Chapter Seven - Zorro's Escape
"I believe that I have thought of a way to give Diego an alibi, but I will need your help, Bernardo," the general said to the anxious mute.
"What do you have in mind, General?" Zorro asked, in a low voice. The world continued to spin and dance out of control.
"You will take the stallion to where ever it is that you go when you are Zorro, and Bernardo will help you change into your regular clothes. Then he will take you somewhere to be found. The story will be that you were thrown from your horse, hitting your head on a rock, with the horse's hoof grazing your skull," de Silva explained. "But you will have to remember that you were thrown from your horse and hit your head on a rock."
"I do not think I can do this, General," Zorro answered softly, trying desperately to gain control over his lack of equilibrium. It was extremely disconcerting, and he felt he was losing a battle over control of his own body. The pain in his head was like drums beating incessantly and the only thing keeping him up was the grip he had on the railing of the balcony, a grip so hard that his fingers hurt.
"Zorro, you must do it; you have to get away from here," de Silva told him, anxiously. Afraid that his former student might very well be right, he nevertheless pleaded with him to try. He was afraid that Diego's hold on consciousness was limited. Desperation brought sudden inspiration. "Does it help if you keep your eyes closed when you move around?"
"Sí, a little."
"Then use your hands to guide you, and listen to my directions carefully," de Silva said. Zorro took a deep breath in anticipation. "Keep a tight grip on the railing and go ahead and swing over it. Your horse is directly below you. Just slide down, use your hands to hold on until you feel the stallion's back under your feet," de Silva instructed him. All of the old training came into play. Zorro followed each direction explicitly as it was given and when he felt Tornado's back, he positioned himself and then let go of the railing, grabbing the horse's mane with both hands as soon as he had his seat.
"Tornado, the cave. Go to the cave, boy," Zorro told the horse. Tornado galloped off in a circular path that would eventually take the pair to the secret cave.
As he watched Zorro ride away, de Silva breathed a sigh of relief, very much aware that this ordeal wasn't over yet. Turning to the increasingly anxious manservant, he gave the next set of instructions. "I want you to hit me with enough force to bring up a nice bruise. Then hide. As soon as I make my excuses and leave, go to Diego. Do whatever you must do to follow the plan, but be as careful as you can with him. His injury is serious and all of this riding is not doing him any good."
Bernardo cocked his fist back but couldn't quite get himself to throw the punch. "Do it, Bernardo, to protect Diego, you must do it."
Bernardo threw a punch that sent the general to the floor. Looking up at the manservant, de Silva just smiled, felt his jaw and then called out for help as Bernardo hid in the wardrobe. The general knew Don Diego's secret, but apparently saw no need to know any more than that. The mozo waited, listening to de Silva's shouting for help and his hurried explanations, coming out only when he heard the door latch click. Peering out and seeing no one, Bernardo rushed to the secret passageway.
Gathering up Don Diego's clothes, Bernardo lit a lantern, and dashed down the stone staircase. He still felt that his idea had been the better one, but to his relief, as he entered the main cave, he heard Tornado snorting. Zorro had already dismounted and was lying on a pile of hay.
Bernardo gently slid off the mask. "Just let me sleep, Bernardo. Leave me alone," Diego murmured, trying to push the manservant's hand away. Despite his protests, Bernardo soon had Don Diego in his own clothes and ready to ride.
By this time, Diego was a little more lucid and sat up looking steadily at the mute. "You are serious about me getting back up on a horse," he said. Bernardo nodded. Diego groaned. "You cannot imagine the nightmare that short journey was on Tornado, and he is smooth gaited. It was like being on a ship in a storm. In a hurricane," he added with a tight smile. Bernardo smiled back and shrugged.
Diego lay back down. "Head still hurts abominably, and now all I want to do is sleep. If you have any intentions of getting me up on another horse, you had better do it soon. I really don’t know how long I can stay awake." Bernardo signed his intention of getting a couple of horses from the corral, asking Don Diego if he would be all right while he was away. Diego just gave a slight wave of his hand and rolled over on the hay.
The mute frowned slightly and left. Diego slipped into a sleep that Bernardo had difficulty waking him from when he returned a short while later. Shaking the caballero's arm, the manservant was almost in a panic by the time Diego finally woke up enough to blink groggily at him.
Diego tried desperately to remember what he was doing lying in the cave, but his mind was working sluggishly. Bernardo helped him up on a horse and then mounted behind him. As they left the cave, pieces of memory began to place themselves in no particular order in his brain. "I fell off my horse and hit my head, is that what happened, Bernardo?" he asked, confused. Bernardo gave him a one-handed sign for yes, because he didn't know what else to tell him. "Where are we going?" was Diego's next question.
Of course, the manservant couldn't answer, his hands were busy with the reins of the horse behind as well as keeping his patrón in the saddle. He was beginning to feel a bit desperate, as Don Diego seemed more and more bewildered. Reaching a fairly well traveled road not too far from the hacienda, Bernardo dismounted and helped the injured man down from the horse. Don Diego was unconscious almost before he was off the horse. Worried, Bernardo, nevertheless ran off one of the horses, mounted the other, and rode back to the hacienda, entering the house as unobtrusively as he could. He gave a signal to Don Alejandro.
