The Cid Book II Chapter 7

Chapter VII

Goblejara

 

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!”

“Pissing traitor!”

“Yourself!”

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?”

“Ay, m’lord.”

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.”

“Ay.”

“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.

*

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The Cid Book II Chapter 6

Chapter VI

Storm Clouds

 

When Sancho heard the clamor of the return of his armiger, the king watched the chaos of the inner bailey, having just hastened from the warmth of bed and his mistress.

“Ho there!”  The king shouted down, but his voice was lost and no one noticed him.  Sancho, frustrated, turned around and stormed half-naked through the room and out the door.  He sent his porter, Jermés, to bring his true-men to assemble.

Rushing to his side came Garcia Ordoñéz, and Sancho put him to question.

“The Campaedor has returned from scouting,” the knight explained, already girt in mail and blade, “and Francisco the Younger has not come with him.  The Leonese are mustering for a fight, Sire.”

“Alfonso wouldn’t come before the date he set himself,” Sancho argued, but more in thought.  None of his men would jump to conclusions without due cause, so the king grimly considered the time was nigh.  “Get my wards about, Don Garcia, and then hearken to my standard – if Alfonso wants to give fight now, so be it!”

“There is a fog coming up, and this will set against us if we take a’field,” the knight offered.

“Take that consideration to Don Rodrigo; I have seen fog in these lands a’fore, and they burn off before the sun clears the horizon.  Quickly now, get you to my wards and your men, Don Garcia.”  Sancho watched his man go for his duty, and, after shivering in the cold of the corridor, retreated to the warmth of the fire in his room.  His valets now were set to dress him, and his mistress sat in the sheets with the bedclothes tight around her naked body.  The king ignored her as he was dressed.

My brother would come against me now?  He thought, the clamor of the bailey punctuating the convictions.  Ay, as to be tested by a treacherous man as Alfonso, so be it, Lord!  Sancho was itching for the fight and wasn’t one to hide under the bed when blades and darts were supreme.  Even though he feared his men would be sluggish on the field because of the cold – he was more than willing to get at Alfonso, and have his brother’s head on a spit at the end of the day.

“Sire?”  He heard the meek and frightened voice of the woman in the bed.  Her name was Everita, a woman of good standing, and a daughter of Don Herberto di Osma.  The provincial would be angry to know of the liberties taken here, so the affair was hushed; the king had no thoughts of making her a formal royal consort, let alone his queen.

Everita was taller than most women the king had known.  He often debated whether she was more enchanting than she appeared; yet the lady had no stomach for the intrigues of court and war.  Certainly unlike his mother, who had been Ferdinand’s best counselor and could have arisen a force herself if given the chance and the right.  Everita had blonde hair – dyed somehow by the secrets of women – and this made her desirable, Sancho supposed.  The lady in the bed was a mother of children and not very much more, though she possessed those soft qualities that made such women needed and revered, yet somehow by these qualities they did not linger long upon the earth.  Something inherited in blood made them sicken and wither after a time; Sancho sensed it.  Anyway, Everita wasn’t like his other woman, the Lady Florinda from Avignon.  The king considered Florinda a possible queen, but he doubted whether she had ability to have children; if not by physical means, at least by temperament.  Some women, however beautiful and lively, could never be mothers.

The king dismissed his valets and pulled on his own boots.  Today he would have the Triple Crown, and be the head of a united realm.  If so he vowed he would marry the Lady Florinda and then he would deal with that bitch Urraca when he was ready, but now he would bleed the Leonese.  When the king was ready to leave, the woman in the bed pleaded with him for reassurance.  Sancho told her to shut up and left the room.

            “My son!  My son!”  Don Francisco Láin lamented, his head in his hands in the rising sun.  He was sitting on a haystack at the entrance of the bailey stable, roused from bed by Rodrigo’s report.  He had believed that somehow the report had been false, that everyone and everything around him was a dream.  Yet he had had no disturbing visions in his slumber before Rodrigo Diaz had awakened him; there was the residue of eating sweet meats and ogling nubile girls by a river that seemed to stretch from nowhere.

They were surrounded by Don Francisco’s men of Najéra, stout wards and grooms shocked by the loss of the son and the sudden clamor of alarm; all were confused what to do.  To say that father and son had been of mind and blood inseparable would be to harshly understate the fact; the Franciscos had been almost one – closer than any other.  They maintained the House Láine as the last two of their line: the Younger’s new marriage (though highly chagrined by the Elder) may have been a chance to propagate a line now hard under.  The young bride had not been sent for, and thus didn’t know the tragic fate of her husband; Rodrigo had thought of her and what he must do.  He would send to her at least two hundred doblas, if that would make some restitution; but what to do about the father was another matter.

And the Younger!  How the knight had been Rodrigo’s friend.  His tears had dried from his hard gallop, and even now before the wailing father, the Campaedor was ready to throw himself to death if need be to wipe away his pain.    Rodrigo stood before Don Francisco, blood on his face, favoring his wound.  He had gone directly to the provincial’s side after making a call-to-arms.

Suddenly the provincial shot to his feet and grabbed the Campaedor by the collar – shoving the younger man against the stable wall.

“You killed my son!”

Rodrigo, startled and pinned by the man’s strength, did little to free himself from the grasp.  Jorge Valléz came up the steps from the solar, his sword out because he’d heard Don Francisco’s harsh voice and the young knight was ready to fight for his Campaedor if things were amiss.  Don Francisco’s men – upon seeing him – unsheathed their own blades.

“You killed my son!”  The provincial’s strength had never left him, even in old age.  With furious eyes, he slammed Rodrigo again against the wall.  “You killed…”

Campaedor!”  Valléz shouted, his blade at the ready.

At once that great strength left Don Francisco, and the older man released his grip.  He turned away.

Rodrigo, catching his breath and rubbing his neck, gasped, “At peace, Valléz!”

“Back off him, ay!”  Shouted Valléz, his face set for a fight.  “I’ll take the lot of you men of Najéra.”

“At peace!”  Rodrigo ordered, and then turned his attention to Don Francisco.  “Your son threw himself into their midst, m’lord!  He gave his life for me!”  Tears welled a’fresh – he threw himself on the floor before the knight.  “I came for him twice!  But he gave his life for me.”

Don Francisco was tearing at his sparse hair.  “My son!  What…” Anguish claimed the better part of him and the provincial fell to rest on the haystack once again.  “I have no one!”

“M’lord!”

“O Francisco, my boy my boy…”

Rodrigo moaned, tears streaming down his own face.  “M’lord!”

Don Francisco gazed upon the younger man.  “Get from me, Ruy Diaz!  I love you no more.”

“M’lord…”

“From me!”  The provincial roared, and Rodrigo backed away.  Valléz, meanwhile, hadn’t put his blade away; he was still spoiling for the fight.  Rodrigo placed a hand on the sword and they took to the door.

Campaedor!”

“At peace, Valléz.”

The cavalry commander nodded, though he reluctantly sheathed his weapon.

“Get you to the king.”

“What about – ”

Rodrigo looked at him, his eyes red from tears.  “Get you to the king!”

The knight bowed and left him.

He didn’t know what to do, the Campaedor.  He wanted to run around, he wanted to tear his eyes out, he wanted to lie on the field and let God tear the soul from his body.  Rodrigo settled to come into his pavilion and lay face down on the cold dirt, feeling the exhaustion and pain sink into the ground.  A thousand men had fallen in blood – friends and soldiers; yet why did he now lament so?  And this was a portion of his mind that spoke cold logic, though the other part of his mind screamed injustice and despair.  It was as though there were two Rodrigos, standing apart from each other – one losing to tears and anguish, the other patiently waiting for the fit to pass.  Francisco the Younger was a soldier, and had died.  Many have died since the war began between the two brothers.

Now to blame King Sancho?  Yet the cold logical Rodrigo whispered, what of this warIf not this, then another war, and Francisco just as dead, perhapsCome now, knight of CastileYou are the king’s man, and death is your lotDon Francisco is a knight and will recover over the loss of his son, and so will you.  And if he didn’t?  Then the old knight was an old fool and lost to grief and madness – yet you are the Campaedor!

There was nothing around Rodrigo that could offer solace, however, and he doubted now his fortune and prowess and wisdom.  Francisco the Younger was dead, the last heir of di Najéra, and his friend.  Rodrigo considered quitting the place: go now into the far fields and lose himself to oblivion.  Everything he had achieved to this point was no good.  He cursed God for placing him where he was, and now considered that all he had was folly.

Even now the cold dawn breeze waft in from the opening to his tent, gently caressing his long locks.  He rolled over on his back and looked up at the hide canvas covering.

The men were mustering.  He could hear the rousing voice of the king somewhere above the din, and there suddenly came a blast of trumpets from the outer bastion.  Rodrigo closed his eyes and wept.

            As the Castilians readied themselves, and Rodrigo fought with his grief, Alfonso and his champion, Don Diego di Oviedo, came for counsel with their knights.  It was no use for a surprise attack, now that the Castilians knew their plan; Don Diego had brought up his ranks.

“It is best, my king,” di Oviedo assured confidently, his gray hair a mantle of snow on a hardened face.  “We were of little hope to assail Carrion in bad weather as this.  The riders gave good chase, but the escaping scout served a better purpose yet to bring Sancho’s forces a’field.  We hold Goblejara and thus stronger thereby; we have the heights and the sun at our backs.  What could be better to take on the Castilians?”

“I wanted Carrión,” Alfonso shot, not pleased with events.  “That’s why I waited for Doña Urraca’s engineers and knights!  I wanted to keep the Castilians bottled up and wait for al-Ma’mun to hasten his men from Toledo!  We will be sore-pressed on the field against Sancho.”

“Not so, Sire,” Don Diego said.  “We have more men, we have a better position.  With the Zamorans, we have strengthened the western flank.  Our forces our in the center, and Qadir’s Moors are waiting on the riverbanks.  We have a competent position.”

“I fear Diaz of Bivar.  I have seen him slip some surprises on the field, and he’s more than a force to reckon with.”

Don Diego shrugged.  “I believe you place too much on him, Sire.  He has good spirit – I have known him since his boyhood, and he has much the fight his father had.  Still, though I was impressed with him at Graus those years ago when he was merely the standard-bearer for your brother, he does not have the experience yet to take me or my knights on the field.”

“He took Carrión in less than two weeks.”

“Don Carlos was a fop, worth far less than his city.  Besides, now we can have King Sancho and his army and end the war.  I’ll see you with the Triple Crown ere this day is out.”

Alfonso gave his provincial a hard look.  “You had best be right, di Oviedo, or I forget you and I are cousins.  My brother will come here full of heat, and it looks we have now no choice but to ready ourselves for him.  Get my guard about and have the Galicians ready on the front.  I will lead both myself.”

Don Diego bowed.

The Lord of Oviedo had wanted nothing more than meet Rodrigo on the field since the man had grown now to be a formidable commander, and though he had affection to see the son of his old friend rise to prominence, Don Diego was given to besting him.  Immediately he left his king to rally his forces and put them on the field, relying now on his lighthorsemen and pickets to warn of the approach of the Castilians.

The Zamoran, Don Pedro Ansuréz, was his best knight, weathered with war and seasoned with blood; di Oviedo called him and the others together for counsel.

“Why hasn’t the king joined us?”  Asked Don Pedro.

“He has given his orders and is readying himself for the fight.”

“Then we will put to field then?”

“As it is.”

“The main group will need time to muster, but the rear and the van are close to their positions now.  I’ve put up three hundred bowmen on the hills by the river, but if Don Rodrigo puts his cavalry there…”

Don Diego sniffed, offended that the Zamoran wouldn’t think his commander to have considered this.  “They will be protected by the van.  It will be too much for the Castilians to move up those hills.”

“I wouldn’t think it beyond Don Rodrigo to chance it.”

“Then we’ll beg him off, won’t we?”

Don Pedro shrugged.  He had made it obvious his distaste for such a fight; many of their comrades felt the same way.  Pitched battles like these were rarely fought.

Battles were as slugging matches, most often like two burly wrestlers in a pit.  The victories were decided usually by the army with most men a’field rather than strategy.  Thus the Leonese had little more strategy than have their enemy come at them directly and then break the Castilians with a frontal assault, as the bulk of Christian armies were made up of ill-equipped footmen who were used basically as fodder.  These bulk ‘main groups’ were supported by bowmen and mounted knights, but usually wavered and ran within an hour if gotten the best of.  The knights fought with each other, usually concerned mostly with their own vendettas and personal glories than with the disposition of the nation, and then all withdrew when one army had had enough.  If a county was invaded, the defenders would most likely pool together in the best castle and wait out the siege until the invading army’s money and food dwindled away and its men dispersed.  Then the defending king or count would call upon a neutral party – a clergyman, for example – to negotiate a ceasefire and the war would end.

Not so for Sancho and his brother Alfonso: both were ready to keep their armies a’field for as long as they could, even until their royal coffers were empty.  During their seven-year war, the brothers had had their forces muster and disperse and muster again, losing ground, gaining ground, but not always slugging at each other.  Therefore the nobles on both sides were leery of Alfonso’s gambit of a pitched battle to decide the fate of both kingdoms.  Such a gambit had made the commanders of both armies, Rodrigo and Diego, more as strategists than any of their contemporaries.

Yet as the winter sun began to rise over the barren hills, bathing the plains now with golden day – and the day was going to be clear and bright and cold – Don Diego di Oviedo mounted his horse and rode with his wards.  Around him, the Leonese host rose to assembly, a hundred banners of gold and red and violet and blue – and further on a spectrum – coming to take on the glare of the morning sun.

It was a good day for a fight.

            For decades, people would remember who was there and who had laid down life and death; they would remember the sorrow and the joy, though things of itself would pass away and seem naught to be of great consequence in the end.  Most of all, they would remember how the Christian armies moved as thunder across to Goblejara, to stand before the fight on far sides of the plain, the standards of hundreds of houses fluttering in the cold winter breeze.

The gold pennons of King Sancho rose behind, as it was persuaded that the royal guard be held in reserve; and on the left flank rose the multiple banners of Ordoñéz, Hernandez, Ferrando, and Casivilla; and on the right flank of the Castilian host were the banners of Láin di Najéra, di Cardéna, di Calahorra, and Oña.  The vanguard taking up position with Burgos was the Moors of Saragossa, led by the emir’s son, Mutamin.  There was no green and white pennon belonging to di Bivar, as Rodrigo had not sallied forth with his wards, but sat sulking in Carrión still.

Everyone was unsettled with Don Rodrigo’s sullenness; not even Ramón Hernandez and Jorge Valléz could get the knight to commit to field, and the king had said nothing.

As it was, Sancho didn’t know what to do with his chief lieutenant, but decided to deal with him later.  Even Don Francisco had come to fight though his son lay dead.  Rodrigo could be complacent and hard to wield at times, and was given to depression uncaring of the needs of those greater than he.  Sancho knew well that he could not at the moment place the Campaedor an ultimatum, though the king was angry.  There was hope that before the day was out, Rodrigo would be over his fit and would join them.

Against the Castilians, across the field, rose the banners of the Leonese.  Alfonso’s large white rose on the red and gold standard and the sigil of the crown of Leon gave rise to Sancho’s anger, as this was the sigil of the royal family.  Don Diego di Oviedo’s black and red-striped banner fluttered as a dark wraith on the wind, gold tassels that betokened his blood-relation to the royal family visible and proud.  The banners of Zamora, Astorga, Sahagún, and Braga spread themselves upon the flanks.  Multi-faceted pennons of the lesser nobility of Leon were a forest under the morning sky.

The hosts were eerily quiet as they regarded each other.  Soon a parley banner was put up, devised by Sancho; the young son of Don Carlos di Carrión was taken out with the Castilian herald and a guard of seven horsemen.  They were halfway on the field when the Leonese gave heed to the parley and came out with their own delegation.

Taking the boy from his mother had been a risky move, for many of the Castilians hadn’t agreed to the king’s use of the child, and what Sancho had devised for the boy was known only to him and the Castilian herald.  It seemed not of good advice, for with the Leonese was his uncle, Don Santiago Gijón, who had never been Castilian and had no bearing as a traitor or to be associated with Don Carlos.

