Macho Caballo Page

PART II: Chapter Trienta y Seis

First Steps are Terrifying and Unremarkable



It was not an overly ambitious beetle, but the Sun was hot and it
was making for the other side of the dusty street with all the
speed it could muster.  When the cascade of dirty brown liquid
thumped down upon its carapace, the beetle spun about in an angry
circle, seeking an outlet for its rage.  Finding none within its
limited vision, it elevated its antennae and rump and continued
on its way with an air of injured dignity, pausing only to shake
a drop of the liquid from one leg.

"What do you suppose he is thinking, Noah?"

Noah Amberly lifted his attention from the beetle, shifted his
chaw of Kentucky Red to the other side of his jaw, and ventured
an opinion, "Well, Miss Angie, I'd say she'uz siding with some o'
my old girlfriends.  They'z always saying how 'lips that touch
tobacky will never touch mine'."

"No, I mean the Corporal.  He's been in the cantina with Mansino
and Larribee for a long time."

Noah shifted uneasily.  "Hard to say, Ma'am.  Wasn't expecting
them for several days.  They had to leave Tucson last week to
get here this soon, which means they already had business in
these parts."

Angie was peering into the cool dimness of the building. "Well,
the alcalde is sitting away from the rest of them.  I think he's
out of the discussion.  But the rest of them are still head to
head."  She sighed, "Except for my father, elbow deep in brandy."

"He's a good man, Miss Angie.  Helped build this land."

"I know.  I keep wanting to make him sit down and grow old

"No offense, Ma'am, but I think he already has."

The corporal stopped under the shade of the porch as he pulled on
his gloves.  He ignored Angie and spoke to Noah, "Your jefe
tells me you can be trusted to lead us to the savages who have
captured his son."

"Might could," Noah admitted.  He looked about the compound where
a dozen men in uniform were idling, cleaning weapons and
watching the citizens of the town with hard eyes.  "That all you
brought with you?"

"It will be enough," Corporal Sandoval began. "You should prepare
yourself.  We leave this evening.  I think you should know, your
jefe instructed me to take all the prisoners I could capture."

Noah frowned.  "Figgers," he said, "I guess Trader's heard about
that bounty they got on Apaches.  What is it, one hundred fer
bucks, fifty fer squaws, and twenty-five fer papooses?"  He heard
Angie's gasp and spat into the dust away from the porch.

"Very close to that, Senor Amberly.  I feel strongly that this is
the only way to eliminate a threat to my people."

"It's either that `er a quick step to the grave," observed Noah.


At a rancho just south of Villarica in Mexico, Francisco stood at
the doorway off the portico at the big ranch house.  He rotated
the brim of his sombrero as he waited for Don Pedro's guest to

"Senor Sinestro, you could double it and still it would be
highway robbery," Don Pedro spoke with a sour expression.
"Besides, you know the estate belongs to my son. It is not mine
to sell."

"Ah, you will be happy to know that your son and daughter-in-law
are busy in La Capitol trying to outmaneuver Santa Anna and his
cohorts." Sinestro was cheerful.  When he was cheerful, he did
not hesitate to inform his host, Don Pedro, of the cause of his
merry disposition. "Your son has sent his regards, but I am
afraid the missive has been somehow mislaid, in my secretary's
desk, perhaps.  I shall have to scold him for his negligence.
And.oh yes.  It seems that some vagrant has been taking your name
in vain.  My men apprehended a drifter who seemed intent on
getting out of the valley.  You would not know who that was, by
any chance?"

"Verturio," Don Pedro supplied, grimly. "He was to take a
message.  I suppose you have him in your jail?"

Sinestro used the top of the cherrywood table to ignite a
fulminated match, leaving a gouge in the satin finish.  He

"I will see to it, Hacendado," Pablo stood and wiped his scant
hair back to fit under his broad sombrero as he made for the
door.  His path took him near the alcalde, who lounged at ease
across the horsehide bench, impervious to Pablo's bleak glance.

"You understand, of course, that we cannot take chances with the
safety of the valley, what with the bandits making raids?"
Sinestro applied the match to the end of his cigarito, sent a
plume of blue smoke toward his host, and dropped the still
smoking match onto the carpet.  He rose and retrieved his cape,
stepping around Marie as she scampered to douse the match. "I
thought you would.  One cannot be too careful with bandits. Why,
I hear there are more now than ever.  There is one who even calls
himself 'The Stallion'.  I thought you might find that news
enlightening, Dolores."

