A/N: Thank you for reading all the way here. Thanks to my faithful reviewers LaCorelli and DietMJ. This chapter is quite long because that last episode is just too good – so many thoughts from so many perspectives. There is an Epilogue that will load soon. I have one more story up my sleeve before writing for 'real,' (and my chocolate season begins) Lightning Strikes Twice. It will load a couple days after the Epilogue. It's totally different than any other story I've done.
CHAPTER TEN – The Discovery
A couple nights later, Ynez continued to nurse Gilberto in the alcalde's quarters. Ynez knew her son would live. She almost thanked God for it, but couldn't quite bring herself to do so. She hadn't been inside a Church for well over thirty years. She dipped a cloth in water, then dabbed his forehead a bit. He was still feverish. She took the opportunity to review the litany.
"So when Diego was born just a few moments later, Alejandro de la Vega lifted him up and said, "This is my son! This is my heir."
"Why would he say such a cruel thing, Mother?" Gilberto was weak and in pain.
"You know why. You've heard it so many times before. How many times do you need to hear it?" Ynez rolled her eyes, but was very happy to repeat yet another lie. She couldn't remember what she had originally told him all those years ago. She'd told the story so many different ways.
"I need to hear it again." He held his hand out a moment. She took it. His voice was shaky. His resolve had weakened as he struggled to recover from his brush with 'death.' This was the worst injury he'd ever had. His face was 'branded' by that nefarious black bandit and his ribs were broken when he fell off the roof. Gilberto had quietly asked around. Zorro had never purposely scarred anyone's face like that before. Intense hatred boiled inside him for the black bandit.
In a strong, but patient tone, Ynez replied. "You were born first, but your legs were misshapen. I tried to tell them. It was nothing to worry about."
"But they didn't believe you." Gilberto rubbed his aching ribs, his voice almost sounded like he was ten again.
"No." Ynez chuckled sarcastically. "God forbid Don Alejandro should be ashamed of a deformed child bearing the de la Vega name. They were going to send you away to an institution that takes care of such children. That very night I took you away. I left Madrid so they'd never find us, and I brought you up as my own. Don't forget Diego." She put her arm around him as she sat on the edge of the bed and smiled.
"Oh I won't. When Alejandro is gasping his last breath on the ground, I'll rip out Diego's heart and show it to our loving father."
Ynez nodded in approval. Then, her revenge would at last be complete, and she would live in the luxury she'd always dreamed of, with servants attending her.
Two days later, Gilberto was ready to resume his duties. As he neared the office, he heard the voices of De Soto and Mendoza laughing. I think they will be surprised to see me. I told no one I was still alive. Mother guarded that secret for me.
He threw them out. The looks on their faces were priceless when they saw I was alive. And when they learned they only had one more day to live, even more.
Gilberto stood alone a moment. Ynez was listening in the outer office.
"Well done, my son! So you think this Zorro is in league with the de la Vegas?"
"He always rides out to defend them."
"Very well. First Zorro, then the de la Vegas. "
"Our plan has to be foolproof, Mother. That imbecile alcalde and his jester of a sergeant are totally incompetent. There cannot be any way for Zorro to escape. He has always learned of traps before, and usually succeeded in evading them. This time must be different. I'll do it myself, with only the help of one or two of my royal guardsmen. They won't talk." Gilberto and Ynez hatched their latest scheme in the alcalde's office.
"What do you suggest, my son? And what do you have in mind for the confrontation of the de la Vegas?" Ynez loved watching her son plan. He's been in this with me since the beginning. Her mind drifted back to when she first told him who his 'dragon' was…when Gilberto was only five. She smiled at the memory.
"For Zorro, I think a little surprise at Diablo Canyon, with a ruse of a truce might be in order…" They discussed the details for the trap, then Gilberto took one of his royal guardsmen with him to help place the explosives.
Diego and Felipe were fencing, testing Diego's sword arm, which started to bleed again. Felipe saw Diego make a face. Felipe always enjoyed it when Diego let him 'spar' with him. But now, even two-handed, Felipe could see Diego struggled. When Diego stopped in frustration, Felipe's enjoyment turned to concern and empathy.
