A/N: This story was inspired by “Final battle” and “After the battle” written by CrazyJan57 and “Krok w przód” written by Arianka. Many thanks to Arianka for translating and encouraging for writing and to lbindner for checking.
Disclaimer: I do not own characters and I don’t make any profits on writing.
The end of the history. The beginning of the legend.
A soft cry woke sergeant Mendoza from his restless nap in the chair. The man jumped up and looked around feverishly, not knowing if the sound that woke him was real or was just made up in his head, troubled by the recent events. He didn’t want to go to sleep, he was afraid he would see again what had happened. He was also afraid to come closer to the window. It was a full moon, and in the moonlight it was easy to see the gallows and the body that hung there.
This day, luck had left his friend and Diego de la Vega, known as Zorro, fell into a trap. The alcalde Ignacio de Soto had no mercy for the masked bandit. He announced the sentence in the morning, just after Zorro was caught, and when the sun was about to set, the defender of the Los Angeles inhabitants stood by the gallows. Maybe the alcalde was right that Zorro’s friends would try to rescue the prisoner, which was the reason for such a quick execution, but the sergeant couldn’t find any excuse for what happened next. Not only did de Soto not allow the ones that were the closest to Zorro, don Alejandro de la Vega and señorita Victoria, say goodbye to him, but he was also ruthless to them during the execution. He forbade them to take the body away, and he ordered his lancers to imprison them both to prevent any desperate actions on their part.
And in the middle of all this sergeant Mendoza was to obey his orders, because de Soto, probably in his perverse desire to bother or to take revenge on the not completely loyal soldier, made him an executor. Not only did the sergeant have to put the halter on the neck of his best friend, but he also had to release the lever of the trapdoor. The fact that Zorro, Diego de la Vega, faced his fate with a brave smile, whispering his request for passing on his love to his closest, was of little comfort to Mendoza. It also wasn’t helping that despite his terror and grief the sergeant managed to put the halter on well, so when the trapdoor opened, Zorro passed away in one moment. He didn’t suffer like a deserter, whose execution Mendoza once saw. No, all of this didn’t ease the sergeant’s pain, who also had to put don Alejandro and señorita Escalante in the cells. De Soto, enraged by the woman’s pledges for a talk with Zorro before the execution, held her, so she couldn’t turn her head when the trapdoor was released, and the memory of her scream, and then her empty, desperate eyes only increased Mendoza’s pain.
The sergeant’s meditations were now disturbed by a shot. Mendoza rushed to the alcalde’s office and stood frowning on the doorstep. Señorita Escalante laid on the floor in a torn dress, partly crushed by the alcalde’s half-naked body. Red splashes of blood around them and a bloody pulp in the head’s place were enough to say that Ignacio de Soto had just made his goodbyes with the world. And a smoking pistol in the señorita’s hand was meaningful proof of how it had happened.
X X X
The nightmarish night went on. The Midnight was a long time ago, but none of the people in the alcalde’s office thought about sleep. The jail was transferred into a temporary morgue. De Soto’s corpse was unceremoniously taken to the farthest cell, and Zorro’s body was taken from the gallows and put in one of the closest. Now the caballeros were feverishly debating how to make a report for the governor.
“I can’t!” Mendoza groaned. “I have to write he was shot.”
“But what then? If we don’t tell who shot…”
“The governor will come here personally with soldiers to investigate and I don’t think he will care if he finds the right person or not.”
“We will be treated as rebels. The whole pueblo will die.”
“Then I will report myself as a murderer.”
“You, don Alejandro? They won’t believe you”
“One of the soldiers will betray you. Everyone knows you were imprisoned at this time.”
“We have to protect the señorita…”
“As I said, the soldiers will give her away. We have no choice.”
“Then I will go to the governor and beg for a pardon…”
“The governor will not pardon her,” said one of the caballeros.
“Why not?” don Carlos asked, but he rubbed his cheek thoughtfully. The others began to understand that surely the governor will not pardon señorita Victoria Escalante. Though Victoria didn’t say anything, they all knew that Ignacio de Soto died from the hand of the woman he had raped. That was the truth, though none of the caballeros said a word, they had all seen the alcalde’s body and were sure, what as he up to when he was surprised by death. But they understand also that why he had died would not matter to the governor as much as the fact that the lover of Zorro had killed the alcalde. Victoria was sentenced before the trial would even begin. And if they try to defend her, it would be treated as a rebellion.
The caballeros looked at each other.
“We cannot do this! That she killed that bastard…”
“We have to. Otherwise they will take her to the jail in Monterey. She will be in the guards’ hands for months, but it will end for her by a death sentence anyway. We can only spare her it.”
“No!” don Alejandro protested. “We can… we can hide her…”
“And put the whole pueblo on trial for killing the alcalde?”