“What would you have of us, Menéndez?”  Asked the Leonese herald, Don Gonzalo Florés.

“We have a message of King Sancho.  Pray to have Alfonso lay down his arms before the eldest son of Ferdinand, and surrender his position; as it is King Sancho’s right to rule the United Realm, as he is the oldest,” Don Adolfo Menéndez replied coolly.

“Denied,” said Florés.

“Alfonso has conspired to treason, and in so doing, has influenced Castilian citizenry to treason, as di Carrión.”

“Carrión came over to our side willingly of his own hand.”

“Ay, so it matters little.  We have brought you a gift to consider now.  Behold, herald, the son of Don Carlos!”

The Castilian knight who had the 10-year-old on the back of his horse turned about for the Leonese delegation to see.

“It will avail nothing to warm our hearts to bid for ransom for a young boy.”

Menéndez said, “It is not the king’s wish to ransom such.  He only wishes to warn you what we do with those who keep from him what so rightly belongs!”

At once, the knight holding the boy jerked around with a dagger and slit the bound child’s throat.  A soft, barely audible wheeze escaped as the boy fell awkwardly off the saddle and to the cold ground beneath.

Don Santiago screamed.  Suddenly, the whole Leonese delegation charged forward, just as the Castilians turned to flee.  By this time the whole heavy horse front of the Leonese army was charging into their midst, and had overcome the Castilian herald and his men before they had reached ten yards, slaying the seven men and driving now with fury toward the Castilian host.

The Castilians were outraged; an electrical charge swept them when they saw the death of their herald.  Before Sancho or Francisco could retain them, the center guard of their army surged forward, rushing as a torrent from a dam now broken; the entire host came of fire that ignited their souls.  Opposite them, and just as out-of-control of their own, King Alfonso and Don Diego thundered with their entire force on the field.  With a clash stronger than Olympus of old, the two mighty armies ripped into each other.

*

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Book II Chapter 5

 

 

 

Chapter V

Pickets on the Frontier

 

King Sancho II of Castile had dressed warmly and shrewdly; he was wearing his father’s armor and had at his side the royal blade.  He had told his men in Carrión not to make a fuss – that the king wished to arrive in business – and little pomp was necessary.  Yet ceremony followed the king wherever he went anyway.

It was an opportunity for Rodrigo Diaz to turn out his command, and he had his knights in rank and file.  The people of Carrión he had also out, and most were arrayed in the market square, at their knees: ragged and hungry, but obedient.  The king was magnanimous – he ordered bread and fruits to be distributed to them, even ordering his army to wait to be provisioned.  The Campaedor was not happy, but he did exactly what his king told him to do.

Sancho, meanwhile, surveyed his starving army from a vantage point.  They too were kneeling, as stinking and ragged and hungry as they were.  He thought they were not unlike the townsfolk and the peasants, but they were all he had to face his brother.  His Campaedor had done well, he thought, in keeping the rabble together.  The king had delayed only upon risk of slighting a bit of face from Rodrigo; it was best to humble his knights when they became too popular.  Perhaps this stroke had been lost on the oft-blunt Castilian knight; the king didn’t know.

After the grain and food had been distributed to the pitiful lot of Carrión, the stores were made open to his army.  A brief, dark look from Don Rodrigo told the king that his Campaedor still wasn’t happy, and Sancho – satisfied – knew his tactics had not been done in vain.  Satisfied that things were coming off as they should, the king drew his commanders together.

“Ruy Diaz,” Sancho said with a tight grin as his armiger knelt before him.  “I half expected to see your lot thrown at di Oviedo by the time I got here.”

“You gave me your orders, Your Majesty.”

The king was pleased to hear this, but his grin didn’t change.  “You took the city in good time.  Even Don Francisco was amazed.”

“The dikes were made available to us, my king.”

“Ah – yes.  And where is Francisco the Younger?”

The knight stood forward and knelt before his king.  He was still wincing from the whip, but his color was back and he was in better spirits.  He would be married to his girl in a week and the jubilation had not ceased in his heart.  His father, standing there next to the king, didn’t approve of his choice for a mate, but had not said a word in the matter.

“I am proud you came up with that idea.  Don Rodrigo has said naught but praise for you.”

“My king,” the young knight said, almost breaking into tears.

“You will find I reward good deeds.  I will grant you a fief of your own, ay?”

Francisco the Younger just choked; he was speechless of his good fortune.

“We will discuss this later,” Sancho said and the young knight bowed and left his presence.  “Now, Ruy Diaz, how does my army fare?”

“We need the month of Yule ere we take to field.”

“Alfonso comes hither in good speed.”

“Forgive me, Sire, but we need to rest.”

“Then what would you suggest, ay?  Tell my brother to let us be while we ‘rest’?  He comes here to take Carrión and grind my crown into the dust.”

“He will likely do that even if we march to meet him.”

King Sancho, angry, glowered at his Campaedor.  “Was it not by your counsel to take this city against my brother?  Now you wish to give it up?”

“They took their spoils away, Sire.”

“Took them away?  So!  Was that not what you’d expect?  Or perhaps Don Carlos the traitor would have kept his larder full in anticipation of you breaking his gates?”

“As it was we to take the field if you had been here, ay!  We had to weather a week of hunger.”

“Watch your words!”  Shouted Don Francisco the Elder, outraged that the Campaedor would be so insolent.  “I would remind you, Don Rodrigo, that you are not above station to be hung for such slander against your king.”

“There is no slander offered, Sire,” Rodrigo said, his lips barely breaking and his words silken smooth.  “Consider only reason!  If we had kept faith and took to the field after Carrión, we would now be marching to Sahagun!”

Don Francisco put a hand on his sword hilt, but Sancho stayed him.

“It couldn’t have been helped, Ruy Diaz.  Remember there are things beyond your command, ay?  You did exactly what I wanted you to do.”  The king smiled at Don Francisco.  “Put your arm at ease, my friend, we are not offended by Don Rodrigo’s words.”

“I will not suffer any man to speak slander before our king.”

“At ease.”  The king then returned his attention to Rodrigo before him, on the stones.  Suddenly there was a memory of seeing a much younger Rodrigo Diaz, wearing leather breeches and a course tunic, riding along the hills of the Ubierna near Burgos, his hair short and swept back, a fun-loving smile that warmed even a prince’s heart.  And this young man kneeling as he did now upon the stones, pious and obedient, and yet possessing something elusive – something that was wild and unbroken, as a stallion that would suffer a rider, but the eyes never thawed.  Rodrigo Diaz was not of this world, somehow.

I am just a fool, the king thought.  He secretly chastised himself for swooning like a maiden; his friend was just a man and a knight.  Be it that Rodrigo was clever and his face a joy to see when merry – he was blooded and a knight of the crown.  Let my sisters swoon for him – I am a king!  But what made Rodrigo endearing?  Nothing tangible – no – just that his presence seemed to make better those around him.  There wasn’t anything he actually said or did, save for these rare times the young knight snapped an impatient word or two at his betters – but wasn’t that part of it?  Did not Sancho, the King of Castile, find Rodrigo’s challenges of logic and morals amusing, even if somewhat irreverent and misplaced?

Yet there were two camps of Castilians braving the winter now in the city: those who liked Rodrigo Diaz and others who did not.

The others, the rico-homés like Don Francisco, would argue greatly of Don Rodrigo.  Yet they were too embittered and enamored of the old things and the old ways.  That was why none of them were remembered long after their blood stained the earth or they were placed within the stone.  Rodrigo Diaz, the king thought, would somehow outlive them all, one way or another.

“Stand up, Ruy Diaz,” Sancho muttered, illuminated and sullen by his thoughts.  “I’ll take it upon your counsel to rest my army, though Alfonso may besiege us here.”

The greater nobles – di Najéra, Pedro Ruiz, and Sisnando Davidéz among them – all gasped.

“Sire, you cannot hope to weather siege in Carrión!”  Don Francisco ejaculated.

“I’m sure our beloved Campaedor has a plan.”

Rodrigo stood there impassively, neither strengthening nor weakening his king’s boast.  The men around him stared, expecting something – anything – to assure themselves that the Campaedor had something brewing.  The knight just licked his lips.

“Well, then,” the king said, taking his eyes off the man.  “Full provisions out, ay?  And where is that bastard traitor?  I want to have some fun with him squirming.”  He was confused when none of the men went to summon Don Carlos di Carrión.  “Ay?  Go get him.”

“He’s dead, Sire,” Rodrigo said quietly, averting his eyes.

“Dead?  How so?  Surely the coward didn’t lose his life beyond the walls of his keep.”

“No – he…”

“He hung himself, Sire,” Don Pedro Ruiz said before the Campaedor told the king the truth.  “He was swinging by his own scaffold ere we came into the inner bailey.”

There was shocked silence for a length.  Finally Sancho grimaced.  “Ay – I was hoping for a bit of fun.  I guess it cannot be helped.  I’m tired.”  The nobles all came to a knee as the king’s wards retreated and led Sancho from the tower room.

Rodrigo gave his cousin a look and they shared a fleeting smile.

            For Carrión, life came slowly a’back.  During the brief siege, many of the city’s inhabitants had hid themselves in the countryside, fearing the inevitable; but Sancho opened his arms to them, blaming treachery only upon Don Carlos.  The Lady di Carrión was absolved and given warm quarters, and she was placed under the charge of Sancho’s wards.  Still the woman, though gracious, kept herself apart from her countrymen.  No one bothered her and she bothered no one in turn.

The occupying army yet drained most of the stores, and the people were beset with problems, though there came a steady supply of wagons and provisions from the east.  Armies were difficult to keep in the field or garrisoned for any length of time, and the king’s coffers were almost empty.  Only the clergymen of Silos knew this, and they kept their mouths tightly closed.

The predicament didn’t escape the observant, however.  Anyone who could reasonably count realized that the Castilians had best put Alfonso and his army down, or disband eventually.  Rodrigo hadn’t known what to do when his king had assumed the Campaedor had plans for the army; the king’s tardiness had cost them much.  The knight had decided long ago that when faced with doubt, silence often was a useful tool.

Then his pickets brought good news: di Oviedo and the vast Leonese army was wintering northward and promised no fight until the beginning of the New Year, at least.  There they allowed men to take leave and soon the larders of Carrión began to increase.  The war could be ended by planting season, and there was hope for a fertile spring under the united rule of their King Sancho.

Don Pedro Ruiz took ill and had to depart, leaving his nephew, Ramón Hernandéz, in command of his company.  Don Rodrigo sorely missed the old knight’s presence, though he loved Ramón well.  The appointment of Hernandéz was a sour chord for the rico-homes in camp, who now viewed the hierarchy of their king’s army given now chiefly to the infanzons.  Francisco the Younger was wed to his peasant girl and was in bliss, though his father paced the battlements in anger.  The wedding had been scaled down, for the army was at war – though Rodrigo would have loved to have given his friend great honor.  For the father, Don Francisco was in good health considering he was getting older, but he was invaluable to the king; Sancho had more than once told his nobles that to lose the grizzled and battle-hardened knight would be as to cut off his own hands.  The old knights were either getting older or dying anymore, at least those grand veterans who’d followed Ferdinand during the Glory Years.  Still, the king had rising new stars in his camp, and chief among them was Rodrigo Diaz, of course.

As for Rodrigo, the Campaedor avoided personal discussion with the king, as it was he wished to keep his mind set upon the business of war. Drinking with Sancho was often a distraction; besides, rumor had come to the knight’s ears that his old friend, Bishop Estaban Buega, had been exiled.

He was angry, and felt he could not hold his tongue.  Meanwhile, the king himself became informed that Rodrigo Diaz had hung the traitor Don Carlos, disregarding the king’s orders.  He was even more sullen because his old warhorse Don Pedro had lied on behalf of the Campaedor.  Sancho and Rodrigo paced outside of a great circle, not knowing what to do with each other.  Christmas came, and the army stood down for Mass; the Bishop of Palencia – a fighting man of God – presided.  Even then the Campaedor and the king kept themselves to superficial relations, exchanging gifts and kneeling before the Eucharist.

“Would it be that Don Rodrigo alienate our king with his arrogance,” muttered Don Alejandro di Calahorra – a rico hombre from a distinguished line.  He had come in with a fine compliment of mace- and axemen upon the heels of his rival, Garcia Ordoñéz.  Don Garcia had the best bowmen in Castile.

“Rodrigo has that in abundance,” Ordoñéz said.  “Yet I wouldn’t begrudge him this when he can fight so well.”

“They are in argument, our king and the Campaedor.”

“Ay – I believe Don Rodrigo to take offense on the slightest of King Sancho’s whims.  I wonder how they get along so well, while other men who have had such argument have suffered the king’s ire.”

Don Alejandro shrugged.  “The king keeps his own counsel enough; but I don’t suppose he is a fool.”

“The king is king, fool or no.”

“Ay – the king is king.”

Ordoñéz studied the knight a moment.  These two men were not friends, and the discussion was yet too soft for Don Garcia’s taste.  “You were once staunch against the Campaedor’s rise.  You’ve been silent for the most part since he’s taken the king’s banner to this city.”

“A man cannot go against the favorite of the king for too long, ere he himself is persecuted.”  Don Alejandro smirked.  “And what of yourself, Don Garcia?  You were in line to be alferez.  Certainly Don Rodrigo’s appointment has not been good news for you.”

“We are all the king’s men in one way or another.”

“Yet I understand your discretion.  Don Rodrigo has friends enough, even some fanatical in their way.”

“He wins battles.”

“And have you seen him out in the ranks?  He even praises footmen by God!”

Ordoñéz gave the man a sour look.  “We are in church, m’lord.  Do not blaspheme.”

“You would call me a blasphemer?  What have you done to sin here lately, Don Garcia?  For me to utter Our Lord’s name would be small sin for a man who would rape women a’fore their lords, and in a chapel yet.”  Don Alejandro was mentioning a time – several years ago – when a lusty Ordoñéz had burst into the Aragonese town of Urgel and had his way with an enemy knight’s woman while the man was bound and forced to watch.  The refugees had hidden themselves in the abbey to escape the Castilians, but Ordoñéz and his men had found them out.  The younger knight had taken the helpless man’s wife just to make a point – yet he had found it lustfully satisfying to do the deed before the image of Christ as well.  Even now Ordoñéz confessed this deed regularly, feeling guilt but still aroused by the memory.

Ordoñéz crossed himself and gave his colleague another dark look.

“I see I’ve embarrassed you, Don Garcia.  Good.”

The other confronted him.  “You’ve been frothing ever since I took from you the king’s standard and his ear.  You’ve never came forward to challenge me for these favors – ay?  What changes you now?”

“I would challenge piss-reeking infanzóns as you and the Campaedor.”

“Be it that we are in the House of God, or I would have you upon the stones for such words.”

Don Alejandro – his voice low – said, “You would fight me?  You wish to make this public?”

“I am bound by the oath not to take arms against a knight of our king.”

“Yet you would fight me – ay?  Outside?”

Ordoñéz ignored the man, turning his face to the altar and the sacrament.  The choir had begun to sing.

“Ay – I thought you a coward.  You know where I am, hildago,” Don Alejandro spat and walked away.

Don Garcia’s family was not infanzón – so this insult he felt was heinous.  The younger knight, his face as impassive as the stone visage of St. Michael, listened to the hymn as it rose in the air.

            After services, Don Rodrigo didn’t tarry in the chapel.  He took to the battlements to pace among his wards.  He had to put the army a’field soon, he knew; they were restless and expensive and hot for a fight.  The baggage had come with the king and in the wake arrived the ‘soft army’.  This was made up of almost a thousand and a half of artisans, merchants, and courtesans from every close-lying Castilian city.  Rodrigo wondered if he’d win a battle with just their sheer numbers, though they were non-combatants.  The Campaedor was relieved by their arrival, but more relieved that his hot-blooded men now could vent their sexual appetites on willing courtesans rather than threaten the innocent townsfolk.  Everything was too expensive, however, to sit here waiting for an elusive battle.  King Sancho was in threat of having his entire army disperse.

