«It's hard to believe we aren’t the first people to see this land,» Eve said as they came back to the mouth of the small valley.
«Feels that way,» Reno agreed, «but there’s plenty of signs that men have been through here.»
He reined in, hooked his right leg around the saddle horn, and lifted the spyglass again, but not to look at the meadow. Slowly he surveyed the green patchwork of forest and meadow falling away to the dry lands below, seeking any sign of the men he was certain were following them. The brass casing of the spyglass glowed in the muted light with every shift in direction.
«What signs?» Eve asked after a minute.
«See that stump at the edge of the meadow, right in front of that big spruce?»
Eve looked. «Yes.»
«You get close enough and you’ll see ax marks.»
«Indians?» she asked.
«How can you be sure?»
«Steel ax marks, not stone.»
«Indians have steel axes,» Eve said.
«Not when that tree was chopped down.»
«How can you tell?»
Reno lowered the spyglass and gave his attention to Eve. He had come to enjoy her curiosity and quick mind as much as he did her feline grace.
«That big spruce has roots that were shaped around the fallen log that came off that stump,» Reno said. «Since the spruce has been there a long time, the log must have been there, too.»
«Why would someone go to all the trouble of chopping down a tree and not take it?»
«Probably they were forced to leave by weather or Indians or news that the Spanish king had double-crossed the Jesuits and they could look forward to going home in chains.» He shrugged. «Or maybe they only wanted the top of the tree to use as thatching or to make a chicken ladder for the mine.»
Eve frowned. «What’s a chicken ladder?»
«If I could find the damned mine, I’d probably be able to show you one,» muttered Reno, putting the spyglass to work again.
«If you stopped looking over our back trail, maybe you’d find the mine,» she said dryly.
With an impatient movement, Reno collapsed the spyglass and straightened in the saddle.
«There’s nobody there,» he said.
«I think you’d be happy about that.»
«I’d be a lot happier if I knew where they were.»
«At least they can’t be preparing an ambush up ahead,» Eve pointed out. «There’s only one way into this valley.»
«Which means there’s only one way out.»
Distant thunder rumbled from a peak that was buried in a mound of clouds. Wind twisted through the forest like an invisible river, stirring everything within reach of its transparent currents. The air smelled of evergreens and an autumn chill sliding down from the heights, riding the crest of a golden wave of aspens.
Reno looked around with narrowed green eyes, bothered by something about the high valley that he couldn’t quite define.
Yawning, Eve closed her eyes, then half opened them, enjoying the rich color of the late afternoon light and the knowledge that they would be making camp soon. Lazily she looked around, trying to guess if Reno would choose this place to camp or press on beyond the head of the valley to see if there was a way through the massed peaks.
An odd pattern of meadow growth caught Eve’s attention, plants arrayed in a nearly perfect circle. She knew that natural outlines were rarely geometrical. Man, not nature, had invented formal gardens with precise curves, right angles, and hedges pruned into unlikely shapes.
The circular patch of plants lay near one of several small springs that formed the headwaters of a branch of the creek that drained the valley. Eve reined the lineback dun closer to the plants. Dismounting, she went to check the circle on foot. At its edges the ground was bedrock covered by a thin skin of soil. Yet in the circle itself, there was a profusion of plants that usually preferred richer ground.
When Reno turned to say something to Eve, he saw that she was on her hands and knees at the edge of the meadow. In the next instant he realized what had seemed wrong to him about the landscape.
Beneath the growth of grass and trees, there were angles and arcs that suggested man had once cut, cleared, and built in the meadow.
Reno dismounted in a rush, grabbed a shovel from the outside of one of the pack saddles, and headed for Eve. She looked up as she heard him approach.
«There’s something odd about this,» she began.
«There sure is.»
He positioned the shovel, rammed it home with his boot, and struck stone six inches down. He went to another part of the circle and then another. Each time it was the same — six inches of plants and soil, and then solid stone.
