"THE EXPIRING FLAME RENEWS"
Don Alejandro was beside himself with joy when he finally learned that his daughter-in-law was going to give him a grandchild. But Diego saw in his father's eyes the same apprehension he felt in his heart. Zafira had lost a baby before. There were no guarantees she would carry this one to term.
Even reassurances by Doctor Hernandez that everything was progressing nicely did little to ease Diego's anxiety. And it was a nervousness that was only added to by his wife's sudden amiability. He had heard that being with child often changed the mother's temperament but in Zafira's case, it was as if she was a totally different person.
Diego began to see glimpses of the woman he had courted and married. And he discovered that his feelings for her that he had thought were long dead, hadn't quite been buried deep enough.
[parts of the following scene taken from "Rites of Passage" written by Robert L McCullough]
But what astonished Diego the most was her new attitude toward Felipe. It was about four months into her pregnancy when Zorro had dropped off an Indian girl at the hacienda. The Alcalde and his men had burned her village and had chased off her tribe. The man in black had rescued the teenager from Ramón and his plans to turn her into his maid.
Diego had just come through the fireplace panel into the library when he heard his father call out his name. Grabbing a book about crop rotation off a shelf, he ambled over to where Don Alejandro, Zafira, and Felipe stood in a circle around the young woman.
"Well, who is this?" he asked, acting as if he had never met her before.
"This is Kinona, a young Chumash woman," explained the elder de la Vega. "Did you know she was nearly kidnapped by lancers?"
Diego pretended to be appalled. "We should notify the Alcalde at once."
"It was him!" exclaimed Kinona. She touched her dark braided hair. "The one with the yellow hair who ran us off."
"We should help her return to her family," said Zafira. Diego glanced over at her and noticed that she actually had a welcoming smile on her face. He gasped as he realized how beautiful she looked without the perpetual frown she usually wore.
His thoughts were interrupted by the Indian girl's angry shake of her head. "No!" she said firmly. "I am never going back."
"Why?" inquired Don Alejandro.
"I have only my father," she began, "and he will not let me go to the Mission school."
"Oh, you know about the school," said Diego as he tried to keep his attention on the conversation.
Kinona nodded. "There I will learn the way of the future, how to help my people," she stated proudly. My father, he only knows the old tribal ways."
"Well, until we can make arrangements at the school," said Diego, "it appears we have a houseguest." He glanced over at his father who tipped his head in agreement.
"Felipe will see that you are made comfortable, Kinona," offered Zafira, indicating the young man to her right.
"Felipe?" said the young woman as she turned and smiled shyly at the youth, who was bashfully grinning at Kinona. Diego had to give the lad's right shoulder a shake.
"Felipe. . ."
The young man finally pulled himself out of his stupor and led the Indian girl from the parlor. Diego watched them with narrowed eyes.
"I wonder if it's such a good idea to put her into his care," he opined.
Zafira laughed. "I think it's adorable," she declared. "It will do Felipe good to find himself a novio."
"He's a little young for that," replied Diego.
"He's almost sixteen, isn't he?" asked his wife. "He's not too young to fall in love."
"That's true, Diego," said his father. "I was barely eighteen when I first laid eyes on your mother. I knew then and there she was the woman I was going to marry." He patted his son on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Felipe's a good boy. He would never do anything to shame us."
Don Alejandro walked out of the room then, humming a tune Diego recognized as one that his mother used to play on the piano.
"If it will make you feel better," said Zafira with a knowing smile, "I'll go check on them."
Diego turned and gazed into her eyes. He could see that she was being sincere. "I'd like that," he said, placing his hand on her arm. "Thank you."
"De nada," she said before looking away a bit uncomfortably. She left the parlor in search of the two young people. Diego noticed that she waddled slightly as he observed her from behind. He realized that her stomach had become more prominent in recent weeks and smiled.
She was going to have his child, he mused happily. He was going to be a father. Suddenly an image slipped unbidden into his head, one where he and Victoria watched as their children played outside in the courtyard. Little boys and girls with their mother's curly black hair and dark eyes.
