Contents:

2

3

 

 

Dangerous Journey

 

 

 

Part One

 

 

Hernando de Cordoba stood unobtrusively near the back of the blacksmith shop, overseeing the shoeing of his father’s mare.  It had thrown its shoe just as they were approaching the Pueblo de Los Angeles.  He had been left in charge of paying the blacksmith and taking the horse to the inn while his father took care of his business at the tannery.  Sighing, the young man sat down and leaned against his father’s saddle, watching the glowing fire with languid eyes.  This was not exactly what he had in mind when Father had invited him along on this business trip.  

The air seemed to stand still and no breeze entered the shop to stir the oppressive heat, even with one side of the building open to the road.   Strangely, the very smell of the charcoal made it seem hotter.  Hernando supposed that he would be more comfortable if he waited outside, but it just seemed too difficult to get up and move, so he continued staring at the glowing coals and soon felt his eyelids droop.  

“Señor, are you not ready yet?” a low, rasping voice demanded, bringing Hernando out of his sleepy reverie.  

“No, I was given orders and money by a ranchero to replace his horse’s lost shoe.  I will take care of your horse as soon as I am done,” the blacksmith responded tersely around the iron nails in his mouth.  The tapping of his hammer kept the rough voiced man from making any further protests.   

Hernando noticed that he had dozed long enough for the shadows to extend far into the stable.  Surely the horse should be nearly ready by now, the boy thought impatiently.  He heard the slight noise of two men making their way to the back of the stable.  Silently, Hernando slipped behind the saddle and other tack lying there.  

“Jorge, will this delay our plans?” the rough voiced man asked in a whisper.  

“Not that much, the governor is not supposed to arrive right away.  One day, maybe two.  On that my informant is adamant,” Jorge hissed.  “We just will not have as much time to set up our ambush.” 

“Señor Bartola will be most unhappy when he comes in today if we do not have everything ready.” 

“Then he will be unhappy.” 

Ambush?  Governor? Hernando thought, puzzled and alarmed.  He had no idea that the governor was supposed to even be in the area much less have a specific time of arrival, but then after the incident with his excellency’s near assassination earlier this year, the boy was not surprised.  Trying to travel incognito would be much wiser.  He couldn’t help but wonder why the governor was planning on coming to Los Angeles this soon after the last time.  He continued listening, but there was nothing else said other than that a meeting was planned after this Señor Bartola had arrived in the pueblo.   And there was something about a place called the Fox’s Ear, whatever that meant.  When the men had left, Hernando stood up, stretched and calmly sauntered over to the blacksmith. 

“Well, young señor, did you have a pleasant nap?” the smith asked pleasantly. 

“Sí, Señor Milagro.  Is my father’s horse almost ready?” Hernando queried.   Inside he was becoming more and more nervous.  It was so difficult to keep a calm exterior when the governor could be in danger. 

Sí, he is.  I only need to trim around the new shoe and then he can be saddled and ridden.  I thank you for your patience.”

“Por nada,” Hernando replied. The blacksmith was as good as his word and soon the young man was riding toward the posada, where his father had taken a room for the night. 

As he reined the horse to a stop in front of the inn, he noticed a lancer just coming out of the door.  Hastily, Hernando jumped from the gelding’s back and rushed over to the rotund sergeant.  “Sergeant, I have something very important that I must tell you.  It is a matter of life and death,” the boy said breathlessly.  

“Whoa, young señor.  What is all this ‘life and death’ talk?” the soldier asked brightly.  Hernando remembered him from his last trip to Los Angeles.  His name was Sergeant Garcia. 

Looking around, Hernando made sure that there were no others around beside himself, the sergeant and his aide, a corporal with sleepy eyes.  “It is life and death, Sergeant.  I overheard two men talking about ambushing and killing the governor.”  The boy looked up expectantly.  What he saw was anything but what he expected.  

“Oh, young man, that is a very good joke, no?” Garcia said with a chuckle, which quickly became a full-throated laugh.  

Hernando tried again.  “Sergeant, I am not making anything up.  I promise.  I heard it with my own ears.  In the blacksmith shop.  The governor is in danger,” he said desperately. 

“No, young one,” Garcia said loudly.  “The governor is not coming to our pueblo so soon after coming here before.  You fell asleep and dreamed all of this, yes?”

“No!” Hernando hissed, wishing that Sgt. Garcia would talk a bit more quietly.  People in the plaza were beginning to stare, some sympathetically, in his direction.  “I did not dream it!”  His feelings of humiliation threatened to overcome his calm exterior and he turned away before he said something that would truly embarrass himself and bring shame to his father.  Standing at the hitching post was his own sorrel gelding.  Snatching the reins, he swung onto his horse’s back and kicked him into a gallop, not paying attention to where he was going.  

The late afternoon sun was hot on his back, but the breeze cooled his face and time cooled his temper.  His father would be expecting him soon.   Perhaps Father would be able to persuade the soldiers of the severity of his claim.  Slowing his horse, Hernando shook his head.  As wonderful as his father was, as soon as he told him he had already made a plea with the sergeant, Father would accept the man’s reasoning, no matter how wrong it was in this circumstance.  That was the problem with being only twelve.   But, he could not, in good conscience, just forget about it.  If the governor was coming and these men were planning an ambush, then he had to act.

