04 October 2012
Excerpt Thursday: Little Velásquez by Kathryn Kopple
This week, we’re welcoming historical fiction author Kathryn Kopple, whose title LITTLE VELASQUEZ takes readers to 15th century Spain and the court of the united Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel. Join us Sunday, when Kathryn will be here to talk about the novel and offer a copy to a lucky winner. Here's the blurb:
A new queen, Isabel I, sits on the throne of Castile. Her consort, Fernando of Aragón, suspects that the child she is carrying is illegitimate. A dwarf by the name of Velasquillo journeys from the pestilent-stricken lands of Catalonia to the imperial city of Toledo in search of fame and fortune. He rises to the highest circles of power, where he learns what it means to sacrifice his will and dignity to the ambitions of great men and women.
Little Velásquez is a work of historical fiction set in 15th century Spain, and a tragic-comedic exploration of political intrigue, religious persecution, foreign conquest, and personal exile.
**An Excerpt from Little Velásquez**
Velasquillo had never received such a scrubbing. The maids rubbed his skin raw; the muck that fell off him blackening the bath, hot water scalding his scalp again and again. An ordeal worthy of the Santísima Inquisición, he grumbled, when not begging for mercy. One maid, a large woman with a dowager’s face, hauled him by his armpits out of the tub. Steam rose off his pink skin, water pooled on the stones around his feet. The other servant, also well past childbearing years, took a towel to him, running it vigorously up and down his legs.
The maid glared at him. “Hold your tongue,” she scolded and then ordered him to turn around.
Velasquillo imagined that he would enjoy his rub far more at the hands of some young thing rather than this old woman. The marquesa’s women might know their business but he had not spied a pretty face among them. The one behind him had a wide, flat face, like a platter tarnished by age spots, and a large black mole on the side of her nose. Who would kiss that muzzle? His mule was more endearing.
Were all the marquesa’s women so homely? He’d seen farm girls with more to offer, and there was one in particular that he remembered. She had given him a fine time and, if he closed his eyes, he felt her hands on his bare chest, the roll of her hips underneath him.
Velasquillo had known his share of beautiful women.
Finishing him off with a swipe and a grunt, the maid looked him up and down and then beckoned the dwarf to follow her into a small room used for dressing.
The Moor now arrived, her arms loaded with garments. She was a remarkable beauty: her skin the color of cinnamon and eyes that were as green as a cat’s. A goddess she was, especially compared to
the old hags that attended him.
Velasquillo waited while the women pulled apart the pile of clothing.
“If I may—”
“No, you may not.” The platter-faced woman held up a pair of linen hosen and a blue tunic with puffed sleeves.
The dwarf tried again: “Good lady, do tell: where is my mount?”
“How should I know?”
“Poor mule! How I loved you.”
The old woman paid him no mind, and barked orders at the Moor instead. “Garters, laces. Don’t forget the underpants.”
“You see,” continued Velasquillo, “one moment I was engaged in most pleasant conversation with the Marquesa de Moya, and the next I was stripped of my belongings and flung into a tub, scrubbed with a horse brush and scalded with boiling water.”
Velasquillo went on: “My lot has not been an easy one. At the proud gates of Toledo, I was seized and stowed like a roast on market day in a blanket and flung on the back of a horse. When I emerged from under the blanket, I found myself in a dark room, with no windows, nothing but the cold floor, and the door bolted. Let me tell you: it was black as pitch in there. I pounded on the walls but, alas, no one heeded my calls. There I was, knowing not whether it was night or day, whether I was dead or alive.”
He sniffed. “I was on the verge of despair, when the door opened, but before I could speak, I was seized by the arms and dragged like an old carpet up and down many stairs, round dozens of corners. Am I always to be carted around this way?”
“Hold your tongue,” said the old woman. “You are giving me a headache.”
Dolores said nothing. Velasquillo wondered if the Moor were not mute. She handed him a pair of linen hosen and blue pantaloons. A shirt with wide cuffs followed. Velasquillo dressed quickly.
Indeed, these were the clothes of a prince! He imagined that he must cut a noble figure in garb so luxurious and soft. A far cry from the soiled woolens he’d worn only hours before. His luck had turned, he decided. His newly washed flesh quivered with excitement under his finery.
“Good,” said the old woman. “Now follow us,”