Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-eight

Zorro to the Rescue

 

 

Jandro rode toward the hacienda oblivious to the scenery around him or the wind ruffling his clothes.  He had to get help for his mother and sisters.  As resourceful and brave as Father was, even he couldn’t hope to defeat a great number of armed men, especially after an injury such as he had received not hardly two weeks previous.

As he rushed into the stable yard, the boy shouted his warning.  The stable hands looked up in shock, house servants ran in from the patio and kitchen. “My mother and sisters have been kidnapped from the lake and taken somewhere to the southwest.   Please, hurry, we must help them!”  Several rushed to saddle horses.  “Father rode ahead.  He said as soon as there are enough of you ready to ride, you are to go toward San Batista from the area of the lake.”  All of the able bodied men were soon mounted and ready to ride.  “Go quickly!  I must tell Abuelo.”

Leaping from his horse, he rushed through the patio and into the sala.  When he didn’t see his grandfather, Jandro dashed into the library.  Abuelo was reclining on the settee, going over the rancho’s ledgers.  He looked up in surprise as Jandro burst into the room.

“Mother, Mari and Minta have been kidnapped!” he cried out. Grandfather went pale.  “Father sent a vaquero after help and sent me here to get more help.”  Bernardo stood behind the old man, a stricken look on his face.

“Where is your father?” Abuelo asked. 

“He went after them,” Jandro answered.  “And so am I!”  The boy turned and flew out of the room, ignoring the calls of his grandfather.  Out through the sala he went, through the patio and up the stairs.  As he rushed through his father’s bedroom, he started unbuttoning his shirt, pulling it off as he pressed the button to open the hidden door. 

What is wrong with this place? he thought as he changed into the dark clothing.  Everyone had seemed so friendly, so open.  Why would someone want to hurt his mother and sisters?  Did it have anything to do with the darkness of his mother’s skin?  Was it like before?  Fear lent wings to his fingers and he put on the dark clothing with a speed he wouldn’t have believed at any other time. 

Rushing down the steps three at a time, Jandro soon reached the entrance to the secret cave and out to the small box canyon where, to his amazement, Tornado stood waiting for him.  It was as though the horse knew he was needed.  Taking down the makeshift gate, Jandro led the stallion back to the cave where he bridled and saddled him. 

Soon they swept out of the cave and toward the lake to the southwest.  Finding the lake would be easy.  They had been there the previous week, he little Minta, Mari and Mother.  It would be the trail from there that Jandro felt might be a problem.  He only hoped that Tornado, with his acute senses, could help him. 

The horse flew along, his steps sure.  As they came within sight of the lake, Jandro saw a group of vaqueros riding away from him, toward the southwest. They would be able to pick out the trail so much easier than he could, as they were experienced in tracking.  Although they didn’t ride as fast as he could on Tornado, they rode fast enough. He could do no better. Several of them near the back of the group greeted him with shouts and cheers, repeating the name his father had made famous, and he waved a return greeting.  Jandro stayed behind the group, not wanting to get close enough for any of the men to see the difference in ‘Zorros.’

Jandro felt his impatience mounting as he rode, and he pulled the pistol from its holster in front of his knee.  It was one with a revolving chamber, modern and deadly, that held several shots.  He only hoped he would not have to use it, but knowing that he could if it became necessary.  He went over in his mind all of the training that he had received before they had come to his father’s world.   Most of his training had been with Wis in the art of using a sword, and his hands and feet, but there had also been practice with weapons much like the one he now held.  He could only hope that he would be in time to use his training.

 

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Diego quickly cut a length of rope and built a deadfall, arranging branches and loose rocks in such a way that one tug of the rope would bring it all down.   He moved the vest with the sparkling conchas until the sun reflected from them and onto the approaching group.  After hitting several kidnapers in the face with reflected sunlight, the leaders of the troop stopped and gazed in his direction. 

To his satisfaction, several riders started up the hill in his direction.  At a certain point where it was too steep for the horses, they dismounted and began climbing.  Diego left the vest hanging on a branch and hid behind the deadfall. 

When the three men reached the concha-laden bait, Diego jerked the rope, pulling the end of the foundation branch out from under the deadfall.  Branches and stones began a mad rush downward.  Cut off screams told him that the trap had effectively caught the three kidnappers.  The continued rumbling of displaced rocks and boulders and the fearful shouts told him that the landslide was continuing down the hill. 

