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Pen and Sword

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Imagine a rhyming disclaimer:

I'm abusing the Highlander name here

With pirated poetry

And martial tomfoolery

And Fitzcairn angst, sorrow and shame here!





Act One

Hugh Fitzcairn, humble foundling, liked to enjoy life when he could. He blamed his upbringing. He had been abandoned at the crossroads on the way to Canterbury, and raised by jolly friars in a monastery. A wealthy monastery, whose orphans lacked for nothing. Fitzcairn had been nurtured on sack, not sackcloth; he was used to eating meat six days a week, and Lenten fasts had always struck him as cruel and unusual. True, he had managed to run away before the good fathers dinned the alphabet into his head, and ended up a mercenary rather than a monk . . . but early training always told.

Luckily, he had always been good at making money.

That year, he hired on as the first mate of a Florentine privateer, and helped capture a Moorish caravel bringing spices west from Alexandria; his share of the spoils had made his eyes bug out. It was more wealth than most soldiers saw in a lifetime. And then he had gone dicing with his shipmates, and ended up with all their booty as well. And then it had been expedient for him to convert his winnings into cash, and leave Italy as fast as possible.

And that was why he was now in Seville, to which came all the shipping of Spain. In Seville, and footloose, and filthy rich. He had just been sampling the local wines, at the taverns on the Strand where warehouses stretched as far as the eye could see, right down to the banks of the Guadalquivir river; so much cargo had lately arrived, that crates and sacks were stacked like haycocks against the walls of every warehouse. Hired watchmen patrolled them, armed with bludgeons. Every tavern was bustling with activity, and Fitz went from tavern to tavern, comparing them. He had a pair of newfound friends for helpers; friends were easy to make, when you had money. He needed them, for Spanish wine was devilishly strong. Only the fifth tavern, and his head was ringing already.

The streets of the Strand, his new friends said proudly, were the market-place of Spain. They looked like it. The buildings fronting the streets were built solidly, with iron grills at every window--but every building had its balconies. These were latticed for privacy, but still decorated for the feast of the Holy Trinity, just two days past. Over the lattices, they were hung with bunting, and over the bunting they were ablaze with flowers trailing down: geranium-red and carnation-pink and lemn-yellow, spiced like a pomander with the fragrance of clove-gillyflowers. At street level, there were so many flambeaux burning that Fitzcairn decided the whole city should be declared a fire hazard. But no one seemed to care. They were all too busy buying and selling. There were barrows and stalls everywhere, featuring every sort of goods under the sun--there were more kinds of food and drink for sale than Fitzcairn had dreamed existed--there were people streaming in every direction, and carriages and wagons--and flocks of chickens driven by boys with sticks, and a tiny donkey whose panniers were piled high with fish, and a pair of fine dappled blood-horses being led by a servant in livery--and women. There were women everywhere.

Women in rich brocade, in silk, in rare muslin and figured linen.

Women both black and white, making a chequerboard of the marketplace.

Women veiled from head to foot in lace mantillas, the more exciting for their mystery: nothing could be seen of their faces, save for one eye provocatively exposed.

Women who walked with small exact steps, backs spear-straight, holding their heads high--carrying themselves like empresses, every one.

The most enticing women in the world.

"Look at that one. The tall one, with the--ahhh, just look at that--"

"The one buying onions, there?"

"No! That woman. Over there. The lovely one."

"The one with the fat duenna?"

"No, not her, the other one! The most beautiful woman in Seville, I swear it."

"That? The girl in the daffodil crinoline? Why, she has the face of a pig."

"No, no, no! The one who's smiling at Hugh."

Fitzcairn craned his neck, looking for a tall woman with a smile. He saw a lovely black Berber with a parrot on her wrist, a pig-girl switching along a drove of blue-black swine, a pair of portly wives in flounced green skirts that resembled cabbages. He caught the eye of a maiden riding pillion behind a cloaked hidalgo, twinkling at every man she saw--while her knight glowered at one and all. A whore with too much paint caught his eye, and simpered. Women rode in passing coaches, in twos and threes; women strolled from market-stall to market-stall, in twos and threes. When they met other women passing in twos and threes, they halted and spoke pleasantly; when they met the men who were also passing, they swept by without seeming to see them. In every direction, he spotted girl after girl--the selection seemed endless.

"What do I do, when I find her? I've heard things about Spanish brothers and fathers. What's the most circumspect way to approach her?"

His new friends snorted loudly. "Circumspect? Is that how the English do it? May God be our witness, you are a backward race! Here is what you do with a girl you like: walk after her, stare hard, clear your throat and announce: 'By the Resurrection, how glorious you are!' That's the tribute a good-looking girl expects."

"But where is she?" asked Fitz, his voice plaintive. "It's not fair. She gets to look at me, but I don't get to look at her."

Well, wherever she was, he hoped she was enjoying what she saw. Fitz knew he cut a fine figure in his soldier's leather jerkin; the necklace of jewels that rested on his chest cost enough to buy a team and carriage, and his short beard was trimmed in the very latest fashion. Thinking of this, he strutted a little. Then he blinked, distracted. "I say. Who's that fellow there, gawking at me? The beggar with the striped cat. Something about him . . . He makes my flesh creep."

The 'beggar with the striped cat' was sitting under a fruit-barrow, watching Fitz. He was certainly a pauper, for he wore little save a long cotton shirt full of frayed ends and holes. He was barefoot, his hair was disheveled; beneath the long shirt, a ragged pair of woolen drawers could be glimpsed. A half-grown kitten balanced on his shoulder. Pale golden straw was scattered on the ground around them, and the kitten was hooking with busy paws at a bunch of grapes dangling from the barrow. The grapes were red-purple, so glossy they seemed ready to burst with ripeness; the kitten was yellow and red and orange like knitted wool; the man's shirt glowed luminous white, shining in the light of the flambeaux.

Fitz's head rang with renewed fury. He scowled, staring at the beggar, and the beggar stared calmly back.

A peasant woman, wrinkled as a mahogany root, had just bent down and handed the man a bright orange from her basket. He thanked her without looking away from Fitz. His long hair was dark, his skin vellum-white, his eyes as bright as if illuminated upon the page of a Bible; and saints in stained-glass windows looked like that.

"That?" His friends both burst out laughing: "Why, that's the very man we need to help you now! And it's strange you should ask about him, for no one knows more about romance than that man, who writes love-letters for every fool in the city. No one knows who he is or where he hails from. But he's a born poet, with a tongue so glib that no woman alive can resist his compliments. Even the king has employed him, they say. They call him the Royal Secretary for Affairs of the Heart."

"Oh, a clerk," said Fitz.

The stranger must have heard. He spoke in English, in a soft husky voice: "A gentleman of the pen, not of the sword." His bony face was pure English, even his accent was perfect; there were a thousand countrymen of Fitz's who could have claimed him as a brother. He added, "You're not very old, are you?"

"A clerk," Fitz repeated loudly, stepped back and making a face. "The ladies prefer to be courted by knights."

He turned away, still imagining his unknown inamorata . . . somewhere out there, following him with her gaze, appreciating him. To impress her, he snapped his fingers at the peasant with her oranges. "The best of your fruit, old woman--that big one, right from the top of the basket." He snatched up the orange; it was so huge and round and outrageously colorful that none of the other oranges could compare with it. She tried to slap his hand away, but he wagged his finger playfully at her. "You can't fob me off with less than the best, granny. Here, this gold for your wares."

The coin he held up was a gold real, the price of a hundred oranges. He tossed it at her feet, and made a sweeping bow; she dived after it, and the kitten pounced joyously in her wake. It was while she was scrabbling between chinks in the paving-stones, with the kitten's enthusiastic help, that Fitz raised his eyes and beheld a vision.

This--this--this was the woman who had smiled at him, the loveliest girl in Spain. This miracle, halted on the far side of the street, accompanied by a pretty maidservant holding a shopping-basket. She wore a veil of pearl-grey gauze, shimmering with silver thread, and it covered her from the crown of her head to the tips of her toes; it was sheer enough that Fitz could look right through it. Beneath the veil, there was a cap of pearls set upon her blue-black hair, which fell in tumbling curls to her waist. Her eyes were enormous--so sky-blue that the color shone true, even by torchlight and through silk. Smitten, he thought of cherubs and angels and rosebuds and cooing doves.

She had the tip of her little finger in her mouth, biting on it as she gazed at Fitz. Fitzcairn's lips parted and out came a cry from the very depths of his soul: "By the Resurrection, how glorious you are!"

And she smiled upon him. There was no mistaking it.

Fitz was in heaven. His head swam, his heart raced. Breathing fast, he raised the orange to his mouth. Girl and orange, orange and girl: both looked equally luscious to him. Fitz kissed the fruit in homage. And bit down, hard.

He tasted lead-paint, dust, gristle and sour peel, because the fruit was a display-orange, artfully painted to entice. Under the paint, it was as hard as wood. Gasping, Fitz spat and choked and scrubbed frantically at his tongue; all he could see was the clerk in the white shirt doubled up with his head in his hands. Laughing himself sick. What was he saying? "--the top orange in the basket is always an advertisement--" Fitz glared at the orange, and flung it away from him.

It bounced along the cobblestones, and the kitten leaped in pursuit.

The blood-horses snorted at the kitten, tossed up their heads, and danced curvetting away down the street.

The drove of swine, as the horses plunged into their midst, stampeded.

As they ran, they set up an ear-piercing squeal. One charged the flock of chickens, and the chickens leaped fluttering into the air. They squawked. Two pigs dashed zigzag through the crowd, and crashed into the donkey and its panniers: fish showered in every conceivable direction. Shouts rose. Three pigs ran headlong into the barrow of grapes, and the mule harnessed between the shafts began to buck and kick. Its owner, a brawny farmer, flourished a whip and bellowed. Women screamed. The mule heehawed. The donkey brayed. The kitten wailed with fright.

Pigs, chickens, mule, donkey, horses and kitten: God's blood, the din was loud enough to be heard in St. Ives.

The clerk in the white shirt flung himself away as the grape-barrow began to rumble along the cobblestones. He moved like flying air. One big hand collected the kitten and tucked it safely against him. The other fielded the painted orange, and shied it straight into the face of the pig that was charging at Fitz's unknown inamorata. Down went the pig, felled in its tracks. The clerk swung the girl behind him, sheltering her from harm. He scooped in the girl's maidservant too, and planted a kiss on the top of her head; and the maidservant hit him with her basket.

Fitz blinked. "I say!" One of the blood-horses galloped past him, with the servant in livery chasing it. On every side, people were catching pigs. Chickens flew by. Fitz fended them off (one was trying to land on his head) and caught the gaze of the clerk with the kitten. The man had the effrontery to grin at him, scoop up the orange again, and toss it over.

Fitz caught it. When he looked up again, the angel-girl and her maid had vanished. So had the clerk. He stood there gaping, with the fruit in his hand . . . and beheld, advancing upon him, the donkey's master, the pig-girl, the liveried servant, and the brawny farmer brandishing his whip.

#

Waking or dreaming, he saw her face. Those eyes! Bluebells drenched with dew. Those lips! Candied roses. That hair! Night's dreams, spun by guardian angels. He had to find her again, hear her voice, see her smile . . . He couldn't get her out of his mind.

Which was why the next morning found Fitzcairn back on the Strand, searching for the girl of his dreams. Up one street, down the other, in and out of every office and warehouse . . . He hunted through every alley, loitered round market stalls and stared at so many females that his head swam. Some noticed his attentions, and seemed willing to humor a rich foreign grandee--but those were not the ones he wanted, alas. Others ignored him, with hauteur. But every time he turned around, he heard yet another girl's voice calling him--inviting him around yet another corner, to see another face that was not hers.

"Candied aniseed balls, caballero?"

"Apple pastry, caballero?"

"Buy my chicken, caballero?"

"A rosary for you, caballero! Damascened with pure gold, blessed by St James. What will you offer me for this treasure, so beautiful it must have flown straight from God's hand?"

What did any of them matter, if they were not his vision?

"Buy my cherries, caballero?"

This last voice belonged to a wench whose lips were sweet cherries, themselves--sweet enough that on any other day, Fitz's head would have been completely turned. Even today, he was distracted. But he was firm. Valiantly, he fought against temptation. "No, no," he said, waving her off. "I'm not hungry."

"But these are special cherries," she wheedled, leaning so far forward that Fitz could see all the way down her dress. His eyes bulged. Then--with a supreme effort, an effort of Hercules--he looked away.

The temptress whisked a long-stemmed red cherry out of her tray, and dangled it beneath his nose. "Magic cherries," she purred. "Watch what I do with this one, caballero."

She popped it between her lips, long stem and all. Intrigued, Fitz was unable to keep from stealing a peek. Her lips were working. Firm, full, red lips. Quivering like ripe cherries themselves. What the devil . . . ? And now (leaning forward again!) she parted those lips, and showed him the cherry gripped daintily between her teeth. And O! it had been pitted, and the stem plucked off and thrust right through the heart of it!

"Be off, woman! Away with you!!"

The spell was broken: Fitz jumped back, blushing, and his head rang like a bell. And the agile clerk from the night before strode forward, waving his arms. The wench with the cherry-red lips spat out her fruit and burst into a torrent of blistering curses. She clutched her tray of goods to her breasts, and scuttled away into the crowd.

"Dammit, what did you do that for?" Fitz cried. "She was just showing me--"

"Yes, and her two friends behind you were just about to show themselves the contents of your purse," said the clerk. He put his hands on his hips, and looked crossly at Fitz. He had the marmalade cat on his shoulder. "Didn't you notice? You're alarmingly easy to distract. If you want to survive, you'll have to do better. You should learn to keep an eye in the back of your head. You should learn to recognize tricks like that . . ."

Fitz shook his head and walked away. The clerk followed him. Talking. ". . . and wear more weapons--if you can count yours on the fingers of one hand, then you have too few. A mere mastery of the sword is not enough. A stiletto down your boot is useful, and a hidden knife or two, even better . . ."

"Be quiet, knave," Fitz ordered, remembering that he was a foreign grandee. "What does a Secretary of Love know about weapons, anyway? Is this how you charm the ladies?"

"No," said the stranger. "Usually, I quote them poetry. They can't resist it."

". . . poetry?" Despite himself, Fitz slowed down. "Poetry, now. What kind of poetry?"

"Mm. Like this, maybe. Like to the falling of a star . . .



"Like to the falling of a star;

Or as the flights of eagles are;

Or like fresh springtime gaudy hew;

Or silver drops of morning dew;

Or like a wind that chafes man's blood;

Or bubbles floating on the flood;

Even such is Love, whose borrowed light

Is straight called in, and paid to night."



He recited all this while walking along with folded hands, not even breaking a sweat. The kitten balanced on his shoulder the whole time. "Wait, I know how it ends!" cried Fitz, enthralled. "'And you, good wench, must end my plight!'"

"Shut up," said the clerk. "You're maligning a countryman of yours--Master Henry King, who composed this verse." And he turned his face up to the sky and chanted:



"The wind blows out; the bubble dies;

The spring entombed in autumn lies;

The dew dries up; the star is shot;

The flight is past; and Love forgot."



"Well, shrive me, that's damned depressing," said Fitz. He was disappointed, and kicked at a stone beneath his feet. "Go away, clerk," he ordered. "Your rhymes give me the gripe, I'll have no more of them."

He strode resolutely off, with his chin lifted.

Up one street, down the other, in and out of every office and warehouse . . . After just ten steps, Fitz was kicking himself for a fool. Pride took him ten steps further, and then second-thought halted him in his tracks. He grumbled to himself. Then he got himself turned around and strode resolutely back, to find the annoying stranger.

"Oi! Oi! I say, where are you!"

There he was, seated on a flour-sack, with a bota of wine to hand. He had an old-fashioned writing-board upon his knee, and was inscribing letters on the right half of a vellum book-sheet, using an eagle's quill for his pen. But he paused when he heard Fitz calling, and raised an eyebrow in enquiry.

"Maybe you can help me," Fitz began.

"Don't kick over my ink."

"Sorry." He sat down, hands dangling on knees. "By St Barbara, that brings back memories," he remarked. "What is it, a missal? A breviary? A Bible?"

"A manuscript Book of Hours. I'm just finishing writing out the prayers, and then I want to decorate them with cats. Dogs and horses too, I think." He shrugged. "Natural light is best to work in."

"I'm in love," Fitz blurted.

"Good! So am I. Have a drink."

"Why, yes," said Fitz. He picked up the bota and shot a stream of alcohol into the back of his throat. "This is a fine city, Seville," he remarked. "Have you lived here long?"

"More than a hundred years."

"Er, well, if you say so." Fitz upended the bota again. Whatever was in it, it was exceedingly strong. He started afresh: "I need to--I need to find--say, what is your name, anyway? Forgot to ask."

"Adam. Adam Elias."

"Hugh Fitzcairn," said Fitzcairn, as one man to another. He drank another good swig. "My faith, this has a puissant kick. Is it Spanish?"

"French. It's absinthe." The clerk began once more to write. He had a fine old-fashioned book hand, which reminded Fitz of the jolly monks of his youth. Six lines to the inch, they had written their Bibles in; they had painted little strawberries on every tenth page or so, for they had been Benedictines, and delighted in illuminating the capitals with twining ivy leaves upon which grew the common flowers of England. Gilly-flowers and tricolor hearts-ease and columbines, and mother-of-pearl field-poppies. The clerk said, not looking up, "Well, what's her name?"

Fitz flinched. He uttered a bitter, hollow laugh. "Oh, what a mocking ring that question has!" he said. "It strikes me to my heart."

"Whoever she is, I'd think her father would favor the suit of a man as wealthy as you seem to be. Even one from England. What, are you a Protestant?"

"Of course not!" said Fitz, crossing himself in indignation. Then, exhausted by the effort, he resorted to the bota again.

"She must be the daughter of a count or a duke," Adam said mildly. "Or maybe the infanta herself?"

"That's what's wrong!" Fitz cried, woestruck. "I have to find out who she is!"

Adam reached over and took the bota away from him. He drank. "I know every woman in the south of Spain. What does she look like?"

"Eyes like candied bluebells," said Fitzcairn. "Lips like rosebuds drenched in dew. Hair like a dream. A midnight angel. My guardian angel, my little turtledove!"

". . . Yes, yes, yes. Hm. What was she wearing?"

"Oh, what does that matter? A grey silk veil," said Fitz, "sheer as fog. Figured with acanthus-leaves in silver-gilt thread. And a cap of those pretty little pearls, what-d'you-call-them--marjory-pearls." He kissed his fingertips to the memory of the marjory-pearls. "And--and--the hell with it, why am I bothering? You saw the girl yourself. She's the one you saved from trampling yesterday."

"Oho," said Adam, instantly, "that girl. I know that girl. Dona Lucia de Contreras: that's who your inamorata is. And I know Jean la Loca, her maid." He folded up his table, put two fingers into his mouth and whistled. And the striped kitten came running and leaped upon his shoulder. "Do you want to see where she lives?"

"This instant!"

"Come with me."

Adam took him straight to Seville's cathedral district: the ecclesiastical quarter, marked off by a boundary of chains, where church law held sway and no civil authorities could penetrate. This, naturally, was also the very quarter most notorious for its courts full of low taverns, well-patronized by burglars and ruffians. Fitz had already been warned against drinking in the Court of the Orange Trees. He followed close after his new friend, reeling a little from the effects of the absinthe, but with one fist firmly gripping his purse. He had to be helped around a corner or two, but it was nothing, it was nothing. And he reflected on the irony of fate: whenever he was with Adam, it seemed, his head was doomed to spin.

Not just from strong drink, either: Adam recited poetry every step of the way. John Donne, on fleas and maidenheads; Dutch verse about some damn Popinjay of God; one Master Robert Herrick's ode to Kisses Loathsome; and on, and on, and on--

Then his guide turned him around, saying, "Behold!" Facing them was a tall brick building, in a street thronged with ragged peasants. Its front gates were a beautiful sight, of wrought-iron all curled and gilded, surmounted by crosses and a marble Virgin, and guarded by porters with billhooks. The first two courses of its windows were also barred with wrought-iron grills, and its walls were formidably massive. A fortress, an arsenal, strongly barred as the royal mint . . .

No, not a fortress or a mint. Its gates, as Fitz watched, were thrown open, and a boiling broth of God's most wretched descended upon them. It was all the poor folk who had been waiting in the street--halt and lame, maimed by war, beggar and shiftless and whore and thief--all clamoring, with bowls in hand. In at the gate they shoved, raising their bowls on high. And out of the gate they mooched afterward, drinking soup. Fitz craned and caught a glimpse through the gate; within was a courtyard jam-packed with Seville's hungry, all buzzing like bees round a series of vast cauldrons on wheels. Women were ladling soup swiftly into bowl after bowl. Black-clad women, in wimples and chaste grey aprons. They were nuns.

Fitzcairn recoiled. "It's a nunnery!" He was seized by despair, and smote his forehead a sharp rap, causing himself to utter a shrill cry of pain. "She lives in a nunnery? I'm in love with a nun??!"

