Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

Questions with No Answers

 

 

One morning, over three weeks into the Isadore’s voyage, the ship’s physician/purser, Señor del Rio ordered Diego into his office.  Upon examination, del Rio informed the young man that his shoulder was healed.  Diego tossed the sling away.   He felt that the injury had healed long before this time and said so as the doctor checked the motion of his shoulder.  “Four weeks is not too long for a shoulder to heal, Señor de la Vega,” the doctor said as he poked and prodded.  

“Four weeks?” Diego cried.  “It has been closer to six!”

“Perhaps if you had been a little less tight lipped and had let me know, you might have been free a bit sooner,” the doctor retorted.  “But still, be careful for the next few days that you not do anything foolish and reinjure the muscles and the joint.”

Diego just nodded.  He had been so wrapped in his own problems that he had not even thought of time and his injury.   But now?  Now he was free, he was rid of the accursed sling for good.           

Diego continued practicing wushu, remembering all he had been taught, and he now felt more at peace with the incredible power of the martial art, realizing at the same time the limits with which his abbreviated training had left him.  Now he added to the exercise, the ability of using both hands.  It was awkward at first, now that there was a change in balance, but, remembering the Captain of the Guard’s movements, he was able to adjust.             

George and Carlos were amazed at the fluidity of Diego’s movements when they watched him practice.  “Diego, I notice that you have a sword,” Carlos said one day when the exercise was concluded.  He pointed to the weapon hanging on the wall.  Diego just shrugged.  “May I ask if the natural agility and grace which you exhibit with this Chinese art also carries over to fencing?”            

“You give me too much credit, Carlos,” Diego said self-consciously.  “I did learn some swordsmanship from my father, but choose not to use a blade much.  This blade holds sentimental value for me.  I am taking it home to place on the wall of our sala.”  Without even thinking about it, Diego was beginning to slip back to some of the patterns of behavior he had exhibited in Los Angeles since taking on the role of Zorro.

After Diego’s shoulder was back to full strength, he and Carlos began practicing the wushu together, as the caballero had shown him some of the moves.  Sometimes George joined in, but at first, this made Diego very nervous and he only taught the young man some of the basic moves the Captain of the Imperial Guard had shown him.   “George, I broke a man’s leg using the wushu.  I would not wish to hurt you, even accidentally.   Let me teach you a few simple things and then we will see,” Diego explained.  George was disappointed, but didn’t argue.

 

                                          ==================

   

Diego found the boy was correct when he had said that learning a second language was difficult for him.   Even though George earnestly tried, the boy’s progress was very slow.  Eventually, though, George had enough of a grasp of Spanish that he could get by in most conversations without too much trouble. 

The young man was pleased that he could now understand much of what was going on around him, without forcing his benefactor to endlessly translate.  The two still spoke English occasionally, and one day when they were conversing, George noticed something he hadn’t caught before. “Don Diego, you even sound like Uncle George did,” he said. Diego looked at him curiously.  “I don’t mean your voice is the same, but the way you say the words is exactly the way he did,” George added.           

“I made your uncle work with me to perfect my diction of the English words,” Diego said thoughtfully.  “It was not enough for me to just know what the words were, I wanted to pronounce them in the English way.  You have to remember your uncle was my only teacher.”

Just as the boy’s namesake had worked with Diego to perfect his English, the young Californiano continued to work with George on his Spanish, usually in the cabin where it was much quieter and where the boy could concentrate easier.  One day as they conversed, Diego pondered his homecoming and saw himself riding into the pueblo and then to the hacienda.  He pictured himself in his father’s embrace, an embrace made warmer and more special by the circumstances of their separation.   

Then he wondered about his kidnapers, the revolutionaries from Mexico.  Would they still be around when he got home?  Surely not!  Not after all this time.  Diego paused in his optimistic thinking.  But they had been methodical and patient before he left, striking each target with slow deliberation.  Then a thought that chilled him to the marrow entered his mind.   What if they had struck down Bernardo . . . or even more horrifying, his father.  No! his mind cried out.  His face must have reflected his thoughts.

“Don Diego.  Don Diego!” George called out, tugging on his sleeve. 

Jerking himself back to the present, Diego gazed down at the boy. 

“Are you all right?” he asked.  “You look upset.”

“Yes, George.  I am fine.”  Diego paused, noticing Carlos studying him intently over the top of his book as he lay in his bunk.  “You go and see if my laundry is done,” he told the boy.  With a nod, George scampered out of the cabin and down the corridor. 

“Carlos, before you came, did you get any news from Mexico?” he asked. 

“Nothing newer than six months,” came the reply.  He saw that Diego wanted more.  “Mother was worried about the independence movement.”

