The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

 

BEGINNING OF THE END

 

 

Selena awoke, surprised to find her arms free. She tried to raise her head and immediately felt dizzy. When she touched her forehead, Selena realized someone had bandaged it. Mon Dieu! I would give anything for one of Amontildar’s pain remedies now. Señora de la Vega yawned and even that small action worsened the pain, which seemed to be centered near her left eye socket. What in the name of the Holy Mother happened last night? I cannot recall ...wait. I foolishly tried to confront Glorioso as he was about to strangle Teresa Soto ... I stepped in between them ... cannot remember anything else.

She attempted to swing her legs over the side of the commandante’s bed and fell back on the coverlet. Equilibrium shaky ... better .. remain where I am. Diego, querido, have reached the limit of my endurance ... do not think ...that can fight Glorioso any longer... Selena began mumbling the Hail Mary, and in her usual fashion, alternately recited it in French and Spanish:

Dios te salve María, llena eres de gracia, el Señor es contigo, bendita tú eres entre todas las mujeres, y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesús. Santa María, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. Amén.

Je vous salue Marie, pleine de gracês, le Seigneur est avec vous, vous êtes bénie entre toutes les femmes, et Jésus le fruit de vos entrailles est béni. Sainte Marie, Mère du Dieu, priez pour nous pauvres pécheurs, maintenant, et à l’heure de notre mort. Ainsi-soit-il.

Selena fell insensible again and was thus oblivious to an extremely agitated Capitán Glorioso who burst into his bedroom following his latest altercation with El Zorro, intending to vent his frustrations upon the nearest female, Señora de la Vega. He rushed to his bed eager to sample her charms yet again. BY ALL THAT IS HOLY! She is still unconscious! The capitán fumed. Rather than caress her face as he usually did when they were alone, Juan Glorioso sat down next to her on the bed and watched the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Dios, she is so exquisite, so beautiful. Too much of women for that miserable excuse of a real man Diego de la Vega. It will not be that difficult for me to persuade Selena that she married someone who could not ......well.. when we are finally together .. you will realize that no woman on this earth could possibly resist my charms.

Mentally he tossed around the words Selena had uttered yesterday. “... my baby, my child...” she had muttered after Dr. Avila had given her a sedative. Glorioso would use this fact to force Selena to leave Los Angeles with him. He looked down again at her sleeping form. I guess I had better obey Dr. Avila’s instructions regarding her recovery. You will give me strong sons for you are exactly the type of woman I want gracing my bed, and an integral part of my new life away from this misbegotten excuse for a Pueblo. And, if it is the last thing I do in this life, I will kill Teresa Soto for daring to come between Selena and myself.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Diego awoke the following morning feeling much better than he had in the past week. When Bernardo came to help his young friend shave he immediately noticed how rested his master seemed.

"You know, Bernardo, I think that we are prepared for anything that Glorioso may do today. My father and Don Alfredo have stationed their vaqueros around the Cuartel effectively isolating the capitán from any outside help that may be forthcoming. Don Esperon is guarding all entrances to Los Angeles with his men and he will be the first one to greet His Excellency, the Gobernador, when he arrives hopefully... later today."

Bernardo touched his master's arm and smiled. Remember that you are the Fox and no one is more cunning than El Zorro.

"Gracias, Bernardo,” the tall caballero replied.

Don Diego quickly put on the black costume and ran downstairs toward his faithful steed, Tornado. The stallion impatiently pawed the earth with his right front hoof anxious, to begin their day’s work. Zorro affectionately patted Tornado's neck and fed his four-legged companion some carrots before beginning what he knew would be an extremely long and difficult day. The Masked Avenger would have preferred to travel under the comforting camouflage of night, but in order to terminate Capitán Glorioso’s reign of terror as rapidly as possible, he must confront his evil adversary in the brilliant California sunshine, and, with the vividly painful image of a brutalized

Selena still remaining Glorioso’s prisoner the earlier the better...

By this afternoon, Selena, we both shall be free of that monster named Juan Glorioso, Visconde de Estrada. Mi corazon, I am coming. I AM COMING! Zorro mentally willed his declaration of love to his wife as he urged Tornado on towards the Pueblo de Los Angeles.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

CHURCH OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT

8:30 a.m.

