Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-two

 

The Aftermath

 

 

“Zorro!” Alejandro cried in despair and pushed away the two men helping him.  With Benito near his side and Bernardo just behind holding a lantern, he made his way toward the unconscious outlaw.   Others had stopped what they were doing to stare.  “Check him for injuries, Benito,” Alejandro said, his voice husky with worry.  

Sí, patrón,” the vaquero said.  As Benito gently turned Zorro over onto his back, Alejandro heard the rasping of the outlaw’s lungs laboring for breath. Many of his fellow dons had gathered around, watching, their eyes worried and sympathetic.  Alejandro heard them murmuring in speculation as to the reason for Zorro’s collapse.  He worried that one of them might give in to the temptation to find out who Zorro was while the outlaw was incapacitated.  The various hacendados gazed at one another, presumably with the same thoughts on their minds, but no one said anything, nor was there any move to take off the mask of their black clad hero.  Alejandro silently cheered his neighbors.  

He watched carefully as his caporal looked Zorro over, checking for gunshot wounds and broken bones. There didn’t seem to be any injuries, the small amount of blood seemed to be from those Zorro had been fighting.  It appeared that the outlaw was a victim of total exhaustion; his son had used the last ounce of his strength, plus a little more. 

Finally, after what seemed an interminable time, Zorro’s breathing evened and slowed, and his eyes opened.   He focused on his father.  “F . . . Don Alejandro,” he whispered.  “What . . .what happened?”   He sounded bewildered.            

“You suddenly collapsed, Señor Zorro,” Alejandro told him.  He had to repress the desire to reach down and touch his son, to feel the reality of his existence.  “Are you hurt?”

Zorro tried to lift his head and gaze down at his body, but even that seemed more than he could handle at the moment.  Then he held up his gloved hands and studied them for a moment.  “Only my head, a little.  Not really hurt; just tired . . . so very tired.”   His gaze shifted to Alejandro’s shoulder.  “But you are hurt,” he said, his eyes showing his alarm.

“Yes, but it does not seem too bad.  A ball in the shoulder.” 

“A ball is dangerous wherever it is, señor.  Please . . . take care of it,” Zorro said softly, his eyes gazing intently into his father’s eyes.  He, too, only wanted to reach out and take his father’s hand, to embrace him.  After so long of dreaming, hoping.  It was an ache inside.  Later.  He looked to Benito.  Señor, make sure his wound is taken care of.”  The vaquero nodded.

At Alejandro’s order, Bernardo and Benito helped the exhausted bandit to his feet and half carried him away from the scene of battle.  Several hacendados expressed their concern and were relieved when told the outlaw was exhausted and not wounded.  Soon they had Zorro sitting against an outer wall, only a few feet from where his father sat.  Don Sebastian, one of the local hacendados, brought some wine from his saddlebag and offered it to the beleaguered outlaw.  The ranchero could easily rival Sergeant Garcia in girth and was known for his love of fine wines.  Leave it to Don Sebastian to have wine at a time like this, Alejandro thought in slight amusement.   Zorro gratefully took the offered wine.  Even as the old don was himself being cared for by some of the men, he watched as others ministered to his son.

“No wonder you are tired,” Don Sebastian said to Zorro in amazement.  “I have never seen so many dead and wounded terrorists.”

Now that the battle was over, Zorro couldn’t remember much about it, only that it seemed endless.  “Just trying to stay alive, Don Sebastian,” Zorro said softly, handing the bottle back to the hacendado.  He was beginning to feel a bit better.  At least he could breathe normally and the pain in his side was fading.  Zorro gazed at his father once more, this time studying more carefully the wound, which the elder de la Vega had received.   Señor de la Vega, I must insist that you get your wound attended to by a physician.  It appears to still be bleeding.  I am fine.”  

Zorro’s eyes held familial concern that only Alejandro could see and the older man finally nodded.  Benito guided the hacendado to his horse and helped him mount.  Alejandro looked back at the man in black resting against a crumbling wall and thought, as he had many times during the last day, This is no way to greet my long lost son.  Zorro smiled and his eyes boded at a full-fledged reunion later.  Alejandro nodded to the pride of his life and then slowly turned his horse around and left the camp.  

Bernardo remained with Zorro and signed a query to him. ‘Do you want more to drink?’  Zorro shook his head ‘no’. 

At this point, Sgt. Garcia rode up with a small contingent of lancers.  Zorro was gratified to see his friend, Carlos, with them.   Using the wall as leverage, he slowly got to his feet. His legs almost refused to hold him up and he grasped the wall with fingers that seemed numb.  Bernardo signed furiously, ‘You must rest some more.  You are too tired to leave now!’

