Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada/Chapter XXXII
HOW THE COUNT DE CABRA ATTEMPTED TO CAPTURE ANOTHER KING, AND HOW HE FARED IN HIS ATTEMPT.
The elevation of a bold and active veteran to the throne of Granada in place of its late bedridden king made an important difference in the aspect of the war, and called for some blow that should dash the confidence of the Moors in their new monarch and animate the Christians to fresh exertions.
Don Diego de Cordova, the brave count de Cabra, was at this time in his castle of Vaena, where he kept a wary eye upon the frontier. It was now the latter part of August, and he grieved that the summer should pass away without an inroad into the country of the foe. He sent out his scouts on the prowl, and they brought him word that the important post of Moclin was but weakly garrisoned. This was a castellated town, strongly situated upon a high mountain, partly surrounded by thick forests and partly girdled by a river. It defended one of the rugged and solitary passes by which the Christians were wont to make their inroads, insomuch that the Moors, in their figurative way, denominated it the shield of Granada.
The count de Cabra sent word to the monarchs of the feeble state of the garrison, and gave it as his opinion that by a secret and rapid expedition the place might be surprised. King Ferdinand asked the advice of his councillors. Some cautioned him against the sanguine temperament of the count and his heedlessness of danger: Moclin, they observed, was near to Granada and might be promptly reinforced. The opinion of the count, however, prevailed, the king considering him almost infallible in matters of border warfare since his capture of Boabdil el Chico.
The king departed, therefore, from Cordova, and took post at Alcala la Real, for the purpose of being near to Moclin. The queen also proceeded to Vaena, accompanied by her children, Prince Juan and the princess Isabella, and her great counsellor in all matters, public and private, spiritual and temporal, the venerable grand cardinal of Spain.
Nothing could exceed the pride and satisfaction of the loyal count de Cabra when he saw the stately train winding along the dreary mountain-roads and entering the gates of Vaena. He received his royal guests with all due ceremony, and lodged them in the best apartments that the warrior castle afforded.
King Ferdinand had concerted a wary plan to ensure the success of the enterprise. The count de Cabra and Don Martin Alonso de Montemayor were to set forth with their troops so as to reach Moclin by a certain hour, and to intercept all who should attempt to enter or should sally from the town. The master of Calatrava, the troops of the grand cardinal, commanded by the count of Buendia, and the forces of the bishop of Jaen, led by that belligerent prelate, amounting in all to four thousand horse and six thousand foot, were to set off in time to co-operate with the count de Cabra, so as to surround the town. The king was to follow with his whole force and encamp before the place.
And here the worthy padre Fray Antonio Agapida breaks forth into a triumphant eulogy of the pious prelates who thus mingled personally in these scenes of warfare. As this was a holy crusade (says he), undertaken for the advancement of the faith and the glory of the Church, so was it always countenanced and upheld by saintly men; for the victories of their most Catholic majesties were not followed, like those of mere worldly sovereigns, by erecting castles and towers and appointing alcaydes and garrisons, but by the founding of convents and cathedrals and the establishment of wealthy bishoprics. Wherefore their majesties were always surrounded in court or camp, in the cabinet or in the field, by a crowd of ghostly advisers inspiriting them to the prosecution of this most righteous war. Nay, the holy men of the Church did not scruple, at times, to buckle on the cuirass over the cassock, to exchange the crosier for the lance, and thus with corporal hands and temporal weapons to fight the good fight of the faith.
But to return from this rhapsody of the worthy friar. The count de Cabra, being instructed in the complicated arrangements of the king, marched forth at midnight to execute them punctually. He led his troops by the little river that winds below Vaena, and so up to the wild defiles of the mountains, marching all night, and stopping only in the heat of the following day to repose under the shadowy cliffs of a deep barranca, calculating to arrive at Moclin exactly in time to co-operate with the other forces.
The troops had scarcely stretched themselves on the earth to take repose, when a scout arrived bringing word that El Zagal had suddenly sallied out of Granada with a strong force, and had encamped in the vicinity of Moclin. It was plain that the wary Moor had received information of the intended attack. This, however, was not the idea that presented itself to the mind of the count de Cabra. He had captured one king; here was a fair opportunity to secure another. What a prisoner to deliver into the hands of his royal mistress! Fired with the thoughts, the good count forgot all the arrangements of the king; or rather, blinded by former success, he trusted everything to courage and fortune, and thought that by one bold swoop he might again bear off the royal prize and wear his laurels without competition.* His only fear was that the master of Calatrava and the belligerent bishop might come up in time to share the glory of the victory; so, ordering every one to horse, this hot-spirited cavalier pushed on for Moclin without allowing his troops the necessary time for repose.
*Mariana, lib. 25, c. 17; Abarca, Zurita, etc.
