The Gift

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO -

DIEGO’S DECISION

 

The Masked Avenger let his fleet, coal dark horse, Tornado, run as fast and as far he wished. Heedless of the distance they had covered, Zorro was reminded when he felt his steed tiring. As he gradually slowed his great mount, he saw Tornado had brought him to the Madre del’Oro River at the end of the granite formation known as the ‘Garden of the Gods.’

“Ah, Tornado, my friend, you remembered me showing you this, my most private place away from the outside world.” He quickly alighted from his winded horse and, after satisfying himself that he and his steed were truly alone, the Fox joined Tornado at the del’Oro stream and slaked his thirst.

Zorro craned his neck up to gaze at the full moon. He lay down on the saddle blanket so he could watch her Celestial Silver Majesty slowly begin her lazy journey across the sky. She sat enthroned under a black velvet canopy, which gradually became studded with stars, their own blazing light guiding the moon through her eternal pilgrimage from sunset to sunrise.

It was said by the pobrecitos of La Reina de Los Angeles that the heavenly body was the Fox’s talisman against evil -- that the Moon was his guardian, his shield and his strength. He had also heard that most Angelinos - even some of the gente de razon - believed that when he rode on the night of a Full Moon, Zorro was invincible. Shaking his head over such wild notions, the Fox fetched a flask of brandy from his saddlebags and drank deeply. Well, Diego de la Vega failed to impress his lady love and now Zorro certainly doesn’t feel invincible! he thought acidly to himself.

“Tornado, my four-legged companion, do you wish to rest here for a while longer?" His horse nodded in agreement. “Sí? Good boy! Sometimes I do believe that you are human!”

Zorro stood in the clearing’s damp grass near the stream and pondered what life would bring him in the future both as Zorro and as Diego de la Vega. He briefly bowed his head in prayer. But how could he ask the Almighty God relief from the difficult path he had deliberately chosen in life? The Fox felt in his answer in his heart before he voiced his question. “Father, although I grow weary of my role as the Masked Avenger, I ask Thee to continue to bless my work as El Zorro. As always, Lord God of my ancestors, I wish only Sempre Deus vult.

 

As he finished praying a sudden cool breeze blew across the river and made him shiver. ”Come, Tornado, although I shall continue my masquerade as El Zorro, I still feel uneasy with my decision. It is as if I am at war with myself!“ When he bent down to retrieve his brandy flask he could have sworn he heard a voice say in his head: <Have I not always been here for you, Señor Fox? > But when he jumped up with his saber already drawn, he saw only Tornado standing on the opposite side of the clearing in the moonlight, waving his head up and down as if to encourage El Zorro to reveal all the pain in his heart to him.

DIOS! “Tornado, I forgot how silently you can move!” But who spoke those words? I am truly imaging things! Nevertheless, I cannot shake the feeling that I am being watched. he thought.

Zorro shivered again, this time partly from fear and partly from wonder. He recapped the brandy flask as he walked over to his caballo and thrust it back into the saddle pouch. The Fox rubbed his eyes and thought he had enjoyed too much of the fiery liquid as he looked warily around his camp. No one else is here. I am just hallucinating from fatigue that is all.

“EL ZORRO! DO YOU NOT RECOGNIZE ME? NO? THEN TURN AROUND!” It was a masculine voice, one that was accustomed to issuing orders, having them obeyed without question --- and which seemed alarmingly familiar.

Zorro did as he was told and when he did, the Nocturnal Watcher’s silvery light revealed the gentleman intruder’s features. Zorro‘s rich baritone could only manage to whisper “YOU!“

The figure of the young caballero chuckled softly at the Dark Angel’s reaction to his appearance. He nonchalantly blew out some cigar smoke that drifted into El Zorro’s hazel eyes. “Oh, a thousand pardons, Señor Fox! Lo siento mucho for the cigar smoke, but then you like cubanos as much as I do. I certainly did not expect you to be so amazed to see me,” the caballero continued, especially since we are morning shaving companions, eh? However, I am very happy to see that you decided to resume your role as Zorro and thus did not permit that witless Anna Maria ...”

“Señor Diego de la Vega, or should I say Señor Alucinacion! The Fox interrupted his unexpected guest’s speech. As he resheathed his weapon, he whistled twice for Tornado. Then Zorro threw his visitor a jaunty salute. “Hasta la luego, you who are pretending to be my alter ego!“

“One moment, por favor,” Don Diego’s voice halted the Fox’s ascent into the saddle. “Señor Zorro, who are we to define which of us, is an ’alter ego’ or the ‘mirror image’ of the other? Since we are one and the same, you must know that I am speaking nothing but the truth to you, but .. “

The Fox jabbed his right forefinger into the caballero’s chest. “Why are YOU here? The two men locked eyes, and then Zorro stalked away. Tornado snorted and pawed the ground nervously. “I came to this secret place --my private refuge to have some time away from you, as well to drive her, Anna Maria, from my thoughts!”

