On the summit of a craggy hill, a spur of the mountains of Ronda, stands the castle of Allora, now a mere ruin, infested by bats and owlets, but in old times one of the strong border holds of the Christians, to keep watch upon the frontiers of the warlike kingdom of Granada, and to hold the Moors in check. It was a post always confided to some well-tried commander; and, at the time of which we treat, was held by Rodrigo de Narvaez, a veteran, famed, both among Moors and Christians, not only for his hardy feats of arms, but also for that magnanimous courtesy which should ever be entwined with the sterner virtues of the soldier.
The castle of Allora was a mere part of his command; he was Alcayde, or military governor of Antiquera, but he passed most of his time at this frontier post, because its situation on the borders gave more frequent opportunity for those adventurous exploits which were the delight of the Spanish chivalry. His garrison consisted of fifty chosen cavaliers, all well mounted and well appointed: with these he kept vigilant watch upon the Moslems; patrolling the roads, and paths, and defiles of the mountains, so that nothing could escape his eye; and now and then signalizing himself by some dashing foray into the very Vega of Granada.
On a fair and beautiful night in summer, when the freshness of the evening breeze had tempered the heat of day, the worthy Alcayde sallied forth, with nine of his cavaliers, to patrol the neighborhood, and seek adventures. They rode quietly and cautiously, lest they should be overheard by Moorish scout or traveller; and kept along ravines and hollow ways, lest they should be betrayed by the glittering of the full moon upon their armor. Coming to where the road divided, the Alcayde directed five of his cavaliers to take one of the branches, while he, with the remaining four, would take the other. Should either party be in danger, the blast of a horn was to be the signal to bring their comrades to their aid.
The party of five had not proceeded far, when, in passing through a defile, overhung with trees, they heard the voice of a man, singing. They immediately concealed themselves in a grove, on the brow of a declivity, up which the stranger would have to ascend. The moonlight, which left the grove in deep shadow, lit up the whole person of the wayfarer, as he advanced, and enabled them to distinguish his dress and appearance with perfect accuracy. He was a Moorish cavalier, and his noble demeanor, graceful carriage, and splendid attire showed him to be of lofty rank. He was superbly mounted, on a dapple-gray steed, of powerful frame, and generous spirit, and magnificently caparisoned. His dress was a marlota, or tunic, and an Albernoz of crimson damask, fringed with gold. His Tunisian turban, of many folds, was of silk and cotton, striped, and bordered with golden fringe. At his girdle hung a scimitar of Damascus steel, with loops and tassels of silk and gold. On his left arm he bore an ample target, and his right hand grasped a long double-pointed lance. Thus equipped, he sat negligently on his steed, as one who dreamed of no danger, gazing on the moon, and singing, with a sweet and manly voice, a Moorish love ditty.
Just opposite the place where the Spanish cavaliers were concealed, was a small fountain in the rock, beside the road, to which the horse turned to drink; the rider threw the reins on his neck, and continued his song.
The Spanish cavaliers conferred together; they were all so pleased with the gallant and gentle appearance of the Moor, that they resolved not to harm, but to capture him, which, in his negligent mood, promised to be an easy task; rushing, therefore, from their concealment, they thought to surround and seize him. Never were men more mistaken. To gather up his reins, wheel round his steed, brace his buckler, and couch his lance, was the work of an instant; and there he sat, fixed like a castle in his saddle, beside the fountain.
The Christian cavaliers checked their steeds and reconnoitered him warily, loth to come to an encounter, which must end in his destruction.
The Moor now held a parley: “If you be true knights,” said he, “and seek for honorable fame, come on, singly, and I am ready to meet each in succession; but if you be mere lurkers of the road, intent on spoil, come all at once, and do your worst!”
