It was a swift, but easy ride, to the pueblo, as Diego, trotted Toronado, to the back, of the tavern. He held Victoria's hand, as she carefully slid, off of Toronado's back. Diego, dismounted as well, and gave Victoria, a tender kiss, good-night. As they parted, she looked into his eyes, and smiled.
"I had a wonderful time. Thank you." she stated.
"So did I." replied Diego, gazing into her eyes.
Victoria, felt her heart, slightly flutter, as he looked at her.
"I guess, I should be going. It's getting late." she remarked, as she felt the warmth of a blush, upon her face.
Diego smiled, as he tenderly brushed his hand, against her cheek.
"It's always, so hard to leave, with just a kiss." he said, gazing passionately, into her eyes.
Victoria smiled, and sighed. "I feel the same way, Diego. I love you, so much. We'll be together, soon. We just have to have, faith." she replied, compassionately.
Diego nodded, and smiled. "I love you, too, Victoria. I've always, had faith. However, I've always wondered, how I managed, to maintain, such self-restraint." he slightly smiled.
Victoria smiled. "Could it be, that maybe, we love each other, for different reasons?" she asked.
Diego looked at her thoughtfully, and smiled.
"I suppose, you're right." he took her hand, and pressed a tender kiss, to her palm. "I should be going. If I stay here any longer, I may not, want to leave." He remarked, with a quixotic smile.
Victoria slightly blushed, and smiled. "Thank you, for bringing me home." she stated.
Diego smiled. "My pleasure, querida. Buenas noches." he replied. He turned, and quickly mounted, Toronado.
"Buenas noches, mi querida." said Victoria, warmly.
Diego blew her a kiss, and rode away.
Victoria, was just one reason, he had come, to town. However, his main reason, for coming as Zorro, was to meet, Señor Veranos. He knew that the Emissary, and Carroga, would be there, too. This was definitely, an opportunity, he couldn't, pass up. If this meeting proved successful, it would mean, a new beginning, for the people, of Los Angeles, and a life together, with Victoria.
Zorro trotted Toronado, toward the back, of the mission church, until he came, to an open window. He reined in Toronado, beneath the window, then stood up on his saddle, and carefully, climbed in. As he crept through the hallway, he briefly heard some men, talking, in hushed tones. 'Must be Veranos, and his friends.' he thought. As he neared the sanctuary, he saw Padre Benitez, just finishing, his prayers. He walked up, to one of the pews, removed his hat, and stood beside it. A startled look, appeared on the kind padre's face, as he turned, and saw Zorro, standing behind him.
"Señor Zorro! What are you doing, here?" exclaimed Padre Benitez, quietly, in an anxious tone.
"Forgive me, padre. I didn't mean, to alarm you." Stated Zorro, amiably, as he placed his hand, on the padre's shoulder. "I am here to see, Señor Veranos. I was to meet him, in the sacristy, this evening. Is he here?" Inquired Zorro.
Benitez, put his hand to his chin, as he thought. His eyes seemed to brighten, in recognition, as he looked up, at Zorro.
"Oh yes. Señor Andres Veranos. Yes, he is indeed, here. He is with, two other men. One is Emissary Escanto, and the other is, Señor Carroga. Yes, Señor Veranos said, that you were meeting him here, tonight. I guess it just slipped, my mind. This has been a very, busy day, Señor Zorro." He replied, apologetically.
Zorro nodded in assurance, and smiled. "I quite understand, padre."
Benitez smiled. "Follow me, and I will take you, to them." he stated.
Zorro followed Benitez, to the sacristy, where Veranos, Carroga, and Escanto, awaited them. As the padre, and Zorro, walked into the room, Escanto, and Carroga, rose from their chairs, and looked at Zorro, in amazement. Veranos stepped up, and introduced his companions.
"Señor Zorro, allow me to introduce, Don Xavier Miguel Francisco Carroga, the real Alcalde, of Los Angeles, and Emissary José Alphonso Infante Escanto. These are the men, I wanted you, to meet." Zorro nodded, and shook, Carroga's hand. Carroga smiled.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Señor Zorro. I've heard quite a lot, about you." he remarked, smiling.
Zorro smiled. "Gracias! It's a pleasure to meet you, as well, Señor. I trust that whatever you've heard, has been good." he remarked, smiling.
Carroga nodded. "Sí, Señor Zorro. Most of the reports, that I have heard, have been good." he replied, smiling.
Zorro smiled. "Well, that's comforting news." He remarked, with a slight chuckle. He briefly eyed Carroga, curiously.
"Señor Veranos, said, that you are the real Alcalde, of Los Angeles. Is this true?"
Carroga nodded. "Sí. I was wrongfully, and illegally, deposed of my position, by your Alcalde, Ignacio DeSoto. I have come here, to reclaim my title." He stated, earnestly.
Zorro nodded, in acknowledgement. "Señor, if, as you say, our Alcalde, has committed any wrongs against you, in any way, you can rest assure, that I will see to it, that you will regain your title, and DeSoto, is brought to, justice." He stated, resolutely.
Carroga nodded, and smiled. "Mi gracias, Señor Zorro. I have a feeling, that you will do, just that!" he remarked, with a discerning look.
Zorro nodded, and smiled. As Zorro turned to Escanto, he looked at Zorro, and smiled.
"So, you are this infamous bandit, that everyone, has been talking, about. Señor Veranos, has told me, all about you." stated Escanto. He held out his hand. "It is an honor, to meet you, Señor!"
Inwardly surprised, but not wanting to be rude, Zorro readily, shook Escanto's hand, in a firm grip.
"Gracias, Señor! I hope, that whatever Señor Veranos, has told you, has been good." smiled Zorro.
Escanto nodded. "Oh sí, Señor Zorro. He has already, informed me, of your illustrious career, as protector, of the people. He even showed me documents, of all your exploits, in aiding the people, of this pueblo. I must say, Señor, I am truly, impressed." stated Escanto, smiling.
Zorro nodded, modestly. "I am flattered, Señores, that you have gone to great lengths, to study, my career. I don't know what, to say." he remarked.
Escanto smiled. "How about, 'Gracias.'" He remarked, with a decided look.
Zorro looked at Escanto, slightly curious. "I don't understand, Señor." he remarked.
Escanto, pulled out a rolled up parchment, with a red ribbon around it, from the inside of his coat pocket, and handed it, to Zorro.
"Your pardon, Señor." replied Escanto, smiling.
Diego, maintained a subdued look, on his face, as he opened the parchment, and studied it. Inwardly however, it was all he could do, to contain himself. As he read through the document, he glanced at the bottom, and smiled, as he read, the signatures.
"This was signed, by King Ferdinand, as well as you, and, Señor Veranos. It even bears, the King's seal." He studied the document once more, then gave, an approving nod. He rolled it up, then handed it back, to Escanto.
"Mi gracias, Emissary, and Señor Veranos." He stated, graciously. "I have a feeling, that this pardon, will extend my life, a thousand fold." He remarked, with a slight smile. "One thing, Señores. This document states, that I will still be able, to help the people of Los Angeles, and maintain, my secrecy. I'm surprised, that the King, would agree, to such a thing." Remarked Zorro, with an examining look.
Carroga spoke up. "After we presented my case, to the King, Veranos, showed him the documents, containing statements, of all the good things, that you have done, for Los Angeles. He also told him, how you were wrongfully accused, of the charges, that Ramon, and DeSoto, brought against you. He decided to make amends, by having the King, to include in your pardon, the freedom, to still be able to help your people, without having a bounty, on your head. That is, unless, you no longer wish, to be Zorro." he smiled.
Zorro shook his head. "I don't think I'm quite ready to retire, just yet. Maybe in a couple of years or so, but not right now." he smiled.
Carroga nodded, and sighed. "Bueno. If I am to be Alcalde, then I could definitely, use a man like you, in the pueblo." he smiled.
Zorro smiled. "Then, I will be forever, in your service, Señor." he remarked, with a slight nod. "By the way Emissary, I would suggest, that you keep that document, in a safe place. If our Alcalde, were to find out, about that, he would stop at nothing, to have it destroyed." He stated, earnestly.
Escanto smiled, as he put a reasurring hand, on Zorro's shoulder.
"Don't worry, Señor. We have no intention, of letting DeSoto, get his hands on, this valuable document. So far, we have managed, to keep our stay here, a secret. DeSoto believes, that I am here, on vacation, with my friends. Carroga, even changed his name, to hide his identity. Hopefully, he doesn't suspect, anything." he stated, with affirmation.
"I would still be, very careful, Señor. DeSoto, is not to be taken, lightly. He is a treacherous man." stated Zorro, with a cautious tone.
Escanto nodded, in agreement. "Señor Veranos, and I, know all about, Ignacio DeSoto, Señor. We know, the kind of man, he is. We appreciate, your concern, however. You'll be happy to know, Señor, that in addition to your pardon, we also have, a royal arrest warrant, for DeSoto. The sooner we get DeSoto, out of this pueblo, the better off, your people will be." he added, decidedly.
Carroga spoke up. "I give you my word, Señor Zorro, that when I become Alcalde, of your pueblo, I will try, to govern the people, with fairness, and compassion." he stated, earnestly.
Zorro nodded, with a slight smile. "I will hold you, to your word, Señor. As long as you govern them fairly, and wisely, there's nothing, that these people, won't do for you. They are good people, Señor. I think it's time, that they deserve, someone who will treat them, with respect, and dignity, as well as, compassion." he stated, resolutely.
"I will do my best, Señor." remarked Carroga, decidedly.
Zorro looked earnestly, at the three men. "If there is anything, that I can do, to help bring DeSoto, to justice, I will gladly, offer my services." he remarked.
Veranos looked at Zorro, and smiled. "Sí, I would appreciate that, very much. I have a feeling, that DeSoto's disposition, will be less than, amenable, when I present him, with this arrest warrant." Stated Veranos. He took out the warrant, and showed it to Zorro.
Zorro scanned the document. He had read it once, as Diego. 'However, it never hurts, to double check, a document.' he thought. 'Hmmm ... tyranny, sedition, oppression ... etc. this is quite a list!' he thought, with a wry grin. 'No telling what, the Alcalde wrote, about me.' "Everything looks in order, Señor." He remarked, as he handed the warrant, back to Veranos. "You're right, Señor. DeSoto is not going to take this, 'lying down' so to speak. There may be trouble." He stated.
"If there is any trouble, Señor, I will be deal with him, myself. I have a score to settle, with Ignacio DeSoto!" remarked Carroga, with a stern look.
A look of concern, appeared on Zorro's face, as he peered, into Carroga's eyes. He put an assuring hand on Carroga's shoulder.
"Señor, don't do anything, foolish. DeSoto, is not worth, dying for." He stated, anxiously.
Carroga, shook his head. "Don't worry, Zorro. I have no intention, of letting DeSoto, kill me. Just having him arrested, is revenge enough, for me." He stated, decidedly.
Zorro, inwardly sighed. "Señor Veranos, and I, will bring him, to justice, Señor. That you can be sure of." He stated, earnestly.
Carroga nodded, and smiled. "Gracias, Señor."
Escanto, briefly looked at his watch. "Well gentlemen, it's very late. I suggest, that we adjourn, this meeting, and retire." He stated.
Veranos, and Carroga, nodded in agreement. Veranos looked at Zorro. "I hope, I can count on you, to be present, when I serve DeSoto, this warrant." he remarked.
Zorro nodded. "Sí, I give you my word. I will be there!" he stated, in a decided tone.
Veranos nodded, and smiled. "Bueno! I feel better, knowing that you will be there, to back me up." he stated.
Zorro nodded. "I will do my best, Señor." he replied. Zorro looked at the three men, and gave a nod.
"I too must be going. Muchas gracias, Emissary, and Señor Veranos. I am forever, in your debt. And to you, Señor Carroga, I am looking forward, to having you, as an Alcalde." he remarked, smiling.
"De nada." they each said, as Zorro, shook their hands. Zorro and the three men, thanked Padre Benitez, for the use, of his room, then bid him, good-night. Veranos, Carroga, and Escanto, walked out of the church, and strolled across the plaza, to the tavern. Zorro, quietly slipped out, and rode away.
DeSoto, briefly stepped outside his office, to take advantage, of the cool night air, when he happened to see, Escanto and his friends, walking away from the church, and entering, the tavern. He stroked his beard, as he cast a pensive gaze, at the tavern. He looked over, and saw Sepulveda, at his post, guarding, the cuartel. He walked over, and called out to him.
"Sepulveda! Get over here!" he ordered.
Sepulveda snapped his head around, and quickly trotted over, to DeSoto.
"Sí, mi Alcalde." He stood at attention, and saluted.
"At ease, Corporal." commanded DeSoto, as he returned his salute.
Sepulveda relaxed his stance, as he waited, for DeSoto's request.
"Sepulveda, what was Emissary Escanto, Señor Veranos, and Don Francisco, doing at the mission church, this late, at night?" DeSoto asked, with an inquisitive tone.
Sepulveda shook his head. "I'm not sure, Alcalde. I saw them, go in earlier, this evening. They stayed for quite some time, and then left." He stated.
DeSoto looked at Sepulveda, with slight surprise. "You said that they went in, earlier this evening? What time, was that?" he asked.
Sepulveda put his hand to his chin, then looked at DeSoto. "I think it was about ten o'clock, or a little after."
DeSoto, looked at Sepulveda, even more curious. "Why would they be going to the church, at ten o'clock?" he asked.
Sepulveda shook his head. "I don't know, mi Alcalde. Maybe they had some business, with the padre." he remarked.
DeSoto shook his head. "I doubt that, Corporal. There has to be, another reason."
Sepulveda, looked at DeSoto, thoughtfully. "Maybe, they were going, to confession, Alcalde."
DeSoto, looked at Sepulveda, smugly. "It must have been, quite a confession." He remarked, in a derisive tone. He briefly, looked at his watch. "It's practically midnight, Corporal. Confessions, don't usually take, two hours!"
Sepulveda nodded, in agreement. "Sí, mi Alcalde."
DeSoto nodded to Sepulveda. "Dismissed, Sepulveda. I'll figure out this mystery, tomorrow." He stated, decidedly.
Sepulveda saluted. "Sí, mi Alcalde." He turned, and trotted off, to this barracks.
DeSoto stood for a moment, and gazed thoughtfully again, at the tavern. He gave a slight nod, then he too, strolled off to bed.
Tonight, was Victoria's turn, to be restless. As she slept, all the thoughts, of past events, and events, that had recently happened, seemed to clutter, her mind. Victoria turned over, for the last time, then sat up in bed, and released, a weary sigh. She rose from her bed, and lit the small lamp, sitting, on her bedside table. She opened the drawer, to the table, and took out, a book. 'Well, reading, always helps.' she thought, closing the drawer.
She sat on the side of her bed, and flipped through the pages, of her book. As she opened her book, to one of the chapters, she saw a small flower, that she had pressed, between the pages. It was from a bouquet, that Zorro, had given her, once. 'I almost forgot, about that.' she smiled. She gently ran her fingers over the flower, as she looked at it, thoughtfully.
She sighed, as she remembered that day, when, she was just about to close her tavern, for siesta, when Zorro, suddenly showed up, just to come, and see her. That was the day, when one of her 'customers,' didn't pay for his lunch, and decided to rob, the mission poor box. She shook her head, and sighed. 'That thief, ruined the whole, day!' she thought. She slightly blinked, clearing her head, of her musing.
With her book in hand, Victoria eased herself, back into bed. She propped her pillow against the headboard, and rested her back, against the pillow. As she was about to read her book, she suddenly heard a tapping, at her window. Closing her book, and laying it aside, she rose from her bed, and quickly put on, her robe. She strolled over to the window, pulled back the curtains, then unlocked the latch. As she opened the window, a soft smile, spread across her face, as Zorro, stepped into her room, and smiled.
