1450-1499 · Spain · The Ferdinand and Isabella Saga

Ferdinand & Isabella, pt. 6: Journey from Aragon


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To read part 1: Gaining a Kingdom, click here.

To read part 2: A Queen Among Women, click here.

To read part 3: The Troth…, click here.

To read part 4: …The Plight, click here.

To read part 5: The Spy, click here.


Previously on Do Things Worth Writing…

Princess Ysabel (or Isabella, as we know her) was established as the heir of King Enrique of Castile. However, when it became apparent that the king was more interested maintaining his own power than in doing what the people– and Ysabel– preferred (namely, marrying her to Ferdinand of Aragon), she pursued the marriage herself, escaping from Enrique’s court when she was threatened with bodily harm. Now that Ysabel is safely tucked away in Archbishop Carrillo’s lands, it is imperative that Ferdinand embark on the dangerous journey to Castile, Ysabel, and holy matrimony.


2 October, 1469 • Segorbe, Aragon

Seventeen-year-old Ferdinand, the crowned prince of Aragon and king of Sicily, dismounted his horse and trudged into the tent. The colorful pavilion was large in comparison with the tents that the foot soldiers and lower officers used, but still, he was sick of living under canvas.

“Sire!” Ten-year-old Caspar de Espes ran up to Ferdinand and dropped into a bow at the last second. “Do you have any wounds? Are the French retreating? How goes the battle?” His smile was maddening. Caspar, the son of a lower nobleman and the brother of Ferdinand’s chamberlain, had been in the prince’s retinue for five months. Still, unrealistic dreams of glory shown in his eyes.

“Poorly. ” Ferdinand growled as he stormed past. Normally, he found the boy entertaining and enlivening. Tonight, however, Ferdinand was so tired that the child’s energy was anything but. “Here,” he handed his sword to Caspar. “The generals made me leave the front too quickly to clean that. Make yourself useful.”

He stiffened at Ferdinand’s tone, his smile vanishing behind a respectful, blank mask. “Yes, sire,” he bowed and ran behind the tent.

Guilt tingled at the base of Ferdinand’s stomach as Caspar disappeared. He was a good boy and didn’t deserve to be snapped at like that. Naïve and  idealistic, but loyal. In many respects, Caspar reminded Ferdinand of himself when he had first gone to the front nearly eight years ago.

Ferdinand sighed and marched into the pavilion. First, I’ll change out of these bloody clothes and get some good food and wine. Then, I’ll make amends with him. Send him to deliver a message to one of the generals or something. That should make him feel important.

Inside the tent, more retainers approached him. “Wine, sire?” Asked Guillen Sanchez, Ferdinand’s cupbearer, carrying a platter with a full goblet on it. He knelt before the prince, holding the platter at hand-level. Ferdinand accepted the cup and took a long sip of the red wine. As he calmed, his mind slipped to an 18-year-old blonde princess in Castile. Ysabel… 

Her looks and personality had been described to him in detail, and he was desperate to meet her. Not like that made any difference in the state of Aragonese affairs. He didn’t see that he would be able to get away from the war, unless God Almighty provided a miracle.

He set the goblet down on the tray as two more servants approached and helped him take off his plate armor piece by piece. Once he was free, they carried them behind the tent to clean them. “Any news from Castile?” Ferdinand addressed his chamberlain, Ramón de Espes, as he stepped behind his dressing screen with another servant, who was carrying clean clothes.

“Nothing, my lord, except that she is safe in Valladolid among friends.”

Ferdinand raised his hand over the screen and waved the chamberlain off. “Yes. And Archbishop Carrillo will send more news as soon as possible, blah, blah, blah. But it’s been a month!”

“I have nothing new to tell you, your highness,” He replied softly.

Ferdinand stepped around the screen in fresh hose and breeches. Throwing a loose-fitting linen shirt over his head, he answered, “I know. The battle today wore me down. I fear we will lose the town to the blasted French…” Treacherous scoundrels. 

He bit back stronger language. The French had been their allies after his older brother, Carlos, had died. It hadn’t taken too long for them to push their advantage. Legally, they were still working within their treaty with Ferdinand’s father, King Juan; ethically, however, they were attacking a neighbor and ally during their own civil war. “It was a dark day. I wanted to be able to enjoy the evening with a letter from Princess Ysabel or at least a message from Archbishop Carrillo or Ambassador Palencia to brighten it.”

Ramón inclined his head respectfully. “Even kings have bad days and need encouragement, sire.”

