Her Father’s Daughter
1391, Tharros, Sardinia
A fresh spring breeze floating through an abandoned coastal town is a smell that is quite unrivalled. A combination of the Mediterranean Sea, traces of near sprouted wild flowers that have bounced through the derelict roman bath houses, grazing 1600-year-old Phoenician concrete to effortlessly whisper passed ones nose and momentarily paralyze all senses. Eleonora may have even enjoyed the nostalgic scent of the air had she not been visually reminded of the unmerciful abolition of societies by the only infallible power that remained constant. The merciless supremacy of time.
Within the crumbling structures of this once great town, she was reminded of the words of her father while he carried her on his shoulders through this old city when she was a child. Peel back the layers of anything made by man or nature and reveal what was once present and of importance.
The crumbling roman bath house once demonstrated the height of inferiority for its people. Cleaner, more sophisticated, the great people of Rome once held their heads up across all known lands. They conquered the majority of Sardinia as they conquered all other islands within the Mediterranean. They engineered great structures, furthered civilizations and governed a progressive way of life. But time played it's cruel but consistent game on even the greatest known empire. As Rome fell its buildings were ripped apart, left and decayed or as she admired here, were built over by the next invader. The peeling layers of different coloured bricks on Tharros' watch tower just displayed to her nothing but a history of invaders whose time in Sardinia had come and gone.
Would today be the day that the Crown of Aragon ended this viscous cycle of irony? To leave the Judges of Sardinia to Govern? Could they put their expansionist minds to the side along with their pride for the sake of peace? Her advisors had spent the previous three weeks assessing the possibilities of the islands future. As they wrestled with these questions, Eleonora's experience with men of war made her inclined to believe they could not. They would not and she knew what was required of her to save the island.
Her message to Aragon had been clear. Allow the Judges to rule each of the provinces as per their council elected positions and she would maintain the peace between the provinces. Remove all Aragonese soldiers from Cagliari, Alghero and Sassari and release the governors from their duties. She will continue to Govern as regent over all of the provinces until her son comes of age. By meeting these terms, all trade routes will be protected and the island may be used to orchestrate any future military manoeuvres against North Africa or the Infidel Turk’s in the east.
The King of Aragon's cousin Peter approached on a small oared boat from his anchored fleet of ships with four diplomats. As she had been informed he had travelled across the Mediterranean to deliver the King's message personally. Peter was handsome, strong with broad soldiers, auburn curly hair with green eyes that matched the summer olive groves of the Spanish coast. There was no subtly in his attire. Outlandish long white socks, dark silk pants and matching vest, a purple sash wrapped around the waist that dubiously looked like woman's scarf; all topped off with a tilted black hat and gold medallions hanging naturally off his neck. Eleonora silently deliberated the obscurity of the combination. In her little world extravagance was discouraged and nobles who had ignored this were the victims of ridicule behind closed doors. But here he was the King's blood, boldly arriving on shore with all the pride of the Kingdom on his person for her to be impressed by.
"My queen! We finally meet!" Peter proudly announced while brushing past her bodyguard's like they were children.
"Welcome Sir Peter, I trust you travelled well" she replied lowering her eyes courteously.
"Worth the voyage to see you."
"While I'm flattered by your presence it was hardly necessary to hand deliver the kings message. One of these four would surely have sufficed." She nodded toward the four diplomats who had already commenced drinking wine with her guards. Laughing and celebrating like they had won some great battle. "Be mindful, we call that the black wine. Soldiers, nobleman and blacksmiths alike have all felt the cruel chastisement from over indulging in it. Tell them to take it with care."
"These men have a talent for drinking I believe they will be fine," Peter assured her. "And as for my presence, I volunteered. I was hardly going to pass up the opportunity to meet the beautiful Queen from the little island that has been causing us so much trouble.”
“Very well and what is your King’s response?”
“While I’ll leave out the obscenities in his message I assure you it is one of rejection. Aragon’s empire is not in the business of forfeiting land and titles at the request of regent nobles who’s power is wavering. I'm sure you don’t like the Kings answer to your bold request. But maybe we will not waste this opportunity to get to know each other more closely"
Eleonora hid her scowl and held her poise. "Will you walk with me Sir? Let me show you Tharros. Maybe its history can change your mind."
"Walk with you I will with pleasure but the King's decision has been made and I share his assessment. If the Crown were to yield to such a request from a minute power it would openely show a weakness ripe for its enemies to exploit. So unless you reconstructed the old bath house I doubt you will be able to sway me." One of the diplomats, who was flushed faced and starting to show the effects of the wine, burst into laughter.
Eleonora smiled and guided the way down the ancient stone steps.
Peter kept his eyes fixated on her ignoring the scenery as they strolled through the ruins. While attempting to avoid getting caught looking into his summer green eyes she carefully explained, by dissecting the layers of each structure, the significance each building played in the history of the foregone rulers of this town. The first people's strange tombs and their disappearance, the Phoenicians, the ruthless Romans, the Byzantines and now the Judges. She intrinsically described all their impacts on the town and its architecture.
"While I'm impressed with your knowledge I didn't come her for a history lesson my Queen." Peter confessed as they came to a stop at an old handrail in front of two Phoenician columns perfectly intact surrounding an old forum.
She stared with vagueness in her eyes at the Sardinian flag at full mast above the columns.
"I'm not your queen," she cursed, "I am no one's queen, I held back from correcting you in front of your men out of respect but that is the third and last time you shall address me in this way." Peter appeared quite startled by her bluntness. "I am nothing more than a Judge", she continued, "to be more accurate I am a servant of the people and act on their behalf to govern and ensure that balance remains. Nothing more."
"Yes we all heard of the balance you restored in the recent crushing of the rebellion," he discourteously remarked. "Is it easier to serve people who are dead?"
