Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
When we left for Las Cruces Thursday morning, it was with the knowledge that Miguel had a team scouting either side of the road a mile ahead of us for the entire trip. That settled both Anna’s and my nerves, significantly. Beth and Izabella opted to ride in the wagon with the baby while Celia drove. She had asked to go with us for reasons of her own, which I privately hoped included seeing George during the visit.
I still couldn’t figure out the situation with Izabella and Alejandro. They were supposed to be living with their Aunt in the village, but somehow, they seemed to spend all their non-school time at the Hacienda. Most evenings they showed up at the supper table, and then slept in the rooms they’d originally had, before moving in with their Aunt.
Anna seemed to take it all in stride and tried to explain it to me, but I still couldn’t understand the apparent indifference the Aunt was showing towards her niece and nephew. I finally just gave a mental shrug and accepted the fact that both kids were going to be living and traveling with us, whenever they wished.
In any event, the trip was peaceful and pleasant.
We all rode to the courtyard where we unloaded baggage for the stay from the wagon, putting it in the house. The ladies and girls all disappeared into the restaurant kitchen through the back door, while Tom and I, with the boy’s assistance, rode over to the stables. We turned everything over to stable boys, who were supervised now by Martin Amador. I led the boys through the stable and out the back, to the table where Mr. Mendoza was sitting in his usual spot, working on the never-ending task of harness and tack repair.
He looked up as we walked out of the stable, and with a big smile on his face got up meeting us with big hugs and back slaps for me, Tom, and Alejandro. I introduced him to Manuel and Mike as our newly adopted sons, and they got the same big smile and back slaps as he welcomed them to the family.
I had Alejandro take the others and show them around the stables while warning them to stay out of the way of any work that was going on, and to obey Martin. They chorused their agreement and disappeared through the doorway before I could say anything else.
I smiled, while shaking my head, and looked over at Mr. Mendoza, telling him, “There goes trouble.”
Mr. Mendoza grinned and told me it was good to see the exuberance of youth, again.
Taking him by the shoulders I said, “Anna and I were very sorry to hear about Grandfather Garcia and Jim. We both mourn their passing, and already miss them terribly.”
The look in his eyes told me he was also still grieving. He thanked me in a gruff voice then cleared his throat and said, “Grandfather Garcia prepared us for his death two days before he died, telling us he didn’t have long left in this life and would be dead in a few weeks at most.”
Mr. Mendoza looked thoughtful for a minute before continuing, “He gave me a letter just before he left that morning and instructed me to give it to you and Anna when you got back from your trip. It’s in the house. I’ll get it for you after supper.”
I had an unexpected lump in my throat and just nodded. I was certainly curious what the letter had to say, but it had waited this long so another few hours weren’t going to matter much, one way or the other.
Tom and I lazed away the afternoon talking, as we watched Mr. Mendoza’s skilled fingers work on the repairs. Our conversation was mostly about the trip west and how we’d come across the kids, made the rescue, and returned home.
I did check on the boys every hour or so and found them the first time having a hay fight up in the hayloft. The other times I checked I found them brushing down horses, or hauling feed and water, all under the watchful of Martin. He just gave me a grin, as if to say, it wasn’t so long ago we were just like them.
As usual, during our visits, Mr. Mendoza led us all over to the back door for supper at the appropriate time. We all stopped as we entered to watch a new version of the kitchen dance - with new dancers - for a few moments, before herding the boys into the family dining room. Anna and Yolanda followed right behind us with coffee for the adults, and cool tea for the boys, before returning to the kitchen. A few minutes later the ladies arrived, bearing the platters and bowls of food.
While we ate, I asked Mr. Mendoza how the rest of his drivers had handled the news of Jim and Great Grandfather Garcia’s death, and if he’d recovered the wagon. He told me that all the drivers had finally paid attention to his advice about taking shotguns and revolvers with them and were more heavily armed as a result.
The wagon hadn’t been recovered and it, as well as its contents - a cargo of furniture headed for Fort Thorn - were long gone. I wanted to assure him that I would find whoever it was that did this, but I felt the anger building again. I struggled to tamp it back, afraid to lose myself within the burning berserker I could so easily become if I let the anger grow too much more.
I was beginning to think I was going to lose the battle raging in my mind when Anna placed her hand on my knee under the table. Looking into her eyes, I found the love and hope that I suddenly realized I’d begun to crave. The anger suddenly receded to a much more manageable level.
Tom took that opportunity to ask Mr. Mendoza if he had found a new driver, to take Jim’s place.
With a sigh, Mr. Mendoza replied, “Martin has asked for the job, but both Mrs. Amador and I are very concerned about his safety, and his ability to protect himself on the road. He’s gone on a few trips, but those were always large trains of well-guarded freight wagons, not driving a single freight wagon by himself.”
I perked up on hearing this, knowing that Martin would eventually become a freighter anyway. It was something I could help with. I looked over at Anna who, as usual, seemed to know what I was thinking. She beamed me a large Anna smile with a small head nod.
I looked at Mr. Mendoza for a moment before saying, “Sir, I think we might we be able to help Martin gain some experience and put you and Mrs. Amador’s minds more at ease.”
