Ring of Fire
Now that she had agreed to stay at
her hacienda with Ramón, time passed all too quickly for Ania. As anxious
as she was for the wedding date to arrive, she dreaded even the temporary
move that would come before then. She had become so attuned to the small
click behind her wall that she not only knew many times that Zorro had
ridden, but even more comforting, she often awoke to that slight sound
deep in the dark hours before dawn with the relieved feeling that he had
also returned safely once more. Now she would not have that reassurance.
Ania often pondered the matter,
wondering if there was not some other way things could be handled. Ah,
if I had only taken the time to discuss it with Diego and Don Alejandro
before Ramón brought up the subject of moving into the hacienda, she
fretted. I should never have agreed so quickly. Yet, what else can I
do? Ramón is adamant that we should not impose further while there is a
perfectly good hacienda to be used while he is here. And he is right. I
cannot stay here when there is a male member of my own family in my own
hacienda. Talk would start. Ania frowned even more deeply. If the
criticism was just of me, it would not matter, but it will not be. Diego
will be the object of gossip and his father will be criticized for
allowing...whatever...to go on under his own roof. Diego has always been
so concerned with protecting me from the slander that could have come
before now. How can I not take the only step that would at least limit the
talk about both of us?
She knew that beyond their personal
desire not to be separated at this time was the fact that Diego was
worried about her safety. Even with de Irujo securely in custody, there
was still the matter of whether Capitán Rodríguez would ever try
anything against her again. Hmmm, perhaps that is an argument that
would convince him to stay here. I suppose it is worth a try.
After talking it over with Diego,
Ania explained as much as she could of the situation to Ramón. She had
told him of her suspicions about Rodríguez's involvement with the murders
of Juan and Papá. She also refreshed his memory about de Irujo and let
him know that de Irujo had, accidentally or not, found her again and tried
to kill her. Ramón was relieved when told that de Irujo was in prison,
even if it was a work program. He had a great deal of trust in the
government prison programs. De Irujo, he took seriously. Rodríguez was
"Where is your proof, or at
least, some solid basis for your suspicion?" he had asked her about
What could she say? That Zorro had
taken the capitán to task on her behalf? Since it was not common
knowledge around the pueblo, how could she explain her knowing it had
taken place? The only way that Ramón would have believed that is to have
Zorro himself tell it. Of course, as far as she was concerned, THAT was
out of the question.
All she was left with, other than
that, were incidences which showed Capitán Rodríguez’s, and her
antipathy for each other. When she described the confrontation behind
Manolito's home where Rodríguez seemed ready and willing to shoot her,
Ramón had shrugged and explained her version of the incident as merely
her overreaction to the admittedly natural act of his holding her at gun
point. Ramón had explained in a logical manner that the capitán would
have had to do that until he figured out what role she was playing in the
incident and he had Monolito back in custody. She found to her frustration
that she could prove nothing beyond a doubt to her cousin.
"You have always based your
opinions of people on how you feel about them rather than their actions. I
will admit, sometimes your 'woman's intuition' is quite good, but how can
this Capitán Rodríguez be as bad as you say? You have never seen him
anywhere around when you were attacked, nor have you ever heard any of the
bandidos say that he hired them. All you really have is a gut feeling, and
that is not nearly as reliable as logical evidence," he argued.
"Diego and Don Alejandro seem
to take my suspicions seriously. THEY know he is a
snake-in-the-grass!" Ania countered stubbornly.
"Maybe," Ramón countered,
"but I see that they do not go around saying it. You would be wise to
be a bit more careful about it yourself. Besides, I know you can generally
make anyone believe what you wish them to. You spent enough time in the
fantasy atmosphere of court to learn that rather well."
"I am hardly making it
up!" Ania declared hotly.
"I never said that you were,
just that you may be mistaken, with no solid evidence," Ramón
soothed. "Also I fail to see how staying here would make you any
safer. It is not as if Diego is capable of protecting you himself, at
least with a sword or gun." He looked at her thoughtfully for a
moment. "I am very surprised that he is so...so...." He
struggled for a word for a moment.
"He is no coward, if that is
what you were going to suggest!" Ania whirled toward him, hands on
hips, feet spaced as if she herself would fight him over such a
suggestion, as indeed she would have had they still been children.
