"CADENAS DE AMOR"
Diego's mouth dropped open in astonishment. Zafira. He didn't hear the murmurs of the crowd inside the tavern. He didn't even feel the hand Victoria placed on his arm as she looked up at him with an expression of concern.
Dios mio. He hadn't even thought for one moment that she could be the one selected from the hat. That she could be the one sacrificed by Palomarez in his insane attempt to capture Zorro. All his worries had been focused on his father. . .Felipe. . .Victoria. He hadn't even spared a second of consideration for his wife. His own wife. . .
He became vaguely aware of someone shaking him. He lowered his eyes to see that it was Victoria.
"Don Diego. . . Diego," she said as she shook his arm. "Where is Doña Zafira? Palomarez. . ."
"She's at the hacienda," he mumbled almost incoherently. He turned one way then the other. "I have to go."
Victoria let go of his arm. "Of course," she agreed. She looked up at him sadly. "I'm sorry, Don Diego. I don't think that Zorro will let your wife hang in his place. He's not that kind of man."
"You're right," he ground out. "He's not."
He walked away from her then, pushing his way through the throng of people, most of whom offered him sympathy either with words or by patting his shoulders. He stepped out onto the tavern's porch and took a deep breath of the cool night air.
"Don Diego de la Vega?"
He spun around to see Colonel Palomarez standing behind him, a smirk on his arrogant face. "Si," he replied irritably.
"A warning, Señor," the colonel said. "If we arrive at your hacienda and your wife is not there, you will take her place. Comprende?"
The idea of secreting Zafira away somewhere where this murderous bastard couldn't find her hadn't even crossed his mind. Diego narrowed his eyes. "The de la Vegas are honorable people, Colonel." He turned back around, intending on finding his horse and riding home.
"I don't doubt that," said Palomarez in a tone that suggested otherwise. "We'll be right behind you."
Diego looked straight ahead into the plaza.
"We'll be expecting you." He then walked off the porch and over to
the railing where he had left his mare, Esperanza.
Z Z Z
Diego strode into the hacienda, shutting the door harder than he meant to. He went to walk past the library but paused in his tracks as he saw that his father and Felipe were stirring as they lounged in chairs on opposite sides of the chessboard.
"Son, what happened?" inquired Don Alejandro who then smothered a yawn. "Whose name did. . .?" He stopped when he took a good look at his son's face. "Diego, who was. . .?"
"Zafira," stated Diego forcefully. "They are on their way here now to take her to the cuartel."
The elder de la Vega shook his head as he rose to his feet. "We have to hide her. We'll tell them she's out of town. Si, out of town visiting relatives. They'll have to pick someone else."
It was Diego's turn to shake his head. "No," he said wearily. "They already know she's here." He didn't elaborate on Palomarez's threat to hang him in her place. An plan was forming in his mind, and part of it hinged on the fact that he not be imprisoned. At least not yet. "I'd better go wake her so she can be dressed when the colonel and his men arrive."
Diego started to walk away but a slight gesture from Felipe stilled him. He tilted his head toward the fireplace and the youth nodded with understanding. Diego turned around to go to his wife's bedroom.
Taking a deep breath, he knocked upon her door. Then without waiting for an answer, he opened it and stepped inside. Zafira was curled up on her left side, still fast asleep.
"Zafira, wake up," he said, raising his voice. "You have to get up. Now."
She burrowed even deeper under her bedcovers. Diego walked over to the bed and whipped off the embroidered spread, revealing her night-gown clad body, which, he realized, no longer stirred any feelings of desire in him. Zafira's eyes popped open then and she took a few moments to take in her surroundings.
Sitting up, she crossed her arms over her bosom and glared at her husband. "Get out of here," she snarled. "I don't want to. . ."
"I'm not here for that," replied Diego, trying to keep the disgust from his tone but not quite succeeding. "Your name was drawn in the lottery. You are going to hang at sunrise unless Zorro turns himself in before then."
"Dios mio," whispered Zafira. "Are. . . Are you sure?"
"I was there," stated Diego. "They're coming to take you to the cuartel as we speak. I thought you might want to get dressed first."
"Si, si, of course," she agreed. As if in a daze, she rose from the bed and went over to the armoire. Zafira put her hand on its door knob then turned to face Diego. "You are hardly the grieving husband," she sneered at him. "You're probably hoping Zorro doesn't show up, aren't. . ."