"Don't be provincial." Adam gripped his arm and propelled him around the corner. "Spain is a civilized country. No woman of good birth, cloister or not, is expected to do without the necessities. A well-furnished parlor, visitors if she pleases, fetes if she has the ducats to mount them, a literary joust or two. And suitors, to entertain her. Galans de monjas, they call them. And you have to admit it--it's more relaxing by far for one of us, to court on holy ground."

"What?" said Fitz faintly.

"Here we are."

'Here' was an alley, unpaved, and far less grand. All too obviously, it was also where the kitchen slops and the chamber pots were emptied. The reek of a nearby manure pile warred with this duet of stenches. Weeds grew rank in the mud, and a pair of young trees leaned up against the back convent wall.

Adam lifted the young cat from his shoulder. He chirruped, stroking it; it twisted around in his grasp, clutching at his hand with loving paws, and butted its head up under his chin. He put it into one of the trees. It ran straight up the tree like a squirrel, and leaped through an open window.

High above. Three storeys up, so high that it lacked a grill. Its shutters had been swung back. As Fitz craned his neck to gaze up, faint voices came drifting down: delightful fluting voices like those of fair nightingales. Two heads popped out of the window, two girls leaned out and looked down.

One was the maid, and one the mistress. Both gazed upon Fitzcairn, but he had eyes only for the girl of his dreams. His heart stopped, his head swam; his angel regarded him with eyes divinely lovely, as distant and cool as though she looked down from Heaven's own snow-capped mountains--higher above him than the Alps, the haughtiest conquest in Spain. Well, he would melt those snows, climb the Alps for her, conquer Europe and Afrique both and lay them at her feet--make himself her willing captive, and she his prisoner; he the ravisher, and she ravishing; he the slave, and she the mistress--oh, yes. Certes, yes.

Then the maid leaned over and whispered in her mistress' ear, and let out a peal of laughter . . . and Fitz reached paradise all in an instant, for Dona Lucia laughed too.

"Look at that!" Adam said.

"Look at that!" Fitz echoed. He was in ecstacy. He was in love.

#

He was in love.

And never had man loved as Fitz did then; never had Fitz adored till now as he adored his Lucia. His angel, his Guinevere. His lady of Spain. Why, he didn't sleep a wink all night, and his senses were still swimming by the next day forenoon. It seemed natural, therefore, to inquire his way to Adam's lodging (for he found that everyone knew where his new friend lived) and tell him all about it.

"I wandered through Seville for hours, blind to all about me," he told Adam, hands clasped to his heart. "Daydreaming in darkness. Distraught with love."

Adam's lodging was an attic room, remarkable only for its fine lighting, and the sheer amount of books piled in the corners; if ever a fire swept through the neighborhood, Fitz thought, the whole place would explode like an alchemist's lab. Besides the books, there was nothing but a table, a stool, and a straw tick to sleep on. The table was rickety, but littered with work: there were sample letters with gorgeously illuminated capitals, and stacks of printed sheets all the same--the frontispiece pages of a book, which Adam seemed to be hand-tinting one by one. "The Archbishop is having a new antiphonal of hymns made," Adam said, seeing the direction of Fitz's glance. "One copy for every priest in Seville. It pays well." Next to the antiphonal pages was a gaudy sheet of painted and lettered paper, several times larger than anything meant for a book-bindery. From the look of it, a theater playbill. "And this is for one of the Corpus Christi plays. 'Solomon and Sheba, or The Monarch Tempt'd by Pagan Balkis'--straight from Rome, with the original costumes, perspective vistas and the latest theatrical machinery. If you can get in, go to it--I've seen a rehearsal, the stagecraft's a miracle . . . Well, go on. All night without a wink of sleep, you say?"

"As if in a dream. I walked every alley in the city, seeing nothing save her. Thinking only of her!"

"It's a miracle you weren't attacked by footpads. Seville is dangerous at night, you know."

"I was under divine protection," Fitz declared. "With a lover's passport, that even riffraff can honor." He broke off. "Perdition take it, what's that you're eating?"

"A sea urchin," said the poet. "I bought it in the Strand fish-market. Don't be put off by the color, they're always like that. Want one?"

He had a bag of them. Fitz sat down, intrigued despite himself, and watched him pull out an urchin and roll it on the floorboards, to break off the purple spines. The flesh within was a hideous inedible bright green. He showed Fitz how to spice it with red pepper and garlic juice, and then sat back to watch Fitz taste it. Raw, and green. Fitz sniffed cautiously, then he sampled a bite with the tip of his knife. "My faith, that's good," he said in surprise. He dug his knife into the urchin, and began to eat in earnest.

"You have the palate of an adventurer," said the clerk, through a mouthful of sea urchin. "I applaud you. Go on with your tale."

Fitz shrugged modestly. "And, damme, if your words of yesterday didn't go to heart. I found myself inspired. By her, sweet Muse." He raised the sea urchin to his lips, in token of his feelings. "I've composed a poem. Shall I recite it?"

Adam blinked at him. "Go to," he said. "This I must hear."

Fitzcairn was already preparing himself to orate. This he did by throwing down his hat and running both hands through his hair, creating a suitable dishevelment; he wrinkled up his nose in a trance, wiffled his mustache ardently and bared his front teeth, thereby achieving--did he but know it!--the spitting image of a buck-hare in March madness. He drew off his gloves and flexed his fingers. "The title," he said, "thus: To The Flea Which Hops Upon Her Stocking." Then he set one hand on his hip, pressed the other to his heart, stood contraposto, and commenced to declaim.



"Mark but yon flea, sweet beau, and mark in this

Sweet belle, this flea in fortune blessed 'tis

It ascends Heaven-on-Earth. While I, in Purgatory

Can only mark yon flea, and tell this story.



"Mark but yon flea, sweet chuck, upon thine knee

It has no voice to woo, but verily

Can scout the field, lay siege, march where it wists,

Has conquered ere I dare enter the lists!



"Mark but yon flea, sweet foe, and mark in this

How little that which thou deny me is,

It sucked me first, and now flies to suck thee

And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be!"



He sank down upon Adam's stool, exhausted. "After the style of Master John Donne, whose verses you recited to me yesterday. Perhaps you marvel that I recall it so well," he added, modestly, "but my memory has always been good. Now, I want you to write it out in a fair hand, and tie it up like a scroll, with a ribbon and a flower. Then I must think of a way to get it to her. How does she spend her mornings, do you know?"

Adam was gazing at him with the most extraordinary expression. "As it happens, I do know." He laid aside his sea urchin, and reached for a blank sheet of vellum. "Every morning, she attends vespers at the cathedral with the other nuns. Jean la Loca her maid walks her there, and then goes to the market to buy fresh flowers--very fond of flowers, is Dona Lucia--and then walks her home again."

"And you know this maid?"

"I do. We'll give your poem to Jean, and she'll carry it to her mistress."

"Adam, you are the very prince of clerks," said Fitzcairn.

Indeed, he decided that Adam was the very king of Secretaries for the Affairs of the Heart, well-versed in every detail needed for seduction--why, he could even advise Fitz upon Dona Lucia's favorite flower. It was a long-stemmed pink rosebud they needed, to tuck into Fitz's scroll. Once this was chosen and tucked, all that was lacking was the maid in question. Since Fitz had not the slightest recollection of what Jean la Loca looked like, he turned once more to Adam. "How do we find her?"

"Very simple," said Adam. "We ask my cat." He had the kitten on his shoulder again. Smiling, he set it down and ordered, as if to a well-trained hound: "Find Jean, Harlequin." The kitten gazed up with intelligent eyes. It mewed, and raced off through the crowd.

They followed its piercing meow. Just six stalls over, like magic, there it was: the marmalade kitten, winding through Jean la Loca's skirts, with its tail standing straight up and its whiskers bristling with joy. It was purring like a clockwork toy. The maid had stooped to stroke it, but now she straightened, making a disgusted face, and said, "You again! What is it today?"

"Jenny, my dragon, all I want is a single kiss." Adam chucked her under the chin, and she slapped his hand aside. Then she glared at him through narrowed eyes. She was very pretty even so (though nothing, of course, beside her mistress) but formidable, very formidable: very tall, very willowy, very Spanish. With glossy black hair in a coil, and a mouth made thin by temper. And a fist, clenched hard.

"Picaron!" she said. "Last time, you said my hair was as blue-black as a pig of Extremadura. This time, who knows? But just open your mouth a little wider, and I swear I'll plant my fist in it. And the same goes for your friend here."

"Be kind, Jean. This is Hugh Fitzcairn, an Englishman of good character--"

"Tal recomendacion, tal recomendada," said Jean la Loca forbiddingly, "according to the recommendation is the recommended! And all foreigners and gypsies stick together. But let's hear your friend the Caballero Inglese speak up for himself."

A redoubtable guardian. Nevertheless, Fitz swept her a bow. Then he presented the scroll to her, proclaiming: "For the most beautiful lady ever born!"

"Ah, how gallant," said the maid, softening. "You flatter me." She whisked the ribbon off the scroll and let the vellum unwind. Fitz uttered an alarmed cry, and she fended him off with one hand, while scanning the page of verse. "But--a flea? You wish to bite me, like a flea?"

"Let's have none of your salt, it's for Dona Lucia," said Adam, tapping her on the tip of the nose. "Take it to her and tell her it comes from a devoted admirer, who lies down overcome at her feet. And Fitz here will give you a real."

She shrugged one shoulder. When Fitz handed over the coin, she set her teeth to it and inspected the bite-marks before approving. And she looked Fitz up and down with the very same suspicious glare, before turning away with a whisk of her skirts.

"I'm lost," said Fitz, cast into gloomy reflection. "The witch dislikes me. She'll tell her mistress that I have rank breath, warty lips, and bad teeth."

"Nonsense, she's like that with everyone. All save Harlequin here, for she adores cats." Adam picked up his kitten, and rubbed its round furry tummy. "It was her love for Harlequin that first led me to her side, for she was forever tempting him to the nunnery steps and feeding him sardines and anchovies."

"I daresay even the Devil has a soft spot for something. Let's to the cathedral, perhaps we can catch a glimpse of--"

"No, we can't. Not unless you want to bring along a box to stand on--she'll be hidden away with the other nuns, locked behind the choir grill. But if we loiter by the doors, Jean will come and tell us what she said."

"Lead on," said Fitz.

They strolled over to the cathedral steps, and made themselves at ease. There was plenty of company; the steps were thronged by well-dressed merchants--the businessmen of Seville, lounging around (as was their custom) and discussing their investments even as mass was celebrated within. They were so much at home here, some had even brought along their clerks and pages. The archbishop's powerful voice echoed booming through the doors, and the merchants only talked louder; the service ended and a flood of Sevillanas poured out, and the merchants barely stirred a step. Fitz craned, but every woman was veiled in chaste black crepe. There was no telling the nuns from the housewives, and none of them appeared to be holding any flowers.

But here came Jean la Loca, hastening back to Adam and Fitz. She crooked a beckoning finger, and as soon as they were close enough, she burst into staccato Spanish. "Might you, Don Hugo, be the Caballero Inglese who has recently rented a house on Los Albades street? The house which used to belong to the Duke de Castillo?"

"I am?" said Fitz cautiously.

"Who has bought so many horses, he has to have them stabled all up and down the street? Who has hired so many servants, he has rented the houses on either side of his own just to put them up in? Who is rumored to have more gold than all the treasure of the Incas?"

"I am," said Fitz, beaming.

"Then," Jean la Loca said, "my mistress says, no sooner than did she hear the Caballero Inglese's so-clever poem--for poetry is just what she adores--than she felt a pang of love."

"I am!" said Fitz. "I mean, she does?" He blinked. "She does? Adam! She loves me!"

"I hear," said Adam. He seemed to be fighting back a smile; but it was a notably gentle smile, and Fitz didn't mind.

"But," said Jean, lifting one finger, "still, she must spurn your love." Fitz stopped beaming, Adam's smile vanished. The maid clasped her hands piously and raised her gaze to Heaven. "For may the Blessed Virgin witness, my mistress is already being courted. Persecuted by attentions she never invited, dares not return, yet cannot refuse. By the scourge of Spain, the most notorious robber in Seville. Who goes by the name--merely whisper it, and brave men faint--of El Cabuzudo. The Giant!"

#

"Adam, we must write her a love-letter."

Fitz had found Adam plying his trade in the Seville horse-market. There, he was surrounded by travelers from every kingdom of the Spains: breeders and grooms, itinerant horse-breakers and brokers--all of whom, he said cheerfully, wanted him to write lying letters, to comfort their wives at home. "I have three standard letters: one says I was framed by enemies, and it means, I killed my man and had to run; the second, Send me our savings, I can double them, and means, I lost my pay at dice, send more so I can win it back; and finally, I love only you, darling, and it means, I have a sweetheart now in every town. All over Spain," Adam said, "parish priests are reading my letters aloud to poor Inezes and Katalinas and Pilars. Never before have so many holy men uttered so many lies. They'll all go to Hell for it, and then who will pray for our souls?"

He was sitting cross-legged on the ground, with his ink-pot and writing-board to hand. And the fees for his hire were arrayed at his knee, for he was working for payment in kind. There, beside his dozing cat, was a fat red onion and several teeth of garlic, a pair of rope sandals and a gaily colored head-kerchief, some old spurs and a frayed halter; he was just accepting a bunch of gaily-colored tassels (such as adorned every passing donkey's harness) when Fitz arrived. Fitz surveyed his ill-assorted gains with a jaundiced eye. "You could open a tinker's booth," he observed. "What will you do with all this rubbish?"

"A pox upon you," said Adam. He tied the kerchief round his head, letting the long ends fall loose in the back so that he resembled all the merry Andalusians around him; as for his writing materials and ink-pot, they went into the leather satchel slung across his shoulder. Then he thrust the onion and the garlic in atop the ink-pot, tried on the sandals and pulled them off again in disgust, and stood up barefoot, juggling sandals and spurs and tassels. The halter was round his neck. "From this rubbish I'll make my supper. Or haven't you ever heard the tale of the Stone Soup?"

"A good way to break your teeth off," Fitz said, grinning.

He hurried alongside Adam as Adam walked away. Horses trotted past them, their long tails brushing the ground: sorrel and bay and chestnut, and nondescript off-blacks which could be gotten for knock-down prices due to their unfashionable color; and a few with white stockings, whom all the buyers disdained, because they were liable to the thrush. But when any white mare appeared, those selfsame hard-hearted buyers would all sigh in ecstacy, "La perla!" These horses were the true Andalucian breed of which Fitz had heard tell all over Europe, and they were as impressive as Andalucian women. True, their action was loose and shambling, and every last one seemed to dish with its feet . . . but they were so high-headed, so well-gathered and silken-haired, so springy of pace and gallant of breed, that no horseman could fail to approve them. They even threw good mules, it seemed; Fitz had never seen so many good mules in one place before.

"Look, let's get out of the sun," he said, snapping his fingers at a passing water-seller. "Two cups with lemon, man . . . Here, Adam, to cool your throat. And then you can write out my love-letter. I want it to open with an ardent salutation, but haven't got beyond the first few words: Dona Lucia, my darling Lucia, my adorable Lucia, my peerless Lucia, I thought-- What do you think of that for an opening?"

"Perhaps a little presumptuous?" said Adam. "After all, she's refused your love."

"You think so? Then, perhaps, just Dear Dona Lucia. And then a few classical allusions, for the girl's educated after all." He gave Adam a dig with his elbow. "Now, I depend upon you for our classical allusions. Compare her to some saint or other, or one of those what-d'you-call-them Roman myths. Maybe Helen of Troy? She must have heard of Helen of Troy."

Adam was conferring with a swarthy man, who led a mule by a rope round the neck. The mule was a gaudy sight, being closely clipped all over (to save it from the heat) but with part of the hair left unshorn, forming a pattern just like a tiger's stripes. The mule's owner slung one arm over his animal's back, detached the rope and handed it to Adam; Adam gave him the halter, and strode back to Fitz with an air of triumph. "I'm sure she'd be flattered, to be called another Helen," he said. "Mm . . . a saint, that's easy. Saint Lucy, light-bearer. And shall we say she reminds us of the fair Lucrecia? That was a Roman lady famous for her chastity, which drove men stark staring mad."

"Yes, excellent, just right. Dear Dona Lucia! O thou stolen Helen, thou shining Lucy, thou unattainable Lucrecia: How does the day find you? I hope you are enjoying fine health. I myself am in good flesh, save for a slight attack of dyspepsia, which I attribute to an excess of garlic-- Adam, do you think I should exaggerate my dyspepsia? Say I'm pining away from longing for her. Don't you think she'd be pleased to know I'm pining for her?"

Adam was showing his new rope to a passing drover. They conferred. The length of rope was passed to the drover; the drover removed his knitted cap, and pulled a bunch of red peppers out of this receptacle. This, he handed over to Adam. Both appeared pleased with the exchange.

"If I were Dona Lucia, I would be glad to know I had given you a stomach-ache," he said. "No, it's perfect, Hugh. Go on."

"Where were we? Oh, yes . . . an excess of garlic." Fitz broke off. "No--an excess of love! Yes, thus: I myself am in good flesh, etcetera etcetera dyspepsia, which I attribute to love's excess. I pine for you, Dona Lucia, I am your worshiper, your servant, your slave. Command me. Your maid, the worthy Jean, has told me of your dire straits; write back instantly, telling me the direction of the villainous El Cabuzudo, and I will deal him such a lesson that he will never . . . never . . . never raise his presumptuous eyes to my Angel again." Fitz stopped, breathing hard. "Etc, etc, etc," he concluded. "Signed, Your devoted, Hugh Fitzcairn. And I want to put a poem in it. She enjoys poetry, her maid said so. We must think of a poem, suitable to send to a virtuous young lady. Quote me a love-poem, something that would inspire her."

Adam was now trading the rope sandals for a sieve, such as all travelers needed; a sieve was absolutely necessary to sift pebbles out of the chopped straw which passed for horse-fodder in Spain. Walking away, he began to quote:



"Shew me thy feet; shew me thy legs, thy thighs;

Shew me Those Fleshie Principalities;

Shew me that Hill (where smiling Love doth sit)

Has a living Fountain under it.

Shew me thy waist; then let me there withal,

By the Ascention of thy Gown, see All."



"It's perfect!" said Fitz. He put a finger to his lips, and mused upon it. "But . . . I ask you, friend Adam, do we want to speak of thighs to Dona Lucia? My Lucia is a gently-bred girl and surely unused to loose talk about thighs. And what about the Ascention of her Gown? Do we need to refer to gowns ascending? Not to mention her waist. And her Hill. And her 'Fleshie Principalities'. Surely she would be distressed by the mere mention of her Fleshie Principalities. She might be cast into a decline. No, perfect though it is . . ." He shook his head, quite discouraged. "Wait. What was that other little thing you were reciting, something about kisses?"

"What, the one that starts 'I abhor the slimy kiss / Which to me most loathsome is--'"

"No, no, that won't do either. Let me think."

He thought, furrowing his brow, while Adam continued to trade away his day's profit. The sieve caught the eye of a muleteer, who offered a poke of straw for it. The poke of straw went to a man with a cow, who was wearing two hats on his head. His spare hat was clapped on Adam's head, and ten steps later Adam pulled it off and handed it to a farmer, who put it on his donkey's head. The donkey went contentedly to sleep, and the farmer expressed his gratitude by giving Adam half a cabbage.

Adam was left with a pair of spurs and some worsted tassels. He bartered the spurs to a horse-coper, and received a packet of ornamental brass pins. He gave the pins to a squat woman, whose mantilla and shawl were held on with black ribbons; she gave him the ribbons, along with a kiss. He folded the ribbons into bows, and traded them and the tassels for a chunk of sausage. Then he counted over his spoils, smiling: onions, garlic, peppers and cabbage, and finally the fat red sausage. "Stone soup," he said.

"I've got it!" said Fitz, meanwhile. "My poem for Dona Lucia. Listen." And he struck a pose as he declaimed:



"Shew me thy mouth; shew me thy laughs, thy sighs;

Shew me those Lips, and bid me feast my eyes;

Shew me that Smile (whence Cupid's Arrow's strung)

Who sees unmoved, is the biggest Knave unhung.

Purse me those Lips; then let me there withal,

By one Kiss of thy Lips, lay claim to All.



"What do you think, what do you think, what do you think?" he demanded.

"Hugh, I'm speechless," said Adam.

His cat was now sitting expectantly upon his feet; he cut off a slice of sausage, and dropped it. The cat pounced.

"And yet," Fitz mused, "remarkable though my verse is--is it worthy of Dona Lucia? She's in a nunnery, after all. We haven't even been formally introduced, perhaps my demand for kisses might offend her. She's haughty, of excellent birth, highly-strung. No, I'd better not mention lips or kisses. Damme, if I don't have to start all over again!"

"Oh, dear," Adam said. His own lips were quivering. "I can't wait."

"Silence!" Fitz held up one finger, concentrating. He hemmed, he hawed. Then a dazzling smile dawned, he smote his chest and burst into rhyme:



"Shew me thy face; shew me thy smiles, thy sighs;

Shew me that Fleshie Heaven in thy eyes.

Not eyes, but Angelic Orbs, not Orbs but shining Globes

The world entire to he who looks, and loves.

