"CADENAS DE AMOR"

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

"LOST"

      About a month later, Diego stepped into the tavern late one afternoon.  It had been a busy day at the de la Vega hacienda and he needed the respite a glass or two of lemonade would provide.  Plus he wanted to spend a little time in Victoria's presence.  Diego didn't know what it was about the lovely innkeeper, but just a few minutes with her seemed to refresh his soul.

     And refreshing he did need.  Zafira still had not recovered from the miscarriage she had suffered.  She was progressing physically, but mentally. . .  Diego had to wince as he leaned up against the bar and waited for Victoria to acknowledge him.

     He had no idea of what was going on in his wife's mind.  Zafira spent most of her time curled up on the settee in the parlor, staring at everything and nothing.   She didn't cry, she didn't shout, she simply existed.

     Diego had tried several times; before finally giving up; to get her to discuss what had happened.  She just  had looked at him blankly and then got up from the settee, leaving the room.  Diego had stayed kneeling; his head in his hands; the last time he had attempted to draw her out until his father had touched him on the shoulder.

     "Give her time, son," Don Alejandro had counseled.  Diego had glanced up to see the pain in the elder de la Vega's eyes and realized he was hurting too.  The loss of his first grandchild was weighing heavily on his father.

     "Buenos dias, Don Diego."

     The pleasant voice of Victoria Escalante drove Diego from his painful musings.  "Buenos dias, Señorita," he greeted her warmly.  "A glass of lemonade, por favor."

     Victoria nodded before reaching down under the counter and bringing out a glass, which she placed in front of Diego.  Then she brought up a pitcher from under the bar and poured its contents into the glass.

     "How is Doña Zafira doing?" she inquired politely.

     "As well as can be expected," he replied without emotion before taking a sip of the lemonade.  "Gracias."

     Victoria stared at him for a few moments before turning toward the kitchen.  She paused in her tracks, however, when Sergeant Mendoza and several other lancers tromped into the tavern.

    "Oh, I am so tired," complained the sergeant.  He and the other soldiers sat down at a table across from where Diego was standing.  "I am so sick of patrolling."

    Diego had to hide a smile.  Everyone knew that Mendoza disliked doing anything that took him away from the pueblo and the comforts it provided.  His whining ceased once Victoria placed a big mug of ale in front of him.   Diego sauntered over to the lancers' table.

    "Why is the Alcalde making you and your men go out on patrol?" he asked casually.

     "Travelers coming from the north have been reporting a couple of bandits have been harassing them," the sergeant answered.  "We didn't find any trace of any such men.  Some people just like to complain."

     Again, Diego struggled not to grin.  "Bandits, huh?" he echoed.

     "Si, Don Diego," Mendoza replied after taking a big drink from his mug. "We practically went all the way to Santa Paula."

    "Hmm."  Diego finished his glass of lemonade and walked over to set it down on the bar.  He extracted several coins from his pocket and set them down beside his glass.  Victoria looked up at him, a questioning expression on her face.

    "I'm buying a round for the sergeant and his men," Diego announced.  The soldiers all cheered at the news.

     "Gracias, Don Diego," said Mendoza, a wide grin threatening to split his round face.  He scooted over on the bench he was sitting on.  "Come and sit with us."

      Diego shook his head.  "Sorry, Sergeant," he apologized.  "I have to be getting home."  He gave the lancers a little salute then turned to leave the tavern.  He stopped in the doorway and glanced over his shoulder, watching as Victoria refilled the soldiers' mugs.  She saw him standing there in the door and smiled.

     Diego turned away quickly so she could not see the effect just one of her smiles had on him.  If anything, his infatuation grew stronger every time he saw her, either as himself or as Zorro.  He knew it was unfair to both his wife and the beautiful señorita, but he didn't know what else to do.   There was no way he could put his marriage aside.  And even if he were free, there was no guarantee that Victoria would want him.

     Like it or not, she was in love with Zorro, not Don Diego de la Vega.  Sighing resignedly, Diego continued on his way out of the tavern.
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[parts of the following scene taken from "Zorro's Other Woman" written by Greg O'Neill] 

     Later that afternoon, he was out riding as his masked alter-ego.  He rode toward Santa Paula, avoiding the main road, instead cutting back and forth across it.  He had seen how the lancers patrolled an area.  They marched straight out, then straight back.  They never searched the nooks and crannies that were more than likely hiding what they were looking for.

    Zorro chuckled.  The garrison soldiers' laziness was probably what kept his hideout from being discovered.  Although it was very well hidden, it wouldn't take all that much effort to find it  if one was very determined.

     He and Toronado came upon the bank of a river.  They cantered through the shallow water, crossing over to the other side.  Looking down at the ground, Zorro espied some wagon tracks near some rocky terrain.

