Eve watched the blue roan scramble back up the head of the steep ravine. It was the fifth chute down the plateau Reno had tried in the past two hours. So far, each ravine had ended in a cliff that horses couldn’t descend.
This time, however, Reno had been gone at least half an hour. Though Eve didn’t say anything, she couldn’t keep a look of hope from her face. Without realizing it, she ran her tongue over her lips. No shine of moisture followed.
«Take a drink,» Reno said as he rode up. «You’re as dry as stone.»
«I can’t drink when my horse is so thirsty, she tries to crawl in my pocket each time I pick up the canteen.»
«Don’t let the sweet-faced fraud fool you. She sucked one of those littletinajasdry while you were a quarter mile back, trying to fall into that big slot.»
«Tinajas?» Eve frowned, then remembered what the Spanish word meant. «Oh. Those holes in the rock where rainwater collected. Is the water good?»
«The mustangs liked it.»
«You didn’t drink any?»
«The horses needed it more than I did. Besides,» Reno admitted with a slight grin, «I wasn’t thirsty enough to strain all those little critters between my teeth.»
Eve’s laughter surprised Reno. She was dusty, worn-out, scuffed from crawling over rock…and he had never seen a woman who appealed to him more. He tucked a tawny lock behind her ear, ran his fingertip over the line of her jaw, and touched her lips with the ball of his thumb.
«Mount up,» he said softly. «There’s something I want to show you.»
Curious, Eve stepped into the stirrup and rode alongside Reno as far as the trail allowed. To her surprise, the shallow ravine didn’t get deeper right away as the others had. Instead, it got wider and wider, descending gently through pinons and cedar.
Gradually the slickrock became buried under dirt. More and more small gullies joined the ravine, widening it, until they were riding through a valley that was nearly surrounded by steep walls of stone.
Eve turned and looked at Reno with hope on her face and a question in her eyes.
«I don’t know,» Reno said quietly. «But it looks good. I rode another mile and nothing changed.»
Eve closed her eyes and let out a breath she hadn’t even known she was holding.
«No water, though,» Reno added reluctantly.
For several miles there were no sounds but that of an eagle keening on the wind, the creak of leather as the horses walked, and the muffled beat of hooves on the dry earth. Though it was late in the afternoon, the sunlight still held an amazing amount of heat.
Clouds gathered into groups high overhead. Their color ranged from white to a blue-black that promised rain. But not on the plateau. It wasn’t high enough to trap these clouds. Only the mountains were. Nowhere had Eve seen running water on the plateau.
He made a rumbling sound that said he had heard.
«Does it rain here?»
«Where does it all go?» she asked.
«Yes, but where is it? We’re downhill from something, and there’s no water.»
«The streams only run after a rain,» he said.
«What about the mountain streams?» she persisted. «It rains there all the time, and snow melts. Where does the water go?»
«Into the air and into the ground.»
«Not down to the sea?»
«From here to the Sierra Nevadas of California, I know of only one river that gets all the way to the sea before it dries up — Rio Colorado.»
Eve rode silently for a few minutes, trying to understand how there could be land and no water.
«How far is it to California?» she asked.
«Maybe six hundred miles as the crow flies. Hell of a lot farther the way we do it.»
«And only one river?»
Eve rode in silence for a long time, trying to comprehend a land so dry, you could ride for weeks and find only one river. No streams, no creeks, no brooks, no lakes, no ponds, nothing but red rock, creamy stone, and shades of rust where any vegetation stood out like a green flag on the dry land.
The thought was both frightening an oddly exhilarating, like waking into a landscape seen before only in dreams.
As the valley slowly dropped down to an unknown end, the buff-colored cliffs that rose on either side became more and more of a barrier. From time to time Eve turned and looked over her shoulder. If she hadn’t known that a way onto the plateau existed behind them, she wouldn’t have guessed it from the view. The rock wall looked seamless.
Gradually the valley changed, becoming more narrow as the stone ramparts closed in once more. Twice they had to dismount and lead the mustangs over a particularly difficult patch of land, squeezing between massive boulders and sliding down gullies floored with water-polished stone.
The sun descended as they did, but with more ease. Long shafts of light gilded the stones and painted dense velvet shadows behind the least irregularity of the land.
