Return with Honor
The reason this is part of the holiday series is because this was part of a contest which revolved around Father's and Mother's Day.... the theme being how Diego's father or mother (or both) influenced his youth so that he became the man who became Zorro.
So while this dealt with fathers and mothers, I, nevertheless, lovingly dedicate this story to my son, Tommy, who has so far served with honor and integrity. I also dedicate it to my husband, whose own attributes served as the guide for our son..... just as my fictional Alejandro served as a model for his son, Diego.
Addendum: I have
made slight editorial changes in the story and want to add to what I
wrote above. Tommy
returned home, with honor, November, 1999.
He moved back out west to further his education and has found a
sweet young woman to marry. This
took place in May, 2002. In
the midst of the turmoil of this world, I salute the rock of his
I borrow the characters of Diego and Alejandro de la Vega from
Zorro Productions/Walt Disney with much gratitude.
I thank all on the varied lists for their continued support and
At San Pedro harbor, Diego de la Vega stood next to his father and watched the sun rising over the California hills. The light seemed to tinge the brush a fiery red. The younger man watched avidly, trying to remember every color, every shade along with the smells and sounds of his homeland. Seagulls and jays called harshly, as though each was trying to outdo the other. Sage and juniper filled the air with a heady scent. A lone hawk floated languidly above them, searching for its breakfast.
"Son, I will not see you for more than four years. It will seem like an eternity to me, but it will not be that long for you. Make the best of that time. Learn everything you can to make this land even greater than it already is. Diego, my son, return with honor…" Alejandro stopped suddenly, as though he couldn’t say more.
Diego looked into his father’s face and then back up toward the distant hawk. Yes, he remembered the time when honor became more than just a word. The time not too long before Mother’s death….
…Diego wiped his sleeve across his face and looked up. Manuel, Don Sebastian’s oldest son, was standing over him, hands on his hips, a look of triumph on his face. "You wallow like some peon’s pig, Diego de la Vega. Who taught you to fight? Rosarita?" the larger boy sneered. Then he threw back his head and laughed uproariously.
A fiery rage consumed Diego’s heart, and forced hot tears of defeat to the corners of his eyes. Blinking fiercely, he raised his sleeve to wipe the offending moisture away and saw the blood on his sleeve.
"Go home, niña. Go home to your mama. Let her read her precious books to you and sing to you. Leave the fighting to men," Manuel taunted. Turning to the little peon boy cringing in the dust, he commanded, "Go, and next time I tell you to do something, you will do it. Do you understand?" The peon nodded vigorously, his eyes wide with fear. He scuttled backwards on his bottom for a few feet, his eyes never leaving Manuel’s face, before finally jumping to his feet and running down the dusty road.
"Go, Diego. Let us see how much dust you can kick up," Manuel said, turning his attention back to his opponent.
"That was a cruel trick, Manuel, hiding those stones in your pockets and putting them in your fists," Rosarita said hotly. She stood indignantly, waving her finger in front of the larger boy’s face.
Manuel grabbed her outstretched hand and jerked her close to him. "I will not be told what to do by either a weak mother’s boy or a girl. Do you understand me?"
Rage forced Diego into action. His red-hot fury unabated, he pushed past his companion and drove his fist toward the larger boy’s stomach. It never reached its destination. Manuel shoved Rosarita aside and grabbed Diego’s fist, his fingers becoming like the steel jaws of a trap, clamping down on the younger boy’s hand, squeezing his fingers until the knuckles popped and Diego grunted with pain.
"You want to fight some more, chica? That is no problem to me," the bully sneered, squeezing harder.
Diego gasped at the fierce pain that radiated up his wrist and arm, but he clamped his lips together and refused to make an utterance. He drew back his left hand and slammed it against Manuel’s cheek. With a roar of rage, the older boy released Diego for a moment and then grabbed him by the collar and shook him. Diego felt his teeth rattle. Manuel threw his him to the dusty ground and began kicking him. Over and over again, without respite. Rosarita grabbed the bully’s arms, but she was thrown aside as easily as the wind scatters thistle down. Diego could only cover his head with his arms and take the punishment. The several small pains merged into one large one. The indignation of only moments ago turned into fear. Was Manuel going to kill him?
"Stop that!" a voice cried out. Diego barely heard it, only understanding that the terrible punishment was finally over. Vaguely he heard the pattering of boot steps going down the road.
His head pounding, Diego was unaware of who was calling his name. A priest? Oh, Madre de Dios! Am I dying that I need a priest? He felt gentle hands picking him up. He moaned slightly and then clamped his torn lips together, refusing to give voice to his pain. To give his tormentor any more cause against him. He was being cradled against soft cloth, a warm body. "Father?" he asked softly, not opening his eyes.
