Forge of Shadows
García sat bolt upright in bed at the first clang from the tumbling bell
rolling down the cuartel roof. As he looked up at the roof from the
cuartel portico, a strange sight greeted his eyes. There on the
comandante's roof, with sword drawn, stood Zorro watching the bell make
its noisy way to the ground. "Now what is he up to?" García
It occurred to
him to wonder why the bell had taken this particular time to fall. Being
neither very bright, nor very curious at this moment, he merely shrugged
the thought off. Perhaps, having been unused for a long time, it had just
rusted loose and Zorro had bumped it causing it to fall. Zorro had
probably been attempting to get into the cuartel to cause mischief again.
But what did all this matter?
What did matter
was that there, on that roof, stood 2000 pesos, just waiting for the man
who could collect them. The thought jolted García into action. "To
arms!" he yelled to the other lancers. "Zorro is in the cuartel!
Do not let him escape!" Dressing as they ran, soldiers scattered in
As so often
happened, a laughing Zorro stepped from the roof onto his swift horse.
To horse!" the stout sergeant yelled right on cue. Soon only one
lonesome sentinel remained on guard to explain to Capitán Rodríguez why
his sleep had been interrupted.
city, the soldiers were surprised at how easy it was to keep Zorro within
sight tonight. The one time they had lost track of him, he had reappeared
at the top of a hill not far ahead, black horse pawing at the night sky.
Off they had raced again, determined to make those 2000 pesos their own
They would have
been even more surprised to have seen a silent shadow slip in the cuartel
gate through which they had just ridden.
However, no one was more surprised than the lone sentinel who
remained on guard at the cuartel and who had lapsed back into a drowsy
lethargy as soon as the lancers were gone. The silent shadow which
had slipped in through the cuartel gates unseen suddenly placed a
black gloved hand over his mouth and the hilt of a sword made of good
Toledo steel completed his journey to dreams with hardly a sound to mark
the occurrence. The shadow then stopped and listened to the sounds
of the chase now fading far off to the east of the city. All else
Zorro smiled. He
wanted no interference tonight and, with Bernardo's help, he was having it
just as he wished. Being sure that the sleeping guard was securely tied,
Zorro made his way to the window of Capitán Rodríguez's quarters.
Finding the window open, Zorro silently slipped into the bedchamber, only
to find the bed empty. Easing the door open, he could see the comandante
sitting at the desk with a large box open on the floor beside him. Inside
the box, Zorro saw the gleam of silver bars and the duller shine of some
of the white quartz stones, which he now knew, contained rare silver ore.
On the desk in front of Rodríguez was the white geode, which Ania had
Zorro eased out
and calmly placed the tip of his blade at the base of Rodríguez's neck.
He had to admit that the capitán showed an amazing calm under the
circumstances. The capitán neither jumped, nor cried out, but merely
froze with one hand on the geode and the other on the blotter on the desk.
Rodríguez, I would have a word with you," Zorro said quietly.
you want, thief?" Rodríguez spat out. "Have you come for my
I have not come for the silver," Zorro informed him, "but,
rather, about the silver and your methods of obtaining it."
Just as Zorro
took a step to come in front of Rodríguez, the capitán threw himself
sideways away from the blade point and, at the same time, heaved the geode
at the masked man. Bounding to where his sheathed sword hung nearby, the
comandante whirled toward Zorro, his own blade now in hand. Both men
calmly watched each other as Zorro walked around the desk to face the
capitán more directly.
Capitán Rodríguez, I think tonight I would prefer that our blades speak
for us as you seem to wish." The hazel eyes glistened in the
candlelight. They showed none of the laughter so often present when the
two had crossed blades in the past. With a suddenness that almost caught
the soldier unprepared, Zorro leaped forward, his abrupt cry startling
Rodríguez almost as much as his sudden movement.
managed to barely parry Zorro's first thrust, only to attack with one of
his own. Without a doubt, more evenly matched than with anyone else in the
pueblo at this time, the duel went on longer than most would have thought
it could have.
During one point
of the battle, the capitán seemed almost to be gaining on the outlaw, but
just as he thought he would have him on the tip of his sword, Zorro easily
spun out of harm's way, letting his own blade carve a fiery line along
Rodríguez's upper arm. Anger flared out of control in the older man's
eyes as he turned with a roar, trying to get the upper hand on the
himself a grim smile. Angry men often made mistakes. This fight would not
last much longer.
