The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

TRAPPED

 

Tornado flinched at the sound of gunfire. He felt and then saw his master’s body strike the ground. Master ... hurt.. lancers near .. must protect master! The horse remembered Zorro spoke of a hiding place behind the waterfall. He bent down, grasped the Fox’s collar and began dragging him toward the waterfall. Once the quick-witted animal passed through the entrance he found a natural niche carved in the rock by the water. Tornado managed to pull and roll him barely inside the cave. The stallion began licking Zorro’s face, hoping his master would wake up. After Tornado had been nuzzling Zorro’s neck for several minutes, the Fox briefly opened his eyes.

“Tornado ...where ...” he tried to touch his burning head but the pain was excruciating... “uhh...” Zorro rolled slightly to his left and sensed the ground was uneven. With tremendous effort he used his strong well-muscled legs to maneuver himself down the slope. Then the pain overwhelmed the Fox and he drifted into unconsciousness.

The black stallion could do no more. His ears shot forward as his sensitive hearing detected the sounds of men searching for his master. He searched his surroundings and found another niche in the cavern’s walls, and backed himself into it.

“BY THE SAINTS! the Commandante raged at Lancer Peldar. If you shot El Zorro, where are the bloodstains? And more importantly, WHERE IS THE FOX‘S BODY?”

The soldier cowered and looked at the ground.But mi capitán, I saw Zorro right here! When I fired my escopeta at him the Fox’s body fell --at the opening of this waterfall! “

“Peldar, if you are lying in order to obtain the bounty on Zorro’s head, you will receive ten lashes after we have thoroughly searched this area for any sign of the Fox!“ Glorioso wheeled his mount around to wave at Lancer Gomez. “Did you also explore the area behind the waterfall?”

“Oh, si, Capitán. The cave is quite empty!” Lancer Gomez failed to mention that he hated small enclosed spaces and did not walk through the entire cave; he merely thrust his lance into the mouth of the cavern. However, he was more frightened of the commandante and his too liberal use of his bullwhip to tell him the truth!

“Capitán! A rider is coming this way!” Corporal Reyes anxiously reported.

“Can you tell who it is Corporal Reyes?”

“No, Commandante Glorioso, only that the rider is astride a black horse!”

The capitán grinned to himself and thought, It must be Zorro. Perhaps he believes that we have returned to the Cuartel and he is doubling back on his way home!

Lancers conceal yourselves well. We will attack him on my signal. No sabers or pistolas, I want him alive and unharmed.” He then ordered Corporal Reyes and Lancer Peldar to hide in the vegetation with him as best they could. The capitán remained mounted on his horse and pressed his torso as close as possible to his saddle. Between the gaps in the brush he would be able to see the unknown rider approach. Glorioso did one last visual check of his concealed lancers and whispered “Do not move until I drop my raised hand and give you the order.” He peered out through his hiding place again. Si, here the Fox comes riding directly into my trap.

“NOW! Commandante Glorioso shouted as he lowered his arm “Surround him!”

Several pairs of hands seized the reins of the black horse. Before its rider could protest, Lancer Peldar thrust the blunt end of his weapon at him. To everyone’s shock, the mysterious rider screamed. Peldar’s eyes bulged from his head as realized that the rider their Capitán had assumed was El Zorro, was in fact, a woman!

Selena screamed again. “Banditos! By St,. Teresa ...“

“C-commandante, we have made a mistake,“ said Corporal Reyes. It is--”

“I can see who she is baboso! Lancer Peldar! Corporal Reyes! Release Señorita de Rojas immediamente!” Capitán Glorioso dismounted quickly and reached up to help her down from her horse. “Señorita de Rojas, I had no idea. What I mean ... we thought you were El Zorro! I crave your pardon and I hope that you accept my sincere apology!” he added in his most diplomatic voice, while scowling at his bewildered men.

“El Zorro? Here? I do not understand the Commandante.” Selena haughtily replied. She hoped that the ill-mannered commandante would find her story credible ....

Glorioso loathed having to explain his actions to anyone, especially to a woman. He was grateful for the cover of pending darkness that hid the revulsion in his eyes. “One of my lancers believed that he wounded the Fox near here. Obviously,” he said in a low menacing voice meant for Peldar’s ears, “he was seriously mistaken and he shall be punished for his error in judgment!”

Glorioso suddenly narrowed his eyes at her. “What, may I inquire are you doing out riding at this hour, alone?”

“This is my property Capitán Glorioso and I do so enjoy early evening rides by myself!” Selena replied testily, “surely you do not believe that I would condone the presence or actions of a vagabond such as El Zorro?” She swiftly added, hoping Glorioso would not notice the fear in her voice.

He bowed to her. “Certainly not. Perhaps the señorita will permit me to escort her back to her hacienda?” Glorioso smoothly asked.

Ay! I had better humor him but he makes one’s flesh crawl. Selena managed a tight smile, “Very well, Commandante. If it is not too much trouble for you.”

“Bueno.” He ordered the soldiers to ride back to the Cuartel. “We shall return after sunrise to further search this area. Ah, but only with the Señorita de Rojas’s kind and express permission, we shall conduct the hunt for the Fox, por favor?” Glorioso continued nonchalantly.

“Of course, Capitán Glorioso. Anything I can do to help.”, “ Selena replied graciously.

“Gracias, you are too kind. Corporal Reyes and Lancer Peldar will provide protection for you, Senorita. Unfortunately, the burden of command prevents from me personally escorting you home.“ Glorioso reached for her hand and kissed it before she could protest. “Until we meet again, Señorita Selena. Hasta la luego.”

