Pacific Odyssey:

Book I

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

The Rescue

 

 

Zorro had already assumed that he wasn’t the first one of his race in these villages.  And he was pretty sure that the individual they were referring to was Marguerita.  “I am flattered by your praise,” he told them.  Leaning toward them, he asked quietly, “May I ask if the girl is still in your camp?”           

“No, she is not,” the younger leader stated.  “She is nearby with some of our cousins, but they are so strongly convinced of their right to keep the girl that they will not give her up without a fight.”        

“And you will not take the chance of fighting against your relatives,” Zorro finished for him.  “That, I believe, is where I come in.”             

The leader smiled at him.  “This is where we get to see if you are as much like the fox as the rumors say.  However, it will be several hours before dark and before we set out.  We wish you to rest here and share our meal with us.”          

Zorro smiled back.  “It certainly will be more difficult than sneaking into the cuartel,” he admitted, suspecting that he was grossly understating the difficulty of the task ahead.  “I thank you for your hospitality.”          

The tribe did indeed share their dinner with him, which consisted of a venison stew, seasoned with locally growing herbs and plants.  Wild onions gave it a strong flavor, but it was very good, nonetheless, and Zorro was grateful for their hospitality.           

The early evening hours were spent resting and talking in the same dwelling they had met in earlier.  Not being totally aware of tribal etiquette, but wanting to bring some kind of gift, Zorro opened up a small packet he had brought from the hacienda and handed out cigars, which they all shared together.  The thin curls of smoke drifted toward the smoke hole and the brightly sparkling stars that shone through the small opening.   Soon it became late enough to begin the short journey towards the other encampment.  Removing his cape, Zorro tied it to Tornado’s saddle, afraid it would get in the way or make too much noise during this sortie.            

The youngest leader was the one who showed the outlaw the path up the mountain.  The Indian was so quiet, that Zorro felt himself straining to hear anything that would tell him the elder was still ahead of him.  Working at doing the same, he was afraid that his steps were like thunder compared to the young man’s light tread.  His guide stopped him with a light touch to his arm, and pointed to a narrow path leading to their right, making motions that, because of the presence of the girl and the commotion her disappearance had caused, the other camp would probably have a guard posted.   Then the young leader walked over to a bush near the trail and sat down to wait.  Almost immediately, he became non-distinguishable from the rest of the darkness around them.         

Zorro smiled, knowing that as soon as he began his journey toward the other camp, the young elder would most likely follow him at a discreet distance, wanting to see if he succeeded or failed.  Stealthily moving forward, like an ebony wraith, Zorro stopped every few yards to listen for any sound that might indicate someone was near.  It was a strain on even his great patience to proceed like this, but he knew the abilities of these mountain Indians.  His caution almost seemed in vain, a short while later, when an Indian launched himself from a boulder and knocked him to the ground.  But Zorro had felt that such an attack was likely, and collapsed with the young man on top of him.  He was able to roll from under the guard, jump to his feet and quickly swing his fist, which connected solidly with the young man’s jaw.  His attacker groggily got to his feet, but before he had a chance to recover, Zorro had knocked him unconscious with the hilt of his sword.  Dragging him off the trail, he sheathed his sword, took the guard’s knife, and continued to the encampment with the same caution he had used before.  The little camp, which was about half the size of the one he had rested in, soon came into view.           

The hard part was figuring out which of the bark and hide homes contained Marguerita, and he stealthily made his way around each one, trying to listen for sounds that might be those of the little girl.   It was when he was creeping around the dwellings for the third time, that he heard a soft voice murmuring in Spanish.  It sounded like a little girl’s voice, like Marguerita.  Slowly lifting the entrance flap, he let his eyes get used to the almost stygian blackness of the interior.  On the far side of the hut, he saw a small form move around and then sit up, wide eyes staring directly at him.  Ai, it was the girl! he thought, elated.  Her eyes showed recognition, even in the dimness around them, and a smile lit up her features.  Marguerita began to jump up as though to run to him.  

