Ring of Fire



Keliana Baker





Chapter Sixteen

Ania was up with the dawn again, as she had been every morning since Sunday. Bans had been read for Diego and her for the third and final time that day in mass, and as the week progressed she found herself becoming more and more excited. Her body just seemed to need very little sleep now and what she did get was filled with dreams. Not disturbing dreams, as had been the case as she had come to grips with the loss of Juan and her father, but happy dreams. She usually remembered most of her dreams, but these seemed to have very little logic to them...just scenes or even just a sense of emotion. Each morning she awoke with the thought that there were only so many days until their wedding. Today she had thought, "Four days! Only four more days to go!"

Quickly, she began to dress and was already combing her long dark hair when Rosita came in to see if she needed help with anything. "Gracias no, Rosita, unless you have a magic wand and can move us ahead a few days!" she laughed. Rosita laughed with her and helped her tie the sides of her hair back, securing it out of her face, while allowing most of her hair to hang free down her back. Ania had seen the look in Diego's eyes as he ran his long, graceful fingers through it whenever they managed to have a private moment together and she knew that he liked her hair this way. She did not care if it caught in every cactus and bush in California. Diego liked it. That was enough reason for her to wear it this way forever.

Ania paused and smiled as she thought of Diego. She had not seen him last night, and from his carefully worded note, she knew that Zorro had been needed somewhere. She accepted that. It would be a part of her life from now on, but she had missed him terribly. She could hardly wait to meet him for their ride into Los Ángeles today. At least, after this coming Sunday, when Zorro rode she would be there waiting for him when he returned. Ah! Four more days! Four more days! her heart sang again. When her hair was finished, she sprang up from the seat in front of Rosita. "Muchas gracias, Rosita," she said with a laugh and then she surprised her lady's maid, who had come to be her friend as well, by spontaneously catching her up in a hug.

"Oh, Señorita Ania," Rosita laughed, as she returned the hug, "be careful! If you get any happier, you will not need Ventura to get about. Indeed we shall have to tie you to the ground with ropes so that you do not fly away!"

"I cannot help it, Rosita. It is a wonderful day to be alive!" Ania said as she opened the door and walked out to all but skip down the stairs to drink her tea. Alma would try to get her to eat more, but just as unpleasant emotions prevented Ania from eating, she was finding that joy and excitement did the same thing. Besides, the sooner she was through with breakfast, the sooner she would be on the road to meet Diego.

After breakfast, when she did at least force down chocolate, instead of tea, she sashayed out the door, her lively step as indicative of her mood as the smile on her face. Her mood faded a little when she found, upon arriving just inside the front gate, that Bastián was nowhere to be seen. At first, Ania was satisfied to simply sit looking out across the newer part of the vineyard and the distant view of the arroyo flowing on its glittery way down the valley. However, as time passed and still no Bastián appeared, Ania grew impatient. I will just bet that he has had another drinking contest with either some of the vaqueros or the guards who weren't on duty last night! I really ought to put a stop to that foolishness, but usually the alcohol seems to just evaporate out of his system with very little effect the next day...and he usually wins these little contests. It gets him a bit of extra money and bragging rights to boot! Ania thought with an amused shake of her head. Once she had gotten used to Bastián's taciturn nature, she had grown to like the bodyguard. She knew that she could trust him, as did Diego. No, I will just let Bastián have a bit of fun. Even if he overdid it more than usual this time, it is rare enough not to interfere with his work. Besides, I do not need a bodyguard with me today. If I really give Ventura a good run, no one but Zorro on Tornado could catch me, anyway! I will soon be with Diego. Yes, that is what I will do. I will go alone and really enjoy this ride!

With a laugh, Ania made her way to the stables to find Pepe already at work there. "Buenos dias, Pepito!" she called lightly. "How are you this fine morning?"

"Buenos dias, Señorita Ania! I am fine," Pepe grinned up at her. "I have been up and working for a long time now. In fact, our 'project' is coming along very well."

"Bueno! You have told no one, have you, little one?" Ania asked with a wink.

