The Reformation
Chapter Twelve

Unaware of the hoax that had been played on them the Governor and Don Alejandro traveled to the Pueblo de Los Angeles for a meeting with the dons. The Governor's guards trailed behind the carriage as it's wheels kicked up dust rolling over the dirt highway. Inside the buggy Don Alejandro listened with interest as the governor voiced a father's concern over his daughter. The relationship Leonar had formed with the commandante had become far more serious then the Governor ever imagined. While Don Alejandro wished to respond to his friend's fears...he found it difficult.  Monastario had been a monster, cruel and self-serving, taking advantage of defenseless people yet the commandante had undergone a remarkable change. Don Alejandro could see that Leonar's goodness and kindness had made a difference in the commandante.

As the two men arrived in the sleepy pueblo a hot, humid day greeted them.  Exiting the carriage they walked into the tavern and were welcomed by Sergeant Garcia and the important citizens of Los Angeles. After the standard pleasantries were made the two men began a lengthy conversation with Sergeant Garcia. Shortly it became clear that a deception had taken place. Neither the governor nor Garcia had arranged this meeting. Some unknown person had gone to a lot of trouble to send fraudulent notes to the hacienda and cuartel that morning. Was his Excellency the intended victim of an elaborate charade or someone at the de la Vega hacienda? The Governor, deeply concerned for those left behind, ordered Garcia to the rancho immediately but not before promising to remain at the cuartel for his safety. Picking up his hat and weapon Garcia dashed from the tavern and rallied his troops at the garrison.

Frightened for their family members remaining at the hacienda the governor and Don Alejandro found it difficult to wait and do nothing.  Finally they threw caution to the wind. The two men climbed aboard the buggy and dashed toward the de la Vega hacienda arriving only minutes after the departure of Capitan Monastario. As they entered the hacienda they found Anna Maria sitting in a chair protected by two soldiers.  Anna Maria stood and ran toward the men collapsing in Don Alejandro's arms in tears. The men looked about the room while helping Anna Maria back to a chair in the sala. The broken patio doors, shattered glass and splattered blood were all frightening to behold. Once in control Anna Maria relayed the events that led to the shooting of Don Carlos and the kidnapping of Leonar.  

Placing his hand over his eyes the Governor said mournfully, "I knew something like this would happen when Leonar involved herself with the commandante."

"Your Excellency, please, no one is to blame for this,"  Anna Maria replied taking his hand. "Leonar and Capitan Monastario care deeply for each other.  No one could foresee something like this."

"My dear, you are a good friend," said his Excellency forcing a smile. "You are right, the capitan would not allow anything to happen to Leonar. Con promiso...I must check on Don Carlos. Bernardo, please take me to him."

Meanwhile Don Alejandro placed a comforting arm around his daughter-in-law and coaxed her out to the garden. In this peaceful setting Don Alejandro did his best to lend support to Anna Maria. Soon Bernardo entered the patio and placed a tray with refreshments on a table before them. While pouring the tea Bernardo looked upon the sad face of Anna Maria and wondered what the emotional damage of the day would have on her delicate condition. Would she be able to deal with the danger Zorro would be in and the uncertainty her dear friend was facing? Bernardo lowered his head and returned to the hacienda with the empty tray leaving Anna Maria and Don Alejandro engaged in quiet conversation.

"Father, I am so frightened," Anna Maria said sadly. "I really thought the time had come where Zorro would no longer be needed. However now I understand the people will always need a hero to bring peace and hope."

"My dear daughter, Zorro and Diego are one.  Whether he dresses as Zorro or acts as Diego he is the same man.  Are you sorry that Diego and you have married?"

"No, I could not love anyone as I love him," she said tearfully. "I accept him just as he is and I love him with all my heart.  

"Then trust your heart, my dear, " smiled Don Alejandro.  "Diego will not fail you. Everything will be fine"

Leading their horses on foot Ramirez, Pina and Leonar continued through the rocky passages in the hills. The treacherous climb and broiling heat left everyone fatigued. Unable to keep pace with her captors Leonar soon stumbled and fell exhausted to the ground. Don Miguel stopped, turned around and walked stiffly toward Leonar. With anger in his face he looked down on the terrified young woman.

"My dear, you should try to keep up with us or there will be no need to keep you alive," laughed Ramirez standing over poor Leonar. "It would be a shame to put an end to such a lovely companion!"

Bending down Ramirez grabbed Leonar by the arms and roughly pulled her to her feet. The look in Don Miguel's eyes sent shivers throughout her body but she met his eyes boldly. Brushing back her disheveled hair Leonar dusted off her torn dress with one hand as Don Miguel dragged her after him with the other. 

Pina, himself, was having trouble keeping up and soon called out, "Don Miguel, please, I think we should find a place to rest or none of us will make it out of these horrible hills."

"Very well," Miguel said wiping the perspiration from his forehead. "I do not believe anyone is following us. There is a cave over there where we can rest from this unbearable heat. Do not get too comfortable for we need to make our way back to the de la Vega hacienda.  Perhaps the Governor can be persuaded to help in our escape," he said with a sly grin.

The blistering heat made it necessary for Zorro, Monastario and Garcia to also seek shelter.  Garcia opened his canteen and drank some water before pouring some on his handkerchief.  Removing his hat he wiped his head. The heat and the rough terrain were beginning to take its toll on all three men but especially the commandante who soon fell asleep while leaning against a rock.  The masked man unable to rest insisted on climbing into the hills on foot knowing that darkness would soon fall and shatter all hopes of trailing the kidnappers.  Higher he ventured until a sudden movement in the distance sent Zorro diving for cover. Peering from behind some rocks he observed the shadow of a bird that soared above him. The sun was going down and darkness was about to fall. With a sigh of relief he dusted off his clothes as he stood. Just beyond where he stood he could see a cave. Carefully he inched his way to the opening where he noticed a small white cloth on the ground. Bending down he picked up a ladies handkerchief.  Looking around he found the tracks made by two horses and the footprints of three people going back down the hill. Stuffing the cloth in his waist band Zorro swiftly made his way back to the campsite where Monastario and Garcia were waiting.

"Commandante, Sergeant Garcia get to your feet," shouted Zorro returning. "Our prey has doubled back and I believe are on their way to the hacienda. They will use Leonar to force the Governor to aid them in their escape."

"How can you be so sure?" questioned Monastario.

"I found tracks from two horses leading down on the other side...but I also found this...," replied Zorro taking the small hankie from his band and handing it to the commandante.

"It belongs to Leonar," sighed Monastario. 

"Let us ride," said Zorro. "There is no time to waste."

Wrenching the reins of their horses the three men headed down the steep, jagged trail amid darkness.  Hopefully the moon would provide them enough light to make their way to the bottom and allow them to save those at the hacienda from the cruelty of Pina and Ramirez.