Brave Men and Brave Deeds - M. B. Synge
One day in the year 1478, a Spanish cavalier arrived at the gates of Granada. He was well mounted, armed at all points, and followed closely by a retinue of mounted servants. Now Granada, though in Spain, belonged to the Moors, or Spanish Arabs. Once possessors of nearly the whole of Spain, war after war had left them less and less of their country, till at last the beautiful and powerful kingdom of Granada alone remained to them.
This "queen of kingdoms" was most beautiful. Situated in the south of Spain, bordering on the blue Mediterranean, it was bounded on the land side by high, rugged mountains. In the centre lay the city of Granada itself, sheltered, as it were, in the lap of the Sierra Nevada, or Snowy Mountains. The city stood on two lofty hills. One of these hills was crowned by the royal palace and fortress of the Alhambra, which was capable of containing forty thousand men within its walls and towers. With its glorious position, its beautiful colonnades of marble, its domes and ceilings glowing with colour, its great airy halls, its numberless fountains, the royal stronghold was the pride of the Moors. On the other hill opposite was the fortress of Alcazaba. On this hill was a great plain covered with houses, separated by narrow streets and small squares, after the fashion of other Moorish cities.
These houses had each its court and gardens, refreshed by fountains and running streams, and set out with oranges, lemons, and pomegranates; so that, as the city rose tier upon tier up the side of the hill, the effect was that of a large and beautiful garden with a background of the great snowy mountains.
While other cities panted with stifling and sultry heat, fresh breezes played through the marble halls of Granada It was a city the poets loved to sing of.
"Though high doth rise the Alhambra's hill,
A neighbouring summit, higher still,
Adorned with terraces and bowers,
Looks down upon its ruddy towers.
A lovely plain lies spread below
Girded by mountains crowned with snow;
Its surface like an emerald gleams,
Bright with a thousand silver streams;
And countless gardens, groves, and bowers,
And fields and foliage, fruits and flowers;
There the pomegranate, tinged with red,
Its flowering branches wide doth spread;
Beside the olive's dusky green
The citron and the fig are seen.
If earth contains a paradise,
It is beneath Granada's skies."
Indeed this was the Moors' favourite idea; so beautiful the earth, so pure the air, that they imagined the paradise of their prophet Mahomet to be in that part of the heaven which overhung the kingdom of Granada.
This was the beautiful city to which the Spanish cavalier was riding. As he passed through the gate of Elvira with his small but proud array of Spanish chivalry, the Moors puzzled their heads as to the reason of his coming. Up the long hill he rode to the palace of the Alhambra, where he was ushered into the presence of the Moorish king, who was awaiting him in the luxury of his marble halls. The Spaniard related his errand: he had come from the King of Spain, Ferdinand, to demand the Moors' tribute money.
A bitter smile passed over the face of the fierce Moorish monarch, as he answered firmly,—
"Tell your king that the kings of Granada, who used to pay tribute in money to the Spanish crown, are dead. Our mint at present coins nothing but blades of scimitars and heads of lances."
The Spaniard retired. As he rode away with his retinue, he took note of the force and situation of the Moors. He saw they were well prepared for hostilities Their walls and towers were of vast strength, in complete repair; their magazines were well stored; they had a mighty host of foot-soldiers, together with squadrons of cavalry. The Christian warriors of Ferdinand noted these things without dismay. As they slowly pranced through the streets of Granada, they looked round on its stately palaces and mighty mosques, on its bazaars crowded with silks and cloth of silver and gold, with jewels and precious stones, and they longed for the day, which could not be far off now, when they should attack the Moor and enter the fair city of Granada as conquerors.
The war note had been struck, but Ferdinand was too much engaged in a war with Portugal to open up hostilities with such stubborn foes as he knew the Moors of Granada would prove.
And so it was not till the year 1490 that Ferdinand sent to demand a complete surrender of the capital, Granada. The towns of Alhama (known as the "key of Granada") and Malaga, belonging to the Moors, had already fallen into the hands of the Christians. Granada itself was thronged with refugees from the captured towns. The time had come when Ferdinand saw his way to conquering this last stronghold of the unhappy Moors, and seating himself on the throne of the Alhambra.
But the Moors were not going to surrender their beautiful city without a blow. It was an idea worse than death itself that Granada, illustrious Granada, for ages the seat of Moorish grandeur and delight, should become the abode of the Christians.
Among the proudest of the Moorish cavaliers was one Muza. He was the idol of the army, a type of a loyal Moor. When he heard of Ferdinand's demand that they should deliver up their arms, his eyes flashed fire.
