Thomas Aird

The Christian Bride: Part Third

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Forth Cathla went, Roscrana by her side.
But now they heard—the air was all so still—
Trumpet and horn beyond the mountains wide.
The shouts of battle, as they climb the hill,
With hope and fear their panting bosoms fill.
Yon valley now! Their eyes how eager bent!
O day of safety, or of endless ill!
There toils the war of peoples fiercely pent,
O'erstifled, staggering, swayed, with rifts of havoc rent.
The numerous weight of her Imperial foes
O'erbears at length and crushes Morven back,
Eastward away her fainting battle goes;
Their closer forms the o'ermastered horse unslack,
They flee, the skirting mountains wide they track;
The abandoned chariots with unmanaged steeds
Roll mad about, and tear the harrowed rack
Of infantry that to the sheer scythe bleeds,
Wrapping the cloyed wheels round with torn limbs as with weeds.
But lo yon Champion! on he brings anew
The mountain men. The Romans unsustained
Are whelmed in turn. How terrible and true,
The bloody push of Morven is maintained!
Back-rattling chariots have the flight disdained;
They roll around the outskirts of the fight,
Which onward struggles through the field regained.

But o'er them falls the thunder-cloud, like night,
Down on the battle falls, and hides it from the sight.
“Lean on me, mother, to the Culdee's rock,”
Roscrana said, “not distant by the wave,
For friendly shelter from the stormy shock.
By moon, or dawn-light, issuing from his cave,
Our noble wounded let us help to save.
Would Erc were here thee in his arms to bear!
Why has he left us thus? Not he, though brave,
Rolled back the battle: No: that Champion's air
None but a Prince could show: be sure a Prince was there.”
They reached the cell. O'erwearied with the day,
Within an inner cavern Cathla slept.
Before the embers as reclined he lay,
The bliss of slumber o'er the Culdee crept.
Alone her vigil young Roscrana kept;
That Champion still in her recurring thought,
She generous tears of admiration wept.
But now the storm was lulled or heard remote;
Forth by the crescent moon the freshening air she sought.
Rough men have seized her: through the forest's skirt
They bear her off. Casting red light before,
What tumult comes? Forth bursts, with shapes begirt,
A stately savage on the woody floor:
'Tis Erc! aloft his pinioned arms he bore,
Unheld to keep them from that galling throng;
Blazed his wild hair; his bleeding loins were sore
With hanging dogs, deep dragged by him along;
Torch-bearing serfs behind strike at the giant strong.

Still on the encumbered warrior draws his trail
Of death and danger to the Princess near;
Her arms to him, to him her face so pale
Imploring stretched, mighty for one so dear
He turns, he sweeps obstruction from his rear;
Bounding he comes; and round Gurthullin's throat,
Who chiefly holds her, wraps his chains severe;
Then wide apart and high his wrists he shot,
And hanged the uplifted wretch, who now his prey forgot.
With starting eyeballs, and self-bitten tongue,
Erc to the ground has dashed the caitiff base.
He snatched the maid; as to his neck she clung,
A smile of daring lit his fire-scarred face.
With her he waded through the thickening chase,
Still dashing off the war that on him hung;
Then down he set her; in the embattled place
There as she stood, away from her he flung
Her circling foes, around so lion-like he sprung.
Before her now o'erwhelmed he's on his knee,
Yet fighting still; a near horn blew a blast;
Forth leapt a haughty figure, followed he
By swift retainers, round his glance he cast,
He saw Roscrana and he seized her fast.
Upsprung, with power indignantly renewed,
Old Erc, a groan from out his large heart passed
To see the maid by Swarno's grasp subdued;
Staggering he clutched the chief who bore her through the wood.
A trumpet blows behind. They turn to see
That coming party whether friends or foes.

