In the previous episode, Don Quixote sent Sancho Panza to go into the city of El Toboso to locate the Lady Dulcinea, but the squire realised that his mission was impossible. He bumped into three local peasant girls, and deceived his master into thinking that they were the lady and her two maids disguised by an enchanter to deprive the knight of seeing his lady’s beauty. Duped into believing that this part of his mission had been accomplished, the pair rode on towards Saragossa. They then met an open cart full of players in costume, and a clown scared Rocinante to bolt and throw Don Quixote. Another player rode Sancho’s donkey away, as a result of which Don Quixote threatened the troupe. As they were getting ready to stone the knight, Sancho persuaded his master to let the matter rest. The cart moved on again, and the knight and his squire continued on their way unharmed for once.
As they ate later, the knight and his squire re-examined their encounter with the troupe of players. Don Quixote made the point that, when life’s over, it’s just like a play, following which all the actors remove their costumes and are equals again. Before he fell asleep, Sancho unsaddled his donkey and let it loose to graze, but kept Rocinante saddled and ready, following his master’s instructions, and let him loose too.
Soon after they had fallen asleep, they were awoken by two horsemen who arrived, dismounted, and put their mounts to graze nearby. Hearing the sounds of creaking armour, Don Quixote realised that this was another knight errant, and the start of another adventure. This was confirmed when one of the horsemen tuned a lute, cleared his throat, and sang a sonnet lamenting his love. Following that he spoke of his most serene lady, Casildea de Vandalia, acknowledged as the fairest lady by all the knights of the area, including those of La Mancha.
When this Knight of the Forest heard Don Quixote denying that the knights of La Mancha, himself included, had acknowledged that lady’s beauty, he called on the knight to come to him. They then introduced themselves, and started discussing their ladies. The two squires went off separately to compare notes about their respective masters.
Sancho and the Squire of the Forest agreed that they were both hard done by, enduring extremes of temperature for the promise of a prize like the governorship of an island or a canonry. They then discussed their families, Sancho maintaining the purity of his wife and children. Next they compared their masters, and agreed that both their knights were valiant but stupid.
The Squire of the Forest then produced a leather bottle of wine and a huge rabbit pie, which they proceeded to devour together. The Squire of the Forest travelled in style, with ample provisions, compared with Sancho who only had cheese so hard you could crack your teeth on it. They eventually fell asleep once the wine was finished.
Meanwhile the two knights spoke about their ladies. The Knight of the Forest told of how his Lady Casildea had imposed an apparently endless series of Herculean labours on him. First he had to settle La Giralda in Seville (actually the huge brass weather vane on the cathedral there), then he had to raise the huge granite stones of the Bulls of Guisando, and to descend to the depths of the Chasm of Cabra, in Cordova.
His latest mission for her was to force every knight in Spain to confess that his lady was the most beautiful woman alive, and he said how proud he was that he’d defeated Don Quixote de la Mancha and forced him to confess this too. That prompted Don Quixote to express his doubts over that claim, suggesting that the knight had mistaken that knight’s identity.
The Knight of the Forest confirmed Don Quixote’s identity with a detailed description. The latter then said that Don Quixote was his best friend, and denied that the other knight could have defeated him except by means of enchantment. Explaining what had happened to him at El Toboso, Don Quixote then revealed that he was that knight. With that, Don Quixote rose to his feet and challenged the other knight. They agreed to wait for daylight before fighting, and that the victor would do whatever he pleased with the vanquished, so long as it remained within the code of chivalry.
The two knights woke up their squires and instructed them to prepare their chargers to be ready at dawn for their deadly duel. Although Sancho was astonished, the two remained silent at first. Then the Squire of the Forest told Sancho that it was customary for the squires to engage in their own combat while their knights were fighting. Sancho said that he would ignore that custom, wouldn’t fight, and in any case didn’t even have a sword. The other squire then proposed that, as a substitute, they should fight with two cotton bags, which Sancho was happy to do until the other said that they should first fill the bags with stones.
With the dawn chorus well under way and daylight arriving rapidly, Sancho saw the face of the other squire for the first time. His opponent’s nose was so huge, purple and covered in warts that his hands and feet started to shake at the prospect of them fighting.
When Don Quixote got his first clear view of his opponent, he still couldn’t see his face because his visor was already down, but he realised the knight was short and well built, and wore a tabard of gold cloth bearing many spangles, identifying him as the Knight of the Spangles. Don Quixote wanted to see the face of his opponent before joining in battle, but his request was denied. However, the Knight of the Spangles confirmed that Don Quixote looked exactly the same as the knight whom he claimed he had defeated and forced to confess that the Lady Casildea was the most beautiful woman alive.
The two knights then turned their chargers away from one another and rode apart, to give them ample distance for their charge. They reminded one another of the reward for the victor and the penalty for the loser. As Don Quixote was about to turn Rocinante round to face his opponent, Sancho ran up and asked his master to put him up in a nearby tree, confessing that he was scared of the other squire’s fearsome nose. As Don Quixote was doing that, the Knight of the Spangles misjudged his timing, turned his horse and charged at Don Quixote, at the fastest pace his mount could manage, a steady trot rather than a gallop.
Seeing this unexpected turn of events, Don Quixote responded by spurring on Rocinante, who for the first time in his long life suddenly broke into a full gallop. The other horse, though, decided to stop where he was, while his rider hadn’t even lowered his lance. When Don Quixote’s lance struck the stationary knight, its force tossed his opponent from his horse and he fell heavily to the ground.
Sancho Panza descended from the tree quickly and ran to his master, who dismounted and removed the other knight’s helmet to discover that his opponent was none other than Sansón Carrasco, the young graduate who they thought they had left behind in their village. Don Quixote thought at first that this was another trick of the enchanters, and was drawing his sword to administer the coup de grace when the young man started to recover consciousness. The Squire of the Spangles came rushing over to them, after removing his false nose and revealing himself to be Sancho’s friend and neighbour Tomé Cecial.
Don Quixote held the tip of his sword by the young graduate’s face and forced him to confess the superior beauty of the Lady Dulcinea, and to promise to inform that lady of the events that had taken place. The victorious knight added to that confession that the Knight of the Spangles had never met Don Quixote before, and that the young man wasn’t Sansón Carrasco but an enchantment.
With that, Don Quixote and Tomé Cecial helped the defeated knight to his feet. Sancho Panza remained confused as to the identity of the other squire. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza then carried on with their journey, both still believing that the other knight and his squire weren’t who they had claimed to be. They left Sansón Carrasco and Sancho’s neighbour to limp away in search of aid for the former’s bruised ribs.
That completes the fourteenth chapter of the second book of Don Quixote.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, trans John Rutherford (1604, 2000) Don Quixote, Penguin, ISBN 978 0 140 44909 9.
Roberto González Echevarría (2015) Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Yale UP, ISBN 978 0 300 19864 5.
Roberto González Echevarría (ed) (2005) Cervantes’ Don Quixote, A Casebook, Oxford UP, ISBN 978 0 19 516938 6.