"CADENAS DE AMOR"

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE - "GOOD KNIGHTS' LOSS"

[parts of the following scene taken from "Master & Pupil" written by Robert L McCullough]

     "Diego, what happened here?" asked Don Alejandro, his voice full of concern.   "I thought I heard some shots.  Where's Felipe? Where's Zafira?"

     The arrival of his father at the front gate of the hacienda gave Diego a reason to turn his eyes away from  the abhorrent scene before him.  The dead body of a stranger lying in the dirt at his feet.  The blood dripping off the end of Sir Edmund's dagger.  The grim look of satisfaction the other man wore on his face.

    Diego watched as the elder de la Vega climbed down out of the wagon and quickly covered the short distance to where he and Sir Edmund stood.

    "Felipe's all right," Diego replied.  "He's in town.  I don't know where Zafira. . . "

     He broke off his words as he saw his wife riding up on her mare out of the corner of his eye.   "Oh, Father," she said as she brought her horse to a halt and jumped down from the saddle.  "What went on here?  Are you all right?"  She stepped over to her father-in-law and put her hand on his arm.

     Diego pointed to the dead man at his feet.  "This man and another tried to ambush us," he impassively answered his father's and his wife's questions.

     "Why would they do that?" asked Don Alejandro as he glanced over at his old friend who was now wiping off his blade.  Diego turned his attention to his mentor as well.

    "Why would they do that?" he queried a bit angrily.  He wanted to know the reason the two men had shot at Kendall and himself.  He wanted to know why the fight master had plunged his dagger into his opponent and had urged him to do the same to his.  Bile began to rise in his throat and he had to struggle to force it back down.

     Sir Edmund shook his bald pate.  "Politically, I'm afraid I've been a bit naive," he explained.

    The elder de la Vega looked askance at his friend.  "Edmund," he said thoughtfully, "you haven't turned against the king, have you?"

     "Which king?" Zafira inquired with a sneer in her tone.  She also stared at the British knight.  "You're going to run out of countries to hide in, Señor."

     "Zafira, that's enough," said Diego through gritted teeth.

     "I was instructing a group of university students in saber fighting," declared Sir Edmund, "when they were all arrested for revolutionary activities."

     Don Alejandro clucked his tongue impatiently.  "And you didn't know they were traitors?"

     "Traitors and revolutionaries frequently look the same, Alejandro," said Kendall testily.

      "You would know," muttered Zafira under her breath.  She closed her mouth tightly as Diego glared at her crossly.  Sir Edmund continued on, either not hearing her comment or ignoring it.

    "I fled Madrid before they could arrest me as well.  Without benefit of trial, a price was put on my head."  Diego stared over at his mentor and nodded.  He, too, knew what it felt like to have a price on his head.  It was something for the most part was tucked into the back of his mind and forgotten.  But it was always there, dangling over him like the sword of Damocles.

     Sir Edmund shook his head again.  "I never thought bounty hunters would follow me this far," he said wearily.

     "It means you won't even be safe this far from Spain, my friend," Don Alejandro pointed out.  Diego put his hand on his fight master's shoulder in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.  Zafira rolled her eyes.

     "Well, I'll let you gentlemen clean up your mess," she said before flouncing back over to her horse and leading it to the stables.

     Diego watched her for a moment then turned his attention back to Kendall.  "He's right," he concurred.  "You'll have to leave Los Angeles as soon as possible."

     Sir Edmund nodded.  "Figueroa is like a dog with a bone," he stated.  "He's not about to give up his bounty just because his partner is dead.  He'll be back."

     "I'll go get some of the vaqueros," suggested the elder de la Vega.  He glanced down once again at the prone body lying in the dirt before walking off in the same direction as his daughter-in-law.

     Diego moved away from Kendall then, going over and set the sword he had been holding up against the courtyard wall.  Sir Edmund was still staring down at the man whose death he had caused.

