Read an Excerpt
A Long and Winding Road
By Win Blevins
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2007 Win Blevins
All rights reserved.
A wedding procession delighted Santa Fe as much as anything except, maybe, a fandango. Old men and women, young boys and girls, courting teenagers, couples with the responsibility of families, the sober, the drunk, people who were happy, or habitually unhappy — everyone turned out to see the bridal party parade toward the church. People lifted their flasks and cried "Hola!" The town was celebrating.
In that spirit Sam Morgan breathed in the clear autumn air, looked around at his fellow riders, hoisted his jug, and took another swig. He knew it was too early to get swoopy, but this was a great day. He reached from one jouncing horse to another and handed the Taos lightning back to Pegleg Smith.
Kit Carson grabbed the jug from Pegleg, gurgled deep and long, and passed it on. Smith, who seemed to be drunk every day, growled at him. Carson answered by glaring back comically. "Coy!" said Carson, "bite that man's peg leg!"
Coy, Sam's pet coyote, gave Carson a disgusted look.
Pegleg had a reputation for fierce and wild. When he got wounded, the man cut off his own leg. Now he wrenched the whiskey away from someone and chugalugged. Then he fired his rifle into the air and roared, "I am a one-legged, whiskey-drinkin', woman-chasin,' alligatin' son of a mountain lion and a grizzly b'ar!"
Coy barked. Sam often wondered what the coyote's commentary meant.
"Ye-e-e-ha-a-w!" whooped Hannibal MacKye. Hannibal liked to act drunk when he wasn't — a safer way to go, he said. For good measure he fired his rifle into the air. KA-BLOOM!
All the boys fired their rifles and hollered. Carson pulled his pistol out of his belt and shot the hand gun off too. Sam grinned — both weapons were now empty. "Kit," said Sam, "if the Comanch hit us now, you got no pecker in your pants pouch."
"Then piss on 'em," said Carson.
The boys laughed loudly and roughly. Coy yipped.
Sam looked back to make sure Paloma wasn't close enough to hear the rough talk. He wouldn't have talked like that if he wasn't a little light in the head.
There was no danger of Comanches hitting, not here on the narrow, twisty river road that ran between Santa Fe's adobe houses, and certainly not on this warm autumn midday when the mountain men were leading the bridal party in a fine procession to the Church of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the plaza.
Eight or ten mountain men headed the parade on their horses, colorful in their beaded buckskins and bright sashes, rough with their beards and wind-whipped faces. One of them had switched professions, and looked it. Sumner, a black man turned to professional gambler, wore a tailored suit of lilac wool. In his opinion gambling was a much better job than standing in cold creeks and skinning stinky beaver.
Close behind walked the two brides and two grooms, dressed in the best clothes they could borrow. Paloma had improved the teenage brides' outfits with every piece of lace, embroidery, and fine fabric she could find. Lupe wore a full-skirted dress in broad bands of violet and white, with butter-colored lace on the bodice. Rosalita's bodice was emerald, above a flaring skirt of light green and gold, each broad stripe pointed at the bottom. The brides also tied rosemary to their sleeves, a traditional incense used to spark love.
All four of the betrothed were former slaves, stolen in Chihuahua and brought to this far northern province of Mexico. All of them had been bought out of slavery by Paloma. So this was a special occasion for Señora Paloma Luna, owner of Rancho de las Palomas, who for a decade had conducted a quiet campaign against slavery.
Behind the nuptial couples strode their families, which were makeshift, and tiny. Paloma herself acted as adopted mother to the brides and grand dame to the whole affair. Tomás, another teenager bought out of slavery, stood in as the brides' brother. Sam Morgan, Tomás's adopted father, rode ahead with his fellow mountain men. Stolen by Apaches, none of the slaves had ever seen their blood families again.
At the rear came Manuel Armijo, one-time governor of the province of New Mexico and several of his drinking partners. By no means part of the family, Armijo was former owner of both grooms. Somehow Paloma had twisted his arm until he agreed to lend the proceedings some social sanction. Sam turned on his horse and eyed Armijo. The former governor sat his ornate saddle with casual arrogance, and gazed with open lust at the women who lined the streets.
Paloma kept her eyes on the two couples. She was proud, and not thinking of the cretin behind her.
As the wedding procession passed, people from the narrow calles and low adobe houses ran out to watch and then fell in behind. All of Santa Fe loved a parade. Boys called to Coy, "Hola, Señor Coyote!"
Suddenly one of the horses unloaded a pile from beneath its tail. Kids tittered. Middle-aged Joaquin, the betrothed of Lupe, was looking at the crowd, head high, beaming at all the attention.
"Cuidado!" called one of the boys to Joaquin. 'Watch out!' The groom-to-be didn't pay any attention, and put the toe of his boot right into the pile.