"Does the Christian king think that we are old men," he cried, "and that staffs will suffice us? or that we are women, and can be contented with distaffs? Let him know that a Moor is born to the spear and the scimitar, to career the steed, bend the bow, and throw the javelin; deprive him of these, and you deprive him of his nature. If the Christian king desires our arms, let him come and win them, but let him win them dearly. For my part, sweeter were a grave beneath the walls of Granada, on the spot I had died to defend, than the richest couch within her palaces earned by submission to the Christian."
The words of Muza were received with shouts by the warlike Moors. Granada once more awoke as a warrior, and a reply was dispatched to Ferdinand declaring that the Moors would sooner suffer death than surrender themselves and their fair city.
Ferdinand made preparations to attack this last stronghold of the Moors. The city of Granada resounded with the stir of war. Muza was given command of the cavalry. He was surrounded by the noblest youth of Granada; while the common soldiers, devoted to him, were ready to follow him in his most desperate enterprises.
The gates of Granada once more poured forth legions of light cavalry, which scoured the country up to the very gates of the Christian fortresses, sweeping off flocks and herds. The sight of Muza's glistening legion returning across the plains with their booty was hailed by the Moors as a revival of their ancient triumphs, and when the Christian banners were borne into their gates as trophies their joy was beyond all bounds.
The winter passed, the spring came, and still Ferdinand delayed to take the field. He knew the city was too strong to be taken by assault, too full of provisions to be reduced by siege.
"We must have patience," said Ferdinand. "By ravaging the country this year, we shall produce a scarcity next, and then we can attack the city."
An interval of peace followed. The green pastures of the plains were covered with flocks and herds, the blooming orchards gave promise of abundant fruit, the open plain was waving with ripening corn. The time was at hand to put in the sickle and reap the golden harvest, when suddenly "a torrent of war came sweeping down from the mountains," and Ferdinand with his Christian army of five thousand horse and twenty thousand foot appeared before the walls of Granada. Leaving his queen and daughter at a neighbouring fortress, the king led his son, Prince John, a boy of twelve, into the field for the first time, and knighted him before the attack. Then he proceeded to send out devastating parties on all sides; villages were burned, sacked, and destroyed, and the lovely fields of corn were laid waste with fire and sword. The ravage was carried so close to Granada that the city was wrapt in the smoke of its hamlets and gardens. The dismal cloud rolled up the hill and hung about the towers of the Alhambra.
And what was Muza doing with his reckless cavalry? He split them up into small squadrons, each led by a daring commander. He taught them to hover round the Christian camp, to harass the army by cutting off supplies, to lurk among the rocks and passes of the mountains, in the hollows and thickets of the plain, and to practise a thousand stratagems. Nor did Muza hesitate to defy the Christians in the open field, and, still the standard of Mahomet waved defiance to the Christians from the red towers of the Alhambra.
For thirty days was the Vega overrun by Christian forces, and that vast plain, lately so luxuriant and beautiful, was become a wild scene of desolation. Having accomplished its task, the destroying army passed over the bridge and wound up into the mountains, bearing away spoils of town and village, and driving off flocks and herds in long dusty columns.
As the sound of the last Christian trumpet died away over the mountains, the Moors prepared yet more ardently for the attack which they knew was coming.
Now, shut up in the palace of the Alhambra was one Boabdil. He had been King of the Moors, but had been defeated in a battle against the Christians some years before and taken prisoner by Ferdinand. He had made friends with Ferdinand, and when he returned to his kingdom at Granada, he was received with hisses and execrations by his once loyal Moorish subjects, and shut up in the Alhambra as a traitor to his people.
From the windows of the palace the helpless monarch had looked down at the desolation being effected by the man who had once been his friend, but he dared not show himself to the populace again. Now, however, the Moors gathered under the walls of the Alhambra, and hailed Boabdil as their only hope; he was brought forth from his captivity and received with rapture, his past offences were forgotten or excused, and Boabdil buckled on his armour with triumph, and sallied forth to take the field against the Christians.
When the populace beheld him in arms against his late ally, they thronged with zeal to his standard, and even the hardy Moors from the chain of snow-capped mountains which rise behind Granada descended from their heights and hastened to the city gates to offer their services to their youthful king.
Scarcely was Boabdil settled once more in his capital, when Ferdinand at the head of his troops appeared again in the Vega, to make a second ravage round the walls of devoted Granada. For fifteen days the work of destruction went on, until hardly a green thing or a living animal was left on the face of the land, and Granada, once the queen of gardens, stood in her proud position surrounded by a desert.
Once more Ferdinand moved away to make urgent preparations for the last campaign, which was to decide the fate of Granada.
"How is thy strength departed, 0 Granada!" such was the lament of the Moors; "how is thy beauty withered and despoiled, O city of groves and fountains! The commerce that once thronged thy streets is at an end; the merchant no longer hastens to thy gates with the luxuries of foreign lands. The Alhambra still rears its ruddy towers from the midst of groves; but melancholy reigns in its marble halls, and the monarch looks down from his lofty balconies upon a naked waste, where once extended the blooming glories of the Vega."
