Anvil of Iron
It was not until the next night after his fight with Zorro that Capitán Rodríguez felt he might live. After his men had helped him to bed, he had spent the better part of the day suffering with the nausea and pain of a concussion. Only in the last hour or so had he gotten to the point where he could see straight and not see two or three of everything. The last thing he remembered seeing from the fight the night before was the image of three Zorros. He shuddered. One of those devils is one too many! he thought with a groan.
Zorro, how he hated that devil! Yet every time he fought him, he always managed to be defeated by him. Oh, no doubt, I make a good showing for myself. We are fairly well matched, Rodríguez told himself miserably. Yet I just cannot rid myself of him, not even when he is shot. Why can the man not just die?
Deciding that he needed to move about for a while, he eased himself up from the bed and stumbled to the small dressing room off his bedchamber. Now where are my slippers? he asked himself. Oh, there they are. As he bent over unsteadily to pick up one of his slippers, he lost his balance and landed heavily against the back wall of the dressing room with his shoulder. Rodríguez sat for several minutes fighting the wave of nausea and disorientation that followed his misstep. Gingerly, he rubbed his bruised shoulder and attempted to hoist himself back to his feet. As he leaned against the wall to regain his bearings, he looked down and realized that his fall had damaged a section of it. The damaged portion had become dislodged and had shifted sideways. Curiously, he reached and moved the panel, whose secret had been hidden until that minute, aside. What is this? he wondered as he reached into the recessed area behind the panel and picked up a book. It is some kind of journal! he thought in surprise. Being careful to keep his balance, he walked back to his bed and sat down to look at what he had found.
The book was about a dozen inches high by eight wide, and perhaps, an inch and a bit more thick. The cover was plain blue cloth on the outside with no writing of any kind. As he forced his eyes to focus and opened the front cover, he found a name on the inside of the front: Enrique Monastario, Comandante and Capitán, Reina de Los Ángeles.
Rodríguez sat back for a minute in surprise. A journal of a past comandante! Quickly, he scanned the first few entries for a date. Hmmmm, nearly four years ago, he figured. As he skimmed though the entries, Rodríguez noted that whoever this Monastario had been, he was no doubt a man with whom he could have gotten along quite well. The secret journal had details of tricks and plans Monastario had used to line his own pockets after he had been stationed here. Rodríguez thought that the former comandante must have used the journal to keep track of the things he had learned and the amounts of money he had stashed back.
Before long, Rodríguez
noticed that the year on the entries had changed. Almost halfway though
the journal, he began coming upon the mention of Zorro. From
that point on, much was said of Zorro and the various activities of the
outlaw. There were also detailed descriptions of the traps laid for
him and how the bandit had escaped. It seemed that Zorro had been a
thorn in Monastario's side, just as he was in his. At first, it was almost
depressing to Rodríguez to think that no one in all that time had managed
to catch the pest.
However, an idea began to occur to the capitán. Suppose, he thought, that I use this journal as a source book or primer that could tell me more about how Zorro reacts in different situations. Could I not plan better so as to be ready for his tricks? Yes, if I use this and what I already know of the fox, I bet I could come much closer to catching him.
Rodríguez began to get excited now. Quickly, he skimmed the journal once again. His eyes were caught by an entry detailing how someone was arrested and Zorro had come into the cuartel to rescue them. Well, that was no surprise. Zorro had taken people from the cuartel almost as he wished the whole time Rodríguez had been here. However, just because he had never been caught while doing this did not mean that he never would. One just needed good bait and a good trap, and to be prepared for any of Zorro's tricks. Hmmmmm, and I know just the bait to use, Rodríguez realized.
A vague itch reminded Rodríguez of the now healed slash Zorro had made across his chest and the reason he said he had come to his quarters that night. Oh, Zorro had said that he would have championed any woman in that predicament, but truly he had come because of that Valdéz woman. The capitán frowned as he thought of her. That one would be a good match for the fox. She had meant nothing but trouble for him from the day she had come here with her family. He would love to be rid of her, too. And why could he not do just that? Zorro was the reason he could not, of course. Rodríguez remembered the look in the outlaw's eyes when Zorro had warned him that he would return if he ever treated a woman in such a way again. He had said any woman, but there was no mistaking that the Valdéz woman was the main one he was protecting.
Rodríguez felt contempt for himself as he remembered how he had done just as Zorro said, at least enough that Zorro had not returned to add additional slashes to his chest. Coward! he berated himself. Would it not be worth some risk to be rid of both the Fox and that woman? Rodríguez was surprised he had not thought of it before. With Seńorita Valdéz as the bait, Zorro would be sure to walk into the trap regardless of other circumstances. Sí, that is what I will do! he decided.
