[parts of the following scene taken from "Rites of Passage" by Robert L McCullough]
As it turned out, Kinona was back at the hacienda within twenty-four hours. Diego and Don Alejandro, accompanied by Felipe, escorted Victoria back to Los Angeles, intending to confront the Alcalde.
They arrived to find the garrison in chaos. Smoke boiled out of Ramón's office. Both lancers and townspeople were running around the plaza. A bucket brigade was passing pail after pail of water from the fountain to the commandante's headquarters.
"Sergeant!" Diego called out as he and the others dismounted. "What happened?"
"Indians, Don Diego!" shouted Mendoza as he ran up to them. "A whole raiding party!"
"How many were there, Sergeant?"inquired Don Alejandro.
The sergeant shook his head. "I don't know, it was siesta time," he replied. "We didn't count them. Thank goodness we have things under control."
His words were belied by the turmoil still churning throughout the pueblo. Cries of pain emanated from inside the garrison. The Alcalde had been injured, they learned, shot in the behind with an arrow. Diego, his father, Felipe, and Victoria all watched as a lancer extracted it as Ramón blubbered.
Diego could barely contain his mirth over the commandante's predicament. The Alcalde was so distraught over the attack he told them to get Kinona out of his sight. Which the de la Vegas did with alacrity.
Later that evening, after supper, Diego noticed that Felipe and Kinona had disappeared. A quick search of the hacienda revealed they were out in the courtyard. Diego listened for a moment and it became clear that the girl was interpreting a story that Felipe was obviously gesturing to her. Well, as long as his hands were busy storytelling, they wouldn't be busy doing something else, Diego thought with a chuckle as he made his way inside to the library.
He and his father played several games of chess as Zafira sat on a nearby settee, embroidering the hem of an infant-sized gown. She was really quite talented at her needlework, Diego acknowledged as he glanced over at the intricate design she was stitching into the white linen. Then it struck him how tiny the garment actually was and a wave of trepidation swept over him.
The thought that he was going to be responsible for the well-being of such a small, defenseless person rocked him to his very core. His apprehension must have shown in his eyes because Zafira looked up from the gown and gave him a curious glance. He smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner then turned his attention back to the game of chess he was currently losing to his father.
"Your move, Diego," Don Alejandro grunted as he took his hand off the bishop he had just moved. Diego stared down at the board and realized that no what he did, the elder de la Vega would have him in check.
He was contemplating what to do when his wife jabbed her needle into a pincushion and rose awkwardly to her feet. "I'm going to bed," she announced.
But before she could take a step, Felipe and Kinona rushed into the room. Felipe was holding a spear which he handed to Diego who was rising from his chair. A flurry of signs from the young man explained how the lance had been thrown at the courtyard door, narrowly missing his head.
"A Chumash battle spear," Diego commented as he passed the weapon to his father, who was also now standing.
"It is a challenge," declared Kinona.
Don Alejandro let her take the spear. "Why a challenge? I don't understand."
She flipped the black feather that was tied to the spear with her fingers. "This spear carries the markings of Black Feather," she explained. "He must have seen me outside."
Diego glanced over at Felipe and noticed the blush deepening on his face. Just what had this Black Feather seen, he wondered.
"But why would he try to hurt you and Felipe?" asked Zafira, putting her hands protectively on her swollen stomach.
"My father promised me to him when I was just a child," Kinona replied. She then looked over at Felipe with a grim expression. "If you do not accept his challenge, on the dawn of the full moon, he will kill you."
Felipe shrugged then held out his hands toward the Indian girl. She shook her head.
"No, there is no other way," she said. "For Black Feather, there is only the field of honor at Big Rock." She glanced at Diego then back to Felipe. "Or death," she added.
Diego was unable to talk Felipe out of meeting with the Chumash warrior. Fortunately, the full moon was two days away, so he had a little bit of time to train the young man in spear fighting. The youth quickly learned the techniques, as he had with swordplay.
When the appointed hour arrived, Diego watched as Felipe rode off by himself. Kinona had said that no one could accompany the young man, that he had to go alone.
Diego, however, was not about to calmly wait at the hacienda, not knowing the outcome of the duel until it was too late. He had taught Felipe every thing he knew, but what if it wasn't enough? The thought of the youth's lifeless body twisted his stomach into knots and tore at his heart. Felipe was like a son to him, he reflected as he stood in the secret cave, buttoning up his black shirt. And he would do anything to protect his family, he vowed as a wave of paternal emotions swept over him.
