ALFONSO the Fifth of Leon was but an infant when his father's death laid on him the charge of resisting the advance of the Moslem, which was the inheritance of all Spanish sovereigns for so many centuries. His mother, Elvira, ruled the kingdom during his minority with great prudence and courage, defeated the Infidels in several encounters, and cultivated in her son all the qualities of a great sovereign. So well did her instructions prosper, that at the age of fifteen he was called to reign in his own name; and from the seclusion of a convent, whither she retired when the country no longer required her, his mother had frequent occasion to return thanks to heaven for the noble qualities her boy exhibited. For many years he continued the pride of the nation and the dread of its enemies; prosperity blessed the people at home, and their borders were continually enlarged by the success of his arms.
Success, though pleasant, is not always good. Alfonso, under its influence, at one time grew heedless of the dictates of his religion. On one occasion, being about to conclude a treaty of peace with Andalla, the Moorish king of Toledo, that prince asked the hand of his sister, Doña Terea, as one of the conditions of the treaty. The king's counsellors were struck with horror, at the thought of handing over a Christian maiden to an Infidel husband, the people expressed their indignation aloud, and Doña Terea herself implored piteously to be spared.
As I have said, success had spoiled Alfonso's nature; he was so accustomed to succeed in every thing, that he could not bear to be crossed even by righteous counsel. It seemed something fine to do what every one else was afraid of; he would not show himself so weak, not he. He would give his sister to the Moorish king in spite of them all, and show them he was superior to their prejudices. Besides, he further justified it to himself, because Andalla undertook on this condition to help him in his campaign against the other Moorish kings; forgetting that we must never do a wrong action for the sake of any advantageous result we may fancy it will bring.
Doña Terea, on the other hand, felt the full misery of her situation. No specious arguments blinded her. She felt it both wrong and repugnant; and besides, there was many a gallant, handsome knight ready to risk his life to win her love, and on whom she might have bestowed it in joy to herself and without violence to her conscience. Too young to have fixed her choice, she still had her secret preference dearly nursed, but not yet acknowledged so as to give the object of it the right to stand forth as her defender.
Now, a blight was over all her hopes; her bridal day, instead of an occasion of hope and gladness, was to be a day of desolation and despair. The prelates and great men of the kingdom offered themselves willingly to represent her grief to the king; but they could not move him, and when he sent the envoy who was to conduct her to Toledo, she was found in an agony on her knees, imploring deliverance from on High. Even this, however, did not move the king's heart; and poor Doña Terea was dragged off, more dead than alive, to be the Moor's bride.
Her beautiful golden hair--a romance of the time particularly records the tint--hung untended over her shoulders; the colour had fled from her tear-worn cheeks, and the expression from her dark-glancing eyes; for it seemed as if God, on whom she called so passionately to deliver her, had forsaken her in her hour of need.
And thus she was brought to Andalla, King of Toledo, who was too much pleased to have a beautiful Christian maiden for his bride to listen to her appeal to his magnanimity to release her. But when she found that all her gentle supplications were of no avail, she seemed suddenly inspired with a fire of queenly indignation; and, assuming a commanding attitude, she said solemnly, "Moor, of another law far removed from mine, know that I desire not to be united with thee, and thy presence is a burden to me; but if thou art sacrilegiously determined to marry me against my will, know that we Christians each at our baptism have a guardian angel given to us, to defend us from the power of evil; and so sure as thou respectest not the difference there is between thy belief and mine, that guardian spirit shall vindicate me and smite thee with his two-edged sword."
But Andalla only thought this exhibition of indignation made her look prettier; and laughing at the threatened visitation, persisted in making her his wife. His neighbours counted him singularly lucky in the possession of such a prize; and he thought himself happy indeed. Nevertheless, from the day of his marriage, a strange illness had assailed him. Though still in the prime of manhood, an unaccountable weakness overtook him; first his sight failed, and then his hearing, then his taste, then his strength; and all the clever physicians of the Moorish dominions failed, not only to give him any relief, but even to guess at the cause of the malady.
Driven thus to think within himself, he recalled the solemn warning of Doña Terea, and fear overtook him that her words were coming true. The moment he realized his danger, he sent for her and asked her if she still wished to return to her own country; to which she of course replied, that it was what she must always most desire. So he summoned the most honourable men of his kingdom, and gave Doña Terea in charge to them, and sent them to convey her back to her own country; and, moreover, put in their hands priceless presents of gold and precious stones, to make amends in the best way in his power, and also to testify that he did it to satisfy the scruples of the princess, and not out of any disrespect to the Christian king, of whose religion he now stood in great fear.
And Alfonso the Fifth, what became of him? Had he heard the Moorish king's embassage, he too might have been brought to the knowledge of his error, and to repentance; but when it arrived at the capital of Leon, he was already gone out on an expedition in which, by his unholy alliance, the infidel forces were mingled with his own. In high spirits, they marched along, crossing the Douro, fearing no opposition, for the Moorish population was at the time divided by many internecine feuds, and were hence precluded from assembling against him in any large numbers. Thus he came to Viseo, a strong place defended by a considerable garrison. Alfonso determined to lay siege to it. The army was accordingly encamped before it, and wise measures for its reduction promulgated, for Alfonso was a skilful general. Never doubting of his luck, however, he neglected those precautions which would have suggested themselves to a less successful man. The weather was sultry, and the heavy armour irksome. Alfonso, unused to restraint, heedlessly cast his cuirass aside, yet, with his accustomed bravery, showed himself under the walls as before, too self-confident to listen to counsel.
A sharp-eyed Moor upon the battlements detected the advantage he had given to his enemies, and letting fly a poisoned arrow aimed with the nice precision which the greatness of the venture inspired, gave him a mortal wound.
Thus he was cut down in early manhood, and the care of the kingdom once more left in the hands of an infant.
But Doña Terea reached home in peace; and passed the rest of her days praying for the brother who had so sadly wronged her, in the Convent of Las Huelgas--one of the present architectural glories of Spain.