Hamet regained in safety the Serrania de Ronda, exulting in his successful inroad. The mountain-glens were filled with long droves of cattle and flocks of sheep from the campinas of Medina Sidonia. There were mules, too, laden with the plunder of the villages, and every warrior had some costly spoil of jewels for his favorite mistress.
As the Zegri drew near to Ronda he was roused from his dream of triumph by the sound of heavy ordnance bellowing through the mountain-defiles. His heart misgave him: he put spurs to his horse and galloped in advance of his lagging cavalgada. As he proceeded the noise of the ordnance increased, echoing from cliff to cliff. Spurring his horse up a craggy height which commanded an extensive view, he beheld, to his consternation, the country about Ronda white with the tents of a besieging army. The royal standard, displayed before a proud encampment, showed that Ferdinand himself was present, while the incessant blaze and thunder of artillery and the volumes of overhanging smoke told the work of destruction that was going on.
The royal army had succeeded in coming upon Ronda by surprise during the absence of its alcayde and most of its garrison; but its inhabitants were warlike and defended themselves bravely, trusting that Hamet and his Gomeres would soon return to their assistance.
The fancied strength of their bulwarks had been of little avail against the batteries of the besiegers. In the space of four days three towers and great masses of the walls which defended the suburbs were battered down and the suburbs taken and plundered. Lombards and other heavy ordnance were now levelled at the walls of the city, and stones and missiles of all kinds hurled into the streets. The very rock on which the city stood shook with the thunder of the artillery, and the Christian captives, deep within its dungeons, hailed the sound as a promise of deliverance.
When Hamet elZegri beheld his city thus surrounded and assailed, he called upon his men to follow him and cut their way through to its relief. They proceeded stealthily through the mountains until they came to the nearest heights above the Christian camp. When night fell and part of the army was sunk in sleep, they descended the rocks, and, rushing suddenly upon the weakest part of the camp, endeavored to break their way through and gain the city. The camp was too strong to be forced; they were driven back to the crags of the mountains, whence they defended themselves by showering down darts and stones upon their pursuers.
Hamet now lit alarm-fires about the heights: his standard was joined by the neighboring mountaineers and by troops from Malaga. Thus reinforced, he made repeated assaults upon the Christians, cutting off all stragglers from the camp. All his attempts to force his way into the city, however, were fruitless; many of his bravest men were slain, and he was obliged to retreat into the fastnesses of the mountains.
In the mean while the distress of Ronda increased hourly. The marques of Cadiz, having possession of the suburbs, was enabled to approach to the very foot of the perpendicular precipice rising from the river on the summit of which the city is built. At the foot of this rock is a living fountain of limpid water gushing into a great natural basin. A secret mine led down from within the city to this fountain by several hundred steps cut in the solid rock. Hence the city obtained its chief supply of water, and these steps were deeply worn by the weary feet of Christian captives employed in this painful labor. The marques of Cadiz discovered this subterraneous passage, and directed his pioneers to countermine in the side of the rock; they pierced to the shaft, and, stopping it up, deprived the city of the benefit of this precious fountain.
While the marques was thus pressing the siege with the generous thought of soon delivering his companions-in-arms from the Moorish dungeons, far other were the feelings of the alcayde, Hamet el Zegri. He smote his breast and gnashed his teeth in impotent fury as he beheld from the mountain-cliffs the destruction of the city. Every thunder of the Christian ordnance seemed to batter against his heart. He saw tower after tower tumbling by day, and various parts of the city in a blaze at night. "They fired not merely stones from their ordnance," says a chronicler of the times, "but likewise great balls of iron cast in moulds, which demolished everything they struck. They threw also balls of tow steeped in pitch and oil and gunpowder, which, when once on fire, were not to be extinguished, and which set the houses in flames. Great was the horror of the inhabitants: they knew not where to fly for refuge: their houses were in a blaze or shattered by the ordnance; the streets were perilous from the falling ruins and the bounding balls, which dashed to pieces everything they encountered. At night the city looked like a fiery furnace; the cries and wailings of the women between the thunders of the ordnance reached even to the Moors on the opposite mountains, who answered them by yells of fury and despair.