Peace on Earth

 

 

 

Part Five

 

Leaning back in total exhaustion, he just gazed into her eyes.  A quick denial had been on his lips, but he saw something in the blue depths that kept him from even trying.  “Would it do any good to deny it?” he asked softly.  He inexplicably felt complete confidence in her ability to keep his secret, along with an absolute trust in her.

“No, because I have so many other clues now that tell me the truth, Diego.   Let me look at your arm again.”  Gently, she eased the robe off and then his shirt.  The wound was still oozing blood and it looked infected.  His skin felt hot to the touch.  “I will have to clean it out more thoroughly than I did before.”

While she was getting water and cloth from the cooking area, she suddenly realized the implications of Diego not speaking of his past, of there being no Señora de la Vega, of his apparent loneliness.  His whole adult life had revolved around being Zorro, of helping the people in this area. This great ranch supported his clandestine activities, but his clandestine activities had precluded anything close to marriage or family. 

Sarah found herself being drawn even closer to Diego and she was amazed at the ironic turn of events that had occurred in just a scant forty-eight hour period of time.  She also felt a tinge of guilt for what she thought was disloyalty to her dead husband.  But she couldn’t help it.  She was attracted to Diego--his gentleness, his compassion, his strength.  And she was drawn to more than his personality, although that was the main thing that attracted her to him.  Even though he was more than ten years her senior, he was still physically strong, masculine and sensual.  Wryly, she reflected that he wasn’t even trying to present himself that way. 

She had to wait, had to be levelheaded and not begin something that she would have to end painfully later.  There were the boys to think about.  Carefully, Sarah finished cleaning and bandaging his arm, making it a bit tighter this time.  “Everyone seemed to think that Zorro was dead.  I am assuming that you hadn’t ridden for quite a while.”

“It has been over six months, since Bernardo first got sick,” he said, explaining more fully events of the past several years. “And I didn’t ride a great deal for a year before that.”

“What changed your mind?” she asked.  “Or is it too personal?”

“No,” Diego murmured.  “Not for you, since you are a part of it.”  He proceeded to relate his experience in the cave.

Sarah’s eyes widened in wonder at his story.  “Oh, Diego, that is incredible!”  He nodded, suddenly too tired even for words.   She gently laid her hand on his. “I think it is I who needs to help you to your room,” she said with a smile.   He returned her smile with one of his own.  

The next day, Sarah met Isadora on the patio steps.  “I will take Don Diego’s lunch to him,” she said brightly.  “I met him last night and it grew too late to finish all we were talking about.”

“He was asleep earlier, señora,” the servant informed her.  “He may still be asleep.  That is his habit.”

Of course it would be, Sarah thought, whether he was out riding as Zorro or whether he was feeling the effects of his loneliness.  “He told me of his late night habits,” she countered.

Isadora frowned slightly as Sarah took the tray, but she didn’t protest.  Balancing the food with one hand, she tapped lightly and then turned the latch.  Pushing the door open, she walked in to find Diego at the washstand, stripped to the waist.  He shuffled slightly so that his left side was away from her, but when he saw who it was, he visibly relaxed.

“I thought that if I attended to you, it would be less awkward,” she offered.

“Gracias, Sarah.  It would be.  Isadora is a wonderful servant, but she is almost like a mother hen, fussing over me.  I really do not feel up to figuring out a suitable excuse for this hole in my arm.”

Setting the tray down on his bed, she strode over and examined the wound.  There was still a small amount of drainage, but all in all, she was pleased that the bleeding had almost stopped.  She looked up into his face and saw that he appeared a bit flushed.   Reaching up, she felt his forehead  “Diego, I believe that you have a fever.  Your wound was infected last night when I cleaned it.  You need to be back in bed.”

“I do feel tired.”

“Of course you feel tired!  You have not slept a full night in at least three nights.”

“I slept this morning,” Diego protested.

“Diego, I said a full night’s sleep.  You have also ridden a great deal, saving Americanos from depraved soldiers and receiving a wound doing it.  You have not been taking care of yourself either.  Need I go on?”

“No,” Diego said simply.  “I am too tired to argue with you anyway.”

“Good, then get back in bed.”  She handed him his nightshirt as he turned toward the refuge of his bed.   “You might want to be covered up a bit more in case Isadora decides to mother hen you when I’m not around.”  She moved the tray to a small table near the bed. 

“Small wounds like this didn’t bother me when I was younger,” Diego muttered a feeble argument as he lay down.   Soon his eyes had closed and his breathing deepened. 

“You are not immortal, Diego,” Sarah murmured, wiping his sweaty brow with a cool cloth.  “And it is not that small a wound.”  She pulled his coverlet up to his chin.  Before she opened the door to leave his room, Sarah glanced back at the enigmatic man who had so captured her emotions and appeared to be capturing her heart. 

                      ____________________________________

 

Six days later, Father Miguel came by for a visit.  He was let into a house that seemed brighter for some reason, than it had for months.  Diego was sitting at the sala table going over the rancho’s ledgers.  He smiled a greeting to the padre as the caballero rose to his feet.  The priest motioned him to sit back down.  “You are looking well and happy, Diego, my son.”

“Graciás, Padre.  I am happy.  Is there something I can do for you?” 

“Yes, Diego, you can….”   The priest was interrupted by the thundering of feet that belonged to two rambunctious strawberry-blonde headed boys who galloped in from the patio, through the sala and then into the library.  Father Miguel noticed Diego watching the boys with the smile of an indulgent father, and he wondered if other rumors about the Americano houseguests at the de la Vega rancho were true.  

The boys galloped back through the sala.  “Jeremy, Henry.  Stop.  You must say hello to our guest.  This is Padre Miguel from the pueblo.”  Both boys screeched to a halt, only then realizing there was a stranger in the room.  Hesitantly, they greeted the priest with their increased skills in the Spanish language, but watching him with suspicious eyes. 

“Tio Diego, will we go riding this afternoon?” Jeremy finally asked, his eyes not leaving the priest’s face.

“Yes, of course, Jeremy, and perhaps you can help me cull out a few promising colts to train,” Diego promised.  With that, Jeremy happily shouted and roared out of the room as noisily as he had entered it.  But Henry stayed behind, staring at the priest.  Suddenly the seven-year-old climbed onto Diego’s lap, his countenance fearful, his fists clutching tightly to his benefactor’s vest.  “Henry, it is all right.  Padre Miguel is a friend.  I will let no one hurt you, your brother or your mother,” he said softly, his voice soothing and gentle.  

“You promise, Tio Diego?” he asked.   Diego nodded and held the boy tight.  A few minutes later, Henry climbed down and pattered softly out the same door his brother had. 

“Excuse their hostility, Father.  They had been traumatized and they are just now beginning to learn that not everyone in California is an enemy.”

“Por nada, Diego.  They are coming along quite well, it would seem.  You are very good with them.”  Father Miguel had also watched the auburn haired American woman standing surreptitiously just beyond the doorway and knew from whence came Diego’s newfound happiness.  Whatever brought these boys and their mother into his life; it is good, the priest thought.  The rumor that the patrón was in love with the Americano woman was true.  It is about time, he thought wryly to himself.  “I came to ask if you were going to the last Posada tonight and the mass afterward?  Noche Buena would not seem the same without you.”  At Diego’s nod, he added,  “and you must bring your ‘nephews’ and their mother.” 

______

 

On the eve of Día de los Reyes, Diego found himself in his secret room, changing into the garb of Zorro.  As soon as the arm had healed, Zorro had begun periodically riding again.  Three weeks ago Sarah and her children had come into his life.  The silken cord of love, that tie that at once is so delicate, but also as strong as steel, continued to draw him closer to the Americano woman.  He had felt in love before, but it all paled next to what he was feeling now.  Fumbling with the cord that held his cape in place, he chuckled softly at his nervousness, wondering that a man of forty-three could be so nervous.  Sarah had alternately been receptive and standoffish, but, regardless, Zorro felt that she was as attracted to him as he was to her.

Finally he had all in readiness and made his way through the secret passages to Sarah’s room, which at one time had been his father’s.  Zorro silently slipped through a small door that was very similar to the one in his room and stood watching the sleeping woman for a moment.  Then he padded to the balcony and opened the door, letting the soft moonlight filter into the room.  He noted with satisfaction that Henry was not sleeping with his mother tonight.  That would make things much easier.  He softly called her name.  The second time he called she woke with a start and sat up, staring around her until she spotted him silhouetted in the moonlight. 

“D… Zorro!” she said.   “You startled me.”

“It is the eve of Día de los Reyes.  I wanted to give you my present early.”

Her eyes glinted with anticipation, tinged with curiosity.  She knew that Diego had been out as Zorro on occasion recently, watching over her and the boys as well as others in the area. While it had worried her somewhat for him to put himself in harm’s way, she also saw the joy this clandestine service of his brought to him.  “What is it, Señor Zorro?”

“It is this,” he said, and opening a tiny pouch, pulled out a small gold ring, set with a single large diamond.  “Sarah, I want you to be my wife.”

Sarah gasped, and only slightly regained her composure.  “N…no, Señor Zorro.  I cannot accept your proposal,” she blurted out.

“But…” he began, his face showing a pain that had all but been forgotten recently.

“I cannot accept a proposal from Zorro.  I love another,” Sarah said softly.  She had no idea why she said that, only that it was true.  It was Diego she loved.  Although it was the Zorro part of Diego de la Vega who had saved them, Zorro was just a particle of the personality, a small aspect of the totality that was Diego.  And it would be Diego she would be marrying, not Zorro.  

Zorro stared at her, the pain of her words digging into his soul.  Could he have been so wrong?  Then he looked into her eyes and thought more closely about her words.  She was about to say something, but he held up his hand.  The ring went into the pouch and the pouch went into his sash.  Pulling off his gloves, he threw them on the floor.  With a tug, the cord to his cape came undone and with a shrug, it slid to the floor.  The hat, the bandanna and the mask followed.  In two steps he was back at her bedside.  Pulling out the ring, Diego laid it gently in her hand.  “Sarah Hamilton, I would be honored and very, very happy if you would be my wife.”

Sarah looked up at him, at the eyes that seemed sometimes to hold the weight of the world in them, eyes that were old and young at the same time.  Then she looked down at the ring in her hand.  She briefly thought of James, and thought that he would approve.  He would want her to be happy.  And with Diego she was happy.  The ring blurred as tears filled her eyes and spilled down her cheeks.  Curling her fingers around the ring, she looked back into the expectant face.  “Yes,” she whispered. “Yes, God sent you to me.  And I love you.” 

“Yes?  YES?” Diego asked, only half hearing the rest of her words.  He grabbed her in a fierce hug that ended with a passionate kiss.  Taking the ring from her hand, he placed it on her finger.  “Feliz Navidad,” he said softly, gently kissing the palm of her hand. 

“Oh, Diego, I have no present to give you.” 

“You just gave it to me, Sarah.  You gave me your heart.”

Leaning forward, she kissed him tenderly and then pulled back slightly.  “Feliz Navidad.  My heart is yours forever, Diego, my fox, my love.”

 

The End                                                                                                                                                         Merry Christmas                                                                                                                                   December, 2000

 

    Please let me know what you thought.  

 

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