The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-six

 

 

AT THE CAPITAN’S MERCY

PART II

In the hands of the devil himself ...

 

 

“You make no sound. Good, Señora de la Vega. Now you will tell me about your joint scheme with Zorro will you not? Well?” The severity of Visconde’ Estrada’s voice made her wince again from the pain of his cruel blow.

She cautiously worked her jaw, amazed that she could still move it all. “Does it matter, Your Excellency? Regardless of what I say you will not believe me.”

Glorioso sighed in exasperation. “I shall prove that you conspired with the Fox! I have a signed affidavit from an eyewitness!” The Commandante lightly touched her shoulders, tracing the outline of her neck with his fingertips. She jerked her body but she was unable to move at all thanks to the knots Glorioso tied in the ropes. “Señora de la Vega, I honestly do not wish to harm you, but ...”

Selena closed her eyes. “Do your worst. When Judge Vasca realizes that you have brutalized me ...”

He collapsed into his red leather chair and guffawed until he could scarcely breathe. “For an intelligent woman such as yourself, you are incredibly naive! The judge will not hear your case because I will not send for him! By the time that Don Alejandro or your precious Diego can possibly contact His Honor, you and Zorro will be dead!” Glorioso moved toward her and viciously pulled her head back and pressed his lips on her mouth. “So soft...” he murmured into her ear. The Commandante ran his fingers through her lavender scented hair and released the hairpins that held her head up and away from her face. Selena moved her head down but Glorioso none too gently forced her chin up once again and kissed her deeply.

“Uhhhhh.” Selena shuddered involuntarily both from the force of his grip and her revulsion from being touched by this rabid violator of women...

 

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The number of frenzied people running throughout the Pueblo De Los Angeles’s plaza astonished Don Alejandro and Don Diego de la Vega. Garbage and debris littered the dusty but usually well maintained streets.

From the vantage point on their horses, the hidalgos could see that many windows of La Casa de Hospitalidad were shattered and the jagged remnants of glass almost completely covered the dirt area in front of the Posada.

De Estrada had instructed Corporal Peldar just before the lancer led Selena into his office to take a squadron of soldiers and disperse the “rabble.” He also ordered Peldar to do whatever he liked with anyone refusing to leave the plaza. After the Commandante had secured Selena again with restraints, Glorioso positioned himself atop the platform he had earlier constructed to provide an aerial view of the events transpiring in the plaza. This vantage point satisfied both his lust for chaos and also enabled Glorioso to keep visual track of Corporal Peldar’s execution of his orders.

“By my sainted ancestors!” Alejandro exclaimed. “This is madness! Utter madness!”

“Si,” Diego responded dourly. “And this destruction represents the despair of citizens pushed too far! Look at the soldiers,” he pointed to the middle of the plaza. “Dios! They are going to fire into the crowd!” Diego started to spur his chestnut horse forward but his father grabbed his reins.

“No, my son, not just yet.”

Ten rifles fired simultaneously. To their immense relief, Commandante Glorioso had told the lancers to fire above the crowd. Both men watched as the lancers reloaded their weapons as Peldar prepared to give the signal to fire again. But this time, the soldiers’ guns were aimed directly at the mob. Diego tore the reins loose from his father’s hands and forced his mount toward the front of the mob.

“Señores, por favor! This is not the way! You will all be slaughtered! For your families’ sakes, return to your homes!”

“Don Diego,” asked Señor Alemania, one of the Pueblo’s regidores [councilmen], you stand before us and ask that we allow Commandante Glorioso to trample our rights as citizens?”

“Señores, please heed the words of Don Diego.” Alcalde Baltazar urged.

The young caballero replied. “Yes, I can. You must have seen the commandante arrest my wife. Although the charges are false,” here Diego, paused and turned to aim his next words directly at the lancers, “I shall abide by the due process of law. My father and I have already sent word to Judge Vasca!”

Señor Alemana raised his arms above the crowd. “I trust the words of Don Diego and his father, my fellow citizens. Let us withdraw and return to our homes!” He and several of the members of the cabildo began ushering people out of the plaza.

While the younger de la Vega pleaded with the Angelinos to leave the plaza, Commandante Glorioso slipped back inside the Cuartel and ran back to his office. It would appear that I must permit Don Diego to visit his wife much earlier than expected, Glorioso swore under his breath, I had better compose myself...

Diego waited until the majority of the crowd was out of earshot before dismounting and angrily striding up through the lancers preventing anyone from entering the Cuartel and demanding to speak with Glorioso.

Sergeant Garcia yelled at the soldiers to permit Don Diego to enter the Cuartel.

