One warm, November evening, the night sky glistening with stars – a young Spanish boy sleeps alone. He is unaware that deep within his rest, he will be awakened by a memory that will haunt him forever. His fear will reach into the depths of his being in search of the hero alive within…
Allow me to escort you back to the magic of Pamplona, Spain 1894, where there lived a legend at the very height of his fame. Where a nation in need of legends worshipped one whose presence alone, would obscure the memory of many brave fighters before him. A matador of unsurpassed achievement, a matador who was revered like no other in history. A bullfighter with Spain at his feet.
His name was Manuel Kyry Ortega. To the people, he was known as ‘El Globo’ – ‘The Light’. His name alone demanded deep reverence. He could command fees unmatched by other great prizefighters of the day. His dramatic visage adorned the wall of every child who dreamt of one day becoming a bullfighter. This man was my father.
In the September of this year, the city of Pamplona saw Ortega nearing the end of a grueling battle with Spain’s most famous strain of bull. The beast’s name was Islero, from the notorious Miura ranch. My Father had dedicated this one fight to me, his only son, Keo. I had traveled many miles with my mother, Ortega’s beloved wife, Tracy Lee, and my sister, Isabella, to see my father perform.
As the fight neared its end and the great man eyed his sword at this brave beast, a hushed silence fell upon this historic arena. Ortega raised his dazzling cape up to the beast, jolted it into a quiver, and bravely willed the beast to charge. The bull stood still, his bloodied back and deathly stare unwavering. Then, mockingly, he lowered his head and stamped the dirt.
The tension in the air thickened; the silence giving way to an all-powerful screech as the bull charged his prey, each step devouring power from the last. Ortega’s movements were swift. His cape danced and in one deft exchange, it cleared the bull’s head, the slivered blade buried deep into the bull’s heart.
The grandeur and poise of this great man as he delivered artistic genocide to the bravest of beasts, resides well above even the most poetic description. Words remain an injustice. An injustice to this man and an injustice to the brutal art of this ritual. Triumphant, Ortega turned to us, his demeanor suddenly humbled. He removed his hat and fell to his knees before us, lowering his head in deep respect, the dazzled crowd applauding in appreciation. He then rose, filling with pride and gratitude at the sight of thousands of waving white handkerchiefs and floral tributes. It was at this moment, Tracy Lee’s heart froze words unable to escape her.
The slain bull, Islero, had summoned all of his strength, risen and surged a vengeful charge upon El Globo. Ortega, sensing the change in his beloved wife, had time only to turn and stare in horror at the vengeful eyes of the fast approaching beast, before feeling the full impact of Islero’s horn.
Finally able to scream, my mother’s vigilant cries were lost in the din from the crowd whose mood had changed from one of jubilation to one of total bewilderment. In an instant, Islero’s revenge was complete, and sensing that this was so, the beast fell dead beside his heroic victim.
Many physicians arrived at the scene, but alas, were too late. They were not able to revive the great one. The crowd stood in stunned silence, desperately wishing for this truth not to be so!
‘He is ‘El Globo’! Why can he not rise up and walk away?’
On the 21st day of September 1894, Manuel Kyry Ortega was pronounced dead, slain by the now infamous bull, Islero. News of the tragedy traveled with extraordinary stealth. An entire nation mourned their hero. The vigil service was held in Barcelona at the ‘Gaudis Sagrada Familia’ (Church of the Sacred Family). Thousands lined the streets as the coffin moved slowly in procession, the eerie silence broken only by hooves on the loose cobblestones. My mother solemnly followed behind my Father’s coffin as it neared the end of its journey, her two children close by her side. The immensity of our grief was tempered only by the deep, heart-felt compassion we encountered from so many people.
As had always been his wish, Manuel Kyry Ortega was buried in his favorite place: the inside edge of the cliff near his ranch. Years would pass but the memory of this legend would grow ever stronger, and be passed on from generation to generation. We were so proud of our father, and with every memory our mother shared with us our pride grew. Our father had provided well for my family, even in death. We would never want for anything. Still, I would give it all away to be graced with his presence just one more time.
