Pacific Odyssey

Book III- The Journey Home

 

 

 

   

Chapter Eleven

Another Ally in the Fox’s Lair

 

 

“Diego!” Carlos said suddenly, disrupting Diego’s feeble attempt to concentrate on their chess game. 

The Californiano jerked his head up in surprise.  “What?” he asked, wondering what was on his roommate’s mind. 

“I know a bit about fencing.  What if we worked out?  I really need some exercise.” 

Diego looked dubious.  “The wushu is not enough?” 

“I enjoy the wushu, but now it is time for me to teach you something.  And besides, it will be something different to do,” Carlos replied, his voice filled with happy anticipation.  The Filipino knew that Diego was frustrated. His last clandestine practice had been very short and Carlos had seen the taut lines of tension and irritation in his friend’s movements as Diego had returned through the gallery window the previous night.  

“Hmm,” Diego pondered, his hand rubbing his chin.  His beard was quickly attaining the length he desired.  “Perhaps that would be something to do to while away the time, especially since the winds have calmed a bit these past few days.”  He paused and then smiled.  “But privately, my friend. I do not wish to show off my ineptitude.”

“You?” Carlos protested.  “You have the grace of a dancer, the subtle moves of a mountain cat when you practice the wushu.  You would be a natural with a sword.”

Diego chuckled mentally.  Carlos was so sincere.  But it would serve the purpose of giving him some practice, even though limited in its scope.  He nodded.  “Very well, I accept your offer.  It will give me the opportunity to try out that gift of mine hanging on the wall,” he said, pointing at his sword.  Then Diego smiled.  “You are more persuasive than my father.”

“Let us begin then,” Carlos said jauntily, sweeping the chess pieces in their wooden box. 

“Now?” Diego asked, feigning surprise.  In actuality, nothing that his exuberant friend did surprised him. 

“Of course, now.  I am getting tired of chess, especially since I can almost always beat you.  There is no challenge.”

Laughing, Diego stood up.  “You will have no challenge in the fencing, either.”

“Let me be the judge of that, Diego,” Carlos responded.  George sat on Diego’s bed, carefully mending a sock.  The needle was temporarily forgotten, though, at this change in venue.  

Putting the chess set away, Carlos reached into the wardrobe and pulled out his own sword.  He slid it from its sheath and swished it in the air, making the saber sing.  Diego pulled his own blade down from the wall and stood watching Carlos expectantly.  

George’s mending was totally forgotten by now and the boy watched the two caballeros in eager anticipation.  He did not doubt that Don Diego would do well.  His master seemed capable of doing anything well.  In fact he often wondered just how Don Diego had managed to get himself kidnapped and indentured in the first place.  

“Diego, pull the blade from the sheath,” Carlos said with a smile. 

“I was not sure if you were ready,” Diego replied innocently.  Inwardly, he continued to be amused by all of this. 

“How much do you know?  You said something about your father.”

“Yes, he taught me the rudiments, but I have not practiced for some time, Carlos.”

Carlos laughed and said, “Well, let’s see how far your father took you,” Carlos said.  “Regardless, with the agility you have with the wushu, you should be able to pick this up quickly.”   The Filipino began slowly, then gradually increased the speed of his moves.  Diego, for his part, alternated between adequate parries and advances and some slightly off balance moves.   “Stop, Diego,” Carlos said in exasperation.  “You lunge thusly.”  He almost laughed out loud, knowing that Diego could be teaching him, instead of the other way around. 

Diego practiced the moves shown him and they continued.  This time Diego was cautious, but showed no signs of the clumsiness he had exhibited before.  Somehow, he didn’t feel it necessary or appropriate to feign total ignorance.  

After a half an hour, Carlos pulled back, his breath fast. Diego stood smiling, sweat on his brow, but his breathing even.  “I have learned much this afternoon, Carlos.  You are a fine teacher and this has been a most entertaining lesson.” 

“I, too, enjoyed this, Diego.  Perhaps we can practice this evening?” Carlos asked.

“Could you show me how to use a sword?” George asked, excited at the lesson he had seen.  If Don Diego could learn so quickly, perhaps he could, too.

Diego blanched.  “No, George.  You are very good with the wushu, but I refuse to consider fencing.” 

“But Don Diego, you said your father taught you.  You were young then, ?”

Diego paused and then sighed.  “Ai, you two are too much for me to argue with.” 

“So can I?” George wheedled. 