"He is gentle, intelligent, kind...."
Ramón threw up his hand to stop her
objections. "Ania...Ania! I never said that, nor was I going to.
However, you must admit that he is hardly such as I would have expected
you to be so taken with. I like the man. I truly do, and I can see that he
is as taken with you as you are with him. But I would have expected you to
marry a fighter...hopefully not a hot head, but at least someone skillful
with weapons. Diego is surprisingly lacking in the skills your brothers
and father practiced all their lives."
Ania rubbed her hand over her
forehead and frowned. "Ramón, remember one thing. I loved my
brothers and my father very much, and all four of them, every last one of
them, died violently. Why
should I not be attracted to someone who believes there is a better way to
do things than resorting to violence? Perhaps he will not leave me a widow
because of a duel or a gunshot." Inwardly, she prayed that such was
true, that somehow he would always return to her safely, despite the
danger her cousin must never know Diego faced. She hoped that someday in
the far future, events would work out so that Ramón could know just how
strong and brave Diego was. For him to do what he did, and be even mildly
criticized as less that manly was just too much to endure.
"Ania, I can understand that.
Perhaps Diego is just the type you need. You two make it plain enough that
you love each other. I just hope that you do not find yourself bored with
the quiet life you will probably lead with him. You were always such an
excitement seeker. Was this an arranged marriage and I the one who had to
arrange it, I doubt that I would have even considered him as a match for
you. Neither of you need the wealth of the other, although I suppose many
people never feel they have enough, so personality likenesses would have
been one of the main considerations." Ania glared at him.
"However, that is neither here nor there. We have ranged too far from
our original topic. The point is that, one, I am the only male relative
anywhere near you. Since you are unmarried, even as merely a cousin, I
have the responsibility to take care of you for the short period of time
that I am here. Ania, I will be more blunt with you than I was before Don
Diego and Don Alejandro. Your reluctance to hire a dueña, even though I
understand it, after a fashion, probably already has caused talk since
word of your relationship with Don Diego has spread. If I live in your
hacienda and you remain here, that will only add more fuel to the fire.
The two months that you live in your own hacienda with me overseeing you
will give the busybodies that many fewer months that they can wonder if
you two have gone beyond what society allows. I doubt that the old tías
of this pueblo will neglect to watch the fit of your dress and the size of
your waist over the next few months. If you gain an ounce, there will be
those who will be counting the months and wagging their tongues."
"Ramón!" Ania cried,
blushing deeply as she realized what he was suggesting.
"Ania, you know it is true!
There will be those who will suspect it, even though no one says it aloud,
at least where any of us would hear." He paused a moment, then went
on with his arguments. "Two, the worry about your safety is hardly to
be thought of. I will have lancers around us most of the time. Not a big
force, but enough. Why, you should be even safer there than here because
you will not have the long ride, usually alone, from here to there to
oversee your rancho. And, finally, three, because you have already given
your word on the issue. That is the most definite reason of all. At no
point in your life have I ever known you to go back on your word! I do not
think you will start now."
Ania looked at him and shook her
head sadly. He was right. She had given her word. "All right...all
right!" she finally muttered. "Then you stay here."
"No, Ania. That would not help
matters," he insisted.
"Oooh, you are so
stubborn!" she snapped.
"Stubborn? Sí, I am. That is a
family trait that breeds true all the way through my family tree...OUR
family tree, cousin!" He grinned at her good-naturedly. Ania merely
Ania was still stinging over his
misjudging of Diego when she, Diego and Bernardo rode through the pueblo
once more on their way to San Pedro to sign for the last load of Miguel
Valdéz's furniture. Thankfully, Ramon was needed at a meeting of the
rancheros in the area and grudgingly accepted Bernardo as at least some
sort of a chaperone, if not the dueña he wished she had. They would have
a couple of days for the furniture to be placed and the servants to put
things in order. Saturday night, their betrothal would be announced at the
fiesta and Monday morning bright and early, Ania's and Ramón's personal
luggage would be moved to the Rancho Valdéz. The thought of the nearly
eight weeks from then until the wedding was like a cloud hanging over her,
inescapable and unwelcome, but survivable, she supposed.
