It was over an hour later before Diego returned to the hacienda.  He immediately went in search of Felipe.  Usually in the early evening, the youth was in the library, working on whatever essay that Diego had assigned him in the morning.  A half-written composition and an open book on the writing desk told him the lad had been there but was no longer.

     Diego glanced quickly over his shoulder before tapping the mantle.  The back panel of the fireplace swung open and he ducked through it in one fluid motion.  Emerging from the tunnel into the cave, he saw that Felipe wasn't there either.

     The horse, Toronado, whinnied out a greeting.  Diego walked over to the stall.  As he drew closer, he noted that the stallion seemed nervous about something, as it pawed the ground and began neighing loudly.  Diego looked down and saw Felipe, curled up on the bags of oats, fast asleep.

     Bending over, he shook the lad's shoulders.  "Wake up, Felipe," he said firmly.

     The young man's eyes flew open and he sat up with a jump.  That was when Diego noticed the swelling and the beginning of a bruise on his right cheek.

     "What happened?" he demanded, very upset that anyone would hit the lad.

     Felipe turned his face away, rubbing the injured cheek.  Diego crouched down and used his fingers to lift the boy's chin to inspect the damage.  "Who did this to you?" he inquired at bit less harshly.

     Felipe shook his head and tried to avert his eyes.  But Diego wouldn't let him.  "Felipe, please tell me who hit you," he pleaded.  "Was it one of the ranch hands?"

     Again, the youth shook his head.  Taking a deep breath, Felipe made the gesture they used for a woman.

     Diego was surprised by the boy's revelation.  "A woman?" he queried.  "Who?  Maria?"

     Felipe once again made the sign for woman and then slashed the letter Z' in the air.

     "Zafira?" said Diego, his shock growing even more.  "Zafira hit you?"  Felipe nodded.  Diego digested this information for a moment.  "Why?  Why did she hit you?"

     Felipe launched into a long series of hand signals, telling the story of how Zafira had been looking for Diego and when he couldn't tell her where Diego had gone, she had accused him of lying and had slapped his face.  It wouldn't have been so bad, explained the boy, using gestures, if had not for the large ring she wore on her left hand.

     Diego's stomach churned at the mention of the ring.  The signet ring he had used for a wedding ring.  The one he hadn't gotten around to replacing with a more appropriate ring.  Like the ring of emerald and diamonds his mother had bequeathed to him to give to his wife when he married.

     Diego placed his hands on Felipe's shoulders.  "She shouldn't have hit you," he began apologetically.  "I'm going to have a long talk with her about this after we free my father."  This and several other things, he promised to himself.

     Felipe nodded that he understood, then Diego assisted him to his feet.  They walked up the step into the main room of the cave.

     "I have to go to my room to get some things," Diego stated.  "I will need your help when I get back."

     The youth looked up at him, his eyes full of curiosity.  Diego chuckled.  "I have a plan," he declared

[parts of the following scene taken from "Zorro: The Legend Begins" written by Robert L McCullough]
      In less than half an hour, Diego walked back into the secret cave, carrying a scroll and yards of black silk.  He spread the fabric out on an old wooden table that he had found in a corner of the cavern.   Diego unrolled the paper and poured over the sketch it contained.   He then set the plans down on the table in front of him.

     "All right," said Diego.  "Let's just see if I have enough."  He pointed to the other end of the table as he lifted the opposite end of the silk..  "Hold this up."

     Felipe raised up his end of black fabric, then they both spread it back out on the table.  Diego started to mark on it with a piece of chalk which he had also brought with him earlier.

     "You know, this cave is the perfect place for such work,"Diego commented.   "I think we'll be able to fit a small laboratory in here if we try."

     Felipe gestured questioningly at the black fabric then shook his head.  Diego took that as an indication the boy didn't understand what they were about to do.

     "While I was at the university," explained Diego, " I studied the theories of Leonardo da Vinci, including his principles of winged flight."

     Felipe began flapping his arms like a bird as Diego resume chalking marks onto the fabric.

     Diego smiled as he looked over at Felipe's arm waving.  "Not exactly like a bird," he said.  "But I think I'll be able to make an entrance spectacular enough to convince the Alcalde's men of my mysterious powers."

     He continued draw lines on the silk with the chalk as Felipe watched.  Diego picked up the plans when he reached the area where they were resting.

     "Just hold this for a moment, would you?" he asked at he handed the paper to felipe.

     The young man took the sketch and held it up at an angle so Diego could see it.

     It took most of the night for the two of them to complete what Diego had termed a glider.  When it was done, Felipe was sent out to get the wagon from the de la Vega stables.  Diego used the time to check on his wife.  Zafira did not stir as he stared down at her sleeping form in her bed.  Stealing into her room had been easy, he thought, wondering where he had developed his ability for stealth.

     Shrugging his shoulders, Diego left his wife's room and returned to the cave.  He quickly donned his costume for the second time, tying his cape around his shoulders as Felipe activated the back entrance of the cave.  The sun was just beginning to peer over the eastern horizon when they got the glider loaded into the wagon and headed toward Los Angeles.

     "You must drive the horses as fast as they can go," Zorro instructed Felipe when they had stopped about a mile from the pueblo.  "I will need the air current their speed produces to lift the glider into to the air."  Felipe nodded.

     Zorro arranged the glider in the back of the wagon and tied a rope under the wagon's seat.  He then held onto the rope as he positioned himself under the glider.

     "Go!" he shouted.  Felipe whipped the reins and the two horses took off, slowly at first but gradually building up speed.

      Zorro clutched onto the bar of his glider as the wagon went faster and fasted toward Los Angeles.  The wind buffeted the wings of the glider as they drove down the road.  Sensing the horses had reached their maximum speed, Zorro let go of the rope.

     The glider lifted off the back of the wagon and into the air.  Zorro saw Felipe thrust his fist in the air triumphantly as the youth watched him fly through the air.

     "I hope da Vinci knew what he was doing," Zorro said as he soared toward the pueblo.

     Minutes seemed like hours as he drifted on the wind currents.  This was total freedom, he mused happily.  From his lofty perch, he could see the Pacific Ocean sparkling in the distance.   The San Gabriel Mountains seemed closer than ever.  A ribbon of green trees he could see wending its way through the brown dusty land had to be the Porciuncula River.

     Zorro smiled as he saw Felipe riding Toronado toward Los Angeles.  The youth was to hide with the stallion on the outskirts of town.  Hopefully everyone would be distracted by the goings-on in the plaza and would not see the boy with the horse.  It was true no one had seen Toronado before, but he still didn't want anyone to make a connection between Zorro and Felipe.  It would put both their lives into danger.

     Eventually the rooftops of the pueblo came into view.  Zorro's eyes narrowed as he spotted the gallows and the large crowd of people that had gathered in the plaza.  It appeared to him that the hangings had not yet begun.

     Zorro steered the glider, circling the church.  The current he had been riding started dying down as he neared the pueblo and he was slowly descending  As he came closer to the ground, he could see citizens pointing up at him and he had to grin, gazing down at their awestruck faces.

     His amused expression disappeared abruptly though when he noticed the lancers aiming their muskets and commenced firing upon him.  A few of their bullets tore holes into the silk fabric, causing the glider to go down a little faster.   Zorro landed the glider safely, however, a short distance away from the main crowd.  He barely had time to extricate himself from it when he saw soldiers advancing toward him.

     "Kill the man!" commanded Ramón, who still stood by the gallows.

     Zorro watched as Sergeant Mendoza pointed in his direction, an extremely frightened expression on his round face as he said something to his superior. Zorro unhooked his whip from his belt and began to uncoil it

     "Get him!" shouted the Alcalde, evidently not caring about the sergeant's opinion.

      More lancers came running toward Zorro.  He cracked his whip at them and they backed up out of its way.  Zorro noticed while he was distracting the soldiers and Ramón, Victoria had darted over and was untying his father's hands.

     Good for her, he thought, wielding his whip once again.  He could only wonder if Zafira would have shown the same initiative in the same situation.  Thoughts of both women were driven from his head then as he noticed the Alcalde unsheathing his sword and rushing toward him.

     "I am Zorro," he announced rather dramatically, causing  Ramón to come to a halt.  "Friend to all those who support the cause of freedom.  And the enemy to those who support tyranny."

     He looked straight at the Alcalde, who glared back unyieldingly.

     Ramón turned to his lancers. "Take him!  He's ours!" he ordered his flummoxed men.

     Zorro cracked the whip twice more and the lancers danced back and forth as they tried to avoid its sting.

     The Alcalde rolled his eyes.  He shoved aside two of the soldiers who stood on either side of him.  "Stay back," he sneered.    "He's just a man.  I'll prove it to you.  I'll make him bleed."

     Ramón charged at Zorro, aiming his sword at the man in black's heart.  Zorro sidestepped the thrust and the Alcalde  ran past, almost falling flat on his face as he stumbled by.  Zorro drew his saber from its scabbard and saluted the other man.

     He went on the offensive then, driving Ramón backward as the commandante unsuccessfully tried to fend him off.  Zorro pushed the Alcalde then kicked him in the rear end toward the fountain.  Ramón stumbled but regained his footing and attacked again.  Zorro drove him back to the fountain again, then knocked the commandante's sword from his hand.  Zorro pointed his saber at Ramón's throat.

     "Arrest those men again without cause and I'll put your neck in the noose," threatened Zorro, pressing his point even closer.

     "I will hunt you down," said Ramón through clenched teeth.

