That same evening, Diego and Felipe sat together in the cave. The caballero told his young helper about the events of the last hours that he had not witnessed. The boy listened, and his face was painted with different emotions – fear, admiration, disbelief and finally a knowing grin. Especially when Diego reached the point where the beautiful tavern owner finally had noticed him, Diego.
Felipe couldn’t wait, and Diego slightly confused broke off in the middle of the sentence. The boy started to sign.”Did you kiss her? You had to have kissed her! Come on, you can tell me!”
Diego looked at Felipe, happiness shining in his eyes, and sighed. “I did. But don’t expect any details! Besides, Mendoza was there.”
Felipe grinned widely but also began to have doubts. He was afraid for the life of the man who was like a father to him.
Diego raised his hand and held back some nervous signs. He knew his plan wasn’t perfect, but he felt it had a high probability of success. Any suspicions will also be easily dismissed.
“Relax, Felipe, I know you’re worried, but it’s a pretty safe plan. The bottles had coloured water with the addition of alcohol, nothing more. After all, Dr Wayne did not want to poison people but thin their purses. The strength of the potions lies in the power of suggestion.”
The young boy signed a question.
“Victoria wanted to entrap Zorro so much that for some time she would be firmly convinced that she is madly in love with me. The more she believes in the potion, the more convincing she will be.”
Felipe smiled but showed another sign – what about the Alcalde?
“The success of this plan depends on it being de Soto who pushes us into marriage. And here your role begins. I can’t do everything alone”
For several hours the two conspirators arranged the details for the next few days. Some ideas were rejected for being too absurd or crazy while others were included in the list of tasks. Felipe increasingly understood the idea of the older man and looked for gaps in Diego’s reasoning. At last, he saw the potential for happiness for a man whom he respected and loved the most in the world.
xxx Zorro xxx
Diego knew that the first morning would be crucial. In the morning everything can look different, a person after a good night’s sleep can look at certain things from a different perspective. That is why he arrived at the pueblo soon after dawn and quietly slipped into the tavern. If Victoria had doubts he would have to dispel them without witnesses.
He sat at the door of her room and waited for sounds indicating that she had already woken up. When he heard the rustle of bedding and a quiet yawn, he stood up and gently knocked on the door.
Victoria froze. Who could be knocking on her door an hour after dawn? She was not fully awake, she was lying somewhere between reality and sleep. That is why she said “Come in” not thinking much.
The first thing she saw was when the door opened a large basket of red roses. A sweet smell immediately filled the entire room. Behind the flowers her best friend leaned out cautiously, dreamy eyes full of love and tenderness.
“My Venus, I wanted to greet you this blessed morning and ask you humbly to do me the honour of accepting these roses as a symbol of my love and devotion.”
Victoria was surprised, but quickly remembered yesterday’s events. How those beautiful blue eyes looked straight into her soul, how her heart was beating like a galloping horse, how those full and soft lips tasted of wine and passion. A wave of emotions, similar to yesterday’s, flooded her, and her breathing accelerated.
Diego watched her closely, her response would dictate what his next actions would be. In his mind, he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the object of his dreams was still under the spell. He put the basket at the foot of the bed and sat on the bedding near Victoria. He took her hand in his and kissed the back of it.
“My love, say something. I spent the whole night longing for your presence, for your beauty, for your lips. I don’t know if I can stand another hour away from you.”
The usual talkative tavern owner was at a loss for words. She raised her other hand and gently caressed his cheek. Her head tried to protest, “This is just your boring friend Diego, you love another,” but the heart knew better. “Diego has always been your rock, you love him, you always did.”
The intense gaze between them spoke more than a thousand words. Finally, she got the answer. “Querido, I also can’t think I could be away from you for another hour.”
The sounds of the morning bustle of Pilar brought them somewhat to reality. Diego kissed her hand again and promised to wait downstairs while she was getting ready for the day.
xxx Zorro xxx
A few minutes later, the sergeant burst into the Alcalde’s office and stood at attention. “Si mi alcalde”.
De Soto sat comfortably in his chair and looked through the documents. He didn’t even look at his subordinate but demanded a report.
