The day slowly dawned upon that awful night; and the Moors, still upon the battlements of Granada, beheld the whole army of Ferdinand on its march towards their wails. At a distance lay the wrecks of the blackened and smouldering camp; while before them, gaudy and glittering pennons waving, and trumpets sounding, came the exultant legions of the foe. The Moors could scarcely believe their senses. Fondly anticipating the retreat of the Christians, after so signal a disaster, the gay and dazzling spectacle of their march to the assault filled them with consternation and alarm.
While yet wondering and inactive, the trumpet of Boabdil was heard behind; and they beheld the Moorish king, at the head of his guards, emerging down the avenues that led to the gate. The sight restored and exhilarated the gazers; and, when Boabdil halted in the space before the portals, the shout of twenty thousand warriors rose ominously to the ears of the advancing Christians.
"Men of Granada!" said Boabdil, as soon as the deep and breathless silence had succeeded to that martial acclamation,—"the advance of the enemy is to their destruction! In the fire of last night the hand of Allah wrote their doom. Let us forth, each and all! We will leave our homes unguarded—our hearts shall be their wall! True, that our numbers are thinned by famine and by slaughter, but enough of us are yet left for the redemption of Granada. Nor are the dead departed from us: the dead fight with us—their souls animate our own. He who has lost a brother, becomes twice a man. On this battle we will set all. Liberty or chains! empire or exile! victory or death! Forward!"
He spoke, and gave the rein to his barb. It bounded forward, and cleared the gloomy arch of the portals, and Boabdil el Chico was the first Moor who issued from Granada, to that last and eventful field. Out, then, poured, as a river that rushes from caverns into day, the burnished and serried files of the Moorish cavalry. Muza came the last, closing the array. Upon his dark and stern countenance there spoke not the ardent enthusiasm of the sanguine king. It was locked and rigid; and the anxieties of the last dismal weeks had thinned his cheeks, and ploughed deep lines around the firm lips and iron jaw which bespoke the obstinate and unconquerable resolution of his character.
As Muza now spurred forward, and, riding along the wheeling ranks, marshalled them in order, arose the acclamation of female voices; and the warriors, who looked back at the sound, saw that their women—their wives and daughters, their mothers and their beloved (released from their seclusion, by a policy which bespoke the desperation of the cause)—were gazing at them, with outstretched arms, from the battlements and towers. The Moors knew that they were now to fight for their hearths and altars in the presence of those who, if they failed, became slaves and harlots; and each Moslem felt his heart harden like the steel of his own sabre.
While the cavalry formed themselves into regular squadrons, and the tramp of the foemen came more near and near, the Moorish infantry, in miscellaneous, eager, and undisciplined bands, poured out, until, spreading wide and deep below the walls, Boabdil's charger was seen, rapidly careering amongst them, as, in short but distinct directions, or fiery adjurations, he sought at once to regulate their movements, and confirm their hot but capricious valour.
Meanwhile the Christians had abruptly halted; and the politic Ferdinand resolved not to incur the full brunt of a whole population, in the first flush of their enthusiasm and despair. He summoned to his side Hernando del Pulgar, and bade him, with a troop of the most adventurous and practised horsemen, advance towards the Moorish cavalry, and endeavour to draw the fiery valour of Muza away from the main army. Then, splitting up his force into several sections, he dismissed each to different stations; some to storm the adjacent towers, others to fire the surrounding gardens and orchards; so that the action might consist rather of many battles than of one, and the Moors might lose the concentration and union, which made, at present, their most formidable strength.
Thus, while the Mussulmans were waiting in order for the attack, they suddenly beheld the main body of the Christians dispersing, and, while yet in surprise and perplexed, they saw the fires breaking out from their delicious gardens, to the right and left of the walls, and hear the boom of the Christian artillery against the scattered bulwarks that guarded the approaches of that city.
At that moment a cloud of dust rolled rapidly towards the post occupied in the van by Muza, and the shock of the Christian knights, in their mighty mail, broke upon the centre of the prince's squadron.
Higher, by several inches, than the plumage of his companions, waved the crest of the gigantic del Pulgar; and, as Moor after Moor went down before his headlong lance, his voice, sounding deep and sepulchral through his visor, shouted out—"Death to the infidel!"
The rapid and dexterous horsemen of Granada were not, however, discomfited by this fierce assault: opening their ranks with extraordinary celerity, they suffered the charge to pass comparatively harmless through their centre, and then, closing in one long and bristling line, cut off the knights from retreat. The Christians wheeled round, and charged again upon their foe.
"Where art thou, O Moslem dog! that wouldst play the lion'?—Where art thou, Muza Ben Abil Gazan'?"
"Before thee, Christian!" cried a stern and clear voice; and from amongst the helmets of his people, gleamed the dazzling turban of the Moor.
Hernando checked his steed, gazed a moment at his foe, turned back, for greater impetus to his charge, and, in a moment more, the bravest warriors of the two armies met, lance to lance.
The round shield of Muza received the Christian's weapon; his own spear shivered, harmless, upon the breast of the giant. He drew his sword, whirled it rapidly over his head, and, for some minutes, the eyes of the bystanders could scarcely mark the marvellous rapidity with which strokes were given and parried by those redoubted swordsmen.
At length, Hernando, anxious to bring to bear his superior strength, spurred close to Muza; and, leaving his sword pendant by a thong to his wrist, seized the shield of Muza in his formidable grasp, and plucked it away, with a force that the Moor vainly endeavoured to resist: Muza, therefore, suddenly released his bold; and, ere the Spaniard had recovered his balance (which was lost by the success of his own strength, put forth to the utmost), he dashed upon him the hoofs of his black charger, and with a short but heavy mace, which he caught up from the saddlebow, dealt Hernando so thundering a blow upon the helmet, that the giant fell to the ground, stunned and senseless.
To dismount, to repossess himself of his shield, to resume his sabre, to put one knee to the breast of his fallen foe, was the work of a moment; and then had Don Hernando del Pulgar been sped, without priest or surgeon, but that, alarmed by the peril of their most valiant comrade, twenty knights spurred at once to the rescue, and the points of twenty lances kept the Lion of Granada from his prey. Thither, with similar speed, rushed the Moorish champions; and the fight became close and deadly round the body of the still unconscious Christian. Not an instant of leisure to unlace the helmet of Hernando, by removing which, alone, the Moorish blade could find a mortal place, was permitted to Muza; and, what with the spears and trampling hoofs around him, the situation of the Paynim was more dangerous than that of the Christian. Meanwhile, Hernando recovered his dizzy senses; and, made aware of his state, watched his occasion, and suddenly shook off the knee of the Moor. With another effort he was on his feet and the two champions stood confronting each other, neither very eager to renew the combat. But on foot, Muza, daring and rash as he was, could not but recognise his disadvantage against the enormous strength and impenetrable armour of the Christian. He drew back, whistled to his barb, that, piercing the ranks of the horsemen, was by his side on the instant, remounted, and was in the midst of the foe, almost ere the slower Spaniard was conscious of his disappearance.
But Hernando was not delivered from his enemy. Clearing a space around him, as three knights, mortally wounded, fell beneath his sabre, Muza now drew from behind his shoulder his short Arabian bow, and shaft after shaft came rattling upon the mail of the dismounted Christian with so marvellous a celerity, that, encumbered as he was with his heavy accoutrements, he was unable either to escape from the spot, or ward off that arrowy rain; and felt that nothing but chance, or Our Lady, could prevent the death which one such arrow would occasion, if it should find the opening of the visor, or the joints of the hauberk.
"Mother of Mercy," groaned the knight, perplexed and enraged, "let not thy servant be shot down like a hart, by this cowardly warfare; but, if I must fall, be it with mine enemy, grappling hand to hand."
While yet muttering this short invocation, the war-cry of Spain was heard hard by, and the gallant company of Villena was seen scouring across the plain to the succour of their comrades. The deadly attention of Muza was distracted from individual foes, however eminent; he wheeled round, re-collected his men, and, in a serried charge, met the new enemy in midway.
