Author's note: This story is part of a series in which "Crossroads" is the first story, and the basic premise is that Lou and Kid were diagnosed with syphilis, contracted by Lou when she was raped by Wicks, and decide to embark on an around-the-world adventure together.

Francisca Sánchez and Federico Espinosa rushed along the road toward the stagecoach stop; it was nearly noon and the couple had only minutes to reach it, or wait in this out of the way town for another whole day. Federico pulled on his wife’s plump, soft hand to hurry her, and she squeezed his hand back hard to signal her irritation. She was used to a leisurely and civilized pace, to being waited on at their large vineyard, where they grew the special grapes that were used to make the finest sherry in Jerez, which as everyone knows is the finest wine in all the world. Running was not something Francisca did willingly. They reached the stop and waved frantically to the driver, a slender young man with a long moustache and twinkling eyes. “No debería meter prisa a la señora, caballero. Una mujer hermosa debe ir siempre lentamente. Tenemos tiempo,” the coach master mocked, as Francisca fumed furiously, huffing and puffing as she stopped beside the coach. Sitting down and fanning herself, as her husband handed up their bag and paid the fare, Señora Sanchez took the moment to look around at the other passengers, interestedly. As Federico joined her, she nudged him and inclined her head toward a young couple standing close together, hands entwined as they waited to board the coach.

Federico looked over at the other couple, a pretty brunette with large dark eyes smiling up at a tall, well-built young man with sandy hair and blue eyes. They looked about thirty years younger than his wife and himself. His wife was one of those people who take an intense interest in other people, even those she would never see again in life, often making a game of sorts of figuring out their ‘story’; he glanced at Francisca, waiting for her interpretation. “Recién casados,” she whispered, dreamily tilting her head to the side. “¿Recuerdas cuando éramos así, querido?”

The old man chuckled, and slipped his arm around his wife’s waist, which was wider of course than when they were newlyweds like the couple she was admiring, and whispered back assurances that he did indeed remember being like them, though he loved her more now than even in those early days. His wife blushed as red as the sherry their vineyard was famous for, and smiled broadly back at him.

As they joined the younger couple, Francisca was intrigued to hear English being spoken; she knew a great deal of that tongue from the exporting business she and her husband ran, and had even engaged a British tutor to learn to speak what she believed to be perfect Queen’s English. Her face grew puzzled as she listened to the couple speaking further, however. It had sounded like English; but . . . she looked over at her husband, her eyebrows raised. He had been watching her watch the tourists, and grinned, whispering low, “Americanos. Se dice que la misma lengua los separa de los británicos. Parece que el refrán es verdad.”

Francisca was a little disappointed, as she had been looking forward to practicing her English, but resolved to do her best to engage the other couple in conversation.

As they settled into their seats, Francisca smiled at the other woman and extended her hand. “Good morning, madam,” she chirped. “I am called Francisca Sanchez, and this is my husband, Federico Espinosa.”

The younger woman smiled back, taking her hand and shaking it with surprising vigor. “Well, hello, it’s a nice change to meet somebody who speaks English, ma’am. I’m Louise McCloud and this is my husband, Kid. We’re from America.”

“Where are you visiting?” Francisca asked, politely.

“We’re planning on seeing some of the famous Spanish horses. We’ve been traveling all over Europe for a few years now and we keep hearing how magnificent they are,” Louise enthused.

“You have been married long?” Francisca couldn’t resist probing.

The other couple glanced at each other and smiled. “We’ve been together for five wonderful years,” Louise said, vaguely. Francisca managed not to frown at the new arrival, though she was not pleased that a fifth passenger would be crammed into the small coach. And such a passenger, Francisca noted with a little dismay. A very young gypsy woman in the advanced stages of pregnancy, looking for all the world as if she could deliver at any moment. The girl’s face was damp, her eyes ringed in dark circles, but Francisca conceded to herself that she was beautiful, with fine features and silky dark brown hair framing her face in long curls. The girl’s olive skin contrasted with the white boat neck blouse she was wearing. Her arms were bare of any other material but for the various bone bracelets she was wearing around both her wrists, which clacked every time she moved her hands. Her swollen middle was dressed with a frilly, dotted skirt whose torn hem hardly reached her ankles. It was obvious by her tatty appearance that she was a woman of short resources in clear contrast with the other passengers on the coach. Louise kindly looked at the young girl, and nudged Kid to slide over to make room on their side.

“You can sit here,” she said, but the girl looked blankly at her until Kid patted the seat next to him and handed her a kerchief.

“Gracias, señora, señor,” the girl muttered, sinking wearily into the seat and turning to look out the window. The girl wiped her face tiredly with the brightly colored cloth Kid had handed her, and unfolded the fan that dangled from a string around her wrist, employing it vigorously to try to cool herself. She had made the stage with only seconds to spare, as the coach lurched violently and headed out, the girl clutching the door to steady herself and keep her balance. Francisca grimaced in pity for the young woman, and silently said a quick prayer to San Ramón Nonato for the poor girl . . . and that the holy patron saint of childbirth might make the blessed event wait until after the carriage ride was safely over.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The fresh air from the mountains filled her lungs as she breathed in deeply. Tired of the stuffy atmosphere inside the stage, Lou had opened the small window by her side and put her head out of it to breathe the cold air from the mountains. The smell of wild flowers, firs and pinsapos filled her appreciative nostrils. Her eyes lifted to the sky, which hovered blue and spotless above them. Among the lush jumble of vegetation a rocky peak rose, gigantic, awe-inspiring, kingly, which seemed to stretch its huge size to tickle the azure sky with its sharp edges. The mountains surrounded the area like a strong, impenetrable fortress. Sierra Morena was the name the locals had given this colossal range of mountains centuries ago; 'morena' because of its dark color and also because of the secrets and danger that its multiple crags hid.

A bird squawking above drew her attention and Louise lifted her eyes again to see an eagle glide smoothly over everything, mountains, trees, animal and every living being. Louise smiled brightly as she watched the animal in rapture. How would it feel to fly free, without cares and with just the air as your only companion? The thought brought back distant memories from her time as a Pony Express rider. She had been like that eagle back then, riding with the wind at full speed, with just one thought in her mind: take the mochilla to its final destination. Lonely but thrilling. Dangerous but exciting. Those times were so long ago, and her days of solitude were now over, the companionship and comfort of a life-time soulmate taking its place.

The notion brought a smile to her lips and she turned her head to look at the man sitting by her side in the tiny stagecoach. “Are you all right?” Kid asked when she kept staring at him for a few seconds.

“Never been better,” Lou replied as she settled back against her seat and let Kid take her hand in his.