"Restoring order is balance. They are my people and I will protect them. Even against themselves"
"Yes, yes well I haven't come here today to argue with you the accuracy of your title or the manner in which you care to be addressed."
Disregarding his attempt to discuss the King's arrogant rejection of her proposal she reverted back to history. "The flag. Do you know the history?"
"I've heard stories. The red cross of St George and the blindfolded heads indicating the thoughtlessness of Rome. They have a similar one in Corsica. What of it?"
"My father clarified to my brother and me when we were barely walking that the flag represents the invasion of the Vandals from North Africa." Her now passion filled eyes beamingly fixated on the flag. "The vandals would always send monks first to explain that the land was to be claimed to allow the people to lay down arms rather than resist. The strength of the Vandals was known throughout the Mediterranean after the fall of Rome and most islands would concede before the fleets arrived. Less raping and plundering usually resulted for the town’s people and the Vandals didn't have to waste good soldiers in battle. When they landed on these shores the locals blindfolded and beheaded the monks and placed them on the beach as a message to the arriving fleet that they would be met with the upmost resistance and that no foreign cultural will ever prevail on this land. The flag was created to remember this."
"Yes, I have heard this version. A very nice tale but the truth is that it doesn't matter. Your great father fought the good fight. Liberating the people of Sardinia. Winning battles he had no right to even be in. Now he is dead, your brother is dead, your husband and son are our prisoners and while you may have proved to be a greater military commander than most men had expected, you will not win. You don't have the numbers, you don't have the discipline and you don't have the gold. So I offer you the chance to surrender to the King, lay down your arms and please me. In doing so, I can ensure your land in the province remains yours after the surrender."
"Please you?" she questioned with an exterior calmness that no other leader could maintain while so insulted. "I haven't heard such a vulgar proposition put so politely," she smiled at him before taking his hand, walking him along. Eleonora, with the line of the ancient plumbing drainage beneath her feet, led him to the shore on the outskirts of the city. In a protected pocket of caves, rocks and eroded stone towers she felt like they were alone. Edging closer to him as they walked she wrapped her arm under his to gesture her unperturbed state. His arm strengthen like a rock and Peter managed a devious smile. A confident smile of victory. This bothered her to no end but her father’s words ecoed repeatedly in her mind.
You cannot save the island without sacrifice. A true sacrifice of your own morality. If this is the path you have chosen, then do as you must and waste no energy on the decision once you have made it.
As they approached a shallow, tunnel-like cave at the opposite entry she pulled him close by the waist. As Peter pushed his hips into her pelvis and leaned in she stopped him and kissed his cheek. Teasing him and then pushing him up against a rock. She ran her hand down his cloak and lowered to her knees. Peter could barely see but his head rushed with blood from the passion when he felt her soft hand under his cloak as she removed his belt and sword sheath. She rose and gently grabbed the back of his hair as he braced for her to lock lips on his and then suddenly he felt a sharp prick under his throat. As an instinct, he reached for his sword. It was out of range.
"If you move this will pierce your throat and you will have about a minute of life remaining. Keep your arms up and walk out backwards toward the beach." She demanded as she slid her blade carefully into his neck as to draw the slightest amount of blood.
"This is ridiculous." He smugly stated. "What do you have to gain from this you foolish woman!"
As they exited the opposite side of the cave her guards seized him and walked him further down the shore to a group of rocks where his diplomats were being held. On their approach it became apparent that three of Peter’s men were dead. Headless and laying on the beach. They tied him to the boat he arrived on and awaited Eleonora as she unsheathed her sword. The last remaining diplomat, the drunk one with the sense of humour, was bent over a rock on the shore and howling in despair. He had thrown up most of his wine on the white sand.
"In defence of Tharros and the island of Sardinia, I denounce you four men as invaders and tyrants against its land and people. Your punishment is death and you may now make peace with whatever god or man you feel you have wronged"
She waited a moment as the remaining diplomat begged for mercy. Realising it was futile and accepting his fate he eventually began to mumble some sort of prayer. Then Eleonora beheaded the man with a hard and true swing of her sword displaying all the confidence of her father's justice as Peter turned white with fear amongst the hysteria. As she cleaned her blade she turned to him and ambled close with her men in synchronized movement at her rear. Despite the fear he couldn't help but admire the presence she held over her guards. They moved in such unity that they appeared to be an extension of her own person. His silent admiration was interrupted by a great explosion to his right. As he turned he saw his fleet light up in a blaze. One ship after the other was engulfed in flames while a fierce black smoke began to fill the air above. He turned back to a soft hand pulling at his ropes. Cutting his ropes and thus freeing his hands Eleonora announced, "Aragon is a fair paddle of the ore, I wish you a safe journey. Unless you wish to try and romance me again?"
Bemused and feeling ill he asked, "You will let me leave? Why kill these men and leave me unharmed?"
She waved her arm to her guards to move their position and as they did they placed each one of the diplomat's heads on a white sheet. The final head placed was dragged in the shape of a cross to replicate the island's flag.
"You have heard the stories, now you have seen the truth. Sardinia is free and any invader will meet the same insignificant fate as those before. I spare your life only to allow you to explain to your King what you have seen. You were once confused as to the meaning of our flag. Remove the confusion for your King."
Without risking knowing more, he entered the boat and began to paddle away from the shore staring with awe at this woman and the commanding presence in which she stood amongst her men. Now he was shaking with a fear that no man had ever held over him. He gazed at the heads of the men he had accompanied placed on the beach in the shape of the Sardinian flag and began to cry.
is an Italian-Australian working and residing in the Middle East. He writes short stories and novels for fun and is inspired by his wife. A lover of history and food he believes in the power of the story. Historical fiction adaptations hold his eye.