     "I wonder what these tracks are doing here," he wondered aloud as the tracks were quite a distance from the main road.  Glancing up, he noticed a plume of smoke wafting upward from behind some huge boulders.

     Zorro dismounted Toronado and slapped a gloved hand to the horse's rear flank.  "Meet you on the other side, old boy," he said.  The stallion whinnied in reply and took off to the right.   The masked man went to the left and climbed up on the large rocks.

     He came to a halt a few minutes later and gazed down upon the scene below.  Two men stand with their backs to the fire, rummaging through a trunk.  One of the men pulled out a blue dress and held it up against his body, causing both of the men to laugh raucously.

     Zorro could be silent no longer.  "Most attractive, Señor.  But not your style," he announced from his perch above them.

     Predictably, the two thieves dropped their loot and drew out their pistols.  Zorro jumped down from the boulders, landing cat-like near the fire.  He immediately uncoiled his whip and lashed it at the flames, driving the smoke into the bandits' faces.  Both men were choking and gagging as they tried vainly to cover their eyes and noses.

     "Let's get out of here," one of the men suggested.  His companion must have agreed because both of them took off running.  Zorro quickly pursued them as they ran through an opening in the rocks and past the wagon that they had obviously stolen.

     "You can run but you can't. . ." he started to threaten before a noise from the wagon stopped him in his tracks, ". . .cry?"

     "She's all yours now, Zorro," said one of the men as he jumped onto the back of his horse at the same time as his partner in crime.  Both men rode off without looking back but laughing almost hysterically.

     The man in black was stunned.  "She?"  He turned around and peered into the wagon.  A basket woven of reeds rested inside the wagon's bed and inside the basket was an infant clad in a white dress with pink ribbons.

     Definitely a she, Zorro thought as he reached down to pick up the baby.  The child began to fuss then let out a loud wail when she focused on his face.  Zorro smiled wryly.  It seemed his mask frightened both banditos and babies.

    "Ah, niña," he crooned, trying to comfort her.  He patted her tiny tummy before glancing over his shoulder to glare at the fleeing thieves.  The baby ceased crying until he turn back around and looked at her again.

     Lovely, he thought.  Just lovely.  He had to find someone to take care of this little lamb, but who?  Zafira was out of the question.  Placing the baby back into its basket, his heart contracted as he thought of the child they had lost.  It would be unnecessarily cruel to expect her to attend to this infant so soon after the miscarriage.  She was barely taking care of herself.

     Zorro carried the niña over to where Toronado was waiting patiently.  With a suddenly weary sigh, he carefully swung up into the saddle.  After adjusting the basket so it would ride securely, he urged the Andalusian forward.
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     Diego knew a thirteen-year old boy was probably not the best person to take care of a small infant, but he hadn't known what else to do.  Zorro had brought the baby back to the secret cave where Felipe had been waiting for his return.  And with a very guilty expression on his young face too, Diego had thought.  No doubt the lad had been fiddling around with the swords that Diego had forbidden him to play with unless he was there to supervise.

     He chuckled.  There was probably no worse punishment he could inflict on Felipe than to watch over a crying, smelly little niña.  She had done something foul in her diaper during the ride to the cave.  He chuckled again.

     Diego's face became serious again as he stepped out of the fireplace and into the library.  Zafira wasn't in her usual place upon the settee in the parlor.  He could hear several people talking, with his father's voice being the only one he recognized.

     Intrigued, he strolled through the library and into the foyer.  "Ah, Diego, there you are," proclaimed Don Alejandro.  "Come greet our guests."

     Diego walked into the parlor where the elder de la Vega was holding court.  An older man and three women of varying ages sat perched on chairs, holding glasses of wine in their hands.  His father quickly poured another glass and thrust it into his son's hands.

     "Diego, this is Señor y Señora Moreno, from San Bernadino," Don Alejandro introduced the older man and woman.  He then indicated a slightly younger woman.  "This is the señora's sister, Señora Rojas.  And this is their daughter, Rosita."

     The señorita looked up at Diego through her long lashes and licked her lips.  Gulping nervously, Diego bowed to Señor Moreno, then took the proffered hands of the women and bestowed upon them a courtesy kiss.  Señorita Rosita kept a tight grip on his hand before slowly letting it go.

     "Where is Zafira?" Diego asked his father.

     "In her room changing," replied the elder de la Vega.  "I've invited the Morenos to stay for supper."

     "Indeed," said Diego nonchalantly.

     "We met your lovely bride when we arrived," stated Señora Moreno.  "Such a darling girl."

    Diego smiled insincerely.  "Yes, yes, a lovely girl," said Don Alejandro briskly.  "Now if you will excuse us, Don Guillermo and I have a transaction we need to discuss before we dine.  Ladies."