"I have no idea what you are talking about," Senora Caballo said 

"Oh, come now, Dolores.  Surely the very mention of your son's
nickname might make you giddy with apprehension."

"Do you fear a youth?  Why do you persecute him?  If there are
rumors that he is an outlaw then you must be the one spreading

"I am but the bearer of the message, Dolores.  Make of it what
you will."  Sinestro brushed past Francisco on his way down the
steps to the yard, then stopped with one foot on the running
board of his surrey.  He called back to the porch, "That offer
still stands, Don Pedro.  How long it will remain, though, I
cannot say.  Soon you will have to make a decision."

"And I have told you, the ranch is not mine to sell!"  Don
Pedro's face glowed red with anger as Marie tried to coax him
back against the fabric of the chair cushion.

"Your son lives in La Capitol, not here.  He will accept whatever
you may decide.  Only his daughter would benefit from this
rancho, and where is she?  Lost to the Indians in the north, I
hear.  Oh.  My condolences on your loss, Hacendada.  I do miss
the girl.  She so brightened up the place, like the beauty of a
frisky colt, so full of life.... But I distress you.  I must ask
you to express my heartfelt sympathies to her mother, when she
finds out about it."

"*Goodbye*, Senor!" Don Pedro bit off the words, "I will not ask
you to go with God, because I do not think He would abide your

Sinestro paused again to lean out of the surrey and say, "My
sorrow to you, too, Dolores.  It seems you have nothing but loss
in this lifetime. I do hope the Senorita's mother will not hold
you to blame because your son led the Senorita astray."

Dolores stiffened as she snapped,  "I do not believe this,

"Whatever you wish," Sinestro betrayed a shallow smile at her 
discomfort.  "Don Pedro?  Dona?  I have pressing duties elsewhere, 
as you know.  Adieu."

Don Pedro said nothing, his face red with fury as he watched the 
detachment of guards follow Sinestro onto the high road.

The Dona seethed.  "The nerve of that man!  And how could he be
so familiar with you, Dolores?  He dares to treat you like some
cleaning woman!"

"We were once friends," Dolores said as she closed the door and
gathered the accounting papers.  "If you can believe that.  At
one time, he actually seemed to be a good man."

"Francisco, come in!" Don Pedro's voice boomed, "Do you have any
news for us?"

"Nothing, Senor, Senoras.  I tracked them as far as Aguas
Calientes, but then their trail vanished.  I can only pray that
they have succeeded."

Dolores said, "It is such a hostile land, but Ramon has been
traveling the wilderness all his life - he will have no trouble.
However, I am sorry that Estrellita was drawn into this."

Dona Mercedes patted her hand.  "Estrellita is a strong-minded
girl, just like her mother.  What she has done, she has done of
her own free will.  But, Francisco, is there any chance they have some of the ruffians who inhabit that

"Regrettably, there are indeed several bandit gangs, Senora.
Also, there is a new bandit leader, whose exploits were all the
talk in Aguas Calientes.  No doubt, he is attempting to make a
name for himself." Francisco hesitated, and added, "According to
the townsfolk, he does indeed call himself Macho Caballo."

"Just like my Ramon?" Dolores gasped, "Could it be true?  Could
they be speaking of him?"

"No, Senora.  I hear this from the rumors: he is a grown man, a
master thief, very strong and bold.  He has many members of his
gang, all desperate outlaws who would never follow a boy."

"I thought maybe...." Dolores held her wrap before her face for a
moment, then lowered it to say, "I am ready to believe anything."

"I will keep looking, Senora.  This I promise," Francisco said,
then cried in alarm, "Don Pedro!  Are you well?"

Don Pedro was sagging against the arm of his chair, his face gone
pale.  Marie pushed him upright, straining with all her might.
Dona Mercedes helped her, crying, "Quickly!  Call Fray Fernando!
Tell him there has been another seizure!"


In the badlands near south of the Apache encampment, two figures 
conferred - a diminutive sorcerer and another person wearing the
frayed  remnants of a uniform.

"This is the last container," Toc said. "Take better care of it!
You cannot blame me if you test one and the beast merely wanders

Espuma gave him a supercilious smirk.  "It was not very
impressive, anyway.  Who needs a giant sloth?  I thought you
were going to give me fearsome monsters!"

Toc returned the smirk and added an expression of pained
weariness.  "Read the label," he suggested.  "You can read,
can't you?"

Espuma frowned as the small sorcerer continued, "Now, listen to
this.  I will only say it one more time.  When you are ready to
set the beast upon its prey, you must crush the clay pot and
release the liquid within.  For a moment, after it develops and
before it gains its bearings, the beast will be very suggestible.
Use this brief time to direct it toward the people you wish to
attack.  You may simply point, or you can let it smell a piece of
clothing your victim has worn, or you may give it a direct
command.  Then get out of its way.  It will be dangerous until
the liquid evaporates."

Espuma raised his attention from the containers to ask, "What
sort of command?  How smart are these beasts?  The one I tried
was stupid!"

"I have given you the very best renditions," Toc assured him.
"They are constructed from savage animals, without benefit of
thought.  For one instant, however, because they are affected by
magic, they will be able to understand you if you can give your
command quickly and concisely.  Do not hesitate.  Speak with
authority and decision, or they will sense your wavering mind and
turn on you." Toc looked down his long nose at him.  "That is why
the animal you released merely wandered off."

"I am always clear and decisive!" Espuma spat.  He counted the
pots into his knapsack and added, "The cat is for the
girl...poetic justice!  The wolf and the bear are for the pests,
and the remainder...are to distract the others in the camp."

"How could you possibly benefit from such a diversion?" the
sorcerer posed the question with feigned interest.

"It is simple," Espuma inflated with the attention, "First, I
will loose the animals, which will draw off all the warriors,
leaving only the weaklings and women.  Then, I will walk into the
middle of the camp, overpower them with a fearful noise..." he
patted an instrument on his sash, "...and take the girl."

"Daring!" Toc turned his head to one side and made a gagging
gesture which Espuma could not see,  "But why should you take
such a chance?"

"Why not?" Espuma's smile was malicious, "For too long, I have
been the quiet one.  'Yes, master!'  'No, master!'  'I will get
it for you, master!'  Do you know whom Kaliche calls when it is
time to plan anything?  Does he call me?  No!  He calls that
meathead!  That overmuscled club-swinging apeman! Well, this time
we shall see!  Machack would tear his way into the camp and
abduct the girl by force of might, and the master would praise
him for it!  Not this time!  This is my mission, and I am in
command!  I will abduct the girl, and I will get the glory!"

"You could have grabbed the girl at any time."

"Not after what she did to me!  And the others!  I will shame
these Apaches for their trickery!"

Toc's lips twisted as he nodded, his eyelids drooping as if in
boredom as he said, "Yes, a daring plan, by a masterful
intellect!  If it were anyone else, I would say that you were a
fool!  What could these Apaches done to you to deserve such

"When I was here before, they tricked me!  I traded for horses
and slaves to take back with me, my intentions nothing but pure
and honorable.  When I went to take possession, they were gone!
Without a trace!  I was furious!  If I could have had these
devices at that time, I would have tracked them down and punished
them, " Espuma reflected on his mistreatment. "But this way is
even better!  First, I will shame them, then I will take what I
want!" His ragged laughter rose to a hysterical pitch.

Toc ignored the panting laughter to glance at the sky.  "It is
getting late," he said, "I have to catalogue some poison
mushrooms a long way away.  Do not expect to see me."

"I don't care if we never meet again!"  Espuma shrugged.  "I have
what I want!"  He did not watch the zephyr which picked up the
sorcerer and carried him away.

"Oh, but we will meet again," Toc said softly, already miles away
from Espuma.  He drew another clay pot from his pocket, much
larger than the ones he had given Espuma.  "I will collect an old
debt from Kaliche, my friend!  And we will see who gets revenge!"

He descended in a dusty canyon, where he could work


Ramon could not afterwards relate to others, or even to himself,
the events which had transpired after he had stepped into the

He was standing with Cornsilk, or as he referred to her, 'that
crazy old woman,' when a befurred stranger appeared.  The
stranger had asked Ramon to accompany him and the crazy old woman
had agreed.  At this point things stopped making sense for Ramon,
for he had stopped before the tree, alongside the man with the
silvertipped hair, and the man had politely motioned for him to
keep going when he could not, facing the immense bole of the

It was an oak - impressive for its height and solid dimension,
impossible in this land of mesquite and water-starved willow,
where other oaks were neither noble or tall - which presented its
smooth exterior to him and, equally impossibly, which divided
itself into a door that swung in to admit them both.

