Forge of Shadows
|Diego and his father step in to help a beautiful young woman when someone threatens her family. The first of the Forge trilogy stories.|
Cristina Valdéz leaned on the rail of the ship, Buena Vista,
listening to the almost musical creaking of the ropes and timbers that had
been her home since her family had left their lands in Spanish West
Florida to move to Alta California. At times, the five months the
journey had taken seemed endless. She laughed and turned her face into the
cool breeze as she felt the excitement of watching the beautiful land slip
by off the starboard bow grow almost uncontrollably in her heart. Always
ready for change and excitement, Ania dreamily wondered about the future.
Such a magnificent land must surely hold untold adventures, even for a
previous night, she and her twin brother, Juan, had stood on the deck
watching the stars come out over the land that would soon be their new
home. They had reminisced about making wishes on the first stars as they
were growing up on their somewhat isolated plantation in West Florida.
what would you wish for now, little sister?" Juan teased after they
had laughed over some of the childish wishes they remembered from the
past. He chuckled as Ania rolled her eyes at the word 'little.' There
being only five minutes between their births, the word hardly applied, but
Juan knew he could get a reaction from Ania by using it.
you not a bit old for wishes?" Ania tossed back.
shrugged. "Just curious, I guess," he said with a grin.
refused to let Juan's teasing cloud her good mood. "All right then.
Let us see..." Ania looked back up at the stars. "First, I would
wish for lots of excitement here, for lots of things to do with lots of
people around. I have surely had enough of this ship. I am ready for a
little adventure, or a lot, as the case may be."
laughed, "And here I thought you were the one who said sailing away
to a new land would be fun...I think you said."
made a face. "It was not bad at first. Just being on the ship
and seeing the ports where we stopped was exciting, but later…well, it
did get a bit boring.” She looked at her brother with a
mischievous glint in her eyes. “At least, I did not spend the
first month hiding below green as grass!" she teased.
not remind me," Juan moaned, with a mock shudder. “Come now. Do you
not wish for something else?"
looked silently at the twinkling stars overhead for a moment.
"Oh, not much,” she finally said, with a sigh, “ just to be able
to make more of my own decisions. I am hardily tired of being told what is
and is not proper!"
have rarely let that stop you from doing what you wanted before,"
Juan laughed. "Papá spoils you and you know it!"
Ania allowed. "But, surely, you would wish for something, too. Since
you were determined that I make a wish as we used to, it is only fair that
you make one, too."
do not know that I need to, Aniasita. It will not take much to keep me
content." Juan laughed around the cigar he was lighting.
"I figure there will be plenty of men ready for a card game and there
should be plenty of pretty señoritas. However, it would not hurt if they
were rich, not with the hints Papá has been making lately as to my
finding someone to settle down with."
there you are, Aniasita. You are enjoying the sight of our new land, are
you not?" Ania was startled from her reverie as her father came to
stand beside her at the rail.
Papá. It is beautiful." Shading her eyes from the bright
mid-afternoon sun, Ania turned to smile up at Miguel Valdéz. "Is all
of the land like that over there?"
no. Not far inland, just beyond those mountains, dry desert lands begin.
They are beautiful in their own way, but strange and very different from
what you are used to, my dear."
thought of the humid, often swampy land surrounding their plantation.
"Hmph! If that makes the weather less sticky and the roads more
easily traveled, then deserts cannot be all bad. As long as there are open
grasslands for horses and for riding, I am sure I shall be more than
Miguel laughed easily. His daughter's love of riding, astride yet, was
well known, as was her skill. It had often earned her more than a little
criticism from others in their far-flung and sparsely populated community.
It was hardly a ladylike skill, but he refused her nothing when it gave
her such joy. "You need not fear there, little tomboy. We will have
as much land and as many horses as you could want."
do not know about that, Papasito. That could take quite a lot!" Ania
smiled up at him, green eyes shining with merriment.
remember the horses and stock will wait until we have the vineyard
established," he reminded her. Then he looked toward the sunlit
shore, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "Just wait until you see
our valley, Ania. Not even that land over there can hold a candle to it.
So fertile! And with an unusual abundance of water that keeps things lush
and green when other areas have faded to yellow. It will produce the best
grapes in all California, perhaps the best in all Norteamérica. I can
hardly wait for you and Juan to see it."
Papá, I look forward to seeing this little piece of heaven you have
found. It is all you have talked about since you came here almost two
years ago." Ania fondly shook her head at her father's enthusiasm.
Miguel had learned of grapes and winemaking as a child, trailing after a
much-loved grandfather. Now that he had withdrawn from government service,
he could think of no more pleasant way to wile away time than growing
different varieties of grapes and blending their juices to develop fine
wines. He admitted that horses and cattle would bring in more money.
