Chapter Six - De Silva Takes Charge
Bernardo grabbed a pistol lying next to Rojas and ran to the sala window. In the dimness, he was able to make out Diablo standing over something on the flagstones of the patio. Something that looked horribly like the body of a man, clad in black. Jerking away from the window, Bernardo signed what he had seen with his free hand.
"Zorro?" de Silva and Alejandro asked at the same time. The manservant could see that Alejandro was almost beside himself with anxiety for his son. The hacendado grunted in pain as he heaved himself up from the settee.
"I will go and take care of Diablo and check on Bernardo's observations. We must pray that it is not Zorro, señores," de Silva said fervently. "Cpl. Reyes, follow me."
The general opened the sala door a crack and then rushed out, hiding behind a pole that held up the balustrade. Poor cover, but better than none, he thought. Reyes followed, hiding behind an adjacent one. When their eyes had adjusted to the lack of light, they could see nothing except the fallen man in the middle of the patio.
Rushing to the tree in the middle of the patio, de Silva crouched near Zorro; for he had determined that it was indeed the masked outlaw. And his heart beat fast at the thought. Motioning to Reyes, he waited until the lancer reached him and then whispered in his ear. "You stay with Señor Zorro and watch for any movement, while I reconnoiter. Do not move him or touch him, Corporal."
"Sí, General," Reyes whispered back. After a short time, the general returned and lay down his pistol.
"Diablo has left, his horse is gone. Go and get Bernardo and light a lantern. I need light to examine Señor Zorro's wound," he ordered. "And bring out Private Ortega, I may need his help as well."
With concern etched on his face, Alejandro slowly followed Bernardo out onto the patio. De Silva had removed the outlaw's hat and examined the grazing wound that the pistol ball had made along one side of Zorro's head as well as he could without taking off the mask. The mask would remain until he was alone with the outlaw. The injury had initially bled profusely, but most of the bleeding had already stopped. It was the swollen area on the other side of Zorro's head that most worried him. While not a doctor, he did have some medical training under his belt, and also battlefield experience, and the general knew that head wounds were difficult to deal with.
Looking up he saw that Reyes and Bernardo that followed his instructions and then he saw the anxious face of Alejandro de la Vega looking over him. "Is he alive?" came the husky whisper.
"Sí, Don Alejandro, he is, the pistol ball just grazed the side of his head. But I think that it is best that we find a comfortable place for him to stay until he regains consciousness," de Silva explained.
The relief was clearly etched on the old man's face. "Diego's room, the bed is comfortable and Diego will not mind."
"Reyes, Ortega, I want you to carry Señor Zorro up to Don Diego's room. He will rest there until he wakes up." The general gently untied and slipped the cloak off of the outlaw and handed it to Bernardo, along with the hat. Turning to the manservant, he said, while signing, "Bernardo, if you have a spring house, I think it would be helpful if you brought a bucket of cool water, with clean linens. Zorro hit his head when he was shot and a cool compress would do better than anything else could." Bernardo nodded and went into the house. Somehow, de Silva figured the instructions would be carried out to the letter.
Zorro was soon resting on Diego's bed and Bernardo had brought in the desired item. After giving orders to Cpl. Reyes to take the prisoner into the pueblo, and posting Pvt. Ortega outside Diego's door, de Silva removed the bandana. When he gently lifted up Zorro's head and began to untie the knot, Bernardo grabbed his wrist, shaking his head. "Bernardo, I have known the identity of El Zorro since he saved me on the highway to Santa Barbara. Diego's secret is safe with me. Trust me." Bernardo removed his hand and prepared the linen compresses. De Silva carefully pulled off the blood-encrusted mask and laid it aside. The manservant handed him one of the compresses and the general laid it against Diego's head. "Hold that there, while I clean the wound." When he had finished, he sighed. Diego had not moved or made a sound during the entire procedure. "I will go down and let Don Alejandro know what is going on. May I assume that he is aware of Diego's double life?"
De Silva walked to the door, turned and with a slight smile said quietly, "Bernardo, I have a feeling that Zorro might need a new mask. I suppose that you can find one while I am gone? Diego should be all right for a few minutes." The general slipped out the door and closed it behind him. Reassuring the guard that the outlaw was still unconscious and under the watch of the de la Vega servant, de Silva walked down the stairs.
"Don Alejandro," de Silva said. "Zorro rests comfortably, with Bernardo attending him. I cannot tell you what his condition is until he wakes up. It is hard to say with these kinds of injuries, so I will not lie to you, but I do know this. If Zorro doesn't wake up soon, and is unable to make an escape, he will be taken to the pueblo. And as a representative of the Mexican government, I can do nothing to stop it. You must pray that Señor Zorro wakes up fairly soon. I told Corporal Reyes not to rush to the cuartel, but he will have to make a report to Sergeant Garcia."
Alejandro nodded. "Thank you, General," he said. "I have grown fond of the outlaw in the past couple of years, and I can tell you I would not care for him to be captured, either."
"Zorro has been riding for, umm, two or more years now, has he not, Don Alejandro?" de Silva asked as he turned to go up the stairs. Alejandro nodded and then looked at him sharply. The general smiled enigmatically and climbed the stairs to check on the injured man. He noted that a new mask lay next to young de la Vega, and the old one had disappeared.
Bernardo was applying a new compress to the wound and as he did so, Diego began to moan and move around, making the manservant's job difficult. He groaned and began mumbling something about an uncle.
