In the fall of 1139 AD, the Moors didn’t allow King Sancho’s reinforcements to come to the garrison’s aid. The army moved quickly, rolling their siege equipment outside the Murcia palisade. The storm clouds gathered overhead. Fittingly ominous. Prince Alfonso had run out of time.
With starving soldiers at his back, Prince Alfonso led his army from their barracks to the gate to meet the enemy. They feared the coming battle with the Moors, but they feared their leader and his wrath more. Thus, they marched solemnly into battle, only a few marching to defend their homes, the rest marching because they had been ordered to. Several Catalans had grumbled earlier, complaining about how Catalans were dying for the sake of other kingdoms and the cruelty Alfonso had shown towards Ferran, their unofficial leader, but the mere sight of the Prince shut them up. As the army shuffled into the space before the gate, Prince Alfonso stood to one side and began to speak to his men, trying to raise their morale or scare them into fighting. He didn’t much care which one the soldiers decided upon. The Arabs were coming soon, and his men needed to be ready to fight.
“Men, you are soldiers from many places under the banner of Aragon, and frankly, I don’t give a damn. What matters is that you are under my command, and as my soldiers, I am telling you: You are not fighting for the pride of your nation. You’re not fighting for the glory of the Crown. You’re not even fighting for your friends and family. What you’re fighting for, is something even more important than everything else combined. We are all fighting for our very lives
, even me! I’m not obeying King Sancho, I’m fighting to survive! Know that cowardice will receive no reward at the hands of these barbaric Moors. The only way out is to fight! Now let’s go forth, men, and drive these Moors back to the snakes that birthed them! Who’s with me?”
The army cheered, although somewhat skeptically. Alfonso was now fully aware of the stakes at hand. If he lost, he would disappoint his father, he would allow the Moors to gain ground over the Crown of Aragon, and Alfonso himself would perish. The Prince would not let this happen, and he would throw any of his 700 soldiers to prevent it.
Alfonso, the budding strategist he was, placed his spears in a wall behind the gate. Behind them were reserve militia and javelinmen, ready to hurl their deadly projectiles into the mass of Moors bound to pool at the gates. He then took his place behind the formation, but not before ordering his Alforrats on either street next to the palisade. When the time was right, the cavalry would charge to deliver the killing blow or to take their last stand.
The Moors were yelling and roaring, waving their spears and shields as they marched forwards. Alfonso would not be intimidated by this taunting, although he couldn’t vouch for the soldiers at his command. “Steady, men,” he called out. “They’re trying to scare us. But let them know that you are the toughest soldiers in the West, and you are frightened by nothing!”
Moors were piling up behind the gate, waiting for their battering ram to do its work. Alfonso ordered the javelinmen to save their javelins for the real fight, as many would be wasted hitting the ground or nailing the palisade.
The Arabic ram began its work, men grunting as they pulled the log backwards and released it, sending the sound of wood cracking pulsing through the air. Aragonese soldiers shifted around, trying to escape the front lines, but Alfonso forced them back. “I’ll be right behind you,” he reassured the soldiers. “Don’t let them know you’re scared.”
The wooden gate began to give way now, splinters flying through the air as the battering ram slowly but surely broke the pins that kept the gates locked. Prince Alfonso recoiled as a blast of wooden shrapnel struck his helmet, almost speeding through his visor.
. “The gates are down! The gates are down!” a soldier called. The Spanish soldiers began to panic, taking a few steps backwards as they looked at their comrades.
“Men, to arms! Hold your ground! Give these Moors a challenge!” The Prince ordered, the last one almost maniacally. The soldiers obeyed, though, and raised their shields and spears, bracing for impact.
Moors spouting Arabic rushed through the broken gates, their stampede shattering the poor thing off its hinges. The Aragonese soldiers were in shock as wild Arabs swung sword and spear wildly, knocking most of the front line off their feet. Fortunately, their allies in the second line came to their aid and jabbed forward with spear and shield, struggling to save their vulnerable comrades. A few died in the first charge, but the remaining soldiers soon got into a rhythm. Shield, stab, shield, repeat. If the soldier in front dies, step up and take his place.