Heaven hangs in those eyes, and Earth withal

So when you weep, by God! you destroy All!"



He finished on a triumphant crescendo.

"Let me write it out this very moment," said Adam. He sat down then and there, propped his writing-board on his knees, and attacked a sheet of the very best vellum--vellum so fine, it was all but translucent, and good enough for a page in a Bible. He dashed off both the letter and the verse without a single blot, sanded the sheet and shook it clean, and then he produced two minuscule paint-pots and improved the capitals with curling vines and miniature red pimpernel-blooms. "Voila!" he said, holding up the result.

Overcome, Fitz embraced him. "Adam, you're the best of friends. How shall I repay you?"

"No need," said Adam, "there is no debt. We're the same kind, and ought to stick together."

He wandered off, the kitten bounding at his heels. Fitz followed, admiring his newly-written letter; he held it between his hands, and even though he could not read a single word, was mightily impressed by the look of it--why, he felt as proud as if he had written the damned thing out himself. At last, he folded it neatly in three and sealed it with a kiss. How good it was of Adam, to help him this way!

Indeed, he told himself, it was true that a man in love found a host of Cupids around him, to give him aid wherever he went. It was also true that Adam made an unlikely angel--after all, he was no more than a clerk, probably some priest's byblow or other, and didn't even wear a sword--but here he was, quite cheerfully giving his all to aid Fitz's cause. Fitz felt a tear come to his eye. "Adam, you're a prince in rags. You may be a cleric, but you have the heart of a knight. Indeed, why aren't you a knight like me? The soldier's life is better than any scribe's--indeed, you have the height and the arm for it, and now that I look at you, the hand and eye. I'll wager you'd swing a fine sword. Why don't you become a soldier?"

But Adam only shrugged. "Our kind have many lives, as you well know," he said. "There is a time for fighting and a time for loving, a time for living and a time for dying. I've had my time for killing, many times over. I want my remaining years to be a time of life."

"I beg your pardon?" said Fitz, bewildered.

Adam eyed him strangely. "Anyway, I don't believe in carrying swords," he said, "it only leads to severed heads. If attacked, I plan to throw stones. Or oranges . . ." His voice was very quiet, almost cautious. "Hugh? Do you know any reason why I should wear a sword, anyway?"

"Slings and stones. A shepherd's weapons," said Fitz. He made a disdainful gesture.

"To each his own weapon. Mine is the pen. Yours, the sword."

"Well then, never fear the cathedral-quarter footpads, my friend, not while I live in Seville." Affectionately, Fitz pressed Adam's arm. "My sword will swing on your behalf! I've fought in wars all over Europe, for--well, more years than you'd believe, to look at me. Believe me, I'm older than I appear. But I can fence with a fine cock-step, and hurl an espee de jet with the best. And with a two-handed blade," said Fitz, boasting gently, "no man can match me--no man born." He bowed. "So let your pen wound hearts to rival my sword, friend Adam, and my sword will match the sharp point of your pen. And together we will triumph by pen and sword!"

Overcome with his own munificence, he made such a grand gesture that his letter almost fluttered away. Adam snatched it from him, rolled it and secured it with a string. His eyes were dancing with mirth; it was as if his grave mood of a moment before had never been. "And look!" he said, pointing with the letter. "Let joy be without limit--it's Jean la Loca, herself."

Again, Fitz was struck by his helpfulness. They were now in the common market, which adjoined the horse-fair; this, where all the Sevillanas purchased their food fresh daily, occupied several streets and ran right under the Strand warehouses, and was remarkable chiefly for the vast number of crosses adorning every wall. These (as in other Spanish cities) were painted by anxious house-owners, to keep their property from being defiled by passers-by--for any wall was fair game, when a man needed to make water--but the men of Seville seemed more casual about religious things than the men of other Spanish cities, for these crosses seemed to have had no effect.

And there she was, upright as a cross herself: Jean the maid, running errands in the marketplace, with her mantilla floating behind her and a stout basket over one arm. And her face as stern as if, at any moment, some passing man might lose control and defile her.

Even as Fitz looked, she burst out in a flood of invective against an unfortunate grain-seller, whose mistake seemed to involve catching his thumb in the scales. Jean la Loca jabbed out her finger, called upon God as her witness, and cried, "By the life of the Devil! Do you think I'm one who can be sold cat for hare??! And don't you try to fob me off with that costly stuff, I want whatever's cheapest." Then, catching sight of Adam, she remarked gloomily, "Ah, it's you. And the Caballero Inglese? Good. Caballero, you may pay for my corn."

Fitz was snatching off his beplumed Italian hat; he made Jean a leg, gallantly, sweeping the hat through the air. At the culmination of the bow, out shot the hand holding the letter. "Senora, this trifling missive for your-- Why the deuce should I want to buy your corn?"

Jean la Loca cast him a withering glance. She said darkly, "Bocado comido, no hace amigo: you'll soon see how the greedy man has few friends. Don Hugo, it is a whim of--of Dona Lucia's own devising. Every day, she sends me to buy food. For charity. A few apples, a little bag of corn, perhaps some cat's-meat--her purse is slender, but she spends whatever she has. In love's name, buy corn for Dona Lucia!"

Fitz bowed again, dumbly. He opened his purse, and put money into the grain-merchant's hand.

The merchant beamed. Jean la Loca scowled, but with approval. A weighty sack of grain appeared; the maid gestured with her fan, and Adam leaped to hoist the sack in his arms. Already, Jean was three market-stalls away, choosing apples. She seemed very careful of her apples; she picked out only the bruised and wormy ones, and then browbeat the apple-seller into charging half-price. "You may pay for these too," she remarked, as Fitz hastened after her, brandishing his letter. "In Dona Lucia's name, caballero." And when her basket was heaped brimfull with apples, she gave that to Adam too.

With the two men following like lackeys, she swept from merchant to merchant. "Buy the old carrots for Dona Lucia's pensioners, caballero," she commanded, at a farmer's stall. "Adam, make yourself useful--here, take them." And Adam--already loaded chin-high with groceries--vanished behind a vast bunch of disreputable carrots. At the fish-vendor's: "Ah! Spoiled anchovies, caballero." A reeking basket of anchovies appeared, and Jean bestowed it generously upon Fitzcairn. Further on, she spotted a butcher's shambles: "Caballero Inglese, please, it is so filthy underfoot in there. Please will you go in and get the offal--only what the butcher discards as worthless, though, mind." She looked at the expression on Fitz's face, and relented. "And buy some pig's-trotters too, perhaps. Yes, they are expensive, shamefully expensive. But just this once, as a special treat." With her eyes suddenly sparkling, though her face remained grave: "You can hide the offal underneath them." While all the merchants in the market rolled their eyes behind her back, as if to say: "Ah! It's only that crazy Jean!"

"What is she going to do," Fitz whispered in Adam's ear, "make soup from all the garbage in Seville?"

Adam's cat was perched on his shoulder again, with its head in Fitz's anchovy basket. Adam only grinned. "Isn't she wonderful?" he said. "Wait, Hugh. You'll see."

And soon enough, Fitz saw.

Not until both men were staggering under their loads did Jean la Loca relent. Then she strolled through the marketplace, retracing her footsteps . . . but this time she did not purchase, she dispensed. To the beasts of Seville. For these, not men, were her charity.

Every passing ass and mule and donkey got an apple, lovingly hand-fed to it by Jean herself. Every horse received a treat of carrots. Every mongrel got its pig's-trotter, and every cat its fish. She even fed the pigs being driven to the slaughter. Finally, she led Fitz and Adam right out of the market, along a sunny road which climbed toward the city wall. Children ran after them, cheering and begging for apples. Jean shooed them aside, her expression one of deep disapproval; then she snapped her fingers imperiously, and Adam held out the bag of grain. She strewed grain far and wide, uttering a peculiar clucking call as she did . . . and the doorstep roosters of Seville, with their hens scurrying behind them, appeared like magic in every surrounding street.

They were like clockwork jewelry--as brilliantly feathered as if enameled, all russet-gold and azure-blue--and their long muscular legs seemed clad in black silk breeches; their eyes were draconic yellow, bright-rimmed with violent orange. They ran toward her, flapping their wings and fluttering over each other in their haste. Down went their heads, peck-peck went their beaks. In a trice, the cobblestones were a sea of feasting chickens, with pigeons hopping on the edge of the fray, and sparrows darting in and out. And then--only then--Jean la Loca smiled.

"How good it is, to feed these poor things--God's forgotten creatures. It is the best work any Christian woman could do." She turned toward Fitz, the smile vanishing. "Now, you have a letter for my mistress, I think? You may give it to me. And Dona Lucia sends you a message. Inspired by your verse, she says, she composed this little rhyme." And clasping her hands together, she recited:



"Blessed Antonio, saint sacred to all lovers

Send me a good man, that he may discover

In me no basilisk, to smite him with my eye

But the meek dove, that from the dragon doth fly;

No mirrored scitalis, preening poisonously

But the sweet rose, for which nightingales die;

No amphisbaena, two-faced in vanity

But an apple true, upon a faithful tree;

A unicorn-doe chaste, a pelican in piety,

A halcyon, to guide him home from sea:

St Antonio, pray, send me a knight full valiant

To save me from that great and ghastly Giant!"



"What noble sentiments!" Fitz was awestruck. "What sublime poetry!" Sighing, he stole the last apple and bit down into it--tossing a coin to a passing urchin as he did. "There, my child . . . Ah, how good, how kind, how marvelous is Dona Lucia, to take thought even for these poor dumb beasts!"

Jean merely scowled at him. Then she said, "Caballero Inglese, that boy? He just cut your purse-strings."

He had. With an oath, Fitz clapped his hand to the empty space where his purse should be. He flung the half-eaten apple down, kicked a rooster out of his path, and ran after the thief.

Hens scattered squawking before him. Other children, screaming, made way. "Yes, run, you little knave! You'll soon feel the flat of my hand--" There was the urchin! Dead ahead, slowing down, casting an apprehensive glance behind him; then he caught sight of Fitzcairn, yelped, and darted into an alley. The purse had been in plain sight, dangling from his fingers. Fitz charged in pursuit. "Poxy whelp of a rat-ridden whore, when I catch up with you--"

The alley was empty. Fitz ran down it.

Ten steps in, he hit the rope stretched across it.

Fitzcairn somersaulted. Head over heels he flipped, a ripe curse bursting from his lips. He landed on his head.

There he lay, momentarily stunned, with his fancy hat squashed over his eyes and little singing birds circling around him. In a pool of slimy liquid, beneath a large cross chalked on the wall. And a whole chorus of bells was hammering away in his head. The rope had been painted black; this was an ambush. Fitz breathed in, burst out coughing, and heaved himself up on his elbows. He clawed his hat up, with the once-gorgeous plume dripping nameless substances onto the tip of his nose . . . and a voice growled: "Well done, amigos. Now show the English interloper his place."

Someone's boot landed on the back of Fitz's neck, and Fitz's face landed in the muck again.

The voice said, "So this is the thief who would steal my Lucia away."

It was preternaturally deep, that voice--a basso profundo which seemed to rumble through the marrow of Fitz's bones. Fitz heaved and choked and then the heavy boot relented. He could breath again. He peered up, at fashionable ink-black shoes, polished till they shone, with buckles of silver-gilt and dandyish high heels . . . silk hose, glistening black, and embellished with the very latest style of false-calves which added shapeliness to a man's leg . . . black breeches embroidered with silver and gold, a black doublet equally lavish (padded like the hose, from the look of it), a black tunic with sumptuous flaring sleeves. Up and up, to a black cape swinging from its owner's shoulder. Above this, a white linen ruff, all fluted and starched, which framed its wearer's face like John the Baptist's platter. And up and up . . . Long curls of thick hair, dead-black. A devilish goatee and mustache, black. A black-gloved hand lightly pinching the man's thin nose in disdain. And upon a pock-marked Spanish countenance, a glower as black as sin.

Black, black, black, all black. All four foot two of him.

Fitz sat up and burst out laughing. "The Giant, I presume?" he said.

"I see you know of me," El Cabuzudo hissed. He flung his own hat down in the mire, and crushed the crown with one heel. No wonder he arrived flanked by burly henchmen, no wonder he wore those high-heeled shoes; unshod, he must look all humanity smack in the navel. No wonder he wanted his foes to be lying flat when they first saw him. "And you, senor, are one Hugh Fitzcairn? Good. We fight."

He held out his hand, and a henchman put a beribboned cane into it.

"With what?" Fitz asked, whooping. "Your little sister's lamb-crook there? Oh, wait--maybe your flunkeys will hold me, and you'll bite off my great toe?"

"Do you think the presence of witnesses will keep me from taking your head? It pleases you to take this lightly. But you cannot refuse me! It is the Game."

"--no, wait, I know--that's your big brother's toothpick?"

El Cabuzudo's nostrils pinched with fury. He twisted the ashwood cane, and it divided in two. One half was a sheath, which he held like a weapon.

The other half was a gleaming rapier.

"Defend yourself!" he cried, and came at Fitz.

Fitz bounced to his feet, just in the nick of time. He slapped the rapier in the foible, hand-parrying a thrust at his liver and lights, and scrambled out of reach even as El Cabuzudo hurled the cane-sheath at his head. The cane hit the wall behind Fitz and shattered. Fitz, skipping backward, whipped off his cape and wound it round his right arm. And he raised an eyebrow at his adversary. "You fight left-handed?"

"Does that frighten you? Many find it disconcerting."

"Oh no no no," said Fitz airily. "You see, I fight left-handed too."

He drew with a zing. No rapier for him; he was a soldier, not a city fop. And the rapier was a dandy's weapon, best for pinking other dandies in duels in the park at dawn. His own blade was the best Damascus steel that money could buy, had been through six major sea battles and eleven wars, and was blessed with a cutting edge as well as a point. He saluted El Cabuzudo, glanced around to gauge the ground, and sprang into the fray.

His enemy, he saw, had trained with German masters--and the modern German fechtschules were accounted the best in all the world. El Cabuzudo came in lightly at first, perhaps testing Fitz's mettle: with a wicked lunge, a cross-over and a back step, and then around and down to thrust at Fitz's feet. Fitz saved himself nimbly, having studied under the same masters--and with three cock-steps and a cry of, "Missed me!" he came home out of danger again.

"My sword has the reach on yours," El Cabuzudo remarked. "Frightened yet, Inglese?"

Fitz fended his thrust off with the cape wrapped round his free arm. "Faith, you need a long sword, to make up for those short legs," he retorted.

"You'll pay for your insolence, senor--"

He lunged. Fitz laughed. "Oh, I know what it is!" he cried, "those heels are hard to fight in, hey?"

He attacked, making a hauke-quarter launched from head-height, a pair of double-rounds delivered standing, a double-round delivered with a great step, and two outward-slanting cuts. "For England!" he said. El Cabuzudo regained lost ground with a spring upward, a thrust born in the head, a great step to follow the advantage home; then a double thrust born in the foot, repeated three times fast. "For Spain!" he replied. Fitz counter-attacked: beating the rapier aside with a cut-cross, smiting with a back step born with both feet, and then a contrary cut homeward born with two steps. His sword could cut as well as thrust; El Cabuzudo's rapier could only thrust. But the Spaniard was good--Christ, he was good--and quick, Fitz had to give him that--parrying each cut as it came, until Fitz made one cut too many and El Cabuzudo knocked his blade up. And thrust under his guard.

The rapier came at Fitz's chest with a flash of light. But Fitz had laid his foe a trap; he flung up his right arm, fouling El Cabuzudo's thin blade in the thick folds of his cape. He whipped the cape right around the rapier, entangling it well and good. El Cabuzudo shouted something as he did. Then Fitz yanked the cape toward him, and wrenched the rapier from El Cabuzudo's hand.

He flung cape and rapier spinning out of reach. Breathing hard, he eyed his enemy. "Had enough?" he demanded.

El Cabuzudo merely snapped his fingers. "We have barely begun. And the rapier is not my true weapon, senor." His henchmen had been lounging at a safe distance; now one of them hurled something through the air. It fell into El Cabuzudo's left hand, and El Cabuzudo swung it negligently down into an en garde. "Merely a toy, with which I test my opponents. This," he said, "is my weapon."

It was a two-handed sword--a foot longer than Fitz's blade--but he held it dangling from his fist as if it was weightless. One-handed. Meaningless details caught Fitz' eye: the great length of the hilt, made to be gripped with both hands as its name indicated; the black damascene-work decorating the guards, and the blade itself, whose steel shone moire-blue like rippling water. While he still goggled, El Cabuzudo attacked.

He came in with a great step, and a cut straight at Fitz's neck. Fitz parried--but as he did, his blade met the two-handed sword straight-on. Sparks flew, and his edge was nicked a fingernail deep before it turned the blow aside. He staggered, his hand went numb; he saw his foe in a new light. El Cabuzudo was short, true, but broader than an ox across the shoulder, brawnier than a stevedore in the arm. He handled his immense sword as if it was a dancing-master's baton. And the sword itself had the reach on Fitz's.

Damn the villain! Damn his conceited black garb and his sneering smile! What was he saying? "--you show some promise. I hate to have to kill you."

"You show promise too," Fitz countered, grimly. "I hate to die."

He attacked, breaking his ground with running round-strokes from the head, followed by two half cuts born from two cock-steps. "Take that!" he cried. El Cabuzudo lunged, with a hauke-thrust bearing inward from the foot; then a double-round outward and another homeward, and ending the play with a quarter-cross blow, smiting with a hauke-snatch downward. "And that?" he inquired. Fitz parried, cutting with a whistling slash from head-height, springing forward as he did, and forced El Cabuzudo back. And there! straight at his gullet, and there! at him again--step forward, half-cut--step forward, half-cut--

They disengaged. El Cabuzudo paused, tilting his head, and seemed to study him. "It appears the honors are even. But you're smiling," he said. "Why is that, senor?"

"Because," Fitz said, "I'm not left-handed."

With a flourish, he reversed hands. As he did, he rocked his weight forward in a short stride, kicking his foot up as he did: a cock-step. Then a spring straight forward: a great step. And continuing the original motion, he brought his blade around and thrust down, the weapon slanted at an angle like a bird of prey's hooking beak: a hauke-stroke.

And he had the man: his good right hand should be more than a match for the bastard's left.

"But you're still smiling," he said, savagely echoing his enemy's gibe. He stepped forward, hauke-cutting from the head and the foot in succession--hammering his advantage home. "Why is that, pray?"

"Because," said the man in black, "I'm not left-handed either."

His weapon seemed to blur as he flung it from one hand to the other. As he did, he stamped hard--breaking off the mincing high heels of his fashionable shoes, which had impeded his footwork. "Prepare to die!" he said.

And the battle was finally joined in earnest.

El Cabuzudo attacked with three raking cuts upward and three downward, springing a great step inward with a double-quarter blow well smitten, and then bore out from the feet a broken half-cut aimed at Fitz's knees. He said softly, "Touche." Fitz returned with a spring and a lunge, his target El Cabuzudo's face--then a half-round broken in to a step, with a reverence to the cross of his hilt--then a long cartar-stroke flat at his foe's midsection. And El Cabuzudo bowed fractionally, saying, "Well done, senor!" His sword turned every assault Fitz could think to make. He retreated in feint, a double broken spring back with the feet a-drawing--and lunged again the instant Fitz followed him, with a hauke-stroke that sliced Fitz's jerkin open.

Fitz felt the chill of the air through the ripped cloth; his skin goosebumped. "A little cut for a little man," he said, automatically, pressing his left hand to the spot; he knew he was lying. "Merely--a--a flesh wound--" There was a stinging pain across his ribs now, and his wrist and elbow were dead to sensation. He was losing the strength of that arm. He parried and parried, giving up ground constantly. El Cabuzudo followed, moving with long deliberate paces; with each pace, he made two raking strokes. Fitz turned each stroke aside, but his heart was hammering, and hot sweat was fouling his eyes so that he had to blink it away. He had retreated almost the length of the alley, and knew himself in grave danger. Faster and faster the Spanish sword danced. What did it take, to find a feint the Giant didn't know?

Four rakes double-born in a step. A rake in to the alure end. Again, doubling in to a step. Turning in, with a long double-rake and a great step. And El Cabuzudo's sword rose lazily toward shoulder-height, seeming to hang in midair as Fitz's gaze fixed mesmerized upon it. The point of the sword seemed to write flashing words upon the air. El Cabuzudo struck aventure, cutting across toward his opposite foot.

Fitz staggered. "--a flesh wound--" he said, through numb lips.

The Spaniard saluted mockingly, reversing his blade and bringing the hilt to his lips for a kiss. And now he was no longer a laughable short-legged clown with a big head, but a giant indeed--looming over Fitz, as Fitz's knees buckled and Fitz sank toward the ground. "There can be only one," said the deep basso voice mysteriously. "Adios, senor."

"Tarasque! Is that you?" This was another voice--a voice that came to Fitz's ears as if from a great distance--a voice he was no longer able to recognize. "Let the boy go."

"Ah! So the fox hiding among my rabbits, finally comes out of its den . . . It's been centuries, Horseman."

"That name is no longer mine. Call me Adam Elias now."

