Chapter Eight - Decisions
Diablo looked down at the body lying at his feet. The dead soldier looked peaceful in death, more than the magistrado and his friends would be, when he had the chance to exact his revenge on them. He had waited in hiding all day for his chance to liberate his capitán. Taking the keys from the dead guard, the corporal unlocked the door and stepped in. "Capitán, I have come to free you, so we can rightfully take back that which is ours." Silence. "Capitán," Diablo said a little louder. Villagro must be sleeping.
Going over to the bed, he saw in the dim light, the slumbering form of the former comandante. Disgusted that his leader would be sleeping when so much needed to be done, he reached over and shook Villagro, and then jerked his hand back, a short burst of fear exploding in his gut. The sleeping form was unnaturally stiff. Gaining his composure, Diablo reached over again and pulled the blanket off the bed. And found a corpse.
Cursing vehemently, Diablo realized that with his suicide, Villagro had left him to take the brunt of Mexican justice. If he had remained alive, more men could have been rallied by virtue of Villagro's rank and leadership abilities, and with promises of promotion and power. Very few of the men would follow him; Diablo had nothing to back up any promises he could make. Throwing the blanket back over the dead man in disgust, he went to the door, dragged the dead soldier into the room and left, locking the door behind him. Villagro was a weaker man than he had thought.
Rushing out of the cuartel, Diablo threw the keys into the well and taking a lancer's horse, mounted and rode quickly out of the pueblo. Then a sudden thought occurred to him. If he was going to be a wanted criminal, he might as well make the most of his fate and see how many of his enemies he could destroy as he began his new career. At least he would not have to worry about the outlaw, Zorro interfering with his activities. The Fox was dead. Laughing, Diablo continued down the road, pondering which of his two enemies he would destroy first.
That night, after making a rudimentary camp, Diablo stared into the small fire. Hernandez was the logical choice. All de Silva had done throughout the day was work on administrative details in the comandante’s office. Señor Hernandez had been complaining of fatigue much of the time since returning from Santa Barbara and would be much easier to abduct. The flames from the campfire made orange shadows across his leering face, giving him a fiendish appearance. His echoing laugh seemed to come from the depths of Hell.
The next morning, Diablo set out to implement his plans. After he had stolen peon's clothing, and changed, he rode bareback into the pueblo, not being noticed by anybody. After all, who noticed lowly peons. Entering the tavern, he held a package in one hand, and approached the innkeeper. "Señor, I have a package that I was ordered to give to the magistrado," he said, keeping his head bowed and his manner subservient.
"Upstairs, the room on the far end," the innkeeper told him, nonchalantly. And Diablo climbed slowly up the stairs, a smile playing about his lips.
De Silva paled. "When, Sergeant?"
"This morning, probably not more than two hours ago, General. I have already ordered lancers out to comb the hills."
"Good, I will accompany you back to the cuartel," de Silva informed Garcia. "Diego, I will come back and visit when I have found the magistrado. Adios." He left quickly, a worried frown on his face.
Diego had remained silent during this entire conversation, and now stared thoughtfully at the door, through which his teacher had left. "Diego, I know that look. Let the general deal with this. Your injury has not had a chance to heal completely," Alejandro admonished his son. Diego nodded absently, and continued to drink his coffee.
Soon Alejandro got up and stretched. "Now that you are awake and seemingly on the road to recovery, I am going to change into some clean clothes and freshen up a bit. I am very glad that you are better, my son. I was extremely worried about you."
"Gracias, Father. Take all the time you need. In fact, you look tired. Perhaps a nap would help."
Alejandro just smiled and limped out of the room. As soon as his father had left, Diego slipped out of the bed. A bit unsteady, he nevertheless felt well enough to do what he had decided was necessary. He had almost finished changing in the secret room, when the soft whooshing noise of the secret panel alerted him to someone's entrance. Looking up, he saw his father's eyes boring deeply into his own. "Diego, is it really necessary for you to do this so soon after having been shot?" he asked plaintively.
"Sí, Father, I believe so. From what you have told me, I can only assume that Diablo is behind this, and we know how ruthless the man is. I can also guess that the reason for the kidnapping of the magistrado is to force the general to come where the corporal can kill him, thus effecting the revenge of the two men he most hates." Diego smiled as he tied the mask on. "I am hoping that surprise will balance the scales in favor of General de Silva." There was slight pain as he adjusted the bandanna and put on the hat. "Father, do not worry, this time I will not rush stupidly into an ambush." He smiled and started down the stone steps, leaving his father standing alone in the little room.
"Be careful, Diego." Alejandro said, with a sigh. The old man noticed that his son walked a bit more sedately down the steps, and he sighed again, this time out of fear.
Zorro slowly prepared Tornado for the ride. He felt a bit lightheaded and somewhat lethargic, but felt that this, too, would pass. As he was bending down to pull up the cinch, he saw Bernardo grab the strap and motion him out of the way. Straightening up, Zorro smiled. Sometimes he felt that Bernardo must be able to read his mind.
"Gracias, Bernardo, that bending down was a little difficult," Zorro said. Bernardo signed a query as to the wisdom of Zorro's venture. Sighing, he gave the same explanation that he gave to his father. "I cannot just lay in bed and hope that all goes well. I have too much respect and admiration for the general to do that."
Bernardo smiled and signed a statement about Zorro's commitment as well. The outlaw laughed and shrugged. "I suppose so, Bernardo. I do not believe that Zorro will ever hang up the mask, at least not until all men have good hearts." Mounting, he rode Tornado out of the cave and into the bright morning sunlight. The bright light burned into his eyes, causing a slight renewal of former pain. After a few moments, he kicked the stallion into a rolling cantor that took him quickly into the pueblo.
