Leila or, the Siege of Granada, Book IV.

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Book IV.



The calmer contemplations and more holy anxieties of Leila were, at
length, broken in upon by intelligence, the fearful interest of which
absorbed the whole mind and care of every inhabitant of the castle.
Boabdil el Chico had taken the field, at the head of a numerous army.
Rapidly scouring the country, he had descended, one after one, upon the
principal fortresses, which Ferdinand had left, strongly garrisoned, in
the immediate neighbourhood. His success was as immediate as it was
signal; the terror of his arms began, once more to spread far and wide;
every day swelled his ranks with new recruits; and from the snow-clad
summits of the Sierra Nevada poured down, in wild hordes, the fierce
mountain race, who, accustomed to eternal winter, made a strange
contrast, in their rugged appearance and shaggy clothing, to the
glittering and civilised soldiery of Granada.

Moorish towns, which had submitted to Ferdinand, broke from their
allegiance, and sent their ardent youth and experienced veterans to the
standard of the Keys and Crescent. To add to the sudden panic of the
Spaniards, it went forth that a formidable magician, who seemed inspired
rather with the fury of a demon than the valour of a man, had made an
abrupt appearance in the ranks of the Moslems. Wherever the Moors shrank
back from wall or tower, down which poured the boiling pitch, or rolled
the deadly artillery of the besieged, this sorcerer—rushing into the
midst of the flagging force, and waving, with wild gestures, a white
banner, supposed by both Moor and Christian to be the work of magic and
preternatural spells—dared every danger, and escaped every weapon: with
voice, with prayer, with example, he fired the Moors to an enthusiasm
that revived the first days of Mohammedan conquest; and tower after
tower, along the mighty range of the mountain chain of fortresses, was
polluted by the wave and glitter of the ever-victorious banner. The
veteran, Mendo de Quexada, who, with a garrison of two hundred and fifty
men, held the castle of Almamen, was, however, undaunted by the
unprecedented successes of Boabdil. Aware of the approaching storm, he
spent the days of peace yet accorded to him in making every preparation
for the siege that he foresaw; messengers were despatched to Ferdinand;
new out-works were added to the castle; ample store of provisions laid
in; and no precaution omitted that could still preserve to the Spaniards
a fortress that, from its vicinity to Granada, its command of the Vega
and the valleys of the Alpuxarras, was the bitterest thorn in the side of
the Moorish power.

It was early, one morning, that Leila stood by the lattice of her lofty
chamber gazing, with many and mingled emotions, on the distant domes of
Granada, as they slept in the silent sunshine. Her heart, for the
moment, was busy with the thoughts of home, and the chances and peril of
the time were forgotten.

The sound of martial music, afar off, broke upon her reveries; she
started, and listened breathlessly; it became more distinct and clear.
The clash of the zell, the boom of the African drum, and the wild and
barbarous blast of the Moorish clarion, were now each distinguishable
from the other; and, at length, as she gazed and listened, winding along
the steeps of the mountain were seen the gleaming spears and pennants of
the Moslem vanguard. Another moment and the whole castle was astir.

Mendo de Quexada, hastily arming, repaired, himself, to the battlements;
and, from her lattice, Leila beheld him, from time to time, stationing to
the best advantage his scanty troops. In a few minutes she was joined by
Donna Inez and the women of the castle, who fearfully clustered round
their mistress,—not the less disposed, however, to gratify the passion
of the sex, by a glimpse through the lattice at the gorgeous array of the
Moorish army.

The casements of Leila’s chamber were peculiarly adapted to command a
safe nor insufficient view of the progress of the enemy; and, with a
beating heart and flushing cheek, the Jewish maiden, deaf to the voices
around her, imagined she could already descry amidst the horsemen the
lion port and snowy garments of Muza Ben Abil Gazan.

What a situation was hers! Already a Christian, could she hope for the
success of the infidel? ever a woman, could she hope for the defeat of
her lover? But the time for meditation on her destiny was but brief; the
detachment of the Moorish cavalry was now just without the walls of the
little town that girded the castle, and the loud clarion of the heralds
summoned the garrison to surrender.

“Not while one stone stands upon another!” was the short answer of
Quexada; and, in ten minutes afterwards, the sullen roar of the artillery
broke from wall and tower over the vales below.

It was then that the women, from Leila’s lattice, beheld, slowly
marshalling themselves in order, the whole power and pageantry of the
besieging army. Thick-serried—line after line, column upon column—they
spread below the frowning steep. The sunbeams lighted up that goodly
array, as it swayed, and murmured, and advanced, like the billows of a
glittering sea. The royal standard was soon descried waving above the
pavilion of Boabdil; and the king himself, mounted on his cream-coloured
charger, which was covered with trappings of cloth-of-gold, was
recognised amongst the infantry, whose task it was to lead the assault.

“Pray with us, my daughter!” cried Inez, falling on her knees.-Alas!
what could Leila pray for?

Four days and four nights passed away in that memorable siege; for the
moon, then at her full, allowed no respite, even in night itself. Their
numbers, and their vicinity to Granada, gave the besiegers the advantage
of constant relays, and troop succeeded to troop; so that the weary had
ever successors in the vigour of new assailants.

On the fifth day, all of the fortress, save the keep (an immense tower),
was in the hands of the Moslems; and in this last hold, the worn-out and
scanty remnant of the garrison mustered, in the last hope of a brave,

Quexada appeared, covered with gore and dust-his eyes bloodshot, his
cheek haggard and hollow, his locks blanched with sudden age-in the hall
of the tower, where the women, half dead with terror, were assembled.

“Food!” cried he,—”food and wine!—it may be our last banquet.”

His wife threw her arms round him. “Not yet,” he cried, “not yet; we
will have one embrace before we part.”

“Is there, then, no hope?” said Inez, with a pale cheek, yet steady eye.

“None; unless to-morrow’s dawn gild the spears of Ferdinand’s army upon
yonder hills. Till morn we may hold out.” As he spoke, he hastily
devoured some morsels of food, drained a huge goblet of wine, and
abruptly quitted the chamber.

At that moment, the women distinctly heard the loud shouts of the Moors;
and Leila, approaching the grated casement, could perceive the approach
of what seemed to her like moving wails.

Covered by ingenious constructions of wood and thick hides, the besiegers
advanced to the foot of the tower in comparative shelter from the burning
streams which still poured, fast and seething, from the battlements;
while, in the rear came showers of darts and cross-bolts from the more
distant Moors, protecting the work of the engineer, and piercing through
almost every loophole and crevice in the fortress.

Meanwhile the stalwart governor beheld, with dismay and despair, the
preparations of the engineers, whom the wooden screen-works protected
from every weapon.

“By the Holy Sepulchre!” cried he, gnashing his teeth, “they are mining
the tower, and we shall be buried in its ruins! Look out, Gonsalvo! see
you not a gleam of spears yonder over the mountain? Mine eyes are dim
with watching.”

“Alas! brave Mendo, it is only the sloping sun upon the snows—but there
is hope yet.”

The soldier’s words terminated in a shrill and sudden cry of agony; and
he fell dead by the side of Quexada, the brain crushed by a bolt from a
Moorish arquebus.

“My best warrior!” said Quexada; “peace be with him! Ho, there! see you
yon desperate infidel urging on the miners? By the heavens above, it is
he of the white banner!—it is the sorcerer! Fire on him! he is without
the shelter of the woodworks.”

Twenty shafts, from wearied and nerveless arms, fell innocuous round the
form of Almamen: and as, waving aloft his ominous banner, he disappeared
again behind the screen-works, the Spaniards almost fancied they could
hear his exulting and demon laugh.

The sixth day came, and the work of the enemy was completed. The tower

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