The Rose of Castile, Part 6 (Reconciliation)

After two days of steady snowfall and biting winds,
the weather finally abated enough for Raul to decide that it was time to take Inés
to Leon. They dressed warmly on the morning of their departure and packed their
things before sharing their last morning meal at the monastery with Abbot Felipe
and his brother monks in the refectory. Afterward, the Abbot provided them with
some provisions and heavy blankets. He also bestowed a personal blessing upon
them before they their donned woolen cloaks and headed out with their siblings,
squires, and knights.

Sergio and his squire, who were returning to Burgos,
stayed with them for only a short while. “News of Inés’ abduction is likely
spreading as we speak. Make sure you stay well south of Burgos and steer clear
of all the well-traveled roads until you reach the boundaries of Leon,” Sergio advised
Raul as they reached a fork in the road.

Raul nodded. “We will be heading west until we reach
Palencia and then go north to my family’s patrimonial estate in Carrión de los
Condes. My primo, Count Pedro, told me that he would wait for us there.”

With that said, Sergio shook Raul’s hand, “The time
has come for me to take my leave.” He then pointed at Inés and winked as he
added, “You’re going to have your hands full with that one. She’s as spirited
and headstrong as they come.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Inés replied hotly. Raul
smiled.

“Do what you will,” Sergio said with a shrug. “She’s
your responsibility now.”  

It took them a little over a week to reach Carrión.
The manor house was a two-story stone edifice with four evenly spaced towers located
near the center of the city. They were greeted by Miguel, a longtime servant, as
soon as they entered to courtyard. He escorted Raul and Inés to the Great Hall
while other servants led Armando and the other knights and squires to their
rooms. They walked into a long, rectangular room with a high ceiling containing
two long tables, one short one and a central hearth.  Inés was gazing up at the large tapestries
depicting pictures of Jesus on the road to Calvary hanging on the walls alongside
stained glass windows as Count Pedro approached them.

“You look like hell,” the Count said with an affable smile
as he extended his hand to Raul.

“You wound me sir!” Raul replied with mock indignation
and a warm handshake. “May I present my bride, Doña Inés.” Inés curtsied and offered
her hand to the Count, who bowed and kissed her fingertips.

“Welcome to Carrión. I must say that you look and
smell far better than my bedraggled primo.”

Inés smiled as she gazed at Raul in his damp and
mud-splattered clothes. “We came upon an old man and a young boy not far from
here whose cart was stuck in the mud and snow. Raul and his men were kind
enough to stop and assist them. They all got quite filthy in the process but
I’m sure that Raul would agree when I say that the reward of seeing the
gratitude in those peasants’ eyes once they got the cart moving again made it
well worth the effort.”

“Ah, mi primo, always the Good Samaritan,” the Count
replied. “Did you encounter any difficulties along the way?”

“Other than the weather, our journey was surprisingly free
of complications. We traveled by day and sheltered at inns when we could or in
the barns of farm houses at night. We made do under the circumstances, but I
must admit that the idea of taking a hot bath and having a warm meal by the
hearth is quite appealing.”

“And those things you shall have in abundance,” the
Count replied, patting Raul on the shoulder. “We have much to discuss. But for
now, I will…”

“May I ask you a question?” Inés interrupted. “Did you
encounter my papá on your way back to Leon with the king?”

“Yes,” Count Pedro replied. “Don Corto arrived with a
small contingent of knights at the king’s encampment not two days after we left
Burgos. Fortunately, given my long-standing relationship with the king, his
majesty was already well-aware that you and Raul had eloped long before your
padre appeared.”

“Did you speak to him yourself?”

“I did. He was under the mistaken impression that Raul
had taken you by force. But after I explained to him why that couldn’t have
been the case, he became considerably less agitated and even indicated a
willingness to come some sort of mutually agreeable resolution of the matter.”

A brief silence ensued. Finally, Raul said, “Did he
indicate his intention to disinherit Inés?”

“No,” Count Pedro replied. “In fact, he seemed quite
amenable to the terms of the marriage contract that I proposed on your behalf.”
Inés let out an audible sigh of relief at the news.

“Were you able to reach an agreement with Don Corto?”

“Yes, but he insisted on seeing and speaking with Inés
himself before finalizing any such agreement.”

Eyes widening, Inés replied, “Does he expect me to
return to Burgos?”

“No,” Count Pedro said reassuringly. “He’s in Carrión.
I offered to have him stay here but he politely declined and insisted on lodging
at the local inn instead.”

Inés gasped. “When will I see him?”