Just that day, Francisco the Younger had made up a tally of the stores.

“We have five hundred head of cattle, less than two hundred head of swine, maybe five and a half hundred chickens and fowl, four hundred or so fanegas of grain (bushels), less than that by half carobs and fruits, no medicine (they had gone through all the provisions of this), and two hundred casks of wine.”

“Salt?”

“None.”

“Five hundred heads of cattle?”

“If that – I am being optimistic.”

“Put everyone on tack – ay?”

“We have less than five count.”  A ‘count’ measured how much a hundred men could eat.

Don Rodrigo ran a hand through his scalp.  “We are all to die.”

“M’lord?”

The Campaedor sniffed and leaned over the battlements to see the shadows of the walls.  They had to get to field and either lose half their number or win thoroughly over Alfonso and disband.  “What is our number, ay?”

“Last count – four thousand three hundred.”

“We lost two fifty?”

“Desertions.”  That was good and bad; they had lost now, ever since taking Carrión, five hundred men.  Good because they had better stores; bad because King Alfonso had the greater number.  Rodrigo was surprised that he had as many soldiers as he did.

“Put them on half rations.”

“M’lord?”

“If they have their own gold, they can buy what they wish from the merchants.”

Francisco the Younger bowed and left him.

Four thousand and a half men.  If they kept to the defensive, they’d have a chance; Don Diego di Oviedo was an unrelenting foe, but the Campaedor relished fighting the older knight upon the field.  The Castilian army, no matter how Rodrigo looked at it, was in sore straights, though the Royal Guard had come.

Just then he heard the footfalls of someone coming up the steps to the wall.

“Don Rodrigo.”  It was the king.

The Campaedor turned and knelt obediently, but Sancho, his eyes on the darkness beyond the walls, impatiently beckoned for the knight to stand up.  The king hadn’t stayed to hear the choir at the chapel as was customary after midnight Mass, but they could hear the singing faintly drifting from the inner bailey.

“You’ve done a tally of my army?”

Don Rodrigo nodded.  “Ay, Your Majesty.”

“How do we stand?”

The knight told him without emotion.

The king scratched his uncovered head, mulling it over.  “Be it for us to sally from these walls and take Alfonso now.”

“Not advisable, Sire.”

“Why?”

Rodrigo told him that such a measure would put the Leonese on the defensive, and they outnumbered the Castilian army.

“We could draw up on the field then, slug it out – ay?”

“Yes, Sire.  I was thinking the same.”

“Take a scout on the field, find out if the Leonese army moves.”

Don Rodrigo shrugged.  “I’ll take the scouts, but I don’t suppose Alfonso’ll move for a couple of weeks after the New Year.”

“You’re certain of this?”  The king studied his Campaedor for a moment.  He had learned to trust the knight explicitly when it came to military matters; Rodrigo had grown from a fledgling squire to a knight of rank, and then from a standard-bearer to army commander after proving his prowess for strategy on the field.  Twice he’d saved his king at the Battle of Graus, and then numerous times when they fought against the king’s brother, Garcia.  Don Rodrigo made miracles happen, and was always the voice of cold logic when it came to fighting.

“You hung Don Carlos without my justice and against my wishes, Ruy Diaz.”

The other said nothing, having issues himself of the king’s policies.

“I cannot have you skulking in the shadows fearing my wrath, so I’ve made sentence: I’ve taken the steeds from you of Don Carlos’ stables.”  When he noticed that Rodrigo’s eyes had grown harder, Sancho said, “I find that justice enough, ay?  You have three fine warhorses and Bavieca is never from your side.”

“I have no grievance, Sire,” Rodrigo lied.  The horses had been the one thing good about the Carrión campaign, now that they were no longer his, Rodrigo felt totally at loss; he had given much of his personal traveling goods to the Burgundians.

“Nor that I think you would, Ruy Diaz.  You must always remember that the king’s justice and the king’s orders are for purpose, and you are but a servant.  Already I’ve inflamed the rico-homés with my favoritism.  They wanted you in chains, or at least to lose half a year’s wages.”

“The king’s wisdom is boundless.”

Sancho nodded in reflection, though lost to Rodrigo’s sarcasm.  “Ay, I suppose it is.  I consider this matter of the traitor Don Carlos to be finished.  Now get you about the duty.”

Rodrigo bowed and kissed the ruling ring of his king.  Then he took to the steps and was gone.

            Later the rest of Sancho’s cortesé explained to the Campaedor of the agreement to fight at Goblejara, which lay a few leagues northward of the city.  Rodrigo, feeling that his king was keeping secrets, did his best to mollify himself with personally scouting the frontier time and again as Sancho had ordered.  With him he took only Francisco the Younger.

The days passed with little change, though later, on one moonlit night, both riders quietly forded the river and made their way further through the vacant fields.  A ring of trees blocked the shine from the water, and they took the steady rise of the hill over the wide plain of Goblejara.  The sky blanketed the field with a strange half-light on the horizon, and the stars, when not obscured by the wispy tendrils of thin clouds, scattered themselves as gems on decaying black velvet.  The trees here circled about toward the rise of hills beyond, looking off-tint, as though seen through a tainted glass of old wine.

“That’s an odd light,” remarked Francisco.  “I can see yon trees and hills.”

“That,” the Campaedor said, studying the lay before him.  He could barely smell cookfire, drifting elusively on the night breeze.  His body was shaking slightly, chilled though.  “Can you smell it?  The cookfires?”

Francisco the Younger sniffed.  “Ay.”

“Skirmishers?”

“Probably.”

“Keep your wits about, they’ll bear on us.”  Rodrigo wheeled his horse about, studying the line of trees leading toward the river.  He could make out a dark mass upon the plain, punctuated by pinpoints of flickering light.  “There – look – Alfonso’s met up with di Oviedo.  They would give us ruse, for they show only a small part of their army on the field.  They would keep us in thought that Alfonso would hold a’back until warmer weather, but he’s marshaling to come at us directly.”

Francisco the Younger squinted.  All he could see was a thin wisp of gray-black sky upon the horizon where the moon was sinking.  “M’lord, is that you see only the main army camped a’field?  Alfonso has always been a man of his word.  Surely he wouldn’t think of besieging Carrión in cold weather.”

Rodrigo hesitated before answering, intent as he was for proof of his suspicion.  “No – I would agree that Alfonso would wait until good weather, but di Oviedo is of the old school, as my father was.  That grandfather would bring his men to bear on the city silently and quickly – catching us in our sleep – as we unprepared.  Here, I’ll show you: we’ll ride directly yon, to where the thicket ends, and upon the rise we’ll see the Leonese mustering for a fight.”

They thundered away, knowing well that they’d be spotted by the skirmishers.  Rodrigo was confident that they’d make the rise and take a good look at what he feared the most, and then be gone before di Oviedo could put at them lighthorsemen.

As soon as they cleared the ticket, there was a whoop from the trees eastward, toward the river.  Both knights ignored it, for they knew it would take the skirmishers good time to get at them.  The two riders soon heard the strange hiss of arrows in the air – but the shafts fell far away from them.

Rodrigo came up the rise triumphantly.  “See there?”  He asked of his nervous companion.  “There lies the cookfires of di Oviedo’s men, and they prepared now for a march!  We would not expect them so soon – as they believing we patient for Goblejara!”

Arrows whizzed and stuck in the cold ground just yards away.  Down in the Leonese camp, the watch caught sight of them and soon the whole front was in alarm.

“Di Oviedo!”  Exclaimed Francisco.  “I wonder if it was his counsel to persuade Alfonso!”

Rodrigo reined Bavieca about.  “Hasten away now!  There are riders coming from the west – and most likely Moorish horse-archers.  They’ll catch us if we can’t get the field.”

They charged down the rise and thundered on the plain toward the shadows of the river trees and the stretch of the far hills.  Luckily they were in their riding leather, and not burdened by mail, though as the skirmishers who sat in the copse thicket close by began firing their darts, a moment of anxiety gripped both riders as they ran.  Suddenly, as Rodrigo feared, a tight group of lighthorsemen broke from the trees in front, moving to cut them off.

“Ho there!”  Shouted Francisco, slowing.  He was drawing his steel as best as he could at gallop.

“Ride on!”  Commanded Rodrigo, spurring Bavieca even faster toward the riders.  His steed, knowing well the march of battle, hardened her run and came full on without fear.

There were five horsemen, girt only in ring, and as they brought about their light spears, the Campaedor lunged his mount full into their midst – dispersing the first two to confront him.  Francisco, just behind, collided with a confused rider, knocking man and horse sideways while their horses screamed in pain.  With Bavieca rearing on another’s flanks, Rodrigo grabbed hold of the rider’s spear and pulled it away before the man got a good grip, casting it to the ground.  A moment later and Rodrigo was galloping fast away, showing them the hooves of his mare; yet Francisco, burdened by three riders, got caught in a tangle.

Campaedor!”  He screamed, just as one of his opponents swept a blade around, biting his shieldarm.  The Castilian reared to push the rider away, his steed’s steel-girt hooves bit down on the other’s unprotected flanks.

There was little time, as Rodrigo wheeled about and headed for his friend.  Two of the lighthorsemen were ready to meet him with their spears, so the Campaedor shied off them, riding toward their left and catching sight of a line of heavy Leonese cavalry hard-charging up from behind.

A moment later, the Campaedor had the Sword of Pamplona free.  Without a shield he was in sore position to take on their spears, but Rodrigo only wanted to disperse them for Francisco to get free.  As Rodrigo came up the slight rise and thundered toward the melee, the moonlight caught his naked blade and flashed a strange light across the two riders trying to head him off.

Francisco, his arm bleeding and hard-pressed to parry the three riders on him, spurred toward the rear, hoping to circle around, but his opponents stayed with him.  One of them, shouting, anticipated the Castilian’s parry and slammed his sword into the unprotected back that was offered.  Francisco fell forward, grunting with pain, just as Rodrigo charged into them.

A thunderous clash of steel shattered the air as the Campaedor furiously slashed his blade around.  He shouted and taunted the riders, knowing that their heavy cavalry would soon overwhelm him.

“Ride!”  He shrieked at Francisco, who, grimacing in pain, spurred his steed and shot wildly away.  Rodrigo, breaking free of their blows, swiped his sword around and caught one of the lighthorsemen in the face – a spray of blood erupting from the shocked and doomed rider as he fell back.

A moment later, Rodrigo was riding hard toward the south, catching up with Francisco as the entire heavy Leonese cavalry bore down.  Seeing that Francisco was loose in the saddle, Rodrigo grasped the man’s reins and spurred Bavieca’s flanks hard, but his mare was tiring and had not much strength in her.

“Go on!”  Shouted Francisco the Younger, snatching his reins from Rodrigo.  He turned his steed about and brandished his sword.

“Francisco!”

Shouting the name of his house, the Castilian knight charged back toward the Leonese, galloping at full speed and with what strength he had left.  In less than a second he was in their midst, slashing about as multiple blows of mace and sword rained on his unprotected body.  Rodrigo, wheeling his steed about in confusion to render aid again or to flee, watched as they cut his friend to pieces.

Toledoan horse-archers let loose a score of shafts from the protection of the trees, finally bringing the Campaedor to his senses as he turned about and shot for the riverbanks.

The image of seeing Francisco taking on the front of the heavy cavalry drove Rodrigo hard as he forced Bavieca to run; her mouth was foam and her gait now becoming wild as they approached the muddy banks with the sound of the Leonese cavalry close behind.

He had led them both into a situation – a sudden realization that the Leonese pickets had seen them early on and had allowed them to enter the plain, ringing about a trap to cut them off.  The ruse had succeeded in killing Francisco, and – as Rodrigo pressed his mare on – may kill the Campaedor as well.

Rodrigo could still see in his mind the blood of his friend as it had flicked up in the air as Francisco the Younger was hacked and smashed to death, he could hear the last scream of pain of both horse and rider.  As he road into the Carrión frontier, through the flat riverlands, his pursuers began to slow and beg off; there were Castilian wards on the hills and the Leonese thought better of trying to gain their quarry.  With a last rain of arrows from the Moors, Rodrigo’s enemies stopped and watched in frustration as the Campaedor came back to his own.

*

 

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Book II Chapter 4

Chapter IV

The Lady in Gray Robes

 

As Rodrigo anticipated the arrival of his king, the cold rain that had assailed Carrión came north to Zamora.  From the open windows of her bedchamber, Doña Urraca watched the storm, wringing her hands.  She was fresh from vespers, and now being her only counsel against her brother Sancho, sought refuge from the complexities of the things she planned.

Her Highness was rarely alone, and there were three of her handmaids in the room with her, watching her worry.  Juanita, one of the Ladies-In-Waiting, sent the youngest to bring up some wine for their mistress’ pleasure.

“You should eat, Your Highness,” offered the woman.

“I eat too much, ‘Nita.”

“You will become sick!”

Urraca ignored her.  The cold rain did not comfort her, though she enjoyed the smell of it.  It rained too rarely; it was great joy for most to receive its blessing in the lands of the deserts.  It rained often in Catalonia, but that was far away from her and Alfonso’s dominions – beyond Sancho and Castile.  Urraca awaited news from Alfonso and di Oviedo, but she knew they had not set upon the field yet to fight Rodrigo Diaz.  She had put seven hundred men from her own lands with Alfonso’s banner, led by the seasoned and ever-ready Don Pedro Ansuréz; but her mind wasn’t with them.

“Oh father!  In an evil hour did you divide your kingdom, and by this now destruction for it, I fear.  I can feel the press of the war drum, though the army is now far away!  Oh!  Speed Alfonso and protect his ambition, though the avarice of Sancho draws nigh.”

Her prayer startled her handmaids.  “Your Highness!”  Shrieked ‘Nita who immediately rushed to her feet.

Urraca absently stroked the top of the woman’s head, her eyes not leaving the flash of lightning and the rain.

She thought about her father’s last days, how the old and feeble man – once great and powerful as the best of his knights – had taken to singing in the choirs of the abbots.  The king had then given himself to the monks and the archbishop as a lay brother, serving them all at the table as though he had been of the lowliest order of priests.  Upon one of his visits to the church of St. Maria at Leon, King Ferdinand had noticed how all the monks were barefoot; he set aside then an annual sum to be paid to provide them with shoes.

The king often visited Sahagun – a place he greatly loved – and here he would tend to the devotions of the clergy.  He would dine upon what meager fare they had, and counted himself blessed.  Everyone knew the old king had turned his back mostly to the affairs of state, allowing his sons and daughters to make decisions as so long as they kept the peace between them.  Then the Moors revolted on the frontier, shattering the old king’s tranquility.  He had decided, at first, to do nothing: his sons and nobles could only heed an act of arms if he himself gave the call – but he did not.  Sancho hovered and buzzed in frustration, hotheaded as usual, almost to the point of breaking faith with his own father just to wet his sword.  Yet all the entreaties of court did little to persuade the aging monarch to make a decision, and it was only the persistent pleading of his wife, the queen, that eventually made him stir.

Queen Sancha herself outfitted the army from her own private treasury, persuading her husband to take to the field one last time so that nothing would mar his great reign and his successes; that his whole rule could be summed with this last campaign.  Ferdinand heeded and donned his armor of old.  His knights set fire and sword to the hinterlands, driving as far as Valencia, gutting and plundering.  If he had been possessed of his youthful spirit, he would have conquered all of Andalusia, yet he fell ill and retired from the field.

The point had been made to the Moors and they didn’t stir again.  Tribute was renewed and doubled, and shamed emirs begged the Christian king to pardon them, and set about to kill every insurgent that had offended Ferdinand.  Bonfires were made and consumed screaming victims, and many heads rolled in the dirt.

King Ferdinand came to Leon on Christmas Eve, rested, and upon the morrow he once again took up the robes of the choir and sang in the Church of San Isidoro, even as his health began to darken more.  He sang the Matins of the Nativity with as much strength as he had left.  There he tarried until once more he donned the robes of court and the Triple Crown.  He then paid homage to all the relics he had gathered from the lands of his empire, and then made last communion.  He placed the Triple Crown upon the altar and humbly confessed his sins before God; he wept and decried his sins, and upon the following day, died.

