by Linda Bindner

August 29, 1822

Something's going to have to change soon, or I'm going to go loco.

I brought two more bandits to the pueblo this morning. They were your typical horse thieves, and I had no trouble catching them. It would be nice to have an educated thief so it would be more of a challenge to capture him, but bandits are not extremely bright, I've come to realize. Rounding them up was almost too easy. It might be good for me to have a challenging sword fight soon; I'm becoming too soft for my own good.

But the thieves weren't the problem. Seeing her was the problem; Victoria. She was on the tavern's porch, watching as I brought in the bandits this morning. Watching closely. I could feel how her eyes bored right through my black shirt and into my skin. It was almost as if she was begging me to come over and say something to her, but I didn't dare; my heart was pounding too loudly as it was. If I don't say something to her soon about this little identity problem we have, I might go insane.

Perhaps I'll ride into Los Angeles and see her tonight. Either I have to go, or I court disaster.

September 3

I did it. Not revealed myself, but rode into the pueblo to see Victoria that night. It's not something I haven't done a hundred times before, but that night, it was different somehow, like we've crossed some barrier or something. At least, it seemed that way for me. She felt as good as always in my arms. Too good, perhaps. When I kissed her, I could think of nothing besides spending every waking moment with her, which would be impossible, even if we got married; she would have to work at the at the tavern sometime. That thought led to even more indecent thoughts. If I don't say something soon... well, then, I can't be held accountable for my actions.

September 4

I saw Victoria again today, all day, at the tavern, while I was there as myself. I went into town to read those articles for The Guardian, but I didn't get any work done. I could only sit at the tavern, watching out of the corner of my eye. If I'm not careful, Victoria might suspect that I have a crush on her. That would be bad!

September 6

I had to track the Lopez gang today. They were almost too easy to catch, like those bandits at the end of August. It didn't take much muscle.

I've been thinking lately of giving Zorro up for good. There are bandits, to be sure, but nothing the soldiers can't handle. That is, trained soldiers from any other garrison besides Los Angeles can't handle. The Alcalde does very little to keep his cuartel in top shape. He doesn't even appreciate it when I do his job for him by bringing in banditos. I guess his temper and hatred of Zorro gets in the way. I'm not sure I blame him, until I run across more bandits sprung from a family reduced to poverty by DeSoto's taxation. Then I don't feel bad for him at all, and I'm determined to remain the thorn in his side for as long as it takes.

September 7

This is crazy. I can't even sit in the tavern anymore without getting... 'uncomfortable' is a good word, but 'hot' is more accurate, and I'm not talking about the weather. I kept my eyes on Victoria the entire two hours I was there, (to spend any more time at the tavern is dangerous,) but it wasn't enough. Even the midnight visit I paid her last night as Zorro didn't really help. Honestly, my blood boils faster than hot water lately. I have to say something soon, but when? I'm so afraid that she'll be angry with me that I stay silent. Why can't I just trust myself? I already trust her. Sure, to throw a pan at my head for lying all these years.

September 15

This is probably the most I've seen Victoria in my entire life. Usually, I wait until there's a reason to go into the pueblo as Zorro before I stop by the tavern. It's really too dangerous for both of us. I shudder to think what might happen to her if we get caught. But I have to, need to, risk it. Victoria has become like a flame under my skin. Before, she was simply a candle flame. Now, I feel more like it's a fire. I know this deceit isn't good for either of us, but what else can I do? She doesn't love me as I truly am. I have to remember that. It's the way it has to be. That was the way I wanted it to be four years ago, almost five. Though I think she's beginning to suspect that Diego loves her. The feeling leaks into my eyes every time I so much as look at her - I can't help it. I've never been so happy and so torn in my life.

September 22

I'm much calmer now. No, I didn't say anything to anybody. Felipe made certain of that. Poor guy, he probably saw how agitated I had become and was scared to leave me alone. With Father gone to San Pedro to sell cattle, I don't blame him. Father will be gone a week. That leaves me with a lot of alone time. Being alone is the one thing I want the most, and the one thing I shouldn't have. Who knows what I'll do if given the opportunity?

I will beat this!

September 23

Who am I kidding? I can't handle this. I can't even handle seeing Victoria every day in the tavern, like I used to be able to do. I don't know what's come over me. She's so beautiful, though. Perhaps it's time to leave roses in her room. Although, maybe I should forget the roses until after I say something, and leave them as a peace offering after she throws them at me.

Later that same day:

I left the roses for her, after supper and while I knew she was working in the big room of the tavern. I'm not sure I can see her any longer; I don't trust myself. Neither does Felipe. He caught me staring quite longingly at a group of children in the plaza today. I never used to stare so much.

September 30

It was right for Felipe not to trust me around Victoria. After my behavior tonight, I don't blame him, either.

Here's what happened. No, I didn't say anything, though I wanted to, desperately. No, instead, I chased more bandits, got my adrenaline going, dumped them on the Alcalde's doorstep, then rode out of town, doubling back silently to go to the tavern to wait for a chance to speak with Victoria.

Only I didn't do any speaking. It was as if my tongue was literally tied in a knot. She is so beautiful that I couldn't think of anything to say. All I could do was touch her, kiss her, feel her in my arms. Maybe starting a romance with her wasn't such a good idea, but in the beginning it seemed harmless enough. I would never have guessed that she would become so all-consuming, that she would infiltrate my everything. But she's a part of my heart now, whether it's safe or not. I may not like it, but I can't stay away. No, Felipe is right not to trust me around her.

October 2

More bandits, cattle rustlers this time. I left them tied up inside the jail, as it was nearly five o'clock in the morning and time for the town to soon rise. This was a good idea and a bad idea. Catching bandits is good, the way I turned Toronado around to slip into Victoria's kitchen was not. She's too pretty, too effervescent, for my own good. We talked for awhile, she offered me breakfast, which I had to turn down for time purposes, and then the visit became too steamy for our own sakes. She is simply too much for me to resist. If I don't marry her, and before the year is out, I might do something that Padre Benitez will regret. As much as I've been raised with the same message all my life, I'm not sure I will regret it. In fact, I'm sure I won't.

October 3

The bandit's I brought into town yesterday escaped from jail and tried to kidnap whoever they could find for ransom. Unfortunately, they started their search at the tavern, where they got inebriated and pursued Victoria. Fortunately, I was there in my disguise as the inept Don Diego and managed to foil the kidnapping attempt without giving myself away. I was lucky, and so was Victoria. They could have easily hidden all day, attacked her tonight, and I wouldn't be there to put a stop to anything they chose to do. The thought of Victoria being... it's too much for my mind to take. I don't know what I would do then; lose my temper, for one thing. In the haze of a de la Vega temper tantrum, I might inadvertently kill someone. Sometimes, I don't know my own strength.

The lancers recaptured the by-then drunk bandits.

October 10

For both of our sakes, I've stayed out of the pueblo and away from the tavern all this time, a week and a half. Both Zorro and Diego stayed away, Zorro with the excuse that there have been no bandits to chase, and Diego with the excuse that I had experiments to look after. I could see the disdain on Victoria's face when I told her. Well, no, 'disdain' isn't the right word. More like 'patience.' She has little patience for Diego, even if I am her best friend. That, and the fear of ultimate rejection, keep me from saying anything.

But the entire time I was talking to her, it felt like hot pokers were under my skin. I wanted to pull her into my arms, to hug her, to kiss her... I have the most indecent thoughts when I'm around her. However, at least I get to be around her most days. If I only got to see her as rarely as Zorro gets to see her, I think I'd go insane. As it is, I'm going insane anyway.

October 11

Another day, more bandits, more pursuits from the Alcalde. Does anything ever really change in life?

I think I'm growing depressed. Felipe will barely trust me to leave the hacienda, Victoria ignores me, or she ignores Diego, though silly Diego can't take his eyes off her. Oh, he's surreptitious in his watching, to be sure, but not surreptitious enough. She might uncover the secret identity on her own, and then where would I be? Out of a job, for one thing.

October 12

Today was a day that will live in infamy, so they say. At least, it will be talked about for a long time.

While Father, Felipe, and I were at the tavern for lunch, a soldier acting as half scout, half messenger arrived from San Pedro, declaring that Mexico has won her independence from Spain and that the king has sold the entire California territory to Mexico. Without any help from me, DeSoto was sent back to Spain, just like that. It was an incredible stroke of good fortune. At least, good fortune according to some people. This news is harder for Father to take, since he is such a loyalist, but it might mean the end of the necessity of Zorro, too. One never knows. I think I'll lie low for awhile, though, just in case.

October 20

I found out today just what it means to have the possibility of an unmasked Zorro in Los Angeles. While Father and I were at the tavern, wasting time, admittedly, a man by the name of Sanchez stopped by, saying that he was from Santa Paula, and that he was waiting for Zorro to show up so he could kill him. The comment sent chills up my spine, to be sure. I thought he had discovered my secret. But he hadn't, he was just waiting for a sword fight. Victoria set him straight on who would win, and naturally, Zorro never showed up, since I was in the tavern already, but it does make a person think of what might have happened.