“Any specifics?” 

“Only that there were some people very vocal about breaking away from Spain,” Carlos added. 

“And violent?” 

“That is a given, Diego.  We have independence movements of our own, some advocating violent overthrow of the government in Manila,” Carlos replied.   “Are you worried about your kidnapers?”

“Yes,” Diego responded.  “I keep thinking that by now they would have been stopped, captured or killed somehow.  But I cannot help but feel that they will still be there when I get home.” He paused and paced the confines of the smallish cabin.  “What is worse is if they have done something to my father.  Or if, after all this time, he has lost hope and given up the land.” 

“If your father got your letter, I doubt that he would have given up hope,” Carlos said with a reassuring smile.  “Not if he is like you.” 

“Yes, on that you are right.  But whether they have killed him, I do not know.  I pray not.”

“As do I.  But you certainly will not know for sure until you get home,” Carlos finished his friend’s thought.  

“No, I won’t,” Diego murmured.

“What will you do if they are still there, Diego?”

“I am not sure, but if they have harmed my father, I will hunt them down.  All the way to Mexico, if I must!”  His voice rang with conviction even as he felt the uncertainty of the future.  And Carlos felt a chill knowing that his friend would do just what he had said.  He gazed meaningfully at Diego.  They had spent a great deal of their copious amounts of leisure time talking about their homes and families.  Carlos had received the impression that Diego was not a fighter, at least in the physical sense.  While his friend had strong views about justice and equality, they were not views that included force.  Diego practiced the wushu, but stressed often that it was not because he wanted to fight anyone.  Even though his friend was much more candid than he had been at the beginning of the voyage, it was still as though there was a hidden Diego, one that could be dangerous if provoked.   Perhaps, thought Carlos, what has happened to him has ignited a spark of the avenger, the fighter in Diego’s soul.   But he wondered.   And in that wondering, he continued to feel that there was some other person hidden beneath the scholar, someone who would very much fight for that which he believed to be right.

 

                               ================================

   

Standing on the poop deck at the top of the stairs leading down to the quarterdeck, Carlos chuckled.  Diego was at the bow, looking eastward, explaining something to young George.  The gestures were expansive and the Filipino figured that the topic was the land of Diego’s nativity.  Turning, Carlos descended the stairs and entered their cabin.  He grimaced at the pile of books and clothing on his bed.  Why do I do this? he asked himself. It was always the same; he started an organizational plan and never finished.  His mother compared him to the sneaky little birds that often stole bits of things here and there.  The nests of such birds were explosions of buttons, beads, thread and cloth.   This time, though, he would finish his cleaning project.  It was not fair for his roommate to have to suffer because of his personal neglect. 

Opening up the shared wardrobe, he pulled out a saddlebag, Diego’s, and put it on the floor next to his feet.  Silken black cloth spilled out between the loosened straps.  Knowing that Diego had not worn anything that was inside, he nevertheless felt that the contents were important to his roommate.  The Californiano had refused to let George do anything with it earlier in the voyage.  

As he pulled out the black clothing and began folding, he saw a smaller dark cloth fall out.  Picking it up, Carlos was shocked to see that it was a mask.  What in the world would Diego need a mask for?  Then he relaxed.  A party, surely, a masquerade party, he thought.  Then he tensed again.  But in China?  More than ever, Carlos felt that there was a hidden Diego, a side of his friend that he had no idea about.  But at this point, he would not ask his friend about the contents of the mysterious saddlebag.   Somehow, despite the ominous nature of masks, Carlos still felt an innate trust for his friend.   To totally assuage his curiosity and the slight tendrils of suspicion, he would keep his eyes open.

Carlos finished folding the clothes, stowed the bag and then folded and stowed his own clothes.  As he was removing the last of his things from the top of his bed, Carlos heard Diego and George entering the room.  He simply smiled at their open-mouthed wonder as they stared at his cleaned-off bed.

                           

                                    =========================

   

The unusually strong winds that sped the Spanish cargo ship east toward the California coast sometimes made sleeping a tenuous affair, especially the night that Carlos practically fell out of bed.  Catching himself, the young Filipino gazed around the room, fully waking up and letting his eyes adjust to the dim light that came through their gallery window.  

He saw young George sleeping peacefully on his pallet under the window, but saw that Diego’s bed was empty.  While it was nothing unusual for his roommate to be up during the night, Carlos was curious as to whether Diego was up in the watch’s perch this time, practicing the wushu on the quarterdeck under the amused gaze of the watch, or simply wandering the decks.  The Filipino chuckled, remembering the time he had teased his Californiano companion, accusing him of being related to the bats or foxes.  Diego had laughed along with him, but there had also been a serious longing in his eyes as well, as though something he said had triggered a memory.  He shook his head and then noticed that the sword was missing from its hook on the wall.  Did Diego put it somewhere else? he wondered.  Then he remembered it being there when they went to bed.  Truly curious now, Carlos quietly slid from his bed and threw on his trousers and a dark shirt.  He may have been curious, but he didn’t want to have a long, drawn out conversation with a watch wondering what two passengers were doing out late at night. 

