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Peace on Earth

 

 

The main source for inspiration for this story is a short little Christmas film, called "Mr. Krueger's Christmas."  This film, starring the late, great James Stewart, tells of a lonely, caring old janitor, whose family is now dead and whose life consists of Walter Mitty-like dreams.  One of his dreams is of a visit to the manger of long ago... a visit that makes him realize just how rich his life is......

It is available from a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for free.  If you wish to get a copy, privately email me and I can ship you one. You can also check on LDS.org

 

This is a story of loneliness and fulfillment, loss and joy.  It is a story of an older Don Diego, a man who has spent twenty years in service of his fellowman, but feels that life has left him behind.  And this man who has brought so much hope to others feels none for himself.

 

 

 

Diego/Zorro and Tornado are the only characters that I have borrowed from Disney.  I have used them with great love and gratitude.   All other characters, (except the holy family), are my own.  If you like them and want to borrow them, just ask. 

I am grateful to my writers group on the GWwritersforum.  Thanks so much.....    You all are the best! 

First his story is dedicated to all my friends in Guy!      But it is especially dedicated to Him from whom all blessings flow, my God, as well as His Son, and my Savior.  Without them there would be no stories......

 

 

 

Part One

 

Modern psychologists say that Christmas, for some, is the loneliest, most stressful time of the year. For some it becomes a time of despair, and nothing can make them forget their misery… or can it?

 

California, 1840

 

The fire crackled merrily in the fireplace, lighting the room and sending its flickering solace to every corner.  But is warm cheerfulness was wasted on the middle aged man sitting in the chair facing it.  His thoughts were elsewhere, and they were neither cheerful nor merry.  The face had seen many years of continual danger and constant stress, even though it was still a relatively youthful face.  The dark brown hair was untouched by the gray of age; wrinkles had not yet marred the handsome visage.  But the eyes were those of an old man, or one who had cared too much and lost too much and seen too much. 

A young peasant girl walked into the library and turned to the morose man in the chair.  “Don Diego, it is wonderful that Pepito’s oldest daughter is going to be in the first Posada celebration.  She is so excited.  It is splendid, is it not?”

“Sí,” Diego de la Vega said in an abstract tone.  His mind was deeply in the past.

“Do you wish for me to call Miguel in to play a game of chess with you?”

“NO!” he said harshly, his mind suddenly jerked back to the present.  “No,” he repeated more softly.  He looked carefully into the face of the young girl and saw hurt, even though she tried valiantly to hide it.   “I am sorry, Isadora.  Forgive my rudeness.”

“Ah, Don Diego, you are forgiven.”  Isadora turned to the fireplace and then paused a moment.  “Patrón, if I may suggest; it would do you good to go to the Posada tonight and the fiesta afterward.”

Diego sighed.  “Graciás, I may just do that,” he said, more to placate the effervescent young woman than out of sincere desire.  He watched her bank up the fire and place another log on the hearth.  She had the graceful figure of youth.  Her hips swished seductively, and almost seemed to beckon to him.  When she stood up and smiled at him, before turning back to the fire again, he felt desire erupt inside his body, a desire he had for the most part kept sequestered in the unfulfilled corners of his soul. This time, though, he let it grow, not wishing to suppress what circumstances and his own choices had caused him to miss during so much of the past twenty years. 

He felt his breath quicken, while his eyes took in every curve, each movement.   It was almost a pain, this hot desire that coursed through his body.  Forcing his eyes away from Isadora, he saw that his hands were trembling slightly.  Quickly he got up and left the library, walking through the sala and out to the patio before the girl noticed. 

Climbing the stairs to his room, he thought about the bitterness that now seemed to hang like a pendant around his neck.  He could have had a normal life; he could have had older children to help him run the rancho by now.  He could have had happiness and joy.   He could have had Anna Maria, or Alicia Margarita, or even Juanita, the Mexican Administrado’s daughter.  All of these women had been attracted to him and he to them during his younger years.  But they had been inaccessible to him, all because of the bandit called Zorro.  And the bandit continued to ride when necessary, although lately it had been more from duty than from the joy of service to his fellowmen. 

Now he had only himself… and his loneliness.   Sgt. Garcia had gone first ten years ago, a victim of his own excesses.  But he served until the end, happy in trying to help others.  Diego had found himself more than a little bit moved by the large attendance at the big man’s funeral.  The loss of his father five years ago had hit him the hardest, though.  The man, who alone had raised him from the age of eleven, when Diego’s dear mother had died, was the person who had left the greatest void in his soul.  Zorro rode often during the year after Don Alejandro’s death, even when there were no wrongs to right. 

The only thing that had assuaged his loss was Bernardo.  The mozo knew exactly what to do and ‘say’ during that first year and helped to ease the pain.  And now, just four months ago, Diego had buried his friend.  No more would he laugh over the silent arguments at the chessboard.  No more would he receive the calming counsel that he had come to count on over the years.   For twenty long, stressful, difficult, but, in many ways, fulfilling years Bernardo had been by his side.  The ache of his loss was every bit as painful as his father’s had been, partly because Bernardo had been like a brother, partly because he had been the last.  Zorro had not ridden since the death of the mozo.  

