions of the shamans she had seen, she still found the memory of Espuma's attack difficult to hold onto. "He held his arm toward me, and a cloud came from his hand...a choking, evil-smelling cloud. I was frightened and I hit his hand, and the cloud became very large...that was when he struck me, and I knew no more. He said I had wasted the cloud essence." She blinked and twisted around again, trying to see everywhere. "He struck me!" she repeated, "I shall never forgive him for that!" BEAR NECESSITIES: The middle of the night was not the usual time for business. However, it was not every night that one had the opportunity to purchase genuine Yanquis sharpening stones. Especially when the seller had a short life expectancy. Lonesome was doing a booming business when Nomiro came by, leaning on his cane. "Come with me," Nomiro said, and Lonesome wisely shut down his affairs and took up Nomiro's baskets. There was a chill in the air that swallowed the campfire and nibbled at Lonesome's exposed skin. He had carried Nomiro's baskets and pouches to a place outside of camp, where the tiny fire they had built could not be seen by others. The cowboy had roused to find more wood for the fire when he heard a noise. Out of the shadowed pines stalked a beast as tall as a house. It had dark embers for the pupils of its eyes, a toothed cave for a mouth, and its hide was as gray as the firelit tree trunks. Quiet as the flight of an owl, it brushed through the pines. Only the crackle of splintering pine tree branches marked its approach. Lonesome stood, frozen in place, looking out into the gloom at the creature. He found his gaze tracking higher and higher. It came and stood before the campfire, large and ominous. Starlight showed through the holes it had for eyes, as it gazed down upon him and the tired old shaman slumped by the glowing coals of the campfire. Nomiro stirred. "It is cold, tonight," he called as he shivered, "Come throw some more wood on the fire." "I don't think that would be a good idea," said Lonesome. Something in his voice caused the shaman to look up and peer blindly about. The bear grumbled, a sound resembling words. "Aiyuh..." Nomiro choked off further exclamation as he jerked back from the fire, "This is terrible!" "Can you run for it?" asked Lonesome, "Maybe I can get it to chase me." "Aiyuh, no. There is no need." Nevertheless, Nomiro moved to place the fire between him and the ghostly presence. "The bear spirit will not harm us, if we are righteous. But for him to show himself like this! Something terrible will happen!" Lonesome had a knife hidden in a scabbard between his shoulder- blades, one in each sleeve, several about the belt, and one in each boot. Still he felt vulnerable, peering at the stars through those empty eye sockets. He could hear the growling voice, and he wondered what the creature was saying to the shaman. [Dang!] he thought, [That old man has got some tricks up his sleeve! That bear looks downright real, and as spooky as Old Vinegar himself!] **We would not make demands,** the hollow voice rang, **however, events will occur which make it necessary for you to send the nancin back to Mexico, from whence she came.** Nomiro showed none of the shock he felt when he heard the words. "Why does the bear spirit use the language of the warpath?" he wondered. **Events will occur in that land,** the spirit continued. **The sisters from the South must return there. This land will no longer welcome them. They are needed elsewhere.** "I have already made arrangements," Nomiro snorted. "Although it makes my heart heavy to send a daughter of the Apache away from her home." **Keep them together,** advised the spirit voice, **Do not separate them from their mates.** "Them? I speak of only one, the girl we call Lucha." **There are two sisters of the South here in the camp. They are attended by their future mates. See that they depart hastily.** Nomiro shook his head. He had heard the rumors flying about the camp, that the girl She Goes Ahead had chosen a cowboy for her mate, but he had wanted to discount them as women's romantic fantasy. ['They are attended by their future mates,' then?] he mused. "I will attempt to send them away, quickly," he promised. **You will do so, although it is already too late,** growled the bear. "Then why bother me with this warning?" Nomiro snapped. Lonesome became more alert at his tone, then returned to his nervous pacing. **Because you must make the effort, even though you will fail.** "I must protect them, knowing it is useless? What madness is this?" **A divine sort, perhaps,** the voice said, with a trace of wistful laughter. **Start the ceremony. Send them away. It is necessary.