Dangerous Journey

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Tornado continued his parallel path above the main road with the sure and steady pace that Zorro had come to trust over the past two years.   He let the horse pick the route and he watched for the tell-tale signs of a place of ambush.  Then he saw in his mind, Hernando’s drawing, the lion’s ear.  Suddenly, it dawned on him.  It was not a lion; it was a fox!  Hernando had mentioned something about fox’s ears when he had first told him about the plot, but that part had slipped from his memory in his desperate quest to find out when the governor was actually coming.  The “ears” were two small peaks that stood out from the distance like the ears of a fox.  He knew exactly where the ambush would take place and he applauded the conspirators.  It was a perfect place.  One could make a clear shot without the slightest chance of being seen from the road.  And from that vantage, one could see for a great distance in either direction. 

Turning Tornado’s head, Zorro took a seldom-used path that would lead him directly to the Fox’s Ears.  When he was a short distance from his destination, Zorro dismounted and ground tied Tornado.  The stallion’s hooves on the rocks would alert the killers and it was absolutely necessary that he had the element of surprise on his side if he was to save the governor.  Then Zorro thought of Hernando and a knot grew tight in his stomach.  What had they done with the boy?  Could they have killed him already?  Zorro sent a quick prayer to his patron saint to protect Hernando until he could rescue him. 

With sure steps, Zorro quickly reached a place just below the vantage point.  Ever more careful, he climbed the boulders that partially ringed the camp.  From where he crouched Zorro could see the road that led toward San Pedro. There was no sign of the governor’s entourage.  The governor was apparently riding at an easy pace.  That was good, but Zorro still had to hurry.  Below him, he saw three men and . . . Hernando!   The boy was tied and gagged, but it was apparent that he had been working at the ropes binding him because one hand was free. 

Two of the men were preparing muskets for the assassination while the other one was giving last minute instructions.  “Jorge, why did you bring the boy along?” one of the men asked.

“Why just get the money for killing the governor?” Jorge asked.  “When we can also get money for the boy.”

“But he knows us.”

“We get the money, but that does not mean papá will get his son back alive, just that he will get his son back,” Jorge retorted.   The men laughed. 

Suddenly Hernando looked up and saw the masked man.  His eyes widened, but Zorro quickly motioned him to lie still.  Zorro took his whip from his belt and quickly gauged the distance.  Then with a minimum of motion, the whip flashed out and caught one of the men around the neck, snapping his body back toward Zorro and the rocks.  With barely a moan, he sagged to the ground.  But the other two had noticed the action and with growls of anger, were drawing knives and swords.  Zorro grinned and leaped down, drawing his sword almost before his feet touched the ground.  It was to his advantage that the assassins did not want their prey to hear pistol shots before it was time for the killing.  Zorro parried and thrust, mindful of the small space in which he was working and also of the boy who was still bound and gagged near his feet.  This made it more difficult to totally control the duel, but still Zorro had the advantage.  

Jorge leaped forward in a wild thrust that would have skewered Zorro had the outlaw been standing still, but Zorro was not standing still.  He jerked to one side and then slashed a long furrow across his adversary’s ribs.  With a bitten off cry, Jorge dropped his sword and fell back, one arm across the wound.  Zorro realized time was not on his side.  This had to end soon.  The other bandit slashed at him angrily and Zorro ducked and thrust his sword into the man’s chest.  With a moan of pain and realization of impending death, the assassin sank to the ground and then was still.  The hilt of Zorro’s sword rendered Jorge unconscious.

A sobbing scream of pain caused Zorro to pivot around where he saw the bandit he had thought unconscious shoving a now unbound Hernando to the ground.  The boy had been stabbed with a knife.   Without hesitation, Zorro smashed his fist into the third assassin’s face, rendering him unconscious, and then bent over Hernando.  The wound was bleeding, not heavily, but badly enough that the boy needed to see a doctor soon. 

“I am sorry, Señor Zorro,” Hernando gasped out. 

“Mi amigo, why?  It is obvious that you saved me from this man’s attack.  But we must get you to the doctor quickly.”

“The governor….” Hernando said.   

Zorro chose to ignore the boy for the moment as he tore a strip of cloth from the bottom of Hernando’s shirt and fold it into a bandage.  The boy moaned as Zorro pressed it against the wound.  “This should help control the bleeding.  You try to lay still, Hernando.  We should be able to get help for you quickly.”

Zorro leapt toward the vantage overlooking the highway.  In the distance he saw the approach of the governor’s entourage.  There was only one action which could be taken now and that was to become a sniper himself.   There was no time to finish this fight in an honorable way.  Taking up the musket, the outlaw checked and found it ready.  He saw another musket nearby, which was loaded as well.  Picking them both up, he tested each for balance, as he knew there would only be one chance, only one shot to save his Excellency. 

“I can shoot, too, Señor Zorro,” Hernando whispered. 

