A thorny story.

Chapter 1:

While Diego and Bernardo are out on the property, they hear a sharp and repetitive noise. They exchange then a curious look. Nobody is supposed to work on this parcel of land. Intrigued, they lead their horses to the source of the noise and they arrive to a more wooded place. Then, they let their horses and they continue by walking. They arrive near a clearing where a youthful person is busy splitting wood. While they're hiding themselves in bushes, they observe this person.

"I wonder who it can be. ... I hope that my father knows about this, in the contrary this person risks to have a hard time. ... Yes I noticed, Bernardo, the shelter in which he must live is not very big, nor in a good state. Furthermore, this person must not have water at his disposal."

Suddenly, the stranger stops, feeling a sense of danger, as if someone is spying... The stranger turns quickly and looks around, but doesn't remark on anything except a tiny movement in the bushes which does not repeat. Maybe a little animal...

Diego and Bernardo observe with astonishment the reactions of the young person and Diego realizes then that she is on the edge… The youthful person takes back his work while Diego is waiting a good time before making sign to Bernardo to get back to their horses as silently as they came.

In spite of their discreetness, the worker smiles by seeing them. The stranger knows there is no risk... After all, the young De la Vega, which the stranger recognized, has a rather good reputation, save for his cowardice in facing action, except in certain circumstances witnessed in the past, and based on distant memories... There weren't all those problems then.

On the way, Bernardo notices that Diego seems to have changed their destination and he calls him out by stopping his horse.

"Yes, Bernardo, I'm thoughtful indeed. The state of that person unsettled me so much that I have forgotten what I wanted to do... You're right, Bernardo. We must not forget the principal reason of our outing. After all, I'll surely learn more on that person just by listening to the town gossip. I don't want to harm that person and I doubt that my father or the vaqueros are informed about its presence."

Once at the pueblo Diego and Bernardo went down to the tavern. The mood was as festive as temperate. Diego saluted some acquaintance, then, while Bernardo takes his place at the bar, Diego takes a seat not very far from the one where the Señor Galindo was and which, lost in his mind, didn't seen the young De la Vega. Diego sat in a way not to be seen easily when entering in the tavern and the waiter was accustomed to serving Diego. He always took a little glass of wine so that he didn't ask him anymore and served him automatically. A time silent, the magistrado suddenly raises up his head and, greeting one of his friends, he invites him to his table.

"So, what did you learn?"

"Nobody seems to know what's become of the heiress. She disappeared without a trace."

"Fine, it will be easier. ... Anything else?"

"A young vagabond has been surprised more than once on the lands of De la Vega."

"It's not my responsibility or my problem!"

"Alas, Señor, I'm afraid it's quite the reverse."

"What want you say?" The magistrado asks.

"This young vagabond was also seen on the lands of the De Castillos, their neighbors, and so now... yours."

Intrigued, Diego pays more attention to the conversation. The stranger, named Cortès by the magistrado, just came to mention the De Castillos recently vanished mysteriously. More, the magistrado, who arrived recently, hasn't found any land which suits him. ... Except the other's...

"Don't speak so loud I beg you!" Says the magistrado by raising his head and observing the customers in front of him.

Nobody seems to have heard him.

"Haven't you been able to catch this vagabond?" He asks just after.

"No. He seems to know the land like the back of his hand. ... I have to believe that it's a native from Los Angeles."

"This vagabond stands out like a sore thumb, he..."

"Don Diego, buenos días!" Exclaims Sergeant Garcia by entering, and silencing then the magistrado.

That's impossible. The magistrado thinks by observing the sergeant coming closer.

"Buenos días, Señor Galindo."

"Buenos días, Sergeant." He retorts to the sergeant just by his side.

The magistrado notices then the deaf and dumb man leaning to the bar, head in air. If the manservant was here, the master couldn't be far away. ... Diego, polite, ends by answering to the sergeant.

"Buenos días, Sergeant Garcia, please take a seat." Diego says inviting him to his table.

The magistrado felt himself blanch by realizing that the young De la Vega was just behind him till now. The stranger felt the unease of his friend and he was ill at ease at his turn. The Señor Galindo was far from being tender, even with his acquaintances, and by the way he was looking at him...

As he was turning to salute the sergeant, Diego notices the magistrado, and, smiling as usual, he greets him at his turn.

"Buenos días, Señor Galindo, how are you?"

"I'm... I'm fine, thank you. Excuse me but I've got work waiting for me." He says with haste by getting up.

Then he makes a sign to his friend and goes out. The stranger observes Diego which saluted him with a nod, and then he went out. While the sergeant took a seat in front of Diego, the latter made a sign to Bernardo who left the bar immediately.

"Oh! Where runs Bernardo?" The sergeant asks.

"I reminded him that he had an errand to do."

"Simply with a nod?"

"Yes, Sergeant. A simple nod can mean plenty, you know." Diego smiles ironical.

"Oh." The sergeant retorts very seriously.

Outside, and at a reasonable distance, Bernardo, acting like he was looking for something on his horse, observed the magistrado and the stranger. Although the Señor Galindo tries not to yell, Bernardo heard him distinctly.

Author's note: Thanks to IcyWaters for her corrections and her advices. :o)