Book 1 Chapter 9

Chapter XI

The Sons of the Realm

 

Prince Sancho retired from the Grand Hall, a couple of his men with him as they left Alfonso. He belched and swayed a little, but his sore mood had passed.

His father would not like the idea that the Infanté was in spirits, and would scold him for making argument with his brother. Still, nothing had occurred that would warrant displeasure from the king, and Alfonso was unhurt but only with wounded pride. What troubled the king most was the fact that his sons were not too unlike himself and his own brothers. Sancho and Alfonso were unsettling reflections of earlier years, of ghosts un-exorcised and exhumed; yet the wills lived because they were strong and did not abide the wisdom from the past. And for that matter – secure in his realm – the old king had forgotten what had been during his youth.

Ferdinand’s father had partitioned the realm and the children had bickered; after his death the sons had fought. Ferdinand yet bore the wounds from these earlier battles, but now – once looking at them – the old king could no longer remember where they had come from. Yet, Ferdinand was certain his own example and wisdom and love for his children would keep them together in harmony, in peaceful coexistence because they were Christians and siblings and they were his children, not his father’s. This would secure them. And they seemed to heed to his reason. They did not openly argue before him; the children did not openly confront and fight each other.

Yet even the best laid plans for children go astray, and even the most loving parents may not have the power to change destinies once laid down. Therefore the children of Ferdinand bickered, and perhaps after his death, they will fight.

Sancho took a long drought of the wine he’d taken with him, and enjoyed the jokes his friends made. His companions were Castilians, and bore scars of young men chasing their own roads. Don Garcia Ordóñez was the chief among them and possessed a cleft lip so that his rivals called him “Don Harelip.” He was a good knight and had been blooded, and Sancho enjoyed his company because Ordóñez was quiet but honest. Second there was a cousin of Rodrigo Diaz’s, Alvar Fañéz, who was bright-eyed and fun to drink with and had a knack for fighting when the best men were laid under the table. They were strong heirs of the realm, and now given to arrogance befitting to young knights.

They confronted Sancho’s sister, Urraca, as she came from the dark corridor leading from her room.

“Ay – Sancho!” She exclaimed, as if caught in bad purpose.

The Infanté regarded her, wiping the wine from his sparsely-bearded lips. “Sister.”

“Where is Alfonso!” It was almost as if she were accusing him of something.

“In the Grand Hall, nursing himself,” Sancho told her with a wry grin. His friends made a short chuckle.

She pushed passed him, intent to find the younger prince.

“Yea – go to him!” Sancho cried out, “Perhaps he needs to warm himself with you.” And these were dark words, for he suspected that the two – Urraca and Alfonso – had a relationship unbecoming siblings. But the young maiden didn’t bother to retort, she hurried onward to find her beloved younger brother.

It was then the doors burst open with an excited Garcia, with a group of his own friends with him.

“Ay! Sancho!”

“Garcia.”

The youngest brother paused to catch his breath before he went on. “It’s Rodrigo in the Square! He’s in a fight!”

“Rodrigo Diaz?” And with this news the Infanté beamed. The son of Bivar was his best and most trusted friend. “In a fight you say? Is that to be unexpected?” And his companions laughed along with him. “Who is he fighting now? The House Guard for cropping their horses?”

“He’s in dire reckoning,” the young prince squealed over-emotionally. “He is fighting two auctioneers over a pony.”

“That’s our Rodrigo,” Sancho said with a grim smile. “If anyone would take concern over gold, it is he.” He looked at his group. “Well, now, should we go to him?”

“Perhaps Rodrigo would take offense, considering his honor,” Ordóñez said slyly. With his words, everyone laughed more.

“Ay, but Rodrigo is a pure spirit,” argued Sancho. “Besides, you are always jealous of him.”

“Ay, jealous as one could be, considering how Rodrigo thinks so much of himself.” And they laughed with this too.

The youngest prince was beside himself: he begged for Sancho to hurry.

“Very well,” Sancho said. “Thus it is to see my friend in peril once again. I expect any day to see him fighting the lot of Toledo by himself. Ay, let us go to him.”

Before the group had come out to the Square, of course, Rodrigo had had a few moments to gather his wits, but he was in sore straits. The bartering of his horse was in process again, and the crowd had by that time begun to disperse, thinking the fight was now out of the brash youth. Both Rodrigo’s companions, Carlos and Francisco, were consoling him.

“You are beaten,” Carlos told his friend.

“Ay, a moment. That’s my pony and I’ll be damned ere I give her up to this lot.”

“We’ll be seeing you behind the stockade or lying in a shallow grave.”

“Ay – perhaps, Carlos,” Rodrigo muttered, wiping blood from his lips. “Yet there will be a reckoning done today, for me or against.”

The gold had yet to exchange hands, but just as Sancho and his entourage turned the corner of the Square in view, Rodrigo lunged once again at the biggest of his opponents, just as the two auctioneers had believed he was done for.

It was not much of a lunge, for Rodrigo was weak from his beating, and the northerner who had dealt heavily most with him, grabbed the squire confidently. The Navarrese partner, tired of the fight, took his whip and began striking the youth as the other held him.

“He’s done, imagine!” The Infanté observed, disappointed that he’d missed most of the fight. Still, for a few moments, he watched as Rodrigo suffered the blow from the rawhide. Then, at last, as the crowd recognized their new visitor, and an audible perception of “la Infanté!” brought everyone to their senses, the men assailing Rodrigo let the youth drop heavily to the ground.

“What occurs in my father’s Square?” Sancho demanded regally.

Everyone dropped to their knees. The two thieves, the center of the Infanté’s attention, shook as they knelt; Sancho was the harshest of Ferdinand’s children, and at twenty, he was battle-hardened and as mature as any Christian knight.

“Ay – you! Rodrigo! Ruy Diaz!” The Infanté pointed at the form of the beaten youth as he lay on the ground. “What ails you?”

Rodrigo just moaned.

“Forgive us, la Infanté,” the big northman said, his eyes at the prince’s feet. “The thief tried to steal our ponies.”

“That pony there especially? The tan one with the brand of Bivar full upon her haunches? That one?”

“Ay! So it was sold to us from the Lord of Bivar himself at auction these past three weeks.”

“That so? Well,” Sancho said, smiling a dangerous smile of teeth, “you must understand that I must be certain of such. Do you have papers from the Lord of Bivar to authenticate this?”

The Navarrese spoke. “Forgive us, Your Highness. We do not have papers from our Lord of Bivar.” Then as he looked up to confront the eyes of the Infanté, “you may send someone there to be certain that we do not lie.”

Sancho shook his head. “No need! We have the son of Don Diego in our midst.” He turned his attention back to Rodrigo, who had pulled himself to his feet. “Rodrigo Diaz, do you remember your father selling Bavieca to these men?”

The realization of whom the youth was and their dangerous predicament suddenly dawned on the two thieves. All they could do was stand there open-mouthed as Rodrigo related what had happened.

There was no more argument. As the Leonese guard apprehended the auctioneers, Sancho stopped them before they were taken toward the stockade. “Horse thieves are hung regularly. I understand there is no pain after the first five minutes.”

Wanting to get in a final shot, Rodrigo came up from behind and clubbed the burly northerner who’d beaten him nearly to death, causing the whole group to fall into chaos. Sancho, watching it all with delight, finally broke down.

“Would you get Ruy Diaz in the castle and cleaned up before he kills himself,” he ordered his guard, laughing.

            As the mist from the river, the day passed on; there Rodrigo was welcomed as good company by his friend Sancho, and even Alfonso himself was glad to see their reckless chum from the east. Thus, the son of Bivar became a neutral pillar between the heated rivalry of the princes, and the dark words and hatred that lurked within did not manifest as they brought their friendship to bear.