Then he paused. He must not hurry in doing this. He must go slowly and carefully, for he truly wanted both bait and prey to have no way to escape this trap. He must also plan a way so that, if he did what he wished with the bothersome Seńorita Valdéz, the whole area would not rise up against him. Everything must be planned exactly. It might take a lot of money in the right places, but it could be done. I have quite a bit of money and treasure stashed away. I was going to use it to live like a rich man but I can always build up more if I can get rid of Zorro. But I will go slowly on this, very slowly and carefully, in the most deadly manner possible.
Rodríguez got up and placed the journal back behind the panel. He laughed as he blew out the lamp. Zorro, he thought gleefully. I will see you dead yet, and I might own that land with the silver mine, as well. I do not have all the pieces for my trap now, but slowly, surely they will come into my hand, and once they do, there will be no stopping me! Rodríguez smiled into the dark for a few moments and then made a real effort to settle himself down to sleep. He would need his sleep, for there was much to do and many slow, careful plans to make.
Some miles away from the capitán's bedchamber, Zorro once again stood at the table in his tunnel. Even though Tornado had obeyed him as faithfully as ever the night before, his master had sensed a restlessness, a desire for action that had not been entirely relieved by their ride after the slaver and the comandante. Now that his own body was mended, Zorro too felt some of that same need to be out, about and doing. He had enjoyed the happiness and excitement of the day with Ania and his father, talking of their plans and the formalities of betrothal in their society. However, once the time for sleep had come, he found that rest was the last thing on his mind. Instead, he thought of something that should help calm both his loyal steed and himself. Zorro always needed to be sure that the trails and paths that he used in his regular comings and goings remained clear and in good shape. He had found that it was always a good idea to find any landslides or fallen trees when he had time to do something about them or plan a way around them. He knew that it was decidedly less pleasant to be stopped by such things when he had all of Rodríguez’s soldiers on his heels. The fact that the California sky was clear, with a full moon and bright, sparkling stars spread out like jewels upon a velvet blanket above only added to his pleasant anticipation.
Not far behind him, Bernardo stood ready to help him on with the long cape. He jumped slightly as someone touched his arm. He looked back to see Ania, finger over her mouth, gesturing for the cape. Bernardo grinned, handed her the cape, and moved silently back toward the tunnels.
Zorro stood, head down, adjusting his banda and checking the pistol he kept there. Quickly, he fastened the sword and scabbard to his waist and, then gracefully reached back for Bernardo to help him on with the cape. Only, as the hands that lay the cape over his broad shoulders slid down his arms in something close to a caress and just the suggestion of sweet herbs touch his senses, did he realize that this was definitely not Bernardo behind him. Catching one of the hands tightly, he turned and laughed down at Ania. "What is this, Aniasita?" he said. "I did not hear you. You have grown cat's feet since you have been coming and going down here."
"Why, of course! Must not the fox's lady, also, have just a touch of his stealth?" Ania cocked her head teasingly, eyes flashing green sparks of mischief in the lamplight.
Zorro laughed as he tied the cords of the cape securely and looked down to adjust the sword. As he looked down, Ania stood on her tiptoes and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek
"For luck," she whispered.
When she started to step back, Zorro reached out, gently sliding his hands down her arms and held her close beside him. His voice and eyes were full of teasing warmth as he said, "Ah, for luck? But what if I need a bit more luck than that?"
The look in Ania's eyes became more intense, full of the fire of love, as she leaned against his broad chest and raised her lips to his again. For a second, she tried to put all the hope and joy in her heart in the kiss she gave him. As she stepped back and looked up into the black-framed hazel eyes she loved so much, she whispered, "Hurry back, my magnificent fox. We have a whole world of plans to make."
"You can count on it," he vowed. He stood for just a second longer, looking down at her, as he pulled on his riding gloves. Then he turned and walked to Tornado. Once mounted, he turned Tornado toward the entrance and gave that bright smile that had thrilled her since the first night she had seen him in the cantina. A second later, horse and rider had disappeared through the concealing vines of the entrance.
Ania remained where she was for a long moment, smiling to herself. Suddenly, with eyes shut, she flung her arms out and spun around in a happy dance for the very joy that filled her. When she opened her eyes, she was looking directly at a very amused Bernardo.
"Oh, Bernardo," she gasped. "I had
forgotten you were here!" At first, she was embarrassed for the
manservant to have seen the way his patrón affected her, but as Bernardo
smiled at her, she realized that this one had gone through those awful
hours with her just after Diego was hurt. He, of all the people on earth,
knew and understood her feelings for both Zorro and Diego. She need fear
no censure from him. Slowly, she returned Bernardo's smile, and walking
with a joyous spring to her step, she turned to go back to her room. No
doubt, she would need her rest. There were, after all, many wonderful,
happy plans to be made.