The Cid Book 1 Chapter 6

Chapter VI

The Bishop from Burgos

 

Domingo deSoto and his people didn’t tarry at the house of the Lord of Bivar after their meeting.  Pancho Bruno had asked that they wait for Don Diego to return from his leisure so that the matter could be brought to his attention again, and thereby, perhaps find the man in better mind and mood.

“Don Diego has spoken,” deSoto pointed out, as resolute it seemed as their lord.  “He favors his son.”

“Would you not – with he standing there in your hall?”  Bruno said.

“No need to discuss, lest Bivar realizes our plan.  Then our necks will be in the noose.”

There were grumblings from some of the younger men, especially those from the House Florino, but deSoto ignored them for the most part, thinking these were wild words of undisciplined youths who had not learned the intricacies of patience.  Gonzalo deSoto-Torrés – one who had suffered the misfortune of Rodrigo’s sword at the Square – was the most vocal.  He complained, and too loudly, that he would love to have the chance of seeing the young master dragged by his feet through Burgos.

“And you would do this?”  Pancho Bruno wanted to know.  “Come, young Gonzalo!  Rodrigo is learned – as young as he is – with the weapons of the day.  There is not among you the skill to uncap him; he is a power to be reckoned with.  He is the son of a lord.”

“We could take him,” Gonzalo replied evenly and far too confidently.  “I would know he could not take the lot of us in the open.”

“He did, for the most part, in Bivar the other day.”

“We didn’t expect the Moor!  Some may forget that Rodrigo had assistance!”

“Yet you should not have done such an unwise thing!  Persecuting a Moor, as Moorish gold is just as ready and good as Christian!  Rodrigo is well to have cut you down for being so foolish!  Besides, that’s not the problem we are faced with, though I know it was full in your minds to rob that Moor rather than trade freely.”  Pancho finished adjusting his packs on his three mules, leaning forward now to rest himself on one of their flanks.  “We have to think about Garcés and his due.  When the Navarrese understand – ”

“And that is enough of such words!”  Shot an angry deSoto from the lead cart.  “You forget yourself!”

“Anyway,” Pancho said, mounting one of his mules, “if you had not been so rash in the Square, than the fight wouldn’t have happened.  We would have placated Rodrigo and his men the dues, and then come here with better conscious to petition Don Diego.  He wouldn’t have been more of a mind to support his son, and relax what was expected in the coffers. It would have been business as usual.”

“Who will now deal with Garcés?”  Gonzalo asked, forgetting the command of deSoto.  And when he looked up suddenly he saw the eyes of his father upon him, and his mouth came shut.  There was a brief spark – for some reason – in Gonzalo’s brain, as the memory of his brother Paulo came to bear.  He regretted to have spoken now the name of Garcés so loudly.

Yet, it wasn’t just Gonzalo and Pancho who felt this way, and there were dour, dissatisfied looks in the company as they milled about.

“Who would stand so for the defense of a Moor?”  Gonzalo asked, failing the dire warning from his father.  “Rodrigo forgets his station.”

“That,” Pancho replied.

The town master, angry over the tongues of his train, nodded for one of his other sons to ride up behind Gonzalo and knock him hard with a crop.  The blow was harsh enough to make the youth cry out, but the blow defeated any more conversation.  Soon, the small caravan moved away from the villa of Láiñez, and the fields opened up to them.

They moved slowly, the sun at their backs.  DeSoto was troubled and with his anger not only from the loose lips of his son – yet from the suspicion that Don Diego may be wise to them now; the Lord of Bivar was a man strong and quick to wrath.  There were many times he had seen Don Diego in fury over the smallest of infractions – and there were memories of seeing some who’d suffered his displeasure and yet lived afterwards if not swinging by their necks.  Maimed or scarred, these men yet walked the land here and there, a grim reminder of Don Diego’s hand.

Those were days that Don Diego had not been so diplomatic and patient, for he had not always been a man of the word but more for the caress of steel and fire.  Even now the people still talked about him and his dark days before he had married his Doña Teresa.  Don Diego had felt his power absolute, and the only authority his sword, and he had slain men with little more opportunity than to swat a butterfly.  And he had roughed and taken to bed any woman he pleased, whether she was for him or against, whether she was attached or unattached.

One such incident belonged to a smith named Ruiz, who had taken a young beautiful wife from Burgos some years ago.  The young couple had built their home near Bivar and close to the river, and the bride was a sight for the men of the region.  She had been as an angel of loveliness – Edeluisa had been her name, from the House Dominguéz.  The couple had etched a living peacefully, until Don Diego espied the bride and desired her.  He took her one morning on the ride up from Burgos where the lord had levied the new rate of dues by the king, and there took her spoil under the trees near the river.  The event had not gone unnoticed of her husband who took up a heated brand to make vengeance, even to the face of his lord.  The young groom pounded on the door of the Láiñez villa and demanded satisfaction for himself and his ravaged bride.  Such did Don Diego come out, with an evil grin on his face, and he stabbed the smith to death there upon the stones.  For months Edeluisa waited for fate or her missing husband to return, and with these months her belly became round and full with Don Diego’s child.  When she at last realized the death of her husband, and after the birth of Don Diego’s bastard son, she took the infant and they ended together in the waters of the Arlanzon.

Years ago – yes, but the stain on Don Diego yet remained, and some have not forgotten how he had been in those days.  The badges of honor in the house collected grime and dust, and these sometimes stayed, until they tarnish the plate of valor.  Yet Don Diego, whether a good man or bad, had both shame and honor to dress his name.  Though an infanzón, he had had a good ear to the king, and ever was he at the forefront of valor and honor – a good and wise counsel to the Crown.  He was begrudged by some, but admired by others, though in his reckless youth he had achieved more enemies than friends.

Still, as anyone who knew well the manners of the Lord of Bivar, deSoto was confident he may yet be able to pull the man’s judgment to his favor, though in the end it would mean the betrayal and death of his lord.

The town master thought of Navarre.

Garcés.

He suddenly hated that name now more than ever, but as a damned man given to fate, deSoto was preset in course and mind.  Though Garcés would most likely bid for the lands in the happenstance of Don Diego’s dismissal or death, the Navarrese lord would yet be Navarrese; he would own these lands and pay taxes to King Ferdinand of Leon-Castile, yet he would be a foreigner.  Many foreign lords own estates beyond the Ebro, even in the off-chance of losing them in war.  Yet many regained these after a time, though their own king was defeated.  Jimeno Garcés would most likely send one of his sons or other of his kinsmen to reckon with this estate of Bivar, and the millers would enjoy free trade once again.  Prince Alfonso would also have a bargaining chip due his inheritance to take the Ubierna Valley as his own, though his brother Sancho would inherit all of Castile.

The train moved silently now, following the winding track toward Bivar, the cool autumn sun flanked by wispy clouds above them, looking like a golden eye; and for the moment, the merchants were content to enjoy their journey, rather than let their troubles assail them.  Though losing the petition, they were confident in their plans.

Meanwhile the Lady of Bivar, Teresa, had taken to bed early because of a coughing fit.  Her maids moved in worried concern about the bedroom, ready to serve at once her every need for comfort.  The chief of her maids was a sour-looking old woman named Evita whom no one could guess the actual age; the crone had been at the villa for many years before Don Diego had come with his lovely wife, and though Evita had served the Lady’s family well long before, even Teresa was at a loss to determine her years.  It seemed that even while she’d been a young girl, Evita had been old.

“It won’t due for you to hover about me, ay,” the Lady told the crone.  “Surely there are more pressing tasks?”

“My task is to insure the comfort of m’lady,” Evita said with a rebuff borne of her undisclosed and ancient age.  The crone did not take idle commands; you had to give her full tone to make her obey, and then Evita would weigh the command for logic, determining if she should follow it or not.  She was the only servant under the roof who had power to veto the lord and lady’s wishes.  “Here, now, drink your broth.”

“I’m tired of drinking broth,” Teresa complained, just as she had when a little girl.

“You drink your broth, lest you forget I can still take a stick to you as I did when you were a babe.”  The crone was notorious – but well-seeming.  She was too old to care about her Ladyship’s station.

Doña Teresa drank her broth, but she allowed her eyes to once again scold the somber and sober black orbs of the old maid.

“There that and again!”  Evita affirmed, non-smiling.  “That broth will do you a lot of good.”

When one of the maids came up to the chamber to report that her Ladyship’s husband was demanding her to come down, Evita ordered Teresa to stay in bed and that she – the crone – would deal with him.

“That man believes even the stones to jump when he is wroth,” Evita mumbled, and went down to defy his summons on behalf of her lady.  Teresa loved Evita.

The afternoon went on slowly, and two of her Ladyship’s maids stayed close by – Elorna and Cristina.  Both were young – much younger than Evita – and Teresa found their company always refreshing.  Yet though she was chagrined how weak her limbs had suddenly become that day, Teresa closed her eyes for sleep.  Her mind, she found, was still working.  Even in half-sleep she was standing somewhere shaking her finger at Rodrigo and her husband, and then found a shock when a great thunderbolt struck Don Diego down.  He was dead.  She saw him – but she was so far away.

