The Trial, part one
by Maril Swan
Part Three of Three
against the rough wall. The small party with Gaspar had trooped out,
leaving an empty silence in their wake. She slid down onto the cot and
listened to the night sounds of the town as the day settled into dusk;
dogs barking, donkeys braying, a guitar playing somewhere, probably at
the cantina, some children calling and laughing. The sounds of life
going on outside were soothing, familiar, and soon she drifted off
a light sleep. It seemed no time passed before she awoke to a soft
calling her. Tessa raised her head and listened, wondering if she had
the voice called again from outside her cell door.
Reina. We need to speak with you."
off the cot and went to the curtained front of the cell. Pulling the
cloth aside, she was amazed to be looking into a pair of smiling blue
eyes. "Señora Hidalgo!" the Queen remarked in
"What are you doing here?"
accompanied by two other women, both don's wives whom Tessa knew but
not well. Señora Lorca, at Vera's right, fidgeted with her
and kept looking around as if afraid something might leap on her.
her, Señora Martinez goggled at Tessa as if she were some exotic
animal in a zoo; her mouth hung open as she stared
soon as we heard you had been captured, we talked together, my friends
and I," Vera said, gesturing with her lace-gloved hand at her
"We decided that this jail is unfit for a lady and came to see
that you were being well taken care of ...while you are here."
Vera put her hand to her mouth suddenly and coloured prettily.
I mean is ...for as long as you are here." Her colour deepened.
"I meant to say, for the duration of your trial." She looked
frightened and her eyes widened. "What I really want to say is
I hope you are not found guilty and hanged." She suddenly stamped
her foot. "I am sorry, señorita. This is not what I came
to say at all."
to smile at her friend's discomfiture. She was also puzzled by why
was there. What did she want? Certainly, it was not to satisfy some
curiosity or to report to Grisham.
closer and glanced over her shoulder at the guards who were watching
from across the corridor. "When our husbands were in this jail,
kidnapped by the villain Krane, you helped us. We are grateful and
come to bring you comfort in your time of need, señorita."
She reached into the bars and grasped Tessa's hand. "This is
the lawless life you have led has brought you. I hope you will use
time wisely, and learn from your mistakes." Vera squeezed Tessa's
hand and she felt something hard being pressed into her palm. "We
pray that you will repent and that your soul will go
her hand, carefully closing it over the thing that Vera had passed
Without looking at it, she knew it was a key. Gaspar must have given
it to Vera to give to her. He must want her to escape and avoid the
trial. Tessa's heart leaped and she smiled at the women.
your visit has been a true comfort to me. I will meditate on your
It would give me great peace of mind if you would go to the church and
light a candle for me."
Lorca moved forward with a covered basket. "We brought you
to eat as we know that the food in this place is not fit for
As she was about to uncover the food, one of the guards stepped
across the space.
me see that before you hand anything in to the prisoner. It could be
a knife or a file or a gun."
Lorca harrumphed loudly as she pulled back the cloth. "Just some
cold empanadas, cheese, bread and a bottle of wine," she said
"As if we would give this outlaw a weapon!"
took the basket and returned to his place next to the other soldier.
"We will take charge of this and examine it carefully," he
said with a wink at his friend.
on the two soldiers. "How dare you? My husband is the alcalde.
I will report your insolence and disrespectful treatment to him
gave a mocking bow to the women. "Please give my respects to your
husband, señora Hidalgo. His term as alcalde will be a short
one when Montoya returns. And this woman, this bandita," he said,
pointing at the Queen, "will face her execution as she
ladies," Vera said hotly. "We will go to the church and pray
for their souls too." With that, she shooed the women out of the
cell corridor like a mother hen herding her chicks.
curtain dropped again over the bars, and Tessa turned away with the
key firmly gripped in her hand. Quickly, she pocketed it, then
to the cell door. "Aren't you going to give me the food?"
