If anyone, Prince Alfonso was the first to calm down. At first outraged that Rodrigo Diaz would have resisted the bid that the Infanté would benefit from, at last allowed himself gentle airs and to wage a bet against the son of Bivar.
“Imagine!” Alfonso exclaimed, now in mirth. He had retired early from the matters of court and to take counsel with his sister Urraca. “Challenging a blooded knight as Garcés. The fool will be gutted ere being unhorsed!”
“No – he doesn’t have a chance,” murmured Urraca somberly. She rubbed her forehead, a headache dull behind her brows. “I admire his courage.”
“Courage you say? Fools have the greatest courage and there are cemeteries a’plenty filled with fools. He’d best have stayed silent. As it was, anyway, not his business.”
“Yet you were the one who knighted him!”
Alfonso laughed, amused by this. “Ay – only to make it easier for Garcés to clean his bid. Not even Sancho made fervor. Once Diaz is dead, Bivar will be open and there will be no more matter of discourse.”
“He accuses Garcés of killing his father.”
“Allegedly!” Alfonso cried, his hands in the air. “Even if Don Diego had been killed at the hands of the Navarrese, better yet to the better man. Bivar was a traitor.”
“Unless Rodrigo’s father was seeking Sancho’s pardon.”
“Not a weight to that,” Alfonso said, suddenly angry. He lay on her bed and began fidgeting with one of her bed dolls. The doll had been a gift from her aunt, and it bore the name Tita. Urraca watched him twist the cloth body until he had nearly pulled off Tita’s head.
“Leave her be!”
Alfonso looked at the doll passively, then tore the head off and threw it in the air.
“You’re too old for playthings, sister,” the prince told her cruelly.
Fuming, she turned and left him.
What was it that he possessed? Alfonso? He could be kind and gentle, and yet a wicked monster if let be; he loved cruelty when he knew he could get away with it. That was a man – Urraca thought – a mule of a man. He wasn’t like Rodrigo Diaz; she had never seen the young squire cruel like that. She went to seek him out, as just to be near. Urraca – moved by the squire’s temperament of courage – found herself drawn to watching him as he sat alone and dejected in the kitchens long after the staff had retired.
“He is so sad,” the Infanta whispered to herself, hanging in the growing shadows of the pantries, her hands holding up the hem of her dress to keep it from staining. Her jaw worked as she contemplated him. Rodrigo had become a leper after his outburst, even to his own family and friends. Some no doubt felt pity, but so many more considered him a final amusement on the strange bid for the Ubierna.
She remembered them as children, when the young Rodrigo had come to Tol to learn his letters. The boys beat him up twice, behind the backs of the monks, but when Rodrigo and Urraca had been taught together by a tutor in Leon, they had become friends. He hadn’t been as intense as he was now – she remembered. He did boyish things back then, of course, galloping around on an invisible horse and laying low hosts of dragons and black knights. But he would talk to her, and she to him, and they even allowed brief moments of playing as husband and wife, when furtive kisses and imagined love highlighted possible future roles. The Infanta wondered what could have been for them, if things hadn’t become twisted in time.
Even now a blush came to her cheeks when she thought of the day she had exclaimed to her father that she would marry Rodrigo. She – seven years and he just barely five – had decided already.
He is a handsome young man, she thought, sitting there in the shadows. I wonder if he’s waiting for someone?
The young knight looked up and saw her standing there. For a moment their eyes locked and they couldn’t look away. Rodrigo got up and came over to kneel before her and kiss her hand.
“Rodrigo,” Urraca said, touching his hair. “Why do you have such conviction to anger so many?”
He smiled faintly, and then looked away. It was obvious he had little more in him after the tumult he’d caused.
“I want to know why you feel just in challenging courses of those greater than you are,” the Infanta murmured. “You are a good man, I feel. Why are you so quick to die?”
“What is death to a man who has no life anyhow?”
“M’lord Garcés is undefeated in single combat. He has sent many men to their death upon the field. He is the Champion of Navarre; no knight in Leon-Castile would have been as rash as you.”
“I’m a good fighter, Your Highness,” Rodrigo told her.
“Not good enough to beat him, I’ll warrant. You will die upon the morrow, Rodrigo.”
“Then I will die.”