However, money was not the objective right now and he saw no reason not to
see his dream come to life before he turned to the more mundane life of an
hacendado. Once the vineyard and winery were established, he could treat
it as a favorite hobby, even while he ran the rancho.
of Juan, Papá, where is he? I have not seen him in the past three
hours," Ania gazed back toward a small group of people who had now
come on deck. The Buena Vista was not a large ship. It
should be somewhat difficult to lose oneself on a ship this size.
her rogue of a brother as she did, she would just bet that one of two
things had detained him. The first was a card game. He took to games of
chance almost the same way her father did experimenting with his wines. It
was a good thing he had a fair amount of luck and skill, or no amount of
money would last him long. Fortunately, he won more often than he lost and
was good-natured about it, whichever way it turned out. On the other hand,
the second, and more likely, distraction could be a pretty señorita. He
was not half as lucky in this area, nor was he half as sensible. He had
fought more than one duel over affairs of the heart. Fate had again smiled
on him here. Her father had seen to it that all his sons handled blades
with a skill sufficient to preserve their own skins under such
I should have known!" she said at last as Juan appeared around the
end of the deck escorting a delicate looking blond girl. They were deep in
conversation, the señorita seemingly hanging on his every word. Ania saw
Juan say something, and then bend quickly, placing a kiss on the señorita's
hand. Her father laughed aloud as Ania rolled her eyes and shook her head.
Miguel watched his son as he left the now blushing woman's side and came
toward them. He was proud of Juan--of both his children, really. Juan had
grown into a fine young man--tall, dark-haired, with the emerald green
eyes he and Ania had inherited from their mother. If only his two older
sons had lived to come with him, he would have been quite content. Still,
God had been good to him. Any man would be proud of these two.
the tiny port of San Pedro, with its only recently constructed pier, came
into view. From this point, they would travel inland a short way to the
Pueblo of Los Angeles. Some distance outside of there, they would make
their new home. Don Miguel and Juan each tucked a large purse of
gold into his jacket. After making sure the rest of their
considerable fortune was carefully hidden among the luggage, they went
ashore. Their first stop in the pueblo was the office of the local
comandante to register her father's land grant.
Rodríguez was a sharp-eyed man in his early thirties. He seemed a cold
man, one who, curiously enough, did not seem overly pleased to welcome new
left the men talking in the comandante's office and stepped out to view
the pueblo that was to be her new home. There did not seem to be a great
deal to be seen as she glanced around at several adobe buildings, mostly
one story and a few two-story buildings. There was a broad, dusty
plaza with the reassuring sight of the pueblo’s church across the way.
A goodly number of small shops and vendors’ stands stood here and there.
Most of the small shops were already closing for the night. Ania sighed.
She would have enjoyed walking among the stands and looking at the wares
available here. It had been a long time since she had enjoyed such an
excursion. Ania’s eyes wandered over the nearby buildings for anything
else which might let her know just what kind of a place this was. Finally,
she spotted something which seemed to indicate that there was at least a
little excitement in this area. On the wall beside her was a wanted
poster. Ania peered curiously at the outlaw's picture. The drawing showed
a man dressed in black with a hat and half mask.
2000 Pesos for the Capture of the Bandit Who Calls Himself Zorro",
the poster proclaimed. Ania gave a low whistle. That was a great deal of
money for anyone. She wondered what he had done to be worth so much.
sergeant," Ania said as a large man in the uniform of a sergeant of
the King's Lancers walked by and smiled. She looked up at the broad man
and returned his smile.
señorita? How may I help you? " Sergeant García asked with a slight
bow of his rotund body.
just what has this man done? Two thousand pesos is a lot for one man. Is
he a murderer?" Ania looked back at the drawing, wishing it was more
fat soldier scratched his jowls as he answered, "Well, not exactly,
señorita, although men have died fighting him. A rebel and troublemaker
is more accurate. If something happens that he does not think is just or
if he thinks the people are being mistreated, he is sure to stick his nose
into the matter. Many citizens have come to look on him as some sort
of savior. Unfortunately, his views do not often agree with our
comandante’s views. Zorro has proved more than once to
be a thorn in Capitán Rodríguez’s side."
gazed at the picture thoughtfully. "That must make your job hard,
sergeant. I mean, as you carry out your orders, you must frequently come
into conflict with this rebel, as you call him."
señorita. I have fought him many times." García puffed up his
chest, as if to brag of his fighting ability. Then he slowly let his
shoulders drop and shook his head. "Well, if truth be told, señorita,
Zorro is not all bad. Why, he has saved even my life upon occasion. The
people sometimes call him the "Dark Ángel of Los Angeles." Ania
and García both gazed at the poster in silence for a moment. "Still,
2000 pesos is a lot of money...."
see that it is a good thing there is so much money offered for his
capture. Otherwise, even more incompetent fools such as you would be
protecting that devil!" a voice boomed from behind them. "Can
you not find something better to do with your time, Sergeant García, than
stand and sing the praises of a wanted scoundrel? Baboso! No wonder you
have not caught him in all this time!"
gasping, spun around so quickly that he almost fell over, right into his
outraged commanding officer.
off me, you clumsy oaf!" Rodríguez sputtered.
comandante! Sí, comandante! Right away." García saluted and hurried
suddenly realized that she was staring open-mouthed at the raging officer.
