The Rose of Castile, Part 4 (Escape)

Inés could hardly believe her eyes. Could it really be
Raul? Here. Now. Beside her. She moved her face to within an inch of his in order
to get a better look. And when he raised a finger to his lips, she nodded at
once.

But as soon as Raul removed his hand from Inés’ mouth,
she blurted out, “How is this possible? I thought you’d left with the king.”

“I received a note from your abuela,” Raul replied in
hushed tones. “She bade me to come. She said that you had need of me.”

“So, you stayed for me even after everything that I
did and said to you this morning,” Inés said, her lips quivering.

“Don’t cry, Inés,” Raul replied as he wiped a tear
from her cheek. “It pains me to see you like this.”

“Oh, Raul,” Inés exclaimed. “I’ve been such a fool. I
allowed others to guide my path and ignored my heart’s desire. Can you ever
forgive me?”

“If that is so, then it is an offense that I too have
been guilty of,” Raul replied as he took her hand in his.

“I can’t marry Don Alonso. I just can’t, no matter
what my family thinks or says.”

“Then don’t,” Raul replied as he lifted his hand to
her face and gently stroked her cheek. “Let me take you away from here.”

“Where would we go?” Inés asked, eyes-widening.

“We could head southeast toward the Monastery of San
Pedro de Arlanza. My hermano and a handful of my vassals await us at the
outskirts of the city. We can make for Sarracín tonight and then head out for
San Pedro at dawn. If the weather holds, we should arrive at the monastery by
tomorrow afternoon.”

“And then what?” Inés asked with rising anticipation.

“We’ll be married,” Raul replied as he took Inés’ hand
in his once more, “if you’ll have me.”

Swallowing hard, Inés looked down at their joined
hands and asked, “But what of the woman who waits for you in Leon?”

“I never made any promises to Rosa or gave her any
reason to believe that I would propose marriage upon my return to Leon. Do you
understand my meaning?”

Inés nodded. “Do you love me, Raul?”

“I always have,” Raul replied, his voice thick with
emotion. “And there is nothing on this Earth that would give me greater joy than
to call you mine.”

For a moment, Inés was too overwhelmed to speak. To
hear those words coming directly from his mouth was almost more than her heart
could bear. Casting all sense of decorum aside, she leapt into his arms and said,
“Then take me where you will, my love, and I will gladly follow.”

“Are you sure, Inés?” Raul asked as he held her face
in his hands and searched her eyes for any signs of doubt or hesitation. “Your
family will be greatly displeased and may even move to divest you of your inheritance
if you come away with me now.”

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Inés replied
without falter or fear. Raul smiled and leaned in to kiss her. The feel of his
lips on hers was warm and reassuring. She craved more. He happily complied.  Just then, she caught sight of two figures
hovering at the doorway. She whispered a word of warning to Raul. He
immediately turned toward the doorway while putting his a hand on the hilt of
his sword.

However, the tension in the room quickly dissipated
when one of them lit a small candle, illuminating their faces. Inés breathed a
sigh of relief when she saw that it was her abuela, Doña Isabel and her lady’s maid,
Ermesinda. Raul stood and bowed as Doña Isabel entered the bedchamber followed
by Ermesinda, who was holding the candle in one hand and carrying a cloth sack
over her shoulder. Inés strode toward her abuela with outstretched arms. After
a brief but tender embrace, Doña Isabel stepped back and said, “I had Ermesinda
pack a few things for you.” She then turned to Raul and said, “I knew you’d
come. You are taking Inés with you, are you not?”

“Yes, my lady, I am,” Raul replied as he came up and
stood beside Inés.

“Do you intend to take her directly to Leon?”

“No. I thought it best to go in the opposite direction
should her kinsmen attempt to give chase and try to catch us before we are wed.
The Abbot at San Pedro is a relative of mine. I have sent a messenger on ahead
to inform him of our impending arrival and our wish to be married at the
earliest possible opportunity.” Doña Isabel nodded. “Inés’ family and the Laras
will have no choice but to acquiesce once we are wed.”