In the rear of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Teresa Soto and her La Casa ladies were sharing their stories of how they turned the tables on their male customers as El Zorro rode into the Pueblo. Don Alejandro chuckled as he listened to Señora Soto’s spirited version of how the prostitutes of La Casa administered the sleeping drug to the guests late last night and when every customer finally awoke, he would find himself bound and gagged.

By Mary Magdalena! I certainly would have paid good money to see such a sight,” the elder de la Vega said.

El Zorro grinned in agreement. “Well, Señores, I see that all the dons have the Pueblo quite secure--”

Tomas Ballarias led a crowd of shopkeepers and peons whose shouting interrupted the Fox.

“El Zorro! We demand to be permitted to attack the Cuartel! We have been patient long enough! We have the right to ...” Ballarias began to argue.

Don Alejandro held up his right hand. “Senores, I also am anxious to eliminate this canaille. But surely we can wait for the Fox’s instructions!”

Zorro wheeled Tornado between the dons and the crowd. “Agreed, Señor Ballarias. Does everyone remember what to do?”

“Sí, Señor Fox! Of course we do! Down with Glorioso!” Alcalde Baltazar declared firmly. “The entire cabildo [town council] is with you, El Zorro!”

“Bueno. Shall we proceed to the garrison like gentlemen?” Zorro asked quietly. He raised himself in the saddle and was heartened by the view. He saw a veritable horde of men, from the haughtiest aristocratic dons, middle class town merchants, and the poorest of mestizos and Indians, united for a common cause, to retrieve their town from a tyrant. Perhaps at last the people of the Pueblo de Los Angeles realize that I alone can not solve all of their problems. Citizens of a community must take responsibility for their own welfare...

The Black Knight rode Tornado at the head of the “Citizens Group,” as Zorro now referred to the gathering townspeople, and again gestured for silence. He wheeled Tornado to within thirty feet of the Cuartel’s gate and shouted at the guards stationed in the two kiosks constructed into the brick wall. Teresa Soto pushed her way to the front of the citizenry. When Zorro crushed Glorioso she wanted to be in the front lines to witness the downfall of her daughter‘s murderer.

He paused briefly to see if everyone had gathered behind him, because he knew the bloodthirsty Visconde de Estrada would not hesitate to shoot all of the townspeople if necessary. When the Visconde decided to commence hostilities, the Fox wanted his enemy to focus his fire on him and not on the populace. Zorro yelled out his message in a loud, firm voice:

“HOLA, CAPITAN GLORIOSO! SURRENDER YOURSELF NOW! THE GOOD CITIZENS OF LOS ANGELES HAVE THE CUARTEL COMPLETELY SURROUNDED! I, EL ZORRO, PROMISE YOU A FAIR TRIAL BY JUDGE VASCA, IF, I REPEAT IF, YOU RELEASE SEÑORA DE LA VEGA, UNHARMED AND RELINQUISH COMMAND OF YOUR POST BY 10:00 O‘CLOCK A. M. TODAY! IT IS NOW 9:30 O’CLOCK A.M. GIVE ME YOUR ANSWER IN HALF AN HOUR. BUT I WARN YOU, CAPITAN, IF YOU CHOOSE TO FIGHT, YOU SHALL BE DEFEATED!”

Glorioso listened to El Zorro demands with mounting anger. I cannot and shall not acquiesce to the demands of a mob of led by an outlaw. These people still have not learned their proper place in society. I am, after all, the Viscount de Estrada! Then he calmed himself down and decided to issue new orders to the soldiers in the Cuartel. He rushed back to his office to see if Señora de la Vega had recovered sufficiently from her accident yesterday. Much to his chagrin, she was still unconscious although breathing normally.

Diego de la Vega, I have taken your wife to be mine, and there was nothing you could do about it. I wonder how you will react when I tell everyone in the Plaza how much I enjoyed her. Glorioso bent down just to kiss Selena gently on her mouth. Señora de la Vega, when we have escaped from this hellhole, you will not regret becoming Señora Glorioso. I have much wealth stored in San Pedro, and I promise you that we will be able to recover that money and return to Spain in triumph.

Capitán Glorioso combed his silver streaked hair and applied extra wax to his mustache. He donned his red ostrich plumed bicorn with the golden star emblem of the de Estrada family emblazoned on the right side and checked his appearance in his mirror one last time. Then stepped outside into the sunshine.

