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

Rodrigo Defeats the Champion of Aragon


At this time the king, Don Ferrando of Castile, was having a violent dispute with King Don Ramiro of Aragon, in regard to the city of Calahorra, which, being at the boundary between their kingdoms, each claimed as his own. In order to settle this question the king of Aragon proposed that it should be decided by single combat, as it was not unusual in those days for kings or generals to select a distinguished warrior for each side, and to agree to abide by the issue, instead of having whole armies fight. The king of Aragon chose as his champion Don Martin Gonzales, who was thought to be the greatest knight in all Spain.

King Don Ferrando agreed to this combat, and selected as his champion Rodrigo Diaz. As this warrior was not then present, the kings appointed a time when they would again meet, with their knights; and they promised each other that the knight who was victorious should win Calahorra for his master. When they had returned to their own countries, Ferrando told Rodrigo of the engagement he had made for him to fight on his behalf. Rodrigo rejoiced at this news, and said he would most willingly fight; but meanwhile, before the day for the contest arrived, he must go on a pilgrimage, as he had made a vow to do so.

To this end, Rodrigo set forth, in the company of twenty knights, and as he went he gave money to many beggars, and assisted the poor and needy whenever they crossed his path. Of this journey the following legend is told, and it serves to show the nature of the fanciful stories that are mixed up with the true tale of the Cid. This legend says that on the road they found a leper who was sinking in a bog, and who called to them to help him for the love of God; and that at this appeal Rodrigo got off his horse, and rescued the man from his peril, placed him before him on his horse, and carried him to an inn. The knights who were his companions found fault with this intimate treatment of one with so loathsome a disease.

But when supper was ready, Rodrigo went still farther in his kindness, and made the leper sit next to himself, and he ate with him out of the same dish. At this the knights rose up and left the room. But Rodrigo did not change his conduct toward the poor man, for he indeed slept with him in the same bed on that night. The legend tells that at midnight, when Rodrigo was fast asleep, the leper breathed against his back so strongly that the breath passed through his body. Then Rodrigo awoke, very much amazed at the strange feeling he had had, and he felt with his hands for the leper who had been with him in the bed, but he was not there; he called, but received no answer. Then he was afraid, and he rose up and asked for a light, and looked all through the room; but the man could not be found, so he returned to bed, and left the light burning.

After a while there appeared before him a figure dressed in white, and said, "Rodrigo, art thou asleep or awake?" Rodrigo answered, "I am not asleep; but who art thou, with light all about thee, and so pleasant an odor?" Then the other said: "I am St. Lazarus, and I was the leper to whom thou didst kindness for the love of God; and because thou didst this for His sake, God hath now granted thee a great gift. For whenever that breath which thou hast felt shall come upon thee, whatever thou desirest to do, and then begin, thou shalt accomplish, so that thy honor shall go on increasing from day to day. Thou shalt be feared both by Moors and Christians, and thy foes shall never prevail against thee; therefore go thou on, and always persevere in doing good." With that the figure disappeared, and Rodrigo arose and prayed until morning that his body and soul might be watched over in all his enterprises. In the morning he went on until he had finished his pilgrimage.

The day came at last which had been appointed for the contest respecting the city of Calahorra, but Rodrigo had not appeared. As it was customary in those days on such an occasion for the party whose champion failed to arrive to be considered defeated, it was necessary in order to avoid this calamity to appoint another warrior to enter the lists; and for this purpose Alvar Fanez Minaya, who was a cousin of Rodrigo, offered to take his place, and ordered his horse to be made ready. But while Alvar was putting on his armor, Rodrigo came and took the horse of his cousin, and rode into the lists. Don Martin Gonzales, the champion of the king of Aragon, also entered. Then the judges assigned them to their positions in such a manner that the sun should not be in the eyes of either of them.

They then started their horses rapidly toward each other, and met with such great force that the lances of the champions broke in their hands, and they were both severely wounded. At this Don Martin thought to frighten Rodrigo by loud words, and he cried out: "Now, Don Rodrigo, thou dost repent that thou hast entered the lists with me. For thou shalt never see again Doņa Ximena thy wife, whom thou dost love so well, and thou shalt never return alive to Castile!"

This speech angered Rodrigo, who answered: "You are a good knight, Don Martin, but such words are out of place here. In this enterprise we fight with hands, not with empty speeches. The power is in God, who will give the honor as He thinks best."

With these words, Rodrigo rushed upon Don Martin, and smote him with his sword on the helmet, and cut through it, and gave him a great wound on the head, so that the blood streamed forth. Then Don Martin struck at Rodrigo, and his sword cut into the shield, so that when he drew his weapon back again, he took Rodrigo's shield along. But Rodrigo smote him again in the face. Then they grew very furious in their fighting, striking with all their force on every chance.

Now the great amount of blood that Don Martin had lost told on his strength, and he grew so weak that he could no longer hold himself upon his horse, but fell to the ground. Then Rodrigo alighted, and speedily put him to death. When this was done, he turned to the judges and asked if there was anything more to be accomplished to justify the claim of Don Ferrando to the city of Calahorra; but the judges declared that the right of the king of Castile was now undisputed.

After this Don Ferrando got off his horse and took Rodrigo in his arms, and with his own hands helped to unloose his armor; and the king rode with him from the field, while he and the Castilians praised their champion and rejoiced in his prowess in defeating one who had been considered the greatest knight in all Spain; while the king of Aragon and his followers lamented greatly over the loss of their cause and the death of their famous champion, whose body they now took up and carried into their own country.

But the good fortune and great honor now enjoyed by Rodrigo did not come to him without exciting the envy of the Counts of Castile. These were, indeed, so vexed by his successes that they determined, if possible, to destroy him, in order that they might not be outshone by this wonderful man. As they did not see how this could be accomplished directly by themselves without causing them to be suspected of the crime, they planned together that they should place Rodrigo in the power of the Moors. They agreed among themselves that they should arrange with the Moors to fight a battle with them on a certain day, and that they should invite Rodrigo to this conflict, and in the midst of it they would contrive to leave him surrounded by enemies, who could fall upon him and slay him. They believed the Moors would be very glad to get this great champion in their power. In order to carry out their plan, they sent letters to the Moors, and among others to those five Moorish kings whom Rodrigo had set at liberty and who had become his vassals.

Those kings, however, remembering the kindness of Rodrigo to themselves, when they had the letters proposing this treachery, at once sent them to him whom they acknowledged as their lord. When Rodrigo had received the messengers with the papers, he thanked them very heartily for their loyalty to himself; and he then carried the letters to his own king and told him of this plot against his life. The king was much amazed at this villany and was very angry, and speedily issued orders that all those Counts who had part in this base plot should be expelled from his kingdom. As the king was about to start to Santiago on a pilgrimage, he gave to Rodrigo power to execute these commands.

The wife of one of these Counts, who was called Count Don Garcia, was a cousin of Rodrigo himself; and when she knew that her husband was to be driven out of the country, she came to her kinsman and fell on her knees before him. Rodrigo very courteously took her by the hand and raised her up, saying he would not listen to her until she had ceased to kneel before him who was her relative and friend. When she was upon her feet, she said: "I beg you, my cousin, since you have banished my husband and myself, that you will give us a letter to one of those kings who are your vassals, asking him to befriend us and give us something whereby we may live." Being willing to make their banishment, which her husband had brought upon them by his treachery, as comfortable as possible, Rodrigo gave her a letter to his vassal, the king of Cordova. This Moor received the lady and her husband very kindly, for the sake of Rodrigo, and gave them the town of Cabra, that the false Count and his friends might live there; but this Count was incapable of gratitude, and some time afterward made war against the king of Cordova from the very town of Cabra which that monarch had given him. When Rodrigo learned of this treachery, he went with his followers and fought against Cabra and took it, and punished the Count for his evil deeds.