Juan's Christmas Gift
In this story, Zorro
meets up with a very mystifying and enigmatic junior priest named Juan, who seems to
know much about those around him, has a great deal of compassion, even for those
who are enemies, and mysteriously seems to be where he is needed most.
The characters of
Zorro/Diego, Bernardo, Alejandro, Tornado and the rest of the Walt Disney
pantheon belong to Disney and Zorro Productions. I use them with gratitude.
The Russians, Father Miguel, and assorted supporting characters are mine
and can be borrowed for the asking. Juan
is Juan and you will have to read to the end to decide about him.
I want to thank Pat
Crumpler once again for her patience in reading, suggesting and keeping me
straight. I also thank Pat Dodez
for willingness to read my stories, too. (And
for being a darn good library aide. I knew I had a winner when she just about fainted right
beside me looking at pictures of Guy on the school computer, back in the days
before we had computers at home. I
am grateful to Lynn Hodges, who first posted Juan’s Christmas Gift on
the GWOL fanfiction archive and then when I made changes, uploaded those as well. I am also grateful to Olga Levina, who patiently taught me
enough Russian to make the sailors more realistic and interesting.
I dedicate this story
to my family, most particularly my son, Tommy, who, when I was writing this, was
out west serving a mission, dedicating his life to teaching and preaching.
Like Juan, he was serving, just as he still does.
Christmas, 1999, and Dec. 2001
Chapter One - Juan
Alejandro de la Vega felt he had much to celebrate. At present there were no obsessed or evil comandantes to contend with, and Zorro had been able to rest for a short while. There was now a sense of normalcy since the Mexican government had taken over control of California, and life was good.
"Diego, the season of Navidad is upon us. I would like to host one of the Posada fiestas," he announced over a chess game in the sala, one day in the middle of November.
Diego de la Vega paused in mid-movement and looked at his father with a knowing smile on his face, because he, too, had felt the enthusiasm and happiness of his father, and had been waiting for some kind of idea to manifest itself.
"Wonderful, Father, which night do you wish to do this?" he asked, curious.
"The first night, December 16th, and I want to contact Father Felipe and arrange for the orphans of the local missions to attend," Alejandro added with a bright smile. "We certainly have the room for the festivities, and I think the children would like that."
"What a fantastic idea! That should make the Posada even more special. Perhaps the children from the missions could play the parts in the procession of the Holy Mother and Joseph," Diego suggested thoughtfully. "And, of course, we must have a suitable Nacimientos to place near the entrance to the patio. The old crèche is quite small, and we must have the real reason for the Navidad festivities displayed prominently. This will be enjoyable; we have not celebrated like this for some time." Diego couldn't quite say, 'since Mother died,' but they both knew what he was talking about. The two men sat in thoughtful silence for a moment.
Finally Alejandro broke their reverie. "Sí, my son. And we will have several piñatas, so every child gets the opportunity to enjoy the confections and toys." Alejandro's eyes gleamed in anticipation. "But, of course, we cannot forget the one filled with water."
"Just as a joke, you should have that one for the adults without saying anything, mind you." Diego laughed. His father's good humor was infectious. He felt Bernardo's finger tapping on his shoulder. Looking up, he said, "You look excited, too, Bernardo, what ideas do you have for our happy Posada?"
Bernardo signed quickly, but Diego was able to catch most of his thoughts. "You wish to perform magic tricks for the children? Bueno, I think they would like that, too."
"I will ride up to San Gabriel tomorrow
morning and speak with Padre Felipe, if you will talk to Padre Miguel
in the pueblo, Diego," Alejandro stated. Diego nodded and made his
move, which checkmated his father's king. Alejandro just stared at the
chessboard, and then began to laugh.
The next morning, Diego and Bernardo rode into the pueblo, where they found the local woodcarver already working hard in preparation for the upcoming holiday season. His small nativity sets were set out for buyers to peruse. Some were painted; others were simply polished with oils to bring out the natural luster and shine of the wood. Diego picked up a figure of Mary and looked thoughtfully at it. Personally, he was impressed with the highlights the plain fine-grained wood exhibited. It showed off the incredible talent of the woodcarver, but he knew the plastered and painted figures were more popular.
"Señor Martinez?" Diego saw the carver was already aware of his interest. "How much time would it take you to make a Nacimientos for us? One, in which the figure of the tallest shepherd would be, say, two feet tall?"
"By the Saints, Don Diego, that is a hard order to fill this late, especially one that big," Carlos Martinez protested. But Diego saw a slight smile on the woodcarver's lips and he knew it would not be impossibility, just a bit more expensive for the de la Vega money belt. Diego didn't begrudge the vendor his desire to earn a few more pesos. The woodcarver's craftsmanship was well worth whatever he would end up paying, and the extra pesos would probably provide gifts for Carlos’ children on Dia de Los Reyes (Three Kings Day).