Everyone laughed. The bridal party stopped, and Lupe said several choice words to Joaquin. The graying man stooped, whipped out a handkerchief (perhaps the only one he'd ever carried), and wiped off his boot. Then he walked over to the boy and presented him the handkerchief with a flourish.
The crowd roared.
"Amor y mierda," said Hannibal, "una pareja rara." 'Love and dung, an odd couple.' People laughed at this witticism, and the boy waved the handkerchief and grinned.
At the front, immediately ahead of Coy, walked Fiddlin' Red, along with Mexicans playing guitars and the bass guitarrónes. Red bowed out one dance after another, and the guitarists surrounded him with a cloud of sonorities. No one was dancing, but everyone in the procession felt as if they were.
Sam's attitude was, Why not? It was a beautiful afternoon, and his friends were getting married. Then he had to correct himself again — not friends, daughters. Lupe and Rosalita asked him to act as their father and give them away. Sam was glad to do that, because his adopted son Tomás called the girls his sisters. Torn away from their homes to a faraway land, they had formed a bond, and that was plenty for Sam.
More and more people thronged around or fell in with the parade. Santa Fe was in a festive mood.
Fiddlin' Red switched to a march. He arched his back, lifted the fiddle high, and bowed mightily. He was determined to be heard above the clopping of horses' hoofs, the shouts of children, and the hubbub of adult talk.
Watchers babbled and bobbed their heads. The town had buzzed about this wedding since the banns were posted. Most people said it was marvelous. Some of the rich called it an embarrassment. Sam wished he could hang these last folks up and quirt them.
The procession came into the plaza, the Palacio de Gobernadores on one side and the church at the far end, its spires pointing to a gorgeous sky of the blue particular to New Mexico. People called it Franciscan blue, after the robes the priests wore. Many homes in Santa Fe and Taos featured doors and window sills painted this hue.
Sam Morgan loved New Mexico. Now he looked hard at the spires. The priests said they pointed to heaven, but all he knew of heaven was the love of a man and woman. As a very young man he had been married for one year. He and Paloma had spent five winters as lovers.
As the wedding party marched across the plaza, Sam took his mare Paladin to the fore. Hannibal came along with his stallion Brownie, and they sprang a little surprise. Fiddlin' Red launched into a bouncy old Irish tune, "Mairi's Wedding," and the two riders lifted their voices. Sam had made up new words for the song.
Mountain men in Santa Fe
Young and enthusiastic
Dance we on our merry way
Trip the light fantastic
As trained, Paladin and Brown began to dance to the lively tune. They pranced forward four steps ahead, then shuffled four to the right and four to the left. On the last line of the verse, the horses did two curvets forward, leaps which took all four feet briefly off the ground.
The mountain men cheered, and the crowd roared.
Plenty liquor, sweet café
Eyes upon the lasses,
Fun for all and all will play
Trip the light fantastic.
As they moved in their saddles, dancing along with the horses, Sam and Hannibal reveled in the moment. The words meant something special that only they knew. Sam's mountain friends had sung "Mairi's Wedding" at the rendezvous of 1826, when he married Meadowlark. Then his wife died of childbed fever the next spring. All the years since he'd struggled with that. Paloma told him he sometimes lived in the dark corners of the past. Today, for special reasons he'd told only Hannibal, he was emerging from those shadows forever. So now, for another wedding, he gave the old tune bright new words.
On went the song, each verse ending with "trip the light fantastic" — and on went the dance. With the sun, the mild autumn air, song, dance, and the applause, the day was perfect.
When the music ended, Sam spoke to Coy, and the coyote bounded high onto his lap and let out an arching howl. Everyone laughed and cheered.
When they reached the steps of the church, the mountain men rode off to one side and let the brides and grooms come forward to the base of the steps. Sam dismounted and came alongside Rosalita, who was round and sweet-faced, and Lupe, whose visage spoke always of drama.
"I'd say Lupe's betrothed is in for a wild ride," Hannibal said.
Carson and Pegleg looked at him, putting together what 'betrothed' meant. Sober they might have been quicker.
"Ernesto got the sweet one," said Carson.
None of the mountain men knew Joaquin and Ernesto well — they were Armijo's field hands.
Sam stepped forward to join Paloma and Tomás at the front as the brides' family.
Father Reyes smiled down on everyone from the top of the steps and motioned them close.
Hannibal smiled to himself. Now was the time Sam would have to control his anger. And look at Paloma — her eyes lightninged fury at the priest.
When Paloma made the request of the priest weeks ago, he consented to marry these couples Yes, they were freed slaves, near the bottom of New Mexico's social order, but Paloma argued that they were also Catholics, baptized and raised in the church. They had a right to all the sacraments, including marriage.
The priest agreed. This was a breakthrough — no slave marriages had been sanctioned so publicly before.
"We will conduct the wedding on the steps of the church," added the priest, "and then we will enter the church for the mass."