“You are only seventeen years old! You haven’t been blooded – ay! Turn from this; you have no honor to defend.”
“My father was much younger when he was blooded a’field. And consider your brothers leading the king’s armies. They had been blooded long before seventeen, m’lady.”
“And you will die then so readily?”
“Ay – readily.”
Suddenly Urraca took his hand and kissed it gently. “I fear for you, Rodrigo!” She touched his hand to her cheek and caressed it – then dropped it and went from him.
Afterwards, Rodrigo left the kitchens alone as he’d sat there. Somber, he wanted time now to go out and watch the sun set and prepare for the end. He decided it was no use practicing in the bailey because he knew he hadn’t a chance to best the Navarrese. He felt ashamed and frightened, but he didn’t know where to go. Communing with God was closer – he felt – looking up at the sky rather than kneeling for hours before the sacrament.
He had nothing of his father and mother left to him, save for Bavieca who waited for him patiently in the stables. Everything else in Leon had been given to him from his benefactor, Sancho, and none of these things brought him comfort. He decided to lay out his best clothes for the burial so that the wards would have no problem disposing of his body at the end of the day.
Then he quit the bastion and found Bavieca in the stables; soon he was out of the city. The sky was peaceful as he rode toward the barren hills, skirting the track and coming to the vale where the bailey wards train. The copse was thick here and there was a stream nearby that fed a patch of lush green. Its banks were covered with a pale moss, and the stream muttered without a mouth, pressed in the heat of the dying day. Rodrigo fed Bavieca half an apple he’d taken from the table and led her to the seclusion of the trees. He bowed to his knees and crossed himself.
His face streaked with silent tears and the dust from the road, he mumbled his prayers. The sun, oblivious, sank on the horizon, leaving him in shadow.
Rodrigo had not slept the night, spending time with Bavieca, brushing her flanks and watching her rest – hoping that the four-year-old was ready to take the field against Garcés. A soft light of purple slipped into the stables, heralding the dawn breeze before the heat of the day would wither it.
Bavieca was not a warhorse – yet. She was trained well in the artful riding of her master, but she didn’t know everything there was to tourney fighting. For a while, Rodrigo was more concerned with her surviving the ordeal than he was for his own.
Rodrigo had no weapons or mail. His father had taken everything in his disappearance, so the young knight would have to rely on Sancho or someone to take kindly to him and grant something for his duel. Everything he had sparred with while living under the protection of his benefactor had been the property of the bailey ward, and he hoped that he’d be allowed to use these.
“Everything to be meaningless, Bavieca,” he whispered to his horse. “Ay, you have no barding and I no mail. We’ll last the first run, perhaps – but most likely not.” He wondered about how painful it would be to have the length of Garcés’ lance in his innards as he was thrown off his horse.
Bavieca snorted and playfully nudged him with her nose.
“I wonder if I can get a shield from Ordoñéz.” Rodrigo had a few tricks to play on the field – that is – if he survived to use them. Still, his opponent was far more experienced; would Garcés know everything he would do?
Just then, he heard the soft tread of someone entering the stable. Thinking it was a groom, Rodrigo shut his mouth and returned to brushing Bavieca’s flanks.
“I thought I would find you here, Rodrigo Diaz,” a man said from the next stall, unseen. The voice was cold and even. “You are up and ready, so it seems, to fight Don Jimeno.”
Rodrigo blinked and stopped brushing. “Who cares?”
“There are those who would care, senór Diaz, though you are small claim to unhorse the Champion.”
“That is what I hear, senór.”
“I am pleased with your courage, though.”
Rodrigo shrugged whether or not the other could see the gesture. He took another swipe at Bavieca’s flanks.
“How do you suppose to fight him?” The cold voice asked passively.
“I don’t know.”
“Ay – you are worried more with dying.”
“When I heard you at Reception yesterday, I was intrigued by your challenge. I agree with you: m’lord Garcés did conspire with your father’s millers.”
“And how would you know this, senór?”
“Let me say that I know m’lord Garcés well, and I was an ear to him at his bid. He has many enemies in Navarre.”
“Who are you then, senór?”
“I am Francisco Villéz, Count of Amónardo.” The Navarrese ambassador came around the stall, revealing himself. He was tall and lean, and a dark satin and red trim he wore. His hair was black and wiry and along with his carven face, reminding the young knight of his uncle, Don Nuño. Rodrigo bowed respectfully, noticing that the man had in his hands naked steel – a sword.
“With your words, m’lord, I find it hard to believe you’ve come to kill me. Perhaps that task will be done by another ere the day is out.”
The ambassador smiled, though his vacant stare never wavered. Don Francisco possessed dead eyes, as a man who somehow knew death and where all life goes in the end. “This is for you, senór Diaz. It is the Sword of Pamplona, taken from m’lord Garcés’ home ere he left it.”
The blade had a cruel shine to it, and there was Latin inscribed upon the hilt denoting valor and justice for Navarre. The handle and guard had a gold finish to it, and the pommel had a circle with a cross. It was a fine weapon.
“Why, m’lord, do you offer me this?”
“I was planning something grander for m’lord Garcés, yet it will serve you kindlier on the field today.”
“Why an interest in me?”
“I am hoping you to win, senór Diaz.”
Rodrigo smirked, putting the brush on a peg. “Perhaps you should hope for lightning to strike the man on the field with better chance than I besting him. I am sore hope, m’lord Don Francisco.”
“May better than you think – yet, as I’ve said, small claim. I am putting my faith in God and in you, though this chance far-fetched.”
“God will not be with me on the field, m’lord.”
“God would be better with you than with Don Jimeno.”
“This blade you give will fail along with me.”
Don Francisco shrugged – his stare still unchanged. “Then I will recover it. Take it, senór Diaz – you have nothing more. May God go with you.”
Rodrigo took the blade and studied it, feeling the weight in his hand. He bowed respectfully to his unforeseen benefactor.
The clamor of the tourney field carried miles upon a cool, southern wind.
A circus of colors, spreading prominently about in banners, signs, tapestries, and clothes, whirled and dressed the festival. Its people congregated and mingled with each other in good stead. Everyone, it seemed, as far as Granada in the south, or to Barcelona to the east, or Cluny in the north, had come. Here Christians and Moors came together peacefully, and those within these factions peaceful among themselves.
However peaceful, the mass organized itself into groups representative of politics, and these were betokened with banners and pennons. These sigils, now fluttering in a stiffening breeze, cried not only nation or city, but of spirit and herald; one such banner, at the head of the pavilions, shown a gold boar’s head and a black background, and supporting the boar’s head were fierce lions – the emblem of the House of Pamplona and Jimeno Garcés. As a note to fealty, Garcés had, upon the death of the young knight from Bivar, promised to burn the banner and take up a new one instead.
For Rodrigo’s benefit, both Infantas – Urraca and Elvira – had placed a generous wage on the young knight, so moved were they in romantic notion of his courage. They had the honor to sit in the box across the tourney field directly across from their parents, surrounded by their handmaids and close by their many suitors. They were, if vulgarism allowed, ‘on display’ and were the centerpiece on a table. Urraca had adopted the soft violet banner of her mother, when the queen had been of age before her marriage to Ferdinand. The banner signified Urraca’s station and her availability, and in honor of her sex, the tourney was dedicated. Urraca didn’t like tourneys, though her younger sister did, and they watched the gathering of the competitors with scrutinizing eyes.
“None of the champions are fighting,” Elvira complained, her dark hair tied back in a row of braids, a gossamer scarf adorning her conservative hat. “Ah, they are all too old anymore. You remember Don Francisco di Najéra? He bested two mounted knights last year.”
“And lost his horse,” Urraca said. She shielded her eyes from the rising glare of the morning sun. “There is a full list, my dear. We’ll see good action today.”
“I fear I will not be able to stand the heat. It is so hot.”
“We are in the shade.”
“Still too hot. It was so hot yesterday I almost fainted.”
“Just keep calm and you will be all right,” Urraca advised. “I don’t see Rodrigo Diaz.”
“He has no banner.”
Urraca frowned, dropping her hand from her brow and smoothing out her gold and violet dress. She was anxious over him. The princess bent and whispered to her sister, “Do I look good? I had problems with my braids.”
“You are beauty itself, sister,” Elvira said.
Urraca groaned. “You cozen me, surely. I am out-of-sorts. Tell me if you see him.”
“Are you in love with Rodrigo Diaz?”
