Alejandro had been distracted, and irritable. A lady was lying perhaps mortally injured while he had managed to do nothing! Even Diego had shown himself a man….and although he now realised who his son really was, it was still maddening that he had stood back with the ladies. Just like an old man. He could have stood up for his son, he could have demanded Francisco back down, he even could have challenged the man to a duel. He should have done all those things.
Alejandro sat by the bedside of the young woman that perhaps had saved all their lives. Perhaps at the expense of her own, the doctor had not been sure. She had the stubborn pride that all the de la Vegas seemed to have in one form or another. A pride that rose most prominently when backed into a corner… The man smiled slightly, remembering his son's reaction. So unlike his normal response to aggression. Diego had lost his temper and with it all self-control. It was lucky the church had been mostly clear of witnesses.
Alejandro knew his son had gone into a slight shock as soon as the gun was first pointed towards Victoria. He had known it when Diego's eyes glazed over. The feeling of powerlessness would have been so confronting. Diego had had the option of changing into Zorro whenever the sense of weakness had gotten too much, but that had not been an option that day. No wonder hysterics had overtaken the man at the end. It had been momentary and Alejandro was proud of the way his son mastered his emotions so quickly. A lesser man may have collapsed. The Diego he had thought his son was certainly would have.
Diego. He had hurt his son, as usual. Diego was frustrated. He should have at least heard him out, he should have at least let him rant and rave and get it out of his system. He would have to go and talk to him shortly. Juan had told him that Diego had flown out of the house into the stables, saddling Esperanza. He would let his son ride out his rage, and when he returned, Alejandro would have a wise and fatherly chat. They could bring forward the wedding, perhaps. Social convention was a little stupid after all.
Xyla slept on. The doctor came to visit and examined her again. She was healing but very weak. The amount of blood she had lost should have killed her. The doctor was amazed she hadn't been killed instantly.
She was such a light and fragile looking thing. As pretty as a butterfly, Alejandro mused, surprising himself. He was fifteen years older than her, and too old to be seeing beauty in women anyway. And despite that, he had enough trouble with Diego and his unpredictable lifestyle. She had the de la Vega fire and passionate anger, or else she wouldn't be shooting people in the head.
Alejandro remembered his Elena. She had been fiery and quick to anger. Quick also to forgive, he remembered with a smile. But they had grown together, raised a son together. This woman was young enough to bear more children, she should be finding another husband, and doing so. Not lying broken in a guest bedroom. She should have a young man like Diego fussing over her, not an old man like him. No one asked about her, no one really seemed to care that she was maybe dying. She had no one. No one except him.
It was getting dark and Maria entered the room after knocking to call him in to dinner. He looked up at her, surprised at the hour. Diego must be avoiding him, and he would have to approach him at the table. He was surprised at Diego's coldness. He was like his mother. Diego forgave him quickly and easily, most of the time. It was very unlike his son to purposefully isolate himself, especially these days.
Alejandro told Maria he would be there shortly, and made his way to the stables. Perhaps Diego was grooming Esperanza? Juan looked up from the saddle he was polishing.
"Juan, where is Esperanza? I don't see her in the stable," Alejandro said with a little concern in his voice. Where was Diego? "Have you seen Diego?"
"I've been doing chores all day, in the stables. I haven't seen him come in."
Thoughts of disaster flew around in Alejandro's head. Even an expert horseman could fall, as Zorro had demonstrated in the past. Worry must have shown on his face, because Juan reacted.
"Patron, we will raise a search party. We will find him. You know how Diego is. So clumsy and careless on horses these days… But I would have thought the mare would have returned."
"The horse herself may have fallen." Alejandro's mind was swirling with serious considerations now. It didn't look good. Diego had been in such a mood. Riding fast and angry, perhaps he had no thought for safety? "Maybe we should work out where he went, and then we would have a better method of finding him?"
"Maria mentioned seeing him with Victoria at the Tavern earlier today. He seemed a little distracted, she said."
"All that business with the wedding…" What was going on here? Worry was slowly turning to irritation. "I'll go to the Tavern and talk with her. Diego would have told her where he was going after leaving her, surely?"
Maria raced in, leading Pilar with her. Alejandro glanced at her, and stared. The woman would normally be in the Tavern serving and cooking at this time of night. Why was she here?
"The senorita….Don Alejandro. She didn't return….It is so unlike her…."
"Victoria is missing? Did you see Diego?"
"Si, Don Diego took her on a picnic or something, but they never came back," Pilar said wringing her hands. Victoria had always taken her work seriously. She always put it first.
"Another kidnapping, Patron?"
