Disclaimer: Queen of Swords was created by Fireworks Entertainment, and is owned by ContentFilm. This story is NOT affiliated with the rights holders or the show's original creators. No infringement is intended and no profit is being made. This story is for entertainment purposes only.

The author would like to thank Robert Vincent for all his valuable support and input.

Chapter 9: No More Secrets

The Alvarado Hacienda.

Two mornings later, Tessa and Robert woke up and greeted one another with a smile and a hug. Both were still weary after their recent ordeal but all the more relieved to wake up to find the other still alive.

The doctor and Tessa washed and dressed separately before meeting again for breakfast. Marta had prepared omelettes filled with cheese and mushrooms, along with freshly squeezed orange juice, a jar of coffee, scones and fresh fruit. Her insistence on such a hearty feast couldn't be refused, as Tessa had learned many times growing up. Robert certainly didn't feel like turning a great meal down after the events two days ago.

Deciding to follow doctor's orders for a change, Tessa had gotten plenty of rest - sixteen hours' worth to be precise - and Marta had made absolutely sure she behaved herself. The Gypsy was on hand at all times to help her bathe and dress, apply the bandaging to her ribs, and carefully treat her gunshot wound when necessary. And Marta saw to it that Tessa thought twice before doing anything risky.

Doctor Helm had been able to answer questions from the Dons and Montoya over his whereabouts. The Domingos had vouched for him, and Don Vega had been able to rally his supporters in favour of the surgeon, especially in light of the controversial lockdown and conflicting stories regarding the Queen. Sergeant Williams had also been able to cover up here and there for them. And with Grisham unable to testify against them, it had been a good day indeed.

Especially when the Captain had had to come to Helm and have all his injuries tended to. Injuries which would put him out of action for several weeks. The Englishman had taken enormous pleasure in asking what had happened to his jaw and deliberately enquiring about his wounds (as if he didn't know!). Knowing that Grisham couldn't get his words out, seeing the rage on his face, and his painful expressions due to the treatment, had been most delightful for Helm to see.

Then Tessa and Robert had been reunited for dinner, which had been really pleasant between two 'acquaintances'. But by the time they'd finished, it was very late. And the senorita had insisted that the doctor spend the night, which he agreed with due to the logic. Secretly though, both were enjoying coming up with plausible alibis to explain their 'interaction'.

It was now a beautiful morning. The sunshine was heavenly and the cool breeze was refreshing, so they all opted to eat and drink outside. The workers were just going about their jobs, happy as can be. And of course, no surprise visits from soldiers were to be expected, thanks to Lionel. All could enjoy the much needed breather, and utilise nature to help them feel at peace.

Tessa and Robert no longer felt awkward around each other. Perhaps they were supposed to be but they didn't anymore. Maybe why they were laughing and merry as they ate was because such a huge weight had now been lifted off them both. Or maybe they were just trying to get it out of their system before they talked properly. For the moment, though, it didn't matter. Just being together and having a chance to appreciate that did matter.

"That was excellent, Marta," thanked Robert after the meal. "Been a long time since I can recall having a breakfast that hearty."

"I aim to please, doctor," smiled the servant. "Not easy to achieve though, when your mistress is a spoilt little girl who lives life so recklessly."

"I resent that!" protested Tessa, her mouth wide open in playful shock. Robert smiled and let loose a little laugh as Marta added jokingly, "You would. You have the luxury of that option."

Turning to Robert, Tessa simply smiled, "Please excuse Marta, Doctor. She's always been this opinionated."

"I resent that," protested Marta as she started to clear the dishes away. Robert couldn't help but smile as he saw Tessa rise up to help her servant. The doctor had always known that Tessa treated Marta more like a mother than anything else but to see them both joke and smile at each other like this made him realise the full extent on what he'd missed out on.

After the dishes had been washed and dried, Marta gathered a basket and some money to head off into town.

"I'll be back in a few hours," informed Marta. "I'm sure you could both appreciate the time alone together."

Neither Tessa or Robert showed their anxiety as the aristocrat said, "Okay, Marta. Take care."

"Goodbye, Doctor."

"Senorita," nodded Helm.

