Refuge (Robledo Mountain #2)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
We caught up to the wagons about half a mile out of Las Cruces, and slowed the horses to a walk next to the wagon the padre was riding in. Father O’Shea took in the shotguns and pistols we were all carrying along with the rifle scabbards.
“You are all well-armed for such a short trip. Are all those guns really necessary?” he asked wryly.
Tom barked out a laugh, and Anna responded with a grim smile of her own. “You just listened to us explain about the attacks in town and the large attack at the Hacienda. What do you think happens out here? This isn’t civilized country yet, Padre. There’s no real law, and we’ve had to fight off quite a few Indian and bandit raids over the last four years. Hold ups are becoming more frequent as well, although most of those are between Mesilla and El Paso.”
He thought for a minute and then asked, “Is it really necessary for the ladies to be armed as well? Are they any good with those guns?”
This time it was me laughing. “Father O’Shea, we told you not an hour ago that Anna killed two and Yolanda killed one with those weapons they’re carrying. I’d say they’re pretty good with them. As a matter of fact, of the four of us, Anna is the best pistol shot while Yolanda is the best long-distance rifle shot.”
He looked at us with more than a healthy measure of skepticism.
Looking down the road I spotted a barrel cactus that would be perfect for a quick demonstration.
“Padre, do you see that barrel cactus on the right side of the road about forty yards out?” I asked. At his nod, I turned to Anna with an eyebrow lifted in question.
With no more prompting than that Anna drew, fired five quick shots, holstered her pistol, and was returning the raised eyebrow to me. Father O’Shea was looking back and forth at the barrel cactus and Anna as if unable to believe either the speed with which it happened, or the small cross Anna had drawn on the cactus with her shots.
“We don’t play around with weapons out here, Padre. If someone is carrying a weapon, they’d better know how to use it,” I responded to his unvoiced question.
We rode in silence for a few minutes before the Padre asked another question. “What did you mean when you said Yolanda was the best long-distance rifle shot? Aren’t most rifle shots long distance by definition?”
“They certainly are. But most rifle shots are less than four hundred yards. When I say long distance in this context, I’m taking about anything beyond that,” I replied.
Again, he looked at me with skepticism.
“We’ll show you on our morning ride, tomorrow.”
Tom chimed in at that point. “There’s no need to wait, Paul, unless you’re not interested in fresh meat. There are two bucks on the side of that hill,” he said, pointing to a small hill just under 1200 yards away.
The rest of us pulled out our monoculars and looked where he was pointing. Sure enough, two young bucks were getting ready for a fight. I shook my head at his eyesight and handed Father O’Shea the monocular. He looked a bit puzzled at first but put it to his eye as he’d seen us do and gasped. Finally locating the deer, he looked at me questioningly. I simply pointed to Yolanda.
With a grin, Yolanda opened her scabbard, taking out her A700. I had the wagons stop while she dismounted, settled into a comfortable firing position, found the sight picture she wanted, tested the wind, adjusted the settings on her scope, and prepared to shoot.
“Watch the deer through the monocular, Padre,” I said quietly as Yolanda patiently waited for everything to line up to her satisfaction.
She pulled the trigger, chambered another round, and fired again four seconds later. I heard Father O’Shea gasp and I looked at Yolanda with a raised eyebrow.
“Fresh venison for the table,” Tom said with a grin.
Yolanda put her rifle back in the scabbard and closed it up. Grinning broadly, she nudged Tom and they rode off to field dress and pack the deer, telling us they’d catch up. Father O’Shea handed me my monocular as we rode to catch up to the other wagons.
“Sorry we took so long, but we decided to skin and butcher the deer while we were close to the river to clean up,” Tom said as he and Yolanda rode up to us two hours later.
We rode for another hour talking back and forth when Tom said it looked like there was going to be one heck of a party at the Hacienda tonight, because from what he could see all the villagers and campers were on the plateau waiting for us. Anna beamed me a huge smile, and I knew she was thinking about the dancing as a prelude to exploring more possibilities.
Anna and I took the lead crossing the Rio Grande and climbed the slope to the Hacienda while holding hands. We were met by a reception fit for a king as we were thronged by well-wishers.
Eventually, we were able to introduce the Padre to the entire assembly and let them know he was considering becoming the village priest. The villagers almost overwhelmed him with questions and escorted him to the head table. I’m not sure what unsettled the Padre more, the greeting he was getting, or the Hacienda itself.
Inside the courtyard, Anna wanted to go inside and clean up a little before the party started. Following her to the door, I swooped her into my arms, and carried her inside. Smiling broadly, she gave me a quizzical look.
“It’s tradition. The groom carries his new bride over the threshold of their home.”
Bang! Huge super megawatt Anna smile.
Carrying her over to the stairs, I set her down two stairs up. Throwing her arms around me, she gave me a kiss to end all kisses. Completely distracted by the kiss, I almost picked her back up to carry her into the bedroom. The sound of dance music wafting in from the courtyard brought me back to my senses and I settled for chasing her upstairs where she caught me and shared another of those kisses filled with promise.
We finally broke the kiss, cleaned up, and walked out on the terrace. Standing at the railing, side by side, we looked over the courtyard and at the plateau beyond. There were people everywhere. The masons were playing waltzes in the courtyard while couples danced across the open space. Tables under the archways held more food than one of Mrs. Mendoza’s courtyard gatherings. The musicians chose that moment to break into the “Vienna Waltz”.
Taking a step back, I presented myself to Anna with a small bow, and held out my hand. Eyes twinkling in happiness, beaming one of those special megawatt smiles, she curtsied, and came into my arms.
For the next several minutes we danced, oblivious to anything else around us. When the dance ended, we just stood there next to the railing, back where we’d started in each other’s arms, sharing another soulful kiss. For just a few moments, the rest of the world disappeared and there was only the two of us, hopelessly lost in each other’s eyes as we silently celebrated our love.
The moment disappeared with thunderous applause from the courtyard and lower plateau. Anna and I turned to see what everyone was applauding. Turned out it was us. Smiling at everyone, we waved, and then applauded the musicians. Giving Anna my arm we descended the outside stairs to join the party in the courtyard below.
Cristina met us as we reached the bottom step and escorted us through the dancers to a table where Celia was just setting down our lunch. With a grin, Martina reached around me as I sat down to add a small plate of bizcochitos. Smiling my thanks, I quickly popped one of the delicious cookies into my mouth, before Anna could interfere. Anna was shaking her finger at me when Tom, Yolanda, and Father O’Shea joined us at the table with their own plates of food.
“Looks like all those dance lessons paid off, Paul. You actually looked pretty good up there,” Tom said with a smile as he sat down.
I nodded, chewing on my cookie.
Father O’Shea was trying to watch everywhere at once. “Is this to be my congregation?”
Swallowing, I said, “Yes, Padre. Within the constraints we explained at our first lunch, they are a part of your congregation.”
“What do you mean by ‘part’?” he asked with a surprised look on his face.
Tom answered him this time as I was chewing again. “Padre, within the next few months, these folks will be joined by another 200 farmers and 100 vaqueros along with their families.”
At that point Father O’Shea finally began to understand the scope of the Estancia. I knew that tomorrow would open his eyes even more.
Finishing our lunch, we talked to whoever wandered by, and received congratulations on our nuptials and the terrace waltz. I was sipping my customary after-lunch coffee when the musicians took a break. Anna disappeared inside and reappeared carrying my guitar.
Handing me the guitar she asked me to play. So, I played “Anna’s Song” watching the smile light up her face. When I was done, I played “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and again Anna’s smile lit up my world. I started to put the guitar down for a break when a little boy came up and asked me to play some songs for kids.
“I’d be happy to, young man; but first, go get the other kids. When you’re all sitting down, I’ll play a few songs just for you.”
With a grin and a nod, he ran off. Five minutes later the courtyard began filling up with kids. Most of them looked to be twelve and under but there were quite a few teenaged girls who appeared to be their minders hanging around the edges. Looking out at all the kids, I realized there almost wasn’t enough room for them all in the courtyard. The village plaza would have to be the site for all future parties, as there just wouldn’t be enough room here for everyone when the Estancia was fully staffed.
I decided to start out with a song that no kid I’d ever met could resist. When I finished “16 Tons,” I sang “Sweet Caroline.” I paused to take a sip of coffee and then asked the kids if anyone would like to hear a song about unicorns. A loud of chorus of ‘yes’ and I was off singing the “The Unicorn Song” followed by “Una Paloma Blanca.” A quick sip of coffee and I swung into “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” followed by “I Know an Old Lady.”
“I have one last song for you for now; but if you’re all good, I’ll sing you one more song later before you go to bed,” I said.
I was a little startled when cheering broke out. Looking over at Anna she whispered that the kids in Las Cruces told them about the lion song. Mentally shaking my head, I sang them the story of “Puff The Magic Dragon.” When I’d finished the teenaged girls started herding them back out of the courtyard.
The musicians started playing again, the courtyard started filling back up with adults, and Anna and I walked out to the dance area. Dancing with anyone who asked or caught our eye, we didn’t quit until the musicians took another break.
We were laughing so hard at some of the comments our partners made that we had a hard time walking back to the table. We both gratefully accepted a glass of tea from Carla as we sat down. We had been sitting, drinking tea, for less than five minutes when one of the musicians came over to the table.
“Paul, who plays the piano in the house?” he asked curiously.
Anna just pointed to me.
Surprised, I asked, “When was the piano delivered?”
Anna laughed. “It was freighted out here the day after we got to Las Cruces. The piano tuner followed it here a few days later and tuned it.”
Taking my hand, she led me and the musicians inside. How I could have missed it when we first came in, I have no idea. She led me over to it, opened the cover on the keyboard, pulled out the bench, and sat me down.