Forge of Shadows

by

Keliana Baker

 

 

 

 

Chapter Ten


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 earlier."

"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.

Ania laughed. "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 bothering him.

"Diego, you 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.

Alejandro shook 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 have."

"What exactly do you mean, Father?" Diego asked, even though he thought he knew where his father was headed with the discussion.

"Do you 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.

"Oh, for 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.

Diego smiled slightly. "This was not your feeling about a similar occurrence a year or so ago," he replied.

"Son, that 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 you are."

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.

"Father, 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 well!"

Alejandro's expression was one of shocked outrage at the revelation. "They dared hang a woman?! Was she high born?"

Diego replied, "No, but just the idea that they would do that to a woman carries things to a whole different level, Father!"

"Surely, a 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?"

Alejandro met 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 die."

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.... 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.

"I am 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.

Inwardly, Diego 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.

"That's 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.

"You went alone? Ania, you should have waited for Father or me to go with you." Diego scolded in concern.

"Why? Just 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?"

Ania looked 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."

Diego frowned, wondering what rash thing she had gotten herself into this time. "Vengeance? What are you talking about, Ania?"

Ania began 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 see it."

Diego's eyes again showed concern for her as he asked, "What have you done now, Ania?"

Still laughing, 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 rear!"

Ania's laughter 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."

Ania shrugged. "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."

"He could 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.

Ania paled. "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 back.

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.

“Father, has something happened? You seem disturbed about something,” Diego asked.

“Well, I’m 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 eyes.

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 good, indeed.

 

 

Chapter Eleven
Chapter One
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