"Perhaps, but the motive is gone, unless some bandits overtook them." Alejandro thought Diego would be able to overpower simple bandits. "Perhaps we need to wait. If the horses were lamed, maybe they need to walk…"
"But alone together….Don Alejandro…. What will people say?"
Alejandro thought about it for a moment. What was the last thing they had talked about? Marriage to Victoria? What would he have done if he had been placed in that situation by his father at that age? Think like a young caballero, Alejandro told himself. He knew exactly what he would have done. He would have run away with Elena as far away as possible, and married her. He might have eloped, but still there was the possibility of kidnap. A possibility that was getting less and less probable every moment.
"We will send a search party out in the morning. If they are not married right now, they will be married as soon as they return. The padre visits every morning. He can officiate in my library if necessary."
Pilar turned white, and then red as she thought about the woman she had always looked on as a daughter. She felt guilty. She had told her to go and have a good time. Maria led her friend away, shaking her head at the folly of the young. She told her friend that she had no idea Diego was capable of such wildness.
I hope you are well, Diego and not at the bottom of a ravine, but somehow I doubt that. You will certainly have words with me on your return. Alejandro's anger was building, especially after the worries of everyone involved. He could understand the reasoning, but the action was inexcusable…at least for a while.
The next morning, Alejandro was almost beside himself with worry. Alejandro would have thought Diego would have sent some word about what he was planning, what he was doing. Thoughts of both the young people at the hands of murderers and cut throats started tugging at his heart again, and he saddled a horse and went out. Determined to find his son, all thoughts of anger disappeared.
Alejandro rode out, and a few hours later, he heard something. A woman's laughter and a serious sounding man. The sounds drifted in the early morning air, and when he recognised them, he froze. So they were alright, and without a care in the world, it seemed. So much for his fears…
Diego saw him first. Riding quickly, he approached the older man. Stopping just within arm's reach he noticed his father's reddening face, and he knew he was in trouble. Victoria hung back; suddenly aware of what the older man would have thought.
"Father, I am sorry….I can explain…."
"No explanation can excuse what you have done."
Icy anger, Diego realised. His father was finally totally ashamed of him. He glanced at Victoria, holding her horse back.
"Yes, no excuses, father. I am not excusing what I have done. I am sorry for shaming you, but I am not sorry for marrying the woman I love…"
"Good. At least that is something I can be grateful for…" Alejandro's stare was cold, and it made Diego's blood run cold. But the older man looked away for a moment, the horse prancing with irritation for being held still for so long. "I am not ashamed, Diego. Just disappointed…"
Somehow that felt worse, Diego thought.
"Is Xyla…?" Diego really felt ashamed and selfish. The woman might have died, and his father would have had to face that alone, without his support. He had chosen the worst possible moment to rebel, hadn't he? Alejandro looked at his son, and was a little impressed to see the guilt and shame fill Diego's face, and turn his eyes serious.
"She is as she has been."
"Don Alejandro," Victoria said, riding up to the men. They seemed to be speaking coldly to each other, but not shouting. Somehow that felt worse, frightening. She looked ashamed as well.
"My dear, I hear congratulations are in order," Alejandro managed to say. Warmth filled his heart and his eyes. A smile flickered across his face. She was a delightful woman, and he was glad she was his daughter in law, at last. A woman worthy of his son, worthy of Zorro. "Welcome to this family, my dear."
Diego felt his horse fidget under him, and relaxed slightly at the warmth in his father's voice. Alejandro hadn't forgiven him, but in time he would.
"Next time sending word would be appropriate, Diego…" Alejandro said, without really thinking. As he said it, he smiled despite himself. As if his son would elope again anytime soon… Diego sat in the saddle, and didn't smile.
"I thought something might have happened to you," Alejandro said, without looking at his son. "Either Diego took a tumble, or Zorro took a bullet. Think about this from my point of view…"
Diego nodded, and swallowed. He could hardly imagine the depths of horror he might have put his father through. His father reached out and patted his shoulder, in a show of forgiveness. "I'm glad you're alright, my son. Your choice of timing is very bad, but your choice of wife is excellent. Come back to the hacienda and pack for your honeymoon."
"You want me to go on a honeymoon, while Xyla is still so ill?"
"You married. Your choice of timing, my son. There will be talk, but after a while, the pueblo will forget the scandal. You are a don. These things are expected."
"Not from Don Diego, senor," Victoria said with a sudden grin.
"No," Alejandro said, with a smile at Diego's discomfort. "Not from Diego, but then again, who knows what dons are capable of?" He remembered Pilar's reaction. "You have apologies to make as well, Victoria. Certain friends also feared for your life and, your reputation…"
It was Victoria's turn to blush. And Diego's to smile.