No other news to report. There have been two gangs of bandits who have taken advantage of the Mexican turnover/revolution. Both revolts were put down by troops doing what they were expected to do. With Captain Salez in charge of the garrison, the soldiers didn't dare mess up. How nice, not to have to worry about dealing with bandits while protecting my identity. It is also nice, I admit, to have someone besides DeSoto in charge of the garrison. No more irresponsible taxation to protest. How novel.

October 21

I went to see Victoria again tonight, as Zorro. I had no choice but to go. Diego had started a conversation with her, and Zorro finished it, about how she felt of an eventual unmasking. I admit it, I was feeling her out on the subject. I wanted to know what she thought, or more likely I wanted to know what she planned to do. Unfortunately, she hadn't thought much about the situation, so she couldn't tell me anything, but she would be sure to think about what I had queried and get back to me. In the meantime, was I aware that Diego had brought up the same subject just that morning? I'll have to be more careful in the future, or I'll make her suspect the truth. I think she suspects anyway.

But I also admit that I do like kissing her.

October 23

I did it; I told Victoria my identity. There's no more need for Zorro, not really, and it was the right time for me to finally unmask. It was... beyond beautiful. That's all I can say to describe the scene, except that my heart was pounding so hard, I was certain Father could hear it all the way at the hacienda. In fact, that's where we ended up. But it's a long story.

Suffice it to say that Victoria had no reaction that I ever anticipated. She wasn't angry. She wasn't even surprised. She had seen Diego watching her for a year, six months, at least. That was when she began to suspect. I had no idea that she had conjectured at all. But that just goes to show you that you may think you know someone well enough to predict what goes on in their mind, then wham! You don't know anything.

I feel much better, now that she knows. The fact that we rode all the way back to the hacienda and made love in my bedroom may have something to do with that. I expected to feel guilty afterwards, and I don't. How could it be wrong for the two of us to finally be together? I admit, I never thought of myself as a man who would take liberties with a lady, and usually I'm very chivalrous, but I simply couldn't resist Victoria anymore. Especially not a Victoria who knew. Her hands all over me may have had something to do with it, but I think it might have had more to do with how I felt about her.

And I feel even more in love this morning than I did last night. I didn't expect that, but it's a nice aftereffect, anyway. I still haven't decided on what to do about a possible marriage, but we both know what will happen if I make my identity known to everyone in the pueblo; that man named Sanchez from Santa Paula will just be the first of many to challenge my skills with a sword. And though I've been chasing bandits for five years, and that has kept me in top physical form, someday, someone might best me. It could be the end. I'm not sure I want to do that to Victoria. I love her too much. On the other hand, the temptation of being myself is almost as hard to resist as Victoria was. I don't know what to do.

But I do know that I am in love, and that feels wonderful.

November 11

Once we started, we couldn't stop - that's the old saying, and it's true enough for us as well - once Victoria knew everything and we made love, we couldn't stop there. It doesn't seem to matter what time it is, where we are, or how big the danger is - we are in love, and making love all the time seems to be the best way to show it. Father won't be happy, but then, Father is never happy with me these days. He did comment on what a good mood I've been in recently, and wondered what could have happened. I gave some reason about my experiments going well, but the truth is that I've hardly been in the cave to conduct experiments lately. Poor Felipe must think I've gone away with the horses, but the truth is that I've been at the tavern too much lately to think about horses.

I'll never forget the 24th, a Thursday, the first time I saw Victoria as myself after unmasking for her. She was so surprised to see me that she nearly dropped the plate of food she was carrying! Though she shouldn't have been surprised at all; we talked about the possibility of my unmasking to the pueblo, and until then she will have to pretend that she doesn't know anything. Until that time comes, and it may not ever come, we have to employ the deceit of feeling nothing more than friendship while we're in the presence of citizens. But when we're alone, we can do whatever we want, and we do - often!

December 1

It appears that we are not to get a new alcalde from Mexico City, as promised. We are to have an open election, tomorrow. We'll see what happens. I'm not retiring just yet.

In the meantime, Victoria is wonderful, and I never knew how heavenly love could be. The thing that rankles me is that I can't show the people of the pueblo my affection for Victoria. But it's a small price to pay for bliss.

December 2

I still don't believe it; my own father is has been elected Alcalde of Pueblo de Los Angeles. The first thing he plans to do is write a pardon for Zorro. It seems his unmasking will come, whether I'm ready or not. I'm still in shock!

December 10

This has been decreed the day for Zorro to unmask. I'm supposed to ride into town to receive the pardon at one o'clock precisely. Zorro is retired without a word or deed from me. I hope Victoria's ready for this. I know I am.

