The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

 

CHAOS BECKONS

 

 

Lancer Hugo was too scared to move, but Peldar raised his weapon and fired. Garcia was standing next to him and at the last moment, pushed himself against the lancer. Peldar’s shot whizzed over Tómas Ballarias’s head. Several of the rescue party from the Cuartel fired their rifles into the air. Their strategy worked crowd panicked as men trampled on those who had the bad luck to fall down and in less than ten minutes after the riot started it dissipated.

Glorioso was incensed. “I am declaring martial law! Lancers arrest anyone whom you can catch but capturing Tómas Ballarias is crucial! I want him taken alive! Andelante!”

Back in his office, the Vizconde de Estrada marched up and down the length his room. MADRE DE DI0S! The mendacity of these péons! Glorioso muttered aloud as he threw himself into his red leather chair and propped his feet up on his desk. Odd that only a handful of péons had no money to pay his new taxes. My jail cells should be full of half-breeds and other scum whom I would later sell their services to shipmasters in San Pedro. Yes, something is not quite right here. And I bet that diablo, El Zorro, is the answer to this puzzle! First things first. Glorioso felt the pleasant sensation of blood rushing to his head contemplating the ways, most of them excruciatingly painful, of extracting information from uncooperative prisoners the lancers would soon be tossing into his jail cells.

Benito Fuentes, the de la Vegas’s foreman, was about to turn onto the street leading to the plaza of the Pueblo de Los Angeles when he heard screaming and shouting emanating from the marketplace. Groups of people ran toward him, yelling for Benito to ride out of town.

“What is happening, compadre?” Benito asked.

“Commandante Glorioso has finally gone mad, amigo. Yesterday, he beat Don Diego de la Vega with his whip before everyone in the Pueblo! Now he is arresting anyone caught on the streets after three o’clock in the afternoon! Run, amigo, run!” explained the frightened péon.

Benito could not believe what he was hearing. Glorioso flogged Don Diego? This is truly madness! He thought disgustedly as he pulled his chestnut horse into an alley at the far end of the plaza. Fuentes’ heart burned with hatred as he saw the Commandante use his saber on men and women alike.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Diego slept fitfully through the night and Selena remained by his side so that she could respond each time he called her name. When she awoke Bernardo was setting up some breakfast for her.    She smiled at him. “Buenos dias, Bernardo.” Noticing his blank look Selena, she laughed. “Ah, Bernardo, Diego chose his friends well. You forgot that I know that you can hear!”

Diego’s mozo returned her compliment. I assumed you were both asleep when I knocked on your door earlier this morning. Will my master rest much longer? He asked her in his peculiar sign language.

“He should awaken very soon, Bernardo. When he does, I shall--”

“The master of this hacienda is not only awake he is ravenous.” Diego announced suddenly. Will someone get me some hot chocolate, some huevos rancheros, and ...”

Bernardo ran to Diego’s side with tears of joy streaming down his face.

“I am going to eat and I have to ... Dios, mi!” Diego attempted to sit up but the sharp pains in his back stopped him.

Selena pretended to be angry with him. She marched back and forth in their bedroom holding her hands over her cheeks. “Oh, sí, Don Diego! Your every whim is our command! Bernardo, go and fetch Jorge Paco and Teodores-- and tell Don Alejandro that Don Diego is awake and being more difficult than usual!”

Bernardo wisely retreated downstairs and did not return for a good while to allow the couple some privacy.

“Me? Difficult? Jamas en la vida!” [Never in my life!]

Taites-vous, Mon ame.” Selena said as she sat in the bed to kiss him.

“Mmmm.” Diego relaxed, as his bride tasted his face and neck repeatedly with her lips.

“Hush, Señor!” Selena playfully reproached him.

