(Legend of the Cid Book 2)
By Stuart Rudge
The clouds of war gather over Hispania, and Antonio Perez continues on his path to knighthood, under the watchful eye of his lord, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar. A peculiar invitation sees Antonio and Arias in the den of their nemesis, Azarola, where they discover the truth of his marriage to Beatriz, Arias’s sister, and the years of suffering he has inflicted upon her. Arias vows to deliver Beatriz from the clutches of Azarola and restore his family’s honour – even if it means betraying Rodrigo, defying his king and threatening the future of his country.
Fresh from his victory over Navarre and Aragon, King Sancho of Castile sends his revered champion Rodrigo to Saraqusta, to treat with amir al-Muqtadir. His mission is to secure an increase to the parias tribute from the Moors and hasten preparations for a war with Leon. But an unknown evil stirs in the shadows of the city which, if allowed to fester, not only threatens Saraqusta itself, but the entire political harmony of Northern Hispania. It is up to Rodrigo and Antonio to root out the conspiracy before it is too late.
Blood Feud is the stunning second instalment of Legend of the Cid.
There was so much death that day, but one more had to die.
The sporadic cries of dying soldiers pierced the silence. The northern wind blew the stench of blood and human waste from voided bowels our way, and caused some to gag and baulk, though they did their best to retain their composure. The afternoon sun beat down upon us and the sweat drenched our already sodden brows and bodies under the weight of our armour. The bitter taste of it lingered on my parched tongue. A battle line of battered shields stared us down; the men who wielded them were worn and weary from hours of fighting, yet defiant all the same. The Navarrese valiantly defended their homeland, and they would not be dislodged so easily by the brave knights of Castile.
In the centre of the field, away from the corpses that littered the ground, stood two men; a champion nominated by each king to fight to the death and bring a resolution to the stalemate. The Navarrese champion was a knight named Jimeno Garces, and we only knew his name because he paraded himself before us and declared his identity with a promise to rape the wives of every Castilian man upon his victory. His vibrant mail coat was already splashed with crimson blood, yet the gleaming sword in his right hand had been wiped clean so the sun shone bright on the polished steel. He paced the ground with a small round shield in his other hand, stared at the man before him.
Our own champion was my lord, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar.
He stood calm and composed like a sentinel, studied Jimeno’s demeanour. The polished mail on his powerful frame was sullied by dust and grime, for he had been in the thickest of the fighting, led the charge to shatter the Navarrese lines with the banner of Castile in hand. But the enemy had held firm, and now upon his shoulders was the burden of ending the battle, and even the war.
I was born Antonio Perez de Lugones, but my father Pedro had died three years previous and Lugones was no longer my home, so that name was lost to me. In the year 1067 I was known as Antonio Perez de Vivar, and I was a squire to Arias Benitez, the castellan of Vivar. We had been called to war by King Sancho of Castile and we now stood before the walls of Viana, a town on the Navarrese side of the Ebro, where a bloody battle had been contested. We had already been routed from the same battleground the year before, but now Sancho had returned and vowed to claim a victory, no matter the cost in blood.
In the vicious battle, knights had charged as javelins, arrows and quarrels flew, and blood coated the ground as spears skewered and swords and axes rose and fell. The men of Castile had attacked and been repulsed, and the Navarrese had launched their own counters and been resisted. In the early afternoon, with the battle on a knife-edge and during a lull in the fighting, King Sancho of Castile had ridden out alone to the centre of the field to compel his counterpart to surrender. Sancho of Navarre had met him there. He knew his subjects were depleted whilst the men of Castile were still eager to fight, and so between them the kings decided to stake the conflict on a single combat, champion against champion, to determine who would carry the day. The Navarrese knew they were beaten, but their king wanted to retain a scrap of honour before he knelt to son of the great Fernando of Leon-Castile.
Jimeno turned his jeers towards Rodrigo. Still my lord did nothing, uttered not a word.
‘Why does he not attack?’ I asked.
‘Because Rodrigo is not a fool unlike Jimeno. Just wait.’
Arias was sat astride his great black warhorse, Spartan, and I stood at his side with his helm and spear in my grasp. A surgeon tended to a nasty gash along his right forearm, stitched the wound closed with a thin bone needle and a length of catgut. A Navarrese sword had cut across the unprotected forearm before Arias could neutralise his opponent. He winced time and again as the needle passed through his flesh, but he kept his focus on the two champions. So did the rest of our army. We were eager for the blood of Jimeno Garces to be spilt.
Jimeno bellowed and launched himself at Rodrigo.
The first clash of steel brought a clamour of noise from both battle lines as they spurred on their respective champion. Jimeno thrust forward, an attack aimed to test Rodrigo, yet our champion flicked his wrist and parried with ease before he sliced Jimeno’s thigh. It was nothing but a flesh wound, yet it checked Jimeno’s confidence and made him grit his teeth. He spun and stalked Rodrigo as his bravado waned. He hesitated, lunged again, but Rodrigo side stepped and thrust the pommel of his sword in to the side of Jimeno’s helm. This time the Navarrese champion stumbled forward, dazed from the blow. When he recovered and composed himself, he was cautious. The fire in his belly had seemingly diminished. Rodrigo continued to watch, did not move, a gesture which unnerved Jimeno. He had underestimated his foe, and now it was Rodrigo who taunted with silent bravado.