It was only after they had entered that Ramon began to question
whether he had taken full leave of his senses or if he had
swallowed some shaman's potion which had driven him mad.  While
it is trite to say that everything happened at once, he could not
describe one event without tying it to another event which was
intimately related and may have taken place moments before or
moments after.

To tell of his time within the tree:

They traversed a corridor, floored with wooden planks polished
with time, walled with wooly bark, with the dark of night for a
ceiling.  In silence, for it seemed too obvious a thing for him
to do, to turn to the slender man with the odd hair and ask him,
"Just where the heck are we?" Ramon knew, with a certainty bound
by many questions asked at other times of his own grandfather,
what the answer would be...'Why, we are inside a tree, of

When, in time, they came to an end of the corridor, Ramon paused.
There was a doorway in the wall.  No door, merely a simple
opening carved into the living wood, with what appeared to be
more corridor beyond.  It occurred to him to wonder that he could
see anything at all, for there were no torches, or lamps, or
fires of any kind, nor any immediately visible sources of light.

As Ramon looked about to see where the light was coming from, the
bear-man cleared his throat politely. "You must be the first to
step through the door," he said.

"You remind me of a bear..." Ramon spoke.

The man merely nodded.

"...but not as big, or as powerful," Ramon continued.

"I am merely a messenger," the bear-man smiled. "You do not
recognize me?"

"Should I?"

"You have an affinity for bears," the bear-man explained.  "Be
kind to them."

"Okay," Ramon scratched the back of his neck absently.  "As long
as that does not include feeding them."

Again the bear-man shook his head and smiled, sadness lining his
eyes, which were now mahogany, as though some memory had brought
him pain.

He said, "Soon.  Remember to be kind."  Then he turned to the
doorway and gestured, as he had motioned for him to step into the
oak tree on the surface of this world.  "This begins your
education," said the bear-man. "Pass through."

On the other side of the opening was, indeed, more corridor.
Ramon looked to his companion for elaboration, but saw only an
unconcerned expression.  They went on and eventually came to
another blockage and another opening.  Ramon passed through it as
well, brushing aside a few strands of spider-web.  In the hall
beyond, an occasional web tickled his face as he walked.

More openings followed, and more web.  Soon Ramon was pushing
aside thick curtains of web, using his fingers to tear his way
through, breaking a way for the bear-man who followed. The time
came when the silver mass beyond the opening seemed impassable.

"What now?  I'm stopped," Ramon asked, beginning to breathe
heavily from the effort of pushing aside the heavy curtains of

"Now, you can go no farther."

"I think that is what I said!" Ramon frowned.

The bear-man shrugged.  "Now you must give up."

"What?  I cannot quit now!"

"Do not quit.  Accept that you have gone as far as you are able,"
The bear-man's voice was gentle, soothing.  "Let your mind and
your heart stop racing."

With an effort, Ramon quieted himself.  Finally he nodded.

"Think of a time when everything around you was still, and you
were utterly at peace with the world.  Nothing disturbed you."

"Oh, brother...." With eyes closed tightly, Ramon tried to
remember such a time and, at first, he failed.  There had been
too many upsets in his life lately.  He had never been able to
master Red Cloud's trick with the worry bag, tossing his cares to
the sunset breeze to be borne away on golden pollen.  Only a few
moments could have been called calm, and that was when....

He opened his eyes and reached for the web.  The silver mass
parted where his fingers touched, and he was through it and on
the other side.

"Now, that..." he looked about for the bear-man and found that he
was alone.

"...was dumb!" he finished, and started at a movement in the
shadows beyond.

Black folds of fabric swished in the darkness and resolved into a
figure.  The figure appeared to be wearing a mask shaped like a
bird's head.  Ramon prepared to flee, recalling the night at the
puebla when men wearing bird-helmets had attacked out of the
darkness.  He was stopped by an uneasy realization that the
bird-mask was too real.  The eyes moved, and when the bird opened
his beak the crimson tongue within flickered as though it were
alive.  The fringes on the fabric were feathers.

"Where are your manners?" the bird turned his head to one side
and glared at him with one eye, much as a robin would peer at a

"Who are you?"

"You will lower your head when you speak!" the bird cried,
snapping the folds of his garment about, striking against
Ramon's back with the force of a club.  The feathered breast
pulsed as the bird-man breathed rapidly.

