The two friends travel uneventfully for six days. On the night of the sixth day Sancho quickly falls asleep and Quixote stays up thinking about Dulcinea. He rouses Sancho and tries to lash him, or to make him lash himself. Sancho walks away into a clump of trees and feels human limbs hanging from the branches– the trees are full of bandits’ corpses. In a little while the sun rises and suddenly they find themselves surrounded by real bandits. The bandits begin to rifle through their packs, but their captain rides up and stops them. His name is Roque Guinart, and he is delighted to meet the famous knight Don Quixote.
In this episode, Quixote acts out at Sancho with a sudden burst of violence: he pushes Sancho to the ground and tries to beat him. With this outburst, he shows his despair at Dulcinea’s transformation and tries to prove his loyalty to her – all because his loyalty is fading. We should also note that after all Quixote’s imaginary battles of good against evil with windmills and sheep, his encounter with a real bandit is friendly and peaceful.
A young man in beautiful clothes rides up to the captain and begs for his help. He introduces himself as Claudia, the daughter of a friend of the captain’s. She fell in love with a young man named Don Vicente, who seduced and betrayed her; she found out that morning that he was marrying another woman, so she put on man’s clothes, found Don Vicente and shot him twice. Captain Roque and Claudia ride to the spot where she’d shot him, and they see that he is dying in his servants’ arms. Don Vicente tells Claudia he never intended to marry another woman and offers to marry her on the spot. Claudia faints and Don Vicente dies. Claudia decides to spend the rest of her life in a convent.
This story has so many elements from previous subplots that it seems like a quilt made from patches of earlier stories. The betrayed young woman is like Dorotea and the duenna’s daughter; the dying lover is like Basilio; the heroine locked up in a convent reminds us of Camila. As the novel winds to a close, the stories become more and more repetitive, as though Cervantes is admitting the limited possibilities of fictional narratives.
Captain Roque tells Quixote that he is a good-natured person, but that he has been dragged into a life of crime by a desire for revenge. Quixote is surprised that a criminal can be so just and sensible. Meanwhile, the company of robbers has captured some new victims – two army captains, two pilgrims, and a coach filled with ladies. Roque at first decides to take all their money, but since they are soldiers and women he takes pity on them and confiscates only a small fraction of their property. They are all very grateful and obsequious. Roque writes a letter to his friend in Barcelona to say that the wonderful Quixote and Sancho are on their way there, and asks his friend to welcome them.
Most of the novel has taken place in the outskirts of civilization. The societies that formed in the outskirts have different rules and systems, but they function relatively well, and present an alternative to organized society. This band of thieves is another such alternative. They do not represent lawlessness, but an alternate system of law. Cervantes places particular emphasis on Captain Roque’s precise and thoughtful moral code, a thief’s code like that of Robin Hood.