Moors pushed one another into the meat grinder of the Aragonese spear militia, although the sheer volume of Muslim troops caused the Spanish defenses to bulge. Alfonso ordered his javelinmen to fire into the growing mass, each javelin quickly finding a target. Not a single missile was wasted.
Riding above the Moorish infantry was the Arabic general, hacking and slashing his way through the Aragonese defense. The spears were unable to pierce the think armor of his horses and the armor was thin enough for the general and his guard to kill the militia with a single blow. He posed a menace to Prince Alfonso and might have even compromised the Aragonese defense.
The general opened a gap in the Spanish line, enough for his soldiers to exploit. Trampling on friend and foe alike, the Muslim leader rode straight for the javelinmen behind the main defense, attempting to dishearten his adversaries. Prince Alfonso seethed in his place. He could not allow this fiend to cavort behind his own lines, as it was a threat to both his defense and his honor. But the Prince had to restrain himself. He could not charge until the opportunity was right, and that opportunity had yet to present itself. All the while the line continued to bulge until only a line two soldiers deep stood between the Moors and the city.
To the layman, the battle would have seemed a scene of complete and utter chaos. But to Prince Alfonso, the ebb and flow of the battle could be coldly observed and evaluated for opportunities and problem. The right flank was secure, as the reserve spearmen had piled in, along with javelinmen who had exhausted the entirety of their javelins. The left, however, was about to cave. The reserve spearmen on the right were preoccupied with the bodyguard while the main defense was breaking apart, robed soldiers slowly poking their heads behind the line.
But there, in that chaotic mess, Alfonso spotted an opportunity. A small segment of the Moorish army and broken through the line and began to hammer away at the Aragonese. There they were, beautifully exposed and ripe for the picking. Although he could have waited, the small glimpse of opportunity was enough to give him reason to charge into the fray, and drive the Moors out of his city, and out of his land.
Alfonso focused in on his target, his movements, his position, and drowned out the world around him. The sounds of battle, the clanging of metal, the screaming, the crying, faded into the background as Alfonso narrowed his eyes and ears, only hearing the coarse panting of his horse and his own heavy breathing. The cold steel forged from the fires of the Barcelona smithy, the best in the entire kingdom, was pointed straight forward, the arm bracing it perfectly still, though filled with potential power from years of physical training and experience. Time seemed to slow down for the Prince as his horse galloped closer and closer to his unsuspecting target.
He was in range. The cries of the dying and the rage-filled battle cries of the impetuous and vengeful filled the air once again. Prince Alfonso’s arm and sword launched forward under the immense power of his trained muscles. The sword nailed its target, entering the Muslim’s body at the ribs, cracking a few of them before being picked up by the Prince’s sword, sticking to it like glue. Alfonso tried to lift his sword for another strike but found it heavier than he thought. He looked at it, only to find it firmly embedded in the body of his first pathetic opponent. With nothing else to do, the Prince swung the sword around in a wide circle, knocking over several Moors before the body flew off the sword at its peak in the circle, landing amongst the crowd. Free of the deadweight, Alfonso began to hack his way through the fray, slaying many a soldier.
The army was renewed by the Alfonso’s entrance into the battle, and redoubled their efforts to repel the invaders. The Alforrats leapt into the mass as well, horses crushing the poor fools who dared to get in their way. To the Prince’s right, he saw the Moorish general isolated amongst the Aragonese spearmen. “Bring him down!” he called, as several more spearmen and a few of the Prince’s bodyguards rushed off to finally end the menace the general posed.
At last, a spear had wedged between the horse’s chainmail and pierced the hind leg, causing it to rear. The general lost control of his mount as it fell unceremoniously on the ground, pinning the general’s leg beneath it. The wicked curved blade flew out of his hand during the fall, and he was now defenseless. He tried to put his hand up for mercy calling in rough Spanish for Prince Alfonso. The Prince heard his plea, and called back in rough Arabic, “I don’t take prisoners.” A spear to the throat was all that was needed to end the deadly Moors life.
