As long as he lived, the Sultan did not dare to complain of the haughty and intolerable Toledans, but when he died, Hakam summoned up courage to address them as their sovereign, and try a policy of conciliation. He chose for their governor a renegade Christian, one Amron of Huesca, the worst choice he could have made. “You alone can help me to punish these rebels who refuse to acknowledge a Moor for their chief, but who will perhaps submit to one of their own race,” he said to Amron, who was officially recognized as governor of Toledo in S07. The Sultan wrote to the Toledans : “By a condescension which proves our extreme solicitude for your interests, instead of sending you one of our own subjects, we have chosen one of your compatriots.” The Toledans were speedily to receive immortal proof of the special delicacy of this attention.
There exists no more shameless and inconceivable barbarity in the blood-stained pages of history than this same Amron’s horrible method of cowing a haughty people. He began with the arts of beguilement, and left nothing undone to win the confidence and affection of the Toledan nobles. He feigned with them an implacable hatred of the Sultan and their conquerors, mysteriously asserted his faith in the national cause-that is Toledo’s independenceand by this was able, without exciting suspicion, to quarter soldiers in private houses. Without difficulty he obtained the town’s consent to build a strong castle at its extremity as a barrack for his troops, and then, to show their confidence in him, the nobles suggested the very thing he wanted, that the castle should be raised in the middle of the town. When the fortress was built, Amron installed himself therein with a strong guard, and then sent word to the Sultan, whose heart by this was well hardened against the sullen and untameable Toledans. Troops were speedily gathered from other towns, and set marching upon the royal city. The young prince Abderraman, commanded one wing, and the others were commanded by three vizirs.
Amron then persuaded the unfortunate nobles to accompany him to meet the Sultan’s son outside the walls. The nobles plumed themselves on their power and value, and gaily set out to visit the young prince, who received them splendidly. After a private consultation with the vizirs, Amron came back to the nobles, whom he found enchanted with the prince’s kindness and courtesy, and proposed that they should invite Abderraman to honor the town with his visit. The Toledans applauded the proposition to entertain a prince with whom they were so satisfied in every way. They had a governor of their own nationality, they enjoyed perfect freedom and Abderraman had personally won them. In their innocence they besought an honor now desired. Abderraman acted the part of coy visitor, delicately apprehensive of giving trouble, but finally yielded to the persuasion of such genial hospitality. He came to the fortified castle, and ordered a great feast to which all the nobles and wealthy citizens of Toledo were invited.
The guests came in crowds, but they were only permitted to enter the castle one by one. The order was that they should enter by one gate, and the carriages should round the fortress to await them at another. In the courtyard there was a ditch, and beside it stood the executioners, hatchet in hand, and as each guest advanced, he was felled and rolled into the ditch. The butchery lasted several hours, and the fatal day is ever since known in Spanish history as the “Day of the Foss.” In Toledan legends it has given rise to the proverb, “a Toledo night,” which is lightly enough now applied to any contrariety that produces sleeplessness, headache, or heartache. But only conceive the horrible picture in all its brutal nakedness! The gaily-apparelled guest, scented, jeweled, smiling, alights from his carriage, looking forward to pleasure in varied form; brilliant lights, delicate viands, exquisite wines, lute, song, flowers, sparkling speech.
Then the quick entrance into a dim courtyard, a step forward, perhaps in the act of unclasping a silken mantle; the soundless movement of a fatal arm in the shadowy silence, the invisible executioner’s form probably hidden by a profusion of tall plants or an Oriental bush, and body after body, head upon head, roll into the common grave till the ditch is filled with nigh upon five thousand corpses. Not even the famous St. Bartholomew can compete with this in horror, in gruesomeness. Compared with it, that night of Paris was honorable and open warfare. It is the stillness of the hour, the quickness of doing, the unflinching and awful personality of the executioners, who so remorselessly struck down life as ever it advanced with smiling lip and brightly-glancing eye, that lend this scene its matchless colors of cruelty and savagery. Beside it, few shocking hours in history will seem deprived of all sense of mitigation and humanity.
The place of this monstrous episode is said to have been the famous “Taller del Moro,” now a degraded ruin. Suspicion was first aroused by a doctor, who had strolled out to watch the arrival of all these distinguished citizens come to the feast of the Moorish prince. Having time to kill, he decided to stay and see the departure, but as the hours went by, and no one came out by the door so many had gone in by, while report carried the fact that the other door had not yet opened for the exit of a single guest, he began to express his fears to the loungers gathered round him to watch for the end of the entertainment. Alarm was quickly spread. Who after all, were these brilliant strangers but the enemy armed, unscrupulous and powerful? Apprehension was strained to its utmost tension, when the doctor shouted, as all began to perceive the rising of a heavy vapor: “Unfortunates, I swear to you that that vapor is never the smoke of a feast, but that of the blood of our butchered brethren.”
Never was a town so completely stupified by a moment’s blow before. Not a single voice was lifted in protest. Toledo, on ordinary occasions, so resentful, proud, rebellious, was simply prostrate from emotion and horror; and in her stunned and terrorized condition the Turk might have done what he willed with her. She was bereft of reproaches, of will and force. The remaining citizens dared hardly speak of the dreadful occurrence in whispers among themselves, so heavily gript were they by the nightmare of reality.