In which a strange beggar, noblemen and peasants at first carouse merrily in a tavern,
and a moment later come running out goggle-eyed and shouting for help.
The fierce hot sun was finally hiding behind the Kremenets Hills. Its warm gentle rays
occasionally broke through the odd cloud with its last ounces of strength and, in an attempt to
do penance for the hell it had caused during the day, the sun tickled Holota’s cheek, although
several hours earlier it had lashed his skin like the whip of the Kremenets executioner Yasko
Bolytsia. That Yasko was well known in the region and had gained his fame by cutting
through the skin of prisoners in three lashes, and with the fourth his darling (which the
English would have recognized as their invention, and which they had so lovingly called a cat
o’nine tails) uncovered the lungs themselves. It was because of this “cat” that cautious
beggars avoided Kremenets like the plague, whereas the cries of the careless could be heard
for a long time from the prison. Holota shook his head, driving away unpleasant memories,
and closed his eyes. With closed eyes he made his way along the road which emerged from
an enormous forest and, twisting and turning among multicoloured knolls overgrown with
lush grass, rose ever higher and higher.
‘Forget that Yasko, that damned town of Kremenets, my bare feet covered in cuts and
the fact that I haven’t had a crumb of food in my mouth since Saturday,’ thought Holota, as
his bare feet kept tripping on rocks protruding from the road rutted by carts.
He was dressed in a torn shirt and similarly ragged pants; a white kerchief covering
his head was tied à la pirate. He had seen one like it on a Mexican sailor in Cádiz; the fellow
had cleaned out the utterly drunk Holota in a game of cards, and only kept smirking into his
bushy moustache, as the owner of the taverna and three helpers threw the drunk Holota
outside. The thoughts in his head warmed by the setting sun did their usual unexpected
somersault and, recalling the scorching-hot sun of Andalusia, Holota habitually directed
several curses at Jesús from Acapulco, or whichever foreign hole he was from, although that
short-legged moustached fellow had nothing to do with his current problems. Holota had only
himself to blame for being dressed now in these torn filthy rags, minus his boots, and hat, and
kuntush-coat, his belt and pistol.
He missed his pistol most of all. It had been covered in mysterious Arabic curlicues
and was encrusted with several glistening stones. Even though these were fake, they still
created quite an impression on people. And since in Holota’s wanderings around the world
looks played a not unimportant role, he rarely used the pistol according to the purpose it was
designed for. If the truth be known, Holota had actually never fired the weapon, although he
knew, for example, that one could deftly crack nuts with a gun, and if you staidly rested your
hand on the pistol when faced with a greedy tavern-keeper, there were fewer annoying and
offensive questions about money. But the most important thing was that the pistol had helped
him earn money. Enough to have a mug of dark beer and, if he was in luck, even a hearty
dinner. It just required some acting skills.
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