Just outside of Los Angeles, on the road to the Mission San Gabriel, Zorro found that two bandits had wasted little time in acquiring their new riches. As he rode over the ridge overlooking the road, he observed that one of the men was holding the priests at abeyance with a pistol, while his companion was putting the religious artifacts in a sack. Father Miguel was protesting vehemently, letting the men know the dire consequences they would face in the hereafter.
Zorro urged Tornado down the ridge at his fastest possible speed. Both bandits spun around and the one who already had his pistol out, fired. The shot went wild, as Zorro knew it probably would, and he pulled out his whip, ordering the men to return the artifacts to the priests. The second bandit drew his pistol, but by this time Zorro had reached the road, and his whip jerked the weapon out of the man's hand, where it flew through the air and fell among the rocks.
Father Miguel had not been idle, either. When the first bandit had almost succeeded in reloading his pistol, the priest knocked it out of his hand and then tackled him to the ground. Zorro drew his blade and the point rested at the other man's throat, just above the collarbone. The novice priest had retaken possession of the artifacts.
"Señores," Zorro said quietly to the bandits. "I believe that those items do not belong to you. I suppose that you know that stealing is a sin," he added with a smile. "I also suppose that it would be very wise if you left now and let the good padres continue their journey."
The men stared, too shocked to move. "Vamos!" Zorro ordered. "And leave your weapons and ammunition behind." They quickly dropped their pouches of powder and shot, and mounting, rode quickly in the direction of Los Angeles.
After the bandits had ridden out of sight, Zorro turned to the priests and asked if they had been harmed. "We are fine, Señor Zorro. Gracias." Father Miguel told him. "But how could they know about the artifacts? And how did you know we would be robbed?" the priest queried.
"Perhaps I heard the same rumor that the bandits heard, Padre," Zorro answered enigmatically. "However I found out about the artifacts, I am very glad I was able to arrive in time to keep you from harm."
"Sí, Señor Zorro," Father Domingo, the novice said fervently. "And to save the artifacts. They were priceless!"
"I know, Padre,” the outlaw answered. "I will accompany you to the mission in case other opportunists have heard of your trip." The priests thanked him and mounting their mules, continued their journey. The remainder of the trip was uneventful, marred only by the occasional flashes of distant lightning from an approaching storm. As the group neared the mission, Father Miguel invited Zorro to wait out the storm in the mission.
"No, Father, I believe I can make it back to Los Angeles before the worst of the storm arrives, but I appreciate your kind offer," the outlaw told them. "I see the mission up ahead. I will take my leave now, Father Miguel, Father Domingo. Con permiso."
The priest nodded. "You will be blessed, my son," Father Miguel said. "Vaya con Dios." They watched as Zorro rode off into the gathering dusk of the quickly strengthening storm. The two padres held their robes tightly as the wind intensified, entering the mission just before the rain began.
After galloping down the road for several miles, with the wind swirling gritty dust all around him, Zorro realized that he had miscalculated the speed of this storm's approach. Rarely had he seen a storm intensify this fast. Soon the rain came to relieve the choking dust, and it and the wind seemed to propel the man and his horse faster down the road. Zorro allowed Tornado his head, as the trail was familiar and fairly smooth. The horse continued his mile-eating cantor despite the storm, until they reached a rise. At that moment, not twenty feet away, a bolt of lightning hit the trunk of a great oak tree. The boom of exploding wood was simultaneously answered by an ear-shattering clap of thunder.
Zorro found out the other thing besides fire that would cause his great stallion to panic. Tornado leaped sideways, almost unseating his master and then he reared in terror. The outlaw, already half out of the saddle, could get no purchase on the slippery leather and found himself grasping empty air as Tornado leaped forward.
Only partially able to twist his body to land on his feet, Zorro hit the ground awkwardly and painfully. It was then that a second bolt of lightning hit the crown of the old tree causing the upper branches to crash down across the trail and Zorro, who had not had time to recover from his fall.
Water dripping from the leaves, woke the outlaw several hours later. He groggily tried to piece together the past events and then heard Tornado snorting and pawing nearby. Zorro found his arms pinned against his body, while a large branch slightly restricted his breathing. Looking at some of the sheared off secondary branches, he wondered wryly, if he was fortunate or unfortunate and figured ironically that the answer was a little of both.
Expelling the air from his lungs, he slowly managed to work his right hand across his body to his sash, where he had hidden a small knife. Pulling it out, Zorro was then able to scrape the softened soil away from his body. Tornado snorted again, and Zorro called to him. "Tornado, go get Bernardo. Go Tornado!" The horse wheeled around and galloped down the road toward Los Angeles. Eventually he knew that he could work his way out from under the tree, but it would take a great deal of time and he could ill afford to be helpless for so long.
Continuing to dig at the soil, Zorro heard the approach of a horse. Then he recognized the voice of its rider. It was Sgt. Garcia, singing to his little dog, Caesar. Zorro froze and hoped that he was hidden well enough to be overlooked by the sergeant. Suddenly Caesar began growling and barking, drawing his master's attention to the fallen tree.
"Caesar, it is only a tree that was struck by lightning. Nothing to worry about." The dog sounded beside himself and Zorro heard the sergeant dismount and put the little dog down. Immediately, Caesar dashed under the branches to the pinned outlaw and began growling and tugging at his cape. Zorro mentally groaned at the bad luck that seemed to be following him around this night.
Looking for his dog, Garcia pushed branches out of the way. Pulling a larger branch aside, the recently risen moon revealed to the sergeant the irritated countenance of the man he had only been able to dream of capturing.
"Señor Zorro!!" he exclaimed in shock. Caesar continued to gnaw on Zorro's cape.
"Sí, Sergeant Garcia," Zorro said in exasperation.
|Caesar Chronicles Introduction|