Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada/Chapter VIII

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

Chapter VIII[edit]

SEQUEL OF THE EVENTS AT ALHAMA.

While all Andalusia was thus in arms and pouring its chivalry through the mountain-passes of the Moorish frontiers, the garrison of Alhama was reduced to great extremity and in danger of sinking under its sufferings before the promised succor could arrive. The intolerable thirst that prevailed in consequence of the scarcity of water, the incessant watch that had to be maintained over the vast force of enemies without and the great number of prisoners within, and the wounds which almost every soldier had received in the incessant skirmishes and assaults, had worn grievously both flesh and spirit. The noble Ponce de Leon, marques of Cadiz, still animated the soldiery, however, by word and example, sharing every hardship and being foremost in every danger, exemplifying that a good commander is the vital spirit of an army.

When Muley Abul Hassan heard of the vast force that was approaching under the command of the duke of Medina Sidonia, and that Ferdinand was coming in person with additional troops, he perceived that no time was to be lost: Alhama must be carried by one powerful attack or abandoned entirely to the Christians.

A number of Moorish cavaliers, some of the bravest youth of Granada, knowing the wishes of the king, proposed to undertake a desperate enterprise which, if successful, must put Alhama in his power. Early one morning, when it was scarcely the gray of the dawn, about the time of changing the watch, these cavaliers approached the town at a place considered inaccessible from the steepness of the rocks on which the wall was founded, which, it was supposed, elevated the battlements beyond the reach of the longest scaling-ladder. The Moorish knights, aided by a number of the strongest and most active escaladors, mounted these rocks and applied the ladders without being discovered, for to divert attention from them Muley Abul Hassan made a false attack upon the town in another quarter.

The scaling party mounted with difficulty and in small numbers; the sentinel was killed at his post, and seventy of the Moors made their way into the streets before an alarm was given. The guards rushed to the walls to stop the hostile throng that was still pouring in. A sharp conflict, hand to hand and man to man, took place on the battlements, and many on both sides fell. The Moors, whether wounded or slain, were thrown headlong without the walls, the scaling-ladders were overturned, and those who were mounting were dashed upon the rocks, and from thence tumbled upon the plain. Thus in a little while the ramparts were cleared by Christian prowess, led on by that valiant knight Don Alonzo Ponce, the uncle, and that brave esquire Pedro Pineda, nephew, of the marques of Cadiz.

The walls being cleared, these two kindred cavaliers now hastened with their forces in pursuit of the seventy Moors who had gained an entrance into the town. The main party of the garrison being engaged at a distance resisting the feigned attack of the Moorish king, this fierce band of infidels had ranged the streets almost without opposition, and were making their way to the gates to throw them open to the army.* They were chosen men from among the Moorish forces, several of them gallant knights of the proudest families of Granada. Their footsteps through the city were in a manner printed in blood, and they were tracked by the bodies of those they had killed and wounded. They had attained the gate; most of the guard had fallen beneath their scimetars; a moment more and Alhama would have been thrown open to the enemy.

 *Zurita, lib. 20, c. 43.

Just at this juncture Don Alonzo Ponce and Pedro de Pineda reached the spot with their forces. The Moors had the enemy in front and rear; they placed themselves back to back, with their banner in the centre. In this way they fought with desperate and deadly determination, making a rampart around them with the slain. More Christian troops arrived and hemmed them in, but still they fought, without asking for quarter. As their number decreased they serried their circle still closer, defending their banner from assault, and the last Moor died at his post grasping the standard of the Prophet. This standard was displayed from the walls, and the turbaned heads of the Moors were thrown down to the besiegers.*

 *Pedro de Pineda received the honor of knighthood from the hand
 of King Ferdinand for his valor on this occasion (Alonzo Ponce was
 already knight.)--See Zuniga, Annales of Seville, lib. 12, an. 1482.

Muley Abul Hassan tore his beard with rage at the failure of this attempt and at the death of so many of his chosen cavaliers. He saw that all further effort was in vain; his scouts brought word that they had seen from the heights the long columns and flaunting banners of the Christian army approaching through the mountains. To linger would be to place himself between two bodies of the enemy. Breaking up his camp, therefore, in all haste, he gave up the siege of Alhama and hastened back to Granada; and the last clash of his cymbals scarce died upon the ear from the distant hills before the standard of the Duke of Medina Sidonia was seen emerging in another direction from the defiles of the mountains.

When the Christians in Alhama beheld their enemies retreating on one side and their friends advancing on the other, they uttered shouts of joy and hymns of thanksgiving, for it was as a sudden relief from present death. Harassed by several weeks of incessant vigil and fighting, suffering from scarcity of provisions and almost continual thirst, they resembled skeletons rather than living men. It was a noble and gracious spectacle--the meeting of those hitherto inveterate foes, the duke of Medina Sidonia and the marques of Cadiz. At sight of his magnanimous deliverer the marques melted into tears: all past animosities only gave the greater poignancy to present feelings of gratitude and admiration. The late deadly rivals clasped each other in their arms, and from that time forward were true and cordial friends.

While this generous scene took place between the commanders a sordid contest arose among their troops. The soldiers who had come to the rescue claimed a portion of the spoils of Alhama, and so violent was the dispute that both parties seized their arms. The duke of Medina Sidonia interfered, and settled the question with his characteristic magnanimity. He declared that the spoil belonged to those who had captured the city. "We have taken the field," said he, "only for honor, for religion, and for the rescue of our countrymen and fellow-Christians, and the success of our enterprise is a sufficient and a glorious reward. If we desire booty, there are sufficient Moorish cities yet to be taken to enrich us all." The soldiers were convinced by the frank and chivalrous reasoning of the duke; they replied to his speech by acclamations, and the transient broil was happily appeased.

The marchioness of Cadiz, with the forethought of a loving wife, had despatched her major-domo with the army with a large supply of provisions. Tables were immediately spread beneath the tents, where the marques gave a banquet to the duke and the cavaliers who had accompanied him, and nothing but hilarity prevailed in this late scene of suffering and death.

A garrison of fresh troops was left in Alhama, and the veterans who had so valiantly captured and maintained it returned to their homes burdened with precious booty. The marques and duke, with their confederate cavaliers, repaired to Antiquera, where they were received with great distinction by the king, who honored the marques of Cadiz with signal marks of favor. The duke then accompanied his late enemy, but now most zealous and grateful friend, the marques of Cadiz, to his town of Marchena, where he received the reward of his generous conduct in the thanks and blessings of the marchioness. The marques celebrated a sumptuous feast in honor of his guest; for a day and night his palace was thrown open and was the scene of continual revel and festivity. When the duke departed for his estates at St. Lucar the marques attended him for some distance on his journey, and when they separated it was as the parting scene of brothers. Such was the noble spectacle exhibited to the chivalry of Spain by these two illustrious rivals. Each reaped universal renown from the part he had performed in the campaign--the marques from having surprised and captured one of the most important and formidable fortresses of the kingdom of Granada, and the duke from having subdued his deadliest foe by a great act of magnanimity.