Anvil of Iron
Bernardo tugged carefully at the braiding of the whip he was mending. His thoughts were on the confusion surrounding his master and friend. It was not actually that he was worried about him. He had seen Don Diego do and accomplish so much, against such odds, that he had long ago stopped actively worrying about his safety.
What worried the manservant now was the unhappiness he could see in the young man when he was not occupied with more pressing matters. Once before, Don Diego had sacrificed his personal happiness for the good of others. Now, for another's safety, he was doing the same thing again. The first time, Bernardo had decided that Don Alejandro had been right in keeping Zorro from unmasking himself in Monterey. In this case, he was not so sure that the situation was going in the right direction. Circumstances were different this time. There was the chance now that he could have at least some of the blessings of a normal life, even if he continued serving his people. If he did not follow his heart this time, Bernardo was afraid that by the time Zorro was either no longer needed or no longer physically able to fight for the people as he now did, Don Diego would have let the opportunity for personal happiness pass him by. He would wind up alone and lonely. Don Diego himself would never regret it as too great a price to pay. He neither looked for thanks or acclaim, finding the help he gave others as Zorro a reward in itself. However, his faithful servant prayed that things would not go that way for him. Fate seemed this time to have led Don Diego to fall in love with a woman who could possibly have the courage and independence to accept him and face the difficulties of his double life. As the young hero's friend as well as servant, Bernardo planned to stay close by, encouraging him in whatever he decided, but he hoped the situation resolved itself soon. Don Diego's concentration sometimes seemed almost dangerously split. That in itself was not a good thing.
Bernardo leaned back, putting more weight on a stubborn gap in the braiding and felt the leather at last slip more tightly into place. Now if he could just hold it tightly while he tied the lower part of the whip so that it remained taut, he would be finished with the repair. As he reached for a thin leather strip with which to bind the end of the whip, he heard the clop of a horse's hoof on the stony floor of the entry chamber. He looked toward the tunnel and smiled. Ah! Zorro has finished what needed to be done and will at last be able to get a little rest tonight, he thought with satisfaction.
In the instant that his attention wavered, the leather slipped again. Bernardo was forced to once again pull the gaps out of the braiding and rewrap the end. At last, several minutes later, he finally succeeded in securing his repair and looped the whip into a neat coil. He was a little surprised that Don Diego had not already come striding in the door to the second chamber. Bernardo smiled again, imagining the satisfaction in Don Diego's voice and the look in his eyes as he told of outwitting Rodríguez once more. Don Diego must have stopped to brush Tornado or perhaps feed the horse his grain himself, the mozo thought. He often did that when he was especially pleased with things. I will just take this whip along and show him one of the things I have accomplished while he was gone. With that, Bernardo walked into the first chamber, intending to see if he could be of service to his patrón.
He was sure that the sight that greeted him as he walked through the arched entrance would haunt him for the rest of his life. For, rather than a laughing Zorro tending his horse, he found a frighteningly still Zorro tied to Tornado’s chest strap. For a moment, Bernardo’s breath caught in his throat as he stood staring at the nightmare before him. The whip fell from his hand unnoticed. The next instant, he rushed to Zorro’s side, trying franticly to free his friend’s hands from the loops that bound him to the horse’s tack. As he worked, he prayed that he would see some sign of life within the motionless, pale form of this man who meant so much to the people here, but meant so very much more to him personally. Finally, reaching up for Zorro’s own knife, Bernardo cut the loops and caught him in his arms as he slid from the saddle. The horse, still spooked by unfamiliar smells and actions, shied away. The mozo eased his burden to the floor right where he stood, supporting Diego’s head and shoulders as he removed the hat and cape. He rolled the bloodied side of the cape inward and, forming a pillow for Diego’s head, eased him gently back. Tentatively, Bernardo touched the injured shoulder.