In three strides, Diego was across the room. He grabbed Zafira's left arm and made her face him. "I've never wished you dead, Zafira," he said honestly, looking into her blue eyes. "Don't ever think that. Whatever else has happened between us, I've never wished that."
"Let go," she whimpered. "You're hurting me." Diego then realized he was squeezing her upper arm very tightly. He immediately relaxed his hand and took a step backward.
"I'll let you get ready," he said in a chastised tone. He turned and stalked out of her room.
Less than ten minutes later, Colonel Palomarez and his men arrived at the hacienda. For once, Zafira had dressed quickly and was awaiting their arrival.
"This is an outrage!" Don Alejandro shouted at Palomarez.
"No, the outrage is people like you who have aided and abetted this criminal for so long," declared the colonel. "You only have yourself to blame, Señor."
The elder de la Vega turned away from the soldier and put his hand on Zafira's shoulder. "Don't worry, hija," he said reassuringly in a low voice. "We won't let you hang."
Zafira wept silently until two of the soldiers started to lead her out of the house. Then she began to wail.
"Do something, Father!" she cried. "Don't let them take me!"
Don Alejandro started to go after her but Diego blocked him with his arm. The old don turned an angry face to his son. "Get out of the way, Diego," he warned as Zafira's pleas for help could be heard from outside.
"He just hang you as well if you try to stop them," Diego advised. The elder de la Vega shook his head.
"Malditas," he growled. "We just can't sit back and let her die. Don't you even care?"
"I care," replied Diego through clenched teeth. "I care enough to not want to see you die as well."
"Well, you'd better hope and pray that Zorro is more of a gentleman than you are," Don Alejandro shot back. "I'm going into town. Are you coming?"
Diego shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "What would be the point? Palomarez isn't going to release Zafira, at least not until he has Zorro in his clutches. Then I imagine the colonel will let her come home. We need to be here when that happens." He took a deep breath. "Because you're right, a gentleman like Zorro would never let an innocent woman hang in his place."
"Very well," conceded the old don.
Shaking his head exasperatedly, he walked toward his bed chamber.
As soon as his door closed and the servants had gone back to their own
beds, Diego sprinted toward the fireplace in the library. Punching
the mantle with more force than usual, he then ducked down and passed through
the opening panel then into the cave, where Felipe had Toronado saddled
Z Z Z
Zorro climbed his whip up the side of the tavern until he reached a window, which he then cautiously opened. He then swung his leg up over its sill and landed soundlessly on the room's floor.
For the second time that night, he gazed down upon a sleeping woman. Only this time the woman in question wasn't his wife, but Victoria. And he had no plans to wake her. He just wanted to see her, for what could be the last time, if his plan went awry.
He knelt beside her bed and watched her breathe for a few moments before bestowing a light kiss on her forehead. "I love you," he said, uttering the words he could never say to her when she was awake. He got back up on his feet and with a swirl of his cape, he left her bedroom, quietly closing the door as he left to go downstairs and make his date with destiny.
[almost all of the following scene was taken from "A Deal With the Devil" written by Suzanne Herrera]
The howling of a wolf broke the still of the night as Zorro advanced toward Palomarez as the military man sat at one of the tables in the main room of the tavern, writing in a journal of some sort. Zorro silently unsheathed his saber and placed its blade against the colonel's chest.
"Zorro," whispered Palomarez excitedly as he glanced in the man in black's direction.
The masked man put his finger up against his own lips. "Shh."
Evidently the colonel didn't understand the universal signal for quiet. "Guards!" he called out in a slightly strangled voice.
"Please, people are trying to sleep," cautioned. Zorro as he pressed his sword a little harder against Palomarez's throat. "Keep your voice down or your sleep could be a longer than you'd like."
"In the event of my death," countered Palomarez, "I have given orders for my men to execute two people each day until your capture."
"I'm not here to take your life, Señor," Zorro advised, taking the man seriously. There was no doubt in his mind that the maniac had issued such a merciless edict.
Palomarez sneered contemptuously. "Prove it."
"Under certain conditions, I'm prepared to surrender," Zorro declared before he removed his sword from the colonel's neck then put it back in its scabbard.
Rising to his feet, Palomarez turned to face the masked man, holding a shot of whiskey in his hand. "What are the conditions for your surrender?"
Zorro crossed his arms over his broad chest. "That you and I meet on the field of honor, man to man," he said challengingly.
"I'm a master swordsman,"stated the colonel boastfully. "You wouldn't dare challenge me."
"I would indeed, Señor," replied. Zorro.
"I promise you an agonizing death,"Palomarez vowed and his mouth twisted up into a malicious smile.
"Justice for the people is not without its price," the man in black acknowledged.
The imperturbable colonel took a couple of steps toward Zorro. He drawled, "Shall we say the plaza, at sunrise?"
"Si," agreed Zorro with a nod. "If I win, you and your men must leave Los Angeles."
"And if you lose, then you die," said Palomarez smugly.
"In either case, innocent people will be kept from the gallows," said the masked man.
Palomarez inclined his head, "You are indeed a man of honor."
"Gracias, Señor," Zorro replied, tipping his own head.
"And a fool," the colonel stated before raising his voice. "Guards! Guards!"
Soldiers quickly fill the room, all armed with muskets aimed at Zorro. He smiled wryly, realizing that the ignoble madman had no intention of honoring their arrangement. "Put him behind bars. He hangs at sunrise," ordered Palomarez.
Two of his men grabbed man in black's arms and led him out of the tavern. Zorro looked over his shoulder as the colonel mockingly lifted his glass then smirked.
Zorro was relieved to see that Zafira was asleep when he was shoved into the cell adjoining hers. But unfortunately one of the soldiers slammed shut his cell door, causing it to clang loudly. Zafira awoke with a start, sitting up in her cot.
"What's going on?" she queried in alarm. "Who's there?"
"Don't be afraid, Señora," said Zorro. "You'll soon be freed."
Zafira got to her feet and walked up to the iron bars separating their cells. "So you are the infamous Zorro," she said disdainfully. "The Fox."
"At your service, Señora," he said with a slightly mocking bow.
"They're going to hang you," she stated unnecessarily.
Zorro shrugged his shoulders. "We'll see."
She stared up at him, making him feel as though she was stripping his mask away. It was quite unnerving. He prayed to God that she would not recognize him.
"I don't agree with your actions," she said after a while. "I think you are wasting your time. You should be going after. . ."
"Enough," he interrupted. "I came here to spare your life, not to be lectured about my errant ways." He grinned at her insolently as he took off his belt and went over to his cell door. It took him several attempts but he finally snagged his saber off the bench where the soldiers had unwisely left it.
"You're a fool," she replied haughtily as he pulled the blade through the bars. "Just like my husband."
Zorro became serious then. "Don Diego de la Vega is a fine, upstanding caballero. I've never found him to be a fool." He re-fastened his belt before sheathing his saber back into its scabbard.
"That's because you don't know him," said Zafira with a tight laugh. "He is so naive and gullible. He and his father think they can make a difference in this dusty little pueblo. Just like you."
[parts of the following scene taken from "A Deal With the Devil" written by Suzanne Herrera]
The man in black never got a chance to reply as just at the moment Palomarez, Ramón, and Mendoza entered the jail.
"So you are finally here." gloated the Alcalde, almost beside himself with glee.
Zorro smiled at the commandante's enthusiasm. "I offered the colonel a fair fight, but we've seemed to have a slight misunderstanding," he explained.
"There is no misunderstanding," snarled Palomarez. "You hang in three hours."
Ramón grinned evilly. "Considering that reality," he said, unable to contain his excitement, "I'm going to unmask you now."
"Wouldn't you rather wait until I was on the gallows?" suggested Zorro. "It would be so much more dramatic." He gestured toward Zafira. "I've fulfilled my part of the bargain. Please let the señora go."
Zafira shook her head. "You are nothing more than a conceited clown," she said to the masked man. She turned to look at the other two men. "Am I free to go? This ruffian has turned himself in. I thought. . ."
"Si, Señora," said Ramón. He reached over and took the ring of keys from their hook then unlocked her cell door. "Sergeant Mendoza will escort you back to your hacienda." The sergeant clicked his heels together as he saluted.
"Gracias," said Zafira, offering her hand to the Alcalde, who gallantly bestowed a kiss upon it. Zorro had to look away in disgust. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Colonel. I just wish the circumstances could have been different."
"You are too kind, Señora," replied Palomarez. "I, too, wish we could have met under more, shall we say, amiable conditions." He then took her hand and kissed it too.
The man in black choked back his nausea as he waited until Mendoza led Zafira away, closing the door to Ramón's office behind them. The Alcalde turned his attention back to the masked man.
"I'm going to unmask you now," he declared
confidently, taking a step toward the iron bars.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO"