Sancho and Don Quixote spend hours looking for Marcela to offer their protection, but she seems to have disappeared. They sit down to rest in a valley, where there also happen to be a herd of pony-mares with a group of muleteers. Rocinante tries to court the ponies, but they attack him. Don Quixote decides to avenge Rocinante by taking on the large group of men. He pummels one, and the rest surround the two friends, beat them badly, and then run away.
You may have noticed by now that most of Quixote’s actions are both foolish and painfully loveable. Quixote’s great charm is one of the more mysterious achievements of this novel. Does he defend Rocinante’s honor because he must do so to remain a knight, or because he is selfless and soft-hearted, or because he is simply a fool?
Sancho and Quixote are left lying helplessly on the ground. Quixote decides that the beating is a punishment from the god of battles for fighting with men who are not knights, which is not allowed by the codes of chivalry. Next time they encounter non-knights, says Quixote, it is Sancho’s responsibility to do battle with them. Sancho complains about his bruised ribs and asks if knight-errantly involves many such beatings. Quixote explains that many knights have suffered in their adventures, but the suffering is not dishonorable. Sancho doesn’t care about honor but about his aches.
Quixote decides that his adventure ended badly only because he disobeyed the laws of chivalry - because he did not follow them precisely. Had he obeyed those laws, a bad outcome would be impossible. He believes in the integrity of the chivalric world, because he believes in its conception of human nature and human goodness, and he assumes that this conception must be upheld through elaborate rituals.
Don Quixote asks Sancho to put him on the donkey and try to find them a place to stay for the night. Sancho says wryly that he thought knights were supposed to sleep in the open air; Don Quixote explains, with a little embarrassment, that this is true only when they have no choice. Sancho does as his master asked and before long they come upon an inn, which Don Quixote thinks is a castle.
Sancho teases Quixote about his impossible rules regarding food and sleep, and Quixote hesitantly adjusts those rules. He doesn’t disown them, however; he only finds that they are more lenient than he had thought, and that perhaps they do not express quite as well as he’d thought the nobility and virtue of knighthood.