very pleased to be able to post some of Gail Manfre's stories and poems here on my site. I hope there are many more in the
Gail, self-proclaimed ragin' Cajun, Mary Kay guru, font of all things Italian and all trivia Star Trek, along with Zorro, has an eye for detail that most of us can only dream of having. That and a nifty way of believably turning characters who were originally fairly benign, (if not irritating,) into epitomes of evil, as in this story.
For other stories and poems in Gail's portfolio, please check out the Zorro Contents Page as well as Enmascarado, the mother of all GW Zorro fanfiction sites...
STORY IS SET IN THE TWILIGHT MONTHS OF SPANISH RULED CALIFORNIA, FROM
OCTOBER THROUGH DECEMBER 31, 1821. ALTA CALIFORNIA THEN WAS IN THE
GRIP OF A YEAR LONG DROUGHT. HACENDADOS HAD TO SELL THEIR
CATTLE AT WHATEVER PRICES COULD BE OBTAINED. SPAIN HAD JUST FINISHED
FIGHTING NAPOLEON AND CONTINENTAL EUROPE BARELY THREE YEARS EARLIER
 AND THE NEWLY REINSTATED KING FERDINAND VII IMPOSED UNBEARABLY
HEAVY TAXES ON EVERYONE TO REPLENISH THE BANKRUPT TREASURY.
DURING THE PAST FEW YEARS THE PEOPLE OF CALIFORNIA HAD A GALLANT HERO -
EL ZORRO TO FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS AGAINST AN INDIFFERENT
AND OFTEN CRUEL COLONIAL ADMINISTRATION THAT CONFISCATED PERSONAL
PROPERTY, ALLOWED SLAVERY TO FLOURISH AND CORRUPTION TO RULE IN THE NAME
OF THE SPANISH KING.
AS EVERYONE KNOWS, A HERO HAS HIS OWN PERSONAL TROUBLES AND THE RIGHT TO
LIVE HIS LIFE AS HE CHOOSES. OR DOES HE? THIS IS DIEGO DE
LA VEGA Y DE LA CRUZ’S CONUNDRUM AFTER HE PROPOSED MARRIAGE TO THE
LOVELY SENORITA ANNA MARIA VERDUGO IN SEPTEMBER 1821. THE PROBLEM WAS,
THE LADY IN QUESTION DID NOT WANT HIM. SHE PREFERRED EL ZORRO!
AUTHOR DOES NOT WISH IN ANY WAY TO VIOLATE THE COPYRIGHT OF WALT DISNEY
STUDIOS REGARDING THE CHARACTERS OF DON DIEGO DE LA VEGA, ZORRO,
SERGEANT GARCIA, CORPORAL REYES, RICARDO DEL’AMO, ANNA MARIA, ET AL.
CHARACTERS WHOM I HAVE I CREATED FOR THIS STORY SUCH AS TOMAS FUEGO,
JORGE PACO, DR. RAPHAEL RAIMONDO, JOAQUIN ALVAREZ, PROFESOR DONARIO,
VALENTIN POSEDAR, TO NAME BUT A FEW, CAN BE USED BY OTHER AUTHORS
WITH MY WRITTEN PERMISSION.
I WISH TO THANK THE FOLLOWING GWF MEMBERS FOR THEIR WONDERFUL THOUGHTS REGARDING THE EVOLUTION OF THIS STORY: SUSAN KITE, KELIANA BAKER, KARLA GREGORY, BONNIE BROOKS AND JULIA BROOKS. I ESPECIALLY WOULD LIKE TO CONVEY MY DEEPEST GRATITUDE TO MY "HANDS ON" EDITORS, "BROOKSIE" AND "SUEQ"," FOR WITHOUT THEIR LITERARY EXPERTISE AND EXTREMELY PATIENT GUIDANCE, I WOULD NEVER HAVE COMPLETED MY LITTLE CONTRIBUTION TO THE ZORRO FANFIC UNIVERSE.
GAIL D. MANFRE
THE FOX AND THE FIREBRAND
OCTOBER 11 1821
Diego de la
Vega y de la Cruz sat
before his father’s fireplace in a Roman style “X” armchair,
absentmindedly tracing the intricately embroidered pattern on the maroon
silk fabric. He swirled the remaining caramel colored brandy in a
Venetian glass snifter, part of the wine service his mother Bethia
Elizabeth had inherited from her grandmother.
golden glow of the fire on this fairly cold morning failed to comfort
him as he glumly re-read Anna Maria Verdugo’s rejection of his
marriage proposal. Diego had asked her to marry him three weeks ago over
the “engagement” dinner at her father’s hacienda. He should have
expected the worst when Anna Maria would not meet his gaze even after he
kissed her tantalizingly sweet lips - as passionately as a purportedly
betrothed caballero was permitted before his pending
He kept telling
himself that Anna Maria was still young enough to reconsider her
decision; the only steps remaining before the actual wedding were the
announcement of the betrothal and their fathers’ signatures gracing
the marriage contract. And Diego still believed that eventually he could
whittle down whatever emotional barriers she had wrapped around her
heart. After all, it was only six months since El Zorro, her hero,
had refused to accept the Governor’s offer of amnesty in
Monterrey. "Surely she has had more than enough time to
reconsider her decision. No, my firebrand is the most stubborn
woman I know! She will follow her heart and not honor our
engagement!" Diego shook his head and began to read her note
Diego," her letter began, "I suspect that you already
know the reason why I cannot be your wife - although I would be proud to
be Senora de la Vega, I cannot disregard the calling of my heart! For it
shall ever belong to Zorro! I have prayed long and hard to the Blessed
Virgin that I would forfeit my love for the Fox, but I realized that I
would not only hurt myself if I denied my deep feelings for him, I would
also be cheating you. I prefer instead to wait until the time when mi
corazon discards his masquerade as the Dark Angel and takes me as
his bride. And I feel in my soul that this will happen sooner than you
think.’ After all, Diego, you do not know El Zorro as well as
I." The note was simply signed “A.M.”
Diego had one last
chance to rekindle the embers of love he knew she still felt for him, so
he wrote Anna Maria that he would be able to persuade El Zorro to
reveal his secret identity to her and to her alone. Thusly, Zorro
would be able to pursue his sacred mission to protect and safeguard the
civil liberties of who lived in Alta California and still have the
personal happiness he craved with Anna Maria! But Zorro had no idea how
he would accomplish this delicate task.
Diego stepped out
onto his rear balcony and closed his eyes, hoping that the cool and
crisp October air would help extinguish --albeit temporarily -- the
amorous flames in his soul. Ah, Anna Maria, you penetrated the
logical buffer I had erected around my heart so I could ride as El Zorro
by night and live a seemingly ‘normal’ hacendado’s life
by day. But it was my decision to love you! I keep reminding myself that
it was not my fault that you ‘loved’ me only as a brother and..“
A knock at his
door broke his reverie.
amigo. I want you to deliver this message to Senorita Verdugo this
afternoon and you are to wait for her reply, and ..” Diego shrugged
and placed his arm on his mozo’s shoulders. “Perhaps I
should not ask you to do this for me.”
and then rapidly signed with hands ‘My master, no, my dear
friend! I shall do anything you ask. I can only hope that I
can ...ease your pain.’
instinctively hugged him. “My ...Bernardo. To me, you are always more
than a servant is and never less than the older brother that I did not
have! Bring this note to Anna Maria, por favor.”
was Bernardo’s reply and he left before he could witness the
tears that he was certain Diego would shed after his departure and
especially upon Bernardo’s return.
arrived at the Verdugo hacienda to deliver his master’s note to Señorita
Anna Maria, he recognized Ricardo del’Amo’s horse tied up at
hacienda’s gate. [Definitely not a good thing. I have never liked
that man and I never shall! He lives just to gamble, and not just with
people‘s money!] Diego’s mozo thought acidly.
majordomo, Tomas Fuego, ushered Bernardo into the sala, accepted the
note and immediately delivered it into Señorita Verdugo’s waiting
poured another glass of cool water for Anna Maria to drink after she
began reading Diego’s note.
noticed how red Senorita Anna Maria’s face had become, he retreated to
“WELL, I should
eyebrows shot upward. “Anna Maria, my sweet, what does the note
“Only that Zorro
is willing to reveal his identity to me! BUT Diego believes that the Fox
shall continue to ride as El Zorro even after our wedding!“
“The fool! Does
he realize that in abandoning his masquerade he can finally have a wife
and children?” Del’Amo said sarcastically, then carefully scanned
her face for clues to guide his answers to any other questions she might
pose. “By the way, HOW is Don Diego able to contact Zorro?”
Anna Maria angrily
shredded Diego’s note. “I do not know, Ricardo, and I do not care!
All I know is he was able to give the Fox some previous correspondence
that I asked Diego to deliver.“ She rose and went over to the large
mahogany desk in the sala. “Ricardo, get Bernardo while I write down
exactly what I think about Diego’s latest proposal!”