"A fairly simple one, with the Misterios as the center piece and a couple of shepherds, a few animals, and an angel. If there is sufficient time then you can also include the wise men. The plastering and painting of the faces and hands should be all that you need to do after you have carved them, as I will have our seamstress clothe the figures."
"Sí, Don Diego, I should have sufficient time. My son, Carlito, has progressed to the point where he is an added help to me. He has a great talent for the painting of faces," Martinez explained with a smile. "Is it possible that your family is going to host one of the Posada festivals?"
"Sí, Carlos, you will have to have the set ready before December 16th," he informed the woodcarver. Paying him an ample advance and bidding him good day, Diego sauntered over to the pueblo's little church.
He was greeted by a man who acted like an initiate, but was dressed as simply as the poorest peon was. Smiling broadly, the initiate took his hand in a warm handshake, and then said, "Ah, Don Diego, you are here to see Father Miguel perhaps? He has gone to visit the family of Jose Lugo, whose mother is dying." The man's handshake was strong; he was apparently used to physical activity and hard work. His wiry body exuded enthusiasm and friendliness, and Diego couldn’t help but feel drawn to him. But when he looked into the initiate's eyes, the caballero saw many years in them, and that puzzled him a bit, because the man did not look to be but a half dozen years older than himself. A hard life will sometimes do that, Diego thought to himself.
"I am sorry to hear that," Diego commented. "She has been ill for some time. You are..."
"Juan," the man said, simply. Then he turned to Bernardo, who was standing next to Diego. "Buenos Dias, Bernardo," Juan said, signing at the same time. The manservant smiled and nodded.
"Would you care to wait in the chapel, Don Diego?" Juan asked, the friendly smile still present. Diego nodded, and he and Bernardo entered the cool, dim interior of the church. Walking quietly to the front of the chapel, he kneeled, made his oblations and then sat down on a bench, letting the peaceful atmosphere settle over him.
"It is a wonderful thing to have a place where one can let true peace enter into the heart, is it not, Señor de la Vega?" Juan asked, philosophically.
"Sí," Diego murmured, glad that someone else got the same impression inside the little church that he did. While letting the ambiance settle around his shoulders, he pondered the statuary along the back wall.
"She is portrayed too sad," Juan said softly, as he too, looked at the figure of the Mother of Christ. Diego said nothing, keeping his thoughts to himself. "She was a happy person, even sorrow could not diminish her joyful spirit very long." He looked at Diego with a knowing smile. "Because she knew who it was she had had the privilege to bear and raise."
"I have never thought of the Mother of God in quite that way, Juan. I always thought of her as sad because of what she witnessed at the crucifixion. But that is an interesting observation. How did you come by it?" Diego asked in honest curiosity.
A slight noise behind them caused Diego to turn and look behind him. Father Miguel walked up to him. "Ahh, Diego, my son, how good to see you," he said softly. "How are things at the de la Vega hacienda?"
"Everything is fine, Father Michael," Diego said in English, to the priest who was born in Ireland, and whose church service had taken him to many parts of the world. "I came to ask a favor of you."
"And I would guess it has to do with the Posada celebration," Juan interjected, also in English. His command of the Anglo language was flawless, whereas Diego could not quite lose the Spanish accent when he spoke English. Diego was astonished at that and Juan’s astuteness and wondered at this man who seemed so learned. However, Juan’s friendliness was genuine, as well as contagious. This initiate had the same kind of good will that Sgt. Garcia had, but Juan was obviously much more intelligent and observant then the acting comandante could ever hope to be.
"I see that you have met my helper, Juan. He is of great service to me, and the children of the pueblo love him. He tells such marvelous stories, especially from the Bible." Father Miguel said brightly. "What exactly can I do for you, Don Diego? Although having come to know Juan as I do, he is probably right."
Nodding, Diego explained what his father had in mind, also informing Father Miguel of Alejandro's visit to San Gabriel. "We wanted to coordinate it with you, Father, and if Juan is such a good storyteller, then perhaps he could be prevailed upon to relate the story of Navidad to the young ones." With Bernardo's tricks and Juan's contribution to the festivities, he felt children would have an enjoyable time. And of course there were the Posada songs. His guitar would see much use on December the 16th.
Juan's eyes gleamed with an almost childlike anticipation, and his smile broadened. "How wonderful for the little ones! I would be delighted to tell stories of the Christ Child," he exclaimed enthusiastically. Father Miguel concurred, and since no one else had spoken for that night, it was agreed upon. The three men then discussed more details about the upcoming events, and finally Diego and Bernardo took their leave. Young de la Vega was pleased at the way things were turning out and was beginning to feel as excited as his father.
Don Alejandro arrived at the hacienda not too long after his son, with the joyful news that Father Felipe had also thought the idea a good one. The good padre had promised to make arrangements for the orphans to arrive in the pueblo on the afternoon of the first Posada, which was where the procession would begin.
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