** A blazing twig from the fire snapped and suddenly there was nothing before them but a misty shape melting into to the brushy tree limbs. From beyond the village, seemingly miles away, there arose the faint sounds of a brass horn. The sound of the horn galvanized Nomiro where the voice of the bear did not. "There!" cried Nomiro, "What was that? It is the sound of demons calling!" "Sounds like some Mexican song," said Lonesome, "Can't make it out. Who's playing tunes this time of night?" Nomiro faced Lonesome, who was fingering the collar of his shirt. "You have gained the favor of the girl, Lucha. Do you know what this means?" he asked the cowboy. "Nope," Lonesome admitted. "Though I imagine what you are going to tell me ain't gonna make me happy." "Aiyuh. I should have known you could not hear," Nomiro grunted. Well. He would have to tell the cowboy something, to get him to agree to the plan, but how much must he know? "You must take the girl from this camp. Get her out of here. She is in danger... there is something here which wishes her harm. Now it appears that the spirits themselves are conspiring to make her leave." "Ahhh...yeah. Not that I can understand what you are up to. How can I help?" "I have told you. You must take her away from here." "I ain't exactly thrilled about getting married right away, old man. Sir. Even if she is pretty. I got a lot of business to do before I settle down." "Hmm...." Nomiro sat with the cane before him. He rested his chin on his fist for a moment. "Then let us figure out a way to do this," he said. "We will bargain." HANDLING CHORES: On the opposite side of the camp, another encounter was taking place. There was a breeze, soft and slow, to make the leaves whisper and the flames sway. These flames lighted an old woman and the visitor who had crept into her campsite only moments before. "Hmmmphh! Your wounds are unremarkable." Cornsilk blew out her cheeks. No one ever dared come to see her. Of course, she had not exactly made herself available, but still.... "You have already dosed your scratches with ointment," she said, digging into the supplies in her voluminous pouch. "However, you will worry about scars. This salve will help, so you will be radiant for your future husband." "Thank you, Grandmother." Red Cloud waited as Cornsilk smoothed the ointment onto her arms, bearing the stinging of the scratches as the pungent salve covered them. "You did not need me," the old woman accused, putting the clay bowl away. "I am thinking you can concoct any remedy that I have here. So - why did you come to see me, Child of the Azuma?" "I have come to show you this," Red Cloud said. She drew a cornshuck doll from her own pouch and handed it over. "Warrior. Unfamiliar weapons. Strange headdress. Yet, there is something remarkable about this doll," Cornsilk said, handing it back. "Who made you this?" "The doll-maker from my tribe." "Oyeh!" Cornsilk muttered, "Such a rich people! A fine thing it is, when a tribe can afford to have a person who does nothing but make dolls." Red Cloud tucked the doll away. "But it is not mine," she added. "It belongs to the one you call She Goes Ahead." "The boy, Ramon?" Cornsilk watched as Red Cloud's eyes widened. "Ah, yes, I know his natural condition, Child. Even if I did not have these pesky snoops whispering in my ear all day, I could have told you that. I am not blind. And I know of you, 'She Who is Guardian of the Cat'...or is it the cat who is the guardian?" The old woman eased her puzzled smile to say, "But what about this boy? Why would a Mexican boy have such a ceremonial device? I could feel traces of power about it, and he could not handle such power." "That...that is why I have come to speak to you," Red Cloud spoke softly, as though now uncertain. "In my tribe, there are those they call the Sisterhood, and they have instructed me in what to request." "Of course! I am a member of this Sisterhood. Go on with your story." Cornsilk looked up at her and chuckled, "Don't be so surprised, Child. I get around. We women have to stick together. Otherwise, the men would have everything botched up." Red Cloud ventured a weak smile, which quickly faded. She continued, "There is a great danger rising in our country. An ancient sorcerer tries to gain power, and he threatens the entire world." "The people of that region never could mind their own business. Always something or other causing doomsday," griped Cornsilk. "Oh, go on, Child. I am just being cranky." Red Cloud kept her eyes on the campfire as she said, "This sorcerer is seeking Ramon's sister, and also an instrument of power. I do not know its nature, but if this evil person gets them, he could control immense power. No one can stand against him yet, but the Doll Maker says a warrior can be trained to thwart him. She is asking you to help with Apache powers." The old woman stared at the coals, her thoughts hidden by the shadows from