Forge of Shadows
Two weeks later,
Ania stood before her mirror looking at a woman she had almost forgotten
she could be. She was clothed in a new gown of brocaded satin of a deep
green that intensified the green of her eyes. The jeweled combs once again
controlled her hair of almost raven darkness.
She was glad to
no longer be required to wear the black of mourning, yet something seemed
unfinished to her. She bit her lip as she thought about it. Perhaps it was
that, even in surroundings she had never been in with either her father or
brother, she still felt as if she should meet them around every corner.
She was heartily thankful that she still had so much to do. More work to
do meant less time to think, to brood.
She frowned at
her reflection. Perhaps her discontent had not only to do with her grief
but, also to the uncertainty of what she felt for Diego, or he for her.
Ania sighed moodily. He was still attentive, and frequently when he sought
out her company, she felt that there was more beyond the expressive hazel
eyes and bright smile that never failed to cause her heart to speed up its
beating, more that he could say, but for some reason, did not. Diego was
so confusing. She sometimes felt that if she could look behind the
image he appeared to be, like she could the reflection in this mirror,
that she would see someone wholly different to what one would expect.
Ania had been unwilling to accept that she might be falling in love with
the handsome hacendado, and now that she had admitted it to herself, she
was no happier, for it appeared to her that she might be falling in love
by herself. The thought was not a happy one. Pridefully, she forced a
carefree look into her eyes. No one must see how she felt. If friendship
was what was offered, then that is what she would seem to offer back, no
more. Pity would be worse than rejection, especially when it came from the
one you loved.
She cocked her
head for a moment to listen to the music coming from downstairs. It had,
indeed, been a lifetime ago since she had danced. She was almost a
different person now. Slowly the music worked its magic. Whatever the
other circumstances, tonight she would smile and enjoy herself. Like the
mirror image, she would reflect the gaiety around her. With a final pat to
her hair, Ania picked up her lace fan and walked out the door and to the
top of the stairs.
looking over the crowded patio area. Virtually every family of good blood
was represented here tonight. He had just returned the smile of a young señorita
of his acquaintance and reached to take a glass of wine from a tray held
by Bernardo when he noted that the manservant's eyes glanced past him and
upward, towards the second floor. Quickly, he turned to see what had
attracted Bernardo's attention. For a second, he stood where he was,
unable to look away from the beautiful woman in green at the head of the
stairs. She appeared perfectly at ease with all the attention she was
receiving, as if it were merely her due. He, also, realized that looking
as she looked tonight, she would have soon become the center of attention
at any fiesta, be it in a small pueblo or in the courts of Madrid. He set
the glass back on the tray and walked quickly to the foot of the stairs,
anxious to have this beautiful creature by his side.
as he watched his young patrón look up at Ania as she came down the
stairs. He honestly hoped that something would come of the affection he
saw growing between the two young people. He knew the high price the young
hero was paying for the protection he gave the people of the area, and he
was not entirely sure things could not be different. However, the mozo
also knew to what lengths Diego had gone to keep from involving his father
in the dangerous responsibilities he had taken on when he returned from
Spain. Diego had endured much anguish throughout the months that his
father was convinced his son was a weakling and a coward. The relief he
felt after he had learned that Don Alejandro knew of his alter ego's
existence did not completely erase Diego's concern of what it might cost
his father someday. He knew that Diego felt that danger might extend to
anyone who knew he was Zorro. It was entirely possible that the more Diego
came to care about this señorita, the less likely he was to willingly
involve her in the deception.
Diego reached up
and, as Ania lightly placed her hand on his, drew her down the last few
steps. "How lovely you are tonight, Ania!" he said as he placed
a light kiss on her hand.
gracias, Diego," she responded, excitement reflected in her eyes. The
slight flush to her complexion made her even more beautiful as she looked
around the area. Her hand tightened on his. "I did not know there
were so many people in the whole area of the pueblo of Los Ángeles. You
and your father must have invited everyone between here and Monterey. I
shall never remember all the names!" she whispered with a quiet
and they will be too dazzled to realize you do not know them from
Adam," he whispered back as he tucked her hand in the fold of his arm
and led her to a nearby group of people and began the introductions. A few
minutes later as the musicians began a slightly faster song, he turned and
asked Ania if she would like to dance.
