Avila wasted no time. Reaching in with a sweeping movement, he forced Zorro to jump back. Another slashing movement was countered when the outlaw caught his opponent's knife with the folds of his cape, at the same time reaching in with his own knife and scoring a slight cut along Avila's ribs. Avila took advantage of the proximity of the two combatants and caught Zorro along the side of his head with his fist. The outlaw staggered back from the blow, shaking his head. "Señor, you indeed picked a form of fighting you are good at, but you misnamed it," Zorro said with a slight smile. "You should have called it brawling."
Zorro crouched, waiting for Avila's next move. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bernardo come in through the back door of the inn and make a motion that he had done his job. Zorro smiled broadly and lunged at his opponent. Avila tried to stab him, but found Zorro's foot hooked around the back of his leg. As the outlaw jerked Avila's leg toward him, the imposter fell in such a way that still allowed him to score a shallow cut along Zorro’s left arm. Avila laughed in triumph when he saw his Zorro’s blood drip onto the floor.
Backing up while Avila jumped to his feet, Zorro disengaged the cape from his arm and held it loosely, ignoring the pain of the knife cut. His adversary was an excellent street fighter. He would have to stop thinking of fencing moves and the decorum of gentlemanly fighting, and start using some of the techniques that he had learned in Madrid when his friends and he were cornered by street dwellers trying to rob rich hacendados’ sons.
Avila came at his left side, presumably trying to take advantage of his injury, but Zorro threw the cape in his face, keeping hold of one end. His opponent flashed his knife blindly, while using his other hand to get the cape out of his face. Zorro threw his end of the cape over Avila's knife hand and, quickly sliding his knife into his boot, punched the man solidly in the stomach with his left fist, while following with a smashing blow to his nose with his right. Grabbing the back of his opponent’s head, Zorro brought Avila's face down to meet his knee, and the man slowly sank to the ground, moaning.
"Señor, I may be a man of honor, but I, too, know how to brawl." Zorro withdrew a step and watched the blood from Avila’s broken nose drip to the tavern floor. “Señor, you have been beaten fairly. Concede.”
The swordsman drew himself to his knees, bent over, but shaking his head and murmuring, "Never." Avila’s left hand was in a tight fist near his sash.
Alarmed, Corporal Reyes thought he had seen some kind of covert movement. "Señor Zorro, I think he has...."
At that moment, Avila threw a powder at Zorro's face. Having heard the beginning of Reyes' warning, the outlaw had thrown his arm up, but some of the substance got into his eyes. Burning pain forced his eyes closed and he staggered back against Sgt. Garcia’s ample stomach. Although it was simply a combination of everyday table condiments, the substance stung fiercely, and Zorro was unable to force his eyes open. Reaching down for his knife, he avoided a slashing blow that Avila delivered. Trying to wipe the salt and pepper out of his eyes was fruitless.
"He is on your right side, Señor Zorro," Garcia told him, turning him slightly in the direction of his opponent. Several in the crowd were crying out their indignation at Avila's actions.
"Corporal Reyes, get some water, quickly!" Zorro shouted over the tumult. He listened carefully for the sound of Avila's footwork. A slight shuffling noise alerted the outlaw, but Sgt. Garcia threw Zorro into the crowd on the other side of the room and thus saved him from Avila's knife. What he didn't see was Garcia stepping in front of his opponent and reminding him that he was violating the rules of combat. Zorro’s knife was lost somewhere among the feet of the onlookers. He had dropped it when the sergeant had shoved him out of the way.
Garcia's blustering lecture to Avila gave Reyes the time needed to bring Zorro a tankard of water. "Here is your water, Señor Zorro," Reyes told him breathlessly. He put it into Zorro's outstretched hand, and the outlaw poured it into his burning eyes. Bent over, with his face close to the floor and out of the sight of the spectators, Zorro loosened the mask and wiped the water and salt from his eyes. He quickly retied the mask and stood up. While his vision was still blurred, enough of the substance was washed out to allow him to resume the fight. Thanking the corporal, Zorro noticed that Avila was still trying to get around the sergeant who kept moving from side to side. It looked like some kind of ludicrous dance.