“Their general is dead! They have no leader! Press onwards, men, and you might live to tell the tale of your bravery!”
The general is down? A solder questioned. The news spread through the army like wildfire, reinvigorating the tired soldiers. Likewise, the demise of their general disheartened the Moorish troops, and their fear of the dreaded Prince Alfonso of Aragon got the better of them. Those in the back of the mass of Moorish troops ran first, trying to escape death or capture. Soon, the Moorish bubble began to deflate, and then finally pop as the Moors turned and ran with their tails between their legs.
Soldiers saw the enemy leaving through the gates and cheered. Prince Alfonso stoically removed himself from the celebrations as he looked towards the retreating column.
One of Alfonso’s captains approached him and asked, “What should we do, sir?” The tired captain took a moment to pant heavily. “Should we let them run?”
“Let them run?” Alfonso said incredulously. “No no, I won’t let them get away that easily.”
“You want us to hunt them down?”
“You know what they say. A good leader leads by example. Let’s give those Moors something to run from! Hyah!”
Soon, Alfonso’s men were on the tail of the retreating column, forcing the Moors to kneel and wait for the infantry to take them back to the city.
“Well, you heard the man,” the captain said. “Let’s go round up those bastards! Give thanks men, to God for getting you through the day, and for Prince Alfonso for giving us some camp followers to go after!” the army yelled in approval and poured out the gates, happy to be alive, and happy to have been under the command of Prince Alfonso, the great general who alone sent more than 500 soldiers running in fear.
Bodies were piled up outside the city and burned, while the 100 fallen Aragonese soldiers were given individual graves outside the city, their spirits protecting the walls they died defending.
Prince Alfonso was back from the revelry of hunting down survivors and walked through the city, where citizens came out of their houses to applaud and commend the General Prince. Soldiers, too, came up to Prince Alfonso to give him a pat on the back, a word of thanks, or a simple nod.
“What’s going on here?” Alfonso asked his guard as he walked through the packed city streets. “I thought they hated me.”
“They did, sir, until you saved their god damn hides!”
“What? I didn’t do anything! I was fighting for myself, not this pathetic lot. Good God, I didn’t even kill the general! They should be thanking him, not me.”
“Doesn’t matter, sir!” the guard claimed jovially. “You gave them some tough love, and it worked! You’re a hero in their eyes.”
Prince Alfonso almost interrupted his guard, but stopped on the word “Hero”. Hero
, he thought, maybe I could get used to this
Lost in thought, Alfonso had to be shaken by his guard to be brought back into reality. “Sir, there’s still the matter of the 800 prisoners from the battle.”
“What cowards.” The Prince said. “We’re outnumbered almost 2 to 1 and more than half their army turn tail and run.”
“You are getting quite the feared reputation, sir,” the guard pointed out.
“Right. Speaking of being feared, kill the prisoners.” The guard was taken aback. When he didn’t hear any response, Alfonso turned to his guard to make sure he was still there. “You understood that right. Kill all the prisoners.”
“But…but the money! The ransom!” the guard stuttered, in shock. “Don’t you want to try and ransom them off?”
“I’m taking any advantage I can get over these heathens. If there’s even a chance
the Moors can gain strength against us, I’ve got to do everything in my power to stop it.”
“Won’t King Sancho be angry with you?”
“I’ll deal with that when it comes.” Alfonso replied, waving the guard off. “Right now, this is my war, and I’ll deal with it the way I see fit. Execute all of them. “
The guard complied, and the mass grave for Moorish soldiers had to be tripled in size. Men we hung, stabbed, drowned, beat up, and suffocated until the last of the Arabic cries stopped in the middle of the next night.
