The Reformation
                                                                                    Chapter One

Miguel Ramirez removed the pistol from his waist band and pointed his raised arm directly at Monastario. With a viscous look in his eyes Ramirez deliberately pulled back on the firing mechanism releasing a bullet causing the soldier before him to stumble and fall his face twisted with pain. Once this vile deed was accomplished Miguel had no option but to eliminate any witnesses. Slowly he moved toward the frightened young woman picking up the commandante's sword as Leonar crouched protectively over the bleeding soldier. Suddenly surprised by the sound of horses hooves Miguel soon found himself face to face with the dark shadowy figure known as Zorro. The two men glared at one another until the cold steel of their blades came together in a thunderous sound filling the morning air. With lightning speed Zorro disarmed his opponent and using the hilt of his blade landed a punch knocking Don Miguel to the ground before him unconscious.

"Zorro, please help me," called out Leonar desperately pleading for assistance.

Zorro picked up the commandante's sword and without delay ran to Leonar to check Monastario's condition. "We must get help immediately," said Zorro. "Let us take him to the de la Vega rancho."

Carefully Zorro and Leonar lifted the commandante to his feet and began walking him in the direction of the carriage only to be stopped by the arrival of a patrol of soldiers.  Garcia and his men dismounted and surrounded Zorro ready to finally take custody of the outlaw who had evaded their capture for so long.

"Sergeant, Don Miguel shot the commandante," shouted Leonar. "Zorro has done his best to help us but we must go to the de la Vega hacienda and get help or the commandante may die."

"Sergeant, the truth," Monastario said weakly.

"Will you help us?" asked Zorro.

"Si," said Garcia taking in the seriousness of the situation. "Corporal Reyes go the the pueblo and bring the doctor to the de la Vega's rancho as soon as possible." Don Miguel stirred and tried to get to his feet. "You three men help Zorro with the commandante and the two of you take Don Miguel into the pueblo and make sure he is locked up securely."

Garcia mounted his horse and followed behind the carriage as it moved feverishly over the rough terrain. In the carriage thoughts of his own welfare never entered Zorro's mind. Would this be the ultimate sacrifice...Zorro's life for that of another? Leonar's cheeks were stained with tears and blood covered her clothes but she remained silent holding Monastario in her arms praying that his life would be spared. Peering deep within Zorro's eyes she could see the mirror reflection of her own fears. Love and prayer may not be enough to right this tragic situation.  

Enrique Sanchez Monastario had ruthlessly brought fear and hardship to the people of the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Many times he found himself in direct conflict with Zorro for his arrogance and cruelty.  However? the man draped in black only came close to ending the commandante's reign of terror. It took the Viceroy's visit to the pueblo to send him off to Spain with his underling, Licenciado Pina, for crimes against the people of California. Now months later Monastario returned to Los Angeles vindicated from wrong doing with a burning desire for revenge. This time Monastario was careful not to revert to his wicked ways perchance he should be arrested again. Proceeding with caution the newly reinstated commandante copied the righteous ways of Sergeant Garcia who had been in charge of the garrison. Monstario's only goal for the moment was to get even with the de la Vegas, particularly Diego, for what he perceived was their participation in his humiliation and mistreatment in Los Angeles and Spain. Over time Monastario began to question his goals and ideals. His acquaintance with Leonar,the daughter of the Governor, and the discovery of the child Anna Maria was carrying brought back memories of a life long forgotten. Soon love replaced the bitterness and desire for power that had filled the commandante's life. Monastario no longer treated his soldiers with contempt, the people as stepping stones to his mighty ambitions or Zorro as an enemy. How ironic it was that Don Miguel once again was to have a hand in the commandante's suffering!

Pacing nervously in the sala Anna Maria stopped and crossed the floor to the open window where she stood observing Don Alejandro and Bernardo on the patio. Don Alejandro had rejected Monastario's story regarding Ramirez's violent action against his wife in Spain. Alejandro had not understood Anna Maria's willingness to accept the word of a man like Monastario. Had she unwittingly placed Diego in danger by her steadfast belief in Monastario? With a slow stride Anna Maria made her way out to the patio where both men eagerly greeted her. Don Alejandro guided her to a chair as Bernardo looked on deeply concerned for his young friend's wife.

"My dear, why are you not resting?" asked Don Alejandro seeing Anna Maria's nervous behavior. "This anxiety is not good for you or the child."

