Leila or, the Siege of Granada, Book II.

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LEILA

OR,
THE SIEGE OF GRANADA
BY
EDWARD BULWER LYTTON

Book II.

CHAPTER I.

THE ROYAL TENT OF SPAIN.—THE KING AND THE DOMINICAN—THE VISITOR
AND THE HOSTAGE.

Our narrative now summons us to the Christian army, and to the tent in
which the Spanish king held nocturnal counsel with some of his more
confidential warriors and advisers. Ferdinand had taken the field with
all the pomp and circumstance of a tournament rather than of a campaign;
and his pavilion literally blazed with purple and cloth of gold.

The king sat at the head of a table on which were scattered maps and
papers; nor in countenance and mien did that great and politic monarch
seem unworthy of the brilliant chivalry by which he was surrounded. His
black hair, richly perfumed and anointed, fell in long locks on either
side of a high imperial brow, upon whose calm, though not unfurrowed
surface, the physiognomist would in vain have sought to read the
inscrutable heart of kings. His features were regular and majestic: and
his mantle, clasped with a single jewel of rare price and lustre, and
wrought at the breast with a silver cross, waved over a vigorous and
manly frame, which derived from the composed and tranquil dignity of
habitual command that imposing effect which many of the renowned knights
and heroes in his presence took from loftier stature and ampler
proportions. At his right hand sat Prince Juan, his son, in the first
bloom of youth; at his left, the celebrated Rodrigo Ponce de Leon,
Marquess of Cadiz; along the table, in the order of their military rank,
were seen the splendid Duke of Medina Sidonia, equally noble in aspect
and in name; the worn and thoughtful countenance of the Marquess de
Villena (the Bayard of Spain); the melancholy brow of the heroic Alonzo
de Aguilar; and the gigantic frame, the animated features, and sparkling
eyes, of that fiery Hernando del Pulgar, surnamed “the knight of the
exploits.”

“You see, senores,” said the king, continuing an address, to which his
chiefs seemed to listen with reverential attention, “our best hope of
speedily gaining the city is rather in the dissensions of the Moors than
our own sacred arms. The walls are strong, the population still
numerous; and under Muza Ben Abil Gazan, the tactics of the hostile army
are, it must be owned, administered with such skill as to threaten very
formidable delays to the period of our conquest. Avoiding the hazard of
a fixed battle, the infidel cavalry harass our camp by perpetual
skirmishes; and in the mountain defiles our detachments cannot cope with
their light horse and treacherous ambuscades. It is true, that by dint
of time, by the complete devastation of the Vega, and by vigilant
prevention of convoys from the seatowns, we might starve the city into
yielding. But, alas! my lords, our enemies are scattered and numerous,
and Granada is not the only place before which the standard of Spain
should be unfurled. Thus situated, the lion does not disdain to serve
himself of the fox; and, fortunately, we have now in Granada an ally that
fights for us. I have actual knowledge of all that passes within the
Alhambra: the king yet remains in his palace, irresolute and dreaming;
and I trust that an intrigue by which his jealousies are aroused against
his general, Muza, may end either in the loss of that able leader, or in
the commotion of open rebellion or civil war. Treason within Granada
will open its gates to us.”

“Sire,” said Ponce de Leon, after a pause, “under your counsels, I no
more doubt of seeing our banner float above the Vermilion Towers, than I
doubt the rising of the sun over yonder hills; it matters little whether
we win by stratagem or force. But I need not say to your highness, that
we should carefully beware lest we be amused by inventions of the enemy,
and trust to conspiracies which may be but lying tales to blunt our
sabres, and paralyse our action.”

“Bravely spoken, wise de Leon!” exclaimed Hernando del Pulgar, hotly:
“and against these infidels, aided by the cunning of the Evil One,
methinks our best wisdom lies in the sword-arm. Well says our old
Castilian proverb:

                    ’Curse them devoutly,

                    Hammer them stoutly.'”

The king smiled slightly at the ardour of the favourite of his army, but
looked round for more deliberate counsel. “Sire,” said Villena, “far be
it from us to inquire the grounds upon which your majesty builds your
hope of dissension among the foe; but, placing the most sanguine
confidence in a wisdom never to be deceived, it is clear that we should
relax no energy within our means, but fight while we plot, and seek to
conquer, while we do not neglect to undermine.”

“You speak well, my Lord,” said Ferdinand, thoughtfully; “and you
yourself shall head a strong detachment to-morrow, to lay waste the Vega.
Seek me two hours hence; the council for the present is dissolved.”

