Prince Sancho retired from the Grand Hall, a couple of his men with him as they left Alfonso. He belched and swayed a little, but his sore mood had passed.
His father would not like the idea that the Infanté was in spirits, and would scold him for making argument with his brother. Still, nothing had occurred that would warrant displeasure from the king, and Alfonso was unhurt but only with wounded pride. What troubled the king most was the fact that his sons were not too unlike himself and his own brothers. Sancho and Alfonso were unsettling reflections of earlier years, of ghosts un-exorcised and exhumed; yet the wills lived because they were strong and did not abide the wisdom from the past. And for that matter – secure in his realm – the old king had forgotten what had been during his youth.
Ferdinand’s father had partitioned the realm and the children had bickered; after his death the sons had fought. Ferdinand yet bore the wounds from these earlier battles, but now – once looking at them – the old king could no longer remember where they had come from. Yet, Ferdinand was certain his own example and wisdom and love for his children would keep them together in harmony, in peaceful coexistence because they were Christians and siblings and they were his children, not his father’s. This would secure them. And they seemed to heed to his reason. They did not openly argue before him; the children did not openly confront and fight each other.
Yet even the best laid plans for children go astray, and even the most loving parents may not have the power to change destinies once laid down. Therefore the children of Ferdinand bickered, and perhaps after his death, they will fight.
Sancho took a long drought of the wine he’d taken with him, and enjoyed the jokes his friends made. His companions were Castilians, and bore scars of young men chasing their own roads. Don Garcia Ordóñez was the chief among them and possessed a cleft lip so that his rivals called him “Don Harelip.” He was a good knight and had been blooded, and Sancho enjoyed his company because Ordóñez was quiet but honest. Second there was a cousin of Rodrigo Diaz’s, Alvar Fañéz, who was bright-eyed and fun to drink with and had a knack for fighting when the best men were laid under the table. They were strong heirs of the realm, and now given to arrogance befitting to young knights.
They confronted Sancho’s sister, Urraca, as she came from the dark corridor leading from her room.
“Ay – Sancho!” She exclaimed, as if caught in bad purpose.
The Infanté regarded her, wiping the wine from his sparsely-bearded lips. “Sister.”
“Where is Alfonso!” It was almost as if she were accusing him of something.
“In the Grand Hall, nursing himself,” Sancho told her with a wry grin. His friends made a short chuckle.
She pushed passed him, intent to find the younger prince.
“Yea – go to him!” Sancho cried out, “Perhaps he needs to warm himself with you.” And these were dark words, for he suspected that the two – Urraca and Alfonso – had a relationship unbecoming siblings. But the young maiden didn’t bother to retort, she hurried onward to find her beloved younger brother.
It was then the doors burst open with an excited Garcia, with a group of his own friends with him.
The youngest brother paused to catch his breath before he went on. “It’s Rodrigo in the Square! He’s in a fight!”
“Rodrigo Diaz?” And with this news the Infanté beamed. The son of Bivar was his best and most trusted friend. “In a fight you say? Is that to be unexpected?” And his companions laughed along with him. “Who is he fighting now? The House Guard for cropping their horses?”
“He’s in dire reckoning,” the young prince squealed over-emotionally. “He is fighting two auctioneers over a pony.”
“That’s our Rodrigo,” Sancho said with a grim smile. “If anyone would take concern over gold, it is he.” He looked at his group. “Well, now, should we go to him?”
“Perhaps Rodrigo would take offense, considering his honor,” Ordóñez said slyly. With his words, everyone laughed more.
“Ay, but Rodrigo is a pure spirit,” argued Sancho. “Besides, you are always jealous of him.”
“Ay, jealous as one could be, considering how Rodrigo thinks so much of himself.” And they laughed with this too.
The youngest prince was beside himself: he begged for Sancho to hurry.
“Very well,” Sancho said. “Thus it is to see my friend in peril once again. I expect any day to see him fighting the lot of Toledo by himself. Ay, let us go to him.”
Before the group had come out to the Square, of course, Rodrigo had had a few moments to gather his wits, but he was in sore straits. The bartering of his horse was in process again, and the crowd had by that time begun to disperse, thinking the fight was now out of the brash youth. Both Rodrigo’s companions, Carlos and Francisco, were consoling him.
“You are beaten,” Carlos told his friend.
“Ay, a moment. That’s my pony and I’ll be damned ere I give her up to this lot.”
“We’ll be seeing you behind the stockade or lying in a shallow grave.”
“Ay – perhaps, Carlos,” Rodrigo muttered, wiping blood from his lips. “Yet there will be a reckoning done today, for me or against.”
