Peace on Earth

 

 

 

Part Two

As his awe and wonder grew, the Diego couldn’t help but wonder how this was done and why he had been allowed to witness such a great and marvelous thing.  What had he done to deserve such a reward?  Why was he here?  As he drew closer, Diego kept staring at the Holy Child.   The baby’s skin was smooth and pink, making him think the birth had not been too long before his arrival. 

As he stared at the Babe, for some strange reason, he began remembering his days as the fox.  In his mind he replayed the time he had saved his father, the times he had helped so many in the pueblo, kept tyranny from the doorsteps of so many people.  In a flash of insight, Diego realized all the times the bullets had gone astray, horses following had slowed, minds trying to guess his secret had seemed dull.  How seemingly impossible rescues had succeeded and innocents saved.  How his mind had sharpened as he fought against tyranny and oppression. 

He remembered and bowed his head in gratitude as well as shame.  While it had been hard, while there had been sacrifice and though there had been great and intense loneliness, he had been cared for and blessed.  He had the companionship of a loving father and a kind and devoted servant/friend, along with all those friends he had known.  He had no reason to bemoan his lot.  The Child gazed at his face then down to his jacket, where the silver decorations winked in the flickering light of the oil lamps. 

Mary gazed at him as well, but her scrutiny began with his attire and ended on his face.  She smiled slightly and asked him a question.  It was in the same language he had heard the shepherds speak when he entered this time/place.  Shaking his head Diego signed that he could not understand her.  He continued to glance down at the Holy Child, who was now sleeping contentedly in His mother’s arms.  Looking back up, he saw the Mother of God signing back to him with her free hand. 

Was he from far away, her fingers asked?  He nodded an affirmative.  Was he a king or a great ruler, she asked next? 

“No,” he said vehemently, shaking his head.  A great ruler, he thought wryly?  No, he was having trouble ruling his own life right now.  But he was here and he felt it was for more than just his own self-revelation.  Glancing down at the front of his chaqueta, Diego saw the rows of silver conchas and wondered how useful silver might be to the Holy Family.  Kings had come, or would come later and given gold and precious spices.  Making signs, Diego pulled off his chaqueta, drew the sword from his banda and used it to cut off the silver conchas.  Soon he was finished and handed all of the tiny pieces of silver to Joseph who had been silently watching.  He dug inside another pocket and pulled out a watch.  That would not be of use to the Pilgrims, but on the chain of the watch was a ring, his father’s wedding ring that he had put there the day his father had died.  It was of pure gold and would be of definite use to the Holy Family.  The chain was also of gold.  He handed both to Joseph with a smile. 

“It is all I have right now to give to the Holy Babe,” Diego said in his own language, knowing that they did not understand his words, but feeling that they might understand his intent.   He pointed to the Child to clarify what he had said.

No, a voice whispered in his mind.  It is not all you can give.  You can give your service, a continuation of the service that you have so selflessly rendered for twenty years.  It need not be exactly the same as you have previously given, but service where needed is service to God.  And you can give your gratitude, gratitude for all the gifts that you have received, all the gifts you will yet receive, gratitude for everything God has given you; for all good comes from God.

Diego stared at the Child, but He was still asleep.  The caballero looked at Mary, but she was gazing at the pieces of silver in her husband’s hand.  Overwhelmed, he dropped again to his knees.  “Graciás,” Diego whispered to the Holy Babe.  “Thank you for all the years I have had in which to serve You.  Thank you for guiding me, for protecting me.  Thank you for the time I had with my father, especially after he almost died.  I thank you for leading me to Bernardo so long ago.  Thank you for being my friend, my protector, my Savior.”  The tears finally flowed, tears that had not fallen when his father had died, tears that had not been allowed when his friend had died, tears that had not been given a place but once when his mother died.   These tears of gratitude fell freely now and they cleansed him, gave him solace.   When he looked up and saw the tender look on the face of the Mother of God, and felt the joy in his heart, he was content. 

Signing his farewell, Diego gazed once more at the sleeping infant, and turned and walked out of the cave.  The night air was still crisp and cool, but the fog had dissipated.  The hills and stars had the familiarity of home.  Tornado whinnied softly and Diego rubbed his nose. 

It was time for the Fox to ride.  Why, he didn’t really know.  After what had just happened, Diego hesitated to re-enter the cave.  There was no moon in the sky, so he found some brush, quickly took down the saddlebag and pulled out the black clothing.  Then he began to change.  Was it all a dream, he wondered?  That was when he noticed the absence of the silver studs.  They had been cut off.  Pulling out his watch, he saw the chain and ring missing.  It had not been a dream.  In awe, Diego finished dressing, scarcely aware of what he was doing, making the change from habit of many years of practice. 

