Contents: 

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

 

 

The Gift

 

 

 

I am so very pleased to be able to post some of Gail Manfre's stories and poems here on my site.  I hope there are many more in the future.                             

Gail, self-proclaimed ragin' Cajun, Mary Kay guru, font of all things Italian and all trivia Star Trek, along with Zorro, has an eye for detail that most of us can only dream of having.  That and a nifty way of believably turning characters who were originally fairly benign, (if not irritating,) into epitomes of evil, as in this story. 

For other stories and poems in Gail's portfolio, please check out the Zorro Contents Page as well as Enmascarado, the mother of all GW Zorro fanfiction sites...

 

 

 

 

FOREWORD

 

 

THIS STORY IS SET IN THE TWILIGHT MONTHS OF SPANISH RULED CALIFORNIA, FROM OCTOBER THROUGH DECEMBER 31, 1821. ALTA CALIFORNIA THEN WAS IN THE GRIP OF A YEAR LONG DROUGHT. HACENDADOS HAD TO SELL THEIR CATTLE AT WHATEVER PRICES COULD BE OBTAINED. SPAIN HAD JUST FINISHED FIGHTING NAPOLEON AND CONTINENTAL EUROPE BARELY THREE YEARS EARLIER [1818] AND THE NEWLY REINSTATED KING FERDINAND VII IMPOSED UNBEARABLY HEAVY TAXES ON EVERYONE TO REPLENISH THE BANKRUPT TREASURY.

BUT DURING THE PAST FEW YEARS THE PEOPLE OF CALIFORNIA HAD A GALLANT HERO - EL ZORRO TO FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS AGAINST AN INDIFFERENT AND OFTEN CRUEL COLONIAL ADMINISTRATION THAT CONFISCATED PERSONAL PROPERTY, ALLOWED SLAVERY TO FLOURISH AND CORRUPTION TO RULE IN THE NAME OF THE SPANISH KING.

BUT AS EVERYONE KNOWS, A HERO HAS HIS OWN PERSONAL TROUBLES AND THE RIGHT TO LIVE HIS LIFE AS HE CHOOSES. OR DOES HE? THIS IS DIEGO DE LA VEGA Y DE LA CRUZ’S CONUNDRUM AFTER HE PROPOSED MARRIAGE TO THE LOVELY SENORITA ANNA MARIA VERDUGO IN SEPTEMBER 1821. THE PROBLEM WAS, THE LADY IN QUESTION DID NOT WANT HIM. SHE PREFERRED EL ZORRO!

 

DISCLAIMER

THIS AUTHOR DOES NOT WISH IN ANY WAY TO VIOLATE THE COPYRIGHT OF WALT DISNEY STUDIOS REGARDING THE CHARACTERS OF DON DIEGO DE LA VEGA, ZORRO, SERGEANT GARCIA, CORPORAL REYES, RICARDO DEL’AMO, ANNA MARIA, ET AL.

THE CHARACTERS WHOM I HAVE I CREATED FOR THIS STORY SUCH AS TOMAS FUEGO, JORGE PACO, DR. RAPHAEL RAIMONDO, JOAQUIN ALVAREZ, PROFESOR DONARIO, VALENTIN POSEDAR, TO NAME BUT A FEW, CAN BE USED BY OTHER AUTHORS WITH MY WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

I WISH  TO THANK THE FOLLOWING GWF MEMBERS FOR THEIR WONDERFUL THOUGHTS REGARDING THE EVOLUTION OF THIS STORY:  SUSAN KITE, KELIANA BAKER, KARLA GREGORY, BONNIE BROOKS AND JULIA BROOKS. I ESPECIALLY WOULD LIKE TO CONVEY MY DEEPEST GRATITUDE TO MY "HANDS ON" EDITORS,  "BROOKSIE" AND "SUEQ","  FOR  WITHOUT THEIR LITERARY EXPERTISE AND EXTREMELY PATIENT GUIDANCE, I WOULD NEVER HAVE COMPLETED MY LITTLE  CONTRIBUTION TO THE ZORRO FANFIC UNIVERSE.

 

GAIL D. MANFRE

APRIL 11, 2002

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

THE FOX AND THE FIREBRAND

OCTOBER 11 1821

Diego de la Vega y de la Cruz sat before his father’s fireplace in a Roman style “X” armchair, absentmindedly tracing the intricately embroidered pattern on the maroon silk fabric. He swirled the remaining caramel colored brandy in a Venetian glass snifter, part of the wine service his mother Bethia Elizabeth had inherited from her grandmother.

