Late one sunny afternoon one and twenty knights were riding along the highway in the northern part of Spain. As they were passing a deep mire they heard cries for help, and turning, saw a poor leper who was sinking in the mud. One of the knights, a handsome young man, was touched by the cries. He dismounted, rescued the poor fellow, took him upon his own horse, and thus the two rode to the inn. The other knights wondered at this.
When they reached the inn where they were to stop for the night, they wondered still more, for their companion gave the leper a seat next to himself at the table. After supper the knight shared his own bed with the leper. If the knight had not done this, the leper would have been driven out of the town, with nothing to eat and no place in which to sleep. At midnight, while the young man was fast asleep, the leper breathed upon his back. This awakened the knight, who turned quickly in his bed and found that the leper was gone.
The knight called for a light and searched, but in vain. While he was wondering about what had happened, a man in shining garments appeared before him and said, "Rodrigo, art thou asleep or awake?" The knight answered, "I am awake, but who art thou that bringest such brightness?" The vision replied, "I am St. Lazarus, the leper to whom thou wast so kind. Because I have breathed upon thee thou shalt accomplish whatever thou shalt undertake in peace or in battle. All shall honor thee. Therefore, go on and evermore do good."
With that the vision vanished.
The promise of St. Lazarus was fulfilled. In time young Rodrigo became the great hero of Spain. The Spaniards called him Campeador (cam-pe-a-dor'), or Champion. The Saracens called him "The Cid," or Lord. His real name was Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, but he is usually spoken of as "The Cid."
The Goths, after the death of Alaric, had taken Spain away from the Romans. The Saracens, or, as they were usually called, the Moors, had crossed the sea from Africa and in turn had taken Spain from the Goths. In the time of Charles Martel the Goths had lost all Spain except the small mountain district in the northern part. In the time of the Cid the Goths, now called Spaniards, had driven the Moors down to about the middle of Spain. War went on all the time between the two races, and many men spent their lives in fighting. The Spanish part of the country then comprised the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and others.
The Cid was a subject of Fernando of Castile. Fernando had a dispute with the king of Aragon about a city which each claimed. They agreed to decide the matter by a combat. Each was to choose a champion. The champions were to fight, and the king whose champion won was to have the city. Fernando chose the Cid, and though the other champion was called the bravest knight in Spain, the youthful warrior vanquished him.
When Alfonzo, a son of Fernando, succeeded to the throne, he became angry with the Cid without just cause and banished him from Christian Spain.
The Cid was in need of some money, so he filled two chests with sand and sent word to two wealthy money lenders that he wished to borrow six hundred Spanish marks (about $2,000 [as of 1904]), and would put into their hands his treasures of silver and gold which were packed in two chests, but the money lenders must solemnly swear not to open the chests until a full year had passed. To this they gladly agreed. They took the chests and loaned him six hundred marks.
The Cid was now ready for his journey. Three hundred of his knights went into banishment with him. They crossed the mountains and entered the land of the Moors. Soon they reached the town of Alcocer, and after a siege captured it and lived in it.
Then the Moorish king of Valencia ordered two chiefs to take three thousand horsemen, recapture the town and bring the Cid alive to him.
So the Cid and his men were shut up in Alcocer and besieged. Famine threatened them and they determined to cut their way through the army of the Moors. Suddenly and swiftly they poured from the gate of Alcocer, and a terrible battle was fought. The two Moorish chiefs were taken prisoners and thirteen hundred of their men were killed in the battle. The Cid then became a vassal of the Moorish king of Saragossa.
After a while Alfonzo recalled the Cid from banishment and gave him seven castles and the lands adjoining them. He needed the Cid's help in the greatest of all his plans against the Moors. He was determined to capture Toledo. He attacked it with a large army in which there were soldiers from many foreign lands. The Cid is said to have been the commander. After a long siege the city fell and the victorious army marched across the great bridge built by the Moors, which you would cross to-day if you went to Toledo. [NOTE FROM Brett Fishburne: This stunned me, so I researched it briefly and it turns out that the bridge was washed out completely in 1257, then rebuilt by Alfonso X. There were numerous other reconstructions done between then and 2000, the most recent of which I am aware was in the late 1970s using stone blocks found in situ.]
Valencia was one of the largest and richest cities in Moorish Spain. It was strongly fortified, but the Cid determined to attack it.
The plain about the city was irrigated by streams that came down from the neighboring hills. To prevent the Cid's army from coming near the city the Saracens flooded the plain. But the Cid camped on high ground above the plain and from that point besieged the city. Food became very scarce in Valencia. Wheat, barley and cheese were all so dear that none but the rich could buy them. People ate horses, dogs, cats and mice, until in the whole city only three horses and a mule were left alive.