"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 called cuarteles.
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 sincere.
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.
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