The ride to the hacienda was brief as Toronado galloped across the de la Vega land and headed toward the entrance of the hidden cave. When he neared the entrance, Diego reined in Toronado and trotted him up to the covered panel where Toronado depressed the pad with his hoof and paused as the hidden door slowly opened. Diego ducked his head as Toronado trotted in and made his way to his stall where fresh food and water Awaited him.
Diego hopped off and removed Toronado's head gear allowing him to eat without the hindrance of a metal bit in his mouth. While Toronado ate, Deigo walked about the cave and gathered the supplies he thought he may need for his long jouney. For Toronado, he tied together a few small sacks of oats and grains, a brush and curry comb, and for any internal disorders, he put together a few herbal remedies that one his father's grooms had used to treat stomach disorders in horses.
As for himself, Diego quietly stepped through the secret door in the fireplace and made his way to his room. He gathered up a few articles of clothing he thought he would need, and put them in a leather pouch and then quietly went to the kitchen and filled up a sack with enough provisions that would hopefully last until he made it to the next town.
Diego tied up his sack and threw his pouch over his shoulder and silently made his way back down to the cave. He took his pouch and stuffed it inside his saddlebag and then proceeded to arrange the bags of food for Toronado and himself across the back of the saddle so that the weight would be evenly distributed.
He knew he and Toronado were going to be in for a long trek, yet he didn't want to put any unnecessary burdens upon Toronado that would cause him any stress. The ride would be long and hard, but he made up his mind that he wasn't going to run Toronado into the ground. He knew Toronado's capabilities and strengths and he knew Toronado would do anything that was asked of him. It was just that Diego didn't believe in taking advantage of a good horse like Toronado. After all, if Diego had not given Toronado the proper care, treatment, and training he deserved, he would never have been the horse he is today. The de la Vegas had always given their horses the best of care and this definitely included Toronado.
Diego glanced around the cave to make sure he had not forgotten anything and then picked up Toronado's headgear and fastened it back on. Toronado shook his head and snorted and gave a slight whinny.
"You know something is going on don't you boy!" Said Diego patting and rubbing his neck. Diego walked over and picked up another black shirt and pair of pants and stuffed them into his saddlebag and then retrieved his hat, sword and gloves and swung himself up into the saddle.
As he sat atop Toronado, he glanced around the cave one last time and sighed. "Well boy, I guess we won't be seeing this place for awhile." Diego commented as he patted Toronado's neck. Toronado snorted and impatiently pawed the ground. "Ok boy, let's go!" Diego replied calmly. He took the reins and turned Toronado around and headed out of the cave.
The night was clear and cool and the moon was full as Zorro and his beautiful black steed rode across the countryside. Riding at night was definitely an advantage for both of them. They were able to take advantage of the shadows that the moon cast over the terrain so that they wouldn't attract attention. Another advantage of riding at night, was that the temperature was cooler which enabled them to travel farther.
Diego kept a vigilant eye on Toronado as they rode to make sure he wasn't becoming exhausted. He couldn't have him collapsing on him at such a crucial time. He made sure their pace was steady but moderate.
While they rode, Diego began to reflect upon his relationship with Victoria. That feeling of apprehension he had earlier seemed to leave the moment he went to see her tonight. The moment she kissed him and asked him to come back alive, he knew everything was going to be all right…at least between them. Dealing with his father when he got back would be another task he wasn't too excited about. At least he knew that he and Victoria had a future together when he came back and with this in mind, it seemed to make this long journey endurable.
As they rode, Diego could see the first rays of light creeping over the horizon. He glanced around until he saw a small stand of trees nearby. He steered Toronado over to the trees and stopped and dismounted. He took off his hat and removed his canteen and poured a small amount into his hat and let Toronado have a drink. He thought while they were alone, he would change out of his Zorro attire and dress in his caballero attire in case any troops happened to be on patrol. He didn't want to take any chances of having to be chased across the countryside and being caught.
He quickly changed and stuffed his black outfit into his pouch. He took his hat and placed it in a bag of extra clothes he had brought and tied it up. He untied one of the grain bags from the saddle and scooped out some into a bandana and fed Toronado a few handfuls of food. Toronado ate until it was gone and then Diego tied the bag back on his saddle.
He reached into his saddle bag and took out a map and compass and checked his direction and location. They still had a long way to go and they needed to make every minute count. Diego folded his map and with the compass put it back into the saddlebag. He hopped into the saddle and they continued on their way.
As they rode along, they came to a small pueblo and decided to stop and eat. He trotted Toronado over to the stables and paid the blacksmith to care for him while he went to eat at the local tavern. Diego handed the reins over to the blacksmith and started to walk off. Suddenly he heard a loud whinny and turned around just in time to see Toronado pitching his head and trying to get away from the blacksmith. Diego ran over and grabbed the reins and cast an anxious look at the blacksmith.
"My apologies señor, he is a very spirited horse and is not used to strangers." Diego replied earnestly.