“No, but gracias, Hernando.  Even if I would let you, using a rifle would only make your wound bleed more than it is now,” Zorro answered.  “You lay still and pray that my shot succeeds.”  Turning back to the road, he put the musket up to his shoulder and sighted, watching the trio come closer and closer.  Too soon, they were near enough for Zorro to see Bartola slow his horse down and fall slightly behind the governor’s horse.  He also saw the adjutant look surreptitiously up toward his position.   Zorro sighted again and found the mask a detriment to his aim.  With an impatient growl, he jerked it down and looked down the line of the barrel toward Señor Bartola.  His chest tightened slightly, feeling the wrongness of this kind of killing. 

Suddenly Bartola frowned and reached down toward his banda as though after a gun.  There was no time to further argue with himself the honor of this type of action; it was time for action.  Slowly exhaling and smoothly squeezing the trigger, the powder flashed and a loud boom echoed in his ears.  The acrid pall of spent powder drifted above the campsite.  Grabbing the other musket, Zorro sighted along its long barrel and saw that he had succeeded.  The governor was racing toward a stand of trees on the other side of the highway, the reins of Leonar’s horse clutched in one hand.  Bartola lay crumpled in the dust, unmoving.  Sliding the mask back on, Zorro turned to Hernando and found the boy semi-unconscious. 

A quick check indicated that the bandage was almost soaked through, but the boy’s heart was still beating strongly.  Retrieving his cape, he returned to Hernando and wrapped it around the boy.  He also snatched up one of the bandit’s pistols and stuck it in his sash.  Carefully picking the boy up, Zorro whistled for Tornado.  When the horse arrived, the outlaw gently called Hernando’s name. 

“Sí, Señor Zorro,” came the whispered reply. 

“I am going to place you on Tornado.  Do you think you can hang on until I swing on behind you?”

“Sí, I will try.”

“Bueno,” Zorro responded, gently lifting the young man onto the stallion.  Tornado, at a word, stood rock still.  Quickly, the outlaw mounted behind the boy and gathered the reins, putting his left arm around Hernando to keep him from falling.  “Steady, Tornado, steady,” he admonished the horse as they picked their way down the ridge to the highway. 

“Your Excellency, it is Zorro!  I have a wounded boy.  Do not shoot!” he called out as he approached the Governor’s place of refuge. 

“Señor, are you the one who shot my adjutant?” the voice of the governor called from the copse of trees. 

“Sí, your Excellency, but only because he was making an attempt on your life.  The other assassins are dead or unconscious in the rocks above us.   We must hasten to the pueblo to get this boy to a doctor,” Zorro explained.  The governor and his daughter rode out from behind the trees.  The governor’s pistol was still in his hand, but it was not pointing directly at the outlaw.  Zorro heaved a sigh of relief. 

“By all means, do so, Señor Zorro,” Leonar told him, her eyes filled with trust.

“But I am somewhat on the horns of a dilemma, Señorita.  I will not leave you or your father unattended.  Sergeant Garcia is sending a contingent of soldiers, but they are going north, thinking that you were coming from the Santa Barbara.   I must get young Señor de Cordoba to a doctor.  He was hurt trying to help me and has bled quite a bit.  If I may be so bold, we need to set a fast pace,” Zorro told them bluntly. 

“Let us ride then,” the governor announced. 

Zorro cradled the boy against his chest as best as he could, but was grateful for the smooth rolling gallop that Tornado possessed.  Hernando stirred slightly.  Señor Zorro, he said softly.  Zorro noted that the governor and his daughter were out of earshot ahead of him.

“Sí, Hernando.  We will be at the doctor’s soon.”

Leonar slowed her horse until she was riding next to Tornado.  “How is the young man?” she asked, concerned. 

“He is holding his own.  We should be reaching Los Angeles soon.  I will be taking the young patrón straight to the doctor’s office.  I would greatly appreciate it if you and your father rode to the cuartel and put yourself under the protection of the acting comandante.”

“But Señor Zorro, you will be vulnerable.   It is the middle of the day,” Leonar pointed out.  Zorro noticed that the governor had also dropped back. 

“Your mission today will be allowed to have a well deserved ending, Señor Zorro.  I will guarantee your safe passage,” the governor said.  “After all, you have saved my life three times now, and my daughter’s twice, which is even more important to me.  A bit of safety is the least I can do.  I would offer you amnesty once more, Señor, an unconditional one this time, but I understand why you refused last time and can only assume that the reasons would be the same now.”

“Sí, your Excellency, the reasons are the same, but I thank you for the safe passage.  I was hoping I would be able to finish the journey into the pueblo without interference.”   As they approached the Pueblo de Los Angeles, the traffic on the road became heavier.  Zorro rode to the head of the group, which received many stares.  As Tornado swept into the plaza, he bade the governor and his daughter farewell, and rode without slowing down to the doctor’s office.  Gently, he carried Hernando into the building, where thankfully, he found the doctor attending another patient.  

As soon as he laid his eyes on the boy, Dr. Avila rushed over and examined the wound.   “Señor Zorro, lay the boy down on the bed by the window.  I need as much light as I can get.  Then you must go, quickly.” 

“No, Doctor, I will wait until you have no further need for me.  Young Hernando de Cordoba got this wound trying to help me and I will not leave him.”