“Of course, mi amigo. I shall personally ask His Excellency myself. Please wait here, Don Diego.”

Sergeant Garcia knocked on Glorioso’s door. “Your Excellency, Don Diego is here demanding to see the Señora.”

Glorioso opened his door and saw Don Diego unsuccessfully trying to push the lancers blocking his path out of the way. Garcia realized the frustrated Glorioso would shoot his friend if he did not do something. Think, Demetrio, think ...

“Your pardon, Excellency, perhaps you should permit Señor de la Vega to see his wife. If he knew the Señora was being well treated ... “ Garcia suggested, hoping Glorioso would catch his meaning.

The commandante stared at Garcia. “O-of course, make Señora de la Vega as comfortable as possible,” he whispered to the sergeant, “shall we say in fifteen minutes then Don Diego?” Glorioso said aloud to the young caballero.

De la Vega’s hazel eyes were unreadable but he forced himself to smile. “Ten minutes, Commandante.” Don Diego purposely glowered at the Commandante’s retreating back. I shall give you no more time, Glorioso. I will not wait until I transform myself into the Fox to exact my revenge, he vowed to himself.

Once inside his office, Glorioso ordered Sergeant Garcia to release her ropes and escort Selena into his private quarters so he could help her clean her bloody wrists.

“Si, Excellency. “

“Thank you sergeant, once again, for your kindnesses. Ohh.” Selena winced as he cleaned her wrists.

“Your pardon , Señora. There, that is the best I can do.”

“Gracias, sergeant,” Selena replied as she leaned forward and lightly touched his face. “Don Diego shall hear of your concern for me.”

But then Glorioso returned to his bedroom unannounced and yelled for Sergeant Garcia to get out. Selena washed her face under the Capitán’s smoldering glare. She turned her back to him, tucked her blouse into her riding skirt and redressed her hair.

“That will do Selena. You are going to have company in about three minutes, he said as he yanked her against him and whispered roughly into her ear. “Behave or I shall kill your beloved here and now!”

She shuddered and turned away from his leering face.

“Ah, sí, I will do so unless you manage to convince your husband that you have not been mistreated. It will be our little secret.” His cologne overpowered her senses and she nearly fainted. He then very gently led her by the hand back to the chair opposite his desk.

Selena’s heart almost stopped when she heard a knock on the door. Oh, Diego! Please, beloved, control your temper. She prayed fervently.

“Entrar!” Glorioso called out as he poured three glasses of Madeira.

Diego walked as calmly as he could to Selena and pulled her to him and tenderly kissed her. “Are you all right, querida? he asked quietly, although he clearly saw the terror etched on her face.

She nodded wordlessly, seeing that Diego did read her fear in her eyes. He squeezed her hands and she trembled. Diego began to check her wrists when she whispered ‘plus tarde’ [later]. He nodded and helped her back to her seat.

Selena knew how furious Diego was by the subtle changes in his body language. Two muscles twitched on the left side of his face and he subconsciously smoothed back his hair. Diego focused his entire being exclusively on the source of his irritation, as his warm hazel eyes became glacial and foreboding as he glared at Glorioso. Diego’s entire frame radiated anger. Poor Glorioso. She almost felt sorry for her jailer.

“Some Madeira, Don Diego?”

Diego wordlessly handed a glass of wine first to Selena and then watched her drink a few sips but no more. “Enough beloved?” he inquired softly.

“Si, mon coeur. I feel a little better.” Diego reached out and gently touched the bruise that had formed on her mouth. He winced inwardly but said nothing. Control, caballero. Glorioso is just salivating at the thought of you losing your temper. Well, Diego, you are just going to have to disappoint him.

"What are your intentions regarding my wife's case?"

Comandante Glorioso smiled thinly. “Of course Don Diego, I have also sent for Judge Vasca.”

Diego abruptly turned to Selena and her sarcastic look confirmed what he already knew. De Estrada is lying, do not believe anything he says, beloved.

“When he arrives in forty-eight hours he will preside at her trial. I have an affidavit sworn by a witness who will testify that your wife conspired with El Zorro to obstruct justice and interfere with the duty of the fiscal authority of the colony of Alta California."

Don Diego merely arched his eyebrow. "In what way did my wife interfere with the government of Alta California?”