Both of them waited until Marta had gotten on the horse carriage and rode away from the hacienda. When the Gypsy was out of sight, Tessa and Robert turned to face each other, knowing that now was the time.

"So…" began Robert, exhaling a breath of tension.

"So…" repeated Tessa, mirroring the doctor's reactions…"shall we go inside?"

They both simultaneously turned to the door, entered the house and made their way to the living room. The inevitable conversation was finally going to happen and there would be no more secrets to hide.

Tessa and Robert had spent the first few minutes shyly looking away from the other. Both the doctor and the aristocrat didn't know how to start.

Inevitably, a sighing Tessa came in with, "Why are you always such a fish out of water when it comes to women?"

Robert smirked back, "Why do you always waste my time when you're not wearing that mask?"

Tessa stared at the doctor long and hard before allowing an innocent smile to spread.

"Because it amuses me. And because it helps you break out of your shell. And because it gives you a much-needed epiphany. And most of all…because sometimes I think it's the best way to help you."

"To help me with what?"

"To help you see things. And to help you heal."

Robert gazed deep into Tessa's eyes. His earlier smirk had now subsided into an expression of mesmerised appreciation.

"You know…" began Doctor Helm, "you really have surprised me. Both of you have. When I first came to Santa Helena and we squabbled over that apple, I thought you were nothing more than a spoilt aristocrat."

"And I thought you were nothing more than a pompous tarantula who thought himself above everyone and everything. Guess we surprised each other. You know, for a man who claims he doesn't judge, you really are the most judgemental person I've ever met."

"And you're very much a spoilt little girl. You have everything you could ever want or need in life. Money, land, power, servants, happiness, and yet there's no need for you to risk your life. It's obviously much more than thrill-seeking. So why did you do it? Why did you choose to become the Queen of Swords?"

Tessa looked down at the table in deep pain for a few seconds. When she looked back up at Robert, her eyes were overcome with great sadness and loss.

"Because of a great, honourable man called Don Raphael Alvarado."

Doctor Helm's eyes narrowed in focus. That name was well known in Santa Helena, and over time, he'd come to realise what it meant.

"Your father?"

"I was born in Santa Helena. And sent to live in Madrid by my father when I was seven. Marta raised me and my three cousins. She taught me how to use my fists in a fight. And yes, I was a little monster, always fighting over the last biscuit. I think Marta taught me how to properly stand up for myself so I'd have a more positive means of venting my frustration and learning when it was right and when it was wrong to punch someone in the mouth."

"She obviously did a good job," remarked the doctor. Tessa understood what he meant and laughed. She then continued solemnly, "I didn't choose to walk on this path myself. It was chosen for me."

"You don't really believe in fate and destiny, do you?" Robert asked cynically.

"Is that really any different from believing in God?"

"So what happened exactly? Was it to avenge your father's murder?"

Tessa exhaled painfully, "I loved my father. I didn't see him that often as I grew up in Madrid. Most of the time he was in California, doing everything he could to help the people. But the times I did see him…were the best times of my life. My mama's passing only drew us closer together. We played, then we talked. He took me riding, he asked how I was doing at school, I asked how things were back home, I showed him my new sweetheart…

"It meant everything to me when he looked at me with great fondness, to see how much I'd grown and matured, to see how capable I'd become. When I undertook the fencing lessons, I didn't tell him because I thought he'd try to stop me from fear of getting hurt. I wanted to learn swordplay to show all the boys that I could do it just as well as they could, if not better. And I loved it, the clash of steel, the elegance of battle…it gave me such joy to do it. Cos' let's face it…everything else in aristocratic life was just so boring.

Doctor Helm let out a small laugh.

"I hadn't seen my father in five years," Tessa continued. "I was really looking forward to seeing him. Then Marta gave me the letter telling me he'd died in a riding accident. It was like my whole world had come crashing down at that point. My father was truly my whole world. In the times we were together, he taught me so much, he showed me so much…and I didn't know who I was without him."

"Did you…did you suspect that it was murder when you got the news?" asked Robert. Tessa wiped away a tear before shaking her head.

"It didn't matter to me then. I just knew that I had to go home. I couldn't live life shielded from the world. I had to face it. I had to follow in his footsteps, carry on in his place."

