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John Bonner

Border Warfare

A.D. 1453

Exulting over his victory over the Moors, the Marquis of Cadiz pined for greater triumphs. He fixed his eye on Malaga, the great seaport on the Mediterranean, where the foreign trade of the Moors was carried on. This would be a nobler prize than Alhama.

Malaga was divided from Antequera, where the marquis mustered his force, by a ridge of lofty and rugged mountains, cut at intervals by rocky valleys and the beds of dead rivers, which were the only passes. On either side of these valleys and gulches cliffs rose, sometimes with very steep sides; from these cliffs great pieces of rock and bowlders, detached by storm or earthquake, had rolled down, parŽtially blocking the path at their base. It was over this difficult road that Ponce de Leon led his men to the attack of Malaga. It was a road almost impassable for cavalry.

He had hoped to get through the mountains and to reach the plain on which Malaga stands before the Moors discovered his purpose; but it seems they were informed of it before he set out; for on the second night, as his army in close file was slowly and painfully working its way through a narrow pass, man and horse stumbling over the rough stones, and sometimes tumbling into clefts by the road-side, lights flashed out on the top of the heights above the pass, and a shower of stones and darts rained upon the Christians. In a little while they found they could neither advance nor retreat, for the narrow pass was blocked in front of them and behind them with the bodies of the soldiers who had been killed by the stones and darts. When day dawned they found that they were caught in a trap. They were being slowly cut off by an enemy at whom they could not strike back.

A guide pretended to show them another pass through the range, but it was no better than the first. The Moors were still above them on the top of crags, pelting them with boulders and fragments of rock. After vainly trying to find a safe road in any direction, the army scattered, and every man sought safety for himself. Numbers of them were lost and perished miserably in the rocks; some fell over precipices, some were killed, others made prisoners by the Moors. And so ended the wretched expedition against Malaga.

But though the Moors won the day, they had cares enough from another source to prevent their being extravagantly happy. Muley Abul Hassan had two wives. One, Ayesha, was of his own kin, and was the wife of his youth. She had a son named Boabdil, who at the time of the rupture with the Christians was grown up. The other wife, Zoraya, had been a Christian, taken prisoner in battle; she was surpassingly beautiful, and became the sultan's favorite. She had two sons, who were babies; but she hoped they would grow up to succeed their father, while Ayesha, who was jealous of Zoraya, determined that her son Boabdil should succeed.

When Muley Abul Hassan returned baffled from Albama, he was received at Granada with groans and curses. The old dervish went round predicting disaster more shriekingly than ever. The king, wearied with the clamor, went with Zoraya to a country-house in search of peace. He had only spent a few hours there when, just at nightfall, he heard a strange sound rising from Granada like the gathering of a storm. Presently a messenger, who had ridden at wild speed, told him that a rebellion had broken out in the city, and that the people had proclaimed his son, Boabdil, king in his stead.

As full of fight as ever, the king put himself at the head of his guards, and with his vizier, Abul Cacim, tried to break into the Alhambra, but was driven back and chased out of the city.

"God is great," said he; "let us bow to what is written in the book of fate."

So he rode off to a castle where he had friends, and left his son on the throne at Granada. Just to show that he was not dead, he headed a foray into the territory of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, and carried off booty and cattle.

This set the Granadans to murmuring at the sloth of their new king, Boabdil, whom they called The Little; and the king's mother, Ayesha, who had spurred him to seize his father's throne, joining in reproaching him for his sluggishness, he resolved to do something for glory. He called his men to arms, nine thousand of them in all, and among them the flower of the Moorish chivalry. His mother girded on his cimeter with her own hands, and when his wife cried at the parting, the fierce old woman rebuked her:

"Why dost thou weep? These tears become not the daughter of a warrior, nor the wife of a king. Believe me, there often lurks more danger for a monarch within the strong walls of a palace than within the frail curtains of a tent."

