The marques of Cadiz was not a cavalier that readily forgave an injury or an insult. On the morning after the royal banquet his batteries opened a tremendous fire upon Gibralfaro. All day the encampment was wrapped in wreaths of smoke, nor did the assault cease with the day, but throughout the night there was an incessant flashing and thundering of the lombards, and the following morning the assault rather increased than slackened in fury. The Moorish bulwarks were no proof against those formidable engines. In a few days the lofty tower on which the taunting banner had been displayed was shattered, a smaller tower in its vicinity reduced to ruins, and a great breach made in the intervening walls.
Several of the hot-spirited cavaliers were eager for storming the breach sword in hand; others, more cool and wary, pointed out the rashness of such an attempt, for the Moors had worked indefatigably in the night; they had digged a deep ditch within the breach, and had fortified it with palisadoes and a high breastwork. All, however, agreed that the camp might safely be advanced near to the ruined walls, and that it ought to be done in return for the insolent defiance of the enemy.
The marques of Cadiz felt the temerity of the measure, but was unwilling to dampen the zeal of these high-spirited cavaliers, and, having chosen the post of danger in the camp, it did not become him to decline any service merely because it might appear perilous. He ordered his outposts, therefore, to be advanced within a stone's- throw of the breach, but exhorted the soldiers to maintain the utmost vigilance.
The thunder of the batteries had ceased; the troops, exhausted by two nights' fatigue and watchfulness, and apprehending no danger from the dismantled walls, were half of them asleep; the rest were scattered about in negligent security. On a sudden upward of two thousand Moors sallied forth from the castle, led on by Ibrahim Zenete, the principal captain under Hamet. They fell with fearful havoc upon the advanced guard, slaying many of them in their sleep and putting the rest to headlong flight.
The marques was in his tent, about a bow-shot distant, when he heard the tumult of the onset and beheld his men dying in confusion. He rushed forth, followed by his standard-bearer. "Turn again, cavaliers!" exclaimed he; "I am here, Ponce de Leon! To the foe! to the foe!" The flying troops stopped at hearing his well-known voice, rallied under his banner, and turned upon the enemy. The encampment by this time was roused; several cavaliers from the adjoining stations had hastened to the scene of action, with a number of Galicians and soldiers of the Holy Brotherhood. An obstinate and bloody contest ensued; the ruggedness of the place, the rocks, chasms, and declivities broke it into numerous combats: Christian and Moor fought hand to hand with swords and daggers, and often, grappling and struggling, rolled together down the precipices.
The banner of the marques was in danger of being taken: he hastened to its rescue, followed by some of his bravest cavaliers. They were surrounded by the enemy, and several of them cut down. Don Diego Ponce de Leon, brother to the marques, was wounded by an arrow, and his son-in-law, Luis Ponce, was likewise wounded: they succeeded, however, in rescuing the banner and bearing it off in safety. The battle lasted for an hour; the height was covered with killed and wounded and the blood flowed in streams down the rocks; at length, Ibrahim Zenete being disabled by the thrust of a lance, the Moors gave way and retreated to the castle.
They now opened a galling fire from their battlements and towers, approaching the breaches so as to discharge their crossbows and arquebuses into the advanced guard of the encampment. The marques was singled out: the shot fell thick about him, and one passed through his buckler and struck upon his cuirass, but without doing him any injury. Every one now saw the danger and inutility of approaching the camp thus near to the castle, and those who had counselled it were now urgent that it should be withdrawn. It was accordingly removed back to its original ground, from which the marques had most reluctantly advanced it. Nothing but his valor and timely aid had prevented this attack on his outpost from ending in a total rout of all that part of the army.
Many cavaliers of distinction fell in this contest, but the loss of none was felt more deeply than that of Ortega del Prado, captain of escaladors. He was one of the bravest men in the service, the same who had devised the first successful blow of the war, the storming of Alhama, where he was the first to plant and mount the scaling- ladders. He had always been high in the favor and confidence of the noble Ponce de Leon, who knew how to appreciate and avail himself of the merits of all able and valiant men.*