Getting up out of her seat, Tessa took the doctor's hand and ushered him to follow her.

"There's so much I need to show you."

They stepped outside, hand-in-hand, as Tessa took Robert for a walk around the hacienda and the gardens. To Robert, there were as he'd always seen them, beautiful and vibrant, rich and well-kept, truly the equivalent of Heaven on Earth.

"Magnificent, isn't it?" the aristocrat asked.

"Truly," nodded the doctor. "But I get the impression you're about to tell me it wasn't always so."

"Ever since day one…I knew I would have a fight on my hands. The first person I encountered was Carlos, my father's manservant. He tried to rob me simply because he was desperate. He couldn't feed his family anymore. I tried to help him, give him money…"

Suddenly they stopped walking as Robert noticed a cold venom start to eclipse Tessa.

"And that was when I met the son-of-a-bitch called Captain Marcus Grisham for the first time."

Robert looked at Tessa with sympathetic eyes, realising that whatever had scarred her still stayed with her to this day. He remained respectfully silent for a few seconds before gently enquiring, "What happened?"

"He shot him, gave me the money back, then he and his peacocks escorted me and Marta to here. It was all completely ruined and destroyed. Montoya had the nerve to 'loan' me my own house and let me cry in my mother's beautiful garden that he'd left to rot. All the house and belongings had been trashed, the money had been taken by the state…then Montoya executed Carlos and left his family even more in despair. Right before my eyes."

The doctor blinked in horror over the revelation, as he eyed Tessa up and down apologetically.

"I…I didn't know," was all he could offer.

"Well…" said the noblewoman as she turned to him with eyes that exposed all the pain and suffering she had quelled so well, "now you do."

They carried on walking through the gardens as Tessa guided Robert to the cliff overlooking the ocean.

"I saw Montoya oppressing and butchering the people, while he stood all smug and got fat and rich. He and Grisham said my father died in a riding accident, but I knew that was far from true. Marta told me through the cards, Carlos' widow Rubia and Don Gaspar implied murder but were too scared to say anything, and I knew my father was not the man who would die from a simple accident. Then Grisham proposed marriage, no doubt because Montoya wanted to control my father's land so badly."

"So that's why you became the Queen?" asked Robert incredulous. "Because you felt responsible for everything spiralling out of control and had to do something?"

"There was no one else, Robert. There was no one else. You fought Napoleon, you fought for your King and Country. You fought for peace. Surely you can understand why I had to make a stand."

"Once upon a time I would've said 'yes' without any hesitation, Senorita," sighed the doctor, as the suppressed, unwelcome memories of the bloody war flashed through his mind. "But as I once told you, it all became a blur. There were no friends and enemies for me. No good or evil. Only blood and death."

"But still a man who had to be stopped!" protested Tessa. "He would've carried on murdering and devastating if he hadn't been! How many lives did Napoleon destroy? TOO many. He's left scars all over a world that's still trying to heal itself. So many innocent lives either forever ruined or struggling to rebuild. If that maniac hadn't been defeated, it would've been the beginning of the end for us all. I truly believe that. And it's the same with Montoya and every other animal who thinks they can do whatever the hell they want."

Robert contemplated this long and hard before sighing again, "You're right. You made me realise that a long time ago. But I still believe that violence only begets more violence. Look at all the escalation fighting Napoleon brought upon mankind before the war finally ceased. And think about the escalation that's been brought on by you."

They both stopped again as Tessa angrily replied, "By me?"

"Tessa, before you told me who you were," explained Doctor Helm calmingly, "I could understand - at least in part - why you embarked on your crusade. And you've changed so much of Santa Helena for the better. I love you for that but it's not come without consequences. Montoya's become more determined than ever to kill you and bring ruin to the people, all because of his obsession with you. Although you've achieved so much, it's also caused you great pain, I'll bet. And I say that because that's exactly what happened to me."

The noblewoman became lost in deep reflection. So many great victories she had won, yet also so many great defeats she had suffered which still stayed with her to this day. The manipulation and deaths of Antonio and her godfather Don Frederico and the painful loss of childhood friend Ramon, who was forced to flee Santa Helena.

