The Return
                                                              Chapter Eleven

Tucked away in a canyon Zorro and Monastario dismounted and tied up their horses. The two men had ridden some distance from the pueblo to avoid the prying eyes of unwanted visitors. Without a word passing between them each man stood facing the other wondering if this would be an end to their conflict or one of them. Zorro slowly untied his cape and tossed it over Tornado's saddle before following Monastario to a flat grassy area where they stopped and again faced one another.

"Well commandante, we are truly alone," Zorro said breaking the silence. "You have been after this for sometime. What is your choice? Do we continue our talk or is it time to take action?"

"I...," began Monastario with some reluctance.

This was the moment Monastario had waited for since returning from Spain but his heart was now uncertain. He no longer had a burning desire for revenge against this man or his family but had he let things go too far. In his mind there was nothing he could say and only one choice he could make.

Monastario slowly drew his sword and said, "Whenever your ready señor."

Zorro stepped back while drawing his sword his eyes never leaving Monastario's face. The commandante was a cunning and worthy adversary unlike the men who followed him. However, the commandante's power hungry ambitions had nearly cost Don Alejandro his life. How could Zorro have any doubt of the decision he needed to make? Yet indecision is what he felt. Was it possible for him to escape without physically harming Monastario or being hurt himself? Zorro no longer had the pleasure of provoking the commandante's disfavor. This time he would have to protect himself at any cost. Anna Maria and their unborn child must come first.

With his sword in his hand Zorro easily stepped aside as Monastario lunged at him. Now as Zorro took the defensive he matched every move his opponent made with skill and dexterity avoiding the sharp point and cutting edge of the opposing blade. The clash of the weapons was heard echoing throughout the canyon and the cold steel of the swords glistened. Suddenly with a twist of his wrist Zorro wrenched the sword from the commandante's hand. Monastario stood frozen his face pale waiting for the final thrust.

Pointing his sword at Captitan Monastario's chest Zorro said, "Well commandante it seems that truth and justice is the winner. You have fought well. Do you have any final thoughts?"

"Tell Leonar...nevermind," he said prepared to die.

Zorro paused while looking at the face of the man who had brought such pain to the people. It was now within his power to avenge the wrong done yet Zorro could not find it within himself to take the commandante's life in anyway but a fair fight. "Pick up your sword, commandante" he said simply. "We have not finished."

The commandante slowly bent down and retrieved his sword. Once again the two men brought their blades forcefully together. Each man proficient with the sword moved back and forth, attacking and defending trying to out maneuver the other. The tension mounted as did the fatigue which overtook the men. Backing Zorro against a huge stone wall Monastario knocked his opponent off guard thus giving the commandante the opportunity to take the advantage. With his free arm Monastario pinned Zorro against the wall and placed his sword up against Zorro's throat.

"I finally have you where I always wanted you," he said bitterly. Taking his free hand he reached up and pulled down the mask to reveal "Diego de la Vega". "I cannot say I am surprised," said the commandante with a laugh. "I have waited for so long for this moment. Do you have any idea how I feel? Is there anything you wish me to share with your family, de la Vega?"

"No, all has been said," Diego swallowed hard the blade biting into his neck.

Monastario stood unable to move. Why was he hesitating? Was it not hatred for this man which guided him through the indignities he suffered here and in Spain? Surely he was not grateful to this man for not taking his life. Was it Leonar or perhaps the padre's words? Many others had died before his sword but something was not right. Anna Maria's words lingered in his head and cast a shadow before him like a ghost. Stepping back his eyes on Diego, the commandante lowered his sword and turned away from his intended victim shaken and confused.

"Why have you stopped?" Diego inquired surprised. "Was your plan not to kill me yourself?"

"Si, it was," he said avoiding Diego's look. "But I cannot."

Placing his sword in his scabbard Diego had but one question, "Why commandante?"

"I was the one at fault not you...please no more questions," Monastario said about to mount his horse.

"Only one more question. My identity as Zorro," continued Diego. "Will you send the soldiers after me?"

"No. Your secret is safe. There will be no soldiers. You have my word," Monastario said turning toward Diego. He could see the amazement in Diego's face. He added, "If nothing else, de la Vega, I do live up to my word."

Monastario seated himself upon his horse and rode off in the direction of the de la Vega hacienda. Diego shocked by the unexpected turn of events watched as Monastario rode away then mounted Tornado for his return to the hacienda. He could not wait to hold Anna Maria in his arms again. He still was not sure why Monastario had let him go. Was this part of his plan or was the commandante feeling remorse for the pain he caused? There was nothing he could do but wait and see.

