It was a knight from the Order of Santiago who found the small girl wandering along the Way of St. James in the year of the Bad Rains. Charged with delivering a message to the Templars at Ponferrada, the knight had no time for crying children and, so, without a backward glance, left her at inn called The Laughing Horse in the valley beyond Pedrafita Pass.
Throwing a few silver coins upon the table, the knight said to the protesting landlord, “No doubt some distraught mother will come looking for her soon. If not, she is yours to do with as you wish.” Then he rode away and was seen no more.
Unclaimed, the pilgrim’s child was put to work and village eyes watched as the child became a girl, then maid. As she aged, all agreed she only grew more lovely.
“A gypsy’s child,” some said, “left behind for others to take pity on and care for. See how bold her flashing eyes, how sly her looks and her lips so crimson red.”
“She was born of noble blood,” said others. “Perhaps a princess captured by a Moor who cannot now claim her as kin. See how high she holds her head, her profile, the softness of her skin.”
Many pilgrims took their rest at The Laughing Horse and were doubly refreshed – first by the young girl’s beauty and, in later years, by her dancing, for when the music took her to its heart, she was a flame burning bright in the dark mountain night.
“Let us to Lisbon go,” begged the soldier, “where the sun is always shining and the ocean breezes blow. Pray, let us go.”
“In silk and lace will I dress you in Granada,” the merchant pledged, “and fill your every wish if you but grant a kiss.”
“Seville calls, my sweet,” the bishop whispered. “Courtiers will your praises sing, princes sigh. Come, my dear, let’s fly.”
But the maiden turned them all away saying, “Gold and fame are not my desires. Love is all I claim. Let it consume me in its fire.”
The people in the village laughed at her foolishness. The women watched her behind black lace fans and tapped their feet. The men looked at her from the corners of their eyes as she walked by. They called her Solamente – She Stands Alone.
And so the years went by, gradually, one by one.
One summer night to the inn a young man came and for his dinner played the song upon his guitar some call Yearning for Love. And the young maiden, who was busy at her window counting the stars, heard his song and knew it for her own.
As he played, she danced and as she danced, he sang. His shining song opened her soul like a rose bud in June and her heart was satisfied.
At the morning’s light, the young man donned his cloak, turned to her and said, “Although, my love, your lips are sweet, in Toledo is my fortune’s gate. One day, gold-laden, I shall return and make you my own, if you but wait.”
To which the once-maiden, now woman, replied, “If in Toledo’s heat, you feel against your cheek the cool touch of the north wind, think of me, for I am blowing you a kiss, and it is here I wait.”
The young man pulled on his traveler’s pack and walked off to seek his fortune. The woman stood at the very top of the highest hill and heard the lilting sound of his guitar playing a song some call Love is Sweet.
Some people in the village looked on her with pity; others thought, if she has one lover taken, might she another not. And so they called her Cederer – She Yields.
And so the years went by, slowly, one by one.
As dawn’s rosy fingers lifted the skirts of night, a most delicious fragrance awakened the young woman who used to be a maid from the palace of her dreams. Looking out she saw birds winging northward, and trailing in their wake, the scent of orange blossoms, soft and strong and sweet.
Her heart rejoiced. “My beloved comes!” She opened all the windows, then swept outside the door. She laid fresh linens on the bed and washed her hair. She drew on a dress sewn during moonlit nights, then ran quickly to the highest hill to wait.
He came not that morning, nor at noon, but on the third hour, from afar, the young woman saw approaching a fine knight in silvered armor accompanied by his men.
When he drew nigh her, the knight who used to be a young man said, “On a Prince’s smile have I my fortune built, but in the midst of Toledo’s heart the cool touch of the north wind was upon my cheek, and I hungered for your kiss.”
Then he filled her lap with gifts – sweet oranges and scarlet pomegranates, golden almonds and the dark raisins of the south.
That night the young knight played upon his guitar the song some call Love Returns to Love. And while he played, the young woman danced and her bright eyes flashed and her red skirts swirled in the moonlight like ribbons of blood.
Three days and three nights they spent together and on the morning of the fourth, the young knight said, “Destiny calls, my love, and while sweet, here I must not linger but follow this road of riches to its source and gain the fame for which I long.”