Audaciously riding through the cuartel gates to save time, Zorro shouted for Sgt. Garcia or General de Silva. Instead he got Corporal Reyes. "Señor Zorro!" Reyes said in shock.
"If you value the lives of the general, Sergeant Garcia and the magistrado, tell me the direction that General de Silva went to find Diablo." Zorro wasn't in the mood to banter and he ignored the small group of lancers gathering.
"He received a note, that just said Rancho La Brea, and bring two thousand pesos. The general assumed that was the spot where an exchange would be made," Reyes explained. "They finally gathered the pesos together just in the last half hour."
"Gracias, Corporal. And I believe that the General and Sergeant Garcia are walking into an ambush." At Zorro's command, Tornado spun around and galloped out of the still open gates.
Reyes pondered the last statement for approximately one minute and then acted. "Lancers, to horse! We must go and warn Sergeant Garcia!"
Zorro knew that he had to push Tornado to an even faster gallop if he was going to reach the Rancho La Brea before the soldiers were ambushed. Guiding Tornado off the regular road, Zorro took a narrow path that was dangerous at this pace. "Be sure of foot, Tornado," he admonished the horse, bending over his neck a moment. The pace and rough path soon began to tell on the outlaw, but he didn't slow the stallion down.
The end of the path came out of the hills just above the La Brea tar pits and near the entrance of the rancho. As he crested the hill, Zorro finally pulled Tornado to a stop, and reconnoitered the area. To his right, about halfway down the hill, he saw slight movement that on more careful perusal revealed Diablo in hiding. The magistrado was bound, gagged, and laying to one side, while Diablo watched the trail carefully.
Soon the general's small group rode into view. The general dismounted and started for the signpost near the tar pits. As de Silva came within ten feet of his destination, Diablo started to rise up for his shot.
Zorro brought Tornado upright on his hind legs, the stallion's screaming challenge echoing among the hills. Diablo pivoted around, blanching at the sight of the masked outlaw. "You are dead!" he shouted, aiming, and as his finger squeezed back on the trigger, the magistrado kicked at the corporal's feet. The shot whistled well above the horse's head.
Laughing, Zorro kicked Tornado into a run down the hillside. Reaching Diablo, he bent down and grabbed the man by the collar, throwing him over the saddle. His head was pounding again, but he ignored it. He had accomplished his aim of thwarting Diablo's planned ambush. "Magistrado, I thank you for your help. I must deliver the prisoner and then I will return to untie you." The magistrado nodded.
Tornado made his way down to the waiting group nimbly, and Zorro unceremoniously dumped Diablo to the ground. The corporal tried to jump up and run, but de Silva's blade at his Adam's apple stopped him. "Again, Señor Zorro, you have saved me at the risk of your own life. My thanks to you, Domunar," de Silva said with great feeling.
Zorro blinked in surprise as de Silva had used a term of great honor, that of master. "Gracias, General," he said, quietly, with great feeling. "I cannot stay, I must return and untie Señor Hernandez. Adios, señores." A salute and he was riding back up the hill.
When he reached the magistrado, he very deliberately dismounted and kneeling down, untied the kidnapped man. "Magistrado, can you walk down the hill unaided? There will soon be more lancers and I must ride."
"Sí, Senor Zorro. I am grateful for your intervention yet again, gracias," the magistrado answered and began walking toward the soldiers below. Zorro watched a moment before mounting and riding back home. By the time he had reached the secret cave, he was more than ready to follow the admonition that his father had given him earlier in the day. Bernardo was patiently waiting and motioned for him to leave the horse alone and get back to bed. Zorro complied meekly.
When he awoke near sundown, he was greeted by the frowning face of Juan de Silva. "What is the matter with you, riding out this morning like that, you young idiot!?" de Silva asked, the frown slowly turning into a smile. “By the way, how does your head feel?"
Diego grinned in return. "Much better for my nap, General. And no, I have no further plans for riding anytime soon."
"Diego, your father told me what happened in Monterey when you wanted to marry the young señorita. He feels a little guilty for his role in thwarting your happiness."
"I know he does," Diego said quietly, wondering what had brought on this particular subject. The pain of that event had receded, but had never totally gone away. “But I understand now the necessity of it and I am grateful to him.”
"I am going to tell you the same thing that I told him. Do you remember me telling you a little about my beloved wife, who passed into the hereafter before I started teaching in Madrid?" Diego nodded. "She and I married when I was a young lieutenant rising in the ranks. Her father told her that the life of a soldier's wife was fraught with heartache and anxiety. Unlike most fathers, though, he would not forbid her to marry me."
De Silva walked to the balcony as he continued his story. "Rosa's father was right, I was gone when Miguel was born and was at war against England when Elesa was just a few month old. My daughter was two years old before I was able to come home. I had been able to send only one letter the whole time. Do you know what greeted me when I came home?"
Diego shook his head no. He wondered if the general was trying to discourage him or cheer him up. If it was the latter, de Silva wasn't succeeding very well.
"I found a pile of candle stubs in the flower bed under the sala window. There were six hundred and forty, to be exact. And her comment when I asked was that she had lit a candle for me every day that I was gone, with faith that I would return. She never pleaded with me to back out of an assignment, even though I could see the fear in her eyes. She showed her love, fiercely when I was home and I felt her support when I was gone."
"My point, Diego, is to find someone like that and let her help you in your quest for justice. There are many women out there who would be strong enough to bolster you up during the tough times. You cannot continue being this hero all alone. And, of course, you have to have the pleasure of raising sons and daughters."
Diego could say nothing, for the general had addressed all of his doubts and fears. Who could say what was in his future? But for some reason now, it seemed brighter and much less lonely.