Zorro put his hat on his head before going over to saddle Toronado. He knew he risked Felipe's anger and resentment if he interfered, but hopefully, the lad wouldn't know he had observed his battle with the Indian warrior. And if he did, the man in black shrugged, a little anger was a small price to pay to keep the young man from losing his life.
And the masked man did earn Felipe's wrath.
But he also saved his life. To Diego, the trade was worth it.
Kinona was enrolled in the Mission school and everyone was happy.
Except, perhaps for the Alcalde. But then, Diego surmised, it would take
Zorro swinging from a noose to make Luis Ramón a happy man.
Z Z Z
Approximately Four Months Later
Diego couldn't believe it. Any moment now, he was really going to be a father. Any second, his wife would give birth to his son or daughter. He didn't care which, just so long as the child was healthy.
He took a deep breath in a vain attempt to calm himself. The baby was early, by nearly three weeks. Zafira's belly had grown so large during the course of her pregnancy that the doctor thought she might be carrying twins. And, the good physician had told them, that twins often came earlier than a single infant.
That didn't stop Diego from worrying though as he paced the corridor outside his wife's bedroom. It had been over twenty-four hours since she had gone into labor around noon the previous day. Her cries of pain were growing closer together and that frightened him as well. She was in as much danger as the baby (or babies, as the case may be).
It surprised him how much closer he and Zafira had become in the past months. But, he opined to himself, that it was more a friendship than a romantic relationship. Zafira had become content, finally at peace with her life in California and with him. They could speak easily to each other; gone was the snarling and sniping that had marred much of their marriage.
Zafira, however, had shied away from any physical contact between them. She did allow Diego to touch her stomach, to feel the child moving around inside her. But nothing more. Embraces, caresses, and kissing were prohibited and Diego gave up trying long ago. There had been something in her blue eyes that made him respect her wishes.
He had had little time to dwell on the lack of love between himself and his wife. Felipe had remained furious with Diego for several months. And it hadn't helped that Kinona had decided to end their short romance. She had fought her father, her tribe, and the Alcalde for the chance to attend school. She didn't want the distraction to her studies that Felipe had proved to be. He hadn't taken the break-up well.
Diego frowned as he remembered when Miguel, the de la Vega stable master, had brought an intoxicated Felipe back to the hacienda, along with an empty bottle of tequila. It seemed that the young man and Miguel's son, Paco; who was about a year older than Felipe; had ‘acquired' the bottle of liquor from one of the other vaqueros, and had proceeded to drink themselves into a stupor.
Felipe had been in no mood to listen to Diego's lecture about the evils of alcohol, but Diego gave it to him, nonetheless. Don Alejandro had marked the incident as a sign of youthful hijinks. But Diego was still worried about the teenager's propensity for turning to drink every time there was a crisis in his life.
And there had been other distractions. A agitator calling himself the Falcon had come to Los Angeles, giving away stolen silver in order to get the people to overthrow the Alcalde. He had kidnapped Don Alejandro in hopes that Zorro would come to his aid and so he could be eliminated.
Diego shook his head. Everyone knew that Ramón was greedy and corrupt. But a revolt by the people was not the way to get rid of him. The governor would mete out harsh punishments to all those who took part in such folly. No, the Alcalde needed to be removed by those in authority, not by a mob incited to riot by an outsider.
Then he had saved Ramón's miserable hide once again from a man that the commandante had set up to take the fall for his own embezzlement. The man had spent fifteen years plotting his revenge against the man who had not only stolen a shipment of gold, but his reputation and his freedom. Zorro pointed out to Correo, that Ramón wasn't worth going back to prison for.
Diego smiled, however, as he recalled the Vargas brothers. The Alcalde had accused Enrique, the younger, smaller brother of robbing twelve thousand pesos from the bank. Nestor, Enrique's older and much, much larger brother had taken exception to the accusation and had tried to break his brother out of jail.
He had had a hard time convincing Nestor to allow his younger sibling to stand trial and be acquitted of the crime. Diego, acting as Enrique's defense attorney, had fortunately uncover Ramón's underhanded dealings concerning the Bank of Los Angeles and had cleared Enrique Vargas's name. Unfortunately, the Alcalde overturned the verdict and sentenced him to hang. Nestor, once again, didn't like that and wreaked havoc on the pueblo and on Zorro, who he considered responsible for his brother's incarceration in the first place.
Once everything had been straightened out, the Vargas brothers had left Los Angeles, Enrique a free man and Nestor happy that Zorro was their friend. Diego had also realized that he had enjoyed the legal aspects of the case. He also recognized that he was something of a dilettante, never focusing on one ability, whether it be painting, poetry, music, science, or whatever caught his fancy at the moment.
Like the experiment in quantum physics he had duplicated just the week before of a British physicist, Thomas Young. Over a decade earlier, Mister Young had shone one pure color of light through a hole in a screen and onto another screen that had two holes slit into it. Diego wasn't quite sure how to interpret the resulting waves of light but it had been fascinating.
Even the skills he used in his masquerade as Zorro had to be included in his dabbling. Fencing, riding, and being proficient with a whip were things he never really had to work at in order to excel at them.
A loud cry from the bedroom drove Diego's musings from his mind. Dios, it sounded as if Zafira was in agony. He stared at the bedroom door for a few moments before resuming his pacing.
"You're going to wear a rut into the floor," his father said as he approached. Another groan of pain caused both men to halt in their tracks. "It shouldn't be too much longer now," Don Alejandro added. He patted Diego on the shoulder.
Diego could only nod dumbly. He prayed that everything would be all right with the baby. And with his wife. He glanced over at the elder de la Vega and saw that underneath his expression of excitement, there was also a layer of concern.
This grandchild meant the world to the old don, he acknowledged. Diego recalled the odd. . .vision, for lack of a better word. . .that he had had at Christmastime. An angel named Don Fernando had shown him what life would have been like if Zorro had never existed. A world where his father had been killed by the Alcalde and Felipe was in prison for bank robbery. Where Victoria had become a prostitute. A world where his wife had run off with another man, taking his child with her. He had been alone, utterly alone.
Diego liked to think that his. . .hallucination. . . or whatever it had been, had been caused by the herbal tea he had been drinking to relieve the nasty cold he had had at the time. But the dream had helped to ease his mind about continuing with his charade as the masked avenger of Los Angeles. And it had also made him realize that he did still have feelings for Zafira. And that his selfish inclusion of Victoria in his deception had kept her from suffering a tragic fate.
But he refused to involve her anymore. She deserved someone who would love only her. Not someone who was married and about to become a father.
"I wish I had been there when you were born," said his father with a sigh. "You arrived earlier than the doctor thought you would, too." He shook his head. "I had been called away," he explained. "King Carlos had sent me on a special mission to Cadiz."
"I don't think I noticed," commented Diego wryly.
"No, but your mother did," said the old don. "Sometimes I think she never forgave me for not being there." He smiled sadly. "I didn't get to see you until you were nearly a month old."
Another scream emanating from the room turned both men's attention toward its door. Diego's heart leapt into his throat then dropped down to his stomach as a second yell of pain followed only a moment later. A third cry was even quicker.
Don Alejandro put his hand on Diego's shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "She'll be fine," said the elder de la Vega. He patted his son on the back. "Have you two decided on names?"
"Isabella, if it's a girl," Diego murmured as more shrieks came from the bedchamber. "Ricardo for a boy."
"Isabella?" his father asked, then nodded. "That was your grandmother's name."
"Si," replied Diego. "It was Zafira's mother's as well."
Neither man remarked on the name selected for a boy. Zafira's brother had become a bone of contention between Diego and his wife almost from the beginning of their marriage. Though, Diego mused, his wife had not thrown the blame of her sibling's death into his face in quite a few months.
Felipe wandered into the hall then, an expression of alarm on his young face. No doubt disturbed by the sounds of agony, thought Diego. The young man glanced up at him and tried to give him a supportive smile.
A long, tormented scream arose from behind the wooden door, followed by the shrill, angry wail of an infant. All three men looked at each other in anticipation.
"Sounds like my grandchild has a good set of lungs," said Don Alejandro proudly.
Diego could only nod absently. Dios mio, he was a father, he told himself as he listened to his child cry. He also could hear the sound of a woman weeping but couldn't tell if it was his wife or Maria, the de la Vega housekeeper who also acted as a midwife for the women not only at the hacienda, but at surrounding ranchos as well.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the bedroom door opened and Doctor Hernandez stepped into the hallway. "Don Diego," he said, a happy grin on his tired face. "Congratulations, you have a daughter."
"A daughter?" Diego reiterated a bit stupidly
The physician stepped aside and let Diego walk into the room. Zafira was lying on the bed, tears streaking down her pale cheeks. Diego directed his eyes to the small bundle she held loosely in her arms.
He moved slowly to the bed then crouched down beside it. Zafira held out the swaddled blanket to him and Diego took the baby into his arms then stood up.
His daughter. His little princesa.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE