Sal inspected a scrap of parchment wrapped in the packet. It was blank except for a squiggled line. “This is the Soledad brand," Brother Sarria said. "Duran has promised the Mission’s native converts will share the herd and the land when I go. Change is coming.”
Sal began to ask where Sarria was going in his weakened state. Then he realized he was hearing the last wish of a dying man. Everyone in the chapel leaned in to hear Sarria’s whispered words.
“Others have no respect for this history. Watch. See who comes with an open palm and who travels with a fist. Few men still follow the tradition of gift-giving as you have done for us today, my friends. Most bring only death.”
Sal knew he, too, had been a part of the cruelties in Alta California. He saw death at the San Diego Mission and the lust of the pirates raiding the coastal settlements. His face burned with shame. Did Sarria somehow know Sal's sins?
“Have no fear. You are now blessed to bring gifts, Salvador.” Brother Sarria’s breath rattled in his chest. “I have waited many days for you to come here and continue the story of this land. My life on this earth is coming to an end.”
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