Mariposa Amarillo’s prognostication proved right. The dark clouds appeared far out to sea and winds drove loose limbs and other objects through the air. Everyone put things in order to weather the storm. The friars and Don Antonio, as he liked to be called although he had no real title other than alcalde, examined everything, not wishing another disaster like the last time.
Jaime huddled in his workshop, the thick adobe walls fending off the worst of the storm. It was impossible to know when or if the bells rang for sunrise Mass and the overseer went from cell to cell to motion the neophytes to go to the chapel. Even with the front doors closed, he could barely hear Padre Juan conducting Mass. Breakfast was served without the usual instruction period and most took their food to their rooms to get out of the torrential rains. All work was canceled except for those like Jaime who had shops or rooms.
The storm lasted all that day and most of the night. The sun came up over the Laguna Mountains to the east and mist rose from the damp ground. People stirred and went forth to check the damage. Those living at the mission heeded the call of the bells and attended morning Mass. Because of the storm, Padre Juan passed up the morning classes and all sat down to eat. As soon as he finished, Jaime headed to the central plaza, then down to the beach.
All but one fishing boat had weathered the storm. Their captains and crews inspected them. One had been blown from its place on the beach and washed ashore on some rocks about half a league north of the village. With nothing else to do at the moment and overcome by an urge he could not explain, Jaime joined the fishermen in their trek to the wreck.
“I will see you later at the mission,” Padre Juan called out to him.
“I have seen this place before,” Jaime muttered as they drew near the boat. The rocks, the sand and the surf hovered in his mind. Then, he saw an object on the shore ahead of him. Without stopping to think, he broke into a run. It was the object of his dream. He dropped to his knees and turned the thing over, discovering it to be a boy his age. The boy’s skin was the color of a Puma’s fangs.
“Come quickly. It is a boy. He has come ashore from the storm.” Jaime checked for a pulse, finding a faint one. The boy wore oilskins of a strange form. Jaime sought his water flask, unstopping it to trickle water through the boy’s cracked lips.
The boy coughed and spat up most of the water. He opened his eyes, unable to open them wide as they were salt-caked, and looked at Jaime. They were blue. The color of the sky. He then croaked out some words Jaime did not understand.
“We must take him to the curandera,” one of the sailors said.
Jaime agreed and the burly man picked up the boy and slung him over his shoulder.
The White Ocelot coughed and brought up more water, gasping for breath.
The healer’s house was to one side of the waterfront, apart from the other buildings. A woman with hair of white stood in the doorway waiting for them. “Remove his clothing.” Her voice held a tone of authority.
As the outerwear was stripped off, Jaime saw the boy’s skin where it had not been exposed to the sun was even whiter than the rest. It was also covered with small, light tan spots. Taking away the hat revealed hair the color of straw.
“He has been in the water for some time,” Doña Ynez said.
Jaime tried not to gape as the last piece of clothing was removed but could not help but noticed the boy was built no different than he or other males in his village. He also saw the boy’s musculature was more bulky than his, although well-formed.
Doña Ynez then did a strange thing. “Help me carry the lad outside to the water trough.”
Even though he had been toughed by months of hard work, Jaime found it difficult to lift the boy, even with Doña Ynez’ surprising strength.
“Be gentle,” she urged, lowering him into the fresh water. “Hold his head above water,” she added, turning to go back inside the house.
What else would I do? Jaime thought. Let him drown?
Doña Ynez returned with a clay jar. It proved to be soap made from the roots of a Yucca plant, the soap everybody used. Doña Ynez laved the boy from head to foot, grinning at Jaime when she washed his private parts. “I have seen more unclothed men than have the wives of this village.”
Jaime instantly liked the old woman for the laughter in her eyes and the gentleness of her age-wrinkled hands. He could not begin to guess her age but knew her to be well beyond any Cahita elder he knew of.
Jaime obeyed her order to lift the boy from the trough and she rinsed the soap away before wrapping him in a cotton towel. They then carried him inside and laid him on a cot.
A young woman and two boys arrived just then. “Empty the trough,” Doña Ynez ordered the boys, “and refill it with water from the river.” She turned to her apprentice and explained, “We must restore his strength and repair the damage the saltwater has done to his flesh.” She reached for a clay bowl and took it to the table, gathering several plants and herbs from the shelves and beams they hung from.
Maria, the apprentice, pounded the contents of the bowl as women pounded maize to make tortillas and then stirred water into the concoction. That went into a small metal pot and set atop the stove.
Meanwhile, Doña Ynez retrieved another jar and poured the contents into her hands. “This is made from a special plant and the oil from the sheep before their wool is taken. It will heal the boy’s skin.”
During this, the boy’s eyes opened and he tried to speak, unsuccessfully as his throat and Adam’s apple seemed to be injured. What words he did speak were strange to all. The only thing they could discern was the boy’s fright over what was being done to him, a reddening of his cheeks as women embarrassed him by seeing him unclad.
Doña Ynez brought over a wooden goblet filled with the liquid she had heated on the stove. She explained to Jaime, “It is an infusion made from bolas de maíz, corn tassels, bark from a willow and some other herbs.” She had Jaime hold the boy’s head while she poured drops of the infusion through the cracked lips that now shone from the balm she had applied.
The white ocelot, as Jaime thought of the boy from his dream, struggled and coughed as the liquid touched his palette. Then, sensing it was not going to harm him, he relaxed and allowed the healer to pour more into his mouth. In the end, he drank the entire contents of the goblet, closing his eyes to fall asleep.
Jaime and the curandera then applied more lotion to the boy’s skin. When it was clear there was little more to do than to cover him and let him sleep, Doña Ynez led Jaime to the table, had him sit down and offered him a goblet of the tea, taking one for herself.
“There is something between you and the boy.”
The mysterious words of elders no longer surprised Jaime. They somehow saw and knew things without being told. “I saw him in a dream. Exactly where and how we found him.” When asked, Jaime told the dream, doing his best to omit nothing.
“Oceloto Blanco. That seems to be quite appropriate to the boy.” Again, Doña Ynez’ smile made Jaime follow suit. “You are the boy they call the Wood Wizard?” Seeing Jaime flinch at being called yee sisibowame o’ou, Yaqui for magic man, Doña Ynez grew serious. “You believe all living things have spirits within them?” Jaime nodded. “And one must appease them when taking their life?” Jaime again nodded. “Then the word magic is not something to feel ashamed of. You are accepting the creator spirits and the way we feel the world was made.”
That surprised Jaime as Doña Ynez had a small statue of The Virgin on a shelf. She also wore a rosary of shiny stones.
“The boy will sleep now. Maria and I will watch over him and give him more nourishment when he awakens. We will call you then.”
Jaime backed out of the house, crossing himself before turning to go to the central plaza. He then found Padre José and told him of the discovery.
“Bring him to me when he can walk on his own,” the friar said.
Jaime nodded and returned to the curandera’s house.