She shut her mouth as he met her astonished eyes. Painting a gracious
smile on his face, Rodríguez made a show of calming himself. "I
assure you, Señorita Valdéz, that soon we will bring this renegade to
justice. He cannot laugh at the government and the law forever."
said nothing as she met her father's gaze from behind Rodríguez. Don
Miguel rolled his eyes as he patted his pocket behind the comandante's
back. Ania understood. Her father had seen other officials such as this.
Greedy, power-hungry men with little concern for the people under their
care. Just the type of government official they had hoped to leave behind
when they had left Florida. No wonder her father had become fed up and
resigned. Men like this seemed to be everywhere in Spain's colonial
Miguel cleared his throat. "Comandante, would you mind directing us
to an inn, por favor? We will need accommodations until our hacienda is
built. We will be unable to go out to our land until early tomorrow
of course, Don Miguel.” Capitán Rodríguez pointed across the
plaza. "The cantina across the way rents rooms. I am sorry we have
nothing more worthy. However, it should meet your needs."
Comandante Rodríguez. I am sure it will be most satisfactory," her
father said. "We will be taking our leave now. Hasta luego, capitán."
nodded his farewell to the men and bowed over Ania's hand. Ania found
herself relieved that he did not actually allow his lips to touch her
skin. She felt a growing dislike for the man. Were she to judge by her
intuition, this man was not to be trusted. It was a relief to be walking
away from him across the plaza.
Miguel paid for three adjoining rooms on the balcony overlooking the
cantina and arranged for their supper to be served in their rooms. As Ania
ate, she listened longingly to the music coming from below. She loved
music and dancing and longed to meet new people in a merry mood. It had
been a long journey and even longer since the fiesta given in their honor
before they left for California.
quietly opened the door to her room and walked to the railing of the
balcony. She could see the whole room from this vantage point. She leaned
against the post and watched the musicians for a few moments. The lively
music made her want to dance. Ania began to tap her toes as she looked out
over the people seated below. A longing built within her to join
them. “Ah, if Papá would only allow it, “ she though wistfully.
allowed her gaze to wander over the now crowded room. Suddenly, her eyes
met those of a dark haired young man seated at a side table. By the look
of his fancy clothing, he was a man of some importance, perhaps the son of
a wealthy merchant or landowner. Long legs stretched out underneath his
table, he inclined his head and smiled at her. Ania smiled, then blushed
and looked away. Her father would have said that she was being much too
forward. Still, it would be nice to meet someone new...and he was quite
good looking. Ania raised her head again and smiled at the handsome young
to make some romantic conquests for yourself, Aniasita?" Startled,
Ania looked back to see her brother's teasing countenance. He cocked an
eyebrow at her as he leaned his tall frame against the rail beside her,
casually crossing his long arms across his chest.
Ania stammered, somewhat flustered at having Juan find her so obviously
flirting. "I am just listening to the music."
yes, I see. Simply listening to the music?” He cocked an eyebrow
incredulously as he glanced over his shoulder at the table where the young
man sat. “Planning on joining the festivities?" he asked
innocently. Mischief sparkled in his dark green eyes as he looked back at
Papá would probably not like..." Ania began reluctantly, carefully
bringing her eyes back to the musicians.
is not out here right now, is he?" he mentioned. His eyes dared her
to do what he knew she wanted to.
rarely had Ania ever refused a dare from one of her brothers. She thought
of the lively music and of the handsome caballero. "Well then, of
course," she said with a proud lift of her chin. She and Juan turned
to go down the stairs.
moment, Ania Cristina Valdéz! Where do you think you are going?" Don
Miguel asked from the doorway of his room as he came out.
Papá, I am just going to sit and listen to the music...and...ah...perhaps
meet some of our new neighbors," Ania said innocently as she turned
in a cantina, you are not. It is hardly the place for a lady to spend her
evening," Don Miguel said emphatically.
met his eyes with a defiant glare. "I see no difference in Juan going
down and my doing so. At least, I will not be gambling my money
gave her an amused look. "I hardly expect to be losing, Ania."
spared him an irritated glance before she turned back to her father.
"If it is against society's "rules" for a "lady"
to do so simple a thing as enjoy music in a public room, then they can
apply their rules to themselves and leave me out of it."
were born a lady and you will act like one, at least for now." Don
Miguel frowned at her and sighed. "I am sure you will be shocking
these good people with your bullheaded ways soon enough."
held his daughter's defiant eyes with a level, steady gaze of his own.
"Now, come, Ania." For a moment, father and daughter locked
eyes, each as stubborn as the other. Finally, Ania sighed and dropped her
gaze. "Come, Ania," he repeated as he extended his hand.
Ania placed her hand on her father's and allowed herself to be led back
into the room. She cast a wishful look back into the room below and then
looked resentfully at Juan as he continued on down the stairs.
he said with a sympathetic smile. "It is not I who has spoiled your
evening for you. Frankly, this sleepy pueblo probably needs something else
to talk about and you have never been afraid to do that." He shook
his head and laughed softly as he watched the door close behind them.