Aben Ismael was faithful in observing the conditions of the truce, but they were regarded with impatience by his eldest son, Muley Abul Hassan, a prince of a fiery and belligerent spirit, and fond of casing himself in armor and mounting his war-horse. He had been present at Cordova at one of the payments of tribute, and had witnessed the scoffs and taunts of the Christians, and his blood boiled whenever he recalled the humiliating scene. When he came to the throne in 1465, on the death of his father, he ceased the payment of the tribute altogether, and it was sufficient to put him into a tempest of rage only to mention it.
"He was a fierce and warlike infidel," says the pious Fray Antonio Agapida; "his bitterness against the holy Christian faith had been signalized in battle during the lifetime of his father, and the same diabolical spirit of hostility was apparent in his ceasing to pay this most righteous tribute."
OF THE EMBASSY OF DON JUAN DE VERA TO DEMAND ARREARS OF TRIBUTE FROM THE MOORISH MONARCH.
The flagrant want of faith of Muley Abul Hassan in fulfilling treaty stipulations passed unresented during the residue of the reign of Henry the Impotent, and the truce was tacitly continued without the enforcement of tribute during the first three years of the reign of his successors, Ferdinand and Isabella of glorious and happy memory, who were too much engrossed by civil commotions in their own dominions, and by a war of succession waged with them by the king of Portugal, to risk an additional conflict with the Moorish sovereign. When, however, at the expiration of the term of truce, Muley Abul Hassan sought a renewal of it, the pride and piety of the Castilian sovereigns were awakened to the flagrant defalcation of the infidel king, and they felt themselves called upon, by their dignity as monarchs and their religious obligations as champions of the faith, to make a formal demand for the payment of arrearages.
In the year of grace 1478, therefore, Don Juan de Vera, a zealous and devout knight, full of ardor for the faith and loyalty to the Crown, was sent as ambassador for the purpose. He was armed at all points, gallantly mounted, and followed by a moderate but well-appointed retinue: in this way he crossed the Moorish frontier, and passed slowly through the country, looking round him with the eyes of a practised warrior and carefully noting its military points and capabilities. He saw that the Moor was well prepared for possible hostilities. Every town was strongly fortified. The Vega was studded with towers of refuge for the peasantry: every pass of the mountain had its castle of defence, every lofty height its watch-tower. As the Christian cavaliers passed under the walls of the fortresses, lances and scimetars flashed from their battlements, and the Moorish sentinels darted from their dark eyes glances of hatred and defiance. It was evident that a war with this kingdom must be a war of posts, full of doughty peril and valiant enterprise, where every step must be gained by toil and bloodshed, and maintained with the utmost difficulty. The warrior spirit of the cavaliers kindled at the thoughts, and they were impatient for hostilities; "not," says Antonio Agapida, "from any thirst for rapine and revenge, but from that pure and holy indignation which every Spanish knight entertained at beholding this beautiful dominion of his ancestors defiled by the footsteps of infidel usurpers. It was impossible," he adds, "to contemplate this delicious country, and not long to see it restored to the dominion of the true faith and the sway of the Christian monarchs."
Arrived at the gates of Granada, Don Juan de Vera and his companions saw the same vigilant preparations on the part of the Moorish king. His walls and towers were of vast strength, in complete repair, and mounted with lombards and other heavy ordnance. His magazines were well stored with the munitions of war; he had a mighty host of foot-soldiers, together with squadrons of cavalry, ready to scour the country and carry on either defensive or predatory warfare. The Christian warriors noted these things without dismay; their hearts rather glowed with emulation at the thoughts of encountering so worthy a foe. As they slowly pranced through the streets of Granada they looked round with eagerness on the stately palaces and sumptuous mosques, on its alcayceria or bazar, crowded with silks and cloth of silver and gold, with jewels and precious stones, and other rich merchandise, the luxuries of every clime; and they longed for the time when all this wealth should be the spoil of the soldiers of the faith, and when each tramp of their steeds might be fetlock deep in the blood and carnage of the infidels.
The Moorish inhabitants looked jealously at this small but proud array of Spanish chivalry, as it paraded, with that stateliness possessed only by Spanish cavaliers, through the renowned gate of Elvira. They were struck with the stern and lofty demeanor of Don Juan de Vera and his sinewy frame, which showed him formed for hardy deeds of arms, and they supposed he had come in search of distinction by defying the Moorish knights in open tourney or in the famous tilt with reeds for which they were so renowned, for it was still the custom of the knights of either nation to mingle in these courteous and chivalrous contests during the intervals of war. When they learnt, however, that he was come to demand the tribute so abhorrent to the ears of the fiery monarch, they observed that it well required a warrior of his apparent nerve to execute such an embassy.
Muley Abul Hassan received the cavalier in state, seated on a magnificent divan and surrounded by the officers of his court, in the Hall of Ambassadors, one of the most sumptuous apartments of the Alhambra. When De Vera had delivered his message, a haughty and bitter smile curled the lip of the fierce monarch. "Tell your sovereigns," said he, "that the kings of Granada, who used to pay tribute in money to the Castilian crown, are dead. Our mint at present coins nothing but blades of scimetars and heads of lances."*