Victoria watched as Zorro rode away. She smiled as she held her hand close to her heart.
"One day, Zorro, you will stay longer than a few moments."
She walked back into her tavern and started cleaning up. As she wiped down the tables, her thoughts drifted to Zorro and what they would do if there was time for them. A loud thump interrupted her fantasy.
"Oh," she scowled and looked around to see what she dropped. "What's this?"
It was one of the fanciest books she had ever seen. The cover was made from soft brown leather and the edges were sewn in gold. There was a small emblem on the front of a quill and ink well enclosed in a circle. She opened the book and a gold light filled the room. Victoria blinked and looked down at the table. An ink well and quill sat on the table in front of her. She shook her head and returned her attention to the book. The crisp paper crinkled in her hands as she turned to the first page and read the inscription:
Whoever writes in this book has been forewarned
Any ideas and dreams printed will be born
When the story is done; the task completed
Close the book to execute it
Odd. I wonder what it means, she thought.
Shaking her head she turned the page.
"Blank?" she looked at the pages as she flipped through the book. "What am I supposed to do with an empty book?"
Her fingers tapped the table next to the quill, she picked up it absent-mindedly and ran the feathers along her chin. As she thought about Zorro, she looked at the blank page. She was getting ready to dip the quill when a loud knock at the door interrupted her thoughts.
"Who can it be at this hour?" she scowled.
She opened the door and saw Sergeant Mendoza.
"I'm closed," she told him trying to close the door.
"I'm sorry, Seņorita Escalante," the sergeant put his hand out. "But this is urgent."
"What?" she frowned.
"The governor is coming to Los Angeles. The alcalde thought it would be pleasant if we hold a fiesta in his honor."
"Oh? And when is this fiesta supposed to take place?"
"In two days," the sergeant hung his head.
"Two days?! That barely gives me enough time to prepare everything."
"The alcalde will provide you with help. He will be asking everyone to pitch in."
"Uh, he has business to attend to before the governor arrives."
"I'm sure he does."
"But we will be helping."
"You bet you will. Thank you for coming by, I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning."
"Gracias, I'll tell the alcalde."
Victoria closed the door and sighed. She looked at the book on the table. She closed the book and the emblem glowed for a second and the quill and ink bottle disappeared, but Victoria was too preoccupied to notice.
"Not tonight," she told the book as she picked it up and started to her room.
Victoria woke up early. She silently cursed the alcalde for dropping this event on her, but she warmed up to the idea of a fiesta. As she dressed, she mentally went through a possible menu. By the time she reached her kitchen, the menu had changed several times. She was changing the menu again when she heard a knock at the door.
"Diego? I'm sorry, I'm not open yet."
"I know," he smiled, walking inside followed by Felipe. "Sergeant Mendoza came to our hacienda today. He's out recruiting help for the fiesta. My father is meeting with the other caballeros. I don't want to be in their way, so me and Felipe thought we would come and see what we can do to help."
"Gracias," Victoria told him. "I can't tell you how much this means to me. The sergeant broke the news to me last night. I'm still upset with the alcalde for just dropping this on me."
"I think it's good to have the governor come to our little pueblo."
"Yes, I thought that was rather odd. Any reason for the visit?"
"I guess, the governor is touring California as some kind of inspection or to get acquainted with his territory."
"Good, maybe we'll get a new alcalde."
"There's always hope." Diego looked around. "What can we do to help?"
"Hmm," Victoria thought about it, then smiled. "How are you at cooking?"
Diego cleared his throat and looked at Felipe. Felipe grinned then winced. "It could be better."
"I thought as much. I need to get ready for my morning crowd, but while I'm doing that, you can get some decorations out. They're in my storehouse."
"Sounds like something we can handle."
"Good. When you get done with that, I'll find another task for you," she smiled as she headed to her kitchen.
"It looks like we have a full day ahead of us," Diego winked at Felipe. "Let's go."
Felipe grinned and nodded.
