There lived at this time in a hamlet in the neighborhood of Guadix an ancient Moor of the name of Ibrahim el Guerbi. He was a native of the island of Guerbes, in the kingdom of Tunis, and had for several years led the life of a santon or hermit. The hot sun of Africa had dried his blood, and rendered him of an exalted yet melancholy temperament. He passed most of his time in caves of the mountains in meditation, prayer, and rigorous abstinence, until his body was wasted and his mind bewildered, and he fancied himself favored with divine revelations and visited by angels sent by Mahomet. The Moors, who had a great reverence for all enthusiasts of the kind, believed in his being inspired, listened to all his ravings as veritable prophecies, and denominated him "el santo," or the saint.
The woes of the kingdom of Granada had long exasperated the gloomy spirit of this man, and he had beheld with indignation this beautiful country wrested from the dominion of the faithful and becoming a prey to the unbelievers. He had implored the blessings of Allah on the troops which issued forth from Guadix for the relief of Malaga, but when he saw them return routed and scattered by their own countrymen, he retired to his cell, shut himself up from the world, and was plunged for a time in the blackest melancholy.
On a sudden he made his appearance again in the streets of Guadix, his face haggard, his form emaciated, but his eyes beaming with fire. He said that Allah had sent an angel to him in the solitude of his cell, revealing to him a mode of delivering Malaga from its perils and striking horror and confusion into the camp of the unbelievers. The Moors listened with eager credulity to his words: four hundred of them offered to follow him even to the death and to obey implicitly his commands. Of this number many were Gomeres, anxious to relieve their countrymen who formed part of the garrison of Malaga.
They traversed the kingdom by the wild and lonely passes of the mountains, concealing themselves in the day and travelling only in the night to elude the Christian scouts. At length they arrived at the mountains which tower above Malaga, and, looking down, beheld the city completely invested, a chain of encampments extending round it from shore to shore and a line of ships blockading it by sea, while the continual thunder of artillery and the smoke rising in various parts showed that the siege was pressed with great activity. The hermit scanned the encampments warily from his lofty height. He saw that the part of the encampment of the marques of Cadiz which was at the foot of the height and on the margin of the sea was most assailable, the rocky soil not admitting ditches or palisadoes. Remaining concealed all day, he descended with his followers at night to the sea-coast and approached silently to the outworks. He had given them their instructions: they were to rush suddenly upon the camp, fight their way through, and throw themselves into the city.
It was just at the gray of the dawning, when objects are obscurely visible, that they made this desperate attempt. Some sprang suddenly upon the sentinels, others rushed into the sea and got round the works, others clambered over the breastworks. There was sharp skirmishing; a great part of the Moors were cut to pieces, but about two hundred succeeded in getting into the gates of Malaga.
The santon took no part in the conflict, nor did he endeavor to enter the city. His plans were of a different nature. Drawing apart from the battle, he threw himself on his knees on a rising ground, and, lifting his hands to heaven, appeared to be absorbed in prayer. The Christians, as they were searching for fugitives in the clefts of the rocks, found him at his devotions. He stirred not at their approach, but remained fixed as a statue, without changing color or moving a muscle. Filled with surprise, not unmingled with awe, they took him to the marques of Cadiz. He was wrapped in a coarse albornoz, or Moorish mantle, his beard was long and grizzled, and there was something wild and melancholy in his look that inspired curiosity. On being examined, he gave himself out as a saint to whom Allah had revealed the events that were to take place in that siege. The marques demanded when and how Malaga was to be taken. He replied that he knew full well, but he was forbidden to reveal those important secrets except to the king and queen. The good marques was not more given to superstitious fancies than other commanders of his time, yet there seemed something singular and mysterious about this man; he might have some important intelligence to communicate; so he was persuaded to send him to the king and queen. He was conducted to the royal tent, surrounded by a curious multitude exclaiming "El Moro Santo!" for the news had spread through the camp that they had taken a Moorish prophet.
The king, having dined, was taking his siesta, or afternoon's sleep, in his tent, and the queen, though curious to see this singular man, yet from a natural delicacy and reserve delayed until the king should be present. He was taken, therefore, to an adjoining tent, in which were Dona Beatrix de Bovadilla, marchioness of Moya, and Don Alvaro of Portugal, son of the duke of Braganza, with two or three attendants. The Moor, ignorant of the Spanish tongue, had not understood the conversation of the guards, and supposed, from the magnificence of the furniture and the silken hangings, that this was the royal tent. From the respect paid by the attendants to Don Alvaro and the marchioness he concluded that they were the king and queen.
He now asked for a draught of water: a jar was brought to him, and the guard released his arm to enable him to drink. The marchioness perceived a sudden change in his countenance and something sinister in the expression of his eye, and shifted her position to a more remote part of the tent. Pretending to raise the water to his lips, the Moor unfolded his albornoz, so as to grasp a scimetar which he wore concealed beneath; then, dashing down the jar, he drew his weapon and gave Don Alvaro a blow on the head that struck him to the earth and nearly deprived him of life. Turning then upon the marchioness, he made a violent blow at her; but in his eagerness and agitation his scimetar caught in the drapery of the tent; the force of the blow was broken, and the weapon struck harmless upon some golden ornaments of her head-dress.*