Don Diego wasn’t having good luck that day.  He and his two friends, Don Herberto Jimenéz di Osma and Don Francisco Láine di Najéra, stood beyond the thicket, studying the bare trees where one of their hawks was wheeling.  The scene was somber, as gray clouds had now swept in from the horizon, obscuring the sun.  Their horses and their retainers stood yards away, in the shade of the trees, patiently awaiting them and their pleasure, and when Don Diego looked around at them, he likened them to ghosts.

He could see the thin smoke of cooking fires northward, in Bivar, and the sight warmed him because, like his son, he loved the autumn.  Above Bivar, the rolling lands between the rivers grew suddenly flat, and when one took the river road east toward Miranda de Ebro, the way was downward, toward the lands of Aragon.  The Castilians had a joke that Aragon lay downward because that’s where Castile’s sewers rode, but the Aragonese always said that their kingdom was the base, because she was the support of Christ’s love in Spain, and no other kingdom would long live if Aragon was no more.

The rolling lands beyond the rivers were bordered by Navarre as well, and this was the reason Don Diego’s family often had trouble with them.  One of his companions that day, Don Francisco, had fought on the side of the king when they had rode into Pamplona; and the Navarrese had cut a gash in the side of his face.  Unlike Don Diego, the scarred veteran had no more dealing with the Navarrese, and the matters of the wars were at rest for him.

Even now, as Don Diego looked toward the fires of Bivar, he was thinking how he had struggled to reach his father as Jimeno Garcés ground the elder’s brains into the dirt.  Don Diego had been unhorsed by pikemen before he could gain the upper ground, and he and his soldiers had been fought back as Garcés and his guard took the standard of the East March.

The field had been lost on that first day, and King Ferdinand was hard pressed to win the second; young Sancho, five years Rodrigo’s senior, had come with his own guard and cut down Garcés’ first charge, depriving Don Diego his vengeance and though perhaps saving Don Diego and the legacy of Bivar itself.  Even to this day, the Lord of Bivar held resentment for the eldest son of Ferdinand, but it was best to know that vengeance over the death of his father was not yet at rest.  There was a special wound for Don Diego from the first day of that battle, when he had been unhorsed, and it had never healed properly, though a span of three long years have elapsed since the fight.  Don Diego bore the pain of this wound with relish, because it reminded him the frustration of seeing Garcés and his house joyfully tearing his father’s body apart.

When the three lords were turning to their horses, Don Diego saw that the Castillian prior, Esteban Buega, Bishop of Burgos, had come up with a few riders.  They shouted in mirth, as the two groups came together.

“Ho there, m’lord Bivar,” Buega greeted, remaining on his steed.  “Good to find you in good health at the leave of God.  Say, are you good gentlemen hawking?”

“That,” Don Herberto spoke at the expense of his host, bowing before the powerful bishop.  “Hawking to drive the heart of a good Christian from drink and sin.”

“And that, no doubt, Don Herberto, my son, that perhaps you had drink before you came here?  And you Don Francisco!  Ay, so we have three gentlemen here and in good health, I hope.”

“Pleased to see you in good spirits, m’lord Buega,” Don Diego said finally, at the same time motioning for his handler to take care of his bird.  He never called the bishop anything but Buega or ‘m’lord’, a humility the man of God seemed to handle with more patience than any other may allow to come from one of his vassals.  Besides, Don Diego was what the Church warmly called a Bastard Son of Christ anyway; but the Lord of Bivar did fill their coffers with charity, and the bishopric was often happy with that alone.

“I see that hawking is something more to do of late.  Harvest Moon does not put enough grain upon the tables of our good lords?  Yon – that?  Are those your hounds?  By God, I have not seen such wondrous animals, Don Diego.  Indeed.  Were did you find such dogs?”

“They were a gift from Don Francisco, here.”

“Splendid animals!  Then, it is true, di Najéra, that your breed of dogs is done quite proud!”  The bishop reined his horse about to feel the wind on his face.  “Ah, yes.  The touch of God!  Do you not cherish the autumn?”

Bishops were scant in Spain.  A prized commodity for the crown, King Ferdinand had charged his lords with the protection of their monasteries, due to the fact that they provided such good revenue and kept the common people at peace with the ways of court.  Yet the Catholic Church, mired in the wars in the Holy Land, often felt ill at ease to find the Christian kingdoms in Spain so close to peaceful coexistence with the Moors.  Yet, Castile, Aragon, and their sister states suffered rumor as backwater kingdoms anyhow, and it was not considered to be that threatening to Christendom if a strange attrition had formed.

“There is a reason, Buega, that you come here.  Will you follow us back to the house for food?  It is supper and my boys need a rest,” Don Diego offered.  He didn’t like the fact the bishop had come unannounced, and especially on the heels of his meeting with the millers.

“Then it would be good to speak of things,” Buega said, smiling.

They rode gently away from the copse, with their retainers following them, of course talking, but not talking of anything that was sensitive.  It was not customary of guests to suddenly spring on their hosts of important affairs when at leisure.  Besides, words often were kinder and more informative when the presence of food and wine were at hand.

At once, however, Don Diego could tell that the prior was troubled about something.  The bishop had been the one whom baptized him when he was born, had been there for his confirmation, had seen the Lord of Bivar raised within sanctity of the Church, as his parents before him.  Buega was old, and his ways were familiar, and when the bishop turned to give his lord a humble smile, the eyes spoke volumes.

By the time they had reached the house of Bivar, the day was dying.  The wardens had put up torches at the gate, and the sight of the house lights warmed the men as they rode in.  The only guest not to have joined Don Diego was the gentleman of Zamora, who was entertaining the women of the house with music.  When the group passed inside the walls, Don Diego found his wife now out-of-bed and guests enjoying a party, but there was no evidence of his son, Rodrigo.  Doña Teresa seemed untouched of her malady, and was dressed in white and gold raiment, her hair unbraided and free.  She came immediately to put her hand in the crook of her husband’s arm.

“My Lady of the Morning,” Buega exclaimed, kissing her Ladyship’s hand after her curtsy.

Buega didn’t press to talk business right away, and that was good for Don Diego.  The Lord of Bivar resigned himself to his privacy after making a short announcement in the hall, but there were clothes to change and the pressing needs of nature to take care of before he could return to the attention of his guests.

Something was wrong, though, even as he closed the door to his bedchamber and took his moment squatting over his pot — a trouble that rode in the ethers, burrowing and groping into his lungs and heart.  Don Diego searched out what it was that bothered him, and at first he wondered about the coming of Buega and the absence of his son, but these didn’t seem to agitate the frown on his face.  His mind lingered over the earlier meeting with the millers, to the intense words of Domingo deSoto and Pancho Bruno.  He suddenly recalled the unsmiling faces of the Florinos, and the Burgos merchants who had come with them.

When his duty was finished, Don Diego attended to his own mess, and tossed the contents of his pot out of the chamber window.  This conjured a funny memory when he recalled – three winters ago – having flung his pot at the window and the little surprise inside had found the head of a passing warden.  It still made him smile, and it was one of those things he liked doing now without bothering to see if anyone may be below; it was a chance of God for any poor sap.  For a moment, he stood there, the pot in his hand, looking at it as though it was his helm, and he wondered if they were truly that different from each other.  He enjoyed having his wife using the pot to pee in his presence in their privacy – and the thought now made him feel aroused; they enjoyed many sexual pleasures.

“Were it good to see her now thus,” he whispered.  He loved her.

Her malady may come and go, but in the thick of it, she was fading.  She was fading like a midsummer flower, no matter how strong and bright her petals and stems were.  She would get better or she wouldn’t get better.  He didn’t know.

He placed the pot in its customary place near the drawers, and after, attended to his toilet for the party below.  The dull groping fingers of unease stayed with him.

*

 

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(C) Copyright 2018 by M Cid D’Angelo

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The Cid Book 1 Chapter 4

 

Chapter V

The Petition

 

The millers petitioned Don Diego immediately.  They had come by leave to the villa three days after Rodrigo’s visit, fear and desperation riding with them.  They were well-dressed, as wealthy men of power should be, and with this they wanted to remind the father where his greater source of revenue came from.  Besides, they wanted to use subtle muscle to force Don Diego into curtailing any more audits of their books.

It had dawned a cool, pleasant morning enough.  Don Diego had spent the night hawking with a fellow infanzón from Zamora, and was preparing to receive more guests before the week was out.  Even in the space of his return to Bivar, there was much business to take care of; wrinkles in the fabric needing to be smooth.  The millers had come to represent several merchant groups from both Burgos and Bivar, and Rodrigo’s antics had stirred them up.  It didn’t surprise Don Diego that even Pancho Bruno had joined them in clamor.

The Lord of Bivar was late getting from his bed, even when the porter told him the millers had arrived.  He bade them to be fed and to be made comfortable as he leisurely spent the last hour of his time in bed with his wife.  There were two reasons he did this, and with method: first, Don Diego wanted to show the millers that he met with whom he wished at an hour that he wished; secondly, he was enjoying the jokes of his wife.  She had been in a fit of illness the night before – coughing – but the sun had returned some of Doña Teresa’s color to her cheeks.  Yet, her eyes were dark, and this worried him.  Anyway, she had learned a few humorous stories from their guest of Zamora, which included a blind town master and his mute son, living together for years in the same house.

“So you see,” Doña Teresa came to the end, “the town master asked his visitors whether or not they had heard rumor of his lost son.  Well, one of the guests told the blind man he had had the youth that day feed and water his horse!  Full of joy, the town master asked them to send for the youth as he hadn’t seen him in years!”

“And the boy was mute?  Is that why the blind old man didn’t know his son was living with him those years?”

“Yes!”

“That is not a true story!”  Don Diego pointed out.  “How can a man live with his son and not know he was there?”  The joke was obviously lost upon him, and this because the lord wasn’t a man of humor.  He smiled only because his wife was smiling, and she held for more wit than he.  Yet he found himself wanting his wife to be there with him at the meeting.  She was wise and remembered every syllable people said.

Teresa looked at him softly.  “Go to them, m’lord.”

“Why not I stay with you?”

Teresa laughed.  “You know better than I!  Or would you conduct court from your bed with your wife naked upon your arm?”

“They would envy me.  Perhaps then a distraction to know their minds.”  Don Diego sighed, loving the way his wife’s face was caught in the sun.

“Go you to them,” she whispered.

The Lord of Bivar then spent time at his toilet, pressing the group of millers to wait even longer.  He enjoyed the perfumes Doña Teresa had given him for his birthday, so he explored which scent made him smell more masculine.  He put on a heavy studded jerkin, tough rawhide breeches, and tied his white-peppered hair back in a ponytail.  He girt his father’s sword, impressed by the way the metal shone in the cool light of the autumn sun, and, taking a deep breath, finally strolled down to the hall to meet his guests.

The meeting didn’t start off well at all.

For one thing, the millers didn’t bow when he came in.  Secondly, they didn’t smile or pretend it was a good thing to visit the hospitality of their lord.  They didn’t bring gifts.  They also seemed pressed to waive words of greeting and get on with business more than how Don Diego wished to get on with breakfast.  Finally, and unbidden to the meeting, Rodrigo had himself appeared.

Domingo deSoto stepped forward to be heard.  He’d brought his whole clan with him; three hulking sons stood there at his back, and both of deSoto’s brothers had come with a loaded entourage.  In addition, the Florinos had also come, sporting ten strong, most of which were sons and grandsons.  There were no women, but it was widely known that deSoto’s wife was more than a power to reckon with.  Of course, filling out the bunch, were those individuals who held prominence in the cities, of which Pancho Bruno, as told before, was one.

DeSoto began cordially enough.  He said, “M’lord Don Diego, please forgive this inconvenience.  We beg you to be at peace.”

Nobles had to be careful dealing with their diplomacy, for it was the wisest among them who understood that the people often governed themselves and held great interests in the state, and it was best to appear understanding and kind – even when dealing with the common rabble.  DeSoto and the group with him were not common rabble anyway, and that meant the Lord of Bivar had to think more about everything he said, or he may destroy those things he built.

Don Diego began with little humor: “Let me guess, you have come to enjoy my home or to invade me.”

There was light chuckling from the group.

“Thank you for meeting with us, m’lord Diego.”  DeSoto went on to encourage more ease, as he again spoke to the Lord of Bivar of how honored the merchant families were to be allowed to speak with him that day.  The town master then went into a lengthy introduction of those who had come with him, which went longer than necessary because Don Diego wouldn’t remember everyone’s name anyway.  He often spoke of his terrible memory for names and would forget his own if people didn’t clamor it all the time.

A pause followed.  Don Diego brushed away an imaginary piece of lint from his jerkin, acting bored.

DeSoto gave a quick glance at the form of the knight’s son leaning against the far wall casually.  “My sweet and gentle lord,” the old man said, “we had thought this meeting would be private between ourselves.”

Don Diego studied Rodrigo a moment, embarrassed, and then decided to improvise.  “He is bidden to come and go, and it is well he hears our words, dear Domingo.  He will yet to inherit what remains after me – so it is best he learns.”  The look bestowed from the father to his son was not warm, however.  It carried the message that there would be something to come of the youth’s intrusion.

The millers weren’t happy with this; they cast long looks amongst themselves.  A strange tapping somewhere in their midst punctuated the effect of their unease.

“It is best to look at me.  Rodrigo has little to do with our dealings.”  Don Diego took this moment to sit in his hard-back chair.  “You should consider the motives of my will and not those of my son, though it was he who came to your shops to exact the dues.”

DeSoto bowed, acknowledging this.  “It concerns us the harsh treatment your son and his men have caused.  Ay, such as it was to force us to read our books therein the Square of Bivar, and then to take a toll in flour from my stores!  We are God-fearing men of the Crown and not meant for such treatment.”

Rodrigo, who had been quiet up to this point, suddenly blew a loud raspberry.  When all turned their attention to him, he laughed out loud.

“Rodrigo,” Don Diego warned, “remember your place in this hall.”  Then with a casual smile, the Lord of Bivar returned his attention to his millers.  “It is my fault: I spoil him.  I am a man who loves my son, and perhaps, I should be stronger.  Yet this matter bothers me that there were discrepancies within your ledgers, ay.  So much to see enough gold to help better the road or the canals!  Ay, such as it was, this gold, in your pockets?  Were your books kept that shoddy, my good men?  Or were you forgetting the day of dues?”

DeSoto held up a hand in supplication.  “Of course the error was not checked over, and all these months, m’lord.  It was a good deed for Master Rodrigo to see our books, but it could have been at a better time.  That day – above all days – was also Market Day and the Harvest Moon!  We would have gladly turned out our pockets at the morrow!”

“Indeed, such as it would have been, my good merchants.  However, since the deed is done?”

“Then restitution!”  DeSoto exclaimed, and the group grunted and approved loudly in the hall.  “We were unready to allocate the funds accordingly to your son.  We request in humility, ay, such as it was to reconsider the harshness of the levy and give us money a’back to aid us with our own obligations.  By God we swear that this amount shall be paid within the month!”

And that was the heart of the matter, really, whether to keep their dues or to compensate them.  Don Diego wasn’t expecting them to boldly ask for their dues back – there was a strong indication here that deSoto and his colleagues were exercising their power, and it became clear to the lord that there were yet stronger undercurrents than at first realized.  He paused, summarizing this, wondering what his father would have done, or for that matter, even the bishop.

Sensing his struggle, deSoto stepped forward confidently, his eyes now narrow slits.  “Must we forget, m’lord, where the chief amount of these dues comes?  Must I say, humbly, from all your millers?”

With this said, Don Diego understood the extant of their extortion.  They could exercise their abilities to stall commerce and tax.  The lord fought a brief battle with himself whether it was best to side himself with the likes of his millers or that to the appointment of his son.  He said, “No, good Domingo.  By God and by right, the amount taken was just.  I am sorry that you have mismanaged your accounts, yet, again, this is not my affair.”

“Yet where are the sacks of grain you stole!”  DeSoto erupted, pointing an accusing finger at Rodrigo.  “That is not justice to take our flour from our stores!  That was not agreed upon at the day of dues!”

Ramiro Fañez, one of Don Diego’s cousins who had been at that moment standing behind his master’s chair, burst out, “Watch your tongue, deSoto!”

Bivar waved his hand.  He looked over at his son.  “Rodrigo?”

Rodrigo walked out before them.  “I took the sacks to Burgos and sold them piece by piece to the hungry.”

“You what?”  DeSoto demanded, forgetting where he was.

“And then I took the gold to the bishopric to pay your back taxes, you dogs.”

The group exploded.  Men broke apart from the mass and stood out to hurl insults and point accusing fingers at the squire.  Rodrigo just stood there with a wicked grin on his face.

“Get you down!”  Shouted Ramiro, a hand on his sword, and his master’s wards came into the hall.  The millers settled to disgruntlement.

“When has it ever been, m’lord Diego, that taxes be taken by the hand of your son?  Not even the bishop has ever been so brusque.”  DeSoto made his voice clear.

“My son…” Don Diego gave Rodrigo a glance, trying to piece together his argument.  “My son has had my leave to do as he believes just.  In the taking of the dues, he acted in accordance with the bishopric.”

“He was forceful!”

“He is young.”

The petition began to lose steam, the millers decided it was fruitless to continue.  Knowing that they had no more leverage, the league begged leave of them.  As they filed out away from their lord, Gonzalo deSoto-Torres, the eldest son of Domingo, pointed at Rodrigo.

“You haven’t heard the last of this, hidalgo.”