Ania was surprised at the strength she felt in Diego's arms as
she moved into them for the dance. As much as she was coming to care for
him, she could not have described him as very athletic. Rarely had she
seen him do anything more strenuous than horseback riding. The surprising
firmness of his muscles under her fingers brought to mind the other
evening as she had felt the comfort of his arms around her. She wondered
what it might be like to go into his arms as something other than someone
needing comfort; to perhaps find love there. Suddenly, looking into his
eyes, she realized that her own face was showing more than she wished of
her feelings. Looking away, she wondered how much Diego had been able to
read of her emotions.
Diego had indeed
seen Ania’s feelings for him. Oh, how he longed to acknowledge them and
encourage those feelings to grow! His own had grown as well. What am I
doing? he asked himself. For her own good, this can go no further.
Yet as she looked away and veiled the affection that had shone in her
eyes, he knew that right now, what must be did not matter. What mattered
was seeing the joy in her eyes once again and hearing her happy laughter.
As she looked
down, Diego suddenly took a quick step and spun her around a bit faster
than Ania expected. Laughing at the sudden move, she looked back up to see
laughter and warmth in Diego's eyes.
that is better. When you look up and laugh like that, the candle light
makes your eyes glow like precious emeralds," he said with a
seriousness that she was afraid to examine too closely.
Diego, amigo mio?" Ania laughed. "From you I expected the truth,
no flattery meant, only the truth," he said with that surprisingly
serious expression in his hazel eyes.
felt as if there were wings on her feet. She found herself wishing that
time would stand still and the dance go on forever.
herself, she had to admit that sitting one dance out sounded good. As
Diego guided her to a less crowded area, an older couple joined them.
"Ania, may I present Don Hernándo Marcos y Desoto and his wife, Doña
Anita," Diego offered smoothly.
her head and did the slightest of curtsies, as the older gentleman bent
over her hand. "Don Hernándo, Doña Anita, I am honored to meet
you," she responded quickly.
care for something to drink, Ania?" Diego inquired as he looked back
gracias, Diego. That would, indeed, be welcome," she smiled.
permiso," he said with a nod to Don Hernándo. With the grace Ania so
admired, he turned and quickly made his way to where several servants were
ladling cool drinks into crystal cups.
understand that your family was involved with the government and military
matters before coming here," Don Hernándo said, by way of opening
is so, Don Hernándo. My father was a government administrator and one of
my older brothers was a lieutenant in the king's army," Ania
Ania found that
with very little encouragement, Don Hernándo could talk endlessly of the
military and his thoughts and experiences with the same. He was soon
expounding on a theory that one could tell the intelligence of an officer
by merely examining his record of successes.
Ania managed to
seem interested, yet still keep an eye on other people. Unconsciously, her
eyes sought out Diego's tall form across the room.
was startled as a deep voice spoke up from behind her. "Buenas tardes,
Don Hernándo...Doña Anita."
Rodríguez, I was not aware that you were here tonight," Don Hernándo
replied. His voice was polite enough, but something about his expression
indicated that he was less than pleased to see the comandante in
Valdéz," the capitán intoned with somewhat less warmth.
Ania managed to
keep a pleasant look on her face and smiled. "Comandante, I do hope
you are enjoying the fiesta," she said aloud. I hope you are
enjoying it on the way out the door was more what was in her mind. She
could not imagine how he had come to be here. Surely Don Alejandro had not
pressing business with Don Alejandro and I did not feel it could wait
until morning," Rodríguez stated almost as if in answer to her
politely at him. I will just bet you did, and I am sure Don Alejandro
was thrilled to see you slither through the door, she thought. The
mental picture helped her hold the smile on her face. Quickly, she glanced
around for Diego but his back was still to them.
that you have begun rebuilding, Señorita Valdéz." Rodríguez's eyes
glistened as he gave her a hard look. "It must be a very expensive
prospect to have to start over again. I fear that it could even prove to
have very dangerous consequences for you. I would think that a young lady
would have better uses for her time and money." The tone of the capitán’s
voice was one of concern, but as Ania looked into his eyes there was no
such kind emotion there. Rather, there was an intensity, which bespoke
more of a dire threat, rather than advice for her safety.
herself extending her fan and gracefully waving it in front of her. She
knew she had no proof. She doubted that anyone else had seen the look he
gave her. However, she felt certain now that he was the one responsible
for all the trouble she had had. Does he just think I will slink away
to cower in some hidey-hole somewhere? Well, he shall see just how a Valdéz
reacts to such a threat! Only when she knew that her expression and
voice were impassive did she look back up into the man's eyes. “You will
find if you get to know me, Capitán, that I am not easily discouraged.
When I want something, I do not stop until I get it. I will start over as
many times as need be to do so." Her voice was impassive, yet for a
second, she allowed an expression into her eyes that let Rodríguez know
that she knew that he was taunting her and that she would not be pushed.
and Doña Anita looked on, not quite certain what was passing between the
two engaged in this somewhat odd conversation.
Looking at Don
Hernándo, Ania had an idea. "Don Hernándo and I were just engaged
in discussing an interesting idea, Capitán Rodríguez. Don Hernándo has
stated that he has a theory about men who lead our military. Having had a
brother and father who were at one time in the military, I am inclined to
agree with him, but it would be interesting to see what someone active in
the king’s service now would think." She looked at Don Hernándo
Hernándo? What was your theory? If I can shed light on the topic, it
would be my pleasure to do so," the comandante looked at Don Hernándo
somewhat uncomfortable with the previous turn of conversation, Don Hernándo
was only too pleased to reiterate his theory of the gauging of
intelligence of an officer by examining his record of successes. Ania had
to fight to keep a gleeful expression from her face as she heard the
pompous comandante fall right in line with the logic of the theory.
that might not always be the case. I understand that your brother
was killed in one of our battles with France," Rodríguez said after
a few minutes, as he turned back to Ania. Again, there was a contrast
between the look in his eyes and his tone of voice.
Ania only barely
succeeded in keeping her mask of decorum in place. "Sí," she
managed to say in a level tone of voice. "I assure you it was no
fault of my brother’s. I
suppose you could say that his commanding officer was less than
brilliant." Leave it to Rodríguez to try to unsettle her by the
reference to her brother, Eduardo's death. Ania determinedly kept her
expression pleasant, while inside she was visualizing what she would have
done to him had she been a man. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Don
Alejandro exit the sala door. He looked less than happy at the moment. He
started across the room, only to be stopped by an acquaintance after a
continued Don Hernándo, "perhaps you are proof of my theory. I have
heard that you have an excellent record. After all, you seem rather
young to have progressed so far in rank." He hoped that flattery
would hold the capitán’s attention and prevent any more of the awkward
comments to the señorita.
smiled cockily. "Perhaps you are correct. I have had my share of
everlasting satisfaction, the pompous fool began describing some of what
he considered the most noteworthy aspects of his career thus far. One
could easily see that he was enjoying having such an appreciative audience
as the older couple was proving to be. As for the señorita, well, from
the sly looks he gave her from time to time, Ania was sure he thought that
he was giving her an education that would bring her down a notch or two
and show her that he was not a man to be treated as she had the other
a smile. This is going to be easy, oh, so easy! she thought with
delight. "You must be quite intelligent, Comandante," Ania said
with what appeared to be a genuine smile. "I hear that the post at
Monterey was highly commended by the governor while you were in command of
turned a somewhat puzzled smile in Ania's direction. Praise was pleasant
to receive, but from some sources it was highly suspect. However, the
temptation to brag being too great, he turned back to the older man and
began to tell more details of his term in Monterey.
returned in time to hear Ania's comment, turned a puzzled look of his own
toward her. He cocked an eyebrow at her. Now what is she up to? he
She gave him a
smile that said more of the cat in the bird's nest than of contentment. He
handed her a crystal cup and quietly waited to see what her game was.
