The Bishop from Burgos
Domingo deSoto and his people didn’t tarry at the house of the Lord of Bivar after their meeting. Pancho Bruno had asked that they wait for Don Diego to return from his leisure so that the matter could be brought to his attention again, and thereby, perhaps find the man in better mind and mood.
“Don Diego has spoken,” deSoto pointed out, as resolute it seemed as their lord. “He favors his son.”
“Would you not – with he standing there in your hall?” Bruno said.
“No need to discuss, lest Bivar realizes our plan. Then our necks will be in the noose.”
There were grumblings from some of the younger men, especially those from the House Florino, but deSoto ignored them for the most part, thinking these were wild words of undisciplined youths who had not learned the intricacies of patience. Gonzalo deSoto-Torrés – one who had suffered the misfortune of Rodrigo’s sword at the Square – was the most vocal. He complained, and too loudly, that he would love to have the chance of seeing the young master dragged by his feet through Burgos.
“And you would do this?” Pancho Bruno wanted to know. “Come, young Gonzalo! Rodrigo is learned – as young as he is – with the weapons of the day. There is not among you the skill to uncap him; he is a power to be reckoned with. He is the son of a lord.”
“We could take him,” Gonzalo replied evenly and far too confidently. “I would know he could not take the lot of us in the open.”
“He did, for the most part, in Bivar the other day.”
“We didn’t expect the Moor! Some may forget that Rodrigo had assistance!”
“Yet you should not have done such an unwise thing! Persecuting a Moor, as Moorish gold is just as ready and good as Christian! Rodrigo is well to have cut you down for being so foolish! Besides, that’s not the problem we are faced with, though I know it was full in your minds to rob that Moor rather than trade freely.” Pancho finished adjusting his packs on his three mules, leaning forward now to rest himself on one of their flanks. “We have to think about Garcés and his due. When the Navarrese understand – ”
“And that is enough of such words!” Shot an angry deSoto from the lead cart. “You forget yourself!”
“Anyway,” Pancho said, mounting one of his mules, “if you had not been so rash in the Square, than the fight wouldn’t have happened. We would have placated Rodrigo and his men the dues, and then come here with better conscious to petition Don Diego. He wouldn’t have been more of a mind to support his son, and relax what was expected in the coffers. It would have been business as usual.”
“Who will now deal with Garcés?” Gonzalo asked, forgetting the command of deSoto. And when he looked up suddenly he saw the eyes of his father upon him, and his mouth came shut. There was a brief spark – for some reason – in Gonzalo’s brain, as the memory of his brother Paulo came to bear. He regretted to have spoken now the name of Garcés so loudly.
Yet, it wasn’t just Gonzalo and Pancho who felt this way, and there were dour, dissatisfied looks in the company as they milled about.
“Who would stand so for the defense of a Moor?” Gonzalo asked, failing the dire warning from his father. “Rodrigo forgets his station.”
“That,” Pancho replied.
The town master, angry over the tongues of his train, nodded for one of his other sons to ride up behind Gonzalo and knock him hard with a crop. The blow was harsh enough to make the youth cry out, but the blow defeated any more conversation. Soon, the small caravan moved away from the villa of Láiñez, and the fields opened up to them.
They moved slowly, the sun at their backs. DeSoto was troubled and with his anger not only from the loose lips of his son – yet from the suspicion that Don Diego may be wise to them now; the Lord of Bivar was a man strong and quick to wrath. There were many times he had seen Don Diego in fury over the smallest of infractions – and there were memories of seeing some who’d suffered his displeasure and yet lived afterwards if not swinging by their necks. Maimed or scarred, these men yet walked the land here and there, a grim reminder of Don Diego’s hand.
Those were days that Don Diego had not been so diplomatic and patient, for he had not always been a man of the word but more for the caress of steel and fire. Even now the people still talked about him and his dark days before he had married his Doña Teresa. Don Diego had felt his power absolute, and the only authority his sword, and he had slain men with little more opportunity than to swat a butterfly. And he had roughed and taken to bed any woman he pleased, whether she was for him or against, whether she was attached or unattached.
One such incident belonged to a smith named Ruiz, who had taken a young beautiful wife from Burgos some years ago. The young couple had built their home near Bivar and close to the river, and the bride was a sight for the men of the region. She had been as an angel of loveliness – Edeluisa had been her name, from the House Dominguéz. The couple had etched a living peacefully, until Don Diego espied the bride and desired her. He took her one morning on the ride up from Burgos where the lord had levied the new rate of dues by the king, and there took her spoil under the trees near the river. The event had not gone unnoticed of her husband who took up a heated brand to make vengeance, even to the face of his lord. The young groom pounded on the door of the Láiñez villa and demanded satisfaction for himself and his ravaged bride. Such did Don Diego come out, with an evil grin on his face, and he stabbed the smith to death there upon the stones. For months Edeluisa waited for fate or her missing husband to return, and with these months her belly became round and full with Don Diego’s child. When she at last realized the death of her husband, and after the birth of Don Diego’s bastard son, she took the infant and they ended together in the waters of the Arlanzon.
Years ago – yes, but the stain on Don Diego yet remained, and some have not forgotten how he had been in those days. The badges of honor in the house collected grime and dust, and these sometimes stayed, until they tarnish the plate of valor. Yet Don Diego, whether a good man or bad, had both shame and honor to dress his name. Though an infanzón, he had had a good ear to the king, and ever was he at the forefront of valor and honor – a good and wise counsel to the Crown. He was begrudged by some, but admired by others, though in his reckless youth he had achieved more enemies than friends.
Still, as anyone who knew well the manners of the Lord of Bivar, deSoto was confident he may yet be able to pull the man’s judgment to his favor, though in the end it would mean the betrayal and death of his lord.
The town master thought of Navarre.
He suddenly hated that name now more than ever, but as a damned man given to fate, deSoto was preset in course and mind. Though Garcés would most likely bid for the lands in the happenstance of Don Diego’s dismissal or death, the Navarrese lord would yet be Navarrese; he would own these lands and pay taxes to King Ferdinand of Leon-Castile, yet he would be a foreigner. Many foreign lords own estates beyond the Ebro, even in the off-chance of losing them in war. Yet many regained these after a time, though their own king was defeated. Jimeno Garcés would most likely send one of his sons or other of his kinsmen to reckon with this estate of Bivar, and the millers would enjoy free trade once again. Prince Alfonso would also have a bargaining chip due his inheritance to take the Ubierna Valley as his own, though his brother Sancho would inherit all of Castile.
The train moved silently now, following the winding track toward Bivar, the cool autumn sun flanked by wispy clouds above them, looking like a golden eye; and for the moment, the merchants were content to enjoy their journey, rather than let their troubles assail them. Though losing the petition, they were confident in their plans.
Meanwhile the Lady of Bivar, Teresa, had taken to bed early because of a coughing fit. Her maids moved in worried concern about the bedroom, ready to serve at once her every need for comfort. The chief of her maids was a sour-looking old woman named Evita whom no one could guess the actual age; the crone had been at the villa for many years before Don Diego had come with his lovely wife, and though Evita had served the Lady’s family well long before, even Teresa was at a loss to determine her years. It seemed that even while she’d been a young girl, Evita had been old.
“It won’t due for you to hover about me, ay,” the Lady told the crone. “Surely there are more pressing tasks?”
“My task is to insure the comfort of m’lady,” Evita said with a rebuff borne of her undisclosed and ancient age. The crone did not take idle commands; you had to give her full tone to make her obey, and then Evita would weigh the command for logic, determining if she should follow it or not. She was the only servant under the roof who had power to veto the lord and lady’s wishes. “Here, now, drink your broth.”
“I’m tired of drinking broth,” Teresa complained, just as she had when a little girl.
“You drink your broth, lest you forget I can still take a stick to you as I did when you were a babe.” The crone was notorious – but well-seeming. She was too old to care about her Ladyship’s station.
Doña Teresa drank her broth, but she allowed her eyes to once again scold the somber and sober black orbs of the old maid.
“There that and again!” Evita affirmed, non-smiling. “That broth will do you a lot of good.”
When one of the maids came up to the chamber to report that her Ladyship’s husband was demanding her to come down, Evita ordered Teresa to stay in bed and that she – the crone – would deal with him.