There seemed to be more merchants'
booths set up around the square than usual. When Diego suggested that she
take the time to see what was offered, Ania eagerly agreed. While Bernardo
left on an errand for Diego, the two young people drifted amiably from one
display of goods to the next, Ania buying whatever caught her eye. They
stopped beside one large booth, which had a sizable assortment of laces
and linens just off a ship from Boston, hanging so as to display them to
the best advantage. Ania examined the laces, delighted at the
fine quality of them. Hearing voices, she paused to listen as from
the other side of the hanging merchandise two older senoras were having a
humorous discussion concerning two young lovers and their suitability for
each other. To her dismay, she realized that it was she and Diego
who were the subject of this conversation, the older women having
seen the two of them walking along and enjoying each other's company.
"Now who would have thought
that when Diego de la Vega finally decided to wed that it would be to one
such as Ania Valdéz?" the older sounding voice said.
"Why, Drina! I thought you
liked Señorita Ania. I do, even if she is rather unusual in some
ways," the younger voice exclaimed.
"Oh, I do. Do not get me wrong,
Eva. It is just that they are so different. She is so decisive and quick
in her actions and decisions, and so independent. I would not be surprised
if she refuses to allow Diego to oversee her holdings for her when they
marry. She seems that obsessed with them," Drina explained.
"Well, as far as that
goes," Eva commented, "I doubt that young man would even make
the attempt to convince her to do otherwise! If it is not something he has
read in a book, or related to art or music, he hardly seems to have energy
to care about it." Both women made derogatory clucking sounds and
Ania could just imagine them shaking their heads. "If someone had
told me six years ago that Diego would have come back from Spain so
changed, I would have told them they were loco. He was such a spirited
boy! Now he will talk a problem to death before doing anything."
"Yes, I am afraid he is not
half the man his father is," Drina agreed. "Maybe Ania Valdéz's
temperament will be good for him. Many a lazy man has been motivated by a
wife who knows how to light a fire under him."
"Humph! From what I have seen
of those two, Diego will be jumping to her tune soon enough, probably
quite henpecked," Eva snorted. Both women began giggling together.
"Shhhhh!" Eva cautioned, still giggling. "Someone will hear
Ania drew herself up, her fists
balled at her sides and eyes flashing pure fire. Someone will hear them
indeed! I'll teach those two old biddies a thing or two! she thought
angrily. She started to walk around the stand, but was surprised when
Diego took her arm firmly. Quickly, he turned and walked back to another
stand several yards away, taking Ania with him. Looking at him in concern,
Ania hurt in sympathy for him. She realized that, without a doubt, if she
could hear the women so clearly, so could he. Once again, he had been
unjustly criticized. Why, that must happen all the time! she
realized with a shock. She had never really thought about it before. From
the time she had met him on the patio that first morning, he had been so
kind, so good to her, always the gentleman and so attentive to her
feelings and needs. By the time she recognized the fact that she was
falling in love with him, the supposed lack of forcefulness was an
accepted part of him. Her heart had responded to the true Diego de la Vega
whom she came to love without regard to the passiveness of his nature.
"Oh, Diego..." she began, not sure how to soothe the hurt she
knew he must surely feel. She looked at him closely. The look in his eyes
was somewhat veiled as if he was used to not showing how he felt, which of
course, he was. He did not look angry, merely resigned to things.
He surprised her again by apparently
feeling that SHE was the one who needed to be comforted. "It is all
right, Ania," he said with a wink, "but I think we would do
better at another booth, do you not?"
"You should have let me find a
way to put those two in their places, Diego," she said
as they walked toward another
booth. "It is so unfair! Those old bats would be afraid to stick
their noses outside their own doors, if it were not for some of the things
Zorro does! If they only knew...."
Holding his hand up to forestall any
further comments and to caution her to keep her voice down, Diego said,
"But they can not, can they,
mi amor?" He looked into
her eyes. "That is something I...we...can never allow."
Ania stood silent for a moment, then
lay her hand over his and sighed. "No, I suppose you are right, but
you deserve so much more," she whispered.
