The spirits of the Moors were suddenly raised to a pitch of the greatest exultation, while the Christians were astonished to see the storm of war ready to burst upon their heads. The count de Cabra, with his accustomed eagerness when there was a king in the field, would fain have scaled the heights and attacked El Zagal before he had time to form his camp; but Ferdinand, more cool and wary, restrained him. To attack the height would be to abandon the siege. He ordered every one, therefore, to keep a vigilant watch at his post and stand ready to defend it to the utmost, but on no account to sally forth and attack the enemy.
All night the signal-fires kept blazing along the mountains, rousing and animating the whole country. The morning sun rose over the lofty summit of Bentomiz on a scene of martial splendor. As its rays glanced down the mountain they lighted up the white tents of the Christian cavaliers cresting its lower prominences, their pennons and ensigns fluttering in the morning breeze. The sumptuous pavilions of the king, with the holy standard of the cross and the royal banners of Castile and Aragon, dominated the encampment. Beyond lay the city, its lofty castle and numerous towers glistening with arms, while above all, and just on the profile of the height, in the full blaze of the rising sun, were descried the tents of the Moor, his troops clustering about them and his infidel banners floating against the sky. Columns of smoke rose where the night- fires had blazed, and the clash of the Moorish cymbal, the bray of trumpet, and the neigh of steed were faintly heard from the airy heights. So pure and transparent is the atmosphere in this region that every object can be distinctly seen at a great distance, and the Christians were able to behold the formidable hosts of fires gathering on the summits of the surrounding mountains.
One of the first measures of the Moorish king was to detach a large force, under Reduan de Vanegas, alcayde of Granada, to fall upon the convoy of ordnance, which stretched for a great distance through the mountain-defiles. Ferdinand had anticipated this attempt, and sent the commander of Leon with a body of horse and foot to reinforce the master of Alcantara. El Zagal from his mountain-height beheld the detachment issue from the camp, and immediately recalled Reduan. The armies now remained quiet for a time, the Moor looking grimly down upon the Christian camp, like a tiger meditating a bound upon his prey. The Christians were in fearful jeopardy--a hostile city below them, a powerful army above them, and on every side mountains filled with implacable foes.
After El Zagal had maturely considered the situation of the Christian camp, and informed himself of all the passes of the mountain, he conceived a plan to surprise the enemy which he flattered himself would ensure their ruin and perhaps the capture of King Ferdinand. He wrote a letter to the alcayde of the city, commanding him in the dead of the night, on a signal-fire being made from the mountain, to sally forth with all his troops and fall furiously upon the Christian camp. The king would, at the same time, rush down with his army from the mountain, and assail it on the opposite side, thus overwhelming it at the hour of deep repose. This letter he despatched by a renegado Christian, who knew all the secret roads of the country, and if taken could pass himself for a Christian who had escaped from captivity.
El Zagal, confident in his stratagem, looked down upon the Christians as his devoted victims. As the sun went down and the long shadows of the mountains stretched across the vega, he pointed with exultation to the camp below, apparently unconscious of the impending danger. "Behold," said he, "the unbelievers are delivered into our hands; their king and choicest chivalry will soon be at our mercy. Now is the time to show the courage of men, and by one glorious victory retrieve all that we have lost. Happy he who falls fighting in the cause of the Prophet! he will at once be transported to the paradise of the faithful and surrounded by immortal houris. Happy he who shall survive victorious! he will behold Granada--an earthly paradise!--once more delivered from its foes and restored to all its glory." The words of El Zagal were received with acclamations by his troops, who waited impatiently for the appointed hour to pour down from their mountain- hold upon the Christians.
RESULT OF THE STRATAGEM OF EL ZAGAL TO SURPRISE KING FERDINAND.
Queen Isabella and her court had remained at Cordova in great anxiety for the result of the royal expedition. Every day brought tidings of the difficulties which attended the transportation of the ordnance and munitions and of the critical state of the army.
While in this state of anxious suspense couriers arrived with all speed from the frontiers, bringing tidings of the sudden sally of El Zagal from Granada to surprise the camp. All Cordova was in consternation. The destruction of the Andalusian chivalry among the mountains of this very neighborhood was called to mind; it was feared that similar ruin was about to burst forth from rocks and precipices upon Ferdinand and his army.