Ania had truly
very little to do to further her plan. She merely had to say such things
as "Is that so?" and "How amazing?" or "How very
clever!" as she varied her tone to indicate incredulance or boredom
or, very occasionally, something akin to grudging admiration, whatever
emotion it took to lead the capitán to brag just a bit more. "Well,
you see," she finally turned to Don Hernándo and said, "there
is your proof that you can see intelligence as measured by one's success
in their endeavors." She turned an admiring look on the comandante
before sipping from the cup.
bothersome woman is not so difficult to handle after all,
Rodríguez thought with satisfaction, fairly swelling with pride as the
people who had been listening looked at him. Quite a few more had joined
their circle in the past few minutes.
raised her head and looked on him with a look almost of pity. "Why,
Capitán, how unfortunate things have been for you since your arrival in
looked at her in bafflement for a moment. "What do you mean 'since my
arrival in Los Ángeles’, Señorita?"
Ania looked at
him with a look of innocent sympathy. "Why, Capitán, you must feel
so badly that your successes have fallen off so."
eyes showed that suddenly he was aware of how he had left himself open to
her ridicule. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the woman beside him.
accept the premise that the frequency of an officer’s successes with
plans he makes and carries out is a measure of how intelligent he is, we
seem to have a puzzle here, señor. I mean that it seems that a common
outlaw has almost been your downfall, comandante. How could a common
outlaw's wit compare to yours as a trained officer of our king, señor?
You have set...how many now...at least, a dozen or so traps for our
infamous fox, and yet.... Correct me if I am wrong, Capitán Rodríguez...yet,
not once have we seen el Zorro behind the bars of your cuartel." Ania
looked up, green eyes still widened as if in puzzlement.
glared at her as she went on, his eyes filled with a barely controlled
that be, Capitán? Perhaps your wit is not so strong as one would
think, sí?" As Ania looked up this time, she dropped all pretense.
Her eyes sparkled with mischievous laughter. "He seems to be able to
outwit you on any occasion, comandante. It seems that we have a true
measure of intelligence in our very midst, at least of yours. It seems
that one might say that he easily "outfoxes" you at every turn.
If we did not already know your true measure as a gentleman, capitán, all
any of us would have to do is wait and watch. Of course, something like
that is sometimes easy to prove, even for a woman, is it not, mi capitán?"
With a laugh, she thrust her cup at the tight-lipped officer so suddenly
that he automatically grasped it. Ania then turned a bright smile on
Diego. "Oh, Diego, that is one of my favorite songs that I hear. Do
A bemused Diego
immediately offered her his hand to lead her back among the other dancers.
Suddenly, Ania stopped and looked back. "Oh, capitán, I will be
watching closely your game of wit with el Zorro. I do so love games
of wit." With a low laugh and a nod of her head, she allowed herself
to be swept away in Diego's arms, leaving a red faced Rodríguez glaring
after her as he unconsciously held her discarded cup.
when I win," she finished quietly enough for only Diego to hear. As
he threw back his head and laughed, she could not help but laugh with him.
indicated that another break from dancing would be welcome. As they
happened to be close to the open gate, Diego suggested a short walk
outside. Ania smiled her agreement.
They walked for
a short distance to a tree at the corner of the hacienda. "You know,
that might not have been a truly clever thing to do," Diego
commented. "He is already your enemy. Angering him further might
cause you problems."
"I do not think so, this time, Diego. All my life, I have been around
military men. Almost the last thing they want is to come off of a
situation looking like a fool." She leaned back against the tree and
shut her eyes. Then she opened them and looked at him. "The very last
thing they want is for anyone to remember that they looked like the fool.
No, Diego, you need not worry about me now. I am sure our good comandante
will let everything blow over this time. The sooner, the better. If he
were to do anything in retaliation it would only prolong the situation. He
will quietly slink off to whatever rock he hides under and pray for the
world to spin just a little faster so that people will forget sooner.