The five people in the compartment continued the trip in silence and at some point Louise had fallen asleep against Kid's shoulder. Yet, her moment of rest came to a stop quite suddenly as the vehicle seemed to jump off the ground and drop against as it sped up along the bumpy terrain. Startled, Louise looked at Kid, who was holding to the structure of the coach while his arm wrapped around Lou's shoulders protectively to prevent that either of them from falling or hitting their heads with the violent movements of the coach. “What?” Lou asked at the same time as the sounds of bullets or something alike reached her ears.

Kid looked as clueless as she was and when she turned her eyes to the married couple opposite them, the woman, obviously terrified, was holding a pearl rosary, mumbling an unintelligible prayer as she moved the beads with her fingers. The man directed his eyes to them and said, “Bandoleros.”

“What?” Kid clumsily asked, clueless of what the man was saying.

With very exaggerated gestures the man covered his mouth with the lapel of his jacket while he stretched his thumb and index finger in a perfect ninety degree angle as if it were a gun. “Pum pum!” he boomed, pointing his two fingers at the young couple.

“Bandits,” Louise said as she shared a concerned look with Kid. They had been told that the area was a nest for outlaws and robbers. The mountains offered the perfect hideout for this kind of people and many of these criminals had their camps in the numerous caves up there.

A cracking sound and a strong thump was the last they heard before they felt the coach come to a sudden halt. The driver and his companion seemed to be discussing loudly about something that neither Kid nor Lou understood and then one jumped onto the ground. He came closer to the coach and said something. Francisca and Federico nodded their heads and the lady whispered, “One of the wheels just broke.”

The sounds of bullets and horse hooves echoed in the silence of the place and Lou knew that soon they'd be at the mercy of those bandits. The driver had a shotgun with him and shot at the first rider who appeared, but his aim was far from being good and soon a group of five fierce-looking riders surrounded the vehicle.

Louise fearfully peeked out of the window. The five men looked rowdy and brutalized. Their clothes were dark and similar looking: a white shirt tucked into dark, tight trousers with a sash wrapped around their waists. Their horses were magnificent, spirited beasts with strong, arched necks and full manes; and they wore saddle blankets striped with bright colors like those of the Tejanos and Mexicans they’d met back home while traveling in the Southwestern territories.

“Bajen del coche, señoras y caballeros, y no les haremos daño,” one shouted, his gun raised and a flashing grin under his long moustache. “¡Ahora!”

“They say to get down,” Francisca hissed, and Kid and Lou nodded, getting down carefully. Kid may have been dressed in the fine gentleman’s clothes Lou had bought for him shortly after they’d made their fortune in N’Orleans at a card table, teamed up with Rachel Dunne; but he had the same trusty Remington .44 that he’d carried while riding for the Express hidden under his jacket.

The men encircled the group, the horses tossing their manes and prancing. The leader guided his mount over to Kid and peered at him menacingly, pointing his rifle in his face. “Su dinero, por favor,” he ordered, and Kid clenched his jaw but handed over his wallet, realizing it was better to lose a few reales than have a shootout with three women and an old man who could get caught in the crossfire.

The man looked in the wallet briefly, keeping the rifle pointed at Kid’s head, and smiled a moment, pulling out the few United States dollars that Kid had still kept there. “American, old chap?” he suddenly grinned. Kid goggled, nodding, and the man laughed boisterously. “Welcome to Andalusia, my colonial friend. Some say you haven’t truly experienced it until you’ve met the road bandits - the bandoleros - and I’m pleased to give you a taste of our local culture,” he chuckled. “May I introduce myself? They call me el ingles, the Englishman, for obvious reasons. You are?”

“They call me the Kid,” he answered, teeth gritted.

El inglés chuckled richly. “¿El cabrito? This is an amusing name for a grown man, do you not think so, señor goat?”

Kid reddened angrily as another man rode up, eyed Louise appreciatively and muttered something to el ingles, who chuckled once more. “And this is el guapo. He wishes your beautiful wife to hand over any valuables, please.”

El guapo dismounted from his prancing steed in a smooth vault, bowing low to Louise. He was tall, with sparkling hazel eyes and a manly, yet beautiful face. He kissed Lou’s hand, smiling an even, dazzling smile up at her as he slipped her wedding ring from her finger. He said something to her in a voice as smooth and sweet as honey; and even before el ingles translated, Lou blushed to the roots of her hair. “He says a woman as beautiful as you needs no ornament, milady,” el ingles chortled. Lou swallowed hard when el guapo reached toward her bodice, and breathed a sigh of relief when he simply unhooked a small cameo brooch from her dress. Her relief was tinged with sadness; Teaspoon had given her that brooch on her wedding day, and she wore it always in memory of the kind old man. She watched el guapo pocket the trinket with a heavy heart.

Three more men were circling the group on horseback, and one leaped down to hold a knife to the driver’s neck with a vicious grin that seemed like he was baring a set of wicked fangs. The leader called out sharply to the man, calling him el lince, “Con cuidado, loco,” and the man reluctantly loosened his grip on the driver slightly, eyes still glittering like the wildcat he was named for.

“Barba roja, apestao, rápido” el ingles called to the remaining two, who were gleefully relieving Doña Francisca and her husband of their valuables. Doña Francisca slapped at the one they called el apestao, shouting at him in Spanish to keep his dirty smelly hands to himself and to take a bath while he was at it. El apestao laughed and lifted his arms over his head mockingly at her.

“That’s it, stinky,” el ingles laughed, speaking English for Lou’s and Kid’s benefit. “You will bathe when you are ready and not before, no matter what the ladies say, is this not so?” The handsome bandit glanced around and saw the pregnant passenger nervously twisting her hands before her. “Y la omaita,” he said, getting down and grasping her by the wrist gently. His eyes were locked on her defiant ones, as he rummaged in her bag and the pockets of her gown. Kid watched, his hand hovering to seize his pistol if the men crossed any line with Louise or the stranger, but once the carriage was searched, they leapt back on their horses and el ingles raised his hat with a sweeping wave.

“Gracias,” he shouted, as the men whooped and laughed, spinning their horses around and disappearing in a cloud of dust. “Adiós, cabrito y cabrita” he called mockingly to Kid and Louise, and thundered after the rest of his bandoleros.


The hooves reverberated in the air as the bandits galloped away. When they couldn't be heard anymore, the group lined before the coach relaxed and reacted in their different ways. Doña Francisca turned to her husband and the man hugged her against his chest. Likewise, Kid passed an arm around Lou's shoulders as he whispered his question, “Are you all right, honey?”

Louise nodded and added in a soft voice, “It's lucky I decided to hide some of our money under my corset. Otherwise, we'd find ourselves marooned in a foreign country and without a single cent.”

