Purity of Blood
So that was where she was heading, with carriage, coachman, and duenna, and me following some distance behind. On the other side of the bridge and the river, damas and caballeros were strolling beneath the arching trees. In the Madrid of that day, just as I mentioned in regard to the church of Las Benitas, wherever there were ladies—and the Acero fountain attracted not a few, with or without duennas—there also boiled a pot full of gallants, procurers, amorous rendezvous, and other encounters, any of which, fueled by jealousy, might lead to an exchange of words and insults, drawn swords, and a paseo ended with swordplay. In that hypocritical Spain, always a slave to appearances and “What will people say?” where the honor of fathers and husbands was measured by the chastity of their wives and daughters—to the point of not letting them leave the house—activities that were in principle innocent, such as taking the waters or going to mass, engendered a muddle of adventures, intrigues, and liaisons.
I am pretending, my beloved husband,
to be needing “regulation,”
that I may deceive a jealous father
and an aunt’s intimidation.
    So I apologize to Your Mercies for the youthful spirit of chivalry and adventure with which I followed behind the coach of my beloved, knowing I was heading to a place well known for intrigue, and lamenting only that I was not yet old enough to wear a gleaming sword at my belt with which to carve rivals into little pieces. I was a long way from imagining that, with time, my wishes would be fulfilled, point by point. But when the hour actually came for me to kill for Angélica de Alquézar—and I did kill for her—neither she nor I were children. All my romancing had ceased, and life was no longer a game.
    Pardiez. I wander in circles, with digressions and leaps in time that take me away from the thread of my tale. So I shall pick it up again by calling Your Mercies’ attention to something central to my story: the enthusiasm at seeing my beloved that caused me to commit a careless act I would later deeply regret.
    Ever since don Vicente de la Cruz’s visit I had thought I detected the movement of suspicious people around our house. Nothing truly disturbing, it is true; only a couple of faces that were not usually seen either on Calle del Arcabuz or in the Tavern of the Turk. I suppose that this in itself was not overly strange, for on Cava Baja, as well as other streets in the neighborhood, there were a number of inns. But that morning I had noticed something I would have given more consideration to had I not been waiting for Angélica to pass by. It was only later that I gave it proper thought, when I had ample time to mull over the events that had brought me to the sinister place I found myself in. Or where, to be more accurate, I found myself forced to go.
    It had happened that after we returned from the mass at the church of Las Benitas, I stood at the tavern door, and Diego Alatriste went on to Calle de los Correos, where he had business at the letter-office. And at that moment, as the captain was walking up Toledo, two strangers strolling past the fruit stands with an innocent air exchanged a few words in a low voice before one of them turned and followed the captain. I watched from where I was, wondering whether it was a chance move or whether the two were planning some thievery, when Angélica’s carriage went by and erased everything but her from my mind. And yet, as I later had bitter opportunity to lament, the ear-to-ear mustaches, the wide-brimmed hats pulled down in swashbuckling fashion, the swords and daggers, and the swaggering walk of those two bullies, should have made me dog their steps. But God, the Devil, or whoever plays us life’s pranks, always watches with amusement as through carelessness, pride, or ignorance, we find ourselves walking on the sharp edge of the knife.

    She was as beautiful as Lucifer before his expulsion from Paradise. Her carriage had stopped

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