His mind scrambled for what to do. If only Don Alejandro was home, but he is in Santa Barbara. Doctor Mendoza? Bernardo thought. No, he is somewhere near San Juan Capistrano. Who can I trust? The realization sunk in that, at least for the moment, it was he who would have to do something. Don Diego needed help now. Bernardo’s heart squeezed in fear. He had some vague ideas of what must be done, but he had never had any experience tending a wound such as this. He was not sure he knew enough to keep the unthinkable from happening. His brain immediately rejected that possibility. The very idea that they could lose this extraordinary young man was not to be borne. All this had gone though the mozo’s mind in a flash, then he was up and running up the tunnel, hurrying to get things he would need to care for his master. Oh, Blessed Holy Virgin, he prayed as he ran, help me help him. Do not let him die!
Ania walked over to the mantel in her room and once again looked at her father's watch. Time seemed to be crawling by tonight and she seemed unable to alight anywhere for any length of time. A vague sense of unease nagged at her as she paced back and forth.
Perhaps it had to do with the harsh words she had said to Diego as she had left the sala. I said no more than how I truly feel, she told herself, feeling the heartache of his rejection again. Still, I should have saved it for another time. It changes nothing. All I did was make a fool of myself. I do not even feel better for having said it. Ah! I am such a fool for ever letting myself fall in love! I should have known better. However, if she had examined her feelings, she would have decided that it really was not that. It was simply a feeling that something was not right. She stopped her pacing from time to time to listen for the faint click that she connected with the feeling that Zorro had come home and Diego was back in the house.
Silence. Ania began pacing again. It had been several hours since she had heard the soft click which she thought might be a latch somewhere behind the wall between them. Please help him get Manolito out of there, she prayed as she paced. At least, tonight she knew where he would be. Usually, she only learned that when she listened to what Rosita and the other servants told the next day. Without knowing what Zorro planned for Manolito when he did get him out, she had no idea how long this ride would be. Maybe he is escorting him part of the way to Santa Barbara. If he is, it could take all night.
Ania sat on the edge of her bed and picked up a book. After reading the same paragraph three times and still not knowing what she had read, she tossed the book aside and walked the width of the room again. Again, she picked up the watch, Hmmm, twelve o'clock. He has been gone almost four hours now. He should be in soon if he only saw Manolito safely on his way. Ania frowned. What difference does it make anyway? I will not be seeing him again tonight. Ay caramba, I am a fool's fool! Still, it would be a comfort to hear that click.
The wall remained stubbornly silent. Ania finally threw up her hands in frustration with herself. Oh, perhaps some chocolate will help me relax and go to sleep! Ania looked down and realized that she had not even changed from her riding habit. If not, then perhaps a ride is what I need. What is wrong with me tonight? she wondered with a shake of her head. The only other time she could remember being this unsettled was when Felipe had been in that last duel. Now I really needed to think about that! she thought sarcastically. Giving herself a mental shake, she opened her door and walked along the portico, down the stairs, and to the sala door. The servants had all retired for the night. She would just get a cup of chocolate for herself.
The sala door opened silently and Ania started in. A motion further in the room caught her eye. Her feeling of disquiet increased as she watched Bernardo come from the door of the kitchen area. In his hands was a basin, apparently of water, several cloths, and a bottle of some sort. But it was his appearance that caused Ania the most concern. The manservant’s face was pale and he was intent on getting somewhere in a hurry. So intent was he, in fact, that he did not even notice the partially open door or his observer. Ania thought of stepping out to get his attention but, for some reason even she could not have explained, she held back. Ania held her breath as she eased far enough into the room to watch Bernardo.
Bernardo hurried over to the bookshelf on the far side of the room. Reaching somewhere inside the shelves, he seemed to fumble for a minute. He shook his head and ran his hand through his unruly hair, then tried again. This time, to Ania's mild surprise, the entire back of the bookshelf swung inward and Bernardo stepped through. Silently, the shelves swung back into position behind him.
As soon as the shelf was in position again, Ania stepped out into the room. Chocolate forgotten, she walked to the bookshelf and looked at it closely. So this is the secret door or, at least, one of them, she thought in delight. Carefully, she began to run her fingers along the edges of the shelves. The first time over the area, she found nothing. Determined, she examined it again and finally found a small recessed piece that, at first sight, merely looked like part of the carved decoration of the shelf. Ania pressed it and watched in satisfaction as the shelves swung inward again. Well, my fine friend, after tonight you will know that someone has discovered your secret. Me! she smiled to herself as she tried to ignore her unease. Enough of this secrecy! Quietly, Ania stepped beyond the shelves into what appeared to be a passage. Here she paused for a moment, unsure which direction Bernardo had gone.