Kid made an unhappy gesture, imagining what could have happened if those men had suspected something. “What if they had searched us, Lou? I wouldn't have been able to stay idle.”

“Oh come on, Kid. You know that was highly unlikely,” Louise exclaimed as they wandered off the group of people. Despite the years that they had been together, he still worried for her as much as the first day, something which annoyed her at times, but also pleased her in some sort of strange way.

Kid didn't respond and as they ambled aimlessly in the small clearing, trying to let off some of the tension they had suffered, Lou’s eyes fell on the pregnant woman who was sitting on a rock. Lou tilted her head towards her in a signal to Kid and the couple walked closer to the girl. “Are you all right?” Lou asked, but the girl simply stared back at her without saying a word. “Uh...” Louise hesitated, racking her brains to find the way to communicate with her and finally she simply pointed her thumb upwards, hoping she could catch the hint.

“I'm fine,” the young lady stated in a clear voice, but with a strong accent.

Kid and Lou looked at each other in confusion, and he asked, “You speak English?”

“Some,” the woman replied. “I was a servant for an English family for a few years.”

“What is your name?” Louise questioned.

“Isabel. Isabel Méndez.”

Kid and Lou introduced themselves to the lady even though she had already learned their names through the conversation that the couple had had with Doña Francisca. In that moment loud voices reached their ears and as the three turned their attention, they saw that the coach driver had unhitched one of the horses and had mounted it while Doña Francisca and her husband were having some kind of disagreement with the man.

“What's happening?” Kid asked, not understanding a single word of what they were saying.

“The driver is riding to get some help... but they are not happy about it,” Isabel explained, pointing at the married couple a few meters from them. “She... says that the bandoleros will return and kill us.” The girl shook her head. “Impossible. They already took everything they wanted. Maybe others... and they won't be so considerate as these ones... especially with our empty pockets.”

Isabel rose from the rock she was sitting on and started towards where the stage stood, followed by the young couple. Despite Doña Francisca's loud demands, they saw the driver ride off. “¡Inaudito! ¡Inaudito!” Doña Francisca exclaimed angrily and as she saw Lou coming closer, she said, “Can you believe it, Miss Louise? That idiot has left us!”

“But he will come back, won't he?” Lou asked worriedly.

“Oh...he better for his own good!!!” the woman continued in an angered tone, gesticulating with her hands at the same time. “If that fool doesn't return, I'll show him who my mother's daughter is!!!”

Lou and Kid shared a smile, wondering how the lady would carry out her threats if the coach driver never returned. “Ma'am, we need to believe he’ll be back shortly,” Kid offered, trying to appease the woman.

Doña Francisca made a gesture that clearly showed what she thought of Kid's words. She made no attempt to answer and suddenly she let out loudly, “Fede!!!” Her husband came running and the woman told him something, which neither Kid nor Lou understood, and straightaway Don Federico climbed on top of the coach and grabbed one of their bags. The woman snatched the carpet bag from her husband's hands with a strong pull and put it down on the ground. She knelt next to it and as she unclasped and opened it, Lou and Kid could see that it was full of victuals. Doña Francisca spread her shawl on the ground and transferred the different items of food from the bag to the extended material. “These situations make me hungry!” she exclaimed as she had a bite to a chunk of morcilla sausage. “And we should eat something because we don't know how long we'll be here.” the woman beckoned Isabel and the driver's companion to come closer and join her in this spontaneous early lunch. “What would you like to have?” Doña Francisca asked Kid and Lou with a much more calmed tone than before. “Cheese?” She lifted a round strong cheese and then a string of small sausages in the shape of a rosary. “Chorizo? Chicharrones?” When the lady noticed their hesitation, she simply opened a huge pocketknife, cut a chunk of the big tambourine-like bread each for the people around her and told them to grab whatever they wanted. Even though at first everybody was shy about it, once they started, they gobbled down everything they could get hold of. Isabel had sat down onto the ground and pinched everything avidly, a clear sign that she hadn't had much to eat lately. Kid and Lou were more moderate as they tried to get used to the taste of the spice-flavored sausages they were trying for the first time. They all ate nicely despite the circumstances they found themselves in, thus forgetting about their situation momentarily. Don Federico passed the wineskin around, but only the men drank from it.

They were finishing their meal when they heard a noise in the peaceful atmosphere of the area. It was a horse neighing and also they could make out the sound of some kind of carriage. “Oh Santo Cielo!” Doña Francisca exclaimed as her hands flew to her husband's jacket that she clutched tightly. Kid grabbed his gun and the young driver's companion got hold of his shotgun, also giving Don Federico a small pistol. Kid urged Lou to take the women to safety and she helped Isabel and Doña Francisca to find shelter under the stage. Everybody's breath got caught, waiting for whoever it was to make their appearance.

After what it seemed like hours when it was actually a few minutes, a rider rode in followed by a cart loaded by fresh hay and pulled by a couple of donkeys. Everybody breathed out relieved when they recognized the man as the coach driver. Apparently the man, as they learned later, had come across the cart driver and had asked him to pick up his passengers and take them to the closest town. Doña Francisca explained to Lou and Kid as they climbed onto the cart that the town where they were headed was Ronda, a beautiful jewel of a place embedded in the middle of the mountains. They'd spend a couple of days there while the coach was repaired, brought back to the town and they could continue their trip to Jerez. The middle-aged woman was grumbling and moaning in her native tongue as she placed herself next to Isabel in the far end of the cart, resting her back against its structure. Louise could guess that she wasn't very happy with the choice of transport. Lou shared a small smile with Isabel briefly before she turned her attention to Kid who sat next to her on top of the soft, fresh-smelling straw. The other men were traveling either on the stage horses or on the cart’s seat, and Lou was happy to have her man next to her.

Despite the inconvenience that the assault had caused, Lou found that she was enjoying the journey to Ronda greatly. Traveling on the cart was much more pleasurable than being cooped up inside the stifling stage. At some point she had lain her body on the straw, bringing Kid down with her. They lay there, their hands intertwined as they looked at the azure sky above them, the white clouds, the different birds and the high mountains. The various scents and noises of nature were their only companion as despite the people around them, they felt as if they were by themselves, whispering sweet-nothings to each other or talking about old times when they had been a couple of teenagers and spend their days in contact with nature as they worked for the Pony Express. Louise felt especially contented but unfortunately, her happiness came to a halt as a man howled the name of the town, which told her that they had arrived and the journey was over.