“I will consider it,” Diego said, resigned to losing these one sided arguments.  

Several times each day the two men practiced in the privacy of their gallery cabin and each time Diego let a bit more of his ability show through.  Every piece of baggage and furniture that could conceivably be moved out of the cabin had been removed to give the two fencers more room.  While worried about showing his skills, especially after the chance meeting with Roberto, Diego felt an urgency to practice, to sharpen skills that he felt he had lost during his journey at sea.  Practicing with Carlos may not allow him to work at his peak performance, but it still gave him much needed practice in the basics.  And the wushu made him much more aware of the movements he made and of his breathing during his exercises.  It even allowed him a keener discernment of the play of his own muscles and the movements of his opponent.  

For his part, Carlos noted the time when he stopped being the ‘teacher’ and became an equal in their fencing.  It happened quickly.  He wondered just how much he could learn if Diego let his total ability show through.   He wondered just how much more prepared his roommate would be if he could really and truly practice.  “Diego?” he said one morning when they were alone. 

Diego was trimming his growing beard.   “Mmm?” he murmured in answer.

“How dangerous do you really think it will be when you get back to California, specifically to Los Angeles?” Carlos asked.  

Without looking away from the mirror, Diego answered, “I think they will still be there, Carlos.  As I mentioned before, I continually pray that they have not hurt my father or any of my friends.”  He paused for a moment and then turned and gazed at Carlos.  His eyes were intensely serious, but when he spoke again, his voice was low, almost a whisper.  “I pray for the best, but am prepared for the worst.  I think that the revolutionaries will still be operating in southern California.”   

Carlos saw the intensity of his roommate’s emotions and worry, and decided to take a chance.  “In order to prepare for the worst, you need to push yourself to your full ability.”

Diego looked puzzled.  “What do you mean?” 

“I mean in your practice with the sword.”

“But I….” 

“No, Diego, you do not.  You have practiced only far enough to still appear a novice to most.  You have only practiced enough to make me see your real talent.”

Diego felt a rock growing in his chest and wondered what Carlos knew.   He had no idea what to say and therefore blurted out, “What do you mean?”

“Actually Diego, I knew your real talent some time before we landed in the Sandwich Isles.  I saw you practicing on the poop deck one night.  It was like watching the eagle soar, like watching the wildcat move.  It was poetry; it was beautiful music.  I did not know the full extent of what I was seeing, but I knew I was seeing a master swordsman.  I had trouble tearing myself away.”  Diego’s mouth opened and closed, and his face paled.   Carlos smiled.  “You needn’t worry about me saying anything, but I am worried that you are going into this battle not totally prepared as you ought to be.  I also worried that you would continue practicing on deck and be discovered before we got to San Diego.”  He paused and lowered his voice as well.  “Or I would never have said a thing to you and let you keep your secret to yourself.”

Diego gaped at his roommate.  “S . . . secret?” he stammered.

“Yes,” Carlos answered. “The secret of El Zorro.”  

Diego paled even more, but didn’t deny the truth of Carlos’ statement.  

“I found all the puzzle pieces but one, and Roberto provided that one when we put in at the islands.”   The Filipino got up and walked over to his friend, clapping his hand on Diego’s shoulder.  “As I listened to Roberto and then pried information out of you, I have learned the true extent of greatness.  It is an honor to know you, my friend, and I would be honored if you would put into play the full extent of your skill . . . and then I will learn as well.  And I would feel privileged to be allowed to help you in your fight when we reach California.”  Carlos saw the horror of his discovery being replaced with gratitude, and Diego swallowed hard and then nodded.  

“Are you sure, Carlos?” Diego asked, his voice husky with the effort to control his emotions.  “I am afraid that this will be very dangerous.”  He lowered his voice even more.  “And knowing my secret is very dangerous, as well.   There are two thousand pesos hanging over Zorro’s head right now.  As well as a death sentence.” 

“I understand, but I could not go on to Mexico City knowing that you, my friend, might be risking your life against all those men.   And besides, I have a month before I have to begin at the university.”   Carlos grinned.   

“But what about George?  You know how much he enjoys watching.” 

“I will have suddenly become the best teacher in the world,” Carlos responded, laughing.  Diego smiled, tension draining as gratitude filled his heart.  