I was a young boy then, but this is my memory of that fateful day. It is the memory of all of Spain.
Tarifa, Spain 1907
I awoke suddenly, a cold film of sweat across my brow. This night was a recurrence of many I had suffered in recent weeks. The nightmares I had become accustomed to had begun to haunt my every rest.
My heart beating uncontrollably, some inexplicable force immediately drew me out of my bed and toward my window. There I caught a glimpse. Pinching myself in the fear that my nightmare was merely continuing, I took a step backward. Again, it was there. A ghost-like figure that appeared to glide in the distance toward the cliff’s edge toward the tomb of my father.
Unable to withhold my curiosity, I moved stealthily down the stairwell and out onto the cold stone landing. There could be no mistake – the spectre had turned toward me, as if to beckon, and then spirited away again through the trees. It wore a hooded cape and I could not see its face. I made my way through the thickets and out to the cliff’s edge, my eyes hungrily searching for the apparition. As I reached the clearing and the tomb of my father, it was clear that the figure had vanished.
There I stood, barely clothed, looking out over the glorious Mediterranean Sea. Succored by the light of a shimmering moon I could almost ‘reach’ across this sea to faraway lands. Somehow, I felt safe and unafraid – perhaps because I was now in the presence of my father. When he was at my side, I was never afraid.
I slowly turned to face my father’s resting place, and on seeing it covered in leaves, knelt beside it and brushed clear the words my mother had carved into the stone:
‘My sweet baby,
My life’s love,
Beloved father of Keo and Isabella
finally at peace’
To this day I am unsure of what she meant. I recalled asking my mother if she could ever love another man. She looked at me, kissed my forehead and whispered that she already did. I knew she meant me!
Snapping out of my reverie, I became aware that the dawn was approaching. I swore to myself that I would never tell another soul of this night.
The next morning, I dressed quickly and joined my mother and sister on our long journey to visit my grandparents in near San Sebastion, Northern Spain. I always looked forward to the long stories of adventure Grandfather would impart. These would present themselves shortly after the arrival rituals that never seemed to change. Streams of kisses and the endless amazement at how much my sister and I had grown were favorites. Later, Grandfather would take me across to his ranch and show me his finest fighting bulls.
You could see the pleasure these beasts instilled in him. He would always say the same thing, “Raising bulls is an artform. Let no one tell you otherwise. It takes many years, even generations to get the desired strain running.”
He would smile throughout this statement, as he watched me mouth the words along with him in fond recognition.
I had heard that the famous Miura ranch was close enough for a day trip from here, and asked Grandfather if he would agree to take me. He looked at me quizzically for a few seconds, then put his arm around my shoulder and said that he would. He knew Arribus Hermanus – the owner – quite well. Although it would surely bring back memories of my father’s death, I knew it was a place I must see.
The long journey traveled that day was allayed with a succulent meal of fish and paella, followed by the traditional game of cards on the verandah. Purposefully, I lost to my sister, suffering her taunts of how incompetent we all were at the games. She was a natural humorist, and provided considerable entertainment for us all. For the first time in weeks, I slept soundly, dreaming of what I might see at the Miura ranch the next day.
Awakening refreshed, I helped Grandfather with the chores before we set off. I rode one of the horses; ‘Whisper’ and Grandfather rode his old horse, ‘Ice’. It was a very long ride, and although I remember listening to more of Grandfather’s amazing stories, my mind, for the most part, was elsewhere. We arrived at the front gates of the ranch, and could see the villa another mile beyond them. The gates themselves were slightly run down, but there was no mistaking the large sign leaning against the front fence, which showcased a colorful painting of Islero, corroborated with the words, ‘Home of the Miura Bull’.