"What?" said El Cabuzudo's voice, feigning surprise. "Not that it's not a fine name for you: Elias, saint of the lightnings. The savior of the alchemists, the patron of wandering mariners. But can it be, that Death himself has repented of his--"

"Enough, Tarasque! Leave the boy be."

Dimly, Fitz heard a deep bass chuckle, the sound of a footstep.

"I seem to remember," said El Cabuzudo, "long, long ago, coming begging to you for instruction. And you turned me away. The humiliation still stings, I think. Does this English buffoon belong to you now?"

"I don't know how he first died or how long he's been one of us," said Adam's voice, "but I think he doesn't even know what he is yet. Have mercy, Tarasque. We have witnesses--and he's a kill unworthy of your years."

All this, Fitz heard through a thickening haze. He was cold, damnably cold--his very bones ached from it, and the hammer-beat of his heart was slowing. Footsteps, voices, El Cabuzudo's final chuckle as he retreated . . . what did all these things matter anymore? Then Adam said, "All right, Hugh, he's gone. Let's see what you've done to those fine clothes of yours," and blinding terror sleeted over Fitz's mind.

Pain ripped through him; he rolled over and curled into a tight ball, lying in a puddle of filth. "Just--just a scratch," he managed to choke out, automatically. Adam must not be allowed to look-- "I'll . . . be better in an instant . . ." He was healing already; he could feel the flesh knitting under his fingers. Soon, soon, soon--if they left him alone long enough--there would be no evidence of his unnatural powers--

He turned his face to the wall, hoping not to be found out for the diabolical creature he was.















Act Two





Fitzcairn was brooding.

It was a whole day later, and his heart still leaped in his chest when he thought of it--how close he had come to being exposed. True, he had fobbed Adam off with excuses; true, Jean the maid would carry no damning tales back to her mistress; still, Fitz knew he had only escaped by a hair. And this was Spain, home of the Inquisition, the most fanatical Christian state in Europe. What they might do to a man like him! Burning at the stake would be only the beginning.

He sat in the balcony of his fine rented house, with his pipe gripped hard between his teeth; smoking was a newfangled pleasure, but one he was fast learning to crave. But the pipe was unlit just now. Fitz never noticed. His head was tipped back and his eyes were shut, and he was wringing his hands together in anxiety.

So far as he knew, there was no one else in the world like him.

He sighed, lost in a memory.

. . . What had her name been, that girl he had loved long ago? More than a century had passed and she was surely dead, and yet Fitz himself never aged, never changed; he had healed of a thousand wounds, but the cuts she had inflicted were still bleeding. He had tried earnestly to blot out even the memory of her name. Had she been Jill? Perhaps Rose, or Betsy? He remembered her face, her voice, her bouncing curls and tight-laced waist. He remembered her laughter, on the day of his first death . . .

"Hugh! Hugh, my heart, don't be shy--come dance the Rufty Tufty with me!"

All the girls had been dancing on the village green, and she had been the most beautiful of them all. The local farmers' sons with their stone-blue eyes and red Saxon complexions all brought her flowers, proposed marriage; but she had eyes for no one but her Hugh. Her soldier boy. Oh, her stout brothers had all glowered, and Goodman Mickle her father had blustered . . . but Fitz was the only young man who had lifted her skirts, so far. For she loved him more than her virtue, and he loved her so much that the threats of her brothers meant nothing to him.

It had been a fine Sunday evening, and the best fiddlers in the village were competing for applause; first one played and then the other, sneering at each other in between, while courting couples footed the Turkey Lone, Greensleeves and Pepper is Black, and the roguish Shaking of the Sheets. One foot in and one foot out they danced, and the liveliest pair on the green had been Hugh Fitzcairn and his sweetheart. His bright-eyed Sally . . . or had she been Lottie?

Or Phillipa?

Lavinia?

Joan?

"Lass, your brothers are glaring at me again. They'll murder me one dark night."

"Oh don't take any notice of them. They're the laughingstocks of the parish, with their fat pimpled faces and garlicky teeth, and the kernel of the matter is, no girl will give 'em the time of day. While I am the envy of all the other maids! For I have you, sweet Hugh."

"And a lucky man I am," Fitz had said, catching her hand momentarily and dropping it in the figures of the dance.

They had turned around one another, bowed and curtseyed, advanced for a kiss; Fitz had smacked her lickerously on the lips, and she had simpered and dropped her gaze. Staring straight at his wedding-tackle, the bold piece. He remembered how he had colored, and his Lizzie--or Nellie--or Annie--had shrieked with laughter and gave him a pat there before the dance took her away. And when they met again, catching hands and coming face to face, she had leaned in close and proposed a climb into her father's hayloft.

There, afterward, they had rolled back and forth, limbs thrashing, while her breathy shrieks mounted and the doves, disturbed, filled the air with a melodious cooing. "Have at you, wench," Fitz had panted, on all fours, with his hair stuck full of straw; he had lunged at her, and she had fled back and forth, squealing, "O, sir!" in feigned maidenly terror. While he chased her, on his hands and knees. It had been all kiss i' the hay, tickle and slap and squeeze, the most wholesome fun any English girl and boy could have . . . till her father and mother and brothers had come home from the green.

"Run, Hugh, run!" she had cried, his sweet Polly. (Or was it Meg?) She had panicked, and pushed him bodily toward the hayloft door. "They've heard me, they're coming up! Go!"

"Not that way, girl, it's twenty feet straight down!"

"Yes, yes, there's a haystack waiting!" She had been a big strapping girl, with shoulders like a blacksmith--his darling Bess, or Mabel, or maybe Henrietta. She had gotten behind Fitz, and shoved him. Straight through the door he had tumbled, and plunged twenty feet straight down--

To his doom. No haystack had been waiting. He had landed on cobblestones, head-first.

In Spain, the immortal Fitzcairn bowed his head and heaved a deep sigh. That had been his first death. Next had come his first rebirth: a sudden shock of waking, like being struck by lightning. And then--

He remembered lying on the ground, and their great hobnailed boots trampling all around him; the village menfolk shouting, his sweetheart's brothers rolling back their sleeves and brandishing their fists, and all the goodwives screaming with scandal and grief. Oh, the hubbub! "His skull smashed in like an eggshell!" they had cried, and "Too late for the priest, poor lad!" and, "What d'ye suppose he was doing up there?" And above the clamor, his true love's voice, blubbering: "My darling, my dearie, my lambkin, I've killed him dead!"

No one took the slightest notice of poor Fitz--and he had laid there as if poleaxed, eyes wide open in horror, as he relived the moment of impact. He had remembered it all: the blinding pain as he dashed against the ground, the paralysis, the blackness. He had grown cold in every limb as he slowly realized the dreadful truth. No man could have survived such a fall. Zounds! He must be stone dead!

Trapped in a rigor mortis of sheer horror, he suffered through the poking and prodding of the village midwife, and heard himself pronounced a corpse. (Not for nothing was the old woman called Granny Eyeless.) When the fatal words struck his ears, Fitz had shuddered and mentally given up the ghost. His head had swum with mortification, the more so when the men began to laugh instead of lament. Distinctly, he had seen them nudge each other with their elbows, speculate on just how Fitz's true love had murdered him, and spit on the ground with admiration. "Eh, the whoreson from Canterbury's had the wages of his sin, and now it's Hell for him--the poor fornicating wittol!"

Dead, and going to Hell.

And there came her voice, her beloved voice: "No, no, Father, you heard me wrong--I didn't say I killed him dead, I said he split his head--"

"Nonsense and folly!" Goodman Mickle's deep voice had growled, "why, there isn't a mark on the wretch. He must have landed on his neck, and snapped every bone in his chine. But what I want to know is, what you two were doing up there."

"Papa, I never! I was in the kitchen--er--raking out the ashes--emptying the slops--"

"Yes?"

"--never liked him any road, don't know what he was doing in the hayloft anyhow--"

"Yess?"

The coarse countrymen crowding round Fitz's had chuckled in their beards. "Ah, there's she in trouble now," they had remarked knowingly. "Nothing more we can do for the lad. Let's make him decent, and to the church with him."

Fitz, dumb with fright, had suffered them to close his eyes. "Ee's still warm," one had remarked, and another had leered: "I'd still be warm too if I died the way he did!"

Their horny hands had pawed his limbs into decorum, laced his breeches shut (and a century later, Fitz still recalled their jokes with shame) and then they had heaved him up on their shoulders, four or five of them lending a hand like pall-bearers, and begun to carry him along the street. Fitz had been shaken and jounced and jolted. His arms had trailed limply down, hands dangling, and his poor head had bounced like a sack of turnips. A dozen times, he had all but cried out in protest. But then he had remembered how he was dead, and the sorrow of it had frozen his tongue.

But the final straw had arrived when they got to the churchyard, and tossed him down unceremoniously outside the lich-gate.

"Reckon he's a suicide? If he killed hisself, he can't come in."

"Nay, he didn't kill hisself, was old Mickle's girl did for him. Now she's ruint, poor lass, and no honest man will have her. Squire Blandings has a crazy aunt might take her into service, mebbe--or mebbe she'll end up begging on the highway--"

"Yesss?" old Mickle had snarled.

"I never even touched him!" Fitz's lady-love had cried. "He was a miserable beast, Father! He was a lowdown thief! He deserved to swing by the neck, the swine!"

And when Fitz had heard this, he had sat bolt upright and cried: "If I was alive instead of dead, my girl, I'd tell them you were lying in your throat!"

She had been Molly, Molly, Molly--sweet Molly Mickle of Market Blandings--and the Fitz of a century later uttered that fatal name through grinding teeth, agonized to his core. Though he had been stoned out of the parish, had to flee the county and shun England for a generation, those things had not stung as her repudiation did. Fiercely, he sucked on his pipe-stem, remembering her. Then at last he relaxed and sighed, filled the bowl of the pipe afresh and held a bit of burning touchwood to the tobacco.

Item: he did not age, as other men did.

Item: wounded, he healed. Wounded unto death, he revived. He had even died of the pox once and recovered. He was not a natural man. For his blasphemous mockery of the Savior's resurrection alone, he should be excommunicated a hundred times over.

Item: he had never dared question anyone directly, of course. But certes, he had never heard of another man working the miracles he did. He had made discreet experiments with holy water, but had not blistered or burned. And he quite liked garlic. But the old wives' tales of incubi and vampires could have been mere hearsay.

Conclusion: he was the devil's spawn, straight from Hell, and would writhe in perdition when Lucifer his master snatched him back home again.

. . . But all this was an old dull agony for Fitzcairn, and though it ached yet, it was not what made his teeth clench now. His eyes became vague with painful speculation. He chewed on his pipe in a passion. The events of the past few days had provoked him to thought (always a difficult process) and he had to draw the logical conclusion:

Item: there was something odd about his new friend Adam. Whenever he appeared, Fitz felt dizzy, his head rang, and his stomach churned. It was like a forboding of disaster.

Item: when Fitz's rival El Cabuzudo had made his entrance, Fitz had felt the very same nameless dread.

Item: both men spoke of strange things, unknown mysterious things.

Item: Adam seemed to know far more about Dona Lucia than he ought to.

Item: El Cabuzudo had fallen in love with the fair Lucia--just as Fitz had--and Adam . . . Adam had once spoken of being in love . . . And in conclusion, there was nothing Fitz could think but--

Fitz's fists clenched. He spat out the pipe and exclaimed aloud: "Adam's in love with Dona Lucia! Christ's fists, it's the only answer!"

#



Naturally, he consulted all his other friends.

They were outraged. They hammered their fists on the tavern table, and spilt their drinks in a rage. "The fiend! The wretch! That swine, nursed at a sow's dugs, and raised in a pigpen--that he should raise his eyes to a virtuous Spanish woman of noble birth! And him a nameless wanderer from who-knows-where. Oh, you must punish him, Don Hugo."

"Tie him to a cart's tail, whip him down the street."

"Beat him to within an inch of his life."

"The pillory--"

"--the stocks--"

"--ha! Spank him with your whanger, till he cries for shame!"

And Fitz slammed back a tankard of Andalusian sherry-sack, hurled his mug at the floor and vowed: "I'm going to show him just how a clerk differs from a gentleman! Damme, I'll challenge him to a duel!"

Off they went, the whole rowdy lot of them--reeling down Sierpes Street, drunk as Swedish earls. They brought along a goatskin of liquor, to toast Fitz' revenge. Adam's lodging was just off the Calle de Genoa, the booksellers' street, whose stalls and shop must furnish him a living; the fiery young Spaniards with Fitz pointed out a hundred examples of his handiwork for sale along the way. "He gives Latin lessons to scholars," they said, indignantly, "whores his pen for anyone who pays, and paints the signs for common inns--and this is the man who dares to love your Dona Lucia!"

Up the rickety stairs they clattered, to assault poor Adam's door.

No one answered, when they hammered. Undaunted, they broke the frail door right off its hinges, and took great drunken glee in throwing it down the stair. Other lodgers appeared in the stairwell, to crane up and raise a cry at the scandal. And baying in chorus, "Death to the bastard who shames a Spanish noblewoman!" they stormed into the room. It was empty.

No one was home. Adam's unfinished Book of Hours lay to one side, the vellum pages half-stitched now with binder's silk--undefended, abandoned. A breeze through the open window fluttered papers on the table, but not even Harlequin the kitten could be seen. Fitz's friends kicked the straw pallet apart, just in case Adam was buried inside; they overset his table and flung his sample letters onto the floor. They swore at his lowborn sneaky ways. "May he go to the devil, as he himself illustrates!" one wished, jerking a thumb at the theater-poster nailed up on the wall.

It was one of the playbills for Solomon and Sheba, which in the last day or so had appeared all over Seville. On it, luridly hand-tinted, an indignant Solomon in outlandish garb (such as nobody in Seville had ever set eyes on) struggled as two cackling devils dragged him to the pit, and a Scarlet Woman looked on triumphant.

"Look at that hussy. No doubt he thinks Dona Lucia just another such painted maja." Still, the Spaniards studied the Scarlet Woman with great interest; likely they were all picturing their own mistresses in such a get-up--in garments such as no good Christian woman would wear even to bed. And such jewelry! Strings of pearls looped beneath her breasts, egad. Silken-sheer trousers, striped carmine and gold. A peacock-feather fan.

"I wonder," one said, irresistibly, "if that's a sample of the actual costumes."

"I've heard about this play," said another. "It has all the newest stage machinery, designed by a great artist of Italy. So lifelike, you'll swear that rain drums down from the theater awning. An artificial sun and artificial clouds, artificial thunder and artificial lighting--"

"And if you go in before the play starts, Don Hugo, you can watch the actresses change into their costumes. They do it right there, in front of any man off the street, you can see everything--"

"And," said another, triumphantly, "the ladies' gallery is in plain view from the pit, and if you can persuade your Lucia to attend, you will be able to look at her and she at you."

"Bliss undreamt-of!" said Fitz; right there and then he vowed to ask Dona Lucia to the play. Meanwhile his thumbs were pricking, his head was ringing faintly as if from distant bells, and his stomach was churning . . . and he was beginning to be able to recognize the warning. He turned slowly, paying no more attention to his friends. His eyes were shut. His nose twitched. When he looked again, he found himself facing the open window.

Fitzcairn walked slowly forward and stood gazing out. Then he grasped the shutters, flung them wide, and climbed right onto the sill. The breeze whipped at his sleeves, he swayed back and forth; below was a sheer drop, fifteen yards straight down to the alley, with lines of washing strung across it. The gap between Adam's building and the neighboring tenement was just nine feet wide. And because the neighboring building was one storey shorter, Fitz was looking down at its rooftop. A flat rooftop, paved with slabs of slate, upon which a faint trail of footprints could be seen trodden in the dust.

He leaped across.

He landed sprawling upon the slate tiles. Behind him, his friends began to shout.

Fitz ran lightly over the rooftop, one hand upon his sword. He was following that faint path, which gleamed with the angle of the sun; at no other hour of the day would it be visible. Here and there, he made out the mark of a bare foot. A man's foot, with long agile toes. He swerved when the trail of footprints swerved, and leaped again--across another alley, to yet another building. Its flat roof was quite featureless, lacking even the chimney-pipes of England; here the trail of footprints faded away and was lost.

Still, he walked onward. And now the low ringing in his ears was no longer low. It was like a whole chorus of voices. It was like pagan revelry faraway. Harkening to it, he went to the furthermost edge of the roof. Fitzcairn looked down and saw a balcony just below. He sprang down to it, ran across, and there was a rope tied to its railing, leading over the edge. A schoolboy trick, that. Fitz grinned despite himself. He stepped over the railing, wedging the toe of his boot in the fancy iron-work, drew his sword and took a firm grip on the rope. Then, sword in hand, he leaped out into space.

He fell into a disused courtyard garden.

Only too obviously, it had been neglected for years; roses rioted in gaudy tangles, and grape-vines climbed everywhere. Cistus, the rock-roses of Spain, blossomed underfoot. The remnants of tiles, cool blue and orange, still paved the center of the court; they were chipped and cracked and crazed, but the pattern was Arabic and beautiful. And there was a statue on a tall plinth smothered in weeds, but its face had been maimed, its hands broken off.

Adam was sitting in the crook of an orange tree gone wild, one foot up and one foot down, with his kitten on his knee. He had an empty wine-cup dangling from his hand, and a lute abandoned nearby; the bruised petals of the rock-roses clung to his bare heel. And an echo of verse from some priest's sermon rang through Fitzcairn's memory, he felt a jolt of surprise. Adam looked like a remnant of days long gone: loose-haired, heavy-eyed, his voice a dying fall. The expression on his face was as sweet as a drunken girl's. He seemed lost in delight, careless of Fitz's presence--Luxury, lavish of his ruined fame, flower-shod and reeling with intoxication. Mourning the death of the pagan world. Lamenting the last of the wine. His head was tossed back, his body swaying. He was singing to his kitten.



"I and Harlequin my cat,

'Tis a like task we are at:

Hunting mice is his delight,

Hunting words I sit all night.



"'Tis a merry thing to see

At our tasks how glad are we,

When at home we sit and find

Entertainment to our mind.



"'Gainst the wall he sets his eye,

Full and fierce and sharp and sly;

"Gainst the wall of knowledge I

All my little wisdom try.



"So in peace our task we ply,

Harlequin, my cat, and I;

In our arts we find our bliss,

I have mine and he has his."



And the kitten stood on its hind-legs, and patted with soft paws at his laughing mouth.

Fitz stood dumbfounded. But Adam knew he was there. He turned his head, smiled full at Fitz, and held out the cup. "Searching came you for your kind, and found depravity . . . It's empty, alas," he said, "but come drink at the fountain of knowledge. You don't know what you are, do you? But I can tell you such wonders, that will make you deny you were ever mortal." He reached down with one long arm, caught up the lute and cradled it. And crooned, strumming, singing sweetly: "--con sommessi acccenti / interrotti lamenti / lascivetti desiri / languidetti sospiri--"

Fitz had just come from Italy, of course; he spoke the language fluently. Now he stood blank-faced as his mind translated the verse: When, midst humble tones / broken moans / lascivious little desires / and languid sighs-- Holy Virgin, what words to apply to his sainted Lucia! It broke the spell. Even as Fitz gasped with affront, a yipping of Spanish voices drowned out the song. Adam looked up. Fitz looked up. There were all his drunken friends hanging over the edge of the balcony above; too besotted to climb down to the garden, still they made a jeering gallery--rowdy as spectators at a bullfight. They had all come to see Fitz's honor restored.

It decided him. He gripped his sword, white-knuckled. "You filthy sot--" Adam was on his feet somehow, with the cat wriggling under his arm and the lute raised like a shield; how had he moved so fast? "You've worshiped at the wrong shrine, Adam. Defend yourself if you dare."

"Hugh? Hugh, I'm unarmed--"

But his narrowed eyes and the hard set of his mouth were not those of fright; Adam stood as if kitten and lute were sword and armor. Someone yelled, up on the balcony, "--fight with this, clerk!" and down came hurling a twig broom, picked up in Adam's attic. It fell at Adam's feet. Adam stared into Fitz's eyes. A moment passed. Then he tucked the kitten into the front of his shirt, stooped swiftly, and picked up the broom.

"Fitzcairn. Don't do this."

"Have at you," said Fitzcairn grimly.

Up went the broom: thwack! Around came the sword: crack! Broom deflected sword, and Adam dodged, ducked, sprang forward; Fitz had a glimpse of the kitten clinging to his shirt for dear life--then back swung the broom, besom-end aimed at Fitz's rump. Fitz yelped. Adam laughed. The broom struck fair and square. Whack!

Fitz went reeling, and fell into the ravenous clutch of a rose-briar. Pulling free, he ripped one sleeve to bloody shreds, lost the feather from his hat and scratched his face. He spun, sword out, and heard a cry of ribald dismay from above. Adam was just vanishing through an archway, stage left.

For perhaps three heartbeats Fitz stood gawking. "Why, the coward!" all his friends were crying.

"Teach this presumptuous scholar his lesson, amigo!"

"Catch him, punish him!"

"Just drag him back first, so we can watch the fun!"