The blacksmith looked at Diego sternly. "I can't have that horse tearing up my stables while you're gone! Maybe he needs a good whipn'" he remarked gruffly.
Diego patted Toronado on the neck and led him into a stall and shut the gate. "Toronado, be good! Behave yourself!" he said sternly.
Toronado snorted and shook his head. He stood still and watched Diego as he walked over to the blacksmith.
Diego eyed the blacksmith firmly and grabbed him by the scruff of the shirt. "Señor, you lay one hand on this horse, and I will beat you within an inch of your life! Comprender?" he replied as his steel blue eyes bore into the dark eyes of the blacksmith.
The blacksmith's eyes widened and he nodded anxiously. "Sí señor! I understand!"
Diego walked over to Toronado and turned to the blacksmith. He motioned for him to come over to Toronado. The blacksmith walked nervously over to the big black horse and eyed him warily.
Diego looked at Toronado and pointed to the blacksmith. "Toronado, this man is going to take care of you while I'm gone. Be a good boy, sí?" he commanded firmly. Toronado whinnied and slightly bobbed his head. "Good boy!" Diego said scratching Toronado's ear.
He turned to the blacksmith and cast a resolute look at him. "He won't be any trouble now! Just make sure he gets plenty of food and water." He said earnestly.
The blacksmith nodded. "Sí señor! Are you sure this horse won't try to hurt me?" he asked nervously.
Diego nodded and smiled. "He knows who you are now! I don't think he'll give you any trouble."
He waved to Toronado and left. As he walked out of the stables he briefly paused as if he were listening for Toronado. Toronado never made a sound, except for an occasional snort and the jingle of the halter on his harness as he shook his head. Diego smiled and headed for the tavern.
As he walked into the tavern, he noticed how much it resembled Victoria's tavern back home. Maybe her tavern was a little nicer and less rustic, but for the most part it was the same. He quickly found a table and sat down.
Diego had not been there long until a young woman came up to him and smiled.
"Buenas dias Señor! Can I get you something to eat and drink?" she inquired amiably.
Diego looked up at the young woman and smiled. "Gracias, that would be nice!" he replied warmly.
The young woman smiled. "I will bring you some soup and tortillas and some wine." She said smiling.
"Gracias!" said Diego smiling.
Diego watched the young woman walk away. In some ways she reminded him of Victoria when he first saw her after arriving home from Spain. She was about her age when he saw her standing there looking at him with those dark brown eyes of hers. The moment their eyes met he knew he was in love. He had only been gone one day and already he was getting homesick. Diego sighed and cleared his mind as he gazed about the tavern watching the patrons coming and going.
He wished this epidemic had never happened, but it did. Of course he had wished a lot of things in his life had not happened, but they did. The one thing he was glad that did happen was the fact that Victoria told him that she loved him and that seemed to diminish all the bad things that had ever happened.
The young woman returned with Diego's order and placed it before him. She cast a warm gaze upon the handsome caballero and smiled. "Is there anything else I can get you señor?" she inquired amiably.
Diego cast an amiable smile at the young woman and shook his head. "No gracias. I am fine." He smiled again.
The young woman smiled and turned and walked away. Diego sighed and ate his meal. When he had finished he reached in his pocket and placed a couple of gold pieces on the table. He rose from his chair and walked out.
As he crossed the plaza, he noticed a vendor selling some fruit. He walked over and bought a few apples and put them in a bag and headed toward the stables. He walked inside the stable and glanced over saw the blacksmith grooming Toronado. Diego shook his head and smiled.
"Well señor, I see you two finally made up." Diego commented mildly.
The blacksmith finished brushing Toronado and turned to Deigo. "Oh sí, I gave him a few extra oats and we were good friends after that." He remarked smiling. He put Toronado's saddle back on and made sure everything was secured as he fastened the strap into place. He put his halter and bridle on and fastened the straps into place and led him out of the stall. Diego took the reins and held them while the blacksmith put all of the provisions back onto the saddle. When he was finished he turned to Diego.
"Well señor, I think you're all ready for your trip. By the way, where are you headed.?" He inquired as he eyed Diego resolutely.
"Colorado." Said Diego eyeing the blacksmith steadily.
The blacksmith shook his head. "That is a long way off señor! Well, good luck!" he said sincerely.
Diego smiled and reached into his pocket and gave the blacksmith a few extra coins for grooming Toronado.
"Thank you, I think I'm going to need it!" replied Diego affirmatively. He led Toronado out of the stables and swung himself into the saddle and grabbed the reins as he steadied Toronado. He gave a nod to the blacksmith and rode off.
It would be dark soon and Diego wanted to cover as much ground as possible. They had both had a short rest and were ready for the long ride ahead of them. So far they were making pretty good time, taking into consideration that they had to cross over some very rough terrain. Luckily they had found plenty of watering holes that were fresh as Diego stopped and refilled his canteen and let Toronado have his fill. When they had finished, they pressed on with their journey.