I glanced at Grandfather, who merely winked in reply, and through the gates we rode. Arribas Hermanus greeted us inside. His weathered face a living record of the many years spent in the harsh sun and coastal winds. He greeted my Grandfather with enormous respect, then turned his attention to me. With a wry, partly toothless smile, he commented: “This must be the boy.” His craggy hand reached for mine as he asked casually, “Hey boy, you fight bulls?” I wanted to say, “Yes,” because for quite some time now, I had fought young bulls at a neighboring ranch, (unbeknownst to my Mother). After some silence, and a guilty glance at Grandfather, my abrupt reply was, “No
“You look very much as your father did at your age – the same fiery expression in your eyes,” he ventured, each word slow in leaving his drawn lips. My grandfather met my gaze with a knowing smile. Perhaps he knew I had lied…
We were invited inside the cool stone walls, which made a pleasant change from the heat of the outdoors. As Grandfather and Arribus talked, I wandered into the trophy room. I was captivated by the scene before me. Hooves of famous bulls, photographs, framed newspaper clippings, paintings, sculptures and commemorative plaques adorned every inch of the room. It was the region above the massive bull’s head, in the center of the main wall that finally stole my attention. Photographs of the many famous, indeed legendary moments of my father’s career. His proud, defiant stance as he addressed his crowd; the fearless look upon his face as his sword met the flesh of the beast; these were just two of many.
My stare progressed trance-like from one picture to the next, resting finally upon a remembrance from that dark day 1894. A day I ached to forget. But despite my pain, I could look nowhere else. “Keo, your father was the greatest Bullfighter I have ever seen.” Arribus’ calm words momentarily startled me as had entered the room too quietly to distract me. As my glistening eyes turned to face him, I noticed the intensity of his gaze. Just for a split second, I saw my father again. “With the blade, he was the best damned finisher there ever was. He always needed a challenge, to go one better than before. I was there that morning when he selected his bull. Islero was by far the biggest.”
“You may be aware that most bullfighters choose a bull that will best complement their particular skills, but not your father. He always sought to test himself, to challenge himself. Indeed it was this heroic quality that made him so powerful, so very grand. We shall never see his like again. He was a true artist.” Arribus looked into my eyes for what seemed an age before softening his tone, and beckoning Grandfather and I to share a tour of his ranch.
We followed Arribus, listening to his stories and sensing the passion he felt for his life’s work. He showed us the bulls he intended for use at the fiesta in Linares the following day. He explained to us how bulls bred for fighting have contact only with humans, and how as very young calves, they are tested for their bravery. If they failed, they were sent to the slaughterhouse. If they were successful, they were free to roam the pastures until they were five years old – the usual age at which they were granted the honor of the fight.
We stood, looking over the pasture, sparsely scattered with such bulls. Bulls Arribus had taken much pride and care in rearing. I asked Arribus if these bulls were of the same strain of bull that killed my father. He did not release a word, but glanced briefly at Grandfather, who returned a careful nod and told me to saddle up.
We rode over nearby hills and across a small rivulet, which divided the property in two. This water was deceptively deep, acting as a fence for the bulls. We made our way up to the trees at the top of a hill where Arribus pulled up and dismounted his mare. He signaled to us to remain silent. We dismounted and crept quietly toward the rocks, sheltered by the canopy of a large oak tree.
I lifted my head to peer over a large rock, behind which I had positioned myself, and saw the largest, blackest bull I had ever seen. His name was Blazer, and he was a Miura Bull. The most magnificent animal I had witnessed. It was easy to imagine the fear that such a beast could inspire within the heart of any matador.
I asked Arribus how soon these bulls would be ready for the fight. Suddenly, the joy that had danced with such permanence in the eyes of this man was replaced by a look of great concern.
“Keo, when your father died, so did the Miura bull.”
He could see that I still did not understand.
“When your father was killed, an inquest was held into both his death and that of Islero. They found that Islero’s heart had been punctured, and that the bleeding was so severe that Islero could live only seconds after such a fatal wound. But an entire stadium of spectators witnessed Islero rise up again, perhaps more than one minute later.”
