Stories that fly under a dark banner.

The Journal of Francisco Elcano.

Francisco Elcano and his brothers were listed by Fath as three of the 126 Matadors who fought against Del Plata. They were Lords of Cordoba, sharing the title left to them by the father Lord Olegario Elcano. The brothers usually competed together in displays for the nobility but rarely ventured to the festival fights. This fact has been used to query the authenticity of the scrolls of Fath. Although there is no mention of Benaojan or El Toro Del Plata, most historians agree that this excerpt from Francisco’s many journals, refers to the great bullfight.

It is the 24th of June 1767, a Saturday. We have arrived in this bloated town and registered at the Plaza this morning where I was disappointed to find that the field is not limited to nobility. I am angry that the King has seen fit to humour this common gathering which seems more something from Dante than this world. I write with a tired mind. Perhaps it is because we rode through the night to get here. We visited the cave of the bull this morning, its huge wrought iron gates betraying nothing of the beast that we must fight; the demon sent to test us. As I dismounted and knelt to pray to god for the strength to defeat it, the food bearers arrived with hay. They are scared of this creature and do not linger near the gates for too long. They say a man died of fright from looking into its eyes but I cannot believe this. Such nonsense. It is a fairy tale and I will not have it spoken in my presence.

It took us the rest of the day to find our lodgings that are suitable, if only just, to my liking. As I sit here writing after my evening prayers, Juan Diego is telling stories of our victories downstairs to whoever so wishes to listen and Galbino has disappeared into the night with a young lady whose providence I disapprove of. I must speak with him tomorrow about the honour of our father’s name. Yet again he has shown his weakness for beauty and given himself to the temptations of his flesh. I cannot blame him. It is this place; this charade the King has organised. There is more than one demon to fight here. There is filth, moral indecency, disease, greed and jealousy. There is the giant bull behind the metal gates of hell. There is “La Cockeral,” Pedro Munoz.

It is unforgivable that we have arrived after him. He walks from Seville and we ride from Cordoba and still he gets here before us. Juan Diego told me that the young children had told him of the day that he arrived. Long before he arrived, the children ran on ahead from the fields shouting that La Cockeral was coming. People emerged from the market square and Taverna. Windows opened and the bells of the monastery were rung. La Cockeral was coming. With sweat on his brow and his fine suit of light jacket resting on his shoulder, he raised a weary arm to wave at the crowds and made his way straight to the Cuadrilla entrance to register with the officials. Crowds cheered and followed him through the streets. “Pedro! Mi amor es la hoja!” Young girls cried,  half-joking, and yet always smiling, entertaining the notion that he thought they were the prettiest. Pedro Munoz turned before entering the small black door opened by the Plaza guard, he raised his right arm as high as his injured shoulder would let him, and smiled solemnly before ducking his head to enter the arena.

I have not heard mention of him looking for me, but I hear that he has taken lodgings with the other arrivals, or more that they have taken lodgings with him. Bolivar of the Basques, Milagros and Edelmiro of Madrid, Fausto the Happy with his smile carved from his second ever encounter with a Bull. Lucas of Lisbon, known better as the fire on the water, “El Fuengo.” Having ridden for 5 days with Itziar the Gypsy, Lucas retired to a room to await the competition. He will not take visitors except servants with food and Plaza officials. Such were the boastings of the Egyptian fighter. Juan laughed when he told me that Itziar had taken a room with Pedro, although I doubt that Munoz would find this a problem, he is familiar with discomfort and misfortune.

Pedro Munoz: my nemesis; the cog that keeps this millstone of vulgarity turning. Not a month goes by when I do not hear a mention of his victory or defeat in the Plaza. Even when he falls they talk of him as if he were Michael on the mountain. He is a commoner; a thief, liar, drunkard and madman. What more terrible a thing to raise up and worship like a false idol? How lost these people are. Where dear lord can I find the strength to prove your might against the corruption of this place? Tonight I will exercise this monster and cast his name from my thoughts onto these pages lest I cannot sleep for grinding my teeth.

When my father was educating us in the ways of the court, improving our knowledge of commerce and trade with the New World, Munoz was brawling in the streets of Loja with any child challenged his family honour. The Munoz family were known to my father. Before he passed away he told me not to think too harshly of Pedro as he was a product of great tragedy. The world is a tragedy if this is so. His grandfather, Joseph Munoz had traded tobacco for many years and had settled at Casa del Munoz on the farm where his ancestors had lived. Pedro’s father had been born at a time when the business was great but he was by no means a man of commerce. He was more liberal with his friends, artists and street performers, who drove a wedge between him and his father. I would have liked Joseph Munoz.  He was a conservative and although he loved his son, could not ignore his wife’s criticisms any longer. Alberto was sent to Cadiz to learn the family business and settle his unproductive ways.

