Ring of Fire

By

 

Keliana Baker

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-one

 

Capitán Rodríguez walked slowly back behind his desk and sat down, a thoughtful look on his face. Several small details were beginning to bother him. Little things that by themselves meant nothing, but together might mean more than anyone could imagine. Now they were only so many parts of a puzzle, scattered and disconnected.

First, there was the look he had seen pass momentarily over Alejandro de la Vega’s face when he saw the name on the journal. Were there perhaps more things in that journal about his activities that the old man would prefer he not know? Or was there something else there which he feared? Second was something that had caught his attention once before, the fact that Diego de la Vega reminded him of someone, someone the capitán could not place at the moment. He concentrated on the two times the feeling had come over him.

The day de Irujo had come here and attacked Ania Valdéz outside the tavern was the first. Then young de la Vega had been intent on protecting her at any cost to himself. He had been unarmed, yet he had looked every bit as fierce as...as who? He could see the way the young man had been standing as he had approached them to break up the fight, the set of his shoulders, the way he was balanced on his feet. His movements and stance were like those of a trained fighter, yet he was, by his own definition, a man of peace, a pacifist who could always be counted on to try to use logic or philosophy to solve a problem. This evening, as he had spun around from Ania Valdéz’s cell door, de la Vega had had that same economy of movement and balance. Had the man been armed, he might actually have been a threat.

Rodríguez visualized the man in motion once more and again there was something familiar in the movements. There was almost a vague sense of hidden power and skill. Why, if I did not know better I would almost think he was..."ZORRO!" Rodríguez finished his thought aloud. "That is who he reminds me of!" He suddenly sat up straight in his chair and stared at the blue journal. There, too, were entries stating suspicions...no, stating conclusions...to the same fact! And to think, all this time I have been discounting what Monastario had written!

But what if he was wrong? To accuse a de la Vega of such a crime could be his undoing if he had no proof to back it up. He looked at the cabinet where written records were kept. Surely, if this was so, other clues would have been recorded somewhere. He looked back toward the door and thought for a moment. Capitán Cosío and his men are very obligingly taking care of the angry rabble for me. My men are standing guard inside the gates, while my prisoner is sitting in her cell contemplating her coming death. I should have plenty of time to see what I can find. Hmmmmm, IF the son is Zorro, then the father surely knows about it! That would make Don Alejandro Zorro’s accomplice. Perhaps the old man even rode for his son while he was injured. He was supposedly in Santa Barbara, but maybe he came home without anyone knowing. Diego de la Vega being Zorro would also make it even more likely that Ania Valdéz was the curandera who helped Zorro at that time, just as I suspected. It would all make sense. Ah, yes, if this is so, then by tomorrow night, I might be the owner of two large haciendas! He chuckled quietly to himself as he rose to retrieve some of the ledgers and records. He would see just when and where Zorro was mentioned in the records and see if the times related at all to events surrounding Diego de la Vega.

======================

Sergeant García sighed heavily as he watched Alejandro de la Vega go out the gate. In a moment, he heard four horses trotting out northward. Poor Don Diego! he thought. It is not fair. To be so in love and now this. He shook his head sadly and turned around. He immediately wished that he had not, for now he was facing Señorita Ania’s cell. As he watched, Ania wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Swallowing hard, she straightened her back and raised her head. He could see she was trying to be brave, but when she looked toward him, her eyes were green pools of misery. He wished there was something he could do to comfort her. As she met his eyes and then looked away, she seemed to lick her lips and try to swallow again. Water! he suddenly thought. The afternoon is hot. Perhaps she would like some water. Quickly, he walked over to a bucket of well water kept nearby for the soldiers. Filling a gourd dipper with the water, he walked over to Ania’s cell. "Señorita, would...would you like something to drink? It is hot and the water, maybe it will help you feel a little better?" he said somewhat awkwardly.

