The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Ah, Cervantes, you joker

Posted on: August 15, 2007

So this feller, a Spanish Christian, once a Moorish captive, relates his experience in one of the many stories-within-the-story in Don Quixote. At this point he’s in a special prison for valued captives expecting ransom in Moorish Spain. During one of his attempts to escape with like-minded prisoners he receives a letter from a reed waved by dainty, white, bangled hand from a window in a nearby residence. He gets a renegade Moor (one who doesn’t wish to abuse a Christian on sight, so it seems) to translate the letter.

…he translated the letter slowly, and when he was finished, he said: ‘Everything written here in Spanish is exactly what this Moorish letter contains; you should know that where it says Lela Marién it means Our Lady the Virgin Mary.’ We read the paper, and this is what it said:

When I was a little girl, my father had a slave woman who taught me in my own language a Christian zalá, or prayer, and she told me many things about Lela Marién. The Christian slave died, and I know she did not go to the fire but to Allah, because afterward I saw her two times, and she told me to go to a Christian land to see Lela Marién, who loved me very much. I do not know how to go: I have seen many Christians through my window, and none has seemed as much a gentleman as you. I am very beautiful and young, and I have a good deal of money to take with me; see if you can plan how we can go, and when we are there you can be my husband if you like, and if you do not, it will not matter, because Lela Marién will give me someone to marry. I wrote this; be careful who you ask to read it: do not trust any Moor, because they are all false. I am very worried about that: I wish you would not show it to anybody, because if my father finds out, he will throw me in a well and cover me with stones. I will put a thread on the reed: tie your answer there, and if you do not have anybody who writes Arabic, give me your answer in signs; Lela Marién will make me understand. May she and Allah protect you, and this cross that I kiss many times, as the captive woman taught me to do.

Consider, Señores, if there was reason for the words of this letter to astound and delight us; our feelings were so intense that the renegade realized the paper had not been found by chance but had really been written to one of us, and he implored us that if what he suspected was true, that we trust him and tell him so, and he would risk his life for our freedom. And saying this, he pulled out from under his shirt a metal crucifix, and with many tears he swore by the God that the image represented, and in whom he, though a sinner, believed completely and faithfully, that he would be loyal to us and keep secret anything we wished to tell him; he thought, and could almost predict, that by means of the woman who had written the letter, he and all of us would obtain our freedom, and he would find himself where he longed to be, which was reunited with the body of Holy Mother Church, from whom, like a rotten limb, he had been separated and severed because of his ignorance and sin.

Poor thing. The letter is priceless, though. I like that she mentioned her youth and attractive figure, in case Christian charity and the lucre she had already given him in previous episodes were not enough.


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