Amnesty

 

 

 

Part Two

 

AnnaMaria stood on the balcony and gazed at the moon.  Looking down at her hands, she saw that they were still trembling.  She clutched the railing and gazed over the sleeping town.  And remembered…. 

 Gracias a Dios, it had only been a nightmare!  But could it be a true vision of reality.  Could Diego really be dead?  Or when I do find him and if I marry him, could such a thing happen?  Could I stand that?  All I wanted to do six years ago was ride off and be with my hero in black, living and loving him, never thinking about that which could happen.  She laughed bitterly, remembering the letter that she had received from Zorro not too many months after their parting.  You are right, El Zorro.  It would not have been safe to be married to you, but not for the reason that you gave me.  Starry eyed, wanting you just for myself.  No, my hero, you would not have been a liability to my safety, I would have been a liability to yours.

But what about now?  AnnaMaria wondered if she was strong enough to be the wife of such a hero.  She could try.

Señorita, are you all right?” Angelina asked sleepily from the other side of the room.

Sí, I am all right.  I just had a nightmare,” AnnaMaria said soothingly, as much for herself as for the girl next to her bed.  “Please light a candle.  I am not tired anymore.”  Soon she was dressed, her travel bag packed.  AnnaMaria walked down to the main floor of the tavern.  She sat at a table and pondered while the innkeeper began preparing for the day.  It was only a half-day’s journey to Los Angeles.  She should have heard stories about Zorro, but there had been none.  Again her heart constricted.  Could it really be true? she asked herself.

Señorita, would you care for some breakfast?” the innkeeper asked.

“Yes, please.  And bring some champurrado with it,” AnnaMaria said.

“You are up early,” he said as he wiped the table.

Sí,” she said simply.  He left, but when he returned with her chocolate she asked him, “Señor, tell me of the de la Vegas.  Specifically Don Diego.”

“What is there to tell, señorita?  They are rich and I am not.  We serve some of their wine.  It is the best in the area.”  He said nothing more and finally left.  As she ate, AnnaMaria listened to those around her, impatient to finish her journey to Los Angeles.  She continued to listen until the cochero announced that he was ready to go.  They rode and still she listened, hearing the stories that her fellow travelers were telling without adding any of her own. 

When they arrived in the pueblo, AnnaMaria arranged for the storage of her belongings in a room in the inn and then hired a carriage to take her to Don Diego’s hacienda.  She forced her racing heart to calm itself.  “Angelina, stay here with the luggage.” 

“But señorita,” the servant protested. 

“It will be all right,” AnnaMaria said.  “Just do as I say.  Trust me in this.”

The carriage ride seemed interminable although she was fully aware that the distance was no more than that from her own hacienda to Monterey.  Soon she was at the gate.  It was exactly like the one in her dream/nightmare and her breath caught in her throat.  A servant opened the door at her knock and admitted her.  Diego was sitting at a small table on the patio.  He looked up in surprise.  “AnnaMaria?”

“Yes, Diego.  It is good to see you,” she said, controlling her emotions.  He did not seem terribly happy to see her.

“Please, sit down,” he said, standing and pulling out a chair.  Diego seemed to move stiffly.  “What brings you to Los Angeles?”

“You,” she said simply.  “I came to apologize.”

“Apologize?”

“Yes.”  She paused.   “You never wrote to me, except….”

“You never gave me reason to hope.  And there were other reasons,” he said, interrupting her. 

This is not going well, she thought.  He seemed distant.  But why shouldn’t he?  He is right.  I told him that I would never consider him as anything but a brother.  That was the word he used and I agreed.  “Diego,” she began, laying her hand on his.  “There is so much I have thought about, so much I have regretted.  I have seen your face often in my dreams recently.”

“Me?  I thought you only dreamed about Zorro,” he said, his voice holding a bitter edge. 

AnnaMaria drew back. 

“I am sorry.  That was rude of me,” he said apologetically. 

AnnaMaria smiled softly.  “I deserved that.  You have no reason to apologize.”  She paused.  “Diego, you are right.  I do dream about Zorro.”  He looked sharply at her and she was shocked to see that his eyes seemed to hold a kind of hopelessness.  They were devoid of the humor and optimism they had contained when he had been in Monterey almost six years ago.   They were empty. 

What happened to you, Diego? she thought, some of the despair at her waking returning.  She said a quick prayer to the Virgin for guidance.  “In my dreams, I see you and Zorro.  And because of my dreams, I have come to realize that there are so many similarities between you and Zorro.  You are so quick to stand up for the rights of others.  You had the courage to stand up even to the governor for the rights of the peons . . . something that I would not have remotely considered back then.  Both of you are quick to act and quick to forgive.” 

He sighed and leaned back in his chair, wincing as his shoulders touched the wrought iron. 

Immediately, AnnaMaria was up out of her chair and standing behind Diego.  As she touched his shoulder, he winced again.  She noticed Bernardo coming out of the house, a tray with a variety of drinks on it in his hands.  His eyes gazed at her in wonder as recognition dawned. 

Gently, she felt along the line of his shoulder from his neck to the top of his arm.  She probed further down his chest with her fingers and was shocked to feel scars, one very deep.  “What happened, Diego?” she asked.  Bernardo set the tray down and looked from one person to the other.  She began to carefully massage the ravaged area that lay just below the collarbone of his right shoulder.  Diego grunted with pain once, but then seemed to relax.  She continued her massage. 

“You always did have soft, gentle fingers,” he commented, sighing. 

“What happened, Diego?” AnnaMaria asked again, continuing her therapy. 

“I had . . . an accident.  I fell off a horse,” he replied.  

“When did this happen?”

“Just before Navidad,” he answered.  

Four months!  So the dream was partially real.  Holy Mother of God!  He has suffered with this for over four months.  She rubbed a bit harder, moving his arm to check mobility.  “Diego, have you no doctors in this pueblo?"

“Yes, but when did you become a physician?” he asked, his breath whistling through his teeth in pain.  

“Milana taught me many things before she married.  She has continued to teach me much.  I had no idea six years ago that she was so talented,” AnnaMaria explained.  “But there were many things I took for granted six years ago.”

“AnnaMaria, why are you here?” Diego asked bluntly.  “And do not say it is to apologize.  You could have done that in a letter.”

“Like the one you sent me?”

Bernardo continued to stand in the shadows of the large tree, his eyes still searching each conversationalist’s face.  “I never sent you a . . . what?  Wait a minute.  You just accused me of never sending you a letter.”  He twisted around and gazed at her.

“You didn’t let me finish my sentence, Diego.  You never sent me a letter except that one.” 

“But I did not send you anything.  I felt it futile,” he said, the slight bitterness in his voice again.   “You have not asked me if there is a Señora de la Vega.  For all you know you could be massaging a married man’s shoulder.”  He paused, and rubbed his eyes with his left hand and then looked into her face.   “Perhaps you should leave, AnnaMaria.  The past is over.  There is no future.”  This time the bitterness was unmistakable.

“I knew that there would be no Señora de la Vega,” she said softly, her voice almost a whisper.  “Because you could not let down those people who believe in you.” 

His stare became rigid, his eyes hard.  “So that is what this visit is all about.  It all comes down to Zorro.  That is all it ever was . . . Zorro!  Well, your visit is in vain, Zorro is dead.”  The voice was hard like ice.

AnnaMaria almost sobbed.  Santa Maria help me!  There is so much pain here and part of it is my doing.  “No, Diego, Zorro is not dead.  I saw Zorro in the plaza of Monterey not too long ago, protecting a young lady from a drunken soldier.  I saw Zorro in Santa Barbara on the way here, helping an old priest fix his broken cart.  I saw Zorro last year give a pouch of gold coins to a family whose house had burnt down.  There is a part of Zorro in everyone who desires justice.”

Diego said nothing, just stared at her. 

“Diego, what happened?” she asked for the third time, taking up her massaging again.  “Please tell me.” 

“AnnaMaria, I do not love you anymore.  Your visit is in vain,” he said softly, his voice devoid of feeling.

“I realized that you no longer love me and I do not blame you,” she replied, feeling her heart break.  “I was so very blind.  I said that I dreamed of you and Zorro, both of you.  That is when I realized that Zorro is a more . . . flamboyant manifestation of you.  That by loving Zorro, I was really loving you.  You are the heart of courage, you are the soul of justice for the people, and you are the mind behind the hero.  Zorro is the extension of you.  Seeing Zorro is seeing you.”  Her breath caught in her throat in a soft sob.   “Diego, can you ever forgive me?  I was such a child.  So naïve, so cruel.”  She rubbed some more.  “What happened?  I know you did not fall from a horse, unless you fell on a bullet.  And why is Zorro dead?”

“A lancer’s aim got better,” Diego said noncommittally.  His voice still lacked animation, she noticed. 

“And you almost died.”

“Yes, and Zorro did die,” he added.

“But why?   Are there no more injustices?” she asked.

“You are a fine one to ask that question, AnnaMaria.  You who was all for the unmasking at the tolling of the angelus,” he said tersely. 

“Touché, but I have since realized that Zorro is bigger than what I want,” she said.  

“There are injustices, but they will have to be righted by someone else.  I cannot use a sword,” Diego replied. 

“Diego, if you never don the black outfit again, if you never pick up a sword again, you will still be able to right injustices,” AnnaMaria said.  “You will still be Zorro.”

He laughed bitterly.  “I am nothing, AnnaMaria.  Nothing.  I have a ranch, but I have no family.  I have a cause, but am not fit enough to take it on.”

Tears fell down her cheeks and AnnaMaria was glad that she was still massaging his shoulder and he could not see her.  “I rode with a man from Santa Barbara who said that there was a time a few years ago when he received money from El Zorro.  It was to replace his orange trees that had been destroyed by a drought.  He also said that he firmly believed that Zorro had received the money from Diego de la Vega, who had tried to give him money earlier in the day.”

Diego said nothing and she continued, “I listened in a nearby tavern and heard several peons talk about how Don Diego had paid their tax money, or paid Dr. Avila when their children were sick.  A vaquero mentioned how the best employers he had ever had were the de la Vegas.  Sgt. Garcia still considers you his best friend.  Diego, Zorro is not dead,” she reached around and pointed at his heart.  “He still resides here.”

Diego took her hand and held it.  “When did you become so perceptive?” he asked.  This time his voice was softer, more like it had been in the past.  Then, as though realizing what he had said, stammered, “I . . . I did not mean it that way.”

AnnaMaria laughed.  “I know.  And the companion question—when did I begin to have empathy?  When did I begin to care?”  She paused.  “It happened when my dreams showed me just what Zorro was all about.  When I realized what you had been trying to say the last time we saw each other.  When I looked about me and saw the whole world, not just my part of it.”

Again, he was silent.  AnnaMaria began to rub and manipulate his shoulder again, feeling a slight increase in motion.  “You know, it is entirely possible that you may not be able to use a sword again, but on the other hand, I think it’s possible that you could.”  She waited for him to say something and when he didn’t she continued, “But it will take time and it will take hard work on your part.”

“Do you really think so?” he finally asked, hope in his voice.

“Yes.  If you will let me, I can help you limber up your shoulder,” she said. 

Diego took her hand and then pulled her around to face him.  “AnnaMaria, please understand, you are a friend, but I do not love you now.  And if I am able to ride again, the same limitation will apply that was in effect when I left you in Monterey.”  His tone was blunt, but his eyes held the light that she had seen in them six years ago. 

“Diego, I . . . have to be honest with you.  I love you, but I cannot force you to do anything you do not want to do.  I now respect you too much for that.  I will help you because I do respect you, love you and love the kind of man that has been selflessly giving of himself for the past seven years.”  She lowered her eyes and gathered her thoughts.  “It is ironic.”

“What?” he asked. 

“By helping you, I lose you.  By not helping you, I have a chance of having a life with you,” AnnaMaria said.  “But I will help you, Diego, if for no other reason, then to see you happy.”

“Look at me, AnnaMaria,” he said.  She looked into his eyes.  “I see someone so much more than the person I loved in Monterey.  I feel some of the same stirrings, feelings, but again, if I am able to ride once more, I cannot have a family.”

“I respect that, but I disagree with your reasoning,” she said, her eyes blurred with unshed tears.  He looked puzzled.  “Someone who respects what you do, and is willing to share her husband with the people he serves can be a part of that hero’s life,” AnnaMaria replied earnestly. 

“You did not feel that way before.”  His eyes never left hers.  It was as though he was trying to see into her soul.

“No, but I do now,” she responded quickly.

“Very well, then, Dr. Verdugo.  You do what you can and we shall see,” Diego said with a soft chuckle.  AnnaMaria saw Bernardo grinning in the shadows, but did not think until later why that would be so.   She only saw the hope that was mirrored in her own heart.

She began to massage more earnestly, feeling the muscles that had atrophied, deciding how best to proceed.  With a great deal of patience, she thought, her heart singing songs of happiness.  And with love.

 

 

 

 

Previous Chapter
Zorro Contents
Main Page