December 11

I haven't seen so many shocked faces in my life. Victoria warned me that this would be the case, and she was right. I thought Father was going to have a seizure, right there in the tavern. The party he planned to celebrate the pardon ended up celebrating mine and Victoria's wedding.

For I am indeed now a married man. I have the ring on my left hand to prove it. I know that wearing a ring isn't exactly the thing to do these days, but I want to claim Victoria as much as she wants to claim me. Wouldn't anybody?

We maintained the pretense of Victoria's ignorance until the very end, but I'm afraid that by then, everybody knew that she knew who I was. Or who Zorro was. Or whatever. Still, I haven't seen Padre Benitez appear so happy than he was while he officiated at our wedding. As for me, I've never been so happy, either. With my father as the Alcalde and Victoria as my wife - finally - there's no more need for Zorro. The pardon allowed him to retire quietly, silently, just as he first appeared.

December 11, 1823

No, I haven't gone loco, and I haven't forgotten the date. An entire year has gone by since I've last written in this journal. Consider this entry an update on the events in my life.

Of course, I could say, what events? Nothing of much import has gone on over the last year. Well, nothing of much import to Zorro, anyway. It's been one heck of a year for me, though.

First of all, Victoria has had our first baby, a girl. Father was happy to overlook her suspiciously early arrival when we named her Elena Maria Victoria de la Vega. We hope to give her a bother or sister sometime soon, but the squalling of one child at a time is enough even for his old ears!

The challenges to Zorro have come, thick and fast, and only now, a year later, are they starting to slow down. I'm glad. I would much rather spend time with Victoria or Elena than I would with a sword in my hand. Too much has already been sacrificed for Zorro to have to go through those kinds of challenges on a daily basis. Besides, I always win... so far.

That's Victoria's greatest nightmare - that someday, I'll be beaten and killed. I can only assure her how bad these 'best of the best' are, and try not to let them get the upper hand on me. Sir Edmund would be proud that I beat the 'best' swordsman of Mexico City in one minute. I hardly had time to work up a sweat.

My biggest fear is that someday I'll wake up to find this has all been a dream; I'm not married, Victoria doesn't know anything about her masked hero, and the pueblo still needs Zorro desperately. All I can do is repeat the truth to myself and have Victoria hold me. But in the middle of the night, when everything is dark, it's easy to give in to my fears.

Other than that, my father is still the alcalde, I run the ranch now, which is a full time job, and Felipe's voice is coming back, steady and strong. He's thinking about becoming a lawyer. I think that's a wonderful idea, and so does Victoria.

As for my 'romance' with Victoria, which this journal often eludes to, especially towards the end, I'm even more in love than the day I told Victoria my secret. I didn't think I could

May 2, 1932

Sorry about that last entry; I was interrupted by Victoria, who wanted to do other things than spend time writing in journals, if I remember right. Yes, ten years have gone by, and some gray is now mixed in with the brown hair, but I can't complain about that. Sebastian says that I seem to be as old as Grandfather. I try to tell him I'm not that old yet, but he refuses to listen.

Let's see, this is an even bigger update then the entry before. I didn't mean to be gone for so long, but...

Victoria and I are still happily married - well, maybe not so happily when the hacienda smells bad from an experiment gone wrong, but that's another story. We now have three children, Elena, over ten years, Sebastian, eight years, and Maria, five years. Father thinks it's about time for another baby to grace the hacienda with it's screams, and Victoria said she'll see what she can do, but the tavern keeps her so busy, that she might not have the time... or the energy... for another baby. Whatever the case, I'm not consulted about what I want. I'm just supposed to show up.

Mendoza is now our Alcalde, and has been for a year. He's not as organized as my father or as commanding as Jesus Martinez, our last alcalde, but he can sure eat a good lunch better than any man! I've never seen someone eat so much before, not even Sebastian, and he eats a lot!

Other than that, it's quiet. Los Angeles is a little bit bigger than it used to be, but Victoria's tavern is still the only one in town. She enjoys running it, and I enjoy having a happy wife, so I'm glad she decided to keep it when we got married.

Oh, Toronado died last Spring. Sebastian found him in the gully in the canyon right below that jump we used to take. It looked like he tried to take the jump one more time, and didn't make it. I was devastated for months, and only Victoria fully understood how much he meant to me. But life goes on, as they say, and I had to tend to my family. I'm just glad that no one was trying to ride him at the time. I know that Sebastian used to stand on block of wood, saddle him, then lead him from the stables and ride him every now and then when he thought I was busy with other things.

And with a family and Victoria, it seems like I'm always busy with something or other! What else could life be like for the man known as Zorro?

Back to [Zorro Stories]. Send comments to linda.bindner@gmail.com.

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