Diego was glad that he had persuaded the doctor and her husband to stay the night at the small pueblo he had taken them to. This would give him a chance to return home and get some rest of his own. The ride was long, but even with the frequent stops and rests they took along the way, he and Toronado managed to make it back to the hacienda fairly late at night.
As the back entrance to the cave slowly swung open and Toronado trotted in, Diego heaved a weary sigh of relief and smiled. He was glad to be home and glad that this long arduous ride was over. Now he and Toronado could get the well deserved rest that had eluded them since this whole episode began. At least Toronado's rest would be longer as Diego thought about his ride the next morning to meet Sully and Michaela.
He removed Toronado's trappings and hung them in their proper places and then gave him a good grooming. He filled the troughs with fresh water and oats and bid Toronado a good-night. Diego quickly changed out of his Zorro clothing and quietly made his way to his room. Luckily his father and Felipe were still at the tavern and the servants had all retired for the night, which was a relief to Diego as he felt free to occasionally check on Toronado before he went to bed.
When he felt satisfied that Toronado had survived the long trip, Diego went to the kitchen and heated himself a large pot of water over the stove. He carried it to his room and filled his bathtub with the heated water. He shut his door and curtains, removed his clothes and eased himself into the warm relaxing water and took a long leisurely bath. The bath made Diego feel so relaxed, that he felt himself almost fall asleep in the tub. He shook his head and got out and dried himself, put on his nightshirt and got into his soft warm bed. The minute he lay down and turned out his light, he fell into a deep restful sleep.
There were no restless dreams tonight for Diego. He had accomplished what he set out to do which was to bring help for the people of his pueblo. Now the only thing on his mind was sleep and of course bringing back Michaela and Sully.
Morning came quick as Diego rose from his restful slumber, dressed and ate a hardy breakfast. Some of the servants were surprised to see him up so early, but knowing the irregular habits of this young caballero no one really bothered to confront him.
As he was putting on his tie and waste band, he asked one the servants to get one of the stable hands to saddle his cream colored stallion, as he had some business to attend to. Fortunately for Diego, the de la Vegas had servants who never questioned the requests of their employers, they just felt lucky that they worked for people who were as kind and as generous as the de la Vegas.
Diego put on his jacket and bid the servants good-bye and headed out the door. Since he would just be riding a few hours away from home, he was glad that he had a good night's sleep and a decent breakfast. However he did bring along a couple of apples for himself and his horse in case they got hungry.
The weather was beautiful, with few clouds in the sky and a bright sunny day, with gentle breezes occasionally blowing all around. Diego was so awed by the perfection of the day, any minute, he expected something strange and unnatural to happen. He surmised that maybe today God was being generous, for as he rode on, the weather continued to stay perfect.
As he neared the destination of the place where he was to meet this beautiful young woman and her rugged young husband, Diego reined in his horse and dismounted. He took out his apples that he had brought and gave one to his horse and ate the other. He checked his watch and scanned the horizon and searched for their familiar faces. He stood for a moment, patted his horse and gazed out into the vast open land hoping to see this couple he had promised to meet. He mounted up and rode a bit further thinking he had not gone far enough.
Just when he began to get worried, off in the distance, he spotted two figures on horseback riding toward him. Diego inwardly crossed his fingers hoping it was the doctor and her husband. He urged his horse on further. As the figures came into view, Diego breathed a sigh of relief as Sully and Michaela came riding up to him. As he slowed his horse to a walk, he had to remind himself to act as if he had met them for the first time. He remembered in his letter to his father that he as Diego was the one who had gone for help and not Zorro.
As both parties brought their horses up close and reined them in. Diego smiled as he prepared to introduce himself.
"Buenos dias! I am Don Diego de la Vega! Who might you be Señor and Señorita?" Inquired Diego smiling, purposely calling Michaela señorita.
Sully cast a reflective eye on Diego. "Buenas Dias! My name is Byron Sully and this is my wife Michaela. You must be the one that Zorro told us about who is going to escort us to the Pueblo de Los Angeles." He stated resolutely.
Diego cast an amiable gaze at Sully and Michaela and smiled. "My apologies Señora! I am glad to meet you Señor and Señora Sully! Ah, so you have met Zorro!" stated Diego feigning curiousity.
Sully nodded and looked at Diego earnestly. "Yes, we met yesterday, under rather unusual circumstances. He took us to a small pueblo where we stayed the night and said that you would be taking us to your pueblo. My wife is a doctor, and he explained to us that she was desperately needed because your pueblo was having an influenza epidemic." Sully replied decisively.
