Thomas Aird

The Captive of Fez: Canto III: Mother And Son

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The Captive's eyes are freed. A corridor
Has brought the party to a guarded door,
Guarded by eunuch slaves. But hark! within
A lady singing to her mandolin:
Swell the soul's bursts, the sweet relapses die.
Moved was the swarthy Chieftain to a sigh.
His nod won prompt admittance: by the hand
He took the Captive from his pausing band,
And led him in. Alone a lady sate,
Of faded beauty, darkly delicate;
Downcast her eyes; upon her hand she leant
Her cheek of sorrow: for the song was spent.
“Zara!” the Chieftain said, “dear sister-twin!
Heed'st thou not me? Must I no welcome win?”
How started she! how to her brother sprung she,
Naming his name! how to his bosom clung she!
Soft to her couch he led her by the hand,
There made her sit, and there her face he fondly scanned.
“Ay, look at me,” she said; “long years have done thenpart,
And the deep shares of grief have ploughed this brow and heart.
But grief nor years have hurt my love for thee,
Nor thou severe—oh, how severe to me!
No, no, indeed! I'll call thee not severe!
Come to this heart, my brother ever dear!
O thou twin-being of my life! can I
Forget thy love for me so pure and high,
In our young days? Our kindred early lost,
Mine all thou wert, and in thyself a host!
All later sorrows, lo! they're past away,
For thou art come to live with me for aye.”

“No,” said Zemberbo: “Not for Fez alone
Have been my battles, to maintain the throne:
I've fought for thee, for thee I still must fight,
To win a dawn o'er thy dishonoured night.”

“'Twere kinder far,” the lady sighed, “if thou
One little message from me wouldst allow:
Tell but my son his mother pines in thrall,
And win his visit to this lonely hall.
Yes, yes, my brother, you will bring my son,
Never to leave me till my days be done;
And not by me, but Allah's power, made wise,
He'll join us in the Prophet's Paradise.

“But let me not be selfish: stands not there
A wounded captive, by thy special care
Brought me to heal? Come near,” she softly said,
Turning to Julian; “can I give thee aid?
Thou weep'st: Ah yes! thy mother dwells afar,
And little sisters ask thee back from war;
Gay vests they sew for thee, much-loved; and still
To look for thee they climb the green cleft hill,
From morn to noon they look, they watch for thee
Till gleams the sweet moon through the chestnut-tree.
But weep not: Allah bless my balms for pain,
And thou shalt see thy mother's home again!”

Why wept young Julian? He could only tell
Not for himself his tears, but for that Lady, fell;
Since first her look, her voice, had made him start,
And waked a thousand memories in his heart.

“His mother's home is here; lo! he's the same,
And none but he, that from thy body came:
Look to him, Zara; know'st thou not thy son?
But to our Prophet's faith he must be won.”

Zemberbo thus. Forth springing, she made bare
The Captive's neck; she found, she kissed it there,
The mark, remembered long. Her hand she laid
Soft on his shoulder, and his face surveyed.
Faint in her joy she murmured:—“O my son!
My long-lost child, but now my dear found one!
Thou'rt come at last to bid my griefs be o'er,
And live with me, and never leave me more?
But oh, these rags, what mean they? must I, too,
Of sorrows ask, and sufferings borne by you?
But they are past. Sit here, my boy, and see
The better fortune I had shaped for thee!”

She said, and, having led him to a seat,
Unrolled a silken web before his feet,
Wrought of fine needlework, and showed thereon
—Her smile the while appealing to her son—
A gallant warrior in a princely garb,
Before ten thousand bounding on his barb.
High looked his eye and far, as doth a king's,
Who proudly home his conquering army brings.
He in the van: behind, his thousands came;
Instinct each soldier with his leader's fame,
Beyond his own, with double ardour trode;
Wide flung the uplifted spears their sheen abroad;
Shone banners terrible; and trumpets high
The whole attempered with dread harmony.
One spirit ruled the whole: So prompt to dare,
The wingèd triumph seemed to rise in air.
But blind to all beside, to him alone
That mother pointed in the van who shone.
And lo! the wonders of a mother's heart,
Which to her hand could thus her love impart—
So hoarded well—so lost not through the tide
Of long, long years—so to her work supplied:
True to the dear and unforgotten face,
Her long-lost boy's, her soul had known to trace
The beauteous copy from his childhood fair;
And Julian smiled to see his features there.
Nor less she smiled through tears of conscious joy,
And scanned his face:—“'Twere true, my princely boy,
But for vile cares which mar thee, and which we
Ne'er thought entitled in our work to be;
From which alone we failed thy face to know,
And, if not told, unclaimed had let thee go.
Well hast thou done, my heart, well hast thou done!
Say this for me, my unforgotten son!
Declare for me! and in this thing behold
A mother's love to work a dream of old!”

