Toledano rode up to the governor’s carriage with Zorro sitting quietly behind him. "Governor Arguello, I have promised this man safe passage away from here," the capitán said bluntly.

"By all means, you may take him where ever he wishes to go," Arguello said with a laugh. "But not until I have thanked him for saving my life." Zorro slid off the back of the stallion and faced the new governor of California.

"You have my thanks, Señor Zorro. Your prowess and bravery are certainly not underreported. As governor it is in my power to grant what you refused from the preceding governor. Would you like that now?" Arguello asked.

Zorro thought furiously, the possibilities arranging themselves in his mind like chess pieces. Finally, "No, your Excellency, as much as this role wearies me at times, it is not over. I only ask that you appoint just and honorable men to lead California, then I will have no need to ride in secrecy."

"I will certainly do my best. However, please just refer to me as governor or señor. There is no royal rank in the Mexican government. But may I ask you a question, Señor Zorro?"

"Certainly, Señor," Zorro answered with a smile.

"Why did you not just arrange for the soldiers of your cuartel to attack the camp of these conspirators?" Arguello asked.

Toledano looked askance at the outlaw. That was a question that had puzzled him slightly, but trusting Zorro, he had not questioned him on it. Zorro laughed heartily. "Governor Arguello, if I had known that you would come even after Capitán Toledano’s warning, I probably would have. The reasons, however, are simple. First, I am an outlaw and as such, have had to trick the soldiers in the cuartel a time or two. I could not be certain that my request would be taken seriously. Secondly, although most of the men in the Cuartel de Los Angeles are honest and very good-hearted men, they are not blessed with great military prowess. I wanted this conspiracy broken and its members taken prisoner. I wanted no one left who would regroup and possibly be more dangerous later on."

"Very wise, even if very dangerous. Señor Zorro, now that the local herds of cattle are almost cleared away, I must continue to Los Angeles as I promised. Vaya con Dios. And Capitán Toledano, may your journey home be safe and your homecoming all you desire it to be," Arguello said. Zorro saluted him and not wanting to tax the capitán’s horse, gathered the reins of a conspirator’s horse, mounted and rode south. With a salute to the governor, Toledano wheeled his white stallion, following Zorro out of the valley.

"Señor Zorro," Toledano called to him as he pulled his horse alongside the outlaw’s. "I wish to speak to you before we part ways." Zorro nodded and they rode a little further down the highway in silence.

They stopped at the approach of a group of lancers from the cuartel. Sgt. Garcia gasped in surprise. "Señor Zorro!"

"Señor Zorro has safe passage, granted by the governor himself," Toledano informed the sergeant. "The governor is in a carriage in the Valle Pajaro. His men could probably use help in escorting the prisoners to your carcel, Sgt. Garcia."

Garcia nodded and ordered his men into the valley. Riding at a mile eating cantor, conspirators, lancers and dust were soon left behind. Toledano saw a small trail and turned off the highway. Zorro wondered what the capitán had in mind, but trusting him, followed. In a secluded gully, he brought his stallion to a halt and motioned for the outlaw to dismount. Zorro did so, watching carefully as Toledano did the same thing.

Toledano’s intense blue eyes bored into his. "Señor Zorro, I wanted to discuss a couple of things with you, but realizing your need for secrecy, I made sure that this discussion would take place in a secluded area."

"What is it you wish to discuss?" Niggling fingers of doubt worked their way into his mind.

"Raquel told me what you did for her. Señor Zorro, despite her faults, I love her deeply. She is half of my soul and you cannot imagine my gratitude when I found out what happened here in Los Angeles. I longed to be able to come and personally thank you," Toledano said passionately.

"Señor, there is no need for this kind of secrecy to thank me," Zorro told him, puzzled.

"This may sound silly, but I wanted to thank the man, not the mask or the legend that has grown around it," Toledano said.

"What?" Sudden suspicion sent a chill up his spine.

"Do not worry, señor, I will not force you to do anything against your will. I respect you too much to do that. But I am going to tell you that after Raquel left for Spain, I kept pondering what she had said and I remembered that night in the inn. I began wondering who you were. Who it was that would risk everything to do what you have done for the past two years."

"But what difference would it make who I am, Capitán Toledano?" Zorro asked, his suspicion only slightly assuaged. "The people here have accepted that I am, like the rains in winter or the grapes in summer, something that simply is," he added matter-of-factly. "And whoever I am, I do it because I believe passionately that it is my duty."

"I understand, but it does matter to me, because I knew there was someone in the pueblo who cared not for personal glory, only the rights of others. And in the end, there was only one person whom I felt Zorro could be. Yesterday evening, my suspicions were confirmed."

Now Zorro understood his trepidation at Toledano’s questions. The man didn’t need him to give information about the Royal Road; he needed to confirm a deduction he had previously made. "How so, Comandante?"

"It was the eyes, Diego. I looked into your eyes in the comandante’s office yesterday when you realized what would happen if El Desquite succeeded, and I saw the same intensity that I saw during the fight against the magistrado’s men in the inn. Everything else could be shrugged off as coincidence, but not the eyes.

"Do not worry, though, I have no intention of telling anyone, not even Raquel. Your secret will die with me. I only wish to tell you of my deepest gratitude. Thank you, Diego, for saving Raquel, for teaching me about sacrifice and honor." He picked up the reins of his horse and mounted. Then he reached down, clasping hands with his former enemy. Finally, he turned his horse and rode away, back to the highway, to San Pedro, to his home.

In silence, Zorro mounted his borrowed horse and also rode toward home.



Several days later, a peon delivered a letter, a packet of what looked to be pedigree papers and a gift, all addressed to Diego. The gift, he was told was outside the gate. Bernardo stood at his shoulder, trying unsuccessfully to see what was in the letter. His father sat by the fireplace, curious, but saying nothing.

Diego opened up the letter and read, "This is from Comandante Toledano. ‘Dear Diego, by the time you get this, I will be out to sea, going home. Please accept the small gift that I have sent with these papers as a token of my gratitude and esteem. Sincerely, Arturo Toledano.’ " Curious, Diego, Bernardo and Alejandro followed the peon through the patio and out the gate. There, standing quietly was Toledano’s white stallion. Looking down at the pedigree papers in his hand, Diego was shocked to see that this horse was the brother of the great stallion, Phantom, the horse which he had used while riding as Zorro in Monterey.

The End


--Susan Kite
4 July 1999/slight changes Nov.2001



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