Forge of Shadows
Diego looked up
with a bright smile as Ania swept in the sala door. Ania carefully
controlled the joy she felt at seeing him. As her stepmother had
been so fond of saying, 'A lady does not reveal her heart until a
gentleman has committed his'. "Ah, Diego!" she said aloud. “I
am glad you have returned. This casa was positively empty when I returned
"I can just
imagine," Diego teased with a laugh. "Having only a dozen or so
servants around does make one feel rather alone." He smiled.
"Oh, you know what I mean, Diego." She walked across the room
and began making small talk about the day.
Diego was not
really following what she was saying. His mind was on an earlier
conversation he had had with his father down in the cave he used as Zorro.
They had been
discussing recent events as he and Bernardo had been cleaning the swords
upon which he depended so much. As the discussion progressed, his father
had fallen silent. Diego knew his father's moods well enough to know that
he merely had to wait until Don Alejandro brought up whatever was
know how I feel about what you do, about who you are. Heaven only knows
what our people here would do without Zorro to stand up for them.” His
father’s face showed pride, mingled with other more solemn emotions.
“However, I can not help but be concerned for you, my son."
Alejandro looked at his son steadily.
Diego glanced up
from the sword he was cleaning. "Father, you know that I minimize the
chances I take as much as possible. As for the other risks...well, I
cannot eliminate them all." He knew that even as his father supported
him in this dangerous game, there was no way for Don Alejandro not
to worry about him as well. They both knew the dangers, and what the
penalty would be, should he ever fail.
his head. "I doubt that you will truly understand until you are a
father yourself, but it is not the physical dangers that you willingly
take on of which I speak. I am concerned now, son, that you are
sacrificing some things that should not be sacrificed. There is too much
of Zorro and not enough of the life that Diego de la Vega should
exactly do you mean, Father?" Diego asked, even though he thought he
knew where his father was headed with the discussion.
think that you must forgo love and a family so that the people will have a
defender? Can not the defender have a life as well?" Alejandro asked
quietly. Diego merely looked at him. “You can not deny that you and Ania
have become more to each other than you wish to admit."
"I do not
know how Ania feels," Diego said, leaving his own emotions unstated.
some reason you are both taking great pains to hide what you feel from
each other. However, that does not mean that someone who knows you both so
well cannot see it. If you would but pursue the issue, I have no doubt
that you would find her delighted by the prospect of a life with
you," his father said.
slightly. "This was not your feeling about a similar occurrence a
year or so ago," he replied.
was different and you know it. With Anna María, you were considering no
longer being Zorro. I would still be against that. Zorro is
literally the people of California's Hope, their lifeline in all the chaos
going on now. They need you too much for you to turn your back on them for
any reason." Alejandro paused for a moment. "Also, although I
never saw Anna María with Zorro, I did see her with you as Diego. I never
saw more than friendship in her eyes then. I have seen Ania with both. The
other morning, when you, as Zorro, brought her back, there was respect and
admiration in her eyes for Zorro, but also so many times in her unguarded
moments, when she thinks neither of us notice, I have seen much
more in her eyes when she looks at you as Diego. My son, there would be
great strength and courage in a woman who could accept you as both the men
Diego tossed the
sword which he held to the table top with a clatter. "How could I
involve her in all this, Father?" He placed both hands on the
tabletop and leaning forward, looked at his father intently.
have you heard what has happened near San Francisco just a short time
ago?" He could tell by his father's expression that he had not heard
of the incident. "A man named Poncho Rivera organized a group to put
up resistance to the things taking place there. They captured him not long
ago and he was hung, but not only him, Father. His wife had also supported
and helped him in what he did. Father, they hung her as
expression was one of shocked outrage at the revelation. "They dared
hang a woman?! Was she high born?"
"No, but just the idea that they would do that to a woman carries
things to a whole different level, Father!"
lady of good blood would be in no such danger!!" Alejandro declared.
"How do we
know what Rodríguez would do to anyone, male or female, if he found that
they were involved with Zorro. He hates Zorro just as much as Monastario
ever did. The danger I put you and Bernardo in, I must live with. Bernardo
and I both made our decisions with our eyes wide open. You I would have
spared the danger if I could, but that is no longer an option. Sí,
Father, I will admit that I am finding myself feeling things for Ania that
I never expected to feel for another woman since I left Monterey. That
does not change the facts of the life that has become a part of me. How
could I care for her and willingly put her in that kind of danger?"
his son's eyes for a long moment. "Son, I respect who you have
become, both of them. I will not direct you in this matter as would be my
right as your father. The decision will ultimately be yours, but consider
this, perhaps it should also be hers. It would be good to see you happy
and to see this house with children in it again at some point before I
The two men had
looked at each other for a minute. Then, without another word, Diego had
reached down and resumed cleaning the sword.
Diego!" Ania reached out and touched his shoulder. "Have you
heard a word I have been saying?" Ania's eyes spoke more of amusement
than of irritation as she looked down at him.
sorry, Aniasita. My mind was elsewhere," he admitted. He reached out
and, taking her fingers lightly in his, gently kissed her hand.
Ania gasped in
surprise and, for just an instant, there was a look in her eyes that he
tried to translate. Before he could, she turned away, blushing deeply.
There was a slight stammer to her words as she tried to continue her
thought. "I...I was trying to...to tell you about the message I
received today." She stood facing the fireplace for a moment. Then
she reached up and picked the message up from where she had laid it. When
she turned back to him, her face and eyes were controlled and showed only
as much emotion as she wished.
sighed. Perhaps they both still had a bit to learn of trust, regardless of
what their other feelings were. He brought his attention back to the
present as she handed him the tax notice. "What is this?" he
gasped as he noted the amount of tax.
"That is a
new tax that I must pay on my land. An inheritance tax, I believe
Rodríguez calls it," Ania stated with more venom than she wished.
outrageous! You would pay only slightly more than this if your rancho was
already producing as much as ours. You are not going to pay this, are
you?" Diego declared.
"I do not
see that I have a choice. I already tried to go pay it just now, but....
well, I got somewhat sidetracked." Ania frowned as she remembered
Rodríguez's treatment of Josophat.
alone? Ania, you should have waited for Father or me to go with you."
Diego scolded in concern.
to have you take his insults for me?" Ania raised her head proudly.
"I am quite capable of handling his insults myself, thank you."
Diego looked at
her sharply. "He insulted you? What did he say?"
down. She did not really want to drag Diego into the disagreement with the
capitán. "Nothing that important, Diego, besides I have already
arranged for my vengeance."
wondering what rash thing she had gotten herself into this time.
"Vengeance? What are you talking about, Ania?"
chuckling and looked down for a moment. Her eyes, when she looked up at
him again, sparkled with lively mischief. "I have arranged a surprise
for our good comandante. The only bad thing is that I will not be there to
again showed concern for her as he asked, "What have you done now,
Ania told him of finding the thorns and of placing them under the
comandante's saddle. "Diego, looking back, I guess it was
somewhat childish of me," Ania said with a smile, "but would you
not like to be hiding somewhere, watching when he gets on that horse
again. With any luck, that horse will throw him right on his pompous
was infectious and Diego, in spite of his misgivings, soon found
himself laughing with her at the mental picture of the pompous
comandante's coming struggle with his usually willing and calm-tempered
horse. After a moment, however, he became serious once more. "The
humorous images that calls up aside, Ania, it might not have been the
safest thing for you to do. Rodríguez is bound to figure out who placed
the thorns there, since you had just had words with him. If the man
did not like you before, then he will truly hate you now. You will have
made a dangerous enemy."
"What can he do, Diego? He cannot challenge me. That seems the only
good thing about being a woman in this situation. Perhaps I can not
challenge him, but neither can he challenge me."
challenge me or father if he truly wished to, Ania. When father accepted
responsibility for you, he would have to accept that responsibility as
well," Diego said solemnly.
"Oh, Diego, I never thought of that." Her eyes were wide in
alarm. "What can I do? I never realized that could happen."
Diego thought a
minute and then dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "I hope I am
correct in saying that Rodríguez will not have any real desire to tangle
with my father. Although he might think that he could beat Father in a
duel, he would think twice before challenging someone with as much respect
and influence in the community as my father has." He smiled
reassuringly. He reached and took her hand. This time she did not draw it
It was at this
moment that Don Alejandro opened the door to the sala. Ania's hands were
suddenly lying primly in her lap once again and she and Diego looked up at
him curiously as he walked in. "Buenas tardes, Ania...Diego,” he
greeted them. His expression indicated that he was somewhere between
amusement and irritation at something.
something happened? You seem disturbed about something,” Diego asked.
not sure if disturbed is the proper term, Diego. I was just thinking of
the contrast between how things used to be and how things are done now.
Actually, it was rather humorous, but it would never have happened when I
was a young man. You two missed the excitement. You would never believe
what happened in the pueblo. The comandante's horse went loco in the
plaza. He knocked down three merchants' stands and dumped the comandante
in a pigsty before they could get him stopped. It is a shame, the kind of
half-trained stock they are giving the King's lancers these days," he
said with a shake of his head.
The two young
people looked at him for a moment and then began laughing uproariously.
Each time they attempted to stop the laughter, they would look at each
other and it would start again. Ania laughed until she had tears in her
Don Alejandro watched them in puzzlement. He did not totally
understand their mirth, but as he looked at his son, he realized that it
was good to hear Diego laugh as he had done when he was younger, very