Don Ricardo waved
Bernardo into the Verdugo hacienda and they both watched Anna Maria’s
pen angrily scratch at the paper.
“There it is
done.“ Anna Maria thrust her response into Bernardo’s waiting hands.
“Bernardo, take this back to your master.“ Then she arrogantly
dismissed him with a wave of her handkerchief and went to stand by the
window. Bernardo looked confused until del’Amo marched him to the door
and motioned for him to leave.
Ricardo could no
longer stand the suspense. “Are you going to tell me or not?”
“OHHHHHHH, I am
just so mad! It seems that my Masked Avenger prefers a
life of hiding and keeping one step from the hangman’s noose than to
live quite comfortably WITH ME! So, El Zorro cherishes the feelings of
the peons rather than one who truly loves him! The very idea!”
She threw herself into the outstretched arms of Ricardo del’Amo in a futile attempt to cry away her pain. Ricardo merely smiled as he patted her lovely head.
anxiously awaited Anna Maria’s answer to the letter he had written
that morning. Nearly three hours later, Bernardo returned with her
response. Diego saw the uncomfortable look on Bernardo’s face and
hastily tore open the parchment. Then he perused the letter. When Diego
finished, he burst into the secret room behind his bedroom’s fireplace
and testily told Bernardo that he was in a hurry to change into the
black silks of his secret identity, El Zorro. His mozo
urged him to wait until at least sundown to ride.
friend, was what she wrote to you that unkind?” Bernardo signed
with his hands. He knew as well as Diego how razor sharp Anna Maria’s
Diego shook his
head. “There are some things I cannot share with anyone else,
Bernardo,“ his master said as he gently touched his mozo’s
Bernardo knew then
he had tried everything he could possibly think of to
cheer up his master. Since that ’firebrand ‘- (as his
master tenderly referred to Anna Maria --Bernardo had another name for
her but he wisely kept it to himself) - had refused his marriage offer,
Alejandro de la Vega’s son had been pacing the hacienda like a caged
tiger. The manservant tried to tell his friend he was young - not yet
twenty-five years old; Diego had plenty of time and opportunities to
select a bride. If only his master would give himself half a chance!
Bernardo knew the youthful caballero wanted, no, he needed
to ride as the Dark Angel, astride his glorious black mount, Tornado,
to reconsider -- or reaffirm-- his decision of dedicating his entire
life to fighting for justice in Alta California. So he helped his friend
dress into the costume of Zorro and then prepared the black horse for
climbed into his ornately tooled leather saddle, Bernardo gently touched
his arm and quickly revealed his thoughts to his friend in his own
peculiar version of sign language. ‘Adios, my dear friend you
will see ... this sorrow too shall pass”!
El Zorro grinned
slightly and Bernardo basked in the warmth and brilliance of this small
demonstration of his master’s effusive charm. The Dark Angel grasped
both of Bernardo‘s shoulders. “Muchas gracias, my most beloved amigo!
Now you must excuse me, Tornado is very anxious to gallop tonight!“ He
jauntily tossed Bernardo one of his trademark salutes and then he and
Tornado flew into the night kissed by the soft light of a full moon.
returned to Diego’s bedroom to prepare his master’s jaqueta for
following day, he saw that Don Alejandro was waiting for him.
“Bueno! I am
very pleased that my son has finally decided to resume his duties to the
people of California!” Don Alejandro said after Bernardo signed that
Zorro had already left the secret cave. The elder de la Vega walked over
to Diego’s desk and saw Anna Maria’s note lying there. He toyed with
the paper not wanting to read it, but temptation got the better of him.
Don Alejandro adjusted his spectacles and skimmed her letter.
“By all the
Saints, may they grant me strength! I have half a mind to burn
this... woman's --- no, this foolish girl’s stupid mutterings!
She is not worthy of my son!” He started to remove Anna Maria’s
letter and throw into the bedroom fireplace, but Bernardo shook his
father of my master--” Bernardo started to sign - and then
thought discretion was needed here.
noble face flushed scarlet both from anger and resignation. “Of
course, you are right, Bernardo. Diego must decide when he can bury the
past. My son has the enormous benefit of youth. Diego will
eventually come to his senses.” Don Alejandro shrugged his shoulders
and then rubbed his white bearded chin thoughtfully.
