Monday, May 28, 2007


Amalia drove her ancient jenny hitched to a cart made from an old automobile chassis. She kept her hat pulled low over her eyes as they traveled through the burnt-over scrubland near the town that used to be called Moriarity. No one in her group was sure what it was called these days. Something Spanish, probably, since the Hispanos and Mexicans had fought here recently. But this valley was now neutral territory, so perhaps it was Moriarity again.

Will broke away from the other young soldiers and slowed his horse to the pace of Amalia’s cart. Amalia resisted the urge to smile and instead affected a stern demeanor. "When we get to the Choate mines tomorrow, I want you to think about whether we should make a permanent camp there. It's a good location for observing the rail line."

"That's if we don't blow it up."

"We're hoping that won't be necessary."

"Coyote isn't."

"That's why you’re on this mission. You're supposed to keep him from destroying it unless we say so. You’re a good fighter, but you also need to be a good influence."

Will made a face. "That's no fun."

Amalia sighed in sympathy. "If I remember correctly, there's a spur from the mine to the main rail. If Coyote gets bored, let him tear that up. It’ll keep him out of trouble and we can sell the steel afterward. Just don't let him waste any explosives on the project. The picks and other tools ought to work well enough, and the work will tire him out and keep him from riding off and raising hell."

"That would probably be better than sending him looking for food," Will agreed.

"Tiffany and Ikea can do that."

"No, Mother. It’s too dangerous. I know you've got old-fashioned ideas about equality, and I'm sure your way made sense at one time, but if I'm supposed to be protecting a girl..."

"You don't need to protect them. Tiffany and Ikea are soldiers just like you."

"Just like me?" he scoffed. "When they can ride and shoot even half as well as I can, maybe we can talk about them being equals."

"What does that make Diana? She's as good as you. Maybe better."

Will's expression changed and he scanned the horizon. Not seeing the young woman who still insisted on calling him “brother,” he frowned. "Okay, maybe her. But—"

"You want to take care of her."

"I like protecting girls. Is there something wrong with that?" He shifted in his saddle. “I don’t like it that you’re letting Harley separate us. Me and Diana do our missions together."

“It’ll only be a few days.”

“I don’t know why you don’t take Macy instead.”

“Because we need real soldiers for this mission, not an ex-whore. Besides, it’s not good for you and Diana to do everything together. She'd be furious if she knew you were looking out for her as if she were fragile.”

"That's why I don't let her know I'm doing it." He flashed Amalia his most charming smile. "Don't worry, Mother. I know what I'm doing." He spurred his horse and took off toward the distant ravines.

Amalia settled over the reins as she watched him go. It still startled her to be called “mother,” even after seven years. She had never wanted a child of her own, let alone to end up the guardian of two. And what a guardian she had turned out to be—dragging Will and Diana from place to place, and finally into the civil war. But it was better than starving in the refugee camps, and she had been successful so far in keeping Diana out of close combat. Besides, Will was eighteen now and Diana not far behind. They were hardly children.

As she topped the next rise, she could just make out Diana in the arroyo below, astride her chestnut mare, Flecha. Will had caught up with her and they were riding close together, talking.

Diana said something that caught Will off guard, and he looked at her quizzically. She laughed, kicked Flecha’s flanks and took off at a canter. Will tried to follow, but although his horse was strong and he was a good rider, his height and muscular build made him no match for Diana’s lithe frame and natural talent with horses. She scrambled Flecha out of the arroyo and disappeared over the next hill.

Amalia sat back with a frown. Diana was supposed to ride ahead of their unit as a scout, not dally with the other members of their unit. And of all persons to play games with, it shouldn’t be Will. They had been best friends for most of their lives, and lived like siblings, but if Diana couldn’t see that his feelings were no longer those of an adoptive brother, Amalia would have to set her straight. Not today, though. It had been so hard to achieve a measure of peace in their lives. The truth would only complicate things, and Amalia wasn’t ready for that.

1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

But when will there be a time that is right? Well, maybe Diana will figure it out on her own.