As the horse rested by the side of the road, Hernando pondered his problem.  There were very few people out this time of day, but he watched as two vaqueros slowly trotted past him, nodding in greeting.  Suddenly, he thought of something. “Señores,” he called out.  The vaqueros stopped their horses and turned back to him.  “Excuse me, but I am looking for Don Diego.” He prayed that there were not many Don Diego’s in the vicinity. 

“Don Diego de la Vega?” asked one of the men.  “We are in the employ of Don Alejandro, Don Diego’s father.”

“Sí,” Hernando answered, trying to temper his elation, by reminding himself that this may not even be the same man he knew.  “I met him earlier this year when he was near Santa Barbara on business.  He said he was from around here.” 

“This road heads away from the Hacienda de la Vega, Señor, but if you go back to the pueblo and then take the main road east you will soon come to a crossroads.  Take the road that travels slightly northeast and it will lead you directly to the de la Vega rancho,” the older vaquero instructed him.

“Gracias, Señor.  I will tell Don Diego of your helpfulness,” Hernando said, turning his horse back toward the pueblo.   As he rode through the square, he stopped long enough to see if his father was in the inn’s dining room.  When he noticed that he wasn’t, the boy penned a quick note, folded it carefully and laid it into the innkeeper’s hand, with a few centavos for his efforts.  The man nodded and assured him that is would be delivered.  The elder de Cordoba would still be upset with his oldest son’s presumptuousness, but at least Father would be assuaged that he was visiting ‘Ramón.’  

Following the vaqueros’ directions it was not long before he arrived at the de la Vega hacienda.  A young Indian boy met him at the gate.  “Don Alejandro is not in, señor.” 

“I am not looking for Don Alejandro.  Is Don Diego in?” 

“Sí, he is, señor.  He is preparing to ride into the pueblo,” the boy told him.  

“Would you please take a message to him?” Hernando asked.   The boy nodded.  “Tell him there is someone by the gate who would like him to give a message to Ramón.  Make sure that you tell him just exactly the way I told you.”  

“Sí, señor.  I will tell him,” the boy said, as he quickly dashed through the door. 

 

                                                   **********************

   

Diego de la Vega was recording the sale of one of the rancho’s prize stallions when Pepito padded into the library.  “Yes, Pepito, what is it?” he asked.   Bernardo was sitting unobtrusively near the window. 

“There is a young man at the gate who wants you to give a message to Ramón,” the boy told him.  

“Ramón?” Diego asked, surprised.  A coincidence or had someone found out about his secret during the time of his ‘illness’? 

“Sí, patrón,” Pepito confirmed.  

“What did this young man look like?” Diego inquired, more puzzled than alarmed. 

“Taller than me, Don Diego, with dark hair and gray eyes.  He looks to be just a year or two older than me, too.”

Sudden insight caused the young caballero to sigh in relief, although that was short lived.  The idea that Hernando had found out who he was disturbed him slightly.  “Pepito, tell the young man I will be right out.  And then go tell Carlos to saddle my horse.”  

“Sí, Don Diego.”  Pepito bowed slightly and then slipped out of the room.  

“Well, Bernardo, it would seem that somehow my young benefactor has found out who Ramón is.  I would have figured that Hernando would have been more discreet than to have come to see me at the hacienda, though,” Diego mused out loud. 

Bernardo signed furiously, finally pointing toward the gate. 

“Yes, my friend, I agree, he is not here to do harm, but you are right.  There is only one way to find out the boy’s intents, let us go see him,” Diego said with a smile.  Despite his chagrin at Hernando’s discovery, he was sincerely glad to be seeing the young man again. 

Walking sedately through the sala, the caballero paused to let Bernardo open the door.  Before him stood Hernando.  The boy’s pensive frown changed quickly to a broad smile. 

“Ramón!  Uh, I mean Don Diego.  I was hoping that it was you,” Hernando blurted.  

Puzzled, Diego asked, “You did not know this was my home?” 

“I only found out that you were Don Diego.  I had no idea what your last name was.” 

“Well, now that you are here, come sit down and we can have refreshments,” Diego said pleasantly.  “And I want you to call me Diego.  You are the son of a hacendado and you have saved me twice.” 

Hernando blushed, but looked pleased.  “Gracias, Diego, but I cannot sit and have refreshments.  I have something very important to tell you.  I must tell you where no one else can overhear.” 

“Hmm, perhaps you can tell me as we ride toward the pueblo?  I was planning on going there anyway,” Diego suggested. “Let me give the servants last minute instructions and by then my horse will be saddled.”  Hernando just nodded. 

Inside the sala, Diego motioned to Bernardo.  “I want you to accompany us and if Hernando’s information is something that needs your discreet listening skills in the pueblo, then circulate and let me know what you find out.”  The mozo nodded and set off for the stable. 

Soon the trio was riding toward the pueblo.  “Now tell me what your news is, Hernando.  I can deduce from your countenance that it is important.” 

Hernando related what he had heard in the stable.   To his great relief, Diego didn’t dismiss his information as the sergeant had. 

“This is very disturbing news, Hernando,” was all Diego said.

  

 

Chapter Two
The Hernando Stories Introduction
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