Ring of Fire

By

 

Keliana Baker

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four


A steady babble of voices and assorted other noises arose from every corner of the new hacienda as Ania oversaw the unpacking of all the crates and boxes. Many contained very large pieces of furniture that had been disassembled and boxed up for protection. Demetrío Alverez, as one of her most trusted workers, was still the supervisor of all the various carpenters and builders on Rancho Valdéz.  He was on hand with a large crew of workers to reassemble the furniture and move everything into the proper places.

Ania truly tried not to be difficult, but there were inevitably some times when she directed the men to put a heavy piece of furniture in one place, only to immediately have them move it to another. Luckily for all involved, she was usually correct as to which room to have the large crates taken before unpacking. It was far better to have things moved from one side of a room to the other, rather than to another room entirely. The smaller crates, which were obviously not furniture, Ania unpacked in the new sala or patio and directed their placement from there. With so many helping hands, the empty casa grande was soon beginning to resemble a comfortable, well furnished home.

Ania had the large crate of cloth, which she had discovered while she was in Monterey, taken to the room that would have been hers had circumstances been different. It felt strange to once again be standing beside the furniture, which had been in her room in Florida since her childhood. She smiled as memories flooded back, most of them quite happy. Briefly, she wondered if she herself would have been different if she had never had Leya for a stepmother and had never been taken to Spain. She just as quickly decided that it did not matter. There had been bad things in her life, but there had also been miraculously good things as well. She was who she was, and right now she was too happy to care to be much different.

"Ania!" she heard Diego's voice call from the patio.

She quickly walked out the door and to the banister. "Up here, Diego," she called back. She smiled as she watched him quickly climb the stairs with Bernardo a few steps behind. "I am so glad you have come," she said as he reached her side.

"Oh, is anything wrong?" Diego asked in concern. Then he smiled as Ania shook her head and he understood that she had merely been stating her feelings, not asking for help. “I am glad I am here too." With so many people moving about around them, he contented himself with quickly kissing her hand and receiving her smile in return. "It is beginning to look lived in around here," he said as he looked around.

"Yes, I have the majority of the big pieces where they go. I'm unpacking the smaller things now," Ania said as they walked slowly down the portico, peeking in each room as they went. Bernardo thoughtfully hung back, not far away, but not close enough to be intrusive. Ania quietly walked into the master suite and looked around at the heavy furniture which had been her father's. She smiled, relieved to find that her predominant feeling at seeing it all set up was one of pleasant memories rather than sadness. She laughed openly as she ran her fingers over a notch on the edge of the large dressing chest beside the bed. "When we were ten, Juan had a toy sword with which he was a regular pest. I grew tired of being either goosed or hit with it, so I decided to hide it on top of Papá's teaster bed," she explained at Diego's questioning look.

"Why would you hide it in your papá's room? Why not your own?" he asked. "How would you get it up there anyway? That is a long way up, even for an adult."

"Diego, no place was safe from me being able to reach it...especially if I was up to mischief." Ania shook her head and laughed. "As for why not my room, Juan would have torn my room apart and found it.  He would have known exactly who had taken it. At least, I decided that if I put it on up there, he could not find it. That was the important thing."

"Did he find it?" Diego was always amused at the insights into the mischief Ania and Juan usually got themselves into.

"I never got a chance to hide it," Ania rolled her eyes at the memory. "I had stacked a couple of boxes on top of a big chair and then climbed up and stretched as far as I could." She chuckled as she noticed Diego already shaking his head at the inevitable mishap coming. "Yes, you are right. I fell practically from the very top there." She pointed up to the nearly nine foot high wooden-framed canopy of the bed. "I flung my arm back with the wooden sword in my hand as I fell and knocked that piece out of the side of the chest top. Luisa told me many times over the next several days just how lucky my head did not hit it in just that spot."