“To this day, this feat remains unexplained! Once news of this spread amongst the matadors, they and their promoters began to demand that the Miura bull be banned from the ring forever. If the people of Spain knew of this, they would all be branded cowards, so they issued me with an ultimatum.”
“I was to supply a new breed of bull under the Miura banner, or be blacklisted, losing my ranch, my livelihood, and worst of all, my passion. Without the supply of my bulls to the Fiesta Brava, I would be destitute.”
I could see the beginning of tears in this man’s eyes. “Why could you not tell someone, Arribus?”
“Who could I tell? The promoters run the show. They invest the money. These are very powerful men! If the matadors refused to fight, the promoters would make no money, and the ranchers would go broke! I had no choice!” Arribus was clearly a man backed into a corner. I could see that he treasured these fine animals, and that it broke his heart not to see them in the ring.
This was a revelation to me as some of the modern matadors were my heroes. “Surely, some of the matadors of today would wish to challenge a true Miura bull!”
“The bravery of the modern matador is no longer the issue. Many of the matadors of today know nothing of this secret! Many believe they are fighting the fearsome Miura bull!”
A helpless silence marked a definite end to the conversation. It was getting late, so we went back to the villa, said our farewells and headed for home. Grandfather and I barely exchanged a word on our return journey, our minds heavy with Arribus’ soul-destroying news. Mother and Isabella had helped Grandmother prepare the evening meal. It was ready for us upon our arrival home. Mother insisted on hearing every detail of our trip, for in her heart she knew that the bullring fascinated me.
We finished dinner, cleared the plates and sat ourselves on the verandah, chatting the evening away. Isabella made us chuckle with her decidedly unconvincing attempt to carry the last of the dishes away with the same mature poise as Mother. Her thirteen-year-old frame swiveling awkwardly from side to side like a young child playing dress-ups. Isabella had a tremendous wit for someone so young and a fire in her belly that constantly inspired me.
Grandfather joined us just as Mother and Isabella were in the process of retiring for bed, seating himself in his large oak rocking chair and staring out into the wild. When he knew we were out of earshot, he began.
“Keo, how long have you been going to the Cordoba Ranch?”
It startled me that Grandfather knew this, but I could not lie to him. “For some time now, Grandfather,” I quickly replied, hoping he would not question me further.
“And how long have you been fighting their young bulls?” he continued.
“How did you know that I was?” I asked. I knew I was in it over my head. “When Arribus talked of his bulls, I recognized your father’s fire in your eyes.” At this, he turned to face me directly. “You know it would hurt your mother.”
“Yes, I realize that.” With this admission, I could feel the floodgates opening – releasing all the passion in my heart. Grandfather’s insightfulness had ignited me. “Grandfather, the fire is in me, I know it. All my friends tell me I must be a matador! The bulls, they cannot touch me, I…”
“Keo, these are calves, their horns are cushioned. Do you really think that you could fight the Miura Bulls?”
“Yes, one day – maybe… I don’t know. But steer me along the right path, and I know I can make my cape dance, and the people of Spain sing! I will uphold the Ortega name once more!” I was carried away with my own enthusiasm.
Grandfather’s eyes were warning me to slow down. “I will visit next week, and take you to see a friend of mine – and your father’s. We shall see if fighting bulls is a vocation you truly wish to honor.”
“What about mother?”
“We will discuss the matter with your mother if and when it becomes a real issue.” With that he gestured for me to retire to bed, for our journey home would be a long one.
It was late at night when we finally returned home. I prepared for the next day’s chores, and after a cleansing bath, lay myself to rest. It was midnight, the night sky clear and the air still. I slept well at first, dreaming of fighting the great bull. However, the ecstasy of such a great challenge, suddenly and inevitably came to an end.
I awoke abruptly, with the clap of my bedroom shutters banging in the fierce wind. I ran to the window, knowing that I would see it again – the hooded figure that lurked only in the darkness. It did not disappoint. I sensed that it felt my presence, and not wanting it to flee, I repeatedly shouted, “Wait!” But this mysterious force ignored my pleas, gliding unperturbed back into the woods.
