How El Cid Tuned a Cowardly Knight Into a Hero

September 8, 2022

Martin Pelaez fighting a Moor. Photo from a book by RocketShip.

At this time Martin Pelaez came with a caravan of laden animals, bringing provisions to the army of the Cid; and as he passed near the town [Valencia], the Moors came out in great numbers and attacked him to get the food he carried. But though Martin had few men with him, he drove them back into the town. Of this man Martin, who was naturally a coward, the Cid had made a good knight in the following manner. When the Cid first besieged Valencia, Martin, who was a knight of Asturia and large of body and limb, came to him; and the Cid was sorry, for he knew that he had proved himself a coward many times. However, he determined that since he had come he would make him brave whether he wished or not. One day when a party was attacking the town, as they did daily, the Cid and his friends were engaged in a great encounter, and this Martin was well armed, but when he saw the Christians and Moors fighting furiously, he fled and hid himself in his lodging. The Cid saw what he had done, and when he had beaten the Moors he returned to his own lodging for dinner. Now it was the custom of the Cid to eat at a high table, seated on his bench, at the head. And other great knights ate in another part, also at high tables, and no other knights dared take their seats with them unless they were such as deserved to be there. The others who were not so distinguished in arms ate at tables with cushions.

This was the order in the house of the Cid, and every one knew the place where he was to sit, and every one strove to do such great deeds that he would be allowed to sit at table with Alvar Fanez and other famous knights. This Martin, thinking that no one had seen his cowardice, washed his hands in turn with the other knights and would have taken his place among them. But the Cid took him by the hand, and said, “You are not such a one as deserves to sit with these, for they are worth more than you or I, but I will have you with me.” The Cid seated him at the table with himself; and Martin was so stupid that he thought the Cid did this to honor him above all others.

Martin Pelaez

On the next day, the Cid and his company rode toward Valencia, and the Moors came out to fight; and Martin went out well armed, and was among the foremost who charged the enemy; but when he was in among them, he turned his reins and went back to his lodging, and the Cid saw what he had done, but thought that though he had done badly he had done better than the first day. When the Cid had driven the Moors into the town, he went back to his lodging, and as he sat down at the table he took Martin by the hand and seated him by his side and bade him eat of the same dish with himself, saying that Martin had deserved more that day than he had at first. Martin understood now that the Cid had observed him, and he was ashamed; however, he did as the Cid commanded him.

After he had eaten and gone to his lodging, he began to think of what had been done, and he saw that the Cid would not let him sit with the bravest knights, but had seated him with himself more to affront him than to do him honor. Then he resolved to do better than he had done before.

On another day the Cid and his company and Martin rode toward Valencia, and the Moors came out furiously, and Martin charged them boldly; and he smote down and slew a good knight, and he lost all fear, and on that day was one of the best knights there. He remained while the fight lasted, smiting and slaying until the rest of the enemy were driven into the gate, in such manner that the Moors wondered at him, asking where that demon had come from, for they had never seen him before. The Cid was in a place where he could see all that was going on, and he had great pleasure in seeing how he had forgotten his fear. When the Moors were all shut up in the town, the Cid and all his people returned to their lodging, and Martin went along leisurely like a good knight.

The Cid waited for Martin and took him by the hand.

When it was time to eat, the Cid waited for Martin, and took him by the hand, saying, “My friend, the deeds you have done this day have made you a companion of Alvar Fanez and these other good knights, and from henceforth you shall sit with them.” From that day forward, Martin sat with the best knights; and he was always afterward a good knight and valiant, and he lived always with the Cid, and served him well. Later, when Valencia was taken, Martin fought better than any man there except the Cid himself, and he returned from the battle with the sleeves of his mail clotted with blood up to his elbows; and the Cid honored him more on that day than he did any other knight, and took him into all his secrets.

Calvin Dill Wilson, The Story of the Cid: For Young People (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1901), 160–64.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 845

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