Victoria stretched before she got into bed. The day had been long, but she did get a lot of things accomplished. She finally had a menu planned out and plenty of help. Sergeant Mendoza was right about finding volunteers. She had almost too many people helping her. The decorations had been arranged leaving her free to start the food. She also had help in the kitchen so she could concentrate on cooking the dinner.
She glanced at the book and wondered about it. She opened it up and the ink and quill were beside it. The blank pages almost beckoned to be filled. She thought about it as she ran the feather edges along her chin.
"Should I..." she was tired, but she would still be up checking on the few things she had cooking. "Perhaps a few sentences..."
She picked dipped the quill in the ink and thought of what she might write. The idea of the fiesta was still in her mind and she briefly thought of Zorro. Then the idea hit her. She quickly started writing.
"Not bad, if I do say so myself." Victoria looked at what she wrote before yawning. "I must get to bed, I'll finish the rest tomorrow." She pushed herself away from the book and crawled into bed.
The volunteers showed up early and Victoria eagerly invited them in. The governor was due in the afternoon and the alcalde had already made provisions for him to stay at Victoria's tavern. She had someone fix up her best room, while she finished up the food preparations. The morning passed quickly and at lunch time, Victoria was pleased that everything was ready. She shooed everyone out at noon, took a quick bath, and prepared herself for the governor's arrival.
She walked outside and saw the alcalde standing with the sergeant. Diego, Felipe, Alejandro and some of the other people were there too.
Diego saw Victoria and gently picked up her hand to kiss it. "You look lovely, as usual."
"Gracias, Diego," Victoria blushed a little. "I suppose the governor is late."
"A governor is never late, it's us who are early," the alcalde grumbled.
Victoria wasn't surprised by the alcalde's gruff answer, but she couldn't help but feel some small happiness at the alcalde's bad mood. Victoria ignored him and glanced at the entrance.
"There he is," she pointed to the dust climbing to the sky.
"It's about time," the alcalde straightened his uniform.
He looked at the sergeant and Sergeant Mendoza stood up straighter.
"I want the governor's trip to go without incident," he told everyone.
"You don't have to worry about us, alcalde," Victoria answered. "I'm sure the governor can judge things for himself."
Victoria ignored the look he gave her and concentrated on the carriage coming towards them.
The carriage stopped right at the front door of the tavern. As soon as the wheels stopped moving, the driver rushed to the door and opened it. The governor slowly got out of the carriage and looked at everyone. Victoria caught her breath. The governor was extremely handsome and so young.
"Welcome to the pueblo de Los Angeles," the alcalde smiled. "I am Alcalde Luis Ramone, your humble servant."
The governor nodded at the alcalde before looking at Victoria. She blushed as she felt his eyes appraised her.
"I am Emilio Boscan, governor of California, and your most humble servant," the governor picked up Victoria's hand and gently kissed it.
The alcalde appeared shocked for a moment, but recognized the opportunity he held quickly.
"This is Seņorita Victoria Escalante, you will be staying at her tavern during your visit," the alcalde told him.
"I can't think of a better place or person to spend my week with," he offered his arm to Victoria.
"Oh, thank you," she smiled, placing her arm through his. "Let me show you your room."
She led him inside the tavern, leaving everyone to stare at them in shock.
Victoria walked into her room and sighed. She was flattered the governor was showering attention on her, but she still thought of Zorro. She looked at the book and it's unfinished chapter. She dipped the quill and began writing. By the time she finished, it was time for the fiesta. She nodded with satisfaction at the words she wrote then closed the book. The air sparkled and she blinked at the gold light filling the room.
"Victoria, you look ravishing," Alejandro said, kissing her hand. "If I were younger, I'd seriously think of courting you."
"Thank you, Alejandro," she blushed.
"I have to agree with Don Alejandro," Luis Ramone jumped in. "Zorro is a very lucky man. Every man in the pueblo would be so lucky if they had half of the affection you have for Zorro."
"It's, true, there are some days I wish I was Zorro," Diego replied. "He is rightfully called an outlaw - "
"-for stealing your heart."
Victoria blushed again.
"Do you suppose he'll come to the fiesta?" Alejandro asked.
"Why not? I invited him personally," the alcalde answered.
"Really?" Victoria asked.
"Sí, he said he'd come. He has something very important for you."
"Oh? I wonder what it could be?" Victoria started fanning herself.
"A proposal," Alejandro stated. "I only hope you permit me to walk you down the aisle."
"Alejandro - "
"Perhaps me and Felipe can be his groomsmen," Diego replied.
"Of course I'll preside over the event or perhaps the governor will do the honor himself. What a fitting conclusion to His Excellency's visit."
"Perhaps you can join him when he leaves," Victoria said.
"Perhaps I might do that. Maybe they'll put Zorro in charge. If so, I'd better speak with him. If you will excuse me."
He gently kissed Victoria's hand and bowed to the rest of the group.
"Will wonders ever cease?" Diego asked.
"It's time he finally saw the light," Alejandro said.
"May I have this dance?" Diego asked.
Victoria was about to answer, but someone else spoke first.
"I believe the lady promised the dance to me."
Victoria spun around and saw Zorro standing with his hand outstretched to her.
"Excuse me, Diego, you understand."
"Of course," Diego nodded. "I would never stand in the way of you two."
She placed her hand in his and he lead her to the dance floor. He motioned to the band and the upbeat rhythm of a tango filled the air. The crowd cleared the floor to give them room.
Zorro pulled Victoria into a dancer's embrace and they started moving to the music. He held her gently yet firmly in his arms as they started to move across the floor. The dance was a series of steps and turns which they executed with ease. Although she had never danced with Zorro before, it was as though they had been dancing for years.
Zorro dipped her and the music stopped. He pulled her close to him and the room broke into an applause.
"You dance wonderfully," Zorro whispered.
"You weren't bad yourself," she replied.
"With the right muse, even the most humble artist can create a masterpiece."
Victoria blushed at the comment. "Thank you."
"No, thank you."
He held her chin in his hand and bent his head down. She held her breath in anticipation. As their lips met, she felt herself awaken within. The world and all it's secrets seem to become known to her during their kiss. Zorro pulled away when the applause got louder.
She opened her eyes to face the crowd standing and clapping for them. Zorro bowed and Victoria curtsied before leaving the dance floor. Couples piled in after them and started moving to the music. They walked to a small table and Zorro held the chair out for her. When they sat down, Zorro produced a red rose out of thin air. She laughed at the trick and drank in the flower's aroma.
"One day, my love, we will be together," he told her.
She nodded, happy to hear him say the words she always wanted him to say.
"I never knew you could dance," Diego said as he approached their table.
"Seņorita Escalante brings out the best in a man," Zorro replied.
"I'm jealous," Diego laughed good-naturedly. "But you are the best man."
"Speaking of 'best man,'" Alejandro said. "Is there anything you would like to ask the Seņorita?"
"Yes, there is."
Zorro looked at Victoria and she felt herself go weak. Zorro dropped down to one knee before her and held Victoria's hands in his. The room fell silent.
"Seņorita Victoria Escalante, a long time ago I asked you to wait until the time I could take of my mask before I could make a commitment to you."
"No! Don't take off your mask," Victoria cried.
"But I wish to propose to you. I would like to do so without my mask."
"Don't worry, Victoria. If he takes his mask off, I'll give him amnesty," the alcalde said. "Perhaps he can take my place when I leave."
"It would be an honor to serve for you," Sergeant Mendoza told Zorro.
"Zorro, that's not the point," she said.
"Victoria, what's wrong?"
"I love you and I want to marry you, but when you can be free."
"Victoria, he can be free now. I'll give him amnesty," the alcalde protested. "I'm leaving."
"I don't believe you. This can all be a trap."