"Buenas noches, Victoria." he greeted, gazing into her eyes. Before she could answer, he wrapped his arms around her, and quickly pulled her, into his embrace. Victoria wrapped her arms around his neck, and pressed a tender kiss to his lips. As they slowly parted, from their kiss, Diego, gazed passionately, into her eyes. Victoria gently pulled away, from his embrace, as she slightly blushed, and smiled. Diego looked at her, and smiled.
"Did I surprise you?" he said, softly, as he affectionately studied, the soft blush, upon her face. He removed his hat, cape, gloves, and sword, and laid them on a chair, near the window. As he turned, and looked at Victoria, he suddenly noticed, a disconcerting look upon her face.
'On second thought, maybe that wasn't a blush. Maybe she's upset.' he thought. Something, his father once said, briefly flashed, in his mind. 'The only predictable thing about women, is that they can be totally, unpredictable.' Diego slightly blinked, as he looked at her, with concern.
"What's wrong, Victoria?" he asked, as he stepped toward her.
Victoria slightly furrowed her brows, as a stern look, dimmed her face.
"Diego, you said, that your mask, would never, come between us." She replied, in an earnest tone.
Diego sighed, as he looked at Victoria, thoughtfully. He put his hands, about her shoulders, as he looked upon, her troubled features.
"That's, why I came to see you." he replied.
Victoria's distress, slowly diminished, as she looked at Diego, with mild curiosity.
"I don't understand." She remarked.
"Victoria, I have some good news." He stated, with a slight smile, as he looked into her eyes.
Victoria looked at Diego with anticipation, and smiled.
"Diego, does this have something to do, with you, being Zorro?" she asked, with a hint of excitement, in her voice.
Diego nodded, and smiled. "Victoria, I'm free!"
Victoria looked at Diego in amazement. "What? Are you saying, that there is no longer, a bounty, on your head?" she asked, anxiously.
Diego nodded, and slightly shrugged. "Emissary Escanto, and Señor Veranos, presented me with a pardon, for my freedom, tonight. However, there is still the matter, of DeSoto's arrest. Once the Alcalde, is out of the way, I'm free, to be Zorro, without being, arrested. This also means, that we can get married, Victoria." he replied, smiling, with a jubilant tone, in his voice.
Victoria, felt her heart pounding, as she looked, at Diego. Inside, she was a mass, of emotions. In a way, she was glad, that Diego, could still be Zorro, and that they would soon, be married. Yet, inwardly, she was hoping, that Diego, would retire his mask, and live his life, as a caballero. However, if tyranny, and oppression, was no longer a threat, to the people, he could continue, to help the people as Zorro, and still, live a 'normal' life; or whatever, a normal life would be, for Diego.
Victoria, wrapped her arms around Diego, in a warm, embrace, and sighed. She suddenly felt the tears, welling in her eyes, as she lay her head, against his shoulder. Diego held her close, in a loving embrace, and tenderly caressed, her soft dark hair, as it fell about her shoulders.
The moment Victoria lifted her head, their eyes met, in a passionate gaze. As they looked into each other's eyes, they could feel, the ever present swell, of their emotions, growing inside them.
As Diego slowly lowered his head, to render a passionate kiss, to her lips, Victoria briefly reached up, and gently touched her fingers, to his lips. He slightly drew back, in surprise, as a bemused look, mirrored on his face. Victoria peered into his eyes, in an intense look, as she reached up, untied his mask, and slowly pulled it, from his face.
"Now, you may kiss me." she smiled, as she slowly wrapped her arms, around his neck.
Diego looked at Victoria, and smiled.
"That, would be my utmost pleasure, mi amor." He lowered his head, and pressed a deep passionate kiss, upon her lips.
As they held one another, in their loving embrace, and kissed, the black silk mask, which had come between them, for so long, gradually slipped, from Victoria's hand, and gently, floated to the floor.