Thomas Aird

First Tale: Herodion and Azala: Part Two

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Slow o'er Herodion went the night and day,
As deeply wounded on his bed he lay.
Well had he fought to stop, while yet afar,
The growing triumphs of the Roman war;
Well had he fought to stay the overthrow
Of Zion now beleaguered by the foe.

Wounded he fell; but snatched from instant fate,
His soldiers drew him from the embattled gate,
And bore him home. Azala tends him there,
And waits and watches with unwearied care.
All this might yield a heart-appeasing thought,
To bear him calmly through his present lot;
But his the fiery nature that could ill
Endure an arm less active than his will.
Electric blood, an energy of frame
Beyond the stuff of mortals, gave him fame
Even when a boy; a patriot spirit bore
The bold young warrior on from shore to shore.
But Rome came on; and Zion's now the stage
Whereon his loftier battles he must wage.
How, when her gates were widely open flung,
Forth like a panther of the wild he sprung,
Far flinging back, as on the foe he leapt,
The sable locks that o'er his shoulders swept,
Redundant from beneath a hoop of gold
Which, set with jewels, round his head was rolled!
With glory came command: though young, he led
A band of veterans, of their foes the dread,
Gray men enseamed with scars from many a brunt;
And proud were they to have him in their front,
Clashing their arms around him, shaking each
His angry beard singed in the fiery breach.
How thus, a patriot, and in honour's quest
Fierce, could this wounded hero calmly rest?
Sterner his pangs to think that feuds within
His country tore with suicidal sin.
But hark! Half-raised, he listened to the fight,
His soul commixed with the tumultuous night;
Far-plunging, grappling through the battle-tide,
He gloried bearing down the Roman side;
Till died the uproar suddenly, and shocked
His spirit to a present sense that mocked
The ideal toil, but left him, trembling yet,
From off his brow to wipe no fancied sweat.


II

Day passed: Azala came not. Night came o'er him:
An aged nurse, Josepha, stood before him.
“What shall we do?” exclaimed she, fear-subdued:
“At noon Azala went to seek us food;
For bread and water hardly now we find,
Though daily portions are to you assigned:
Herself scarce eats, or seems frail bread to need;
Her own high thoughts her own dear body feed.
A sword she took: I fear the worst: for you
What quest would she not dare, so loving true?
She's not come home: the battle raged: this hour
The Holy Hill is in the enemy's power;
I fear she's slain; I've sought her far and wide,
But found her not; yet search must still be tried.
Oh, could you rise! and quick! for still this night
The foe's grim pause but tells the ready fight.
I fear you cannot?” Up Herodion sprung,
A hasty mantle o'er his vest he flung;
By fiery fever to his limbs was lent
Unnatural strength: forth with the Nurse he went.


III

They sought Azala. All was strange repose,
Like that which waits the Earthquake's coming throes;
For now the sword had cut its myriads down,
And famine thinned the many-peopled town,
And scarce the feeble residue could meet,
Or make be heard their voices in the street.

But lo! the wall: Lay all around the gate
The slain unburied in their festering state;
In these thick times of blood all reverence fled,
All hope, the living cared not for the dead.
They sought, but found her not. Loud tumults rise,
And ruddy wavings fire the midnight skies.
Home slow they went: they climb the roof, faint, slow.
The Temple burns! O'er porch and portico
They see the sheeted conflagration go.
From sainted lattice, and from sacred door,
The crooked fires with mingled warriors pour,
Who seem the demons of the flame, as they
With waving swords burst forth their writhing way.
The red plague higher rides; with close embrace
Now twines around the Temple's central place,
Whose golden spikes clear glitter in the light;
Now driven away as by the winds of night,
Bellying it hangs in one wide-wafted blaze,
With ragged darting tongues that lick a thousand ways.
How dread below, with gleams, with darkness swept,
Now fiercely clear, the frenzied Battle leapt!
Shrill sprung the Nurse: she pointed to the street,
There came Azala with impetuous feet;
Bleeding she came, yet boldly waved her brand,
Morsels of bread were in her other hand.
She saw Herodion; with unnatural glee,
“Fear not,” she cried, “I'll bring the food for thee;
Through the strait days of siege and famine I
Will bravely feed you till this wo be by:
Come to the feast!” But fainting on her side
She sunk, and feebly on Herodion cried.
Down rushed he, falling on her neck he lay:
United thus in death they breathed their souls away.

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Thomas Aird