His clothing went into the saddlebag, the sword in his scabbard, and he mounted and turned Tornado south.  Why, again, he wasn’t totally sure, but he knew that was the direction he needed to go.  As the stallion ate up mile after mile with his easy canter, Zorro pondered the marvelous experience that had just transpired.  The wonder of it stayed firmly in his mind.  He felt Tornado’s muscles bunch and extend under his thighs, felt the cool night air waft soothingly across his body, lifting the cape and making it flow behind like the wings of the great condor.  Zorro felt a purpose in his ride, one that he had not felt for some time, and he wondered what the end result would be.

Just as the sun was rising over the eastern mountains, he topped a small rise and saw in the arroyo below, a camp.  A fire had burned down to coals, and Zorro noticed several sleeping bodies situated around it like the outer rim of a wheel.  Zorro felt no compulsion to ride on; this was where he was needed.  Dismounting, he motioned to Tornado to wait for his command, and the outlaw stealthily made his way down the slope, mentally bemoaning the stiffness that the many hours of nighttime riding had inflicted on him.   In the brightness of the new day, he slipped from bush to boulder to tree, wondering at the nonchalance of the campers who still slept.  As he drew closer he noticed that there were three soldiers in the group, and his astonishment at their negligence grew.

Carefully he circled the camp, taking in the fact that with the soldiers there were three civilians, two of latter appearing to be children.  The smallest child moaned and cried softly in his sleep, waking the adult sleeping nearby.  It was a woman and she quietly slid over to the child and leaned against him.   Zorro noticed that her hands were tied.   A soldier grumbled, rolled over and opened one eye.  Sitting up, he scratched himself and motioned the woman to the fire.  She, in turn, held up her hands.  Shrugging, he beckoned her over to him and pulled out a knife.  When she was close, he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her close, kissing her soundly and then attempting to grope inside her dress.  With a soft cry, she jerked back, kicked the soldier solidly in the shin and slid back to her children, both of whom were awake by now.  

Zorro admired the woman’s courage.  He felt indignation rising, but realized he must find out more of the situation before acting.  With a howl, the soldier leaped up, holding his bruised leg and dancing around the campsite, tripping over one of his companions. 

“You imbecile.  We will have enough of her before we get to San Diego,” one of the other sleepers, the apparent leader said, shoving the unfortunate soldier to the side.

“I have to go relieve myself,” the older boy spoke up, interrupting the tirade.   With a start, Zorro realized that the boy was speaking English with just enough Spanish mixed in to make himself understood by the soldiers.  He appeared to be eleven or twelve.

“Go on, you devil coyote.  But remember, we have your mother here.  You had better come back,” the leader said, supplementing his Spanish with hand signs. 

Zorro slipped away from the camp and waited for the boy to get a small distance away from the others.  He allowed the child to finish his business, and then he quietly slipped out from behind a rock.  Before the boy could cry out, he grabbed him, placing his gloved hand over the child’s mouth.   Then the outlaw realized that the appellation, ‘devil coyote’ was an apt one.  The boy bit and kicked him, squirming with a strength that Zorro wouldn’t have guessed to be in one so young.  It was all he could do to hang on to the child.

Leaning close to the boy’s ear, he whispered in English, “I am here to free you and your family.  You have to trust me.”  The boy stopped fighting and Zorro added, “Will you promise to stay quiet if I let you go?”  He felt the boy’s nod behind his glove.  Slowly, he let him go. 

The boy turned and scrutinized him.  “Who are you?  A robber?”  

The grey eyes took in the costume and the sword in an instant and then looked deeply into the masked man’s eyes.   Zorro was also impressed with the boy’s courage.  There was fear in those eyes, but there was also a fierce determination.  “No, I am El Zorro.  I am your friend.  But first you must tell me what is going on here.”

“That’s fox in Spanish, isn’t it?” the boy asked, cocking his head slightly and continuing to peer at him carefully, as though trying to figure out his secrets.  “I’m Jeremy.  And the little fellow in camp is my brother, Henry.  And that’s my ma that was tied up.”

“And you three are prisoners.”  

“We aren’t supposed to be.  My pa, ma and Henry and me were all traveling to San Diego from St. Louis.  Pa was going to help a Señor Alvarez with his shipping business.  Pa thought that living in California would be a good thing and a way to make a lot of money.  He was good with business….” 

The boy paused and Zorro saw sorrow in his face.  He immediately felt he understood.  “Your father died on the way?” he prompted.

“He was good at business, but no good at travel.  It was so hot and he drank from a spring that must have been poisoned. He died while we were crossing the mountains northeast of here.  Soldiers in San Fernando said they would make sure we got to San Diego.  I don’t know why.  No one there wants us either.”