Minta!  The girls!  Did this larger-than-planned ambush catch them, too? he wondered, his heart constricting in fear.  He peered around a boulder and saw the carriage safely ahead of the fallen rocks and debris.  Several riders had been unhorsed and one of those was lying motionless on the ground in the dissipating dust.  Diego counted eleven kidnapers, two on one horse.  Ai, thank you, San Diego, continue to watch over my little family, por favor he mentally thanked his patron saint.

Panting at the exertion of the past two hours, feeling the spreading pain of protesting muscles, he considered his odds.  They still weren’t very good, but they were better than they had been.  It was time to be more aggressive.  Diego pondered, mulling over his confiscated supplies.  There were matches in the saddlebag and the land was dry.  He had been very, very fortunate with the landslide.  Dare he try something even more dangerous such as a brush fire?  They were within two miles of their destination.  Diego felt he had very few options left.

Slowly mounting the horse, Diego again rode parallel to the kidnapers, trying to ignore the persistent throbbing in his gut.  The narrow trail allowed him to trot at a fairly fast pace, although the horse’s rough gait was anything but comfortable.  When he determined that he was near his destination, the small canyon of death, Diego reined the horse in and dismounted.  Untying the saddlebag, he pulled out the oilskin packet containing the sulfur matches, then he gathered brush and branches.  The breeze on one cheek told him that the wind was blowing in the right direction for his purposes. 

Diego lit several matches before one caught the tinder on fire.  Bending over, grunting at the incessant reminder of his limitations, he blew urgently, knowing that the evil troop was drawing ever closer.  Finally the tinder blazed up, bright and hot, catching the dry twigs on fire, then the smaller branches.  The flames began eating at the dry wood, crackling merrily.  The wind kicked up the little fire into an inferno and Diego threw on some of the greener branches that he had gathered.  Smoke rose, thick and cloying and Diego grabbed the gelding’s reins and mounted before the animal could bolt.

Racing around the perimeter of the fire, coughing in the smoky haze, Diego found the troop by the screams of frightened horses and the cursing of frustrated humans. 

“Get turned around!” a voice cried out, a female voice.  Maria Louisa.  “Go back!”

In the haze, Diego slipped up to them unnoticed and maneuvered his horse alongside the carriage.  From under the brim of his down turned hat, he saw Minta lying at the bottom of the carriage, bound hand and foot, gagged and blindfolded.  Little Minta and Mari sat near her, only their hands bound in front of them.

Mari glared at him and then her eyes widened in surprise as she recognized him.  He shook his head slightly and she leaned back surreptitiously, looking around.  Diego, too, glanced around and counted seven other riders. 

“The last valley,” the woman cried.  “The last valley will do just as well.  I want the witch dead before she can do more to us!”

Diego rode closer to the carriage and covertly pulled out a little knife, palming it away from the view of others.  Glancing under the brim of his hat, he caught Mari and little Minta’s eyes.  He then looked around and seeing no one watching, tossed the knife, handle first, into Mari’s outstretched fingers.  Little Minta winked, shot her hand out and grabbed the tiny knife.  By the time Diego had blinked in surprise, the weapon was out of sight. 

A rider rode up beside him.  “You are too close,” he growled.   Apparently, Maria Louisa had only a few men she totally trusted guarding the prisoners.  Then the man began laughing. “The witch could have influence on you, you know,” he said sarcastically.

Diego recognized him, too.  It was Jorge, the vaquero who had brought news of the slaughter of cattle.  Diego nodded and then decided that he could not wait for a better time.  “Not close enough, Jorge,” he said and shot out with his right fist, wincing at the stabbing in his abdomen that the movement caused.  Pain was constant now and Diego could only hope that he was able to affect the prisoners’ escape before his half-healed wounds debilitated him.  Surprise showed only briefly on the vaquero’s face before Diego’s fist slammed against his cheek.  Jorge fell like a stone. 

Jerking out a rifle, Diego clubbed the carriage driver across the head.  Then he threw the weapon into the carriage with the girls, motioning to Mari to take the reins.  A bullet whizzed by his head and Diego pulled out one of the pistols, shooting the rider aiming at him.  He threw the empty weapon at another rider, hitting him squarely in the head. 

He jerked the other pistol out and held it in front of him.  “Who wishes to take this bullet?” he asked.  Two riders were holding pistols on him.   “Put them down, señores.   My intent is to save my children and my fiancé only, but if I have to, I will kill you in order to do it.”

“Do not force us to hurt you, Don Diego,” a lancer said.  It was Pablo.

Too late, Diego thought, feeling the throbbing pain in his gut.  He felt totally exhausted and could only hope that help came soon.   He maneuvered his horse between the girls and the rest of the kidnapers.  He only saw four people in front of him, plus Maria Louisa.  That meant there was at least one or two more individuals somewhere else, by his best count. 

“Mari, watch my back.  There are more,” he said, not turning away from those in front of him. 

“Yes, Father,” he heard Mari say. 

“No one will be safe until the witch is dead!” the woman in front of him screamed.  Again, Diego saw visions of that horrible time thirteen years before and he blinked, trying to get rid of the vision. 

“Let it go, Maria Louisa.  Let it go.  Killing Minta will not make you happy.  And nothing will ever cause me to love you.  Nothing!” Diego said, noticing the look of shock on the corporal’s face.  He looked toward Maria Louisa, then back at Pablo. 

“Were you not aware of the fact that Maria Louisa was infatuated with me fourteen years ago, Corporal?” Diego asked, hoping to throw doubt on this witch-hunt and to divide what was left of the troop with dissension. 

“Him?” Pablo whispered as he stared at Maria Louisa.  She seemed to be ignoring the conversation, instead staring with hate filled eyes toward the carriage.  She glanced at Diego as though assessing her chances of attacking Minta.  “You love him and not me?” Pablo said a little louder.  He grabbed Maria Louisa’s arm and jerked her toward him.  “You do not love me?  You love him?” he repeated. 

“We must kill the witch.  We have to kill her,” was all that the obsessed woman would say. 

Pablo looked stricken, and then anger suffused his face.  “No!” he shouted and in a move that took everyone by surprise he raised his pistol and fired at Diego.

 

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A rumbling noise caused Jandro to jerk his head up and he wondered what was going on ahead of him.  A short time later, he saw smoke rising from the not too distant hills to the southwest.   Again he wondered.  The areas of noise and smoke were in the same direction as the kidnapers were supposed to have traveled, according to his father.  Father!  Could he have something to do with this?

Jandro pulled Tornado’s head to one side and guided the horse up the hill to run parallel to the posse.  They looked up in surprise, some only now noticing his presence.  The boy swept by, keeping the smoke ahead as his reference, and he soon left the vaqueros behind.  He only slowed when he came to the remains of a recent landslide.  Tornado slipped and slid on loose gravel, but stayed upright, quickly passing the scene of the recent devastation.  Jandro saw several men sprawled on the ground, motionless, and he smiled grimly.  Father had to have been at work, but the boy was worried about him.  His father had to be feeling the effects of all this. 

 

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As soon as her hands were free, Mari took the tiny knife from little Minta and quickly slashed the ropes binding her ankles.   A rifle clattered at her feet, but she only glanced up to see Father maneuvering the horse between her and the kidnapers.  Even in the shadow of the hat brim, she could see exhaustion on his face.  He held four of the kidnapers at bay, including the woman who had continued to hurl dire and vile curses their way during the entire trip.  She had to get Mother loose.  Mother still lay in the bottom of the carriage, struggling violently against her bonds.  “I have a knife, Mother,” Mari said quietly. 

Mari quickly cut the ropes binding her mother’s swollen hands and then heard her father tell her to watch behind him.  Placing the handle of the knife in Mother’s hand, she took up the rifle and perused the area.  There were two men, one on horseback and one on foot sneaking up on them.  The rifle, as unfamiliar as it was to her, kept them at bay.  Father and one of the kidnapers exchanged words.  She listened, staring at the two men before her, determined to protect her mother and sister.  Then she heard a shout from the gunman behind her and almost simultaneously, the shot of a pistol.  She jerked her gaze around to her father in time to see him falling out of his saddle.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-nine
Chapter One
Zorro Contents
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