Ring of Fire
Sunday, el 20 de julio, dawned bright
and clear. Ania had spent the night before at the hacienda of Don Pedro
and Doña Carlota, her padrinos de boda, her godparents of marriage. Both
had given her much good advice on how a dutiful wife should conduct
herself. Don Pedro emphasized the husband's role as the head of the
family, while Doña Carlota emphasized the wife's duty to obey and conform
to all her husband's wishes. Ania listened carefully, and remembering her
past actions, she knew that she'd have to work hard at this. There had
been little that she and Diego had disagreed over up until now. She hoped
that would always be the case. If not, well, then she was determined to do
the best she could.
After Don Pedro retired for the night,
Doña Carlota and she had a long talk about other things. After Ania
shared her worries about knowing so little about the physical side of
marriage, Doña Carlota had surprised her by laughing softly.
"Child," she said kindly, "there is not all that much to
learn. It has more to do with trust, trust not only of your husband, but
also of yourself. Ania, I have watched you two together. I do not believe
I have seen two people more in love. You and Diego are very lucky. So many
children do not even know each other, much less love each other, by their
wedding night. In that case, it can only be hoped that the parents have
made good choices for their children. If they have, a strong love will
grow. I was the lucky one there. My parents were very wise indeed."
The old woman smiled as she looked in the direction her husband had gone.
"The best advice I can give you is just that you trust each other and
let the love that already shines in your eyes, his as well as yours, my
dear, lead your actions. As long as you remember to let love lead the way,
then you cannot go wrong, whether in public or behind the doors of your
bedchamber." Ania had much to think of as she went to bed and tried
to sleep. She had not slept well, but was too excited to really miss the
sleep when she woke with the dawn on her wedding day.
Then they had gone with her to her
hacienda, so she could dress for the ceremony.
Doña Carlota sat and offered suggestions as Rosita helped her put
on the white dress and put her hair up, topping it off with the tall comb
and white lace mantilla. Ania's heart was already racing as she looked at
herself in the looking glass in her room. There had been times in the last
week that she had not even allowed herself to believe she would live to
see this day. The image in white looking back at her now seemed like
something from a dream.
Soon someone came to her room to say
that Diego and his father had arrived. Ania's first impulse was to rush
down to where he was, but with a smile, Doña Carlota reminded her that
she must wait. Time seemed to both drag and fly at the same time as final
preparations were made. Finally, the times came for all of them to climb
into carriages, shined and decorated brightly, and make their way to the
mission. Diego and Don Alejandro were sent ahead, while Don Pedro and Doña
Carlota escorted Ania. The carriage behind her carried Ramón, who despite
not being fully recovered, refused to miss the wedding.
On the ride there, Ania had a hard time
keeping her mind on the conversation around her. Her thoughts flitting
from one thing to another, but always returning to Diego, she looked at
the beautiful bouquet of flowers he had sent to her this morning.
Intertwined with the blooms was her rosary, a little bit of her mother for
her to carry with her. How different this occasion was from the last time
she had carried it! At last, she could see the bell tower of the mission
ahead. When the wind shifted in their direction, she could already hear
the organ. Even from this distance, it had such a lovely tone. The love of
music which the two of them shared had been the reason they had chosen to
celebrate the wedding here, rather than the church in the pueblo. As they
approached the front of the mission, the bells began to peal, ringing with
a joy that seemed to flow from Ania's own soul.
Then she looked ahead and her heart
sang. Diego's whispered promise at the door of her cell came back to her
mind and she rejoiced to see it just as he said. Here she was in her white
dress and there he stood at the door of the chapel with Padre Felipe,
waiting for her.
When the padrinos, along with Don
Alejandro and Ramón, finally formed a loose circle around the couple,
everything became very quiet. After a moment, Padre Felipe nodded to
Diego. From his coat pocket, Diego withdrew a bag of fine cloth, which
contained thirteen golden coins and two golden rings. With great ceremony
and seriousness, not withstanding the slight smile on the bride's lips and
bright shine in her eyes, Diego gently placed the bag in Ania's hand. For
a second, he enclosed her small hand in his and smiled. Ania smiled back
and then quickly opened the bag, pouring its contents on a silver tray
resting on a small table beside the priest.
As they joined hands again, Padre
Felipe blessed the coins and the rings. Concluding his ritual, the padre
then took the larger of the gold rings and placed it on the ring finger of
Diego's right hand. He then handed Diego the smaller golden ring and
watched as the young man placed it on Ania's hand. Taking both her hands
in his, Diego then declared in a soft but clear voice, "With this
ring and dowry I now endow you, in token of our union."
Ania repeated her own vows in a voice
that was not loud, but still rang with the certainty of her heart.
The tray was set aside, the money on it
becoming a gift to the church to distribute to the poor. From another
table behind him, Padre Felipe picked up a lazo, a large rosary with two
loops adorned with pearls and flowers, representing the blessings of the
church and of heaven upon their marriage. The padrinos gently lay one of
the lazo's loops about Ania's shoulders, while the other was laid about
Diego's. The long central section was wrapped around and about their
Once this was done, they were led into
the church for the celebration of mass, Diego and Ania kneeling or sitting
in a special area just in front of the altar. Later Ania could not
remember actually making the correct responses, although Diego assured her
that she had. They then received communion for the first time as husband
and wife. After receiving a blessing again, the lazo was removed and they
walked over to stand before the statue of the Virgin Mary.
Ania stood looking up at the beautiful
bejeweled statue, aware of how many blessings she already had to be
thankful for. After a moment, she unwound her rosary from the bouquet. Her
new husband then put his hand over hers on the flowers and they placed
them at the feet of the Virgin, recognizing her as the guardian of their
marriage. Solemnly walking back to where their family members and padrinos
waited, they each were given the candles they had received at their
baptisms. Ramón lit Ania's for her, as Don Alejandro lit Diego's. Turning
and shielding their individual flames, the couple walked forward and lit
the church's Easter candle. They then blew out the individual candles,
leaving one united flame representing both their lives. Ania and Diego
stood for a long moment, smiling at each other, before turning, hand in
hand to leave the church.
There was a tremendous contrast of
atmosphere as they came out of the church and Diego helped Ania into a
carriage for the ride back to her hacienda. Guns boomed in salute, people
laughed and cheered. In one of the wagons now in the long procession of
carriages, a band played lively music. It seemed that the whole area of
Los Ángeles was rejoicing with them. They were good-naturedly pelted with
rice and a sweetened cornmeal called pinole to call down blessings from
heaven. "I feel like I have been caught in a snow storm!" Ania
laughed as she tried to brush a bit of pinole out of her hair.
Soon however, their carriage had picked
up enough speed that they left the shower of good wishes behind. Ania
linked her fingers with Diego's and leaned her head on his shoulder as
they rode while Bernardo, dressed in his best and smiling as brightly as
his patrón, drove the carriage.
"Happy, mi amor?" Diego asked
as he changed hands and put his right arm around her.
"Ah, Diego, I have never been
happier in my life!" Ania exclaimed, leaning closer. Taking the hint,
Diego kissed her warmly, paying absolutely no attention to the people
ahead, behind or riding past them in joyous celebration.
A large breakfast was spread for all
comers at the Hacienda Valdéz. Long tables were fixed outside for most
visitors, while the newlyweds ate inside with close friends and family.
After this, the dancing started. Ania felt as if her feet barely touched
the floor when she and Diego led out with a waltz, dancing within a heart
shaped circle of friends. Slowly, other couples joined in until there was
no circle left. As guests congratulated them and joined the other dancers,
they left a token gold piece on a silver tray nearby as yet another wish
of good luck for the couple.
