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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The Cid Book I Chapter 20

Chapter XX

Upon the Tourney Field

 

If anyone, Prince Alfonso was the first to calm down. At first outraged that Rodrigo Diaz would have resisted the bid that the Infanté would benefit from, at last allowed himself gentle airs and to wage a bet against the son of Bivar.

“Imagine!” Alfonso exclaimed, now in mirth. He had retired early from the matters of court and to take counsel with his sister Urraca. “Challenging a blooded knight as Garcés. The fool will be gutted ere being unhorsed!”

“No – he doesn’t have a chance,” murmured Urraca somberly. She rubbed her forehead, a headache dull behind her brows. “I admire his courage.”

“Courage you say? Fools have the greatest courage and there are cemeteries a’plenty filled with fools. He’d best have stayed silent. As it was, anyway, not his business.”

“Yet you were the one who knighted him!”

Alfonso laughed, amused by this. “Ay – only to make it easier for Garcés to clean his bid. Not even Sancho made fervor. Once Diaz is dead, Bivar will be open and there will be no more matter of discourse.”

“He accuses Garcés of killing his father.”

“Allegedly!” Alfonso cried, his hands in the air. “Even if Don Diego had been killed at the hands of the Navarrese, better yet to the better man. Bivar was a traitor.”

“Unless Rodrigo’s father was seeking Sancho’s pardon.”

“Not a weight to that,” Alfonso said, suddenly angry. He lay on her bed and began fidgeting with one of her bed dolls. The doll had been a gift from her aunt, and it bore the name Tita. Urraca watched him twist the cloth body until he had nearly pulled off Tita’s head.

“Leave her be!”

Alfonso looked at the doll passively, then tore the head off and threw it in the air.

“Alfonso!”

“You’re too old for playthings, sister,” the prince told her cruelly.

Fuming, she turned and left him.

What was it that he possessed? Alfonso? He could be kind and gentle, and yet a wicked monster if let be; he loved cruelty when he knew he could get away with it. That was a man – Urraca thought – a mule of a man. He wasn’t like Rodrigo Diaz; she had never seen the young squire cruel like that. She went to seek him out, as just to be near. Urraca – moved by the squire’s temperament of courage – found herself drawn to watching him as he sat alone and dejected in the kitchens long after the staff had retired.

“He is so sad,” the Infanta whispered to herself, hanging in the growing shadows of the pantries, her hands holding up the hem of her dress to keep it from staining. Her jaw worked as she contemplated him. Rodrigo had become a leper after his outburst, even to his own family and friends. Some no doubt felt pity, but so many more considered him a final amusement on the strange bid for the Ubierna.

She remembered them as children, when the young Rodrigo had come to Tol to learn his letters. The boys beat him up twice, behind the backs of the monks, but when Rodrigo and Urraca had been taught together by a tutor in Leon, they had become friends. He hadn’t been as intense as he was now – she remembered. He did boyish things back then, of course, galloping around on an invisible horse and laying low hosts of dragons and black knights. But he would talk to her, and she to him, and they even allowed brief moments of playing as husband and wife, when furtive kisses and imagined love highlighted possible future roles. The Infanta wondered what could have been for them, if things hadn’t become twisted in time.

Even now a blush came to her cheeks when she thought of the day she had exclaimed to her father that she would marry Rodrigo. She – seven years and he just barely five – had decided already.

He is a handsome young man, she thought, sitting there in the shadows. I wonder if he’s waiting for someone?

The young knight looked up and saw her standing there. For a moment their eyes locked and they couldn’t look away. Rodrigo got up and came over to kneel before her and kiss her hand.

“Rodrigo,” Urraca said, touching his hair. “Why do you have such conviction to anger so many?”

He smiled faintly, and then looked away. It was obvious he had little more in him after the tumult he’d caused.

“I want to know why you feel just in challenging courses of those greater than you are,” the Infanta murmured. “You are a good man, I feel. Why are you so quick to die?”

“What is death to a man who has no life anyhow?”

“M’lord Garcés is undefeated in single combat. He has sent many men to their death upon the field. He is the Champion of Navarre; no knight in Leon-Castile would have been as rash as you.”

“I’m a good fighter, Your Highness,” Rodrigo told her.

“Not good enough to beat him, I’ll warrant. You will die upon the morrow, Rodrigo.”

“Then I will die.”

“You are only seventeen years old! You haven’t been blooded – ay! Turn from this; you have no honor to defend.”

“My father was much younger when he was blooded a’field. And consider your brothers leading the king’s armies. They had been blooded long before seventeen, m’lady.”

“And you will die then so readily?”

“Ay – readily.”

Suddenly Urraca took his hand and kissed it gently. “I fear for you, Rodrigo!” She touched his hand to her cheek and caressed it – then dropped it and went from him.

Afterwards, Rodrigo left the kitchens alone as he’d sat there. Somber, he wanted time now to go out and watch the sun set and prepare for the end. He decided it was no use practicing in the bailey because he knew he hadn’t a chance to best the Navarrese. He felt ashamed and frightened, but he didn’t know where to go. Communing with God was closer – he felt – looking up at the sky rather than kneeling for hours before the sacrament.

He had nothing of his father and mother left to him, save for Bavieca who waited for him patiently in the stables. Everything else in Leon had been given to him from his benefactor, Sancho, and none of these things brought him comfort. He decided to lay out his best clothes for the burial so that the wards would have no problem disposing of his body at the end of the day.

Then he quit the bastion and found Bavieca in the stables; soon he was out of the city. The sky was peaceful as he rode toward the barren hills, skirting the track and coming to the vale where the bailey wards train. The copse was thick here and there was a stream nearby that fed a patch of lush green. Its banks were covered with a pale moss, and the stream muttered without a mouth, pressed in the heat of the dying day. Rodrigo fed Bavieca half an apple he’d taken from the table and led her to the seclusion of the trees. He bowed to his knees and crossed himself.

His face streaked with silent tears and the dust from the road, he mumbled his prayers. The sun, oblivious, sank on the horizon, leaving him in shadow.

            Rodrigo had not slept the night, spending time with Bavieca, brushing her flanks and watching her rest – hoping that the four-year-old was ready to take the field against Garcés. A soft light of purple slipped into the stables, heralding the dawn breeze before the heat of the day would wither it.

Bavieca was not a warhorse – yet. She was trained well in the artful riding of her master, but she didn’t know everything there was to tourney fighting. For a while, Rodrigo was more concerned with her surviving the ordeal than he was for his own.

Rodrigo had no weapons or mail. His father had taken everything in his disappearance, so the young knight would have to rely on Sancho or someone to take kindly to him and grant something for his duel. Everything he had sparred with while living under the protection of his benefactor had been the property of the bailey ward, and he hoped that he’d be allowed to use these.

“Everything to be meaningless, Bavieca,” he whispered to his horse. “Ay, you have no barding and I no mail. We’ll last the first run, perhaps – but most likely not.” He wondered about how painful it would be to have the length of Garcés’ lance in his innards as he was thrown off his horse.

Bavieca snorted and playfully nudged him with her nose.

“I wonder if I can get a shield from Ordoñéz.” Rodrigo had a few tricks to play on the field – that is – if he survived to use them. Still, his opponent was far more experienced; would Garcés know everything he would do?

Just then, he heard the soft tread of someone entering the stable. Thinking it was a groom, Rodrigo shut his mouth and returned to brushing Bavieca’s flanks.

“I thought I would find you here, Rodrigo Diaz,” a man said from the next stall, unseen. The voice was cold and even. “You are up and ready, so it seems, to fight Don Jimeno.”

Rodrigo blinked and stopped brushing. “Who cares?”

“There are those who would care, senór Diaz, though you are small claim to unhorse the Champion.”

“That is what I hear, senór.”

“I am pleased with your courage, though.”

Rodrigo shrugged whether or not the other could see the gesture. He took another swipe at Bavieca’s flanks.

“How do you suppose to fight him?” The cold voice asked passively.

“I don’t know.”

“Ay – you are worried more with dying.”

“I am.”

“When I heard you at Reception yesterday, I was intrigued by your challenge. I agree with you: m’lord Garcés did conspire with your father’s millers.”

“And how would you know this, senór?”

“Let me say that I know m’lord Garcés well, and I was an ear to him at his bid. He has many enemies in Navarre.”

“Who are you then, senór?”

“I am Francisco Villéz, Count of Amónardo.” The Navarrese ambassador came around the stall, revealing himself. He was tall and lean, and a dark satin and red trim he wore. His hair was black and wiry and along with his carven face, reminding the young knight of his uncle, Don Nuño. Rodrigo bowed respectfully, noticing that the man had in his hands naked steel – a sword.

“With your words, m’lord, I find it hard to believe you’ve come to kill me. Perhaps that task will be done by another ere the day is out.”

The ambassador smiled, though his vacant stare never wavered. Don Francisco possessed dead eyes, as a man who somehow knew death and where all life goes in the end. “This is for you, senór Diaz. It is the Sword of Pamplona, taken from m’lord Garcés’ home ere he left it.”

The blade had a cruel shine to it, and there was Latin inscribed upon the hilt denoting valor and justice for Navarre. The handle and guard had a gold finish to it, and the pommel had a circle with a cross. It was a fine weapon.

“Why, m’lord, do you offer me this?”

“I was planning something grander for m’lord Garcés, yet it will serve you kindlier on the field today.”

“Why an interest in me?”

“I am hoping you to win, senór Diaz.”

Rodrigo smirked, putting the brush on a peg. “Perhaps you should hope for lightning to strike the man on the field with better chance than I besting him. I am sore hope, m’lord Don Francisco.”

“May better than you think – yet, as I’ve said, small claim. I am putting my faith in God and in you, though this chance far-fetched.”

“God will not be with me on the field, m’lord.”

“God would be better with you than with Don Jimeno.”

“This blade you give will fail along with me.”

Don Francisco shrugged – his stare still unchanged. “Then I will recover it. Take it, senór Diaz – you have nothing more. May God go with you.”

Rodrigo took the blade and studied it, feeling the weight in his hand. He bowed respectfully to his unforeseen benefactor.

The clamor of the tourney field carried miles upon a cool, southern wind.

A circus of colors, spreading prominently about in banners, signs, tapestries, and clothes, whirled and dressed the festival. Its people congregated and mingled with each other in good stead. Everyone, it seemed, as far as Granada in the south, or to Barcelona to the east, or Cluny in the north, had come. Here Christians and Moors came together peacefully, and those within these factions peaceful among themselves.

However peaceful, the mass organized itself into groups representative of politics, and these were betokened with banners and pennons. These sigils, now fluttering in a stiffening breeze, cried not only nation or city, but of spirit and herald; one such banner, at the head of the pavilions, shown a gold boar’s head and a black background, and supporting the boar’s head were fierce lions – the emblem of the House of Pamplona and Jimeno Garcés. As a note to fealty, Garcés had, upon the death of the young knight from Bivar, promised to burn the banner and take up a new one instead.