Padding down the corridor, Carlos walked just enough out on to the quarterdeck to glance around.  The watch was leaning against the mizzenmast talking to the helmsman.  Of Diego, Carlos could see no sign.  Large puffy clouds scudded across the sky making it hard to see the watch’s perch, but the Filipino didn’t think there was anyone there.  Quietly, he climbed the steep stairs that were more like ladders, to check out the poop deck.  When his head was level with the upper deck, he stopped and peered into the dimness.  At first he couldn’t see anything, but then near the far railing Carlos saw movement.  It was almost impossible to follow the dark figure, which practically glided across the deck, shrouded in dark cloth.   Then the moon peaked from behind a cloud for moment and Carlos saw the glint of moonlight against steel and saw with more clarity what was on the poop deck.  It was a man, clothed entirely in black, even to a dark headscarf and black mask, practicing with a sword.  The moon was obscured again and Carlos could only barely make out the motions of the figure, but he knew what he was looking for.  

Carlos did not doubt that he was watching his roommate, even though Diego had dismissed the notion that he was a fencer.  This figure on the poop deck had the smooth grace of a master swordsman and, again, Carlos was struck with the enigma that was Diego de la Vega.  Then the Filipino realized that the clothing was the same as that which he had discovered in the saddlebag in the wardrobe. What is he hiding?  Why doesn’t he want me to know his skills?  Fascinated, Carlos watched for several more minutes, occasionally looking behind him to see if the watch had spotted either one of them. Somehow, Carlos didn’t believe that Diego had told the sailor of his intentions.  

Diego parried and thrust his imaginary opponent, dancing forward and back with a grace and athleticism that astonished the young man.  Periodically, Diego looked toward the quarterdeck to see if he was being observed, but Carlos managed to duck every time that happened.  By practicing near the aft rail, Diego was virtually hidden from the view of those below on the quarterdeck.  Carlos was most vulnerable to detection, but his dark clothing, combined with his statue stillness had rendered him almost invisible.  It also helped that the two watchmen were deep in conversation as well.  

Finally, reluctantly, Carlos pulled himself away and slipped back into the cabin.  Taking off his shirt and trousers, he lay in his bed, pondering what he had seen for a short while before dozing off.  A slight swishing noise caused him to open his eyes just enough to see Diego climbing through the gallery window.  Carlos almost gasped in surprise; the resemblance to a large bird of prey or to one of the great bats of the tropics was uncanny.  Again Carlos was tempted to say something to his roommate, but he refrained.  Diego paused near the window, gazing first down at George, still sleeping soundly near his feet and then he gazed at Carlos, who had snapped his eyes shut and feigned sleep, and was maintaining a deep, even breathing pattern.  Only when the Filipino heard slight movement away from the window and from him did he open his eyes to mere slits, watching as Diego unbuckled the sword and hung it back on the wall.  The costume soon followed and within moments Diego was himself in bed, his breathing telling Carlos that his friend had quickly fallen asleep. The young man contemplated what he had witnessed for a while longer before, he, too, slipped off to sleep.  

 The next morning, Diego was up early, standing at the forecastle railing, feeling the salt laden breeze flowing around his body.  He saw several sea birds high above the masts and knew they were near land.  Not California, it was too soon.  Perhaps the Sandwich Isles.  Either way, he could feel the closeness of his native land.  He wished he could, by his very will, speed up the ship, but he reminded himself just how lucky he was that these easterly flowing winds were so unusually strong right now, after a few days of near calm several weeks ago.  The east trade winds normally were much further north and much less steady.  He gave a quick prayer of gratitude to the Holy Mother and the santos for their intercession.  

He thought of his workout during the night and was pleased.  It had gone well, he had not been detected and he had found that he had not lost any of his quickness or ability.  If anything, the wushu had enhanced his agility.  Somehow, Diego thought that all of his skills would be needed when he got home, so he had determined to continue to look for clandestine opportunities to practice with the sword.   

As he had before, Diego felt his heart constrict with fear; a deep fear of the unknown.  Soon, his soul said.   Soon you will be home.  Soon your fears, your yearning, your hopes will be action….

 

 

Chapter Nine
Chapter One
Pacific Odyssey Main Page
Zorro Contents
Main Page