With a confused nod from him, I continued, “You know we run all the new arrivals at the Estancia through something we call the Apache Training Course. The Apache Training Course isn’t what the name implies. We just couldn’t come up with a better name for it. The first farmers who went through the course gave it that name, and it stuck.
“The course isn’t designed to teach people to be Apaches. It’s designed with three goals in mind. First, how to survive for a week or so in the desert with nothing but the clothes you’re wearing and your wits. Second, what to do if you’re injured, much like what I had you and Mrs. Mendoza do for me when I was shot. Third, and most important for Martin, how to recognize an ambush before you get to it, and how to respond if you are caught in one. Everyone on the Estancia has completed the course, and we’ve moved on to other courses including a two-week refresher course that changes every year.”
About halfway through my description, Mr. Mendoza’s face had undergone a transformation from confusion to enlightenment, and he was now wearing a smile. I looked over at Yolanda as I continued, “Yolanda, how difficult would it be to schedule the original course for one person to attend?”
Yolanda was grinning at me and said, “Not difficult at all. As a matter of fact, it would help solve one of the problems we’ve recently run in to. The old ones who taught most of the survival and ambush portions of the course are starting to feel worthless since they don’t have much to do. Running the course for Martin, and any of the other drivers would help them feel much better about themselves and about living on the Estancia. It would be great if we could get a driver every other month or so, to keep them busy.”
I looked back at Mr. Mendoza and said, “The course won’t replace years of experience, but it will significantly improve any of your drivers, including Martin’s, chances of staying alive. The offer is there for you, Sir. You could even make the successful completion of the course a condition of employment. Think it over. If you want to give it a try, then all you have to do is let Yolanda know. She is the one who sets the goals for each course, makes the training schedule, and coordinates with Miguel for the trainers.”
Mr. Mendoza looked with pride at Yolanda as he realized for the first time that she had a purpose at the Estancia, beyond being Tom’s wife and Anna’s companion. He nodded and said he’d think about it, and perhaps he and Mrs. Amador could talk to Yolanda over the next few days. Yolanda quickly answered that she would make herself available to talk, anytime he wanted.
Our conversation done, we all turned to finish the fantastic meal the ladies had prepared. I realized with a slight start that the anger that had been building in my brain was gone. Not tamped down and smoldering but gone. I decided I needed to think about it later in the evening as I desperately needed to know whatever had caused it to disappear, so I could use the same technique in the future.
When supper was over, and the table cleared, I expected everyone to remain as usual as we savored our after-supper coffee and talked. I was more than a little surprised when Mrs. Mendoza brought in a small coffee service and two cups, putting them down in front of Anna and me.
She looked at everyone in the room before turning to the two of us and saying, “We’ll take care of the young ones tonight, and see you both in the morning.”
Turning, she started motioning everyone else out of the room, and across the courtyard to the house. Mr. Mendoza, the last one left in the dining room besides me and Anna, got up out of his chair. He pulled a small square envelope out of his coat and handed it to me.
With a sad expression in his eyes and voice, he said, “Take your time.”
As he walked out of the room, I looked at the small envelope in my hand, turning it over and over. Finally, I turned it so I could see who it was addressed to. After a moment of puzzling out the shaky writing, I discerned it was addressed to ‘Pablito and Anna’.
I looked at Anna, who took it from my hands telling me, “Great Grandfather never learned to write well, and as he got older it became harder and harder for him to hold a pen. It probably took him almost five minutes just to write our names on the outside of the envelope.”
She started to hand the envelope back to me, but I stopped her. “You open and read it aloud since you have more practice reading both Spanish and his handwriting.”
We traded teary looks before she nodded, opened the envelope, smoothed the three small pages of cramped shaky writing, and began reading out loud in a firm clear voice:
My Anna and Pablito,
As you sit in the family dining room of the restaurant in Las Cruces with Anna reading this aloud, I will have been in the Land of Ever Summer for quite some time. Please grieve no longer as I am where I am supposed to be as is James.
Since Pablito came into our lives my power and visions have gotten stronger and stronger. It was almost like I was a young man again the power was so strong. Soon after meeting Pablito I had a vision of my future for only the second time in my life. I knew I would live to see the two of you married as well as the marriage of Yolanda and Tom. I also knew that my time on this world would come to an end less than a year after Yolanda and Tom were married.
That second vision happened over an entire night and was of such power that it was almost overwhelming. My vision showed me that both James and I were to be the targets of an attack with the wagon and its contents a mere bonus. Know that we were killed as an act of retribution and that even if I had decided to stay in Las Cruces, James would have been killed. It was his time and it was my time to return to the spirit world. I tell you this only so you will know that I went to my death knowingly and without doubt.