Reno walked slowly toward the center of the circle, testing the depth of the soil every few inches. When he got to the center, the shovel bit deeply but didn’t find stone.
He turned to Eve with a slashing grin and pure excitement dancing in his green eyes.
«You found yourself anarrastra, sugar girl,» he said.
«Is that good?»
Reno’s laughter was as bright and golden as the sunlight.
«It sure is,» he said. «Next best thing to finding the mine itself.»
He made a purring, rumbling sound of satisfaction.
«This is the center hole,» Reno said, gesturing with the shovel for emphasis. «It supported the mill that dragged the stone over the ore, crushing it as fine as sand.»
Before Eve could ask a question, Reno bent and began digging once more, working methodically until he had bared a section of rock.
«They worked this crusher long and hard,» he said. «The millstone wore the bedrock down so much that it left a circular trough for plants to grow in once the mine was abandoned.»
«What turned the millstone?» she asked. «Even with a dam, there isn’t enough water in the little springs to do the job.»
«No sign of a dam anywhere nearby,» Reno said.
The shovel scraped against bedrock, gouging away dirt, leaving bare stone behind. Cracks and seams in the surface were marked by soil that was darker than the stone.
«They could have used horses to turn the mill,» Reno continued. «But likely it was slaves. They had more of them than they had horses.»
Eve rubbed her hands over her arms. Though she wore one of Reno’s dark shirts over Don Lyon’s old gambling shirt, she felt chilled. It was as though the very ground were infused with the cruelty of the Spaniards and the misery of the slaves.
Reno went down on one knee, used the shovel blade to ream out a crack, and made a triumphant sound.
«Quicksilver in the cracks,» he said succinctly. «No doubt of it. Thisarrastrawas used on metal ore.»
«The Spaniards used quicksilver on the crushed ore. The mercury stuck to the gold but not the ore itself. Then they heated the amalgam, vaporizing the quicksilver and melting the gold. Then they poured the gold into molds.»
Brushing off his hands, Reno stood and stared around intently.
«What are you looking for?» Eve asked after a time.
«The mine. The Spaniards weren’t stupid. They didn’t move the ore one more foot than they had to before they refined it.»
«There’s supposed to be a trio of big fir trees just to the left of the mine opening when you’re standing with the sun at your back at three o’clock on the third Saturday in August,» Eve said eagerly.
He grunted and kept looking.
«There are a lot of big fir trees growing three to a bunch no matter what time of the day or month it is,» he said after a few moments.
Frowning in concentration, Eve tried to remember the other clues from the journal. She and Don had once taken turns reciting them to each other while Donna sat nearby, smiling and shaking her head at the dream of wealth that wouldn’t die.
«There’s a turtle carved on a gray rock fifteen paces to the right of the mine,» Eve offered.
«A pace can be anywhere from two feet to three, depending on the height of the man doing the pacing. But if you want to look at every boulder for a turtle, I won’t get in your way.»
Eve grimaced. The little valley was carpeted with boulders of all sizes and shapes.
«A burn scar on the north side of —» she began.
«Burn scars heal,» Reno interrupted. «Little trees grow into big ones. Big ones die and get blown down. Lightning starts new fires. Downed trees rot or are overgrown with brush. Landslides change the shape of the mountain.»
«Look up there,» Reno said, pointing.
Eve looked and saw a pale scar on the mountain where rock and thin soil had sheered away, scouring down a ravine and finally filling it, burying whatever might have been a landmark before.
«That could have happened twenty years ago or two hundred and twenty years ago,» Reno said. «Without evergreens or aspen growing in the scar, it’s hard to tell. Fireweed and willow or alder can grow in a few seasons and regrow each season forever. Landmarks that rely on plants are damn near useless.»
«Then how are we going to find the mine?» Eve asked in dismay.
«The same way you found thearrastra. Look for something out of place, and keep on looking for it until it jumps up and slaps you in the face.»