The gold had yet to exchange hands, but just as Sancho and his entourage turned the corner of the Square in view, Rodrigo lunged once again at the biggest of his opponents, just as the two auctioneers had believed he was done for.
It was not much of a lunge, for Rodrigo was weak from his beating, and the northerner who had dealt heavily most with him, grabbed the squire confidently. The Navarrese partner, tired of the fight, took his whip and began striking the youth as the other held him.
“He’s done, imagine!” The Infanté observed, disappointed that he’d missed most of the fight. Still, for a few moments, he watched as Rodrigo suffered the blow from the rawhide. Then, at last, as the crowd recognized their new visitor, and an audible perception of “la Infanté!” brought everyone to their senses, the men assailing Rodrigo let the youth drop heavily to the ground.
“What occurs in my father’s Square?” Sancho demanded regally.
Everyone dropped to their knees. The two thieves, the center of the Infanté’s attention, shook as they knelt; Sancho was the harshest of Ferdinand’s children, and at twenty, he was battle-hardened and as mature as any Christian knight.
“Ay – you! Rodrigo! Ruy Diaz!” The Infanté pointed at the form of the beaten youth as he lay on the ground. “What ails you?”
Rodrigo just moaned.
“Forgive us, la Infanté,” the big northman said, his eyes at the prince’s feet. “The thief tried to steal our ponies.”
“That pony there especially? The tan one with the brand of Bivar full upon her haunches? That one?”
“Ay! So it was sold to us from the Lord of Bivar himself at auction these past three weeks.”
“That so? Well,” Sancho said, smiling a dangerous smile of teeth, “you must understand that I must be certain of such. Do you have papers from the Lord of Bivar to authenticate this?”
The Navarrese spoke. “Forgive us, Your Highness. We do not have papers from our Lord of Bivar.” Then as he looked up to confront the eyes of the Infanté, “you may send someone there to be certain that we do not lie.”
Sancho shook his head. “No need! We have the son of Don Diego in our midst.” He turned his attention back to Rodrigo, who had pulled himself to his feet. “Rodrigo Diaz, do you remember your father selling Bavieca to these men?”
The realization of whom the youth was and their dangerous predicament suddenly dawned on the two thieves. All they could do was stand there open-mouthed as Rodrigo related what had happened.
There was no more argument. As the Leonese guard apprehended the auctioneers, Sancho stopped them before they were taken toward the stockade. “Horse thieves are hung regularly. I understand there is no pain after the first five minutes.”
Wanting to get in a final shot, Rodrigo came up from behind and clubbed the burly northerner who’d beaten him nearly to death, causing the whole group to fall into chaos. Sancho, watching it all with delight, finally broke down.
“Would you get Ruy Diaz in the castle and cleaned up before he kills himself,” he ordered his guard, laughing.
As the mist from the river, the day passed on; there Rodrigo was welcomed as good company by his friend Sancho, and even Alfonso himself was glad to see their reckless chum from the east. Thus, the son of Bivar became a neutral pillar between the heated rivalry of the princes, and the dark words and hatred that lurked within did not manifest as they brought their friendship to bear.
The palace was clean and far better maintained than the modest home of the Laiñéz villa, and after he had washed himself and had attended to his bruises, Rodrigo passed under the ancient Moorish arches erected by the long-forgotten Caliphate that once ruled these domains. Striped in blue and white, the arches were once trimmed in gold, but now they had begun to fall apart in patches of decay. Yet the color could still be found here and there in good design. Rodrigo was moved by the scene of the Hall of Arches, though as a young man of fifteen he was often distracted more of his fiery youthful desires; but he stopped here before moving on to the Grand Hall, and he stared all around.
In those admiring thoughts, he took one that he would have a place such as this one day for himself to dwell, and though he had been but to the sea twice in his young life, he vowed to have such a home there. Oaths of young men can be given to fancy and often forgotten, and even then there was this nagging doubt that he would ever see such a home. He knew as much to inherit his father and mother’s legacy in Bivar, perhaps, and there to live a life under the king. Yet he thought how it would be to rule his own city, and set those laws himself, before God alone.
The United Realm of Ferdinand was too enamored of its Christian ideals, too embittered by centuries of Moorish domination, too intent upon reconquest to allow itself free progression of culture and artistry. Everything here in the Royal Bastion that hinted even of something more than the desires of the body were those instances of a legacy not of its own. Barely now able to handle themselves with the Moors on military or economic footing, the Christian Kings of the north were still trying to etch themselves a distinction from their more powerful southern neighbors.