Diego, sword in his left hand, swiped off some flower tops in a planter with two swipes, then threw Zorro's sword down in disgust. He grabbed his right arm with his left.
"Confoundedly useless! It's nowhere near healed!" Diego pulled his sleeve over to see the blood. It was the second time the wound had opened, although the first time hadn't bled through his jacket at the dance, only his shirt. Felipe's big brown eyes filled with sympathy.
"I'm sorry, Felipe. My anger distorts my judgment. Why do I harbor such animosity towards Risendo?"
Felipe signed something. Felipe knew Diego was extremely frustrated with the emissary. He could tell that there was something about the emissary that affected Diego in a way no other man ever had.
"The man is evil, no question – so poisoned by malice, there's none of the true man left."
They heard a horse approaching, looked beyond the garden and noticed Alejandro riding up. Diego gave quick instructions to Felipe.
"Hide the sword. I don't think anyone saw Zorro get hit, but there's no point in testing our luck."
Felipe put the sword near a tree and plants by a garden wall. He wondered how he could be of better help to Diego. He knew when Diego was frustrated. He would often cover it with sarcasm or recklessness. He hoped for sarcasm this time. He understood Diego needed to test his arm. He had tried to go easy on his mentor, but as they got into the match, Felipe forgot for a moment that Diego was actually wounded, until he noticed telltale signs of weakness, and the blood.
As Alejandro rode through the gate, Diego put his jacket on over his bloody shirt, holding his arm slightly bent. "Father!"
"Diego! The strangest thing has happened! Risendo has offered Zorro a truce. He wants to meet him in Diablo Canyon at noon."
Felipe could tell Diego's mind was actively thinking and calculating. He looked skeptical. It's a trap, Diego, don't go. I fear if you do… "Strange indeed. I wonder if Zorro will go."
Alejandro was incredulous. "Why should he? I mean, it's obviously a trap." He dismounted and strode over.
"Obviously. But, if I were Zorro, I would go." Diego managed a slight smile and light tone to his voice.
"But – you're not." Alejandro playfully slapped Diego's right arm as he quickly walked by. Diego cringed, let out a breath, and slowly grabbed his arm. Felipe watched with empathy. He nodded to Felipe and they went inside.
In the cave, Felipe helped Diego remove his jacket and bloody-sleeved shirt, then cleaned the wound again. Diego clenched his teeth, looking the other way and said nothing until Felipe was nearly finished changing the bandage. He accidentally pulled the bandage strings a bit too tight.
"OW!" Diego cried out more in frustration and anger than pain. But Felipe could tell it hurt.
Felipe stopped and raised his hands in helplessness. The two string ends hung loose from the end of the bandage.
Felipe's eyes showed great sympathy towards Diego's pain. What can I do? I know it hurts, but I've got to make sure the bandage doesn't slip off. The wound looks terrible, so very inflamed. It's been opened twice already – by accident.
Felipe thought back to Zorro's various injuries, and to Diego's fairly recent broken leg. Without a doubt, the concussion was the worst. I was so afraid for his life. I dared not leave him, even though he tried to make me. The poison from Palomarez was also bad, but the 'butcher of the Yucatan campaign' was deceived into leading Zorro to the antedote. The snakebite, the poisoned water, and the sword cut while trying to help Hiroshi leave the territory – Felipe wasn't involved in those. Zorro was injured while he was away. By the time he returned, he was all right.
I only got involved with the Indian courage test after Zorro came home battered and bloody, but he was very lucky. No broken bones that time, only cuts, scrapes and bruises. They were all fairly superficial, but there were so many of them. Rather than clean them separately, I had him put cleansing herbs and solutions in a bath. None got infected, but he ached for days after that.
He thought back to only a few months ago when Diego broke his leg while fighting a raging bull with only a broomstick. It was Diego's second broken bone. Felipe heard that Diego had fallen from a tree as a child, but he didn't know the details. It took Diego two months to heal from that. He was lucky he didn't further injure it when he was knocked off Tornado because of Senorita Victoria's recklessness.
This is the first time Diego's ever gotten an infection from a wound. I'm trying to be gentle, honest I am, but I've got to tie these strings off.
Felipe saw Diego looking at him, then he shifted his gaze to his arm. "I know. It's very bad." Felipe noticed redness and swelling circled the edge of the wound as he cleaned it – again. Felipe picked up the ends and began to wind them around the bottom of the bandage.