However, the golden glow of the fire on this fairly cold morning failed to comfort him as he glumly re-read Anna Maria Verdugo’s rejection of his marriage proposal. Diego had asked her to marry him three weeks ago over the “engagement” dinner at her father’s hacienda. He should have expected the worst when Anna Maria would not meet his gaze even after he kissed her tantalizingly sweet lips - as passionately as a purportedly betrothed caballero was permitted before his pending wedding ceremony.

He kept telling himself that Anna Maria was still young enough to reconsider her decision; the only steps remaining before the actual wedding were the announcement of the betrothal and their fathers’ signatures gracing the marriage contract. And Diego still believed that eventually he could whittle down whatever emotional barriers she had wrapped around her heart. After all, it was only six months since El Zorro, her hero, had refused to accept the Governor’s offer of amnesty in Monterrey. "Surely she has had more than enough time to reconsider her decision. No, my firebrand is the most stubborn woman I know! She will follow her heart and not honor our engagement!" Diego shook his head and began to read her note yet again:

"Dear Diego," her letter began, "I suspect that you already know the reason why I cannot be your wife - although I would be proud to be Senora de la Vega, I cannot disregard the calling of my heart! For it shall ever belong to Zorro! I have prayed long and hard to the Blessed Virgin that I would forfeit my love for the Fox, but I realized that I would not only hurt myself if I denied my deep feelings for him, I would also be cheating you. I prefer instead to wait until the time when mi corazon discards his masquerade as the Dark Angel and takes me as his bride. And I feel in my soul that this will happen sooner than you think.’ After all, Diego, you do not know El Zorro as well as I." The note was simply signed “A.M.”

Diego had one last chance to rekindle the embers of love he knew she still felt for him, so he wrote Anna Maria that he would be able to persuade El Zorro to reveal his secret identity to her and to her alone. Thusly, Zorro would be able to pursue his sacred mission to protect and safeguard the civil liberties of who lived in Alta California and still have the personal happiness he craved with Anna Maria! But Zorro had no idea how he would accomplish this delicate task.

Diego stepped out onto his rear balcony and closed his eyes, hoping that the cool and crisp October air would help extinguish --albeit temporarily -- the amorous flames in his soul. Ah, Anna Maria, you penetrated the logical buffer I had erected around my heart so I could ride as El Zorro by night and live a seemingly ‘normal’ hacendado’s life by day. But it was my decision to love you! I keep reminding myself that it was not my fault that you ‘loved’ me only as a brother and..“

A knock at his door broke his reverie.

“Bernardo, mi amigo. I want you to deliver this message to Senorita Verdugo this afternoon and you are to wait for her reply, and ..” Diego shrugged and placed his arm on his mozo’s shoulders. “Perhaps I should not ask you to do this for me.”

Bernardo nodded and then rapidly signed with hands ‘My master, no, my dear friend! I shall do anything you ask. I can only hope that I can ...ease your pain.’

Diego instinctively hugged him. “My ...Bernardo. To me, you are always more than a servant is and never less than the older brother that I did not have! Bring this note to Anna Maria, por favor.”

Immediamente.” was Bernardo’s reply and he left before he could witness the tears that he was certain Diego would shed after his departure and especially upon Bernardo’s return.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

When Bernardo arrived at the Verdugo hacienda to deliver his master’s note to Señorita Anna Maria, he recognized Ricardo del’Amo’s horse tied up at hacienda’s gate. [Definitely not a good thing. I have never liked that man and I never shall! He lives just to gamble, and not just with people‘s money!] Diego’s mozo thought acidly.

The hacienda’s majordomo, Tomas Fuego, ushered Bernardo into the sala, accepted the note and immediately delivered it into Señorita Verdugo’s waiting hands.

Ricardo del’Amo poured another glass of cool water for Anna Maria to drink after she began reading Diego’s note.

When Bernardo noticed how red Senorita Anna Maria’s face had become, he retreated to the patio.

“WELL, I should have known!”

Ricardo’s eyebrows shot upward. “Anna Maria, my sweet, what does the note say?”

“Only that Zorro is willing to reveal his identity to me! BUT Diego believes that the Fox shall continue to ride as El Zorro even after our wedding!“

“The fool! Does he realize that in abandoning his masquerade he can finally have a wife and children?” Del’Amo said sarcastically, then carefully scanned her face for clues to guide his answers to any other questions she might pose. “By the way, HOW is Don Diego able to contact Zorro?”

Anna Maria angrily shredded Diego’s note. “I do not know, Ricardo, and I do not care! All I know is he was able to give the Fox some previous correspondence that I asked Diego to deliver.“ She rose and went over to the large mahogany desk in the sala. “Ricardo, get Bernardo while I write down exactly what I think about Diego’s latest proposal!”