Alberto was 17 when his father was lost at sea along with all four ships, fully laden with tobacco and cotton. There was no recourse for him. The family fortune settled most of the debts and he turned to managing the family estate. Little by little everything fell apart. At 19 years he fell in love with Pedro’s mother, Isabella during the harvest season. They were married in December and Pedro was born the following summer. My father grimaced when he told me that Pedro’s mother had insisted he was named after her father who had died fighting in southern France. The whole thing was too much for his poor grandmother who constantly criticised Alberto for his failure in business and choice of company. Alberto could not cope; he left on a ship for the New World when Pedro was barely one year old. His mother, after evicting Isabella and Pedro and dismissing the last of the staff, drank 3 bottles of the reserve sherry and set fire to Casa Munoz, destroying the last of the family legacy.

Isabella took Pedro to live in a small room in Loja. They lived in poverty and squalor that I find hard to imagine. I have heard rumours from Juan Diego that on his fifth birthday, he was taken to see the ruins of his estate and told the story of his lineage. Here she presented him with the only remnant of the families past glory, a bag made from a section of the Persian carpet from the great hall of Casa Munoz. When he returned he insisted that he was known as Pedro Munoz, Escudero Grandee of Loja, a title his grandfather had been bestowed when he presented a gift of 6 barrels of tobacco to the royal court. His life was one fight after another after that. The bag is real, I have seen it. I sometimes question the myth of Munoz. Legend would have it that he fought like a lion whenever anyone questioned his family name.

When his mother died of influenza in 1759 he had no money or place to live. He drank and fought in the streets, sleeping in doorways until in the following spring, finally he was asked to leave Loja for good and never return. This is when he received his now well suited nickname of “La Cockeral,” strutting with his tall figure, his wine bloated stomach and almost skeletal frame. He made his way to Seville begging, stealing, fighting and drinking. Before he reached Seville, Pedro Munoz had committed every sin. He had been beaten in the streets and left to die in San Rafael when a pig farmer found him in the rain and took pity on him. He set him to work watching and tending to his pigs in return for food, wine and shelter. Here he stayed for several years, vaguely aware of the real world around him. He told people later that he feverishly imagined himself at the royal court in the company of the king, eating and drinking and holding dances. The stories of the dancing cockerel king and his snuffling subjects are now also part of his legend.

In the summer of 1763 a bullfight was held in honour of the return of the Duchess Maria Luisa de Borbon. My brothers and I attended along with Antonio Farnese, marquess di Galatone competing for the favour of the Duchess. Rumour has it that a group of merchants, travelling to the tournament were passing through San Rafael when they spied Pedro in him stately residency. Enjoying the day and full of more than a little wine, one of them shouted out, “Hola Pedro; la Cockeral! Dónde está tu herencia?” This stirred him from his visions; he collected his, now famous, inheritance and jumped aboard their coach. They mocked Pedro, had him dressed in finery and took him to the tournament presenting him as the Escudero Grandee of Loja. He didn’t care, as long as they fed him.

When the tournament started, Pedro was seated in the front row of the Sombra overlooking the wooden walls of the Burladero. The bull was young and huge, I circled my horse with my brothers each taking it in turns to score hits with our Picadors. Antonio was having problems with his horse. It was spinning and nervous, veering in directions he did not want. I could see that he getting frustrated as he snapped at the Banderilleros trying to help. He had missed with shots that even a novice would make. Galbino was trying his hardest to give him a chance to impress the Duchess but there was nothing any of us could do. Anger and emotion blinded Antonio momentarily as he tried to corner the bull against the wall, it managed to take his horse by surprise taking its horns into its soft underbelly. The horse fell against the Burladero wall trapping Antonio and leaving him dangerously exposed. The bull thrashed around in a wild frenzy and even the Banderilleros had to find safety.

Pedro says that he didn’t know why he jumped the fence and took the Picador from Antonio’s hand. He says he felt no fear that day but as we watched he soiled his clothing as the bull thrashed wildly about in front of him. The merchants were drunkenly calling out for La Cockeral as he lunged forwards with the Picador delivering a blow to the lower neck. It stuck fast and as the bull thrashed to the left, it lifted Pedro and smashed him against the wooden walls, shattering his right shoulder which would never heal properly again. The spear was driven against the wall and pushed itself through the neck, shattering the spine and killing the bull. As we dismounted to rescue Antonio, the crowd were chanting for La Cockeral. They were on their feet looking at the falling twisted figure of the man who had killed the bull. The Duchess herself was leaning forwards her hands on the rail of the royal box. Slowly we watched as Pedro rolled onto his front and with his good arm and pushed himself to his feet. He stood, rocked a little and waved at the crowd. He had won.