Once again I was drawn into pursuit. I ran downstairs, knocking over everything in my path. I could still see it and knew where it was heading. I took a short cut through the thickets and as I entered the clearing, it was there – he was there.
He was hovering on the cliff’s edge, his back to the sea, his face staring at me. Then without warning, he vanished, taking with him the bellowing squall that had followed me to that point. I ran to the edge and searched down beyond – nothing could be seen but the waves crashing below.
I dropped down onto the first ledge, grabbing hold of the rocks behind me. It was then I noticed that just above the blowhole, a small light was emanating from what looked to be a cave. Strange that I had never noticed it before. Graced by the moonlight, I was able to navigate my way down the cliff face, coming to another small ridge about half way down. I found myself at an impasse, unable to descend the twenty remaining feet. My hunger for knowledge inspired my next move. I had no choice but to jump the distance into the deep surf below. I had to take great care in doing this, for if I fell with even the slightest imbalance, I would hit the rocks and be gone forever.
Fortunately, I had seen my father dive from this place many times, and knew the safest take-off point. Crawling over the edge, I clung on until I was in a good position to let go. There I was, in singlet and undershorts, dangling some sixty feet below a cliff edge. I mustered the courage and jumped the twenty remaining feet, falling backwards through the air and crashing deep within the brave new world of the ocean.
The Sea was brutal this night – the waves strong against the rocks. I gulped for air, struggling underwater for what seemed a lifetime, to free my foot some gap-infested rocks. In freeing it, I bashed my ankle against another jagged rock, but in my desperation for air, did not feel the pain.
Finally free, I surfaced again, the moonlight skimming the top of the water, guiding my ascent. I dragged myself onto some higher rocks and looked up toward the cave, my ankle throbbing with pain. There at the entrance to the cave he stood.
In my delirium I called, “Father, is that you?” His hand reached for his hood and slowly removed it. The sight before me was not an easy one to accept. His eyes darted around constantly, and his face was lined with the stories of a thousand lives. He reached his hand out before me, and after a moment’s hesitation, I took it. He lifted me onto the ledge and it was there that I lay gasping for air.
He seated himself on a rock and continued his gaze. Finally I summoned the energy to stand, longing to look into the cave whose existence I had never previously known. I sat myself against the cave wall, exhausted yet strangely relieved. The presence before me was a peculiar one indeed. It was something of a mystical nature, almost beast like, yet he seemed calm, even gentle.
Suddenly he rose up and approached me. He knelt down before me, touching my bloodied ankle. In pain and fear, I hesitantly withdrew it from his reach.
“Does the boy who fears nothing fear an old man like me?” he asked slowly, voice like sandpaper.
I was silent. His hand reached for my ankle a second time, and I felt a strange sensation. I looked down, and to my amazement, my ankle had completely healed.
“Who are you? What are you?” I asked, desperate for the truth.
“My name is Juminji,” was all he gave.
“What do you want from me?” I cried.
“What do you want from yourself? Do you want to be a bullfighter like your father?”
“You know my father?” I retorted, incredulous.
“I know him well,” Juminji responded.
“Did you see him fight bulls?”
“Yes, I did.” “He was the greatest!” I declared.
“You must remember that greatness is a matter of opinion only,” was his careful response.
“Do you think he was the greatest?”
“So many questions! You must listen to me,” his tone was insistent, almost frightening, but had the desired effect of commanding my attention. He was staring at me with a strange fervor, and waited a few moments before continuing.
“Your father was born with two gifts. One was a God-given talent and the other was a grand presence, an amazing charisma – an aura. He had the rare ability to completely captivate his audience. We are all born with one talent or another, but rarely are we blessed with one who possesses both talent, and the courage to test its limits. Your father lived and breathed the fight!” Juminji turned toward the overwhelming stretch of ocean before him. An awesome sight that constantly reminded me of just how insignificant we really are. “Where is he now?” I asked.