"Oh, no, patrona! It is to be our little secret you said, and I will keep my end of the deal!" Pepe protested indignantly.

"Do not worry, Pepito! I know I can trust that it will remain ours alone, at least until Sunday. Sí?" Ania assured him.

"Sí!" Pepe grinned again.

"All right then, but I need Ventura now, pronto. I am meeting Don Diego further down the road and I wish to have a good, fast ride before then. Let us go saddle our pretty one together so that I can be on my way," Ania suggested.

Pepe readily agreed and Ania was soon on the road southward, leaning forward, allowing the mare the freedom to really stretch out to her fullest. Ania laughed into the wind as it brought back to her mind the race she had run with Zorro, her magnificent Fox, even though she hadn't known then who he was. When she was on Ventura's back like this, racing at full speed, she felt as if she were flying. How well that feeling fit her emotions now!

As Pepe returned to his work, he whistled a happy tune. He had to work hard here. That much he would admit, but it was work that he was enjoying, especially when he got to work with the patrona's spirited mare. Ah, someday I will have a horse just as fast as she is! he thought as he once again stepped out to the front of the stables on an errand.

Looking up toward the casa grande, his attention was drawn by a peon slowly making his way up the steps with a small crate on his shoulder. Pepe knew most of Señorita Ania's people now. This man he did not know. He watched the man closely for a moment. Finally, he shrugged. He supposed the fact that he did not know this one was not surprising. Many people came and went now as goods and supplies for the wedding fiesta days were delivered. Between the fiestas thrown by the Rancho Valdéz and the Rancho de la Vega, everyone in the whole pueblo and beyond should have more than enough to eat and drink themselves silly and to thoroughly enjoy the five-day long partying. After watching the man for a moment longer and wondering just what good things he carried in the crate, Pepe finally shrugged again and went back to the task at hand.

The rough looking laborer gradually made his way up the stairs and into the front gate. Quickly, he looked around but saw no one else. Placing the crate on the bench by the gate, the man walked quietly to the door, and easing it open, peered in. All was quiet. Quickly, he slipped into the sala and looked around, getting his bearings. Stealthily, he worked his way up to the door of the study and peeked in. Ah, good, he thought, Just as I was told, Córdoba is a rather predictable man, up early, and working on government correspondence, alone in the study, as always. How easy this is going to be!

Ramón had his mind on another report he was writing to the king concerning the trade talks with the Russian Emissary in Monterey. He’d had to delay the writing and sending of the report as he got further information concerning things still taking place when he left there. He had that information now and needed to get the report mailed to Spain as soon as possible. Even now, the news would be six months old before it finished its journey. Preoccupied as he was, he did not hear the door to the study open, nor hear the quiet footstep behind him.

The peon watched Ramón with satisfaction. He looked around for the heavy silver candlestick he had been told would be sitting on the table by the door. Ah! There it is! he thought, pleased that his 'insider' was so dependable. The plotters had decided that it would be best to use something for this task that would naturally be at hand for a crime of passion or desperation, and the candlestick was perfect. The metal was cold, hard, and heavy in his hand as he silently picked it up and stepped toward the unsuspecting man. He drew his arm back just as Ramón reached and opened a mirrored cigar box on the desktop. As the lid tipped up, Ramón caught a glimpse of the man behind him, but it was already too late. Even as he began to turn toward his attacker and draw a deep breath to call out for his guards, the arm swung down with sufficient force to knock him totally out of his chair.

Cautiously, the attacker looked down at his victim, who now lay motionless, in a widening pool of blood on the floor at his feet. He stepped past Ramón to open a gilded wooden box and return the golden stamp to its spot with the five others already there. He placed an opened letter with postal markings indicating the point of origin as West Florida beside the fallen man's hand. As he did so, he realized that his victim still breathed. Well, not for long! he smirked to himself. But as he drew back the heavy candlestick to strike again, a new sound startled him.

"Well, I must admit that it is wonderful to see her so happy. I did not see her when she first left the house this morning, but I saw her really running that mare of hers just a few minutes ago. Ay! Can that horse ever run! Like black lightening!" a laughing voice said to another servant at the door.