It was on April 11, 1492, that Ferdinand and Isabella set out for the Moorish frontier, determined to lay close siege to Granada, and never to quit its walls till the flag of the Christians waved from the Alhambra heights.
From the windows of the palace Boabdil beheld the Christian squadrons glistening through clouds of dust, as in overwhelming numbers they poured along the Vega. Even old Moorish warriors trembled, and the harassed citizens grew pale, as they besought Boabdil to surrender, and trust to the mercy of the Christian king.
When Muza heard this, he rose in righteous wrath.
"What reason have we to despair?" he cried. "The blood of those illustrious Moors, the ancient conquerors of Spain, still flows in our veins. Let us be true to ourselves, and fortune will again be with us. We have a veteran force, the flower of our chivalry, and twenty thousand young men in the fire of youth. Do we want provisions? Our horses are fleet, and our horsemen are daring. Let them make inroads into the lands of our enemies; they will return with booty to our gates and to the soldier. There is no morsel so sweet as that wrested with hard fighting from the foe."
Even Boabdil caught a glow of enthusiasm from the brave words of Muza.
"Do what is needful," he cried to his commanders; "into your hands I confide the common safety. You are the protectors of the kingdom; and, with the aid of Allah, we will revenge the insults to our religion, the deaths of our friends and relations, and the sorrows and sufferings heaped upon our land."
Nothing was heard in the city but the din of arms and the bustle of preparation. The Moorish spirit was aflame. All that remained of high-born chivalry was here; all that was loyal and patriotic was roused to activity by the common danger. Granada was formidable enough in this her hour of despair. On the first appearance of the Christian army, the gates of the city had been closed and secured with heavy chains. Now Muza ordered them to be thrown open.
"To me and my cavaliers is entrusted the defence of the gates; our bodies shall be their barriers!" he cried.
Ferdinand saw that to reduce the city by main force would be too perilous a proceeding; accordingly, he determined to reduce it by famine, burning the cities and villages on which it now depended for its supplies. His camp was divided into streets, as a city; and when all was ready, the queen, Isabella, with Prince John and the princesses, came to be present at the siege. This was intended to show to the Moors the determination of the king and queen to reside in camp till Granada was theirs. The queen herself personally inspected every part of the camp; from time to time she would appear on the field dressed in complete armour.
At last the besieged city began to suffer from famine. Its supplies were cut off. Autumn arrived and brought them no harvest. The Moors shut themselves up gloomily within their walls. They remembered with anguish the prophecy so lately uttered by one in their midst—"Woe, woe, woe to Granada! Its fall is at hand. Desolation shall dwell in its palaces; its strong men shall fall beneath the sword; its children and maidens shall be led into captivity."
Boabdil grew alarmed by the determination of Ferdinand. In one of the halls of the Alhambra he called a council; officers and sages flocked in. Despair was written on every face.
"What shall be done?" asked the Moorish king.
"Surrender!" was the answer. "Of what avail is our defence when the enemy is determined to persist in the siege? What remains to us but to surrender or die?"
Boabdil sat in gloomy silence. But the loyal Muza arose.
"It is too early," he cried enthusiastically, "to talk of surrender. Our means are not exhausted; we have yet one source of strength remaining—it is our despair! Let us rouse the mass of the people; let us put weapons in their hands; let us fight the enemy to the last, till we rush upon the points of their lances. I am ready to lead the way into the thickest of their squadrons. And much rather would I be numbered among those who fell in the defence of Granada than among those who survived to capitulate for her surrender!"
But Muza's fiery words fell on the ears of broken-spirited and heartless men. Heroic as they were, the despairing Moors turned a deaf ear to him. "Surrender! surrender!" they moaned.
And Boabdil listened and yielded.
The old governor was sent to Ferdinand to treat for terms. The city waited in trembling anxiety for his return. This was his news: the Spaniards agreed to peace for seventy days, at the end of which time, if no help came to the Moorish king, the city should be surrendered. Boabdil was to take an oath of fealty to the Spanish crown, and the Moors were to become subjects of the Spanish kings.
When the members of the council found that the awful moment had arrived when they must blot themselves out as a nation, all their firmness deserted them, and they gave way to piteous tears.
Muza alone was firm.
"Leave this weeping to the women and children!" he cried. "We are men; we have hearts—not to shed tender tears, but drops of blood. Let us die defending our liberty and avenging the woes of Granada! Allah forbid that it should be said that the nobles of Granada feared to die in her defence!"
As Muza's voice stopped, there was dead silence. Boabdil looked anxiously round, but enthusiasm was dead; the careworn men were beyond even Muza's chivalrous appeals.
