King Sancho mustered his Royal Guards without biding time for his forces to rally. Most of them were already lost in the fray and more of a mind to fight, as waiting would prove to be a stronger defense, now that the king knew of his brother’s strategy. Nor did he find good advice in his stalwart counsel – Don Francisco – who was now more apt to court death whether for him or against; and when Don Francisco saw the might of the Leonese cavalry on the field, and the death of the herald, Menendéz, his ire was kindled to madness, and he leaped forth with many riders with him. With a cry, he was far out on the field, soon clashing with a heavy charge deep into the Leonese.
Seeing this set the entire Castilian center guard on fire, and they poured from their stations without thought of the king’s rally, the light of the drawing of their swords and their lances like flames in a field of reeds. Swiftly they came, their roar like the host of angels in a thunderclap, charging over the plain without thought to what lay against them. Inspired by Don Francisco, who’d donned his white helm and his banners were furious in the winter wind, the Najéran riders came full on and scattered the Leonese force before them.
King Sancho’s guard, being trained from many battles, hung back.
“Yonder there – see that wall of spearmen?” The king told his banner-guard, pointing to their left flank. “Send a message quick to Ordoñéz to rally his footmen! If they follow that mad Francisco, we will be swept from the field!”
The young boy – as old as Rodrigo had been the day he had taken the king’s standard up — rode swiftly on his pony toward the pennons of Garcia Ordoñéz, which were now passing far in the front. Before the boy could reach the outer circle where the straggling rear came up to reserve the men already fighting, he was struck by a way arrow and knocked down.
The king was speechless for a moment, staring at the fallen banner-guard with his mouth agape. Composing himself, Sancho suddenly put on his helm and held out his lance for his guard. “To me!” He shouted, reining his horse toward the bristling spearmen, his knights struggling to change face and head now for their left. “For Castile!” Sancho cried and lunged forward with his riders.
The spearmen were in disarray, the forefront of them not seeing the sudden appearance of the king’s riders. At the moment they were in scattered ranks, with their long pikes out and in and up – but not in the position to deter Sancho’s charge. The first dozen scattered aside as flies in a stiff breeze, and the king slashed down at them with his blade, catching one in the back of his head as the man tried to run. The second rank fell back, but the third – protected by the cushion of those in front – positioned their spears and gut the first two Castilian knights’ horses as they came through.
One of the fallen knights, Jarras Domingo, found himself pinned under his shrieking steed, bathed in blood as two footmen descended on him with their long knives. King Sancho, hoping to save him, tried to break free of the tangle, but found he could not. By the time he had gained the rise, a host of footmen came swarming up the other side to reinforce the spearmen, and the king’s guard was pushed back.
Suddenly, the air was filled with arrows. Toledan horse-archers had ridden in behind the footmen, and the curved bows of the Moors let loose a hail of death over the retreating royal guard. Sancho, holding up his shield to cover his head, heard the heavy thump of steel-tipped darts slamming hard. Suddenly his horse screamed and reared, throwing him off and back, coming down on top of him as Domingo had his. A moment later he was alone in the midst of his enemies, and by luck did the king drag himself from under his horse.
Alone, Sancho stood and fought hard in the front of the Galician footmen, and they, perceiving who he was, charged in to cleave him a lucky blow. Sancho was hopelessly outnumbered, but he cared little, and the fire of his fight carried him strongly. The first two footmen who gained the rise the king was on found themselves a ready foe, and both died quickly with slashes to their faces.
The third footman to gain the rise had lost his shield, so he swung at Sancho with his mace, and the Castilian king gleefully engaged. Behind the combatants, the remnants of the Galician pike pulled back as Don Sisnando and his riders came at them, after a brief fall of Castilian arrows, and charging in at the side came Jorge Valléz who was shouting for everyone to protect the king.
It was good timing, for Sancho, weakening, found himself facing alone now the charge of the Galician front. The king’s helm had been thrown off in the fight, but he had cut his enemy down and had fallen to a knee.