For the rest of that day and all of the next, Reno and Eve quartered the valley like patient hounds, crossing and recrossing the area around the overgrownarrastra. They found a rectangle whose outline had once been logs and now was little more than a mulch in which various plants flourished. They found bits of leather nearly petrified by long exposure to the dry, cold mountain air.
They found no sign of the mine itself.
Eve scrambled up a rubble slope and found a shallow alcove tucked beneath a wall of rock, protected from all but the most violent storms. With an eye sharpened by hours of searching, she noted that the lines of rotting wood that came out from the alcove were too orderly to be accidental. Once there had been a lean-to or shed extending outward.
In the farthest recess of the alcove Eve found a pile of rubble and a crushed sack made of woven leather strips. Nearby were the charcoal remains of an ancient fire. Quickly she went to the ledge and called across the meadow.
«Reno! I’ve found signs of men up here!»
A few minutes later Reno came up the slope like a cat, fast and surefooted. He took in the alcove with a swift glance that missed nothing.
Bands of different rocks made faint patterns on the walls and ceiling and floor. He ran his fingertips over the surface of the ceiling, feeling the marks men had left when they used picks and hammer stones to widen and deepen the natural alcove.
The shelter could have been a mine head, a living space, or a storage area. Near the remains of the ancient fire were pieces of crude pottery and a rotted wooden shape that might have been a spoon. That suggested a cooking fire, which suggested that men had lived in the alcove rather than mined it.
Turning to the leather sack, Reno sat on his heels and poked at the stiff leather weave. Bits of white stone were caught between pieces of leather. Frowning, he looked again at the rock that made up the alcove’s walls and ceilings. No streaks of white caught his eye.
«Is it the mine head?» Eve asked when she could no longer stand the suspense.
«Could be, but it looks more like slave quarters.»
«See this long strap attached to thetenate?»
«A sack or basket for carrying ore. See this thick strap? The padded part rested on the slave’s forehead. The rest of the strap went back over his shoulders and attached to the sack.»
Eve frowned. «That’s an odd way to carry anything.»
«It works better than you’d think,» Reno said. «You lean forward and take the weight of thetenateon your forehead and back. That leaves your hands free for mining or climbing or balancing on the chicken ladders. You can carry a hundred pounds like that all day long.»
She looked dubious.
«In fact,» Reno continued, «I’ve carried more than that, back when I was young and foolish enough to try mining rich man’s gold with a poor man’s tools.»
«Maybe you could carry a hundred pounds all day,» Eve said wryly. «I’d be lucky to lug half that for a few hours.»
Reno’s mustache shifted over a quick smile, but he said no more. Instead, he sat on his heels again and began digging at the remains of the woven leather.
«What are you after?» she asked.
«Pieces of ore are still caught in the weave.»
Eagerly Eve bent forward. «Really? Let me see!»
He pried out a piece of the pale, opaque quartz. Whistling softly between his teeth, he turned the fragment of ore over and over on his palm. The jagged bit of quartz was no bigger than the ball of his thumb.
«Pretty, isn’t it?» Reno murmured.
«It is?» Eve asked, unimpressed.
Smiling, Reno turned and held his palm closer to Eve’s eyes.
«See the bright specks mixed in with the white?» he asked.
«That’s gold,» he said.
«Oh.» Eve frowned. «Goodness, it couldn’t have been a very rich mine.»
The disappointment in her voice made Reno laugh out loud. He tugged lightly on a stray lock of her hair.
«Sugar girl, it’s a good thing you dealt a gold prospector that pat hand back in Canyon City. You could have walked right over the strike of a lifetime and not known it.»
«You mean this is worth mining?» Eve asked, flicking her fingernail against the quartz.
«It’s one of the richest pieces of ore I’ve ever seen,» Reno said simply.
Eve gave him a startled look.
«If the vein was more than a few inches thick,» he said, «the Spanish priests had themselves one hell of a gold mine somewhere around here.»
«Somewhere. But where?»
