Old Time Tales - Lawton Evans

The Last Days of the Cid

Rodrigo, the Cid, was firmly established in Valencia and was living happily with his wife, Ximena, and his two daughters, Elvira and Sol. The kings of Aragon and Navarre had requested his two daughters in marriage, and great preparations were being made to celebrate the happy occasion. The Cid was very rich and very powerful, and the bride-grooms were of high degree. Eight days were spent in public rejoicing before the marriage took place, and for eight days afterwards there was nothing but festivity and splendor.

So rich was the Cid that everyone ate out of silver dishes and was loaded with presents. There were bull-fights and tournaments and diversions of all kinds, so that Valencia seemed to be one vast pleasure ground during the time of the festivities. After the marriage ceremony the kings of Aragon and Navarre took their wives home, and so far as history records, they lived happily ever afterwards.

Now it must be known that at this time Spain was about half Christian and half Moor. The Christians lived in the northern part of Spain, the Moors lived in the lower part of Spain, and there was constant war between them. The Cid tried to keep peace between the two nations and avoid strife and bloodshed, but he could not avoid war altogether. After five years of peace and prosperity at Valencia, a messenger came from Morocco bearing this message:

"The king of Morocco, with all of his soldiers, demands Valencia, and if the Cid refuses to surrender the city, they will capture it and destroy the inhabitants."

When Rodrigo heard these words he was much troubled, because he knew he was growing old and was not the warrior that he had once been, yet he knew that everything depended upon him. However, he assembled his own people and told them of the message and sent back these words of defiance:

"Tell the king of Morocco that we shall not surrender Valencia to him, and that if he comes to take it he will find the Cid ready to do battle."

Now there were many Moors in Valencia, and Rodrigo was by no means certain of their loyalty, so he sent them without the city walls and made them remain in the suburbs while he was preparing the defences of the city.

As he lay awake one night, devising ways and means to overcome the king of Morocco, a great light shone about him and a sweet odor seemed to fill the room. There stood by his bed a man in white garments, carrying keys in his hand. The man asked, "Art thou asleep, Rodrigo?"

Rodrigo answered, "Nay, I sleep not. But who art thou that askest me?"

The man in white carrying the keys replied, "I am St. Peter, who comes with more urgent tidings than those which thou hast heard from the king of Morocco. I have come to let thee know that within thirty days thou shalt leave this world and go to that wherein there is no end."

At this Rodrigo was much disturbed, and said to St. Peter, "But shall I leave my people in their distress, and shall the king of Morocco take vengeance upon those who are innocent? I pray thee, leave me here that I may defend them one more time, then I will go with thee."

St. Peter then made reply, "Thou shalt win the battle over the Moorish king, thou shalt be dead at the time, and no dishonor shall come near thy body." And with that he vanished.

The next day Rodrigo called his men together and told them with much sorrow of what had happened, and promised them that the king of Morocco should be vanquished and that Valencia would be safe.

Now the noble Cid fell ill and grew weaker day by day, and news kept coming that the hosts of Morocco were approaching the city. Preparations went on for its defence, however, and the Cid gave all necessary orders. Calling his nobles around him he said, "I beg of you not to let me be taken in battle, for though the vision declares I shall defend Valencia, though dead, I beg that my body be not the spoil of the Saracens." Weeping, his followers promised him what he asked.

Rodrigo made preparations for his death. For seven days before he died he took nothing but balsam and myrrh and rose-water, a little each day, with the effect that his skin became fresh and fair, though his strength ever failed. The day before he died, he called the bishops and his family and his friends around him, and gave them directions what to do with his body.

"After I am dead," said he, "wash my body with rose-water many times. Let it be dried and then anointed with myrrh and balsam from yonder caskets, which I have kept for many years, and which will preserve my body from decay. Let there be no lamentations made for me, lest when the Moors arrive, they discover that I am dead."

Then he gave them other orders, and shortly afterwards lay upon his couch and breathed his last.

Three days after he died his enemies arrived before the gates of Valencia, and demanded audience with the Cid. The inhabitants, according to instructions, made no lamentations, but went about with great noise of rejoicings and warlike preparations. Day by day the Moors waited for them to come out and do battle, and finally began to make engines to batter down the walls. In the meantime, there was a sound of trumpets and much marching and noise inside the city, as if preparations for war were being made.

When all was ready, the gates of the city were opened, and a strange procession marched out to do battle with the Moors. There were many valiant knights and men-at-arms, and in the midst of them there was the Cid's famous horse, Babieca, and on it rode the Cid, in all the appearance and panoply of war. His body had been embalmed and anointed as he directed, and his skin looked fresh and fair. His eyes were open, and his long, flowing beard looked as warlike as ever. No one could tell but that he was alive. He was fastened upon his horse and his sword, Tizona, was in his hand. Two knights led his horse and another one bore his banner by his side.

As soon as the army saw their noble leader again in the saddle, they cried, "The Cid! The Cid! Our Cid leads us to victory."

He sat upright in the saddle and looked over the field of battle, and no one could tell that he was dead. Those who stood near him remarked the clearness of his skin and his open and fearless eyes.

The battle began with great fierceness and his own knights, who knew that they were fighting for their dead master, and who felt that he was still watching them, attacked the Moors with great violence.

There was a Moorish queen among the enemy, so skilful with the bow that she was called "The Star of the Archers." The knights fell upon her tent and in the onslaught she was killed.

With their battle-cry ringing over the field, they spread panic among the Moors, who began to waver. Then Babieca, the steed that had so often borne the Cid in battle, pawed restlessly and snorted his own battle-cry. Thinking that the Cid was about to descend upon them as of old, the Moors, in great panic, turned and fled. Thousands were killed and many were drowned in the water before they could reach their ships. The Cid looked on with unseeing eyes, while Babieca wondered why her master did not thunder into the very midst of the battle.

The next day a cavalcade carried the Cid, still on his horse, to the church of St. Peter, near Burgos. King Alfonso, hearing of the death of his friend, came to the funeral, as did most of the knights and nobles of Spain. The procession entered the church and the body of the great leader was placed upon a frame that had been made for it, and set before the altar. The king, seeing him so fair and lifelike, said to those around him, "He should not be buried. Let him sit upon his ivory chair at the right of the altar."

And so they seated the leader in the chair of state, and there he sat for ten years before he was moved to his final resting-place.

Every year, upon a certain anniversary, there was given a great feast at the church where the Cid was buried, and multitudes were fed and the priests addressed the crowd. On the seventh anniversary of the death of the Cid, a strange thing happened. The church had been filled with people, the abbot had spoken to them, and the crowd had departed, all save one, a Jew.

The Jew remained in the church and stood looking at the Cid as he sat there in his ivory chair. The old warrior had not changed in all these years. His skin was still fresh and lifelike, his eyes were still open, so powerful was the embalming preparations of Egypt. The temptation came to the Jew to do that which no man had ever dared to do, that is, to pull the long, gray beard of Rodrigo. The Jew put out his hand and was about to carry out his purpose, when, quick as lightning, the Cid's dead hand grasped the sword, Tizona, and drew it a little way from the scabbard. The Jew screamed aloud at this uncanny act, and fell to the ground. The others rushed in and bore him away, and then he told his story. When they returned, they saw that the Cid's hand had fallen upon the hilt of his sword, and there it remained until he was placed in his tomb.

When ten years had passed, it was judged best to place Rodrigo in his own vault. Still seated in his own chair, he is resting there to this day, perhaps with his face as fair and lifelike and his eyes still open, as they were in the days when he faced the enemies of Spain.