Ferdinand nodded and picked up the goblet again. In the other hand, he grabbed a pan basicó roll from another proffered tray.  He tore off a large bite of the bread, savoring the fresh taste and dual texture of crispy crust and soft interior. “It’s true. Father makes it look easy, but I fear it’s not.”

“And when your highness is as well endowed in years as your illustrious father, your sons will admire you just as highly.”

Ferdinand smiled into the goblet. Hopefully, anyway.

“Sire? Although there’s nothing from Castile, there are several documents that require your grace’s attention.”

Ferdinand bit back a groan. So much for a relaxing evening. “Very well. Bring my writing desk.”

Between bites of salted pork and a bowl of fresh-cut fruit, Ferdinand organized the extra-thick stack of papers that Ramón brought him. Reports from the nobility at Sicily… a request for money from Princess Juana that Ferdinand crumpled and threw on the floor. He didn’t have enough money to pay his own troops, much less help his sister with her court… another letter from Father about the art of war… “Caspar!” Ferdinand called, scribbling some instructions on a parchment.

The lad ran up and bowed. “Yes, my lord?”

Ferdinand sealed the document and handed it to the boy. “Take this letter and give it to Lieutenant Gil of the tenth platoon. Commander del Burga in Algar needs reinforcement. This letter may save several lives. Can I trust you?”

A grin split Caspar’s face as he took the letter. “Yes, my king!” He turned and ran from the tent. A tired smile spread over Ferdinand’s face as he watched the child. Returning to his desk, he caught Ramón’s twinkling glance. “I’m thinking of making him a nobleman in his own right someday.”

Ramón grinned proudly. “He’ll be worthy of much responsibility, my lord.”

Ferdinand nodded, breaking the seal of the next document. “I agree. If he remains this loyal and proves himself courageous as well, he just might earn himself a dukedom or…” Ferdinand’s brow furrowed. He reread the letter. “Ramón, who brought this one?”

He walked over and examined it. “I’m not sure, sire.”

This changes everything! Excitement lit in Ferdinand’s heart as he read it a third time. “Go call Archbishop Juan of Aragon. I must speak with him immediately.” Cordoba bowed and left the tent quickly.

Ferdinand set aside the parchment and paced around the tent, stopping for a long moment before the massive map of the Iberian Peninsula laying on the table in the middle of the pavilion. It complicates everything, too. I’ll have to leave immediately. He walked over to the desk and glanced at the letter. “Zaragoza…” That’s a hard two days’ journey north…

“What about Zaragoza?”

Ferdinand turned to see Archbishop Juan of Aragon bow in the door of the tent. “Thank you for coming, brother,” Ferdinand walked over and pulled his illegitimate half-brother into a hug. “I need your advice. This letter is from Ambassador Palencia. He and a companion named Guitierre de Cárdenas are in Zaragoza and want to meet with me at the monastery to take me to Valladolid to marry Ysabel. However, it must be done secretly because King Enrique’s allies have closed the border and sworn to kidnap me at all costs.”

Juan scratched his cheek absently. “Why now? Princess Ysabel is safe, is she not?”

“For now. But Archbishop Carrillo fears that she’ll be kidnapped by Enrique’s supporters if we aren’t wed soon. Palencia agrees. Apparently, they had a narrow escape from a powerful bishop in Burgo de Osma–”

“Where’s that?”

Ferdinand led Juan to the map and gestured to the town on the Castile side of the border. “They didn’t know this when they went to his cathedral, but he recently defected from Ysabel to King Enrique. They just barely got away from him.”

Juan shook his head. “Carrillo is probably right. If you don’t marry soon, you may not be able to.”

Ferdinand gestured to the door of the tent. “And the war? If I go, what will happen here?”

“You have wisely surrounded yourself with canny generals who can carry your load, sire. Also, should your highness deign to, you can trust me to act as a steward in your absence.”

Ferdinand nodded. He would certainly be a wise choice.

“Go to Ysabel, stay there long enough to secure the crown and your posterity, then return.”

“And the border?”

Juan shrugged. “Go to Zaragoza and Valladolid in disguise with a few companions. Send a decoy to Father in Gerona and tell them to pretend to cross the border. Instruct them to retreat before the fighting gets perilous and return to father. The decoy will draw Castile’s attention from you, and by the time Enrique realizes he’s been fooled, you’ll be at Ysabel’s side.”

Ferdinand nodded, staring at the map before him. After Zaragoza, they would have a five-day trek to Ysabel, mostly through dangerous mountains and land belonging to treacherous nobles. Still, he knew that Juan was right. He nodded. “Go call my generals and Pedro Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca.” Pedro was Ferdinand’s best friend, and a boyhood companion. Of anyone, Ferdinand wanted to share this adventure with him. “They should all be in their tents by now. In the meantime, I will prepare the documents you need to wield authority in my absence.”

Juan bowed. “As you wish, my liege.”


3 October, 1469 • Monreal del Campo, Aragon

Ferdinand trudged into the private room in the inn, closing the door to block out the jovial and drunken ruckus from the public supper being served downstairs. Exhausted, he leaned his head against the door.

Behind him, Pedro Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca snickered. “What’s wrong, Fernando?” He teased, using the pseudonym to protect the prince’s identity. “Tired?”

Ferdinand groaned. Turning, he sunk to the floor. “Whose idea was it that I should be disguised as a mule cart driver?”

“Hmm. Let me think. I believe that was you.” Pedro, dressed as an upper house servant, goaded.

“You’re having too much fun with this.” Ferdinand cast a dirty look around the room. “No one told me that being a servant was this hard.” Ramón, dressed as a middle-class merchant, lifted a cup to his lips to hide his grin, but it still sparkled in his eyes. Guillen, also dressed as a high servant, coughed and suddenly became very interested in the dark night outside the window.

Caspar, who was pretending to be his brother’s apprentice, on the other hand, looked abashed. He shrugged apologetically. “You seemed so enthusiastic about it…”

Ramón coughed in his cup and Pedro outright laughed, slapping his knee. “Yes. I believe your exact words were, ‘It will be a perfect disguise! No one would expect a prince to be clothed in rags and waiting on his companions hand and foot!'”

Ferdinand glared at him. “Just wait until my muscles aren’t so sore and I get my sword back. We’ll see who’s laughing then.”

“Which means I better get all my fun in now while I still can. Right, my friend?”

Ferdinand groaned and lowered his head into his hands. “At least is there any wine left?”

“Yes!” Caspar said. Ferdinand looked up to see him holding out the stoneware decanter. “The innkeeper said that if we wanted any more, all we had to do was ask for a refill.”

Ferdinand groaned and lowered his head onto his knees as Ramón and Pedro burst into laughter. Even Guillen was perceptively shaking with repressed laughter. “I meant,” Ferdinand said, “Do we have any in the room or did you four drink it all?”

“Oh…” Caspar cleared his throat. “I… um… I think I drank the last of it.”

“What do you think, Ramón?” Pedro stage whispered. “Which is more entertaining? The lad’s discomfort or the nobleman’s frustration?”

Ramón chortled. “Good question.”

“Fortunately, we still have a few days to watch and decide,” Pedro replied.

Ferdinand shook his head and held out his hand for the decanter without looking up. “Fine. I’ll go get more wine.”

Caspar handed him the decanter, whispering, “Sorry…”

Ferdinand stood and shook his head. “That’s okay, Caspar. I was getting bored anyway.” He glared at Pedro and Ramón again.

Pedro stood from his chair. “I should probably go with you.” Ferdinand lifted an eyebrow suspiciously. “Can’t trust anyone anymore. Got to make sure that the mule was stabled correctly! Of course, that means that the poor servant boy may have to redo anything that wasn’t done quite right.”

Ferdinand rolled his eyes.

“My masters,” Guillen said, turning from the window. “Leave him alone. I’m sure he did fine.”

Ferdinand looked at him gratefully. Guillen, though entertained by the group’s antics, at least hadn’t joined them. “Thank you, Guillen.” Someone’s got to keep these merciless teases under wraps since they’re not listening to me.

“Though when you get back from getting the wine,” Guillen continued, holding out a foot with a smirk. “I could use a foot massage.”

Pedro and Ramón burst out laughing. Even Caspar chuckled into his hand. Ferdinand shook his head. “Not you, too.”

He walked out of the door, not bothering to close it behind him. Pedro followed him. “Cheer up, Fernando. One of these days, you’ll look back and laugh at all this.”

A floorboard creaked behind them. Ferdinand whirled around and looked for the cause, but saw nothing in the hallway’s dank, dark shadows. He shook his head. These old buildings. I wish we could afford better inns! He turned and marched down the stairs. “Doubtful,” he said to Pedro.

“It’s for the good of the cause,” Pedro whispered in Ferdinand’s ear, patting him on the shoulder.

As soon as the decanter was refilled, they walked back up the stairs. A robed figured ran past them. As they watched, he darted through the crowd and disappeared through the inn door. “I didn’t realize anyone else was staying in the private rooms on our floor,” Ferdinand muttered.