Ania looked at him solemnly for a moment, then tried to smile. "Sí, Sergeant, it is indeed rather warm. Thank you." She took the gourd and drank thirstily from its contents. As she finished, she extended the gourd to the lancer and he reached to take it back. However, instead of releasing it, Ania held it for a moment and then put her hand over his huge hand. She looked up into his eyes with an intensity that he found hard to endure. "Sergeant, will you tell me something."

"Sí, señorita, if I can," he said quietly.

"Sergeant García, you have known me longer than anyone else in this pueblo. I met you that first day here, even before I ever laid eyes on Diego. Do you believe I could have done the things they say?"

The big soldier looked away. After a long moment, he shook his head. "No, I do not think so," he said.

Ania sighed. "Thank you for that anyway," she said. "May I ask you a favor, sort of a last request?"

García cringed at her phrasing. "Señorita Ania, I cannot help you. I am just a soldier..." he began to sputter.

Ania quickly shook her head. "No, Sergeant, I did not think so. I, too, am familiar with military practice. I would not have you hang with me." She was silent for a minute as she watched two lancers bring long segments of a tree into the gate and lay them nearby. "That...that is the beginning of the hangman’s scaffold, is it not?"

"Sí," the sergeant answered, "but señorita, you must not just sit and watch them build that thing."

"Well, what do you propose I do, Sergeant?" Ania asked sarcastically. "It is a bit hard to ignore."

García leaned close to the bars, and brightened. "But I do not think you will really hang, señorita. Zorro will be here. I am sure he will come!" He was surprised when she did not seem comforted by this statement.

He was even further puzzled when she asked quietly, "Sí, I feel sure that he will, but tell me, mi amigo, how many men are in the cuartel now?"

"There are thirty-two, counting the capitánes, señorita, but why?"

She looked up and met his eyes again. "Has Zorro ever come here with this many soldiers, and gotten back out?"

García looked down. "No, maybe fifteen or so, but never thirty."

Ania closed her eyes and leaned her head against the cool metal bar. Then it almost seemed that she changed the subject. "You told me the first time I met you that Zorro had saved your life. How many times has he done that, Sergeant?"

García blinked with surprise at the question. "I know of two times, señorita.  Maybe there were more. I am not sure. Why?"

"Because, Sergeant García, I do not ask you to help me. I know that could cost you your life. All I ask is that, if there is any way, even the tiniest thing that you can do that will increase the odds that Zorro will get out of here alive, regardless of what happens to me, please, help him. Pay him back for giving you your life at least those two times," Ania pleaded.

"I...I..." stammered García.

"You do not have to decide right now. Just promise me that you will think about it!" she begged.

"Sí, señorita! If I can see a way to do that, I will," he said, surprising her by making a decision so quickly.

"Thank you. I have always known that you were a good man at heart, did you know that?" Ania gave him another half smile.

García looked down, too uncomfortable in this situation to meet her eyes. His glance fell on Senorita Ania’s small hand where it still rested upon his. Under the circumstances, it made him feel ashamed to hear her call him a good man. Diego’s words rang more true in his mind than hers right now. Her blood would be on his hands, but what could he do? "I...I should be getting back to my duties now. Con permiso?" His eyes stinging, he turned and hurried away.

"Sergeant García!" Private Rómez hailed him as he walked across toward the gate.

"Sí, Private, what is it?" García asked.

"Capitán Rodríguez wants to see you, pronto," was the reply.

"Sí, I am coming," García said glumly. Then he brightened a bit. Perhaps the capitán would send him somewhere outside the pueblo. Maybe he could take a message to Santa Barbara, or somewhere, anywhere away from here. The mere thought of being at the foot of that scaffold at sunrise made him want to run and hide. Surely Zorro will come in time to save her. He has always managed to save people before. Why not now? Just as he turned to report to the capitán’s office, Capitán Cosío and the eight lancers he had taken with him rode back in. The sergeant sighed and shook his head again. That is why! If only some of them would go away. The sergeant admitted to himself that he did not have a clue of how that could come about. He lumbered up the steps and knocked at the office door. At the capitán’s ‘pasé’, he walked in to stand somberly before the desk. "Sí, mi Capitán, you sent for me?"