For Rodrigo’s benefit, both Infantas – Urraca and Elvira – had placed a generous wage on the young knight, so moved were they in romantic notion of his courage. They had the honor to sit in the box across the tourney field directly across from their parents, surrounded by their handmaids and close by their many suitors. They were, if vulgarism allowed, ‘on display’ and were the centerpiece on a table. Urraca had adopted the soft violet banner of her mother, when the queen had been of age before her marriage to Ferdinand. The banner signified Urraca’s station and her availability, and in honor of her sex, the tourney was dedicated. Urraca didn’t like tourneys, though her younger sister did, and they watched the gathering of the competitors with scrutinizing eyes.

“None of the champions are fighting,” Elvira complained, her dark hair tied back in a row of braids, a gossamer scarf adorning her conservative hat. “Ah, they are all too old anymore. You remember Don Francisco di Najéra? He bested two mounted knights last year.”

“And lost his horse,” Urraca said. She shielded her eyes from the rising glare of the morning sun. “There is a full list, my dear. We’ll see good action today.”

“I fear I will not be able to stand the heat. It is so hot.”

“We are in the shade.”

“Still too hot. It was so hot yesterday I almost fainted.”

“Just keep calm and you will be all right,” Urraca advised. “I don’t see Rodrigo Diaz.”

“He has no banner.”

Urraca frowned, dropping her hand from her brow and smoothing out her gold and violet dress. She was anxious over him. The princess bent and whispered to her sister, “Do I look good? I had problems with my braids.”

“You are beauty itself, sister,” Elvira said.

Urraca groaned. “You cozen me, surely. I am out-of-sorts. Tell me if you see him.”

“Are you in love with Rodrigo Diaz?”

The older sister placed a hand over a spreading grin. “Love is such a strong word. I would not call my concern for Rodrigo love – no! He is just a young man without a house.”

“And no longer a name,” Elvira said, sharing the grin. “Oh, but he is strong and handsome! I had Gabriella sneak into his loft and steal a lock of his hair!”

“When!”

“Two weeks ago!”

“And you kept this from me?”

Elvira pulled a small velvet jewel box from the folds of her carry-all, opening it to reveal a thin crop of dark hair. “It’ll bring me luck!”

“Oh, yes, truly you are in love with Rodrigo!”

“I am not in love with Rodrigo! I have placed a considerable amount of money on him today.”

“But you stole this lock long before his challenge to Jimeno Garcés.”

Elvira had nothing to say to this, she just blushed and placed the box into the fold of her dress.

“I hope he yields to Garcés,” the older sister said. “If Rodrigo is beaten up, there is a chance the Navarrese will let him yield. What do you think?”

“Rodrigo may not yield even if given the chance.”

“He’s not that foolish.”

“He is a man,” Elvira said soberly wise, as if in her tender age of fifteen she knew all there was to know about men.

The tourney enjoyed many events. There was horse racing to begin, and many took odds to bet with their favorite steeds. There was wrestling, as commoners enjoyed a chance to shine among the nobility; Sancho himself sponsored wrestling, and bet heavily on his two favorites from La Piedra. Alfonso, not to be outdone, bet on two Galicians from Braga, but both were bested. There was archery, and here the younger prince took his revenge and money back from his brother. There were soft contests of bakers; and pies and pastries were awarded. Musicians came and battled for ears, and here and there a bard gave poetry – yet most of these were Moors. ‘Ibn Rashman of Saragossa came quickly in place of his king to watch the tourney, and especially now interested in the looming fight that Jimeno Garcés would duel. The Moor turned to be a formidable poet.

Then as the heat began to rise, the duels began. Many of these were just meant to highlight prominence to skill, as others vied only to settle old scores. Both Garcés and Rodrigo were disqualified to participate in these rounds, as they were considered a main event, and besides, Rodrigo had not taken a name to be counted among the contenders.

Then, when the noon hour came, and the heat became harsh for the men on the field, the time drew nigh. Don Jimeno Garcés, having retired to his pavilion to girt himself and prepare for his glory, gave a nod of assent to the ward who came to fetch him.

Meanwhile, on the far side of the field, another ward found Rodrigo sitting on Bavieca. The young knight had no mail, but he had been granted a lance from his grandfather, Rodrigo the Elder, and a round, plain shield from his benefactor, Sancho. On his hip was the heavy blade given to him by the Ambassador of Navarre. Carlos Lainé had been his armor-bearer, so he looked pitiful in having no armor to bear.

The young man said little as he studied the armor-clad Don Jimeno and the unassuming Rodrigo. His face was net with worry. Rodrigo gave his friend a wink.

Then as the horns blared against the sun, the youth squeezed the unprotected flanks of his horse with his knees, and began to make his way to the run.

Everyone had been waiting for this moment; it wasn’t because Rodrigo held great prominence, nor was he considered to be a good match for Garcés, but the challenge from the young knight had been before king and at court, and everyone was excited to see Rodrigo’s blood on the field – just because it was a killing.

When the man from Bivar cleared the crowd and came to the wide field, he saw immediately the banner of Garcés, fluttering in the wind. From here, he could see the knight as Garcés rode out from the pavilions, and upon his appearance, the crowd in the stands shouted and cheered. The roar was deafening. Rodrigo suppressed a rise of nerves, and the latent panic that gripped his insides. He wanted to go relieve himself and to wretch – but thinking that the end was near, it didn’t matter.

Both men rode to the center of the field, then away from the run, positioning themselves to face King Ferdinand, and to salute with their lances. All three princes were sitting there on either side of their parents, and Rodrigo dared not look into the eyes of his benefactor as Sancho studied him. For a moment before the inevitable, Rodrigo wondered how much money the Infanté had placed against him.

The king bowed his head, providing his blessing. It occurred to Rodrigo that he had not been given confession, and had not taken comfort in – his last day on earth – the prayer and divinity. He had been so nervous he had forgotten to gain blessing from God!

As the riders turned away to get at the run, the young knight’s ungloved hand was slick with sweat on the lance he held. The shield he carried tightly to his left arm seemed now a banner only for death, and Rodrigo was certain he was headed to Hell. No confession! No blessing! Was God with him?

He watched Garcés head toward his wife, and thereby granted her colors, and he felt sore at loss for he had no woman to favor him. As if sensing this, riding to the start of the run, he chanced a look up at the Infantas and saw Urraca waving for him. He trotted toward her, doing his best to look unafraid, and embarrassed that he had no helm to cover his pale face.

“Rodrigo,” the eldest princess greeted him, “you cannot go into the fight without the colors of a Lady. Pray, take mine.”

Rodrigo bowed his head and held the end of his lance to her. Urraca tied her violet scarf to it, and there stood for him. Rodrigo, smiling in mock confidence, gave her a solemn salute, and then pulled off her scarf to tie to his swordbelt.

He thought, as he rode away, that he heard Elvira’s voice say, “Oh! He will die well, pray!”

The youth came about and positioned his mount on the run, facing his well-armored opponent, fifty yards away.

The king’s herald, at the sound of the horns, stood and held up colors, signaling the riders to prepare for the duel. Rodrigo’s mouth turned to sand, his eyes flickered in true fear, and the view of Garcés against him was a shimmering dark shadow.

“I am a servant of God,” Rodrigo whispered, his voice just audible for the ward next to him to hear.

The horns blared.

The squire looked up just to see the colors the herald held drop. He spurred Bavieca forward, bringing down his lance and hoping that he could catch Garcés in the neck.

The crowd roared, thundered as Zeus and the Gods on Olympus; perhaps lightning itself smashed the ground – yet Rodrigo was oblivious. His hands were steady as he held his shield and lance…

…and struck!

Garcés had a powerful lance, much stronger than Sancho’s gift. Yet the knight’s aim was untrue, though it hit squarely on Rodrigo’s shield. The lance jolted upwards, driven by a reflexive movement from Rodrigo as he wheeled about – his own weapon compacting with such force against Garcés’ tempered shield and shattering upon impact. That moment – a brief second – Rodrigo saw the steel tip of his opponent’s lance as it missed his face. Yet, as Garcés passed him, something went wrong in Rodrigo’s saddle, and there was a sudden pop as the belt gave way and the young knight was tossed off.

He hit the ground so hard the wind was knocked out of him. Rodrigo could hear the thunder of the crowd and the tourney, could feel hundreds of eyes upon him, but he couldn’t get up. He saw the hooves of Bavieca trample away toward the end of the run – just as she was trained to do.

Just as well, Rodrigo thought. His lance had been shattered anyway, and there had been no others offered for him to use. He knew that Garcés would be wheeling about for a final charge on him, so Rodrigo pulled away from the saddle as pain in his right leg shot through him. He struggled to pull out the Navarrese sword.

His shield – cheaply wrought – had snapped away one of its straps, but the young knight compensated by gripping the remaining strap and holding it. Meanwhile, Garcés had paused to size up the situation before charging. He had given up his first lance and had selected another from one of his squires, one especially made to take on a footman. The champion spurred his warhorse.

Rodrigo, the icy grip of fear now replaced with desperation, held his shield up to receive the impact, hoping to deflect the blow to the side and wheel out from underneath the horse before it trampled him into the dirt.

He saw the steely point of the lance as it bore down on him, and, as he held the shield up, took the brunt of rider and horse as the weapon snapped the top off it and sliced a ravine in his shoulder. In a fine spray of blood, Rodrigo spun and fell to the side, hot agony screaming in his shield arm. He lay there, face down, panting.

Garcés didn’t make the full run back, he wheeled his steed about and dropped his lance now, taking out a horsemen’s mace. With the expertise of a golfer, the knight planned to knock Rodrigo’s head off with one bound.

Meanwhile, hearing the trample of hooves, Rodrigo rose to his knees. With blood staining his tunic – and now without any protection – he gripped the Navarrese sword and waited for Garcés’ charge. Nothing mattered to him at this moment – there was only the calm assuredness that this could be the final blow. He hoped his father would have been proud.

The powerful steed’s shining barding and flashing gold trim was all the youth could see. Blood was seeping into his eyes – from an unknown cut on his forehead. He ducked as low to the ground as possible to avoid the mace as Garcés rode him down.

Dizzily, Rodrigo swept his blade around, catching the horse’s forelegs just as Garcés swooped down. The steed screamed and tumbled forward, upsetting the mounted knight as both rider and horse slammed headfirst into the ground.

The crowd was set a’fire. The movement had been cunning and swift, and, as Rodrigo rolled away, he reflected his position. As he tried to get to his feet, his right foot failed him, and he found himself in pain back on his knees.

Meanwhile, tearing off his helm, Garcés dragged himself free of his horse. Though his steed was screaming and crippled from Rodrigo’s strike, the knight himself seemed unscathed.

At once now, on his feet, Garcés pulled free from his saddle a two-handed sword, perhaps sensing victory that his young opponent was done for. Slowly, at the crowd’s goading, the champion strode toward the agonized squire.

“Yield, Diaz, you have honored me by fighting well.” The knight brought the deadly blade up, readying to cleave the squire’s bloody head.

Rodrigo could hardly see his enemy. He pulled back, sweeping away the loose folds of his tunic and bringing up his sword to fend off the first frenzied slash. The blow was heavy and it knocked the young knight flat. The ringing of steel resounded again as Rodrigo held up a defense, but Garcés was in full strength and vigor – despite being unhorsed and from the heat of the day. His emblem on his surcoat – the boar’s head – mocked Rodrigo as each blow from the heavy weapon smashed down on his own blade repeatedly.

“Yield whelp,” shouted Garcés between two blows.

Rodrigo rolled to avoid another slash. By then, he was done for; he found himself with his legs under him, no longer having strength to defend himself. He held the blade to the side, resigned to fate.

Garcés advanced, bringing his heavy weapon up to finish the stubborn young knight. Just as he looked down, he paused, eyes riveted to the blade Rodrigo held.

“Where did you get that?” Garcés looked up suddenly at the stand where the king sat, and there to the side, he saw a dour look from the Navarrese ambassador, Villéz.

“Oomph,” Garcés grunted. Just as he looked back at his opponent, he knew he’d made a mistake. Before he could finish his blow, Rodrigo, mustering every ounce of strength he had, thrust the sword of Pamplona into Garcés’ stomach, its blade unable to break the armor that protected it, but enough to knock the knight back a step. The younger man, taking advantage of Garcés as he staggered off him, swept the blade around to catch the champion’s ankles before the man could bring his clumsy weapon to bear. The knight fell down, losing the grip on his heavy blade as it fell to the dust.

Rodrigo, gasping, threw himself onto the knight, slamming his sword into the fold of the mail coif at the neck, hammering it down with his weight, the blade slicing and shattering the collar bone, spraying up a stream of blood that splattered the youth’s face.

Grunting, Garcés tried to back away, but Rodrigo held him fast, their eyes locking with each other until a soft long wheeze from the champion passed away in a low sigh.

“For my father,” the young knight breathed.

Rodrigo pulled himself off and took the discarded weapon Garcés had lost in the dirt, using it to stand up. Then, in the utter shocked silence of the crowd, slammed the blade hard into the man’s chest, taking pleasure in seeing a fountain of blood spew from the knight’s mouth.

Rodrigo staggered away, dazed, hardly able to see where he was going. He pulled to this side and the next, almost falling. He was mindful now of the deep silence – of the absence of cheer or call – around him. He couldn’t walk. He fell to the dirt in pain, grunting as he struggled back to his feet. He took up his shattered lance and leaned on it as he made his way in a wandering path toward his king.

Then, falling to his knees, he bowed before the Royal Stand, receiving a slight nod from the monarch for his efforts. Released now by this action, the crowd erupted in chaos.

Taking a deep breath, Rodrigo shouted at Sancho with a hoarse and wavering voice, “What is my name?”

The Infanté replied, “You are Rodrigo Diaz of Bivar.”

“And who is my father?”

“A man of honor of the House of Láiñez.”

Rodrigo bowed, and then forced himself up again. With the cheers and roar of the crowd, he staggered the length of the field to where the Infantas sat delighted to see him yet living.

Rodrigo took off Urraca’s colors and tied them to the lance. He held it as high as it could go for her to reach down and take the bloodstained scarf a’back.

Then, with the might of the crowd in his ears, Rodrigo fell on his back to pain and unconsciousness.

*

 

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Book 1 Chapter 19

Chapter XIX

The Challenge

 

At noon, the Reception Hall was adorned.

There would be a tourney upon the morrow, and many knights and squires had come from all over northern Spain; at this special time, there were no blood feuds so strong or illness too severe as to keep a warrior from a chance to try skill at tourney. Even so, many feuds, if indeed they existed, may resolve themselves on the tourney field anyway. It was not uncommon for knights and squires to be killed or maimed at tourney, and the opportunity here to put to rest arguments was by far most cheap.

A tourney was an excellent opportunity for networking, especially for those who would vie for greater position in the land. This was not lost upon the women, either, though most had to be content to watch their husbands and suitors bounce around the tourney like little boys in the orchard trying to best each other for sake of masculinity. Though there was a rare shield maiden who would be allowed to take to the bailey field, many women were satisfied to present themselves or their daughters as marriage tokens. There were dances and feasts, and such granted leave for men and women to meet and to bond, and domestic alliances were often more sensitive than national ones. King Ferdinand once told a bright courtier that his marriage to Sancha had been far more paramount than any battlefield victory.

Speaking of the king, Ferdinand had always participated in tourney. This time, however, as concern over his health rose to debate, he had declined the opportunity to toss about. Both Sancho and Alfonso were expected to join in, as they did every year; and though Rodrigo had reached good age to pick up sword or lance himself, his benefactor forbade him to. It was designed as punishment for the younger man’s lack of devotion to his studies.

Rodrigo, sullen and moody, had avoided Sancho for the week, so was he in sore spirits; and Sancho, burdened by his own position and the duties of state he served under his father and advisors, ignored the restless squire altogether.

When the dinner came, the Infanté reminded Garcia Ordoñéz to find Rodrigo and bring him hasten to the table; and thus, as fate played a hand, the stage of players was set.

“So you are to fetch me as a houseboy for the dog, ay, Ordoñéz?” Rodrigo confronted the young Castilian knight on the stair. Garcia Ordoñéz was not in a good mood himself, and he took offence at his charge’s surliness.

“You forget yourself,” Ordoñéz told him.

Rodrigo held up his hands. “Let me think, no – no! I know what I am here – a step. Will it be fate to find me at the morrow cleaning the pots in the kitchen? I’ve no mind to come to court.”

“It is the order of Prince Sancho.”

“His Highness is good at orders. Of late, these have much to do with me; how can the Infanté be so taken as to command me at every whim? Am I now his dog?”

“Pay heed, Rodrigo Diaz. Your friendship with Prince Sancho will get you only so far.”

The squire laid a finger aside his nose in mock contemplation as he stared at Ordoñéz. “Pity. I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.”

“Then I will leave you to your own, Rodrigo. I will not chase you to the table as a cur that you’ve placed yourself. I’ve matters of my own to bear, and these have little to do with an unruly squire.”

“Then go!” Rodrigo declared with a flourish.

He wasn’t afraid of Ordoñéz, or anyone at this time. There had risen a level of uncertain perplexity that dashed Rodrigo’s tact that now he was considering changing paths. He had no regular sponsor to become a knight, for his father had paid handsomely his wards and grooms to train Rodrigo thusly. Prince Sancho had done what he could do because of their friendship, but the young squire was becoming more remote of late.

Mindful, Rodrigo had every intention on going to court. Though he had been obstinate with Ordoñéz, Rodrigo still had deep feelings for Sancho, and it was these, at last, that brought him clean and shaven to the table.

The young man, upon entering the Hall, was delighted at the busy gaiety, though he was at first full of arrogance; the grand chamber was alit with throngs of cheer and conversation from a happy gathering. At first, he stood alone, to catch the scene, marveling of the colors and the pomp. A huge table had been set, and it formed a great horseshoe with the open end at the front, and the King’s Chair at the apex. There, side-by-side, as they were at any grand occasion, the chairs of the king’s children stood. The queen’s chair, though by some design to place her station humble, was not next to her husband’s. It had been placed one chair away, on the other side of Alfonso’s. Sancho sat to Ferdinand’s left, and the Infantas, Urraca and Elvira, removed further on the Queen’s right. Then, as each child had a favorite, their friends sat next, or as close as possible. Don Garcia Ordoñéz, gaining great honor, had been allowed the seat next to Sancho, while Don Diego’s old Castilian friends, Don Francisco Láine and Don Herberto Jimenéz, enjoyed the seats next. Rodrigo’s grandparents were present for gala, as much as to expect since the passing away of their daughter, Teresa. And when they beheld Rodrigo standing there at the archway with his mouth open, they descended upon him.

“There is Ruy Diaz! Ay! In good health now at the house of Leon!” Exclaimed Rodrigo the Elder.

“And what a strong man he has become,” remarked his grandmother, Doña Maria. In her sharp, fixed eyes, Rodrigo would find a mirror of his own, and these also a haunting memory of his mother. He suffered to be embraced by her, and there found comfort a moment, and felt glad that he was now in their company. They took him immediately to their set, and Rodrigo was reunited with his uncle, Don Nuño, who had been in deep conversation with others of the Castilian court.

“As a picture of his father,” Don Nuño said, holding the young man out at arm’s length to inspect him. The uncle’s long, midnight hair seemed wiry and unkempt, and his eyes were piercing and frightening in a way; and when he spoke, his words were always very quiet, and that intimidating look never wavered. It was as if Don Nuño had no soul.

“How could you say so?” Doña Maria Osla Alvaréz said of her son coldly, a frown appearing to turn down her smile. “Ay? Can you not see the eyes of his mother? The shine of his hair?”

Don Nuño, his clothes dark, and his form as a shadow, bent his head in pardon, knowing to give the old woman her way. “Of course, mother. So as my eyes not as good as they used to be.”

“A man given to clerk, and prayer,” muttered Doña Maria.

Now at this Don Nuño took offense. “Nah! Nah! A knight as there ever has been one. What say you, young Ruy Diaz? A clerk for the Word or the knight for the blade?”

Rodrigo just shrugged shyly.

“Do not influence him unjustly. There are more than enough knaves shedding blood and hurt upon these weary lands! We need more as the bishop, who would use more the skill of peace than war. See over there our man, the good Esteban Buega! See you him, Rodrigo – if there was any more pious and just a man! By his words alone are kings’ wills changed and history written. My idiot sons would always tell you that a blade is mightier than the mental, but with one Bishop Buega could I change the land and the hearts of all rather than a thousand knights with bloody swords.” Doña Maria was proud of herself.

“You wound me with your own words, good mother,” Don Nuño whispered, no longer smiling.

“I have idiot sons because they have an idiot for a father.”

Rodrigo the Elder was out of earshot.

The trumpeters blew suddenly, announcing the arrival of the king and his family. All in the Hall fell to a knee or curtsied as the herald spoke each their names as the Family then sat. The king had come to the court earlier than usual. His wife, Sancha, had accompanied him, and now was helped to her own seat by a group of gray-clothed handmaids. The queen was in gold with black trim, and her black hair swept up in braids, a thin circlet of gold on her head, a slim sapphire at the crest. The names of the parents were said before those of their children, and of the children the Infantas first, followed by the sons.

Then the king bade all to go about and the multitude was relieved of kneeling and curtsies.

