The Lion and the Golden Lord
5 November, 1066
The town of Zamora, León
Alfonso stood on a balcony overlooking Zamora as the sun was setting. It felt a bit strange standing there, on his sisters balcony, in her city, in her very stronghold. Even though he had spent near a fortnight in Urraca's – No, Ordoñez's. This place will never be hers again. That is my purpose here after all – keep, he still felt like an intruder. Not that the fault laid with his host, no, Alfonso Ordoñez de León had been hospitality incarnate ever since Alfonso and his host arrived outside Ordoñez's city gates. But then again, what man would not be gregarious when his liege arrived at the head of a small army – at that when the liege arrived to grant the man a lordship. No, the fault laid with lingering ghost of his sister rummaging through these halls. Wherever he turned Alfonso could see her touch, the carpets were thick and rich, imported from the south like the ones Urraca once had kept in her rooms in Burgos, the tapestries depicted not their fathers victories as in León but held the serene faces of holy men. Even the bed Alfonso slept in smelled vaguely of Urraca, that was probably the most discomforting thing of all. He had not had a good night's sleep since he'd arrived.
“Milord,” Ramiro appeared through the drapes guarding the doorway to the balcony. The man should really learn to curtsy properly. It felt a bit odd not having Flaín in command of his forces, but Ramiro was capable enough, Alfonso supposed. “Lord Pig-Eye is here again, wishing to talk to ye.” Alfonso suppressed a groan. Ordoñez wasn't satisfied with meeting his king as they dined in the great hall every evening, neither with one or two audiences a day and besides he had a way of appearing near everywhere Alfonso went like some fool pet wanting a pat on the head. He had somehow learned that Alfonso played chess and thus Ordoñez insisted upon a game or two every other day. This would of course be fine if the man could play beyond a child's level, but then at least the man kept quiet whilst they played.
“Lord Alfonso of Zamora, Ramiro, don't forget that. What does he want?”
“I dunno, milo-”
Ramiro cleared his throat and began again. “I dunno, y'grace. Didn't say.”
Alfonso sighed and rubbed his temples. He wanted to like Ramiro, for Flaín's sake if nothing else – the soldier was about as close to a son Flaín would ever have – but he was making it bloody hard. The problem was one of birth, Alfonso supposed. Whilst Flaín was more soldier than lord at heart he had still been raised by nobility, petty as his family's holdings were, and he had been brought to court at a rather young age. Ramiro on the other hand was a blacksmith's whelp out of some forgotten village in Asturias, a fifth son with little talent for metalwork but rather a lot more for wielding the swords and axes his father had wrought. On the battlefield, on guard duty and with his fellow soldiers the man was a perfect example of his kind, but serving as the personal guard of a king brought with it responsibilities beyond that. He's too afraid to question nobility to its face, that's the real issue.
“Then make sure to ask next time.” Ramiro stood, still waiting for an order. Alfonso sighed again.
“Bring him here, Ramiro, then bring us some wine.” The soldier turned to go, but in his step he suddenly remembered to bow before he left, making a strange, twisting mockery of the motion. A few moments later Ramiro returned, escorting the newly raised lord of Zamora. Ordoñez did have the small eyes of a pig, as well as a silly moustache covering his upper lip and growing down the sides of his mouth. Alfonso himself had always favoured the clean-shaven appearance, more for cleanliness than anything else, though he remembered his fathers beard lending the old king a certain aura of might. I might want to grow one eventually. These lords still believe me half a boy after all, but then, better they believe me the boy for some time still. Alfonso had realized long before his coronation that as long as the nobility viewed him as young and untested they would underestimate him, and an underestimated man was far more free to move about unchecked than one considered strong enough to be a threat. In time though, he would come to need their respect and heartfelt support but for now the game was still opening and Alfonso needed to learn his enemies nature before he was ready to strike in earnest.
