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May 26, 2011
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Hello everyone, and welcome to 'The Curse of Brothers', my latest attempt at a narrative AAR after my last effort, 'The Rules of Sword and Crown' went down the drain.


The banner of the Kingdom of León, 11th Century

The Curse of Brothers will follow Alfonso Fernandez Jimena and, hopefully, his descendants, as they strive to achieve dominance over the Iberian peninsula's multitude of kingdoms and taifas, and maybe even extend their influence outside Spain and finally throw off even the notion of the shackles from the Francian powers to the north.

I will strive to make the AAR a character-driven affair, focusing on multiple POW's. Thus the narration will have to take its due time (most months of gameplay will most likely feature 2-4 updates) as I want to develop both the background and motives of the various players as well as their experiance of events taking place during the story. As for connection to the gameplay I take a very liberal approach - sometimes inventing characters or events all together whilst the main themes are based on the gameplay. I will not, however, feature any screenshot's as I want the focus to lie on the story and characters, and not the game it's derived from. I would also like to warn some of you that I will feature rather bloody, sometimes down-right cruel treatment of characters as I like a gritty and dark story.

My ambition is to release at least two updates each week, but hopefully more. However, as I have some health issues, this might lead to some delays from time to time - so if I haven't updated in a week it is quite likely that I am sick, and that I will return as soon as I feel better.

If this appeals to you, then welcome once more, and enjoy!

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The Dog and his Master

2 October, 1066
Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca

The woman was kneeling in front of the altar, hands held tightly in prayer. She was not a beautiful woman, and the years had not been kind to her, yet she still held a certain dignity which would have made some men back away from what Flaín was about to do. Not Flaín though. No, he was his master's loyal dog and a dog did not question his orders. A dog obeyed, and thus Flaín would do his lord's bidding, no matter what.

From the shadows where he stood Flaín could feel the gaze from the Lord Christ upon his cross, judging him, taking his measure, but not even the Father above could deter him. His father, God keep the old man, had always told him that a god-fearing man did his duty and it was the master – not he servant – who would be judged upon his actions on the Day of the Return. Flaín looked at the doors leading out to the antechamber one last time. The heavy outer doors leading from the church to the town outside would be barred by now, and Urraca had left her guards outside. He saw Velasquez, the priest, glance down from the balcony. He knew what was going to happen. Surely Flaín could not be judged harshly if even such a godly man had deemed his king's actions honourable? Urraca lit a single candle standing upon the altar. It was time.

His whistle echoed under the high ceiling, a high-pitched noise that sounded eerie in here, where there was nothing to soften it. Urraca looked up, first upon the hanging crucifix, a bewildered gaze as if she thought the Lord was about to call out to her. Only when she heard the rattle of chainmail and the sound of leather upon steel did she rise from her knees and dart towards the exit. By then it was much, much too late.

Three men-at-arms, clad in grey-white with purple lions over their mail coats barred the door. They had not bared their blades, Alfonso had forbidden them to draw their weapons while inside the church. Flaíns king might not be the most pious man, but he knew not to anger the Father above in vain – something for which Flaín was grateful. Even dogs could feel shame in the eyes of God. Urraca bolted away as she saw the guards and drew her dagger, holding it up in front of her. That was when Flaín stepped out from his place among the shadows and walked to her.


The church of Ciudad Rodrigo as it stands today. The church was extended in the 12th and the 15th century and restored in modern day

“Now, now, my lady, no need for steel here. He only wishes to speak with you.” Urraca thrashed around and threw the knife at him. A poor throw, hitting hilt first on a stone pillar three feet to his left, then falling with a loud clang upon the cold stone floor. Urraca bared her teeth and threw herself at Flaín, beating her fists on his chest. He gripped her wrists and pushed her away as gently as he could. A dog was not cruel, if cruelty was not called for.

“Calm yourself, my lady, you will only beat yourself bloody. Fists makes poor weapons against chainmail.” That earned him a slap across his face, her nails piercing his skin. Flaín felt a thin trickle of blood run down his cheek. Urraca paled at the sight of it and turned to the cross once more. Did she expect the Lord to strike her down?

“I-I have drawn blood in the house of God...” she turned back to Flaín, a fire once more lit in her eyes. “That accursed bastard has made me draw blood in the sight of the Lord!” Her voice turned to a shriek. “Where is he, Flaín? Where is that little hellspawn who claims to be my little brother?”

“Lower your voice sister!” The king's voice was a whip as he entered between the guards holding the doorway, but his voice softened as he continued. “Your words carry quite well in here, you know, so there's really no need to shout. And don't insult our mother. Surely she has lain with fewer demons than you.” Urraca gave Alfonso a murderous look and for but a moment she twitched as if she wanted to lunge at him, but she regained control of herself and gave a mocking bow.

“Oh, dear brother. You honour me with your presence here.” Flaín saw her knuckles whiten as she clenched her fists. “To what do I owe...” Alfonso cut her off.

“Silent, Urraca. You are here to listen, not to speak. I have advice you sorely need to hear.” The king looked her straight in her eyes, a cold look, utterly void of emotion. The king's dark eyes seemed to suck the fire from Urraca and soon she turned her eyes to her feet. Flaín had received that look but once in his life, yet seeing it turned on someone else always made him shiver ever so slightly. A dog rightly feared it's master.

“Dear sister, I,ve heard that you have spent an unusual amount of time with the priests lately. Have you found some deep understanding in faith, or do you merely come to confess your many sins?” Urraca opened her mouth as if to answer but Alfonso raised his hand. “No, sister. It is not yet time for you to speak. I know of what sins you have committed. I know, sister.” Urraca turned a shade paler, but when she looked up once more her eyes were lit once more. In that instant Flaín realized why his master so had worried about his sister's actions. If she had been born a man she might have been able to strike us down, he thought and chewed his lip. But she is not a man, and women have no more weapons than poisoned words and daggers in the dark. Flaín wiped the blood of his cheek. And nails. Never forget the nails.

“Urraca, Urraca, my dearest sister. What am I to do with you? Not only do you plot to usurp my throne but you are fool enough to regret it and confess your disloyalty to a priest?” Alfonso shook his head and smiled a thin smile. “Don't you know that I have had you watched since before father died? I had more respect for you than that. Of all our kin I thought that you, at least you, would know better, yet you disappoint me so.”

“Velasquez told you.” It was not a question. Flaín saw the priest disappear from the balcony. Could the man not stand to hear of his deed? The men of the cloth always puzzled him. What kind of a man would not stand tall before his judgement? Then again. What kind of a man would willingly swear off women and sons to carry on their names? No, they were a strange breed, those.

“Yes, Velasquez told me. He's a loyal subject that one. A good and humble man, who knows his place in this world. Unlike you.”

“A good and greedy man, you mean? An easily bought man is loyal only to your purse. Father knew that, and so will you one day.” Urraca took a step towards Alfonso. Flaín's hand immediately turned to his sword, as did the hands of the other guards but Alfonso motioned them to stand down.

“Oh, dear sister, as long as I hold the purse, I do not see the problem. Besides, Flaín here would lay down his life for me in an instant, would you not?” The king turned his eyes upon Flaín, who nodded without pause. “Aye, your grace. Without question, without regrets.” He thumped his fist against his chest.

“You see, Urraca. I have men who love me dearly, more dearly than my elder sister ever loved me, I fear. Now tell me – did you really believe that you and García could take me unawares? Or that you could defeat me?” Alfonso wrinkled his forehead. “What could our brother possibly scrape from those bloody hills of his. A thousand men? And you... five hundred? That is if all of your bannermen rallied to your cause and none stayed true to their king.” Urraca's cheeks turned red as the implication dawned on her. “Yes, dear sister. I have men in my pocket among them too.” Alfonso sighed heavily and muttered something to himself. Flaín thought it sounded like “Pathetic...”.

“Well, Urraca. Are you going to deny Velasquez claims?”

“Will it matter if I do?” Urraca's voice broke a little then. Flaín then remembered that she had wed a fortnight past. Perhaps she was thinking of the fate that would await her husband.

Alfonso stared at the crucifix for a moment, seemingly lost to the world. Then he shook his head, almost as if regretting what he was about to say. “No, sister. No, I guess it wouldn't.”

“So what will you do with me?” The woman's strength was fading by the second. Flaín expected to see tears in her eyes, but when she raised her head to look at her brother but her cheeks were dry.

“You will be imprisoned, your lands seized and put under my control. Your husband will be allowed to live out his life in peace and might even be permitted to join you in your cage, if he wishes so. Any children born to you will find places in my household.” The king looked at his sister. There was an unusual sadness in those cold, dark eyes, strange even to Flaín who had been with Alfonso for many years. “I am not cruel, you know. I'm not the man all of you think I am. I merely wouldn't have Sancho impose his will on me. Father made me a king, and no man will take what is mine from me. Not even he. And not you.”

Urraca took a quick step to Alfonso, Flaín first expected her to embrace him, so calm were her movement. She raised her hand, stretching it towards the young king's face. Then she slapped him, and spat in his face.

“You are a vile little man, brother, I curse you, and curse the day mother brought you forth into this world!” She raised her hand to strike Alfonso once more, but Flaín rushed forward and grabbed her arm, swinging the woman about.

“Don't harm her!” The king was rubbing his cheek as he spoke. Then he motioned to the men at the door. “Take her to Salamanca and put her in the tower. None but my mother is to see her, without my express permission, and guards will be posted at her door at all times.” The guards nodded and took Urraca by the arms and led her out into the streets.


A 13th century depiction of a still young Alfonso VI, King of León

Alfonso leaned back against a pillar as Flaín walked to his side. “Did Ramiro handle the guards outside, your grace?” His king gave him a surprised look, as if he had forgotten Flaín's presence in the room. Alfonso had once said that he was so used to Flaín that he did not think more of his presence than his own shadow.

“Yes, they surrendered without any deaths. You can tell Velasquez that his church remains undefiled.” The king then sighed and looked down through the hallway where Urraca and the guards had left. “I actually loved her once.” Alfonsos voice almost grew thick. “I really loved her.”

“And now, your grace?” The words passed over Flaín's tongue before he could stop himself.

Alfonso gave him a searching look. “Doubts? From you Flaín?” Flaín found himself staring at his feet. “Oh, look up, friend.” His king put a hand on his shoulder. “It is right to doubt, Flaín. As long as you always put those doubts aside and do as I say in the end.” Flaín nodded.

“Always, your grace.”

The king of León turned to leave. As he passed through the doorway Flaín just realized they had forgotten something.

“What should I do with Urraca's men, your grace?”

Alfonso stopped in his step, in thought for but a moment.

“Take all those that would swear to me with you. Those who refuse... take their swords and armour. And their swordhands aswell. And give them a piece of silver when you send them on their way. I will not have it said that I am not merciful.” The king left the church, leaving Flaín alone. As he left he found himself remembering that Ramiro always carried a fine axe with him. The king's dog obeyed.
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Ooh another Aplestav AAR. I will follow this, just as I followed your Capet AAR. Already this AAR looks promising. Will you be focusing the AAR soley around Alfonso, or do you plan on continuing after his death?
Ooh another Aplestav AAR. I will follow this, just as I followed your Capet AAR. Already this AAR looks promising. Will you be focusing the AAR soley around Alfonso, or do you plan on continuing after his death?

Oh, thanks and welcome back to... ah well... my history-nerdish daydreams i suppose. My aim is to continue past Alfonso (I have not played beyond his death as of yet though), but in the end it all depends on my continued good health and mood. However I will see this one through to Alfonso's death at least - a promise I've made to myself.
Oh, thanks and welcome back to... ah well... my history-nerdish daydreams i suppose. My aim is to continue past Alfonso (I have not played beyond his death as of yet though), but in the end it all depends on my continued good health and mood. However I will see this one through to Alfonso's death at least - a promise I've made to myself.

Excellent. And keep posting about your history-nerdish daydreams, they make for good reading! :p

No, but seriously keep em coming. Maybe one day Ill get around to making an AAR of my very own, and then I can point back to your history-nerdish daydreams as inspiration!
Excellent. And keep posting about your history-nerdish daydreams, they make for good reading! :p

No, but seriously keep em coming. Maybe one day Ill get around to making an AAR of my very own, and then I can point back to your history-nerdish daydreams as inspiration!

