King Rodrigo of Spain was very suspicious. He had never heard anything as ridiculous as the story the two strange old men had come to tell him.
They were an odd sight, clad in long white robes, with stars and moons embroidered all over them. They looked like magicians or sorcerers. From their girdles, there hung bunches of rusty old keys. These, they said, were the keys to padlocks which Spanish kings had fixed to the door of the Enchanted Tower in past years.
According to the two old men, each king had woven a spell his padlocks, to keep the Muslims from invading Christian Spain. Now the two old men wanted King Rodrigo to do the same.
'Enchanted Tower, magic spells, padlocks...' King Rodrigo thought. 'I don't believe a word of it!'
However, the Tower did sound interesting. It was made of marble and the rich jewel, Jasper. With all that wealth outside, who knew what treasure lay inside?
"Very well," said Rodrigo. "Take me to the Tower. But I will not fix a padlock until I have entered it and seen what is inside."
At this, the two old men started wailing and wringing their hands. "No, no, Your Majesty!" they cried in great anxiety. "No one must enter the Tower! It is forbidden. If you enter the Tower, the Muslims will be sure to invade Spain. We beg you, Your Majesty, we entreat you, do not go into the Tower!"
"Nonsense, babbling nonsense!" Rodrigo replied. He rose from his throne and walked across to the two old men. He poked one of them roughly in the ribs.
"I know what you are doing!" Rodrigo snarled at him. "You have hidden treasure in the Tower, and you want me to put another lock on it so that it will be even safer than it is now."
The old men raised their hands in horror.
"No, no! It's not true! We have never been inside the Tower. We told you - disaster awaits if anyone enters the Tower, even you, Your Majesty."
Rodrigo looked very angry. "You are lying! I'll hear no more of this nonsense. You will take me to the Tower and you will unlock it for me.
I will see what is inside, and if I find you have been keeping treasure from me, both of you shall die!"
Immediately, Rodrigo ordered horses to be saddled and together with the old men and two if his knights, he galloped out of his palace and rode swiftly to the Tower.
It was beautiful. Tall and straight, with brightly shining walls, covered in red, yellow and brown jasper. Rodrigo gazed at it, entranced. He rode round the Tower several times, wondering at its beauty and surer than ever that lying inside he would find fabulous wealth in gold, silver and jewels.
Rodrigo made the old men dismount from their horses. Both of them were shaking with fear.
"Unlock the Tower!" Rodrigo ordered them. "Stop that noise!" he growled as the two old men broke into loud wailing cries.
Once more, Rodrigo commanded them to be silent, but they went on crying and moaning and wringing their hands.
Rodrigo was becoming impatient. These two old fools were so terrified, they might take a month to undo all those padlocks. There were at least a dozen of them.
Rodrigo turned to his two knights. "Break it open!" he commanded. "Your axes and swords should be able to break those padlocks."
It was hard work. Half an hour passed before one of the knights finally managed to break the last chain across the door of the Tower. It fell away and Rodrigo hurried forward to turn the handle and open the door.
Slowly, the door creaked inwards. It was very dark inside the Tower, and for a moment, even Rodrigo felt afraid. However, with the thought of the treasure inside, his fear vanished and he marched through the doorway and into the entrance hall of the Tower.
For a moment, Rodrigo could see nothing. Then, as his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, he saw gold and silver glittering on a great marble table in the centre of the hall. He gasped. The table was covered with gold and silver coins.
Rodrigo rushed towards the table, followed by his two knights. The two old men remained outside, shaking with anxiety and fear. Rodrigo picked up two handfuls of coins and let them trickle through his fingers. It was a wonderful feeling.
In the centre of the table, stood a marble urn. Rodrigo was sure that more treasure lay inside.
Swiftly, he pushed aside the lid of the urn, and plunged in his hand. But instead of jewels or more coins, all Rodrigo could feel was a piece of parchment. He drew it out and, rather mystified, unrolled it.
It was a picture painted in brilliant colours. The picture showed a line of horsemen, bearing long spears in their hands. The horsemen were brown-skinned, like the people across the Straits of Gibraltar, in Morocco. Like them they had long, thick, shaggy hair and from their belts hung strange curved swords like the ones the Muslims used in battle.
