Ernie Wild is the quintessential crazy oik. Unfortunately, among his many talents - languages, travel, the piano and skinflintism, one hesitates to include writing. In spite of this we reproduce his novel sized account of the last Moorish ruler of Andalusia – Boabdil. This was written once on the kitchen table at his home in Prestwich in a looping, old fashioned copperplate and never touched again – no poncey re-writes or searches for the mot-juste. His younger brother Bob in a prodigiously generous act of amenuensisosity (is that a word Ken?) typed up the manuscript on his ageing computer.
You got a flavour of Ernie’s style in Crazy Oik 1 with his bizarre story of Lenin becoming his statue (It was not Vladimir Ilyitch). Literature it ain’t. Or is that just my view? As they say in Latin America: “De gustibus nil est disputandum” which some Oik readers may translate as “If it’s windy don’t get your bike out, take the bus” but in fact means “you can’t argue about matters of taste”. How true! But am I editor or not? Yes, I guess we must admire Ernie's prolonged and strenuous labour but what he's produced is not a vital, living offspring so much as a gargantuan literary turd.
It’s as if Ernie has made a mental 3 hour B feature of these events and is now transcribing what he has imagined. Do we detect a whiff of Washington Irving’s Alhambra Tales or has Ernie just seen El Cid too many times? He has in fact often visited Granada and is reportedly fluent in Spanish. Even his brothers pronounce him border-line Aspergers (but then so is Warren Buffett) but he held down a job in the Manchester Town Hall for twenty years and now travels extensively. Bob’s forthcoming Oikus will fill in more detail which you may think far-fetched. As the Aussies might say “You wouldn’t flaming read about it!” - but you will, and it’s all true.
So maybe there's someone out there, perhaps in solitary in Strangeways with a lap-top, who has the leisure and energy to get to the end of this 76,000 word lunacy (perhaps after polishing off Finnegans Wake as an hors d’oeuvre). If so we’d like to hear from him and promise to publish his more informed review of this justly neglected masterpiece.
Boabdil the new king of Granada was restless and ill at ease. He knew that his enemies, their majesties Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, were about to launch a final assault on his capital city. He was not really a warlike man; his natural inclination being much given to indolence and introspection rather than to physical exercise and training in military arts which his position as ruler of his people demanded. He felt in his bones that his days as king were numbered and that his people were about to be driven out of this wondrous place which had been their home for so many centuries.
What a miracle was Granada! The gleaming white snow of the Sierra Nevada, the delicate tracery of this his Alhambra Palace with its splashing fountains and gardens full of flowers, the smell of jasmine, myrtle and orange blossom everywhere and above all the sound of running water---and not just water but ice-cold water from the snows of the high sierras. This was the paradise The Prophet Mohammed had promised his adherents, the followers of Islam, the followers of The Way. This was The Garden of Allah, the paradise of the faithful and yet he knew of a certainty that it was about to be lost to Allah---that it was about to be taken over by these strange Christians, whom the Prophet, blessed be his name, had described along with the Jews as "people of the book".
How strange that these "people of the book" should declare so emphatically that there was one God and then assert equally emphatically that that God was somehow not one but three: Father, Son and Holy Ghost! What sort of logic was that---that one could somehow be three. To him it didn't make sense. He must discuss the whole question again with his religious teacher to see if there was some subtle shade of meaning, some nuance of interpretation which would enlighten him on this strange three in one, The Trinity, as his enemies, the Christians, called it and which had so far escaped him.
As he looked out towards the gleaming snow he pondered on why the Christians and the Muslims should be such enemies. Surely they had so much in common that they should not be enemies at all. After all Mohammed, blessed be his name, had seemed to be trying to reform Christianity, to cleanse it of its heresy of destroying the oneness of God! But did the Christians see it that way? They seemed to regard the Muslims as infidels, as barbarians even and either didn't care or perhaps more correctly didn't dare remind themselves of just what a debt they owed to Moorish Spain. Without great Cordoba, and its brilliant civilization in the past centuries, Europe would today know nothing of the genius of the ancient Greeks upon whose thought European civilization was based. That much was a fact and could not be disputed.
His reverie was interrupted by the arrival at the side of the couch on which he reclined of a eunuch, one of the emasculated ones who served the kingdom as administrators and civil-servants. It was Rashid who served as his secretary and emissary in his necessary dealings with their Majesties of Aragon and Castile. As all of his kind, fat and paunchy and with a shrill, piping, almost womanly voice he never-the-less was an astute politician and diplomat whom Allah had favoured with the gift of tongues which made him indispensable to the kingdom. So indispensable to Boabdil had he become that he had become rich and powerful, in fact the second most important man in the kingdom, indeed some went so far as to assert that he was in fact far more powerful than Boabdil himself. He made his obeisance to his leader and then said, in his piping, reedy voice: "There is an emissary newly arrived from their most Majesties of Aragon and Castile at their encampment at Santa Fe oh exalted one". Boabdil sensed trouble and sensed that he would have to take decisions and give orders which would demand thought on his part. He didn't want to think about the coming struggle, the coming clash of armies. He wanted to continue his speculation as to why Muslims and the Christians were not brothers in the faith instead of enemies to the death, with the sword soon to be the means by which the conflict between them would be resolved.
"Who is the emissary from their Majesties of Aragon and Castile? What is his name?" Boabdil asked but with not much real interest. Over the past months there had been a succession of emissaries from the Spanish camp, all cast in the same mould, suggesting military captains, scions of the great aristocratic families all. Really they had been insufferable with their overbearing, ingrained Spanish superior ways. This latest emissary was certain to be just the same Boabdil assumed.
"Alonso de Gurrea O Exalted One", Rashid replied somewhat archly. He knew exactly what his master was thinking. He went on in his high, pipping voice: "This one is different. He speaks our tongue fluently and is said to be a great admirer of our culture. It is also said that he has travelled widely in the Arabic lands and wishes to do so again if ever he has a further opportunity".
Boabdil interrupted him. He sensed that Rashid was playing some sort of game with him and didn't much care for his tone of voice however high-pitched and effeminate it might be. He came slowly out of his reverie and felt some interest stir within his mind. Here was a Christian with whom he could converse directly without the help of an interpreter, usually Rashid of course. Perhaps he could even ask him about the strange Trinity of the Christians. Yes! Of a truth he began to feel a growing interest in the new arrival from Santa Fe.
"Where is this de Gurrea from?" he asked almost knowing or guessing the answer. Without exception the emissaries had always been from Castile and had always displayed the Castilian's arrogance and almost overbearing sense of superiority. This one would be the same and as a result it would be impossible to hold a conversation with him. By now his interest was thoroughly aroused and he had made up his mind that he would converse directly with this Alonso de Gurrea.
"Valencia" Rashid answered to his master's question again knowing exactly what Boabdil was thinking. These two had been master and servant for many years and this sense of a special rapport between them had grown steadily stronger during the years. It was no exaggeration to say that each could read the others thoughts with ease.
"That is interesting and it makes me feel doubly interested in this Alonso de Gurrea. Perhaps we should really be rather wary of this Valencian speaking Arabic. Perhaps he is rather more dangerous than interesting and should really be treated as such. It is certainly unusual that their Majesties latest ornament to our court speaks Arabic and is not from Castille. Do you think he is sent here to spy on us?" Boabdil asked, knowing that all emissaries are in fact spies given the opportunity. Privately he had already decided that this de Gurrea should be watched very carefully during the time that he was in Granada, very carefully watched indeed. As he awaited Rashid's reply he fixed his enquiring eyes on him.
"Of course he will spy on us given the opportunity. Emissaries always do. Think of the information I myself have brought back from Santa Fe when you have sent me there O Master. Of course, as I told you on my return from my last visit there I felt that I was deliberately shown things so that I would report them to you when I returned to Granada. That is how we know what vast numbers of men and war materials have been assembled at Santa Fe. The very name of the camp Santa Fe "Holy Faith" is meant to proclaim that this coming struggle for Granada is a holy war, a crusade as the Christians call it. As I told you O Master there are many volunteers from the other Christian lands in the camp of their Catholic Majesties. As you will recall O Exalted One (here Rashid stopped his speech and made a low obeisance to Boabdil who indicated that he continue) I have told you of the strange situation prevailing in the Christian camp. It really is two camps, the camp of the king, Ferdinand of Aragon whose men owe personal allegiance to him and to him alone. The other camp is that of the Queen, Isabella of Castile, whose men owe allegiance to her and to her alone. That situation inevitably weakens our enemy. It appears that this question of allegiance and precedence affects everything the Christian army does or attempts to do. There is no unified Spanish army, there is an army of Castile and an army of Aragon both together in camp in Santa Fe. The fact that the latest sent to us from that camp is not from Castile tells us that the party of the Queen is not in the ascendancy at the moment. Valencia is an appendage of Aragon, therefore the party of Aragon, the party of the king is in a position to influence events at the moment. You should never forget this duality in everything our enemies do".
Boabdil thought not of the duality but of The Trinity again. Strange how this "three" kept returning to his mind. How infinitely more satisfying was the oneness of God, alone and indivisible so rigorously and even ruthlessly asserted by The Prophet Mohammed, blessed be his name, than this watered down three in one. He knew of a truth, in the very core of his being that there was one God, one alone supreme in his unique oneness. There was one God and Mohammed was his Prophet. Was the struggle for Granada which was soon to come to be a struggle between The One and The Three!
Rashid looked at his master who for the brief seconds of his latest reverie had gazed almost without seeing, with a glazed look in his eyes through the delicate tracery of the windowless window-like arch at the gleaming white snow of the Sierra which sparkled in the winter sun. Coming back to the reality of the present Boabdil suddenly realised that Rashid was asking him a question and was waiting for a reply.
"When will you formally receive this de Gurrea and accept him as the accredited emissary of their Majesties O Exalted One?" He was used to his master's little reveries, to this slipping away from the present into a fantasy world of speculation and he presumed spiritual ecstasy.
"We will receive him in the morning, at the usual hour, in the usual place, The Hall of the Ambassadors. See that de Gurrea is given comfortable quarters and made welcome in the customary Arabic manner" Boabdil replied, trying to assume an official authoritative voice and not certain whether he succeeded or not.
Rashid prostrated himself on the richly carpeted floor in front of his king and master.
"And now leave me" Boabdil gestured with his hand.
Rashid moved backwards with long-practised steps in a dignified but not really servile manner. In fact it could be said that Rashid had almost decided not to be the servant at all and that this feeling showed itself in all his dealings with his master.
When Rashid had gone Boabdil left his couch and walked over to an ivory cupboard. From it he took out a large volume. It was the Christian bible, in Arabic of course. He had read it systematically and nowhere had he found anything written in it about the puzzling three-in-one, The Trinity. He respected the bible of course, this was "the book" which The Prophet Mohammed, blessed be his name, had said linked the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. That it was in two parts he could and did appreciate. His religious teacher had told him that the first part was the tribal history of the Jewish people, who regarded themselves as the chosen people, that is the people chosen by God as the recipients of his special favours and protection. In other words only the Jews would be saved from eternal damnation at the final day of judgement. How ferocious and unforgiving this tribal God, this Jehovah seemed. He was a vengeful and warlike God who promised his adherents, his followers, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". But there was another message, a promise running through this tribal history of the Jewish people, the promise of a great leader to come who would lead his people to victory over their enemies and establish a kingdom on earth which would endure for ever. This Messiah (apparently a Greek word meaning saviour) had been predicted for so long and then had finally arrived in the person of one Jesus, bar, or so his adherents believed, Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth. This Jesus like Boabdil himself was not a warlike man. He had lived the ordinary life of a man working as a carpenter in the village of Nazareth until in his mid thirties he had heard the call of God, gone into the wilderness and wrestled with his own doubts and fears and the powers of Satan and re-emerged convinced of his mission to save mankind. This was the second part of The Bible, the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his mission. Gone was the vengeful God, the Jehovah, the warlike tribal God of the Jews. In his place was this Jesus, with his message of "Love thy neighbour as thy self" and "turn the other cheek". This Jesus seemed to appeal to the still, small voice of conscience, seemed to proclaim not warlike, divine retribution, but that all men are brothers who must love one another or perish. It was a beautiful but terrible story, that this second part of the Christian Bible told, of how the gentle Jesus with his message of peace, love and forgiveness had been betrayed by one of his own disciples who had received a payment of thirty pieces of silver for his treachery. Afterwards this gentle man of peace had suffered the unbearable agonies of crucifixion. His adherents also believed that Jesus had been resurrected and had ascended into heaven on the third day after his agonizing death. Boabdil's religious teacher had told him repeatedly that Islam accepted Jesus as one of its prophets but asserted that Jesus had not died upon the cross. He had gone on to assert the further Islamic tradition that Jesus had been cut down from the cross, recovered from his ordeal and gone on to live out his normal span of life as a man with the normal man's wife and family. All this was a very different tradition from that believed by the Christians. Boabdil had always felt full of compassion for Jesus, obviously a man of the utmost honesty and integrity but he did not understand the finer points of the great religion which had grown up around the person and the personality of Jesus. Obviously Jesus was a Jew but he had postulated something much greater than the narrow assertion that only the Jews could be saved. He had proclaimed a doctrine of universal salvation---all men could be saved through him. The sacrifice of his life on the Cross could lead men to God and therefore to salvation. Boabdil could understand the appeal of Jesus's message but for him Mohammed was The Prophet sent by the one God, Allah, and Mohammed was his prophet!
He laid down The Bible and fell to his knees in the ritual of prayer turning to face Mecca as tradition demanded. Soon the tears of exultation flooded into his eyes. He had reached his heaven. He prayed that Allah would grant his followers victory in the coming battle. He Boabdil wanted desperately to stay here in this gorgeous palace in its incomparable setting. He loved the place, the wonderful tracery of the rooms, the constant splash of water in the fountains and the almost intoxicating perfume of the brilliantly coloured masses of flowers! Of a truth God was great. He fell to his knees again: "Oh Allah Akbar" he began and then reeled over in a trance.
Alonso de Gurrea, a tall, handsome man of some five and twenty summers had been in the service of Ferdinand of Aragon for more than some three years. He had attended the University of Salamanca where he had graduated top of his class. A gifted linguist and mathematician he had excelled in the Arabic tongue. He was also an excellent musician blessed with a pleasing tenor voice which when combined with his skill on the lute made him more than welcome at the noble houses his position as his father's heir opened to him. His father was that Ferrante de Gurrea, Ferdinand King of Aragon's military governor of the city of Valencia and therefore virtual all powerful lord and ruler of all its citizens. Considered a wise, humane ruler of late he had increasingly displayed signs of mental instability and calculated cruelty. His position as military governor had devolved upon him on the death of his father and it was virtually certain that his son, Alonso would succeed him in the same way. This had been the natural order of things for nearly two-hundred years.
The de Gurreas were originally from Saragoza the Aragonese capital but had been established in Valencia ever since Jaime Primero of Arogon, ancestor of Fedinand, had conquered the city long ago. In short they were now Valencian and fiercely proud of the fact. Alonso had found since his arrival at court, wherever the court happened to be, that his fierce devotion to his native city of Valencia was a distinct disadvantage to him. Of course, like all courts sycophancy was the natural order of things at Santa Fe. Kings and princes were always open to flattery and manipulation but somehow Ferdinand de Aragon was different from the rest of his fellow-rulers and princes, he could only be flattered and manipulated up to a certain point. It was as if he had already made up his mind as to which course of action he would ultimately follow but allowed his petitioners to think that it was their eloquent persuasion which had determined such course of action. In a word he was his own man and none but his wife Isabella, Queen of Castille, could influence him in the slightest. Never-the-less the Court at Santa Fe was a seething hotbed of intrigue and gossip. Nor could this seething atmosphere be diverted away from its political origin into the more personal imbroglio of amorous intrigue. Any place where The Queen was was a place of strict moral, almost puritanical correctness and order. Of course many failed to adhere to this code and were banished from Court for ever.
Alonso had found himself increasingly drawn to the person of Beatriz de Mendoza, one of the Queen's ladies. She was of supreme beauty with a finely chiselled face and deep soulful eyes which she knew rendered her almost irresistible to any normal man with a normal man's interest in the opposite sex. She had only to turn those wonderful eyes on any young man about the Court for him to become passionately in love with her. That she knew of the devastating effect her glances had on the young men who saw her in her duties about the Court goes without saying. Alonso had succumbed almost at the first encounter. He poured his heart out into a sonnet the purport of which was that he had first seen into the depths of his own soul when his beloved had first turned her soulful, doe-like eyes on him and that he was ready to drown in the deep pools of beauty and truth he saw in them. He fell asleep at night thinking of Beatriz and knowing full well that she, on the other hand was hardly aware of his existence. He also knew that it was impossible for him to even meet Beatriz alone and declare his undying passion for her. Alonso suppressed that this was what the ancient poets and the greatest poets of the Arabic tongue had described as "the agony of love". He suffered for several months and gradually recovered but he felt that his life would never be the same---he would never fall in love like this again!
It had been a great surprise to Alonso when he had been informed one evening just at sunset that he should present himself before his Majesty the next morning. It was an even greater surprise to learn that he had been chosen to be the new emissary to represent His Majesty at The Court of Boabdil, King of Granada. Never for a moment would he have supposed that this would have happened. If anyone had suggested such a thing he would have countered such a suggestion with the reply that he had had no diplomatic training to fit him for such a role. But on reflection he could of course, see some justification for the choice. After all he did speak fluent Arabic and had travelled widely in the Arabic speaking lands. That he was thrilled at the prospect of entering the legendary Al-Hambra, the Red Citadel and of meeting and conversing with Boabdil, King of Granada and thus ruler of the last outpost of Islam in the Iberian Peninsula goes without saying. The whole of Christendom knew that their Majesties longed to complete the final expulsion of The Moors and saw in this holy work the hand of God. Especially was this so for Queen Isabella, God had ordered her directly to clear the sacred soil of Spain of these infidels, these heathens and she burned with fire for the task. It was said that she could see no good in anything Islamic and that she would willingly send all moslems to the stake, to be burnt to the greater glory of God. But Alonso also knew that Queen Isabella had intervened personally to save many great moslem buildings from certain destruction notable the Great Mosque of Cordoba which many fanatical Christians regarded as a constant reproach to their religion and their God.
Before Alonso had left Santa Fe to travel the few short miles to Granada he had had a private audience of the Queen. She had exhorted Alonso to do his utmost to point out the error of his ways to Boabdil, to endeavour to show him that Islam was a heresy , that the Christian God was the only true God and that the only way to salvation was to accept Christ as the only son of God. She implored Alonso to point all this out to Boabdil and she emphasised that he, Alonso, with his faultless command of Arabic had a unique opportunity to achieve all this. She even went so far as to assert that it was Alonso's duty to God to achieve it.
Alonso for his part was more than overwhelmed by the Queen's outburst of religious zeal but he never-the-less promised to do his best. Personally he knew that Boabdil, like all moslems would be as fanatical in his religious beliefs as the Queen was in hers. He knew enough about Islam to realise that it was a perfectly good religion in its own right and he couldn't see why anyone should want to change the religion he had been brought up in. Alright he was Christian Catholic, with all that that implied but he was by no means fanatical in his beliefs. Christians were Christians. Muslims were Muslims. Why not leave it at that?
After Alonso had arrived in Granada he had ridden up the hill to the Alhambra along the great processional way which led from the city. It was an incomparable setting. The snow gleamed on the Sierra in the distance and the sound of running water was everywhere. His heart leapt within him. Only rarely had he felt like this and certainly never before in Spain. He was reminded very forcibly of Marakesh in Morocco and there were echoes of Damascus in the sound of running water. He knew of a truth that he was about to enter Paradise and felt strangely excited.
He had been met at the great gateway to the fortress section of the Al-Hambra by Rashid who introduced himself as Boabdil's secretary and chamberlain and ceremoniously bade him welcome in the name of his master, Boabdil, King of Granada. He had accepted the welcome and replied in the same flowery, flowing classical Arabic and delivered greetings from their Majesties, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille. In return Rashid had bowed low, complimented him on his command of Arabic and informed him that Boabdil would formally receive him in The Hall of the Ambassadors at the hour of ten on the morning of the following day. In the meantime he, Rashid, would personally escort the Senor Don de Gurrea and his retinue to their quarters for the night.
To say that the suite of rooms to which Alonso and his companions were led were luxurious was to vastly understate the case. Luxury and refinement combined to give an impression of supreme opulence which pervaded the entire section of the palace of the Al-Hambra where the ambassadors and representatives of foreign powers were housed during their stay a Boabdil's court. The entire section consisted of a series of low pavilions surrounded by gardens full of the most luxuriant flowers of many diverse colours. There were numerous fountains from which water ran in channels between the beds of flowers and the whole scene created a feeling of peace and the utmost tranquillity. Alonso felt his senses reel as so much so that he had to consciously fight not to swoon. When he recovered, as he did very quickly, he made a very conscious decision not to let his mind be so overcome and influenced by the sheer magical nature of his surroundings that he forgot the purpose of his mission.
He (Rashid? or Rodgrigo, Alonso's servant?) had prepared a bath of hot water for him and had poured into it the aromatic essences and perfumes which were in the many jars and bowls which lay on the floor at the side of the bath which was let into the floor of the alcove just off Alonso's bed-chamber. He had also laid out Alonso's best clothes, his official clothes as an ambassador of his majesty Ferdinand of Aragon. Magnificent was the only word to describe the garments in which Alonso was attired by Rodrigo after he had completed his bath. Cloth of gold predominated which meant that no expense had been spared. The doublet gleamed as the morning-sun caught the gold thread in the cloth and the white silk of the hose was fully complemented by the snow-white starched ruff which Alonso wore round his neck. Over all this was a cape of the finest damask. As for the sword Alonso wore it was obvious that it was of the highest quality steel produced by the master-craftsmen of Toledo. On his head Alonso wore a cap of Cordoba leather from which sprang a plume of magnificent feathers. He looked radiant which of course was what was intended. The majesty of Ferdinand of Aragon was meant to be reflected in the gorgeous apparel of his ambassador here at the court of Boabdil and indeed was.
After he was fully dressed in all his splendour Alonso went out from his chambers in the ambassadorial pavilion to where his horse was waiting for him. He was helped up on to its back by one of the grooms in his party and rode off towards the massive entrance gate accompanied by a troop of Aragonese soldiers. They cantered through the elaborately ornamented gateway watched somewhat menacingly by the turbaned Moorish soldiers with curved scimitars tucked into their waist-bands who manned it. Back down the processional-way that led from the city to the Al-Hambra they went. At its foot, at the other side of another massive gateway was a great crowd of the ordinary citizens of Granada who were kept in check by more turbaned and scimitared Moorish soldiers. In front of these guards was a troop of two-hundred Spanish soldiers mounted on their horses. In front of them were twenty trumpeters and in front of these trumpeters twenty drummers all on foot. Twelve Franciscan monks each carrying a massive bible stood in front of these drummers and trumpeters. Bishop Diego Alvarez, one of the Queen's spiritual advisers mounted on a magnificent horse, a gift from the Queen, was at the head of this, as yet, somewhat disorganised ceremonial procession. Leaning against the gateway were dozens of brightly coloured embroidered banners, some proclaiming the glory of God in Latin, still others displaying the personal standard of Ferdinand, King of Aragon. It was noticeable that not one banner displayed the arms and standard of Isabella, Queen of Castille.
Alonso rode over towards the bishop who held out his hand. Alonso kissed the ring on the first finger and immediately silence descended over the whole company of Spaniards. Those who were not on horseback knelt on the ground as the bishop solemnly invoked God's blessing upon them---then the bishop turned towards the crowd of citizens and Moorish guards and blessed them also to the accompaniment of startled looks from some of these same soldiers who evidently thought that a spell was being put upon them. The bishop taken aback by this disapproval from the Moors looked at them somewhat haughtily and patted his horse's head.
When the bishop had finished his blessings the captain of the military detachment, Pedro Alvarez, the bishop's nephew, ordered one of the trumpeters to sound a command. This was the pre-arranged signal for the whole assembled company of Spaniards to form up into their formal order for the ceremonial procession to the Al-Hambra. Of course there was much noisy movement but out of five or six minutes of the utmost confusion emerged a company of Spaniards assembled in a colourful procession ready to ascend the great processional way to the palace. At its head were the drummers who were already beating out a marching rhythm on their drums. Behind them were the trumpeters whose instruments with their multi-coloured cloth-hangings gleamed in the sunshine. The monks came next. Some of them appeared to be so elderly that it seemed highly likely that the carrying of the massive bibles would be a real penance for them. They were so arranged that next to each monk walked a herald carrying a religious banner. Most of these banners were of white satin with their Latin inscriptions in yellow. Then came the bishop and Alonso, both on magnificent horses, the bishop's sombre riding-clothes contrasting with Alonso's splash of gorgeous colour. Immediately behind them walked standard-bearers. This time they bore the personal standards of Ferdinand of Aragon and the arms of Spain all making a brilliant splash of colour. The troop of Spanish soldiers made up the rear.
They moved off to the beat of the drum and the sound of the trumpet. There was much excited murmuring from the assembled crowd and an equal amount of concerned muttering and gesticulation from the Moorish guards.
Alonso heard this muttering and felt inclined to agree with what the Moors were saying---that this vast concourse of Spaniards in their city was almost like a miniature army of occupation and that it was unfair to send so many fighting troops into their city under the guise of a diplomatic mission.
"A surly, heathen lot these Moors", the bishop said to Alonso. He paused as if expecting some reply. When none came he continued by saying: "The sooner they're all expelled or converted the better. I shouldn't think they'll resist forcible conversion given the choice of that or burning at the stake. Of course we will be obliged to burn a few hundred or so in a massive Auto de Fe in order to show the rest of the heathen lot that we mean business. We must arrange for some men of wealth to be amongst those condemned. Holy Mother Church could use some new wealth for her divine work of clearing the heathen from the sacred soil of Spain".
Alonso shivered as he rode along. He stole a sideways glance at the bishop, a good example of a fat prelate if ever there was one. The bishop's eyes burnt with the fierce fire of fanaticism as he gazed fixedly at the road ahead. Alonso could see not one gleam of humanity in those burning eyes. He shivered again and nearly let the reins of his horse fall from his hands.
Alonso felt the bishop turn his eyes on him but he daren't turn to look at him. He felt instinctively that it would be dangerous to show concern at what the bishop was proposing. It was appalling to think that a bishop, a holy man of God, could so calmly advocate the burning of several hundred fellow human-beings and calculate so callously that in the process the Church could increase its already vast wealth. What further appalled him was that all this came from a man who so obviously had the ear if the Queen. What he proposed would so obviously happen!
"Is there no other way of dealing with these people after we have conquered their city?" Alonso asked, still not daring to look at the bishop.
"Oh most of the will be forcibly expelled back to Africa whence they came so long ago. Some will accept conversion but we must make an example of a fair number. The Queen will demand it".
Here Alonso looked at the bishop and interrupted him. "Could you not persuade the Queen to dispense with the Auto de Fe and make it a straight choice between conversion and expulsion---".
"Such a thing is impossible and not to be thought of. The security of the State and the army will demand a burning and a burning they must have" the bishop almost shouted at Alonso who realised that he had done a very dangerous thing by interrupting him. The bishop would be a dangerous man to have as an enemy Alonso reflected and said no more although he could not help thinking about the terrible fate that awaited the people of Granada after their Majesties of Aragon and Castile entered the city in triumph.
"This is a beautiful place" the bishop said, "Far too beautiful to be in the hands of infidels. I'm told that the palace wither we go is one of the wonders of the world and I am eager to see its marvels".
Alonso could not help but note the great change in the bishop's voice. Gone was the harsh unrelenting tone of the fanatic. In its place was an unexpected softness, a humanity even which was totally unexpected after the bishop's fierce utterances of a few moments ago. Alonso supposed it was the beauty of Granada having its effect on this hard-hearted, austere man. Perhaps this was yet another of the miracles of Granada---that its beauty softened, humanised even the most hard-hearted of men but he knew, of course, that it was inevitable that the Christian conquest of Granada would be followed by the dreadful spectacle of a massive Auto de Fe, the piteous cries of those dying in agony and the sickly, sweet smell of burning human flesh. He found that he could make no comment on what the bishop had said about the beauty of the place. Neither could he look at him.
Alonso concentrated his gaze on the road ahead for some minutes but the picture of the Auto de Fe remained in his mind's eye. He wondered whether he should try again to intercede with the bishop on behalf of the people of Granada. He had almost made up his mind to do so when an incident occurred which silenced him on the matter. One of the bible-carrying monks walking in front of Alonso and the bishop collapsed dropping the massive bible onto the roadway. The bishop who saw the incident quite clearly at once exploded into a fury of rage.
"Remove that man. Have him flogged at once. What an insult to God. Stop the procession, I'll flog him myself".
Here the bishop raised himself on his horse's back, turned round and gesticulating wildly ordered the procession to stop which it did, or at least that part of it behind the bishop did. The bishop, whose face was now quite contorted with rage was almost foaming at the mouth. His face had now changed colour and had become a purply-bluey shade which looked highly dangerous. Alonso feared that His Grace was about to suffer a heart attack but the bishop very quickly subsided into his normal stern-looking self but his piercing, burning eyes remained even more burning and piercing than normal for some seconds. His face retained the purply-bluey colour and his lips twitched.
Brother Anselmo, an Asturian monk of some sixty years had been picked up from the roadway by two soldiers. They hustled him towards the bishop in a rough, savage manner. Meanwhile the head of the procession, the drummers and trumpeters, was proceeding on its way quite oblivious of what had occurred immediately behind them. As soon as Brother Anselmo was within striking distance the bishop, raising himself on his horse's back, struck the face of the suffering monk a tremendous blow with his riding crop. The sound of the leather thongs hitting that exposed face was clearly audible to all as was the hollow rasping, rattling sound that came from the throat of Brother Anselmo in response to that terrible blow. It was the death rattle. Brother Anselmo was dead and his corpse now hung limp, held before the bishop by the two soldiers. Meanwhile the drummers and buglers continued their march towards the Al-Hambra.
When the bishop realised that Brother Anselmo was dead he made the sign of the cross over the body. His face had become ashen grey and his eyes were full of fear.
The commander of the troops (his nephew) rode up and said to him: "My lord-bishop my two men will testify that the unfortunate monk was dead before they brought him to you". The soldiers concerned hastily concurred with this as their commander pointed to the bag of gold he held in his hand. His meaning was crystal clear. They were to be well rewarded for their compliance. The bishop appeared not to notice what was happening. He was busy reciting the prayers for the dead but if anything the pallor of his face had deepened and he seemed to have shrunk into himself.
The commander now took complete charge. He ordered two men to remove the body and place it in the cart that followed the soldiers at the very rear of the procession. He further ordered another soldier to pick up the large bible from where it had fallen in the roadway and carry it in the procession as a replacement for Brother Anselmo. He then rode up to his uncle again.
"We can resume our march my lord-bishop. Everything is now in order", he told him.
The bishop made no reply but ceased his praying and took hold of his horse's reins. He set his face firmly on the road ahead.
Alonso had watched all that had happened in an amazed silence. It had all happened so quickly and just as he was about to intercede again with the bishop on behalf of the people of Granada. Now the chance of that was gone for ever!
That section of the procession which had continued its march up the hill now realised that something was wrong and stopped and stood waiting for the rest to catch up with them. It took some minutes to achieve this but when the two sections did meet up they proceeded on their way with trumpets blowing and banners flying as if nothing untoward had ever happened. Brother Anselmo seemed to be completely forgotten.
In the Alhambra Boabdil and Rashid had climbed up to the top of one of the towers and were watching the procession of Spaniards slowly climbing the hill. There was a look of great anger on Boabdil's face. He turned to Rashid.
"This is a dreadful insult. The Christians have sent a small invasion army into our city not a diplomatic mission", he said to him.
"I agree that it is a great insult. It violates all the arrangements we have made over the years but it would not be wise to protest", Rashid replied. "We must accept it, we have no alternative", he went on. "It is time to prepare for the reception ceremony in The Hall of the Ambassadors my master. Let us descend".
With that they went down and walked quickly to The Hall of the Ambassadors where Boabdil's mother and the rest of the court were already assembled.
It was a colourful, exotic scene, the men's heads covered by turbans, the women in shimmering silk garments with jewels much in evidence everywhere about their personages. The room itself was very large. Its walls had decorations on them that hung like icicles and the floor was covered by rich-looking carpets from Persia. Unusually for the Alhambra there was no sound of running water in the room, no channels through which water could run out in the floor. This was a working-room, a room designed for the official reception of emissaries from abroad as its name suggested. It was also the Throne Room of the Alhambra.
As he entered the room Boabdil was given his ceremonial turban to put on. In the centre of it was a large glittering diamond. This was the equivalent of the crown worn by a Christian king. Such a turban had been worn by every king of Granada since the establishment of the kingdom hundreds of years ago. As Boabdil put it on he had the premonition that he would be the last to wear it. He knew of a truth that he would be the last to wear it!
He had just sufficient time to walk to the elevated dias at the far end of the hall and take his place in front of his advisors and family before a loud fanfare of trumpets outside the main entrance announced to those inside and to the world in general that the Spanish party had arrived. There then followed a series of loud shouts in Spanish and Arabic and what to those inside the hall sounded like scuffles and minor clashes.
Boabdil knew what was happening at the entrance. He had given strict instructions that no Spanish soldier was to be allowed into the hall. The right of entry, the privilege of entry to the presence of the king was to be allowed only to the accredited ambassador and his most intimate advisors.
When he heard the shouts and scuffles Boabdil realised that he had judged correctly. The Spaniards had fully intended to march the whole of their assembled company into his presence. That would have been abject humiliation of the worst kind. He hastily offered a silent prayer to Allah for having given him the insight into what the Spaniards intended. Without this insight, granted by Allah, his humiliation would have been complete and he would have lost face in the eyes of his people and the world.
The sound of scuffles and cries in Arabic and Spanish continued for some more minutes as Boabdil and his followers stood waiting on the dais.
Eventually a much reduced party of Spaniards walked over the rich carpets from the Isphalan towards the dais. It was by no means a small party. The heralds came first carrying Latin inscriptions proclaiming the glory of God. They were followed by their colleagues bearing flags and arms of Spain. The heralds carrying the banners bearing the colours of Aragon and the personal arms of Ferdinand, King of Aragon, came next. They lowered their standards in front of the King of Granada and were then directed to the side of the room where they stood with flags raised high.
Boabdil's face remained impassive when the bible-carrying monks walked toward him and placed their bibles on the dias before him. He, however, soon fixed a disapproving glance on the bible-carrying soldier in their midst and then glanced at Rashid. When all the bibles were laid in front of him he prostrated himself before them and touched one of them with great reverence. His mother appeared distressed and looked as if she was about to protest but she appeared to think better of it.
The bishop followed the monks to the dias. He looked shocked at Boabdil's action in paying reverence to the bible but in reality he didn't know what to make of it. He made the sign of the cross over Boabdil and the assembled company. This action again brought disapproving glances from many of the Moors in the room particularly Boabdil's mother but the bishop, nothing daunted, repeated his blessing and then knelt before the king. The king bade him rise and Rashid indicated that he should stand in front of the monks, who were now standing in front of the heralds, which he did.
There was now another blast of trumpets outside as three heralds carrying the arms of the de Gurreas of Valencia proceeded towards the dias and lowered their standards before Boabdil in homage. Alonso followed at a suitable distance. He really looked splendid. His height and his good looks plus the magnificence of his apparel ensured that every eye in the Hall of the Ambassadors was upon him. Of course he was fully aware that this was so. He was also fully conscious of the great honour and responsibility that rested upon his shoulders. Not only was he representing Spain, Aragon and Valencia but the Christians and the de Guerras as well. He knew that his every action here in Granada would be reported at first hand to his father back in Valencia with every minutest detail elaborated and suitably embellished. There could be no failure here. Nor could there be the slightest hint of failure. He felt that this was the supreme test of his life. Maybe there would never be such a test again. From today his life would be different. This audience with Boabdil was without doubt the threshold of a new life. His new life!
As he bowed low in obeisance before the King of Granada Alonso took in his man's physical characteristics. He was a small, almost diminutive man who appeared much younger than he actually was. It was for this reason that the Spaniards always referred to him as "El Chico", the young or boy.To this had been added the soubriquet "Boabdil". So all Spaniards referred to the king of their enemies as "Boabdil El Chico" although to his people he was in fact Mohammed XII. Alonso also observed that Boabdil's skin had about it a reddish look and that his hair (that is that portion of it was visible under the ceremonial turban) also had a reddish tint.
As Alonso knelt before him Boabdil bent forward and touching Alonso's shoulder with his right hand bade him rise in his native Arabic. It was at this point that Alonso noted the melancholic expression that suffused the whole of the face of this diminutive new king of Granada. Knowing Boabdil's personal history as he did he could understand the reason for such an expression and would not have been in the least surprised to learn that it was the permanent expression with which Boabdil regarded the world. For from the very moment of his birth this new king of Grandada had been fighting for his life. Indeed, this was the second time he had been King of Grenada he having deposed his father Malay Abdul Hacer and then in turn being deposed by his uncle El Zegal. He had also twice been the prisoner of Ferdinand of Aragon and had become his friend. Now that friendship had turned to bitter enmity and once again Boabdil was fighting for his life. As Alonso looked on this former Prince Abu Abdallah now elevated to a very shaky throne as king of a tottering almost defunct kingdom he recalled the many acts of wanton cruelty which were attributed to him and realised that this melancholic man was a man of peace and could not have carried out such crimes. There must be some other explanation. He instantly resolved to try and find it.
As Alonso stood in a fully upright position he was joined in front of Boabdil by a herald who carried a cushion made of cloth-of-gold in front of him. On it lay a vellum scroll. It was Alonso's letter of appointment as Ambassador and Plenipotentiary of His Majesty Ferdinand of Aragon at the Court of Mohammed XII, King of Granada. The herald knelt on bended knee before Boabdil and extended the cushion toward him. He (Boabdil) bent down and picked up the proffered scroll touching it with his lips as he did so. He then handed it with great reverence to Rahid who in turn handed it to one of his assistants. Boabdil then nodded to Rashid who at once clapped his hands together loudly three times. This was evidently a pre-arranged signal to announce the official part of the reception-ceremony was now at an end and that it was time for the assembled courtiers and dignitaries to leave The Hall of the Ambassadors. Of course this pre-arranged signal was not known to the Spaniards and Alonso had a moment of almost near panic as he anticipated absolute confusion on the part of his colleagues. He felt every pair of Spanish eyes turn towards him as the Moors began to leave in one mad rush almost as if their lives depended upon leaving Boabdil's presence as quickly as possible. Whatever the Spaniards did Alonso hoped most fervently that it would be something much more dignified and orderly than this almost mad stampede to leave.
It was Bishop Alvarez who took charge. Without a word, using only his eyes and very explicit gesticulations with his hands he achieved what would have seemed impossible just a few moments previously. He had organised the Spaniards into two orderly lines.
Alonso had feared a most humiliating moment but thankfully this had been averted by the prompt, silent action of His Grace the bishop.
All this silent activity on the part of the bishop was not lost on Boabdil and as the Spaniards began to leave in the utmost order and decorum Boabdil indicated to His Grace that he should remain behind when the others had left. Had Boabdil not done this Alonso would have been obliged to ask him to permit Bishop Alvarez to remain because His Grace had been designated by King Ferdinand as the senior negotiator in the Spanish party. He had the power vested in him to make binding agreements with the Moorish king and his officials. Alonso was not surprised at this, after all although he was the fully accredited emissary of his master he was young and completely lacking in any experience of diplomacy and diplomatic negotiation. Rather than feeling any resentment at this situation he felt a great sense of relief. He knew, of course, as did everyone else involved, that the bishop was here to agree terms under which Boabdil would (agree to) surrender the city and with it the kingdom. The whole world knew that the long-established Moorish Kingdom of Granada was no longer viable. It had been destroyed by long-continuing, internecine, fratricidal civil war and the inevitable long-held Castillian desire to unify the whole Iberian peninsula under the aegis of Castille. When Castille had not actively pursued her long held policy of outright conquest of Granada she had extracted huge monetary tribute from her. This huge tribute led to very high taxes within Garanada which in turn festered internal dissent and led to great instability. As Boabdil's father Malay Abdul Hacen had said, the mines of Granada coined no longer gold but steel.
Boabdil now came down from the dias and positioned himself next to Alonso. What a contrast the two of them presented. Boabdil the king but almost without power, diminutive, sad of countenance and with semitic red hair and slightly red-tinged skin. Alonso de Gurrea tall, handsome and attired in all the radiance of his ambassadorial finery. It was almost as if the one symbolised the defeat of his people, his cause and his religion and the other the new-found splendour that would accrue to a (newly) united Spain once this last bastion of an alien people and alien religion within her midst had been eradicated and her territory cleansed and made whole.
