Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada/Chapter XXVI

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Chapter XXVI[edit]


In this part of his chronicle the worthy father Fray Antonio Agapida indulges in triumphant exultation over the downfall of Zahara. Heaven sometimes speaks (says he) through the mouths of false prophets for the confusion of the wicked. By the fall of this fortress was the prediction of the santon of Granada in some measure fulfilled, that "the ruins of Zahara should fall upon the heads of the infidels."

Our zealous chronicler scoffs at the Moorish alcayde who lost his fortress by surprise in broad daylight, and contrasts the vigilance of the Christian governor of Alhama, the town taken in retaliation for the storming of Zahara.

The important post of Alhama was at this time confided by King Ferdinand to Don Inigo Lopez de Mendoza, count of Tendilla, a cavalier of noble blood, brother to the grand cardinal of Spain. He had been instructed by the king not merely to maintain his post, but also to make sallies and lay waste the surrounding country. His fortress was critically situated. It was within seven leagues of Granada, and at no great distance from the warlike city of Loxa. It was nestled in the lap of the mountains commanding the high-road to Malaga and a view over the extensive Vega. Thus situated, in the heart of the enemy's country, surrounded by foes ready to assail him and a rich country for him to ravage, it behooved this cavalier to be for ever on the alert. He was in fact an experienced veteran, a shrewd and wary officer, and a commander amazingly prompt and fertile in expedients.

On assuming the command he found that the garrison consisted but of one thousand men, horse and foot. They were hardy troops, seasoned in rough mountain-campaigning, but reckless and dissolute, as soldiers are apt to be when accustomed to predatory warfare. They would fight hard for booty, and then gamble it heedlessly away or squander it in licentious revelling. Alhama abounded with hawking, sharping, idle hangers-on, eager to profit by the vices and follies of the garrison. The soldiers were oftener gambling and dancing beneath the walls than keeping watch upon the battlements, and nothing was heard from morning till night but the noisy contests of cards and dice, mingled with the sound of the bolero or fandango, the drowsy strumming of the guitar, and the rattling of the castanets, while often the whole was interrupted by the loud brawl and fierce and bloody contest.

The count of Tendilla set himself vigorously to reform these excesses: he knew that laxity of morals is generally attended by neglect of duty, and that the least breach of discipline in the exposed situation of his fortress might be fatal. "Here is but a handful of men," said he; "it is necessary that each man should be a hero."

He endeavored to awaken a proper ambition in the minds of his soldiers and to instil into them the high principles of chivalry. "A just war," he observed, "is often rendered wicked and disastrous by the manner in which it is conducted; for the righteousness of the cause is not sufficient to sanction the profligacy of the means, and the want of order and subordination among the troops may bring ruin and disgrace upon the best-concerted plans." But we cannot describe the character and conduct of this renowned commander in more forcible language than that of Fray Antonio Agapida, excepting that the pious father places in the foreground of his virtues his hatred of the Moors. "The count de Tendilla," says he, "was a mirror of Christian knighthood--watchful, abstemious, chaste, devout, and thoroughly filled with the spirit of the cause. He labored incessantly and strenuously for the glory of the faith and the prosperity of their most Catholic majesties; and, above all, he hated the infidels with a pure and holy hatred. This worthy cavalier discountenanced all idleness, rioting, chambering, and wantonness among his soldiery. He kept them constantly to the exercise of arms, making them adroit in the use of their weapons and management of their steeds, and prompt for the field at a moment's notice. He permitted no sound of lute or harp or song or other loose minstrelsy to be heard in his fortress, debauching the ear and softening the valor of the soldier; no other music was allowed but the wholesome rolling of the drum and braying of the trumpet, and such like spirit-stirring instruments as fill the mind with thoughts of iron war. All wandering minstrels, sharping peddlers, sturdy trulls, and other camp trumpery were ordered to pack up their baggage, and were drummed out of the gates of Alhama. In place of such lewd rabble he introduced a train of holy friars to inspirit his people by exhortation and prayer and choral chanting, and to spur them on to fight the good fight of faith. All games of chance were prohibited except the game of war, and this he labored, by vigilance and vigor, to reduce to a game of certainty. Heaven smiled upon the efforts of this righteous cavalier. His men became soldiers at all points and terrors to the Moors. The good count never set forth on a ravage without observing the rites of confession, absolution, and communion, and obliging his followers to do the same. Their banners were blessed by the holy friars whom he maintained in Alhama; and in

this way success was secured to his arms and he was enabled to lay waste the land of the heathen."

