Forge of Shadows



Keliana Baker




Chapter Twelve

As Ania and Diego entered the sala, they met a very relieved Don Alejandro. Having returned from a visit to a neighbor's hacienda to find the rancho in an uproar, he had been at the point of riding out to check on them himself when they returned. Both were very much in need of a bath, being soot covered from head to toe. Don Alejandro quickly dispatched servants to prepare baths for each of them as he listened closely to Diego's description of the destruction they had found.

Don Alejandro shook his head sadly as he heard of the young vaquero's death. "I know his family well," he said. "He was the youngest of five children. This will be very hard on his mother." He looked thoughtful. "We must see if there is anything we can do for the family, Diego." His son nodded. Don Alejandro realized that Ania had yet to say a word.

Noting the expression in her usually sparking eyes, the older man knew what she must be feeling. Taking her hands, he looked at her solemnly, "Ania, my child, you must remember that you are not responsible for what happened to that young man tonight. There was nothing you could have done. If it makes you feel better, remember that he was very proud and happy when you hired him. He was full of plans the last time I saw him, plans that he could not even have dreamed of making happen without that job. These things happen sometimes. Someone larger than all of us controls these things."

Ania sadly nodded as she turned toward the door that led out to the stairway. "Sí, Don Alejandro, I will try to remember that." At the door, she turned and spoke again. "Please have one of the servants call me early in the morning, por favor, I must see to the cleaning up and rebuilding immediately."

Alejandro looked at the fatigue and worry in the young woman's face and shook his head. "Ania, I do not feel that is advisable. At the very least, you should get rest tomorrow. Even better, perhaps, would be for you to turn it over to an overseer to develop the land now. Things are becoming much too dangerous. Your father would hardly place the land above your safety."

Somehow, all Ania's tired mind registered was the phrase "turn it over to an overseer". Did he expect her to just give it over to someone else to bring the dream to life? She was the only person now alive who really knew what this land had meant to Papá. The very idea that she should let someone else do this was totally unacceptable. "Turn it over to someone else?" she echoed.

"Sí, at least for a while. There is definitely more danger that I ever thought there would be. I would not have you risking your life," Don Alejandro reasoned.

Both men were astonished as Ania suddenly whirled toward Don Alejandro, anger blazing in her eyes. "I will turn this over to no one!" she vowed. "This is the last thing I can do for my father. No one can do it as I would and I swear to you now, Don Alejandro de la Vega, neither you, nor anyone else will keep me from doing what I must!" With that, she dashed from the room and to the stairs.

Diego caught up with her just as she started up the stairs. Taking her arm, he forced her to turn back to him, "Ania, be reasonable. I understand how you feel, but Father...."

Ania angrily jerked her arm free. "You understand nothing!  Until you are the only hope of bringing one of your father's dreams to life, you cannot understand." She then turned and ran up the stairs.

Diego would have followed her again had not his father's voice stopped him. "Let her go, Diego," Don Alejandro said as he stared thoughtfully after Ania. Surprisingly, there was more of understanding in his dark eyes than anger. "Let her have time to herself."

"But, Father, she totally misinterpreted what you said and, at any rate, should not have spoken to you as she did," Diego said as he turned back to his father.

"Maybe not," Don Alejandro said quietly. "But then, perhaps I could have been more conscious of my words and of how they could have been taken, even if it was not as they were meant." He shook his head. "She is upset, Diego, and she is tired. Those two things together could make her...well...not all together rational. When she has rested and has had time to sort things out in her mind, she will probably see things differently. I have no doubt that by the morning, she will realize that I spoke only out of concern for her."

Diego looked back up the stairs, his worry for Ania clear in his face and voice, "I hope you are right, Father."

"I am sure that I am, Diego. Just give her time," Don Alejandro said with a nod as he placed his hand on his tall son's shoulder. Then he shrugged. "Well, you had best get to that bath yourself. You are hardly to be recognized under the soot. And, after that, you can get some much-needed rest. You have gotten little enough of that lately."

"I think not, Father. Oh, I will surely take that bath," he said as his father looked questioningly at him, "but, as for the rest...well, I think it is time Zorro sees if he can find any sign of whoever did this. Surely they will have left some kind of clue behind this time."

Don Alejandro looked at his son thoughtfully for a moment. Finally, he nodded. "Let us hope so, Son. Let us hope so."

Upstairs, Ania came though the door of her room like a storm off the sea. "Your bath is ready and I have laid out your gown." Rosita began pleasantly.

"Leave me," Ania ordered.

Rosita blinked. "But, Señorita Ania, I can help you with your hair and I need to...."

"I said leave me!" Ania repeated more forcefully.

"Sí, señorita!" the startled maid said, as she quickly slipped out of the door.

As Ania scrubbed the soot from her skin and hair, the warm water gradually eased the stress of this awful day. As she calmed down, Ania began thinking over the things that had been said. Finally, she moaned and covered her face with her hands. "Whatever possessed me to speak to Don Alejandro as I did?"

After all that he had done for her, he must think her totally ungrateful. Slowly, she let her head slide under the warm water. She wished her rudeness could disappear so easily. As she came back up and pushed her hair out of her eyes, she knew what she needed to do. In the morning, she would apologize to him and, not just say she was sorry, but use the full formal apology she had been taught under her stepmother's rough schooling. After that, she would try to discuss the situation with him. She still would not just turn the rancho over to someone else, but perhaps they could work a compromise agreeable to both. That is, if he didn't toss her ungrateful body out the door.  However, even as she thought it, she knew that Don Alejandro was more understanding than that, not that she didn't deserve it. Ania shook her head in disgust at herself. She covered her face with a wet hand for a minute and moaned again as she remembered how she had treated the faithful Rosita as well. That was one other apology she owed those around her. Tired though she was, it was a long time before Ania got to sleep that night.


As Ania came to her conclusion about apologizing to Don Alejandro, a dark clad figure walked silently around the ruins of her hacienda, his eyes searching the ground near where the two vaqueros had been found tied. Zorro hoped, more than expected, to find something that would give him a lead to what exactly was going on here. The pattern of attacks on Ania was now too clear to be mere coincidence. Someone wanted Ania to leave this area, or at the very least, wanted her off the land. That much was clear. Why or just who was definitely not so clear. For whatever the reason, three people were now dead, four if you counted the bandido who had been shot before he could tell them anything he might have known.

Zorro had already searched the ground around the buildings, but any clues that might have been found there had, no doubt, been trampled under foot by the numerous men who had responded from the Rancho de la Vega to help control the fires.

Just as he was about to conclude that there was nothing to find, his boot nudged something partially pressed into the sandy soil. He reached down and looked at the white object in his hand. There was not too much to see. It was merely a lump of white rock about the size of his thumb. He looked back down. There were no other rocks like it anywhere in the area. He noticed that pressed down inside the hole he had pulled the rock from were two leaves still green and only slightly creased by the pressure. That meant that it could not have been there long. Surely no longer than a few hours, at any rate. He nearly tossed the rock aside as worthless, but as he turned the rock about in his hand, he saw that the other side had a small area that sparkled with crystals in the moonlight. It reminded him of the geode Ania had described as being the cause of Capitán Rodríguez's attack on Josephat. She had shrugged the comandante's behavior off as merely an example of selfish behavior. Perhaps he had used it as a paperweight and reacted so violently simply because Josophat had dared take something from his desk. Zorro felt that he knew Rodríguez better than that. The man loved nothing that did not have monetary value, though of what value the white geode could be, Zorro did not know. He could not see many details in the shadowy moonlight. He would have to examine the small rock more closely later.

He turned and walked back to where Tornado waited. As he walked past where young Teo's body had lain, his eye caught the shine of something else in the dust. He bent down and picked up a small coin. It was no Spanish coin that he recognized. He turned it over in his hand as he thought. On one edge of it was a small hole. He looked at it thoughtfully. The objects could mean nothing. Either one, or both, of the objects could have been dropped by those who had come to fight the fires. However, his instincts told him that they were in some way related to what was happening. His instincts had kept him alive for more than two years now. He had learned not to ignore them, even in regards to something as lacking in apparent value as this white chunk of rock and unidentified coin. Standing, he tossed the coin up and caught it in his gloved fist. Quickly, he turned and mounting Tornado, turned the horse's head toward home and, he hoped, the much-needed rest his father had spoken of.



Chapter Thirteen
Chapter One
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