Oh, will do, will do. Next chapter is almost done, but I'm way to tired to polish it up tonight but expect it sometime tomorrow. Be sure to poke me if you do, so I can return the fandom.
Chapter One - The Beating Drum

Chapter One
The Beating Drum

5 October, 1066
The Town of León, León

Alfonso entered the gates of León at noon. The town was busy, as always, and he could remember when the voices of the pedlars and the sight of children playing in the streets between work had made him smile. When he was younger – much younger – he had wished to disguise himself as a common street rat and play with the other children. The thought of that actually brought a thin whisper of a smile to his lips. Who in the world could possibly mistake a princeling's demeanour and proud, straight holding for that of a commonborn whelp? No, that was childhood dreams for a childhood lost.

Menendo saw the smile on his king's face and mistook it's origin. “Aye, your grace. The town is growing fat again. I've been handing out part of the tribute from the Moors to the street urchins as you ordered, and the townsfolk sing your praise for it.” Menendo looked at him for a long moment, searching for a response. Did the man truly think that Alfonso would believe that the smallfolk loved him now? No, the commoners had never loved Alfonso as they had loved his father, as they loved Sancho. Love was for the sword, for the conquest, for everlasting glory. Fat children would soon forget the bread they'd been handed when drought brought famine and plague. One day they would sing of him though. One day.

“You have done well in my absence, Menendo. You have my gratitude, and your fast friendship and loyal service shan't be forgotten.” The thinly bearded man made a graceful bow in his saddle. Menendo was a man of many skills Alfonso had come to appreciate since his coronation, and more, he seemed utterly loyal, as long as Alfonso did not forget to honour him. It was not that Menendo did not need watching though, no, skillfull men could always grow ambitious, but over the last year the man had proved himself surprisingly devoted to the king's cause. Better yet was the fact that he was the third son of a petty lord in the hills bordering Galicia, and such Menendo de Saldaña owed all that was his to the king, and the king alone. Menendo had in but a year's time wormed his way into the king's inner circle, and might even prove to be a true friend in time. It was a strange thought, that. Friendship. Alfonso's had ever had but Flaín, and Flaín, though useful, was not very entertaining company.

“Thank you, your grace. Did all go well on your journey?” Menendo was one of the few who had known of Alfonso's true purpose in Salamanca. A necessary evil, telling him so that he could take necessary steps in León when the king was away. None of Alfonso´s whisperers had seen anything suspicious though, and thus Menendo might be allowed to hold more secrets in the future. That gladdened Alfonso somewhat. It would have been such a waste of talent if the man had proved himself disloyal.

Alfonso was silent for a long moment as they trodded on down the street. The twenty guardsmen that had accompanied him home flanked them, with some forming a line behind them. A fat, brown haired woman who stood washing her clothes at a well saw the king and suddenly shouted “Hail Alfonso! Hail King Bread!” Men and women around her soon joined the call. Menendo looked a bit aghast when he heard what they cried, but the king spoke before the man had chance to open his mouth. “I've been called worse things than King Bread in my days, Menendo, not a few just recently. It's a better moniker than many other I've heard, and besides, I like my people fat and content.” He raised his arm and the guards behind them roared in salute. When the cries died down, from all but a few fervent men, Alfonso turned to Menendo once more.

“Aye, things went as well as one could expect. My sister is imprisoned, and most of her guards who surrendered are among those who followed me home.” Menendo nodded, scratching his beard.

“And Osorio?”

“Flaín rode with Urraca to my keep at Salamanca, to see her safely there. And to be near Zamora if her husband would cause any trouble.” They turned a corner and approached the Towers, the keep where Alfonso made his home. It was a welcome sight. Alfonso had lived most of his life traveling with his father from this keep to another, but when Fernando the Great had died, and his sons had divided his empire between them the need for traveling had ceased. León was as much a home Alfonso had ever known and the walls of the city made him feel surprisingly safe. That notion made him feel a bit foolish. Walls was little guard to most perils a king would face.


The Basilica of San Isidoro, Léon. The town would remain the most important Christian city in northern Spain until the early Modern Era. The basilica itself would be the burial church of the Leonese kings for most of the medieval period.

When the guardsmen on the walls saw their king approach, they shouted down to the stablehands and servants in the courtyard. Menendo cried out a hail to the captain, Antso, one of his drinking friends. Alfonso gave Menendo a sideways glance. The man's love of wine could prove a liability, but then again, if Alfonso did away with capable men just because they liked to get drunk from now and then, he would be left with naught but Moors to serve him. “Do you truly believe that he will move against you? We have a priests testimony of her crimes, after all.” They entered the courtyard and one of the stableboys took the reins of Alfonso's horse as he dismounted. Alfonso gave the boy a quick pat on the head and a copper. It was wise to award even the lowliest of those who served you, if you wanted them to resist the prospects of treason.

“No, he won't. And even if he would it's not really Alfonso Ordoñez that worries me. His brother will never join him and Alfonso is much to craven to take up the sword himself, even if García would back him. But no matter, the husband will come to lay his sword at my feet before the moon has turned. Arias now, he's another matter.” He brushed some of the dirt of his greyish coat. Whoever chose white as the colour of a royal house in Spain must have fielded a legion of washerwomen. A fool of a man, that one, in any case.

“Her captain of guards? Does he really have the men to do anything? Urraca's bannermen will never follow him.” Menendo pulled out a wineskin from his saddlebag and squirted a long rush of the red liquid in his mouth, then offered the skin to Alfonso. “It's warm as piss, your grace, but still quite good.” Alfonso took a brief sip to wet his tongue before handing it back to Menendo who drew another deep gulp. The man had spoken true. A sweet red, one of the best Alfonso had had in weeks. “I've got a barrel full, if your grace would want some.” Alfonso wiped his lips on the back of his hand.

