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The Discovery of New Worlds by  M. B. Synge


 

 

A SPANISH HERO

"Hadst thou lived in days of old,

O what wonders had been told."

—KEATS.

WHILE the Vikings were sailing over the stormy seas in their great black ships, and while the Normans were crossing over to England to complete their conquests, the Moors from the far East were again overrunning Spain.

These Moors or Arabs were not pagans like the Northmen, the Goths, the Vandals, or the [72] Saxons: they called themselves Mohammedans, or followers of the prophet Mohammed.

Mohammed was born in the sixth century after Christ, about the time when King Arthur was ruling over Britain. But not till he was forty years old did Mohammed come forth and assume the title of prophet.

One day, says an old story, he was wandering in the solitary desert-land around Mecca, depressed and melancholy, when he heard a voice, and beheld between heaven and earth an angel, who assured him that he—Mohammed—was the prophet of God. Nothing doubting, the new prophet came forth and began to teach this: That there was One God, and that Mohammed was his prophet.

To the ignorant wandering Arabs this was a new light. They flocked round Mohammed. His commanding presence, his keen black eyes, his flowing beard, his gracious smile and eloquent teaching, drew more and ever more to his side. His followers increased rapidly. He could not write, but he dictated his doctrines; and they were written down in a book called the Koran, which is to the Mohammedans to-day what the Bible is to the Christians. Mohammedanism is still the religion used chiefly in the East.

"Who goes there?" cries the watchman nightly in the streets of Cairo; and the dusky Arab passes with the answer, "There is no God but God."

[73] These Arabs, then, who had roamed unnoticed in their desert-lands since the very earliest times, now sprang into fame. United in one faith, their armies making converts as they went, they conquered North Africa, and finally became masters of Spain. Charlemagne and Roland had fought against them, but now they were rulers over a great part of the country.

It was at this time that the Cid—the great popular hero of Spain—arose to deliver his country from the power of the Arabs, to deliver Christians from the influence of Mohammedanism.

The story of the Cid is mixed with legend and fable; but there is much truth lying under the husks of legend, and many a sound kernel of history wrapped up in the old fables. And to tell the story of Spain without the story of the Cid would be like telling the story of old Greece without the story of Achilles.

Roderick Diaz is the glory of Spain, the hero of the people, the perfect warrior, the ideal man-at-arms; and he lives in the heart of the nation as does Arthur in England or Roland in France.

The Cid, from a word meaning Lord, was born in 1026, and soon rose to fame. When yet a stripling, not twenty summers old, he led an army of Christian warriors against the Arabs, who had entered a province called Castile in the north of Spain. Five kings led the Arab army, but the Cid defeated them among the Spanish mountains and drove them back.

[74] Not only was their beloved Cid brave in battle and merciful in peace, sang the old poets, but he was kind to those in trouble. Here is a story they tell. After his victory over the five Moorish kings he set out on a journey with his knights and followers. As they journeyed they found a poor leper, stuck fast in the mud, shouting for help. The Spanish knights passed by, but the Cid leaped from his horse, lifted the poor man to his saddle, and took him back. At table that night he shared his plate with the afflicted man, and took him to his own bed. At midnight he awoke. The leper was gone, but he saw a form clothed in dazzling white.

"I, whom thou didst take for a poor leper and didst help—I am St Lazarus," said a voice. "And in return for what thou hast done for the love of God, thou mayst ask whatever thou wilt and it shall be accomplished. Thou shalt be feared by Moor and Christian, and never shall thy enemies prevail over thee."

Faithfully, indeed, did the Cid serve his king; but after a while there were men who whispered evil against him, and the king was angry with the Cid and bade him leave Spain within nine days, never to return. Sadly the Cid went forth from his own city, while men and women wept at the thought of their hero leaving them for ever. But the king forgave him after a time, and the Cid came home again and helped his country against [75] the Moors. He besieged Valencia, which was one of the richest towns in the kingdom, and took it after a desperate resistance from within.

The Cid ruled the city for some years both wisely and well. But again a great Moorish host came against the city led by a king from North Africa. The Cid had grown old and feeble, and his long beard was snowy white, and he knew that death was near. Yet he had been told in a vision that he should still conquer the Moors. The Cid called his people around him: then he spoke. He was very weak, but his voice was clear.

"Ye know that the king will soon be here with seven-and-thirty other kings and with a mighty power of Moors," he said. "After I have departed see that ye utter no cries, that the Moors may not know of my death, but sound your trumpets and tambours and make the greatest rejoicings you can. Then saddle ye my horse and arm him well, and ye shall apparel my body full seemly, and place me upon the horse, and fasten and tie me thereon so that I cannot fall."

The next day the Cid died. And they dressed his body and set it on his beloved horse, supported by a framework of boards. They hung his shield about his neck, they placed his sword upright in his hand, and they led their dead hero against his foes.

The Moors came on. "But it seemed to them that there came against them on the part of the Christians full seventy thousand knights, all as [76] white as snow, and before them a knight of great stature upon a white horse with a cross of blood, who bore in one hand a white banner, and in the other a sword which seemed to be of fire." The Moors were so terrified that they fled, never stopping till they reached the sea. And so great was the press that numbers were drowned before ever they could reach the ships.

So the Cid conquered the Moors even in death, according to this old story; but after all it is but a story of the old days in Spain.


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