Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

WAITING FOR PAPA: Ramón traipsed across gravel and sand, his boots shedding the goathorn thorns that could lacerate bare flesh. On the flat between the river and the hills the sun grew hot enough to make him regret his choice of clothing, but he kept resolutely on the trail. At a certain stone, he left the trail and set out toward a notch in the hill above. A whispery rustle came from the stones ahead, the shaking of sand in a gourd. Ramón stepped cautiously closer until he could see the gray scales of a diamond- back rattlesnake. It was a large one. He squatted to grasp a nearby stone, forgot he was wearing a skirt, stepped on the edge of the cloth, became entangled and sat down abruptly. The snake slid toward him. It's path was suddenly blocked by an arrow which thudded into the sand before it. It slid around the barrier. Ramón attempted to scuttle away from the rattler but he was blocked by thorny bushes. He looked up from the advancing serpent to see an Indian maiden striding toward him, knife in hand. The Indian girl addressed the snake, "Ho! Show yourself, old faker," she said, stepping directly in its path. The snake coiled as though to strike, but she swung the knife first. "Very well, then, you are food. And good eating," said the Indian girl as she proceeded to decapitate and eviscerate the snake. The pale pink flesh went into a pouch she carried slung about her waist after she had paused to thank the snake for providing sustenance. "It is good to see you, Red Cloud," said Ramón, watching her. "Is it? Women should not wander alone so far from their villages." "Hah. Speak for yourself, Huntress," Ramón said as he regained his feet. "I have been hunting alone all my life," countered Red Cloud, "When are you going to ask the chieftain to become a member of the tribe?" "I was going to find your village," said Ramón, "but for a different reason. I'm looking for Papá." "I have not seen the horse trader recently. Perhaps someone else knows where he is. Have you looked at the corral near the mesa?" "I will go there now." "Then I will accompany you. It is on the way to the village. You may need protection." "In a pig's eye," muttered Ramón. They found no one at the corral, so as it was about noon they made a dry camp at the base of the mesa and cooked the rattlesnake. While they ate, Red Cloud came close and examined him. "It is important that you find your father?" She lifted his arm and felt the firmness of the muscles, testing the hand for calluses. "There is a thing Mamá says he must do," said Ramón, pushing her hand away from his belly. Red Cloud fingered his hair, smelled of it. "Nice," she said, "Your mother knows the proper way to clean your hair. So, why do you walk about the prairie in a dress?" Ramón frowned, unaware that in this form he appeared to be pouting. "The Alcalde's soldiers are looking for a boy named Ramón," he said, as though it might have been his idea. "They do not look for a girl. I can walk right past them." "I have heard that your leader, the Alcalde, is a man of much hunger," Red Cloud said, "Our leaders council us to stay away from his men. His soldiers have taken our people and put them in the mines. I do not understand why they would do this." "They have also imprisoned a gold-smith from the village and his wife, trying to find where he gets his gold. Now they are after his daughter. Mamá has hidden her at our house." "This gold-worker sounds like a foolish man. He should tell them where the gold is, and they would leave him alone." "Perhaps. Maybe not. Mamá has heard that they are searching for the Aztec treasure. They will not be satisfied with a few measly nuggets." "Aztecas? I have heard that word." "I have heard this from the teachers at the school, that they were a mighty people long ago, very wealthy. They lived many years ago, southeast of here. When the Spaniards came, the Aztec hid their gold and silver. The Spaniards still search for it." "Hmmph," Red Cloud said by way of expressing her opinion of gold and men's foolishness. She picked a bone from between her teeth and spat. "Now, that looked very feminine," laughed Ramón. "Speak for yourself, horse trader's daughter!" "Don't call me that!" "Ahh?" she arched an eyebrow, "You do not like horse trading?" "I am Ramón! I am a man!" Red Cloud stepped back from Ramón and stood, hand under chin, as she studied him. She grasped the wool crease of her own skirt and flipped it, then placed her hands on her breasts. "Yes, yes," she said, "I can see that you are." Ramón glared at her, his jaw clamped tightly in anger. When he could speak around the constriction, he said, "Let's just forget it, alright? I am very sensitive about it." "About time you were sensitive about something," Red Cloud muttered, but quit teasing him. "I have heard a very little about these 'Aztecas'," she said as they walked along, "They were a strong people, but not always good. And I know something else. They are not all gone away." "Never mind if they were good or bad. Did they really