Chapter Three - The Raid
The move was to an area a bit further south and west, an area that Bear Killer said used to be land his people inhabit during most of the winter months. It was also closer to Californio settlements. I found that the tribe did indeed own horses, but not many and not close to the camp. They had been kept in a mountain meadow nearby, where there was better grazing and more water for them. Mine and Bernardo's horses were among them.
By the time a week had passed, I was pretty well able to converse with my captors without relying on the use of signs. Sitting outside of the new camp with Bernardo the morning after dwellings had been constructed, I contemplated our lack of progress in finding Tornado and returning home. Of course, I realized that the relocation of the tribe had been an all-consuming event for every member, but I was still frustrated. I knew Father would be worrying by now, as we had been gone for over ten days on a journey which had been optimistically expected to take only a short time.
Bernardo tapped me on the shoulder, and signed a query, having noted my pensive mood. "Bernardo, I am beginning to enjoy Deer Meadow's cooking, and I am getting used to walking everywhere I go. I think that we have been here too long," I quipped.
Bernardo smiled broadly at my joke and nodded his agreement. Then he signed an inquiry about Tornado.
"I still have no idea where Tornado is or how to rectify the situation with Eagle Wing and Deer Meadow."
Bernardo signed a heart and Cupid's arrow. I laughed. "Yes, once Eagle Wing marries Deer Meadow, I think that it will be easier for us to leave." I heard the sudden shouting of distress coming from a part of the valley even further from the camp then our position. Grabbing my whip, which I had been carrying with me, I motioned to Bernardo and we ran toward the screaming voices.
Arriving at the scene of the tumult, we found the aftermath of a raid on the women who had been washing at a large stream. Those left, were wailing for the missing ones, many of whom were relatives. Children, too, were crying softly for missing mothers. Catching the eye of Leaf, Deer Meadow's youngest daughter, I asked her what had happened.
"Español men, like you, about ten of them came on horses. They rode among us, beat the two young men, and took Mother and others and rode out again," she had unshed tears in her eyes, the six-year-old had yet to cry aloud. "You will bring Mother back to us, Fox?"
I felt fury at the heinous act of my countrymen. I realized that this was not too unlike some of the methods that had been employed in the past, forcing Indians off of their lands, but I had no doubt that the result of this kidnapping was not to convert the women to Christianity. "Where is Squirrel?" Squirrel was Leaf's brother, who was only five, but very inquisitive and he almost always accompanied his mother.
"With Mother. Please, Fox, find Mother and Squirrel," she said plaintively.
"Yes," I hissed. I had come to enjoy the company of the children and the thought of anything happening to them or anyone else in the tribe distressed me greatly. I signed to Bernardo to get the children and women back to the camp. He signed a 'Z'. "Yes, it is time for these local hacendados to learn about Zorro."
Running all the way back to the camp, which was at the far end of the valley, I was met by a small contingent of men, riding to investigate. The group included Eagle Wing, whose countenance showed worry for Deer Meadow. Breathlessly, I explained what had happened and also that Bernardo was helping the remaining women gather the children and return to camp.
I noticed one of the men on my horse and asked him to relinquish it to me. He hesitated. "Wild Wind, I do not wish to argue with you or fight you for the horse, but I am going to find this hacendado and bring back the women and the boy, Squirrel. If that means that I have to tear you off the horse, then so be it." Seeing the look in my eyes, he slid off and handed me the reins. He leaped on behind another warrior and the group rode off to the scene of the abduction.
Vaulting on my gelding, I raced back into camp and rushed into the back of Deer Meadow's dwelling, where I undid the saddle bag and changed into my costume. I heard someone scratching on the partition just as I was tying on the mask and bandana. Reaching for the sword, I saw Corn Tassel, Deer Meadow's eldest child, staring at me in fear. "Corn Tassel, your mother has been kidnapped and I am going to get her." I am not sure if she recognized me, but at this point my secret was the least of my worries.
Mounting, I raced through the valley, waving to Bernardo as I rushed by. I met up with several of the men, who were riding after the kidnappers. Most of the warriors pulled their horses back in shock and fear, making comments and signs indicating that they were seeing some kind of otherworldly apparition.
