was the first first-person Zorro story I wrote, but it was the second
one that I sent to a site. As I had mentioned in my previous
introduction, I had the idea for the story, but, for the life of me
couldn't find but just a tiny bit of information about Indians in
California, so I had to conjecture.
Shortly after I posted it, I was contacted by another member of the Zorro list to which I belonged, Penina Spinka, who had previously written and published two young-adult novels about California Indians, (and now has two adult novels, Picture Maker and Dream Weaver in print.) She gave me valuable information that I had missed while making me feel very good about the story in general.
I have since found a book called The Ohlone Way by Malcolm Margolin that describes life among the Indian peoples of the SanFrancisco/Monterey areas before the arrival of white men. It points out, as did Penina, that most of the California Indians were hunters and gatherers and did not grow their own food. That would make the naming of one of the protagonists (Corn Tassel) false, too. Another excellent book to read is Ishi in Two Worlds by Theodora Kroeber. In 1911, Ishi surprised the modern world by leaving his world in the still primitive area of Mill Creek, California. For five years he supplied anthropologists with information thought lost for all time. It was made into a TV movie with Dennis Weaver, I believe, and is a very poignant story.
But despite the fact that I missed third base on some of my assumptions, I will only make minor changes in the story, preferring to point out what was wrong here in the introduction. Suffice it to say, that I tried to give the Indian peoples in my story the dignity and respect that they deserved. The good Lord knows the white people didn't.
This story was originally posted on the GWOL Fanfiction archives with the following notes:
It was a sad thing to note that when I was doing research for this story, I could find little or nothing on the California Indians, except for the fact that most were extinct or of such few numbers to not be considered tribes at all. Before the 1700's there were thousands of Native Americans representing many different tribes in the California area.
I wish to thank the following: Patricia Crumpler for her unfailing support and friendship. Penina Spinka for her encouragement. And all of my friends in Z. It is because of all of us that this beloved hero continues to ride for justice, fill our dreams with hope and make us friends forever......
Chapter One - Captive
Wading upwards through waves of pain, I tried to regain a sense of awareness and remembrance. Remembrance, because for the life of me I could not recall what brought me to this condition. Rolling over on my side, I felt the hard earth floor, heard a low murmur of voices, which I was unable to fully understand, and smelled the acrid scent of a place where too many people lived packed together in too small a place. I ventured to open my eyes in the half-light, and saw Bernardo looking back at me, his eyes filled with concern. With the return of a full consciousness, the pain began to recede rapidly, leaving only a mild headache, sore ribs and bruised muscles.
"Bernardo," I managed to whisper, even my throat hurt. "Where are we?" My manservant held up his bound hands and then shrugged. Apparently, he too, had been unconscious. Looking above me and seeing the compact structure of reeds and small branches, I perceived that this was an Indian dwelling and wondered at the fact that we were captives of a people who had not rebelled against Spanish colonists in this area for over thirty years. It was then that all of the events of the recent past came tumbling back, and I remembered the reason for the pain, a gauntlet of sorts when we were captured.
I wondered just how far from home we actually were. Bernardo and I had traveled for three days away from the pueblo and into the eastern mountains before we were captured. There was no way of telling just how far we had been taken since then.
I worked at my bonds, trying to loosen them and then trying to cut them with a sharp rock. Finally, as the heat of day was tempered by early evening breezes, I succeeded, and that was exactly when two natives chose to come in through the hide covered entrance. Going over to Bernardo, they jerked him up and questioned him. I understood only a small amount of what they were asking.
Bernardo pointed out his disability to them as best he could, given his bound condition, but his interrogators did not seem to understand. When they hit him, I acted. Slamming against the two men, I drove them to the ground, and immediately leaped up to face them. One had his knife out, the other a spear.
"Seņores, I do not know what we are doing here, but you have no need to beat us to get information," I said, trying to open some kind of dialogue.
"Espaņol," the older one said in mixture of halting Spanish and Indian dialect. "You and the other came where you are not welcome. You are now our captives. We deal with captives as we wish."
"It does no good to hit my friend, seņor. He can neither hear nor speak," I pointed out. And then I noticed them do a double take, looking more intently at Bernardo, who was playing the part well. They consulted together in their own language and then the younger reached over with his knife and cut Bernardo's bonds. With great deference, they helped him to his feet and escorted him out of the hut.
I tried to follow, but at a word from the older man, my way was blocked by several Indians. Backing off for the moment, I sat down on the ground to consider my options. This whole mess began when Tornado had decided to return to the mountains. I had always assumed that his origins were here, and apparently I was right, because Bernardo and I had followed his tracks into these mountains until our capture.
The stallion had been restless for some time, not that I blamed him. Being Zorro was stifling at times even for me, and a half wild horse such as Tornado could not help but resent the confinement laid upon him. Wondering if he had located a herd, I found myself envying him his freedom.
Sighing, I realized that just sitting and thinking would not get me out of this situation. The change in behavior of the two men toward Bernardo must have been because of his disability. Somewhere I had heard that in some tribes respect was shown to those who were physically or mentally handicapped, even considering them to have great medicine. Hopefully, Bernardo would use that fact to our advantage.
The hide entrance flap was drawn aside and two figures came into the shadowy interior of the hovel. One of them was speaking the Indian dialect that I was only slightly familiar with, and I realized that orders were being given. "Seņor, I cannot fully understand you," I told him while at the same time giving signs for my words.
Coming closer, the bigger of the two grabbed me by the arm and shoved me toward the other figure, which I quickly saw was a woman. Defiance, I felt, would get me nowhere at this time, so I greeted her as I would any married women. "Buenos noches, seņora," I said to her. The man laughed derisively and I figured I had probably made a mistake. The woman took me by the arm and pulled me out of the hut.
Several Indians took the liberty of making my journey miserable, by throwing clods of dirt and trying to hit me with sticks. Even though my irritation was growing, I attempted to ignore the insults, but when a young man tried to take his spear to my backside, my irritation changed to an intense anger. This was too much for anyone to bear and I swung around before he knew what was happening to him, and grabbed his spear while knocking him to the ground with my fist. Leaping up, he pulled out a knife, his face full of fury. I flung the spear aside and faced him unarmed, since I felt the weapon to be an unfair advantage. I heard murmuring sounds from those watching, as I got into a defensive stance. The young man charged at me, but I merely swung my body to one side and kicked him in the posterior as he passed. Then I grabbed him from behind, pinning his arms to his side. In this, my greater height was an advantage, as I simply picked him up off the ground and shook him until the knife fell from his hand.
Letting the young man go, I kicked the knife away and crouched facing him again. Glaring at me in loathing, he was more methodical and thoughtful in his attack this time. He grabbed at me, but I would allow him no handhold, I kept dancing out of his reach, laughing at his efforts. This infuriated the younger man and once again he charged me, but reaching out with my foot, I tripped him. As he lay face down on the ground, I pinned him and pulled his arms behind him. The more he struggled, the tighter I held his arms. "Give up, seņor," I said softly.
I heard a shout from the man who had released Bernardo, which sounded like an admission of my opponent's defeat. Letting go, I stood up and crossed my arms, looking at the speaker defiantly, as I was heartily sick of trying to be polite and then being beaten for my efforts. If playing rough was the way one got respect around here, then so be it.
The older man gazed intently at me for a moment and I reciprocated. "Espaņol," he said, smiling slightly. "Maybe you are a man, after all. You fought bravely, no weapon against a weapon."
Not sure that I liked the connotation of his first remark; I just continued to glare at him, trying to remember things I had heard about the customs of the mountain Indians. "I have the guardian spirit of the fox with me, seņor," I quipped and waited for a response.
The other just nodded. "It is so, you fight with the fox's cunning. But you are still a captive and will do as Deer Meadow says. She is without husband, and her husband left no kin for her to live with. Her kin are not here, either, she only has her children. If your guardian spirit is that of the fox, then you will be able to help her."
My astonishment must have shown on my face. I was being given the responsibility of taking care of/being slave to an entire family. Assuming by now that he was a leader, I saw his features harden. "The one who came with you has great medicine, but if you try to escape, even his medicine will not save him or you. Remember that, Espaņol."
At this point, I realized that there was nothing I could do but play along, I turned to Deer Meadow and motioned for her to lead the way to her dwelling. This time she showed a bit more deference and pointed to a small but well built, round-topped house. I walked ahead of her and ducking, went inside through an opening that exposed the entirety of her house. Sleeping arrangements would be a bit interesting, since I was not used to sleeping in a room open to the entire world. I noticed that there were hide partitions partially closing off the back half of her dwelling. There was not a single thing I could do about it at this time; that problem would wait until nightfall.
One problem that I did foresee was that of clothing. My riding outfit was not made for this kind of wear and I needed something more suitable than expensive calzoneros and the chaqueta, especially if it was going to be awhile before Bernardo and I could get away from here. My costume would also be unsuitable, even if I had it. I had no idea what these people had done with my belongings. Trying to remember the few words of their Indian language that I did know, I supplemented my words with sign to convey my desire for sturdier clothes. Deer Meadow nodded and left.
She came back with a pair of buckskin trousers, a shirt and shoes. Turning back to the little house, I went into the back part of it and behind the partition. Taking off my chaqueta, banda, and shirt, I noticed a slight noise behind me and saw a young girl, almost an exact copy of Deer Meadow, looking at me with curious eyes. Embarrassed by the intrusion, I motioned her out and quickly finished the change. I had also heard that the society of most tribes did not include the modesty that existed in Spanish California.
My new attire was a bit stiffer than I was used to, although more comfortable than I thought it would be. It would certainly be more utilitarian than the calzoneros and chaqueta. Leaving the little reed house, I went in search of the leader, and finding him near a much larger round house, I folded my arms and waited. Finally he turned his head and looked intently at me. In sign, along with his and my language, I made my desire known. "I came into the mountains with a sword and clothing, where are they. I would like them back."
Not bothering to stand, he looked at me coolly and replied. "You are a captive, Espaņol, you do not own anything. Go back to Deer Meadow where I chose to put you," he said disdainfully.
Standing quietly, I seethed, but pondered a moment before saying anything else. "What do I do to get my weapon?" I finally asked, pointedly.
Without looking at me, he said, "You become a man." Several of his companions snickered. My breath hissed between my teeth as a white-hot fury began to grow. I was most heartily sick of this. "You must become one of the people," came a further explanation.
"And what must I do to become one of the people?" I asked, not sure if I really wanted to know the answer to this one. I had not been the least bit happy with his other answers so far.
"Act bravely as a man would." And he started talking to his companions again, effectively ending the conversation.
I could not believe this. I had been El Zorro for what seemed an eternity and fought some of the most hellacious battles imaginable, and this pompous jackass was questioning my bravery. My feelings must have been showing somewhat, because one of the leader's companions snickered again and motioned me away, as though I were a recalcitrant child. In confusion and anger, I stalked back to Deer Meadow's dwelling. At this point, I wished that I was more familiar with the customs of this people, because I felt that I was by no means making any kind of an impression on the leader or his people, except, perhaps, a bad one.
Deer Meadow looked at my scowling countenance and asked if I planned on getting wood for the evening fire. Even though I noticed that it was mainly the women doing that particular chore, I needed to be out of the village, so I acquiesced and left. I did notice a bow, that although seemed a bit smallish for my draw, was adequate, and I took it off the thong from which it hung and slung it over my shoulder. Rules or no rules, I was not going out without some protection and I certainly could not help Deer Meadow without some kind of weapon. I also took the quiver of arrows hanging nearby.
Deer Meadow protested mildly at my breach of conduct. "Sorry, I do not understand," I lied in Spanish and continued out of camp. Bernardo was waiting just beyond hearing of the tribesmen. He started signing about plans for escape. "I have to think on it, Bernardo. It seems that I have been made responsible for a widow and her family. And in order to help her, I need a weapon, but because I am a captive, I cannot have a weapon. I wish I knew more about the customs of these people."
Bernardo sat quietly and waited for me to continue. He understood me well enough to know that sometimes I just needed him to listen, at which time I usually came up with a solution or at least felt better. "I am not sure what to do right now, but the way things have been going, I am beginning to feel like some kind eunuch." I shook my head, and sighed.
Bernardo pointed to the bow and arrows. "I took them anyway. If I am going to help Deer Meadow, I cannot play the gentleman and wait for something fortuitous to come along." Bernardo nodded and signed that he had seen most of what had happened. He added that there were many who had been impressed when I had thrown away the spear, they had seen that as a show of great bravery, taunting the prowess of my opponent like that.
"Is that what they thought I was doing?" I asked incredulous. Bernardo nodded. "By the way, how much freedom have you been given?" I asked. He signed that so far he had not been stopped from doing anything. "Perhaps you should just go ahead and walk on out, since you seem to have a special status," I suggested.
Bernardo shook his head, signing that I would be killed if he tried to escape. I was touched by his loyalty, but certainly not surprised by it.
I nodded, but did not tell him that I had been given basically the same instructions. "Whatever we do, we will have to do together. I wonder what they did with our horses and possessions?" I asked. "I have not seen any in the camp. If they let them go, then Father is going to be sending vaqueros into the mountains looking for us after the horses get home. I do not want to get in a big hurry and make a mistake, but we cannot afford to wait too long." Bernardo nodded his agreement and signed a query, asking what I wanted him to do.
"You find out what you can and we will meet outside the
village again tomorrow. And Bernardo, do me a favor and take in a
little firewood with you. Tell Deer Meadow that I am not trying
to escape, but only trying to help her out. Her children looked a
bit hungry," I said, and I walked out of the camp.