The older sister placed a hand over a spreading grin. “Love is such a strong word. I would not call my concern for Rodrigo love – no! He is just a young man without a house.”
“And no longer a name,” Elvira said, sharing the grin. “Oh, but he is strong and handsome! I had Gabriella sneak into his loft and steal a lock of his hair!”
“Two weeks ago!”
“And you kept this from me?”
Elvira pulled a small velvet jewel box from the folds of her carry-all, opening it to reveal a thin crop of dark hair. “It’ll bring me luck!”
“Oh, yes, truly you are in love with Rodrigo!”
“I am not in love with Rodrigo! I have placed a considerable amount of money on him today.”
“But you stole this lock long before his challenge to Jimeno Garcés.”
Elvira had nothing to say to this, she just blushed and placed the box into the fold of her dress.
“I hope he yields to Garcés,” the older sister said. “If Rodrigo is beaten up, there is a chance the Navarrese will let him yield. What do you think?”
“Rodrigo may not yield even if given the chance.”
“He’s not that foolish.”
“He is a man,” Elvira said soberly wise, as if in her tender age of fifteen she knew all there was to know about men.
The tourney enjoyed many events. There was horse racing to begin, and many took odds to bet with their favorite steeds. There was wrestling, as commoners enjoyed a chance to shine among the nobility; Sancho himself sponsored wrestling, and bet heavily on his two favorites from La Piedra. Alfonso, not to be outdone, bet on two Galicians from Braga, but both were bested. There was archery, and here the younger prince took his revenge and money back from his brother. There were soft contests of bakers; and pies and pastries were awarded. Musicians came and battled for ears, and here and there a bard gave poetry – yet most of these were Moors. ‘Ibn Rashman of Saragossa came quickly in place of his king to watch the tourney, and especially now interested in the looming fight that Jimeno Garcés would duel. The Moor turned to be a formidable poet.
Then as the heat began to rise, the duels began. Many of these were just meant to highlight prominence to skill, as others vied only to settle old scores. Both Garcés and Rodrigo were disqualified to participate in these rounds, as they were considered a main event, and besides, Rodrigo had not taken a name to be counted among the contenders.
Then, when the noon hour came, and the heat became harsh for the men on the field, the time drew nigh. Don Jimeno Garcés, having retired to his pavilion to girt himself and prepare for his glory, gave a nod of assent to the ward who came to fetch him.
Meanwhile, on the far side of the field, another ward found Rodrigo sitting on Bavieca. The young knight had no mail, but he had been granted a lance from his grandfather, Rodrigo the Elder, and a round, plain shield from his benefactor, Sancho. On his hip was the heavy blade given to him by the Ambassador of Navarre. Carlos Lainé had been his armor-bearer, so he looked pitiful in having no armor to bear.
The young man said little as he studied the armor-clad Don Jimeno and the unassuming Rodrigo. His face was net with worry. Rodrigo gave his friend a wink.
Then as the horns blared against the sun, the youth squeezed the unprotected flanks of his horse with his knees, and began to make his way to the run.
Everyone had been waiting for this moment; it wasn’t because Rodrigo held great prominence, nor was he considered to be a good match for Garcés, but the challenge from the young knight had been before king and at court, and everyone was excited to see Rodrigo’s blood on the field – just because it was a killing.
When the man from Bivar cleared the crowd and came to the wide field, he saw immediately the banner of Garcés, fluttering in the wind. From here, he could see the knight as Garcés rode out from the pavilions, and upon his appearance, the crowd in the stands shouted and cheered. The roar was deafening. Rodrigo suppressed a rise of nerves, and the latent panic that gripped his insides. He wanted to go relieve himself and to wretch – but thinking that the end was near, it didn’t matter.
Both men rode to the center of the field, then away from the run, positioning themselves to face King Ferdinand, and to salute with their lances. All three princes were sitting there on either side of their parents, and Rodrigo dared not look into the eyes of his benefactor as Sancho studied him. For a moment before the inevitable, Rodrigo wondered how much money the Infanté had placed against him.
The king bowed his head, providing his blessing. It occurred to Rodrigo that he had not been given confession, and had not taken comfort in – his last day on earth – the prayer and divinity. He had been so nervous he had forgotten to gain blessing from God!
As the riders turned away to get at the run, the young knight’s ungloved hand was slick with sweat on the lance he held. The shield he carried tightly to his left arm seemed now a banner only for death, and Rodrigo was certain he was headed to Hell. No confession! No blessing! Was God with him?
He watched Garcés head toward his wife, and thereby granted her colors, and he felt sore at loss for he had no woman to favor him. As if sensing this, riding to the start of the run, he chanced a look up at the Infantas and saw Urraca waving for him. He trotted toward her, doing his best to look unafraid, and embarrassed that he had no helm to cover his pale face.
“Rodrigo,” the eldest princess greeted him, “you cannot go into the fight without the colors of a Lady. Pray, take mine.”
Rodrigo bowed his head and held the end of his lance to her. Urraca tied her violet scarf to it, and there stood for him. Rodrigo, smiling in mock confidence, gave her a solemn salute, and then pulled off her scarf to tie to his swordbelt.
He thought, as he rode away, that he heard Elvira’s voice say, “Oh! He will die well, pray!”
The youth came about and positioned his mount on the run, facing his well-armored opponent, fifty yards away.
The king’s herald, at the sound of the horns, stood and held up colors, signaling the riders to prepare for the duel. Rodrigo’s mouth turned to sand, his eyes flickered in true fear, and the view of Garcés against him was a shimmering dark shadow.
“I am a servant of God,” Rodrigo whispered, his voice just audible for the ward next to him to hear.
The horns blared.
The squire looked up just to see the colors the herald held drop. He spurred Bavieca forward, bringing down his lance and hoping that he could catch Garcés in the neck.
The crowd roared, thundered as Zeus and the Gods on Olympus; perhaps lightning itself smashed the ground – yet Rodrigo was oblivious. His hands were steady as he held his shield and lance…
Garcés had a powerful lance, much stronger than Sancho’s gift. Yet the knight’s aim was untrue, though it hit squarely on Rodrigo’s shield. The lance jolted upwards, driven by a reflexive movement from Rodrigo as he wheeled about – his own weapon compacting with such force against Garcés’ tempered shield and shattering upon impact. That moment – a brief second – Rodrigo saw the steel tip of his opponent’s lance as it missed his face. Yet, as Garcés passed him, something went wrong in Rodrigo’s saddle, and there was a sudden pop as the belt gave way and the young knight was tossed off.
He hit the ground so hard the wind was knocked out of him. Rodrigo could hear the thunder of the crowd and the tourney, could feel hundreds of eyes upon him, but he couldn’t get up. He saw the hooves of Bavieca trample away toward the end of the run – just as she was trained to do.
Just as well, Rodrigo thought. His lance had been shattered anyway, and there had been no others offered for him to use. He knew that Garcés would be wheeling about for a final charge on him, so Rodrigo pulled away from the saddle as pain in his right leg shot through him. He struggled to pull out the Navarrese sword.
His shield – cheaply wrought – had snapped away one of its straps, but the young knight compensated by gripping the remaining strap and holding it. Meanwhile, Garcés had paused to size up the situation before charging. He had given up his first lance and had selected another from one of his squires, one especially made to take on a footman. The champion spurred his warhorse.
Rodrigo, the icy grip of fear now replaced with desperation, held his shield up to receive the impact, hoping to deflect the blow to the side and wheel out from underneath the horse before it trampled him into the dirt.
He saw the steely point of the lance as it bore down on him, and, as he held the shield up, took the brunt of rider and horse as the weapon snapped the top off it and sliced a ravine in his shoulder. In a fine spray of blood, Rodrigo spun and fell to the side, hot agony screaming in his shield arm. He lay there, face down, panting.
Garcés didn’t make the full run back, he wheeled his steed about and dropped his lance now, taking out a horsemen’s mace. With the expertise of a golfer, the knight planned to knock Rodrigo’s head off with one bound.
Meanwhile, hearing the trample of hooves, Rodrigo rose to his knees. With blood staining his tunic – and now without any protection – he gripped the Navarrese sword and waited for Garcés’ charge. Nothing mattered to him at this moment – there was only the calm assuredness that this could be the final blow. He hoped his father would have been proud.
The powerful steed’s shining barding and flashing gold trim was all the youth could see. Blood was seeping into his eyes – from an unknown cut on his forehead. He ducked as low to the ground as possible to avoid the mace as Garcés rode him down.
