“Christopher,” my mother whispered in the dim light of morning of
February 14, in the year 1572. “She is born.”
I sat up in bed. “What will they call her?”
“To me, she will be Cinda.”
My mother patted my head and pulled up my covers, as if she thought I
would go back to sleep. But I was six then, and there was a new baby,
and I knew, though did not understand, she and I were betrothed, and it
was important news for our families. King Philip had agreed to it.
Three days later, I stood with my two brothers and her two
brothers—the five of us like a hand, me the tallest, with Estevan the
thumb and shortest; Fernando, the little finger; and my brothers, nearly
as tall as I on either side of me.
Before us was the sleeping baby, held by her duchess mother, Doña
Isabella. The baby had dark, dark hair, a good bit of it. Her mouth
puckered rhythmically in her sleep. I held out my hand towards her and
let it hover there. My hand would engulf hers were I to pick it up.
In my pocket was the gift my mother and father had given me to give
Cinda. I handed the pouch to Doña Isabella. “For her, my Cinda.” I
liked knowing that I would be important to this baby and she would be
important to me. She was the first girl in either of our families, the
families of neighboring duchies in Andalusia in the south of Spain.
Out of the pouch came the tiny silver bells, tinkling their way toward
Cinda. They were on a knotted cord ready to tie to her wrist. My mother
leaned over and tied the bracelet so Doña Isabella did not have to
jiggle the new baby. Cinda would wear them every day until she was two.
“Boys, do you want to hold her?” Doña Isabella asked softly in her
mellow voice, her auburn hair wisped around her face.
Fashioning a wave from our finger-like arrangement, our heads nodded in
unison, and “yes” popped from some of our mouths.
My mother lined us up on a bench like stair steps and cradled her arms
so we would mimic her, ready for the baby. Starting with Estevan, only
two, Doña Isabella held the baby in his arms for a long moment and just
so with each successive boy. She never let go of the baby, never trusted
those toddling boys solo with her baby.
As she paused at each station of open-jawed boy, she announced each of
their names. “Luscinda, this is Estevan . . . Fernando . . . Miguel .
. . Juan.” They only stared, as if mute, at the sleeping baby.
Now it was my turn. I held out my cradled arms ready for the weight of
the warm bundle, so wanting to hold her on my own, not with aid as the
others had, and then I was. Doña Isabella stood up, her arms at her
side, slightly flexed.
Staring at her round baby face, I pulled Cinda close and willed her to
open her eyes. And she did! Blinking them. Blue. Now she moved and
stretched, and I saw Doña Isabella shift as if ready to take the baby,
but I held on and watched.
She waved her arm, the tiny silver bells pinging like crystal.
“Cinda.” I said, not softly, but in a normal voice. She turned her
head and looked at me. Her bells tinkled, and she opened her mouth and
cooed, a little baby coo, her first song to me.
I came every day to see her, if only for a moment, even after the other
boys grew bored. I wanted to be near, and her sturdy baby arm waved and
chimed the bells: our futures tied together like the ends of the
Eleven years later, she went missing. I thought my eyes would melt from
the heat of my tears, the heat of my anger. Oh! and the fear! I cursed
our Holy Mother Mary for not keeping my betrothed safe then fell to my
knees, begging Mary to protect a bewildered girl, gone from her home,
with safety and shelter. Surely the blessed Virgin was used to imperfect
and changeable men and could forgive my initial rancorous outbursts.
Within the hour, I was on Beleza, my sturdy horse, pounding the rutted
road from Alcala to Madrid, feeling assured I would find my missing
in which her memory is jounced out
NOVEMBER 3, 1583
I awoke with straw in my mouth. I had been dreaming, dreaming that black
storks were pricking me with talons and beaks. Or was it devils sticking
me in my legs, arms, neck, and face? But awake, I saw it was only the
straw and the jostling cart.
My body had a lightness about it that was unfamiliar. Everything was
unfamiliar. The jouncing of the cart during the miles it had traveled
had quite simply, it seems to me in writing about it years later,
bounced my memories right out. At the time, I could not have described
it; I would not have had the words. My past was wiped clean, like a new
babe who has no existence but the moment of birth. I did not know that
it was not my normal state because I did not know anything or much of
My mind began to work. First rustling in my head, then down my body
searching for information. Fear was not what I found, but curiosity.
