Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada/Chapter XV
HOW THE COUNT DE CABRA SALLIED FORTH FROM HIS CASTLE IN QUEST OF KING BOABDIL.
Don Diego de Cordova, count of Cabra, was in the castle of Vaena, which, with the town of the same name, is situated on a lofty sun- burnt hill on the frontier of the kingdom of Cordova and but a few leagues from Lucena. The range of mountains of Horquera lies between them. The castle of Vaena was strong and well furnished with arms, and the count had a numerous band of vassals and retainers; for it behooved the noblemen of the frontiers in those times to be well prepared with man and horse, with lance and buckler, to resist the sudden incursions of the Moors. The count of Cabra was a hardy and experienced warrior, shrewd in council, prompt in action, rapid and fearless in the field. He was one of the bravest of cavaliers for an inroad, and had been quickened and sharpened in thought and action by living on the borders.
On the night of the 20th of April, 1483, the count was about to retire to rest when the watchman from the turret brought him word that there were alarm-fires on the mountains of Horquera, and that they were made on the signal-tower overhanging the defile through which the road passes to Cabra and Lucena.
The count ascended the battlement and beheld five lights blazing on the tower--a sign that there was a Moorish army attacking some place on the frontier. The count instantly ordered the alarm-bells to be sounded, and despatched couriers to rouse the commanders of the neighboring towns. He called upon his retainers to prepare for action, and sent a trumpet through the town summoning the men to assemble at the castle-gate at daybreak armed and equipped for the field.
Throughout the remainder of the night the castle resounded with the din of preparation. Every house in the town was in equal bustle, for in these frontier towns every house had its warrior, and the lance and buckler were ever hanging against the wall ready to be snatched down for instant service. Nothing was heard but the din of armorers, the shoeing of steeds, and furbishing up of weapons, and all night long the alarm-fires kept blazing on the mountains.
When the morning dawned the count of Cabra sallied forth at the head of two hundred and fifty cavaliers of the best families of Vaena, all well appointed, exercised in arms, and experienced in the warfare of the borders. There were besides twelve hundred foot-soldiers, brave and well-seasoned men of the same town. The count ordered them to hasten forward, whoever could make most speed, taking the road to Cabra, which was three leagues distant. That they might not loiter on the road he allowed none of them to break their fast until they arrived at that place. The provident count despatched couriers in advance, and the little army on reaching Cabra found tables spread with food and refreshments at the gates of the town. Here they were joined by Don Alonso de Cordova, senior of Zuheros.
Having made a hearty repast, they were on the point of resuming their march when the count discovered that in the hurry of his departure from home he had forgotten to bring the standard of Vaena, which for upward of eighty years had always been borne to battle by his family. It was now noon, and there was no time to return: he took, therefore, the standard of Cabra, the device of which is a goat, and which had not been seen in the wars for the last half century. When about to depart a courier came galloping at full speed, bringing missives to the count from his nephew, Don Diego Fernandez de Cordova, senior of Lucena and alcayde de los Donceles,* entreating him to hasten to his aid, as his town was beset by the Moorish king, Boabdil el Chico, with a powerful army, who were actually setting fire to the gates.
*The "Donceles" were young cavaliers who had been pages in
the royal household, but now formed an elite corps in the army.
The count put his little army instantly in movement for Lucena, which is only one league from Cabra; he was fired with the idea of having the Moorish king in person to contend with. By the time he reached Lucena the Moors had desisted from the attack and were ravaging the surrounding country. He entered the town with a few of his cavaliers, and was received with joy by his nephew, whose whole force consisted but of eighty horse and three hundred foot. Don Diego Fernandez de Cordova was a young man, yet he was a prudent, careful, and capable officer. Having learnt, the evening before, that the Moors had passed the frontiers, he had gathered within his walls all the women and children from the environs, had armed the men, sent couriers in all directions for succor, and had lighted alarm-fires on the mountains.