Diego cast a hesitant look at Sully. "Señor, you said you met under unusual circumstances? How so?" he inquired somewhat curious. He was interested in what Sully had to say about their arrival.
Sully slightly shrugged his shoulders and looked at Diego decisively. "It's a rather long story Señor de la Vega. If Zorro is telling the truth, then we need to get to your pueblo soon!" he stated firmly.
Diego nodded and look at them earnestly. "Sí! Zorro has told you the truth! We are in fact having an influenza epidemic and our doctor is almost out of the desperately needed medicine to cure our people. Señora Sully, your husband said you are a doctor. Our doctor at our pueblo could use your help!" Diego stated.
Michaela nodded and looked Diego earnestly. "Yes Señor de la Vega, my husband speaks the truth! I am a doctor! I would be glad to help your people!" She replied decidedly. "I have the medicine needed to help them!" she added.
Diego sighed and nodded as he cast an affirmative gaze at Michaela. "Gracias Dios! That is good to know Señor! Many people have died because of this influenza and our medicine is running low! If you will follow me, I will take you there!" he replied as he turned his horse around and motioned for Michaela and Sully to follow.
They urged their horses on at a moderate pace, keeping fairly close together. As they rode, Michaela glanced over at Diego and cast an inquisitive look at him. "Señor de la Vega?" inquired Michaela earnestly.
Diego glanced over at Michaela and smiled. "Yes Señora, what is it?" he responded amiably.
"Is this Zorro, really a wanted man?" she inquired curiously.
Diego flashed an inquisitive look at Michaela. "A wanted man Señora? Who told you that?" he asked eyeing her curiously.
Michaela cast a resolute look at Diego. "Zorro remarked that he was not very popular with some of the officials in the territory. He mentioned one official in particular who wanted to see him hang!" she commented as she eyed Diego resolutely.
Diego slightly nodded and sighed. "Ah Señora, that is our Alcalde he is referring to! Zorro has done a lot of good for the people of our pueblo. However he and our Alcalde do not see eye to eye on many things and as a result, the Alcalde has marked him a wanted criminal! I suppose Zorro does tend to do things a bit on the outside of the law, but he definitely has the people's interest at heart! In their opinion, he is a hero!" Diego stated affirmatively.
Michaela cast a decisive look at Diego. "And what is your opinion of Zorro, Señor de la Vega?"
Diego cast a thoughtful gaze at Michaela and slightly shrugged. "Basically I think he is a good person, but personally, he's a bit flamboyant for my taste! He tends to go about things differently than I would. I'm a bit more reserved than Zorro when it comes to getting things done." Replied Diego earnestly.
Michaela nodded and smiled. "I suppose going about things in a random fashion may not be the best way to get things done!" she stated resolutely casting a steady gaze at Diego.
Diego nodded in agreement and smiled. He thought it was a shame that she didn't know the real Zorro, otherwise she may change her opinion all together.
For the rest of the ride, they rode in silence, as Michaela and Sully occasionally glanced around and scanned their surroundings. All this was definitely new to them as was their arrival. They were still somewhat confused as to how they arrived and for that matter, Diego too was a bit curious. However knowing the strangeness of it all, neither made a motion to make any comment or discussion on the subject.
Their ride was coming to an end as the pueblo de Los Angeles was finally coming into view. As they rode up to the entrance, Sergeant Mendoza and his men who had been keeping a vigil on the tavern and standing guard around the perimeter of the pueblo looked up and saw Diego and his two companions riding through the entrance. He immediately motioned for private Supulvida and another soldier to halt Diego and the couple as he and the other soldiers came running up to meet them. Diego, Michaela and Sully, quickly reined in their horses as Mendoza's men stood in front of them firmly grasping their muskets standing at attention.
Mendoza walked in front of his men and stood looking up at Diego with an amicable expression on his face as Diego prepared to dismount. Diego quickly dismounted and walked up to Mendoza and flashed a disapproving look at him.
"What's going on Sergeant, why are you stopping us!" inquired Diego looking rather annoyed.
"Ah Don Diego, I am glad you have returned! We were getting worried about you! Especially your father! I know he will be glad to see you! I am very sorry about this, but because of the epidemic, the Alcalde has ordered us not to allow any outsiders inside the pueblo until the epidemic is over. He doesn't want to take any chances of the influenza spreading to other pueblos." Replied Mendoza resolutely. "Of course you are an exception Don Diego. I will let you pass, but I cannot allow your companions to enter." He remarked giving a discerning nod to Michaela and Sully.