She noted as she pulled the sheet aside that the soldiers were already
eating her cold meal. "Maybe it's poisoned," she said, then
laughed as one of the soldiers spat out what he was
the soldier said. He passed her a hunk of bread and some cheese, then
cut up the empanada with his dagger and gave her a piece. The two
watched her closely as she ate the food.
was delicious and Tessa was ravenously hungry. She had not been able
to force down the meal that had been brought to her earlier from the
garrison kitchen. It smelled like something rotten and made her gorge
rise. She had ordered it to be taken away.
about a glass of that wine?" she asked. "You can't drink it
on duty and it could also be poisoned. In fact, I heard of a case once
in Madrid where a woman killed her husband by injecting the poison
a syringe through the cork. One sip and he was dead before he hit the
floor. Diabolical, no?" Trying not to smile, she watched the two
men attempting to make up their minds if she was joking or serious.
A few seconds later, one of them passed her a tin-cupful of wine. She
downed it quickly then held out the cup for more. "I guess it's
not poisoned, though there are slow-acting poisons. You had better
me another taste to be sure." She drank the refilled cup more
enjoying the warmth that the wine radiated through her.
full stomach and two cups of wine, she felt a pleasant lassitude
though her and returned to the cot to lie down. It seemed only seconds
elapsed before a hissing sound awoke her. Sighing deeply, she got up
and stepped across to the cell door, then pulled aside the
the soldiers stood by the bars and Tessa thought disgustedly, Here
we go again.
close, keeping his voice low so his sleeping companion would not hear.
"Señorita," he whispered, "I want you to know
that if you try to escape, I will not stop you. When my brother was
in danger of losing his small farm, you gave him the tax money. I do
not forget this favour."
nonplussed. This was the last thing she expected to hear from a
But she didn't want him to take any chances. If he was thought to be
derelict in his duty, he could be shot. She whispered back,
I thank you but you must not appear to be helping me. It is too
Tomorrow, I will go on trial and in the meantime, I am a captive. But,
don't worry about me. I will be all right."
took off his helmet and bowed respectfully. "Bless you, Reina.
You have given hope to many who had lost all hope." He replaced
the shako, then turned away to stand guard across the corridor. Tessa
let the sheet drop and wandered slowly over to her bunk, her thoughts
in a whirl. Twice tonight, she had been offered help to escape.
she sat down and stared at the floor. Outside, all was silent except
for a chorus of crickets and the occasional lonely howl of a
she thought, that I was wrong about the people. They are willing to
try to help me. I am touched by their courage, and their caring. For
a long time, she sat thinking, then she took out the key and looked
at it. I could use this now and escape. But then, I would involve
soldier and might have to hurt him. I don't think I could do that, not
after what he said. She put the key away and lay down again,
the strange shadows on the ceiling and trying to read the indistinct
marks left by other prisoners in this cell.
have drifted off to sleep because she was started awake by scuffling
sounds outside the cell window. A second later, a pair of hands
the window bars and a voice rasped to her. "Señorita,
on her cot and looked out the window. A man's face appeared there and
she jumped back. His voice was muffled by the scarf covering the lower
part of his face but his dark eyes seemed friendly.
not worry, Reina. We have come to save you," he whispered
Before she could answer, he began to tie a rope around the window
"Stand back, señorita. We are going to pull the bars out
so you can escape." He dropped to the ground and Tessa stared out
onto the moonlit plain behind the prison. Outside, there were four men
and two donkeys. The rope appeared to be tied to the donkeys and the
men began to drive the animals away from the jail. The rope tightened,
twanged and frayed then snapped. She heard one of the men yelp and the
reappeared at her window, an abashed look in his eyes. "I should
have made the rope double, then it would not have broken. We will try
through the window and grabbed his hands just as he was trying to
the rope around the bars. "You and your friends are very brave
to do this, but I beg you to go home. You are ruining my escape plan.
Thank you for trying to help. I will never forget it," she added
are not the brave ones, Reina. You have been our saviour, our
Without you, we had nothing to hope for. Now, the dons have taken
and Montoya is gone. It is because of you. Your example shamed the men
and made them show some courage. It shamed us too. We had to show you
that your bravery has not been wasted."
tightened and the prickle of tears pressed behind her eyes. She
his hand and smiled. "Gracias, to you all, but go home now. And
know this. Your courage has given me strength."
doffed their straw hats and bowed, then picked up the donkeys' leads
and moved off around the building. Soon, they were out of
down again, feeling the key in her pocket as a comforting presence.
