Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Diana walked her mare across the dusty scrubland.

Two months had passed and the desert should have been in full flower of spring, but they had been following a series of dry ravines all morning, with no water in sight. She scrambled her horse out of the arroyo and onto the surrounding hills where she could see into the distance and all around. Up ahead was the ribbon of an old highway, cracked and punctuated with weeds, blown over with dust. This was the road they were looking for.

The boy on the pinto saw it too and nodded. "Es como te dije.”

"Yes, it’s just like you said. This was a good shortcut."

"We go west, now."

"I remember. Let's tell the others we're almost there." She turned her horse, but the boy continued on. "Compass!"

He wheeled his pony and trotted back. "I just wanted to get closer and see if other people were using it, or if there's a good place to camp."

"Scouting is Coyote's job." She headed back the way they had come. "Maybe he'll let you go with him, though."

Compass was a new addition to their unit, an orphan who had tagged along with Boeing, Sachi and Aguilero on their return from Estrella. The boy was only thirteen, but had a knack for finding his way, no matter how confusing the maps or how tricky the terrain. Will and Diana felt protective of him, since they had been his age when they joined Unitas. Sometimes they even let him sleep in their tent and endured the ribbing from their friends about him being their "first child."

A cloud of dust on the horizon caught their attention. "I bet that's Will," Compass said, spurring his horse forward.

Diana chased after him.

When they caught up to Will, they found him covered in dust. "Aren't you a sight," Diana teased.

"Speak for yourself. You look like you've been on chow duty, playing in the flour bin."

"I wish I had been. I could've done a better job than Tiffany. How do you screw up tortillas?" She reined in and looked around. "I don't think I've ever seen it this dry. Water issues are going to be huge at the conference."

"I wonder if it'll make some of these groups a little more willing to negotiate."

"I hope so. We don't need another season like the last one."

"It seems like the fighting gets worse each year," Will agreed.

Compass struggled to hold his impatient mount. "We found the road," he said. "Diana said me and Coyote should check it out."

"He's back there dawdling with Macy. Go on and get him." After the boy left, Will pulled his horse beside Diana's. "I'm worried about all these dead animals."

Diana nodded. They had been coming across the desiccated hides and bones of stray cattle since coming down from the mountains two days ago. "Not enough snow this past winter. There's nothing to feed the rivers, and there's never enough rain in these valleys," Diana said. "When I was a kid, we used to sit outside and watch the storm clouds come over the mesas. When the rain finally came, my grandfather would tell me that water was life. But when the rains don't come, do you just move on?"

"We do."

"Farmers and ranchers can't. Maybe in another hundred years this entire region will be a land of nomads."

"The rains will come back," Will said. "It's just a dry spell."

"Dry spell in a dry land. It doesn't look good to me."

"You talk like a farmer."

"That's what my family raised me to be."

"That doesn't make it your destiny."

"I know, but we can't do this sort of thing forever."

Will glanced at her from under the brim of his hat. "There will be plenty of time to try other things. For now, Unitas needs us."

"But I'm tired of fighting, and I'm sure they'd be fine without us. You said when we got married that we would quit and settle down."

"That was if you wanted to keep your baby. Since you're going to give it up and we have no children of our own yet, we owe it to the group to stay. We owe it to ourselves, too, now that I might get my own command. Anyone who’s an officer when the wars end will have first chance at the good government jobs. This is an investment in our future."

"Maybe the parley will go well and there will be peace sooner than we think. Even if the talks break down, Lone Star and México Lindo will have to pull out if this drought continues. They have thirsty people in their own countries to deal with. That just leaves the little guys, and Unitas can fight them without us. I bet you can get a government job without having ever been an officer."

Will held out his hand. "Do we have to talk about this today? We’re committed to this season, and to killing Strecker. Anything can happen before next spring.”


Borrego said...

So, how is your traveling bunny?

Alice Audrey said...

So the cracks are already getting bigger. Oh boy.

I like the new character.