Thomas Aird

Nebuchadnezzar: Canto II: The Plot OF Merdan And Narses

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High rides the summer moon: Away, how slow,
The lordly waters of Euphrates go!
But see! a shadowy form from yonder rank
Of glimmering trees comes o'er the open bank.
Here Narses meets him:—“Merdan, you are late.”
“Admit the toils that on my office wait,
And say, your purpose.”

“Nay, 'tis mine to hear
What first you promised to my midnight ear.”
Then Merdan spake:—“Our mutual hearts are known,
Why pause we then? Our theme be now the throne.
Meet we not here on our appointed way,
To learn from Chardes what the planets say,
Who nightly standing on his glimpsing towers,
With piercing ken looks through the starry hours?
Not rivals, twins are we in present sway;
What then? 'tis based upon the passing day.
Can we maintain it? Merodach is weak:
His father now those ancient servants seek:
Reason returns: again he'll sit on high:
And with our lives the Prince his own mean life will buy.”

“Ha! yes; he knows his feebleness has failed
To back our counsels: these shall be assailed:
The blame of his misrule must we exhaust;
And, if we live, our power at least is past.”

“His faith, nor might, to us can safety bring:
Who trusts him hides his jewel in a sling.
In heart he is a parricide, but still
His weakness fears to justify his will.
May such be trusted? Not his innocence;
He must be guilty, for our hope is thence.
'Tis ours to goad him on to such a length,
That farthest crime alone may seem his strength.”

“Say we at once the outcast Monarch slew,
And crushed our fears?”

“Nay, that his son must do;
So shall our knowledge of his guilt ensure
Bribes for our silence, and our rule endure.
Well, then, at once, he must insult his sire,
That fears for life may perfect his desire,
And thus complete the parricide. On high,
Where vales embosomed in the mountains lie,
I know a place where comes the desert King
Each noon his limbs beneath the shade to fling.
Beside him feeds his battle-horse, that bore
His youth triumphant on from shore to shore,
A prince's gift, much loved: Near couched each night,
Upsprings he neighing with the morning light,
Awakes his lord, again goes forth with him
To range the pastures till the twilight dim.

“Now Parthian Chud's our friend, advanced by us
To keep the royal hounds, he'll help us thus:—
His tiger-dogs, from India's northern woods,
Fell mountain-climbers, glorying in the floods,
Three previous days shall hunger, till arise
Their bristly necks, and burn their lamping eyes;
Then shall our Monarch hunt; they, famine-clung,
Shall sweep the barren hills with lolling tongue,
Where no prey is, led thither on pretence
That there 'twas seen—it since has wandered thence.
Chud then, instructed, shall his Sovereign lure
To nearer hills, as if it there were sure;
And in the noon shall he his beagles lead
To where the wild King loiters with his steed.
Behold them started! Rush the kindled pack;
Not even unfeigned restraint could keep them back,
So fiercely hunger pricks their headlong way,
Against their instinct on the unwonted prey.
Onward they drive: At once, perhaps—'tis well—
The Ox-King falls before their crowding yell;
Nor bone, nor scalp, the bloody grass alone
Next moment tells our fears with him are gone.
If Chud from royal game can them restrain,
At least on Zublon shall they go amain;
Or falls the horse, or flees but soon to fall.
The mad King sees his son—has seen it all.

That son away pursues the storm of chase,
And ne'er again dares see his father's face.
What must he do? The rest has been explained:
His sire must die: Our place is thus maintained.”

“This more: Our King, when Prince, with bold desire
Loved Cyra, heedless of his angry sire.
When Heaven's decree against the latter sped,
The Hebrew damsel from the Palace fled.
But I have learned her haunt; far in the wild
She dwells, a Jewish hind's adopted child,
The embruted Monarch near; for hers the praise
To love, to tend him through his humbled days.
So let this maid be carried from her place,
Say on the night of our appointed chase;
Then, for I know our Sovereign loves her still,
Shall she become the creature of his will.
Then, in his hours of hope unfilial
And mingled fear, shall we declare her thrall—
Thus from the service of his father gained
By force, and in his palace thus detained.
So shall he feel again that father wronged;
And dare be bold, to have his life prolonged.”

“Our scheme is doubly one, how wisely blent!
It but remains to push it to the event.
This be in haste, for Persia's threatened war
Against us hangs upon the east afar.
The issue? Good our plan in any case.
But now our King has leisure for the chase.”

“Behold! the first faint shoots of morning light
Breathe upward through the shadowy cone of night,
Sickening the eastern stars: 'Tis now the time,
Old Chardes waits us on his watch sublime;
From him the signs celestial shall we know,
Shape farther plans, and onward safely go.”

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Thomas Aird