The Triple Crown had sat coldly upon the altar, and everyone braced themselves for the darkness that was sure to come.

But now those days seemed very long ago.  Doña Urraca decided that whether Alfonso would find victory or not, she had to take steps to insure the safety of her own city.  At once, she – spiritually – felt what she hoped was the love of her father, and with their invisible comfort of spirit, the princess fell to the floor in a swoon.

When she came to, Urraca discovered the frightened faces of her handmaids and their urgent pats on her face.

“Off me,” the Lady of Zamora said, and the women parted aside to give her air.  “I am all right.”  Yet, the giddiness in her head told her she was not.

“Your Highness!  Your Highness!”  ‘Nita was blubbering uncontrollably.

“I am all right.  At peace, beloved.”

“But we were so worried!  We thought you struck your head.”

“No…” The Infanta touched the back of her head to feel for a bump.  No, there was nothing.  “Now away, but bring me yonder that wine, ay?”

It was a bitter northern wine, but it soothed her.  The Infanta drank liberally, though her training warned her not to go too far.  After all, it was nearly time to minister her complines, and she should not approach the Host under the influence of spirits.  Yet the drink offered succor were mere prayer could not.

The handmaids retreated from her, knowing well her moods, and of course, the danger of her displeasure.  In turn, Doña Urraca watched her handmaids mill about her chamber on errands void of duties of state, and she envied them.  There were things of complexity and urgency needing to be done, but she didn’t know where to turn.

In the Lady’s cortesé, she had the services of Don Fain Jimenéz of Coimbra, and Don Goméz Derro of Leon; and these men were hail and fit of mind and arm.  They benefited as her main counselors, though she felt they were more frustrated she was a woman, and could not understand the perils of Zamora or her brother, King Alfonso.  She felt she knew far more than they were willing to admit, but whether for princess or handmaid, men were hard to tether.  Her Highness considered – not for the first time – that her orders often went wrong and changed after given to them, and her best advice dashed for the ego of men, whether subject to her or not.

When the Infanta had taken enough of her fears, she dressed in her poorest wool gray robes.  Her handmaids tended to her long blonde hair – pulling back her tresses so that the bun was large and tight and leaving a good length behind.  She wore a thin silver circlet that fashioned her forehead, which was by design more for beauty than for her station; her family ring betokened more respect.  Her maids were careful to her cosmetics, and they gave her a goodly amount of perfume.  They applied sky-blue to her eyelids, and powdered her face so that her skin turned white.  She yet appeared, in her gray, as none other than a nun.

There were a thousand things she had to do, and not least among these she had to present herself in power and regally before her men.  That was because her nobles – though loyal – were quick to jump upon signs of weakness and indecision; if Urraca let her guard down and reminded them she was a woman, they would think her inconsequential and may break faith with her.  A male king they would follow, even if at first he’d shown signs of weakness, but a princess…

Princess?  A queen!

They say a man has more to challenge him?  Urraca decided that women by far had more and were at once honed to be better and greater warriors.  Everything she did was a weapon, every smile, glance, gesture, word – everything.  She had to remember her training – that blessed and painful lesson of self-discipline taught by unforgiving masters and mistresses with rod and whip.

Look straight before you, with your eyelids low and fixed, gazing forward at the ground six feet ahead, not moving your head, not shifting your eyes, not laughing, not smiling – of course if it was reasonable to do so, and then only vaguely – nor talking.  Do not run or walk hurriedly, even if you feel your hair on fire; salute those who salute you graciously; keep your body adorned and untainted of desire of the Devil; refuse presents not from your trusted kinsmen or courtiers; be of good color and hygiene…

When Doña Urraca came to the floor of the Red Hall, her counselors were waiting for her.  They numbered fifteen, and they – like her – were prepared for confrontation; the Lady of Zamora, albeit a woman before them, was not about to let things pass her by when she had things to say and to set about.  Immediately there fell a deep countenance to her, her eyes became as hard as diamonds, and her teeth, when revealed, were as pearls.  She was not foolish, nor too enamored of her station to be out of reach.

Remember thyself.

Her counselors quickly set upon her.

“Your Highness, our defenses are in deplorable shape.  We have no strength on the walls and even now it is said that your brother would come,” began Don Fain, his older and fatherly face somewhat a comfort and an intimidation at the same time.  “We must consider options of joining with the Emir of Toledo and with your sister of Toro.”

“Your Highness!”  Pressed in Don Goméz.  “We have nothing!  We cannot bargain with Toledo when our coffers are empty.”

“You’ve sent the core of our men to Goblejara with King Alfonso,” Don Hernando said, “how can we defend ourselves when our army is far away?”

Doña Urraca held a hand up to rein control.  “M’lords,” she said in her deep, nasal voice, which was cold but reassuring in its way, “my brother and di Oviedo are still in the field, and how can Sancho orchestrate an assault against us this moment?”

Don Fain bowed.  “Consider this: as we speak we have threat of assault.  There are those who would use this moment of weakness, as those who served your brother Garcia of Galicia would yet put a force against us.  Have we forgotten Santiago?  He was not thrown down when Sancho took Galicia, and neither was he brought to answer for his loyalty to King Alfonso.  There is threat of Seville!  I am in fear that the Moors would march quickly to gain our city.”

“Ay!”  Shouted Don Hernando, his bald head reflective of the light in the chamber.  “We cannot forget too easily how Garcia came from Galicia and took your lands from you, my Infanta!  If not for the war with Sancho, he would yet have these, and would not be in chains in Burgos now.”

Doña Urraca took a breath.  She was feeling ill, and the course of the argument not much to her liking.  “It is true, for it is folly to me that I forget how my brother dispossessed me of my own lands those scant years ago, dispossessed me and broken the oath that all of us swore before our dying father in the basilica of St. Isadore; even now I can remember hearing my youngest brother’s voice at the Matins of the Nativity, promising the oath.  Now to think of Sancho who had taken the same oath by compulsion, and had protested so much of the division!  By God that Sancho will not disinherit me, and may likely he be disinherited speedily in manner.”

“If King Alfonso can take him on the field,” reminded Don Goméz soberly, and the other fourteen counselors suddenly flew into wild argument.  “That was the motive of Sancho to make war upon Galicia and take Garcia by force; Sancho charged that Garcia was the first to break the oath of your father.”  There was so much noise, the Infanta had to shout to be heard and to silence them.

“Listen!  Listen my good lords,” she fought until they were still.  “We can still do much, and of this time to make a watchful peace and to see if not my beloved brother, Alfonso, may still be victorious on the field.”

“Sancho still has many a good knight,” Don Fain said, “and not less among them the Campaedor, Don Rodrigo.”

“I worry little of Rodrigo Diaz, as of our friendship and childhood together.  It is he that I place a new counsel; for though his heart is strong and loyal to Sancho, he will not forget his time in Leon as a squire and his time with both Alfonso and myself.  Place a written letter to him, and bid him to come as soon as he may to Zamora, and meet with us, and see if we can change his hard soul to turn Sancho’s anger.”  Doña Urraca looked at their faces, hoping that her idea was sound, and fearing that it wasn’t.  Each man, in turn, looked back into her eyes, and bowed.

“There is other threat, besides you brother Sancho,” said Don Fain.  “You have not considered the pressure of Badajoz!  Even now the emir sends message concerning your monasteries!  He will take everything from you.”

Doña Urraca massaged her temples.  “Then what should I do?  Call back our seven hundred and Don Pedro?  What would Alfonso say?  Would it be a sour chord and to face his wrath after Sancho.”  She regarded all of them.  “I have this in mind, Don Fain.  Yet I cannot deal with two fronts!  One threat at a time, ay!”

Mi Infanta!  You can’t turn a blind eye – ”

“I have to for now, Don Fain!  Would it be you to lead a sortie of fifty knights into Badajoz to right this?”

The provincial shrugged.  “I could hold a force stronger yet in Coimbra.  I know the Moors well.”

“You would be cut down.”

“But Your Highness’ monasteries!”

“The Moors care little to destroy them, but I am in good advice that they will not.  The emir may hold them for ransom and bargain later, so if they take them now, then they take them.”

The men all shouted in outrage.  Some openly demanded that their Lady was nonchalantly allowing heathens to sack houses of God.  The Moors would certainly move northward to take all Galicia while the two Christian kings – Alfonso and Sancho – were busy fighting each other in the east.

It was always the same, Urraca thought.  You cannot argue with men even with good logic.  The Infanta noted that none volunteered solutions to the dilemma.

Unlike her brothers, Doña Urraca did not benefit from tribute from the Moor taifa states; she had to rely heavily on the taxation of her people to make her coffers full.  Besides, the Lady of Zamora had no imperial army to make demands upon her neighbors; her forces she held were best as defense if at all.

She took to her cold garden after dealing with her nervous counselors, resolved to allow the course go as it may.  There was often a feeling that things would, as these she placed to thought or deed went astray of plan; it proved more a battle to deal with her advisors than foreigners.  The winter did not bother her, she felt more at one with the frost than the burning wind, and the chill of what besieged her became merely a tool to make her large, sharp eyes focus.

As she prepared to absorb herself in music, Doña Urraca found herself thinking about her father again before his death.  Ferdinand had been so confident in all things he had ever done, and he had even seemed to consent to death as though it was another campaign.  How convenient it would be to have inherited more his character than just part of his domains, she thought.

She took to soothe her nerves by playing the pipe, a gift of her mother who loved Moorish tunes well, and she complimented her pleasure by sitting alone in the gardens of the Citadel.  The Infanta remembered then a poem from a Moorish contemporary – one ibn Abi’l-Khagyal – of whose works she had read in Toledo during her youthful studies.

 

Yonder see

Dancing mirthfully

The fire, sleeves shaking

In merry-making.

 

She laughs with glee,

As her ebony

King of Alchemy

Transmutes (behold!)

Her essence into gold.

 

Doña Urraca paused in her playing, an amused smile spreading her lips, and she giggled.  Taking the pipe, she studied it in her hands at her lap in contemplation, her smile fading slightly.

“No,” she whispered to herself, now looking up, “that is not such an appropriate poem for what is happening.  More as something…” Her eyes shifted as she delved deeper into parts of her girlhood, places haunted by the shadows of dusty libraries where Moorish books and letters stretched away upon dark shelves.

 

A coat of mail, that sprays for me

The glancing shafts, as if they be

Reproaches scattered from the ear

Of lovelorn swain, too sick to hear.

 

And when I cast it down outspread

Upon the field, I would have said

Its links flow rippling o’er the net

Like rivulet to rivulet.

 

But when I clothe myself therein,

All emulating eyes to win

For my resolve and ardor high

No water-armored knight am I!

 

The Infanta was satisfied with that, and the Moorish poem made her eyes distant; she thought whether it was still in her best interests to summon Rodrigo Diaz, and even if he did come, what would it take to make him see her desperation?

They had never been strangers to each other, even before Rodrigo had come to Leon and studied under Sancho after Don Diego’s death.  Both Doña Urraca and the noble son had played in the gardens together when they were learning their letters and numbers; in fact, Rodrigo had been friends with the Infanta before her brothers.  That was one reason she had offered her colors to him during the fight with Garcés years ago – she still had great affection for him.  They had played in the gardens as children, had enjoyed first kisses considering their ages were close.  Yet love would not tarry, and now they were on opposite ends of life.

As a woman, she felt that Rodrigo couldn’t forget their times together in Leon, and that he would surely see her plight; Sancho was fiery and dark and greedy, his ambition was against the oath of their father and therefore dishonorable.  Both Infantas – Urraca and Elvira – had been loyal to the oath, even though it would have been difficult, as women, to break it.  Armies seldom followed a female lead, and their best commanders would have changed loyalties to crowned males in the course of time.  Even now, Doña Urraca understood that she could only press her knights of Zamora so much, and certainly could not entertain their loyalty forever.

Therefore, new plans needed to be laid and careful preparation done to carry them to fruition.  Doña Urraca was not foolish and she was quite capable of seeing much of what she planned come about.  Perhaps, due to her limitations, the game of rulership was more challenging, and keeping in power more of an art form than it was for her male contemporaries; though, for the wise and strong Doña Urraca – now 29 years old – she had become the most politically sagacious woman in Andalusia.

Thinking she was wise and capable and dangerous – and now her city was in peril – Doña Urraca would make certain she would not suffer dispossession or disinheritance.

When she placed her pipe on the stone bench, the sun had just begun to die, seeping through the dark clouds that still tarried above her city on its journey to the horizon.  Music and poetry had softened her heart and she did not feel as worried as before.  For once, her mind was as clear as the cold wind.

Doña Urraca stood, her eyes straight ahead at the burnish of the garden wall, focused on deep thought.  For a long minute she just stood there, staring.  Her large and sharp eyes were cold in reflection, untainted of the color they bore; her face became a mask carven of marble.  The Lady of Zamora, taking a breath, turned to leave the garden.

A man stood there at the alcove, dressed in black felt and buffed leather, black wrap on his head.  The Seville ambassador bowed to her with the fingers of his right hand at his breast.

“Your Highness,” he greeted in his Moorish accent.

It was obvious he had slipped in unannounced to be with her alone, but the Infanta wasn’t afraid.  She said, “What is it, ibn ‘Ammar?  Have you considered more a play of chess, or is there something pressing to disturb me at my leisure?”

“I would not think, Your Highness, to disturb you if there was something not pressing,” the ambassador assured her.  He was always polite, if not overbearing.  “I heard you whispering works of the masters.  I have always admired your love of the arts.”

Doña Urraca smiled.  “I feel that I forget some of the lines when distracted.”

“You do great justice to speak them and I was moved.”  One of the pleasures the ambassador brought to Leon was his ability at verse himself.  He was a powerful man, second only in Seville by its emir.  “Yet consider my own prowess, for:

 

I am ibn-‘Ammar: my repute

Is not obscure to any one

Except the fool, who would dispute

The splendor of the moon and sun.”

 

The Lady of Zamora increased the broadness of her smile.  “Oh, my good ambassador, you never outdo yourself with boasting.”

“I speak only truths, Your Highness.”

“Then the emir is well-served.”

“Indeed he is, and,” ibn-‘Ammar said with a more colder tone, “it is why I have come to seek you out.”

Doña Urraca sighed.  “You wish to complain that you were not allowed to meet with me and my advisors earlier when we considered Seville and our alliance.”

“Of course, but that is something you have in your heart and as such I will not press you with it.  You seem at home here in the breath of winter, and Your Highness lovely underneath the bareness of her garden trees.”  The ambassador looked up at the sky as if contemplating another elusive poem, then let his piercing – and somewhat frightening – gaze fall back to her.  “I am concerned with the position of our alliance once good King Alfonso defeats his brother.”

“The emir is not happy with Alfonso?”

Ibn-‘Ammar cleared his throat.  “The emir loves and respects your brother greatly.  Still, the concern over his ambitions.”

The Lady of Zamora was perplexed.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about, ambassador.”

“Let us say that King Alfonso keep our friendship as it is rather than how his brother – King Sancho – has shown to Saragossa.  We wish only to assure ourselves that the good Christian King of the north will keep his word in friendship with us.”

“Alfonso has always been a man of his word and he will not change it.”

“Yet, wouldn’t you say, that it was your father who had pressed the northern taifas into paying protection?  A wise and just move, the Great Protector of the North.  Even now my emir speaks highly of him.”  A blatant lie; extortion was extortion – the Moors hadn’t been strong enough to field an army to change the matter.

“I don’t understand what it is you are saying, ambassador.”

Ibn-‘Ammar bowed humbly again.  “Of course, you being a poet and a lover of the arts!  These things would not be foremost in your mind.  Yet, let us say we are concerned with policies of what King Alfonso will have concerning his humble friends of the south, eh?  After his fight with King Sancho?”

“Nothing has changed, m’lord,” Urraca told him, perplexed.  She couldn’t tell if the ambassador was being blunt about the paria that Sancho yet extracted from his Moorish ‘allies’ or if there was something darker and hidden behind the Moor’s words.