"I will not!" Ramon staggered upright, "I am a man!  I do not bow
to anyone!"

"You will show respect, however you choose," the bird said.  "If
you respect your parents, show this respect to me.  If you honor
your elders, demonstrate it to me.  It is the only way you can
survive in here!"

Ramon ducked his head enough...a fraction of an more
than he would have nodded to his abuelo.  "But I am not bowing
to anyone!" he insisted.  He could see the creature more clearly,
now, and it seemed to be dressed as a Spanish gentleman with
clay-green trousers, a blouse of white and gray, and a black
fringed robe.  He blinked.  At another moment the bird-man was
wearing a monk's habit, much like the friars at the school Don
Pedro had arranged for him to attend in the capitol city.

"You are not holding yourself properly for your station," the
bird-man informed Ramon.  "You must learn manners.  Social
propriety.  How to speak to a person of superior rank.  Maintain
a humble attitude in the presence of higher beings."

"I've already been to school," grumbled Ramon.  "I did not learn
that much, except that I will not bow to any man...or bird!"

Again, the bird-man turned his head to one side, focusing on him
with one eye.  "Thus begins learning," it said, "Very well.
That will be enough for now.  Go forward, through the door."

"Sure," said Ramon, feeling better.  He had shown that cocky
bird.  He would not bow.  He would continue with the
'education', through the doors with spider webs, until he got to
wherever he was going.  He pushed through the door, feeling a
faint pulsing in the air.  Thinking it was the breath of the
bird-man, he turned to see if the other had followed.  No-one was

Rocks crunched beneath his zapatos, a sound bounced back from the
low cavern ceiling.  The pulse continued, echoing from the rocky
walls, gurgling from the misty pool before him.  He thought he
heard a distant cry, a call for help.  "I have heard that call
before," he said. "But when I was dreaming, I was the one who was
calling!  Now, I am in the cavern of the Sprit of the Springs!
What is going on?"

He remembered the terror of that day, the time he had fallen - or
had been pulled - into the hot springs, and he had first become
afflicted with his other shape.  He remembered with such clarity
the terror of the moment that he found himself dashing away from
the spring, gulping lungfuls of air as he fled in panic, seeking
a way out.  The thud of the pulse grew so loud that he could not
think clearly, and he came to an opening and passed through it.

Beyond the doorway....

"Like all things, this tree is not what it seems," said the
bear-man, walking beside him as though he had never been away.
"This way," the bear-man spoke, pointing at a particular opening
with a slender hand, the fingernails of which were thick, sharp
and blackened.

A faint vibration could be felt through the floor as they walked
through endless hallways.  The sound grew louder - a modulated
hum not unlike a faltering heartbeat.  Eventually they came upon
the source of the noise, a doorway with a flattened boulder in
its center.  The huge rock was anchored at its top and base,
spinning so that it would open and shut about the speed of a
strong man's heartbeat.

Ramon's face grew pale, and he hesitated, puzzled, as he shook
off the bear-man's hand at his elbow.  He was not normally this
anxious, even in dangerous situations.  The doorway presented no
problem.  By timing his jump, he could get through it in the
blink of an eye, when the opening was at its greatest.  No, he
was not afraid of the doorway...he did not think so, anyway.
Nothing menaced him from the bare walls or floor of the cave, nor
was there anything sinister about the warm light glimpsed through
the shuttering door openings.

Ramon hesitated.  As slowly as it was turning, it could still
smear him along the doorframe if he missed his timing.

He turned to the bear-man and asked, "Who are you?"

"What do you think?"

"A spirit of some sort.  I mean, what you did with the door in
the  tree."

"Are you afraid?"

"Naah," Ramon shuddered, anyway.  "Besides, even if a man 
is afraid, he does not speak of it."

"Might as well admit it.  A spirit could tell if you were afraid."

"Well, I'm not!  Not exactly.  Maybe a little."

"And what is there to fear?" asked the man beside him.

"Something...something beyond that door."

But through the door he went.  He waited until the opening was
nearing its widest before he moved, sliding past the boulder as
it rolled over and over, round and round, and there was nothing
there, beyond that door, only the bear-man leaning casually
against the sheer rock facing.

Ramon stood, brushing off his trousers, wondering again about the
vibration he could hear.  And Ramon spoke what was in his heart, 

"Again I ask, what is there to fear?"

"It is farther on.  I can feel it.  Down the cave, perhaps the
next door.  Surely there is another door."

"Abandonment?  Hunger?  Beatings by the older boys as you go to

"None of those.  They are childish.  I gave them up, long ago."

"Then what?  Torture?  Failure?  Loss?" The bear-man leaned
closer, "...Death?"

Ramon trudged on, ripping aside the gauze-like masses that
threatened to entangle him.

"There is another door.  There has to be.  I have to know what it
is that waits for me."

"Then I will tell you," the bear-man blocked his way.

"No, you cannot!"

"It is death."

"All men die," said Ramon.  "Ask the Apache.  Ask the N'de what
their name means."

"So, you are beyond that.  You are unafraid."

"Of course I am afraid!  I am not a fool!"

"Not that kind of fool, at any rate."

"Why are you barring my way?  I have to find it!"

The bear-man posed, elbow in right hand, chin in left hand, as if
in thought.  They stood by a small pool, green about the verges,
but deep slate blue in the middle bowl.  The sand around them
might have been outside, for the brilliance of the light pouring

"What is it that you want from me?  I am going no farther until
you explain!" Ramon folded his arms and waited.

The ursine eyes held him for a moment.  "Well, we certainly won't
demand that you sit and watch the wind," the bear-man chuckled.

"Yeah.  That's good." Ramon laughed uncertainly along with him.

"But, look here," said the bear-man as he indicated the sand
about them, "What do you see?"

"A row of ants, crawling along the grass."

"And here?"

"Several ant hills.  Must be where those other ants are going.
But these ants do not look the same.  They are smaller."

"And, possibly, more cooperative, less aggressive.  The columns
of ants are invaders."

"Yeah?  What about that large central anthill...the one with all
the activity?"

"You will see."

The invading ants brushed aside several individual ants who came 
questioning from the main anthill, and marched straight up to the
mound.  Instantly, defenders boiled out of the largest hole and
ran the invaders off.

"That was not very smart," noted Ramon.

"Wait," said the bear-man, and he pointed to the other anthills,
where other columns of ants were embarking.  The other ants
merged with the invaders and the combined army of insects marched
again on the largest hill.  This time the results were different,
with holes being broached and the combined invader/other ants
winning the fight.  In the confusion and turmoil, nursery ants
from the great hill were scurrying about trying to make their way
out of the carnage carrying eggs, larvae, and grains of food.
Many escaped and these began a trek to another location to build
another mound.

Ramon straightened.  "So, what's that supposed to mean?" he

"There is more.  Look there, in the pool."

In the slate blue bowl of the nearby pool there was a cloudy
area, and in the cloudy area moved the figures of men, dressed
in the costumes Ramon had occasionally seen on festive dances, as
well as men in dark robes with little ornamentation.

"A fiesta?" Ramon raised his gaze to eyes that now appeared

"Corn festival.  A maiden has been chosen from the surrounding
lands to represent the Goddess of Crops and Fertility.  In turn,
she will take the prayers of her people to the heavens so the
gods can hear and answer them."  A girl in a colorful gown and
robe was being borne by two strong men along a dusty roadway.  A
procession of more elaborately clad women and men accompanied
them, while a small disconsolate group bid farewell from the
village gates.

"That's...." Ramon had difficulty swallowing.  He felt a
constriction pressing his shoulders together and shook off the
momentary chill.


"I had a dream about something like that.  It was frightening,
for some reason."

"A great honor, to be chosen."

"I am not so sure.  I could not see this girl's face."

"Here, she enters the building which is to be her home while she
is readied for the ceremony."

"She's...she  That is what I look like when I...."

"Of course.  No need to explain.  Do you realize what was to
become of her?"

"I think they are going to torture her, and kill her."

The smile was beatific.  "She was to be sacrificed.  A simple
matter, being beheaded and skinned, so the priest could wear her
outer appearance to please the gods.  Perhaps she knew this.
That is not why she called for your help."

"She...she...she called for me?"  This disturbed him, for it
brought back that day when he had felt so strong - so sure of
himself.  He could hear the splash and gurgle in his mind, and
beyond that, the plaintive cry in a strange voice.

"In the cave, when you went to ask the Spirits of the Spring for
a blessing.  Did you think it was someone else who called?"

"But...Red Cloud, when she became the jaguar?  I had always
thought that it was her!  And, yet...."

"And yet?"

"Yet...I knew.  I never questioned, because I feared the answer."

