Author's note: Tammy and I decided to take an idea (in this case, letters Felipe delivers after Diego is dead) and see how differently our stories came out. Hers is titled "Never Let Go."
This is my version. Please notice that the timeline jumps back and forth. Some scenes are present day; some are up to three months before present day.
In the Event of my Death
Pueblo de Los Angeles
Felipe stared at the sealed envelope in his hands. Two tears fell on the stark white of its surface which was only marred by the words "To Victoria – In the Event of my Death."
He hurriedly wiped the salty tears from the paper, hoping the ink would not smear and was relieved when it did not. Everything that had belonged to his master, his friend, the father of his heart, was too important to mar in any way.
Three months. It was time. It was time to do what he needed to do, what he had promised faithfully to do. He needed to deliver two letters and this was the one he dreaded the most. Women could get hysterical over nothing. What would the señorita do when she read this? His own emotions were so raw, he didn't know if he could handle an emotional outburst from Victoria.
He had watched her over the past few months, slowly coming to realize, from his absence, that Diego was far more important to her than she had ever allowed. Slowly, day by day, she had come to miss Diego even more than she missed Zorro. He could see it in her actions, hear it in her voice. And once Diego had been reported actually missing at sea, he had seen her emotions become more fierce.
The other letter lay on the table among the dusty vials, beakers, and crucibles. Zorro's laboratory. It was scarcely needed now, and Felipe could not stand being in the cave by himself. He only went there these days to feed, water and exercise Tornado. Too many memories surrounded him there. Pleasant memories, but they were of a person he missed too terribly to allow them near too often.
Three months earlier…
The Perro Salado
Diego waved good-bye to his father and Felipe from the bow of the ship, the Perro Salado. He had waited far too long to make this trip back to Spain. There were affairs that needed attention, and one visit, in particular, that he must make. It was time to speak to the King.
There would be no better time to go than now either. The alcalde was taking a leave of absence from his duties to attend, he said, a conference with the Governor. He was to follow that with a holiday at some unknown destination. There was rampant speculation that the alcalde had taken a mistress in San Diego and that was the true nature of his travels, but no one really cared; they just felt lucky to be rid of him.
Diego was relieved that for most of his own time away from the pueblo, De Soto would be gone as well.
A few weeks' voyage at sea and Diego would be presented at court. Once he was within the King's inner chambers, he planned on asking for a royal pardon for a certain black-caped outlaw. His father had assured him that the family's name alone would guarantee that the King would listen and believe what he had to say. At least, he only hoped it would happen that way.
Diego turned to go below to while away the time reading. He'd brought along plenty of books for the journey and he was eager to start. There would be no need for Zorro on this trip. He had forbidden Felipe to even pack his sword. No, only Diego de la Vega would be along this time.
For four days, the weather held and the ship glided through the blue waves at a nice clip. The men grew quite fond of their sole passenger. Diego was relaxed and at ease with life itself. It showed greatly in his rapport with the men
In times of leisure, he found himself engaged in all kinds of endeavors with the men. Games of chance, musical challenges and a fair amount of roughhousing broke out on board wherever he went. They were amazed at his knowledge, his talents, and his physical abilities, and for the first time in a long while, Diego was glad to be appreciated for all he could do. Not since he was at University in Madrid had he allowed himself to be himself so totally. It was truly liberating.
Then the storm appeared on the horizon. Decisions were made to go south around the edge to avoid the brunt of it and the new course was set. It would set them back another week on the schedule but it could not be helped.
The captain watched the skies, glad he'd made the decision to detour around the storm. The clouds rolling in from the East had an angry look to them and he was in no mind to risk his ship to that kind of weather. With no perishable cargo to worry about and only one passenger, it would make little difference anyway.
He smiled as he thought of the young caballero aboard. He had grown quite fond of Diego de la Vega as they had discussed all manner of things related to the long voyage. The captain could not remember having such a passenger before, for his thirst for knowledge was truly insatiable. De la Vega's eagerness to learn and the captain's propensity to talk were a good match.
For his part, Diego found that he could learn much from this crusty old sea captain. Irish by birth, his language was peppered with curses and there would be no way the man would ever fit in a crowd of Diego's usual companions, but he was certainly an interesting person to listen to for hours on end.
On the fifth of June, that is exactly what Diego was doing. He had heard five different versions of the current story the captain was relating and this one Diego knew he could not even begin to record in his journal for posterity. It was vulgar and unbelievable and thoroughly entertaining. It seemed as if the entire crew had gathered round and paused in their work to eavesdrop on the tale.
And that was probably the reason why no one noticed the swiftly encroaching dark clouds.
