The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

 

DIEGO’S STRATEGY

(Our noble caballero takes action against Glorioso)

 

   

Selena imagined her most desired fantasy had become reality. Her chivalrous knight, a benign specter in black satin, had whisked her away from all danger, past, present and future. El Zorro’s arms surrounded her, an eternal protection against all evil, and soon he would make her his wife in the holy state of matrimony. The brilliant light that emanated from her beloved’s hazel eyes finally vanquished the gloom that had previously been an integral part of her life. Selena was aware she was dreaming, for in her fantasy, El Zorro laughed when she asked him if she could remain with him forever in this precious cocoon of their love.

“No, querida, we both must return to our lives and remain as faithful to the Lord and to each other as the Savior would wish us to do. My dearest Selena I will be with you forever.“

The light surrounding them began to dissipate and he faded from her view. Selena cried out his name three times. “Zorro, Zorro, Zorro,” hoping this sacred number would ward the two of them from all future evil in their lives.

“Selena, Selena! Please open up your eyes! Selena, mi corazon!” Diego lightly stroked her face. “Darling, the Commandante can no longer hurt you. I am here to protect you.”

“Diego. I had a.. nightmare.. G-glorioso ... he..” Selena tried to explain.

He sat on her bed and gently pulled her up to him. “Ah, querida, you need no longer fear him. Zorro and I both will take care of that raton!” Diego then whispered his new plans for their nuptials and was rewarded with her lips pressing against his.

“I am going to stay with you until you fall asleep, under Amontildar’s watchful gaze, of course,” he playfully added.

She smiled lazily at him. “Oh, but of course, beloved ...tired... sleepy.” Diego held her hand tightly between his own much stronger ones until Selena had settled down completely and no longer tossed in her sleep.

ZZZZZZZZZ

Faced with a dilemma of his own making, Diego pondered cautiously his move on the chess board of their lives against his deadly opponent, the evil Glorioso. IF as Diego, he were to use brute force against the Commandante, his adversary was more than clever enough to quickly deduce his secret identity. Were he to retreat into Diego’s non-violent shell by saying or doing nothing, then he believed he would forever lose any chance of redeeming himself in his father’s eyes. He also had to consider his fellow hidalgos’ opinions. According to their rigid code of behavior, Diego was honor bound to take umbrage and action against Glorioso. He could not expect his own alter ego, El Zorro, to solve this sensitive problem for him. Of course, on a more serious and personal level, Diego felt extremely guilty that had failed to shield her from the commandante’s craven appetites.

He rejected numerous schemes and ideas concerning a “Diego de la Vega” appropriate response to Glorioso’s deplorable behavior. Just before he was ready to seek his father’s advice and prepared to finally disclose his alter ego to Don Alejandro, something amusing occurred to him. Diego rubbed his pencil thin moustache playfully. Why not beard the lion in his den? Yes, the seemingly indolent composer of song and verse would confront the commandante where he least expected it, at the La Casa de Hospitalidad! As he mentally pursued this new intrigue, Diego became more animated as he considered the new possibility of how Diego and not Zorro could undermine both Glorioso and his whole financial empire. When one of the house maids sent word to the young caballero that Don Alejandro was waiting to dine with him downstairs, Selena’s fiance felt more confident in his ability to handle the capitán as Diego de la Vega and not as alter ego, El Zorro.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

The next day, Capitán Glorioso applied some ointment over his facial scratches and then took some of Señora Soto’s flesh-toned stage makeup to hopefully conceal the angry welts. The bitch will certainly rue the day she cavalierly dismissed my marriage proposal to wed beneath her class! What in the name of the three Marias is wrong with that female? Perhaps I misread the true nature of her character ... she must be mad ...no, on second thought she must feel desperate. He stalked into the Casa de Hospitalidad and ordered some luncheon.

Chiquito, que tal? You look so angry!” Señora Soto said attempting to cheer him up.

