Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

He forthwith sent a summons to Count Julian to attend him in Cordova. The messenger found him plunged in affliction for the recent death of his daughter. The count excused himself on account of this misfortune, from obeying the commands of the emir in person, but sent several of his adherents. His hesitation, and the circumstance of his having sent his family across the straits to Africa, were construed by the jealous mind of the emir into proofs of guilt. He no longer doubted his being concerned in the recent insurrections, and that he had sent his family away, preparatory to an attempt, by force of arms, to subvert the Moslem domination. In his fury, he put to death Siseburto and Evan, the nephews of Bishop Oppas, and sons of the former king, Witiza, suspecting them of taking part in the treason. Thus did they expiate their treachery to their country in the fatal battle of the Gaudalete.

Alahor next hastened to Carthagena, to seize upon Count Julian. So rapid were his movements that the count had barely time to escape with fifteen cavaliers, with whom he took refuge in the strong castle of Marcuello, among the mountains of Arragon. The emir, enraged to be disappointed of his prey, embarked at Carthagena, and crossed the straits to Ceuta, to make captives of the Countess Frandina and her son.

The old chronicle from which we take this part of our legend presents a gloomy picture of the countess in the stern fortress to which she had fled for refuge; a picture heightened by supernatural horrors. These latter the sagacious reader will admit or reject, according to the measure of his faith and judgment; always remembering, that in dark and eventful times, like those in question, involving the destinies of nations, the downfal of kingdoms, and the crimes of rulers and mighty men, the hand of fate is sometimes strangely visible, and confounds the wisdom of the worldly wise, by intimations and portents above the ordinary course of things. With this proviso we make no scruple to follow the venerable chronicler in his narration.

Now so it happened, that the Countess Frandina was seated late at night in her chamber in the city of Ceuta, which stands on a lofty rock, overlooking the sea. She was revolving in gloomy thought, the late disasters of her family, when she heard a mournful noise, like that of the sea breeze, moaning about the castle walls. Raising her eyes,

she beheld her brother, the Bishop Oppas, at the entrance of the chamber. She advanced to embrace him, but he forbade her with a motion of his hand; and she observed that he was ghastly pale, and that his eyes glared as with lambent flames.

• Touch me not, sister,' said he with a mournful voice, “lest thou be consumed by the fire which rages

within me.

Guard well thy son, for blood-hounds are upon his track. His innocence might have secured him the protection of Heaven, hut our crimes have involved him in our common ruin.' He ceased to speak, and was no longer to be seen. His coming and going were alike without noise, and the door of the chamber remained fast bolted.

On the following morning, a messenger arrived with tidings that the Bishop Oppas had been made prisoner in battle by the insurgent Christians of the Asturias, and had died in fetters in a tower of the mountains. The same messenger brought word that the Emir Alahor had put to

death several of the friends of Count Julian; had obliged him to fly for his life to a castle in Arragon; and was embarking with a formidable force for Ceuta.

The Countess Frandina, as has already been shown, was of courageous heart; and danger made her desperate. There were fifty Moorish soldiers in the garrison ; she feared that they would prove treacherous, and take part with their countrymen. Summoning her officers, therefore, she informed them of their danger, and commanded them to put those Moors to death. The guards sallied forth to obey her orders. Thirty-five of the Moors were in the great square, unsuspicious of any danger, when they were severally singled out by their executioners, and at a concerted signal, killed on the spot. The remaining fifteen took refuge in a tower. They saw the armada of the emir at a distance, and hoped to be able to hold out until its arrival. The sol. diers of the countess saw it also, and made extraordinary efforts to destroy these internal enemies, before they should be attacked from without. They made repeated attempts to storm the tower, but were as often repulsed with severe loss. They then undermined it, support. ing its foundations by stanchions of wood. To these they set fire, and withdrew to a distance, keeping up a constant shower of missiles to prevent the Moors from sallying forth to extinguish the flames. The stanchions were rapidly consumed ; and when they gave way the tower fell to the ground. Some of the Moors were crushed among the ruins ; others were flung to a distance, and dashed among the rocks: those who survived were instantly put to the sword.

