"CADENAS DE AMOR"

CHAPTER NINETEEN

"COMPARE & CONTRAST"

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

     Victoria was oblivious to the flood of emotion that the masked man in front of her was undergoing, partly because the little niña in her arms started whimpering.  She did, however, look up at him accusingly.

     "You did feed her, of course?" asked Victoria

     Zorro was brought of short by the question.  He had no idea if Felipe had fed the infant or not.  He crossed his arms over his chest and began pacing as a way to relieve the tension his whole body was experiencing.  "Is Zorro not a man of action?" he responded defensively.   "She was fed.  Possibly."

     The sound of approaching footsteps caused him to dart to the wall near the fireplace.  A second later, Sergeant Mendoza burst through the curtains draping the entrance to the tavern's kitchen.

     Victoria chased the stout soldier from the room but not before he discovered the baby in her possession.  Zorro knew that eventually the sergeant would reveal the information to the Alcalde.  Then what would happen would be anyone's guess.

    He watched with what he hoped was an impassive expression as the lovely innkeeper prepared something for the infant to eat.  Zorro grinned as once again he was captivating by how instinctively Victoria cared for the baby, a child that wasn't even hers.

    "Ah, you are a born guardian, Señorita," he declared sincerely.

     Victoria smiled at him.  "We are born guardians, Señor," she announced.

     Zorro crossed his arms over his chest and began pacing once again.  "Yes.  Well. . ." he agreed reluctantly, not wanting her to get her hopes up, but fearing it was already too late.  "It is my birthright to watch over and protect our people, with an eyes toward the future, yes," he rambled on, trying to distract her.

     But she refused to be dissuaded.  "And what could be more important for the future than having children?" she demanded.  She set down the spoon she had been feeding the niña with and held out the baby to him.

     He backed up several steps as Victoria moved even closer as he did not trust himself to be near her at that moment.  His resolve was crumbling fast and he wanted nothing more than to take her into his arms and kiss her.

     "Please, don't be afraid to come closer," she said, then laughed.   "She's not a coyote."

     Zorro gestured toward his face as he thought of the perfect excuse for staying away, from both of them.  "It's the mask, Señorita.  It frightens her."

     "Ah, of course." Victoria smiled beguilingly.  "Well then by all means, remove it."

     Laughing nervously, Zorro had to turn away.  As much as he wanted to, he knew he could never unmask himself in front of her.  Still he had to chuckle as he heard her speak to the little girl.

     "You would like that too, little one," the innkeeper said in a sing-song voice.  Then she added thoughtfully, "I must give her a name."

     "Natasha Petrova."

     The sound of the Alcalde's voice startled all three of them.  The baby started howling as Luis Ramón parted the curtains and stepped into the kitchen, followed by two armed lancers.  He pointed his finger at Victoria.

     "And you. . ." he began to say before turning and seeing Zorro standing in front of the fireplace.  Zorro was surprised the man could even speak, as stunned as he was..   ". . .are under arrest for kidnapping."

      Victoria glanced worriedly from the Alcalde over to Zorro, whose outward calmness belied his roiling emotions.

    "You can't be serious," he said to Ramón.  How the commandante could even suspect Victoria of abducting the child?  It was ludicrous.

     "There's hardly a moment when I'm not," retorted the Alcalde.

      Zorro knew deep down what he did next was hardly chivalrous but it could not be helped.  Once again,  property was destroyed and people were injured, albeit not seriously.  And he hated himself for leaving Victoria in the clutches of a madman.

     But she had sent him a silent message that she would be all right and that he needed to save himself.  It was one of the hardest things he ever had to do, exiting the tavern while Ramón held a knife to Victoria's throat.  But he did it.

     Zorro wasn't sure why he was so surprised that the Alcalde would stoop so low as to extort money from the parents of a kidnapped infant, but he was.  It seemed the man's greed knew no bounds.

     His heart had bled though, when Victoria had to return the niña to its rightful mother and father.  The look of longing on her face nearly matched his own feelings.  He hadn't known he had wanted children until after Zafira had lost their baby.   His insides knotted at the thought of Victoria having babies with another man while he and his wife would in all probability never would even make love again, let alone have children.

     It was a pensive Diego who emerged from the library fireplace in the wee hours of the morning.  The hacienda was quiet as everyone was asleep.  Even Felipe, which was odd as he usually stayed up until Zorro returned, eager to hear of the latest adventure.

     Diego chuckled softly.  The poor lad was probably exhausted from his babysitting duties earlier that evening.  Yawning, he made his way to his own bedroom and its empty bed.
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     One already sweltering hot morning several months later, the sounds of shouting awoke Diego from his slumbers.  He jumped out from under his bedcovers and grabbed the pair of trousers that the night before he had discarded on the back of a chair.  He reached into the armoire and pulled out a clean white linen shirt.  Running down the hallway to the foyer, he put on the shirt and was buttoning it with one hand as he opened the front door with the other.

     "Don Diego!" cried a frantic Victoria.  "Your father. . .  He's been shot!"

     Diego stood on the front steps in shock as he watched her climb down out of her wagon and run to the back of its bed.  That was when he noticed the soles of his father's boots sticking out from the wagon.

     "Diego!" Victoria implored.  "Please, he's badly hurt!"

     He snapped into action then.  Noticing some of the vaqueros standing around, he began pointing at them.  "Miguel, go fetch the doctor," he ordered.  "Carlos, Tadeo, help me carry him into the house."

     The two hands ran over to the wagon as the other hurried over to the stables.  Diego hopped up into the wagon bed.  The elder de la Vega was on his back, moaning softly as blood seeped through a makeshift dressing on his left shoulder.

     Taking a deep breath, Diego slid his arms under his father's back and lifted him up gently.  "Get his legs," he instructed the two vaqueros waiting at the back of the wagon.

     "Si, Patrón," they said as they each grasped one of the old don's legs.

     Victoria continued to hover nervously as the three men carried Don Alejandro into the hacienda.  "How did this happen?" Diego asked her once they were inside.  "Why did he get shot?"

     "It was bandidos, robbing the military payroll," she replied.  "Oh, Dios," she said then pressed her hand to her mouth for a moment.  "They killed two soldiers but I couldn't. . .  I couldn't. . .

     "It's all right," Diego assured her.  They had arrived in the elder de la Vega's bedroom and quickly lowered him down upon the bed.  "Help me get these clothes off of him," he said to Victoria.

     He looked over at the two ranch hands who were staring sadly at the old don.  "Carlos, Tadeo, there are two soldiers. . ."  Diego glanced over at the beautiful innkeeper as she was carefully easing off Don Alejandro's jacket.

     "About a mile north of here," she said.  She lifted her eyes to his.  "Diego, they're dead.  There's nothing we. . ."

     "They deserve a proper burial," said Diego.  He waved his hand at the vaqueros.  "Go, por favor."

     The men bowed and then left the room.  Diego turned back to his father and assisted Victoria in removing his dusty and blood stained garments.  It wasn't until they had dressed the elder de la Vega in a clean night shirt that Diego noticed the blood on Victoria's white blouse.

     "Are you all right, Señorita?" he asked worriedly.  He pointed at the crimson smears and dirt smudges on her blouse and skirt.  He also saw the ragged hem of her petticoat peeking from the bottom of her skirt, guessing she must have torn off strips of it to make a bandage for his father's wound.

     Victoria looked down and paled slightly.  "It must have happened when I lifted your father into the back of my wagon," she stated.  "I'm fine, Don Diego."

      "You lifted my father?" he inquired incredulously.  "By yourself?"

     "Si, Diego," she answered wearily.  "There was no one else.  I had to do it.  I couldn't just leave him there."

     Diego just stood and stared at her.  Just when he thought he couldn't love her more than he already did, his feelings for her grew even deeper.  Before he could stop himself, he took a step toward her, intending to take her into his arms.

     A wild-eyed Felipe bound into the room then, followed by Maria, the housekeeper.  Later, Diego was grateful for the interruption, but at that moment, he was immensely irritated by their arrival.  "Is the doctor here yet?" he asked Maria.

    She shook her head while casting her eyes upon her unconscious employer.  Diego looked from the housekeeper to Victoria and saw the tears slipping quietly down her lovely face.

     "Maria, take Señorita Escalante to one of the guest rooms, por favor," he requested of the older woman.  "Make sure she has hot water, whatever she needs.  And send somebody to the tavern to get her a change of clothing."

     "Si, Patrón," said the housekeeper who then turned to leave but not before Diego noticed the moisture gathering in the usually stoic woman's eyes.

     Maria was leading Victoria from the bedroom when Zafira swept through the door.  The two women had to move aside to keep from being bowled over by the wailing woman.

     "Oh, Father!  Oh, Father!" bawled Zafira, flinging herself next to Don Alejandro's bed.  She laid her head on the mattress and began weeping loudly.  Diego noted that his father grew agitated even though he remained unconscious.

    He bent down and placed his hands on his wife's shoulders which shook violently as she cried.  She whipped her head up and glared at Diego.

     "Don't touch me!" she snarled.  "Your father is dying and all you can think about is groping me!  What kind of man. . ."

     "Get out," said Diego coolly even though inside he was raging.  "Get out until you can comport yourself in a rational and civilized fashion."

     Zafira stared angrily at him, her red face streaked with tears, then turn her attention back to the old don lying on the bed and resumed her shrill sobbing.  "Oh, Father, please don't die!" she shrieked.

     Sighing heavily, Diego grabbed her arms and yanked her to her feet, then pushed her from the room before she had a chance to protest.  He firmly shut the door in her astonished face and turned the key in the lock.

     Diego went back to his father's bedside and fell down to his knees, the events of the morning finally catching up with him as he stared at his deathly pale parent.  He glanced up sharply when Felipe placed a hand on his shoulder.  He had forgotten the lad was still in the room.  The expression of the boy's face was one of worry and shock which no doubt mirrored his own.

     "He'll be all right, Felipe," he tried to reassure the youth, even though he didn't know if it was the truth or not.  All he knew was that Don Alejandro de la Vega couldn't die.  Not now.  Not yet.

     A knock on the door a little while later stirred the two of them from their bedside vigil.  Diego opened the door and admitted Doctor Hernandez inside the room, followed by Victoria who had washed up and changed into a fresh blouse and skirt.  The physician was quickly filled in on the events that led to the elder de la Vega being shot and what Victoria had done afterward.

     Diego gazed  at her in admiration as she spoke to the doctor, realizing that her heroic actions had at least bought his father a little more time on this earth.  He once again had to restrain himself from embracing her as Hernandez chased the three of them from the room so he could attended to the patient.

[parts of the following scene taken from "Honor Thy Father" written by Adam Tyler]

     They all paced silently outside the bedroom.  Felipe cast occasional questioning glances at Diego then at Victoria, which Diego ignored.  What seemed like an eternity later, the doctor carried his bag to the doorway.

     "I've removed the bullet." he announced then shook his head.  "But there's much infection."

     "What are his chances of coming out of this coma?" queried Diego uneasily.

     "He may never come out of it," stated Doctor Hernandez.

     "You are saying he could die?"  Diego looked over at Felipe and Victoria and saw they were as disturbed as he was about the physician's verdict.

     "I'm sorry.  I've done all I can," declared the doctor.

     "Why would Don Alejandro risk his life for the Alcalde's payroll?" Victoria asked as she stared Hernandez.  The physician looked over at Diego.

     "He wasn't helping the Alcalde," replied Diego as he gazed down upon the ashen face of his father lying on the bed, "he was helping a man in trouble."

     Victoria walked up to Diego.  "I will stay with him," she offered.

     "No," he said determinedly then looked at her gratefully and without thinking, put his hand on her arm. His fingers tingled where they made contact with her cotton covered skin.  Tamping down his desire for her, he added,  "Thank you.  He's my father."

     He went over to the bed, pulled up a chair and sat down .  Felipe came up and placed his hand on Diego's shoulder once again.  Diego glanced up at him and realized the two of them were alone in the room again.  Felipe made a Z' in the air with his right index finger.

     Diego turned away and stared at his father.  "No, Felipe," he replied.  "Zorro's place is with his father."

     Felipe nodded sadly then gave Diego's shoulder a little squeeze before leaving the bedroom.
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"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER TWENTY