"I would like to talk to you privately Don Alonso", Boabdil said in a sad, world-weary sounding voice which matched in every possible way the sadness of his countenance, pointing to one of the balconies which projected from The Hall of the Ambassadors as he did so. "Rashid will conduct the bishop and Captain Alvarez to the room where my officials and advisers are waiting to discuss matters with them. Let us go out onto one of the balconies. We will have complete privacy there". With that he led the way across the wide room and out onto a balcony where two wicker chairs were arranged around a wicker table. In the centre of the table was a large bowl filled with pieces of ice packed in snow. From the bowl several tall glass drinking vessels projected. Whatever else these drinking vessels contained Alonso knew for certain that it would not be alcoholic thanks to the prohibition on the use of alcohol The Prophet Mohammed had enjoined upon his adherents.
Boabdil stood to one side and bade Alonso take a seat at the table. As he did so Alonso realised that although the balcony was open to the elements it was in fact heated and as he put his feet under the wicker table he realised that the source of heat was the several metal containers which lay on the floor of the balcony under the table. He presumed that the heating agent was smouldering charcoal within the containers. But it was not the heat and its source which occupied Alonso. His eyes had once again been drawn to the snow-covered panorama of the Sierra Nevada gleaming in the winter sunshine as soon as Boabdil had led him onto the balcony. He felt mesmerised; transfixed by the sight.
Boabdil was still standing. His eyes followed Alonso's gaze. "It is a magnificent sight is it not?", he said. "It is one of the things I will miss most when I leave the Al-Hambra. I love this place and everything in it. I was born here and I do not wish to leave it but it seems that it is to be my fate to have to do just that. That is what I wish to talk to you about. You know, of course, that your king, Ferdinand, was my friend but that friendship no longer means anything. I seem to be caught up in something beyond my control. It seems to be inevitable that my kingdom of Granada has to be conquered by Castille, or should I say Aragon and Castille, in order for Spain to be made whole. Rashid assures me despite the fact that you are from Valencia, an appendage of Aragon, the armies of Aragon and Castille have started to think as Spaniards. Tell me frankly Don Alonso is this correct?"
Boabdil had by now seated himself in the other wicker chair at the table opposite Alonso. He took out one of the tall glass drinking vessels from the snow-filled bowl and proffered it to his guest. Alonso took it. It was so cold that the touch of the glass seemed to almost burn his fingers. The contents were delicious. As far as Alonso could judge he was drinking a blend of different fruit juices which tasted wonderful and was the most thirst-quenching. Alonso allowed the liquid to remain in his mouth for some seconds so that he could savour the subtle blend of the various fruit juices it contained. He swallowed it before answering Boabdil's question.
"You are correct sire. During the seven years of this present war against Granada the soldiers of Castille and Aragon have started to think as one. This process has been accelerated by the fact that so many men from the other Christian lands have joined us", Alonso replied. He went on: "It is well-known the Queen Isabella is the inspiration behind the present campaign. She has performed miracles of organisation to procure the necessary finance and the supplies vital to its conduct---"
Boabdil interrupted him almost angrily. "We on the other hand have very little gold left and your troops have destroyed all our crops. Even the fruit trees have been uprooted from the orchards and burnt. It is no exaggeration to say that we are on the verge of starvation. In other words we are forced to agree to any terms King Ferdinand feels it necessary to impose on us. It is not a happy prospect. My people will accuse me of betraying them and I fear the assassin's dagger thrust if it is known that I am even in negotiations with you Christians about surrender---".
Here Boabdil broke off and helped himself to the contents of one of the glasses from the snow-filled bowl. His delight in the subtle flavour of the liquid was obvious.
"And what is to become of me?", Boabdil now asked Alonso, the usual note of sadness in his voice becoming even more pronounced. "Am I to be offered the choice of conversion to Christianity or burning at the stake or am I to be ceremoniously expelled back to Africa?" He took another drink as he waited for Alonso's reply.
"King Ferdinand, my master, bade me assure you sire that upon your surrender you will be given a territory to rule here in Granada. You will remain king albeit only of a small area. Of course you will be a vassal of King Ferdinand with all that that implies but you will still be a king----"
Alonso paused and looked directly into Boabdil's eyes which were full of sadness. Before he could continue Boabdil stopped him by holding out his hands in a gesture of utter despair.
"And what if my new subjects will not accept me as their new king, a puppet king in a puppet kingdom? As I told you a few moments ago my people will see my surrender as an act of betrayal. Although I have spent most of my life fighting for my existence my enemies within Granada accuse me of cowardice and dereliction of duty. Because of the high taxes which must be levied on the people in order to pay for the defence of the kingdom they are easily incited to revolt. They listen to the rabble-rousers in the market-place. To this will soon be added that great harbinger of civil-unrest starvation. Tell me Don Alonso what alternative do I have but to surrender the city and this wonderful Al-Hambra Palace? You Christians have been joined by volunteers from the other Christian lands in what Rashid tells me you call a crusade. We, on the other hand, have had not one volunteer from any of the other Moslem lands. Yet Granada is the last remaining outpost of Islam in Spain but this fact does not seem to have prompted any of our fellow muslims to join us in a holy war, a jihad, to defend our religion and our territory. This is something I find difficult to understand and it saddens me a great deal. At the back of it all lies the great question of the conflict between our two religions. Our Prophet Mohammed, blessed be his name, described the Moslems, the Christians and the Jews as "people of the book" but I am sure that you will know this already, sure that you know that "The Book" is "The Bible" or that part of it which you Christians describe, as Rashid tells me, as The Old Testament, that part of the bible which my religious-teacher tells me describes the tribal history of the Jewish people and their relations with their God. I have read The Bible with great care and tried very hard to understand it. You know, of course, that we Muslims accept Jesus as one of our Prophets. His story is a beautiful yet a terrible one. Nowhere in the bible during my readings of it have I found any mention of what Rashid tells me you Christians call The Trinity, the division of God into three. You assert that there is one God and then proceed to divide that self-same one God into three. I cannot understand this in any way. Can you enlighten me on this puzzle Don Alonso? I would give much to know----". With this he stopped speaking in a way which suggested that he had suddenly realised that he had said too much. His forehead glistened with perspiration. He helped himself to another drink and hunched himself up, almost withdrew himself into the wicker chair as his eyes focused keenly on Alonso's face.
At the mention of The Trinity Alonso hastily crossed himself from force of habit. Boabdil continued sipping his drink slowly as Alonso pondered what he should say in reply to the question the king of Granada had asked him. Suddenly the voice of Queen Isabella flooded into his mind: "I entreat you to point out to Boabdil the error of his ways. It is your duty to God to point out to the king of Granada that it is only through accepting Jesus as his saviour that he can enter the kingdom of heaven which is the only kingdom which really matters. I beg you to point this out to him then", Isabella said. The voice faded.
"As you must surely know Sire I am not a theologian. It would be much better if you spoke to Bishop Alvarez about these theological matters. Speaking personally I have always felt that we Christians and you Muslims have a great deal in common. As you point out Sire The Bible is the link between us. It is difficult for me to comment on The Doctrine of the Trinity. (Here Alonso crossed himself again). Being a Catholic it is something I have lived with all my life. I would much prefer you to discuss the whole matter with Bishop Alvarez since I am not qualified to go into great detail about this doctrine of The Church", he said to Boabdil.
It was now Alonso's turn to have perspiration on his brow and to help himself to a drink. As he did so Queen Isabella's voice again came into his mind. It was definitely the queen's voice and it repeated his name three times. "Alonso de Gurrea---Alonso de Gurrea---Alonson de Guerra", it said in a tone of great anguish. At the same time he heard a cock crow three times in the distance. He felt as though he was about to break down and weep but he managed to control himself. It was a dreadful moment!
Both Alonso and Boabdil now lapsed into silence as they kept their gaze fixed on the snow-covered mountains. A sudden chill wind whistled round the balcony and then died away as quickly as it had sprung up. It was Boabdil who broke the silence.
"Will you stay here in the Alhambra whilst the negotiations are proceeding or will you return frequently to Santa Fe?", he asked Alonso in an interested voice full of affability and concern. "I trust that your quarters here are to your liking and that you have everything you need to make your stay comfortable. I would like you to regard the Alhambra as your home. I would like us to become friends. I need a friend in the Christian camp rather desperately---. By the way, I must congratulate you on your faultless command of the Arab tongue. It is quite rare for a Spaniard, or should I say a Valencian, to have such a command of our language. My Castillian is limited to the few phrases I learnt during my period of captivity as Ferdinand's prisoner. In retrospect I wish that I had learnt your language thoroughly during my time in Cordoba and Seville. I had every opportunity to do so but I didn't pursue the matter". He stopped speaking and lapsed into a silence which seemed infinitely more eloquent than any words could ever have been. The silence continued for some time whilst Alonso pondered on how to reply to the several questions Boabdil had asked him. Eventually Alonso felt able to reply.
"I thank you for your compliments on my command of your language Sire", he said as he paused to take another sip of his drink. He continued by saying: "My interest in the Arabic tongue started almost from my birth. You see I had an Arabic nurse. So the first language I heard was Arabic and I have always loved it. During my studies at The University of Salamanca I came to realise just what a debt Europe owes to Arabic civilization and in particular to the enlightened tolerance practised by rulers of Cordoba during the period of her greatest ascendancy----". He got no further for suddenly a female voice called out:
"Abu Abdallah where are you? I want to speak to you". It was a beautifully modulated voice, intensely feminine.
"Go away Fahraida. I am occupied by affairs of State. I gave strict instruction that I was not to be disturbed. Who told you that I was on the balcony? I repeat that I am busy with affairs of State. Please return to your rooms. I am in private talks with Don Alonso de Gurrea, the new emissary from their majesties at Santa Fe. Please return to your rooms---". Boabdil got no further for at that very moment a tall young woman came out onto the balcony. Pretty rather than beautiful it was obvious from the first glance that she was either Boabdil's daughter or his sister so alike were they. There was, however, one great difference. This attractive, slender, young woman who as far as Alonso could judge was about twenty years old, whatever her relationship to Boabdil might be, had none of his pronounced melancholic aspect. This girl, newly arrived on the balcony, had very red hair and green eyes which sparkled with the joy of living and impish good humour. As she came out onto the balcony she hastily covered her face with a veil but not before Alonso had noticed her striking green eyes with their merry twinkle. She stood there not knowing quite what to do until Boabdil said in an angry tone or rather a tone which simulated anger but which really conveyed no such thing:
"Don Alonso, this is my sister Fahraida".
Alonso rose from his wicker chair and bowing formally offered the chair to the newcomer.
"Princess", he said as he held out the chair. She sat down and then replied to his gesture in fluent, faultless Castilian "I thank you Don Alonso".
Alonso longed to ask her about her command of Spanish but protocol demanded that he could only speak after a royal personage had spoken to him first. Boabdil handed his sister a drink saying as he did so "Fahraida had a Spanish nurse. The first language she heard was Castilian and she loves to speak it. Sometimes she has helped me a great deal with the translation of official correspondence from their majesties of Aragon and Castille. At times I have thought hard and long about sending her to Santa Fe as my official emissary but in the end I have always settled for Rashid---". He stopped speaking abruptly as if he had suddenly realised he was forgetting something of great urgency.
"Fahraida you really must return to your rooms. Don Alonso and I do have urgent matters to discuss. We need absolute privacy in order to discuss them and we cannot be distracted. Please leave us Fahraida at once---".
"Oh very well Abu Abdallah! I will leave you in peace". With that she stood up. As she did so Alonso stood up and as she held out her hand he kissed it saying as he did so "Princess". With that she was gone leaving her untouched drink on the table.
As soon as his sister had left the balcony Boabdil seemed to sink deeper than ever into his habitual despondency. Gloom seemed to envelop his entire personage, to hang over him and to cling like a second skin. It was as if his green eyed, red-haired younger sister had taken her brother's last defence against an all-consuming, all destructive despair with her. Now that she was gone from the balcony any vestige of hope that he may once have had seemed to have gone from her brother. He seemed absolutely alone and friendless.
"I am sure my sister inveigled her way past the guards with the sole purpose of meeting you face to face Don Alonso. She is very headstrong and self-willed but full of impish fun. She is in love with life itself. Unfortunately I have not been able to arrange a marriage for her. Someone of her age should be married with children---" He broke off.
"And what of my son?", he asked, the gloom lifting. "How is the boy? Has he grown? How are his studies progressing?
"Sire. Your son is well. He has grown I am told. As regards his scholastic achievements it is reported that he is making adequate progress but no more. Put him on a horse with a sword in his hand and he is transformed. He is in every sense a budding warrior. In a word Sire, he is a son to be proud of. Upon your surrender of the city, your son, who has been King Ferdinand's hostage, will be returned to you together with a special payment in gold sufficient to pay for his maintenance and education until he reaches manhood".
"That is a fine gesture on the part of King Ferdinand and I would like you to convey my thanks to him for his generosity to my son. I wish that my friendship with your king could have continued but events beyond our control have ended that friendship. We are both of us forced to be bitter enemies for as long as we live. It is regrettable but there it is", Boabdil said and then lapsed into silence.
Alonso had by this time realised that Boabdil was a man much given to long silences and that he had probably used more words in the course of this interlude on the balcony than he normally did during a whole month.
"I am also authorised by King Ferdinand to assure you that you yourself will be given more than adequate sums of money for your every need upon your surrender. You will want for nothing Sire----".
Boabdil interrupted more than angrily by saying very quickly:
"So I am to be totally dependent upon your master for the very means of my continued existence. Tell me honestly Don Alonso do you see any difference between my utter dependence upon King Ferdinand and slavery?"
His anger hung in the air about him but before Alonso could reply the sudden chill wind again blew around the balcony and then just as suddenly disappeared.
"Perhaps we have talked long enough for our first session Don Alonso. I would like to talk to Bishop Alvarez about the various matters concerning the Christian faith which are puzzling me. We will resume our private talks at the hour of ten tomorrow morning" Boabdil now said, as if he had completely forgotten that he had asked Alonso a question to which he had received no reply. Alonso sensed that Boabdil was trying to contain his anger but in this he did not succeed.
"You are no doubt anxious to see the wonders of The Alhambra so I have arranged for my cousin to take you where you wish to go and to show you what you want to see. We will dine together this evening when you will meet my mother and my close advisers. I bid you good day Don Alonso. It has been interesting to talk with you".
With that Boabdil clapped his hands whereupon a tall, swarthy-looking turbaned and scimitered Moorish soldier appeared.
"Please escort Don Alonso back to his quarters", Boabdil said and then continued by saying as he rose from his wicker-chair, "Go with God Don Alonso".
With that Alonso was escorted off the balcony and back to his quarters in the Ambassadorial Suite. He felt as though he had been dismissed out of hand.
Over the next few weeks Alonso and Boabdil met many times for private talks. If the weather was fine their talks took place on the heated balcony which protected them from The Hall of the Ambassadors. If it was bad they talked in a room in Boabdil's private apartment which was heated by braziers. From these talks it became very clear to Alonso that Boabdil would agree to anything if it enabled him to remain in the Alhambra. It also became very clear to all concerned that King Ferdinand knew of this and was exploiting the situation rigorously and ruthlessly. He dangled the carrot of continued residence in his ancestral home before this last Moorish king of Granada in order to make him agree to more and more concessions. Everyone but Boabdil himself seemed to be perfectly aware of this situation. He (Boabdil) felt confident that he could remain in his birthplace, could remain within the sound of splashing fountains and singing birds. His (overwhelming) desire, his desperate need to remain within his ancestral halls almost led him to unmitigated disaster but on one thing he would not compromise, would not give way. That was the issue of religious freedom for his people. He was fiercely adamant that his people should have an absolute and guaranteed right to remain Moslems. Queen Isabella with her ingrained sense of divine mission to unify Spain religiously as well as politically was not in favour of any such right . She was equally adamant for total conversion or total expulsion. Ferdinand, wily exponent of what would later come to be called "Machiavellian raison d'etat", was all for promising to maintain the right of religious freedom to the Granadinos in order to shorten the war by bringing about the surrender of the city and with it the kingdom. Then at an opportune moment the guarantee could be rescinded and the forced-conversions and expulsion begin. Boabdil sensed what was at the back of King Ferdinand's mind and reacted accordingly. Queen Isabella seemed to find something obnoxious, something evil, in her husband's cynicism and was all for spelling out in great detail the precise nature of the choices facing Boabdil and his people but in the end Ferdinand won.
For weeks Alonso and Bishop Alvarez travelled back and forth from Granada to Santa Fe. There the royal-household was maintained in a state of great frugality. This was not the case with the household's maintained by the grandees of Aragon and Castille. These grandees vied with one another in a lavish display of conspicuous consumption. They paraded round the camp in ever more gorgeous raiment. The banquets they gave became ever more exotic. Alonso was sickened by what he saw as was Queen Isabella. And inevitably the war brought in its train rampant inflation. As always it was the poor who suffered most from this inexorable rise in prices. The grandees simply pressed their tenants to supply them with higher rents.
Queen Isabella tried to set a good example in this hothouse atmosphere. She set up hospital tents for the wounded soldiers and she and her ladies nursed them and ministered to their needs. The men loved her for all this and called her "The Angel of Granada". She questioned Alonso closely about his meetings with Boabdil. She wanted to know whether he had told Boabdil about Christ's redeeming love for him. An ivory crucifix she sent to Granada was returned which offended her mightily. She made Alonso repeat every word Boabdil had said when he asked Alonso to return it to her. He gave her every detail of what had transpired, how Boabdil had flung the crucifix to the ground with great disgust shouting out as he did so that his religion forbade (him from) any idea of graven images and that he felt certain that the Christian religion did the same. Queen Isabella crossed herself and almost wept with rage.
Almost every night that Alonso stayed in his quarters in the Alhambra he dined with Boabdil. During the course of these evening-meals Alonso met and talked with nearly everyone of any consequence in the kingdom of Granada. He met Boabdil's mother, the Sultana Ayxa, and his wife and many other members of his family.
To his intense regret he did not meet the Princess Farahaida at these largely informal banquets. His intense disappointment at the non-appearance of Boabdil's sister was somewhat alleviated by the fact that whilst meals proceeded musicians performed works of classical Arabic music on traditional instruments. There were also reading from the works of the great masters of Arabic poetry. For Alonso with his great love of everything Arabic all this was like mana from heaven. During the days when he did not have talks with Boabdil Alonso was taken around the Al-Hambra by Abdul, Boabdil's cousin. The architecture of the palace and the opulence of the decoration left him almost speechless. Surely it was the most beautiful building in the world. No wonder some people thought that it was a building built by magic. Surely no human-hand could have achieved such miracles of perfection as were to be found in the breathtaking beauty of the plasterwork of the ceilings and on the walls in the various rooms Abdul showed him. He grew to love everything about the place until it became a passion with him.
Boabdil had given him traditional Moorish garments as a present. It was in these garments that he liked to sit and watch the sunset over the snow-covered mountains if he was not dining with the king. It was not all that far, some two-hundred miles or so, from Granada to the Sahara desert across the sea and because the wind from the south blew the sand of the desert to Granada it lingered in the upper atmosphere. This caused the snow to glow red at sunset.
One evening as Alonso, attired in his Moorish garments, was watching a particularly beautiful sunset over the Sierra Nevada Rodrigo came into his room.
"There is someone to see you", he said. "It is a woman".
Alonso felt annoyed that his enjoyment of this wonderful display of nature's beauty was to be interrupted. He was about to tell Rodrigo to send the stranger away when something made him change his mind.
"Oh very well, bring her in", he said, trying to conceal his annoyance. He remained where he was, seated in his chair, his gaze on the mountains.
He did not turn round but he knew instinctively that his visitor had entered the room. He also knew instinctively that his visitor was Princess Faharaida. When he now turned round he was not prepared for the obvious state of great agitation and distress in which he found her. She looked haunted by fear. Her green eyes had lost their bright sparkle and she looked older than her years. She threw off her black cloak and in her agitation even removed he veil.
Alonso inclined his head, saying: "Princess" as he did so. He cut short the flowery greeting he was about to deliver as Arabic tradition demanded. Before he could say anything further the princess forestalled him by saying in a choked voice:
"Don Alonso I need your help desperately. My brother's life is in danger. He is to be assassinated in the Mosque at Friday prayers. Please help me". At this point she broke down completely and sobbed. "Please help me. Please help me!" Now her tears became uncontrollable and she was racked by sobs.
Alonso moved towards her holding out his arms as he did so. She fell into them and he held her close in a comforting embrace. She sobbed even more uncontrollably for some few minutes. Then he released her as she became somewhat calmer. She moved to pick up her veil and cover her face but she seemed to think better of it and gave up the attempt.
"How do you know all this?" Alonso asked as he handed the princess a piece of silk cloth on which she could dry her tears.
"I heard the guards talking about it amongst themselves. They said that our cousin Abdul is to become the new king once Abu Abdallah is dead". Here she stopped speaking as her sobs broke out again. "Please. Please help us Don Alonso!" Here her tears ran freely again and she used the silken cloth to dry them.
"Of course I will help but I am in a difficult position. I am the accredited emissary of a power with which your country is at war. Technically you and I are enemies, and have been for many years. My life and the lives of all the members of my party could easily be put at risk. I have to think very carefully what is the best thing to do. It is vital that I make what you have told me about the planned attempt on your brother's life known to Bishop Alvarez and his nephew Captain Alvarez. I must also consult with King Ferdinand at Santa Fe".
The Princess's sobs became louder at this point and Alonso stopped speaking momentarily. She had remained standing during her tearful account of the misfortune which was about to overtake her brother.
Alonso now stood and offered his chair to her saying: "Forgive me Princess. I am forgetting myself. Please be seated".
She seated herself in the chair and immediately burst into tears again much to Alonso's annoyance. He could understand the reason for the tears but not this continued flow of them. One of the things he most hated was to see a woman in obvious distress. To see a woman he very much wanted to meet and get to know better also in a state of great distress was, therefore, a double torment for him.
"Princess, please try to control yourself. To-day is Monday and with God's help (here he crossed himself) and some planning and forethought we have time enough to take action to forestall the attempt on your brother's life. Never forget Princess that your brother and I are now firm friends. Your brother and I swore to be friends, he on The Koran, I on The Bible. I am honour bound to defend your brother's life as he is mine. We are as brothers and I will take the best action I can to save him. You may rest assured of that". He paused momentarily as a look of concern came over his face."Does anyone know you have come to see me?", he asked, "and does anyone else know about what is planned for Friday in the Mosque? What about Abdul, your cousin? Do you think he is involved in the plans for your brother's assassination?"
The princess looked bewildered by this onslaught of questions. She looked as though she was about to start weeping again so Alonso quickly tried to steer away from the stark reality of the situation by saying to the princess: "What of your mother? Have you told your mother what you overheard the guards saying?", he asked. He instantly regretted these further questions as he realised that they would probably cause the tears to flow again more freely than before.
However, in the event, there were no more tears. Indeed the princess seemed to have finished with her tears, to have put them behind her.
"I don't think many people saw me come into your quarters here in the Ambassadorial Suite. Certainly I don't think any of the guards did. Perhaps it was rather unwise of me to come alone. Next time I must remember to bring one of my companions with me. That will certainly attract less attention", she said, in a much more cheerful, more confident tone of voice.
"Perhaps it would be much better if we don't meet again until after Friday. How can I get a message to you?, Alonso asked, more than half expecting the reply she gave him which was that there was no way she could be reached. Then, after a moment's reflection, her bright green eyes resuming their normal sparkle, she said: "I could persuade Abu Abdullah to let me be present when you and he dine together on Wednesday evening. Yes! That's the best thing. You can pass me a note".
Just at this point Rodrigo escorted another Moorish lady into the room. This one was old and heavily veiled. As soon as she saw the princess she rushed over to her saying:
"Fahraida! Fahraida! You should not have come here and certainly not alone. What will The Sultan and your mother say if they hear about it?"
"If they hear about it, which they won't unless you Razir tell them, which you won't will you!? Will you?"
With this the princess shook the old lady very vigorously several times until she said: "Oh alright, I won't!" Whereupon the princess released her saying: "Don Alonso, this is my old nurse, Raizir".
This little scene, almost like a puppet show, as the Princess Faharaida manipulated her old nurse into doing exactly what she wanted her to do did not last very long for suddenly to the sound of great cries of protest from Rodrigo he was pushed into the room by The Sultana Ayxa and two very tall muscular-looking Moorish soldiers.
"Don Alonso, this lady and these two soldiers have forced themselves into your presence over my protests he cried out as he fell onto the floor looking shaken and dazed. Alonso, of course, recognised the Sultana and bowed low in front of her.
The Princess Fahraida rose from her chair. She very quickly found herself positioned between the two soldiers, almost as their prisoner. More soldiers entered the room and just as quickly positioned themselves around Alonso. They did not physically apprehend him but it was perfectly clear that he was their prisoner.
The Sultana, who was unveiled, walked over to her daughter and smacked her face rather violently. She (The Princess) did not cry out as might have been expected but the impact of the violent slap seemed to hang in the air for some seconds. When there were no tears from her daughter the Sultana seemed to turn her attention to Alonso.
"And what have you to say for yourself? Fancy inviting a young, innocent girl into your private quarters. What do you suppose His Majesty of Aragon will say when he learns that his fully-accredited emissary has invited his host's sister into his private rooms alone and unattended. It will not make pleasant reading when I send an official complaint making known your disgraceful conduct. At the very least you will be dismissed and disgraced. I shouldn't wonder if you disappear into some castle dungeon for years and years. Certainly any idea of a career in the service of His Majesty of Aragon is at an end".
A smile of satisfaction at the thought of this prospect now came over the face of the Sultana. The smile of satisfaction seemed to deepen as she thought about Alonso's prospects or the lack of them.
Alonso felt more than uncomfortable as he watched the queen-mother of Granada gloating over his downfall. He recalled the disapproving glances she had cast in his direction when he had ceremoniously entered The Hall of the Ambassadors for his formal presentation to her son. He felt utterly powerless under this almost malevolent smile and didn't quite know where to turn his gaze.
Rodrigo was still lying on the floor where he had fallen or been pushed, Alonso wasn't quite sure which was the case.
"Mama. Please dismiss the soldiers. I need to talk to you privately". the princess said to her mother. The smile of satisfaction instantly disappeared from the Sultana's face and her eyes assumed a steely, unrelenting gaze. This look made it clear that the mother would in no way accede to the daughter's request. "No! No! No! No! Never! this look said.
Alonso now added his plea to the princess's request by saying:
"Madame, I beg of you do as your daughter asks. It is of the upmost importance that you do so. Lives are at stake Madame!"
The Sultana's eyes retained their steely, unrelenting look for some few seconds but after a few more moments hesitation she gave way as she said: "Very well Don Alonso I will agree to listen to what you both have to say on the condition that your manservant leaves the room and stays outside with the soldiers. Razir can remain". Here The Sultana made a sign to the soldiers who helped Rodrigo from the floor. Then all three left the room.
When the soldiers and Rodrigo had left the room Alonso held out the chair for the Sultana. She took it and sat down. Somehow the steely, unrelenting look seemed to be returning to her eyes and Alonso began to suspect that she was beginning to have second thoughts about having agreed to listen to what he and the princess had to say in explanation of her presence here in his private chamber.
The princess did not look very happy as her mother said: "Very well Fahraida you had better give me your explanation first. I am very annoyed with you. You are causing endless trouble with your foolish and headstrong ways. It is high time that you were married like every other Arab girl of your age. It is only the fact that we are at war and living in abnormal times which has prevented Abu Abdallah from finding a suitable husband for you----"
"Mama, that is not important at the moment. Don Alonso did not invite me into his private quarters. I came to see him. I heard the guards talking amongst themselves saying the Abu Abdallah is to be assassinated at Friday prayers in the Mosque. I came to him for help----"
Here the Sultana interrupted her daughter saying: "Why did you come to the representative of our enemy, that dreadful, cunning old fox Ferdinand of Aragon. Why did you not come to me your mother or go directly to your brother with this news at which I am not in the least bit surprised. Ferdinand has spent much gold fostering discontent amongst our people. He has many spies amongst our demoralised troops. Events seem to have played right into his hands but this time he will not succeed. Come Fahraida we must go. There is much to do. If my son will not take action I will. There are still troops loyal to me. Let us go Fahraida. Don Alonso, I bid you good-night. The soldiers will remain at your door from now on for your protection. I will send your servant in to you".
Saying this the Sultana and the princess left the room followed by Razir. Rodrigo now came in to his master. He was still very shaken and very frightened.
"What do you think will happen?", he asked Alonso, to which he replied:
"I have absolutely no idea. All we can do is wait and see".
So frightened was Rodrigo that Alonso invited him to spend the night in his bed-chamber where he slept on a couch.
During the night they were awakened several times by cries and shouts of varying intensity and all in all they spent a highly disturbed night wondering what was going to happen and whether anything would happen to them personally.
They awoke the next morning to the usual bright sunshine and slight chill of a winter's day on the Alhambra hill. Everything appeared as normal. The snow gleamed on the Sierra Nevada, the fountains splashed, the water ran everywhere through its channels and the birds sang. It was only when Alonso looked over towards the Alcazabra, the fortress section of the Alhambra with its thick battlemented walls that he realised with horror that there was a difference. On every battlement, fixed on a spike, dripping bright red blood, which had already stained the wall beneath it, was a severed head. In the very centre of this grisly display was an extra-long spike on which was a head which wore the royal turban. Alonso knew at once that it was the head of Abdul, Boabdil's cousin who had been such an excellent guide to the wonders of the Alhambra and had become his friend. He shivered, crossed himself and said a silent prayer for the repose of Abdul's soul. Rodrigo crossed himself and wept.
It was to be some days later before Alonso was summoned into Boabdil's presence again. He had begun to wonder whether something dreadful had in fact happened to him but the summons into the royal presence came just at sunset. He was, in fact, dressed in his Moorish clothes when it came. There was also a request that Rodrigo should accompany his master. When Alonso told him of Boabdil's request Rodrigo was extremely apprehensive and begged Alonso to tell Boabdil that he was ill and could not come. Alonso would not hear of this and did his best to reassure him by telling him that he felt certain that Boabdil had had nothing whatsoever to do with the dreadful fate which had overtaken Abdul. He also pointed out to Rodrigo that they did not, in fact, know whether Abdul and the others who had been executed had been guilty or not.
"I had begun to love this place and everything in it. It had become almost a magical place to me. Now I hate it and the magic has gone. It was paradise. Now it is hell. Abdul was so kind and helpful to me. He spoke some words of Castillian and he taught me to carry out my duties here. It was such a shock to realise that it was his head, wearing the royal turban which was placed of the tallest stake above the battlements. I cannot forget it", Rodrigo said.
There was no time for Alonso to change out of his Moorish garments so it was attired in these and accompanied by Rodrigo that he entered Boabdil's presence in The Hall of the Ambassadors. To his surprise the whole of the court and most of Boabdil's family, minus Abdul, of course, were assembled there.
As Alonso and Rodrigo entered The Hall of the Ambassadors Boabdil advanced to meet them. He looked more melancholic than ever, smaller than ever. He also looked more restless and seemed to have developed a nervous tic which affected one side of his face. However, as he advanced to meet Alonso he made a conscious effort to rid himself of this recently acquired nervous affliction. It did seem to disappear momentarily but as soon as he opened his mouth to speak to Alonso it affected him again. He bowed low to Alonso, gave him the traditional Arabic greeting and walked with him towards the dias round which his family were gathered. Alonso bowed low to Boabdil after he had mounted the dias. Then Boabdil spoke. It was very obvious that he was trying to inject a note of false gaiety into his voice as he said:
"Don Alonso, it is good to see you again. Things are so gloomy in my court at the present time that I thought that it would be good for us all if we could listen to a little music by way of entertainment. I have been told that you are an accomplished singer and performer on the lute so I have summoned you here this evening to perform for us Don Alonso".
Alonso again bowed low before Boabdil saying as he did so:
"Sire. It will be an honour to perform for you and your court. I hope that my talents will be as great as their reputation seems to be and that that reputation will be seen to be deserved. I will send my manservant to my quarters to bring my lute".
Saying that he translated Boabdil's request into Castillian for the benefit of Rodrigo and sent him back to the ambassadorial suite to bring the lute. Rodrigo looked a lot happier now that he knew what the sunset summons into Boabdil's presence was all about.
When Rodrigo had gone Alonso advanced towards Boabdil who was now seated on this throne-chair on the dias. Bowing low he said:
"I would like to sing for you, unaccompanied, one of your Arabic songs. I have learnt this song during my stay here in the Alhambra".
What he did not say was that he had, in fact, been taught the song by Abdul and that he intended to sing it now as a tribute to Abdul, almost as a requiem for his dead friend.
The room fell silent as Alonso began his song. It had been a difficult task to learn it with its strange half-notes and glissandos but in the end he had learnt it very well. It was a love-song, a setting of the words of a poem by the great Persian poet, Tao Hafiz. As Alonso poured his heart out into his rendition of this favourite Arabic love-song strange emotions seemed to affect his audience. Eyes became filled with tears, strange half-articulated sighs seemed to come out of half-opened mouths, other eyes seemed to close as if in sleep and several elderly men wept openly. It was upon Boabdil, however, that Alonso's rendition had most effect. He wept openly but with pleasure. The gloom, and despair seemed to lift from him as Alonso' voice undulated and accentuated the great beauty of the words. All the troubles and worries of the whole of his life seemed to fall away from him. He sighed softly to himself, a sigh of great pleasure and contentment as the tears rolled down his cheeks.
When Alonso had finished the song there was no applause from his mesmerised audience just a happy contented silence which said far more than any rapturous applause could ever have done. Boabdil left his throne-like chair and came down from the dias. He embraced Alonso and said:
"My Christian brother, that was superb but also very sad. I know who taught you that song but I can say no more about that at the present time. Suffice it to say that I am under intense pressure from every side. It is extremely dangerous for me to even talk to you in public but I was carried away by the beauty of your singing. I salute you as a very great artist my Christian brother Don Alonso".
With this Boabdil returned to the dias and his chair. As he passed his mother he embraced her but her face remained almost contorted by the intense look of disapproval which had again occupied it following his emotional embrace of Alonso.
Rodrigo had by this time returned with Alonso's lute which he now handed to him. After making some adjustments to the strings of his instrument Alonso announced to his audience that he would sing a group of songs which had been handed down from the days of the troubadours of Provence and Aquitaine, in fact from the court of the Duke of Aquitaine who had been the father of Eleanor, wife of Henry II, first Plantagenet king of England. They were beautiful songs and the Lango D'oe, the language in which the words of the songs had been written, suited Alonso's voice admirably. Of course to his audience these songs were not part of their culture, not part of their native tradition, but over the centuries Castilian and Granadino had lived together and fought one another for so long that each court had absorbed and assimilated the culture of the other. Castile had adapted much from Granada and Granada much from Castile. So in point of fact these songs of the ancient troubadours were not quite as alien to the court of Granada assembled here in The Hall of the Ambassadors in the Alhambra on this late November evening in the year 1491 as might have been assumed. Alonso performed the songs superbly. He had known them ever since his youth and performed them thousands of times so that he was now the absolute master of them and performed them with the consummate skill of the great artist that he was. This time, when he finished his rendition, there was applause. Alonso supposed that this was because (most of?) his assembled audience did not understand the words.
Alonso followed his group of Provencal songs by a group of Castilian songs. At the end of this group of songs there was far more in the way of applause and Alonso noted with great pleasure that the Sultana Ayxa, Boabdil's mother, applauded vigorously. He wondered if her intense hostility to him was abating somewhat. He now rounded off his recital by performing some of the songs which had been composed by Alphonso El Vabro, King of Castile. At the end of these there was prolonged applause and much shouting of grateful thanks in Arabic as Alonso bowed low before Boabdil and then turned and bowed to the court.
As Alonso and Rodrigo moved away from their position in front of the dias on which Boabdil sat in his throne-like chair he rose and thanked Alonso most profusely praising his great skill and artistry as he did so. When he had done this he said:
"And now we are to be entertained by a troupe of acrobats who have been sent here by the Sultan of Morocco. They are from below the Sahara desert in Africa".
Saying this he clapped his hands and the six members of the troupe appeared. They were tall heavily-muscled men with almost jet-black skin. Their performance was both skilful and fascinating and Alonso was glad that he had remained to watch it.
It was during this performance, in fact near the end of it, that Rashid approached Alonso and informed him that his talks with Boabdil were to resume at the hour of ten in the morning of the following day on the heated balcony which projected from The Hall of the Ambassadors. So it was with something approaching relief that Alonso returned to his quarters that night in the Ambassadorial suite.
His diplomatic mission was set to get under-way again after the hiatus of the past few days. However, when he returned to his quarters in the Ambassadorial suite he found Bishop Alvarez waiting for him. There was a decided frown on his face and he looked extremely displeased. He held a dagger in his hand which was partly wrapped in a piece of parchment. As Alonso entered the room the bishop held out the parchment in which it was wrapped. He quickly read the message in Arabic which was written on it:
"Death to the unbelievers" it read.
Alonso translated it into Spanish for the bishop who crossed himself and mouthed a prayer. Rodrigo who had followed Alonso into the room looked terrified again. He too crossed himself and mouthed a prayer.
"We are about to be murdered in our beds. Perhaps we should abandon the negotiations and return at once to Santa Fe and the safety of the camp. King Ferdinand authorised me to do just that if things became difficult here and our lives were threatened. The dagger and the note are clear proof that we have arrived at that situation---"
Here the bishop broke off and looked closely at Alonso. He looked serious.
To-night had been a time of great triumph for him. Now it appeared that his moment of triumph was to be extremely short-lived. Before he could reply to the bishop the bishop himself spoke again.
"My nephew, Captain Alvarez, is outside the door. Perhaps it is better if I ask him to join us. After all he is the military man amongst us. He can give us his assessment of our military position here in the Alhambra. Obviously we are vastly outnumbered in the midst of enemy territory. Our options would seen to be extremely limited. That we are in extreme danger is very obvious and it seems that the danger is likely to become worse by the hour".
"I was about to ask you to send for Captain Alvarez Your Grace. We must take stock of our position and assess what few options we have. It may be that we will be obliged to abandon the negotiations and return to Santa Fe. That would seem to be a very humiliating option and one which I feel certain King Ferdinand would only want us to follow if there is absolutely no other alternative. My first reaction is that we should be extremely vigilant for our safety and sit things out for a few days".
In the end, after quite a lot of discussion, that is exactly what was decided. They were to be extremely vigilant for their personal safety and sit things out for a few days.
Rodrigao was in such a state of agitation by the time the bishop and his nephew, Captain Alvarez, finally left Alonso's quarters that Alonso decided that he should once again spend the night on the couch in his bed-chamber. He himself did not sleep very well that night. He slept at best fitfully. Whenever he closed his eyes he either saw himself being hailed as a great artist for his performance earlier that evening in The Hall of the Ambassadors or fighting for his life as he was attacked by a band of scimitar-brandishing, turban-wearing, white-robed Moors in one of the most beautiful parts of the Alhambra. The result was that he felt really ill the next morning.
In contrast Rodrigo had had a night of good, sound sleep and looked much better than he had done the night before. When he awoke he found his master up, fully dressed and looking dreadful.
"My master, you look dreadful, really ill. Do you not think that you should cancel your meeting of this morning with Boabdil?", he asked his master.
"I cannot do that. It is absolutely essential that I should meet Boabdil this morning. There is so much to discuss with him. We need to know what he is thinking at the present time and how he perceives the negotiations to be proceeding. It is very obvious that things have changed on both sides. That is why I must see Boabdil this morning. I will return to bed and try to sleep for two or three hours in the hope that I will feel somewhat better by then", Alonso told Rodrigo.
"Before you return to your bed I will prepare a drink from herbs my mother insisted I should bring with me from Valencia. She places great store by them. The recipe for the cordial they make has been handed down for generations in my family. It always seems to have helped the takers of it to feel better. It always seems to calm frayed nerves".
Alonso was not certain that he was suffering from frayed nerves, merely lack of sleep, but it seemed easier not to discuss the point and to take the cordial. He did so and fell asleep at once.
Rodrigo awakened him some three hours later and to his intense relief he did, in fact, feel much better. He felt better still after he had bathed and been shaved by Rodrigo. He went out into the garden where the slight chill struck him quite forcibly so that he returned quickly to his chamber and put a leather cape round his shoulders. He came out again into the beautiful garden with its splashing fountains and singing birds. Although he tried very hard not to do so he found himself compelled to turn his eyes towards the Alcazabra. To his intense relief he found that the spikes with their severed heads had been removed and the wall beneath them washed clean of the blood which had stained it. He crossed himself fervently and turning away quickly looked towards the Sierra Nevada. Their summits were whiter than ever. During the night there had been a fresh fall of snow and this fresh fall of snow seemed to have extended the area covered lower down the mountains than before. It looked intensely beautiful in the bright sunshine.
It was only when he returned to the door of his quarters that he realised with surprise that the Moorish guards were not there. They had been there, day and night, ever since the Sultana Ayxas's visit. He wondered briefly what the significance of this new development was".