Pedro nodded. “There are a few people in the room next to ours. I heard them while you were in the stable. Pretty loud, too. They probably got into another fight just now.”

“Makes sense. With ruffians around every corner, you can never…” Ferdinand froze when he reached the top of the stairs. “Pedro? Didn’t you close the door?”

“No…” Pedro joined him and shook his head. “But I didn’t leave it that open.”

The two of them darted into the room. Ramón sprawled on the floor by the bed, unconscious. Caspar was sitting on a chair, his arm out of his doublet, blood running from a gash on his shoulder. Guillen dabbed at it with a rag, blood running down his own temple. “What happened?” Ferdinand demanded.

Guillen looked up. “A thief. He knocked out Lord Ramón. Lord Caspar and I tried to stop him, but he got away. Mine isn’t nearly as bad as it looks, but the cut on my young lord’s shoulder is deep.” Ferdinand glanced down at the boy, who winced as Guillen returned to the wound. Ramón groaned, rising to his knees and rubbing his head.

“How bad is it?” Ferdinand asked Caspar.

Caspar shrugged his good shoulder. “I guess I’m alright. Guillen said before you came up that he doesn’t expect it to get infected.”

“Did the thief take anything?” Pedro asked.

Caspar looked down at his knees. “The money purse.”

Ferdinand felt the blood drain from his face. “The money purse? As in, the only money purse?” Caspar nodded, shamefaced.  Ferdinand turned and stomped from the room, adrenaline pumping through his veins. Outside in the cool night air, he looked around, noticing a fleeting figure disappear into the shadowy woods. He charged after him. “Halt!” The shadow only moved faster. “I charge you by King Juan and Prince Ferdinand! Stop!”

The shadow disappeared completely. Ferdinand paused and held his breath, listening. Somewhere to his left, someone was breathing hard. He pulled back and hid behind a tree. After a couple minutes, the thief rose from his hiding place. Ferdinand rushed out and punched the man, knocking him to the ground. “Where’s the purse?” He demanded.

“I don’t have it!” The thief shouted. “My partner left with it right before you came out of the inn! He’s long gone by now.”

Ferdinand growled and lifted his fist, but someone caught it from behind. He looked back at Pedro, who was holding a lantern in his other hand. “You’re a prince. Act like it,” Pedro whispered in his ear, quietly enough that only Ferdinand could hear.

Ferdinand yanked his wrist away and watched as the thief scurried away. Sweat poured down Ferdinand’s face, his jaw hurting from clenching it so hard. He drew out a tiny knife from his belt and threw it. Thunk! It embedded itself  in a tree five inches from the thief’s head. The startled man jumped, tripped over a root, and sprawled on the path. Ferdinand reached for the second concealed knife. Aim lower. If he’s not dead, we can give him to the magistrate and hope the partner returns.

“No!” Pedro whispered hoarsely, grabbing Ferdinand’s hand. “Don’t be a bull, Ferdinand! You’re a prince but if we’re going to get you to Ysabel alive, you have to maintain this farce!”

“How do you expect us to get to her if we have no money?” Ferdinand hissed, watching as the hyperventilating thief stood and tripped immediately over another root. Clumsy ox! How does he make a living like this?

“We’ll meet up with Palencia tomorrow night. He’ll help us and you can pay him back later. For now, let the thief go.”

“It would be so easy…” Ferdinand growled between clenched teeth. The thief was finally on his feet and just rounding a bend in the path, but Ferdinand was certain he could still make the shot.

Setting the lantern on the ground, Pedro grabbed Ferdinand’s shoulders and forced him to turn around. “Muleteers drive mules. Period! If you actually hit him, don’t you think people would get a bit suspicious? They would be talking for years about the servant boy who threw knives like a knight. And do you really want spies to hear that story?”

Ferdinand sighed and glanced over his shoulder. The thief had disappeared into the night. “No.” he replied.

“Good.” Pedro let go. “Now, let’s go get some sleep. We have a long ride ahead of us tomorrow.”


7 October, 1469 • Burgo de Osma, Castile

“That’s Burgo de Osma, sire!” Guitierre de Cárdenas held his horse’s reins in one hand and with the other pointed out the sleepy town on the twilight horizon. “And if you look over there,” he pointed, “You can see the Count of Trevino’s castle. That’s where we’re heading.”

“And you’re sure he’s on our side?” Ferdinand asked. “How do you know that he’s not in league with the bishop in town?”