A Galician knight spurred his horse at the kneeling king, but Valléz was quick enough to breach the footmen and engage the rider. With the respite, Sancho fell back, sweat stinging his eyes as he staggered. Don Sisnando, holding the king’s right, supported Sancho as the Castilian footmen rushed the scattered Leonese.
“How fares Ordoñéz?” The king breathed, wiping his forehead.
“They are in the thick,” replied Don Sisnando. “The Najérans beat a bloody path through Alfonso’s center, and Ordoñéz was quick to follow Don Francisco.”
“Yon – there,” Sancho pointed to the field, “whose banner is that leading the Zamorans?”
“Pedro Ansuréz,” Don Sisnando said without looking. “They brought up a siege train to take Carrión lest we fall back.”
“On errand of Urraca? Were it she on the field I would make better sport to shatter them. We will not fall back to Carrión.”
“Ay? Even if they best the Najérans?”
“Even if God comes a’field,” Sancho muttered. “My kingdom rides on this fight.”
“We may yet lose, if the Campaedor does not come.”
“We will not lose, Don Sisnando.”
The knight nodded, the cross on his breast turned by the dirt of the field. “Ay – so be it, my king.” Suddenly he looked up and behind Sancho. “Ay – the whole front is in the thick! Ordoñéz is smashing into Don Alejandro!”
Sancho whirled around. It was true: Garcia Ordoñéz and his flank had turned in the midst of the fray to attack their own allies. What little victory could have been one that early was now gone.
“Get him back!” Shrieked the king, knowing it was too late.
There was no stopping Don Francisco.
As he charged into the Leonese heavy cavalry, his own riders at his side, the old provincial punched his way through. The front, at first bolstered by Alfonso’s footmen, pulled back, di Oviedo himself sweeping his northern riders around to envelope the enraged Najéran, but found stiff resistance as Garcia Ordoñéz and his archers fired point-blank into them from the side.
At once, Ordoñéz’s swordsmen came rushing in to provide protection for the now-exposed archers, and di Oviedo – overwhelmed – wheeled his riders about and pulled toward their king’s standard.
There was much blood there, near Alfonso. The Leonese king had come with his guard, riding headlong into the hard-charging Najérans, and the collision was more than a typhoon; at first, the Leonese guard – bright and strong in clad mail, their ranks shining like a river of steel in the rising winter sun – hesitated to the king’s call. Then, the world erupted in the center of the field, and the screams and cries of desperate and fighting men thundered as they met the caress of steel.
Before di Oviedo could reinforce the guard, it was swept away, and the banners of the houses of the Najérans drove deep into the Leonese host, pressing now the Toledo heavy cavalry who came up to support Alfonso. The king himself was in dire straits, as was his brother Sancho on the other side of the field, and the man fought wildly from his saddle. A rain of blows from his Najéran enemies forced Alfonso – shrieking obscenities – to fall back, his steed tripping over the fallen men of both sides.
Ever in the forefront, slashing with his blade, rode Don Francisco shouting out his son’s name, and even now, as the Toledo Moors came about, he would not be restrained. He was making for Alfonso, but the guard was strong in that quarter, and he was pushed aside as his men cut themselves deeper into the Leonese.
“He will make the baggage!” Shouted Qadir, the Toledan prince, and he immediately dropped behind his men, hoping that their numbers would save him. The Najérans, focusing now their determination on the Moors, came in hard from their right flank.
Behind them, unlooked for, came Don Diego di Oviedo, who drove in behind the Najéran riders and scattered most of them. Taking it upon himself, the Leonese champion hacked through toward Don Francisco, and there the two met in a grim melee. Don Francisco, being in the majority of his men, had the advantage, and he vented his wrath on the other man.
Don Diego’s blade was turned twice off the Najéran’s armor, and he found himself hard-pressed to keep his shield up to parry the wild blows given. Whether by some strange fate or by the hardness of his opponent’s armor, Don Diego’s sword broke in half, and he fell back.
“To me!” Shouted di Oviedo, hoping that he could cut his way out of danger with his men, but onward came Don Francisco, slashing hard now with a rider’s mace; there was little the Leonese Champion could do but protect himself with his battered shield as he fumbled to gain his axe.
A sudden, powerful blow knocked Don Diego’s shield wide, and as he felt what might be the tramp of doom as Don Francisco backhanded the mace toward him, a volley of whizzing arrows from Ordoñéz cut into the air. A black-feathered dart punched Don Francisco’s throat, stopping the man in mid-swing. Two more arrows from the Moors behind the Najéran lord slammed into his back. It appeared that in the confusion, Garcia Ordoñéz’s men had wheeled about into their allies – House di Calahorra and the Najérans.
Don Diego, caught in a moment of shock – watched Don Francisco drop his mace and fall sideways. The Najéran’s horse, confused, bounded forward, dragging the knight askew until the man fell off entirely: the stirrups, burdened by the weight, snapped freely away. Yet Don Francisco, gagging as he struggled to his knees, his gloved fingers raking at the arrow in his throat, fought to live; then a Moorish footman came from behind and hewed him with his sword.
The entire Najéran front fell away. In charged the Leonese guard, with King Alfonso at their head, and the riders that remained were cut down before them as dying reeds. Don Diego, rallying his cavalry, joined his king as he came against the stiffness of Garcia Ordoñéz and the men of Cardeña. At once the Castilians pulled away from the tangle with di Calahorra’s men – but Don Alejandro was already dead.
Ordoñéz had no spear- or pikemen, so that front withered as they were set upon; Ordoñéz himself, mounted and ready, struggled to keep di Oviedo from breaching his swordsmen and thus gaining the unprotected archers. The Castilian knew that they had no chance to win the day, now that the Calahorrans were scattered. It was a good feeling he’d put his enemy, Don Alejandro, down, though. And even if the king should know this – Ordoñéz was content. The feud was over. He faced now Don Diego in the fray.
In a strange moment where the two knights were merely surrounded by fighting men and not pressed, both knights shouted at each other.
“Ho there, Garcia Ordoñéz? You mean to make my flank or my front– eh? You son of a pissing whore!” Don Diego taunted, the blood of Don Francisco still bright where it had splattered his surcoat.
“That and that!” Shouted back the Castilian, and he charged as he could toward the Leonese guard.
“You took more of your own men in that fight! You killed di Calahorra!”
“Ay – I’m going to kill you now, di Oviedo!”
The two fronts surged and the knights came against each other. They exchanged blows, but even though Don Diego was more experienced and confident, neither could gain advantage.
Just then, blaring through the cold air, and above the clash of metal and the shouts and screams of men, the trumpets of Don Rodrigo Diaz and the men of Burgos sounded from the Castilian rear.
It had not been easy for Don Rodrigo. He himself didn’t understand his moody afflictions, only that when they seized him he became helpless. The death of Francisco the Younger had not been the sole harbinger of his grief; something greater always haunted the deeper pools of his reason as Rodrigo struggled for sense of duty. He knew that the king’s army had committed themselves a’field and were no doubt in dire straits. A good many of the Burgos ward stood in Carrión still, itching for the fight but confused what to do while their lord lamented.
He did not like death for itself, though many of his colleagues thought little of it. Everyone dies, whether by blade or blight, purpose or accident; they considered it cynical reasoning. Yet seeing Francisco the Younger charging the Leonese alone had crushed Rodrigo Diaz – and the helpless despair that remained after knowing the life had been given solely for him had shocked his soul to the core.
Yet now many were dying, and would die more if he didn’t take a’field.
Once the Campaedor had gained his reason, and his fit had passed, he came out of the tent and looked upon his men who waited for his command.
“Where is Valléz?” He asked Gonzalo Derro, his ward.
“Gone to field with the king.”
“And so has Don Francisco?”
The cortesé hadn’t counseled with him – they had gone to fight with the king’s ire and Don Francisco’s despair leading them.
