Chapter 10

The next morning Diego was very tired, but he had never felt so at ease with the world. He couldn't hide his smile when he thought of the previous evening. It had gotten very late, because they hadn't been able to part and stop kissing.

"You look tired, Diego, I thought you wanted to stay in Santa Paula for another day." Alejandro asked his son.

"I had finished by business there, so I returned yesterday."

"May I guess you didn't want to stay away longer from a certain tavern owner?" Alejandro teased him.

Diego smiled. "You are right, Father. And I have good news, Victoria has agreed to become my wife."

"My congratulations, Diego. It's good we will see more often at dinner again and you won't be spending all your time in the tavern anymore, but have you both here at the hacienda. So you and Victoria finally managed to work out your differences? I guess she knows now?"

Diego only stared at him. "Huh? Why? How?"

"So tell me Diego, why did you take Victoria to the Indians?"

Diego continued to stare at his father, confused by his reaction.

"Diego, you can no longer hide the truth from me. I know that you're Zorro."

"How did you find out?" Diego got back his speech.

"I knew it from the day I saw Felipe fight with the sword. I never believed for a second that he learned it from a book. The answer was one that could have come right from your mouth. And you accepted it too easily. There was only one person who could have taught Felipe fencing and that was Zorro. Their fencing styles were too similar. And with whom does Felipe spend all his time? With you! All the facts pointed directly to you and when I compared you to Zorro in built and figure I asked myself how I could have been so blind."

The question about the Indians wasn't the only one Diego had to answer during breakfast. His father had figured out a lot on his own, watching him and Felipe closely, but there was much he wanted to know about Zorro.

Finally Diego showed him the cave and left him with Felipe to answer his questions about his secret hideout while he excused himself to pick up Victoria for lunch.

Z Z Z

Diego checked for Victoria in the kitchen when he didn't see her in the main room. Victoria was busy giving her helpers orders for lunch time. Only when everything was taken care of would she have leisure to go to the de la Vega hacienda to celebrate her engagement with Diego. How would Alejandro react? He had always treated her well, but it was a difference to go there only as a guest or as a future member of the family. Would she be accepted, not only by him, but also by his peers? Would they look down on her because she was a working woman? She had never been so nervous and after they hadn't been able to part last night she lacked sleep.

"Victoria!" Diego smiled at her and confidently crossed the kitchen to meet her. Now that she knew, she would always see Zorro in him and never mistake him again for less than he was. "If you will excuse us for a minute," Diego addressed her helpers and took Victoria by the hand, leading her outside.

"How did it go with your father, Diego? What did he say?" Victoria asked anxiously. "Will he accept me?"

Diego laughed happily. "Don't worry about my father, Victoria. He knew already that I was Zorro and he is happy to have you as his future daughter-in-law. My father told me that he tried to make you change your mind about Zorro while I was in Monterey hoping we would get together again. And I was wondering why he was no longer complaining about the way I spent my time. I should have guessed that he knew then."

"Really?" Victoria couldn't believe it.

"Yes, and now I don't want you to worry anymore, querida." Diego swirled her around in his arms, lifting her face to the same height as his. "What are you up to, Diego?" she asked when he showed no inclinations to let down.

"This way I don't have to bend down to kiss you," he grinned. "You know my neck is a little stiff from last night. Or maybe I should put you on a box," he teased her.

"Don't you dare," she started to protest, but his kiss distracted her from anything she had wanted to say. Eventually he let her down only to be able to caress her with his freed hands.

"I see why you're spending the lunch time at the de la Vega hacienda, Victoria," Pilar interrupted them. "I guess congratulations are in order, Don Diego, Victoria."

Diego smiled. "You are right, Victoria has agreed to marry me, Pilar." They had to shake hands with her helpers and also the few guests who were already present for lunch.

Z Z Z

Alejandro expressed his happiness about their engagement by embracing Victoria and welcoming her into the family, erasing all doubts she wouldn't be accepted.

"Don't worry, Victoria," Alejandro assured her, "you will be accepted as the wife of a de la Vega and no one will look down on you. I have heard the talks of the other caballeros about you and most of them admire your spirit and courageousness. If they hadn't thought of you as a worthy bride for a caballero, they wouldn't have allowed their sons to court you with the help of the matchmaker."

Victoria had never thought about it that way and she felt greatly relieved. This was really a day for celebration and Alejandro had his mercy with them, allowing them time unattended to be in each others arms.

Z Z Z

Their engagement had been expected in the pueblo after all the time they had spent together recently. After Victoria had split up with Zorro, the way had been free for Diego to start courting her. With him Victoria had made a good catch, a rich caballero was a much better choice than an outlaw. They knew each other for years so a long engagement was dispensable and the wedding took place a month after their engagement.

Zorro never tried to reconcile with Victoria and didn't reappear again. The need for him ceded when the new governor sent new soldiers to enlarge the garrison to secure the area from bandits. The deputy governor who accompanied them took a close look at the alcalde's work and made clear that de Soto had to answer any breaking of the law directly to the governor. The alcalde had no other choice than to stick to the laws and stop the oppression of the citizens.

When Mexico gained control over California, de Soto preferred to return to Spain instead of submitting to Mexican rule. The new Mexican alcalde granted a Zorro a pardon and declared him a hero of the people.

The End