The night of patient care brought improvement, a small one, but still. The wound was no longer so badly inflamed and the fever clearly subsided. The man’s temperature was still above normal, but his sleep was much calmer. Victoria and Isabella nurtured him in shifts, trying to get some sleep in the meantime.
It was four in the morning when Isabella heard the quiet calls of soldiers in the pueblo. She looked out of the window and saw that groups of several soldiers were standing in front of the doors of the buildings on the other side of the plaza.
At the captain’s signal, the soldiers began to knock on the doors demanding they be opened. Isabella felt a trickle of sweat run down her spine. Soldiers did not count the bodies, but apparently, the captain had a good memory of how many revolutionaries were killed. Her suspicions were confirmed when one of the houses’ owners began to argue loudly with troops searching his house.
Isabella looked at the wounded man. It had been difficult to bring him to the room, and then he had been conscious and had cooperated. If she didn’t do anything, they would find him. She could always try to lie that she had found him elsewhere, but then how would she explain that she didn’t ask the doctor for help?
If her husband and sons were here, they could hide him in the stable, but unfortunately, she was on her own.
“Victoria!” If she was to pay the price for the compassion, she would pay it herself.
She jumped up and ran to her daughter’s room. She shook her arm. Fortunately, the girl was dressed because she had no strength to change into a nightgown.
“Victoria, get up quickly. You’ll slip out the kitchen door and go to de la Vegas.” That earned her a surprised but conscious look.
“Why Mother? It’s too early, not even dawn yet.”
“Soldiers are searching the houses. You have to be far away from here and don’t you dare come back before siesta, understand?”
Victoria understood at once. Her mother was trying to protect her while the soldiers would find the revolutionary. The girl tried to protest, but she was met with a very cold and stern look from senorita Escalante. Victoria had seen that look only a few times before in her life when she or her brothers were in very serious trouble.
“Will you try to hide him?”
“I can’t do it, he is too heavy. I will try to roll him off the bed and hide him under the bed. If they find him, I will say that I found him elsewhere, and I did not call the doctor because I heard that they had wounded men in the garrison. And what he did under the bed? He sleeps restlessly from fever and probably fell. ”
The girl nodded. “They won’t believe you.”
Isabella hugged her. “There is such a risk. Promise me that whatever happens, you will not reveal your participation. Promise me.”
She noticed tears in her child’s eyes. Maybe they saw each other for the last time. “Mother, I love you so much, I promise. But be careful.”
They clung to each other for several seconds, Isabella kissed her hair. “I love you too. Keep close to the de la Vegas; they will help you. You can tell them everything but nobody else. Now hurry before it’s too late.”
Victoria took the shawl from the bed and slipped into the stable behind the tavern. After a few minutes, she rushed to the well-known hacienda at a gallop. It was good that the horse knew this route perfectly because her sight was blurred by tears.
xxx Zorro xxx
Diego was dozing in the library chair with a book in his hand. He was awakened by an insistent knock on the front door. The semi-conscious caballero glanced at the clock – it was 4:30 am.
“Who is knocking at this time?”
The knocking continued, so he went over and opened the door. What he saw chilled his blood. Victoria stood, tearful, on the threshold in crumpled clothing and tousled hair. He had never seen her like this.
“If he did something to her, I’ll kill the dung.”
The girl threw herself into his arms, trembling and sobbing. He embraced her and began to calm her down. “Victoria, everything will be alright, I’m here for you.”
He stroked her back and continued to murmur soothing words. Inwardly, he boiled with anger at the mysterious boy and how he could hurt his sweetheart. But at first, he had to take care of her comfort.
After some time the sobs ended and Victoria leaned back to look into his face while still remaining in his protective arms. “Come on, let’s get you inside before you get cold. What happened?”
He led her into the kitchen, where he made lemon balm tea for both of them. They were sitting at the table and Diego was holding her hand in his for support. Victoria, wiping tears from time to time, briefly told the course of the last two days.
“There is no boyfriend! How could I be so stupid!” The short-term relief was quickly overshadowed by the main problem.
“Why didn’t you say anything last evening? You know I would have helped you. If the soldiers have been searching the houses for an hour, they’ve probably reached the tavern by now. If they arrested your mother, we can’t do anything legally. Even if I tried to break into the prison and kidnap her, I can’t do this alone. ” He combed his hair with his free hand and thought hard.