«Look,» Eve said suddenly, her voice low. «What’s that?»
«Where?» Reno asked.
«At the base of the cliff, just to the left of the notch.»
Silence, then Reno whistled softly and said, «Ruins.»
Air rushed out of Eve’s lungs. «Can we get over there?»
«We’re sure going to try. Where there are ruins, there’s usually water somewhere nearby.»
He glanced sideways at her and added, «But don’t count on it. Some of the Indians depended on cisterns that have long since cracked and let out all the water.»
Despite Reno’s warning, it was hard for Eve not to show her disappointment when they finally worked their way through the pinon and juniper to the rubble-strewn base of the cliff and found no sign of permanent water.
As the sun descended beyond the rim of the canyon, she sat on her tired mustang and looked at the broken walls, oddly shaped windows, and walled-up rooms of the ruins. The silence in the canyon was complete, as though even the animals avoided the broken reminders of people who had come and gone like rain over the face of the land.
«Maybe that’s what happened to them,» Eve said. «No water.»
«Maybe,» Reno said. «And maybe they lost too many battles to hold on to what they had.»
Half an hour after the sun slid behind stone ramparts, the sky overhead was still bright with afternoon light. Gradually the breeze shifted, coming from a different quarter. One after another, the mustangs threw up their heads, pricked their ears, and sniffed the wind.
Reno’s six-gun appeared in his hand with startling speed, but he didn’t fire.
Gooseflesh prickled over Eve as she saw an Indian walking toward them from the direction of the ruins.
«I thought Indians avoided places like this,» she said softly.
«They do. But sometimes a very brave shaman will go to the old places on a medicine quest. From the looks of his silver hair, I’d guess he’s come to ask his last questions of his gods.»
Reno’s six-gun went back into its holster as soon as the Indian was close enough for Reno to see that he was painted for making medicine rather than war. The once colorful paint was cracked and dusty, as though the shaman had been a long, long time in his quest. Reno reached back into a saddlebag for the small sack of trade goods he always kept, pulled out a pouch of tobacco, and dismounted.
«Stay put,» he said. «Don’t speak to him unless he speaks to you first.»
Eve watched curiously as Reno and the shaman silently exchanged greetings. The sign language they used was oddly graceful, as fluid as water. After a time, the pouch of tobacco was offered and accepted. Privately Eve thought that food would have been a better gift; the shaman looked drawn and worn, as lean as a mustang that had never known the touch of a man.
And like a mustang, the shaman was alert, aloof, fierce in his freedom. When he turned and looked directly at Eve, she felt the force of his presence as clearly as she had felt Reno’s when they held the Spanish needles.
It seemed like a long time before the shaman looked away, freeing her from his clear, uncanny eyes.
When the old man faced Reno once more, the Indian’s arms and hands described graceful arcs, quick lines, flashing motions that Eve could barely follow. Reno watched intently. His very stillness told Eve that something unexpected was happening.
Without warning the Indian turned and walked away. He didn’t look back.
Reno turned and looked at Eve strangely.
«Is something wrong?» she asked.
He shook his head slowly. «No.»
«What did he say?»
«Near as I can tell, he came here to see the past and instead saw the future. Us. He didn’t like it, but the gods had answered his quest, and that was that.»
Eve frowned. «How odd.»
«Shamans usually are,» Reno said dryly. «The really curious thing was his medicine paint. I’ve never seen an Indian use the old signs from the rock walls.»
Reno looked over his shoulder. The shaman was gone. Frowning, he looked back to Eve.
«He told me there was water ahead.»
«Then he told me the gold I was seeking was already in my hand,» Reno continued.
«Then he told me I couldn’t see the gold, so he would tell me how to get to the Spanish mine.»
«He knew?» she asked.
«Seemed to. The landmarks match.»
«And he just told you?»
«Why?» Eve asked.
«I asked the same thing. He said it was his revenge for seeing a future he didn’t want to see. Then he walked off.»
Reno reclaimed the blue roan’s reins and mounted in a muscular surge.
«Revenge. Dear God.»
«Let’s see if he was right about the water,» Reno said. «Otherwise we may not live to worry about the revenge.»