There was one tradition that Ania
followed that she did not particularly enjoy. From time to time, she would
disappear back upstairs to change clothes. Custom demanded that she
display all or most of the beautiful dresses Diego had provided her with
as his wedding gifts to her. "It is not that I am not pleased with
them. They are all beautiful, Diego," she whispered to him on her
fifth return of the day. "It is just that I would rather remain here
"Then do not do it again,"
Diego encouraged her. "Juan told me that you generally did things
your own way and I know that to be so. Just because you are now a señora
rather than a señorita should not change that about you."
Ania laughed. "You know, you are
right! I will stay here! Hmmm," she said more quietly, "I
am a señora now, am I not? I have not even had time to think about
"Perhaps you have not heard it
enough yet, Señora de la Vega," Diego suggested with a laugh. Ania's
smile lit up the room. Her eyes filled with love as he brought her hands
up and tenderly kissed them.
"I love you, Señor de la
Vega!" she whispered.
"I know!" Diego said, his own
eyes suddenly lighting with mischief. Ania made a face at him. Both of
them laughed. "Come on! You always loved to dance. Let us dance
then!" he cried as he swung her gracefully onto the dance floor.
At noon, the party moved to the
Hacienda de la Vega. Barbecued beef and deer, along with many other foods,
were available to all. A table nearby almost groaned under the weight of
numerous kinds of cakes, candies and cookies. more than Ania has seen
prepared since she had left West Florida. Afterwards, everyone walked out
to choose places from which to watch the first of many competitions, this
one the first of several horse races. Horses were entered from almost
every rancho in the entire area.
"Excuse me a minute, Diego. I will
be right back," Ania said suddenly, as they walked out to watch.
"Ania, wait!" Diego
exclaimed, not at all pleased to have her leave his side. "I thought
you said you were staying with me for the rest of the day. No more changes
"Oh, this has nothing to do with
my clothes," Ania said with a secretive smile, "Just wait! I
have a surprise."
Diego watched, puzzled, as she walked
gracefully through the crowd and then out to where the horses were being
lined up. Suddenly, everything was made clear. There, moving up into the
line was Ventura, being ridden by Pepe. Diego shook his head. The audacity
of that woman, letting a mere boy ride in the race!
pricked forward and her attention already on the road beyond the starting
line, Ventura herself did not look so much nervous as she did excited by
the prospect of the race. She pranced and mouthed the bit, anxious to be
off for the run she knew was coming. Ania patted her affectionately on the
neck as she gave last minute instructions to her rider.
Ania grinned at his expression as she
walked back to Diego. "Do not worry.
Pepe can handle her." she said to his unspoken question.
"We have been working together with her for several weeks now."
"He is awfully young, Ania,"
"Oh, I was maybe a little older,
but no bigger when I rode in that race and won that time," Ania
explained. "You will see! I just do not think you want Princesa to be
beaten," she teased. "We shall just see about that!"
"Well, I was going to cheer for
Ventura, but since you put it like that," Diego laughed back,
"the bet is on!"
Minutes later, they found themselves
cheering for different horses, trying to pretend to be serious in their
comments, only to end up laughing. Their two horses came almost down to
the line together. Then Ventura, with her lighter jockey, edged out in
front. She managed to win by a more than a length and a half.
"See? I told you she could do
it!" Ania laughed.
"Ah, and what will you have as
your prize for winning our little wager?" Diego asked, an unusually
intense expression in his eyes. "There is no longer any surprise
behind the mask," he whispered in her ear. "What would you have
me do for you now that nothing need keep us apart, my sweet Lady Emerald
Ania looked at him in surprise,
realizing by his tone that he was saying more than the surface meaning of
the words as he asked his question. Her expression became more serious,
yet held an excitement that could not be denied. Losing herself in the
depths of his eyes for that instant, she finally whispered back, "I
think, dear husband, that I will be able to think of something else before
tonight!" He started to kiss her, but realized that many eyes were on
them at that moment. Tenderly, she reached up and caressed his cheek. As
he, once again, lightly brushed his lips over her wrist, she shivered, not
from cold but from a thrill of anticipation that seemed to start at her
toes and go all the way through her soul.