Ramón's assailant froze as the knob began to turn. He decided that probably the blow had been a mortal one anyway, so staying longer and possibly being seen would only foul up their plan. Silently, he laid the bloody candlestick on the floor nearby, eased out the open window and was gone. He returned to the front gate area through the side portico, reclaimed his crate and went back down the steps, as if he were doing an assigned task.

Pepe was once again coming out of the stable with a load of soiled hay. He was puzzled to look up and see the very same man coming down the steps from the casa grande that he had seen just a short while before going in. The man still had his crate. Now that is odd, he thought, with a frown. Then he shrugged again. Well, I suppose whatever is in that crate was not good enough for the fiesta and they are sending it back. Still it is funny. I wonder what it is and what was wrong with it. Oh, well! What does a stable boy like me have to do with such things anyway? I suppose I'd better do my job and let others do theirs.  With a final glance after the man walking rapidly down the road toward Los Ángeles, Pepe went back to his work.


Ania reined Ventura back as she approached the bend in the road where they had decided to meet and looked around for Diego. At first, she was disappointed to see no sign of him, but riding further around an outcropping of rock, she saw him patiently waiting, leaning against the side of a large boulder. She broke into a wide smile and guided the horse to him as he straightened and walked toward her. Gracefully tossing her right leg over Ventura's head, she slid down into Diego's arms as he reached up to help her dismount. Slipping her arms around his neck, she brought her mouth to his, kissing him with an intensity that left no doubt of her feelings. Diego pulled her to his chest and held her there for a moment before gently lowering her enough for her feet to touch the ground.

"I missed you last night, mi amor," Ania told him as she took note of the fact that not even Bernardo was with them. "I hope you had a good reason for disappointing me," she teased.

"Sí, I think I did," Diego said with a smile.

Ania looked at him for a moment. His smile seemed not as bright this morning. Something was wrong. She could sense it. Concerned, she searched the depths of those wonderful hazel eyes that seemed to hold her world. "What is it, Diego? Has something happened?"

"Perhaps nothing, at least nothing to worry your pretty head about," Diego forced lightness into his manner. "Let us just have a merry ride today. It is a wonderful day for it, is it not?"

Then she shook her head. "No, Diego. It will not work," Ania cocked her head and studied him, a serious expression on her face.

"What will not work, querida?" Diego inquired.

"You! Diego, you can fool the rest of the world, but you cannot fool me. I know you far too well! Something is bothering you. I can feel it as clearly as I see you. Now what has happened?" Ania insisted. "Or do you not trust me?"

"Oh, I assure you that it is not that," Diego replied.

"Then what have you gotten into, or should I say what has Señor Zorro gotten into, for I am sure that is the case, is it not?" Ania inquired.

"Perhaps that is just it. Señor Zorro got into nothing last night. Oh, I had a few questions I wanted answered, but I found no answers at all," Diego looked solemn, as he tried to decide how far to involve her in this. If he told her a little, then she would want to know it all. However, there really was very little to tell her now, so it could hurt nothing, he decided. "Rodríguez has brought in extra troops from the San Juan Prison garrison," he finally answered aloud.

"More troops?" Ania repeated. "Now what is he up to?"

"That is just it. I was unable to find out anything last night, even though I did everything I could think of," Diego looked toward the distant pueblo as if trying to read the future in the clouds. He no longer tried to hide his frustration. "Even Sergeant García knew very little, though he told me what he did know."

"Did he have any idea why the others were called here?" Ania asked, as she watched Diego walk over to the boulder and once again lean against it, a frown creasing his forehead.

"Sí, he did. He said that Comandante Cosío’s group had come to help Rodríguez with a dangerous situation. He claims that there is a traitor here in Los Ángeles." Diego crossed his arms and looked back at her.

"I do not believe it!" Ania declared. "I was in an area where rebellion broke out once. I can assure you that the atmosphere was considerably different from what one feels in our pueblo here. There may be a few people here who would not mourn if Spain suddenly lost interest in her colonies, but active revolution? No, I would bet my last peso that that is false."

