The guest travelled as a captive to Algiers and lived there in a compound for high-born Christian prisoners of war. The prison yard was next to the house of a wealthy Moorish merchant named Hajji Murad. One day, the prisoners saw a cane with a heavy handkerchief extend from one of the windows. Several men tried to take it, but the person inside would only allow the captive to take it; when he approached the window, he saw a glimpse of a beautiful white hand. The handkerchief contained Moorish gold coins called zianyis.
Right away, we can tell that this will be a story like that of Fernando’s and Cardenio’s – a story about noblemen and immortally beautiful women, a serious and romantic story. Our capacity to group the stories into one sort or another alerts us to the artificiality of various modes and styles. Neither kind of story really represents the world as it is, because the world is too various – neither is truly realistic.
Soon another handkerchief appeared; it contained a much greater number of gold coins and a piece of paper with Arabic writing and a picture of a cross. The captive asked a friend of his to translate the writing. His friend was a renegade, meaning a Christian man who has chosen to live in Moorish society. The letter told the story of the daughter of the rich Moorish merchant. When she was a little girl, a Christian slave of her father’s told her about Christianity and the Virgin Mary, whom she calls Lela Marien. In the letter, she asked the captive to help her travel to Christian lands; she also explained that she was young, rich, and beautiful, and promised to marry him if he wished. The renegade offered to help the captives escape with the girl, because he too wished to return to Christian lands.
This part of the novel is partially autobiographical. Cervantes himself was a war prisoner in Algiers for nearly five years, decades before he began writing his novel, though the end of his captivity was not nearly as glamorous as this character’s – he was ransomed by his parents. In writing this story, Cervantes resembles Quixote. He is re-writing his own life to make it more dramatic, more heroic, more like the chivalry tales in Quixote’s library.
With the renegade’s help, the captive wrote a reply: he offered his help and asked her whether she had any ideas for escape. She wrote back with the following plan: she will give the prisoners a great deal of money, which they will use to ransom themselves, travel back to Christian lands, buy a boat, and pick her up from a seaside villa of her father’s. The captive began to carry out the plan by ransoming himself and three friends.
Like many other women in the novel, this girl is both helpless and not. She does need men to help her, but only because her society has given her very few rights. Men help women, in this novel, not because they are constitutionally smarter or stronger, but because they are freer.