 

zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Two days later Diego felt quite refreshed and had had his fill of “bed rest.” He gazed at Selena sleeping restlessly on a cot across the bedroom. Lovely as she was, Diego noticed signs of fatigue on her face, dark smudges beneath her eyes and lines around her mouth. So Diego ordered Amontildar to prepare a sleeping tonic for Selena that afternoon after Bernardo helped him with a quick bath. Don Diego also insisted that Bernardo set up a cot in their bedroom so that he could make certain she would sleep. Between his mozo and Selena’s le bonne gouvernmante personelle [personal maid and housekeeper], Diego would rest far easier knowing that his wife was in excellent hands.

Amontildar finally convinced her mistress to drink some milk, and although Selena hated milk, to placate her husband she took a couple of sips. Oh, goodness...this contains Amontildar’s famous sleeping medicine, she groused to herself.

“Mais chere, Je ne l‘ai pas de boire!” [I can not drink this!”] Selena sighed, but with both Diego and Amontildar hovering above her, Selena finished the entire glass of milk.

“I really am not tired.” She yawned. Her husband and her maid nodded silently. Diego leaned on the fireplace mantel watching her reaction to the “spiked” liquid and not quite managing to stifle a grin as she finished the milk.

“Amontildar did you ... double.... potion.. Mon Dieu...” Selena’s head fell back against her pillows and within minutes she was asleep.

“Monsieur, you two folks be the worst people I ever have as patients. That one,” Amontildar whispered, indicating Selena, “she be hard to handle since she born!”

Diego smiled down at Amontildar, and like her mistress, she also melted when this tres beau man did so. “Mam’selle, somehow I do not find that hard to believe. Amontildar, Selena simply can not live without you, “ he gently replied as he escorted the Creole maidservant from their bedroom. “Now, I shall watch over Selena. You go and get some rest.”

“Oui, monsieur.” Amontildar exhaled dreamily as she went downstairs to the servants’ quarters. As usual, le Monsieur cared far more others around him than he did for his own welfare. Quel homme! Quand je le vois, il fait un oscillation du mon coeur sauvagement! [Sigh, what a man! Whenever I see him my heart flutters like something wild]!

As Diego lay in bed observing Selena, he almost forgot the deep soreness in his back muscles caused by the flogging. My sweet love! How terrible she must have felt to watch that canaille Glorioso beat me. Becoming drowsy myself. Would not doubt it that wise Creole servant slipped a tad of her “sleep medicine” into my brandy. Gradually, he dozed off but he had a nightmare that the commandante kidnapped Selena and forced her to watch El Zorro hang. Then Glorioso put her to work in his brothel...

“Selena! Mi corazon! NO! NO! NO!” he yelled.

Soft hands stroked his face and Diego felt something deliciously cool applied over his forehead. “Hush, beloved. I am sitting right next to you. Everything is going to be fine.”

Diego opened his eyes hoping that he would find Selena’s cheery face smiling at him. Sí, she was here with him. Gracias a Dios!

“Ah, Señora de la Vega ... are you aware that there is a beautiful woman in your husband’s bedroom nursing him back to health?” he teased her as he lightly caressed the delicate skin on her face.

“Mon Dieu! Do you think I should call Amontildar and have her use her broom on la petite demi-mondaine and drive her from this hacienda!”

He dropped himself against the pillows, laughing as hard as he could, despite his back muscles’ protest. “OUCH!” Diego yelped. It hurts when I laugh!”

“Serves you right, Monsieur Renard! Whatever will your belle femme [pretty/woman/ wife] say?”

Diego drew her to his lips. “I would hope,” he began huskily, “that ma belle femme would forgive her corazon’s poor attempts at humor and love her husband for all eternity!” His touch once again caused her passion to erupt and Selena momentarily forgot his sore back. When she started to pull away, Diego tried to grasp her waist and grimaced.

“See? I am going to call Bernardo and he can help me change your dressing!”

Querida, just one more thing?” Diego pleaded.

Her eyebrows arched. “Sí?”

“Is there anything to eat? “ He rubbed his stomach in mock despair. “I am starving!”

She rolled her eyes. “Fortunately, Amontildar obtained some seafood this morning. Will shrimp étouffée do for dinner?”

