It was a great joke to play on the Moors. It was the funniest thing
in the world to take a Christian prayer into the very heart of their
holy place. It was the most wonderful gesture to insult them. The queen
was delighted, the king too. The princess and her sisters looked at
their champion, Hernando Pèrez del Pulgar, as if he were a hero from the
romances, a knight from the time of Arthur at Camelot. Catalina clapped
her hands in delight at the story and commanded that he tell it and
re-tell it, over and over again. But in the back of her mind, pushed far
away from thought, she remembered the chill she had felt when she had
thought that he was not coming back.
Next, they waited for the reply from the Moors. It was certain to
happen. They knew that their enemy would see the venture as the
challenge that it was -- there was bound to be a response. It was not
long in coming.
The queen and her children were visiting Zubia, a village near to
Granada, so Her Majesty could see the impregnable walls of the fort
herself. They had ridden out with a light guard, and the commander was
white with horror when he came dashing up to them in the little village
square and shouted that the gates of the red fort had opened and the
Moors were thundering out, the full army, armed for attack. There was no
time to get back to camp. The queen and the three princesses could never
outrun Moorish horsemen on Arab stallions. There was nowhere to hide,
there was nowhere even to make a stand.
In desperate haste Queen Isabella climbed to the flat roof of the
nearest house, pulling the little princess by her hand up the crumbling
stairs, her sisters running behind. "I have to see! I have to see!" she
"Madre! You are hurting me!"
"Quiet, child. We have to see what they intend."
"Are they coming for us?" the child whimpered, her little voice
muffled by her own plump hand.
"They may be. I have to see."
It was a raiding party, not the full force. They were led by their
champion, a giant of a man, dark as mahogany, a glint of a smile beneath
his helmet, riding a huge black horse as if he were Night riding to
overwhelm them. His horse snarled like a dog at the watching guard, its
"Madre, who is that man?" the Princess of Wales whispered to her
mother, staring from the vantage point of the flat roof of the house.
"That is the Moor called Yarfe, and I am afraid he has come for your
"His horse looks so frightening, like it wants to bite."
"He has cut off its lips to make it snarl at us. But we are not made
fearful by such things. We are not frightened children."
"Should we not run away?" asked the frightened child.
Her mother, watching the Moor parade, did not even hear her
"You won't let him hurt Hernando, will you? Madre?"
"Hernando laid the challenge. Yarfe is answering it. We will have to
fight," she said levelly. "Yarfe is a knight, a man of honor. He cannot
ignore the challenge."
"How can he be a man of honor if he is a heretic? A Moor?"
"They are most honorable men, Catalina, though they are unbelievers.
And this Yarfe is a hero to them."
"What will you do? How shall we save ourselves? This man is as big as
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