Finally with a
loud clang and a quick twist of his wrist, Zorro sent Capitán Rodríguez's
sword spinning away to land in the corner behind a chair.
Lancers!" the dismayed comandante screamed. "To me! To me!"
Zorro did not so
much as glance toward the door. With deliberate movements, he placed the
point of his sword against the capitán's chest, as he had done so many
months before. Only, this time, the eyes staring through the upturned
eyeholes in the mask, looked as deadly as did the gleam of the sword he
backed up slowly, struggling to swallow as he found that his mouth had
suddenly gone as dry as ash. He felt the desk against the backs of his
legs. He could retreat no further.
silently watching the trembling soldier as he held his blade perfectly
still. "Capitán, I did not come for your silver," he finally
said. "Though, truly, you deserve to die with it weighting your body
down in some bog or tar pit near here. It would be a service to the people
if I did kill you tonight."
relaxed just a little as he caught the implication that perhaps Zorro did
not intend to kill him outright.
it has become clear to me just recently that you have sunk to a new low.
It seems that you have made war, after a fashion, on a certain young señorita
of our area. The young lady happens to be of high birth, but do not
mistake me, I would take offense at this were she the daughter of the
poorest peon. It is from her land that this silver came, did it not, capitán?"
He paused as if expecting the soldier to confess. When Rodríguez said
nothing, Zorro applied just a bit more pressure with the blade's tip.
Rodríguez gasped. "It is from the old mine on that Valdéz woman's
land," he added.
narrowed at the lack of respect Rodríguez used when he spoke Ania's name.
His voice was, however, still quiet and controlled when next he spoke.
"Capitán, I will tolerate no more of this in the future. If she is
ever again injured by your hand or by those you send to do your dirty
work, you will answer to me. Is that clear?" When Rodríguez again
did not answer, he suddenly made a quick move with the blade that left a
crimson slash from left to right across the capitán's chest. The cut was
not deep, but it would leave a scar and stung like the fires of hell.
gasped and would have clutched at the slash, had not Zorro met his hand
with the flat of his blade. The capitán lowered his hand again and clung
to the edge of the desk.
clear, Capitán?" Zorro repeated, more loudly.
Rodríguez gasped out.
because, Capitán Rodríguez, if I ever learn of you trying anything like
this again, with any woman, I will pay you a return visit and I will
complete my Z. I have left the first stroke as a reminder to you."
Zorro paused and held Rodríguez's eyes with his own. "If I must add
the other two strokes in the future, comandante, they will be deeper, a
great deal deeper. Do I make myself clear?"
This time Rodríguez
nodded immediately. He cringed as Zorro suddenly made two additional
slashes, completing the Z covering his chest. To the capitán's relief,
the last strokes had parted cloth only.
just as you are, capitán. It would be a shame if I had to finish my
handiwork so soon." With that Zorro moved silently back to the window
and was gone.
himself with his hands, Rodríguez slowly made his way around his desk and
sank with trembling knees into his chair. He noticed that the open box of
silver still sat as he had left it. The outlaw had touched not a single
bar or nugget.
suddenly kicked the box in outrage, scattering its contents across the
floor. A look of determined hatred took the place of the fear on his face
as he vowed, "Someday, Zorro! Someday
I will see you hang!"
When Sergeant García and the other lancers returned from yet
another wild goose chase through the hills, they found their capitán
carefully bandaging his own chest. While not the most brilliant of men,
García, like the other lancers, knew enough to make no more comments on
the somewhat bloodstained Z cut into the capitán's shirt after the
comandante ordered them out in no uncertain terms.
both de la Vega men as she joined them at the breakfast table the
following morning. To their concerned inquiries as to her health, Ania
assured them that aside from a sore spot on the back of her head and a
slight bruise on her cheek, she felt fine. As she waited for her breakfast
to arrive, she showed them the stones which she had picked up and told
them that she was almost certain that it was silver.
