Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

Chapter 21

 

The Battle Ends

 

 

 

As darkness fell, Carlos went to the public stable and brought the carriage into the garrison’s parade ground.  Diego’s chest was taken into the comandante’s office and the other placed in the stable, in an area where the least amount of damage would occur.   Then the wait began.  

“I hope Don Diego is right,” Garcia said for the tenth time.  

“He is right, Sergeant,” Carlos assured him, again for the tenth time.    “The terrorists are planning on massive attacks on those they feel know about their organization.  You are one of those individuals.  However, with your men assigned to such strategic places as you have chosen, these bandits simply do not have a chance.”  He glanced at his pocket watch.  “It is eight o’clock.  There are about two hours before the revolutionaries will be arriving.” 

Sí,” Sergeant Garcia said.   “Enough time to get supper at the tavern.” 

Carlos frowned.  The last thing on his mind was food.  He was worried about Diego.  His friend was taking on quite a bit, perhaps more than he could handle.  “I will stay here, Sergeant, if you do not mind.  You go on ahead.”  

Gracias, Don Carlos.  I will be back shortly,” said Garcia jovially.   Carlos just smiled indulgently as the sergeant ambled across the plaza. 

“Shortly will be about an hour and a half,” Corporal Reyes said from behind Carlos.  

“Somehow I am not surprised,” Carlos murmured in agreement. 

“Do you think there will be many bandits?” Reyes asked.

“That is hard to say, Corporal, but I would guess that there would be at least a dozen.  It would seem very stupid to just send a few men.  Even if they were to make a surprise attack, a few men would never last long against the fifteen you have here,” Carlos surmised.  “But the ambush your sergeant has planned will more than make up for the numbers that might attack.” 

“But I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to check the muskets and make sure the powder is dry, would it?” Reyes asked, almost absently. 

“Of course it wouldn’t, Corporal.  That is a splendid idea.   You might want to make sure that each of the soldiers has plenty of extra powder and balls with them, too,” Carlos suggested. 

Sí, that is a good idea, too.  I will go and do that now,” the corporal answered, turning and walking toward a knot of men near the cuartel gate. 

Carlos checked the powder in his pouch and that which had already been loaded into his musket and his pistol.  All was in readiness, so he paced the confines of the cuartel and then the plaza for a while longer, as the night deepened.  Finally only the light of lanterns placed strategically around the pueblo broke the velvet darkness.  After what seemed to him an interminable time, he stopped next to a window from which bright light poured and pulled out his watch.   Nine o’clock, he read.  A lancer stepped out of the shadows and stood next to him.  Carlos recognized him from earlier in the day.  The soldier nodded.  

At about that moment, a rider galloped into the plaza, his horse almost sitting down on it haunches, its stop was so quick.   The rider was a vaquero and from the lathered condition of the horse, it was clear that it had been running all out from wherever it had come.

Seeing the lancer, the rider blurted out his message.  Señor!  You must alert Sergeant Garcia!  The bandits are coming early!  They are riding for the cuartel at this moment.  You have no time to lose getting ready for them.   There are about a dozen, plus whatever men have been staying close to the pueblo.  And there is no need to set off any explosions.”  The rider wheeled his horse around and galloped out of the pueblo before the soldier could ask anything else. 

As the rider galloped away, Carlos felt his blood run cold.  The revolutionaries had apparently found out about Diego’s plan and were trying to surprise the Californianos. Again, Carlos wished he could be with his friend, but right now the warning had to be given.   He turned to the lancer and said, “Do you wish me to go warn Sergeant Garcia?” The soldier nodded.  Carlos ran into the tavern and found Sergeant Garcia, contentedly sipping the last of some wheedled wine.  “Sergeant!  Word just came that the bandits will be arriving sooner than expected.  They will be here any minute.  You must deploy your men to their positions immediately!” 

In an instant, Garcia was on his feet and rushing out of the tavern, along with all of the soldiers that were with him.   “To arms!” he bellowed, as he crossed the plaza.   “Get in your positions immediately!  Adalante!”  Men scrambled in all directions, some to the tops of houses and some on the garrison walls, while others hid behind wagons and around corners of buildings.   Carlos stood just inside the door of the tavern, peering out of the small space.  Tio, the owner stood crouched behind him, wringing the towel in his hands, for the moment ignoring the pistol tucked in the waistband of his apron. 

