Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: The King's Gold

A cry of alarm rang out above our heads, and when I looked up, I saw a face peering down at us, half lit by the lantern. The expression on the man's face was one of horror, as if unable to believe his eyes, as he watched us climbing toward him. He may have died still not believing, because Captain Alatriste, who had reached him by then, stuck his dagger in his throat, right up to the hilt, and the man disappeared from view. Now more voices could be heard above, and the sound of people running about below-decks. A few heads peeped cautiously out from the gunports and immediately drew back, shouting in Flemish. The captain's boots scuffed against my face when he reached the top and jumped onto the deck. At that moment, another face appeared over the edge, a little farther off, on the quarterdeck; we saw a lit fuse, then a flash, and a harquebus shot rang out; something very hard and fast ripped past us, ending in a squelch of pierced flesh and broken bones. Someone beside me, climbing up from the boat, fell backward into the sea with a splash, but without uttering a word.

"Go on! Keep going!" shouted the men behind me, driving one another onward.

Teeth gritted, head hunched right down between my shoulders, I climbed what remained of the ladder as quickly as possible, clambered over the edge, stepped onto the deck, and immediately slipped in a huge puddle of blood. I got to my feet, sticky and stunned, leaning on the motionless body of the dead sailor, and behind me the bearded face of Bartolo Cagafuego appeared over the edge, his eyes bluging with tension, his gap-toothed grimace made even fiercer by the enormous machete gripped between his few remaining teeth. We were standing at the foot of the mizzenmast, next to the ladder that led up to the quarterdeck. More of our group had now reached the deck via the ropes secured by grappling hooks, and it was a miracle that the whole galleon wasn't awake to give us a warm welcome, what with that single harquebus shot and the racket made by sundry noises - the clatter of footsteps and the hiss of swords as they left their sheaths.

I took my sword in my right hand and my dagger in my left, looking wildly about in search of the enemy. And then I saw a whole horde of armed men swarming on the deck from down below, and I saw that most were as blond and burly as the men I had known in Flanders, and that there were more of them to the stern and in the waist, between the quarterdeck and the forecastle, and I saw as well that there were far too many of them, and that Captain Alatriste was fighting like a madman to reach the quarterdeck. I rushed to help my master, without waiting to see if Cagafuego and the others were following or not. I did so muttering the name of Angélica as a final prayer, and my last lucid thought, as I hurled myself into the fight with a furious howl, was that if Sebastián Copons did not arrive in time, the Niklaasbergen adventure would be our last.


  1. I'll confess I didn't find this one as tightly written or as enjoyable as some of the others. Maybe it suffered from a different translator or maybe I was just hitting a saturation threshold from reading them all back-to-back.

  2. i enjoyed it. also i can not wait for the assassins' bridge.