Four years of studying was a very busy period for Diego. He absorbed knowledge and skills like a sponge. He not only graduated from the university with first place in student’s ranking but also disarmed Sir Edmund in a training match and won his famous tournament sword.
He also exchanged several letters with Victoria during this time. Not as much as he would have liked because of the distance. However, he valued every one of them. Victoria wrote to him about changes and news from the pueblo, but he felt that in the last one she was hiding something from him. He had similar suspicions after reading the last letter from his father.
He was sure of one thing. If Victoria has not married, he would fight for her favour. If she was already lost to him and this was the secret that she and his father did not want to write…
“No, it is better not to think about it.”
The truth was, he didn’t write about everything, either. He wanted to surprise his loved ones and did not mention the fencing skills at all.
However, upon his return, his plans collapsed. The Alcalde was a tyrant which the caballero had to oppose. With the help of Felipe, he became Zorro and fought for justice for the pueblo’s residents. Boring, inept Diego de la Vega, whom he played every day, was also a disguise.
What left him torn inwardly was Victoria. They were no longer adolescents, so as adults they had conventions to maintain. Their friendship was strong, but not as before. The caballero no longer dared hug her or hold her hand like before leaving for Spain. What’s more, she compared him with a masked bandit all the time and took pity on his own clumsiness.
They had been friends for so long, they had experienced their successes and failures together, but she fell in love with a criminal she knew nothing about. Victoria took the silent caballero for granted but did not see him in any romantic way.
Romance with her as Zorro was the only way for him to hold her in his arms and kiss her waiting lips. He might have been a brave and dashing hero, but the prospect of losing Victoria was too much for him. He was an ordinary coward and he had no hope to change that.
It was Saint Valentine’s Day. There were not many people in the tavern, but there was a buzz. Victoria sat with Mendoza back to the entrance and talked. They did not notice that Diego had arrived, overhearing a fragment of their conversation.
“If there was no Zorro, you would certainly have many admirers or even suitors, especially on a day like today.”
The tavern owner shrugged. “Maybe. But I already have my other half and hope he will visit me today. If you want to eat at this inn for the next month, you’d better sit in a garrison and don’t try any tricks.” She cheerfully pointed a finger at him.
“It didn’t even cross my mind. You are lucky that the Alcalde went away for a few days. He wouldn’t miss such an opportunity.” He raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “But tell me honestly, if it wasn’t for Zorro, could one of the young men count on a more favourable look from you? I’m just curious.”
Victoria pondered for a moment. “I don’t know. There are a few handsome and honest men, but I never really thought about it.”
The sergeant went on, “Maybe Diego de la Vega? He is handsome, rich, intelligent, honest and a gentleman. And you’ve known each other for years and you are friends.”
The woman waved a dismissive hand and laughed, “Mendoza, do not joke. He is a dear friend, but that’s all. Diego as a suitor, no way. It will never happen.”
Diego didn’t hear the rest of the conversation because unnoticed, he turned on his heel and left. Some random woman in the plaza got a beautiful red rose and a well-crafted silver brooch. The caballero didn’t even notice which one.
In the evening Zorro broke into the room of his beloved senorita. He kissed her passionately and with determination, but he didn’t say any word the whole evening. His heart was broken and he decided to take everything that was given to him without regret. He had no strength to say goodbye to her as he should do. She gave him a reason to fight, to live.
END OF RETROSPECTION
Only Felipe, faithful and more mature than his peers, knew about his dilemmas. As the friendship between the young caballero and the tavern owner never returned to the level before leaving, the relationship with his ward deepened. They spent a lot of time together, understood each other without words. The shared secret united them even more. Only with Felipe, Diego could be fully himself.
Picture of Victoria comes from www.newworldzorro.com