The alcayde Mahomet Lentin knew the nature of the road by which the artillery had to be brought. It was merely a narrow and rugged path, at times scaling almost perpendicular crags and precipices, up which it was utterly impossible for wheel carriages to pass, neither was it in the power of man or beast to draw up the lombards and other ponderous ordnance. He felt assured, therefore, that they never could be brought to the camp, and without their aid what could the Christians effect against his rock-built castles? He scoffed at them, therefore, as he saw their tents by day and their fires by night covering the surrounding heights. "Let them linger here a little while longer," said he, "and the autumnal torrents will wash them from the mountains."
While the alcayde was thus closely mewed up within his walls and the Christians remained inactive in their camp, he noticed, one calm autumnal day, the sound of implements of labor echoing among the mountains, and now and then the crash of a falling tree or a thundering report, as if some rock had been heaved from its bed and hurled into the valley. The alcayde was on the battlements of his castle, surrounded by his knights. "Methinks," said he, "these Christians are making war upon the rocks and trees of the mountains, since they find our castle unassailable."
The sounds did not cease even during the night: every now and then the Moorish sentinel as he paced the battlements heard some crash echoing among the heights. The return of day explained the mystery. Scarcely did the sun shine against the summits of the mountains than shouts burst from the cliffs opposite to the castle, and were answered from the camp with joyful sounds of kettledrums and trumpets.
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.*