I was in a cart filled with straw, and when I turned around, I
discovered a red-haired man, the driver, his shoulders curved as he
slouched on the seat. It was rather dark, but I could see the sun coming
In between foggy impressions, these sparse words jumped into my head.
Like walking through pudding, my thoughts were sluggish, and every word
and the concept of everything did not float immediately into my brain. I
picked up my arm and saw my . . . hand, and when I wriggled my fingers,
it took me a moment to remember fingers.
My cloak was soft. It was black fur, lined with white velvet, and flowed
around me. I felt lumps under my skirt. Lifting it, I found a bag and
unhooked it. It was bountifully embroidered with flowers. In it I found
two hair combs, inlaid with rubies; a shell; and some rocks. The rocks
were nut-sized and different colors—one pink, one gray-white, one
milky green, and one red. I set these items in my lap.
The cart rolled in an uneven rhythm, and in front of the cart moved the
gray haunches of an ox. The man driving the cart hummed aimlessly in a
deep, gravelly voice.
I took a locket from my neck and, in it, found two miniatures. A man and
a boy of about twelve. I touched the rough painted surface over the
man’s face. He was dark-haired, dark-eyed, and handsome with a high
forehead and a hooked nose, a noble beak. The boy had silver gray eyes
and a dimple in his chin. He appeared gentle and good-humored.
I did not know who they were, nor did it seem as if I should. With my
fingernail I flicked the miniatures out of the locket. One of them, the
boy’s, had T-o-p-h-e-r written on the back. I pressed the picture
backward in the locket and stared at the word. Nothing came to me. I
returned the other picture to the locket, also backward. I closed the
locket and saw T-i-n-t-o-r-e-t-t-o etched on the back. Another word I
didn’t recognize. I put the locket and the other objects in the bag.
When I hooked it under my skirt, I discovered pockets, where I found a
handkerchief, soft and white and edged in a scalloped and delicate lace.
A worn wooden thimble, which I put on my finger—though I did not know
that was the right place for it. A shiny oval of metal—a
mirror—smaller than my palm. As it moved, it caught the morning sun,
spilling streams of light across the straw. Instantly I turned over the
mirror and dropped it. My palms grew warm, and my breath caught in my
throat: I put the mirror away.
I found two biscuits wrapped in a plain cloth. I ate them. They crumbled
in my mouth and became pasty. I wished I had a drink.
The last item from the pockets was a rosary made of carved blue beads.
The rosary, unlike my dream, did not tell of demons, but of mysteries,
of which I had some inexpressible sense. I replaced the rosary and other
things in the pockets, and I pulled my cloak and hood completely around
me and lay back in the cart, sheltered from the dewy morning chill and
light. I slept.
The cart stopped. Nearby a man yelped, his cry joined by another’s.
Though at the time I did not understand their startled country words, I
heard, many times, the story of what was said.
“What is this!” Lorenzo thundered in his rumbly voice.
“Who is it?” Sancho sang out.
“Is it dead?” Lorenzo asked.
I peered through a slit in my hood—two men were staring at me; the
red-haired man was tall, and the other one was short and rather stout.
To them, I was a long black-furred lump on the straw—seemingly a body,
but at first it was not clear if I were animal or demon. Their eyes,
round like a fish’s, were dark in fear-blanched faces. Each man had
one hand poised in the air, as if to touch me, but something stopped
them from reaching out.
Slowly I sat up, presenting a moving black shape—my head still
covered—quite a grim figure, unexpected and unknown. As if connected,
the men slapped their arms to their sides and jumped back.
I pulled the hood from my head. The cart, no longer on the open road,
sat in front of a store. I looked at the still-as-statue men.
In a moment, Lorenzo clapped his calloused hand to his mouth. “God in
heaven! What have we here?” His bushy eyebrows rose high on his
“A girl,” Sancho, the shorter one, said matter-of-factly. He had
dark hair and a short beard.
“Sancho Panza!” Lorenzo cried in his rumbling voice. “I can see
that! But who is she?” Though his red hair was thinning on top, he had
a full red beard.