have a lot of treasure?" "I do not know. But we can ask the doll-maker." "But she is so old! How can she even remember yesterday, never mind a couple of hundred years?" "She will know," said Red Cloud. "Is this why you must find your father?" "No, he must return to the hacienda. Don Pedro is preparing to buy some more horses from the Yanquis and he wants Papá to help. No one else could find him, so Mamá said I could go look. Well, she didn't tell me not to." "You are both foolish. Haven't you heard that the Apache have been seen again? Two days ago, at the far end of the valley. They can run faster than the news." "I have avoided the Apache before." "You have been fortunate. You had nothing they wanted. You were insignificant. You had a place to hide. They did not see you. You were male." "What has *that* got to do with it?" "I tell you, before I would allow them to capture me alive, I would slash my own throat. So should you." "I would never do that!" "Why, would that be too cowardly an escape for you?" "I would fight! I would try to escape!" "The Apache do not carry canteens full of cold water to pour on the women they capture so they can fight. They do something else to them. Something you would not find pleasant." "I know what they do! I am tired of this! I must pretend to be a girl to avoid the soldiers, and now you would have me stay home to hide from the Apaches!" Red Cloud turned from him. She kept her eyes on the horizon, and her expression was clouded. "You still think like man," she said. When she finally turned to regard him, it was as from a distant, icy mountain peak. "Is that what it is to you? Pretending?" Ramón remembered his mother's words, `How can it hurt to play-act for a little while?' "Yes," he said, "How else can I face this?" "Do you pretend when you fall and cut your knee? Do you play-act when you get careless and a tree limb hits you in the face? "My brother, take care that you do not wear that mask too long," she said, and led him into the stunted trees toward her village. They trudged along the trail toward a gradual rise which led into the next valley, their mocassins crunching on the loose gravel. Red Cloud turned to him with a mischievous smile and said, "Can you run?" Before he could answer, she raced ahead of him. She stopped and waited for him when she realized that he was not remaining by her side. "You are slow," she teased, "You used to be able to keep up with me." "That was when I had longer legs," fumed Ramón, gasping for air, "I can't help it if I am slow and awkward." MEMORIES: Several girls clustered around them at the village, eager to meet Red Cloud's new friend. Ramón didn't want to say that he knew them already. "What's your name?" asked Sandflower of Ramón. Red Cloud grinned at him, "Well, Machito?" she asked. "Her name is Machita?" asked Too Cactus, "She doesn't look very tough to me." "It's a joke," said Ramón. The other girls laughed politely and returned to the lodge where they had been weaving. A boy at the Azuma village knew where Papá was, and he set out at a trot to find him. Ramón and Red Cloud went to the lodge of the doll-maker. The doll-maker was a wizened old woman with one remaining blackened tooth and a quizzical smile. "The Aztecas? What possible use would you have for such information?" she asked. "I'm trying to find out why the Spaniards want the gold so badly," said Ramón. "No one can know that, my child. No one but the Spaniards. Now, if you wished to know something of the Azteca, I might be able to tell you." The doll-maker was fashioning a doll from cornshucks, yarn, and feathers. The doll quickly resembled a tiny man with headdress, shield and a stick for a club. "This is how I remember," she explained. "When I make a doll, I pull all my memories out of the corn shuck and look at them. With this doll, I can see the Azteca people." "Ah, yes," she finally said. "They were a mighty people. Long ago, they filled the land to the south. They loved to fight. More than the Apache or the Comanche. This is what they looked like when they went out to make war." She presented the doll to Ramón. "This is yours, child." "No, thank you," Ramón said. "Here, take it!" she insisted, "I made it for you." "I don't want your doll!" Ramón blurted before he thought. He added, "I'm sorry. I don't want to be impolite. But I don't like dolls." The doll-maker set the doll down with a thump and frowned. "You are a strange girl," she observed, her perpetual smile almost faded, "A warrior doll has special significance, especially for a girl." "I just don't like dolls," said Ramón. "Hmmph," the doll-maker gazed at the doll in her hand for a moment, then said, "These people loved to fight. When they could not find enemies to fight, they would fight among themselves. This is the doll of such a warrior." She glanced at Ramón as though expecting a change of heart. Seeing none, she continued, "Since then, they have scattered, blended in with the Mexica. They are not so great." "The Spaniards beat them, Hah?" Red Cloud offered. "The Spaniards are warriors, but