The ambassador smiled, humbling himself further by bowing with his fingers at his breast again.  “That is all we need to be assured of, Your Highness.”  Then, after returning his gaze, added, “I am aware that you are a great advisor to him.  Your friendship to us has always been respected and revered.”

“Would it be wise to alienate the world over slight remarks?  I am always considering the south and our friendship.”

“As wise as a Lady should, Your Highness.”

She smirked.  “Yet to be beset with such troubles.  How strange for Zamora to be such a consideration while my brother is upon his throne.”

“You are his ear, Your Highness.”

“Would you think me softer to listen then?”

“King Alfonso has his own counsel, and sometimes our words never come before him.”

“Would you say your master to be the friend of Badajoz?”

Ibn-‘Ammar shrugged modestly.  “That is intrigue: friends the moment and enemies the next.  You are worried over your monasteries?”

“Shouldn’t I be, ambassador?”

The Moor gave her a wry grin.  “When one has so many things, one should worry, Your Highness.”

            Sometime after midnight, the wind began to blow hard out of the south, bringing with it more freezing rain that seeped through the shudders of her bedchamber.  Doña Urraca lay awake, listening to the wind as it drove and eddied about the Citadel, moaning as if a spirit damned.

In the fragile complexities of politics, every word and phrase must be considered in context, and the Infanta was concerned over her informal discussion with ibn-‘Ammar.  The Moors never spoke outright of their desires, nor were they usual in direct threats, and it often took a long time to evaluate what was being said.

It suddenly dawned on her that the ambassador was threatening her.  It was upon the wings of the message from the emir of Badajoz, and Urraca wondered if the Moors were considering invasion.

Ibn-‘Ammar was the master of subtleness and weighed his syllables as a poet, and therefore sometimes could be colorful and obscure – that is, until he took grievance and leveled a blade for an infraction.

The Moors did not like Sancho – he was too fiery and ambitious as a king.  If he defeated Alfonso, than the Moors would feel threatened and take arms to secure their domains, even if it meant coming to Zamora.  Zamora was a strategic gateway and her importance paramount in control, especially as such a gateway into Leon and the Christian North.  The Moors didn’t like Alfonso either, but considered him softer and more diplomatic, and therefore would be more amiable to hold a truce.

It occurred that it may prove to be more important for the Infanta to secure Zamora not only by assuring that Alfonso remained king of Leon: she must insure that Sancho would not be able to take up arms again.

She thought that calling upon Rodrigo Diaz to meet with her was just one level and would not be enough on its own.

As she listened to the rain and the wind from the warmth of her bed, Doña Urraca didn’t have a clue what she needed to do.  Though, as her feelings moved on the subject, inspiration – unvoiced in thought – dictated what she must consider.

*

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Book II Chapter 3

 

Chapter III

Famine in Carrión

 

Dawn came earlier than expected.  Rodrigo rallied his men and began to take stock of what remained.  His first concern was the late di Carrión’s steeds, and the animals were placed under his guard.  Rodrigo didn’t know if there were any gilded studs in Don Carlos’ stables, but it was best to isolate Bavieca; he kept her away from them considering she was in season and the Campaedor needed her virgin.  Besides, the mare was hard to ride when she was this way, and suffered distemper.

There was little else left to pillage, for most valuables had been taken out of the city’s treasuries and safeguarded in Leon prior to the siege.  The garrison supplies had been used up and any morsel left swept up with those who had fled before the Castilians broke the gate.  Francisco the Younger, his father yet in Burgos with the king, was put in charge or repairing the dike in which Rodrigo had so enthusiastically destroyed.  Not knowing what needed to be done now that Carrión had been won, the Castilians went about in hard labor to repair the fortress in case their enemy swept down at them from the north.

There were few townsfolk in Carrión, and the Campaedor had ordered their strict protection, as he was not one who enjoyed ravaging the citizenry for no just purpose other than fun.  The townmaster, Herberto Cardeñas, had been the only one to suffer the sword when he chose not to reveal where the empty vaults of the treasury lay.  His death had been for nothing.  The Lady di Carrión, Carmalita, had graciously taken up the needs of her people.  She was a tough one, thought Rodrigo, but she kept her place.  No one molested her, and not by Rodrigo’s protection – Doña Carmalita was able to protect herself.

When she came into the Campaedor’s presence for the first time, the Lady di Carrión did not bow or succumb to humility.  She was an older woman, past her prime, but had enough dignity to make the battle-harden knights soft.

There were no pleasant words from her.  “Now that you’ve burned and looted and taken what you wish from my home,” Doña Carmalita said, “why do you tarry?  Surely the poor women of Carrión have little more to give you.”

“I’ve no need to answer to the wife of a traitor,” Rodrigo said just as icily.  He studied her a moment, thinking how hard she must be as a mother.  Her face was chiseled and drawn with deep lines, her hair swept back in ties, and her eyes more piercing than the lances of his riders.  “You are all subject to His Majesty, King Sancho of Castile and thus subject to his army.”

“What more do you want from us?”  She demanded, but her voice was quivering in grief.  Her arms were out in supplication.

“The roof of your home.”

“You have everything!  How will my people eat?”

“They will eat what we eat.”

Actually there was nothing to eat, and Rodrigo was forced to have half of his men foraging the countryside.  He had sent two dispatches in haste to Sancho, requesting the Castilian king to send more men and supplies.  The reply from the king was to wait and the bulk of the Castilian forces would arrive to Carrión in a week.

“A week,” Rodrigo had muttered, the parchment in his hands as if made of something distasteful.  He had refurnished the dead Don Carlos’ chambers with items taken from some of the nicer homes – donated, as they were, by concerned citizenry he had proposed to protect from his marauding men.  “A week!  What would he have us eat?  The barks off the trees on the slope?”

“You are a man of hard heart. God save you, Don Rodrigo di Bivar,” Doña Carmalita said.  The Campaedor dismissed her, though he would have argued.  The words hurt him, somehow, and he didn’t know why – he had done worse to villages and towns he’d placed under the belt of his army.  He knew the king would have better comfort for the woman, and Rodrigo considered the cruelty Sancho could devise.  Would he kill the Lady di Carrión?

There were five of his officers there in the tower keep, two of which who believed themselves set apart of his leadership – Don Pedro and Sir Jean Bourdain of Burgundy.  And then those men who were directly under Rodrigo’s command – Francisco the Younger, Jorge Valléz, and Sisnando Davídez.  All the men were restless, and all were hungry.

“The citizens have requested an audience with you,” Francisco said.

The Campaedor, sitting in a large felt chair, held up a hand.  “I know – they are hungry too.  Do they not think I know they have mouths?  And that they have children who have mouths?  Do they not think that my mind also rests upon my command – how many of these, three thousand?  Lucky are the steeds and goats that can roam at will on the grounds, dining on weeds.  I’d be content to chew on a weed if my stomach was kind.”

“There are other concerns, m’lord Rodrigo,” put in Burgundy.  He was raw and undisciplined, a harsh young man given to fire and sword and the wild nature of his spirit.  Rodrigo watched him constantly.

“These?  Are you going to tell me that Alfonso’s army is on the march?”

“That, and the fact my men are ready to take a’field themselves.  They expected gold and compensation, and there are scarce these in Carrión.”

“The campaign is not over.  I will give them more than their due, Burgundy, once our need is justified.  Right now I have a war to finish.”

“That is not our concern, m’lord.  We were on faith that there was payment here in Carrión, and with this, we would gladly put our swords into the breach again and again.  Since we’ve left Llatanda we have seen little in gratitude, save for blood and death and fire.  And these demands you make on us, that we are unable to persuade some of these women to soothe our embattled and weary spirits in company – this is a bitter plate to dine on.”

“These people are Castilians and children of God, Burgundy – subjects of my king.  Would you take more hospitality due?  You were paid five hundred pieces of gold, gold of Saragossa’s tribute if I remember well, and these have been enjoyed as compensation for now.”

“I have five hundred men who want more than that, and, consider, m’lord, that half of my men are gone!  They paid bitterly for gold they no longer can use.  And now there is no supply.  We should starve as well by your whim?”

Rodrigo held up his hand again.  “I know of your needs,” the Campaedor whispered softly, “and you are aware of our situation.  Even now I will gladly give to you one hundred pieces of gold from my own pocket, though this will leave me no doubt to beg on the streets in Burgos while you and your men are living comfortably far away north.  Here – Francisco – bring Burgundy to my baggage and give him all that he wants.”

“M’lord!”  Francisco protested, shocked.

“Do it,” Rodrigo ordered.  “Do not let them have my horses, though!  I will gladly make even more ration by lobbing off a head of any whom touches my horses!”

Bourdain studied the Campaedor with a grin.  “Now that is justice, m’lord Rodrigo.”

“Pray that your men prove worthy of a greater haul to come.”

Bourdain nodded and left the room with Francisco.

“Would that be wise, Don Rodrigo?”  Don Pedro Ruiz asked.  “Now you don’t even have hard tack to dine on.  What will you eat?  Dirt?”

Rodrigo shrugged, looking away.  “I need the Burgundians for the field.  I’ll take contentment from your stores, cousin.”

“You think I have enough in my baggage to compliment both your men and mine?”

“It will have to suffice, Don Pedro.”

The old knight stormed from the room, leaving a wake of hostility.

Jorge Valléz shut the door behind the man.  “Do you think he will be hospitable, m’lord?”

“He’s old,” Rodrigo said.  “He knows the lay, and by this he will be hospitable.  Don Pedro goes years back in the service of dead Ferdinand, and hunger on the march is nothing new to him.  He will tighten his belt and aid his fellows.”

“Be that as it may, the other lordships are sparring highly to your assumption of command,” Don Sisnando observed.  “Burgundy will be only mollified by a day or two with what meager choices are in the baggage.”

Rodrigo laughed.  “He’s going nowhere!  For one thing, he has not enough stores to get his men across the Pyrenees!  Secondly, after helping himself of the Moors’ baggage, his men have found great compensation.  I do not bring all my possessions to the field with me, Don Sisnando!  The Burgundians will take what little is there thinking over me a great victory, when all I am doing is promising better things to come.”  Mercenaries were important in an army; there were little conscripts to go, considering that many serfs had to till the fields and keep the economy as high as it could go.  It wouldn’t do for the king to lose his subjects on the field anyway; besides, armies were too expensive to keep in the field for long, especially when made up of local levies.  Mercenaries were better and cheaper in the long run.

“But your loss – ”

Rodrigo waved him off.  “Is little.  My worry is more for the departure of Don Francisco and the king from Burgos.  If di Oviedo finds us here, there will be little fight for him.”

“We won’t hold a week.”

“Once Francisco the Younger has fixed the dike, we can make it a little longer on the hard tack that remains.”  Rodrigo enjoyed the way he could sound so convincing, even to his own ears.

The men shifted about and looked at each other uneasily.

“What is it?”  Rodrigo asked.

“We’ll need new counsel if the king delays further,” Don Sisnando said bluntly.  The men added nothing, but it was apparent they agreed.

“Throw ourselves at Alfonso?”

“That – or disperse the mercenaries and hold Carrión with a garrison.”

Rodrigo laughed.  “Then we will die.  No.  We must hold until the king comes.”

“The city was little good in taking!”  Valléz blurted, his voice shaking.  “The men were not rewarded by the spoils promised them!  Ay, how long do you expect to hold their loyalty, Don Rodrigo?”

“They won’t hold, m’lord,” supported Don Sisnando.

The Campaedor held his hands out.  “If we fight Alfonso and di Oviedo, they’ll cut us up.  The king will lose his greatest army a’field, and everything is lost.  We cannot move!  Nor can we disperse!  Have you gone mad, m’lords?”

“We are starving! The men are sick!”

Rodrigo sat back, rubbing his temples.  This wasn’t so different from other times he’d commanded an army.  Everyone demanded something, even when the pickings had been greater than imagined.  Yet, his lieutenants were right – there was nothing in Carrión.  If they marched, they could forage and plunder the southern reaches of Leon, but that would mean they would meet up with Alfonso and the Campaedor wasn’t certain his army would be the best for it.  Everything rested upon the king’s decision, and it may be even beyond his promised week.

The men were good men, though, and Rodrigo knew it.  They had fought hard and for the most part had remained, even when things appeared dark.  Yet even the most loyal become hungry, and stomachs growl impatience when there were greener fields to be had.  Yet why was King Sancho dragging his feet?

Rodrigo compromised: he ordered Valléz to take the cavalry into Leon near the plains of Goblejara and take what was there, though this split his forces and made him virtually blind.  The men were mollified – to an extant – but they were not happy.

Next, Don Rodrigo had to deal with the people.  There were no holy fathers or nuns left in the city, for they had taken charge of those refugees who’d escaped.

The townsfolk who visited the Campaedor were a pathetic delegation.

For the most part, it was led by Carrión’s wives of the leading merchants, and they brought scores of children with them.  Rodrigo, though in delight of children at most times, sat at the chair that had belonged to Don Carlos of late, slouching with his head on a hand as he surveyed what was before him, depressed.

Don Pedro stood by his side, for all the other men under the Campaedor’s command were conveniently a’field, once they heard the clamor of children.

The women pleaded, begged Rodrigo for food, tears streaming down desperate faces, some even at his feet.  All the while Don Pedro, cold as a stone, thought to himself, oh! No!  I have known Rodrigo a long time!  I have seen him gut screaming men on the field, throw sly thieves from tower apertures, drag greedy merchants through the dust on Market Day!  This will not move him, these pitiful wretches!

The entreaties were endless, it seemed.  Mothers and daughters offered themselves to him for morsels to feed their children, throwing themselves at his feet.  Men came forth as dignified as they could, hardly holding back tears as they begged for the Campaedor – a servant of God – to help them.

Finally, Rodrigo – tears in his own eyes – surprisingly turned out his meager baggage more to them, and this was by far not enough.  The Campaedor had nothing left himself.

“They love you, Don Rodrigo,” the old knight decided.

“I cannot tell.  I am blinded by their hatred,” the other whispered.

The Campaedor, the man who broke Carrión and the Navarrese at Graus, now slashed by a hundred voices of anguish and hunger, retired to his room and hid in the closet.

            As Rodrigo waited for most of his time alone, doubted if the king would reinforce his army before di Oviedo arrived.  He played upon the idea of using Valléz and his light cavalry to skirmish and cause possible delays for the Leonese, but, with a fear of separating his meager forces further, turned cold to it.  Don Diego di Oviedo was not a fool; he would surmise that the Castilian cavalry was little more than a raid or skirmish, and dispatch them quickly with his own cavalry, all the while his army moving just as fast as it always had east to Carrión.

For one thing, at least, the rain had stopped – thought here were sullen and bruised storm clouds that passed over the city as wounded angels, shafts of sunlight at times streaking and moving as blades crossing the land and the hills.  Rodrigo enjoyed the moody weather, feeling solace in the clouds because they reflected his own somberness.  The king’s army paced and roamed the fields and the battlements of the captured town, given now to duty of holding and occupation, though, as Burgundy had pointed out, there was little to hold or occupy.

Some relief came in – the harvests had done well because of the weather, and grain was distributed meagerly in rations.  Don Rodrigo was quick to give out the lion’s portion to his army, however, before seeing to the needs of the people.  Even when faced with sadness and pity, the Campaedor knew what mattered more.  A few of the men had disobeyed the orders of not molesting the townsfolk; they had taken some young girls and Rodrigo was quick to punish the soldiers.  He had both flogged in public, which was, of course, more lenient than having them castrated as a strict lord would have done.

For the moment, however, Rodrigo was at liberty.  He had taken some dogs – dogs that he had kept from the dinner plate – into the woods to hunt for game, and had caught a few conies that had eluded the foragers.  He had Dion – his porter – clean them and make them up for his pleasure.  He then ordered a portion of these to go to the Lady di Carrión and her son.

Contented, though the fare not nearly enough to quiet his stomach, he was resigned to sleep.  However, Don Pedro interrupted his peace.

“M’lord, there has been a transgression against your orders,” the older knight told him.  “Francisco the Younger has been caught with a maid.”

The Campaedor rolled his eyes.

