Cold as Steel

The Day I Traded My Dignity For This Interesting Scar
Tizio tells his longtime acquaintance Rodolfo of an exploit that backfired.

Mother of God, that was a terrible day – the day Giuseppe Batista gave me this scar. I’d woken early, looked around at my barren accommodations, and decided lo! This is the day my fortunes will improve. So I dressed, wearing my best and only clothing, as well as a boiled-leather fencing doublet I’d taken from some limp-wristed dabbler. I came to you, Rodolfo – do you remember? I came to you and begged you for fifty ducats, and enthralled you (so I thought) with a story of Benovitto’s perfidy, his extra judice duel that resulted in the death of the son of a well-loved priest. Only much, much later did I find that his victim was no churchman’s lad, but a wastrel – some drifter from Firenze or Napoli whom no one missed.

You knew that at the time? And you didn’t tell me? Ah, Rodolfo – how you must have chuckled.

But Giuseppe – who deserves everything he now has, I say – I determined to strike at Benovitto by crippling his favorite sparring partner in front of a crowd: surely the word would travel back of my skills. I stalked the man, unseen, like a _hashishhim _of Araby, from wine-shop to brothel to piazza. You can imagine my pleasure when that worm Guillermo met him for lunch, hissing serpent-like in Giuseppe’s loutish ear whilst the brute stuffed his face. It was then that I approached them boldly, and spoke not to that surly lump, but to Guillermo. “Why Guillermo,” I said loudly. “I knew your people were herders of sheep and goats, but did you really need to bring this stinking animal into the city?” The spineless fool was dumbstruck, but Giuseppe responded angrily. I pretended surprise. “Guillermo, how marvelous! I see you’ve a talking goat – do you intend to display it at the fair? I see that it’s beardless: is this a nanny-goat bleating away at me?” Oh, Giuseppe was enraged, I tell you – his lumpish face went red as a Ciogga beetroot. He choked on an oath and cast his glove at my feet, and I don’t mind saying that my rapier was out quicker than his. We began to play, and I could see that though he’d strength in those shoulders he was slow. He engaged my blade, tapping it like a blind man feeling his way about, and back and forth we went.

And then he suckered me, Rodolfo – I must admit, he played me for a fool. Faked a hesitation, and when I drove in he struck me with his fist – and in that brief moment when my ears rang and my vision blurred, he cut me twice; to the bone, here, and then deeply across it. I fell, and he pressed me to yield. Oh, the anguish! The very people I’d sought to astound were laughing at me now, as I lay bleeding on the sunwarmed stones of the piazza.

Well of course I gave him the win, otherwise he’d have skewered me like a needle through a leather sole. But before he could gloat, Guillermo spotted a watchman coming our way, and the two of them ran off. Seeing me, carrying a duellist’s swords and freshly wounded, the watch gave chase, but I was able to outwit him.

What? You’ve heard a different version? Well, ‘outwit’. I climbed down a sewer-hole and the man gave up, I’m not sorry to say. By then the sight was fading from my eyes, and the blood still running freely from my face – well, I was fortunate enough to find a physicker who asked no questions, and did not take all my money.

What’s that? Yes, yes, Rodolfo – it was still your money at that point.

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