She shivered as she watched the capitán depart and it was not the night air that caused her to tremble. “Come gentlemen, I think that I can persuade my head cook to have some hot food prepared for you and perhaps some wine?”

Much later, Corporal Reyes and Lancer Peldar profusely thanked her after they had eaten roast chicken, saffron rice and had been given three bottles of wine, one for each of them and a larger bottle of jerez for the Commandante. And no one was happier to see them leave than Selena, who was especially pleased to see the corporal depart. Reyes is basically harmless, but my goodness that one can certainly talk after he has had a few glasses of wine, she chuckled to herself.

Then Selena sobered quickly as she remembered that she had heard the gunshot before being “captured” by the lancers and imagined the worst. And the soldiers were located near the Rica Luna waterfall. They have not yet discovered any trace of El Zorro. He must be hurt and managed to conceal himself behind the waterfall since there are no other caves nearby to use as hiding places. Selena thought worriedly.

“Amontildar! Hurry, have Teodores saddle Cielo, my dark chestnut. I dare not ride Thunder again; he needs to rest. Go and prepare the large secret bedroom for a patient! No questions, Amontildar. Speak to no one else in the household regarding this matter.”

Selena rushed back upstairs to her room to retrieve some liniment and clean cloths for bandages. Finally, she tied a small lantern to a saddlebag before mounting her horse. As she and Cielo exited the hacienda’s courtyard, she prayed, I hope that El Zorro is not wounded but I have to be prepared. Please, Saint Theresa, if he is hurt, let me reach him in time! Selena jerked Cielo’s reins and urged on the gelding toward the Rica Luna waterfall.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZ

 

My head. Where am I? Vision blurry... Zorro tried to raise himself up but that made the pain unbearable. “Tornado, come closer. I must ..try....” His limbs felt as if they were detached from his body. He willed his legs to move. Nothing. The Fox felt the damp air and realized that he must be in the cave behind the waterfall. But how did I get inside? Tornado, good, faithful Tornado must have ... He was unable to finish the thought as the strain of moving around proved too daunting and El Zorro again lost consciousness.

Tornado nuzzled his master’s face but Zorro lay there immobile. Then the black stallion flared his nostrils because he heard the unmistakable hoof beats of another horse. A single horse. Tornado crept up to the entrance of the cave and let his pupils adjust to the fading daylight. He shook his head up and down in recognition. Friend...

Selena stepped down from Cielo and lit the small lantern. She took the cache of liniment and bandages from her saddlebag and slung the parcel over her shoulder. Careful ... rocks are slippery from moisture ... lichens ... moss. Raising up the lantern a little higher she called out, “Zorro? Are you here?” The lantern’s light revealed a pair of deep brown animal eyes.

“Tornado ... it is I, Selena de Rojas. I am coming deeper into the cave. Tornado! Steady boy. I am here to help your master,” she turned the lantern so that the animal could clearly see her face. The horse snorted and then seemed to disappear into the cave wall.

“Where is El Zorro, Tornado? Por favor I am only trying to help!” she whispered, trying to reassure the Fox’s steed.

Zorro’s horse whinnied again. She turned to her left and shone the lantern farther down into the cave. Tornado’s head peeked out from the hole.

“Easy, Tornado. “ Selena continued to speak softly to the stallion. She moved the lantern repeatedly back and forth over the cavern’s walls and floor while she crept forward slowly, slowly. Then her boot struck something and she almost tripped over the object. Selena swung the light downward to her right.

“DIOS, MI! EL ZORRO!” her voice echoed throughout the cave.

The Fox had managed to roll down a small incline and his torso was lying against the wall, with his masked face turned in her direction. Selena put down the lantern and touched his forehead. It was covered in blood from his hairline to his jaw and was just beginning to clot at the ragged edges of the wound. Selena gasped as she wet a bandage with water from her canteen and applied it to the Fox’s face. The soldier’s aim was far more accurate then he knew. The bullet had deeply creased Zorro‘s head just above his right eye and traveled downward narrowly missing his right ear.

She tossed the blood soaked bandage back to another section of her bag. Must not leave any traces of his presence here if I can help it. But as Selena reached into the bag again to retrieve some more bandages, a section of Zorro’s blood stained mask fell unnoticed to the ground.

As he moaned and struggled to move, Zorro felt the warmth of a human’s touch and wanted to tell whoever was trying help him that he would be in danger if Glorioso caught him aiding an outlaw. A faint but pleasant scent caressed his nose. Lavender. Why am I smelling lavender? Only one señorita wears that perfume. No, impossible. he thought. Pain. too much pain to think clearly. But his throat was parched and scratchy. His lips tried vainly to form the words “go away.“

“Silencio, El Zorro, please conserve your strength,“ Selena told him as she brought the canteen to his lips. His movement had dislodged the remnants of his silk mask. When she poured a little water into this throat she almost dropped the canteen on the ground. For the man lying helpless before her was none other than Diego de la Vega!

BLESSED MOTHER!” Oh, my dearest love! Mon Dieu! I have to get you on Tornado and soon!” Would his horse understand and listen to her? “Tornado,” Selena whispered into the black stallion’s ears, “if your master remains here the commandante will capture him. Can you kneel down and I will try to push El Zorro up on your back? Por favor?” she pleaded.

Tornado gazed into Selena’s kind gray eyes and the  horse realized instinctively he could trust Selena. She had been gentle with his master and he had heard El Zorro discuss her affectionately several times. My master must be protected. Tornado tugged at her jacket sleeve.

“Good boy, Tornado, good boy.” Selena said as patted the horse’s neck and cried silently. Mon Dieu, Diego is such a big man. Por favor, give me the strength I need to deliver him safely to my hacienda!

 

 

END OF CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

 

 

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Chapter One
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