"Look, Your Majesty!" said one of the knights. "There is something written below the picture." He began to read and as he did so, his voice started to tremble.
"Behold, when the door of this Tower is forced open by violence and the spell contained in this urn is broken, then the people painted on this picture will invade Spain..." The knight faltered, unable to read on for a moment. Then he continued: "...then the people painted on this picture will invade Spain, overthrow the throne of her King and conquer the whole country!"
King Rodrigo had turned very pale. He had expected to find treasure, not this dreadful prophecy of doom and disaster. He looked again at the picture and its brown-skinned horsemen. He began to shiver.
Then suddenly, as Rodrigo Watched, the picture came to life. The brown-skinned horsemen were galloping, waving their spears in the air... Behind them, Rodrigo saw a flag with a star and a crescent on it: the ?ag of the Muslims! A violent battle was being fought in the picture. Rodrigo recognised the Christian knights of Spain, struggling against the horsemen, and falling from their saddles one by one.
There was one horse in particular which caught Rodrigo's attention. It belonged to the Christian army and it was snow-white in colour. On its back was a saddle decorated with beautiful jewels. The jewels were glittering in the sunshine. Where was the rider? He was nowhere to be seen.
Rodrigo let out a cry of fear. He knew that beautiful snow-white horse. He knew that bejewelled saddle. Frantically, Rodrigo searched the picture for the rider of the snow-white horse, but he could not find him.
Suddenly, Rodrigo realised what that meant, and panic took hold of him. He turned and rushed out of the Tower. As he ran through the doorway, he nearly fell over two bodies lying outside it. They were the bodies of the two old men. They were dead.
Rodrigo did not stop. He leaped on to his horse, and with his knights following close behind, galloped away from the Tower at high speed. As they raced down the hillside, they heard a deafening explosion. They turned, to see the Tower engulfed in blood-red ?ames and clouds of black smoke. When the smoke cleared, the Tower was gone. In its place was a heap of molten ruins.
For years afterwards, King Rodrigo tried hard to forget the Tower and the dreadful things he saw in the moving picture. In particular, Rodrigo tried to forget the snow-white horse without a rider. To help himself forget, Rodrigo went hunting, or gave great banquets in his palace at Toledo. He made long journeys through his kingdom and held splendid tournaments where his knights fought mock battles against each other.
Nothing helped. Rodrigo could never forget the Tower and the dreadful prophecy he had seen there. In any case, how could Rodrigo forget when every year brought dreadful news from North Africa, across the Mediterranean Sea.
Every year, hordes of Muslim warriors advanced westwards along the North African coast. First, Rodrigo heard they were in Libya. Then they were through the Atlas Mountains, and were pouring into Morocco. Finally, Rodrigo received the news he most dreaded to hear. The Muslim fleet was crossing the Straits of Gibraltar and making for the coast of Spain.
At once, King Rodrigo gathered his army of knights, nobles and thousands of foot soldiers. This great army set out to meet the Muslims on a battleground near the River Gaudalete.
As soon as Rodrigo saw the huge Muslim hordes, he knew the battle was lost.
"Brown skins.. long, shaggy hair.. those long spears and curved swords," he murmured to himself as he looked at the Muslims. "They are all like the horsemen in the picture.. the picture was a portent."
He was right. The battle was hard-fought; just as it was in the picture. Yet however hard they fought, the Spanish knights could not overcome the Muslims.
One by one they were killed and toppled from their saddles to the ground. Tarik, the Muslim leader, searched for King Rodrigo. He soon found him, for no one had a snow-white horse like the King of Spain. No one had a jewelled saddle like the one on which Rodrigo sat.
Tarik pushed his way through the mass of struggling soldiers and rearing, whinnying horses.
"Fight to the death, Rodrigo!" Tarik cried. Thrusting his sword in front of him, he galloped towards the Spanish King.
"To the death, then!" Rodrigo shouted back. Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, Tarik's sword plunged through his neck.
Rodrigo died at once, and his body tumbled down from his bejewelled saddle. Startled to find Rodrigo's weight suddenly gone from her back, his horse took fright. As she galloped away, the sun gleamed off her snow-white coat and the jewels of her empty saddle glittered in the rays of the sun.