Francisca took charge of the situation quickly. “We are in Ronda,” she informed all of the passengers. “My cousin owns a fonda here, so we are in rare luck to be robbed in here, at least. We will all stay there. Come,” she gestured to Kid, Lou, and Isabel. The group followed the businesslike woman through the beautiful streets of the town, lined with old white buildings on each side, past beautiful street fountains, shrines and grottos and old churches. The magnificent old sandstone bullring with its carved arches attracted Lou’s attention, and Francisca nodded to her, “One of the oldest in all of Spain. You have heard of the bullfights?” Lou nodded, admiring the beautiful architecture and tiled roof of the bullring, imagining the spectacle within with the romantic and colorful matadors, picadors and banderilleros facing down the bulls in the ring.

Eventually they reached Francisca’s cousin’s fonda. Francisca introduced them to her cousin, a bustling replica of the lady herself. Doña Juliana welcomed the visitors, until her eyes lit on Isabel, and her face stiffened slightly, and she muttered something to her cousin, looking suspiciously at the girl.

“What’s the problem?” Lou asked, wonderingly, as she slipped some money carefully from where she’d hidden it in her corset and handed it to Juliana.

Isabel answered for the woman, “She knows I cannot pay. And it is true I cannot stay here. I had only my fare to Jerez and a little money for food for the journey, and el inglés took all I had. I must leave you now, and find someone to take me in.” The girl turned to go, but Lou shook her head firmly, catching her hand.

“No, absolutely not! Not in your condition, you won’t go wandering around in this heat looking for somewhere to stay. I’ll pay for tonight’s stay here,” she insisted.

The girl looked nervously at Juliana and then back and forth between Lou and Kid. “You are kind, but I could not take this gift,” she attempted. “I cannot pay you . . . give you again the money,” she struggled to explain.

“It’s all right, we insist. You don’t have to pay us back, it’s our pleasure to help,” Kid said, and finally Isabel gave in, though reluctantly. A small boy took their bags and went ahead of them to their rooms.

Lou and Kid waved to the young woman as she went into her room, and continued to their own. Lou opened the door to the balcony and was delighted to see a magnificent view of the town. She could see the spectacular bridge, el Puente Nuevo, towering over a hundred meters from the floor of El Tajo canyon, cutting the town in half. “Look, Kid. So beautiful. We have to go across that bridge while we’re waiting for the stage to be repaired,” she called to her husband as he came out on the terrace to take her in his arms and enjoy the view with her. It was the middle of the afternoon, and the streets were emptying for the daily siesta, the time of rest after the heavy afternoon meal.

“This is turning out to be a lucky side trip, though I wish we didn’t have to be robbed to find this beautiful place,” Kid murmured, kissing her neck lovingly. “You’re probably tired after that coach ride and the robbery,” he suggested, cradling her body against his and fingering the button at the top of her bodice longingly. “Want to lie down for a while? Have a little siesta of our own?” She grinned and turned in his arms, happy to be alone at last with him, and welcomed his tender, searching kiss on her open mouth. Even just his kiss still left her breathless after all these years, and she let him pick her up in his arms to carry her to the bed in the center of the room, as the warm breezes blew the curtains into the room from the open balcony.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

When the sun was slanting from lower in the bright blue sky a few hours later, Lou lazily lay in Kid’s arms, watching his hand above her head playing with her long reddish-brown hair in the sun, winding it around his fingers and watching the light play along it, savoring the special moment together. Every moment they were alive was a treasure to them, since they’d been told they were ill, and they both made a custom of focusing every fiber of their being upon living each moment fully, being aware of every sensation, every touch, every sight, every sound of everything around them, but especially each other. Lou knew well enough that at any moment one of them could take a downturn, as healthy and hearty as they both had felt for years now. That knowledge only heightened her resolve never to take a single moment they were together for granted, and she knew Kid felt the same every time he looked at her even in a crowded room, and most of all at tender moments like this. Listening to the golden eagles and the sound of the warm wind blowing from the craggy mountains in the distance, imprinting the memories on her mind, Lou suddenly sat up. There was another sound, she thought; a woman whimpering in pain, crying?

Kid protested sleepily as she got up from his arms, and she kissed him softly on the lips, before putting her legs over the side of the bed and finding her corset, her petticoats and the innumerable foundation garments she had to wear nowadays. She sometimes missed the days when she had only to draw on a pair of long johns and her pants and shirt to be fully dressed. “Help me get dressed?” she asked him, smiling, and he got up on his knees to pull her corset strings for her and tie them off.

“Where are you going?” he asked, settling back down to watch her button the petticoat waist and slide her skirt back over it.

“Someone’s crying. I think it’s Isabel; it’s coming from her room. I’ll just check on her; she’s awfully close to delivering that baby. I want to make sure she’s all right.”

Kid nodded, yawning, and turned over to sleep. Lou buttoned up her bodice, smiling at his laziness. Just like any man, after his exertions he wanted only to sleep now, and she kissed the back of his head gently and went out the door, shutting it quietly behind her.

Louise approached Isabel's room and the whimpers became louder and clearer. She knocked at the door lightly and after getting no response but the same soft moaning voice, Lou dared to open it and crane her head inside. “Isabel?” she called.

Lou then saw the girl lying on the bed, fully clothed and whimpering. Her eyes were closed as her head moved from side to side and her hands gripped the bedspread tightly. “Isabel, it's me, Louise,” she repeated and when the young Spanish woman let out a cry, Lou ran to her side. “Isabel, what is it? Is it the baby?”

The woman opened her eyes, which showed surprise at finding Lou hovering over her. She hadn't heard any of her calls and in a very weary but tense voice she wheezed, “Me muero de dolor. Arráncamelo ya por lo que más quieras.”

“I don't understand you, Isabel,” Lou replied.

“The baby's coming,” the woman almost barked. “Please rip it off my body! This hurts too much! Please!”

Lou quickly ran out of the room and went to find the owner of the fonda. Doña Juliana was talking to her cousin in the kitchen. Both women were sitting at a wooden table where they were chopping and peeling vegetables for the broth Doña Juliana was preparing. Panting from her run, Lou stopped at the threshold and blurted out, “Isabel's in labor!”

“In labor?” Doña Francisca repeated, not understanding the meaning of the words or what the fuss was about. “Working?”

“No... no... not that kind of labor. She's having her baby... now!” Lou clarified in an urgent voice.

“¡Madre del amor hermoso!” Doña Francisca exclaimed in her usual buoyant way and then explained her cousin what was going on. While Doña Juliana boiled a pot with water and collected everything they'd need for the delivery of the child, Doña Francisca and Lou dashed towards the room where Isabel lay.

“Shouldn't we call a doctor?” Louise asked with concern.

Doña Francisca let out a peal of laughter at the naiveté of the young woman. “Doctors cost money and I doubt that poor wretched soul has a half real to her name. Besides, we women take care of these things. Who knows where we can find the doctor right now. This isn't Madrid and the area a single doctor covers here is immense. He could be leagues away and in case this young lady has problems ... uh... in labor, she would probably die before the doctor gets here.”

Louise looked at her in horror, hoping that everything went smoothly with Isabel and they could help her to have her baby. They continued climbing the stone stairs quickly and as their pattering feet went along the darkened corridor where her room was, Kid appeared from inside the room and stopped her. “What's happening, Lou?” he asked, resting a hand on the small of her back.

Doña Francisca had continued towards the room where Isabel was and Lou felt slightly annoyed that her husband interrupted her right now. “Kid, Isabel's having her baby. I need to go and help.”

Without waiting for his answer, Lou shot away towards the other room and when she entered, Doña Francisca was already helping the young gypsy woman to get changed into a white nightgown. Isabel was crying and screaming in her native language and from the soft tone of her voice, Lou could tell that Doña Francisca was trying to calm her down. The older woman looked up at Louise and smiled. “Miss Louise, we're going to bring the baby to life safely. You don't worry. This isn't the first time for me and my cousin. I'm a mother myself... six times,” the woman explained, her mouth splitting into a big smile as she brought to mind her six already grown children, the best part of her life. “Do you have children, Miss Louise?”

“Uh... no,” Lou replied awkwardly, bitter pain coursing through her whole body as Doña Francisca's innocent question had touched a very sore point for her.

Doña Francisca looked at her with curiosity. Something in the young woman's voice didn't sound right and she wondered whether her new friend had one of those feminine problems that hindered a woman from the joy of motherhood. After five years of marriage she had already had a couple of her children in the world, so Miss Louise's situation was very unusual. Feeling that her question had offended the young woman, she tried to mend the harm she might have done. “You don't need to rush,” Doña Francisca quipped. “You are young and healthy, and have your whole life ahead of you.”

“Yeah,” Lou replied gruffly, noticing her cheeks getting hotter with each word the woman uttered. She didn't know if she could stand the conversation any longer, but fortunately for her, a scream from Isabel distracted well-meaning Francisca from any more conversation along these lines. The two women came to check the progress at the same time Doña Juliana appeared through the door, bringing the pot of boiling water and the rags and towels they might need.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The afternoon passed slowly for the women, especially the poor young mother. Francisca and Juliana took turns checking the woman, knowing it could be some time before the baby came, and at last both women were out of the room together, making the small evening meal for the boarders and doing other chores. But Louise sat next to her the entire time, holding her hand and mopping her forehead, encouraging her in her soft, calm voice. After the evening meal was cleared away, Francisca and Juliana returned, and Francisca pronounced that the time was near. Lou whispered to the poor woman that it was almost time, but pain had driven any reason from her mind, and Isabel kept screaming just the same. Lou smiled, forgetting her earlier woes, as she saw the baby's head appear between her legs like a big miracle, a wonderful miracle.

An hour later Isabel was holding the baby in her arms, a big, healthy boy. Lou watched them in wonder, feeling slightly jealous because of what she could never have. The baby had a soft fluff of blonde hair and his eyes were bluish in color. Lou thought that he didn't look much like his mother and wondered who his father could be. Isabel looked up at her from the bed and smiled. Doña Francisca and her cousin had already gone. Kid had come to congratulate the new mama and stood next to his wife, watching the new family. Louise smiled back at Isabel and asked, “Does he have a name?”

Isabel nodded and said, “Like yours.”

Kid smiled proudly and Lou looked surprised at both her husband and the young woman, “Louise? But it's a boy!”

“Luis, it's a boy's name here,” Isabel explained. “A good, beautiful name.”

Lou blushed pleasantly as Kid passed his arm around her shoulders, hugging her against his body. He knew that this was the best gift somebody could give his wife, something that he couldn't give her, much to his bitterness. They had a good life considering, living every moment as if it was the last one, making the most of the time they had. They had filled the gaps in their common existence with experiences that most people didn't have. They were seeing the world with their own eyes, living their love in its fullest... yet, there were gaps impossible to fill, latent and painful, which would accompany them for the rest of their days.

Lou let Kid lead her away, smiling happily at the thought of little Luis, and the knowledge that when Isabel spoke of his birth and his name, she would be remembered. “That was nice of Isabel,” she remarked proudly, and Kid smiled at her. “You stayed there with her all day,” he reproached her. “Let’s go down to the kitchen and see if you can get anything else to eat.”

“I’m not hungry,” she started, but seeing his worried face, she amended her statement. “Well, maybe I am, a little,” she said. They went down to the kitchen and she ate some bread and cold sausage, enough to satisfy him that she wasn’t wasting away, she thought with fond annoyance. She’d never had a big appetite, even as a child, but Kid tended to worry over the slightest things like if she skipped a meal now and again. But then of course, when he had a slight fever or seemed tired, she was the same about him, worrying frantically that it might be the sign of something worse coming. Sitting there in the dim kitchen alone with her husband, she felt a half-painful stab of love for him, and pulled him close to open his mouth with hers for a long, intimate kiss in the darkness, aching to hold him tight forever.

When they started up the steps again to their room, still clinging to each other the way usually only newlyweds do, Lou put her hand on the doorknob and was surprised to feel a ribbon on it. Looking down, she saw it was tied to something, a small velvet pouch, and inside was her wedding ring and the brooch Teaspoon had given her so long ago. Lou looked up, mystified, at Kid’s baffled face.

Slipping inside the room, Lou’s attention was drawn from the odd mystery to the strains of music drifting in through the curtained balcony. A wailing, passionate voice, not quite like anything she’d heard before but reminding her strangely of a cross between the keening, mournful sounds of Native American chanting . . . and the spirituals they’d heard the slaves sing in the fields when they’d visited a plantation in Louisiana. She didn’t understand the words but she didn’t really have to; the gypsy singer’s feeling and emotion was unmistakable in his mournful tones, weaving in and out among the rapidly picked, short notes the guitarist sitting beside him played along to his song. Lou felt her heart reaching out and responding to the sorrow in the man’s voice, resigned and hopeful and sad all at once somehow. Standing at the window, peeking out from behind the curtain, Lou was mesmerized by the group of gypsies gathered in the tiled garden of the fonda across the lane, between ten and twenty men and women clapping in sharp, staccato beats all in time with one another, snapping their fingers overhead, stomping their feet, and shouting to a beautiful woman dancing in the center of the circle with one hand upraised to the sky and her back proudly arched, nearly motionless from the waist up but with flashing feet beneath her swirling skirt, held back with the other graceful hand. They all were part of the strangely beautiful and moving music, the dancer, the singer, the guitar player and the bystanders, creating something magical together. Kid joined her at the window, slipping his arms around her waist and resting his chin against her hair, watching and listening together as the music swirled faster and faster, and their hearts started racing along with it. The song built in intensity, driving toward its climax with the shouts and applause of the onlookers, and Kid bent her head back to kiss her open mouth fervently, and draw her back into the bedroom, where they made love along with the sounds of wild, passionate music from the street.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Late that night, Lou stirred slightly in her sleep, and then sat up. There was a sound coming from outside in the quiet darkness. She pushed on Kid’s bare shoulder and he rolled over, mumbling, “Five more minutes, Ma.”