He turned Darlin’ toward the long shadows flowing out from the base of the cliffs.
«Deer sign,» Reno said after ten minutes.
Eve looked, but could make out nothing in the dusk.
«No sign of wild horses,» he continued. «Strange. Damn few water holes that a mustang can’t find.»
As the sky and clouds overhead became touched with scarlet sunset, a narrow side canyon opened in the stone cliffs. Reno turned the blue roan in to it. Within minutes the side canyon narrowed so much that they had to go in single file. After a few yards of sand, the floor of the channel became smooth, water-polished stone. A shallow pool shimmered in the failing light.
Darlin’ tugged at the bit eagerly.
«Slow down, knothead,» Reno muttered. «Let me check it out first.»
While Eve held the horses, Reno read the sign left in the very fine silt that bordered the shrinking pool. He came back to the horses, stripped off canteens, and began filling them. When he was finished, he stepped back.
«Let them in one at a time,» Reno said.
While Darlin’ drank, he watched the level of the pool intently.
«All right, girl. That’s enough. Let the dun have a turn.»
Under Reno’s quick eyes, the four horses were allowed to drink their fill. When they were finished, little remained but a churned, silty puddle barely a quarter the size that the shallow pool had been before the horses arrived.
«Will it fill again?» Eve asked.
Reno shook his head. «Not until the next rain.»
«When will that be?»
«Could be tomorrow. Could be next month.»
He looked beyond the puddle to the place where the stone walls pinched in.
«Look!» Eve said.
Reno turned to her. Silently she pointed to the wall behind him. There, on the rusty face of the rock, someone had chipped out a symbol. It was the same as one of the symbols in the Spanish journal.
«Permanent water,» Eve translated.
Reno looked at the puddle and then at the dry, unpromising slot that was so narrow he would have to enter it sideways.
«Take the horses back to grass and hobble them,» Reno said. «Sleep if you can.»
«Where are you going?»
«To look for water.»
THE following Reno slept until a rising tide of sunlight crested the high canyon walls and flowed through the hidden valley. He awoke as he always did, all at once, with no fuzzy twilight between sleep and full alertness. He rolled on his side and looked across the ashes of the small campfire at the girl who slept on her side with her hair a tawny glory spilling across the blankets.
Desire tightened Reno’s body in a rush as silent and deep as the sunlight filling the valley. With a whispered curse, he rolled out of bed.
The crackle of the campfire startled Eve. She awoke in a rush, sitting up so suddenly that blankets scattered.
«Easy, gata. It’s just me.»
Blinking, Eve looked around. «I fell asleep.»
«That you did. About fourteen hours ago.» Reno looked up from the fire. «You woke up when I came in.»
«I don’t remember.»
Reno did. When he had covered her, she sleepily kissed his hand and then snuggled deeper into the blankets, for the nights were always crisp.
The trust implicit in Eve’s caress had burned through Reno like lightning through night. He had almost slid in bed beside her. The amount of self-control it had taken not to peel off the blankets and run his hands all over her had shocked Reno.
It told him how much he wanted a girl who didn’t want him. Not really. Not enough to give herself to him out of sheer passion.
«Did you find water?» she asked.
«That’s why we’re not on the trail right now. The horses need rest.»
So did Eve, but Reno knew she would insist they get on the trail if she thought he was stopping only for her. The exhaustion implicit in her deep sleep last night had told Reno how close Eve was to the end of her strength.
They ate breakfast in a lazy kind of silence that was more companionable than any conversation could have been. When they were finished, he smiled at her as she hid a yawn.
«Feel up to a little walk?» he asked.
«Less than a quarter of a mile.»
Eve smiled and got to her feet.
She followed Reno into the narrow slot at the head of the feeder canyon. Her shoulders fit without walking sideways, which gave her an easier time of it for the first few yards. Then she, too, had to wriggle and twist to make any progress. Gradually the stone passage widened until two people could walk abreast. The rock walls became cool and damp. Puddles gleamed on the solid rock floor of the canyon.
Twisting, turning, the slot canyon widened as it snaked through layers of rock. Small pools appeared. Some were only inches deep. Some were a foot or more. The water was cool and clean, for it was held in basins of solid stone.