What, hopefully, he will remember is that a woman's tongue can be as
dangerous as a man's sword. I hope he remembers it and stays away from me.
I do not like him a bit."
"I seem to get that impression." He leaned against the tree
beside her and admired the play of moonlight on her face as she smiled up
Almost at the
same moment, they each grew serious. Ania closed her eyes as gradually
Diego leaned down toward her.
behind them, came the sound of another couple coming through the gate on
their own moonlit stroll. The mood broken, Ania laughed as she quickly
swung around the tree, putting a more discreet distance between them.
back and then ruefully shook his head at the newcomers' timing.
"Perhaps it would be best if we were getting back," he said
reluctantly. There had been thus far no unseemly talk of Ania's staying in
the hacienda with them, and he did not want any to start due to any
carelessness on his part.
somewhat sadly, "I suppose that you are right." Gently, she took
his arm and together they walked back through the gate to the party
Not long after
they returned, Ania looked beyond the young man who had cut in to request
a dance, to where Diego stood. His father came up to him and said
something that caused his face to become serious. Looking in her
direction, he started across the patio area to her...at least, she thought
it was to her. But after a moment, she was not so sure, for half way there
he was stopped by a lovely señorita whose name Ania could not remember.
As she watched, Diego began dancing with the señorita. Ania missed a step
as she tried not to be jealous. After all, there was nothing unusual about
his dancing with someone other than her, even if she was the guest of
honor. Diego was one of the hosts and therefore had duties to his guests.
Ania looked up and apologized for stepping on the young man's
foot, Raúl or some such was his name. Ania found herself oddly forgetful
right now. When she glanced back, neither Diego nor the young lady were in
sight. At first, Ania discounted its importance. However, when half an
hour passed and stills no sign of Diego, Ania was in despair. It was not
that she lacked for dance partners. Truly she had more than she needed
and, decidedly, more than she wanted. Apparently, she had misread the
situation again. At first she was hurt. Then, the hurt turned into anger.
She straightened her shoulders again and decided that two could play at
that game. She turned her brightest smiles on the young hacendados whom
she had met tonight.
back up the secret passage, shedding the black garments as he came. If all
of his missions would go so smoothly, he would get more rest, perhaps it
would even become boring. The worse thing about this mission had been it's
overheard Comandante Rodríguez telling a lancer who had come to find him
to have some men lay in wait for a pueblo hothead by the name of Pedro López.
Rodríguez needed someone to use as an example to the people who were
becoming increasingly vocal about the taxes. López talked a lot and did
little really. However, Rodríguez could also take a bit of his
frustration out on the luckless man. López had supposedly convened a
meeting to decide actions to take against Rodríguez.
where this meeting was. Indeed, a man in his pay had set the meeting up.
All Rodriguez had to do was have López arrested, and--voila! --Instant
example of the trouble criticizing the government got one into. As soon as
Bernardo had heard this, he had come in search of Diego. Unable to find
Diego himself, Bernardo had informed Don Alejandro of the problem.
Together, they had gone in search of him, finally finding him standing
looking out over the crowd.
At first, Diego
thought to say something to Ania, but being unable to get to her, had gone
quickly to intercept López before he could go to the meeting. As Zorro,
he had met the man just a mile from the meeting place. As things turned
out, he was able to send the intended victim back one way and he himself
went another way, so that when the lancers arrived they found no one to
arrest. Indeed, they did not even have any idea how close they had come to
not only López, but Zorro as well.
Scarcely an hour
after she had last seen him, Ania was surprised when her partner was
interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. Looking up, she realized that Diego
had returned from wherever he had taken himself off to. She carefully hid
the joy she felt as she once again danced with him. She reminded herself
sternly not to read more into his attentiveness than was truly there, as
she had before. As she chatted with apparent gaiety of this or that person
she had met that night, he realized that her smiles no longer reached her
something wrong?" he asked in concern.
"No, should there be? Though, perhaps I have developed a slight
headache." Ania looked away without meeting his eyes.
realized that her wall of distrust was once again very much in place.