Quickly, he shook his head and put his finger to his lips, hoping that in the darkness she could see the gesture. The sword would be a liability trying to creep by the two bodies to get to the girl, so he quietly undid the belt holding the scabbard and left it behind him just inside the entrance of the hut.  Then he carefully began to step over the two sleeping forms in front of him.   There was practically no room.  Sleepers were compacted into an almost solid mass.  The first one groaned in his sleep and rolled against the outlaw’s foot, immediately waking up.  Zorro saw the event coming and used the knife handle across the base of his skull.  The man dropped like a stone.  The other sleeper awoke at the sound of the struggle and, grabbing his leg, pulled him to the ground.  A woman! he realized in chagrin.  And she is much quicker and more agile than her husband! Before she could make an outcry, Zorro jerked her up by one arm and held her close to his body, his gloved hand tightly covering her mouth.  She did her best to pummel him with her fists, and her teeth were sharp even through his glove, but he managed to keep his hold on her and prevent her from crying out.   It was worse than trying to control a wild horse, though.             

By the Saints! he thought.  His mind worked furiously, trying to figure a way out of this situation.   Marguerita picked up a stone ax from the ground and handed it toward him.   Not relishing the idea of hitting a woman, Zorro saw no other recourse in solving this dilemma.  Just as she was getting ready to gouge at his eyes, he reached toward the little girl, grabbed the ax and then knocked the woman unconscious.          

Marguerita watched the woman slump to the ground in satisfied silence.  Then she whispered,  Señor Zorro, you are here to take me home.”   It was a statement, not a question and Zorro nodded, again motioning for her to keep silent.  He held out his hand to help her out of the hut. 

He checked the clearing for any signs that would tell him the commotion had been heard, and was incredulous that the fight hadn’t awakened anyone else.  By the Saints, he thought, we might actually succeed in this venture.  Then he noticed the young Indian near another dwelling.  He was standing over someone lying on the ground, and Zorro realized, in gratitude, that the young man had followed him to insure his success.  He smiled and saluted him.  Silently, the Indian padded out of the camp. 

Seeing that Marguerita was barefoot, Zorro returned the sword to its proper place at his side and, gathering her up in his arms, slipped as quietly as he could out of the camp.  When they were well beyond the dwellings, Marguerita whispered in his ear.  Señor Zorro, I knew someone would come to save me.”

,” he whispered back.  “Soon you will be back in your home,” he assured her.  She smiled happily and laid her head on his chest.  A short time later, he saw his Indian guide.  Señor, it was my understanding that you would not fight against your relatives,” he said, a bit puzzled by the Indian’s actions. 

“Zorro, those were not our words.  That is what you said.  But you are right that we could not openly fight against our kin.  I only helped you in a small way.” 

“It was help that I am very grateful for.  Gracias.”   In silence, they walked the rest of the way back to the larger encampment together.  Marguerita had fallen asleep in his arms and didn’t wake up until he had arrived at the larger camp and laid her down to get Tornado.  Suddenly waking up, the girl saw the camp’s elders with Zorro, and mistakenly thought that she had been captured again.  In panic, she jumped up and grabbed Zorro’s leg, clinging to it.   The outlaw shook his head sadly, sorry for the ordeal that this child had been forced to endure.           

“Marguerita, it is all right,” he reassured her.  “These people will not hurt you.  In fact they helped me save you.  Now, I’m going to put you on my horse.  You just hang on to the saddle horn and everything will be fine.”   She let go and allowed him to set her up on Tornado.  She smiled brightly at him in relief.           

Zorro turned to the eldest leader. “I am grateful, as will be the little one’s parents.  I will be sure to impress upon them the need to maintain secrecy as to where Marguerita has been,” he reassured him.  “As you know, I am considered an outlaw, so not everyone listens to me, but I will do everything in my power to keep anyone from venturing up here for vengeance or out of curiosity.”           

“We will not be here, whether you fail or succeed in your efforts,” the old man told him solemnly. 

Looking around him, Zorro noticed that the women of the camp were taking down their shelters and gathering up supplies.   He saw almost no men and presumed that most had already gone scouting trails away from this little village.

“Good-bye, Señor Zorro, it is not likely we will ever meet again,” the elder said.          

