CHAPTER NINE - "THE SCYLLA & THE CHARYBDIS"*
Early the next morning Diego, Felipe and two of their ranch hands were loading the wagon with crates of citrus fruit. The harvest was just beginning and the crop was plentiful, even though it had been a hot, dry summer.
Victoria emerged from the hacienda, walking through the gateway and smiled at her husband. Diego paused as he attempted to lift a full crate into the wagon to stare at his wife. She was positively glowing. He didn't have to wonder why.
Zorro had been out most of the night, helping Jose Macias search for his prize mare who had disappeared and who was about to foal. It had been almost dawn when the masked man had stole into Victoria's room.
She had welcomed him with open arms although she was only half awake. He smiled as he recalled the passionate lovemaking that had ensued. Diego still was concerned about her fainting incident the day before though. It was so unlike her.
"Are you sure you need to go into town now?" he inquired. "If you could wait, I can take you later."
"No, Diego," she replied. "I want to buy my produce this morning, not after everything has been picked over. I'll be all right."
"Very well, querida," he reluctantly conceded. "I wish I could go now but I promised Father I would help him with his speech." He sighed wearily. "Although I cannot imagine de Soto will actually let him say anything in front of the governor tomorrow."
"You worry too much, mi corazon," declared Victoria as she wrapped her arms around him. The two vaqueros had finished loading the wagon and had headed off toward the stables. Diego embraced her and their mouths met. "Felipe is coming with me," she added, trying to ease his worries. "Everything will be fine."
Diego assisted his wife up into the wagon's seat. When she wasn't looking, he signed to his son to keep an eye on her. Felipe nodded then climbed up to sit beside Victoria. They both tried to take the reins at the same time. Diego had to laugh as the young man gallantly let her have them.
He waved as the wagon rumbled out of sight.
Exhaling, he trudged back into the hacienda where Don Alejandro was waiting
Z Z Z
It was a typical market day in Los Angeles, but with the added excitement of the governor's arrival the next day. The people seemed rather amused by the construction of the gallows in the middle of the plaza. Wishful thinking on the Alcalde's part was the consensus opinion.
Victoria had been extremely busy all day. Once she did her shopping, there had been a steady stream of customers all morning. Both Pilar and Alicia were on hand to help as it neared lunch time.
De Soto, along with Sergeant Mendoza and three other soldiers, came tromping into the tavern precisely at noon. Victoria wended her way over to greet them. "I'm sorry, Alcalde," she said with not a grain of sorrow in her voice. "All my tables are full. You and your men will have to wait."
"We are not here to eat," de Soto retorted with a sneer. He held up a rolled document. "Señora Victoria de la Vega," he announced loudly. "You are hereby under arrest."
"Under arrest?" echoed the lovely innkeeper. "For what reason?"
The Alcalde unrolled the paper as a chuckle escaped from his lips. "You are under arrest for aiding and abetting the outlaw known as Zorro, by providing comfort and shelter to said criminal." He paused dramatically, "and for withholding knowledge of his identity from the proper authorities."
Victoria paled. "What do you mean? That is utterly. . ."
"Come now, Señora," de Soto laughed. "You do not expect me to believe you do not know who Zorro truly is. After all, you spent that one night with him, maybe even more."
Victoria slapped the Alcalde across the face, leaving a bright red hand print. "That is a lie," she denied angrily. It was true, she had never slept with Zorro, at least not in the way he was implying.
"Add assault of a government official to her crimes." De Soto rubbed his smarting cheek. He motioned with his free hand to the sergeant. "Take her to the cuartel. She hangs tomorrow."
Victoria was genuinely frightened them. Almost the exact same thing had happened to her mother. Elena Escalante's only transgression, however, had been tending the wounds of an injured rebel fighter and giving him something to eat. And she had been killed by a firing squad.
Her daughter had done far worse and now she was going to pay the ultimate price for her love of a man with a bounty on his head.
