"THE STARK TRUTH"
A melancholy mood clung to Diego for the next several months following Sir Edmund's death. He couldn't help but feel responsible for his fight master's passing. He should have insisted that they not accept the Alcalde's invitation. He had been right about it being a trap. And he wondered often of Zafira's part in the whole matter. Her dislike of the Englishman has been palpable and her sudden trip into Los Angeles after learning he was a wanted man had roused Diego's suspicions.
Zafira had been indignant when he had tried to question her about her whereabouts that day. "Since when do you care where I go?" she had asked. "You couldn't care less about me. What I do is my own business."
"No, you're quite wrong about that," said Diego through clenched teeth. "You bear the name de la Vega whether you like it or not. Your actions reflect upon both me and my father."
She had considered his words for a few moments before glaring up at him. "So be it," she said sarcastically. "Just what is it you think I did anyway?"
As before, Diego decided to ask her point blank. "Did you turn Sir Edmund over to the authorities?"
She laughed, and just a bit too hysterically for Diego's liking. "Of course not," she declared. "Why would I?
"You hated him," stated Diego.
Zafira had shrugged her thin shoulders. "So?" she said indifferently. "That doesn't mean I wished to see him dead." She picked up her embroidery hoop. "Your precious Sir Edmund brought about his own demise. I had no hand in it."
She started to draw her needle through the white cotton fabric but not before Diego had noticed the satisfied smile on her face.
[parts of the following scene taken from "Kidnapped" written by Philip John Taylor]
Diego sighed, trying to clear the tormenting thoughts from his head. He glanced over at his father, who was leading their new bull by a rope as they both rode on horseback. It had been a dull day so far, Diego mused, which was no doubt why his mind had meandered back to its gloomy thoughts.
"You know something," began Don Alejandro, " I have to tell you this has been a very profitable business trip. I really thought I was going to have to pay an extra two hundred pesos for Señor Toro here." He was grinning as he looked over his shoulder at the big black bull.
The sound of creaking wagon wheels and hoof beats drove from Diego's head whatever he had been about to say. A wagon full of people came around a curve in the road. Diego didn't recognize the driver.
Evidently his father didn't either. "I don't know that wagon," he declared. He stared at it for a moment or two then whipped around to look at Diego. "It's Victoria and Felipe!"
Diego's heart jumped into his throat as he saw two of the people he loved most in the hands of what upon further inspection appeared to be pirates. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that his father was about to call out to the ruthless men, something no doubt that would probably get them both killed. He grabbed the elder de la Vega's arm then raised his own.
"Hola!" he called out, his gaze never leaving Victoria and Felipe. The driver brought the wagon to a rumbling halt. Diego watched as Victoria started to lean forward about to say something that would probably get him and his father killed. But thankfully, Felipe reached over and grabbed her arm, stunning her out of whatever she had been about to blurt out.
"Buenos dias, Señor," Diego greeted the man seated beside the driver, instinctively knowing that he was the pirates' captain. "Why are these people being held prisoner?" he asked as casually as he could muster.
"They're no prisoners, my friend," replied the buccaneer. "They're volunteers, seeking their fortunes in my service."
Diego knew that the man was lying. Neither Victoria nor Felipe would have volunteered to join this band of cutthroats. Even as upset as Felipe had been with him after he had been kidnapped by the woman claiming to be his mother, he would have never run away. And Victoria. . . Well, he knew why the buccaneers had taken her. He examined at her face carefully, then sighed inwardly with relief. Obviously, they hadn't laid a hand on her as of yet. But who knew how long that would last?
He racked his brain for a moment, desperately trying to think of something that would make the pirates release the two of them. Of course, he was also concerned with the other Los Angelenos that were in the back of the pirates' wagon. But for the moment, his main worry was to get the señorita and Felipe out of the evil captain's clutches.
"Ah, I see," he finally replied. He pointed at Felipe. "Well, the boy there is the servant of a friend of mine. He's a constant pest. He's of no value to you." Diego ignored the flash of anger in the young man's eyes as he indicated Victoria. "And the woman is a quarrelsome barmaid."