Adios, my friends,” Zorro replied to his hosts, as he turned and led Tornado down the mountain trail.  He thought of his short time with these people.  He had felt of their quiet strength, their dignity and their resolve to live as they chose.  He experienced a sense of sadness, while at the same time wondering at his sympathies for a people considered heathen by his own people.  But then, he had felt the same way about the Indians in the Sierras.  Regardless of his own beliefs, he could not do anything but wish these people well in their quest.  Zorro looked back and saluted the watching clan leaders. 

He slowly led Tornado down the trail, Marguerita clinging to the saddle horn.  Zorro knew that she was struggling to act brave; he had seen the firm set of her mouth, the tilt of her head every time he had looked back at her in the pre-dawn light.  But he had also seen the glistening of tears in her eyes and Zorro knew how hard this had been on her.  How very frightening this must have been for her, he thought. 

As soon as the trail widened, he swung up behind the exhausted girl.  She leaned back against him, then she suddenly began sobbing, releasing all the pent up fears that she had held inside her the past three days.  Zorro stopped Tornado and took the girl into his arms, cradling her as she turned and buried her head in his chest. 

He let her cry, felt the warmth of her tears.  “I prayed, Señor Zorro.  I prayed to the Holy Mother, but no one came.  And that woman!  She was not like Mama.   She . . . she hit me and she slapped me!”   

As the little girl cried against his chest, he murmured softly, “It’s all right.  Everything is all right.  I will take you home to your mama and papa.”

“I prayed again tonight, Señor Zorro,” she said, gazing into his face with tear-filled eyes.  “And you came.”

Zorro felt his heart constrict.  He was filled with sorrow for this little girl’s pain, while feeling joy that he was the instrument of her return to her parents. 

“Thank you, Señor Zorro,” she murmured, hugging him tight.  Then she sniffled and swiped one sleeve across her nose, then wiped her eyes with the other sleeve.  Marguerita smiled up at him and then yawned. 

Zorro knew that she was exhausted, but he had to ask her some questions.   “Marguerita, can you tell me about the men who took you?  It is important."

“There was only one.  Lupe,” she said.  

“There was no one else?” he asked, remembering what the Indians had said.  Would a hills Indian be at the head of these crimes?  Zorro shook his head.  No, there had to be someone else.  “Tell me everything that happened,” Zorro prompted.  “From the time you were taken from your home.”

Sí, Señor Zorro,” the little girl said, yawning again.  “Lupe came to me and said that he wanted to show me the new colt.   So I followed him to a place behind the stables.  Then someone threw a blanket over my head.”

“Lupe?” 

Marguerita frowned and then shook her head.  “No.  I saw Lupe in front of me.  Just before I was covered with the blanket.”  She paused.

“What happened next?” Zorro queried. 

“The blanket was tight.  It was hard to breathe,” the little girl said.

“Did they talk to each other?” Zorro asked.

“Yes, but I couldn’t understand them.”

“Because of the blanket?”

Marguerita stifled a yawn.  “No, Señor Zorro.  They were talking like the Indians in the camp,” she answered.

“Both of them?”

.”  Marguerita rubbed her eyes.  “I am tired.  Will we be home soon?”

“Yes,” replied Zorro.  He nudged Tornado into a walk.  “Was there anybody else?  Did you see anything?”

“No, señor.  They did not take the blanket off me until they gave me to that horrible woman.” 

Zorro sighed.  There was almost nothing in the little girl’s story that would help him.  He would have to go back to the village and attempt to talk to Lupe.  No, they will not be there.  I will have to look for clues elsewhere, he thought.  He felt Marguerita leaning against him and knew that she would soon be falling asleep.  Then he thought about reprisals against the Indians that would assuredly take place as soon as the little girl told her story.   Somehow he would have to think of a way to keep his promise to the tribal elders.  “Marguerita,” he said.  “Do you remember me saying that some of the Indians had helped me find you?”

“Yes, Señor Zorro,” she answered.  

“Well, we must do something for them, because if they had not helped me, I would not have been able to find you.”

“But it was Lupe who took me.  Him and the other one,” she said.

“They were two bad men who took you.  If you tell Sergeant Garcia that Indians took you, soldiers will ride after all the Indians,” Zorro explained. 

“But Lupe.”

“Your Papa and I can look for Lupe,” Zorro assured her. 