“Aye, bring it tonight and we'll play a game of chess. I have some matters we must speak of.” Menendo curtsied. “You honour me, your grace. You shan't be holding court today then?” Menendo wanted him to hold court, Alfonso realized. The man expected some kind of reward for his services, Alfonso knew, and for his continued silence. How much of the puzzle had the man pieced together? Probably too much for him ever to be allowed to leave the king's service with his tongue. No, it did not matter. Menendo was much to useful a tool not to use, anyhow. “No, not today. Have the criers announce that the king's court will be open tomorrow as usual, for any who wishes to lay their grievances before him.” Alfonso did not much care for settling the petty disputes that usually was brought to him, but he knew that a king who was seen and heard, known to open his arms to low and high alike, was held in higher regard than one who barred himself in his hall. Court would have to wait until the morrow though. Tonight he would have to take the next step on the path he had chosen to walk down all those years ago. And this step... this step would be the most precarious yet.

5 October, 1066
The Castle of Zamora, Zamora

“So you will bend your knee and soil yours and Urraca's honour alike? Leave her caged like some fucking animal?” Arias blood was boiling, his words more the snarl of a beast than that of a man. The plump man before him took a step back, cheeks flustered. Why in all hells Urraca had chosen this wretch to wed was beyond him, had been since his lady told him of her plans. Arias rage that day had been incredible, but his lady had never seen that. No, in her company he was able to compose himself – had to compose himself. But to be set aside for this... this tub of lard... No, it had been to much of a blow to take evenly. The boy Marco, poor lad, had been the one to suffer though. The monks still couldn't say if the boy would swing a sword again.

“What can we do? We have no chance of challenging the king. Astorga will not come to us, my brother has made that much clear.” The bitterness in Ordoñez voice was deep and old, but it was the bitterness of his brother's relentlessness more than that of Urraca's capture, Arias knew. His lady's husband stood to gain much from this turn of events, that much was obvious. He had even been offered the continued stewardship of Zamora if he would rule the town in the name of the king.


The Castle of Zamora as it stands today

The king's emissary had brought them conditions that very morning. Alfonso Ordoñez would be spared persecution if he traveled to León and bent the knee, and so would all others, but Urraca, who would be kept caged until the day of her death. Arias had tried to hit the emissary with a crossbow bolt, but a shove from Ordoñez had made the bolt hit the ground instead of the man's throat. That had earned the fatty a broken tooth.

“Fuck you, your craven piece of shit.” Arias spat in the man's face. “We can fight! We can fight and nail the hands of that so called king to the gates of his castle!” Ordoñez started to shake visibly, his face whitening until he looked about as lifelike as a day old corpse. “N-n-no. I won't do it. I won't.” The words were little more than a whisper from trembling lips. Within the blink of an eye Ordoñez was lying on the floor, his broken tooth stuck between Arias knuckles leaving only a bloody hole where it had been moments before. “I hope you enjoy when your king comes to bend you over and make you the woman you ought to have been then. Fuck me, what my lady ever saw in you!” Arias hit the wall with his fist, sending a jolt of fiery pain up his arm. The tooth had bitten itself in a little deeper. “But remember, little maggot, after I've taken the head off Alfonso I'll be coming for you!” Arias hand was searing red agony, but it was a good pain. It was the pain he would bring to others. Soon thereafter Arias left the room where Alfonso Ordoñez was sobbing, down on the cold floor. Mere moments later, the gates of Zamora opened and three hundred men disappeared into the night.
Great to see you back on the horse, Apelstav. Alfonso seems to be a wiser and calmer king than Philippe Capet was, yet plagued by greater dangers and problems. I look forward to seeing how this works out.
Another good update. Arias's pride and wrath will be his downfall, i predict. That and the fact he shouldnt be able to muster nearly as much men as the king.

Aye, the numbers are not exactly on his side - but then again, one never knows how things will turn out.

Great to see you back on the horse, Apelstav. Alfonso seems to be a wiser and calmer king than Philippe Capet was, yet plagued by greater dangers and problems. I look forward to seeing how this works out.

Thanks Saithis. Feels great to be back! Yes, I would say that Philippe´s great mistake was to believe cruelty and wroth to be power itself and not simply means to an end. A mistake Alfonso, with his rather remarkable political savvy (I like how the game portrays him from the viewpoint of the legend surrounding El Cid and not as the warrior-king he's often presented as in mainstream history) for the period is unlikely ever to make. And well, then there's the whole deal with Philippe having no notions what so ever of his economical or military limitations as a really weak king surrounded by more powerful vassals who did not care at all for him. And the fact that he was just a tiny bit mad.


New update in the works, but first I've got some studying to do so it might be a few days. Taking a class on Carolean Warfare (Swedish Empire, 17th century) over the summer. Great stuff.
Chapter Two - Memories of Gold

Chapter Two
Memories of Gold

12 October, 1066
The village of Salamanca, León

Sancha de León sat brushing her hair. Once her golden curls had been a source of songs throughout all Christian kingdoms of Spain, but now those same curls had grown matted. Her hair was more grey than anything else by now. Grey and brittle. The whole world has grown grey and brittle, she thought as she put her brush down and fingered the letter from her son. She read it a third time, feeling her heart sink deeper and deeper with every word.


Words from the east tells me that your son Sancho is to be wed to Mentzia Lopez de Haro. I would have you travel to him to attend this wedding and offer my well wishes. Whilst in Sancho's presence I wish for you to assure him of my honourable treatment of Urraca, and that I work only for a lasting peace between our two realms.


Was she to be the barrier keeping her sons from each others throats? A peace-broker between those who were supposed to love each other? Tears welled up in her eyes. How had it come to this? She still remembered them as they had been in their youth – Sancho, ever valiant, wanting to ride to battle at his fathers side at the tender age of five and unhorsing his first man at eight. García, always running around his eldest brother's feet or climbing trees in the garden with the other boys, and then Alfonso. Her sweet, clever Alfonso. She had always loved him the most, even though she knew a mother should not love one son above another. That was a sin only the Lord Christ could forgive her, may He judge her justly.

Maybe she had loved Alfonso most simply because he had needed her the most. Ever a sickly child, Alfonso had never been the son her late husband had wished for. Fernando had been a warrior, as his father had been and as two of his sons had become, and though she had loved her husband dearly, she had never been able to forgive him the disappointment she saw in his eyes every time he looked at their middle-child. Even when Alfonso had grown older and learned to handle a sword as well as most men, he had shown little taste for warfare, and Fernando had despised him for it.

When Alfonso was nine, still as weak in body as a child three years his junior, Fernando started talking of sending him to a monastary. The cloth will suit him better than the iron and gold, my love, her husband had told her. It had taken three weeks of pleading, tears and bitter shouts to change his mind, but in the end Alfonso had remained with her. If Fernando could see his son now he would have known she was right to stop him, not that the victory brought her anything but grief and bitter, bitter tears.

Their weak child had grown strong. Strong and cold. What had happened to the child that had read to her at night? The son that had stopped the smith's son from beating the dogs and had stolen gold from his fathers purse only to give it to an orphan girl, had now imprisoned his sister and sent his mother to be her jailer. And now he would send her away as well, leaving Urraca alone with strangers. The iron and gold has seeped into his soul, Sancha thought. Into all their souls. The Father keep them. She wiped the tears from her cheeks. It was high time to pay her daughter a visit.


Statue of Sancha de León (Mid 18th Century), wife of Fernando 'the Great' and mother of Alfonso 'the Wise' of León, Sancho II of Castille and García II of Galicia.

She found Urraca sitting in the high window, the only window in the tower that was now her cell. The room would most likely be the only Urraca would ever see again if she didn't relent and take the vows. Her daughters black hair was a bird's nest of tangles, falling down her slumped back. The lively eyes Sancha remembered was dull, turned away from the room and into nothingness. She approached the window slowly, wondering if Urraca had even noticed her presence.

“You need not come here every day, mother.” The words were spoken loud and clear, but of the fire within they once had told, there was nothing left but ash. Had Alfonso broken her so easily? Urraca bore no signs of being manhandled, God forbid, and Sancha did not think Alfonso's heart had hardened so. Not yet. Or has he always been this man? Was the boy I remember the mask or has the crown burned away with all that I loved? The gold had taken so much from her, taken so much and given so little.

“I come here because I wish you well, Urraca.” Her daughter snorted at that, and turned her black eyes to Sancha with a twist of her head.

“No, mother, you come here because he wants you to check up on me. Our beloved king does not wish for me to do anything foolish...” Urraca looked out the window again, down into the courtyard, and smiled a wicked little smile, “...like throwing myself out of this tower. You see my death would rip this little scheme of his apart, and men would whisper of how I did not jump but was pushed by his henchmen.” A cold hand gripped Sancha's heart. Surely Urraca wouldn't condemn herself to eternal damnation just to spite her brother? How did it come to this? My sweet, sweet babes... Urraca saw the fright in her eyes and gave a single, hoarse laugh.

“Don't worry mother. I do not intend to take my own life. In time García will come and put dear Alfonso's head on a spike for me. He never did give me anything for my wedding, so it's only fitting. He will come, mother, he and Arias. I know it.” Urraca paused for a moment. “Has any news come today?” Sancha shook her head in despair. She hadn't believed Alfonso's accusations at first, she had still doubted even when the priest had laid his account before them. How could a mother believe such a thing about her own child? That this vile creature had come from her own body made her shudder.

“You should not speak so, daughter.” She managed to keep her voice from shaking. “Wishing for the blood of a brother is a great sin.” Urraca snorted and jumped down from the window.

“Oh, mother, how blind you are. Strife and war is what made our people strong. The sons of a king are supposed to make war on each other so a strong king can rise once more.”

“Even if you are right, you are not a son, daughter. You are a woman, and a woman's place is at her husbands side, to bring him heirs and soothe his spirit.” That made Urraca laugh again.

“Please mother, don't tempt me. How could I wish for more than to bear Alfonso Ordoñez, the Oaf of Astorga's seed in my belly? And believe me, I know what's lacking between my legs. Had I been born a man I would not need García, and Alfonso would have been dead for years.” Her husband's refusal to summon Urraca's banners had been but another wound for her daughter to bear, Sancha knew, and even if she was glad it had not come to war, not yet at least, she could understand Urraca's grief. What kind of man would leave his wife in a cage?

Sancha's hand moved of it's own accord, the slap hitting Urraca's left cheek hard. “When did you become this... this monster?” Sancha's cheeks burned red with shame and anger. She had never struck her daughter before, leaving such duties to her handmaidens during the girl's childhood. “May the Father judge you harshly.”

“Ha! If you knew even half of your sweet Alfonso's deeds you might wonder if God would judge me at all for killing him.” Urraca 's voice seemed a little more as Sancha remembered it then. She hates him with passion, she realized and could not help to wonder if God were punishing them all for some sin left forgotten in their family's past. “News, mother? I want to now what's happening. If you won't tell me you can leave.”


Etching of Urraca Fernandez, 1882.

Sancha sighed heavily. “Your brother is getting married.”

“What? Alfonso?” Urraca seemed puzzled at that. Alfonso should marry, Sancha knew. He had postponed it for long now and his realm needed an heir. She would have to speak with him of that.

“No, Sancho. He's marrying some daughter of one of his Basque vassals. I'm leaving for Burgos tomorrow morning to attend the wedding, and then I'm heading for León.”

“You're... you're leaving me here? Alone? With his men?” Urraca suddenly looked years younger, almost a little girl again.

Sancha put her hand on her daughter's, the hand that had slapped Urraca earlier. It still burned slightly. “Yes, my child. I'm leaving you. You need not worry. Flaín de Osorio keeps his men firm in line, and I'm leaving Inés, my handmaiden, to see to your needs.” That was when Urraca finally broke down in tears, weeping as a babe and clutching her mother. Sancha hugged her daughter tight and patted her hair. Her children might be stone cold men and beasts hungry for blood, but they were still her children, and she loved them all.

She would always love them all.
Wow, from the description from the mother, our beloved King wasnt always a hardass. I guess power does change people. I wonder whether Alfonso was born like this or if he became like that after getting the throne...
Very nicely done, extremely descriptive and touching. It offered a strong insight into the brothers (and sister's) upbringings and personalities without going into vast detail or storytelling, instead keeping the story rolling along. Urraca is a proud and strong woman, I like and appreciate that - pity most European states are far too sexist in this period to easily accept women in any position of power without huge struggle.
Damn ninjas cutting onion... Your writings are nicely done.