The palace was clean and far better maintained than the modest home of the Laiñéz villa, and after he had washed himself and had attended to his bruises, Rodrigo passed under the ancient Moorish arches erected by the long-forgotten Caliphate that once ruled these domains. Striped in blue and white, the arches were once trimmed in gold, but now they had begun to fall apart in patches of decay. Yet the color could still be found here and there in good design. Rodrigo was moved by the scene of the Hall of Arches, though as a young man of fifteen he was often distracted more of his fiery youthful desires; but he stopped here before moving on to the Grand Hall, and he stared all around.

In those admiring thoughts, he took one that he would have a place such as this one day for himself to dwell, and though he had been but to the sea twice in his young life, he vowed to have such a home there. Oaths of young men can be given to fancy and often forgotten, and even then there was this nagging doubt that he would ever see such a home. He knew as much to inherit his father and mother’s legacy in Bivar, perhaps, and there to live a life under the king. Yet he thought how it would be to rule his own city, and set those laws himself, before God alone.

The United Realm of Ferdinand was too enamored of its Christian ideals, too embittered by centuries of Moorish domination, too intent upon reconquest to allow itself free progression of culture and artistry. Everything here in the Royal Bastion that hinted even of something more than the desires of the body were those instances of a legacy not of its own. Barely now able to handle themselves with the Moors on military or economic footing, the Christian Kings of the north were still trying to etch themselves a distinction from their more powerful southern neighbors.

Thus these arches that spanned the corridors were at once foreign and familiar; they hinted at something truly profound and beyond description, even for a thoughtful young man like Rodrigo Diaz. Though the Infanté and his brother Alfonso waited for their guest to join them in the Hall, Rodrigo allowed himself to wander the arches alone, wondering if he could get lost if he closed his eyes.

Then, afterwards, came to himself and pocketed his wonder, but he did not leave. He stood there, feeling strangely warm in the midst of beauty.

How long did he stand there – he didn’t know. The shadows were growing from the far openings in the walls that were yet too barbaric to be considered windows, and they were more than just an opportunity for the archer to flit arrows at threats below. The only thing he knew was that suddenly he was not alone.

“This place has a haunt,” Sancho told him from the entrance into the Grand Hall, the flood of the firelight within almost making his form a silhouette.  “I’ve never seen it, but Urraca has told me she’s seen it four times.”

“A haunt?” The squire rarely knelt before Sancho, as others would do – they were too close.

“Yes.” Sancho walked over, and now that he was no longer in the alcove, his figure was given to shadows and grayness, though it was only midday. “A Moorish woman who brings water from yon door.” He pointed off to the left where a stout portal barred exit into the Queen’s Gardens. “Urraca doesn’t like to spend time here.”

“It’s beautiful,” Rodrigo said, forgetting himself.

The Infanté looked around. “I suppose it is. I’ve never thought about it.”

“Christ be praised.”

“You’ve been here before, Rodrigo. Have you always felt this way?”

“No, I don’t think…,” Then he let the matter drop; he felt ashamed. The two friends moved to one of the gaping slits in the wall and looked at the fields and the township under the golden watch of the afternoon sun.

“This place can stink,” Sancho said. He coughed up some phlegm and dispatched it below. “Father seems to love this despicable place. Give me Castile any day.”

“This will be yours,” Rodrigo pointed out.

“No. It will go to that brat brother of mine, Alfonso.”

“The whole of Leon?”

“Ay.”

Rodrigo gulped. It seemed unfair, because Leon had been the seat of Castile and the northern kingdom. What did it mean? Didn’t Sancho – the eldest – by right gain the entire realm?

“How is your father? The last I saw of him was when he was here, angry and proud over the issues of Pamplona.”

Rodrigo shrugged. “He hates Navarre.”

“Who does not? I can understand his pain.” Sancho smirked. “I would think he would have ill thoughts for me.”

“He loves you as the Infanté.” Were the words hesitant? Rodrigo worried over his tone, because he doubted his father’s integrity when it came to matters of Sancho and the Battle of Pamplona, where Don Diego had lost his father.

“I would beg to differ. Your father is proud, and he takes offense easily; I believe he silently accuses me of taking his due at Pamplona, though he survived the fight.”

“He knows you saved his life, m’lord.”

“Yet sometimes death is better than being saved for dissatisfaction. His own father was killed and the house torn.”

“He will still have satisfaction.”

The young men studied each other in the barren gray lands that bordered friendship and hatred; Rodrigo would inherit the vendetta against the enemies of his father, and that meant he would consider any grievance Don Diego had had to be his own. This grievance may, someday, include Sancho even.

Sancho said, “We are instruments of the Crown. To break faith with me would be to break faith with the king.”

“I assure you my father has not broken faith with you, Your Highness. You are his lord of Burgos and Castile.”

“I thought highly of you today,” Sancho disclosed. “You always make me proud to see you brawling.”

“It was a minor of things.”

“You would have tried to kill those bastards yourself, without thought of the king’s justice.”

These were treacherous waters, and Rodrigo knew he’d best choose his words; to say that he had no faith in the king’s justice would be an insult so grievous that Sancho would get angry. To say that he had lost his head and attacked the thieves recklessly would be to insinuate that Rodrigo had no brains and could not control his temper. He said, after some consideration, “I wanted to get my pony back. It did not turn out exactly planned.”

“Indeed.” The Infanté chuckled, perhaps understanding the dilemma. “Well, you are not wanting of courage.” Rodrigo’s father would have much harsher words to say, especially if he had known his son had been caught in a fight once again in public. Yet at least Sancho remained unoffended.

“It seems that I’m in a habit of getting rescued in market squares,” Rodrigo said.

“What makes you say that?”

“I checked the millers of Bivar with their gold no more than a week ago.”

“Why?”

Rodrigo modestly told him his suspicions of their embezzlement, that there seemed to be deeper currents.

“That would be your father’s reckoning to deal with them.”

The squire sniffed. “Or mine.”

Sancho was smiling. “I find myself displeased that I do not follow you around, taking in the sights of your adventures, Rodrigo.”

“Certainly the King’s Court would be of more interest.”

“Oh – yes! Would it! That is, if you like the ideals of tutelage as smelling the bad gas from my father and listening to commoners speak about how some other commoner stole their oxen.”

“But the battles….”

“Usually only boil down to a truce made in your absence,” the Infanté sighed. He had turned away from the wall slit and was leaning against the stones, his arms crossed. “You are out there slinging a sword and making yourself look a fool, and all the time your father makes amends with his enemies.”

Rodrigo wrinkled his nose. “I don’t follow.”

“Good for you, Rodrigo! T’is some instances to be blessed with ignorance.” Sancho reached over and touched his friend’s face. “Some dueling marks to boast of, my friend! A split lip, bruised cheeks and a dark eye! You’ll have my sisters in a lather.”

“I feel sore.”

“No doubt.”

“I heard you in raised voice with Alfonso.”

Sancho shrugged. “He’s a fool. He believes things that don’t exist.”

“As?”

“As being king of the North. He covets the Triple Crown.”

Rodrigo turned his eyes away, because he felt strongly that Sancho coveted it as well; yet Sancho was wrathful and hard to balance once angered. “Your father will live many years ere any of you come to the Triple Crown.”

“Perhaps, Rodrigo.”

“Does the king ail, m’lord?”

“He ails as old men do. That’s the way of things, wouldn’t you say? ‘God giveth and taketh away.’” Sancho made a mockery of crossing himself.