The cavaliers communed for a moment apart, when one, advancing singly, exclaimed: “Although no law of chivalry obliges us to risk the loss of a prize, when clearly in our power, yet we willingly grant, as a courtesy, what we might refuse as a right. Valiant Moor! defend thyself!” So saying, he wheeled, took proper distance, couched his lance, and putting spurs to his horse, made at the stranger. The latter met him in mid career, transpierced him with his lance, and threw him headlong from his saddle. A second and a third succeeded, but were unhorsed with equal facility, and thrown to the earth, severely wounded. The remaining two, seeing their comrades thus roughly treated, forgot all compact of courtesy, and charged both at once upon the Moor. He parried the thrust of one, but was wounded by the other in the thigh, and, in the shock and confusion, dropped his lance. Thus disarmed, and closely pressed, he pretended to fly, and was hotly pursued. Having drawn the two cavaliers some distance from the spot, he suddenly wheeled short about, with one of those dexterous movements for which the Moorish horsemen are renowned; passed swiftly between them, swung himself down from his saddle, so as to catch up his lance, then, lightly replacing himself, turned to renew the combat.
Seeing him thus fresh for the encounter, as if just issued from his tent, one of the cavaliers put his lips to his horn, and blew a blast, that soon brought the Alcayde and his four companions to the spot.
The valiant Narvaez, seeing three of his cavaliers extended on the earth, and two others hotly engaged with the Moor, was struck with admiration, and coveted a contest with so accomplished a warrior. Interfering in the fight, he called upon his followers to desist, and addressing the Moor, with courteous words, invited him to a more equal combat. The latter readily accepted the challenge. For some time, their contest was fierce and doubtful; and the Alcayde had need of all his skill and strength to ward off the blows of his antagonist. The Moor, however, was exhausted by previous fighting, and by loss of blood. He no longer sat his horse firmly, nor managed him with his wonted skill. Collecting all his strength for a last assault, he rose in his stirrups, and made a violent thrust with his lance; the Alcayde received it upon his shield, and at the same time wounded the Moor in the right arm; then closing, in the shock, he grasped him in his arms, dragged him from his saddle, and fell with him to the earth: when putting his knee upon his breast, and his dagger to his throat, “Cavalier,” exclaimed he, “render thyself my prisoner, for thy life is in my hands!”
“Kill me, rather,” replied the Moor, “for death would be less grievous than loss of liberty.” The Alcayde, however, with the clemency of the truly brave, assisted the Moor to rise, ministered to his wounds with his own hands, and had him conveyed with great care to the castle of Allora. His wounds were slight, and in a few days were nearly cured; but the deepest wound had been inflicted on his spirit. He was constantly buried in a profound melancholy.
The Alcayde, who had conceived a great regard for him, treated him more as a friend than a captive, and tried in every way to cheer him, but in vain; he was always sad and moody, and, when on the battlements of the castle, would keep his eyes turned to the south, with a fixed and wistful gaze.
“How is this?” exclaimed the Alcayde, reproachfully, “that you, who were so hardy and fearless in the field, should lose all spirit in prison? If any secret grief preys on your heart, confide it to me, as to a friend, and I promise you, on the faith of a cavalier, that you shall have no cause to repent the disclosure.”
The Moorish knight kissed the hand of the Alcayde. “Noble cavalier,” said he “that I am cast down in spirit, is not from my wounds, which are slight, nor from my captivity, for your kindness has robbed it of all gloom; nor from my defeat, for to be conquered by so accomplished and renowned a cavalier, is no disgrace. But to explain to you the cause of my grief, it is necessary to give you some particulars of my story; and this I am moved to do, by the great sympathy you have manifested toward me, and the magnanimity that shines through all your actions.”
“Know, then, that my name is Abendaraez, and that I am of the noble but unfortunate line of the Abencerrages of Granada. You have doubtless heard of the destruction that fell upon our race. Charged with treasonable designs, of which they were entirely innocent, many of them were beheaded, the rest banished; so that not an Abencerrages was permitted to remain in Granada, excepting my father and my uncle, whose innocence was proved, even to the satisfaction of their persecutors. It was decreed, however, that, should they have children, the sons should be educated at a distance from Granada, and the daughters should be married out of the kingdom.