The evening closed as the count arrived in the neighborhood of Moclin. It was the full of the moon and a bright and cloudless night. The count was marching through one of those deep valleys or ravines worn in the Spanish mountains by the brief but tremendous torrents which prevail during the autumnal rains. It was walled on each side by lofty and almost perpendicular cliffs, but great masses of moonlight were thrown into the bottom of the glen, glittering on the armor of the shining squadrons as they silently passed through it. Suddenly the war-cry of the Moors rose in various parts of the valley. "El Zagal! El Zagal!" was shouted from every cliff, accompanied by showers of missiles that struck down several of the Christian warriors. The count lifted up his eyes, and beheld, by the light of the moon, every cliff glistening with Moorish soldiery. The deadly shower fell thickly round him, and the shining armor of his followers made them fair objects for the aim of the enemy. The count saw his brother Gonzalo struck dead by his side; his own horse sank under him, pierced by four Moorish lances, and he received a wound in the hand from an arquebuse. He remembered the horrible massacre of the mountains of Malaga, and feared a similar catastrophe. There was no time to pause. His brother's horse, freed from his slaughtered rider, was running at large: seizing the reins, he sprang into the saddle, called upon his men to follow him, and, wheeling round, retreated out of the fatal valley.
The Moors, rushing down from the heights, pursued the retreating Christians. The chase endured for a league, but it was a league of rough and broken road, where the Christians had to turn and fight at almost every step. In these short but fierce combats the enemy lost many cavaliers of note, but the loss of the Christians was infinitely more grievous, comprising numbers of the noblest warriors of Vaena and its vicinity. Many of the Christians, disabled by wounds or exhausted by fatigue, turned aside and endeavored to conceal themselves among rocks and thickets, but never more rejoined their companions, being slain or captured by the Moors or perishing in their wretched retreats.
The arrival of the troops led by the master of Calatrava and the bishop of Jaen put an end to the rout. El Zagal contented himself with the laurels he had gained, and, ordering the trumpets to call off his men from the pursuit, returned in great triumph to Moclin.*
*Zurita, lib. 20, c. 4; Pulgar, Cronica.
Queen Isabella was at Vaena, awaiting with great anxiety the result of the expedition. She was in a stately apartment of the castle looking toward the road that winds through the mountains from Moclin, and regarding the watch-towers on the neighboring heights in hopes of favorable signals. The prince and princess, her children, were with her, and her venerable counsellor, the grand cardinal. All shared in the anxiety of the moment. At length couriers were seen riding toward the town. They entered its gates, but before they reached the castle the nature of their tidings was known to the queen by the shrieks and wailings from the streets below. The messengers were soon followed by wounded fugitives hastening home to be relieved or to die among their friends and families. The whole town resounded with lamentations, for it had lost the flower of its youth and its bravest warriors. Isabella was a woman of courageous soul, but her feelings were overpowered by spectacles of woe on every side: her maternal heart mourned over the death of so many loyal subjects, who shortly before had rallied round her with devoted affection, and, losing her usual self-command, she sank into deep despondency.
In this gloomy state of mind a thousand apprehensions crowded upon her. She dreaded the confidence which this success would impart to the Moors; she feared also for the important fortress of Alhama, the garrison of which had not been reinforced since its foraging party had been cut off by this same El Zagal. On every side she saw danger and disaster, and feared that a general reverse was about to attend the Castilian arms.
The grand cardinal comforted her with both spiritual and worldly counsel. He told her to recollect that no country was ever conquered without occasional reverses to the conquerors; that the Moors were a warlike people, fortified in a rough and mountainous country, where they never could be conquered by her ancestors; and that, in fact, her armies had already, in three years, taken more cities than those of any of her predecessors had been able to do in twelve. He concluded by offering to take the field himself with three thousand cavalry, his own retainers, paid and maintained by himself, and either hasten to the relief of Alhama or undertake any other expedition Her Majesty might command. The discreet words of the cardinal soothed the spirit of the queen, who always looked to him for consolation, and she soon recovered her usual equanimity.
Some of the counsellors of Isabella, of that politic class who seek to rise by the faults of others, were loud in their censures of the rashness of the count. The queen defended him with prompt generosity. "The enterprise," said she, "was rash, but not more rash than that of Lucena, which was crowned with success, and which we have all applauded as the height of heroism. Had the count de Cabra succeeded in capturing the uncle, as he did the nephew, who is there that would not have praised him to the skies?"
The magnanimous words of the queen put a stop to all invidious remarks in her presence, but certain of the courtiers, who had envied the count the glory gained by his former achievements, continued to magnify, among themselves his present imprudence; and we are told by Fray Antonio Agapida that they sneeringly gave the worthy cavalier the appellation of count de Cabra the king-catcher.
Ferdinand had reached the place on the frontier called the Fountain of the King, within three leagues of Moclin, when he heard of the late disaster. He greatly lamented the precipitation of the count, but forbore to express himself with severity, for he knew the value of that loyal and valiant cavalier.* He held a council of war to determine what course was to be pursued. Some of his cavaliers advised him to abandon the attempt upon Moclin, the place being strongly reinforced and the enemy inspirited by his recent victory. Certain old Spanish hidalgos reminded him that he had but few Castilian troops in his army, without which stanch soldiery his predecessors never presumed to enter the Moorish territory, while others remonstrated that it would be beneath the dignity of the king to retire from an enterprise on account of the defeat of a single cavalier and his retainers. In this way the king was distracted by a multitude of counsellors, when, fortunately, a letter from the queen put an end to his perplexities. Proceed we in the next chapter to relate what was the purport of that letter.
*Abarca, Anales de Aragon.