Book III: The Journey Home
the Saints,” Diego heard Carlos shout in surprise. Remotely, he heard other exclamations, but he had too much to
concentrate on at the moment. What
was extremely easy with two hands was much more difficult with one, and
Diego was regretting his reckless leap from the watch’s seat. His feet kept his descent steady, though, and he quickly
regained the confidence of one who climbed up and down the rigging
often. Swinging gently into
the ratlines, Diego let go of the rope and began climbing the rest of
the way down.
bemused sailors met him at the mainsail yard.
One looked to be about ten years Diego’s senior, the second a
young man, very thin and barely out of his teens.
“Señor, the first mate sent us up to help you,” the older
sailor said. He and his
companion watched as Diego slowly but steadily negotiated the yard and
continued climbing down the ratlines.
The younger sailor reached over once to catch his arm when
Diego’s foot slipped slightly, but the older man waved him off.
Diego smiled reassuringly to both of them before continuing his
descent. “It would
seem that you do not need it, señor.
You have apparently spent time in the rigging before,” the
Diego replied briefly, concentrating on his climb. Eight feet off the deck, he let go, dropping down lightly in
front of the first mate. The
sailors followed him, the older man laughing softly, then they returned
to their duties.
Maria!” Carlos exclaimed, rushing up to him. The Filipino was still in a state of shock and stood gaping
wide-eyed at his roommate as Diego brushed himself off.
could have been killed trying such a stunt, señor,” the first
mate said sternly. His face
was pale, Diego noticed, testament to his anxiety at seeing a passenger
in the watch’s seat, no doubt.
“The watch’s seat is only for those who work on this ship,
not for the passengers,” he fussed, but his eyes had a puzzled look,
as though he was trying to figure out how a mere passenger could be so
agile in the ratlines of a rocking ship and with only one good arm.
There was admiration in the man’s eyes as well.
felt sorry for the mate, but he could not help his euphoric mood.
Before, he could not feel but a small amount of joy at his
journey home, no matter how much he wanted to.
Now he couldn’t feel the least bit unhappy about anything.
Laughing, despite the mate’s tongue-lashing, Diego explained,
“Señor, please, many pardons for startling you.
You are right, I could have been killed, but I was not ‘trying
such a stunt.’ I have
been in the rigging many times working the sails and being on watch.
I was a conscripted sailor on a British ship on my voyage west.
However, I do promise to give you fair warning the next time I
get the urge to climb.”
mate gaped at him without saying anything for a moment.
“Señor, but your arm….”
His sentence died. Finally, as Diego continued to stand before the two men
grinning, and as other passengers gathered, the mate regained his
composure and said, “You still took a terrible risk.”
I will admit that coming down was much harder then going up.
I appreciate your concern, señor.”
you spend the whole night up there?” Carlos asked incredulously,
looking up at the distant watch’s seat and shuddering.
of it,” Diego answered simply. They
both returned to the cabin, where the caballero
cleaned up for breakfast. The
bowl of fresh water was cool and refreshing as he splashed it on his
face, neck and chest.
Diego was shaving, Carlos sat on a chest and watched his roommate.
He saw something that he had not seen before.
He saw happiness and contentment.
Not just the fleeting kind that had occasionally manifested
itself, but something that was much deeper.
“Whatever possessed you to do that, my friend?” Carlos
couldn’t sleep and had the urge to climb to the watch’s seat.”
He patted his face dry and pulled on a clean shirt.
Diego, when you were on the China Star, you had the use of both
arms. You could have been
killed up there!”
laughed heartily. “Not
only do you sound like the captain’s mate, I suppose that now you also
sound like your mother,” he teased.
Carlos helped him tie his banda.
laughed along with him. “Well,
you could have.”
I could and it was a foolish thing to do. But it was something that I felt compelled to do.”
Diego adjusted his sling. He
looked in the small polished metal mirror hanging on the wall as he
combed his hair. When he
finished he turned to the younger man. “It does not bother me anymore, Carlos. I have no idea why I felt so oppressed before.
I felt as though I could never go home, even though the ship is
sailing east. Now I feel
free. Now I know it’s
happening. It is really
grin matched that of his friend.
of Diego’s nighttime sojourn aloft on the watch’s perch had reached
all the passengers by the time breakfast was served.
He had kept tight-lipped about his kidnapping and time on the China
Star, and had allowed his fellow passengers to assume that the trip
to China had been for pleasure or business. Suddenly Diego was being
plied with questions about his trip west, which, for the most part, he
now didn’t mind answering.
