In the previous episode, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were in the gardens of the Duke and Duchess, waiting for the arrival of the Countess of Trifaldi, alias the Dolorous Duenna. When she arrived in the company of a dozen veiled duennas and her squire, she told the group her tale of woe. The Countess had been the duenna responsible for the upbringing of a beautiful princess, who was seduced by a knight at court, and fell pregnant. The Countess arranged for the couple to be married, but the princess’s mother died within three days from anger and grief over that marriage. The queen’s cousin, an enchanter, appeared to avenge her death, and turned the princess into a brass monkey, and the knight into a metal crocodile. He wanted to kill the Countess, but gave her and all the other duennas long and thick beards instead. As they then had nowhere to go, their lives had been a misery ever since.
As the Countess finished speaking, she fainted, causing Sancho Panza to pity the bearded duennas. One of the women then described the predicament they were in, being unable to pay to be shaved, and expressed the hope that Don Quixote might be able to relieve them of their facial hair. The knight reassured her that he would do everything possible to solve their problem, which revived the Countess from her faint.
The Countess told Don Quixote that the enchanter who did this to them mentioned that he would send his magic wooden horse, which had been built by Merlin, to fetch anyone who felt able to undo his enchantment. That was necessary given the far distance of Kandy. She told the knight to expect that wooden horse within half an hour of nightfall.
Sancho Panza asked her how many the horse could carry, to which she replied two. But when she was asked the name of the horse, she first told them that it wasn’t Pegasus, Bucephalus, or any other famous equestrian name, but Clavileño [meaning nail – wood] because it’s made of wood and has a peg in its head with which it’s controlled. The squire told her that he wouldn’t be riding the horse, especially for any duennas.
The Countess concluded with an emotional appeal for the enchanter to send his horse that evening. Sancho Panza was so moved that he decided to accompany his master on Clavileño in his quest to remove the beards from the duennas.
By that time, it was already starting to grow dark, and expectation of the arrival of Clavileño was growing. Then four men carrying a wooden horse burst into the garden, telling those present that only the courageous should climb on it. Their spokesman instructed those riding it to wear blindfolds until the horse neighed to indicate that their journey was complete.
The Countess invited Don Quixote to mount Clavileño, which he accepted, although Sancho had second thoughts, and the Duke had to use his promise of a governorship as a bribe to persuade the squire to join his master. Don Quixote remarked as to how scared his squire was, and took him aside for a brief chat. The knight and his squire then mounted the wooden horse and were blindfolded in readiness. Sancho next decided that he needed something more comfortable to sit on, so was told to sit side-saddle. By this time, their blindfolds had to be replaced before they could continue.
As the knight was reassuring his squire, they felt a strong wind on their faces. Recognising that they were now in flight and climbing steeply up through the atmosphere, Don Quixote wondered whether they’d reach an altitude where they’d be roasted. Sancho could already feel that heat, and part of his beard had been singed, but his master told him not to remove his blindfold, for fear of his fainting should he look down.
All these effects were being manufactured by the Duke’s staff, who were pumping huge bellows at the wooden horse and its riders, and had lit hanging fibres to heat the wind they were creating. After a while listening to the conversation of the knight and his squire with amusement, the Duke and Duchess decided to bring their flight to an end.
The tail of the wooden horse was lit and, because it was filled with firecrackers, after a few moments it exploded. The riders were blown into the air, then fell to the ground scorched and singed.
By the time that Don Quixote and Sancho Panza had struggled to their feet, the Countess and her duennas had departed, and everyone else was laid out on the ground, as if in a faint. To one side was a parchment hanging from a lance, proclaiming the success of the quest to rid the duennas of their beards, and reminding Sancho of his uncompleted penance for Lady Dulcinea to be disenchanted.
Slowly the Duke, Duchess and their household regained consciousness, and the Duke confirmed to Don Quixote the success of their mission. Sancho confessed to the Duchess that he had peeked from under his blindfold, and saw the earth as small as a grain of mustard beneath him, with people little larger than hazelnuts, and heavenly goats. He insisted that was what he had seen, despite the Duchess pointing out the disparity in size. Don Quixote said that his squire was either lying or had been dreaming. Eventually their disagreement petered out inconsequentially.
The Duke and Duchess were greatly amused by the trick they had played so successfully. Don Quixote whispered in his squire’s ear that if Sancho wanted people to believe what he claimed to have seen during their flight, then he should believe what the knight had seen in the Cave of Montesinos.
That completes the forty-first 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.