Disclaimer: I do not own Don Quixote, nor do I own the musical Man of La Mancha.
The twenty-two year old muleteer who had brazenly groped Inez decided to squander his money on the services of a younger, more attractive woman. Standing in the dark, the washerwoman watched as two figures hurried into the stables. Inez did not harbor a love for the muleteer- in fact she disliked him intensely- but bitter envy lingered in her heart. Men once fought for her affections and would offer her money like a crowd at an auction; Inez would then give herself to the one who was willing to pay the highest price. No one bothered with her anymore. And on the rare occasions when a muleteer did flirt with Inez, it made her feel young again. But tonight she felt even more aged and washed-out then ever before.
Giving a resentful sigh, Inez turned to enter the lodge, but stopped briefly to observe the skeletal form patrolling the inn, a lance held in one hand and a shield in the other. Shaking her head and muttering about fools and madman, Inez stepped into the kitchen.
The room was dark, lighted only by a couple of stunted candles, the wax running along the rough wood of the table. Sitting on a chair, his balding head resting in his portly arms, sat the madman's friend. He was asleep and snoring softly; Inez shook his shoulder roughly. "Your lunatic master is out in the yard."
"Oh, yes," yawned Sancho Panza with unconcern, blinking his eyes drowsily "He is, as he explained to me just an hour ago, 'protecting the fair damsels who inhabit this castle.'"
"Well, aren't you going to bring him in, or are you just going to allow him to wander around in circles?"
The stout man shook his head. "I know my place. He's the knight, and I'm his squire."
"His squire," Sancho repeated simply. "I stand back as he battles, and afterwards I pick him up, dust him off and put him on his horse again."
"How exciting for you," Inez said sardonically.
Sancho shrugged carelessly. "It is."
"Then you are a fool." Inez cast the portly man an evaluating glance. Her hard expression then softened and she turned her back, pouring some cheap wine into two wooden goblets. Handing one to Sancho, Inez added, "I don't know who is the bigger fool: you or your knight."
"My master is a good man," Sancho said defensively and he took a swig of wine. "He would risk his life to save mine. He's a braver fellow than I am. Don't laugh," he persisted when Inez gave a sneering chuckle, "because today he showed just how brave he really is."
"What are you talking about?"
"The clothes you were hanging up to dry," said Sancho. "My master believed that they were spirits from hell."
"But it was just laundry!" Inez argued.
"But not to my master. To him, they were ghosts. And tell me, just how many men would come to your aid if you were attacked by evil spirits?"
Inez brushed back a strand of dusty hair. "None, I suppose."
"Exactly," said Sancho. "So you see, my master is a brave man."
"But he's insane!"
"That's true. But just because a man's insane, doesn't mean that he can't be brave," the squire challenged. "My master sees the world differently. To him, windmills are giants, inns are castles and-"
"And trollop washerwomen are highborn ladies," Inez finished for him.
Sancho met her gaze. "Exactly."
Inez was the first to look away, glancing down at her weathered hands. Sancho, observing this, said quietly, "Perhaps the lady should try to see herself the way my master does."
When she went to bed that night, Inez unlatched her windows as she always did on warm nights. There in front of the inn sat the knight on his skinny steed. When Don Quixote looked up and saw Inez Montoya bathed in the silvery moonlight, he raised his visor, gazing at her in respectful esteem. He bowed his head dutifully, and Inez, before she could stop herself, nodded in reply. She then cursed herself.
But as Inez went to blow out the candle, something compelled her to gaze at the small sliver of mirror that had been tacked onto the bedroom wall. Her cinnamon colored hair hung about her face in tangled, unkempt coils. Such a pity, Inez thought, that my hair is now as coarse as it is. This hair had once been her most glorified asset; Inez now looked at the mass dolefully. Grabbing a brush, the washerwoman combed out the snarls in a desperate endeavor to restore some of her old beauty. When she was through, thick soft ringlets of beautiful hair framed her face. Inez smiled at her mirrored image. Suddenly she did not seem so old and ugly anymore.