"Zorro may have been grazed by that pistol ball, but he was not injured so much that he could not give me this as he escaped,” de Silva rubbed his jaw in emphasis as he spoke to Sgt. Garcia. The bruise was coloring nicely, Bernardo noted.
"Yes, that rascal of a Zorro always seems to escape, even when it does not seem possible for him to do so," Garcia commented sagely.
Walking up to Don Alejandro, Bernardo tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention, then he started signing that Don Diego's horse had come back to the hacienda without him. "Diego's horse came back riderless?" Alejandro asked in confirmation, his voice rising in fatherly concern. Bernardo nodded.
"He might have been thrown," Sgt. Garcia conjectured, a worried frown on his face. "And Corporal Diablo is out there somewhere, too."
"Sergeant Garcia, we must go out and look for young de la Vega," de Silva said. Soon the general and the lancers were riding away from the hacienda in two groups, in the same direction that the mute had indicated the horse had come in from. A waxing moon had risen and was aiding the searchers.
It was only a short time later that Sgt. Garcia discovered Diego, lying motionless by the side of a dusty road. As he gently turned the injured man over, Diego slowly opened his eyes, and gave Garcia a puzzled look. "Thrown....Horse.....My head....So tired," he whispered, and then he lost consciousness again in the sergeant's arms.
"It is all right, Don Diego, we will get you home." Garcia held him as a lancer approached with a lantern. "Corporal Reyes, fire your musket. That will inform the others that we have found Don Diego. And then send someone to the hacienda to bring a carriage. I do not think that he needs to be put on a horse." All of his orders were complied with quickly as he gazed uneasily at his injured friend. A short time later, Diego was safely at home and under the care of General de Silva. After checking the gunshot wound and applying a bandage, the general, along with Bernardo took turns throughout the night watching over Diego. Alejandro sat awake in the sala, praying silently. During the early morning hours, Alejandro stiffly and painfully, made his way up the stairs and took his turn at the bedside of his son. Throughout the entire day, Diego remained unconscious. It was near midnight when the caballero finally awoke.
A small candle dimly illuminated the room. Bernardo was sleeping by the bedside in a chair, and Diego looked at him, wondering what had happened that he was lying in his own bed with a bandage wrapped around his head. Feeling a spot on one side of his head, he got the answer for the bandage, but for the life of him, couldn't remember how he was injured.
The next time he awoke it was to the smell of steaming coffee. His father was reclining in the chair, sipping his coffee. Another cup sat on the bed stand, and Diego surmised that it must have just been brought in. Seeing his father's bandaged leg, he tried to remember the events of the previous day, and slowly some of his past reordered itself in coherent patterns.
Looking up, Alejandro saw Diego gazing at him with a slight frown on his face. "Diego, my son, you have finally awakened. How do you feel?" he asked, the relief evident in his voice.
"Confused, Father. I feel as though I have missed something, not the least of which is the reason for the bandage on my head. I keep thinking of being thrown off a horse, but I also keep seeing images of a pistol going off in the dark." Diego reached for the coffee and sipped it as he waited for his father to explain things.
When Alejandro had completed the account, Diego was astonished. "I have been asleep for over a day? And General de Silva knows about Zorro? I wish I could remember," he shook his head and winced at a momentary sharp pain.
A short time later, the general arrived at the hacienda, inquiring into the well being of young de la Vega. He beamed as he came into Diego's room. "I am happy that you are recovering so well, Diego, my boy. You really had me worried the night before last."
Diego just smiled. He sat up, his back was stiff and sore.
"Any lingering pain or dizziness?" de Silva asked.
"Just a bit of pain every once in a while," Diego answered. "General, who gave you that illustrious shiner on your cheek?"
"Bernardo did," de Silva laughed. "It was all part of the cover-up, but he did not have to do it quite so well."
Diego laughed along with his teacher. It felt good to banter comfortably like this once more. It reminded him of the days in Spain, with the only thing missing, being Fernando. He sighed, "You know, General, I really hated having to deceive you the way I did."
"And I am sorry for the way I treated you, Diego. Whether you had given up your military skills or not, I should not have been so harsh."
"I suppose that one act deserved the other, but it is over," Diego said quietly.
"You need never fear that I will compromise your position either, Diego. This was not exactly what I had in mind for a position of leadership among your people, but I believe that I am even more proud of this accomplishment then if you had become a leader of a battalion. Your role has taken great courage and sacrifice." De Silva's eyes shone with pride. He noticed the same light in his father's eyes.
Diego felt a bit self-conscious. "It was only what was necessary at the time and it seems to have escalated into more than I had ever planned."
A knock at the door interrupted the conversation and at Diego's 'enter,' Sgt. Garcia came into the room and saluted. He appeared to be highly agitated. "Many pardons, General, Don Diego. Oh, I am so glad to see you feeling better," he told Diego, then remembered his errand. "General, the magistrado has been kidnapped."