“I am sorry for your father’s death, Jeremy, but why did these men make you prisoners?”

“They seemed to hate us right from the beginning.  I guess they figured on doing something else besides taking us to San Diego.  And I know that they are going to kill us before we get there,” Jeremy stated. 

Zorro nodded.  The boy was probably right.

“What are you doing, you little devil,” one of the lancers called out from the camp.

Jeremy gave a convincing moan and in broken English/Spanish complained of a bellyache.   Zorro chuckled softly.  This child was a very quick thinker.

“So what are you going to do?” Jeremy asked softly, turning back to the man in black.

“I am going to free your family,” Zorro stated confidently.  “You stay here.”

Unsheathing his sword, he crept toward the camp.   He had made a very bold statement to this boy, and he had every intention of following through.  However, Zorro was not exactly sure how he was going to do it.  He watched for a moment, but drew back when a soldier came out into the brush to find Jeremy.  Waiting patiently for the lancer to pass by, Zorro then reached out and jerked the soldier toward him, the hilt of his sword rendering the man unconscious before he could cry out.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jeremy gazing at him with extreme satisfaction from behind another boulder.  

Slipping toward the perimeter of the camp, he positioned himself so that he would be between the woman and the other two soldiers when he raided the camp.  One of the men bent down to check his saddle bag.  Zorro leaped the remaining few feet, and pushed Jeremy’s mother behind him.  Quickly, he had the point of his sword at the throat of the leader, a corporal.  “Señor, do not force me to see if you can breathe through a hole in your throat,” Zorro hissed.  He reached in and jerked the pistol from the soldier’s belt.  Pointing it at the other man, he added, “Do not try anything, señor.  This bullet would make an even larger hole than the point of my sword.”

“Señor Zorro!” one of the soldiers cried out.  “It was said that you were dead.”

“No, señores, I am very much alive,” Zorro replied with a laugh.  “Now tell me, what crime has this lady and her two children done that they are being held prisoners here?  Or is she simply a prisoner because you want a bit of momentary pleasure?”

“She is an Americano!”  The corporal spat into the dust.

“So what if she is?” Zorro asked.

“The Americanos are taking away the wealth that belongs to Californianos.”

“Wealth belongs to those who work for it,” Zorro retorted. 

Addressing the woman in English, he said, “It is my understanding that you are supposed to meet someone in San Diego.”

There was a slight pause, during which Zorro assumed that Jeremy’s mother was trying to assimilate everything that had happened in the past few short minutes.  Her eyes were wide with fear, but there was also curiosity in them.  And trust.  “Yes, but it was actually my husband who was supposed to meet Señor Alvarez.   When he found out about my husband’s death, he was not interested in helping us.  The officials in San Fernando decided to send us anyway.  These men were supposed to escort us to Señor Alvarez.  It quickly became apparent that they had other ideas.”

Turning his icy gaze back to the soldiers, he said, “Señores, this lady claims that you have kept her prisoner for no other reason than to use her for your own pleasures.  She says also that she is supposed to be a guest in California,” he said, to the soldiers, reverting to Spanish.   “Perhaps you can enlighten me on these new rules of etiquette for the treatment of guests in Alta California.”  There was a smile on his lips, but it was anything but warm. 

“She is not a lady; she is an Americano, and, as far as we are concerned, she and her children are not guests.  The Americanos should all be killed or sent back to their own land,” the leader spat out.

“I will not discuss politics.  You had the intention of raping this woman, and that I will not allow.  She not only had a benefactor in San Diego, but she has one in Los Angeles as well,” Zorro said, adlibbing as he went along, an idea forming in his mind.   “You almost had to go through Los Angeles to reach here.  Why did you not deliver her and her two sons to Diego de la Vega?”

“Diego de la Vega?  What?  No one said anything about a benefactor in Los Angeles.”

“It would not matter if they had.  Your intentions were clear from….”

“Señor Zorro!” Jeremy shouted at almost the same time that a report echoed among the boulders.  A sharp, burning pain cut into his upper left arm, and Zorro pivoted, aimed and fired in almost the same motion.  The shooter, the man he had ambushed earlier, fell to the ground, holding his wrist and screaming from his wound.  Chastisement at his lapse in disarming the soldier was quickly thrust aside.

Turning again, the outlaw saw that the leader had pulled out his own sword.  With short, quick successive lunges and strokes, Zorro soon had the leader disarmed and writhing on the ground, blood flowing from a wound in his shoulder.  Spinning around, Zorro saw that the woman had not been idle.  She was standing over the third soldier who was unconscious on the ground.  In her hand was a cast iron griddle, on her face a great smile.  He smiled back at her, admiring her independence and courage.

 

Chapter Three     
Chapter One
Holiday Zorro Stories
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