     "Fine," retorted Zorro.  "But the tavern belongs to Señorita Escalante, comprende?"

     The Alcalde nodded his agreement before speaking, his voice full of increasingly hysterical anger.  "I will see you hang.  I will torture you.  I will shoot you."

     Zorro smiled mockingly at Ramón's impotent rage.  "You surprise me, Alcalde," he said.  "You've led everyone to believe you're a man of great control, of stature.  But you're really quite emotional, aren't you?"

     Ramón spun around, searching for his dropped sword.  Spying it lying by the fountain, he bent over to pick it up.  With a mischievous grin, Zorro used three strokes of his saber to slash a Z' on the tail of the other man's jacket, then he darted away.

     Zorro could hear the congregated crowd laughing loudly as he ran to the back of the livery stables where Felipe and Toronado waited.

     "Gracias," he said to the young man as he took the reins Felipe proffered.  "Go back to the hacienda," Zorro instructed.

      Seeing the mutinous look on the lad's face, he added, "Felipe, you must return home.  You cannot be seen helping me."  He smiled wryly.  "I'll be coming back shortly myself.  You won't miss anything."

     The youngster reluctantly nodded and turned to start his journey back to the hacienda.  Zorro mounted the black stallion and went in the opposite direction, intending to make sure that the commandante hadn't immediately went back on his word in his short absence.

     He was about to ride out through the pueblo gate when his father hailed him.

     "Señor Zorro!"  Don Alejandro waved his hand as Victoria stood by his side.  The rest of the townspeople had gathered behind them as well.

     Zorro came to a halt and spun Toronado around to face the people in the plaza.

     "Remove the mask so we can see the man to whom we owe so much," Don Alejandro requested with a grin.

      "Nothing would please me more than to reveal my true identity," replied Zorro, knowing that his father would be proud of him and what he had done.  He then looked over at Victoria's face and saw her love for his masked alter ego shining in her eyes.  Recklessly, he added,  "And to show my true feelings for you, Señorita."

     "Oh, but the feeling is mutual," Victoria said as a beautiful smile graced her countenance.  "You can be sure of that."

     "Knowing my identity would only give the Alcalde more reason to threaten you," explained Zorro.  "As long as I wear this mask, your safety is guaranteed."  He knew she wouldn't like his response.  He hated the idea of leading her on, but it was the perfect ruse.  No one would suspect that this El Zorro was a married man as long as he romanced the lovely innkeeper.

     "But how can I thank you?" inquired Victoria disappointedly.

     Zorro could think of several ways she could thank him. Unfortunately none of them could ever happen, not in this lifetime anyway, he scolded himself as the lascivious thoughts filled his mind.  But again, he decided to keep up the charade.  "Someday when our people are free," he replied, "I promise you I will give you ample opportunity to show me that appreciation."

    He blew a kiss in Victoria's direction.  Then, pivoting Toronado around, he rode toward the pueblo gate once more.  The townspeople cheered as Zorro spun his stallion around and waved again as the horse reared up on its hind legs before heading out of the pueblo.
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     Diego was sitting in the library, reading a book when his father came storming into the hacienda.  He and Felipe had emerged from the fireplace only about five minutes beforehand.  The lad had gone off to do his neglected chores while Diego had chosen a book and sat down on the settee.

     "Where have you been?" Don Alejandro roared when he spotted his son in the library.  "I was almost hung this morning!  And I come home and find you with your nose in book, like you don't have a care in the world."

     Diego was mortified.  His father thought he had sat idly by and would have allowed the Alcalde to execute him.  An excuse, he thought frantically, he needed a very good excuse for not trying to stop the hanging.

     "Uh. . .  Ah. . .  I rode over to San Gabriel yesterday afternoon," he finally stated.  "I. . .uh. . .went to go see Padre Posada.  I thought maybe he could help us"

     "He died two years ago," said Don Alejandro, eyeing his son curiously.  "I thought I wrote and told you that."

     Diego winced inwardly at his faux-pas.  His father was correct, he had written to him about the padre's passing.  Another excuse, he needed another excuse.

     "I forgot," he said after racking his brain for a moment.  "I didn't remember until I was already there.  The new priest insisted I stay for supper and then after that it was too late to ride home.  I stayed the night there at the mission.  By the time I got back to Los Angeles, everything was over, so I came back here."

     Diego looked up surreptitiously at his father.  Don Alejandro was nodding, much to his relief.

     "It's just as well," said the old don.  His lined face then broke out into a big grin.  "You wouldn't believe it.  Zorro came flying into town on some winged contraption, bested the Alcalde, and freed me and the others.  He even made sure Victoria got her tavern back."    He shook his head.  "This Zorro is quite a fellow.  Too bad you missed seeing him in action.   He's really quite something"

     "Maybe next time," Diego replied wryly before returning to his book. .
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