father devoted himself to his young, raven-haired daughter. Since the
death of his wife during childbirth Leonar became the center of his
world. He did everything in his power to see that she was happy and
well care for. However the life of a career diplomat had its
difficulties for a young child. Whenever Leonar began to feel
comfortable in one place it was time to move. Poor child wished for a
family like those of her friends with a permanent home and two parents
to love her. Countless governesses were hired to fill in as mother,
teacher and sometimes father but none gave her the love and stability
she craved. Sadly Leonar spent more and more time alone in her room
reading and dreaming.
The sadness and loneliness in Leonar's eyes weighed heavily on her father. So much so that he wrote a letter to the King of Spain requesting a permanent reassignment. Nothing was as important to him as his precious daughter. Shortly word was received that he was to be rewarded for his skills in diplomacy with the honorable position of Governor of California. The new Governor and his young daughter booked passage on the next ship leaving for California. Each looked with excitement to the new life they would begin in the new world.
The voyage was long and difficult but it was time well spent getting reacquainted. The open seas and wonderful tales told to her by her father were exciting. When the ship reached it's final destination, Monterey, the majestic mountains and warm sunny shores of their new home greeted them. Leonar loved the people and her new home. She made many friends among them a young girl named Anna Maria Verdugo. Both children shared many adventures and were very much alike. Leonar grew into a beautiful, strong-minded young woman, as did her friend. Each woman took an active part in her widowed father's life. Leonar was the "lady" of the house planning parties, meeting dignitaries and accompanying the governor in his travels throughout California. Her days were occupied but her nights were empty. Many young men called on Leonar but she rejected them all. The governor cherished his time with his daughter but wondered if she had become so intertwined in his business that she could not separate herself from him. Surprisingly he did not have long to worry for at the wedding of Anna Maria to Diego de la Vega, Leonar met the charming Capitan Monastario who captured her heart.
"Leonar," called out Padre Felipe. "Child, is there something wrong? You look as if you were in a trance."
"Oh Padre, I am sorry," smiled Leonar. "I guess I was dreaming of another time and place. My wedding and the children's baptism was to take place..."
"Do not worry my child," replied the priest. "Soon help will come and you will be returned to the de la Vega hacienda in time for your marriage to take place."
"Oh padre I wish I could believe as you do," said Leonar. "This Indian, Pablo, he frightens me. I wish this whole thing were over. Melita, do you know if a ransom note has been sent?"
"No senorita, I do not know. Arturo tells me nothing but I know that Pablo hates this child's family. I think he waits to send the ransom note so that he can make them suffer. If I could do anything I would. This child belongs with her mother and you with the man you love."
A single figure made his way across the quadrangle toward the room where the hostages were held. In one hand he carried a lantern and in the other a tray laden with fruit, cheese and bread. As the figure reached the door he stopped and acknowledged Pablo who stood guard.
"Quintana," said Pablo as he grabbed a loaf of bread from the tray. "It's about time you showed up."
"I am not your servant. If you wanted to eat sooner you should have changed places with me," replied Quntana as he knocked sharply at the door.
Pablo opened the door to allow his cohort to enter. Quintana placed the food on the table and said to the hostages, "You must be hungry. Please come sit and have some refreshment."
Padre Felipe and the women watched as Quintana headed toward the door where Pablo stood. As the door closed Pablo glanced in the direction of Leonar in a way that sent cold shivers throughout her body.
Padre Felipe beckoned to the women to join him at the table. Melita took Leonar's hand and led her to one of the chairs. Both women bowed their heads as the priest offered a simple prayer of thanks over their meager meal.
"Dear heavenly Father, we thank thee for the sustenance we are about to partake in and ask thee for your blessings. Please watch over my humble messenger as he reaches his destination and allow help to come swiftly to us. Amen."
More than twenty-four hours had past since the kidnapping and arrival at the mission. By now Paco, the priest's messenger, should have reached the de la Vega hacienda but where was Zorro? Would Pablo act on his lustful feelings toward Leonar before help arrived? Fearing for Leonar's safely the priest said a silent prayer that Zorro would come soon before Pablo could do harm to the young woman.
"My child," said the padre sitting next to Leonar. "I know this has not been easy but you should not lose hope. I have faith that my plea for help has not gone unheard. Soon we will be freed and these men made to pay for their actions."
"Oh Padre, I wish....," began Leonar. "The ways Pablo looks at me makes my skin crawl. He is so evil. How could anyone separate a young child from his mother? It is so cruel."
"Do not think of him. Zorro will come soon and there will be nothing for us to fear."
"Si padre, I will try," Leonar said.
In the hills above the mission Bernardo stood watching his young master. During the years he served Diego, Bernardo learned to stay one step ahead of his young friend. When Capitan Monastario and Paco left the campsite to circle around the back of the mission Bernardo returned to the horses and grabbed a bundle from his saddlebag. With the bundle in his arms he approached his friend who was engrossed in watching the mission.
"Bernardo what is that you have in your arms?" asked Diego hearing footsteps approach.
With a wide grin Bernardo stooped down and handed the package to Diego. Without a word Diego unwrapped the bundle. To his surprise it was everything he would need to sneak into the mission safely.
"Ah you are always thinking, my friend," smiled Diego. "Si, there is no reason to let anyone else know that Diego is a man of force. The commandante will not speak of what he knows but the others…I think it is best that they do not know."
In a few minutes Zorro was adjusting his hat, tying his cape and slipping his sword into its scabbard. Soon darkness would blanket the mission and the surrounding area as the sun set behind the mountains. The plan called for both Diego, now dressed as Zorro, and the commandante to enter the mission and remove Pablo and his henchman before they would harm the captives. Moving throughout the mission Zorro and the commandabte hoped to capture all four men without the use of pistols or swords thus keeping the sanctity of the mission in tact. Bernardo and Paco would wait back in the hills until called upon to help. It was a simple plan but one Diego and the commandante believed had a reasonable chance of working.
The man in the bell tower sat down with his feet dangling over the edge and lit a cigar. Leaning against the wall of stone the lookout closed his tired of his confinement in the tower. Zorro took advantage of the moment to run to the mission church while clouds covered the full moon. The walls of the mission were covered with vines that Zorro used to climb up and over to the courtyard below. With no one in sight Zorro moved swiftly toward the side door of the church. Inside the sanctuary was quiet as he stepped stealthily toward the bell tower entrance. The man covered in black ascended the twisted stairwell where he observed the lookout still puffing away at his cigar with his back toward him. Zorro hoped to catch the lookout off guard but the man suddenly turned to see Zorro ready to pounce. A knife was pulled from the lookout's boot as he lunged at Zorro. Each man struggled to gain control but it was a loose stone that finally ended the violent exchange as the lookout fell from the bell tower. Sadly the man's death violated the sanctity of the church but there was nothing Zorro could do but run down the stairs and through the church with but a momentary pause at the altar.
~ * ~