Of course, there were friends of court to talk to, as were those squires Rodrigo had sparred in the field with at times, and soon, Rodrigo’s mood dispersed and he became someone to speak with and to enjoy. Still, he kept a cautious avoidance of Sancho and Ordoñéz, though he paused to kiss the hands of the Infantas, and to pay respect to Prince Alfonso. He was a lowly squire so he did not approach the king or the queen – no one expected him to.

Sancho ignored him, bent in casual conversation with Ordoñéz and Don Francisco Láine.

Music was played, and it was special from Saragossa and there were monks of Sahagún who sang after the Moorish musicians. It unnerved Rodrigo to find that one of the Saragossa courtiers watched him often, but subtle inquiry produced no immediate identification who the Moor was.

With the Family now present and the music dead, the courtiers and revelers moved to their seats. Beyond the horseshoe table, there were smaller tables for the overflow. And these were reserved mainly for high-ranking merchants and artisans, and some were given to prominent young knights; Rodrigo was placed at such a table to humble his position, and though he wished to have been seated next to his grandparents, he had to enjoy the company of three monks from Barcelona.

“I have good word on the fellow of Navarre,” the first monk began, caring little what was said before the tall young man in their midst, “and what heat there is from the king thereof. Already this man – Garcés – vies to take a Castilian province. I would not doubt if there is a terrible vengeance upon the wings of a Navarrese army – by God! But, this man – Garcés – seems little effected.”

“Perhaps he fears little, considering his banner is with Prince Alfonso. Many of his men have come to Castile-Leon, and it would be poor decision for Navarre to take up arms so soon after Saragossa,” the second monk said.

The first monk looked at the young squire in their midst, taking him as a prominence. “Ay? What say you, my son? You are very quiet.”

Rodrigo, again drawn by word of Garcés, said, “A man who would leave his homeland for a commission in another kingdom is a traitor, nothing more.”

“Not really, and you are a young man, and thereby idealistic,” the second monk argued. “Many foreign knights hold estates in our king’s lands. They pay their dues to both crowns. Garcés is a man strong of the faith of God, and it is there to weigh his soul and motive accordingly. The State comes second to God, and there only a matter to consider after piety.”

“And, my men of God, you would think me idealistic? With a man as dark-souled as Jimeno Garcés, how can God favor thought? He is a murderer and a traitor, and all he does is for his own gain,” Rodrigo said.

The first monk laughed. “Oh! Such as the cut of your heart, my son. Murder and treason are by far less consideration when done in the name of God! Murder is done every day, and in varying degrees; even the food of yon table is the work of murder, when one thinks of animals as children of God. And such as a knight upon the field, who brings low the infidel who would otherwise torture and rape in the name of the Devil! So, my stead in Garcés’ camp, as his contributions to the Church has been worthwhile!”

The squire let it pass, and merely allowed a grunt or two when the monks prodded him. The fare remained untouched, and Rodrigo found himself lost in thought and absentminded. The courtiers came before the king, petitioning rights and dreams and schemes. Charters were presented for consideration, and possibly signing later on after the ear of the king had been turned. These were important and unimportant, following mostly rights and forfeitures of lands and grants of titles. The king made no response to any claim or disclaim, for his clerks of the realm were the chief administrators and regulated such affairs. The king hardly spoke to anyone at all. Not even his old warhorses di Oviedo or di Najera.

It took bravery to stand there before the king and the audience of so many of his court, and only the most learned and charismatic dared try. Still, all presentations were not as sensitive as another day at court would be, as there was more a spirit to merriment than business. Rallies were brought, as such groups hoped to gain the king’s admiration rather than signature on a drawn parchment, and thus many hoped that the great monarch would remember their names thusly.

All knights eventually came in a steady stream to bow before the king and swear fealty. Hopeful young men were brought to be formally introduced, and there be granted future prominence; and foreign courtiers presented gifts and goodwill of their masters far away. The Ambassador of Navarre – Francisco Villéz – said nothing, and sat by himself on the far end of the horseshoe. It wasn’t a secret that Navarre was unhappy with some turn of events, though they had Saragossa’s coin.

Then came the most sensitive action for that day, and little did anyone beyond good counsel of the king know, Jimeno Garcés would be granted Bivar. The crowd became silent as the strong knight came in from the outer reception, dressed in red and white and black, with a long cape that breathed of his position and wealth. His long dark hair had been swept back into a ponytail, revealing a sharp, angular face – not altogether unpleasant to look at. He had a prominent scar that ran from his right ear and down his neck from some past fight.

He came before the Family and knelt on one knee, his eyes on the floor.

“M’lord Garcés of Navarre and Pamplona,” announced the king’s herald. “M’lord Garcés now awaits the king’s pleasure of appointment and grant of the Ubierna Valley, and the site of di Bivar of old.”

“You look in health, m’lord Garcés,” King Ferdinand said.

“In greater health in the service of His Imperial Majesty,” the knight replied, his voice soft and course at the same time.

Alfonso, excited by the appearance of the knight, hastily whispered in his father’s ear.

“You have stipulations for the bid on Bivar?” The king asked, though he knew what they were.

“They are humble.”

“Indeed.” Ferdinand smiled. “You request Bivar for Leon as one, though it appears you have adversity.” The king looked at his eldest son. “What say you, Prince Sancho?”

“I say he can piss himself,” the Infanté replied, but the look in his eyes was dull, lacking the fire of challenge.

“Do you have someone who wishes to contest Garcés?”

Sancho, pulling a chicken leg from the carcass, chomped on it before replying, “Not at this time.”

“You seem willing to let it pass.”

“If it is my father’s will to grant Bivar to the Navarrese dog, so be it.”

The king appeared taken aback by this. The older man studied his eldest son for a few moments before returning his focus on Garcés. “Your bid, m’lord?”

“I have sent to Your Imperial Majesty’s coffers one thousand pieces of gold, and have favored Your Imperial Majesty’s charities in Oviedo and Palencia. I have, humbly, made a Pilgrimage of the Poor to Rome and have asked the forgiveness of God. There the Holy Father made blessing. I shall, upon this year’s end, devote myself in establishing a monastery at the request of Your Imperial Majesty’s servants of God, and lastly, I have obtained the good names of the Bishop of Burgos and the Merchant Council of Burgos.”

“And Sancho, would you hold grudge with m’lord Garcés when he takes Bivar in the name of Leon?”

Prince Sancho stared at the Navarrese lord for a moment, his face young and old and peaceful and warlike all at the same time. There was an audible hush on the crowd as all waited to hear the rash and fiery Infanté’s words. Then he said, “As so long as my father has the Triple Crown, will I hold my peace.”

“And what of after!” Shouted Prince Alfonso.

The brothers locked eyes and wills.

Bishop Bernardo di Palencia, the king’s man, broke the tension. “There all shall keep the peace. To break faith with the will of the court is to break faith with the Crown. There can be no grudge.”

The king nodded his head. He looked around the crowded Hall, and there his smile faded and became hard-set as stone. “Is there anyone here who would contest the bid of Jimeno Garcés?” It was merely customary; anyone with serious implications would have long ago made them public.

A moment – perhaps more – of strict silence deadened the air.

Then, as a thunderclap, Rodrigo Diaz of Bivar stood up, casting a half-empty flagon of wine at the floor in front of the Navarrese. The spill had true aim: it splashed the rich clothing of the bidder, and stained the floor with red.

“I contest the will and bid of this dog, Your Imperial Majesty!”

Garcés faced the squire as Rodrigo marched out into the open.

The first person to say anything in the pervading shock was Alfonso.

“Rodrigo!”

“I contest this dog – ay, as he stands here,” the squire shouted, turning about so that the assemblage could see his face.

“Sit down, Rodrigo,” warned Sancho, though he could barely keep a smile from forming. The Infanté was always pleased by the younger man’s outbursts. Still, he knew what Rodrigo did would be the final straw; no one would suffer the squire’s inopportune disrespect. Rodrigo’s life at Leon was at an end.

“My father stands accused of treason, my king,” Rodrigo shouted so everyone could hear, ignoring the protest from his benefactor, “and by this his lands would be turned over to his murderer!”

This accusation flared the crowd; gasps and outrage were evident as a sea pounding at the shore.

“You would accuse – ” began Ferdinand.

“Ay, I accuse this Navarrese dog of killing my father in cold blood, so he may make a bid for Bivar. I accuse him of conspiring with my father’s millers and thereby ending my family’s name!”

“This is an outrage!” Alfonso shot out of his seat. “Go home, man! You are not heard at this assembly!”

“Diaz, you are not heard. You are not blooded and you have no commission before his Imperial Majesty. Sit down,” Bishop Bernardo reprimanded with steely voice.

Some snickered behind their hands while others just gaped; Rodrigo Diaz, though young and untested held some popularity because of his deeds in Castile. Still, he was no one. The crowd was pleased, however, by his outburst. No one expected him to be granted anything – it was mere entertainment. Garcés, as movable as one of the statues of angels in the Hall of St. Isadore, stared at his young accuser. The Infantas, both adrenalized, spoke in hushed whispers between themselves considering the squire’s claim for Bivar. They decided he had none, as his father had been accused of being a traitor and now missing.

“My king,” Rodrigo defiantly roared, though his words wavered a bit on the end, “do I not have a right to be heard, as the son of a man accused of treason? Do I have not a word to speak? I have it on good faith that this Navarrese murderer conspired to gain hold in Castile long before he placed a bid. My father sought to end his scheme by confronting the Merchant Council, and by them, was done to death!”

Total chaos of noise reigned for a few moments, before Ferdinand, holding up a hand, calmed the turbulence.

“Rodrigo, you are not of station here, and by such, not a voice for righteousness. How can you accuse a man who has sponsored the good of Leon-Castile?”

“I accuse him fully, without doubt, my king.”

“And you have proof?”

“I could provide proof from the ledgers I took from the millers of Bivar, and these have been given in good faith to my father, and then he given to the Bishop of Burgos.”

“M’lord Garcés has the respect of the bishop,” Ferdinand pointed out.

Rodrigo nodded. “Ay. Yet the good bishop would not have known of the conspiracy, as my father just sent to him these ledgers for safe-keeping.”

Alfonso pressed, “Then Rodrigo, why did your absent father not make this known to the court? He had more than one opportunity.”

The squire ate these words and said, confidently, “There was the matter with Saragossa, and the clearing of his name first. My father, Don Diego, had suffered grievance at the passing of my mother, and was far too ill to ride at the call of the Infanté!” – There was an audible bluster from Alfonso – “My father was en route to gain pardon when he was treacherously murdered by this Navarrese pig and his men.”

“And this conspiracy would have been clear?” King Ferdinand asked calmly, reaching out a hand and pulling his son to the seat.

“Ay. My father has no voice now other than mine.”

“You would accuse m’lord Garcés now? He has option to favor,” the king said, looking at the Navarrese bidder. “What say you? You can wait for Master Rodrigo to provide proof, or you can end his claim upon the field. It is your right and option to choose, m’lord Garcés.”