“Your grace,” Ordoñez bowed deeply, so deep that he almost seemed to touch the ground with his nose. How did Urraca put up with this man? The marriage had of course been cut rather short, on second thought. Alfonso had always believed that Urraca would finally wed Arias after Fernando had passed away, even though Arias was no more than the scion of a dying house. A petty dying house. But then Urraca was intelligent enough to understand the futility of such a marriage. We both learned the futility of love in our youth. “There's an emissary here... from your... your brother.” A vision of Sancho popped up in Alfonso´s mind. Is the fighting in the east going poorly enough to force great Sancho to seek my aid? Alfonso would give it of course – one of the taifas breaking free would tempt the others to follow suit and rumours told of Yahya raising troops in Toledo to aid Zaragoza – though aiding Sancho would give Alfonso little pleasure. Sancho had made his intentions rather clear after they had laid their father to rest, and thus the brothers had not parted as friends.
“Which one of them?”
“García, your grace. He says he comes with terms.” So my little brother is sending a peace-broker? This should prove rather interesting.
“Send for him then, I'll meet him here. And ask someone to bring two chairs whilst you're at it.”
“He... count Sisnando that is, asked to address you in front of the court, your grace.” So the emissary wasn't a peace-broker then. Alfonso had hoped, at least a little bit, that García would come to his senses after his supporters inside of León had been vanquished. He didn't have much taste for the upcoming conflict, not as he had ha few weeks past now that the Moors were stirring.
“Tell the count of Coimbra that he will meet with me here, in private, or not at all. He's free to enjoy our hospitality for as long as he wishes though, but he will not be allowed inside the great hall whilst any others reside therein.” Alfonso would not have García trying to spread any rumours or accuse him of cowardice or the like in front of his vassals. That would simply not do. He was already unsure enough of their loyalty, and whilst García wasn't beloved as Sancho some might believe him better suited than Alfonso for the throne. After all Galicia was part of León and many had questioned the division of the realm.
“Yes, your grace.” Alfonso turned back to the view of the city. It was a rather beautiful scene and though the sun had set by now the sky was still light enough for him to see well past the walls. Ordoñez did not turn to leave however, but kept standing behind Alfonso, forcing the king to turn back and face him.
The banner of Alfonso Ordoñez de León as ruler of Zamora
“Is there something else, brother?”
“Aye, your grace. I wish to ask a boon of you.” Ordoñez looked down at his feet, seemingly going through what he was about to say in his mind. “As you know, I am without sons to carry on my name, and being bound in this err... unfortunate marriage to your grace's sister leaves me with little hope to ever gain an heir.” The man paused and drew a deep breath. “I've already spoken to the priests, your grace, and they say a divorce would be approved as Urraca is the daughter of dear cousin Sancha.” Alfonso frowned. He had half been expecting this, but had hoped Ordoñez would be sensible enough not to propose it.
“I said no, brother. You have nephews don't you? Let one of them carry on your name if you wish. Or go visit your wife and try put your seed in her, if you would prefer – I don't really care, but you will not bring dishonour to my sister's name by putting her aside. I forbid it.”
“B-but, your grace... I c-can't... she wouldn't...” Ordoñez looked flustered as he kept trying to get hold of his tongue. Alfonso reached out his hand and raised the man's face to his, forcing Ordoñez to look him in the eyes.
“No, I suppose she wouldn't. But then you did know of Urraca's plans when you wed her, did you not? And you most certainly knew how she would view your actions upon her arrest. Your die is cast and now you will have to stand your throw.” Alfonso let go of Ordoñez's chin. “Begone with you now, and do as you're told.” His brother-in-law scurried away shortly after that, stomping the floor like an angry child as he went.
A few minutes later Ordoñez returned, only to present Sisnando Davides, the count of Coimbra, before he retreated once more. Maybe now he'll finally leave me alone? One can hope, at least. It at least seemed that the choice between giving the terms in a private setting or not to give them at all and thus return without a reply had not been a hard one for the emissary at least. Sisnando proved himself a portly man, a few years Alfonso's senior and sported a thick and wild beard that covered half his chest – a rather strange sight in a land where few men, or at least few Christian men, allowed even their hair to grow overly long. In earnest the man looked more a merchant or an innkeeper than a lord in his own right, even though he wore rich red clothing with his golden beasts and chalice blazoned upon.