And off Fitz dashed, chasing Adam. The cries of his friends faded behind him, there was no way they would be able to catch up now; he was on his own. That suited Fitz fine. He charged through a ramshackle white-walled tunnel, leaping piles of garbage, burst a gate open with his shoulder and emerged onto a side-street. There Adam was, waiting for him. Their gazes met. Adam ran.

Fitz ran down the side-street and round the corner--and there he was, back on Genoa street again. Alone. Where was Adam? It was early evening, the hour for the siesta over and the hour for the paseo almost come; the street of the booksellers was all but deserted. Only the book-merchants themselves were there, they had appeared like magic from whatever cubbyholes they had napped in and were opening up their shops again. There they were--trundling out hand-carts and barrows, setting out their wares. Like them, their customers had been sleeping all afternoon . . . but soon, soon Seville would come to life again. The streets would fill with senors and senoritas, dressed in their best to promenade. All Andalusians were at their best when the heat of the day was past. When darkness fell, wine would flow like music, music like dance, and dance like song; and dance and wine, music and song would go hand-in-hand. Not till dawn would the city fall quiet again. Every Sevillano and Sevillana would revel, as was their custom throughout the summer nights--making merry, till they outstayed the nightingale.

The book-merchants of Seville were preparing for a bonanza night. Surprised at their work, they halted with hands arrested and gaped at Fitz. And there was Adam! He was halfway down the street, poised for flight. Beside him, an old man in tattered Dominican robes was just jockeying a rickety hand-cart into place. His cart was piled high with secondhand volumes, and he was evidently no stranger to Adam; already, he was plucking at Adam's arm, holding up a moth-eaten folio and saying in a quavering voice, "Here, chico, look, the Saint Augustine you were seeking--"

Then he caught sight of Fitz, galloping toward them. And the expression on Fitz's face. And Fitz's sword. His hands flew up, he uttered a cry of alarm. Adam snatched the book away just before it tumbled to the cobbles. Saying, "Saint Augustine protect me!" he shied it straight at Fitz.

Fitz clove it with his blade. Paper flew everywhere. The old man cowered. "Madre de Dios!" he was heard to cry; as for Adam, he was already fleeing. Then Fitz vaulted right over the hand-cart, the hand-cart collapsed, and the old man fell to his knees, shrilling, "Angels and ministers of grace protect us!"

Off went Adam, through stall and past shop and by barrow. He darted in and out, leaped over stools, and wriggled between carts heaped with manuscripts, fleet as thought--like a fish, but a fish whose element was paper, not water. Startled merchants, mild as minnows, turned to gape after him as he went by. When they set eyes on Fitz, they all said, "Ingese dog!" And Adam eeled past them, with the kitten dangling from his hand. He still had the lute and the broom, too.

His flower-stained feet drummed in the dust, he danced down the crowded street like Harlequin the Sorcerer himself. Fitz, swearing in old English, clung to his heels like grim death. Up Genoa street, down Genoa street. Adam kicked a cart of paternosters over, and up rose an anguished shriek: "Muy puerco!" He flung a rack of pamphlets into Fitz's path; love-songs with all their music fluttered skyward, printed prayers flew to God's hands, and the cries redoubled: "By the life of the devil!" He turned at bay in a printer's press-shop, dropping his kitten into a bin of paper-scraps--and when Fitz charged in after him, Adam knocked a vat of ink over at his feet.

Fitz recoiled. His fine brown leather books were now black halfway to the knee. He said, "Carai!" and hurled himself sideways; a pot of binder's glue sailed past his head. The next glue-pot splattered his doublet fair and square; he said, "Caramba!" There was hot glue on his shoulder and arm and cheek, and even in his mustache. All the laborers of the print-shop scattered before him, cursing in quaint Andalusian accents. He swung the flat of his sword right and left, spotted Adam beckoning him onward, and charged. Then Adam hurled a double armful of scrap paper into his face.

Fitz staggered backward, plastered with paper, saying, "Carajo!"

The printer's laborers were all shouting their own vile swear-words too. He brandished his sword blindly, clawing paper out of his eyes, and saw them running out the door. No doubt the soldiers who guarded the city would be along in a trice. What was Adam chanting? Through the uproar, words came dimly: "--there's no work of man's hands but that the years / besiege and take it, comes its evil day--the written word alone flouts destiny, / revives the past, and gives the lie to Death--"

And he was laughing. Laughing--the whoreson!

What was he saying now?

He was still versifying. "--meeting with Death, slack thing, said I / thy scythe is dull, whet it for shame--"

Fitz peeled a sheet of paper off his mouth, leaped forward. As he lunged, he capped the rhyme: "--no wonder your strokes all go awry / since, past that nose, how can you aim?"

"Aha!" said Adam. "Sits the wind in that quarter? Well, take this, Hugh!" Wielding his broom right valiantly: "O Man, set straight your soul's abode / while life's clock ticks its measured road / for when the pendulum runs down--"

"All cry 'Cuckold!' / and all shall hold / their Noses much smaller than thine own!"

"Ow!" said Adam; the point of the Fitz's sword had just sliced his shirt open. He retreated, saying, "Oh, a base blow. Have you no shame?"

"Too much," said Fitz, "to endure you." He had caught the measure of his foe now, and was more confident. "I was thinking--of all--possible rhymes for nose." Fragments of ripped paper were still sticking to his cheek and chin. "Such words as toes, roses, verbose and comatose. Bellows. Enormous. Stupendous. My plan was--to bludgeon you with all such words. Till you cried mercy upon me."

"But I don't want--to fight you," said Adam. They were both panting a little, from exertion and the heat of the moment. Near the door, Adam's kitten was yowling in fright. "I cry mercy now--why this attack, Hugh?"

"You know very well!"

Adam dodged around a table, and Fitz kicked it over. Piles of unbound pages, fresh from the cutter's shears, sheeted across the floor. His adversary skipped down the print-shop's narrow aisles, flinging whatever missile came to hand. The sheets of binding-leather for book-jackets? Into Fitz's face they flapped. The glue-brushes with their sticky bristles? Straight at his sword, to foul the cutting edge. The shears and knives? Adam hurled them. He hurled them all.

"Fight--fairly, knave!"

"Oh Hugh, poor Hugh, my Hugh," said Adam. "Have an ink-pot. And here is a riddle for you." And, hurling the ink-pot, he began to declaim: "You live with death yet know not--the true death--nor do you grasp of what--in what you are--"

"--less blabber, man," Fitz rejoined, "I warn you, hold your breath--but wait! I know, you must have breath to spare!"

"--you only guess--that one time you were born--and that one day you also will be lost--"

"--that nose of noses, heroic in form--that leads the way, no matter what the cost!"

Adam groaned aloud. He was boxed into the very furthest corner of the shop by now, backing between shelves which bent beneath the weight of what they stored: finished books, some for display and some surely on commission. Some were dusty and some were spanking-new, some were gaudy and some were modest, some were light and others hefty--but every last one was ammunition.

"Your words wound me," he said. "Why insult my nose this way? Do I mock your front teeth, or jeer at the way your lip twitches when you think? Don't call it a nose. 'Tis a prominence, 'tis an eminence, 'tis the noble rudder which has never yet led me ill. Without it, I would eat spoiled meat unsuspecting, mistake my apples for onions and never suspect fire when smoke filled my attic. 'Tis an organ beyond compare. And puts your own, my Hugh, to the blush."

He reached out his hand, and pulled the first book off the shelf.

Fitz shied back. "You wouldn't," he said.

"A little Abelard for you!" said Adam, and Whang! here it came. "Have some Ovid!" Whack! "Here's Seneca!" Crash! "And--oh, look--Aristophanes!" And books came sailing at Fitz, bound in colored calf-skin, gilt-edged, embossed; Fitz could not tell them apart, but he deflected them one by one. Bang! a folio with woodcuts ricocheted off the wall beyond him, pages exploding out of it. "The Account of Nicholas Flamel," said Adam, "I knew him well--" And whap whap whap! came more, while Fitz dodged grimly and his opponent crowed: St Jerome and Origin, Cicero and Caesar, and the love-comedies of Hroswitha; Gervase and Sylvester and Lucan; Plato and Virgil and Juvenal; Adam flung them all--

But next to these on the shelves was an endless series of dusty volumes--antique things virtually reeking Latin respectability.

Adam's gaze slid toward them. He grinned. "Livy's History of Rome," he said, "all hundred and forty-two books. You're doomed, Hugh. Give over."

"Never, while I live!"

"Then answer my riddle, man. Mortal man lives in time, and likewise time in man--but mortals yield, while we continue on." And Adam reached out. He disdained the Livy. He grasped an entire wooden shelf with each hand. The book-shelves teetered and tottered and tilted, loaded far beyond capacity, and Adam grinned, rocking them. "Samson in the temple," he said. "Well, Fitz? What are you?"

Fitz gaped. "Wait," he gasped, "wait--what was that--?"

"Think on't," said Adam. He sprang backward out of danger, yanking as he did, and the bookcases toppled toward Fitz.

Fitz lunged, sword-point forward, as the shelves crashed together behind him. Books cascaded down. "Ah hah!" he cried, escaping by a hair.

The blade sliced straight into Adam's chest.

"--oh." Fitz whispered the word, breathlessly, as Adam folded. Out came the blade, red from point to ricasso. Down toppled Adam, limp amidst reams of paper--and Fitz flung himself to one knee at his foe's side, instantly wishing the deed undone. He dropped the fatal blade, knowing it too late, hating himself. "I didn't mean to do it! Adam? Adam! Adam!" But Adam was dead, and could not hear.

The shop was empty, Fitz was alone. The pall of dust settling on Adam's face wrung him to the heart. A piteous mew sounded, and Harlequin the kitten came dashing, to stop short and sniff at his master's bare foot.

Fitz, ridiculous in tattered paper and ink and glue, clapped both hands to his mouth and mourned. "Oh, Adam, I never meant it to go this far. Killing an unarmed man--that's murder. I shall be sent to the galleys, rot at an oars-man's bench. No, no--rather that I flee the city. I'll take the pilgrimage to Santiago la Compostela, dedicate the rest of my miserable life to atonement. I vow it, in your name!" He reflected upon this. "But then what will become of Dona Lucia? Your death will be meaningless, if I don't marry her after all this." He heaved a sigh. "And I cannot forsake her, a maiden in distress." He brightened. "Perhaps she'll elope with me. Yes! We'll flee together. I will do penance before the altar of St James, honor will be satisfied, and El Cabuzudo will be foiled--"

Adam's nose twitched. He opened his eyes. "First," he said, "my boy, you have a hell of a bill to settle, for the damages to this place."

". . . A-A-Adam?"

"Yes, you lunatic." Adam grasped Fitzcairn's shoulder and heaved himself upright. Fitz's gaze was glued to the bloody rip in his shirt; beneath it, a familiar sparkle of light danced, and then even the blood burned away. Fitz put out a hand and touched the spot. There was no wound. There was no wound. There was no wound . . .

"Wake up, doubting Thomas!" And Adam clouted him upside the head. "Took you long enough, didn't it? Yes, we're the same kind, you and I."

". . . you're like me?"

"Immortal, yes. Now can we forget whatever it was enraged you, and talk?"

". . . oh, no!" Fitz recoiled. He said stiffly, "No matter. I cannot forget the quarrel that divides us. Not until you renounce forever your ambitions toward Dona Lucia."

Adam stared. "Dona Lucia?" he said. "But I've never even spoken to Dona Lucia--it's Jean la Loca that I love!"

Fitzcairn stared. His jaw dropped, then his eyes lit up. He flung out his arms. "Adam, friend!" he cried. "No, more than friend! Brother!"

#

Much later:

Two immortals reeled through the door of a tavern in the Court of Orange Trees. Their garments were askew, their hair sticking straight up, their arms round each others' shoulders and their tankards upraised a-waving. One was old and one was young, but there was little else to choose between them. Both were roaring drunk. They rebounded off the door-frame, all but came to grief on the cobblestone road--then they caught themselves, and their voices lifted in song.

Adam sang:



"Seething over inwardly

With fierce indignation,

In my bitterness of soul,

Hear my declaration.

I am of one element,

Levity my matter,

Like enough a withered leaf

For the winds to scatter."



Fitzcairn sang:



"Sit you down amid the fire,

Will the fire not burn you?

Come to Pavia, will you

Just as chaste return you?"



Adam sang:



"Since it is the property

Of the sapient

To sit firm upon a rock,

It is evident

That I am a fool, since I

Am a flowing river,

Never under the same sky,

Transient for ever."



Fitzcairn sang:



"Hither, thither, masterless

Ships upon the sea,

Wandering through the ways of air,

Go the birds like we."



Adam sang:



"Never yet could I endure

Soberness and sadness,

Jests I love and sweeter than

Honey I find gladness.

Whatsoever Venus bids

Is a joy excelling,

Never in an evil heart

Did she make her dwelling."



Fitzcairn sang:



"Pardon, pray you, good my lord,

Master of discretion,

But this death I die is sweet,

Most delicious poison.

Wounded to the quick am I

By a young girl's beauty:

She's beyond my touching? Well,

Can't the mind do duty?"



They sang together:



"Hard beyond all hardness, this

Mastering of nature:

Who shall say his heart is clean,

Near so fair a creature?

Young are we, so hard a law,

How shall we obey it?

And our bodies, they are young,

Shall they have no say in't?"



They broke off--doubled over, laughing immoderately, slapping each other on the back.

Adam said, "Jean la Loca's a faithful servant, and swears she won't quit her employ till her mistress is safely past the altar. Fitz, you must wed the wench. For my sake, steel yourself to it."

"And marry a nun?"

"She can get a dispensation, the bishops of Spain are understanding--"

"Then," said Fitz, hiccuping, "We must concoct a scheme to defeat El Cabuzudo." He tilted his tankard to his lips, slopped brandy all over his jerkin. "A bold and impetuous plan!"

Adam held him up. "Depend upon me for it."

"Brother!" Fitz embraced him, and both of them almost fell into the gutter. "What would I do, if I hadn't met you? I'm at your command. What, first?"

"First?" said Adam. He tossed off the rest of his drink, flung his tankard back through the tavern doorway. "First and last, as I used to say to Julius Caesar: a wise general is he and will go far, who seizes the spoils before the battle . . ."











Act Three

And so, the very next day:

Jean la Loca, clad in somber black, strolled down a street in Seville. She had a basket over one arm, and her mantilla was drawn close about her face. It was a chiffon mantilla, edged with a band of shining silk, much-embroidered, and it fell from beneath a small severe flat-topped hat--such as had recently been criticized from the Archbishop's own pulpit, for the seductive ways of Seville's daughters were notorious, notorious; there was not a woman in all of Spain who was not flattered to be mistaken for a Sevillana. Their elegance, their grace, their gallantry with gold and pearls were celebrated . . . and Jean la Loca, Madcap Jean, was a true daughter of her city.

The mantilla was cursed by churchmen for good reason--for worn as Jean wore hers now, it would lend the plainest face glamor. It made her mysterious: only one corner of her smile, the handsome curve of her nose, and one surpassingly brilliant black eye looked out. That was enough. The gallants of Seville snapped their fingers, stepped close to her and uttered: "Dios mio! Que hermosa eres!" in frank admiration. But this they did for every woman who passed, and Jean la Loca (though gratified--of course) took it for no more than her due. And she enjoyed walking the streets alone. When she went at her mistress' side, she was cast quite into shadow--and true, it would be almost against nature, for the lady to be outshone by the lady's-maid--and Dona Lucia was possessed of a glory that rivaled the sun, one could not deny it--but still, Jean liked to garner her own sunbeams sometimes. One was only human. It went without saying.

Her basket was full of fish-tails and chicken-feet, the convent's kitchen-garbage. From time to time she held a sprig of mint under her nose, to fortify herself against the aroma of it. Then she would rub two leaves of the mint together, crushing them so that their fragrance spread like perfume; and her eyes would close in ecstacy as she inhaled. Recovering, she would cry out, "Miso! Miso! Mis--ico!" And a cat, glimpsed in a windowsill or on a doorstep, would turn its head and catch sight of her. And dart toward her, mewing.

To every cat went a scrap of delicious meat. The savage toms of the city, with their swaggering walk and ripped-up ears, rubbed up against Jean la Loca like kittens; the feline queens of Seville, every one possessed amply of their own special sal Andaluza, wound lovingly around her feet. Soon she had gathered a comet-tail of cats: spotted cats and striped cats, brindled cats and calico cats, pied cats and peppered cats, and even those amazing cats which were all these things at once. She patted them, making much of them, and they flattened themselves in homage under her hand. But Jean only laughed a little and shooed them away--until a marmalade kitten dashed up and pounced on the hem of her mantilla.

"Harlequin, muy bravo!" She bent, smiling, and caught Harlequin up in her arms; he squirmed as she straightened, and ended up with his tail in her face, head-down in the fish-basket. "You naughty little boy!" Jean scolded, and hauled him out. His bristling whiskers were sleeked with grease, his eyes half-shut, his teeth fixed firmly in a fish-head much too big for him, and his throat throbbed with a diabolical purr.

Round his neck was tied a string, with a pair of earrings dangling from it.

"Rubies?" She unknotted the string, while Harlequin chewed complacently on his fish-head. The earrings lay like pirate-treasure in the palm of her hand: long pendants of gold filigree set with the rose-red balas rubies of the east. One ruby was carved with a cupid, the other with Psyche and her lamp. Jean looked around. "Adam?"

Harlequin had finished wolfing down his treat. He reached out with a paw as soft as chamois, and boxed gently at the tip of her nose.

She set him down. He looked about, his tail went straight up, and off he ran. Jean followed.

There he was, Harlequin's master. He awaited her just around the corner, lounging all picturesque on a bench scarcely large enough for one; with his long legs sprawling, his long hair tangled in his eyes and his smile blindingly bright.

"Oh, it's you," said Jean repressively. He sat up, and she stepped back, hiding her own smile in her mantilla; it would never do to give him too much encouragement. No, no, to do that would be courting the Devil's own trouble. She stood looking pointedly elsewhere, hands folded upon her basket (with the cats leaping and springing around her feet) until Adam sprang to his feet; he whipped off the kerchief tied round his head, and used it to dust the bench. He relieved her of her basket, and set it down on the cobblestones. Only then did she sit down, her back poker-straight.

He settled himself at her feet, and grinned up cheekily.

Jean opened her hand, and the ruby earrings flashed fire in the sun. "These little things," she said. "Beggared yourself buying them for me, did you?"

"Spent my last clipped copper," said Adam, bowing to the ground. He possessed himself of her hand, and pressed his forehead to it, as if worshiping a queen. He kissed her fingertips, he kissed her knuckles. "No, those go from my friend to your mistress, querida." He kissed the turn of her wrist. "All I can give you--" extravagantly, kissing the curve of her elbow, "--all I can give you is the air in my pockets." And he kissed the empty palm of her hand.

"That's enough," said Jean, pulling her hand away.

He was looking up at her. His eyes gleamed, like those of the cats; he was as sleek and bold and innocent as the cats she loved. "But all I own is a kitten and myself, and both are yours already."

"Enough, I say. Is there a message from your friend the Caballero Calabaza, then?"

"Yes." Adam sat up, drew the kerchief across his upper lip like a mustache, and grinned toothily. He had a ring of alley-cats around him (all competing for the contents of Jean's discarded basket) and Harlequin was perched on his knee. "He says that the earrings are a mere trifle of his affection. Dull stones, unworthy of Dona Lucia--who is like the fragrance of orange-blossoms, like the oranges which hang ripening all winter long, reaching perfection only when the orange-tree blooms again."

"Oh, he said that, did he? All of that?"

"Then," said Adam, his grin flashing, "you pluck the orange, and call it honey. For it is sweeter than sweetness, the very soul of the south. . . . He also asks if there is anything Dona Lucia lacks for, that he may serve her."

"Tell him," said Jean la Loca, stroking the black cat that had just leaped into her lap, "hm--tell him, is it true that English people love their dogs and donkeys and horses more than Spanish people do?"

"They certainly love their dogs more," said Adam judiciously. "You'd like the shepherds of the English moors. They are rough men, who scarcely say a kind word from one year's end to the other--but I've seen them dumbfounded by grief when their sheep-dogs die."

"And it is true that when an English cart-horse breaks its leg, it is put mercifully out of its misery? And not abandoned to starve by the side of the road?"

"It's true. But then an Spanish carter would call it cruelty to kill a horse outright--instead of setting it free, perhaps to heal if God so willed." He shrugged. "Or find another master better able to take care of it."

"These are strange gentle words--for one who says he was once the worst of wicked men."

"That was another world, long ago. How could I still be cruel," said Adam, holding up Harlequin for her to kiss, "here in Spain, where the most beautiful women in the world surround me? I would be distracted utterly. I would be forced to reform, just so that Spanish women smiled upon me. One word of rejection from you, and I would be utterly crushed. And I would take you to England if you wished, to see the shepherds and their beloved dogs."

Her hands went out irresistibly to the purring kitten. "There is something Dona Lucia likes," she said abruptly. "She likes for a novio to sit affectionately at her feet."

"As I do?"

"Yes, just like this. I am certain she would like it very much. And I am sure she said once, if she had a novio she could love and trust, she would like him to hold her hand--oh, she is very bold--"

"Very bold indeed, this mistress of yours," said Adam, setting Harlequin aside and taking her hand in both of his. "And what else would she enjoy--with a novio she could love and trust? Perhaps she would like him to kiss her fingers."