the tiny fire. "I can guess," she said. "You mean the boy, Ramon." Red Cloud swallowed. "This is so, Grandmother. He must be prepared." "What you ask is impossible, a useless waste of effort. And what, exactly, is going to happen when this innocent boy goes up against a powerful sorcerer?" Red Cloud fumbled at the frayed corner of her woolen cushion. "I do not know, Grandmother," she admitted. "I see. This boy...he means something to you, then? You would have him love you?" Again the Azuma girl hesitated. Finally, she spoke, "I cannot think this." "You are only the messenger, and he is the sacrificial goat, eh?" Cornsilk watched the girl's brown eyes as Red Cloud glanced up at her, then back to the blanket. "Let me see. You want me to arrange to have your lover trained so he can go off and get himself killed...." Seeing the tears leaking down the girl's nose, Cornsilk puffed her cheeks out once again. "I will talk to someone," she sighed. She stacked the pouches to one side and ascended to her feet, using the cane for a brace. "You have come to the right person," she announced, "If anyone can turn that immature colt into a fire-breathing stallion, it will be me!" To herself, she added, [And it will probably kill us both!] TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE: In the quiet of the night, as others in the wickiup slumbered, one person stirred uneasily. Machita was watching the flicker of shadows thrown onto the brush wall/roof of the wickiup by the tiny sheltered campfire outside. She was homesick, sore and tired from the strenuous day, and weary of being a she. Also, there was a small, nagging pain, a feeling that she had done something wrong. Sandy would not speak to her. In fact, he pointedly avoided her. This shunning was making her stomach ache like the bruise on her shin made by a javelina's hoof. Sandy had always been Ramon's friend...well, after he had come to know him, at any rate...and as Machita, Ramon was beginning to think that she had let Sandy down. Either that, or that old woman's spells were giving her a stomach ache. Now everyone else was acting as though she were an outsider. Machita recalled how Estrellita had chattered inanely about the particulars of trading for a real Apache dress, as though she could think of nothing else. The rancherita had never worried about clothes that way before. She had always been carefree about the dresses Mama had made for her, and ready to share whatever she had with Machita. Now, it seemed she would rather talk about anything rather than face her friend. Red Cloud, too, acted ashamed. She had cast her eyes down or looked the other way when Machita was around. Eventually, she got up from her blanket and walked away into the night. "Probably to get away from me!" Machita grumbled. "They do not understand!" she complained in a low mutter, "I HAD to do something! Those guys were driving me crazy!" Machita shifted uncomfortably, lifting the pendant from where it had fallen behind her shoulder and pulling it around in front, where it would lie upon her breast. Touching the silver and turquoise, Machita tried to imagine herself within the snug walls of Mama's kitchen while Mama busied herself with breakfast. Beyond the hills, the song of a coyote wavered through the night air. Sleep came upon her suddenly, the walls of the wickiup fading into plastered stone. She heard the remembered sounds of morning - the braying of conch shells as the priests celebrated the rise of Venus, the ever-present murmur of the crowds in the marketplace, and above that the scolding of pet birds in the aviaries outside the temple doorways. Somehow these unfamiliar noises were reassuringly commonplace. She knew that it was the time for the Festival of Corn, though she was not certain from where this knowledge came, nor what this event involved. She did know that the festival was a joyous occasion, with feasts and dancing, but the ache in her throat and the tension in her jaw kept her from enjoying it. Later, the attendants would want her to drink something to ease the pain. Machita had time to wonder muzzily who the attendants were that she was remembering before the dream dragged her back from awareness. Being chosen to participate in the ceremonies in the capitol city was both exciting and frightening. Every year, a girl went to take the people's prayers and present them to the gods. Always, the girl was of good family and comely. Her father was head of the village, and some said he was distantly of royal blood. He said he was proud of her for having been chosen, for the honor she bestowed upon the village. Her mother agreed. Her lips said this, but her eyes were sad. Machita wanted to run free, back to the village. She was fleet of foot, a valued hunter, and she knew that she was considered