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.
“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.