Rodrigo blinked.

“Don’t be so gullible, son of Bivar. God can be used.”

“Used? You blaspheme?”

Sancho smirked. “No – no. I have yet to inherit the realm, my friend. Better would it be not to tempt God against me, ay? I don’t give into that lot of prayer, for it seems my hand takes more than what God giveth. If God giveth me the Triple Crown, he would strike Alfonso to the dirt.”

“You wouldn’t raise a hand against your brother, m’lord.”

“I would not – though one wise must keep his eyes open and a dagger near. You are very naïve, Ruy Diaz.”

“I wouldn’t blaspheme and I wouldn’t take arms against my brother.”

Sancho raised his eyebrows. “You would, if you had them. Yet again you are on a simpler fate, and by that I envy you. Perhaps if you had brethren you would have them close to your bosom, and you to theirs. Yet you would contend not with the Triple Crown.”

“You say then it is avarice that turns you against Alfonso.”

Sancho’s eyes became fiery, but his voice was calm. “Be wary, Rodrigo. You will go too far.”

The son of Bivar studied the other a moment, then bowed. “Would I cross you, m’lord? Would I tell you something displeasing just to place you on edge? Truth sometimes has that edge.”

“But you are an idealist, Rodrigo. You would condemn me, and you are not of my standing.”

“In the eyes of God we are all the same, measured only by our souls.”

“Beware, Rodrigo – I will not tell you again.” The Infanté turned away. “You are my good friend, and I love you much. Don’t tread on these grounds you know little of.”

“If I’ve angered you, m’lord, I am sorry.”

They faced each other again, but the tension wavered and the mood lifted; Rodrigo smiled and Sancho joined him.

“You will be my man on the field, Ruy Diaz, one day.”

“What do you mean, m’lord?”

“I will take you in training for my guard when I take up the Crown.”

“You do me great honor, Your Highness!”

“That only if you prove yourself. I have yet to see you on the field of battle.” Sancho sized him up sternly. “Ay that it be my sword upon your shoulder to make you a knight one day.”

Rodrigo’s joy was so great he could have illuminated the chamber. “Call me and command me, m’lord!”

“Which will be – no doubt – a time soon.” Sancho said. “Now let’s get in and drink a bit, ay? We can go riding.”

“Back to Burgos?”

“No – not yet. I have things to do here.”

Sancho and Alfonso’s leisure time, when not in argument, was spent in spirits. Most of the time they didn’t interact with each other, as they had separate abodes. Alfonso was eighteen years old in the autumn of 1055, thus three years Rodrigo’s senior. He was by far the most comely of Ferdinand’s children, with his short reddish-blonde hair, and his eyes of crystal blue. And these eyes, often kind – though given as much to brashness as the young son of Bivar – were sharp and intense. He and Sancho were in contrast, for the eldest son was dark and hairy, yet altogether not lacking in his own appearance. There was such a strong contradiction between them that it was hard to believe they had sprung from the same loins, and their views as siblings of the Crown were, as told before, not in agreement.

Yet, the three infantés, in Rodrigo’s presence, let their distrust fall away, and they took time later to ride in the grassy hills north of Leon. With them went Carlos and young Francisco, who the son of Bivar formally introduced as future prominence; their father was well known.

And, as Ferdinand himself felt as he had looked out from his lofty perch in the Poor Pilgrim’s Tower earlier, things were in that moment as sweet harmony. There was no war upon the border, but there was a storm brewing far to the east; and that because somewhere there were always storms brewing.

*

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Book 1 Chapter 8

spain001Chapter VIII

The Road to Leon

 

“Stop whining,” Carlos told his younger brother, Francisco.

“But how long to Leon?”  The boy asked pitifully.  “Aren’t we there yet?”

“A little further, Francisco,” Rodrigo said.  He enjoyed the company of the sons of Don Francisco di Najéra, his father’s friend.  Don Diego spent more time away hawking with the nobles, leaving the boys bored with little to do.  Besides, Rodrigo hated hunting.  He had taken to the road with the sons, endeavored to make good on the Infanta’s request to come back to court.

Francisco rode hard on his pony, trying his best to keep pace with the older boys.  The brothers were keen in impressing Rodrigo though the task seemed impossible.  The older boys galloped ahead to test each other’s saddle, Francisco complaining for them to slow down and wait for him.

“Just ride,” Rodrigo told him.  “You can do it – I had already won three races by the time I was your age.”

The younger boy tightened his lip, because he respected the kindness of Rodrigo rather than fear of his older brother.  They had been on the road for two days, and their supplies were running low.  It didn’t matter much to Rodrigo whom had made the trip to Leon frequently on his own.

“Will they have a tourney?”  Carlos asked.

Rodrigo shook his head.  “The lists are announced and the king usually only has one in the spring.”

“Have you ever been in the lists?”

“No.”  It was childish talk, as they all – including young Francisco – knew that only those commissioned as knights dueled in tourneys.  Still, Rodrigo’s prowess as a young warrior was well known in the river lands, and he was popular.  It afforded the younger boys to ask such questions because Rodrigo was the closest thing to a knight in their standing.

“Would it be that I was a knight,” Carlos whispered in boyish longing.

“Ay, what would you do?”

“I would take fifty men and conquer Saragossa for the king.”

“Fifty?  That’s all?”

“I would have the best horse,” shouted Francisco from their rear.

“Or the horse would have you!”  Carlos teased.  “You cannot rein the pony you now have!”

Rodrigo was more contemplative.  “No, it would take more than fifty men to take Saragossa.  Even if they were all knights.”

“Have you seen it?”

“The city?  Ay – when I went with my father north to Lérida two years ago.  The walls – now that was a sight.  I don’t think a thousand knights could take that city.”

“How would you break the walls?”  Carlos asked.

“With horns – like they did Jericho!”  Francisco butted in.

The older brother rolled his eyes.  “Don’t be stupid.”

“But the priests taught me that.”

“The priests are stupid.”

“You’re stupid.”

Carlos immediately turned his pony around and made at his younger brother who – now full of fear – wheeled about and trotted a few yards off the track to escape his wrath.

“Go back home!”  Carlos shouted.

The younger boy ignored the command, stuck his tongue out, and kept pace.

They were passing through bleak country now, where it was far more desert than green, and upon a subtle rise, they caught the sight of Leon far off.    They were drawing nigh the town of Sahagún, and they pulled off the track and found an abandoned barn.  Rodrigo told them he’d spent many a night there, but he knew little of the people thereabouts; they were not Castilians, and they had bad blood between them.

“We could have a race,” Carlos suggested, restless even after the day’s ride.

Rodrigo shrugged.  “I’d take both of you with Bavieca.  There’s little sport in that.”

“We could have a list!”  Offered Francisco.

“And I’d bound you off your pony,” Carlos snarled impatiently.  “What would you use as a lance?  That warped stick on the ground?”

“What would you use?”  The younger brother retorted, not wanting to be undone.

“I’d use my fist.”

Rodrigo, tired of the bickering, said, “We could race a bit down the track.”

“Only if stupid Francisco could stay on his stupid pony.”

The younger brother – insulted – suddenly rode for the track at a high trot, forcing the older boys to wheel about and bound after him.

“I’ll take you down!”  Shouted Carlos, slapping his pony’s rump.  Already his brother had made the track and was now at full gallop – even far ahead of Rodrigo whom had tucked in and had Bavieca up to full speed.

