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.
“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