Excerpt of Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte
(Page 7 of 9)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
"Do not fuck with me, don Francisco," the captain
replied ill-humoredly. "We will have our fight with whom we must, but
do not fuck with me."
"That is how a true, hic, man talks," said the
poet, visibly grateful for the friend who had just sworn his support.
The rest of the gatherers unanimously urged him on, like Dómine Pérez,
abandoning any conciliatory efforts and in truth delightedly
anticipating the spectacle. For if don Francisco de Quevedo,
particularly in his cups, turned out to be a terrible swordsman, the
intervention of Diego Alatriste as his partner at the ball left no
shred of doubt regarding the results. Bets flew about the number of
thrusts the strangers would pay for.
So. The captain gulped a swallow of wine and, already
on his feet, looked over toward the strangers as if to apologize that
things had gone so far. He motioned with his head for them to step
outside, in order not to destroy the tavern of Caridad la Lebrijana,
who was always fretting about the furniture.
"Whenever Your Mercies please."
The men buckled on their weapons and started outside
amid high expectation, taking care not to leave their backs
unguardedjust in casefor Jesus may have said something about
brothers, but he made no mention of cousins. That was the situation,
with all swords still sheathed, when, to the disappointment of the
onlookers and relief of Diego Alatriste, the unmistakable silhouette of
the high constable, Martín Saldaña, appeared in the doorway.
"That throws the blanket over our fiesta," said don
Francisco de Quevedo.
And shrugging, he adjusted his eyeglasses, glanced out
of the corner of his eye, went back to his table, and uncorked another
bottle, with no further ado.
"I have a mission for you."
The high constable, Martín Saldaña, was hard and tan as
a brick. Over his doublet, he wore an old-fashioned buffcoat, quilted
inside, that was very practical in warding off knives. With his sword,
dagger, poniard, and pistols, he carried more iron than was to be found
in all Biscay. He had been a soldier in the Flemish wars, like Diego
Alatriste and my deceased father, and in close camaraderie with them
had spent long years of pain and worry, although in the end with better
fortune. While my progenitor pushed up daisies in a land of heretics,
and the captain earned his living as a hired swordsman, Saldaña made
his way in Madrid upon his discharge in Flandersafter our deceased
king, Philip the Third, signed a treaty with the Dutchwith the help of
a brother-in-law who was a majordomo in the palace, and a mature but
still-beautiful wife. I cannot prove the story of the wifeI was too
young to know the detailsbut there were rumors that a certain
magistrate was free to have his way with the aforementioned señora, and
that that was the reason for her husband's being appointed high
constable, a position equal to that of the night watchmen who made
their rounds in the barrios of Madrid, which at that time were still
In any case, no one ever dared make the least
insinuation in Martín Saldaña's presence. Cuckolded or not, there was
no doubt was that he was brave, albeit very thin-skinned. He had been a
good soldier; his many wounds had been stitched up like a crazy quilt,
and he knew how to command respect with his fists or with a Toledo
sword. He was, in fact, as honorable as could be expected in a high
constable of the time. He, too, admired Diego Alatriste, and he tried
to favor him whenever possible. Theirs was an old professional
friendshiprough, as befitting men of their naturebut real and
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.