Two days later, Diego was beginning to despair.
Victoria hadn't woken. Well, she had, technically, but she hadn't been lucid during those times. She lay where he had first gently placed her, in a bed in one of the guest rooms at the de la Vega hacienda. He remembered the scene of bringing her home even now as he closed his eyes, sighed sadly, and stared at the wall.
Don Alejandro had met them as they pulled up to the front of the hacienda, highly suspicious himself when he heard someone draw a rattling wagon up to the door of his house. The minute Diego carefully hefted his precious charge into his arms, his father had become more businesslike as he had become more concerned. To behave in an enhanced manner of understanding was a defense mechanism for him, Diego knew, but even his father was beginning to drive him crazy with his 'It makes more sense to...' statements. Diego was starting to wish for his father to do something wild, just once, in order to relieve the pressure the members of the household felt they were under from his solicitude.
The days had quickly fallen into a routine of sorts. Diego was in and out of Victoria's guest room all the time, and Felipe was sure to be available in case Victoria awoke if he had to be absent for a longer period of time. Alejandro spent the night hours at Victoria's side, relieved at 2:00 in the morning by Maria, the de la Vega's cook and most trusted servant. A cot had been set up so Diego could also sleep in the same room as Victoria, since he simply refused to leave her side to even snatch a few hours of rest. Right away, on the first day of Victoria's stay, he noticed his father watching him with a curious look in his eyes, but Diego wasn't certain if the older man didn't approve of his son's devotion to someone who was supposed to be just a friend, or if he wondered about Diego's secret identity as Zorro. Personally, Diego no longer cared who thought what, just as long as Victoria awakened. However, he got his chance to explain his actions on the very same day as Victoria's injury.
Evening had approached, but it was so warm during the daylight hours of a California summer, that after supper, work at the hacienda didn't cease until Don Alejandro said it had to stop. Though he had frequently tried to put a halt to this habit of working during the evening hours, most of the hands preferred the coolness of the darkening end of the day to the heat of midday, and left their chores until then. But they were not the only ones who seemed to prefer the evening hours in Los Angeles - the Alcalde and his lancers rode up to the hacienda in a cloud of dust shaded violet by the shadows of the setting sun the first night Victoria spent at the hacienda.
His pounding on the front door reverberated throughout the adobe house, and it was Diego who yanked open the door with the intent to quiet the pounder, even if he had to insult that person in order to do it. Insulting someone seemed far less important when compared to the day's events he'd suffered through already.
Diego was still quite surprised to see the Alcalde standing
on his father's front step.
Alcalde! he exclaimed before
he thought better of announcing the man's presence. Yet, Don
Alejandro must have heard his son's exclamation, for he joined
Diego at the door.
Can we help you, Alcalde? Don Alejandro politely
inquired, though the tone of his voice was more caustic than
Actually, Don Alejandro, you can, replied the man
with his famous love for Madrid.
I came here tonight in order
to check on the condition of Seņorita Escalante. How is
She's still asleep, Diego informed shortly.
need to be as quiet as we can so as not to disturb her.
She's still asleep? DeSoto ascertained.
Diego sighed, angry at the administrator's barely concealed
She hasn't mentioned Zorro's identity, if
that's what has you so intrigued, Alcalde.
The Alcalde scowled, irritated that his obvious purpose had
been uncovered so quickly.
Is that so?
Yes, that's so, answered Diego.
I told you that I
would keep you informed if she mumbles anything incriminating in
her sleep, he reminded.
If that's all...
And how long have you carried a tender affection for her,
Diego, the Alcalde shot back, his irritation
overpowering his own common sense for a moment.
Diego stood on the doorstep, not moving an inch. How had the Alcalde known about that? he wondered, but the discovery of one his most guarded secrets didn't bother him as much as he'd always thought it would. Worry about Victoria seemed so much more consuming right now.
Again, Diego sighed. But it was a sigh of annoyance instead
What does that have to do with
anything? he asked.
Oh, I think it has plenty to do with this situation,
answered the Alcalde.
Don Alejandro wrinkled his nose in confusion and disbelief.
What's he talking about, Diego?
Diego... said some rather... rather 'illuminating' things
this morning, Don Alejandro, DeSoto responded.
You sound rather pleased to be the one informing on me,
Alcalde, Diego noted in a deadpan voice.
No, not at all, DeSoto mumbled in an attempt to hide
It's just that the revelation of your affections
came as quite a surprise, Don Diego, the Alcalde said.
I bet they do, Diego muttered under his breath at the
same time his father asked,
Affections? What affections? He turned to regard
Do you know what he's talking about?
DeSoto answered again.
Only that Diego called the
seņorita his... what was it?
One of the lancers DeSoto had brought with him supplied a
He called her his precious girl, Alcalde.
That's right, DeSoto said with a twisted smile.
So he did.
Diego found his annoyance rising with every word the Alcalde
And so what if I did? he asked.
bleeding from a cut to her head; she could hardly hear anything I
had to say. And besides, Diego continued,
I was worried
sick at the time. What would you have said? he asked
The Alcalde glared at Diego.
I wouldn't have announced
the affections I had hidden from the entire pueblo for years in
front of every customer at the tavern, that's what!
Oh, Ignacio! scoffed Diego.
Am I supposed to be
embarrassed by this form of interview? Diego asked next.
Because it really doesn't matter to me anymore who
knows... It's far more important to see to Victoria's comfort
than to worry what someone said while she was bleeding all over
Zorro might care, warned the Alcalde with
Diego replied with another sigh,
I somehow think that
what Zorro does or does not care about may be beside the point,
Alcalde. Victoria may not remember a thing about him. And
if Diego were honest with himself, he had to admit that this
little tidbit was the concern that overshadowed everything he did
now. Yet, he went on, not voicing that concern.
She may not
remember me, either, Alcalde. Diego sighed
dramatically, doing his best to distract his audience.
Considering the reason he was aiming for that distraction, it
wasn't hard to steer his father and he Alcalde away from a
discussion about Zorro's identity!
And I have to say that the
idea of losing her friendship because Victoria doesn't know who I
am is far more distressing to me than wondering what Zorro has
planned for me if she doesn't remember him. Now... is
that all you wanted to know? Diego was trying to be
forthright and open, and it was clear that neither his father nor
the Alcalde knew how to take such honesty from a man they thought
they had known well for years.
The Alcalde spluttered for a moment, then finally managed to
That's all I desire to know this evening, Don Diego.
I'll take my leave then. He bowed, too.
Diego took the gesture for the 'falling back on the social
graces' that it was.
I'll let you know if anything whatsoever
happens, he promised.
That will be fine - I'm just concerned, Don Diego,
the Alcalde hesitantly said.
I'm sure you are, Diego answered and followed the
Alcalde's kind words with the command,
Have a good night.
Then he shut the door before the Alcalde could even retreat down
the hacienda's front steps.
Don Alejandro stared at his son, and when Diego tried to
step away from the door, arrested him with a hand on his arm.
Diego... He sighed in resignation, then.
I think we
need to talk.
Diego's own sigh was even more resigned.
right. He led the way into the sitting room and took a seat
on the sofa in front of the window. Alejandro sat across from
him in a chair by the wall, but a moment later, he had risen to
stand in front of the fireplace. Diego noted the agitation in
his father's stance, and sighed again.
What is it you wish to
talk about? he asked.
Alejandro turned to regard his son.
Oh, I think you know
what I want to talk about, he said, his voice low and thick
The tone of that voice made Diego pause for a moment.
Finally, he said,
I think I do.
Alejandro returned to his chair and sat down.
what the Alcalde said true?
The Alcalde said many things. Can you be more
I want to know if you're in love with
Victoria, Diego. It isn't a hard question to answer.
That's what you think, was the idea that shot through
Diego's mind, but he did his best to be more honest with such a
direct question and with his father.
Are you certain you wish
to hear such information, Father, or is this just another case of
the Alcalde cooking up a story to suit his own purposes?
Alejandro's scowl deepened.
What would be the point of
the Alcalde doing that? he asked rhetorically.
trying to capture Zorro for the last few years, not you.
No, Alejandro said as he leaned forward towards
Diego. The expression on his face was a familiar one to Diego,
one that said the don would put up with no amount of
prevarication any longer.
I asked a simple question, and I
want a simple answer. When Diego didn't immediately respond,
Are you in love with Victoria?
What was the point of lying at this late date? Diego
wondered. Besides, if his father didn't hear it from him, he was
sure to hear rumors concerning his own son's affections in the
pueblo, especially after the things Diego had said to Victoria
while in the throes of worry at the tavern.
Yes, I am,
Diego responded on a sigh of both guilt for covering up this
secret from his own father, and relief at finally admitting to
I have been since I came home on the ship from
Alejandro remained silent for a moment, letting such
incredible news infiltrate his thoughts. Then, he sat back in
And you never thought to tell me about it? he
inquired smoothly, in a low voice again, as if the question was
as much a threat as an inquiry.
What was the point of saying
anything? He gestured with his hand towards his father.
There was nothing you, or anybody, could have done - Victoria
was still going to be in love with Zorro and not know I was even
alive, so hiding the way I felt seemed to make more sense than
creating a scene about it and embarrassing her. Diego rolled
That would have done nothing to ingratiate
Victoria to me. No, if that had happened instead, I would
be the one lying in a bed right now with a wound to the back of
Alejandro scowled again.
Oh, Diego, you give yourself
far too little credit! And you know that wasn't what I
meant! He sat back hard in his chair with a bounce.
Then perhaps you will tell me exactly what you did
mean? Diego was fast losing patience with this interview,
and he strove not to let it show in his voice. But his emotions
had taken a beating that day, and he didn't know how much longer
he could control them.
Diego, he said in a much softer
please, don't take this the wrong way. I'm only worried
about my son, especially since he claims to love a woman who has
been his best friend for years, and is even now lying in one of
my own beds with a head injury. The fact that she may wake and
have no idea who you even are only compounds the concern I'm
Suddenly, tears swam in Diego's eyes, and he rested his head
in his hands as all the fight and anger and natural defensiveness
he was feeling drained out of him.
I've already thought of
that, he said, letting his misery snake through the tough
hold he always maintained on his emotions.
For a moment, Alejandro remained silent while Diego
struggled to push back his fear yet again so that he could speak.
Diego stared through his fingers at the carpet, took a deep, if
watery, breath, before his father gently asked,
thought about what you're going to do if Victoria doesn't even
remember you, to say nothing about returning your
I don't know, Diego admitted, responding to the
softer tone in his father's voice.
It's no secret that she's
loved Zorro for years, and I have no desire to compete for her
affections with another man. Diego peered gravely at his
I think I'd rather lose her than do that.
It was a testimony to the depth of Diego's feelings for Alejandro to hear Diego say that he would rather have Victoria die than oppose someone else's feelings for her. Alejandro was dutifully impressed, and the expression of astonishment on his face showed it.
However, Diego knew he wasn't finished.
that you have to know.
This surprised Alejandro.
There's more than finding out
that my only son has secretly loved his best friend for
Diego nodded in abject misery.
Do you know about the new
Alejandro appeared to be thinking hard.
Alcalde has created some new tax for the pueblo, I can't even
begin to imagine a new law.
It's a law from King Ferdinand himself
that states that anyone over the age of twenty-five who holds
property needs to marry in one month, pay a steep fine, or go to
jail for a year.
What? Alejandro exploded.
preposterous! he declared, thinking instantly of his own
The idea that I should marry again, or that anyone
can compare to your mother..!
Widow's and people who inherit property are exempt, which
means both you and I have nothing to worry about, Diego went
on to explain.
Victoria, on the other hand, needs to find a
husband before a month goes by.
Alejandro blankly regarded Diego while his mouth hung open.
Uh.., he finally managed to say. A moment later, he tried
again to sound more collected.
Well, this changes things, I
think. He sat in his chair, unmoving, and at last, blew out
a breath of air.
Diego, I have to be candid and honest here,
and I don't mean any disrespect for Victoria by saying it, but,
disregarding Zorro's claim on her affections, have you thought
about what will happen to Victoria if she never wakes up?
Diego couldn't meet his father's gaze for the burning ache
that was already in his chest, and, he feared, his eyes.
Yes, he whispered his answer.
She'll die unless we can
figure out a way for her to eat.
Alejandro was just as honest when he said,
And I don't
know how we're going to do that. Have you... He paused.
Have you accepted what will happen then?
I would rather spend my energies on believing that she'll
wake up and be just fine, Diego responded,
But, yes, I
have considered the alternative as a... This was so hard to
say out loud!
... a possibility.
But Alejandro wasn't finished with his projections, even
though Diego had voiced one of his greatest fears.
other side of the problem, have you considered what happens if
she does wake up, if she remains alive, but isn't the same
Victoria we know and love, who might not be able to do things for
herself? Who is going to want to marry a girl who's nothing but
a burden? And what happens to her in just a month if she doesn't
I know, Diego said immediately, holding up his hand
to ensure his father's silence.
I know. I've already thought
of all those things, as well, and though I think we're jumping
ahead of ourselves just a bit, I want you to know that I've
already considered... He paused while he closed his eyes in
order to better collect his thoughts.
... considered what
I'll do in that eventuality.
Diego, Alejandro said with a shake of his head,
have no wish to sound cold hearted, but what happens if it
does come to that? Victoria could go to jail for a reason
that she won't even understand!
I won't let that happen, Diego said in finality.
If it comes to that, I'll marry her myself and keep her out of
jail. But it hasn't come about, yet, and it may not ever
But, Diego, Alejandro protested,
what kind of a
marriage will that be? he went on in a demanding tone of
How can I sanction a union like that, one that I will
know from the outset will never be anything more than a marriage
Diego's face turned hard.
How can you not
sanction it? he asked in a biting voice.
I can't let
Victoria go to jail, not when I've wanted to marry her more than
anything for years! What kind of person would I be if I
disregarded her just because she doesn't remember me, or can't
move, or has impaired coordination? Diego sat back hard on
his own chair.
Again, I'd rather lose her than release her
into those kinds of conditions.
Alejandro stared again at Diego for a moment, clearly
pondering all that his son had declared, understanding for the
first time just how deeply his own son loved Victoria. At last,
I see. And Zorro can do nothing for her?
Diego's sad sigh chiseled through the room.
explained that to me before the fight that caused her head injury
today. She fully understands her predicament concerning Zorro
and this new law; she can't marry him without discovering his
true identity, due to the fact that he would have to sign his
real name in the church registry if he married her, and the
Alcalde would simply demand to see the registry and find out the
bandit's identity prior to hanging the masked man. And even if
DeSoto doesn't do that, Victoria herself would be known to know
Zorro's identity, and the Alcalde would then simply arrest
her until she revealed the identity of her own husband,
after which the Alcalde will hang whomever she decides to condemn
to death. Diego stared at his father with a comprehending
expression on his face.
She's doomed no matter what she
So Zorro can't help her out of this problem,
Alejandro stated thoughtfully. Then he perked up and stood
beside the fireplace again.
This may be your chance to press
your own suit...
Father! Diego instantly negated.
How can you
think of such a thing?
Girls aren't courted by thin air, Diego, Alejandro
I know that only too well, Diego answered, knowing
that he was also responding to one of Alejandro's favorite
phrases at the same time, something he'd heard many times in the
But I refuse to take advantage of this situation, no
matter what happens, he continued.
If Victoria wants to
change the state of our relationship, fine, but if not, I won't
put pressure on her to accept what she doesn't want.
Alejandro sighed once more.
That's a noble sentiment,
Diego, but if the month-long grace period disappears while she
recovers, you, and she, may not have any other choice but
to marry each other.
Discerning Alejandro's meaning all too clearly, Diego gazed grimly back at his father. He realized the truth of the situation as a whole, but had not had his choices stated so baldly before. And, already, time was running out for the young woman asleep in one of the hacienda's guest rooms. All they anyone could do now was wait.
Go on to Chapter 3
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