“So what are these terms García would give me?” The matter-of-fact nature of the question seemed to take the emissary of guard. The normal procedure at these kind of meetings, even in private – or perhaps even more so in private – included a rather tedious exchange of pleasantries as the concerned parties tried to show that though they might be at war, they bore no personal animosity to each other. Under normal circumstances Alfonso would have made a point to partake in that tradition, appearances was after all near as important as anything else, but the hour was growing late and he had letters to write, and the conversation with Ordoñez had made him wary and tired of the company of men.
Davides managed to regain his footing rather fast and responded in a booming voice. “García Fernandez, King of Galicia and Lord Protector of Porto demands that you release his lady sister, Urraca Fernandez, from your wrongful imprisonment at once.” Does he want the people below to hear him? Sisnando wasn't finished, however, but now he continued more hesitantly. “King García demands further that you relinquish your throne, and name him regent of all your lands until that day when Queen Urraca can be installed as the rightful ruler of all León.”
Alfonso had to suppress a tiny little smile right then. Why in God's name did he even bother to send such terms? His little brother suddenly seemed less a threat than ever before. I must not underestimate him though. He still has an army at his back, and the swords I must fear, or die a reckless fool. “You can return to your king and tell him that if he wants me to step aside, he's free to come and try force me off it. Tell him that Urraca stays in her cage, but that no harm will be done to her. I hold no less love for her than I do my brothers.” That should make him think twice, perhaps. “Tell me, Sisnando, are you hungry?” This little chat had reinvigorated Alfonso somewhat, and at least Davides wasn't Ramiro or Ordoñez. Some new company for a night might do him some good. “Would you do me the kindness of dining with me? This conflict between me and mine has not made me forget the great services the men of Porto did my father during his reign."
“It would be an honour, your grace.” Sisnando bowed gracefully and put his knuckles to his forehead. Alfonso turned from the balcony and entered his chambers. This is strange... where is Ordoñez with the chairs, and Ramiro with the wine? The two men should have returned by now – certainly Ramiro would have at least. Alfonso's hand went unbidden to the hilt of his sword as he stepped towards the door leading out into the corridor.
The hallway outside the king's chambers laid empty and silent – a bit unusual that, yet not overly so as most servants would be eating their supper by now but there should be guards posted at his door. Alfonso stepped out, his feet nigh echoing. He did not like this. Suddenly Sisnando appeared at his side, looking down the corridor beneath bushy eyebrows. “Is the castle usually this... quiet, your grace?” Alfonso shook his head. Something was definitely wrong and he did not much appreciate having this stranger, his enemy's vassal at that, by his side right now even if the count of Coimbra had been stripped of his weapons. Alfonso motioned for Sisnando to start down the corridor, keeping himself half a step behind the man.
As they neared the main hall the silence was finally broken, but not with the chatter of serving-girls nor the steps of men in the halls. Instead the sombre tunes of a ballad could be heard, though walls and drapes muffled the words beyond comprehension. Songs were not unusual either of course, Ordoñez kept several singers as entertainment, but this did not sound as their schooled, smooth voices, no, this was the sound of men singing, as soldiers did when they marched to war. Alfonso grabbed Sisnando's shoulder and drew his dagger, pushing the man up against the wall, edge pointed against his cheek.
“Do you know what's going on down there?”
“I-I...” Alfonso pushed the dagger a little harder. “...no your grace. I... I would never. I'm a man of honour, your grace. I swear!” Alfonso let go of the man and pushed him down the hallway, exchanging his dagger for sword instead.
With every step they took the words of the song sounded through somewhat clearer. "Do tell me then, you king of beasts, what sins this girl had wrought." Alfonso paused to listen. "Her sin was that to think herself a lion when she was not." A sudden chill crept down Alfonso's spine, and his jaw clenched shut in sudden realisation. Not all his sisters guardsmen had left with Arias, at least some fifty had remained to guard their new lord, Alfonso de León, who had assured his king of their loyalty. I should have done away with them immediately, I should have given him my own men. Bloody hell, what a fool I am. The only real question now, was what had become of his own guards, those hundred who had been kept inside the keep and not on the plains outside the city. That, and where Ordoñez and Sisnando stood in this. If I am to die today, I will at least see María at long last. That thought surprised him. He had not thought of the girl for months.
The banner of the Astorgan branch of the House of León. The branch was descended from Ordoño de León, brother of Alfonso V 'the Noble' who's son Vermudo III would be deposed and slayn by Fernando I 'the Great' Jimena, Vermudo's brother-in-law. Later the Astorgan branch would adopt the name de Ponferrada.
Sisnando Davides entered the great hall of Zamora first, his back straightened to a spear by the edge pressed against his spine. They walked in through the door behind the high-seat, accompanied by a chorus of some thirty hoarse voices of armed men. “And then turned the dreadful beast and tore the lord from his high horse, for lion or snake the beasts tongue will still be forked!” The guards stood sword-in-hand, forming a crescent around the figure of Ordoñez, now clad in mail yet with his blade sheathed. Well, that at least answers one question. Alfonso spied down the hall and saw a separate group of men, armed yet quiet and not truly joined with the Zamorans they stood looking upon the singers. Their garb was red though, not white. The king was alone among enemies. Alfonso grabbed hold of Sisnando's hair and put his sword to the man's throat, leading the emissary out into the open. It would not matter of course, all things considered what was one nobleman to Ordoñez now, even if Sisnando was part of the plot?
“Hail, usurper!” Ordoñez raised a leather-clad hand in salute and kicked at something, no, someone, on the floor. A man clad in white and purple garb laid bound and gagged beneath the lord of Zamora. Ramiro. Alfonso near cut of Sisnando's head right there and then, rage filling him at the fool's insolence.
“So you've added a third treason to your already impressive list of accomplishments, have you Ordoñez?”
“A man cannot commit treason against the likes of you!” Ordoñez spat. “Urraca was right about you, a bloody snake is what you are!” The guardsmen cheered around the man.
“Is that why you came to me earlier and asked to divorce her? Curse you, you spineless wretch!” That caused the cheers to die down, only to be replaced by confused murmurs.
“Don't listen to him! He's a liar, you all know this!
Then something struck the back of Alfonso's head, making him lose grip of his sword and fall forward. Surprisingly, strong arms grabbed him before his face hit the floor, and a fierce black beard tickled his nose. Sisnando then laid him gently down, hands first, before the emissary took a step back towards Ordoñez. Alfonso, head still spinning from the strike watched helplessly as a guard carrying a spear kicked away his blade.
“Come Sisnando, embrace me as a brother and join your forces to mine, and we shall give this wretch to your king – ending this war before it even began!” Ordoñez reached out his hand towards Davides, who stood hesitating for a few moments before he walked over slowly and grabbed the gloved hand. Sisnando then raised their hands into the air, for all men in the hall to see, and soon enough his men drew steel and joined with the Zamoran guard at the back of the group.
“Let it be known,” Sisnando's powerful voice echoed in the high hall, “that the men of Porto, and the men of Coimbra-” Sisnando twisted around, fast as a wolf, and gripped the hilt of Ordoñez's sword. Then he kicked at the lord of Zamora, forcing the man back and loosing the sword from his waist. “-STILL HAVE SOME FUCKING HONOUR! FOR THE KING!”
The guards stood frozen for a second, both groups lost in the confusion and looking first at the other group and then at their respective lord. Sisnando growled, a deep roar emitting from his chest. “Oh for bloody hell! For that king then!” snarled the count of Coimbra and pointed his sword at Alfonso.
The king of León, still hazed from the strike to his head looked upon the scene without comprehending what was happening, as the hall erupted in a storm of blood and screams. Sisnando's men, standing to the back of many of the Zamorans reacted quickly once the immediate confusion had passed, and managed to strike down five men before they even faced any opposition. Alfonso could hear Ordoñez screaming something but the words didn't make sense. Then a foot hit him hard in the stomach as the guardsman standing at his side forced him over to his back, the guard then raised his spear to strike at Alfonso, who reached vainly for his dagger but before the spear reached its target a beast in black and red threw itself at the guard, hacking with a single long and blood-soaked claw. The guard fell, his spear dropping to the floor beside him, and Sisnando reached out his hand to help Alfonso from the floor before he placed a sword in the king's hand.
“W-why?” Questions, so many bloody quest swirled in Alfonso's mind, but all words flew away when he reached for them.
With that Sisnando turned back to the fighting and rammed into the closest enemy before gutting him like a fish.