Anvil of Iron
The sound of
approaching horses attracted the attention of Emilio Cuadra. He
paused, taking a break from helping his neighbor, Julito, split a log.
Curiously glazing up the barely discernable trail which led from mountains
above them, he saw a most unusual sight for their small settlement. Three
men, riding fine horses, were coming down the path. Though all seemed
travel worn, their clothes had the cut of fine tailoring. However, as the
trio came closer, Emilio realized that, by the simpler style of his
clothing, one might be a servant.
As he watched
the strangers, he noted something else unusual. The servant and the older
of the other two travelers seemed to be occasionally reaching over to lend
support to the man who rode between them. Emilio looked more closely at
this man, who appeared to be the youngest of the three men. The young
traveler had his left arm in a sling and he appeared to hold his shoulders
quite stiffly, as if from some injury. Emilio wondered if broken bones had
caused this, for the greenish-blue of partially healed bruises on the
young caballero’s face gave testament to some kind of mishap. He walked
over as the three reined up at the water trough in the center of the
clearing between the three houses.
The older man
looked over in concern as the injured man slumped forward wearily, holding
to the front of his saddle for support. As the servant rode closer to the
young man, as if to support his patrón if he began to fall, the older man
turned to Emilio.
dias, señor. There has been an accident and I must ask for your help, por
favor. Is there anyone who knows of healing here, perhaps a curandera?"
we are only a poor settlement of but three households. There is no
curandera here, but we will be glad to give what help we can. What
happened, señor?" Emilio replied.
"As he was
climbing high up in the mountains, my son lost his footing and fell,"
was the reply as the older man dismounted and walked around to help his
son from his horse. "Is there at least a place where we might stay
until my son is better? I will gladly pay for lodging and any other
inconvenience we cause you and your family."
for a moment. He would like to help the men and the thought of being paid
for it did not hurt the situation. "Sí, señor, our houses are
small, but my family and I will gladly sleep over in my brother's house
for as long as you need lodgings."
The older man
smiled tiredly. "I am Alejandro de la Vega and this is my son, Diego.
Bernardo, there, is my son's servant. We are in your debt, Señor...."
Cuadra, Señor de la Vega. I will go and see that a bed is prepared for
your son. No doubt it would be best for him to lay down for a while, would
Señor Cuadra. Diego's fall was some days ago, and this is the first time
he has ridden since it happened. I am afraid that his strength was not
what he was expecting," Don Alejandro said gratefully.
looked at Diego in concern. Diego's weakness was only partially false and
his paleness beneath the fake bruises was only too real. The ride here had
been hard on him. He watched as a young girl walked up behind Bernardo as
he assisted Diego in sitting down with his back to the water trough.
perhaps your patrón would like some water. Here," she said as she
held a full dipper of water out toward him. "Señor?" she
repeated when Bernardo did not turn to take the water.
cannot hear you, muchacha. He is deaf and dumb. Just touch him if you wish
his attention," Alejandro advised her.
At her touch,
Bernardo turned, and taking the dipper, held it for Diego to drink. He
then turned back to the girl and smiled his thanks. The girl smiled back
shyly, not quite sure how to communicate with someone who could not hear
returned and led them into his house. To one side, there was a simple, but
clean bed which Emilio's wife, Marta, had prepared. Beside it, sat a large
basin and a pitcher of clean water for the use of the travelers.
As they were
left alone once more, it appeared that at least a portion of Diego's
strength returned. He sat up tiredly and said, "Well, it seems that
we have a good start on my alibi." He looked down ruefully at the bed
on which he sat. "I have spent so much time sleeping lately that I
did not realize I would ever be so glad to see a bed again." He shook
his head as Bernardo gestured for him to lie down. "No, not yet,
Bernardo. That basin of water is even more inviting. Before I lay down
again, I want to clean up a bit and maybe even shave." He smiled at
the stern frown Bernardo gave him. "All right. I promise you, I will
rest, but the shave first, sí?"
smiled. "Well, while you two get settled, I will go see if I cannot
give Emilio some of the background of your accident, Diego, and arrange
for our payment to this family." He cast an affectionate look at his
son, and said in half serious tones, "Bernardo, see that he keeps his
word about resting. He is not to push himself now. Uh, Diego, do not
forget to reapply the bruises after you wash."
Father, I had forgotten. Do not worry, though. I am sure Bernardo would
not have forgotten, even if I had," he replied with a smile.
"Now, go see if you can not put a bit more substance to our
story." With another smile, his father did just that.
Over the next
week, Ania fully resumed the normal running of her rancho. Although there
were whispers from servant to servant, and from hacienda to hacienda, that
there had been more to it, most people merely assumed that whatever
illness had shortened Ania's time on the land was now past and she was
well once more.
believed otherwise, she spoke of it to no one, not even Ania. She still
did not know if Ania had truly been helping Zorro, but she did know that
Zorro apparently was healed again. Within two days of the time that
Arrio's work group had been taken from Los Ángeles under guard, a man had
come to her mother's house. He brought word from Arrio that he was safe
with a group of men hiding at a camp in the mountains. If nothing happened
soon to remove Rodríguez from power, Arrio planned to go somewhere else
to look for work. But many in the hills hoped that Rodríguez's time would
end soon. This was Arrio's hope. The man had also joyfully told them that
Zorro was to be thanked for the rescue of the men. Apparently, the saints
and ángels had helped Zorro and he was alive and strong. It seemed
nothing short of a miracle.
Ania was very
cautious when traveling anywhere, still wary of Rodríguez’s spies.
Under the wide sashes of her riding habits, Rosita noticed that Ania once
again carried the pair of jeweled stilettos she had worn after she had
been attacked before. "Are you afraid of someone now, Señorita Ania?"
the lady’s maid asked in alarm.
can never tell, can they, Rosita?" Ania had said with a smile.
"Do not worry about me, Rosita. It is just a precaution."
Rosita had said
no more but she prayed that Don Diego or Don Alejandro would return soon. Regardless
of how independent the young patrona wishes to be, it is just not right
for her to be alone as she is now, she thought with a shake of her
head. Why, oh, why, did Don Diego not think of such things before
running off as he did?
to keep a close eye on Ania as the days passed. She was concerned for her,
for though Ania seemed her normal self when away from the hacienda, Rosita
often came upon Ania merely sitting when she was home. Oh, perhaps the
young señorita would have a book in her lap or a piece of needlework, but
often her hands were still, the expression in her eyes distant and
preoccupied. Poor thing, Rosita thought. It must have something to do
with those arguments she and the patrón had before he went to the
Crescencia had long noted the growing attraction between Don Diego and Señorita
Ania and considered it a very good thing. Why Don Alejandro had not simply
told his son to marry long before now was anyone's guess. Now it appeared
that Don Diego might actually make the step himself. Well, perhaps not
now. Rosita and Crescencia had both gotten quite good during the days
before Don Diego's trip at making sure most of the other servants were
elsewhere when Señorita Ania and Don Diego got into 'discussions'.
Perhaps if given the privacy to work things out, the two servants hoped
the two young people would do so. Why he had run off on this ludicrous
trip into the mountains instead of facing their problem was a puzzle.
Don Diego was
well liked by all who worked for the family and by most in the pueblo. He
was kind, concerned and generous, almost to a fault. Yet, sometimes he got
his head into music or books, and just did not do things as most Spanish
men would have. It seemed now that he would let a very good match slip
through his fingers again. There were many more young men who would be
quite attracted to the pretty young señorita, especially as everyone now
knew of her connections to royalty. Ah, Don Diego, Rosita thought. Someone
should tell you to get your nose out of your books and look around you.
Oh, well! That is not for me to do, she reminded herself as she went
on about her work.
indeed, sit deep in thought now, although it was not quite as Rosita
thought. Ania was quite literally preparing for a debate when Diego
returned. She knew of no way to deny that, just as Diego thought, the
danger from Rodríguez was great, especially if he found out she had aided
Zorro and knew his identity. She, instead, spent her time planning what
she could say to make Diego see that she accepted the danger as a small
price to pay for the joy of being a part of his life, regardless of how
high a price she might pay or how short a time they might have. She
frequently rehearsed what she would say in her mind.
One night, she
was surprised to look up and see Bernardo come through the door of the
sala. When Ania looked hopefully back at the door, he quickly gestured
that he was alone. He smiled encouragingly at her and patted her arm at
her look of disappointment. Quickly, he handed her a thick folded packet.