The woman answered, “The praise of princes is a heady brew, but one day, a deeper draught you shall crave. Remember then, this mountain pass and the love that I save.”
The knight put on his silver armor and climbed astride his tall black steed. He called his men around him and rode off to claim his fame. The woman, at the top of the highest hill, saw the sun glinting from his armor and heard him singing the song some called Love Renewed.
The people of the village talked amongst themselves and looked sideways at the woman who had danced in the moonlight for a knight in silver armor. They called her Esperanza – She Waits.
And so the years went by, swiftly, one by one.
The harvest sun was high in the sharp blue sky and the vines swollen with juice. The lush woman, who used to be young, walked through the garden, stopping here, pausing there, touching the fruit, breathing in the fragrance of a scarlet rose.
“He comes,” said the bee, buzzing by her ear. “He comes.”
Her heart leapt within her breast and gathering up her skirts, she rushed to the top of the highest hill. From afar, she could see approaching, many men and many horses and many wagons. And from a golden carriage flew the standard of a king.
A Great Man with medals across his chest and a long golden sword at his side descended. Bowing deeply before the woman, his plumed hat brushing the ground, the Great Man said, “Behold!”
At the snap of his fingers, two young boys shook out a bolt of sheer China silk spun as dark as midnight and shot through with golden stars; brought forth a chest of coins new minted and gleaming; lay before her a cask of the finest wine and tender fruits from distant ports in wicker baskets.
The woman clapped her hands and spun around in delight. She put yellow roses in her hair and smiled.
The Great Man laughed and sent his men away. He played for her the song some have named Answering Love’s Call. As he played, she danced for his pleasure and wore, as her only garment, his desire.
His touch was not as light as once it was, nor was her step as quick. But the spirit was strong within them and came forth as Flowing Generosity. Many nights and many days they spent together until, at last, a messenger from the distant waiting prince arrived, bearing news of a coming war.
The Great Man turned to the woman and said, “My duty calls and my prince awaits within his tower. But one day I shall return with fortune, fame and power.”
The woman replied, “While you plot intrigues and plan strategies behind your castle wall, I will a garden plant, count the stars and listen for the north wind’s call.”
The Great Man and his entourage marched in stately process down the mountain road. The woman stood at the top of the highest hill and the wheels of the carriage sang and the drums beat out a martial air some call Love is Triumphant.
The people of the village, knowing war was near, gathered up all they had and in the dark of night slipped away. When they thought of the woman left behind, they called her Constancia – She is Constant.
And so the years flew by, heedlessly, one by one.
It was the cool touch of the north wind upon her cheek that drew the old woman slowing up from her well of dreams. She looked out the window and the winter stars showed in silhouette the shadow of a man walking alone through the snow-filled valley.
She added wood to the fire, then laid the table with fine linen and lace. She sliced bread and put the soup on to heat. She sat and watched the door until at last it opened. An old man entered, his pockets empty, his name forgotten and his only crown the silver of his hair.
She took his cloak, then led him to the waiting chair where they in silence sat until at last the old woman said, “In spring, we shall plant a garden and keep bees. In summer, sit and count the stars as they wheel overhead. In autumn, we shall press juice from the vines and in winter, spin stories and sing songs of love.”
That night while the mountain winds blew, the old man played on his guitar the song some call Love Endures. The old woman swayed within the chords and first became the spark, and then the flame, and then the fire.
By that holy light, the young boy and the young maiden looked into each other’s eyes and at last their hearts beat as one. The people of the village who had returned to the mountain town saw the light in the old woman’s eyes and they called her Ardiente – She Burns.
And the years flew by silently one by one until the day the southern birds carried the scent of orange blossoms on their wings. The old man in garden drew a deep breath and the old woman by the well sighed. The cool touch of the north wind blew soft upon their cheeks.
That night they closed the door to their little house. They untied the dog. They climbed to the top of the highest hill and listened to the stars sing the song some call Timeless Love. Hand in hand, they followed its melody through the high mountain passes and were seen no more.
When the people of the village tell the story of the two lovers, they called it Canto Viento del Norte, The Song of the North Wind.