This excerpt picks up where the previous entry leaves off. (If you haven’t read the first part, please scroll down to the previous entry and read it first.) Together, the two excerpts are the core content of the first chapter for the 19th Century narrative–perhaps with additional details of the desert setting at the foot of the mountains . Subsequent chapters will provide many of the backstory details presented against their constant struggle for survival at Pueblo Viejo. FYI: the novel is set at what was known as Pueblo Viejo and will tell the story of three women whose lives become intertwined although they lived at different times: 10th Century, 19th Century, and 20th Century. My questions for you at this point: How does Armando come across? Is the tension of the narrative sustained effectively? (And don’t worry–the Apache will be back . . .)
After covering the babe with a thin layer of dirt, she dragged rocks from the old wall to protect him from the coyotes that would come in the night. Saying a final prayer, she made the sign and struggled to her feet. Her knees almost gave way, but she managed to stand up. She looked up to where the Indian had been, knowing what must come next, but he was gone.
Exhausted and bleeding, no longer caring where or when the final attack would come, she made her way back to the house and collapsed on the bed, falling into a restless and difficult sleep. Sometime later she awakened. The pain lingered, and the blood continued to flow. She wondered that she was still alive. If the Indian didn’t come in and kill her, surely she would bleed to death.
She took a deep breath and tried to sit up. A strange, pungent odor filled the room. On the low table near the bed was a small bowl of liquid. “’Mando,” she called, believing he had come home. Silence was the only answer. She lifted the bowl to her nose and gasped for breath when she inhaled the powerful vapor. “¿Té de hedionda? Greasewood tea?” Even while wondering where it had come from, she knew it was what she needed. Taking a sip, she gagged, and then forced herself to drink it down, feeling its soothing effect immediately, and drifting into a quiet, restful sleep.
When she awakened again, she felt a little better but was confused and distracted as she tried to puzzle out what had happened. Was it a dream? No, her baby was gone. Both the blood flow and the pain had diminished somewhat, so she pushed herself off the bed and looked around the room. The bag of beans was gone, the flour was gone, but the rifle was still lying beside the door, just where she had dropped it.
Would the Apache come back? Had he really been here? Confusion soon gave way to an overwhelming sense of grief for her lost child. She went out the door and stumbled across the yard to the small grave she had dug this morning. Was it this morning? Disoriented and weak, she could not think clearly. A choking, thick, red cloud enveloped her. She looked around, scanning the red sky, and found the sun low in the west.
On another evening, the deep red ball of the sun, sliding quietly behind the Tortolita Mountains, its crimson glow bathing the Catalinas to the east, would have been lovely. But tonight, in the sunset she could see only blood–the blood of her belly against the stark white of her petticoat. She couldn’t get her breath.
Armando found her, barely conscious, where she had collapsed when he arrived home an hour later. He had hurried home in the gathering darkness, cursing himself for being late. The deep red color of the sky had strangely disturbed him as he rounded the point of the mountains. He spurred his horse, dragging the heavily loaded pack horse as quickly as he could manage.
As he climbed the ridge, the silhouette of the house loomed above him, dark against the pale night sky. There was no candle in the small window–no signal that all was well. Fear ripped into his gut, and he dropped the pack horse’s lead, spurring the mare forward into the yard. Panicked, he threw himself from the saddle before she had stopped.
“¡Esperanza! ¿Mi amorita? Darkness was closing in around him. He ran to the open door of the house, but could seen nothing in the dark interior. He fumbled for a torch and, trembling, managed to stir a flame in the fireplace. He lit the tallow on the end of the wooden torch—the light flared, casting shadows as he spun around. Esperanza had not tended the fire for a while–how long has she been gone? Where is she? He felt a rising panic as he called again.
He ran back outside, but the small circle of light cast by the torch didn’t offer any answers. Then he heard a low moan from somewhere near the old wall. He ran in that direction and found her huddled on the ground. He knelt, almost afraid to touch her.
“Mi amorita . . .”
She raised her head and looked blankly at her husband. She was dreaming again, surely.
Armando gathered her into his arms and carried her inside. He laid her gently on the bed and pulled the blanket up. He kissed her forehead, her cheeks, and then her lips. She did not kiss him back. His fear intensified.
In spite of that, he left her to put the horses into the enclosure. Whatever had happened, they could not afford to lose the horses. If he needed to get Esperanza to Tucson, he would need them.
When he returned to the house, Esperanza had not moved. He knelt by the bed, drew the blanket back and searched for her hand. The knot in his stomach tightened when he saw the broken and bloody nails. He brushed away the dirt and kissed it gently. She turned her head to look at him, and for the first time, he saw reason to hope.
“¿Como estás? How are you feeling? What happened?”
“Lo siento,” she sobbed, and he understood. His understanding came with anguish, guilt, and relief. Their child–his child–was gone. He had intended to take her to her sister’s house for her lying in, and he should have taken her before now, but he knew it would mean leaving the ridge for good. They would lose the homestead claim, but how could he ask her to raise a child here? Not with the damned Apaches constantly at them. Now the child was gone. His grief was tempered by a sense of relief and a feeling she would recover from this. They would be able to go on–they could stay here. These thoughts only compounded his guilt, and he was ashamed.
Lying on the bed beside her, he pulled the blanket up around them and wrapped her in his arms. He prayed that her tears would cleanse his selfish heart, but he also prayed, selfishly again, that he would never lose this woman he loved and needed so deeply.
Esperanza wept quietly against her husband’s strong chest and drew strength and comfort from his warmth and the sound of his beating heart. He lulled her into a deep sleep with soothing whispers of love and gentle kisses on the top of her head.
Sometime before dawn, she dreamed the dream. She saw a child, a dark-eyed, dark-haired naked beauty of a child, standing at the foot of the mountain.
She waited by the house, holding out her hand, saying “Come.”
The child just laughed and ran a short way up the mountain. He was surprisingly agile and light-footed in spite of his short, chubby legs. Climbing higher, he stood on a rock ledge overlooking a deep, bottomless canyon.
” ¡Venga! . . . Come!” she called, gripped with a sudden terror. The child’s laughter echoed off the mountain walls, surrounding her with the most exquisite light and music. She was breathless.
Then she saw the other child. This one not unlike the first, only darker. The music faded and the light settled around only him, his dark skin gleaming brilliantly in the sun. He stood quietly on a rock tower across the canyon from the first child. The darker child looked at her, then at the other child.
Holding out his hand, he whispered, “Come.” The frightful sound reverberated around her. She held her breath and watched her child.
The boy looked at her, then back at the dark child. He took one step over the edge into the emptiness.
“No!” she cried, trying to run, but her legs would not obey. She could not move.
Her sudden movement startled Armando awake. He tightened his embrace in an effort to reassure her and protect her from the nightmare. She struggled to be free, to run after the boy.
Then she was awake and the boy was gone. In spite of the warmth of Armando’s body bathing her in his strength and love, she was cold.
Not shivering cold, but soul cold.
Cold to the depths of her heart.
. . . cold.
She wept cold tears against Armando’s chest.