Chapter Seven: The Champion
The palatial citadel at Burgos was not renowned for being an especially tranquil place, but on this particular day, its occupants were more festive and raucous than usual, if such a thing were even possible. The cause of this unbridled jubilation was neither the celebration of some religious holiday, nor a great victory on the field of battle; it was merely the return of a single knight. Some might have considered the arrival of one man to be unworthy of such celebration, were that man not Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known to all Spain as “El Cid Campeador.”
The Cid’s shining reputation was so legendary that his very presence ignited spontaneous celebration wherever he went, and thus his arrival at the king’s capital city was an occasion for extraordinary festivities. The great royal hall was arrayed with the very finest and most elaborate decorations that could be provided, and the tables were laid with a sumptuous feast fit for a king; rather, since there was kingly repasts were always served at the royal hall, this evening’s banquet was more like a feast fit for two kings, for El Cid might as well have been a king, when one considers the glory lavished upon him by his sovereign liege.
Some may have considered King Sancho to be an exceedingly munificent ruler, or perhaps just exceptionally foolhardy for vesting this degree of honor in a single subject, yet Sancho was neither a fool nor a particularly generous man. He was quite simply a grateful king, who understood just where he ought to place due credit for his many successes. After all, Sancho had not become the King of All the Spains through his own merits. Everyone knew that he owed all of his gains -- and even his very life -- entirely to the Cid. Thus, King Sancho announced that Don Rodrigo’s arrival would be a time for the greatest revelry.
King Sancho II of Castille, called “el Fuerte” (the Strong), First King of All the Spains.
El Cid’s arrival at the banquet was announced by a fanfare of trumpets, and then the doors to the great hall burst open, and the legendary knight strode into the room, accompanied by his entire entourage. These noble retainers were joined by a group of well-dressed Moors, wearing gilded helmets and brightly colored robes.
The hall was immediately filled with the astonished gasps of the courtiers and a few enraged shouts from some of the more hotheaded knights. Why would anyone bring unbelievers to the king’s table, even the celebrated Cid?
“Don Rodrigo,” said the King, rising to his feet, “Who are these Mohammedan dogs you bring with you? Have you brought our enemies into the very heart of my kingdom?!”
“Be at peace, sire!” said the Cid, his voice as always like the roaring of a mighty lion, “These are not lowborn infidels, but kings! And more importantly, they are friends!”
“You call these infidels your friends?” said Sancho.
“I do,” answered El Cid, “And you would be wise to do the same, for they have come to pledge an alliance with our people! You should know, my king, that the blackguard Yusuf ibn Tashfin of Morocco and the band of pirates that he calls his army have raided their shores as well as ours. They know your Highness to be an honorable man, and thus they have no fear of allying themselves with us against this greater foe. Did you not wonder where I have been these many months?”
Dumbfounded, Sancho could only cock his head to the side and blink, his mouth gaping open.
“This is my gift to you, sire,” continued Rodrigo, “Not a gift of riches or lands, but of peace! With these noble lords fighting under your banner, this realm shall finally know a lasting peace!” Rodrigo’s eyes met Sancho’s, and the King quailed slightly under the piercing gaze of the Cid.
“Sit down then,” blurted Sancho, unable to think of a suitable response, and Rodrigo’s Muslim companions joined their Christian counterparts at the many tables in the hall. The Cid himself was seated in the place of honor at the King’s right hand, while his lady, the beautiful Ximena of Oviedo, was placed at Sancho’s left.
The Cid Arrives at Burgos.
As the roast venison was served, the King finally found his voice. “You have been my champion for thirty years, Rodrigo. Thirty! In all that time you have not asked for anything, and I have bestowed numberless gifts upon you all the same. I have enfeoffed you with the lands at Valencia which you won for me in battle, I even married my beloved daughter Bianca to your only son Diego Rodríguez. If that had not been enough, I would have given you anything you desired, even to the half of my kingdom. God knows, you probably deserve it. Yet I fear that this thing you now ask of me is too much. I am a Christian king, Rodrigo. I cannot set aside my faith for any man, not even you!”
“I am a man of honor,” responded the Cid, “And I could not ask such a heinous thing of you, nor would I. I do not ask you to forsake our faith in Christ, my King, only to fight alongside those who would be your friends. Surely you can see that we need their support? We would be overwhelmed if the lords of the south joined the Blackguard, but with them as our allies, we are undefeatable and Yusuf naught but a petty nomad! You must remember that there are greater things at stake than petty disputes, and greater foes to fight than these men ever could be.”
“It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth,” answered Sancho, “But I will permit it, as long as you will personally vouch for their loyalty. You are renowned as the purest, most honorable knight in Christendom, and your promises are as good as gold.”