Somehow, during all this, she had made a decision about the trial. The
key would be her backup plan if all else failed. Outside her cell, she
could hear the guards snoring and thought it was lucky for them that
the colonel was not around. Montoya would have them flogged if they
were caught sleeping on duty. Despite the racket, she fell back into
a deep sleep.
rattled against the wall and Tessa stirred. A pebble fell onto her and
she woke wondering where it had come from. Another followed and
onto the floor. She stood on her cot and looked out the barred window.
In the wan moonlight, she saw Marta standing on a wagon near the cell
wall. Next to the wagon, the huge bulk of Roman, Marta's husband,
is busier than the cantina on pay night, Tessa thought with a wry
what are you doing? You shouldn't be out here like this in your
She looked with affection at the other woman, the soft rounding of her
belly just barely noticeable. I hope I will be around to be the
godmother as Marta asked, Tessa thought, her spirits plummeting as she
felt the full impact of her situation. She recalled Marta's joyful
as she told Tessa the news a month before. Tessa had been unable to
stop the tears that sprang up spontaneously as she had clasped Marta
in a warm embrace. "At last," she had said, "there will be new life here
soon." I just hope I will be here to see it, she added now to
urgently, "We have brought some gunpowder to blow out the window
so you can escape."
at the kegs in the back of the wagon. "You've got enough powder
there to blow up the entire town, Marta. Go back home. I don't want
you taking chances like this. What was Roman thinking to let you do
his name, Roman stepped closer to the window. "I didn't just let
her do it, Tessa. I could not stop her. When you are in danger, she
is like a mother tiger. It's best to just stay out of her way or to
the key out of her pocket and showed it to the couple. Marta's face
have a key and you are still in here? Are you crazy, Tessa? They are
going to hang you, and you know it. Even now, Montoya has probably
and is on his way here."
this trial is probably the only chance I will ever have to say why I'm
doing this, what my fight is about."
will tell them about your father?" Marta said, shaking her
I'll just say that I've been working against Montoya's tyranny and
now that the dons have some power, I will probably not be needed any
longer. It's my chance to quit this life and have a normal life with
a husband and children. Like you have."
"You call my life 'normal'? As long as I have been with you, it has
not been normal. Now, you want to risk your life in order to say your
piece. No! You will come with me tonight. We will all leave and go to
Mexico. We have enough gold to start over there."
not leaving, even if you blow up the jail, Marta. So, you might as well
go home." Tessa turned her attention to the man standing
near his wife. "Roman, take her home. She is endangering the
I will be all right. I promise you."
Marta up and set her on the wagon bench, then took the reins and
the team. With a slap of the traces, the wagon lurched forward. Marta
looked back, a bleak expression on her face.
down off the cot, sagging against the wall. Marta's face seemed to
her, that last look of desperate fear tore at Tessa's heart. I have
given her so much trouble in her life. Gracias a dios, she will
have a child of her own that will be a joy to her. Even if I lose my
life and my identity is discovered, she will be protected. Roman will
see that they escape. Tessa remained motionless for a long while, many
impressions crowding through her mind. Finally, with a sigh, she lay
on the cot once more. Sleep eluded her for a long time as she fought
down the urge to use the key and escape.
of boots outside in the corridor awoke her. She shivered from the
of her dank cell. No one had thought to give her a blanket. The sky
showing through the barred window was still dark but there was a
of roosters crowing, heralding the dawn. Stretching languidly, she
still tired from her restless night. A voice barked orders outside her
cell and she froze. Montoya! How did he get back so
her curtained cell, she heard him snap at her guards, "Get up,
you disgraceful cretins! You are both on report." A sound like
a sharp smack followed then, "Open the cell, Mancera."
the sheet was hauled down and Corporal Mancera stepped forward with
the key. Tessa thought he looked like he had not slept for days; his
eyes were red-rimmed and his cheeks unshaven. He reeked worse than
The other six soldiers hardly looked better; all were sloppily
also looked weary and his uniform was dusty. Grisham lounged beside
the colonel; his face was hard and caked with dirt. They must have
all night to get here, Tessa thought, fear gripping her vitals. Her
heart lurched as the door was unlocked and Montoya roughly brushed the
corporal aside and stepped in. His look was cold, those bright eyes
brittle with hate. The little smile he gave her held no mirth, only
señorita, it seems you have come to the end of your long and
lucky run. It ends like this for those who think they can live outside
the law. Justice will be done at last."
