Diego moaned softly, trying to shut out the scenes from the past day, but like a funeral procession, they just kept sadly marching along........
Irritated, Zorro jumped back just out of range of the manís fists and
reached in with his foot, jerking him off balance. Then he brought his heel down
on the hand holding the newly loaded pistol. The bandit howled with pain and
released the gun. "Gracias, amigo," Zorro said softly as
he retrieved the dropped gun and then used it to clip the man across the side of
his head. His opponent went limp, but immediately the masked man heard the noise
of yet another bandit rushing him, knife poised to strike. Leaping to one side,
Zorro grabbed his attackerís wrist and slammed it against the rocks. The
weapon dropped from the killerís numbed fingers, but the man wouldnít give
up without a fight, landing a few well-placed blows with his good hand.
Soon, Zorro had two of the murderers tied up and awaiting
transportation to the cuartel of the Pueblo de Los Angeles. The third was
unconscious, his arm swelled to twice its normal size from the poison of the
snakebite. Treating the wound as best he could, Zorro left him sitting against a
boulder while he searched for the killersí horses. He found them standing back
from a spring of clear, cool-looking water. Taking a moment, the outlaw knelt
down to refresh himself before the return to the pueblo. Tornado called
from nearby and a whistle brought him to his master. "Ah, faithful one.
Here is refreshment for now and tonight you will be able to rest," Zorro
said as he dipped his hands into the invitingly clear water. However, one
swallow told him that this was too bitter with various minerals to refresh
anything except the rocks. Tornado backed up snorting. Zorro spat out the
remainder and gathered up the reins of the banditosí horses, motioning
for the ebony stallion to follow him.
Within a half an hour, Zorro had the men tied on their horses and then
he mounted Tornado. The trip to Los Angeles was uneventful, but every mile to
the west seemed to sap more and more energy from him. It was all he could do to
after leaving Los Angeles keep from falling asleep in the saddle on way to the hacienda.
The only thing keeping him awake was the growing pain that he felt from the
blows he had received in the fight....
Diego woke in a cold sweat, confused, wondering how he got from Tornadoís back to his bed so quickly. Then he remembered the little charade on the patio and his trip to his room. It felt uncomfortably hot. He slid out of bed and made his way to the washbasin, where he found clean water. Splashing it on his face, Diego sighed in relief, it felt so good. Turning back toward his bed, he opened the door to his balcony. The cool breeze of the evening caressed his sweaty body and he shivered slightly at the sudden change of temperature. But at the same time it felt refreshing.
He stood leaning against the door frame for a few more minutes waiting for his head to clear, watching the light from the recently risen full moon bring sharp, but distorted detail to the hillside. Sudden lethargy sent him back to his bed again, and this time there were no pictures galloping across the landscape of his mind. Soon, however, there was cold; bitter and intense, and shivering, the young man groped blindly until he had found his blanket. The shivering subsided and he fell asleep once more.
After Bernardo had checked on Tornado once more and found him rested enough to release him in the little box canyon, he went up to Diegoís room. He was worried about his patrůn, this last chase seemed to have sapped every bit of energy from him. Quietly, he slipped into the sleeping manís room and was disturbed to see the covers churned about as though by a storm. Taking a chance, he lit a candle and walked over to the bedside, and his worry changed to fear. Diego was flushed and feverish, moaning softly in a sleep that seemed anything but restful. Touching his hand to the caballeroís forehead, he felt the burning heat of an intense fever.
At his touch, Diego awoke, looking at him for a moment before totally recognizing him. "I think I am sick, Bernardo," he murmured, giving the mute a wan smile. Bernardo nodded in confirmation and signed a query. "Cannot remember.... spring..... water...... strange taste," he muttered and then lapsed back into his troubled sleep.
Leaving the candle on the nightstand, Bernardo rushed downstairs to find Don Alejandro.
As the old don was closing the ledgers, Bernardo rushed in, his face a study of intense worry and.... fear? "Bernardo, slow down! What is it?" Alejandro studied the deaf/muteís signs and wasnít able to make heads or tails of them. "By the Saints, man. I cannot make any sense of what you are saying. If only Diego was here to translate." At that, the servant pointed to him, pointed above and then started tugging at his sleeve. A slight touch of irritation was cut off by his realization of what Bernardo might be trying to tell him. "Diego? Is there something wrong with Diego?" he signed and the servantís vigorous nod sent cold chills up and down his spine. Jumping up, he ran out the room, closely followed by his sonís manservant. Soon he was in Diegoís room, witnessing what Bernardo had found a few minutes earlier.