Rodrigo smirked at the men as they passed out of the villa, taunting them more – but deSoto and his league were smart enough to keep to themselves.

“I guess they will not sup with us tonight, ay, father?”  Rodrigo asked, and laughed.

Don Diego waved away his wards and gave his son a red eye.  He stood up to confront his son.  “What is with you and them?  You have not come clear with me.  Why are you at odds with my millers?”

“They are pigs, father.  Pigs.  If they were women, they would be pigs with teats.”

“There is more to this than your fury, Rodrigo.”

The son shrugged.  “They are up to something.”

“They are greedy as any man.  Let it alone.”

“You would not think to compensate them!”

Don Diego shoved his son back against the deeping wall.  “I will do what I will, boy.  Now get you gone from me, ere I forget I am your father.”

“Back your hand, father – you’re choking me.”

“I would do more.”  Their eyes were fast to each other’s.  Don Diego felt his blood rising, but the cool, confident gaze of his son unraveled everything he felt.  He loosened his grip.  “I want you to talk to me more.  I know not your mind, Rodrigo.”

The youth swallowed, and when his father had released him, rubbed his sore neck.

“Don’t take measures yourself,” Don Diego warned him.

“He may have a point, m’lord,” Ramiro said softly, still behind the chair.  His younger brother, Alvar, had become recently a man of standing.

“There is point only when I take it,” replied Don Diego, annoyed.

And that was the close of the discussion – for now.

Rodrigo dismissed himself as abruptly from the villa as the Merchant League.  He had friends nearby and he wanted to savor his victory over the millers.  The squire cared little about his father’s threat – but he loved the man deeply.  There were often lies and duties away from home that kept his father distracted, so Rodrigo didn’t blame the older man for being out-of-touch.

When he came into his father’s stables, he paused to stroke the hair of his pony, Bavieca – a name he had given to her of his own, and she was his favorite.  She was young – and not ready to sport a rough rider such as the fiery squire, but her coat was snowy and speckled with black, and her eyes soft and kind.  Already his father had it to mind have her mated, for Don Diego had a warhorse and didn’t need another.  Nobles in service to the king’s armies sometimes had several in waiting in case of mishap, but the lord had a special kindness of the king to receive a horse at his whim.

He remembered well how he had attained her from his godfather, the good Bishop Estaban Buega, and to him did Rodrigo clamor that he’d wanted a mount.  There Buega took him to the pasture where the mares were running hard upon the somber morning grass near the river, and with one ran a dirty and mangy filly by her side.  It was this the young Rodrigo had pointed and cried, “she is the one!”  Yet his father had chastised him for such a poor choice and said he had chosen a booby (Bavieca) – a bad one.  And Rodrigo had declared, “Then Bavieca is her name!  She will be a grand horse!”

He brushed back Bavieca’s mane, smiling.  “Millers,” Rodrigo breathed.  He let a thin pass of air between his clenched teeth, remembering the proud words of deSoto.  “They came to petition my father because they have no thought of my station.”  He was aware that he was talking to himself, that even though Bavieca was responsive in a slight nudge from her nose, there was no one to perceive his fury.  “Ay –what could it be that they steal so from the hands of their lord?  Then, like worms – and they are worms, Bavieca – they slide in here to object the justice from my hand, and then even my own father!  They slide, ay.  Slide in leaving a trail of slime.”

His father needed more eyes, Rodrigo thought.  Don Diego just didn’t know whom to turn to for help.

Yet there were so many things to do.  It was often a hard trust to be more than what your betters wish you to be, and Rodrigo felt he had more to be on guard for, as the son of the lord.  But why did the millers and the Merchant League risk their heads for hiding their gold?  The squire had been suspicious of them ever since he’d heard a monk in Burgos mention that with all the gold they could get from the League, why the merchants always seemed short.

At that moment, having seen the young master ducking into the shelter of the stables, a rider from Leon came up and dismounted.  The squire studied him.

“Master Bivar,” the gallant rider called out from the open door.  “Ho!  Rodrigo Diaz!”  He was a big man, with his beard coifed, and his garments of reinforced hide and linked mail.  He was a knight.

The youth suffered the messenger to wait as he leisurely made a few gentle swipes of the brush, frowning.  He thought it was probably a note from the see to adhere to his duties at Burgos that Sabbath, but Rodrigo wasn’t in the mood for it.  There were too many things to do, and altar service wasn’t one of his favorite things though he had promised the bishop the duty.  He placed the brush on the peg and went to meet the rider.

“Well met,” the messenger said, handing the youth two envelopes.  “Words from Leon, the Infanté, Sancho and his sister, the Infanta, Urraca.” Rodrigo at once recognized the messenger as one of the king’s men, and by such, an important position as a herald of war.

Rodrigo tore the seal of the first and read the few pen strokes therein.  Sancho, the eldest of Ferdinand’s children, hated writing letters.  Matter-of-fact, Rodrigo was surprised that such a letter had come; Sancho was given more to chasing the young serving maids and brawling with his friends and retainers than with schooling.  Still, it was not a letter of haste or urgency; it was just an elaborate request for Rodrigo to come back to Leon and play.

“A return reply, Master Bivar?”  The rider asked patiently.

“Yes.”  Then remembering his manners, the youth asked if the Leonese knight would like to take supper at the house in the hospitality of Rodrigo’s father.

“No, though I run the risk of alienating Don Diego,” the messenger said.  “I came hither because I owe a debt to Sancho, and humble my position yet to ride a message for him.”

Rodrigo was intrigued.  “This, pray tell me gentle friend?”

“I am paying against my bad luck at cards.”

“No!  I have it on good faith the Infanté has certain advantages to games of chance.”

“How so?”

“He cheats.”

The rider laughed.  “So you say!”

“And by right I should, m’lord, as I’ve lost many things to him – everything save my father’s sword.”

“Then, by all means, do not wager it, young Rodrigo.”

“Yes,” the youth muttered distantly, then smiled.  “If you must take your leave of my father’s hospitality, m’lord, than take a reply to the Infanté that I will at once ride to Leon.  Yet, it may take a day or so before my journey, as it is I must adhere to duties.”

The other shook his head.  “The Infanté will not be pleased, besides, I looked forward to riding with you.”

“Then, pray, tell Prince Sancho I will hurry.”

“And to the other – both were expecting replies.”

Rodrigo opened the second envelope, wondering why the princess would bother writing to him.  He found himself smiling as he read.

 

Dear Rodrigo,

Why are you always absent?  You are like the wind.  Here and there.  We had such a good talk last time, and away from my brothers.  Sancho is writing you because he feels the need for a drinking companion.  I know you better than this.  I have taken this time away from the see who believes I should be studying more of my bearance.  I find it trying here talking only to Elvira or Alfonso.  When you come, seek me out!  Don’t idle your time with Sancho – he is a braggart.  Regardless what my mother says.

As it is father wishes me to marry some fool knight named Humberto di Orto.  My father is always arranging things.  What do you think?

Urraca, from the pen of Tol

 

Rodrigo closed the note, and then smelled the faint spray of Urraca’s perfume.

“A return to her?”  The messenger asked.

“I will bring my own – tell her.”

The noble messenger mounted his horse and wheeled about.  “To you and the health of your father, Rodrigo.  May your trip to Leon be pleasant.” And with that, he rode away.

Rodrigo thought tenderly of the eldest princess, as he walked back to the house, the cold autumn wind spoiling the warmth of the noonday sun.  Urraca was comely – not beautiful – but possessed virtues enough for any man’s desire.  If anything was slightly off about her, it was the sound of her voice – always high and nasal – but Rodrigo liked her.  They had spent much of their youth together at Tol and other places to learn the written word.  She was closer to his age than Sancho.

Now – from here, on the rise toward the house, he chanced to see wheeling hawks above the hills.  He knew that Don Diego and his noble friends were hunting far away.

*

 

(c) Copyright 2018 by M Cid D’Angelo

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The Cid Book 1 Chapter 3

Chapter III

Taking His Toll in Flour

 

Of course, the Lady of the House was more consoling to her son’s pride than what his father had been. To her, men were much like dogs in the pack, treating each other of rank rather than of blood and kin; one needed to be above the other. Doña Teresa withdrew from her bed after pacifying the needs of her lord and husband, just so she could look in on her fine young man.

Rodrigo may be many things in his youth, and even thus fiery in foolish boyhood ambition, but his mother still felt that he needed her comfort. Grown men may shy from their own mothers after a time, stating they need no more the warmth of their madre, yet they seek solace in their wives to become so in the end. And Rodrigo was still yet a boy. He may swing a sword and he may ride faster than many of Don Diego’s good wards, but Rodrigo was still a boy – Teresa thought nothing more of it.

For her, time often stood still, for she was not as busy as her husband and there were many servants in the house that looked to matters. Remembrance was now one of Teresa’s most easily come skills, and she could remember almost the day Rodrigo had last suckled from her breast, and thereon passed beyond her care of natural mothering. That had been so long ago – and more so than it came to her nostalgia rather than actual years. Boys did grow quickly. And Rodrigo was her only son, her only child. And he was her son, and though she would have liked to have given her lord more of the same, fate had not been so kind. Or perhaps it had been. She did not know.