Occasionally they had to stop so Diego could let Toronado cool off as the sun was still high and cast its intense rays down upon them. They found a small stand of trees and took shelter under them to avoid the heat. Diego gave Toronado some water, and then he ate some of the food he had brought for himself. They rode on further until the sun began to set and it eventually became dark. They finally came to the edge of a large desert and decided to camp there for the night. Diego decided that it wouldn't be safe to cross it at night for fear of Toronado taking a wrong step and breaking a leg.
Diego removed all of Toronado's trappings and brushed him down for the night. He threw a bundle of sticks into his fire as it burned bright in the night. As he lay out his bedroll and blanket he sat down and gazed up at the stars and said a prayer for the people of the pueblo de Los Angeles and prayed for his father, Felipe, and for Victoria. When he was finished, he lay back and pulled the covers up around him and finally nodded off to sleep.
As Diego slept, several miles away Sully and Michaela were making their way toward California. They too had made several stops along the way to rest and eat as their stagecoach stopped at various towns to pick up provisions and make deliveries.
There came a point in their trip however, where the stagecoach only rode so far, as the terrain was fairly rough and made the passage relatively impossible to attempt a safe trip. Sully immediately went over to a nearby livery stable and purchased a couple of good horses and a pack mule to carry their provisions. This was nothing new to them, for they had been on many long trips on horseback before and knew all about survival in the wilderness. Of course Sully having lived with Indians and being what the people termed a "mountain man" greatly increased their chances of survival.
They packed the horses and pack mule and headed out of town. There was still some daylight left and they had planned to make it to the next town before dark. Luckily the weather was in their favor as they made their way across the rocky terrain, crossing rivers and streams and making their way over hills and riding through valleys and canyons.
Their journey was long but they too kept their mounts at a moderate pace making sure that they didn't become overheated or exhausted. They made frequent stops to give the animals and themselves a rest and to asses their location and plan their route. As the horses and their mule drank beside a nearby stream, Sully and Michaela took out some of their food that they had packed and sat under a small stand of trees and ate a small meal which consisted of beef jerky and a can of beans that Michaela had warmed up over a fire that Sully had built and some coffee. When they had finished, they doused their fire and packed up their things and continued on their way.
It was beginning to grow dark as Sully and Michaela watched the sun begin to set in the horizon casting a reddish orange glow in the sky. The temperature also was beginning to drop as the sun went down. Being far from the next town, they decided to make camp and get a fresh start the next morning. They reined in the horses and made camp near the edge of a forest and tethered the horses to some trees.
Sully took his hatchet and cut down some saplings and made a small shelter for himself and Michaela while she prepared their meal. Sully also made a spear from a branch and walked down to a nearby stream and speared some fresh trout for dinner. Michaela made some biscuits from a small sack of flour they had brought and cooked them in a small skillet they had brought and heated some coffee to drink. As for the fish, Sully quickly cleaned them and placed them on sticks and cooked them over the fire.
It was good having fresh meat for a change even if it was fish. It tasted better than the dried beef jerky they had been eating off and on. When they finished their meal, they put their things away and added more wood to the fire to keep away the chill and ward off any predators that might try to approach their camp. They took out their warm heavy blankets that they had brought and lay them under the shelter near the fire and finally settled in for the night.
Diego, Sully and Michaela had hoped that their night would be restful, but as they slept, their dreams were about to become intermingled. Neither parties knew one another, and they were miles away, yet each of them dreamed about the other. They could see themselves coming face to face and meeting each other. In reality they were strangers, but in their dreams they knew each other the moment they met. It was as if some strange force was guiding them in the same direction. The same force that was about to bring them together sooner than they expected.
The next morning, both parties rose with the sun and packed up their belongings and headed for their destinations. Sully and Michaela had been riding for several hours and seemed to be traveling at a steady pace. For the moment the sky was like a clear blue dome as the sun shone down upon them. Puffy white clouds floated aimlessly in the sky occasionally casting shadows on the land below. It was such a perfect day that neither Sully nor Michaela thought that anything could possibly spoil it.
They had just come into a clearing after having winded their way through a very dense forest. As they made their way into the center of the clearing, suddenly the sky grew very dark as if someone had extinguished the sun. Lighting began flashing all around and a huge wall of dust began rumbling toward them as the ground suddenly began to shake.
The noise of the lightening combined with the rumbling of the dust cloud frightened the horses and mule. Sully and Michaela grabbed the reins of their mounts and steadied them as they reared and whinnied, frightened by the sounds before them. The mule jerked free from Sully's grasp and bolted toward the woods. They turned their horses and made an attempt to out run the wall of dust that was bearing down upon them, but the faster they rode, the faster the wall of dust advanced. Michaela and Sully looked back in terror as they urgently pressed their horses to go faster. In a blink of an eye, the wall of dust consumed the terrified couple and a blinding bolt of lightening flashed in the sky. Just as soon as it had come, the wall of dust was gone and so were Sully and Michaela.