Mendoza started accounting all the news from yesterday afternoon. “We did not catch Zorro. Corporal Sepulveda sprained his ankle cleaning the horses. He will not be able to serve for a week or two. I made a quartermaster demand for the next month. Don Diego and Senorita Victoria fell in love. The Gomez brothers paid the overdue tax. And Don Rafael has a grandson, which is why Dr. Hernandez could not help Sepulveda earlier because he was receiving … ”
Alcalde listened with one ear, but the meaning of the words suddenly hit him and the report interrupted. “What?!”
The sergeant was used to such explosions, so he began to explain once again how to a small child. “Dr Hernandez could not come …”
However, de Soto interrupted him again. “Idiot, I’m not asking for Dr Hernandez! What did you say about Diego and the tavern wench?”
Mendoza did not like it when his favourite cook was called that name, but he knew that the protest was pointless. He took a deep breath and started again.
“I said that Don Diego and Victoria drank the potion of everlasting love together, so they now are madly in love with each other. Already the entire pueblo knows it, and I must admit that young de la Vega is quite inspirational in his courtship.”
De Soto could not understand how the boring and dispassionate caballero can be inspirational in anything, especially in romance. What’s more, Zorro’s lady forgetting so easily her bandit and falling in love with another? How was this possible? He needed to know more.
“Zorro didn’t show up?” The sergeant denied. “The news will surely reach him soon. He will feel betrayed, frustrated and hungry for revenge. Maybe he will even kill or hurt Don Diego. Fantastic!”
Mendoza did not share his superior’s delight. He considered Zorro his friend, as well as both Don Diego and Senorita Escalante. He did not want any of them hurt.
“Madre de Dios, Alcalde, why is it fantastic? It could end in a tragedy.”
De Soto looked at him pityingly. “Zorro will want to confront them. It will definitely be a lively conversation. When he is distracted and drop his defences, we’ll catch him. All we have to do is keep out of sight. Where are they now?”
“In the tavern, since early this morning, but I heard that they are going for a picnic tomorrow,” replied Mendoza.
The alcalde was clearly pleased. “Keep an eye on them, I will come later. This time we will catch Zorro.”
xxx Zorro xxx
De Soto sat in the corner of the tavern with Mendoza all day and watched in disgust the young couple. At first, it was even funny, but the courtship of young de la Vega and Senorita Escalante was so romantic and sweet it made him sick.
The young Don sat opposite his muse, held her hand all the time, complimented her, and quoted Shakespeare’s poems. They talked, laughed and did not see the world around them. Pilar took pity on them at dinner and set two portions at the table without ordering. The young couple did not eat, however, as usual. No, they fed each other instead!
Such behaviour wasn’t easy on the nerves of a bitter soldier.
“. .and then he called her his little grapefruit. And she called him her peach. Between them, they have the makings of a nice fruit salad. It’s really quite nauseating.” De Soto had enough. Even the temptation to catch Zorro was not worth such torture.
“They look so good together as if they have always belonged to each other. And how romantic Don Diego is. When I meet some beautiful senorita, I will definitely ask him for help in courting her.” Sergeant Mendoza saw only the positive aspects of the whole situation.
De Soto gave up. He surrounded the tavern discreetly with soldiers and went to his quarters.
xxx Zorro xxx
The next day, the lovers went horseback riding and a picnic. De Soto and Mendoza followed them at some distance. Diego knew that they were being watched, just like the day before.
“Good, I have you exactly where I want you, Alcalde. We’ll see how much romance you can handle.” He thought humorously.
They spread a blanket under a large tree, where the hot California sun was not shining. Half-sitting, half-lying, they enjoyed the beautiful weather and each other.
At siesta, Diego finally heard the approaching Alcalde. He decided to raise the temperature a little and began to kiss her neck gently. “Victoria …” His voice took on a slightly husky tone.
He smiled when de Soto started coughing. The couple turned to look up at him.
“Diego, Victoria. I was just riding by. I saw your horses.” Alcalde began to explain himself.
Victoria was a bit irritated. A moment before, the caballero found her very vulnerable point and the disliked leader was the last person she wanted to see at that moment.
“Yes, Alcalde. We came out here for a picnic. A very private picnic.” she snorted.
De Soto acted naively. “Yes, it is very secluded out here.” He picked up a bottle of wine and ask. “May I?” He poured himself a glass and tried it without waiting for an answer.
Victoria was on the brink of an explosion, but she felt Diego stroking her arm soothingly. They stared at each other until her anger vanished.
Alcalde noticed a map of California lying on a blanket. “What’s this? A map?”
The young don took it from him. “Yes, it is. We were wondering where we will go on our honeymoon. Maybe Santa Barbara, right, my darling?”
The soldier was stunned. Two days ago they hardly viewed each other like a woman and a man, and now they are planning a wedding trip! In fact, an expensive and beautifully made diamond and emeralds ring now shone on the señorita’s finger.
“Marriage? Um. … What do you think Zorro is going to say about all this?”
Diego knew this was another important moment. Fortunately, Victoria shrugged and popped a piece of food into her mouth and said nothing.
Trying to be laid back and nonchalant he chuckled. “Zorro? What can he say? Victoria and I are in..” He kissed Victoria on the cheek. “… love. Even Zorro is no match for love. Isn’t that right, pomelita?”.
Diego relaxed when he heard her agreement to his statement and began to kiss her again.
Completely ignored the alcalde mounted his horse and rode away from the vantage point. When he had joined Mendoza, the alcalde made him watch the couple but he didn’t want to look or hear himself. He was sitting with his back to the pair, out of earshot. “Marriage! Disgusting!” he thought to himself.
xxx Zorro xxx
The sergeant felt a little uncomfortable watching his two friends in a very private situation. They did nothing that was inappropriate for the engaged couple, and Mendoza wished them all the best. However, he still felt a bit embarrassed.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he noticed that Diego gave a beautiful senorita a quick kiss on her nose and approached his horse. Thinking they were going to leave, Mendoza instead watched Diego remove from his saddlebag some material, slats and a long box.
Mendoza began to wonder what the young caballero was going to do. He looked at de Soto, who napping next to him, but decided not to wake him unnecessarily.
During this time Diego unfolded a frame from the slats and pulled the material on it. He grinned at his lover and began painting her portrait. “I should have suggested you pose for me earlier.”
He was rewarded with the broad smile of his muse. “Why would that be?” She asked teasingly.
Don Diego admitted. “I was shy about my feelings toward you. And if I had more courage and asked to paint you, I could look at you with impunity for hours on end and delay finishing the picture.” Without interrupting his work, he looked tenderly at her from head to foot. “And I could imagine that every brushstroke was a forbidden caress.”
Victoria blushed seeing his wandering look and the hidden meaning of his words.
Diego did not want to admit, but he had a pretty impressive collection of depictions of his sweetheart on his desk. So he had no problem to quickly paint a portrait and then just improved it. However, he enjoyed every moment and their banter. Especially when he tested her patience to the limit.
In the meantime, the siesta time was over and California’s heat eased off. De Soto woke up from his nap. “Mendoza, did Zorro show up?”
The sergeant denied the question. “If he had shown up, I would’ve woken you up immediately, mi Alcalde.”
Ignacio was not comforted. He looked towards the couple in love. “What are they doing?”
The soldier beamed dreamily. “It seems that Don Diego is just finishing painting a portrait of Senorita Escalante. I would like to be able to paint like him, I would win every lady’s heart. This is so romantic.”
His superior did not share his enthusiasm. “Idiot, what is romantic about a woman standing in the same position for several hours?”
Mendoza knew de Soto too long to argue with him. However, from what he saw, Victoria enjoyed this experience as much as her fiance. And she definitely didn’t look bored, perhaps only a bit impatient. The young don didn’t also require her to stand in one position all the time. She comfortably laid or sat on a blanket.
His suspicions were confirmed when Diego showed her the end result. The innkeeper threw her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately.
xxx Zorro xxx
The Alcalde’s irritation reached its zenith that evening. Not only was the sweetness of the courtship giving him indigestion, but there was also no sign of Zorro anywhere. De Soto walked around the office and planned his next steps.
“Zorro usually knows all about the events occurring in the pueblo, sometimes even before we do. As if he were reading minds or had good informants. And here’s the second day and still silence from that bastard. I thought it would be a perfect trap, but I don’t know if I can stand the suspense any longer. How good it is that Don Alejandro is coming back tomorrow. Maybe he will cut off his romantic son a bit. ”