Rodrigo looked around. His men were girt and ready to move – they had been since the morning at the king’s call, but had remained because their commander had resigned to his tent. Many were cavalry, and they mounted when they saw him. The knight hadn’t wanted to move at all, so pitch-black his fear and mood; yet now, the folly of his fit now laid itself bare.
He looked at the eager face of Derro. “To arms, then, Gonzalo. Hasten ere the king is bested upon the field!”
The ward, excited, turned and shouted: “Knights! Squires! Wards! To your banners – ay!”
Rodrigo went to relieve himself against the back wall of the stable, still wrestling with emotion; and it was a pain worse than what he expected from the scorn of his king. About him, his men rallied themselves and gathered for the march, and they were for the field. The Campaedor tried, as he left the wall, to gain strength from their excitement – but the darkness of Francisco the Younger’s death and the accusation of his father still drove deep.
Who cares what this day at the field will bring, thought Rodrigo as he waited for his ward to bring up Bavieca. If this my meat, then have me die quickly.
The meat – as he figured – was bitter more than death; at least with death there was resolution of things, rather than the wounds borne of time, and this notion itself defeated fear of death. Rodrigo gave confession freely to the Bishop of Pamplona who, himself, was girt for battle.
“God speed your courage, Don Rodrigo my son,” the bishop blessed him.
The Campaedor, now mounted, looked away at the gate. “Can a man be fated as damned, and those things he touches damned?”
“That is the judgment of God, and as men we do what is best in our hearts while keeping the sacrament.”
“Yet keeping such, can a man be doomed from birth?”
Before the bishop could respond, Gonzalo came up.
“M’lord,” said he, shield and spear in hand, “we are ready to quit this place.”
“Have Burgundy move first, then have the host of Ubierna after them; we will cross the bridge and then ride with haste.”
“What of the footmen?”
“They shall go at good pace as they are able. It is merely an hour march for them if they do so quickly, and have their leaders put fire in their shoes. I would like to see the horse on Goblejara as soon as I may. Your Grace,” Rodrigo looked at the Bishop of Pamplona, “can you bring up your men in good speed?”
“That,” The bishop said.
“Then by God, bring them up.”
The ranks likened to their trumpets, and with such a noise, came forth from the west gate of Carrión. Banners moved in violet and brown and white; green and red and blue pennons fluttered in the stiff winter wind; the black sigils of Rodrigo’s horse from Ubierna and Burgos came to the front and the men now came at the bridge.
Rodrigo, coordinating his forces to move in good order from the rear, suddenly found his men stopped. Gonzalo, the ever-informative, came riding back to him.
“Why have we stopped?” Rodrigo demanded.
“The Burgundians have met a woman on the bridge – the Lady di Carrión. She has found her husband’s sword and will not let anyone pass her; she has placed carts there to bar our way.”
The Campaedor sighed.
“She is full of fire and courage, and the men will not touch her,” continued Gonzalo, “and she demands that she will not let us go to the king while her son is yet captive.”
“You’ve done well in coming to me,” Rodrigo said. At once he took a crossbow from a rider and made it to the ready, then rode briskly to the bridge where the woman stood defiantly.
She was a healthy woman, though older, that leader of the pathetic delegation of citizenry who’d petitioned the Campaedor those weeks ago for food, though she had forgiven them the death of her husband. Since then, of course, the king had taken her only son captive, and the Lady di Carrión was not giving in anymore. The sword she held had never seen much use from her husband, but she stood there with her hem up and her legs apart, both hands on the grip – the point of the blade at the lead of the Burgundians who stood there silent and confused what to do.
Rodrigo shouted for Bourdain.
“Why do you wait? Go!”
The Burgundian knight shook his head. “She is an honorable woman! Such a passion to have her way, though the odds are against her.”
“Damn French,” muttered the Campaedor and he rode onto the bridge to confront the woman.
She stood her ground, her Spanish eyes blazing.
“Get off the bridge,” he ordered her. He knew why she contested him – he had shown his sensitivity and weakness for the women and children of Carrión, and she believed Rodrigo would fold.
“You have raped my city, you have killed my husband and taken my son,” she shouted back at him. “As long as I live you will not move across this bridge.”
