Thomas Aird

Captive Of Fez: Canto V: The Fire

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Behold Zenone, as she sits by night,
All pale and pensive, robed in virgin white!
Her chief of eunuchs came; absorbed in thought,
Her eyes she raised not, and she saw him not.
But Melki bowed and kissed her silken feet,
Raised back his withered brow her eye to meet,
Then seized her hand. She started: “Slave!” she said,
“I know thee faithful, but I'm past thy aid.
Why com'st thou, then? Away! I love thee not,
And little have I done to cheer thy luckless lot.”

“Italian flower!” upstarting said the slave,
“The land that gave thee birth to me my being gave!
I'd have thee be a Queen magnificent!
Like bow, to serve thee, is my spirit bent!
To our own Italy we'll turn.”

“No, no!”
Zenone sighed: “How could I thither go?
In that fair land first lightened on my eyes
The suns of summer from the crystal skies.
How fair and glad! But glad to me no more!
The ghosts would meet me on the dreary shore!
I see the flames! I hear my mother's cry!
Is this a monstrous dream? Where, what am I?
Why should I live? Oh let me die away!
Love, Pride, Ambition, Power, so perish they.
Even boasted Genius, Heaven-endowed to raise
The young religion of man's primal days,
When Virtue was an ardour, not a thing
To wait on Habit for a tutored wing,
By Passion maddened, worse than doomed to die,
How oft it turns its glory to a lie!
What then is life, if thus the goodliest fall?
Cease, my vexed soul, 'tis vain delusion all!”

“So give us active joys, nor let us waste
Our heart in dreams; but plan and do in haste:”
The eunuch said. Zenone answered this:—
“Ha! think'st thou, slave, that aught shall make me miss
The only triumph that can be my bliss?
No: I shall come before a nation's eyes;
Fez, she may curse me, she shall ne'er despise.
I to her painted roll my name refuse,
Of spotted harlots in these silken stews;
Yet shall that name in Fez be ne'er forgot,
But stamp her annals with a burning blot.
Come on, Zemberbo, thou art linked with me;
Careering twins in vengeance shall we be!”

“He's come; he's here: our army smitten down,”
The eunuch said, “this night he'll shake our town;
But strong, defended well, Morocco near
In arms to thwart him in preventive fear,
And aid our King, though doomed, yet still it may
For many a moon stave off the evil day.”

Up springs Zenone; o'er her countenance pass,
In flamings like a chemist's kindled glass,
The varying passions. Settled, pale, and still,
A deadly whisper thus declared her will:—
“My hour is come! We'll let Zemberbo in,
And do the rest! Come on with me! No din!
Tread softly, Child! Hark! of my mortal cup
The King shall drink, 'twill dry his spirit up;
Then to his roof let him be carried, there
To win the coolness of the freer air;
When round him there his children gathered be,
My fire shall catch them, nor shall let them flee:
My father's house and lineage to the flame
He dared to give, I'll do for him the same,
Far then we'll go. But come, my inner room
Must better fit us for our work of doom.”

She said, and going in her stern intent
Locked up and pale, behind her Melki went.


II

O'er Fez triumphant, with embattled din
Zemberbo rode: Zenone let him in,
Through Melki's aid: His grizzly aspect gleamed,
Far o'er his head his coal-black banner streamed.
Forth rushed his ruffian hordes, all kindred ties
Long distant wars had taught them to despise.
What shouts afar! What shriekings of affright!
And sound of steeds that galloped through the night!

Blaze followed blaze till, one unbroken glare,
Wide o'er the city burned the midnight air.
Chased by the gleam of swords, a wildered throng
From street to street with shrieks were driven along,
With wild back-streaming looks, unmarried maids,
And mothers glaring through the umbered shades,
With clasping babes, and crooked forms of eld
That feebly plained, and by the younger held.
Blood bubbling flowed, and every deed of shame
Was done that links to Hell man's boasted name.

On rode Zemberbo to the central square
Of Fez: The King of Portugal was there,
Brought near his Julian; firm, in governed mood,
Beside his sorrowing son the Monarch stood.
“Why are you here, my father? Do you know
The things prepared against you by that foe?”
Thus Julian spake: “Dark Chieftain on thy steed,
Say, can a gallant soldier have decreed
A King like this should live with shackled arms?
Why, do but honour to the old alarms
Of mutual war, to him that aye was found
A worthy foe, and let him stand unbound.”

“No change of bonds,” Zemberbo said, “he'll find,
Till the stark cordage of the grave shall bind
His head, his heart; beyond the purple hour
When o'er an Arab's feet his blood he'll pour.
That hour is now at hand: No wish of mine
E'er perished: Allah, be the glory thine!
So learn, Sir Youth, to hold thee humble still,
Nor rashly try to thwart my conquering will.”

“Spare him!” cried Julian. “Me, strike home on me,
If for our blood thy soul must thirsty be.
He speaks, dear father, of my mother's feet;
And oh, I fear his scheme he can complete!”

“Now, now,” that father said, “'tis mine to press
Thy heart, my son, for great forgiveness!
Yet her I loved: I only was not bold,
Against my people,s wish, my marriage to uphold.
So was she lost. And oh, a father's shame!
Scarce have I dared to tell you of her name.
Yet for her sake, methinks, my love for you
Has been, if possible, above your due.
I know my doom, our captor has explained;
Yet trust I then his wrath shall be restrained,
Nor farther work against thy youth, but break
Thy galling fetters for thy mother's sake.”

