Thomas Aird

The Captive of Fez: Canto II: The Provoked Rebel

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What though the failing arm of Abusade
No longer wields his battle-leading blade;
Yet still he glories in his wars, that still
To flashing victory turn his kingly will.
On Afric's north sea-border, and the coast
Of fronting Europe, gleams his dusky host,
Led by Zemberbo who still quells the bands
Of Portugal, and menaces her lands.
Thus in his palace of illumined halls
The Monarch sits, and for Zenone calls,
To see her flush beside her harp, and hear
Her intermingled song, so soft and clear,
To win his soul throughout the pleasing coil
Of varied thought without the mental toil;
For this the double joy that music gives,
To soothe the soul whilst it intensely lives.
She comes, but sits remote: See the young witch
Lean to her harp! O creature rare and rich!
Dark as the Night, but beautiful as Day,
Beautiful, lustrous dark! Wrath and Dismay
Stormed in the chords, and wailed: to fury rose
The tragic vengeance, thick with stabbing blows.
The King looked up; severe, concentrated,
Seemed coming near the creature's angry head.
Surprised he rose. But from Zemberbo came
A slave, prompt audience for that Chief to claim.

Zenone heard, and from the chamber went;
For well she guessed Zemberbo's discontent,
And would not bar it in its wrathful vent.

'Twas she who brought him thus. For when she knew
That Geraldine was striving to undo
Her Captive's fetters, and to this had pressed
The Monarch, not unmoved by the request,
Alarmed she started: what must she do now?
The King may Julian's freedom thus allow;
May still within his Palace let him live;
Nay, Geraldine to be his wife may give,
From Portugal by friendship to regain
What arms and threats of death have sought in vain:
For still the King, so well Zenone still
The matter managed with deceptive skill,
Thought Julian's sire was tried, but would not yield
Shore-ruling Ceuta up, his son from death to shield:
And thus Zenone by her arts had gained,
That still the Captive in her power remained.
But what must she do now? In secret sent,
Her hasty message to Zemberbo went
Of Julian's thrall: and much the King it blamed,
That doubly daring he Zemberbo shamed;
First, that from dungeon chains he did not spare
That Captive, heedless of Zemberbo's prayer
To treat him kindly; next that private terms
He tried for Ceuta, and Zemberbo's arms
Doubting insulted thus. Zenone well
Knew the fierce heart on which her message fell:
He'll come, he'll brave his King, away he'll go
At once a rebel, and at once a foe;
The Captive with him. Geraldine shall ne'er
Where she has failed, the wedding garment wear;
No more shall see her Knight. Zenone's hour
Of vengeance comes, as comes Zemberbo's power,
Rebellious, stern, triumphant. Well shall she
Second his arms: Eased shall her bosom be,

Eased of that King; and all his house she'll whelm,
And all his black and unbaptisèd realm.


Entered Zemberbo, as the Monarch lent,
From hid reluctance, or from free consent,
Permission; wrath was on his forehead high,
Glancing like copper; from his kindled eye
Came out fierce question like a bickering sword;
And thus he stayed not for his Sovereign's word:—
“Prince Julian lies immured?—they tell me so!
I did not send him to endure this wo;
Sire, I did send him, in my battles ta'en,
In Fez an honoured Captive to remain,
Declared my kinsman, bone and blood of mine,
And far-descended of the Prophet's line.
Yet, kin forgot, be chains, be pains for him,
Let dropping dungeons rot him, limb by limb;
So thou, high King of Fez, wilt deign to show
My wish not scorned, but him a traitor foe.”

“Sir Chieftain,” said the Monarch, “deign to bow
The dark defiance of that servant brow!
Then haply we'll remind thee of thy boast
To win that town which rules our northern coast,
Held by the foe. Beyond thy promised date,
That Captive Prince was kept in princely state.
Thy boast was vain; it pleased us then to try
If Ceuta him from chains and death might buy.
Not bought, he dies: 'twere well he died this hour,
Just to remind thee of our sovereign power.”

He said, and clapped his hands; a giant band
Of negroes come, and round Zemberbo stand.