can only hope so, Colonel," Tessa said with false bravado. Her
heart was beating rapidly, and she was shivering, afraid suddenly.
trial will reveal many things."
laughed shortly. "The trial? There will be no trial. You are
and I will now see to it that you get your just punishment." He
turned on his heel to the soldiers around the cell door. "Put the
manacles on her and take her out." The colonel marched past the
men and waited in the corridor as one of the soldiers snapped a pair
of heavy manacles on her wrists.
Gaspar and the junta will hear of this outrage, Colonel. You will lose
your commission and perhaps even be court-martialled." Though her
words sounded brave, Tessa knew the futility of them. By the time
heard about this summary execution, it would be too late for her. She
would never know what had happened to Montoya, or if justice had ever
was led from the cell, she glanced into the grim faces of the
There was no help for her from them; they were Montoya's men, the ones
he had taken with him to Monterrey. Grisham had a curiously sad
on his face; he glanced down at his boots when her eyes encountered
his. At least, she thought, he takes no pleasure in this, not like
hustled roughly down the corridor to the rear exit then outside. In
the lightening sky, she could see streaks of silver in the dark
Storm clouds, she thought with small satisfaction. We've been needing
rain for weeks. This year's grape harvest promises to be a good one.
She checked those irrelevant thoughts, realizing with cold clarity
she would not be there to see it. Though she tried to form an escape
plan, her mind seemed frozen and she couldn't think. All she could see
in the dim, cool light was the post they were marching her toward. Her
legs seemed heavy, almost as if they resisted carrying her weight to
that final place. She wondered oddly if the soldiers on either side
of her could hear the thundering of her heart. The dawning was hushed,
silent, as if nature were holding her breath, waiting for the drama to
unfold on that small patch of earth. Not even a bird chirped.
the soldiers pushed her against the post, then threaded a rope around
her arms and chest, pulling up hard, the rope so tight she could
breathe, and making her bruised rib spike with pain. Soon, she
it wouldn't matter. All hurt would cease. A few sharp pains ...then
nothing. A sense of unreality possessed her as she watched like a
while Grisham lined the men up about ten yards from her. They wavered
as if drunk, staggering from fatigue. One of the men groaned, then
forward into the dust. The others ignored him as they struggled into
a straight line with their muskets.
up at the sky, wondering if Heaven was really up there or somewhere
else. She would soon know. A prayer filtered through her mind,
Marta had taught her, a child's fervent prayer before the little death
of sleep. It seemed appropriate now.
soldiers shouldered their guns, she despaired. Until this very second,
she had hoped for a miracle, but none was coming. Cold poured through
her and she began to shudder uncontrollably. Pulling herself as erect
as possible, she shook her head when Grisham offered her the
"No," she said, her voice strangely firm. "I want to
see my executioners."
seemed anxious for this to be over; they would not meet her eyes as
she looked from one to the other. Only Montoya seemed to be savoring
the moment. His eyes glittered in the half-light as a tight smile
over his lips.
last words, Señorita Reina? Any final request before you
Montoya asked, his voice silky and solicitous.
want to see Padre Quintera ...to make my last confession." She
watched the colonel's eyes narrow, then that malicious smile crossed
he said. "You don't deserve the comfort of the Church's pardon
for your sins." He leaned into her face and snapped, "Just
die, damn you!"
against the post for support. Her legs had lost their strength and she
too wished it was over. Summoning up a bit of bravado from somewhere,
she spat, "I'll be watching you, Montoya, from Heaven. And I will
intercede with the saints that you get what's coming to
will see you in Hell where you belong, you she-devil," Montoya
snarled. With that, he nodded at Grisham and stepped back.
moved beside his men and raised his cavalry sword. He gave Tessa a
grim, apologetic look then turned to the soldiers. "Ready,
Watch for the next exciting adventure, The Trial, part two - Episode #319, starting on May 4, 2003.
If you have missed any episodes, you will find them in the Season Three Archives section.