Diego and Bernardo spent the morning meeting with various vaqueros throughout the de la Vega rancho taking careful notes on the size of the heard for market as requested by Don Alejandro. Normally when the two men were alone Diego felt free to chat with Bernardo but on this unusually warm day Diego seemed preoccupied and distant. Later that morning Diego and Bernardo rested their horses and took shade beneath some trees. The soft humming of the birds and the peaceful swaying of the branches nearly sent Diego into a sweet slumber but his troubled thoughts kept him from dozing. Unable to relax Diego opened his eyes and caught sight of Bernardo watching him.
"My friend, you know me so well," smiled Diego. "Si, something is troubling me. Ever since the peon brought the message to the hacienda I have been disturbed. This is the same man I saw at the cuartel weeks ago. Even then I wondered about him. There was something about his eyes, his manners...I know I have seen him before but where?"
Bernardo shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. He understood this feeling well for he had felt the same sensation when he opened the door of the hacienda and saw the old peasant. Why had Garcia sent a peon to deliver a message to the Governor instead of a soldier? Rested the two men rose and continued to the next location but before they arrived Diego suddenly jerked his horse to a stop. The normal sparkle in Diego's green eyes was now replaced with fear.
Diego swallowed hard and said, "Bernardo, the peasant at the hacienda this morning is not what he appears. It is Licenciado Pina our old magistrado. He must have been the one who helped Ramirez escape jail. I believe Pina and Ramirez have put together a plan to get back at the commandante. We must return to the hacienda and warn the others before it is too late."
Quickly the two men turned their horses and with great speed headed in the direction of the hacienda where they found a group of armed soldiers waiting outside the main gate. Diego jumped off his horse and rushed to the main house with Bernardo following swiftly behind him.
In the hacienda Anna Maria and Don Carlos sat in the sala flanked by two soldiers and the commandante. All about the floor there was blood and glass splattered. Frightened Diego rushed to his wife's side. Anna Maria appeared unharmed but glancing over at Don Carlos, Diego could see the don holding his bloodied side.
"Mi amor, are you all right," Diego eagerly asked. "What has happened here?"
"I am not hurt," she said wiping away tears, "but Don Carlos has been shot." Diego motioned to Bernardo to see what he could do for the injured don as he comforted his sobbing wife. "Oh Diego, Miguel Ramirez was here with another man. They came to kill the commandante but instead Don Miguel shot his father. When the men heard horses approach the gate they fled with Leonar. Please, there must be something we can do."
Before Diego could answer the commandante spoke up, "The arrival of Sergeant Garcia and his men caused Pina and Ramirez to flee with Leonar as their hostage. My soldiers and I were about to ride out after them. I will leave two of my soldiers to wait for the doctor and make sure no harm comes to those at the hacienda. With your permission I shall join my men."
Garcia shuffled into the sala with the commandante's sword and pistol in his hand. Seeing Diego and Bernardo, Garcia smiled but before he could say anything he was ordered by the commandante to help him to his horse. With a shrug of his big shoulders Garcia hastened to help. Diego squeezed Anna Maria's hand and gave her an understanding smile before getting up and going after Monastario.
"Capitan, please wait," called Diego from the doorway.
"Sergeant, hand me my sabre and put my pistol in my saddle holster," ordered Monastario. "I shall be with you momentarily."
Diego said nothing until Garcia walked through the gate. "Capitan, are you sure this is a prudent idea to traipse over the countryside looking for these men when you have been so ill?" whispered Diego. "Why don't you leave it to the soldiers and Zorro?"
"No, I must. If something were to happen to Leonar I would not forgive myself."
"You have changed my friend. You are no longer the same miserable fellow who plundered and terrorized the good people of Los Angeles. I know what Leonar means to you and Zorro will join you in your search," Diego said nodding his head.
"You should not take this chance, de la Vega," uttered Monastario. "The soldiers will be searching..."
"No capitan," interrupted Anna Maria moving slowly toward the men, "Diego knows what he must do." Gazing down at Anna Maria, Diego was filled with pride.
"Capitan, send the soldiers to check the roads and haciendas nearby while you take Garcia to search the hills above the hacienda. I believe there is a good chance they have taken Leonar that way and will try to hide somewhere in the foothills. Zorro will be waiting for you," said Diego disappearing upstairs to his room.
"I pray that you find Leonar unharmed," Anna Maria said to the commandante. "Vaya con Dios."
Outside the hacienda Garcia helped Monastario to mount his horse before bidding the soldiers farewell. Riding toward the hills Monastario's thoughts remained on Leonar. Would Ramirez and Pina dare make Leonar the innocent victim in a game of revenge against him or would they realize she was their only chance of escape? Slowly Garcia and Monastario's horses climbed the rocks searching for any sign of the hunted men and their hostage. Soon they came upon a deserted campsite hidden by rocks and trees. The whinny of a horse in the distance caught their attention and they turned their gaze upon a dark shadowy figure standing nearby.
"Zorro," shouted Garcia as he reached for his pistol.
"No Sergeant," yelled Monastario. "El Zorro is here to help us...he is a friend."
Surprised by the commandante's words, Garcia obeyed and placed his pistol in his waistband. Garcia knew Zorro to be an honorable man who fought tyranny and injustice. True, the reward would be nice but he never wished to see Zorro captured or hung. Zorro was a true friend to those in need, even a lowly soldier.
"Ramirez and Pina have ridden off in this direction," said Zorro pointing toward the foothills. "They cannot get too far with two people riding one horse. We should easily catch up to them before night fall."
Zorro motioned to the others as he followed the tracks made by the horses ridden by Pina and Ramirez. Deeper into the hills the unlikely trio pursued the fugitives. Monastario was visibly tired by the heat and harsh trail but refused any special attention as the pursuit of the criminals continued. After hours in the hot sun, Zorro insisted that the three men stop and rest. Taking shelter from the sweltering sun, Zorro and Monastario spoke openly while Garcia saw to the tired, thirsty animals.
"Is this to be my final punishment?" asked Monastario. "Am I to lose Leonar, too?"
"Capitan, We will find Leonar...unharmed," Zorro said with confidence. "As soon as the horses are rested we will be on our way. It is only a matter of time and we shall have them."
"Pina would not dare harm Leonar for he knows she is needed if they are to escape," Monastario rambled on. "However Ramirez is another story. He is a dangerous man and would think nothing of killing her. He would have killed both of us months ago if you had not come to our aid."
"Si, Ramirez is not to be trusted but Pina will not allow anything to stand in the way of escape. He will protect Leonar until he is sure they are out of danger. Do not worry we shall have them before that," smiled Zorro. "Now rest while I see if Sergeant Garcia needs any help."