And the nightmare incident with Raul…

All that negativity still haunted Tessa's dreams more times than she dared to count. Lingering scars that could never ever heal, no matter how much of a brave face she sported.

Looking back up to Robert, she nodded, "I know. And there are times when I wonder why I even bother. When I'm still no closer to finding my father's killers and bringing them to justice. After over a year and a half, after all this hard work, after so much loss. And when I get like that…I come here. To help remind myself."

They resumed walking a little further until they were right on top of the cliff.

Right in front of the grave of Don Raphael Alvarado.

Tessa let go of Robert's hand and walked up to the gravestone. She kissed her own hand and then placed it affectionately on top of the cold but beautiful marble.

"He came to me one night," explained Tessa as Robert walked up to join her. "It was the strangest dream I ever had."

Tessa smiled in fond remembrance, looking out to sea as she carried on, "He was right here, Robert. Where you stand now. It just felt so real, him standing there, just as I remembered him, so proud and honourable, so loving and compassionate. He took a sip from a wine called 'Santa Rita', calling it 'liquid gold'. He caressed my cheek and told me that I should do nothing. Then he pointed me to the beach."

They both looked to the shoreline, where Tessa had ridden so many times as the Queen, and Robert had likewise seen her ride.

"That's when I saw myself riding for the first time."

A confused Doctor Helm looked to Tessa, trying to grasp the bizarre concept.

"You mean as the Queen," he soon realised.

"He said that it was his Avenging Angel. Who would see his killers punished. And that justice would be done. Then I woke up, and told Marta about the dream. She already knew. She foretold it and placed the card in front of me to pick up."

Tessa then showed Robert her trademark Queen of Swords card.

"My destiny," she explained.

"Did you honestly think that it was all preordained for you?" asked the doctor, caught between scepticism and amazement.

"Why do you doubt the paranormal, Robert?" questioned Tessa, greatly confused. "I mean you're not an atheist. You believe that God put us on this Earth. That only he has the power of life and death. So you must believe in events that go beyond our way of understanding."

Now it was Robert's turn to reflect back on events that he could never ever forget. Shortly after his arrival to Santa Helena, Montoya had arranged a welcoming party in his honour. He could recall the night had been mostly tedious, with aristocrats strutting around. Parties had never been Robert's style and it had really irritated him with Montoya singing his praises like he was his new best friend.

Then he saw Montoya ask all the ladies to step forward to let the doctor examine them, remarking that one of them must be hurt. Marta stepped forward because she'd cut her hand with broken glass, all to save an injured Tessa from having her secret identity unearthed by the colonel.

Then as the doctor bandaged Marta's hand, she took his own hands and saw a psychic vision of Robert fighting furiously in battle, firing shots, clashing swords, taking lives and staining his hands with blood. Marta's remark about Helm's hands not being those of a doctor due to so much blood and death had rattled him to the core. How could Marta possibly have known something like that?

And then of course, there was the incident with the Shaman Churi, who had risked his life to return the beautiful gold death mask to his deceased father, whose spirit would die forever if the mask was not returned. Robert could remember saying that all men were flesh and blood and when they died they died. Churi had called his bluff, saying, "You know this is false. But you still tremble. Why?"

Why indeed?

Robert sighed in anxiety before looking to Tessa, who was still awaiting an answer.

"It's not that I don't doubt the supernatural, Tessa," he explained. "I tend to dismiss the unknown because it scares me. What I've done…was I really in control of any of that? If I was, it makes it easier for me to accept the blood on my hands. It can be explained rationally. Well…as rationally as death can be explained. I've always believed in stuff that's plausible. Fearing Judgement Day is bad enough. But if there's so much more to the world then what's conceivable…well, all humans are naturally scared of what they don't understand. Because it's most likely going to be the worst thing they'll ever encounter. And the list of sins I've racked up…that means a great big comeuppance will be coming my way."

"Robert, that's not even close to being true," dismissed the noblewoman, caressing his cheek. "Once upon a time, I didn't understand you, you didn't understand me. That doesn't mean we feared each other."

Doctor Helm almost looked ashamed as he chose to confess, "There were times when I did honestly fear you. After circumstances brought us together, I thought I knew you. Then I saw you kill for the first time."