"Allah achbad!" (God is great!) cried the Moorish king at last. "It is vain to struggle against the will of heaven. Too surely was it written in the book of fate that I should be unfortunate, and the kingdom die under my rule."
Muza saw that it was hopeless to contend any longer. He rose angrily as Boabdil was about to sign the agreement.
"Do not deceive yourselves," he cried, "nor think the Christians will keep their promises! Death is the least we have to fear. It is the plundering and sacking of our city, the profanation of our mosques, the ruin of our homes, cruel oppression, the dungeon, the fagot, and the stake,—these are the miseries we must see and suffer—at least those grovelling souls will see them who now shrink from an honourable death. For my part, I will never witness them!"
COURT OF LIONS, ALHAMBRA
They were the Moor's last words. Angrily he left the council chamber, strode gloomily through the court of the lions and the outer halls of the Alhambra. Silently he went to his house, armed himself at all points, mounted his favourite war-horse, and issuing forth from the city by the gate of Elvira, was never seen or heard of more!
December had nearly passed away. The famine became extreme, and Boabdil determined to surrender the city on the second of January.
The night of the first was passed in doleful lamentations within the walls of the Alhambra, for the household of Boabdil were preparing to take a last farewell of their beautiful palace. All the royal treasures were hastily packed on mules, and before the dawn of day a mournful little procession passed through one of the back gates of the Alhambra, and departed through one of the most retired quarters of the city. It was composed of the royal family, sent off in secrecy to avoid the derision and triumph of the enemy. Boabdil's mother rode on in silence, with downcast face and despair written on every feature; but his wife wept bitterly as she cast a last glance at her beautiful palace, now a mass of gloomy towers behind.
The city was yet buried in sleep as they passed through its silent streets. The guards at the gate shed tears as they opened them for the weeping women.
At a hamlet some distance from the city they halted to await the arrival of the dethroned king Boabdil.
The sun had scarcely begun to shed its beams upon the summits of the snowy mountains above Granada, when the Christian camp was in motion.
The longed-for day had dawned at last, when the beautiful city of Granada should be theirs.
The whole Christian court and army advanced across the Vega. The king and queen, with Prince John and the princesses, took the lead, accompanied by different orders of monks and friars, and surrounded by bodyguards in splendid array. A detachment had meanwhile gone on to take possession of the Alhambra. It was not till the silver cross borne by Ferdinand throughout the crusade was seen sparkling in the morning sun on the great watchtower of the Alhambra that the royal procession moved forward. Beside it was hoisted the royal standard, and a mighty shout, "For King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella!" resounded across the Vega. The whole host took up the shout, the choristers of the royal chapel broke forth into a Te Deum, the king and queen fell on their knees to thank God for their great triumph. Granada had fallen at last.
The joyful procession had not yet reached the city when it was met by poor Boabdil with some fifty Moorish cavaliers. As he drew near, he would have dismounted to do homage to Ferdinand; but the king stopped him doing this, and embraced him with every mark of sympathy and regard. Boabdil then gave up the keys of the Alhambra to his conqueror.
"Those keys," he said miserably, "are the last relics of the Moorish empire in Spain. Thine, O king, are our trophies, our kingdom, and our person. Such is the will of God!"
Having thus surrendered his last symbol of power, Boabdil journeyed on that he might not behold the entrance of the Christians into his capital. His devoted band of cavaliers followed in gloomy silence, but heavy sighs burst from them as shouts of joy fell on their ears from the victorious Christian army.
Having joined his family, Boabdil set forward with a heavy heart, until they reached the hill which commanded the last view of Granada. Here the little band of heart-broken Moors involuntarily paused to take a last farewell of their beloved city, which a few steps more would shut from their sight for ever.
Never had it looked so lovely in their eyes! The sunshine lighted up every tower and minaret, and rested gloriously on the crowning battlements of the great Alhambra.
The Moorish cavaliers gazed with a silent agony of tenderness and grief upon that fair scene, till a light cloud of smoke burst forth from the citadel, and a peal of artillery, faintly heard, told that the city was in possession of the Christians. The throne of the Moorish kings was gone for ever.
The heart of Boabdil, softened by trouble and over-charged with grief, could bear it no longer.
"Allah achbad!" (God is great!) he groaned; and, as the words died on his lips, he burst into a flood of tears.
His mother, the old sultana, was indignant at his weakness.
"You do well," she said, "to weep like a woman for what you failed to defend like a man!"
Others tried to console him, but the unhappy monarch was beyond comfort. His tears continued to flow.
"Allah achbad!" he sobbed; "when did misfortunes ever equal mine?"
The ridge commanding the last view of Granada is known among the Spaniards to this day as "The last Sigh of the Moor."