The three were now quick down the track, Francisco easily ahead, but he was looking back.  He wanted to show up the older boys, but part of him was obviously struggling to decide what was better tact: let them take him and possibly escape retaliation, or ride hard and show off and possibly face Carlos’ wrath.  When the younger boy turned his eyes ahead, he overcompensated the gallop of his pony and in a sudden jerk, lost his seat and was thrown.  The older boys tore past him, oblivious to the accident.

Rodrigo, rounding the bend, leaned over and swiped at a fence post, declaring himself winner.  Carlos soon caught him and the younger boy seemed to accept this grimly.

“You have the better horse.”

“I told you it would be no sport.”

Carlos looked back at where Francisco lay on his back, staring at the darkening sky, his own pony not far away, mouthing the weeds.  “I wonder if the fool’s dead.”

“Ho there,” Rodrigo called out at the unhorsed rider.  “You hurt, Francisco?”

“My foot hurts.”  The boys heard the whine in his voice, but Francisco was doing his best not to cry.

“Ay – you probably broke it,” Rodrigo said, dismounting.

“Fool.  Now we’ll never go to Leon and see the king.”  Carlos rolled his eyes but remained on his horse.

Meanwhile, Rodrigo tended to the younger boy’s foot.  “Bah – it’s just sprained.  Good thing you didn’t break your neck.”

“Better it would have been,” put in Carlos.

“Can you walk?”  Rodrigo asked.  He pulled Francisco to his feet.

“I’m all right.”  The boy wasn’t going to cry, but he winced as he limped toward his mount.

Rodrigo helped him up and then they all rode back to the barn.

“I told you he couldn’t stay on his pony,” Carlos said after they had begun to bed down.  Rodrigo had made a fire and they were eating hard biscuits – the last of their rations.

“I’m hungry.  I hate tack.”  Francisco moaned.

“What else you going to eat?  The hay?”  Carlos wanted to know.

“We could hunt a cony.”

“We’ve no bow!”

Francisco whined again.  “I’m hungry.”

“Tighten your belt, Francisco,” Rodrigo said with a dull grin.  “When my father’s a’field, he eats less than our rations.”

“Ay – be a knight,” Carlos said.

The younger boy moaned even again.  “I don’t care and I’m hungry.”

“Baby,” Carlos snapped.

Francisco stuck his tongue out and made a face.  Carlos threw some manure at him, and soon they were in the thick of it, wrestling.  Finally the older boy pinned the other down and forced him to plead he was a sore-mule; the contest was over, but Francisco still moaned he was hungry.

The older boys amused themselves afterwards by playing a few rounds of stickball while the wounded Francisco watched on passionately.  Rodrigo, being bigger and wiser, used his advantage to full benefit on the struggling Carlos as the other played with vigor.  Then, exhausted, the boys retired to the lofts.

            Sometime late in the night, as the wind picked up – blowing through the barn – clouds came in and made light rain.  Here the breeze came and caressed the hair of the boys as they slept close to each other for warmth, as a mother may caress children helpless in slumber.  And Rodrigo in his dreams found himself standing on the banks of the river, watching a thousand banners of red and gold fluttering.  Somehow the banners, even in their multitude, were one; and in the strangeness of dreams these banners were not of canvas and wood, they seemed to be people.  Each person held out their hands, and their palms glinted with gold coins, and he took them freely as they were offered, and the people smiled.  And a grizzled knight walked up to him, and it was funny because the knight somehow looked like Rodrigo; and the knight said, “Sleepest thou, Rodrigo?”  And the youth said, “Nah, I’m wide awake.”  “Dost thou know who I am?”  “Nah, I dost not.”  Rodrigo became conscious that they were speaking Latin; and then the knight’s face changed and became somehow, clear, but though it was Rodrigo’s own handsome face, it was battle-scarred and wise.  “Dost thou know now?”  And Rodrigo said, “Ay – thou art Michael, my lord of God.”  Then the knight seemed to take his hands and led the youth out into the river, but the water fell away and there was nothing but blackness.  “Canst thou be conquered?”  The knight said, but somehow was no longer a personage, but a whisper in the blackness, and to be stranger, it was his mother’s voice.  And Rodrigo looked out and suddenly all the red and gold banners were green, and a city rose for him, and offered him into its gates.

He awoke to the gray light of dawn, remembering nothing.

Snoring Carlos had pulled himself into the fetal position, sucking his thumb, and his brother had his head buried in the hay, looking as if decapitated.  Rodrigo shook his head and ran a hand over his unruly hair, breaking wind as if the sound was a glorious trumpet for the day.  The morning was cool and peaceful, and for a moment granted the illusion that time had stopped and with the worries and the turn of age.  The son of Bivar got up and climbed down the ladder to the floor of the barn, his stomach growling. Like Francisco, he was sick of eating tack.  He urinated against the post, one hand to wipe the sleep from his eyes.

Canst thou be conquered?

Confused, Rodrigo tried to remember where he’d heard those words, but a moment more and he had his manhood back in his breeches and was making for the field.

As soon as he came out, he noticed that their ponies were gone.  He made a full orbit around the barn, whistling for his pony.  The squire found their hoof-tracks leading down the dirt to the road and beyond.  They’d been stolen in the night.

He let out a stream of curses and then went to rouse his friends.

“We can track them,” offered a sleepy Carlos, rubbing his eyes.  His hair was full of hay.

“They’re gone many a mile on the track.”  Rodrigo had checked the direction of the hoof-marks.  “They’ve gone on their way to Leon – we’ll find them there.”

“Leon is still a half day’s ride.  We won’t be there until tomorrow if we walk.”

“I’m hungry,” complained Francisco.

“Then we must get on.  The lord here does not like vagrants,” Rodrigo advised, though he was merely making it up to get his friends to move; he wanted them to forget their stomachs.

Luckily there wasn’t much to steal on their ponies, so the loss remained only of their mounts themselves.  Rodrigo was no longer the thoughtful, playful companion the boys had set out with from Bivar; he had become cold and calculating.  He decided with grim determination that it was best to leave the track and head as the crow flies overland to Leon, that they may have a chance in reaching the city by the morning – that is, if they walked all night.

“Won’t it be good to find the thieves at the gates of Leon?”  The young squire whispered in a voice that somehow frightened the others.  He was grinning his grin of sharpness – the same grin that made his mother exquisitely beautiful when she was purposeful.

“We have nothing to fight them with!  If they are girt with mail and steel…” Carlos whined.

“Leave them to me, little boys,” Rodrigo insulted them.

They moved – not knowing that it’d be impossible for them to reach the city gates in time to meet the thieves, for the men had had a good four hours’ start and rode briskly.  After a time, however, the walk turned pleasantly enough for Rodrigo and his companions.  The day passed clouds and blue skies; the patterns of field and stream became wondrous discoveries.  They rested often, because Francisco’s ankle yet pained him; but Rodrigo had wrapped it tightly with a strip of his own shirt, applying the bandage with an assured look that bestowed a bizarre confidence in the younger boy.

“Would it be that we will be too tired to do anything about it,” said Carlos, giving his shoulder to his younger brother.

I’ll win us back our ponies,” Rodrigo told him coldly.  “Stop complaining.  You think that knights a’field complain to their king because of a sore foot and an empty stomach?”

“You’re touched,” Carlos boldly said.

Rodrigo stopped in mid-gait, then turned to confront the other boy.  “You doubt me?”

Carlos held out his hands, suddenly afraid.  “No.  I am sorry.”

The young squire nodded, bestowing a thin, assuring smile.  “We’ll be all right, Carlos.  Look – your brother hasn’t said a word.”

Francisco beamed with the compliment.

As night fell, Rodrigo forced the brothers to walk until the light waned and the stars became obscured by clouds and the west wind began to blow hard.  Soon they were met with a cold driving rain, and now nothing remained in their minds but warm shelter.  Even taciturn Rodrigo forgot vengeance for the moment.

They hid in another abandoned barn a few miles from the city, watching the storm.  Rodrigo, having caught a slight chill, sniffed as he looked out of one of the gaping holes in the wall.  There were ruined forts on the rising hills leading to the royal city, illuminated briefly by lightning.  From here they looked like broken teeth scattered on the rise and had a dark, sinister look to them.

He silently vowed not to let the thieves have his Bavieca.  It was more than honor and justice forced into his heart; though he had been angry at first with her loss.  Now it had become personal.  Rodrigo would not – upon his soul – return home without his beloved Bavieca.  He would wander around northern Spain if need be – but he would find his Bavieca.  This conviction warmed him with such energy that he was grinning in that strange way again.

The younger boys were no longer enthusiastic about their journey.  Both were huddled before a meager fire, consoling each other.  Francisco, being quite the younger, was whimpering for his home and his mother.

“Why do you cry, Francisco?”  Rodrigo asked softly.

“He wants to go home,” Carlos said.

“Are you afraid of the thunder?”

“Mother said it is the laughter of all the souls in Hell.”

“I’ve heard a different tale,” the squire told them, the firelight glimmering in his eyes as he sat next to them.  “It’s God’s voice of victory over Satan.”

“How so?”

“The bishop once told me a story that Satan led a rebellion in Heaven, and God sent the archangel Michael to do battle with him.  There it was the Heavenly Host drew in and cut down Satan and his followers and cast them out to Hell.”  The squire’s eyes were brighter now, even though he’d turned slightly away from his companions in thought.  “The Hand of God in Lord Michael – ay – such a warrior, don’t you think?  Were it I who was Michael wielding the Hand of God.”  The older boy thought a moment more.  “Ay – such as the day I will cleave the head from Jimeno Garcés.”

The others didn’t know what he was talking about; they said nothing

Upon entering the gates of Leon, Rodrigo and his companions discovered it was Market Day; the wares of a thousand merchants and the golden grain of a thousand farmers packed the square.  The din could be heard way beyond the limits, where an endless train of people rode, walked, and carted in and away goods.  Herds of livestock pushed themselves through throngs of humanity, driven by strict masters.  Textiles adorned every hook and shelf in makeshift stalls; music piped about the slight breeze, above and below the constant murmur and the intermittent shout.  Customers prowled and wandered, some interested and some not.  Auctions were heard here and there over various items from furniture to animals, and a line of Moorish carts bedazzled the eye with fine-knit rugs and pottery.  Everything here made the square in Bivar look little more than a gathering of dirt farmers and amateur artisans.

The two younger boys took what little coin they had and bought themselves fruit from the goodwives, though the Leonese women smirked with disdain over having to deal with backwater youths.  Rodrigo helped himself to fresh water at the barrels, forcing himself not to eat a thing.  He would not reward himself with food until he had his pony back.  The son of Bivar – his thirst slaked – passed through the market with his head moving this way and that, scanning the crowd.  Of course he had no weapon to protect himself when confronting those who had taken Bavieca, but he didn’t care.  Rodrigo felt he was just as good with his fists as he was with steel.

Ahead, to the sides and behind him, Leon stretched wide and full.  The capital city had reached the apex of its imperial Christian dream.  Out of all the cities of northern Spain, Leon was far and above the most shining; King Ferdinand had had his city decked in glory where the gold and white of his banners streamed from every parapet and the walls scrubbed down and clean.  It was no rival to the magnificent Moorish cities of Saragossa or Granada, however; yet what there was shone like a star among lesser glimmerings.  The bastion, standing above everything as a sovereign itself, was colored with the gold stone that made its walls shine in the sunlight amid the black and red tapestries of the nobles’ sigils – a legacy of the Visigoths that remained.  A hundred men-at-arms strolled the battlements, though the city was at peace, wearing the surcoats of the Royal Guard, their spearpoints sparkling in the sun.

As the youths explored Leon’s celebrated Market Day, they couldn’t know that the king himself stood high above in the Poor Pilgrim’s Tower, watching his people at trade; he was smiling with a strange contentment for once in many days as he had returned from the field.  Those below in consensus considered him a good king – a good man.  Though now a mantle of years upon him, and there were lines that wrinkled his once smooth skin; battle scars more than just those attributed to battle with steel, yet more with the challenges of minds and wills.  Upon his ascension to the throne, the Christian kingdoms were separate, divided between his father’s children.  With arrogance, blood, and steel he had wrested these lands from his siblings, and then carved an empire.  Ever were those hungry for his crown, and in many years he spread his will out upon the frontier, pushing ever back the old boundaries, and even the Moors trembled.  Ferdinand now, taking a breath of the clean cool air of late autumn, felt at peace.  At least, for that moment, for he was wise that things change from moment to moment, and that stirrings stirred; under his feet and beyond his eyes people plotted and planned and held fierce desires.  Of these desires, rarely any benefited the king or his lands, but served ever the hearts of avarice and ambition.

As he stood there in that rare moment of moments when the king was at leisure, two of his sons, Sancho and Alfonso, hurled insults at each other while drinking in the Grand Hall.  Here even the cold glint of a naked blade came out, but the fight was restrained, for the princes were in the house of their mother, and each bided their time as they bided their arguments.

And there were the two infantas, Urraca and Elvira, consulting with each other in the way that young maidens may – in hushed words of modesty about beauty.  They occupied one room in the North Tower, in a chamber directly underneath the Royal Bedroom so that Ferdinand and his queen may monitor their movements; it was important that the daughters keep their virtue.

And the youngest prince – Garcia – had shunned the oft-brutal passions of his brothers and with a small group of noble sons enjoyed Market Day by playing near the common stables.

At once – this content moment of Ferdinand – things in the battle-weary provinces were warm and good, and though the king spied ever a Navarrese and Aragonese in the Square with barter, he felt for once that his kingdom now in harmony.  His wars and his fiery passions now quelled by solace, Ferdinand yet was perceptive, and many things went on beyond his senses, but of these he was well aware.  From his perch, he could espy the great road leading southward in a tight winding ribbon toward the fertile valleys ere they turned into dust of the barren lands that covered most his lands.  He could now see a Moorish train heading up that road from Toledo – that as promised in his charter to trade freely – coming at slow pace.

Was it now a part of Heaven to be thus tranquil?  He wondered.  For this moment of moments things are at their most pureHave I now been rewardedI have gained the United Realm of my father’s; I have sworn and upheld my oaths; I have given freely to God and held back little.

Then his queen entered the chamber, and he felt her air.

“I want you to do something about Sancho,” the woman said angrily.

Ferdinand closed his eyes, his contentment now weary.

“Did you hear me?  I want you to deal with Sancho!”  Queen Sancha pressed, angrier now that she felt her husband was ignoring her.

The king sighed.  “He has his own mind, Beloved.”

“His mind be damned!  I want you to send him to Burgos!”

“What is the problem?”

“He fights with Alfonso.”

Ferdinand shrugged.  “They always fight.  They are roosters caught in a pen too small.”

“Will you deal with him?”

His back to her, the king held out his hands, and then let them drop at his side in frustration.  “Fine, of this I will do.”

“Then get you down to the Grand Hall.”  Queen Sancha made all the demands of their marriage; she was a strong and forceful woman.  She turned and left him.

Ferdinand looked back out across his city.  His mind, turning ever with more pleasant thoughts of war and battle and blood than argument with his queen, did his best to forget her order.

Beneath him as he stood there, Rodrigo Diaz found success.

