Chapter Four - The
Act of Bravery
As I had supposed he would be, Eagle Wing was furious and ready to go in and kill both men. "Wait, Eagle Wing, from experience I know that it will be better to go in after the men on guard are sleepy. That will not happen for another hour or two, so we will need to wait for that amount of time. First we will take care of the horses, all of which will be needed when we release the women. And it would also be wise not to kill the hacendado and his friend, because if you did, your people would never have any peace."
"They talked of a black stallion. I think it may be my horse. Do not go near him, I will take care of him," I said, looking at him meaningfully. The Indian nodded. We rested anxiously for a couple of hours and then began our raid on the hacienda.
Leaving our horses tethered, we slipped down to the corral where the newly captured animals were milling around, tightly packed in their confined space. I whistled softly and Tornado's own call came from the middle of the herd. "Tornado, softly boy," I admonished him in a quiet voice. Apparently, he heard me and settled down. "Tornado, come here," I next commanded in a whisper. Slowly, he was able to make his way over to the fence where I waited. "Ah, Tornado, you scoundrel, I see you have kept busy," I murmured to him as I stroked along the side of his face and down his neck.
"Eagle Wing, when I give you a signal, open the gate. We will let them settle down a bit, first," I said softly. Climbing on the top rung of the fence, I swung up on Tornado, relishing the feel of his strong muscular body between my knees. It was good to have him back. The other horses quickly settled down as they got used to our scent. "Now, Eagle Wing, slowly and easily."
The Indian quietly opened the gate, just enough to let out two horses as a time. I guided Tornado out near the head of the line and walked him away from the corral and to the place we had left our horses. Most of the captured animals followed docilely; it was apparent that some of the horses were Indian owned. We found enough rope to tether a dozen horses, the rest we led further away from the hacienda and, slapping their rumps, sent them back into the mountains and freedom. In the meantime, I had stolen a saddle from the tack room and cinched it on Tornado's back.
Eagle Wing and I waited, listening for any sounds that would indicate that our little stunt with the horses had been discovered. Hearing nothing, we quietly rode back toward the casa grande on horseback. We needed to release the women and get as far into the mountains before their escape was discovered as we possibly could.
In the shadows of a small stand of trees, I pointed out the building where the prisoners were being held. Leaving the horses, we crept silently to the back of the building. There was a small window at the back, but it was barred for the night, we would have to go in the front of the building. Peering around the corner, I saw two guards dozing, leaning on their muskets. I motioned to Eagle Wing to converge on one guard from the other side of the building, while I crept up on the second guard.
Neither vaquero was aware of our presence until we were on them. The hilt of my sword effectively rendered my guard unconscious, while a rock did the same for Eagle Wing's. We left both men slumped against the building and turned our attention to the door. "Seņor Zorro," Eagle Wing said softly, "I will go in and reassure the women. I saw the reaction the men made to you, and the last thing we need is an outcry to alert the other guards." I nodded. He slipped in and then in a few moments motioned to me.
In the dim light, I could see the prisoners staring at me fearfully, but they made no sound. Eagle Wing gave instructions for the escape. "I will not go until Squirrel is returned to me," Deer Meadow interrupted in a whisper.
"Where is Squirrel," I asked.
"The white woman took him. She said that if they kept Squirrel, we would do what they wanted. The white witch also said she wanted the boy for her personal servant," Deer Meadow said, anguish and anger in her voice.
"But Squirrel is only five years old," I whispered in confusion. Then I remembered that in some European courts, little children were used as personal servants for whatever reasons royalty saw fit. This woman must be trying to emulate this practice. I shook my head in disgust. "I know the layout of the hacienda, I will go get Squirrel," I reassured Deer Meadow. "Eagle Wing, go ahead and get the women out of here. All I need is my horse and we can catch up with you in the mountains after I have rescued Squirrel."
"I will not go without Squirrel," Deer Meadow was adamant.
"Deer Meadow, you must trust me to get Squirrel. You must go with Eagle Wing. Fox is nearby to help me, also," I assured her.
"If Seņor Zorro says that he can get Squirrel, then he will do so. I trust him, Deer Meadow," Eagle Wing said softly. It was obvious she didn't recognize me and I couldn't blame her for her mistrust, but she finally acquiesced to Eagle Wing's judgment. Her shoulders slumped as she joined the other women near the door. Slipping out, I saw no evidence of any other guards and whispered to the Indians to go ahead.
While they made their way to the grove of trees, I stealthily ran to the side wall of the casa grande. Using a sturdy vine, I climbed to the top of the wall and looked into the patio. There was only one vaquero sitting under a tree dozing. Quietly, I slipped up to him and using the hilt of my sword, completed his journey to total sleep.
Going up the steps silently, I listened for sounds that would indicate which room Squirrel was in. A very soft light shined out from under one door and I heard a woman's voice from the other side. "Little one, you must learn to trust me, I will not hurt you," the woman said. Waiting a moment, I heard no evidence of anyone else except Squirrel in the room. Quickly, I unhooked my whip and as quietly as possible, turned the latch and slipped in.
I faced a robed woman, whose countenance showed shock at my entrance. Squirrel was backed into a corner, abject fear causing him to shiver. "Squirrel, have you been harmed," I asked him in his language. Squirrel gaped at me for a moment and then shook his head no.
"Good," I said, and then I addressed the woman. "I am here to take the boy back to his people. It is a travesty for a little child to be so cruelly torn from his family."
"Seņor Zorro, at least I assume that you are Zorro," she said. I nodded. "Why would it be so bad for a heathen to be raised in a good Spanish home?" Looking into her eyes, I saw that she believed her reasoning to be logical and correct. I suppose, before my experience with Eagle Wing's tribe, I might not have argued with the statement very hard. Now, the idea of Squirrel being taken from Deer Meadow appalled me. I motioned to the boy, and with only slight hesitation, he scrambled over to me.
"Because his mother loves him and he loves her," I said simply. The seņora looked at me steadily with a disdainful look, before getting up and slowly walking to a bedstand. "We will be leaving, seņora. I would appreciate it if you would not cry out, and then no one will be hurt." I started for the door, realizing that this woman was as dangerous as the two men, in her own way.
She began to turn and in her hand was a small pistol. Before she could get any kind of aim on me, I flicked my wrist and the end of the whip delicately wrapped itself around the little pistol, jerking it out of her hand and flinging it under the wardrobe. I touched my hand to my hat, and grabbing Squirrel around the waist, dashed out the door. The woman's shouting spurred me to run down the stairs at an almost breakneck speed, at the same time whistling for Tornado.
By the time we had reached the gate, the hacendado and Seņor Suarez had rushed out of their rooms, and Tornado was waiting outside. Throwing Squirrel into the saddle, I swung myself on behind him, and spurred the mighty stallion into a fast gallop. Soon we were beyond the range of any musket fire and racing into the hills.
Tornado maintained his mile-eating gallop throughout the remainder of the night, until, just before the dawn, we met Bear Killer and a group of warriors. Eagle Wing was among them, assuring me of the safety of the women, and Bernardo was also part of the group, a bundle in his hands. I handed Squirrel to Bernardo and he handed me the bundle, signing discreetly that I should probably change before going into camp.
Finding a place nearby, I quickly changed and returned to the group, on my palomino, which Bernardo had left tied nearby for me. Bear Killer looked intently at me as I said to him, "Bear Killer, I will go back and scout out the back trail. The hacendado may very likely have sent vaqueros after Eagle Wing and the women."
"No, Fox," the Indian said sadly. "Because when they arrive, if the Espaņol are following, they will find nothing and there will be no evidence of where we have gone."
I was incredulous. The look on my face must have been very obvious, because Bear Killer continued. "Fox, many years we have resisted the intrusion of Spaniards. The only way we have been successful is by fleeing. It is not the way our ancestors would have done it, but we cannot resist the numbers that would come against us if we fought and killed Spaniards."
Sighing, I realized he was right. "I understand, Bear Killer." Together we rode into the new camp that was already partly dismantled. I noticed Bernardo near the opposite side of the campsite, motioning to me. Joining him, he led me a short distance away to a small hidden arroyo, where Tornado was tethered. Signing rapidly, he wanted to know my intentions, now that the camp was dismantling. I stared, unseeing, at Tornado, while my mind raced, thinking about this turn of events.
"Bernardo, the tribe is determined to go further into the hills, but Don Francisco may continue to follow if he is angry enough over the raid. I will stay behind and see what can be done to keep the ranchero and his men from following. That is the least that we can do for Bear Killer and his people," I said.
Bernardo signed a reminder of the time when we had nearly been captured before, by mountain Indians and how they had hidden the gold mine. Once again, I thanked the Saints above for sending me such an astute friend back during my days in Madrid. "You are a genius, my friend. Yes, a rockslide can be arranged at some point along the tribe's retreat. I may need you, also. Perhaps Eagle Wing will be able to help."
Back in the camp, I outlined my idea. Bear Killer was pleased with the idea and agreed to send Eagle Wing and Bernardo with me to help put the plan in action. When the camp was almost ready to move out, the three of us started back down the trail that Eagle Wing and I had taken the day before.
Several hours of riding found us gazing down the mountainside at a group of vaqueros, followed by Don Francisco and Seņor Suarez. Signing, Eagle Wing indicated a retreat to higher ground. We returned as quickly as possible to the site of the recently vacated camp and then rode the northwesterly route that the tribe had taken until we found a likely place for a rock slide. Gathering stout limbs to use as levers, we set about waiting, taking time for a quick meal from the trail rations we had brought with us. I also changed back into my costume.
After waiting for several more hours, Eagle Wing went down the trail to scout the position of vaqueros. He returned very quickly with news that the men were only a short distance behind him. Anxiously, we awaited their arrival. Just as the men came into view, we used the poles and started the rocks careening down the mountainside. Horses screamed, men shouted and the dust billowed everywhere. Extremely happy with the effect, I waited for the air to clear and then stood at the top of the mountain in plain site.
"Seņores, it does no good to try to get revenge on these people, the mountains will protect them," I shouted. Borrowing somewhat from the Indians I had met further north, I felt that it was effective here also. Don Francisco was still having problems controlling his willful mount. Suarez ordered the men to hold their fire.
"Seņor Zorro, why do you help these people? I thought you fought for the rights of California's citizens," Suarez said.
"Seņor, I fight for justice. Is it justice to kidnap women and children and to force a peaceful people from the home that was theirs for many generations?" I asked, incensed at his question. "These people will never come near your lands again. Leave them alone, seņores."
Suarez consulted with the hacendado and then turned back to us. "We will leave now, but tell the Indians to never come near the land of Don Francisco Domingues again."
Irritated, I retorted, "Don Francisco, do not have the audacity to invade the village of the mountain people again. They will protect their families and the mountains will protect them." Nodding, Suarez and the others turned their horses and returned the way they came. Eagle Wing and Bernardo returned to the horses. I found a secluded spot and changed back to the buckskins that I was also getting used to.
At nightfall, we caught up with the rest of the tribe. Eagle Wing reported our progress, and also my bravery during the last two campaigns. Bear Killer looked at me with amusement, and when no one else was close, he said, "I am told that the Spanish name for fox is Zorro. You are indeed as clever as your namesake, in either language. Your bravery cannot be questioned, only your knowledge of our customs. This is a good joke on both of us." He began to laugh, and after staring at him in amazement for a moment, I joined him. It was a good joke that fate had played on me.
Eagle Wing and Deer Meadow were married that night. The wedding was simple, mainly the commitment of the couple to each other and to the tribe. The tribe was witness to the promises that were made and then the newlyweds went into the makeshift dwelling and closed the rawhide door flap. The children were staying with Bear Killer for the one night. Several jokesters scratched on the couple's home a few times, before everyone settled down for the evening.
Bernardo and I slept under the stars at the perimeter of the camp. I thought of Bear Killer's statement about my being ignorant of the tribe's customs, and realized that I had received an education, which could not compare with anything learned at the university. I was grateful for the added insight that had been granted me during the past week.
Early the next morning, I said my farewells while Bernardo packed a few provisions, which Deer Meadow had given us. As I mounted, Eagle Wing approached and said softly, "Don Diego, I hope that this time with our people has been of benefit to you. I feel I have been bettered by my friendship with you."
Astonished, I gaped for a brief moment, before realizing that it was logical for him to know my name. I had been to San Gabriel as Don Diego several times during the time that Don Ignacio had claimed sanctuary there. Smiling, I said, "Eagle Wing, this time with you and your people has taught me well. You have been a good friend; I will never forget the lessons I have learned." Turning our horses, we headed down a trail that led northwest toward Los Angeles. Tornado trotted from just beyond the camp and followed docilely behind us.