“Silencio!” he snarled at her. “Go away! Can you not see that I am ravenous!” Glorioso briefly raised his head.

“Dios! And who was the unfortunate woman who left her mark on you, Commandante?” Teresa Soto asked.

He yanked her towards him. “Not a word of this to any do you hear? I proposed to Señorita de Rojas yesterday.”

She smiled bitterly, “I am not surprised, capitán, and being the lady that she is, besides being Don Diego’s betrothed, Señorita de Rojas would not have you eh?”

“I was unaware that news of my little social call to the señorita was known in the pueblo as I was out of town in San Pedro until the day before yesterday with those babosos Garcia and Reyes!“ Glorioso growled as he threw her to the floor. “Damn you, woman,” he hissed beneath his breath. When Teresa did not respond, he asked crossly, “What is wrong? Answer me!”

Looking beyond the capitán, Soto crossed herself several times before she got up and adjusted her clothing. To Glorioso, who continued to glare at her, she said, “Perhaps mi capitán wishes to retire upstairs to eat his meal?”

At his uncomprehending stare, she continued with a smirk, “Don Diego de la Vega just came into La Casa!”

WHAT?” Glorioso briefly considered fleeing but then, the presence of Teresa Soto and the half dozen or so patrons in his Posada dissuaded him from that idea. Too many witnesses. Blast that de la Vega! I shall deal with you later, Teresa! he muttered to her.

Teresa noticed something strange regarding Don Diego‘s mood. Knowing how much he despised this tavern and Glorioso personally, the caballero is positively glowing with joy. I must be going mad. Don Diego should be tearing the place down to get to the commandante to rip out his heart. She also observed the caballero was wearing a single red rose in the lapel of his chaqueta as he strolled over to the bar.

“Ah, greetings muchachos and caballeros! All refreshments are on me! I am here to celebrate my imminent nuptials!” Don Diego gaily announced. “I wanted to inform everyone that my fiancée and I have decided to forego our overly long six-week engagement and marry as soon as possible!”

“Gracias, Don Diego.“ Don Stefano Alvarez saluted his fellow hidalgo. “ I am here with my Uncle Don Alfredo and his solicitor, Señor Mercates, to rewrite our cattle contracts with the Spanish Viceroy. But tell me --“

“What prompted this change of plans?” Diego lazily replied through heavy lidded eyes as he turned to face Commandante Glorioso.

“Si, Don Diego,” said Don Alfredo, chimed in, “please tell us! We were just about to leave.”

Well, as everyone knows by now, I have the good Commandante to thank señores,” Diego stated as casually to his audience as if he were discussing the price of beef hides, “Capitán Glorioso suggested that Señorita de Rojas might be feeling quite lonely living in that enormous hacienda when he visited my betrothed at her home yesterday afternoon. And as we all know, the Commandante can be very persuasive!” Diego’s smile was disarming as he directed his gaze toward Glorioso. Not a word was uttered in the tavern. All eyes focused on the capitán’s face. Despite his best efforts to conceal Selena’s scratches and his cut lip, the injuries were quite visible to the Posada’s customers. And the dons and their guests immediately grasped the serious implications in Diego’s seemingly innocuous statement.

Diablo! He is deliberately toying with me. Capitán Glorioso fidgeted in his seat as he looked around the room. And the dons know it. Damn you de la Vega. Curse you and your weak hidalgo ancestors to Hades!

Teresa Soto stifled a giggle. Who could have known that the sweet Don Diego could be so bold? Rich, most handsome and brave enough to face the Commandante here on his own territory? Wish he were my fiancé! Ay Yi Yi!

“Tomorrow evening at Señorita de Rojas’ hacienda, we shall become man and wife. Diego’s gaze never wavered from the Capitán’s face as his fierce expression dared Glorioso to make some disparaging remark. When Glorioso refused to take the bait, Diego grinned. There was more than a hint of malice in the hidalgo’s hazel eyes and in his voice.

“Oh Commandante, this is certainly not the time to be shy! We all know that reticence is not your forté!” Diego said as he chuckled at his little joke. The dons laughed with him, but only the capitán noticed Don Diego’s humor did not extend to his eyes.

Diego placed a bag of coins on the bar. “Come, come gentlemen! Drink up! Bartender, produce your best tapas for all patrons!” The young caballero waved everyone toward the bar as the bartender placed large bottles of wine and brandy on the counter. Diego told the bartender to bring up a keg of his finest Jerez. He waited until the keg had been opened and his small tumbler was filled with the delicate yet formidable liquor before making a toast.

“Don Diego!” said Sergeant Garcia as he waddled toward his friend, “To what occasion do we owe this great display of generosity?”

“Why, Sergeant you are standing in the presence of a very happy man! I am celebrating my wedding tomorrow night to the exquisite Señorita Selena de Rojas!” Diego replied with his face decorated with sincere joy.

“Splendid, splendid, Don Diego. And gracias for the wine and tapas!” Garcia replied.

Corporal Reyes shook Don Diego ‘s hand. “May I offer my congratulations Señor? Your intended is most assuredly a fine lady.”

Don Diego’s heart was stirred by Reyes’ sincerity. “Gracias, corporal and drink up!”

Capitán Glorioso was baffled by Diego’s actions. He swirled the wine in his tankard wondering -- and sweating -- when Selena’s fiancé would make his move. Or would the hombre perezoso do the intelligent thing and ignore the entire affair? He watched from his peripheral vision as the caballero rested his tall and lean frame on the bar, conversing with those miserable excuses for soldiers, Garcia and Reyes. Diego abruptly drained his tumbler of Jerez and bid his friends good afternoon. Before leaving the bar, he ordered a large tumbler of brandy and headed for the Commandante’s table.

“Con permiso, Capitán, may I join you?” Diego asked politely. He detected the Commandante’s discomfort immediately. Glorioso failed to meet Diego’s sardonic gaze, and was perspiring profusely. The Spanish officer’s hands trembled slightly as he attempted to light his cigar. Finally, after a few seconds, Diego struck a match and completed the capitán’s task. And before young de la Vega settled in the chair next to Glorioso, Diego lit his own large cigar and intentionally blew his smoke into the capitán’s face.

Diego sat quietly smoking his puro, thoroughly enjoying Glorioso’s squirming, periodically blowing perfect blue colored circles into the air. The capitán did not touch his drink. Finally, Diego pushed the brandy toward the Commandante. The variable color of de la Vega’s eyes changed from pale golden brown to dark brown almost instantly as he drew himself closer to Glorioso’s face. Diego reached down and laid his massive left hand on the capitán’s thigh, increasing the pressure of his grip with each word as he spoke. Glorioso’s face contorted as he struggled to keep his composure. He had never felt such strength in a young hidalgo. “By the way, Visconde de Estrada, if you ever so much as look at Selena de Rojas again I will kill you, Señor!” This was said with such menace that Glorioso could have sworn that he was sitting at the table with a complete stranger.

“Buenos tardes, mi capitan!” Diego said as he rose and then loudly slapped Glorioso on his back. The caballero exited La Casa de Hospitalidad without a backward glance.

As for Commandante Glorioso, he spent another hour in the tavern watching the few patrons the posada had been able to attract despite El Zorro’s threat whisper to each other and turn away when Glorioso returned their stares. He thought angrily, Thanks to Don Diego I am now the laughing stock of the Pueblo de Los Angeles!

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

The following day, Father Felipe stood before the two young people whom he had just married and proudly announced: “Señores y Señoras, I proudly present to you, their honored guests, Don Diego and Doña Selena de la Vega!”

“Bienvenidos,” said her new father-in-law, Don Alejandro, “and welcome to our family!” Both Alejandro and Diego chuckled as Selena blushed.

