Caesar Triumphant

 

 

Chapter Two - Matt Lends a Hand

 

Choking in the cloying dust, Zorro slowly pulled himself to his knees, momentarily disorientated by the impenetrable darkness. A coughing sound near him brought all of the recent past to the forefront of his memory. Cordero.  The cave in.  Groping, the outlaw found his adversary, and jerking Cordero’s banda off, tied him up. A rattling of pebbles and dust caused him to sit motionless for a moment, but when nothing further happened, Zorro felt his way toward what he assumed would be the entrance. Soon he found that, although he was going in the right direction, there was no entrance. There was only an impenetrable mass of rubble and dust. With great care, Zorro climbed up the barricade and began loosening some of the smaller rocks. Carefully he dug, shoving all the loosened debris to one side. He lost all track of time, working steadily, deliberately, trying not to think of the consequences of not succeeding.

"So, Señor Zorro, you were caught in this coffin along with me, eh?" Cordero taunted.

"Señor Cordero, I have no intention of letting this be my coffin. If I thought I could trust you not to try to kill me, I would unbind you and let you help me dig," Zorro commented.  The darkness was oppressive.  He had to concentrate on his task, not thinking about the distance of the walls or ceiling, or the staleness of the air.

"But you see, señor, you cannot trust me.  Knowing that I am going to die, my last action would be to kill you. But, then again, it would be more rewarding to hear you suffer a lingering death.  No, if you untied me, I would simply sit here and listen to your futile efforts to get out of this death pit."

Zorro ignored Cordero and continued his careful digging and scraping. After what seemed an interminable time, a loosened stone caused a small avalanche of smaller rocks and debris, which in turn showed a tiny bit of outside light; the cold light of a setting moon. With renewed hope, Zorro dug at the tiny hole, enlarging it a bit more. Finally he stood back and stared at the aperture morosely. No other stones would come loose. The rest were wedged tightly. Only from the outside could succor come, and the possibility of that happening even with Tornado nearby, was remote indeed.

"I told you this would be our coffin," Cordero laughed. "It will just take a bit longer.  And at least now, I will be able to see you suffer as I suffer. Since we are both going to die, take off the mask and let me see who you are.  Let me see the mighty Zorro."

In irritation, Zorro dragged Cordero back to a room-like area beyond the entrance.  Then he gagged the bandit leader with a piece of the man’s own shirt. Back near the cave-in, he looked for and found dead limbs and twigs, which had been carried in with the landslide. Moving them to the back room, Zorro built a tiny fire, using a small bow as shown him many years ago by one of the de la Vega’s Indian servants. In the dim light, a thin tendril of smoke and then a tiny flame finally showed. He fed the small fire with a broken up branch, leaving the rest until later. It provided a bit of comfort along with the light. Wryly, Zorro wondered if he had finally over-taxed his patron Saint’s abilities, and decided that, if not, St. James’ work was certainly cut out for him.

 


 

Matt Baker slept peacefully, happily dreaming of the next day when he would be able to begin eating more solid food, instead of those nasty tasting milkshakes and green Jell-O. His operation had gone well, but the last week had been hard, especially when he watched his older brother, Tim, eating pizza or hamburgers.  And the only thing he got from the Taco Bell kid’s meal was a little stuffed dog and the drink. He wanted Nacho Grandes so bad he could taste them, even in his sleep.

The next day was also Christmas Day, which, of course, meant presents. Matt hoped that Mom and Dad had been able to get the Zorro comic books he had asked for. And some new Zorro figures.

Suddenly Matt woke up, feeling something on his bed with him. It felt like a cat, but that was impossible, Mom was allergic to cats.  Jerking upright, he looked into the button eyes of the ugliest dog he had ever seen.  It's wiry hair stood on end and its skinny tail wagged so hard that the little dog's body wiggled along with it.  Jumping on his lap, the dog whined and licked his face.

"Caesar?" Matt whispered a question. The dog just wagged his tail harder, if that was possible.  Whining again, he jumped back and looked right into Matt's eyes.  "What do you want?" Matt asked. Caesar hopped over the boy's feet and stood at the end of the bed, wagging his rat-like tail with the dust mop end. "Do you want me to follow you?" Caesar's tail wagged even harder, making a blur.

Matt nodded and threw back his covers, stretching carefully, limbering muscles that had been taxed by his recent operation.  Softly whining, Caesar jumped off the bed and silently padded to the door. Matt tiptoed after him.  Mom had been a very light sleeper lately.  Every time he had coughed or made any noise, she had been in his room.

