THE hosts of King Don Ferdinand were gathered under his banner to go out and recover Granada from the dominion of the Moors. All the nobles of Spain were there in their strong shining armour of wrought steel inlaid with gold. It was St. Michael's day in the morning, and the king called the principal of them into his tent, and thus said to them:--"Who will be the knight who, to show his prowess and to cover his name with glory in succeeding generations, will go up for me to the Snowy Sierra ."
But the nobles looked one on the other, and no one said "I will;" for if it was a perilous adventure to go, the return was utterly uncertain. And for the fear that filled them, you could see their very beards tremble.
Then arose Don Alonso, who was called "of Aguilar," and said, "Good King, I will go. This enterprise is such as I seek. I have no desire in life but to die defending my country from the infidel folk; and may Christ give me the mastery!"
So he put on his armour before the king--his armour all damascened with gold, and bestrode his noble steed, and slung his broad shield on his arm, and took in his hand a stout lance with a sharp iron head. Right valiant he looked in his might as he rode at the head of his troop.
And they crossed the Snowy Sierra and soon came in sight of the Moors. And the Moors poured down upon them so closely that they were well-nigh overwhelmed by numbers. Then the Christian ranks gave way, and began to fly from the face of the Moor.
Now, when brave Don Alonso saw them give way, he called to them with a mighty voice and said, "Turn! caballeros, turn! Turn back to the battle; for though they against us be many, a coward still is he who shows fear! Remember the mighty deeds of your old Castilian fathers. Better is it here to die in the noble profession of arms, than to crawl back to your firesides and live a dishonoured life. Thus dying you will live, for your fame shall be sung throughout Spain; for life soon comes to an end, but honour dieth never!"
At these generous words they felt their hearts come back; each seemed filled with a giant's strength, and fought till the Moors stretched him dead.
Don Alonso remained the last, still brandishing his gory lance, and ever and anon charging the Moors with an impetuosity none could resist.
But when the Moors saw their heroes thus mown down, wounded and dead, with one consent they agreed to attack him on all sides at once. There he sat erect on his charger; his eye was full of fire, his shield shone bright on his arm--dented, indeed, but not pierced, and in his hand his stout, unbroken lance. But though his horse was so high, there lay round him such a heap of slain, that when the Moors came to the attack, as they climbed on the fallen bodies they found themselves raised to his level.
On they came with frightful algazara ; and, stout in each other's presence, they charged, and thrust, and charged again. The boldest ventured in front, but before they came within reach of his lance their brethren had pierced him from behind; and before he could turn to repay them, those who had been in front thrust him in the side. And they thrust his bonny horse, too; and the horse and his rider fell there, where they stood, crowning the mound of the slain. Sixteen lances had pierced Don Alonso--pierced him through and through.
But Don Alonso that day had inflicted a loss on the Moors which filled them with confusion and dismay. Then, from out their ill-guarded camp, came running a Christian captive; it was she who in days gone by had brought up the young Don Alonso.
Guided by the instinct of a mother, she at once descried his form as it lay crowning the heap of the victims of his prowess.
So she fell on his neck and wept, and wept till she swooned away, and wept when she woke again. And she stroked his long, dark hair, and his cheek that was ashy pale; and his eyes, that could never more see her, she closed with a mother's care. Then she wrung her fair, white hands, and she raised her cry to God; and her cry must have pierced the clouds as it pierced the hearts of men.
"Don Alonso! my Alonso!" she cried. "Now, God receive thy soul; for the cruel Moors have killed thee, the Moors of Alpujarra! And now all Spain shall mourn thee, mourn thee as a mother mourns, lamenting thine early death! And King Ferdinand shall mourn thee, for he has never a knight like thee! Aguilar and Montilla shall mourn thee, for they'll ne'er have a lord like thee! And all the host shall mourn thee, for not one has a comrade like thee! But the angels in heaven mourn not, for my boy is among them with joy; for he died resisting the pagans who devoured his country fair."
So she tried, but in vain, to smile, for her mother's heart was weak; and in the effort it broke, and she fell icy cold at his feet.
Now an ancient Moor came by, whose beard was long and grey; and she lay so helpless there, he saw he had nothing to fear, so he drew his scimitar, and with stealthy steps crept near and severed her dying head, holding it up by the long dark hair.
By the long dark hair he bore it, to lay at the feet of the king. Now the Moorish king rejoiced when he knew Don Alonso was dead, Don Alonso of Aguilar; so he told them to take his body, and that of his mother as well, and bear to Don Fernando, the king.
And Don Fernando said, "Good service this day was done by Alonso of Aguilar; and though by the Moors he has died, his memory yet shall live; his deeds shall clothe every knight, in the fancy of every Moor, with power to equal the prowess of Alonso of Aguilar."