Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Traitors and Turncoats: The Vile and Incomprehensible Ruy Blásquez

Supposedly an illustration of an incident from the cycle
of El Cid, which also comes from historical/epic tradition.
As you know if you follow my author blog, I have a guest post today on the wonderful site Unusual Historicals. It's all about a pair of traitors in medieval Castilian epic, and in passing I discuss the strange symbiosis between Castilian epic and medieval Castilian historical sources. 

I wanted to discuss the baddies of The Seven Noble Knights of Lara here. There are spoilers in the following comments.

The story on which I base  The Seven Noble Knights of Lara contains historical figures, but the existence of Ruy Blásquez and Doña Lambra has not been verified, perhaps because no one, even today, would welcome the possibility of being associated with such vile traitors.

Ruy Blásquez – a. k. a. Ruy Velásquez – doesn’t kill a king or even a count. But when he wipes out seven warrior brothers in an epic battle and sends their father to be beheaded, he eliminates an entire generation of soldiers of Castile, leaving himself with all the power for more than ten years at the turn of the eleventh century.

The crime is all the worse because the warriors are his nephews, the sons of his sister. There are few stronger blood ties at this time in history. An uncle is expected to take on an almost nurturing role, ensuring that his nephews realize their potential, especially on the battlefield, and for this surrogate father to cut the knights down in their prime frankly smacks of taboo. Further compounding the betrayal, Ruy Blásquez uses an army of Moorish soldiers to take down his nephews and sends their father to Córdoba, the capital of the Islamic caliphate. His close association with powerful Muslims taints him in the eyes of his Christian neighbors. His actions betray not only his blood relatives, but also the Christian faith.

Although I tell the story from many different points of view in my novel, Ruy Blásquez’s actions are so hard to understand that I dared not take a seat behind his eyes. The source material writers seem to have felt the same taboo. They make an effort to distance the audience from Ruy Blásquez, referring to him as I do here, always with his first and last names, and usually appending “that traitor” or calling him simply “the traitor.” I took a more subtle route: I made him a slippery character, hard to get a handle on in general, so that his incomprehensibility in the betrayal is somewhat believable. The reader is left to conjecture that his wife, Doña Lambra, made him do it.

Doña Lambra, on the other hand, was too much fun not to try to understand. She’s frustrated because she has to marry Ruy Blásquez and covets the nephews’ superior power. She also feels an inconvenient level of sexual tension around her handsome new nephews-in-law, and when they get into an argument and kill her cousin, she snaps. She has to be a little insane to take such a disproportionate revenge, but she also has to be manipulative or influential in order to get Ruy Blásquez to agree, even if he is wishy-washy. It was delightful creating this dangerous beauty the reader loves to hate.

Check back soon for more about how I developed these fascinating characters.

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