Thomas Aird

The Captive Of Fez: Canto IV: The Battle

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Who sent those armèd men to seize or slaughter
Zemberbo, scarce escaping by the water?
The Monarch sent them. Reached by those alarms
Of midnight outrage and Zemberbo's arms,
Startled he stood. Zenone came and threw
Over the whole her own convenient hue:
Zemberbo (thus deceptive she explained),
His heart still gloomy for his kinsman chained,
With many a threat of his vindictive ire
Had roused the loyal city; they with fire
Had striven to burn him, that he ne'er might go
To do his vengeance as a traitor foe;
But they had failed. It gave the Monarch cheer
Thus of his city's loyalty to hear;
But still he feared the baited Chief; and still
His rising wish was him at once to kill,
Could it be done: The Monarch long revolved
The growing purpose, and at length resolved:—
“His death's our only safety; die this hour
Zemberbo must, while yet he's in our power.”
Zenone wished not this; not hers to slay
The instrument of her avenging day,
Coming apace: She pled, but pled in vain
To spare the Chief—the King will have him slain.
At every gate and outlet of the town
Prompt guards were placed to cut the rebel down,
Nor let him pass. Found by that armèd band,
Zemberbo smote them till his weary hand
Could smite no more; unequal to them all,
Plunging he took the stream, and 'scaped beneath the wall.


II

Unfettered, scathless from that midnight fray,
Back to the Palace Julian made his way;
Zemberbo's plans rebellious he declared,
And bade the Monarch be for war prepared.
The war came on: So great Zemberbo's sway,
He from their fealty drew his camp away.
Yet well to be opposed; so many kings
To his defence the Fezzan Monarch brings,
So many chiefs, so many princes: They
Zemberbo's power and traitorous array,
A bad example, fearing, deem it now
The time to check him, nor his growth allow.
And Julian joins them: for his mother's sake,
That her from darkness he to light may take,
Oh how he longs Zemberbo's power to break!
And for his father's, that the Chieftain's wrath
No more may plague him and contrive his death!
And for his Geraldine's not less, that she
With ruined Fez may not a victim be!
He sent his sire a message, stating all
That had befallen him in his captive thrall;
And praying him to watch the coming fight,
And send a squadron of reservèd might,
To turn the battle and Zemberbo smite;
But not himself to lead it on, that so
Safe he might keep from his inveterate foe.
Should they Zemberbo quell, to Portugal
Her old demands shall be conceded all—
So sware the Fezzan King; and Geraldine,
Pledge of the friendly peace, O Julian, shall be thine.


III

“And fear not, weep not, Love!” thus fondly said
The Captive's farewell to his Moorish maid,
As in the sweetness of the twilight hour
They sate together in a garden bower:
'Twas ere he went to battle. “Down amain
If we Zemberbo smite, to thee again
I'll come; and I will take thee from this shore,
Light of my life! the dark-blue waters o'er,
To banks of beauty, where the Tagus roves
Through the long summer of his orange groves.
And when thou turn'st thee to the southern star,
And think'st upon thy native home afar,
Thou shalt not weep; I have thee by the hand,
My heart is thine, my land shall be thy land.
I feel, I feel my love's unbounded debt!
May God forget me when I thee forget!”

“No, no,” said Geraldine; “it must not be!
Risk not the fight, come not again to me!
My sisters, and my brother, who but I
Must watch them for our mother in the sky?
She bade me love them well, she bade me make them
The lambs of Christ; how then can I forsake them?
Yet in this hour I'll say it,—dear, O Youth,
Art thou to me for thy heroic truth,
Far more than thrones, and crowns, and kingly brows!
Sweet Prince, beyond what female grace allows,
Think me not light and bold; but all my life
I'd love to be thy true and faithful wife.
It cannot be. But hark!” She softly said,
And to her Julian bent her beauteous head.
Was it to whisper? Or his cheek to touch
With hers so soft? How little, yet how much!
'Twas nature's holy kiss! No sooner paid,
Than forth away she flitted through the shade.