“Alejandro… I know it’s most painful for you. But we cannot save her. We can only…”
“Enough!” Don Alejandro hit the desk with his hand. “Let’s talk to her.”
X X X
Victoria was in the cell. When Zorro’s body was brought from the gallows to the jail, she sat beside him and refused to go even one step, still in her bloody, torn dress, her arms still covered with the sergeant’s jacket, as they had been for hours.
“Victoria,” don Alejandro said softly. “We have to confer…”
“What for?” She slowly raised her head, as if taking her eyes off the pale face of her beloved was something extremely hard. They all saw her eyes were dry. Since Zorro’s execution, no one saw her crying, as if that sight had dried her eyes.
“What to do with the alcalde’s death. How to protect you…” started Alejandro.
“I killed him,” she said indifferently. She seemed to be stunned as if she was asleep and saw something they all couldn’t.
“You had to do this, he…”
“He didn’t touch me,” Victoria disagreed. “But I shot him…”
“You were defending yourself. The governor will pardon you.”
“No…” she shook her head and stood up to look at the others. The look of Victoria’s empty eyes stopped at caballeros and they lowered their heads, not wanting to look at her. Only don Alejandro bore her sight. The grief after the loss of his son made wrinkles on his face, but he still tried to fight, to find a way out of this nightmare.
“We have to fight for you,” he said.
She shook her head.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she replied.
“Victoria, child, what doesn’t make sense?”
“This debate. All of this,” The woman made a circle with her hand, with slow, sleepy gesture.
“I know… but we have to…”
“There is no point in it,” she repeated slowly with an absent expression. “Nothing has sense after what happened… I don’t want to fight…”
The caballeros nodded silently in agreement. Don Alejandro stared at them with growing fear. Then he closed his eyes in understanding. Victoria spoke again.
“I don’t want to leave Los Angeles,” she said. Her voice was quiet and full of grief.
“I don’t want to go to jail in Monterey…”
She was silent for a while, before she answered.
“I want to be with Zorro” Her voice was stronger now, as if she had made some decision.
“God, Victoria! He…”
“I know. But I don’t want to wait anymore…”
The silence fell again. The caballeros still looked at each other, avoiding one another’s eyes and not looking at the girl and the body laying on the bunk behind her. At last don Carlos found some courage. He cleared his throat and said in a voice hoarse with emotions.
“Do you understand what it means? What the royal law demands from us? From you?”
“I know,” she answered. She straightened and, for one moment looked like the former Victoria Escalante, the proud tavern owner and Zorro’s beloved. “I know what is the punishment for a murder, and I don’t fear it.”
“When the sun rises,” she answered calmly, not taking her eyes off don Carlos.
“So soon?” despite his previous words don Carlos paled after hearing her answer and suddenly doubted. “Think twice. Maybe there is a chance, even the smallest…”
“You know as well as I do that there is no chance. Why waste time? I…” she cut herself off and finished quietly. „He’s waiting for me.”
“Victoria,” the paled don Alejandro said. “I beg you, talk to padre Benitez before you make any decision.”
“Alright,” she replied. “I will. Until the sunrise.”
One of the caballeros rushed to walk her to the doors.
X X X
The sky was getting bright. A few little clouds turned gold, heralding the sunrise. Don Carlos and sergeant Mendoza stopped at the church’s doorstep. The priest waiting there for them.
“I talked long to her, but she only grows stronger in her decision” padre Benitez sighed. “I prepared her for death. She’s praying in the church now.”
“All the same, I was hoping…”
“Vainly. Unfortunately, de Soto had hurt her too deep.”
“Padre, you know…”
“I saw how he forced her to watch the execution…”
“No, not this,” don Carlos denied. “De Soto… he… he forced her to…”
Padre Benitez shook his head.
“He didn’t even spare her this,” he whispered. “May he be damned for his pride. Now I fully understand why she has no doubts. Fear, grief, humiliation… It was too much for her. Her soul was too hurt. Maybe if she hadn’t killed him, I would be able to induce her to live, but now she doesn’t care for anything.”
“Dios!” the sergeant groaned. “She…”
“Sergeant, she sees this execution as mercy. She thinks that this way, she will be united with the man she loves,” The padre shook his head. “I couldn’t change her mind that the sooner the execution will be, the better for her. To some extent, I have to agree with her, especially after what she suffered.”
They went inside. The church was empty, and it’s small interior was lighted by the candles. At daybreak, Zorro’s body was brought here from the jail and don Carlos noticed that whoever made the catafalque, he left free space at Zorro’s side, as if made to lay somebody there. Only don Alejandro and señorita Victoria knelt by the catafalque. Don Carlos shuddered when he saw her. She had put on her wedding dress, the same she had worn when she was about to get married months ago, at the beginning of de Soto’s power, when she run into Zorro’s arms right from the altar. Today, contrary to that day, she pinned up her hair high under a veil, uncovering her neck. Don Carlos understood she had combed her hair in this way on purpose, to make putting the rope easier.
