J. K. Knauss’s epic of medieval Spain, Seven Noble Knights, is now available from Encircle Publications. You can order it here or here, and see interviews, historical tidbits, and videos here. Sign up for castles, stories, and magic at JessicaKnauss.com.
Excerpt from Part One, Chapter III: The Wedding
Young Gonzalo’s uncle, Ruy Blásquez, is receiving Doña Lambra as a bride in exchange for his service to Castile. Gonzalo isn’t at all sure Lambra should be marrying his uncle, and during the ceremony his sensations run toward the culinary.
Doña Sancha shooed her sons away from the cathedral door and drew dried herbs and flowers from pockets Gonzalo hadn’t known were inside her tunic and cloak. With a stick, she carved a large circle on the hard earth. Doña Sancha set the herbs and flowers inside the circle in a pattern with meanings she might have shared with a daughter, but were a mystery to Gonzalo.
“You’ll stand here,” she told her brother, Ruy Blásquez. “When your bride comes from that side, you’ll step inside the circle together.” She arranged her husband and sons on Ruy Blásquez’s side of the circle. Gonzalo ended up next to his uncle, so close he could hear each shallow breath he took.
Count García arrived with a full complement of knights and squires and four banners in white with red castles, as well as a fiddler and a flutist who made ready to play. So many people in the plaza must have been making the loudest ruckus since the city had been won from the Moors, but Gonzalo heard nothing.
From between the buildings at the far end of the plaza emerged forty women who walked with their hair covered to emphasize their married status. Their laughter and singing couldn’t distract Gonzalo from Doña Lambra, who tottered on their shoulders.
An heirloom beaded necklace competed with her yellow hair, shining in tight plaits on her shoulders with ornamental brass tips that looked as if they had come out of a treasure chest long ago. A mail girdle, inlaid with brass and pieces of jet at the edges, cinched her bright blue tunic from under her breastbone to down over her hips. Gonzalo shivered at the thought of the bitter touch of the matching mail sleeves, from the decorated wristlets up to her shoulders. A burgundy-colored cloak edged with three rows of golden braid was fastened over her shoulder with a gilded brooch in the shape of a lion rampant. A square cap, decorated all around with braid and gold carbuncles, looked like a royal crown. Gonzalo imagined he wasn’t at his uncle’s wedding, but that this bride had come from the farthest reaches of Christendom to marry the King of Navarra or León.
The married women set Lambra down in the middle of their ranks. She let the cloak fan out behind her unsteady stride. Her face was frozen into a grimace like the one the Virgin Mary wore as she cradled the Savior’s dead body inside the cathedral.
Gonzalo remembered Lambra’s grin at the banquet days before, when her mouth had dripped red with juices from the roasted bull’s testicles and the sauce-engorged bread trencher. Each time she received the goblet, she had made sure to turn it so that her lips didn’t touch the same spot as Ruy Blásquez’s. She didn’t take the same precaution against Álvar Sánchez, seated on her other side. Gonzalo could hardly taste his food through a choking desire to throw his eating knife across the table into the gloating knight’s hand so it could never touch Lambra so familiarly again.
There he was now, that upstart Álvar Sánchez, wearing just as juicy a grin, so close to Doña Lambra that the obnoxious curl on the toe of his boot intruded on the magic circle.
“What is that blasphemous behemoth doing there? Shouldn’t a member of the groom’s family stand next to the bride?” Gonzalo whispered to Gustio.
Gustio knocked his elbow into Gonzalo’s ribs. “Why? Were you hoping it would be you, little brother?” He chortled until their mother hissed at them to be silent.
Count García was addressing the crowd. “…with these deeds, Ruy Blásquez has earned as a bride my loveliest cousin, probably the most beautiful woman Castile has seen since my mother joined the Kingdom of Heaven. May they live many more years and have many loyal Castilian children.” He raised his arms, which the crowd took as a sign to cheer and shout.
Gonzalo noticed that his uncle had already moved into the circle and reached for Lambra’s hands. She was looking at Ruy Blásquez, but not with love or even curiosity. It was a look of judgment. Gonzalo tried to imagine how his uncle’s soft eyes, long nose, and weak chin fared on Lambra’s scale.
“I receive you as mine, so that you become my wife and I your husband,” Ruy Blásquez said. Gonzalo was relieved to glimpse him smiling widely, displaying his straight, white teeth to his judge in the form of a bride.
Ruy Blásquez smiled and waited, waited and smiled. Gonzalo witnessed a thousand expressions cross Lambra’s face like clouds in a stormy sky. At last, Lambra’s maid emerged from the crowd and leaned over the circle. “I receive you as mine…” she prompted so quietly that Gonzalo had to read her lips.
“I receive you as mine so that you become my… husband… and I your… wife,” said Doña Lambra, her eyes narrow. She pulled her hand away from Ruy Blásquez to wipe at her plump lips, as if the words had sullied them.
She craned her neck to look at Álvar Sánchez and Gonzalo knew she wished she had said the words to him. His heart beat faster. Then she shifted her gaze to Gonzalo. He felt as if he were smothered with the parsley, fennel, red carrot, and beet sauce from the banquet. Such was the hunger he saw in her eyes, a hunger he couldn’t help but feel, too, and which raged all the more, the more he tried to contain it. He remembered the way the bull’s testicles had flopped onto Doña Lambra’s trencher under their own weight and the way they deflated when she plunged her knife into the center of the sacs.
He stopped a startled cry in his throat.
“Long live the newlyweds!” The crowd shouted until they were the only words Gonzalo remembered ever hearing.
Buy a copy of Seven Noble Knights on:
You can also pick up a paperback copy at your favorite indie bookstore: https://bookshop.org/books/seven-noble-knights/9781645991205.