“The worst is ignorance. You promised that you would not show up in the city before siesta. We will do the following …” He paused to formulate a plan with holes like Swiss cheese.
“If anyone asked, after closing the tavern, you came to borrow a book from me and we talked for so long that I offered you a guest room for the night. It will give you an alibi, and by the way, you should lie down at least a bit. Felipe will sit with you.”
“In the meantime, I will go to the pueblo for …” Definitely Swiss cheese.
Victoria had also entered at planning mode. “Maybe for a change of clothes for me? I didn’t plan to stay the night yesterday, and I don’t want to show up in the pueblo in yesterday’s clothes. So you offered to bring me a set from my mother.”
Diego smiled. They always complemented each other well. “Exactly, it will also explain the early time. You’re alone with your mother in charge of the tavern, so you don’t want to be late to work.”
The caballero pulled her from the kitchen into the guest room. In the doorway, he turned to her with a look of worry on his face. “Victoria, I promise you that I will do everything I can to keep you and your mother safe. I wish my father was here. He would have more ideas as to what we should do. I will come back as soon as I know something. Try to sleep, please.”
He squeezed her hand and went to wake Felipe. He quickly explained to the boy the seriousness of the situation and the need to provide Victoria an alibi and comfort. He saw that at first the boy was terrified. He was certainly remembering his loss. But Felipe quickly recovered when he was given a specific task to do. Victoria was like a big sister to him and he promised to watch over her, after all.
Leaving the house, Diego looked at the clock – 5:30 am. For sure, the tavern had already been searched.
xxx Zorro xxx
He drove slowly into the pueblo. For now, the residents slept in their homes, especially since their rest had been brutally interrupted earlier. The chill of the morning gave him goosebumps, as did the peace and quiet of the surroundings.
Diego nonchalantly approached the back of the tavern as if nothing had happened. He tied the horse, knocked on the kitchen door and waited for a while. No sound came back to him, so he carefully stepped inside.
“Senora Escalante, it’s Diego, I came for a change of clothes for Victoria,” he called out. Regardless of the situation, he had to be careful. He had no idea who else could be listening.
He walked through the kitchen into the dining room, still calling out for Victoria’s mother. Dead silence answered him. He knocked on the door of the Escalante’s bedroom and opened it. A man lay on the bed, thrown across. His empty eyes said everything – he was dead.
Diego looked around the room. There were no signs of struggle, though he noticed several imprints of military boots on the floor.
“What should I do now?” He stood uncertain for a moment. However, after a while, he went to Victoria’s room, took a blouse and skirt from the dresser and packed it in a bag. In other circumstances, perhaps, but only perhaps, he would be tempted to look into the underwear drawer. Even if he was a caballero, no one would see him and he was just an adolescent. But now he had no time for raging hormones.
He left the tavern and headed straight for the garrison. He knocked on the gate and the sentry immediately opened it. “De la Vega, what do you want at this time?”
Diego stood undeterred and began to explain while pretending to be agitated. “I came for a change of clothes for Victoria and went to the tavern to ask Senora Escalante for it. But no one is inside and a dead man is lying in her bed. You must go in search of her, someone has kidnapped her!”
Cynical laughter answered him. The sentry explained the situation. “Senora Escalante was not kidnapped but arrested on charges of helping the revolutionaries. And that corpse is one of them. Stay away from it, Senor, if you don’t want to face the firing squad. It’ll be over in the afternoon.”
Diego did not have to feign horror and rage. “Afternoon? No trial?”
The sentry began to get bored. “Yes, the charge of treason is automatically tried by the commander. The Senora was found in one room with a revolutionary whom we had seriously wounded in an ambush the day before. The commander had absolutely no doubts.”
The caballero asked, “Are visitors allowed?”
“No, no visitors. If you want to look, come at noon.” Having said that, he slammed the gate.
Diego was depressed. He had only six hours left and he didn’t know what to do. None of the other caballeros would dare to protest or take action for fear of being accused of complicity. Only his father could influence the commander, but he was far away. He had no one to ask for help. He was only an adolescent himself so the commander wouldn’t take him seriously. He had wanted to demand a trial, which would take several days. By that time, his father and Senor Escalante would have returned. This powerlessness fed his anger.
