The Rose of Castile, Part 1 (Reunion)

It was the seventh of December of the year of our Lord
1072 when King Alfonso VI and his royal court, consisting of his sister, the Infanta
Urraca, as well a number of prelates, nobles, and their attendants and knights,
neared the city of Burgos in the Kingdom of Castile. After years of fratricidal
strife between royal brothers García, Sancho and Alfonso, the kingdoms of Leon
and Castile was once again united under one ruler. The assassination of Alfonso’s
older brother, King Sancho II of Castile, in the city of Zamora, as well as his
younger brother’s, King García I of Galicia’s, crumbling support amongst his
nobles in Galicia presented Alfonso with the opportunity to consolidate power
and crush all dissent over the lands once held by his father, King Fernando I.
Thus, Alfonso made the decision to travel from Leon to Burgos with his most
trusted advisors for the specific purpose of signing charters marking the
formal reconciliation of Castile with its new king.

After days of travel in bitingly cold weather, Don Raul
González, a Leonese knight from the House of Banu Goméz, was eager to reach
Castile’s capital city. He longed for nothing more than to sit in front of a
warm hearth and eat a hot meal. He was tired of war and the near constant
campaigning that had taken him away from his family’s estates in Leon for
months on end. But now that Alfonso VI was the uncontested ruler of Castile and
Leon, he had increasingly felt the compulsion to choose a bride and settle
down.

As a member of one of the great noble families of the
realm, the only real constraint he had with respect to whom he could marry was
that the maiden or widow had to be someone of equal social stature. Although
there were more than a few women to choose from, he could not seem to find a
woman that suited his needs. Even his growing attachment to the widow Rosa, a
woman with whom he had been developing a romantic relationship in recent months,
could move him to propose to her.  Though
the reason for his predicament would not have been obvious to most, those who knew
him well were not at all surprised by this turn of events. For, if truth be
told, his heart had long ago been captured by a beautiful Castilian girl named
Doña Inés Cortés whose beauty and spirit had long ago eclipsed all others in
both his mind and heart.

As the city came into view, Raul’s younger brother, Armando,
who was riding abreast of him, said, “Do you think the city has changed much
since the last time we were here? It holds many fond memories for you, does it
not?”

Raul nodded and looked away. Undeterred by his
brother’s apparent reticence to continue that line of conversation, Armando
asked, “Will you be calling on Don Corto Fernandez and his family once we
arrive?”

While Armando waited for a response, Raul and Armando’s
primo (cousin), Count Pedro Ansúrez, who was riding just ahead of them, glanced
back and said, “I should like to join you if you do. The situation with the
nobility in Castile is still quite delicate, especially given the circumstances
surrounding Sancho’s demise. Securing the support of his former mayordomo (steward)
would greatly assist the king’s effort to ensure the loyalty of the nobles who
supported his brother.”

“If I do decide to pay Don Corto a visit, you will
certainly be more than welcome to accompany me there,” Raul replied.

Just then, another primo, Don Pedro Múñoz, who was
riding next to the Count, joined in on the conversation. “There were rumors
that Don Corto’s son, Sergio, was next in line to be Sancho’s alférez (royal military
commander).”

“I heard that too,” Raul replied. “He would have been
an excellent choice given his skill on the battlefield.”

Grim-faced, the Count replied, “I saw first-hand his
exploits in battle alongside Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (El Cid). It is not an
experience that I would wish to relive anytime soon.”

“But now that Sancho has passed on, surely the
Castilians will have little choice but to acquiesce and align themselves with
the king,” Armando pointed out.

The Count replied, “Fortunately, Bishop Jimeno of
Oca-Burgos and counts Gonzalo Salvadórez and Muño González of Lara have already
pledged their support to the king. He is hopeful that Don Rodrigo and the knights
who follow him can be persuaded to show their fealty to him as well.”

“And if they do not, what then?”

“Then they will suffer the consequences,” the Count replied
matter-of-factly and then asked, “So what are you most looking forward to upon
our arrival in Burgos?”

“Getting out of this blasted cold,” Armando exclaimed
without hesitation. “Taking a hot bath and eating a warm meal in front of a
roaring fireplace will be my first order of business.”

“And you?’ the Count asked, turning to Raul.

Before Raul could answer, Armando interjected, “Isn’t
it obvious? He comes to win the heart of none other than the rose of Castile.”

“Ah, I see,” the Count replied with a snicker. “You
have some history with the daughter of Don Corto, do you not?”  Raul nodded. The Count added, “I have heard
that she has spurned the attentions of many well-healed noblemen from Galicia
to Catalan.”

“Aye primo, that would not surprise me,” Raul replied
with a wistful smile. “Doña Inés was a very headstrong and independent-minded
child.”

The Count said, “Even so, she is clearly of
marriageable age. Don Corto would be well advised to forge as advantageous an
alliance as he can between his daughter and a peer of the realm at the earliest
possible opportunity if he wishes to continue to advance his family’s influence
and interests.”