“He watches over you. You were a constant wonderment to your father. He told me that you had an angel in your soul.”
“I do not understand. How could Father have known such a thing?”
“Keo, your father fought passionately in the ring. He ruled his craft. He had the riches of kings. All of Spain worshipped him! But to himself, he always felt a failure.”
“Why? How could he!” I was bewildered at this news.
“Because he had the devil inside him. You, too, son are in league with the devil.” What was he telling me? I felt so confused. “My boy, I know you awaken in the night, sweat pouring from your brow. I know that you, too, dream of Islero in your dream of death. This is your demon and if you cannot defeat this demon, you will suffer the same fate as your father!”
I now understood his words completely.
“Juminji, in this dream, after the bull has gored my father, he does not die instantly. He snorts blood from his nose, and then he turns to me in the crowd and hurtles toward me. His body is about to penetrate mine, but just before this occurs, I awake! What does this mean?” I wanted more than anything to gain knowledge of my dreams.
“My boy, this is your calling. The dream you endure is the very one that tormented your father. You must prepare to face this dream of death, or you will die! Your father has sent me to prepare you, and prepare you well.”
“But where do you reside?”
“That is a question I will answer in due course, but first I have to be sure you understand me. The Almighty One presents us with tasks. If we wish to reach our final resting-place and be with those we care for the most, then it must be our aim to complete this task. We must have the courage to do so, for immense courage is what it takes.”
“Your father carried with him a great burden, but did not foresee the enormity of his task until it was too late. He believed he was ready to face Islero, but he had failed to master the dream. He turned his back on the bull. Keo, you must never turn your back on the devil while his heart still beats inside of him.”
“What is it that I must do?” There was an urgency growing inside me that I knew would soon dictate my every waking moment.
“I will teach you the way of the devil so that when you face him, you can become him. When one knows how it feels to be inside the flesh of the beast – to be the beast – only then can one defeat him! You must master every impulse of the devil, and face him in all his might. Your reward for this will be peace within your family for generations to come.”
“When do we start?” I was inspired.
“When you are ready,” was his reply.
“When will I be ready?”
“When you truly believe what I am telling you. We must first convince your mother. She will receive a sign. Then she will know that you too, have the same calling as your father.” With that, he retrieved from his attire a golden trinket. It was a small bull’s head with horns made of solid gold and diamonds for eyes. The inscription read, ‘MKO’. “This belonged to your father. It was buried with him. Link it through your chain and wear it with pride.” I took it from his hand and attached it to my chain. I was immediately overcome with a strange, quivering sensation. The wind rose then fell suddenly.
“Your father wishes that you carry this close to your heart – always and forever. You shall carry your father’s name so all of Spain can rejoice again. We shall meet again, but now you must go home and sleep.”
I glanced up at the towering cliff face, then back at Juminji. “How am I going to get back up to the top?” Juminji told me to close my eyes. A dizzying sensation consumed me as my eyelids slowly blocked out the moonlight. I felt as if I had been given wings. Through the air I rose, softly and gently, the wind cool on my face. In no time, I had reached the top of the cliff.
I looked around, filled with wonderment, but Juminji was gone.
The next morning I was awoken by Mother who reminded me of my chores, and also that the Cordoba family was expecting me early. I had little time to ponder the events of the night. I saddled ‘Light Star’, my horse, and made my way over to the ranch. Dominic and the boys had already begun the bullfights. Dominic shouted some kind of greeting and came rushing toward me.
“Keo! Keo! The Dominguins have given us two of their bigger bulls to fight! Philippe is preparing their horns right at this moment!”
I was excited by this news, and could not wait to begin. The first of my bulls was larger than I had ever fought, but perhaps a little slow. When it came to the second bull, I wanted to test myself further, and asked Philippe to remove the protective bandages from the bull’s horns.
“Keo, I don’t think…” he began.
