It was the first peaceful night sleep for Victoria. When the first rays of the rising sun began to tickle her face, her consciousness returned. She felt that she was lying on something soft, warm and rhythmically rising and falling. She opened her eyes and smiled. Her friend was still here, although while asleep, he had slipped from sitting to lying down.
Victoria thought about her somewhat selfish request. The fact was that the evenings were the worst for her and her friend’s presence was helpful. But also the fact was that over time the girl began to have a crush on Diego. It was her little secret, even her mother hadn’t known.
Lying so close to him, she felt content. It was twisted in her situation – she had just lost her mother and was truly heartbroken, but in that exact moment, she was happy and wished she could stay here all day. Her emotions were a mess these days.
The caballero was also an early bird, so he soon woke up. He put his arm around her, which had slipped onto the quilt during the night.
“Buenos dias, how did you sleep?”
“Buenos dias, peaceful. Thanks to you.” She looked him gratefully in the eye.
“Good, I’m glad you rested well. Ready for the new day?” Diego was very aware that his body was about to betray his feelings for her. And as much as he wanted to lie with her in his arms all day, he knew he would have to get up soon.
Victoria did not make it easy for him. “Just a few more minutes, please.” She put her head back on his chest and snuggled into his side.
“Whatever you wish.”
xxx Zorro xxx
They had to get up eventually. Diego went into the kitchen and Victoria stayed to make the bed and ventilate the room. Coming down she also knocked on her brothers’ room. No one answered her, so she looked through the ajared door. The beds were made, but the room was empty and stuffy. She went inside and opened the window wide. Fresh air streamed into the room, and a gust of wind lifted a piece of paper from the cabinet into the air. The girl caught it in mid-flight and read quickly.
All the colour drained from her face and her heart skipped a beat.
“Father, Diego! They escaped!”
xxx Zorro xxx
The note was short and factual. Ramon and Francisco recklessly and in anger fled to the revolutionary squad. Their lust for revenge blinded them. They were far away, almost a day ahead. Alfonso walked around the kitchen, upset and torn between staying with his daughter and following his sons. Victoria tried to prepare breakfast, but she kept dropping things. Finally, Diego seized her hands, took the knife from her and set her on the bench. He then began to resume cutting vegetables.
With the support of the young caballero, they managed to do their morning duties. They also found a moment to go to the cemetery, all three of them.
xxx Zorro xxx
Diego really breathed a sigh of relief when he later saw his father and Felipe in the tavern door. The boy handed him a bundle.
“Felipe told me everything. He said you didn’t come back last night, so we brought you a change of clothes. How are they doing?” Don Alejandro asked softly so that only his son could hear him.
Diego looked a little sad. “Not so good. Father. You don’t know how I’m grateful you are back.”
The older caballero squeezed his arm. “You did well from what I heard. You couldn’t do anything more. Go change your clothes because I see you have a lot of work here and I want to go see Alfonso for a while.”
xxx Zorro xxx
The girl returned his embrace. “Thank you, Don Alejandro. You don’t know how much that means to me. But I think you should talk to my father. My brothers have run away and it weighs on him very much.”
The caballero stepped back but put his hands on her shoulders. “What do you mean? Ran away how?”
“This morning I found their letter. They want to take revenge on the soldiers for our mother’s death. They intend to join the revolutionary squad.”
“Alfonso was looking for them?”
“Yes, yesterday we thought that they just went to ride to deal with their emotions somehow. They did not want to talk about what happened to me or my father. But when they did not return for siesta, he went looking for them, but to no avail. ” Victoria was clearly worried.
At that moment Senor Escalante came through the kitchen door.
The men shook hands firmly, words were not needed between friends. They were in this situation before, although the roles had been reversed.
The caballero spoke first. “Diego is serving the guests together with Felipe, I think you can take a break.”
Alfonso nodded and pointed to the yard. They both left and plunged into a conversation, and Victoria went back to mixing the dough.
xxx Zorro xxx
During the siesta, Senor Escalante gathered all five of them and started a very serious conference. Alfonso turned to his daughter.
“Victoria, I know this is a very difficult time for you. I swear, in any other situation, I would never even consider Alejandro’s offer. But if I don’t find and stop those idiots, I could lose more family members. And I am not ready for that.”
The girl squeezed his hand. “Father, I’m also afraid of what might happen to them. The revolution is expiring and the troops are being liquidated.”
Alfonso continued, “Exactly. On the other hand, you are very resourceful and with a little help, I think you can handle running a tavern for a while. Until I come back with the boys.”
Victoria was horrified by the idea of running a business on her own but was also flattered by her father’s faith in her skills.
Don Alejandro intervened at this point, “Francisco and Ramon probably did not run very far, so Alfonso will only be absent for a few weeks at the most. During this time Diego and Felipe will help you in the dining room, and we will also hire Alice, who has helped your parents with larger ceremonies in the past.”
Diego eagerly nodded. After all, he had the prospect of spending whole days with the girl of his dreams. He also believed that increased effort and responsibility would be a balm for her soul. “You will not be alone in this and you will always be able to ask our Maria for help or advice on cooking.”
Victoria looked at the men around her with surprise. “Are you just asking me to let my father go after my brothers?”
She turned to Senor Escalante. “Father, I agree with your every decision, you know that.”
Alfonso nodded. “I know. But you just lost your mother, now your brothers leave you. I really hate leaving you, too.”
The girl smiled. “You aren’t leaving forever and you will come back with Ramon and Francisco. It is only temporary. And I do have good friends available to help when needed.”
A heavy weight fell from Senator Escalante’s shoulders. “Then I’ll pack up and pay a visit to the cemetery. After that, I’ll leave right away. I should be able to make good headway before evening.”
xxx Zorro xxx
While packing, Alfonso called Diego into his room. He looked at young man very seriously and with an unreadable expression. The caballero shuddered under that look, but not even a muscle in his face twitched.
“In my absence, I would like Alice to stay in the tavern for the night so that Victoria would not be alone. I expect you to behave like a gentleman.” Admittedly, they had part of that conversation yesterday already, but the additional warning would not hurt. He admired the courage of the caballero, who did not let Alfonso intimidate him.
Instead Diego confidently replied, “I told you yesterday that I love her. It also includes taking care of her reputation.”
They continued to stare at each other like swordsmen before a duel. Alfonso was the first to relax and add, “Promise me, Diego, that you will also look after her well-being and safety. I will never forgive myself if my next return home also ended in a funeral.”
The caballero also relaxed. The beginning of the conversation had only been an attempt for intimidating him. “Victoria and Felipe are my whole world. I will do everything to make them happy and safe. I promise.”
“I hold you by your word. Now forgive me, but before leaving I want to go to the cemetery for a while.”
Picture of Victoria comes from www.newworldzorro.com