Before she could say anything else,
another pair of well-wishers came up to congratulate them and the moment
was broken. However, it was not forgotten. Every time Diego touched her,
innocently or not, it was as if his fingers were throwing sparks, like
iron and flint. The afternoon and then the evening celebrations suddenly
seemed overly long and tedious, the music too insistent, the rooms too
crowded. There seemed no place for them to have a minute alone. At last,
they managed to slip away outside the patio walls, walking to the very
tree where he had almost kissed her at the fiesta they had given for her
more than six months before. This time he did not hesitate to take her
lips in a fierce kiss full of passion and desire. "Do you not think
that it is time that we went upstairs?" he whispered as his lips
moved from Ania's lips to the soft skin of her neck, just over her pulse.
Ania sighed, as she ran her fingers
through his hair. She was aware of the warmth of his strong body, even as
they stood there under the stars. She was nervous about what lay ahead,
but she also longed for the next step to be taken. She longed to be his
wife, in fact, as well as in name. She prayed that Doña Carlota was
right. Ania knew that she loved Diego with all her being. She prayed that
was enough. He deserved so much! "Sí," she whispered.
Diego looked into her eyes and then
kissed her deeply again. This time when the kiss ended he took her hand
and started to lead her back in. As they approached the gate, another loud
dance began and Ania realized just how much was still going on around
them. "Wait!" Ania cried. "There is too much noise here,
too many people everywhere. I want us to be together, sí! But I want
there to be no one else around, no music, no one talking somewhere under
Diego looked back at her, puzzled.
"Peace and quiet will be a bit hard to find around here," he
"Then let us not stay here
tonight. Let us go to my hacienda. By tomorrow night, festivities will be
going on at both haciendas, but for tonight mine is silent. Even Ramón
and most of the servants are here." Ania said. "Let us go out
quietly, and have at least this night to ourselves!"
Diego shook his head and laughed.
"Mujer, you never cease to surprise me! All right, if it will make
you happy," he finally agreed. "I will go get the
"No," Ania surprised him
again by saying, "Let us ride! We can pack what little we need in a
saddlebag and... and...Bernardo and Rosita can bring whatever else we need
Diego laughed again. "All right,
Aniasita! We will do things your way."
They quickly got the two servants'
attention and enlisted their aid in packing for them. Soon they quietly
made their way to the stables, getting their horses and riding out before
most people knew what was going on.
As they raced northward over the land,
Diego knew that he would never forget the way Ania looked tonight. Without
a riding skirt, her long dress fanned out over Ventura's back like a
colorful blanket. The moonlight was bright enough to show the happiness on
her face. She looked like a beautiful vision from the center of his
dreams. His heart soared with the knowledge that this precious creature
was his for all his life now, their lives irrevocably intertwined whatever
the future could bring. There was a joy in that as endless as water from
the artesian wells Ania had described in Florida, ever flowing, ever
bright and pure.
When they rode up to the Valdéz
stables, Ania slid down into his arms again, longing for more of his
kisses. He did not disappoint her. After a moment they hurriedly unsaddled
Paseo and Ventura, turning them out into the corral, rather than taking
the time to put then in box stalls.
A surprised house servant met them as
they entered the sala door. The servant was soon hurrying away to light
candles in the master bedroom, her arms full of their saddlebags.
As they waited, truly alone together
for the first time in what seemed like forever, Ania removed the combs
from her hair, leaning her head back to shake the locks free. After a
moment, she felt her husband gently running his fingers through its
length. It felt unexpectedly sensual to her. Gently, he then pushed it
aside. He sent a shiver through her as he began kissing her. He allowed
his lips to tease lightly from just under her ear, down the curve of her
neck, to finally pause for a moment at just the point where her soft
shoulder became covered by the fashionably low neckline of her dress. Ania
leaned back against his chest, crossing her arms to lay her hands over his
as they slid down her arms. Then she turned and pulled his lips to hers
for one of the kisses that she had learned to hunger for.
