Chapter 12

It took several minutes for Alejandro to compose himself enough that he could speak. He was far past the point of worrying about keeping his dignity intact by that time.

Oh, my son! When I think of how often I belittled the ways you spent your time. How could you have done so much and yet I saw so little? And they don't even know the half of what you did for them, do they? They will, hijo. They will. I promise.

Alejandro took a deep, calming breath and opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out except another sob. Felipe placed his hand on his grandfather's shoulder and made a few motions.

"No, Felipe. I want to do this. I need to do it. For Diego. I owe this to him." He looked out over the crowd of mourners, all of whom thought they now knew how much Diego had done for the people of Los Angeles. But none of them really knew anything, did they?

"A week ago I would have said that I knew Diego better than I know anyone else in the world; and I would have said that no one knew my son better than I. Now I realize that I never really knew Diego at all. In fact, I think I can safely say that Felipe, here, is the only person in the whole world who truly knew him…all of him, and not just the parts of his personality that he let us see.

"These last few days have been a living nightmare that I'll see in my dreams for the rest of my life." Alejandro could hear his own voice quivering, and consciously fought the desire to break down and just give in to the grief that filled his heart.

Be strong, Alejandro, like Diego was. You have to get through this. Diego deserves to be remembered for all he did, not just for part of it.

"I watched my son literally being beaten to death, by men determined to get information from Victoria and me that we couldn't have given if we'd wanted to, because we didn't have it. I know now, that of the three of us, the only one who could actually have given those men any information about Zorro was Diego himself."

Alejandro watched eyebrows raise throughout the crowd, and whispers go back and forth. "That's right. He could have stopped that torture at any time, but he didn't. He knew that the minute those men thought they had a clue that would lead them to Zorro, all three of us would be dead. He let it continue, and he never told them anything."

Don Alejandro had to stop again for a moment, as the mental picture of Diego dangling from that rope, with the blood dripping off him and puddling on the floor, threatened his composure yet again.

"Later, when we were in the lean-to, Diego was in and out of consciousness for a while. Then, when he was delirious, out of his head from the pain and fever, he was also mumbling a lot of things. Some of them didn't make much sense…at least, not then. But I learned more about my son during that time than I've ever known about him.

"I watched him take a beating that would have had hardened soldiers screaming for mercy, yet he never once begged them to stop. Over and over, in that lean-to, I watched him wake up in a panic, only to see that the fear he showed was never for himself…just for Victoria and me.

"He couldn't even raise his head without becoming violently ill, yet he tried to get up to help look for a way out of that cabin. He begged us to leave him there and get away by ourselves if we could.

Don Alejandro's voice cracked again with his next words. "I once told Diego, to his face, that he was a coward. I was so wrong. I will say this now, in front of you all. My son was the bravest man I have ever been honored to know."

"I…we…Victoria and I both…learned that Diego has been madly in love with her for years, ever since he first came home from Spain. Yet he never made an advance to her, never gave any clue of how he felt. He knew she was in love with El Zorro. It seems that the one thing he truly was terrified of was the possibility of Victoria's rejection of "plain old, boring Diego".

"Padre Benitez was so right when he said that we all, myself included, took Diego for granted. Felipe said it very well to Victoria last night. He said Diego 'gave so much of himself to everyone else, and had nothing for himself.'" Alejandro stopped again for a few seconds before he could continue.

"That didn't make a lot of sense to me at the time. After all, Diego was my son. He could have just about anything he wanted. But Felipe was right.

"I know now that Diego kept so much of himself hidden from all of us. He let us think of him as a coward, a lazy rich man's son, who didn't care about anything except his books and his experiments. He hid his love for Victoria. For six years, the only times my son would actually be himself…his whole self, was when he was alone with Felipe, and there was no one else around. I can't begin to imagine how difficult that must have been.

"But he obviously felt it was worth all of that and more, to do what he was doing. You see, even I had no idea of what he was really doing, until last night, when Felipe gave me a letter Diego had written; a letter only to be given to me in case of his death. Can you imagine that? Diego, of all people, spent the last six years of his life expecting to die at any time!"

Don Alejandro exchanged looks with both Victoria and Felipe, drawing each of them closer to him, and squeezing their hands a little tighter. They each nodded to him, and all three stood just a bit taller as they gazed back out at so many of the people Diego had protected for the past six years.

"The letter Diego left for me, and the similar one he left for Senorita Escalante, answered so many of our questions, and explained so many of Diego's actions and inactions ever since he came home from Madrid.

"You see, Diego, my son..." The tears were rolling down Don Alejandro's face again. This time, though, his expression, although still full of grief, was also shining with all of the pride and love Diego had always longed to see on his father's face.

"Don Diego de la Vega…was also…El Zorro."

The End