He hadn’t known that the king had taken her son captive, but he shrugged. “That is the king’s justice. Now move off this bridge, foolish woman, and let us by! I will take your life if you do not.”
“Then take it as you may, Don Rodrigo Diaz.”
Rodrigo studied her for a moment, then, brought up the crossbow and fired it. The quarrel had a good aim: it whizzed through the air and slammed into her breast, knocking the woman off her feet and to the boards of the bridge. Lady di Carrión – her white and gray dress bright scarlet from her blood, writhed in agony as her life passed away from her.
Rodrigo turned around and ordered the Burgundians to get moving. Ranks of horsemen trotted by the dead woman, the forefront of the engineers pushing aside the capsized carts, all flowing like a river of death toward Goblejara.
If anything, coming late to the field gave the Campaedor a good view of what lay against them.
It seemed that the Castilian center was nearing rout, as Garcia Ordoñéz was backing up against the combined swarm of Leonese and Toledans; there were no banners of Sancho’s cavalry, but the king was holding with his guard on the left flank. There was no right flank, just littered bodies of what had once been spearmen of Calahorra, cut down by Moorish arrows. Sancho’s own Moorish allies – the men from Saragossa – had rallied and held firm to the king’s side. Though there was good fighting in that quarter, the Castilians were fast becoming a small island in a sea of foes.
The Campaedor’s trumpets blared and Rodrigo sent his heavy horse in to relieve Ordoñéz, and as he looked around the field – the knight was confused not to see the banner of Najéra.
“Where is Don Francisco?” Rodrigo asked aloud.
Gonzalo shielded his eyes from the winter sun. “There are few center horse, m’lord. I fear they’ve been bested by di Oviedo near Alfonso’s standard.”
“You think?” The Campaedor sighed, wondering what to do. Already his heavy cavalry had spearheaded into the Leonese guard on Ordoñéz’s right flank, and to shore them, he sent in his lighthorsemen for a chance to get the Moors. “We have to take their archers,” Rodrigo said. “They are nothing but mounted lance in the center; the only reason Ordoñéz has not been able to break Alfonso is because of the Moors.”
“I don’t see anything of di Calahorra.”
“I don’t know.” Suddenly, Rodrigo saw a gallant Leonese knight riding far from the standard, leading in a swarm of heavy cavalry on the beleaguered Ordoñéz.
Rodrigo sped on up the hill.
From here, he could see Alfonso’s center pushing the Castilian foot against the trees, and the frustrated shouts of his captains told Rodrigo that they were about to break. He spurred Bavieca around, snatching a lance from Gonzalo.
“Who is yon knight?” Rodrigo asked harshly, pointing the lance at the stalwart warrior leading the Leonese push.
The ward squinted his eyes. “That is Don Diego di Oviedo.”
Rodrigo nodded. “He is a good fighter, to be so old.”
“He is Alfonso’s champion.”
“He and his men are going to win the trees.”
“We can’t have that,” Rodrigo decided. He spurred his steed and began to charge full down the slope toward Oviedo and his men. Behind him came his guard, with Gonzalo leading them, attempting to protect their lord; they were almost lost as the Campaedor gained momentum from the slide and collided headlong with Qadir’s spearmen.
Rodrigo had his wards take up his standard – the lily of his mother’s family and the green field of his father’s – and it was a sight familiar as the Castilians shouted as one when it came into view amongst them.
There was at once a tremendous crash of arms. Rodrigo slashed and hacked his way with his sword, holding Gonzalo’s lance with his other hand. The Moorish spearmen in the front ranks pulled away from his onslaught, and loud cries escaped their lips when they recognized him as Sancho’s armiger. Taking heart from the sight of their commander, Rodrigo’s heavy horse – who had been pressed against the wooded copse – cried out and suddenly surged forward. Qadir’s spearmen buckled, but held, though the first rank had easily been swept aside.
Seeing the change in the fight on his left flank, Don Diego immediately disentangled himself from one of Ordoñéz’s footmen and rode point blank toward Rodrigo.