“He is your friend and directly under your command, m’lord.”  Don Pedro was reminding him that sentence and punishment was devised by no other than the Campaedor.

“Ay – ay.”  Rodrigo got out of bed and donned his breeches.  It was becoming harder to control his men, especially when his lieutenants were unruly.  Discipline only went so far in a gutted town.  “Where is he?”

“We have him held at the maid’s home.”

They walked out of the ward’s tower and through the inner bailey.  Rodrigo knew well he had best be as harsh with Francisco as he had with any other; to be less would incite revolt over his favoritism.  The streets were empty save for a moving sentry here and there.

The maid and her family lived in a thatch-covered hovel not far from the outer gates, a good distance from the warmth of Rodrigo’s bed.  The Campaedor hardly acknowledged the two wards on duty at the entrance.

When Rodrigo found out that his friend, Francisco the Younger, had taken liberties with the same 13-year-old maid he had saved the night he had marched into Carrión, the Campaedor at once flew into a rage.

“She was willing and offered me herself, m’lord,” Francisco defended himself.  “I would not take her without leave, and against your will.”

“I told you not to – ”

“She was given to me by the blessing of her parents! I swear!”  The maid, frightened by the stormy entrance of the Campaedor into her home, cringed by Francisco’s side.

“Where are her parents?”

“They are in the field, m’lord.”

“And you have found convenience with her in her little bed while they were out.”

“This is not the first time we have been together, m’lord.”

The Campaedor, fuming, stepped forward.  “You took her a’bed even without my permission!  Do you know what you’ve done?  I have over three thousand men to control, and my own lieutenant takes liberties wetting his penis!”

“No one knows!”

Rodrigo shook his head.  “You took liberty without coming to me before this matter.”

“No, m’lord, I did not.”

“Come with me.”

The cavalry knight nodded, his face ashen.  He was led into the bailey and shackled to the stones.  Here Francisco would stay the night until his superior meted out his due.

When dawn came, Rodrigo sent for the girl’s parents and had gathered all the wards at liberty.  The punishment was simple: Don Rodrigo had the virile Francisco strapped to the wheel of an overturned cart in the town common.  Even as the young girl – Ameli was her name – protested his innocence, and her parents sought to calm her, Rodrigo himself lashed the young knight before his company and the villagers until the man was unconscious.

            Laying on his stomach, Francisco the Younger winced from the pain of his beating.  The mother of his young lover administered to his wounds; his back was torn up, slashed by the whip and by Rodrigo’s temper.  Even now, after hours of having suffered it, Francisco’s wounds hadn’t stopped bleeding.

The Campaedor had come to visit him, and the Castilian commander watched as the goodwife diligently applied her medicine in layers of bandages.

“You’ve suffered worse, Francisco,” Rodrigo mumbled from the corner.  They had removed the young knight to the ground floor of the bastion.  The Campaedor was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed, watching the tenderness of the woman as she nursed the knight’s wounds.

“Ay,” replied Francisco in weak voice.

“I could not suffer this if word leaked out and all the men think me soft.  I would have a riot.”

“I know, m’lord.”

The Campaedor ran his hands through his short hair.   There were other things troubling him: there had been minimal success from the foraging men.

“The mother, here, says you have promised your hand in marriage to her daughter.  Is that so?”

The wounded man nodded slightly.

“She is a common girl.”

“Ay.”

“What would your father think – the Lord di Najéra?”

Francisco the Younger shrugged.

“And you would take her goods without the blessing of God?”

The young knight had nothing to say to this.

“She is ten years your junior, Francisco.”

“She is beautiful.”

Rodrigo smiled thinly.  “I can still remember you younger than that, in the stable long ago when our horses were stolen.”

“I remember.”

“You were afraid of the storm.”

“I was a child, m’lord.”

“You and your brother fighting in the straw.  Funny – that’s the most I remember anymore.”

“It was long ago.”

“You almost won that race, ay.”

“I would have, m’lord, if my brother hadn’t been a stink.”  Carlos had now been dead for several years; he had died of fever long before the younger brother had taken up the oath of knighthood.  It had left Francisco the Elder now with only one son.

“Be it you to outlive him, my friend.”

“As God’s will, m’lord.”

The Campaedor walked over slowly, placing a gentle hand on the knight’s head.  The jingle of his mail and spurs punctuated his steps, because during his waking hours, Rodrigo never relented in being without armor.  He roughed Francisco’s long dark locks.

“Love her well, ay?”

The wounded knight nodded.

Rodrigo left him, worn and battered himself.  He shirked Don Pedro and Sir Jean, contenting himself to brush Bavieca’s flanks in the stable.  When he saw one of the stewards of his own baggage train trying to swallow pieces of dried leather, Rodrigo prayed for the deliverance of his army. He would have given the young groom something – if he’d had it.

He worried most of sickness, and the languidness of his men assailed his good reason.  Rodrigo could not think of holding at Carrión – desolate, barren Carrión – for much longer.

He then took to his apartments, hungry himself.  He lay in the bed that once belonged to the knight, Vellid Adolfo, whose chamber he’d confiscated unknowingly.  Rodrigo contented himself in chewing leather strips himself, uncaring for the dryness and the bitter flavor of tannin, but had no other comfort.

Whether or not his prayers were answered directly, two days later the sound of Sancho’s relief army arrived from Burgos, the banners of a hundred houses fluttering in the wind.

*

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Book II Chapter 2

Chapter II

The Campaedor

 

“I cannot move, I cannot sleep, ay – that man there – who is he?  Rodrigo di Bivar?  House of Diaz!”  Don Carlos Toronado, Count of Carrión, turned from the archer’s slit, his hands at his temples.  “All sorties to take him from the gates have failed!  I am surrounded by traitors and cowards!  To me, Adolfo!”

“It is he, King Sancho’s Campaedor, m’lord,” the knight, Vellid Adolfo, said, his words quieter than the rain beyond the walls.  He was looking out from the gatehouse, above the chaos of men fighting on the second wall.  From here, Adolfo could make out a lone, mounted knight on a rise just out of arrow range, illuminated in the flickering fires that defied the weather.  A mass of bodies lay strewn across the muddy ground and the small trench the defenders had cut a few weeks ago from the gravel and bracken before the outer wall.  There streamers of tattered gold and blue banners and pennons heralded the might of Don Rodrigo’s army.

“Ay, can you make a bead on him?”  Don Carlos pleaded, not for the first time, hoping that a swift arrow may take down his tormentor.

“No – too far away, m’lord.”

“If we can hold him for three days, King Alfonso will sweep south and we’ll have di Oviedo from Mormojón the day after that.  Pray, can you send a man out on the grounds unseen and take the Campaedor off the field?”

Adolfo shook his head.  “It will take more than an arrow to take him off the field, m’lord.”

“Say you?”  A thunderclap startled Don Carlos.  He leaned against the far wall, a worn and sad wraith in the shadows.  “Ay – hear that?  We’ll have the storm with us and Don Rodrigo won’t stay for three days.”

“He’s been here three months and in rougher weather.”

“King Alfonso will lure him from the gates!  Ay – three days, Adolfo – mark me!”

The knight shrugged, non-committed.

Don Carlos studied the harsh face of the battle-worn knight.  “You are an expert in these things; I remember your service to King Ferdinand dealing with ‘ibn Mujahiid in Valencia.  You killed the captain Moor and took away his banners with a blade in the dark.  You work good treachery.”

“You are proposing me to take the cover of the storm and attempt assassination?  I cannot get to Don Rodrigo!  He is too clever and too lucky.”

“You could attempt it, ay?  I could press.”

“Do not press, m’lord.”  Vellid Adolfo was the best assassin in Leon.  He was considered to be of ‘bad character and little honor’ by the rico-homés, yet he was more than willing to turn fate with a stealthy strike.  Everyone despised him, but Adolfo was useful and his services needed in the dark from time to time.  War, however, wasn’t particularly an opportunity for such a man as Adolfo: assassins become revealed in the light of day – so to speak – during war than when intrigue cloaks them better in court during times of peace.  Don Carlos secretly liked the assassin as much as he hated him, if that could be done.

“See him now!  He is the Devil himself,” Don Carlos exclaimed, pointing out of the slit.  The Campaedor was suddenly lost in shadow and rain, but the men could still feel his presence beyond the walls where a thousand men fought savagely.  “Ay!”  Don Carlos tore fistfuls of hair from his scalp.  “Ay – he torments me!”

“At peace,” Adolfo whispered.

“At peace you say?”  Don Carlos whirled around.  “They storm our walls at this moment!  If Sancho comes with his Royal Guard, we’re done.  Alfonso!  Alfonso!  Where are you?”

“At peace,” the knight advised.  He sat on a chair near the entrance, contenting himself to paring his fingernails with a dagger.  “Consider m’lord, what goes on.  The Campaedor hasn’t breached the deeping wall and we have thrown his men a’back from the gate three times and sallied.  He may yet have to sit another week.”

The provincial stamped over to the slit and cried out into the storm, “Castilians!  King Alfonso will come soon!  I will cut…” He gasped with wide eyes.  “They are on the wrong side!  Alfonso will not be able to reach them!  The Castilians are on the wrong side of my city!”

“You’ll open the gates for the king and he will sally from within to lift the siege.  At peace, m’lord.”

“Hah!”  Don Carlos spat into the rain.  “We will win!  I’ll have Don Rodrigo’s head on a spear!”

A ward appeared in the doorway, his helm dented and his padded mail stained and torn.  He shrieked: “I have news!”

“What is it, hombre?”

“It is a message from the Castilian army!”

“They are surrendering!” It was beyond hope.

The ward handed Don Carlos a parchment.  The lord read the fiery penstrokes, his eyes widening before he dropped the parchment to the floor.  “This!  They demand I surrender?”  He cried.

Adolfo retrieved the message and frowned, scanning the words it bore.  “They’ve destroyed the dike and the waterline.  We are out of everything now.  How could they have reached the dike?”

“You!”  Screamed Don Carlos, pointing a shaking finger at the knight.  “You said Don Rodrigo wouldn’t breach the deeping wall!  He’s got the dike!  There is no three days much less a week!”

Adolfo, still frowning, said, “How could they have found the dike?  It’s impossible.”  He tossed the parchment on the floor and ran down the worn steps to the bailey.  He almost collided with his own men coming up from below in the dark.

“They’ve reached the dike!”  Emiño Valénz – his head ward – shrieked.

“Get a score of archers and meet me at the branding wall, we’ll – ”

“They’ve breached the branding wall!  The Castilians are almost inside the inner bailey!”

“Where is Fernando?”

“Dead!”

“Then they’ve killed all the guard on the dike?”

“Ay!”

“Devil!”  They heard Don Carlos ranting above.  The knight tore past his subordinate and ran into the outer hall, flinging himself into the dark rain and toward the postern gate.  By the time he reached it, he heard the shouts of desperate men and the ringing of steel.

“To me!”  Adolfo yelled just as one of the gate defenders tumbled down from the walk, an arrow in his neck.  Chaos.  The knight, seeing there were no men to take from the gate, unsheathed his sword and ran toward the inner bailey where a dozen screaming men exploded from the stables with flames at their backs.  “Hold the gate!”  Adolfo shouted, seeing another score or more soldiers streaming down from the flanking parapets of the gatehouse.

It was no use – there were flames spewing from the lofts of the stables, defying the rain.  Adolfo was quickly overwhelmed by the futility of it all – a few minutes before he had been so confident with Don Carlos in the gatehouse, certain that the Campaedor hadn’t enough men or time to have breached the outer wall – but the world had come apart.  Adolfo decided he couldn’t be caught here – he had too many Castilian enemies.  He could not be dragged back to Burgos in chains for the amusement of King Sancho.  Don Carlos had been right: Rodrigo Diaz was indeed the Devil.

He ran for the postern gate, running through the chaos as men fled around him.  A great crescendo thundered above the storm as the Castilians confronted the gatehouse; he heard shouts from the second wall that the enemy had breached the inner bailey.

“Open the gate!”  Adolfo shouted at the postern wards who were more than willing to run themselves.  Adolfo gave a turn toward the wall behind him, catching a glimpse of a fire beyond.  A few moments later and he was gone.

            A half hour later, as the scarce defenders on the bailey wall succumbed, and the rain came dead, the second gate was opened and the knights of King Sancho and their men thundered in.  There were only twenty or less wards still inside the inner bailey, but they hastened down to kneel and bow in supplication.  The Castilians did not care: the infantry at once set upon the surrendering wards, hacking the terrified men to bits as the fortress blazed.

Riding out of the smoke and darkness, illuminated by the fire, Don Rodrigo Diaz di Bivar came inside, flanked by two of his lieutenants.  His once-white surcoat – emblazoned with the standard of his Castilian king – was stained by smoke, dust, and blood; his light chain armor, specifically cut for ease in the saddle, looked tarnished and rusty; the helm he wore covered his head and the back of his neck only, revealing a tired, soot-blackened face.  One set of steely eyes was all that remained untouched.

“This took too long, m’lords,” Rodrigo, the Campaedor, said.  He watched his soldiers scurrying in disarray, taking full advantage of the defenders’ despair.

“Actually it took quicker than I imagined, if at all,” Don Pedro Ruiz responded.  He was an old man, and wizened with years of service and battle; he had been a confidant of Rodrigo for a long time.  “We lost Don Garcia Ordoñéz and Don Francisco Láine to the king with all of their men.”

The Campaedor pointed a gloved hand at the chaos his soldiers were creating.  “Look at them; like wild dogs.  They jump around for wont of trinkets and prizes.”

“They did win the gate and Carrión, m’lord – perhaps you should think more kindly to them than just as wild dogs.”

A commotion near the ward stables drew his attention, and without a word, the Campaedor trotted over to it.  A ragged infantryman, his spear and shield to the side, was busy pushing a young stable girl on top of a haystack, tearing at her modest clothing.  When her small breasts came free, it became apparent to Rodrigo that the shrieking, terrified girl was no more than thirteen – at best.

“Ay, boy,” Rodrigo shouted.

The infantryman paused in his lust, already his breeches off and his erect manhood at attention.  “Ay – what?”

“Let her be.”

“No!”  The soldier said.  “She’s a good piece as any!  I worked hard for her.”

“Do you know who I am?”

“You’re the Campaedor – so what.”

“So what?  I told you to let her be.”

“You want her?  You can have any woman in this place.”

Rodrigo drew his blade.  “Ay!  I want her for myself!  Now get your filthy manhood away from her, or I’ll make you a eunuch!”

The infantryman, frightened by the threat, backed away, hastily bringing up his breeches so he wouldn’t trip over himself.

“Francisco,” Rodrigo said, looking for his alferéz, “find her parents if they are still alive.  Mind that I will not suffer her violation.”

The knight, Francisco the Younger – son of Don Francisco Láine – nodded and dismounted.  “M’lord, what of your guard?”

“What about my guard?”

“Most are with your baggage.  I was going to draw them in, ay.”

“Tend to the girl first.”

“Ay, m’lord.”

“I’m touched by your compassion, Campaedor,” Pedro Ruiz pointed out with a slight, mocking grin.  “Mind that there were over twenty maids raped and killed by our men between here and La Piedra.  Though, at once your weakness can be used against you – these men do work hard for their spoils!”

Rodrigo gave the old veteran a dark look.  “I care not for their spoils, as you put it, cousin.  Ay, such as it is that many a suffering girl has warmed and wet the manhood of my soldiers unwillingly, and perhaps some of these girls were put to sword; I cannot, upon good conscious, allow them to do so in my sight.”

“And what of the spoils you have taken?”  Don Pedro was adept at pointing out missteps and hypocrisy.  He was a good man and Rodrigo’s cousin – and one of those few rico homés that Rodrigo loved.

“Who says I have ever taken the goods of a woman or girl without her leave, ay?”

“As I’ve told your father ere he died: you would have made a better monk, Rodrigo.”

“Would a monk have torn open Carrión?”

Don Pedro laughed.  “No, cousin.”

“Yet I know my grandmother speaks so well of you, and not once have I seen you glut your avarice upon the unfortunate.  You could have been a priest yourself, Don Pedro.”