Some ten minutes later as he was sitting at his desk in the study section of his quarters thinking of the urgent matters he had to discuss with Boabdil Rodrigo came into the room. Alonso looked up. Rodrigo again seemed worried and apprehensive.
"There are four Moorish soldiers at the door. I do not know what they want. I cannot understand them".
Alonso's mind raced ahead. He feared the worst but he daren't let Rodrigo know of this so he said:
"Very well. I'll come and have a word with them".
When he questioned the four Moorish soldiers he found, to his intense relief, that two of them were guards returning to their post at the door and that the other two were sent to escort him to Boabdil's presence. He went back into the room and told Rodrigo of the situation. Rodrigo's apprehension still lingered on his face.
Alonso had almost resolved to send Rodrigo back to Santa Fe but he had not yet finally made up his mind on this. He gathered up some papers from his desk and went out to join the soldiers. It was not far to The Hall of the Ambassadors.
Everywhere they passed Moorish soldiers. Some were exercising. Others were engaged in mock sword fights with one another. All in all the grounds of the Alhambra seemed to have become one vast military camp. Obviously this increased military presence was a reaction to the tension which now existed amongst the Moorish leadership. Alonso wondered where all these new arrivals had been quartered previously but that was only a passing thought.
The Hall of the Ambassadors was full of Moorish troops who were drawn up in lines. As Alonso entered the vast room, at a word of command from their commander, they made a corridor for him and his escort to pass through their assembled ranks. Some of them pointed their scimitars towards him. He wasn't quite sure whether this was a salute or a gesture of menace. This doubt in his mind was a measure of how far things had changed within the Alhambra.
When Alonso joined Boabdil on the balcony he found him seated in one of the wicker chairs at the wicker table. There was a soldier standing at the back of him.
As Alonso came out on to the balcony Boabdil rose to greet him. At the same time he dismissed the soldier who seemed very reluctant to leave the king's presence but in the end he did leave Boabdil and Alonso alone but only after a second request from Boabdil for him to do so. When the soldier had gone they both sat down in the wicker chairs.
Alonso was very surprised to note that Boabdil looked much more cheerful and relaxed than he had ever seen him before.
"Welcome my Christian brother, it is good to see you. I am still under the spell of your magnificent performance last night. Abdul taught you that song so well. I have to talk to you about Abdul and about so many other things. First of all I must tell you that I have decided to surrender the city and my kingdom within six months. It may be that events will compel the surrender of the city before this time. I now see that my surrender is inevitable and that it is in the best interests of all concerned. You may tell King Ferdinand of my irrevocable decision. I will surrender the city and accept King Ferdinand's terms".
Here Boabdil stopped speaking. Tears formed in his eyes as he looked towards the snow-covered mountains.
One of the soldiers returned carrying a jewelled dagger which gleamed in the sunlight. He placed it on the table in front of Boabdil and left the balcony.
Boabdil seemed not to have noticed that the soldier had placed the jewelled dagger on the table in front of him so fixed was his gaze on the snow-covered mountains. After some more moments of contemplation as his gaze remained fixed on the snow-covered sierras he suddenly ceased to look at the mountains and fixed his gaze on Alonso instead.
"Don Alonso. I would like you to have this dagger which is one of the few possessions I have left. It came originally from Toledo and was a present from Castile to one of my ancestors. It would please me a great deal if you would accept it as a token of my friendship and in appreciation of your sublime performance yesterday-evening", he said, as a slight smile appeared on his face.
Alonso was completely taken aback, astounded both by the magnificence of the gift and by the fact that Boabdil was actually smiling or at any rate almost smiling.
"I thank you Sire. I am overwhelmed by your generosity but do you not think that such a costly gift is far too valuable to bestow on someone who is just a humble servant. Such a costly gift is more worthy of the master rather than the servant. But if you wish me to accept it as a token of friendship then I will most certainly do so".
At this Boabdil picked up the dagger from the table-top and handed it to Alonso who looked quite embarrassed as he accepted it.
Boabdil now appeared to relax even further as he handed Alonso one of the glasses from the snow-filled bowl in the centre of the table. Then he helped himself to one.
"I must tell you about Abdul", he said, as his face darkened and his eyes misted over. I knew nothing about his execution until I was informed by my mother that a plot, led by Abdul, to assassinate me at Friday prayers in the Mosque had been uncovered. My mother and her bodyguard arrested Abdul. She persuaded the commander to carry out her commands. I have seen absolutely no evidence confirming Abdul's guilt or innocence. There appears to have been no trial, no chance for Abdul to affirm his innocence or deny his guilt merely an arrest and instant execution. The same thing happened to his bodyguard. It is all highly irregular and against the law. I have ordered a full Inquiry. My mother will be questioned as will my sister Fahraida. By the way, my mother has ordered my sister to be confined in a tower. I have not seen her for several days but my mother assures me that she is well. My mother wants me to find a husband for her---any husband---!"
"Did you know that your sister came to see me in my quarters when she overheard the guards talking amongst themselves about the plot to assassinate you? She came to ask for my help which, of course, I promised to give----" Here Boabdil interrupted him by saying:
"Why did she not come directly to me. I would have taken action. Obviously my mother did take action but I have no idea whether that action was either justified of correct. I must await the result of the Inquiry before deciding that. It seems fairly certain that history will add the execution of Abdul and his bodyguard to the long list of crimes I am supposed to have committed in fits of rage. I am told that the list is very long. My beautiful wife was my first supposed victim. As you know she has not been murdered. You have met her and talked with her. My two sons were next. How this rumour originated I just do not know. One of them is with King Ferdinand as a hostage for my compliance with the King of Aragon's wishes and the other is being educated at the court of the Sultan of Morocco. It is the same with my sister Fahraida. I murdered her when I was drunk. As you well know my sister is very much alive and I never drink alcohol. Obviously my enemies have managed to convince the world or at least those people in the world who disseminate information, be it good or bad, that I am an evil monster. I would like history to judge me differently from that---" Boabdil took another drink and gazed at the mountains as tears formed in his eyes again.
Alonso felt very relieved that Boabdil had just confirmed what he (Alonso) had (suspected) known from his first meeting with the king of Granada, that he had not carried out the long list of crimes attributed to him. The confirmation of his supposition left Alonso feeling rather lost. In one sense it was a very great relief. In another it necessitated the further question: if Boabdil was innocent who was the guilty one? Alonso was still left with the need to find the answer!
Boabdil still looked very cheerful, very happy. It was so unusual for him to be in this sort of mood that Alonso was quite fearful that Boabdil would experience a relapse, would be more despondent than ever when his present mood eventually evaporated. It was Boabdil himself who explained to Alonso the reason for his present mood. As he passed another drink over to Alonso he said to him:
"I feel as though a very heavy weight has been lifted from my shoulders now that the decision to surrender has been taken. It really is a burden removed from me. I would feel better still if I knew that I could remain here in the Alhambra, my ancestral home, but I realise now that such a thing is impossible. Ferdinand has played a game with me. During the course of the negotiations he has constantly renewed my hope of staying here for the rest of my days knowing full well that such a thing cannot be. I realise that my personal removal from the Alhambra has become a goal (for) which you Christians are striving. My departure will mean that the war is over, that the unity of Spain is finally achieved. Why I did not see this before I just don't know---I certainly see it all very clearly now. I suppose that I was an absolute fool to trust Ferdinand of Aragon. My mother regards him as a 'wily old fox' and tells me constantly not to trust him. That I did believe what he was telling me is my fault. I should have listened to my mother".
Here Boabdil broke off and allowed a slight frown to cover his face but it only did so for a brief moment.
"Don Alonso, my disapproval of Ferdinand's tactics in no way extends to any disapproval on my part of the way you have acted during our conversations. I know that you are an honourable man Don Alonso, that you are the King's servant and are merely his spokesman. I know that you are a great admirer of our language and our culture. It is very sad that our great achievement here in the Iberian Peninsula has to end with my abject surrender and humiliation. It is fairly obvious that my position in history will be an ignominious one. My memory will be cursed by the Arabic world and despised by the Christian. All I want to do is remain here with my family in this beautiful place". Saying this he gave himself up completely to tears. He sobbed incontinently as he looked towards the mountains.
Alonso felt like an interloper, so much so that he place his hand on Boabdil's shoulder in a gesture of understanding, patted it and without looking at him turned and left the balcony.
It was all he could do to prevent himself from openly weeping.
Alonso was not summoned into Boabdil's presence on the balcony which projected from The Hall of the Ambassadors for more than two weeks after their meeting at which Boabdil wept his bitter tears. They did meet however.
One morning about eight or nine days after Alonso and Boabdil's last meeting Alonso was sitting at his desk in his quarters in The Alhambra Suite when Rodrigo escorted the King of Granada into the room.
"Good morning Don Alonso", Boabdil said, as a broad smile let upon his face. "It is such a wonderful morning that I thought you might like to accompany me on a ride towards the foothills of the high sierras. I have brought a horse for you, one of the best horses in my stable. The steed rejoices in the name of Saladin which I am sure you, with your knowledge of our history, know was the name of one of the greatest of our warriors. I am giving Saladin to you as a present. He really is one of the best steeds in my entire stable and is therefore very valuable. Do say that you will accompany me Don Alonso. I would like to tell you of various decisions I have taken during the last few days. First of all though I would like to apologise for my lack of control during our last meeting and to thank you for your gesture of support at that time".
Alonso had risen from his chair and had bowed low before Boabdil when Rodrigo had led the king into the room.
"Sire, it will be a great pleasure to ride with you this morning but I am by no means certain that I either can or should accept the gift of Saladin. Abdul, your cousin and my friend, pointed him out to me when he showed me your royal stable, Sire. Saladin is a magnificent stead, a thoroughbred Arabian stallion and therefore an almost priceless horse. I am happy and honoured that you are lending him to me for the duration of our ride but I cannot accept him as a gift. Saladin is a horse fit for a king, a stead for a sovereign. As you will still be a king, a sovereign, after you leave Granada should you not take Saladin with you Sire?" Here Alonso bowed low again before Boabdil.
"It would please me a great deal for you to have Saladin Don Alonso but I will leave the decision up to you. See how you feel after our ride, after you have ridden upon his back. I will whisper in his ear, in Arabic, that he is to have a new master. He will indicate to me whether he approves of the idea or not. Yes! Let us wait until after our ride. Come, Don Alonso let us start. There is so much I have to tell you. I will wait in the garden whilst you change into your riding clothes". Saying this he left the room.
Some twenty minutes later Alonso joined Boabdil and his escort of cavalry officers in the yard of the royal stables. The horsed looked magnificent but one horse looked even more magnificent than the others. Saladin was superb, quite the most magnificent horse Alonso had ever seen. As Alonso approached his mount Boabdil said half seriously, half jokingly: "I have asked Saladin whether he would like a new master. He said that he would see how you treat him during the ride before deciding. So again it is up to you Don Alonso.
Alonso walked over to the horse he was to ride. He patted him gently, upon which he whinnied softly as Alonso mounted and trotted after Boabdil who had already left the stables. He rode up to Boabdil and remained at his side as they rode on. The cavalry officers followed closely behind. As soon as Alonso joined him Boabdil said:
"Don Alonso, I feel that you need more Spanish troops here within the Alhambra for your protection and support. Therefore I have given permission for there to be a further one thousand of your troops on the Alhambra Hill. I would advise you to have them in place as quickly as possible. There will be consternation and turmoil amongst my army but unfortunately there is no way I can guarantee your safety and that of your party. Only the presence of more armed Spanish troops here can do that".
"I thank you for your concern for our safety, Sire, but is it wise to position more enemy troops within your last remaining stronghold?" Alonso asked. "Will an even greater enemy presence here not provoke your men and make us less safe than we were before? I fear that to be the case, Sire. In the last few days the Alhambra has become one vast military camp. It seems to me to be extremely risky for more Spanish troops to be seen here. We can protect ourselves as we are, Sire. However, after our ride I will return to Santa Fee and consult with King Ferdinand. I do thank you, Sire, for your concern for our safety".
"Thank you Don Alonso. The fact that I am authorising you to bring more of your troops must tell you that things are out of control here in the Alhambra. There is no guarantee of anything any more. No one is safe and anything could happen. There is a state of complete anarchy. Perhaps my sister Fahraida is the only one who is safe and she is locked away in a tower. I am beginning to wish that I was miles away, perhaps with my son at the court of my kinsman, The Sultan of Morocco. I have never been to North Africa, the land of my ancestors, and I would love to go there. A fortune-teller once predicted that I would meet my death violently in the desert of North Africa. At the moment it would appear much more likely that I will meet my death, violently, in The Alhambra in Granada---. But be that as it may. Don't the mountains look wonderful this morning Don Alonso. The fresh fall of snow during the night has heightened their beauty. Do you notice that the area covered by the snow has been extended lower down the slopes of the mountains. All my life I have been fascinated by the variation from year to year in the area covered by the snow. I love this place and everything about it---". He broke off and lapsed into one of his profound silences which lasted for some minutes as they rode along.
Alonso could think of nothing to say that would relieve the gloom that had once again overtaken Boabdil as he obviously pondered on the fact that he must soon leave the place where he was happiest, for ever. It was Boabdil himself who broke the silence saying: "Don Alonso. How are you getting along with Saladin? Does he approve of you as his master?"
"Sire, Saladin is magnificent but I have not really tested him yet. I need to put him to the gallop and to see how he jumps. Could we not race a little and leave our escort behind?".
Alonso had much to say to Boabdil which could only be said in private and to race ahead in this way, to test the rapport between himself and Saladin, was the only way in which he could achieve the privacy they needed for their discussions. Boabdil gave Alonso a knowing look which indicated that he understood Alonso's intent.
"You go first Don Alonso. I will tell our escort not to follow you and then I will join you". Saying this he gave Saladin a forceful yet gentle slap on the rump causing the horse to dart forward extremely quickly. Alonso did his part by pressing his legs into the horse's side and patting him quickly to indicate to him that he should fly like the wind. The horse whinnied loudly with excitement and did indeed fly like the wind. In their path were several clumps of shrubs and small trees towards which Alonso deliberately headed Saladin. The horse responded magnificently to the challenge soaring over the shrubs and small trees with effortless ease. Alonso maintained his mount's fast pace but now directed him towards a hillock which appeared in front of him. It rose up from the surrounding landscape to a height of between some two-hundred and fifty to three-hundred feet. It was flat-topped with steep sides and it required a lot of concentration on the part of both rider and horse to reach its summit. Once at the top such concentrated effort on the part of horse and rider was well rewarded. There was a magnificent vista of the snow-covered sierras, serene and sparking in the sun. Way overhead an eagle soared and somewhere in the distance another horse whinnied causing Saladin to prick up his ears, stamp one of his hooves into the grass-covered summit of the hillock and whinny loudly in reply. Alonso steadied Saladin, patted him gently and spoke softly to him in Arabic. The horse turned its head, turned its bright eyes to look at Alonso, whinnied softly and stamped its hoof again many times. The distant horse whinnied again. Alonso felt a moment of great exultation. It was good to be alive on such a day, mounted on such a horse, looking at such a view.
Alonso dismounted from off Saladin's back. The horse, relieved of its burden immediately began to graze on the lush grass which was watered by the spring which bubble up to the surface in the very centre of the flat summit of the hillock.
Alonso drank from the spring and sat on the grass to await Boabdil's arrival. It was, in fact, more than an hour later before Boabdil did join Alonso at the top of the hillock. As he explained to Alonso he had had great difficulty in persuading the cavalry escort not to accompany him in its entirety. As it was six of its officers, mounted on their horses, kept guard at the foot of the hillock awaiting the descent of their king again.
Alonso had mounted Saladin by the time Boabdil had arrived at the top of the hillock. He made to dismount in order to perform his obeisance to the king. Boabdil guessed his intention and stopped him from doing so.
"There is no need for any of that Don Alonso. You and I are friends as well as ruler and representative of a foreign power. There is not the slightest need for any ceremony between us". Saying this Boabdil dismounted from his horse which he led towards the spring. He bent down, cupped his hand and drank of the cold, refreshing water. He led his horse to the water and then when he was satisfied that it too was drinking he turned and walked the short distance towards Alonso who was now standing by the side of Saladin holding his bridle.
"I realised that you wanted to talk to me privately Don Alonso. You have chosen the venue for our talks with meticulous care. This is a wonderful place. Just look at the view---". With this he stopped speaking and did indeed look at "the view". It was impossible not to do so. The mountains rose in front of them dominating everything. They seemed to almost reach to the sky, their gleaming white summits, now made even whiter by the new snow which had fallen on them during the night. He pointed the eye of the beholder to the equally intense blue of the sky. The whole effect was magical. It was Alonso who broke the sense of almost sacred silence.
"Sire, I am to tell you that King Ferdinand has given instructions that if you find it necessary to leave The Alhambra and seek refuge in the Christian camp you will be received with all the honours due to a king". Alonso patted Saladin as he said this. He turned his eyes away from Boabdil as he did so. Boabdil was silent for some seconds.
"Thank you Don Alonso. Here it is again. Ferdinand is telling me that he knows exactly what the situation is within the Alhambra. His spies have done their work well so much so that he knows that everything is out of control there. He has his finger on the pulse and knows that I must soon surrender. His blockade of Granada is now complete and it is only a question of time, a question of waiting. Granada is like a fly in a spider's web, a jewel waiting to be added to Ferdinand's crown. As I told you before Don Alonso I am extremely disappointed that no Moslems from the other Islamic lands have joined in our fight to defend this last outpost of Allah in Western Europe. I could weep---but I will not. The world will only take my tears for a sign of weakness. I must bear my misfortunes as a man". Just at that moment a small bird flew past them pursued by a hawk which reached its prey and struck with its talons. A few feathers fluttered to earth as the hawk flew on. The whole incident was over incredibly quickly.
Both Alonso and Boabdil had observed the incident quite clearly. It had happened only a few feet above their heads. Its relevance to Boabdil's present situation was not lost on either of them.
"There you have it in a nutshell Don Alonso. I am the sparrow, King Ferdinand is the hawk. I suppose Ferdinand would say that that is the law of life---that the weak are vanquished by the strong------". Here Boabdil paused momentarily as he uttered a deep, heartfelt sigh which seemed to echo all around the flat-topped hill on which they stood.
Alonso continued to pat and stroke Saladin. He still did not look at Boabdil.
"Don Alonso, I am so utterly weary. There seems to be no way that I can find any peace at present. It is only when I look towards my beloved mountains, when I lift my eyes from the world, that I find the slightest repose for my troubled mind. I am guarded day and night by soldiers but that still doesn't guarantee my safety and I could be struck down at any moment by the hand of an assassin. It seems to me that the whole world would rejoice at that happening. You Christians would be highly delighted and many of my subjects here in Granada would also rejoice. I do, in truth, feel weary unto death Don Alonso---". Here his voice faded out and he fell silent again. His horse which had finished drinking from the spring now came towards him. It whinnied softly as it approached him whereupon he took its bridle in his hand and rubbed its face gently with his free hand.
Alonso could no longer avoid looking directly at Boabdil. He did indeed look weary unto death which was what he had just told Alonso he felt like. He looked haggard and tired as if he had tossed and turned all night on his bed looking for sleep which had never come. This was in the starkest contrast to the cheerful morning salutation and smiling face with which he had invited Alonso to accompany him on their ride. Alonso thought to himself that perhaps the exertion of the steep climb on horseback to the top of the hill had had something to do with it.
Boabdil now sat down on the grass his legs dangling over the side of the hill.
"Sire, I am to tell you that all King Ferdinand's offers to you are still open. You will remain a king with a large annual cash subsidy from King Ferdinand. Your son will still receive the gold for his education and training with extra payment for his maintenance until he reaches manhood. In a word Sire, nothing has changed. You have only to surrender the keys of the city for everything to take effect. May I venture to suggest that your present burden will be much less troublesome to you once you have done what King Ferdinand suggests. . . ". Here Alonso paused. "I am trying to give you advice as a friend, Sire, and not speaking just as the representative of an enemy power with whom you are locked in a deadly struggle for survival". Alonso spoke these last few words in a very quiet, much more intimate tone of voice.
"I realise that Don Alonso as I also know that you appreciate my predicament. I dare not surrender The Alhambra until it is obvious to all my subjects that there is absolutely no other alternative. Perhaps at the back of my permission, indeed my request, that you station one-thousand more Spanish troops in The Alhambra is the fact that if and when these troops take up their station there it is obvious that you could occupy the place at will. Their arrival could facilitate my earlier surrender------". Here he stopped and again sighed deeply. "The mountains are wonderful this morning. Look at the way the snow gleams in the bright sunshine. Sometimes I wish that I had not been born to be a king, a ruler who has to think about the good of his people and not just of his personal concerns". Here he paused and again sighed but not quite as deeply as previously. Then he remained silent for some more seconds. "For a very long time now Granada has been a vassal state of Castile and Castile and its various rulers have played with us like a cat playing with a mouse. They could have taken Granada at any time during the last two to three-hundred years. Instead they chose to play with us. For a long time Granada has remained independent through diplomacy not through the use of the sword. I suppose Ferdinand would say that the easy living of the South has corrupted we Muslems, has robbed us of that steel in our character and physical make-up that was forged in the raw heat of the desert long ago. If that is true, and I fear that it is, then to be defeated here will be entirely natural and inevitable. Ferdinand would say that his superior might is right and that the right will always triumph. Queen Isabella would say that her God is greater than mine. The truth is that we have been bled white by the high taxes levied on us by Castile over the centuries. That and our inability to agree amongst ourselves as to who should be king. Over the last few years Ferdinand has increased our payments to Castile dramatically the sat back and watched as I and other members of my family fought one another for the crown. Now there is not the slightest hope that the Kingdom of Granada can survive but the mass of my people have not the slightest idea that this is the case----". He lapsed into silence once again as an eagle soared high overhead. They both saw the soaring bird.
"I wish that I could soar away from the world through the air like that bird", Boabdil sighed, "but of course it cannot be. Perhaps we should return to the Alhambra Don Alonso. The cavalry officers waiting at the foot of the hill will be wondering why we are staying here so long. Come let us descend". Alonso tried to say that he had much, much more to tell him but Boabdil had already started his descent and it was now too late to stop him. He could do no other than follow Boabdil down the steep hill-side to where the six cavalry officers waited impatiently for the descent of their king.
The descent was much easier than the climb up and was soon accomplished. Truth to tell the officers did not look very happy when Boabdil joined them. They instantly formed up around him preventing Alonso from joining him for the ride back to the Alhambra. So it was to the rear of Boabdil and his escort that Alonso trotted back to The Alhambra. There was no further opportunity for any conversation between them which left Alonso feeling extremely dissatisfied and frustrated, so much so that he began to see his carefully contrived scheme to speak to Boabdil as a failure.
He left Saladin in the hands of one of the grooms at the royal stable and returned to his quarters. When he returned there he found a messenger from Santa Fee waiting for him. King Ferdinand wished him to return immediately for an urgent consultation. So after bathing and dining which occupied the space of about two hours Alonso, accompanied the messenger on his return to Santa Fee. He took Rodrigo with him. Before he left The Alhambra he talked with Bishop Alvarez. They both agreed that the situation within The Alhambra was extremely volatile and that anything could happen and probably would. So they jointly agreed to place the Spanish troops within the Alhambra on emergency alert in order to keep them in a state of readiness for any eventuality.
Alonso felt extremely concerned for his friend, The King of Granada. He was obviously going through all sorts of Hell and this state of long drawn-out Hell was getting worse as the winter days dragged on. All this concern for his friend occupied his mind as he trotted at the side of the messenger and Rodrigo down the great processional way that led from the Alhambra to the city. The surprise was that when they reached the city everything appeared as normal. The Granadinos seemed to be going about their normal, everyday affairs, totally unaware of the heightened tension and hot-house atmosphere of life in The Alhambra. He had no doubt that the basic necessities of everyday life were in extremely short supply within the confines of the blockaded city but so far at any rate life there seemed to be normal.
They soon left the city behind and arrived at the makeshift frontier line between the Moors and Christians. Here there was tension. The Moorish soldiers whose lines they passed through looked visibly despondent. They jeered and gesticulated vociferously at these three Christians passing through their ranks. The messenger and Rodrigo obviously had no idea what was being said but the gestures said it all. It was a relief to come through to the Christian side. Here rough and ready humour was the order of the day, all delivered in the harsh staccato tones of high Castilian.
The Santa Fee-bound trio quickly passed through the makeshift, devastated frontier-zone. Alonso was appalled at the total devastation he saw everywhere. Here it was absolutely true as Boabdil had said that even the fruit-trees had been pulled out of the ground. The Vega, the area of fertile land around Granada, the most productive land in the whole of Spain, was totally devastated. Of course it would soon return to its natural, high agricultural productivity one this wretched war was over. Alonso did, however, wonder whether there would be anyone left to work it when the expulsions began in the wake of Boabdil's surrender.
So they continued on their way maintaining a steady pace They met many battalions of troops all marching along the road in the direction of Granada. In fact, there seemed to be a constant procession of troops streaming towards the besieged city. Alonso and his two companions seemed to be the only travellers moving away from Granada. It was definitely now only a question of time before the city fell.
They soon reached Fuente del Mow (frontier of the Moor) which as its name suggested was a place where a spring of crystal clear water bubbled to the surface at the side of the road. Here there were trees which had not been uprooted. There was also a drinking trough for the horsed at the side of an inn. So it was the ideal place at which to halt providing as it did refreshment for horse and rider.
There were several carts near the drinking-trough and several donkeys drinking from it attended by three Moorish boys who were perhaps nine or ten years old. As Rodrigo and the messenger went towards the inn Alonso led their three horsed to the sone drinking-trough. As he did so the boys left the donkeys in their charge and crowded around Alonso and the horses shouting noisily as they did sol They made so much noise that a turbaned Moor came to the door of the nearby inn. He moved quickly to the drinking-trough and silenced the boys. Then, turning to Alonso, and speaking Castilian, he apologised to him for the behaviour of his two sons and his nephew. The smiling very warmly he held out his hand and introduced himself by saying: "My name is Ali ben Gualid, silk-merchant of Tangier in Morocco. I was on my way to visit my sister who is married to a Granadino and live in the city. Unfortunately I was waylaid and robbed on the road from Malaga. Thanks to Allah I had not brought any of my merchandise with me. My tow horses were taken from me and then my gold but fortunately I have good Spanish friends. As you can see they have lent me these donkeys and several carts so that I can transport my silk from the place where it is stored on the coast. I have been told that there should be a ready market for it at the Spanish royal camp at Santa Fee.
Alonso shook the extended hand and speaking in Arabic introduced himself by saying: "I am Alonso de Guerrea, King Ferdinand of Aragon's ambassador to the court of the King of Granada. I am on my way to the court of King Ferdinand at Santa Fee".
Upon hearing this Ali Ben Gualid let go of Alonso's hand and made an obeisance before him. He had noted the obvious pride with which Alonso had told him that he was Ferdinand of Aragon's ambassador at the court of the King of Granada. He instantly wondered whether he could turn this chance meeting with an obviously important man to his own advantage but he was not yet certain how to proceed in the matter.
"I would like to talk with you Sir". Alonso now said. He too felt that perhaps this Ali Ben Gualid, travelling silk-merchant of Tangier, across the narrow straits in Morocco, could be of use to him, if not now then at some time in the future. He felt in his bones that it would be a good thing to establish friendly relations with this Spanish-speaking merchant. To this end he said: "Shall we go into the inn. My two travelling companions are there already". Ali Ben Gualid turned and spoke rapidly to the boys who very reluctantly left the horses and returned to the donkeys. After this he pointed the way to the inn and indicated that he would follow Alonso there.
There were not many travellers within the quite large, one, ground-floor room of the inn. Truth to tell it was not a very elegant room but it had about it a comforting, homely feel. Rodrigo and the messenger were seated at a table on which were two flagons of wine. They appeared to be engaged in a lively, animated conversation which ceased abruptly as Alonso and the silk-merchant appeared at the door. Alonso noted that a staircase at on end of the room appeared to lead to an upper story. As he stood there taking in the details of the room and guessing from the abrupt end to the conversation of his travelling companions that he had been the subject of it the landlord scurried over to great this new traveller. From the elegance of his apparel and his commanding appearance here was obviously a person of high quality and therefore someone to be served personally by the proprietor.
"Welcome your excellency to my humble inn. It will be an honour to serve you personally". Saying this the landlord bowed very low. By this time Ali Ben Gualid had entered the inn to be greeted by a rather perfunctory nod of the head on the part of the inn-keeper.
"Do you have a room where me and my friend here can talk privately?" Alonso made a gesture which managed to indicate to the landlord that Ali Ben Gualid was his honoured friend and that the perfunctory gesture given to such an honoured friend was not really good enough. The landlord bowed even lower before Alonso as if such humble obeisance could somehow atone for the inadequate nature of the greeting he had given his friend as he said: "Sire, there is a comfortable private room at the top of the stairs. Shall I bring your excellencies a flagon of wine?"
"We would prefer a mixture of fruit juices served as cold as possible landlord if you please. I would like you to make certain that we are not disturbed for the next half-hour or so".
"Very well, Sire, please follow me". With this the landlord led the way to the staircase at the end of the room. Then, closely followed by Alonso and Ali Ben Gualid he led them up the staircase and into the quite small but well-appointed private room where he left them. He quickly returned bringing a large flagon of fruit-juice and two glasses on a tray which he put down on the table under the small window and left them again.
Ali Ben Gualid was the first to speak after both Alonso and himself had seated themselves at the table. Alonso filled two glasses from the flagon and handed one to his guest.
"Thank you Don Alonso for your consideration of my religion by not offering me alcohol. That was very kind of you Sir". Ali Ben Gualid said as he accepted the proffered glass and looked pleased to do so.
"Oh it is my custom only to drink alcohol when I must. My preferred beverage nowadays is a blend of fruit-juices served as cold as possible. That is a custom I have adopted since my sojourn in The Alhambra". Alonso volunteered by way of explanation for the fact that he had not offered his guest alcohol to drink. He continued by saying: "I am certain that you will easily dispose of your silk and any other luxury goods you offer for sale at the Spanish camp in Santa Fee. The grandees of Castile and Aragon are parting with gold as if it drops like rain from the sky. You will have no problem whatsoever. May I ask you what sort of vessels you use to transport your merchandise from Africa to Spain?"
"What you have just told me about a ready market for my wares in Santa Fee is like music to the ears of any merchant. The present war in Andalies has unsettled the traditional market in the big cities of the region. As for the transportation of my goods I am happy to tell you, Sire, that I own a fleet of trading-vessels which also operate along the coast of Africa, both east and south of Morocco so I am not dependent on anyone else for the conduct of my business.Had you some business proposition in mind which requires the use of ships to ply between Spain and North Africa? I do sometimes hire out my ships to other merchants but not very often. I would be happy to consider any proposition you might care to put to me, Sire".
"At the moment I do not have any specific plans requiring me to hire boats but it could be that in the next month or two such an eventuality will arise. If you will give me your business address in Spain I will contact you if and when I need your help. Presumably your warehouse is in Malaga?" Alonso asked as he passed another glass of fruit-juice across the table to his guest.
"May I also ask you if you managed to visit your sister and her family in Granada?"
"You excellency has only to ask for me by name down by the harbour in Malaga. My warehouse is one of the biggest buildings in that part of the city and my vessels are equally well known. There will never be any problem in getting a message to me. As for my visit to my sister in Granada that turned out to be impossible. I was not allowed through the Spanish lines surrounding the city and we were, in fact, quite roughly treated. It was at the Spanish lines that my horses were stolen. I regret to say that it was Spanish soldiers who stole my horses, Sire." Here a look of anger seemed to creep over Ali Ben Gualid's swarthy face. "But of course, such things happen in time of war. We travelling merchants learn to accept such happenings as part of the business risks we take in the course of our work. However, I can tell your excellency that it was a very unpleasant experience and I was extremely thankful not to have had any valuable merchandise with me at the time. . .". Here Ali Ben Gualid stopped speaking and took another drink from the glass on the table in front of him. "Forgive me, Sir".
Alonso now said: "I am forgetting my manners", as he poured some more of the fruit-juice into the Moroccan's glass. He then topped up his own glass and said: "I am extremely sorry that it was Spanish soldiers who robbed you. King Ferdinand, my master is extremely concerned to stamp out such incidents. I am empowered to compensate the victims of crimes committed by Spanish troop. If you will tell me the value of what was taken from you I will give you the equivalent in Spanish gold. Then I will ask you to sign a receipt which I can present to the Treasury in Santa Fee for reimbursement. Will that be acceptable to you, Sir?" Alonso asked, knowing full well that Ali Ben Gualid would jump at this chance to be compensated for that which had been stolen from him.
Ali Ben Gualid named a sum and Alonso gave him the requisite number of gold pieces which he took out of the money-belt which he wore round his waist. As he did so he suddenly realised he had no paper on which to write a receipt. As he passed the gold pieces over to Ben Gualid he said: "I will ask you to sign a receipt before we part company. I would also like to give you this ring". Here Alonso took a signet ring from off one of the fingers of his right hand and handed it to his guest. It will guarantee you safe passage through the Spanish lines. If you experience any difficulty carrying out your business in Andalusia do not hesitate to send it to me by one of your servants. I will be happy to assist you in any way I can. As long as the siege of Granada lasts I will either be in The Alhambra Palace in Granada or at the Spanish camp in Santa Fee. If I need your services I will send my servant Rodrigo to your warehouse in Malaga. That eventuality could happen at any time but I hope I will be able to give you sufficient notice so that you will be able to organise everything. Now I really must rejoin my people and proceed to Santa Fee as quickly as possible.
"I thank you Don Alonso for your great kindness to me. If I may say so your master, King Ferdinand seems to be a very enlightened monarch in wishing to compensate the victims of crimes carried out by his troops. He must be a very wise ruler and one held in great esteem by his subjects". Alonso would have used the words astute and cunning to describe his master. He did not comment on Ali Ben Gualid's remarks about his master. However, he said instead: "If you will follow me downstairs I will give you a receipt to sign". Saying this Alonso led the way down the stairs and into the large, one-room, ground floor section of the inn closely followed by Ali Ben Gualid who was still feeling in happy mellow mood following the reimbursement of his recent losses by Alonso.
Alonso paid his dues to the landlord and rejoined Ben Gualid at the door of the inn. Rodrigo and the messenger were no longer in the inn so it was reasonable of Alonso to assume that they had returned to the horses at the drinking trough. So it was towards the trough that Alonso led Ben Gualid after they had both left the inn. Once there Alonso obtained the necessary blank paper on which to write a receipt from Rodrigo who also acted as his secretary. Once it was signed Alosnso bade Ali Ben Gualid farewell saying: "I feel certain that we will meet again. May I remind you not to hesitate to contact me by sending to me the ring I have given you. If you have any trouble whatsoever here in Spain please do not hesitate to do so ". Saying this he bade Ali Ben Gualid goodbye again, mounted his horse and closely followed by Rodrigo and the messenger, resumed his journey to Santa Fee.
There were no further stops along the way so that in just a little over three hours Alonso and his travelling companions arrived at the Spanish camp in Santa Fee. Once in the camp the usual hustle and bustle prevailed and it took Alonso some little time to negotiate his way through the seeming chaos to the stone-built house in which the monarchs of Castile and Aragon, plus their most intimate advisors, were now housed.
He presented himself at the door of the house and informed one of the guards of his arrival. The guard disappeared into the house for some minutes. When he returned he was accompanied by King Ferdinand's secretary, a man well-known to Alonso. The secretary shook Alonso by the hand, saying: "Don Alonso. It is good to see you in Santa Fee again. His majesty wishes to see you urgently but at the moment he is in conference with his military commanders. It has been arranged that you are to stay in the quarters of The Duke of Gandia during your present stay in Santa Fee. May I suggest that you retire there for the next hour. It will be good to refresh yourself after your journey from Granada. I will send a servant to summon you into our master's presence".
"Very well Don Vicente I will follow your advice. It will be good to wash away the stains of travel", Alonso replied to the secretary's suggestion.
So led by one of the guards of the royal household Alonso found himself escorted to the tent of the Duke of Gandia, one of the leading grandees of the court of Aragon.
The tent itself was massive. It was made of a very heavy material which meant that it was held up by many stout poles. Once inside luxury was the order of the day established at once by the fact that the internal sides of the tent were hung with rich stuffs from all over the civilised world. On the floor which was of wood, the most expensive-looking carpets from Persia were laid. Bohlara rugs were also much in evidence.
When the guard led Alonso to the entrance of the tent a servant appeared. After a few hurried words between the servant and the guard the former explained to Alonso that his master had returned to Valencia on urgent family business and that Alonso was free to use the tent for as long as he wished to do so.
Rodrigo had been extremely anxious when he had realised that his master was to be lodged in a tent. He feared that Alonso's living conditions would be extremely primitive, meaning that it would be extremely difficult to minister to his needs in such conditions. However, Rodrigo's fears quickly evaporated once he and his master were ensconced inside the vast tented area which comprised the quarters of the Duke of Gandia here in Santa Fee. It was immediately obvious that they would be living in a state of absolute luxury. It was about as far removed from the rigours of a military camp as it was possible to imagine.
Alonso was led into the sleeping quarters of the vast tent by the Duke of Gandia's servant who informed him that his name was Juan and that his duty was to serve him.
This section of the tent seemed to be even more luxurious than the rest of it. It was dominated by a large wooden bed over which was a canopy of what appeared to be the finest damask. On the bed itself were sheets and blankets of the highest quality materials. It was obvious that whoever slept under them would be extremely comfortable. There was not the slightest hint of the rough life of the soldier on active service.
As Alonso contemplated all this luxury the thought entered his head that perhaps the Duke of Gandia was one of the grandees who were vying with one another to show off the luxury of their apparel and the sheer opulence of their domestic arrangements. It also struck him that perhaps Ali Ben Gualid would find a very willing and eager purchaser of the luxury goods he had for sale in the person of the young and wealthy Duke of Gandia.
At the side of the bed was a wooden stand on which was a large bowl and several jugs of steaming hot water. So it was at this stand that Alonso washed away the stains of his travel from Granada to Santa Fee. That done he reclined on the bed. He fell asleep almost immediately to be awakened some two hours later by Rodrigo who was shaking him and calling out his name.
"Don Alonso! Don Alonso! King Ferdinand has sent for you. He is most anxious to talk with you and has summoned you to his presence". Alonso came back to consciousness with a start. It took him some few seconds to realise just where he was and to adjust to the circumstances of his new surroundings. But that was only a temporary period. He very quickly marshalled all his thoughts and prepared himself mentally for his meeting with his lord and master Ferdinand of Aragon.
So he was fully prepared for the meeting when he was escorted into the king's presence by the king's secretary Don Vicente.
"You may leave us now Don Vicente" Ferdinand said. He was seated at a large table with many bundle of papers on it. They were in neat piles and tied with different coloured ribbons. Three many-branched candelabra provided light, night having fallen some hours ago. So it was in flickering candle-light that Alonso once again observed the facial characteristics of his master, the king of Aragon.
It must be said at once that this flickering candle-light did nothing to enhance Ferdinand's facial features. Sinister, almost malevolent would be the best way to describe the aspect these features presented to the beholder. The eyes seemed too close together, the eyebrows also too close together and much too thick to be human. As for the nose it seemed too long, thin and pointed. And the fact that Ferdinand was seated on a high chair attired in a voluminous gown with very wide sleeves gave the overall impression that he was some huge, evil bird hovering over the work-table ready to strike at anything it saw moving beneath it.
Ferdinand ceased his bird-like flutterings and said: "Don Alonso it is good to see you here in Santa Fee again. I have summoned you so that you can tell me, at first hand, how long you think it will be before the king of Granada comes to the conclusion that he has no option but to surrender the city and end the war?" He had become human again.
He had turned his chair round to face Alonso. This meant that the flickering candle-light no longer accentuated the sinister, malevolent aspect of his facial features. "Sire. Boabdil already knows that he must surrender the city. He has told me this. He has resolved to surrender within a matter of months. In the meantime he has requested that we station another one-thousand troops on the Alhambra hill. He urges us to do this ostensibly for our own enhanced protection but it is fairly obvious that he also wishes to use the presence of more of our troops within his last remaining fortress to convince his followers that the game is up, that there is no alternative to surrender. He knows that his surrender cannot be long delayed. His problem is that very few of his people in the Alhambra or in Granada itself realise it. . .". Alonso broke off as Ferdinand turned his chair round to face the candles again. Ferdinand smiled somewhat sardonically as he picked up a quill pen and gently caressed it with his fingers.
"We will certainly send more troops as Boabdil requests but what will the reaction of the Moorish army in the Alhambra be to such a move?". Here Ferdinand turned his chair round so that he again faced Alonso.
"I pointed out to Boabdil that I felt his army would react very unfavourably to an increased Spanish presence within the Alhambra. He said that he realised that this would be the case but felt that it was something which had to happen to prepare his people for the acceptance of their inevitable defeat. . . ". Here King Ferdinand interrupted Alonso by saying: "So it is definite then that Boabdil knows that he is beaten, that he must soon surrender his capital and his kingdom?".