"I did. Sergeant, you are to choose a man to stand a special guard duty," Rodríguez ordered as he looked up.

"One for each watch?" García asked.

"No, one will do. He will stand this post all night. Everyone will be on duty all night anyway, with only short breaks from time to time, so his duty will be no longer or harder than anyone else’s," Rodríguez continued.

"And what special duty will he have, Capitán?"

"I understand that there was once an attempt to rescue some prisoners here by a vigilante group when a Capitán Monastario was here three years ago. Sergeant, were you serving under him at that time?" Rodríguez asked as he rose and walked around the desk.

García frowned. "Oh, sí! He was a bad man. Beside him, even you are easy to get along with!"

Rodríguez frowned at the big lancer. "Humph! Is that supposed to be a compliment?"

"Oh, no, mi Capitán!" was the answer. "I would never compliment you."

Rodríguez stopped what he was doing, cocked his head and looked sidelong at the sergeant. He opened his mouth to comment on the sergeant’s foot-in-mouth manner, but then merely shook his head. After a moment, Rodríguez continued. "This lancer is to keep his gun primed and ready at all times. He is to be assigned to stand outside Señorita Valdéz’s cell."

"Sí, Capitán." Just what we need! One more guard close to Señorita Ania’s cell for Zorro to deal with. García thought sourly.

"Furthermore, Sergeant, this guard is to be instructed that at the first sign that a mob or vigilante group may actually be succeeding in breaking into this garrison to free the prisoner, he is to turn and execute her," the capitán concluded.

"Sí, mi...What? Execute her?" García exclaimed. "But, Capitán, she is to have until tomorrow morning!"

"I WILL NOT have any group led by Alejandro de la Vega or any other person preventing her death sentence from being carried out! Is that clear, Sergeant García?" Rodríguez vowed as he rose to his feet and glared at the sergeant angrily.

"But..." García began again, his distress for the prisoner clear.

"De la Vega has been warned that I will not allow that to happen and he was advised to tell the peons and any other group of people who might attempt such a thing that they will only be shortening her life, rather than helping her, if they try it," Rodríguez frowned. "Sergeant, all you have to do is obey what I say, or do you wish to be in a cell yourself?"

"Oh, no, mi Capitán! I will assign a man at once," García quickly assured him.

"See that you do! Dismissed!" Rodríguez growled. The sergeant escaped from the capitán’s presence as quickly as he could.

García felt even worse as he left the office than he did before, if that was possible.  With a heavy heart, he walked over to the side of the gate where Corporal Reyes was propped on his gun. The smaller soldier had his head cocked and appeared to be listening to the sounds of the surrounding area. At the moment, things seemed quiet.

"Buenas tardes, Sergeant," Reyes said as the sergeant walked up.

"Well, that is half right, Corporal," García grumbled. "It is at least afternoon."

"I suppose that is so. It is not a very good anything," Reyes said with a frown. "I wish I was not a soldier today, Sergeant, anyway not a soldier in Los Ángeles. You want to know something, Sergeant García?"

"What?" García asked, thinking he agreed with Reyes.

Reyes looked around suspiciously, then leaned close to the sergeant. "I do not believe that Señorita Ania did this any more than we did."

García nodded. At least, he was not alone in his doubts. "Sí, I think you are right. I wish there was some way to help her, but it is out of our hands now. We can only do as Judge Vasca and Capitán Rodríguez order."

"Poor Señorita Ania! Things cannot get any worse her," Reyes said.

"I did not think so either, but they just did, Corporal," García said. Reyes listened closely, shaking his head all the while as he was told about the guard to be posted outside the señorita’s cell. Both men stood silent with their thoughts for a couple of minutes after the sergeant finished.

"Sergeant, I would like that duty post," Reyes finally said quietly.