Don Ricardo waved Bernardo into the Verdugo hacienda and they both watched Anna Maria’s pen angrily scratch at the paper.

“There it is done.“ Anna Maria thrust her response into Bernardo’s waiting hands. “Bernardo, take this back to your master.“ Then she arrogantly dismissed him with a wave of her handkerchief and went to stand by the window. Bernardo looked confused until del’Amo marched him to the door and motioned for him to leave.

Ricardo could no longer stand the suspense. “Are you going to tell me or not?”

“OHHHHHHH, I am just so mad! It seems that my Masked Avenger prefers a life of hiding and keeping one step from the hangman’s noose than to live quite comfortably WITH ME! So, El Zorro cherishes the feelings of the peons rather than one who truly loves him! The very idea!”

She threw herself into the outstretched arms of Ricardo del’Amo in a futile attempt to cry away her pain. Ricardo merely smiled as he patted her lovely head.

[[[[[[ZZZZ]]]]]

 

Don Diego anxiously awaited Anna Maria’s answer to the letter he had written that morning. Nearly three hours later, Bernardo returned with her response. Diego saw the uncomfortable look on Bernardo’s face and hastily tore open the parchment. Then he perused the letter. When Diego finished, he burst into the secret room behind his bedroom’s fireplace and testily told Bernardo that he was in a hurry to change into the black silks of his secret identity, El Zorro. His mozo urged him to wait until at least sundown to ride.

“My beloved friend, was what she wrote to you that unkind?” Bernardo signed with his hands. He knew as well as Diego how razor sharp Anna Maria’s tongue was.

Diego shook his head. “There are some things I cannot share with anyone else, Bernardo,“ his master said as he gently touched his mozo’s shoulders.

Bernardo knew then he had tried everything he could possibly think of to cheer up his master. Since that ’firebrand ‘- (as his master tenderly referred to Anna Maria --Bernardo had another name for her but he wisely kept it to himself) - had refused his marriage offer, Alejandro de la Vega’s son had been pacing the hacienda like a caged tiger. The manservant tried to tell his friend he was young - not yet twenty-five years old; Diego had plenty of time and opportunities to select a bride. If only his master would give himself half a chance! Bernardo knew the youthful caballero wanted, no, he needed to ride as the Dark Angel, astride his glorious black mount, Tornado, to reconsider -- or reaffirm-- his decision of dedicating his entire life to fighting for justice in Alta California. So he helped his friend dress into the costume of Zorro and then prepared the black horse for their journey.

Before Zorro climbed into his ornately tooled leather saddle, Bernardo gently touched his arm and quickly revealed his thoughts to his friend in his own peculiar version of sign language. ‘Adios, my dear friend you will see ... this sorrow too shall pass”!

El Zorro grinned slightly and Bernardo basked in the warmth and brilliance of this small demonstration of his master’s effusive charm. The Dark Angel grasped both of Bernardo‘s shoulders. “Muchas gracias, my most beloved amigo! Now you must excuse me, Tornado is very anxious to gallop tonight!“ He jauntily tossed Bernardo one of his trademark salutes and then he and Tornado flew into the night kissed by the soft light of a full moon.

When Bernardo returned to Diego’s bedroom to prepare his master’s jaqueta for following day, he saw that Don Alejandro was waiting for him.

“Bueno! I am very pleased that my son has finally decided to resume his duties to the people of California!” Don Alejandro said after Bernardo signed that Zorro had already left the secret cave. The elder de la Vega walked over to Diego’s desk and saw Anna Maria’s note lying there. He toyed with the paper not wanting to read it, but temptation got the better of him. Don Alejandro adjusted his spectacles and skimmed her letter.

By all the Saints, may they grant me strength! I have half a mind to burn this... woman's --- no, this foolish girl’s stupid mutterings! She is not worthy of my son!” He started to remove Anna Maria’s letter and throw into the bedroom fireplace, but Bernardo shook his head.

 ‘No, father of my master--” Bernardo started to sign - and then thought discretion was needed here.

Don Alejandro’s noble face flushed scarlet both from anger and resignation. “Of course, you are right, Bernardo. Diego must decide when he can bury the past. My son has the enormous benefit of youth. Diego will eventually come to his senses.” Don Alejandro shrugged his shoulders and then rubbed his white bearded chin thoughtfully.

“Come, Bernardo, are you agreeable to a game of chess? I would like to avenge the loss that you inflicted on me last week! “

Bernardo hesitated. My place is to remain in the secret room. He said to himself. But he saw the slightly challenging gleam in Don Alejandro’s eyes and then nodded “yes.“

“Good! Perhaps the game will help us to pass the time while we wait for El Zorro’s return!“ Don Alejandro said as they walked through the secret passageway into the library. There the silver haired don set up the board for a game. As they each plotted strategy against the other, the two men enjoyed some old Jerez Don Alejandro had imported from Madrid.

Bernardo could see the heavy toll his master’s heartache had taken on Don Alejandro, but his father... "Don Alejandro was now 61 years old and still had no grandchildren whom he could spoil." he thought sadly. Don Alejandro had often told him about his best friend from Spain, Don Alfredo, and his grandsons. Don Alfredo had two sons, Joaquin Roberto and Rodrigo Alberto. Each time Diego’s father returned from visiting Don Alfredo, he related to Bernardo how much he enjoyed playing with the twin boys one of Don Alfredo’s sons, Rodrigo, had presented to him three Christmases ago. The other son also had two children, a girl and an infant son.

Don Alejandro had prayed for children with his wife, Bethia Elizabeth de la Cruz, for nearly 10 years. Finally the Blessed Virgin granted his wish in 1797. He named his son Diego Armando Joseph de la Vega y de la Cruz. And since Doña Bethia had been unable to give her husband any more children, both parents doted on their son.

Diego was Don Alejandro’s pride and joy, especially after he discovered his son was the people’s hero, El Zorro. But since the de la Vega clan in Madrid had produced only one surviving male heir, Don Alejandro had pleaded with his son numerous times to marry. After all, it was a hidalgo’s strict duty and obligation to have as many male children as possible to ensure the future of the family name and noble lineage.

’Ah, well, at least he did finally ask Senorita Verdugo to marry him,’ Don Alejandro snorted to himself as he contemplated his next move against Bernardo. It was not Diego’s fault that she had publicly told anyone who would listen that no man was as wonderful as El Zorro! Better Diego discovered her true feelings now than on their wedding night!” he said to a sympathetic Bernardo.

He pushed aside his anxiety over Diego‘s bad spirits and concentrated on his chess game with Bernardo. “Of course you realize, Bernardo,” Don Alejandro said, his rich baritone finally breaking the half-hour of silence necessitated by the game’s intensity, “that I shall grant you no mercy! I intend to win this game as swiftly as possible!”

Both men of the de la Vega clan hated to be defeated even in the littlest argument. To do less than one’s best was to violate the gente de razon’s rigid code of personal honor. So Bernardo always cherished the few games he managed to win against either of the de la Vegas. And Don Alejandro’s tenacious concentration had finally returned, because Bernardo saw that he would be checkmated in two moves.

“Hah! What a foolish little twit that Anna Maria Verdugo is!” Then Don Alejandro drained his Jerez and briefly surveyed the chessboard. He promptly moved his knight into checkmate against Bernardo’s queen. “Hah!” He exclaimed again. Bernardo frowned and pulled at his hair -what little was left of it - in all directions. Sighing audibly, he toppled his queen onto the chessboard in defeat.

Don Alejandro roared with laughter. “By the Three Marias! That was a most interesting game, Bernardo. You have become quite a worthy opponent this past two years since Diego returned to California.”

Diego’s mozo shrugged. ‘At least he is trying to forget Anna Maria... ’ Bernardo thought in his defeat. But he was mistaken.

“By the Holy Trinity!” the elder de la Vega exclaimed. “I was so certain that Anna Maria had ceased with her absurd obsession regarding the Fox! But no, she truly worships the mask and not the man who wears it!” The elder de la Vega remembered vividly the anguish etched on Diego’s face after Anna Maria Verdugo snubbed his son’s wedding proposal.

He glanced at his pocket watch. It was after midnight and Zorro was normally home before this late hour.

As Don Alejandro prepared to retire to his room for the night, he spoke to Bernardo. “Please tell me when Diego arrives, no matter what the hour. I must speak with my son before he retires. And I daresay he will not like the subject that we will be discussing." he added to Bernardo.

Bernardo nodded. He finished clearing the library table and then went to the secret room where he promptly fell asleep.

Don Alejandro said his nightly Act of Contrition before retiring, hoping that the new marriage contract he had worked out with his old friend, Don Cornelio Tomas Esperon, would be successful. He hated to present Diego with another fiancée so soon, but he felt that Diego would brood too long over that vapid Señorita Verdugo. Besides, it was high time that his son marry, and he had sealed the arrangements with Don Cornelio almost a week ago.

 

 

Chapter Two
Zorro Contents
Main Page