Diego de la Vega’s face paled. “I know how you feel, Zorro, but there is no escape from yourself. I created you. Remember?

In a blur of black silk, the Fox twisted the Diego’s apparition’s arms behind him, and thrust his razor sharp blade against de la Vega’s throat. “I am sick of you constantly reminding me of that fact!” The Fox spoke so venomously that the young caballero flinched in fear.

“You should.... be careful with.... that weapon, Señor ... lest you be tempted to do something rash!“ he sputtered. “Bernardo keeps that blade quite sharp,” Diego told his alter ego.

“Then you should not try my patience!“ Zorro’s mouth twisted bitterly, “ I have spent the past two years listening to you, Diego de la Vega, and kept hidden from our father, a prisoner within your thoughts! You are jealous of my deeds as El Zorro, and now it is my time.”

“ENOUGH!” The caballero yelled back, and, twisting free from Zorro’s grip jammed the flat of his left hand into Zorro’s neck, sending him to the ground. But Zorro leapt up quickly and wrestled his alter ego until they were both breathless.

“I still seem to be standing, Don Diego.” El Zorro smirked as his idly traced the gold brocade on the caballero’s jaqueta with the tip of his sword. “Admit it, Señor, you have grown to hate me! “

Young de la Vega could no longer evade Zorro’s probing questions. “SI! When you first rode as El Zorro the thrill of fighting for justice invigorated you beyond all your expectations! Por Dios! Señor Fox, surely you have not forgotten the intense pleasure when you saved Magdalena’s life? Or Rosarita’s? Even, God help us, Anna Maria‘s!”

Although Zorro detested the young caballero’s appearance, he forced himself to closely examine his alter ego. The Fox saw an immaculately groomed gentleman, who wore only the most elegant cut of clothes and smoked the finest of cigars. Here was a man who blithely treated the world as if it held nothing but pleasure for him. This specter’s lifestyle appalled him. Zorro felt anger from the depths of his being for this ‘man. ‘ Now he was uncertain which one of them was the phantom. It felt real to him whenever he rode Tornado. Was he not El Zorro, the strong and wise hero who saved  innocent people from the likes of the corrupt Comandante Enrique Sanchez Monasterio? Yet it was his eyes that stared out from Diego’s face when he enjoyed refreshments with Sergeant Garcia in the tavern. DIOS! WHO WAS HE? He wished that he had never come to his secret refuge this evening. The apparition continued talking, and Zorro felt helplessly mesmerized, unable to walk away from it. He also realized that he had to listen, for his sake as well as this young caballero’s.

“You have become so ARROGANT,“ his alter ego continued, “that you truly believe you are the ‘perfect hero!’ Hah!” The hidalgo shrugged his wide shoulders. “I have permitted you, ‘Masked Avenger,’ to take over my entire life!“

Zorro narrowed his eyes. “On the contrary, Senor de la Vega, it is you who has controlled me and until recently, kept me concealed from the important people in our lives.” And worst of all, it was me, the Fox, whom Anna Maria loved and not you, Don Diego! Your jealousy and hatred you tried to get rid of me! Had our father not successfully intervened, I would have been tossed aside just like one of your soiled fancy laced handkerchiefs!”

Diego’s shoulders sagged dejectedly as he turned away from Zorro. He stared up at the Lunar Companion in her monthly fullness. “You speak the truth!he finally said. “I became jealous of myself. I did want to put aside the mask and the sword. I did want a normal life. Tell me, Señor Fox, was I wrong to desire Anna Maria’s love?”

Zorro threw down his saber, which almost shattered as it clanged against the rocks. “No, Señor, I cannot fault you for having normal urges a man has for the woman he loves. To think I actually despised you for pretending to be a foppish dandy. We both have allowed our feelings for Anna Maria to cloud our judgment.” The Fox said as he withdrew the brandy flask from his saddle.

“Sí, and, my Masked Avenger, my brother, surely you now realize that she never loved us. Anna Maria is simply an idol with feet of clay. She worshipped the mystique of the Mask and not the man it concealed. You! Me! Us!”

The outlaw pulled down the band of black silk that camouflaged the upper part of his face. He grasped Don Diego’s arms and then embraced him. “My mirror image, my brother, my SELF! How did I allow this self-hatred to flourish?”

“I am equally guilty, Señor Fox.” Both men stared at each other through tear filled hazel brown eyes.

Diego smiled wanly. “I have a feeling that our desire for a woman’s caress and love will be fulfilled. My -- our faith in God shall make it so. Perhaps we have only to look about us!” He yawned. “I am sleepy. And father will be greatly worried that we are returning after midnight!”

The Fox chuckled. “Uno momento. Let us toast to celebrate our good fortune.” But when he turned around after retrieving the flask, Diego was gone. <What the? > He shrugged and sat down to finish the brandy that he’d poured for Diego. Before long Zorro’s head drooped to his chin and sleep overtook him.

 

 

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Chapter One
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