Juan's Christmas Gift





Chapter Five - Urn of Fate



Although Capt. Petrov was still a bit suspicious, he nevertheless relented, because it was a holy day, and he allowed whichever of his men wanted to go ashore to do so. In the early afternoon, the captain was surprised to see several wagons pull up on the beach loaded with provisions.

"S Rozhdjestvom Khristovim, (Merry Christmas)," Juan shouted from the lead wagon. When the goods were rowed out to the ‘Emperor’s Jewel,’ he informed Capt. Petrov that several hacendados from the Los Angeles area had gathered the goods and would have felt remiss if they didn't help their friends from Russia.

"Spasibo tebje," Petrov murmured, overwhelmed by the generosity of the local people. He, along with most of the sailors, decided to go and observe the Navidad observances after the provisions had been stored below decks.

"Nje zah chto," answered Juan brightly. "It is nothing among friends," he explained.

"Well, Bernardo," Diego said quietly from the back of the crowd observing the last Posada procession. "It would seem that Navidad has not only softened our dour Administrado, but it has made the Russians and Californios friends, at least for the season." Bernardo nodded his agreement.

As the evening progressed, Juan again was in demand as a storyteller, and again he mesmerized everyone with his vivid accounts. "It is an enviable talent to be able to tell a story so well," he murmured to his mozo. Bernardo pointed out in sign that part of the time, Juan was telling the stories in Russian. Diego nodded. He had vaguely noticed that, too, but decided that the change in language didn't diminish the impact of the stories at all. Probably because they were so familiar, he thought.

As the fiesta progressed into the morning hours, the groups gravitated to the church, where Father Miguel held mass to celebrate the glorious birth. Afterwards, the sailors were invited to many different homes for dinner. Diego invited three home with him. "S Rozhdjestvom Khristovim," one of them held up his glass in a toast at the dinner table. Alejandro didn't know what was said, but Diego had picked up enough during the day to know the meaning of the phrase. They all raised their glasses to toast the holiday and the feelings of good will that it brought with it. Then Alejandro saluted his homeland. The Russians joined in, next responding with another toast of their own.

In amusement, Diego watched them come up with toast after toast, and he began sipping tiny swallows of his wine to avoid becoming drunk. Alejandro finally put his hand up and motioned for them to stop. Laughing, the Russian sailors understood and drained their glasses without any more toasting.

The afternoon was spent quietly with friendly chess matches and music, which each party provided to the other. In the late afternoon the group returned to the pueblo, where a huge urn had been placed in the center of the plaza. "Ah, Don Diego, are you going to participate this year?" Sgt. Garcia asked him in his booming voice.

"Of, course, Sergeant," Diego answered. Garcia had not been a sergeant long when he had drawn Diego's name from the Urn of Fate. It had been the year before young de la Vega had sailed off to Spain. Garcia had considered Diego his close friend since that time. Diego penned his name on a slip of paper and dropped it in the urn. Bernardo followed suit, as did most of the spectators in the crowd.

"Will the oldest members of the community who are participating come to see who their new year long friends will be?" Father Miguel invited. People started to line up in order to select a name from the urn.

A young sailor tugged on Diego's sleeve to get his attention. In sign, the Russian explained that the weather was changing and they must go back to their ship. They would need some servants to come with them to return the wagons to the pueblo. Diego nodded and found a few volunteers. As the Russian sailors climbed into their borrowed transportation, several turned back and waved to their newfound friends. "Do svidahnija," they called out.

"Do svidahnija" Diego answered. "Vaya con Dios," he added as the wagons rattled out of the plaza. The caballero looked skyward and noticed the thickening clouds. It would not be unwelcome to receive rain, the area needed it; the last months had been drier than usual.

Bernardo brought his attention back to the matter at hand with a tap on his arm, and Diego strode forward to pull a slip of paper from the urn. The manservant followed soon afterward. In amusement, Diego recalled how the Californios had altered this custom. Whereas in Spain, someone pulled two slips of paper out of the urn for each pair, in Los Angeles the individual pulled a slip out, the belief being that a person would have two good friends for the coming year instead of just one.

Last year, Diego had pulled the name of an eligible and lovely señorita, and a different, but equally lovely and eligible señorita had pulled his name from the urn. It had taken a few months before both young ladies had given up in disgust. The caballero had almost sworn to give up the custom, because the two young señoritas had begun interfering with his clandestine activities, causing him some awkward moments.

When Diego opened his slip of paper and looked at it, he was surprised, but still pleased to see Bernardo's name on the paper. Bernardo opened his paper and was startled to see Diego's name.

Sgt. Garcia, looking over their shoulders, boomed, "Too bad, Don Diego, no senoritas this year, but tell me the odds of something like that happening; both of you drawing each other's names. Oh, well, that is the luck, everyone knows that the servant and the master cannot be friends."

Garcia walked to the urn to pull a piece of paper. "By the Saints," he cried a moment later. "Señorita Agnes Morales!" The sergeant looked very pleased, because while the señorita was not beautiful, nor was she very young, she was from a fairly wealthy family. Looking to one side of the crowd, Diego noticed that the señorita in question did not look so pleased. He laughed softly.

"Don Diego, do you believe that the servant and the master cannot be friends?" Juan asked softly. Diego jumped slightly, he had been unaware of the man’s approach.

Looking steadily at the shorter man, he answered, "No, Juan, in this case especially, the master and servant can be very close friends. But from the look in your eyes, I think you already know that," Diego said thoughtfully, surprised at his own candor. He and Bernardo had been very careful to keep up the pretenses of their positions, and both men were well aware of their respective ranks in the order of things. But both were also conscious of the deep friendship that had grown from the time they had met and most especially from the moment that Diego had donned the mask of the Fox.

"Yes, and a good master also serves," Juan added thoughtfully. A sprinkling of rain ended speculations of friendships in the plaza for the moment and most of the crowd began heading for their respective homes. Sgt. Garcia was loudly asking his new friend if she wanted a bit of refreshment in the tavern before leaving for her hacienda. The flustered lady apologized half-heartedly and entering her carriage left the pueblo in haste. Diego bid goodbye to his friends, and he and Bernardo mounted and headed for the hacienda. By the time they had arrived the light misting had developed into a full and heavy rain.

Before Christmas, the people had been praying for rain. Now after a week of steady, heavy downpours, people were now beginning to pray for it to cease. Alejandro looked out of the sala window and gazed at the wet flagstones of the patio. "You know, Diego, if this keeps up, we will have to build an ark to get around by Dia de Los Reyes," he quipped.

"Sí, Father, and I heard that one of the more remote missions was in danger from the mud slides. A messenger came into the pueblo yesterday and told Sgt. Garcia that lancers might be needed to help move the orphans and priests to the pueblo until this wet season ended," Diego explained. As if on cue, a lancer came through the gate and approached the house. Bernardo opened the door to let the bedraggled soldier in.

"Señores," Cpl. Reyes announced as he dripped great amounts of water on the floor near the doorway. "We need the use of any wagons and drivers you can spare. We have received word that the missions nearer the mountains must be evacuated. Many of the orphans are in danger and have to be brought nearer the pueblo."

"We have two wagons sturdy enough for that purpose, corporal. We will have them and drivers ready within the hour. Should they begin heading to the Mission San Gabriel?" Alejandro asked.

"Sí, Don Alejandro." Reyes looked down at the wet floor in embarrassment. "I must go to the other haciendas." As soon as Corporal Reyes left, Diego galvanized the servants in preparing the wagons. Bernardo insisted in going with one of them.

"Be careful, my friend, the roads can be dangerous. I will get some of the vaqueros together and follow shortly," Diego said. Bernardo signed that he would bring a wagon of orphans directly to the de la Vega hacienda by the shortest possible route. Diego nodded absently, thinking of what needed to be done.

He and his father instructed the servants to prepare for their guests. Then, after he had gathered the vaqueros and given them their instructions, he thought about Bernardo's comments and went to see his father, who was in the library. "Father, is there not a road between here and San Gabriel that you have mentioned always washes out when we have rains like this?"

"Sí, Diego, the one that goes from the Mountain of the Black Bears and near the pass just east of the boundary of our property. Why do you ask?" Alejandro asked, seeing the look of concern on his son's face.

Diego blanched. "That is where Bernardo said he was going to take a wagon load of children. He was going to bring them directly here by the shortest route. I must ride quickly and head him off. I have a bad feeling about this, Father, I should have paid more attention."

"Surely, my son, they would have warned him at the mission."

"I am going, nonetheless, and by the fastest means. Tornado." Diego was out of the room almost before the words had left his lips.

Soon he and the great black stallion were galloping up the road, Tornado's sure feet keeping a firm purchase on the wet, slick surface. Zorro watched the road ahead, thankful that his hat kept the worst of the rain out of his eyes. The cape was left at home to avoid the added weight the rainwater would give it. Even as he cantered through the pass, Zorro heard the distant thundering of displaced mud and rocks, but he couldn't push the horse any faster. The way was becoming more slippery as they ascended ever higher toward the Mountain of the Black Bears.



Chapter Six
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Holiday Zorro Stories
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