Alejandro,” was Doña Maria’s only comment at the end of his quick
synopsis. Diego nodded,
quickly eating a few bites of corned beef before the next question. Then he paused, wondering, as he often had, how his father
had been faring since his kidnapping.
ascended the stone steps slowly. He
was tired, deathly tired. He
stopped halfway up and gazed down at the black costume that graced his
body, a body that was still strong and virile for its age, but one that
was not invincible. It was
a body that was feeling the effects of the past weeks.
Even though younger than me, how did Diego do this, day after
day? he thought. His
knees ached, his head ached, his heart ached.
It had been months since that blessed message from Diego.
One message in months!
old man continued up the stairs and set the lantern down on the little
table that Bernardo had put in the secret room off of his bedroom so
very long ago, when he first took his son’s place as the masked
bandit, Zorro. Opening a
little drawer, he pulled out a letter, the letter.
The one that the Americano had brought him from Diego. It was worn and creased.
Some of the words were already beginning to fade from wear.
Even though he knew its contents by heart, he laid it next to the
lantern to look at it as he changed out of the costume.
Then, as he hung the cape on a peg, Alejandro felt a tap on his
shoulder. He jumped
slightly, but turned to see the concerned face of his son’s mozo.
“Ah, Bernardo, you startled me, but then I should be more
shook his head and his fingers began moving.
Bernardo. Come closer to
the light and talk more slowly. You
know that I am not as good at this as Diego is,” Alejandro said.
near the lantern, the servant began again.
Alejandro knew it was important and paid close attention.
“You heard something in the pueblo this evening?
You were behind the stable?
It was about the meeting tonight?”
Alejandro ‘translated’ wanting to make sure he understood
correctly. Bernardo nodded
and continued. As the mozo
explained, Alejandro drew in his breath in horror.
He knew that there was something afoot.
He had heard the rumors of an all out attack on the pueblo,
plans to burn and plunder the town, but he had dismissed those as
unreasonable, even a ruse to keep everyone on edge and fearful.
was going to be an attack, but not on the pueblo.
It was an attack on those meeting tonight at the Rancho Torres.
While such meetings had been taking place periodically since
Diego’s kidnapping, no one had tried to disrupt the gatherings.
The revolutionaries’ tactics had been to make lightning raids
against individual landowners and their families.
And recently, there had been almost no attacks at all.
with the lull and seeming return to peace, several of Alejandro’s
friends had already sold their lands and left for Spain, Mexico or for
the areas around Yerba Buena, which seemed more tranquil and much safer.
Alejandro had tried to inquire as to the buyer of those
properties, and the name had been the same, Juan Miguel Brazas Cadrille,
a name totally unknown to him. It
was someone that was not from around here, whose name could not even be
attached to any family’s name in Monterey or San Diego.
Alejandro knew of a Cadrille near San Diego, but about the time
of his inquiry, that man had been murdered and his great house burned to
the ground. No one person
in the family had been left alive.
He wondered who this Cadrille was.
incident had also occurred during the recent lull in the terrorism
around Los Angeles, a time when those who were optimistic said that
Zorro and the group of hacendados had discouraged the outlaws and
banditos; and those who were more cautious felt that the band of
evil men was only taking a moment to figure different tactics and pull
in new followers.
was among the proponents of the latter belief. The lull had come after Bernardo had discovered the
plans for a raid on the Rancho Torres a few weeks ago. Alejandro, disguised as Zorro, had led many of his friends to
the rescue, killing several of the revolutionaries, wounding others, but
they had been unable to capture any, to everyone’s extreme
frustration. The old man
knew that they had only retreated to lick their wounds and think of new
ways to terrorize the people of the area.
Ai! And I thought the Eagle and his brood were insidious.
These are like the sun in August, they are relentless,
continually beating down those who only want peace to work their lands
and raise their families.
mind returned to this new landowner, Cadrille. That he was amassing great tracts of developed land
with its attendant buildings, vineyards and even, in some cases, herds
of cattle were evident. Everyone
had hoped that he was a fair minded and friendly neighbor, but there was
something that bothered Alejandro about this Cadrille.
Up until now, the old don had hoped that he was just being
overly cautious. He had
even sent an invitation through the agent of the land purchases for this
Cadrille to attend the gathering. He
had hoped that meeting his new neighbor would set his mind at ease.
But he could no longer entertain such thoughts, not after
had just been out as Zorro checking to see if there was activity near
the pueblo and Don Nacho’s hacienda.
