In the summer of 1099, a great sadness filled the city of Valencia in Spain. People walked through the streets, heads down, hardly exchanging a word with each other. There was none of the normal, cheerful chatter and noise in the markets. At the inns, men sat drinking their tankards of wine or beer in melancholy silence. The innkeepers, who were usually full of good stories and good cheer, had no tales or jokes to tell; they went about their work with long, morose faces.
If anyone asked a question, it was always the same one: "Any news yet?" The reply might be 'No' or simply a sad shake of the head. What the people of Valencia feared most was the day when the answer to that question would be 'Yes'. That would mean that El Cid, Roderigo Diaz de Vivar, ruler of Valencia, was dead.
El Cid was an old man, worn out by more than thirty years of fighting battle and hard campaigning. With his armies, El Cid had marched long distances in the burning heat of the Spanish summer. Many times he had been wounded, only to ignore his injuries and inspire his men by fighting alongside them. Now all those years of hardship had taken their toll. El Cid was dying. Worse still for the people of Valencia, their Muslim enemies were gleefully anticipating his death, for then they could make their final attack on Valencia and capture it.
The Muslims had themselves given Roderigo Diaz his nickname of 'El Cid'. In Arabic, the Muslim language, it meant 'Lord'. Roderigo's own Christian armies had another name for him: 'Campeador', which meant 'winner of battles'. Both Muslims and Christians agreed that El Cid was the greatest soldier in Spain. At a time when the two sides were struggling for control of the country, the armies led by El Cid had prevailed in one battle after another and helped Christian rule to spread through northern Spain. After 1094, El Cid had conquered and ruled a large area of eastern Spain, in the province of Valencia.
El Cid was so successful that Muslim soldiers used to tremble if they even heard his name. Their leaders came to realise they could never win victories over the Christians while El Cid lived. So the Muslims bided their time and early in 1099 the news they most wanted to hear reached them. El Cid's health was failing. He was too weak to rise from his bed except for short periods of time. His faithful and beautiful wife, Jimena, spent most of her time at his bedside. She was afraid that if she left him, even for a few moments, he might die in her absence and she would be robbed of the chance to say her final farewell.
There was great rejoicing in the Muslims' camp when this became known. At once, the Muslim army began to gather, ready to attack as soon as El Cid breathed his last.
El Cid knew what was happening and he felt great frustration and fury.
'What can I do?' he thought. 'My people depend on me, and I am too sick to help them.
El Cid shuddered as he realised what would happen once he was dead. It was easy to picture the scene - the ferocious Muslims sweeping through the streets, killing men, women and children, setting fire to the houses, destroying the churches and seizing all the treasure in the city.
"Somehow, I must save my people, I must!" El Cid murmured.
Day by day, El Cid grew weaker. All the time, he struggled with the problem. At last, when he was almost too ill to think clearly any more, he decided on a plan. He told Jimena to call his captains to his bedside, and when they came, he told them what he wanted them to do.
Then El Cid looked at Jimena. "When I die, do not weep for me," he told her. Jimena, already in tears, nodded her head. "No one must know I am dead," El Cid whispered. "Not for awhile, at least. Above all, the Muslims must not know it. Promise me, all of you, that you will do as I have commanded."
"Yes, yes, we will," Jimena replied. "Everything shall be done as you wish my beloved husband."
El Cid smiled. "Then Valencia will be saved," he said.
A few hours later, El Cid died. Jimena kissed him for the last time, then got to her feet, pale and red-eyed, but calm.
"You know what you must do now," Jimena told the captains. Then she hurried away to order the soldiers in Valencia to arm themselves and prepare for war.
"Beat the drums for battle!" Jimena ordered. "El Cid is coming to lead you to another great victory over the Muslims!"
The soldiers were mystified at first. This was the last thing they had expected. But they decided that El Cid must have recovered from his sickness, and was at this moment putting on his armour and his trusty sword called Tizona. The soldiers became certain that this was so when they saw El Cid's white horse, Bavieca, being led from its stable and saddled.
Outside Valencia, the Muslims heard the drums beating and the clank of arms and armour inside the city. They heard the sudden cheering of crowds of people who surged into the streets to greet the columns of El Cid's soldiers as they moved towards the city gates.
"What's this?" the Muslims cried, alarmed and surprised. "Have the Christians gone mad? El Cid must be dead by now, yet they are cheering and joyful."
At once, the Muslims scrambled to prepare for battle. They had managed to get into their armour, grab their swords and spears and form up their battle lines when the great gates of Valencia swung slowly open. A single horseman galloped out, holding in one hand a large white banner with a brilliant red cross emblazoned on it. In his other hand, he held a mighty sword. Behind him, hundreds of horsemen were followed by a huge crowd of foot soldiers.
The lone horseman galloped closer until he was near enough for the Muslims to recognise.
"It's El Cid!" they yelled in sudden fear. "El Cid is leading his army against us!" '
It was undoubtedly El Cid. Every Muslim in Spain could recognise that stern face, that unwavering soldierly gaze and the tall, upright figure of the general who had conquered them over and over again. And behind him came what seemed like an enormous army. At least 70,000 men, or so the Muslims thought.
As the Christians came thundering towards them, the Muslims heard every man chanting, "Cid! Cid! Cid!" At the sound of this name, the Muslim soldiers panicked. They began to run, and their horsemen, likewise, turned and started to gallop away. Before long, the entire Muslim army was in fright, running away as fast as they could with the Christians in pursuit.
At last, when El Cid's captains were certain that the Muslims would not come back, they ordered their men to return to Valencia. They marched back, singing and yelling, to be greeted by wildly cheering crowds as they entered the city.
No one noticed that one of the captains had remained behind holding on to the bridle of El Cid's horse Bavieca.
"This last victory is your greatest victory, my Lord Cid," the; captain murmured, gazing at the stiff, unmoving figure sitting upright in Bavieca's saddle.
In all the excitement, no one, either Christian or Muslim, had seen that El Cid was firmly lashed into the saddle so that he could not fall off. The arms holding the banner and the sword were propped up by shafts of wood concealed beneath the sleeves of his chain mail tunic. These had been El Cid's orders - that his captains dress him in his armour and place him on Bavieca's back so that he could lead his army into battle even after he was dead. By this means, El Cid put heart into his own men and feat into the Muslims. He succeeded brilliantly.
The captain pulled Bavieca's bridle and made the horse turn round. Then he led Bavieca, with dead Cid sitting on its back, away from Valencia. He was heading inland, into the Kingdom of Castile and the city of Burgos. There, El Cid had been born and there, according to his own orders, he wanted to be buried.