Rarely do letters of recommendation carry the purpose of destiny that the two held by the young private did on September 26, 1575. Folded neatly into fours and bound with a thin silk strand, he kept them tucked into his doublet covering the two thimble-sized pink scars on his breast. His left hand, irreparably maimed, reached up and patted them reflexively every few minutes to make sure that they were still there. The few paragraphs of flourished script marked upon those papers, he knew, would determine the course of the rest of his life.
One was signed by Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, the Duque de Sessa, and the second by none other than the hero of Lepanto, Don Juan de Austria. With them, King Philip of Spain would grant him the merced so necessary for his promotion to a Captaincy in the Spanish army. An illustrious past behind him, a long and likely distinguished career now lay before.
The letters were never to reach their destination. This fact however did not hinder their purpose; they were still indeed to alter the life of the holder, just not in the way that he had expected.
Only a few miles from the Spanish coast, the ship carrying the letter-bearer was surprised by a small fleet of Turks. Those few Christian soldiers who survived the short battle were bound to be galley-slaves for the remainder of their short tortured lives, lost to the memory of Europe forever. But when the royal letters of recommendation were found on one prisoner, the pirates knew they had a special prize worthy of a hefty ransom.
The letters not only spared his life, they set him on a new path. In the five years that Miguel de Cervantes spent as prisoner awaiting ransom, he began to write.