Tessa's expression changed to one of frustration, then torment and finally acceptance. The incident where they broke into Montoya's office and were confronted by a soldier repeated itself in her mind. She didn't say anything to defend herself. She just let Robert carry on.

"I know you did it to save me," he said. "That soldier was going to kill me. If he wasn't then he would've identified me and I would've been hanged for trying to help Churi. But the fact that I didn't know you were willing to kill…it made me realise that I didn't know you as well as I thought. And that was the unknown turning out to be worse-case scenario. And that's what made me so scared and angry. Because I had no control over it. And I couldn't bear to see you - a symbol of hope and justice…a true godsend - become like them."

"I still remember the faces of those that I've killed," replied Tessa, refusing to let the discussion intensify into full-out argument. "I try to avoid that as much as possible, I swear to God. But I'm not a murderer. I've killed only to save lives. Ramon's, yours, Kami's…and my own, in self-defence. I'm not saying it's right. But there are evil people in the world, people who don't care, unlike me or you. Death isn't what we live for, Robert. We live and we fight to save lives and make sure the rest of the world doesn't lose their innocence. And you should know that I only kill when there's no other choice. It's compassion that sets us apart from those who live for nothing but death. Like Montoya, Grisham…or El Serpiente."

The doctor grimaced over that name. The name of the bandit whose life he had once saved from a serious injury inflicted by the Queen. The man who resumed murdering and pillaging, with Helm refusing to betray him due to the oath he had sworn. The Queen had been disgusted by the doctor's attitude and in the end, Robert had thrown a knife through the Serpent's heart to save the Queen.

"Now that you mention it, you're right," said Tessa, as they turned away from Don Alvarado's grave to walk back to the hacienda, "I suppose I was frightened of you also. I thought I knew you, and then you took the side of a notorious criminal. It scared me that you thought you could redeem someone like that. That that animal deserved the same respect and courtesy as any of the innocent."

"You're right," nodded Robert solemnly, taking her hand. "But it's as you said, Tessa. Compassion is what separates people like us from people like them. Even it clouds your judgement, we have to be seen to making a stand against what's wrong. Even if we do sometimes go about it the wrong way."

Both felt the refreshing summer breeze cleanse them as they made their way down to ground level. Tessa and Robert could still relive all the mistakes they'd both made in their lives and careers. But neither were dwelling on their sins and mistakes. Thanks to the sun shining down on them, they were now realising that they should be proud.

"The Queen's brought out the best in you, Doctor," remarked Tessa. "She's helped you to open up, to move on. And to help make a real difference to the people."

"My exact words to you, Senorita," replied Robert. "You've learned to experience what other, less fortunate souls have endured. And it's made you less judgemental and more understanding and supportive."

The two were still walking when the doctor began to snort a laugh and was trying hard not to erupt into full-blown hysterics and he didn't quite succeed. Tessa stopped to give Robert a quizzical look, and soon found herself smiling as well.

"What's so funny?" She was happy to see Robert laugh out loud for the first time ever since they first met.

Settling down, Robert explained, "God, I am such an arrogant idiot, aren't I? I'm a former soldier, a military spy no less, and I am such an idiot. I always wondered so much why this spoilt little rich girl, Tessa Alvarado, used to bother me at the most inconvenient times. Why does she want to know how the fever works and how long it will take to make a cure? Why is she bothering me with false chest pains and telling me about Ramon, who's just lost his father and wanting to avenge his death? Why does she want to volunteer to be a nurse? Why is she crediting me with the idea of taking Kami into her home? Why is she checking on Vera while I'm busy seeing a patient?

"I'm a former spy. I should've been able to piece together that you were trying to save Marta, trying to get me to realise I was in the wrong for not opening up about my experiences. Trying to save Kami from Montoya's influence, trying to uncover why Vera was in such a deep coma…"

Robert chuckled in disbelief as he shook his head and looked up to the sky.

"God, I'm such an arrogant idiot, aren't I?"

"You shouldn't be too hard on yourself, Doctor," smirked Tessa. "Like I said, it helped you. And it amused me. And let's face it…I'm such a good actress."