Pablito, when I first met you, I told you that you were a young man with an old soul and that there was much more that I couldn’t see. I know now that you are not just a young man with an old soul, you are a walker between times, protected by a very old and very powerful spirit. The spirit is a woman, very strong and very mature, who has lived many lives. In her last life, she fell in love with you, Pablito, and continues to love you very much. You ask how I know this, and I tell you she was the power behind my second vision. She showed me many of the things to come and she showed me her life with Pablito. At the end of her last life, she was sick. Very sick. She showed me her death bed and you were there Pablito. It was you, but it wasn’t you. She showed me a sky sign Pablito and told me to tell you of it. It was a fire-bird, she called it a Phoenix, rising out of the ashes of a fire. I hope you understand this sign Pablito, she said you would.
Pablito, the spirit woman told me to remind you that you are NOT a death dealer, you are a defender who kills to defend his home, the people he loves, and the innocent ones. In times of doubt look to Anna for the truth of this. You will find it in her love and unquestioning support.
The spirit woman also told me that Pablito has shared all his secrets with you, Anna. It heartens me to know of the trust he has given you. His secret of being a time walker and of the two caves must be maintained for your family’s safety but two others must be told. You have already shown great trust in Yolanda and Tom. It is time now to finish what you’ve started and trust them completely. While the spirit woman and I will protect you the best we can, powerful forces are struggling against you. Yolanda and Tom need to know with certainty that you are a time walker, Pablito, for you will be asking many things of them in the future. Likewise, if we fail and you and Anna should fall, then Yolanda and Tom will need to know the secrets of the two caves to continue to carry out the vision for the Estancia and the people on it.
Anna, just as the spirit woman is Pablito’s protector, so I am yours. Know that I am with you. You know what you have to do to learn the ways of the spirit world and increase the power of the protection I can provide. Your training will begin a few months after your return from your trip. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt the baby boy you are now carrying.
My mind and my hand are tired. In a few minutes, I will begin my last journey. My final words to you both are to continue to love, support, and defend each other, for together you are a light of hope shining into the dark of injustice.
My Love to you both,
I sat stunned with my mind stuck in a negative feedback loop for several minutes after Anna finished reading the letter. The scope of his revelations and advice was astounding. Finally, I looked over at Anna who still sat in her chair with the letter in hand.
She wore a stunned expression on her face as well, but she also had a small smile and joyous twinkle in her eye. It took a moment but then my brain exploded as it finally processed the last part of the letter. It was like a huge gong went off right behind me, and I jumped out of the chair, staring at Anna.
“A baby!? You’re pregnant!?” I shouted.
Anna looked up at me, her small smile blossoming into a full huge super megawatt Anna smile as she said, “Apparently I am.”
“That’s fantastic my love! How far along are you? Why didn’t you say anything?”
Anna continued beaming her special smile in my direction before answering me. “Not long as I only began to suspect last week. I didn’t say anything because it was too soon to get our hopes up.”
I nodded at her explanation and gave another whoop! I pulled her out of her chair into a big hug as I lifted her off her feet and twirled her around the floor. When I finally put her down, she cuddled into my chest, hugging me tightly. I set my chin on top of her head as we embraced. I stared off into the distance, filled with happy thoughts of raising another child.
I’m not sure how long we stood there with our arms wrapped around each other, thinking about the baby to come. Eventually, Anna squirmed out of my embrace and looked around. She walked over to the pages of the letter that lay scattered on the floor, where she’d dropped them during our celebration, and picked them up.
Turning back to me, she reminded me that the letter had many other things in it that we needed to talk about. I sighed heavily and said there were many things in the letter that we needed to talk about tonight, while we were positive no one could overhear us. Before we made any decisions though, we needed to think about them for a few days, and then discuss everything again, somewhere we were sure we wouldn’t be overheard.
We sat at the table talking about Great Grandfather Garcia’s revelations and recommendation late into the night. We both agreed that there was too much information neither one of us had told him, to doubt the remainder of his visions. Telling Tom and Yolanda all of my secrets was a big step, but we’d decided during our honeymoon that they needed to know. We’d just been waiting for the right time to do it.
Shortly before midnight Anna carefully folded up the letter, putting it away in one of her pockets. We cleaned up the table, poured out the cold coffee from our untouched cups, locked up the restaurant, and crossed the courtyard to the house for bed.
The kids woke us up earlier than we wanted the next morning, telling us it was time for Tai Chi and katas. We groaned and struggled out of bed to join them in the courtyard. We cleaned up afterward and rejoined everyone in the restaurant for breakfast.
Anna, Yolanda, Maria, and Mrs. Mendoza were soon herding the kids out the door for a day of clothes shopping, leaving me and Tom to fend for ourselves for the rest of the day. Tom had nothing planned and decided he would accompany me to Mesilla, to let Esteban and Ed know I was back and talk about the recent raids.
Martin had our horses saddled when Tom and I walked to the sables. The horses were full of energy this morning, so once we were through Las Cruces we alternated between a canter and a trot for the rest of the trip, letting them burn off some of the excess energy.
When we pulled up in front of the office and dismounted, Tom rubbed his rear end and looked over at me, as he said, “It’s been a while since we rode like that. We need to ride a bit slower going back to Las Cruces this evening.”
We were both laughing as we walked into the office, where we found Esteban and Ed going through what looked like a new stack of wanted posters and warrants. They both hurried around their desks, to greet us with handshakes and to welcome us back.