A wave of liberation and renewed patriotism spread across the lands of Aragon. Men in the taverns of Zaragoza told of an epic battle, where the Aragonese were outnumbered 5 to 1, while strangers in the streets of Barcelona showed their battle scars supposedly from the battle when in reality all the soldiers in the battle were still stationed in Murcia. There was a sense of triumph, a feeling that the Aragonese could finally push the Moors back and out of Iberia forever. King Sancho capitalized on this feeling and took the opportunity to recruit more soldiers, raise taxes, and construct more military buildings. The war finally seemed to be going his way.
Although the King had been on a ship for the past year with his new army, ready to reinforce or retake Murcia, he was flooded with reports and messages the moment he stepped off the ship. E must have told them where I was going to be,
The first message concerned diplomacy. Although his Venetian allies had once again embroiled themselves in war, they had been reconciled by the Pope for their piety, a good sign for both Venice and Aragon. However, the reason for this reconciliation was the death of the Venetian Doge, a good friend of the Crown of Aragon. King Sancho was unsure how well the new Doge would get along with the growing Aragonese kingdom.
It also came to the King’s attention that Sicily and the Moorish empire were now at war with each other. A good opportunity for a potential alliance.
Several months later, the diplomat Ordoño Fierro initiated negotiations with the Sicilians, offering a basic exchange of information as well as an alliance.
Although the Sicilians seemed hesitant, they agreed that the enemy of their enemy was their friend, and thus cemented a friendship between the two distant, yet similar nations.
Grimmer news came from the north, however. Prince Ramiro wrote a message to the King, detailing French troop movements north of Barcelona. As a result, the night watches in both Barcelona and Pamplona, both adjacent to French domains, were doubled and Ramiro authorized the recruitment of new militia in all of the Crown’s core territories.
The French responded poorly to Ramiro’s actions, however, and sent letter of dissatisfaction to King Sancho, calling for the guards on the border to be reduced.
Murcia, 1143 AD
King Sancho rode into the city, his army waiting outside the gates as there was not enough room in the garrison to house them all. Training his troops, Prince Alfonso barely noticed the King’s approach until his horse neighed right in the Prince’s ear.
“Oh! Father! It’s good to see you!”
“It’s good to see you too, my son,” Sancho said, smiling. The two embraced for a short time and then held each other at arms distance. “I was afraid I’d see a crescent flying over the city.”
“If it weren’t for Prince Alfonso, they would have!” A soldier panted. Alfonso glared at him, and the soldier quickly returned to his push-ups.
“Ah, hero of the city, are you?”
“Ha, you know me, father. That’s not me.”
“Here’s a hint for you, Alfonso,” King Sancho leaned in close. “If the people respect you and love you, use it to your advantage.” Prince Alfonso nodded wordlessly, and walked the King back to his horse. The two of them walked towards the town hall, exchanging pleasantries and such, until King Sancho asked, “so, where’s the ransom for those 1000 soldiers you captured? It’s been almost 4 years.”
“1000?” Prince Alfonso asked, looking at the King. He turned back to the road. “It was hardly 1000. More like 800. Where’d you get that number from?”
Seeing it wasn’t true, King Sancho looked away from the Prince. “Oh…just some guy I know…I suppose the 1000 other Moors that were killed and the 200 you killed personally were exaggerations as well?”
Prince Alfonso burst out laughing. “You think my army defeated 2000 Moors?” Alfonso wiped a tear from his eye. “Oh that’s a good one, although I’ve heard better. I caught one of my soldiers bragging to a milkmaid that our garrison of 200 men valiantly prevented 4000 Moors from storming the city. I would’ve let him get away with it if he didn’t suggest that he had killed more than me.” Both Sancho and Alfonso had themselves a good laugh, but the King brought the conversation back on track.”
“Seriously, Alfonso. Where’s the ransom for the prisoners?”
Alfonso stopped for a minute and took a big breath before continuing. “I…I executed them, father. I killed them.”
“Alfonso, now’s not the time for jokes. Did the Moors reject the ransom offer?”