She groaned, irritably, and shoved him again, but he swatted her hand away. “Teaspoon, I did a double run yesterday. Get Jimmy to do it.”

Lou reached for her nightgown and pulled it on over her head as she walked to the window, peeking out to the darkness. She grew frightened when she saw it was a man scaling the wall, and putting a leg over the railing of the terrace on the next window.

Turning, she ran and pounced on Kid, startling the poor sleeping man who woke with a shout. “Shush!” she hissed. “There’s a burglar next door! He went into poor Isabel’s room!”

Kid looked drowsily at her. “Lou, are you sure? Maybe you dreamed -“

“Kid! Wake up the rest of the way and get some clothes on, for pity’s sake. Isabel just had a baby, she’s defenseless in there.”

She pulled Kid’s shirt over his head, and reached for his pants. “Put these on, and hurry up! Where’s your gun?”

Kid gestured sleepily at the table, and Lou grabbed the gun.

“She’s awfully quiet for somebody in mortal danger,” he yawned, but he followed his wife as she tiptoed through the corridor to the other woman’s room. Creeping to the doorway, Lou gently tried the doorknob. Finding it locked, she bent to look through the keyhole, and her mouth dropped.

“What is it?” Kid whispered.

Lou stood up, her face set stiffly in an angry expression. She reached up and banged on the door. “Isabel Mendez, you open this door right now!” she called. “I know you’ve got el inglés in there!” Lou pounded fiercely on the door, demanding an answer.

The door opened and el ingles was standing on the other side of it, Luis in his arms. “I understand I owe you a debt of gratitude, taking care of my wife in her time of need,” he said grandly.

“What you owe us is about three hundred reales,” Kid said. “That’s how much you two robbed from us on the road. Not to mention what you stole from the others.”

“You could afford it,” el inglés said dismissively. “We only rob from the rich.”

“Listen, Robin Hood,” Kid started, but Isabel’s crying in the background interrupted them.

“Please,” she sobbed. “It’s not Rafael’s fault.”

“That’s your name, I guess?” Kid muttered.

“Rafael Williams González, at your service,” the bandit said, bowing with a flourish.

“Come in, please, and let’s talk about this,” Isabel said. Rafael shut the door behind the couple and sat on the bed next to Isabel.

“How on earth is it not Rafael’s fault that he is a bandolero?” Lou asked, patiently.

“It’s my fault,” the girl answered wretchedly. “I was a servant in his home. We fell in love,” she looked up at him adoringly. “We were married in secret.”

“Why did it have to be a secret?” Lou asked, curiously, sitting on the end of the bed and, as Kid saw with an internal groan, his tender-hearted wife was already sympathizing with the young couple.

“Because I am a gypsy, and a servant,” Isabel said. “My kind has always been despised throughout history. How could I dare to love the master’s son? That was unthinkable but I just did… we did and that was our sin.”

Lou’s eyes filled with pitying tears. “That’s so unfair,” she said.

Kid rolled his eyes. “So where’s the part about you having to steal from honest folks come in?”

“Rafael had to leave his family home when his parents found out about us, and we could no longer hide our love. His own family disowned him,” Isabel said bitterly. “He was driven to the life of a bandolero.”

“Still not getting it,” Kid said, skeptically. “There’s honest work, if you’re willing to do it, right?”

“Not for a young gentleman whose only skills are shooting and riding,” Rafael said. “I don’t expect you to understand. But we steal only from those of my old class, from those who can afford it. Those who refuse to treat those such as my Isabel as an equal, just because she comes from the lower class.”

“It’s so romantic,” Lou said through glittering tears.

“Hmm,” Kid said, still skeptical.

Rafael looked up at Kid, passionately. “Those of the idle class live off the backs of the poor, off their work and labor. How is that right? Should they not have to pay something back? I never steal from anyone who cannot afford it. I always give what I can back to the poor, and keep only a little . . . enough so that someday, I can take my Isabel somewhere to live an honest life.”

“Kid, we have to help them,” Lou said eagerly, with that excited look she always wore whenever they set off on some adventure ever since the old Express days. Kid wiped his cheek with his hand, wondering whether to bother trying to argue with her or just give in to her, as he always did in the end. Her pleading dark brown eyes answered the question for him the same way he always did. She would get her way; he adored her too much for anything else.

“We’ll need a plan,” he said grudgingly.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The night's heat made her unable to sleep, so after turning and tossing in bed for hours, Louise decided to get up. Not wanting to wake Kid, she tiptoed to the window, opened it and stepped into the balcony. A slight breeze was blowing, which felt like a divine gift to her sweaty body. She rested her arms on the wrought-iron structure and from that position she saw the sun coming out from behind the mountains, lighting the town below. It was a stunning view and Lou didn't dare to move for fear that this beauty would disappear from before her eyes. The picture would be totally perfect if only Kid were next to her, holding her instead of sleeping in the bed. Her mouth split into a wide smile, suddenly feeling like the luckiest woman on earth. She didn't have much of a chance to ponder about her life, fearing that her thoughts would ramble for dark roads she'd rather not walk. However, this morning on her own she was feeling strangely giddy as she thought of her husband, the best man she had ever known. Life couldn't have granted her a better gift. The day they had been given its sentence, condemning them to a constant fear to death. That day could have been the worst in her whole life, and in a way it had been, but Kid had changed everything. What might have pulled them apart had actually brought them closer and they had started walking the same road together. Lou sometimes hurt thinking that because of her, he had to share the same cruel destiny she had been forced to face, but long ago she had learned to accept the life as it came and not to question it.

A slight sound nearby made her switch her attention from the beautiful sunrise and then she saw Rafael, el inglés, climbing down from Isabel's window in the same brisk way he had got in. With a big jump he finally reached the ground. He lifted a hand to wave as he directed his eyes to the window through which he had just escaped. As she looked away, he caught sight of Lou in the balcony next door and with a crooked smile he also waved at her. Louise remained still and watched him spin on his heel and walk down the cobbled street towards a very narrow lane. A few minutes later she saw him gallop away on his horse that he must have left away from the fonda so as not to raise suspicions. When he disappeared in the distance, Louise went back to her room. She stood before the bed and a little smile played on her lips as she saw Kid still asleep, his mouth half-open and an arm spread over the length of the pillow. Lou decided to lie down again and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the morning next to her man. She rested her head on his arm and almost automatically his body shifted and his arm brought her closer to him.