“Tonight. I will send a messenger to the Inn to inform
him of your arrival.” A million thoughts swirled through Inés’ head at once.
What would she say to him? How would he react to her? Would he be angry and
accusatory or kind and forgiving? All these pointed questions hit her at once,
making her head spin.

“Is there
anything else you wanted to discuss with me?” Raul asked.

“The rest can wait until dinner,” Count Pedro replied
as he motioned for his servant, Miguel, to approach. “He will see you to your
rooms now.”

In the hours between her arrival and dinner, Inés bathed,
changed, and took a nap. Although tired, she slept in fits and starts,
alternately dreaming of her papá berating her for running off with Raul and flashing
images of a green-eyed man hunting her down like a predator closing in on its
prey. She cried out and awoke with a start, only to find herself lying safely
in Raul’s arms.

“How long have you been there?” Inés asked as she
buried her face in his chest.

“Not long,” Raul replied, furrowing his brow. “Are you
all right?”

Inés nodded and endeavored to smile while her mind tried
to push aside the dark visions which had left her feeling shaken and uneasy. “And
you, my lord, are looking quite refreshed.”

Raul smiled. “I feel like a new man. It’s amazing what
a hot bath and clean clothes can do for a man’s disposition.”

“Were you able to get some sleep?”

“No,” Raul replied slowly. “Something came up. It was
a rather important matter that needed my immediate attention.”

“What is it?” Inés asked while raising herself up on
her elbows.

“Your papá came over much sooner than I anticipated.
He asked to speak with you immediately. But when I came to your room and saw that
you were asleep, I didn’t have the heart to wake you. And so I spoke with him
instead.”

“How is he?” Inés asked, imagining the worst.

“He’s well and eager to talk to you. Are you ready to
see him now?” Inés nodded and said no more even though her mind was bursting
with questions. Her pulse was racing while her heart thundered in her chest as Raul
led her to Count Pedro’s private quarters. He offered her his arm for support.
She gladly accepted and leaned on him with a tremulous smile. Raul knocked before
opening the door for Inés. Count Pedro and her padre, Don Corto, were
conversing in subdued tones as she walked in. The Count quickly excused himself
and exited the room upon seeing Inés enter.

Inés and Don Corto stared at one another for a long moment.
He was the first to speak up. “It’s good to see you.”

Inés instantly felt wracked with guilt as she stared
into the eyes of this care-ridden and weary man who’d done nothing but love and
protect her as best as he could since the day she was born. “Papá, I…”

“Has Don Raul been treating you well?”

Inés nodded. “He is a kind and generous husband. I
have wanted for nothing.”

“That is good to hear. Your sudden departure caused
quite a stir in the household. You should have heard the tale your abuela told
about your abduction.”

“I was told that Doña Teresa did not take the news of
my departure well.”

“No, she didn’t,” Don Corto replied. “She urged me to
retrieve you at once and to have Don Raul flogged and imprisoned for his
efforts.”

“And what do you say?” Inés asked with breathless
anticipation.

“I have discussed the matter of your marriage at
length with Don Raul and Count Pedro. He is prepared to endow you with half of
his wealth as well as a sizable cash present in return for my consent to your
marriage.”

“Did you agree to Raul’s proposal?”

“I told him that that would depend on you and your
feelings on the matter,” Don Corto replied as he straightened his shoulders and
folded his hands behind his back. “Do you love him?”

Inés smiled demurely as she looked down at her hands
and said, “Yes, very much so.”

Don Corto didn’t seem at all surprised by her response.
“Then I suppose there is nothing left to be done but to cooperate fully and
validate your bond.”

“Thank you, Papá,” Inés replied, her eyes shimmering
with tears of relief and gratitude. And then, without warning or thought, she
ran toward him. Her padre’s arms were both welcoming and reassuring as she proceeded
to weep on his shoulder.

“Your mamá predicted this might happen,” Don Corto
said as he gently stroked Inés’ hair.

“Did she?” Inés asked as she pulled back and looked
into her papá’s eyes.

Don Corto smiled. “She had just come back with you and
Sergio after you had spent the day playing by the cottage with Raul and his
mamá. She told me that she caught him staring at you when he thought you
weren’t looking. I even saw it my myself when they dined in our home that
evening. And when Sergio mentioned that Don Raul had returned to Burgos with
the king, even he remarked upon the way Don Raul was looking at you.”

“Then why, Papá, did you let Doña Teresa continue on
with her plans for me to marry Don Alonso?”

“If you had come and told me that you had no interest
in marrying him, I would have told your madrastra to break off her efforts to
arrange it at once. I assumed by your silence that all was well and that you
had consented to her plans.”

Would
it really have been that easy?
Inés frowned. “In fairness
to you, it is true that I didn’t acknowledge the extent of my feelings for Raul
until I thought he’d already left Burgos with the king. I thought he was lost
to me, and you must believe me when I say that I had no idea that my abuela had
sent him a note, asking him to come for me.”

Don Corto pursed his lips and paused before asking, “Where
did Don Raul take you?”

“We rode southeast with his hermano, Armando, and a
few of his men to the Monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza. The Abbot there is a
related to him through his madre. Sergio arrived just a few hours after we did.
Both he and Armando were present in the chapel when Raul and I got married.”

“I see,” Don Corto replied. “Am I to understand that
both Sergio and Doña Isabel were aware of your plans?” Inés’ bit her lip as she
struggled to think of what she should say to him. In the meantime, Don Corto
continued, “Under the circumstances, I think it might best to keep that bit of information
to ourselves. I do not believe your madrastra would be pleased to hear that all
of you had, in any way, acted in concert to thwart her efforts to marry you off
to Don Alonso.”

“Are you angry with me?”

“More with myself then you,” Don Corto confessed. “You
shouldn’t have felt the need to run off with Don Raul. I failed you. Can you forgive
me?”

“There is nothing to forgive, Papá. I am equally at
fault. As I said before, I refused to admit to myself that I had feelings for
him until I was certain that I had pushed him away for good. But then, when he came
to me at abuela’s urging, I had to make a choice. And I did, I chose love.”

Don Corto nodded. “That is good. Then I will pray for
your continued happiness and good health in the years to come.”

“Thank you, Papá. Your blessing of my marriage to Raul
means more to me that you will ever know.”

Shortly thereafter, Don Corto escorted Inés to the
Great Hall.  There they were joined by Count
Pedro, Raul, Armando, and the Abbot of the Monastery of San Zoilo at the high
table on the dais while the other invited guests sat below them at the long
tables. Once everyone was seated, the servants brought out loaves of bread and
butter with wine followed by roast pork and cooked vegetables. Inés exchanged
pleasantries with the hard of hearing Abbot, who was sitting to her left, while
Raul and the other men at the table discussed his future.

“Raul and Inés will be accompanying me to Valladolid
after the first of the year,” Count Pedro said to Don Corto, who was sitting to
his right. “The king has given me the task of repopulating and rebuilding it.
My primo will be assisting me in that effort until the king sees fit to assign
him the task of resettling another town south of the Duero River.”

“Does the king really intend to expand the boundaries of
Castile and Leon to the trans-Duero region?” Armando asked.

The Count replied, “It’s been the dream of every
Christian king to reclaim the entire peninsula ever since the Visigoths were
defeated by the Moors over three centuries ago. Resettling the trans-Duero is
but a step in that direction.”

“How does the king propose to defend these border
towns if they come under attack?” Don Corto asked.

“Aside from fortifying
the towns themselves, he is erecting a series of fortresses at Peñafiel, Tordesillas
and Valladolid which could be called upon for reinforcements if the need arises.
If Raul is asked to oversee the resettlement of a town and its surrounding
alfoz and does so successfully, he will most assuredly be rewarded for his
efforts. I would even venture to guess that his elevation to the rank of count
would be assured.”

Despite,
the Count’s glowing predictions of Raul’s prospects, Inés still sensed an
uneasiness in Don Corto’s demeanor. “What’s wrong Papá?”

Don
Corto looked circumspect. “The Trans-Duero region is a very unsettled area. It
is vulnerable to raids from the Moors on many fronts. The population will
likely be mixture of freemen from Leon and Castile, Jews, Arabs, and Mozarabs
from Al-Andalus. It is not the kind of environment or life that I would have
chosen for you.”

“Papá,
I am not a helpless child. You of all people should know that.”

“That
is all well and good but what would become of you or any children you may have
in the future when the king calls Don Raul away on a campaign? It’s likely that
he’ll be gone for months at a time out of the year. Who would be there to
protect you then and lead you to safety if the town is attacked and overrun?”

Before Inés could respond, Count Pedro chimed in,
saying, “Why worry over what may or may not happen in the future?  We are merely days away from Christmas and
after years of strife, the kingdoms of Leon and Castile are once again united
and at peace. Under these circumstances, I believe that it would be a far better
use of our time to focus instead on our blessings and how our families have
been united by this young couple’s recent marriage.”

“Here, here,” Armando replied while raising his glass.
Once the others at the table had followed suit Don Corto stood up and said, “To
the bride and groom. May you have a long and happy life filled with love and
good fortune.”