AT THE period of the Moors' most complete dominion over Spain, Pelayo, the noble scion of her ancient kings, stood almost alone in the defence of his country. Undismayed by the misfortunes of his race and people, or by the oppressive rigours of the conquerors, he never tired of rousing his brethren to a sense of their shameful condition, and stirring them up to the desire of again restoring their religion and the throne of their native rulers.
Meantime, his sister Hormesinda, no less ardent and patriotic, but weaker and more short-sighted, had thought to benefit her people by sealing a compromise with the invaders. Forgetful of the religious laws which forbid such a union, she married Munuza, one of the Moorish chiefs who reigned at Gijon, and for a few years imagined she had effected wonders because she had induced the conqueror to mitigate his oppressions.
Pelayo, however, was almost more distressed at the contamination of his sister, married to an unbeliever, than by the bondage of his fellow-countrymen; and being on the point of leading the people he had collected to an attack on the Moorish Alcázar, he first obtained an interview with her, within the king's private apartments, with the view of inducing her to abandon her infidel lord.
Hormesinda, however, had chosen her path, and could not now escape its leadings; the interview was both stormy and touching. Pelayo, unflinching in his morality and patriotism, could find nothing to say to her but words of reproach. And Hormesinda could only urge, that though she might have been wrong in marrying the Moor, yet, now her word, and life, and love were pledged to him, she could not leave him.
Munuza despised the Christians, and so Pelayo had no difficulty in gaining access to Hormesinda accompanied by the venerable Veremundo, his father; but a Jew in Munuza's service having betrayed the information that he had no less a person than Pelayo himself in his power, he ordered him to be captured and thrown into a dismal dungeon called a mazmorra.
No sooner did Munuza know that he had nothing to fear from Pelayo, than it became evident his moderation towards the Christians had been dictated less by Hormesinda's representations than by dread of Pelayo's reprisals, for he now began to add to the burdens of the conquered, without mercy. To crown all, he issued a decree by which all who would not make themselves Mohammedans were declared to be slaves.
This measure completed the indignation of the Christians; and when it became known where Pelayo was held in durance, it needed but little urging of Leandro, his brother, to lead the outraged population to the assault of the Alcázar of Gijon.
The impetuosity of the despairing population was irresistible. Munuza, inclined to despise them at first, found himself surrounded before he was aware, and sallied out with his reserve to give life to his troops and repel the insurgents. He had no sooner left the precincts of the palace than Hormesinda took advantage of the circumstance to set free her brother, who was thus enabled to show himself at the head of his people like a miraculous apparition, inspiring them with courage to drive all before them.
Munuza, obliged to escape for his life, re-entered the Alcázar, where Hormesinda awaited him with feminine tenderness, desirous only to make a bulwark of her body between him and Pelayo's fury. Munuza, however, had doubtless courage, though it was the courage of an infidel; and not only refused to owe his life to the protection of a woman, but recognizing that it was her hand alone could have set his captive free, stabbed her and himself just in time to die at the entering feet of Pelayo and his victorious host.
This victory of the Christian arms was the first-fruits of many others, which, hardly fought through succeeding centuries, restored at last the whole of Spain to Christendom.