"I cannot rest," she said agitated. "If I am wrong about Don Miguel then I have put Diego in great danger from the soldiers who are searching."

Seeing the worry in Anna Maria's eyes Don Alejandro replied, "Diego has never had a problem eluding the soldiers as Zorro. I am sure he will be fine besides we cannot take a chance with Leonar's life. Anna Maria, I have been thinking about Capitan Monastario, perhaps a leopard can change his spots...under certain circumstances. Leonar is a bright young woman and I do not believe she would care for a man who was not worthy."

Feeling a little better Anna Maria asked, "What do you know of Don Miguel?"

"I have never met him before today. I am only aware of what his father, Don Carlos, has told me in his letters and of course the things Leonar mentioned this morning over breakfast," he answered with a shrug of his shoulders. "It is hard for me to believe that a son of Don Carlos could do these horrible things but...."

Anna Maria listened as Don Alejandro's voice trailed off. She continued, "If Don Miguel committed the murder of the dancer as Sergeant Garcia believes then it is possible that he is responsible for the death of the commandante's wife."

"Si, it is conceivable," Don Alejandro said glancing at Bernardo who shook his head in agreement. "I have raised my voice against the pain and suffering that the commandante has caused many times. Maybe I have been too focused on this to see any change in the man."

The quiet beauty of the garden was disrupted by the clamor of horse's hooves coming to a sudden halt outside the entrance to the hacienda. Both Don Alejandro and Bernardo rushed toward the gate to see what had caused the loud commotion. They were surprised to see a carriage conveying Zorro followed by Sergeant Garcia. Anna Maria stood frozen by the gate watching as Garcia dismounted his horse to join Don Alejandro and Bernardo at the carriage. Had Zorro finally been captured...but what were they doing here?

Zorro jumped from the open buggy and called out to the men, "Hurry the commandante has been wounded. Help me get him to a room?" Bernard pushed ahead and climbed into the carriage to help Zorro lift the commandante down and carry the wounded soldier into the hacienda. Anna Maria followed closely behind the three men.

Left behind Sergeant Garcia took Leonar by the hand and helped her from the carriage as Don Alejandro looked on. Feeling lightheaded Leonar collapsed in Garcia's arms.

"Senorita, are you all right?" asked the sergeant.

"Si," she said her hands still shaking. "I am just a little faint."

"Sergeant," said Don Alejandro taking Leonar by the arm, "Let us bring the senorita into the sala and pour her some wine." Garcia took her other arm and gently the two men led her toward the sala but not before Garcia ordered his men to stand guard outside the gate.   

"Gracias," Leonar said her eyes filled with tears. "When will the doctor arrive? If he does not hurry I fear it will be too late." Both men tried to console the sobbing woman but to no avail.

"Corporal Reyes has gone into the pueblo to fetch the doctor and they should be here momentarily," said Garcia pouring some wine and handing it to Leonar.

"Gracias, sergeant," she said taking one sip and setting the wine down. "Don Alejandro, please may I see Enrique now? I wish to be with him."

"Leonar, I will check on his condition and be back in a moment. Please be patient," he said embracing her. Turning Don Alejandro headed down the hall to the bedroom.

Bernardo and Zorro carefully placed the injured man in bed and cut away his bloodied clothes. Anna Maria brought water and supplies to Bernardo so he could clean and take care of the commandante's wound until the doctor could arrive. Standing sadly by the foot of the bed Anna Maria watched but said nothing.

"Bernardo, do what you can until the doctor arrives," said Zorro making his way to Anna Maria's side.

"Diego," she asked peering over at Monastario's lifeless body, "Will he live?"

"I do not know," he said turning to look at Monastario. "He has lost much blood and the wound looks bad."

"I understand," she said softly raising her eyes to look deeply into Diego's face. "Diego, you must go quickly before Garcia comes after you."

"I will change and be back as Diego but first...," he said moving closer to her and slipping his arms around her waist. Silently they held each other. Stepping back Zorro placed his hand under her chin and lifted her face to his. Leaning down he gently kissed her lips."I love you," he said and with that disappeared into the passage behind the sliding wardrobe case.

Bernardo had seen Anna Maria's eyes shine brightly as she looked at the masked man but now her eyes were expressionless as she moved closer to where Monastario layed. Lowering her head she touched his hand and slowly closed her eyes.