The warning had come none too soon, it was not five minutes before the first of the bandits came nonchalantly trotting into the plaza.  When he saw the cuartel gate open and the plaza quiet, he fired his gun.   Almost immediately, others galloped into the pueblo; most rushing toward the open cuartel gates, but a few others riding toward the tavern, the church, or the various businesses that opened onto the plaza.  All had their pistols and muskets out and ready to fire.  One bandit shot out a window in the tavern and Carlos shot him.  Then he raced out the back way and reconnoitered from behind some shrubbery while he reloaded.  There were many shots and much shouting from inside the garrison.  A woman screamed from a nearby shop and Carlos ran along the shadowed walls to the pharmacia where he saw a bandit manhandling the apothecary’s wife.  Before the man even knew Carlos was there, the Filipino had clouted him from behind with the gunstock, smiling in satisfaction as the bandit slid to the floor unconscious.  

“Can you tie him up?” he asked the frightened woman.

Sí, señor, most gladly will I tie him up.  And the ropes will be extra tight!” she responded with a tight smile that somehow reminded Carlos of a she-wolf that had just brought down a steer.   

Carlos almost felt a slight twinge of sympathy for the mercenary.   He doubted the man would be very comfortable.   “Good.  Then I will leave you,” Carlos said, slipping back out into the dark night.  Gunshots sounded much less frequently than they had just a few minutes earlier and Carlos wondered how the sergeant was faring in the cuartel.   Racing from building to building, using the darkest shadows, he came to the garrison wall, but had no idea how to get inside without going through the gate.   And he felt that was too exposed and dangerous.  How did Diego say he did it? Carlos wondered.  Over the wall, he had said.  Carlos smiled to himself as he looked at the height of the wall next to him.  He would have to discuss that with Diego when next he saw him.  A wash of concern for his friend swept over him, but Carlos pushed it aside until this crisis was dealt with. 

Sooner than he expected, though, his question was answered as he saw the acting comandante striding out of the cuartel and into the plaza.   “It is over!” he called out in his booming bass voice.  

Carlos stepped out of the shadows and greeted the sergeant.  “They are all captured?” he asked. 

“Or killed,” Garcia answered.   As he spoke, a small contingent of lancers ran out of the cuartel and split up into smaller groups, checking out the various parts of the pueblo for more of the attack force.  There were two more bandits that were caught in the sweep.  Soon Carlos saw the revolutionaries packed together in the small cells, grumbling and mumbling over their lot. 

“Come!” Garcia cried out, loudly.  “Let us go to the tavern and celebrate the victory over these bandits.”

“But what about the other attack.  The one on the haciendas?” Carlos asked, concerned. 

“Don Alejandro told me that there were many vaqueros and other men to take care of them,” Garcia boomed jovially.  He did not slacken his pace toward the tavern.  

“But what about Don Diego?” Carlos asked as they walked into the tavern.  He felt that it was imperative that the lancers should go to help his friend.  “The vaquero said that the bandits found out about the plot with the fake explosions.  That could only have happened if they had captured him, or found out that that he was not the real Richard Patterson.” 

“Oh,” Garcia said, stopping in his tracks, his eyes showing alarm.   “Maybe we should go search for him.”  

The innkeeper was standing at the doorway of his tavern, all smiles.  Carlos could only imagine that it was partly because no one had taken the battle into his tavern.   All the men leaning against the bar or sitting at the tables ready to buy wine, now that the crisis was over, could possibly be another reason, the Filipino thought wryly.  There was one man, sitting by himself, he noticed.  Carlos remembered seeing him coming into the pueblo in his small carriage, right after the final bandit had been captured.  Even in the dim light, he had been daunted by the intensely cold looking blue eyes of the man and curious over the dark bruises under his eyes.  His nose was swollen as though he had been in a fight.   

“Is it true then, that Don Diego is back and he is the one who thought up the ‘surprises’ for these accursed bandits?” Tio asked, his voice filled with awe.  

Sí, he is,” Carlos answered before Garcia was able to open his mouth, chafing at the delay.

“You mean Don Diego de la Vega?” someone else asked.  “Surely you jest.”

“No, it is true,” Carlos said.  “He learned of the plot to kill his father and Sergeant Garcia and others, and he worked out a plan to stop these terrorists once and for all.”

Everyone smiled and mused over the great change that had come over the well liked, but normally ineffectual Don Diego, everyone except the man with blue eyes and the broken nose.   A vaquero entered the tavern looking for Sergeant Garcia.  “Sergeant, Don Nacho wanted me to see if you needed more men to take care of the bandits,” he said. 

“No, we have taken care of them.  They are all in the carcel. 

“Do you have word of the other bandits?” Carlos asked the vaquero anxiously.  “Do you have word of Don Diego?”

“Don Diego?  No.  But I was informed that Zorro was holding off several dozen men by himself.  Don Alejandro and his men went to the old Catalan hacienda to help him.  Don Nacho wanted me to gather any men here if they were not needed and go out to help,” the vaquero said.  

“Three dozen men?” Carlos asked, almost choking.  He turned to the sergeant.  “Of course, we must go out there.  And now!”