Rodrigo had been so much hers, in those days long ago when he had sprung from her womb. When the boy was birthed, he’d come out silently; and it took the midwife, Maria, a hard smack to make him stutter and take his first breath. Even then they all saw a strange consternation on his infant face, as though he was confused why anyone would cause him harm so early in his life.

“He breathes,” whispered Maria, and that seemed good enough for her. Doña Teresa had held her charge in her arms. His father had been absent, out slaughtering enemies of Castile. The mother had wrapped her baby – this glorious new face for Castile – and held him close to her breast. The infant stared at her silently – not a cry from his lips. He seemed to be either in awe of his mother or bewildered of his gift of life.

“Rodrigo,” his mother said. He was born in a good hour, and even then she knew he was to be both life and death.

Doña Teresa had taken with her shawl to keep her warm from the coolness of the passageway and the slippers on her feet protected her from the chilled stones while upon errand to see her boy. He yet slept within the walls of his parents, though there were many who sought for him to leave hearth and home behind. There were those, including her husband, who would see Rodrigo married as quickly as possible, even before he had earned his spurs. Teresa’s northern kinsmen, the House di Oviedo in Asturias, were the main contender: Rodrigo married to their daughter, Jimena. Clamored more of Rodrigo’s servitude was the bishopric at Valpuesta where he often journeyed to read books and to learn the Law. Rodrigo in the clergy! It seemed now a joke in the gloom to her Ladyship, yet Rodrigo was a smart boy. Smarter than he should be. Even Prince Sancho had made a bid for Rodrigo to become one of his grooms, and it was an offer that Don Diego was considering seriously. Time was drawing nigh for the boy to become a man, and spare his parents more of his burden. Yet, his mother would fight this, for she was not in the mind of her husband and lord. Rodrigo would stay home.

Suddenly a pain in her lungs made her cough. The illness was worsening. Doña Teresa coughed again with her fist at her mouth, and when she pulled it away, saw speckles of blood upon her knuckles.

Don Diego would not have Rodrigo a clerk as to mind the books or to bless sinners. Many a lordship may aspire so, especially if the gambit was a bishopric; and this a great prize, for bishops were scant in King Ferdinand’s lands. Diego was not a pious man. He went to the Faith and the Blood as an ox driven by a cruel master.

In the bare glow of the sconce, her Ladyship came to the door to her boy’s room and she opened it gently. She couldn’t see but blackness inside. For some reason she didn’t think he was there. She fetched a candle and went inside to prove one way or another, and found herself glad that Rodrigo was indeed there, face buried in the pillow. But his body lay awkward, as though he’d thrown himself haphazardly upon the mattress, his arms tight at his sides and his legs jutting over the end. He made no sound with mouth muzzled and face hidden. Teresa wondered how he breathed. Then, becoming mother, she nudged him and pushed him awake. Rodrigo moaned incoherently but somehow, between wakefulness and sleep, adhered to her command to right himself. Then at last he lay on his back, his mouth open and his breath now clear. He didn’t snore save for a slight snork! at the outset.

She sat on the mattress beside him, watching him. How quickly they are and they were to be, these children, Teresa thought. On fire to become adults. Oh but be careful my son! Cherish youth and innocence while one may. There were horrific adult realities in the world.

There had been a cheating: sleep and the lateness of the hour had stolen her a moment to speak with him. Rodrigo so sorely needed guidance at times. He was practically a ruffian without it.

She kissed him lightly upon the brow to let him wander his dreams alone. He was for all time his own man, and that day at the Square proved it. But it was just the beginning.

“Is it just?” Pancho Bruno asked Domingo deSoto. The merchant had met with the town master at first light outside his home near Bivar where the great windmills cast shadows along the road to Burgos.

“Ay, just? What would be more just, Bruno?” DeSoto said. “You weigh the actions of a meddling youth whose father hasn’t taken a strap to.”

“No,” Bruno told him, scratching his balding head. He was often thoughtful and busy-minded, so the millers had been hesitant to take him into confidence of their plan. “Perhaps we could take it up with our lord, and let him know our minds for trade. He cannot keep a deaf ear to sound business, as it would profit him. I have known Don Diego for a long time; I understand his pain.”

“His pain be damned, Bruno.”

“Yet you would let a Navarrese dog sit over us? That, to me, is desperation for a glint of gold. Have you not more gold now than your house has had ever? Why not bide time yet, and Don Diego may open trade with Navarre. Even now the king and the bishop have taken ear to this, and they will make Don Diego listen. Our lord will not go against the advice of the king and the court.”

“You forget that a dog can be chained by his master; and you forget that Don Diego has already taken such a stance. The see has given Don Diego a free hand to mind these affairs.” Actually, the bishop did little to interfere with the decisions of his knights when it came to their own fiefs. Don Diego had been – and always will be – the final authority over these matters; the Lord of Bivar answered to no one other than the tax collectors of the Bishop of Burgos.

There was no more argument over this. Pancho Bruno knew that DeSoto was set in the plan, though the wounding of his son by Garcés was bitter meat. Therefore they spoke of other things, but the talk eventually came back to the Square and the Moor and what Rodrigo Diaz had done.

“We should have had him in the dirt,” DeSoto decided.

“Not with his father coming on! Don Diego would have flayed everyone if his son had been hurt.”

“That boy is a meddler. He needs to be dealt with.”

“Ay – I agree. I don’t see how this could be done with Don Diego yet hale. Besides, if our lord is removed, his son would be taken away.”

“He could inherit this land and then woe to us.”

“Not so – if the king and the princes take with Garcés’ claim.”

“The king cares little and the bishop is in Burgos.”

With this, Pancho Bruno had to take his leave for he was on his way to Leon and Domingo deSoto on his way to the stores. The town master waved at those on the street who recognized him, and some of these were children idle from the fields and playing; and some were goodwives.

Domingo deSoto’s son, Paulo, had survived the wound inflicted by Garcés, but the town master realized that the merchant council had made a pact with a devil. It would have been easier for them to bring in a neutral Castilian rico-hombre like House Cardéñas or House Láine; but Don Diego was popular among his friends. No – thought deSoto – it had to be Garcés.  Besides, Prince Alfonso favored the Champion of Navarre, and if the Ubierna Valley were ceded to the young Infanté after the division of Ferdinand’s realm, so much the better.

The millers, for the most part, sighed relief. Don Diego would – they believed – take the rash Rodrigo in hand; but the damage remained. The boy was nefarious: something had to be done about him.

Don Diego Láiñez was in the outer nobility, lesser to the rico-homés, of which the established castes of the kingdoms called an infanzón. Don Diego was a smart and clever lord, having gained an ear to the Royal Family. Many of the rico-homés caste suffered this; but none would be so quick to depose the son of Láine Nuñez, the hero of the Battle of Pamplona.

The sun was hot as deSoto came to the stores where yesterday he had faced the Moor and Rodrigo Diaz. The memory stung him sharply. He was alone, for his assistants were now at the mills, turning flour. DeSoto took back the latch and let himself in, pausing long enough to look at his girth. The town master didn’t like fat, and here he could pinch folds at his waist. His wife had remarked how healthy he was – and his children were as fat – but deSoto believed age and gristle not becoming a man at the height of his power.

It was dark in the stores for such a bright morning. The town master turned up a lamp just to get inside; here there were sacks of flour and whole grain side by side in rows on the dirt floor. The rats had been at the stores, it seemed; deSoto could see where the flour had spilled from the gnawed corners of the sacks. It was no use fighting the rats – they always won the grain in mighty numbers greater than the armies of Castile. Besides, deSoto wasn’t too alarmed, for these stores were meant for the masses of the valley and not for the king. They would suffice.

Damn Pancho Bruno, he thought. If the merchant was feeling remorse, then he could step out of the plan. Some men were blind to what justice was, even though Garcés was a dark angel and deSoto hated him. Yet Garcés was good business and business drove coin. And damn now that Rodrigo – the insolent whelp!

He surveyed the stock with a sniff.

Ay, the livestock of the Moor had been a tempting prize, though the town master had his share of goats. They could have confiscated the herd and sold the lot – and damn the Moor! He smiled – there would be other times after they had dealt with Don Diego!

The groan and shudder of the door interrupted his thoughts.

“Gonzalo, get you to the mills,” the town master said, thinking it was one of his sons. “No – wait. I want you to take some of this grain with you.”

“I am not Gonzalo,” a sharp, youthful voice sounded from behind. DeSoto turned around.

“Rodrigo Diaz!”

“Ay, it’s Rodrigo.” The son of Bivar possessed a strange grin on his face, but his smile wasn’t borne of amusement: he was girt with a sword. “You didn’t think we were finished just because my father rode into town to break our fun?”