Why bursts not forth the Captive's heart to bless
Such love entire? New fears his heart repress.
There on the precious web he saw inwrought
With love's device for him a perilous thought;
His imaged form in Moslem robes was drest,
A caftan blue flowed o'er his linen vest,
And round his brow the turban's deep green fold
The princely lineage of the Prophet told:
So by this sign he feared his mother now
Earnest would have him to the Prophet bow.
Nor from that mother could his gloom be hid,
And thus his fears unguessed she fondly chid:—
“No more of this! Are not those dark days gone?
And all thy sorrows vanished with my own?
And now this hand, which wrought that cloth, must take
Its pattern thence, and garments for thee make,—
The turban first; oh, let me wreathe it now
Divinely green, my son, around thy brow!
To thee, to me, one faith, one hope be given;
And I'll not miss thee in the Prophet's Heaven!”

Dark waxed the Captive's face, as fixedly there
He stood, nor answered to his mother's prayer;
Far turned his eye, as if he could not brook
The silent pleading of a mother's look.
Her, sudden trembling seized: Around she glanced,
As if to see some danger new advanced;
Zemberbo's frowning brows her bosom fill
With dread, and thus she wails the anticipated ill:—
“So then, my son must go, and I be left
A desolate thing, how utterly bereft!”

“I will not go! My mother! look to me!”
That son exclaimed. “Might I but live with thee!
What shall I say? what do? For thy dear sake,
All bonds, save of dishonour, would I take!
For in my heart and soul I hold thee one
To claim the noblest service of a son!”

“Go on, Sir Youth! Swear,” said Zemberbo, “Swear
By Allah she is worthy of all care.
Were she the pure as once I knew her pure,
High should she sit, nor darksome days endure;
Above ten crowns, a boast, a joy to me,
Above all price my bosom's twin should be!
But for that she was pure, and is not now,
The Prophet holds my high recorded vow,
To do my vengeance on thy father-king
Who dared to shame my Lilla Zara bring.
Captived and wounded when a Prince he lay
In Zemra's Palace: there his life away
Was ebbing fast; but there my sister dwelt
The while, and pity for his youth she felt.
Each precious bleeding rind, she knew its power,
And every virtual plant, and every sovereign flower
Beneath the moon; and how to win them knew,
On Atlas gathered in their nightly dew.

And to their powers she joined a spell of might
(The moon consenting, and the stars of night);
And Allah blessed her work of sweet young ruth,
And up from death she raised thy father's youth.
Now what for Lilla Zara shall be done?
How shall he grateful be to his redeeming one?
He tempted her; she fled with him by night,
And in his kingdom showed her tarnished light.
Well, style it love (omnipotent, they say):
What then? You deem not his could pass away?
His father dead, 'twas his to mount the throne;
Now then we'll see him glad his faithful one to own!
Dog in his heart, he sate thereon; but she,
How worthless now, no mate for him must be!
Forsooth! no doubt! her glory he desired,
But other queen his kingdom's wants required;
And thus, although my sister was his spouse,
His priests of Rome dissolved his marriage vows,
Divorcing them; and thus it was decreed
By policy that she must be a weed,
Cast out and trampled down! From Portugal
I swept her hither to this sunless thrall,
But missed her only boy: From blushing day
Here have I kept her hid, here shall she stay
Till with thy father's blood I wash her shame away.
For Fez I fought, but for my sister more,
To slay thy sire, or take him: for I swore,
Could I so take him living, to complete
My vengeance, with his blood I'd wash her feet.
Even should she die, embalmed unburied, she
Shall wait the chance, washed with his blood to be.
But now, for thee, Sir Captive:—Hither sent,
I meant to follow thee, my spirit bent
To change thy faith, to keep thee dwelling here,
Thy mother Zara in her bonds to cheer,
Till I should do my vengeance; in my mind
Respect for thee and power were then designed,
Thy mother lifted with thee. But the King
Thus far has turned my purpose on the wing,
That I will smite him too who spurned my will,
In thee thus fettered, and insults me still,
And hunts my life: For this, from off his throne
Down will I hurl him, and I'll sit thereon.
Then, when my vengeance is fulfilled, with me
High shall thy mother sit, and happy shall she be;
Thou, for her sake, the man of my right hand,
Honour shalt have, and place, and wide command.
But mark, Sir Captive, this:—The Prophet's faith
Here must thou take, or thou must die the death.
Thy father's blood that's in thee must be spilt,
Unless our Islam change its native guilt.
Thy mother's blood that's in thee must not live,
The lie degenerate to its font to give:
What! shall the blood that's of the Prophet's seed,
Maintain a traitor to the Prophet's creed?
So for your father's, for your mother's sake,
Perish you must, unless our faith you take.
Brief now: behold your mother: live or die:
You know the terms: we wait for your reply.”

“Now, now, dear mother, deem me not unkind,”
The Captive said; “but bear it in thy mind,
That I have loved thee with a soul which scorned
The fears of death, not yielding to be turned
To bribed apostasy—oh, tempting sin,
The bribe thy presence, and my joy therein!
Nor wilt thou change thy faith. But yet one Lord,
Though differently by us on earth adored,
May mildly judge us, to one Heaven may save
Our souls, when we shall rise from out the grave.
So hope, so bear thou up. Give her relief,
Sweet Christ; I cannot live and look upon her grief!”

