HOW THE PEOPLE OF GRANADA INVITED EL ZAGAL TO THE THRONE, AND HOW HE MARCHED TO THE CAPITAL.
The people of Granada were a versatile, unsteady race, and exceedingly given to make and unmake kings. They had for a long time vacillated between old Muley Abul Hassan and his son, Boabdil el Chico, sometimes setting up the one, sometimes the other, and sometimes both at once, according to the pinch and pressure of external evils. They found, however, that the evils still went on increasing in defiance of every change, and were at their wits' end to devise some new combination or arrangement by which an efficient government might be wrought out of two bad kings. When the tidings arrived of the fall of Ronda, and the consequent ruin of the frontier, a tumultuous assemblage took place in one of the public squares. As usual, the people attributed the misfortunes of the country to the faults of their rulers, for the populace never imagine that any part of their miseries can originate with themselves. A crafty alfaqui, named Alyme Mazer, who had watched the current of their discontents, rose and harangued them. "You have been choosing and changing," said he, "between two monarchs; and who and what are they? Muley Abul Hassan for one, a man worn out by age and infirmities, unable to sally forth against the foe, even when ravaging to the very gates of the city; and Boabdil el Chico for the other, an apostate, a traitor, a deserter from his throne, a fugitive among the enemies of his nation, a man fated to misfortune, and proverbially named 'the Unlucky.' In a time of overwhelming war like the present he only is fit to sway a sceptre who can wield a sword. Would you seek such a man? You need not look far. Allah has sent such a one in this time of distress to retrieve the fortunes of Granada. You already know whom I mean. You know that it can be no other than your general, the invincible Abdallah, whose surname of El Zagal has become a watchword in battle rousing the courage of the faithful and striking terror into the unbelievers."
The multitude received the words of the alfaqui with acclamations; they were delighted with the idea of a third king over Granada, and Abdallah el Zagal being of the royal family, and already in the virtual exercise of royal power, the measure had nothing in it that appeared either rash or violent. A deputation was therefore sent to El Zagal at Malaga inviting him to repair to Granada to receive the crown.
El Zagal expressed great surprise and repugnance when the mission was announced to him, and nothing but his patriotic zeal for the public safety and his fraternal eagerness to relieve the aged Abul Hassan from the cares of government prevailed upon him to accept the offer. Leaving, therefore, Reduan Vanegas, one of the bravest Moorish generals, in command of Malaga, he departed for Granada, attended by three hundred trusty cavaliers.
Muley Abul Hassan did not wait for the arrival of his brother. Unable any longer to buffet with the storms of the times, his only solicitude was to seek some safe and quiet harbor of repose. In one of the deep valleys which indent the Mediterranean coast, and which are shut up on the land side by stupendous mountains, stood the little city of Almunecar. The valley was watered by the limpid river Frio, and abounded with fruits, with grain, and pasturage. The city was strongly fortified, and the garrison and alcayde were devoted to the old monarch. This was the place chosen by Muley Abul Hassan for his asylum. His first care was to send thither all his treasures; his next care was to take refuge there himself; his third, that his sultana Zoraya and their two sons should follow him.
In the mean time, Muley Abdallah el Zagal pursued his journey toward the capital, attended by his three hundred cavaliers. The road from Malaga to Granada winds close by Alhama, and is dominated by that lofty fortress. This had been a most perilous pass for the Moors during the time that Alhama was commanded by the count de Tendilla: not a traveller could escape his eagle eye, and his garrison was ever ready for a sally. The count de Tendilla, however, had been relieved from this arduous post, and it had been given in charge to Don Gutiere de Padilla, clavero (or treasurer) of the order of Calatrava--an easy, indulgent man, who had with him three hundred gallant knights of his order, besides other mercenary troops. The garrison had fallen off in discipline; the cavaliers were hardy in fight and daring in foray, but confident in themselves and negligent of proper precautions. Just before the journey of El Zagal a number of these cavaliers, with several soldiers of fortune of the garrison, in all about one hundred and seventy men, had sallied forth to harass the Moorish country during its present distracted state, and, having ravaged the valleys of the Sierra Nevada, or Snowy Mountains, were returning to Alhama in gay spirits and laden with booty.
As El Zagal passed through the neighborhood of Alhama he recollected the ancient perils of the road, and sent light cerradors in advance to inspect each rock and ravine where a foe might lurk in ambush. One of these scouts, overlooking a narrow valley which opened upon the road, descried a troop of horsemen on the banks of a little stream. They were dismounted, and had taken the bridles from their steeds, that they might crop the fresh grass on the banks of the river. The horsemen were scattered about, some reposing in the shades of rocks and trees, others gambling for the spoil they had taken: not a sentinel was posted to keep guard; everything showed the perfect security of men who consider themselves beyond the reach of danger.
These careless cavaliers were in fact the knights of Calatrava returning from their foray. A part of their force had passed on with the cavalgada; ninety of the principal cavaliers had halted to refresh themselves in this valley. El Zagal smiled with ferocious joy when he heard of their negligent security. "Here will be trophies," said he, "to grace our entrance into Granada."