The Castilian thrust forward with frightening speed. His blade scraped along the links of his adversary’s mail coat, made Jimeno jump back as he brought his shield up to block the next attack. Even as his sword was deflected Rodrigo had twisted his arm and brought the blade from high, then from his left and right. His tirade astonished Jimeno, who barely defended the blows and bared his teeth in panic.
I looked to the side and saw our king sat resplendent upon his horse; an elaborate and polished helm sat on his head, a blood red cloak was draped over his broad shoulders and his gleaming mail was tight against his powerful frame. A grin curled upon his lips. Victory was assured, and Rodrigo would soon finish his opponent. Upon his coronation Sancho had chosen Rodrigo to be his alferez, the commander of the armies of Castile. Despite his young age he was Sancho’s revered champion, who would fight for him whenever he was called upon. No man in Castile could match him for his sword work and, as it would seem, neither could any man in Navarre.
It was no longer a contest. We all knew the outcome. Rodrigo attacked time and again, played with his foe. The way he moved was fluid, flawless, as he drew blood from precise cuts to the sword arm, then the left thigh and along Jimeno’s unprotected neck. Jimeno managed to launch a handful of counters but Rodrigo parried them with ease and drove his opponent further back, and with each fresh cut Jimeno’s resistance waned. Then Rodrigo got behind his foe, spun, and slashed his sword along Jimeno’s calf, brought him to his knees with a great howl. Rodrigo retreated and stalked in a circle. Jimeno leant on his sword to haul himself up, but Rodrigo’s blade had cut through his hamstring, rendered the leg useless. The contest was over.
Jimeno’s shoulders sagged as he released the sword and shield from his grasp and removed his helm to reveal a weather-beaten face, his raven hair slick with sweat. He closed his eyes and tilted his head to the sky. A silence descended, save for Jimeno’s muttering. He opened his eyes and said something to Rodrigo, and our champion’s reply was, strangely, met with light-hearted laughter from the pair. But the grim mood returned when Rodrigo laid the edge of his blade across Jimeno’s throat, said something inaudible and slashed hard and quick. A sickening gurgle escaped the defeated foe’s throat as the blood gushed like wine from a barrel, stained the front of his mail coat. His body twitched as he clung to his last breath before it became limp, and flopped to the dusty ground. Jimeno’s corpse was added to the multitude of dead already strewn along the ground.
A surge of noise erupted from our lines. Every Castilian beat his weapon against his shield and roared in triumph, and soon the steady chant of ‘Campeador! Campeador!’ reverberated over the battlefield. The Navarrese stood motionless, dishevelled. Their resolve gushed away akin to the way the blood seeped from their champion’s neck.
A solitary figure rode forth from the enemy lines and came to a stop near Jimeno’s lifeless body. Rodrigo gave the man a curt bow as Sancho rode forth and met him.
‘The battle is over,’ our king called, ‘unless you can muster another one of your sorry wretches to die on my campeador’s blade?’
Sancho’s counterpart removed his ornate helm to reveal a young face now worn from the rigours of combat, tired of so much fighting, like many of the men who stood on the field. ‘No, it is over,’ he replied solemnly. King Sancho of Navarre looked a broken man, sapped of the will to fight. Our king looked as though he could fight a war all over again.
‘Tell your men to lay down their arms, open the gates of Viana and let us negotiate the terms of your surrender. I will allow you to collect your dead first. There are many of them to bury, after all.’
The Navarrese king twisted his mouth in fury but, seeing there was no alternative, he nodded his head and led his horse back to his deflated lines. As he addressed his men in a sombre tone Sancho turned to us with a proud grin on his face.
‘The war is over. This victory heralds a new age of Castilian dominance. God smiles on our endeavours. Soon, all of Hispania will fear the wrath of Castile!’
Raucous cheers greeted the king’s words.
The War of the Sanchos was over, and Castile had won.
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Stuart Rudge was born and raised in Middlesbrough, where he still lives. His love of history came from his father and uncle, both avid readers of history, and his love of table top war gaming and strategy video games. He studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Newcastle University, and has spent his fair share of time in muddy trenches, digging up treasure at Bamburgh Castle.
He has worked in the retail sector and volunteered in museums, before working in York Minster, which he considered the perfect office. His love of writing blossomed within the historic walls, and he knew there were stories within which had to be told. Despite a move in to the shipping and logistics sector (a far cry to what he hoped to ever do), his love of writing has only grown stronger.
Rise of a Champion and Blood Feud are the first two instalments of the Legend of the Cid series. He hopes to establish himself as a household name in the mound of Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian, Ben Kane and Matthew Harffy, amongst a host of his favourite writers.
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Publication Date: 19th August 2020
Publisher: Independently Published
Page Length (paperback): 356 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction