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Some days ago I received an interesting letter from a reader which is still going round in my mind. Although the interest resides less in the specifics posed by the reader than in the vision of life and the world of which the letter is a reflection or a symptom. Having read the last adventure of Captain Alatriste, the informant - kind and affectionate - addresses a singular reproach to me: the lack of explicit remorse on the part of Alatriste after the death, in Venice, of several of his comrades in the course of a mission into which he led them. In short, the absence of an alatristean act of contrition. Of an expiatory grief of a public nature on the part of a third party and on the part of the reader himself, for the fate some of the men have suffered, old comrades in arms, those whom the captain jeopardized in the adventure. Not even an iota of pain for their loss, complains the reader. Devoid of any expression of guilt. The letter not only exhibits this reader's unease with Alatriste's apparent lack of scruples, but also implies an almost ideological feeling, a lament that the veteran soldier makes no show of certain ethical or moral values that from a current point of view would sound appropriate, like solidarity, compassion or remorse.
Because, to put it briefly, he doesn´t give a crap about the rules of what´s correct. Because he goes his own way and, [once] buddies [are] knocked off, I don´t give a damn. Better alive than dead. Period. Because, for example, he reacts like Aglae Masini [trans. note: a war correspondent] in Nicosia, in 1974, when in an intense shoot-out, I lay down on top of her to protect her like a tough guy - I was a young rookie who still was playing the hero. And she, ironic and wise, said: "Thanks, honey. You are right. If they have to kill one of us, it´s better that they kill you."
As far as Captain Alatriste is concerned, the key to understanding today why he behaves like that, or seems to, can be summarized in two details: a lot of time has passed and many things [have happened] since 1627 and he is a professional for whom violence and its complex ways are the tough bread of everyday [life]. Alatriste is trying to survive in hostile territory, fighting for his life and in such circumstances, tears prevent [you] from seeing clearly the best way to flee when things go awry. His comrades were in the [same] trade, and like him, knew the rules: stop kissing the hands of priests and tyrants; forget this ungrateful land that, for lack of water, must be watered with sweat; take up a sword [and] set off for America, Flanders, or Hell, and one of two things will happen: you'll make your fortune or die trying. In thirty years of tramping around dark alleys and battlefields, Diego Alatriste left behind enough bodies of friends and enemies, including the risk of including his own, that another dozen more don't make his heart beat faster, or make him waste a breath that he needs for survival. This in him is not indifference, but rather professional resignation. Assuming that the world in which you live and fight is a dangerous place, where being caught by the bull is the easiest thing in the world. Something that only idiots - lackwits, he would say - insist on ignoring. That, naturally, does not rule out pain. But pain flows through other channels. It doesn´t have to be melodramatic, or immediate. As with Márquez in Sarajevo, after those days of many bombs and many morgues when you would leave the sites with the soles of your boots leaving bloody tracks on the ground. He would put down the camera, squat with his back against a wall, light a cigarette and spend an hour motionless, staring into space. Arranging remorse.
The other point is the four hundred years that have passed. Literature is also coming out of ourselves to look with others' eyes, living lives that would be impossible [to live in] any other way. Understanding, seeing the difference between what we were and what we are now. Because of that, every time I type out an Alatriste adventure - the hired killer who has tortured, who scarred a woman's face - I try to get the reader to see the world not through today's anachronistic eyes, but rather as it was seen then: harsh, cruel, without NGOs or supportive little bows on lapels. When political correctness was carried by all of them, and not only by Alatriste, on the tip of their sword or the tip of their dick. A world impossible to judge by modern Western standards, because it´s still happening in many places on the planet. A life wasn´t even worth the iron or the rope that was used to take it away. Even if we insist on forgetting it, we weren´t always lovers of seals and dolphins; nor was an eight year old child expelled from school for fighting during recess, or accused of harassment for calling a teacher good-looking. For better or for worse, we were more realistic. More human. Less jackasses.