Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

 

Chapter 20

 

Unjust Reunions

 

   

The secret cave was just as he had left it earlier in the day.  Tornado was still there in his makeshift stall, munching on hay, and he threw up his head and whickered at him as Diego rushed past.  “Soon, my friend, very soon!”  Running up the stairs, he quickly used a razor to part the beard from his face.  When he had finished, he washed and patted his face dry, glancing into the mirror.  Where his beard had been growing, his skin was slightly lighter, but in the night that would not be noticeable.  Changing into the dark costume that had become so much a part of his life the past two plus years, even during his time of indenture, he quickly went down to the sala to gather two pistols, which he stuck in his banda.   He had already attached the whip to his belt, opposite the sword. 

He hoped that he would have greater success finding someone to give the information to than he had enjoyed earlier in the day, but so far he had found no evidence of anyone.  In a cabinet in one corner of the sala were a few pouches of gunpowder and pistol balls.  While gathering them, he was startled by a choking cry behind him and, jumping up and swinging around, Zorro saw his father.  George was with him, by his side, his eyes wide and staring in fear.   Zorro saw tears beginning to form in his father’s eyes, but it was George who spoke first.

“Who are you?” the boy asked, timidly. 

“I am called El Zorro,” he said in answer, but his eyes kept straying to his father’s face.  

“Why are you here?” George asked. 

Why am I here? Zorro thought.  He almost laughed.  It is my home.  I have returned to it. Have I not dreamed of this moment since I sailed out of the San Diego harbor?  But not this way!  Not under the visage of Death, not with his minions Danger and Terror staring at all of us, Zorro thought in anguish. No, this was not what I have dreamed of for so many weeks, what I have prayed for.  And he continued to gaze into the despairing eyes of his father, feeling some of that same despair in his own soul.

Señor Zorro,” Don Alejandro said, in a voice that only slightly betrayed the emotion that he was feeling. “I am glad to see you.”  George just continued to look confused at the masked, black clad figure.  This was not how my reunion with my son should be, Alejandro thought bitterly, almost wanting to weep in frustration.  I should be embracing my son, laughing with him, crying in exultation and praising the santos.   Although he saw that Diego looked well for all that he presumed he had been through, the old man was disturbed at all of the weaponry Diego had gathered.  Usually he didn’t carry so many weapons when he went out as Zorro.

“Don Alejandro, I have little time,” Zorro said hastily.  “The revolutionaries found out about Don Diego’s ploy, but he was able to escape and is fine for now,” he said for George’s benefit rather than his father’s.  “They have forty men at the old Catalan hacienda and are planning to attack not only the Torres hacienda, but also the Santillo, Esperon and Caldon haciendas.  They will be sending men here to attack and also to the pueblo to attack the cuartel.  There are already some of their men in place near here and near Los Angeles.  This attack will take place exactly at the time when the explosives were supposed to go off, so they will be coming sooner than expected, approximately one hour after full sunset.  This will happen whether the explosives go off or not, so there is no need to destroy the stable,” he paused for a quick breath and then continued. “You must send a vaquero on your fastest horse to Sergeant Garcia and tell him to be ready.  There is little time to spare.”             

“You must also send a few vaqueros around to the local haciendas to warn them,” he said as his eyes bored into his father’s, because he knew that Father wasn’t going to like the next bit information.  “I am going back to the abandoned Catalan hacienda where the bulk of the terrorists are in waiting.  I must delay their early departure.  If you will gather some vaqueros and servants, any you can spare to come and help me delay these men, I would be grateful.  If any of the hacendados can spare some men, that, too, would help, although they will take longer to get there,” Zorro said with a sad smile.  “I must ride now.”

“Vaya con Dios, Señor Zorro,” Alejandro exclaimed, sorrow heavy in his voice.  “We will follow as soon as we can.”  Zorro was leaving the room even as the older man spoke.  