Mendoza held out his hand to the trembling woman. "I am sorry, Doña Victoria," he apologized sincerely, seeing her stricken face.
"It's all right, Mendoza." She knew he didn't want to go along with the Alcalde's evil scheme but had no choice. Lifting her chin bravely, she took the sergeant's offered hand. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Felipe and Ana Maria staring at her with shocked expressions.
"Tell Diego," she mouthed to the alarmed couple. "Hurry."
Felipe nodded, grabbed his sweetheart's hand and disappeared through the kitchen. Mendoza led Victoria out of her tavern, followed by the other soldiers and de Soto, who chuckled evilly with each step across the plaza to the garrison.
A very short time later, an extremely irate Diego de la Vega pulled up the reins of his horse, bringing the mare to a halt in front of the cuartel. De Soto, who was sitting at his desk, stood as Diego stormed into his office, throwing its door open and causing it to crash loudly.
"De la Vega, how dare you. . ." the Alcalde blustered, almost as if on cue.
"I demand you release my wife at once, Ignacio." Diego ground out, ignoring the other man's protests. He was clenching his fists, trying to keep his anger in check.
Victoria had been pacing back and forth in her cell. Hearing loud noises and voices in the next room, she paused so she could listen.
"I cannot not do that, Diego," replied de Soto calmly. He walked around to the front of his desk. "She is guilty of several crimes against the Crown."
"That is totally ridiculous and you know it," Diego retorted. "Do you really think Zorro is going to fall for this old trap again? Victoria is my wife now."
"I'm sorry, Diego old boy," the commandante stated with a smirk. "If I cannot hang Zorro tomorrow, she will have to do in his place."
"You cold-hearted bas. . ." Diego bit his tongue. He closed his eyes as he tried to contain his rage. Taking a deep breath, he asked, "May I see her?"
De Soto thought for a moment. "Why not? Maybe you can talk some sense into her." He reached for his keys. "All she has to do is reveal Zorro's identity, then she is free to go." He shook his head. "I really don't understand why she is still protecting him, especially after the way he betrayed her."
"Just what do you mean by that, Alcalde?" Diego was quickly losing his patience with his old schoolmate.
"Come on, everyone knows you only married her to protect her reputation," replied Ignacio. "He obviously used her then tossed her aside."
It took all of Diego's control not to punch the other man in the face. Sensing he had pushed Diego too far, de Soto opened the door leading to the cell block. "Go speak with your wife, de la Vega." He grinned evilly as the tall caballero strode past him and stepped into the jail.
Victoria rushed up to the bars as soon as she saw her husband. They started to reach for each other, hesitating though as the Alcalde had followed behind him.
"Ignacio, por favor, if we might be alone for a few minutes?" he asked irritably.
"Very well. Just for a few minutes though." He exited into his office, closing the door as he chuckled to himself.
"Diego, it's a trap," Victoria whispered when de Soto was gone. The couple embraced as best they could through the iron bars.
"Si," he acknowledged. He touched her smooth cheek. "Victoria, are you all right?"
"Yes," she declared, not exactly telling truth. She actually was scared to death. "He wants me to tell him who Zorro is. He does not believe me when I say I don't know. Oh, Diego," she said, tears welling up in her beautiful dark eyes. "He is going to hang me in the morning."
"I will not allow that to happen," vowed her husband passionately. "Don't worry, mi querida. I will find a way. . ." He wiped the dampness from her face then leaned down to kiss her warm lips through the cold metal bars of her cell.
"Diego," she whispered once they ended the knee weakening kiss. "I have to tell you something. I. . ."
The door banged open, letting them know the Alcalde had returned. "Time's up, de la Vega," he announced smugly.
The couple moved apart but continued to gaze into each other's eyes. "Please do not do anything foolish, Diego," Victoria reiterated her plea from the previous day.
"I won't," he pledged, crossing his fingers behind his back. Diego then trailed Ignacio out of the room.