“Please do as I say, Philippe!” the insistence in my tone prompted an immediate response. It was not long before a crowd had begun to form. The emerging ‘buzz’ had intensified by the time I commenced my battle with the second bull. I displayed all of the skills I had learned in the last few years.
The first stage of the fight for bullfighters is to determine all of the facets the bull possesses – strength; speed; agility and most importantly, in which direction he favored his hook.
This particular bull hooked slightly to the right, so with my cape, I made sure he was on my right side and provided extra latitude on that side. I finished my first fienta, and was satisfied that I had learned enough from this particular bull to continue. I drank from the pitcher of water at the edge of the ring, and was at once approached by Manuel Dominguins.
“Keo Kyry – the brave young matador! Do you think you can defeat this bull?” Isabella and I went by our father’s lesser-known second name, ‘Kyry’, since his death. It helped us grieve with some degree of privacy.
“Of course,” was my steady reply.
“Then, my son – take these,” Manuel placed three sets of banderillos into my open hands. We shared a long moment of solemnity, I nodded thanks, then slowly turned to face the beast. I moved into the arena, and stood some twenty feet away from him. When the moment was right, I boldly waved the banderillos across each other to incite a charge. The bull responded, and as he soared past me, I placed them as best I could. This was my first experience with banderillos, and I gained enough strength and confidence from it to then place the second set neatly in the rump, and at the back of the bull’s neck. I could see the beast’s head drop slightly. This was the purpose of the banderillos, and I had succeeded in only my second attempt!
The appreciation from the crowd was palpable. There I stood with the last set of banderillos raised above my head when Juminji’s words came flooding into my consciousness. If it were true that my father was watching over me, then he would keep me safe now.
I bowed my head, kicked my heels together and charged the beast. As I neared the bull, he began to charge me. As his horns narrowly brushed my abdomen, I buried my last set deep into his rump – perfectly placed. This exhilarated the spectators and sent my spirits to greater heights.
The bull, now fifty feet away from me, appeared confused as to which way to turn. I returned to my position behind the fence and prepared for the final act. Manuel watched closely, knowing that I wished to finish this bull well. He was encouraging, “My boy, it would be an honor for me to allow you to complete this fight. God willing, we will use his prized meat for all to feast upon tonight at the fiesta!” I thanked him for allowing me his fine bull and for his brilliant work in breeding such a courageous animal.
“You move just as your father did all those years ago.” This familiar voice came from close behind me. I felt a firm hand on my back and turned to find that Grandfather and Arribus had been proud witnesses to my battle all along.
Grandfather was carrying with him a leather case, from which he produced the finest blade I had ever seen. It was the same one that Father had used early in his career. I took it with pride, stole a glance at Grandfather, and returned to face the bull for the last time. I raised my cape and worked this noble brute with all the cunning and finesse I could muster. “Ole! Ole! Ole!,” roared the crowd with every pass I completed. After stunning the bull with all of my wares, I sensed he was ripe for the finale. The banderillos had done their job of dropping the bull’s head, so as to allow a neat entry of the blade into the back of his neck, and through to the heart of the bull, killing him almost instantly.
I retreated from the bull some five feet, and raised the blade to eye level, focusing on the ‘sweet spot’ at the back of his neck. Even at this intense level of concentration, I could sense that the crowd had silenced in anticipation. The bloodied bull grunted and scruffed his hooves against the hot dirt, dust filling the arena. He was after the red of the cloth no longer – he was now after me.
My breathing was deep and intensely drawn, my heart thumping an audible beat throughout my being. I held my right hand high, and my left hand low, clutching firmly on the cape. My torso held tight around the body of the bull, I composed my sword, and in one swift movement, delivered it deep into the spine of the beast. I quickly jumped forward, well clear of the injured bull, and turned back to face him.
As he slowly rotated to confront me, he collapsed onto his side; the blade embedded deep in his flesh. I stood there, staring down at the broken beast. I counted one slow minute before looking up at the crowd, who in turn let out an almighty roar!
