|Think Like The Fox
Author: The Fink PM
The third and final part of the trilogy follows on from To Snare A FoxRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Words: 6,352 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 3 - Published: 01-23-02 - Status: Complete - id: 562765
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimers: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Think Like the Fox
Marta entered the parlour in time to hear Tessa's muttered question.
"Do about what?" she asked.
Tessa started. "Pardon?"
Marta sighed and rolled her eyes. "Do? You were asking what you should do. I said about what?"
Marta glared. "So?"
This time it was Tessa sighing. "Montoya. He was here – he knows."
Marta's eyes widened. "Are you sure?"
Tessa nodded and related what had happened earlier that morning. "Why else would he have come here asking that if he didn't know?"
Marta considered what Tessa had just said. "I don't think he knows anything, for sure. But I do think he suspects." Marta frowned. "Perhaps it is time for the Queen to…"
"If you say take a vacation, I'll scream," Tessa warned. "I can't do that. There's too many people who rely on her to pay Montoya's exorbitant taxes."
Marta nodded, she had expected as much. "Then, the only thing we can do is ask the doctor's advice." Tessa raised her eyebrows in surprise. Marta smiled. "When your enemies are closing in, you need all the help you can get, and our doctor is a very intelligent man. Not only that," Marta continued, "but I believe he is experienced in these little mind games."
Tessa nodded slowly, but before she could reply there was a purposeful bang on the hacienda's front door. "I wonder who that could be."
"Montoya." Marta wasn't sure how she knew, but she was convinced.
"Again?" Tessa hissed.
Marta nodded as the visitor pounded on the door again. "I'd better answer it." Without waiting for Tessa's agreement, Marta went through to the front door, unlatched it and opened it.
Standing on the doorstep was Colonel Montoya, along with a couple of soldiers. "Ah, Senorita. I am here to see Senorita Alvarado." Montoya smiled and gestured to come in. "May I?"
"Of course, Colonel," Marta replied making sure that her tone was as polite as she could manage. She widened the door, and allowed Montoya entry.
Leaving the soldiers waiting on the step, Marta led Montoya into the parlour, then, as proprietary demanded, Marta withdrew. But she had got barely two steps away from the parlour before she heard Tessa exclaim,
"What?! Pappa would never have done such a thing!"
Then came Montoya's voice. Several tones louder than normal. "Senorita Alvarado, you are an intelligent woman, I know, and I am telling you that this is what was stated in your father's will."
Marta's eyes widened in horror. Just what was Montoya trying to pull?
"I will not do it."
"You have no legal choice, Senorita. You have twenty four hours to comply." The parlour door opened and Montoya swept out. "Buenos *dias*."
Marta barely avoided being trodden on as Montoya made his exit. For a full minute, she stood where she was, stunned.
"Marta – what are we to do?"
The plaintive sound of Tessa's anguish brought her back to reality. Making sure that the front door was shut once more, Marta returned to the parlour. Tessa was sat in one of the easy chairs, looking thoroughly heartsick.
"What has happened?" Marta asked softly.
For answer, Tessa simply handed Marta a piece of paper.
"'I, Don Raphael Alvarado, do hereby state my last will and testament, as witnessed by Father Miguel Sanchez and by my Steward, Juan Carlos.' Tessa, this must be a fake," Marta observed.
"I know," Tessa whispered, "but it is Pappa's handwriting and Pappa's signature…and Montoya holds that it's legal."
Marta continued to scan the document. "No wonder. According to this, your father wished to cede his lands to the crown."
"That isn't the worst bit."
Marta frowned and carefully reread the 'will'. "'My final request is that my daughter, Maria Teresa Alvarado should be made a ward of the crown until such a time as a suitable suitor be found. I do this so that she might avoid the hardships of attempting to run a hacienda alone without the steady hand of a man to guide her.'" Marta felt her stomach turn to lead. "This is not the work of your father, and we cannot check because Father Sanchez passed away two weeks before we arrived from Madrid while Montoya had Juan killed for banditry."