The sound of falling water came from somewhere ahead. Eve froze, listening with her breath held. She had never heard anything so beautiful as the musical rush of water in a dry land.
Moments later Reno led Eve into a bell-shaped opening in the slot canyon. A stream of water no wider than Reno’s hand leaped from a shelf ten feet high and fell into a plunge pool carved from solid stone. The sound the water made was cool, exquisite, a murmur of prayer and laughter combined. From every crevice, ferns trailed, their fronds a green so pure it burned like emerald flame against the stone. Rays from the overhead sun touched the mist-bathed opening, making it blaze with a million tiny rainbows.
Eve stood for a long time, lost in the beauty of the secret pool.
«Watch your step,» Reno said in a hushed voice as he finally started forward.
Moss softened the stone floor, making the footing tricky. The small marks left by Reno’s passage on the previous day were the only sign that anything living had visited the pool for a long, long time.
But men had come there before. Indians and Spaniards had picked out messages and names in the surface of the sheer sandstone walls.
«Fifteen-eighty,» Reno read aloud.
Next to the date, a man had written his name in an arcane, formal script: Captain Cristobal Leon.
«My God,» Eve breathed.
She traced the date with fingers that trembled, thinking of the man who had left his mark centuries before. She wondered if he had been as thirsty as they were when they found the first pool, and if he had been struck by the uncanny beauty of the final pool veiled in thousands of shimmering rainbows.
There were other marks on the rock wall, figures that owed nothing to European traditions of art or history. Some of the drawings were easy enough to puzzle out — stick deer with spreading antlers, arrowheads, a ripple that probably meant water or river. Other figures were more enigmatic. Faces that were not human, figures that wore ghostly robes, eyes that had been open for thousands of years.
The shaman had worn such drawings. Perhaps other men had once. But now no men built stone cities and came to drink from the pool. No women came to dip gourds and water jars in the cool silence of the canyon. No children wet small fingers and made fleeting drawings on the rock walls.
Yet there was an odd peace within the crystal laughter of the pool. Orphaned or not, saloon girl or saint, friend or friendless, Eve knew she was part of the vast rainbow of life that stretched from the unknowable past to the unforeseen future. Hands like hers had created engimas on rock walls countless centuries ago. Minds like hers would try to solve the riddles countless years ahead.
Reno bent down, found a cobble the size of his palm, and began hammering carefully on the rock wall. With each strike of stone against stone, the thin black veneer that time and water had left upon the stone chipped away, revealing the lighter stone beneath.
Within a surprisingly short time, he had picked out the date and the name Matthew Moran.
«Is your name really Evening Star?» Reno asked without turning around.
«My name is Evelyn,» she said in a husky voice. «Evelyn Starr Johnson.»
Then she blinked back tears, for she was no longer the only one alive who knew her real name.
EVE floated on her back, watching the sapphire sky overhead and the inky shadows that shifted slowly against sheer rock walls. The ripples made by falling water rocked her gently. From time to time she steadied herself with a hand on the smooth stone or on the cool bottom of the pool a few feet beneath her body.
Suspended in time as well as water, turning as slowly as the day, Eve knew she should go back to camp, but she wasn’t ready to leave the pool’s peace just yet. She wasn’t ready to face the smoldering green of Reno’s eyes as he watched her with a hunger that was almost tangible.
Eve wondered what Reno saw in her own eyes when he turned suddenly and found her watching him. She was afraid he saw a reflection of her own hunger for him. She wanted to know again the surprising, sweet fire that came when he held her close.
Yet she wanted more than Reno’s passion. She wanted his laughter and his dreams, his silences and his hopes. She wanted his trust and his respect and his children. She wanted everything with him that a man and a woman could share: joy and sorrow, hope and heartache, passion and peace, all of life ahead of them like an undiscovered country.
And most of all, Eve wanted Reno’s love.
He wanted her body. And nothing more.
I’ll keep the ring and the pearls until I find a woman who loves me more than she loves her own comfort.
And while I’m at it, I’ll find a ship made of stone, a dry rain, and a light that casts no shadows.
Eve closed her eyes on a wave of unhappiness. Yet no matter how tightly she shut her eyes against the truth, it was there behind her eyelids, haunting her.