The Campaedor saw him immediately, but could not pull away from the envelope of cursing spearmen who’d converged on him. Feeling the ringing blows of their spearpoints on his mail, Rodrigo reared his horse to try to push them back, but they suddenly fell forward, pressing him.
Gonzalo, noticing di Oviedo’s charge toward Rodrigo, immediately saw opportunity to shine in his commander’s eyes. He disengaged from the two footmen he’d been struggling with and galloped toward the Leonese champion.
The folly of his charge was made evident quickly, as Gonzalo came to realize that Don Diego was fully-equipped with lance, and all the Castilian had was his sword. When he brought up his shield to protect himself, at the same time pulling away, Don Diego slammed hard into him, the steel point of the lance skidding across the shield and punching into the ward’s chest.
The impact was cataclysmic: the ward was thrown back from the saddle, tearing him away from his stirrups and shattering di Oviedo’s lance. Without missing a beat, Don Diego wheeled about, pulling his sword free as Rodrigo charged on him. With better luck than Gonzalo against lance, di Oviedo deftly parried the weapon aside as the Campaedor thundered passed in a blur of green and white. The ride had taken Rodrigo clear, but he turned about, unsheathing his own blade.
The knights, oblivious of the fighting that raged around them, stared a moment at each other. Then, after a revered salute from Rodrigo to his old friend, the Campaedor yelled and charged.
Blade to blade they clashed, the ringing of their weapons louder than the chaos that surged about them. No words passed between their lips as they parried and struck at each other, and each blow fell wide or glanced aside.
Rodrigo, grunting with exertion, tried to push Don Diego back, rearing Bavieca. The Leonese champion, holding fast, avoided the hooves of his opponent’s steed and did his best to gain the flank. The older man would have best liked to cut Rodrigo’s horse from under him, but Bavieca was now girt in protective mail taken from di Carrión, and besides, the Castilian was expert on horseback.
Suddenly, Rodrigo slashed as Don Diego pushed passed him, cutting into his side where the mail had been altered for riding. The Leonese knight reined about, pain burning his wound; he struck out boldly and furiously, knocking the younger man back. Rodrigo parried every blow that came against him, though he was hard pressed to do so, and he could do nothing to stop Don Diego from pushing him toward the danger of the Moorish spearmen.
Finally the older knight spoke. He shouted as he spat blood from his lips: “You won’t take me this day, Rodrigo Diaz! It was chance God placed you back in my path since I almost had your life years ago – outside the door of your house!”
Rodrigo hoarsely replied, “I was a boy on errand of my father. Your horsemen killed my friend. I will take your life this day, Don Diego.”
“Then come at me, Campaedor,” di Oviedo roared, and charged forward.
Don Diego’s blow went wide in an arc, and Rodrigo swiped inward, his blade slashing into the torn mail of his opponent and flicking a stream of blood as he pulled it away. The blow from di Oviedo glanced off Rodrigo’s shield, and it had little strength in it.
With his blood staining his mail and tunic, Don Diego – in agony – followed the slow gait of his steed, his back to the Campaedor. Rodrigo, still full of fire, came at him, and the Leonese champion parried another strike from behind as he did his best to turn about. Rodrigo, sensing his opponent’s weakness, began raining blows in quick succession. The sheer weight of his sword and the ferocity wore down the fading defense of Don Diego. As the Leonese knight tried to raise a blow in answer, Rodrigo slashed around, catching the older man’s clavicle and cleaving a huge gash in his throat. Don Diego’s head, holding on by his exposed spinal cord, slumped forward – the muscles no longer there to hold it. The Campaedor rode up and clove the spine, sending Don Diego’s head flying from his body. Head and helm fell heavily to the dirt as the body behind it fell askew on the saddle.
A rain of Moorish arrows put Rodrigo to flight as Alfonso and his guard came riding up. By then King Sancho had put up his parley banner, having been worsted on the flank, and the day looked lost for the Castilians, though Rodrigo had come and the best Leonese warrior was now dead.