"Oh yes, Sire, that is quite definite. Boabdil wants us to have our extra one-thousand troops in place on the Alhambra hill as soon as possible. I must tell you, Sire, that he is in a state of great distress. He feels his position acutely, in fact I would say that he feels that he is being persecuted and pursued on all sides . . . ". Alonso got no further for at this point King Ferdinand moved his position and in the flickering candle-light again became the hovering evil bird.
"I know that you and Boabdil are great friends. Your friendship with the King of Granada greatly strengthens our hand in our negotiations but I would remind you that we are at war with Boabdil and his kingdom. I do not need to remind you of where your responsibility lies in any conflict of interest between your loyalty to a friend and your duty to your king and country Don Alonso. . . ". Here King Ferdinand banged his work-table loudly with both hands and stood up. He adjusted his gown at the shoulders, raised his hands from the table and spread his arms wide. Immediately he looked vulnerable.
Alonso suddenly had a great feeling of sadness. It struck him very forcibly that perhaps Ferdinand had chosen him, Alonso de Guerra, young, unknown, without diplomatic experience but Arabic speaking to divert Boabdil from that main task in hand. Then he quickly remembered that it was always going to be Bishop Alvarez and his officials who would talk to Boabdil's officials, who between them would hammer into place the nuts and bolts of a binding act of surrender.
"Sire. There has never been any conflict of loyalty in my friendship with the king of Granada. I am a Valencian, your loyal and obedient subject, Sire". Here Alonso stood up and made a low obeisance before Ferdinand. Ferdinand dismissed the gesture impatiently by saying almost angrily: "Yes! Yes! I know all that Don Alonso. Let us get down to more practical matters. Do you think that our troops on the Alhambra hill are in any greater danger than they were some weeks ago. I know that there was a planned attack on Boabdil's life and that his mother forestalled it by executing his cousin and his supporters". Here Ferdinand looked quizzically at Alonso.
"Your information is correct, Sire. Since that execution the heightened tension on the Alhambra hill has been clear and palpable. The whole place is a tinderbox just waiting for the merest spark to ignite it. I fear for our troops there. They have been placed on full emergency alert. Bishop Alvarez received a personal death-threat. That is what led us to place all our troops on that alert. Bishop Alvarez and I discussed whether we should, in fact, withdraw our troops in the light of the death threat he received. I felt that we should do no such thing, that we should, in fact strengthen our presence there. . . ". He stopped suddenly feeling that he had raced ahead of what he was saying perhaps a little too eagerly but King Ferdinand indicated that he should continue by saying: "No! No! Don Alonso, don't stop, carry on with your resume of where you think matters stand in the Alhambra".
Alonso did indeed continue as he said: "I feel that we should dispatch our extra troops to the Alhambra hill as quickly as possible. In my judgment we should have them in place extremely quickly, if it were possible to do it I would recommend that they be in position sometime tomorrow. That, of course, would be impossible but I feel that the matter is as urgent as that". He stopped speaking and looked King Ferdinand in the eye. He in turn assumed a rather superior, quizzical air and then again smiling sardonically said excitedly:
"But Don Alonso, I assure you that we can have our extra thousand troops in position on the Alhambra hill by tomorrow evening. I am in constant communication with the commander of our army besieging Granada by carrier-pigeon. Therefore it is really a simple matter to instruct him to detach our thousand troops from the mass of our army encamped before Granada.
The problem is to judge the reaction of Boabdil's troops and more especially that of their commanders. If he is resolved to surrender at an opportune moment it is vital that he remain in place as king until he judges that moment to have arrived. If he were to be replaced, for whatever reason, his successor might be prepared to fight to the death which could cost thousands of lives. Many of my enemies have said of me that I do not care about sacrificing human life. That, of course, is untrue. All military commanders worry about the cost in human lives of their campaigns. Sometimes it may appear not to be the case but I assure you that it is true---". He stopped speaking momentarily, looked into space for a few seconds and then, as if he had finally made a great decision, stood in his place, spread the sleeves of his gown wide and became bird-like again.
"I must recall my military advisers", he said, decisively. "Don Alonso, I would like you to return here in about two hours. I will summon you again when I need you. Please return to your quarters to await my summons. Until then I bid you good-bye". Saying this King Ferdinand rang a bell on his desk to summon his secretary. Alonso was then led from the king's presence.
He remained on stand-by the whole night. He did not attempt to sleep. That would have been impossible. After his two-hour sleep before his summons into King Ferdinand's presence he did not feel the slightest need for yet more sleep. He decided to read, the Duke of Gandia having left a wide selection of parchments and vellum scrolls in the living quarters of his large, palatial tent. To Alonso's intense delight many of these manuscripts were written in Arabic. They were mostly accounts of foreign travel and proved fascinating in the extreme. This was particularly true of an account of an incredible journey lasting many months along the ancient Silk Route to China. The name of the traveller was not given, neither was the name of the writer. There were, however, insertions in the text in another hand expressing doubt as to the veracity of the original. The hours slipped away as he became engrossed in his perusal of the manuscripts. When Juan, the Duke of Gandia's servant came into the section of the tent where he was sitting reading Alonso questioned him closely about his master's interest in the ancient Arabic manuscripts.
"No my master does not speak Arabic. The manuscripts were found when we over-ran a Moorish village some months ago. I think the Duke has the idea of donating them to a library once the war is over. That is why he kept them here. Are they of any literary merit, Sir?"
As Juan asked him this question Alonso realised that he, Juan, must be a person of some education. "Do you yourself read Arabic Juan", Don Alonso now asked him, to which Juan replied: "No Don Alonso, although I can understand and speak some Arabic, but I am not fluent. I am from Seville where my parents still live. My father had business connections with the city of Granada. When I was young we lived there. That was where I learnt Arabic. I have never forgotten what I learnt in Granada. I have heard that you are an accomplished Arabist Don Alonso".
"Yes Juan. I love the Arabic tongue both in its spoken and written form. It seems to me that these manuscripts you have here are masterpieces of Arabic literature. . . . ". Juan interrupted him by saying:
"Some of the soldiers were about to burn them when my master bought the papers from them. I will tell him of your opinion of them Don Alonso. He will be pleased to know that he has saved something of value from all the wanton destruction going on at the moment. The soldiers were saying that the papers were the works of the devil and should, therefore, be burnt. . . ".
It was just at this point that Rodrigo came into that section of the vast tent where Alonso and Juan were talking to announce that Alonso was summoned into King Ferdinand's presence again.
Before he left the tent Alonso gathered up the manuscripts and handed them to Juan saying as he did so:
"Guard them well. Your master will do a great deed for humanity if he ensures that they are preserved for the future". He then left the tent.
When he reached King Ferdinand's house Alonso was ushered into the king's work-room. The king himself was not there. It was Don Vicente, the king's secretary, who occupied the royal chair.
"I see from the look in your eyes Don Alonso that you are surprised not to find the king in his usual place. The fact of the matter is that he was tired out and therefore retired to bed". Don Vicente told Alonso with a look on his face which seemed to say: "You can believe it or not but that is what you are to be told".
Alonso felt most uncomfortable as he stood there before Don Vicente and wondered uneasily what he was to be told next. Don Vicente continued by saying: "You are to return to Granada immediately and request an urgent meeting with Boabdil. You will inform him that the king agrees to station an extra one-thousand Spanish troops within the Alhambra. You will also inform him that King Ferdinand requires a written guarantee that no harm will come to these extra troops or those already in the Alhambra. Without this written guarantee from Boabdil, which can remain secret if need be, there will be no extra Spanish presence in the Alhambra, indeed, our troops already there could be withdrawn. You are then to return here with Boabdil's written guarantee".
Alonso was about to protest that he felt it very unfair that Boabdil should be obliged to give a written undertaking to guarantee the safety of enemy troops within his territory during a time of war but it seemed rather pointless to do so and therefore he said nothing.
Don Vicente continued by saying: "You are to remain here Don Alonso until preparations for your departure are complete. I will send for your servant. You should be on your way to Granada within the hour". Saying this Don Vicente escorted Alonso from the king's work-room to an ante-chamber where he left him seated in a large leather armchair. He did not remain seated for long. Rodrigo appeared some twenty minutes later complaining bitterly that he had had no time to repack the things he had just managed to unpack. Alonso sympathised but said nothing, which seemed to annoy Rodrigo who became sullen and resentful.
After another ten minutes Don Vicente reappeared and informed Alonso that his escort was waiting for him at the door of the house. He then led him outside and stood inside the door whilst Alonso mounted his horse and took the reins in his hands:
"May God bless your mission", he shouted up to Alonso then turned and disappeared into the house.
The journey to Granada that night was an experience Alonso was never to forget. The fact that it was a night-time journey was bad enough but added to that off-putting circumstance was the fact that as soon as he was in the saddle Alonso began to experience an overwhelming desire for sleep. This desire manifest itself as soon as the cavalcade moved off. He fought it successfully for the first few miles but after that he knew that he was losing the battle to stay awake. His mount had settled into a rhythmic pattern which seemed to accentuate and enhance his need for sleep causing him to fear that he would in fact, fall asleep and then suffer the ignominy of falling off his mount.
Fortunately he was saved from this disgrace by the fact that the commander of the escort, Captain Perez, detached himself from his rightful place at the head of the column and positioned himself at Alonso's side as they rode along.
"Captain Miguel Perez at your service Don Alonso", he said by way of introduction as he adjusted his horse's pace to that of Alonso's. He continued by saying: "I feel that I ought to tell you that neither my men nor I like the idea of this night-march from Santa Fee to Granada. Actually they are seething with resentment but they are soldiers who in the end will do their duty. They have been told that that duty is to escort you to Granada and that is what they will do".
Alonso took an instant liking to this Captain Miguel Perez of who he knew absolutely nothing. He judged him to be about the same age as himself, that is as far as he could judge anything in the eerie half-light radiating from the flickering torches carried by the column's out-riders. It was easy for him to understand the resentment felt by Miguel Perez and his men. After all he felt exactly the same feelings of resentment. In exactly the same manner as the good captain and his men he too would carry out his duty.
There was no further conversation between Alonso and the captain for some miles and then as Alonso was beginning to succumb to his overwhelming desire for sleep again Perez suddenly said: "What do you really think about this war for the conquest of Granada, Don Alonso? Is it really the great crusade we have been told it is?"
On hearing these questions Alonso immediately felt on his guard. He hoped that his suspicions would not be too obvious in his replies to Miguel Perez and felt glad that Perez could not see his face.
"The present war, and above all the current seige of Granada are the culmination of a long process which has been going on for centuries. Both the war and the seige are necessary to unify Spain and rid her of an alien presence. . .". Alonso replied, but then stopped speaking suddenly knowing full well that he had not answered either of Miguel Perez's questions. What he had done was to mouth the commonly accepted politically correct platitudes which emanated from the Spanish camp. He knew full well that Perez would know exactly what he was doing. He also more than half hoped that Perez would not accept what had been said and would question him further as to his true personal opinions on the matter.
However, in the event Miguel Perez made no reply whatsoever which rather troubled Alonso and left him feeling guilty and ashamed. There was no possible way in which he could reopen the matter so they rode along in total silence towards the east where in the sky a faint glow proclaimed the imminence of dawn.
It was shortly after Alonso's failure to reply to Miguel Perez's questions that the event which was to make his night-time journey from Santa Fee unforgettable occurred. Almost imperceptibly the mounted men of the column seemed to disappear, to melt away. Alonso assumed at first that it was the fact that his great longing for sleep was overwhelming him again which was causing him to imagine that the men of the column had disappeared. But to suddenly realise that he and Captain Perez were alone, or apparently alone, as they plodded on towards Santa Fee on horseback shocked him profoundly and he shivered violently as his teeth chattered uncontrollably. The strange thing was that Perez didn't seem to be aware of anything untoward happening. He remained ramrod straight in the saddle eyes fixed on the road ahead.
Alonso now began to feel concern for Rodrigo. He had ridden immediately behind him and now he too seemed to have vanished with the guards.
All desire for sleep had now been shocked out of Alonso's system. He was wide awake, his senses honed into action by the cold hand of apprehension and fear. He was terrified?
It was rapidly becoming lighter as they plodded on. As the increased daylight gathered strength Alonso felt some of his acute fear subside. He forced himself to look over towards Miguel Perez still ramrod straight in the saddle, eyes fixed on the road ahead. To his horror he saw that there was a gag in place over Perez's mouth and that his hands were tied behind his back. He was wedged upright into the saddle by some means or other which Alonso couldn't quite make out. He made no movement whatsoever, not even the slightest movement of the eyes. Alonso at once assumed that Perez was dead. He also began to assume that Rodrigo was dead, his body dumped by the wayside on the road from Santa Fee. It was now almost fully light and in this enhanced light Alonso could see, not far from the road, what appeared to be a farmhouse. He instantly decided to direct the two horsed towards it to seek help. As there was still no sign of life from Perez he judged it best to leave him in position on his horse until he arrived there. He was soon at the farm-house the front door of which was wide open. It was a stone-built, two-story building which gave every appearance that its occupants had fled at Alonso's approach.
On the wooden table which was positioned under the window of the one-roomed, ground floor of the building were a number of bowls from which steam rose. The room was full of a delicious aroma which obviously came from the contents of the bowls.
Alonso quickly took in the physical layout of the one-roomed, ground floor. To tell the truth there was not really much to take in. It was comfortable but somewhat sparsely furnished. Various articles of apparel, both male and female, left lying around confirmed that the occupants of the house had fled in great haste at Alonso's approach.
Alonso now quickly but cautiously climbed the stairs to the upper story. Here there was more comfort and even something of luxury in evidence.
There were three bedrooms. One was larger than the other two and in the larger room was a bed on which lay covers made of high quality, costly materials. A large travelling chest of Moorish design lay on the floor at one side of the bed. The lid was open and articles of feminine apparel, particularly silk dresses of various colours, were strewn over it and on the floor near the chest.
He glanced out of the room's window which was wide open. He saw that there was a dense clump of trees growing not very far from the rear of the house. It must be there that the fled occupants of the house were hiding but there was no sign of any human movement within the trees.
He examined the other two bedrooms quickly and was relieved that his feeling that they were empty of human occupants was confirmed. Then he went down the stairs and out through the open door to where Miguel Perez was still propped up ramrod straight on his horse. As he moved towards Perez he saw his eyelids flicker. With a feeling of great joy pervading his entire being he eagerly removed the gag from Perez's mouth and freed his hands which were tied behind his back.
As Alonso gently removed the bundles of cloth and straw which had been used to wedge Perez upright Perez fell forward onto the horse's neck. As he did so a low moaning sound came out of his throat and he coughed rather violently. Alonso almost cursed himself for not having realised that this would happen. However, he quickly gathered his thoughts together and managed after a great struggle to get Perez off his horse and into the house. He had to leave him lying on the floor temporarily whilst he ran quickly up the stairs to the main bedroom. Once there he removed the mattress from the bed and snatched up some of the blankets. It was a great effort to bring the mattress downstairs but with a great deal of struggle he managed to do it.
Once downstairs again he quickly placed Perez on the mattress and covered him with blankets. He then went over to the table and brought one of the steaming bowls over to Perez. Then he forced him to take some of the soup, cradling Perez's head in his arms as he did so. Perez took a little of the liquid before tumbling back upon the pillow and falling into a deep sleep. There was nothing more Alonso could do for Perez at the moment. He didn't appear to be injured, at least not externally. As to whether everything was alright with him internally he had, of course, no way of knowing. It seemed to Alonso that it was better for Perez to sleep. Nevertheless Alonso was worried about him. He was also worried about the people from the farmhouse who had fled and who, presumably, were worrying about him as they hid in the dense clump of trees some distance from the rear of the house.
He decided that he should approach the wood and declare his friendly intentions to the people hiding within it, that is, if they were hiding there.
Before he left the house he had another look at Perez. He appeared to be sleeping peacefully on his mattress on the floor. Part of his reason for seeking out the fugitives in the wood was that as farmers, country people, they would, presumably, have the countryman's store of folk remedies and could therefore help Perez.
He was very reluctant to leave Perez alone even for a moment but if he wished to make contact with the people hiding in the wood he had no alternative. He examined the sleeping Perez again and then gently closed the front door.
It was not a long walk to the wood. As he drew near to the trees he began to wonder if he was not being a little foolhardy in exposing himself to danger by walking towards his enemies alone, unprotected and unarmed. He was such an easy target but then he reasoned that if the fugitive farmers in the trees wished to kill him they could have done so with ease during the last few minutes. The fact that he was still alive and walking towards the wood was in itself some sort of indication that those within it did not wish to kill him, at least not at the moment. He was by now at the edge of the clump of trees and he saw movement within them. He also heard the murmur of soft voices which he could hear loudly enough to judge feminine.
He was about to shout out that he came in peace and needed help for a sick companion when a tall figure walked out from the trees. It was Princess Fahraida, red hair uncovered and flowing down to her shoulders, accompanied by several other Moorish women of varying age. They were followed out of the trees by a small group of elderly, fat, unfit-looking Moorish soldiers who advanced quickly, scimitars drawn and surrounded Alonso.
Alonso could offer no resistance and so was quickly surrounded. None of the Moorish soldiers made the slightest attempt to harm him. They simply formed a circle round him.
When the circle was complete Princess Fahraida commanded the soldiers to return to the shelter of the trees. After they had done so she said:
"It is a great surprise to find you here alone like this Don Alonso. I suppose it is just as great a surprise for you to find me here in these circumstances. The fact is that my brother released me from the tower where my mother had imprisoned me and sent me out of Granada. I am on my way to Malaga to take ship to Morocco where I hope to find refuge with my kinsman The Sultan. And what of you Don Alonso? Why are you alone?
Alonso quickly explained to the Princess that he had left a sick companion in the farmhouse who needed urgent help. She gave instructions to he ladies and shouted orders to the troops in the trees. Then she accompanied Alonso back to the farmhouse. Once there the Princess quickly examined Miguel Perez and told Alonso that he was dead whereupon Alonso made the sign of the cross over him and closed his eyes and pulled the blanket over his head. Princess Fahraida looked sadly at Alonso after he had covered the body of Perez.
"I am sorry that your friend has died. It must be very upsetting for you. What happened to him? He doesn't seem to be injured in any way".
In reply to the princess's question Alonso did his best to explain to her what had in fact happened to Perez and himself, that is as far as he himself could explain what had happened during the course of the journey from Santa Fee the previous evening. In the course of his retelling of the events of his unforgettable journey Alonso began to realise very vividly that when he came to that part of his recollection of his first realisation that the escort of soldiers had slowly disappeared, he really had not the slightest idea what had in fact happened. So clear did it become to him that he really did not know what had in fact happened that he stopped speaking. This temporary silence caused the princess to eye him suspiciously. For Alonso this was a dreadful moment. If princess Fahaida found his actions suspicious how would other people view them? If his explanation was to be as difficult as this how could he satisfactorily account for the death of Miguel Perez and the disappearance of the troop of soldiers he had so recently commanded. And what of Perez's body? What was he to do with it? Obviously it had to be buried, but where? And who was to inform Perez's family of his death?
All of these questions rushed through Alonso's mind in the moments after he stopped speaking to the princess. The more he thought about the ramifications of Perez's death the worse the predicament he was in seemed to become.
He obviously had to continue his journey to Granada as quickly as possible and impart to Boabdil the terms and conditions of King Ferdinand's agreement to the stationing of the one-thousand extra Spanish troops on the Alhambra hill. He did not know in the least what he should do or even what he could do. After some moments reflection he decided that the only thing he could do was discuss the whole problem of his seemingly unresolvable predicament with the princess. Although he was not certain that a mere woman would understand his situation in any way he felt that in any event two heads could only be better than one.
So he did his best to explain to the princess once again what had happened to Miguel Perez and himself on the ill-fated journey from Santa Fee to Granada. He also told her about his mission to her brother and of his dreadful feelings of remorse about what he was being asked to do.
When Alonso had finished retelling the events of the previous night the princess took his arm and said: "Don Alonso, I think you are going to have a great problem convincing anyone as to what actually happened during your journey last night. The truth of the matter is that you don't know what actually happened last night. Whatever did in fact happen the result is that a detachment of Spanish troops has gone missing and their commander is dead. As for your servant Rodrigo it seems reasonable to assume that he has been carried off by the missing troops and that he will be found when they are found; assuming that he is still alive that is. Obviously you have to continue your journey to Granada and have your conference with my brother as soon as possible. You needn't worry about the body of Captain Perez. The soldiers of my guard will dig a grave and bury him. Perhaps you would like to recite some Christian prayers at the funeral?". Here the princess stopped speaking and looked somewhat anxiously at Alonso as she awaited his reply.
"We can't just bury Miguel Perez anywhere. He was a Captain in the Spanish army, a Christian army. Therefore he must be buried in consecrated ground, according to the rites and usages of the Christian church and with full military honours. Whatever the circumstances of his death he died on military service and that fact must be uppermost in our minds when arranging his funeral. Before there can be any funeral for Perez I must get in touch with the military authorities. To that end it would seem to be the best course of action to return to Santa Fee taking Perez's body back with me. But before we discuss all that there are many questions I have to ask you".
The princess had kept her hand on Alonso's shoulder since she had replied to his request for her views on his present situation. Now she removed her hand and looked at him almost tenderly.
Alonso noted the look of endearment and tenderness on the princess's face. It told him quite clearly that Fahariada, Princess of Granada, sister of the last Moorish king of Granada was ready and willing for an amorous interlude. It would be the most natural thing in the world to happen but Alonso knew that it could not and must not happen. The experience of his last encounter with the princess was not lost on him. He heard the Sultana Oixya's voice echoing in his head again, gloating as she accused him of seducing her daughter in his quarters in the Ambassadorial Suite of the Alhambra. No! There could be no question of any lovemaking between Princess Faharaida and himself!
"How have you managed to travel from Granada in time of war without coming to any harm?" Alonso now asked the princess in a matter of fact voice which he hoped would extinguish for ever the look of endearment and tenderness in the princess's eyes.
"And how are you to cross over to Africa. Will it not be difficult for you to find someone to take you across the narrow sea?"
As soon as he said this he remembered the name of Ali Ben Gualid and realised with a start that he was in a position to help the princess to travel to her chosen destination. How strange that this should be so! Of course when he had told Ben Gualid that he might need his services one day he had not known that he would meet the princess in the way he had and that she would be on the way to North Africa. He reflected that the workings of providence were indeed strange and unpredictable!
The princess's face did indeed loose all traces of its former expression of tenderness as she told Alonso of how she came to be here in this farmhouse situated not far from the main road from Granada to Santa Fe.
"As I told you a few minutes ago Abu Abdullah personally released me from the tower where my mother had imprisoned me. He provided me with my military escort, such as it is, and obtained a safe-conduct from the commander of the army besieging Granada for me to travel through Spanish held territory to the coast. So far I have experienced no difficulty whatsoever. No one has molested either myself or any member of my party, neither have they attempted to do so". Here the princess stopped speaking and, smiling somewhat sadly, as if letting her thoughts take over, looked away from Alonso. It was almost exactly as the princess stopped speaking and looked away from him that Alonso began to become overwhelmed by a desperate need for sleep. It was all he could do to prevent himself from falling asleep there and then as he stood talking to the princess.
"I must sleep", he told her as he yearned so intensely that his whole body became convulsed by the intensity of his action. The princess instantly fixed her gaze on him her half secret smile replaced by a look of genuine concern as she turned round and looked directly at him again.
"Yes! Of course you must be worn out. You must go to one of the bed chambers and sleep for as long as is necessary. We can talk about what is to be done about Perez and how am I to proceed to Morocco when you awaken and feel refreshed and replenished. You had better use one of the smaller bed chambers" she said in a voice which displayed almost maternal concern as her eyes pointed the way to the staircase which led to the upper story of the house and the three bed chambers.
It was with the upmost effort of will that Alonso managed to climb the staircase, enter one of the smaller bed chambers, stretch himself out on the bed and instantly fall asleep his mind full of images of the face of the princess and the body of Miguel Perez. Sometimes the princesses's face was on the body of Perez. sometimes Perez's face was on the body of the princess.
And so he slept for almost twenty hours! When he awoke the sun was high in the sky and as far as he could judge from its position it was approximately the hour of noon. He was completely refreshed by his long sleep. His former lethargy was completely gone and his mind felt completely free.
He rose from the bed and went towards the window. He saw from it that a number of Moorish tents had been erected in the space between the farmhouse and the wood. He could see a number of the elderly, fat, unhealthy looking Moorish soldiers of the princess's bodyguard sitting round the camp fires which burned in front of the tents. Hung over the fires were cooking-pots which steamed.
In the next instant the pangs of hunger gripped his stomach like a demon. So he quickly went downstairs knowing that there would be food there. He found the princess seated in a chair at the table under the window reading. She looked up as Alonso came down the stairs "You look very much better after your long sleep", she said. "You must be very, very hungry" she went on "I will bring you some food". Saying this she went out of the door leaving Alonso alone for some minutes.
When she returned to the room some few minutes later she was accompanied by two of her Moorish ladies carrying various articles of food.
It was good food which Alonso enjoyed as he ate it at the table with the princess sitting opposite him. He reflected that it must present a scene of great domesticity as he sat there eating with the princess watching him closely.
He looked over towards her. "How did you come to be in this deserted farm house just when I arrived?" he asked her as he ate his food with great relish.
"This house is the family home of one of my ladies. Her family were forced to abandon it when you Spaniards occupied the area some years ago at the start of the seige of Granada. So it was natural for us to come here during our journey from Granada to the coast. We did not know, of course, that it was still unoccupied. It was a surprise to find that we could use it at all. It has been a godsend to us. And what of you? Has it become any clearer to you what actually happened to Captain Perez's men during your journey from Santa Fe?" she went on to ask not expecting any satisfactory explanation.
Alonso looked at her closely before replying. He supposed that he really was beginning to fall in love with this attractive, vivacious siste of the last Moorish king of Granada. He certainly knew that she was at least more than half in love with him.
He forced himself not to think of Princess Fahraida however alluring and attractive the nearness of her presence might be.
"I'm afraid I only slept I didn't think about anything" he repled to the princess's question. It wasn't strictly true of course but he couldn't tell the princess how his sleeping hours had been frll of images of her face and the body of Miguel Perez. So he sought to divert her attention from his evasive answer by questioning her. "What has been done with the body of Miguel Perez? he asked in what he hoped was a serious, official sounding voice.
"The soldiers made a coffin for him and placed him in it so that he can be taken back to Santa Fe as you said he should be. Did I do the right thing? she asked trying to put the same note of official seriousness into he voice as Alonso had forced himself to put into his.
The princess's note of seriousness din't sound very convincing. It came out as a mocking, half humorous parody of an official sounding voice which caused Alonso to hope that he had transformed his voice much more successfully than the princess.
"Yes. You certainly did the right thing about Perez's body. . . . " here he paused.
"Princess I am in a position to help you cross over the sea from Malaga to Morocco. Ali Ben Gualid, silk merchant and ship owner of Tangier is an acquaintance of mine and at my request will certainly provide passage aboard one of his ships for you and your party".
At that precise moment Alonso saw quite clearly what he must do. He would accompany the body of Perez back to Santa Fe taking the princess and her party with him. Queen Isobella would gladly receive the princess at her residence for some days or even weeks and then send her on her way to Morocco.
So it was arranged after some discussion between Alonso and the princess as to the details.
An hour later the procession, or cortège as it really was was on its way. It did not present a melancholy spectacle to those few travellers who encountered it on its journey, the garments of the princesses' ladies and the uniforms of the motley collection of Moorish soldiers of the guard being too colourful to give any impression of the sadness of death. On the whole the procession was really a jolly affair. Every member of it seemed to be in holiday mood apart that is from Alonso and the princess who did endeavour to look at least a little solemn. Perhaps it would be better to say endeavoured to remain subdued as they rode at the head of the procession on two fine looking horses. They were followed by the cart on which lay Perez's coffin. Alonso felt touched when he noticed that a wooden cross lay on top of it. That, he reflected was surely the hand of the princess, the gesture enhanced his already growing tender feelings for her. She really was a sweet, kind, thoughtful person.
The cart containing the coffin was followed by yet another cart. This one contained the princesses' Moorish ladies young and old. The bright colours of their garments and the harsh staccato sound of their loud Moorish voices as the chattered away furiously combined to give the overall impression that they were a small flock of parrots suddenly removed from their native jungle habitat. The noise was deafening and for Alonso disconcerting. It took him all his powers of forbearance not to order them to be silent to show respect for the dead but he reflected that perhaps it was right to celebrate the return of a soul to God joyfully and not with the trappings of traditional mourning so he said nothing. It was in fact the princess who was the first to speak.
"My ladies are in very high spirits today. I have told them that you are going to help us cross the sea from Malaga to Morocco and so they are happy and excited", she said as it became increasingly obvious, from the scowl on his face, that Alonso did not approve of the present conduct of the princesses' ladies.
Alonso made no reply as they rode along but he continued to scowl thereby telling the princess more forcibly than any word ever could have done that he was angry to say the least.
So they rode on as the silence between them continued.
They met no other travellers on their journey, no one else at all, that is until they were within the last mile or two of Santa Fe. In the distance they saw a troop of Spanish soldiers riding at breakneck speed along the road approaching them rapidly.
Alonso ordered his procession to halt at await the arrival of the soldiers. This order to halt immediately silenced the raucous bird-like cooing of the Moorish ladies.
Now it was the turn of the Moorish members of this strange funeral procession for a defunct Spanish captain to scowl and look apprehensive. Their mood changed almost in the twinkling of an eye from merry laughter and joility to the uttermost depths of gloom and dspair---they became totally silent.
Alonso experienced an enormous sense of relief when the troop of Spanish soldiers drew near. In their midst he saw Rodrigo mounted on one of the horses looking very pale and with his head heavily bandaged.
At a word of command from the captain the Spanish cavalry quickly formed a circle round the stationary procession. As soon as the circle was complete the Spanish commander raised his sword. His men immediately broke the circle and advanced upon the elderly men of the princesses' Moorish guard with swords drawn. In a very short space of time and without the least show of resistance from their victims the Spaniards quickly slaughtered them to a man. It was nothing more or less than a dreadful massacre carried out quickly and efficiently.
As soon as they realised what was happening the Moorish women in their cart began their traditional lamentation for the dead. Their grief was terrible in its intensity, African and animal. All the more so because of its spontaneity. Heart rending was perhaps the best way to describe the piteous cries that came out of the throats of these stranded brightly coloured parrots from the jungle. No European throat could have uttered such raucous shrieks and ululations. It was other worldly and inhuman, reptilian and repellent!
When the massacre was over the Spanish commander lowered his sword. Looking directly at the cart carrying the Moorish women he raised it again.
Alonso had been stunned to complete inaction, mesmerised by absolute horror, at the suddenness and completeness of the massacre. Now the realisation that a further massacre was about to be perpetrated on the totally innocent and of course totally unprotected inmates of the second cart of the procession unlocked his frozen senses. He raised himself on his horse and screamed out "No! No! No! Enough! Stop it. It is inhuman! Princess Fahraida meanwhile had fainted and hung limp on the back of her horse precariously balanced there seeming very likely to fall out of the saddle at any moment.
For some seconds the Spanish captain's sword remained upright in his hand.
Alonso's eyes focused oh the eyes of the captain which glowed with a strange almost inhuman intenseity. Alonso knew that this strange inhuman intensity was nothing more or less than total blood lust. He kept his eyes focused on the eyes of the captain. In the end, after what seemed like an eternity but which in fact had occupied the space of a very few moments of time the sword was lowered and the threat to the princesses' ladies removed at least for the moment.
When the threat to the Moorish ladies had passed Alonso turned his attention to the princess. She hung, dangling, from the saddle of her horse, unconscious. He gently removed her from the horse and laid her on the ground. She moaned softly as if to herself and half opened her eyes.
One of the Moorish ladies now came over from the cart carrying a large jug. She quickly dashed the water from it over the princesses' face whereupon she quickly revived and looked around her with horror-stricken eyes. When she saw the lifeless corpses of her bodyguard she swooned again and then, as if forcing herself back into full consciousness began to ululate in the same heart-rending, pitiful way her Moorish ladies had been doing since the massacre.
For Alonso it was all unnerving and frightening but at least it told him that the princess was fully conscious and knew what she was doing. This fact in itself was a great relief to him. It focused his attention, gave him something to do, took his mind off the dreadful events of a few moments ago.
After a few further moments of the strange African ululation from the throat of the princess she became totally silent. This silence was only a temporary phase. Now she burst into a fit of uncontrollable weeping which if anything, was even more pitiful than the raucous heart-rending ululations.
Alonso put his arm around the princesses' shoulders, bent down and held her close to him. His gesture did nothing to comfort her. She continued to weep her whole body racked by the convulsive sobs of total unremitting despair. She continued in this was for some more minutes and then gradually fell asleep in Alonso's arms as the convulsive sobs subsided.
Rodrigo, who had by now dismounted from his horse came over towards his master. Without a word Alonso gently laid the sleeping princess on the ground, rose and embraced Rodrigo with tears in his eyes.
The Moorish ladies also ceased their ululations and came over to attend to their mistress. Quickly they carried the sleeping princess back to the cart, laid her on a blanket and placed a pillow under her head. And so she slept quiet and peaceful at last! Her sleep, however did not last long for after a few seconds she stood up as if in a dream opened her eyes and uttered a piercing shriek. She focused her hate filled eyes upon the Spanish captain who had remained seated on his horse in a completely dazed condition. Then the princess still continuing her series of shrill, piercing shrieks got down from the cart and rushed over to where the Spaniard with the dazed look sat his horse seemingly detached from the scene of death and annihilation which surrounded him.
"Murderer. Brutal inhuman murderer", she shouted out as she struck his feet and legs with her fists. He did not respond in any way until after a few minutes of this sustained attack he raised his foot and lashed out at the princess. He was a powerful man and so the blow from his foot, restricted in its movement as it was by the stirrup, sent the princess spinning along the ground several yards. The princess groaned and lay still as the Spanish captain fixed his unseeing eyes on her inert body. Then as if suddenly returning from a far distant country of the mind he spurred his horse into movement and rode off.
Alonso rushed over towards the princess and held her in his arms. She gave a deep sigh and fell back dead!.
It was some two hours later when the funeral procession resumed its journey. This time there was one coffin and one uncoffined corpse. The princesses' body lay on the floor of the cart surrounded by a mass of wild flowers which had been lovingly gathered by her ladies. The massacred Moorish soldiers had been buried in a mass grave near to the spot where they had met their untimely end. Alonso had recited verses from the Koran over them rushed away from the graveside as soon as he had finished his funeral recitation so overcome with emotion was he. Before the mass burial he had remained cradling the princesses' body in his arms. How long he held her he had no means of knowing. He came back to reality when a thick set Spanish soldier of medium height and strikingly blue eyes gently shook his shoulder and said "Senor it is time to go".
As soon as the funeral procession reached Santa Fe Alonso was arrested and imprisoned in the cellar of the king's house. He was given food and water but the cellar was dark and it was cold. He was given no explanation as to why he had been imprisoned but as he crouched on the cold, stone floor in the total darkness his mind played all sorts of tricks on him. He knew, of course, that his close personal friendship with the King of Granada could be interpreted in many different ways. From one point of view it could seem as being anti-Spanish, anti-Christian and therefore totally suspect. On the other hand King Ferdinand had told him how advantageous it was to him that his emissary at the court of the beleaguered and doomed city of Granada was such a close friend of its monarch. As his mind filled his head with endless thoughts on the reasons for his present predicament he felt that he would probably loose his sanity very quickly. He must do what he could to prevent that at all costs. So he focused his mind on a series of mathematical problems. It seemed to work. He mentally recited all the geometrical theorems of Euclid and Pythagoras which he remembered from his schooldays. It was not a struggle to recall the theorems but it was a struggle to prevent any thoughts as to the reason for his imprisonment taking over his mind. He felt drained and powerless. If only he had light and something to read. He had no idea how long he had been in the cellar but he suddenly came back to consciousness to find Don Vincente, the King's secretary and Rodrigo standing in front of him with flaming torches the light from which hurt his eyes.
"King Ferdinand wishes to see you Don Alonso", the secretary said. "Are you able to stand? Can I help you". Saying this Don Vincente helped Alonso to his feet and led him up the stone steps out of the cellar.
It took Alonso some little time to adjust to his new found freedom but Don Vicente seemed to understand this. He led Alonso to a table on which was a large bowl of warm water together with a cake of soap and several towels. It was good to feel the water on his face and as he rubbed the soap on his hands and face Alonso felt that he was gradually returning to normality.
Rodrigo appeared. "Don Vincente suggests that you return to your quarters to bathe and change your clothes Don Alonso", he said.
Alonso paused in the act of drying his face on one the towels. "Did you go to see the Queen on my behalf?" he asked suspecting that this is what had in fact happened.
"Yes Don Alonso, I requested an audience of the Queen. At first she was reluctant to see me. It was only after a wait of several hours and many requests that Queen Isabella agreed to see me. Apparently King Ferdinand had given strict instructions that you were not to be released from the cellar under any circumstances. I explained to the Queen that you knew nothing about the disappearance of our escort during our journey from Santa Fe to Granada. She promised to speak to the King about the matter. She obviously did just that----". Rodrigo ceased speaking at this point and directed his gaze away from his master somewhat shamefacedly. Alonso said nothing further about the matter fearing that to do so would embarrass Rodrigo more than he obviously already was embarrassed. He could always thank him later.
Rodrigo led his master out of the king's house to the tent of the Duke of Granada, his temporary quarters here in Santa Fe.
An hour later Alonso, suitably refreshed and in a change of clothes again knocked at the door of the king's house. He was accompanied by Rodrigo. He felt it only right and proper that his should be so. After all but for Rodrigo he would still be languishing in the dark cellar.
They were soon in the presence of their sovereigns and immediately prostrated themselves before them as tradition demanded.
"Do get up Don Alonso. I have told you before that there is no need for any of this formality in this place", Ferdinand said, a tone of slight annoyance in his voice.
Alonso rose to his feet but Rodrigo remained prostrate on the floor as if the king's command applied only to his master and not to him. Queen Isabella immediately left her chair and walked over to Rodrigo. She raised him from the floor and bade him remain standing. He looked totally embarrassed but did as he was commanded.
As Queen Isabella walked past him on her way to Rodrigo Alonso again bowed low before the Queen. He too was raised from the floor and commanded to remain standing.
As she passed him Alonso again observed the Queen of Castille at close range. He could never think of her as the Queen of Aragon which she was of course by virtue of her marriage to Ferdinand but only as Queen of Castille. She was a graceful woman of medium height with the fair, almost white skin and red hair of most members of The House of Fastemara, no doubt inherited for their English Plantagenet ancestors as were her eyes from them between blue and green in colour from which she surveyed the world with a frank, serene, almost gay expression but there was also something in them which told of long suffering barely endured. Something about them also told whoever looked deeply into them that here was a woman who would be fanatical in her pursuit of things she felt to be right. She never drank wine only water and possessed great control over her emotions. It had even been reported that she had never ever tired out whilst enduring the pangs of childbirth. Definitely a woman of iron resolve who consulted widely on the issues confronting her, made up her mind and stuck to he decision tenaciously. The odds had been against her marrying Ferdinand and against her becoming Queen of Castille but she had achieved both her aims. Now she had applied her iron resolve to the conquest of Granada and the expulsion of the Moslems from Spain. In this resolve the Angel of Granada was driven by a devil. It was her divine mission to rid Spain of an alien presence.
When the Queen was again comfortably seated in her chair King Ferdinand began to speak:
"Don Alonso. I need to question you about the disappearance of a platoon of my men and the murder of Captain Perez their commander. I have already questioned your servant Rodrigo but he could not give me much information. What I need are hard facts about the matter. I see that you have brought Rodrigo with you. He seems to have made quite an impression on the Queen. She has interceded on your behalf and gave me no peace until I agreed to question you personally. I warn you that your explanation had better be satisfactory. As you well know I have many castles where you could think about the matter. . . " here the note of menace in Ferdinand's voice became clear and direct causing Alonso to fall on his knees again.
No! No! No! Don Alonso, not that again. Please remain standing when we meet in the privacy of this place. In future only make obeisance before me when we meet in public. I want that clearly understood. Now get up and remember always. . . " At this point the king turned his face away from Alonso and almost crouched in one side of his chair as if he were trying to hide himself away from something obnoxious and repellent. He was brought back to the reality of the present need to question Alonso by the calming hand of the queen. She lent over in her chair and gently patted her husband's shoulder. This gesture seemed to soothe him instantly. He straightened himself and resumed his questioning of Alonso by sking as he sat upright in his chair: "Tell me frankly Don Alonso who killed my captain and what happened to my men?" Here the king lent forward and gazed with fixed intensity into Alonso's eyes. Alonso felt tempted to flop on his knees again but he maintained an iron control, saw before him a damp castle dungeon and remained standing.