Thoughtfully Reno tucked the ore into his pocket, went to his saddlebags, and pulled out an odd hammer. Shaped like a small pick at one end and a squared-off hammer on the other, the tool was handy for knocking off chunks of rock to see what lay beneath the weathered surface.
Steel rang against stone as Reno raked and gouged at various points along the alcove’s ceiling and walls, testing the different layers of stone. The unweathered fragments that came away were lighter in color than the surface rock, but none was as light as the fragment of ore.
Eve peered at one of the gouges Reno had abandoned.
«Look!» she said suddenly. «Gold!»
Reno didn’t even pause in his hammering. He had already seen and dismissed the flecks of shiny stuff that were exciting Eve.
«Pyrite,» he said. «Fool’s gold.»
Steel rang fiercely against stone.
«Not real gold?» she asked.
«Not real gold,» he answered. «Wrong color.»
«It’s the first thing a prospector learns.»
Rock showered down like a sharp rain. Reno looked at the fresh gouges.
«Slate, through and through,» he muttered.
«Is that good?»
«Only if you’re building a house. Some people fancy a roof or a floor of slate.»
«Do you?» she asked, curious.
He shook his head. «More trouble than it’s worth, far as I’m concerned. Wood is easier, prettier, and smells better.»
Reno went to the back of the alcove where the ceiling sloped sharply down to the rubble pile. He kicked at some of the smaller stones. They were a mixture of the same rock layers that made up the alcove itself.
Putting his fists on his hips, Reno looked at the unpromising stone layers and the equally unpromising meadow beyond the alcove. He and Eve had found all the proof anyone would need that Don Lyon’s Spanish mine existed — except the mine itself. That had eluded them. Nor had Reno been able to find any promising outcroppings of rock.
And during the night, the aspens just above the head of the valley had turned gold. If he was going to find the mine this season, he would have to be quick about it.
«Now what?» Eve asked.
«Now we go over the perimeter of the meadow again. Only, this time, we’ll use the Spanish needles.»
CLOUDS billowed upward in seething mounds turned gold by the afternoon sun. Lightning licked delicately over the face of a distant peak while rain fell in a shining veil. Over everything, even the storm, arched a cobalt blue sky. In the sunlight the temperature was hot enough to raise a sweat. In the shade it was as cool as quick-silver rain.
Reno and Eve appreciated the shade. They had already made one circuit of the valley, to no avail. Walking and keeping the rods in contact had proven to be exacting work. It was also oddly exhilarating, even though nothing had been found. The intangible, eerie currents kept Eve and Reno alert and aware of both each other and the sensuous riches of the high mountain day.
«Once more,» Eve said.
Reno looked at her, sighed, and agreed.
«Once more, sugar girl. Then I’m going to try my hand at catching trout for dinner. That way the whole damn day won’t have been wasted.»
Hobbled horses grazed at the mouth of the meadow, standing sentry even as they ate. When Reno and Eve stepped from the lacy shadows cast by a small stand of aspen, the lineback dun threw up her head to test the air. She quickly recognized their familiar scents and went back to cropping grass.
«Ready?» Eve asked.
They moved their hands slightly. Metal notches met. Ghostly currents flowed.
No matter how many times it happened, the tingling, shimmering sensation made Eve’s breath catch. It was the same for Reno, a hesitation in breathing as the world shifted with immense subtlety, making room for the impossible merging of self with other.
«On three,» Reno said in a low voice. «One…two…three.»
Slowly, with carefully matched steps, Reno and Eve worked their way down the margin of the small valley. Hours ago they had started working with the needles here, then had gone on to other parts of the valley.
Only in retrospect had this section of the valley’s perimeter seemed different. Here the needles had been fairly humming. Here they had kicked and shivered and jostled.
Reno and Eve had assumed it was their own lack of skill rather than anything else that had made the needles so twitchy. Now they wondered if it might have been the presence of hidden treasure that had animated the slender dowsing rods.
To Eve’s right a small ravine opened, choked with brush and rubble from an old rockslide. To Reno’s left lay the valley itself. Ahead of them and around a rocky nose was the alcove where an Indian slave had laid down histenatefor the last time.
Silently, intently, Reno and Eve worked their way along the edge of the valley. Rarely did the needles come apart, despite the rocky, uneven terrain and the detours around trees or fallen logs. With each step, the metal sticks shivered almost visibly.
«Stop pulling to the right,» Reno said.
«Stop pushing,» she retorted.
«Neither am I.»
As one, Reno and Eve halted and looked at the needles. Here was pointing almost straight ahead instead of lying along her hand. His was at a right angle, as though pushing — or being pulled.
Slowly Eve turned to her right. Reno followed, matching his movements to hers as though he had spent his life sharing her breath, her blood, her very heartbeat.
When the needles were straight once more, the debris of the old landslide confronted Reno and Eve. Step by careful step, they walked along the landslide’s raggedly curving edge. The needles pivoted slowly, as though pinned to a point uphill and beneath the pile of rubble.
«Up,» Reno said tersely.
Together they scrambled up the slide, moving in unison despite the uneven terrain, like two cats chasing the same mouse with sinuous, nearly matched strides. Despite that, it should have been impossible to keep the needles in touch.
It proved to be impossible to keep them apart.
Suddenly the needles dipped, jerked, and pointed down, vibrating so fiercely, it was all Eve could do to hang on to hers.
«I feel it. My God, I feel it!»
He slipped the hammer from a loop on his belt and jammed the handle into the rubble where the needles pointed, marking the spot.
«Keep going up,» Reno said.
They clambered up the last ten feet of the landslide. The needles grew calmer the higher up the slope they were carried.
«Back down to the hammer,» he said.
When they were back at the hammer, Reno looked around, orienting himself.
«Left,» he said, pointing with his free hand. «Toward the alcove, but stay as much on a line with this part of the slide as you can. Ready?»
As they stepped forward, Eve’s tawny eyebrows came together in a frown of concentration that made Reno want to pull her close and kiss away the small lines. But he knew better than to reach for her while they were holding the Spanish dowsing rods. The one time he had put his hand on her when the rods were touching, desire had flooded through him so hotly it had almost brought him to his knees.
Although Reno didn’t understand the energy that coursed so fiercely through the slender metal sticks, he no longer doubted it. Sunlight wasn’t tangible either, but when focused through a magnifying glass, it could set fire to wood. In some uncanny way, the Spanish needles focused the intangible currents flowing between himself and Eve.
As Reno and Eve moved away from the rockslide, the pull on the needles diminished, but not as quickly as it had in the uphill direction. When they retraced their steps and walked in the opposite direction, the pull fell off quickly, leaving the metals sticks feeling almost lifeless in their hands.
In silence they walked out into the meadow and looked back at the rockslide.
«It felt strongest to me about two-thirds of the way up the rockslide,» Eve said finally.
«Same for me.»
Reno checked a compass reading.
«Going toward the nose is the next best pull,» she added.
He nodded and took another compass reading.
«What does it mean?»
He put away the compass and looked at Eve. Beneath the shadow of her hat brim, her eyes glowed as golden as a harvest moon. The curve of her lower lip reminded him of how sweet it was to run the tip of his tongue over the soft flesh and feel the shiver of her response.
«Well, sugar girl, I’ll tell you,» Reno said in a deep voice. «I’m damn glad it was Jesuit priests who used these needles before us. Otherwise I’d worry about pacts with the devil and my immortal soul.»
Reno smiled wryly after he spoke, but Eve knew he was quite serious.
«Me too,» she said simply.
He took off his hat, raked his fingers through his hair, and put his hat back on.
«If we can believe the needles,» he said, «there’s a concentration of pure gold somewhere under that rockslide.»
Eve glanced at the rubble. «Does it look like ore to you?»
«It looks like what was above the mine head before the king of Spain double-crossed the Jesuits and they blew the mine’s entrance to hell.»