While the contest thus fared in that part of the field, the scheme of Ferdinand had succeeded so far as to break up the battle in detached sections. Far and near, plain, grove, garden, tower, presented each the scene of obstinate and determined conflict. Boabdil, at the head of his chosen guard, the flower of the haughtier tribe of nobles who were jealous of the fame and blood of the tribe of Muza, and followed also by his gigantic Ethiopians, exposed his person to every peril, with the desperate valour of a man who feels his own stake is greatest in the field. As he most distrusted the infantry, so amongst the infantry he chiefly bestowed his presence; and wherever he appeared, he sufficed, for the moment, to turn the changes of the engagement. At length, at mid-day Ponce de Leon led against the largest detachment of the Moorish foot a strong and numerous battalion of the best-disciplined and veteran soldiery of Spain. He had succeeded in winning a fortress, from which his artillery could play with effect; and the troops he led were composed, partly of men flushed with recent triumph, and partly of a fresh reserve, now first brought into the field. A comely and a breathless spectacle it was to behold this Christian squadron emerging from a blazing copse, which they fired on their march; the red light gleaming on their complete armour, as, in steady and solemn order, they swept on to the swaying and clamorous ranks of the Moorish infantry. Boabdil learned the danger from his scouts; and hastily quitting a tower from which he had for a while repulsed a hostile legion, he threw himself into the midst of the battalions menaced by the skilful Ponce de Leon. Almost at the same moment, the wild and ominous apparition of Almamen, long absent from the eyes of the Moors, appeared in the same quarter, so suddenly and unexpectedly, that none knew whence he had emerged; the sacred standard in his left hand—his sabre, bared and dripping gore, in his right—his face exposed, and its powerful features working with an excitement that seemed inspired; his abrupt presence breathed a new soul into the Moors.
"They come! they come!" he shrieked aloud. "The God of the East hath delivered the Goth into your hands!" From rank to rank—from line to line—sped the santon; and, as the mystic banner gleamed before the soldiery, each closed his eyes and muttered an "amen" to his adjurations. And now, to the cry of "Spain and St. Iago," came trampling down the relentless charge of the Christian war. At the same instant, from the fortress lately taken by Ponce de Leon, the artillery opened upon the Moors, and did deadly havoc. The Moslems wavered a moment when before them gleamed the white banner of Almamen; and they beheld him rushing, alone and on foot, amidst the foe. Taught to believe the war itself depended on the preservation of the enchanted banner, the Paynims could not see it thus rashly adventured without anxiety and shame: they rallied, advanced firmly, and Boabdil himself, with waving cimiter and fierce exclamations, dashed impetuously at the head of his guards and Ethiopians into the affray. The battle became obstinate and bloody. Thrice the white banner disappeared amidst the closing ranks; and thrice, like a moon from the clouds, it shone forth again—the light and guide of the Pagan power.
The day ripened; and the hills already cast lengthening shadows over the blazing groves and the still Darro, whose waters, in every creek where the tide was arrested, ran red with blood, when Ferdinand, collecting his whole reserve, descended from the eminence on which hitherto he had posted himself. With him moved three thousand foot and a thousand horse, fresh in their vigour, and panting for a share in that glorious day. The king himself, who, though constitutionally fearless, from motives of policy rarely perilled his person, save on imminent occasions, was resolved not to be outdone by Boabdil; and armed cap-a-pied in mail, so wrought with gold that it seemed nearly all of that costly metal, with his snow-white plumage waving above a small diadem that surmounted his lofty helm, he seemed a fit leader to that armament of heroes. Behind him flaunted the great gonfanon of Spain, and trump and cymbal heralded his approach. The Count de Tendilla rode by his side.
"Senor," said Ferdinand, "the infidels fight hard; but they are in the snare—we are about to close the nets upon them. But what cavalcade is this?"
The group that thus drew the king's attention consisted of six squires, bearing, on a martial litter, composed of shields, the stalwart form of Hernando del Pulgar.
"Ah, the dogs!" cried the king, as he recognised the pale features of the darling of the army,—"have they murdered the bravest knight that ever fought for Christendom?"