Thus these arches that spanned the corridors were at once foreign and familiar; they hinted at something truly profound and beyond description, even for a thoughtful young man like Rodrigo Diaz. Though the Infanté and his brother Alfonso waited for their guest to join them in the Hall, Rodrigo allowed himself to wander the arches alone, wondering if he could get lost if he closed his eyes.
Then, afterwards, came to himself and pocketed his wonder, but he did not leave. He stood there, feeling strangely warm in the midst of beauty.
How long did he stand there – he didn’t know. The shadows were growing from the far openings in the walls that were yet too barbaric to be considered windows, and they were more than just an opportunity for the archer to flit arrows at threats below. The only thing he knew was that suddenly he was not alone.
“This place has a haunt,” Sancho told him from the entrance into the Grand Hall, the flood of the firelight within almost making his form a silhouette. “I’ve never seen it, but Urraca has told me she’s seen it four times.”
“A haunt?” The squire rarely knelt before Sancho, as others would do – they were too close.
“Yes.” Sancho walked over, and now that he was no longer in the alcove, his figure was given to shadows and grayness, though it was only midday. “A Moorish woman who brings water from yon door.” He pointed off to the left where a stout portal barred exit into the Queen’s Gardens. “Urraca doesn’t like to spend time here.”
“It’s beautiful,” Rodrigo said, forgetting himself.
The Infanté looked around. “I suppose it is. I’ve never thought about it.”
“Christ be praised.”
“You’ve been here before, Rodrigo. Have you always felt this way?”
“No, I don’t think…,” Then he let the matter drop; he felt ashamed. The two friends moved to one of the gaping slits in the wall and looked at the fields and the township under the golden watch of the afternoon sun.
“This place can stink,” Sancho said. He coughed up some phlegm and dispatched it below. “Father seems to love this despicable place. Give me Castile any day.”
“This will be yours,” Rodrigo pointed out.
“No. It will go to that brat brother of mine, Alfonso.”
“The whole of Leon?”
Rodrigo gulped. It seemed unfair, because Leon had been the seat of Castile and the northern kingdom. What did it mean? Didn’t Sancho – the eldest – by right gain the entire realm?
“How is your father? The last I saw of him was when he was here, angry and proud over the issues of Pamplona.”
Rodrigo shrugged. “He hates Navarre.”
“Who does not? I can understand his pain.” Sancho smirked. “I would think he would have ill thoughts for me.”
“He loves you as the Infanté.” Were the words hesitant? Rodrigo worried over his tone, because he doubted his father’s integrity when it came to matters of Sancho and the Battle of Pamplona, where Don Diego had lost his father.
“I would beg to differ. Your father is proud, and he takes offense easily; I believe he silently accuses me of taking his due at Pamplona, though he survived the fight.”
“He knows you saved his life, m’lord.”
“Yet sometimes death is better than being saved for dissatisfaction. His own father was killed and the house torn.”
“He will still have satisfaction.”
The young men studied each other in the barren gray lands that bordered friendship and hatred; Rodrigo would inherit the vendetta against the enemies of his father, and that meant he would consider any grievance Don Diego had had to be his own. This grievance may, someday, include Sancho even.
Sancho said, “We are instruments of the Crown. To break faith with me would be to break faith with the king.”
“I assure you my father has not broken faith with you, Your Highness. You are his lord of Burgos and Castile.”
“I thought highly of you today,” Sancho disclosed. “You always make me proud to see you brawling.”
“It was a minor of things.”
“You would have tried to kill those bastards yourself, without thought of the king’s justice.”
These were treacherous waters, and Rodrigo knew he’d best choose his words; to say that he had no faith in the king’s justice would be an insult so grievous that Sancho would get angry. To say that he had lost his head and attacked the thieves recklessly would be to insinuate that Rodrigo had no brains and could not control his temper. He said, after some consideration, “I wanted to get my pony back. It did not turn out exactly planned.”
“Indeed.” The Infanté chuckled, perhaps understanding the dilemma. “Well, you are not wanting of courage.” Rodrigo’s father would have much harsher words to say, especially if he had known his son had been caught in a fight once again in public. Yet at least Sancho remained unoffended.
“It seems that I’m in a habit of getting rescued in market squares,” Rodrigo said.
“What makes you say that?”
“I checked the millers of Bivar with their gold no more than a week ago.”
Rodrigo modestly told him his suspicions of their embezzlement, that there seemed to be deeper currents.
“That would be your father’s reckoning to deal with them.”
The squire sniffed. “Or mine.”
Sancho was smiling. “I find myself displeased that I do not follow you around, taking in the sights of your adventures, Rodrigo.”
“Certainly the King’s Court would be of more interest.”
“Oh – yes! Would it! That is, if you like the ideals of tutelage as smelling the bad gas from my father and listening to commoners speak about how some other commoner stole their oxen.”