not so fierce as the Azteca. What brought them down was the sickness. The sickness beat the people of the south, cut them down like corn in the autumn. You see, they had offended the spirits. I have a tale about that." Ramón stirred uneasily at the mention of spirits. He was intimately aware of what happened if the spirits disapproved of your actions. "These people had a love of ceremony. You know how we like to greet the sun in the morning, and grant the sacred dust to the four winds to pray for good planting. But they had ceremonies for everything. They had laws to regulate what they could wear, and what they could eat, and what they could say. And they had sacrifices," she paused for effect, then added in a chill whisper reserved for impressionable young children, "They would grab a person and spread-eagle him and CUT HIS HEART OUT!" The exclamation had the desired effect. Ramón jumped in alarm. Attempting to regain his composure, he squeaked, "They sacrificed *people*?" "People, captives, warriors, if they fought well. Their own people, if they did not have anyone to fight. Men, women, children. Little girls." "I don't believe it," said Ramón. He was getting tired of the dramatization. "You are young," The old woman peered closely at him. Ramón sighed. He was beginning to feel like one of Papá's horses being inspected for a sale. The doll- maker held the doll up beside Ramón's face. "You are of the pure Azteca," she announced. "What!?" exclaimed both girls. MARCHING HOME AGAIN: Time seemed to drag while they waited for Papá to return, so they ran footraces, the girls and some younger boys at the village meadow. Ramón lost consistently. "Machita, you are running with the shoulders," suggested Fox Listens shyly, "like a boy runs." "It is the only way I know how to run," said Ramón, "I put my head down and go." "A boy runs with the shoulders. You have no shoulders." Ramón bit back a retort. No shoulders? He tried harder, and failed again. It was no use trying, he was doomed to existence in a deformed, awkward body. He could beat them all, if he could change back to a boy, but then there would be the questions, and the shame... Eventually, it was decided that Papá would have to return by himself. It was getting late and Ramón did not wish to travel after dark. "What a story!" exclaimed Ramón, as they started toward Mamá's house, "Imagine me looking like an Aztec!" "Well, you don't look like us," Red Cloud said, pacing along beside him, appearing bored and at ease while keeping a wary eye on the horizon. "I know that! But why must I look like *them*?" "Good question. But what is wrong with that?" "I don't like looking like a bunch of dead people." "I told you they are still around. Some have kept to themselves. There's a band over in the far mountains, several days away. There's more in the marshes beyond the farthrest to the south. There are Nahautl all over. They aren't rich, though." They were climbing down the side of a hill when Red Cloud saw movement out on the flat. She motioned Ramón back into the brush, and they waited under cover while horsemen rode past, talking and bantering. "Soldados," said Red Cloud, after they had passed. "Some of the Alcalde's men," agreed Ramón, "We'd better hurry on home," and they resumed their travel at a trot. Mamá was waiting at the compound gate, with a worried eye and a tonguelashing ready for him for going into danger. Seeing Red Cloud with Ramón, she did not scold him. "Go by the well, first. You have a visitor," she warned Ramón, then asked, "You two seem cosy. Does she know?" "Yeah, and she won't let me forget it," said Ramón, with a wry grin. Red Cloud merely smiled at Mamá's puzzled frown. "We saw soldados out on the flat," she told Mamá, "They were heading for the river bend." "I heard there were some Yanquis trying to pan gold there, last month," said Mamá, "The Alcalde does not want them around, but he will let them search for gold and then take it from them." Ramón took the shirt and pants from his mother into an outbuilding before changing clothes and dumping the gourd of water over his head. "What do you know about Machito?" Mamá demanded of Red Cloud. "Only that he has the ability to `change'." "Do you know why this happened to him?" "His father said he... offended... the spirit of the spring," Red Cloud said. "This he has explained to me. But there is something he is not telling me, I feel." When Ramón returned, the two women were discussing men in general and one in particular, and they turned to inspect him with a critical eye. "What!?" he said. "Oh, nothing," said Mamá. "Or very close to nothing," agreed Red Cloud. VISITORS: His visitor was Gordito, stopping by after a day in his father's cotton fields. "I have hoed and scratched dirt all day long," he complained, "I gotta get out of this place!" They were on the roof, watching the twilight creep across the sky to the red dusk in the West, while the first stars were barely glinting. "I guess I ought to stay around here for a while," said Ramón. "If I had your luck, I'd be gone in a flash! You