I'm subscribing this. :)

Haha... Finest praise one could ask for. Thanks and welcome!

Wow, from the description from the mother, our beloved King wasnt always a hardass. I guess power does change people. I wonder whether Alfonso was born like this or if he became like that after getting the throne...

Alfonsos childhood will be expanded upon in later entries, so in time you'll find out. Personally I believe one cannot wield power without being altered in some way. Some grow to the task, some grows decadent and some, well some merely changes.

Very nicely done, extremely descriptive and touching. It offered a strong insight into the brothers (and sister's) upbringings and personalities without going into vast detail or storytelling, instead keeping the story rolling along. Urraca is a proud and strong woman, I like and appreciate that - pity most European states are far too sexist in this period to easily accept women in any position of power without huge struggle.

Aye, writing in this period always brings me trouble as I wish to portray strong female characters while in the meantime want to portray an authentic feeling - thus Urraca (the "if society hadn't forced half of humanity to be viewed as baby-making-machines I would whoop your ass, and still might if your not bloody careful and start taking me seriously-archetype) is one of my favorite characters so far. When first planning she was actually meant for a much smaller role but the more I write and think of her, the more I feel that she will have to stay as Alfonso needs a worthy and complex adversary. And Urraca has real reason to despise and replace Alfonso, something that will become more important in time. Sadly for Urraca though, her brother is one of few who see her for the person she is and not her designated place in the world.

In due time, when Alfonsos future wife is introduced, I hope to examine an other aspect of this sort of character - one not working against the established order (which is rather common in this kind of story), but rather with it, which allows for a whole other dynamic.

Not that Sancha isn't a strong person too, I must add, but she has conformed to society's formal laws since long and would never challenge her sons, nor her other male relatives, unless these were pitched against each other.


Started working on the next chapter this morning, moving a few days ahead and bringing in yet more of the characters that will be central during the early phase. I know that the pacing might feel a bit slow for an AAR as of yet, but the characters have to be introduced and made real (I would guess I'll land around 7-10 main POW's - a main POW here is defined as one intended for several chapters on his/her own, not just stubs which I try to avoid anyway, but not necessarily a main character either) for the action to be worthwhile in my opinion. Anyways, expect another chapter in 1-2 days time.
Chapter Three - The hills have eyes...

Chapter Three
The hills have eyes...

16 October, 1066
The Towers of León, León

“They came at night, m'lord,” the old man's voice was trembling, his sunburnt skin remarkably pale as he knelt before the throne. His eyes watered as he spoke on. “They came at night, with fire. They threw torches at our roof and when the house caught fire the boys ran out and... and...” The grizzled old face broke into a masque of grief and despair, the scabbed slash running down his face cracked open and started to bleed. “They killed m'boys, m'lord. A-all f-four of them.” The man fell forward, hands first down on the carpet.

A young man stepped to his side, the same one who had half carried the whitehair into the hall. Dark curls shadowed his face as he steadied the elder one and helped him to his feet. “Please forgive him, your grace.” That accent, was it southern? A Muslim trader perhaps, yet he wore not the garb Alfonso would expect to see on a Moorish merchant. “This one has travelled far, and he was already half-dead from thirst and grief when I found him.”

“There's nothing to forgive.” Alfonso gave the stranger a searching look before he turned his attention back to the still sobbing farmer. “Señor, I understand your grief, and how hard it must be to speak of this, but please, continue.” Tears were wiped from wrinkled cheeks and after a few gasping breaths the farmer was able to speak once more.

“They came first the day before, m'lord. Three men, all in iron and on big ol'horses, the kind that carry highborn into battle. T-they said that they'd be taking m'sons with them, to go off and fight m'lord and save your lady sister.” The man paused, as if uncertain how to continue. Alfonso glanced at the men seated as his side. To his right was Flaín, stone faced, to the left sat Menendo, who wore his new office well. He had been made Steward of León a few days earlier. A king must know to pay his debts.

Flaín was staring at the doorway, half listening and half expecting a retinue of armed enemies storming in at any moment, Alfonso knew. His old companion always seemed to think someone would assault his king, wherever they went. Is he growing paranoid? Enemies in the Towers? Then Alfonso bit his toungue. It wasn't Flaín that was growing weary, but rather Alfonso himself who had grown lax and comfortable. He needed to leave León for a while, to be out in the kingdom, see the reality of the world and lose this strange sense of safety. The absence of my kin is what makes me lose my edge, he realized. Urraca had kept him vigil, but with her locked safely away and all his enemies out in the countryside... well, the situation was making it hard to feel unguarded, when kept behind a wall of men, steel and stone.

“Well, m'lord, I served as a soldier with your Lord father, you see, and I still got me ol'spear'n'leather, so when I heard 'em shout I dressed up and went outside while the lads got their bows. Then I told them to bugger off. That I was a kingsman to the end. One of them drew his sword then and rode at me, but... b-but...” The man's voice broke off again and the darkhaired youth beside him put a gentle hand on his shoulder, which seemed to soothe him. “José, m'eldest lad, he put an arrow in his leg and then they were off, cursing as they rode.”

“Did they carry any banner, or any shields with signs upon...” It was Menendo who spoke out, but Flaín quickly cut him off. Does he believe his position is threatened by Menendo? No. He knows better than that. “Isn't it quite obvious who did this? Men assaulting lowborns in the night, trying to steal away sons and force steel into their hands? This reeks of de Formeselle. Arias wants blood, and I say we should give it to him. I have gathered five hundred strong men, your grace. Send me after him!"

Menendo snickered at that. “The hound wants blood? How shocking!” That made Flaín's face redden. “Bah! What would you have us do then, Steward? Leave these brigand's to burn and pillage until García leads an army across the border and they can join up with him?” I will have to speak with them of this. I can't have these two at each others throats. Not now. They could jeopardize everything with one wrong word uttered in anger.