"No, Diego, it is Padre Immanuel. I am taking you to the rectory to examine you, my son. Just relax, everything will be all right." Diego finally cracked open his eyes, finding the task infinitely difficult, and looked into the kindly face of one of Los Angeles’ resident priests. The cleric’s sandy-colored hair shone like a halo and his smile reassured the beaten boy. Diego relaxed in the man’s strong arms.
"Diego was just trying to help a peon. Manuel was beating him because he dropped his bridle," Rosarita explained.
"It is a good thing to have a noble heart, my son, but it is impossible even for a brave-hearted hare to fight a lion in open combat," Father Immanuel said gently, as he entered his room. Carefully he laid Diego on his pallet and directed Rosarita to light several candles. The priest pulled back the cloth coverings of his windows letting the light stream into the room. Opening a small wardrobe, he pulled out a leather bag and set it next to the battered boy.
Turning to Rosarita, he told her, "You go on home, señorita. If you see Don Alejandro, let him know where his son is." Rosarita looked at Diego sadly. "Señorita, this young caballero will yet live to defend the honor of peons and young ladies," he added, smiling reassuringly at the girl. She smiled back at the priest, then smiled at Diego and left.
"Diego, does anything feel like it’s broken?" Father Immanuel asked.
Diego shook his head, but then stopped. There was a pain in his head that matched places on his body. "I do not think so, Padre."
"Well, let me check and see, my boy." Carefully, the priest manipulated and prodded various places on his body. Diego winced when Father Immanuel felt the fingers on his right hand. "I feel no breaks, but I believe that young Manuel Gavilan may have strained the joints of this hand. You will need to be careful for a few days." A short while later, the priest sat back and perused the boy. "I believe you will live, young de la Vega, but you will be sporting a few bruises for awhile."
Diego stood up, feeling stiff and sore in every part of his ten-year-old body. "Gracias, Padre."
"Diego, the wind cannot bring down the juniper by blowing directly against it. The wind defeats the juniper by blowing the earth away from its roots. You cannot hope to defeat the likes of Manuel by trying to fight against his brute strength." As Diego left the church, he wondered what he meant by the wind and the juniper tree.
"Do you understand what to do, Pedro?" Diego asked. The other boy nodded. Diego looked up and saw large grins on the faces of the other boys as they huddled together. There were six of them altogether, boys from hacendado’s houses, boys from the vaqueros’ quarters, all friends of Diego. All of them were sporting wolfish grins of anticipation, deciding strategy in the stable yard of the de la Vega hacienda.
"Lupe and Juan will grab Manuel’s legs, Pedro and Jose well grab his arms, Jorge, you will grab him around the waist. You have the longest arms," Diego instructed. His eyes glowed; finally he was going to get the revenge that he so desired. That was all he had thought about for the two weeks it had taken him to fully recover from Manuel’s beating.
"And you will give Manuel the same that he gave you," Jorge said with a laugh. He went into a fighter’s stance and struck an imaginary foe with his fists. "First with the right hand. Pow! Right in the stomach. Then with the left hand, right under the jaw. Over and over again. Let him feel what it is like to be beaten."
"Let who feel what it is like to be beaten?" a low voice asked. Turning in alarm, Diego saw his father approaching from the outside gate.
"Manuel, Don Alejandro," Lupe piped up.
"Oh?" Alejandro raised his eyebrows in interest. His once dark brown hair was shot liberally with gray, but his walk was still vigorous as he drew near the boys. "I think your planning is over for the day. You boys go on home. Carlos will accompany you two," Alejandro said, looking at Lupe and Jorge, sons of local hacendados. The rest of you, go see if your parents have something for you to do." The boys scattered until only Diego and his father were standing in the open area of the stable.
"My son, what is this you were planning?"
Diego looked toward the ground. "We were going to get Manuel back for beating me up," he said quietly. Somehow, Diego knew that Father wouldn’t like his plans very much.
"Did Manuel beat up just you, or did he beat up all six of you at one time?" Alejandro asked pointedly. Diego realized that his father had heard all of their plans.
"Just me, but Father…"
"Diego, what honor is there in six of you ambushing and beating one, even if that one is a bully?"
"Father, I cannot defeat Manuel by myself. He is too big and strong," Diego protested.
"Diego, that is not the point. How would such a victory feel?"
Sighing, Diego looked up at his father. "I suppose I would still feel that I had not defeated him myself," he said. "But Father, how can I beat him. He is not much older than I, but he is so much bigger and stronger."
"My son, it is my thought that you have been devoting so much time to studies that you have neglected to build your physical strength," Alejandro said thoughtfully.
"But Father, you have said how important education is to the running of a rancho," Diego protested mildly.