“Conformably to this decree, I was sent, while yet an infant, to be reared in the fortress of Cartama, the worthy Alcayde of which was an ancient friend of my father. He had no children, and received me into his family as his own child, treating me with the kindness and affection of a father; and I grew up in the belief that he really was such. A few years afterward, his wife gave birth to a daughter, but his tenderness toward me continued undiminished. I thus grew up with Xarisa, for so the infant daughter of the Alcayde was called, as her own brother, and thought the growing passion which I felt for her, was mere fraternal affection. I beheld her charms unfolding, as it were, leaf by leaf, like the morning rose, each moment disclosing fresh beauty and sweetness.
“At this period, I overheard a conversation between the Alcayde and his confidential domestic, and found myself to be the subject. ‘It is time,’ said he, ‘to apprise him of his parentage, that he may adopt a career in life. I have deferred the communication as long as possible, through reluctance to inform him that he is of a proscribed and an unlucky race.’
“This intelligence would have overwhelmed me at an earlier period, but the intimation that Xarisa was not my sister, operated like magic, and in an instant transformed my brotherly affection into ardent love.
“I sought Xarisa, to impart to her the secret I had learned. I found her in the garden, in a bower of jessamines, arranging her beautiful hair by the mirror of a crystal fountain. The radiance of her beauty dazzled me. I ran to her with open arms, and she received me with a sister’s embraces. When we had seated ourselves beside the fountain, she began to upbraid me for leaving her so long alone.
“In reply, I informed her of the conversation I had overheard. The recital shocked and distressed her. ‘Alas!’ cried she, ‘then is our happiness at an end!’
“‘How!’ exclaimed I; ‘wilt thou cease to love me, because I am not thy brother?’
“‘Not so,’ replied she; ‘but do you not know that when it is once known we are not brother and sister, we can no longer be permitted to be thus always together?’
“In fact, from that moment our intercourse took a new character. We met often at the fountain among the jessamines, but Xarisa no longer advanced with open arms to meet me. She became reserved and silent, and would blush, and cast down her eyes, when I seated myself beside her. My heart became a prey to the thousand doubts and fears that ever attend upon true love. I was restless and uneasy, and looked back with regret to the unreserved intercourse that had existed between us, when we supposed ourselves brother and sister; yet I would not have had the relationship true, for the world.
“While matters were in this state between us, an order came from the King of Granada for the Alcayde to take command of the fortress of Coyn, which lies directly on the Christian frontier. He prepared to remove, with all his family, but signified that I should remain at Cartama. I exclaimed against the separation, and declared that I could not be parted from Xarisa. ‘That is the very cause,’ said he, ‘why I leave thee behind. It is time, Abendaraez, that thou shouldst know the secret of thy birth; that thou art no son of mine, neither is Xarisa thy sister.’ ‘I know it all,’ exclaimed I, ‘and I love her with tenfold the affection of a brother. You have brought us up together; you have made us necessary to each other’s happiness; our hearts have entwined themselves with our growth; do not now tear them asunder. Fill up the measure of your kindness; be indeed a father to me, by giving me Xarisa for my wife.’
“The brow of the Alcayde darkened as I spoke. ‘Have I then been deceived?’ said he. ‘Have those nurtured in my very bosom, been conspiring against me? Is this your return for my paternal tenderness? to beguile the affections of my child, and teach her to deceive her father? It was cause enough to refuse thee the hand of my daughter, that thou wert of a proscribed race, who can never approach the walls of Granada; this, however, I might have passed over; but never will I give my daughter to a man who has endeavored to win her from me by deception.’
“All my attempts to vindicate myself and Xarisa were unavailing. I retired in anguish from his presence, and seeking Xarisa, told her of this blow, which was worse than death to me. ‘Xarisa,’ said I, ‘we part for ever! I shall never see thee more! Thy father will guard thee rigidly. Thy beauty and his wealth will soon attract some happier rival, and I shall be forgotten!’