“Yes, we must,” Garcia agreed, turning away from the tavern door and returning to the cuartel.  “To horse, to horse!” he shouted to his men.  Without asking, Carlos saddled one of the army horses and was soon riding out into the dark countryside with the lancers.   

When they had left, the blue-eyed man ordered a bottle of wine.  He frowned into his glass musing at the information he had just heard.

 

 

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Zorro heard the sound of many horses and then a shout from his father, and knew that help had, indeed, arrived.  He had to only hold on for a few more minutes.  He grabbed the bandit’s knife hand and stopped its momentum when the weapon was only a fraction of an inch from entering his body.  With his other hand, he clutched a handful of his assailant’s thick black hair and drew the man’s head toward him and down, at the same time that he raised one leg.  The bandit’s face cracked with alarming clarity against Zorro’s knee and he fell away groaning, blood streaming from his mouth and nose.  Quickly grasping the knife out of the revolutionary’s hand, Zorro stabbed another man who had leaped for him.  That man, too, fell away screaming.  Two other men stood a few feet away, facing him, trying to determine the best strategy. One of them suddenly decided to lunge at him, but was killed by the pistol ball of another revolutionary who had been trying to get a good shot at Zorro.  The masked outlaw couldn’t help himself, he smiled and said, “Gracias, señor.”  Then his fist connected with his errant helper’s jaw. His opponents seemed to be fewer in number, he noticed thankfully, as the vaqueros from the de la Vega rancho made progress from the other end of the courtyard.  Those that were left, however, seemed more determined than ever to destroy El Zorro, anger at his interference the reason.   Zorro slashed another man, and then stabbed yet another whose sword slit open his shirt.

A shout from outside the walls told Zorro that even more friendly reinforcements were coming. His lungs felt as though he was breathing inside a volcano, and his sides throbbed from the prolonged and intense exertion.  Suddenly, he realized with relief, he had no more opponents.  The few men opposing him had backed away and were raising their hands in surrender.  With that action, the terrorist ring was broken.  

Zorro leaned against the crumbling wall, a weary smile crossing his features.  Now that this was over, he felt the throbbing of his head.  When several of the hacendados raised their hands and swords in salute to him, Zorro returned their honor by raising his own sword.  Then he let it drop heavily to his side, his arm suddenly too weak to hold the weapon aloft.  Zorro tried to sheath it, but was unable to find the scabbard.   Tired, but have to leave, he thought sluggishly.  With feet seemingly made of lead, he slowly began making his way over to his father and the other hacendados.    Pausing, he looked up and saw with chagrin that his father had been injured.  Blood stained the upper part of Father’s normally crisp, white shirt and several men were attending to him, applying cloths to staunch the flow of blood.  Zorro tried to quicken his pace, but his body would not cooperate.  He felt as though he was walking in the tar pits.  Added to the headache, he felt a wash of dizziness and he stopped to let the world aright itself.   Then he felt the sword fall from fingers too weak to hold it any longer.

 

           

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When Alejandro and his men arrived, his heart swelled in gratitude to see his son still alive, still fighting, and fighting well, but he also observed that Zorro was quickly losing strength.  He called out to give encouragement and then gave orders to his men.  “Shoot these sons of demons if you must, but be careful not to hit Señor Zorro.  He has held them off this long, we must do what we can to help him finish the fight.”  Leaping off of his horse, he shot one man and then lay into others with his sword.  He felt a sting in his shoulder and his sword slipped from a hand that had suddenly become numb.  He heard another shot and turning, he saw a vague shadow just outside the perimeter of the camp, falling forward, clutching his chest.  Alejandro picked up his sword with his left hand, even as sharp pain ran through his chest and down his arm.  Must not stop, he admonished himself. 

Patrón, you are injured.   You go over there where it is safe.  We will finish these men,” the caporal, Benito said. 

“No!” Alejandro cried.  “No, not while there is breath in my body.”  His shoulder was throbbing in time with the beating of his heart and he felt the blood trickling down his back and chest, but he couldn’t stop.  Suddenly the whooping cries of other men came to his ears.  His friends had not let him down.  They had come!   He almost sobbed in relief as he saw men from the various ranchos gallop into the encampment.  The remaining terrorists simply dropped their weapons and raised their hands, realizing that there was no victory and no escape. 

When the remainder of the revolutionaries surrendered, Alejandro looked for a glimpse of his son.  He watched him try to sheath his sword without success and then watched as Zorro began to make his way over to the hacendados.  The steps were slow and faltering and finally the sword fell to the ground, but Alejandro cried out in despair when he saw his son stumble, stop for a moment, looking down at his feet with a puzzled expression on his face, and then slowly crumple to lay still and lifeless on the ground. 

   

 

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