Victoria raised an indignant eyebrow at Diego and he knew he would have to pay for his less than flattering description of her later on. But he would worry about that when the time came.
The pirate captain smiled. "Then they will not be missed!" he exclaimed before breaking into loud guffaws. The other men joined in with their own raucous laughter.
His father turned to look at him with an expression of furious frustration. "Diego!" he ground out as he began to step forward. Diego grabbed onto the elder de la Vega's left arm.
"Let's go!" shouted the leader of the buccaneers as he waved his hand. The wagon started to creak as it moved forward once again. Victoria stared down at Diego as the cart rumbled past, a vexed look on her lovely face. Felipe's countenance was troubled, and once again, Diego knew that the trust the two of them shared had been shaken badly.
Don Alejandro watched as the wagon rolled along the dusty road. "Diego?" he asked querulously. "How could you let them get away like that with the buccaneers?" He stepped in front of his son.
Diego's eyes never left the moving wagon. "We would have been shot dead on the spot," he responded stonily. "I have no intention of letting them go," he added, more to himself than to his father. He turned his head and winced inside as he saw the anxiety on the old don's lined face. "Take the bull into town and tell the Alcalde what's happened."
"And what are you supposed to do then?" asked the elder de la Vega a bit sarcastically.
"I'll follow them and leave a trail for the Alcalde," Diego suggested.
Don Alejandro nodded. "Very well," he acquiesced. "But you be careful and you do absolutely nothing until the soldiers arrive, you understand?
Diego smiled wryly. "I wouldn't think of it," he agreed, crossing the fingers on his left hand behind his back while patting his father's arm with his right. The old don narrowed his eyes at him for a moment then went over and remounted his horse.
Diego waved goodbye as the elder de la Vega rode toward the pueblo, the braying bull in tow. As soon as the other man was out of sight, Diego wasted little time following the pirates' very clear trail.
It was nearly two hours later before the buccaneers brought their little procession to a halt. Diego watched from a nearby hilltop as the passengers of the wagon were pulled out one by one and their hands bound. They were then pushed over to a grassy hillside where they were told to sit down and be quiet.
Diego fumed as the pirates sat on the ground in a circle, passing around several canteens and flasks amongst themselves and offering nothing to their prisoners. He crept a little closer and hid behind a bush, hoping to learn more of the cutthroats' plans. He didn't have to wait long.
"When do we get a go at her?" asked one of the pirates, a big bald man with half of his teeth missing, as he gestured over to where Victoria was sitting on the grass.
"When we recover the treasure," stated the captain before taking a swig from one of the canteens.
"But, Cap'n, it's been six months since I've had me a wench," complained another of the men, who wore an eyepatch and a scraggily beard.
"You've never had a wench," someone muttered nastily. Some of the other pirates laughed.
"It has been a long time, Captain," prompted the bald headed man.
"Yeah." "Aye." The rest of the men chimed in. "The treasure can wait," someone suggested.
The captain got to his feet. "No one lays a hand on her," he announced, drawing out his sword, "until we lay our hands on that gold." He brandished the cutlass menacingly. "She belongs to Captain Henry Stark. Yer scurvy dogs can have her when I'm done with her."
"Aye-aye, Cap'n." "Sorry, Cap'n." The men went back to passing around their flasks.
"What about the boy?" asked one of the older men. Diego could see his face and the eager look upon it make his stomach lurch.
"What about him?" asked Stark as he took a couple steps toward Victoria.
"Are we taking him with us?"
"Pyle, you dirty bugger," said the big bald man. "Leave off. It's because of you we had to throw the last cabin boy overboard."
"Shut up, Sanchez," said the captain, sheathing his weapon. He turned to the man called Pyle. "Aye, we'll take him with us. Just don't be so hard on this one. We need him to last till we get back to Tortuga."
He then continued walking over to where the lovely innkeeper sat, surreptitiously trying to free her hands from the rope that bound them together. Diego watched helplessly as the captain came up behind her and pressed himself up against her back. The man then held out the canteen so that Victoria could see it. Diego saw the hope flare up in her beautiful brown eyes just a second before it was doused as the captain poured water from the canteen onto the ground next to her, laughing evilly.