 

 

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Diego sat in the watch’s seat one morning almost four weeks after the Isadore had left the Sandwich Isles, his eyes narrowed against the glare of the sun as he gazed east.  The sky was bright, no clouds breaking the cobalt blue of the sky.  There was finally wind again and Diego relished the feel of it against his back.  The snapping of the pennants was like sweet music.  Suddenly, through the slits that his finger made, he saw plumes of water on the distant horizon, evidence of whales.  Diego knew that gray whales migrated not too far from shore in southern California and he also knew that it was near the time of the annual migration.  His excitement grew as he continued to watch, because he realized that California was not far off.  

From that moment on, Diego spent most of his time in the watch’s seat on the main topsail yard, only coming down to eat, sleep and practice the wushu and fencing.  The other passengers understood his cravings to return home, but not his desire to spend so much time on a tiny space so far above the ground.  George, however, did understand.  Ever since Don Diego had made his promise, the boy had felt an even deeper yearning for home, too.  There were now even more sailors who owed less time on watch to the excited Californiano, as the captain finally acquiesced and let de la Vega spend as much time in the watch’s seat as he wished.           

Several days of anxious watching at last bore fruit.  Just before sunset, Diego’s keen eyes finally saw the shore of his homeland.   “Land ho!” he shouted in English, before he remembered where he was and shouted the same thing in Spanish.  “California off the larboard bow.”  They were approaching from the northwest.  In his excitement, Diego grabbed a rope and swung down into the rigging, where it only took a minute for him to scramble down the ratlines. 

“Relinquishing the watch, Capitán,” he said, panting slightly with exertion as well as excitement.  Beckoning for George to follow him, Diego turned toward his cabin to prepare for disembarkation.  

The captain laughed at the exuberance of the young Californiano, who now looked a little older with the addition of the beard.  Señor de la Vega, you have all night to prepare.  We will put into the harbor too late to go ashore this evening,” Capitán Valdez called after his excited passenger.  He was all the more amused when he heard a groan of disappointment from the young man.

 

 

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Bernardo had been spending a great deal of time in San Diego of late.   His arm was totally healed and had been for nearly two weeks.  He had recently received news from Don Alejandro to watch all incoming ships more carefully.  For some reason, the old patrón believed that Don Diego would be coming home soon.  Bernardo hoped the information was correct because the sharpness of his desire to see his master safely home became more acute as each day passed.  

As he walked to the harbor to see what ships might have come the previous evening, Bernardo heard a sinister sounding voice speaking in the shadows between two adobe buildings. He heard the words ‘Los Angeles’ and ‘de la Vega.’ Chilled at the implications, he almost paused in his stride, but he continued walking, keeping his face impassive and keeping the sleepy old donkey, pulled by an equally sleepy boy, between himself and the speaker.  At the corner of the next building, Bernardo slipped into the next alleyway and carefully made his way around to the passageway from which the voice had come.  In the deep shadows, he pressed himself against the wall behind a pile of bricks. 

“When is this assassin coming?” 

“He is coming on the northbound coach early tomorrow afternoon,” a second voice said.  Bernardo took a chance and peered from behind the bricks.  Even though shadowed, he recognized one of the men as someone he had seen periodically in Los Angeles during and after the time of Don Diego’s kidnapping.  “We are to cooperate fully with him, giving him all the details of who needs to be eliminated in Los Angeles.”

“How will we know who he is, Jorge?”

“His name is Señor Richard Patterson.  He is English.”

“English?” 

“Sí, but he is very good at what he does.  When I met with the leader, he told me that the Englishman would be able to kill the acting comandante and de la Vega at the same time,” Jorge said.  “I was not told how, but was simply told he could do it.  He will tell us what he will be doing when he gets here.”  There was a pause.   “Finally, I will be able to get my revenge against those who killed Pasqual.”

, and finally we will break the backs of those arrogant landowners.  Whatever this assassin can do, our attacks on the haciendas will be even sweeter.”  

Bernardo heard the two men walking away, but he kept hidden for several more minutes before slipping away the same way he had come.  Before walking into the sunlight, he tried to locate the two men, but they were gone from sight.  Casually, the mozo slid into a small group of workers heading for the wharfs.  Before he reached the dock, he noticed a ship, but to his disappointment, it was a Spanish ship from the Philippines.  Ai, but there is always this evening, Bernardo thought. And tomorrow morning.   He realized, however, that he could not stay longer than the arrival of tomorrow’s coach.  He would see what the assassin looked like and then ride quickly to Los Angeles to warn Don Alejandro. 

 

 

Chapter Twelve
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