"That is excellent advice, Diego," de Soto suggested as he shut the door. "Why don't you just run along home. Nothing you or your father can do or say will change my mind. Your wife's fate is in Zorro's hands now."
Diego, not trusting himself to respond,
stalked angrily out of the building, slamming the door on his way.
Z Z Z
"Will you act like a de la Vega for once?" thundered Don Alejandro. "In case you haven't realized it, Victoria is going to hang tomorrow morning. I say we gather as many of the caballeros as we can and storm the garrison."
"And what good would that do?" his son shouted in reply. "Someone could get hurt or killed." Like his precious querida. He glared at his father as the old don stared furiously back at him.
"Don't you even care that your wife is in jail?" asked the old don. "Por Dios, she is going to die, Diego. And all you can do is sit there and calmly read a book. You really are nothing but a coward." He shook his grey haired head in disgust.
Diego couldn't have been more hurt than if the elder de la Vega had shot him in the heart. He hung his head in despair. He knew if his father knew he was Zorro, he wouldn't treat him like this. Maybe now was the time to tell him.
He got to his feet. "Father, there is. . ."
Don Alejandro waved him off before he could even begin. "I don't want to hear anymore of your pathetic excuses, Diego. Fine, we won't rescue Victoria. We'll just let her hang in the morning." He narrowed his eyes as he glowered at his son. "I just hope you can live with yourself. I know I couldn't."
The older man marched from the library. Diego sat back down on the settee, his head in his hands. Taking several gulping breaths, he rose and hit the mantle. He disappeared through the opened panel in the fireplace.
He was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He could try to free Victoria himself. But the cuartel was probably so heavily guarded, a flea could not slip in undetected let alone a fox.
There was always the hope that the governor would be merciful. That he would not allow an innocent woman to die in the masked outlaw's place. But he could not count on that.
He exhaled slowly. There was not a chance in hell he was going to let Victoria hang in his place. Not his querida bonita, especially now that she was finally his. Six short weeks hardly made up for the twenty years he had spent worshiping her from afar.
He cast a baleful eye upward. No God could be so cruel. To allow him such a small taste of paradise then snatch it away so soon. And heaven it had been too. He groaned as thoughts of Victoria in his arms, in his bed, filled his mind.
Diego paced across the stone floor of the cave. He paused as the clothes rack holding Zorro's disguise caught his eye. Removing the black sombrero, he held it his hands, staring at it forsakenly. Then he threw it across the room
The hat landed at Felipe's feet as he appeared in the entrance archway. He bent down and picked it up, brushing the dust off of it. The young man looked up at his adopted father. He had overheard the fight Diego and Don Alejandro had just had. It had twisted his stomach in knots. He knew what the other man was going to do and that didn't help his anxiety either.
Diego glanced up, seeing his son's worried countenance. "There is only one solution to this dilemma," he declared resignedly. "I know Zorro will walk right into the Alcalde's trap." He closed his eyes. "But I cannot allow Victoria to die in my place."
Felipe nodded. "Are you sure, Diego, that Zorro can't. . ." Both men stared at each other in shock, realizing that for the first time, Felipe had not stuttered or stammered as he spoke.
Diego hugged his son tightly as the young man tried not to cry. "I have been so proud to call you my son, Felipe," he stated as he pulled back. "I know I can count on you to watch over Victoria and Father for me after I'm. . ." He paused, seeing the tears threatening to spill from his son's eyes. "Don't be sad, hijo. We both knew from the start it might come to this."
"I know, but. . ." Felipe had to turn
away as his heart was breaking. "I. . . I will saddle Toronado."
The tears started falling as he recognized that he would be doing so for
the last time.
Z Z Z
* "The Scylla & the Charybdis" is the Greek equivalent of the proverbial "between a rock and a hard place". In others words, to be faced with the necessity of choosing between two equally undesirable or unpleasant things (definition from Encarta Dictionary Tools).
"THE LEGEND UNMASKED" CHAPTER TEN - "SURRENDER"