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THE TALE OF THE CID
IN the year 1025, when Canute the Dane was sitting on the throne of England, there was born in the ancient Spanish city of Burgos a baby, to whom was given the name of Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar. He came of noble blood on both sides of the House, and his forefathers had borne some of the highest offices of the land, and from his childhood the boy had been taught that it was his duty never to fall one whit behind them in courage and in honour. As he grew older, he burned more and more for a chance to show the metal of which he was made, and longed to join the companies of knights that were ever going forth to fight the Arabs, who for nearly four hundred years had reigned over the fairest provinces of Spain. But to all his prayers, his father, Don Diego Lainez, turned a deaf ear.
'Wait, wait, my son!' he would say; 'the little shoot must first grow into a tree. Go now and practise that sword-thrust in which you failed yesterday.'
It was when he was sixteen that the longed-for opportunity came.
Don Diego Lainez, now old and weak, had gone to do his homage to King Fernando, who had managed to unite the small kingdoms of Northern Spain under his banner. Some dispute arose between him and the powerful count, Don Lozano Gomez, probably as to which had the right to pass first into the presence of their king, and in the presence of the whole court Don Lozano spoke words of deadly insult to the old man, and even gave him a buffet on the cheek. The courtiers all cried shame, and Don Diego's hand clutched the pommel of his sword, but his rage had deprived him of the little strength that remained, and he was powerless to draw it. At this the count laughed scornfully, and, bowing mockingly to the king, who held it best that men should settle their own quarrels, rode away to his castle. Then, without another word, Don Diego turned and mounted his horse and set out homewards.
A broken man and older by ten years was he when he entered his hall, but many days passed before any could guess what had wrought this change in him. All night he lay awake staring into the darkness, and when food was brought him it was carried away untasted, and his wife whispered to her ladies, 'If we rouse him not he will surely die! Would that I knew what has stricken him like this?'
Fifteen days went by in this manner, and none thought to see him leave his bed again, when one morning he strode into the hall with some of the fire of his former years, and called his sons to him. One by one he signed to each to draw near, and taking their soft hands, in his palms, pressed so hard that the boys cried to him to loosen his grasp, or they would die of the pain. But when he came to Rodrigo, he heard no prayers of mercy from him, only threats and hot words uttered with blazing eyes and cheeks burning with anger. And the old man wept for joy, and cried:
'Thou art indeed my true son; your rage calms me, your fury heals me. It is you who will redeem my honour, which I held lost.' And then he told the youth the tale of what had passed at court.
'Take my blessing,' were his last words, 'and take this sword also, which shall deal the count his death-blow. After that, you shall do greater deeds still.'
Young though he was, Rodrigo had heard enough of war to know Lozano Gomez would not prove an easy prey; but, easy or not, he meant to fight him. So, vowing to his sword that should he ever bring dishonour on the weapon that had done his House good service, he would sheathe it in his breast, he mounted his horse and rode to meet his foe.
'Is it a knightly or a brave deed, think you, to smite an old man who cannot defend himself?' asked he. 'But when you dealt that blow you may have thought that his sons were yet in their cradles, and that there was none to avenge him. Well, traitor, you are wrong. I am his son, and his honour is mine, so look to yourself, lest I take your head home with me.'
And Gomez laughed to hear him, and bade him cease crowing like a young cock, but a furious onslaught from Rodrigo cut his words short, and hardly did he escape being unhorsed. Before he had steadied himself in the saddle Rodrigo had charged again, and this time his enemy was borne to the ground.
'So may all dastards die!' cried the victor, as he cut off his head.
Don Diego Lainez was sitting at the table in his great hall, the tears rolling down his cheeks as the shameful scene of his dishonour rose up before him. Suddenly a clatter of hoofs was heard in the courtyard, and the doors swung open. The men-at-arms gathered round the board rose to their feet as Rodrigo entered, carrying the head of Count Gomez by the long front lock. Taking Don Diego by the arm, he shook him roughly:
'Open your eyes wide, my father, and raise your head, and let your heart be merry, for I have cut down the poisonous weed; I have stamped out the plague-spot; the robe of your honour is stainless as of yore.'
For a moment the old man kept silence, and then he looked up, his face shining.
'Son of my heart,' he said, 'it is enough. From henceforth the seat of honour is yours, and you shall take my place as the head of my House.'
From that day the young knights vied with each other in gaining leave to ride in the train of Rodrigo Diaz, or 'the Cid' as he was afterwards called, and to this name was later added the proud title of 'Campeador.' Three hundred youths in splendid attire followed him to the court of Fernando, when he went in his turn to do the king homage, and stood by his side as he challenged anyone of the blood of Count Lozano to fight and avenge his death; but no one came. Then his father and his noble company left their horses to kiss the hand of the king, but Rodrigo remained in his saddle.
'Get down, get down, Rodrigo!' cried his father, fearing lest the king should resent his rudeness. 'Swear fealty to thy lord, and kiss his hand, as a loyal subject should do.'
Now, ever since he had fought with Count Gomez, Rodrigo had felt himself to be a man, and, more than that, to be much greater than other men, and he was not pleased to be scolded by his father in the presence of so many people. Still, he was wise enough to know that it would do him no good in the eyes of the nobles gathered round, to disobey his father, and slowly he got down from his horse to do homage with the rest. But so clumsy was he that, as he knelt, his sword nearly fell out of its sheath, and the king, thinking Rodrigo meant to kill him, started back, exclaiming:
'Away, away! you devil! If you have the form of a man, your deeds are those of a lion.'
'It is base to kiss the hand of such a craven,' answered Rodrigo in anger, 'and I hold that my father has heaped disgrace on his family by humbling himself in such a fashion!' And so saying, he rode away, with his followers behind him.
A few centuries later a man might have lost his head for such words, but in those days people were accustomed to speak their minds even to kings, and little harm came of it. Six weeks later, Rodrigo had forgotten all about it, and, what was more to the purpose, so had the king, at any rate he pretended to do so, and when Don Diego sent his son to do his business with Fernando, who was at Burgos, the young man went willingly. The morning after he reached the city he was dining in the hall of the palace with the king and his nobles, when word was brought to the royal table that Ximena, the daughter of Count Gomez, and her train stood at the gates, and demanded an audience of the king. Fernando rose from his seat, and, signing to his nobles to follow him, he went to meet Ximena.
A figure of woe was she, clothed all in black, even her face hidden by a black veil. Throwing herself on her knees, she implored that justice might be done on the murderer of her father, for not till then would the stain be wiped out which had killed her mother and was killing her. 'He rides to and fro under my lattice,' said she, 'and the hawk on his wrist slays my doves, and my mantle is sprinkled with their blood. If you do not do me right, O king, you are not fit to reign, or to call yourself a knight.'
Thus spake Ximena, and the king sat silent and pondered her words. 'I cannot punish Don Rodrigo, either by imprisonment or death,' said he to himself, 'for my nobles would not suffer it; I must find some other way to satisfy Ximena.' Then turning to her, he bade her go home, and added that no damsel should have cause to complain that wrong had been done them at his hands.
Then Ximena rode away, and by-and-by Rodrigo departed also.
Six months later King Fernando was seated in the great hall of his palace of Burgos, dispensing justice to high and low, when there entered once more Ximena, followed by thirty esquires and pages.
'I come, though I know it is in vain,' she cried, when she had made her way to the foot of the throne. 'Five times I have appeared to demand my rights, and no longer will I be put off with empty words. No king are you, who are swayed this way and that by every man that passes, and dare not even avenge your friends, for fear of what may come of it.'
'Not so,' answered the king; 'but is there no other way by which your quarrel may be appeased? Has Rodrigo on his side suffered no insult? You have heard of the fame he has lately won, when he took captive the five Moorish kings who broke suddenly into the land and ravaged it with fire and sword. And to prove that it was fame and not gold he wanted he set them all free, with only a promise of homage from them. Ah, if there were but a few more like him, Spain would soon be rid of the Moors. Happy is the woman he shall choose for his wife; she will live all her days in safety and in honour.'
Then the king paused, and watched to see how Ximena took his words.
She was silent for some moments, but the king could not see her face, as she had pulled her veil over it. Suddenly she raised her head, and cast the veil back over her shoulders.
'It is true, O king, what you speak, and I will forego my vengeance. Nay, I think my father himself would have it so. Give me Don Rodrigo for my husband; all my days I will be a loyal wife to him, and his honour shall be mine.'
Perhaps the king was not so surprised as some of his courtiers as they listened to Ximena's request. If he smiled, his beard was thick enough to hide it, and he answered gravely:
'You say well, my daughter, and I will to-day send a messenger bidding Don Rodrigo meet me at Palencia, and I will give him lands and riches, so that in wealth as in birth he may be equal to you.'
When the messengers reached Don Rodrigo, with the offer of Ximena's hand, his heart was glad, and, calling his friends to dress themselves in their most splendid cloaks and brightest armour, he rode at their head towards the city of Palencia. Ximena with her train was already in the royal palace, and in the presence of the king the two plighted their troth. But Rodrigo swore by the cross on his sword that the marriage rite should not be fulfilled till he had beaten five foes in the field, and, leaving Ximena under the care of his mother, he bade her farewell, and set forth to accomplish his vow.
However, he was not destined to be absent very long, for in those days enemies were not far to seek, and in less than two months the wedding preparations began. His brothers took pride in arraying him themselves, and buttoning on the doublet of black satin which his father had worn in many of his battles, while over this he wore a jacket of stout leather and a loose cloak lined with plush.
At the last he girded on his sword Tizona, the Dread of the World, then, surrounded by his friends and his family, the bridegroom walked to the court, where the king, the bishop, and all the nobles were awaiting him.
Soon the noise of trumpets was heard, and there entered Ximena dressed in a robe of fine white cloth, brought from London across the seas, with a border of silver embroidered on it. On her head was a close hood of the same stuff, and high shoes of red leather were on her feet. Round her neck was a necklace made of eight round medals, with a little figure of St. Michael hanging from them.
Don Rodrigo went forward to lift Ximena from her horse, and kissed her, whispering as he did so:
'It is true, O my lady, that I killed your father, but I did it in fair fight, as man to man. And in his stead you shall have a husband that will care for you and protect you to the end of your life.'
Now, although Don Rodrigo was married, he did not stay at home much more than he had done in other days, and his sword was ever unsheathed in the service of his king. He was the champion chosen by Fernando to meet in single combat Martino Gonzalez, the stoutest knight in Spain, and decide a quarrel between Castile and Aragon. The victory lay with Rodrigo, and no sooner was the duel over than he rode off to fight the Moors in the North of Spain. At length the patience of Ximena was worn out, and she wrote a letter to Fernando in which she told him plainly all that was in her mind.
'What was the use,' she asked, 'of her marrying Rodrigo if the king kept him for ever engaged in his service, and away from her?' She had no father, and might as well have no husband, and she implored his master to think upon her loneliness, and to let Rodrigo return to her side.
But the king would make no promises, and by-and-by Ximena had a little girl to comfort her, to whom Fernando stood godfather.
It seems strange that after these great deeds King Fernando never thought of making Don Rodrigo a knight, but so it was. Not till the long siege of the city of Coimbra was ended, and the Moorish mosque turned into a Christian church, was the order of knighthood conferred on Don Rodrigo in return for the mighty works that he had done. But Don Rodrigo knew well that his sword-thrusts would have availed him nothing had it not been for the aid of a Greek bishop who dreamed when at the shrine of St. James that the gates of the city would only fall when a successor of the Apostle should appear before them. So the bishop arose and clad himself in armour and rode into the Christian hosts, and as he drew near, the walls fell down like Jericho of old, and the army entered in triumph.
After this the Cid, as men now called him, from a Moorish word which meant a man of great valour and fame, went home for a short space to see his wife and his little daughter, who by this time was seven years old and had never beheld her father. Rest was sweet to Don Rodrigo, but before it could grow irksome to him he was summoned to court by the death of Fernando, who left all his children under the wardship of the Cid. Unluckily, the old man's will had not been a wise one, and bitter quarrels soon raged between the new king Sancho and his brothers and sisters. In vain Don Rodrigo tried to heal the feuds, but war soon broke out, and by his oath of allegiance he was forced, sorely against his wish, to fight under the king's banner. By his aid Sancho despoiled his two brothers and one of his sisters of the lands which were theirs by right, but when the king demanded that he should go as envoy and bid the princess Doña Urraca yield up her town of Zamora in exchange for much gold, the Cid prayed him to send someone else, for he could not take arms against the princess whom he had known when they were children together. His words, however, were useless. The king would listen to nothing, and the Cid rode forth to Zamora with a heavy heart. Silently he bore the reproaches of Doña Urraca, and returned in five days to tell Fernando that the citizens of Zamora had sworn in his presence, that the city would never be given up till they all lay dead upon her walls. This answer so infuriated Don Sancho that he falsely accused the Cid of having put the words into the mouths of his enemies, and bade him begone out of the kingdom.
But a man like the Cid could not lightly be dismissed, and very soon the king was forced to humble himself, and send messengers to beg his forgiveness. The Campeador was too generous to bear malice, and rode joyfully back, to find Sancho besieging Zamora. And an ill day it was for the king when he resolved to wrest his sister's possessions from her; for one of her citizens, spurred by love to his lady, gained admittance into the royal camp and offered to betray the city. A councillor of the princess, the old Arias Gonzalo, cried to the king from the walls to lend no ear unto the man's words, for he was a traitor; but Dolfos had a wily tongue, and easily persuaded Sancho to come with him to see the small door across the trench by which the army might enter. They were hardly outside the camp when Dolfos struck him between the shoulders with his spear, and the king rolled in his death agony on the ground. The sight was seen by Don Rodrigo, who had watched eagerly and anxiously the movements of Dolfos, and now sprang towards the traitor with his drawn sword. But Dolfos was too quick for him, and the postern was flung open by some of the men of Zamora, before the Cid could get across the trench.
'Oh, fool was I not to have fastened on my spurs, and then I should have caught him!' cried Don Rodrigo shaking with rage, as he turned sadly back to stand by the bedside of his dying master, waiting for the vengeance which the future would bring.
Excerpted from The Tale of the Cid, and Other Stories of Knights and Chivalry by Andrew Lang, H. J. Ford. Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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