DeSoto composed himself from shock and held out his hands. “What more would you want from me, Diaz? You took your just due from us yesterday. Was it not the full tax?”

Rodrigo chuckled dryly. “Oh now, that anything your millers and your house gives as ‘full.’”

“Did you not count the gold yourself?”

“Ay, but that’s not the pit of my concerns.”

“You’re a boy. What makes you the law of the land, ay? We answer only to your father, not you!”

The son of Bivar advanced a step with his eyes gleaming, and the town master backed up.

“You’re alone here, Rodrigo. I could call to my sons,” DeSoto warned, his voice quivering.

“Your boys are at the mills, old man. You think to threaten me? I could dice your lot.” The young heir looked around. “Ay, you have good stock here. I can’t believe your millers have been slow in business.” He sniffed. “Yet I have concerns more of the hidden gold I drew out from your coffers and ledgers. Something worms in my breast that something is not right here.”

“Your father –”

“My father is far away, you pig. I can’t help but to think you have designs to fatten your larder. What trouble were you giving to the Moor? You wanted his livestock, I’ll warrant.”

DeSoto winced at being called a “pig.” Still, the older man decided it was best to keep his mouth quiet rather than risk the youth’s ire. It may be best to be humble before Don Diego’s son until the footing was better.

“So, deSoto, you are still short in your dues. What gold do you yet hide in your fat folds?”

“We gave you all, Rodrigo Diaz.”

“None you say? Then I will take my toll in flour.”

“You are alone here, Rodrigo!”

The youth shook his head. “No, I have friends outside. You would think me foolish not to have friends? Now get away and I’ll take the flour.”

“I will take this to your father!”

“Ay, so you will. Now get back, dung-face.” Rodrigo whistled and two of his father’s grooms entered the stores to help take the sacks. DeSoto stood away, wringing his hands as he watched the men gruffly take their due and left little in their wake.

The town master followed them. “Ay! You cannot do this! How do I know this isn’t for your personal gain, Rodrigo Diaz?” All of the sacks were thrown onto the back of the cart, and one of the grooms pushed the man away as he went to the reins.

Rodrigo, now on his pony, turned about to confront deSoto. “You are worried over my integrity, ay? You’re lucky I heed as much to the law of the king and not tie you to a stump for a week, or strap you in front of your family.”

“You are a bully! You are not the king’s man!”

“We are all the king’s men, deSoto.”

The town master stood before the cart, his hands out to stop the grooms from driving.

“Get away,” one of the grooms snarled, raising a crop.

Rodrigo rode up. “Ay, ride him under, the old fool.”

The town master moved aside and Rodrigo laughed at him as he and his men rode away.

*

 

(C)Copyright 2001 by M Cid D’Angelo

 

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The Cid Book 1 Chapter 2

Chapter II

A Mist on the River

 

 

When the turn of the season came, and the leaves of autumn changed the lush green of the valley to a chromatic pallet, Don Diego came home.

The road from Leon twisted upon itself as it rounded the knobby hills, and as he came out of the turn, the lord could see the glint of the sun on the far river – a beacon on the long road. From the villa, one could look out upon the meadows and see the gleaming River Arlanzon itself, cutting its way through the land southward, where it would eventually join in a natural marriage with the River Duero and swathe themselves into a torrent of majesty through north-central Spain until emptying their union into the sea beyond.

The people of the Ubierna were river people. They spent much of their lives living upon the banks, and it was not a surprise that Don Diego’s millers did good business there, garnering a high trade. It had always proven a burden to get the just tax from them, considering they were the ones who had the power to dam the rivers and the power to distribute bread to the folk. They often fed upon this power to win lobby at the court of the Lord of Bivar, and when that mattered little, they could petition the crown itself, as much of their feed went to the king’s armies. Even Don Diego’s lord, Count Estaban Buega, the Bishop of Burgos, sometimes found his own hands tied with such matters.

That day, Don Diego came home to his loving wife, Teresa. She was pleased to find him in her arms, and the light of her blue eyes soft and reminiscent of the young maid he’d taken to wife twenty years before. Tall, proud, she was a raven-haired woman of the north, and her face was handsome and chiseled, cut from alabaster. She had been ailing as of late, but they kissed passionately – as a loving couple may – in the alcove entrance where the master had entered. His porters waited patiently as their lord and lady greeted each other.

Doña Teresa spoke first. “He is here, he is up and above.” Meaning the battlements. Their son often brooded up there alone in the shadows when troubled.

“Rodrigo? He has spoken to you?”

She shook her head, and her dark tresses were darker, somehow, in the glow of the sconces. “He came in silently, but I heard from one of the servants he’s passed above.”

Don Diego groaned and stepped inside his house, the familiar flickering shadows on the stones at once, foreign to him. He had been absent for two months now, on errand of the king, and the home he had longed for seemed more remote than the time he’d been gone. Of his knights, all had long since parted to their homes in the valley, and his wards bedded down. Slowly he walked into the foyer, taking in the badges of their families’ tapestries with an appreciative eye.

That moment was broken now, for he closed his eyes as his wife embraced him from behind. He felt her slim body against his back, her lithe arms tight underneath his own arms, fastening warmly and assuredly on his chest. At his bidding, the porters moved away, closing the massive oak doors behind them as they went.

“I was worried over you,” he whispered. “You were ill when I left.”

She said nothing; though in her eyes he could see a dullness within; that her illness had not passed away. She would keep secrets from him, and after years of their marriage, Don Diego knew that it was best at times not to press her. He was … afraid, somehow, to know the truth of matters. He kissed her and she him; and they were one.

Don Diego loved his wife upon the carpet before the fire, her light gown open and pushed aside for his eagerness, and their union in wedded bliss as he took her still half-clothed in his riding garments. It was the sort of lovemaking Teresa preferred, in her desires. She was a rough one and a fun-loving one; there was no place sacred for lovemaking. In the stables? Ay! In the bed? Ay! In the twilight grotto, and the open starlit fields … ay! Don Diego blessed his stars for marrying a woman like his Teresa.

The lord lustfully finished, quick as his nature, but it was a union long missed in the home. Yet at first he did not part from her, but remained therein, studying her eyes and her pale face and thinking how much he loved her. He did love her, much more than he had ever said, or so he believed. A man may always feel that way when he thinks he has failed the woman he loves.

They held each other, warmed by the flickering fire; the hearth a welcome end to matters of the cold road and the troubles of the king.

“What could be the problem?” Doña Teresa wondered aloud suddenly. Her husband thought she was talking about his lovemaking, and a pang of uneasiness assailed him. Yet, he noted that she was staring up at the dark, vaulted arches – the heights above.

“You mean with Rodrigo?”

She moaned a soft “yes” that was barely audible of the crackling of the fire. Don Diego respected her for she was not a foolish woman, and he asked her counsel many times when he was bothered. The warmth of her naked thigh on his loins made him feel the lingering residue of arousal, but he was too tired to press the issue more. He told her that there had been a fight with the millers in Bivar, and Rodrigo had done something to warrant it. It had to do with a Moorish goat merchant.

“When did you see him?” She asked.

“This day, as I came riding up the road from Leon. A rider brought news to me that a disturbance was amiss in Bivar, and such I went to see. And there, in the midst of the throng was our Rodrigo with a flash in his eyes and a sword in his hand.”

“Oh!”

Don Diego shook his head slightly and gave her a wink. “Rest your fears. There was no great fight with blood and steel, as you would think to see him standing there. He had had a tussle with the millers, and had suspected they had been holding out in their taxes to the Bishopric.”

“So, that is it, then.”

“Ay, yes. As the long and short of it. I find it more troubling he would find such an interest in the millers’ money ledgers than chasing the farm girls.”

“He is much like his father,” Doña Teresa whispered, her head on his chest. “I fear his temper.”

“Ay? His temper?”

She nodded. “He is moody – the servants are wondering if he has it in with spirits.”

Don Diego thumped his fist on the carpet. “They think what? Spirits? The boy is absolutely pious. He would not drink if I were to sit on him and force his lips open.”

“Still, he is detached.”

“He is just dreamy. He’s a good son.”

“Yet his moods are strange. He goes from one extreme to another.”

“And that is strange?” Don Diego moved on his side to look at her. “He is a young man developing conviction. I was not so different.”

“He needs to balance his emotions. People are afraid of him; he is…unpredictable.”

“Let them be afraid then.”

She let the matter rest, though it was clear Doña Teresa was closer to their son than her husband was. It seemed a fact that of late, to becoming less. She was staring at her husband quizzically, a unique look on her brow that made her eyes very attractive.

Now, looking at his wife in the gentle glow of the hearth, Don Diego saw that his son took after her more, and he found it interesting and warm, though he would have liked it better the other way around. Besides, the temperament of the youth was given more to her line than his, for young Rodrigo was far more thoughtful and contemplative than anyone on his side of the family.

Doña Teresa, by right, owned the lands of Bivar, not Don Diego – her husband. It was she who came from the strong and old Castilian family of Alvaréz; her father had had the honor of Rodrigo being his namesake, and he had been a strong supporter of King Ferdinand in the early years. Rodrigo the Elder still owned the strategic Castilian castle of Luna, north of Miranda de Ebro; his younger brother, the knight Nuño, at Amaya, close to Burgos itself.

“You’ve word from the king,” his wife suddenly decided.

“Ay.”

“And of this you are troubled.”

“Ay.” Don Diego rolled on his back, looking up at the shadows. He was open with his wife of duty.

She summed it with a whisper: “Navarre.”

He could only shrug.   His wife nuzzled his neck, wrapping her arms tighter around him.

“You should sleep,” she said.

“There are things to take care of.”

“There are always things to take care of, m’lord.”

Don Diego sighed. “It wasn’t his place to deal with those millers. Mark me: there will be more to come of this.”

“He has a burning fire within. He doesn’t like the millers.”

“He should keep his head.”

“He isn’t like that,” Doña Teresa said, reminding him. “He is at the time, I believe, when a young man desires to do a great deal but doesn’t know what.”

“He came home from the court.”

The Lady of the House snorted. “Ay! He threw Prince Sancho off his horse.” When she said “Prince” she actually said, the Infanté.

“He didn’t displease the Family.”

“No! But the Infanté has a sore rear-end!” And the Lady laughed. Doña Teresa was just as bad as Rodrigo was; she had once been a notorious tomboy; she had been quick to ride and hunt as any of her brothers, and she was proud that her son was a formidable horseman. When she saw that her husband wasn’t smiling, she sighed. “You worry of his diplomacy.”

“He speaks his mind and that will get him into trouble one day.”

“He will mellow, perhaps, when he has a good woman,” Doña Teresa said.

Don Diego smiled, the glow of the fire making him look both devilish and saintly because of his thin goatee. “You would think me tamed by a woman?”

“Every man is tamed by a woman.”

“I am as I always have been,” he assured her.

“No. I am your civilization, m’lord.”

He was about to protest when the Lady of the House moved her loins gently against his manhood. Don Diego became silent. They looked at each other in the warmth of the hearth, the flicker of love in their eyes; some would whisper not a man and a woman could love each other more – it was unnatural.

The loving couple warmed each other again by the fire of their home, given now only to the pleasure of this love, and not by the events of the day.

Not long after, though he was tired and the thought of a warm bed seemed far more attractive than to climb the heights to the cold battlements that crowned his home, Don Diego gave a thought to finding his son and to rest the confusion of the day. The Lord of Bivar had yet to eat, but the strange new habit of his son spurred him away from the table, and he came up the stair into the night. The passageway here was dark and treacherous, and there were no wardens to watch or to call out to, so, Don Diego felt along the wall until he was in the open, and the light of the half-moon cut the shadows aside.

At once he caught the grandiose sight of his lands sleeping tranquilly in the crisp night of this first month of autumn. With a pleasure he hadn’t felt since his younger days, the provincial lord took in and savored what lay before him. It was, indeed, a haunted realm. It took on a mantle of fantasy, and with that, Don Diego felt as if his times were mist, and he was no longer who he was – that he might be one of the elder nobles of the Visigoths, looking out of his battlements for threat of barbarians.

He was indulging his son, and it would have been something his own father would have frowned upon. “Horse whip the boy,” Don Diego could almost hear the man’s throaty whisper on the night breeze, “make the lad know that it is you who are the master.” And the thought stung him suddenly, for it seemed as if such an action would be made more for a horse than a son. Don Diego’s father had been stern and grim, never smiling in all the years he had known him; there were memories of dark times of fear when he thought that his father, enraged by some childhood infraction, would seek him out with a studded leather strap and beat him into unconsciousness.

Yet those days were over, and Don Diego, weakened and humiliated perhaps by this, had long ago burned the studded leather strap. He had pledged to allow his own son to grow and to learn the world without the harshness of pain, to respect his elders out of reason and humbleness rather than fear. It was contrariness because Don Diego by rights nurtured a harsh temper that could only be squelched at times by violence. And now? What was this? His own son scorning his father’s authority in the Square of Bivar, before the assembly of merchants and the people?

Don Diego wondered, and he leaned on the battlement to look over the short brown grass below the walls. I am a weak man, he thought to himself, I am weak because I love my son.

“Do you know why this place is called Castile?” Rodrigo suddenly said from somewhere to his right. When Don Diego turned, all he saw was the young man’s shadowy form deep in the darkness from the watchtower. There was an almost imperceptible movement as Rodrigo crossed his arms. “Do you know?”

Don Diego shook his head.

Rodrigo sighed, but he didn’t move. “They call it Castile because it’s a land full of castles. It is a land at the heart of war.” The youth was quiet for a moment. Then, when the father thought he had finished speaking, the youth said, “I’ve read about it at the bishopric. There’s much blood here. I come up here to see the mist on the river. I like to think sometimes it’s the ghosts of all the knights who’d died here.” The youth pulled himself from the wall where he’d been at first, almost unseen, and suddenly in the light of the half-moon, Don Diego beheld the stern, handsome face of his young man. His eyes were sharp and steely, but though they seemed at once like those of a hunting falcon, around them a ring of gentleness and thoughtfulness buffered out the trouble his brows could weave. His hair was long and full, darkened by his mother’s line, and his face somewhat soft and regal – the portrait of an artist, and not one you would expect to swing a sword.

It was a few moments before Don Diego looked away to the river lands. “I do not appreciate that what you did at the Square today, Rodrigo.”

“And that, father? You would hear the words of the millers?”

“That is not what I mean,” the father snapped. “You pulled away from my service without my leave.”

“I was troubled.”

“No more troubled than you will be by my anger.”

Rodrigo dropped a stone from the wall and watched it vanish in the shadows below. “Is that what you came up here for? To condemn me? No welcome here from a father long a’field?”

“It seems I had greetings a’plenty for you when I arrived to Bivar.”

“And yet these are gone?”

Don Diego drew himself up to confront his willful son. “I’ve no need to answer to you, Rodrigo. We have a problem to sort out. You forget yourself and who you are.”

“And what am I, father?”

The question truly shocked him. Don Diego, clenching his fists, was confused. Was his son being sarcastic? Had something odd had crept into the youth’s mind, sickening him beyond reason? “You are my son. Nothing more.”

“Then by being your son, would you think that I had a duty to your estate?”

“Ay, that you do.”

“And that I, upon your absence, took it up to deal with those cretins of all men, those millers? To extract from them their just due?”

“I am not angered by that.”

“Yet it was because of that you came to Bivar directly? To confront me and to condemn my own authority before them?”

“You have no authority beyond that which I bequeath to you, Rodrigo.”

The youth gave a short laugh. “Then, you would say that I am not a man to deal with those who would steal from his own family? From an absent father?”

Don Diego could see where the youth was going with this. Rodrigo was good at words; he could put them on a checkered board and play a good round of chess with them. The older man sighed and turned his attention once again to the landscape. “You are angry with me because you thought I came to drag you back home by your ears.”

“Ay, that is what you did.”

The father smiled. “No, Rodrigo. I had no idea what was amiss in the Square until I saw you there standing with naked steel, above two wounded men.”

“You should have left me to deal with them.”

“And to that, Rodrigo? To maim them? To kill them? What infraction could they have caused to warrant this? They are the sons of powerful artisans – artisans of our county. If they had merely stolen a few coins from the table –”

“– And that is not what has happened!” Rodrigo snapped, nervously massaging his forehead. “Again, the ideal of money comes up when a sword comes out. No, I righted that wrong when I had them turn out their pockets in the streets in front of the masses they steal from.”

“Stealing?”

“Ay, that from the treasury of Bivar. They use the gold for some evil purpose.”

Don Diego was dumbstruck; not so much that his millers were corrupted, but that his son believed they were.

“I believe, father you are concerned over the other matter. The one about the moor.”

When Don Diego had found his son in the Square with his sword drawn, the fight had concerned the fact that the millers would not do business with a moorish goat merchant. As much as Don Diego could figure out, the millers’ sons had ganged up on the defenseless moor and were about to steal his flock when Rodrigo came upon them after auditing their books.

“Why defend the moor?” Don Diego asked.

“Justice.” The word was quick and full. Rodrigo had no doubts in his tone. “It is the law of the king.”

“And you feel you are to uphold the law?”

Rodrigo laughed again. “If the will of the land is unheeded, what lays then? Ay, chaos, anarchy. The world ends with people tearing the flesh away from another and drinks the blood.” The youth began to pace, his head down, his face hidden by the long dark locks of his hair. “It is a disease I think I have. I cannot stand to see something like that. The millers’ sons had every intention of killing him there in the street, though he protested justice in the name of King Ferdinand. Free trade between vassal states of Castile!”

“Even though the merchant was a moor?”

Rodrigo stopped and looked up, his eyes blazing. “Especially that! The moors of Saragossa are equal subjects of the king, by right and law able to have the peace of mind to deal openly with his other subjects. Just because one city is Christian and another is moor, does not separate the reality of justice.”