García looked at his friend in shock, "What? You do not even volunteer for things that NEED to be done. Why would you do this? Señorita Ania has always been a friend to both of us!"

"Sí, she has," Reyes replied in his slow speech, "but my gun, it hasn't worked very well lately.  Don't you remember?  It misfires a lot."

García’s mouth flew open as he suddenly realized what Reyes was suggesting. "If anyone sees what you are doing, you could be shot for disobeying an order!”

"What do you mean disobeying?" Reyes stressed, as he looked García in the eye. "My gun misfired.  That is all. That is what I will say.  Well, do you have any better ideas?"

García finally began to smile. "No, Corporal, I do not! All right, you are hereby ordered to take your post in front of the señorita’s cell!"

"Sí, Sergeant. Right away," Reyes answered and started to walk away.

"Wait, Corporal," García said before he got more than a step or two. Reyes looked back, puzzled. "Corporal, one other thing.  If, by chance, you see a shadow and that shadow seems to be, well, a bit more alive than a shadow should be...." He paused for an instant to be sure that Reyes recognized the veiled reference to El Zorro. "You would not waste your lead shooting at shadows, would you?"

"Oh, no, Sergeant García.  Besides, my gun will more than likely misfire, anyway," Reyes replied. The two usually not-too-bright lancers smiled and each went about their business.

Ania’s pacing was not doing a great deal for her at the moment, but she found it almost impossible to sit down for more than a few minutes at a time. As Corporal Reyes walked up and began filling his gun with powder, Ania watched suspiciously. "Corporal, why are you doing that here?” she asked.  “At the moment, it is not exactly a comfort for me to watch you do it."

"Oh, I am supposed to shoot you," Reyes explained as if he was merely discussing the weather. "In case a mob tries to break in and free you."

"Shoot me!" Ania gasped.

Sí," said Reyes, still tending to his pistol.  "I volunteered for it."

Ania gasped again, feeling betrayed once more, "You volunteered for this? What did I ever do to you that you would volunteer to do this ‘brave’ duty?"

"Oh, but Señorita Ania," he said as he leaned close to the bars, "do not worry. My gun has often misfired lately."

"Oh, a time or two, has it?" Ania asked, puzzled and still not much comforted.

"Sí, a time or two...or three..." Reyes left the phrase hanging.

Ania finally got his meaning. She looked at him in amazement for a minute, then smiled. "This was the sergeant’s idea, Corporal?"

“Not exactly," Reyes said. "I helped him to think of it.  He was happy to let me volunteer."

"Thank you, Corporal," Ania whispered.

Walking up, Sergeant García was relieved to see a real, if somewhat subdued, smile on the señorita’s face. "Corporal, here is a skeleton key, you know, in case an emergency happens. Uh...if you need it later, it might be good to keep it in your pocket. I am sure that no one," he paused slightly and looked meaningfully at Reyes, "would think to look in your pocket for a key that just might open the señorita’s door.  I mean, someone would have to tell him...I mean, them...where to look, wouldn’t they?"

"What?" Reyes said, puzzled at first.  Then he caught on.  "Oh...oh…yes, Sergeant, that is a good idea. No one would tell Zorro to look there."

"Shhhhh!" García hissed. Reyes put his hand over his lips and looked around. No one was nearby.

"Please be careful, amigos! There are enough of us in trouble as it is!" Ania whispered. She was not sure if anything was enough to get her out of this, but just knowing that she, and Zorro, had friends here helped her a little. Now if things would just stop happening so fast, she might actually be able to pretend to be the strong person she’d like to appear to be. Walking over to the small cot, she forced herself to sit down. Struggling not to listen to the sounds of the lancers building the scaffold, she began to consider how Zorro would come tonight and if there was any way she could make things easier for him. There was probably not much she could do, but every little bit should help.

She was startled from her thoughts when Capitán Cosío stopped before the door of her cell. He looked quietly at Reyes for a moment. "Corporal, take a break. I will be here with the prisoner," he finally said.

"Sí, Capitán Cosío!" Reyes said in surprise.

As he walked away, Cosío stood silently watching the young woman in the cell. She did not seem at all what he was expecting. He had learned that she was in her early twenties, but she hardly looked more than a girl. It was hard to accept that she was caught up in such a plot. However, he too had seen the look she had given Capitán Rodríguez at the trial. She probably could kill the comandante if given the chance. Whether that also meant that she would have attacked the ambassador, he was less sure. Her shock and outrage had seemed genuine in Rodríguez’s office. Why had she and de la Vega both accused the comandante of doing it? Even the older hacendado seemed convinced of that. By their actions, it was quite clear that most of the people of the area thought her innocent, as well. Señorita Valdéz looked up at him solemnly, waiting to see what he had to say. She sat with her back straight, chin up, calmly, as if receiving guests in her sala rather than a crude jail cell. Her hands, while clinched, were held still in her lap. He met her eyes before he spoke. While there was still some fear there, it seemed that she had mastered it and it was no longer the overwhelming presence that it had been. Well, she seems to have recovered her composure. I think it is time I did some questioning. "Señorita, there are many things that cause me to wonder. Do you mind talking with me for a while?"

"Well, I cannot promise to be very witty and entertaining, Capitán, but I am at your service. I seem to have a bit of time on my hands with nothing pressing to do," Ania said levelly.

"I think, señorita," he said, "that if you will just be truthful, I shall be most grateful." He was surprised as Ania laughed sardonically.

"Well, señor," she replied, "I have already tried truth today and all it seems to have gotten me is an invitation to an enjoyable walk to view the dawn.  I, to have the short walk and Capitán Rodríguez, to have the enjoyment. However, since lying will do me no more good than the truth did, I think I shall keep to the truth. It tastes better in the mouth. Besides, I think your fellow officer has no plans to allow me to see Padre Felipe. Since I will have no time for confession, I would prefer to carry as few sins with me as possible. As I told my fiancé this morning...." Suddenly, she stopped speaking and an expression of pain filled her eyes, as if the mere mention of the young hacendado he had met in the capitán’s office nearly broke her control.

Cosío could quite easily see now that her calm was a front. He looked away for a moment, allowing her to regain her control. She seemed to have a goodly measure of dignity under the circumstances and he did not wish to take that from her.

"Capitán, just ask your questions. For some strange reason, I do not find my usual word games amusing," she requested after a moment.

"You seemed to have a distinct dislike for Capitán Rodríguez, Señorita Valdéz, even before this all occurred. Do you mind telling me why?" he asked.

"Oh, I can tell you, but I probably can only tell you part of the reasons. We do only have the next twelve hours or so. Dawn comes early this time of year," Ania said, taking refuge in words again.

Capitán Cosío remembered what Rodríguez said about her being clever with words. He had spoken the truth there. He was not sure if he could have been so glib under the same circumstances. He looked at her and waited for her to continue.

"Capitán, I cannot prove it, but I KNOW that that man had my father and brother killed when we first came here. I am sure that before Papá came here with our grant Rodríguez was taking silver ore from a mine on my land. I would have been killed at that same time had it not been for Zorro," she said.

"Zorro?" Cosío asked, startled. He had heard a great deal of this outlaw. Zorro had even been caught snooping around the prison. The capitán was still not sure why.

"Sí, I owe him my life three different times, Capitán. Each time, I believe Rodríguez was behind the attacks on my land and me. I have never made a secret of how I felt about this. I do not have the skills to make him pay for the deaths of my family, but I do have some skill with words and the fashioning of word traps for the unwary. I think most of the pueblo is aware by now of the true level of Capitán Rodríguez’s intellect thanks to me. That too plays a part in what the capitán has done to me now," she explained. "I imagine he is enjoying his revenge greatly." Ania shook her head and looked into the distance, her eyes haunted. "Diego tried to caution me to be more careful of the capitán. I guess I should have listened to him," she said as if to herself.