"I know," Tessa whispered. "Montoya wants us out of here by tomorrow evening, or he'll evict us forcibly. Marta what do we do?"
Grisham surveyed the damage, shaking his head. "I do believe you need to see a doctor, *Doc*," he drawled. "But you've still not told me what I want to know." He seized Helm by the shirtfront. "Now *who* helped you?"
In spite of the bruising and drying blood around his face, Helm contrived to look bored. His words were carefully spoken to make sure that the broken jaw didn't prevent his meaning from coming though. "As I think I've already told you, there was no one."
Grisham growled in frustration and released his hold, not caring that Helm crashed to the ground. "Gee, Doc – how dumb are you? I *will* kill you, you know. All you gotta do is tell me who helped you."
"You can try," retorted Helm, thickly.
"You know something," Grisham observed, leaning against Helm's desk, "I admire you, Doc. You got principles you're willing to die for. Me…ah heck, I ain't willing to die for nothing."
"You admire me?"
"Yeah. You know I'd like to be like you but…" Grisham's words trailed off as he heard a strange sound. It sounded like someone trying to laugh. For several seconds, Grisham was puzzled as to who would be making such a noise. Then his eyes fell on Helm.
"You want to be me?" Helm managed to gasp.
Grisham started to shake his head. "No – maybe I don't. See, you're crazy. Crazy like a wounded fox, and I guess I'd better just put you outa your misery." But as Grisham pulled his gun intending to shoot Helm, Helm just laughed all the more. "Ah waste of a good bullet." A series of well placed kicks served to do the job just as well. "Pity."
Marta considered everything Tessa had told her.
"I think," Marta finally said, "that there is a way out of this." When Tessa would have cheered, however, Marta held her hand up to still the celebration. "But we must comply with Montoya's demand."
"But the will's a forgery!"
Marta nodded. "I know – but just for now, we have to follow Montoya's wishes. He holds all the cards."
Tessa looked as if she might argue then nodded reluctantly. "You're right, but…"
Marta smiled. "I know. We will comply, and leave here tonight. With you being a 'ward of the crown', now, we will have to live in Montoya's home – and at least that will provide us with an excuse for bumping into the doctor."
Tessa nodded. "That's true. Maybe he'll have some idea of how to void this forgery."
"What?!" Grisham stared at his commanding officer as if Montoya had suddenly grown an extra head.
Montoya gave a sigh of exaggerated patience. "I have forged her father's will, placing her lands under my control, and placing her as a ward of the crown – i.e. under my control – until such a time as a suitable suitor is found." Montoya smiled. Grisham shuddered. "Needless to state, I have found just such a suitable person already."
If anything, Grisham's stare was even more incredulous than before. "Me?! She wouldn't marry me if you paid her."
Montoya chuckled. "What a low opinion you have of yourself, mi Capitan. Besides which, she might not *choose* you as a spouse, but she has no say in the matter. As the appointed representative of the crown, I choose for her, and I say she will marry you."
"But that would…"
"Grisham," Montoya began softly. "Do you remember what we discussed the last time we had this conversation?" Reluctantly, Grisham nodded. "I thought you might. Now, either you will comply with my order when the time comes, or… Well you don't want to think about the or, do you?"
"No, sir." The denizens of Santa Helena would have been surprised to say the least at the sudden change in Grisham's demeanour. Montoya was merely delighted to see the recalcitrant captain finally acknowledging his orders.
"To other matters," Montoya continued. "Did you actually kill Helm this time?"
There was a moment's pause, while Grisham recollected his self-possession, then he answered, "Yes."
"You'd better hope so, for your sake."
There was a knock on Montoya's office door, where the interview had so far been taking place.
"Colonel Montoya?" Martinez called. "Senorita Alvarado and her Duena are here to see you."
Montoya looked startled. "Now this *is* a surprise," he muttered to Grisham. "I was expecting to have to wait until at least mid-afternoon tomorrow." To Martinez, he answered, "Well show them in." The door opened, and in swept Tessa, closely followed by Marta. "Ladies, buenos dias."