"That you are," he nodded in full agreement. He once again gazed deep into those beautiful brown eyes of Tessa's, caressing her cheek and sighed, "You really are such an amazing woman, Tessa Alvarado. The most amazing woman I've ever met."

Tessa smiled warmly back at the doctor and took his hand to return the affection.

"Is that why you chose me over Camilla?" she asked warily. Robert was surprised by the sudden change in Tessa's tone.

"Were you jealous of her?"

"A little. She was truly a fine woman. I wanted to help her, and Agatha and Jeffery from that animal Wentworth. But when you told me she was once going to be your wife, when she told me that she didn't want to lose you again…"

Feeling ashamed, Tessa looked away from Robert, who gently turned her attention back into his eyes.

"You knew at that point that you had genuine feelings for me. And you were scared to admit them."

Tessa simply nodded.

"I was like that, too. It was such a shock to see Camilla again after the war. When I came to Santa Helena, I'd expected a completely fresh start altogether. When I saw her again…I thought for a moment it would be possible to recapture everything that we'd lost. But after I got over the shock…I knew Montoya would never permit our love. Wentworth would stop at nothing to harm her. And I'd changed so much since then. So had she. I had a responsibility to the people, and she had a responsibility to Agatha and Jeffery. They could at last see the world in happiness and freedom."

"So that's why you didn't go with her? Because you both felt you'd moved on? Camilla said…"

"She understood," explained Robert. "And she felt the same. She had the same epiphany that I did. And she gave the Queen her blessing."

Tessa's eyes nearly bugged out when she heard that.

"Camilla…gave me her blessing?" she exclaimed.

"You saved her life, you helped free Agatha and Jeffery, you did everything to reunite us and keep us together. And you stopped Wentworth. You earned her respect and admiration, and most importantly her trust."

Lost again in faraway remembrance, Robert furthered, "Before we parted ways, she told me she knew that things had changed forever between us. And they could never be the same. And she accepted that, as I did. When I told her of our friendship, she knew it would blossom to mean so much more one day. And she couldn't be happier for me. Or for you. Like you said, she's a fine woman."

Tessa was overwhelmed by gratitude. She now felt like she owed Camilla so much more than she'd given her all those months ago.

"Even more so than I gave her credit for," sighed the aristocrat. "I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything, Tessa. We moved on. Thanks to you. And it was because of you that I was able to understand and accept the Queen so much better. As well as Senorita Alvarado. I saw her go out of her way to help Andreo from those monstrous step-parents of his. I saw her take a lost samurai into her home to help her heal from the loss of her master. To step in between your uncle and Don Ricardo to stop them from killing each other, to stop Montoya from wrongly sentencing an innocent man…and then I saw you all alone, weeping over the body of the man you once loved."

Tessa grimaced in emotional agony when Robert said that. The doctor immediately regretted his badly chosen words and blurted out with, "I'm…I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…"

"It's okay, it's okay," dismissed the young Alvarado, trying to fight away the tears. Doctor Helm looked down in remorse and then offered a sympathetic hug to Tessa.

"What was his name again?"

Tessa separated from Robert and sighed in despair, "Antonio." Her sadness once again gave way to anger as she explained, "I didn't expect to see him again after he left to fight in the war. After I left to return home. And when we got back together, it was just like a fairy tale. Then we'd live happily ever after.

"Then Montoya hired him to kill me. Fed him all the usual repertoire of lies."

The bitterness in Tessa was very uncharacteristic and unnerved the doctor slightly.

"Did you end up fighting him?" Robert asked rhetorically.

"Yes. And I hated every moment of it. He ripped my mask off, found out who I was. Then he robbed Montoya and tried to take me and the gold back to Spain. I was so angry with him, but more so with Montoya for what he made him into."

"But he didn't betray you in the end," Robert pointed out.

"No. He offered to reveal my secret for gold, but he was merely lulling Montoya into a false sense of security. He rode his steed to kill the colonel, to protect me. I ran to stop him…and Grisham pulled the trigger on him. Right before my eyes."

Tessa's eyes scrunched up tight to try and prevent the tears from escaping. The rest of her face contorted into an expression of pain and despair. Robert held his hand over his chest, completely at a loss as to what words he could possibly offer. He'd experienced first-hand the savagery and manipulations of Montoya and Grisham too many times. But now he was learning the full extent of their evil.