Alejandro rushed to the stable area where some of the servants were gathering to prepare for the explosion and told them to leave the powder and follow him.  He called to the vaqueros who were gathered near the stables, in readiness for the attack that they supposed would be coming to them.  “Rauel, ride to the pueblo and tell Sergeant Garcia that the attack comes an hour earlier than expected.  Pablo, ride to the Torres Rancho and give them the same message; tell them to send any men that he can spare to the Catalan hacienda.  Juanito, take the same message to Don Ramon Santillo.  Miguel and Juan Maria do the same thing.  Go to the Esperon and Cadron haciendas and tell them.  All of the rest of you stay here and listen to me.”  Everyone else gathered around him in the stable yard, including some he had not felt impressed to call upon before, such as a few of the older house servants who had remained and some of the younger vaqueros’ sons who had been keeping watch over the horses in a nearby corral.   Amigos!” he called out.  “El Zorro has gone alone to delay the bandits who are gathered at the old Catalan hacienda.  These bandits are preparing to ride against us even earlier than we had been told before.  We are not dealing with about two-dozen men, spread out between the pueblo and here, but we are dealing with forty men.  Zorro is going there to delay over three-dozen men!  We must ride to help him.  If you have not already, saddle your horses now!  Find whatever weapons you can find besides those you have now.  Quickly!  Quickly!”  As one man, the group did as it was instructed and within ten minutes, there were fifteen men, including Don Alejandro and Bernardo riding to the abandoned hacienda.  Ten men he had left at the hacienda to protect it from any of the terrorists that were already waiting nearby to attack.   He had smiled when he saw Crescencia with a pothook standing in the doorway of the kitchen, a fierce look on her face.  Pepito was at her side, disappointed that he was not allowed to go with the men, but equally determined to protect the hacienda if need be. 

The banditos waiting nearby would undoubtedly see the large body of men riding to the southwest, but that did not matter to the old don right now.  What was important was getting to his son before he was killed.   That was the only important thing.  Diego could not come home only to be killed.

 

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Thanks to Tornado’s great speed, Zorro arrived at the Catalan hacienda with at least twenty minutes to spare, according to his best reckoning, so he quickly reconnoitered and, determined that by going over the corner where the two highest walls met, he might achieve the greatest success.  Silently making his way to the small, improvised corral where the terrorist’s horses were being kept in readiness for the attack, Zorro saw one sentry.  Jorge was very sure of himself, Zorro thought as he slipped quietly off the great stallion and crept behind the sentry.  A hand signal to the horse brought Tornado in the moonlight to distract the man.  As the guard watched the coal black horse, Zorro grabbed him from behind and clouted him on the back of the head with the hilt of his sword.   The sentry sagged to the ground without making a sound.  The outlaw untied all of the horses, noting in chagrin that there were not forty horses, it appeared to be more in the order of thirty horses.  Some of the bandits must have already left for the pueblo.  Zorro could only hope that Sergeant Garcia was ready and that his father got word to him before the revolutionaries actually attacked.  Returning to Tornado, he took the small keg of powder he had taken from the hacienda.  Pouring a thin line of powder from the spot where he planned to go over the wall to the picket line, he went back and lit it with the flint and steel he had carried with him.  A small hissing sound was all he heard as it traveled to the small pile of powder near the horses.  Zorro quickly stuffed a piece of rope into the keg with its remaining powder and lit this as well.  At about the time that the line of powder reached the pile near the picket line, the rope burned within two inches of the hole in the keg.  With a great heave, Zorro tossed the half empty keg over the wall and into the encampment.  

Tornado stood still while Zorro speedily climbed on his back and onto the wall.  The horse would stay there for him unless he gave him another signal. Standing carefully on the crumbling wall, Zorro saw the look of surprise on the faces of the men standing near the keg he had thrown in.  Almost as one they heard the slight hissing of the rope fuse inside the small keg, and then jumped back as they realized what had just landed in their midst.   Zorro took a deep breath to focus on the battle to come, and watched as the flame touched the pile of gunpowder near the horses and flared up, exploding with a loud boom.  At the same time the keg blew apart, sending shrapnel among the men in close proximity to it.  The horses screamed and bolted in fear, men did the same, and Zorro, in a loud voice, shouted at the frightened bandits.  “You are surrounded, and cannot escape,” he bluffed.  “Throw down your weapons and it will go easy with you!”             

Although some gazed around in fear, other bandits, in answer to his ruse, drew their weapons and fired at him.  Zorro crouched and shot two bandits, wounding them.  Ducking even lower to make himself a smaller target and quickly reloading the pistols, he fired again, wounding two more men.  This is taking too long, he thought, and threw the pistols away.  He used the whip to disarm several more, but he knew it was only a matter of a short time before someone’s aim got better. A ball whizzed past his head, too close for comfort.  He was a ready target up here on the wall, even though it was very dark and he was hard to see.  He dashed along the wall, feeling the crumbling stones disintegrate under his feet, and then he crouched down again, pulling out the flint and steel striker.  He also took the two pouches of powder out of his banda and laid them on the wall, along with the pouch of balls. While the men below tried to find him in the darkness, Zorro drew the cape around him to hide his activity.  He poured half of the balls into each pouch and then he quickly, but efficiently used the striker, letting the sparks fall on the cloth of the pouches.  The wax that was used to make the pouches waterproof quickly ignited. When the pouches were aflame, he tossed them among the angry and bewildered men.   The pouches blew up simultaneously, sending smoke and lead balls amongst the bandits.  Dashing back to where he had started his assault, he untied his cape and leaped down into the melee.  The cape fluttered loose behind him like the wings of some black bird of prey.  Knocking down two of the men as he landed, he immediately started laying in on the others milling around.   By his best reckoning, he had probably dispatched around eight or ten bandits. 