"Bernardo, quickly get a basin of fresh water, some towels and something cool for Diego to drink," he said, signing at the same time. The servant ran to do his bidding and the old man pulled a chair up close to his sonís bedside. His stomach was knotted with worry. "Diego, I am here." Alejandro noticed that Diego had not even finished changing for bed, having just taken off his shirt before lying down. He was appalled at the bruises on his sonís arms and torso and wondered how he came by them. Diego had mentioned that he had caught up with the animal, and then he pondered what Diego hadnít told him.
Diego moaned again and began murmuring incoherently. Alejandro felt helpless and could only grasp his sonís hand. Diego grabbed his hand in return and Alejandro almost cried out at the strength of his grip. "Diego, it is your father. You are safe, my son."
Bernardo rushed into the room with the required items in a balancing act that would have amazed the elder de la Vega had things not been so serious. Taking the wine and cup out from under the servantís arm, he put them down next to the bed stand, while Bernardo carefully set the bowl of tepid water on the little table. Quickly, Alejandro placed the small towel in the bowl and then partially wrung it out. The touch of the towel brought Diego into semi-lucidity once more and he peered at him. "Father?" he asked softly.
"Everything is fine, Diego. I will stay here with you," Alejandro assured him.
"I should have..... remained with...... the books," he whispered, smiling briefly. "Father, I am thirsty now....por favor?"
"Of course, my son," he said and as he turned for the cup and wine, he found that Bernardo had already anticipated his needs. "Gracias, Bernardo," he said, nodding.
Holding the cup to his sonís lips, Alejandro was gratified to see him swallow some of the wine. He handed the cup back when Diego drifted back to sleep. "Get his night clothes, Bernardo," he said, and then remembering, pointed toward the wardrobe. Bernardo quickly got what was needed and together they made Diego more comfortable. The deaf/mute gestured that he would stay with the sick man, but Alejandro shook his head. "No, I will stay with him. I am his father. You go get the doctor," he said gesturing at the same time. Exasperated with himself, he signed for writing materials. Bernardo nodded and ran to Diegoís desk, quickly finding the needed items. Composing hurriedly, he folded the note and signed for the servant to ride into the pueblo for the doctor. Glancing at his sick master in concern, Bernardo nodded and then quickly left.
"No stranger will be taking care of you in your time of need, Diego, my son," he said to himself and then he wondered what had prompted the statement.
When the doctor arrived, he quickly examined the younger de la Vega, noting the bruises just as his father had. During the examination, Diego woke once more, frowning in concentration. Peering around the room, his eyes settled on his father. "So thirsty," he murmured.
"Diego, did you eat or drink anything questionable recently?" the doctor asked. "There are no wounds that would cause an infection."
"Water, in a spring. It tasted.....metallic. I only had a swallow," Diego explained. He felt as though he had swallowed cotton; everything was so dry, like dust, and yet he was so cold. The cold reminded him of the time when he was younger, a time in the mountains to the north when the rain turned to snow. He had never felt such cold. It was biting, chilling, not only on the skin, but in the bones as well.
"Diego," the doctor was saying his name. He focused on the man, but it was so difficult. "Diego." He nodded. "Diego, I believe that the spring must have been tainted with a poison of some kind. It is a very good thing that you only tasted it. I am going to give you some medicine that will help you sleep and also something for the fever."
The physician poured a liquid that didnít look appetizing at all from a small bottle. It didnít taste appetizing either. Coughing, Diego gasped, "It tastes worse than the water did."
"Save the witty repartees for when you are feeling better," the doctor told him.
Diego began to feel disconnected from what was going on, drifting back into somnolence, but he felt a cup at his lips and he gratefully swallowed the cool liquid that was being offered. As the cup was taken away, his awareness of what was going on receded into a fog blurring away into the velvet darkness of unconsciousness.
"It looks almost as though your son was in a brawl, Don Alejandro," the doctor mused, preparing to leave.
Alejandro looked at the doctor and then at his son. "Believe it or not, Diego spent the last two days chasing a wild stallion in the mountains. He said that he caught up with him and tried to ride him. As you can tell, he did not succeed."
"The boy should stick to playing the guitar and reading poetry," the doctor quipped. "His fever should break in a day or two, and after that his recovery will be rapid. Make sure, however, that he has plenty to drink; watered down wine, broth, fruit juices. That will help counter-act the effects of the poison. When the fever has broken, then give him light meals and make him rest. Unless I hear from you, I will be back in two days to check on his progress."
"Gracias, Senor," Alejandro said quietly, watching his son fall into a deep and restful sleep. As the doctor walked out of the room, Bernardo turned toward the elder de la Vega and gazed at him for a moment, wondering just what Diego had told him. Then he turned and followed the doctor down the stairs