Chapter Three

The delectable aroma of breakfast wafted through the cool, stone walls of the hacienda. Madrid Arrende stretched her arms over her head, yawned and staggered from bed. With any luck, Rosalia would have poached eggs and plump tomatillos waiting for her in the kitchen. The woman had been not only the Arrendes' cook but steadfast friend long before Madrid entered the world. 'No one can rustle up a meal better than Rosalia,' her father often said. But the woman was more than a cook to Madrid. After her mother, Celesta, had died, Rosalia had wrapped her fleshy arms around Madrid—physically and emotionally—and loved her like one of her own.

After tossing on a white, cotton shirt, black trousers, and knee-high leather boots, Madrid followed the mouth-watering scents and arrived in the kitchen. "Morning, Rosalia."

"Ah, my little cariño finally rises." Standing near the hearth, the affable Mexican woman nodded to one of the many chairs flanking the table. "This morning I make your favorite—tomatillos with rice, peppers and fresh cheese." A soft hum fell from her lips as she set the plate down before Madrid. "You are going riding this morning, cariño?"

Madrid shoveled a spoonful of food into her mouth and nodded.

"That will not put a smile on your padre's face. You know how he worries, more now since the trouble with raiders."

"We are not going far. Bexar, Juan and Carlos will watch over me."

"Dios." Rosita crossed herself and slumped into a chair across from her. "You know the Apache hate us."

Madrid patted her hand. "Do not fret, mi niña. We will be watchful."

"You will return in time for Pedro's burial today?"

Maddie felt a frown crease her brow. "How is Pedro's madre and papa?"

"Their hearts are heavy. You will make them better if you say a few words over their little one."

"Of course, I'll be there, but I am not Madre, you know that."

"They worry their son will not make his final journey. He is so young, will try to stay near to the only home he has ever known."

Madrid sighed.

"That troubles you?"

"Of course the death of one so young crushes my heart, but what troubles me is the mantle of responsibility the people expect me to carry because I am Celesta's daughter."

"They are not asking you to raise him from the dead, but to say a few words to send him to the blessed Virgin Mary."

Her appetite suddenly waning, Madrid pushed the plate to the side. The villagers and vaqueros spoke her mother's name with reverence, never failing to follow it up with a genuflection or two.

"Your madre was a saint, God rest her soul and—"

"That's the point, Rosalia." She looked away. "I am not a saint. They look to me to help them in the same way madre did. I can't raise people from the dead. I can't chase the ghosts away. It is wrong of me to let them believe I have these abilities."

When Madrid turned to her again, a smile warmer than the sun streaming through the kitchen window graced her. Tell me, cariño, have you ever looked into the eyes of God?"

"What…you mean in person?"

"Si, that is what I mean."

"Of course not."

"Neither have they, and yet they believe with all their hearts. It is not wrong to bring them a little peace." Her index finger rose above her thumb. "It matters only that they think you have inherited these traits from your madre." Tears brimmed in her eyes. "Celesta was a good Catholic, God rest her soul, but always honored the beliefs of those who went before us." Clucking her tongue, she looked skyward. "Perhaps this is why she was named after the heavens."

"And perhaps if she had lived longer, I would have learned how to chase away ghosts."

"You have inherited much from her."

"Such as?"

"Your madre had the courage of a lion and a heart as big as the Basque Mountains. So do you." Rosalia cupped her chin. "You know of this place?"

"Si," she said low-voiced. "The biggest city in Spain, madre's home."

"Long ago, when little Felipe fell from his father's wagon, I say, 'Oh, Ayúdenos, he will die now.' Celesta heard the screaming, left the garden and scurried toward the weeping crowd. With no signs of life, Felipe's face had turned gray, his lips blue. The vaqueros say, 'He has gone to the Land of the Dead'. Your mother would not listen. 'Tonterías!' she say, stop this nonsense.'"

"What did she do?"

Rosalia's eyes grew wide. "She commanded him to return to the living. With one hand on his forehead, the other holding his hand, she forbade Felipe's soul to leave." Rosalia leaned forward and whispered, "Unlike you, your madre could speak to the dead, and this one she would not surrender."

"You mean Felipe lived?"

"Si, child. The spirits listened to señorita Celesta and returned him to us."

"Yet she could not save herself."

Rosalia swiped a tear from her cheek. "Your madre knew if she had another child, she could die. She chose that path." A sniffle later, the woman smiled. "What do you remember about her, Madrid?"

Since she was only three at the time, she didn't know how to answer the question. Did she remember Celesta, or had all the stories about her mother clouded her reality? In honor of her madre, gilded shrines and altars laden with candles still graced every room of the hacienda. And every year on the last day of October, her Poppy, Rosalia, the ranch hands and all who knew and loved Celesta would gather to celebrate Día de Muerto—Day of the Dead. Candle flames quavered in every room, chants resonated through the corridors, and whispered prayers for her mother's soul filtered throughout every chamber in the hacienda.

"I don't know what is from memory or from what I've been told. But she comes to me in dreams."

The last statement brought another smile to Rosalia's face. "She is with you always, mi mariposita. Never forget."

Madrid came to her feet, reached across the table and patted the woman's cheek. "Oh, so now I am a little butterfly. Well, this little mariposita must fly away. Juan and the others are waiting for me in the barn."

"May the Virgin Mary watch over you today and always."

Madrid scurried toward the back door, calling out over her shoulder, "I will return in time to say a few words for Felipe."

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