A note from the Author:
slightly edited, July/November 2001
Sometimes in the course of being a parent, we become blind to what is going on in the lives of our children, only seeing what we want to see or the facade that our children have created.
Don Alejandro de la Vega sat at a table in the patio nursing a small glass of wine. He continued looking at the outer gate and then back down at his drink. Sighing, he was about to get up and go into the sala when he heard the sound of an approaching horse and then heard the voice of his only child, Diego.
The gate opened and his son breezed in, greeted him with a smile and sat down wearily on the other chair. "Ah, Father, what a chase I have been on!"
Alejandro glanced at Diego in surprise. His appearance was a surprise as well; the clothes were dusty and his hair tousled. The smile on his face was bright, but the eyes showed a long time without sleep. "I was worried about you, my son. You have been gone for almost three days, and either Bernardo was unaware of where you were or I simply was unable to understand him."
"He had no way of knowing, Father. And I am sorry. Everything happened so suddenly that I was unable to get word to you," Diego said. Bernardo was at his elbow asking him in sign if he wanted any wine. The young caballero shook his head no.
What Diego actually wanted was to go to bed. His body ached from the extended time in the saddle as well as from the fight that had come at the conclusion of his chase of the bandits who had murdered Don Juliano Gavilan. It had been a brutal robbery and he had been determined to catch these criminals, letting neither time nor distance deter him. The first night had been spent trying to find evidence of the direction of their flight, the second day and night had been spent in catching up with them and the third night was spent making the actual capture. Even the great stallion, Tornado, had stumbled, totally worn, when they had finally reached the cave early this afternoon.
All he had wanted to do when he arrived back home was to climb up the stairs from the secret cave and just sleep, but having been told by Bernardo that his father was sitting in the patio, he knew that there would be too many questions to answer if he suddenly appeared in his room, without having first gone through the patio. Guessing what had happened, the faithful manservant had already prepared his clothes to show the effects of a long and dusty journey. Then they had slipped from the cave and made their way to the stable where Bernardo had saddled his horse. He had discreetly ridden a short way from the hacienda and then had noisily ridden back. Luckily, the vaqueros were still out in the hills and had not returned yet.
Almost imperceptibly, he motioned to Bernardo to go to the cave and attend to the faithful animal. Understanding showed in the mozo’s eyes and he left as soon as proper decorum allowed him to. "I was riding in the hills, composing a new song in my head, when I saw the most magnificent animal I had ever seen. It was almost coal black, ebony as a cloudy night. For some reason that I am unable to fathom, I wanted to try and catch him. And so foolishly, for two days, I tried to do just that. It was almost like an obsession."
"Well, Diego, if I didn’t know better, I would say you were chasing Zorro’s horse. Did you finally catch him?" he asked hopefully. Perhaps this book-reading son of his was finally becoming interested in the affairs of the rancho.
Diego shook his head. "Briefly. Unfortunately, when I thought he was tiring, it seems he was just teasing me. I caught up with him, mounted and was thrown in the dust. Away he ran. And I think that he was laughing at me." Diego slumped wearily in the chair. He was so tired and this journey had been so brutal that his whole body ached. Looking into his father’s eyes, Diego felt the same twinge of guilt that always hit him when he had to continue his deception. Sighing, he wished that he could just tell his father about his secret life, about El Zorro, but he couldn’t. It was too dangerous a secret to share with anyone else.
"Diego, you look exhausted. Let me have Juanita bring something out right now and then you can retire. The sleep of one who has worked hard will be a sweet and refreshing one," Alejandro said.
Diego glanced back up at his father, understanding the innuendo of the last comment. His father’s comments stung a bit, but for the most part they had been more tempered since the affair with the Committee of Vigilants. And even more so since the death of the Eagle more than a week ago. Of course, then there were the remnants of the Eagle’s brood that still had to be dealt with, such as the banditos he had been chasing. It seemed never-ending. Even though hungry, the offer of food did not tempt him, in fact, he felt a bit queasy. "That is not necessary, Father, I stopped at the posada in San Fernando and had a bit of a late breakfast before riding in. But I appreciate the offer. I believe that I will retire now, con permiso."
"Of course, Diego. You can send Bernardo down for something to eat when you get hungry," Alejandro said.
Alejandro watched his son wearily make his way up the stairs and to his room. As the door shut behind Diego, he frowned, wishing that his son would confide in him. He felt as though there was something that Diego had left out of his account, something hidden from him, his own father. The sound of hoof beats marked the arrival of several horsemen and Alejandro waited to see who they were.
Sergeant Garcia, acting comandante, came striding through the gate. "Ah, Don Alejandro," he boomed. "I have come with good news. The murderers of Don Juliano Gavilan have been captured."
"Sí, that is wonderful news. Who were these criminals?"
"They were some of the Eagle’s men who got away last week," Garcia told him with a smile. The rotund soldier looked longingly at the almost full wine bottle. "Is Don Diego around, Don Alejandro? I would like to tell him the news as well."
"Yes, Sergeant, but he is in bed. He spent the last couple of days chasing after some wild stallion in the hills," Alejandro explained.
Garcia took his eyes off the wine bottle and stared at the old don for a few seconds. "Don Diego? Chasing a horse in the hills?"
Alejandro laughed. "Sí, it is true. And he looked as though he had, as well." Bernardo walked out of the sala and approached the men.
"Ah, little one," Garcia said, waving his fingers at the mute. Bernardo waved back. Alejandro signed for him to bring out more glasses and another bottle of wine for their guests.
"Tell your lancers to come in for a glass of wine. Hard work such as catching banditos would certainly make one very thirsty. I salute your devotion to duty," Alejandro said brightly.
"Oh, but Don Alejandro, as much as I wish it was, I was not the one who captured these killers. It was Zorro."
"Zorro? By himself?" Alejandro finished the wine in his glass, then waited while Bernardo poured wine for Garcia and the two lancers who had accompanied him.
"Sí, and it must have been a merry chase. Even his horse was lathered. I would imagine that he will sleep well tonight, whoever that rascal is," Garcia said and then drank his glass of wine down in one gulp.
Alejandro just stared at Garcia for a brief moment, Zorro will indeed sleep well, he mused. Bernardo poured more wine.
"I cannot stay long. I must go back to the pueblo and make out the report for the magistrado."
Alejandro quietly stared into his empty wine glass. Suddenly he looked up again and realized that the sergeant was continuing to talk to him. "I am sorry, sergeant, you were saying?"
"I was saying that Zorro must have been chasing those men since the killing. And I have to go back to the cuartel to make out a report," Garcia paraphrased his previous statements.
"Sí, there are always reports," Alejandro murmured, still pondering.
After a short while, the sergeant took his leave. Alejandro allowed Bernardo to pour him a little more wine and then he retired to the sala where it was a bit cooler.
Later that evening, as Alejandro finished noting the latest sales of cattle into his ledger, he thought he heard strange noises coming from upstairs, but they quickly stopped, so he shrugged and went back to his books.
Diego closed the door behind him and leaned wearily against it before heading for his wardrobe. He changed his mind halfway there, and just went to bed, unbuttoning his chaqueta and tossing it in the corner. The banda and shirt followed and he lay back, trying to receive comfort from the soft bed. Instead, his mind kept focusing on the last day of the chase.....
It was abominably hot; the sun, the air, the slight breeze, even the
ground was hot. He worried about Tornado. The stallion was lathered and Zorro
knew that he had to find the banditos quickly. Looking down, he saw the
tell tale tracks that marked the killers’ passage into this desolate
mountainous area. Perfect for ambush, perfect for death.
But he wouldn’t give up now. The Eagle’s influence had to be
broken. Too much misery had been suffered by the people of California by that
madman, Varga and his murderous brood of thugs, thieves and cut-throats. They
had to be stopped. Now and in this place. Zorro dismounted to look at the tracks
and almost felt the passage of the musket ball that whizzed past his head.
Tornado whinnied and pranced, but a quick glance showed no injuries to the
horse. He signed for the stallion to leave the area, not wanting him to remain
here and be a target for death. Stealthily, the outlaw crept from one boulder to
another, listening, ever listening for the sound of his enemies’ approach.
Hearing a slight whispery noise near his head, he froze when he saw the
coiled body of a rattlesnake resting in a shaded cavity of the boulder. Then he
heard the not so stealthy approach of one of the banditos from behind
him. The hammer of a pistol clicked into position. It became so quiet that Zorro
could hear the breath of the man being drawn into his lungs in anticipation.
Zorro’s eyes darted to the recumbent snake and his thoughts and actions became
one; his left hand grabbed the reptile just behind its head and tossed it behind
him. The bandit screamed as the startled snake rattled it’s warning and struck
at whatever was close at hand.
The bandit continued screaming as Zorro dashed to the next boulder. A pistol ball gouged a small furrow in the rock near his head. He continued running, making a large circumference of the area. One of the killers was just ahead, furiously trying to reload his musket. Zorro didn’t even pause, and the momentum of his rush brought his opponent to his knees. But the bandito had a strength that he couldn’t match at the present moment and like a raging bobcat, the man twisted underneath the black-clad outlaw, flailing his fists. Zorro rolled off of him and jumped to his feet, only to be dazed by a fist in his stomach, which was followed by a blow to the side of his head....
Diego felt his head pounding and his stomach aching as he relived the battle in the hills so vividly. Opening his eyes, he saw very little in the dimness of the early evening and realized that he must have slept for several hours. By the Saints, he felt exhausted. He sat up, trying to get enough energy to walk to the washbasin for some water to splash on his face. Why did he feel so weak, he thought, as he lay back down for a little while longer. The pictures wouldn’t quit coming, like a procession, they kept coming......