“No, father. I’m serious. I had them executed.”
King Sancho stared at Alfonso. He ordered his guard to stop and he dismounted. “You mean to tell me you executed 800 Moorish prisoners, without even considering ransoming them?”
“They threatened me and my men with annihilation! What did you expect me to do?”
“At least offer them back! I’m sure the Moors would have rejected the offer anyway!”
“And what if they hadn’t?” Alfonso yelled, roaring even. Villagers and soldiers gathered to watch the Aragonese royal dynasty argue. “What if the Moors had accepted? Then there would be 800 Moors surrounding the city again!”
“Those 800 soldiers could have fetched at least 5000 florins! Do you know how much we have in our treasury? 1000. We have 1000 paltry florins.”
“Please, I saved us money in the long run. With those soldiers gone, we’ll spend less on defending this godforsaken place and gain more when we bring the fight to the Moors!”
King Sancho was taken aback by his son’s logic and suggestion. “Bring the fight to the Moors? We barely have enough money to keep this nation going! Where do you think you’ll find the funds for that sort of campaign?”
Prince Alfonso walked turned around, walked a short distance, and turned back again. “What about that huge army you have at your back?”
“Well,” King Sancho seemed to back off and hesitate for a moment. “I was going to either take back this city or relieve the siege, then disband the army…”
Prince Alfonso found a new weak spot in his father’s defense. “You would force the dissolution of a perfectly good army? To what end? Money?”
“That army is expensive! You wouldn’t believe the lengths I went through to recruit it!”
Prince Alfonso calmed down, eager to find a compromise. “Let me take the army to Granada,” Alfonso requested. “Let me push back the Moors even further from this defeat. You wouldn’t know how to lead them anyway…” he murmured.
King Sancho seemed ready to explode. Veins throbbed in his forehead. Villagers and soldiers took a step backwards in case it came to swords. “Alfonso, I forged this kingdom with my bare hands! I am its God-ordained leader and I will not have my will subverted
” the King seethed with anger. “NOW I COMMAND
YOU AS BOTH YOUR KING AND FATHER TO STAND DOWN OR GOD-HELP-ME I WILL FORCE YOU TO BY THE EDGE OF MY SWORD.”
The world seemed to stop for just a moment. The birds ceased scattered from the nearby trees and the dogs stopped barking. Even the church bells had stopped ringing. Prince Alfonso met his father’s steely gaze for what seemed like minutes on end. Finally, Prince Alfonso broke off and stormed towards the town hall. King Sancho leaned on his horse to relax and take stock of what just happened. He had never been opposed like this before, and by his own son! The world was different from when he grew up, but that’s a fact he would have to deal with.
Back in the town hall, Alfonso’s argument with his father was far from over. He checked his armor and weapons, and began packing a small bag to be carried by the baggage train. His guard stepped in, looking at his Prince’s angry actions. He politely knocked on the door before asking, “Um, sir, what exactly are you doing?”
“I’m packing my bags. What does it look like?” Prince Alfonso kneeled on one knee and checked under his bed for some belongings. “Actually I’m glad you’re here. I need you to deliver a message for me.”
“To whom, sir?”
“To any soldier who is willing to follow me,” Alfonso answered. “Tell them we leave at nightfall for Granada. Move silently and gather outside the west gate.”
“What about the King’s army, sir?”
“I’m sure the professionals and the impetuous would welcome a chance to fight the enemy. Send the message to them too.” The guard nodded, and left the room.
I’ll show my father what running a kingdom is really about
, Prince Alfonso though as he led his horse through the quiet city streets. Outside the west gate, he was surprised to find a force of over 700 soldiers, professionals and militia, waiting for the Prince. He expected 600 at most, and mostly the militia who had survived the 2nd Siege of Murcia. Nevertheless, Alfonso mounted his horse and called to his men, “Onwards! To Granada and victory!” The army let out a muffled but still audible “huzzah!” and the army began their long march to Granada.