"I'll do my best to avoid a swordfight." Diego looked at his arm with irritation. Felipe could tell frustration raged on the inside of Diego. The pain and infection made him more short-tempered.
As Felipe carefully tied off the strings, Diego thought out loud. "Risendo is like the Gordian Knot, an impenetrable riddle. You remember how Alexander the Great solved its mystery…"
Felipe made a big slashing gesture. Diego nodded, still looking down at his arm, very annoyed. Felipe put his hands up in a sign of 'that's all I can do.'
That truly is all I can do. Felipe let out a breath. Madre de Dios, let Diego be all right.
"Felipe, could you put another layer on before I put the shirt on? If it starts bleeding again, I don't want it seen." Diego had his black pants and boots on. Felipe had to help him with everything. His arm was that weak and sore.
Diego watched as Felipe quickly took another bandage roll and wrapped it around his arm. He noticed Felipe was careful not to tie the strings too tight. Then he helped Diego complete his transformation into Zorro.
"And Felipe, could you bring me a quarter bowl of the cactus tea? Gracias, mi amigo." Diego let out a breath. The cleaning and re-bandaging of the wound made it throb again, but not as bad as it had during the pueblo celebration when Mendoza had inadvertently opened it with a playful slap. The wound had barely had time to close.
Sometimes I wish we men wouldn't do that little affectionate gesture. It certainly complicates things when you're trying to hide an injury. A little cactus tea will take the pain away and I'll feel more confident.
At the top of Diablo Canyon, Risendo drew a pistol and looked down while fingering his marked cheek. I've got him now. There is no way he can get out of this alive.
"Your message promised a truce." Zorro looked up in surprise.
"I lied." Gilberto shot the end of a fuse line made by gunpowder. It ignited, and rapidly burned. Zorro quickly turned and spurred Tornado to run as fast as he could. But not even Tornado could outrun the cordite. The side of the canyon exploded. An avalanche followed and Zorro was buried beneath it. Gilberto watched with satisfaction from above, holding the reigns of his horse tightly to keep the horse from spooking.
"So much for the masked legend. And now for the de la Vegas." Risendo snorted with satisfaction. He's buried under all that rock and he won't escape. I heard him cry out. Mother's revenge is almost complete. Soon Mother and I will be living in the de la Vega hacienda. I know that the de la Vegas have fully restored it since Zorro and I fought there. We will be living in luxury for the rest of our lives!
Outside the hacienda, Alejandro stirred, struggling to get to his feet. Gilberto pulled him up roughly, after delivering a knockout blow just minutes before.
"Get up!" Alejandro groaned a bit. Gilberto tossed him back, and threw him a sword. I'll let the dragon fight back. But he is an old dragon – it will not be hard to vanquish him. But I want to have a little fun with him first.
"Why are you doing this? Gilberto Risendo, answer me please, why?"
"Let's save that for your final moments on earth, shall we? Then you can die with that knowledge, shattering your cold, sinful heart." He drew his sword. "Defend yourself!" He laughed mockingly. I'm going to enjoy this. I've been waiting ever so long.
"You're insane." The swordfight began with Gilberto lunging and Alejandro retreating. "NO!" Alejandro tried surprise and lunged at his opponent, beginning an offensive that Gilberto easily parried.
Gilberto easily cut Alejandro's wrist. Alejandro fell to his knees, then looked up with great determination. Gilberto noticed the dragon grit his teeth more from both anger than pain.
So, I've made you angry. Now you know how I feel every time I look at you!
After Tornado freed him, Zorro rode home quickly and changed clothes. He put on a clean white shirt. Amazingly enough, his arm didn't bleed. The double wrapping helped. He heard a rustling in the entryway and saw Felipe struggling. He was tied up with a curtain cord.
"What's going on, Felipe? Who did this?" Diego hurriedly untied him. Felipe signed fight between Alejandro and Risendo.
"Risendo! I've had it with him! This time – I'll stop him – or die trying! Where are they?" Felipe signed garden, then traced a 'Z' in the air.
"There's no time. He could seriously hurt – or kill Father. It will be all right."