"Certainly not! It would be most improper."

"Then he shouldn't do it," Adam said, kissing her fingers. "This, I mean. It's a good thing that Dona Lucia isn't here to see such a shocking thing. And I suppose she would never permit a man to press her hand against his cheek?"

"Never."

"Of course not--the girl's not a nun for nothing."

"And of the purest hidalgo lineage," Jean agreed. After a moment she murmured, "Nor would she ever allow a man to sit beside her. Not on such a narrow bench."

"Definitely not," said Adam happily.

He fitted himself beside her on the bench; Harlequin sprawled across both their laps like a chaperone. She was certainly in no danger, being armored with petticoat and skirt and the osier-wand hoops of her guardinfante--not to mention her stiff buckram jacket and whalebone corset. To get at her, one would have to hack away her accessories with a machete. But Adam reached out with delicate fingers, and drew the concealing mantilla away from her face. She murmured, turning her cheek against the back of his hand, "You asked if Dona Lucia lacked for anything. Well, she yearns for a handsome swain who will gallop away with her, all in the name of romance."

"And does romance matter so much to her, then?"

"Indeed, she'd do anything for it, anything. Any folly at all. And El Cabuzudo sends guitarists to serenade her, till the whole convent buzzes with the scandal of it. Innocent child that she is, she is like to have her head turned by the excitement he causes . . . Your friend Don Hugo, is he respectable?"

"Very respectable," Adam answered, "very rich." He laid a finger across her lips, hushed her: "Shh. As for his dreams, they are only of her. Shall I whisper in your ear all the things he dreams of?"

"Well . . ."

He brushed his lips across her cheek, breathed words into her ear. She sat like a statue, looking modestly aside; but her face went scarlet, her lips parted in a smile. After he was finished, she said, "Your friend is very bold, very bold indeed. Even holding hands, when such thoughts were in his head, would be a forbidden thing--"

"Then I suppose a real kiss would be out of the question?"

"Definitely not--oh! Oh!" And Jean la Loca leaped to her feet, putting several cats between herself and her companion. "Enough!"

"That's the problem," said Adam. He rose, smiling a little sadly. "It's not enough, Jean."

She snatched up her empty basket. "I have to go."

"Take the earrings to Dona Lucia? Please? And meet me tomorrow."

She was already retreating, flustered; her mantilla had fallen into disarray, there were bright spots of color in her smooth cheeks. The stray cats leaped and sprang like a river of fur at her heels. But her eyes shone like black diamonds, and an irresistible smile lilted on her mouth. "At St. Antonio's altar," she flung over her shoulder. "Bring a letter from the Caballero Inglese, and I'll meet you--at St. Antonio's shrine, Adam! Be there!"

"Oh, I will, I will," said Adam, sitting down again. He picked up Harlequin, and hugged him. "Be sure of it."

#

"What did she say, what did she say, what did she say?" demanded Fitz.

"Calm down," said Adam. "Remember, I didn't see her--I only saw Jean. She said her mistress would be delighted with your trifling gift--"

"Trifling? Those earrings cost me fifty reals!"

"--now, now. As to your question, Dona Lucia is a girl of passionate impulses, who would like nothing better than a Don Juan to woo her. A bold brute of a soldier, who is not afraid to take a woman's hand, to kiss her everywhere, to sit beside her and--"

"Jean la Loca said that?" asked Fitz, eyes bulging.

"Well, she strongly implied it. We must write her--"

"I have to see her!" Fitz exclaimed, springing impetuously to his feet. He hammered his fist into his palm, began to pace--snorting hard with passion and rolling a fiery eye. Adam backed away from him in alarm. "I must see her immediately," Fitz went on, unheeding, "I must, Adam--these words fill me with such amour--nunnery or no nunnery, I'll climb to her window tonight and then, sweet love till matins tears her from my arms--"

"Wait, Fitz, wait!" Adam grabbed his arm, restraining him by main force. "Remember the girl's an innocent of gentle birth. Her head may be stuffed with romance, she may say she longs for a lover--but spring upon her, she'll repent in an instant and then, whoosh! Off like a startled doe. Woo her delicately, that's what you have to do. Frankly, but at a distance. Another poem or two, and she'll melt for you."

"You think it?"

"I know it."

"Damn," said Fitzcairn.

"Now, now. Trust me," Adam said. "You're what--six-score years old, maybe? Well, I've several thousand years more experience with women."

Fitz's jaw dropped. "Several . . . thousand?"

"Several thousand," said Adam, his voice firm. "Trust me. She expects you to be gallant: ask everything you want of her, certes, rave at her feet, swear you'll die if you can't have her--but don't lay as much as a fingertip on her. That's the way to approach that kind of girl. Talk like a satyr, act like a saint: she wouldn't be a woman if she didn't expect both extremes from her man."

#

"What did he say, what did he say, what did he say?" demanded Dona Lucia.

Jean la Loca sat in her mistress' boudoir, her sewing-basket at her knee. Around her were dainty chests inlaid with mother-of-pearl, ivory caskets and sandalwood what-nots and gaudy paintings of the saints; there was so much furniture jammed into the tiny cell that it seemed that the walls must give way. Her chair was a heap of cushions, arranged next to the candelabra by which she worked. The window-embrasure (where the good light was) was presently occupied by Dona Lucia. And Dona Lucia's cosmetic-case, and Dona Lucia's gilt mirror.

"I didn't see Don Hugo himself," Jean cautioned, "only his friend Adam, you remember, Adam Elias--"

"Oh, that Adam," said Dona Lucia dismissively. "We have observed him. A lowly clerk who sells his pen in the marketplace. Look, Jean, Sister Carmencita has given me some new hand-cream. Almond-paste and orange-blossom, she says."

"--Adam gave me those earrings, from Don Hugo."

The dona held the ruby earrings in the light, dangling between finger and thumb, and pursed her lips as she considered them. They gleamed, those lips, glossy as pink balas rubies themselves; they were painted with a fine wax glaze, to make them shine. "Thirty-two reals," she judged. "Cheap. Was there a message with them?"

"He only asks how he may serve you."

"Bah!" said Dona Lucia, and tossed the earrings aside.

She clasped her hands at her bosom. Her breasts heaved, she breathed a sigh. She blinked so rapidly that a tiny sparkling tear appeared. "I long," she murmured, "for Romance. True romance--my beau forte Tristan, my Leander, my Abelard--a chevalier in white armor--a masked bandit to snatch me to the saddlebow--rescuing me from this miserable prison, these bars and locks and the unspeakable misery of this place--" Her voice was rising. "Must I spend my life in a cage? My youth, that should be whiled away listening to love-songs, wasted on the din of old women's hymns. Crossing myself till my wrists fall off--expected to be at church seven times a day--expected to sully my hands dishing out soup for legless soldiers! Less a nunnery than a prison, less antechamber to Heaven than Purgatory itself--"

"Is that my quill with which I clean my teeth," Jean demanded, distracted, "that you are using to paint your eyebrows?"

"Oh, what do your teeth matter," cried Dona Lucia, "when I am starved for Love!"

"Adam also said," Jean told her mending-basket, "or, at least, implied--that Don Hugo wishes to hold your hands. Also to sit beside you, and salute your fingertips. Also to kiss you--"

"Naturally," said Lucia, yawning. "They always do."

"--and more. Much, much more."

That caught her mistress' attention. At once, she whisked out of the embrasure and was kneeling beside Jean's cushion, one hand laid confidingly on her knee, and her face all blushes and laughter. "Did he say so? Of course he did. Tell me, Jean--dear, dear Jean. Tell me all of it."

Jean told her, all of it. Dona Lucia giggled and clapped her hands and pretended to cover her ears in shock; but she drank in every word. When her maidservant was done, she drew a deep breath and sat sighing, her eyes misty with emotion. Then she shook herself briskly, and observed, "There--I feared I was losing my touch, but it's obviously no such thing. Not if Don Hugo has never so much as been introduced yet, and still he does not scruple to ask All of me."

"He is shameless," Jean observed. "Shameless!"

But Lucia tossed her head coquettishly. "He wouldn't be a man if he wasn't," she said.

#

Saint Antonio was the patron saint of Seville.

He was also the patron saint of all young Spanish girls in love. No one knew why, for he was a very prosaic saint (and old men in the town still tut-tutted disapprovingly over him, that idle fool Antonio, always day-dreaming) but there it was. When a girl longed for a novio, it was St. Antonio's medal she hung round her neck, and when she wished Venus to favor her, she sacrificed her coins in St. Antonio's alms-box, no other. The Virgin was no good in these matters, and as for the Christ child, how could He understand the fervor of young girls? "La sangre hierve sin fuego", said the old women, shaking their heads wisely and grinning with toothless gums. "Blood boils without fire . . . Ah, to be young again!" And the unmarried girls of Seville brought their offerings to the saint's altar, dreaming desperately of love.

Thus Jean la Loca, on her mistress' behalf, hurrying into the saint's chapel after vespers and putting a hand to Antonio's alms-box. The coin she put through the slot was an entire gold real--sacrificed with many sighs by Dona Lucia, who had been saving it to buy theater-seats and marzipan at Corpus Christi. It was wrapped up in a scrap of paper, upon which were tear-stains and the message: Blessed Antonio, send me a novio to save me from this prison, or else I will take off your medal around my neck and throw it down the well. Jean shook her head as she consigned this prayer to the saint, and her face was very grim.

When she looked up, there was Adam behind her.

"Oh, it's you again," said Jean. She darted a look right and left, but there was no one watching; still, the way his face brightened when she saw him was enough to cause a public scandal. Even in a church, such a look was not respectable. She caught his hand in hers and drew him aside, to sit down in a nearby pew. "Have you a message?"

"A poem for Dona Lucia," said Adam. He recited:



"Stetit puella rufa tunica;

Siquis eam tetigit,

tunica crepuit.

Eia!

Stetit puella, tanquam rosula

Facie splenduit,

Et os eius floruit.

Eia!"



"Latin," said Jean musingly. "Well, my lady will adore that, for she is very vain of her Latin, and has even taught me a few words of it. What does it mean, this poem? There she stood, in red she was gowned; if ever you touched her, that dress made a swishing sound--?"

"She stood in her scarlet dress / if anyone touched her / that dress rustled," said Adam happily. "Eia!"

"There stood a girl, like a rose she was / her face a splendor / her mouth a flower-bud?"

"Like a little rose-tree, there she stood / her cheeks blushing rosy / and her mouth a bud." He produced a scroll from his sleeve, and handed it over. "Eia!"

"And your friend the English lunatic, he made this up himself?"

"All by himself," Adam lied, straight-faced. "Every word."

"Such a scholar!" she murmured. "Lucia will be impressed."

He reached for her hand, but Jean moved stiffly away. She drew her mantilla closer about her face. Of course there could be no scandal in meeting here, in the very cathedral and beneath the eye of God . . . but an unmarried woman did not converse with a man not related to her. Even now, the priest tending the candles was looking askance in their direction.

Adam sighed. "Still unbending, Jenny?"

"You've revealed all your secrets, such as would make any good Christian woman shrink from you," she answered under her breath. "You've told me how you used to be so wicked, that all men called you Death. Such sins as you committed! And you lived among heathen folk as a heathen, too!" She crossed herself. "How could I not disapprove?"

Ave Maria Purisima, but he was laughing now! He said, "I think it's my heathen life that appals you most. Jean, I've confessed to you. Can't you find it in you to forgive me?"

"In what spirit should I forgive you?"

"In the spirit of a good Christian woman."

Color rose in Jean's pale cheek. She said nothing, sitting rigidly beside him in the heavily carved wooden pew; blue and yellow light from the rose-window above lay bright on the folds of her mantilla. After a moment, though, she reached out shyly and touched his hand.

He put something into her grasp; it was a small object wrapped in silk. "And this," he said, "this is for you, from me. A gift, Jean."

She unfolded the silk, cautiously. Then she saw what lay within--and caught her breath in wonder.

It was a Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis, such as devout women carried everywhere with them: a Book of Hours. Its contents were prayers, to be recited at the canonical hours of the day. A perfect hand-lettered Book of Hours . . . but a miniature, so small it fitted into the palm of Jean's hand, and penned in severely tiny script--eleven lines to the inch with never an error, and every page ornamented from edge to edge. Its script was a fine chancery hand, and the illumination was as vivid as Italian oil-tempera. The opening word of each prayer was a blaze of brilliant color, the letters fantastically entwined. The background of each prayer was a glorious miniature painting.

Every painting was a scene of Seville. There were the cobbled streets and white-walled houses Jean knew; the market-stalls and the steps of the cathedral, the public fountains and the docks by the Strand. It was her city, a little world, depicted faithfully and with love. There was only one aspect of it that was not true to life: there were no human beings at all. This was not the Seville of men and women. This was a Seville of animals alone.

There were the cats and dogs Jean loved, the donkeys and roosters and horses of the streets. They went about their ordinary business, and the donkeys wore the straw hats of everyday-life; they were the dumb beasts of her city, but as they might be in the perfect Seville of Jean's imagination. Thus, where there was a cat, it was drawn with a fish between its paws and a smug smile to its whiskers, and the horses and mules were painted with full nose-bags, happily feeding. The roosters pranced with their beaks open, and every rooster had a hen perched nearby. Even the dogs had bones in their mouths.

It was a gift of extravagant love. At first she could do nothing but look at it, paging astounded past scene after scene. Then she glanced up, incredulously. "You made this?" she accused.

"For you," said Adam. He picked up her limp hand, and dropped a kiss upon her ring-finger. Then he strolled whistling out of the cathedral.

She sat in her black dress, gazing down. Beneath her hand, the pages of his gift glowed like stained glass; her cheeks were like blushing roses, her mouth was a rose-bud. "Eia!" said Jean la Loca.

#

"How did it go?" Fitzcairn asked.

"I think she's warming up to the idea," said Adam.

#

"How did it go, then?" Dona Lucia asked.

"He has sent you a poem," Jean said.

She handed it over, and her mistress instantly ripped off the ribbon that tied the scroll; she held it up, and said, "But it's so short!" Then she said, "But, in Latin." Then her head tilted sideways: "'She stood in her red dress'--is there a message in that, I wonder? And written in such a fine hand, see Jean, with scarlet and gold rosebuds twined in the corners of the page. Don Hugo wrote this out himself?"

"I think so," said Jean, crossing herself secretly against the lie; the Book of Hours was hidden away in the folds of her gown.

"Surely he must be a great grandee in England--such scholarship, such address he has." She read the short song aloud, several times over, and there was a glow in her eyes and a tender croon to her words . . . for Dona Lucia was nothing if not romantic.

"I must set this to music," she proclaimed at last. "Fetch my lute, Jean. Every word cries out to be sung. And--and--and, when it's done, we must send him a secret message, Jean, asking him to some rendezvous?" She clasped her bosom, palpitating. "Then I can sing him our song. Then, finally, we will meet!"

"Have you forgotten?" said Jean harshly. "The reason your father sent you to the nunnery? His orders were that you should never be allowed to speak face to face with a man."

"They were unjust orders!" Lucia cried. "The edicts of a tyrant, against which any spirited girl would rebel--would fight, Jean, with every waking breath--would, would--"

She covered her face.

"Must it always be like this?" she asked in a muffled voice.

"Shush, child. He let you converse with your etiquette-professor . . . and the music-master, and the singing-teacher . . ."

"Not one of them was under fifty years old," said Lucia sorrowfully. "They made such faces at me, too. And it has been a whole year since he dismissed them, and had me clapped up in this nunnery."

She toyed with the sheet, and then tucked it reverently into her sleeve. As she did, a small velvet bag slithered out and fell to the floor; it chimed as it fell, as if polished stones were sliding over each other within. Jean picked it up and restored it to her.

"Is that your new earrings?"

"Yes," Lucia lied, making haste to conceal the bag again. She did it with a straight face and inward glee. The bag had been handed to her by a street urchin that very morning as she came out of church; within was a truly magnificent gift--a rosary of opals surmounted by a glittering solid-gold crucifix--such opals as brought to mind sunrise over ocean-foam, and pearly clouds against blue twilight, and the feathers of pigeons sheening green-gold upon pale grey. A truly magnificent rosary. With it had come a note, which had made her heart hammer with the sheer Adventure of it: Bless this in the font at vespers, and I will know which nun is you. And it was signed, El Cabuzudo, your slave.

Oh, her life was so romantic!

"One suitor sends me poetry, the other serenades me with sweet song. I don't know whose gifts I like better, I cannot choose between them. How could I, being forbidden to meet either one? Jean, I make this vow: whichever man first frees me from this gilded cage . . . him, I swear to marry, till death does us part."

#

Eight times a day came the canonical hours, the hours of prayer: matins and vespers and nocturns, along with prime, tierce, sext, nones and complin. Thus the Books of Hours, so that laymen could comfort themselves with the proper prayers at the proper time. Eight times a day, one gave thanks to God. It purified those who were diligent. You could get indulgences granted to eat meat in Lent, you could be excused from the days of fasting, if you were faithful in your reading of the canonical prayers.

Eight times a day, the good padres of Seville filed into the cathedral, followed by a train of monks in tonsure; all wore their long black canonical capas, the heavy cloaks no man of faith ever appeared without. They lifted the curtain before the church door, and passed through gently chanting. Alas, that their voices were drowned out by the armies of beggars who crowded around the doorway, squatting relentlessly, fully equipped with their staffs and their little dogs. Their hands were stretched out and their voices droned like the whining of mosquitos. Meanwhile the merchants strolling up and down the steps ignored both clerics and beggars alike.

Behind the priests and the monks came the nuns.

They filed into the cathedral, eyes modestly averted, and they were all as alike as a flock of mourning doves--with black dresses down to the ankle, with black mantillas flung forward to veil their faces entirely; an onlooker could not have picked out his own wife in their number. Their mantillas, heavy bombazine edged with velvet, fell straight to their knees behind. Their thick serge dresses were buttoned up to their chins, and handkerchiefs further concealed their bosoms, and their mantillas lapped over both dress and handkerchief. On a hot summer day, for a score of more of nuns to faint at vespers was nothing out of the ordinary.

Every one paused just within the doors and flicked a finger in the font of holy water. Every one signed herself at breast, forehead and lips, ending by piously kissing her thumb. So too did any Sevillano or Sevillana who came into the cathedral behind them; it was a gesture as automatic as breathing. Then the nuns filed off to their long benches, behind the iron chancel grating.

As she had halted at the font, one of the nuns leaned forward and let her golden crucifix dip into the water.

After she too blessed herself from the font at the door, Jean la Loca left her mistress and hurried off to Saint Antonio's chapel. She too wished to leave her coin in the saint's alms-box. But she smiled as she dropped the copper coin in, she smiled as she genuflected before the saint's statue; not for her, to blackmail good Antonio with threats of his medal flung down the well. She was happy, and she smiled behind her mantilla's lace edging, walking straight-backed down the aisle to await her mistress.

She did not see the man in black who stood in the shadow of a pillar.

The sound of vesper-prayers echoed through the cavernous cathedral. Several old women sat mumbling near the altar, telling over their rosaries with gnarled fingers; aside from that, the place was almost empty. A few besotted swains who had the bad taste to yearn after nuns stood craning near the choir-grill, fretting to glimpse their lady-loves. If they stood on their toes and stretched their necks out, they could just manage to see the nuns seated chastely on their spartan wooden benches. Some of the younger nuns peeped back at them, curious as kittens. A few winked boldly at their admirers, and one (who wore an opal rosary simply reeking of worldliness) stared shamelessly, searching every face.

One of the besotted swains was Hugh Fitzcairn. He was dressed like a peacock, his garments brand-new from head to foot; his hair absolutely shone, his mustaches and small spike beard had been curled and oiled, and he was blowing a kiss in the hypothetical direction of his beloved Lucia. This was his plan: to sweep her off her feet, woo her and elope with her and have her safe out of Seville before El Cabuzudo suspected. Surely she could not have been unaffected by his gifts! Surely her heart was already his!

The younger nuns giggled.

Fitz had spotted Jean la Loca in the meager congregation. He bustled over to her, baring his teeth eagerly: "Good woman, a word with you. Here's a coin that shall go from my hand to yours, if you point out your mistress as she leaves the cathedral--"

"Shhh!" hissed Jean. Vespers was almost over. The priests pronounced the last few words of prayer, genuflected before the altar and its central image of the Queen of Heaven. The old women crossed themselves. A gang of ruffians lurking near the further end of the nave also crossed themselves devoutly; their unshaven faces beamed with innocent sentiment, for even a bandito could adore the Virgin Mother.

One of them had a sack hidden under his cloak. As the last Amen was pronounced, he pulled it out and emptied it onto the church floor; its contents were a mongrel dog with a string of fire-crackers tied to its tail. One bandit held the dog, another struck flint and steel over a bit of tinder. They aimed the dog at the high altar, lit the fire-crackers, and let go.

The mongrel leaped straight up with a yip of dismay that could have been heard in Cordoba. It hit the floor running, leaping straight up again each time a fresh fire-cracker popped off. At the apex of each spring, it howled. All over the cathedral, people jumped to their feet; heads turned; the monks yelled maledictions, and the padre before the altar took one look, crossed himself, and began to chant an exorcism.