When he reached Caesar, the dog turned and trotted through the partially opened door, Matt following right behind. On the other side it was outdoors.  The boy stopped short, staring all around him.  It was night here, too, but a bright moon showed hills, rocks and trees.  One hill looked as though part of it had caved in. There were rocks and boulders strewn everywhere.  Occasionally a few pebbles fell and rattled down the hill. Caesar trotted to one part of the landslide and carefully scrambled up on one of the larger boulders, disappearing suddenly.

"Caesar?" Matt whispered.  He heard muffled barking, so he gingerly scrambled across the boulder and looked. There was a hole, big enough for the dog, but he wasn’t sure if he could fit. "Caesar?" Matt repeated.  More barking.  Sticking his head through the hole, Matt thought he saw the slightest glimmer of light. He pushed his head in further, his shoulders scraping the rocks. Afraid he might get stuck, Matt began backing out, but Caesar’s barking stopped him.  Another voice echoed softly on the walls of the cave.  Using his toes, Matt pushed his body through the hole. A slight rip told the boy that he had torn his pajamas. Oh, oh, Mom won’t be happy, Matt thought, but he kept pushing, and finally he slid down a pile of rocks to a hard earth floor.  Slowly standing up, he brushed himself off, only guessing if he got the dust off.  It was almost pitch black in the cave.

Caesar’s high-pitched barking made him jerk his head in the direction from which he thought the sound was coming. Reaching his hand out in front of him, he shuffled toward the slight glimmering light. The dog kept barking and Matt thought the sound was coming from the same direction the light was shining from.

"Ow!" he exclaimed as he stubbed his toe on a rock. Matt wished he had remembered to put on his slippers. He kept shuffling forward and finally found himself in a larger area.  Almost like a room.  A tiny fire in the corner dimly illuminated a man sitting against one wall, his hands tied behind his back, a gag in his mouth. By another wall stood another man dressed all in black. Black from head to toe, including the mask that covered the upper part of his face.

"Zorro!" Matt cried in surprise.

"Sí, muchacho," the masked man said with a slight smile.

"Wow, you’re really Zorro?"

"Yes, I really am. You are an Americano, correct?" Zorro queried, switching to English, accented, but understandable.

Matt nodded, giving the outlaw a slight smile. "I had an operation last week, so I don’t talk so good, and Caesar came and…."

"Slow down, my young friend," Zorro said. "An operation? Last week? And you are exploring caves? You are a remarkable young man."

Matt beamed. He was astonished to be in the presence of his hero; and even more pleased to be praised by him.  Not sure what to say next, he just asked, "You want to see my scar?" Before Zorro could answer, the boy pointed it out anyway.  "My name’s Matt Baker."

Zorro paused for a moment, without saying anything, looking a bit startled.

"Are you having trouble understanding me?" the boy asked. "I’m sorry."

"You are fine, muchacho.  If you have trouble talking, you can sign to me."

Matt almost said, ‘Like Bernardo?’ but then he saw the bound man watching them.  He didn’t want to take a chance that Zorro’s prisoner could understand English. "Yes, sir," was all he said. Looking around and pondering, Matt suddenly realized what had happened here. "Cave in?" he asked.

"Yes, I chased that bandito,” Zorro said, pointing to the bound man, “into this cave and suddenly part of the hillside gave way.  And here we are," Zorro explained with a shrug of his broad shoulders.

"I can get in and out.  I can get help," Matt said.

"No, Matt.  I am very grateful for your offer, but you do not need to be out in the cold night air. You are not well yet.  You must go back home."

Frowning, Matt said, "I am here to help you, not to turn around and go back home."

It was Zorro’s turn to frown.  He saw the determined look in the Americano boy’s eyes, and he also knew that Matt was probably his only hope of rescue.  Sighing, he said, "I am not happy about you riding in the cold and at night, especially so soon after an operation." He sighed again. "Tornado should be somewhere in the vicinity. But I just want you to find help, then let Tornado take you home. I will figure out my escape after help arrives and digs us out." As though thinking of something else, Zorro added, "You do not speak Spanish, do you?"

Matt shook his head. "Sorry."

"That is alright. If you go to Sgt. Garcia, just say Zorro and then sign what happened.  Or just use signs entirely, that will be easier than trying to explain why you only speak and understand English."

Looking at the bound and gagged bandit, Matt reached up and tugged on Zorro’s sleeve, pointing toward the entrance. With a puzzled look, the outlaw followed, Caesar right behind.  Giving another tug, the boy pulled Zorro down closer to him. "I can go get Bernardo, since he already knows who you are." Zorro jerked back up and looked at the boy in alarm.  "I know, too," Matt explained simply. "Caesar brought me here to help you. It was magic."

"Caesar.  I had wondered about him. Where do you come from, Matt?" Zorro asked, wondering how the boy had managed to be in this remote area. He wasn’t totally sure about the magic part. He was thinking that the boy’s appearance might be more due to the intervention of his patron saint than magic, but for whatever reason, he was grateful.

"Natchez, Mississippi."

In surprise, Zorro murmured, "Perhaps there is more to that dog than meets the eye.  Yes, you can get Bernardo and he will effect my rescue."

"I will go right away."

"Gracias, my friend, but be very careful.  Even a strong boy like you has limits, and I do not want you to undo, on my account, what a fine Americano doctor in Natchez has done for you."

"I won’t, Señor Zorro," Matt promised.  Zorro watched with concern as Matt carefully climbed up an incline too unsteady for his own weight, and then crawled out the hole.  Caesar followed. The outlaw whistled, but heard the sound bounce on the walls of the cave, unable to escape properly into the night air.

The boy could hear the outlaw whistling for Tornado, but what came from the cave was weak and tenuous at best.  Matt realized it would be up to him to find the horse.  Walking away from the landslide, he saw the moonlit-bathed countryside and drew in his breath in wonder.  It was spooky and beautiful at the same time.

At his feet, Caesar whined and then trotted off in the direction of the moon. Figuring the dog knew what he was doing, Matt followed. The ground was rough and soon he was limping, not just from the effects of his operation, but now from cuts and scrapes received from the hard stones and sticks. Still he kept the dog in sight. He had to. Zorro needed his help.

"Caesar!" Matt finally called. The little dog had gone far enough ahead that he was out of sight. The shadows became darker and scarier, and he didn’t want to be alone in a place where coyotes or bears might attack him. A distant, high-pitched bark caused him to sigh in relief, and as he limped in the direction of the sound, the little dog came back. To his amazement, Tornado was following behind. "Tornado!" Matt cried in relief and joy. The stallion was every bit as magnificent in real life as he was on TV.

Tornado leaned close, blowing his warm breath on him, and Matt reached up with one hand, lightly touching the black, velvety nose. Tornado’s lips lightly nibbled his fingers, but his teeth never touched him.  After a short while of letting the horse get used to him, Matt looked at the stirrups in consternation.  They seemed so high, but he had to get on the horse. Grabbing the reins, Matt led Tornado to a large rock.  Caesar scrambled up and waited for him.  Carefully climbing on the boulder, the boy grabbed the little dog and then pulled himself into the saddle.  Reaching back, Matt opened a saddlebag and placed Caesar inside. The entire time, the stallion stood statue still, only his ears flicking back and forth.  As soon as he was safely astride, Tornado turned his head and gazed steadily at his rider.

Matt stared thoughtfully into the horse’s eyes.  He could go and get Bernardo, but it looked as though it would take many people to clear the rocks away.  And whomever Bernardo brought might guess who Zorro was just because Bernardo was there.  Now if he went to Sgt. Garcia; that would look more natural. The only problem would be how to keep the sergeant from catching Zorro as soon as the rocks were cleared. The puzzling thoughts kept running through his mind like the squirrels in the trees near his home.  Matt shook his head and Tornado snorted.

Suddenly Matt smiled broadly.  He had an idea, a way to save Zorro and keep him from being captured. "The cuartel, Tornado. The cuartel." Matt said, with as much authority as he could muster. The stallion broke into a trot and then into an easy rolling canter. It seemed to Matt as though the horse was being much more careful with him.

Matt held on to the saddle horn with one hand and the reins with the other. Tornado picked his way along the smoothest paths and Matt soon became used to the horse’s easy rolling gait.  As the sun rose above the eastern hills, the horse galloped into the plaza.  Peons were setting up their stalls, but they stopped and stared as the boy on the big, black horse swept by them.  Matt thought he caught the name, Zorro.

Riding up to the cuartel entrance, Matt reached over and banged on the heavy wooden gate.  Corporal Reyes stepped out and looked up at him. His eyes suddenly widened. "Caballo de Zorro!" he exclaimed. Matt thought he knew what the private said, but figured it would be easier if he pretended to be deaf just like Bernardo did.  He made the Z sign and pointed to the horse, then pantomimed a landslide with falling rocks.

The corporal nodded and opened the gate.  Tornado sedately walked inside.  Now came the hard part; making his plan work.

 

 

Chapter Three
Chapter One
Caesar Chronicles Introduction
Zorro Contents
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