The fleet of the emir arrived at Ceuta about the hour of vespers. He landed, but found the gates closed against him. The countess her. self spoke to him from a tower, and set him at defiance. The emir immediately laid siege to the city. He consulted the astrologer Yuza, who told him that, for seven days, his star would have the ascendant over that of the youth Alarbot ; but after that time the youth would be safe from his power, and would effect his ruin.

Alahor immediately ordered the city to be assailed on every side, and at length carried it by storm. The countess took refuge with her forces in the citadel, and made a desperate defence; but the walls were sapped and mined, and she saw that all resistance would soon be unavailing. Her only thoughts now were to conceal her child. "Surely,' said she,

they will not think of seeking him among the dead.' She led him, therefore, into the dark and dismal chapel. · Thou art not afraid to be alone in this darkness, my child ?' said she.

No, mother,' replied the boy, darkness gives silence and sleep.' She conducted him to the tomb of Florinda. Fearest thou the dead, my child ? No, mother, the dead can do harm — and what should I fear from my sister ?'

The countess opened the sepulchre. Listen, my son,' said she. • There are fierce and cruel people who have come hither to murder thee. Stay here in company with thy sister, and be quiet as thou dost value thy life! The boy who was of a courageous nature, did as he was bidden, and remained there all that day, and all the night, and the next day until the third hour.

6

In the mean time the walls of the citadel were sapped, the troops of the emir poured in at the breach, and a great part of the garrison was put to the sword. The countess was taken prisoner and brought before the emir. She appeared in his presence with a haughty demeanor, as if she had been a queen receiving homage ; but when he demanded her son, she faltered, and turned pale, and replied, “My son is with the dead.'

* Countess,' said the emir, “I am not to be deceived; tell me where you have concealed the boy, or tortures shall wring from you the secret.'

• Emir,' replied the countess, 6 may the greatest torments be my portion, both here and hereafter, if what I speak be not the truth! My darling child lies buried with the dead.'

The emir was confounded by the solemnity of her words; but the withered astrologer, Yuza, who stood by his side regarding the countess from beneath his bushed eyebrows, perceived trouble in her countenance and equivocation in her words. • Leave this matter to me,' whispered he to Alahor ; . I will produce the child.'

He ordered strict search to be made by the soldiery, and he obliged the countess to be always present. When they came to the chapel, her cheek turned pale and her lip quivered. “This,' said the subtle astrologer, “is the place of concealment.'

The search throughout the chapel, however, was equally vain, and the soldiers were about to depart, when Yuza remarked a slight gleam of joy in the eye of the countess. We are leaving our prey behind,' thought he, “the countess is exulting.'

He now called to mind the words of her asseveration, that her child was with the dead. Turning suddenly to the soldiers, he ordered them to search the sepulchres. If you find him not,' said he, drag forth the bones of that wanton Cava, that they may be burnt, and the ashes scattered to the winds.'

The soldiers searched among the tombs, and found that of Florinda partly open. Within lay the boy in the sound sleep of childhood, and one of the soldiers took him gently in his arms to bear him to the emir.

When the countess beheld that her child was discovered, she rushed into the presence of Alahor, and forgetting all her pride, threw herself upon her knees before him.

• Mercy! mercy! cried she, in piercing accents, ' mercy on my son, my only child! O emir! listen to a mother's prayer, and my lips shall kiss thy feet. As thou art merciful to him, so may the most high God have mercy upon thee, and heap blessings on thy head !'

• Bear that frantic woman hence,' said the emir; “but guard her well.'

The countess was dragged away by the soldiery, without regard to her struggles and her cries, and confined in a dungeon of the citadel.