“Doña Maria di Osla is beyond reproach, m’lord.”

Rodrigo winced; he didn’t like it much that the older man referred to him so formally.  It wasn’t that the Campaedor hadn’t deserved it – he had served the king well and gained what his father had almost lost.  He chanced a look at the older knight, enjoying the grizzled and aging features of one who had done so much and had not risen so highly as he should have. The thought suddenly made Rodrigo sad, and by this he felt guilty.

There was nothing wrong with Don Pedro Ruiz.  Rodrigo thought he was solid as a knight and what a Christian should be; yet he did not take risks, not as much as his Campaedor did.  No one took the risks Rodrigo did.  That was why many knights and ladies fell into the cracks of society: they did not gamble to gain so much more – and even perhaps to lose it all.  Rodrigo was a fatalist, believing that everything that passed his hands was willed by God, and if God decided that Rodrigo was not to gain higher, than the knight would perish.  Everyone perished in the end, however successful anyway.

The two knights rode ahead through the chaos, two seemingly immovable in the tide of anarchy and fire around them, a sea of their men scattering and gathering about as they began gutting the inner bailey.  A moment later and Jorge Valléz and the Campaedor’s cavalry guard thundered through the second wall gate to join in the debacle of Carrión, spreading fire and pain to any house yet standing.

“Find di Carrión!”  Ordered the Campaedor, cutting off Valléz, a swathe of smoke around him as he braved the closeness of the blaze.  “I won’t rest until that traitor is brought before me!”

Valléz assented, but it was apparent he’d rather have fun in the sacking.

“Don Carlos has run,” Don Pedro suggested, sprouts of thick gray hair jutting out from his metal cap and his face hidden by more of it.

“If he’s run, then I will give chase until he is found!”  Then Rodrigo added, in afterthought, “I will skin him in the presence of Alfonso in Leon if need be.”  The Campaedor turned about at the shrieking of horses.  Several of Rodrigo’s men were helping themselves to di Carrion’s private stables and to the grand steeds therein.  “Ay!  Don Pedro!  Make certain those steeds are not harmed!  I want every one of them.”

“You are going to keep a few horses from your men as well?”  Don Pedro asked.

“Ay!  I would keep them from Heaven’s Gate if I thought well of it.  I’ve known you for a long time, Don Pedro.  Do not press me with your reluctance to carry out my whims, however; as long as King Sancho or Don Francisco Láine is not present, these forces are mine!”

“Would you think I would usurp your station?”

“Not at first, my cousin.  But you are well-blooded and capable of many things, and I love you dearly.  Remember: I am the commander and I command as I see fit.”  Rodrigo meant, of course, that the other man was well-experienced.

The older knight was obviously slighted by the offhand remark; he turned his face away.

“Ay,” Rodrigo said, his voice smoother.  “Get you one of them if it pleases you, Don Pedro.”

The other nodded and went about to do what was ordered.  Rodrigo was the king’s armiger, after all, a position of command he had attained after his daring and smarts at Graus nine years ago, and then retained in good stead during the War of the Three Sanchos.  Before that he was none other than the king’s good armor-bearer, and ambitious to make a mark.  Even while young, Rodrigo’s war counsel had been sound; not even his betters had thought ill of him, though many were just as jealous.  There had been only two other challenges to him since the day he put Don Jimeno Garcés down: a brash son of a Calahorran rico-hombre, and a Moorish knight from Medinaceli.  The first reinforced the ideal that none should be brash when considering besting Rodrigo Diaz; the second had given the Campaedor some much needed spoil.  That was the fine chain armor he wore now, along with a curved sword of magnificent steel.

When Rodrigo trotted into the spur courtyard that gave entrance to the tower bastion, he found that his men had pulled di Carrión from the top of it.  Kneeling on the worn cobblestones, the Castilian traitor warily viewed the approach of his conqueror.

“Ay – who found him yet?”  The Campaedor wanted to know, pleased.  There was a thunderous crunch behind him as the ward stables fell in, flames leaping high from the wreckage.  Everyone flinched from the sudden sound, but Rodrigo stood unmoved.

“I did, m’lord,” another ragged infantryman claimed in a strong northern accent, his hand tight on his prisoner.  “I am Robert Roucy of Venz.”

“You are a mercenary with the Burgundians, I remember you,” Rodrigo said, smiling.  “Good for you!  Where is your lord, Jean Bourdain?”

“He is a’ field, m’lord.”

“Ay – he has spear to keep off Oviedo’s light cavalry if they come suddenly.  He’s given himself to the Moors’ baggage train?”  There had been a small Moorish contingent sent from Toledo to help hold Carrión.

“My guess, m’lord.”

Rodrigo threw a small bag of gold from his belt at the mercenary.

“Thank you m’lord!”  Robert Roucy cried, snatching it up.

At once, the Campaedor gave his attention to the kneeling di Carrión.  “Well met, Don Carlos.”

“You-you have defeated my men on the bailey and the f-field, Don Rodrigo.  I am at your service,” the frightened noble stuttered.

“At my service!”  Rodrigo laughed.  “Oh!  Good, I could use great service, but not from you, Don Carlos, a traitor.  Certainly you would give such service as a dagger in my ass once I’ve turned to squat.”

“Be of good advice, Don Rodrigo!”  Pedro Ruiz said, riding up from behind with a portion of Valléz’s cavalry.  “He is wanted by the king!”

This turned the pleading and fearful eyes of di Carrión hopeful.

“What say you, Don Carlos?  You are as good as a coward as any.  Would you stay justice for the king?”  The Campaedor baited.

“Ay – I would, m’lord Rodrigo Diaz.”

“You are charged with treason, in conspiring with Alfonso and the Leonese against the Castilian Crown.  You at once turned over your city to Alfonso when he became king of Leon, and even while in the office of a knight of Castile!”

“Please, Don Rodrigo!  Be merciful.  King Sancho – ” Don Carlos began.

“I remember many things, Don Carlos,” Rodrigo snapped, cutting the cowardly noble off, “I remember your voice at the court of good King Ferdinand, even as Jimeno Garcés bid for my home.”

“Those were years long ago,” di Carrión said, pleading.  “You do not think I had anything to do with that!”

“Not directly, Don Carlos – though I remember your counsel well enough to have Carrión placed in the fold of Leon once Garcés came in.”  Rodrigo held up a hand when Don Pedro began to protest.  “Roucy?  Take your prisoner to the scaffold above the bastion and take my rope with you.”

“No!”  Shouted Don Carlos.

“Rodrigo, he is to await the king’s justice!  You cannot, at your station, judge and sentence this man yourself!”  Don Pedro said, his voice high.

“Would you not say, Robert Roucy, that you found this man swinging by his own hand?  That perhaps this traitor was found in death of despair?”

Roucy nodded, pulling the panicking di Carrión to his feet.  Rodrigo tossed the Burgundian a length of rope, a grin of satisfaction on his face.  When di Carrión put up a struggle, Roucy clubbed the man.

“Mercenary rabble clubs a noble!”  Don Pedro was outraged.  “How could you let him do this, m’lord?”

“Don Carlos is a traitor – he is no longer noble,” Rodrigo said evenly, wearing a vicious grin.  They watched as the Burgundians dragged Don Carlos back into the tower.  “I like this Burgundian, Roucy,” Rodrigo looked at the dour face of his old mentor.  “Why so morose, Ruiz?  You have a chance to see justice done.”

“Justice belongs to the king, Don Rodrigo,” the older man replied.

Rodrigo tapped the blazon emblem on his surcoat.  “I am the king’s armiger.  I am his will and his word.  Don Carlos will die a traitor’s death – justice has been done.”  He smiled, but his eyes were dead.  “Don’t be angry with me, m’lord.  You know that I value your counsel.  If the king’s displeased, it will only be my head.”

“You would absolve me?”

“Ay.  Would it be any other way?”

“Be it my neck.”

“Ay – if you were a traitor, Don Pedro.”

Just then, Don Carlos’ shrieks caught their attention as Roucy and his men struggled to put a fashioned noose around his neck high above.  The mercenary tossed the end of the rope over the scaffold and then made it fast.

“We better move off,” Rodrigo advised softly.  “Ay, I know that hanged men piss all over the place when they are swinging.”

“Damn you, Don Rodrigo!”  Shouted di Carrión, pushed to the ledge where the tower’s servants once brought up supplies with a pulley.  Roucy suddenly knocked the man forward and into the air.  Don Carlos gasped and choked, his legs jerking about, his bound arms swaying with a length of naught but air under him.

“I hope that scaffold holds,” mentioned Rodrigo, watching with interest.  “Ah – look!   I told you!  He’s let a shower.”

A stream of urine had found its way under the dying Don Carlos’ breeches, falling to the stones where the riders once stood.  Minutes ticked by as the company watched in fascination as the body became less energetic and soon just swayed in the rising wind.

“Storm’s brewing up again,” Rodrigo said, sniffing the air, pleased with himself.

*

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Book II Chapter 1

The Cid

Book II: The Argument of Kings

 

Chapter I

The Monarch and the Cross

 

The horsemen came to full gallop, thundering under the shadow of the archway at the monastery of Valpuesta.  The courtyard was empty as they entered; crimson blood from the dying sun flooded the ground and the roofs.  The priests were inside to vespers, so there was no one to greet the horsemen as they hastily dismounted.

Their leader, Don Garcia Ordoñéz – fresh from the field near Calahorra – charged up the steps to the heavy doors and pounded upon them with gauntleted fists.

“In the Name of the King!”  He shouted as his men converged behind him, drawing steel.

The latches came unbarred as the porter-monk complied, and Ordoñéz pounded even harder to spur the man on.  At once the doors swung open, revealing the guardian – a scrawny, wasted monk heavily burdened by stained brown robes.  The knight pushed the old man down and charged in with his men.

“Get the bishop,” Ordoñéz ordered as a group of monks flurried down the stair before him.  The knight pulled out his sword to show them he meant business.  His riders – fifteen hotheaded Castilians – fanned out.

A monk shrieked in an alcove and ran down a corridor of arches.

“In the Name of God, what do you want?”  One of the monks from the stair demanded, yet his voice quaked as soon as the words left his mouth.

“Bring me the bishop!”

“His Grace is at prayer.”

“Then drag him from prayer.”

The monk was visibly shocked.  “How dare you!”

The knight advanced with his blade.  “I am charged by King Sancho to bring the bishop to Burgos.”

“This is an outrage!”

Ordoñéz struck with his sword, hacking the monk upon the stair as the others fled.  Blood accented his command; shrieks slashed the air as efficiently as the knight’s blade.  One of the riders grabbed one of the fleeing monks and pushed the man on the floor in a tumble of robes.  Ordoñéz advanced on him – finished with the other – his sword red in the dull light from the sconces.

“Ay – you.  Bring the bishop.”

“Sacrilege!”  The monk yelped, but got to his feet and led the men down a hallway of arches.  The Castilian riders bore no hesitance in vandalism; the marble statuettes near the portals were toppled, and the rich adorning Mozarab tapestries glorifying the Ascension were torn down.  When the monk turned to protest, Ordoñéz shoved him back around.

“Your duty is now to the king.”

Estaban Hernando Buega, the Bishop of Burgos and Central Castile, remained kneeling before the sacrament with his back to the chapel door when Ordoñéz and his men burst through it.  The monks surrounding the bishop pulled back from the stone pews – shocked and frightened.

“Your Grace,” the knight said coldly, shoving the admitting priest forward to the ground where he broke his nose upon the stones,  “you are under arrest by order of King Sancho of Castile.”

Buega bowed his head in solemn oath to the altar.  He said, “Look at you, Don Garcia Ordoñéz, full of fire in the presence of the Holy Father unwashed and murder upon your hands.  How dare you profane the sacrament?”

“You are under arrest,” Ordoñéz repeated.  He motioned for two of his men to grab the cleric.  “You are to come to see the king in Burgos.”

“You are committing the greatest of heresies, m’lord.”

“To whom?  I see naught here but traitors.  Get you to your feet, man, or I’ll have your blood upon the stones.”

The monks gasped in outrage.

“This is a House of God, Don Garcia.  It is sanctified by the blood of Our Savior!  Be it your soul to profane this site.”

“God does not bare the presence of the king’s enemies.”

“The king will be damned!”

Ordoñéz advanced, snarling; a group of monks suddenly barred his way.

“Would it that you murder a host of Christ’s children in the presence of the sacrament, and your soul in Hell!”  Buega snorted, now pulled to his feet.

“I would gladly cut you down, old man, for your treason.  Where are the men you protect?  These knights of the king’s brother?  If I have to fire this ‘House of God’ and gut these ‘children of Christ’ to find them, ay so be it.”

“Sacrilege!”

“So be it!”

The bishop looked around helplessly.  The wrath of the soldiers was too much; he could not defy them with threats and curses without his brothers and relics destroyed.  Buega bowed his head.  “The men you seek are hidden in the stores.”

Ordoñéz sent a few of his men to find them.

“You are indeed with Satan this day, Don Garcia.”

“No – for upon the brows of traitors does Satan rest, Your Grace.”

The minutes passed in slow tension; there were no words as they waited.  The king had been explicit in his orders: retrieve the Leonese knights and bring the bishop back to Burgos.  The knights Ordoñéz may do as he wished to, but Buega was to meet the king’s displeasure personally, even if it meant firing the monastery and placing all to the sword.  The Castilians joyfully went about their duty.

The men watched the light diminish – the day now ended, and the ruddy light faded from the high apertures of the monastery.  The bishop stood still, his eyes never leaving Ordoñéz.

“I had good thoughts of you, Don Garcia, as a pious servant of God.”

“As I still am, Your Grace.  Yet I have killed twelve men on the road from Calahorra and have despoiled them of their goods and their wives.  I had put to death the children of my king’s enemies and thereby ended their seed.  I am certain that doing as my liege commands far less than any other sin I do for myself.”

Just then one of the Castilians entered.  “We have found them m’lord.”

Ordoñéz grinned in triumph.  “Bring all these into the courtyard, ay, Diego?  I want to see them ere we take our leave.”

Buega guessed the Castilian’s cruelty beneath his words.  “You would not touch them!”

The other gave him a fleeting look.  “I will do what I wish, Your Grace.”

A few minutes later, in view of the frightened monks, the Castilians took their charges into the open night air.  There were five Leonese knights, those who had escaped King Sancho’s army at Moradillo.  They were in rags, and thus spoiled the Castilian’s hope of taking their possessions.

“Where are your things?” Ordoñéz asked them.

None answered.

“I could crucify the lot of you, or take out your eyes with a branding iron.”

They still didn’t answer him.

“So much the better,” Ordoñéz breathed.  He took his sword and gleefully hacked their heads from their bodies one at a time, each knight screaming in terror as he watched the one go before him.

Satisfied, the Castilian knight got on his horse and spurred it about to confront the sickened monks.  “Ay – look at you all.  As if you hadn’t seen men die a’fore.”

“Have you no charity, m’lord?  No compassion?” Buega choked.

“I am the very essence of charity, Your Grace.  That is why I will remove your priests ere my men fire your monastery.”

The riders – with the bishop tethered secured – took the orders and later, left the flaming building as quickly as they had come.

Upon the breeze from the open window overlooking the lawn of the courtyard, the noise of the bailey reached the king.  In time of war, Sancho found contentment.

King Ferdinand had passed now over seven years; his body had yet to cool when his children took up arms against one another.  The partition had been decreed solemnly, and an oath taken up even as the old king had passed his last breath.  Yet, though hotheaded and a’fire to take what he believed to be rightfully his, Sancho hadn’t moved upon his brethren, as they all girt for war.  Instead, the youngest prince – Garcia – had taken liberties to despoil his sisters their inheritances.  Feigning goodwill, King Sancho now of Castile, sent letters entreating his brother Alfonso – now King of Leon – to assist him in righting what Garcia had wronged.  Alfonso had been hesitant, though he was an adherer of the Oath, and he declined moving to help Sancho or his sisters.  As it was, Alfonso believed that Sancho would use this ‘alliance’ to bring his armies into Leon and take his kingdom by surprise.  There were heated words of war, yet Sancho moved his armies south – under the wise generalship of his new armiger and campaedor, Rodrigo Diaz – by way of the desert roads of Toledo west to Galicia.  There they took the younger king by force of arms and took Garcia in chains to Burgos where he yet tarried in the dungeons.