“Where did she come from?” Sancho asked. His voice rich and musical.
Lorenzo rubbed his broad, flat nose and shrugged. His skin was freckled,
weathered, scorched from the sun. “She wasn’t there when I unloaded
in Madrid,” Lorenzo said flatly. He took a deep breath and said,
“Aldonza will not believe this!”
“Where else did you stop?” Sancho asked.
“Once on the road near Sondia and also in Magdelona. Quick stops for
“She climbed in . . . somewhere.”
Cautiously Sancho fingered the soft chele trim of my cloak. His smile
was simple and sweet. The men seemed good-hearted.
Lorenzo touched my hand.
I smiled at him. I saw there was a scar on his temple. It was deep and
curved to just below his right eye.
“When did you get in the cart?” Lorenzo said. “Aldonza will ask
The words were familiar, yet not. I said nothing.
“Are you a mute then? Oh, what will Aldonza say!”
“Can you talk?” Sancho was eager now to find some answers.
“What will Aldonza think?” Lorenzo scratched his head. “Did you
crawl in when I stopped? What is your name?” He stared at my mouth.
I did not understand the question, but I mouthed the word he kept
repeating: “Al-don-za.” The slightest sound came from my lips, as if
I did not know how to push air through my dry throat to make full
sounds. “Al-don-za.” The word seemed a bit familiar. I was sure I
had heard it. It was pretty, I thought.
“Aldonza!” he exclaimed. “But that’s my wife’s own name.”
Name! Was Aldonza my name?
“Do you think that’s it?” Sancho asked excitedly.
“And a pretty child you are,” Lorenzo declared staunchly. “Like my
Child! A child was a young person. Why would a child be alone in a cart
with a man she did not know? Where would the child have come from? And
why would she be here?
Vaguely I knew I was the child. My head hurt.
Lorenzo motioned me to come to him; his eyes were kind and soft.
Unafraid, I rolled over the straw, and he helped me from the cart. I was
as tall as his shoulder, a bit taller than Sancho.
Lorenzo clumsily brushed straw from my cloak. He smelled of fresh air
and evergreen. Patting my arm, he said, “Aldonza will know what to
I did not know what to do.
Sancho said, “I will go to the churches and tell the priests. They may
hear of a missing girl.”
“We don’t know how long she’s been missing,” Lorenzo mused.
“No,” Sancho agreed. “Perhaps a priest will already know of
Through the window I saw a man staring at me. He retreated to the side
as if to watch in secret. He was tall and thin and had a gray
pickdevant. A plain young woman with straight brown hair came up to
him. He turned to her and held up his hand in which he carried two
books. Together they walked away from the window.
Lorenzo entered the shop; he nearly ran into the old man, who was the
hidalgo Alonso Quesano, who would later become Don Quixote with Sancho
as his squire.
The shopkeeper (Ricardo González, a man short of stature but long on
decency) helped Lorenzo with boxes and bags of goods. As the shopkeeper
glanced at me, he said, “I have not seen her in Toboso. I will keep my
Toboso was in La Mancha. Why did I know that?
Lorenzo loaded the cart. A bag of nails clattered noisily as it
flattened away from him. A gray cloud rose from a bag of flour as it
settled in the cart. When Lorenzo found a brown tapestry satchel, he
gave it to me, as though it was mine, but I did not recognize it. When I
opened it, the odor of chocolate and cherries came to me. On top were an
ivory comb and brush, bejeweled with blue topaz and garnets. I set them
aside and looked at the other contents. A full black velvet dress,
another soft and yellow, items embroidered and white, some beaded and
some lacy. I closed the bag, but I put the ivory comb and brush in my
When Lorenzo finished loading the supplies, he got back in the cart, but
Sancho did not return, and Lorenzo motioned that I was to sit in the
seat beside him. I pointed to him, for I had not yet heard his name, and
he said, “Lorenzo.”
He motioned to me and said, “Aldonza.”
I pointed to me and then to him.
He laughed and said, “Hello, Aldonza Lorenzo.”
He named me, and I did not have to speak, and I did not—for more than
Excerpted from "The Woman of La Mancha" by Karen Mann. Copyright © 2014 by Karen Mann. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.