“What do I say?” she asked.  Zorro outlined a very simple answer; one that would satisfy everyone while keeping the Indians from being hunted down by those seeking revenge.   “What about Mamá and Papá?”

“I will talk to them.  Then you can tell them everything that happened to you later,” Zorro said. 

“All right,” Marguerita murmured.  Soon Zorro felt the deep, even breaths and knew that she had fallen asleep.  

The sun was sitting above the eastern hills when Zorro finally saw the hacienda of Don Renaldo Montoya.  The walls of the structure were bathed in bright orange and yellow light and he felt the morning heat on his back.  It was both welcome and alarming.  Zorro was not eager to be cornered by lancers while carrying a small child with him.  Looking around, he saw no evidence of soldiers or anyone else out riding as yet.

Zorro had continued keeping to a fairly slow pace in deference to the exhausted child who had slept during most of the journey back from the mountains.  The outlaw had wrapped her in his cape to keep her warm against the chill of the night air, and she had snuggled down into it, finally feeling secure after her almost three-day ordeal.            

A shout from the Montoya hacienda told him that he had been spotted.  He thought that he saw a lancer’s horse tied up in front, but he couldn’t worry about that now.  Gently rousing the little girl to at least partial wakefulness, Zorro saw Don Renaldo and Doña Marquesa run through the gate.  The young couple looked as though they had spent another sleepless night worrying and praying.  A lancer accompanied them, and, when he saw who was approaching, he drew his pistol.            

“Stop right there, Señor Zorro, and raise your hands where I can see them,” he ordered.  The masked outlaw at least partially complied by stopping Tornado.

“Corporal Reyes, if I raise my hands, I will most likely drop the señorita on to the ground,” he said wearily.             

Giving a small cry of joy, Doña Marquesa ran up to Tornado, where she took Marguerita from Zorro.  The little girl hugged her mother’s neck and cried, her tears making tiny stains on her mother’s ruffled bodice.  “Oh, Mamá, Mamá!  I missed you so much.”  Her father took her in his arms and gave her a great hug also.  She clung to him tightly while he kissed her.          

The corporal still had his pistol aimed at Zorro’s head, so the outlaw finally complied with the soldier’s orders and raised his hands.  “You know, Corporal, I would be happy to let you know how I found the child if you would put your pistol away.”          

“How do I know that you did not take the girl in the first place?” Corporal Reyes asked, looking slightly confused, as though realizing he had asked a stupid question. 

Zorro felt a slight irritation at the obtuseness of the lancer.          

“But Zorro saved me,” Marguerita told everyone in general.  “He fought the bad men who took me into the mountains, and brought me home. He even let me wear his cape,” she added.  Zorro smiled at the girl in gratitude.  She remembered everything I told her he thought.           

Señor,” Don Renaldo said.  “I offer you the hospitality of my hacienda.”  He looked steadily at the lancer.  “And safety as well, while you tell us how you figured out the whereabouts of our dear Marguerita.”           

Reyes put his pistol away.  “I must report this to Sergeant Garcia,” he said.   He smiled as he looked upon the happy family.   “He will be happy that you found the little one.”  Mounting his horse, rode for the Pueblo de Los Angeles.           

Zorro replaced the cape.  Gracias, Don Renaldo, but I must decline your kind offer.  I do not wish to test the safety of your house if the lancers come back too soon.  I will return tonight and give you more details on how I found Marguerita,” he told them.   “The only thing I ask is that you do not allow Sergeant Garcia or anyone else ask Marguerita a lot of questions.  I will explain more tonight.”

“I understand, señor,” Don Renaldo said. 

Doña Marquesa reached up and touched his hand.  “I cannot thank you enough, Señor Zorro,” she said softly, the tears of joy glistening in her eyes. 

Zorro only nodded and smiled.  “I am simply happy that I was able to bring Marguerita back to you, señora.” 

He saluted the happy family and spurred Tornado in the direction of home.  His mood was almost euphoric, a direct antithesis to what he had felt the day before.  What Zorro was unaware of, as he rode off so very satisfied, was the thread that he had just inadvertently woven into the tapestry of his own life; a thread of very grave consequences to his entire family.

           

 

 

Chapter Three

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