Although the wedding was planned and done on such short notice, Don Alejandro insisted upon having in attendance Don Diego’s padrino de boda, Don Alfredo Alvarez. His wife, Doña Monica Gonzales Alvarez, served as Selena’s honorary madrina de boda. Selena decided against wearing traditional black for her wedding since she had spent the past month in mourning for her late father. Instead, she chose a deep rose hued frock with a classically fitted bodice and demi-flared sheath. She had purchased the dress in Paris three years ago and Diego had never seen her in it. The gown was heavily beaded with nearly five hundred tiny pearls at the base of the curved neckline, all around the shoulders, sleeves and the remainder of the bodice. The sheath of the dress was deliberately designed without ornamentation to focus the observer’s eye upward to the cleverly embroidered bodice and of course, on the bride’s lovely face.

“Happy?” Selena asked Diego quietly as they sipped some of his father’s best Madeira.

“Completely sweetheart. Still nervous about your wedding night?” he teased her. “I can not wait to have you alone in my arms!”

“Terrified, mi corazon.” Careful someone might overhear us!” Selena retorted.

“What is this? A bride who is afraid of her bridegroom? Surely not!” Diego nudged her arm. Then he looked down at the shadows that were beginning to form under her eyes and knew that Selena had endured enough excitement for the day. He excused himself from her and had a brief discussion with his father and Don Alfredo.

“Don Diego, Alejandro just informed me about the capitán’s repugnant behavior. Surely you confronted him?” Don Alfredo asked politely, for he had broached the subject with Diego’s father. Don Alfredo had been there and witnessed the entire incident, but he knew his friend Alejandro wanted to hear about the incident from his son.

Don Alejandro leaned forward eagerly, hoping that his son did stand up to that miserable porco. Since things were in such chaos after the commandante‘s “visit“ to the de Rojas’s hacienda and the rush to make the marriage arrangements, Don Alejandro had not had a chance to discuss Diego’s confrontation in detail with Glorioso.

Diego looked at Alejandro meaningfully. “Let me just say that I made it clear to the commandante to mind his manners in the future, or else he would suffer the consequences. You were there at the Posada yesterday afternoon, eh?” he said forcefully to Don Alfredo.

Don Alfredo laughed. “I thought the commandante looked rather peaked after your conversation with him yesterday! Very clever of you, my boy, to deliberately emphasize that the capitán tried to force Selena to break her engagement to you. We all have seen his scarred face! Now all of the dons and their families know exactly what type of dreadful man he really is. Very brave of you to threaten Glorioso with bodily harm!”

When Diego looked puzzled, Don Alfredo explained, “the bartender overheard the commandante repeating his conversation with you to some of the Posada’s servants when Glorioso got roaring drunk later that afternoon. Ah,” Don Alfredo patted Diego on his back. “do not worry about Doña Selena’s reputation, Diego. All of our friends have told the other hidalgos in the area about his despicable reputation. You have no idea, Diego, how we have come to respect Selena is here in the pueblo.”

“Bravo, my son!” Don Alejandro. “I realize how difficult that must have been for you ...”

“Actually, I rather enjoyed the shocked expression on Glorioso’s face! I suppose Glorioso believed all the gossip regarding ‘my-retiring lifestyle.’” Diego glanced meaningfully at his Father who smiled slightly. “It appears that we have little concern regarding any harm to Selena’s honor,“ Diego said.

“That is a huge relief, my son,” Don Alejandro sincerely replied.

Changing the subject, Diego told his father, “Selena is exhausted, so I am insisting we take our leave of everyone now.“

Don Alejandro glanced at his pocket watch. “Ay, yi yi! It is already ten-thirty! Do not worry Diego,” he winked at his son. Our guests were just about to depart!” Alejandro hugged him and kissed Selena goodnight.

 

 

END OF CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-four
Chapter One
Zorro Contents
Main Page