Lying awake in his arms Lou kept pondering the situation between Isabel and her husband. Their account last night had broken her heart. It would be totally frustrating not to be allowed to love. Whatever many difficulties she and Kid had found on their way, this had never been a concern. They had been free to explore their feelings, maybe too free sometimes. Isabel's story had pulled at her heart and she really wanted to help them. Kid had been quite reluctant to help a wanted criminal, but she had finally convinced him. Of course that was hardly surprising. She had a power over him that both baffled and pleased her. So finally they had decided to help Rafael and Isabel escape from their forced confinement in a land that hadn't given the chance to be happy. Kid would get mounts and a carriage, for Isabel and the baby to travel, and tonight they would meet with Rafael when there was no danger of being discovered. Then they would travel to Cádiz where the family could travel to America. All these unexpected occurrences changed their plans but for Lou it was worth while. Lou knew that all this business was dangerous and they'd be risking their safety in a foreign country. They'd be helping a criminal to escape, which could cause them to end up in jail or worse. Yet, Louise didn't care and they didn't have that much to lose. She felt that this was a good cause, a fair cause, and in her heart she and Kid were doing the right thing.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

It was almost midday when he finally made it to his camp. Riding through rough and uneven terrain was arduous for his faithful horse and even though he knew the area like the back of his hand, he had to be extra careful. El lince was posted on a crag overlooking the whole place and when he recognized el ingles, he lowered his blunderbuss and greeted him raucously. Rafael continued riding up the mountain and finally reached the clearing where they had set up their camp now. It was an ample area with small caves and a few sheds they had put up for the time being. In the middle of the place, a fire burned where a big pot was warming up. A few women were around it, keeping an eye on the stew and skinning and chopping hares for tonight's dinner. Except for one of them, who was el lince's wife, the rest were prostitutes that found it more rewarding to hang around the bandoleros than struggling to make a living in a godforsaken town or village. The men were scattered around the camp doing different chores. Barbarroja was oiling the tack and el apestao was cleaning the guns. Rafael didn't see el guapo anywhere but he could guess where he was when he didn't see Tomasa, one of the girls, either.

One of the women quickly approached Rafael, throwing her arms around him and planting a kiss on his stubbled cheek. Without a second thought, he gave her a good push that almost made her fall on the ground, which gained him a dangerous glare. He was sick and tired of Angustias and her continuous assaults. He cursed the day he had got drunk and had let her get into his bed. That had been a foolish mistake and from that day on, she never left him alone. More than once he had been about to kick her out of the camp but her tears and begging had stopped his intentions. Now all that would be forgotten as he was finally going to leave all this life behind and start anew.

Later the men and women were round the fire, eating the stew and drinking from the wineskin they passed around. Loud guffaws issued forth as they all told lewd jokes one after the other, which the women also joined with their dirty language. Rafael was silent and serious, and after a while, he cleared his throat and with a grave countenance told them that today would be the last time they'd share a meal, and that he was going away, that he was saying goodbye to that life. The men reacted in different ways... with disbelief, with shock, with sadness, but once the initial surprise was over, they had the sense to talk quietly and speak their minds in that special way that their illiterate brains would let them. They even ended up having another swig from the wineskin to wish Rafael luck and laughing and joking as usual. Yet, oblivious to everybody and especially Rafael, a pair of dark eyes were looking at him in silence, brooding and plotting something that would give satisfaction to her shattered and humiliated soul.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The tall pinsapos greeted them as they lifted powerfully over their heads. The uneven terrain was covered in a greenish, rough layer of weeds, stained by rocks and bushes that jumped on their way. It was the middle of the summer and the shadows of the trees offered a good relief to the suffocating heat that the Andalusian sun generously granted its inhabitants. The huge mountains appeared before them like a monstrous giant that could swallow them forever at any moment. Yet, they continued the driving into the mysterious and fearsome domains of the famous bandoleros.

Kid sat on the carriage seat, still not quite believing he had been talked into this. What he should do is go to the guardia civil, who Francisca had said were in charge of hunting down the bandoleros, and turn these thieves in, Isabel, el ingles, and the whole lot of them. This hogwash about them being latter-day Robin Hoods notwithstanding, they were dangerous armed bandits, plain and simple, as far as he was concerned. He’d been moved to pity, though, by Isabel’s wide eyes and the sight of her holding little Luis. Perhaps the baby could have a normal life, and perhaps Rafael was really interested in walking the straight and narrow now, if only he could escape the reach of the authorities. Lou seemed to believe it, and when he had thought better of the plot in their bedroom after speaking to the young couple, she had kept him up for over an hour pleading with him to promise not to send baby Luis’ father and mother to jail and a possible death sentence by a fearsome device called a garotte.

Finally, though, he had given in as he could deny her nothing she asked for; the knowledge that their time together was to be so short led him to indulge her in everything, and in truth she usually catered to him and his whims in their constant travels as well. Looking back at Isabel, dozing peacefully in the back seat with the baby in her arms, and next to him at Lou, he sighed and figured whatever happened, would happen in this latest adventure of many he had already with his impulsive bride.

“We’re doing the right thing,” Lou whispered, happily. “Helping a young family to have a chance at a good honest life.”

“If you say so,” Kid said grumpily, slapping the reins on the horse’s back. They were near the place where they were to meet el inglés, but there was no sign of him. He pulled the wagon over to rest in a shady spot on the craggy mountainside, turning it to face the direction they had come from, and pulled his gun.

“Kid,” Lou protested, but he cut her off gently.

“Lou, I’m serious now. You stay here with Isabel and Luis. I’ll go ahead and make sure we’re not walking into an ambush.”

Lou shrugged, and agreed, turning to look at the peacefully dozing mother and son, and Kid kissed her on the cheek. “If you hear any gunshot, just take off in the other direction.”

“And leave you? Never,” she said indignantly. She produced her own Derringer, and Kid sighed, stroking the side of her face with his thumb. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he said, and he hopped down.

He’d stopped the carriage a good half-mile from the meeting place, out of caution for his passengers. He trusted el ingles about as far as he could throw the man, and he had no intention of riding up blindly and place the love of his life in danger, no matter whose idea all this was.

Kid crept quietly among the pine trees toward the meeting place, stopping short behind a large outcropping of limestone boulder when he saw el ingles arguing with a beautiful woman, who was fiercely shouting at him, tears of rage streaming from her eyes. Kid couldn’t understand the language, but the woman’s clinging hands, her slightly swollen belly, and finally the way she went down on her knees and clung to him told the tale without need for words. Kid bristled when he saw el inglés shove her away contemptuously and toss some reales at her, pointing to her horse. When she refused to get up, the bandolero advanced toward her, grabbing her and dragging her toward the horse. But before they could reach it, the young woman reached for the pistol in an elaborate holster at the man’s hip, and cocking the gun, leveled it at el ingles’ chest.

