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They have a long day’s work without food. They water available to them is brackish. Gabriel notices the fact that there are no animals around the ranch. They wait outside and hear Ultima chanting inside the house all day long. At dusk, Ultima comes out carrying three bundles. She praises their work on the platform. She tells them to place the bundles on the platform and then set fire to it. Gabriel is surprised when he picks up he first bundle and finds it very heavy. Ultima had carried the three bundles lightly, but Gabriel has to struggle to lift them onto the platform. Looking at her, Antonio feels as though she has performed a ceremony in some distant past.
Gabriel sets the bundles on fire. Ultima instructs him to keep the fire going until she returns. She goes back into the house. The fire seems to dispel the strange sense of mystery they’ve been feeling in the air. Antonio asks his father what they are burning, but his father doesn’t know. He tells a story his father once told him. It was about the early comancheros on this llano and what they learned from the Indians about their burial ceremony. Instead of burying their dead, they placed them on a platform like the one Gabriel and Antonio have just built and cremated the corpse. Gabriel says he doesn’t know what the bundles are, but if what they’re doing will help the Tellez family, they shouldn’t question the old ways.
That night they hear the owl sing. It’s the first sign of life on the ranch. Suddenly the top of the platform falls to the ground and the four posts continue to burn. Ultima comes out and praises their work. She tells them it is finished. She tells Gabriel this might be the best burial for her when it is her time to die. Gabriel agrees that this is the best way so the “spirit soars immediately into the wind of the llano, and the ashes blend quickly into the earth.” Tellez comes out looking numb with exhaustion. He asks how he can pay Ultima. She tells him to bring them a lamb the next time he comes to Guadalupe. HE promises to bring a dozen. She adds that he should stay away from Tenorio. Tellez says he was in El Puerto one month ago and went to the saloon for a drink. When Tenorio said something insulting, he had answered him. Only a week later, the bad things started to happen on the ranch.
Gabriel, Ultima, and Antonio leave. When the get home, Antonio has fallen asleep. His father carries him to his bed. He dreams of his three brothers. They call out to him and he says he is here by the river. “The brown swirling waters lapped at my feet, and the monotonous chirping of the grillos (crickets) as they sang in the tress mixed into a music which I felt in the roots of my soul.” His brothers call out for his help to give them “rest from this sea-blood.” He calls back that he has no magic power to help them. Then in his dream, he took the three livers of his disemboweled brothers and baited his hook. The brothers call out that he has the power of the church, the power of the golden carp, and the magic of Ultima. They call so loudly that Antonio takes their livers from his hook and casts them into the raging waters of the River of the Carp. “Then they rested, and I rested.”
As the novel comes to a close, Anaya relies more and more on Ultima’s wisdom as a way of bringing together all the strands of Antonio’s heritage. She tells him that his destiny shouldn’t be fought over but should let itself unfold like a flower. She thus answers the central concern of the novel with an organic metaphor of growth and transformation. Antonio need not worry over his future. He needs only to exist like flower does and he will find his proper direction.
The work Ultima does at Agua Negra ranch is her second interference in the fate of a person. The reader probably remembers that when she interfered in Lucas’s fate, she brought danger on herself. Once again, she interferes with the curse of Tenorio. She even mentions her death in this chapter when she tells Gabriel she would like her body to be cremated in the Indian way instead of being buried. The conclusion of the book seems inevitable.
Anaya keeps the history of New Mexico always in his reader’s mind. The old fight between the Comanches and the Mexicans might have been far in the past, but it has repercussions even in the present time. Ultima’s burial of the Indians indicates that she respects them and their ways. Her heritage comes from both the Mexicans and the Indians. She knows how they were buried and what needs to be done to put them to rest.
This chapter ends on the puzzling image of Antonio’s dream. He performs the sacrifice of his brothers’s livers by throwing them into the river of the carp. The text only says that in this way he is saving them from wandering aimlessly. Here he acts as a priest of the river.