The Rose of Castile, Part 2 (Confrontations)

“Be patient, my lady. You’re almost ready,” said Inés’
lady’s maid, Ermesinda, as she took a step back to review her handiwork. Inés
had hair styled into a braided updo and was wearing a dark blue vertical tunic with
fitted sleeves over a white chemise. Knowing the care and effort her lady’s
maid had put into preparing her for the day’s royal events, she strived to be
as compliant as possible to hasten the process and receive Ermesinda’s seal of
approval. Once she had obtained it, she sought to leave her bedchamber when her
abuela, Doña Isabel, appeared at the doorway.

“You look lovely dear,” Doña Isabel exclaimed as she
slowly entered with the aid of a cane. “I’d warrant that there is no maiden in
all of Castile who is your equal in grace and beauty.” Inés nodded demurely and
offered Doña Isabel her arm.

“You are too kind,” Inés said and led her abuela to a
nearby chair. “You know as well as I do that there is likely be quite a few
beautiful women at the king’s reception.”

“None that can hold a candle to you,” Doña replied
with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You are known throughout the kingdom as the
rose of Castile, are you not? I doubt that just an ordinary-looking girl would
have been so named.”

“If that is true, I have only you to thank for it,” Inés
said while kneeling at her grandmother’s feet. “I have heard that you were
quite breathtaking in your youth. My poor abuelo must have had to fight off many
a suitor to win your heart.”

Doña Isabel chuckled. “He was a dashing figure, and so
very handsome too. I fell in love with him at first sight and I knew from the
start that he was the man that I would one day wed.”

“You were lucky,” Inés replied, sighing. “But alas,
not everyone can be as fortunate as you were. The sad truth is that most of us
will marry for far more practical reasons than love. In fact, Doña Teresa often
tells me that I would do well to divest myself of such a misguided notion in
the choice of a husband.”

Doña Isabel snorted and then wagged her finger at Inés
as she said, “Don’t you listen to a word that woman says. Her advice on such
matters is as useful as a lame horse. She decries the virtue of love because
she is incapable of giving or receiving it. I have long regretted the day that
my hijo (son) married her. She is a cold-hearted woman whose sole purpose in
life is to aggrandize herself at the expense of others, including you.”

“Abuela,” Inés said in a low voice. “You musn’t say
things like that about the lady of the house.”

Doña Isabel scowled at the remark. “Doña Teresa is
many things, but a lady she is not. Fortunately for you, you will not have to
bear the burden of living under the same roof with her for much longer.”

“Why so?”

“You know as well as I do of Doña Teresa’s plans to
marry you off to Don Alonso.” She patted Inés’s hand and asked, “So what is
your impression of the young nobleman?”

After a moment of thoughtful consideration, Inés
replied, “He is young and quite gregarious, and whenever we have been in mixed
company, he is often the center of attention.”

“Has he tried to make any advances upon your person?”

“Heavens no,” Inés replied as her eyes widened in
shock. “I would not allow it if he tried.”

“Then clearly child, he is not the man for you.” Inés
shook her head while Doña Isabel cackled softly.

Eager to change the subject, Inés offered her abuela
the following news. “You’ll never guess who Sergio and I came across the other
day while we were racing our horses along the riverbank.”

Doña Isabel arched her brow and asked, “And who, may I
ask, did you see?”

“Don Raul Gonzalez,” Inés replied excitedly. “He
arrived with the king. Sergio and I barely recognized him at first. There’s very
little left of the boy I once knew and played with as a child. He’s grown into
quite a handsome and courtly gentleman.”

Doña Isabel’s eyes widened in amusement. “He seems to
have made quite an impression on you. I remember him well. He was a quiet and
thoughtful child, and as I recall, quite fond of you.”

“Don’t tease,” Inés protested. “He told me himself
that he will be attending the mass at Santa Gadea Church in honor of the king’s
ascension to the throne as well as the reception afterward. Given his status
and youth, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him surrounded by maidens and
their mothers who wish to make his acquaintance during the day’s festivities.”

“Do you plan on being among those throngs of women
nipping at his heels?” Doña Isabel asked with a mischievous smile.

