Forge of Shadows

by

 

Keliana Baker

 

 

 

 


Epilogue



The peaceful pace of Ania's life over the next several weeks felt almost unnatural after the tension and uncertainty of the last year. There were no further attacks on either herself or her property and she was able to anticipate the success of the first vintage with little worry.

A fortnight after the grant was secured, Ania rode into Los Ángeles and, at long last, was able to commission an appropriate marker for her father's and brother's graves. While she was in the pueblo, she also went to Señor Mendez's shop and commissioned that special silver medallions be cast and engraved for the first dozen bottles of the wine to be decanted from the vineyard.

Impressed by the artistry of his work, Ania's eye was particularly caught by a golden pin that he had designed. The pin, roughly circular in shape, depicted a hunting hound leaping over a full, leafy bush. As the hound appeared to leap from left to right, there under the bush was the golden figure of a fox, its body roughly completing the circular shape of the pin from right to left. It was obvious from the detailed expressions on the animals depicted that the hound had no idea that the clever fox was hidden under the very bush over which he was leaping. The detail, which Ania most loved, however, was the expression shown upon the face of the little golden fox. For there was no doubt that as the oblivious hound leaped over him, the little fox was laughing at his own cleverness. Ania laughed as she thought how well the pin resembled the situation she had observed in Los Ángeles with Rodríguez as the befuddled hound and Zorro as the clever trickster. She smiled as she imagined Diego's amused reaction. He should enjoy seeing his dashing alter ego so honored. With no further delay, she paid Señor Mendez and went home.

The day the bronze plaque to be placed on the graves was completed; Ania had Diego and Don Alejandro come with her to the gate of the hacienda. As she lead them to the back of a wagon pulled up next to the gate, Ania said somewhat nervously, "There is something I would have you see. I have not been totally forthcoming with you about my family's past."

Ania ignored the puzzled looks she was receiving as she walked to the wagon and uncovered the bronze plaque. There, engraved with the names of her father and brother, was the coat of arms used only by those entitled to claim kinship with the royal houses of Spain.

"What does this mean?" Don Alejandro asked as he looked from her to the plaque.

Diego looked thoughtful, as if something was beginning to make sense.

"My father was not merely a government official, Don Alejandro. He was, by ties of blood, distantly kin to the king, but more closely related to some of the other houses," she began.

 "The Marqués de Casa Calvo," Diego exclaimed.

Ania blinked. "Yes, but how could you know?" she asked.

"I have seen the name on an old copy of the original grant to the property you now own," he explained. "I came across it as I was researching property lines. The Marqués was the holder of the original grant."

It was Ania's turn to look surprised. "Well, then you found out something that I had not known. As I said, Papá never mentioned anything of a previous owner."

"But I do not understand, Ania. Why did you hide something like this?" Don Alejandro asked.

"It was my father's wish that we distance ourselves from the crown and the government. You see, Papá was, in some ways, the black sheep of his family. He often saw things differently than was popular in court circles and was bold enough to speak his mind when he felt the situation called for it."

Ania reached out and lightly rubbed her hand over the plaque in almost a caress. "Papá served as adjutant to the governor of West Florida. Not long after Papá returned from his first visit to California, one of the big storms that sometimes blow in off the gulf, a huracán, struck our area. Not only were the homes of both rich and poor damaged by the winds and tides, but the crops, whether food or cash crops, were devastated. "Within weeks of this storm, my father received word that a new tax had been ordered for the people of the area. My father pleaded that the tax be lowered. High born and peon alike were struggling just to have adequate shelter and food. How could taxes such as this one be paid?"

Ania looked up with indignation in her eyes. "My father's pleas were ignored. When my father spoke out against this type of injustice, not only was he threatened with the loss of his position, but with the loss of his lands and inheritance as well. Indeed, I am not sure what would have occurred had not the Marqués of Casa Calvo, who was my father's cousin, pleaded his case as well. As it was, Papá was reprimanded by the crown but allowed to return to his duties in Florida. While pleased that we would not have to suffer for his outspokenness, he was still deeply dissatisfied with the way the powers that be viewed the people. Finally, he decided that we should sell everything we had in West Florida and move here. He wanted us to come here, not as people with connections to pave the way for them, but as ordinary landowners. He wanted our accomplishments to be merely noted as by Valdézs', dropping any honorifics or titles to which he was entitled. After Papá died, I was determined to do just as he had wished and I did. Even the vineyard will bear only the Valdéz name. However, as I was ordering this plaque, I decided that he should be given the honor that this crest commands, even if he was sometimes not so honored in life."

"The provisional nature of your grant," Diego inquired. "Was that perhaps as a sign of disfavor?"

Ania shrugged. "I truly do not know, Diego.  Maybe.  It would seem like the kind of petty behavior my father endured because he spoke out," Ania replied uncertainly. "But, then, my father may have actually preferred it that way. He loved challenges."

Then turning to Don Alejandro, she said in a subdued tone, "It seems I must once again ask your pardon, Don Alejandro. I should have told you sooner."

Don Alejandro shook his head, "Pardon is freely given. A child should do as the father wishes if it is in their power to do so."

The plaque with the royal crest was mounted that afternoon.

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Ania sat at the supper table, for once totally happy and at ease. On a tray near her chair, sat a bottle of her winery's first vintage. Seventeen of the first bottles decanted lay in storage beneath the hacienda, someday to be moved to the new hacienda she would soon have built. Only the first twelve bottles had the small shining medallions made from the silver from her own land. Everyone's spirits were high tonight as they helped her celebrate the completion of a dream.

"I wish to thank you, Ania, for honoring us with the first bottle of your wine. I must say, it is of excellent quality," Don Alejandro smiled.

"Ania was telling me that the other seventeen bottles have been stored safely away, Father," Diego commented. "Where are the other two bottles of the twenty you kept?" he asked as he looked across the table at Ania.

Ania's expression became solemn for a minute. "I took the second bottle with me to Papá's grave today." She looked down. "I know maybe it is silly, but I poured it on his grave. Somehow it made me feel that I had finally reached the end of a long road and completed my vow to him. It was a symbol that his vineyard is standing and producing as he so wanted. Now I am free to do as I may want in the future. To make my own decisions."

Then her face brightened and she laughed, "The third bottle I sent to Comandante Rodríguez."

"What?" Don Alejandro cried, shocked. "Why on earth would you do that? Even if he has not done as you suspect, there is surely no love lost between you."

Diego began to smile. He thought that he was beginning to understand how this woman's mind worked.

Ania smiled more broadly. "Can you think of a better way to rub his nose in my success, señores?" she exclaimed. Raising her fingers, she counted off her reasons. "Uno, the very existence of the wine declares his failure to stop me. Dos, he cannot fail to notice the silver medallion about the bottle neck, made from silver again taken from the land that he coveted, and, tres, the fact that I did, indeed, send him one of the first bottles also tells him one other thing about me. He will know that I feel sure that it was, indeed, him behind all the trouble I had. I do not have all the proof I need to have him punished, but I do know and I will not forget. He will realize that the bottle would only have come to him from me to wish him ill will, not good. All the other messages will then be clear."

When Bernardo had poured the wine for them, Diego proposed a toast to her success and happiness in California.

As they were putting their glasses down, Ania raised her own again. "If you will permit me, my friends, I have two toasts I would like to make. First, to two strangers who were willing to take in an injured traveler and show her the meaning of true friendship. My friends, without your help and support I could not have succeeded."

After a minute, Ania began again. "Also, to one to whom I owe my very life. My friends, I give you the Dark Ángel of Los Ángeles, el Zorro, wherever and whoever he is!" As she raised her glass this time, she met each man's eyes over the toast. She allowed her eyes to hold Diego's just a bit longer than was necessary before turning to include Bernardo in the toast.

Diego paused as he watched Ania turn to Bernardo. As she signed a Z and raised her glass, he wondered if he had imagined the look in her eyes as she had looked at him during the toast. Could she suspect Zorro's true identity? He carefully hid his unease as she glanced around the room again. Although it would mean so much to him to share all that he was with her, he was concerned. Ania had made a very dangerous enemy in Comandante Rodríguez. He hated to think what Rodríguez might be capable of if she became a part of his life and Rodríguez found out his identity.  The capitán would not hesitate to decide that she had aided him as well. At that moment, Ania met his eyes and smiled at him.  No, he did not think that she knew. Her eyes held only merriment and joy as she laughed at some other thought that she had apparently decided to share with them.

Ania had been watching for Diego's reaction. Had she been too blatant during the toast? She would have to be careful. She had decided she would not, for now, let Diego know that she had discovered his secret.

Her trust in him was growing. She did not really understand why he continued to hide the truth, even as they were becoming closer, but whatever the reason, he felt it was important. She respected his decision, even if she prayed it would be different soon. Meanwhile, she decided that it might be fun to see just how much she could observe, how much she could find out, without Diego being aware of it. Was it possible to 'outfox' the fox? She smiled ruefully to herself. She did not think she could keep it up for long. This one was too clever, especially if she was not more cautious. She realized that Diego was watching her closely. She chuckled as she thought of something that might distract everyone. She gestured for Bernardo to hand her the opened wine bottle.

"There is one other reason that I would have loved to have seen our good comandante when he received my little gift," she laughed. Quickly removing and turning over the silver medallion from the bottle, she handed it first to Don Alejandro. Then she sat back to watch their reactions.

Don Alejandro broke into a broad smile as he looked at the back of the medallion and handed it on to Diego.

Intrigued, Diego turned it over. There on the back was the same engraving found on Ania's golden pin.

Diego chuckled. He would, indeed, have loved to see Rodríguez's expression as he looked down at the laughing fox. Then he laughed aloud. Poor Sergeant García would definitely have to stay out of the comandante's way tonight. He shook his head at the very audacity of this woman.

Diego and Ania exchanged amused glances. As green eyes met hazel, they would have been surprised as to how alike their thoughts ran at this instant. This one, indeed, bears watching!


 

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