“Oh, I’m quite sure he’s not with the bishop, sire. If we had stayed with the Count instead of at the monastery at the Cathedral de San Pedro, I have no doubt we would have had a smoother trip. However, then we wouldn’t have known about the closed border and the danger to your royal person. Besides, Palencia should be there by now. We would have heard from him if something had gone wrong.”

Unless he was captured. Ferdinand shivered and handed the reins to Guillen while he wrapped the rough wool blanket around himself. May God Almighty save us from any traps set for us. Setting aside his worries for the present, he allowed himself to daydream about arriving at a friendly castle. After a good meal and pleasant night’s sleep, he would also have an armed escort to take him to Valladolid. If all went well, he would be by Ysabel’s side in a few more days, sleeping in a comfortable bed every night.

“As much as I’ve enjoyed this trip,” Pedro said sarcastically, pulling his horse alongside the cart. Ferdinand grinned at him. Between Pedro’s tenaciously optimistic attitude and Caspar’s excitement for adventure, the trip actually hadn’t been too bad. “How much longer?”

“We won’t get there until well into the second watch,” Cárdenas replied.

“Why don’t we stop here and sleep for a few hours, then continue in the morning? After all, we’re here early.” Ramón pointed out. The night before, their little band hadn’t stopped because the mountain forest showed signs of bandits. “Wouldn’t it be safer if we get there tomorrow?”

Cárdenas shook his head. “This is dangerous territory. If anyone who is in league with King Enrique finds us, we six are too few to fight off a band of tenacious enemies.”

Ferdinand nodded, taking advantage of the last of the evening light to glance around at his traveling companions, all of whom were slump-shouldered and bleary-eyed. After meeting with Cárdenas and Palencia, the latter had left immediately at all speed for the Count of Trevino to let announce their coming. Ferdinand and his traveling companions, along with Cárdenas, left the next morning. That was two days ago. We’re also too tired. It would be so easy to finish us off right now.  

“Anyway,” Cárdenas continued, “I don’t see why arriving early will be too much of a problem. We’ll still sleep on comfortable beds tonight.”

“And eat large bowls of frumenty.” Caspar, who rode his pony near Ramón, added. Ferdinand’s mouth salivated at the mention of the dish, a seasoned porridge made with wheat, bone broth, and spices. He hadn’t tasted the dish in months, and after traveling in the chilly autumn weather so long, it– along with a large goblet of mulled wine–sounded really good.

“So, Cárdenas,” Ferdinand said, “Tell us about Osma Castle. When was it built, interesting battles… anything really to keep us awake.”

Caspar’s drooping head popped up at the mention of battles, and they all listened with rapt attention as Cárdenas explained how King Garcia of Leon besieged and conquered it nearly 500 years before. As the hours past, Cárdenas jumped to other stories that were just as brilliant as the first. Visions of knights, kings, and battles swam before Ferdinand’s eyes until Guillen shook him. “Sire?” he whispered in Ferdinand’s ear. “We’re here.”

Ferdinand jerked upright. “Hmm?” He swallowed and wiped the saliva from his chin. “Oh, yes. Osma Castle.” He glanced up at the looming fortress above him, then back at the servant. “Thank you.” Ferdinand stretched.

Bang, bang, bang. Ferdinand glanced up, barely making out Cárdenas’ form in the darkness as he knocked on the castle gate. Even though the moon was a tiny sliver, the stars were bright enough to see the outlines of Ferdinand’s companions. “Hello! Guests who seek lodging! We come on behalf of the Princess of Asturias!”

“Malefactors at the gate!” The sentinel on the ramparts shouted.

Suddenly wide awake, Ferdinand jumped off the cart and reached to his side, only to remember that his sword was hiding in a burlap bag in the cart under a large pile of luggage and wares. At least I have my fists. When they open the gate, they will find a warrior and his companions waiting for them!

Voices on the ramparts yelled to each other as they prepared for attack. Torches outlined soldiers in campfire-esque relief. “Watch out!” Ferdinand called to his friends, who were scurrying around, preparing for battle. “They have long bows and crossbows!”

Stone crunched on stone above him. Looking up, Ferdinand watched as a man-sized boulder hurdled toward his head. “PRINCE FERDINAND!”

Ferdinand jumped backwards, losing his footing and landing on his backside just as he realized that his cover had been blown. There’s no way they didn’t hear Caspar. The proof was the silence that filled the night air above them.

