"It is the height of Spain's celebrated golden century - but beyond the walls of the Royal Palace there is little on the streets of Madrid that glitters. The Invincible Armada has been defeated. The shadow of the Inquisition looms large. And the Thirty Years' War rages on in Flanders. When a courageous soldier of this war, Captain Diego Alatriste, is forced to retire after being wounded in battle, he returns home to live the comparatively tame - though hardly quiet - life of a swordsman-for-hire. In this dangerous city where a thrust of steel settles all matters, there is no stronger blade than Alatriste's." "The captain is approached with an offer of work that involves giving a scare to some strangers soon to arrive in Madrid. But on the night of the attack, it becomes clear that these aren't ordinary travelers - and that someone is out for their blood. What happens next is the first in a series of riveting twists, with implications that will reverberate throughout the courts of Europe."--BOOK JACKET.