His heart tightened painfully. He had to put Victoria out of his mind. But it was a task that was proving itself impossible. But, he scolded himself, if he harbored any hope of a normal life with Zafira and their child, which he was beginning to believe could become a reality, he had to stop dreaming of the lovely innkeeper.
He had seen the hurt in her beautiful brown eyes whenever the conversation turned to Zorro when he was at the tavern. It had been a long time since the masked man had done more than waved at her politely from the back of his big black stallion.
It was for the best, he told himself.
It had to be.
Z Z Z
[parts of the following scene taken from "Rites of Passage" by Robert L McCullough]
The next morning Diego was getting dressed when a loud pounding began on the front door of the hacienda. He stepped out of his room as he finished buttoning up his white linen shirt and met his father and his wife as they emerged from their rooms.
"Who in the devil is that this early in the morning?" asked Don Alejandro grumpily. "It's barely sunrise." He made his way toward the front door as Kinona and Felipe showed up behind Diego and Zafira. "We'll be right there!" the elder de la Vega called out at the clamorous knocking continued.
Diego held up his hand at Felipe, who nodded. The youth grasped Kinona's arm and pulled her toward the kitchen. Diego and Zafira walked up behind Don Alejandro as the Alcalde and several lancers pushed their way into the hacienda.
"What is the meaning of this?" the old don asked hostilely as Ramón pushed past him. "How dare you?"
The Alcalde stopped in the middle of the foyer and was almost knocked over by Sergeant Mendoza, who had been tailing his commandante very closely. Ramón gave his inferior the evil eye before addressing the de la Vegas. "Yesterday, the bandit Zorro abducted an Indian girl who was in my custody."
"Why would you think she's here?" inquired Diego. It wasn't under he felt his wife's shoulders under his arm that he realized he had drawn her nearer to him in a protective gesture. It was even more telling that Zafira didn't move away.
"Because my men and I spent the entire night searching every lean-to, adobe, and barn in the vicinity," the Alcalde explained with a snarl. "Your hacienda is the last place to be examined."
Diego saw the flash of movement just a split second before Ramón noticed it as well. The commandante strode into the dining and reached behind one of the pillars which Felipe stood in front of.
The Alcalde pulled Kinona out into view. "And it appears our search is over," he drawled smugly.
The girl looked at them with accusing eyes as she struggled to get away from Ramón's grasp. "You said I could trust you!"
"We certainly didn't sent for him," said Diego.
"You have no right to detain her," declared Don Alejandro as he stepped up to the Alcalde.
Ramón insisted that he was responsible for the girl's safety and wouldn't listen as the elder de la Vega offered to let her stay with them. The commandante started dragging Kinona away. But Diego stepped out in front of them.
"Now just a minute," he said crossly. "What do you think you're doing?"
Spouting some nonsense about Kinona being abandoned by her tribe and therefore falling under the colonial government's protection, the Alcalde started pushing her toward the front door. This time, Felipe rushed toward them, both of his hands drawn up into fists. Diego had to grab both arms of the incensed youth to keep him from punching the older man.
"Felipe," he said through clenched teeth. "Don't." He didn't want to find out what Ramón would do to the enraged youth if he attacked the commandante.
"Stand aside, boy," said the Alcalde as he glared menacingly at Felipe. Then his expression turned sardonic. "You know, I've never hung a deaf mute before," he said sincerely. "But there's a first time for everything."
After glancing at Diego and Don Alejandro, Ramón led Kinona out of the hacienda, followed by his lancers. Diego held onto Felipe, who tried to wrest himself out of his grasp. Leaning down near Felipe's ear, Diego spoke in a whisper so the others couldn't overhear. "I know, I know," he tried to say reassuringly. "If you going to fight, pick your time, not his."
The youth stopped thrashing about. But it wasn't until he heard the sound of the garrison's horses riding away did Diego set the young man free.
Felipe spun around and shot a look of pure fury at Diego. Don Alejandro came up and put his hand on the lad's shoulder. "Don't worry, Felipe," he said in a calm voice which was belied by the anger in his eyes. "We'll do everything we can to get her out of the Alcalde's clutches."
Shrugging off the elder de la Vegas's hand, Felipe pivoted away from him and stormed off to his room. Diego looked over at his father, who also lifted his shoulders before turning and leaving the room. The sensation of his wife's arms snaking around his waist had Diego focusing his attention on her instead.