The outer note,
written by Don Alejandro, was false information to be shared with everyone
as a part of their plan. It stated that there had been an accident and
that he was now caring for Diego in a small hamlet called Río Madre.
Diego was much improved and they hoped to be able to return within a few
days. Ania quickly shared this news with Crescencia.
note was another addressed only to Ania. It was a joy to watch the
happiness in Ania's face as she read Diego's flowing script. Bernardo, of
course, did not know exactly what was written there, but he knew it had to
be good news. He had seen the pensive far off look in his patrón's eyes
many times as he began to get back his strength. He knew that Diego had
been thinking of Ania and the future. Ania's reaction merely confirmed his
the other servants had gone, leaving Ania alone with Bernardo, she
laughed, "All right, Bernardo, admit it. The real reason Diego sent
you back is not to "prepare for him to be brought back here to
recover", as Don Alejandro said, now is it? Diego also wanted to be
sure I did not ride out on Tornado again while he was gone, did he
shrugged and smiled. While he did have to arrange for Diego's
"recovery", Diego had mentioned in passing, only half in jest,
that, at least, with him there, Ania would not feel she had to do
something if Zorro was needed. So she was partially right.
hardly contain herself as the time she expected Diego to return grew
While, true to
his word, no mention was made in his note as to their future plans, his
letter had told how he missed her and restated his love for her in the
most beautiful of words. Ania treasured it more than any gold or jewels,
rereading it many times over the next few days. The days could not pass
fast enough for her.
So, it was with
a great deal of aggravation and regret that Ania read another letter,
several days after Bernardo had returned. This letter was from a Señor
Marcos, a lawyer sent, among other things, to go over with Ania some of
the details of her father's estate and to deliver more of the money that
had been left in trust when her family had moved to California. It seemed
that after Señor Marcos had arrived in Monterey on other business, he had
had a riding accident that had left him quite unable to travel to Los Ángeles
to conduct his business with her. His letter stated that it was imperative
that she travel there to finalize their business and receive the money.
While she could fume and fuss all she wished about this occurrence, Ania
knew that she truly had no choice. Being her father's only heir, there
were things only she could take care of.
prepared for her trip. She arranged for Bastián to again go as her
bodyguard and had Rosita go as her companion and lady's maid. She hired
three of her most trusted vaqueros to go with her as guards. She would,
after all, be carrying a great deal of money on the way back and it was a
long way from Monterey to Los Ángeles. She told no one of the full reason
for the trip, keeping the money secret for safety's sake. The final thing
she did before leaving for Monterey with her escorts was to write a note
of her own to Diego and leave it in the drawer of the table in the secret
room, telling Bernardo to have Diego look there as soon as he could after
morning, Ania set off in an enclosed carriage. It would be much easier to
hide the money on the return trip with an enclosed carriage, so Ania, for
once, traveled as a lady usually did, complete with lady's maid. However,
nothing said that she had to use a carriage to get around once she arrived
at Monterey. Ventura was tied securely to the rear of the carriage and
Ania's riding habits packed. Only Rosita knew that under the sash of her
travel dress, Ania also wore her stilettos. She felt prepared for
anything. She just hoped that her business did not take long to conduct.
She frowned as she looked at the distant mountains from the window. Diego
will have been home nearly three weeks before I can get back here.
Then she smiled. Well, at least, he will be home when I return. The
waiting will be over.
his shoulder experimentally a few times and grunted in satisfaction. There
was still a twinge when he moved it certain ways, but not enough to hinder
his use of it anymore. His strength, too, seemed to be nearly fully
recovered, not that he let that be seen by the people here. Over the days
since he had come here, he had slowly lightened the color of the ointment
that Ania had given him to fake the bruises, so that they seemed to fade
as part of the natural healing process. He still allowed himself to be
bandaged in such a way that he appeared to be braced for his collarbone to
heal and continued using the sling, although it was no longer needed. He
intended to keep on doing this and using a cane to "steady
himself" for some time after he returned home. Given a few days to
hone his fighting skills and be sure his stamina for fencing was as it
needed to be, he meant to begin riding once again as Zorro as soon as
possible. It would be handy to still be seen as something of an invalid
when Zorro made his presence felt. At a sound at the door, he immediately
sat on the edge of the bed and cradled his arm. He relaxed as his father
entered. However, in a moment, he realized that his father was concerned
what has happened?" he asked.
you remember the two new lancers that Rodríguez added to the troop a few
months ago?" Don Alejandro asked with a frown.