It took barely ninety minutes for the ship to be torn apart. The fight to save her was futile from the start and every man on board knew it when the first gigantic wave hit. It was as if the ocean exchanged places with the sky. The water filled the ship's hull so quickly there was no use in trying to save anything of the cargo. It would be all the crew could do to save themselves. The second wave hit and Diego felt the breath leave his body when a part of the foremast came crashing down and knocked him to the deck. He was not even conscious when the bosun's mate lashed him to the largest chunk of the wooden mast, now stripped of its sail.
The Remanentecame across the wreckage five days later. Only two survivors were plucked from the still roiling waters. They were near death from thirst, sun, and cold, but they were alive and they had a tale to tell. The two mates were Portuguese, and they told their story and waited patiently while one who knew that tongue relayed their story to the captain of the rescuing ship.
Forty-two men had signed on to sail to Spain, but there had been only one paying passenger. An important man. They could not remember the name, but there was no mistaking that he was of a noble house. His bearing, his manners, they all spoke of great wealth and they knew him to be special. They could see it in his eyes.
"His eyes?" the captain questioned. The list of adjectives these two were finding to describe this sole passenger was beginning to sound awfully suspect. Either they were dealing with a figment of these men's imaginations from their week-long trial at sea, or the passenger was someone very important. In the latter case, they would, at the very least, have to file some reports, and they should perhaps even attempt to make a cursory search of the immediate area.
"Yes, Captain, they both say he had the eyes of the eagle. He saw everything. He knew everything."
"Yes, yes, I do get the point they are trying to make. So why, pray tell, did this god-like being even need a ship in the first place? He could have just walked to Spain, from the sound of these two!" His patience was wearing thin and he didn't have the time for nonsense like this. Reading between the lines, this passenger was just some rich caballero, but a rich caballero that was on his way to an audience with the King of Spain. "There's nothing for it but to make a quick search of the area and any outlying islands. I don't want to take too much time. If the other crew members didn't make it, there's not much chance this man did either, no matter how impressive a figure he cut to these men. I wonder exactly what he did in the few days he was aboard that makes them speak of him that way though. I really wonder…" He stroked his beard thoughtfully and then left the men to return to his charts.
The search went swiftly, too swiftly, the survivors complained. If any man could reach safety, it was the caballero. They wanted to extend the search.
"There are islands to the south," they said. "He could have made it to them and—"
But the captain would have none of it. No one could have swum that far from the wreckage they had thus far found. No, he was gone and the reports would be filed. Diego de la Vega was dead. It was a certainty.
Diego's eyes stung with salt water and bright sunlight. He struggled to open his eyes against the glaring sun rays of a bright hot day. Everything hurt. His head, his back, even his wrist. Forcing his eyelids open, he fought to sit up and failed. The world around him swirled in a kaleidoscope of colors and slowly settled into shades of blue and white. Blinking against the brilliant light, Diego recognized a clear blue sky above him and white sand on his right. He was lying on his side with his body twisted strangely at an awkward angle and he couldn't even see his hurting wrist. Puzzled, he looked above him to the right and saw the reason why. His right hand had become entangled in a mass of rope attached to the large piece of wood beneath his back. The tight binding was beginning to cut into the flesh. One strand of the rope extended down across his chest and disappeared under the huge chunk of mast. His left arm was twisted behind his body wrapped up in some kind of wet cloth covered in sea weed.
The water beneath him swelled as a small wave rolled over his legs. For a few minutes, Diego just lay there. Trying to remember what had happened, he thought back to the ship and the storm, and the events all fell into place in his mind. Gathering his strength, he pulled with his left arm until he worked it free of whatever had held it. The effort was exhausting and once again he rested.
The sun was unrelenting and he could feel it burning his exposed skin. The difference in temperature of the hot sun and the cool water that flowed beneath him at regular intervals as the surf swelled under his body helped revive him. Wave by wave, he slowly felt his strength renewed.
He turned full on his right side and began pulling at the rope that bound his wrist and working the knotted, wet strands with his left hand. Many minutes later, he was able to work the knots loose enough to slide his hand from the looped rope. He massaged the wrist to get the circulation going again and sat up to survey the scene. The beach stretched before him and behind him clear to the horizon. Twenty yards to his right began a tangle of palm trees and low shrubs. To his left, there was nothing but the sea.
"Water," he said in a raspy, whispery voice.
"Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink," Diego quoted hoarsely as he stared out on the expanse of sea that lay before him. His lips were chapped and peeling. The skin of his face and hands and parts of his chest sunburned to a painful red. "Dehydrated," he thought wryly, staring at the unending ocean.
Getting unsteadily to his feet, Diego made for the palm trees, falling down several times along the way. Each time, he forced himself to get up and try once more. Before night fell, he had to find a source of water. He didn't know how long he'd been without it, but he could tell by the tightness in his throat it had been too long.
Above him, the coconuts grew abundantly in the palms and they could provide moisture for him, but he didn't think he had the strength left to break into one, much less climb to obtain one. No, he needed a stream, a pond, even a large puddle of fresh water would do at this point.
He set off to find it.