Inés frowned. “I most certainly will not! That is
simply out of the question.”

“Why so?”

Inés paused and furrowed her brow as she struggled to
come up with a response. In the meantime, Doña Isabel interjected, “You claim
to be open to experiencing real love but then reject out of hand the idea of
being courted by the one man who would offer it to you.”

“That is unfair,” Inés said, frowning. “Raul only
shows me the utmost courtesy and brotherly affection.”

“Is that so? Then he is acting just as foolishly as
you are, more’s the pity.”

Inés shook her head and said, “It wouldn’t be proper
for me to encourage Raul’s attention since I am already being courted by Don
Alonso.”

“Don Alonso is fair of face and possesses an even
fairer tongue. But you delude yourself if you believe that his affection for
you will stand the test of time. I’ve seen his like before. He would love you
but a season and then cast you aside like a child would an old toy that has
outlived its usefulness. Tell me, is that really the kind of man you wish to
tie yourself to for a lifetime?”

“I haven’t made my mind up about anything,” Inés
protested.

Just then, Inés’ madrastra, Doña Teresa, appeared at
the doorway. “Come now, we musn’t be late. The streets leading to Santa Gadea
Church are probably already swarming with people. I have heard that the king is
a very punctual man and I do not wish to miss a moment of today’s festivities.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Inés replied with a curtsy and bow. “I
come forthwith.”

After a day filled with pageantry and political
intrigue, the honored guests of the King Alfonso VI gathered in the Great Hall
of Burgos Castle to feast at his banquet. Many of the nobles and clergy within
the kingdoms of Castile and Leon had come to be seen and to assess their
competition in their seemingly never-ending quest for power and influence
within the realm.

For his part, Raul observed the efforts of his peers to
jockey for position and win the king’s favor with equal amounts of disgust and
resignation. He had never cared for the palace intrigue that came along with
being a member of the king’s royal court or ever sought to aggrandize himself
at the expense of others. If truth be told, his decision to align himself with Alfonso
in the years following King Fernando I’s death in 1065 had more to do with his
sense of loyalty to his kinsmen than out of any desire for material gain. He
had fought and fled with Alfonso to the taifa kingdom of Toledo after his
defeat at Golpejera at the hands of his hermano, King Sancho II. But unlike the
others who had gone into exile with Alfonso, he felt no particular joy upon
hearing of Sancho’s death and only wished for the opportunity to lay down his
arms for a time and be at peace.

Raul had just finished up his meal of roast pork and
vegetables and was sipping wine from a goblet when he spied Inés’ brother
Sergio standing near the entrance to the keep with Castile’s most renowned
warrior, Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar or El Cid. After a moment’s hesitation, he
decided to approach them.

Although Raul was clearly Don Rodrigo’s social better,
he still felt somewhat intimidated by the prospect of meeting the man who had
come from the milites or lesser nobility of Castile but had, earlier that
afternoon, deigned to demand that Alfonso swear an oath that he had had nothing
to do with the murder of his hermano, Sancho. The fact that his primo, Count
Pedro, despised the man only added to the tension he felt as both men turned to
face him.

Sergio was the one who made the introductions. “Don
Raul Gonzalez, I present Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. Don Raul is Count Pedro
Ansúrez’s primo and the hijo of Count Gonzalo Díaz.”

Don Rodrigo bowed and said, “It is a pleasure to make
your acquaintance.”

“Likewise,” Raul replied. “Did you just arrive? I
don’t recall seeing you earlier.”

“Yes, I did,” Don Rodrigo said. Although his countenance
was neutral, Raul sensed an air of mistrust on the Cid’s part as he took his
measure. Given the long-standing enmity between the man and Count Pedro he was
not at all surprised by the Cid’s reaction to him.

“Will you be staying long?”

“Unfortunately, no. There is other business that I
must attend to.”

“Then please
don’t let me keep you,” Raul replied. Don Rodrigo, in turn, bowed once more
before departing into the cold and snowy night.

Once Don Rodrigo had disappeared from view, Sergio
turned to Raul and said, “From where I stood, your primo, Count Pedro, looked
like he was ready to run the Cid through with a sword when he alone refused to
kneel to the king in sign of fealty.”

