The troops had scarcely stretched themselves on the earth to take repose, when a scout arrived bringing word that El Zagal had suddenly sallied out of Granada with a strong force, and had encamped in the vicinity of Moclin. It was plain that the wary Moor had received information of the intended attack. This, however, was not the idea that presented itself to the mind of the count de Cabra. He had captured one king; here was a fair opportunity to secure another. What a prisoner to deliver into the hands of his royal mistress! Fired with the thoughts, the good count forgot all the arrangements of the king; or rather, blinded by former success, he trusted everything to courage and fortune, and thought that by one bold swoop he might again bear off the royal prize and wear his laurels without competition.* His only fear was that the master of Calatrava and the belligerent bishop might come up in time to share the glory of the victory; so, ordering every one to horse, this hot-spirited cavalier pushed on for Moclin without allowing his troops the necessary time for repose.
*Mariana, lib. 25, c. 17; Abarca, Zurita, etc.
The evening closed as the count arrived in the neighborhood of Moclin. It was the full of the moon and a bright and cloudless night. The count was marching through one of those deep valleys or ravines worn in the Spanish mountains by the brief but tremendous torrents which prevail during the autumnal rains. It was walled on each side by lofty and almost perpendicular cliffs, but great masses of moonlight were thrown into the bottom of the glen, glittering on the armor of the shining squadrons as they silently passed through it. Suddenly the war-cry of the Moors rose in various parts of the valley. "El Zagal! El Zagal!" was shouted from every cliff, accompanied by showers of missiles that struck down several of the Christian warriors. The count lifted up his eyes, and beheld, by the light of the moon, every cliff glistening with Moorish soldiery. The deadly shower fell thickly round him, and the shining armor of his followers made them fair objects for the aim of the enemy. The count saw his brother Gonzalo struck dead by his side; his own horse sank under him, pierced by four Moorish lances, and he received a wound in the hand from an arquebuse. He remembered the horrible massacre of the mountains of Malaga, and feared a similar catastrophe. There was no time to pause. His brother's horse, freed from his slaughtered rider, was running at large: seizing the reins, he sprang into the saddle, called upon his men to follow him, and, wheeling round, retreated out of the fatal valley.
The Moors, rushing down from the heights, pursued the retreating Christians. The chase endured for a league, but it was a league of rough and broken road, where the Christians had to turn and fight at almost every step. In these short but fierce combats the enemy lost many cavaliers of note, but the loss of the Christians was infinitely more grievous, comprising numbers of the noblest warriors of Vaena and its vicinity. Many of the Christians, disabled by wounds or exhausted by fatigue, turned aside and endeavored to conceal themselves among rocks and thickets, but never more rejoined their companions, being slain or captured by the Moors or perishing in their wretched retreats.
The arrival of the troops led by the master of Calatrava and the bishop of Jaen put an end to the rout. El Zagal contented himself with the laurels he had gained, and, ordering the trumpets to call off his men from the pursuit, returned in great triumph to Moclin.*
*Zurita, lib. 20, c. 4; Pulgar, Cronica.
Queen Isabella was at Vaena, awaiting with great anxiety the result of the expedition. She was in a stately apartment of the castle looking toward the road that winds through the mountains from Moclin, and regarding the watch-towers on the neighboring heights in hopes of favorable signals. The prince and princess, her children, were with her, and her venerable counsellor, the grand cardinal. All shared in the anxiety of the moment. At length couriers were seen riding toward the town. They entered its gates, but before they reached the castle the nature of their tidings was known to the queen by the shrieks and wailings from the streets below. The messengers were soon followed by wounded fugitives hastening home to be relieved or to die among their friends and families. The whole town resounded with lamentations, for it had lost the flower of its youth and its bravest warriors. Isabella was a woman of courageous soul, but her feelings were overpowered by spectacles of woe on every side: her maternal heart mourned over the death of so many loyal subjects, who shortly before had rallied round her with devoted affection, and, losing her usual self-command, she sank into deep despondency.
In this gloomy state of mind a thousand apprehensions crowded upon her. She dreaded the confidence which this success would impart to the Moors; she feared also for the important fortress of Alhama, the garrison of which had not been reinforced since its foraging party had been cut off by this same El Zagal. On every side she saw danger and disaster, and feared that a general reverse was about to attend the Castilian arms.