TOWARDS THE END OF AN AUTUMN DAY IN 1461, A SMALL MOUNTED CAVALCADE WAS CANTERING ALONG THE NARROW WINDING ROAD BETWEEN MADRIGAL AND AREVALO IN OLD CASTILE. Slightly in advance of a column of armed men, rode a middle-aged man in armour, evidently a hidalgo, or one of the lower nobility. Beside him, on a pair of strong mules, were two girls of about ten years of age. One was dark, with restless black eyes and a smiling mouth that was never long at rest.
The other was of a fairer northern type, with light reddish hair, a determined chin somewhat too large for her other features and blue eyes in which there were greenish lights flecked with gold. Both were wrapped in long woollen cloaks to keep out the cold wind that cut diagonally across the road, whipping away the grey powdered dust that arose in a cloud from the hooves of the horses. Under their small, jaunty hats, each had a silken kerchief, or cawl, tied around hair and ears and bound under the chin.
The dark girl, taller of the two, wore newer clothing of a somewhat finer quality. She was Beatriz de Bobadilla, daughter of the royal governor of the castle of Arevalo. Yet she showed a certain deference to her shabbier companion and never failed to address her as “Dona Isabel.” Even at ten years old, one was taught in Castile what was due a princess of the blood royal and granting that Lady Isabel lived with her mother, the Dowager Queen, in very straightened circumstances, almost forgotten by her half brother, King Enrique IV, the fact remained that she was the daughter of the late Juan II by his second wife and that when she grew up would probably marry some powerful noble. Indeed there had already been talk of betrothing her to Prince Fernando of Aragon.