Disclaimer: I do not own Don Quioxte, nor do I own the musical Man of La Mancha.

This particular region of central Spain was a desolate place. There was nothing grand about it, no fine castles or idealistic hopes. There was only farmland and squalid lodges where those born as kitchen maids died as kitchen maids and those born as swineherds died as swineherds.

There was nothing fanciful about Inez Montoya either. She wasn't beautiful for the harsh environment had taken away a great deal of her youthful prettiness. Her cinnamon colored hair hung down her back like a horse's tail: long, thick and tangled. Burning dark eyes were set deep in her skull, tiny crinkles tugging at the corners, her lips thin and drawn and almost colorless. The rags she wore did nothing to conceal her sunburned arms. She was not beautiful, nor was she clever. The woman was unable to read even the simplest of words.

Even a romanticized setting was denied to her. The inn that she worked in was just as broken down, just as dilapidated as any other. Yes, Inez knew that this area of central Spain was a land of dust and grim reality. There was no use pretending otherwise.

"All right, you lot," Inez Montoya ordered crossly. "Give me your laundry to wash. You smell like donkeys, each and every one of you. You there- do not slip your hands underneath my skirt- I'm almost old enough to be your mother. How old am I? Forty-two. Oh? And just how much are you offering, young man? I don't think so, sir. Make it double and I'll meet you in your bedroom tonight. Come on! Come on! Give me your laundry! I haven't got all day!"

Laughing the muleteers tossed their filthy clothes for Inez to catch, and when her arms filled with soiled garments, she made her way towards the back of the inn where a rough wooden tub and scrub board sat waiting.

It was an unseasonably hot day in April. The overhead sun burned the back of her neck as Inez repeatedly plunged her hands into the soapy water, beads of sweat dotting her forehead. Loud guffaws soon distracted her from this chore, and, glancing up, Inez saw two prostitutes holding their sides in laughter. They were young and comely and served as a painful reminder of how she, Inez, had once been just as high-spirited and just as lovely before time wore her prettiness away.

Before Inez could chide the girls for their uselessness, Alma Martinez, the older of the two noticed Inez glaring in their direction and said merrily, "We are quite fortunate to have such a noble guest staying under our roof. Make sure to make his bed with care, Inez, for his lordship is sure to be weary from his quest. Speaking of beds, I wonder if the old fool is willing to pay for one of us to warm his bed tonight."

"Now, now," said Rosa Flores the younger prostitute. "We mustn't speak that way about the knight and his squire. He spoke rather nicely to us, called us ladies…"

"You mean the madman and his no-brained companion," Alma corrected indifferently and then facing Inez said, "Go to the inn's entrance and you'll see him! The old crackbrain who thinks he's a knight!" That said she and Rosa burst out with more raucous cackles.

Inez's answer was a stinging slap across Alma's gleeful face; Rosa recoiled before the older woman could aim a slap at her as well. "You mean to tell me that you two lazy good-for-nothings are gawking at boarders while I'm out here reeking in sweat? And who are you to give orders to me? Get inside and put lunch on the table! Go, before I crack your heads open!"

With Alma wearing a scornful expression on her face and Rosa's scrunched up as if to cry, the girls left soberly. Shaking her head, Inez began to hang the wet laundry on the clothesline as a strong wind whipped the clothes furiously, making them thrash like ocean waves during a storm. It just so happened that two of the muleteer's shirts got tangled together, and with a muttered curse Inez began to wrestle with the soaking mass as she attempted to separate them.

Two figures approached, and had Inez had been more attentive, she would have seen that the one was a scarecrow of a man and his friend, a cooking pot. She did notice, however, when the one in rusty chain mail stampeded forward with a lance raised.