Excerpt of Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte
(Page 6 of 9)
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"I shall grease my poems with the fat of the pig
So that gnat Góngora cannot chew off a piece. . . ."
He began to improvise there on the spot, weaving a
little, hand still clutching the hilt of his sword, while the strangers
tried to apologize and the captain and his table companions held on to
don Francisco to keep him from drawing his sword and going for the
"But by God, that is an insult," the poet cried, trying
to loose the right hand his friends were gripping so tightly, while
with his free hand he adjusted his twisted eyeglasses. "A bit of steel
will make things, hic, right."
"That is too much steel to squander so early in the
day, don Francisco," Diego Alatriste sensibly interceded.
"It seems very little to me." Without taking his eyes
off his perceived tormentors, the poet ferociously smoothed his
mustache. "But we will be generous: one hand's breadth of steel for
each of these hijosdalgo, who are sons of something, no doubt,
but very certainly not sons of hidalgos."
These were fighting words, so the strangers made as if
to claim their swords and go outside. The captain and the other
friends, helpless to prevent the confrontation, asked them please to
make allowances for the poet's alcoholic state and simply quit the
field, adding that there was no glory in fighting a drunk opponent, or
shame in withdrawing prudently to prevent greater harm.
"Bella gerant alii," suggested Dómine Pérez, trying
Dómine Pérez was a Jesuit priest who tended his flock
in the nearby church of San Pedro y San Pablo. His kindly nature and
his Latin phrases tended to have a soothing effect, for he spoke them
in a tone of unquestionable good sense. The two strangers, however,
knew no Latin, and the insult of being called sonsofsomethingorother
was difficult to brush off. Besides, the cleric's mediation was
undercut by the scoffing banter of Licenciado Calzas, a clever, cynical
rascal who haunted the courts, a specialist in defending causes he
could convert into endless trials that bled his clients of their last
maravedís. The licenciado loved to stir things up, and he
was always goading every Juan, José, and Tomasillo.
"You do not want to lose face, don Francisco," he said
in a low voice. "They will pay the court costs, defend your honor."
So all those gathered round prepared to witness an
event that would appear the next day in the sheets of Avisos y
noticias, the city's purveyor of notices and news. And Captain Alatriste, failing in his efforts to calm his friend, but knowing he
would not leave don Francisco alone in the fray, began to accept as
inevitable that he would be crossing swords with these strangers.
"Aio te vincere posse," Dómine Pérez concluded with
resignation, as Licenciado Calzas hid his laughter by snorting into his
jug of wine. With a deep sigh, the captain started to get up from the
table. Don Francisco, who already had drawn four fingers of his sword
from its scabbard, shot him a comradely look of thanks, and even had
the brass to direct a couplet to him.
"You, Diego, whose sword so nobly defends
The name and honor of your family . . ."
From Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Copyright 1996 by Arturo Perez-Reverte. All rights reserved. Excerpt reproduced with the permission of the Putnam Publishing.