European Encounter

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three -- The Rescue

 

 

Each evening until they reached Heidelberg, Diego and Fernando were endlessly practicing to hone their fencing skills. Gen. de Silva was a hard taskmaster, but he saw the small improvements each time his two pupils worked out. Fernando had the makings of a great instructor someday; not only was he a good fencer, but he often pointed out his own or Diego’s mistakes before de Silva was able to say anything.

Diego had an innate talent that only seemed to increase with time and practice. The general saw that the Californio had a joy for fencing that only enhanced his skill. Sometimes de Silva had to rein him in, when Diego’s exuberance threatened to cause him to forget the stringent rules of sport fencing. De Silva saw in Diego, a high-ranking officer in the defense of his homeland someday.

After arriving at the small city, which their proud hosts told them was home to the oldest university in all of Deutschland, they settled into their living quarters. Before Diego and Fernando could even think of looking around the city that seemed to be pressed between the Neckar River and the mountainside, General de Silva knocked at their door and ordered them to the gymnasium where the tournament was going to be held.

The pair gazed at each other with looks of amusement, and then gathering up their sabers and foils, followed their fencing master to the large building. After a brief, but intensive workout, the two young men were finally given their freedom, with the admonition to return to their rooms fairly early in the evening.

Fernando looked a bit sour.  Diego just laughed at his roommate. "Don Fernando, you will get the opportunity to sight-see and meet the Fräuleins at the conclusion of the tournament."

"As will you, Diego, your demeanor does not fool me for one minute," Fernando teased the Californio.

", but I have found no one who would appreciate the wild beauty of my homeland," Diego said in explanation of his aloofness in matters of the heart. "And I will be returning to my homeland someday, with no intention of leaving it again. I will find my señora in California," he said with a bit of a faraway look in his eyes, before coming back to his present surroundings. "But I, too, would not mind talking a bit with the Heidelberg Fräuleins, when the tournament is over," he added brightly.

The pair enjoyed an evening in the local Gasthaus, sampling a dish of fried potatoes and wienerschnitzel along with a glass of the local beer.  They also chuckled in amusement at the diners who were already assessing the skills of those who were competing in the tournament in two days.  Apparently, the local citizens liked to bet on sporting events as much here as in his native California, Diego thought to himself.

The next two days were a blur of practice and more practice, with Gen. de Silva finally relenting on the afternoon of the last day of before competition began. Diego immediately retired to their room for a few hours of rest.  Fernando shook his head in disbelief; "I cannot believe that you are going to take a rest when we have an entire afternoon and evening to enjoy the sights."

"I am older than you are, so let your elder have a bit of relaxation in peace," Diego quipped, with a wry smile. Even his nights were filled with dreams of swords and fencing tournaments.  In a way he would be glad for this to be over and the stress and endless drills finished, even as much as he loved wielding the sword.

"You are hopeless, but so be it, I will meet you in town, later," Fernando answered and left. Diego lay on his bed awhile and then, feeling restless, changed out of his practice clothes, and went on a short sightseeing trip to the Schloß on the side of the mountain.   Passing by the inn where Rodriguez and his mentor were staying, he hoped that he might have a chance to talk to Bernardo, but Diego didn’t see the manservant. He climbed up the mountain and found the old castle fascinating. Looking out over the river and town, he saw how the feudal barons controlled their estates with vantage points such as this one.

The tournament began early the next morning, and the late afternoon found all the Spaniards advancing to matches to be held the following day. The second day of the tourney was more difficult for the Spanish contingent, but all three would continue on into the quarterfinals the next day.

The following day, after two hard fought matches, Diego was exuberant in the knowledge of his advancement to the finals, but he felt badly for Fernando, who had been defeated in the quarterfinals. Rodriguez had been defeated in the semifinal match, and Diego couldn’t help but be relieved that he had not had to contend against José Rodriguez, because he felt that it would have been a grudge match, rather than a sporting event.

As Diego was putting away his blade and cooling off, de Silva handed him a note, which looked to be hastily written. It puzzled him that Rodriguez’ name had been scratched off and his written in. "Diego, I received this during your last match." Thanking him, Diego turned away and opened the paper.

He blanched as he read the plea from Bernardo, who had been incarcerated in the local jail for the past two and a half days.  Looking up, he saw Fernando studying him with concern.  Snatching up his accoutrements, he motioned to his roommate and they left together. "Fernando, we must go the town hall. Bernardo was arrested and has been in jail for almost three days. I cannot believe that José would not pay the fine and get him out."

Within an hour, the pair was in front of a magistrate, listening to details of the arrest, trial and sentencing. Diego was incredulous.  "Sir, the idea that this man is a spy is ludicrous, to say the least, and who would not think to defend themselves when grabbed from behind. As to the argument that he pretended to be deaf, how else would he get directions, when he could not understand German." As he became more agitated, his voice grew louder.

Fernando seldom saw his friend totally lose his temper, but was seeing the signs of it now and decided it was time to intervene. "I would like to introduce myself, Herr Burgermeister, I am Fernando Miguel Carroza y Arana, the nephew of King Ferdinand of Spain," he lied, hedging a bit on his relationship with his royal cousin. Saying he was a nephew to the king, instead of cousin, usually got better results, and this was one of them. The magistrate’s eyes almost bugged out.

"Oh, sir, was the prisoner your manservant? Someone else came in and said the prisoner was his servant and that if he had been spying, then he deserved his punishment. The servant is on his way to Stuttgart with several guards. There is nothing that can be done now," he said in a condescending voice, slowly regaining his composure.

"No, he is not my manservant, but if you wish to avoid an incident with Spain, then you will write a note exonerating the man and someone fast to deliver it," Fernando hissed between clenched teeth. "The servant is a Spanish citizen and was not given a fair trial with adequate representation.  Do you understand what I am saying?"

"Yes, your highness, but even for the king himself, I cannot give pardon to such a one as a manservant, who has more or less been declared a spy by his own master. You will have to take that up with the servant’s former master. When you get him into court, then I can order the servant returned for another trial." He showed the two Spaniards the letter telling of Bernardo’s strange behavior, and Diego wished he had José in front of him now.

With a twinge of guilt, the Californio realized that all of this was probably directed against him. It would seem that somehow José knew of Bernardo’s plans. The manservant may have already told him of Diego’s proposal.

Seeing no immediate solution, Fernando pulled Diego from the room and left the building. "Diego, we must go and see Rodriguez right away, and then tomorrow I can take him to the magistrate and get this straightened out. Let me handle this and you concentrate on winning the match tomorrow with the Prussian." Diego nodded absently, but when Fernando left their room to confront José, he acted without hesitation.

Changing quickly into the darkest clothes that he had, and taking his saber, the caballero left the university just before the sun set.  Remembering an incident back home in California, when the black colt he had named Tornado, had quietly approached him unseen from behind one night, he realized that he could do the same thing with Bernardo’s guards. With a chuckle, Diego remembered that Tornado had almost caused him heart failure; he was so totally invisible in the darkness.

At a local clothier, he purchased a black cloak and a bit of black cloth. At the stable, he rented the fastest horse that the man had, thanking his patron Saint that the animal was also a deep, dark brown in color.

Out on the Straß, he asked for directions to Stuttgart, and found that there was only one road going there from Heidelberg. Immediately, Diego took it, pushing the horse at a fast gallop, only intermittently slowing down to a cantor.

Diego caught up with the guards and their prisoner after riding for only a few hours. Apparently a stop for dinner had been made. Tying the cloth around the lower half of his face, he pulled his hat down over his eyes a bit and loosened his sword in its scabbard. Then he rode up to the last guard in the small procession and knocked him to the ground with his fist.

The man pulled out a pistol and aimed it at him, but Diego reached down with the point of his sword and jerked the weapon out of the man’s grasp. Snatching it from the air and he aimed it at the two remaining guards. "Drop your weapons to the ground," he ordered. "Schnell!" he shouted, when they were slow to comply. They threw down their pistols.  It was then that he saw Bernardo gesticulating with his manacled hands, and when the fallen guard yanked Diego out of the saddle, he understood why.

The guard swung his fist, but Diego ducked, and hooking his leg behind his adversary’s, jerked him to the ground. The snorting of horses alerted him to the imminent attack of the other two men. Diego’s sword flashed and the closest man suddenly had no weapon in his hand. Instead he was holding his bleeding arm and moaning. The second man charged him, but the Californio simply sidestepped and knocked him unconscious with the hilt of his sword as the German rushed by.

Pivoting around, Diego was just in time to receive a solid blow of a fist under his jaw, the force of which knocked him heavily to the ground.  Dazed, he tried to get to his feet as the man grabbed one of the pistols and aimed it at Diego’s head.

Desperately, Bernardo kicked his horse into a lunge, knocking the German guard to the ground and causing the pistol to discharge harmlessly into the air. Angry, the guard jumped up and roughly jerked the servant from the saddle, throwing him forcefully to the ground, a few blows of his fist sending Bernardo into a state of unconsciousness.

Crying out in anguish, Diego recovered his saber. The German had drawn his blade and quickly engaged the Californio. With a shout, Diego took the advantage and never relinquished it. The guard gaped in astonishment, when, less then a minute later, he was standing with empty hands and the point of the blade at his throat. "The keys." Diego said simply.

The man complied quickly, seeing the steely cold look in his opponent’s eyes. "Now take the manacles off the Spaniard," Diego ordered. The German did that quickly, also. "Throw them here," was the next command.

With the sword at the man’s throat, he put the irons on the guard one-handed and clicked them shut, throwing the key in the bushes. "Now, go to the side of the road and sit down quietly."

"Who are you?" the guard asked as he was following Diego’s orders.  

Diego laughed shortly, and remembered a canny and wily animal from his youth that a vaquero had extolled the virtues of. "Herr Fuchs," he said, with a bow.

Quickly, Diego went over and checked Bernardo. An ugly lump on the side of the mute’s head and several bruises were the only wounds he could find.  Picking the unconscious man up, he laid him across his horse as gently as he could and then mounted behind him, trying to ease the manservant into a more comfortable sitting position. Swinging the horse around, Diego ran off the guards’ mounts and then cantered back down the road in the direction of Heidelberg.

 

 

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