“By aiding and abetting a criminal named Zorro to urge the citizenry not to pay taxes to the Spanish Crown.“ the Commandante sneered. De Estrada then produced a document from his desk drawer. With great flourish he began to read the affidavit:

I, Tomas Ballarias, do hereby swear that I saw one Señora Selena de la Vega y de Rojas meet with the outlaw known as El Zorro on the 10th day of October, eighteen hundred and twenty one. At said meeting, said female citizen of the Pueblo de Los Angeles, did plot to interfere with the collection of various imperial taxes by local tax authority, the Viscount de Estrada, Juan Ramon Glorioso. I both heard and saw said female citizen agree with El Zorro that the populace should be given money for food, clothing and shelter and not for the payment of taxes due on the first day [later changed to the third day of November, one thousand eight hundred and twenty one.

Furthermore, I, Tomas Ballarias, do also swear that I did witness on the same date, the 19th day of October, eighteen hundred and twenty-one, Señora Selena de la Vega y de Rojas, discuss with the outlaw known as El Zorro, ways to incite the peons of the Pueblo de Los Angeles to revolt against the local legal authority, namely the Viscount de Estrada, Juan Ramon Glorioso.

Sworn by me and witnessed by me, Tomas Ballarias, tailor, in the Pueblo of Los Angeles, this fourth day of November, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-one.“

Tomas Ballarias?" Diego was dumbfounded. "I cannot believe that Señor Ballarias would even consider that Selena would be capable of committing such crimes. Your methods of persuasion must have been particularly inventive. Of course you will produce Señor Ballarias at the trial?" de la Vega sputtered impatiently.

“Certainly," replied Commandante affably, "Señor Ballarias is most eager to see that justice is done in this case. He volunteered this information, of course." Glorioso returned Diego's hostile look daring him to question his word.

Diego thought briefly and said “Will you accept bail for the Señora de la Vega?” He had to reassure Selena that he was trying every means at his disposal to free her for her own safety.

“No, I do not trust either you or Zorro not to hide her from the Spanish Crown!” Glorioso snarled.

Diego briefly clenched and unclenched his fists. To Hades with waiting to deal with this monster as El Zorro! IF only I could get my hands ... he silently argued with himself.

Selena saw his valiant efforts to corral his emotions so Glorioso would not have a reason to arrest Diego also and prayed even harder for husband to restrain himself.

Finally, Diego rose and said through gritted teeth “Very well. I shall return tomorrow to see my wife.” Diego rose and stood toe to toe with the Visconde, daring de Estrada to deny him access to Selena.

“But of course. May I say Señor de la Vega that you are taking the news regarding your wife’s treason very well? Most husbands would not be as ... understanding as you,” de Estrada said smoothly, deliberately trying to bait him. Diego merely bowed and turned to embrace Selena.

“See you manana, sweetheart.” His hazel eyes met hers and the anguish she saw there over his inability to release her from this madman’s diabolical control nearly rendered her heart in two.

The Visconde pulled them apart and, as he pushed de Estrada away, Diego said evenly, “Do not ever touch me again, ‘your excellency‘! Never again!” The caballero repeated his warning “NEVER!” He kissed Selena’s hands and departed before he would succumb to the urge to throttle Glorioso.

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“The bastard struck her, father! And the ropes tied by that raton chafed her wrists enough to make them bleed. Dios, give me strength! Mi preciosa Selena!” Diego’s ire finally exploded on the ride home. “I wanted to commit murder!”

Don Alejandro allowed Diego to rant because he needed the emotional release. Perhaps now he will tell me now that he is El Zorro. “I wonder what the Fox will do regarding this matter?" his father wondered aloud.

But Diego declined to take the opening offered by Don Alejandro. They rode together in silence until they reached the hacienda. His father tried a different tactic.

“What did Dr. Avila say regarding the cause of Selena’s illness?“ he asked Diego gently.

When Diego turned to face him his eyes were moist. “Father, Selena is with child.”

“That is wonderful, Diego!” Don Alejandro excitedly replied, but then he fully understood his son’s emotional dilemma. “Madre di Dios! And she is in the hands of that monster...”

"Father, if you will excuse me, I am going to retire to my room to consider the next step I should take in this terrible matter. With your permission." Diego bounded upstairs to his room and quickly went to find Bernardo in the secret cave.

"There you are Bernardo. I have to tell you about the latest developments in the Pueblo. Capitán Glorioso has decided to try Selena on charges of treason and conspiracy against the Spanish Crown. He showed me an affidavit signed by Tomas Ballarias as an eyewitness to meetings between El Zorro and Selena when the Fox was distributing money to the peons so they could pay the new taxes.”

His mozo searched Diego’s face for the confirmation regarding Amontildar’s suspicion that the Señora was in a family way. Is there not something else bothering you my master? Bernardo gently inquired.

 

END OF CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

 


 

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