“And what of Inés’ sizable inheritance? I am almost
certain that her madrastra will do everything within her power to disinherit
her because of this.”

Raul pursed his lips and furrowed his brow. Inés
interjected, “I don’t care. She can have it all.”

Doña Isabel shook her head. “If you will indulge me, I
believe that there is a way around this dilemma.”

“What is it?” Inés asked.

“If Inés’ kinsmen believe that she was abducted, then
Doña Teresa’s hand in that regard would be greatly diminished. I took the
liberty of having Ermesinda bring some rope in that cloth sack she brought in. All
Raul needs to do is tie me up before you depart.”

“My lady, I couldn’t possibly do that,” Raul
protested.

Doña Isabel looked at Raul sharply and said, “Do you
want to marry Inés or not?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then do as I say and make it quick. There is no time
to waste. I will tell them that you had an accomplice who quickly overpowered
and tied me to the bedpost while you gagged, bound and carried Inés off into
the night. Ermesinda will ‘find’ me here after you’ve gone. Would an hour give
you sufficient time?” Inés looked at Raul, who nodded and then reluctantly took
the cloth sack from the lady’s maid. He removed the rope and tied Doña Isabel
to a bedpost.

Before departing, Inés kissed her abuela on the cheek
and thanked Ermesinda for her assistance. Once Raul was sure that the courtyard
was clear, they crossed with hurried steps and slipped out into the street. They
raced toward Raul’s horse, who was tied to a nearby post. After securing the
cloth sack with Inés’ belongings onto his mare, he helped her onto his horse
and mounted up behind her. He
slipped his arms around her and grabbed the reins before applying pressure to
the horse’s sides with his legs to get it to gallop.

As they sped through the streets of Burgos, Inés was
overcome with an intense feeling of exhilaration mixed with sorrow at not
having been able to say goodbye to many of her kinsman. She wondered how they
would react to her ‘abduction’ and if she would ever see them again. It hurt
her to think that they might disown her for following her heart and hoped that
they would forgive her in time.

Once Raul and Inés were out of the city, they crossed
the river and were met by Armando and a handful of knights and squires loyal to
the Banu Goméz family.

“Welcome to the family,” Armando said with a broad smile
as he helped Inés down from Raul’s horse. He promptly draped a thick woolen
blanket across her shoulders and walked her over to the spare horse that they
had procured for her to ride the rest of the way to Sarracín. While Armando
helped Inés onto the horse, Raul checked his astrolabe to get his bearings.
“The blanket should keep you warm enough until we reach shelter,” Armando said
reassuringly. “Don’t worry, my hermano has never gotten us lost yet.”  

As they traveled through the snow-covered rolling
hills between Burgos and Sarracín, Inés found herself becoming increasingly
preoccupied with thoughts of the evening to come. In her eagerness to flee with
Raul, she had not considered the near-term practical implications of that
choice. But now, as she headed ever closer to the Inn where she would likely
spend the night alone in a room with Raul, waves of anxiety and self-doubt
began to overtake her. She had hardly kissed much less lain with a man before
tonight. He would expect her to do so, and as his soon-to-be bride, she was
hardly in position to refuse him. It was not so much the act itself that
concerned her as her lack of knowledge on the subject. She desperately wanted
to please him and was deathly afraid that she possessed neither the information
nor the experience to adequately do so.

It was nearing midnight by the time these cold and
weary travelers reached the outskirts of Sarracín. They were met at the Inn’s
front doors by Raul’s squire, Alfonso, and an old innkeeper. It was a two-story
wooden structure of questionable stability with an icicle-laden roof. And
despite the frigid weather, the entrance to this establishment smelled of
manure and stale spirits.

“My lord and lady, welcome to my humble lodging,” the
innkeeper said with an obsequious bow. “My wife and daughters have prepared the
best room in the Inn for you. The heat from the kitchen right below it should
keep you and the lady warm enough through the night. And as I told your squire,
there is plenty of room on the floor of the common area for the rest of your
party to sleep on. Breakfast will be served at 9 a.m.”

“Could you make it 8 a.m. instead?” Raul asked. “We
were planning to leave at dawn.”

“Yes, my lord.” At that point, the innkeeper waved over
a young girl of no more than ten and ordered her to show them to their room.
The floorboards creaked as they followed the girl up the rickety stairs and
then down a short hallway to a corner room. She held the door open for them as
they entered the sparsely furnished room and curtsied as she bid them good night.

Armando came up to their room shortly thereafter. He
handed over the cloth sack with her belongings over to Raul while Inés stared
out of the small window misted with condensation.

“If you are no longer in need of me, I’m going retire,”
Armando said.

“Get some rest,” Raul replied as he patted his hermano’s
shoulder. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Inés called out to Armando and approached him just as
he was turning to go. “Thank you…for everything.”

“It was my pleasure, Inés,” Armando replied. “You made
the right choice. You both did.”

“I know,” Inés said as she gave Armando a quick peck on
the cheek. “Sleep well.”

Armando blushed. Inés stepped away from Raul and
Armando in order to give them the opportunity to exchange a few words in
private.  While Inés busied herself by
looking through the items that Ermesinda had packed for her, Armando leaned
against the door frame and winked at Raul as he said, “I took the liberty of
informing the men and the innkeeper that you are not, under any circumstances,
to be disturbed until the morrow.”

Although Raul clearly understood the implication
behind Armando’s double entendre, he hid his amusement with a neutral
expression and curtly replied, “Good night.”

After closing the door, Raul came up behind Inés and wrapped
his arms around her waist. “You’re shaking from head to toe,” he said as she
leaned back against him. “Would you like me to get you an extra wool blanket
for tonight.”

“No, it’s not that at all. It’s just that this has all
happened so quickly. One minute I’m alone in my room, and the next minute I’m
here with you. I can hardly wrap my mind around it.”

“Are you having second thoughts?”

Inés shook her head as she turned to face him. “No.
Never.”

Raul placed his forehead against hers. “I apologize
for the sparseness of the accommodations. It was the best I could do on such
short notice.”

“It’s fine,”
Inés replied as she brushed his cheek with her hand.

After a long pause, Raul said, “You can have the bed. I
will sleep on the floor.”

Inés blinked in surprise and blurted out, “Why would
you do that?”

“It would not be proper,” Raul replied. “You are a
lady and we are not yet wed.”

“But what if we were caught before we reach the
monastery?” Wouldn’t your claim over me be strengthened if you were to tell my
kinsmen that we had consummated our relationship?” Before Raul could respond,
Inés added, “And why should you be forced to sleep on a hard, cold floor when
the bed is clearly large enough to accommodate us both?”

“Inés, it is difficult enough for me to restrain
myself with you as it is. If I were to lay with you, the temptation to have you
right then and there would be almost impossible for me to resist.”

“I know,” Inés replied as she stepped back and began
to undress. “Lay with me.”

At first, Raul could only stare, mesmerized, as he
watched Inés’ clothing drop to the floor. Needing no further invitation, he
swooped her up in his arms and carried her over to the bed. He set her down
gently and covered her with a sheet.

He disrobed swiftly and then stretched out on the bed
beside her. Sensing her fear, he proceeded with the utmost care. He spoke words
of endearment at every step, encouraging her to explore his body as he fondled
and probed hers with his mouth and hands. And when he felt that she was ready,
he eased his way inside her. He moved slowly and deliberately in and out of her
until he reached her maidenhead. Between ragged breathes, he spoke her name.
Smiling, she lifted her hips to receive him and wrapped her arms around his
neck as she said, “Take me now.” Groaning hoarsely, he drove himself all the
way in. Once the initial shock of his entry had subsided, he made love to her in
earnest and didn’t stop until their joined bodies were racked with waves of unspeakable
pleasure, leaving them both utterly spent and gasping for breath. Thus, were
these two lovers joined on this night in the Kingdom of Castile. Afterward, as
Raul and Inés lay entwined on the bed, he kissed her once more before drifting
off to sleep, little knowing of the darkness and doom that lay ahead.