At the hacienda Don Alejandro was sitting in the courtyard enjoying his morning tea when Anna Maria appeared.

"My dear, you look tired. Please, won't you sit? Will Diego be joining us?" said Alejamdro standing and pulling out a chair to allow Anna Maria to be seated.

"Gracias Don Alejandro but Diego will not be joining us. He had some unfinished business that needed his immediate attention," Anna Maria answered her eyes betraying her anxious state.

Placing his hand on hers Alejandro voiced his concern, "Diego has gone to meet with the commandate and has not returned. Am I correct."

Before Anna Maria could answer, Diego and Bernardo made their way down the stairs into the courtyard to join them.

"Diego my darling," said Anna Maria running into Diego's arms. "Thank goodness you are unharmed." Taking a deep breath she continued, "Does this mean that Capitan Monastario is...dead."

"No," he said shaking his head and smiling. "We have settled all our differences somewhat peacefully. I believe our conflict is over and my secret safe," he replied.

"My son, this is good news. But are you sure that the commandante will keep your secret?" questioned Don Alejandro.

"There is no guarantees but I do believe he will," said Diego smiling to his wife. "The commandante seems quite different but only time will tell."

"Now you may live your life the way it was meant to be," said Don Alejandro. "Perhaps it is time to take a real interest in the rancho. Don Miguel shall be returning soon with Leonar and I would like you to take part in our business dealings."

"Don Miguel?" repeated Anna Maria.

"Si, the son of my old friend Carlos Ramirez. His son has a rancho north of Monterey and he wishes to purchase some cattle to refresh his stock," replied Alejandro.

"Oh no," Anna Maria said turning quickly to Diego. "Diego, you must find Leonar and Don Miguel at once. He is not...Diego please hurry I don't have time to explain but Leonar may be in grave danger," said Anna Maria desperately.

"Anna Maria you must be mistaken," said Don Alejandro amazed by her words.

"No, I am not. Don Miguel is responsible for the death of Capitan Monastario's wife. Diego, please hurry," she said fearfully. The three men looked curiously at Anna Maria and quickly Diego motioned to Bernardo to follow as they disappeared into the sala. Diego made his way upstairs to change as Bernardo went into the cave to prepare Tornado. As Diego dressed he recalled the picture in the commandante's hands of the beautiful young woman. If Anna Maria was correct he would have to hurry for there was much land to cover and Leonar was in danger.

"Anna Maria, you must not worry yourself. Diego will find Leonar and bring her home safely," said Don Alejandro embracing his daughter-in-law.

Entering the gate, Monastario made his way toward Anna Maria and Don Alejandro. With a smile upon his face he nodded to Don Alejandro and Anna Maria and said, "It is a pleasure to see you both looking well. I have come to take Leonar riding. Would you let her know that I am here?"

Don Alejandro's hand tightened about Anna Maria as they shuddered to think what the commandante might do when he heard of Leonar's predicament.
"Is there a problem?" asked Monastario disturbed by the looks that passed between Alejandro and Anna Maria. "Of course there is. I understand your reluctance to have me in your home and seeing Leonar but I assure you Don Alejandro my intentions toward Leonar are honorable."

"Commandante, what you said is true but...," before he could finish his sentence Don Alejandro was interrupted by the arrival of Sergeant Garcia and several lancers.

"Pardon mi Capitan, Don Alejandro, senora but it is very important that I speak with the commandante," said Garcia his hat in his hand.

"Garcia, what could be so important that you followed me to the hacienda?" questioned Monastario.

"Sir, the men on patrol this morning found the body of Rosa Salazar, the dancer from the tavern, she had been murdered. We believe that the man who committed this crime is here."

"Please commandante, you must send your men out to find them at once," said Anna Maria.

"Who must they find, senora?" asked Monastario.

"Don Miguel Ramirez. He is with Leonar. Diego has gone after them. You must hurry," she said her eyes pleading.

"Ramirez. Sergeant why was I not told of this man?" said the commandante his face twisted with anger.

"Sir, it was in the report I asked you to read and sign," Garcia said nervously.

"Si, you did," said Monastario remembering setting the papers aside. "Sergeant take your men and break up into smaller groups and find Ramirez and Leonar. I will search by the lake. They are somewhere on the property. Andele," he said turning back to the de la Vegas as Garcia and his men disbursed. "Con permiso," he said. "I must find them before...Don Alejandro, please stay with the senora and make sure she is safe."

Running toward the entrance he hurriedly mounted his horse and galloped off toward the lake his heart pounding. Surely his nightmare could not be starting again.  Once he found Leonar safe he would make sure Miguel Ramirez got everything that was coming to him.