The knights rose, and withdrew with the usual grave and stately
ceremonies of respect, which Ferdinand observed to, and exacted from, his
court: the young prince remained.

“Son,” said Ferdinand, when they were alone, “early and betimes should
the Infants of Spain be lessoned in the science of kingcraft. These
nobles are among the brightest jewels of the crown; but still it is in
the crown, and for the crown, that their light should sparkle. Thou
seest how hot, and fierce, and warlike, are the chiefs of Spain—
excellent virtues when manifested against our foes: but had we no foes,
Juan, such virtues might cause us exceeding trouble. By St. Jago, I have
founded a mighty monarchy! observe how it should be maintained—by
science, Juan, by science! and science is as far removed from brute force
as this sword from a crowbar. Thou seemest bewildered and amazed, my
son: thou hast heard that I seek to conquer Granada by dissensions among
the Moors; when Granada is conquered, remember that the nobles themselves
are at Granada. Ave Maria! blessed be the Holy Mother, under whose eyes
are the hearts of kings!” Ferdinand crossed himself devoutly; and then,
rising, drew aside a part of the drapery of the pavilion, and called; in
a low voice, the name of Perez. A grave Spaniard, somewhat past the
verge of middle age, appeared.

“Perez,” said the king, reseating himself, “has the person we expected
from Granada yet arrived?”

“Sire, yes; accompanied by a maiden.”

“He hath kept his word; admit them. Ha! holy father, thy visits are
always as balsam to the heart.”

“Save you, my son!” returned a man in the robes of a Dominican friar, who
had entered suddenly and without ceremony by another part of the tent,
and who now seated himself with smileless composure at a little distance
from the king.

There was a dead silence for some moments; and Perez still lingered
within the tent, as if in doubt whether the entrance of the friar would
not prevent or delay obedience to the king’s command. On the calm face
of Ferdinand himself appeared a slight shade of discomposure and
irresolution, when the monk thus resumed:

“My presence, my son, will not, I trust, disturb your conference with the
infidel—since you deem that worldly policy demands your parley with the
men of Belial.”

“Doubtless not—doubtless not,” returned the king, quickly: then,
muttering to himself, “how wondrously doth this holy man penetrate into
all our movements and designs!” he added, aloud, “Let the messenger
enter.”

Perez bowed, and withdrew.

During this time, the young prince reclined in listless silence on his
seat; and on his delicate features was an expression of weariness which
augured but ill of his fitness for the stern business to which the
lessons of his wise father were intended to educate his mind. His,
indeed, was the age, and his the soul, for pleasure; the tumult of the
camp was to him but a holiday exhibition—the march of an army, the
exhilaration of a spectacle; the court as a banquet—the throne, the best
seat at the entertainment. The life of the heir-apparent, to the life of
the king possessive, is as the distinction between enchanting hope and
tiresome satiety.

The small grey eyes of the friar wandered over each of his royal
companions with a keen and penetrating glance, and then settled in the
aspect of humility on the rich carpets that bespread the floor; nor did
he again lift them till Perez, reappearing, admitted to the tent the
Israelite, Almamen, accompanied by a female figure, whose long veil,
extending from head to foot, could conceal neither the beautiful
proportions nor the trembling agitation, of her frame.

“When last, great king, I was admitted to thy presence,” said Almamen,
“thou didst make question of the sincerity and faith of thy servant; thou
didst ask me for a surety of my faith; thou didst demand a hostage; and
didst refuse further parley without such pledge were yielded to thee.
Lo! I place under thy kingly care this maiden—the sole child of my
house—as surety of my truth; I intrust to thee a life dearer than my
own.”

“You have kept faith with us, stranger,” said the king, in that soft and
musical voice which well disguised his deep craft and his unrelenting
will; “and the maiden whom you intrust to our charge shall be ranked with
the ladies of our royal consort.”

“Sire,” replied Almamen, with touching earnestness, you now hold the
power of life and death over all for whom this heart can breathe a prayer
or cherish a hope, save for my countrymen and my religion. This solemn
pledge between thee and me I render up without scruple, without fear. To
thee I give a hostage, from thee I have but a promise.”

“But it is the promise of a king, a Christian, and a knight,” said the
king, with dignity rather mild than arrogant; “among monarchs, what
hostage can be more sacred? Let this pass: how proceed affairs in the
rebel city?”

“May this maiden withdraw, ere I answer my lord the king?” said Almamen.

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