“As you can well imagine, many of my kinsman were none
too pleased by the Cid’s actions. It is, however, my hope that all the enmity
between my kinsmen and the Cid will cease in good time. The kingdom has many
enemies that lie along its borders. We would all do well to focus on the Moors
rather than trying to tear each other apart.”

“Yes,” Sergio replied. “You are wise beyond your
years, mi amigo (friend). I believe it
would do us all good to heed your advice.”

“What say your fellow Castilians?”

“I have spoken to a number of them, including my padre
(father). Many have made it quite clear to me that they have no desire to
contest the king’s right to the crown of Castile.”

“That is good to hear,” Raul said just as his hermano,
Armando, came up to join them. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Sergio
excused himself and was walking away when Raul caught sight of Inés standing
next to her abuela, Doña Isabel, and Don Alonso. She looked nothing short of
breathtaking.

“If you don’t call on her soon, somebody else will,”
Armando warned as he followed his brother’s gaze.

“On that account, I am afraid that I am already far
too late. Her hermano, Sergio, informed me yesterday that her madrastra is
attempting to marry her off to that man standing next to her.”

“Have the marriage negotiations begun in earnest?”

“No, but from what I’ve heard, her madrastra appears
to be quite keen to make it happen.”

“In that case, you have no time to waste. You must
make her see the error of her ways.”

“And how exactly am I to accomplish that?”

“You love her,” Armando replied simply. “That is plain
to see.”

“If only that were enough,” Raul replied. “But alas. I
came too late. And now there is too little time for me to change the course of
things without unduly complicating her life.”

Armando shook his head and said, “You must do whatever
is necessary to find an opening and plead your case. She will reciprocate in
kind. Of that, I am almost certain.”

Raul smiled ruefully and was about to respond when he
saw Don Pedro frantically motioning for him to come over to where he and Count Pedro
were standing.

It didn’t take long for Raul to realize what was amiss.
The Count looked belligerent and glassy-eyed from too much drink. He was
leaning against a wall to hold himself up when he pointed at Raul’s chest and
said, “You shouldn’t be consorting with the likes of them.”

“Keep your voice down,” Raul said under his breath
while grabbing hold of the Count’s arm.

“Unhand me,” Count Pedro replied as he shook himself
free of Raul’s grasp.

“The day has been long and you are overwrought. Perhaps
it would be best if you retired early before…”

“Before what?” Count Pedro snapped. “Are you afraid
that I will make a spectacle of myself. I should think that the Cid outdid us
all on that account. His actions were nothing short of treasonous, and if it
had been up to me, I would have had him flogged and thrown into the deepest,
darkest dungeon of this castle for his insolence.”

“To what end?” Raul replied said as he leaned close to
the Count’s ear. “Don Rodrigo has great support here among the nobility and the
commoners. Like it or not, many of them believe as he does that the king had a
hand in Sancho’s death. And although his actions may have been highly
distasteful to you, even you cannot deny that he possesses unparalleled skills
as a military commander and warrior. The king would be well-advised to make use
of him in the months and years ahead. As one of his closest advisors, surely
you can see that.”

After a long moment of silence, the Count’s
countenance noticeably softened as he patted Raul on the shoulder and said, “Aye,
you speak the truth. Go on and worry yourself no further on my account.”

While contemplating whether to stay or go, Armando
drew Raul aside and said, “Don Pedro and I will keep watch over him.” Although
he was still not fully convinced that that was the wisest course of action for
him to take, he nodded and left the Count in the care of Armando and Don Pedro.

It didn’t take long, however, before the noise and the
press of people in the Great Hall led Raul to seek a quiet place where he could
be alone and think. It was late in the evening and many of the guests were
drunk and had either become obnoxiously rowdy or had fallen into an unconscious
stupor in various parts of the castle. He walked out and down a dimly lit
hallway toward the portrait gallery. Along the way, he came upon a couple
standing in the shadows locked in an amorous embrace. Amusement quickly turned
into shock and rage as soon as he realized that the man was none other than Don
Alonso with a pretty blond lady in a long red tunic. He thought of Inés as his
eyes quickly scanned the area for any sign of her. Fortunately, she seemed to
be nowhere in sight. Although his instincts told him to walk up to the bastard
and confront him, he demurred and instead chose to walk passed the nobleman and
his lady friend as if they hadn’t been there at all.