Private Rómez and a Private Sánchez, I believe," Diego answered.
there is a trapper out there now, or at least that is what he says he is,
but he seems to have few traps and even fewer furs with him," his
he is just starting out or has had bad luck. What does that have to do
with the two lancers?" Diego asked, perplexed.
that trapper bears an amazing resemblance to Private Sánchez,"
Alejandro stated with a hard look at his son.
Diego looked at
his father in surprise for a moment. "This trapper is Sánchez?"
Quickly he stepped to the door and eased it open just a crack. Across the
clearing, he could see Emilio as he stood talking to a man dressed in
buckskin. He looked closely at the man. He had gotten several close looks
at Private Sánchez in the past. In fact, unless he was mistaken, Sánchez
was the lancer he had pushed back into the men behind him, as Zorro had
been dashing for the rope during Manolito's rescue the night he had been
shot. "I am afraid you are right, Father. That is either Sánchez or
his double," he said quietly.
would Sánchez be doing here and pretending to be someone else, at
that?" Alejandro said worriedly.
before answering. "Ania said that Rodríguez had a list with only a
few names on it of people who were 'suddenly on trips' as she phrased it.
He was keeping track of just who disappeared at about the same time Zorro
was shot. Perhaps Rodríguez is checking on the whereabouts of all the men
on that list when it is known where they are suppose to be. Unfortunately,
Ania's escapade the other night must not have totally convinced Rodríguez
that it was the real Zorro. Bernardo would have had just about enough time
to get home and the information spread about my accident and where we
could be found." He thought again. "I do not think that this
means that he is any more suspicious of me than the others, but it can
only help our cause to put on a good front for him."
A few minutes
later, Marta knocked and entered to begin cooking the noon meal. She found
the young hacendado, fully dressed with his arm in the sling and cane by
his side, reclining on his bed. "Buenos dias, Don Diego," she
said with a smile. "How are you today?"
buenos dias, Marta," Diego replied with a sigh. "I think I am a
bit better today, if I just was not still so tired. I suppose it will take
that is true, señor," the señora answered. Marta looked at him as
she began her work. He had regained his color since coming here, and in
the three weeks she understood it had been since his accident, he should
have recovered most of his strength. Hmp! she thought to herself. Either
his injuries were much more serious than they appeared, or he is the
laziest man I have ever seen. If Emilio slept as late as he, we would have
starved long ago. "Perhaps if you take a stroll outside, Don
Diego, it would help you build your strength," she said aloud.
be right, Marta," Diego said as he pulled himself to his feet and
leaned on his cane. "I think I will do that right now. Oh, by the
way, I believe my father mentioned another traveler had come. Is that
he is a trapper, a Señor Goméz," Marta said. "He has just
asked to camp in the clearing down by the river long enough to eat and
rest a bit. Then he will be on his way."
think I shall go and talk to this trapper. Wildlife is an interest of
mine. Perhaps he can tell me something I do not know," Diego stated.
Marta watched him as he walked out the door and shook her head.
on his cane, Diego slowly made his way over to the small campsite where
his father already sat talking with Señor Goméz. "Hola again,
Father. Buenos dias, señor," he said as he walked up. "It was
such a nice day outside, I decided that I might walk for a bit...at least,
until I weary of it." He allowed himself to drop somewhat awkwardly
onto a small boulder not far from Goméz's campfire.
you would push yourself just a bit more, you might be surprised to see how
much more you can do," Alejandro said with a frown.
Father, I think the body tells us what we need to do. I'm sure I will
eventually begin feeling like myself. Patience is often the best thing, I
have heard. I'm sure you would not wish me to irritate any of the injuries
at this point," Diego looked at Goméz. "Do you not think so, Señor
grunted noncommittally. "Your father was just telling me of your
accident, Don Diego," he said. "What were you doing in the
mountains in the first place? That is no place for the careless or
do not think I was unwise. I suppose I might have been a bit careless
since I am not the most graceful of men sometimes. I had been reading
about the mating and nesting habits of the eagles that are found in our
beautiful area. Do you know, señor, that eagles mate for life? Why, that
makes them more faithful creatures than some people!" Diego paused to
give him a somewhat surprised look.
suppose you might be right," Goméz mumbled noncommittally again.
