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The Promise

by 

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

Here is another winning story by the imaginative queen of the bayou with a most intriguing cast of characters.   A heart wrenching and riveting story of sacrifice and love.

About 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. 

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

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

CONCHETTA REYES MIRO

MISSION OF SAN GABRIEL, CALIFORNIA 1821

 

She had walked along the dry, dusty Camino Real for several days. Her bare feet bled from the cuts caused by rocks in the road. Conchetta did not know what hurt more, her feet or the pain in her stomach from not having eaten in forty-eight hours. She had to make it to Father Felipe’s Mission. She must. The poor camereras of Los Ángeles are depending on me. Father Felipe will get word to El Zorro. Then, Capitan Juan Ramon Glorioso, Visconde de Estrada beware...

Conchetta’s mind wandered back to happier times in her short young life. Once, I was a respectable young lady in the Pueblo de Los Ángeles. I was married to a young vaquero named Armando Estevan Míro, who worked for the largest landowner in Alta California, Alejandro de la Vega. My Armando was a tall man with a deep olive complexion. He had coal black wavy hair and he was the best vaquero in the entire countryside. Armando had ideas of being more than just a vaquero one day, she remembered dreamily. He had often discussed owing some land and cattle with Don Diego, his patrón, and Don Diego was quite sympathetic and eager to help him achieve his goal. Now Armando is gone, thanks to the new commmandante ... dead from starvation, the heat and the cruelty of the mines' owners.

Conchetta stopped briefly in the road to catch her breath. She knew that she did not have much longer to live. and it no longer mattered what would happen her. It was far more important El Zorro discover what awful things had occurred in Los Ángeles during his absence.

Her thoughts turned to the cause of her grief - Capitán Glorioso. Six months ago, there were rumors about Mexico becoming independent from Spain. Everyone in the Pueblo de Los Ángeles speculated whether a new Commandante would replace Sergeant Garcia. Then an officer in the Spanish Army, Capitán Juan Ramon Glorioso Visconde de Estrada arrived to take his new post. Commandante Glorioso soon made it clear his word was THE law in Los Ángeles. All taxes would be raised, all taxes would be paid, AND collected, or the penalties would be very severe. Conchetta shuddered inwardly. Indeed, Capitán Glorioso had carried out his threats. If the peons and some of the smaller landholders were unable to pay their taxes, he cruelly beat , imprisoned, and then sold them into slavery as laborers for the copper mines. Of course, when their male relatives, the sole support of their families were removed from their homes, the women and children were left hungry and helpless. That was when Capitán Glorioso conceived what he considered to be a brilliant idea.

The Commandante offered a proposition to the bereft females who watched their loved ones march off into the night to their terribly protracted deaths in the copper mines. He promised the women that they could help reduce their men's sentences by going to work for him. To peons who had never had any money in their lives and were faced with crushing financial debt, the Commandante's idea appeared to be an ideal solution to their problems. He immediately had all of the women who agreed to work for him make their crude marks on papers (contracts made by a sly lawyer hired by the Commandante naturally) which stipulated they were bound to him in what ever business enterprise he would develop. Capitán Glorioso purchased the only Posada in Los Ángeles and began renovating it extensively. The wily Commandante soon revealed the true nature of his business secret. At the end of three months he reopened the Posada and renamed it “La Casa De Hospitalidad."

"House of Hospitality" indeed Conchetta thought angrily. In reality, the new Posada was literally a house of prostitution. Many of the women protested vigorously to the civil authorities over being forced to work as prostitutes. When the Alcalde of Los Ángeles objected to the presence of such an awful business in the city, Capitán de Estrada showed the Alcalde, Señor Baltazar, the contracts that the women had willingly signed. Any female who objected to work in La Casa de Hospitalidad was jailed. A second protest drew a sentence of ten lashes at the Cuartel’s whipping post. He even imprisoned the Alcalde for an entire week when Señor Baltazar attempted to organize the dons in the area to force the Commandante to close the Posada. And now the Commandante had acquired several smaller haciendas in Los Ángeles because their landowners were unable to pay his latest round of property taxes...

Señora Reyes forced one foot in front of the other. Strange, she muttered, but now that I am dying I feel so peaceful. My dear Armando, I shall join you shortly. It was now dusk and Conchetta could see her goal just a half-mile farther down the road. Through swollen eyelids she thought she saw a dark figure on a horse riding towards her. Could it be him? she wondered. She muttered a few unintelligible words and then collapsed. Conchetta Luisa Reyes Miro’s dark eyelashes fluttered open briefly and then closed again. Her last breath escaped grudgingly from once lovely lips parched by days-old thirst and harsh sunlight. Finally she lay lifeless in the black silk clad stranger’s arms.

She is dead and she was only 19 years old. May Jesus have mercy upon her soul, El Zorro thought as he struggled against the urge to scream his outrage aloud into the night air. As he rose with the dead Señora Miro in his arms, a sticky wet substance soiled his shirtsleeves. Belatedly he realized it was her blood. The Fox held the señora closer to him as he felt her back. Santa Maria! That animal Glorioso! He had had poor young Conchetta flogged!

Zorro urged Tornado onward to Father Felipe’s mission at San Gabriel. The good friar would make certain that the señora would have a proper Christian burial.

“Ah, Zorro, my son, what brings you to my door?” Fray Felipe gaily began. But when saw the young Indian girl in the Fox‘s arms, the padre‘s eyes moistened.

