I seem to remember reading all or part of Don Quixote when I was a freshmen in high school–but I don’t remember much more than the basics, and the very catchy theme song from Man From La Mancha. If a scene like this happened in the book, I have long forgotten the particulars, and if one didn’t, well, I think it should have. In any event, this is, in effect, fanfic. The canon is my own, but the metaphorical figures belong to Miguel de Cervantes.
* * *
It was not well known, but Sancho Panza was a prince in his own kingdom. When he took the pot off his head and dismounted from his own donkey, he cut a proud figure, riding a white horse and wearing a velvet waistcoat with a ruffle around his neck.
“You could have been anyone,” Don Quixote bemoaned. They sat in a tiny abandoned shack, before Don Quixote rode into yet another battle. “Look at you, Sancho, masquerading as a peasant. You cut a fine figure of a man–you could change the world.”
Sancho waved his hand languorously. “I am a peasant, Don Quixote– your one delusion is that I was worthy enough to be your squire.”
Don Quixote snorted. Sancho Panza was pure nobility, anybody could see it.
“I don’t know why you bother with me.” He tok a swig of wine and looked woefully at the jar. “I am a foolish old man, and the windmill trade is not what it used to be.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Sancho said, rolling his eyes and taking the jar. It was never good when the Don had too much wine. “You keep the countryside safe from the monsters, my good Don. They might overrun the world if not for your stalwart efforts.”
“But what has it earned me? The country people despise me. Millers everywhere curse my name–we can’t get decent bread, Sancho, because nobody sees the difference between the windmills that grind the flour and the monsters I slay beyond them. I am a laughing stock, and worse yet, I have betrayed the knights I so longed to be like.”
“Betrayed how, my lord?”
“I was not perfect. I injured a windmill. I toppled a stone–how could I, Sancho! I wanted so badly for the giant beyond to be the object of my lance!”
“Well that is the nature of tilting at windmills, even if they are but giants, my lord. You tilt at so many, so very successfully I might add. Look at the shadows of your slain giants, lying about the hills. Look at how safe the people are, when the night encroaches, because they have the stories of your exploits to give them warmth and light!”
“But the windmill, Sancho! The one windmill!”
“Can be repaired!” Sancho laughed kindly. “Look at it–you broke no walls. No one was injured beyond repair. A rock fell on some man’s toe–it happens.”
“He did not deserve to be hurt,” Don Quixote said sincerely. “That was my doing.”
“Well, yes. But would you not slay anymore giants in the fear of the damage to one windmill?”
“How do I even know they are giants?” Don Quixote wailed. “To hear the wails of the townspeople, you would think I was more of an ass than my donkey, going about my sacred work!”
“How do I know they are giants?” Sancho’s voice rose indignantly. “How do I know they were giants? Because they frightened the children, and the women and men! Because families took comfort when you slayed them. Because families rose with pitchforks and knives, urged by your valor to never be cowed by giants again! Why do you think I follow you, my darling don? What is it you think I see that is not there? I see someone with a heart as big as the hills and the sunset, put on his armor and mount his steed and go charging into the heart of many a worthy battle! It is sunset, my lord–look at the shadows of the fallen and know that you are their master!”
“You have your own city, Sancho,” Quixote said quietly. “You do not need to stay here, nursing an old man through his wine.”
“And old soldier through his wine,” Sancho corrected, pouring them both a half cup. “And I slay my own giants, never you mind. My giants are well slayed, my town is in order. I am where I belong to be before a battle–at my lord’s side.”
“A foolish old man with too much wine,” Quixote said woefully, tilting his tin cup and washing down the dregs.
“A brave and valiant man, who shall wake with the sun and slay his next dragon.”
“What if I harm a windmill, Sancho?”
“What if you never tilt again?”
Quixote holds his hands to his chest. “Oh! My heart! Tis brittle, old, and gray!”
“See, my lord? You must venture forth in the morning. All shall be well if you just lift your lance to your saddle, and tilt away.”
“I shall do so, Sancho, if you promise to mind your own kingdom tomorrow, after we have stayed the giant.”
“That is a bargain well struck.”
Sancho shook Don Quixote’s hand and then draped a knitted blanket over his shoulders and gave his shoulder a warm squeeze. The old man nodded off into a doze, but Sancho was not fooled. In the morning, the day would dawn, bright and crisp and his lord Don Quixote would go slay another giant.
There was none better at it, in spite of his protests.
But Sancho could do without the pep talk the night before. He really DID have a kingdom to run, and it was the pep talk that proved most exhausting.