Story of the Cid for Young People - C. D. Wilson

The Hero of Spain


We are about to tell you the story of a very famous and wonderful man, whose real life was more remarkable than any which novel writers could invent. This man did such extraordinary deeds that almost from the day of his death the poets and chroniclers and minstrels began to write and sing about them, and his name was carried about the world until everybody had heard of the glory of "The Cid." Especially in his own country, Spain, he has always been looked upon as the greatest and the noblest of men; and the writers of that land speak of him as "The Perfect One," "The One Born in a Happy Hour," "My Cid," and in other like terms of praise and endearment.

This most splendid of Spanish heroes, who is universally known as "The Cid," and whose real name was Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, was born between the years 1030 and 1040, but the exact date is not certainly known. The poets and minstrels have mingled a good many legends with the facts of his life, but we shall relate the story with all its romance, and tell of the Cid as his countrymen have done. In spite of all the myths, it is beyond doubt that the real Rodrigo was one of the most wonderful men who has ever lived, and that he was the greatest warrior who fought in the long and fierce struggles between the Christians and the Mahometans.

You will be anxious to know what the title, "The Cid," means, and why it was given to Rodrigo Diaz, and we shall not keep you in the dark, but explain this at the outset. This unique title was given to our hero by five Moorish kings whom he conquered in one battle, and who then acknowledged him as their lord, or, as that word is in the Arabic language, "El Seid." He was also called "Campeador" or Champion of his countrymen against the Moors. Thus he was often spoken of as "El Cid Campeador," or the Lord Champion.

In order to make clear the situation in Spain when the Cid lived and fought, we must go back for a moment into the history of that land previous to his time. Early in the eighth century the Moors, who were Arabs living in North Africa, made a raid into Spain, and having been entirely successful, they were encouraged to undertake the conquest of the country. This, under a succession of leaders, they partially accomplished, bringing a large part of Spain under their control, but they were unable to subdue all of that land. As the Moors were followers of the prophet Mahomet, Spain was now not only divided between two races, but two religions, the Mahometan and the Christian. Hence a series of struggles continued to take place between the two powers and the two religions, and lasted for many centuries.

In this period, when his country was occupied both by its natives and the Moorish invaders, and when constant warfare was going on between the two forces, Rodrigo Diaz, who was to become the greatest soldier of Spain, was born. He came of a good family, but it did not belong to the higher nobility of the Counts. One of his ancestors, however, was a very famous man; this was Layn Calvo, who had been a judge of great prominence and distinction. From him descended Diego Laynez, who was the father of the Cid; the mother was named Doņa Teresa Rodriguez, and she was the daughter of Don Rodrigo Alvarez, who was Count and Governor of Asturias. It was their child Rodrigo who was to become known as "The Cid."

Rodrigo manifested a martial spirit at a very early age, and showed a strong desire to do battle against the Moors, whom he learned to hate bitterly as soon as he knew that they were invaders of his country, and that they oppressed his people. He practised himself in the use of all sorts of warlike weapons, and became expert with them while yet a boy. The earliest example of his prowess that is told is this: While Rodrigo was still a youth, there arose a strife between his father, Diego Laynez, and Count Don Gomez, the Lord of Gormaz; and this Count in his anger insulted Diego and struck him. Diego was at this time an old man, was not able to fight with the Count, and could do nothing but go home and brood over the wrong that he had suffered; but he felt so keenly the insult he had received that he lost all appetite, was unable to sleep, sat alone in his house, and would not raise his eyes from the floor.

This Count was known as one of the best warriors in Spain, and he held a prominent place in the Cortes (as the Spanish Congress is called); while Rodrigo was scarcely more than a boy. Yet Rodrigo felt so deeply the wrong done to his father, and the insult offered to the blood of his ancestor, Layn Calvo, that he declared he would challenge the Count and slay him. When he told his father what he wished to do, Diego looked on him with joy, seeing that he was so strong and brave; and he said that for this great combat he would give him the sword of the famous hero, Mudarra. The old man bestowed on his son his blessing and the splendid sword, which had a jewelled cross for its handle; and when Rodrigo had caught hold of it he felt that his arm was even as strong as that of the celebrated man who had wielded it so effectively in many battles in past times, and he rejoiced greatly that he had so fine a weapon for the proposed fight.

Rodrigo now with a brave heart set forth, and sent a challenge to the Count who had insulted his father, defying him and asking him to appoint a time and place for the combat. The Count accepted the defiance promptly, thinking it would be a simple task for him to kill this audacious youth who wished to cross swords with so noted a warrior as himself. But when they met for the fray the Count quickly learned that he had an antagonist of wonderful skill and strength. He fought hard, and thrust at Rodrigo furiously, but was unable to touch him. Suddenly Rodrigo made a great thrust that pierced right through the vitals of his enemy, and laid him dead at his feet. Then he stood over him and cut off his head, and taking it up he hung it at his saddle bow, and galloped to his home.

His father at that moment was sitting at the table, but eating nothing. Rodrigo hailed him in a cheerful voice, and having embraced him, he said, "Come out. Here is something to give you an appetite;" and led him forth to the threshold whence Diego could see the bloody head of his enemy hanging on the saddle.

"There," said Rodrigo, "is the tongue that insulted you." Then the old man embraced his son, and made him sit in the highest seat at the table, saying, "You who have brought home that head shall be the head of the house of Layn Calvo." Diego was now comforted, and regained his appetite; and he rejoiced greatly in so stout and daring a son.

The Moors soon after this began to make fresh trouble, and invaded the kingdom of Castile with a very large force. There came with them five kings, who plundered and robbed along their path, carrying away as prisoners both men and women, as well as horses, cattle, and sheep. After they had committed these depredations, they were making haste to return to their country and get off with the spoil; but news came to Rodrigo of what they were doing, and he at once mounted his horse and rode about among his countrymen, calling upon them to follow him and give battle to the Moors. Thus he raised a great company, and pursued the enemy until he overtook them in the mountains. There Rodrigo and his companions fell upon the Moors and after a hard battle defeated them, recovered all the prisoners and the spoil, and made the five kings captive.

Rodrigo then divided all the spoil among the noblemen and his other followers, and he set the five kings at liberty. These kings were so delighted with his magnanimity, that they promised to send him tribute, and became his vassals, calling him "El Seid"; that is, they acknowledged themselves dependent upon him as if he were a great king. So they returned to their own country. Thus Rodrigo had not only relieved his countrymen who were in distress, but he had won for himself allies and friends among the Moors themselves. From that time forward he began to have a great name among both the Spaniards and the Moors.

When Don Ferrando (who was king of Castile, Leon, and Portugal, that is, the greater part of Spain that the Moors did not control) heard of this deed of Rodrigo, he was greatly pleased, and knew he now had a man in his kingdom who was able to compete with any of his enemies. About the same time there appeared before the king a young lady, Ximena Gomez, who was the daughter of the Count who had insulted Diego and had been slain by Rodrigo. She had heard so much of the prowess and fame of this young hero that she conceived a violent desire to have him for her husband. As she was a lady of rank superior to that of Rodrigo, and as it was not in those days considered immodest for a woman to appeal to the king in such a matter, Ximena knelt before the king and said:—

"I am the youngest daughter of Count Gomez, who was slain by Rodrigo Diaz. I am come to crave of you a boon, that you will give me this Rodrigo for my husband; for I am sure that he will one day be the greatest man in your kingdom. It is right for you to do this, for it will be for God's service, and I will pardon Rodrigo for my father's death."

Don Ferrando was much pleased with this plan; and he commanded that a letter be sent to Rodrigo ordering him to come at once to Palencia where the king then was. When Rodrigo received this message, he rejoiced and made ready to obey, and to this end he dressed himself in holiday costume, and took with him two hundred knights and friends, all in gay apparel, and set forth. When he drew near to Palencia, the king went out to meet him, and received him with great honor; this action excited the jealousy of the Counts, who were of the higher order of nobility, and they were much vexed that the king showed the youth Rodrigo more favor than he gave to them.

When the king had found a suitable time, he told Rodrigo that Doņa Ximena Gomez had asked for him as her husband, and that she was willing to forgive him for slaying her father. The king urged him to accept her offer, and promised that in such case he would favor him in every possible manner. This news pleased Rodrigo greatly, and he answered that he would do in this and every respect as the king commanded. The monarch expressed his pleasure at this obedience, and when the wedding took place soon after, he gave them many gifts of lands and other treasures, for he loved Rodrigo much for all that he had done, and for his loyalty and for his brave and manly nature.

Then Rodrigo took his lovely bride to the home of his mother, his father having recently died, and he charged his mother that she should love his wife even as she did him. When she had given this promise, he said he was now going away and would not return until he had won five battles. So he set forth to make war against the Moors.