Looking around, Diego saw all the things that had made his room comfortable in the past. There was the picture of the Madonna and child on the far wall, a picture without the accompaniment of the halo and other things that would indicate deity.  It comforted him because it reminded him so much of his own mother, and he imagined at times that it was a commissioned picture of himself and his mother when he was a baby.  His bedding had been aired, replaced and meticulously made.  Remotely, he resented it.   Most of the time Bernardo had taken care of that job.  The room was comfortable, as far as physical comforts, but somehow empty, devoid of feeling, of happiness.  It loomed huge in its loneliness.   Suddenly, he couldn’t stand to stay in his own room. 

Pressing an indention on the mantelpiece, Diego watched the tiny door swing open to an equally tiny room.  Passing through, he quickly lit a lantern and stepped down stone stairs that he could have negotiated blindfolded, he knew them so well.  A soft whicker greeted him.  “Tornado,” he murmured.  There was still Tornado.  However, he thought wryly, even this was not the same.  This was the third Tornado, the grandson of the original member of the trio that had saved Don Ignacio Torres.   

“Ah, Tornado.  You are wondering what is wrong with me?  Why we have not gone out in a while?”   Diego picked up the curry brush and began grooming the magnificent stallion, starting from the graceful arched neck and working his way across the strong withers, along his back and side and down the powerful hindquarters.  This Tornado was slightly bigger than the first, having been bred from a long-legged Andalusian mare 

 “What a strange web it is that has been woven for us!” he said and then paused.  Tornado turned his head and jostled his arm.  “But it is a web of much our own weaving, is it not, my friend?”   Diego chuckled softly as the stallion nuzzled his hand, the velvety soft muzzle tickling his fingers. 

He continued to groom the stallion, the gliding action of the brush against Tornado’s warm hide soothing to his troubled psyche.  So, Pepito’s blind daughter was going to be Mary in the first Posada, he thought, his mood brightening a bit.  That would be a good thing to go into the pueblo for.  “And, my friend, I will take you,” he said to the patient animal.   In the past dozen years, coal black horses had become somewhat more common.  There were several in his own herd.  The original Tornado had not been idle when he was retired; he had visited herds all over the area.  

“So, Tornado, is that what I will get to do when I am retired?”  He chuckled and then sighed.  No, he thought, when an old stud of Tornado’s caliber visited the herds, he was welcomed.  But he suspected that if he visited area ranchos, he would most certainly not be welcome; he would be shot.  Diego smiled as the macabre vision danced through his mind.  

Later, dressed in a fine green outfit with silver thread highlights along with a design of small silver conchas on each breast, he rode Tornado into the pueblo.  Isadora was right.  It was festive and he could not help but feel some of the happiness and joy that flowed and eddied through the crowd gathered near the church in the plaza. 

“Pepito!” he called out to a man standing near him.  Tornado pranced lightly, nervous to be in proximity to so many people.  He was used to being solitary, furtive, secretive in the quiet of dark corners and shadows.  Diego began to wonder if he should have left the great stallion back home. 

Turning to him, the Indian who had been with the de la Vega family for so many years called out in return.  “Don Diego!  You are here to see Rosita play the Holy Mother of God in the Posada tonight?”

“But of course, Pepito.  I would not miss it, my friend,” Diego told him and then maneuvered Tornado to the small stable behind the tavern.   It would be better for his ill at ease friend and much less noticeable than in the cuartel where most visitors were leaving their horses.

This year the first Posada celebration was going to be held in the tavern itself.  Diego remembered some years ago when he and his father had held a first Posada.  It was quite special, he thought fondly.  “Don Diego!” he heard from across the room.  It was the innkeeper, Juan Morales.  The thin face was gleaming with an inner light of childlike joy. 

“It is good of you to sponsor the first Posada,” Diego called out.

“Por nada, I enjoy it so much myself,” Morales declared.  “But would you do the honors of playing for us after the procession gets here?” 

Diego had thought to be a silent spectator, but nodded anyway, unable to refuse the man’s request.  Morales quickly thrust a guitar into his hands. 

Diego sat near the fire and watched a kitchen helper string the large star-shaped piñata from a rafter.  The ornate earthenware jar, covered with papier maché, swung gently, its colorful streamers shivering slightly as though in fearful anticipation of the total destruction that would soon be visited upon it.   A table near the wall was covered with food--bean and meat filled tamales, revoltijo de romeritos (greens in hot mole sauce), an orange punch heated over the fireplace, along with a few sweet candies made from the sugar that occasionally found its way to California.  

Every few minutes Señor Morales peeked out the door.  Finally he looked out and was rewarded with the sight of the procession just coming into the plaza.  Several members of the group broke away from the main body and headed around to the rear of the tavern.  Soon they could be heard coming in the back door.  Diego watched as the diminutive shepherds and innkeepers pranced to the front door where they waited with Señor Morales.  Suppressing a chuckle, Diego thought that Morales couldn’t be any less excited than the little ones. 

A knock sounded at the front door and the children, who had already entered lowered their voices, said gruffly in unison, “Who is it?”

"Please, kind sirs, my wife is about to have a baby, a holy baby, the Son of God, please give us a place to rest," a small voice representing Joseph said plaintively. 

With a loud cry, and to the surprise of the children, Morales shouted, “Enter Holy Pilgrims!” and opened the door wide.  The young ‘Joseph’ led Rosita into the room and everyone streamed in after them.  The children looked around eagerly and as soon as the padre had said a prayer to end the procession, the festivities began. 

First there was the piñata.  The little ones swung their sticks wildly, but they laughed with joy and watched as the older children took their turns.  Soon, with a loud crack, the piñata broke into pieces, spilling sweets, nuts, and coins all over the tavern floor.  The children scrambled after their treasures, scooping them up and putting them in their sashes.  

Periodically, Diego played Posada tunes for the children and occasionally sang along with them, but most of the time he just sat quietly, sipping his wine and watching.  It seemed like such a long time ago when he had been young enough to be in a Posada and break the piñata.  Suddenly melancholy again, Diego gently laid the guitar down and left through the back door.  Tornado whickered and nudged him on the shoulder.  He dreaded going home to the lonely hacienda, but he couldn’t stand to remain in the pueblo.

Diego noticed a saddlebag tied behind the saddle and tried to remember what he had packed and when.  Scratching the back of his head, he finally ceased wondering and just walked the stallion out of the stable.  He had probably brought along an extra set of clothes in case he stayed in the tavern overnight.

As he trotted down the road to the hacienda, the night air seemed to suddenly get chill and a fog began to pile up from the ground, adding to itself until it swirled around the horse’s chest.  Tornado was seemingly unaffected by it and continued his easy mile eating trot.  But Diego was a bit uneasy as such a fog usually didn’t make its way this far inland this time of year nor was it normally so thick.  He shivered and swiveled around, untying one of the saddlebag straps and digging inside for something that he could wear to dispel the chill.  To his astonishment, he felt the silken smoothness of his Zorro outfit.  He didn’t remember packing that clothing at all.  In fact the very idea of going out as Zorro had been especially repugnant to him in the recent months. 

Tornado stopped in front of the secret cave.  Diego prodded him with his heels, but the stallion stood firmly in place, for some reason not wanting to step through the entrance.  Suddenly alarmed, the caballero dismounted and carefully pulled aside some of the brush that had hidden the entrance from the rest of the world for two decades.   Creeping fingers of alarm began sliding up and down his spine when he heard the muffled sound of feet inside the cave. Diego drew back and pondered what to do.  

Finally, resolutely, he made up his mind, and, drawing the sword from its special place just under the side of the large saddle, he slipped through the brush…and into the smoky, dusky interior of his cave.  But was it his cave?  Diego looked back at the entrance, then he looked around in astonishment.  Of course it was his cave.  After all this time there was no way he could become lost and walk into a strange place.  However, it was his cave strangely transformed. 

There were oil lamps everywhere, straw in abundance on the floor, there was even a torch stuck into a holder on the wall.  There were people, but they were unarmed, holding only shepherds’ crooks.  In the far back of the cave, Diego saw animals, oxen and cows, a couple of goats and sheep, burros, along with several people.  He felt out of place and confused. 

With his sword ready, he continued forward until he was just behind the last man.  They all seemed to be dressed as though from far in the past, in what appeared to be long nightshirts… no, thought Diego, burnooses, with headscarves on their heads.  The clothing appeared somewhat Moorish.  Without exception, they were all wearing sandals that laced up above their ankles.  Their bandas were more ropelike and utilitarian than the ones such as he wore.   All the adult males were bearded, and all were in the attitude of prayer, down on at least one knee.  And all were murmuring in a language Diego didn’t recognize.  He looked around in confusion, wondering what had happened to his cave, and how people could have found and inhabited it in the space of a few short hours.  

What were they worshipping, he wondered?   Diego turned his attention once again on the small group in the back of the cave.  In the smoky dimness, they were hard to make out, but the caballero was finally able to see that there was a man there, about ten years younger than himself with a very young woman, no more than sixteen years old next to him.  She looked very tired and worn, but nevertheless happy.  She was gazing at a bundle in her arms, which Diego saw was a baby, wrapped tightly in white cloth strips, only its face open to the elements.   It seemed to be looking around, making soft contented suckling sounds that were only barely heard above the murmuring of the other people and the noises of the animals. 

It was a strange scene, something he had never witnessed before, and yet, it was at the same time, somewhat familiar.  Then revelation hit him, and the shock of it almost drove him to his knees.  “Santa Maria!” he exclaimed.   That was the Mother of God in front of him, with the Holy Babe in her arms.  The chill of various emotions shot through his body, his sword dropped from his fingers, and then he did fall to his knees, bowing his head and crossing himself.  At his exclamation, Mary looked at him and smiled.  Putting his sword through his banda, Diego slowly got to his feet and walked forward.

 

 

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