Paloma was irked. "I was married in the church, in front of the altar. Why are they not treated the same?"
Since he was new to Santa Fe, perhaps Father Reyes didn't know about Señora Luna's battle. Slavery was accepted comfortably in New Mexico. All the rich had slaves, except for a few families, and some Americans. But Paloma Luna fought the slave trade and the holding of slaves passionately. Whenever she could afford it, she bought a slave girl and freed her. Her own household help at Rancho de las Palomas consisted of former slaves who chose to work for Paloma for wages. Among the wives of her field hands were slaves she had liberated. So when two of her girls wanted to marry men owned by Gobernador Armijo, Paloma splurged — she bought the men and freed them.
"Why?" repeated the padre to Señora Luna lightly. "Because it's traditional. Always the better families have been married near the altar, the poorer ones on the steps. In the old days, the higher your station, the closer to the altar your wedding was performed....
Paloma interrupted him. "This is the New World, and New Mexico."
The priest smiled and shrugged.
When Sam got back to the rancho from his fall beaver hunt two weeks ago, Paloma told him about the wedding, and added, "The priest is an ass."
Still, she prepared for the weddings with a flurry. She worked feverishly and spent her money wildly. Sam was impressed — Paloma was determined to make this ceremony beautiful.
Now the priest proceeded to make the formal declarations and ask the required questions: "Does any man know of impediments to these marriages?"
From the back the boy called, "Amor y mierda ..."
The mountain men laughed, the bridal party smiled, and the priest scowled.
One by one he asked the brides and grooms if they consented freely to this marriage.
"Do you want this woman?"
"Do you receive this man?"
The eyes of the brides glistened, and Joaquin of the dirty boot wept openly.
Father Reyes now spoke of the marriage bond lasting forever, of the importance of fidelity, the importance of conformity to the laws of the Church, and of marriage as a reflection of God's love for mankind.
At last he came to the marriage vows. One by one Father Reyes led them through, the marriage candidates repeating after him:
"Lupe," said Joaquin, now blubbering, "I take you to be my wife and I espouse you, and I commit to you the fidelity and loyalty of my body and my possessions, and I will keep you in health and sickness and in any condition it please our Lord that you should have, nor for worse or for better will I change towards you until the end."
Since Joaquin had done the crying for them, the others just spoke softly. Everyone was touched by their sincerity.
When the vows had been pronounced, the priest took the rings (Paloma had paid for them to be made of gold) and put them on the fourth fingers of the left hands of the brides. "Isidore of Seville," he said, "writes that we put the ring on the fourth finger because there is a vein there connected directly to the heart."
At this Hannibal led the mountain men in a rousing cheer, and they all fired their weapons again. Coy let out a fusillade of yips.
"On that note," said the priest, "let us enter the church for the mass."
Hannibal and the other mountain men filed into the church behind everyone else. Sam had talked them into it. They weren't Catholics, or at least were too sinful to take communion. What they wanted was a blow-out. And that was coming — after the wedding, everyone would ride downriver to Rancho de las Palomas for a feast and plenty of Taos lightning. But Sam had convinced them that as free men — "Wild men," put in Hannibal — they should stand up for these freed slaves.
The buckskinned figures stood at the back of the church. Sam and the two brides waited at the rear. When the priest began to chant the entrance antiphon — "May the Lord send you help from His holy place and from Zion may he watch over you. May He grant you your heart's desire and lend His aid to all your plans" — Sam stepped forward with a bride on each arm, beaming.CHAPTER 2
Sam and Hannibal wandered around the party, Coy tagging along. Sam wanted to be with Paloma — to talk and drink and dance with her — but she'd asked the two of them to play the convivial hosts. Sam looked at her across the courtyard. "She's acting a little distant," he told his friend.
"You going to let that stop you?"
Sam shook his head. "This is our big night." Hannibal was in on the secret of the gift.
They checked on Red and the guitarists in the courtyard. Three more players wandered around performing serenades — Armijo had hired these others spontaneously. The governor loved a baile.
Sam, Hannibal, and Coy stopped to greet a merchant here, a tradesman there. Several times Hannibal poured from decanters, wine Paloma produced here on the rancho. Occasionally Sam accepted a sip himself, and he was pleasantly tipsy.
Couples moved rhythmically to the music in the courtyard. Some of them were Santa Fe married couples, others young people courting, others American mountain men swinging any willing women. The custom was that no trapper spent the night alone after a blow-out. Some married pairs huddled here and there, talking and drinking Paloma's wine. They didn't entirely approve of the libertine ways of the young women with the Americans.
"There's none of the big families here except Armijo," said Hannibal.
"The rich don't like the way Paloma sees things."
"The anthropophagi wouldn't," said Hannibal agreeably.
Excerpted from A Long and Winding Road by Win Blevins. Copyright © 2007 Win Blevins. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.