"Sire, as I said previously I have really no idea what happened to the soldiers of my escort and their captain during my journey from Santa Fe to Granada. I am ashamed to say that I fell asleep and therefore did not see what happened. I regret that there is nothing else I can add sire. I feel totally inadequate and stupid but there it is". He stopped speaking and tried to look away from the king's gaze. The king's eyes held him captive. He was held fast, mesmerised by the intensity of this gaze which penetrated not just into the innermost recesses of his brain but into the innermost depths of his soul. The gaze seemed to proclaim its message, its purpose, into Alonso's ears with all the intensity of the drum calling its devotees to a voodoo ceremony in the Brazilian jungle.
"I need the truth and I will have it" thundered out over and over again until it seemed to Alonso that it had become one with, had taken over, his very heart beat. He wanted to swoon, to escape into unconsciousness, to escape this all pervading, all consuming gaze but he dare not.
Alonso remained locked in this all seeing, all penetrating gaze for some timeless seconds. Then King Ferdinand sighed deeply saying as he did so: "You really don't know what happened do you Don Alonso". To which Alonso replied: "No I do not sire". I only wish that I did know what happened during that journey. On the other hand I can never forget what happened during my return journey. The massacre of the Moors and the death of the Princess Faraida is something that will be with me for the rest of my life----".
"Don Alonso it would be better for you to forget that which you say you can never forget and remember that which you say you cannot remember" the king said as he held up his hand and stopped Alonso from saying anything further. You will return to The Alhambra in the morning. You will return with the exta thousand men Boabdil requested. Now you may retire". With this the king dismissed him from his presence.
So it was that Alonso found himself riding next to Captain Pedro Montizo the next morning at the head of exactly one thousand Spanish soldiers bound for The Alhambra in Granada. They arrived in Granada without incident but found that they could not complete their journey. The way to The Alhambra was barred to them. A battle was in progress.
For the time it was a very new sort of battle, an artillery battle in fact, one of the very first such battles to take place in Western Europe. To tell the truth it was a sort of precursor of an artillery battle. Some thirty cannon were lined up in front of that section of the wall that was built to protect the Al-Cazaba, the fortress section of The Alhambra.
The noise was deafening so much so that Alonso found it almost impossible to control his hors. Added to the deafening noise of all the exploding missiles from the cannon were the blood-curdling yells and curses from both Spaniards and the Moors. the former calling upon their God and Santiago to smite their assembled enemy and the latter calling upon Allah and The Prophet to annihilate the attacking Christians. There was absolutely no way that the extra one thousand Spanish soldiers could enter The Alhambra. And if they could do so on which side would they fight?
Alonso quickly realised that as far as the newly arrived Spanish soldiers were concerned the matter could not be put to the test but he did wonder what was happening to the Spaniards who were already encamped within the grounds of The Alhambra.
The cannonade didn't seem to be making much of an impression on the enclosing wall. In fact the most impressive and frightening aspect of this new type of encounter between the Christians and the Moors seemed to be the bloo-curdling yells and shrieks.
"There's nothing we can do here". Captain Montijo said to Alonso as he steadied his horse. "The whole position is terribly ambiguous. If we could enter The Alhambra what are we supposed to do? Sit there and be shelled by our companions-in-arms? I could not expose my men to such
danger nor should I be expected to understand the intricate workings of diplomacy. Don Alonso you are the diplomat here. Perhaps you can tell me what exactly we should do now?"
Alonso did not reply immdeiately to the good captain's question. Instea he fought to maintain control of his horse which whinnied with the sound of every echoing salvo from the mouths of the massed cannon.
When his mount was finally under control which event coincided with a lull in the cannonade Alonso made reply to Captain Montijo.
"Diplomacy or no diplomacy there is no point in staying here exposing ourselves and the men to needless risk. We are better to return down to Granada and some distance along the road we travelled from Santa Fe. At least there we will be safe. He regretted the words as soon as he had uttered them. They came out in a downright sarcastic way which he had not really intended. He felt that if he were Captain Montijo he would feel mortally offended. The thought crossed his mind that Captain Montijo might challenge him to a duel for insolence by the captain fortunately did no such thing much to Alonso's great relief. Indeed, the good captain seemed to find no slight, real or imaginary in Alons's words.
"Exactly what I was going to suggest myself" he said as he started to give the necessary orders and commands to his subordinates.
Captain Montijo's thousand Spanish soldiers were exposed to great danger during the next few minutes whilst they manoeuvred themselves into the necessary formations without which they could not commence their retreat from the battle zone. When they were in position Captain Montijo breathed a great sigh of relief. His men had been exposed to a great deal of unnecessary risk. He would not feel easy in his mind until both he and his men were well away from this accursed Alhambra Palace. A beautiful place without a doubt but from a military and strategic point of view an absolute death trap. They commenced their descent along the great processional way and were soon in the city. Once there they met up with a group of artillery men who were supervising the transport of another batch of cannons up to The Alhambra. It was quite a vast concourse of men and horses and their commander who engaged himself in conversation with Captain Montijo suggested to him that he and his men should encamp in the spot he and his men had recently vacated along the Santa Fe road.
This seemed like a good idea but it took some little time to accomplish so that night was well established by the time the last tent was erected and the last sodier safely ensconced in it.
Captain Montijo had invited Alonso to share his tent and Alonso felt happy to do so.
Once inside the tent Montijo introduce himself to Alonso. He told him that his Christian name was Bernardo and that he came from Medina del Campo in Castilla la Vieja where his father was one of the leading merchants.
Alonso thought it rather strange that a captain in the army besieging Granada could be the son of a merchant but he knew that both King Fedinand and Queen Isabella were anxious to encourage the promotion of talent wherever it was to be found so he presumed that Bernardo Montijo's case was an example of such promotion.
Montijo was a very pleasant fellow who soon told Alonso of his concerns for his men and about the incompetent way in which he considered the present war was being conducted.
"The contractors supplying the army with its food and weapons are making fortunes out of the protracted misery of the men. And look at the way the Granadees are spending money, squandering their estates vying with one another in the splendour of their garments and lavishness of their nightly entertainments in the royal camp at Santa Fe. It is a scandal. Queen Isabella, the men call her "The Angel of Granada" you know, is trying to set the opposite example. She lives simply, wears the plainest of clothes and has sold her jewels. The men love her for it. They know that she is the inspiration behind the present campaign to drive tout the Moselms from Spain. They revere her and regard her as a saint. I am a simple soldier. I obey orders but sometimes those orders are not clear cut, are to say the least ambiguous. Take today's case. Another thousand Spanish troops for our garrison in The Alhambra. Fine! but to do what? I despair yet I must obey my political masters. Tell me Don Alonso you are reported to be a personal friend of the Moorish king. Is he the monster they tell us he is? Or is he just doing his job like the rest of us? We all seem to be caught up in things beyond our control. . .!"
"I do know the King of Granada quite well. He and I are friends. I can assure you that he feels that it is his duty to defend this last outpost of his religion in Western Europe to the death. He knows that his position is hopeless, that he cannot win. He understands his position perfectly. He is in personal despair and knows that King Ferdinand is playing with Granada like a cat playing with a mouse. In particular he has told me how bitter he feels the fact that men from all over Christendom have flocked to King Ferdinand's banner whilst no one from the Moslem world has volunteered to help defend this last outpost of Allah in the west. He knows that his people despise him. He feels betrayed by King Ferdinand who was his friend and rejected by his people who do not understand his position. I sympathise with him a great deal. He is really in an unenviable position. I feel that I am in a similar unenviable position. Alright I am King Ferdinand's accredited ambassador at The Court of The King of Granada and therefore cannot personally be held responsible for the fate of Granada and its king but I feel that for me to carry out my task properly I must betray either my friend or my king or most probably must betray both. It is not an easy situation". Alonso replied to Montijo's question. He stopped speaking and began wondering whether he had in fact said too much to the wrong person. On reflection he decided that he hadn't in fact said the wrong thing to the wrong person.
There was not much time for further conversation between Alonso and Montijo the latter had already prepared himself for sleep and stretched himself out on his camp bed.
Alonso's last thought before he too fell asleep was to make a very unfavourable comparison between his present surroundings and the absolute luxury of the tent which was his temporary home in Granada.
The next morning saw the newly arrived one thousand extra Spanish troops on the march if not quite at first light very soon after it.
Alonso had slept but he couln't say that he had slept well. The sounds of the recently observed artillery battle seeme to permeate his sleeping hours. Strangely enough it was not the sound of the exploding shells which filled his mind but the blood curdling yells fromth warring Arabs and Christians. Particularly was this true of the Arabic curses and anathemas. They resonated round his sleeping mind over and over again until it seemed that there were no other words in the Arabic language. This state of affairs did not made for a comfortable night.
He hoped that he had not disturbed Bernardo Montijo during the night but concluded that the balance of probability was that he had done so.
Montijo was not in the tent when Alonso washed and dressed. He returned soon afterwards and informed Alonso that the way to The Alhambra was clear and that they could now complete the final leg of their journey.
"I posted sentries outside King Boabdil's Palace during the night. One of them returned here at dawn to say that there was to be no bombardment this morning so we can now proceed to the end of our journey. I must say that I do so with strange feelings of foreboding", he told Alonso in a subdued, sad sounding voice which was quite a contrast from his mood of yesterday evening. Now he seemed something else which Alonso couldn't quite place. Nevertheless he welcomed the fact that they could now proceed to their journey's end.
After it became obvious that it would not be long before Alonso would be able to talk again to his friend, the king of Granada he began to wonder just what he would say to him. He had to tell him, of course,of the death of his sister, Princess Farhaida and of her burial in a Moslem cemetery near Santa Fe. He had not been present at that funeral having been a prisoner in the cellar of the king's house at the time but he had since been to pray at the grave. He began to speculate as to how he would find Boabdil. It was obvious that he would be more gloomy and despondent than ever but Alonso sincerely hoped that the king would be easier in his mind. In the event when Alonso actually met him later that day Boabdil was surprisingly cheerful.
"I have bad news for you your majesty", he said as he bowed low before the king. "Your sister Fahraida is dead sire".
Boabdil was visibly shaken at Alonso's news. Within seconds his face turned ashen grey and he looked twenty years older. Nonetheless he endeavoured to control himself.
"I must go to the mosque to pray. Will you come with me Don Alonso?", Boabdil said to Alonso.
As they walked to The Alhambra mosque Alonso told the king a little of the circumstances of his sister's death. The story didn't lose any of its tragic circumstances in the telling in fact the tragedy seemed to become bleaker and starker as Alonso told his friend of his sister's untimely end.
Now Boabdil did shed tears for his sister, tears that flowed freely down his cheeks but by the time they entered the mosque he had largely recovered his composure again.
The Alhambra Mosque was small but resplendent with much silver and gold. It was decorated in the traditional Islamic way with quotations from the Koran fixed on the walls in plaster serving as a frieze. In no way did it compare in size or beauty with the great Central Mosque of Cordoba which Alonso had visited several times. That was a great building designed for mass public worship. This was almost a miniature mosque more like a domestic chapel for the private devotions of the royal family.
As soon as he entered the mosque Boabdil was again overcome by intense grief. He fell to his knees in front of The Marhab as the tears flowed freely from his eyes. For several minutes he let his grief take its natural course without the slightest attempt at restraint.
Alonso also fell to his knees but in the Catholic manner. He crossed himself and silently repeated the Latin prayers for the dead. Then he stood upright and waited until Boabdil finished his prayers and joined him in an upright position. As he did so he said in a voice breaking with emotion:
"She was so young, so full of life, far too young to die but obviously this is Allah's will. It is hard but I must accept it. My mother will be devastated. I thought that I was sending her away to peace and freedom. Instead I seem to have sent her to an early death at the hands of an inhuman butcher. . . . " Here he stopped speaking as his tears flowed freely again.
Alonso could do nothing but watch as his friend gave vent to his intense grief. He would have liked to offer some word of support, some consolation but there was nothing he could do. There was no way he could tell the King of Granada that he too was feeling grief stricken and desolate at the loss of someone he had held dear. He hoped that one day he would be able to tell Boabdil of his love for his sister feeling and hoping that grief shared could be a grief halved.
He went out of the mosque leaving the king on his knees in front of the Mahab. Outside it was almost dusk and the snow on the high sierra was glowing intensely red as the rays of the setting sun struck it and transformed it from gleaming white to glowing pink. Somehow this wonderful sight made him feel for Boabdil all the more. Of course he was also feeling sorry for himself. He realised now, too late of course, that he had been truly in love with Princess Fahraida. He wondered if such love would ever come again.
Boabdil soon joined Alonso outside the Mosque. He looked more composed, more like his normal self. For some moments neither of them spoke as they watched the glorious display of colour on the snow of the high sierra as the rays of the setting sun continued to transform the gleaming white to glowing pink and red. It was heavenly.
At length Boabdil spoke. "I know now that Allah has called Fahiaida to him. It is our loss but God's gain. Who are we to question the Almighty's will. She is at peace and safe in God's presence. We should rejoice that she has gone home to God. I don't feel sad any more but I feel a great sense of loss. I will always miss Fahraida my sister. . . ."
By this time the last rays of the sun had faded and the snow on the summits of the high peaks had ceased to glow. It was dark.
Boabdil bade Alonso good night and wished him a good night's sleep. He then returned to his living quarters leaving Alonso to do the same.
As he returned to The Ambassadorial Suite Alonso reflected on the momentous events of the last few days.
He was back in The Alhambra but everything had changed. Fate, God, call it what you will had intervened dramatically but at least The Alhambra with its man-made beauty and the eternal mountains remained. Tomorrow was another day.
Immediately the welcoming reception ceremony for Ambassador Alonso de Gurrea and the official Spanish party in the Hall of the Ambassadors in The Alhambra was over Bishop Diego Alvarez accompanied Rashid Ben Ali, Boabdil's secretary, to his private office. These two were to conduct and conclude the negotiations which would lead to the surrender of Granada by the moslems to the Spaniards. Both of them knew that this surrender was inevitable. It was simply a question of when and how.
Diego Alvarez, former confessor of the queen was considered one of the most astute and able of the Spanish bishops. A tall man of athletic build and imposing stature he was also reputed to have a deeply ingrained streak of cruelty which occasionally came to dominate his relations with his fellow bishops and above all with his relations with the moslem community of Spain. A fluent speaker of the arabic tongue and master of most languages of western Europe he was still regarded as cruel, arrogant and uncompromising. He was felt to be as fanatical in his fierce catholicism as the Queen herself. With Bishop Alvarez conducting the negotiations there would be no compromise with the moslems of Granada. It was to be surrender on Spanish terms. There were also many rumours of numerous sexual scandals involving the bishop. To date none of these had been proved. Nevertheless the rumours persisted and grew.
Alvarez, forty-five years old and a native of Badajoz in Extremadura, loved what he had seen of The Alhambra. He felt that this supremely beautiful place was much too good to be in the hands of moslems. He knew of course just what Islam had contributed to the culture of Spain but he either couldn't or wouldn't admit it! Now, as he accompanied Rashid Ben Ali and his assistants to his private office he sighed with deep inward content but also deep inward discontent as the passed through some of the most stunningly beautiful quarters of the Alhambra. Few people had ever seen these (hauntingly?) beautiful courtyards with their slender, elegant columns, or heard the sonorous, seductive splash of the fountains or smelt this soothingly scent of the myrtle and oleanders which grew in such lavish profusion everywhere. If it was true that the Moors had set out to build and earthly paradise here on top of the Alhambra Hill in Granada then surely they had succeeded to perfection. This was paradise! At the moment it was a moslem paradise but he Diego Alvarez would make certain that soon the Alhambra would be not a moslem paradise but a Christian Paradise which should be the dwelling place of the risen Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever Amen. Here the bishop crossed himself fervently and almost salivated as his senses reeled at the great beauty all around him.
There were to be twelve Spanish negotiators at this first session and Alvarez was wondering just what the other eleven Spanish negotiators would find to do. May be it would be best to appoint a number of Commissions each of which would deal with a specific issue. If they could agree on eleven different subjects each worthy of a Commission then they would be kept fully occupied. His subordinates were not however, the great thorn in the side of his flesh. That position of honour if not of actual dishonour was reserved for Ambassador Alonso de Gurrea, almost a mere boy as far as Bishop Alvarez was concerned. In addition to which Gurrea had not the slightest experience in diplomacy or politics. He could almost foam at the mouth when he thought, as he did often, of this young upstart from Valencia who had supplanted him. He Diego Alvrez, Bishop of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, quite likely a future Cardinal, a Prince of the Church, had been passed over in favour of----oh! it didn't bear thinking about. If it had been an appropriate time and place he would have fallen on his knees and prayed earnestly that God might remove Alonso de Gurrea from the scene by and means possible.
Since there was no opportunity of praying to God to remove Alonso de Guerrea from the living world Bishop Alvarez fumed inwardly. He knew that he was in danger of exploding into a display of mindless, murderous violence and knew that he should not allow such an explosion of violence to occur. He had already committed a mortal sin that day. He had allowed his feelings to carry him away when that stupid idiotic monk had dropped the bible he had been carrying. Fancy dropping the work of God which had been solemnly entrusted into his care into the roadway, into the common dust. Just fancy the word of God in the dust! The stupid man deserved to die but all the same it was fortunate that Pedro, his nephew, had been there to arrange matters so that no blame could attach to he the bishop.
They were now approaching Rashid Ben Alis private office. Rashid himself stood to one side and bade the party enter.
It was a spacious, gracious chamber into which they had entered, decorated in the style of the rest of The Alhambra. Some two dozen clerks were seated at tables copying documents or adding up long columns of figures. However, this chamber was not to be the venue for this first negotiating session of the talks; that honour was reserved for yet another chamber which led off the first. This room was superbly decorated. Alvarez gasped with amazement when he entered it. It was exquisite. From the forest of ceramic stalactites that hung from the ceiling in the centre of the room to the life-like perfection of the painted pomegranets that formed the frieze that ran round the wall the room was perfection. As for the tile-work of the floor---Alvarez nearly fainted with delight as his eyes wandered from the ceiling to the floor and back again. How could he keep his mind on the business in hand with such perfection all around him. But of course he must be on his guard! These Moors were wily enough to use this sensuous beauty as a negotiating tool. They would know instinctively that his senses were reeling with all the beauty he was exposed to. They would use his consequent vulnerability to extract concessions in there favour from him. He must not allow that to happen under any circumstances. The moslems were to surrender Granada and with it western Europe to Christendom on terms most favourable to the Catholics. Concessions might be necessary during the negotiations---they could always be repudiated later.
Rashid Ben Ali was introducing the Spanish negotiators to their Moorish counterparts as they entered this wonderful chamber with its incomparable ceiling and almost miraculous tiled floor.
As soon as he entered the negotiating chamber, wonderful as it was Bishop Alvarez felt a great sense of superiority sweep over him. How infinitely superior in every was were the catholic Spaniards to moslem Moors. He felt this superiority in every possible way. It was an undisputed fact and could not be doubted.
Ben Ali led him to a long table along which a number of comfortable chairs were placed but he and Boabdil's secretary were not to sit there. They were to sit at a small table on a dias raised up in front of the longer table.
When all the negotiators were seated at the table Rashid Ben Ali began the proceedings. He spoke in arabic and asked the question: "In which language should these negotiations be conducted?"
Bishop Alvarez rose to his feet and speaking in Spanish said forcefully: "Before we do anything we should ask God's blessing on our deliberations".
There were murmurs of assent to the bishop's proposal and Rashid and the other Moorish negotiators immediately rose from their chair. They turned towards Mecca as their tradition demanded and prostrated themselves on the wonderful tiled floor.
"God of our fathers grant us thy blessing upon these our deliberations so that we may come to wise and just decisions. In the name of the father, the son and the holy ghost. Amen". The Bishop intoned in Latin which sounded majestic and sonorous as his Grace's deep voice echoed round the room.
One of the Moorish negotiators, a moslem cleric intoned a similar sort of prayer in Arabic, of course, calling upon Allah to enable his negotiators to come to equally wise and just decisions. All present knew that the Spaniards had the upper hand and could obviously inflict any terms they felt necessary on the city of Granada and its doomed king.
Bishop Alvarez hadn't liked the fact that there had just vbeen an islamic prayer in Arabic invoking Allah's blessing on these proceedings. His prayer in Latin, the sacred language of the Catholics, had been intended to show that the Christians and their God had vanquished the moslems and their God. He felt that in some measure, however small, this recent prayer in Arabic diminished the Christian victory, reduced the feelings of superiority and triumphalism he felt. He inwardly resolved to be on his guard against any such future occurrences. The Christians must experience their innate superiority and benefit from the completeness of their victory to the full.
As soon as all the negotiators were once again seated in their chairs Rashid Ben Ali again asked the question: "In which language are we to conduct these negotiations.
Alvarez, being the senior Spanish negotiator at once made an impassioned plea for the use of Spanish only as the language of the negotiations. Surprisingly, in this he was challenged by Frey Bartholemes, a Benedictine monk, who had been personally appointed to the negotiations by Queen Isabella and charged with representing the interest, material and spiritual of thhe ordinary people of Granada. Frey Bartholemes, a Catalan, lean and gaunt of face from much fasting was equally of the impassioned opinion that, Arabic, the language of the ordinary people of Granada should be given equal weight with Spanish as the language of the negotiations.
In the end, after some discussion and to Bishop Alvarez's great annoyance this is what was decided.
Here it was gain Alvarez thought. The Moslems were gaining concessions. Spanish, the language of the victors of Granada should have been the only language of these negotiations.
The Spaniards, their new found national identity forged here in the crucible of this long dramatic siege of Granada should have insisted that the Spanish language also gained a victory over the Arabic tongue. However, Frey Bartolemeo didn't seem to realise the enormity of what he had done. Again, he, Bishop Diego Alvarez felt frustrated and angry. He must try very hard to have this Frey Bartolemeo, Benedictinee monk, removed from his position as negotiator here in the Alhambra and certainly must prevent his appointment to any position of authority within Granada once the city surrendered ant the war was over.
Bishop Alvarez also resented the fact that Rashid Ben Ali had taken charge of the proceedings. Again he felt that he, the senior Spanish negotiator should have been in charge and should certainly decide the order of priority of the items on the agenda to be discussed. Alright, Ben Ali had raised the language issue and it had been decided that Spanish and Arabic should have equal status as the languages in which these negotiations should be conducted but that is as far as the bishop was prepared to go. The bishop rose in his place saying as he did so: "Let us proceed at once to our discussion of just what the terms and conditions of the surrender of Granada are to be" In point of fact as he well knew there was to be no discussion of any terms and conditions, or at any rate not if the bishop could avoid any such discussion. Ben Ali also rose to his feet. "As far as my master, the king of Granada is concerned there is to be one overriding consideration governing all our deliberations. I am instructed to request a written guarantee that every inhabitant of the city of Granada and of the Kingdom of Granada will be allowed to practice his or her religion in full freedom. Without such a written guarantee my master will not enter into any negotiations leading to the surrender of the city. On my masters strict instructions I am to insist that his request for such a written guarantee be placed at the head of the record of these proceedings---". Bishop Alvarez rose to his feet at once before Ben Ali had time to say anything further. "May I point out that King Ferdinand has already given a written guarantee that the people of Granada are to have full freedom of worship when the city surrenders. They are to retain an absolute right to worship their God in their own traditional moslem way. Therefore there is no need for any further written guarantee", he said, not even attempting to disguise the obvious note of annoyance in his voice.
Ben Ali countered at once by saying: "That may be so but nevertheless my master the King of Granada requires a written guarantee that the people of Granada are to have full freedom of worship to be placed at the head of the record of these proceedings. I repeat that without such a record being placed at the head of the record of these proceedings I am instructed to withdraw from these proceedings and return to my master at once". Saying this Ben Ali sat down.
Everyone in the room, Moor and Spaniard now looked towards Bishop Alvarez who was still on his feet, his face twitching with rage. It was all he could do to prevent himself screaming out with anger. Again he felt humiliated and exposed.
Bishop Alvarez sat down feeling that it was better to sit rather than remain standing with every eye in the room on him. The act of sitting down did not however diminish his anger in any way. If anything it increased it. How dare these defeated moslems humiliate him in this blatant, demeaning way. His anger increased to breaking point when Frey Bartolemeo rose in his place. Speaking in Arabic and with the sound of sweet reasonableness in his voice he said: "This seems a perfectly reasonable request from our moslem brethren. I cannot see any objection to it". There were murmurs of assent from all the assembled negotiators causing Alvarez to almost explode and choke as he tried to suppress any facial emotions he felt that he must certainly be expressing. Then he glared at the monk with absolute hatred in his eyes. Alvarez kept his eyes on the Benedictine knowing that there was nowhere else that he could turn them. He sincerely hoped that he in his turn would realise what the bishop was feeling at the present time. He also reflected that the monk had probably been given instructions to report back on the proceedings to the queen and that therefore he should not display any outward signs of anger. Again he felt hemmed in, circumscribed on all sides. His head was spinning and he could not think of anything but his absolute and utter rage. He could not endure any more. He must get out of this room and away from its humiliating atmosphere. So he rose in his place and speaking forcefully said: "I feel that we should end this first session of our deliberations at this point". This was agreed to and the delegates very quickly left the chamber. Alvarez was the last to do so and Rashid Ben Ali joined him at the door. "My lord bishop. I will accompany you back to your quarters if that is acceptable to you". Saying this he bowed low.
"Yes! Of Course" the bishop said as he allowed Ben Ali to lead the way. That way led back through the wonderful gardens and past the splashing fountains and this seemed to soothe the bishop somewhat although he still felt that he would never forget, never forgive, the humiliation he had suffered.
It was only when he was back in his own bed chamber that he again felt like his old self. His sleep was punctuated by images of Frey Bartolomeo and Ambassador Alonso de Gurrea as devils complete with tails and horns. He did not sleep well.
At the next negotiating session Bishop Alvarez felt much better about everything. He made certain that he had the upper hand from the moment the proceedings opened. This time it seemed to work. He didn't even feel the slightest twinge of annoyance when Rashid Ben Ali raised the question of what Boabdil's status was to be once he had surrendered Granada. (It had already been agreed that he was to be the king of the Alfrujargos, an impoverished mountainous region between Granada and the sea where he would receive a large annual subsidy from King Ferdinand).
On reflection Bishop Alvarez felt it rather strange that this further raising of the issue of the status of the King of Granada after his surrender to the Spaniards didn't trouble him. It should have troubled him. That was exactly what the raising of the issue was designed to do. By good luck, or design, he wasn't sure which, the nonchalant way in which he listened to Ben Ali's flowery Arabic oration with surprising pleasure startled him somewhat. Had he really learnt to control his emotions or was it merely that he fully understood that all these flowing Arabic words were just being uttered as a delaying tactic? It all added to the comforting feeling that he was completely in charge of the situation and understood perfectly well what was going on.
The various Commissions had been established and this had facilitated the proceedings. It meant that all the mundane matters appertaining to every issue had already been discussed and decided upon before the main outline of any agreement was considered. The idea of the Commissions had been the bishop's and the fact that the proposal had been accepted and adopted had also contributed to his feeling of general wellbeing and ascendancy. Much progress had been made in the negotiations and Alvarez now felt that he needed to report this progress if not to King Ferdinand personally then at least to Ambassador Alonso de Gurrea. To this end he requested a meeting with de Gurrea for the following morning.
The two met in Alonso's quarters in the Ambassadorial suite. Alvarez felt more content with the world than ever that morning. There was a slight chill in the air as he walked from his quarters to the Ambassadorial suite. There had been a fresh fall of snow on the summits of the high sierras during the night and they now gleamed and sparkled as the morning sun caught them in its rays. Again, he felt almost mesmerised by the splash of the fountains and the scent from the trees and shrubs.
However, when he did actually meet Alonso de Gurrea he felt his old hatred of him return. He had to fight hard to prevent himself from exploding with fury and annoyance when he was actually face to face with him. There was something in De Gurreas's manner that set his teeth on edge and caused his nerve-ends to jangle. Perhaps it was the fact that de Gurrea had been born into wealth and power and therefore wore that power and wealth with an ease that bordered on nonchalant arrogance whereas he Diego Alvarez had had to struggle every inch of the way in his rise to the top. What could de Gurrea know of that struggle? Of how Diego Alvarez born the youngest child of a family of thirteen from an impoverished village which struggled to survive in the sunbaked, stony countryside of Extramdura had begged the local priest to teach him Latin at an early age. He had learnt easily and had soon absorbed all that Father Gonzalez could impart to him. Then it was a question of being sent away to school. He had gone to a seminary in Cuidad Real in La Mancha. From there the next step had been to the University of Salamanca. Once in Salamanca he had excelled in every subject and was soon being spoken of as a future bishop. There was just one cloud on the horizon---his insatiable appetite for women. He needed women as a desert needs rain, with an intensity that grew and grew and did not diminish with the passage of the years. Matters had been so arranged that women of easy virtue had always been made available to him. In this respect the rumours concerning the bishop and the opposite sex did not lie. If anything they minimised and diminished that involvement.
The wonder was that Queen Isabella with her puritanical high moral attitude to the sexual misdemeanours of her immediate entourage and who had certainly heard the rumours concerning the bishop retained him as a confessor.
All of the pain of his long, hard struggle seemed to return to Diego Alvarez's mind whenever he had to meet or contact Alonso de Gurrea. There was definitely something in De Gurrea's manner that set the bishop's teeth on edge and caused his nerve-ends to jangle.
So the bishop had to fight manfully to prevent himself from exploding with fury now that he was in De Gurrea's presence.
He very skilfully outlined to De Gurrea just what progress had been made in the negotiations and just what stage they were at taking care to emphasise his great annoyance with Frey Bartolemeo as he did so.
"But Frey Bartolomeo has been appointed to the negotiations by the Queen herself has he not Your Grace?" Alonso said in reply. "Yes, that is correct Don Alonso but I would like him removed and certainly intend to block any appointment he might obtain once Granada has surrendered. Could you not prevail upon King Ferdinand to remove him and send him to some remote monastery somewhere?"
Alonso remained silent until the bishop said: "Is there anything you can do to have Frey Bartolomeo removed from the negotiations Don Alonso?" There was such a hint of pleading in Alvarez's tone that Alonso felt obliged to reply.
"All I can suggest my Lord Bishop is that you ask the Queen herself next time you are in Santa Fe. You can tell her of your annoyance with him and make your request for his removal to her personally. That seems to me to be the best course of action you could take". Having said this Alonso hoped that the bishop would let the matter drop and proceed to a discussion of some of other aspect of the negotiations.
The bishop however, had other ideas. "I was hoping that you would discuss the matter with King Ferdinand who then might be able to persuade the Queen to recall this troublesome monk permanently to Santa Fe. . . . ."
"Frey Bartolomeo might not be considered a troublesome monk by everybody my Lord Bishop", Alonso could not resist saying. He knew very well that he, Alonso de Gurrea was a thorn in the bishop's flesh and always felt compelled, driven, to thrust that thorn deeper into the bishop's flesh whenever opportunity presented itself. Now was just such an opportunity and he intended to take full advantage of it. "What exactly has Frey Bartolomeo done to arouse such displeasure in you my Lord Bishop? Let us try to examine the matter logically if we can. (Alonso deliberately put an accentuated note of sarcasm into his voice at this point knowing full well that this would drive the bishop to even greater fury). All he has done is propose that the Arabic tongue be given equal status with Spanish as a language of negotiation during the present series of discussions. Is that sufficient reason to warrant his removal and permanent recall to Santa Fe my Lord Bishop? I think not and the fact that Frey Bartolomeo's proposal was adopted seems to prove that he had judged the mood of his fellow negotiators correctly. Wouldn't you say so?" (These last words were said in an even more sarcastic tone of voice and would certainly almost drive the bishop out of his mind with anger!).
Alvarez was much more than angry by this time. He was almost at breaking point. His face had turned a purply red in colour and he was sweating profusely. Almost without realising he was doing so he picked up a large ivory crucifix from off the desk at which he was sitting opposite Alonso. He was about to strike Alonso with it when Rodrigo entered the room. He bowed low before the bishop and then before Alonso and said:
'Don Alonso, the King is here. He wishes to speak with you urgently.'
Alvarez clutched the crucifix to his side trying to hide it but it was impossible to do so.
It was now Alonso's turn to redden and become ill at ease. He realised what a narrow escape he had had. But for Rodrigo's timely entry he would probably be lying dead on the carpeted floor under his desk. He resolved there and then never to taunt the bishop again.
The bishop meanwhile was left holding the heavy ivory crucifix in his hand. There was only one thing to do. He held it in front of himself as he rose from his chair and very reverently kissed the figure of the suffering Christ with his lips.
Alonso rose in his place.
The Bishop, after kissing the figure of Christ on the crucifix laid it down on the desk and performed his obeisance to the King of Granada.
"Good morning my Lord Bishop. Good Morning Don Alonso. I need to speak with you urgently. It is extremely fortuitous that you are here with Don Alonso my Lord Bishop. It is a religious matter I wish to speak about. I have received a report that three of my people have been forced to kiss a crucifix by a group of Spanish soldiers. Their lives were threatened and they were given no option but to do what was requested of them. This seems to me to be a deliberate flouting of the agreement that my people were to have complete religious freedom. . . . "
The bishop's face had reddened again and it was bathed in sweat. He longed to mop his brow but there was no way he could do so as he rose to his feet. He had noticed the intense look of disgust on Boabdil's face as he venerated the crucifix with his lips. It was somewhat ironic to say the least that the King of Granada was complaining that two of his erstwhile subjects had been forced to do a similar thing at sword point. Alonso was still standing in front of his desk. He had learnt not to make any special mark of respect whenever his friend the King of Granada appeared. "I am glad that you have reported this incident to me your majesty", he said to Boabdil, "I will certainly report it to the commander of the army. On the face of it it would seem to ge a breach of the agreement made between our two armies to respect the religious rights of our respective peoples. It certainly needs investigating and I will certainly make certain that happens", Alonso said to the king.
"Thank you Don Alonso. I would much appreciate your help", the king replied to Alonso, then turning to Bishop Alvarez he continued by saying: "My Lord Bishop you may rise. There is no need for any of this formality when we meet privately here in Don Alonso's quarters. In a public place it is different but it is not necessary here".
Alvarez rose to his feet but it was very obvious that he felt ill at ease and would have preferred to have remained on his knees before the King of Granada. He looked very uncomfortable. He looked closely at Boabdil, Boabdil el Chico, Boabdil the boy or the young as he and the rest of the Spaniards called him. The King of Granada did in truth look much younger than his years thereby justifying his title but it was obvious that he was under strain. There was about him a slightly haunted look, a look of heaviness about the eyes as if he was suffering from lack of sleep or as if his sleep was troubled in some way. The bishop, a man not given to feeling much sympathy for others despite his high position in the church felt a twinge of sympathy for this last King of Granada. The bishop's twinge of sympathy did not last long however. He quickly reminded himself that Boabdil was his enemy, the enemy of his religion, the enemy of his church and therefore the personification of all evil. Yet the bishop felt that Boabdil personally was not an evil man. But it was his duty as a Christian, as a bishop of the Holy Roman Catholic Church to regard him as evil. He meant to do so mightily!
The bishop began to realise that Boabdil wished to speak with Alonso de Gurrea privately so at a suitable opportunity he begged Boabdil to allow him to leave his presence and return to his private quarters. Boabdil readily agreed to the bishop's request and as soon as the bishop had left the room said to Alonso with obvious revulsion in his voice: "I find that practice of kissing the figure of the suffering Christ on the crucifix revolting. It is repugnant to me that you Christians have graven images of Christ anyway contrary to the injunction in the Bible that you should have no such images. But to actually venerate such a graven image with the lips leaves me feeling physically sick".
The King obviously expected some sort of reply from Alonso. He, however, played safe by saying: "As I have told you before Sire, I am no theologian and therefore cannot comment".
The King made no further reference to the matter which greatly relieved Alonso. He did however, tell Alonso why he had come to see him.
"Don Alonso, I have come to ask you if you would honour my family and I by coming to sing for us in my private quarters this evening at sunset. I am feeling weary and to hear you sing and perform on the lute would be the perfect antidote to my utter weariness".
Alonso did at this point disregard Boabdil's insistence that he should not perform any sort of obeisance before him in private. He came from behind his desk where he had remained standing and half prostrated himself before the King.
"As always I will be honoured to perform for your majesty", he said and then quickly raised himself to his full upright height.
"Very well then Don Alonso I will expect you in my private quarters at sunset", the king replied. He then turned and left the room.
When Bishop Alvarez left Alonso de Gurrea's private quarters after he had realised that the King of Granada wished to speak to his friend privately he did not return to his own private quarters immediately.
There were to be no negotiations that day so he was free to follow his own private pursuits. It was, in fact, a holiday and he felt that he owed it to himself to spend his free day doing something he would not normally do.
It was a lovely day. A day of cloudless blue sky and brilliant sunshine. True it was winter and given the height of the hill on which the Alhambra Palace was built it was chilly. There was almost always a breeze blowing at this height. Indeed this was one of the reasons why the palace was built at this height although Boabdil and his family spent the months of intense summer heat living in the smaller Generalife Palace which was more open to the elements and therefore cooler in summer.
The bishop's feet irresistibly drawn to the snow on the high sierras and on the spur of the moment he decided to walk as far as he could towards it.
His three attendants had remained in the gardens outside De Gurrea's quarters. They now joined him and he sent one of them to Enrique, a short thick-set muscular Arabic looking young man to bring his cloak and hat. So it was thus attired in cloak and hat and attended by his three servants that he set off on his walk towards the mountains.
At first the going was easy and they made good progress but after about an hour the path became much steeper and the terrain through which they passed much rougher. Soon all four of them were sweating profusely . Enrique in particular seemed to be feeling the strain which was somewhat surprising given his muscular frame. When the bishop called a halt Enrique flopped down to the ground with obvious grateful relief and sighed deeply. Pablo, the youngest of the bishop's three attendants brought ice cold water from a nearby stream which tasted wonderful and instantly revived them.
After some ten minutes rest the bishop indicated that it was time to resume their journey towards the snow.
Enrique appeared somewhat reluctant to rise from the ground and so the bishop said to him: "Would you prefer to say here and await our return".
But Enrique would not agree to this and so he joined his companions on this extremely difficult section of the journey to the snow. It had ceased to be a walk and had become a real climb. They were now passing through snow covered terrain although as yet there was no snow on the actual path. The air was thin and it was difficult to breathe.
Enrique was soon in real trouble and seemed almost on the point of collapse. He gave a loud cry and sat down on a conveniently placed boulder which lay at the side of the path. He really looked ill. His face was ashen grey in colour and he was gasping for breath.
The bishop called another halt. This time he looked annoyed and his face assumed one of its notorious angry scowls.
"I did ask if you preferred to stay behind to await our return. We cannot wait. We must proceed at once. I must now order you to stay where you are to await our return. Pablo will leave you some water and food. We will return before sunset. Make yourself as comfortable as possible until then". With that they were gone leaving Enrique alone in this desolate spot. No one had examined him or asked him how he felt and this added to his misery. He was a native of Seville, of obvious Arabic descent and accustomed to the almost African heat of the Guadalquir Plain. This was his first encounter with snow covered mountains and he liked it not at all.
He did however have fairly warm clothing. What he was suffering from, although he didn't know it, was altitude sickness. Being a man of the plain he was ill-prepared for the thin atmosphere of this highest part of the Sierra Nevada Range.
He felt the utter loneliness of this high desolate place intensely. The gleaming white snow made him feel chilled to the uttermost depths of his soul. He did not feel attracted to the expanse of snow above him and all around. It repelled him and terrified him. He drank some water and ate some food. The ice-cold water chilled him even more and he began to remember with great longing the wonderful meals his mother prepared back home in Seville. He almost became delirious with the memory of these wonderful, highly seasoned rabbit stews and delicious soups. As for the cakes and pastries his mother baked twice a week. . . . ! The memory of them brought saliva to his lips and almost caused him to swoon. He quickly recovered himself and brought himself back to reality. It was a frightening reality. To even look at the snow chilled him to the marrow.
He felt better by this time and so he stood up and looked around him. The path along which his master the bishop and his two fellow servants had disappeared led onward and upward. He had no desire whatsoever to follow them but he felt that it would be better for him to move around. Just a little way ahead of him from where he stood he noticed that another smaller path branched off. That smaller path was also free of snow so he decided to follow it a little way. He had not been following the branch path for long when he noticed that there was a cave-mouth in the hill-side not so very far above the path he was following. He felt instinctively that it be warmer in a cave than outside surrounded by all this gleaming white, inhospitable snow.
It was quite a struggle to reach the cave-mouth but he was helped in his climb by the presence of large tufts of thick grass which he grabbed hold of with his right hand and pulled himself up. It was also a great help that the hill-side up which he climbed was largely free of snow. He was feeling ill again by the time he reached the cave-mouth, so much so that he only just reached it as he reeled with delirium and pitched forward into oblivion.
