1. Headless

The man ran his fingers through the severed neck, staining them with blood, he felt it on the tips of his fingers and confirmed that it was still fresh. His bearded face had an inflexible expression, he did not seem disturbed by the blood or the macabre of the situation.

–How long? –he ask.

–Master hidalgo, it was about two days, we send it call right away and you took that time to arrive.

–Do not call me hidalgo and do not lie to me either, he has not been dead for more than a day, the blood has not dried up.

–Well, I'm telling you the truth, master Hidalgo.

–I told you... –but he did not finish the sentence–. It does not matter. What was the name of the dead man?

–Alonso was called, like his Majesty of Castile.

–I thought you were called Alonso. This town does not have more than fifty people in it. And you have two Alonsos?

–We had three before he died; they call me Alonso Woodcutter, because that's what I do, the one who lives at the end of the town they call him Alonso Tanner, because he's dedicated to leather. To this, bless his soul, we called him Alonso Hunter.

–Because he hunted, I suppose.

–No, he was a lumberjack, too, but we could not call him Woodcutter because they already call me that. Many people here who call themselves like His Majesty.

–King Alonso is dead –the other interrupted without looking up–, he's been dead for a year. News don't arrive here often, right?

The namesake of the deceased was a short, thin man, with a tangle of hair on his face that could not be called a beard. He did not answer the question. If the man who was squatting next to the corpse had turned his head for a second to see him, he would have realized that the news had hurt him, that this small–town woodcutter lost in the middle nowhere had as his only pride the being named like a king and was now doing his best not to cry. The squatting man would have noticed all that if he had bothered to look at him, but he did not bother; because Omar Cienfuegos could not have cared for the feelings of a small–town man, especially when he had a cadaver in front of him.

–It was not an animal, –the hidalgo finally said–. This is a matter of men, strong men. Alonso Hunter had a wide neck and not anyone could have cut it with a single blow.

–Moors! Those vile heretics, they want to take our lands, pagan soldiers, the Alonso Hunter was a strong and they sure believed that he was a danger to their sinful plans.

–Have you ever seen soldiers charge against unarmed peasants? –Omar did not seem happy with the comment–. I have, and I can assure you, I never saw them having any problem with it, no matter how wide they their necks were.

Omar left for the hills that same afternoon, the culprit of beheading the Hunter would have to be there. He had managed to get the details of where they had found the corpse from the Woodcutter and had prohibited him from following him. Cienfuegos had never liked having to deal with the rural folks, they were distrustful people, the result of marriages between cousins, ugly and with a cruel hatred for anyone who did not belong to their small circle of acquaintances; For the same reasons, Cienfuegos did not like the high nobility either. At the end, what Cienfuegos did not like was having to leave the city, but here he was, lost in the middle of nowhere, looking for a possible murderer.

When he had arrived at the town of Fuenteovida (Or was it "Fuente a Vida" or "Fuente Ovidio"? It really did not matter) all the locals had cast glances that could have given an evil eye if that was not just another superstition of the villagers. Omar had come on the back of a fine horse, with a jeweled sword at his belt and a well–fed face that none of the locals had. He was taller than any of the locals, a benefit of eating well, and spoke without that provincial accent that denoted the border of the kingdom. His face was easy to hate, proud, handsome enough to cause envy but not enough to win the confidence of the women, possibly because Omar never smiled. The only one who spoke to him was Alonso Woodcutter, who was also the one who sent the message of help to the city to they would send an armed man to investigate.

Omar was thinking about all of this as he walked alone through those uninhabited hills, when he heard the cracking of a heavy armor approaching between the bushes and immediately unsheathed his sword. In front of him, emerging from the bushes was a knight armed from head to toe in a steel breastplate. Omar realized then that he had reached this confrontation at a terrible disadvantage, he was not wearing any armor and, as soon as his opponent responded, he would be dead. The armed knight did not draw his weapon but Cienfuegos was not going to give him the opportunity, he charged putting all his weight in a single thrust hopping to penetrate the armor.

The edge of his blow pierced the breastplate that rumbled like a bell for reasons that Omar could not understand; He then tried to draw the sword only to realize that it had been stuck inside the knight's body. Cienfuegos was not going to take risks, so he jumped back, waiting for the other to bleed, if he saw him draw his weapon he would run, there was no point in facing an armored man while disarmed.

– Why did you do that, master hidalgo? –Said the knight–. Have I done any harm?

The question disturbed Omar. Was he wrong? Was not this the murderer? It is possible that he had made a mistake, that the murderer was another and that this was no more than the wrong man at the wrong time. Then Omar would simply be a common thug, an idiot who in a moment of panic had taken the life of a wandering knight whose only sin had been to go out into the open in full armor. He did not like the idea at all, so he screamed more to convince himself for any other reason.

–You killed Alonso Hunter! He sliced his neck! This is just justice!

–Me? –The knight answered with surprising calm considering that he had a sword buried in his chest–. I did not kill anyone –he stopped for a second and, despite being covered by armor, gave an air of being thoughtful–, well not anyone. That would not be exactly the truth. I killed more than one there in the Holy Land, but here in Iberian lands I have not killed anyone. I swear by God and the Virgin.

–I thought ... –Omar did not know how to respond, if that was true then he was just a vulgar murderer. He had killed an innocent man–. I am not worthy of pardon, sir, I am an idiot, I let myself be infected by the distrust of those villagers. No, I'm looking for excuses, it's not their fault, it's mine, and the sin is mine.

–Master hidalgo But are tears what I see coming out? Do not give yourself a bad life, mistakes are made by anyone – the knight spoke almost laughing–. Look, I am not a priest and I cannot give you a confession, but if you want God's forgiveness, just do not walk around stabbing folks.

– Sir, but you speak as if it were not a big deal, we are not close to any healer. I do not think you can survive much here in the middle of nowhere, not with that wound.

–Oh, that –said the knight, jerking the sword from his chest–. Do not worry about that.

The knight gave a hearty laugh and lifted the visor of his helmet. Only metal was behind that soldier's mask, hollow metal. An empty armor that nevertheless walked and talked.

– There is a lot about me that you do not know Master Hidalgo.