Saturday, June 30, 2007


It was already dark when they rode out along one of the circuitous routes from the corral to the main road. It was camp policy that they not use the same path each time, and some of the trails could add as much as two miles to what was only a mile by the most direct route.

On these narrow traces they had to move single file, so Amalia took the lead, with Diana chafing at the slow pace in the middle, and Miguel bringing up the rear. They rode without talking, through a field and down forest paths, sometimes in the dim light of a rising moon, other times in deep shadow. Rabbits darted away from their approach and owls glided past on silent wings.

When they finally reached the main road and could ride abreast, Diana moved ahead, reveling in her freedom.

"Don't go where we can't see you," Amalia called after her.

"Let her go," Miguel said. "She's young and impatient, much like you used to be."

"I was never such a tomboy."

"No, but you thought that you knew best, and if life disagreed, it was life that was wrong, never you."

Amalia laughed. "Maybe that's why I'm a little hard on the girl sometimes."

"It can hurt to look in the mirror."

"Especially when you've changed."

"You haven’t changed so much. You're a little softer around the edges, but you're still a formidable woman. If I'd had any idea you were working for one of our south-central units, I would've come to see you long ago."

"We meet when we're supposed to." Amalia looked around. Not seeing Diana, she kicked her horse into a trot. She found her on the next hill, barely visible in the dim light of the stars. Reassured, Amalia reined in and waited for Miguel to catch up. "Tell me more about this retirement of yours. You mentioned a ham station in Estrella."

"Actually," Miguel said, "It's on a mountain outside of town, and it's not just one radio, but several that I try to coordinate across the northern region. My goal is that there be no more than a day's ride between each station. Communication is the key to peace, you know."

"Can't keep order without it," Amalia agreed. "So how do you set these stations up? Are supplies that easy to come by?"

"No, but I have people who can make some of the simpler parts, and I'm able to use my Unitas contacts to get equipment brought in on the trains or with units moving through the area. Radio doesn't require much electricity— nothing we can't manage with wind or solar, and a battery or two. It's not easy to get the equipment, but once we have it, it's not hard to use and maintain."

"And then you go around teaching people how to use the radios?"

"Sometimes," Miguel said, "More and more, I send my students. I have a school on my mountain. Just a small one, not a lot of students yet, but we'll get there."

"What do you teach? Just radios?"

"I teach what I can. I have trouble finding instructors who are willing to live in such an isolated place. It's hard to get to, but it's secure. My students can walk safely all over the property, at any hour of the day or night."

"Sounds like heaven."

"Maybe you'd like to come help."

"I'm no good with children, and what would I teach?"

"Literature. You always loved a good book, and I noticed your Shakespeare at the mine."

"Literature isn't practical. Besides, it's one thing to read for one's own pleasure and quite another to teach someone else."

"Did you not teach Will and Diana how to read?"

"Diana learned from her mother, and Will resisted like I was trying to drown him until he met Diana. She would write him notes and he was so smitten that I never had to do a thing, except provide him with a dictionary."

"That's a funny story."

"I used to think so, too." Amalia peered through the darkness. She could see the outlines of buildings now, and pinpricks of light in the windows. "I'm afraid I didn't think ahead to what would happen when they grew up."

"Are they in love?”

"Will is, but I'm not so sure about her."

"They'll figure it out."

"I just don't want either one of them getting hurt."

Miguel laughed softly. "Hurting themselves is what young people do best. It's their main purpose in life at that age, or don't you remember what it was like to be young?"

"I try to forget. Our youth was so different that it makes me angry when I think about it."

"Oh, Amalia. You should spend time each day remembering. Then take all the good things and use them as your model for how things ought to be again. The fighting will be over in another few years and we'll need to start rebuilding. We need to teach others how to build too, because we won't be around forever. If we wait too long, there will be no one young and strong who knows how to set things right. People like me and you need to be getting out of the field of battle and teaching these ignorant young people how to create a future where they can live like human beings."

"Now I remember why my sister liked you. She was an optimist and surrounded herself with people just like her."

"And you always needed an optimist in your life."

There was a sudden pounding of hooves and Diana burst over the hill ahead of them. "I found the house. Those guards need to be a little less obvious, don't you think? Is it okay if I knock on the door?"

"Wait for us," Amalia said. "You don't know the lady of the house, and Sputnik might not be feeling well."

"Those are silly reasons to wait. Libby will be there to introduce me, right?"

"Go on," Miguel told her. "We'll catch up."

Diana wheeled her horse and took off again. Amalia sighed. “You say I need an optimist. You've just seen her."

"She's unlike you in that respect," Miguel admitted. "But her confidence is much like yours was at that age. Sputnik will be glad to see her. And you, too."

"I would think he'd want no reminders of the last time we saw each other."

"He's going to be okay, but I would appreciate it if you'd talk to Libby. She's putting on a good show, but things aren't right with her."

"Patton was the closest thing to a father she ever had. I lost my own father under pretty horrific circumstances, so I know it isn't easy." They were entering the village now, a quaint and dilapidated place of stone and wooden buildings, watched over by a church tower with a bell that tolled the hours. "Where is the house?"

Miguel pointed down a side street. "Diana must've gotten lucky, because it's not on any of the main roads."

They followed the street to where it curved and split, then took a smaller street that led to a little adobe house with a broad expanse of land behind it extending into brush and forest. Outside the front gate, Diana's horse placidly nibbled a few weeds.

Miguel dismounted and motioned for Amalia to do the same. “Let's see what sort of mischief Diana has managed to get into."

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1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

Age really does make a difference on one's outlook. Interesting foil work going on here.