When he returned to full consciousness it was a pleasant surprise to find that he was lying spread-eagled face-down on a deep mass of sweet-smelling hay. He lay on the hay for some time, until he became fully awake in fact. At that point he began to realise that he was lying in the entrance of quite a large cave which seemed to extend upwards for a very long way.
It was a shock to observe that a torch placed in an iron container fixed into the cave wall was burning brightly partly illuminating the rear portion of this entrance hall of the cavern and casting weird shadows on the walls. It was a further shock to find that steps had been cut into the rock and that a well-trodden path led round a rocky overhang.
He felt frightened yet exited and hesitated but a moment before following the path round the overhanging rock. He had absolutely no idea what he would find when he turned the corner.
In the event what he found was intensely disappointing and a terrible anti-climax. He had entered another hugh cavern which soared high above and was lined at its rear by a row of stalactites which looked like the pipes of some enormous subterranean organ. Again the well trod path led across the silver-sanded floor of the vast cavern. Again there were flaming torches placed in holders fixed in the walls.
Now, for some unknown reason he began to experience real fear. He began to imagine that the weird shadows cast by the torches onto the stalactites somehow turned them into strange hobgoblins and demons from the underworld. Within a very few seconds his mind told him that where he was at this moment was in fact the underworld. He panicked and almost ran back the way he had come but something took hold of him and compelled him to remain where he was. His fear gradually subsided especially after he had eaten the last of his food and drunk the last of his water. Thus fortified he felt ready to resume his subterranean voyage of discovery.
He walked over towards the far wall of the cavern to where the torches fastened in the wall were burning and followed the clearly marked path which led past them. His fear had completely left him now and he felt ready to face anything he might encounter. The path again led round an outcrop of rock. He did hesitate momentarily before turning the corner but only for the slightest instant.
As he walked round the corner he found himself in a fairly wide corridor several yards long. He could hear the sound of many voices raised in animated conversation and smell the acrid smell of wood smoke which assailed his nostrils and stuck in the back of his throat. He forced himself not to sneeze or splutter and walked along the corridor. He very soon came out on to a sort of high platform at the back of yet another enormous cavern. At first glance this cavern seemed much bigger than the previous two caverns combined. In front of him the path passed behind a further mass of stalactites. There were large gaps in this wall of stalactites through which the reflections of the flickering flames of the numerous fires burning on the floor of the cave cast their grotesquely elongated shadows on the living(?) rock. Seated around the fires were many men busy eating from bowls which they had in their hands.
Enrique was looking down on this vast cavern full of wild looking men eating. To his mind there seemed to be hundreds of men eating in this vast torch and fire-lit place deep in the bowels of the earth. The noise was intense, the shadows haunting and the acrid smoke throat affecting. Suddenly he knew he had to return to the daylight. He turned and fled back down the corridor . Without looking round once he quickly retraced his way. If he had any fear during his return journey it was that of meeting someone who had entered the cave at its mouth and was making his way to the large cavern where the cooking pots steamed and the sound of animated conversation filled the air. Thankfully he met no one and it was a blessed relief when he emerged from the cave mouth into the daylight once again.
He quickly made his way down to the path again. Truth to tell it was much more difficult going down than climbing up. In fact he almost lid down to the path. Once on it he quickly followed it until he came back to the boulder at which he had remained when the bishop and his fellow servants had parted company as they continued their journey to the snow. He sat down to await their return. From time to time he cast anxious glances along the path to make certain no one had followed him. What he would have done had he been followed he had no idea. In any case he soon fell asleep.
After the bishop and his two servants Bernardo and Ramon left the exhausted and suffering Enrique sitting on his boulder by the wayside they made much more rapid progress in their journey towards the snow than they had done when he was with them. Bernardo and Ramon secretly felt guilty and very apprehensive at leaving poor Enrique to suffer alone. These feelings of guilt and apprehension did not however apply to the Bishop. He regarded Enrique at best as a nuisance and at worst as a malingerer and moslem spy. It was not just that Enrique whom the bishop regarded in this way. He applied these sentiments to all former subjects of the moorish kings now living in the reconquered parts of Spain. In a word he could not trust the former devout moslems who had switched allegiance from The Prophet to Jesus. If they had changed sides once he reasoned that they could just as easily do it again! The fact that they had been forced to convert in order to live their lives meant nothing whatsoever to his grace the bishop. They were turncoats and that was that.
The bishop and his two companions were climbing very rapidly. They were by now in the zone of deep snow although the path which they followed was still somewhat surprisingly free of it. The bishop was by now beginning to realise that the snow was better seen from a distance than actually walked through.
Just a little way ahead the path they were following seemed to come to a dead end under a vast overhang of exposed rock which gleamed in the sunlight. Beneath the exposed overhang was an are of debris also free of snow in the centre of which a stream rose to the surface and trickled away through it on its long descent to join the river in the valley bellow and ultimately to the far distant sea.
It was the ideal, the only spot at which they could rest. There was no possible way they could proceed any higher through the snow. So they ate their food and drank from the infant stream.
The sun was beginning to disappear behind the peaks of the high sierras and there was a distinct chill in the air. All three of them felt ill although they would never admit it. It was the onset of altitude sickness. The bishop knew that they should begin their descent which they did after a few minutes rest to aid their digestion and general wellbeing. It was a difficult descent not helped in any way by the fact that they were tired and exhausted but they descended rapidly and without mishap. They rejoined Enrique sitting on his boulder at the side of the path, greeted him warmly (not of course the bishop) and together returned to the bishop's quarters in The Alhambra.
Bishop Alvarez felt that he had had a memorable experience, that he had really done something out of the ordinary to celebrate his free day. He doubted whether he would ever repeat the experience. As for as his servants who cared what they thought. They were after all merely servants.
The bishop had enjoyed his free day but once in his private quarters his old concerns returned with a vengeance. He suddenly gave vent to his intense anger at what he felt to have been yet another calculated humiliation inflicted on him by that insufferable Valencian upstart Alonso de Gurrea. Although it was a sin to do so he really wished him dead. He began to realise that it wasn't just Frey Bartolomeo he wished to remove from the scene but Alonso de Gurrea as well. As he lay now on the top of his bed fully clothed he began to consider how he might work to engineer the downfall of De Gurrea and the troublesome Benedictine, however difficult this might be to achieve.
But his thoughts did not dwell for long on how best to bring about the downfall of De Gurrea and Frey Bartolomeo. As he lay there it did not take very long for his entire being, physical and mental to be almost overwhelmed by an intense desire for feminine companionship. Of course there had been no arrangements made for him to be provided with feminine companionship here in the Alhambra. It would therefore be a case of "burning" as St. Augusine had written all those long centuries ago. He did not relish the prospect! He had noticed several of the ladies of Boabdil's court casting admiring glances in his direction. Being such an experienced womaniser he could always spot the signs. He knew that he was supremely attractive to women and that he in return was supremely attracted to them. Age and beauty didn't seem to matter all that much, the mere fact of women out there waiting to be conquered and dominated by the male did.
He had often asked himself how he could remain not just a priest but a bishop of The Holy Roman Catholic Church when it was glaringly obvious that he could not adhere to the vow of chastity he had taken upon his admission to the priesthood. Years ago he had discussed his "predicament" as he called it with his then father confessor. He it was who had reminded him of Augustin's concept of burning but who had always absolved of his sin ending with the neutral words "go and sin no more". The then Father Alvarez had gone but had sinned all the more and continuously. He had always felt that Holy Mother Church was wrong to impose this terrible celibacy upon her priests. From his reading of the early history of The Church he knew that celibacy had not always been the rule.
Despite his constant breaking of this vow of celibacy he knew that he was a very good bishop, perhaps even a great one and felt almost certain that he would definitely be a Cardinal. Perhaps even the papacy would be within his reach. In the meantime he would be obliged to suffer the "burn". He soon fell asleep lying fully clothed on top of his bed.
His sleep did not last long however. He came back to consciousness to the sound of enormous crashes and bangs and to find that the whole world seemed to have gone completely mad. His room was lit by a strange light which seemed to be made up of all the colours of the spectrum glowing at once.
It took him some few moments to gather his thoughts together and to remember where he was. He then realised that what he was experiencing was an artillery battle conducted at night. It really was terrifying and the fact that it was night added to the horror of the whole thing.
Sleep was impossible that was obvious and so he decided that the most immediate thing to do was to pray to God that he might live through this hell and serve him more fully when the present danger was over. To this end he fell to his knees and prayed earnestly and long. Never had his life seemed more precious to him than it did now when it was so obviously under immediate threat.
The noise did not diminish. If anything it increased and seemed to become more intense. But it seemed to become less intimidating, less frightening the more intense it became and after some minutes spent listening to this scenario from hell he decided to leave his room and go and investigate.
He went out on to the terrace outside his room which was brilliantly lit by the vivid flashes of the exploding cannon-balls and by the flames from the fires which were burning behind the massed cannon.
At first he didn't notice Alonso de Gurrea who was already on the terrace. He was looking down on the cannon and was somewhat obscured from view by the shadow of a tower which jutted out from the terrace at the point where he stood. Seeing the bishop he left the shadow of the tower saying as he did so: "You also found it impossible to sleep my Lord Bishop?"
"Of course Don Alonso. Who could possibly sleep through all this hell. It is like something out of a scene from "Dante's Inferno"".
Alonso did not add to the bishop's comments for some moments, then he said: "I was to have sung for the King and his family in his private quarters this evening. It is obvious that there will be no music in the king's private quarters this evening. The strange thing is that these new-fangled instruments of destruction seem to make a lot of noise but achieve very little". As if to prove Alonso de Gurrea wrong just at that very moment there was a particularly loud retort followed by an enormous cloud of smoke and flames. A huge chunk of masonry fell off the top of the enclosing wall of The Alhambra and hit the ground. Both Alonso and the bishop appeared stunned by this demonstration of the power of the new artillery. Neither said a word however.
As if to prove that a moot point had been made the bombardment immediately ceased. Then the moon came up but the smell of the gunpowder and the smoke lingered in the air for some hours, certainly until long after Alonso and the bishop had retired to their respective chambers for the night.
For some days after Enrique's visit to the cave in the hill-side he kept his knowledge of this discovery to himself. He was not by nature a very gregarious or talkative person. He largely kept himself to himself during his off duty hours but some days later it was Bernardo's birthday and so he agreed to spend a celebratory evening with is fellow servants. They crossed the demarcation lines between the two armies with ease and took themselves off to a well known if not notorious brothel much frequented by the Spanish soldiery and their motley collection of camp followers and vast crowd of other assorted hangers on.
The tavern "EL Caballo Rojo" was crowded and noisy. As they entered "Dolores" a gypsy dancer was part way through a performance. The great noise was her audience's response to the great artistry she displayed. She knew that she was a great dancer and every movement of her slim lithe body and stamp of her feet conveyed this undisputed fact to he captive, mesmerised audience. They shouted, clapped their hands and stamped their own feet to the pulsating rhythm of the guitar to which Dolores danced. Both dancer and audience surrendered their own heartbeats to the rhythm of the earth. They were as one. It was electrifying.
As Dolores's performance came to its climax her audience went wild with deafening applause. Enrique and Bernardo were swept up into and carried along with this vast outpouring of tumultuous sound. It went on and on until Dolores was forced to return and acknowledge it. It was only after she had done so that they would allow her to leave the scene.
When she was gone the whole tavern lapsed into an animated buzz of harsh, staccato conversation which became more and more animated as more and more wine was drunk.
During the course of the evening and after the consumption of much more fine wine Enrique's natural reserve had completely deserted him. So it was that he revealed his chance discovery of the vast hill-side cavern and its seemingly hundreds of human occupants to his companions. They listened with amazement as Enrique unfolded his tale and at the end of the telling of it all three decided that they would return to the cavern together on their next free day.
That free day came sooner than expected, in fact during the very next week. Bishop Alvarez and Ambassador Alonso de Gurrea sere summoned back to Santa Fe by King Ferdinand for an important meeting. The bishop and Alonso were to journey together and so the bishop gave his servants a free day. He was usually a hard task master. If his servants had no domestic duties he usually set them some other task but today he gave them their freedom and left them to their own devices. So it was the ideal opportunity for them to embark on their great adventure.
It had become much warmer during the past week and there was not as much snow in evidence on the lower slopes of the mountains. They took warm clothing with them and an adequate supply of food. They also took a supply of ropes, axes and fire making equipment. In fact they felt that they had left nothing to chance.
So they were in very high spirits as they left the Ambassadorial Suite in The Alhambra about an hour after Alonso and the bishop had set out for Santa Fe.
When they entered the vast hill-side cavern there were no torches burning in their iron holders fastened to the walls and it felt frighteningly cold. All three of them felt this frightening chill. They did not however communicate their fear to each other. But it was obvious that their previous mood of holiday jollity had quickly evaporated once they were inside the cavern.
Enrique did express what they were all three feeling when he said : "This place feels cold, cold as death. I don't like it at all". His companions said nothing as they prepared to explore.
They got no chance to explore however for as they approached the overhanging rock at the back of the entrance cavern they heard voices and lights suddenly appeared. They could do nothing as several men carrying burning torches walked into view. It was impossible to say who was more surprised Enrique and his companions or the men who carried the burning torches.
Very soon there were some twenty men in the cavern. Without a word being said almost as if it were the result of the working of a common mind the three intruders were quickly surrounded and relieved of the bundles they carried. Still no word was said. Then another man, also carrying a burning torch came round the overhanging rock. As soon as he saw the circle of burning torches with the three intruders at its centre he said in a loud voice that resonated round the cavern and gave back a loud echo: "What have we here?"
There was no reply as the voice echoed round and round the cavern. Then the new comer came over to the torch illuminated circle. As he did so the men forming it drew back so that the circle expanded greatly. He abruptly seized a flaming torch from one of the men forming the circle and shone it on the faces of Enrique and his two companions in quick succession. They were terrified and their obvious terror showed clearly in their faces. At this point, again without any word being said the men forming the circle moved forward and the circle decreased in area. This movement added to the terror of the three intruders who knew now that they were prisoners.
"Who are you and who sent you to spy on us?" the man with the torch in the centre of the circle with Enrique and his two companions now demanded. They did not reply. They were too terrified. He then smacked each of them across the face with a really savage blow which would have sent them reeling to the floor but which did not because the bodies forming the circle were by now pressed so closely together that there was no space in which they could fall.
The circle immediately expanded leaving the three shaken intruders and the man with the burning torch in a wide circle again.
"Men call me El Zigal and I am the leader of this band of deserters and outcasts. Have you come to join us", the man with the torch said. The intense note of sarcasm was obvious and accentuated to such an extent that it could not be overlooked.
It was Pablo, the youngest of the bishop's three servants who replied. A tall, slim, almost emaciated young man with red hair and strangely bright blue eyes which didn't fit in with the rest of his appearance.
"We are terrified Sir", he said in a scarcely audible, small, timid voice, "and we would like to go home. My friend here discovered this cave by accident so we came back to explore. We meant no harm. We are the servants of Bishop Diego Alvarez, King Ferdinand's negotiator at the court of the King of Granada. We are just ordinary servants, humble people of no value whatsoever". As soon as he had said it Pablo realised that it had been a mistake to say that they were servants of Bishop Alvarez and of no value whatsoever. El Zigal could now get the idea that the bishop might pay ransom money for his captive servants. He immediately lapsed into silence and said no more.
No one spoke for some seconds then El Zigal said: "I know nothing about negotiations at the court of the King of Granada and bishops. We are a band of desperadoes. All who wish to do so may join us providing the rest of the band accept them. Are you going to join us? Shall I call a meeting and put the matter to a vote. . . . "
Pablo cried out at this point: "We just want to go home, Sir!" The note of pleading desperation came through Pablo's shrill, almost piping voice and echoed round and round the cavern for some seconds. As the sound of the shrill voice faded more torch carrying men entered the cavern and joined their companions in the wide circle with Bishop Alvarez's three servants in the middle. Again no one said a word.
Then El Zigal spoke: "I have half a mind to let you go so that you can return to Granada but only under certain conditions. Number one: that you return here on the first of every month and report to me what is happening in Granada and in particular within The Alhambra. Number two: that you all three swear a solemn oath on your lives that you will never reveal the existence of this band within this cavern. After that I think that you can return home.
There then followed the solemn oath swearing ceremony when Enrique, Bernardo and Pablo swore on the bible that they would never reveal the whereabouts of the cavern and the band of desperadoes within it. That being done El Zigal accompanied them to the cavern mouth and sent them on their way.
It was only when they returned to Granada that they realised that their confiscated belongings had not been returned to them. They wondered how they would account for their disappearance if anyone noticed that they were missing. They could only hope that no one would do so.
The negotiations for the surrender of the city were now approaching their final stage. It was the month of December 1491 and the negotiators had not very much left to negotiate.
Boabdil's status, once he had ceased to be King of Granada had been determined. The equal status of Islam and Christianity in the conquered city of Granada had been enshrined in a written protocol and that was that issue out of the way.
Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand were most anxious that the negotiations be concluded and the city surrendered by the end of the year. As for the relationship between Alonso de Gurrea and Bishop Diego Alvarez it was no exaggeration to state that it had simply gone from bad to worse. They snapped and snarled at one another whenever they met so much so that they were forced to meet one another with less and less frequency. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for the protracted length of the negotiations. It was the bishop's servants, the three would be cave explorers and Rodrigo, Alonso de Gurrea's servant, who felt the situation most acutely. They were firm friends privately but all four of them felt that it was wise to conceal this fact from their respective masters.
Whenever the bishop had had a bruising encounter with de Gurrea he would return to his private quarters in a foul mood. His face would wear a dark brooding scowl and hissing, whistling noised would well up from his throat and come out through his pursed, half-open lips to fill the place where he was. It was certainly not pleasant and his servants tried to keep away from him at such times. The bishop however would not countenance this. When he was in one of this foul moods he insisted that his servants stay near him and attend to his every whim instantly. It did not make for an easy situation.
Alonso de Gurrea was not so hard on his servant Rodrigo. But even he, a most benevolent master, was greatly affected by his encounters with Bishop Alvarez. After such encounters he returned to his private quarters looking haggard and visibly shaken. He then tended to withdraw into himself and remain silent for several hours. Rodrigo always became very sympathetic and understanding towards his master at such times and this greatly assisted the maintenance of the friendly rapport that had always existed between them.
As for Boabdil he found himself increasingly worried about his uncertain future. It could not be long now, surely a matter of a few weeks at the most, before he would leave his beloved Alhambra for ever. Granted he was to remain a king, but king of what? The Alpjarurgas, that impoverished almost desolate mountain region between Granada and the sea with a few mountain villages and a sparse population. Surely the Spaniards knew that the ex-king of Granada, last of a long line of proud monarchs would be bored out of his head and driven almost to insanity in a place like that. They knew that he would not last long there. Added to the boredom with the complete and utter humiliation of the total dependence on Spanish subsidies for his very existence. It was not a happy prospect. In addition to all this was the fact that the contempt with which he was regarded by both his officials and subjects was becoming more and more obvious with the passage of every day. He was held in such contempt and despised so utterly that he felt certain that it could not be long before someone would physically abused him. He felt utterly trapped and more of a prisoner than ever within The Alhambra, the place he loved more than any other. The place he loved had become a real prison. He longed for release and an end to all this mental torture. He had a growing fear that mental torture would very soon become actual physical torture and the fear was beginning to haunt him.
It would tear him apart perhaps destroy him mentally and emotionally but he was becoming almost convinced that it would be better for him to leave The Alhambra. That being so he felt that he should try to bring the negotiations to a speedy end.
So he summoned Ambassador Alonso de Gurrea to meet him on the heated balcony of The Hall of the Ambassadors. Boabdil tried to present as cheerful a face as possible although he was feeling anything but cheerful. "It is good of you to come to see me in answer to my summons", he said to Alonso when they met. I am most anxious that the negotiations be brought to a speedy end. I have decided that I will surrender The Alhambra to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella on the 2nd of January next but please tell their majesties to keep this date secret for the time being. The timing and place of such surrender I leave to them. I will comply with any formal arrangements they may wish to make. Will you tell your sovereigns of my decision. I am making the decision because there really is no alternative. As you can imagine I am full of sadness that I must go from this wonderful place. There is only one further request that I wish to make and that is that I wish to take the bones of my ancestors with me if ever I decide to leave Spain at any time in the future", he said to Alonso as cheerfully and as matter of fact as he could.
Alonso had remained standing as Boabdil had told him of his decision and his request.
"I will convey your decision and your request to my master King Ferdinand personally. I will travel to Santa Fe in the morning", he replied to Boabdil.
"There is one other thing Don Alonso. I would like you to remain as King Ferdinand's representative at my court in exile in the Alpujargas. I have written a letter to Ferdinand requesting this. Of course it is his decision alone and whatever he decides I must accept but I would feel much happier if you were to remain in your position. You and I are friends and this fact helps me to bear my sadness at having to leave my old life and start to adapt another way of life which is bound to be painful and a journey to the unknown. To have you in attendance on me in my new court will be a great consolation to me. You will be a link with the past". Having said this Boabdil turned away from Alonso and looked towards the snow capped sierra. Tears welled up into his eyes and he lapsed into a profound silence. Alonso left his friend there on the balcony, left him there in his sadness as his tear filled eyes gazed at the mountains. He slipped out from the balcony and returned to the Ambassadorial Suite. He carried Boabdil's letter to King Ferdinand with him. Tomorrow he would deliver it personally.
Alonso realised that the date Boabdil had chosen for his official act of surrender had been chosen carefully. There was a nice touch of irony in the fact that it was not to take place before the end of the year as Ferdinand and Isobella had wished. It would happen on the day following the new year celebrations and would be an extension of them. That would surely help Ferdinand to accept that Granada would not be surrendered before the year end.
There was a further problem for Alonso. Did Boabdil's request that the proposed date of his surrender be kept secret apply to Bishop Alvarez or not? He was almost on the point of returning to the balcony of The Hall of the Ambassadors to ask Boabdil for clarification on the matter but after some reflection he decided against doing so. He could tell their majesties at Santa Fe of Boabdil's stipulations and leave the matter with them. Obviously King Ferdinand would make his own stipulations regarding the exact protocol to be followed on the great day, 2nd of January, 1492. He felt no joy whatsoever in the fact that his mission was almost at an end.
The next day Alonso returned to Santa Fe leaving Bishop Alvarez in complete ignorance about Boabdil's decision on the date of his surrender. That date was not yet fixed. It was merely a suggestion on the part of Boabdil and there was absolutely no guarantee that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella would accept it.
Alonso felt more than a little afraid that Ferdinand would reject Boabdil's suggested date out of hand without giving it the slightest consideration and that he would insist that the public act of surrender take place before the end of the year. He could almost here Ferdinand's voice insisting that Boabdil surrender Granada on 31st December, 1491.
When Alonso stood before Ferdinand of Aragon in the King's House in Santa Fe he felt that everything was wrong. Ferdinand looked angry and preoccupied so much so that Alonso was certain that Granada would not be surrendered on 2nd January, 1492. It was a total surprise therefore for Alonso that after reading Boabdil's letter the King of Aragon broke into a beaming smile and said, "At last Boabdil is seeing sense. The 2nd of January 1492 will be a great day in world history. It will be a date to remember".
Alonso also smiled and did bend his knee before his master who either didn't notice or totally ignored the fact.
In contrast it was Queen Isabella who seemed annoyed and upset that Granada would not be in Spanish hands before the end of 1491. However it was for Ferdinand to decide. He told Alonso that he was to return to Granada the next day taking with him the Spanish reply to Boabdil's proposal. All the protocol to be followed on the great day, 2nd January, 1492, or at least the outline of it would be in the appendages to the letter. Ferdinand said nothing whatsoever about whether he was to remain at Boabdil's court or not once the latter was established in the Alpujagas. All Alonso could do was wait and see. Since he was to return to Granada tomorrow it could not be a long wait.
The next morning at exactly the hour of ten Alonso was in King Ferdinand's private chamber in The King's House in Santa Fe.
Ferdinand looked tired again and clearly out of sorts. He did brighten up and become more cheerful when he discussed Boabdil's forthcoming surrender with Alonso de Gurrea.
Present in the chamber along with the King and Alonso was Don Vicente, Ferdinand's private secretary. The secretary looked happy and elated as well he might. He had laboured mightily on Ferdinand's behalf during the long years of the seige of Granada and now that labour was to come to full fruition. For him this was a real moment of happiness and elation.
Queen Isabella was not present at Alonso's meeting with the king that morning and this fact added to his feeling that Boabdil's manipulation on the date of his surrender had caused tension between Ferdinand and his wife.
It was not long into his meeting before Alonso came to realise that the King and Don Vicente had been up all night discussing Ferinand's reply to Boabdil's letter. That was obviously the reason for Ferdinand's somewhat gaunt appearance and somewhat gaunt mein. The realisation was a relief to Alonso although he still felt that Ferdinand and the queen had not been in complete agreement about whether to accept Boabdil's date for his surrender.
Ferdinand had his reply to Boabdil and a package of other papers ready waiting on a small table at the side of his chair. Before he handed them to Alonso he lent forward and said to him in a quiet, almost intimate voice: "Don Alonso. Do you wish to share Boabdil's exile in The Alpujaros with him by continuing as my representative at his court. That court will be a melancholy place I fear. There will be no joy there whatsoever. It is for you to decide. I will gladly comply with Boabdil's request if that is what you wish me to do. Personally I would not go to The Alpujaros. It's a cold, bleak place and Boabdil will find no comfort there. I almost feel sorry for him. The contrast with the opulent luxury of The Alhambra could not be greater. He will nevertheless still be a king which must count for something. As I said earlier, it is for you to decide.
For Alonso there was no decision to be made. His friend, the King of Granada wished him to be near him in his exile and that was where he would be. He almost felt like asking King Ferdinand why he was sending Boabdil into such a bleak inhospitable place but he really didn't need to ask. It was obvious why.
Ferdinand was waiting for Alonso's answer and it was given at once. "I will remain as your Ambassador at the court in exile of the King of Granada sire". Alonso said. "Very well Don Alonso, I knew that would be your answer. I fear that you will be more of a gaoler than an ambassador but it is your choice. So sure was I of your choice that I have told Boabdil of your decision in my reply to him. After much lengthy discussion with Vicente during the night I have stipulated that Boabdil may be accompanied at his public act of surrender on the 2nd January, 1492 by a hundred of his knights. The choice is left to him. The act of surrender will take place on the banks of The Darro below the enclosing walls of The Alhambra. The Queen and I and our officials, including you Don Alonso, will ge waiting there for Boabdil and his party. It will be a great day for all we Christians. Here Ferdinand smiled a rather strange smile. It was difficult to describe. It certainly was a smile but it was not an ordinary straightforward smile. It was something more than a smile and at one and the same time something much less than a smile.
The enigmatic smile was a great puzzlement to Alonso. Just what was Ferdinand of Aragon up to? What was going on inside the brain of his lord and master. Since Ferdinand was so deep and devious he was not likely to reveal what his innermost thoughts were. It would need the passage of time for all to be revealed and even then things would leak out in dribs and drabs.
Ferdinand ceased to smile his enigmatic smile as he said "Don Alonso I will need you to report to me fairly frequently once Boabdil is in exile in The Alpujargos. I intend to keep a complete monitor on all his activities in his new home. I will need to know just what he is thinking all the time. For this you will have to talk with him constantly. I will need to know any change in his thinking almost as soon as it occurs. Perhaps it would be better to communicate by carrier pigeon?
"Whatever you think best Sire", Alonso replied not really taking in what Ferdinand was saying. When Ferdinand had advised him not to remain at Boabdil's court in exile and had gone on to outline what he would be required to do for his master he had realised quite starkly and vividly that he was being asked to report his friend's every movement both waking and sleeping. He increasingly felt that it had been a mistake to accept his new appointment at Boabdil's court in exile. He consoled himself by the fact that he had accepted the post without knowing exactly what he would be required to do. Now when he knew what he would be required to do he felt shame and disgust rise up within him. The thought crossed his mind that he should extricate himself from the whole sorry business by resigning and returning to Valencia when Boabdil surrendered Granada. However, he quickly reminded himself that Boabdil, his friend, had asked him to go with him into exile. He had given his word and there was no way of going back on that. So he felt honour bound to be at Boabdil's side during his exile in The Alpujarias. As for his reports to Ferdinand he would try to minimise their content and frequency. It would be a delicate balancing act and maybe maintaining the balance would destroy him but he owed it to his friend to at least try. As for the pigeons flying between The Alpujagas and Granada or wherever he hated the idea and wanted nothing to do with it. He therefore refrained from comment on Ferdinand's suggestion. Two day later Alonso was back in The Alhambra.
He requested an immediate meeting with Boabdil. This was quickly arranged and once in The King of Granada's presence Alonso handed him the letter and papers Ferdinand of Aragon had asked him to deliver. He then withdrew from Boabdil's presence feeling that it was better to leave him alone to consider what Ferdinand had written to him.
He was therefore more than surprised when, after a short space of some ten minutes Rodrigo asked Rashid Ben Ali, Boabdil's secretary into his private chamber in the Ambassadorial Suite. Rashid bowed low as he said "My master wishes to see you at once. He has sent me to escort you into his presence".
"Of course", Alonso replied, "I will be happy to accompany you at once". They then walked together to the Hall of The Ambassadors on the balcony of which Boabdil was waiting for Alonso. He rose from his chair and bade Alonso be seated in the adjacent chair. He then handed him a large glass of the wonderful ice-cold fruit juice which Alonso accepted with real pleasure. When Alonso had drunk from the glass Boabdil settled himself in his chair and said "I am glad Ferdinand has accepted my suggested date for my surrender. I felt that he would insist that everything should happen before the end of the year. The problem now is to keep everything secret and to prevent any life consuming hostilities between the two opposing armies besieging The Alhambra. I fear for my life if news of my forthcoming surrender leaks out so the fewer people know about it the better".
Alonso certainly agreed with Boabdil on both of these points but he didn't say anything to his friend about either matter.
After a silence of some minutes during which both Boabdil and Alonso drank their fruit juice Boabdil said: "I wish that everything was over and done with now and that I could be free of all these affairs of State. I wish the killing and bloodshed to stop now. I am going to feel personally responsible for the deaths which occur between now and the second of January next". Saying this Boabdil lapsed into silence and concentrated on finishing his glass of fruit juice. When his glass was empty he held out the large jug containing the fruit juice to Alonso and then filled his glass for him. He then filled his own glass. As he drank he said: "I suppose I should organise a spectacular entertainment before my surrender but it may not be possible. Our resources here within The Alhambra are more and more stretched with every day that passes and that greatly restricts our choices. However I must see what I can do". He lapsed into silence again and then said, brightening up a little. "Ferdinand has written to tell me that you are going to continue serving as his ambassador at my court in exile. I hope that you will not come to regret your decision Don Alonso. Ferdinand tells me that he is having a house built for my use in The Alpujaras and that it will be as comfortable as possible in the circumstances. I do not like the sound of "in the circumstances". I do not like any of the present circumstances but there is nothing I can do about them. It would appear that the only way my life can be redeemed would be by death in battle and there is no way that is going to happen. I am not allowed to take part in any hand to hand fighting probably for that very reason. My military advisors no doubt feel that I would seek out danger deliberately in order to find martyrdom and hence total redemption. Even that solution to my problems is denied me". At this point a look of intense melancholy spread over his whole face and made his entire aspect appear incredibly sad. He looked dreadful, shrunken and completely drawn in on himself, as if he carried the entire weight of the world's problems on his shoulders which were totally incapable of supporting such a burden. The sight was terrible to behold.
Alonso could say nothing to comfort his friend in the depths of such intense and overwhelming misery. All he could do was hope that the black despair would lift quickly. He greatly doubted that it would happen quickly or easily if at all. Boabdil dismissed him and he returned to his private quarters from where he looked out at the snow on the mountains and thought again of Princess Farhaida. Then he too became sad and turned away from the mountains and looked at the walls of his room. It was some days before Alonso saw Boabdil again. When they met Boabdil was full of plans for the grand entertainment he wished to host before his surrender of the city to the Spaniards. He wished the entertainment to be as spectacular as possible and to this end he had negotiated with the commander of the besieging army to allow his messengers to travel across the narrow sea to North Africa in order to summon talented entertainers to his court. Safe conduct had not been easy to arrange and the whole business had been difficult and frustrating but now his messengers were on their way. He planned to hold the event to coincide with the Christian festival of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ and to invite as many Spaniards as he could. They would not know of course that shortly after these Christmas celebrations their would be another great celebration when Granada surrendered. He would also invite his friend Alonso de Gurrea to perform. That alone would make the event spectacular.
There had been a flare up in the skirmishing and sniping that characterized the present state of the long, drawn-out seige of Granada. The seige had been a very half-hearted affair for many months but now it had turned to bitter hand to hand fighting with many fatalities on both sides. This increased number of fatalities troubled Boabdil greatly. He felt as though he personally was responsible for each death on either side. He had feared that he would feel like this but he had not anticipated the depth of his feeling. He wanted to rush out and put a stop to the slaughter but there really was nothing he could do. It seemed likely to continue and probably intensify until the second of January. Increasingly he spent his days studying The Koran. He found great comfort as always in the wonderful words of Mohammed, blessed be his name. How he wished that the Christians and Muslims could be brothers in the faith instead of wasting their God-given lives here in Granada. He would gladly give his own life to stop the killing here and now.
That night there was another intense and prolonged cannon battle along the wall of the Alcazaba. This was a much bigger attack than anything that had previously occurred. No one got any sleep at all that night and there was considerable damage to the wall itself. Thankfully there were not many casualties and the wall could be repaired, at least temporarily.
The next morning everyone in The Alhambra, Moor and Spaniard, looked drawn and irritable. There was no fighting that day and men slept at their posts along the opposing lines. Towards evening Boabdil sent for Alonso.
When Alonso was seated in the chair at the side of the king and they had each drunk their fill of the customary fruit juice Boabdil handed Alonso a letter. It was from the Spanish commandant informing the King of Granada that with immediate effect no traveller from outside Granada would be allowed to cross Spanish lines into the Alhambra.
After giving him time to digest the contents of the letter Boabdil said to Alonso in an indignant voice "And after I had made all the arrangements for my grand entertainment. It cannot now take place. I am powerless in the hands of other people. Everything I plan is frustrated by other people. There is nothing I can do. Now I will be forced to cancel my grand farewell entertainment. At least you will still sing for me Don Alonso? There was no mistaking the question in Boabdil's voice to which Alonso replied with a slight lowering of his head and a firmly enunciated "yes Sire. I will sing for you and your family whenever you wish me to do so".
Boabdil bent forward and touched Alonso's shoulder very gently with his hand saying as he did so: "That is most gracious of you Don Alonso. Let us go out into the garden and walk a little. I feel the need for some fresh air". Boabdil led the way and Alonso followed him out into the garden.
It was another beautiful winter's day, slightly chilly with full sunshine and not a trace of cloud to be seen in the deep blue sky which seemed to stretch forever high above them. The garden itself was the usual Alhambra of splashing fountains and aromatic trees, flowers and shrubs. It was peaceful and soothing and a world away from thoughts of artillery bombardments and war. It was impossible not to feel soothed and relaxed here. The magic worked quickly and visibly. Once in the garden the cares fell away from Boabdil's face. Then the present and the future combined and forced him to say in a troubled voice: "And where will I go for solace in The Alpujagos Don Alonso?" There was no reply to such a question and Alonso did not try to find one. He understood perfectly what was going through Boabdil's mind.
Suddenly a chill wind sprang up and it became bitterly cold: black clouds scudded across the sky and within the space of a very few seconds the Alhambra was enveloped in a raging blizzard. Both Alonso and Boabdil were taken completely unawares by this sudden deterioration in the weather. There had been no warning whatsoever and the transformation from wonderful sunshine to raging winter blizzard almost in the twinkling of an eye was as devastating in its effect as was the suddenness of its arrival. The garden with its aromatic shrubs and bushes was very soon blanketed under a growing carpet of snow.
Alonso quickly fought his way through the swirling snow to the door of his quarters in the Ambassadorial Suite. He held it open and indicated to Boabdil that he should enter. Boabdil also struggled through the blizzard and entered Alonso's quarters. Both of them were soaked to the skin so Alonso indicated to Boabdil that he should enter the bath area and take a warm bath. He then instructed Rodrigo who was standing near that he should take a change of raiment to the king. Then he went into his own bed-chamber to change his own soaked clothes.
Outside in the garden the sun was shining again, the blizzard had abated and the black snow cloud had completely disappeared leaving the plants and shrubs looking bedraggled and drooping as the snow that lay on them forced them by its weight to bend to the snow covered ground. A remarkable amount of snow had fallen on the garden in the space of a few minutes. It would take time for it to recover.
After some ten minutes had passed Boabdil came into Alonso's living quarters. He had bathed and changed his clothes.
"That sudden snow storm was remarkable in its intensity Don Alonso", Boabdil said as he seated himself in a chair opposite Alonso who was seated in front of a large window which looked out to the distant Sierra Nevada. Of course the peaks gleamed even more than usual with such a heavy fall of fresh snow completely covering them and the sun shining.
Alonso made no comment knowing exactly what his friend was thinking."I must soon leave this place with this superb vista of the sierras. There will be no such view in The Alpujaros". Both of them knew that there would be mountain views in the place of exile. It was just that they would not be the usual magnificent snow scapes one saw from the Alhambra. The views in the Alpujaras were inferior, completely second rate. Both of them knew this. Alonso also knew that Boabdil would never be able to accept those bare inhospitable mountain sides without snow which made up his new kingdom. He would yearn for the majestic snow covered peaks he had seen all his life from the Alhambra. He might as well be in Africa as in The Alpujaros. With prophetic insight Alonso suddenly realised where Boabdil's future lay. Not in The Alpujaros but across the narrow sea, across the narrow sea in Africa, land of his ancestors. He knew that he too would be there with him.
Enrique and his two colleagues had not yet reported back to El Zigal. They had been so relieved to escape from the cavern and its wild looking men that they had almost forgotten about the oath they had taken on the bible promising to return with information about what was happening in The Alhambra. It did cross Enrique's mind once or twice that perhaps he should tell someone, someone in authority of what they had done. Then he dismissed the thought thinking "Yes, we did give a solemn undertaking, obviously under threat and in fear of our lives. And if we don't do as we promised what can El Zigal do about it?" He had not discussed the matter with Bernardo and Pablo since their escape from the cavern He felt that it was now time to do so.
That evening after the bishop, their master, had retired for the night they discussed the matter. It turned out that Bernardo and Pablo had done nothing but think about their solemn undertaking since their return from the cavern. They were obviously relieved to discuss the matter with Enrique. All three felt that their oath was not binding since it was so obviously made under duress.
Enrique put forward his idea that they should tell someone in higher authority about what happened to them when they entered the hill-side cavern. After a very short discussion on the matter they ruled out the idea of telling Bishop Alvarez, their master. They agreed that he was not the right person to tell and in the end decided to consult Rodrigo, Alonso de Gurrea's servant, as to the desirability of confiding in the said Alonso de Gurrea. However, in the event matters were taken out of their hands.
That very night in the early hours of the morning in fact the three servants were awakened from their sleep by a sustained tapping noise on one of the windows of the room in which they slept.
Enrique was the first to awake. Not without some misgivings he rose from his bed and went towards the window. He opened it and leaned out. As he did so a quiet but clear penetrating voice said "Why have you not reported to me as you swore on the bible to do?"
Enrique, who had been joined at the window by Bernardo and Pablo froze in horror. The voice was instantly recognizable as that of El Zigal himself. He quickly closed the window and moved away from it. All three of them were completely terrified. What would happen next?
What happened next happened very quickly. The door of the bishop's apartment flew open and the room was soon full of turbaned men who silently but very effectively seized the bishop's three servants and forcibly bundled them out into the moonlit garden. Before dawn broke a few hours later, though none of them could see it of course being as they were bound and gagged on the floor of one of the vast underground caverns in the hill-side they knew that they were well and truly captives. They were conscious but only just, blindfolded and bound hand and foot.
El Zigal had seized the three servants from their master's quarters without really thinking through the consequences of his action. His anger had been so intense at their non-return that it had boiled over and resulted in all three of them lying here on the floor of the cavern in front of him.
He felt like kicking the prostrate forms that lay on the floor but somehow he could' quite do so. He knew that in truth his anger had abated and left him. In its place were three captives bound hand and foot! What was he to do with them?
As he stood there towering over the prostrate forms, he was an extremely tall man, he thought through all his options.
In his mind he put all the negative points of his position in one column and all the positive points in another column. In the first place of the negative column he felt that the bishop would move heaven and earth to have his servants returned to him. He realised that of all people a bishop would have special power in heaven and that of all bishops a Spanish bishop had special powers on earth therefore Bishop Diego Alvarez would try very hard indeed to effect the return of his servants. That being so El Zigal realised that he had put his entire gang of followers in great jeopardy, they were in great danger of being discovered and captured. On the other hand El Zigal reasoned no one knew who had captured and removed the bishop's servants. Therefore the wrath of the bishop could not fall upon he and his band. They were safe. That was clearly not the case for the three servants. They obviously had to be killed and their bodies disposed of as quickly as possible. Alive they were a great threat. Dead that threat was removed and he and his band could breathe again.