get to stay in the big city school, you get to see all those people. I'd be outta here, hombre!" "It's not all that way," said Ramón. "No girls?" "No girls. It's an all guy school. And I don't get that much school. I think they keep me as a janitor. I spend more time in the stables cleaning up after the guys whose parents are important than I do in class." "No shit? Does your Mamá know?" "No. I don't tell her that. She thinks I am a `scholar'. But I am the son of a horse trader, and that's how they treat me." "Ooh. I think I see. You got a problem, then?" "Yeah. The friars who run the school want me back, so they wrote the mission here. Then the Alcalde got hold of the message telling them to send me back, and he decided to throw me in jail as an example to other kids." "*That's* why he's after you? Hell, man. I thought you done something *bad*!" A scratching from the side of the house caught their attention, and a moment later Red Cloud swarmed over the edge of the roof. Remaining low, she motioned to Ramón and Gordito to get down. "What's the matter?" Ramón asked. For answer, she yanked them both off their feet with surprising strength. "Quiet!" she hissed, "Soldados!" Then they heard the creak and jingle of saddle and harness, the sound of hoofs as men rode up and horses shoved up to the watering trough, and the soft voices of several men as one gave orders and others responded. Ramón could hear Mamá's voice as she responded to their questions, and he ached at the way she allowed a whine of self-pity into her words. He pulled Red Cloud's hand from his mouth, but said nothing. Softly, he eased over to the edge of the roof and watched the soldiers as they stood around. The sergeant and one man went into the house for long moments, then emerged. Finally, they all mounted and rode away into the night. Hurrying down the poles set in the corner of the house, the three youths met Ramón's mother at the stoop. "Were they after Lucita?" Ramón wanted to know. "Or searching for Machito?" asked Gordito. "Neither," said Mamá, "Someone has told them that we have a strange girl living here, and they wanted to make sure she was not an Indian." "Uhm," said Ramón, aware of Red Cloud's eyes on him. "I told them the truth, that there was no Indian girl living here." "What girl?" Gordito wanted to know. "They may be looking for Lucita," said Ramón, cutting his eyes over toward Gordito, trying to make Mamá understand without speaking that he didn't want his secret known. "Oh, yes, I suppose so," she said. "I bet that they are after that new girl in the village," Gordito volunteered, "I hear that she's... ahh," he suddenly noticed that his audience was not all male, "I've heard that she is very .. ah .. pretty." Red Cloud snickered while Ramón glowered. "It is fortunate that Rain is at her aunt's house," said Mamá, "I must go get her." REFUGE: He was awakened in the small hours by a scrabbling and whimpering sound from the kitchen. Mamá responded drowsily when he shook her awake. "Wake up, Mamá. It is Lucita, she has had another nightmare. She is under the bench in the kitchen." "Then put her back to bed, Machito." "I have tried, Mamá. I.. She draws away from me. I frighten her." Mamá roused enough to gather in the trembling child and took her to bed with her. The next morning Lucita still had not slept, so Mamá asked Ramón to stay with her while she went to the rancho. Ramón stayed within sight of the house all day long. Lucita did not want to go to her aunt, and she cried whenever Ramón came close, so he stood his guard from a distance. Finally, in the afternoon, he sat by the stoop and debated his fortune once again. His dreams of being a horse-trader were frustrated because Papá had wanted him to become educated, and did not want him to waste his life being a `horse-tramp'. His dreams of going to school had seen him become practically a servant of the other students. His dreams of becoming a matador... well, maybe those dreams were a bit foolish, anyway. He became aware of a presence close by, and looked up to see Lucita standing beside him, again peering closely at him. Lucita was holding a pitcher, which proved to contain warm water that she poured over Ramón's thick black hair. Ramón restrained his angry outburst as Lucita set the pitcher down, crawled into a now female lap, and fell asleep with her head against Ramón's breast. As her mother had sat with him, so Ramón sat, uncertain of what to do but determined to be still as long as he could and not disturb the troubled child resting so trustingly in his arms. Finally, Mamá came in from the rancho and beheld Ramón drowsing against the doorpost. "Here," she said, "let me take her and put her in bed." Ramón released the child from his numbed arms and spent several minutes enduring pain as the feeling returned to his feet and legs. Finally the tingling subsided and he could walk to the well for a dipper of cold water. Papá finally strolled in, a day late. Mamá announced that tomorrow they would go to the rancho together. CHAPTER TRES: END Return to main page