Once Raul arrived at the portrait gallery, he soon discovered
that the solitude and quiet that he had been craving could not provide him with
the peace of mind that he so desperately needed at that moment. And as he
looked at the austere faces of the former kings of Castile, there was a part of
him that felt like he was being judged by them and that they had found him
wanting in one way or another. He eventually gravitated toward the life-size
painting of King Sancho II. As he stared at the recently deceased king’s face,
he thought of all the pitched battles he had fought over the last seven years
since King Fernando I’s death in 1065 and the enormous amount of blood that had
been shed because of two royal hermanos who could not find a way to peacefully
coexist.

He took a step closer and said, “May you rest in
peace, your majesty.”

Within seconds, a female voice from behind him said in
reply, “I echo your sentiment wholeheartedly.”

Raul spun around and was surprised to see that it was
Inés who had spoken. “What are you doing here?”

“I could ask the same of you,” Inés said as she came
up beside him, arms folded. A brief silence ensued. Eventually, she turned to
him and said, “I saw you briefly at the mass at Santa Gadea Church, and I had
hoped that you would pay your respects to my Papá and family during the reception
but you never did. Pray, tell me did my hermano Sergio or I commit some
grievous offense or insult your sensibilities when we came upon you by the
river yesterday?”

Inés’ question set off a whirlwind of thoughts and
emotions in Raul’s mind and heart. He wanted to tell her that he would have
liked nothing better than to have spent the entire day by her side and to let
her know how incredibly beautiful he thought she looked. He also found himself
struggling with the temptation to tell her about what he had just seen her
soon-to-be fiancé doing with another maiden in the castle.  But, for her sake, he chose not to. He told
himself that her personal affairs were none of his business, nor was it his place
to be the one to potentially break her heart with news of Don Alonso’s
infidelity.

“I apologize if I gave you that impression. Nothing
could be further from the truth. I have always held you and your family in the
highest esteem.”

Inés nodded and then looked at Sancho’s portrait as
she said, “He was well liked among the people of Castile. He will be greatly
missed.”

“I sensed that almost immediately upon my arrival
here. But it is my hope that, in time, the people of Castile’s affection for Alfonso
will equal that of his hermano.”

Inés responded with a questioning look as she asked, “Do
you think he is a good man?”

“It is not my place to judge the king. Both I and
every member of my family has sworn fealty to him. My primo, Count Pedro, has
long been a close ally of his. He has, in turn, rewarded us all for our loyal
service.”

“Do you think that what the Cid did was wrong?”

After a long pause, Raul replied, “I believe that the
Cid did what he thought was best for himself, his men and his kingdom. Who am I
to judge him? Although there are many people, including my kinsmen, who would
strongly disagree with that sentiment. Maybe rightly so. And yet, I cannot
bring myself to condemn him as they do.”

“Why so?”

“Inés, any man can draw a sword. But it is a rare man
indeed who acts on principle in the face of adversity. Only a man like that
could have stood up and challenged the king as the Cid did. He loves Castile
and its people. That is plain to see. No, I cannot fault him for his actions.”

“I concur,” Inés said. “Do you think that you would do
the same if you felt your lands and people were being threatened by a would-be
tyrant?”

“I would like to think that I would. But then, one
never really knows until one is faced with such a challenge,” Raul replied. “I
know that you are anxious about the future, so let me set your mind to rest: You
have nothing to fear from the king. I do not believe that my primo, Count
Pedro, would have forged such a close relationship with him if he did not think
he was a man of principle and honor.”

Inés nodded and said, “Thank you Raul. It is good to
have you here. I have always felt at ease in your company.”

“And I, you,” Raul replied simply despite his keen
desire to say much more. “Speaking of company, what are you doing wandering
about the castle unchaperoned? The hour is late and more than a few of the
king’s guests are in their cups.”

“I’m not alone now, am I?” Inés said. Raul smiled.
Inés continued. “What better company could I have than you?”

“That is true. But still, there are many who would
look askance at seeing a maiden such as yourself alone with a man.”

“I care not,” Inés replied as she raised her chin up
defiantly. “Let them think what they want. My life and how I choose to live it
is none of their concern.”

Before Raul could respond, he was distracted by the
sound of footsteps and multiple voices coming from behind him. When he turned
to see who had come into the room, he was dismayed to learn that it was none
other than the king himself along with Don Alonso’s padre, Count Muño Gonzalez,
and the Infanta Urraca.  

“Your majesty,” Raul said, bowing while Inés curtsied.

The king smiled as he looked from one to the other and
said, “Am I interrupting? Please don’t stop whatever you were doing on my
account.”

“Doña Inés and I have long been acquainted,” Raul
replied. “We were merely catching up. Isn’t that right, Inés?” She nodded in
agreement.

“Your father, Don Corto, was Sancho’s mayordomo, was
he not?”

“Yes, your majesty. He was,” Inés replied as she went
red in the face in response to Count Muño’s searing gaze.

“I have tried to make a point of knowing as much as I
can about my subjects. Is it true that you are often referred to as the rose of
Castile?”

Inés’ blush deepened. “Yes, although I don’t know why.
I am quite certain that there are many maidens who are…”

“I abhor false modesty,” the king interrupted. “You
are indeed as lovely as they say, and Don Raul is a fine gentleman.”

“I think they would make a fine match,” Infanta Urraca
chimed in with great mirth. “What do you think, Count Muño?”

“That remains to be seen,” Count Muño replied through
clenched teeth. “One never knows what can happen during the negotiation of
marriage contract. Isn’t that right Doña Inés?”

At that point, Infanta Urraca stepped forward and took
Inés by the hand. She then turned to Count Muño and said, “You’re embarrassing
the poor girl. Come now, let me take you back to your kinsmen.”

“No, ma’am,” Inés stammered. “That really won’t be
necessary. I can…”

“But I insist,” Infanta Urraca replied while
tightening her grip on Inés’ hand. “It would be my pleasure.” At that point, Inés
could do little else but acquiesce while Raul looked helplessly on.

Minutes later, a mortified Inés found herself standing
before her madrastra, Doña Teresa, while the Infanta Urraca explained the
circumstances under which she had come upon Inés with painstaking detail. After
the Infanta had finished her tale, Doña Teresa thanked her profusely for
escorting Inés back to her family and curtsied deeply when the king’s sister finally
took her leave of them.

Once Infanta Urraca was out of sight, Doña Teresa
ordered a servant to bring their horses around and then turned to Inés and
said, “You stupid girl. Do you realize what you’ve done?”

“I did nothing
wrong,” Inés insisted. “Raul and I were talking. That’s all. He’s an old
friend…”

“That is enough,” Doña Teresa replied with an icy
stare. “I don’t want to hear another word out of you.”

They arrived home shortly thereafter. Doña Teresa said
little as she followed Inés through the courtyard to her hijastra’s (stepdaughter’s)
bedchamber. And then, when Ermesinda came in to help Inés undress, Doña Teresa
shooed her away.

Once Ermesinda had departed, Doña Teresa grabbed hold
of Inés’ arms and shook her. “Foolish girl. How could you be so careless?”

“Nothing happened between us. I swear it.”

“Liar,” Doña Teresa replied as she slapped Inés with
an open palm. Shocked and indignant, Inés responded by squaring her shoulders
and staring defiantly back at her madrastra, who was pacing about the room. “I
must call on Count Muño and his wife at the earliest possible opportunity. We
must act quickly to secure your betrothal to Don Alonso.”

“But why?” Inés asked with mounting alarm. “Have I no
say in the matter?”

“None whatsoever. Furthermore, you are not to see that
Leonese nobleman ever again, do you understand?”

“You have no right to restrict who I can and cannot
see. Papá would never…”

“Your Papá will go along with whatever I think is
best,” Doña Teresa cut in with a malevolent smile. “Leave it to me. I will fix
everything.” What did she mean by that?
Inés thought with trepidation as Doña Teresa walked to the doorway of her bedchamber
and said, “Go to sleep. I will deal with you in the morning.”