"Yes, if your head had hit it, the chest would probably have been ruined," Diego teased. Ania looked at him in surprise. "I believe you two were what the English call "hardheaded," he explained.

Ania laughed, "You are probably right, Diego. It is an undeniable fact that we were into something all of the time. Sometimes I wonder how we lived through it. I guess Luisa really had her hands full with us."

"What was your father doing during all of this?"

"Oh, he was probably away on government business. He very often was. I suppose, if truth be told, Luisa had more to do with the day to day raising of us than Papá did, at least, a good deal of the time. Does that shock you?" she inquired.

"What?" Diego asked.

"That a servant had so much to do with raising me, being more of a mother to me," she asked. Ania met his eyes, watching for his reaction.

"No, mi amor," he replied, "After all, it is perhaps not as unusual as you seem to think.  Even though I was older than you were when I lost my mother, Crescencia did her best to do the same thing, guiding and caring for me almost like a mother.  I already realized what a big influence Luisa had on you. What does it matter what her station was? She sounds like she was a good woman and she did a very good job of helping your father raise you."

Relief reflected in her eyes as she agreed, "Oh, she was that, and she loved us all as if we were her children, or perhaps her grandchildren, since she had loved our mother so much. It was really she who forced me to pay attention to how things I did affected others around me, made me care about others. Papá did truly spoil me at times. When he was not there, Luisa tried to put my feet back on the ground. I guess she was the closest thing I had to a mother. I wish she could have known you, Diego. She would have been very happy for me."

"Oh, you think she would have approved of a dreamer, a logical pacifist for a fiery Valdéz?" he smiled, referring to his carefully cultivated image around the pueblo.

"She might say that a pacifist is the only type for me, to balance my excesses, so to speak. She would call you a good influence, long overdue."

"Oh? Well, let us see... so far I have been indirectly responsible for your lying incessantly for a lengthy period, stealing, and briefly becoming an outlaw. Hmmm, yes, I can see I have had quite an influence on you!" he teased.

Ania laughed.  "She would probably say that it was no more than she expected of her wild little Aniasita."  Ania placed her hand on her hip and gestured sharply, her voice taking on a raspy quality that Diego knew must have been what the older woman had sounded like. "'That is what becomes of being too headstrong for your own good!'" she mimicked. Then Ania turned and swung lightly around the post of her father's massive bed, her inner joy lighting up her face with its own special beauty.

Laughing, Diego stood and watched her. Her spontaneous exuberance was contagious and he was reminded of their joy as they walked along the riverbank. As she spun around, however, his eye was caught anew by the size of the massive bed.

"I am surprised that this bed is so large, especially that it is so long," he commented.

Ania stopped and looked down at the bed. "Yes, all the men in my family were tall, nearly as tall as you. Papá had the beds specially made in Boston and shipped to us on the assumption that all his sons would take after him in height. This bed was made for a tall man, like...." Ania stopped speaking, and blushed. It had just entered into her mind that were they to ever use this house after they married, that this very bed would probably be theirs together. The idea startled her. She suddenly realized how very little she knew of such things.

"Like me?" Diego finished for her, amused at her reaction, though he himself blushed a bit at the inference. For a moment, the two simply stood and looked at each other. Then slowly they began to smile again, not quite sure what to say. They were saved the bother of further conversation along these lines when Bernardo stepped through the door, for all the world, as if he were checking on the whereabouts of two errant children.

"Perhaps I should help you open some of those boxes on the patio," Diego suggested with another laugh.

Ania chuckled as she turned to go out the door. Just as she started out, she turned to them and commented, "You know, Diego, I have decided that there is something we really must do once we are married."

"Oh, what is that, Ania?" Diego inquired, wondering what had popped into her mind this time.

"We must find Bernardo a sweet little señorita, too." She grinned mischievously at Bernardo as he glanced at her in surprise. "Yes, then WE get to be the chaperone and pop in at just the wrong times!"

"Or the right ones," Diego amended with a laugh.