"Victoria, I'm truly hurt."
"I'm sorry. Zorro, I love you so much - "
Victoria looked up and saw the governor at the top of the stairs.
"Think about it, Victoria," the governor descended. "Do you love the man or the legend?"
"I love Zorro."
"Is it because there has been no other man to rival Zorro's affection for you?"
"There have been plenty of men."
Victoria faltered and looked at Diego.
"Him?" the governor laughed. "No offense, Seņor de la Vega, but you hardly seem the type for Seņorita Escalante."
Victoria stood up, outraged that this man would attack one of her dearest friends.
"How dare you talk about Diego that way. He's one of the kindest, most caring man I know."
"But can he give you passion?"
"Of - "
Victoria looked at Diego and thought about it. She briefly compared how Diego is now and how he was before he left for Spain.
"Seņorita," the governor interrupted her thoughts. "I can be kind - caring - passionate."
The governor came closer to Victoria as he spoke. He was so close, she could feel the heat of his body. Her head started to swim as she thought about what he said.
"Governor - "
"I'm very flattered with what you are saying, but my heart belongs to Zorro."
Zorro stood up, facing the governor. The governor looked him up and down.
"Let him prove it."
Zorro reached up to take of his mask.
"No!" Victoria yelled.
"Very noble," the governor smiled. "But not quite what I had in mind."
His mask rose as he raised his eyebrows. "What do you propose?"
"I heard you're a good swordsman."
"The best in Los Angeles," Sergeant Mendoza said.
Everyone around nodded.
"Then I challenge you for Seņorita Escalante's affections."
"No!" Victoria jumped in between the two men.
"Very well. When and where?"
"Don't do this!" Victoria pleaded.
"I'm staying here a week, so we'll have it in seven days at sunrise. A fitting farewell for my trip."
"I couldn't agree more," Zorro replied. "I'll send you instructions to the place."
"No!" Victoria cried.
"Don't worry my love," Zorro kissed her hand. "I'll be fine." He looked at the governor. "It appears I have overstayed my welcome. Gracias, alcalde, for inviting me."
"It was my pleasure," the alcalde nodded.
"I must be leaving now."
The air glowed gold for a brief moment. Everyone blinked and shook their heads. Victoria felt a little dizzy and almost lost her balance. Diego caught her and set her back down in the chair. She saw the look of concern on Diego's face.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she replied. "I just lost my balance."
"Seņorita Escalante." The governor rushed to her side.
Victoria looked at all the faces hovering above her.
"I'm fine," she told them sternly and everyone backed away.
"Where's Zorro?" the alcalde asked, looking around. "He cannot have vanished into think air. Sergeant Mendoza!"
"Sí mi alcalde?"
"Search for Zorro. He can't have gotten far."
"I knew it," Victoria stood up and marched over to the alcalde. "This was all a trap."
"Not hardly," the alcalde replied. "If I had known Zorro was going to be here - "
"You said you invited him," Victoria reminded.
"Wha - ? I said no such thing."
"We all heard you," Alejandro said.
Luis Ramone looked at everyone who nodded.
"That's preposterous. Why would I do such a thing?"
"You tell us," Alejandro said.
The alcalde looked at everyone, confusion clearly etched on his face.
"I'm not sure what happened, but I intend to find out," he said in a dangerously low voice. He looked at Sergeant Mendoza. "Don't just stand there, look for Zorro."
Sergeant Mendoza saluted and headed out the door. The alcalde went to the refreshments table to fume.
"What in blazes in going on?" Alejandro asked looking at the alcalde.
Several people shrugged and Alejandro shook his head in frustration. He looked at his son who was still standing next to Victoria and the governor.
"I said I'm fine," she told them.
Both men backed away.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have guests to attend to."
Victoria walked past them and started looking over refreshments and talking to her guests. Diego and the governor watched after her, then the governor looked at Diego.
"Forgive me," the governor said.
"Excuse me?" Diego blinked.