Quickly, the doctor finished giving instructions to his first patient and then returned to Hernando’s side.  For the next hour, Zorro gathered medicines, tore linens and did whatever the doctor asked him to.  Hernando moaned in pain during the procedure, but never totally woke up.  Finally the physician straightened up, rubbing his back and looked at Zorro with a slight smile.  “You got him here before he lost too much blood, señor.  I believe that if we can keep infection at abeyance, then he will live to see his next birthday.  I thank you for your help.  Now by all the Saints, will you leave!  It is dangerous for you to be here so long.”   

“I will let the boy’s father know where he is.  Gracias, señor,” Zorro said gratefully as he slipped out the door and vaulted onto Tornado.  Rushing through the plaza, he waved his arm in salute to Sgt. Garcia, who was standing near the gate.  “Sergeant, the time of safe passage is over, we can have another of our wonderful races if you wish!” he called out, feeling exuberant over the happy outcomes of the day. 

“No, thank you, Señor Zorro,” Garcia’s voice drifted to him as he swept down a street heading in the direction of the de la Vega hacienda. 

After leaving his message with Don Miguel and his father, he rode into the secret cave and dismounted.  Bernardo was waiting and took Tornado’s reins.  The mozo’s face and hands said much.  ‘You are safe, the governor is safe and Hernando is safe.’

“Yes,” he said gratefully, even as he was running up the stone steps two at a time.  He went into his room and, with Bernardo’s help, changed into his brown suede calzoneros, a white shirt and brown chaqueta.  He tied on the banda as he went back down the stairs.  “Bernardo, now that you have given me the news about the governor, we will ride into the pueblo.” 

Soon the pair had reached the doctor’s office.  Inside Alejandro, Miguel and a very groggy Hernando greeted them.  “Diego, where have you been?” Alejandro admonished him  “We were frantic when we got the ransom and could have used your help looking for Hernando early this morning,” he said, keeping up the ruse.

“Father, Bernardo was given a message by one of the servants this morning, but apparently he misunderstood it.  I spent the entire morning searching the hills for Benito, before finding out that he was buying breeding stock in Santa Barbara.  How is Hernando?”

“Thanks to Zorro and the doctor, he will be all right,” Miguel said, relief evident in his voice.  

“Diego,” Hernando said groggily.  “Zorro saved the governor and me as well.”

“Ah, but Hernando, if you hadn’t told what you had heard, Zorro would never have known about this plot and the governor would be dead now.  You are a hero, too,” Diego said. 

“Thank you for believing me, Diego.”   The boy struggled to keep his eyes open. 

“And of course I believed you, why would I doubt the word of a caballero.  You are very brave, my friend, but next time leave the derring-do to the experts,” Diego said to the boy, giving a knowing wink that only Hernando would see. “You must sleep now and build up your strength.”

Hernando smiled at him and then gave up the struggle to stay awake.  

____________

 

A week later, Hernando and Diego sat under a tree near a large pond.  The heat made the air heavy and still.  Buzzing insects flew across the water’s surface, sometimes being snatched up by predatory fish.  The insects in the trees were incessantly loud. 

“Father and I will be going home tomorrow, Diego.”

“Yes, I know, Hernando,” Diego answered.  He flipped a stone toward the surface of the water and watched in satisfaction as it skipped four times before sinking to the bottom of the pond.  

“Diego, even though you did not want me to find out who you really were, I want you to know I will never tell anyone.  I know why you tried to keep your identity from me and I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you planned....” Hernando tried to explain.  He looked up at the older man, anxious for understanding.   In the past months he had seen Diego alternately as a hero, a brother, (younger and older), a second father, a favorite uncle and a partner, depending on the circumstances, and his feelings were now confused.  It saddened him that he couldn’t sort them out. 

“Hernando, I have said nothing more about your knowledge of my secret, because I trust you implicitly.  I know you will keep your word, because you have an understanding of what I am doing, a deep understanding.  Deeper than anyone else, except, perhaps Bernardo, and now my father.”  They both sat in silence for a while longer.   “I hope that if I am ever able to marry, I will have a son like you.” 

Hernando blushed at the compliment, murmured his thanks and then looked back at Diego, suddenly realizing what else was in that sentence. ‘Zorro.   Looking down at the ground, he thought of his own mother and father, how happy they were, how much joy they had, and he also remembered how much Diego had enjoyed his younger brothers and sisters during his stay at the de Cordoba hacienda.  His sadness deepened and it shifted from feeling sorry for himself to feeling an ache for his friend. 

His idea of most señoritas was that of little birds flying from limb to limb, twittering merrily.  He had no use for girls right now, but Diego was a lot like his father, and Hernando couldn’t picture his father without picturing the rest of his family. 

Diego suddenly said, “Come, my friend, let us go back to the hacienda.  Juanita was making one of her wonderful dinners when we left,”.  They mounted in silence.  Hernando watched Diego out of the corner of his eye as they rode, and found that his feelings were no longer confused.  The man beside him was most definitely his hero, but it was because Hernando understood him so much more than he did a scant few months ago.  And the boy was grateful for that understanding.

 

 

 

 

Chapter One
The Hernando Stories Introduction
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