“Now is the crisis! now the last dread hour,”
Zemberbo said, “to bend him to my power!
For this, Sir King, I've led thee forth to meet
Thy Captive son, that thou with him may'st treat,
May'st change his faith, that him I here may make
A prince and chieftain for his mother's sake.
Much has he dared against me; yet I still,
More than forgiving, shall these terms fulfil,
So thou wilt change his creed. Else, sworn have I,
A doom abides him sterner than to die.”

The King, he spake not; but he stood a space,
How wistful, looking in his Julian's face.

“My father!” Julian said, “thy love for me
Is broad, and deep, and pure as pure can be!
Fain wouldst thou have me saved; yet well I know
Thy soul would have me ne'er my faith forego.
Ne'er shall it be. Oh, I have dared deny
My mother's heart, and left her lone to die!
Say now—'tis come to this—well are we met,
Ere go we each to pay his bloody debt.”

“Give me, my son, the proud young martyr's kiss:
For faith be flint: fear nothing: faith is bliss.”

So said that father; and the loyal youth
Impressed the solemn kiss, his pledge of truth.
High stood the King, and spake:—“Rise, Son of Heaven!
Ride in thy chariot: terrible be it driven!
Go forth—go down upon thy foes, and break
The billow of thy wheels on Mahomet's neck!”

Dark, darker waxed Zemberbo; but he sate
Silent, his sister's coming to await,
By him commanded hither: Lives she yet?
Or has her day of many sorrows set,
Twice severed from her son? He raised his head,
Startled; there came a litter for the dead.
“Allah! my sister!” groaned the sable Chief,
And ground his teeth to check his softer grief.
Down from his charger springing, lowly bowed
He met the body; 'neath a linen shroud
Embalmed it lay. Brief question asked, he bade
The litter near the captive King be stayed.
Then, “Hear me, see me, judge me, Chiefs!” exclaimed
Zemberbo, turning to his Captains famed:
“I had a sister once; ye knew her shame,—
Her hateful marriage, her dishonoured name:
Stand forth who deems my wrath was then unmoved;
Or—is there such?—that I her love approved;
Or—where is he?—that vengeance I've forgot;
Behold the triumph of my treasured thought:
Ne'er has it slept: My heart was only slow,
The better to secure this deepest blow.”
He said, and turning with a mighty stride,
Drove down into the patient Monarch's side
His steel vindictive; from their snowy sheet
Baring his sister's fixed and bony feet,
O'er them he held the faint sustainèd King,
To rain his blood thereon, reeking from life's red spring.

“Ho! double vengeance! be the banner brought,
Last from him ta'en!” And to Zemberbo's thought
In wrath refining, and his stern command,
The rustling flag was lowered to his hand;
He wiped her bloody feet with it, and drew
The folds of linen over them anew.

O Julian, then! A flash sprang o'er his eyes,
As high he saw that eager weapon rise;
With short quick cry he turned him as it fell,
And shrunk to hear it glut itself so well;
With panting breast, he saw the foe fulfil
The fearful process of his vengeful will;
Till, by Zemberbo's grasp no more upstayed,
The bleeding Monarch in the dust was laid.
He sprung, he sprung, his father's hand to press,
To kneel, to whisper, and his head to bless;
Till death-divided was their mutual kiss.
He closed his father's eyes; without a tear,
Stately he stood in dignity severe.

Near bursts a sudden glare! Through all its frame
The Palace burns in one consuming flame.
But see the lovely Fury! Still the brand
Which did the deed is in Zenone's hand.
How shines the creature's face! But to the ground
A camel kneels; she mounts it with a bound,
And rising, glimpsing flees; behind her near,
Through every peril, and through every fear,
To go with her, each toil, each wo to brave,
Another camel bears her eunuch slave.
From land to land she went; but frenzied Pain,
Fell dog, pursued and overtook her brain,
And bayed her down: Down into Etna's tide
Of lava plunged she: this her dying pride,
That the pure fire should be her burial-place,
Nor her heart rot with man's ignoble race.

The Fezzan Palace burns. On every side
The ragged web of flame is wafted wide;
Back drawn, it clings, it climbs, updarting oft
Its far-thrust tongues that curl and lick aloft
All round the roof, still curling inward. There
The poisoned King is dying in his chair:
Zenone's scheme. Young Geraldine is seen
Bathing his brow, with many a kiss between.
His other children—see the dear young band!
Round him they hang, and hold him by the hand.
Urged by the heat, they shrink, they hide their eyes,
They press upon his breast their stifled cries.

One wrench, and Julian's free: One mighty bound
Has borne him clear beyond that guarded ground.
Yon lovely family from the fire he'll save,
Or die with them in one devouring grave!
He nears the Palace, dashing in he dares
The flames—Christ help him now to climb the burning stairs!
A fearful pause! Oh, on the roof he springs,
His arms around his Geraldine he flings,
To bear her thence: one kiss upon her brow—
The pillars crack, the blazing rafters bow,
Down goes the roof, the walls down inward go;
A smoking, smothered mass of ruin glares below!
But where are they whom scarce the twinking eye
Has ceased to see upon that Palace high?
Whelmed in its wreck their mingled ashes lie.
Disturb them not! Of Julian only tell,
He died with her whom he had loved so well.

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Thomas Aird