“That brings to mind another matter, sire,” said El Cid, “I have another boon that I must ask of you, and this shall be the last thing that I ever beseech of your Highness.”
“So far, your only request has nearly tried me beyond what a man can bear,” said the King, “But I will hear you. Say on, and let your last request not be near as taxing as your first.”
Rodrigo took a long draught of wine, and then spoke. “You have heard how the Pope has issued a call to arms to rescue the Jerusalem from the hands of the Turk,” said the Cid, “I ask your permission to join the Lord’s host, and lead a band of Spaniards to liberate the Holy City!”
“What? You saddle me with these infidel friends of yours, and now you tell me you wish to leave to travel to the ends of the earth?” asked Sancho, incredulously, “How can you do this? You cannot abandon your king.” His voice lowered to a hushed whisper, “I am nothing without your help!”
“Sire,” said Rodrigo, “For thirty years I have labored to set an example for this kingdom, to set your realm on the path to victory and peace. Now at last I have given you peace, in the form of a half-dozen Muslim allies. You are King of Spain, by God’s grace. Oh, be wise, and do not abandon this gift. What can I say more?”
“I am king by your grace,” reproached Sancho, “It was you who saved me from the assassin sent by my treacherous sister and brother. And now you would preach to me, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar? You say that I am king, but methinks it is not Sancho el Fuerte who really rules over Spain, but El Cid Campeador!”
El Cid furrowed his brow, “Heaven forfend. And I shudder to think what might have been if I had not been able to save your life, and your brother Alfonso had inherited the crown. Think of what he might have done in your shoes, sire, and take heart.”
Rodrigo’s comment broke the tension, and Sancho laughed. “He would probably have lost the entire kingdom by now!” Then the King’s expression changed abruptly from jollity back to pensiveness.
“What is it, sire?” asked the Cid, “Forgive me if I have offended you.”
“No -- I have an idea,” said Sancho, “Concerning my recalcitrant siblings. Well, only my brother, really. Urraca can stay locked in her tower where she belongs, and rot. But Alfonso… he is too much trouble to leave in ‘secluded retirement’ on his estate. Yes, Rodrigo, you shall go to the Holy Land, but on one condition: you must take my worthless younger brother with you.”
Prince Alfonso, troublesome brother to the King.
“But your Highness,” said Rodrigo, “What of the succession? Alfonso is your heir, for you have no sons.”
“Do not remind me,” said the King, “No one is more aware than I that God has not blessed me with a son. But my only child Bianca is wise beyond her years. When I am gone, the Spains must accept her as Queen.”
The Cid raised his eyebrows at his King’s suggestion.
“Yes, I know the people will want the strong arm of a man of war to protect them from the infidel,” said Sancho, “And who better to be Lord Protector of the Realm than the son of the legendary Cid, who also happens to be my son-in-law? Let Diego reign along side my daughter as King-Consort.”
Now Rodrigo choked on his wine, which caused Sancho to burst into another fit of raucous laughter.
“You see, Rodrigo?” laughed Sancho, “I cannot help but lavish rewards upon you, even when you try my patience. I have just granted your wish for permission to go on crusade, and in addition, promised you that your descendants shall be hereditary Kings of All the Spains! How does that sound to you? Am I not a gracious sovereign?”
“Your Majesty is more generous than I deserve,” said El Cid, “But as ever, let it be as my King desires.”
“What your king desires??” said Sancho, stifling a chuckle, “Ha! You always get your way, Rodrigo. And what of Valencia? Will you just forsake my gift to you like a man rids himself of a dead dog?”
“I would not dare to be so presumptuous,” said Rodrigo, “Let my dear Ximena rule as chatelaine in my absence. My son Diego shall protect both my wife and my fief, if your Highness would be so gracious as to bestow him with a reasonable number of knights to be his retainers.”
The King was about to agree, when Ximena, who had been silent the entire evening, interrupted.
“Certainly not!” she said, taking both her husband and her king by surprise, “I am not some trophy to be lightly set aside. You have asked your King for consent to depart, but you have not gained my consent. If you are going to end your days on this great adventure, then at least have the courtesy to take your wife along! Let my two daughters stay and be guarded by their brother; I am going with you to Jerusalem!”
Ximena de Oviedo, Rodrigo’s fiery wife.
There was an awkward pause, and then King Sancho began to laugh again. After a moment, Rodrigo joined him. “What can I say, Rodrigo?” said the King, “It seems you have harsher masters than I! Let it be as the Lady Ximena wishes. Go to Jerusalem, both of you, and with my blessing. May Santiago and the Blessed Virgin watch over you.”
And thus the great adventure began.
AlexanderPrimus is the author of the English AAR Æthellan: A Tale of Kings. If you enjoyed his writing above, you might also want to give it a try as well. Or maybe his Jerusalem-AAR The Chronicles of the Golden Cross.