"See this."  The scene played out, figures on a watery stage,
without sound.  The girl rose and prepared for the day, with the
intrusive help of the gnarled harridan who slept behind the
screen, until the time came to be presented to the priests.  The
priests who came for her, however, brought a replacement - a
person who resembled her but was not, who went to the ceremony in
her place.  Far beneath the pyramid the priest led the girl,
until they stopped before a well, carved even deeper into stygian
blackness.  When another priest appeared, Ramon gasped,
recognizing the bald head and arrogant demeanor of his own
tormentor. The bald priest conducted a different ceremony,
scratched the girl's arm and let the blood drip onto a simple
stone pendant, then released the girl to go back to her own

"But what does it mean?" Ramon shook his head.

The bear-man smiled mysteriously.  "Think of the priest as an
ant, perhaps a worker in the nursery, but with his own selfish
ends in mind."


"He had poured into the stone much of his magic, but when he
drenched the stone reservoir with the girl's blood, he was
careless.  Some blood fell into the well, whose waters are shared
with other places in Mexico."

"Other places?" Ramon reflected.  Other places.  Perhaps the hot
spring water gurgling from the Spring of the Spirits?  He
remained troubled. "What happened to the girl's spirit?  Was she
also bound to the stone?"

"No, she survived and died a normal death, after marrying and
bearing a girl-child to carry on the spell put upon her to
protect the stone.  But the spirit *has* returned to Mexico in
order to be present at the time of crisis - when the sorcerer
decides to return and establish his kingdom."

"But where is she?"

"You know her."  Again, the mysterious smile.

"I do?  What is her name?"

"That must remain a secret.  For now...." he stretched, showing
claws.  "For now, you represent her.  If it will help, there are
those who feel you are very courageous."


Authorities are mixed in their opinions of the eating habits of
the creature commonly referred to as 'Tyrannosaurus Rex'.  Some
hold that the big bird was a lively predator, running down its
prey and dining on the fattest (and fittest) of the local
herbivores.  Others claim that the terrible lizard was a
scavenger, sneaking from carcass to carcass or at most bringing
down the infirm and lame of the walking meatmarkets such as
Triceratops and Brontosaurus.

At this moment of the story, one specimen of the creature was
reeling from a massive headache which he had developed while
attempting to test the crunchiness of a certain diminutive
sorcerer.  Said small sorcerer, who went by the name 'Toc',
raised himself to his full height of five foot one inch and
issued a command in his best Roman Legionnaire voice.

"Sit.  Down!"

The creature looked down at him with all the civility of a hen
about to pounce on a tasty bug.  It was not a pretty sight.  The
large yellow-green eyes, streaked with red, were already
irritated by the hot, dry air.  A huge muffled sneeze made Toc's
headdress flutter out behind him.

Nevertheless, the creature sat.  The resulting thump rattled
loose stones on the ledge above.  He (for it was a he) was now
able to look directly into Toc's face while patiently picking at
his teeth with his grotesquely small forelimbs.  He was a
fastidious creature and small shreds of leather and bone from his
last meal, taken many millions of years before, were beginning to
annoy him.

Toc turned a stern face to the monster and commanded, "You will
stay here until nightfall, after which you may forage for water not kill anything, yet.  You must be hungry for
tomorrow.  Do you understand?"

Toc wearily shook his head, uneasy under the creature's gaze.  He
decided to make the compulsion spell stronger.  The creature's
demeanor was saying 'yes,' but his eyes kept saying 'no.'

"When I give the word, you are to rise and head in that
direction," Toc pointed toward the northeast.  "Do not move that
way until I tell you!  Again, do you understand?"  Again, the
sorcerer shuddered as predatory eyes examined him for nutritional
value and found him wanting.

"This may not have been one of my better ideas," he admitted to
himself as he gathered his materials to leave.  "Nevertheless, I
cannot wait to see the expression on that buffoon's face when he
sees that he has been outclassed!"

Taking advantage of Toc's distraction, the dinosaur made several 
lightning fast calculations.  He considered his own mass, that of
the sorcerer, factored in the chewiness probability and lack of
taste he would have to deal with, threw in the irritability
conundrum, and attempted to rise and have a sorcerer snack.  
He was felled by a pain as though his head were being crushed 
and he sat subdued, watching morosely as the diminutive sorcerer
strolled out of sight.

