Anvil of Iron

by

Keliana Baker

 

 

 



Chapter Four


Sergeant García sighed as he stopped to look over the parade yard where his men were performing maintenance chores. The weather had been drier and a good bit warmer than was usual for this time of year and that was not encouraging to the sergeant's mood. He thought longingly of being able to take the time for a glass of wine. However, as his pockets were just about as empty as they had ever been, going to the cantina would probably be a wasted effort, at least, until he could pay a little something on what he already owed there. With another sigh, the big man turned to walk back through the yard.

"Private Ramirez, do not forget to muck out that far stall," he ordered as the private stopped to lean on the pitchfork in his hand. The man frowned but obediently went back to work.

"Put a bit more plaster at the top there," García ordered a man who was smearing plaster over a large “Z” scratched into the adobe of a nearby wall. This mark had been on the wall for several weeks. White wash did not seem to cover it, as it could still be seen from certain angles. This symbol of the elusive fox infuriated the comandante each time he walked by and he had finally ordered that it be plastered over. This was not the first time the sergeant had had a similar job done. If I had a peso for every “Z” we have removed, painted over, plastered over, or sewn up  in the last three years, I would never have to borrow money again, he thought with a shake of his head.

He walked on to where Reyes sat cleaning tack. "Corporal," he instructed as he watched the man work, "put more saddle soap on that saddle and rub a bit harder."

"Why?" was Reyes' question.

"So that you will finish sooner, baboso!" García exclaimed in exasperation. "That is why."

"Why?" Reyes asked again.

"Why what?" García asked perplexed.

"Why should I finish sooner, Sergeant?" the corporal asked. "You will only tell me to get another one and clean it."

The big man just shook his head. Through the open gate, he caught sight of Diego, Ania, and Bernardo riding into the plaza. As he threw up his hand in greeting, he noted that all of them seemed to be in exceptionally happy moods. "Look at them, Corporal," he said with a sigh. "Ah, the life of the rich, not a care in the world. Even Bernardo is smiling." Sergeant García thought for a moment. "Bernardo is not rich. I wonder what he has to smile about."

"Humph!" Reyes exclaimed. "Probably because he is not cleaning tack right now."

García ignored the smaller man as he continued gazing after the happy group. Visions of sitting around a table in the cantina, enjoying the conversation of his young friend, not to mention the wine his friend so graciously provided, drifted in front of his eyes. Hmmmm, Don Diego usually makes a stop at the tavern when he is in the pueblo. If the men put their minds to it, they could be finished soon and I might just happen to meet him there, García thought as he turned back to urging the men on with their tasks. "Remember the reward of a job well done," he encouraged them.

Reyes sighed as he looked toward a rack filled with saddles. "Yes, we work while you get the reward of drinking in the cantina."

"Well, I had thought of going there when Don Diego was there, for the conversation, of course," García admitted. "However, if I get a wee bit thirsty, I will not turn his wine down."

Reyes rolled his eyes. "Sergeant, when are you not thirsty when you are with Don Diego?"

García frowned at him again. "Corporal...the saddle!"

Reyes complied.

As it turned out, García's work was finished at about the same time as Diego's and Ania's errands were completed. He met them just as they started back across the plaza to the tavern. "Ah, Don Diego, Señorita Ania, it is good to see you,” he greeted them. “You, too, Little One," he said with a nod to Bernardo. "It is a fine day, is it not?"

"Sí, Sergeant, it is indeed! Come, join us in the tavern before we go home," Diego invited him with a bright smile.

"I really shouldn't, Don Diego, but if you insist..." García said.

"I do, my friend. I would be most insulted if you do not," Diego said.

As they entered the tavern, Bernardo went to stand at the bar, while the others proceeded to a table. Soon, the wine was poured and the three carried on an lively conversation. Once again, the mood of the two young people could be felt, even though García was not usually the most observant of people.

Diego looked around and then up at the balcony above them. "You know, I think I was sitting at this very table the first night that I saw you, Ania,” he said with a smile. “I will admit now that I was very much hoping that your father would allow you to come down to listen to the music."

"I definitely wished to, and for more than the music," Ania admitted with a flush that was almost a blush. "However, in West Florida, a lady just does not spend time in a cantina," Ania looked around thoughtfully. "It seems that a lot that was declared unladylike there is accepted with very little comment here. To tell the truth, I feel much more at home here in California than I ever did in Florida, as if I were born to be here. She glanced back at Diego, smiling into his eyes. “Life has changed a great deal since I came here, and much of it for the better."

"It has, indeed," Diego said simply as he looked at her meaningfully.

Ania’s smile grew even brighter.

"Señorita Ania," the tavern keeper said as he walked by on the way to another table. "There is a letter that came up from San Pedro for you today. Would you like me to bring it out to you?"

"A letter? I wonder from whom. No, señor, I will come for it in a moment when you are finished with what you are doing now,” Ania replied. “I imagine the letter has been on a ship for some months. A few more minutes will make little difference,"

A short while later, as the tavern keeper returned, Ania rose and followed him to the bar and was handed a thick parchment letter. She stood for a moment looking at it. Smiling, Diego sat toying with his glass as he watched Ania.

García had watched the both of them for the last few minutes. Just as Ania returned to the table, he turned to Diego and exclaimed, "Diego, it is good to see you so happy. Why, I do not believe I have seen you this happy since you took that trip to Monterey two years ago."

"Oh, Diego? What happened there?" Ania asked curiously.

Diego paused for a moment as though considering something. Then he shrugged, "It is a long story and not so important now. What is important is what is in your letter.  I hope it is good news." He really saw no reason to bring up Monterey and the past now. He had fond memories of his stay there, but had long since come to believe that things had worked out for the best. He was surer of that now, than ever.

Ania looked at him questioningly for a minute, then back down at the letter. "It is from my friend, Antonia Velasco. We had promised to write each other. I wrote her last about six months ago, so she has a lot of questions about what was happening then." She laughed. "I shall be able to make quite an entertaining narrative when I answer her. She and I used to go "adventuring", as she called it."

"Someone you grew up with?" Diego asked. "I did not realize there were any other girls close to you then. You haven't mentioned her."

"Oh, we were very close. However, her parents limited the time we spent together as we got older. I was considered a bad influence, I am afraid," Ania made a face at the comment and then grinned again. "The fact was, however, that she was just as anxious to try new, and forbidden, things as I was. Only, she was always much more contrite than I whenever our mischief was discovered. I always felt that our adventures were worth the trouble we caused. Contrite I was not!” she laughed at her memories. “Antonia is married now and has two children already, but we still try to write from time to time. In addition to her questions as to how I am surviving on my own, she wrote to tell me she is sending me something soon."

"What is that? I mean, if you do not mind me asking," García asked.

"Tea, Sergeant!" Ania said happily. "I have been out of tea for a while now and have almost gotten used to chocolate with breakfast. I happened to mention in my last letter that I would soon be out with little prospect to get more. It seems so much harder to get here than there. It will be wonderful to have some again."

As she glanced through the open tavern door, the conversation was suddenly interrupted. Approaching the cuartel gate across the plaza from them, she could see Brisa Mería and her children. Knowing the woman's health, Ania was alarmed for her.

"Diego," she cried, as she rose from the table and headed for the door. "There is Brisa! What in the world is she doing here? She should be home resting."

"One moment, Ania," Diego said, pausing only long enough to place the pesos for the wine on the table before he rose to follow her.

Sergeant García quickly drained his own glass and then slyly looked around before switching his glass for Ania's abandoned full one. Surely, it would not be right to waste such good wine! he justified to himself. He drank that one and, not seeing any more wine to rescue from being wasted, went out to see what was so important.

Ania covered the distance between the cantina and Brisa's cart with a rapid stride that betrayed her concern. "Hola, Brisa!" she called as soon as she was within hailing distance. "Que pasa? Why are you taking such a chance jarring yourself around in that cart?"

"Patrona, please, you must help us!" Brisa cried. The desperate look on her face accentuated her paleness as she looked in Ania's direction. Pepe, dark eyes full of fear, was for once silent as he sat in the back of the cart minding his younger brothers and sister.