The nuns were just filing out from behind the choir-grill. They scattered as the dog rocketed past. Two swooned dead away. From behind them, a cry arose, in the voice of Jean la Loca: "Don Hugo, Don Hugo, catch it for Heaven's sake!"

The nun with the opal rosary saw someone beckoning her from a side-chapel. She looked around, realized that her duenna was otherwise occupied, and nipped smartly away from her sisters. An instant later, her heart pounding with Romance, she was face to face with El Cabuzudo.

She had no time to notice how short he was; the moment he saw her, he hissed, "Dona Lucia?" and even as she was nodding, he had flung himself to his knees at her feet--such an exciting thing had never happened to her before. "Show me your face, sweetheart." Trembling, Lucia put back the veil of her mantilla. Her admirer paled visibly, gazing up at her; he breathed, "Even more lovely than I dared imagine--" He caught her hands, drew her down to kneel before him; then he was raining burning kisses on her hands, her forehead, her lips. She was limp in his arms, dizzy with gratification. It was better than her wildest dreams!

"I must have you." It was whispered hotly against her mouth. "Querida, will you flee with me?" And she was nodding, frantic to agree, stunned with embraces and unable to think. Not a single word had passed her lips, he had done all the speaking. He gasped out between still more kisses, swift masterful kisses that shook her like thunder-claps: "Go to the Corpus Christi play, querida. You know which one. Bring your valuables, shake off your maid. When you get there, follow the instructions on this note."

She was released. He had vanished. Off toward the altar, Fitzcairn had caught the dog and Jean la Loca, lips pursed with disapproval, had untied the string. Lucia, peeping in that direction, saw how Jean flung the spent fire-crackers aside and the dog struggled panicked for freedom. "Can I put it down now?" Fitz was begging.

Lucia rose and concealed herself behind a pillar. Her gown and mantilla were a shambles, she knew she was scarlet-cheeked with pleasure; she had to hide. And meanwhile her maid was ordering, "Don't you dare move, Don Hugo! First I must examine its tail."

"--damme, woman, the animal's bitten me three times already--"

"Your language, Don Hugo," said Jean, scandalized. "Very well. Kindly take the poor thing to the doors and set it free."

"--and look what it's done to my new pleated ruff!"

"And don't kick it down the steps," Jean commanded.

Shaking from head to foot with illicit glee, Lucia lifted her hand to her mantilla--and discovered something sticking to her damp palm.

It was a scrap of paper, criss-crossed with writing. By the time Jean found her, she had read the incriminating note and then stuffed it down the front of her dress.

#

Fitz slept late the next morning.

He dreamed pleasant dreams. In them, his beloved held his hand, uttered his name caressingly, spoke of her love for him. She was clad a la Englishwoman, unveiled, with her hair a cloud of spun black glass; her bashful face was a perfect oval stained with crimson blushes, her flawless lips opened upon a bewitching giggle. Soft as the coo of a nesting dove. "Oh, cara mia," he mumbled, embracing his pillow and planting a smack of a kiss square on target, "such bliss--sweetheart, don't fear, I'll deliver you from the Giant--now, don't be shy--"

He woke, and his head was hammering.

Drums and fifes played a tune in his ears. His skin shivered. His stomach was queasy; yet he was content, for he knew now what these strange sensations betokened. Adam was nearby. Adam was getting closer, coming for a bite of breakfast no doubt; Fitz could even make a guess at his direction. Out on the street, was it . . . ? Fitz snuggled back down in bed, a satisfied smile warming his face. Perhaps he wriggled his toes a bit. Certainly, he wrapped his pillow in his arms again, and kissed it soundly. "Here's an omen of victory, sweet dreams and a happy wakening. Dona Lucia, before another night falls, I vow I'll propose marriage and make you mine. Tonight--I swear it. This very evening." He sat up. "I say. Where's that scoundrel of a valet, and my morning chocolate? And what's all that shouting?"

That shouting was Adam. "Hugh! Hu-ughh! Stir your lazy bones, get yourself dressed, get out here. It's almost noon, slugabed!"

Fitz scrubbed sleep out of his eyes. In his long nightshirt, he stumbled across the bedchamber, threw open his balcony doors. Then he laughed. "Adam. Did you climb the trellis, then?"

Adam was sitting at ease amidst the potted geraniums, in Fitz's chair, smoking Fitz's pipe. Harlequin was curled up at his feet. "God save you," he remarked, "you look half-dead, man. And where's your sword?"

"That valet of mine has forgotten to bring me breakfast. Come to think of it, all my servants seem to have made themselves scarce, damn 'em." Fitz about-faced and let out a shout. "Oi! Ernesto! Alonso! Rodrigo! Oi!" From in doors, he heard nothing: not a sound from the whole house.

"No doubt they've all run off to watch the parade," Adam observed.

"Parade? What day is this?" Fitz stepped out onto the balcony, barefoot in his nightshirt, scratching his head in perplexity. "Oi?" All he could hear was a tumult from the street below--and the very devil of a jerrycummumble it was, with shouting and laughter and the screams of joyous children. And were those cymbals, castanets, and guitars playing? They were. Hands clapping, he heard, and feet pounding a wild rhythm. It sounded like a London guildhall parade. But without his door lay only Seirpes Street, as narrow and winding as the serpent it was named after; not even a coal-seller's wagon could intrude upon Sierpes Street, for it was just fifteen paces across from side to side. The most peaceful street in Seville, usually. What was aboard? Fitz peered over the balcony rail, and his jaw dropped.

There was a dragon cavorting along Sierpes Street, and giantesses were dancing with it.

It was a canvas dragon, painted red and green. Gaudy diamonds patterned its writhing back; it could waggle its head and put out its tongue, and Fitz thought he saw it winking one eye. A tiny witch on a reversed broomstick joggled on its back. There were three giantesses, ghastly creatures in long trailing robes of filmy, tattered lace, and one wore a royal crown tilted drunkenly over her ear. Their hair was straw and horsehair, and hung in great stiff ringlets. The paste jewels of their necklaces sparkled and flashed. They stood taller than any man, but almost half of that height was taken up by their immense masks of heads--huge heads of papier-mache, brilliantly painted. Caricature heads. Their mouths were fixed in false, inexorable clown-grins, their smiling eyes were flat and dead and menacing. Caricatures of women, as ugly as sin.

They capered clumsily through the crowd, those hideous heads nodding. One tilted her vast face back, craning to see Fitz in the balcony above, and for an instant the soulless eyes seemed to beckon him. Her huge mouth cackled soundlessly. Then she turned away, pursuing a knot of children who screamed and ran in real fear . . . and as the tawdry folds of her dress caught on some projection, Fitz caught a glimpse of a man's brawny leg and bare, splay-toed foot beneath the big-headed costume.

Now the dragon was reversing itself in the narrow street, with a roar of laughter as the stevedores who carried it got tangled and almost fell over. The caricature giantesses pirouetted like spinning tops, revolving majestically in place. There were so many people thronging Sierpes Street that there was simply no other way for them to turn. There were young fools on hobby-horses chasing pretty girls to and fro, waving bladders on sticks as they did; there were boys flinging blown eggshells filled with perfume. There were girls with baskets, pelting the young fools and boys with flowers.

A dozen more of the menacing big-heads advanced around the corner: they were bristling with wooden scimitars and silver-paper pikes and even huge fake pairs of scissors snapping in the air. Cries of mirth and terror rose as they came. There were two Moors in flowing white robes, a king whose face was as red as a brick, comic Jesuits and peasants. All wore the same ghastly smiles, smiles surely meant to frighten children. Some were six feet tall. Some seven feet tall. Some eight-and-a-half feet tall . . .

Something almost twice that height was just turning the corner.

It bowed, stooping ponderously to enter Sierpes Street. Scarlet awnings had been strung between the houses, to keep off the heat of the sun, and swags of roses hung from them; the titan who had just appeared had to duck to avoid the dangling flowers. The big-headed giants were grotesque, but this newcomer was willowy and moved with a languid rocking-horse stride. It was a wickerwork woman, a queenly doll robed in real silks and velvets, and her beautiful doll's face was on a level with Fitz's own face as it swayed slowly along the street.

"It's one of the cathedral Gigantones," said Adam in Fitz's ear. The titaness bent double and patted the head of an awe-struck little boy. She was carried on the shoulders of a single man, and sticks went from his hands to her wrists to guide her gestures. "There are six Gigantones and they always bring them out on Corpus Christi. The dragon is called a tarasque. And the mask-giants are Big-heads." He grinned suddenly. "Cabuzudoes," he said.

Fitz's eyes widened. "Then El Cabuzudo . . ." he ventured.

"Is Sir Big-head, yes. The Giant."

Fitz began to laugh. "Sweet Jesus, I clean forgot! It's Corpus Christi today!"

But Adam's expression was disapproving. "I've been sitting here for half-an-hour now," he said, "watching the revels while you snored, and I haven't heard a peep out of you." He took the pipe out of his mouth and pointed at Fitz with it. "I could have been El Cabuzudo for all you knew. You should have been up the instant you sensed me, weapon in hand and ready to fight for your life. Where's your sword?"

"What does that matter now?" Fitz snatched the pipe away from him, grinning. "Ah, man, we're immortal, we're in love, and life is good." He flung out his arms. "It's a festival! Enjoy!"

Adam cast his gaze upward. "God tempers the blast of the storm to the fleece of the new-shorn lamb," he said. "And El Cabuzudo, Hugh?"

Fitz shrugged. "What's to worry for? We're all immortal--you told me so yourself. Neither of us can kill the other, the sting's gone out of any fight between us. My course is clear: if the knave dares challenge me again, I'll trounce him till the fear of God fills his black heart. And while he slinks off licking his wounds, ride into the sunset with Dona Lucia." He kissed his fingertips. "Happy ever after."

"Excuse me," said Adam; his face was unreadable. He went past Fitz, vanishing into the bedchamber.

"Perhaps you think me an optimist," Fitz called after him, "but Od's blood, Adam, it's hard to be suspicious on such a fine summery day." He turned around, gesturing expansively with the pipe, grinning as he did. "We'll have a good breakfast--don't fret that the cook's decamped, I'm a fair hand with a kitchen myself--attend the play if you like, and then I'll unfold to you my plans to sweep Lucia off her--"

Then Adam stepped out of the bedroom, carrying Fitz's sword.

Fitz got one glimpse--and then the dervish with the blade was upon him. Adam snarled between clenched teeth as he came; he moved like lightning, loose-jointed as a tiger, and everything about him seemed to have opened out and become longer, taller. Deadlier. The reach of his sword-arm was frightening, the blade like an extension of his fingers; his strides seemed impossibly long. And fast. Fitz was just able to fling up his arms, shielding himself; he yelped, and then the flat of the blade cracked against his forearm, and he was flung almost over the balcony railing. Around spun Adam, around came the sword. It hit Fitz's ribs--hard enough to break bones--and as Fitz doubled up in pain, Adam struck him on the shoulder, the knee, the other side of his ribs. Fitz was driven to the floor, trying vainly to protest. Worse than the pain was the blind shock of the attack. What was--what was--was Adam--?

Adam was behind him now. A hard arm went round Fitz's throat, his head was wrenched back. "El Cabuzudo," hissed a voice in his ear, "is two thousand years old, Hugh, and has killed more of his own kind than you can imagine. Think of this." The blade swept before Fitz's face--so close that the breeze of its motion fanned him. It stopped with the cutting edge hovering over Fitz's hand, splayed on the beams of the balcony-floor.

"If I cut off your finger," whispered the voice in Fitz's ear, "think you, will it grow back? And how about your hand, mm? Or your good right arm?" The sword slid down and sideways, Fitz's breath hissed out. Thus far, Adam had used only the flat of the weapon . . . but now there was fresh blood running over Fitz's fingers, sliced open clean across the knuckles. And around swung the blade, to cut a swift thin line of pain across Fitz's neck. "If I cut off your head, little lamb, think you that you won't die?"

Fitz gasped, "Why would you do that?"

"Ah, that's the question," Adam said. "Soon enough you'll know the answer . . . But know this: if you're fool enough to face El Cabuzudo, he'll fleece you like a lamb of Astrakhan--the wool and the hide and the life all gone."

He let go. Fitz pitched forward to his knees, clutching at his throat. He spat, choked, began to cough. "Why don't you wear a sword then?" he blurted out.

"I thought I had given up taking heads. Ah, Fitz," said Adam, crouching beside him and laying a hand on his shoulder. "He's too old for you, my friend. And too young, too young for me." He put the sword down near Fitz's hand, and Fitz swore a hoarse oath and batted the thing clattering out of reach.

"Adam, have you--have you--?"

"Killed other immortals? Yes," said Adam. "But that was long ago, and I was another man." He patted Fitz's back. The parade was still passing outside their balcony, a happy hubbub. Someone was calling them from the street below. "What's that?" said Adam, looking around.

It was Jean la Loca.

She stood squashed into the alcove of Fitz's front door, hammering on the door and shouting frantically. "Don Hugo, Don Hugo, wake up, a tragedy!" Fitz scrambled to his feet, hung over the railing in surprise till Adam hauled him back. "Hugh! Remember what you're wearing--" Then Fitzcairn looked at his nightshirt, which hung draped chastely white from his hairy throat straight down to his hairy knees. He went bright red and bolted into the bedroom to dress.

Five minutes later they all met in Fitz's doorway. Fitz's laces were untied and his sword and scabbard and unbuckled belt were all clutched in one hand, along with his best pleated and stiffened linen ruff. Nevertheless, Jean flung herself at him. "--packed her old dancing-slippers, and the ceruse and vermillion the prioress has forbidden her to paint her face with--and Don Hugo, she dropped this note under the chocolate-pot--" Stymied, Fitz examined the scrap of cheap paper she had put into his hand. She exclaimed, "You're holding it upside-down, Don Hugo?"

"Shush, Jenny," said Adam, snatching the note away. His face changed as he read it. "--for passport, say 'I am the prisoner' . . . give your bag to the woman with striped kerchief . . . go backstage during the intermission . . . These are the directions for an elopement." He looked up. "At the theater, today?"

Fitz was buckling on his scabbard. He bared his teeth in a rabbity snarl of fury: "Take us there," he commanded.

#

On Corpus Christi, plays were staged all over the city. These were religious plays called autos, enacted on flat-backed carriages, and mounted by the various confraternities of Seville. There was a great splendor to these dramas, which were often so ambitious that their carriages much be drawn by ten pairs of oxen; on these moving stages, fifty performers or more might all crowded together, and the stage director with his baton conducted them from a pulpit. Any theme was permitted, so long as it came from the Bible. The autos trundled around the city all day long, to the great rejoicing of the people; the bloody martyrdom of various saints were their favorite subjects. Dragons and big-heads and giants cavorted around the rolling stages, and merriment was universal. Dona Lucia herself lingered at seven separate plays on her way to her secret rendezvous. But she knew where she was going, of course: to Solomon and Sheba.

It was the only play being held in an actual theater today, and that for no other reason than that it could not be mounted on a wagon. The stage-machinery was too sophisticated. Nevertheless, the civic authorities had almost withheld their permission. They had only been persuaded because the play had a religious theme.

"I am the prisoner," she said quietly, to the man who took money at the theater-door. He looked her up and down, and Dona Lucia let him see the opals in her rosary. He nodded, and waved her through the door.

Within, up a little flight of steps, was the woman's portion of the theater--for women and men could not mingle at a play, it would not be respectable. This, the woman's gallery--or stew-pan, as the vulgar knew it--was a railed-off balcony at the back of the theater. Safe from male assault and scandal. Lucia plumped herself down on a bench, heart thrumming like the wings of a hummingbird, and she dropped her heavy bag upon her feet and hugged herself from sheer happiness. She was escaping!

She had chosen a bench at the very front of the gallery. Behind her, other women hissed at her tall head-dress: "What is that man thinking, letting in a nun? Since when do nuns attend plays?" Lucia ignored them, haughtily. From here, she would be able to see everything. Everyone.

She had never been to a real theater before. It was very dim, almost as dark as night, and the stage was hidden behind long velvet curtains embroidered with silk--Lucia wondered just how much that little touch had cost. The benches behind her, where modest women sat (safely away from the railing) were already jammed full; below in the pit where the men were gathering, a rowdy crowd jostled and elbowed for good seats. She was thrilled anew, for it was just as she had heard: if you sat on the front bench, you could stare straight at the men below and the men could look back at you. They could wink and wave at you, or send up gifts if they liked you. And you could smile back without fear of detection, and even pass down notes via the ushers.

A woman holding a striped silk handkerchief came and sat right beside her. Dona Lucia stiffened, remembering her instructions. Give your bag to the woman with the striped kerchief . . . She turned slightly, and said in her most nonchalant manner, "Pardon me, when does the performance start?"

"Any moment now," said the woman. She motioned to a sweet-seller passing through the crowd: "A packet of filberts, please. How much? Oh, two quartos. Oh--" crunching filberts busily, "--did you ever taste such a treat? Have a few, child, they are very tasty." Leaning forward, closer to Lucia: "Look at that booby behind us, in the ugly mantilla. How stupid she looks! I wonder, does she ever consult a mirror? And then there's that pair over to the right, the ones stuffing their faces with prunes and candy . . ." Her hand fell upon Lucia's bag, which she shifted so that it was partially hidden behind her long cloak. Lucia pretended not to see. ". . . It's on days like these that you can see every jester and fool in the whole city, and their costumes are more outlandish than those of any actress." She stood up, holding the bag, and handed Lucia the remainder of her filberts. ". . . I've just remembered, I must go speak to the doorkeeper. By the time I return, this seat will probably be taken, too. Oh, how I love going to the play!"

"Oh yes, I also," said Lucia fervently.

Below, three guitarists had started to play. This was the signal for the performance to begin. All the songs would be sung in Italian; Lucia had read as much on the street-posters. How cultured it was! How cosmopolitan! And she would be able to see the entire first act before she went to meet El Cabuzudo. The first act, Lucia knew, showed the temptation of the Biblical king; the second act, daringly, took place entirely in Hell; for the third, featuring the defeat of evil and the redemption of Solomon, great marvels were promised. There would be heavenly visions, flying cupids, the glory of Paradise itself unveiled upon the stage. Seville already talked of little else.

Now candles were lighting all along the front of the stage, one after another in a row, just like a sorcerer's trick; no one had come near them. They glimmered like fairy-lights in the dim cave of the theater. Lucia swallowed her last few filberts, on tenterhooks with anticipation. The curtain rustled.

It rose upon magic.

There was a green misty vista extending to infinity. In the distance, the golden domes of an idyllic city were to be glimpsed. In the foreground, shepherds and shepherdesses tended their flocks. The sheep were real animals, brushed till their fleece shone like carded cotton; the shepherds and shepherdesses wore long silken shirts in bright clear colors, and there was ivy twined in their hair. Every shepherdess had a nosegay of roses ornamenting her crook. Every shepherd wore a leopard-skin draped across his shoulders. They were dancing gracefully upon the green, and here came a King all in scarlet, unfurling a scroll and pointing busily toward the city, as courtiers in gorgeous jewels filed onto the stage in his wake.

There was a real sun of golden light, smiling down from a clear blue sky. Across this sky sailed clouds--they moved! they shone in the sunlight!--and the soft sound of a summer breeze could be heard above the singing of the shepherds. Birds sang, the sheep bleated. It all looked absolutely convincing to Lucia's bedazzled eyes. It was King Solomon directing the building of the New Jerusalem, and now the clouds became black and hid the sun, as pagan Balkis, Queen of Sheba, entered with her ominous scheme: to tempt wise Solomon from grace, and drag him to hell in the devil's name.

#

"Every seat is taken," said the doorkeeper, in a bored tone. "You can't come in."

"But damme," protested Fitz, with Adam and Jean la Loca at his elbows. "Look, man. We're quite willing to stand in the back--"

"No more admissions." The man flapped his hands. "The first act is already finishing, it's almost intermission. No more! No more!"

"Here," Fitz said, through gritted teeth. He hauled out his purse and poured several gold reals into the palm of his hand. "For your trouble."

"Oh, well, then it is different." The coins vanished like magic. "Stand wherever you can find a place. But if the woman does not find room in the stew-pan, out she goes again onto the street."

Fitz and Adam hurried toward the pit, Jean la Loca shot up the steps to the woman's balcony. But the theater was almost pitch black, save for in the direction of the stage--Fitz halted almost at once, for he had to grope his way merely to walk. How could he find El Cabuzudo, how could Jean find her mistress in such conditions? The stage alone was a blaze of light, for it was hung all over with lamps and candles; reflectors increased the brilliance of the scene, and there was quite a nice sun overhead (Fitz had seen such things in Italy and knew it for a crystal filled with water, with torches burning behind it) but really, the gloom was Stygian. It was made even worse by the smoke from the candles and lamps and torches, which was fast filling the entire ceiling of the theater and even threatened to blot out the gleaming crystal sun.