Dizzily, Rodrigo swept his blade around, catching the horse’s forelegs just as Garcés swooped down. The steed screamed and tumbled forward, upsetting the mounted knight as both rider and horse slammed headfirst into the ground.
The crowd was set a’fire. The movement had been cunning and swift, and, as Rodrigo rolled away, he reflected his position. As he tried to get to his feet, his right foot failed him, and he found himself in pain back on his knees.
Meanwhile, tearing off his helm, Garcés dragged himself free of his horse. Though his steed was screaming and crippled from Rodrigo’s strike, the knight himself seemed unscathed.
At once now, on his feet, Garcés pulled free from his saddle a two-handed sword, perhaps sensing victory that his young opponent was done for. Slowly, at the crowd’s goading, the champion strode toward the agonized squire.
“Yield, Diaz, you have honored me by fighting well.” The knight brought the deadly blade up, readying to cleave the squire’s bloody head.
Rodrigo could hardly see his enemy. He pulled back, sweeping away the loose folds of his tunic and bringing up his sword to fend off the first frenzied slash. The blow was heavy and it knocked the young knight flat. The ringing of steel resounded again as Rodrigo held up a defense, but Garcés was in full strength and vigor – despite being unhorsed and from the heat of the day. His emblem on his surcoat – the boar’s head – mocked Rodrigo as each blow from the heavy weapon smashed down on his own blade repeatedly.
“Yield whelp,” shouted Garcés between two blows.
Rodrigo rolled to avoid another slash. By then, he was done for; he found himself with his legs under him, no longer having strength to defend himself. He held the blade to the side, resigned to fate.
Garcés advanced, bringing his heavy weapon up to finish the stubborn young knight. Just as he looked down, he paused, eyes riveted to the blade Rodrigo held.
“Where did you get that?” Garcés looked up suddenly at the stand where the king sat, and there to the side, he saw a dour look from the Navarrese ambassador, Villéz.
“Oomph,” Garcés grunted. Just as he looked back at his opponent, he knew he’d made a mistake. Before he could finish his blow, Rodrigo, mustering every ounce of strength he had, thrust the sword of Pamplona into Garcés’ stomach, its blade unable to break the armor that protected it, but enough to knock the knight back a step. The younger man, taking advantage of Garcés as he staggered off him, swept the blade around to catch the champion’s ankles before the man could bring his clumsy weapon to bear. The knight fell down, losing the grip on his heavy blade as it fell to the dust.
Rodrigo, gasping, threw himself onto the knight, slamming his sword into the fold of the mail coif at the neck, hammering it down with his weight, the blade slicing and shattering the collar bone, spraying up a stream of blood that splattered the youth’s face.
Grunting, Garcés tried to back away, but Rodrigo held him fast, their eyes locking with each other until a soft long wheeze from the champion passed away in a low sigh.
“For my father,” the young knight breathed.
Rodrigo pulled himself off and took the discarded weapon Garcés had lost in the dirt, using it to stand up. Then, in the utter shocked silence of the crowd, slammed the blade hard into the man’s chest, taking pleasure in seeing a fountain of blood spew from the knight’s mouth.
Rodrigo staggered away, dazed, hardly able to see where he was going. He pulled to this side and the next, almost falling. He was mindful now of the deep silence – of the absence of cheer or call – around him. He couldn’t walk. He fell to the dirt in pain, grunting as he struggled back to his feet. He took up his shattered lance and leaned on it as he made his way in a wandering path toward his king.
Then, falling to his knees, he bowed before the Royal Stand, receiving a slight nod from the monarch for his efforts. Released now by this action, the crowd erupted in chaos.
Taking a deep breath, Rodrigo shouted at Sancho with a hoarse and wavering voice, “What is my name?”
The Infanté replied, “You are Rodrigo Diaz of Bivar.”
“And who is my father?”
“A man of honor of the House of Láiñez.”
Rodrigo bowed, and then forced himself up again. With the cheers and roar of the crowd, he staggered the length of the field to where the Infantas sat delighted to see him yet living.
Rodrigo took off Urraca’s colors and tied them to the lance. He held it as high as it could go for her to reach down and take the bloodstained scarf a’back.
Then, with the might of the crowd in his ears, Rodrigo fell on his back to pain and unconsciousness.