Diego hurried to the door. Felipe's eyes widened and he put his hands in the air questioningly.
The swordfight was fairly one-sided. As Diego reached the doorway, he heard the end of the fight and Risendo and his father speaking.
"Time to die, old man. Time to learn a secret." Risendo held his sword to Alejandro's throat.
"What secret? Dear God, you are insane." Alejandro was on his knees, after his leg was cut.
Diego appeared in the doorway just as Risendo prepared to deliver the death blow. I know what I have to do. I don't want to kill, and I don't want to die, but this man must be stopped!
Risendo drew back his sword for the kill.
"DIEGO!" Alejandro threw Diego his sword. Diego caught it deftly, gave Risendo's sword a whack, and quickly moved to place himself between Alejandro and Risendo. He spoke curtly.
"Father, can you stand?"
"Go inside with Felipe!"
I hate to yell at Father, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I have to get Father inside, out of view. I know what I have to do. He can't see me do it, or he'll know. I'm not ready to tell him yet.
Somehow, I know this will be a battle to the death. I hate to think it, but I am prepared for it. Still, I hope it won't come to that.
Gilberto watched Alejandro hobble inside, then nodded his head knowingly. "I see." A light bulb went off in his head, but he reined in the emotions, quickly thinking.
Oh! So – that's what he's been hiding! I knew there was something. And that smell! It's amazing he survived… I have you now, mi hermano. I knew I didn't like you. You're the one who's been foiling my plan at every turn. It makes sense. Zorro always rides out to defend the de la Vegas – why – because Zorro IS a de la Vega! I'm going to enjoy this – inflicting more pain upon you – as I have suffered.
Diego's voice was practically a snarl. "You see – what?" They circled, gauging each other's strengths and weaknesses.
Sword play began. Quick parry, thrust, parry, thrust, each trying to get the advantage as Gilberto got a block in when the hilts came together. He was enjoying the fight.
"You cannot let your father witness your skill with the sword, because he does not know your secret! You – are – ZORRO!"
Gilberto punched Diego's right arm with great force. Diego cried out and pulled away. His arm began to bleed immediately. Gilberto pointed to the bleeding arm with a conceited smirk.
"Zorro received a musket wound in the Plaza when he rescued Tornado. You thought no one had noticed. I have found you OUT Diego!" Gotcha, mi hermano. I knew I was right. That will give me somewhat of an advantage. You're good, but you're hurt. Maybe I can more easily defeat you now. He nearly laughed out loud with glee.
Gilberto attacked. Diego held his right arm with his left to try to continue to use it. In an effort to disarm Gilberto that failed, the two came together again with sword hilts. Gilberto sneered.
"I left Zorro under a pile of rocks in Diablo Canyon, and now you stink of cordite from the explosion. Zorro and Diego are one and the same, aren't they?" Let's up the ante, shall we? And inflict a little more pain…
He grabbed Diego's arm again, producing another yell from Diego. What's the matter Diego? Does your arm hurt?
"The enigma is solved. Your secret is out!"
Gilberto threw Diego off. Diego leveled a kick which threw Gilberto back a few feet. He noticed he had given Diego time to regroup. He could see him trying to decide whether to fight two-handed or left-handed only. Diego chose the latter.
Diego's expression was dead serious. "You will never leave this garden."
Gilberto smiled. Come at me, I dare ya! It is you who will never leave alive, mi hermano!
From behind him, Gilberto heard Alejandro's voice. Father's come to the door. "Out of the way, Diego!" He must have some sort of weapon, probably a pistol. He truly doesn't know… Gilberto snickered to himself.
Diego spoke low, from the bottom of his range. "No Father. He's mine."
Sword play continued, with the two men riposting, parrying…down, then up. Alejandro looked on in shock. I can't believe what I'm seeing. I can't believe he's only been hurt in the arm so far.
Almost under his breath, in disbelief, Alejandro turned to Felipe. Both were watching the swordfight with great interest. Alejandro could scarcely believe his eyes. "Diego? I've never seen such fierceness!"
The sword fight continued, riposting, parrying... Diego continued to fight left-handed with apparent ease, but with great resolve. A breeze blew through his hair.