Diego got up from his hiding place and circled around to his left so that he was behind Felipe. The lad was working so intently on the knots binding his wrists together that he almost didn't notice the first rock Diego tossed at him. The next rock hit the youth on the leg and it claimed his complete attention. Diego was relieved to see the smile on the boy's face as he turned around.
Following Diego's mimed instructions, Felipe had his hands untied in a matter of seconds. Diego was waiting with nervous anticipation as the lad bent down to untie his feet.
He smelt the pirate's sour breath just a
split second before a sword blade was thrust up against his chest.
Z Z Z
It wasn't until after Zorro had chase the pirates to their ship then he and Felipe had watched them haul anchor and sail away, that Diego really had a chance to speak with the young man.
"Felipe," he began as they rode along. Toronado had been sent off on his own to return to the cave with Zorro's black clothing stashed in the stallion's saddlebags. "I want to thank you for looking out for Victoria."
The youth shrugged his shoulders then pointed at Diego before placing both of his hands over his own heart.
"Yes, I still love her," Diego admitted a bit reluctantly. He turned in his saddle to face Felipe. ""I love her as I've loved no other woman. But I'm married to Zafira and I intend to honor my marriage vows. I want you to know that, Felipe, because it's important that you understand that a true gentleman never betrays his wife."
Felipe nodded that he understood. Diego continued on. "As I said before, you are no longer a boy. You're fifteen now, old enough to learn a few things about. . ." He paused, drawing a deep breath. He had been putting off this talk for a while now, telling himself that the lad was too young. But obviously that was no longer true.
"Felipe, when a man and a woman fall in love and marry," he said quickly, "there are certain things they do. Things that create children."
Felipe put his hand on Diego's arm to gain his attention, then launched into a series of gestures. "You've seen the horses and cattle in the breeding barns?" Diego interpreted. The young man nodded, his face now covered with a pink flush.
"Well, it's not quite the same," Diego commented wryly. "Listen, Felipe. The reason why I'm bringing this up is because those pirates, they wanted to do things to you and Victoria."
The young man put his hand to his chest, his eyes growing wide. He mouthed the question, ‘me?' Diego nodded.
"Yes," he replied as he and Felipe rode side by side. "I'll go into more details once we get back to the hacienda." He looked up at the sky. "And we'd better hurry. Father will be wondering what's taking us so long."
It was a couple of days later when Diego walked into the tavern, where he had promised to meet his father for lunch. He shot a quick glance at Victoria who stood behind the bar, pouring glasses of orange juice.
"A quarrelsome barmaid, am I?"
Diego stopped in his tracks and grimaced. He knew this reckoning would come but he had hoped he could put it off for as long as he could. Like never. He turned and grinned at her awkwardly.
"You know I didn't mean it," he said as he stepped up to the counter. "But you do have my most sincere apologies anyway."
"I know, Don Diego," the lovely innkeeper replied, a smile teasing her pink lips. "You were just trying to free us from those pirates. But you couldn't come up with a better reason, like, oh, I don't know, I was your sister or something?"
Diego chuckled. "Si, that probably would have been a bit more flattering," he concurred. "I was just so stunned to see both you and Felipe with those buccaneers. I just said the first thing that popped into my head."
"So you really do think I'm a quarrelsome barmaid?" inquired Victoria.
"No," stated Diego firmly. "I think of you as someone important to me that I didn't wish to see get hurt."
As soon as the words left his mouth, he wished he could have them back as they caused Victoria to stare up at him, her face brimming with curiosity.
"I'm important to you?" she asked carefully.
"Yes, of course, to both my father and me," he covered quickly. "You are a dear friend of the de la Vegas."
"Oh," Victoria said with a perturbed expression
Diego turned his face away and waved over at Don Alejandro, who was sitting at a table on the other side of the tavern. "There's my father," he announced nervously. "I'd better go see what he wants."
Not daring to meet her eyes and cursing
himself under his breath, Diego moved away from the bar and walked toward
the elder de la Vega.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE