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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLeila; Or, The Siege Of Granada - Book 4 - Chapter 7. The Conflagration...
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Leila; Or, The Siege Of Granada - Book 4 - Chapter 7. The Conflagration... Post by :jasonroland Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :3384

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Leila; Or, The Siege Of Granada - Book 4 - Chapter 7. The Conflagration...

BOOK IV CHAPTER VII. THE CONFLAGRATION.--THE MAJESTY OF AN INDIVIDUAL PASSION IN THE MIDST OF HOSTILE THOUSANDS

It was the eve of a great and general assault upon Granada, deliberately planned by the chiefs of the Christian army. The Spanish camp (the most gorgeous Christendom had ever known) gradually grew calm and hushed. The shades deepened--the stars burned forth more serene and clear. Bright, in that azure air, streamed the silken tents of the court, blazoned with heraldic devices, and crowned by gaudy banners, which, filled by a brisk and murmuring wind from the mountains, flaunted gaily on their gilded staves. In the centre of the camp rose the pavilion of the queen--a palace in itself. Lances made its columns; brocade and painted arras its walls; and the space covered by its numerous compartments would have contained the halls and outworks of an ordinary castle. The pomp of that camp realised the wildest dreams of Gothic, coupled with Oriental splendour; something worthy of a Tasso to have imagined, or a Beckford to create. Nor was the exceeding costliness of the more courtly tents lessened in effect by those of the soldiery in the outskirts, many of which were built from boughs, still retaining their leaves--savage and picturesque huts;--as if, realising old legends, wild men of the woods had taken up the cross, and followed the Christian warriors against the swarthy followers of Termagaunt and Mahound. There, then, extended that mighty camp in profound repose, as the midnight threw deeper and longer shadows over the sward from the tented avenues and canvas streets. It was at that hour that Isabel, in the most private recess of her pavilion, was employed in prayer for the safety of the king, and the issue of the Sacred War. Kneeling before the altar of that warlike oratory, her spirit became rapt and absorbed from earth in the intensity of her devotions; and in the whole camp (save the sentries), the eyes of that pious queen were, perhaps, the only ones unclosed. All was profoundly still; her guards, her attendants, were gone to rest; and the tread of the sentinel, without that immense pavilion, was not heard through the silken walls.

It was then that Isabel suddenly felt a strong grasp upon her shoulder, as she still knelt by the altar. A faint shriek burst from her lips; she turned, and the broad curved knife of an eastern warrior gleamed close before her eyes.

"Hush! utter a cry, breathe more loudly than thy wont, and, queen though thou art, in the centre of swarming thousands, thou diest!"

Such were the words that reached the ear of the royal Castilian, whispered by a man of stern and commanding, though haggard aspect.

"What is thy purpose? wouldst thou murder me?" said the queen, trembling, perhaps for the first time, before a mortal presence.

"Thy life is safe, if thou strivest not to delude or to deceive me. Our time is short--answer me. I am Almamen, the Hebrew. Where is the hostage rendered to thy hands? I claim my child. She is with thee--I know it. In what corner of thy camp?"

"Rude stranger!" said Isabel, recovering somewhat from her alarm,--"thy daughter is removed, I trust for ever, from thine impious reach. She is not within the camp."

"Lie not, Queen of Castile," said Almamen, raising his knife; "for days and weeks I have tracked thy steps, followed thy march, haunted even thy slumbers, though men of mail stood as guards around them; and I know that my daughter has been with thee. Think not I brave this danger without resolves the most fierce and dread. Answer me, where is my child?"

"Many days since," said Isabel, awed, despite herself, by her strange position,--"thy daughter left the camp for the house of God. It was her own desire. The Saviour hath received her into His fold."

