PROLOGUE

     Six months have passed since the startling discovery that Don Alejandro de la Vega had two sons born that warm October day thirty-one years earlier.  Six months that had brought several changes to the remaining de la Vegas.

      Don Alejandro and Diego mourned the son and brother they had barely known.  And it did not lessen their grief that what little they had learned about Gilberto they could barely like, much less embrace.

      Don Alejandro let Señora Risendo sail back to Spain with the stern warning never to set foot in California again.  She told them the truth of what had happened the day the twins were born.  Don  Alejandro reasoned that any punishment, criminal or otherwise would be anticlimactic in comparison to the death of her beloved Gilberto.  Diego agreed with his father and together they let the bitter, twisted old woman leave.

       They buried Gilberto in the de la Vega family plot in the Mission cemetery.  Señora Ynez was allowed to attend the short ritual before she left for Spain.  They laid him to rest next to the grave of his true mother, Felicidad de la Vega, the one he had never known.

        It had been a very emotional time for Diego. He felt that if Gilberto had been raised by his real parents, he would have been a very different person.  Diego also knew deep down in his heart that  if he and his twin brother had not been separated, they would have been close.

        The revelation that he had twin brother explained a great deal to Diego. Something had always seemed to be missing from his life.  For a long time, he thought it had been his mother's death when he was twelve  But now Diego knew it was the bond he shared in her womb with his brother.  Zorro, he realized, had been created out of that sense of loss.

     It had not all been sad times though.  It was a very happy day, indeed, four months ago when Diego legally adopted Felipe as his son.  This brought about few changes to the de la Vega household as Diego had treated Felipe as his son for many years.  Felipe now spent most of his time studying the law, in preparation of one day becoming a lawyer.

   Diego had done some quick explaining to his father concerning his actions preceding his brother's death.  When the old don had inquired what Gilberto's last words had meant, Diego simply told his father the truth.  That the other man was accusing him of being Zorro.  Don Alejandro had a good laugh over that, which Diego knew he would, positive in his belief that his father would not believe it.  When his father became curious about Diego's sudden skillfulness with a sword, his son had a somewhat truthful explanation for that as well.  He told her father, after all, he had studied with Sir Edmund Kendall for nearly four years.  Some of what he had learned had come rushing back to him in his desire to protect his father.  He just had no interest in swordplay, preferring to spend his time with other pursuits, such as poetry and science.  Don Alejandro, comparing what he had seen that day and the other times he had watch Diego attempt to fence, was inclined to accept this excuse as well.

     Life had gotten back to its normal routine in the pueblo de Los Angeles.  It had taken several weeks for the musket ball wound in Diego's right arm to heal properly.  He needed the rest anyway, both physically and mentally.  Fortunately things had remained quiet in the pueblo.  Zorro had not made an appearance there for quite some time, much to the dismay of a certain beautiful señorita.

 Diego now realized that life was short and his need to be with Victoria grew stronger than ever.  He knew she would wait forever for Zorro if she had to, but he did not think he would be able to wait that long.

 But before they could finally be together, Zorro still had a few more adventures left in him. . .
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"A REAL HERO"-CHAPTER ONE