"Sí, it is, my son, but you must also have the physical strength to run a rancho as well. You must have the stamina to ride all day after the cattle and horses. You must be strong enough to hold the steers when you have roped them. You must have strength to hold on to this beautiful land that God has granted us. Do you understand, Diego?"
"Perhaps you need to work at building your strength and then when the time comes you will be able to defend yourself against the likes of Manuel Gavilan. But son, always remember to fight your battles honorably."
"But Manuel does not fight honorably," Diego protested. "He hid rocks in his fists."
"You are correct, Diego, he does not. There will always be individuals who take advantage of those weaker. That is why it is up to those of us who have more power to help those who cannot stand up for themselves, those who are less fortunate."
"That was what I was trying to do, Father."
"I know, Diego." He put his arm around his son’s shoulders. This son of his, who looked so much like his wife, Isabella, who had so much of her intelligence, and her spirit, warmed his heart. He felt the heart of a lion beating in the small body close to his side. "Diego, I was very proud of the way you stood up for the peon boy’s rights. That, too, is the sign of a good leader. But it does no good to try to stand up for someone’s rights; you must be able to succeed.
"Right now you are letting Manuel determine where and when you fight. You let him goad you into a fighting rage and then you are ready to be beaten. In order to defeat him, you must be the one to determine the battle," Alejandro admonished.
"How will I do that, Father?" Diego asked plaintively. "Will that be when my body is stronger, when I can fight better."
"No, my son. If you think before you act and if you let your heart help you decide, you will know the time. Do not seek a fight, but when the time is right, and if the cause is honorable, do not run away from it."
"Diego, shall we read some more of the story of El Cid?" Isabella de la Vega asked. She watched her son fingering the hilt of one of Alejandro’s swords. Although he had not yet been taught to fence, she could see in his small frame a natural grace that would make him a very good swordsman someday. Her only son was growing up so fast. She watched him touch the place on his cheek that had only recently turned back to its natural color. The green and purple bruises had been a continual embarrassment to him long after his cut lip, and sore hands and muscles had totally healed. "Diego," she said softly.
As he turned, Isabella saw a look of deep and ignominious shame in his eyes. "Diego, come here, please," she asked. Still holding the sword, he walked across the library and stood in front of her. "Diego, you are still thinking about Manuel Gavilan?"
"Sí, Mother. Father says that if I become stronger, I can defeat Manuel," Diego declared. "But I do not think I can ever become that strong," he added with a sigh.
"Maybe not, Diego," she said, remembering her conversation with her husband just the previous night. She was slightly chagrined that Diego had apparently only remembered a small part of Alejandro’s admonitions. In her heart she hoped her son would remember more than revenge as he began his quest to be stronger. She saw so much more for her son than proving himself to the neighboring bully. She saw a compassionate heart, a will to do right, to be a leader. Her heart swelled. There was so much of Alejandro’s fire, passion and spirit in this son of theirs. She was so proud of him. Tears of pride and joy stung her eyes and she turned away to dab them with her handkerchief.
"Diego, have you ever seen the badger fight a bear?"
"Sí, Mother. Don Miguel had a badger and a bear fighting one time. The badger won."
"Yes, Diego, he did," Isabella said. She didn’t approve of Alejandro taking Diego to such spectacles, but in this case, maybe his adventure would serve a better purpose.
There was a silence for a few moments as Diego gazed at her, wondering what she was going to say next. Isabella refrained from any comments, only turning back to her painting.
"The badger won. Oh! The badger won! He is smaller, but he won," Diego finally exclaimed.
"Why do think he won, my son? He is so much smaller, you know."
"He was quicker than the bear," Diego mused out loud. "And he kept moving around, not letting the bear catch him with it paws." Isabella nodded.
"Yes, but the bear could have killed the badger with one blow, could he not?" Isabella asked.
"Sí, Mother, but he kept biting the bear when the bear couldn’t see him. He watched the bear carefully and waited for the right time to bite him."
"What does that tell us about the badger?"
"He’s smarter?" Diego asked.
"That is one reason. Diego, my son, think about the badger, which is a small animal compared to the bear. And remember, if you cannot be a lion, be a fox, cunning and wise. Shall we read a bit about El Cid. He, too, was weak. He had few men but he defeated the more numerous forces of the Moors and drove them out of Spain."
"Because he was smart, too," Diego responded as he reached for the leather bound book in his mother’s hands. For a while they read together, each one taking a turn. Diego listened more closely to the narrative, trying to pick out the qualities of El Cid that would help him in his present dilemma. Then he read a passage that caused him to pause briefly. The hero watched for hidden weaknesses in his enemies, weaknesses he could turn against the Moorish conquerors. The boy continued reading, but didn’t concentrate on the words.