CHAPTER SIX - "A MYSTERY UNVEILED"
Outside the church, soldiers were scrambling to their stations surround the adobe building. Standing at the altar, Victoria surreptitiously glanced back at the empty aisle behind her. In her head, she was certain that Zorro wasn't going to stop this wedding. But her heart wistfully wished that he would have at least tried.
Diego noticed her slight movement, arousing his anger. She was still hoping for Zorro to come to her rescue, he thought. He smiled sardonically, knowing this time it would be utterly impossible.
Padre Benitez, satisfied there would be no interruptions, went on, turning to Diego, "Do you, Diego Alejandro Sebastian de la Vega, take Victoria to be your wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health; to love only her until death do you part?"
"I do," Diego answered in a firmly voice, gazing deeply in his bride's eyes.
"And do you, Victoria Maria Elena Escalante, take Diego to be your husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health; to love only him until death do you part?"
Victoria hesitated for a split second. Part of her still wanted to scream ‘No!' She loved Zorro and would wait for him forever. Then she gazed up at Diego and saw something that suspiciously looked like love and desire in his eyes. A thought flashed through her mind that left her weak in the knees. She took a deep breath.
"I do," she finally replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
De Soto waited impatiently outside the church, not realizing the expected intrusion of the wedding by Zorro was not going to happen. Minute by minute passed as he grew more and more frustrated.
Diego slipped a plain gold band onto Victoria's finger. "With this ring, I thee wee," he pledged as the nuptials came to an end.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife," announced the priest. Turning to Diego once again, he added," You may now kiss your bride, Don Diego."
He leaned down to place a kiss on her lips very similar to the one he had given her the previous evening. Again the slight brush of his mouth on hers sent a shiver down Victoria's spine.
The newly married couple turned and walked back down the aisle on their way out of the church. They did not get far as they were stopped by well wishers who shook Diego's hand and slapped his back as others took turns hugging Victoria and kissing her cheek. When they finally exited the building, Diego noted the soldiers slinking away. He smiled, knowing another attempt by de Soto to apprehend Zorro had failed.
The de la Vega's carriage stood out in front of the adobe church, gaily decorated thanks to Felipe and Ana Maria, and loaded with the newlywed's luggage. Diego pulled his son aside as Victoria chatted with her brothers and Don Alejandro.
"Did you find it?" he asked quietly. Felipe nodded as he reached into his jacket pocket and slipped something to his father, who quickly stashed it into his own pocket. Diego then patted the young man on the shoulder. "Gracias. Keep an eye on Father for me. Toronado, too," he added, lowering his voice. He hugged his son and then Ana Maria as she came over to congratulate him.
The Escalante brothers made their way over to their new brother-in-law. They both shook Diego's hand again. "You take good care of our little sister," Ramon cautioned with mock sternness.
"Oh, I intend to," Diego replied seriously. He stared over at his beautiful wife, who was being embraced by his father. He reeled at bit. Victoria was his wife.
"I wish we could stay until you return from your honeymoon," said Francisco, "but we have to be on our way back immediately."
"Yes, we were lucky to get away at all," added Ramon.
"So you really think Mexico will become independent very soon?" asked Diego. If it were only true, his masquerade needn't last much longer. But he was still determined to tell her tonight.
Victoria came their way, embracing her siblings one more time. "Victoria," Diego urged gently. "It's time we were on our way." She nodded as he assisted her into the carriages seat amid a little good natured teasing. He took his place beside her, gathering up the reins. A flick of the leather and they drove out of the pueblo, waving goodbye to their family and friends in front of the church.
"You know, Diego, you never did tell me where we are going," Victoria stated after they had traveled several miles from the pueblo.
Diego grinned enigmatically. "We're going north."
"Yes, I can tell that," she replied, rolling her eyes in exasperation. "But how far north?"
"You'll see," was all he would say although she pestered him for several more miles. When she realized he was not going to reveal their destination, she pouted prettily. Diego just kept smiling and silent.
The sun almost had slipped below the western horizon when the festively decorated carriage pulled into the pueblo de Santa Paula. "This is where we're staying?" asked Victoria, somewhat puzzled by the choice.
"Si," answered her husband. "You wanted to spend the night here once before but I insisted we headed back to Los Angeles."
She looked at him sharply as she recalled that was the night they had sought shelter from a storm on their way home. Victoria had thought Diego seemed like a different man on that trip, almost like the man he had been that first day after he had arrived from Spain. He made quite a forceful speech to the king's emissary and she had been quite impressed.
Victoria also remembered when they had stayed at that old windmill. He had seemed so nervous, so uncomfortable; as though he was scared to be around her. But when the door had flown open and he insisted she wear his jacket, she thought he was going to kiss her. But something held him back. Was it because he knew she belonged to another man? That didn't stopped him from marrying you though, now did it, she questioned herself.
Glancing up at her husband, she couldn't help but think he was a man of many mysteries.
Diego had arranged for a late supper to be served at the inn where they were staying. The innkeeper and his wife were a jolly couple who were delighted to have the newlyweds at their establishment. Each of them gave Diego and Victoria advice for a successful marriage, proudly announcing they had been married for nearly thirty years.
Diego was grateful for their presence as they seemed to put Victoria at ease. He noticed however as the hour grew later, the more tense she grew. When the delicious meal was over, Diego stood and addressed her formally, "Shall we retire for the evening, Señora de la Vega?" She didn't notice the mischievous twinkle in his eye.
