The Return
                                                                 Chapter Six

The weeks passed uneventfully since Zorro's late night ride to the cuartel.  The tiny pueblo remained unmoved by the return of Monastario.  Shopkeepers went about their usual business as they avoided the sleepy peons that rested in their doorways.  The market place was filled with peons selling their wares and those wishing to buy.  The reforms set in motion by the acting commandante remained in effect with no increases in taxes or new laws.  Everyone was mystified by Monastario's changed behavior even the de la Vegas.. Monastario's first administration consisted of cruelty and suffering but had it truly ended?  Had the commandante returned a changed man or had the presence of the governor's daughter changed his evil heart?  

At the hacienda Don Alejandro waited patiently in his study drinking some tea to calm his nerves after sending Bernardo to fetch Diego.  At his desk Don Alejandro thought of his near fatal encounter with the commandante and of the ridiculous charges of treason that had been brought against both Ignacio Torres and himself.  He remained concerned with the commandante's attention to his guest.  What could Leonar see in this despicable man?
When Diego entered the study with Bernardo he could see the worry in his father's appearance.  It was clear that Don Alejandro was feeling the stress from Leonar's relationship with the commandante.  Perhaps the time had come for the commandante and Zorro to have their final meeting.

"Buenos dias, Father.  You wish to see me," the words flowed as he stood before Alejandro.

"Sí," said Don Alejandro walking toward his son. "Every time I turn around I run into the commandante.  I do not like this.  It does not seem right having this man in my home."

"You are right but for Leonar's sake we must put up with Monastario at least for now."

"I disagree.  We must act before it is too late.  Everyday Leonar falls deeper under his spell," Don Alejandro said running his fingers through his hair.

"I wonder what Leonar sees in our disreputable friend.  However she is a bright young woman and surely will see through him in time."

"Diego, do you have any idea what Monastario could want?" said Don Alejandro as Bernardo turned to Diego waiting for his answer.  "Could he honestly have feelings for Leonar?"

"I am not sure about his feelings but I believe Leonar cares deeply," said Diego. "As for what Monastario wants I would think that is obvious.  Me.  I am sure he knows I am Zorro."  Bernardo and Don Alejandro tensed at this remark. "There has been no interference from the soldiers because Capitán Monastario wishes to have his revenge on me in his own time."

"Be careful, my son, Monastario is cunning and an adept swordsman.  Choose the time so that the advantage is yours," his hands resting on Diego's shoulders.

"I will.  Now with your permission I must find Anna Maria," he said turning to leave.

Don Alejandro and Bernardo watched as Diego left the study a worried look upon their faces.  Diego was bright and had much skill as a fencer but was Monastario's desire to destroy Zorro even stronger?  Diego had dressed early that morning and quietly left the room so he would not disturb her.  Poor Anna Maria had suffered many a sleepless night her mind disturbed by thoughts of the commandante.  It was only in the early morning hours had she succumbed to sleep.  As Diego returned to his room he walked in silence to Anna Maria's bedside.  Sitting on the edge of the bed Diego light brushed his fingers over her face. 

"What a nice way to be awakened in the morning." she said sleepily. "I do not think I will ever weary of seeing your handsome face in the morning."

"Mi amor, are you feeling better?" he asked concerned.

"With you by my side I feel wonderful," she said smiling to him.

"Well then why do you not get dressed?  I have planned a special day for us," he said kissing her rose colored cheek.

"Give me a few minutes and I will join you on the patio," she said happily.

Walking downstairs Diego motioned to Bernardo.  Quietly he whispered, "Bernardo, please see that the carriage is made ready?  Anna Maria and I are going on a picnic."

Bernardo smiled and headed toward the stable as Diego went to the kitchen to collect the picnic hamper the cook had prepared.  Before returning to the courtyard he stopped by the study to say good-bye to his father.  With that done he returned to the patio to find Anna Maria waiting.  They made their way to the carriage and climbed aboard.

It was a lovely day for a picnic.  Diego and Anna Maria took their time until they found the perfect spot under a shaded old willow tree by the water's edge to have their picnic.  What could be more perfect then some time alone in this heavenly setting with no unwanted guests?

"Thank you for bringing me here," Anna Maria said leaning against the willow tree.  "It is so very pleasant."

"I remember the last time we were here," said Diego placing his hand on hers.  "I wanted to tell you I was Zorro."

"Sí, I remember.  That was the day we took refuge in the cave from the rain and I discovered you and Zorro were one," she replied.  "I should have told you then instead of wasting so much time."

"Everything turned out for the best," he said embracing Anna Maria.  Suddenly a familiar voice interrupted their time together.  

"Forgive us for the intrusion on so delicate a moment," said Monastario his grin belying his true feelings.

Diego turned to stare into the face of Monastario.  Seeing Leonar at the Capitan's side Diego smiled.  Standing Diego and Anna Maria exchanged pleasantries with the unwanted newcomers.

"What a beautiful day for a picnic, is it not de la Vega?" said the commandante with a sly smile.  Holding a picnic hamper in his hands he continued, "We seem to have had the same idea today.  Would you mind if we joined you?"

"Please do," said Diego as he saw the look of disappointment on Anna Maria's face.

The commandante and Leonar laid out their blanket and picnic hamper along side Diego and Anna Maria.  After a somewhat pleasant lunch Monastario asked,"Don Diego, why do we not allow the ladies some time alone while we take a short walk?"

"All right," said Diego smiling to his wife.

Anna Maria watched silently her stomach in knots as Diego and Monastario moved some distance away.  Leonar could not help but notice the curious behavior of her friend.  Was there another reason for Anna Maria's dislike of the commandante?

"Now that the ladies cannot hear us why do we not speak honestly?" said Monastario.

"What would you like to talk about?  The weather perhaps," said Diego with a laugh.

"There are personal matters that we need to discuss," Monastario said a wicked glint in his eyes.  "Things that have been put off far too long."

"This is true," said Diego seriously. "We have put off things far too long but this is not the time," he said looking at the women in conversation.

"Very well," Monastario answered his eyes burning into Diego. "For now we will wait but my patience is running out."

The men turned as Leonar approached, "Excuse me gentlemen but Anna Maria is feeling ill.  Diego I believe she desires to leave."

Quickly Diego ran to his wife's side while Leonar and Monastario followed behind.  Diego and Anna Maria agreed that they should return to the hacienda but asked their 'guests' to stay and enjoy the remainder of the day.  Diego helped Anna Maria to the carriage and they left immediately. 

"What did you and the commandante talk about?" inquired Anna Maria on the return to the rancho.

"It is not important.  We can discuss it later when you have rested," Diego said hastening the horses on.

Remaining behind the commandante and Leonar enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.  It had been a long time since the Monastario had shared such a pleasant day with a beautiful woman.  Putting aside all plans of revenge his thoughts were of Leonar alone.  She was everything he missed and soon he leaned over to kiss her.  Looking into her trusting face he wondered how he could ever have thought of using Leonar to get at the de la Vega's?

"Leonar," said Monastario. "I wish.....I must tell you about my past.  Looking at you I am not proud of the things I have done."

Placing her fingers on his lips she said, "Enrique, you do not have to explain.  We can begin from here."

Taking her hand he continued, "Leonar, there are things you must know.  Things that may change your mind about me.  I have done many cruel things that even I cannot forget."

"There is nothing you can say to change how I feel," she said knowing her heart.

"Leonar, I was a very different man then you see and even now there are things that have been set in motion that you could not possibly understand."

"If you have not acted upon these things perhaps you could stop them," she said wondering if this had anything to do with Anna Maria's strange behavior.

"I do not know if I can stop what is about to happen or if I really want too.  It is getting late we must return to the hacienda."

Upon their return to the hacienda the commandante held Leonar in his arms for only a moment before helping her from the carriage.  She smiled happily to him as they made their way into the patio.

"With your permission, Leonar, I must be going," said Monastario. "I will see you soon. There is still much I must share with you."

Standing outside his room Diego watched the commandante with Leonar on the patio. Monastario's affection for her seemed genuine but was this only part of his plan.  Opening the door to his room Diego walked over to Anna Maria who was sleeping.  He loved her so much and wanted her to be safe.  Was there something Zorro could do to protect Anna Maria and Leonar from Monastario?