Alejandro stood in amazement, watching from the doorway his son's fighting. He turned to Felipe. "Diego's magnificent! Where did he learn to fence like that?" Felipe shrugged.
Alejandro watched in amazement as his son crossed swords with a near master swordsman, injured, using his 'weak' arm, but still holding his own. I can't believe this is Diego fighting with the skill of a master swordsman. Where did he learn to fence like that? A niggling thought started coming towards the front of Alejandro's brain. I've seen someone fight with a similar style. With everything going on, Alejandro shoved it to the back of his mind. He didn't want to be distracted.
Diego won the duel left-handed with a disarming envelopment. At the same time, he placed his right foot around Risendo's right foot, tripping the Emissary, twirling himself in a full circle. He stood over Risendo, who sat on the ground, Diego's sword at his throat, the breeze still blowing through his hair.
Alejandro's jaw seemed stuck in the open position. I am truly, truly amazed at Diego's skill level. He fights like a master swordsman. Sir Edmund must have done a better job of instructing Diego than I thought.
Risendo rose up to his elbows. "Go ahead! Kill me. You can't do it. You don't have the courage."
"Murder is a coward's solution." Diego kept his sword at Gilberto's throat. I don't know what I'll do with him. I don't how to keep him from telling about me, but I can't kill him in cold blood.
"You really believe that?" Gilberto laughed out loud. "I once told OUR FATHER that you have a lot to learn about the real world." Out of the corner of his eye, Diego saw Alejandro and Felipe move into garden, and stand next to him.
"OUR father?" Diego's hair flopped over his forehead where the breeze blew it. What in the world is he talking about? OUR father?
"That's right, Diego. You are my brother."
"Brother?" Diego was skeptical. Wait a minute. He's got to be kidding. He's no brother of mine. But he looks serious. This can't be happening. I know the man is insane, this is ridiculous.
Diego's arm throbbed, but at least he had the upper hand. He saw shocked and puzzled looks on his father's face and Felipe's that mirrored his own.
"You sensed it all along." Gilberto looked up, the sun in his eyes, but his smirk said it all.
"This is absurd." Diego looked down with great skepticism. There is no way this man is my brother. He's evil. There is no way Father would sire an evil son. I don't know what his game is, but whatever it is, we'll find out soon. But why would he make up something like that?
"It's true. What Gilberto says is true. I am Ynez Risendo." Alejandro saw Diego look up with surprise. A strange woman stood a short distance away. The carriage she arrived in was somewhat behind her at the de la Vega gate.
Alejandro shook his hand a bit trying to remember. He put his hand to his head, racking his brain.
"Father, do you know this woman?" Out of the corner of his eye, Diego saw Alejandro glance at him, but kept his attention on the emissary.
"Sadly, yes, Diego." Alejandro looked towards Ynez.
"Senora Risendo. I haven't laid eyes on you in years. Since Diego was born."
Ynez still felt a little apprehensive around Alejandro, but tried to cover it with a smug expression. She could never forget Alejandro was the one Gilberto got his vicious temper from. She nodded to her son.
"HE was born two minutes before Diego. He is the true heir to your property. His name is Gilberto de la Vega."
Ynez could tell Diego didn't believe her. He looked on in disbelief. She also watched Alejandro's reaction. It was his reaction she was more interested in than Diego's.
Ynez could tell Alejandro was still in shock and denial. "No. It's preposterous. Look! I don't know who you are, Gilberto Risendo. And I also don't know the LIES that this Senora has told you. We HIRED her. She was our midwife."
Ynez looked down. There he goes again, denigrating me for being part of the working class. I had to earn a living…
Alejandro continued. "A few days before Diego was expected, my wife had these suspicions about this lady. She could not have children of her own. She was an angry, bitter, and jealous woman. Oh – enough!"
Ynez shook her head in an effort to turn the tide back in her favor. "You see what he is doing, Gilberto. He is perverting the truth all over again."
Ynez watched as Gilberto tried to rise, but Diego's sword at his chest kept him from getting very far. He sat back down again. We have truth on our side. They will listen to us. We have proof. But I love their shocked expressions. They never saw this coming! My plans are nearly complete!
Ynez watched Alejandro stretch his arms towards her son. "If you had been my son, no power on earth could have taken you away from me."