Them has Roscrana seen—'tis he! 'tis he!
The chosen hero of that day she knows:
A valiant band around their leader close:
Salvation's near:—“Save! save me, helper true!
Prince Torthil's wife am I; this Swarno knows,
Yet here he”—“But will I not rescue you,
My own good Syrian wife?” And forth her Torthil flew.
Quick with his blade away has Swarno shorn
His black curls gripped by Erc; down on the ground
He set the maid behind him; bold of scorn
And hate he met his foeman with a bound.
Steel they to steel now face each other round,
Lit by the torches; Swarno quits him well,
But Torthil's thrusts his strength and skill confound:
That stroke shall hew him down—ha! stumbling fell
The youth, and o'er him rose fierce Swarno's sword and yell.
Down—ne'er he smote: Erc, sunk with wounds, has crept,
And pulled him backward from his lifted blow,
Struggling to earth; then on his breast he leapt,
And choked with grappling hands the throttled foe;
Recovered Torthil guards old Erc below;
Dread dins the mingled conflict of the rest;
But Swarno slain, his men soon vanquished go.
With danger past and present joy oppressed,
Roscrana, left unhurt, faints on her husband's breast.

With oaken leaves fresh dripping from the rain
Her brow he sprinkles, and she soon revives.
“Joy! joy!” she said, “my hero is not slain!
But where is Erc, the saviour of our lives?”
Near borne he comes; if dying, he derives
Solace from friends so many and so dear:
Each gallant youth to share the burden strives
Of him who trained them to the bow and spear,
They carry him like sons, the brave old man they cheer.
“Heroic creature! To the cave away,”
Roscrana murmured, “of the Culdee John;
There rests my Torthil's mother, since to-day
She saw the great deed of her son unknown:
Sweetly she sleeps upon the rushes strewn;
But sweeter far shall her awaking be.
My Torthil, come! Soft bear the old man on,
The hermit's rocky fastness soon we'll see;
There, ever-faithful Erc, shalt thou be healed by me.”
Nor in her thankful joy did she refrain,
But stooping down the old Barbarian kissed;
His heart's best fire, unquenched by fear or pain,
Sprung to his eye, dimmed now with grateful mist;
With clapping hands her love he mutely blessed.
“Now swiftly, gently on with him,” she said;
“Deeply though hurt, greatly though needing rest,
His frame's yet full of life; and watchful aid
Shall heal him soon in John's mild sanctuary laid.”
“Come then, my Syrian, to our mother fast,”
Her Torthil said, “and fear for me no more:
Here am I with you all your own at last,
My limbs unfettered, and my exile o'er.
Nor I dishonoured left the Italian shore:
Aurelian slain, my friend just Tacitus
Imperial sate, and loosed my bondage sore;
Ennobling freedom has he given to us.
I came; our battle fled, and back I won it thus.

“A grateful vassal of that Swarno slain,
Whose only daughter was to health restored,
And taught God's Word by thee, and who again
Was taught by her the heart-renewing Word,
Heard of this plot against thee by his lord,
And helped from Swarno's dungeon Erc the brave,
Then left for aye the master he abhorred,
And sought me when the fight was o'er, and gave
Hints how to mar the plot—my own dear wife to save.
“Oh how I hasted, hasting still the more,
When I was told that serfs and dogs of blood
Were after Erc, whose flight was known before
He gained the safe recesses of the wood.
Directed well, and glorying in thy good,
Nor dogs nor serfs could stay his strong career;
Though manacled, though felly thus pursued,
He sped to trace, to reach, to save thee here.
And I have found thee too: So be thou of good cheer!
“Nor fear thy holy lessons have been vain:
Blest be my dungeon's leisure to retrace
Thy words of life again and yet again,
Blent in my heart with the remembered grace
Which more than beautified thy saintly face.
Thy faith exalted thus I've won and tried.”
But now they reached the Culdee's dwelling-place.
A mother's heart, a son's was satisfied.
Then turned their mingled love to Torthil's Christian Bride.

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Thomas Aird