"Well, there has been just such problems in the past," Diego said with a nod. "At this present time, however, I agree with you. There has been no sign at all of revolt."

"Well, then what could Rodríguez be up to?" Ania wondered aloud as she walked over to lean on the boulder beside him.

Both were silent for a moment. "It has always seemed that the desire for land or riches has been at the bottom of his plots. It would be a good bet that that would be the motive now," Diego finally said.

"Do you suppose he is going to falsely accuse one of the dons so that he can take their lands? For him, that makes sense. But he would have to be very sure that he could make it look convincing if he has brought other military forces in on it," Ania said thoughtfully.

"Sí, he would, but that is not all. García said that the additional lancers were necessary because when they arrested this traitor of theirs, that it would almost certainly cause the people to rise up against the military," Diego continued.

"How could that be, Diego? I can imagine no one whose arrest would cause anything that extreme. I mean, you and your father are the most influential family here and...Diego! You do not think that he has his eyes set on your land now, do you?" Ania gasped, laying her hand on his arm.

"No, Ania, I thought of that, as I am sure my father did when I told him of all this. We both feel that such is not the case. My father has some very powerful friends and I am sure Rodríguez is aware of that. You need not worry." Diego took her hand gently in his and was quick to reassure her. "No, I am afraid he has his eyes on someone else, someone without the means to protect themselves. If I just had any idea who."

"Perhaps we can hear more when we ride in today," Ania suggested.

"That is what I am hoping," Diego said quietly. "If I can not get enough of an idea so that I can head this thing off, more than one person might lose their land or life. If it does cause unrest, this whole area might become embroiled in it. If that happens there will be bloodshed and more than one person will find their lands forfeited. Perhaps that is what his intentions are. Ania, if that happens I will have failed to protect these people as I should. I just do not know from which direction the threat is going to come!"

Ania watched him, wanting to soothe him somehow. He cared so deeply, and felt his responsibility so strongly. What a remarkable man he is! she thought, And yet he is just one man. He cannot do it all. "Diego, I know you are dedicated to these people and you do so much in their name,” she said quietly, “but, my darling, you are not a god or a supernatural being with strange powers. You are just an ordinary man, doing extraordinary things, but still ordinary flesh and blood. I have no doubt that you will do everything in your power to do what is needed. And, knowing you, I will bet that you will pull it off. But even if you do not succeed as you wish, you will be blameless."

Diego laughed then as Ania looked at him with a puzzled smile on her face. "Ah, mi amor, is that what you will do for me in the future, keep me grounded so that I do not begin thinking more highly of myself than I should?" He put his arms around her and hugged her tightly, stealing a kiss as he did. "So you think me just an ordinary man, do you? And here I was thinking I was sprouting wings and a halo to go with Zorro’s title," he teased.

Ania put her arms around his neck again. "Why, of course, I will tell you that you are just an ordinary man." She laughed and raised an eyebrow, enjoying the return of the teasing mood. "Can you imagine, if I was to tell you ALL the time just how wonderful I think you are? You would get such a swelled head that there would just be no living with you! I can not let that happen, for I can assure you, Señor de la Vega, I plan to live with you a very long time, indeed!" Running her fingers through his hair, she pulled his head back down, so that she could kiss him as she wished.

Diego felt his senses come alive as he responded to her nearness, her softness, to the feeling in his heart for this precious woman. The smell of the sweet herbs seemed to fill his head like strong wine. He found himself pulling her closer still, turning so that she was partially between him and the boulder, his hands sliding down her lithe body from back to hip.

Ania knew that if she did as she ought now, she should back away. Ah, but she did not truly want this to end. While one part of her mind told her that this wonderful sensation, her pleasure in the sense of his hard muscled body against hers, must wait, another part reveled in the feel of him, of the deep kisses that seemed to set her senses afire. Ah! her mind sang once more, Four more days, only four more days!