Don Diego, caught between the pride of hearing such conviction from his strange son, and fear that the youth was simply mad, cocked his head. “By the laws of Christendom, moors have little right to justice.”

“And no doubt they feel the other way around.”

“So, you were willing to kill our powerful artisans’ sons just so that a moor could barter freely in a Christian town?”

“I don’t know,” Rodrigo told his father, “I think that it is important. I was willing to endure the wrath of the whole town if need be.”

“That’s what you would have had, most likely.”

“Most likely.”

Don Diego, angry over his son’s nonchalance, slapped the young man across the face in a rise of emotion. Rodrigo, shocked, rubbed his cheek. The blow wasn’t harsh, but it had a little sting to it.

His voice quivering, Don Diego said, “You will not do such again. You will report to me any doings in my town and my lands, but you will not take a hand. Do you understand me?”

Rodrigo said nothing.

The Lord of Bivar studied his son for a few long moments in anger, though secretly pleased in some ways. Then, without a word more, Don Diego turned and made his way from the battlements.

*

(C) copyright 2001 by M Cid D’Angelo

A castle in Spain

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The Cid Book I Chapter I

Facta Ducis Vivent, Operosaque

Gloria Rerum.

  • Ovid, In Liviam, 265 A.D.

The Hero’s deeds and hard-won fame shall live.

 

Chapter I

Blood and Gold

 

Ghosts remain, tethered to those left behind, and for them life and death still exist. These ghosts scream through echoing corridors of endless reaches; they are forgotten and not forgotten in the contradiction of living and remembrance. With blood on his hands, a tide of scarlet that welled from the darkness and the lips of a thousand ghosts, Jimeno Garcés was satisfied.

The Navarrese champion rode under the cover of night, bearing no naked steel and enshrouded in midnight. His horse was loud at gallop, but he cared little for that, considering that anyone who may tarry on the road from Navarre would be but a pilgrim or perhaps a merchant, and not a cavalry soldier. King Ferdinand’s lords didn’t waste men on the frontier during times of peace, and neither did the Navarrese; yet it was best to travel as unnoticed as possible.

At once drifting clouds passed the waning moon and shone upon the barren fields leading to the river lands of the Ebro, and when Garcés checked his steed to a trot, the moonlight caught him and made the knight appear as a black wraith. He would have enjoyed this if he had known. The champion was full of purpose, given now to his quest of gold, and with thoughts of the warm glint of coin, he did little to remember the lights of home far away. His wife there waited for him with his bold sons and his sweet daughters. Even a man dark with cunning had someone to care for him.

There were men waiting to the side of the track ahead, mists in shadow under the moon. Garcés came to a stop, wary that they might not be who he supposed, for there were brigands about and others who would challenge the steel of the Champion of Navarre.

“Well met,” cried a young voice from the group.

“And you,” was Garcés’ reply. His hand strayed to the hilt of his sword. The knight told himself to wait. If these men were robbers, they would learn an agonizing lesson trying to take him, he thought. He wheeled his steed about impatiently.

“Garcés,” greeted another voice from the group. The knight recognized it as the town master of Bivar, Domingo deSoto.

“Do you have your due?” The Navarrese asked. There was a pause, a hesitation that immediately set Garcés uneasy. He didn’t think that deSoto would show up forgetting the gold from his millers, and of this they should all be mindful. The knight grasped his weapon.

“We were surprised you came alone,” deSoto said, leading the group toward the rider slowly. “You come alone; are you unafraid of the night?”

“The night doesn’t frighten me,” Garcés told him. “Ay, as much as that man who hides under his bed. You have my due?”

“We wished to discuss matters, m’lord.”

“There is no discussion: we are in agreement.”

“There will be trouble,” exclaimed deSoto.

The knight just stared dully at the men, thinking it would have been best to have sent his clerk, Alvarado, to take up this matter. Yet, even so, the knight hadn’t expected trouble from these men of Burgos. They and their ilk. When the four riders came up, Garcés was at ease for the moment. He at once recognized their faces and thought them little threat.

“It cannot be helped, for tomorrow is the day of dues,” deSoto said. “We have brought only a quarter of your said price.”

The knight frowned. There it was. His steed became fidgety and was milling about, and he had to check her to make her steady. She was of mind like much that of her master, and thereby wary herself. After a moment of silence, the Navarrese told them, “Hear this now: we are in agreement. I am to be paid fully. Not a half. Not a quarter. Fully.” His tone was flat and dangerous.

“We will be audited by Don Diego and the bishopric.”

“Do they suspect your treachery?”

DeSoto grimaced. “Treachery? Ay? You would call us – your friends – traitors? We wish only the chance for open trade with Navarre.”

“Even if it means killing your lord, Don Diego.”

“Ay, that,” put in the stubby merchant, Pancho Bruno. He was humbly upon a burro, wearing a rough skin cap and looking fat in the shadows. “Don Diego keeps the roads checked for trade because of his hatred for your house, m’lord Garcés.”

“That,” agreed deSoto, his voice calm. “We have no reason to stop trade with the Navarrese over a family dispute. It would be far better business to have you petition the king for this land and oust Don Diego and the Bivar Family.”

“Even now his son has shown interest in our dealings,” Bruno said.

“Not much for me to leave my home for the Ubierna. Sorely am I pressed to take this land in the stead of Diego, and thereby a hard gambit to win King Ferdinand’s favor.” Garcés chuckled. “You merchants and millers. Ay, such as governments unto yourselves. You try to seem as though you are just and loyal with your talk of ‘business’ though you are ready now to place a blade in the back of your lord. Yet I will honor our agreement to bring this about, ay, so you would know that such an ousting of Don Diego would be as good as to pour his brains out upon the dirt.”

“Then will you accept this trifle payment for now, m’lord Garcés, and we shall pay you twice as agreed upon the New Moon?” DeSoto asked.

Garcés held up a hand. “I did not say I am settled with this. I came here, miles from my home and alone. I have come in good faith instead of having you come to Pamplona, and now you say you do not have my due. That is sore tidings.”

“Only circumstance, m’lord.”

“Circumstance be damned. By God man! Who do you think you are dealing with?”

The merchants looked at each other, at a loss.

“There is no guarantee that even with your payment that King Ferdinand would allow me – a Navarrese – a chance yet to sit as lord of Bivar. Ay, with an army I could take it, but that would be more gold.”

DeSoto recovered, but he was unaccustomed to speaking before an armed man, and his frail voice was as a twitter in the night. “Castile will belong to the Infanté, Sancho, yet last month in Leon did Prince Alfonso praise the ideal of you here, as so long as you keep to your promise of placing the Ubierna in the hands of Leon! We are certain!” DeSoto was openly agitated with the knight’s arrogance; the townmaster was not a man familiar with indignity, regardless of the other’s rank. “He knows well your fight with Don Diego and the House Láiñez. You speak how we are to betray our lord Don Diego and you have said nothing about your betrayal of King Ramiro! Yet such betrayal would be as sweet to Ferdinand’s table, if he cared. You will be granted all the Ubierna Valley, just as long as you take care of Don Diego Láiñez. And what concern have you? You own some estates even in the heart of Leon. You – a Navarrese!” It was true: many lands were scattered about and owned by lords of other nations; allegiance only reflected upon who paid taxes to what crown and when.

The knight studied the merchants a moment, pondering their logic, if logic there be. He was not a friend of Leon-Castile, and he wondered if his gambit to own Bivar and the Ubierna Valley as well as Pamplona would be fit for King Ferdinand. With all this plotting, it was more likely his bid for the Ubierna would have to wait, for the old king to die and his children to inherit their lands. How long would that wait be, even if he did kill Don Diego? Garcés would lose Pamplona, he knew, and perhaps start a blood feud with Ramiro of Navarre. But then, considering what he had to gain with gold, his mind was put to ease.

“Is that your son, deSoto?” Garcés asked, pointing at one of the riders.

“Ay, he is my youngest, Paulo,” the townmaster said proudly.

“He is a healthy boy.”

“He is the image of his mother. A good match against Rodrigo Diaz, wouldn’t you think?”

“Rodrigo Diaz,” the cold voice of Jimeno Garcés echoed the name of Don Diego’s son. The knight lashed out with a small dagger, a flicker of keen metal in the moonlight, slashing the youth’s neck. In mouthless shock, the boy grabbed his welling throat and fell back off his mount. The merchants shrieked as the gurgling boy thrashed on the ground.

Garcés took the reins of the pack mule that held his gold from the stunned deSoto and turned about. “A little thing to remind you not to be trifling,” the knight told them as he trotted away. He ignored the shouts of outrage until he was out of earshot and into the night beyond.

*

Amcbride008

 

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“The Roadrunner” Published by High Desert Journal

promo - High Desert Literary Journal

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Sam Shepard Passes Away

Sam Shepard has been one of my great mentors. Rest in Peace, my good fellow of the Arts.

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