Zorro & the Lost City of Women
|This delightful little tale is one of Patricia's early Zorro stories. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I have.|
"Oh, Diego," said Alejandro, "Your cousin, Sairys from Vera Cruz has finally arrived." He turned to his guest. "May I present my son, Diego." The young lady curtsied and smiled.
Diego, always the gentleman, took her hand. "Have we met before? I have so many cousins. I think I would remember you if I had, señorita."
"No, I have not had the pleasure, señor. Actually our fathers are the cousins, which makes us second cousins," she pointed out quietly.
"Anything past cousin, is still cousin where my father is concerned!" Diego replied. "Will you be here long?"
"Not too long, Diego. I am part of a sightseeing group, which has quite an active itinerary. Our next destination is inland to a remote river area. It is supposed to be beautiful with colorful canyons, spectacular views and a huge cavern system. Of course, we don’t go very far into the caves, but it has been said to be very unusual."
"You must be unusual, yourself. I have never heard of such a trip. It sounds very, um, educational," Diego commented.
"Oh, indeed. I am really looking forward to it. Diego, would you care to join us for the canyon trip?"
"Let me think about it," he pondered aloud. "That is quite a temptation. Yes, I will consider it carefully. Oh, Therese is calling us to the dining room." Diego put out his arm and Sairys graciously linked her elbow around his to accept the escort.
Not only did Diego agree to accompany his "cousin" but Alejandro and Bernardo went as well. Sairys was delightful. She had aristocratic manners, charm and a biting wit. Diego and she constantly threw little comments at each other that caused frequent laughter. It was all Bernardo could do to keep his well-tended straight face serene. They traveled by coach for several days. When the pathway ended, they mounted mules for another day’s ride. There were three women besides Sairys in the group of nine; Sairys’ duenna Oma, and two wives of other passengers. None of the ladies complained about the accommodations or the rigors of the trip. Diego was impressed with the fortitude of these female campers.
There were three small boats with guides waiting for the travelers. At daybreak the view was lovely. The mountains were purple and gold, and as the sun rose more colors appeared. The river was a thin ribbon rushing about the bottom of high cliffs. The de la Vegas were awed and grateful for the opportunity to see such natural beauty. The sun was bright but most of the time the boats enjoyed shade from the hovering bluffs.
It seemed strange when night fell so quickly, but booming thunder told them it was not nighttime, but a tempest about to blow in the usually arid region. Wind howled through the canyons with ear-damaging shrieks. Lightning and wind made the boaters row shoreward to take what shelter they could along the sheer walls. Rain crashed in huge drops so ferociously no one could avoid the drenching. The storm continued throughout the night. The people tried to shield themselves behind the up righted boats, but to little avail.
Before dawn the group heard water groaning in the arroyos. Rain had gathered from the surrounding areas and headed to the lowest point, the river. It was this huge wall of water that abruptly swept the huddling wretches away. When the day broke and the rain ceased, six people, half of the party, were clinging to one boat. As the day progressed, the water drained into surrounding ravines and the arid soil until they were once again on a small river. Diego inquired after the others. Bernardo, and the two guides, Juan and Tomas were in tact. Sairys only had banged knees, but unfortunately Salvador had a simple, but painful break in his arm that was quickly was set.
Their worst misfortune, though, was that they were lost. Neither Juan nor Tomas had any idea where they were. The guides hoped the river might show them to a settlement. Just before dark they landed the boat to rest for the night. Sairys suggested that they give thanks for surviving the flood. The men kneeled while she stood and led the prayer.
Only the sound of the river echoed through the canyon. The wayfarers were surprised, then, when they found themselves surrounded by warriors with pointed spears. Even more surprising was the fact that these warriors were women. Two in front, four behind, and it soon became apparent that the arm-bearers wanted the group to accompany them. They walked for several hours, not knowing where they were headed. Up paths, across ravines and over a high ridge they walked until they saw lights, enough lights to indicate a large city. There they were separated.