Hearing a quiet sound off to her left, Ania turned in that direction. She proceeded carefully, as there were often wide areas of shadows between the lit lanterns spaced here and there along the way. Occasionally, she had to stop altogether to listen for the correct direction as she came to a branching of the passage. After following the passage down a long winding set of stairs, it finally became what appeared to be a tunnel and proceeded on a fairly straight path.
Reaching Diego's side again, Bernardo quickly knelt and placed the basin beside him. Just as he started to reach to tear the shirt away from Zorro's chest, he heard a sharp intake of breath behind him and an anguished "Dios mío! No!" Turning quickly toward the voice, he saw Ania standing with one hand against the wall of the tunnel, the other clenched at her side. Her eyes were locked on Diego's still form and her face was so pale he feared that she was going to faint.
Afterwards, Ania could never remember crossing the distance from where she stood to where Diego lay. She just suddenly found herself kneeling beside him, calling his name. For a moment, she felt as if she were frozen in place. The stark contrast of his pallor against the black of his mask and costume made her almost afraid to touch him for fear of what she would find. The reactions drilled into her by Luisa since the age of eight finally led her to respond almost against her will.
Her hand automatically flew to rest against his neck, with fingers spread so that the upper fingers pressed against the pulse in the neck as the lower fingers touched the top of the chest. At first, she had difficulty feeling anything. Then realizing that the trembling of her own hands was interfering, she took a deep breath and forced her own fear down. Pressing more firmly, she finally felt a pulse. Fast and thready though it was, Ania could have cried for joy. Breaths, too, were there, far too rapid and shallow to please her, but definitely present. He is alive! He is alive! rang through her mind as she closed her eyes and felt herself go weak with relief.
When she opened her eyes again, Ania was staring right into Bernardo's worried brown eyes. The shocked and dismayed expression that had been on his face when he had first turned and seen her was gradually replaced by one of hope. It took Ania a moment to realize what had already occurred to Bernardo. Regardless of how sudden and unexpected her appearance had been, what he was seeing was medical help for Diego. The cold knot of fear in her middle grew as Ania realized that what she did or did not do in the next few hours could make the difference in all their futures. No, I cannot do this alone! she thought in fear. Not again! "Have you ever taken care of someone who was shot?" she asked Bernardo.
Bernardo looked at her for a second and then shook his head.
Ania dropped her head and nearly groaned aloud at his response. Then she suddenly looked up at the mozo in surprise as she realize two things. The first was that when she had cried out at her first sight of Diego, Bernardo had turned to her immediately without seeing her first. The second was that she had just spoken to the servant aloud with no gestures and he had answered her. "You hear as well as I do," she said. The comment was a statement, not a question.
Bernardo met her eyes and nodded before looking back down at Diego.
Pushing this new revelation out of her mind, Ania forced herself to think as a healer. "I must see where he is hit," she said as she began trying to work the shirt off to examine the wound. Bernardo reached over and gently cut the garment off. Just as gently, he then removed Diego's mask. Ania's eyes lingered for a moment on the beloved face before she could make herself to look at his shoulder.
Ania drew her breath in sharply in alarm as she saw how much blood was still welling up from the wound. The very first thing that she knew must be done was to get that stopped. She forced herself to think of when she had tried to help her brother, Felipe, after the duel. Though he had not survived in the end, they had managed to stop his bleeding. How was it done? Yes, she remembered now. In desperation then, she had covered the wound and pressed. The bleeding had stopped. This was not what she would have been taught by a doctor, but Luisa had always said if you find something that worked for one, then it could work for others. It could not hurt to try what had worked before. Quickly, Ania placed one of the clean cloths over the wound and pressed down firmly.
She thought of other things that she would need to help him as well. “Bernardo...” she began and then stopped. She realized that she could probably go and get the things herself more quickly than she could describe exactly what it was she wanted to the servant. "Bernardo, place your hand here and hold this until I return," she ordered. Then she rose and ran back up the tunnel.
Reaching the secret door, she forced herself to pause and quiet her breathing. Seeing a spy hole, she looked into the sala but saw no one. Quietly, she opened the cabinet and hurried to her room, praying all the while that she would meet no one. There was no way she could have hidden what she was feeling now. In her room, she rushed to the trunk containing herbs. Snatching a packet of burnet and another of centaury, she turned to go back out, then paused. Returning to the trunk, she reached into another compartment and took out a packet containing a probe she had used only twice before. On her way back downstairs, she picked up a bottle of brandy and a bowl. After looking to be sure there was still no one around, Ania hurried back to where she was needed.
Kneeling once again at Diego's side, Ania quickly poured some of the dried burnet into the bowl. Adding a small amount of water, she made a paste, which she placed on another clean cloth. As she nodded to Bernardo, he removed the first cloth. Ania was pleased to see that the bleeding had slowed. Quickly, she placed the new cloth with the herb against the wound and pressed firmly again. Within minutes, she could tell that the bleeding had been stopped, at least for now. Only then did she take the time to check for any other injuries and to take stock of Diego's general condition.
She wondered just how much blood he had lost. All signs seemed to indicate a very dangerous amount. Yet there also seemed to be things for which to be thankful. Foremost, the musket ball appeared to have missed the top of the lung. Diego’s breathing, though shallow, was not labored. Gently and without moving the bandage, she closed her eyes and ran her fingers along the bones that could be felt along the shoulder and collarbone. Then she shook her head in surprise. She could feel no break in the bones. It seemed that the blood loss was the primary danger at this point. She realized that Bernardo was watching her closely through all of this.
"Bernardo," she said as she looked up at him, "Luisa used to say that for someone to survive a gunshot wound one must have not one, but a series of miracles. It seems that we have already had several."
Bernardo indicated by his expression that he wished for her to explain.
"Luisa always said that the first miracle was not being killed outright. We can thank God and all the saints for that." Ania looked down at Diego and gently stroked his cheek as she remembered. "Two, not having any major organs hit so that there is no internal bleeding that cannot be controlled. Three, managing to stop what bleeding there is. Four, not having major bones shattered by the musket ball. Five, the body must not be so insulted that it shuts down from the shock of the injury. We must keep him warm and as still as possible. Once he improves enough to be able to drink something, I have herbs that might help with that as well. And, finally, there must be no infection.”
Ania paused and looked up at Bernardo for a second and then continued. “She also said through all of these miracles there must be a strong will, both to survive and to heal. Bernardo, knowing this man, I would like to believe that last alone should see him through, if we can just give him that chance." Positive though she tried to sound, inside she was still terrified. Even with four of the six miracles in place, she knew that any one of the things named could defeat the healer's art. The power of infection was an enemy she knew only too well.
For a moment, Bernardo looked down at Diego, and reaching out, laid his hand on his arm, as if to give some of his own strength to his young friend. Unshed tears glistened in the older man’s eyes and Ania realized the bond between these two, which surely went far beyond that of a servant for his master. Bernardo looked up and gestured. Ania watched for a moment, wishing she had Diego's practice at understanding him. Finally, she realized that he was asking what they should do now, especially what he could do to help Diego.
Ania thought for a minute before answering him. She forced herself to think of Felipe again, both what was done right and what may have gone wrong. She frowned. The memories were not pleasant ones. Papá had been in Pensacola when that happened and she had been the only one available to care for Felipe when he had been brought in. She had done all she could, but it had not been enough. Infection had set in and she had been unable to stop it. The doctor later told her that he could have done no more than she, but Ania had always wondered if there was something else, anything else, she could have done.
The possibility of infection frightened her more than anything else right now. She wanted to sound positive for Bernardo, but she knew it would be a while before they truly knew how things would go. He deserved no less than honesty from her. Finally, she shrugged and looked at him solemnly. "We will do what we know to do and then we can only pray that it is enough," she said quietly. “Such things are in God’s hands.”
Anxiety shining in his eyes, Bernardo looked down at Diego again and then up at her and nodded. He understood what she was saying.
"Right now, there are things I will need your help with," she continued. After washing the probe and her hands well with the brandy, she directed Bernardo as he helped her remove the ball from Diego's shoulder. It had been something she had dreaded doing, knowing it would start the bleeding again. However, it was the most important thing she knew of that could lessen the chance of infection. She was relieved to find that they were able to stop the bleeding again fairly quickly. She wondered again at the path that the musket ball had taken. It was one that seemed to do far less damage than it might have, angled as it was, so that the ball had come up under the bones to actually stop against one of them. The bone may have been chipped. She could not tell that for sure, but she rejoiced that it had not actually broken it. Felipe's shoulder had been badly shattered and she had always felt that the trauma had contributed to his death. She quickly said a prayer of thanksgiving that Diego had been spared that. As she finished, she washed the wound as carefully as she could with an infusion of centaury and rebandaged it with a poultice of burnet to stanch any further bleeding. Finishing, she straightened her back tiredly and said, "Now we wait and pray."
Bernardo gestured something about moving Diego. Ania did not get his meaning, so he repeated it with minor changes.
"A bed?" Ania guessed. "Yes, I wish we could move him into one."
Bernardo shook his head no. He gestured someone looking and expressing surprise or alarm. His meaning was clear. They could not take Diego upstairs to a bed. In spite of everything they could do to try to keep it secret, with so many servants around, someone was sure to find out. They would have to think of something else.
As they thought of the problem, Tornado snorted from behind them. "We can spread hay thickly and lay blankets over it in the next chamber," Ania suggested as she looked back toward the horse. "It will not be ideal, but it will be safer and will serve the purpose."
While Bernardo went upstairs and brought blankets and a pillow, Ania began bringing clean hay from the entrance chamber. Soon they had a passable bed ready, and together, gently moved Diego into it. For a few minutes, both stood looking down at him with their own thoughts.
"Bernardo," Ania said thoughtfully. "I am going to have to tell everyone something to explain Diego's absence. Any ideas?"
Bernardo walked away from her for a moment, obviously thinking seriously on the question. Suddenly, his face brightened and he turned to her, gesturing rapidly. Ania understood something about mountains and birds, but could only look at him in confusion as to what exactly he meant. Bernardo paced again, with one hand on his forehead and one on his hip, as he tried to think of another way to sign his meaning. Finally, he raised a finger at her as if to say, 'Wait,' and turning, hurried up the tunnel. Minutes later, he was back with a book in his hands. Ania remembered seeing Diego reading this book on birds of prey several days ago. Diego having wide interests, Ania was rarely surprised at anything he read. As Bernardo pointed to a picture of an eagle, his meaning fell into place for Ania.
"Of course, Diego began wondering about something he had read and decided to go observe some eagles for himself," Ania gave a half smile at that. It did, indeed, sound like something Diego would do, or at least, let others think he did. "But why would he leave in the middle of the night?"
Bernardo gestured someone trying to sleep, but not succeeding. He would close his eyes, then open them, then do it again.
"He could not sleep," Ania translated. Diego had many times used insomnia as an excuse for the odd hours he kept. "And since he could not sleep, he decided that you would both leave immediately. Sí! That will work. Perhaps we can copy Diego's writing so that a note to that effect can be left."
Bernardo nodded and immediately went up the tunnel and returned with writing paper, quill and ink. He also had a letter that Diego had written but not yet sent.
As Bernardo went to bring both his and Diego's horses to hide in the cave, Ania sat on the floor and carefully began forging the note, using Diego's writing in the letter as a guide. She felt oddly guilty about it, even though she knew it was the best thing to do. In a few minutes, she had a note written and handed it to Bernardo for inspection when he returned. Looking at it closely, he nodded. It would do.
From the other chamber, Tornado neighed and stamped his feet. He was used to being fed and tended when he returned home. For reasons he did not understand, his feed trough remained empty. As the horse neighed again, Ania and Bernardo looked at each other.
"You know, as much as Diego cares for that horse, he would not thank us for neglecting Tornado, even under the circumstances," Ania said reluctantly. Bernardo nodded and they both looked toward the entrance, neither wanting to leave Diego's side. Bernardo finally glanced once more at Diego, and turning, went to care for the stallion.
Ania stretched her back muscles, which felt cramped from leaning over tensely for the past hour or so. Restlessly, she walked to the archway separating the two chambers and watched Bernardo. She saw him stare at the stallion's left side and shake his head. Only when he turned to her with an alarmed expression did she pay much attention to the fact that there was blood all the way down the horse's left foreleg to his hoof. With a growing sense of dismay, she joined Bernardo in the entrance chamber as he pointed at the ground and back toward the entrance.
There, at intervals, a blood trial could easily be seen. Bernardo and Ania looked up at each other in horror. Both realized that Zorro must surely have left a trail a blind man could follow, one that would lead Rodríguez straight to Diego.
"Dios mío! Now what do we do?" Ania cried.
Bernardo covered his face with both hands in despair. It was clear that he had no more idea than Ania did. Think! Think! he told himself. He began pacing as Ania watched him in dismay.
Capitán Rodríguez looked happily around the cantina. He had, just thirty minutes before, listened to a verbal report by Private Olivares. As far as Rodríguez was concerned, Olivares was worth his weight in gold right now. Olivares had reported that he was certain that as he and the other lancers were chasing Zorro tonight, he had actually shot the outlaw. "How can you be sure, Private?" the capitán had asked.
"I could see him clearly for a moment against the sky, Capitán," Olivares had replied. "When I shot, he was nearly unhorsed but managed to hang on. He was definitely hit."
Rodríguez had then turned to Sergeant García. "Well, Sergeant, do you have anything to add?"
Oddly, García had not looked exactly happy at that moment. "Well, Capitán, after searching for a while with a torch, we did find blood in a thicket where Zorro may have stopped to tend a wound. We lost the trail as some clouds covered the moon and we could find no more blood by torchlight."
"But you would say that he was definitely hit?" Rodríguez had begun to grin.
García had looked at the floor solemnly. "Yes, I think so, sir."
"Badly?" Rodríguez had asked. "Perhaps mortally wounded?"
García sighed. "It is possible, Capitán. Perhaps even likely. There seemed to be quite a lot of blood in that spot, at least. He could not have gone far bleeding like that, anyway."
Rodríguez began to laugh. "Wonderful, Sergeant! You should be proud! With Private Olivares' help, we have done what so many have tried to do. We have surely brought down the Fox! Sergeant, go give the word for all the lancers to meet me in the cantina. Then go and wake the tavern keeper. Tell him to prepare for a celebration," he had ordered.
Now Capitán Rodríguez sat watching his men enjoy the wine he had provided for them. All were enjoying it, except, oddly enough, García and Reyes, who had never before been accused of neglecting their wines. Those two puzzled him. One would almost think they were sorry the Fox had been brought down.
The tavern keeper smiled as he saw that it was the capitán who had ordered all the wine. The capitán could be counted on to pay his bill. That could not be said of many soldiers in here. "What are you celebrating, Capitán Rodríguez?" he asked as he watched the wine flow.
"The demise of El Zorro, señor!" Rodríguez laughed at the tavern keeper’s dismayed face. "Surely, you did not think the man was immortal! Tomorrow all we have to do is follow his trail and we shall have him. Perhaps, he has already cheated the hangman and all we will find is his corpse. Either way, señor, El Zorro is no more and I have had the victory at last"
He noticed a peon slipping out the door and laughed. In a short while, the news would be all over the pueblo. He leaned back in his chair and savored his cigar and wine. Did I not tell you that I would win, Zorro? I hope you had time at the end to remember that. I have won the only time it counts, the last. Tomorrow, he himself would lead the men as they followed the trail, and they would, at last, see just who this outlaw was or had been. One way or another, Zorro would be no more. Rodríguez smiled wickedly as he raised his glass in a private toast. To tomorrow and the final foxhunt!