IV

Uprose the sun: By Rasalema's side,
The Fezzan river, moved in martial pride
A mingled host from various realms, to stem
Zemberbo's treason, and the diadem
Maintain of Abusade: in rank and square
Swarming they join, and for the march prepare.

Loud blew a thousand trumpets; deep and high
Was filled the compass of war's harmony,
Attempered terrible: thrilling it shook
The soldier's heart, and raised his daring look.
Outflew a thousand banners. And the mass
Of moving valour shook the valley pass
With sounding tread. From the high walls behind
Of Fez came shouts upon the morning wind;
There myriads stood, and bade their army on
To conquer for the city and the throne.
So shall they conquer! How shall be subdued
The embodied kingdoms' warlike multitude?
Puffed yellow Copts are here, and soldiers brave
From Nubian hill and Abyssinian cave.
The unshadowed lands, that hear each sultry noon
The thunders 'yond the Mountains of the Moon,
Have sent a few bold men; but many a swarm
Gives Negroland, scarce less the dusk and warm.
Fierce kingdoms on the west to Ocean's brink,
And they whose horses the far waters drink
Of Syrian streams, have men enlisted here.
The warlike Berbers from the hills more near
Of crescent Atlas and the vales between,
The blameless Shelluhs, and the aspects keen
Of mountain Errifi, and Hea's wild castes,
That scream like eagles on the lofty blasts,
March on to battle. Lo! the army's pride,
The Hentets on their fine-haired horses ride;
With hordes unnumbered from the lesser states
Of Atlas southward to the Land of Dates.
From Tremecen, Azogue, Zenhagian, Hoar,
And Heneti, brave tribes that hunt the boar
Far in the gorges of the snowy hills,
Whose glossy range its southern border fills,
Or roam wild Angab's desert to the banks
Of soft Moluya, fill the Fezzan ranks.
Two days they marched; the third beheld them stayed:
Their fair encampment in a vale was made.
Beyond it lay, a narrow pass between,
A larger valley, and an equal scene
Of martial pomp; for there the traitor host
Of dark Zemberbo kept their evening post,
And hoped the coming morn. Not less possest
Of hope, the Royal army took their rest.
By heaven and earth! it was a goodly sight
To see their tents beneath the setting light,
Encircling with their white pavilioned pale
A little hill mid rising in the vale.
Cedars and palms, with sunlight in their tops,
In leafy tiers grew up its gentle slopes.
Green was its open head, there walked or sate
The Captains and the Kings confederate.
West through the vale delicious lay unrolled
The lapse of rivers in their evening gold,
While far along their sun-illumined banks
Broke the quick restless gleam of warlike ranks.
North, where the hills arose by soft degrees,
Stood stately warriors in the myrtle-trees,
And fed their beauteous steeds. From east to south
Armed files stood onward to the valley's mouth.
From out the tents the while, and round the plain,
Bold music burst defiance to maintain,
And hope against the morrow's dawning hour.
Nor the gay camp belied the inspiring power:
From white-teethed tribes, that loitered on the grass,
Loud laughter burst, fierce jests were heard to pass;
Around the tents were poured the gorgeous throngs
Of nations blent, with shouts and martial songs.
Nor ceased the din as o'er the encampment wide
Fell softly dark that eve of summer-tide.