Before Garcés could answer, Bishop Bernardo reminded the court that Rodrigo could not make challenge because of many counts, paramount of which he was not a knight.

The recent Champion of Navarre studied the young squire with a grim look, and for that moment, Rodrigo felt true fear. The man did not break into bravado, nor did he wildly deny Rodrigo’s claim. Jimeno Garcés then slowly turned to face Ferdinand and the Family before speaking.

“I deny his claims,” the Navarrese said softly.

“It is my right to bring this evidence!” Rodrigo shouted, his voice hoarse. He was at a loss though, because he had no station.

Suddenly Prince Alfonso strode round the long table and entered the horseshoe to stand before the young squire. The Infanté’s face was tight but there was great argument therein. He suddenly said, “Kneel you, Rodrigo Diaz.”

There were suddenly outrages in the court. When the squire knelt before the prince, Alfonso took his sword and pressed the youth’s shoulders. “I knight thee in the Name of Leon-Castile, before Saint Michael and Saint John and my father, King Ferdinand. Rise you Knight of Castile.” When Rodrigo looked up, aghast, he saw there was a mocking grin on the prince’s face.

The court exploded again in thrill and outrage. This was not done, especially from so unlikely a host. Bishop Bernardo shouted for everyone to calm down. He then called to Garcés to either defeat or accept this challenge: not to would mean for him loss of considerable face.

He said, coldly, “I will meet him on the field, as my bid is timely. I have confidence, Your Imperial Majesty, that these ‘ledgers’ are falsely interpreted, but if it takes me to kill this young man on the field to prove quickly my innocence, so be it. I will honor him and the memory of his father, Don Diego.” Every word that came from the knight’s lips was wet with blood: they were Rodrigo’s death sentence. The crowd was shocked and gasped audibly as the drama played out.

Rodrigo, standing alone, received the stares of the multitude.

*

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Book I Chapter 18

Chapter XVIII

Alfonso and His Knights

 

Storms may rage in their time, but as with all things, they come and pass away. The wind may threaten and blow and at times bring with it a stinging rain, yet the clouds move on and on. Soon there exist warm summers and blue skies, and even after death, life continues.

Months had poured as wine from a spilled tankard, and the color of it was red. The river flowed on near Burgos, through the valley where the villa of Láiñez stood. There came by appointment in the absence of Don Diego his wife’s brother – Don Nuño Alvaréz – there. It was merely a quick stop to the leak of a dam, for King Ferdinand was now in favor of Jimeno Garcés’ bid.

Still the river flowed. It flowed to the greater Arlanzon and there joined with the Duero. No one came to visit the lonely grave of Doña Teresa as the lilies bloomed along the banks, and the wind blew gently and lonely upon the flat meadows.

One morning – nearly a year after the disappearance of Don Diego – this wind arose and rolled across the hot lands east and came strongly through the open arches of the monastery, caressing the balding head if the Bishop of Burgos as he prepared to meet his visitors.

Buega took out the letter one of his visitors wrote, conditioning himself in the best way to meet with the guest, though there was distrust. Buega did not like feeling distrust, especially in the profound air it came upon this morning, and he gathered his thoughts and focused and allowed the Navarrese Champion within.

Jimeno Garcés had come in respect and not girt for war, as an escort of his men had accompanied him to Castile. With him came the famous writer, John of Gorzé, who had penned documents against the Castilian government in the past, but now had lulled himself into a peaceful eloquence. Gorzé was an outrage writer. He wrote many powerful essays and poems that detailed life among the politically set, and he was a courtier of the Emir of Saragossa.

The knight – no longer of Navarre – nodded in respect as he entered the bishop’s chamber, and presented Gorzé.

“In health,” Gorzé said with a flourish. He wore a richly-tailored suit of black velvet and gold trim, a gold belt at his waist, and his long, curly black hair tied back in a delicate red bow. His mustache melted into his beard, which covered almost everything save for lips and nose. “Your Grace, it is a pleasure to meet with you.”

Of course, there was a lengthy exchange of pleasant small talk. All three men had an arsenal of pretty phrases, which they hurled at each other with precise threat, and these words barely disclosed more than a good morning and how fascinated each was to talk with another. Jimeno Garcés was everything like what Buega had heard about the man. He was dark and burly, with good muscle and a pleasant face. He had come less as distinguished as the writer, wearing leather and dark breeches. The knight was in his late forties, and by the look of him, had much to life.

At length the discussion came roundabout to Gorzé and his letter about the Saragossa affair. It was something Sancho – the Infanté – would not like at all.

“My master insists that his letters be read to the king,” Gorzé said with a condescending smile meant only for Buega’s benefit. “I would have taken them on to Leon for the eyes of the Family, as these letters are most important. Now, pray, these are merely to strengthen m’lord Garcés as honorable and stalwart as a servant to King Ferdinand.”

“When it comes to the Ubierna Valley and Bivar. They speak of other things,” Buega pointed out, rereading the fiery words. “And these are strange to hear from a capable and intelligent man as the Emir of Saragossa – though a heathen he is. No doubt, my son, you have been a righteous guide and counsel for the Moorish king; yet, to feel these words which detail too much latent hostility to Castile, the patron for so long of Saragossa! What would he have my king do? Provide Sancho less province by joining Bivar with Leon?”

“It is a stipends,” John of Gorzé said. “Leon is granted an eastward province because my master believes that the Infanté Sancho – and May God exalt him – is too rash for delicate matters in the Ubierna Valley. It is a show of faith to have our good Garcés here now, but it would be stronger if the court of Leon takes Bivar directly under its wings.”

“Leon is too far away,” Buega told him.

“We believe that when the great King Ferdinand – may God grant him longer life – passes away, then he would deliver the Kingdom of Leon to Alfonso. Alfonso himself has shown interest in the Ubierna Valley and to have someone steady as m’lord Garcés there.”

Buega shook his head. “Steady, ay? Why come to me with this? I am not a counsel to the king. I am a confessor and a man of God.” The bishop had suspicions that Garcés had somehow done away with Don Diego, but prudence was often a better weapon than confrontation. Yet whether or not his suspicions foretold truth, the bishop could nothing – prudent or no.

“You have the king’s ear, and soon you will be at the service of m’lord Garcés. It would be your duty,” the writer said.

“My only duty is to God,” Buega said. He did not like Gorzé bullying him, or trying to wedge a will over his. The bishop studied Garcés. “You have made a loud noise, my child, in coming here with your displeasure with Navarre and your old king. What would you have done? To embarrass your liege? From what I understand, you had more power in Navarre than you would stand to get here in Castile. Why have you found interest in Bivar so important?”

“My reasons, Your Grace, are my own.” Garcés smiled faintly.

“The king no doubt would want this to be clear.”

“The king has already discussed this with me at court three months ago.” Then: “It is a mere landowner’s contract. Have I done so much as to betray my king Ramiro? No. What remains is that I am Navarrese. I did not fight Sancho at Saragossa those months ago. My bid has been legal.”

“Then, pray child, if you have been granted the king’s ear – why come here to me?”

“I want Bivar to be identified out of Castile. I will serve no other than Prince Alfonso. Your Grace’s blessing would do me much good – and good for your king.”

Buega cocked his head. “Again I would point out to you that the riverlands are far too distant to Leon, and these, by right as our king divides his lands to his children, Sancho would keep Burgos and all Castile intact. And, m’lord Garcés, if by chance the king granted you this boon, and Sancho takes the reins of Castile; the Infanté would place it back under his belt. Yet, I cannot understand why you are given to place this province under Leon. Do you hold grievance with the Infanté?”

“As told before, Your Grace, I am in good faith that Sancho cannot administer just diplomacy over a Navarrese lord over one of his provinces.”

Buega shook his head, chuckling. “Then, perhaps you do not understand the fortitude of the Infanté’s will, my child. The rift would cause a war in Castile! I would advise you to shun this path, even if our good king has inclination to favor you with the lordship.”

“Yet again you make this too much of what it really is. A landowner’s contract is all. No more than land that I will humbly pay taxes to Leon for. I thank you, Your Grace, for your wise words and counsel.”

Buega grunted, mulling it over. “How can I help you?”

“Your Grace would find five hundred pieces of gold in the treasury of Valpuesta, as a friendship agreement,” Garcés said. “That should appease Sancho.”

“For my word to the king and the Infanté?”

“No! I would never try to persuade a man of God with the mere gleam of gold for my own ends, Your Grace. Consider this a gateway to our friendship, and, by chance, if you were in Leon, you would speak highly of me.”

Buega’s eyes dropped to the floor where he found the delicate tracings of the worn rug. “I will always speak highly of you, my son.”

“Then, peace be with you.”

Pax vobiscum, my child.”

The bishop tarried with Gorzé longer, because he was interested in the contents of the writer’s letters to Ferdinand. “Consider the delicate matters of Christian Government and Moorish infidelity. We coexist with Saragossa because even in the worst of times, the Infanté believes we must protect our Moorish friends from others who may gain an upper hand in the region. Consider the delicate applications of diplomacy in Castile when in thought of Saragossa: Prince Sancho marched two thousand men to the Navarrese frontier to protect the Moors from encroachment, and was the Infanté bested. I speak treachery, because it is his belief that there were those who were friendly to Navarre even in the host of Saragossa. Thus the wounds here are still open and festering over this matter – I would advise you, my son, not to present the emir’s anger and arrogance so quickly to the Castilian authority.”

“Your Grace is too kind,” Gorzé said, and took his leave.

The bishop was not a fool. He knew that everything that had been said here was folly. Still, it mattered little to him in the long run. That he maintained a distrust that Garcés had done away with Don Diego, and with the fact that the old Lord of Bivar had dug a trench for himself in regards to the Infanté, it had paved the way for an opportunity for the Navarrese to best the vendetta and gain a Castilian commission. And, if Garcés was successful in persuading Ferdinand to place Bivar and the riverlands under the belt of Leon, it would be a rift far too great to bear in Castile.

Buega took to his privacy and then to prayer.

“Where is he?” Sancho asked Garcia Ordoñéz. The Infanté had lost sight of Rodrigo now for a week, but there were reports that the young man had taken to a brash and brutal character of late.

“In the bailey, fighting,” Ordoñéz replied with a disinterested air. “I’m surprised he’s still whole.”

“Whom is he fighting?”

“Just sparring, mi Infanté,” the young knight told him. “It seems that is the only thing Rodrigo enjoys most these days.”

“He is supposed to be under tutelage.”

“From what I understand, he doesn’t like Visigothic Law.”

Sancho sighed, a sound borne of rising anguish. He wanted to point out that no one liked studying law, nor history, nor mathematics, but the Infanté – being now Rodrigo’s benefactor – was finding his charge excessively hard to manage. Rodrigo had just turned seventeen, and by fire of youth, had shunned most intellectual pursuits to free the savage anger pinned within him. The young squire fought with everyone, becoming raw and undisciplined with no thought of authority over him.

