While these events were taking place on the northern frontier of the kingdom of Granada the important fortress of Alhama was neglected, and its commander, Don Gutiere de Padilla, clavero of Calatrava, reduced to great perplexity. The remnant of the foraging party which had been surprised and massacred by El Zagal when on his way to Granada to receive the crown had returned in confusion and dismay to the fortress. They could only speak of their own disgrace, being obliged to abandon their cavalgada and fly, pursued by a superior force: of the flower of their party, the gallant knights of Calatrava, who had remained behind in the valley, they knew nothing. A few days cleared up the mystery of their fate: tidings were brought that their bloody heads had been borne in triumph into Granada. The surviving knights of Calatrava, who formed a part of the garrison, burned to revenge the death of their comrades and to wipe out the stigma of this defeat; but the clavero had been rendered cautious by disaster--he resisted all their entreaties for a foray. His garrison was weakened by the loss of so many of its bravest men; the Vega was patrolled by numerous and powerful squadrons sent forth by El Zagal; above all, the movements of the garrison were watched by the warriors of Zalea, a strong town only two leagues distant on the road toward Loxa. This place was a continual check upon Alhama when in its most powerful state, placing ambuscades to entrap the Christian cavaliers in the course of their sallies. Frequent and bloody skirmishes had taken place in consequence; and the troops of Alhama, when returning from their forays, had often to fight their way back through the squadrons of Zalea. Thus surrounded by dangers, Don Gutiere de Padilla restrained the eagerness of his troops for a sally, knowing that an additional disaster might be followed by the loss of Alhama.
In the mean while provisions began to grow scarce; they were unable to forage the country as usual for supplies, and depended for relief upon the Castilian sovereigns. The defeat of the count de Cabra filled the measure of their perplexities, as it interrupted the intended reinforcements and supplies. To such extremity were they reduced that they were compelled to kill some of their horses for provisions.
The worthy clavero, Don Gutiere de Padilla, was pondering one day on this gloomy state of affairs when a Moor was brought before him who had surrendered himself at the gate of Alhama and claimed an audience. Don Gutiere was accustomed to visits of the kind from renegado Moors, who roamed the country as spies and adalides, but the countenance of this man was quite unknown to him. He had a box strapped to his shoulders containing divers articles of traffic, and appeared to be one of those itinerant traders who often resorted to Alhama and the other garrison towns under pretext of vending trivial merchandise, such as amulets, perfumes, and trinkets, but who often produced rich shawls, golden chains and necklaces, and valuable gems and jewels.
The Moor requested a private conference with the clavero. "I have a precious jewel," said he, "to dispose of."
"I want no jewels," replied Don Gutiere.
"For the sake of Him who died on the cross, the great prophet of your faith," said the Moor solemnly, "refuse not my request; the jewel I speak of you alone can purchase, but I can only treat about it in secret."
Don Gutiere perceived there was something hidden under these mystic and figurative terms, in which the Moors were often accustomed to talk. He motioned to his attendants to retire. When they were alone the Moor looked cautiously around the apartment, and then, approaching close to the knight, demanded in a low voice, "What will you give me if I deliver the fortress of Zalea into your hands?"
Don Gutiere looked with surprise at the humble individual that made such a suggestion.