Chapter Four

Amalia had brought a wagon and an assistant from her school on the mountain, and after Robert and Sophie's luggage was safely loaded, she mounted her own horse and motioned for Robert and Sophie to follow. "Paul will be along after a while. No point in us going at a wagon's pace if we don't have to."

As they made their way through town, Sophie looked about in curiosity.

"It's a little different from Lexington, I bet," Amalia said.

Sophie nodded, gazing at the flat-roofed adobe buildings, many of them with blue doors and red ristras of chiles drying in the sun.

"They’ve cleaned up a bit since I was here last," Robert observed.

"And grown, too," Amalia said. "Peace is good for that sort of thing."

"I imagine so."

"I wish you had been here when the final treaties were being negotiated. Your talents would've come in handy."

Robert looked away and pretended to follow Sophie's gaze. She was distracted by some Pueblo women selling silver and turquoise jewelry on a street corner

"I'm sorry," Amalia said. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. Your place was with Diana. I didn't mean to imply—"

"I know you didn't. Nevertheless, it's a sore subject."

"You couldn't be everywhere."

"No." Robert said. "I had to choose."

Amalia reached across and patted his knee. "You made the right decision. She was happy with you."

"I was happy, too. But now..." he looked around seeing not just the town but the entire country he had walked away from for love. "Now I have nothing."

"You have Sophie."

"Yes." He turned to check on her and found her gawking at an adobe church. "I also have an inheritance I don't want in a town I don't care to live in, and if word gets out that I'm back, I'll likely have a death threat hanging over my head, too."

Amalia frowned and peered into the middle distance. "We'll talk about that when we get home. And other things."

'Other things.' Robert gave an inward sigh. Amalia would want to know everything about how Diana had died, and he wished there were some way to get out of having to relive those particular memories. Still, it was her right to know more than just the bare facts he had managed to put on paper six months ago.

Casting about for a distraction, he noticed Sophie wasn't with them. He looked around, then wheeled his horse and trotted back the way they had come. "What are you doing, dear?"

Sophie was gazing at a shop window. "They're pretty," she said, pointing to the display of native pottery. "Mom sometimes drew pictures of pots like that."

"Those are Zuni style," Robert said. "You'll see some other styles at your grandma's house. Come on."

They rejoined Amalia and continued on their way. At the outskirts of town, flat-topped adobes gave way to small plastered homes with peaked roofs, then larger properties spaced farther apart. Since some of these were working farms and ranches, Sophie appraised them with interest, but stayed close this time and didn't wander off.

Gradually the road turned upward and Robert recognized the imposing ridge ahead. But to his surprise, instead of the narrow, half-hidden trail of the war years, there was a broad, graded path marked with a sign bearing the words "El Cid Academy".

"No need to hide anymore," Amalia said, guessing his thoughts.

"What did you have to hide from?" Sophie asked.

"During the civil war, no place was safe," Robert explained. "They had to hide the road and make it difficult to get here, otherwise it wouldn't have been safe enough for parents to send their children."

"Our school was one of the few places in the USS where a child could go outside and wander freely," Amalia added. "We wanted our students to be able to study and create things without having to always be afraid of raiding parties and armies."

Sophie furrowed her brow in confusion. "Why would anyone attack a school?"

Robert and Amalia met each other’s eyes and it was Robert who answered. "In those days, if you had food, a horse, a solar panel, or anything at all worth taking, you could be sure someone would try to steal it from you. It might be an army of hungry soldiers, or it might be a group of mavericks taking whatever they wanted because they knew there wasn't a government to stop them."

"They didn't care that kids needed food, light and horses, too?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Wars are selfish. I'm glad no one's that way now." Sophie kicked her heels against Bandera's flanks and trotted ahead of them on the trail.

"Out of the mouths of babes," Amalia said.

Robert nodded agreement and let the peace of the mountain path with its pines, aspens, and tiny blue butterflies, wash over him.



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