Part 10, Chapter 10

Part X

Chapter 10

‘“TO-MORROW Israel will be avenged.” What! in Karasmian blood? I have no faith. No matter. All is now beyond my influence. A rushing destiny carries me onward. I cannot stem the course, nor guide the vessel. How now! Who is the officer on guard?’

‘Benomi, Sire, thy servant.’

‘Send to the Viceroy. Bid him meet me here. Who is this?’

‘A courier from the Lord Scherirah, Sire, but just arrived. He passed last night the Kerrund mountains, Sire, and will be with you by the break of day.’

‘Good news. Go fetch Abner. Haste! He’ll find me here anon. I’ll visit the camp awhile. Well, my brave fellows, you have hither come to conquer again with Alroy. You have fought before, I warrant, on the plain of Nehauend. ’Tis a rich soil, and shall be richer with Karasmian gore.’

‘God save your Majesty! Our lives are thine.’

‘Please you, my little ruler,’ said a single soldier, addressing Alroy; ‘pardon my bluntness, but I knew you before you were a Caliph.’

‘Stout heart, I like thy freedom. Pr’ythee say on.’

‘I was a-saying, I hope you will lead us in the charge to-morrow. Some say you will not.’

‘They say falsely.’

‘I thought so. I'll ever answer for my little ruler, but then the Queen?’

‘Is a true soldier’s wife, and lives in the camp.’

‘That’s brave! There, I told you so, comrades; you would not believe me, but I knew our little ruler before you did. I lived near the gate at Hamadan, please your Highness: old Shelomi’s son.’

‘Give me thy hand; a real friend. What is’t ye eat here, boys? Let me taste your mess. I’faith I would my cook could dress me such a pilau! ’Tis admirable!’

The soldiers gathered round their chieftain with eyes beaming with adoration. ’Twas a fine picture, the hero in the centre, the various groups around, some conversing with him, some cooking, some making coffee, all offering him by word or deed some testimonial of their devotion, and blending with that devotion the most perfect frankness.

‘We shall beat them, lads!’

‘There is no fear with you, you always beat.’

‘I do my best, and so do you. A good general without good troops is little worth.’

‘I’faith that’s true. One must have good troops. What think you of Alp Arslan?’

‘I think he may give us as much trouble as all our other enemies together, and that’s not much.’

‘Brave, brave! God save Alroy!’

Benomi approached, and announced that the Viceroy was in attendance.

‘I must quit you, my children,’ said Alroy. ‘We’ll sup once more together when we have conquered.’

‘God save you, Sire; and we will confound your enemies.’

‘Good night, my lads. Ere the dawn break we may have hot work.’

‘We are ready, we are ready. God save Alroy.’

‘They are in good cue, and yet ’twas a different spirit that inspired our early days. That I strongly feel. These are men true to a leader who has never failed them, and confident in a cause that leads to plunder. They are but splendid mercenaries. No more. Oh! where are now the fighting men of Judah! Where are the men who, when they drew their scimetars, joined in a conquering psalm of holy triumph! Last eve of battle you would have thought the field a mighty synagogue. Priests and altars, flaming sacrifices, and smoking censers, groups of fiery zealots hanging with frenzy on prophetic lips, and scaling with their blood and holiest vows a solemn covenant to conquer Canaan. All is changed, as I am. How now, Abner? You are well muffled!’

‘Is it true Scherirah is at hand?’

‘I doubt not all is right. Would that the dawn would break!’

‘The enemy is advancing. Some of their columns are in sight. My scouts have dodged them. They intend doubtless to form upon the plain.’

‘They are in sight, eh! Then we will attack them at once ere they are formed. Rare, rare! We’ll beat them yet. Courage, dear brother. Scherirah will be here at dawn in good time, very good time: very, very good time.’

‘I like the thought.’

‘The men are in good heart. At break of dawn, charge with thirty thousand cavalry upon their forming ranks. I’ll take the right, Asriel the left. It shall be a family affair, dear Abner. How is Miriam?’

‘I heard this morn, quite well. She sends you her love and prayers. The Queen is here?’

‘She came this eve. Quite well.’

‘She must excuse all courtesy.’

‘Say nothing. She is a soldier’s wife. She loves thee well, dear Abner.’

‘I know that. I hope my sword may guard her children’s throne.’

‘Well, give thy orders. Instant battle, eh?’

‘Indeed I think so.’

‘I’ll send couriers to hurry Scherirah. All looks well. Reserve the guard.’

‘Ay, ay! Farewell, dear Sire. When we meet again, I trust your enemies may be your slaves!’