Boabdil had arrived with his army at daybreak, and had sent in a message threatening to put the garrison to the sword if the place were not instantly surrendered. The messenger was a Moor of Granada, named Hamet, whom Don Diego had formerly known: he contrived to amuse him with negotiation to gain time for succor to arrive. The fierce old Ali Atar, losing all patience, had made an assault upon the town and stormed like a fury at the gate, but had been repulsed. Another and more serious attack was expected in the course of the night.
When the count de Cabra had heard this account of the situation of affairs, he turned to his nephew with his usual alacrity of manner, and proposed that they should immediately sally forth in quest of the enemy. The prudent Don Diego remonstrated at the rashness of attacking so great a force with a mere handful of men. "Nephew," said the count, "I came from Vaena with a determination to fight this Moorish king, and I will not be disappointed."
"At any rate," replied Don Diego, "let us wait but two hours, and we shall have reinforcements which have been promised me from Rambla, Santaella, Montilla, and other places in the neighborhood." "If we await these," said the hardy count, "the Moors will be off, and all our trouble will have been in vain. You may await them if you please; I am resolved on fighting."
The count paused for no reply, but in his prompt and rapid manner sallied forth to his men. The young alcayde de los Donceles, though more prudent than his ardent uncle, was equally brave; he determined to stand by him in his rash enterprise, and, summoning his little force, marched forth to join the count, who was already on the move. They then proceeded together in quest of the enemy.
The Moorish army had ceased ravaging the country, and was not to be seen, the neighborhood being hilly and broken with deep ravines. The count despatched six scouts on horseback to reconnoitre, ordering them to return with all speed on discovering the enemy, and by no means to engage in skirmishing with stragglers. The scouts, ascending a high hill, beheld the Moorish army in a valley behind it, the cavalry ranged in five battalions keeping guard, while the foot-soldiers were seated on the grass making a repast. They returned immediately with the intelligence.
The count now ordered the troops to march in the direction of the enemy. He and his nephew ascended the hill, and saw that the five battalions of Moorish cavalry had been formed into two, one of about nine hundred lances, the other of about six hundred. The whole force seemed prepared to march for the frontier. The foot-soldiers were already under way with many prisoners and a great train of mules and beasts of burden laden with booty. At a distance was Boabdil el Chico: they could not distinguish his person, but they knew him by his superb black and white charger, magnificently caparisoned, and by his being surrounded by a numerous guard sumptuously armed and attired. Old Ali Atar was careering about the valley with his usual impatience, hurrying the march of the loitering troops.
The eyes of the count de Cabra glistened with eager joy as he beheld the royal prize within his reach. The immense disparity of their forces never entered into his mind. "By Santiago!" said he to his nephew as they hastened down the hill, "had we waited for more forces the Moorish king and his army would have escaped us."
The count now harangued his men to inspirit them to this hazardous encounter. He told them not to be dismayed at the number of the Moors, for God often permitted the few to conquer the many, and he had great confidence that through the divine aid they were that day to achieve a signal victory which should win them both riches and renown. He commanded that no man should hurl his lance at the enemy, but should keep it in his hands and strike as many blows with it as he could. He warned them also never to shout except when the Moors did, for when both armies shouted together there was no perceiving which made the most noise and was the strongest. He desired his uncle Lope de Mendoza, and Diego de Cabrera, alcayde of Dona Mencia, to alight and enter on foot in the battalion of infantry to animate them to the combat. He appointed also the alcayde of Vaena and Diego de Clavijo, a cavalier of his household, to remain in the rear, and not to permit any one to lag behind, either to despoil the dead or for any other purpose.
Such were the orders given by this most adroit, active, and intrepid cavalier to his little army, supplying by admirable sagacity and subtle management the want of a more numerous force. His orders being given and all arrangements made, he threw aside his lance, drew his sword, and commanded his standard to be advanced against the enemy.