"Buenos dias, Colonel," Tessa answered. "I am sorry for my earlier behaviour," she continued, before Montoya could say anything. "I was just a little in shock. You are absolutely right, of course."
It was only with a struggle that Montoya kept the shock from his face at all. Judging by Grisham's expression, he was too startled to care who knew it. "May I say how pleased I am that you have…recovered?" Montoya responded.
Tessa smiled prettily. "Thank you. My lands are now yours and I place myself in your charge as my father wished me to."
Montoya smiled back. "Thank you…although you will not be in my care for long."
"Oh?" Tessa looked surprised.
"Yes – Capitan Grisham here has asked for your hand in marriage." Montoya paused to gage Tessa's reaction, and although she looked shocked and surprised, he could see a hint of knowing in her eyes as if she had expected him to say that. "And I have accepted his offer."
"Oh, my!" Tessa exclaimed. "Marta – did you hear? I am to be married!"
Again, it was all Montoya could do not to look surprised. This was the last reaction he had been expecting. Tears, yes. Rage, undoubtedly. But this? She looked and sounded positively excited. Montoya risked a glance in Grisham's direction. The captain was looking completely stunned – and for once, Montoya felt some sympathy for him.
"I'm glad you approve, Senorita," Montoya finally managed. "Sergeant Martinez – if you would be so good as to escort the Senorita to the guest rooms?"
"Of course, Colonel." Martinez bowed. "Senorita? This way, please."
Montoya waited until the door of his office had been pulled shut before breathing something of a sight of relief.
"Grisham *do* close your mouth – you look like a fish out of water," he muttered tiredly. Grisham's mouth closed with an obedient snap. Montoya shook his head, suspecting he would get no sense from his captain for some time. What had just occurred was far too much of a surprise.
What he needed to do now was regain the balance. But how? What would rob Tessa of her self-possession? A slow smile stole across Montoya's face.
"Grisham, you're dismissed. I have something I think I should bring to the attention of Senorita Alvarado." Grisham blinked, puzzled. "You might want to have your dress uniform cleaned – after all, you are getting married in two days time."
That statement roused Grisham from his shock. "Two days?!"
"Yes, two days." Montoya looked at Grisham. "Far better to get it out of the way quickly – that way, peace can return to our humble pueblo."
"Now, you are dismissed – I have to see Senorita Alvarado."
This time, Grisham went.
"Do you think I over did it?" Tessa asked, the instant Martinez had left the suite of guestrooms.
Marta smiled. "No – I think you had it about right."
"Grisham looked ready to faint," Tessa recalled, a smile gracing her face.
"Montoya was not much better," Marta added.
It was too much. The conspirators started to giggle.
"Incidentally," Tessa continued, once she had managed to still her giggles, "I think you owe me a reale."
"You said it would be Montoya who would be my 'suitable suitor'."
Marta looked stunned for a second, then produced the coin and flipped it to Tessa with a shrug. "Can't be right all the time, now can I?" Tessa giggled again. "Now, we must prepare for the next part of the plan."
Suddenly, Tessa's giggles were gone and she was serious once more. "You think the doctor will be able to help?"
Marta nodded. "I know he will."
Before either could move, there was a knock on the door and then without so much as a murmur from either Tessa or Marta, the door opened.
"I hope I am not intruding," Montoya began politely, "but I thought it better to come and see you straight away when I heard the terrible news."
Tessa's stomach hit her knees and she felt her skin grow cold. "Terrible news, Colonel?" she repeated.
"I am afraid that bandits have…" he hesitated, "murdered Dr Helm."
Tessa knew she was saying the things that Montoya was expecting to hear from Maria Teresa about how terrible it was. But in truth she had no idea what words came out. She was vaguely aware of Montoya making suitable responses, but she could no more hear his words than she could her own. Her whole world seemed to have condensed into a single thought: He can't be.
