The Return
                                                                     Chapter Eight

Anna Maria continued to be plagued with illness as the days went by.  Reluctant to alarm Diego, Anna Maria waited until one morning when Diego and his father had left the hacienda with Bernardo on business.  Having told the servants of her plans to go into the pueblo, a carriage was made ready for her.  Diego and Alejandro would be gone most of the day and Anna Maria planned to return long before she was discovered missing.  Anna Maria tried not to think of Monastario during her ride to the pueblo but her concern for Diego would not pass.  Soon the paths of Zorro and Monastario would cross and then...what would be the outcome of a clash between the two?

Once in the pueblo Anna Maria proceeded to the office of the doctor.  She believed her feelings of anxiety had been the cause of her dizziness and ill health but would wait for the doctor's examination.  Monastario's return and his relationship with Leonar were a constant reminder of the danger to Diego as Zorro.  Anna Maria knew there was nothing she could do to alleviate the problem but could she accept the uncertainty which was now part of her life?  She brought the mules to an abrupt halt and prepared to step from the buggy when she found she had some unwanted assistance.

"Please, may I help?" said the commandante extending his hand.

"Sí, Capitán Monastario," she said timidly taking his hand. "Gracias."

"What brings you to our pueblo so early in the morning?  That is if you do not mind me asking," Monastario said surprised she was alone.

"I had some errands," she replied.

"And Don Diego is not with you," he said his eyes narrowing.

"No, not this morning," she said nervously.

"Please forgive me. I hope I did not offend you," he said noticing her discomfort.

Without answering, she moved past the commandante and said, "I must attend to my errands. Con permiso."

"Of course. My best to Don Diego," he said bowing to her and moved off.

Anna Maria turned to watch Monastario as he headed off toward the cuartel then knocked on the heavy wooden door before her and waited for Dr. Avila to answer.  Luis Avila was a fine doctor who practiced many years in the tiny pueblo of Los Angeles.  He was respected by most of the prominent families in the area and a close friend Don Alejandro with whom he had a weekly game of chess.  With a smile Dr. Avila greeted Anna Maria who returned his greeting as she entered the office.

Sometime later Anna Maria exited the doctor's office.  She had been taken by surprise by the doctor's news but continued her errands in the plaza as though nothing was different. With her shopping completed she made her way to the carriage and climbed aboard to return to the hacienda.  She was thankful for the time alone during the drive to the rancho to digest the information given to her by Dr. Avila.  She could not wait to return home and share the news with Diego.  However halfway to the hacienda Anna Maria felt ill and pulled her buggy over to the side of the road.  To her surprise a horse and rider came to a halt next to her carriage.  Anna Maria was struck with impending danger as her eyes met those of Capitan Monastario.

"Señora de la Vega is there a problem that I may help you with," said Monastario dismounting his horse and walking over to the carriage.

"No Capitán Monastario, I just wanted to rest for a moment," she said her stomach queasy.

"Please let me help you down. You look very pale," he said encouraging her to take his hand.

Stepping from the carriage Anna Maria felt ill.  Thinking she was about to faint Monastario wrapped his arms around her causing her to push him away.  Stepping back slowly she looked into his face.  This was the man who had caused so many problems for the de la Vegas especially Diego.  Fearing for her life Anna Maria turned and began running toward the rocks.  Monastario ran after her grabbing her by the arm only to have them both stumble and fall to the ground.  Anna Maria began to scream and kick feeling the weight of his body upon her.

"Let go of me," she said struggling.

"What is wrong with you. I only want to help," he said trying to calm her.

"I do not believe you.  I know you want to make Diego angry by hurting me," she said trying to free herself from his grasp.

"I wish you no harm.  My problem is with Diego not you," he said tightening his grip.

"You are hurting me," she said trembling. "Please let go of my arms and let me up."

"All right," he said releasing her and coming to his feet.

She stood her eyes never leaving him and said, "Why did you chase after me?"

"Why did you run?" he said.  "I meant you no harm."

"You frighten me.  I thought you meant to...I was thinking of my child," she said realizing she had revealed too much.

"A child," he repeated.

Her words took him by surprise.  It was true he wanted his revenge on Diego but he would not harm this woman to do so.  Did she really believe he was so cruel?  He had done many miserable things but never to a woman.  His thoughts turned to a time long ago in Spain when he was a different person.

Looking into her terrified face he said, "I promise I will not hurt you or your child.  Please let me help you back to your carriage," he said extending a hand.

Taking his hand apprehensively she said, "Very well."

After tying his horse to the back of the buggy he climbed aboard besides Anna Maria.  She did not know how to feel, safe or fearful.  There was something in his eyes when he spoke...but she did not understand.  Leonar saw something in this man but what was it? Perhaps this was the time to find out.

"I know you are not fond of Diego or his father so why did you stop to help me?" she inquired.

His voice softened as he looked at her. "It had nothing to do with them."

"Then why?" she said curiously.

With an emptiness in his eyes he said in a low voice, "You remind me of someone long ago in Spain.  She was very much like you.  Beautiful, intelligent and she would have been..."

"Would have been?" she asked.

"She was murdered," he said bitterly.

"Murdered.  Who was she?" Anna Maria asked unprepared for the words that followed.

For a moment he did not answer...then he said, "My wife."

"Wife," she said seeing the sadness in his face..

"I was on patrol when my wife went to visit friends.  Returning home someone stopped her carriage.  It was the man she rejected in order to marry me.  He would not forgive her this choice.  That evening he forced himself on her.  She told him of the child she carried but he did not care.  When she fought him he beat her.  She was hurt badly and later died. This man got away with murder because his father was one of the richest landowners in all Spain.  Don Carlos Ramirez used his influence to set his son, Don Miguel, free.  Don Carlos sent his son away and had me transferred.  Several promotions later and I found myself in California."

"Did you try to find this man that killed your wife?" asked Anna Maria.

"Sí but it was useless."

"I am sorry," she said placing her hand on his.

"Enough," he said angry at himself for divulging this secret. "I should not have told you any of this."

"But...," she said trying to break through.

"Please do not speak of this," said Monastario blankly.

The rest of the trip was quiet. Approaching the hacienda the carriage stopped and its occupants got out.  Quietly they walked to the hacienda when suddenly without warning, Anna Maria became dizzy and stumbled.  Catching her in his arms the commandante lifted her and carried her into the hacienda.  Seeing the commandante with Anna Maria in his arms, Diego, Don Alejandro and Bernardo rushed to doorway.