"Brisa, calm yourself. Of course, I will help you if I can. What is the problem?" Ania said soothingly as Diego walked up beside her.

"Oh, patrona, they have recaptured Manolito. A friend told me that they had brought him here. Señorita Ania, someone has got to help him. After he got away before, Capitán Rodríguez declared him an outlaw and I do not trust the comandante to treat him fairly. He has killed men for less than Manolito said and since he joined that group of fugitives in the hills, Manolito has given him more reason to think he needs to learn a lesson." Brisa rung her hands in agitation, "I must see that Mano is all right!"

Diego reached quickly to help her as she awkwardly started to climb down from the seat of the cart. "Brisa," he said in a calm voice, "I am sure the comandante will not be overly harsh. Capitán Rodríguez is not always the monster he may sometimes seem."

Brisa merely shook her head worriedly and hurried into the cuartel gate.

They were met at the gate by a guard. "Halt. State your business," he demanded of the woman.

"I wish to see Manolito Mería," Brisa stated, head held high.

"No one is allowed to see any of the prisoners today," he stated.

"What is the problem, Private? This is the man's wife. Let her through," García demanded as he walked up.

"I am sorry, Sergeant, but Capitán Rodríguez just gave the order that no one was to be admitted to the prisoners' area," the young soldier replied respectfully.

García looked at the man and considered things. "I am sorry, Señora Mería. If the capitán gave the order, it must be followed." He shrugged helplessly.

Brisa's shoulders drooped dejectedly and she suddenly became weak. Ania and Diego both helped her back to a bench in the shade against a nearby wall.

"It will be all right, Brisa," Ania reassured her. "Diego and I will go see if we can talk to the comandante, will we not, Diego?"

"Of course," Diego replied. "We will see if Capitán Rodríguez will listen to reason in Manolito's case." Then he looked at Ania. "Ania, may I speak with you a moment, please?"

After walking a bit away from Brisa, Diego turned and said, "Ania, it might not be such a good idea for you to try to talk to Rodríguez about this."

"I have got to, Diego. Manolito and Brisa need help. They are my people. How can I not help?" Ania insisted.

"Oh, I know someone needs to help them. I will do that for you," Diego offered.

"I can not let you take all the responsibility for them yourself." Ania shook her head insistently. "I must do what I should for them, regardless of his feelings against me. Perhaps he would dare to ignore what I say by myself, but if you are with me… Well, surely he will listen to a de la Vega. Still I owe it to them to be there too."

"Very well. We will both go then. Only let me do most of the talking," Diego held Ania's eyes with his own. "Just promise me one thing.  Do not lose your temper with him and, by all that is holy, keep your words under control. You will be safer and, in the long run, it will be more likely to help Manolito as well."

Touched by his concern, Ania smiled slightly and nodded her agreement. "I will remember my promise, Diego." Raising her head high, Ania turned toward the cuartel.

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At the comandante's gruff "pasé", Diego opened the door, allowing Ania to go ahead of him. She had a look of polite dignity on her face, with eyes demurely downcast.

Rodríguez looked up from his paperwork with a scowl. Since one of the Rancho Valdéz workers had been arrested recently, he could well imagine what this visit was about. No doubt he was in for more of her acid tongue. To his surprise, young de la Vega spoke up first.

"Buenas tardes, Capitán Rodríguez. There is a matter that we wish to discuss with you if it is convenient," Diego began politely.

Rodríguez cast a scowl at the uncharacteristically quiet señorita. "I assume that the matter you wish to discuss is this Mería man."

"Sí, Capitán. I know that there are fines to be paid. I would like to pay them for my worker,” Ania declared quietly. “Manolito perhaps let his mouth run away with him, but he is a good man, señor, and I am sure he will give you no more trouble."

"No, I am sure he will not," Rodriquez said shortly. "The man needs to learn his place and learn it he shall."

"Surely, he will have learned a lesson by now, Capitán," Diego insisted. "He has twice now known the hospitality of your jail. That should be quite a sobering experience. Come, Señor, give the man another chance. After all, his crime was hardly more than that of allowing wine to cause his tongue to move faster than his good sense."

Rodríguez silently scowled up at him.

"Surely, Capitán, you can be a man of mercy, if not for the man's own sake, for his wife," Ania said. "She is not well and will soon need her husband by her side." Her voice was calm and rational, yet barely hid the anger she felt.

"Mercy, Señorita Valdéz, is the providence of priests, not soldiers," he stated, looking at her coldly.

For a moment, Ania's eyes blazed and Rodríguez had no doubt that she would attempt to give him a piece of her mind, which she could ill afford to lose. He was surprised to see her glance quickly at her escort, press her lips together in silence, and, then look downward at the floor. When she looked up again, the anger was veiled. She looked at de la Vega again, as if to turn things over to him. As Rodríguez considered Ania, he caught a glimpse of the hacendado giving her a quick smile and the merest wink. Oh-ho! Rodríguez thought. So young de la Vega holds her on a short rein now. Interesting.  I wonder just what this relationship is.

He thought of the fact that the señorita had lived at the de la Vega hacienda for a long time now and imagined possibilities for all sorts of things. She had, after all, never employed a dueña. Yet, even as he thought of it, he discarded the idea. Not because he gave the fiery señorita credit for it, but because of the de la Vegas' reputation as upstanding gentlemen. Weak and lazy Diego de la Vega may be, but he had never been one known to dally with the ladies in an improper manner. Proper or not, this development must be watched. Both the de la Vegas and this accursed woman had been a thorn in his side for long enough. A closer alliance between Valdéz and de la Vega would not be something that bode well for him.

Rodríguez realized that he had been staring at the young woman disapprovingly for quite some time and pulled his eyes back to the hacendado. He turned to find that Diego was, in turn, watching him closely with concern. He shrugged and smiled in what he hoped was a disarming manner. "Well, the argument is useless now, at any rate," he admitted. "The man is no longer here."

"What do you mean "no longer here", Comandante?" de la Vega exclaimed.

"What have you done with him, Capitán Rodríguez?" Ania demanded. Her hands were clenched in an effort to control the anger that once again lit up her eyes.

"I have sent him somewhere where he can contemplate his "lesson" as he does productive work for His Majesty. As a carpenter, I am sure he will be of much help in San Juan Capistrano. If he works well, perhaps he will be allowed to come home in a few months," Rodríguez announced quietly.

Ania sprang to her feet. Before she could speak, Diego reached out and took her arm. She said nothing, but remained glaring at the capitán. Rodríguez stood, meeting her anger with a look that said much of what he felt about her. As he looked back at Diego, Rodríguez noticed the tightly clenched muscles in the young man's jaw and realized that this seemingly passive weakling did, indeed, have a temper as well, not that he would do anything about it. After all, dueling, he had been heard to say, was not a logical way to handle problems.

Rodríguez gave in to the urge to smile triumphantly at them. "Now if you two will excuse me, I have more important matters to attend to," he declared.

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Diego stood quietly by as Ania comforted Brisa after they had broken the news of Manolito's work sentence to her. Weak as Brisa was, she had nearly fallen to pieces at the news.

Ania's eyes were worried as she turned to him, "Diego, I think I had better make sure Brisa gets home safely and has no ill effects from all this."

Diego nodded. "You are probably right. We will all go." He turned and gestured to Bernardo to tie his horse to the back of Brisa's cart and drive it for her, as he helped Ania get the woman into a comfortable position in the back. Ania rode beside the wagon on Ventura, keeping a close eye on the weeping woman.

He himself rode behind them with his head bent in thought. One thing had become abundantly clear during their discussion with the comandante. He had clearly seen that he had been terribly mistaken when he had dreamed that the danger to Ania had passed. Rodríguez hated her as much as ever. While the fear of Zorro may keep him from attempting to harm her for now, given the chance, he would pounce like a mountain lion to the attack. Diego sadly realized that making her a part of his life, and by that, of Zorro's, he would still be increasing that danger to her. He knew this must be avoided at all costs. Diego sighed as he followed them to Brisa's casa. Truly, he felt as if the sun had lost its brightness.

 

 

 

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