"Yes," Ania agreed ruefully with a chuckle, "or the right one, at that!" She laughed louder as she watched Bernardo roll his eyes heavenward and laugh silently at such goings on.

Together they went downstairs to see what some of the rest of the boxes contained. Most held various assorted candlesticks, lamps, and decorative items such as paintings. One crate turned out to be more precious that all of the others combined to Ania. This crate contained a half-dozen portraits, each wrapped in several layers of soft cloth for protection. As Diego lifted one out of the crate for her, he realized that what he held had to be a portrait of Ania's mother. He set it on top of a nearby table and leaned it back against a wall. As he stepped back beside Ania, he looked from her to the painting several times. The woman in the portrait had the same slightly almond shaped dark green eyes, the same delicate upturn to her lips and oval shape to her face. The hair was a shade or so lighter, but the resemblance was still striking. "It is amazing how like your mother you are, Ania. This is your mother, is it not?" he finally asked. 

Ania nodded, then cocked her head to the side and considered the portrait for a time. She gently reached out and traced her fingers down the surface of the picture, "Sí, everyone has always said that. Felipe always said that is why Papá spoiled me so badly. I was like a small bit of Mamá come back to him. You are very lucky to have known your mother, Diego.  I have always wondered if Mamá and I were alike in personality, as well. Luisa was Mamá's nurse and companion long before she married Papá. She told me about her, though that is not like really knowing her. She said that Mamá was rather stubborn, and like me, she liked excitement. Perhaps that was why she insisted that she accompany Papá to West Florida to live.”  Ania looked thoughtfully at the painting again.

“She must have loved him a great deal to do that,” Diego commented.

“Oh, I’m sure she did, querido.  So many of the government officials were merely posted to the colony by the king for a few years and left their families behind in Spain for that time.  Mamá knew that Papá was fascinated with the new land and its opportunities for aristocratic younger sons. She urged him to follow his dreams and accept the posting to West Florida.  I am sure there was much excitement for them during their early years of marriage. West Florida was full of dangers, especially in the first years after Spain regained control of that area. Felipe and Eduardo also remembered just a little of her. They said that it seemed that she was always doing something...yet each of them said they remembered how gentle she was and that she would always stop to play with them at times during the day." Ania looked at the portrait for another moment, then up at Diego. "What was your mother like, Diego? Are you at all like her?" 

"Well, a little, I think," Diego replied. "My father and she loved each other very much, but in some ways, she was his opposite. Where Father often rages and storms about in anger, Mother was calm and even-tempered. From her, I learned the benefits of thinking first, then speaking or taking action. She was a very caring person with our workers, as well as with us. I do not believe there was anyone who did not think well of her. There is a picture of her, done when I was a baby, in my room. I will have to show it to you sometime. Father has another of her, done around the time they married, in his room. She was very much a lady of honor. I know you would have grown to love her if you two had met."

"I'm sure I would have. I wonder what she would have thought of me." Ania frowned slightly as she heard Diego speak of his mother being a lady. "Perhaps she would not have approved of me."

"Oh, Ania," he said with a gentle smile at her, "I am sure she would have. She had a way of seeing to the heart of a person. Besides you are not the unladylike woman you imagine yourself to be, far from it." He envisioned her as she had been at the fiesta they had given in her honor. "You are just as you need to be. Had you been different, things might have turned out very differently for all of us a while back. You have said before that Luisa believed that God puts people where they were needed. Well, perhaps He also makes us what we need to be for those whose lives we touch. I could not love you more if I had been able to ask God for exactly what I wanted. He already knew and He sent you here."

Ania smiled tenderly, a look of wonder in her eyes. Had Diego put what he had just said into poetry, it could not have been more beautiful to her. She wanted to kiss him so badly, but there were just too many prying eyes around them. Gently, she reached up and lay her hand against his cheek, letting her eyes speak for her.

Diego covered her hand with his, and turning his head slightly, tenderly brushed his lips across the inside of her wrist in a gentle kiss.

There were times when Ania was astonished at the intensity of her feelings for this man. Sometimes they left no room for words. This was definitely one of them.

Ania quickly dropped her hand as Demetrío came into the patio. "Hola, Demetrío. How far are we from having everything uncrated and back together?" she asked with a smile. "It seems to me we have been at this forever."

"Sí, patrona," the big carpenter agreed.  "The beds and other big pieces from this load are placed where you said.  I think the dining table and the furniture for the sala must be in the next load." 

"I suppose they are,” said Ania.  “I chose only about half of the larger crates for the first shipment. It is of no consequence. I do not plan to be using the casa for a while. We will have plenty of time to place everything as it comes in.”  Ania changed the subject.  "Have you been out by the stables in the last little while? How does Nico seem to be doing with Pepe? Is Pepe behaving himself?"

"Oh, sí patrona," Demetrío laughed.  "As well as that one can behave himself.  He is so happy to be allowed to work with the horses.  He works so hard Nico has to tell him to rest sometimes.  Nico says Pepe will be a good man with the horses when he is older.  He has the touch, that one does."

"That will absolutely thrill Pepe," Ania said. "I will have to stop by and speak to him later."

With a sigh, she looked around at the patio with its assortment of opened crates. She felt that she had had enough of unpacking for one day. It was time to find some reason to collect Ventura and go for a ride. She could talk to Pepe then. "Demetrío, when you go back out, please ask Pepe to saddle Ventura for me. I plan to ride into Los Ángeles."

"Oh?" Diego asked. "Why do you wish to go into the pueblo?"

"Well, mainly because I have a letter ready to send to my friend, Antonia. I want to let her know that the tea arrived. I am afraid I have been a bit remiss in writing to her...seems that I have just had too much on my mind lately. I want her to know about our plans as well," Ania replied, her eyes shining. "I am too happy to keep it to myself! Besides, the day is too beautiful to spend all of it inside unpacking dusty crates! You can come and ride with me, can you not?"

"Wild horses could not keep me away!" Diego assured her.

Ania left several servants still opening boxes and setting the miscellaneous contents in the sala.  She would decide just where to place them later.  A ride with Diego was much more important now.

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In the pueblo, t was still siesta time, so the streets were still relatively deserted when Ania, Diego and Bernardo arrived outside the tavern. "It is getting hot, is it not?" Diego commented as they dismounted. "Since we will be in the tavern already, why do we not have something cool to drink while we are there?"

"That sounds wonderful to me," Ania replied as he stepped up beside her. Bernardo seemed pleased as well.

Walking up to the bar, Ania requested that her letter be sent on the next coach to the harbor at San Pedro and put on a boat eventually headed to Florida. That done, she turned slightly to speak to Diego. "Well, now I can know that I di...." Ania suddenly fell silent, a look of shock on her face. Diego quickly looked over his shoulder to see what was so disturbing to her. Seated at a table against the far wall was Carlos de Irujo. As he caught their eyes, he coolly raised his glass of wine in a mock toast.

"De Irujo!" Diego hissed under his breath. He reached out protectively and took Ania's arm. "Come, Ania. It might be best to leave."

At his words, Ania seemed to draw strength from within herself. She straightened her back and raised her head proudly, "No, Diego, I will not let him rule what I do. I will not give in to my fear of him. We will do what we came here to do. Just, please, remember what I asked you the other day."

"Are you sure, Ania?" Diego looked at her with concern, remembering just how strong Ania's fear had been when she had first encountered de Irujo in San Pedro.

However, Ania refused to yield to adversity and pressure. "Yes, Diego, I am very sure!" she said. She then walked gracefully to a table on the other side of the room from de Irujo, as if to get as far away from such scum as possible. She studiously ignored the Spaniard, as if he were less than the very dust under her feet.