There was a sound of a door closing
somewhere above. Diego looked up and smiled. Taking Ania's hands, he
pulled her to her feet and they walked together to the base of the stairs.
For a moment, they both stood still, looking to the second story. Then
they looked at each other and laughed. He put his arm around her waist and
drew her up the steps beside him.
Suddenly feeling much more shy than she
had expected to be as the door of the master bedroom closed behind
them, Ania paused. Her
eyes still shone with excitement and desire, but now she blushed and did
not know exactly what to do. She felt like a child, out of her depth,
uncertain and just a bit frightened. "I...I will go...change,"
she said, her voice surprising Diego by shaking.
He watched her pick up her first night
set from where the servant had laid it and disappear into the dressing
room that opened to the left of the main room. Smiling as he remembered
both their shyness when they had stood by the big teaster bed when it had
first been set up here, Diego took his jacket off and laid it over the
chair at the desk. He removed his vest and tie, opening the buttons of his
shirt at the top. The banda was removed next. He was beginning to become a
bit concerned. Ania seemed to be taking a long time to change. He walked
to the desk and had just poured himself a small glass of Ania's wine when
he heard an almost silent footstep behind him. Turning, he drew a sharp
breath. Ania stood there, the creamy satin shining in the soft light of
the candles burning nearby. Her robe was adorned about the collar and
cuffs with lace and pearls, and looked fit for the fairy princess she
resembled. Peeping from the hem of the robe, her bare toes seemed to lend
a childlike innocence to her appearance. She looked down and blushed
deeply as he stood transfixed, enjoying the vision before him.
He quickly placed the glass back on the
tray beside the wine and kissed her, gently at first and then more
insistently. He suddenly became aware that Ania was trembling. He drew
back in alarm. "Ania? What is this? Surely, you cannot be afraid, not
"Oh, no!" Ania quickly
assured him. "That is not it at all!"
"Then what is it, mi preciosa?"
He gently caressed her cheek, and cupping her face with his hands,
searched deep in her eyes for the reason for her distress.
Ania struggled for a moment to put her
feelings into words. Finally, she said quietly, "Oh, Diego, I want so
to be the kind of wife you need, one who would make you happy...but....”
She stopped for a second, then went on. "I know so little. I am
afraid that I will disappoint you. Mamá died when I was born and Luisa
and I never talked about it. I
was definitely not going to talk to Le...."
Diego interrupted her as he had come to
enjoy doing. He kissed her and stopped her chatter. Ania seemed uncertain
for a second and then melted into his embrace, her arms automatically
pulling him to her as she returned his kiss with every bit of the fire
that he was showing. As their lips parted, he whispered, "Somehow I
do not think that will be a problem."
"But I know so little," she
He nuzzled her neck and then laughed
quietly. "Ahhh, my precious Ania, do you think I expected you to know
a lot? There were those I could have wed who knew more of this than they
should, but it is you I love and you I want. Come, Ania. You have said
that you trust me. Do you not
realize that I trust you, too? Besides whatever you need to know, I can
teach you. If there is something I do not know, we will learn together.
That is the way it should be, Ania! I love you! That is the way I want it
to be." He smiled at the open wonder in her eyes and kissed her
again, calling from her the same response as before.
Then stepping back a bit, he took a
lock of her hair that was lying down against the front of her robe.
Holding it lightly between his second and third fingers, he slowly let it
slide from between them, the knuckles of his hand following the line of
her body with a touch that left a streak of fire in its wake. Ania drew
her breath in shakily and stood on tiptoe to beg another kiss. The fingers
traced lower and grasped the satin ribbon holding her robe shut. A slow
pull undid the ribbon and as the robe opened, Ania stepped back and
shrugged it from her arms. Diego caught it and tossed it onto the chair
beside the bed.