The more El Zigal thought about the killing of Bishop Alvare's three servants the less he liked it. He was not a bloodthirsty man. He did not enjoy killing another human being for its own sake. He only killed when there was no alternative. The present case was just such an example---there really was no alternative to the killing of the three kidnapped servants. It had to be done and that being so it was better that it be done quickly. The real problem was that only he was available to do the killing and he could not bring himself to do it.
He thought about it some more and then began to think that perhaps he could spare the lives of the three prisoners who lay supine on the floor in front of him. Perhaps he could cut out their tongues to prevent them from revealing who had captured them. After a little more reflection on the matter he realised that even the removal of the tongues of the bishop's three servants was no solution to the problem. They would still be able to write the name of their kidnapper. So he was back where he started. Bishop Alvarez's servants had to die.
After some more moments thought about the fate of the bishop's servants El Zigal decided to take no action on the matter for another twenty-four hours. He stretched himself out on the floor of the cave not far from his captives and went to sleep.
Meanwhile there was great activity in and around The Ambassadorial Suite of The Alhambra Palace.
When El Zigal had tapped on the window of Bishop Alvarez's servant's quarters he didn't know it of course but he had awakened not just the servants but the bishop as well, the bishop being prevented from sleeping by his "problem". After being fully awakened by the sustained tapping on the window of the room next to his own the bishop had risen quickly from his bed, opened the door connecting his room to that of his servants slightly. Thus he witnessed at first hand the abduction of his servants.
Wrapping himself in a warm cloak he followed El Zigal and his men to the cave mouth in the hill-side. After making certain that the kidnappers had all entered the cavern he returned to the Alhambra. Once there he quickly roused the commander of the besieging Spanish army and informed him of what he had seen and heard. The commandant decided that there should be a raid on the hillside cavern as soon after dawn as practicable.
Soon all was hustle and bustle in the Spanish camp. This being so it lead to an equal amount of hustle and bustle in the Alhambra it being impossible to disguise the sound of military preparations from its Moorish defenders. They knew at once that they were the obvious target of all this hostile activity. It was a surprise therefore, when after the passage of two hours of intense tooing and froing and strange stirings and rustlings no attack took place and all went quiet again. Both Moor and Spaniard settled back into the uneasy quiet of night time in this final stage of the long drawn out seige of Granada.
The dawn raid on the cavern where El Zigal and his men lay sleeping was accomplished quickly and efficiently. There were no casualties on the Spanish side although several horses went lame during the ascent to the cave mouth causing their riders to be unseated and forcing them to remain with their disable mounts until the could receive medical attention. During the occupation of the cavern three of El Zigal's men were killed resisting arrest. All in all the bishop and the Spanish commandant considered it a highly satisfactory night's work.
Of course Enrique and his two fellow servants were quickly unbound and restored to their master. Despite their obvious distress he instantly demanded an explanation of them. None was forthcoming so they were given into the charge of the army doctor who had accompanied the contingent on their dawn raid. It was his considered opinion that after three or four days of complete rest they would be none the worse for their hair-raising nocturnal adventure.
El Zigal was quickly placed in chains and brought before the bishop and the military commander in the vast torch-lit cavern. He refused to kneel before them and so he was roughly forced to kneel. He also refused to bow his head whereupon that part of his body was even more roughly forced to the ground with great brutality, injuring him in the process. There was blood pouring from him by the time he knelt, head bound before his Spanish captors. Even so he spat on the ground in front of them whereupon several Spanish soldiers kicked his body with great savagery causing more blood to flow from him.
The bishop also kicked him very viciously. El Zigal was by this time almost unconscious. The bishop bent down and shouted into the suffering, semi-conscious man's ear: "You and your men will be hanged at dawn tomorrow without the benefit of Christian rites to ease your passage down to hell. Your bodies will be cut into pieces and fed to the dogs. So perish all the enemies of Spain". Having shouted out the words so that all present in the vast cavern heard them as they echoed round and round the bishop kicked El Zigal into complete unconsciousness.
It was doubtful if El Zigal had heard a word the bishop had said. On the other hand his men and the Spanish soldiers had heard everything clearly and distinctly as the bishop's voice reverberated round and round the cavern.
Within the space of a very few hours the unconscious El Zigal and his men were removed from the cavern and taken as prisoners to the Spanish army camp at the foot of The Alhambra in Granada. There were found to be over three hundred of them. Some of them were put to the task of building a long line of gallows where their own executions would take place at dawn the next day. The rest were herded together in a hastily constructed compound. Very soon the all pervasive, nauseating stench of human excrement, both liquid and solid hung over them all like a second skin for in their great fear they voided their bowels and emptied their bladders. It was disgusting and dehumanising.
The whole of the camp was awake and agog with excitement and activity. Excited spasms of something approaching personal electricity seemed to pass between the frenzied soldiers as they scurried hither and thither telling their equally excited and frenzied colleagues of the great spectacle to come at dawn when a newly captured batch of prisoners were to be hanged. Over three hundred of them. What a show! What entertainment! When would they ever see the like again!
All the great activity finally awakened Ambassador de Gurrea as he lay in his bed in the sleeping chamber of his quarters in The Ambassadorial Suite. What he heard was a faint distant buzzing but it certainly caused him to awaken.
Rodrigo was already awake and together they went out on to the balustrade. Down below they could see a vast crowd of people some of whom appeared to be working. They had no idea what it was all about but they knew it must be something unusual and important. So Alonso sent Rodrigo down to find out what it was all about. He returned some time later and told Alonso all about the dawn raid on the cavern in the hill-side and of the subsequent capture of El Zigal and his men. He went on to tell his master of the mass hanging that was to come the next dawn. Upon hearing of the proposed mass hanging Alonso felt his hackles rise. Surely his grace the bishop could not arbitrarily decide on his own that over three hundred prisoners should be hanged at dawn. What about some sort of judicial process, a trial? Alonso knew at once that he had to intervene. He went back to his quarters to reflect upon the matter for some minutes. Then, taking Rodrigo with him he set off down the hill to the Spanish camp.
The terrible stench emanating from the captured El Zigal and his men now hung over the whole area of the Spanish camp and beyond. Alonso and Rodrigo walked into it and it very soon permeated their clothes and wrapped itself around them like a cloak keeping out the intense cold of winter. Both felt nauseated, both reeled and were immediately sick. Both felt compelled to leave the area and rushed away from it as fast as they could. It took a walk of more than twenty minutes before the dreadful smell was gone and the air became fresh again. It was a blessed relief to breathe really fresh air again! The two of them remained seated on a small outcrop of rock breathing in great mouthfuls of really fresh wholesome air. After about an hour when all trace of the dreadful stench had left them Alonso decided to go to see the Spanish commandant in his headquarters tent. He took Rodrigo with him. Both felt they needed to bathe and change their clothes. Both new that they would never feel really clean again until they had done so. Since there was no possibility of bathing and changing their clothes they had no option but to go to see the commandant as they were.
As luck would have it when Alonso and his servant Rodrigo were ushered into the Spanish commander's tent Bishop Alvarez was with him. They were deep in conversation. Both rose from their chairs and greeted Alonso warmly. Both looked happy and triumphant, particularly the bishop.
"It is good to see you Don Alonso. You have obviously heard the news that we have over three hundred prisoner. They are to be executed at dawn. It will be a great show----"
Alonso intervened at this point interjecting his own words into the bishop's.
"That is precisely why I am here my lord bishop. I question your authority to order the execution of these prisoners. Should there not be a trial before men can be sentence to death?"
The bishop's triumphant smile instantly disappeared to be replaced by a snarling, seething look of utter unredeemed hatred. He did not answer Alonso's question but collapsed back into his chair almost upsetting it as he did so. His look was terrible to behold. As for the commandant his smile remained for a second but then quickly transformed itself into something resembling a sardonic, quisical, slightly hurt looking smirk. He remained standing. Baltazar Diaz, commander of the entire Spanish army besieging Granada in general and The Alhambra in particular was a bluff looking corpulent man in his late fifties. A professional soldier since his teens he had learnt his trade the hard way by fighting in almost every war in every country of Europe during the last thirty years. Despite the enormous girth of his fair round belly he was an abstemious man. He ate and drank but little so his extended stomach could only be attributed to some glandular malfunction. A strict disciplinarian he believed in severe punishment as a deterrent to others. To hang three hundred and odd prisoners before the entire Spanish army at dawn would be a wonderful deterrent to anyone in the aforesaid army. Those thinking of desertion would think again when they saw the faces of the corpses turning blue as their protruding tongues became more and more extended. Yes. Swinging corpses, swinging in the wind would render discipline easier to maintain. The sight would strike fear in others in the army who were engaged in all sorts of illegal and illicit practices. There was nothing like a mass-hanging to maintain discipline and obedience. He therefore felt acute resentment towards this insolent young puppy Don Alonso de Gurrea who was obviously hell bent on depriving him of the disciplinary benefits he considered that the army would reap from the forthcoming mass hanging at dawn. The annoying thing was that this Alonso de Gurrea was the son of his old campaigning companion De Gurrea. He had always felt that De Gurrea would ruin his son by not maintaining strict disciplinary control over him.
It had happened exactly as he had predicted. Because of the father's lack of strict discipline in the upbringing of his son that son was now a lute playing, moslem loving living proof of what happened when strict discipline was released. It was true that he was King Ferdinand's Ambassador at the court of Boabdil, King of Granada. But what sort of job was that. It couldn't last of course and then what would happen to the younger de Gurrea? That was not his problem but he felt some slight feeling of satisfaction that his prediction had been fulfilled
He began to sympathised with Bishop Diego Alvarez. He had told him of how insufferable this younger De Gurrea was with his high handed interference. The problem was that in the hierarchy of things De Gurrea outranked them both.
All these things went through his mind as he stood in front of Alonso wondering how to ensure that the hangings went ahead at dawn as planned.
Alonso spoke again. "I order that these prisoners, these men. . . " here he paused and laid great emphasis on the word men. "I order that these men be washed and given clean clothes to wear. They may be prisoners but they are still men and should be treated as such. They are herded together like cattle and they smell like cattle. I order that they be treated like human beings. See to it at once. . . "
Balthazar Diaz deliberately emphasised the smirk on his face before saying "Very well Don Alonso. I will go and give the necessary orders. It shall be done as you command". Saying this he saluted Alonso and left the tent. He felt the electricity in the air. There would be an almighty explosion. These two, Ambassador Alonso de Gurrea and Bishop Diego Alvarez baited one another constantly. In his new found sympathy for the bishop he understood exactly how he felt. He, the bishop should have been given full plenipotentiary powers. It was a distinct humiliation for the bishop to be given all the work of negotiation to do and yet to be deprived of full power over the conduct of such negotiations. Were he in the same position he would certainly explode with fury. Come to think of it he was in the same position. He was the Spanish military commandant here in Granada but King Ferdinand was the supreme military commander. He could always override Commandant Balthazar Diaz. So far it hadn't happened. But. . . . ! He began to feel worried, very worried indeed.
De Gurrea had talked about due process of law, a trial. Did he not know that Granada was under military law? That he Balthazar Diaz was the supreme, the only, legal authority in Granada. What would happen if De Gurrea appealed over his head directly to King Ferdinand. Therein lay the problem. What would that wily old fox Ferdinand of Aragon do? Who would he support? His ambassador or his military commander? He began to wish that he had not been so precipitate in his capture of the renegade El Zegal and his men. Perhaps they would have been better left in their cave in the hill-side. He would be feeling much safer now if that had been the case! He stormed out of the tent and gave the necessary orders There was a great deal to be said for having the prisoners washed and scrubbed. The stench was appalling. As for clothing them he drew the line at that. But if the hangings went ahead at dawn as planned the uniforms would soon be returned to the quartermaster's stores. It was only a temporary annoyance. He would give special instructions that the clothes on the bodies be treated with respect. Some two hours later the dreadful stench that had hung over the Spanish camp for many hours was gone. It had become a place fit for human habitation again.
Alonso had followed Balthazar Diaz out of the tent leaving Bishop Alvarez in his collapsed state lying on the chair.
Alonso had no idea what would happen next. He knew instinctively that his confrontation with the bishop was the most serious yet. Whichever way the present conflict between them was resolved it was definitely the point of no return. One of them had to lose and lose decisively.
Now as he walked back to his quarters in the Ambassadorial Suite in The Alhambra accompanied by Rodrigo he turned over the whole business in his mind. He now realised, of course, that Balthazar Diaz had supreme legal power in Granada, or had he? He also realised that he, Alonso de Gurrea, King Ferdinand's Ambassador and Plenipotentiary at the court of The King of Granada. outranked the military commander. However, if he pulled rank on Diaz and stopped the executions he would make an enemy of him for life. Would it be better to ask King Ferdinand to forbid the executions or make a life-long enemy of Balthazar Diaz, old companion-in-arms and life-long friend of his father. It was certainly something to think about.
By the time he returned to his quarters he had decided that he would return to the Spanish camp in two or three hours and speak personally with some of the prisoners. After hearing their stories he would make up his mind what to do.
Two hours later he walked down the hill again to the Spanish camp. All trace of the foul stench had gone and the prisoners were now dressed in Spanish uniforms. The compound within which they were confined had been moved to another part of the camp. Their compound was now located on the bank of the river Dano to where the prisoners had been moved after having been ordered to remove their evil smelling garments. They had then been ordered to submerge themselves in the ice-cold water of the river and given cakes of soap with which to wash themselves. They had bathed and washed themselves in batches and all of them were now free of all vestiges of the filth that had covered them until so very recently.
Alonso moved amongst the prisoners questioning them at random. As he questioned more and more of them he became aware that they were all very reluctant to talk about how they came to be part of El Zegal's band of renegades. It didn't take him long to realise that what they were all hiding was the fact that most of them had come from the men who had made up the escort which had disappeared during the night journey from Santa Fe to Granada. They were in fact deserters and as such could be sentenced to death, death being the recognised penalty for desertion. None of them gave the slightest hint of recognition as he passed amongst them. Then suddenly he saw him. He could never forget those mesmeric eyes with their piercing, haunting stare. There was no mistaking him----the Spanish captain who had ordered the massacre of Princess Faraidha's bodyguard and who had been responsible, directly or indirectly for her death. He also gave no hint of recognition, did not deflect his fixed mesmeric stare away from Alonso's eyes for a moment. Alonso also gave no hint of recognition although both obviously knew who the other was. It was a sort of game. "Don't you recognise me and I won't recognise you" was its name and they played it to the full.
He moved away from the former Spanish captain with the mesmeric eyes. It was very noticeable that he was in the farthest section of the compound, that he was on his own with none of his fellow prisoners around him. Alonso questioned some of these fellow prisoners and they very quickly confirmed that "El solo", the lonely one, the solitary one was in fact, as this nickname suggested, "a loner". He spoke with no one and no one spoke with him. He was a complete mystery to his fellow prisoners. They felt that he carried within him such great guilt that he couldn't share it with anyone else in the entire world. He fixed his eyes on something he alone saw and spoke not a word. They also confirmed that he was their leader, El Zigal's right hand man, the strategist who had ensured the band's survival. They also told Alonso that El Zigal had acted on his own when he had kidnapped Bishop Alvarez's three servants.
Taking everything together and thinking deeply about it Alosno was now more than ever confused as to what course of action he should take about the proposed mass execution of El Zigal and his men still scheduled for dawn the next day. It was by now evening although still light.
As he walked back up the hill again to his quarters he was met by Rodrigo who was looking for him. He told him that El Zigal had died as a result of the injuries he had received at the hands of his Spanish captors. He also told him that El Zigal's body had been very carefully stripped of its Spanish uniform and was to be cut into pieces. It was then to be fed to the dogs whilst the entire Spanish army besieging Granada and their prisoners looked on.
Alonso felt appalled that a fellow Christian, a bishop of the Holy Roman Catholic Church has ordered that the body of a fellow Christian be treated in such a way. But at least El Zigal had not been hanged and in any case it was the soul that mattered not the body. He had already started to speculate on who El Zegal really was. From what he had heard about him he was clearly not a Moor nor an Arab despite his Arabic name. He didn't get very far in his speculations for a messenger arrived from Commandant Balthazar Diaz inviting him to dine with him in an hour. King Ferdinand had arrived in the camp in great secrecy a short time ago and commanded his presence.
Alonso felt a great sense of relief sweep over him. Did King Ferdinand's sudden arrival in the camp mean that any decision on the hanging of the prisoners was taken out of his hands? He certainly hoped so!
He returned to his quarters in The Alhambra Suite and changed his clothes. He didn't change into his official, splendid ambassadorial clothes. His instinct informed him that Ferdinand wished his unexpected visit to be low key and he therefore felt that he should wear something not quite as splendid as his semi-regal, semi-robes of state.
He had guessed correctly. King Ferdinand did wish his visit to be as informal as possible. As soon as he saw his ambassador to the court of the King of Granada Ferdinand told him just that and went on to tell him that he had ordered that all those amongst the newly captured prisoners who were found to be army deserters were definitely to be hanged at dawn. He continued by saying "I want you to examine all the prisoners again Don Alonso. All those who are not army deserters, those who were kidnapped and forced to join El Zigal and his band are to be given 10 gold pieces and sent home. You are to examine all the prisoners again as soon as I leave camp. You will be assisted in your work by the military men I will leave here for that very purpose. You are to have the final decision on who lives and who dies. I have further given orders that the men to be hanged are to be allowed to have a priest in attendance at their executions. There will be no desecration of their bodies after they are dead. Now let us walk together Don Alonso, I have things to say to you that can only be said in private". The king led the way out of the building in which they had met and bade Alonso follow him.
Alonso hesitated at the door of the building in which he had met his sovereign. He felt totally devastated. He had thought with great relief, that he was about to be spared the terrible business of having to decide on whether to allow the execution of El Zigal's men to go ahead and now that decision had been placed even more firmly in his hands. In the next few hours he had to examine each one of the three hundred and odd prisoners again. True he was to have the help of a panel of military men as King Ferdinand had indicated but his was the final decision. He was horrified. After a moments hesitation at the door he followed the king outside.
Ferdinand was waiting for him impatiently. He was pacing up and down in an angry, agitated way. As soon as Alonso joined him he came straight to the point. "The skirmishing in the Alhambra is costing us many men", he said, then stopped and looked around suspiciously as if he expected to find an army of eavesdroppers listening to his every word. When he observed that there was nobody in the vicinity he continued by saying: "Don Alonso I want you to tell Boabdil to stop it If need be I am prepared to sign an agreement with him leading to a truce which could last until the second of January, the date of his public act of surrender. I am also prepared to meet him, secretly, of course. We could meet in your quarters in The Alhambra. I am sure he also deplores all this useless killing. Will you tell Boabdil that if he agrees to stop the killing I will increase the amount of subsidy I am to pay him each month". Ferdinand delivered himself of all these proposals speaking very quickly as he continued to pace up and down at an equally fast pace. Then he slowed his pace considerably as he said: "On second thoughts perhaps I had better not meet Boabdil. Someone is certain to find out about it and that could lead him into great trouble with his own people. I will rely on you Don Alonso to make my message plain to him. I need the killing in the Alhambra to stop quickly. Now let us go in to our meal". With this Ferdinand turned on his heel and walked quickly back to the house where he was staying leaving Alonso to follow him as quickly as he could.
Alonso entered the dining-room of the King Ferdinand's lodging only a short time after the king himself had done so. Ferdinand was already seated in the position of honour in the centre of the large, heavily laden table. The room was large and beautifully furnished with superb wood panelling on the walls with here and there exquisite wood carvings decorating it. The light from the many candles burning brightly on the table was reflected in its highly polished surface as was the reflection of the large fire which burned brightly and cheerfully in the wide grate. All in all it was a scene of cheerful contented domesticity which greeted Alonso as he entered the room.
He walked towards the table. The King gestured to him and indicated that he should sit in the vacant chair on his right which he did. Balthazar Diaz occupied the place next to Ferdinand on his left side. Immediately he was seated the meal began.
Long lines of servants brought in vast quantities of food starting with various meats. Then followed a multitude of pies and pastries. Bowls of exotic fruits were brought in and placed on the table near the king who appeared not to be hungry for he ate nothing as he spoke with Diaz on his left side. After a short time he seemed to grow weary of his conversation with his military commander and turned to Alonso. "I fear that you will get very little sleep this evening Don Alonso. It will be time consuming to interrogate all these prisoners again. It might be better to deal with them in batches. But how you proceed is up to you", he said. Then he turned to Diaz again and was soon deep in conversation with him. From what he could hear Alonso realised that Ferdinand was discussing the heavy casualties and ways to reduce them. It was soldiers talk, rather technical and to Alonso quite tedious. He did his best not to listen and tried to think of other things. Only one thing occupied his thoughts---the harrowing prospect of having to interrogate El Zigal's men again and pass judgement on them. The matter would not leave his mind for an instant. In particular this thoughts centred on what he was to do about the Spanish captain who had ordered the massacre of Princess Fahraida's guard. He could not get his face out of his mind. He had seen that face, or a face very like it on someone else, someone he was in contact with constantly but he couldn't think who. It was intriguing and disturbing.
Ferdinand finally finished his conversation with Balthazar Diaz. Turning to Alonso he said "Well, have you decided how you are going to proceed with the interrogations? I shouldn't worry about it too much. Most of them are undoubtedly guilty of desertion anyway. If you have any lingering doubts keep the prisoners behind and I'll look into their cases when I am here in about a month. The military men I am leaving here with you will know instinctively who's a deserter and who isn't. In the final analysis trust their judgement. Please see Boabdil as quickly as possible. Now I must return to Santa Fe". Saying this he immediately rose from his chair and walked out of the room having eaten nothing.
As soon as the king had left the room Balthazar Diaz, military commander, left his seat at the table. He approached Alonso who was still seated. "His majesty told me to tell you so that you could tell Boabdil that all Spanish military activities here in Granada and amongst our troops besieging The Alhambra will end at midnight. He expects Boabdil to order the same thing on the Moorish side so that there will be a complete truce until further notice. I have made arrangements for your interrogation of the prisoners to take place in the large cellar of this building, or should I say I will have the prisoners brought to the cellar. You and your advisors can sit in the office just above the cellar so that the prisoners can be brought before you. I realise that you will have to return to The Alhambra in order to inform Boabdil of King Ferdinand's request for a truce. Whilst you are back in The Alhambra I will have everything prepared for the prisoners in the cellar and in the office you will use. Now I must go and give the necessary orders. All will be prepared for your return from The Alhambra Don Alonso". All this was said in a low whisper so that only Alonso heard what the military commander said. Alonso kept his gaze on him as he left the room. Before the commander went through the door he put his finger to his lip to indicate that everything he said was to be kept strictly secret.
Alonso felt quite perplexed by what Balthazar Diaz had just told him. Here was Ferdinand of Aragon proposing to his enemy the King of Granada that the two of them declare a truce, a full cessation of hostilities between them as of midnight. And yet there had been no negotiations between them as to the terms under which such a truce would come into effect at midnight. It was highly irregular and contrary to all the established protocols under which war was conducted. Besides Ferdinand had mentioned nothing to him about a permanent truce. What was he, Alonso de Gurrea, Ferdinand's ambassador and plenipotentiary here at the court of the King of Granada to do if that king of Granada refused to accede to Ferdinand's request for a truce. There was absolutely nothing in writing, no record whatsoever. And it was he, a mere ambassador who had to request this truce. He instantly suspected that his master Ferdinand of Aragon was "up to something". The more he thought about it the more he felt that he was in a situation fraught with great danger.
About an hour later he was in the presence of Boabdil in The Alhambra and explaining King Ferdinand of Aragon's request for a permanent truce to him. He was extremely relieved when Boabdil told him that he too had been thinking along the same lines. He readily sent for his military advisors and then requested Alonso to wait outside in an ante chamber.
Within the space of a very few minutes Alonso was summoned back into the King of Granada's presence and informed that there would be a permanent truce between the warring Moorish and Spanish troops around The Alhambra. Alonso then informed his friend that limited amounts of foodstuffs and other essentials, but not military supplies, would be allowed into The Alhambra. Ferdinand had authorised him to tell Boabdil this. Deliveries were to start in the morning.
Upon hearing this most welcome news Boabdil thanked Alonso most profusely and told him that he regarded him as the truest friend he and Granada had in the Spanish camp. He then bade Alonso good night and retired to his sleeping quarters.
Alonso went down the hill again to the Spanish camp to begin what for him was the terrible task of examining El Zigal's men again. As he went down the hill a furious, devilish cannonade began. The noise was deafening and the cannon flashes frightening. It didn't last long however and by the time he arrived at the venue for his gruesome task all was silent again.
When he entered the room where the interrogations were to take place he found that the two military men who were to assist him were already seated at the long table. He took the vacant chair which was placed between them.
And so the interrogations began. The first dozen cases were straightforward and clear cut. Alonso consulted the sheaf of papers which lay on the table in front of him. Listed there was each one of the prisoners in numerical order. Opposite each number was listed a name and place and date of birth. At the end of the first twelve entries was written the word deserter. Alonso asked each man to confirm his name and date and place of birth. Then he gestured to his two colleagues who questioned the prisoners about their military histories and confirmed that they were in fact deserters. They were then told that they were to be hanged at dawn and advised to make their peace with God in the hours that remained to them. They were then led out of the room.
The next case, number thirteen, was a young man of medium height and robust build. He had clear blue eyes and blond hair. If his name had not been listed as Francesco Pajaro Alonso would have taken him for a German or Scandinavian. The word deserter was not written against his name and so Alonso decided that he alone would question him. Alonso recognised the light of superior intelligence in the bright clear eyes. Therefore he was not surprised at the way in which Pajaro gave his answers. "I see that you are from Barcelona. How do you come to be here in Granada which is a long way from Barcelona?" Alonso asked him in a straightforward, matter of fact way. Pajaro answered in the same clear cut way never once taking his eyes off Alonso's. "I was brought up in an orphanage in Barcelona. It was run by nuns. From what they told me I was found on their doorstep with a note saying that my mother could not afford to keep me. She begged the nuns to bring me up a good Christian and when I was older to apprentice me to a trade under a good Christian master. They apprenticed me to a puppeteer when I was twelve. We travelled all over Spain and once to France. My master never bothered to teach me anything of the puppeteer's art. To him I was just a servant and as such his to exploit.
We came to Granada two years ago in the wake of King Ferdinand's army. About a year ago my master started to abuse me sexually and so I ran away. Whilst I was living on the streets of Granada I was recruited into El Zigal's band. It was better than existing on the streets of Granada and I enjoyed the companionship of my fellow members. For the first time I felt that I was part of something and El Zigal himself was good to me. I was sad to see him die but at least he wasn't hanged as we are to be. "Here the young man became silent as he crossed himself without once taking his eyes off Alonso.
"How did you come by your name?" Alonso asked him.
"Oh the nuns named me! It was the day of San Francisco and the bird's were singing out loud when they found me. So they called me Francisco Pajaro. I have no idea who my family were or what my real name was". The young man lapsed into silence again leaving Alonso in a quandary as to what he should say next. He had taken quite a liking to this Francisco Pajaro and increasingly felt that here was someone who should not be hanged at dawn. He began to wonder how he should set about trying to save him and to what end?
His two colleagues had not questioned Pajaro and therefore could not be expected to form an opinion as to whether he should be spared the gallows. There was no denying that he was a member of El Zigal's band and therefore on that count alone he was guilty of a crime but did he deserve to hang at dawn? He thought not and he resolved there and then that he would save this Francisco Pajaro from the gallows.
He adopted a serious attitude and said to Pajaro, in what he hoped was a serious tone of voice: "Francisco Pajaro you will not be hanged at dawn. You will be given ten gold pieces and your freedom. When you leave this room you will be free to go where you will. But I will give you a letter to take to the abbot of the monastery of San Francisco. The good monks will provide you with food and shelter until you decide what to do with your life. The monks will help you in every way they can but if you need further assistance you may contact me at any time you wish. I am Alonso de Gurrea, King Ferdinand of Aragon's ambassador at the court of the King of Granada. I hope that you will keep me informed of what you decide to do and feel free to discuss any aspect of your future with me. I would strongly advise you to leave your gold pieces with the abbot for safe keeping. Now you may go. You can stay in this house until morning. The housekeeper will show you where you can sleep". Alonso finished speaking and bent his head over the papers in front of him. He turned over a sheet and studied it carefully but after a few seconds during which he closely scrutinised the details on the sheet he found that he could no longer concentrate on the facts written there. He raised his eyes to find that Francisco Pajaro had prostrated himself in front of the table at which he and his two colleagues were seated. Pajaro's eyes were however, still fixed on Alonso. Alonso dreaded an emotional outburst but was greatly relieved when no such thing occurred. Pajaro remained prostrate on the floor with his eyes rigidly fixed on Alonso. "I owe you my life Don Alonso, what else can I say?"
Alonso still feared an emotional outburst from Pajaro and did not wish to provoke such a happening. He wondered how the young man managed to remain prostrate on the floor and still managed to keep his eyes fixed on him and speak to him at the same time.
"I felt that you deserve a second chance and that you could lead a useful and happy life in the future. Please rise Francisco Pajaro. Your letter to the abbot of the monastery will be waiting for you in the morning. I wish you good night and good luck for your future. Do not forget that you can contact me at any time".
The young man rose from the floor, bowed to Alonso and without saying a word left the room.
Alonso resumed his perusal of the papers in front of him until the next prisoner was led in.
This pattern established itself as a routine which continued for several hours. Prisoners were led in, questioned, the details of their cases reexamined and their fate settled, usually by the military men who sat on either side of Alonso. If the prisoners brought before him were obvious deserters Alonso left the decision making to his military colleagues. He was becoming increasingly sleepy by this time and it took all his powers of concentration and control not to fall asleep. They had made good progress but there were still many prisoners to deal with.
It had become increasingly hot in the room and this of course, was adding greatly to the increasing sense of drowsiness which assailed his senses. He suddenly felt a hand shake his shoulder quite vigorously. His colleague of the left hand side had realised that he had actually fallen asleep and so had awakened him before the arrival of the next prisoner.
"Don Alonso, why don't you go for a walk outside. Most of the cases before us now are deserters and we can deal with them ourselves. The break will do you good. Believe me we can deal with the present batch of cases easily".
Forcing himself to remain awake he greed with his colleagues assessment that a walk in the open air outside the stuffy room would do him good. So he left the table at which he was seated, walked up the short flight of stairs to the main door of the building and walked out into the night.
It was a night of glittering stars with the crescent moon hanging like a thin slice of melon in the sky. It was chilly and that chill revived Alonso instantly. He was quite surprised to find that the prisoners awaiting interrogation were kept in a section of the garden of the house which lay at the side and was surrounded by a low wall. There were burning torches everywhere some held by guards and others burning in holders placed on top of the wall. The guards stood outside the wall and didn't seem to be guarding the prisoners but then it was night and there was the wall.
He walked towards the nearest guard who raised his sword in salute. The guard obviously recognised his as he said: "It will be a great show in the morning when this lot are dispatched. The priest have already started hearing confessions of those who know that they are to hang. They say that King Ferdinand himself ordered that the cases be reviewed. I wouldn't have bothered, they're all guilty as hell and deserve what's in store for them. We all have to die but to know when must be the worst punishment of all. It'll all be over in a few hours. Good night sir".
The guard lowered his sword as Alonso walked past him.
He walked until he came to the end of the garden wall. As he approached it he could see a man kneeling as if in prayer. Then as he drew near he could hear the man praying. Even in the shadows cast by the flickering torches he recognised the man kneeling on top of the wall. The Spanish captain who had ordered the massacre of Princess Farhaida's Moorish guards was reciting the prayers for the dying out loud. It was a strange, mysterious, almost otherworldly sight to see a man praying on top of a wall illuminated by flickering torches with the twinkling stars and the moon in the sky above and a slight chilly breeze stirring the branches of the many trees that grew in the garden and outside it.
Alonso remained standing where he was. There was something elemental, primeval, in the sight he saw and the sound he heard. His mind was very forcibly reminded of the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. Here was someone else awaiting death and in a garden so perhaps it was entirely appropriate to think of that other more famous incident in a garden. The praying voice suddenly stopped intoning and said in a soft but clearly audible voice. "Whoever you are come forward so that I can see you".
Alonso was so startled out of his frozen attitude by the sound of the voice that he did exactly what the voice demanded. He stepped forward into the light of the burning torch. There was silence for some seconds. Then the voice said: "You. I somehow knew that it would be you. You've come back to torture me in my last hours on earth. I'm not certain that I can stand it. I ought to order you back into the shadows but somehow I can't do it. I feel like talking. Will you listen to the words of a man about to die, sir. I do not know you, sir, but then in another way I know you very well, perhaps better than I know myself. Will you listen to me sir as I unburden myself. If it is too troublesome for you I will understand completely if you do not wish to listen to me . . . "
The voice trailed off into silence. "Of course I will listen to you if that is what you wish but you would be better to make your confession to a priest". Alonso said quietly. "No. No priest. My father was a priest or at least a student priest. I never knew him but I know that he is now a high dignitary in the church. I never knew my mother either, she died when my brother and I were born. Yes. There were two of us. My mother was the youngest daughter of an aristocratic family of Salamanca. She met my father when he was a student at the university there. My grandparents raised me but my brother disappeared when we were seven years old. I just remember him. Apparently he was stolen from our garden by passing gypsies. So I never knew my parents only my grandparents. They doted on me, especially my grandmother, so much so that my grandfather felt that I would be ruined, would be unmanly if I was constantly surrounded by my grandmother and her women. So he pushed me into manly pursuits, a counterbalance to my grandmother's influence. After that it was always assumed that the soldier's life was to be my calling. But if I could start my life again I would opt for the life of a monk. The contemplative life appeals to me to some extent but I would have liked to have been a monk in one of the teaching orders: I feel that I would have served Jesus by passing on knowledge to the young. I hope that this doesn't sound contradictory sir. Here I am saying that I don't want a priest and at the same time saying that I wish to be a monk. Now of course it is too late. In the cold light of dawn, before the sun warms the earth, that is in just a few hours, I will cease to live. I do not know who you are, sir, but you must be someone important. I am sure you know that I am full of remorse, full of regret for the order I gave to slaughter those old Moorish men and full of regret for the death of the beautiful Moorish lady who clung to the stirrup of my horse to make her protest known. Something, something beyond my controlled led me on to do those things. I have known not one moment of peace since these terrible events. I am not afraid to die and the more I think about it the more appealing it seems to me that perhaps the only way I can ever know peace is to die, that way I will cease to be tormented. I hope that what I am saying makes sense sir". The voice stopped speaking and in the ensuing silence the wind rustled the branches of the trees more strongly. "I am Alonso de Gurrea, King Ferdinand of Aragon's ambassador at the court of the King of Granada. King Ferdinand has ordered me to re-examine the cases of the men of El Zegal's band condemned to death. I am empowered to recommend clemency and full pardon in certain cases. After hearing of your feelings of remorse and of your desire to be a teaching monk I will recommend that you be freed to do that which you wish. The Moorish lady who died was Princess Farhaida, sister of the King of Granada. I know now that I loved her".
Saying this Alonso instantly turned and walked back to the house. He did not look at the former Spanish captain.
It was only when he was back inside the house and consulting the sheaf of papers on the table in front of him that he realised that he had just reprieved a man whose name he did not know. He now had to convince his two colleagues, both military men, that this ex-Spanish captain, deserter par excellence, should be spared the hangman's noose at dawn.
He very quickly turned over the pages of the sheaf of papers in front of him. He already knew that his protégée, if that was the right word, had been El Zigal's strategist, his right hand man. Therefore he felt that there would be some special reference to this fact in the entry on the record of the man he was looking for. His surmise proved correct. He soon found an entry for one Antonio De La Fuente born in Salamanca and described in the entry as second in command of the band of outlaws and renegades headed by El Zigal. The fact that De La Fuente was a high ranking Spanish army deserter was emphasised by the fact that the word deserter after his name was underlined in red not once but three times.
Alonso felt that he would have the greatest difficulty in convincing his two colleagues that this Antonio De La Fuentes of Salamanca should be allowed to live and become a teaching monk. He had already decided that he would not raise the matter with his colleagues until De La Fuentes actually appeared before them in person. In the event De La Fuente did not appear before them in person.
Some two hours later they had completed their grim task. They had speeded up the process of reviewing the cases of the condemned men by examining them in batches of four. They were clearly deserters and therefore no circumstances which would mitigate the carrying out of the sentences umposed upon them could be allowed. Each time he agreed with his colleagues in these cases he felt that it was becoming more difficult for him to persuade them to pardon De La Fuente.
Finally their task was finished and they could go home to bed.
As Alonso left the house a great wave of tiredness swept over him. He was utterly exhausted but he felt somewhat relieved by the cold night breeze which met him when he went outside. The torches still burned along the garden wall but there were no guards now.
He entered the garden and walked along the path until he came to the clump of tall trees at its end. Several torches burnt there. Behind them he saw a dark shadow. The body of Antonio De La Fuente hung from the lowest branch of one of the trees, swaying in the freshening wind.
Alonso seized one of the burning torches and held it in front of the swaying corpse with its long protruding tongue. It was only then that he realised who its face had reminded him of----Bishop Diego Alvarez.
When Alonso walked down the hill from the Alhambra to the Spanish camp in occupied Granada the next afternoon no trace remained of the mass executions. The long line of gallows had been removed and of course there were no more guarded prisoners in the walled garden. He had given instructions that the body of Antonio De La Fuente be cut down and buried along with the other executed men.
He had slept for many hours but he still felt drained and tired. That being so he felt somewhat irritable and ill at ease. In his mind's eye he still saw the swaying body hanging from the tree, still saw its face, the face so strikingly like that of Bishop Diego Alvarez. He wondered if Alvarez had known of the existence of his sons because of course as Antonio de La Fuente had told him there had been two of them.
He was on his way to see Baltazar Diaz, military commander of Granada to enquire how he saw the military situation in the Alhambra now that a truce was in operation there.
There were now thousands of Spanish troops within the confining walls of the hill-top palace. Of course they were not within the walls of the palace itself but the situation was fraught with great difficulty as far as Alonso was could see. It was inevitable that such bitter enemies as Muslims and Christians, Spaniards and Moors, would taunt and jeer at one another living as they were in such close proximity. He needed to know how to proceed when the inevitable clashes occurred. That was one of the reasons for his meeting with Diaz. Diaz, ever the military man would see things in terms of black and white. His remedy for trouble would be to say hang the lot of them.
Alonso felt that the only way forward would be to appoint a Commission consisting of an equal number of Moorish and Spanish representatives. Either he or Bishop Alvarez would head the Spanish side and Rashid Ben Ali or one of his senior assistants the Moorish side. He could see endless problems ahead and wished that the second of January, 1492 was not the six weeks away that it was.
He could sense increasing trouble ahead for his friend, the King of Granada. With the truce his military people would have lots of time on their hands. Time in which they could hatch plots against their supreme commander. It would be much better if the Moorish surrender could take place as soon as possible. Six weeks was a long time in which to endure a tinder-box situation. He could foresee a situation in which Spanish troops within the confines of The Alhambra would be called upon to defend the life of the King of Granada against his own people. He had begun to think that perhaps King Ferdinand had engineered the whole situation to bring just such an event about. The besieged Moors would complete his work for him! Surprisingly Bartolome Diaz was not quite as uncompromisingly militaristic in his attitude to the inevitable forthcoming problems between Moors and Spaniards in The Alhambra. He agreed wholeheartedly with Alonso's assessment that there would be problems. "Perhaps we should try and confine our troops within the boundary walls of The Alhambra to certain sections of the Garden areas. That done we should instruct our captains that no Spanish soldier should leave those areas under pain of death. The Moors could be instructed that their forces must remain in their own strictly defined limits. At least we ought to try this approach. If it doesn't work we'll have to think through the whole situation again. I'm all for the establishment of a joint Moorish/Spanish Commission to discuss the matter. The sooner it is set up the better".
They then went on to discuss further matters during which discussion Diaz made clear to Alonso that he felt that the position of the Spanish troops within The Alhambra was impossible. "It is quite ridiculous that our own men are under seige by their comrades in arms. I am obliged to carry out orders but I would not go along with the present position if I had any say in the matter. The whole world knows that the Moors are beaten and must eventually surrender. I am the commander of the besieging Spanish army but I do not know what is going on. I suspect that there is something going on behind the scenes to which I am not a party. Don Antonio you are Ferdinand of Aragon's Ambassador to the court of Granada and therefore you must know what is happening. I will not ask you to tell me what is afoot. I know, of course, that you cannot tell me. What I am desperately afraid of is that the Moors and their allies within The Alhambra will launch a massive attack on our forces within their midst and slaughter them to a man. What do our men outside The Alhambra walls do in such circumstances? The contemplation of such an event keeps me awake in my bed at night. From a military commander's point of view the whole thing is an absolute nightmare and the sooner it ends the better. Let me tell you frankly Don Alonso I have told Ferdinand that I wish to resign my command but he will not accept my resignation. I am sure that you have had the same complaints from all the military commanders here in Granada. No doubt the Moorish commanders are saying the same thing to their supreme commander . . . . .". Here Diaz stopped speaking fearing perhaps that he had said the wrong thing to the wrong person. He looked closely at Alonso as if seeking reassurance that his words would not be repeated outside the room where they had been spoken. Alonso gave no sign that he had actually heeded Diaz's words. He made no comment whatsoever. This silence did nothing to reassure Diaz.