Had a thousand lances pierced his heart, the vigour and energy of life could scarce more suddenly have deserted Almamen. The rigid muscles of his countenance relaxed at once, from resolve and menace, into unutterable horror, anguish, and despair. He recoiled several steps; his knees trembled violently; he seemed stunned by a death-blow. Isabel, the boldest and haughtiest of her sex, seized that moment of reprieve; she sprang forward, darted through the draperies into the apartments occupied by her train, and, in a moment, the pavilion resounded with her cries for aid. The sentinels were aroused; retainers sprang from their pillows; they heard the cause of the alarm; they made to the spot; when, ere they reached its partition of silk, a vivid and startling blaze burst forth upon them. The tent was on fire. The materials fed the flame like magic. Some of the guards had yet the courage to dash forward; but the smoke and the glare drove them back, blinded and dizzy. Isabel herself had scarcely time for escape, so rapid was the conflagration. Alarmed for her husband, she rushed to his tent--to find him already awakened by the noise, and issuing from its entrance, his drawn sword in his hand. The wind, which had a few minutes before but curled the triumphant banners, now circulated the destroying flame. It spread from tent to tent, almost as a flash of lightning that shoots along neighbouring clouds. The camp was in one continued blaze, ere a man could dream of checking the conflagration.

Not waiting to hear the confused tale of his royal consort, Ferdinand, exclaiming, "The Moors have done this--they will be on us!" ordered the drums to beat and the trumpets to sound, and hastened in person, wrapped merely in his long mantle, to alarm his chiefs. While that well-disciplined and veteran army, fearing every moment the rally of the foe, endeavoured rapidly to form themselves into some kind of order, the flame continued to spread till the whole heavens were illumined. By its light, cuirass and helmet glowed, as in the furnace, and the armed men seemed rather like life-like and lurid meteors than human forms. The city of Granada was brought near to them by the intensity of the glow; and, as a detachment of cavalry spurred from the camp to meet the anticipated surprise of the Paynims, they saw, upon the walls and roofs of Granada, the Moslems clustering and their spears gleaming. But, equally amazed with the Christians, and equally suspicious of craft and design, the Moors did not issue from their gates. Meanwhile the conflagration, as rapid to die as to begin, grew fitful and feeble; and the night seemed to fall with a melancholy darkness over the ruin of that silken city.

Ferdinand summoned his council. He had now perceived it was no ambush of the Moors. The account of Isabel, which, at last, he comprehended; the strange and almost miraculous manner in which Almamen had baffled his guards, and penetrated to the royal tent; might have aroused his Gothic superstition, while it relieved his more earthly apprehensions, if he had not remembered the singular, but far from supernatural dexterity with which Eastern warriors and even robbers continued then, as now, to elude the most vigilant precautions and baffle the most wakeful guards; and it was evident that the fire which burned the camp of an army had been kindled merely to gratify the revenge, or favour the escape of an individual. Shaking, therefore, from his kingly spirit the thrill of superstitious awe that the greatness of the disaster, when associated with the name of a sorcerer, at first occasioned, he resolved to make advantage out of misfortune itself. The excitement, the wrath of the troops, produced the temper most fit for action.

"And Heaven," said the King of Spain to his knights and chiefs, as they assembled round him, "has, in this conflagration, announced to the warriors of the Cross, that henceforth their camp shall be the palaces of Granada! Woe to the Moslem with to-morrow's sun!"

Arms clanged, and swords leaped from their sheaths, as the Christian knights echoed the anathema--"WOE TO THE MOSLEM!"

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BOOK V CHAPTER I. THE GREAT BATTLEThe day slowly dawned upon that awful night; and the Moors, still upon the battlements of Granada, beheld the whole army of Ferdinand on its march towards their wails. At a distance lay the wrecks of the blackened and smouldering camp; while before them, gaudy and glittering pennons waving, and trumpets sounding, came the exultant legions of the foe. The Moors could scarcely believe their senses. Fondly anticipating the retreat of the Christians, after so signal a disaster, the gay and dazzling spectacle of their march to the assault filled them with consternation and alarm.
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