The fortress of Alhama (continues Fray Antonio Agapida) overlooked from its lofty site a great part of the fertile Vega, watered by the Cazin and the Xenil; from this he made frequent sallies, sweeping away the flocks and herds from the pasture, the laborer from the field, and the convoy from the road; so that it was said by the Moors that a beetle could not crawl across the Vega without being seen by Count Tendilla. The peasantry, therefore, were fain to betake themselves to watch-towers and fortified hamlets, where they shut up their cattle, garnered their corn, and sheltered their wives and children. Even there they were not safe: the count would storm these rustic fortresses with fire and sword, make captives of their inhabitants, carry off the corn, the oil, the silks, and cattle, and leave the ruins blazing and smoking within the very sight of Granada.

"It was a pleasing and refreshing sight," continues the good father, "to behold this pious knight and his followers returning from one of these crusades, leaving the rich land of the infidel in smoking desolation behind them; to behold the long line of mules and asses laden with the plunder of the Gentiles--the hosts of captive Moors, men, women, and children--droves of sturdy beeves, lowing kine, and bleating sheep,--all winding up the steep acclivity to the gates of Alhama, pricked on by the Catholic soldiery. His garrison thus thrived on the fat of the land and the spoil of the infidel; nor was he unmindful of the pious fathers whose blessings crowned his enterprises with success. A large portion of the spoil was always dedicated to the Church, and the good friars were ever ready at the gate to hail him on his return and receive the share allotted them. Besides these allotments, he made many votive offerings, either in time of peril or on the eve of a foray, and the chapels of Alhama were resplendent with chalices, crosses, and other precious gifts made by this Catholic cavalier."

Thus eloquently does the venerable Fray Antonio Agapida dilate in praise of the good count de Tendilla; and other historians of equal veracity, but less unction, agree in pronouncing him one of the ablest of Spanish generals. So terrible, in fact, did he become in the land that the Moorish peasantry could not venture a league from Granada or Loxa to labor in the fields without peril of being carried into captivity. The people of Granada clamored against Muley Abul Hassan for suffering his lands to be thus outraged and insulted, and demanded to have this bold marauder shut up in his fortress. The old monarch was roused by their remonstrances. He sent forth powerful troops of horse to protect the country during the season that the husbandmen were abroad in the fields. These troops patrolled in formidable squadrons in the neighborhood of Alhama, keeping strict watch upon its gates, so that it was impossible for the Christians to make a sally without being seen and intercepted.

While Alhama was thus blockaded by a roving force of Moorish cavalry, the inhabitants were awakened one night by a tremendous crash that shook the fortress to its foundations. The garrison flew to arms, supposing it some assault of the enemy. The alarm proved to have been caused by the rupture of a portion of the wall, which, undermined by heavy rains, had suddenly given way, leaving a large chasm yawning toward the plain.

The count de Tendilla was for a time in great anxiety. Should this breach be discovered by the blockading horsemen, they would arouse the country, Granada and Loxa would pour out an overwhelming force, and they would find his walls ready sapped for an assault. In this fearful emergency the count displayed his noted talent for expedients. He ordered a quantity of linen cloth to be stretched in front of the breach, painted in imitation of stone and indented with battlements, so as at a distance to resemble the other parts of the walls: behind this screen he employed workmen day and night in repairing the fracture. No one was permitted to leave the fortress, lest information of its defenceless plight should be carried to the Moor. Light squadrons of the enemy were seen hovering about the plain, but never approached near enough to discover the deception; and thus in the course of a few days the wall was rebuilt stronger than before.

There was another expedient of this shrewd veteran which greatly excites the marvel of Agapida. "It happened," he observes, "that this Catholic cavalier at one time was destitute of gold and silver wherewith to pay the wages of his troops; and the soldiers murmured greatly, seeing that they had not the means of purchasing necessaries from the people of the town. In this dilemma what does this most sagacious commander? He takes me a number of little morsels of paper, on the which he inscribes various sums, large and small, according to the nature of the case, and signs me them with his own hand and name. These did he give to the soldiery in earnest of their pay. 'How!' you will say, 'are soldiers to be paid with scraps of paper?' Even so, I answer, and well paid too, as I will presently make manifest, for the good count issued a proclamation ordering the inhabitants of Alhama to take these morsels of paper for the full amount thereon inscribed, promising to redeem them at a future time with silver and gold, and threatening severe punishment to all who should refuse. The people, having full confidence in his word, and trusting that he would be as willing to perform the one promise as he certainly was able to perform the other, took those curious morsels of paper without hesitation or demur. Thus by a subtle and most miraculous kind of alchymy did this Catholic cavalier turn worthless paper into precious gold, and make his late impoverished garrison abound in money!"

It is but just to add that the count de Tendilla redeemed his promises like a loyal knight; and this miracle, as it appeared in the eyes of Fray Antonio Agapida, is the first instance on record of paper money, which has since inundated the civilized world with unbounded opulence.