beautiful. The ancient crone who attended her assured her of her good fortune, and the glory which was to come this morning. Still, the ritual preparations were stultifying, rigid, and had become boring. She had tried to walk out to the terrace, to see the sunrise, but there were servants who forbade even that. She was not to be seen before the proper time. She was honored, a celebrity, and people would demand too much of her time and energy if she went among them before the ceremony. So they kept her occupied with rituals, and the steam baths, and the all-important sacred meal. The golden mirror which reflected her image told of a sophisticated, elegant (though young) lady with a radiant face and worldly, knowing eyes, thanks to the servant's efforts with makeup. They had washed and plaited her hair into the royal coif, and applied modest rouge. Her cheeks looked warm and red, not the deathly pallor she felt when she touched them. There was a stir in the anteroom. A priest had entered leading another girl, one who looked very much like her. The priest was a thin grey man with leathery skin and cold eyes. She had seen similar eyes on a boa constrictor, crushing and swallowing a rabbit back in her home village. Then she was forced out of the chambers, to be dragged by the priest to a different room. His grip was pitilessly strong, and he was grimly silent as he strode further into the temple, beyond all light and noise, until the hallway creaked in silence and the only sounds were the pad of their slippers over the carven tiles. Then at last, he stopped in a dimly lit room and bound her to a column near the center of the floor. "You were not meant to feed Huitzilopochtli," the grim priest said, "Your flower will bloom in the heart of time." In the silence that followed, she realized that he had melted away back down the hallway. Something was wrong. This was not expected. The ceremony was supposed to be public! Where were the attendants who were to escort her, and why was there no one offering prayers to the heavens? Unbidden, she heard her own voice calling for help, although who might appear to rescue her she could not imagine. Only faint echoes of her cry answered in mocking tones. She struggled against the restraints until she realized that the dark circle before her was not a carpet. It was a well, echoing her cry for help, and somewhere below there was a tiny splash as a pebble fell into the water. She felt herself drawn forward into it, but creaking ropes held her back. She heard voices approaching as the grey man said, "Lord Toc is not at his sanctuary. He appears to have departed for the battle site." "The idiot!" responded a second voice, "We are ready for his contribution!" This voice was familiar. She knew it, and feared it, needing no reason. "I had feared he had become uneasy because of the maleficent auguries, but perhaps I am mistaken," said the leathery grey man. "Perhaps, even now, he prepares to conduct the Mexica into the heaven of Valiant Warriors, in a last glorious battle." "Caution! That has always been one of his talents. Not valor! He probably has his archives moved to the West Coast by now. Very well. Prepare the girl. We must move along without him." Strong hands grasped her arm, she felt the stinging pain of a knife slash, and her other hand freed and filled with cotton wadding. The second man cried, "Do not bleed all over! Hold this compress until it staunches! I want you healthy!" She knew him. She could pronounce his name, but her throat was frozen in horror. She looked out over the well again, and saw a single drop of blood falling into the emptiness.... And now she fell with it, into brilliant sunlight. Ramon swayed, as the surface beneath his feet moved. Realizing he was in a boat, he regained his balance and looked around. He was away from the temple, away from Kaliche, and standing in the prow of an ungainly boat rocking near the bank of a waterway. The side of the boat clunked against stone blocks of the pier as the boat slid alongside high pilings. "Here you be, Missy," came a voice from behind Ramon. "Your village be that-a-way, two-three days. You be careful, take your time, don't get caught." "Why do you think I am afraid of being caught?" Ramon asked. He lifted his hand and examined it and the sleeve of his garment, which resembled an abbreviated robe. His hand was his own hand - He saw a big, male hand, which meant that he was not a girl. [At least, I see myself as a boy,] he thought. He did not think he was a girl. Yet the gnarled man in the stern of the boat had called him, "Missy." This was confusing. What dialect was he speaking? "Ferry other runaways before," the gnarled man chuckled. "Don't you worry, none. Old Crudscraper don't tell no one. Not a word. Nothing gets past these lips. You just get