It was clear that the Italian was doing very well. He could have killed the wounded man any number of times, but he was satisfied to harass him with false lunges and feints, as though he were enjoying delaying the thrust home. He resembled a thin black cat toying with a mouse before sinking its claws into it. At his feet, knee on the ground and back against the wall, one hand clutching the wound bleeding through his clothing, the younger Englishman was trying not to faint, and barely parrying his adversary's attacks. He did not ask for mercy; instead, his face, mortally pallid, showed dignified determination; his teeth were clenched, and he was resolved to die without crying out or moaning.
"Leave off!" Alatriste shouted to the Italian. Between thrusts, the captain's cohort looked at him, surprised to see him beside the second Englishman, who was disarmed and still standing. The attacker hesitated an instant, looked back at his subjected opponent, made a halfhearted feint, and again looked toward the captain.
"Is that a jest?" he asked, stepping back to catch his breath, as he whipped his sword through the air right and left.
"Leave off," Alatriste insisted.
The Italian stared at him open-mouthed, unable to believe what he just heard. In the dying light of the lantern, his pockmarked face looked like the surface of the moon. His black mustache twisted into a sinister smile, revealing his gleaming white teeth.
"Don't fuck this up now," the Italian said finally.
Alatriste too one step toward him, and the Italian looked at the sword in his hand. On his knee, uncomprehending, the wounded youth shifted his eyes from one to the other.
"There is more to this than we thought," the captain stated. "So we will kill them another day."
The Italian stared even harder. His smile grew wider and more incredulous, then disappeared. He shook his head.
"You are mad," he said. "This could cost us our necks."
"I will take the responsibility."
The Italian seemed to be thinking it over. Then, with the speed of a comet, he lunged at the Englishman with a thrust so forceful that had Alatriste not blocked his sword it would have pinned the youth to the wall.
- Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Captain Alatriste