As Michaela and Sully dismounted and started walking toward Diego and Mendoza, two soldiers immediately stepped in front of them blocking their path. Michaela cast an anxious look at Mendoza as she and Sully quickly stepped back from the soldiers.
"Sergeant, you don't understand! My name is doctor Michaela Quinn and this is my husband Byron Sully! We came with Señor de la Vega to help the people of this pueblo! You must let us through!" replied Michaela with a worried tone to her voice. Sully put a reassuring arm around her and glared at the soldiers standing in front of them.
Mendoza's eyes widened the moment he heard her say she was a doctor. "Madre de Dios! A woman doctor? I have never heard of such a thing!" he stated with an astonished look on his face.
Diego glanced back at Michaela as he cast a compassionate gaze at her. "Don't worry Señora Sully, I'll take care of this!" he stated as he flashed a stern look at Mendoza.
At that moment, DeSoto came walking out of his office and cast a challenging look at Diego and the young couple.
"Well, well, I see the prodigal son has returned! Welcome back Don Diego! I see you made it back safe and sound!" he walked up to Diego and flashed a curious look at Michaela and Sully as they stared anxiously back at him.
Diego cast a sardonic look at DeSoto as a half smile crossed his lips. "Good to see you too Alcalde!" he replied somewhat curtly.
DeSoto held a steady gaze on Michaela and Sully as he stepped up closer to them. "Well, who do we have here! Who is this lovely señorita and this renegade Diego!" he remarked glancing over at Sully with an examining eye.
As Diego was about to introduce Sully and Michaela, Michaela flashed a heated look at DeSoto as she looked into his eyes.
"My husband is not a renegade! He is a very honest, decent, loving, very spiritual individual. And I would appreciate it if you would not refer to him as a renegade!" she replied adamantly, her eyes burning into his.
Diego quickly walked back and stood beside Michaela and Sully as DeSoto flashed a surprised look at Michaela. He slightly bowed as he prepared to make his apology.
"Allow me to offer you my deepest apology Señor and Señora! I must admit, Señora, your husband's attire is quite different than the attire worn by the men in this pueblo. We do not see many men dressed in that kind of clothing around here. Again I deeply apologize for my remark!" he stated sincerely casting a compassionate gaze upon Michaela.
Sully flashed an indignant look at DeSoto as his eyes slightly narrowed. "It's called buckskin! Where I come from my attire as you call it, is not as out of place as you might think! And I don't need anyone apologizin' for my appearance. As for my background, I'm an American citizen but I was raised by the Cheyenne Indians. My parents died when I was young and they found me and took me in. If it hadn't been for them, I would have died! The way I figure it, I've learned more from them than from my own people! At least they taught me to have respect for other people!" Stated Sully eyeing DeSoto sternly.
Diego looked at Sully and smiled and then cast an earnest look at DeSoto. "Well, Alcalde, I guess it only goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover!" stated Diego slightly smiling.
Before DeSoto had a chance to give his retort, Diego's expression quickly became serious as he prepared to introduce Sully and Michaela. He eyed DeSoto decidedly.
"Alcalde, This is doctor Michaela Quinn and her husband Byron Sully. You have to let this Señora and her husband pass! She came to help our people! We desperately need her help! Replied Diego earnestly.
"A doctor you say! Well Señora, do you have any credentials to prove that you're a doctor? After all, there are no women doctors in this territory, and I can't let you come into this pueblo and administer to our people without the proper papers! Excuse me for saying so Señora, but for all I know, you could be a charlatan or some gypsy witch trying to take advantage of our people during a crucial time." DeSoto responded eyeing Michaela cautiously.
"Alcalde, that's absurd!" Responded Diego flashing an incensed look at DeSoto. "Doctor Quinn is no charlatan and she certainly is no gypsy witch! And she has no intentions of taking advantage of our people! She's here to help us Alcalde!" Diego replied defensively as he glared at DeSoto.
Michaela put a reassuring hand on Diego's shoulder as she stepped up to him. "He's right Señor de la Vega! I would react the same way if I were in his shoes. I'll be glad to show your Alcalde my credentials." Replied Michaela earnestly.
Diego turned and cast a compassionate look at Michaela and sighed. "I'm very sorry about all this doctor Quinn. I wasn't counting on things being so difficult!" he commented amiably.
Michaela cast an earnest look at Diego and smiled. "It's not your fault Señor de la Vega. Don't worry, everything will be all right!" she replied putting a reassuring hand on his arm. She turned and walked back to her horse and removed a rolled up parchment from her saddlebag and proceeded to hand it to DeSoto.
"Here Alcalde, this should be sufficient proof that I'm a doctor." Replied Michaela casting a decisive look at DeSoto.