“Señorita…” Don Carlos gently put his hand on her arm.
“Yes?” she raised her head. He saw that she still had dry eyes. Something was telling the caballero, that if they had made her cry, she wouldn’t be so frozen in her pain and decision to take the consequences of the murder, but he didn’t know how to do it. He also wasn’t sure if he really wanted to make her cry. Maybe it would really be mercy for her, as padre Benitez had told him, that going on the gallows in this state of mind, she wouldn’t want to live or fear the inevitable death.
“The sun is rising,” said don Carlos.
“Alright. I am ready.”
Don Alejandro also stood up, but she stopped him with a gesture.
“No, don Alejandro, please… Stay here… I… I will be back soon.”
The caballero’s face winced in pain, tears went through his cheeks.
“Victoria, my child… I wanted you to be my daughter… Daughter–in–love… If you allow me, I will bless you.”
“Please, don Alejandro.” She knelt in front of the man. He silently put his hand on her head. When he took it back she stood up and went to the doors. At the doorstep, a scruffy boy bumped into her.
“Felipe?” she frowned. Everyone thought Felipe had died in a trap, where Toronado had been shot and Zorro had been captured. The boy’s face, deformed by the swelling and a large bruise, was also twisted in pain and fear. He looked at her with horror, and then stared into the church, at Zorro’s body and free space on the catafalque.
“Shhh, Felipe,” Victoria put her hands on his arms. “Stay here. Stay with don Alejandro. He will need you.”
The boy grabbed her dress and shook his head.
“It has to be this way, Felipe. I revenged Zorro. I killed the alcalde. Now I’m going…” she bent down to whisper to him face to face. “Zorro is waiting for me. I have to go.”
She kissed the boy’s unwounded cheek. He let her go and went to the elder caballero. Don Alejandro hugged him tightly as if to make sure that Felipe was real, and they both knelt again by the catafalque. Victoria stopped outside for a moment, surprised by the sight of the crowd filling the square up to the gallows, lighted by a red glare of the rising sun. Then she went on.
X X X
The inhabitants of Los Angeles, accumulated on the plaza, parted, when señorita Escalante went to the scaffold with don Carlos, padre Benitez and the sergeant. The people already knew, more or less, what had happened in the garrison and what price Victoria was going to pay for her revenge and for freeing all of them from the alcalde. Somebody called “Vaya con Dios, señorita!” somebody else said “May God bless you!” and these words repeated all over again, said with tears. Again and again somebody leaned out to touch her arm or her dress’ hem. Many of them looked at her with regret and admiration at the same time. The beloved of Zorro was passing away, and the way she was doing it was as memorable as his death had been.
Sergeant Mendoza stopped suddenly at the gallows.
“I can’t,” he groaned. “I can’t do it to her. Not her.”
„You know it’s necessary, Sergeant” said don Carlos. “You are now the highest government in this pueblo. No one can replace you. Not in the presence of law .
“But señorita Escalante…”
“It has to be this way,” suddenly Victoria said to him. “Please, don’t do this to me, but for me.”
Mendoza swallowed convulsively, and went up the stairs, pale as if it was he who was the convict.
At the scaffold don Carlos turned to the señorita.
“Padre, can you bless her?” he asked.
“I already did” replied padre Benitez. “I will pray for you, my daughter, to find peace at Zorro’s side,” he said directly to Victoria.
She thanked him with a nod.
“Good. Sergeant,” don Carlos said to Mendoza. “It’s your turn.”
Mendoza swallowed again and stepped forward with the rope pieces.
“I… I have to tie your hands, señorita. And legs. It’s… it’s just in case something goes wrong…”
“It won’t,” she calmed him. “I’m sure.”
Before he lightly tied up her hands at her back, she kissed his cheek.
“May God bless you, sergeant.”
Don Carlos cleared his throat.
“Señorita, now the sergeant will put you the noose, and I will have to say a few words to the people. For they can testify in front of the governor, that the justice… ” he stammered. “Forgive me this word, señorita, it won’t be justice. You administered justice. But the law is the law, and people will have to testify that it was obeyed. Then… the sergeant will release the trapdoor. Are you ready?”
He stepped back. The pale Mendoza came to Victoria and started putting the rope around her neck with trembling hands, trying not to destroy her hairdo. He became tangled for a moment, but then he gently corrected the knot. He wanted, deeply from heart wanted to wake up from this nightmare, but at the same time he tried not to make any mistakes. He couldn’t make her suffer. She didn’t deserve it.
“Cover my face with veil, sergeant” Victoria asked quietly. “And then wait a moment. I want to say his name one more time, alright?”
Mendoza could only nod in agreement, because tears strangled his throat as if he had a rope on his neck. To his astonishment he saw that Victoria was smiling lightly, as if to herself, when he covered her face. He put his hand on the lever and waited. He saw her moving her head, as if the rope irritated her neck and he thought that she must be seeing and feeling the same as Zorro had when he was hung. But he had been tormented by the fact that she and his father were standing there and watching him die, but now no one looked at Victoria that way.
Don Carlos started talking.
“People of Los Angeles! Alcalde Ignacio de Soto was killed tonight by the señorita Victoria Escalante, who revenged the death of her beloved, don Diego de la Vega, known as Zorro! But law is law. You are here to testify, that according to this law señorita Escalante was punished for the murder, though” his voice broke. Don Carlos lowered his head. After a moment he raised it and turned. “It’s your turn, sergeant…”
The glare of the low standing sun stopped at the veil, lighting Victoria’s face with white glow. Mendoza saw through it that the señorita smiled suddenly, tenderly and with love.
“Diego,” she said quietly.
The sergeant pushed the lever. The trapdoor opened with a slam.
Mendoza didn’t fail and made a mistake. Only one vibration matched the moment, when señorita Victoria Escalante passed away after her beloved.
X X X
When the white-dressed figure hung on the rope, padre Benitez knelt and started praying for the dead. He talked with a strong voice, though tears ran down his face. Don Carlos and Mendoza also knelt, along with all the people. When they finished, don Carlos stood up.
“Sergeant” he called for the crying Mendoza. Together they cut the body down and laid it on the gallows’ boards. The sergeant took off the ropes from the señorita’s wrists and ankles and threw them away, and then reached for the halter with the trembling hands. Don Carlos stopped him.
“Doctor.” He called the aged doctor standing by the gallows’ stairs.
Doctor Hernandez came quickly, knelt, and took the señorita’s wrist.
“She’s gone,” he said after a while. He moved the veil for a moment, to loosen up and take away the rope tightened on her neck. Like Mendoza a moment ago, he threw the halter away with revulsion, as if it was burning his hands. The doctor gently moved his hand on señorita’s face, closing her widely open, empty eyes and whipping away her tears. Then he covered her again with the veil.
“She was smiling,” Mendoza whispered with astonishment. “Like Zorro, she was smiling.”
Doctor Hernandez stood up and announced loudly.
“Señorita Victoria Escalante is dead.”
Don Carlos stood by him. Two times he drew a deep breath, before he was able to say the words that were usually said during executions.
“On behalf of the king, the justice had been done” and then he said quietly. “It wasn’t justice, it was no justice.”
He knelt again to pick up the señorita’s body, but somebody moved his hands away.
“Don Alejandro? You were…”
“I heard a prayer,” answered shortly the old caballero. “I wasn’t supposed to see her dying, but she didn’t forbid me taking her to my son.”
X X X
The governor crumpled up the report with irritation. This sergeant Mendoza maybe was a good soldier, but he was bad at writing, and here the writing was disappearing under blots and stains of the smudged ink, as if something had been dripping on the paper.
“And I am to believe in it?” he snorted. “That this tavern girl killed the alcalde in revenge for the execution of her lover? And you sent her immediately for this to the gallows?”
“It was that way,” don Carlos tried not to let him see what he felt.
“Everyone says so,” added the governor’s adviser.
“And where is Alejandro de la Vega?”
“At his hacienda. He is ill from the grief.”
The governor took the report again. He smoothed out the bends and read again the very end. He thought for a moment.
“I want to know one thing” he said.
“Was she pretty?” he asked. The caballero without a word pointed to him a picture standing in the corner.
“It’s her. And he made this portrait.”
The governor was lost in thought. For a moment he regretted that he didn’t know sooner, what a beautiful lover this outlaw had had. De Soto was nothing but an ambitious fool. Maybe, if the people from the pueblo hadn’t hastened with the execution, but brought the girl to him, to Monterey… No, he stated. He wouldn’t give another sentence. This case was settled from the moment the soldiers found the girl with a pistol in her hand.
He stood up vigorously. The moment of reflection had gone, he was now again a royal official and a politician.
“There won’t be any trial,” he announced coldly. “There won’t be any investigation. There won’t be any requisitions or fines put over the pueblo. You proved you’re not rebels and that you obey the law, even without the alcalde. You can go and tell it all the inhabitants. They should thank,” he snorted quietly. “this Escalante that she let herself be hung so politely.”
Don Carlos only nodded silently.
The people knew better.
X X X
Over the years a double gravestone could be found on the de la Vega’s land in the Los Angeles’ cemetery. There were names engraved on it: “Diego de la Vega – Zorro, Victoria Escalante de la Vega” and then, added “married in death”.
- The end of the history The beginning of the legend