Now he was ready to change and attend the meeting himself. Now as he watched Bernardo continuing to sign, he
realized that there would be no rest tonight.
“It is so simple! So
perfectly simple!” he exclaimed.
Bernardo cautioned him to be quieter.
The walls were not soundproof.
“What better way to put the ultimate fear into the people, what
better way to crush the power of the landowners then to hit them at a
meeting? Especially when
most of the people are feeling confident that the bandits had left the
area for good? And to think
that most have assumed that these assassins would not attack the Rancho
Torres again, since they have never hit the same family or rancho
twice.” Alejandro paused,
and rubbed at his bare chin. Ai,
I miss my beard! But for
Diego, for Zorro….
Bernardo, I think this Cadrille is a front for the revolutionaries.
I think that whoever he is will not be there at the meeting
except to attack. I think
that if they succeed tonight, there will be nothing to stop their spread
throughout the whole of southern California.
Those of the old families that are still alive will join those
who have already sold their lands and left Los Angeles.
And I think it will take two Zorro’s this time.”
prepare a note. Deliver it
as you did the night that Monastario almost uncovered the secret of
Zorro. Make sure that the
lancers are following you. Do
whatever you must to get them to follow you to the Torres ranch.”
pointed to his patrón’s father and signed an inquiry.
will be riding to the Torres’ hacienda.
I really am not sure exactly what I will do when we get there.
That will come later,” Alejandro said, tying on the cape and
grabbing the hat.
servant took Alejandro’s arm and shook his head. When he had the don’s full attention, Bernardo
signed, ‘No, you need to go as Don Alejandro.
I will bring the lancers in time.’
shook his head again and signed again.
‘It will be too strange if you do not show up at the meeting.
You are one of the leaders.’
sighed. Bernardo was right.
But this was so critical. Finally
he nodded. “Yes, as much as I hate to admit it, you are right.
But just to be on the safe side, let me write a note to be
delivered separately. I will have Benito take it.
He should arrive about the time that you do.”
nodded and signed that he would go down to the cave and ready Tornado.
“We must hurry, Bernardo.”
The mozo nodded and turned to the pegs that held his
costume, the one he had altered to fit his shorter, stockier frame.
Soon Bernardo had gone down to the cave where he resaddled the
quickly wrote a message and called for the head vaquero.
Soon Benito was standing in the older man’s room, his hat in
his hands, his eyes anxious. “Benito,
you must saddle Princessa. She
is the fastest horse we have. Take
this message to the cuartel. I do not think Sergeant Garcia will be there because he will
be at the meeting at the Torres hacienda, but give this to
whoever is in charge right away. It
is a matter of life and death.”
bandits, patrón?” Benito asked.
Benito. I have been given
information that makes me believe that the Torres rancho will be
you are not going, Don Alejandro?” Benito asked, tucking the letter
into a pocket of his vest.
I am. I have to.”
Alejandro pulled on a clean chaqueta even as he spoke.
“If you hurry, there will be no need to fret.”
Benito took the hint and with a quick tilt of his head, left the
room. As Alejandro strode
down the stairs, still mindful of his stiff knees, he heard the vaquero
riding away. Soon he,
too, was on his way.
first stars were coming out just as he rode up in front of the Torres casa
grande. As a servant
held his horse while he dismounted, Alejandro wanted to tell him of the
danger, have him gather the servants and arm them, but he had no idea
who might be involved with the conspirators. That was the problem during
these past months of terror. Except
for the brief respite of the past couple of months, there had been no
faces behind these heinous crimes, the acts of wanton violence.
That was what made all of this so fearful.
A ghost could be doing these acts for all anyone knew.
was all he said, instead, allowing the servant to take the horse to the
stables. He walked through
the open gate that another servant opened for him and entered the small
patio. Another servant
opened the sala door.
gazed at each servant, trying to assess his loyalty, trying to discern
guile. But he could see
nothing. Don Nacho was by
the door to greet him. “Welcome,
my friend, welcome,” Nacho said brightly.
“Have you heard anything from Diego?”
It was almost a ritual question.
Nacho. I have not.”
soon, you will hear soon,” Nacho said.
“We only await Señor Cadrille and Sebastian and then we will be ready to begin the meeting.”
looked around, wondering how he could discreetly warn his friend.
He must be blunt. “May I see you privately for a moment, Nacho?”
stepped into the library; no one else was there. “Nacho, my friend,
this meeting is a trap. One
of my servants overheard a conversation in the pueblo and told