He was even more taken aback as Zafira pressed her face against his chest. He could feel a dampness seeping onto his shirt. Diego glanced down at her then lifted her chin and saw the tears streaming down her cheeks.
"It's so terrible," she sobbed. "Why is he so mean?"
Diego chuckled softly. "Shh. . ." he soothed. "Don't cry, querida. We'll get her away from the Alcalde. All right?"
Zafira hiccuped as she looked up at him oddly. Diego realized he had called her an endearment he hadn't used since they arrived in California.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't know why I've been so weepy lately."
"I've read that. . ." Diego began to say but stopped as something hit him just above his groin. He glanced down at Zafira's belly which was stilled pressed up against him. His eyes met hers. "Was that the baby?" he asked, unable to keep the excitement from his voice.
She nodded, biting her lower lip. Diego placed his hands on her stomach and was rewarded with another kick. That was his child in there, he thought with wonder. His son or his daughter.
He brought his hand back up to Zafira's face then wiped her tears away with his thumbs. Then he bent his head lower, meaning to kiss her. She turned at the last second and his lips brushed her cheek instead of her mouth.
Zafira extricated herself from his embrace. "I-I . . .I n-need to go for my walk now," she stammered. She had given up riding about a month earlier as Doctor Hernandez had advised.
"May I join you this morning?" Diego asked, still a little in shock by what had passed between them.
She shook her head. "N-no," she said. "I like to go alone. It gives me time to. . .to think about things."
Diego nodded. "Very well," he conceded. "Just be careful. Remember, the Alcalde said Zorro was lurking about."
She laughed, and again Diego was dazzled by the beauty of her smiling face. "The Alcalde is a fool," she declared. "Zorro would never hurt a woman. He's too much of a gentleman." She tilted her head thoughtfully. "He's like you in that regard. Very chivalrous."
"Thank you," he replied calmly but on the inside he was a cauldron of seething emotions. Dios mio, it would never do if she started comparing him with Zorro. Whatever else she might be, Zafira wasn't dumb.
Zafira started to turn away but he reached out and grasped her right hand, then brought it to his lips. "Be careful anyway," he cautioned. "There are still other dangers out there besides Zorro." He let go of her hand and touched her bulging belly again. "I wouldn't want any harm to come to either of you," he stated softly.
"Hasta luego," she said as she headed toward her bedroom. Diego could only stare at her back. Had he fallen in love with his wife again? Or were these tender feelings being stirred up because of the child she carried inside her?
Diego sighed as he remembered that he had bigger problems at the moment. Like how to free the Indian girl from Luis Ramón's evil plans of degrading servitude. He also didn't like the way the commandante had treated Kinona, nor the way he had leered at the young woman.
And he had to keep Felipe from doing something stupid over the girl. Like get himself hung.
Diego made his way down to the young man's bedroom,
where he hoped he could talk some sense into the lad. Or at least
get him to promise not to do anything rash.
Z Z Z
It was later that afternoon when Diego, Felipe, and Don Alejandro were out in the courtyard, pruning some of the vines and trees. Zafira was inside, taking a nap. All three men looked up when they heard hoof beats rapidly approaching the hacienda.
"What now?" queried the elder de la Vega. He tossed aside the branch he had just lopped off an apple tree and turned to face the gate.
Diego, then Felipe, also pivoted around, just in time to see Victoria ride up to the wall surrounding the house. Felipe shot a meaningful glance Diego's way.
But he turned away as he only had eyes for the woman who was dismounting her white mare. Evidently staying away from her could not stop the love that welled up inside him as Victoria walked up to them, a perturbed expression on her lovely face.
Diego scolded himself silently. Hadn't it just been that morning that he wondered if he still loved Zafira? And now, just the sight of Victoria had him twisted up in knots like a school boy.
Was it possible to be in love with two women
at the same time? Was it fair to either of them? Diego shook
his head as he set down the pruning shears he had been holding and tried
to listen to what the beautiful innkeeper was relating to Felipe and his
father about the Alcalde's mistreatment of Kinona.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT