Forge of Shadows

by

Keliana Baker

 

 

 

 

 Chapter Four

 

Time passed slowly for Ania Cristina. By the end of the second week, her ribs had healed enough for Dr. Mendoza to allow her to move about her room. By the middle of the third week, the room felt like a prison. She had too little to do and far too much time to think. She began to study Miguel's plans and graphs for the vineyard and winery. It was then that she knew what she had to do. There was no reason to allow her father's dream to die with him. There would be a vineyard in that valley! She would see to that. She was not sure yet how she would pay the grant tax that must come from something produced by the land. Most varieties of grapes took nearly three years to bear a significant amount of fruit. Her father had been very mysterious about how he would pay, but there had to be a way. Perhaps she could go right into cattle production. "Ah, I will not worry about that now," Ania told herself sternly. "First, I will get Papá's vineyard started, then decide what else is to be done." Whatever it would take, that is what she would do. The first thing she had to do, she realized, was to get her strength back and that would take work. Rosita was adamant that she not be up so much, that she must rest, that she be careful.... "Ay, caramba!" Ania thought in exasperation. "The woman will suffocate me with kindness!" Ania found that it was easier in the long run to do as she pleased either late at night after Rosita had retired or early in the morning before she came in to check on Ania. As Ania's strength began to return, she began to venture out of her room when she was sure no one was about.

One morning, Diego was surprised to hear voices arguing in the courtyard. Unobserved, he walked to the doorway to see what the disturbance was about.

"Señorita, you must come back to your room now. Dr. Mendoza said you should not move around so much yet. Dr. Mendoza says..." Rosita insisted, almost in a panic.

"He says, he says, he says," Ania repeated sarcastically. "He may be the doctor, but I am trained as a curandera and I say that I am able to be about. I would be as helpless as an old woman if I do as little as he says. My niñera, Luisa, always said that an injured person heals more quickly if they are allowed to move around as soon as they feel able to do so. And that is what I am going to do."

"But, señorita, I am charged with looking after you.  Don Alejandro would be most displeased with me if you were allowed to reinjure yourself." Rosita threw up her hands in agitation.

"Nonsense! I am not apt to be reinjured or any such thing.  How could I be by just sitting here to read or doing a bit of gentle walking?" Ania insisted. "Besides," she continued in a calm, determined voice, “if anyone wants me back in my room now, well...they would just have to carry me back. I will not go of my own free will.  Es la verdad!"

"That could be arranged," Diego said quietly from the doorway, startling both women.

Ania whirled toward the voice, wincing as she did so, her ribs still tender enough to complain strongly of any sudden turn of her upper body. Rosita sprang at once to Ania's side and urged her to sit in a nearby chair. For that moment, Ania had very little choice. Just the chore of drawing breath was struggle enough. Standing was a bit more than she could manage until the pain subsided. Her father’s journal slid unnoticed to lay beside her chair.

Ania saw a look of concern fill the face of the familiar looking young man. "Señorita, are you all right?" he asked as he walked quickly to her side. "Perhaps it would be best to lie down."

"No," Ania said, unable at first to get another word out. Inwardly, she railed at herself for giving in to the pain. "I am fine," she insisted, forcing herself to respond with more than one word. Although social conventions had prevented his meeting and visiting with her while she was confined to her bedchamber, she realized that this must be Don Alejandro’s son, Diego.  She did not wish to cause further worry to either de la Vega. Determinedly, she straightened up as if nothing had happened. “I was merely startled. I assure you that I am not the least bit tired and the discomfort was only momentary.”

However, he could see that she was still not breathing deeply and she was quite pale. He was also sure that if the dainty hands were not clinched so tightly against her body in order to still them, they would be trembling with reaction to that “discomfort”. Surely it would be safer for her to lie down. "I will get someone to help you to your room, señorita," he said as he turned to do just that.

"No, please!" Ania begged, suddenly throwing aside all pretenses. She reached up and clutched his arm with her good hand. "Do not make me go back, señor! If I have to spend one more day locked in that room, I will go loca!"

As Diego looked down into her pleading eyes, somehow he was reminded of himself in the days following his mother's death, and how strange and empty this hacienda had felt. To have been confined to one room with nothing to distract her mind from the loss of two who were just as dear to her must have been worse than any other pain that she was having to endure. He looked at her with compassion for a minute, then said quietly, "All right, if you wish it so strongly, señorita. Perhaps it will be all right for you to sit here for a short while."

"But, patron, your father holds me responsible for her," Rosita began.

"It is all right, Rosita. I will take responsibility for her if she promises to be good," he said, turning to Ania with a teasing smile.

Ania breathed a sigh of relief. "Sí, Señor de la Vega, I promise." She suddenly realized how ungrateful her comments must have sounded. She hurried to add, "I mean it is a very nice room, a beautiful room. I am really very grateful to you and your father. You have been very kind!"

Diego gave a soft chuckle and smiled at her. "Do not worry.  I know what you mean. I am just glad you are feeling well enough to be up and about. At last I have finally gotten to meet you and, please, call me Diego."

Ania bowed her head slightly, "And I am Ania." She gave him a grateful smile.

Diego sat down near her and they began to talk of this and that. As they talked, he noticed how Ania cradled her left arm with her right. He finally said, "If you were trained as a healer, did you not know to put that arm in a sling?"

"Sí, Don Diego, I would have but when I decided to go out today, I did not have a scarf with which to make a sling, and I was not going to wait and ask Rosita. She has been very kind to me, but she would have barred the door before she would have let me out," she stated.

"Let me guess. You have learned that by experience. This was not your first time out of your room, was it?  Merely the first time you have gotten caught," Diego ventured.

Ania cut her eyes up at him with such a look of mischief that he had to laugh. He could not help but notice the mischievous sparkle that lit up her eyes like emeralds in the early morning light. He signed for Bernardo, who had just appeared, to bring a scarf to them. Ania watched closely. “My mozo, Bernardo, is deaf and mute,” Diego explained to her unspoken question. “If there is anything you need and Rosita is not nearby, I am sure he will do his best to help you.”

“That is good to know, Don Diego, but I might have trouble making myself understood to him, even if I knew how to sign to him,” she said thoughtfully.

“Perhaps, but then Bernardo is very intuitive in figuring out what is needed of him. Just remember, feel free to ask for help from him or any of the other servants anytime you feel the need,” he stressed. He was pleased to see the señorita smile at the mute as he returned.

“How do I tell him ‘Thank you’, Don Diego?” she inquired when Bernardo held out a black silk scarf.

“Just smile and nod,” Diego instructed her.

As she took the scarf from him, Ania noted the intelligence in the brown eyes of the servant and the lines of good humor on his face. The expression in his eyes also seemed to show a true concern for her needs and desires, and not just the expected servitude. Although she could not have said why, she immediately felt that there was good in this man. She smiled warmly and nodded her thanks. Bernardo beamed back with such warmth that Ania laughed. For a second, it felt strange to her. It seemed like it had been ages since she had reason to smile, much less laugh. It did her spirit good in spite of the mild twinges the laughter caused in her ribs. “Ah, Don Diego, I have the feeling that, regardless of his handicap, you must have a good man here.”

Diego smiled at her reaction. He was amused to see that she was so perceptive, almost impulsive, in her sizing up of other people. “Yes, I was very fortunate to meet him while I was in Europe. He does make himself useful from time to time,” he said dryly.

Ania looked down at the scarf and missed the hard glance the mozo tossed his patrón’s way. Diego repressed a smile at Bernardo’s expression. Useful was a definite understatement and he knew that better than anyone. Quickly he got up and helped her tie the scarf and adjust it to support her injured arm. As he did so, Ania’s expression changed and she looked at him curiously.

"Is anything the matter, Señorita Ania?" he finally asked.

"No, I am sorry if I seem to be staring, Don Diego, but I have the strangest feeling that we have met before.  I am not quite sure when or where.” Ania looked down for a second and then glanced back up at his face uncertainly.

"Ah, in the cantina, señorita," he suggested, hiding his unease. "I was at a table as you stood on the balcony. I believe our eyes met just before you went back to your room."

Ania looked down again, thinking. "Yes, I think I remember that now. Perhaps that is what I am remembering. Yet I feel like I have seen you somewhere else, but I guess I could not have, could I?" she finally said.

"No, I do not think so, señorita," Diego responded calmly. "You were not conscious when you were brought here, and we have not met to speak before today."

Ania finally shrugged and smiled at him. "I am sure you are right. At any rate, I am glad we have finally met."

"As am I," Diego said, returning her smile. It was then that he noticed the journal laying beside her feet. "What is this?" he inquired as he picked it up and handed it to Ania.

"My father's journal," she answered as she gently rubbed her right hand over the book's cover, almost as if caressing a person’s arm. "This has drawings and plans for Papá's vineyard in it." Her green eyes glistened for a second with emotion, which she immediately brought back under control.

"Oh, yes, the vineyard. Your brother mentioned that. I am sorry that your father was unable to realize his dream. That valley would have made a fine vineyard." Diego looked at her with sympathy.

A look of determination came into the young woman's countenance as she lifted her chin. "Oh, but there will be a vineyard there, Don Diego. I intend to use these plans to see Papá's dream take shape. I will do it if I have to plant every vine myself."

Diego looked at her in surprise. "It is a very big task setting up either a vineyard or a rancho. Do you know just how much will have to be done?"

"Sí, and I also know what Papá would want done, Don Diego. I will hire people to help me. I can direct the work to see that it goes as it should. Surely, there are some people in this pueblo who could use the work," Ania declared.

"It will be much responsibility for one so young, Ania," he said gently.

"I am not so young, Don Diego. At one and twenty, I am old enough to be able to carry this responsibility and give orders as to what must be done," Ania said firmly.

"Perhaps my father and I can be of assistance to you," Diego offered.

"Thank you, Don Diego, but I would not want to impose further on you and your father," Ania replied. “You have already done so much. It was very kind of you both to take in a stranger and open your home to her as you have me.”

"Far from being an imposition, it would be an honor, Ania Cristina," he said gallantly. “I regret only the circumstances of your stay, not the opportunity to meet and get to know you. Assisting you further will be no burden at all.”

“Then I shall keep your offer in mind,” she said. For so long now, she had felt like something within herself had died along with Papá and Juan. Now she felt her spirit begin to come alive again. She had plans to carry out for those she loved, and she had the first of what she hoped would be many new friends here. Life had to go on, and by the saints, she would make it what she wanted it to be! She would do whatever it took. Nothing would stop her. Of that she was determined. Once again, Ania smiled her gratitude to the young caballero.

 

Chapter Five
Chapter One
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