The five men were taken to long barracks, obviously sleeping quarters. A large, heavily muscled man greeted them.
"I am Janus. I speak your language. You are slaves, now. Do not try to escape. Eat and sleep."
The food was plain, but it was the first they had eaten that day. The palettes provided for their sleep were hard, but they were dry and warm. Diego wondered where they had taken Sairys.
In the palace the queen waited for the morning report. She sat at her table and heard the briefing from the head of the military. The Chiefs of Agriculture and Education were next. Then, the women parted for the only man in the building to speak.
"Well, Janus, what report have you regarding the new slaves?" asked Queen Barda.
"Your highness, we have five. One is injured. One does not speak or hear. The others will do well, perhaps road construction. What is your wish?"
"Janus, you may do as you see fit with them. Report tomorrow."
With a nod, the Queen dismissed the man. Her military advisor, Corsa, said,
"Barda, why do you let that man make decisions? It is not advisable. It may give the others ideas."
There was a low murmur of agreement at the meeting table.
"Janus has worked as the Voice of Slaves for seventy-five years. He does a good job. Nothing will happen. If I let one of you take charge then I would have problems. Please do not question me further. Let me see my new guest, now."
Sairys was escorted to the table as the others were leaving the meeting. Barda extended her arm to indicate she wished her guest to sit next to her.
"Your needs were met? Have you been treated well? I am Barda, Queen of Moraine. You come from far away. I am aware of your people, but I have gone to great lengths to see that your people do not know of us. We like to be alone, and do not welcome guests. I had a report that you and your slaves were lost. You must now join our community. I have many questions for you and I am certain you have some for me, as well."
Sairys was silent for a short time. "Where?" was her question.
"Perhaps you should be shown the city. Corsa!" The Queen summoned her general. "Corsa, will you take our new guest on a tour? Answer what questions you can. We’ll meet for dinner and talk further. I have much to do."
Corsa, two of her soldiers and Sairys left the palace. The walkways were elevated. The city was laid out in concentric circles. Many storied buildings lined the white roads. The traffic consisted of carts and individuals on horseback. Sairys had never seen any city like this before. It gleamed in the sunlight. Alongside the clean roadways were gardens with multicolored flowers. They walked for hours. Corsa told Sairys that her people were in perfect harmony with nature. There was little sickness and the life span was well over two hundred years; there was no death except for an occasional accident. They were educated and civilized and had been so for hundreds of years. The beautiful red fruits that grew everywhere provided their unusual longevity. It was the prime reason they did not want the outside world to know about them.
"Where are the men? Where are the children?" asked Sairys.
The soldiers laughed. Smiling, Corsa explained. "Many years ago a great leader, and foremost scientist, created these fruits. She realized that men were violent and their ways led to destruction. With our longevity we did not need children. We still needed men because they are stronger and provide us with the hard labor. The fruit also suspends emotions but it is most effective on males. Since our leader put forth the declaration of governing, the women took charge and we have had no wars, no violence, only discovery and technology. We have learned many things such as the languages of the surrounding areas, because we have had nothing to interfere with our studies. Perfect harmony between men and women."
In the barracks, work crews were assembled. Diego and Bernardo were put on road repair detail. As Diego dug into the rocks, blisters formed on his hands and sweat rolled down his brow. Bernardo fared far worse. When Bernardo sat down to rest, the supervisor told him to return to work. As the man in charge bent down to jerk Bernardo to his feet, Diego jumped in between them and threatened him. A look of surprise came to the man’s face.
"Don’t touch him! He is tired. Let him rest," said Diego menacingly. The supervisor backed away immediately. When Diego looked around him all of the men were staring. "What are you looking at? My friend is not well," he yelled, angrily. The workers continued their gaping stares.
"What is happening?" asked a large man, who rapidly approached.
"Janus," the supervisor explained, "This man, he is….I don’t know…..he was yelling!"
Diego watched as two soldiers came to see what had stopped the work. "Why have you ceased? Return to your jobs," one of the soldiers commanded.
The men turned around and continued their repairs. All except Diego and, of course, Bernardo. The soldier spoke again. "Return to your job," she ordered.
"My friend is ill, he can not work." Diego said with clenched teeth.
"Janus, I think you had better send these men back to the camp."
Janus directed the supervisor to return with the strangers. He headed in the direction of the palace, for the second time that day.
The queen had just awakened from her nap. "Show him in," she said as she yawned. Janus was shown into the queen’s private chamber.
"This must be important for you to come this time of day, Janus. What is it?"
"Barda, Queen, you should not receive me like this," Janus said in a low voice.
Barda drew her robe closer to her neck. "You shouldn’t talk to me like that! Janus, just tell me what it is."
"The new men. Trouble, they are acting strangely," he replied. "Anger. It is not good."
"Janus, you are the only man I would trust. Just handle it. You always take care of things. You will know what to do," she said quietly.
He approached her. He placed his hand on the dresser near her arm. "I will always do what I can, my Queen, but there is a . . . tension. I think someday there will be trouble, and it may come sooner than we think."
"You are wrong. Peace and harmony. That is our way. Now go, and Janus, if you need to speak to me again, come at once. Thank you, Janus," she said as she reached for a piece of red fruit.
As Sairys walked with the group on the return to the palace, she looked down from the upraised walkway to see Diego helping Bernado walk.
"Diego!" She leaned over the rail. "Diego!" He looked up. "Diego! Ne pas comer la fruit rouge!"
Corsa looked at her in dismay. "Was that your personal slave?"
"No! We don’t…" Sairys thought for a second, "Uh, yes, we don’t call them slaves, we call them manservants."
"Oh, well you don’t need him, we will give you someone else who is properly trained for the palace. The Queen wishes you to stay with her. She learns things from new people," replied Corsa.
"There are others from outside?" Asked Sairys. "Do they try to return to their homes?"
"There are a few who come here. After a while they want to stay. So will you. It is wonderful here," Corsa answered.
"If you are a woman," said Sairys flatly.
"That is true," agreed Corsa with matching flatness.
At the barracks Diego helped Bernardo to his cot. After rest and some water, Bernardo seemed to improve. Someone brought them a bowl of sliced fruit. Red fruit. "Fruit de rouge." As his friend put a piece to his mouth, Diego slapped it to the floor.
"The red fruit. That is what Sairys tried to tell us in French; they must not be able to understand that language. She said ‘Don’t eat the red fruit.’ I don’t know why, but we are not going to eat it."
As the days progressed Bernardo became accustomed to the manual labor. Each evening Diego talked with the men in the barracks. He convinced some of them to avoid the red fruit. Within days of the diet change, small arguments, then fighting broke out in the slave camp. It was all Janus could do to keep the peace.
At the palace, Janus urged the queen to take note of the changes. One morning after an incident involving a severe injury, Janus walked into the palace at the early meeting. Interrupting Corsa, he said, "I need to speak with you now, it is urgent, my Queen."
The look in his eyes convinced Barda to dismiss her advisors immediately.
"What is it that has you so….emotional, Janus?"
"It is what I have been saying all along, there will be rebellion. You must gather the people, all of the people, and talk to them. You must do this!"
"What are you suggesting, Janus? That I talk to the people and the slaves? How could I? It is not the way we govern here. It is just not the way."
"Barda!" Janus stepped closer and put his large hands on her shoulders. "Listen to me! It is for your own safety. Things are not as they used to be. You must prepare for an upheaval."
"Well," she said calmly. "Take care of it. You are the Voice of the Slaves. That position is what our great leader created when she constructed this government. That is what you do."
"Barda! I can’t take care of it. Things are happening that I can’t control," he said desperately.
"Then don’t. Go away from me. You are no longer Voice of the Slaves. I will find someone else. Do not speak to me again," she snapped, her irritation rising.
Janus walked out of the palace.
In the barracks, groups of laborers refused to work. Diego pulled off the black palette sheet and held it up to Bernardo. Bernardo knew what he meant, and that evening Zorro, without hat or horse, went where he was needed. He had learned enough of the language to explain what had happened and what needed to occur for men’s equality. Each night Zorro visited groups of workers, and within weeks a revolution was born.
A river of men flowed through the streets to the palace. The men had shovels, picks, boards and anything else they could hold as a weapon. When Zorro saw the murderous throng, he ran to stop the crowd. "Rebel, yes! Kill, no! This is not the way!"
A voice from the crowd shouted, "We have been slaves too long. We have much to make up for. Now they shall pay!"
A great cheer arose and the voice of Zorro could no longer be heard.
In the palace, Corsa ran into Barda’s chamber. "Barda! Something is happening! A crowd of men, angry men are coming toward the palace. I have sent the warriors to meet them. It is terrible!"
Just then, Janus came in through the second story window.
"Barda! Come with me. You must come now. I don’t know what may befall you."
"I don’t understand, Janus. Please! Tell me!"
"No time, come with me, now!"
But, it was too late. The crowd had pushed through the gate as if it had been unguarded. The warriors were no match for the resentful men. The crowd jammed into the plaza and called to the Queen to come out. Janus walked out to speak. A great cheer once again arose from the slaves.
"Janus! Janus! Janus for King!" They chanted over and over. Finally Janus, raising his arms calmed them down enough to speak. But before he could utter a word, Zorro made his way to the front and said, "Janus, if you are king, then would you have slaves? Would this be the same thing? Is that what you want?"
Janus looked at the crowd. "Is that what you want?" he asked of them.
"Yes, yes! We want you for the king." They answered.
"And would you do things my way, without question?" he queried.
"You are a good, fair man, yes! Yes! We want you for king," they answered.
"Then I accept. And this is my first act as king." He disappeared for a moment, and when he returned to the balcony, he had Barda by the hand. "Then I will be king, and Barda will be Queen. Together we will rule. There will be equality for all! And let all of the red fruit trees be destroyed."
A voice cried out. "Our longevity!"
Janus said, "Our longevity for our freedom and our feelings? It is a good trade."
There was silence and then a roar. The crowd cheered and cheered. Janus looked for Zorro but he could not find him. When things had settled down Janus visited the barracks to tell Diego that he and the other outsiders were free to go.
"Quite a turn of events," commented Diego.
"Yes, but it had to happen," replied Janus. "I figured out many years ago what caused the men to be so moderate. Eventually others would have discovered it, too."
"When did you stop consuming the fruit?" asked Diego.
"I have only had a small amount each month for seventy-five years. I never liked it." He answered. "I have only aged a little and it has not affected my emotions."
"You have had control of your feelings for years? Yet, you were frequently in the queen’s presence. How did you tolerate her?" Diego asked, incredulous.
"Oh, I loved her for seventy-five years," he said gently.
When they assembled, Janus offered a detachment of scouts to guide the four travelers back to the river camp. Juan and Tomas elected to stay in Moraine. The foursome agreed not to tell the secret of the city when they returned to their own land.
At the camp, a searcher greeted them happily. "Only yesterday did the others return to Los Angeles. They searched for you for so long," he said.
Diego quickly questioned, "How many survivors were there?"
The man answered, "Well with you four, now only the guides, Juan and Tomas are missing."
Diego closed his eyes with relief. There was a happy reunion in Los Angeles some days later.
As Sairys boarded the coach to return home, she bent over and whispered in Diego’s ear, "We will both have interesting tales for our grandchildren: an unbelievable city, me in a palace, and you, with a mask, maybe?"
Diego faked his surprise and offered a quick denial quite convincingly. The coachman snapped the reigns on the horses’ shiny flanks and the adventure became just a memory.