The astonished Moors lifted up their eyes and beheld, as it were, a torrent of war breaking out of a narrow defile. There was a multitude of men with pickaxes, spades, and bars of iron clearing away every obstacle, while behind them slowly moved along great teams of oxen dragging heavy ordnance and all the munitions of battering artillery.
"What cannot women and priests effect when they unite in council?" exclaims again the worthy Antonio Agapida. The queen had held another consultation with the grand cardinal and the belligerent bishop of Jaen. It was clear that the heavy ordnance could never be conveyed to the camp by the regular road of the country, and without battering artillery nothing could be effected. It was suggested, however, by the zealous bishop that another road might be opened through a more practicable part of the mountains. It would be an undertaking extravagant and chimerical with ordinary means, and therefore unlooked for by the enemy; but what could not kings effect who had treasure and armies at command?
The project struck the enterprising spirit of the queen. Six thousand men with pickaxes, crowbars, and every other necessary implement were set to work day and night to break a road through the very centre of the mountains. No time was to be lost, for it was rumored that El Zagal was about to march with a mighty host to the relief of the castles. The bustling bishop of Jaen acted as pioneer to mark the route and superintend the laborers, and the grand cardinal took care that the work should never languish through lack of means.
*Zurita, Anales de Aragon, lib. 20, c. 64; Pulgar, part 3, cap. 51.
"When kings' treasures," says Fray Antonio Agapida, "are dispensed by priestly hands, there is no stint, as the glorious annals of Spain bear witness." Under the guidance of these ghostly men it seemed as if miracles were effected. Almost an entire mountain was levelled, valleys were filled up, trees hewn down, rocks broken and overturned; in short, all the obstacles which nature had heaped around entirely and promptly vanished. In little more than twelve days this gigantic work was effected and the ordnance dragged to the camp, to the great triumph of the Christians and confusion of the Moors.*
No sooner was the heavy artillery arrived than it was mounted in all haste upon the neighboring heights: Francisco Ramirez de Madrid, the first engineer in Spain, superintended the batteries, and soon opened a destructive fire upon the castles.
When the alcayde, Mahomet Lentin, found his towers tumbling about him and his bravest men dashed from the walls without the power of inflicting a wound upon the foe, his haughty spirit was greatly exasperated. "Of what avail," said he, bitterly, "is all the prowess of knighthood against these cowardly engines that murder from afar?"
For a whole day a tremendous fire kept thundering upon the castle of Albahar. The lombards discharged large stones which demolished two of the towers and all the battlements which guarded the portal. If any Moors attempted to defend the walls or repair the breaches, they were shot down by ribadoquines and other small pieces of artillery. The Christian soldiery issued from the camp under cover of this fire, and, approaching the castles, discharged flights of arrows and stones through the openings made by the ordnance.