The T-Rex shifted his weight, decided that he could last until
nightfall without feeding.  He squeezed as much of his four tons
as he could into the marginal shade of a clay bluff, away from
the glaring mid-summer sun, and tried to doze.


Don Pedro awoke with his wife's arm thrown across his chest.  "I
will guess that you were concerned about my lack of attention,"
he chuckled.

The Dona came to her feet and knelt over him, swatting his
shoulder lightly.  "Of course, my big, lovable bear of a
husband," she said, placing her cheek to his chest. "You should
not take a nap without warning us."

"Forgive me.  I suppose I allowed that bureaucrat to bore me to
sleep.  Did I alarm you?"

She allowed him to enclose her within his arms and she nodded,
mutely, causing the gray strands straying from her tightly bound
hair to graze across his face.  She knew he would have to move or
sneeze, and she seemed reassured when he did the latter.  "What
would I do without you?" she wondered, trying to keep the tears
in her eyes out of her voice.

"I am getting old, Mi Dulce, that is all.  You must not find any
reason for blame."

"But I caused it!  If it were not for me, trying to ease your

"Enough.  I would far rather be an ailing old man, with you to
pamper me, than a young dead fool."

"Oh, I know, I know...." she stirred again, frowning in anger,
"That awful, pompous little man!  Why did he have to start this?"

"It is a part of life, Querida.  We have to take the thorns with
the rose.  Remember the butterfly."

"Very well," she sniffed, hugging him anew.  "But I would wish
the alcalde very far away from us, if wishes could be heard."


"Kinda wish you'd reconsider, Miss Angie," Noah said, holding the
reins to the mare as Angie saddled her.

"I must do this," she said, grunting as she tightened the girth.  The
mare had lifted one hoof and then dropped it with a thump when
Angie released the strap.  "It is our fault he is out there,
lonely and frightened, and held against his will.  Dad has had
too many drinks to go after him, so that leaves me."

It was at this time that Noah forgot that he was not talking to a
fellow male and stepped over the line into dangerous territory.

He said, "I kinda figured, seein' as how she's a nice looker, and
seein' as how he ain't come runnin' with his tail tucked between
his legs and all...I was kinda thinkin' maybe he waren't too
upset about the arrangement."

"Noah?" she said, low and quiet.


"Do you still have all your teeth?"

This was a peculiar question, and Noah had to think about it.
"Well...except for a couple I lost in a saloon one time...."

"How'd you like to keep them?"

"Ah...Ma'am?" Noah finally noticed that she was making a fist.
He gulped and fell silent.

"He's not anybody," she grated, "He's just a man.  Nothing


"The fact that I saw him first...and decided that I had *finally*
found someone in this forsaken land who might be worth holding
onto...the fact that I was even starting to CARE for the lowlife,
two-timing son of a snake...that doesn't matter.  Not one little

Noah blinked.  "No Ma'am."

"And if that Apache *bimbo* thinks that I will just sit around
twiddling my toes while she takes MY man..." Angie's eyes were
now a dangerous shade of icy green, and Noah took a step
backward.  Just in case.  "...If she thinks she has won, she has
got another think coming!  I'm going out to that camp!"

"You're gonna stir up a hornet's nest if you let slip about the
soldiers," Noah said, uneasily.  "Might get me kilt, too."

"Don't worry, Noah.  I can control myself better than that.  I
will go in, get Lonesome, and get out immediately."

Noah swallowed and nodded.  "Yes'm."  He stepped backward again,
out of her way, recalling that once upon a time she had been a
sweet-natured, charming little girl who was polite and always did
as she was told...mostly...and now she had become the most deadly
animal known to man - a jealous woman.

"Hope she gets outta that camp 'fore these troops hit it," he
muttered sadly.  He removed his battered felt hat and wiped his
face, wishing he could belt back a couple of mugs of cerveza.
"Although," he considered, remembering the icy expression on her
face, "I think I might be safer fightin' the men on the outside
of the camp, even if they've been warned.  Reckon I'd better get
my gear ready.  We're gonna have us a real shoot'em up party."


explanatory comments:  
- Toc is the sorcerer whom Espuma sought out in order to 
find a 'diversion' to help Espuma capture Lucha.
- Hernan Cortez led the Spanish group which allied with
neighboring tribes to bring down the Aztecs around 1520.
- What does N'de mean?  One book says it means "people
of the dead," implying that the Apache had accepted death
as a reasonable consequence of life and quit worrying about it.