Forge of Shadows
With the servants busy
elsewhere and Diego still abed, Don Alejandro was enjoying a quiet
breakfast before beginning the business of his day. He looked up in
surprise as Ania came into the dining room. She was dressed in a richly
detailed dress and her hair was held in place by ornate combs. Despite
still being in mourning officially for another week or so, she was dressed
as she would for receiving guests.
Instead of saying a
smiling "Buenos dias!" as she usually did, Ania startled him
even further by stopping by his chair, dropping into a deep curtsy, and
bowing her head.
"What is this, Ania?"
he asked in surprise.
Ania began, without raising her eyes, "I do truly regret my actions
and words of last night. Neither was worthy of one who had shown me
nothing but kindness since fate dropped me upon your doorstep. I would
gladly take back both the words and the actions if there was such a way
that I could. As there is none, I do most humbly beg your
For a moment, Don
Alejandro could only sit and wonder at what had just transpired. He had
expected that Ania would apologize after she had rested and thought things
through. However, what he expected was a simple "I am sorry".
The apology that she had just offered was of a type and formality, which
he had never seen outside the royal circles. Don Alejandro had only
observed one like it, many years before when he had served the king and
mingled with the royal family for a time. How had a young woman from
Spain's colony of West Florida come to be trained in so formal a custom?
Realizing that she was still waiting for his response, he rose from his
chair, and taking her hand in his, raised her from her curtsy. "Ania,
my dear, of course you are forgiven. Your offense was not so serious as
you seem to believe."
"Don Alejandro, you
went out of your way to help me. Had it not been for you offering to take
legal responsibility for me...and, yes, I know," she said as he tried
to object to the need. "I know that by law I should not have needed
it to be done, but the fact is that you did it out of the goodness of your
heart. Without your doing that I would have been given no chance to do
what I have done to bring my father's dream into being. The least, the
very least, I should do is give you the respect that my real father would
be due. In speaking to you as I did, I failed to do that."
Directing her to a chair,
he sat next to her. "You were upset, Ania. Do you not realize that I
would have recognized that fact when considering your words?" he said
"That still does not
excuse my disrespect, Don Alejandro," Ania stated.
"Very well, we will
let that stand as fact if you can but answer one thing for me?" Don
Ania frowned nervously.
"And what is that, sir?"
Don Alejandro looked at
her intently. "Can you truly say that you never at any point, shall
we say, disagreed with your real father in such a way?"
It was almost on Ania's
lips to say that "No, I have not" but she wished to be truthful
with him. "Yes, I did," she said as she looked up,
"but...." she was silent as Don Alejandro raised a finger and
cocked his head to stop her.
"And your father, I
can assume, never seemed particularly outraged at your behavior on those
Ania could only shake her
"Then if he could
forgive and overlook such behavior under what I assume was more normal
circumstances, why should I not do the same when the circumstances through
which you had just come had been anything but normal."
Ania finally said simply.
Alejandro smiled at her.
"Come and have breakfast with me then. While we eat we can discuss
what is to be done about this dangerous situation in which you seem to
find yourself. I think you will be surprised at how reasonable I can be.
I, too, would like to see you honor your father's memory by succeeding at
building this dream, as you call it." He then looked at her more
seriously, "However, I want even more to see you live to enjoy your
"Now," he said
as Ania visibly relaxed, "I have just one more question for you and
we can get on with our breakfast. How is it that you are trained in
customs and manners that are rarely seen outside of high circles in
For a second, Ania froze
and she took so long answering that he decided that, for some reason, she
did not wish to answer. Finally she looked down at her hands clasped in
her lap and said, "When I was fourteen, there was open revolt in the
area of West Florida in which we lived. My stepmother declared her wish
for Papá to send her and me to Spain until such time as conditions
improved. He did so. While we were there, she was determined that she
would create a lady out of what the Americanos call a tomboy." Ania's
eyes when she looked at him held an odd bitterness. "She had, let us
say, high aspirations for me. She made sure I was trained for the
Surprised by the intensity
of the emotion he saw in Ania, Don Alejandro asked, "Was that such a
"She made my life in
Spain a misery, Don Alejandro. There was no love lost between us. I do not
speak of her when I do not have to."
Don Alejandro felt that
there was more that she could tell if she would. However, he honored her
wish and changed the subject. They were still discussing how Ania could go
about rebuilding her property when Diego came downstairs later.
Diego smiled at the sight
that greeted him as he entered the dining room. The morning sunlight on
the unaccustomed colors of Ania's clothing and bejeweled combs made her
appear like a rare jewel. For if she had been considered attractive in the
black of mourning, she was now breathtaking. For a brief moment, he wished
that time could be turned back to a time when there had been no Monastario,
nor any of the others like him that had followed, a time when there was no
need for Zorro or for the choices that he had made. But the need was there
and, as long as the need was there, so would Zorro be. Such was the way
things were. He realized that, at least, some of what he was thinking had
shown on his face, as Ania looked down and smiled. His father, he saw, was
watching the both of them with a pleased expression on his face.
"Ania, what a
beautiful way to start the day!" he finally said as he took the chair
across for her.
"Gracias, Diego. I
know I should not be out of mourning yet, but this morning, I felt the
need to dress somewhat differently," she said with a look at Don
reconsidered our discussion of last night, Diego," Don Alejandro
said. "We were just discussing how best to proceed, safely, with the
"As there have been
no further attacks on me physically, I feel that Bastián may, indeed, be
of some use. It seems now that my property should be guarded as well.
However, events yesterday have made me realize something. It appears
that those that I hire may be in as much danger as I from whoever this is,
"Sí, that is more
than likely so," Diego admitted, wondering where she was leading.
"It seems to me that
money is a very poor thing for a man to risk his life. Perhaps
there comes a time when the guard decides that it is not worth it and
therefore holds back in his defense," Ania pointed out.
"Sí, that is likely
also," he said.
"But, that same man,
if he were protecting his own land, would he not be more determined to
defend it?" Ania pointed out.
"Yes, that is
granted. What is your point?" he asked.
"The point is this. I
have five smaller valleys that lead off of Papá's valley. Three of
them are large enough for a homestead and garden plot, perhaps for even
vines of their own. Let us say that I offer some of my workers, who have
shown their dependability and trustworthiness, each one of these valleys.
Perhaps they will have extended families who are willing to lend support
to their kin to see that they get their own land," Ania speculated.
"That might be true,
Ania, but are you sure you wish to offer some of the land. Actually, it is
not yours to offer yet, until the provisions are met," Don Alejandro
"Sí, I suppose you
are correct," Ania said, "but, what better reason for them to
see that I succeed with my plans, than that they should know that unless I
do succeed the land cannot be theirs. Beside, I would feel better if I can
offer them more than money."
"All right, I will
support your decision, if you feel so strongly about it," Don
Alejandro said, after a moment's consideration.
smiled. "Then I shall ride out later and talk to Tomás and the two
others about it. All three of them have large families, with several boys
old enough to help their fathers," she continued.
"There is one other
thing," she began after a moment. She kept her eyes down as if
nervous to bring the new topic up. "I have used a great deal of the
money we brought with us from Florida. In the long run, that will be no
problem. I have already posted a letter to a cousin of mine in St.
Augustine and have asked him send more of what my father left in trust. I
had planned to have the bulk of the trust transferred to me here anyway. I
see no reason for me to spread my assets on both sides of the continent.
However, if I am to do as I wish with the land, then some things will have
to wait so that others can be done. It will, after all, take several
months for my cousin to respond."
"To which things do
you refer, Ania," Don Alejandro queried.
"The stables must be
rebuilt immediately, as will the quarters for the vaqueros, but I feel
that building the main hacienda should wait," she replied. "You
see I have decided to also offer to build adequate casas on the land for
each of the families." She paused, watching Don Alejandro's reaction.
"Casas? That is very
generous, Ania, but do you think it necessary?" Surprise showed in
not, but I feel that it is something that I should do," she said.
"You feel strongly
about this?" Don Alejandro asked. At her nod, he continued,
"Very well, then."
"Ania, you realize
that if you need more money, you have only to ask. Father or I would
gladly loan you whatever you need," Diego offered.
"Gracias, no, Diego,
I could not accept that. I must do this on my own, and I can, if I just do
not try to do everything at once," Ania said proudly. "All that
I would ask is that I be allowed to continue imposing on your hospitality
for a while longer. Although if the imposition is too great I can
rent quarters in the pueblo."
"Ania, you know that
will not be necessary," Don Alejandro objected. "Rather than an
imposition, it has been an honor to have you here."
Ania looked relieved,
"I thank you both." Alejandro saw her cast an almost secretive
glance at Diego. To his irritation, his son said nothing further, although
his expression showed his pleasure at the idea of Ania's remaining with
them for an additional period of time. Alejandro frowned slightly. Would
these two never stop playing games?
Gradually the conversation
turned to other subjects.
Alejandro said a few minutes later, "you have still met very few of
our neighbors, have you not?"
"Sí, except for
those few I have met at mass, and the others to whom Diego introduced to
me at the auction," Ania replied.
"As you are coming
out of mourning in less than a fortnight, it has occurred to Diego and me
that perhaps a fiesta in your honor is in order. You could meet others of
our area and celebrate the end of the period of mourning at the same
time," he continued.
"I seem to remember
someone who loved music and dancing," Diego teased.
Ania's eyes took on a
dreamy sparkle. "You can not imagine how good that sounds!" She
returned Diego's smile.
the two young people smiled across the table at each other, Don Alejandro
also smiled. Perhaps he merely needed to be patient as these two found
their own way.
Later that morning, once
again dressed in black, Ania stood in front of the ruins of her stables,
talking with Tomás, Demetrío, and Níco. Diego lounged nearby as he
watched Ania discussing her plans with the easy authority and presence of
one long accustomed to dealing with servants. She allowed none of the
unease he knew she felt after the last 24 hours show in her manner as she
made her offer to the three men. When they expressed their astonishment at
it, she openly admitted the danger into which she suspected she was
putting them. "If any of you wish to refuse this and quit now, I will
understand. But for those of you willing to remain on the land as I
rebuild and especially to safeguard the grapes now ripening on the vines
behind the hacienda, I promise to also build a casa on land that will
officially be yours as soon as the provisions of my grant are met. I need
to know now what your decision is. If you will not guard my property then
I must find others who will."
There was a silence as the
men thought it over. Those with older sons knew that their decision
affected not only their own safety, but that of their sons as well.
During the silence, Diego
looked around to spot the bodyguard, Bastián. For appearance sake, he had
required that he come with them as well. The rough vaquero stood some
yards away, scanning the nearby hills. Diego felt better that Ania had
seemed to accept the necessity of Bastián's presence. After all, Zorro
could not be everywhere. He brought his attention back to the group close
"I will accept your
offer, señorita," Tomás announced. He had lost his own land some
months before, being unable to pay the taxes on it. The desire to possess
land again shone in his eyes.
Níco and Demetrío nodded
their agreement. "Your offer is very generous, patrona," Níco
"Sí, and perhaps the
danger will not be as great as you think," Demetrío said
thoughtfully. "After all, Patrona, el gato escaldado huye del agua
frio. And like that scalded cat, we will be on our guard this time. We
will not be so easily overcome and can work together to protect each other
if the need arises."
Ania favored them with a
bright smile. "That is exactly what I hoped you would say. I knew I
had chosen well. Now, Tomás, I want to ask you to continue seeing to the
vines and, see that presses and barrels are obtained for the harvest, por
favor. You may hire as many workers as you find that you need to get the
work done. You will oversee them. Níco, I wish you to be head vaquero,
with the same authority as to workers with the herds that Tomás has over
the vineyard and winery workers. And, Demetrío, I have noticed how much
enjoyment you had from constructing the buildings before. Well, as they
seem to need to be rebuilt now, you will have that pleasure again, at
least with the stables and quarters." Ania smiled a bit grimly here.
"And the hacienda,
patrona? When will that be started?" Demetrío asked.
"That will wait until
your casas are completed," Ania stated firmly. "I am fine where
I am for now."
The three men looked at
her in surprise. Ania held up her hand to forestall further comments.
"Now I suggest that we all get started, if there are no further
questions about your duties. Oh, and be sure to tell the workers
under you that their wages will be one and one-half times what it was as
long as I feel the danger lasts. "
it will not be so bad, having others help oversee this place, after
all," Ania said quietly as the three workers scattered to resume