Then Sancho went to war against Navarre and Aragon, when his eastern marches had been invaded, and for the most part his brethren sighed relief, thinking that the hotheaded king would be torn about in a sea of fighting and thereby never recover to threaten their own.  With Sancho went Rodrigo Diaz, an infanzón, but nevertheless now the most influential knight in Castile.  Ever did Rodrigo carry the banners of his king to victory, and he had become a man of honor since that fateful day he had laid low his father’s enemy.

Yet King Sancho had defeated Aragon and Navarre, and returned now to his kingdom with his armies intact for the most part.  With a dark decree borne of his unrest, Sancho then demanded his brethren give up their own kingdoms, but they refused.  King Alfonso cried for arms, and then the north was heated in civil war – and for seven years now has the blood stained the earth as brother fought brother.

Not since the death of his father had Sancho felt more in control of things; and now, in the space between what his armiger called bloodbaths, the Castilian king could relax and consider what next needed to be done.  Burgos was indeed home, though in Leon there were better comforts.  Even now his mother, the Queen Widow, kept her stay there, ruing her children; Sancho had not heard from her in many months.

Yet Castile was the heart of war, with all its castles as Rodrigo Diaz had once put it.  It was the center of the king, and Sancho loved it well.

“Please God,” the king whispered, “let me have Alfonso’s head ere the breath of winter.”

“Amusing that you should call upon God when He has little to do with your war,” muttered the captive bishop, Buega.  He was suffering the binds of rough lanyard securing his wrists so that they bled.  “Yet prayer can be the refuge of the sinners who cry out that their deeds are just.”

“You would call your king a sinner?  Of how do I sin, Your Grace?”  Sancho turned and confronted the older man.  They were in the tower bailey, sharing the chamber with three Castilian nobles – Garcia Ordoñéz, Francisco Láine, and Juan Salvador.  “Ay, considering what I’ve known of God, He has great stomach for war.  And this sin that I may have: is it unjust for a rightful king to unite his kingdom under God?  Faith in God is to have faith in your king.”

“As brother against brother, Your Majesty.”

“My brother is a traitor.”

“Your brother by right and oath inherited the kingdom of Leon from the king your father.”

Sancho’s eyes blinked.  “Which should be rightly mine!  I am the eldest!”

“And there was once Cain and Abel, and arose Cain to slay his brother.  Woe to kings lest they forget this.” The bishop had been brought before him just ten minutes before – bound and held.

Sancho advanced on the old man with his fists clenched; yet the bishop didn’t wince, keeping his eyes at the stones.  The king stopped and looked at the two wards who kept the bishop tethered between them.  Letting a sigh, the king turned away to calm himself.

“Your Grace should watch your words.  I’ve known you to be a cautious man, a wise and pious man; my father loved you as a man of God, and as such counseled me to keep you close to my heart.  Yet, now, to have it come to my ears that you have harbored Alfonso’s men in your monastery, these traitors who would usurp the throne from your king.  How can I be soft?  How can I let this pass now for anyone – let alone a man of God – who would conspire with his king’s enemies?”

“I see no enemies, just Christian brothers shedding Christian blood.”

“Do you know what I will do to you, though a bishop?”

“My fate is in God’s hands, King Sancho.”  Taking a breath, the bishop added, “Considering what Don Garcia did to those poor men in the House of God – I believe nothing is beyond your sin.”

The knights gripped their blades tightly, yet the king remained calm.  Sancho felt now at a loss, for though he had never been much a religious man, the words of Buega and the fear of God remained close.  Had he done the right thing?  And for that moment of debate, Sancho’s heart wavered and knew doubt.  Yet, he told himself he was king and the eldest, and he should do all to secure his reign – including sin – for wasn’t sin justified by the king’s will?  Sancho studied the solemn, dusty-faced Garcia Ordoñéz.  The knight had made no secret he’d enjoyed killing the Leonese men at Valpuesta.

This was not a matter quick to push, as Sancho knew that any direct sentence against the bishop would quickly level a respite from Christian authorities, though he felt strongly he could prove the treachery of Buega’s actions.  The bishop had many friends, including the popular Rodrigo Diaz, and even abducting Buega without the Campaedor knowing had been a delicate matter.  Yet, now with Rodrigo a’field, it was best to keep things under the table until the army could dispatch Alfonso.

That’s what the soldiers were calling Diaz now – Campaedor – Champion.  Rodrigo’s miraculous defeat over Jimeno Garcés had seemed divine, and not only that, the knight had proven himself worthy of leading armies a’field.  It was a good thing and a bad thing; good because men were inspired to great deeds upon the field, and bad because men often spoke more of the Campaedor than the king.

The bishop and Rodrigo Diaz were more than just good friends, they were as best as father and son, and memory for Diaz of Don Diego lingered strong upon the old man of God who was upon his knees now before the king.

“The Law reads that a man – regardless of station – who commits treason is to be hung by the neck.  I’ve done to death a host of men and women by this standard so far since the day I took up the crown,” Sancho said.  “Some were great artisans, once Castilians, who had served my father in good stead in his day.  Several yet were priests who spoke dark words of insurrection and tried to incite revolt in Burgos.  Some were even Castilian Ladies of Standing who’d leaked information to their Leonese lovers.  And even some were Moors of Saragossa who conspired to raid my fields in the way to weaken my armies against my brother.”

“It seems you to be busy, my king,” Buega whispered.

“Oh!  I’ve just begun, Your Grace!”  Sancho took a step closer to his captive.  “Consider my position now.  I’ve been on a quest – a holy pilgrimage – to unite the realm once again as my father before me.  I would, with affection, save my brethren from the pain of sword and fire if they would just but recognize my right to rule!  If this not be God’s will, than I would not have been born eldest.

“I am not at war with the Clergy, nor is it my wish to alienate the Good Father in Rome by my ambitions.  I am a humble king, and only want to claim what is mine.  I do not seek to harm you, even, Your Grace, though what you’ve done is treason.  You have always been a good and decent man.  I understand your attempt succor to your king’s enemies because they too are Christian, yet I cannot look away from your constant meddling with Alfonso and Urraca – that bitch!”  Sancho roughed up his dark locks with his hands.  He took a moment to calm himself to say, “This crime of usurpation and treason I cannot overlook.”

Don Francisco Láine, who had been standing and listening to the discussion at length, offered words himself finally.  “Sire, it would not be wise to condemn the good bishop to death.  Your father would have – ”

“My father is dead,” Sancho told him venomously.  “Any judgment I pass will not be without thought, Don Francisco.  Nor have I considered the final solution to this treason.”

“Then Your Majesty would consider exiling him rather.”

“Exile?  To exile?”  Sancho felt he couldn’t believe his ears.  “To allow a viper to live would have it return to the garden to bite your shin.”

“It would yet benefit you, my king.”

“How so?”

“He is just a bishop – and by this I’ve known His Grace not to have taken up arms as many other have done.  Bishop Buega has neither villa nor domain as his vow, nor has he been knighted to bear arms as di Palencia has done!  His Grace is one man alone.  Exile him rather.  He could spread the faith among the heathens, far from Castile.”

“Yet I to put a blade to his throat!”  Sancho’s ire hadn’t diminished, though his knight’s words made good sense.  Don Francisco was by far the wisest of his advisors, and the hotheaded king found himself listening to the older man even when he wished blood.  Sancho had retained the services of several formidable nobles in Castile after taking the crown.  The young king frowned, mulling it over.  Then he asked Buega, “You have friends in Granada?”

The bishop’s eyes widened.  “You would not exile me to the heathens!”

“Better exile to the heathens to do your work of God rather than to sit in chains in Burgos, or to have your head on the axeman’s stump.  I think it would benefit you more to be exiled to the Godless Moors, and to bring them over to Our Savior, Our Lord Christ.”

The bishop stared mutely at the stones.

“Consider that any ‘exile’ would be voiced as your decision to lead Christianity southward, and thus retain your honor and standing.”  Sancho was grinning strangely as he said this.  “You may be considered in time as a saint – and perhaps one day I will make a pilgrimage to Granada to bury a saint’s bones in Burgos as my father had the bones of Saint Isadore in Leon.”

The bishop nodded sullenly.

“Get this man of God to his new mission, ay, Ordoñéz?  He offends my sight!”

The knight, smiling harshly, put a hand on the bishop’s shoulder.  “Come, Your Grace, we must get you gone.”

“A wise decision, Sire,” said Don Francisco, moving aside as Ordoñéz and his wards escorted Bishop Buega from the tower room.  “You father would have done as much.”

Sancho rested himself on the sill of the window where he had been watching circling birds over the bailey field.  He was having problems concentrating on matters the past week, and the dark hollowness to his eyes offered exhaustion.  Still, the young king was fiery and ready upon any decision, and had won the respect of many during his seven-year rule of Castile though mired in war with his siblings.  Yet with this constant bickering and fighting, Sancho of Castile was feared and respected, even, of Aragon and Navarre and any other nation; as the Castilian army was a’field, no one dared try to test the young king’s might.

He had no other enemies other than what was to be expected from Alfonso’s regime, but this mainly because Sancho had not been able to focus on anything else besides besting his younger brother.  He felt suddenly weary.

“You risk excommunication,” pointed out Don Juan Salvador, once a tested knight of Ferdinand, but age had made him now more a man of the robe than the sword.

“Ay, such is the role of king.”

“No one will like this – persecuting a popular bishop.”

Sancho regarded the noble.  “You have new orders, m’lord: bring your cavalry north to Luna and hold a garrison there with Don Nuño.”

“Sire!”  Don Juan was outraged; he’d planned to march to Carrión to meet the Campaedor.

“Get thee there quickly,” Sancho told him.

Don Juan, hesitant, looked at his colleague, Don Francisco.  The other knight didn’t return the glance.  Salvador then bowed and left the presence of his king.

“You have come from Castrogeriz,” Sancho said at length when he was alone with Don Francisco.  “You’ve brought a message?”

The old knight nodded.  “Ay, my king – that.  A message from Alfonso.”

“It won’t be a surrender, I’ll warrant.  Has he and Urraca devised new threat?”

“He has a proposal for better liking to your argument.”

“Then it would be devised great to his advantage.”  Sancho sighed, still watching the birds.  “My brother is crafty and puts things over before committing to them.  Here, man!  Don’t read the words directly (Don Francisco had taken out the scroll from the Leonese king and was about to voice the proposal), just give me the gist of it.”

“He wishes to draw a single battle.  King Alfonso claims he is weary of the rigors of war and that many good Christian men have died over an argument that could be decided swiftly.  He proposes a single battle – near Golbejara – testing his best knights against ours.”

“A pitched battle?”  Sancho laughed a sour yip.  “Oh, I see.  His di Oviedo against my beloved Ruy Diaz!”

“Be it less bloody if our Campaedor fought Alfonso’s upon the field in single combat, but no one will fight Rodrigo Diaz.”

“Would it be a fight!”

“Again, Sire, not a single fight between champions – Alfonso believes too much the luck of Don Rodrigo’s prowess on the tourney field.  Yet a full battle, with one army against another, might against might.”

“We have no reason to believe any battle now different than others.  Rodrigo has been a good commander.  Yet even he has been unable to breach Leon.”  The king thought a moment before continuing.  “Besides, Rodrigo would not approve of a single battle.  I know his mind; there is too much riding upon it.”

The older man shrugged.  “It has not been an easy war to wage, Sire, with most of your brother’s forces behind fortress walls.  Then the matter of di Carrión’s treachery; even now the Campaedor has laid siege to the city with the aid of his cousin, Don Pedro Ruiz.”

“And Don Alvar Fañez?”

“No – he is with the garrison at Mormojón.”

“Sorry news, I would have all of Ruy Diaz’s family in one army.”

“Ay, I believe Rodrigo to have like mind; he doesn’t trust some, as it was they’d proven unbreakable since the day the army defeated ‘ibn Moustafir and the allied Toledoan army at Segovia.”

“The Moors!”  Sancho nodded in agreement.  Alfonso had shown how quickly he would make alliances with the heathens.  “What is now the state of Rodrigo’s army in Carrión?”

“Supply unstable.  Don Rodrigo is yet adamant that capturing the city will crack open Leon like a walnut.”

The king considered this a moment; he had allowed Rodrigo to do as much as the young knight wished without as much counsel.  Matters, however, pleased Sancho but he still doubted whether the Campaedor would be forever victorious.  Was it mere luck and chance?  Or was it that Rodrigo was somehow blessed?

“What is your opinion of Ruy Diaz, ay?”

The noble shrugged with no change on his face.  “He is well liked.  He is a good commander – as I’ve said.  He is far too quiet; sometimes it’s difficult to decide what side of his mood you’re on.  No one questions him – at least, publicly.  Rodrigo has his enemies, but most of these are Leonese or Galicians, and he’s tactful in keeping as many of these out of his Castilian army when possible.”

“Does he speak of policies?”

“I’ve never heard him.  He takes your orders in stead.”

“He’s questioned my strategies a’fore.”

Don Francisco shrugged again, with a bashful smile.  “Most likely will again, Sire.  Well, we all question strategies: it is our job.”

“What do the rico homés think of him?”

“Castilian?”

“All.”

“They hate him, of course.  Save for me.  I have good thoughts for the Campaedor as much as I had had for his father.”

Sancho felt slighted by this remark, as he had still issues concerning Don Diego’s character, but he kept his face passive though his blood was up.  The king had better hopes for Rodrigo; Sancho was swayed by his armiger’s persona.  Rodrigo could be as easy a man to like than to hate, and though there were those of the established aristocracy – the rico homés – who challenged a lesser noble to hold such high standing, the Campaedor was a man to reckon with.

“I will take my guard and march at once to relieve him, ay.  You, Don Francisco, you are ailing?”

“A cold.  I can return to the field if you so command.”

“Ay, so I command.  Take two hundred horse from Burgos and together we’ll march to Carrión.”

“That, with your guard, will not muster a thousand men.”  As it was Rodrigo held the most of Castilian strength.

“It will be enough.”

Don Francisco offered Alfonso’s parchment.  “Will you take this up?”

Sancho took the roll, unfurled it with a sarcastic grin, and then studied the penstrokes that decorated it.  He tossed it upon the stones.  “I’ll give it thought before the cortése.”

“We can make a decision now, Sire,” Don Francisco said, for he was considered to be the greatest authority in military matters in the absence of the younger Rodrigo Diaz and the council of Sancho’s other nobles, his cortesé.

“I need to think a bit, and my thoughts are ever upon the strength of Rodrigo’s army.  I’m not sure if they are hail to take Carrión and then best Alfonso and di Oviedo upon the field.”

“We can best them, Your Majesty.”

“You think?”

“We have beaten them upon the field since the day you went from Queen Sancha at Leon.”

Sancho leveled a finger at his provincial.  “Do not, ever, bring my mother’s name up when thought of war darkens her children.”

The older man bowed.  “I beg your forgiveness, Sire.”

“As I’ve told you, Don Francisco, I will consider this matter before the cortése.  Alfonso is a snake and a traitor, yet he has good cunning and the voice of my sister to help him.  I cannot pass on good conscious that this is not somehow a trick.”

Don Francisco opened his arms wide in gesture.  “The only ally he has had was Toledo, and Don Rodrigo has made certain it will be many a month before the Moors try to aid the Leonese.  I’m certain we could meet Alfonso’s army in Goblejara and best the lot fully.”

“Moors do not bother me – they have such little tact in warfare.  They sit for hours composing poetry when they should be out lobbing heads, Don Francisco.  Which reminds me, as soon as this business is taken care of, we must deal with Saragossa.”

“Then, Your Majesty, better for us to beat Alfonso in one stroke, so we can burgeon our coffers with tribute once again.”

Sancho scratched his head.  “I will consider this, Don Francisco.”

The provincial bowed and left.

*

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