Alonso realized just what Diaz was thinking so in order to reassure him he said "I have heard those same sentiments expressed by every military man I have ever spoken with about the situation here in The Alhambra and I realise only too well just how it all impacts on the diplomatic situation".
Upon hearing these words a great deal of the tension quickly disappeared from Diaz's face and he became almost relaxed, but not entirely. He talked of this and that for several minutes and then as if suddenly bethinking himself of something he should have mentioned earlier said: "By the way Don Alonso the body of the prisoner who hanged himself in the garden whilst awaiting a further interrogation was not buried with those of the other prisoners. Bishop Alvarez heard about the matter and countermanded your order. The suicide was buried in unconsecrated ground and without benefit of a Christian burial. The bishop was most insistent that the rules of the Church regarding suicides be strictly adhered to in this case. He seemed angry that you seemed not to know what The Church's teachings on the matter were. He seemed to be much more than angry about the matter. He appeared to go berserk. I don't understand it at all but I do agree that the rules are there to be obeyed and I suppose that from that point of view the bishop is right but I feel that the bishop is making a great fuss about something of no importance whatsoever".
Upon hearing from the mouth of Diaz that Bishop Alvarez had appeared to go berserk when he countermanded his instructions regarding the disposal of the body of Antonio de La Fuente he realised that a familiar pattern was repeating itself. The personal enmity between himself and Bishop Alvarez was complete and absolute. It would never end until one or both of them was dead.
Alonso tried to keep himself calm as the realisation that Bishop Alvarez had countermanded his instructions regarding the disposal of De La Fuente's body sunk in. The full force of the realisation struck him and made his blood boil so much that he felt his self-control slipping away. He almost swooned with anger as all sorts of mad thoughts surged through his brain. To his intense annoyance his inner state of turmoil must have showed as Diaz said: "Are you all right Don Alonso? You look somewhat faint!"
For a few seconds Alonso struggled not to faint and fall upon the floor but eventually the feelings of faintness passed as equilibrium regained control of his mental passions. Diaz regarded him closely with his intent all-seeing eyes which seemed to bore inside his skull and skin and lay bare his thoughts as a surgeon's scalpel does that of his patient on the operating table. It was not a pleasant experience but it served to force him to banish all thoughts of the bishop and his actions from his consciousness. It was not easy but it worked.
"I did feel faint for a few seconds but it was just a temporary spasm. It has passed now and I am alright again thank you".
He turned away from Diaz's gaze but felt that he was still scrutinising him intently. This feeling remained with him as he bade his farewell to Diaz and returned to The Alhambra. Once inside his quarters he was struck by how noisy the whole place seemed to have become. There was now a constant buzz of sound everywhere which only seemed to diminish when the Spanish soldiers who seemed to occupy all the available space in the gardens were asleep. Even then it was not complete silence. Spanish guards constantly paced the perimeters of their company's encampment and exchanged passwords. Even with all the windows tightly closed a feeling of constant buzz and too-ing and fro-ing remained.
That evening Alonso had a meeting with Boabdil He was not looking forward to it in any way although he knew that things must be slightly better for the defenders of The Alhambra now that adequate supplies of food were allowed into the besieged fortress palace. Boabdil was not very cheerful when he and Alonso de Gurrea met on the heated balcony just before sunset. At Boabdil's suggestion the time of the meeting had been brought forward. The King of Granada was in fact in a very agitated state. He couldn't remain seated in his chair. He kept standing up and moving around the rather confined space on the small balcony and making clicking noises in his throat.
"As you can see Don Alonso I am in an agitated, distressed state. I am convinced that someone is trying to poison me and that there will soon be an attempt on my life. I am tempted to request Ferdinand of Aragon to provide me with a permanent lifeline(?) Spanish guard to protect my life. My military commanders are constantly plotting against me. They want to install one of themselves as an interim ruler to conclude "an honourable peace" with Ferdinand and Isabella. No one has told me what their honourable peace means. The Spaniards have the upper hand and that being so any peace, honourable or not will be determined by them and will only be favourable to them. I am utterly weary and distraught and death seems to be the only way I can find any peace. What am I to do Don Alonso? Please tell me. We are still some weeks away from January second and I have to survive until then. Or do I? I now wish that I had arranged my formal surrender for a much earlier date than the second of January next year". Here Boabdil stopped speaking and lapsed into a melancholy silence. He remained seated but kept looking around the room with eyes which conveyed great agitation if not downright terror. He looked in a pitiable state and Alonso did in fact feel great pity for his friend.
"I assure you that Spanish help and protection will be available to you whenever you need it. You have only to ask and Spanish troops are available to protect you at any time, day or night. Shall I place some of our troops permanently outside the entrance to your private quarters? Shall I send you food prepared by my servant Rodrigo? If it would make you feel better sire I will certainly do so. If you wish to do so sire you may sleep here in my quarters where you will be guarded by Spanish troops. You may use my bed chamber and I will make alternative arrangements within my quarters. There is absolutely no problem sire. Rodrigo can attend to your needs and will do so gladly".
"Thank you Don Alonso for your great kindness and consideration for my predicament. I will think about your offer but I really feel that I must be seen with my people during this last stage of the ordeal they have undergone. To leave them now however temporarily, would be seen as an act of betrayal and desertion and suitably exploited as such by my enemies within The Alhambra. It may be that I am taking an enormous risk in coming to see you here. Perhaps it would be better if you come to see me in my living quarters in future!" Here Boabdil got up from his chair, hunched his shoulders and crouched in a corner of the balcony making loud clucking noises in his throat. It was obvious that he was in a state of absolute terror. After a few seconds in the corner he returned to his chair. He made a visibly conscious effort to overcome his terror as he said: "There is no one I can trust amongst my people; not one person". His terror seemed to emphasise his Berber features, to delineate his un-arabic appearance, to proclaim to the world that his ancestors were Berbers, the native people of North Africa who had been in North Africa long before Mohammed, blessed be his name, had been given the Arabs, natives of Arabia a raison d'etre, a cause, which had propelled them across the desert to the Atlantic, to Morocco, the land of his ancestors. He consciously banished the terror from his eyes, straightened his shoulders and stood upright.
"I owe it to Allah and to my people not to be afraid, to face whatever is to happen with equanimity and fortitude. I must set an example to my people but I feel that I have not the strength, physical or mental to do so. Fear is a terrible thing Don Alonso. As you can see it can make a blubbering, pathetic child of a grown man. I am determined not to give way to my fears again whatever fate has in store for me. I must return to my people. Please be on your guard Don Alonso. The very fact that you are my friend could put your life at risk. I will come and see you whenever I can". Saying this he went out of the room and was gone.
After his visitor had left Alonso remained seated in his chair thinking about the dreadful predicament his friend was in. The King of Granada could not win in any circumstances. Ferdinand of Aragon had him in a vice-like grip. He was the fly held fast in Ferdinand's web waiting to be devoured. He was also the fly in the web spun for him by his own people. Whatever happened he would be devoured by one side or the other. It really was a dreadful prospect. The more Alonso thought about it the more he realised that Ferdinand's gold was almost certainly feeding the incipient revolt against Boabdil within The Alhambra. It only needed the tiniest spark for the whole tinderbox situation to burst into roaring flames. He doubted whether his friend could manoeuvre for much longer.
About two hours later he retired to his bed for the night but sleep simply would not come to him. He lay awake hour after hour wondering how best to help his friend. Time and time again he came to the conclusion that the only thing to do was to ask King Ferdinand to bring forward Boabdil's official act of surrender. With The Alhambra surrendered and the then ex-king of Granada in exile in The Alpujarras he would be safe. The more he thought about it the more Alonso realised that his friend would never be safe as long as he was alive. Boabdil had made it very clear to him that he too felt the same way. He also realised that suicide had become perhaps the only option remaining to his friend. Against this possibility his mind balanced Boabdil's religious faith and his sense of duty towards his people. Despair could do terrible things to a man's mind but after some more hours of tossing and turning on his sleepless bed he convinced himself that the King of Granada would not attempt to take his own life.
After coming to this conclusion he at last fell asleep and did not awake for many hours.
The next day was marked by an angry visit to Alonso's private quarters by Bishop Alvarez. As soon as he was seated in a chair opposite Alonso the bishop, red faced and clearly angry, wasted no time in launching a verbal attack on Alonso.
"I will come straight to the point", the bishop almost shouted out, "I demand an explanation as to why you ordered the body of that suicide to be buried in consecrated ground against all the rules and teachings of the Church. Such a thing is an absolute outrage and you surely knew that that was so. It was a deliberate attack on the authority of The Church and as such renders you liable to punishment. I personally will report the whole matter to their majesties King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella for them to deal with. The fact that you are King Ferdinand's fully accredited ambassador to the court of Granada renders the matter doubly serious. If those in authority cannot abide by the rules what is to happen to society? We are here to set an example not deliberately flout the rules, You have done just that Don Alonso, deliberately flouted the rules and therefore must be punished". Here the bishop stopped speaking and lent back in his chair. Slowly a smile of great satisfaction began to spread over his face. That face had turned bright red and beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead. He looked triumphal but somehow very uncomfortable in that triumph.
Alonso was completely taken aback, temporarily stunned, by the savagery of the bishop's verbal attack on him but he said nothing for some seconds. He too leaned back in his chair. The intense silence, charged as it was with the electricity of deep and deepening personal animosity was more eloquent than mere words could ever have been.
As he remained in his chair in his leaned back seated position Alonso's mind focused on the bishop's recent words, particularly his phrase: "We are here to set an example not deliberately flout the rules". In his mind he kept hearing the bishop's voice repeating the words: "We are here to set an example not deliberately flout the rules", the bishop's voice thundered in his mind over and over again.
At length he could restrain himself no longer. He deliberately changed his position in the chair so that he was seated in an upright position as he said in his normal speaking voice: "Do you not deliberately flout the rules in your relations with women my lord bishop. Is it not The Church's teaching that her priest's are forbidden to have any intimate relations with women. And yet over and over again you have had the most intimate relationships with many women ever since you took a solemn vow of chastity upon becoming a priest many years ago. Are you yourself not guilty of deliberately flouting the rules. I put it to you my lord bishop that you are an utter and absolute hypocrite. There is very strong evidence that you my lord bishop were in fact the father of the man Antonio de la Fuente whom I ordered buried in consecrated ground. Far be it from you to condemn me for ordering that your son be accorded the benefit of burial according to the rites of the Church. Alright, I did order a suicide to be buried in ground consecrated by the Church and that he be buried according to the rights and usages of The Church and I was wrong so to do. You countermanded that order so in the event no rules of the Church were in fact broken. Antonio de la Fuente, your son, my lord bishop was in fact buried as a suicide by The Church. Don't you think the matter should rest there my Lord Bishop. At this point Alonso stopped speaking and lent back in his chair. He did not look at the bishop and did his best to prevent any look of triumph from showing on his face by suppressing any feelings of triumph which might have occupied his mind. He did not look at the Bishop. If he had looked at the Bishop he would have seen a man totally deflated, totally destroyed. That totally destroyed man said not a word, simply looked at the walls of the room in which he sat and then got up out of his chair and walked out of the room.
Ten days later it was the talk of all Spain that Bishop Diego Alvarez, King Ferdinand's senior negotiator in Granada, had resigned not only his position but from his See also and had requested The Pope to allow him to retire to some secluded monastery to spend the rest of his life in prayer and contemplation. It was a sensational development and the speculation and talk grew for months. All agreed that a woman was the cause.
Following Bishop Alvarez's resignation King Ferdinand summoned Alonso de Gurrea to attend on him at his house in Santa Fe. Once there Ferdinand informed Alonso that he wished him to take full and sole charge of the negotiations for the surrender of The Alhambra and the city of Granada on the second of January fourteen ninety two. He knew of course, that there was really nothing left to negotiate, that his ambassador and now chief negotiator at the court of Granada would henceforth play a largely ceremonial role.
As Alonso spoke with his lord and master he realised that the present was the best and perhaps the last time at which he could raise the matter of bringing forward the date of Boabdil's act of surrender. He hesitated at first but then decided that he should do so. So he said: "Sire, during my meetings with the King of Granada it has become very obvious to me that he would feel much better if his official act of surrender could be brought forward from its planned date of January second, next, He is in a terrible predicament sire. He is convinced that his life is in constant danger, that he could be assassinated at any time. He is terrified of eating anything for fear that the food is poisoned. It would be an act of great kindness and humanity to allow this last king of Granada to formally surrender The Alhambra and his kingdom before the agreed date-----"
He got no further with his plea to Ferdinand. Ferdinand looked pained and aggrieved as he held up his hand to stop Alonso saying anything further.
"May I remind you Don Alonso that it was Boabdil himself who suggested January the second as the date for his official act of surrender. The Queen and myself were anxious that The Alhambra be surrendered before the thirty-first of December". It told Alonso that there was no way Ferdinand of Aragon, conqueror of Granada would allow his defeated enemy, Mohammed the twelfth of Granada to change the date of his surrender. Mohammed the twelfth of Granada had humiliated his conqueror, Ferdinand of Aragon by not surrendering before the end of the year. Now he must take the consequences. There was no need to say any of this. Ferdinand's gesture said it all. Alonso left the king's presence and returned to The Alhambra.
That evening Boabdil came to see him. He looked haggard and distraught. He had lost weight and his clothes were beginning to hang on him like sacks. Immediately he saw his friend Alonso knew he was starving himself fearing that he would be poisoned if he ate. That being so Alonso at once ordered Rodrigo to prepare a good wholesome meal which was ready in about forty minutes. Until the meal was ready Alonso and the King talked.
It was more a monologue in reality. The King had brought with him a large, ornately bound copy of The Koran. He had already told Alonso that he spent these awful days of fear and inner turmoil reading the divine words revealed to the Prophet Mohammed, blessed be his name, when he lay in a trance for a month in his house in Mecca all those centuries ago. Alonso knew The Koran almost as well as he knew The Bible and he could discuss the divine words and their meaning with his friend. Boabdil, whose native language was Arabic loved the language of The Koran and pronounced the words he regarded as God-given with great feeling and brought out their ethereal beauty. How could such words , such divine words, have come out of the mouth of an illiterate camel-driver form Mecca. Allah had used Mohammed of Mecca as his instrument to bring his divine message to the peoples of the earth. That message was always relevant to mankind and would be as long as mankind existed. Boabdil reminded his friend Alonso de Gurrea that Islam regarded Jesus of Nazareth as one of its prophets. To Islam Jesus had not died upon the cross in Jerusalem. He had been cut down from that cross and had then lived out his life as an ordinary man with an ordinary man's wife and children.
Alonso did not argue about Jesus with his friend The King of Granada. Their food had arrived and they ate it in silence with great relish. After all it was good food.
After having eaten Alonso and Boabdil talked for several hours. They discussed many things but they never mentioned the seige or the negotiations to end it. It was almost as if there was a tacit agreement between them not to mention anything to do with the problems of the present.
AS they talked Boabdil began to look much more cheerful. The cares fell away from him and he began to look much less gaunt, much more human. He didn't relax completely but the tenseness relaxed, partly disappeared. He managed to remain seated, didn't continually look at the door to see if an enemy was about to forcibly push it open and attack him. They both drank many glasses of the wonderful fruit juice mixture which had become the hallmark of their meetings. Boabdil kept Alonso permanently supplied with many large flagons of the marvellous concoction so that they could always drink it whenever they met in Alonso's quarters.
Of course, like all good things this interlude of calm in a troubled world couldn't last. Eventually it was time for Boabdil to return to his own private quarters. He seemed reluctant to do so but eventually did leave Alonso's apartments. Before he left he made Alonso promise that he would come to his aid if he felt under imminent threat day or night and sent for his Spanish friend. Alonso gave the necessary assurance and the king departed.
Some two weeks later, in the middle of December, Alonso was, in fact, summoned to the private quarters of his friend, The King of Granada.
Rashid Ben Ali awakened Rodrigo, Alonso's servant who in turn awakened his master. Alonso had not seen the king since his visit during which they had discussed The Koran. He had grown increasingly worried about his friend especially since rumours began to circulate that the King of Granada was mortally stricken and near to death. These rumours were repeated with great glee in the Spanish camp where Rodrigo heard them and repeated them to Alonso. The nocturnal summons therefore came as something of a relief and also as a worry. The relief to Alonso was that his friend was still alive and the worry that he had sent for his friend to say farewell before he died. In the event Alonso found his friend well abut again gaunt and haggard looking. He was not confined to his bed but was seated in an ornately carved chair drawn up at an equally ornately carved table. He was reading from a copy of The Koran which lay open on the table.
As soon as Alonso approached him Boabdil left his chair and walked towards his visitor. He did not walk with ease and it was obvious that he was weak from hunger.
"Thank you for coming to see me so quickly at this very unreasonable hour. The truth of the matter is that I am starving and I wonder if your servant Rodrigo would prepare one of his wonderful meals for me. I would prefer the meal to be prepared in your kitchen. You know that I am surrounded by enemies here and I know that they are constantly trying to poison me. Therefore I dare not eat very much here. I am sorry to disturb you in the middle of the night Don Alonso but I am now so hungry and desperate to eat that I could do no other than send for you. I do apologise to you".
"There is no problem sire. I understand completely. Were I in your position I would do exactly the same. Do you wish Rodrigo to prepare your meal here or in my quarters. It may be easier to everything necessary in my quarters than here". Boabdil agreed with Alonso that things would be easier in his quarters so the three of them returned there.
An hour later Alonso and his friend were enjoying a wonderful meal together. Alonso was not really hungry but he forced himself to eat in order to encourage Boabdil to do the same. Boabdil would not allow Alonso to check the ingredients Rodrigo was preparing in the kitchen causing Alonso great worry. Poison could have been introduced into them during their short absence in the king's living quarters. It was a risk Boabdil seemed happy to take. Alonso did however, insist on eating his food first much to Boabdil's slight annoyance which soon disappeared as Alonso obviously enjoyed the wonderfully prepared meal.
Boabdil also much enjoyed his meal which he ate slowly and with obvious pleasure as soon as Alonso had finished eating. He too ate slowly and with great relish. As soon as he had finished eating Boabdil began to show sign of feelings of guilt about having disturbed his friend's sleep once he no longer felt ravenously hungry. He got up from the table at which he had eaten and walked around the room slowly. When he came to Alonso's bookcase of books in Arabic he paused, selected one of the books with great care and withdrew it from its shelf.
"You could have been reading this wonderful masterpiece if I had not disturbed your leisure hours", he said to his friend in a strange, almost haunted voice as he returned the book to its place.
Alonso did not reply. It was a strange thing to say because he would not have been reading any book at that hour. He would normally have been fast asleep in his bed.
Now Boabdil did, in fact go into Rodrigo's kitchen. He inspected the cooking pots and pans on the shelves and rummaged through the stored stocks of food on other shelves. Finally, having convinced himself that no one could enter the kitchen without having passed through Alonso's living quarters he sat down in his chair at the table again. He sighed deeply and fell asleep.
His sleep did not last long however. Half an hour later there was a great noise and commotion at the door of Alonso's living quarters. A group of Moorish soldiers and their commanders were demanding entrance to the rooms and roughly demanding to see their king and sovereign lord. Their demands for entry were originally made in Arabic but as their demands became more angry and vociferous they switched to Spanish perhaps believing that their demands were not being understood. Boabdil awoke with a start but did not immediately get up from the chair in which he had so recently been sleeping.
The soldiers and their officers ceased their noisy demands once Boabdil stood up. They bowed low before him.
He did not order them to rise but let them remain prostrate on the floor in front of him. He was angry and he didn't care to hide his anger. Then his anger subsided a little and he began to reflect that the soldiers were, after all, only doing their job. He quickly bade them rise. Then turning to Alonso he said: "You see how it is Don Alonso. I am really more of a prisoner and less free than any of my most humble subjects". With that he left Alonso's quarters and returned to his own quarters with the soldiers. Alonso did not see his friend again for two weeks.
Then it was the eve of Christmas and Alonso was about to walk down the hill with Rodrigo in order to attend midnight mass in liberated Granada.
As the two of them were about to leave Alonso's living quarters Boabdil appeared accompanied by Rashid Ben Ali and a squad of Moorish soldiers. As he saw the soldiers approaching Alonso's heart missed a beat. For a moment he thought that he and Rodrigo were about to be placed under arrest. Thankfully that did not happen. The soldiers marched on leaving Boabdil and Rashid Ben Ali alone with Alonso and Rodrigo.
It was a blessed relief!
"I need to talk with you urgently Don Alonso. This letter from Ferdinand was delivered to me personally by special messenger about half an hour ago. Please read it and give me your reactions to it" Boabdil said as he handed Alonso the packet with Ferdinand of Aragon's personal red wax seal affixed to it.
Alonso quickly read the contents of the very official looking packet. He was very worried by what was in the packet. In it Ferdinand of Aragon informed Mohammed Twelfth, King of Granada, that during the course of midnight mass to be celebrated by Fray Hermanda de Talavera, the newly appointed bishop of Granada, in front of the Spanish army and the forcibly assembled moslem population of Granada, Boabdil's forthcoming surrender planned for the second of January next would be announced to the world. Similar messages had been sent to His Holiness The Pope in Rome and to the heads of state of every country with which Castille and Aragon maintained diplomatic relations.
Alonso was very worried for his friend because with the public announcement of his imminent act of surrender The King of Granada's life would be in most danger.
Alonso did now bow low before his friend. "Sire, I feel that the next week will be the time of greatest danger for you. I repeat my offer o Spanish troops to protect your person by day or night. I also repeat my offer of the hospitality of my living quarters should your majesty wish to use them".
Boabdil did not reply and did not enter Alonso's living quarters.
Just at that moment the squad of Moorish soldiers returned. Without a word of command they formed a solid phalanx around their king. When he was safely in the midst of his newly formed bodyguard Boabdil said.
"As you can see I have managed to recruit a bodyguard of men who have sworn a solemn oath on the Koran that they will defend me until death. That being so I feel much better but Ferdinand's gold has loosened many bonds of loyalty within The Alhambra. However I do not think Ferdinand's gold will corrupt any of these men. I feel now that I have some hope of survival until I go into exile in the Alpujarras but one never knows. I must be on permanent guard against Fedinand and his machinations. His reputation as a cunning fox is well known although he and I were very close during our days of friendship. I wish that I could accompany you at the celebration of you great religious festival but such a thing is impossible. I wish you great joy in your festival Don Alonso. May I say again how much I have appreciated your friendship and support during the past dark months. I will not see you again before the second of January Don Alonso. Go with God!".
With that the phalanx of Moorish troops marched away with Boabdil in their midst.
Alonso and Rodrigo walked down the hill to the Spanish camp.
In the camp all was in readiness for the grand celebration of midnight mass. That mass was to be celebrated in front of the Spanish army and the population of the liberated city. To this end a temporary altar had been set up on a raised dias and was now covered in rich looking red cloth. On it gleamed many gold vestments as the light from the flickering torches and fires that were burning everywhere caught them. It was a chilly night and the fires and torches would go some little way to alleviating that chill if not in fact removing it altogether.
Awnings had been placed over some sections of the vast crowd and this further dissipated the chill but there was no denying that it was winter in Granada, "city of the pomegranate". The snow on the highest peaks had gleamed white as the fitful winter sun had caught it in its rays during the day. There was no moon that night so no snow was visible but all in the vast crowd knew that it was there.
As Alonso and Rodrigo took their places in front of the raised altar and stood with heads bowed in prayer for some seconds the sound of Latin plainsong was heard in the distance. That sound became louder and louder as a procession of priests and choirboys with the robed and mitred newly appointed bishop in their midst walked through the vast crowd which parted to allow them through. The air was heavy with the smell of incense as the choirboys swung the ornamental censors with great vigour causing the sweet smell to drift over the heads of the crowd where it competed with the acrid wood smoke from the fires.
The new bishop was resplendent in golden robes and his mitre gleamed and shone in the reflection from the fires and torches as he passed by. Many in the crowd fell to their knees as the bishop passed by but not the moslems of course. They remained standing for the most part not understanding the usages of the Catholic Church. The division in the crowd was obvious and evident. The catholics were on their knees, the moslems standing in solemn looking groups guarded by Spanish soldiers.
Finally the bishop reached the dias with its red alter cover and its gleaming vestments. He then prostrated himself and prayed in front of it.
After some minutes of prayer he raised himself from the ground as did the Spaniards in the crowd.
Then the bishop held up his hand for silence and began to speak.
"Dear brothers and sisters in Christ I wish to make myself known to you. I am Hermanda de Talavera your new bishop. Before I celebrate my first mass as your new bishop I have the most sublime news to impart to you". Here he stopped speaking as one of the choirboys walked forward towards him and handed him Ferdinand of Aragon's letter with its distinctive red wax seal. He paused to great theatrical effect, held up his hand again for silence and said: "King Ferdinand of Aragon, God be praised, begs me to announce to the world before we celebrate the mass to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of our saviour Jesus Christ that Mohammed Twelfth, Boabdil "El Chico Rey" the accursed heathen King of Granada has agreed to surrender The Alhambra to their Majesties Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille on the morning of January second next------
The bishop could get no further with his words. There was a great outburst of rapturous joy from the throats of the Christian section of his vast audience. Some people wept with joy others fell to their knees and crossed themselves fervently. Still others wept with joy that the long drawn out war was now over and life could return to normal.
There was, naturally enough, no such expression of spontaneous joy from the moslem section of the bishop's vast assembled congregation. In the first place many of them did not speak Spanish and so did not understand the full impact of the bishop's words upon the Spaniards; the bishop, although a fluent speaker of the Arabic tongue, not having deemed it necessary or important to translate King Ferdinand's message into the vernacular tongue of the good citizens of Granada. Those of them who did understand soon began to look sullen and dejected.
The spontaneous joy of the Spaniard's did not diminish. If anything it increased and rippled around the vast crowd in an ever increasing crescendo of sound that seemed to rise higher and higher towards the dark night sky.
Eventually, after some four or five minutes of the great outpouring of spontaneous joy the bishop again held up his hand for silence. The silence fell quickly and the bishop again held up King Ferdinand's letter so that his audience could see it clearly. Then he read it to them in its entirety.
After he had finished reading spontaneous applause again broke out and continued for some minutes. Then the bishop started his mass. When he came to the section of it reserved for the celebrants homily Bishop Hermando De Talavena was well prepared.
He advanced to the edge of the raised dias, stretched out his arms and began:
"Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what a great and deep personal joy it is to me as your newly appointed bishop to be able to conduct my first mass in that capacity not only on the anniversary of Christ's nativity but in circumstances of such great triumph. Jesus has vanquished Mohammed, the cross has toppled the crescent into the dust. Spaniard has vanquished Moor and Arab. Our sovereign lord and lady King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isobella of Castille have vanquished that heathen spawn of the devil, Boabdil, King of Granada, cursed be his name (here the bishop crossed himself with great feeling as did most of the Christian section of the assembly). This holy crusade to liberate Spain from an alien presence begun so long ago in Asturias has come to full fruition. With the conquest of The Alhambra here in Granada the land of Spain is wholly Christian again. Let us give thanks unto God".
With this the bishop blessed the congregation and then prostrated himself before the altar. Spontaneous shouts and cries again broke out from the Spaniards which quickly subsided as the mass continued to its conclusion.
As Bishop Hermanda de Talverna concluded his mass of Christ's nativity with the ritual words: "The mass is ended Go in Peace" there was a further surprise in store for the assembled congregation.
Before any of the congregation had time to leave and go in peace more singing was heard in the distance. This time a long, large procession of robed priests and many choirboys swinging their gleaming censors approached and made its way through the crowd. They were singing in sonorous Latin "The Te Deum", The Roman Catholic Church's traditional thanksgiving to God for a military victory. After the robed priests and censor swinging choirboys had passed a huge wooden cross of enormous proportions through the crowd it was carried by many men an carried in a very disorganised way. Perhaps it would be better to say that it was half carried, half dragged, through the crowd. As it passed by many in the crowd kissed it with their lips and fell to their knees. All joined in the singing of "The Te Deum" in Latin. Many had tears in their eyes.
There was great emotion amongst the men carrying the enormous wooden cross when it finally reached the raised dias and was placed in front of the altar.
The singing stopped and Bishop Hernando de Talavera turning to the crowd said: "Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. The cross which you all see before you will be taken to The Alhambra when it ceases to be in the hands of the heathen and becomes Spanish. It will be placed on the highest point of the highest tower of The Al Cazaba, the fortress section of the Alhambra. It will proclaim to the world that The Alhambra and with it Granada is now Spanish. Thanks be to God! Our sovereign lord and lady King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castille are now, by right of conquest King and Queen of Granada". He paused for some seconds. Then as he sprinkled holy water on the cross he continued by saying: "I now dedicate this cross in the name of God, the Father, God the son and God the holy ghost to the glory of the Christian God, to the glory of our sovereign lord and lady and to the immortal memory of those who gave their lives so that The Alhambra and Granada might be Spanish".
Then the bishop blessed the crowd and The Te Deum proceeded. At its end some two dozen Moslems of Granada were brought before the bishop by their Spanish guards, forced to kneel before him, forced to repeat words in Latin before him which they did not understand and turned into catholics. The Spanish section of the congregation joined and spat at them whilst it happened. It was not a good omen for the future!
It is no exaggeration to say that Alonso was disgusted and distraught after hearing Hermanda de Talavera's words. They were Christian triumphalism writ large and the forcible conversion of the Granadinos made him physically sick. Such an event was against all the verbal assurances given, against all the written guarantees signed, sealed and delivered. Forcible conversion was taking place and The Alhambra was not yet surrendered to the Spaniards. He felt sick at heart and full of deep and deepening foreboding.
It was no consolation to him but after the events here in the Spanish camp he felt somehow glad that he would not meet his friend again until after he had ceased to be king of Granada. He would not have been able to face his friend in the circumstance. Boabdil had been so insistent that his people be guaranteed the right to worship their own God in their own way. He had obtained verbal and written guarantees to this effect and yet the Christians had deliberately and cynically disregarded those agreements. It was a sickening and callous breach of faith. How long would it be before the Moslems were burnt or expelled? He resolved there and then that with Ali Ben Gualid's assistance he would help as many of them as he could to escape to safety.
The bishop interrupted his mussing. He came towards him. Alonso knelt before him and kissed his ring.
"I am delighted to meet you Don Alonso. King Ferdinand has told me what wonderful work you have done in helping smooth the way of diplomatic negotiations by your close personal friendship with The King of Granada. King Ferdinand has a deep personal regard for you Don Alonso and wishes to reward you. He has told me that you are to serve as his ambassador at Boabdil's court in exile so that you will continue your useful work. There will be much to do here in Granada and it may be that I will need to call upon you to assist in the massive task Holy Mother Church must undertake here so as to bring the Moslem population of Granada safely into her bosom".
Alonso shuddered inwardly. He did not like the sound of Bishop Talavera's idea of calling upon him to assist Holy Mother Church in her self imposed task of converting the Granadinos to Christianity. Was he to be called upon to light the fires at some vast Auto de Fe? There was something sinister in the way the bishop emphasised the words "close personal friendship with the King of Granada". Talavera already had a reputation as a seeker out of heretics. Obviously it was this zeal which had led to his appointment as bishop of the conquered city and kingdom. He had the look of one who would be fanatical in carrying out his appointed task. He fasted constantly and was reported to wear a hair shirt next to his skin. It was also reported that he was repeatedly flogged by his assistants on high feast days and days of obligation until they drew blood. No wonder he looked so gaunt and austere.
Alonso shuddered again as he contemplated the fate of the Moslem population of Granada! There was also the problem of what would happen to the wealthy Jewish silk merchants of Granada with whom Ali Ben Gualid had obviously carried on a lucrative business. They too were threatened by the rampant Christian trumphalism which hung heavy in the air. All in all anyone who was not a Christian and a publicly practising one at that was under threat to life and limb. Alonso tried to tell himself that the Moslems too had forcibly converted the Christians when they had conquered Spain so long ago. It did not make him feel any easier in his mind.
The bishop moved away from Alonso and began talking with some of the military commanders. He seemed to have much to discuss with them.
Alonso and Rodrigo began to make their way back to The Alhambra. As they passed through the fast dispersing crowd Alonso was recognised by some of the soldiers. "Here comes the Moslem lover from Valencia" one shouted and threw a bucket of water which completely drenched Rodrigo. Others made foul remarks which were really deeply offensive and became more and more obscene especially now that wine had made its appearance and was being passed from hand to hand.
The situation was becoming really ugly and Alonso suddenly found himself in the grip of real fear. Someone was calling out "Let's go and smoke out the Jews. That'll be a laugh" as burning torches were seized and carried away in a procession which grew larger by the minute as more and more by now drunken soldiers joined it. Then suddenly it happened: Alonso felt a stinging blow on the back of his head and knew no more.
When he regained consciousness it was to find that he was lying on a bed in a luxuriously decorated bed chamber, that is luxuriously decorated in the Arab style. He had no idea where he was or what had happened to him. Then he remembered the blow to his head and put his hand to the spot where the pain told him that the blow had landed. His hand felt a large lump and there was blood on it. Then he remembered that Rodrigo had been with him and he began to wonder what had happened to him. He tried to raise himself from the bed on which he lay but found that he could not and fell back with a deep sigh.
It was daylight when he was finally able to get up from the bed on which he lay. He walked out of the room which contained it into a small flower-bedecked patio in which a fountain splashed and caged birds sang. Seated in a chair next to the fountain was a small middle aged man dressed in Jewish robes and wearing a closely fitting Jewish prayer cap in the middle of which a precious stone sparkled as the light caught it. Next to him, seated on the stone rim of the basin into which the water fell was the most beautiful young woman Alonso had ever seen in his life. She was exquisite. Her deep-set eyes were like pools of deep life-giving water in a parched sandy desert and her skin had a translucent quality that quite took the breath away. Alonso instantly thought of her as "The Rose of Sharon" from the bible which proved extremely accurate on his part.
The middle aged man rose from his chair and held out his hands.
"Welcome to my house Don Alonso. I am Judah ben Levi, Jewish silk merchant of this city and this is my daughter Sarah. The girl stood and looked down at the floor which made her look even more beautiful in Alonso's eyes. "How are you feeling? Your servant brought you here after you were hit on the head by a stone someone in the large crowd at your religious celebration threw at you. There has been a terrible tragedy here in Granada. Our very old, beautiful synagogue has been burnt down and our rabbi the venerable Mosses Cohen has been burnt to death trying to defend it against the rampaging soldiers. I feel that we Jews are in for a time of great trouble here in Granada.
"Thank you for your great kindness Judah ben Levi. You have probably saved my life and I assure you that I will reciprocate your action should it become necessary as I fear it soon will. I regret that your long established community in Granada has been devastated by the terrible events of the destruction of your synagogue and the death of your spiritual leader. Passions have been roused by the announcement of the imminent surrender of The Alhambra and I am afraid that the Christians want blood preferably Moorish and Arabic and by extension Jewish. Bishop Talavera's address to the Spanish troops has provided the spark and I am afraid the flames of the fire will grow ever higher. It is a terrible prospect for the non-Christian majority of the population here in the conquered city of Granada. You and your family would be better to leave Spain Judah ben Levi. I hope that it is not too late for you to do so although I fear that it may be so. If I can I will help you cross the narrow sea to Morocco". Alonso stopped speaking as Rodrigo walked into the patio.
He bowed before Alonso and said: "I am glad that you are fully recovered my master".
Alonso clasped him round the shoulders and patted his back. "Once again I owe you my life", he said, to which Rodrigo replied, "I merely did my duty sire".
Rodrigo looked embarrassed as Alonso let go his shoulder. He looked tenderly at the beautiful Sarah ben Levi who in turn looked at him in the same way. She did not look down at the floor but directly into his eyes.
Judah ben Levi noticed the look but said nothing. He then pleaded with Alonso and Rodrigo to take a meal with he and his daughter which they willingly agreed to do. During the course of it he told them that his beloved wife had died giving birth to Sarah some twenty-one years ago. Then he became very serious as he turned to Alonso and said: "Don Alonso I feel that it is my duty to warn you that your friendship with Boabdil, the vanquished Moslem King of Granada will put your life in great danger. I have heard a rumour that the Church authorities have ordered an investigation into the depth of your Christian belief Don Alonso. This is a very worrying trend Don Alonso and it seems to be just the start. Thank you for your advice to leave Spain. I had already decided to do so just before the start of the war but things happened too quickly for me. My daughter and I were forced to suffer the deprivations of the siege. I have a good friend in Tangier and he has been trying to visit me in Granada but has been unable to enter the city".
At the mention of Tangier and knowing that Judah ben Levi was a silk merchant Alonso began to wonder if Ben Levi's friend in Tangier might be Ali Ben Gualid. That proved to be the case and Alonso told his new found Jewish friend of his meeting with the silk merchant and ship owner of Tangier. It was confirmation of what Ben Levi had told Alonso---that his friend from Tangier was looking for him.
After the meal Alonso and Rodrigo said goodbye to Judah Ben Levi and his lovely daughter and started their walk back to the ambassadorial suite in The Alhambra. On the way Slonso asked Rodrigo how he had come to be in Judah ben Levi's house and he recounted the events of the previous night to him. After Alonso had been hit by the stone Rodrigo had supported his master as both of them were swept along by the mob hell bent on firing Jewish property and if possible Jews themselves. They were propelled along into the narrow streets of the Judareico, the old Jewish quarter where Judah ben Levi found Rodrigo supporting his master after the mob had swept by and he opened the door to his walled garden to see hat all the commotion was about.
When Alonso and Rodrigo reached the foot of The Alhambra Hill they got a great shock. Their way was blocked by Spanish troops who physically removed them from the road and turned them round. They were then ordered to go back the way they had come. Alonso protested in vain that he was King Ferdinand's officially accredited ambassador. It made not the slightest difference. No one was allowed to enter or leave The Alhambra until the morning of the second of January. They returned to the city and Judah ben Levi's house he having told them to return there whenever they needed to do so.
It was now Christmas Day of course, a beautiful sunny day in Granada that year. Judah ben Levi did not leave his house that day or for many days to come deeming it wiser to maintain a low profile whilst there was such an air of Christian triumphalism abroad in Granada. He and Alonso spent their days planning how best to help the Moslems and Jews to escape their inevitable impending persecution. What they planned and how well they achieved those plans is another story.
Alonso de Gurrea and his servant Rodrigo remained in the house of Judah ben Levi until the morning of the second of January when Alonso rode alongside his lord and master Ferdinand of Aragon and his lady wife Queen Isabella of Castille to the agreed spot on the green banks of the river Darro where they were to accept Boabdil's surrender.
The long war was over. Spain was one! Mohammed the Twelfth, Boabdil, El Chico Rey, spent his last days in The Alhambra in great distress. He was guarded constantly by his new bodyguard who accompanied him day and night as he visited his favourite spots in his birthplace for the last time.
On the morning of the second of January fourteen ninety-two he rode out from The Alhambra accompanied by a specially chosen exactly one hundred of his knights. He threw down the keys of the fortress palace and his scimitar to the ground in front of his former friend who beamed with pride. An equerry handed them to Ferdinand who touched them as a token of Boabdil's surrender.
At that precise moment the flag of Spain was unfurled on the highest tower of The Al-Cazabo, the fortress section of The Alhambra. Alongside it the huge wooden cross was raised in glory.
The Alhambra and with it Granada was now Spanish.
After his official act of surrender during which he was jeered and hissed at by Moors and Spaniards Boabdil accompanied by his knights, his wife and family and those of his personal retinue the Spaniards allowed him to take with him rode away from his fateful encounter with Ferdinand and Isabella who were soon to be given the title of "The Catholic Kings" by the Pope.
As he looked back at The Alhambra the sun came out and the snow gleamed white on the Sierra Nevada behind it. It was a supremely beautiful sight.
As he looked back at his birthplace for the last time his eyes filled with tears. He had lost everything.
Just at that moment and in front of the entire assembled Moorish company The Sultana Aisca, Boabdil's mother, rode up to her son and striking him on the face very forcibly with her hand said in an extremely loud voice full of contempt and scorn that was clearly audible to the entire Moorish company "Oh how I despise you. If you had fought like a man there would have been no need to cry like a woman". It was the final public insult and the most painful of all in a life of insult and humiliation. No one had understood his predicament!
He turned again to look at The Alhambra and wept and wept and wept.
Then he spurred his horse into a fast trot and rode off towards The Alpujarras and exile. The whole world knew he would not be there long.