     He bowed to the women.  The old don waited while his guest got to his feet then both men walked out of the parlor, leaving an uncomfortable Diego alone with the three females.   The señorita flirted openly with him, evidently not caring that her mother and aunt were sitting right there or that he was a married man.

      The evening seemed interminable.  Zafira finally made an appearance just before dinner.  Diego was pleased to see that she had done something with her hair and had put on a clean dress.  She hardly spoke throughout the meal, however, and didn't even look up as Señorita Rosita blatantly continued to use her feminine wiles on her husband.

     Finally, Diego managed to escape the impromptu dinner party while showing Señorita Rosita a painting he had recently received from Spain.  He didn't feel guilty at all about leaving the bold young lady staring at the work of art in the library while he disappeared through the fireplace panel.

     Felipe had been alone in the cave with the baby for nearly four hours.  The youth had been punished enough, Diego surmised, and decided it was about time to take pity on the poor lad.

[parts of the following scene taken from "Zorro's Other Woman" written by Greg O'Neill]   

     The teenager was indeed looking desperate when Diego walked down the steps into the cave.  He was walking the floor with the squalling infant in his arms.  Diego held out his hands.

     "I know this isn't easy, Felipe," he said as he took the baby from the young man.  He bounced the little niña as he tried to get her to stop crying.  "Shh. . .  Shh. . ."

      Diego felt the tug on his heartstrings as he gazed down upon the baby girl.  He could have had a daughter like the one he held in his arms.  Or perhaps a son, a heir to carry on the de la Vega name.  He wished Zafira would talk to him about the child they had lost.  Maybe it would ease some of the pain which both of them were carrying in their hearts.

     He got out his pocket watch as Felipe stumbled away and flopped down on some burlap bags near Toronado's stall.  The dangling shiny object didn't interest the baby at all as she continue her fussing.  Diego glanced down at what the niña was wearing on her bottom.

     "You could find nothing else to use than my study of Archimedes as a diaper?" he asked archly, sending the youth a disgusted look.  It was the only copy that he had of the study on which he had spent hours working.  And now all that effort was lost.

     Felipe shrugged his shoulders with a look of exasperation on his face.

     Diego stared down at the baby while still swinging his watch over her tiny face.  "Such a dilemma, little one.  What are we going to do with you? Hmm?"  He glanced over and chuckled at Felipe who slashed  a Z' in the air with his finger then put his hands together in a begging gesture.
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[parts of the following scene taken from "Zorro's Other Woman" written by Greg O'Neill]  

     Zorro stood at the back door of the tavern, looking down into the woven basket.  Fortunately, the baby was asleep, or she would have been howling at the sight of his masked face.

     He knew he was doing the right thing.  That the beautiful innkeeper was the right person to care for the infant.  She had a certain maternal quality about her, he had noticed.  Then his stomach tightened as the idea of her being the mother of his children flashed through his mind.  He closed his eyes as the wave of pain washed over him.  He had to stop thinking of the life he could have had if he had not acted so impulsively  in marrying Zafira.  A life that was now lost to him forever.

     Exhaling deeply, Zorro opened the door and stepped into the warm, delicious smelling kitchen.  Victoria spun around and smiled at him.

     "Zorro."

     He held out the basket toward her.  She clasped her hands together excitedly when she saw what it contained.

     "Ooh, she's beautiful," crooned Victoria as she peered down at the baby.

     Even though the child wasn't his, he still inexplicably felt a surge of pride that she thought the little niña was pretty.  "Yes," he replied a bit smugly.

     "She's a treasure," Victoria said as she continued to gaze at the infant.  Then she abruptly looked up at Zorro.  "She is yours?"

     He had to conceal his reaction to her obvious concern that he was the father of the little girl.  On one hand, he was glad because it showed him that she had feelings for him.  But on the other, those feelings were for Zorro, not Diego de la Vega.  Which shouldn't upset him, since he was a married man, but did anyway.

     "No," he replied.  "Um. . .I rescued this treasure from two pirates of the prairie."

     "Thank goodness," Victoria said in a relieved tone.  She gazed up at him with a smile.  "That you were there, I mean."

     "Until I find her parents, do you mind?" he inquired, already knowing the answer.  She eagerly took the basket from him.

     "Oh, of course not."  Victoria stroked the infant's chin.  "Oh, are you hungry, little one?"  She glanced up at the man in black standing before her.

    The sight of her holding the baby was like a punch that knocked his breath away.  She looked like a beautiful Madonna, cooing and fussing over the child.  It was a enthralling picture

     He realized at that moment that he had irrevocably lost his heart to her.
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"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER NINETEEN