"Why?" he asked, surprising her yet again. Then softly, "I know who I am. I know what Zorro does is needed and right. As long as I feel that what I am doing is the right thing to do, that is enough." He looked down at the ornate silver pitcher he had picked up as if it were the topic of their conversation, and then back up at her. "From the first, Bernardo has always been there for me. But in the beginning, I did not have my Father's approval. He did not know and that was hard on both of us. His approval came much later. But now I have the blessing of not only Father's support, but yours as well. As long as none of you have to pay for who and what I am, I am thankful. It is truly more than enough." Indicating the older women who were walking away across the plaza, he said, "The other can be borne. It is really better this way."
Ania just looked at Diego for a long
moment. Words seemed inadequate to express the admiration she had
for the selfless man whom she was going to marry. Covering his
hands with hers, she slowly took the pitcher from him and pretended
to examine it. With a sideways look she said, "Still, I do not
like what they say. I just wish there was something I could
"There is," Diego
whispered back. Ania looked up inquiringly. "Just continue to love
me," he finished, smiling into her eyes.
Ania's eyes softened as she looked
up at him. "There is no way that you will ever have to worry about
that!" she said fervently.
Diego smiled at her for a moment
then looked back down at the goods in front of them. He suddenly began to
"What?" Ania asked,
"They expect me to be
henpecked, do they? Well, why do we not give them what they are
expecting?" he suggested.
"You want me to act like a
shrew?" Ania asked.
"Well, I really was not
thinking of you in those terms. I suppose you would have to ACT that way,
even though I do not think you would ever be one. However, I know your
temper and your determination to have your own way on some things. Perhaps
I have just been lucky that we are usually in agreement," he chuckled
again as Ania looked at him uncertainly. "Just give them what they
are expecting," he repeated. "Come, let us go look at the
saddles. I know you want another one and they have a beautiful one over at
Julio's. I will pretend to be against it. You, dearest, will be determined
to have it one way or another. Let us see if you are as good an actress as
I think you are." Gallantly, he offered her his arm and steered her
toward the booth just beyond the one where the two señoras still stood.
Somewhat bemused, Ania threw herself
into her part. "Oh, Diego! I have been meaning to return here. Look
at this beautiful saddle. Have you ever seen such beautiful silver work
"Well, it is beautiful, but it
is probably a bit impractical for the type of riding you need to do,"
Diego countered with a shake of his head.
“You ride more often to work, not a fiesta. You already have a
very beautiful tooled saddle that you bought just last month. Behind them,
the two women looked for a moment and then leaned their heads together,
"Well, I see no reason not to
have the very best," Ania insisted. "If you truly cared about
me, you would want me to have the best that Los Ángeles has to
offer." Ania pursed her lips in a pout. Diego suppressed a smile. Had
it been real, he was not sure if he would have wanted to spank her for
that pout or kiss her.
"Now Ania..." he began as
if distressed by her accusation. He looked back at the saddle in mock
uncertainty. "Really, now...."
"After all, it is for my horse
I am buying it and my money, " she insisted.
"Yes, you are right there,
" he said in a wavering tone.
This type of thing continued for
several minutes, ending with a haughty looking Ania telling Diego that she
wanted it, therefore she would have it. Diego looked displeased but merely
shrugged as she ordered the saddle sent to her rancho. Variations of this
scene were repeated at one or two other booths, all near the two women.
Ania began to enjoy the role she was playing. From time to time she would
look up and see a touch of laughter in Diego's eyes. Finally he leaned
over and whispered, "I hope you do not get too attached to this
behavior. I do not plan to be the weakling all our lives."
Ania leaned over as if looking at
something beside him and nearly caused him to burst out in laughter as she
whispered back, "Oh? Afraid you have unleashed a monster upon the
world, are you?"
He coughed to cover his reaction,
then said nothing, merely meeting her eyes as he raised a dark eyebrow at
Ania smiled as she led the way back
to the horses. She caught a glimpse of the two old women as she walked by.
Both had self-righteous I-told-you-so expressions on their faces as one
looked at the other. Humph! Old fools! Ania thought.
Bernardo met them by the horses.
Sensing their mood, he looked at them curiously. Both merely smiled and
shrugged. He too smiled as he mounted his horse to follow them. In some
ways, the two seemed quite alike, in their love of mischief, for example.
Unlike the two women in the market, Bernardo felt they were well matched
Things went very smoothly on the
rest of the trip to San Pedro and back. This time Ania and Diego actually
managed to take the moonlight walk on the beach they had wanted the first
time. They left Bernardo dozing by the door, or at least pretending to
doze, and were wonderfully alone. Once out of sight of the small hamlet
and harbor, Ania had come close to shocking Diego, by having him turn
around, and going behind a rock to remove her shoes and stockings.
"I have missed this, Diego. I
used to wade in the surf every time we went to meet the ships back home.
There is nothing like the ocean! Come on! You wade too!" she laughed.
"Me? I have done nothing like
that since I was a child," he objected, tempted in spite of himself.
"Then it has been too long! You
cannot wait another hundred years, Diego. Come on! Walk in the surf with
me." she begged.
Laughing, he let himself be pulled
to a low rock where he sat down and removed his boots, rolling his pants
up above his ankles. For the next hour or so, they walked by the water's
edge, splashing and laughing, as light-hearted as children. Diego finally
grew quiet, watching Ania with the moonlight reflecting around her. She
looked like a beautiful water sprite, so full of life and love that the
whole world glowed with her presence. Finally, he could resist no more. He
pulled her into his arms and kissed her, longer and more passionately than
he had ever dared to before. As Ania responded to him with the same
intensity, he knew that they would have to go back soon. Holding each
other was becoming only too natural, too tempting. There were lines that
they dare not cross yet. Ahhh, he thought as he kissed her again. How
can eight weeks be such a short period of time and yet feel so long?
Finally, sighing, they stepped apart
until only their hands touched. Gently, he reached up and pushed a lock of
her hair back. "Mujer, do you have any idea just how much I love
you?" he asked quietly.
"Oh, I have an idea," Ania
teased with a chuckle, "but do not let that keep you from telling me.
It is rather pleasant to hear!" She did as she had once in the cave
when they had first been honest with each other about their feelings. She
put her hand over his and nestled her cheek into his hand. "I love
you, too, Diego, more than I ever thought I could love anyone or
Drawing a shaky breath, Diego pulled
her close and kissed her again. After a moment, he paused and leaned his
head against hers. "We had better go back now. If we are not careful,
you will truly need a dueña."
He laughed then as Ania asked,
glints of mischief shining in her eyes, "Oh?
And is the dueña to protect me from you, or you from me?"
he lightly grasped her shoulders and turned her back in the direction of
the harbor and civilization, giving her a gentle push. "Mujer, that
way...go!" He shook his head and followed his laughing water sprite
back to the inn, stopping just before they came in sight of the dock to
put their shoes back on.
the next two days, Ania tried to convince herself that things were not as
bad as they seemed. She threw herself into arranging the "new"
furniture. The furniture already placed into the room that had originally
been drawn up as her father's study had to be moved to allow the correct
items to be placed there. Quickly reaching to pick up a gilded wooden box
containing seals, Ania accidentally dropped it. Golden seals rolled in all
directions. Hmmmmm, there are suppose to be six seals in this set. I
see only five. She made a thorough search and even called Rosita, who
had come with her, to help look, all to no avail. Looking to see which one
was missing, she saw that it was one with an ornate V inscribed on it with
a griffin reared up behind it. Oh, well, I suppose it will show up
somewhere. I really do not have time to look any more right now. With
that thought, she turned to go get dressed for the fiesta.
Saturday came and lively music
drifted up from below while Ania was getting ready for the fiesta. As she
met Rosita's eyes in the mirror, her smile seemed capable of lighting up
the whole world. The lady's maid was just putting the finishing touches to
Ania's hair and she nodded in approval of the way the young señorita
looked tonight. Ania seemed to glow with joy which made her beauty almost
breathtaking. She was dressed in a soft silk dress of deep dusky pink that
accented her skin tone. About her throat was a heavy necklace of pearls
and gold, the pearls reflecting the pink of her dress in their luster.
Finally, combs in place, Ania stood and turned toward Rosita. "How do
I look?" she asked, twirling around on her toes.
"Like a princess awaiting her
prince," Rosita answered just as there was a knock at the door.
"Ania?" they heard Diego's
voice call though the door.
Both women giggled. "Speaking
of whom..." Rosita said with a laugh.
"Just a minute, Diego,"
Ania called back as she stepped lightly to the door.
Diego looked her up and down
appreciatively as she opened the door. Then with a smile that matched
Ania's, he said, "The last time, I waited for you downstairs. This
time I have decided that I will escort you down. It is not every man who
can make a grand entrance with the most beautiful señorita in the pueblo
on his arm!"
Ania merely smiled brightly and
nodded. She felt so full of happiness that if she did not hold back a
little tonight, she would be positively giddy. It would not do to appear
tipsy. She would have to resort to using the "cloak of court",
although she was finding it was not nearly as good a way to hide positive
emotions as it was controlling negative. But then, perhaps this was due to
the fact that her heart did not wish to hide what she felt right now. She
wanted to shout it to the world. Of course, that would not do at all, so
she simply kept her mouth closed and reached out to take his arm. Just as
she started to step out, she remembered something, however. "Oh,
wait! My fan..." Reaching back, she took the lace fan from Rosita and
turned to go back to Diego. As she turned, she accidentally got the fan
hooked under the delicate strands of pearls. She never knew how, but
suddenly pearls were showering down from her neck to her feet. "Oh,
no!" she and Rosita cried together. For a minute, all three young
people scrambled to recapture the pearls, which seemed to be determined to
scatter to the far corners of the room and even out the doorway.
Momentarily, Ania's eyes dimmed with tears as she looked at the handful of
what had been Gabriela Córdoba's pearls, the very ones she had worn when
she married Miguel Valdéz. Finally she sighed, "Well, Diego, it
looks as though you will have to wait for me just a while longer. It seems
now that I need to look through all my and my mother's jewelry and find
something else to go with this dress."
"Señorita Ania, perhaps you
can just go with only the earrings," Rosita suggested.
Ania frowned worriedly. "No,
with this low neckline, I really need something about the length of that
strand of pearls. By the Saints, why did this have to happen right
Diego stood silently looking at Ania,
as if considering something. "Do not worry about it, Ania," he
finally said, a secretive expression in his eyes.
“What, Diego? You have something
up your sleeve. I can tell. What are you planning?" Ania laughed.
"That, mi amor, is for me to
know and you to wonder about," he replied with a laugh as he turned
and left the room.
Ania looked after him with a bemused
smile on her face and then turned to Rosita. "Ah, well, bring out the
jewelry chest again, Rosita," she sighed. The two women were still
sorting through the chest, with Ania rejecting first one piece, then
another as not quite right for the pink dress, when Diego returned and
knocked lightly at the door. "Come," Ania called.
Diego entered with one hand behind
his back and stood looking at Rosita, trying to come up with a good reason
to send her elsewhere for a few minutes.
"Diego, what are you
doing?" Ania asked as she rose and came to his side, trying to see
behind his back. Diego grinned and gracefully sidestepped each time Ania
tried to step around him.
Rosita finally cleared her throat.
"I...ah...think I will see if any pearls rolled into the dressing
room. Con permiso." With a quick bob, she disappeared into the
smaller adjoining room. She was far enough away to give them a bit of
privacy, yet close enough by that no one could say that anything improper
had taken place while Diego was in Ania's bedchamber.
As Ania turned back to Diego when
Rosita stepped out, she found him smiling broadly.
"Close your eyes," he
"Diego, what..." she
"Just do it, Aniasita," he
Laughing, Ania closed her eyes. She
felt Diego take her hands, and bringing them together, turn them palm up.
His hand still holding hers, he lay a large flat, clamshell box in her
hands. Ania's eyes opened wide. She gasped aloud as she saw what lay in
the clamshell box. "Oh, Diego! They are beautiful!" she
whispered. There, against the dark velvet of the box, lay a necklace and
earring set of fiery opals set in purest gold. The golden chains of the
necklace itself were brought together in an intricate pattern between a
set of five smaller matched opals, with a single larger stone suspended
from the center. The pierced earrings echoed the pattern of the settings
of the opals in the necklace. Ania was no stranger to fine jewelry. This,
however, was something far out of the ordinary. For a moment, all she
could do was look from the gift to Diego, an expression of delight on her
face. "I love them, Diego! Where did you find them? I have never seen
anything so lovely!"
"They were my mother's,"
Diego finally said with a smile.
"Your mother's? Oh,
Diego!" Ania cried.
"Sí," Diego said quietly,
"Father and I had already been discussing the fact that he wanted to
see me pass some of the things he had kept of my mother's on to you. My
mother would have wanted that. He reminded me that some jewelry needs to
be worn to keep its full beauty, especially these opals. I have always
heard that opals reflect part of their fire from the person who wears
them. Who better than you, my sweet Lady Emerald Fire, to wear jewels
which seem to burn with your own spirit!"
Ania looked down and laughed
quietly. "So, I am Lady Emerald Fire, am I? Well, I suppose that is
due to my eyes, the emerald, that is. The fire is my temper?"
Diego laughed, "No, not this
time. Ask me that again after we have been married a while. Now it is more
for the joy you have brought to my life, joy that I feel like the warmth
of a life-giving fire."
"Oh, Diego..." Ania stood
on her tiptoes and started to kiss him as he took her in his arms.
However, at that moment, Rosita cleared her throat again and stepped back
into the room.
Diego chuckled and gently raised her
hand to his lips, placing a kiss there. "Now who's timing is
off?" he asked dryly. Ania shook her head and laughed.
A few minutes later, Diego led Ania
out of the room, with Rosita a step behind them. Then as Rosita stopped at
the head of the stairs, the two joined the guests waiting below. Don
Alejandro stood with Don Pedro and Doña Carlota before the gate watching
his son and future daughter come toward him.
"They make a very handsome
couple, Don Alejandro," Doña Carlota commented.
"Indeed, Alejandro. Someday you
should have some extremely beautiful grandchildren from the looks of that
pair. You are a very lucky man," Don Pedro agreed.
"I am indeed," Don
Alejandro replied. He tore his mind away from images of the small dark
haired boy who had once filled this hacienda with his lively mischief to
look up with shining eyes as his son walked up with the beautiful young
woman who would forever be a part of all their lives.
He nodded as he looked at the opals
flashing their fire about her neck and ears. "Somehow, I knew they
would be perfect for you, Ania. Isabella would be proud to have you wear
them, my dear," he said as he took her hand.
"Thank you, Don Alejandro. I
shall always wear them in honor of her. She must have been very special
indeed to have been so loved by you two," Ania squeezed his hand and
then looked back up into Diego's eyes.
rest of the night was a blur of excitement for Ania. The hacienda was full
of friends and neighbors, proposing toasts to their happiness and wishing
them many years of joy together. However, later Ania remembered little
other than the look in Diego's eyes and the feel of his arms around her as
they danced. As long as she was in Diego's arms, all was right with her
world. Nothing could hurt them now.
A week's ride away, in Monterey,
four men sat in a back room of an inn. It had taken several days for the
black-eyed man sitting impatiently at the center of the group to gain the
confidence of these cautious men. The man to his right had been his key
into the organization. Somehow, Rodríguez had known this one and eased
his way with gold. He had told them of the group he represented, a group
surprisingly headed by a woman. Other members of her family who were now
dead had supposedly started the group. She had been unwilling to let their
ideas die with them. The Monterey group was, at last, receptive to a note
from the woman who supposedly helped put the various resistance groups in
touch with each other through what was, to all intents and purposes, her
own group. De Irujo tensely clenched his cigar between his teeth, as he
held a wine glass with his left hand. With his right, he slid a folded
document from his pocket and tossed it onto the table before the other
men. The light caught on a bright seal made of red wax. The spokesman for
the rebel group slowly picked the packet up and examined the seal, which
showed a fancy letter V in front of an upright griffin.
"Where did this woman's
so-called plan get its start, señor?" one man asked. "Is there
perhaps money somewhere that could help our cause?"
"I would not be at all
surprised if there was a great deal there. Were you to go to Castilla y León,
not far northwest of Madrid, you would see many lands and casas owned by
her family, actually by this woman now. You see the V on the seal? That,
my friends, stands for Valdéz, a very influential family there and now
they, or rather, she wishes to be equally powerful here."
"Valdéz!" one man gasped.
"I know that name!" He leaned forward, discussing excitedly what
he remembered of Spain and the importance the Valdéz family.
Irujo smiled as he listened. Revenge! Ahh, it will not be long now,
little Ania! Not long at all!