are you agreeable to a game of chess? I would like to avenge the loss
that you inflicted on me last week! “
hesitated. My place is to remain in the secret room. He said to
himself. But he saw the slightly challenging gleam in Don Alejandro’s
eyes and then nodded “yes.“
the game will help us to pass the time while we wait for El Zorro’s
return!“ Don Alejandro said as they walked through the secret
passageway into the library. There the silver haired don set up the
board for a game. As they each plotted strategy against the other, the
two men enjoyed some old Jerez Don Alejandro had imported from
Bernardo could see
the heavy toll his master’s heartache had taken on Don Alejandro, but
his father... "Don Alejandro was now 61 years old and still had
no grandchildren whom he could spoil." he thought sadly. Don
Alejandro had often told him about his best friend from Spain, Don
Alfredo, and his grandsons. Don Alfredo had two sons, Joaquin Roberto
and Rodrigo Alberto. Each time Diego’s father returned from visiting
Don Alfredo, he related to Bernardo how much he enjoyed playing with the
twin boys one of Don Alfredo’s sons, Rodrigo, had presented to him
three Christmases ago. The other son also had two children, a girl and
an infant son.
Don Alejandro had
prayed for children with his wife, Bethia Elizabeth de la Cruz, for
nearly 10 years. Finally the Blessed Virgin granted his wish in 1797. He
named his son Diego Armando Joseph de la Vega y de la Cruz. And since Doña
Bethia had been unable to give her husband any more children, both
parents doted on their son.
Diego was Don
Alejandro’s pride and joy, especially after he discovered his son was
the people’s hero, El Zorro. But since the de la Vega
clan in Madrid had produced only one surviving male heir, Don Alejandro
had pleaded with his son numerous times to marry. After all, it was a hidalgo’s
strict duty and obligation to have as many male children as possible to
ensure the future of the family name and noble lineage.
at least he did finally ask Senorita Verdugo to marry him,’ Don
Alejandro snorted to himself as he contemplated his next move against
Bernardo. “It was not Diego’s fault that she had
publicly told anyone who would listen that no man was as wonderful as El
Zorro! Better Diego discovered her true feelings now than on their
wedding night!” he said to a sympathetic Bernardo.
He pushed aside
his anxiety over Diego‘s bad spirits and concentrated on his chess
game with Bernardo. “Of course you realize, Bernardo,” Don Alejandro
said, his rich baritone finally breaking the half-hour of silence
necessitated by the game’s intensity, “that I shall grant you no
mercy! I intend to win this game as swiftly as possible!”
Both men of the de
la Vega clan hated to be defeated even in the littlest argument. To do
less than one’s best was to violate the gente de razon’s rigid
code of personal honor. So Bernardo always cherished the few games he
managed to win against either of the de la Vegas. And Don Alejandro’s
tenacious concentration had finally returned, because Bernardo saw that
he would be checkmated in two moves.
“Hah! What a
foolish little twit that Anna Maria Verdugo is!” Then Don Alejandro
drained his Jerez and briefly surveyed the chessboard. He
promptly moved his knight into checkmate against Bernardo’s queen.
“Hah!” He exclaimed again. Bernardo frowned and pulled at his hair
-what little was left of it - in all directions. Sighing audibly, he
toppled his queen onto the chessboard in defeat.
roared with laughter. “By the Three Marias! That was a most
interesting game, Bernardo. You have become quite a worthy opponent this
past two years since Diego returned to California.”
shrugged. ‘At least he is trying to forget Anna Maria...
’ Bernardo thought in his defeat. But he was mistaken.
“By the Holy
Trinity!” the elder de la Vega exclaimed. “I was so certain that
Anna Maria had ceased with her absurd obsession regarding the Fox! But
no, she truly worships the mask and not the man who wears it!” The
elder de la Vega remembered vividly the anguish etched on Diego’s face
after Anna Maria Verdugo snubbed his son’s wedding proposal.
He glanced at his
pocket watch. It was after midnight and Zorro was normally home before
this late hour.
As Don Alejandro
prepared to retire to his room for the night, he spoke to Bernardo.
“Please tell me when Diego arrives, no matter what the hour. I must
speak with my son before he retires. And I daresay he will not like the
subject that we will be discussing." he added to Bernardo.
He finished clearing the library table and then went to the secret room
where he promptly fell asleep.
Don Alejandro said
his nightly Act of Contrition before retiring, hoping that the new
marriage contract he had worked out with his old friend, Don Cornelio
Tomas Esperon, would be successful. He hated to present Diego with
another fiancée so soon, but he felt that Diego would brood too long
over that vapid Señorita Verdugo. Besides, it was high time that his
son marry, and he had sealed the arrangements with Don Cornelio almost a