My half-Spanish grandmother always scolded me for referring to our ancestor, the King of Castile, as Peter the Cruel. “His name is Peter the Just,” she would correct me, preferring the qualifier attributed to him by the Jews and Muslims he had always protected. Whether Peter was Cruel or Just, he loved the city of Seville, where he built the most enchanting palace in all of Europe, the Alcázar of Seville.
One morning, the entire city felt a bit upside down. One of the cities finest gentlemen, the Count of Guzman, had been found dead in the street, stiff and rigid, stabbed numerous times with a sword. This mysterious death was all the city spoke about. The police were criticized for not finding any leads or clues. A chorus of protests arose in the market, addressed to the king himself. A well-known shopkeeper loudly exclaimed that the police were worthless, incompetent, and the he himself would have quickly found the assassin! At that moment he felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to find himself staring into the eyes of the king. “If you are so capable, my dear friend, by all means find the assassin.” The shopkeeper trembled. “I will give you eight days to find the assassin, during which time you will have at your disposal all the resources of my kingdom. However, if after eight days you fail to identify the assassin, I will send you to the executioner.” And with those words the king left.
The shopkeeper had charm and intelligence. He gave precise instructions to the police and ordered numerous inquiries, all of which yielded nothing. So he went himself to the scene of the crime, yet not a single clue could be found. While leaving, he looked up and noticed an elderly figure in a window. He entered the building and climbed the stairs to the upper floor, after knocking on the door and old woman opened it and invited him inside. The shopkeeper asked the woman if she had seen anything out of her window on the night of the murder. “It was dark, it was hard to seen anything, but I saw a man fighting with the victim. He tried to defend himself but it was no use.”
“Were you able to make out anything at all, any details about the murderer?”
“It was too dark.”
The old woman stood still for a moment, reflecting. “There was one things I noticed. The assassin, when he walked his knees cracked.”
The shopkeeper thanked her and left.
The eighth day came and the shopkeeper presented himself at the royal palace. “So, who is our assassin?”, asked the king from his throne. “You majesty, his head is on display at the scene of the crime at this very moment!”
The king let out a hearty laugh, “Well let’s go see him!”
The shopkeeper led the way and soon the king and his courtesans found themselves at the scene of the murder. A cloth was draped over a head in a niche in the wall. The king quickly pulled down the cloth, exposing a head, hastily sculpted in terra cotta. It was his own head, the head of King Peter. Again the king let out a hearty laugh.
“You are right. I killed the gentleman, or rather, I defended myself when he tried to kill me! It is well known how much I enjoy walking through the streets of Seville. He attacked me, and in defending myself I ended up killing him. I kept quiet for political reasons of course, I didn’t want this man to be known as a traitor.”
Peter the Cruel was so impressed by the shopkeeper that he granted him numerous titles and placed him in the highest posts. As for the terra cotta head of King Peter the Cruel, it remains to this very day at the scene of the crime.