“Xarisa reproached me with my want of faith, and promised me eternal constancy. I still doubted and desponded, until, moved by my anguish and despair, she agreed to a secret union. Our espousals made, we parted, with a promise on her part to send me word from Coyn, should her father absent himself from the fortress. The very day after our secret nuptials, I beheld the whole train of the Alcayde depart from Cartama, nor would he admit me to his presence, or permit me to bid farewell to Xarisa. I remained at Cartama, somewhat pacified in spirit by this secret bond of union; but every thing around me fed my passion, and reminded me of Xarisa. I saw the windows at which I had so often beheld her. I wandered through the apartment she had inhabited; the chamber in which she had slept. I visited the bower of jessamines, and lingered beside the fountain in which she had delighted. Every thing recalled her to my imagination, and filled my heart with tender melancholy.
“At length, a confidential servant brought me word, that her father was to depart that day for Granada, on a short absence, inviting me to hasten to Coyn, describing a secret portal at which I should apply, and the signal by which I would obtain admittance.
“If ever you have loved, most valiant Alcayde, you may judge of the transport of my bosom. That very night I arrayed myself in my most gallant attire, to pay due honor to my bride; and arming myself against any casual attack, issued forth privately from Cartama. You know the rest, and by what sad fortune of war I found myself, instead of a happy bridegroom, in the nuptial bower of Coyn, vanquished, wounded, and a prisoner, withing the walls of Allora. The term of absence of the father of Xarisa is nearly expired. Within three days he will return to Coyn, and our meeting will no longer be possible. Judge, then, whether I grieve without cause, and whether I may not well be excused for showing impatience under confinement.”
Don Rodrigo de Narvaez was greatly moved by this recital; for, though more used to rugged war, than scenes of amorous softness, he was of a kind and generous nature.
“Abendaraez,” said he, “I did not seek thy confidence to gratify an idle curiosity. It grieves me much that the good fortune which delivered thee into my hands, should have marred so fair an enterprise. Give me thy faith, as a true knight, to return prisoner to my castle, within three days, and I will grant thee permission to accomplish thy nuptials.”
The Abencerrage would have thrown himself at his feet, to pour out protestations of eternal gratitude, but the Alcayde prevented him. Calling in his cavaliers, he took the Abencerrage by the right hand, in their presence, exclaiming solemnly, “You promise, on the faith of a cavalier, to return to my castle of Allora within three days, and render yourself my prisoner?” And the Abencerrage said, “I promise.”
Then said the Alcayde, “Go! and may good fortune attend you. If you require any safeguard, I and my cavaliers are ready to be your companions.”
The Abencerrage kissed the hand of the Alcayde, in grateful acknowledgment. “Give me,” said he, “my own armor, and my steed, and I require no guard. It is not likely that I shall again meet with so valorous a foe.”
The shades of night had fallen, when the tramp of the dapple-gray steed sounded over the drawbridge, and immediately afterward the light clatter of hoofs along the road, bespoke the fleetness with which the youthful lover hastened to his bride. It was deep night when the Moor arrived at the castle of Coyn. He silently and cautiously walked his panting steed under its dark walls, and having nearly passed round them, came to the portal denoted by Xarisa. He paused and looked around to see that he was not observed, and then knocked three times with the butt of his lance. In a little while the portal was timidly unclosed by the duenna of Xarisa. “Alas! senor,” said she, “what has detained you thus long? Every night have I watched for you; and my lady is sick at heart with doubt and anxiety.”
The Abencerrage hung his lance, and shield, and scimitar against the wall, and then followed the duenna, with silent steps, up a winding stair-case, to the apartment of Xarisa. Vain would be the attempt to describe the raptures of that meeting. Time flew too swiftly, and the Abencerrage had nearly forgotten, until too late, his promise to return a prisoner to the Alcayde of Allora. The recollection of it came to him with a pang, and suddenly awoke him from his dream of bliss. Xarisa saw his altered looks, and heard with alarm his stifled sighs; but her countenance brightened, when she heard the cause. “Let not thy spirit be cast down,” said she, throwing her white arms around him. “I have the keys of my father’s treasures; send ransom more than enough to satisfy the Christian, and remain with me.”
