ZAHARA AND ALHAMA
 MULEY ABUL HASSAN, the fierce Moor who said that his mints coined nothing but sword-blades, did not wait for
King Ferdinand to attack him. On a dark night, between Christmas and New-year, in a storm
of rain and lightning and thunder, he suddenly loomed up at the head of a large force
before the Christian town and fort of Zahara, not very far from the town of Malaga.
Everybody in the place, including sentinels, was asleep. In a silence only broken by the
patter of the rain and the roar of the thunder the Moors set their ladders against the
walls and scaled town and castle.
The cry arose: "The Moor! The Moor!" But in the darkness the garrison could not find their
arms nor their comrades. They were cut down by the savage Moors as fast as they groped
their way out of their barracks. All—men, women, and children—were bidden to
gather in the square, and wait for morning in their night-clothes in the cold rain. When
day dawned they were marched to Granada under an escort of troops, and prodded with
spear-points when they slackened their gait. Muley Abul Hassan followed after them with a
string of mules laden with the plunder of Zahara.
But the conqueror was not received at his home with the welcome he expected. The Moors
were a wise people; they foresaw that this raid on a Christian town boded trouble in the
future. A dervish paced the streets, groaning aloud: "Woe to Granada! The hour of its
destruction is at hand! The ruins of Zahara will fall on our heads!"
 In Christian Spain the news of the Moorish capture of Zahara roused the people to fury.
They clamored for war on the infidel. The first one to act was a valiant knight named
Ponce de Leon, the Marquis of Cadiz. He gathered a body of fighting men and promised them
that Zahara should be avenged. Not far from his chief castle was the Moorish fortified
town of Albania, on the top of a hill, about twenty-five miles from Granada. It was the
town which was shattered by an earthquake a few years ago. To spy out this place he sent a
trusty officer, who walked round it at night, measured the walls, peered over the heights,
counted the sentries. Then the marquis started out.
With four thousand foot and three thousand horse he set forth from his town of Marchena on
a dark February night. The little army crept cautiously, lay hid all day, and lit no fires
at night; so that a little after midnight of the third march they reached Alhama without
having been seen by a single Moor. Ladders were quickly set against the citadel, and it
was taken by storm before the garrison had any idea that an enemy was near. The Moors in
the town resisted for a while, but so many of them were shot down from the
citadel—gunpowder was then used for the first time in the Spanish wars—that
the rest surrendered.
There is a story of the assault which will show you that the fighters of this period,
fierce and cruel as they often were in battle, had still on occasion the instincts of
gentlemen. In leading the attack on the castle the marquis broke into room after room, and
found himself unexpectedly in the chamber where the Moorish governor's wife was in bed.
She shrieked, wrapped the clothes round her, and begged for life.
"Madam," said the marquis, "fear nothing. You are in the hands of a Spanish gentleman,"
And when her maids came running in presently screaming, with half a dozen soldiers at
their heels pursuing
 them, the marquis drove his men out at the point of the sword, and set a trusty guard at
the door of the lady, with orders to cut down any one who attempted to enter.
Alhama was one of the richest and strongest towns in Spain. It was so strong a place that
the Moors had used it as a storehouse. It contained quantities of gold and silver and gems
and rich silks and grain and oil and honey, besides numbers of horses and cattle. All this
was now given up to plunder by the Marquis of Cadiz, and the Moors—men, women, and
children—were sold as slaves. Zahara was indeed avenged.
When the news reached Granada the people cursed the Caliph.
"Accursed be the day," they said, "that thou hast lit the flames of war. On thy head and
on thy children's heads rest the sin of Zahara!"
The old ballad "Ay de mi Alhama," which Spanish girls sometimes sing to this day, tells
"Letters to the monarch tell
How Albania's city fell;
In the fire the scroll he threw,
And the messenger he slew.
Woe is me, Alhama!"
But Muley Abul Hassan was not the man to content himself with groaning over disaster. He
called the Moors to arms and marched swiftly to Alhama to retake the place. The garrison
was ready for him, and beat his forces back with great loss. He sat down before the place
raging with disappointment, and yet resolved to succeed.
Now the fort and town of Alhama had no water supply except what it got from a little
stream running past the base of the hill. There were a few wells in the place, but they
soon ran dry. And then the Moors diverted the water of the stream, so that the Christians
could not get grater without passing through the Moorish camp. The
 throats of the soldiers dried till they could hardly speak; some died, others went mad
Christian knights, among others Don Alfonso de Aguilar, tried to raise the siege, but they
were beaten back by the Moors. Muley Abul Hassan stroked his beard, and feasted his hungry
eyes with the sight of the Christians on the battlements, knowing they were doomed and
must presently surrender. There was but one man who could save them; that was the Duke of
Medina Sidonia, and be was at deadly feud with the Marquis of Cadiz, and was not. likely
to help his enemy.
When the duke heard of the trouble in which his old foe stood he said it was no concern of
his. But when the wife of the marquis fell at his feet, with tears flowing from her
beautiful eyes, and besought him, in a voice broken by sobs, not to allow her noble
husband to be butchered by the infidel, but to go to his aid, for the sake of his honor
and of knightly chivalry, the duke, in a voice like thunder, commanded his horse to be
saddled, and bade his squire blow the war bugle, and to keep on blowing it as long as he
had a breath in his body. His people were quite ready to march. Every man of them felt
that the day had come to settle the question whether Spain should be Christian or Moslem.
Messengers were sent to every town and fortress, east and west, and north and south, to
send all the troops they could spare to Seville, and just as the marquis's men were
reduced to such straits that they had to make sallies to get a little water, and paid for
every drop of it with a drop of their blood, the duke marched out of Seville with fifty
thousand fighting men and a long army of gallant. knights from every part of Andalusia.
King Ferdinand was in Castile when he heard of the siege of Alhama; the rode south on
relays of horses, hardly taking time to sleep. When he reached Cordova he despatched
messengers to Medina Sidonia, bidding him to await his coming. But the peril was too
 The duke's personal enemy was dying of thirst. He sent word to the king that he would not
wait. He would march, and would not tarry an hour nor the tenth part of a minute by the
way for king or devil.
When Muley heard of his coming he made one more attempt to storm the place. A band of
picked Moorish warriors attacked it on a side thus far untried, and seventy of them
actually got into the town. But they were quickly surrounded, and though they formed
back-to-back, with the Moorish flag in the centre, and fought like heroes or demons, they
were all killed, and their heads were thrown over the wall to their friends outside. Then
Muley Abul Hassan, tearing his beard in his rage, and knowing that if he waited till
Medina Sidonia calve up he would be caught between two fires, sullenly drew off his army
and abandoned Alhama to the Christians forever. I need not tell you of the joy with which
the duke was received by the garrison. Ponce de Leon fell upon his neck; and these two
fierce warriors, who thought nothing of killing an enemy in battle, threw their arms round
each other and cried like girls. Ever after that day they were brothers-in-arms.