Authors: Ildefonso Falcones
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Translation copyright © 2014 by Mara Faye Lethem
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Crown and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
Originally published in Spain as
La Reina Descalza
by Grijalbo, an imprint of Random House Mondadori, Barcelona, in 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Ildefonso Falcones de Sierra. This translation originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Doubleday, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, London, in 2014.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Falcones de Sierra, Ildefonso, 1959–
[Reina descalza. English]
The barefoot queen : a novel / Ildefonso Falcones ; [translated by Mara Faye Lethem]. — First American edition.
1. Spain—History—18th century—Fiction. I. Lethem, Mara, translator. II. Title.
eBook ISBN 978-0-8041-3949-6
Jacket design by Kimberly Glyder
Jacket photography © Irene Lamprakou/Arcangel Images
To the memory of my parents
Being flamenco is:
it’s another way of seeing the world
ELEGY TO THE CANTAOR
Port of Cádiz, January 7, 1748
Just as she was about to set foot on the dock at Cádiz, Caridad hesitated. She was right at the end of the gangway jutting out of the tender that had taken them ashore from the Armada ship named
It had traveled from the Indies laden with riches as escort to six registered merchant ships transporting valuable goods. Caridad looked up at the winter sun that illuminated the bustling, teeming port: one of the merchant ships that had sailed with them from Havana was being unloaded. The sun slipped through the gaps in her worn straw hat, dazzling her. She was startled by the commotion and shrank back, frightened, as if the shouts were being directed at her.
“Don’t stop there, darkie!” spat the sailor next in line, overtaking her without a second thought.
Caridad stumbled and almost fell into the water. Another man tried to pass her on the gangway, but she jumped clumsily to the dock, then moved aside and stopped again, while part of the crew continued arriving in port amid laughter, jokes and brazen bets as to which woman would be the one to make them forget the long ocean voyage.
“Enjoy your freedom, Negress!” shouted another man as he passed by her, taking the liberty of a quiet slap on her buttocks.
Some of his mates laughed. Caridad didn’t even move, her gaze fixed on the long dirty ponytail that danced on the sailor’s back, brushing his
tattered shirt to the rhythm of his wobbly stride as he headed toward the Sea Gate.
she managed to ask herself. What freedom? She looked past the dock, the walls, where the Sea Gate opened on to the city: a large part of the more than five hundred men who made up
s crew were crowding together in front of the entrance, where an army of officials—commanders, corporals, inspectors—searched them for contraband and questioned them about the ships’ course, to find out if any boat had separated from the convoy and its route in order to smuggle in contraband and evade the royal tax office. The men waited impatiently for them to finish the routine procedures; those furthest from the officials, sheltered by the throng, shouted, demanding to be let through, but the inspectors didn’t yield.
majestically docked in the Trocadero channel, had transported in its holds more than two million pesos and almost that many wrought-silver marks, plus more treasures from the Indies, along with Caridad and Don José, her master.
Damn his soul! Caridad had cared for Don José on the voyage. “The scourge of the sea,” they’d said he had. “He’s going to die,” they also assured her. And his time did come, after a slow agony that ate away at his body, day after day, amid dreadful swelling, fevers and bleeding. For a month master and slave remained locked up in the stern, in a small foul cabin with a single hammock. Don José had paid good money to the captain to have it built with thick planks, taking space from the officers’ wardroom. “Eleggua, force his soul to wander lost, never finding rest,” had been Caridad’s plea. She could sense, in that cramped space, the powerful presence of the Supreme Being, the God who rules over men’s fates. And it was as if her master had heard her, for he begged for compassion with his bilious eyes and extended his hand in search of the warmth of life he knew was slipping away from him. Alone with him in the cabin, Caridad had refused him that comfort. Hadn’t she also outstretched her hand when they separated her from her little Marcelo? And what had the master done then? Order the overseer of the tobacco plantation to hold her down and shout to the Negro slave to take away her little boy.
“And shut him up!” he added on the esplanade in front of the big house, where the slaves had gathered to find out who would be their new master and what fate had in store for them from that point on. “I can’t stand …”
Don José suddenly grew silent. The slaves’ shock was clear on their faces. Blindly, Caridad had managed to hit the overseer and get free; she seemed to be about to run toward her son, but quickly realized how foolish she was being and stopped herself. For a few moments all that was heard were Marcelo’s shrill, desperate shrieks.
“Do you want me to whip her, Don José?” asked the overseer as he grabbed Caridad again by one arm.
“No,” he decided after thinking it over. “I don’t want to bring her with me to Spain ruined.”
He let her go and shot a severe look toward that big Negro—Cecilio was his name—who then dragged the boy toward the shack. Caridad fell to her knees, her cries joining the boy’s. That was the last time she saw her son. They didn’t let her say goodbye to him, they didn’t allow her to even …
“Caridad! What are you doing just standing there, woman?”
Hearing her name brought her back to reality and amid the din she recognized the voice of Don Damián, the old chaplain of
who had also just disembarked. She immediately dropped her bundle, uncovered her head and lowered her gaze, fixing it on the worn straw hat she started to crush in her hands.
“You can’t stay here on the dock,” continued the priest as he approached and took her by the arm. The contact lasted only an instant; the flustered priest quickly removed his hand. “Let’s go,” he urged somewhat nervously. “Come with me.”