“That man believes even the stones to jump when he is wroth,” Evita mumbled, and went down to defy his summons on behalf of her lady. Teresa loved Evita.
The afternoon went on slowly, and two of her Ladyship’s maids stayed close by – Elorna and Cristina. Both were young – much younger than Evita – and Teresa found their company always refreshing. Yet though she was chagrined how weak her limbs had suddenly become that day, Teresa closed her eyes for sleep. Her mind, she found, was still working. Even in half-sleep she was standing somewhere shaking her finger at Rodrigo and her husband, and then found a shock when a great thunderbolt struck Don Diego down. He was dead. She saw him – but she was so far away.
Don Diego wasn’t having good luck that day. He and his two friends, Don Herberto Jimenéz di Osma and Don Francisco Láine di Najéra, stood beyond the thicket, studying the bare trees where one of their hawks was wheeling. The scene was somber, as gray clouds had now swept in from the horizon, obscuring the sun. Their horses and their retainers stood yards away, in the shade of the trees, patiently awaiting them and their pleasure, and when Don Diego looked around at them, he likened them to ghosts.
He could see the thin smoke of cooking fires northward, in Bivar, and the sight warmed him because, like his son, he loved the autumn. Above Bivar, the rolling lands between the rivers grew suddenly flat, and when one took the river road east toward Miranda de Ebro, the way was downward, toward the lands of Aragon. The Castilians had a joke that Aragon lay downward because that’s where Castile’s sewers rode, but the Aragonese always said that their kingdom was the base, because she was the support of Christ’s love in Spain, and no other kingdom would long live if Aragon was no more.
The rolling lands beyond the rivers were bordered by Navarre as well, and this was the reason Don Diego’s family often had trouble with them. One of his companions that day, Don Francisco, had fought on the side of the king when they had rode into Pamplona; and the Navarrese had cut a gash in the side of his face. Unlike Don Diego, the scarred veteran had no more dealing with the Navarrese, and the matters of the wars were at rest for him.
Even now, as Don Diego looked toward the fires of Bivar, he was thinking how he had struggled to reach his father as Jimeno Garcés ground the elder’s brains into the dirt. Don Diego had been unhorsed by pikemen before he could gain the upper ground, and he and his soldiers had been fought back as Garcés and his guard took the standard of the East March.
The field had been lost on that first day, and King Ferdinand was hard pressed to win the second; young Sancho, five years Rodrigo’s senior, had come with his own guard and cut down Garcés’ first charge, depriving Don Diego his vengeance and though perhaps saving Don Diego and the legacy of Bivar itself. Even to this day, the Lord of Bivar held resentment for the eldest son of Ferdinand, but it was best to know that vengeance over the death of his father was not yet at rest. There was a special wound for Don Diego from the first day of that battle, when he had been unhorsed, and it had never healed properly, though a span of three long years have elapsed since the fight. Don Diego bore the pain of this wound with relish, because it reminded him the frustration of seeing Garcés and his house joyfully tearing his father’s body apart.
When the three lords were turning to their horses, Don Diego saw that the Castillian prior, Esteban Buega, Bishop of Burgos, had come up with a few riders. They shouted in mirth, as the two groups came together.
“Ho there, m’lord Bivar,” Buega greeted, remaining on his steed. “Good to find you in good health at the leave of God. Say, are you good gentlemen hawking?”
“That,” Don Herberto spoke at the expense of his host, bowing before the powerful bishop. “Hawking to drive the heart of a good Christian from drink and sin.”
“And that, no doubt, Don Herberto, my son, that perhaps you had drink before you came here? And you Don Francisco! Ay, so we have three gentlemen here and in good health, I hope.”
“Pleased to see you in good spirits, m’lord Buega,” Don Diego said finally, at the same time motioning for his handler to take care of his bird. He never called the bishop anything but Buega or ‘m’lord’, a humility the man of God seemed to handle with more patience than any other may allow to come from one of his vassals. Besides, Don Diego was what the Church warmly called a Bastard Son of Christ anyway; but the Lord of Bivar did fill their coffers with charity, and the bishopric was often happy with that alone.
“I see that hawking is something more to do of late. Harvest Moon does not put enough grain upon the tables of our good lords? Yon – that? Are those your hounds? By God, I have not seen such wondrous animals, Don Diego. Indeed. Were did you find such dogs?”
“They were a gift from Don Francisco, here.”
“Splendid animals! Then, it is true, di Najéra, that your breed of dogs is done quite proud!” The bishop reined his horse about to feel the wind on his face. “Ah, yes. The touch of God! Do you not cherish the autumn?”
Bishops were scant in Spain. A prized commodity for the crown, King Ferdinand had charged his lords with the protection of their monasteries, due to the fact that they provided such good revenue and kept the common people at peace with the ways of court. Yet the Catholic Church, mired in the wars in the Holy Land, often felt ill at ease to find the Christian kingdoms in Spain so close to peaceful coexistence with the Moors. Yet, Castile, Aragon, and their sister states suffered rumor as backwater kingdoms anyhow, and it was not considered to be that threatening to Christendom if a strange attrition had formed.
“There is a reason, Buega, that you come here. Will you follow us back to the house for food? It is supper and my boys need a rest,” Don Diego offered. He didn’t like the fact the bishop had come unannounced, and especially on the heels of his meeting with the millers.
“Then it would be good to speak of things,” Buega said, smiling.
They rode gently away from the copse, with their retainers following them, of course talking, but not talking of anything that was sensitive. It was not customary of guests to suddenly spring on their hosts of important affairs when at leisure. Besides, words often were kinder and more informative when the presence of food and wine were at hand.
At once, however, Don Diego could tell that the prior was troubled about something. The bishop had been the one whom baptized him when he was born, had been there for his confirmation, had seen the Lord of Bivar raised within sanctity of the Church, as his parents before him. Buega was old, and his ways were familiar, and when the bishop turned to give his lord a humble smile, the eyes spoke volumes.
By the time they had reached the house of Bivar, the day was dying. The wardens had put up torches at the gate, and the sight of the house lights warmed the men as they rode in. The only guest not to have joined Don Diego was the gentleman of Zamora, who was entertaining the women of the house with music. When the group passed inside the walls, Don Diego found his wife now out-of-bed and guests enjoying a party, but there was no evidence of his son, Rodrigo. Doña Teresa seemed untouched of her malady, and was dressed in white and gold raiment, her hair unbraided and free. She came immediately to put her hand in the crook of her husband’s arm.
“My Lady of the Morning,” Buega exclaimed, kissing her Ladyship’s hand after her curtsy.
Buega didn’t press to talk business right away, and that was good for Don Diego. The Lord of Bivar resigned himself to his privacy after making a short announcement in the hall, but there were clothes to change and the pressing needs of nature to take care of before he could return to the attention of his guests.
Something was wrong, though, even as he closed the door to his bedchamber and took his moment squatting over his pot — a trouble that rode in the ethers, burrowing and groping into his lungs and heart. Don Diego searched out what it was that bothered him, and at first he wondered about the coming of Buega and the absence of his son, but these didn’t seem to agitate the frown on his face. His mind lingered over the earlier meeting with the millers, to the intense words of Domingo deSoto and Pancho Bruno. He suddenly recalled the unsmiling faces of the Florinos, and the Burgos merchants who had come with them.
When his duty was finished, Don Diego attended to his own mess, and tossed the contents of his pot out of the chamber window. This conjured a funny memory when he recalled – three winters ago – having flung his pot at the window and the little surprise inside had found the head of a passing warden. It still made him smile, and it was one of those things he liked doing now without bothering to see if anyone may be below; it was a chance of God for any poor sap. For a moment, he stood there, the pot in his hand, looking at it as though it was his helm, and he wondered if they were truly that different from each other. He enjoyed having his wife using the pot to pee in his presence in their privacy – and the thought now made him feel aroused; they enjoyed many sexual pleasures.
“Were it good to see her now thus,” he whispered. He loved her.
Her malady may come and go, but in the thick of it, she was fading. She was fading like a midsummer flower, no matter how strong and bright her petals and stems were. She would get better or she wouldn’t get better. He didn’t know.
He placed the pot in its customary place near the drawers, and after, attended to his toilet for the party below. The dull groping fingers of unease stayed with him.
(C) Copyright 2018 by M Cid D’Angelo