“Silent, the both of you!” The power of his own voice almost shocked Alfonso and suddenly all of the hall, always alive with whispers, fell silent. He motioned to a pair of his guards. “See to it that this man is taken to a heale, and is given a hot meal, and a good bed to rest in.” Then he turned back to the whitehair. “I cannot give you your sons back, señor, but hear this.” This had been the third attack they heard of in a weeks time, and beyond all doubt that meant that half a dozen others had occurred. Alfonso had waited them out and they had grown bold. By now Arias surely had made contact with García, and Alfonso expected to hear of his little brother gathering his strength within days. It was time to strike back. García would never be able to back down once he had commited himself. His little brother was too proud for such dishonor.


16th century depiction of Alfonso VI

He rose from the throne and took a step forward. “Hear me! I am Alfonso Fernandez, King of León and the sixth of my name! I swear, in front of the eyes of my court, nay, all my subjects in this kingdom and all men beyond my borders, that I shall not rest until these beasts...” Alfonso drew his sword. “These vile demons plaguing our land are laid low and I've reaped just vengeance upon them! So I swear, in front of God almighty and men of this world.” The shouts and cheers echoing in the hall was near mind-numbing and Alfonso had to force a smile from his face. It was of utter importance that those present saw him as a vessel of God's justice, not a man indulging himself in pleasant adoration, so they would go forth and speak of their fierce king around their fires and in their cups.

When the shouting started to die down he spoke once more. “Let it be known throughout the realm that any man who aids or harbour Arias de Formeselle, or any of his men, will face my fierce justice as if they were made one with these brigands! And let it be known that I demand that all men of hearts pure and just, to hunt our enemies down and end their miserable lives. So speaks the king!” Flaín, finally understanding what Alfonso was trying to do rose and shouted at the top of his lungs. “So speaks the king!” The cry echoed back from the guards at their vigil. “For León and king Alfonso!” Alfonso forced down another smile. Aye, brother. You can come now. I am ready.

16 October, 1066
Burgos, Castille

Sancha was seated across from her son in his chamber. They had decided to dine alone this evening, or rather, Sancho had decided that he wished to speak privately with his mother and had her summoned to sup with him. Her eldest son had more lines in his face than she remembered but he wore the gold and red with an ease that marvelled her. He looks like his father, she thought. But he has my golden hair and my eyes. Those eyes had grown weary since she last saw them. The crown suits him though. It was his father's, her late Fernando's crown.

They had spoken but little since she arrived, Sancho being occupied with matters of the crown most of the days and spending his evenings with his councillors. He was a good king, it would seem. At least she had heard no ill words of him uttered. But then again, who would curse a king before his mothers face? No, he was a good king. She could see it in his eyes and in the strength in his shoulders. Fernando would have been proud of him.

“So mother, why has Alfonso sent you here?” The words took her by surprise and left her dumbstruck. Sancho had always been frank, not one to pace around a subject, but this blatant comment was a bit harsh even for him.

“I came to see you wed, son. When your brother and I heard of your wedding he sent me to bring his blessing, in his stead.” Sancho's eyes searched her for a moment and she turned her gaze on her plate.

“You're a poor liar, mother, I never realized until now.” He sighed heavily. “The gold makes one able to see through lies, or it kills you.” It sounded like something Alfonso would say, and for a moment she saw their common features. They are more alike than either would ever admit. It was a sad thing that the world had turned them against each other. There should be love between brothers, not blood and grief. “Fathers words.” Sancho continued. “I never understood them until after I was crowned.”

“A king must be able to see the truth, my dear.” She couldn't think of anything else to say.

“Alas, if all my courtiers was as honest about their lies as you, mother. No, it wasn't your face that betrayed you, not only.” The king of Castille took a small sip of wine. “Nearly a year has passed since father died, and since that day Alfonso and I have had no contact. Not one damned letter! I know I said some things to the boy, things that I shouldn't have, but curse me! Our father laid dead right next to us and I was grieved.” The boy, he calls him. Sancho had never known Alfonso well, she knew. Would he recognize his brother if he saw those cold eyes now? “Urraca has written me five times, and García and Elvira writes nearly every month, but from Alfonso? Not one bloody word. And now he offers his blessing upon my union with Mentzia?” Sancho shook his head.


Miniature sculpture of Sancho II of Castille

“What did the two of you say that night, Sancho? Whatever happened in there?” She had asked Alfonso that question once. The only time her sweetest boy had ever frightened her. His eyes had been dark ice, before they softened once more and smiled. In time you will know, mother. In time, everyone will know, but that day is not yet come. Those words had sent chills through her bones.

“No, mother. That is between Alfonso and me. Let's just say... let's just say that I shamed myself. I shamed myself and our house. But you didn't answer my question mother. What does Alfonso ask of me, yet refuses to ask himself?” He had cut straight to the heart of the issue there. Not a word between the brothers for a whole year, and when the time came it was their mother who would broker a deal between them like some accursed emissary. Sancha wanted to weep.

“You know, of course, of Urraca?” It felt strange uttering her daughter's name. Her mind was on her near every hour of the day, but she had not spoken of Urraca once since departing from Salamanca. Lord Christ, keep her and remove the taint from her spirit.

“Aye.” Sancho rolled his shoulders as if trying to shrug of the subject's stench “Foul business that. Does Alfonso fear that I will go to war with him to free her?” Sancha swallowed hard at that. Ever the arrow aimed at its mark, dear Sancho. Her answer must have been written across her face for Sancho continued without waiting for her to answer. “Tell him he need not worry. Had she come to me, instead of García, I would have imprisoned her myself and sent her to Alfonso. I never thought that of her. Of García, aye, but never Urraca.”

“She has grown vile, Sancho. More beast than woman.” Tears came unbidden to her cheeks and he reached out to her.

“Sweet mother... Come, let us speak of more joyous things. Have you met my bride to be?” Sancha nodded slowly. Mentzia had shown herself to be a sweet, intelligent young woman. Not the face men would write songs about, perhaps, but she had a fierce beauty in her eyes and thick, dark hair.

“Yes, dear. She will...” There was a sudden knock on the door. They both looked at it and Sancha could not help but to grasp the hilt of her small dagger. Sancho saw her hand and stood up.

“Don't worry mother. None under my roof will bring you any harm.” He turned to the door. “Who goes there?” There was a moments silence, then Sancha gasped in relief. He'd never, he'd never, he'd never. Her heart wouldn't stop pounding.