Diego followed her over to the table and helped her with her chair. He kept an eye on the unwelcome man while pretending to totally ignore him. As long as de Irujo was in sight, he could do no harm and Diego planned to keep his eyes very much on the interloper.

"I wonder where Sergeant García is," Ania commented as she looked around the room. "He usually has a sixth sense when it comes to knowing when you are in the tavern, Diego."

"Sí, I have bought quite a bit of wine for him over the years, but I do not really mind. Besides being a fount of information without meaning to be, he has become a good friend," Diego smiled as he looked back toward the door, casually glancing at de Irujo as he did. De Irujo appeared deeply involved in a card game with several other young caballeros. Bueno, Diego thought, that should keep him out of mischief for a while. "You are right," he said aloud, "it is not like him not to be around. I suppose he is on patrol, or maybe if he could get out of the comandante's sight, he is taking a siesta like most everyone else seems to be."

"I would like to let him know about our "visitor" over there," Ania said quietly.

"That might be a wise thing, but I doubt there would be much to be done unless de Irujo creates trouble for himself here," Diego commented.

"We have only to wait," she assured him. "Trouble follows him like a shadow. However, I will not let him dim my happiness, Diego, and I refuse to let him see me look as if I am worried!" She smiled at him, to all appearances untroubled by anything. She looked up as the door opened, and an older hacendado walked in, followed by a rather noisy, rambunctious group of vaqueros. "Ah, buenas tardes, Don Pedro!" she said brightly as the older man walked up to their table.

"Buenas tardes, Señorita Ania, Don Diego! Como están ustedes?" Don Pedro said.

"We are both doing well, Don Pedro. Will you join us? We were just about to order some wine," Diego invited graciously.

"No, gracias, Don Diego. I just needed to pick up the letters I was told had come for my wife," the old don answered.

"Oh, I was just about to ask you how Doña Carlota was. I am planning to ride over to your hacienda to see her later today," Ania said in concern.

"She is not doing very well, señorita. I am sure she would welcome your visit at any time, but especially now. I believe I remember her saying that you had given her something for her pain and stiffness a while back. I think she is hoping you can give her more of that. It bothers her that she can not see to things around home as she used to when we were both younger."  The old man shook his head sadly as he told of his wife's trouble. They had been married more than thirty years and Don Pedro felt that the sun rose and set in her. "I have told her that I would be happy if she could only sit with me without being in pain and let others do the work. Our daughters and our daughter-in-law try to help, but she is too proud to just sit and let others wait on her."

Ania smiled gently as she rose from the table and lay her hand on his arm, giving it an encouraging pat. "I believe I have already put the packet of willow bark that I had intended to bring her into my saddlebag. If you will wait here with Diego, I will go get it for you. That way, if I am late visiting Doña Carlota, she will already have the herb for that tea. She will know how to make it. I hope it will help her feel better. It cannot undo the years, but perhaps it will again ease the pain. I will be right back."

Diego looked covertly at de Irujo who was still playing cards. He supposed Ania would be safe enough going as far as the horses outside. He turned to the silver haired old man, "Please have a seat, Don Pedro." At his gesture, wine was quickly brought for the old don. As it was poured, he began to answer a query as to Don Alejandro's health. Occasionally, Diego would glance toward the card game, but for a few minutes the group of boisterous vaqueros blocked the view.

"Hey, Marco!" a vaquero at the far end of the bar called to one of the group of vaqueros between Diego and de Irujo's table. "Come on, Compadre! Your talking is making me drier than ever. Let us get to some serious drinking!" With another deafening burst of laughter, Marco led his group to the bar and loudly ordered wine for the whole group.

As the minutes passed without Ania returning, Diego began to get a bit anxious about her. He totally lost the train of the conversation as he looked across the now empty floor of the tavern and realized that de Irujo was no longer seated at the card game. Fighting to hide a wave of dread, he quickly rose from the table. "Will you please excuse me for a moment, Don Pedro? I believe I will step outside and see what is keeping Ania. Feel free to order more wine if you wish. We will both probably be right back in."

"Thank you, Don Diego. That is very kind of you," Don Pedro said with a nod.

Giving a slight bow to the older man, Diego turned and hurried toward the door. Outside, Diego found the horses standing quietly, but no sign of Ania until he walked around between Ventura and Paseo. There in the dust lay one of Ania's jeweled stilettos. His heart began racing as he realized that only real danger would have caused her to draw the dagger and the fact that it lay here meant that she had not gotten the chance to use it in defense.

Quickly, he looked around at the dusty street. There was no sign of anyone, but he could see that the dust between there and the alley beside the tavern had been disturbed, as if by a scuffle. If there was only time for a change to Zorro! he thought as he hurried toward the alley. However, he knew that if what he thought was going on had happened, every second counted. Whatever awaited him, he must handle as Diego, not as Zorro. Ania's life might depend on it.

Unseen beside the well in the center of the plaza, Capitán Rodríguez stood trying to decide what to do. He had just seen a young stranger come from the alley behind the Valdéz woman and grab her. The woman had struggled but had apparently been unable to call out for help. He saw her fumble at her waistband and draw a dagger which sparkled in the midday sun. So that is how she killed that bandido I sent after her that day in the canyon! he thought in surprise.

The comandante still made no move to help her. He was not sure that he would do so at all. With a quick twist of her wrist, the man forced her to drop the dagger and pulled her back into the alley. Rodríguez looked around. There was still no one else on the street. It would be a perfect way to let someone else get rid of her for him. If I do that, where is the revenge? he asked himself. Besides, then I cannot use her as bait for Zorro. He had just decided to go to her aid when he saw young de la Vega come out and discover the dagger lying in the street. He recognized the anger and alarm on the young man's face and realized that de la Vega was going after them. Well, as we have seen before, even our young scholar can be fired up when it comes to that woman. Slowly and casually, Rodríguez walked toward the tavern.

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Ania stared in fear into the dark eyes only inches from her own. She was pinned against the side of the tavern unable to move her arms or legs. De Irujo had learned the hard way that she could protect herself. He held her mouth with his fingers pressing her cheeks between her teeth. She could not bite him without doing herself damage as well. Her arms were twisted up and away from the waistband, which might yet yield another knife, and her legs were pinned by the side of his leg so that she could not kick.

He smiled. He had her right where he wanted her. He knew it, and better yet, so did she. The fear in her eyes was immensely satisfying to him. "So, my little Ania, we meet again. It pains me to see that you are not glad to see me," he said sarcastically through clenched teeth. "Now is that nice? Under other circumstances, we would have been husband and wife...one flesh. Pleasant thought, sí? You know, I had thought to take revenge on the rest of your family, only to find that some bandido had saved me the trouble. That leaves only you, little Ania. What shall I do with you? Do I just kill you in payment for all those months I spent in prison before Father managed to get me out, or do I take something else that would have been mine if you had not been so rebellious? You know, you are even more beautiful than you were when you were sixteen. Yes, it would be a pleasure to have you." Ania began to struggle harder, only to have her arm twisted painfully until she could move no further. "Hmmm, no.  With you even that would be a problem. If I give you an inch, you will fight and I want no noise. No, revenge has been long in coming, but Little One, it will be sweet!

Ania's eyes grew wide as she felt him shift his weight and free one hand enough to slide her own stiletto from its holder. Diego.... she thought regretfully, wishing she could tell him she loved him just once more. She saw de Irujo bring his arm back with the dagger and closed her eyes.

Suddenly, Ania found herself sprawled on the ground as de Irujo's weight was suddenly pulled off of her. Gasping in relief, she looked up to see her attacker flung backwards. Only then did she realize that Diego had come, unlooked for, even as she had called to him in her mind. However, there was little in his expression or movements of the Diego most in the pueblo knew. Here was Zorro, uncloaked and unmasked, in all his anger, as he grabbed de Irujo by the front of his shirt and jerked him to his feet. "Look out, Diego," Ania cried, "he has my dagger!"

Even as she warned Diego, de Irujo twisted suddenly, bringing the knife toward the young don's chest in what would have been a killing stroke had it ever connected. However, Diego had not spent three years as Zorro and learned no tricks of his own. With the lightening quick moves of which he was capable, he gracefully sidestepped the knife's point, and grabbing de Irujo's hand, used the strength earned by hours of fencing and exercises to force the knife to fall to the ground. With a wordless growl, he backhanded Ania's attacker with his left hand, flinging him backward against the far wall of the alley. De Irujo was back on his feet surprisingly quickly, hand on the hilt of his sword.

Diego seemed almost to forget for a moment that he was unarmed. His own hand went to his side where under other circumstances a sword would have hung. De Irujo smiled as he realized that this man, for all his strength, had neither sword nor gun. Even better, he realized that just as he had thought when he had seen the two together in San Pedro, if he killed this man, it would be another form of revenge on the woman who had caused his imprisonment. He began to draw his weapon.

"No!" Ania cried as she flung herself between them. She could see as clearly as if it were in writing, what this devil meant to do. "Diego, no!" Without a glance, Diego quickly pushed her out of harm's way and turned again to face de Irujo.

"Halt!"

Everyone froze for a moment in surprise at the new voice which cut into the scene. Then de Irujo continued to draw his sword.

"I said, HALT, Senor! I will not have this brawling in Los Ángeles!" Rodríguez quickly drew his pistol and cocked it. He then leveled the barrel at the young stranger. He was surprised as he looked at Diego de la Vega. The look on de la Vega's face...the stance of his body...everything about him seemed fierce, distinctly different from his usual demeanor. Yet it was vaguely familiar, as if it reminded him of someone else. The capitán pushed the observation out of his mind. He had no time for puzzling such things out right now. This other man would bear watching. He was dangerous, and yet he just might be useful. Rodríguez sensed that there was something more than base lust behind what had just happened. Something that just might be to his advantage.   He would have to investigate, and to do that he needed this man alive.

Slowly, de Irujo scowled at him and lifted both hands away from his sword.

"Be careful, Capitán. He often carries a hidden pistol!" Ania said quickly. The man looked at her with pure poison in his eyes.

Ah, so there is something else here! Rodríguez thought in delight. He pointed the gun at the man's head as de Irujo made another move toward the young woman. The capitán took the sword from the man's scabbard, and then motioned him toward the cuartel. "I will see you two in my office in a few minutes to tell me what was going on. Meanwhile, I will see our guest here to his quarters in the cuartel."

Diego pulled Ania to him and held her as the capitán walked away. "Are you all right?" he asked, his voice filled with worry.

Ania nodded and buried her face against his chest for a moment. "Sí, a few bruises, I think, but nothing serious."

"Gracias a Dios!" Diego said fervently.

"I have a very odd feeling however," Ania said with a shaky smile. "It is strange, but this time we actually have to be thankful to Rodríguez. I never thought that would happen."

"No, neither did I," Diego admitted, "but I suppose even he can not be all bad."

Together, his arm tightly around Ania's shoulders, they made their way back toward the front of the tavern.

Across the square, Rodríguez locked de Irujo in a cell to cool off. Going into his office, he sat for a moment thinking of what he had just witnessed. A smile gradually spread across his face. If what I sense here is true, then the final tool that I need to build my trap has just fallen into my hands! he thought with satisfaction. Soon now I can begin putting my plan into action. Señorita, before this is over, you might just wish you had not been rescued today. We shall see what we shall see. Pouring himself a glass of wine, he sat at his desk and began to laugh.

 

 

 

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