Sancho had heard rumor from two of his wards that Rodrigo was avoiding his tutor and had taken to drink and fighting, and had even, by destructive boredom, had smashed the pottery of a merchant in Leon Square just because the man stank. There were memories for Sancho of a thoughtful and tender Rodrigo, the young man who had a handsome face and a soothing talk, who – by tender words and actions – caused chasms to be filled and anger to be confounded. But not now. Not now!

The two Castilians went down to the bailey field, finding many wards there in mock tourney, some on horseback, some on foot. They were required to train most the day, and it wasn’t surprising to find a squire or two hotheaded enough to be down there among them. The instance was not lost on Rodrigo at any time of the day, as of late. As per Garcia Ordoñéz’s assurance, the squire practically lived in the bailey.

It wasn’t that anyone worried about his prowess, because Rodrigo had turned into a lean fighter; the young man had developed a strong cunning, and could hardly be bested by any ward. Besides, Rodrigo had a lust for showing off his skills, though it kept him far from his studies.

“He is strong,” muttered Sancho as he and Ordoñéz watched Rodrigo sparring with a heavy halberd. “Does he always fight without protection?”

“Most the time, but the wards keep soft on him. He is girt only when he is with horse and lance.”

“What do you think of his ability on the field?”

Ordoñéz quickly replied, “Raw.”

“You were with me on the East March last year, noble Garcia, and I praise your counsel and your own ability. Are you certain that Rodrigo could not be an asset on the field?”

“Quite certain. He is rash and undisciplined.”

“Then what must be done if he does not curtail his pride and buckle down to his studies?” Sancho was surprised to be asking this aloud, but he was worried that he was losing Rodrigo already.

“Rid yourself of him, mi Infanté!”

“You are jealous of him.”

Ordoñéz snarled. “You would think I jealous of the boy? He hasn’t even been on the field, nor did he march with his father to Pamplona those years ago. How can I be jealous of a boy who hasn’t even got his spurs?” The Castilian knight leaned over to get a better view of his rival. “Look at him – his father a traitor! I’m surprised he is in Leon at all, and not at the works of one of his own millers, trying to make a living there!”

“His father’s crimes are not visited upon Rodrigo.”

“Still, undisciplined! Uncouth! He drinks more than his share and brawls most of the time like a wayward brat. And how he boasts of his paltry exploits as if they were akin to your own great ones!”

Sancho smiled. “He does brag.”

“Ay – so as it is.”

“But you brag, Don Garcia.”

Ordoñéz nodded slightly. “That – but at least, Your Highness, my exploits are worth a boast or two.”

“Still, if possibly turned, Rodrigo could be a grand knight.”

“Good luck.”

Just then, Sancho saw Rodrigo do a complex move he had never seen a warrior with a halberd do before. Just as his armored opponent moved his weapon around in a wide arc to catch Rodrigo in the back, the young man quickly dropped to a crouch and swung the halberd so quick as to catch the ward in the back of his knees and drive him down. It was poetry in motion, the movement as fluid as water from a cup; Rodrigo had compensated for the heaviness of his weapon and used it to full effect by tripping up his more armored opponent.

“Oh – that was good,” Sancho said.

Ordoñéz scratched his head, at a loss to smudge Rodrigo’s moment.

“Don Garcia, when he is done, bring him to the table.”

Ordoñéz bowed slightly.

Taking Rodrigo to the table was not just for a casual meal with the Infanté. That day was a very important affair, and there were courtiers a’plenty, and the king himself would be present that day. Usually, though in deep friendship with the eldest prince, Rodrigo would not be allowed to join, with the exception only if it was meant to be in his studies of court politics and law. Sancho wanted some time for Rodrigo to see other things in Leon besides the bailey field and the empty bottom of a tankard. The Infanté could not help but feel that a stronger hand needed to be used when dealing with his charge, especially when Rodrigo was at the crossroads of becoming a greater man than what he was.

The agenda was full. The business would keep Rodrigo there in the Hall for hours, and perhaps in the long run, teach him a few things. Sancho would be there to make sure he did not leave.

There was more on the mind of the Infanté, however, than just trying to keep a hand on Rodrigo. A sensitive issue had come up concerning Burgos and the appointment of its successor, and for some reason, Sancho wanted the squire to be present to see what was going with his old home. It would be sensitive, because one of the bidders was of course Jimeno Garcés, and how Rodrigo would react would be the extreme test on what the Infanté was to do with him.

Meanwhile, as Sancho pondered what was to come that day, his younger brother was meeting with Urraca and three provincials of Leon. Everyone at court knew the arrangement of Ferdinand to divide his empire between his children, and the Leonese lords were quick to place themselves in good stead with their future king; Alfonso was not lacking in his desire and capability to rule Leon, and he had already set to course things that would place his power yet stronger. Urraca was instrumental in his counsel, and she stayed close at his side.

“So the bid of Garcés would place Bivar and central Castile in my hands,” Alfonso said, for he had already received pledge of di Carrión that there would be full cooperation if Garcés was given due. Carrión was the strategic gateway into Castile, and Alfonso was immensely happy that things would put his older brother at disadvantage. He had already whispered into his father’s ear his desire to see Garcés in Bivar, though there was no love for the Navarrese Champion in Castile. “Ay – the whole of the Ubierna Valley! Let Sancho chew on that fat!”

“It may prove yet a burden to my lord’s fare,” put in Don Diego Gormáz di Oviedo. “It is but a finger in the side of Castile, and easily snapped off.”

“I do not agree,” Don Pedro Ansuréz said. He was Ferdinand’s strongest Leonese vassal, and by his allegiance to Alfonso, had seen blood at Saragossa the previous year. “Consider this: Burgos is the richest piece and Bivar a pittance. It would be a hard night for Sancho to return it to his bosom with Garcés there and loyal.”

“I think we place too much honor on that Navarrese,” Don Fain Jimenéz di Coimbra soberly pointed out. “He left his last king for a new horizon, and consider his station there! I believe the king has been too eager to accept Garcés’ loyalty.”

Alfonso, smiling his conviction, stated, “I don’t care. I will take Burgos if Garcés is placed there at leave of my father. Even if there is a chance the Navarrese proves unfaithful, I will still have a chance in keeping it.”

“I would not place too much hope for Garcés,” di Oviedo said, “Bivar is important and strategic for Castile, Sancho will not allow it to pass easy away. Nor would it be better ruled by no other than Don Diego.”

“And I think you place too much sentimentality on a traitor,” Alfonso shot.

No one, up this moment, had actually accused Don Diego di Bivar openly of being a traitor; there had been discussion at length before his disappearance that the missing di Bivar was no longer trusted, as it was the Bivar lord had not come to garner the Infanté’s good graces and pardon. Yet, with rumor and speculation taken wing, the worst was that Don Diego may have wandered away or committed a rash act as suicide over the grief of his beloved wife. Of course, there was also speculation that Don Diego may have turned traitor and took up with Aragon, so as not to be humbled by bowing to Sancho.

Perceiving the frown on di Oviedo’s face, Alfonso sat back in his father’s high-backed chair and focused his attention on the tabletop. “Of course, I care little one way or another for the Castilian. When he was at court, I thought of him an honest man; he never crossed my judgment or my will, and our engagements were brief. His demise has brought me opportunity, ay, di Oviedo! And that I would take over any man beneath me, even if he was just and stalwart as any.”

“It is best, Prince Alfonso, that a man reward those who are loyal and honest, even if their demise would bring better opportunity. That is something I would perceive more in mind of your own vassals here at this table,” di Oviedo said.

“Of course!” Alfonso was quick to mollify him. “Yet for a Castilian! Or a Galician! Or, better yet a Moor! I would take Garcés’ value more than any infidel, and I would welcome him into Leon by chance he would serve it under my own authority. You would think of me as cold and cruel as one who would sell out the souls and flesh of his own Leonese? Is that how you take me, di Oviedo?”

Don Diego kept silent.

“Consider my devotion to the Church,” Alfonso went on at his benefit, adorning a smile to placate the stares of his nobility, “would I best God for wont of power? I am a pious man, as my father. That is why when the good Bishop of Burgos sent a letter of recommendation himself of Garcés, I was the first to listen. A Castilian bishop who now supports Garcés and Garcés now to claim Bivar and for Leon is good for my ears! Think, gentlemen: would I be a fool not to place the memory of Don Diego Láiñez of Bivar in a closet?”

“Then to your success!” Don Pedro Ansuréz exclaimed.

“Ay – the success of Alfonso and Leon!” Put in Don Fain.

The young prince looked at the eyes of his nobles with his smile never breaching, until he came at last to the silence of his father’s champion.

“You do not agree, di Oviedo?”

The older man looked at him for a moment before saying wisely, “Sometimes it is best not to be so vocal when the prize has not yet come to the door, mi Infanté.”

*

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Book I Chapter 17

Chapter XVII

The Fall of the Lion

 

The House of Láiñez was colder than left over snows of December.

A breeze poured through the tight stone passages, whispering through the crevices of the walls, mouthing a biting chill that gnawed at the spirit and the flesh of the two men who resided within. There was no sound of wards, as Evita, Elorna and Dion had been bidden away with all the other servants, and Don Diego’s grooms that remained lingered only in the stables and the stalls. The ward – the house guard – had always been a humble detachment of few militia and pages from surrounding landless knights, and they had been returned home. Pages were squires-in-training, apprenticed like young Rodrigo. Don Diego’s main companions had been his sister’s sons Ramiro and Esteban Fañez; both young squires had been turned out. And Rodrigo’s friends, Carlos and Francisco the Younger, had been apprentices as well – they had been dismissed along with the pages.  Don Diego had no concern for the household: it had been the domain of his late wife. He had taken everything away from him that may have reminded him that she had ever been there, and now given to cold isolation, was content to see only the brief and ghostly shadow of his son upon the stair.

Rodrigo was forbidden to leave the house. The Knight of Bivar forbade him to speak of the court, or even to speak of his mother. The youth kept then to himself, for he was afraid what to do about his father – his father! Don Diego would sit alone and drink flagons, dressed only in his bed linen, enthroned at his favorite chair as though he was the reincarnation of Nero; and it was best to place him a reflection of a sullen Caesar, entrenched with the spirit of wine. Though his son waited patiently, and sorely at fear and loss, for his father to speak of pressing troubles, the older man said little.

Rodrigo could hear his father moving down the corridor whispering to himself. Rodrigo, though having loved his mother dearly, could not drag himself along in the purgatory of death and grief. He passed as much of it away when he visited the Hall of St. Isadore in Leon in confession, and the flow of his manhood and the expectations of court and the entreaties of his friend Prince Sancho had been much to compensate his sudden loss – but Don Diego! The Lord of Bivar kept the shadows within, and that drove his care and anger and loss now to the countryside that was guarded by his name.