“It is Rodrigo, your grace! I bring urgent news from the east.” Sancho opened the door and let in Rodrigo de Vivar. Rodrigo was a bear of a man, his great black beard braided upon his chest. Rodrigo turned his eyes on Sancha and curtsied. “My lady.”

“Tell me Rodrigo, what news do you bring?” Sancho sounded a bit unnerved. Sancha understood completely. No good news ever came after sundown.

“It's Zaragoza, your grace. The emissary, Ferran, who was sent to collect the tribute just returned.” Rodrigo paused, disgust twisting his features for a second. “They cut off his hand, your grace. They cut of his hand.”

16 October, 1066
The Towers of León, León

Alfonso stepped out into the brisk night and took a deep breath. It had been an exhausting day, but in the end the most gratifying since the capture of Urraca. Things seemed to be moving on as he intended them to, and exalting Menendo to Steward of the realm had taken some of the regular duties off Alfonso's back. He turned towards the watergarden, wishing for a few moments fresh air and lonely thought before he went to bed.

In the Moorish cities, it was said, the watergardens stretched out wide as man-made forests, but here in the north Alfonso had to settle with but a few rosebushes and a cool pond. Not the fabled fountains of Cordoba, but the hundreds upon hundreds of water-lilies that bloomed in summer gave the place its own beauty. He sat down on a smooth stone next to the water, rubbing his shoulders as he looked up at the stars. That was when he heard the breathing of another man.

Alfonso twisted around and drew his blade, cursing himself for ever believing the Towers to be an haven of safety. If they attacked him now he would die, he knew. Alfonso was a decent swordsman by any standards – Flaín had seen to that, though it had required years of effort. But Alfonso was tired, and any who would attack a king in his own keep was sure to bring more than one man. Not now. Fiery hell take me, not now! A shadow approached him slowly. Very slowly. Alfonso opened his mouth to shout.

“Pardon me if I startled you, your grace.” Moonlight fell upon black curls surrounding a young face. If he was a woman, men would name him beautiful, Alfonso thought as he pointed his sword at the man's chest.

“It is most unwise to approach an armed man in the dark.” His words was slightly harsher than he had intended. Had Alfonso not been so tired, he probably would have tried a jest to ease the tension - but it was bloody late and the king did not appreciate surprises, even at the best of times.

“Pray forgive me, my king. I was merely out for a midnight walk. Sitting at a sickbed is a dreary occupation and I wished to stretch my legs after the old one had fallen asleep.” The accent seemed to have faded somewhat since earlier that day. This man adapts fast, it would seem.

“What's your name, stranger?” It seemed slightly odd that a foreigner would not only bring a wounded old man to his liege, but remain even after the man had been offered sanctuary. Alfonso was not one who believed in kindness for kindness sake. No, if life had taught him anything it was that everything, and everyone, had their price.

“I call myself Véla, if it pleases your grace.” Alfonso frowned. Véla was not a Moorish name. Had he mistaken the accent that badly? Might be some of the Catalans who bordered the northeastern taifas spoke like that. No, that was not right either. He's clearly from the south.

“You're not a moor?” That made Véla's face brake in a wide smile, his teeth glittering beneath the stars.

“No, your grace, but you have a good ear, if I may say so. I go by the name Véla the Jew, but I do hail from the great city of Toledo.”

“What brings a Jew to León?” The Christian kingdom's in Spain had a small Jewish population, but most had migrated south to the taifas over the years. The Moorish land offered richer trade, and safer roads besides. Neither had the Christians always been kind to their Jewish neighbours. That will have to change though, Alfonso thought. But all in due time.

Véla stared at the silver sheen of the blade for a long moment, as if considering what to answer. “Trade, your grace. Trade and... well... let's just say that I'm not welcome in the city I once called home.” The honesty was unexpected but rather pleasing. Alfonso was finally beginning to wrap his head around Véla's situation. Traders often know men and women, far and wide. This one might have some use. If God did not approve of Alfonso's plans he did little to hinder him, and seemed to lead useful tools right into the king's hands. Alfonso smiled.
Sorry about the somewhat inflated length of the last chapter (some 16 000+ characters, I usually aim to land around 10 000-11 000), but I didn't want to hold the introduction of Véla as it would have mucked up my planned chronology something awful. Hope your eyes didn't fall out!
Hmm, Im a little confused. Alfonso is the king of Leon only, and his brother Sancho is the king of castille yes? So does this mean that the crowns were united under their father? In any case another powerful update.
Hmm, Im a little confused. Alfonso is the king of Leon only, and his brother Sancho is the king of castille yes? So does this mean that the crowns were united under their father? In any case another powerful update.

Aye, historically Fernando I 'the Great' was king of León and Castille until his death in 1065. Upon succession his realm was split between his three sons with Sancho receiving Castille, León being split between Alfonso and García, the latter's new kingdom being known as Galicia. This was quite common practice among the Jimena (and maybe most noble houses) during the early and mid medieval period, it would seem, as the kingdoms fluxed heavily in size due to brothers achieving dominance over one another in different generations. Supposedly this is also one of the reasons for the popularity of the 'Imperator totus Hispanae'-title which seems to have fallen out of practice once a more stable dynasty established itself. I'll publish a map with next update so it all becomes a bit clearer.
Aye, historically Fernando I 'the Great' was king of León and Castille until his death in 1065. Upon succession his realm was split between his three sons with Sancho receiving Castille, León being split between Alfonso and García, the latter's new kingdom being known as Galicia. This was quite common practice among the Jimena (and maybe most noble houses) during the early and mid medieval period, it would seem, as the kingdoms fluxed heavily in size due to brothers achieving dominance over one another in different generations. Supposedly this is also one of the reasons for the popularity of the 'Imperator totus Hispanae'-title which seems to have fallen out of practice once a more stable dynasty established itself. I'll publish a map with next update so it all becomes a bit clearer.

Oh, now i get it. stupidly enough i hadnt made the link between the Jimena brothers, and the characters in your AAR :p

Oooh, and yes a map would be nice. Are you going to aim to be the Imperator totus Hispanae or just be content with uniting the north?