"What does this prisoner that I now hold in my prison have to do with it...this de Irujo?" Capitán Cosío asked, remembering that the day Zorro had been seen there was the same day that de Irujo had been brought in.

Ania then told the story of sending de Irujo to prison and all that followed. He was reminded that Diego de la Vega had referred to the man as a forger. "I wish there was some way to prove that you are innocent, señorita. I truly do. But this man has been in my jail for several months now. How can he be involved in this?"

Ania sighed and looked back at him. "I do not know, Capitán Cosío, but he is at the root of it somehow. I am fully expecting to look down from that scaffolding tomorrow morning and see him there basking in his final revenge which he said he was determined to have on me. If you were not so sure he was in your jail, I would say that HE is the answer to how this lie got started from as far away as Monterey. If he had been free to, he had plenty of time from the day he was supposedly sent to you until today to manipulate things and forge evidence."

"So you are saying that you did NOT sign your own name openly at the bottom of those letters...that de Irujo forged all those notes?" Cosío asked.

"Capitán, I doubt that even people who do not like me would go so far as to call me a stupid woman. If I WAS to do something like this, why in the world would I use my right name? Would YOU put your true name on something that could get you hung, Capitán Cosío? As to de Irujo forging everything, of course, he did! That black-eyed, black hearted devil would do anything to make me pay for what I did to him in Spain."

Suddenly, a commotion broke out in a corner of the parade yard beside the stable and both Ania and Cosío lost the train of the conversation. A lancer was crying out and grabbing at something.

"Here! What are you doing? Be still, will you! Ow! Hey, come back here, you!" Suddenly a slight form slipped through the lancer’s legs and ran toward the cell area. The lancer reached back and grabbed the boy by the hair, whereupon the child promptly kicked him in the knee. As the child made it almost to her cell, Ania realized that the child was Pepe. The lancer caught up with him, twisting his arm painfully to stop him, yet holding Pepe was like trying to hold onto a wild cat.

"Let me go! I WILL see Señorita Ania! You are all bad men! You will all rot in Hell if you do not let her go. She is good! You cannot hurt her!" Pepe yelled as he hit, bit, and kicked any part of the soldier that was convenient. The soldier responded with a blow to the child’s cheek that left a red mark but still did not produce meekness in the little whirlwind.

"Capitán, do not let him hurt the child! Please!" the señorita begged. "Pepe, listen to me! Stop fighting, Pepe! Capitán, please, let me talk to him. Do not let them hurt him. Whatever you think I did, this boy is innocent of everything but love for a friend. Please...help him!" She reached out and clutched at the capitán’s arm.

As he looked at her pleading eyes, he found that he very much wanted to help her.  "Private, turn the boy loose," he ordered.

"But, Capitán..." the lancer started.

"Immediately, Private!" he ordered again.

As soon as the lancer released him, Pepe scrambled to the bars of Ania’s cell, tears streaming down his cheeks. "Señorita Ania, I had to get in. I had to see you. What they say cannot be true! You are no traitor! I had to come."

Ania could see that Pepe was almost in a panic. She fought back her own fear and despair as she struggled to calm him. "It is all right, Pepe." She knelt on the floor of her cell and reached through the bars to hug the child. "Pepe, I am afraid they can do anything they want with me. There are those who said I did a bad thing. They say I hurt Don Ramon...."

"But you did not. I know that you did not! It could have been anyone else, but not you!" he insisted.

"You are right, Pepe, I did not do it, but someone said I did and the judge believed him." She bit her lip as he leaned against the bars between them and cried. She needed to give him something to do for her, something else to think of. "Pepe, I am glad I got to see you. I need you to do something for me, something only you can do."

"Anything, Señorita Ania," Pepe said as he rubbed his eyes with his fist. "I would do anything for you!"

Ania looked up at Capitán Cosío, but the soldier backed no further away. She went on with what she was saying. "Pepe, Don Diego has Ventura now. If no one is given all my property, he will probably get to keep her. He will need someone who loves her to help take care of her. I do not know if Don Diego will have the heart to ride her for a while. She will need someone to keep her in condition."

