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The Sword

Chapter 1 - Young Diego Gets His Hands on Tizona

The ride from Albarracín had been an especially hard one for young Martin. The dust and summer heat had been unrelenting for this entire leg of their journey. His simple tunic, soaked in sweat, clung to his body, chafing with every move of the horse. The surrounding hills, mostly brown with only a few scrubby bushes, seemed equally beaten down by the infernal heat.

There was not even a breeze to bring relief. By lifting one hand to shade his eyes and squinting into the glare of the afternoon sun, he could see his lord, Rodrigo, up ahead. As usual, the massive knight sat upright and proud on his warhorse showing no sign of the terrible weariness felt by Martin.

Directly behind Rodrigo rode the knight’s tall, seventeen-year-old squire Diego. Although also clearly suffering from the heat, Diego was doing his best to imitate his hero-lord by sitting up straight and pretending he felt no discomfort. Martin had no interest in such pretense. He just closed his eyes and wished for their destination for the night to appear around the next bend.

A short time later, to his complete surprise and relief, his wish came true as the town of Cuenca appeared ahead, perched atop a hill surrounded by steep cliffs. Soon, Rodrigo was surrounded by a small crowd of town dignitaries, and arrangements were made to accommodate his company of soldiers and servants.

“Mouse!” The commanding voice of Diego made Martin wince. There was work to be done and Diego would make sure it was Martin who did the bulk of it. As page to his lord Rodrigo, fourteen-year-old Martin was little more than a servant. The bigger, older, and more experienced Diego outranked him in every way and took advantage of that fact at every opportunity.

“Mouse!” Diego repeated. “See to the horses.” So few words for so much work, Martin mused as he slid off his horse and nodded toward Diego, acknowledging the order. Gathering up the reins of the three horses, Martin wearily headed for the stables. It was not until after the horses were unsaddled, fed, watered, and groomed that Diego reappeared.

“Where did you put the saddles and gear?” he demanded. Martin gestured toward the tack room where he had neatly arranged the baggage. Frowning, Diego made a show of inspecting the piles.

Then from Rodrigo’s saddle he unfastened the strap that held the magnificent sword called Tizona. Reverently he pulled the gleaming blade from its sheath. Turning it to reflect the fading light, he admired the famous weapon. As he gazed at it, his eyes narrowed and he clenched his jaw in a fierce expression. Then with a mighty swing and thrust, Diego charged out of the tack room and began fighting a ferocious battle with an imaginary adversary.

“I don’t think Lord Rodrigo would appreciate your using his prized sword as a toy,” Martin said simply. As squire, one of Diego’s duties was to care for his lord’s weapons and armor, which was yet another task he usually handed off to Martin. Diego turned and lunged toward Martin, the point of the razor-sharp blade ending up inches from Martin’s chest.

“This is no toy, Mouse!” He brought the tip of the sword up to just under Martin’s chin. “This is Tizona, the sword of El Cid! It is the sword of a great knight as I shall soon be also!”

“Perhaps,” replied Martin calmly. “But you will have to earn such a reputation. Remember, the title, ‘El Cid’ – the Lord – was given to Rodrigo by his enemies out of respect. He didn’t get it by dispatching imaginary foes …or pages.”

Diego’s fierce expression disappeared and he lowered the weapon. “True enough,” he said wistfully, “But my time will come.” Holding the sword once more up to the light he said, “I do wonder exactly how many men this sword has slain.”

“Too many, I suspect,” Martin mumbled as he turned his attention back to the horses.

Diego, returning to the tack room, took a few more practice swings with the sword, returned it to its sheath, and then gathered up the sword and several other items to take with him to Rodrigo’s quarters. “You will stay with the horses tonight and guard the rest of the baggage.” he commanded as he left.

What neither boy noticed was that one of Diego’s swings in the tack room had nearly severed a strap on the side of Lord Rodrigo’s saddle.


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