     "If I hadn't killed him, Diego," he said, reiterating his earlier explanation, "he would have killed me."  He turned his world-weary eyes to Diego.  "You have no idea what it's like to be hunted. . .  To be a wanted man for no other reason than doing what you thought was the right thing to do."

    Mirthless laughter escaped from Diego's lips before he could stop it.  Oh, he knew what it was like all too well.  To be relentlessly pursued, for his life to be endangered.  And for the same reason, for doing the right thing.

     "You can laugh?" asked Kendall incredulously.  "A man is dead, Diego, and for that I am truly sorry.  But I am also glad it is him and not me lying there in the dust."

     "I'm sorry, Sir Edmund," Diego said apologetically.  "I know you only did what you had to do.  In fact. . ."

     Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of two of the de la Vega ranch hands with a horse and cart, and by the emergence of Zafira from the front door of the hacienda.  She was attired in one of the dresses she usually wore into town.

     "You're going into the pueblo?" Diego inquired as she pulled on her gloves.  "Now?"

     Zafira flashed her angry blue eyes at him.  "What's wrong with now?" she snapped in reply.  "I have an appointment."

     It was obvious to Diego that she wasn't about to tell him who she was meeting nor why.  Shrugging, he turned away from her and went to help Tadeo and Miguel with their unpleasant task.

     But his wife came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.  "I was going to take this cart," she said petulantly.

     "Well, as you can see," Diego said sarcastically, "it's being used by someone else."  He turned and stared  coldly at her beautiful face that once again marred by a unattractive frown.  "Unless of course, you want to do the honors. . .?"

     "You cerdo," she hissed out between her clenched teeth.  She spun away from him.  "Miguel, get the carriage ready," she instructed the stable master haughtily.

     "Si, Señora."  The leather-faced vaquero bowed respectfully.  He looked over at Diego, who nodded his acquiescence.

     Diego sighed as his spouse followed off after Miguel.  Then he, Tadeo, and Sir Edmund lifted the bounty hunter's body into the back of the cart.
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     An invitation arrived about two hours later, brought by a smiling and gregarious Sergeant Mendoza.  The soldier had gone about how the Alcalde was just dying to meet a member of British peerage.  It would be a privilege and a great honor if Sir Edmund and, of course, his hosts, the de la Vegas, if they could attend the little soiree he was planning that evening at the tavern.

     Diego recalled vividly how the last summons to a party from Ramón had turned out.  Admittedly, it hadn't actually been the Alcalde throwing a birthday party for his sergeant but still. . .  He was very uneasy about this sudden gesture of amity from the garrison's commandante.  The man hardly ever did anything without expecting something in return.  Diego just wondered what Ramón had cooked up this time.

     It also bothered him that Zafira had returned to the hacienda only a few minutes after the sergeant's arrival, looking very smug and pleased with herself.  She immediately retired to her room as the gentlemen planned their next move.

     "I think I should go," stated Sir Edmund, before taking a large gulp of wine.  "Your alcalde will be suspicious otherwise."

     "We could tell him you were called away," Diego suggested.  He turned to his father, hoping the older man would agree with him.  That he also sensed they would be walking blindly into a trap.

     Don Alejandro shook his head.  "Called away where?" he asked.  "No, I think Edmund is right.  We have to go."

     "Very well," Diego acquiesced somewhat ungraciously.  He turned to leave the library, where the elder de la Vega and Kendall had set up the chess board.

     "Don't worry, Diego," said Sir Edmund.  "What's the worst that could happen?  The party being a bore?"

     He started to laugh and Don Alejandro joined in.  Diego walked away, shaking his head.  He would just have to be on his guard.

     The next few hours passed all too swiftly for Diego's liking, the hour for the dreaded dinner with Ramón closing in all too fast.  He finally made his way to his room to change his clothes, still sick with worry.

     After he finished dressing, he walked out to the parlor where he found Zafira, curled up on a settee, reading a book.  She had on the same dress she had worn earlier to the pueblo.

     "Hadn't you get changed?" he inquired.

     "Oh, I'm not going," she replied, not lifting her eyes from her book.

     "Why not?"

     "I don't feel well," she explained.  Diego looked at her closely.  She appeared to be the picture of health.  In fact, now that he thought about, she had been looking more like her old self, like she had been before the miscarriage.

     He shrugged and walked over to the foyer as his father and Sir Edmund emerged from the hallway that led to the bedrooms.

     "We should bring something," suggested the elder de la Vega as he fiddled with his tie.  "A bottle of wine or. . ."

     "A sharp sword," Diego muttered just loud enough for the other men to hear.

     "Diego, stop worrying," said Kendall.

     "We better get going," said Don Alejandro.   A second later, Felipe came through the front door.  "Ah, the carriage is ready."

     His father and his mentor had exited the hacienda before Felipe looked up at Diego questioningly then surreptitiously slashed a Z' in the air with his right index finger.

     "I don't know, Felipe," he said.  "I might not have the chance to change undetected."  He put his hand on the lad's shoulder.  "If there's any trouble, you know what to do."

     The youth nodded.  They then made their way out to the waiting carriage.
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[parts of the following scene taken from "Master & Pupil" written by Robert L McCullough]

     Diego decided from now on that he should always trust his gut instincts.  Sir Edmund sat propped up in a pew inside the church, bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to the chest, the bullet obviously piercing his fight master's left lung.

     He had ripped the decorative ruffle off his best shirt and was pressing it against the wound, hoping to at least stem the blood loss.  Sir Edmund looked up at him with eyes that Diego could see were dimming swiftly.

    "I never liked a waiting game, Diego," Kendall said as he struggled for air.  "Now. . .now is the time to fight."

     "Shallow breathing," Diego murmured to himself.  "Not much time."  He stayed crouched beside his friend for what seemed like hours, holding the now bright red linen to his chest.

     A thump against the back door of the church, accompanied by a familiar whinny, drew Diego's attention.  Felipe, he thought.  He ran to the door, opening it cautiously.  Sure enough, Toronado waited just outside the church's gate and a bundle of black clothing rested in the dirt at his feet.  He picked it up and carried inside, conflicting emotions welling up inside of him.

     He didn't want to leave Sir Edmund alone.  But the only way he could get help for the injured man was to ride out as Zorro.  Diego went over and quickly checked on Kendall before going into the confessional  to change his clothes.

     Again, time seemed to slow down as he went to fetch Doctor Hernandez and bring him back to the church.  The tussle in the plaza with the garrison's lancers helped to relieve some of the anxiety he was feeling.  Once he saw that all the soldiers were lying on the ground, most groaning in pain, Zorro ran inside the church.

     One look at the physician's face told him that his efforts had been for naught.  Zorro thanked the man, who took his bag and departed.  Taking off his hat, the man in black knelt down beside Sir Edmund and took his hand.

    "Diego?"

     The question didn't surprise him.  He had seen the fight master watching him defeat the lancers in the plaza.  He pulled off his mask, answering the other man's query.

     "I thought so," Sir Edmund said, his breathing growing even more shallow.   "No one else could have show those combinations I just saw.  I taught you well."

     "Perhaps too well," commented Diego wryly.

     "I'm glad you put my sword to good use."

     "Yes, I found my calling," Diego said.  It was a bit ironic, he thought, that he, a man who was opposed to violence, would find his vocation in fighting injustice.

    "You have unique gifts, Diego," stated his mentor, the pallor in his skin increasing.  Diego knew the end was very near.  "Never hesitate to use them in the cause of justice."

     "I owe so much to you."  Diego's voice was laden with sorrow and not just a little guilt.

     "Nonsense," said Sir Edmund, his words barely a whisper.  "Now go out there and fight the good fight."  A moment later, the fight master's eyelids closed and his head fell to one side.  Diego knew even without feeling the pulsing beat in the other man's hand cease that his friend was dead.

     A tear burned its way down Diego's cheek.
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"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER THIRTY