Yet men who are troubled do not often seek solace as women may do in talk, but they drift unceasingly over their worries as though appreciative of its bitter flavor. Scars were those wounds that have healed, and even those that still bleed have their merit.

At last, drawn into confrontation because of the creeping shadows and the cold stone, Rodrigo met his father at the dawn of the seventh day.

“Are you mad?” Rodrigo asked bluntly, and at this moment cared little what his father may say or do to him.

Don Diego, hunched over in his chair, his flagon spilled over and the color of wine on the tainted oak top of the table, lifted his eyes in a steely cold engagement. And within Rodrigo could see the eyes as the black and crimson banners that had belonged to his grandfather at Pamplona – as red as the field after the blood his grandfather had shed upon the ground.

Don Diego whispered hoarsely, “There is a meadow by the river.”

“What?” Rodrigo blinked.

“There is a meadow where the grass is lush and there are lilies. Green and white. They are like little faces of ghosts looking up at you when you pass – ay. Do you know of it?”

The youth cocked his head. “Ay. It is the place where we buried mother.”

The Lord of Bivar looked away and scratched his head. “I have dreams sometimes. I have dreams where this meadow goes on forever, and there is nothing but lilies waving and beckoning, row after row. I ride on a horse, and they are always too far to the ground to pluck. No matter how I try, the lilies are far, far away.”

As to accent the words of ailing Don Diego, the wind picked up and began whistling around the corner of the house, and here, in the kitchen, where the livery was often left open, Rodrigo could feel the damp coolness of it touch his bare feet.

“There are lilies that grow wild now over the grave of your mother. Do you know why I did that, bury her near the river and not below in the keep? Ay, Rodrigo?”

The youth shook his head.

“I buried her there be because she is the river. Wild and free and flowing. My Doña Teresa. My Teresa…”

“Father, will you ride to Leon to see the Infanté?”

Don Diego looked up at him again, but the cold steeliness of his haunted eyes were gone. He put a finger to his lips.

Rodrigo took leave of the house. He quit his father that very day, but not out of fear that the older man had lost his mind, but in spirit to see the meadows near the river. He took his Bavieca with him, and they rode gently away, with the cool wind now at their backs, and the road ever to Burgos leading away. Rodrigo took the path, and followed the round, until the even ground became rockier and then went downwards from the house and toward the riverbanks. There was hardly any foliage here, and from afar he could see the haze of mountains and hills sparse with gray-brown dirt. Yet, as he came out from the rough, he saw the land suddenly become fertile, a miniature Garden of Eden, and here the grass began to grow in a swaying carpet.

But there were no lilies here.

The river cut its way harshly from Bivar, but the millers had been smart enough to place their mills on the far bank where it was shallower, the great windmills turning in the stiff breeze now, heralds of ghostly white against passing gray clouds. Rodrigo heard the groaning from the mills as the great panes moved, and each mill itself ancient and worn – beacons as dark lighthouses on a barren and dry sea. Rodrigo dismounted and stared as the dark gray mass overhead moved, listening to the chorus of the mills as if they were groans of the damned.

When he looked to the river, the water was brown and there were whitecaps – as white as tumbling linen from a laundry basket. Even now, the water pushed forward, heedless of clouds, mills, or even Rodrigo; onward the river flowed, and then it occurred strangely to him that it would always, as it had done long before him.

He whispered to his mare as he began to make his way to the sound of the water and the groaning windmills, and there the grass moved gently with and against him. Now he became still, finding a single lily that had outlived its brethren and defied the coming storm.

Rodrigo tenderly picked it. For some reason he was crying. For some reason his body, possessed now of a lurking sadness – as a shade from the depths of the river –began crying. He held his hands and the lily to his face, his mind strangely now apart from his emotion. Rodrigo wondered clearly what was wrong with him. He fell to his knees, where the swaying grass hid him, and he moaned as forceful sobs stripped away everything he thought he was.

Then, he lay on his back with his face to the gray moving clouds above – the cold fingers of the wind upon his wet cheeks.

He wished she knew he had come.

There was something different about the house. A strange perception lay when one finds himself alone, no matter how large it is – there seems to be a disquiet that permeates the walls, fastening itself to the pores of the skin. It is like the touch of an elusive draft that no matter how clothed one may be, it reaches in and whispers and chills to the bone. Fabrics can hang upon the walls, and the hearth flutter with fire, and the sunlight could steal shafts of gold through the apertures, but these things do not fill the home – it is the voice of those who live within.

Don Diego, lying in the bed that had been shared with his wife, stared at the canopy above – a richly clothed canopy with compliments of Don Francisco di Najéra at the outset of the wedding day so long ago. The fabric was embroidered with purple satin, and he ran the length of the curls and curves of the fine fabric with his eyes. Here it was his Doña Teresa had warmed the sheets, and he had loved her there; even here upon this bed was conceived the haughty and arrogant Rodrigo.

Yet now the house was quiet.

It pressed him, this quiet. He looked over at the candle that had lost much of its wax since he had placed himself to bed, and though the house had long suffered quiet since Rodrigo’s return from the court of Leon, there was a change within it.

The sunlight was fading on the far wall.

He was thinking of his father and the fight of Pamplona. Or was it memory of a dream?

Even now he could see the vision:

 

            The wind – the cold biting wind of October – blows upon the hills and the field. A ragged sun is half over the horizon in the morn of the day, shedding a somber light beyond a veil of gray.

            Don Diego rides up just then, this hazy sunlight gleaming off his helm. The wards ahead part as he moves among them, cheering with their spears and pikes and maces rising and the knight bows his head. Beyond the soldiers he sees the dark line of the Navarrese front. These men are innocent in their way, Diego muses; they are innocent because they have only one decision – to die or flee. A man rich with honor has no decision but to stand, even if he is to face darkness.

            The Lord of Bivar holds high his pennon in one hand while a lance is in the other, suddenly aware of the taunts of his enemy. Their banners – House Garcés – flutter in the wind, stark before that wall of gray. Don Diego levels his lance and the Navarrese jeer louder. Then he catches sight of his father – the Lord of Logroño – upon his horse; his visor is up and the stern face inside stone.

            His heart beating faster, the knight brings his lance up and salutes the older man. The other regards him and then returns the honor. Diego loves his father; they are men of war and given to purpose – and their enemy stands before them, and they to him.

            “Hold close, ay,” the older knight tells his son, though Diego is hardened by fighting. This is not their first campaign together and they pray God it will not be their last. The son is thrilled to hear these words, and he is ready to die for his father if need be. Somewhere there are horns trumpeting: the Infanté has moved his horsemen forward.

            A sea of banners come up behind father and son, fluttering in the stiff wind – black and yellow sigils of Láiñez and crimson of the House Nuñéz; and then opposite comes up the host of white and gold of Garcés and Navarre.

            “Today I will have Garcés on a spit, Diego,” Láine Nuñéz says to the young knight, pulling down his visor. “Be it Hell that comes for me.”

            A flame sends itself aloft and then is followed by others as scores of black arrows rain down. Men and horses scream as the shafts bite into them and the front of both sides become thinner. Already the Infanté, Sancho, has committed his cavalry, and the knights and footsoldiers can hear the clash of men in the ravine.

            Láine Nuñéz, Lord of Logroño, shouts “Santiago!” And he spurs his horse at the line of Navarrese, his son behind him. Forward come the black and red banners, and lances level as the horsemen thunder into the mass of steel and men.

            “To me!” Diego is shouting at his footmen, just as the wall of spear and mace come down upon them. Men scream; one of Diego’s footmen fell back, his face half missing. The Lord of Bivar coldly lets the body fall past him and spurs his horse forward, his sword slamming on the helms of a dozen men as they throw themselves at him. “To me!” Diego shouts again, trying to whirl about in the tight melee. Hands grab his legs and shanks, threatening to pull him off his mount.

            “Bivar!” Someone shouts but Diego can’t tell who it is. His blade comes down into the unprotected skull of a footman, but another jams his spearpoint into Diego’s armpit as the knight turns to bring his sword up.

            Diego now drops to the side, his boots still in the stirrups, his whole side inflamed. A mace smashes down on his helm, the blow exploding stars. For a moment he is lost as arms tug and pull him from his horse.

            “Diego!” His father is shouting.

            Several of his wards come up just then, slamming themselves hard against the Navarrese front, and suddenly Diego is alone. He gets to his feet, blood staining his side and his swordarm in agony. Blinded, he pulls back the visor, just as a horseman rides up and slams a mace into his head. Diego is cast backward, his helm flying off.

            The young knight wheels, then falls to a knee. He looks up and sees now his family’s enemy, Jimeno Garcés, reining about for another charge. Diego takes his sword and tries to steady himself – just as the Navarrese spurs – but he can’t see well with a veil of blood on his eyes. The knight from Bivar slashes out as the mount draws near, barely able to defect the blow of Garcés’ great axe. There is a moment where there is no thinking – just action – as the young knight slugs his blade around for another shot at the passing horseman, but he cleanly misses.

            An arrow whizzes high and Diego hears it before it hits him. He feels the thud of it in his thigh, but no pain. There is a frenzied moment when two Navarrese footmen – their shields the color of gold and blue – drive into him with their spears up. Diego doesn’t know where Garcés is, but he is pressed now to stay alive and on his feet. His sword moves of its own, and it slashes under the protective helm of one of his enemies, casting blood in a wide arc. The other footman shoves his spear, but the point is broken off as it cuts into Don Diego’s chain. The knight, wielding his heavy sword with both hands, crashes his blade into the other man’s shoulder, crushing the bone and separating the clavicle.

            “Láiñez!” He hears, but can’t make the origin. Men shout and scream around him, the thunder of hooves as the Infanté’s cavalry drive further into their enemy. Diego breaks off the arrow shaft in his thigh and limps up the slope where his father was last seen. There he catches sight of the Lord of Logroño now unhorsed, in serious fight with very little guard about him.

Diego charges, sweeping his sword viciously, and for the most part his enemy fall away from him; he must reach his father. He is suddenly caught by a surge of footmen, and though he fights savagely, the sheer strength of their numbers keep Diego from getting the slope. He hears the enemy shouting his name, and now in peril, he is faced with a mob. Blows of swords and axes bite at him, more than once ringing off his mail. He can see his father in desperate fight with Garcés and a horde of Navarrese soldiers. Diego is held as his own men sally about him; the Lord of Logroño he sees is surrounded now with all his wards dead about him – and the Navarrese rush and overwhelm the older knight. Screaming, Diego fights to get to his father – blood and tears and sweat blinding him momentarily until he sees Garcés slam hard into the old man with his great axe. The Castilian falls to his knees and then Garcés crashes his axe down upon his helm, hewing his head. Thus falls the noble Láine Nuñéz, and his enemies beat him into the dust with their swords and maces – and his crimson banner they tread into the mire of his blood.

            The son is lost; he falls to his knees as the Navarrese footmen come at him. His own men have either been killed or driven away; but he cares little for this. The enemy, Jimeno Garcés, looks at him, and the two share a dark moment of hatred and the latter triumph. Diego rallies himself despite pain and despair, and struggles to his feet; the Navarrese knight comes at him – but there are horns blaring as the riders under the Infanté break into the melee, separating them completely.  Diego cries out – and then everything goes black.

 

He wondered if it had been that long ago.

Don Diego, half-clothed, got out of bed and left the chamber. It was not yet night, but here the day was gloomy and fast leaving, and the stair was treacherous to pass in shadow – as he had left the candle behind him.

“Rodrigo!” He called out, and his voice fired down the length of the corridor as the wind did from outside. Don Diego wanted to call out for Dion, but remembered how he was without his servants, and with a grim frown, carried his way down the stair.

“Rodrigo!”

But with this last shout, the father knew his son was absent.

Treacherytreacherytreachery. This word coursed through his mind, ravaged and pockmarked with grief, and here he thought – oh no! Rodrigo had left him there! Had broken faith with him! To these traitors all death – to his father at Pamplona and to the bastard Sancho at Leon! And then to Jimeno Garcés. A fire and damnation to them all.

The Lord of Bivar leaned heavily against the wall, his head in his hands, his gray-peppered hair between his fingers. Could Rodrigo have left him? Could he – Don Diego – have driven his son from the house because of…

…madness?

Anger did not assail him, as it should have, if he had been in temper; however, Don Diego pulled his hands from his head and looked at the growing darkness and cried out.

“Rodrigo!”

Yet this house, this ancient house of the Ubierna Valley – where now the river cut its way beside fields of grass and lilies – remained as silent as a tomb. As Don Diego took stock now what the darkness gave to him, he rested his weary and grief-stricken form against the wall and hid his face with his hands a second time. He was no longer thinking of his son, or where the youth may have taken leave to, only that the Lord of Bivar was alone, and that all he could remember now was the shadow of his beloved Teresa’s face, and the ghostly echo of her voice that now resided only in his mind.

He remained that way for a long time. There were men of honor and compassion enough, and there were men of cold cruelty, and yet some may have fallen from a pinnacle of solitude and strength because someone who’d been dear was now gone from them. And thus, cloaked in misery, Don Diego Láiñez confronted what spirit of himself that lingered, and what he found in the pits of darkness was a strange and sad face.

He went back to his bed. He had not the strength to fight Garcés anymore. The vendetta that had been given to him from his father was confounded; even the kings themselves stand against him. The days with the millers and the Merchant League now justified!

And it was strange, because he thought he could hear his wife’s voice from somewhere. She said, “Who are you?”

I am a poor man.

“Who are you?”

He was silent. The tide of darkness ebbed. His wife knew the answer – she had always known. His Doña Teresa. Would it be she still lingered upon the stair!

“I am a knight of Castile,” he said aloud, and with this a veil was lifted. “I am a servant of God and I am a servant of King Ferdinand.”

The sobs ended, and his madness ended abruptly; he was and always had been a knight of Castile. Here he found the man who made strong decisions, and a man here who had picked up his father’s blood-sodden banner from the field at Pamplona, and the same man who had stood above the coffin of his wife as she was placed in the meadow of lilies months ago. The knight had never parted, for in the darkest of despair does that one thing remain.

Rodrigo.

And the image of his son and the words he had spoken of Leon remained. Don Diego pulled his bedclothes tight about, and walked down the corridor to the hall, the sound of his bare feet on the cold stone his only companion. At once, he pushed open the heavy oak door and passed inside, and there he saw the outer door wide open, and rain was falling now.

He hadn’t seen the rain!

There was little light there, as the hearth was dark, and there were no torches streaming golden flame, as they were wont to do while Elorna and Dion were still there; and the Lord of Bivar walked slowly to the center of the hall, and saw something lying there on the stones.

A single lily lay there, a few feet from the cold wetness of outside, and its white blossom was just a tint of wither. Don Diego picked up the blossom, not knowing how it came to be there: a beacon of counsel for him to ride to Leon and confront those who would besmirch his honor. Had Rodrigo placed it yon? And it seemed suddenly absurd. No. Rodrigo had left the house cold.

“I love you, Teresa,” the Lord of Bivar said at last, strong enough that her name bounced off the far walls and echoed against the rhythm of the rain.

He dropped the lily in the hall and went to dress.

The road to Leon at this hour was dark and wet, yet the rain had slackened. Don Diego rode briskly, dressed as a knight of Ferdinand should be. His armor was made up of a mail-coat, helmet, and shield; these were things he had planned to give to Rodrigo, if his son could not afford his own by the time his days of tutorship at Leon were at an end, or if by chance Don Diego himself was gone. The mail-coat, the lorica, Don Diego wore was a long-sleeved, knee-length mesh of chain, padded underneath by a tunic. It was an expensive set, as he had stripped it off a Navarrese knight at Pamplona just years ago after killing him. Don Diego’s helm was a simple, semi-conical metal cap with a noseguard, with a small coif at the back to protect his neck; his shield was kite-shaped with the symbol of crossed lilies on the front – for it had been a gift from Teresa’s father at their wedding day.

The Lord of Bivar came girt for battle, though all he was doing was coming once again to the Infanté to pay homage and loyalty. He carried with him his sword – the same one that Rodrigo had stolen from the house to confront the millers with – and it had been the final heirloom from his own father. Don Diego carried only one spear, and it was not finely made or decorated, it was not as long as a rider’s lance, but it afforded him option at horseback.

Alone he rode, as he passed the somberness of Bivar. Even in the dark rain, it was picturesque as the days he’d remembered as a child, before his father became in possession.

There was a dream of a painter from long ago, inspired by the hand of the divine, which inflamed by itself the finite work of color; the strokes of a forgotten artist’s brush from a gifted palette rendered on the blankness of a treated canvas; Don Diego had likened now to this village, though there had been a shadow with his millers.

At once the dullness of the hour, when shadows creep along ghostly-illuminated avenues, where once a goodwife may pass with a basket of bread and a secret smile on her lips, where somber the glow of few windows of content houses streamed to touch the barrenness of cobblestones below. The touch of wispy fingers from the outer reaches came to caress scattered pools, because the night had been weeping.

A haunting memory clung to the streets of Bivar – this town and this painting the lord remembered – the morning mist arose from the river and the hills beyond the town. And these hills, trodden and scarred as reclining and battle-wearied warriors with lines of roads and trails; white and feathery came this mist after quiet dawns, blanketing the moist ground underneath light cirrus clouds – full themselves of wispy dreams and dank shadows of light. And later, in the still summer rains upon the steep roofs of the town, the clouds would scatter those dreams and drown them in dark pastures.

Beyond thought or perception, one might feel the docks, where ancient Visigoths of Burgos had looked up at the hills as others might the Polar Star, which could, at times, hide or show the Great Bear, Cassiopeia, or the Dragon.

Then beyond the crest of the hills and toward the flat riverlands, one could see Burgos outspread in the gloaming; bright Burgos with its ancient vanes and steeples, ridgepoles and chimneys, labyrinths of steep, crooked streets, the majestic spire of the windmills, scattered and tossed wharves and small bridges, willow trees and the cemetery. Indeed antiquity supreme: hovering on gray wings over the spring-brightened thatch and gambrel roofs; fanlights and small-paned windows gleaming outward in the dark hour to join grand Orion and the ancient constellations. And far away, against the rotting docks, near the curvy and abandoned avenues, the river flowed; the secretive, great water that came from the Pyrenees, out of which the people of Burgos had come in older times. As dreams remain, lingering from the brush of a forgotten artist, drifting in hearts as the picture of the town at rest.

When it had gone now behind him, and once again his course was focused now ahead, Don Diego knew he was being followed.

There was no mistaken it as the rain deadened and the night pulled close; a faint clip-clopping of a rider, appearing from the darkness of the trees, reached now Don Diego’s ears. He tightened his hold on the reins of his horse, squeezing the flanks of his steed as he attempted to put in a stronger gait. Then, as he passed the outcropping of rocks that was called El Corazón, the Lord of Bivar felt his heart quicken when two other riders appeared ahead on the track.

“Ho!” The riders spurred toward him, with lances at the ready, and though Don Diego didn’t know whom they could be or from what challenge they were given, he pulled his spear free and set his shield.

His spear was light and wouldn’t make good effect as a lance, so he threw it hard at the first rider, the man overcompensating to guard against it and nearly pulling his horse over. As the other rider drew on him, Don Diego quickly pulled his sword loose, but was too late as the impact of the lance compacted heavily against his shield. The knight leaned back reflexively, the point of the lance slicing upwards to his face, and with a nimble move, knocked the weapon aside with the shield. The blow had been hard, but Don Diego remained in his stirrups.

Both riders were shouting. Gritting his teeth, the Lord of Bivar swept his sword around and slammed it hard against the closest enemy, the blade biting into leather, but failing to get at the flesh beneath. The rider opposite him, receiving the blow, dropped his lance uselessly to the track. Even as the other rider tried to wedge his own lance up at Don Diego, the Lord of Bivar spurred his steed and it leaped up, hooves striking into the other horse’s flanks.

The triad broke loose. Don Diego, taking advantage at the back of one of his enemies, threw his arm around and slammed his sword into the leather tunic that was offered, knocking the other rider forward on the mane of his horse. Before the man could react, Don Diego cut back, his blade catching the exposed neck and slashing a fine spray of blood as steel opened jugular.

Too late he heard the third rider from behind, and as he wheeled around to the new threat, Don Diego felt the bit of lance as it drove into his side. The new enemy had been prepared, and he held fixed a crossbow in his free hand. Don Diego, grunting in pain, received a blasting shot as the bolt slammed into his stomach.

The new enemy drove his horse onward into Don Diego’s flanks, pushing the knight back and then, when the force was too great, the Lord of Bivar fell out of his saddle, unhorsed.

The lance had broken off in his side, and the knight of Castile was still on his back, his sword thrown wide. The rider, sweeping off his helm, revealed himself as no other than Jimeno Garcés.

In agony, but trying his best to get up, Don Diego shouted, “Cur! Come at me then, you coward! Garcés! You needed help to best me – ay!”

The second rider had turned about with his lance, as his companion before had fallen now. He met with Garcés as they stared down at Don Diego.

“See how the lion lays?” The Navarrese Champion said.

Grunting, blood spewing from his lips, Don Diego came to a crouch despite pain and his armor, the fire in his spleen almost too much to take. He didn’t know where his sword was, but he was ready to receive what he may.

“Die, gallant Don Diego,” Garcés whispered, and his companion suddenly slammed his lance into the Lord of Bivar’ chest. When Don Diego held his hand tight about it, his blood coloring the shaft, Garcés rode around and finished him.

As the life poured from the Lord of Bivar, Garcés bade his companions to strip him and toss his body into the river. With the rain falling hard now, the Navarrese Champion rode away.

*

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