Later that day, when a doctor by the name of Manuel Gomez tended to his shoulder injury, he would ask Pedro what possessed him to jump in front of the bull and risk his life and Pedro would answer, “I would sooner die in a Plaza than die of starvation.” Overnight he had become a hero and changed bullfighting forever. Now any man could change his stars in the arena. Although he was one of the first, Pedro was not the last and by no means the bravest or the best. Sometimes he would run, chased around the Plaza by the bull. Sometimes he would pass out and have to be carried out. None of this and the constant lack of control of his bladder made the crowds love him any less. He was La Cockeral, the people’s hero; one of their own in the ring. I tracked his progress with gritted teeth.

Antonio retired to Galatone with broken ribs never to ride on horseback again, his spirit was crushed. He was a good man and I would have rode with him into any battle. Everything that Pedro did that day changed the world forever. He and others like him started to become the main attraction of the Plaza. Itziar, Fausto, Bolivar, they are all walking in the shadows of Munoz. None of them recognise our divine right to this contest, not earned by one simple and foolish act but won by generation after generation of Noble struggle, righteous position and the sword of truth. Who could deny those in a poor position would be drawn to such heroes, but my greatest pain was the loss of favour from the Duchess de Borbon.

From the memory of my first tournament, I remember her being there. The feeling of elation when she presented the prizes at the end of a fight was like winter snow turning into spring and then summer. Now with Pedro, who invariably had some altercation with the bull, she could see not just a perfection of delivery and the elegance of a well executed battle. Now she could watch blind courage. She was fascinated by his story and nothing pleased her more than seeing him injured in some way after a fight. I became reduced to a spectator; invited to sit in the royal box, mainly as my anger now amused her in some way. The more the crowd cheered for him, the more I could not stand it.

Two years ago, he was competing in Cordoba. By now he recognised my face from his encounters with the Duchess. As we happened across one another as I was riding with Juan and Galbino, he hailed from the side of the road, addressing us in the customary manner of his grandfathers rank. “Most Illustrious Lords of Cordoba, I congratulate on such a fine home. I look forward to entertaining your people later today.” It was not the fact that he addressed as a subordinate and drew attention to my lack of Grandee Status. It was not his comments on the evenings planned Corrida, it was the pure and simple fact that he donned his hat before waiting for my answer with a smile in his eyes. It was too much. Before Galbino could stop me my sword was drawn and I buried it deep in his right shoulder, his injured right shoulder. The people around him flocked to his assistance. Our horses were frightened and kicked and reared at the crowd that now surrounded us and I had to swing my sword several times to make our way out of the panic. As I looked back, I saw Pedro weeping, expressionless with tears on his cheeks. Blood streamed from the injury which he has never fully recovered from.

We mock each other from a distance. Pedro knows I speak openly of my unwillingness to recognise his title, that of a nobleman robbed by his son’s stupidity and infidelity given to a peasant drunkard; a cockerel. He has already stated how he would not be so quick to allow my sword to wound him. Other men have challenged him and Pedro has responded with blind anger and rage until they have relented. He has never killed, or so they say but certain foolish merchants have disappeared at the hands of those who now follow him. Pedro travels alone, but wherever he goes there are those who would tear down this fine country standing at his shoulders and raising him as a hero of the people. I do not think the man even prays to god.

The Duchess has never invited me again, although I compete in Cordoba for the favours of visiting dignitaries. Pedro was banned from ever visiting the town again by the guild of merchants and traders. It was a fitting punishment, I thought. I wrote to King Phillip himself expressing my outrage that a man born into peasantry was using his now expired grandfather’s Grandee status; worse than rejection was the lack of reply. Now I hear of Pedro here and there. I have taken penance for my anger on that day. Every evening I use the discipline upon my back. The marks are getting deeper and I feel my sin leaving me through the open sores. They stop me from sleeping and now as I sit here listening to the sounds of women screaming, men singing, arguing and shouting outside, I wonder if somewhere out there Munoz is thinking of me as I have thought of him; dead and humiliated.

I must stop as my hand is shaking too much to continue. To do so would only bring me closer to the demons surrounding me and I know that I am better than that.

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