All of the hours of practice on board the Isadore were now bearing fruit.   The moves came almost without thought.  At first, it seemed to be a mad fracas of fists, feet, arms and legs, but slowly Zorro was able to clear a small area around him.  Employing the techniques he had been taught, he was able to use the least amount of effort to the greatest advantage.  When he had a slightly bigger area to fight in, he used his feet, easily doubling men over with each kick.  One of the revolutionaries, who had been watching more closely, pulled out a sword.  Zorro kicked it out of his hand, but changed his strategy and used his saber also.  And as he dispatched the swordsman, he jumped across several bodies and into an area of ground that gave him slightly more freedom of movement.   While it was dangerous to have so many people to contend with at one time, it also prevented anyone from using their pistol on him for fear of hitting one of their own comrades.              

Remotely, Zorro noted that enough time had passed for the ten o’clock explosion and he was gratified that he had not heard anything from the hacienda.  Good, he thought.  There is no need for any further destruction.  Zorro only hoped that there were men coming soon to help him, as he didn’t know how much longer he could hold off this many bandits.  The adrenalin was continuing to pump through his body, giving him the surge of power that he needed.  His determination to save his father and friends kept him focused, despite the odds before him.  He felt the sweat rolling down his neck and causing his shirt to stick to his body.  He was fighting furiously, but so far his breathing remained even, although a bit faster than normal.  If this were not such a desperate battle, Zorro would feel exhilarated at what he was accomplishing, enforcing justice with the minimum of bloodshed.  

Holding the sword ready in his right hand, Zorro was able to use the heel of his left hand to stop one of them in his tracks.  Several others attempted to rush madly at him in an effort to overpower him, but using his sword and the various wushu kicks he had been taught, no one had been able to lay a hand on him yet.  Men lay gasping on the ground near his feet, a hindrance to any kind of sword work. 

Sheathing his weapon, Zorro leaped over the fallen men to an area where he could fight more freely.  He formed his fist into the shape of the eagle’s beak as more men rushed him.  The first two men stumbled away screaming, clutching their battered noses or damaged ribs.  Zorro also continued using his feet, kicking others in the groin or stomach.  Another bandit was thrown against the wall, and slumped to the ground, unconscious.  While he was continually amazed at the power that this style of fighting afforded him, it still seemed as if he had been fighting forever.  Never had he battled against such odds or for so long.  Zorro never had less than two men coming at him at a time and he had to change fighting strategies often, sometimes using the saber, sometimes the Chinese fighting, and at other times outright brawling.   Again, he leaped to another space to more easily maneuver. 

And the fighting continued; it had to.  To stop was to die.  He continued to use the wushu, even though now his hands and legs were beginning to feel leaden.  He began using his sword more and was not taking nearly the care he had used before to avoid injury.   Several men fell away screaming, clutching wounds that streamed blood.  Others slumped to the ground, making no sounds at all, the dim light showing their life-blood flowing darkly onto the sandy ground.  

Still they came, a seemingly endless stream of men.  Some he had fought before, battered faces attested to it, but they had had a chance to breathe, to pause and to regain a bit of energy.  The hilt of his sword seemed slippery in his grip and his breathing was beginning to come in ragged gasps, his lungs heaving to get enough air to allow him to continue this mad battle.   He continued to fight, now simply struggling to hold off the endless horde.   His head began to throb once again, evidence of all he had been through recently.  He felt battered, even though he had as yet sustained no physical injury.

Exhaustion was setting in and every breath was like inhaling fire.  One of the terrorists was finally able to get to him and he slammed his fist into Zorro’s face, smashing him back against the wall.  At the same time his opponent hit him in the stomach with his other fist.  What little breath the outlaw had was knocked from his lungs and he doubled over gasping for air.  The bandit grabbed his shirt in a chokehold and drew him up.  In his hand, Zorro saw a long, sharp knife, poised to thrust into his chest.   

“You fiend from Hell, I will kill you for this,” the bandit hissed as he drew back his arm and began to swing that fateful knife down toward his body. 

 

 

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