V

Gray morn appeared. “My horse!” Zemberbo cried;
And forth was brought, shrill-neighing in his pride,
His battle-horse—from Araby a gift,
White as the snows, and as the breezes swift:
A chosen foal, on Yemen's barley fed,
In size and beauty grew the desert-bred,
Fit present for a King: his burnished chest,
Branched o'er with veins, and muscles ne'er at rest,
Starts, throbs, and leaps with life; his eyeballs glow;
Quick blasts of smoke his tender nostrils blow.
The Chieftain sprung on him. The rolling drum
Announced his signal that the hour was come
His men should move: Trumpet and deep-smote gong
Quell to the draining march the closing throng.
On through the short defile, compact and slow,
Betwixt the vales, Zemberbo's squadrons go.
Lo! the King's host. The mutual armies seen,
Fierce shouts arose, and claimed the space between.
Paused not the rebel phalanx: On each hand
Hung cloudy swarms, whence, ranging in a band,
The stepping archers, with their pause compressed,
Let loose the glancing arrows from their breast.
Nor less from loyal bows the arrowy rain
Dark on the advancing column fell amain,
Advancing still: in crescent-shaped array,
The Fezzan host in its embosomed bay
Receives it deep; but sharpens round away,
Till curling to the column's flanks it turns,
And turning bores them with its piercing horns.
Yet onward still, still onward through the fight,
That column pushed its firm continuous might,
Till, widening out, it spread a breastwork far
Across the plain, and mingled deep the war.

But where is Julian? At the break of day
Came on his father with a bold array,
Brought by the message of his son; but fear
Disdaining for himself, himself is here
Leading his warriors on, sooner to bar
Zemberbo's rise, and end a long-protracted war.
Oh how rejoicing to his native band
Did Julian leap! His father, hand in hand
He'll fight with him! And, through that stormy day,
They crossed Zemberbo in his fellest way.
Faint toiled the staggering battle. Fresh and strong,
A giant troop came dashingly along,
Grim set, reserved for this: Lo! bare of head,
The black compacted turm Zemberbo led;
Low couching, forward bent: and stern and still,
His sword intensely waited on his will,
Held pointed by his side. Across his path
Resistance came, and eased his rigid wrath,
Which bowed him corded down: How towering rose
The mighty creature, and made shreds of foes;
His face, as far he bounded to destroy,
Bright with the sunshine of his warlike joy!
He pointed to the thickest of the fight,
There fought the King of Portugal, with might
There Julian fought; deep plunged into the fray
That sable corps, and cleared the crush away;
Then, with the stress of numbers hemming round
That King, they bore him from the embattled ground,
And bore his son; but not one wounding blade
Was dealt on them, for so Zemberbo bade:
Thus Julian and his sire were captive made.
Their capture smote with fear the Fezzan host;
It paused, it wavered, turned, fled—all was lost.


VI

“Oh for our warriors back!” young Geraldine
Stood on her Palace at the day's decline,
And longing thus she sighed. Far looking forth,
She saw a coming from the purple north.
Behind in Fez a buzzing murmur rose,
Like as of men presentient of their woes;
For there's a sharpness, not of ear or eye,
Which tells to waiting realms of ruin nigh,
A sense prophetic: not one fugitive
Was yet come in the evil news to give;
Yet seemed o'er Fez the air instinct with ills,
Seemed running whispers over all her hills.
To cries of fear they waxed, and crowds amain
Stood on their roofs and looked unto the plain:
There now they come, in straggling disarray,
The weary relics of some fatal day:
Far bends the rider o'er his staggering steed,
And scarcely seems the expected walls to heed,
Scarce lifts his feeble eyes: each man alone
In deep unsocial stress of mind comes on.
Forth going, thousands meet them; thousands wait
To bid them welcome at each friendly gate;
In anxious silence thousands look and long
To find their kin in that returning throng.
Absorbed in fear stood Geraldine, and viewed
With dizzy eyes the thickening multitude.

Night fell: she listened: swelling from afar
Came music on, as of triumphant war.
It ceased: how throbbed her bosom, half relieved
To think her ear had haply been deceived!
But oh yon moving lights! and oh the tread
Of marching squadrons, deep, concentrated!
And tinklings of the horse! Cries of command,
Distinctly heard, proclaim the foe at hand,
Heard round from post to post; the points of light
Glance to and fro, and widen through the night;
The solid tread is fused to swarming din
Of men who nightly bivouac begin.
“Zemberbo's camp! Ah me!” the damsel sighed,
And to her chamber through the darkness hied.

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Thomas Aird