Aldonza set the plate of runny pork roast on the table and watched the hoard of muleteers dive towards it as if it was the first time they had seen food. Perhaps it was. She listened to the klanking of silverware as she maneuvered around them, filling gauntlets with wine and dodging tidbits of flying food from mouths and grabby hands. A particularly strong hand grabbed her shoulder and pushed her to her knees. "Drop the napkins." Aldonza complied and dropped the heap of roughly-stained cloth, raising on her calves to listen to the rough voice that had lips pressed against her ear. "Tonight. Under the cinnamon tree. Half past eleven." Aldonza raised her eyes and found herself staring into olive orbs, creases of dirt spreading across his brow and the grime of sweat tickling his forehead and jawline. A silver coin was stuffed into her shirt before she was picking up the napkins, flinging them on the table as she hurried to the kitchen to continue her nightly chores. The evening continued and the moon rose higher into the sky. Aldonza walked the three quarters of a mile to the destination, moonlight dancing on her skin and the scent of sensual cinnamon wafting through the heated night air. Her airy robozo gave her the appearance of a saint who was cursed with sinful tendencies. It was then that she noticed the dark, lean figure of the muleteer who had forcibly captured her attention at the supper table. He was shirtless save for a cowhide vest; he was stroking his whip tentatively as he leaned against the rough bark of the cinnamon tree. As she approached him she noticed a thin smile spread across his face, and soon his arms tangled around her. She was pushed back into a dipped embrace before she was gently lowered to the ground. Pedro's strong arms balanced on either side of her slight figure. He leaned down and placed a single kiss to the tender skin under her ear. "You are my little bird," he whispered in a sing-song air. "Do you know why that is?" Normally Aldonza refrained from listening let alone replying to the lust-fueled blabber that came from her customers, but this one was different. He was alluring, with his honey-colored hair and scent of waxy manhood; his words seemed promising and sincere, where most others were desperate and sex-deprived. "Why am I your little bird?" She managed to whisper as his kisses formed a line down to the hollow of her neck. Pleased with the reaction he was receiving, Pedro grinned and tipped his chin upon hers, his voice barely audible through the reeking air of sweat and glorious cinnamon. "You are my little bird because it is clear you are a free spirit, but-" He placed a kiss on her sternum, his hand pushing down the side of her shirt to reveal the pale skin of her breast. "you keep returning to me, whether it's through your body, through your words, through your looks across the table." His hands proceeded to move lower as he felt Aldonza's body instinctually raise itself up to meet his, and he continued. "You are quick and light; we are two birds of a feather. Show me your song, little bird." Soon the night was filled with the hushed noises of two bodies joining together. And while Aldonza couldn't quite decide if she enjoyed the relationship that was forming between she and Pedro, she knew one thing: she was his little bird. ~~~~ Pedro gave the mule a sharp kick in the calf before tying the last of the lead ropes and attaching the heavy saddle bag. He watched as it ran off to be added to the caravan of mules. Tomorrow morning, the muleteers would be off, down the road of El Tobozo where they would find work, find money, find food and wine and women. He wiped a grimy hand against his sweaty forehead and walked into the inn, looking for Aldonza and hopefully a carafe of water. Instead, he was met with the yells and cries of his fighting friends. As soon as he entered, however, the fight settled, and soon the muleteers were sitting at the table, expectantly looking up at their "leader" as if waiting for instructions. "Well, what's it to ya?" Pedro asked roughly, leaning against the wall of the inn and spitting on the dirt ground. "And for the love of St. Anthony, what does it take to get a little service around here?" "Right this way, sir, so sorry to keep you waiting!" The gruff voice of the innkeeper replied. "Ice and water coming right up!" "Where are your women?" Juan asked obnoxiously. "Probably all off cooking or sleeping around!" Paco guffawed. "Yeah!" Anselmo interjected. "Where were you the other night, Pedro?" He asked, stepping toward him as if silently challenging him to a duel. "Off with that kitchen slut?" Pedro kept his face calm although his insides were boiling with rage. "With the right amount," he replied with a wicked smile. "She'll do anything." He grabbed a gauntlet of water from the tray the innkeeper had just brought in and downed it, bringing it back to the table with a rough and noisy clank. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to-" "Hold on just a minute!" Juan countered, going up behind his friend and rubbing his shoulders and easing him into a seat. "Tell us about it." "About what?" Pedro asked smartly, despite the fact that he was playing dumb. "You know!" Juan replied, sitting on the table and fixing a searching look on his friend. "The slut. Was she good?" "She's a little bird," Pedro murmured to himself. "No, she was… it was alright." "Just alright!" Paco cried. "For a silver piece? Not sufficient for a young lord such as yourself!" "Nahh, ol' Pedro just doesn't want us stealing his prize." Anselmo countered. "What are you going to do, propose marriage to her?" A chorus of rough guffaws filled the inn from such a ludicrous, unnatural idea. Aldonza slipped into the room and began collecting plates, bending down to fetch forgotten silverware, filling wine glasses and replacing napkins. Pedro noticed Aldonza's quiet entrance and tried to quiet his friends' hurtful comments from his beloved. Unfortunately, the hoard of muleteers noticed as well. "Aye, little bird, will you fly from your nest and into mine?" Anselmo asked, placing his large hands over her perky breasts and trapping her in a sadistic hug. Paco went on the other side, sandwiching Aldonza between the two of them as he breathed on her neck. "Penny for your thoughts? Or your legs?" He asked, undoing his belt and wrapping it around her neck as he gripped the leather between his fingers. "Aye, little bird, little bird in the cinnamon tree!" Anselmo began singing, relinquishing his grip and spinning her into Juan's arms. Paco's belt was still wrapped around her neck and she let out a harried scream. "Little bird, little bird- will you sing for me?" He continued in a rough fashion of singing. Anselmo grabbed her arms and forced her to dance with him, causing the plates in her arms to go crashing to the ground in a collective metal explosion. "Do you bring me word of one I know?" The muleteers continued, badgering and battering the poor woman as she fought to get away. "Enough!" Pedro yelled, gruff and deep and echoing through the inn. It was enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight. "Pull yourself together, men. Go pack your things. We leave at sunrise." The inn suddenly went silent, save for the collective marching of muleteers, the rustle of boots, the swinging of doors. "Aldonza, I-" "Enough!" She yelled, her snarled hair appearing significantly more rough than usual. "I am done." She stooped down and began collecting the pieces of broken plate, swearing occasionally as she stabbed herself with a dangerous shard. "Done with what?" Pedro asked, inching closer to her sad-looking form. Aldonza dropped to her knees and sat amongst the reckage. "I am done with people like you stirring up useless feelings inside of me." She said it almost to herself, as if she wasn't there. "I am done with feeling like the special one, the prize, when all I am is amusement and desire, used for such purposes and being thrown away as if I don't matter." "I-" "I'm done with trying. I am a whore, and I need to get damn well used to it." She stood and gimped towards the kitchen. "Wait, Aldonza-" Pedro ran to her and trapped her in a strong embrace, hands on either side of her shoulders. "Little bird, little bird- I love you so." Aldonza let out a rough cackle. "I spit in the milk of your little bird." She spat promptly on the toe of his boot before breaking his grasp and retreating to the kitchen, hope lost and feelings spent.