"What I said earlier," he explained. "I was completely out of line. I don't even know why I said those things. The trip must have taken its toll."
"Does that mean you'll retract your challenge to Zorro?" Alejandro asked.
"Sadly, I cannot. I've made the challenge and he accepted. Is Zorro really as good as the sergeant said?" the governor asked.
"Better," Don Fernando said, taking a gulp of wine. "He's the best in all of California."
Diego watched the governor's reaction to Fernando's statement with interest. Emilio didn't seem scared, but he appeared thoughtful. Fernando finished his wine and looked at Emilio closely.
"Emilio Boscan," Fernando said the name slowly. "Boscan. The name sounds familiar."
"Oh?" the governor turned his full attention on Fernando.
"Aren't you from Spain?" Fernando asked, eyeing the governor.
"Didn't you attend Madrid University?"
"Yes, in 1815."
Diego's eyebrows raised.
Alejandro joined the conversation. "Diego attended Madrid University a few years ago."
"Really?" the governor looked at Diego. "It's a shame you didn't attend earlier, out paths might have crossed."
"A shame indeed," Diego answered.
"And you won the Spain fencing championship, didn't you?" Fernando wondered.
"Actually I came in second," the governor's tone became bitter. "I should have won."
"Why didn't you?" Diego asked.
"My opponent beat me," the governor gave Diego an icy glance then looked at Fernando. "How do you know so much about me?"
"My cousin, Julio Santiago, in San Francisco. He attended Madrid University a year after you. He mentioned you in a few of his letters."
"Really? I don't recall a Julio Santiago ... but I do remember a Javier Santiago."
"He's my cousin, too."
While the governor and the two dons started trading stories about Spain, Diego slipped away and looked for Felipe. Felipe was dancing with one of the seņoritas of the pueblo and Diego was happy to see Felipe enjoying himself.
He glanced around and saw the alcalde drinking his wine. When he finished his glass, he walked around speaking to a few of the people. He tried to appear pleasant, but Diego could tell he was still upset about not catching Zorro. He saw Mendoza walk up to him and say something. Judging by the alcalde's reaction, it wasn't good.
Diego looked around some more and spotted Victoria talking with Roberto. When she was done, she disappeared into the kitchen. He wanted to go after her, but knew she needed time alone. Finally the music stopped and Felipe saw Diego and headed his way, but not before bowing to the seņorita and kissing her hand like a caballero. Diego smiled at Felipe's actions and felt himself swell with fatherly pride.
"She's pretty," he told Felipe.
Felipe smiled shyly and nodded. Then his mood became serious. He asked Diego what happened tonight.
"I don't know, but I don't think we should discuss it here. Well discuss it after the fiesta. I just hope we don't have another occurrence like we did earlier."
Felipe nodded. His expression said he was confused by the event.
"It puzzles me, too," Diego admitted. "We'll have to figure it out later. In the meantime, enjoy yourself. I think the seņorita would like another dance."
Diego pointed to the girl and Felipe's face brightened up. Diego rejoined his father and noticed the crowd had gotten larger since he left. Some of the dons were talking about their time at court and laughter would erupt from the group every once in a while. Diego smiled and joined in with stories of his own.
Diego was sitting in the cave waiting for Felipe. He kept running over the night's events in his head, but it still made no sense. He wished Felipe would hurry up. He always had more insight when he talked with Felipe. Finally he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Felipe came in the room and signed his apology, explaining the horses were a little restless.
"That's alright," Diego told him. "It seems tonight is full of surprises."
"What happened?" Felipe signed.
"I don't know. It was the strangest thing. One moment I was standing next to you and father, then the next moment I was Zorro. It kept happening until Zorro disappeared and I was Diego again. Not only that, during the event I had no control over my actions or speech. And yet, everything seemed so right. The alcalde's reaction after the event concluded confirms my suspicion that something is not right. But what caused it?"
"What about your duel with the governor?" Felipe signed.
