Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Hot summer days trailed off into the clear blue skies and golden poplars of fall. With their regional leader dead, Unitas asked Harley to keep his group out of the fray for a few months while the Texans and Hispanos led the backlash against México Lindo.

While the other groups wore each other down, Harley’s unit moved into winter quarters in a depleted mine near the mountain village of Ferrous Springs.

This region was outside the contested areas and was sympathetic to Unitas. The network of mine tunnels was safe and well-explored. They were far enough from town to go unnoticed by passing scouts from other groups, but close enough to take advantage of market days and other opportunities for trade. And although Harley disapproved, he allowed his people the occasional night on the town, so long as they didn’t go alone and did nothing to give the group a bad reputation.

Diana was in her element, hunting deer and rabbits.

She spent long hours practicing riding tricks in the high mountain meadows with Sachi. They were training their mustangs to perform tight wheeling maneuvers and to kick out at enemies on command. Galileo set up obstacle courses for them and offered pointers, but the girls were only marginally concerned with the success of their games. This was recreation, something to do during the times they weren't engaged in more serious activities such as keeping up their shooting skills, making arrows, pulling patrol duty, and giving horsemanship lessons to the weaker riders in the group. Pepsi and Aguilero were under their tutelage three afternoons a week, and sometimes Tiffany or Ikea would drop in for an afternoon of jumping or obstacles, although they mainly used it as an excuse to get out of chores they found distasteful.

The biggest surprise was young Macy's sudden interest in riding. Up until this point, the spy and former brothel worker had been content to sit her horse well enough to travel from one campsite to another, but now she threw herself into trotting, galloping and jumping with a determination that none of the other girls had seen in her before.

"She's not half-bad," Diana said to Sachi as they watched her tackle a series of obstacles one afternoon.

"If she went after everything that way, she could be a proper soldier."

"She must be angling for different assignments for spring. Maybe she'd rather chase men down and shoot them instead of go to bed with them and make them talk."

Macy finished the course and trotted over. "How was that?”

"Technically, it was fine," Sachi said. "You didn't miss anything, your turns were tight and you cleared all your jumps. Next you'll want to work on speed."

"How fast am I supposed to do it?"

"There's no right answer to that," Diana said. "It depends as much on your horse as it does on you."

"How fast can the guys do it?"

Diana and Sachi looked at each other and smiled. "Who are you trying to impress?"

"No one."

"You sure about that?"

"I think I know my head better than you do." Macy dug her heels into her gelding's sides and went to try the course again.

Sachi looked at Diana and frowned. "Do you remember when it was that she started asking about riding lessons? Wasn't it about the time Coyote started going to the village on Saturday nights?"

"You don't think she likes him, do you?"

"Tiffany and Ikea think so, but it's kind of hard to tell, the way they call each other names all the time."

"I’m pretty sure she still charges him to sleep with her."

The girls pondered these facts as they watched Pepsi, then Aguilero, run through the course with passable skill. Then Macy tried it, but in her haste she clipped a marker and knocked it over. She finished her run looking so disappointed that Sachi trotted over to console her. "Your horse is tired."

"How am I supposed to get better if the horse can only handle it a few times a day?"

"Set the marker back in place, then come with me,” Diana said. While Sachi returned to instructing the others, she and Macy rode across the meadow.

"We were wondering," Diana said, after they had put the obstacle course behind them and they were walking their animals through the high silver grass. "Is this the only thing you wanted to learn? You can't run and jump your horse all the time, and winter is a great time to learn new things."

"I already told you I'm not trying to impress anyone."

"Okay, but that doesn't answer the question. Would you like to learn to shoot targets or hunt rabbits?"

"I don't think I’d enjoy killing bunnies."

"It's not a bad skill to have, you know. You might find yourself hungry someday."

"There's always things to eat besides animals."

Diana nodded. Macy was pretty good at finding edible plants and herbs. "You want to learn to make arrows, then? That would be something to do on snowy days when we can't be out here."

"The painting part of it looks like fun— you know, those little colored stripes you put on them? And maybe the feathers."

"There’s a lot more to it than that. Think it over. The more skills we have, the more valuable we are to the group."

"That's what I think, but Boeing told Coyote I'm just a common whore."

"What?" Diana looked at her. Macy's head was down and her pale curls had come loose from her ponytail. "That was a mean thing to say."

It had been a scandal the previous winter when Macy had gotten pregnant and Boeing refused to help, even though everyone knew she had been with no one else for months. Macy's knitting needle abortion led to an infection, requiring them to steal antibiotics for her. Harley nearly expelled her and Boeing from the group, but Amalia intervened. Macy was more valuable to them than ever now, because she could no longer get pregnant. Whether she was relieved or deeply bitter was unclear.

Diana searched Macy's face. The girl had practically grown up in a brothel and surely knew better than to think a man loved her just because he came to her bed every night. But she was what, sixteen? What sixteen year-old didn't hope to find love?

Diana had an inspiration. "Do you know how to read?"

Macy looked at her sharply. "A little."

"There won't be much to do around camp once the snow sets in. Would you like to spend some time reading?"

The girl looked at her through narrowed eyes as if she suspected a trick. "Why?"

"Because it's useful. Unitas always needs messengers. You don’t have to read and write to be one, but all the best ones can do it."

Macy seemed not to have considered this possibility. "I'm getting to be a better rider. . ."

"So if you worked on your reading and writing, and kept up with your riding through spring. . ."

"None of the boys read and write very well. I bet that's something I could be better than any of them at."

"If you work as hard at it as you have with your horse, I don't see why not. Let's talk to my aunt."

"Look how far we we’ve ridden!" Macy suddenly said. She looked across the broad expanse of dying grass as if seeing it for the first time. "I had no idea we'd gone so far."

"Let's practice our galloping." Diana kicked her mare and took off across the meadow and Macy did the same, holding tight to the saddle horn. A cold wind picked up and whipped across the field like a living thing, and gray clouds scudded across the sky, threatening rain.

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Alice Audrey said...

What a tragic life Macy is living. But then, this world is likely to be full of such lives.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Most of the young people fighting in the wars are orphans, runaways, and the like.

Diana saw her family killed and her house set on fire.

Will was sold by his parents to a rancher with a fondness for boys. He ran away and lived on the street for three years before ending up with Amalia and Carina in Valle Redondo.

Coyote's parents were killed in a train accident and he lived on his own after that, shunned by other street kids, who thought he was crazy.

So yeah, there are a lot of sad stories in this world, but there's a lot of resiliency too.

There are also other kids living fairly ordinary lives with one or both parents, or with some other relative. For all but the richest, living conditions are second world, at best, but they have nothing to compare things to except books and tales from their grandparents. The world we live in now has taken on the quality of a fairy tale to the younger generations.

There's a scene a little farther in where Diana and the other girls get to talking about how nice it would be to have electricity all the time and hot water out of a faucet, just like their grandmothers used to have.

Alice Audrey said...

I find the idea of a normal family in this setting intriguing. I've gone without hot water, or piped water, or electricity at various times, and it's a major pain.

Alice Audrey said...

I've spent time in places with no electricity or water - a summer cabin and various forms of camping. For me, the worst part was not being able to do anything with my hair.