Montoya withdrew from the guestrooms, pulling the door shut behind him, a tiny smile gracing his face. There were times when he really did enjoy his work.
Marta tucked the blankets tightly around Tessa and then withdrew from the bedroom. After Montoya's revelation, Tessa had quickly succumbed to shock, and the only thing Marta could do was gently put her to bed. But now her charge was asleep, it was time for Marta to act. She had to know the truth – and she didn't trust Montoya to tell the truth.
From her bag, she withdrew her cards and then cleared a space before the mirror of a vanity unit. If there had been more time, she would have hunted for the proper candles and incense for the ritual, but time was of the essence. Besides which, the smell of burning incense would more than likely alert Montoya – and Marta strongly doubted he would appreciate her skills as a tarot reader.
She took a moment to shuffle the cards and to calm her own raging emotions. It would do her no good to panic just yet. Calm and collected, she laid out five cards face down before her and then placed the rest of the deck face down before the mirror.
For a nervous second, she hesitated; her hand hovering over the first card. If it was to be a bad reading, there was no sense putting it off. With a deep breath, she turned over the first card. The Devil. Marta smiled wryly. That figured – Montoya. She had seen that card so many times whilst doing readings for, or about, Tessa that she had almost renamed the card.
She moved on to the second card. The ten of swords. Another wry smile – that just confirmed to Marta that there was something wholly wrong with Montoya's words.
Time for the third card. The hanged man. Marta's eyes widened at seeing the image. If this was right, then Dr Helm was very possibly alive but badly hurt. Yes – that made sense. After all, Montoya had thought Helm dead before and been wrong. A tiny flame of hope bloomed in the back of Marta's mind as she moved on to the fourth card.
The fourth card was turned over. Seven of Wands. Marta frowned for a second. Taking a stand – it went along with what she was seeing already but about what?
Finally, the fifth card. Justice. Again, Marta frowned. This card puzzled her in the context of the other cards.
Breaking her concentration, there was a murmur from the bedroom. Tessa's sleep was clearly disturbed by something, which brought the weight of Montoya's words crashing down again, and suddenly, Marta knew what she had to do. Montoya's words had been calculated to destroy Tessa – and Marta was not prepared to let that happen. First things first, she had to find the doctor – given the reading she had just performed, he needed her help urgently. Then… Marta smiled for the first time in several hours. Then it would be time to plan.
Montoya was just finishing his breakfast when Tessa arrived in the dining room of the governor's mansion. As she sat, Montoya took the time to study how much she had apparently aged over night. Tessa's complexion was pale beneath her tan. Lines of sadness were etched around red-rimmed eyes, while the dark smudges below her eyes suggested that the redness was not solely as a result of crying. In short, she looked thoroughly ill. **She really DID love Helm,** Montoya observed in wonder, a brief stab of pity slicing through his heart.
He tramped down on that feeling before it could take hold. She did not deserve his sympathy after the way she had ruined plan after plan with her masked antics. Even so, he was moved to question whether she truly deserved such a cruel and unusual punishment as this. He squashed that thought, too.
"Good morning, Senorita," Montoya began.
Listlessly Tessa looked up from the plate of fruit that one of Montoya's servants had brought in. "Good morning," she echoed faintly.
"I trust you slept well?"
The reply was monosyllabic, as if Tessa couldn't bear to speak any more than the minimum. It made Montoya feel uncomfortable, and for a fraction of a second he wondered whether he should mention the wedding. Then he gave an internal shrug. Officially, Maria Teresa Alvarado had no feelings for Dr Helm, therefore…
"In the interests of having this arranged as quickly as possible," Montoya began, "your wedding will be tomorrow."
If it were possible, Tessa turned even paler as she nodded.
"And now, I must bid you good day – I have…work to be getting on with."
Hastily Montoya departed the dining room feeling thoroughly unsettled. Out in the corridor, which lead to the rose courtyard, which separated the business end of the mansion from the living quarters, he bumped into Marta.
"Buenos dias, Senorita."
"Buenos dias, Colonel," Marta replied, barely sounding civil.