Thunk! The stone imbedded itself in the ground where Ferdinand had been standing seconds before. Against the night sky, Caspar’s form stood only a few feet away, his hands covering his mouth and shoulders shaking with sobs.

“CASPAR!” Pedro screamed, marching over to the lad.

Ferdinand huffed, staring at the boulder laying inches from his feet. His shoulders slumped. We’ve come so far… and now we’ve failed.

“Were you not told that this was a secret mission, boy?” Pedro struck the sobbing child. “What part of ‘do not reveal his identity under any circumstance’ didn’t you understand?”

Caspar’s wails rose into the night. “I’m sorry…”

Ferdinand shook his head. “Pedro!” He hissed. “No amount of yelling at him will change what happened.”

“Prince Ferdinand?” A soldier above them yelled down. “Prince Ferdinand is among you?”

“Stay there, sire,” Guillen whispered in his ear. “I’ll say that I’m you.”

“I appreciate it, but no. If any of these men have heard my voice before, they’d instantly know that you aren’t me. Besides, even if they took the bait, it wouldn’t take long for them to realize they killed the wrong man, then they’d shoot us all.” Ferdinand stood, squaring his shoulders. “I am Prince Ferdinand, King of Sicily and Heir Apparent of Aragon and all its realms.” He spread out his arms. “Do what you think best, captain, but understand that by killing me, you bring open war against Castile and your noble lord.” If Father can manage to spare the manpower, that is.

Ferdinand opened his mouth to argue further, but before he could, a new voice echoed above him. “Hold your fire!” The man leaned over the rampart, searching the shadows below. “Prince Ferdinand? Sire! Are you well?” Ferdinand smiled in relief as he recognized the voice.

“Palencia!” Ferdinand lowered his hands. “Yes! I’m fine!”

“Praise God!”

“So you should. But while you do that, could you please let us come in?”

“I’ll be right down!” Palencia disappeared into the tower.

“Did you hear that, Caspar? We’re safe!” Ferdinand said to him.

Caspar, still sobbing, ran up to Ferdinand and bowed at his feet. “F-f-for-give… me… sire! I d-d-didn’t mean to…”

“It’s alright, Caspar. You meant well, and no harm came of it.” Ferdinand extended his hand to the boy. “In fact, you may have saved our lives. If you hadn’t called my real name, they may have killed us on the spot.”

Caspar sniffed but kissed Ferdinand’s fingers as a sign of submission. “Th-thank … you … sire.”

Trumpets flourished inside the fortress and the gate slowly rose. On the other side, Palencia and another man that Ferdinand could only guess was the Count of Trevino stood with torches in hand. Behind them were at least two hundred soldiers standing at attention, lit in a blaze of torches. As soon as the gate was raised enough, Palencia and the count marched forward in time to the brass song. When they reached Ferdinand, they bowed, giving him the courtesy due a king.


14 October, 1469 • Dueñas Castle, Castile

“Well, sire? Are you ready?” Pedro asked as Ferdinand checked his outfit one more time in the mirror.

“Leading troops into battle isn’t this frightening,” Ferdinand admitted under his breath. His cloth-of-gold waistcoat with slashed sleeves and matching breeches were fashionably tight. His polished black shoes shone slightly in the candlelight. He held his black jeweled cap close to his side.

“Maybe it would help if you keep in mind how beautiful she is.” Pedro smiled teasingly into the mirror as he grabbed the prince’s shoulders and vigorously massaged them.

Ferdinand took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “That’s making it worse.”

Pedro chuckled. “Fortunately, you have a twenty-mile ride ahead of you. That will give you plenty of time to settle down.” He let go of Ferdinand’s shoulders and mussed his hair.

“Pedro! I worked a long time to get it that perfect!”

“The wind was going to mess it up anyway. Besides, this gives you a rugged, athletic look.”

Ferdinand glanced at his reflection again. I am going to Valladolid to meet my bride tonight. I can do this. I am Prince Ferdinand of Aragon and I have met girls before. He exhaled. Then again, this is the first princess I’ve met besides my sisters… He swallowed so hard that Pedro had to look away to cover a smile.

Ramón entered the room and bowed. “The escort is ready, sire.”

Ferdinand nodded a little too vigorously. “Thank you–” His voice squeaked. He cleared his throat and tried again, forcing a little more depth into his voice than was normally there. “Thank you, Ramón.” As he followed the chamberlain out, he ignored Pedro’s smirk.

The trip to Valladolid went by faster than Ferdinand thought it would. “The heavens are clear, sire,” Palencia said as they entered the city’s back gate. “It’s a good omen, don’t you think?”

“I do, Palencia.” Ferdinand looked up at the midnight half-moon, bright against the black velvet sky. The sight calmed him more than the plateau breezes had. He took a deep breath and glanced around the street. “Which house…?”

“That one, sire.” Palencia pointed to a grand estate down the road. “It belongs to the nephew-in-law of Archbishop Carrillo, Juan de Vivero. His wife, María, is quite genteel and made an excellent companion for her highness.”

It’s just a casual meeting. It’s just a casual meeting… In front of the house, Ferdinand lighted from his horse.  A tall figure opened the massive front door and bowed low before Ferdinand could knock.

“Sire,” the deep voice reverberated into the night air. “Welcome. I am Archbishop Alfonso Carrillo.”

Ferdinand smiled and entered the dimly lit front great hall, an impressive room even in darkness. Other men, among them a regally dressed nobleman, stood at attention, watching the royal escort arrive. As Ferdinand’s retainers entered, Archbishop Carrillo stooped and reached to kiss Ferdinand’s hand. However, Ferdinand stepped back. “No, Archbishop,” Ferdinand said in his most magnanimous voice, squaring his shoulders. “There is to be none of that between you and me. For your service, and in recognition of the suffering and danger you have faced for me and my house, you shall be as a father to me.”

Archbishop Carrillo smiled proudly and inclined his head. “I am gratified, your highness. May I present your host, Juan de Vivero?”

Ferdinand turned to the nobleman as the man bowed to offer obeisance. “I’m honored by your majesty’s presence in my humble home.”

Ferdinand nodded. “And we are grateful for all you have offered to Princess Ysabel.”

De Vivero smiled. “Are you ready to meet your betrothed?”

Ferdinand swallowed as his panic returned and nodded, not trusting himself to speak. As Archbishop Carrillo and de Vivero walked up the stone spiral staircase, Ferdinand turned to Ramón and Pedro with wide eyes. Ramón nodded encouragingly and Pedro, a teasing glint in his eyes, motioned for him to go up the stairs.

The second story of the mansion was even more impressive than the great hall had been. Rich tapestries, coats of armor, and religious relics graced the walls. They’re certainly richer than I am, Ferdinand realized. The group rounded a corner and entered the upper-hall. The room was a blaze of lights, refreshments laden a side table. A servant sat in the back corner, softly strumming a lute.

“May I present Prince Ferdinand of Aragon, King of Sicily to your highness, Princess Ysabel, Princess of Asturias,” Juan de Vivero announced

In the middle of the room stood a small group of women. One was a blonde with approving blue-grey eyes. Her long, wavy hair was covered with a sheer veil, modest yet revealed enough to excite Ferdinand. A lace chemise covered her from her delicate white neck to the golden collar of her maroon velvet dress. Over her bosom laid the pearl and ruby necklace that had been in Ferdinand’s family for generations.

Ferdinand blinked.  His thoughts hummed, whirled, and sputtered until Pedro walked up behind him. “Well, sire?” he whispered.

An anxious thought shot through Ferdinand. He gulped and turned to Pedro. “Do I kiss her hand? She’s from the superior kingdom…” Why didn’t I ask Archbishop Carrillo downstairs?

Pedro stared at Ferdinand, aghast. “I… I… um…”

“No, your highness,” Princess Ysabel spoke calmly, her Castilian accent charmingly vivid. She regally stepped forward. “We are equals, you and I. In fact,” she added as she dropped a low curtsy, “as my betrothed husband and as a king already in your own right, you have dignities I do not possess.”

Ferdinand’s eyebrows shot to his hairline, desire exploding in his head like a flourishing trumpet. He cleared his throat and, hoping his voice wouldn’t crack just now, he bowed to her, “You speak my own mind, Princess. We are indeed equals.”

The smile that lit up Ysabel’s face made her ten times more beautiful and instantly calmed and set Ferdinand’s heart fluttering. With a trembling hand, he reached out for her. Her smile suddenly very shy, she placed her hand in his, sending shivers up his arm.


19 October, 1469 • Valladolid, Castile

“Ysabel,” Ferdinand whispered into her ear, the wedding jubilation in de Vivero’s great hall. When she looked up at him with those calm eyes, he nearly forgot what he was going to say. “Look out the window.” He eyed her as she observed the brilliant sunset sky, smiling sweetly.

“It’s beautiful, Ferdinand.”

“Certainly our first evening as man and wife should be spent watching such a gorgeous display.” With that, he took her hand and led her to the second floor, opening a door onto a private balcony.

Red and golden light streamed from the fiery ball on the horizon. Above it, puffy purple and navy-grey clouds provided a dividing line between the glory of the sun and the softer, deeper shades of night. Below them in the streets of Valladolid, revelers celebrated and sang songs to their union.

Quietly, Ferdinand drew Ysabel to his side. She, however, gasped and pulled away. Ferdinand looked down at her, knitting his eyebrows together compassionately. “Too fast?” She dropped her blushing face to him and nodded. “Then we’ll take it slowly.” He ran a gentle finger down her sleeve, biting back a smile when she shivered under his touch.

Ysabel cleared her throat and looked back at the sunset. Ferdinand, however, admired her. Her silk dress was the traditional bridal blue, decorated with intricate golden embroidery. She wore a wreath of orange blossoms over her delicate, sheer head covering.

“We’ll have to come up with a coat of arms.” Ysabel commented absently, pulling Ferdinand from his thoughts. “Something to represent the both of us and show all of Spain that we are married at last.”

He nodded, glancing back at the sun, half concealed behind the horizon. “It should have both royal insignias… the castles and lions of your kingdom, and the bars and eagles of mine.”

“Yes. And something to represent our conquest of Granada.” Besides being one of the things he had agreed to in the marriage contract, the war against the Moors had been one of the things they had discussed during their two-hour meeting five days before. “Perhaps Alhambra castle?”

Ferdinand shook his head. “Too overt. It should be something smaller that Granada is known for, like almond blossoms or…”

“A pomegranate?”

“Yes! Exactly.

“It should also have symbols to represent the two of us individually.”

Individually… He brushed nothing in particular from his embroidered brown silk doublet and took a deep breath. I think I may be just as nervous as she is! He swallowed, unwilling to let it show. “Would you mind… my princess… if I chose something for you?”

Ysabel turned to him with that small, intoxicating smile and cocked her head coquettishly. “Only if I may decide what will represent you.”

“Of course.” Ferdinand’s heart felt like it was beating out of his chest. Slowly, afraid he might scare her, he slipped his fingers under her head covering and drew his fingers through her curls. “What would you pick?”


“Arrows? Why arrows?”

“Well, for one thing, it begins with the same letter as your name. For another,” she paused, timidly fingering an embroidered design on his doublet. “You are the handsomest warrior I’ve ever laid eyes on.” Ferdinand bit back a smile, glad that she was finally responding to him physically.

“And I choose a yoke. Yoke for Ysabel and for the authority you’ll wield by my side.”

She laid her head on his shoulder and sighed contentedly, her fingers splayed on his chest. “We should also have a motto, something for the literate of the kingdoms.”

“How about what you told me when we met?” He wrapped his arms around her slender frame, gently rubbing her back, which relaxed under his touch. “Tanto Monta. ‘One is Equal to the Other.’ ”

“I like it.” A smile pulled at the corners of her mouth as she caught his eyes, then glanced at his lips.

Ferdinand’s mind flashed back five days. He had kissed her blushing cheek as he took his leave for Dueñas Castle. And of course, there was their kiss during the ceremony.  The first had been a gentle farewell and the second had been for the witnesses and nearly passionless. This one will be different. 

Slowly, he leaned down and planted his lips on hers. He loved the way her eyes closed before his did, how she wrapped her arms around his waist, how she pressed her body against his. In response, Ferdinand cradled her head in one hand, splaying his other on the small of her back. He wasn’t sure how long the kiss lasted, nor did he know who pulled away first.



She was staring at him with yearning, dilated eyes. “I love you.”

Ferdinand leaned in for another kiss just as the final molten sliver of the sun disappeared behind the horizon. “I love you too, Ysabel.”

Picture courtesy of Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen by Nancy Rubin


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Author’s Notes

Many, many thanks to Adam Stück for his advice and critiques!

Several of these characters are known in this part of the world by the Anglicized form of their names, but I have chosen to keep their Old Spanish names. Following is a complete list, along with their Anglican names: Enrique (Henry), Juan (John), and Ysabel (Isabella).


For Further Exploration


Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen by Nancy Rubin

Dos Tratados by Alfonso de Palencia

Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey

Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Giles Tremlett

Ferdinand and Isabella by Paul Stevens

Articles and Websites

Spanish Names from the 15th Century by Juliana de Luna

Osma Castle by castles.nl

Medieval Wedding Traditions by medieval-castles.net

Granada by All About Spain




5 thoughts on “Ferdinand & Isabella, pt. 6: Journey from Aragon

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