And it sickened him so much.

"I can't imagine what you've gone through," said Robert shaking his head sympathetically. "I just don't know what to say…"

"You don't have to say anything," dismissed Tessa, reasserting herself. "You've suffered so you can understand. Neither Montoya or Grisham know what suffering is. Because they've never experienced it. They just see it as a weapon to inflict it on others for their own amusement and profit. Like the cowards that they are. That's why they tried to take Don Horatio's gold for themselves. That's why they killed my father, to take his land and fortune, I'm sure of it. That's why they framed an innocent man in Don Ricardo for his murder, and manipulated my uncle. They nearly killed them both, Robert. And caused me so much pain, as well as everyone and everything I hold dear. That's why I have to stop them."

"You suspect they had a hand in your father's murder? But you don't know who pulled the trigger?"

"I know the reasons. I know how they work. I've uncovered all the important things…except who exactly killed my father. Nearly uncovered the truth once or twice…but haven't been able to get anywhere beyond the near-misses."

Taking Robert's hand again, Tessa led back inside to the hacienda.

"There's one last thing you need to see."

Now in the wine cellar, Tessa walked up to the shelf and reached for the bottle. She explained to the confused Robert, "Santa Rita. Liquid gold." Tugging hard at the bottle, she made the whole shelf door swing open to reveal the amazing sight that was hidden behind.

Robert stood frozen with his mouth wide open in awe. The smiling Tessa grinned, "I know. That was our reaction when we found it for the first time."

"And…and you found this in the middle of the night?" exclaimed the doctor as they ventured inside. The secret room had long been restored and Robert was entranced by all he was seeing. It was as beautiful as any other room in the house, if not more so. Decorated with all the most gorgeous trappings, regal rugs, paintings hung on walls, shelves, chests of drawers and trunks. There were armchairs, a wonderful chaise longue, silver candleholders for lighting and most importantly a mannequin sporting a spare outfit for the Queen.

"After your dream you found this?" gasped Robert, still scratching his head finding it so hard to fathom. "But…surely he must have left a clue elsewhere! Actually tangible and in the hacienda somewhere!"

"Nope. He didn't want to do anything to tip anybody off to this. My father had so many enemies. Montoya was top of the list. He had to keep it all out his hands. And not only his fortune…"

Tessa then walked over to a nearby table and knelt down to pull out a padlocked box from underneath. She unlocked it and the glistening gold inside beamed in front of Robert's eyes.

"The fortune of Don Horatio, a great friend of my father. Montoya killed him in a duel and plotted to take his gold, as I said earlier. My father kept it out of his hands and made a pact with Dons Miguel and Hidalgo to keep it safe. I was able to find out about it and save it."

"It's nearly empty now," noted Robert. "You've given it out in small doses to the people over the last year. No wonder Montoya wanted that tax increase so badly."

Tessa smiled as she locked the trunk and put it away. "Yet another reason why I had to stop him. Plus, it was one of the many times I enjoyed seeing the look on his face."

"All these treasures…all these secrets…" Robert looked around him one more time before refocusing his attention to Tessa, who rose to face him.

"Now you know why I do what I do. And…that was why, after Grisham shot me and you saved me, I chose to finally tell you. You told me so much, you trusted me so much, Robert, that I…"

Tessa sighed painfully as her eyes began to well up again. Robert took her closer to him in consolation.

"You more than deserved the same courtesy that you showed me," she explained. "I'd kept things from you for so long, because I didn't know who to trust other than Marta. And you told me your secrets. So now it's time for me to tell you mine. Way past time…for me to start trusting you completely. And to let you know…how I truly feel about you."

Robert stared at Tessa and leant his head forward against hers. They embraced tightly, more determined than ever to hold on to each other forever. They separated slightly and a hesitant Tessa dared to ask, "Do you hate me for lying to you for so long?"

Without any hesitation whatsoever, Robert affirmatively shook his head.

"Not at all. I can understand why you did. If little Tessa Alvarado made a stand against Montoya…I know it wouldn't just be me that would be crushed. I think the whole town would be as well. The things you've done as the Queen…they're truly remarkable. And it's the best way you can operate."

He then smiled, in somewhat grudging acceptance, "As I'm sure your father told you."

"But here's the thing," warned the aristocrat, not wanting to joke around. "There are people who want me dead."

"I will never betray you to Montoya, Grisham or any other murdering bastard," vowed the doctor, equally serious. "I swear it."

"And it's not just you that's in danger. It's Marta. Lionel, Maria, their daughter…even Vera and Don Gaspar would be killed if the truth came out."

"Vera and Gaspar don't know your secret."

"It doesn't matter. Montoya will suspect and execute them regardless."

"How does Marta feel about all this?" Robert chose to ask. "Is she…happy that you're out risking your life?"

"She worries," sighed Tessa, painfully remembering the times when she'd come home injured to see Marta cry, thinking she was dead. "She wishes she could fight alongside with me. And she never goes to sleep unless I'm back home safe."

Robert nodded his understanding, before commenting, "Then you're both very lucky. You have each other to help one another through. And you clearly love each other."

"Yeah," nodded Tessa, shedding a thankful tear. "She's proud of me. And I could not have faced life without her. Marta's so much more than a servant, so much more than a friend…she's family. As are you now."

Robert was genuinely touched by that.

"She won't have to worry as much now," the doctor nodded. "Not with me or the Sergeant around. I will always be here for you. As I know you'll be here for me."

Tessa smiled, "I love you, Robert Helm."

"And I love you…Maria Theresa Alvarado. The Queen of Swords."

They drew each other closer, tightly embracing one another, rubbing their hands along their respective bodies…as they finally fulfilled their destiny.

The passionate kiss between two soulmates.

Later that night, the people slept in Santa Helena under a blanket of starry peaceful sky. Soldiers were just patrolling aimlessly, the injured, bitter and voiceless Grisham was once again drowning his troubles and failures with Vera in bed, and Montoya was seething and plotting over a meal to himself, to be followed by drink, reading and more plotting. Then sleep and his routine dreams of the Queen's head on a spike. After humiliating and torturing her in public, of course. Before putting her out of her misery with a glorious execution.

And at the Alvarado Hacienda, the Queen of Swords stood in the living room in front of Don Raphael Alvarado's portrait. Assembled behind the Queen was her family, having started out so small, now grown in numbers, and doubtless set to become stronger. Her loyal friend and servant Marta, the man she loved Doctor Robert Helm, her new friend and ally Sergeant Lionel Williams and his wife, the fiercely brave and capable Maria…were now all together and rallied behind her; their friend, their leader…their champion.

"There's still so much wrong here, Papa," said the Queen. "Even after one year. Montoya's still in power, injustice still runs wild despite my efforts. But that is all changing now. I'm no longer one person."

Turning to her loyal subjects, the Queen furthered, "We are now five. On this night, we begin our pledge. We don't just fight for the memory of a great honourable man. We fight for the memory of all those who have suffered and died at Montoya's hands. We fight for innocence, justice, peace and happiness. We fight for the people, each other…and a Santa Helena free from corruption and fear."

Tessa then stepped forward in-between Marta and Robert, holding their hands. Robert then held Maria's hand, who then took the hand of Lionel, who in turn took Marta's hand. Now they had formed a circle, their heads lowered and eyes closed. All of them united in love and strength.

The warm, radiant burning of the fire had started small but had grown stronger. And was now burning more brightly than ever.

"We don't just fight for the memory of a great honourable man," repeated the Queen.

"We fight for the memory of all those who have suffered and died at Montoya's hands," continued Marta.

"We fight for innocence, justice, peace and happiness," vowed Lionel.

"We fight for the people, each other…" came in Maria.

"And a Santa Helena free from corruption and fear," finished Robert.

After a short silence, the Queen then spoke again with a solemn voice and measured determination.

"We will save all we love. We will see justice done. We promise."

And as the optimistic fires burned brightly and strongly, the image of Don Raphael Alvarado hung above the fireplace, watching over his Avenging Angel and her family.

And doubtless…he was very proud.

"Never alone…my little angel. She will see justice is done."