What was he supposed to do with Victoria? She would be waiting for his return, she was counting on him. If in anger she said something stupid in public, she would share the fate of Senora Escalante. He wouldn’t survive that.
xxx Zorro xxx
Diego returned to the hacienda. Fortunately, Victoria was fast asleep, and Felipe reported that she hadn’t woken once since he had settled in the chair next to her bed. Emotions and fear for her mother had taken their toll on her.
The caballero quietly left the bag of clothes next to the bed and went to breakfast with his pupil. He wanted to delay the inevitable.
Three hours later Victoria woke up and changed clothes. She immediately started looking for her friends. Diego and Felipe sat in the library and pondered the situation. The caballero was proud of how the boy was able to subdue emotions and focus on the task. Time was running out yet no idea came to their minds.
It was enough for the girl to look at Diego and guess the truth. Anger and shock appeared on her face.
“Victoria, when I arrived, your mother was already taken, and the wounded man lay dead. In the garrison, they told me that there would be no trial. The execution is to take place at noon. I’m so sorry.”
He tried to hug her, but she began to punch him in the chest. She needed to unload her emotions somehow, so Diego patiently took the blows. She screamed about world injustice and stupid revolution. In the end, she no longer had the strength and her legs buckled. The caballero quickly grabbed and held her. He sat on the couch and held her on his lap. Victoria was shivering and cuddling up like a scared child.
Felipe knelt beside them on the settee and stroked her shoulder. The revolution had taken both his parents as well and he had had no chance to say goodbye. There hadn’t even been a funeral. That was two years ago, and only thanks to Diego’s solicitous care, the boy was now a cheerful and lively child like his peers. However, due to traumatic events, he lost his ability to hear and speak. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He felt for his favourite friend with all his small heart.
She asked so quietly that Diego hardly heard her. “Will I be able to say goodbye to her?”
“No, I’m sorry, no visitors.”
After a moment of silence, he added, “I would prefer for you to stay here rather than go watch it. But if you want, I will take you to the execution. Maybe on the plaza, you two could exchange a few words. Whatever you choose, I’ll be with you.”
Victoria considered both options. If she stayed, she wouldn’t have to witness the horrible atrocity. But this was also the last chance to see and say goodbye to her mother. “We go.”
xxx Zorro xxx
While Diego and Victoria were gone, Felipe stayed at the hacienda. Juan, the head vaquero, promised to take him to a riding lesson to dispel his gloomy thoughts. The execution was not a proper sight for his young eyes. Especially after his previous experiences.
Victoria rode with Diego on his horse, she needed physical contact with a friend. Her horse followed them. After the emotional storm she had in the hacienda, she was tired and drained. She didn’t even notice when they reached the pueblo.
A crowd had already gathered on the plaza. People murmured, dissatisfied. Senora Escalante was well respected and popular. She had a good word for everyone and was always ready to help. However, nobody protested loudly. The army took the issue of revolution very seriously.
Diego and Victoria pushed themselves to the front row. He wrapped an arm around her waist to support her, but he was also afraid that she would do something reckless. He felt that her nerves were at breaking point.
The gate of the garrison opened, a row of soldiers and a convict came out. Some soldiers lined up in front of the crowd, the rest was a firing squad. Senora Escalante walked proudly and with her head up, though Victoria knew her well enough to see fear.
Fear gave way to sadness and concern when she saw her daughter. Isabella asked the commander if she could say goodbye to Victoria. He knew them a little and eventually agreed. He nodded at the girl and the young caballero to come over.
They embraced. “Mother, I love you, I …”
Isabella interrupted her, knowing that the commander was standing next to them and listening. “I love you too. Be a good girl, listen to your Father. Don’t cry for me, live your life.”
She hugged her again and turned to Diego over her shoulder. “Take care of her.”
The young man nodded. “I will.”
Soldiers pulled Isabella against the wall for execution. Diego embraced Victoria tightly so that she could not break free.
The girl looked bravely straight ahead. “Prepare to fire, ready …”
But just before the “Fire” command she hid her face in her friend’s chest. They stood in this position long after soldiers returned to the cuartel. Nobody dared to offer their condolences, but many people looked sadly at the couple. The crowd had already parted and the dead body was taken to the church.
Diego gently led Victoria to her home. She was walking as if in a trance. It was the first day in many years when the tavern had no guests.
Picture of Victoria comes from www.newworldzorro.com