"Not that, your majesty," quoth he of the Exploits, faintly, "but I am sorely stricken."
"It must have been more than man who struck thee down," said the king.
"It was the mace of Muza Ben Abil Gazan, an please you, sire," said one of the squires; "but it came on the good knight unawares, and long after his own arm had seemingly driven away the Pagan."
"We will avenge thee well," said the king, setting his teeth: "let our own leeches tend thy wounds. Forward, sir knights! St. Iago and Spain!"
The battle had now gathered to a vortex; Muza and his cavalry had joined Boabdil and the Moorish foot. On the other hand, Villena had been reinforced by detachments that in almost every other quarter of the field had routed the foe. The Moors had been driven back, though inch by inch; they were now in the broad space before the very walls of the city, which were still crowded by the pale and anxious faces of the aged and the women: and, at every pause in the artillery, the voices that spoke of HOME were borne by that lurid air to the ears of the infidels. The shout that rang through the Christian force as Ferdinand now joined it struck like a death-knell upon the last hope of Boabdil. But the blood of his fierce ancestry burned in his veins, and the cheering voice of Almamen, whom nothing daunted, inspired him with a kind of superstitious frenzy.
"King against king—so be it! Let Allah decide between us!" cried the Moorish monarch. "Bind up this wound 'tis well! A steed for the santon!
Now, my prophet and my friend, mount by the side of thy king—let us, at least, fall together. Lelilies! Lelilies!"
Throughout the brave Christian ranks went a thrill of reluctant admiration, as they beheld the Paynim king, conspicuous by his fair beard and the jewels of his harness, lead the scanty guard yet left to him once more into the thickest of their lines. Simultaneously Muza and his Zegris made their fiery charge; and the Moorish infantry, excited by the example of their leaders, followed with unslackened and dogged zeal. The Christians gave way—they were beaten back: Ferdinand spurred forward; and, ere either party were well aware of it, both kings met in the same melee: all order and discipline, for the moment, lost, general and monarch were, as common soldiers, fighting hand to hand. It was then that Ferdinand, after bearing down before his lance Naim Reduon, second only to Muza in the songs of Granada, beheld opposed to him a strange form, that seemed to that royal Christian rather fiend than man: his raven hair and beard, clotted with blood, hung like snakes about a countenance whose features, naturally formed to give expression to the darkest passions, were distorted with the madness of despairing rage. Wounded in many places, the blood dabbled his mail; while, over his head, he waved the banner wrought with mystic characters, which Ferdinand had already been taught to believe the workmanship of demons.
"Now, perjured king of the Nazarenes!" shouted this formidable champion, "we meet at last!—no longer host and guest, monarch and dervise, but man to man! I am Almamen! Die!"
He spoke; and his sword descended so fiercely on that anointed head that Ferdinand bent to his saddle-bow. But the king quickly recovered his seat, and gallantly met the encounter; it was one that might have tasked to the utmost the prowess of his bravest knight. Passions which, in their number, their nature, and their excess, animated no other champion on either side, gave to the arm of Almamen the Israelite a preternatural strength; his blows fell like rain upon the harness of the king; and the fiery eyes, the gleaming banner of the mysterious sorcerer, who had eluded the tortures of his Inquisition,—who had walked unscathed through the midst of his army,—whose single hand had consumed the encampment of a host, filled the stout heart of a king with a belief that he encountered no earthly foe. Fortunately, perhaps, for Ferdinand and Spain, the contest did not last long. Twenty horsemen spurred into the melee to the rescue of the plumed diadem: Tendilla arrived the first; with a stroke of his two-handed sword, the white banner was cleft from its staff, and fell to the earth. At that sight the Moors round broke forth in a wild and despairing cry: that cry spread from rank to rank, from horse to foot; the Moorish infantry, sorely pressed on all sides, no sooner learned the disaster than they turned to fly: the rout was as fatal as it was sudden. The Christian reserve, just brought into the field, poured down upon them with a simultaneous charge. Boabdil, too much engaged to be the first to learn the downfall of the sacred insignia, suddenly saw himself almost alone, with his diminished Ethiopians and a handful of his cavaliers.