"It seems strange to be called ‘señora'," she replied as she took his offered hand and rose from her chair. She did not mention that the de la Vega part felt odd as well. She had been ‘Señorita Escalante' for so long. "I suppose it will take time to get used to it."
Sensing she was apprehensive about the night ahead, he smiled reassuringly at her. "I want to make sure the horses are settled in the stable. Why don't you go on up to our room and I'll be there shortly?"
"Oh," Victoria said in a quiet voice. She had tried to push from her mind that they would be sharing a room, sharing a bed and sharing. . . She closed her eyes as those thoughts now filled her head. "Oh."
"I know we did not speak of this before," Diego began, wondering if he was reading her correctly, "but we are husband and wife. I hoped we would behave as any normal married. . ."
"You're right, Diego," she interrupted. "I'm sorry. I am just nervous, I guess."
"If it is any consolation, so am I," he admitted. He lifted her hand to his lips, placing a kiss upon it. Victoria saw in his green eyes once again that look she had seen earlier that day. No, she told herself, she must be imagining things.
She gathered up her tiered skirt, climbing
up the staircase to the second floor. Diego watched as his bride
disappeared into their room before a grave expression came over his face.
His whole life depended on what happened next. If she rejected him.
. . He took a deep breath as he headed out to the stables.
Z Z Z
Victoria changed into a long white lace-trimmed nightgown which had also been made by Leonora Ortega. It was beautiful, she thought, watching the diaphanous material shimmer in the candlelight. She wondered briefly what could be taking Diego so long. Sitting down at the small vanity table, she began brushing her hair. Sighing sadly, she became lost in thought.
Like it or not, she was now Señora Victoria de la Vega, Diego's wife until death did they part. Zorro could no longer be a part of her life. Tears filled her eyes.
What had happened since the last time she had seen the masked man? Had she scared him away by being so forward? She thought they had loved each other. Even though he had never said the words to her, his every action had told her it was true. Had he fallen out of love with her, found someone else? Surely he would have told her, face to face. He was an honorable man. But why else would he have let her marry another man?
She was trying to drive these thoughts from her mind when something soft caressed her cheek. Jumping in alarm, she turned to see it was a red rose. Questioning how Diego could have entered the room without her hearing him, she twisted all the way around and was startled again.
It was not her new husband who stood there, but Zorro!
She blinked to make sure he was real. The masked man smiled uncertainly as he placed the rose into her hands. Slowly recovering from her shock, she whispered, "Dios mio. You should not be here, Zorro."
"I could not stay away," he replied. "Don't worry, Señora. I am not here to cause you any trouble."
"Señora," she echoed, then added in a slightly accusatory tone. "You know then of my marriage? Why. . .?"
"Si, Victoria," he cut in before she could barrage him with more questions. "I know." He removed his hat, placing it on the bed's white crocheted coverlet.
Victoria rose from the vanity chair. "Zorro, you must leave," she stated urgently. "Por favor. My husband, he will be returning very soon. He must not find you here."
"Ah, yes, Don Diego," declared the man in black with a wry smile. "I see you finally took my advice." He first took off one black leather glove, then the other and set them on the vanity.
"I had no other choice," she replied a bit angrily. "You have to go, Zorro. Please."
"I will," he said as he untied his cape and let it fall to the floor. "But first, there is something I must ask you."
He reached out and touched her cheek. Victoria tried to back away but bumped into the adobe wall behind her. She gazed helplessly into his eyes.
"Tell me, Doña Victoria, do you love your husband?"
She was shocked by his question. "That's none of your business, Señor," she answered haughtily.
"Then you don't?" Zorro asked sadly.
"He is my best friend and I. . ."
"That does not answer my question, Señora," he interrupted. "Do you love him?"
"Yes," she said forcefully, admitting it to herself for first time. "I do." She glared up at the masked man. "Why do you care anyway?" she retorted hotly. "You did nothing. . ."
Zorro removed the belt from around his waist from which hung his sheathed sword, placing it on the table as well. But his hands shook as he did so. "Do you still love me, querida?" he inquired, putting his hands on her slim waist.
"Let go of me," she said as she struggled to get out of his embrace. "Zorro, you must leave me alone. It is too late for us now."
Zorro stared at her incredulously. "Victoria, do you really mean that?"
She turned her face away. "All right, I still love you. But Diego is my husband. And I love him too. I will not betray him or our marriage vows." When she looked at him again, her sorrowful expression almost broke his heart. "Why can't you and Diego just be the same person?" she asked miserably. Tears began streaming down her face.
"Oh, querida, don't cry," Zorro said tenderly as he held her tightly.
"That would be ridiculous, wouldn't it?" she whispered into his chest, more to convince herself than him.
"No," replied the man in black. "It's not ridiculous at all." When she glanced up at him, he smiled and leaned down, nearly touching his lips to hers. "Let me show you."
His mouth meet hers. Victoria tried to resist at first, but the passion that always flared up between them became a white hot flame. Thoughts of Diego were driven far from her head as she closed her eyes, dissolving into the masked man's strong arms.
Zorro lifted her hands and placed them on the silken knot at the back of his head. At first she didn't know why, but then she realized he wanted her to untie his mask. He didn't relinquish her lips though. She fumbled with the knot as she still held the rose in one hand, finally getting it undone.
When he released her, Victoria slowly opened
her eyes. The rose and the mask fell to the floor. And she nearly
joined them as she fainted.
Z Z Z
"THE LEGEND UNMASKED" CHAPTER SEVEN - "HUSBAND AND WIFE"