The Gift

 

 

CHAPTER 20

LE COUP DE GRACE

 

“You are just like my father, Don Alejandro; now you are old and useless! Furthermore, Don Juan del‘Amo does not speak to me in such a disrespectful tone and I will not tolerate it from you!” The deranged caballero suddenly swerved around in front of Don Alejandro and barely missed striking the elder de la Vega with his pistola butt.

“FATHER, WATCH OUT!” ‘Diego’ attempted to move from his patio chair but as he rose he found one of del’Amo’s two pistolas aimed directly between his eyes.

Ricardo laughed frenziedly. “Poor Diego! Attempting to be a gallant caballero at this late stage of your legendary aimless life! Nevertheless, I do admire your courage, as pitiful as it is! As for you, Don Alejandro, I see that there is still some fight in you yet!”

“Ha!” Don Alejandro taunted del’Amo. “You will find Señor Raton, that this viejo is full of surprises! Besides, only a coward would strike an unarmed man!”

Astounded by the elder de la Vega‘s nerve, Ricardo exclaimed “Don Alejandro! I shall deal with you after I have dispatched El Zorro and your son. Do not be so eager to die!” Del’Amo said as waved one of his pistolas alarmingly close to Don Alejandro’s head. “But, my plans for you are flexible, so ...“

Diego’s father decided to give the obviously insane young man one more chance to retreat from the edge of the deadly and immoral abyss that del‘Amo had immersed himself in, unable either to save his mind from madness or his soul from eternal damnation. “Don Ricardo, por favor, it is still not too late to surrender to Sergeant Garcia ....“

Don Alejandro never finished his suggestion, because del’Amo shoved him back down into his seat. ‘Diego’ saw his opportunity to disarm the madman. He rushed toward Ricardo and in the ensuing struggle, one of del’ Amo’s weapons suddenly discharged.

“MADRE DE DIOS!!” ‘Diego’ yelled painfully. He held his left shoulder gingerly with his other arm and he winced as he tried unsuccessfully to get up from the floor.

Don Alejandro quickly recovered his wits and he bent down to help his son up from the patio floor. “Let me take a look at it, ‘Diego!’” His father gently tore aside the jaqueta’s fabric and ripped open the shirt material. Don Alejandro whispered “Are you all right, Joaquin?”

The actor nodded. “Sí.” Joaquin also whispered. “And .. remember to call me ‘Diego’ “Father” he said in a strained voice. “We have been in situations far worse than this, eh?”

From his vantage point just outside the patio gate, Zorro’s blood boiled as he saw and heard everything that happened in the de la Vega Patio. Please amigo mio, find it in your heart to forgive me! Joaquin, I promise that Ricardo shall pay dearly for this!

Sitting in their bedroom, Doña Moneta stifled a scream. Although she longed to rush downstairs and discover who was injured, she remained there as El Zorro told her until either he or Ricardo came to get her. She fervently prayed to the Blessed Virgin that the Fox would soon make his appearance.

The white haired don winked at ‘Diego.’ He took a closer look at his son’s injury. “Ah, the musket ball appears to have exited the shoulder there ....it is a clean wound, ‘Diego!’”

Don Alejandro looked angrily at Ricardo. “Por favor,” please allow me to call Jorge Paco so that my servant can help make my son comfortable!”

Don Ricardo sighed melodramatically “Of course. I am not a cruel man.... call for Jorge Paco, and your mozo, Felipe Lopez, to bring some bandages, brandy, and enough rope to tie up four men.”

Jorge Paco quickly did as he was told. The tall Indian was very adept at dressing wounds and he rubbed some native ointment on the injury. ‘Diego’ drank some brandy and soon he was no longer grimacing from pain. Minutes later, Jorge Paco had bound and gagged the two de la Vegas. Ricardo forced the Indian servant and Don Alejandro’s mozo to lie on the patio floor while del’Amo tied up their hands and feet.

“Hmm. Let me see...There are still two guests who have not yet accepted my invitation to this evening’s drama. I must have Señora de la Vega join us.” Ricardo ran upstairs to Diego and Moneta’s bedroom. "Come on out Moneta, and join our little group. You will regret it if I am forced to come inside and drag you downstairs. Besides, it shall be amusing to watch you hover about your beloved caballero! ‘”

She opened the door almost immediately. “There is no need to be insulting, Ricardo! I am coming." As they reached the middle of the patio, Moneta saw the blood staining ’Diego’s’ left shoulder. Since her vision was still somewhat blurry, Moneta stumbled through the patio furniture towards her injured husband, yelling “Diego! Querido mio! “ The tears she shed were real. Joaquin was almost as dear to her heart as Diego.

“YOU ANIMAL!” Moneta aimed her fist at Don Ricardo, but with her poor eyesight, the blow fell quite wide of its intended target.

“Why, you little ...” del’Amo had raised his arm to strike her but was interrupted by a very familiar baritone voice.

From his position just outside the patio gate Zorro had heard and seen enough. He climbed on top of the gate and straddled it. "You have been expecting me, have you not Señor del'Amo? " The Fox announced. “I would not hit Señora de la Vega, if I were you. But then I forget, you love to abuse women. And only cowards strike women!”

Ricardo looked up. "Zorro!” he exclaimed. “Do you not realize that a gentleman does not keep his guests waiting?  But then, you are certainly no gentleman!"

The Fox jumped down onto the patio floor. "Then you will pardon me for being late. Shall we get down to business Señor? Now release Señora de la Vega!”

“As you wish.” Ricardo whirled Moneta around, ready to toss her directly at the bound and gagged ‘Diego,’ when she lashed out with her foot and kicked him -- hard--on his left shin.

“OUCH!” Ricardo wailed. “Why you little hija...”

Zorro leapt toward Ricardo and pulled Doña Moneta aside.

“Doña Moneta, you had better stand back so that you will not be in any danger from this ganallo! “ In one fluid motion El Zorro swept off his cape and threw himself into their duel while yelling “Aayyaaahh!“ He did not even give Ricardo time to adopt a fencing stance. The Fox immediately executed a deep lunge and his saber rapidly cut its target--Ricardo's left wrist. Del'Amo was astonished. That particular move was nearly always fatal when performed by such an expert swordsman as Zorro.

However, Ricardo quickly recovered his wits. "Do not expect that special courtesy from me, El Zorro, for I mean to kill you where you stand--or where you fall, I am not particular! "

“Certainly not, Señor. I expect nothing but the worst from you because you are a rapist and wife beater!”

“Bravo!” Moneta shouted.

Del’Amo ran over to where ‘Diego’ was tied up and aimed his saber at Diego. “Another word from you, Señora de la Vega, and he dies now!”

Moneta took her cues from El Zorro, who waved her back from their very tight fencing circle.

“Permit me to handle Señor del’Amo, fair Señora de la Vega.“

The Dark Knight swiftly initiated another complex attack, beginning with simple feints, which at first puzzled del’Amo. Then he realized the Hunter was taunting the Hunted. Soon del’Amo recognized Zorro’s trademark ploys designed to trick Ricardo into lowering his saber from defending his upper chest, so he easily parried the Fox's moves.

“If that is the best you can fence, my dear deluded outlaw, then you should concede defeat now, for you are a doomed man!“ mocked del’Amo.

Biting his lower lip, Zorro told himself to ignore Ricardo’s voice and concentrate on deciphering his enemy’s tactics. Del’ Amo had always been an excellent but reckless swordsman. He loved making bold, flashy, and theatrical slashes to distract his opponents.

So Zorro commenced a new attack of rapid, hard thrusting moves with his saber, not permitting del‘Amo time to think, to formulate a defense. Then he switched techniques, using ‘beating and pressing blows‘, striking del‘Amo‘s weapon as hard as if he were a blacksmith forging a new blade. Del‘Amo followed one of the Fox‘s elegant misdirections and Zorro yelled triumphantly: HIYAAAHH!”

“PING!”

The Fox had moved the tip of his saber along the inside of Ricardo’s sword. Zorro twisted his wrist slightly and Del’Amo’s weapon arched into the air. He snatched Ricardo’s blade in mid-orbit and then lunged forward and rested his own saber point against Ricardo’s chest. Needless to say, this was not the result of their duel that Zorro’s opponent envisioned at all!

The Masked Avenger slammed del’Amo’s saber on the floor and withdrew slightly.

“Pick it up, ganallo!”

“Kill me, Señor Fox!“ Ricardo said sarcastically. But we both know that you won ‘t because you are a coward!’

With a nearly invisible stroke Zorro carved a small “z” on Ricardo’s left cheek. “There. I think my little trademark becomes you, porco! Now pick up your weapon and fight!”

Despite del’Amo’s earlier warning her to remain silent, Moneta chuckled aloud.

Deeply mortified, Ricardo eagerly retrieved his saber. “No more jokes, Senor Fox! Prepare to die!” He deftly began using crossover strokes, again and again drawing his opponent’s sword away from his original line of defense. Del'Amo was promptly rewarded when Zorro followed one Ricardo's tricks [which he learned in one of Monsieur Girard’s lessons], and permitted his saber to penetrate the Fox's defense. Zorro managed to jump aside in time to avoid del'Amo’s follow through thrust.

"Ah, very well played, Señor, you nearly caught me that time! " said the Dark Knight, sketching a small bow in his direction. " My compliments. "

Ricardo was livid; the man was truly insufferable! He suddenly started hurling chairs and shoving tables at Zorro, hoping that he could deprive the Fox of a moment’s rest.

“Oh, for shame, Señor! It is such bad form to attempt to hurt one’s opponent by throwing furniture!

The Fox continued to tease Ricardo mercilessly, both verbally and with his trusty saber. Zorro moved so quickly in using his feints that he had del‘Amo repeatedly running up and down the patio. He did not permit Ricardo anytime to recover from one set of his attacks to another, and he continued to goad del’Amo into making a serious, if not fatal error.

"Surely, Señor, you can fight better than this! Do not know how to properly execute a deceit? Zorro laughed again. “Forgive me. But all of your ripostes have been, dare I say it --quite transparent!”

Del‘Amo‘s face reddened. "I am going to kill you, cut by cut, piece by piece, until you are begging me for mercy!” he shouted at the Fox.

Knowing that overconfidence is a path to sure death, the Fox continued mixing up his series of classic tricks, forcing Ricardo to constantly adopt new defenses to parry Zorro’s attacks.

While the two bitter enemies fought, Doña Moneta busied herself with releasing Diego and Alejandro’s bonds. But Ricardo saw her untying her husband and his father. He was so infuriated that he leapt over one of the fallen patio chairs and poised his saber to stab Señora de la Vega in the back.

Zorro flung himself across the patio and tackled del’Amo. The caballero’s head grazed the edge of a patio table leaving him momentarily stunned. The Fox lifted Ricardo’s blade from the ground and patiently waited for him to recover his senses. However, ‘Diego’ grabbed a small decanter filled with Jerez and poured its contents over del’Amo’s face. Using the toe of his boot, the Fox roughly urged Ricardo to his feet. “Our duel is incomplete, Señor del’Amo! En garde!” ‘Diego‘, Moneta and Don Alejandro together shouted “Bravo!“

“I-I am ...ready, Señor Fox!” Del’Amo shakily replied, silently cursing himself for his own ineptitude.

For the better part of another half-hour the two men danced a dance of elegantly choreographed but lethal swordplay. Their sabers repeatedly clanged like the heavy, dark mood of a funeral dirge.

Cuts appeared all over Ricardo’s face, neck and arms as Zorro’s signature speedy ripostes increasingly found their targets. Now Del’Amo’’s strength waned as his cuts were bleeding profusely. Ricardo had forgotten that a warrior should remain calm at all times during a duel. A logical poised warrior could easily deceive his attacker and make the warrior’s offense quickly lethal to his opponent. Ricardo was so tired, that the only thing he saw clearly was that he must eliminate Zorro and then Diego from his life because they were the root of all his troubles.

Del’Amo fought on, but Zorro’s sword and skill were too great. The Dark Knight continued to burst through del’Amo’s weakened defenses. Moneta, Diego and Don Alejandro actually winced when Zorro’s blade pierced del’Amo’s fabric and flesh.

“NOOOO! BY ALL THE SAINTS!!” Ricardo moaned after he made one final desperate lunge and Zorro automatically saw his chance to push his saber deep into del’Amo’s left shoulder.

Ricardo screamed in pain. ‘Diego’ bent down slowly to retrieve del’Amo’s saber and threw it to Zorro.

“Gracias, ‘Señor de la Vega‘.”

“Oh, no,” ‘Diego’ replied, his baritone voice muffled by his head bandage, “Thanks to you, Moneta and I shall be able to live happily ever after.”

Ricardo spit on the ground in front of ‘Diego.’ “Zorro, I am begging you to kill me! I cannot bear living with the knowledge that --the point of the Fox’s saber against his chest erased the contempt in his tone when Ricardo nodded toward Moneta and Diego --those two live. And YOU, EL ZORRO, have conquered me in a duel yet again, but I shall always consider you to be a coward!”

“No!” Doña Moneta shook her head. “Señor del’Amo, you are quite mistaken as usual. “You are the only coward here. It takes far more courage to live rather than to die!” Moneta de la Vega said with conviction. She held her outstretched hand up to Zorro.

The Fox kissed her palm and favored her with a sweeping bow. “Señora, señores, I truly must be going. Before coming here, I took the liberty of sending for Sergeant Garcia. As you are aware, the good Sergeant and I well, we are like oil and water. Hasta la luego!” Zorro yelled as he disappeared over the hacienda’s walls.

Despite his hatred of Ricardo del’Amo, Jorge Paco cleaned and dressed his wounds while Don Alejandro aimed del‘ Amo‘s own weapons at him.

When Sergeant Garcia and his men arrived, they were more than happy to get rid of the still kicking, screaming and cursing Ricardo del’ Amo. It took four soldiers besides Corporal Reyes to subdue him long enough to shackle his limbs. And Sergeant Garcia was thrilled to transfer the ruined man to Monterey locked and chained inside an iron bar reinforced prison wagon.

Sergeant Garcia helped his soldiers push -- hard -- Don Ricardo into the prison wagon.

“Oh, Don Diego, you are injured! Shall I send a couple of lancers to fetch Dr. Perez? It will not take long to bring him here to the hacienda!’” Sergeant Garcia said worriedly.

“Gracias, Sergeant. Jorge Paco here has done a splendid job with the wound. The musket ball is not lodged in the shoulder. We can fetch Dr. Perez in the morning.”

Moneta and Don Alejandro noticed that the sergeant was staring at ‘Diego's’ face with a puzzled look.

In order to distract him, Don Alejandro started walking the Acting Comandante to the patio gate. “Something is bothering you, Sergeant Garcia?” he asked.

“Well..” Sergeant Garcia hesitated. ‘’About Don Diego’s face...” He frowned, reluctant to continue.

‘Diego’ overheard Garcia’s remark. ‘I... have a very bad ...toothache. The pain. The swelling...”

Garcia squinted at ‘Diego’ in the semi-darkness. “Ah, of course. No wonder your face seemed different ...how the swelling must hurt! I sincerely hope that Dr. Perez can help you in the morning! Buenos noches!

‘Don Diego’ and Doña Moneta both bade him good night.

But the Acting Comandante stopped in front of Don Ricardo.

“I have something to say to you, Don Ricardo. If I were not a soldier of the King I would strangle you myself for nearly killing the Little One and the lovely Señora de la Vega!”

‘Who cares WHAT YOU THINK, SERGEANT!" Del’Amo shouted.

“Guards,” Garcia ordered, gag the prisoner and drive on! "Buenas noches again, Señores and Señora de la Vega!”

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One
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