The noise of the buzzing crowd washed over Enrique as he adjusted his flamboyant fuchsia cape lined with gold, securing it around his shoulders by a brass clasp. A dust cloud floated gently away on the lazy eddies created by medics in the arena. It obscured his view of the grim scene that held the audience’s attention.
He fanned his face with his curved hat, the slight breeze doing little to cool him. The sun would be a blistering, boiling disc overhead, when he stepped into the arena proper. Over to his right, the penned bull snorted and scraped his horns on the sides in an attempt to sharpen them or perhaps to wipe the recent gore from the tips.
Four Matadors down and the beast was as frisky as a calf in springtime.
Its massive shoulders towered over the sides, flexing as it threw its 2500 lbs of muscle weight against the gate. The gate keepers jumped back from the sides, goads in hand, when the bull lunged towards them, horns flashing.
Applause joined the murmuring as the medics made the short journey to the opening where Enrique stood. The four men carried the injured Matador on a canvas litter. As they passed Enrique, the arm flopped out the side of the litter. Shock burst through him at the sight.
He held up a hand to stop the medics and when they paused, he lowered the cloth draped over the head. A woman, long dark hair bound into a tight knot at the nape of her neck, lay with eyes closed. A pulse fluttered in her neck, despite the chest wound that had ended her battle.
“She is alive?” he asked no one in particular.
“Si, Senior, she is alive. How she was able to sneak into the line up we do not know.”
“Do you know who she is?”
“Si, she is Francesca, the daughter of the bull’s owner.”
He frowned down at the strong face, his eyes following their retreating backs as they continued on their way to the medic’s chambers under the stadium seating.
How odd that a woman would wish to fight a bull, let alone disguise herself as a Matador de Toros. Even as a banderilleros, this was a man’s world and no place for a woman. They simply did not have the strength to push the sword through the tough hide and muscles of a fully mature bull. Many men died who had the strength and the training. Besides, it was against the rules. Even if she had managed to pull off the kill, it wouldn’t have counted, so why even try?
Mystified, he turned back to the arena, where the master of ceremonies was finishing his introduction. The crowd swelled with cheers and he stepped out into the center of the
arena and bowed. With a flourish, he turned to the pen and bowed once more. He sank to his knees and prayed for the bull as tradition dictated, offering prayers for its soul. The crowd went wild.
The gates were flung open and the massive bull roared and charged out into the arena, coming to a stop short of the Matador, pawing the ground and swinging its massive head.
Enrique spread his cloak then snapped the clasp open with a tug and swirled the bright pink in a blinding swirl to drop in front of him. Snapping his heels, he bowed once more to the bull in salute. The bull charged the cape and the dance began.
Concentration was key in a bullfight, one moment of distraction, a second of inattention could mean death. Yet try as he might, he could not totally ban the mysterious girl from this thoughts. The bull’s horns swept by under the cloak as he leaned out over the horns on tip toes but at the last second the bull jerked its head and the tip of the horn grazed his thigh, tearing the legging of his outfit and drawing blood. The crowd gasped and murmurs now blended with the cheers.
Enrique sucked in a breath as the slice stung and blood began to run down into his boot. Gritting his teeth, he danced out of the way of another charge by the enraged bull. Shortly he would be joined by other Matadors and the pressure would ease. Failure to focus now could be fatal as the bull moved with a swiftness that belied its size.
The bull paused, snorting and pawing the ground. It glared at him. Enrique knew it was aware he was wounded. He wondered if the bull could actually think through a plan. They had more intelligence than most Matadors gave them credit.
Suddenly the bull charged, but this time it ignored the fluttering of the cape, held to the side as a distraction.
Enrique dodged the bull at the last minute but the bull anticipated the movement, or it was simply lucky. Enrique fell between the horns and was hoisted into the air, flipping over the back of the beast to land hard on the packed earth. The air whooshed out of his lungs and he gasped for a breath that wouldn’t come.
He rolled to the side just in time to see the bull turn and begin its charge.
Shrieks filled air as the crowd screamed for him to move. But he could not. He could not. His last thought as the bull bore down on him was, perhaps the woman was more skilled than he thought. Perhaps. The moment of truth had arrived.