“Then there is no time to waste,” Armando said to
Raul. “You must plead your cause with her at the earliest possible
opportunity.”

“I will do no such thing,” Raul replied. “Did you not
hear our primo? Doña Inés already has half the kingdom clamoring for her hand
without me adding to her woes.”

“If not her, then who?” Don Pedro asked.

Armando again answered for Raul.  “He has been calling on Don Antonio of
Palencia’s widow, Doña Rosa.”

“I knew her husband. What is she like?”

Armando said, “She is small…and rather haggard looking,
don’t you think?” Raul frowned but said nothing. Armando then asked, “How old
did you say she was?”

Eyes narrowing, Raul replied, “One and twenty.”

“Is she really?” Armando asked, feigning shock. “I would
have sworn that she was no younger than one and thirty. And that smile,” he
added, wincing. “It does so remind me of Fiero…She was a good horse.”

The Count and Don Pedro laughed heartily while Raul glowered
in silence.

Although it was becoming patently obvious that Raul
was near his boiling point, Armando chose to continue with his verbal onslaught.
“Well then, if you are intent on pursuing Doña Rosa, maybe I should call on Doña
Inés myself…”

This time, Raul responded swiftly. He unsheathed his
sword and placed the blade’s edge underneath Armando’s chin and hissed, “Enough.”

“Put that away,” the Count ordered Raul while Don
Pedro took Armando aside.

Once Don Pedro and Armando were out of earshot of the
Count and Raul, Don Pedro took the opportunity to admonish his young primo. “What,
may I ask, was the point of that? From all that I know, hasn’t Raul always
treated you with kindness and consideration.” Armando nodded, looking chastened
and solemn. Don Pedro then asked, “Why then, do you insist on tormenting him
so?”

“You misconstrue my purpose. I care for my brother a
great deal. So much so, in fact, that I cannot in good conscience stand by and
watch him make what I know in my heart would be a grave error on his part.”

“And what would that be?”

“Settling for one woman while letting the woman he truly
loves slip through his fingers.”

Don Pedro replied, “Armando, you know as well as I
that the noble class rarely bases the decision to marry on so fleeting a
feeling. We’re a practical lot.”

“That may be true, but even you must admit that there
have been exceptions to this rule. My parents, for example, were known to have cared
very deeply for one another. And as for Raul, he has been in love with Doña Inés
for as long as I can remember. Is it so wrong for me to want more for my brother
than an arranged marriage?”

“Love is a delicate matter. It cannot be forced, but
if Raul’s feelings for her are as strong as you believe them to be, he will not
be able to simply brush them aside in her presence and do nothing.”

“But Pedro, what if…”

Don Pedro raised his hand, stopping Armando
mid-sentence. “As your older and infinitely wiser primo, I advise you to listen
well to what I am about to say to you. Stop trying to meddle in Raul’s affairs
and let destiny take its course. If it is God’s will for Raul marry Inés, it
will happen regardless of what you say or do.”

Armando opened his mouth to reply, but then thought
better of it, and opted instead to nod and say no more.

As soon as the royal court came upon the Arlanzón
River, which was located on the outskirts of Burgos, Raul took his horse for a canter
along the river’s edge while the rest of his travel companions continued on
into the city. As he spurred Bandido, his chestnut-colored mare forward, he
felt his mind begin to drift away from the present moment toward thoughts of
Inés.

Raul’s eyes had just settled upon a row of trees with
snow-covered branches when he heard the sound of horses’ hooves galloping toward
him. As a precaution, he moved off the path he had been taking and hid behind a
large tree trunk. It wasn’t long before two riders raced by him. Believing that
he recognized the larger of the two, he called out to the man by name. His
voice cut through the air like a siren, causing the riders to halt and turn
toward him.  Slowly, he moved out into
the open. As they, in turn, approached, the larger rider motioned to the other one,
whose face was hidden by a cap and cloak, to stay well behind him before he
turned to Raul and said, “And who, may I ask, are you?”

“Sergio, my friend, do you not recognize me? I was but
a boy when last we met. You pulled me out of this very river many summers ago after
I had fallen in and nearly drowned. You took me to your home and provided me
with shelter and food until my mother came to retrieve me. In all the years
hence, I have not forgotten the kindness that you and your family showed me or
the bond of friendship we forged from that day hence.”

“My God, Raul, is it really you?” Sergio exclaimed as
his guarded expression melted away. “You look almost nothing like the sopping
wet boy I remember fishing out of the river. Tell me, to what do I owe this
unexpected visit?”

“I am here on the king’s business,” Raul replied as
Sergio motioned for the other rider to come closer. “He has come to make peace
with the nobles and ask for their fealty.”

Sergio countenance darkened as he turned to one side
and spat. “That is quite magnanimous of him, don’t you agree Inés?”

Had Raul heard Sergio correctly? Was this other rider,
in fact, Sergio’s hermana (sister) Inés? He could hardly believe his eyes as he
watched Inés remove her cap, allowing her long, brown tresses to cascade down
her back and shoulders. Being the war-hardened warrior that he was, it amazed him
how quickly her presence had left him feeling disarmed and vulnerable. And, in
his estimation, even the boyish clothes she wore in no way dimmed her beauty or
lessened the powerful attraction he felt toward her.

“It is good to see you again,” Inés said, blushing
slightly in the face of Raul’s penetrating stare.

“And I, you,” Raul replied slowly. “Although I must
confess that I am a bit perplexed to see you outdoors on such a cold and dreary
day such as this.”

“I begged Sergio to come out for a ride with me. I’ve
been cooped up indoors and was in desperate need of fresh air. It is not in my
nature to be so confined.” As Raul listened to Inés speak, it warmed his heart
to know that neither time nor the strictures of society had in any way altered
the spirited and unconventional girl he had met and fallen in love with in his
youth.

Just then, Raul caught sight of Sergio’s eyes darting
from Raul to Inés with knowing amusement. Thankfully, Inés’ brother made no
reference to what he had observed and instead said, “My father received an
invitation from the king to attend a reception at the castle tomorrow evening.
I have heard that nearly every magnate and prelate in the kingdom will be in
attendance.”

“Yes, it is to be preceded by a mass at Santa Gadea Church
to commemorate the king’s ascension to the throne of Castile. Will your family
be there as well?”

Sergio nodded, grim-faced. “You know as well as I that
any occasion involving the king is an event that can only be ignored at one’s
peril.”

Although it was obvious to Raul that Sergio’s feelings
toward the king were ambivalent at best, Raul nonetheless asked him, “Is it
true that Don Rodrigo intends to ask the king to swear publicly on holy relics
that he had nothing to do with Sancho’s death?”

Sergio’s pursed his lips and, at first, said nothing,
while the grip on his horse’s reigns noticeably tightened.  Finally, he replied, “I cannot speak for the
Cid. All I can say with any amount of certainty is that he will do what he
thinks is best for the kingdom and the men he commands.”

Likely sensing the heightened tension in the air, Inés
chimed in and asked Raul, “Will you be attending the reception alone?”

“Yes, my lady,” Raul replied, smiling. “And whom, may
I ask, will have the pleasure of being your escort?”

“No one,” Sergio replied with a snort. “My padre
(father), Don Corto, madrastra (stepmother), Doña Teresa, and abuela
(grandmother), Doña Isabel, will be accompanying her there.”

Raul’s grin broadened further at the news. “I am
surprised to hear that. I would have thought that a beautiful young lady like
you would have had at least a dozen suitors clamoring for the opportunity to be
seen with you on their arm.”

Inés’ blushed deepened while Sergio rolled his eyes
and said, “Doña Teresa would like nothing better than to see her married off to
a rico hombre (magnate). As of this moment, she is intent on pairing Inés off
with Don Alonso Muñoz, the oldest son of Count Muño Gonzalez of Lara.”

The news hit Raul like a dagger to the heart. Still,
for propriety’s sake, he hid his distress from view with a suitably stolid
expression. “Are you amenable to such a union?”

“I hardly know him,” Inés replied, “but my madrastra speaks
of his family in the most glowing terms, and she expects that their influence
and holdings are likely grow even more now that Alfonso is king.”

As the import of Inés’ words sank in, Raul considered
the possibility countering what Don Alonso would likely offer Inés’ family in exchange
for her hand in marriage. Although he too was the son of a count, it was his
older primo, Pedro Ansúrez, who had inherited the family’s most prized patrimonial
lands and titles upon Raul’s father’s death in 1057. Given his present
circumstances, he quickly concluded that he had neither the wealth nor the
status to compete with the likes of Don Alonso. And so, it was with a heavy
heart that he asked, “What is your opinion of him?”

“He seems likeable enough,” Inés replied, “and I
suppose that I could grow to care for him in time should our families decide
that it is in the best interests of everyone concerned for us to be married.”
Raul furrowed his brow while she, in turn, eyed him with speculation. “Why do
you ask? Are you aware of some impediment or flaw in his character?”

“No, not at all,” Raul replied with noticeable haste.
“I have only ever wished for your happiness. If your heart is set on marrying
him, I would be the last man to stand in your way.”

At that point, Sergio chimed in and said, “The hour is
late, and I am sure that Raul is quite tired and in need of rest. There will be
plenty of time on the morrow to speak of all that he has seen and done since we
saw him last. Don’t you agree?”

“Yes, of course,” Raul replied even though he was
loathe to be parted from her. “Until tomorrow.”

Raul shook Sergio’s hand and then turned to Inés, who
offered him her hand. He gladly took it and placed a gentle kiss on her
fingertips before bidding them both farewell.