yourself home. Maybe your Mama be glad to see you." Ramon climbed out of the boat, using a cypress piling to pull himself up. He turned and looked over the boat, a shallow-draft affair with low sides, apparently carved from a whole log. What had he been doing in a boat? Water, broken into canals, stretched as far as he could see, and he had the feeling that they had been travelling a long way - since early morning. There was a trail up the bank, and traces of a traveled path beyond that. Ramon looked back at the boatman again, and the boatman waved farewell. "Be you smart, and watch for dogs," the bent man said. "The soldiers, they always have dogs. Dogs run around, run around, they see you they come, want you to feed them. You see dogs, run and hide. Dogs mean soldiers near." "Okay," Ramon said. "Thanks." Now, what would he do? He stared down the trail leading toward the hills. The path was well worn, and foliage had been cleared on either side to give the impression of a boulevard. Many men could walk this path side by side. Many soldiers. "You will see home before long," the boatman called. "Pretty girl like you, stay away from villages. Go farmhouse, ask for food." "I am not a...." Ramon stopped his protest, remembering that he could be a girl. He felt like a male. He saw himself as a male. Why did the boatman see him as a girl? He felt odd, as though this was a dream. Then he must have walked, and slept, and dodged people - caravans of merchants, soldiers trading banter as they marched between villages, even farmers on their way to their fields. They formed a mirage that he moved through, until he saw the gates of a village which looked, for some reason, to be familiar. When he started toward the gates, he felt a wrenching sensation, of being torn in two directions, of a grey foreboding. At first, there was no one around. He wandered the paths which made up the streets of the village, looking for someone, anyone. Then he came to the packed ground of the plaza at the center of the village, and saw people hurrying the other way. He followed, though the weight in his chest seemed to grow with each step. He caught up with them and could hear them talking. "They must have done something terrible!" one woman said. "For the priests to call upon the old gods...." One man saw Ramon and made an incomprehensible gesture. Somehow, Ramon knew the gesture was to ward off evil. "You should be up there with them, Dawn Flower!" spat the man, "You were to ascend with our prayers, but you ran away! It is your fault!" The foreboding had become genuine fear as Ramon ran ahead, into the undergrowth and the trees. He burst into the clearing and saw a huge boulder, carved into a rough wheel. It was pulled by ropes to the top of a shallow depression, almost a trench. Rough hands grasped his arms to pull him back, but he could see. In the depression.... Machita awoke with a stifled cry. "That was not me!" she insisted, trying to convince herself that it was only a dream. "I did not know those people! What could be causing these nightmares?" The light of the campfire reflected off turquoise, and she felt such a revulsion that she stripped the necklace from her with shaking hands. She threw it from her, and the leather thong caught on a projecting twig as unerringly as if she had aimed it. There were no more dreams that night. KEEPING COUNCIL: Even after the cowboy named Lonesome had returned to his own shelter, Nomiro Nada stayed. The tiny fire before him gave him heat but little light. Unable to sleep, he sighed and felt for his pipe, the better to while away the quiet nocturnal hours. A movement at his side told him that he was not alone. He listened carefully as he decided who his companion could be. A soft hush of leather sliding across leather, the hiss and scritch of a bone needle - not the iron needle demanded by today's women - gave him the identity of the person sitting across the fire. Nomiro puzzled momentarily, then decided that he would gain nothing by doubting his senses. "Sewing Woman," he announced. A soft chuckle answered him. "Took you long enough to notice," she said. Nomiro wondered greatly. Rare to meet her outside of his dreams. Rarer still for her to speak without riddles. "I suppose you are wondering what I am always sewing," she said. The pleasure of old memories caused a smile to creep across his face. "Not for many winters," he replied. "Look here," she said, and he could see her holding out a patch of gray and tan leather toward him. Of the world outside the small circle he could see nothing but black, but her gentle eyes and sad smile were clear. The leather she held for him to inspect was patterned with footprints, javelinas and wolves, and eagles. In her other hand she held more patches of various colors and designs. "In this hand, I hold yesterday," she said. "In this other hand I hold tomorrow. I am never sure which pattern to use for tomorrow, so I must keep them all ready. Occasionally, they surprise me." "Why then do you sew?" Nomiro was aware of an unnatural calm about the camp, as though all the noisy insects had gone to sleep, along with the birds and coyotes. The fire glowed with a stationary flame. "Because they must come together somehow, and I must make them fit." She sighed, neither dejected nor discouraged, but simply from the pleasure of flexing her old, worn fingers. "As I said, sometimes they surprise me. I prefer the older patterns, but nowadays the colors and the designs...oh, they do not always match. Would you care to see?" Nomiro nodded politely. Again she produced several patches, holding them up to be illuminated by the glow of the unmoving fire. One of them caught his gaze, a rough sketch of a child dragging something black and misshapen behind her. "This is the day Lucha came to our camp. She was such a lovely child, full of life. Yet she carried something with her that could harm us all." "The pendant," Nomiro guessed. "I have been negligent. This is something I should have noticed. It is causing the family group to sicken." "Perhaps," agreed Sewing Woman. "But the thing is not bad in itself. The demon within sits and waits. It will never come out - it takes and never gives. It must be released by someone far more powerful than you." She frowned at him, "Be thankful you do not have that power." "What can we do? I have met a dark creature, the one who blinded me." Sewing Woman's gaze was without pity. "The one whom you seek to dignify by remaining blind is not worth your scorn. He is but a fool, a doll for the other. Your concern should be for your people!" "He attacked me! He suborned my niece, and perhaps even now is conducting his evil attempt to destroy our families!" She shook her head, slowly, returning her eyes to the leather patch. "Remain prepared, for when the moment comes, you must destroy him. You will want to lure him close enough to reach him. To do this, you must marry our daughter to her mate as you have already planned." Spider objected, appearing so suddenly by their side that Nomiro was startled, "The others will never consent to this! They are saying that you do not have the right to command this wedding!" "Then take the right!" cried Sewing Woman. "This is the only way to protect her! You must have her married immediately!" "I have thought of this. It makes my heart ache, to send her away when she needs our help!" "She will fare better than you know. Worse to leave her here, exposed to other forces." Nomiro had been staring at the ground, amazed that he could see the pebbles there. He lifted his head with a jerk. "Others? There are others?" "The empty stone the girl brought here, and which her brother now carries, has been recognized. Yet another sorcerer comes to claim it. When he does, there will be warriors as well as widows who grieve, for he will not be gentle in his efforts." "Very well. I must send them both away!" Nomiro decided, "Both of the Sisters of the South!" His heart seemed to labor as the shadows slid between them. The flames began to dance on the wood and a cricket chirped softly. "Let me see," muttered Sewing Woman before she faded away. She picked amongst the small mound of leather patches, pleased with the selections. "I know I have that design in here, somewhere. Ah, yes. Here it is! A double wedding, for Sisters, no less!" --------------- Nomiro left the campfire, to return to his own tipi. Finding his way with the cane, he stopped at a noise; the whisper of a knife being drawn. He knew from the harsh breathing that the other person was young, agitated, and frightened. He stepped back and pivoted so he was talking to the open spaces, using the formal speech. "Why is this young person not in bed and asleep?" "Oh, Uncle!" came Yucca's voice, strained and...yes...near to tears. Nomiro steeled himself to display no remorse. "This child should be resting. It is not safe to wander the trails alone, at night. How long has it been since you have slept?" "I cannot sleep, Uncle. I am sorry. I am sorry I drew the knife when I heard you. You surprised me." "Your bedroll awaits you. Rest." Nomiro broke from the formal speech to command her. "I cannot! He may come at me anytime! I must be alert, I cannot allow him to find me again!" "Aiyuh...Will this person allow another to help?" "No, Uncle. You cannot help me. I have made this path for myself. I...I must walk it." Nomiro heard her footsteps drag away, toward the outer perimeter of the camp. He shook his head sadly and again found the trail with his cane. There was much to do, tomorrow. He too must rest. As he walked surefootedly down the trail, he wondered