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.”
“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.”
“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.