“A very sad thing, Padre. Conchetta Miro is dead. Commandante Glorioso murdered her,” he replied bitterly.

“By the Virgin! Pobrecita! Bring her inside. I shall take care of everything,“ Father Felipe paused and observed El Zorro looking despondently at the señora.

He continued to stare at Conchetta Miro’s horribly abused body. El Zorro remained as still as a statue as he was completely appalled at the depth of the Commandante’s brutality. When the friar returned from the church a after instructions to his Indian assistants for Conchetta’s burial, something the padre saw in the young man’s eyes urged Father Felipe to ask “El Zorro ... how may I help you?”

“Padre, will you hear my confession?”

The priest nodded. “Certainly, my son.” Father Felipe quickly blessed his friend and then settled back to listen to the Fox.

“I-I recently traveled to Monterrey on business for my ... fa- ... on business. Although I knew that Commandante Glorioso had begun some type of new scheme to harass the good people of Los Ángeles ...” the Fox’s voice broke. “Father I can not lie to you, as I have lied to myself. I needed some time to consider... whether or not I made the right decision to become the outlaw known as Zorro.”

“But this is only a natural reaction, my young caballero. You have chosen a dangerous and deadly path to fight tyranny, and it will mostly be a very lonely fight. Such a weighty decision requires careful thinking,” Father Felipe responded somberly.

“I had to be absolutely sure I could make a difference in the lives of the people in Los Ángeles,” Zorro continued. “Father Felipe, it is so difficult for me to lead a double life, deceiving both friends and family, wondering if my duty to the people of Los Ángeles is more important than my personal happiness. The truth is I traveled to Monterrey because I seriously wanted to walk away from the burden of being El Zorro.” His body began shaking as the Dark Knight finished speaking.

El Zorro closed his eyes and then silently began to weep. “Father Felipe, look what has happened in my absence. That raton de Estrada has set up a house of ill repute and forces young ladies to work there. And now I learn from the peons that he abuses them too. Tonight ...I find Conchetta Reyes Miro stretched out on Camino Real, starved, thirsty and beaten to death! I ... should have been here in Los Ángeles ..to protect those women. By the Virgin! Oh, Conchetta!” the young man's normally rigid composure evaporated completely and he rested his head on the priest’s lap.

“No, no, my son do not torture yourself! You are not responsible for the Commandante’s evil actions. You are not superhuman and you fight on alone. God knows what you are suffering, my young hero, and I know,” the priest stroked the Fox’s head until Zorro’s tears stopped.

“Then .. I humbly request absolution and whatever penance you think that I deserve,” the caballero said quietly, and the friar’s heart was tenderly moved by the sincerity in Zorro’s voice.

To Zorro’s surprise, Father Felipe laughed. “Penance, you? Oh, my son, how proud I am of you...” He paused seeing the serious look on the young man’s face.

“Very well. Your penance shall be to provide for Conchetta’s family and pay for her funeral Mass. Fair enough?”

The Fox’s smile was thin but at least his mood had brightened. “Si, Padre. I can promise to do that.”

As Father Felipe turned to leave, he said, “I charge you to do one more thing, my son.”  

“Si, Padre?”

“Continue your solitary battle against the Capitán. Do not give up!”

“I swear on my immortal soul that I shall carry on until my death!” The Fox replied vehemently.

Pax vobiscum, El Zorro, and may the Virgin protect you!“ the friar whispered to the Fox whose ebony form was swallowed by the darkness.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

On this moonless night, Zorro instructed his black stallion, Tornado, to take his time in returning to his secret cave. After watching Conchetta die in his arms, the Fox became more committed than ever to his lone fight against injustice. I simply can not permit myself any involvement with señoritas in the near future. Must forget about Magdalena ... Anna Maria ... Dios, mi! And keep outmaneuvering my father’s matchmaking schemes. It shall be far easier to put aside my bittersweet memories of those señoritas than dealing with my well-meaning but equally stubborn father! I think that I better commence that novena to St. Teresa D’Avila as I promised her sometime ago.

Diego removed the black cloth from his face and tossed the mask onto a table in the secret area behind the wall in his bedroom. If I continue to defy my father by refusing his selection of “suitable “ señoritas for my betrothal, I run a real risk of father disinheriting me, Diego thought miserably. Then again, I do not seriously think Don Alejandro de la Vega would cast out his only son. On the other hand, father would never force me to marry someone I did not or could not love... Blessed Mother, what a delicate situation to be in!

As Diego fell asleep, he immediately dreamed that he was eight years old again, and he was sitting in the hacienda’s rose garden with his beloved mother.  

“My son,” Bethia de la Vega de la Cruz whispered to Diego as he laid his head in her lap, “what is troubling you?”

"Oh, mother, how I wish you were really here to advise me an affair of the heart!” her child replied earnestly.

Bethia stroked Diego’s unruly dark hair. “But I am here always,” she pointed to his heart, “and I do hear your prayers, even though I am with the Savior now.”

Diego shrugged and stood up. “I do not know how to please both my father and the people in California who have come to depend on me.”

"Oh yes, Diego, you do. Trust yourself, my son, trust yourself.” Bethia smiled up at him. “I must go. Remember what I have told you. I love you, my son, El Zorro, the Fox, my Diego!”

 

END OF CHAPTER ONE


 

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