"I know only a little about birds. I have no use for them since they
do not have fur."
not. Nasty business, trapping, but without it I suppose we would not have
furs and skins that are needed. Frankly, I am glad I do not involve myself
in that part of running the rancho. I would prefer to study animals rather
than butcher them myself," Diego said. He ignored his father's frown
as Alejandro walked a bit away as if aggravated with his son.
Goméz gave him
a funny look, "How did you come to have your accident, señor?"
was carefully watching a nest. Both parents were there for a while. From
our observations, we knew that the female had laid eggs already. In fact,
I had hoped they might even be close to hatching," Diego continued.
"I saw the male fly off, and decided that I would climb up and look.
I thought the female had already left as well. Unfortunately, I was
forgot to watch for the female?" Goméz appeared surprised at so
glaring an error of judgment.
yes, I am afraid so. As she flew down on me, I stepped backwards,"
Diego said, an expression of embarrassment filling his face.
"Unfortunately, the path was not quite as wide as my step was."
see," Goméz said.
Señor Goméz, animals are fascinating. Perhaps I should study them rather
than eagles. I had a professor in Spain who said that anyone can learn
much about life just by observing animals and the way they get
along." Diego appeared lost in thought for a moment. "The bear,
now he represents the person who depends on brute strength to get along in
life. Many people do that. It does not take a lot of thought there. The
snake, not surprisingly, represents trickery." From here, Diego dove
into further examples with explanations of the professor's philosophy
along the way. Diego hid a smile. Not far into his lecture, Goméz's eyes
all but glazed over. There did not seem to be much danger of this one
thinking he was capable of being the forceful Zorro. I might have a bit
of fun with this one, he thought.
you know the one he said was the one he believed most people should
imitate?" Diego asked seriously.
cannot imagine, Señor de la Vega," Goméz admitted. "But I am
sure you will tell me."
fox!" Diego exclaimed. "He claimed it was quite the cleverest
animal in the world. Have you caught very many in your traps, señor?"
catch more minks and beaver really," Goméz answered.
am not at all surprised! You know, he even credited the fox with being
able to think better than other animals and to think ahead to outsmart his
enemies. Well, I would not know, not hunting them and all, but he swears
that the fox can hide out in the open with just the barest of forethought.
He says that he has seen hunting dogs all but driven loco as the fox led
them in circles for half the night. Why, señor, you could be looking
right at the old fox and not even see him!" Diego nodded as if this
were absolutely true.
might be so, Don Diego. I really do not know," Goméz began looking
around and gathering up his camping gear. "That is all very
interesting, but I really need to be going. I want to get a great deal
farther up in the mountains before nightfall."
instincts told him that this man was no longer a threat. He seemed to have
accepted the story totally. By the expression on his face, all Goméz
wanted to do was escape further lectures. He clearly could see Diego as no
more that a bookish weakling, without even backbone enough to shoulder
responsibilities as the heir to a large rancho.
Father and son
stood and walked slowly back toward the cabin. Alejandro frowned at the
amused expression Diego had allowed his father to see as they watched the
trapper walk down the path, away from the mountains. Apparently, the man
did not even think they would notice that. No doubt, he would have been
more careful had he had any suspicions.
Alejandro began with a shake of his head.
Father?" Diego looked at him with a smile.
"Do not do
anything like that again. At least, the next time you intend to, warn me
and I will be elsewhere. That is entirely too nerve-racking for me."
He shook his head again.
"All right, Father. I promise never to do it more than I must."
Then, he laughed aloud, realizing that he had accidentally used almost
Ania's very words to answer his father. He was quiet a moment, his face
thoughtful. "Father, I think I am suddenly going to feel a great deal
better in the morning, for our hosts' benefit." He thought of Rodríguez's
mischief, and more importantly, he thought of Ania. "I think it is
time I was going home. I have been away too long."