It was partially by his own wits, but mostly of the astute loyalty that the young pony had for her young master. When he turned the corner of pottery and Moorish rug merchants, Bavieca whinnied loudly at the sight of him.  She was on the block to be sold and already with many a buyer in place to take her.

Rodrigo crossed the distance of the lane in a moment and reached to take the reins of his beloved Bavieca.

The first auctioneer – one of the ragged men who had stolen her – immediately grabbed the son of Bivar and shoved him backwards with such force that the youth fell on his rear.  The thief’s comrade, a burly northerner, gave Rodrigo a glowering, warning look and took the reins of the pony and put them in the outstretched hands of a hopeful buyer.

“Riffraff,” the man muttered in half-apology for the intrusion in the sell, “but a wonderful steed!  Ay – look at her flanks!”

Rodrigo didn’t get up; he sat there for a moment, sizing up the situation.  Actually, he was curious to see how much his pony was going to get, a good sell was a gift to his pride.

“Five doblas!”  The buyer seemed outraged, but Rodrigo felt it was a just price.

“See her brand – from the riverlands of Burgos!  Ay, a steed worthy of war!”

“I’m a farmer, I do not need a warhorse.”

The burly northerner smiled. “I mean that only in the great strength she has!  Who wishes a burro when a horse of her caliber can certainly pull a cart with dignity and certainty!”

The farmer hesitated.

“Three doblas,” the thief bartered.

“One.”  A total insult – Rodrigo would have knocked the old farmer in the face for that.

“Two and I throw in some rope for your wares.”

“Done!”

And with that, Rodrigo jumped up.  In one movement, he hurled himself at the thief and knocked the older man off his feet.  Standing there above the burly northerner now, Rodrigo warned him dourly, “don’t get up.”

This, of course, had no effect on the man’s partner.  While Rodrigo was distracted, the other auctioneer took his cudgel and slammed it hard on the back of the youth’s head.  The blow was off-center, knocking Rodrigo against the stall, crashing into a stack of hay where he went down sprawling face first.  His head was exploding stars, and it didn’t help matters much that he found himself in a mound of dung.

“Brat,” muttered the first thief who was now standing.  “Ay, who does he think he is?”  And with that, the burly northerner reached down and grabbed hold of Rodrigo’s breeches and jerkin.  Before the youth could react, the big man had cast him forcefully out of the auction ring.

Rodrigo got to his feet, surrounded now by a crowd of onlookers.  It was suddenly as if he was back in Bivar confronting the millers again.  The youth, on fire, jumped back by throwing himself against the one auctioneer who had his back turned that instant, and whirled to confront the big northerner again as the latter descended in fury.

Rodrigo was fast – but not that fast – he wasn’t able to dodge the first blow from the man’s oversized fist.  It squarely compacted his jaw, knocking him backward.  The man advanced, swinging a second pendulum of pain as Rodrigo did his best to duck, but caught it in the nose; blood spurted.

As Rodrigo was confronting his first lesson in brawling with adults, the young prince, Garcia, who had been in the rear of the stable, came out to see what was amiss.  Recognizing the son of Bivar in a bad situation, and the way the crowd was gathering, Garcia took to flight.

Meanwhile, held up by the big northerner, Rodrigo dazedly stared back at his opponents.

“He’s a tough one – that,” the second thief – a Navarrese – muttered.  “Why won’t he stay down?”

“You stole my pony,” Rodrigo spat in blood.

There was an audible sigh from the men’s potential buyers.

“Take him out,” the Navarrese said.  He turned his attention back to the farmer who was now no longer holding the reins of Bavieca.  “No!  No!  Not true!  We bought this pony from the Lord of Bivar himself!  See the brand?”  He was cunningly using the mark to his advantage, rather than allowing it to be the condemning piece in Rodrigo’s accusation.

As his partner did his best to reassure their buyers, the big northerner threw the youth into the street.

*

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The Cid Book 1 Chapter 7

 

Chapter VII

The Lady Knows Her Fists

 

“There was trouble in Bivar over taxes,” Buega snorted in mirth.  “How does this not surprise me?  At tax day?”

Don Diego had met with the bishop alone in an antechamber underneath the Hall, hoping that anything sensitive spoken here would not leak out to the ears of his other guests.  He had granted his company a small cask of Bordeaux wine – a spoil he had taken himself from a French town while fighting as a reckless youth.  Buega had a fondness – and weakness – for wine; such a vice to have even when speaking against it.  The two men enjoyed the mellow sweetness of their refreshment, sitting across from each other.

“Money is always trouble,” the Lord of Bivar said wisely.  “My son would be pious enough to point out that all wars are caused of gold.”

“But he is a good boy.”

“That.”

They drank leisurely, the dim wafts of music floating down from the Hall.  Lute and fife fingered hard hearts and the fancies of women, as Doña Teresa had once told her husband.  The Lady of the House loved her music.

“Still this bothers me that such a trouble occurred – that your son would come to Bivar with such an interest in the books of the millers.  That – does he consider himself freelance?  Did he reckon a problem by his own meddle?”

Don Diego shrugged.  “I don’t know.”

“He did not come to deSoto’s stores on your behalf?”

“No.  He did this thing of his own.”

“And who were these men with him?  Wards of your house, Don Diego?”  Buega’s tone had risen, but, remembering where he was, the bishop suddenly relaxed.

“As I’ve said, not of my doing,” Don Diego said.

“Then your son is your blood and your will!  Such as it is he came to take what would have been your own office!”

The Lord of Bivar, noticing the strong conviction in his lord’s tone, and it gnawing coldly at his hospitality, took a drink again from his cup to calm his rising emotions.

The bishop sat back in his chair and inspected the contents of his own cup a moment before continuing.  “I am sorry to bark as a dog, ay, such as it is not warranted.  I know you, I know you as my own son.  I remember you as a boy holding the candle at Michaelmas, the look of your own father in your eyes.  The years do not honor my temper or patience, and sometimes I can feel fire before I feel the icy calm of just and reason.”  He paused a moment, not for the first moment looking like a harried grandfather.  “Youth can permit foolish brashness.”

“I am no longer that young, Buega,” Don Diego said.

The bishop smiled distantly, still watching the swirling contents of his cup.  “No, you are not.  Yet, these troubles – ”

“To find the matter at rest, Your Grace,” the Lord of Bivar snapped.  “I did not send my son on an errand to drag the millers’ pockets out in the Square!  Ay, so to have their own dogs screw them!  Yet I will stand by my son’s reckoning as the master of these lands as I am absent; so thus it stands now – his actions – mine!”  It was a dire course, for the bishop may take offense.

Yet the bishop relented, but his eyes – gray as cold dawns – fastened upon his vassal’s.  He whispered softly, “I worry, my son.”

It was good that the bishop did worry, and Don Diego could not ignore the fact that it was generally the advice of the bishopric that taxes were taken from the populace, and not by armed thugs of Rodrigo’s.  As they were quiet again to one another, the point having been made upon the Lord of Bivar that his son had insulted and trod upon the sensitive grounds belonging to their liege lord, the talk became more pleasant.

“Your wife, she is well?”

“Yes.”  But Don Diego looked away.  There were times, sometimes in the early morning, when he had heard her coughing, and then getting out of their warm bed to find comfort with medicine – herbs bought from the market to soothe her lungs.  There were other times when her eyes were dull and her face cold and white.

“She is a strong and beautiful creature, certainly fashioned by the Hands of God,” Buega told him.

“She has the north in her veins.”  Her father – Rodrigo the Elder – was a champion at hacking to pieces Saracens and Christians.

“Her family is strong.  I see it in your son.”

“Too much, I fear.”

“He is willful, but you are the father.  Let him come to know the way, how it is he cannot come to Bivar to bully gold from the fingers of his artisans.”  The bishop was smiling an aged grimace of harsh wisdom.

“Does it matter to anyone that he was protecting the rights of a Moor?”

“We are all God’s children, even among the heathen.”

“Strange, I find that he was ready to fight half the people in Bivar for the life of one Moor.  You do not find that extraordinary?”

The bishop shrugged.  “Rodrigo is just.  I would have loved to see him at the monastery, rather than swinging blades around, ay, that!  Or to take to drink as he does, or that of riding bloodlust at the court of our king!”

Don Diego was beaming at thought of this, though troubled to hear contrary to his belief that his son wasn’t prone to drink.  “He is truly a good son.”

“Truly.”

They again soothed themselves to the wine, now at peace with each other.

“You came from Ferdinand?”  The bishop asked.

“Ay.”

“The matters of court?”

Don Diego shrugged.  “As it is always, good Buega.  Our king is old and his children run rampant near the throne.  Alfonso is such a good man, yet, Sancho…”

“Ah yes,” his companion agreed, casting his eyes at the ceiling.  “Such as it is Ferdinand’s favorite – Alfonso.  Sancho is so reckless.  He angered you at Pamplona, did he not, my son?”

“You would like a confession?”

“Only if you feel guilty.  You dislike the Infanté, but you are in good company.”

Don Diego smiled because the bishop knew him so well.  “A trifle matter now, it seems – but Sancho would be king some day.”

“You fear disfavor?”

“Not from him, no.  He is too wild in spirits and the indulgences of youth.”  The Lord of Bivar drained his cup of wine, thinking.  “He is not intelligent enough to form a suitable enemy, but I fear…”

“You fear a tainted reign,” Buega finished for him.

“Ay, tainted.  Yet if Alfonso was favored for Castile…”

“He will be granted Leon above all else, if Ferdinand decides to divvy up his kingdom to his children.  Besides, Sancho would not sit idle if Alfonso the younger would inherit all.  Come, m’lord, we’re old men, you and I.  We’ll be in the earth before the crown passes on in Castile.”

“I am not that old, friend.  I should see the lands of Navarre wither ere my day is at end.”

The bishop chortled.  “You may not worry, as Rodrigo has things well in hand for you!  Even now the Infanté sends for him.  The boys are friends.”

“I told you I do not fear disfavor from Sancho over any matter, even as it was he stole my vengeance at Pamplona.”

“You think Sancho would favor Navarre?”

Don Diego looked inside his empty cup.

The bishop shook his head, a movement that made the gold at his neck twinkle in the glow of the hearth.  “I foresee Sancho leading might into Navarre, and Galicia, and Leon.  There is fire in him – your son and he will make good company.”

“You believe the Infanté would go against the will of his father and disinherit his brothers?”

“Many go against the will of the king when the king has passed on.”

Still, Don Diego couldn’t take comfort in the assurances of his guest.  The battle with Garcés in Pamplona made him wonder if Sancho, if indeed he took the crown of Castile, would somehow strike favor with the Navarrese, and dash the Lord of Bivar’s desire for vengeance; as so long as both Don Diego and Jimeno Garcés lived – there could be no peace.

The bishop didn’t stay long at the villa.  He rode away the following morning early with his entourage, leaving his lord to dwell upon matters.  It wasn’t long afterwards when Don Diego realized he’d been bullied into taking a stance with the bishop – and that Buega had probably come on an errand from the complaints of the millers themselves.

The Lord of Bivar, angry at thought of this, didn’t see anyone else that day.

When her husband had come back from the field with the bishop, Doña Teresa retired from the gathering crowd and retreated for the privacy of her chambers.  There were many things to do, and she had already sent her handmaid, Elorna, to coordinate the affairs of the minute serving staff.  The other – Evita – was busy wringing her hands at this sudden appointing of the younger girl to such duties, but the Lady of the House was adamant.  Besides, the old crone needed to rest a bit.  The arrival of the bishop had given Evita more agitation, because now she was forced to put on airs in a more spiritual matter, and his unexpected arrival placed the crone in a storm of worries, along with her Ladyship.

Besides, the guest from Zamora had spoken at length of the Navarrese influence in her own lands, and though it had been idle gossip, Doña Teresa wondered then if a storm of worries was now actually necessary.  She wanted to think more about Rodrigo – as her son had taken leave and had left no word of his destination.  The desire to think about Rodrigo was natural, for he was her only child, and the things he did and said were of importance – as trivial and as great.  He was, after all, the only legacy for the family name on their side.  Instead of placing herself in a trauma of things that may turn out to be thus trivial, Doña Teresa resigned herself to the entertainment of her guests.

First of all, the Lady of the House needed to get her head together.  She sat down before her mirror – the ornately carved cherubs on the frame betokened an expensive gift from the Royal Family in Leon – and rubbed her aching temples.  Long locks of red-blonde hair hid her thin, oval face, and her hazel eyes were lost behind her tightly closed lids.

She had been ill that day.

Of course she didn’t believe herself suffering from anything that she hadn’t before, and she harbored a hopeful secret that again she may have a pending surprise of joy for her lord and husband.  However, with the feeling of what could be standard morning sickness, there was something strange.

Her abdomen hurt, especially in the lower regions, and she had had to excuse herself to her chamber pot on occasion.  She had vomited three times, and with that, she had seen the scarlet streaks of blood therein; a sight she had not seen before that day.  Doña Teresa’s head ached, but not with a constant pain, but with a general giddiness that came and went upon her actions.

What scared her was the congested tightness in her lungs, and she found it hard to breathe at times.  She was coughing more, but was able for the most part to hide the spasms from a worried-prone husband, and it had been easy considering he had been gone for these many weeks.

Doña Teresa was confident she could handle the affairs that troubled her husband, and with good reason; she often had to implement her will when the lord was gone, and that meant more than just the house staff and the grounds of her villa.  She knew the delicate situation the merchants provided, but she was not at ease herself not to have been included with Don Diego’s meeting.

She had concluded after their marriage that her husband was an honest and decent man, considering she had known little about him when her hand was promised to him.  Diego’s family name was not as strong as her own – as stated before – but it had afforded no shame.  Besides, both Don Diego and his father were loyal warriors of the crown of Ferdinand; there was no debate in the union of their name, and it had been the will of the king himself.

At that moment, the Lady of the House succumbed to the pressure of her lungs and she coughed in another heated spasm, until, at last, she rested her dizzy head on the top of her bureau and closed her eyes again.  She noticed blood on her lips when she wiped them.

She wondered, if for the thousandth time, what it meant.

The guests were at ease in the house, and with that, Doña Teresa could relax.  Her husband and the bishop had retired to some undisclosed location – again, leaving her without, but she didn’t allow it to bother her.

The gentleman from Zamora, Garcia Lomá, had made his attraction for her subtle, but it rested in smoldering coals in his eyes.  He was pleasant to talk to, as they had many of the same friends in Asturias, but she feared an unwanted advance from him, so she decided to avoid him.  When she came down from her privacy, she heard Lomá speaking in loud voice to Don Diego’s hawking companions, Francisco and Herberto, in the Hall.  She felt suddenly awkward in going down there in their presence, as any normal woman would in the company of men indulged in spirits, but she needed to cross the Hall into the foyer and beyond to find her beloved Elorna.  Therefore, mustering the courage of the young tomboy that lurked inside her, she stepped down and came into the room.