There was one way to convince Reno that he was wrong about her. One way to convince him that she wasn’t a cheater and conniver, a strumpet in a red dress. One way.
Give herself to him, paying off a bet that never should have been made and betting her future once more at the same time.
Then he’ll see that I didn’t lie about my innocence, that I keep my word, that I am worthy of his trust. Then he’ll look at me with more than lust. He’ll want more from me than the use of my body until we find the mine.
There was no answer to that question except to bet herself once more. A chill coursed through Eve at the immensity of the risk she would be taking.
What if he takes everything I have to give and gives nothing in return but his own body?
That was the danger, the risk, and the probable outcome. Part of Eve knew it with the cool logic of an orphan who had learned to survive whatever life threw her way.
And part of Eve had always believed there was more to life than simple survival. Part of her believed in miracles such as laughter in the face of pain, the joy of a baby discovering raindrops, and a love great enough to overcome distrust.
She’s a card cheat and a thief, and she set me up to die.
Unhappily Eve finished her bath, dried herself, put on the shirt Reno had lent her, and walked back to camp.
Reno’s eyes burned with hunger when he looked at her.
«I left the soap there for you,» Eve said. «And the towel.»
He nodded and walked past her. She watched until he disappeared into the slot before she went to the clothesline that had been rigged between two pinons.
Eve turned Don Lyon’s black twill pants over on the clothesline. The white ruffled shirt wasn’t quite dry. She shook it out and draped it over the rope again. She turned Reno’s dark pants over as well, envying him the luxury of a change of clothing. Since her flour-sack dress had fallen apart, she had nothing but Don Lyon’s second-best gambling clothes to wear, for she had buried him in his best.
There’s always the red dress.
A grimace went over Eve’s face at the thought. She would never again wear that dress in front of Reno. She would rather go naked.
Then she wondered if Reno was naked now, bathing as she had bathed in the rainbow pool. The thought was unsettling.
Eve’s restless glance fell on the journals lying side by side on Reno’s bedroll. Eve grabbed them and sat cross-legged, tucking the long shirttails between her knees. Beyond the narrow slot that held the pool, the sun was still a hot, slanting presence across the late afternoon sky. The clear, pouring light made the journals easy to read.
The spare prose of Caleb’s father said much about the centuries the Indians had spent under Spanish rule…
Bones poking up through the desert pavement. Femur and part of a pelvis. Looks to be a child. Female. Scraps of leather nearby.
Bent Finger says the bones belong to an Indian slave. Only the children could fit into the dog holes the Spaniards called mines.
Spanish sign on the rock. Crosses and initials.
Bent Finger says the scattered stones were once a vista, a kind of small mission. Tiny copper bell found with the child’s bones. It was cast, not hammered.
Spanish didn’t call them slaves. Slavery was immoral. So they called it the Encomienda. The savages owed the Spanish for Christian teaching. Pay off in coin or pay off in labor.
War was immoral, too. So the King had a Requerimiento, a requirement that had to be read before fighting commenced. It told the savages that anyone who fought God’s soldiers placed himself beyond the pale.
Upshot of the Requerimiento was any Indian who fought the Spanish was declared a slave and sent to the mines. Since Spanish was gibberish to the Indians, they didn’t understand the warning.
Not that it mattered. Indians would have fought anyway.
Spanish priests ran the mines. Slave labor. Men lasted about two years. Women and children a lot less.
Hell on Earth in the name of God.
Coolness condensed along Eve’s spine as she thought of the ruins she had seen back up the valley. The descendants of the people who had built those many-storied dwellings weren’t dumb animals to be enslaved by other men.
But they had been enslaved, and no war had been waged for the sake of their freedom. They had lived, endured brutal labor, died young, and been buried like rubbish in unmarked graves.
Eve felt a kinship with the forgotten dead. More than once in the past few days, she and Reno had come close to dying alone and unnoticed, their graves no more than whatever piece of earth they fell upon when they drew their last breath. The lesson of mortality was as old as man’s expulsion from Eden. Life was brief. Death was eternal.
Eve wanted more from life than she had known so far. She wanted something she couldn’t name.
Yet even without a name, Eve knew that it awaited her within Reno’s arms.