"No, we don't retreat," Isabella of Spain ruled.
The generals, called to a makeshift meeting under a singed awning, batted away the flies that were swarming around the camp, feasting off the wreckage.
"Your Majesty, we have lost for this season," one of the generals said gently to her. "It is not a matter of pride nor of willingness. We have no tents, we have no shelter, we have been destroyed by ill luck. We will have to go back and provision ourselves once more, set the siege again. Your husband" -- he nodded to the dark, handsome man who stood slightly to one side of the group, listening -- "he knows this. We all know this. We will set the siege again, they will not defeat us. But a good general knows when he has to retreat."
Every man nodded. Common sense dictated that nothing could be done but release the Moors of Granada from their siege for this season. The battle would keep. It had been coming for seven centuries. Each year had seen generations of Christian kings increase their lands at the cost of the Moors. Every battle had pushed back the time-honored Moorish rule of al Andalus a little farther to the south. Another year would make no difference. The little girl, her back against a damp tent post that smelled of wet embers, watched her mother's serene expression. It never changed.
"Indeed it is a matter of pride," she corrected him. "We are fighting an enemy who understands pride better than any other. If we crawl away in our singed clothes, with our burned carpets rolled up under our arms, they will laugh themselves to al-Yanna, to their paradise. I cannot permit it. But more than all of this: it is God's will that we fight the Moors, it is God's will that we go forwards. It is not God's will that we go back. So we must go forwards."
The child's father turned his head with a quizzical smile, but he did not dissent. When the generals looked to him, he made a small gesture with his hand. "The queen is right," he said. "The queen is always right."
"But we have no tents, we have no camp!"
He directed the question to her. "What do you think?"
"We shall build one," she decided.
"Your Majesty, we have laid waste to the countryside for miles all around. I daresay we could not sew so much as a kamiz for the Princess of Wales. There is no cloth. There is no canvas. There are no watercourses, no crops in the field. We have broken the canals and plowed up the crops. We have laid them waste; but it is we that are destroyed."
"So we build in stone. I take it we have stone?"
The king turned a brief laugh into clearing his throat. "We are surrounded by a plain of arid rocks, my love," he said. "One thing we do have is stone."
"Then we will build; not a camp but a city of stone."
"It cannot be done!"
She turned to her husband. "It will be done," she said. "It is God's will and mine."
He nodded. "It will be done." He gave her a quick, private smile. "It is my duty to see that God's will is done; and my pleasure to enforce yours."
The army, defeated by fire, turned instead to the elements of earth and water. They toiled like slaves in the heat of the sun and the chill of the evenings. They worked the fields like peasants where they had thought they would triumphantly advance. Everyone -- cavalry officers, generals, the great lords of the country, the cousins of kings -- was expected to toil in the heat of the sun and lie on hard, cold ground at night. The Moors, watching from the high, impenetrable battlements of the red fort on the hill above Granada, conceded that the Christians had courage. No one could say that they were not determined. And equally, everyone knew that they were doomed. No force could take the red fort at Granada; it had never fallen in two centuries. It was placed high on a cliff, overlooking a plain that was itself a wide, bleached bowl. It could not be surprised by a hidden attack. The cliff of red rock that towered up from the plain became imperceptibly the walls of red stone of the castle, rising high and higher; no scaling ladders could reach the top, no party could climb the sheer face.
Copyright © 2005 by Philippa Gregory Limited. Reproduced by permission of Simon & Schuster Publishing.
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