Now that my victory was truly complete, I could relent enough to soak up the euphoric atmosphere. I felt the pride of kings and was honored royally, the elated masses forming a ring around me as I stepped out of the arena. It took a long while for all the spectators to retreat to their homes, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
I sat for a time upon the fence, pondering my next battle, when Grandfather came and sat beside me. “Keo, you were wonderful today! Such a sight! I felt as if I had turned back the clock. You anticipated every movement of the beast as if you had reared him yourself! I have not seen such a connection between man and beast since your father’s last fight.”
“One day I hope to fight with as much artistry as Father. Perhaps I will achieve greatness as he did, but I must test myself under controlled conditions. If I am to fight the great ranch bulls with their strength and their speed, I must build up to it, slowly.”
“My boy, you know you must walk before you can run. And your secret must remain exactly that – a secret. Until your journey is complete you must not tell a soul. Your story will not be one for the story books until you know you can survive to tell it.”
“Grandfather, have you heard of Juminji?” I ventured.
After a moment’s contemplation, he responded, “Juminji is me and you. He is the combined knowledge of our family and its history. Juminji is of the spirit world. Listen to him and learn from him.”
“Does Mother know of him?”
“She knows only that your father had demons he could not overcome. It caused her great pain, but she was wise enough to understand that she could not help him.”
“What will she do when she hears about today. It hurts me that I might cause her pain.”
“She already knows about it. She is on her way. It is true that your journey will cause your mother great suffering, but she will understand. The family spirit demands it.”
As Grandfather spoke, I cast my gaze to the distance, and saw my mother approaching. “Go to her now, Son.” I mounted Light Star and galloped to greet my mother. I felt unready for this sad confrontation. When our paths met, I dismounted my horse, and sat my mother down at a nearby bench. As I looked deep into her tear – swollen face, I cautiously began to explain my predicament. “I am sorry, Mother, that I neglected to tell you of my situation earlier. I did not wish to hurt you, but felt certain that I would if I revealed my activities to you. You see, it was not until this day that I understood the full magnitude of my fate.”
“Tell me Keo. How many lives must this family lose, and how much pain must we all suffer before we can rest? What can I give you that would stop this madness? I thought you had everything you could ever need or want. Why, Keo? Why must you pursue this dangerous occupation?”
Tears welled in my eyes as I felt the full impact of my mother’s pain.
“I, too have the devil inside me. I, too have the pain in my soul and the demons in my mind, just as Father did.”
“It was your Grandfather who put these ideas into your head. Talk of devils and such! Where is he?”
“Mother, it was I who approached Grandfather. I was confused and he helped to guide me. The decision has been my own.”
“When you first met Father, you fell deeply in love with him. You stood quietly amongst the crowd and he found you. You heard all of his stories – stories of the demons that interrupted his nights, but none of this aversed your love for him. You wanted just to be by his side.”
“And now, Mother, your son needs you by his side in his time of unrest. I do not wish to take this journey without your blessing, but it is in my heart.” My next words did not come easily. “Mother, I have been visited…I have been visited by one in connection with the spirit world, with Father. He will prepare me for the journey. He will teach me to face these demons so that this family need suffer no more.” I slowly pulled the chain from my neck, and placed the trinket in Mother’s quivering palm. “He gave this to me – a gift from Father. He told me that Father was watching over me, and that this treasure would give me the strength I need to fight my demons.”
Mother took a long, searching look at me, for she knew that nothing she could say would stop me. The anguish in her face was difficult to watch. For the first time, I could see my beautiful mother growing old, and took some relief in the blinding effect of her close embrace.
“I care only for you and your life, Keo. Just promise me this. If the pain becomes too great, then we shall leave this place forever.”
“Mother, I shall learn as all other bullfighters have learned before me. I shall embrace the name, Ortega, for all of Spain, and wear the Ortega lights.”
We sat there in a long embrace, and as I raised my head, I saw the face of Juminji in the distance. He was smiling and nodding his approval, before he turned and disappeared into the woods.
My journey now begins.