Diego came out of a vault of darkness into a spinning, whirling world from his youth. His Uncle Esteban was spinning him on a rope, which the two had hung from a lofty, old oak tree. At first it had been fun, but as his uncle kept spinning him faster and faster, his joy had turned to discomfort and then to misery. His head hurt and the world was an unkind thing that jumped and spun crazily. "Uncle Esteban, stop, por favor. Stop, please." But his uncle either did not hear him or didn't think he was serious. Finally, he had to let go.
And he woke up to a world still moving around like a storm tossed ship, with Bernardo and de Silva looking at him in concern. With a groan, he closed his eyes again to try and stop the unnatural motion. "Everything spinning, head hurts," he murmured. Diego felt his hands clenching the bed covers as though he could stop the motion by hanging on to something.
"You have a head wound that has caused the dizziness as well as the pain. The best thing for you to do is rest, but we do not have that luxury. We need to figure out a way for you to escape," General de Silva explained.
Slowly, as the pain and dizziness receded a little, Diego opened his eyes again and looked carefully at the general, avoiding moving his head more than necessary. "What happened to me? The last thing I remember is riding in anticipation of your arrival here. I thought that maybe some of Villagro's soldiers might try to assassinate you, the magistrado, and Don Alejandro. Apparently, I was right. But I can remember almost nothing beyond that," Diego said in confusion.
"After taking us hostage, Corporal Diablo laid in wait for you. Your patron saint has been watching over you well, because Diablo is a very good shot."
"You are an officer in the Mexican Army, General de Silva. Why are you helping me?" he asked. "You have a duty to bring in outlaws."
It was obvious to the general that in his injury induced confusion, Diego had not yet realized that the mask had been removed. "You are a patriot, señor, who has been branded an outlaw. I will never deliberately turn you in." De Silva smiled.
"General, did you pick Villagro for comandante of this pueblo? If so, you made a sorry choice," Diego quipped.
"Look at the bright side. One of the Lieutenants who came over from Spain with me was considered for the post. You could have been contending with José Rodriguez."
"That pompous fool? Heaven forbid," Diego retorted and then realized what he had said. His eyes widened in shock. "You know." He reached up and felt for the mask, realizing at that point that it was gone.
"Sí, Diego, I have known since you saved us on the highway going to Santa Barbara. You may not have used the sword, but the footwork still gave you away. Do you think you could fool one who knows your every move?" de Silva asked softly. "Although your skills have sharpened since you left Spain. I should have known that you would not be content to just sit back and let someone else do a job that needed to be done." De Silva's eyes gleamed with undisguised pride. "Now all we need to do is get Señor Zorro out of here and also give an alibi for you."
"You rest here quietly while I go to see if there is anything that might help ease the pain and dizziness. Oh, and there is a guard posted at the door. I had no choice in that, we have to keep up pretenses, and that is what makes this difficult." He left, closing the door behind him.
Bernardo immediately began signing to him. "Stop, Bernardo," Diego finally said after watching awhile. "Your fingers moving around like that are making me more dizzy, and I think I know what you are saying. I wish it were as simple as going through the secret entrance. The problem is trying to explain how I got out of here with a head wound and a guard at the door. I have to escape in a way that would be plausible if anyone was patrolling outside." He closed his eyes and pondered a moment, wishing the pain in his head would go away. When he heard the door latch click, he opened them again.
General de Silva had a mug of wine and a bottle of medicine. "This is the best I can do. It is a pain medicine, but it also has a tendency to make one sleepy. I really do not like the idea of giving you a narcotic with your injury...."
"Then I should not take it," Diego interrupted de Silva. "The light-headedness is receding a bit, and the pain is tolerable. And in light of the only solution I can think of, I do not need to be drugged."
"Over the balcony on your horse?" de Silva asked. Diego looked up at him steadily, not making any sudden moves.
"Sí, general. That is the only other exit."
"Yes, if we can pull it off, then we can say that you overpowered me and made your escape. No one else knows, but us, the extent of your injury," de Silva thought out loud. "I assume your horse will stand still while you get down to him?"
"Sí, he will stand as long as I ask him to," Diego told him. Reaching over to the general, he tried to grab his arm, but seeing the blood on his sleeve, he stopped. "It would seem that you are injured as well, General," he pointed out.
"Just a flesh wound." Holding out with his other arm, de Silva let Diego grab it and pull himself up to a sitting position. Although the vertigo was almost overwhelming, the injured man nevertheless stayed upright, while Bernardo tied on the new mask. Soon, he was trying to ease himself off of the bed. Bernardo stood on one side to help steady him, and Zorro held on to de Silva's shoulder for balance.
De Silva motioned toward the balcony. "Bernardo, open up the balcony door. We will have at least a little advance warning when the lancers come. And put out the candles. We show up too much on this open balcony. Oh, and by the way, Bernardo, I am most gratified at the speed with which your hearing has returned. I would almost say it was miraculous." The manservant smiled sheepishly at the general as he carried out the instructions. Zorro chuckled at the servant's discomfiture.
"Señor, whistle for your horse," de Silva told Zorro. Making his way slowly to the railing, the outlaw complied. Then as Tornado galloped up to the window, Zorro looked down and had the disconcerting feeling of falling off a cliff. His stomach churned and he felt bile rising in his throat.
"I should not have done that," he murmured, gripping the railing tightly. It was at that moment that the booming voice of Sgt. Garcia echoed from the front of the hacienda.