The women above in the stew-pan chattered so loudly that Fitz could not hear the dialogue. He wished he knew how to recognize his beloved's voice. There was one harridan up there, shrill enough to put him in mind of peacocks shrieking in the spring. Shrill as a fishwife on the London docks. Fitz pitied her husband, whoever the poor fool was.

Ha, what were they doing on the stage there? A woman (evidently, pagan Balkis) was dancing lecherously, while joyous applause burst from the audience. Fitzcairn himself was almost distracted. But he turned his gaze resolutely aside, bit his tongue and thought of Dona Lucia.

He had quite lost track of Adam, but now he thought there were two immortals nearby . . . and one of them must be El Cabuzudo. Around him, dozens of men jostled for position. Evidently they, too, had bribed the doorkeeper for admission after the benches were filled; they crowded the back and sides of the pit, and could even be glimpsed thronging the wings of the stage. One or two bold souls were actually standing on the stage, nonchalantly smoking while they watched the performance--so close that they were cheek by jowl with the actors.

Where was everyone?

Jean was in the stew-pan, a place even more crowded than the pit. Here, scores of women filled the benches to overflowing and even perched upon each others' laps. They were all leaning forward, captured by the drama on the stage; they all wore decent headdresses and voluminous black holiday dresses. It was only the instinct of love that enabled Jean to spot her young lady, sitting enraptured in the very front row. But the balcony was so packed with women that there was no way to reach her.

Below, the first act was reaching its climax. The Queen of Sheba was winding her arms, serpent-like, around King Solomon's neck. Cheers rose, and ribald cries: "Give in, senor, you know you want to!" At last he turned toward her--his stern resolve weakened by her wiles. His golden crown fell to the ground, knocked off by one flip of her hand. She ground his crown beneath her heel, she tied a rope around his neck. The audience whistled and stamped their feet. The men on the stage took their pipes out of their mouths and clapped their hands, and pagan Balkis blew them an ironic kiss as she led her victim to Hell. Exaunt, stage left. The curtain fell.

It was the intermission between acts. Lamps were lit throughout the theater; unfortunately they only added to the general aura of smokiness. Up in the stew-pan, all the sweaty Sevillanas stood in unison, shook out their crumpled mantillas and mopped their faces. Jean had planted herself right in front of the door, arms crossed and eyes narrowed. There was no other way out--and so when Lucia came squirming through the crowd of women, she ran up right against her. They actually collided, and Lucia recoiled with a squeak of dismay. "Well, well," said Jean, "look what we find here--" and she was about to say a great deal more, when two men took hold of her arms and pulled her right through the door. She vanished; Lucia stood open-mouthed, gawping, and then darted after them, exclaiming: "What are you doing? I thought we were going to give her the slip?"

Exaunt, stage right.

Below, Fitz pushed his way past dozens of Sevillanos all excitedly discussing the more sensational points of Balkis' dance. "A second Salome!" they cried and, "That actress may have been born in Italy, but she is a true daughter of Spain!" They swore at Fitzcairn when he elbowed them, and Fitzcairn swore back with venom. He had chosen between the immortal somewhere off to the left and the immortal somewhere off to the right, and was making for the left-hand immortal. But he had barely got halfway there when the lamps were extinguished. The intermission was ending.

The curtain rose, the audience applauded. By the glow of the stage-footlights, unheeding, Fitz fought his way toward his prey. There . . . there . . . there! with his back to Fitz, unsuspecting--

But it was Adam, with Harlequin riding in his arms, and he turned a troubled face toward Fitz. "I caught a glimpse of your Lucia on the balcony with my Jean. Then they both disappeared. Come this way, I think they've already gone backstage."

"Wait a moment, how will we find them?"

"Watch," said Adam. Together they elbowed their way across the last few steps to the back-stage door. They shut the door behind them and found themselves among busy stage-hands who turned to gape, exclaiming. Fitz spoke soothingly to them, pulled out his purse and began to dispense coins. Meanwhile Adam had set Harlequin on the floor. He crouched and looked into the kitten's eyes: "Find Jean, Harlequin!"

On the stage, the second act had begun. The demon Balkis, horns on her head and a long red tail hanging behind her, leered as she dragged King Solomon to his doom. The audience, liking this very well, cheered lustily. They drank in the wonders on the stage--never had Seville seen such miracles accomplished within theater walls! There had been artificial thunder and lightning as Solomon and Balkis began their descent to Hell; now the damned couple danced in mid-air, against backdrops painted with stars. The stars twinkled like real things, and there were pasteboard planets which sailed shining past. The planets in their courses were pulled by stout black threads, and Balkis and Solomon hung from a crane--but the audience could not see that. Adam and Fitzcairn could, as they hurried past. Harlequin bounded in front of them, mewing. The kitten sprang up a flight of rickety wooden stairs, and they ran in Harlequin's wake.

They arrived in the upper recesses of the theater. The stage lay below them; if you looked down, you could see Solomon cowering while the demoness whipped him, amidst showers of sparks, blasts of wind, and capering red devils. (The crowd was going wild.) Here was the thunder-machine, cunningly simple: a cannonball which rolled along a tin chute. Here was the lightning apparatus: a box of powdered sulphur with a lit candle burning in it, so that when it was shaken the sulphur flew into the candle-flame. Here were the lightning-maker and the thunder-maker: sitting on the bare floorboards, rolling dice. "Gracias, gracias," said Fitz, tossing a coin to each stagehand. "Pray, did you see two women going this way?"

The stagehands pointed mutely toward a nearby ladder. Harlequin already sat at the foot of it, gazing up.

"Well, what's up there?" asked Fitz.

Then the gang of ruffians who had just climbed the stairs made their entrance, armed to the teeth--stage left, bristling with menace.

Behind them entered the man in black.

He was smiling and stroking his mustaches. The men with him were too many to fight against, and several of them held muskets; as for him, he held his two-handed sword. And he was jeweled all over with traceries of gold thread, that glittered upon his black garb dangerously--like cursed treasure that tempted thieves to the doom. He was still short. But he was daunting none the less for it.

To the two gaping stagehands he said merely, "Get out," and the stagehands, evidently recognizing him, exited with alacrity. He added, to his men, "Take their weapons. Where are the women?"

The men were all grinning like jackals at a feast. One said, "Up that ladder there, on the roof, just as you wanted. But the pretty one, she made such sounds that we had to gag her. Like icepicks through the ears!"

Fitz growled low under his breath as he was relieved of his sword and dagger: "You'll pay for that."

"You think good always triumphs over evil? Tsk, tsk," said the short immortal. The rafter-room echoed with cheers from below, as the audience applauded some turn in the play. "I think you must be confusing life with poetry." His men tossed Fitz's weapons down at his feet; he nudged them with a toe, considering them. Then he waved one hand. "Three of you, up to the roof and await me," he ordered. "The rest, guard the staircase. Go!"

Here it came, Fitzcairn thought grimly. He flexed his hands, stared at his opponent as if he could read El Cabuzudo's plans from his face, and all the while his mind was racing over the events of their previous fight--looking for a weakness, any weakness. The Spanish immortal had seen centuries of experience, Adam had said, and Fitz knew deep down that his cause was hopeless and tonight he would die . . . but still he had to win. He had to win! For Dona Lucia's sake.

Then El Cabuzudo crooked a finger. "Come," he said. Not to Fitz. To Adam.

Fitz's reaction was instant: he lurched forward, protesting, "No! There's been a mistake, it's me you have to fight--"

"You, English whelp?" El Cabuzudo merely raised one eyebrow. "What are you? A morsel of veal laid on my plate, beside a feast that the gods of the Epicures would envy." And he pointed to Adam again. "You, I can kill anytime . . . but my old friend here is a different proposition. No thank you, boy: I'll sup tonight without an appetizer, but may make you dessert."

"And if I don't accept your challenge?" Adam was saying.

"Ah, I forgot your old refrain. That you didn't want to die."

"No," Adam said, wryly, "rather, that I didn't want anyone to die. Myself least of all." He stood over the weapons; bright steel, they glittered beneath his feet as though he spurned them with his heel. He did not stoop to sully his hands with them.

"I won't let this happen," said Fitz wildly. "You monster, fight me instead--fight someone who's willing to fight--" But his heart was sinking, for it was obvious that Adam was a coward.

"You can't interfere," El Cabuzudo warned. To Adam: "You're determined not to face me?"

"Not to kill you? Yes. I do not want to fight."

"You will," was all the other man said. He turned and called up the rickety ladder: "Ho, there! When I count three--throw the maidservant off the roof."

Adam moved; Fitz blinked. Too swiftly to see, he had snatched up the sword and dagger, and whirled. His mouth was set in a grim thin line. He was heading straight for the ladder.

"One!" El Cabuzudo shouted.

Adam halted.

"You can't win your wars with words," El Cabuzudo observed insolently. He fell into a swordsman's crouch, his blade weaving a pattern through the smoky air. "Your pen can't help you now. There is only one way you can silence me." He raised his voice. "Two!"

Adam was snarling.

"Come, old friend," crooned the Spaniard. He gestured, beckoning. "Thr--"

The word was never finished. There was a blur of action, an unconscious yelp of surprise from Fitzcairn, and an outbreak of clatters and chimes and thudding footfalls: Adam had attacked. The duel had begun.

It was a strange sight. Below on the stage, the drama proceeded apace; the second act was almost over. Above, in the ceiling of the theater, was another, more deadly sort of stage. Here, Adam and the Spaniard called Tarasque whirled and lunged, stop-thrust and cock-stepped and made blade crack upon blade like the snapping of whips; and Fitzcairn was their captive audience. He could not tear his eyes away. This was a play without dialogue, and death would come at the climax of its single act . . . and after protagonist or antagonist had died, what then? Why were they so eager to kill each other? What prize did the victor claim?

He had known El Cabuzudo for a master swordsman. He had to admit to himself, he had been curious about Adam's prowess. The Spaniard attacked like a madman, and even after the first whirlwind movements of the fight he was worth money to watch: his speed abated, but he seemed incapable of making a mistake. A duelist without peer, his hands and feet answering his eyes and mind flawlessly, and his short stature never giving him pause. Once Adam spoke aloud, saying, "Your blades swooping like the many scythes of Chronos," and then retired into silence again. But the clamor, the clatter, the swift rhythm of the weapons spoke for him.

He was holding his ground.

More, he was pushing El Cabuzudo back.

There was a change in the noise from below: the intermission had started. Now, the clangor of swords from above might be overheard. By common consent, the two duelists backed apart. They circled now, watching each other like hawks, and the smoke from the theater candles eddied around them like a veil. And El Cabuzudo's men were watching now, eyes avidly gleaming at the show; several looked on from the stair-well leading down, and more were clustered in the square of light above the ladder leading up. ". . . Wolves don't eat one another, it seems, and even a Spanish dog knows to obey a bigger dog's bark." Adam's voice was conversational. "Do you really trust those disreputable friends of yours? And Spaniards are such superstitious folk. Will you still trust yours after they've watched you take a head?"

"Oh, they're well trained. But you seem reluctant. Have I interrupted some plan of yours, perhaps?"

"Why yes, I had intended to be off for England in the morning." Adam sighed: "England! The hell of horses, the Eden of dogs and the paradise of women."

El Cabuzudo laughed. "To England, with the formidable maidservant? How romantic. I deduce you've dipped your tongue in Cupid's honey since last we met."

"And can quote Moroccan ambassadors out of period as well as any courtesan of Stamboul?" Adam stepped within measure, head cocked as he listened to the noise from below. The intermission was ending, Act Three about to begin. "Well," he said lightly. "We who dance perdition's saraband, can mock with the devil in comfort. I believe that good Solomon is about to confound wicked Balkis. How's this? 'He's twice the size of common men, wi' thewes and sinews strong--'"

The diminutive Spaniard growled. He lunged, and the crash of sword on sword drowned out the roar of applause as the curtain rose directly beneath them.

The tempered blades dinged, rang, clattered and grated and whined. Adam and El Cabuzudo whirled in a tempest of action: back and forth, up and down, around and around the small chamber with its rough timber floor. On the stage below, the playwright had pulled out all the stops. Heavenly hosts were racing to Solomon's rescue--an army of angels swooping out of the wings (really flying! O astonishment!) with fiery swords awhirl, to do battle with the rabble of Hell. (The rabble of Hell had bat-wings, devilishly convincing from a distance.) And from the sounding-chamber above, two immortals supplied enough din of swordplay to do for all Heaven's swords meeting all the pitchforks of Hell.

Near the ladder, Harlequin the cat stood with back arched and tail bottled, yowling outraged with fright at the noise.

Both men were shaken now. They had been fighting almost continuously for more than twenty minutes, an inconceivable feat of arms. They breathed in great gasps, sweat ran down their faces and soaked their clothing; it seemed impossible, for them to continue at this pitch. At one point, Adam had all but trapped El Cabuzudo's two-handed sword between his blade and dagger; only with a sudden wrench had El Cabuzudo escaped disarmament. Soon after, El Cabuzudo knocked the guarding dagger out of Adam's hand, and Adam was all but killed before, with a cunning move, he retrieved it--stop-thrusting perfectly, dropping to the floor as he did, and slapping a hand upon the fallen blade as he rose. They fought like demons. They fought as if possessed by the hands of the angels.

Throughout, El Cabuzudo had kept his eye on the crouching kitten. He had already tried to drive Adam into a score of traps: the tin trough down which the thunder-cannonball rolled, the lightning-box, the ladder. All these, Adam had avoided. But Harlequin was another matter. El Cabuzudo drove his foe like water whipped by wind, across the length of the small chamber . . . toward the unseen obstacle . . . toward Harlequin, a small furry bundle frozen on the floor.

Adam stepped back onto the cat. The trap had caught him; he stumbled; but as El Cabuzudo brought his blade down for the beheading stroke, the crying kitten shot out from under Adam like a furry destroyer. Up the Spaniard's breeches clawed Harlequin, screaming like nine fiends from Hell; the kitten smote his abuser hip and thigh, raced biting up his chest and swung from the elbow of his sword-arm. El Cabuzudo roared with shock and surprise. His arm faltered, the sword flew from his hand. In an instant, as astonishing as anything that had ever happened, he was disarmed.

He had been felled by a kitten of steel.

Adam spun, and sliced his foe's head clean off.

A ringing silence fell. It seemed like silence, though sounds from the stage below came through quite clearly; but they were distant, unimportant. Absurdly, Fitz's gaze was snagged by the henchmen gathered at the stair and ladder. They were drawing back, their eyes showing white-rimmed with shock and fear; then the ones at the stair turned and vanished from sight. Beating a hasty retreat, no doubt. A series of thuds from the roof told him that the henchmen up there were also in flight.

Mist was rising from the headless corpse.

Lightning crackled suddenly across the rafters, the corpse shuddered. It jerked all over; thunder rolled. Another flare of lightning lit every corner of the loft and flashed across the stage below, so Solomon and Balkis were painted with scarlet light. Momentarily, the two actors looked up. Then they returned to their lines: King Solomon was confounding his foe, good winning out over evil. Fitz, boggling, beheld how the corpse of El Cabuzudo rose floating, slowly turning, sailing upward on a wash of smoke and mist. Crackle after crackle of electricity played over it, and then the lightning like a sheet of fire washed across Adam.

His head was flung back, his arms flung out. The weapons dangled forgotten from his hands. He was transfixed by supernatural fire; his feet were light upon the floor's beams; his feet had left the floor, he was rising as the corpse rose. And Adam, like Saint Elias his namesake, hovered in the air.

Beneath him, the play was ending in triumph. As promised, a Paradise was displayed to the spectators: a Paradise of machinery, ten large wheels like windlasses rotating like the ten circles of Heaven. These were covered in cotton wool, forming clouds full of cherubim and seraphim in diverse colors, all played by living children. Great buckets of rose-petals overturned and fell. Adult angels with rainbow wings descended on ropes, chanting aloud the glory of God. Then for a instant everyone in the theater held their breaths, awestruck--for a unearthly radiance burst out of the thunder-chamber, illuminating the whole spectacle with divine golden light.

It ended. Adam gasped something, and fell--sword and dagger dropping from his grasp. As his feet thumped back to earth, the corpse fell also. The supernatural light winked out. While from the audience below, applause rose fit to shake the walls; for truly, the people of Seville had never before seen such artificial thunder and lightning.

Even as Fitz gaped, he heard a faint squeak from above. He glanced up and his heart stopped with joy; for there were Dona Lucia and Jean, looking down from the roof. Jean said, "He's dead? That wicked man is dead?" and then Lucia in all her glory--so beautiful she was!--was slithering down the ladder with a cry of joy. "You killed him, Don Hugo!" she all but screamed, rushing toward Fitzcairn. "That wicked man, who threatened my dear Jean--from the instant I first saw him, I knew him for our nemesis. And you dueled with him and won! Oh, it is so romantic!"

Shrill as a stork's shriek was that voice. Shrill as a dying pig. Shrill as the squall of a she-cat in heat . . . the voice of Dona Lucia, whose father had despaired of her ever being married. Whose father had forbidden her ever to speak aloud in any man's hearing.

"--never have I been so thrilled, never! It is True Love. My heart swoons. Ah, my darling, you have won your fair lady's hand, and after we are wed I shall never leave your side--"

Fitz's jaw dropped. Instinctively, his hands rose toward his ears. Then Dona Lucia had flung her arms around him and was babbling artlessly on. Shrill as the whine of a mosquito. Shrill as fingernails on glass. Shrill as some punishment from Hell . . .

"--oh, say we shall be married soon, my love? What a match we will make--you, the great Latin scholar and man of books, and I your fitting helpmeet! And we must have the most Romantic of weddings--"

He looked into her flowerlike face, and sighed. Never in a hundred years had he heard a voice so shrill. He could imagine it, fifty years hence, still piping relentlessly in his ear. Unutterably shrill, and convinced he was a scholar.

But, by God, if you did not suffer for it, what was Love?

And when you found a woman as beautiful as this . . .

He slid an arm around her, and sighed again. "Yes, Lucia," he said. "Yes. Hush now. I totally agree. We shall have a magnificent double wedding, my sweet. You and I and Jean and Adam--that is, if they--" Fitz glanced around. "Adam, do you think--? Adam!"

But they were alone. Adam and Jean la Loca--and Harlequin!--were gone.











Epilogue



Somewhat later, far from Seville:

The wheels of the wooden cart squealed and squeaked and groaned, as the road climbed higher into the Basque mountains. They were solid, those wheels--hewn from rough planks, without spokes or axles, and their uneven rims jounced over every rut in the track. And they were noisy. Noisy beyond belief. They creaked so loudly you could hear them two miles up the road; they made more noise than a whole city-full of storks a-croak; they protested with every revolution . . . shrill as Dona Lucia's voice.

There was a mule hitched to the cart, and it was smug and sleek, wearing a floppy straw hat and a well-filled nosebag. There was a hound trotting alongside, its long feathery tail waving gently with every step. The riding-horse behind the cart, on the end of its lead-rope, looked equally self-satisfied. In the cart, there were several cats bedded down upon the baggage and feed-sacks. They purred. None of them seemed to mind the noise of the wheels. Indeed, there were wild ringdoves fluttering overhead, and they seemed about to descend upon the cart and nestle cooing on it.

It was a picture of felicity, and there in its midst was Harlequin the kitten, his marmalade self curled comfortably in Jean la Loca's lap.

Adam was driving. "Regrets, Jenny?" he asked.

"What could I regret?" Jean said. "I have a fine new husband and a fine new life. And we're on our way to England--"

"--as I promised--"

"--perhaps we'll even meet Don Hugo and Dona Lucia there?"

"Maybe. But in the meantime, you must reconcile yourself with having married a very wicked man--"

"But you said I had to marry you, to reform you! And I must work very hard at this task," said Jean virtuously, "very very hard indeed. And for many years."

"You sound determined," Adam sighed. "I haven't got a chance. So the job of reforming me doesn't daunt you?"

"Of course not. You may have been Death once . . . but did no one ever tell you, that those who trust to God need fear nothing? Death, least of all. And," said Jean la Loca happily, "I am, above all, a good Christian woman."

She leaned her head on his shoulder, there in the shuddering cart, and sang above the music of the wheels:





"Death, you were once an uncouth hideous thing,

Nothing but bones,

The sad effect of sadder groans,

Your mouth was open, but you could not sing.



"For we considered you as at some six

Or ten years hence,

After the loss of life and sense,

Flesh being turned to dust, and bones to sticks.



"Our error was in looking with an earthly eye,

Whence we did find

The shells of fledged souls left behind,

Fallen to mold, as such dross must, and dry.



"But since our Savior's death did put some blood

Into your face;

You are grown fair and full of grace,

Much in request, much sought for as a good.



"For we do now behold you gay and glad,

As at doomsday;

When souls shall wear their new array,

And all Death's bones with beauty shall be clad."

















Note: apologies are due to William Goldman, for the first fight scene; the ghost of Cyrano de Bergerac, for the second; Georgette Heyer, for the character of Dona Lucia and the plot in general; and finally to the incomparable Dorothy Dunnett, for the final sword-fight.

The poetry quoted is mostly from the Baroque period and the Latin goliards . . . all except for the verse with all the animals in it, and that was composed by Dona Lucia and Jean la Loca.





Originally posted elsewhere July 31st, 2000