Zorro simply shook his head.  “I must,” he signed to his manservant.  ‘You must go with Don Alejandro,’ he added, not wanting anyone to wonder why the de la Vega manservant wasn’t riding with his father.  Bernardo nodded, knowing this was one argument he wasn’t going to win unless he tied his master down, which he wouldn’t do.  He went to get Zorro’s cape and brought it to him, then he mounted and rode out of the camp.  While Don Sebastian was tying the cape around Zorro’s shoulders, the outlaw whistled for Tornado.  With great care, the horse picked his way among the knots of people and stopped in front of his master.   Don Sebastian gave him a leg up and Zorro saluted the group of men. 

“Sergeant Garcia, you will find four more terrorists on that rise,” he said, pointing to a nearby hill.  “The one tied to a tree is the leader,” he continued.  “The one in the well-cut clothing is the man from Mexico who orchestrated this terrorist plot.   Somewhere out there you will probably find Don Diego.  His horse had run off during the fight with the four men and I was in too much of a hurry to offer him a ride, especially when he had told me about the terrorists’ alternate plans.  I think he will be most eager to get home to his father.  Adios, muchachos,” he said wearily and nudged Tornado toward home.  He made no effort to hide the direction of his travel, but no one was paying attention anyway, happily cheering him on his way with expressions of sincerest gratitude.

Zorro headed off at a slow cantor.   Bernardo caught up with his master when they were well away from the scene of the battle.   It was almost too dark to sign, but he rode close in case Zorro needed help.  

“Bernardo?”

Bernardo rode even closer, their knees almost touching and he nodded. 

Zorro smiled wearily.  “It is over and now I can greet father as I should.”

Signing, Bernardo indicated a beard and being found.  

Zorro sighed.  , you are right, Bernardo.  As usual, you are right.”  

Bernardo heard a soft chuckle and he signed again.  ‘You will only need to sit quietly as I put on a new beard.’

Zorro chuckled again.  “You cannot put this beard on while I lay down?”

‘No!  I would never get you up!’ came Bernardo’s emphatic answer.    Zorro simply smiled, and said nothing more.  Soon Tornado’s snort told them they were near their destination.

Inside the secret cave, Zorro dismounted stiffly, pulled off the mask and hat and splashed his face with cool water.  He then sat down on an overturned bucket to rest, letting his arms hang limply by his side, while Bernardo turned up the flame in the lantern.  The mozo then left the cave to obtain the supplies he needed to apply a beard.   Diego could do no more than sit and rest. 

Bernardo soon rejoined him and pointed out that he had been hit in the face, because he now had a very nicely colored bruise just under his left eye. 

“That is all?” Diego asked wryly, feeling the soreness of every muscle in his body. 

Bernardo smiled and signed for him to sit still.

“I do not think that I could do otherwise right now, Bernardo,” Diego answered as the manservant began the laborious process of creating a beard that would fool those who would ‘find’ him later in the night.  Bernardo took his time, often sitting back and looking at his handiwork or holding the lantern close and checking out a particular spot.  Diego felt the stiffness settle into his bones.  Finally, he straightened up to relieve a sore muscle in his back and said, “Bernardo, do not take so long.  It will be taken off as soon as I get home!”

Bernardo nodded, but continued his meticulous work.  Finally, he stepped back, handed Diego a small mirror and smiled. 

Diego cocked his head slightly, giving himself a cursory glance.  Then he smiled back at his mozo.  “Yes, you did a very fine job.  Now it is time to change back into my trail clothes and be ‘found’.   I am eager to have a proper reunion with my father.”  He paused.  “And then to have a proper reunion with my bed.”  

Bernardo nodded and pointed to his horse.   Diego changed and they mounted, riding into the midnight darkness, the young man sitting behind his servant.  They rode slowly for some time, avoiding the main roads and trails until they were not too far from the place where Diego had met and vanquished Jorge.  Then he slid down off the back of the horse, patting it on the rump.  “You go back and help Father.  If anyone says anything, just say you were looking for me.”

Bernardo nodded again and rode away.   He didn’t like leaving his master out here alone this time of night, but there was no helping it.  There were patrols out and it would not take too long for Don Diego to be found. 

Diego began trudging toward the hacienda, but his legs felt like lead weights and he soon stopped and sat down to rest. Finding a semi-comfortable spot on the ground, Diego began watching the stars.  These are my stars, the stars of my homeland.   Then he remembered Kang Zhu’s comments about the constellations.  They were the same here as in China, but the thought that these stars were shining on him, that he was sitting on the soil of his own home continued to fill him with delight, and made him feel that the blinking, twinkling lights above were exclusive to him.  He smelled the heady juniper and pine, heard the chirping of insects nearby and coyotes in the distance.  Creatures with which he was so familiar.  Somehow he didn’t remember all of these when he rode to the rendezvous.   Then, he didn’t have time to remember; now, time was not an enemy.  Now, he had all the time in the world.   Only I need to be found, he thought, somewhat anxiously.   He listened for the sound of horses. 