"Corporal Peldar, please move the whipping post into position directly in front of the Cuartel's gate. After you have done so, take Lancer Gomez and fetch Señora de la Vega. Bring her to the whipping post at once. I want the stake repositioned again so that when I order the cuartel's gate opened, everyone in the plaza will have a clear view of her. Once both the Fox and the peons see that she is completely under my control, the "good citizens" of Los Angeles will not allow the Señora to be harmed.” And, he added to himself, Selena de la Vega and I will then be able to personally shake the dust from this pitiful pueblo, ultimately arriving in Spain!   “Carry out your orders, Corporal!” Glorioso barked.

Ten minutes later after Corporal Peldar fastened Selena securely to the whipping post, Glorioso yelled for the cuartel's gates to be opened. When the gates finally swung apart, the Commandante stepped just outside and calmly surveyed the antagonistic crowd in the Plaza. He moved slightly to his right and smiled grimly as the crowd finally saw who was standing behind him.

“Señora de la Vega! What has Glorioso done to her? Tomás Ballarias shouted.

“Madre de Dios! She is muerte!” Teresa Soto exclaimed, crossing herself and mumbling “Dios, mi!” several times.

“Attack the cuartel!” shouted Señor Ballarias. “Avenge Señora de la Vega!”

“Alto!” Sergeant Garcia pleaded with the mob. “the Señora lives, but the Visconde shall execute the Señora if you do not stay back! Listen to me, please?” The visibly distraught sergeant glanced at El Zorro.

The Fox was completely shocked at Selena’s appearance. Large bruises were visible on both sides her face even from this distance. She dangled listlessly from the post but Zorro thanked God that he could see she was still breathing. Blessed Jesu!

The mob moved forward slowly and when the citizens refused to heed Sergeant Garcia’s advice, Zorro abruptly wheeled Tornado into the crowd. The Fox yelled for order as Don Alejandro, Don Alfredo and their men came forward to help him restrain the people. Then Zorro and Don Alejandro leaped from their horses and approached the Commandante. The elder de la Vega’s face was bright red and although the black silk mask hid most of the Fox’s reaction, Glorioso knew that his adversary was extremely agitated.

Don Alejandro leaned next to El Zorro and whispered "Control your temper, Señor Fox, we will rescue the Señora and Glorioso will be brought to justice."

The Visconde de Estrada chuckled maniacally at the obvious pain and concern etched on the masked avenger’s features." You see, I have you, the aristocrats, the shopkeepers, and the filthy peons checkmated." He turned slightly and then spoke to the lancers inside the Cuartel. "New orders, my soldiers! I want you to aim your escopetas directly at Señora de la Vega and shoot to kill if anyone other than a soldier or myself approaches her."

El Zorro stepped closer to the commandante. "You wouldn't do such a terrible thing, Glorioso. You are, after all, a Grandee."

"Normally, Señor Fox, I would agree with you. However, I find my present situation to be intolerable. I shall leave Los Angeles at my own discretion and with the Señora de la Vega or I will kill her. Do I make myself perfectly clear Señor?" Glorioso coldly added.

Zorro read the fierce determination and the chaotic madness that raged in the Commandante's eyes. "I know that you are a man of your word, Visconde de Estrada,” the Fox replied. There must be another solution to this problem. Think, man, think! Appeal to his vanity, his manhood. What does Glorioso desire above all else, even more than his despicable lust for Selena? The Fox smiled to himself. Of course. Just hope that I can coordinate my ruse with Gobernador Sola’s arrival later today.

Glorioso continued in a sarcastic tone, “I also want Don Diego present when you give me your answer to my most reasonable requests.”

The Dark Angel shook his head. “I am afraid that Señor de la Vega is escorting Judge Vasca back from Santa Barbara we speak. And I am certain that he will abide by any decision I make regarding the Señora’s welfare!”

Tense muscles rippled along the Capitán’s jaw line. “Very well. You, Señor Fox, have ten minutes to make your decision, or, by St. Teresa of Avila, I shall execute Selena de la Vega myself!” The Visconde viciously replied. “Well, accursed outlaw, what is your answer?”

Zorro reluctantly realized he had seriously underestimated the Visconde, but he could not allow either fear or indecision to show on his face. He just needed a little more time, and Zorro knew he had very little of that precious commodity left. The trapped animal known as Juan Glorioso de Estrada had unexpectedly grown a new set of teeth and was biting back, hard.

 

END OF CHAPTER 41

 

 

 

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