“No,” said Abendaraez, “I have given my word to return in person, and like a true knight, must fulfil my promise. After that, fortune must do with me as it pleases.”
“Then,” said Xarisa, “I will accompany thee. Never shall you return a prisoner, and I remain at liberty.”
The Abencerrage was transported with joy at this new proof of devotion in his beautiful bride. All preparations were speedily made for their departure. Xarisa mounted behind the Moor, on his powerful steed; they left the castle walls before daybreak, nor did they pause, until they arrived at the gate of the castle of Allora, which was flung wide to receive them.
Alighting in the court, the Abencerrage supported the steps of his trembling bride, who remained closely veiled, into the presence of Rodrigo de Narvaez. “Behold, valiant Alcayde!” said he, “the way in which an Abencerrage keeps his word. I promised to return to thee a prisoner, but I deliver two captives into your power. Behold Xarisa, and judge whether I grieved without reason, over the loss of such a treasure. Receive us as your own, for I confide my life and her honor to your hands.”
The Alcayde was lost in admiration of the beauty of the lady, and the noble spirit of the Moor. “I know not,” said he, “which of you surpasses the other; but I know that my castle is graced and honored by your presence. Enter into it, and consider it your own, while you deign to reside with me.”
For several days the lovers remained at Allora, happy in each other’s love, and in the friendship of the brave Alcayde. The latter wrote a letter, full of courtesy, to the Moorish king of Granada, relating the whole event, extolling the valor and good faith of the Abencerrage, and craving for him the royal countenance.
The king was moved by the story, and was pleased with an opportunity of showing attention to the wishes of a gallant and chivalrous enemy; for though he had often suffered from the prowess of Don Rodigro de Narvaez, he admired the heroic character he had gained throughout the land. Calling the Alcayde of Coyn into his presence, he gave him the letter to read. The Alcayde turned pale, and trembled with rage, on the perusal. “Restrain thine anger,” said the king; “there is nothing that the Alcayde of Allora could ask, that I would not grant, if in my power. Go thou to Allora; pardon thy children; take them to thy home. I receive this Abencerrage into my favor, and it will be my delight to heap benefits upon you all.”
The kindling ire of the Alcayde was suddenly appeased. He hastened to Allora; and folded his children to his bosom, who would have fallen at his feet. The gallant Rodrigo de Narvaez gave liberty to his prisoner without ransom, demanding merely a promise of his friendship. He accompanied the youthful couple and their father to Coyn, where their nuptials were celebrated with great rejoicings. When the festivities were over, Don Rodrigo de Narvaez returned to his fortress of Allora.
After his departure, the Alcayde of Coyn addressed his children: “To your hands,” said he, “I confide the disposition of my wealth. One of the first things I charge you, is not to forget the ransom you owe to the Alcayde of Allora. His magnanimity you can never repay, but you can prevent it from wronging him of his just dues. Give him, moreover, your entire friendship, for he merits it fully, though of a different faith.”
The Abencerrage thanked him for his generous proposition, which so truly accorded with his own wishes. He took a large sum of gold, and enclosed it in a rich coffer; and, on his own part, sent six beautiful horses, superbly caparisoned; with six shields and lances, mounted and embossed with gold. The beautiful Xarisa, at the same time, wrote a letter to the Alcayde, filled with expressions of gratitude and friendship, and sent him a box of fragrant cypress-wood, containing linen, of the finest quality, for his person. The valiant Alcayde disposed of the present in a characteristic manner. The horses and armor he shared among the cavaliers who had accompanied him on the night of the skirmish. The box of cypress-wood and its contents he retained, for the sake of the beautiful Xarisa; and sent her, by the hands of a messenger, the sum of gold paid as a ransom, entreating her to receive it as a wedding present. This courtesy and magnanimity raised the character of the Alcayde Rodrigo de Narvaez still higher in the estimation of the Moors, who extolled him as a perfect mirror of chivalric virtue; and from that time forward, there was a continual exchange of good offices between them.