“Ho, guards!” Zemberbo cried. They came and bound
The Captive's eyes anew, and bore him from the ground.
Then, oh he felt, as he was borne away,
His mother's clinging kiss, which drew his heart to stay.
Torn from her grasp, he heard her struggling plaint,
As sore bereaved she fought against restraint;
How wished by him unheard! “Off! let me free!
Save me, my boy! Come back! Oh, come and be
A young believer for thy mother's sake!
Stay, stay, and teach me then thy faith to take,
That I may come unto thy Paradise;
My heart so longs to have thee in the skies!”


II

Forth borne, and onward through the breathing night,
Freedom was given to Julian's limbs and sight.
Within the city wall the party stood,
A stream in front, behind a scattered wood.
The skirring moon flew on her shining track,
And from her horn-tips tossed the wispy rack,
Boring the West; o'er snowy Atlas high,
Ranged through the clearness of the southern sky,
With lengthened beams the stars told morn was nigh.
“Disperse, disguise ye, shun that vengeful King,”
Bespoke the Chief his guards; “you know the spring
Beyond the northern wall? I'll wait you there:
Steal through the various gates: once more, Beware!
Away! away! this youth shall be my care.”

They went. To Julian said the Chief: “We spare thee
For one test more; let time and thought prepare thee:
O'er Fez we'll ride; we hold thee in our power,
To deal with thee in that decisive hour.
Come on with me; beyond the tyrant's thrall
This stream shall sweep us, issuing 'neath yon wall.
But ha! what's this?” For glimpsing points of mail,
Seen through the trees, his startled eyes assail.
Armed guards came on:—“Yield to thy King; prepare,
Sir Chief, thy bloody outrage to declare!”
They cried. Forth flashed Zemberbo's scimitar,
And on the foremost fell its edge of war
With sharing gash; and through a second fast,
And through a third, the shearing vengeance passed;
Still met the hemming foe with savage haste,
And shed defiance far and killing waste.
Like fire-scrolled parchments, shrunk his shag lips round,
Baring his ivory teeth that fiercely ground;
Heaved his wide nostril with disdainful ire;
Shook his black locks; gleamed his great eye of fire;
Swept his unbaffled arm: with many a stride
Far-shifting, sped his work from side to side,
Till, pressed by numbers, in the stream he dashed,
A moment sank, then rose, and fiercely flashed
Above the breasted billows, highly waved
His dripping sword, and thus the danger braved:—
“Caitiffs, we yet shall meet! yea, tell your King,
Of bloody sabres shall we presents bring.
High on his turrets watching, let him see
Our coming-on, which gloriously shall be
By lights of burning towns—wild measuring line,
O'er hill and valley shall it stretch and shine!
Now for the lantern of yon imaged moon,
To guide us forth: vengeance—we'll have it soon!”
He said, and down into the waters went;
They gurgled round him, nor his reascent
His watchful foes could see. But hark! that shout
Beyond the wall: the stream has borne him out.


III

And to his shout, thrice with his scimitar
Zemberbo smote the wall, the earnest of his war.
Yet not his soul indignant was content
Till, fear-defying, to the gates he went,
And smote them too. Then northward, swift of foot,
He ran, lest mounted foes were in pursuit;
Rough hills in view, there he can hide a space
From foes pursuing, and defy their chase.
But lo! comes on a stranger on his barb,
Through the dim dawn, of Moorish front and garb.
Stood in his path Zemberbo, questioned high
Of name and place, and claimed a prompt reply.
“A friend to Fez; and tidings for the King,”
The horseman said, “but death for thee we bring,
If thus you dare our onward way to bar:
Give place, and shun our weightier scimitar.”
“Friend to the tyrant? perish for that word!”
Zemberbo cried, struck down the stranger's sword,
Disarmed him, smote again, and hewed away
His turbaned head, far rolling in the clay.
Plunged the chafed charger; from the quivering trunk
Forth spun the purple life-strings, ere it sunk;
Nor sunk it yet, but sate a hideous sight,
And still it held the reins with hands convulsed and white,
Till, tumbled by the victor from its place,
He sate instead, and urged his vehement pace.

And on, fast, far he flew; nor scorned to bless
The gallant steed, whose speed was only less
Than his winged heart indignant: He caressed
The tossing mane that swept his urging breast,
And toyed with it in the fierce dallying play
Of spirit burning for a boundless sway.
But turning oft, the Fezzan towers he cursed.
Up the steep ways he strained, down on the vales he burst,
Devoured the plain, and swam the rapid stream,
And shook its coldness from him like a dream.
Uprose the sun; straight through a dowar's ground
The Chieftain rode, disdaining to go round;
Brushed down the crashing tents, nor stayed to hear
The awakened sleepers with their cries of fear.
Noon passed: eve came: he saw the rushing sea,
In great accordance with his energy.
Then by the tawny sands Zemberbo went,
And reached his camp, and rested in his tent.

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Thomas Aird