“But the battles….”
“Usually only boil down to a truce made in your absence,” the Infanté sighed. He had turned away from the wall slit and was leaning against the stones, his arms crossed. “You are out there slinging a sword and making yourself look a fool, and all the time your father makes amends with his enemies.”
Rodrigo wrinkled his nose. “I don’t follow.”
“Good for you, Rodrigo! T’is some instances to be blessed with ignorance.” Sancho reached over and touched his friend’s face. “Some dueling marks to boast of, my friend! A split lip, bruised cheeks and a dark eye! You’ll have my sisters in a lather.”
“I feel sore.”
“I heard you in raised voice with Alfonso.”
Sancho shrugged. “He’s a fool. He believes things that don’t exist.”
“As being king of the North. He covets the Triple Crown.”
Rodrigo turned his eyes away, because he felt strongly that Sancho coveted it as well; yet Sancho was wrathful and hard to balance once angered. “Your father will live many years ere any of you come to the Triple Crown.”
“Does the king ail, m’lord?”
“He ails as old men do. That’s the way of things, wouldn’t you say? ‘God giveth and taketh away.’” Sancho made a mockery of crossing himself.
“Don’t be so gullible, son of Bivar. God can be used.”
“Used? You blaspheme?”
Sancho smirked. “No – no. I have yet to inherit the realm, my friend. Better would it be not to tempt God against me, ay? I don’t give into that lot of prayer, for it seems my hand takes more than what God giveth. If God giveth me the Triple Crown, he would strike Alfonso to the dirt.”
“You wouldn’t raise a hand against your brother, m’lord.”
“I would not – though one wise must keep his eyes open and a dagger near. You are very naïve, Ruy Diaz.”
“I wouldn’t blaspheme and I wouldn’t take arms against my brother.”
Sancho raised his eyebrows. “You would, if you had them. Yet again you are on a simpler fate, and by that I envy you. Perhaps if you had brethren you would have them close to your bosom, and you to theirs. Yet you would contend not with the Triple Crown.”
“You say then it is avarice that turns you against Alfonso.”
Sancho’s eyes became fiery, but his voice was calm. “Be wary, Rodrigo. You will go too far.”
The son of Bivar studied the other a moment, then bowed. “Would I cross you, m’lord? Would I tell you something displeasing just to place you on edge? Truth sometimes has that edge.”
“But you are an idealist, Rodrigo. You would condemn me, and you are not of my standing.”
“In the eyes of God we are all the same, measured only by our souls.”
“Beware, Rodrigo – I will not tell you again.” The Infanté turned away. “You are my good friend, and I love you much. Don’t tread on these grounds you know little of.”
“If I’ve angered you, m’lord, I am sorry.”
They faced each other again, but the tension wavered and the mood lifted; Rodrigo smiled and Sancho joined him.
“You will be my man on the field, Ruy Diaz, one day.”
“What do you mean, m’lord?”
“I will take you in training for my guard when I take up the Crown.”
“You do me great honor, Your Highness!”
“That only if you prove yourself. I have yet to see you on the field of battle.” Sancho sized him up sternly. “Ay that it be my sword upon your shoulder to make you a knight one day.”
Rodrigo’s joy was so great he could have illuminated the chamber. “Call me and command me, m’lord!”
“Which will be – no doubt – a time soon.” Sancho said. “Now let’s get in and drink a bit, ay? We can go riding.”
“Back to Burgos?”
“No – not yet. I have things to do here.”
Sancho and Alfonso’s leisure time, when not in argument, was spent in spirits. Most of the time they didn’t interact with each other, as they had separate abodes. Alfonso was eighteen years old in the autumn of 1055, thus three years Rodrigo’s senior. He was by far the most comely of Ferdinand’s children, with his short reddish-blonde hair, and his eyes of crystal blue. And these eyes, often kind – though given as much to brashness as the young son of Bivar – were sharp and intense. He and Sancho were in contrast, for the eldest son was dark and hairy, yet altogether not lacking in his own appearance. There was such a strong contradiction between them that it was hard to believe they had sprung from the same loins, and their views as siblings of the Crown were, as told before, not in agreement.
Yet, the three infantés, in Rodrigo’s presence, let their distrust fall away, and they took time later to ride in the grassy hills north of Leon. With them went Carlos and young Francisco, who the son of Bivar formally introduced as future prominence; their father was well known.
And, as Ferdinand himself felt as he had looked out from his lofty perch in the Poor Pilgrim’s Tower earlier, things were in that moment as sweet harmony. There was no war upon the border, but there was a storm brewing far to the east; and that because somewhere there were always storms brewing.