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.
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
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.
this mean?" Don Alejandro asked as he looked from her to the plaque.
thoughtful, as if something was beginning to make sense.
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.
Marqués de Casa Calvo," Diego exclaimed.
"Yes, but how could you know?" she asked.
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
"But I do
not understand, Ania. Why did you hide something like this?" Don
"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
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."
provisional nature of your grant," Diego inquired. "Was that
perhaps as a sign of disfavor?"
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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
Then her face
brightened and she laughed, "The third bottle I sent to Comandante
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
Diego began to
smile. He thought that he was beginning to understand how this woman's
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
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.
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.
broke into a broad smile as he looked at the back of the medallion and
handed it on to Diego.
turned it over. There on the back was the same engraving found on Ania's
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.
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!