Boabdil sallied forth from Granada in grand array. His horse was black and white; on his breast he wore a steel corselet with gold nails, and on his head a steel casque richly engraved. On his back he bore a shield; over his saddle hung a cimeter of Damascus, and in his hand he carried a long lance. But the troops, who admired his fine appearance, were rather taken aback when a fox ran out of a thicket and scurried through the ranks of the army, pressing close to the king without being touched by any of the missiles which were thrown at it. Like the Spaniards, the Moors were superstitious. They marched swiftly, however, and presently, having been reinforced by Ali Atar, Boabdil's father-in-law, a veteran of nearly ninety, who had spent his life in fighting the Christians, they came to a stand over against the Christian town of Lucena.

They had been seen coming. On the night of April 20th, 1483, as Don Diego de Cordova, Count of Cabra, was going to bed, his watchman brought him word that the beacon-fires were lit on the mountain-tops. He knew what this meant. There was no rest that night in his castle of Vaena, or in the town adjoining. By daylight the count marched forth at the head of fifteen hundred men, taking the direction of the frontier. Word soon reached him that Lucena was the place threatened, and he made for it with all speed. When he got there he found the Moors gone. They had collected such a quantity of plunŽder that they had started homeward to divide it. Ninety-year-old Ali wanted to burn Lucena and slay all the people; but the soldiers preferred saving their booty to fighting.

The Count of Cabra, not paying the least heed to those who warned him that the Moors were six or seven times as numerous as his force, and who wanted him to wait for reinforcements, spurred after them. He found them in a valley near a little stream which the heavy rain had swollen into a torrent. They were eating their dinner with great content.

"By Santiago," said the count, "if we had waited for reinforcements the Moors would have escaped us."

And he flung his cavaliers on the enemy. It is not easy to understand the battle, or how fifteen hundred Christians could overcome nine thousand Moors. I suppose the latter were badly handled, and that Boabdil did not understand the business of war. Many of the Moors thought they had got what they wanted, and that the best thing was to go home. As the battle began a dense fog settled on the field, and it seems to have confused the Moors more than the Christians. The former fought with their backs to the torrent I have mentioned; when they were pushed they backed into the torrent, lost their footing, and many were drowned. In this and other ways the battle was lost.

King Boabdil fell back with the others; his horse being shot, he was on foot. Afraid that his grand costume would attract shots or arrows, he hid in a clump of willows, where he remained until a Spanish cavalier detected him. He cried for quarter, saying that he was a man of family and would pay a rich ransom. A quarrel then arose between the soldiers as to whose prisoner he was; but the Count of Cabra happening to ride up, the king surrendered to him, without, however, saying who he was. The count accepted him, put a red band round his neck to signify that he was a prisoner, and sent him off under escort to his quarters. It was not till three days afterwards that the count knew that his prisoner was the King of Granada.

On the day after the battle the Moorish people of Loxa, who had been straining their eyes all day for the return of the king and his army, saw one horseman approaching on the borders of the Xenil. When he reached the city his horse, which had carried him swiftly so far, fell dead. The rider's face was so sad that at first no one dared accost him. At last an old man asked:

"How fares it with the king and the army?"

"There they lie!" answered the horseman, pointing to the hills. "All lost! all dead!"

And he mounted another horse, while the people wailed; he shook his head and rode on and on to Granada. There he told his wretched story to the people; and still riding on and on, he did not draw rein till he stood at the Gate of Justice, in the Alhambra.

The wife of Boabdil flung herself on the ground, weeping, and had to be carried to her apartments; but the stern old mother shed never a tear. She only said:

"It is the will of Allah."

The minstrels came with their lutes to sing and play for the harem, but their song was attuned to the sorrows of the hour. They sang:

"Beautiful Granada! Why is the Alhambra so lorn and desolate? The orange and myrtle still breathe their perfumes into its silken chambers; the nightingale still sings within its groves; its marble halls are still refreshed with the plash of fountains and the gush of liquid rills. Alas! alas! The countenance of the king no longer shines within these halls. The light of the Alhambra is set forever."