"If he had been your son, he would not have tried to kill you." Diego couldn't help but get a dig in.
OK, let's get Diego's attention and give the evidence. "He is your brother, and he can prove it. You have a birthmark on your inner thigh in the shape of a cross."
Ynez saw Diego and Alejandro look at each other in astonishment. Obviously they forgot I knew that.
Gilberto tore his trousers to reveal his birthmark – in the shape of a cross on his inner thigh. Ynez watched as Alejandro shook his head in disbelief, a look of amazement on Diego's face. It was priceless.
Ynez and Gilberto looked at each other and smirked with satisfaction. They believe us now. They know it's true.
Ynez saw Diego nod in agreement. "Very well. You are my brother."
Ynez watched Diego and Alejandro looked at each other in shock and amazement, then nod with acceptance. Yes! They believe it. They accept it. Now, Gilberto, now!
De Soto heard swords clashing and people talking in the garden. He went to the gate and stood behind it – watching, wondering what was going on. He'd come to steal Dulcinea, and ride east, into the United States.
I'm ready. I've prepared all my life for this moment…oh how sweet it is! And to know Diego's secret that he has obviously kept from our Father makes it even sweeter. It's time…time to gloat, time to kill my dragons. How fortunate indeed that mi hermano took his eyes off me for just a moment – but long enough for me to set up the kill. Gilberto couldn't help but gloat.
"Say goodbye to your beloved son, old man. I have one more secret for you. When I kill Diego de la Vega, I also kill…"
A shot rang out. Gilberto fell without speaking. It seemed like time stood still. It was like a sledge hammer hit him in the middle of his back with a pain so fierce it took his breath away. It drained him of strength. He slowly fell to the ground, landing on his back as he twisted.
"Gilberto!" He heard his mother cry out.
Gilberto felt his life slipping away from him very quickly. It wasn't supposed to end this way. I – want my – Father. Father…I just want you to acknowledge me, please Father. I want Father.
He tried to mouth the word. He looked up and saw his family leaning, stooping, and kneeling over him. He looked only to Alejandro, grasping his hand, but was only able to hold it for a moment. His eyes locked on Alejandro. His last thought, his last memory was the concern he saw on his father's face. With his dying breath, he whispered, too quietly for anyone to hear… "Fa-…"
Diego put his left hand on his brother's shoulder as Gilberto's last breath escaped him. Blood ran between his fingers from holding his right arm. De Soto came into the garden.
"It was either Risendo or you, Diego. What else could I do?" He chuckle sounded more like a squeak as his breath released the sound.
Diego and Alejandro rose together. Ynez stayed on the ground with Gilberto, in shock and grief.
News had already reached the pueblo about the death of the Emissary.
In town, Alejandro confronted Ynez. "You stole my son and filled him with hatred. I can forgive him, but you Senora, never."
Ynez's expression was still arrogant, even in defeat. She said nothing and walked away.
I can never forgive you either for killing my husband and besmirching my name. I understand. So what if you don't forgive me? I got a sort of revenge…a son of Alejandro de la Vega has died. Alejandro and his beloved son Diego also sustained both emotional and physical wounds. There is a little satisfaction in that. I will mourn Gilberto. I wish my plans had turned out differently. Gilberto was a tool, but I still loved him. I will have to be satisfied with what little pain Gilberto has already caused the de la Vegas.
De Soto was appropriately solemn. "Don Alejandro, believe this. I had no idea he was your son."
Alejandro was still in shock. "None of us did. But you also saved a son of mine. And that I will never forget."
Diego spoke earnestly. "Nor I."
De Soto left them. Victoria came and expressed her sympathy.
Alejandro was still trying to process it all. A woman he hadn't seen in thirty-five years, his son won a swordfight – against his own brother. A thought came to him. So – Elena was right – there WERE two of them. He'd forgotten.
"It's hard to gain a son and then lose him, all in the same hour."
Diego was in his own kind of shock. It had been a very long day. His throbbing arm reminded him of just how long the day already was. The cactus tea he'd drunk before going to Diablo Canyon had worn off. It was only mid-afternoon.…and he had a terrible headache. And he could no longer pretend.
"Gilberto was suckled on vengeance. I wish I'd known him as a brother and not as an enemy."