His eyelids felt heavy and he caught himself dozing.  No!  I must stay awake!  Must listen for my rescuers! he admonished himself.  But he couldn’t stay awake.  He awoke after a short while, shivering in the early morning cold. Getting up and stretching stiff and sore muscles, Diego again tried to walk toward home, but again his fatigue prevented him from getting very far.  He cursed his weakness.  He thought of his father and the injury he had sustained.  Was he all right?  That spurred Diego to walk another quarter mile, but when he stumbled and fell, he had to give up, resting against a tree trunk.  Just a short rest and then walk again, he thought.  Again, he dozed off, again later waking, shivering violently, his arms wrapped around his frame, trying to ward off the worst of the cold.  The highlights of dawn shone over the eastern hills.   He got stiffly to his feet, grasping the rough tree trunk for support, and beat his arms around himself, trying to get circulation and warmth back into his icy limbs.  Again Diego began trudging toward the casa grande, silently rejoicing when the sun rose and its warmth began to chase away the cold.   He recognized his surroundings in the light of morning.  He was no more than four miles from home, a short distance by fast horse.   Looking down at his cold and aching feet, Diego smiled wryly.   But I don’t have a fast horse, he thought. 

It was then that he heard the sound of horses.  They were coming from the east, Diego determined, and he put his hand up to shield his eyes, looking for the riders.  As a precaution, he hid in some brush.  He could only believe that the revolutionaries had all been captured, but life had a way of doing what you least expected at times.  As the horsemen came closer, he recognized Carlos and Sergeant Garcia.  There were also two lancers riding with them.  Stepping out of hiding, he smiled and called out, “My friends, it is about time you found me.  It’s cold out here!” 

Carlos laughed nervously.  The release of anxiety was palpable.  “Diego, I wanted nothing more than to find you.  I was quite worried.  But it is hard to find a man in the dark in the wilderness.” 

“I know, Carlos,” Diego acknowledged.   “And I thank you for your efforts.  I am afraid that I found myself sleeping instead of listening.  I have lost count of how many days it has been since I had a full night’s sleep.”

“Are you all right, Don Diego?  You have a bruise on your face.” Sergeant Garcia asked. 

“Other than cold, stiff, sore, hungry, thirsty and tired, I am fine.  And the bruise is a souvenir of the leader of the revolutionaries,” he answered, then gazed at the horsemen.  “But instead of standing here, would it be possible to get a ride home?  I would like to see Father.”  His voice lowered as he attempted to control his emotions. 

“Oh, , Don Diego,” Garcia said.  He turned to the two lancers.  “Tomas, you ride with Paco and let Don Diego have your horse.”  

Gratefully, Diego mounted and fell in beside the rest.  They bantered on the way, Diego inquiring about the battle at the old hacienda and Carlos and Garcia providing details of Zorro’s exploits.  Diego only half listened, watching the countryside with growing anticipation.  He recognized the road, feeling the closeness of home with each step the horses took.  They approached a rise and Diego knew that over that rise was his home.  Finally!  They reached the top and he pulled his horse to a stop, taking a moment to savor the sight of his home, the place where he grew up.  The place he wondered at times, if he would ever see again.  But there it was, standing splendid and majestic in early morning grandeur, the sun turning the adobe walls into gold.  Diego felt his breath catch in his throat and he was about to kick the horse into a gallop when he saw Bernardo riding toward them.  Apparently Father had sent the servant out to look for him.  Diego signed to his mozo, asking about his father.

‘Don Alejandro is fine and waiting for your return,’ the fingers told him. 

“Excellent,” he said, while signing back.  “Then let us not disappoint him.”   Diego’s heart leaped at his impending reunion, and he nudged the horse with his heel, first urging it into a trot and then into a full gallop, leaving everyone else to catch up with him. 

At the gate, the two lancers took charge of the horses, while the rest of them passed through the patio and into the sala.   Diego called out.  He didn’t have to feign his concern over his father’s health, despite Bernardo’s reassurances.  He called out again and heard his father’s voice from beyond the kitchen area in the stable yard.  Thinking that strange, Diego, nonetheless, rushed out to greet his father and stopped short when he saw him tied to a beam that held up the roof over the stalls.  Next to him stood Richard Patterson, a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other.

“Well met, Diego de la Vega,” Patterson said, laughing at the consternation, anger and fear warring in the young Californiano’s face. 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-three
Chapter One
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