The men at once stopped talking.  It was as if she had appeared with a loud thunder crack and the smell of brimstone; for some reason they were ashamed to find her in their midst – though she couldn’t tell why.

It became apparent a moment later when Garcia Lomá spoke.

“Ah yes!  Here she is, the grand Lady of the House!  As I’ve been telling you!  Don Diego’s luck to have such a woman, would you say?”

And the men consented with their leering eyes and wide smiles.

She blushed, and that was perhaps an act accepted for any young maiden new to the affairs of men, but not for a woman of her stature.  Therefore the tint on her cheeks and the sudden nervous drop of her eyes carried to these men a message she did not mean – an invitation for them to proceed.

Lomá got up from his chair, swaying a bit from the influence of his drink, and from this Teresa knew his actions and words were not to be trusted.  With her composure returned, the Lady drew herself up as her inebriated guest crossed the scant distance to her.

He bowed, over-embellishing and nearly falling flat on his face in the effort.  When he erected himself, that face was as red as the scarlet ribbons that adorned the lapel of his high collar.

Señora!”  He exclaimed, his right arm extended outward with flourish, his left hand close because it held his wine.  “As beautiful as the red-golden sunset.”

“Señor Lomá,” Doña Teresa said coldly.

“Would you take my hand in dance?”

A sudden repugnance of the thought made her eyes flicker, but she kept herself cool.  “My dear sir, there is no music.”

Lomá laughed, casting a look back at the other two men in the Hall.  “Ah, Doña Teresa!  We need no music to dance!  See?”  And he suddenly reached out and pulled her close by the waist.

Of course the Lady of the House was not amused.  She pushed him back roughly – hard enough to make a point and almost hard enough to knock him to the floor.  “There is no music, Señor Lomá, and my husband is very close.”  She didn’t wait for a response, leaving the three men as quickly as she had arrived, damning etiquette before the great lords of Najéra and Osma.

When she passed through the foyer and out toward the kitchens, she suddenly felt dizzy.  Doña Teresa leaned against the stonewall and rubbed her temples.  Suddenly she  doubled over, coughing.  There was more blood on the back of her hand after she had hidden her mouth with it.  She waited, breathing heavily.

When she was herself, the Lady of the House came into the kitchens and found herself alone.  This angered her because there were guests in the house and her staff was being negligent.  She called out for Elorna, but was met with silence; she called out for Luisa and Pepé – the cooking staff, but again, no answer.

Whirling around, Doña Teresa was about to storm back up the stairwell toward the Hall when she found herself suddenly confronted by Garcia Lomá, who had followed her.

“What – ” she began, startled.

“My dear Doña Teresa,” Lomá whispered, smiling.  The smell of wine was heavy on his breath.

“You frightened me,” she told him.  “I’m afraid you caught me at a bad moment; I am at a loss for the presence of my servants.”

He said nothing, and there was a strange look in his eyes.  When the Lady of the House sought to push past him, he remained steadfastly to bar her way.

“Señor Lomá – ”

He reached out immediately and grabbed hold of her breasts.

The ways of her youth were not lost on her that day.  Though shocked in the half moment it took for her to realize that a violation was being made upon her person, Doña Teresa struck back quickly, without thinking – she balled up her fist like any brawling man and knocked Garcia Lomá in the face so hard and with such suddenness he fell backward.

“Oh!”  He cried.

With fire in her eyes, Teresa advanced on the astonished Lomá, her fists tight and ready to pummel him.  A spreading grin of maliciousness on her face betokened the same that often graced her son’s when he was angry.  She saw that Garcia Lomá had a streak of blood from his nose where she had already delivered her package.

He tried to back away, but the wall trapped him.

“Do you think I cannot protect myself, Señor Lomá?”  She hissed, standing over his cringing form.  “You think I am at the mercy of your mannish brutality?”  Doña Teresa may have lit into him further, if it was not for the fact that she heard the belated voices of Elorna and Pepé coming from outside.  The Lady of the House backed away from her wounded guest.

Lomá squealed her name in supplication, begging her forgiveness – and begging, pleading, that she not breathe a word of his advances to her husband.  Doña Teresa stepped over him – already moving for the Hall because she didn’t want to be found with the drunken man alone.

She swept past the two astonished men in the Hall, ignoring their looks.  The musicians had returned to play as the Lady brushed past more of her guests who had come in the time of her brief absence.  She rounded the stair and tore up the steps to her chambers, holding the hem of her dress.

Once secured behind a locked door, the Lady of the House wrung her hands in front of her mirror, angry and frightened all at once.  Her fingernails bit into her palms so hard she drew blood.  Doña Teresa suddenly felt a flow of elation – she had enjoyed hitting Garcia Lomá.  Gritting her teeth in malicious glee, she took pleasure in the memory of seeing the drunken bully cringing against the stonewall below, afraid of her pummeling.

Then elation passed and she fell into a spasm of coughing.  It was a long time before she was well again.

*

 

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The Cid Book 1 Chapter 6

Chapter VI

The Bishop from Burgos

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That,” Pancho replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The town master thought of Navarre.

Garcés.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

 

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The Cid Book 1 Chapter 4

 

Chapter V

The Petition

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes!”

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

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

“Why not I stay with you?”

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

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

“Go you to them,” she whispered.

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

The meeting didn’t start off well at all.

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

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

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

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

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

There was light chuckling from the group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He was forceful!”

“He is young.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You would not think to compensate them!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How so?”

“He cheats.”

The rider laughed.  “So you say!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Rodrigo,

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

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

Urraca, from the pen of Tol

 

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

“A return to her?”  The messenger asked.

“I will bring my own – tell her.”

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

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

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

*

 

(c) Copyright 2018 by M Cid D’Angelo

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The Cid Book 1 Chapter 3

Chapter III

Taking His Toll in Flour

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“His pain be damned, Bruno.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He surveyed the stock with a sniff.

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

The groan and shudder of the door interrupted his thoughts.

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

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

“Rodrigo Diaz!”

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

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

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

“Did you not count the gold yourself?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Your father –”

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

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

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

“We gave you all, Rodrigo Diaz.”

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

“You are alone here, Rodrigo!”

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

“I will take this to your father!”

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

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

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

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

“We are all the king’s men, deSoto.”

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

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

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

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

*

 

(C)Copyright 2001 by M Cid D’Angelo

 

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The Cid Book 1 Chapter 2

Chapter II

A Mist on the River

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Rodrigo? He has spoken to you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean with Rodrigo?”

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

“When did you see him?” She asked.

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

“Oh!”

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

“So, that is it, then.”

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

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

“Ay? His temper?”

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

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

“Still, he is detached.”

“He is just dreamy. He’s a good son.”

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

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

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

“Let them be afraid then.”

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

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

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

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

“Ay.”

“And of this you are troubled.”

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

She summed it with a whisper: “Navarre.”

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

“You should sleep,” she said.

“There are things to take care of.”

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

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

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

“He should keep his head.”

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

“He came home from the court.”

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

“He didn’t displease the Family.”

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

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

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

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

“Every man is tamed by a woman.”

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

“No. I am your civilization, m’lord.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don Diego shook his head.

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

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

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

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

“I was troubled.”

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

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

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

“And yet these are gone?”

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

“And what am I, father?”

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

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

“Ay, that you do.”

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

“I am not angered by that.”

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

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

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

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

“Ay, that is what you did.”

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

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

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

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

“Stealing?”

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

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

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

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

“Why defend the moor?” Don Diego asked.

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

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

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

“Even though the merchant was a moor?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Most likely.”

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

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

Rodrigo said nothing.

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

*

(C) copyright 2001 by M Cid D’Angelo

A castle in Spain

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