Diego groaned. "I still can't figure out why I accepted the duel, but like the governor said, he nor Zorro can't back out of it."
Felipe made some fencing motions and pointed to Diego.
"You think I'll win?"
Felipe nodded, but when Diego didn't share his sentiments, Felipe signed a question. "You don't?"
"I'm curious about the governor. I wonder how he came in second in the Spain fencing championship. I don't think his opponent just defeated him like he said. If only I could speak to Fernando's cousin. Perhaps tomorrow we can visit him and see if he's willing to share some of his letters from his cousin. Hmm?"
Felipe nodded then yawned.
"Yes, it is pretty late, time for bed. And just when I finally got the day to quit repeating, this happens."
Felipe looked skeptical at Diego.
"You still don't believe the day repeated?"
Felipe shook his head.
"Even after everything I told you?"
Felipe shrugged. Diego groaned again as they headed up the stairs for a sound night of sleep.
Meanwhile at Victoria's Tavern, Victoria's night was anything but sound. She sat curled in her bed, looking at the book. After the event happened, she was in disbelief. Everything she wrote about happened.
"But how is that possible?" she whispered. "It was just a stupid story. It wasn't supposed to come true. At least not in the way it happened."
When she wrote the story, she wrote the two men fought over her affections. How was she supposed to know they would actually plan to duel? She didn't mean an actual fight. She shut her eyes tight, but the images of the fiesta plaqued her mind and the exchange between the governor and Zorro rang through her head.
If Zorro dies, it's all my fault, she thought. I can't let him die, but how can I help him?
She opened her eyes again and saw the book on the table where she left it. She had been watching it all night, working up the courage to look into it. She got out of bed and walked up to it slowly. The book felt the same as the night when she first picked it up. She opened it and the air glowed gold again and the quill and ink well sat on the table. She flipped through the pages, trying to find her writing, but all she found were blank pages.
"No," she placed the book down. "Where's my story?"
She sat down on the table and placed her head in her hands.
"What do I do?" she asked.
She looked at the empty pages, once again beckoning her. She wanted to write, but she was afraid. Her first try was a disaster; what if she killed Zorro on her next attempt? She couldn't stomach the idea, but she had to do something. Her mind raced for a solution.
"Diego!" she said at last. "He would know what to write."
Now that she had her solution, she closed the book and crawled back into bed. First thing in the morning, she would see Diego and this whole mess would be resolved.
Luis Ramone tapped his fingers on his desk and glared at empty space. Sergeant Mendoza watched as each finger hit the wood. He didn't want to look at the alcalde's expression. His mood had gotten worse when the sergeant reported Zorro was no where to be found.
"I want to know what happened tonight," he growled.
"Zorro came to the fiesta - "
Sergeant Mendoza stopped when he noticed the alcalde glaring at him.
"I already know that. I want to know why I said the things I said. It wasn't me at all. It was like I was under some kind of a spell."
"I didn't feel that way," Sergeant Mendoza replied.
Ramone looked at him in wonderment then rolled his eyes. Mendoza managed to amaze him after all this time.
"What a time for this to happen, during the governor's visit."
"I don't know, a fiesta's a good thing..."
Sergeant Mendoza rattled off, but the alcalde wasn't paying attention. Something unnatural happened tonight and he needed to know what it was so he could prevent it from happening again or use it to his advantage. Perhaps even capture Zorro with it, whatever "it" was. He slammed his fist down and the sergeant jumped.
"I want answers," he stated.
Sergeant Mendoza nodded, but the alcalde knew he didn't truly understand.
"I want everyone who was at the fiesta questioned," he explained. "Find out what happened at the party. Someone must know something."
"Sí, mi alcalde."
"But I can't have the governor here while all this is happening." The alcalde thought about it. "I know, I'll keep him in the tavern while you question the people here, but be discreet about it."
Sergeant Mendoza nodded.
"Good," the alcalde smiled wickedly.