"When I was
a boy," Don Alejandro said, "there were rumors of silver
somewhere near here. I was never sure if it was truth or merely
rumor." He thoughtfully examined the stones in the morning light and
then passed them on to Diego.
where these washed out into my creek now, Don Alejandro. Last night as I
thought about what happened, it occurred to me that if I immediately
declare the old mine as active, I could within the next few days pay off
the grant tax and the land would be mine without having to wait until the
wine matures. That is assuming that there is enough silver there to gather
within that time. I think...." Ania paused as if gathering courage,
"I think I want to go back to the canyon today and be sure that it
appears rich enough to make this worthwhile."
sure you are ready to go back there today, Ania? I understand that this
was a near thing yesterday. One could hardly blame you for not wanting to
go back in there right now," Diego commented as he watched an
unusually clear look of fear haunt her eyes for just an instant.
"If you go
with me, I know I will be all right, Diego," she replied as she
straightened in her chair. How
can I not feel safe when, if I am right, I have already seen you protect
me three times? Ania thought.
But then, I can never tell you that, can I, amigo mio?
She smiled. Well,
me make a suggestion," Diego began. "Let us have Sergeant García
and a few of the lancers go with us. I doubt that there will be any other
bandidos to return there, but should there be any others at this camp,
they can arrest them."
be wise," Don Alejandro agreed.
then quickly looked down to keep any sign of amusement from showing in her
eyes. If he IS Zorro, he
certainly will not need the sergeant’s help.
Ah, so that is part of his ruse.
How clever! No one
would expect El Zorro to be depending on Sergeant Garcia for protection. Ah, hide in plain sight, so to speak…at least, I think
so…maybe… She looked
back up, bringing her mind back to the conversation still going on around
her, even as she wondered how to find out the truth of what she wanted to
lunch, Sergeant García and Corporal Reyes joined them at the rancho. No
one was surprised that they arrived just in time to be invited to eat with
them. Over the last of the meal, Sergeant García confided to them, in
strictest confidence, what he thought had happened at the cuartel last
Sergeant, how can you be so sure of what happened if Capitán Rodríguez
did not see fit to make it public knowledge?" Diego asked, leaning
back in his chair and shaking his head in disbelief. "Surely, he
would have reported an attack by Zorro!"
"I do not
know, Don Diego, but I do know that one does not cut Z's into one's own
chest," García declared.
time," Reyes added, "Zorro carved it much deeper than he does on
the sergeant's pants." He shrugged as García turned a scathing look
on him. "Well, he did, sergeant!"
it was best to ignore the corporal's helpful comments.
"You do not
mean that Zorro actually injured the capitán last night!" Diego
exclaimed in surprise. "Does he not usually just try to make a fool
of the comandante rather than go for blood?"
is usually so. But this time, he went further," García replied.
“It does seem
odd, sergeant, that the capitán would not make an official report of it,
if that is what happened,” Don Alejandro insisted.
did not want it to be common knowledge that he had been beaten in a duel
by Zorro once again, Father. A matter of pride, in that case,” Diego
said as he and his father looked at each other.
very well be right, Don Diego. Capitán Rodriguez is a proud man. His
encounters with Zorro usually leave him very hard to get along with,”
Garcia said with a nod.
“I do not
think I have ever seen the comandante’s office empty of troops as
quickly as it did last night when he told us to get out,” Reyes said
with a laugh.
Garcia looked at
him for a moment and then gave a rueful chuckle. “You just might be
right about that too, Corporal. The man did not have to tell me twice!”
broadly as she listened to all the men laugh. She had watched Diego
throughout the conversation. He sat apparently at ease. Ania did, however,
notice a quick glance that Don Alejandro cast at Diego when the subject of
the comandante had first arisen.
She felt just a
little uncertainty when she thought of the conclusion she had reached last
night. But then, she reminded herself, if what she thought was indeed
true, Diego had had almost three years to perfect his act. He had, no
doubt, played this sort of game with García many, many times in that
period of time. Being careful not to be obvious in her observation, Ania
was determined to continue her search for the truth about this complicated
the soldiers preceded them into the canyon. García suggested to Don Diego
that the others wait at the entrance to the canyon so that they could
"clean up" as he phrased it within Ania's hearing. Ania felt her
stomach contract with revulsion as she realized that what they must be
doing was burying the two dead men, one of which, she had killed. Somehow
in all that had happened since, she had given that issue no thought until
now. Her face paled quite noticeably.
is wrong? You look ill," Diego said, concern for her showing in his
voice. He quickly took her hand to comfort her.
Ania looked up
at him, horror filling her eyes. "Diego, I killed a man here
yesterday and I did not think enough about it to even remember it until
today," She wasn't sure which thing alarmed her more, the fact that
she had taken a life or that it had bothered her so little.
Diego turned her
toward him. "Ania, no one, not even God can blame you for what
happened here. I know you well enough that I have absolutely no doubt
whatsoever about that fact. What you did, you did because you had no other
choice," he said as he took both of her hands in his.
deeply into Diego’s eyes and felt herself begin to relax. As always,
this man seemed to have the ability to calm and comfort her as no one else
she had ever known. This time, there was even more reason for that to be
so. If what she suspected was true, then Diego had spoken the truth. He
would have no doubt. He would have seen her desperate flight up the canyon
wall and all that went with it with his own eyes. It felt good to accept
what he said as fact.
Not far away,
García handed something to Don Alejandro. Ania saw him cast a surprised
look her way. Apparently, whatever the truth about Diego, he had not told
his father of all that had happened here. Perhaps there had not been time.
walked over to where they stood. "Ania, Sergeant García found this.
He did not think it belonged to either of the men. Do you recognize
it?" He held out a cloth wrapped object out and unfolded the cloth
Ania reached out
and took the now clean stiletto. "Sí," she said. "It is
mine. My father gave a pair of them to me on my sixteenth birthday."
She was quiet for a moment. "This is the first time I have ever had
to use them."
Don Alejandro startled her by saying, "I am glad that you had them
and that you did not hesitate to use them. You did only as you should
Ania looked up
in gratitude as she realized that both of them were right. She had no
blame to bear in this. Now if only her next confession would leave her
with the same feeling, she could rest easy about it.
had been able to take a good look at the mine beside the waterfall. Ania
was pleased to see that while the men did not think the mine still
contained an extremely rich deposit of silver, enough could be gotten in
just a short while to pay the tax and have some left over. As soon as they
returned to the winery, Ania asked Nico to gather some men and go collect
all the raw ore that they could easily pick up in the area. The chosen
workers were already on their way to the mine before Ania left. By sunset
that evening, three large boxes of ore had been brought to the hacienda,
one of which, oddly enough, was found already full just inside one branch
of the mine.
morning, with the ore loaded on a wagon, Ania, Diego, and Don Alejandro
made three stops in Los Ángeles. The first was at the shop of Señor
Cortez, who besides selling sundry supplies, also appraised and bought
such precious metals as prospectors sometimes brought in. He had
immediately paid her for half of the silver and offered to have the other
silver ore smelted out and formed into bars for her. Ania burst into happy
laughter as the medal dealer laid the heavy bag of gold in her hand.
I do not suppose you will be wanting to make a stop at the comandante's
office now, will you?" Don Alejandro teased as he returned her smile.
should prove most entertaining," Diego added with a laugh.
Capitán Rodríguez closely as Ania presented the gold for the tax payment
and the paper from Señor Cortez stating that the gold was the proceeds
from the sale of silver found on the land described in her land grant.
Except for stiffness in the way he moved his shoulders, Rodríguez showed
no sign of their duel the night before last. However, he was unable to
hide his dismay at the payment of the grant tax. The capitán sat opened
mouthed as Ania handed over the money and he read the paper over three
full times before he was willing to accept it as valid. He gave the
distinct impression that, had the de la Vegas not been standing behind the
young señorita, he would have refused to honor the grant's terms. In
fact, even with their presence, he once looked as though he would shove
the paper back to her in disgust. However, even as he hesitated, he seemed
to cringe as he moved his upper chest. A strange look came over his face
as he looked down at the paper and, after a moment, he picked it up and
began recording the transaction in his records. Diego wondered just what
it was that Rodríguez was thinking right then. He would have been willing
to bet that a sharp twinge had reminded the comandante of an unwanted
visitor who just might return if the grant was not honored.
one final stop at the alcalde's office to duly record the tax as paid and
the provisions met on her grant, Ania went home knowing that the land was
well and truly hers.