Yet dauntless stood the Chief, and eyed his King,
Then proudly turned and scanned the sable ring:
Towering he rose as o'er the warlike brunt;
And darker grew his high embattled front;
And flashed his eye, as brings the steely dint
Red seeds of fire from the deforcèd flint.
“Me menace not,” hoarse whispered he, “proud King;
A thousand hearts are ready forth to spring,
To turn my death to vengeance: ere I came
From out my camp that Captive boy to claim
(For in the distant battle I had heard
Myself despised in him thus doomed to ward),
In my great Captains' hearts I breathed my fear,
And won their oath to avenge me injured here,
To avenge that Captive too. But, Sire, no more
Of this; still let me battle on the shore;
With loyal war I've warred to take that town,
And, trust me, I shall yet restore it to thy Crown.
Around it, flashing down the coast, of all
Bravest, careers the King of Portugal,
With vigour like the eagle's youth renewed,
Has baffled me awhile, yet shall he be subdued.
Deign, Sire, still send me to the embattled line;
Thine be the conquests, but that Captive mine.”
Zemberbo thus. Pausing the Monarch sate:
He longed to close with scorn the bold debate,
But feared a foe in one so stern and great;
So, feigning frankness in his voice and eye,
Thus to his rankling heart he gave the lie:—
“Why, what a jest is here! our Man of might
Deigning to pray us for one Captive Knight,—
The Man of our right hand, the Man whose name
To Fez is safety, and to Fez is fame!

Go to thy palace, Chief; the Captive there
Shall come to thee, released: those chains had ne'er
Been put upon him, had we deemed that he
Was honoured farther in thy thoughts to be.
Rest thee the night, come back to us at morn,
One day thy presence must our Court adorn;
Then haste to war, and take the wished-for town;
And be thou still the glory of our Crown.”


How sweetly sleeps, delivered from his thrall,
The Captive Julian in Zemberbo's hall!
For, in his dream, he hears the boys at play
On Lisbon's streets, and evening roundelay,
To whose blithe spiriting the olive maids
Of Tagus dance beneath the chestnut shades.
Slowly Zemberbo entered; drawing near
The youth, he touched and roused him with his spear.
Then called his guards: “Guards, do our wish!—But hold!
What mean these cries without? By Allah! they are bold!
Again? What ho! my arms! Each man his blade!
Bela, look forth and say what means the mad parade.”


Thus they within. Meanwhile a mob without
Around Zemberbo's palace fiercely shout,
Roused by Zenone's arts: she caused the thing
Be done, as if commissioned by the King,
Who feared the Chief, a traitor: and she made
The rabble roar, as if they lent their aid
Unto their King. All this was done that so
Zemberbo's heart might to rebellion grow.
Thus rage the populace: o'er the swarthy host,
Swayed to and fro, the fiery brands are tossed.
“Allah be praised! the traitor-den's aloof
From other homes; up with them to the roof,
Up with your torches! So! The King has doomed
The rebel thus to be with fire consumed.”
Such was the cry: And many a brand was flung,
And seized the palace with its flaming tongue.
“Down with the traitor!” yell they, as they spy
Zemberbo glaring from his lattice high:
Terrible glaring out, from side to side
Far stretching he looked out. “Down with him!” cried
A thousand voices. Back the Chieftain sprung.
Below, his doors were widely open flung.
Borne through the entrance crowding numbers press;
But turned the foremost from a stern redress,
Back screaming turned, rolled back the fickle wave,
And to the light their hideous quittance gave:
Eyes gashed across, bones of the brow laid bare,
Noseless and earless heads the work declare
Of swords within: Fast fled the suffering brood
Howling, and as they howled their mouths were filled with blood.
Scarce conscious, sympathetic, back dismayed
That sea of umbered visages was swayed.
Save! save! for lo! forth flashing, coming on,
Like Eblis darkly from his blazing throne,
Strides stern Zemberbo, drives the human rack,
His sable globe of warriors at his back
Round Julian, onward to the central square
Of Fez: their haughty station shall be there.
And round the Captive firmly, mutely stood
The warrior troop, and faced the multitude:
For rallying, circling, wavering, serrated
With hollowed far-retiring flaws of dread
And bold abutments of vindictive rage,
Anew the mob their warfare 'gan to wage.
In dark concentric orbit round his band
Slow stalked Zemberbo, scimitar in hand;
Slow, sternly silent: with his front of war
He faced his foes, and kept them faint and far.

Thus passed the hours till, bravely kept at bay,
The angry rout began to melt away.
Raising his sword, the Chieftain waved it round,
Then stooped, and with it wrote upon the ground
(His aspect lightening with a savage glee,
Like stormy sunburst on the darkened sea)
Short notes of desolation—war, blood, fire,
Captivity to child, to wife, to sire.
“So be ye read at morn, and on to noon,”
He said, “my lessons, to be bettered soon!
We thank thee, Abusade, for hearts resolved,
And work, half dreamt of, on our swords devolved!
Guards, do our wish: be prompt: the dawning hour
Must see us far beyond the tyrant's power.”

Ere ceased the Chief, his sable men had bound
The Captive's eyes, and borne him from the ground.

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Thomas Aird