Diego grinned. “I suppose so. One must make do with what one is offered!“ Selena tossed several pillows at him before she closed the door.

 

zzzzzzzzz

 

Don Alejandro paced back and forth in the patio. He still had not come to terms with the knowledge that Diego was El Zorro. Alejandro did not enjoy the fact that his son believed that his father despised him, and in the recent past Alejandro had called him a coward. Now the elder de la Vega saw Diego’s true self, kind, generous and very brave. Bethia de la Cruz, my darling wife, I know that you are as proud as I am that our son is a bona fide hero!

Diego exited their bedroom and saw the de la Vegas’ head vaquero, Benito, enter the patio looking for Don Alejandro. The caballero saw the anger in Benito’s hurried gait and Diego flew downstairs to learn what troubled the young man..

Patron, Glorioso has arrested many townspeople,” Benito exclaimed angrily. “Some of the men were sold to the capitáns in San Pedro, others the commandante flogged until the poor souls were almost dead!”

Father, why did you not inform me about the situation in the pueblo?“ Diego’s face was a jarring image of disgust and resolve fighting to see which would dominate his mood.

Don Alejandro put his hand on Diego’s shoulder. “My son you have made me---” his voice choked with emotion.

Diego stared at his father. Surely he does not know about my masquerade as Zorro? How in St. Teresa’s name did he--

You must leave something for this El Zorro fellow to do. Whoever he may be you are equally as brave in your own way! Besides, do you not think that the Fox is aware of these new developments in the Pueblo?” Don Alejandro said matter of factly.

His son swallowed the bile that had risen in his throat and slowly relaxed the tension from his body. “Si, it is said of the Masked Avenger that one only has to speak into the air and the wind will carry your plea to his ears!”

“That I can easily believe, Diego.”

The people of Los Angeles need El Zorro now, Diego chided himself bitterly, time doe the Fox to ride!

 

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

 

“Capitán! Capitán!” an excited Lancer Peldar knocked on Glorioso’s office door.

“Yes, entrar!” the capitán glanced up briefly to see who was disturbing him after such a distressing tax collection day. “Si,” he said irritably, “what in the name of the Savior is it, soldier?”

“We have arrested Tómas Ballarias, mi commandante. Gomez and I caught him in a meeting of shopkeepers who were discussing you, capitán.”

‘WHAT! Excellente! Good work, Peldar, you and Gomez shall both be promoted to corporal immediately! Please treat the prisoner as my personal guest until I am ready to properly deal with him. You are dismissed for now!”

Capitán Glorioso was secretly quite thrilled, but now all he wanted to do was to take a hot bath and change his clothes. He could interrogate this particular prisoner at his leisure. Let the tailor stew in his own fears! Serves him right for publicly defying me! He muttered aloud. But there was one other order Glorioso had to issue before considering his own creature comforts. He walked to his office door and yelled for Corporal Reyes to come inside.

“By your command, c-capitán.” Corporal Reyes stuttered, shaking as usual whenever he had to meet face to face with the commandante.

Glorioso eyed the quaking corporal and scowled. “For God’s sake, Reyes, stop fidgeting! Stand still! I do not bite, you know!”

Corporal Reyes swallowed uncomfortably and thought warily, no, commandante, but your whip certainly does! And I am not as brave as Don Diego is! I admit that I am a coward!

“Dios mi,” Glorioso shouted, scaring poor Reyes out of several years’ growth in the process, “whatever have I done to be saddled with such an incompetent soldier as yourself!”

Reyes shrugged nonchalantly as he replied." I do not know mi commandante.”

“By the Virgin, corporal, that was a moot question, requiring no answer on your part! Now shut up and listen to my order!”

After briefly outlining his order for barring all visitors to the cuartel unless the capitán granted express permission for the guards to do so, Glorioso hastily dismissed Reyes. By the three Marias! With a bit of luck and whatever useful information I can obtain from Ballarias, Los Ángeles will be last posting until my triumphant return to the restoration of my family’s glory and the Spanish Court.

 

 

END OF CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

 

 

 

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