"But she is your horse, patrona. You have got to come back for her!" Pepe insisted.

Ania looked away. "No, probably not, Pepe. But there is something very important I need you to do." She dropped her voice a bit and met Pepe’s eyes again solemnly. "Pepe, listen carefully. I think Capitan Rodriguez will try to have Judge Vasca give him my property. IF that happens, he may try to take Ventura away from Don Diego. Pepe, I do NOT want that man to get his hands on her. I have a big job for you, muy importante. Tonight, you are to go to the de la Vega stables. If anyone stops you, you are to ask to see Don Alejandro or Don Diego. Tell them what I am going to tell you. They will understand. If no one stops you, you are to quietly saddle Ventura and take her out somewhere on the de la Vega lands near a herd of horses. Wait until morning and see if you can hear if they have done as they intend to with me. Perhaps there will be a miracle and they will not, but if they do, I want you to unsaddle her and turn her loose with the de la Vega herd. Can you do that for me, Pepe?"

For a moment, Pepe merely looked at Ania, and then he sadly nodded, "Sí, Señorita Ania."

"Pepe, you must go now. Take care of yourself. Grow up to be a good man. Remember me and think of things you have learned and also, of Zorro, Pepe.  Do your best to grow into a man of justice, as he is." Pepe allowed himself to be guided toward the gate, then he suddenly turned back and reached for her.   Without a word, Ania hugged him. She watched him go reluctantly as the lancer took his arm again and lead him away. At the gate, he turned for one last look.

Both Ania and Cosío were quiet for a moment. "You know, they say that children are the surest judge of character. It is too bad Pepe could not have been my judge." Ania looked over at the capitán. "Well, I suppose you will now inform Rodríguez that I have started Pepe on a life of crime."

"No, señorita, that boy needed something to think about and I seriously doubt that Capitán Rodríguez will miss one horse when he counts the stock on his land," Cosío said.

Ania looked up at him sharply. "So, he has already been granted his reward? Well, that did not take him long," she said, with a long, sad sigh. "Capitán, let me suggest one thing.  Without being obvious about it, look around the office. Somewhere there, señor, you will see a white geode with silver streaks on the outside, and I do mean SILVER. Ore, Capitán! It came from my land, BEFORE my family and I came. Also, ask yourself why someone with enough sense to establish and run a rancho, would be stupid enough to sign each and every incriminating letter with her full name AND a family crest, Capitán. Had I really sent them, I would not have done that. Would you? I know it will probably be too late for me, but see if it does not lead you to other questions. I get the feeling that you are a man of honor, Capitán Cosío, somehow as fooled as Judge Vasca was, but with more hope of finding out the truth. Whatever happens, I shall rest easier thinking that at least someday, you might find the truth and my name and my father’s will be cleared. All I ask is that you keep your eyes and ears open for things that are false, señor." She looked at him, pleading in her eyes.

"Very well. I will keep it in mind, señorita," Cosío said seriously.

"Thank you, Capitán Cosío. I can ask no more." With that, Ania turned, and taking her rosary from her pocket, she knelt and began praying, putting a definite end to the conversation.

Capitán Cosío motioned for Reyes to return to his post and then walked thoughtfully away. He seemed to have more questions on his mind now than before. His gut feeling was that this young woman was either telling the truth or was the most gifted liar he had ever seen. He had a very uneasy feeling that a bad mistake was about to be made and unfortunately there was not a thing he could do about it unless he could find some proof to take to Judge Vasca. His ruling would stand otherwise. He turned to look at the woman kneeling in her cell one more time. I do not know if I can do enough, señorita, he promised her silently, but I will quite definitely keep my eyes open and we shall pray that, if this is a mistake, something will happen to change things between now and dawn. Still thinking, he turned toward where most of his men were. He still had duties for which he was responsible. The rest was in God’s hands.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-two
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