The child was now brought to the emir. He had been awakened by the tumult, but gazed fearlessly on the stern countenance of the sol. diers. Had the heart of the emir been capable of pity, it would have been touched by the tender youth and innocent beauty of the child ; but his heart was as the nether millstone, and he was bent upon the deVOL. XXIV.

46

struction of the whole family of Julian. Calling to him the astrologer, he gave the child into his charge with a secret command. The withered son of the desert took the boy by the hand, and led him up the winding staircase of a tower. When they reached the summit, Yuza placed him on the battlements.

Cling not to me, my child,' said he ; "there is no danger.' •Father, I fear not,' said the undaunted boy ; yet it is a wondrous height !'

The child looked around with delighted eyes. The breeze blew his curling locks from about his face, and his cheek glowed at the boundless prospect; for the tower was reared upon that lofty promontory on which Hercules founded one of his pillars. The surges of the sea were heard far below beating upon the rocks, the sea-gull screamed and wheeled about the foundations of the tower, and the sails of lofty caraccas were as mere specks on the bosom of the deep.

• Dost thou know yonder land beyond the blue water ?' said Yuza.

• It is Spain,' replied the boy ; it is the land of my father and my mother.'

•Then stretch forth thy hands and bless it, my child,' said the astrologer.

The boy let go his hold of the wall, and, as he stretched forth his hands, the aged son of Ishmael, exerting all the strength of his withered limbs, suddenly pushed him over the battlements. He fell headlong from the top of that tall tower, and not a bone in his tender frame but was crushed upon the rocks beneath.

Alahor came to the foot of the winding stairs. • Is the boy safe ?' cried he.

He is safe,' replied Yuza; come and behold the truth with thine own eyes.'

The emir ascended the tower and looked over the battlements, and beheld the body of the child, a shapeless mass, on the rocks far below, and the sea-gulls hovering about it; and he gave orders that it should be thrown into the sea, which was done.

On the following morning, the countess was led forth from her dun. geon into the public square. She knew of the death of her child, and that her own death was at hand; but she neither wept nor supplicated. Her hair was dishevelled, her eyes were haggard with watching, and her cheek was as the monumental stone; but there were the remains of commanding beauty in her countenance; and the majesty of her presence awed even the rabble into respect.

A multitude of Christian prisoners were then brought forth; and Alahor cried out : • Behold the wife of Count Julian ; behold one of that traitorous family which has brought ruin upon yourselves and upon your country.' And he ordered that they should stone her to death. But the Christians drew back with horror from the deed, and said: “In the hand of God is vengeance, let not her blood be upon our heads. Upon this the emir swore, with horrid imprecations, that whoever of the captives refused should himself be stoned to death. So the cruel order was executed, and the Countess Frandina perished by the hands of her countrymen. Having thus accomplished his barbarous errand, the emir embarked for Spain, and ordered the citadel of Ceuta to be set on fire, and crossed the straights at night by the light of its towering flames.

The death of Count Julian, which took place not long after, closed the tragic story of his family. How he died remains involved in doubt. Some assert that the cruel Alahor pursued him to his retreat among the mountains, and, having taken him prisoner, beheaded him; others that the Moors confined him in a dungeon, and put an end to his life with lingering torments; while others affirm that the tower of the castle of Marcuello, near Huesca, in Arragon, in which he took refuge, fell on him and crushed him to pieces. All agree that his latter end was miserable in the extreme, and his death violent. The curse of Heaven, which had thus pursued him to the grave, was extended to the very place which had given him shelter: for we are told that the castle is no longer inhabited, on account of the strange and horrible noises that are heard in it; and that visions of armed men are seen above it in the air; which are supposed to be the troubled spirits of the apostate Christians who favored the cause of the traitor.

In after times a stone sepulchre was shown, outside of the chapel of the castle, as the tomb of Count Julian : but the traveller and the pil. grim avoided it, or bestowed upon it a malediction; and the name of Julian has remained a by-word and a scorn in the land for the warning of all generations. Such ever be the lot of him who betrays his country!

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
« ForrigeFortsæt »