Montoya knew he could have the woman disciplined for her tone of voice, particularly given that she was now living under his roof. It would do no good – of that he was certain.
"Excuse me, Colonel – but is my mistress in the dining room?"
The question dragged Montoya's wayward thoughts back to the present. "Yes." He hesitated and then added, "Is she quite well?"
He saw the flash of anger and annoyance in Marta's eyes before she shielded it. Aloud, however, all she said was, "I believe it is the heat. Adieu, Colonel."
"Adieu." Montoya strode purposefully towards the courtyard and his office beyond, feeling Marta's gaze on him every step of the way. The sooner the wedding took place, the better.
"Montoya says the wedding's tomorrow," Tessa murmured softly as Marta entered the dining room.
The hide of the man! Marta felt her anger towards Montoya grow. Savagely she forced it back – it wouldn't help Tessa to see her lose her temper. "In that case, I need to go to market for some supplies – I cannot alter your white dress without them."
"Marta I can't marry Grisham…I won't marry him. He's not the one…who…"
Marta's heart broke afresh as more tears poured down Tessa's face. Gently, Marta hugged her, then crouched beside her chair. "Listen to me, Tessa," Marta began softly. "I have a plan that will get us out of this."
Tessa blinked in clear non-comprehension. "How?"
Marta hesitated. "I will tell you tonight, once it is all certain. But you will still need to look as if you're marrying Captain Grisham." Tessa sniffed and nodded once. "Is there anything else you want from the market?" Tessa silently shook her head. "Will you be all right on your own for a little while?"
Marta smiled kindly. "Then I shall be back soon."
"Marta! I got your message."
Marta smiled at the tough looking blond woman who was waiting by the mineshaft. "I guess I was lucky you weren't at sea."
Mary Rose grinned. "Can't deny that. So what is this trouble you need help with?"
"Montoya," Marta answered. "What else?"
Mary's expression darkened. "That conniving sonofabitch?! I'd like to lay my hands on him and…" She halted. "But you know that."
Marta's smile grew wry. "You could say that."
"So what is it you want?"
"More like need."
Mary just batted the comment aside. "Semantics and you know it."
Marta inclined her head. "True."
Marta sighed. "It would be easier to show you." She turned and headed into the mine. "Are you coming?" Mary shrugged and followed.
They walked in silence, into the mine. The first twenty yards or so were well lit by the morning sunlight, but at the twenty-yard mark the tunnel curved sharply to the left.
"Do you have a lamp?" Mary asked, irritation showing in her voice.
"We won't need it," Marta answered. "Trust me."
With palpable reluctance, Mary followed Marta round the curve and then stopped dead. Beyond the curve was a brightly-lit room in which a cot had been set up. Crouched beside it was a woman who could pass comfortably pass herself off as Marta, while lying on it, and unconscious, was a man Mary hadn't met but whose reputation had preceded him.
"That's Santa Helena's doctor, isn't it," Mary stated.
"It is," Marta agreed.
"What in God's name happened to him?"
Mary's teeth ground together. "That Yankee bastard…"
Marta ignored her. "Irena, how is he?"
The woman, Irena, looked up. "Sleeping – he came round just before dawn and tried to tell me something." Irena smiled mischievously. "I think he thought I was you."
"That's good, then – if he thinks you're me, Montoya, Grisham and the rest of Santa Helena will too." Marta smiled. "The plan will work."
"What plan?" Mary asked. "And how can I help?"
For the first time, Marta looked startled. "But I haven't asked you yet."
Mary's eyes flicked over the obviously battered form asleep on the cot. "If that's what Grisham does to an honest man like Robert Helm, I will give you every piece of help I can."
"You know the doctor?"
"Know of him. I know Chiri."
For a fraction of a second, Marta wasn't sure who Mary was referring to. Then her mind shifted back a few months to a young Indian Shaman who Tessa…the Queen of Swords…had helped. She nodded once. "This is the plan," Marta began.
"…and that's the plan," Irena finished.
For the first time in nearly two full days, Tessa smiled. "It's brilliant."
Irena grinned. "That's my sister for you."
Tessa's smile faltered. "He is going to be all right?"
Irena didn't need to ask who the 'he' was. Before she had left Marta and Mary at the mine, Marta had briefed her thoroughly. As children they had often exchanged places without their parents' knowledge to escape this chore or that for a little fun – the only difference between then and now was the severity of the situation. Irena gave Tessa a compassionate smile. "He will." **And may God help that fool Montoya if I'm wrong.**
"So what do I need to do?" Tessa asked, instantly becoming all business.
Irena forced her private doubts aside and returned her attention to Tessa. "Montoya must not suspect a thing, so you must continue as you have been." Tessa nodded. "As for tomorrow…" Irena's eyes sparkled. "You must be at the church on time."
Tessa smiled once more. "I think I can manage that."
The church was packed. Anyone who considered themselves anyone was present – Montoya had made sure of that. The only gaping absence was that of Dr Helm.
"Too bad the Doc couldn't be here," Grisham drawled softly, a wicked grin on his face.
"Yes – a pity," Montoya agreed. "Such a pity that bandits stole his life after such a miraculous escape."
Grisham's grin widened. "Yep, one big pity."
Montoya's eyes raked the congregation once more. Yes – this was how it was supposed to be.
Mary carefully led two horses up to the mineshaft opening. Holding the reigns in one hand, she put her fingers to her lips and whistled. Moments later and the occupants of the shaft appeared. Mary watched as Marta, dressed all in black, led Dr Helm out into the sunshine.
"This is crazy," Helm muttered, seeing the waiting horses. "I can't *ride*!"
Mary shook her head. "You're right, it is crazy – but you ARE going to ride. Tessa's counting on you."
"Besides," Marta added, "don't you want to see the look on Montoya's face?"
A painful smile crossed Helm's face. "It would be worth it, certainly."
The former pirate nodded. "We'll meet you at the church, Marta."
Tessa waited patiently with Irena.
"What if they don't get here on time?" Tessa muttered softly.
Irena shook her head. "They'll be here, and you know they will."
Tessa sighed. "I hope so."
"Won't Montoya notice that Marta's not there?" Dr Helm asked.
Mary chuckled. "Not really, Rob."
He attempted to turn round and look at her, but thanks to the various bruises and aches he failed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," Mary explained, "that Marta has a younger sister."
He found himself smiling and the deviousness of the plan. "She's right, the look on Montoya's face is going to be worth this."
Irena glanced at Tessa.
"It's time," she murmured.
"I know." Tessa sounded nervous and looked worse.
"It will be fine," Irena assured her.
"I hope so."
Marta slunk into town, careful to avoid the few foot patrols supposedly keeping an eye on the town. As she neared the church, she hoped that Mary and the doctor would be arriving soon. From a pocket, she pulled out a narrow strip of black lace. Looking at it Marta wondered, and not for the first time, just what she thought she was going to do.
**Get myself killed, I suppose.**
She shook her head ruefully. Now was not the time for doubts. Tessa was counting on her.
Tying the lace around her face to complete the costume, she carefully entered the gaol. The sole guard had his back to the door. Marta quietly walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.
He turned round, only to be met by a solid right hand to the jaw. He went down like a sack of potatoes. Swiftly, she entered the cells area. The only prisoner was a ragged little man.
"You are Enrique Rains?" she asked.
Rains nodded. "Have you come to rescue me?"
"Yes. But," Marta added before he could become too jubilant, "I need you to do me a favour."
"Name it, Senorita, and it's yours."
"I want you to write another will…"
It was a marriage of convenience; Grisham kept trying to tell himself. So why did he feel nervous? It wasn't as if Tessa could run. There was nowhere for her to run.
"Anyone would think," Montoya muttered softly, "that you were next in line for the hang man's noose."
Grisham gave a tense laugh. "Yeah."
"Could it be that the fearless Capitan Grisham is afraid of getting married?" Montoya needled.
"Who, me? Nervous?" But Grisham couldn't finish the protest. His mouth dried up at the sound of the wedding march being played.
Mechanically, Grisham stood up, suddenly feeling more nervous than he had ever felt in his whole life.
Marta stood hands on hips, looking unimpressed.
"Where have you been?" she hissed.
Mary shrugged apologetically. "Couldn't go too fast – Rob's a bit bruised."
Dr Helm flushed an embarrassed colour. "Said I couldn't ride."
Marta shook her head. "The wedding march just finished."
Helm nodded and slithered painfully from the saddle. His legs almost gave way beneath him, but he waved off the offer of support from Mary.
"No – I can manage."
Marta and Mary exchanged looks and shrugged.
"Then if everyone's ready?" Marta murmured.
Tessa waited nervously before the priest.
"We are gathered here today in the sight of God to witness the joining in holy matrimony of these two individuals," the priest began in welcome. "Is there any man who knows of a reason why these two people should not be joined? Let him speak now or forever hold his peace."
There was a pregnant pause, into which the sound of the church door banging open seemed unnaturally loud. The priest, in common with everyone else, jumped.
"What is the meaning of this?" the priest asked. "Do you have an objection to this union?"
"You could say that, yes."
Tessa only barely remembered that she was not supposed to be expecting this interruption, otherwise she would have been grinning widely. As it was, the reactions of Grisham and Montoya enabled her to let out that grin.
"You said he was dead." Montoya ground his teeth. "That man has more lives than El Gatto."
"What is your objection?" the priest asked, struggling to maintain the solemnity of the service in spite of the murmuring in the congregation, the words being passed between the groom and the best man and the grin of clear relief on the face of the bride.
"My objection," stated Helm as he made his way down the aisle, "is that this is a sham. A farce, if you will. A scheme cooked up by Colonel Montoya to gain control of the Alvarado lands." The priest just stared dumbly at the doctor.
"It's true, padre," Tessa put in. "Colonel Montoya presented me with a forged will which my father was supposed to have signed and forced me into this."
"C…can you prove this?"
"Of course they can't," snapped Montoya.
"I wouldn't be quite so hasty, Luis," Helm replied, smiling nastily. "I have here the real will of Don Raphael Alvarado, and the forgery which Colonel Montoya presented to Maria Teresa Alvarado."
Tessa had not been expecting this and watched with interest as Helm handed over both documents.
"This one is the one Montoya forged," Helm explained, "while this is the real will, as left with Juan Carlos' family."
For long moments, the priest stared at both documents. The congregation shifted restlessly, wondering what was in the documents. Montoya looked increasingly uncomfortable. Finally, the priest looked up.
"This," and he waved the sheet of paper that Helm had named as the fake, "is the most reprehensible piece of forgery I have ever seen." A gasp echoed through the church.
Before he could say anything more, the door banged open once more.
"La Reina she is…" the unfortunate soldier in the doorway could not finish his sentence as a whip snagged itself around his waist and he was bodily dragged from the doorway.
That was the sign for all hell to break loose. The massed ranks of congregation screamed. Without waiting to hear if the priest had anything more to say about the forgery, Montoya and Grisham both hurried from the church in hot pursuit of the Queen of Swords – although both wore suitably puzzled expressions.
"Well isn't anyone going to get married today?" The lone voice from one of the congregation floated over the sounds of chaos that drifted in from the pueblo.
"Sorry to disappoint, Senor," said Tessa, "but it isn't going to be me."
Outside in the town square, Marta was having fun. For the first time she could see just how addictive the thrill of being the Queen was and part of her worried about Tessa even more. The rest of her simply enjoyed the freedom. The soldiers were not much of a challenge, but not long after the battle had begun Montoya and Grisham had both appeared, and Marta knew she would have to be careful to keep away from them. While she could handle a brawl, a one on one sword fight was a different affair.
"Get her!" Grisham yelled.
A couple of soldiers made a half-hearted attempt to grab her. Marta easily avoided their charge, tipping one into the fountain while sending the other sprawling into the dust. Neither bothered to get up again.
"You fools!" Montoya exclaimed. "I want her head!"
"Not to day, Colonel," Marta retorted, seeing Tessa and Helm make their escape from the church. She gave a piercing whistle and then proceeded to avoid all attempts at capturing her while she waited for Chico to arrive.
Montoya and Grisham started to close in on her. **Where is that damn horse?** Marta started to back away. Drawing a sword she hoped she wouldn't have to use, Marta gave what she hoped was a cool smile. "Now gentlemen – two on one. It's hardly fair!"
"I think it's perfectly fair," Montoya retorted. "Grisham – get her!"
Grisham leapt forward, sword outstretched. Marta found herself parrying the thrust and following it up with an attack of her own. **What the hell am I doing?!** But there was no time to panic – no time to even think about it. She was somehow conducting a sword dual with Grisham.
"What's the matter?" Grisham taunted. "No smart remarks today?"
Marta forced herself to smile. "Why waste them on swine like you?"
Grisham gave vent to a sound that could only be described as a growl and lunged at her once more. Neatly, she stepped aside and, as he stumbled passed, she drove the hilt of her sword into the back of his head. He landed in an uncoordinated heap and didn't move. But just as she was beginning to think the worst was over, there was a light tap on her shoulder.
"Ah – Senorita." Montoya smiled. "You may have ruined my plans on many occasions, but now I feel your time is up."
"Perhaps." Marta smiled. "But then, perhaps, Colonel, you should look behind you."
"And why should I do that?"
"Because, Colonel, you might want to know what hit you," Helm answered, as he hit Montoya with the butt-end of a rifle. "Then again," he added, as Montoya sank to the ground insensate, "maybe not." He offered Marta a grin. "Shall we go?"
"Doctor, I believe that is the best idea you've had in a long while."
After a night of lying low at Mary's ranch house, Tessa, Helm and Marta returned to Santa Helena to resolve the matter of the forged will. Montoya did not look at all pleased to see any of them.
"So, Colonel," Tessa asked brightly, "do I have my lands and freedom back, or must I go to the viceroy – who would be deeply interested in your efforts, I'm sure."
Montoya glared at the young Donna. "I'm sure. But there is no need to involve Monterrey." He swallowed. "You have your lands back."
"And her freedom?" asked Helm.
"And her freedom." Montoya shot the doctor a look that should have sent Helm to an early grave. Helm merely smiled blandly.
"Thank you, Colonel." Tessa smiled prettily.
Montoya muttered something unintelligible. Wisely, no-one asked him to repeat it.
"There is one other thing," Helm added.
"Keep Grisham to yourself?"
With that, the trio departed the office.
Once outside in the morning sunshine, they made their way, slowly, across the square to Helm's office.
"What is Irena planning on doing?" Helm enquired.
"She will wait a few more days and then she will 'officially' come to visit," Marta replied.
"I think I'm looking forward to that."
"I can't wait to see Montoya's face," Tessa agreed.
"It would probably be worth enduring one of his parties to see it," Helm mused.
They reached the office door, and an awkward silence descended.
"So…Dr Helm – where do we go from here?" Tessa asked, a little nervous of the answer.
"Well – after the last week, I think we've long gone beyond the need for titles. Call me Robert. Please?"
"All right." Tessa nodded. "Where do we go from here, Robert?"
"Well," Helm answered, "you could come in for a drink?"
Author's notes… Well, this is far from a finished version. It is, in fact, my first draft. It did get as far as my beta readers (Athena, Esjay and Snowleopard) and I did receive some additional help and advice on the wedding and the Tarot reading from various people on the AtTheHelm list but owing to a lack of time, computer problems and chronic writer's block, the second draft has never been written. I don't know whether it ever will. Maybe some day. If, reading this, you think 'I can rewrite this!', by all means go ahead – just drop me a quick note to let me know when/where you're posting it!