The silk of Ania's gown glowed with the
candlelight, the pearls scattered along the low neckline casting back the
light with a magic shimmer. The silk itself was soft, soft enough to cling
more than the cloth of most dresses. Ania's form was outlined just enough
to shorten his breath and stir his senses. Diego drew her into another
embrace, his hands caressing the soft, sensitive skin of her bare arms,
then sliding to her shoulders and back.
As his hands came to rest for a moment
in the curve of her back and then moved again, upward, Ania was more aware
of him than she had ever been. The warmth of his body through the fine
silk of her gown was like the glow of the sun after the chill of winter,
something one sought out and could never seem to get enough of. Ania laid
her hands flat on the solid muscles of his chest and slid them upward as
she kissed him. As she did one of her fingers caught, quite by accident,
on the button of his shirt. Fleetingly, she wished that neither the
button, nor the shirt were there between them. For a moment, she had the
presence of mind to be surprised at herself, then she remembered Doña
Carlota telling her to not only trust him, but to trust herself as well,
to let love lead in what she did now. For a moment, she drew back,
standing quietly in his arms, looking up at him as she bit thoughtfully on
her lip. Then she made up her mind. Sí! That is what I will do! Is it
not natural that I should wish to touch him...feel his skin and hard
muscles under my fingers? Is not that desire something that I can trust
with this man, alone of all the men on earth? Once again, she stood on
tiptoe and kissed him, this time pleasing him by imitating the kind of
intimate kiss that he was gradually teaching her. As their kiss ended, he
laughed in surprise as he felt Ania slowly, and a bit shyly, unbutton
first one of the small shirt buttons and then another. He smiled
encouragingly as his bold bride seemed to hesitate and blush when he
looked down. At his encouragement, Ania began again with renewed
determination to undo each button. Then she stopped, unsure what to do
now. Should she untuck his shirt herself? She blushed even deeper and
looked up at him trying to gage his reaction to her forwardness.
"Ah, Aniasita! I do believe you
cannot decide whether to be shy or bold. Let me see if I can help the
situation," Diego laughed. With a quick movement that seemed to
accentuate the muscles of his arms and chest, he removed his shirt
completely and tossed it toward the chair. Neither noticed or cared that
it did not quite hit the mark.
For a moment, Ania's breath caught in
her throat as she merely enjoyed the sight of her young husband's wide
shoulders and strong muscles. Then she rested her hands above his waist as
she had before and lightly slid her hands upward. All her life she had
loved the way different textures felt under her fingers. Now she was
finding this truer than ever. The softness of his skin, the firmness of
the discipline hardened muscles, the slight tickle of the hair covering
his chest was something she had never experienced before and its effect on
her made her tingle with an excitement she had never known. Her fear
disappeared and her heart pounded at the thought of becoming one with him.
Once again, she kissed him, a kiss that started out tender and shy, but
then seemed to burn with the fire Diego had always told her was within
Diego felt the change in her as she
lost the uncertainty within herself. He stopped for a moment and looked
into her eyes, rejoicing that he no longer sensed any uneasiness within
his beautiful Lady Emerald Fire. This was what he had been waiting for. Never would he have taken her to his bed while the fear had
remained between them. Now the time was right. After sharing another kiss
burning with the passion of their hearts and bodies, he lifted her into
his arms, as he had done both as Zorro and as Diego. He searched her eyes
once more and saw joy as well as desire there.
Then taking the few
steps to the big teaster bed, he lay her gently back upon their pillows.
Soon, with tenderness, and love leading them, touch for touch and kiss for
kiss, they found to their great delight that not only was Diego an
excellent teacher, but Ania was a very adept, and most enthusiastic,
learner of the subject of love.