Zorro laughed. "I think, Sgt. Garcia, that Señor Avila knows the rules now."
"Very well, Señor Zorro, I just wanted to make sure he did," Garcia stated brightly, and moved out of the way.
Avila came at Zorro, enraged by the sergeant’s interference. Trying to give his eyes more time to recover, Zorro kept backing away as the man slashed furiously at him. He also saw the advantage of allowing Avila to vent all of his energy in wasteful movements. Each time his opponent came at him, Zorro danced out of reach like a matador in the bullring, but delivered a blow with his fist each time Avila went by. Avila finally stopped and glared with intense hatred at Zorro.
"Yield, señor," the outlaw said quietly.
In answer, Avila roared a curse and came at him again, sweeping his knife arm upward as he went. Zorro anticipated the movement and sidestepping, kicked his assailant in the posterior as he swept by. As Avila went down, Zorro stepped on his opponent’s fist and wrenched the knife away, tossing it toward Sgt. Garcia. Zorro grabbed Avila’s hand, twisting the man’s arm behind him. "Yield, señor," he demanded quietly, now kneeling beside his adversary. Zorro pulled a little harder. "Yield!"
"I yield, señor," Avila finally moaned. Zorro released him immediately and stood up.
"He is all yours, Sergeant Garcia. I hope that everyone is satisfied as to who the real Fox is. And Sergeant, I want to thank you for your help," Zorro said. Gathering his sword, the outlaw strapped it on and walked back over to Avila, whose mask had been removed by Sgt. Garcia. "Señor Avila, I promised that I would kill you if you ever returned, but you are a very lucky man, because my honor is satisfied and I am not as vengeful as you are. I will let the courts decide the rest of your punishment."
Going behind the counter, Zorro gathered the various powders and potions. As he was preparing to leave, a lancer came bursting in the room.
"Sgt. Garcia, someone gave me a note a few minutes ago, telling where to find the Morenta’s stolen jewelry. We found them in Señor Avila’s saddlebags. All of Señora Morenta’s jewelry is here," he shouted, waving the bag in the air. Zorro smiled and calmly walked out through the storeroom door.
When it was politely feasible to do so, Alejandro and Bernardo left the inn and traveled quickly back to the hacienda, where they found Diego in his room washing and trying to dress his wounded arm, one-handed. Bernardo took over that chore and soon the injury was snugly bound. "Diego," Alejandro questioned. "I got the impression that you were not surprised by the way everything unfolded in the inn."
"You are right, Father. I knew that Señor Avila was desperate to destroy me. But his plans had been thwarted time and again recently. He had no choice but to come to the inn and take up my challenge. I also know the mind of criminals well enough by now to realize that he would also bring the rest of his gang with him, including the man with the blowgun. Once that bandit was taken care of, I felt that everything else would unfold as I had anticipated. The only unexpected event was when he held the knife to your throat. I am deeply grateful to Corporal Reyes for helping us out of that tight spot."
“Sí, my son, that was much too close a call,” the older man said, with a great sigh. “We will have to invite him and Sergeant Garcia to dinner soon.” Alejandro looked up at his son with a bemused look on his face. “By the way, Diego, where on Earth did you learn to brawl like that?”
Diego laughed. "Father, that was nothing. I was being gentlemanly. If I had used everything that I had seen or learned on the streets of Madrid, you would have really been shocked. What Avila did with the pepper and salt was not the worst I have seen, either."
Alejandro looked at his son in amazement and then
started to laugh. Looking
askance at his son, he continued laughing.
Diego and Bernardo glanced at each other, puzzled.
Finally Alejandro wiped his eyes and commented sagely, "My
son, I send you to the university to learn the finer things, including the
more gentlemanly forms of fighting. So
what education do you come home with?
Street brawling! It is
enough to make an old man wonder about you young people."
He started laughing again and Diego joined him.
Bernardo filled two wine glasses and handed them to the two caballeros. Then he quickly filled one of his own, made a quick sign and lifted the glass.
“I agree, Bernardo. Here is to higher education,” Diego proclaimed and downed the wine quickly.
|Hernando Chronicles Introduction|