It was the summer of the year 1491, and the armies of Ferdinand and Isabel invested the city of Granada.
The night was not far advanced; and the moon, which broke through the transparent air of Andalusia, shone calmly over the immense and murmuring encampment of the Spanish foe, and touched with a hazy light the snow- capped summits of the Sierra Nevada, contrasting the verdure and luxuriance which no devastation of man could utterly sweep from the beautiful vale below.
In the streets of the Moorish city many a group still lingered. Some, as if unconscious of the beleaguering war without, were listening in quiet indolence to the strings of the Moorish lute, or the lively tale of an Arabian improrvisatore; others were conversing with such eager and animated gestures, as no ordinary excitement could wring from the stately calm habitual to every oriental people. But the more public places in which gathered these different groups, only the more impressively heightened the desolate and solemn repose that brooded over the rest of the city.
At this time, a man, with downcast eyes, and arms folded within the sweeping gown which descended to his feet, was seen passing through the streets, alone, and apparently unobservent of all around him. Yet this indifference was by no means shared by the struggling crowds through which, from time to time, he musingly swept.
"God is great!" said one man; "it is the Enchanter Almamen."
"He hath locked up the manhood of Boabdil el Chico with the key of his spells," quoth another, stroking his beard; "I would curse him, if I dared."
"But they say that he hath promised that when man fails, the genii will fight for Granada," observed a third, doubtingly.
"Allah Akbar! what is, is! what shall be, shall be!" said a fourth, with all the solemn sagacity of a prophet. Whatever their feelings, whether of awe or execration, terror or hope, each group gave way as Almamen passed, and hushed the murmurs not intended for his ear. Passing through the Zacatin (the street which traversed the Great Bazaar), the reputed enchanter ascended a narrow and winding street, and arrived at last before the walls that encircled the palace and fortress of the Alhambra.
The sentry at the gate saluted and admitted him in silence; and in a few moments his form was lost in the solitude of groves, amidst which, at frequent openings, the spray of Arabian fountains glittered in the moonlight; while, above, rose the castled heights of the Alhambra; and on the right those Vermilion Towers, whose origin veils itself in the furthest ages of Phoenician enterprise.
Almamen paused, and surveyed the scene. "Was Aden more lovely?" he muttered; "and shall so fair a spot be trodden by the victor Nazerene? What matters? creed chases creed—race, race—until time comes back to its starting-place, and beholds the reign restored to the eldest faith and the eldest tribe. The horn of our strength shall be exalted."
At these thoughts the seer relapsed into silence, and gazed long and intently upon the stars, as, more numerous and brilliant with every step of the advancing night, their rays broke on the playful waters, and tinged with silver the various and breathless foliage. So earnest was his gaze, and so absorbed his thoughts, that he did not perceive the approach of a Moor, whose glittering weapons and snow-white turban, rich with emeralds, cast a gleam through the wood.
The new comer was above the common size of his race, generally small and spare—but without attaining the lofty stature and large proportions of the more redoubted of the warriors of Spain. But in his presence and mien there was something, which, in the haughtiest conclave of Christian chivalry, would have seemed to tower and command. He walked with a step at once light and stately, as if it spurned the earth; and in the carriage of the small erect head and stag-like throat, there was that undefinable and imposing dignity, which accords so well with our conception of a heroic lineage, and a noble though imperious spirit. The stranger approached Almamen, and paused abruptly when within a few steps of the enchanter. He gazed upon him in silence for some moments; and when at length he spoke it was with a cold and sarcastic tone.
"Pretender to the dark secrets," said he, "is it in the stars that thou art reading those destinies of men and nations, which the Prophet wrought by the chieftain's brain and the soldier's arm?"
"Prince," replied Almamen, turning slowly, and recognising the intruder on his meditations, "I was but considering how many revolutions, which have shaken earth to its centre, those orbs have witnessed, unsympathising and unchanged."
"Unsympathising!" repeated the Moor—"yet thou believest in their effect upon the earth?"
"You wrong me," answered Almamen, with a slight smile, "you confound your servant with that vain race, the astrologers."
"I deemed astrology a part of the science of the two angels, Harut and Marut."
[The science of magic. It was taught by the Angels named in the text; for which offence they are still supposed to be confined to the ancient Babel. There they may yet be consulted, though they are rarely seen.—Yallal'odir Yahya. —SALE'S Koran.]
"Possibly; but I know not that science, though I have wandered at midnight by the ancient Babel."
"Fame lies to us, then," answered the Moor, with some surprise.
"Fame never made pretence to truth," said Almamen, calmly, and proceeding on his way. "Allah be with you, prince! I seek the king."
"Stay! I have just quitted his presence, and left him, I trust, with thoughts worthy of the sovereign of Granada, which I would not have disturbed by a stranger, a man whose arms are not spear nor shield."
"Noble Muza," returned Almamen, "fear not that my voice will weaken the inspirations which thine hath breathed into the breast of Boabdil. Alas! if my counsel were heeded, thou wouldst hear the warriors of Granada talk less of Muza, and more of the king. But Fate, or Allah, hath placed upon the throne of a tottering dynasty, one who, though brave, is weak— though, wise, a dreamer; and you suspect the adviser, when you find the influence of nature on the advised. Is this just?"
Muza gazed long and sternly on the face of Almamen; then, putting his hand gently on the enchanter's shoulder, he said—
"Stranger, if thou playest us false, think that this arm hath cloven the casque of many a foe, and will not spare the turban of a traitor!"
"And think thou, proud prince!" returned Almamen, unquailing, "that I answer alone to Allah for my motives, and that against man my deeds I can defend!"
With these words, the enchanter drew his long robe round him, and disappeared amidst the foliage.
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