In this context of civil war occurs the so-called Legend of Aliatar’s Horse. But given the numerous historical coincidences – and understanding the normal exaggerations of a chivalric story like this – we understand that there is a lot of credible history in this legend. But let’s continue with the historical characters, the places and the story.
The Castilians began to mount their camp on the banks of the Genil River, in a complicated area of hills, olive groves and ravines; and the chosen site did not facilitate the positioning and the maneuver of the numerous Castilian cavalry. But before the Christians were properly organised, Aliatar and his warriors made a surprise attack in which they defeated the Christians and forced them to retreat in haste. Among the dead was Rodrigo Téllez Girón, who was Grand Master of the Calatrava Knights and Governor of the Fortress of Priego. This victory was a great joy for Boabdil, not only it had prevented an invasion, but it had also reinforced his position. It also increased Aliatar’s prestige, which went from defending Loja to attack the Castilian border with its triumphant Moorish cavalry.
To avoid meeting with the army of Count of Cabra, Aliatar decided to take the path of Las Navas; which is a very narrow, abrupt and dangerous route that had become very slippery due to the rains. To avoid falling over, all of them dismounted from their horses and advanced carefully. The Moorish chief Aliatar and Don Pedro marched at the forefront of the group, chatting about other war encounters.
At one point, both were ahead of the rest of the group, a circumstance that Don Pedro took advantage of to give Aliatar a push; and this one fell by the slope rolling into an area with a very dense vegetation. Don Pedro came down behind him, snatched his dagger and put it on his neck, ordering him to remain silent – or that otherwise he would kill him. When the rest of the Muslims arrived at the height of the slope and began to look for them between the weeds, the Count of Cabra and his knights appeared; interrupting the Muslim warriors’ search and causing them to flee.
The Count of Cabra, Aliatar and Manrique gathered together began to speak of what had happened and of past meetings; the Moorish leader complained that his companions had fled without fighting, and compared that cowardly attitude with the nobility of his horse called ‘Leal (Loyal)’ (who had stayed nearby, waiting for his owner). Aliatar also lamented that, being their prisoner, he would lose his beloved horse forever. The conversation became so sentimental that both Manrique and the Count of Cabra decided to return their prisoner’s liberty, authorising him to return to Loja with his beloved horse. All mounted on their horses to get out of the intricate place in which they were; Aliatar paving the way for the large group of knights. At one point, they encountered a very high and dangerous river; but when they were about to cross it at a certain ford, the horse Loyal surprised everyone by refusing to pass by there and insisting on going to another place to cross it. This place turned out to be better, and there they all crossed the river; and from that moment on they called it “the ford of the Moor”.
When they arrived at the place where they had to separate to continue to their respective fortresses, an Aliatar moved by the behaviour of the Christians, told Don Pedro that he was so thankful for his gesture that he had decided to give him his horse as a memento of that day. Don Pedro then gave him his horse, as an exchange. The Muslim Governor returned to his fortress and Manrique returned to his house riding ‘Leal’. In the following days ‘Leal’ refused to eat, dying of grief. How much is truth and how much is exaggeration or invention? Is it imaginable to give up a ransom as important as that of Boabdil for a gesture of chivalry? Can a horse know better than its rider where to cross a river?
This story continues with the following performance of the liberated Aliatar, accompanying King Boabdil in the invasion of Christian territory: the story of the Battle of Lucena.
Texto de Ignacio Suarez-Zuloaga e ilustraciones de Ximena Maier.