Eagle Wing, on the other hand, gave me a wide-eyed stare and then a broad grin. "There is no need for a large war party; only me, Señor Zorro, and Fox, who is nearby," he said. The others acquiesced, still looking nervously at me, and turning, headed back to the camp.
Still looking intently at me, Eagle Wing said, "Bear Killer aptly named you, Señor Zorro."
In astonishment, I could only gape at him as we began our pursuit of the kidnappers. Then it dawned on me, Eagle Wing had said that he had left the tribe for eight years, apparently he had spent some of that time near Los Angeles. As though perceiving my thoughts, Eagle Wing explained, "I worked at the mission at San Gabriel for several years, before returning to the tribe. I was there when the comandante from Los Angeles laid siege to the mission to try to get Padre Felipe to turn over a hacendado. I saw you several times."
I laughed shortly. "This is an interesting turn of events. I appreciate you protecting my identity. Now, we should get down to the business of finding the kidnapped women. You do realize that this is our act of bravery if we accomplish this task." And with the one comment by the Indian, I had been included on this raid as Fox, also. I felt gratitude for Eagle Wing's gesture.
Eagle Wing nodded. "I think that if Bear Killer knew of you, as I do, then there would never have been a question about bravery. But all I care about right now is rescuing the women, especially Deer Meadow," he said emphatically. I agreed wholeheartedly.
By the time we reached our destination, it was nearing sunset. At my suggestion, we found a secure place and rested up for a short while. Shortly after the sun disappeared over the western hills, I reconnoitered around the perimeter of the hacienda, checking for the position of any guards and especially for the location of the prisoners near the casa grande. Easily avoiding the few vaqueros acting as watchmen, I used my whip as a rope to climb up to a small window on the back side of the hacienda, which was open to let in the evening breezes.
Silently making my way through the room, I went out the door and onto the walkway overlooking the patio. Two men and a woman were talking over a bottle of wine. "Señor Suarez, do you think that this little sortie against the Indians will force them back into the mountains?" asked a slender young man, dressed in extremely elegant clothes. It appeared to me that this one was the hacendado, although he was the youngest in the group.
The woman was quite young also, possibly the young hacendado’s wife. Señor Suarez, while richly dressed, was no match for the pretentious, overly embroidered and decorated attire of his host. Even my fanciest outfit was no match for this pompous young whelp's finery.
"I suggest, Don Francisco, that probably the Indians will send down a war party tomorrow morning and try to get the woman and that brat back. If we are prepared for their attack, then we can easily kill the men, and the women can be utilized as indentured servants. The rest of the tribe, seeing the futility of reprisals, will retreat back into the hills, where they will never bother us again. You will be able to finish what your father was unable or unwilling to accomplish."
"What about the horses that the vaqueros captured in the mountains?" Don Francisco asked.
"They will add to your wealth, especially the black one, if we can ever tame him enough to use him at stud," Suarez told the hacendado. "He is a magnificent animal, but a wild one."
I was intrigued at Señor Suarez's last statement and wondered if Tornado could be the stallion to which they were referring. After I heard everything I needed to know, I would have to investigate that possibility.
"Are the women secure in the servant's quarters?" Don Francisco asked, swishing his wine delicately in his glass before drinking it. His wife/companion looked slightly disdainful.
"Sí, Don Francisco," Suarez answered. "After telling them that the boy would be killed if they so much as made a whimper, they stopped their wailing and whining. It helped that Paco used the point of his knife to such great effect in convincing them of his sincerity."
"What do you mean, 'used the point of his knife', " the woman spoke for the first time. She seemed incensed at the brutal implications of Suarez's statement.
"He only used it to prick the mother a bit, and he only threatened to do the same on the child," Suarez assured her. This woman was not the only one incensed; I wanted to jump down and choke the breath out of Suarez and the cruel little tyrant who was also involved in this operation.
I had heard enough, now I knew where the prisoners were located. It would soon be time to get Eagle Wing and release the women. Slipping back through the room, I made my way out of the hacienda the same way I came in. In a very short time, I was back where the Indian was waiting anxiously and I reported everything I had found out to him.