“Si no eres para mí no lo serás para nadie,” the woman screeched, pulling the trigger and as quickly, dropping to her knees in horror at her own act and weeping over him, pressing with her hands to stop the bleeding from the wound to the bandolero’s chest. “Lo siento,” she kept wailing, tears streaming down her face.

“Acércate, por favor” the wounded man murmured, and the woman bent over him, listening for his last words. But instead of whispering into her ear, el ingles pulled a pistol from his jacket and before Kid could react, shot the woman in the face, sending her backwards into the sandy dirt. The gun clattered to the ground, and Kid, stunned, approached the dying man and crouched beside him.

Looking at Kid, the bandolero gave a rueful half-smile. “El Kid,” he chuckled, coughing on his own blood, but still with a sparkle in his eye. “There are some misdeeds we cannot outrun, it seems . . . Angustias would rather see me dead than with another. ‘Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,’ and all that.” Seeing Kid’s noncommittal expression, el inglés explained, his voice getting fainter, “William Congreve? Never mind.” His eyes were glazing over, his face paling, as the blood pooling around him and he looked upward at the Griffon vultures starting to circle over him. Kid tried pressing down on the wound, trying to staunch the bleeding, but it was clear that a large vein was severed and within a few more moments the man was dead under his hands. He stood and looked around at the ugly scene. The woman, a whore, clearly, and her belly slightly swollen with child, it seemed. He stood pensively looking over the two corpses for a moment.

Finally, he hoisted Rafael over his shoulders and staggered back toward where he’d left the carriage, and about halfway there, as he’d known she would be, Louise was running toward him at full tilt with her gun drawn. “I thought I said to turn around with the carriage if you heard a shot,” he said, panting.

“What happened?” Lou asked, helping him lower Rafael to the ground. She bent over him, immediately realizing that he was dead.

Kid took her hand. “I’m sorry, honey, but there was a fight between Rafael and one of his men. I got there too late.”

“How can we tell Isabel?” Lou said, sadly, smoothing back el inglés’ blonde hair from his brow. “They were so close to getting away.”

“We’ll find a way. We need to bury him here, and then keep going to Cadiz, and all of us will get on the next boat out of Spain,” he said, looking at his wife and stroking her hand. She nodded, believing the lie as he hoped she would. There was no point in divulging that the romantic image that both Isabel and his wife had about the bandolero was just an image. The man was dead and couldn’t do any more harm. So who was he to shatter the hopes and dreams of the man’s widow She would hurt at losing her husband anyway. Kid didn’t want to add more pain by destroying the image of a man who had been her personal hero. If she could have her memories intact, then let it be. And as for Lou, he didn’t want to deprive her of that bit of romanticism in the adventure. Telling her the truth about Rafael, that he was nothing but a cheater would disappoint her idealistic spirit and he didn’t want her to lose those rose-colored dreams. He couldn’t offer her to dream about themselves, there was no tomorrow for them, just today, this minute, this second, so Kid just felt unable to kill her romantic dreams about others.

“At least . . . at least she will have her memories. His baby,” Lou said, half enviously. One day, either she or Kid would leave the other behind with less than that, she thought, but she knew that would be no comfort to the young mother they’d left behind them.

“Yes . . . at least she’ll have that. Let’s go get Isabel, bring her here to say her goodbyes, and then get on the road again,” Kid advised. He put his arm around Lou, and they walked slowly back to Isabel, where Kid told again the kind lie that would allow her to remember her baby’s father with only fondness and love.

As they had foreseen, the news of Rafael’s death was received with disbelief and bitterness from Isabel. The woman sobbed and wailed as they buried Rafael in his last abode, the mountains that had been his shelter all these years. Isabel kept mumbling in Spanish, kneeling before the cross that Kid had made for the man’s grave with two sticks he had found in the place. When she had calmed down a little, Isabel started praying for his soul in Latin, a language that Lou recognized from her time with the nuns at the orphanage. The sun was starting to approach the earth, showing that the day just had a few hours before it died. Not wanting to get lost in an area he didn’t know at night, Kid finally urged the women that they had to go. Isabel reluctantly rose to her feet and started following the couple to the place where they had left the carriage. She hugged her baby against her chest, feeling that Rafael was with her in his son and he’d never leave her alone. She sent one last look to the grave and as her feet moved out of the place, her lips let out a piercing cry as she left her man behind forever.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Months later, outside a small church in Rock Creek, Lou held baby Luis in her arms after his baptism. “I’ve heard that the harder the baby cries, the more the devil is coming out of him,” she laughed. “I’d say it’s all out now, wouldn’t you?” She jiggled the wailing baby and he subsided with a loud hiccup, and finally smiling beatifically up at his godparents. “He’s back to being a little angel,” Lou cooed, handing her namesake back to his mother.

“I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done,” Isabel said. “Getting me a job with the Hunters, and helping me get to the States . . . but tell me, what are your plans now?” The young gypsy had undergone a great change in the last months. The trip back to America hadn’t been easy, especially for Isabel who had been immersed in deep sadness. For weeks she had hardly eaten and kept crying for the death of Rafael. As they approached the American coast, fear had invaded her and she had been frightened to start a new life in a foreign country all by herself and having the burden of her son. Yet, Kid and Lou had shown her that there was nothing to be afraid and when they had reached Rock Creek after a long trip, they had made her feel at home. Isabel had started working as a housekeeper for Teaspoon and her previous appearance like a beggar was totally gone. She now looked like a distinguished lady. Her bitter memories were still with her, very much alive in her baby, but she had finally learned to live with them, knowing that she had left her heart in a clearing in the dark and mysterious Sierra Morena.

Lou smiled at Kid. “We’ve never planned our adventures really . . . we never do know exactly where we’ll end up next. Maybe California . . . maybe we’ll go West from there, who knows. But I promise we’ll see baby Luis again, God willing.”

“And we’ll be waiting for you.”

They went back to Teaspoon’s house, where Rachel made her usual fuss over them and they were able to see those of the old Express riders who still lived around the town, but their wanderlust took hold soon enough afterwards and they set off on a train to parts unknown, together.

Mercy's note: Thanks, Ellie, for letting me take part in this beautiful project of yours.

Ellie's note: Thank you to Mercy for agreeing to write this part of Kid and Lou's adventure with me, it was great fun, and I loved writing this story with you and learning about your beautiful and romantic country. Thanks again, Ellie.

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