why he had elected to send Lucha with the cowboy. It was a flash of intuition, and his intuition was rarely wrong. Yet.... What was the significance of such a wedding? Why was it so important that she be married? THE LOGICAL CONCLUSION: A round section of the cave wall flowed into a shiny and dark mirror, with a face fading into view. In the chamber, an irate Espuma was slamming things back into a leather carrying case, muttering about large meaty boneheads who had no respect. He lovingly picked up a nasty device with a handle on one end and a nozzle on the other, with a scorched metal shielding to protect the handle. "Espuma!" said the shiny patch. The creature whipped around to face the wall, keeping the apparatus in his hands behind his back. "Yes master?" His response was, while hasty, pitched to be at once both fawning and arrogant. "I need progress. Where is the girl?" "She is safe at the Apache camp, master! [No thanks to that boneheaded....] I am making my final plans to retrieve her." The shiny patch smiled. "And my associate, Toc? Did you go to see him? Good! I don't suppose you 'accidentally' mentioned anything to him about the pendant, did you?" "Oh, no, master!" Tiny beads of sweat suddenly gleamed on Espuma's forehead. "Perfect! I knew I could count on you, my loyal servant! But you really shouldn't take too long about this, you know. I really don't want you hanging around if the Apaches become concerned enough to call out their power-hitters." "All they are doing is preparing for a wedding," Espuma sneered, "That will make my job easier. I will distract them and simply walk in and take the girl." "A wedding!?!?" Kaliche's face glowed with cheerfulness and Espuma began to count back over his words, looking for his mistake. Somewhere he had overlooked a detail, and he would pay for it. Kaliche continued, "Weddings are grand! I am certain you will not fail, in your timely efforts. So certain, in fact, that I plan a celebration upon your return. A fiesta." Espuma became more than worried. Real concern etched his face. Kaliche happy was one thing. Kaliche suggesting a celebration was, in his long experience, too often painful. "We could get one of those big metal things...you know, the kind they use to roast half a steer on...you turn this little handle, and the meat spins around and around." A rivulet of sweat rolled down Espuma's neck, staining his uniform. "A spit, I believe you are trying to recall, master?" he finally replied. "Oh, yes! A spit. We can start a roaring fire and let it burn down to the coals, and then we'll put the meat on the spit and let it sizzle, so we can watch the juices dripping and sputtering into the hot, hot coals...." Espuma was in a near panic. "Is there something wrong with my work, master?" he quavered. "Of course not!" Kaliche's voice boomed in the cave, "Not a thing! But, you do remember that the girl must not only be alive, she must be healthy and untouched." "That was merely a slip! An unintentional slip, master! I did not intend to endanger her! I swear she will not be hurt!" "Of course she will not be hurt! The thought never crossed my mind. However...." Espuma's mind began to race. He heard a gabbling, squeaking noise which he feared was Kaliche's punishment come early, and he tensed to receive the pain. When nothing happened, he looked back at the mirrored surface. "...However?" he said, hopefully. "...However, you *have* given some thought to what will happen if the girl arrives here for the ceremony and we find that she is not pure?" "Pure?" Espuma gasped in horror. Ages of memories of past ceremonies and sacrifices clicked and he counted off the number of hours he had left. Too few to squander. He would have to hurry if he was to carry out his master's plans and still enjoy his own vengeance. The mirror's voice stopped him in his haste to gather his belongings and depart. "Two things for you to worry about, my faithful servant. Should the Apache call for a Mountain Spirt Dance, you are on your own. Nothing I can do will save you. And I do want you safe, so you can get the girl...before the wedding comes to its logical conclusion." "Yes...yes, master!...errr...that was one thing?" "Oh, yes. You really should eat more. Put some meat on your bones. You are far too skinny." "Master?" "You know. Bulk up. Gain some weight. If you have waited too long, and the girl is not - you know - why, we'll have to use those sharp wires with barbs to hold the roast on the spit. That would be no fun at all." Espuma nodded gravely and squeezed his eyes shut. "No fun at all, master!" he admitted, blinking back tears of terror. He did not stay around to watch the mirrored image smile in satisfaction. CHAPTER TRIENTA Y DOS: END ------------ Glossary: nancin: A term used by the Apache to signify Mexicans.