Perhaps the sense of what was right arose in both of them at the same time, for each seemed to realize that they really should get on into Los Ángeles. Just as they had on the beach, they reined in their feelings and stood merely holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes. Diego gently reached up and brushed Ania's hair back, leaning down and tenderly placing a kiss on her forehead. "I think it would be best for us to go now, Aniasita mi preciosa. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves spending entirely too much time in confession with Padre Felipe between now and the wedding."

Ania laughed and mounted her horse. For a moment the sun behind her made her look like a shining angel. Then Diego laughed as well and shook his head as he looked up at her. There was entirely too much mischief in her eyes. Surely, this was more of a mischievous fairy queen than an angel. "Too late!" she protested in a voice filled with merriment. "I have already decided that I must spend at least thirty minutes a day with the good friar."

Still laughing, Diego mounted Paseo and the two continued on toward the pueblo. As they rode, Ania learned that Bernardo had gone on into the pueblo, as had Don Alejandro, to see what they could learn. "I can help, too, Diego. Let us shop for a bit before we go in to get the mail. The merchants are always ready to chat if they think you are interested in buying something. As unusual as the coming of the other lancers would be, I doubt that it will take much to get them talking." She looked curiously at Diego as he began to chuckle again. "What is so funny?"

"Ah, Aniasita, you are becoming predictable. I knew you would decide you should help," he explained.

Ania made a face at him. "Well, I will just have to try harder next time to keep you guessing, I suppose." Then she smiled and laughed with him.

When they rode in, Los Ángeles seemed as peaceful as ever. Any extra lancers were well out of sight. For an hour or so, they wandered from booth to booth examining all the items, as well as listening to the gossip around them. Bernardo soon found them and let them know that he had learned nothing new. The pueblo was abuzz with the news of the troop’s arrival, but no one seemed to have an explanation.

"Well, whatever is afoot, Diego, I had better get my mail and head on back as soon as you feel that we can do so, either that or I shall have to return alone. I still have several things to do today. Before then, let us sit in the tavern for a while. Perhaps if we are to learn anything, that is the place where we will hear it," Ania finally suggested.

"I believe you are right. At least, let us hope you are," Diego frowned. As they entered the tavern, his unease grew. There, sitting at a table near the bar, was Rodríguez and another capitán, whom he assumed to be Capitán Cosío. Scattered about the room were several more lancers, glasses of wine sat casually before them. Yet there was an feeling of expectancy, of waiting, in the air. Had not Ania already stepped into the room and headed for the bar to ask about her mail, he would have stopped her and left.

"Sí," the tavern keeper answered her. "Two things were brought here for you today, señorita, a letter and a chest."

"Oh? Then let us see what treasures these are, Señor Salvio," Ania smiled.

Señor Salvio handed her a rather large packet of papers and Ania looked at it curiously. The handwriting on the outside looked like Antonia's and the seal appeared to match hers, but there also seemed something different about it. Frowning, she stood looking at it for a moment, then shrugged. It was probably nothing. She looked up as Salvio placed a small chest close to her and prepared to open it for her. While Ania was opening the letter, a folded section fell out to land beside her feet. Picking it up, Ania barely looked at it. She was in too big a hurry to read Antonia's letter to stop now for the other. She looked up puzzled as she saw that the inside was blank. Now why would she send the letter with a blank page? How strange!

"Perdonamé, Señorita Valdéz," she heard a voice say, "but that letter and that chest, they were sent to you?" She looked up to meet the eyes of a broad shouldered man in a capitán's uniform. There was an oddly sad, almost regretful expression in the man's eyes.

"Do I know you, Capitán?" she asked, immediately wary of this stranger's intentions.

Diego gasped as if he were concerned or startled by something. Ania looked up at him as he quickly stepped partially between the capitán and her. "Señor, what business do you have with the señorita or the mail which she has just received?"

"Let her answer the question, Don Diego," Rodríguez ordered as he stepped up beside Capitán Cosío.

"Sí," Ania replied in a puzzled tone. "It must be from a friend of mine in West Florida."

"We would like to examine those things, señorita," Rodríguez continued.

"But, Capitán, I can assure you that this is just a personal letter from an old friend and the chest probably contains tea or some other treat my friend has decided that I need or desire," Ania insisted.

"Perhaps, señorita, but perhaps not!" Cosío replied.

"What do you mean, señor?" Diego challenged in alarm. "The señorita has done nothing to warrant such treatment!"

"That remains to be seen, Don Diego. Please be wise enough not to interfere," Rodríguez ordered, stepping up to face Diego more squarely. "If the señorita has nothing to hide, then she should not mind the inspection. If she does, then it is still best that she not resist."

"Of what am I accused, Capitán Rodríguez?" Ania demanded to know.

"That remains to be seen as well, señorita! Please do not make a scene. Come with us quietly now and let us proceed with the inspection," the capitán instructed.

"And if the señorita does not choose to go, or if I do not choose to allow her to?" Diego put his arm protectively in front of Ania, glaring at Rodríguez.

Rodríguez met his eyes coolly. "That choice is not an option, Señor de la Vega!" As he said this, four lancers seated nearby rose and walked up to surround them, placing their hands on the pistols resting in holsters on their belts.

Diego looked down, meeting Ania's eyes. His eyes were filled with a concern that bordered on fear. She knew that the fear was not for himself. A bad feeling settled in the pit of Ania's stomach. Surely, this answered their question about who Rodríguez's target was. She dreaded having them open the letter and chest. Whatever else Rodríguez was, he was not a careless man. If he had set things up to make her look guilty of some crime, then he would have done a good job of it.

"Now see here, Capitán! This has gone quite far enough!" Diego began, advancing on Rodríguez. Rodríguez did not react in the least. However, the lancers suddenly all had their pistols out and aimed at him.

Ania grabbed his arm and when he looked at her again, shook her head. "All right, Capitán Rodríguez, I do not know what you are up to, but I will go," she said quickly.

Diego looked at her wordlessly for a second. The expression in his eyes was one of horror and guilt. Ania knew that he was blaming himself for not seeing this coming. She tried to smile and shook her head again. It was not his fault and if she got the chance, she would tell him that. Ania looked back at Rodríguez, straightening her back and raising her head high.

Rodríguez stood aside and waved his hand toward the cuartel in a mockingly polite manner. Ania and Diego walked across the plaza ahead of him, and then continued on into the capitán's office. Like some odd detail of background, Ania noticed the shocked, dismayed faces of García and several of the other lancers who knew her. She felt as if the whole pueblo was staring at them. It was almost a relief when they entered the wide gate of the cuartel.

While waiting as Rodríguez gave an order to his men, Diego quickly turned and gestured something to Bernardo, who scurried off across the plaza. Ania felt too numb to even wonder where he was headed.

Once the office door was closed behind them, Rodríguez demanded the letter again.

"Capitán, I cannot imagine what you hope to accomplish by all this. This is simply a letter from an old friend," she insisted as she handed the parchment packet to him and stood watching as he opened it and began reading. He seemed to find the blank page as interesting as the others.

Bringing a candle close beside him, Rodríguez held the paper over the hot draft above the flame. To Ania's amazement, words began to appear, faint but readable. She had no doubt of the treasonous contents of the letter as Rodríguez began smiling and looked up at her. "Well, it seems that you have finally made a mistake, Señorita Valdéz," he said.

"I, Capitán? I have done nothing!" she insisted.

"She is innocent and you know it, Rodríguez!" Diego declared. "This is all your doing!"

"No, señor. I am sorry, but I only learned of her involvement after I was contacted by the capitán in Monterey. How could I have started it?" Rodríguez said calmly.

A disturbance could be heard at the door at that moment. "I am sorry, Don Alejandro, but no one is allowed in," Sergeant García's voice could be heard saying.

"Sergeant, you have my son and Señorita Valdéz in there and not even you are big enough to stop me from going in there. Now stand aside, Sergeant!" Diego heard his father say.

There was a quick knock at the door and a flustered looking García tried to stick his head in to ask Rodríguez about admitting Don Alejandro. However, Don Alejandro refused to wait and pushed his way past the upset lancer. "Capitán Rodríguez, what is the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Why have Diego and the señorita been detained?"

"Oh, Don Diego is free to go at any time, I assure you, Don Alejandro. It is the señorita who must remain with me for a while," Rodríguez corrected.

"You would seize this highborn lady and hold her? For what reason?" Don Alejandro asked indignantly.

"Well, I would have preferred that you learn of this under calmer circumstances, Señor, but since you cannot, I will tell you. She stands accused of treason. She has been a liaison between rebel groups here, as well as some in West Florida. Tell him, Señorita Valdéz. Tell him how you smuggled instructions from one to the other in these chests of tea," Rodríguez declared.

"You are loco!" Ania cried.

"Am I? We shall see. Capitán Cosío, if you will give me a hand here." Rodríguez struck the lock from the chest with a hammer from his desk and opened the lid. He sifted through the fragrant tealeaves and came up with a bundle of papers, which he handed to Don Alejandro. "See for yourself!"

Don Alejandro glanced through the papers, which appeared to be dates, times, and contacts to be notified of some sort of coordinated attack aimed at weakening the government. "This is all nonsense! There is not a word of truth to it! I know this woman too well for you to fool me, Rodríguez."

"Oh? You may not know her as well as you think you do. Señorita, is this your writing?" Rodríguez handed one of the letters from Monterey to Ania.

"Well, it looks like my writing, but I did not send anything like this to anyone," Ania declared.

"We have witnesses who say that you did," Rodríguez stated. A knock interrupted him. Going to the door, he stepped out for a moment. When he returned, his face was even graver. "Señorita, I have just been told that there is a witness to an even more horrible deed that you have done."

"That is impossible, Capitán! I have done nothing for anyone to report," Ania swore.

"Ania Cristina Valdéz, I do hereby arrest you in the name of King Fernando VII for treason and for the act of attempted murder to conceal your foul deeds," Rodríguez stated formally.

"Attempted murder?" Diego exclaimed. "Just who is she suppose to have attacked?"

"The Emissary of the King, Ambassador Ramón Teodoro Córdoba," Capitán Rodríguez answered.

Ania felt as if she had been hit in the pit of her stomach. For an instant, she could not speak. Finally, she cried, "Ramón?  What have you done to him, you devil? It is you! You killed my father and my brother. Now you would kill one of the few people I have left in the world. I would never hurt him! It was you!" She would have leapt at him, trying to kill him with her bare hands, had Diego not grabbed her arms and pulled her back around against his chest, his arms protectively around her.

"I do not know what you think you are doing, Rodríguez," he said through gritted teeth, "but you will not get away with this. She is innocent and we will prove it!"

"I am sorry, Don Diego. I truly am. I know what a shock this must be, there being only a few days until you were to be wed, but it is true. I have a witness who saw her leaving the study where the attack took place," he said.

"You are a liar, señor!" Diego spat out.

"Don Diego, I understand how you must feel, so I will not force you to take back those words. However, I warn you my patience has its limits," the capitán said threateningly.

"Sergeant, escort the señorita to her cell. That will be her home until her trial."

"Me, Capitán?" García gasped, horrified at what was happening.

"Sí, Sergeant! YOU! Now move," he was ordered.

"Sí, mi Capitán," García said sadly. "Come, señorita. I am sorry, but I have to do what he says.  Please?" He gently took her arm and led her away from Diego.

Diego immediately leapt forward as if to take her back by force. Don Alejandro quickly laid a restraining hand on his shoulder. He had seen what Diego was too overwhelmed to notice...two of the lancers standing behind Rodríguez once again had their pistols out and this time they were cocked and ready. There was no doubt that they would do whatever was necessary to prevent his interference.

For a second, Ania's and Diego's eyes met. If he lived to be a hundred, Don Alejandro knew that he would never forget the expression he saw in his son's eyes and in the eyes of the woman his son loved so much! It was the look of people who are caught in a nightmare...a nightmare that promised to become a great deal worse before it was all over!




Chapter Seventeen
Chapter One
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