Part 10, Chapter 11

Part X

Chapter 11

AT the first streak of dawn the Hebrew cavalry, with the exception of the guard, charged the advancing columns of the Karasmians with irresistible force, and cut them in pieces. Alp Arslan rallied his troops, and at length succeeded in forming his main body in good order. Alroy and Asriel led on their divisions, and the battle now became general. It raged for several hours, and was on both sides well maintained. The slaughter of the Karasmians was great, but their stern character and superior numbers counterbalanced for a time all the impetuosity of the Hebrews and all the energy of their leaders. This day Alroy threw into the shade all his former exploits. Twelve times he charged at the head of the Sacred Guard, and more than once penetrated to the very pavilion of Alp Arslan.

In vain he endeavoured singly, and hand to hand, to meet that famous chieftain. Both monarchs fought in the ranks, and yet Fate decided that their scimetars should never cross. Four hours before noon, it was evident to Alroy, that, unless Scherirah arrived, he could not prevail against the vast superiority of numbers. He was obliged early to call his reserve into the field, and although the number of the slain on the side of Arslan exceeded any in the former victories of the Hebrews, still the Karasmians maintained an immense front, which was constantly supplied by fresh troops. Confident in his numbers, and aware of the weakness of his antagonists, Arslan contented himself with acting on the defensive, and wearying his assailants by resisting their terrible and repeated charge.

For a moment, Alroy at the head of the Sacred Guard had withdrawn from the combat. Abner and Asriel still maintained the fight, and the Caliph was at the same time preparing for new efforts, and watching with anxiety for the arrival of Scherirah. In the fifth hour, from an eminence he marked with exultation the advancing banners of his expected succours. Confident now that the day was won, he announced the exhilarating intelligence to his soldiers; and, while they were excited by the animating tidings, led them once more to the charge. It was irresistible; Scherirah seemed to have arrived only for the pursuit, only in time to complete the victory. What then was the horror, the consternation of Alroy, when Benaiah, dashing up to him, informed him that the long-expected succours consisted of the united forces of Scherirah and Abidan, and had attacked him in the rear. Human genius could afford no resource. The exhausted Hebrews, whose energies had been tasked to the utmost, were surrounded. The Karasmians made a general and simultaneous advance. In a few minutes the Hebrew army was thrown into confusion. The stoutest warriors threw away their swords in despair. Every one thought only of self-preservation. Even Abner fled towards Hamadan. Asriel was slain. Alroy, finding it was all over, rushed to his pavilion at the head of about three hundred of the guards, seized the fainting Schirene, threw her before him on his saddle, and cutting his way through all obstacles, dashed into the desert.

For eight-and-forty hours they never stopped. Their band was soon reduced one-third. On the morning of the third day they dismounted and refreshed themselves at a well. Half only regained their saddles. Schirene never spoke. On they rushed again, each hour losing some exhausted co-mate. At length, on the fifth day, about eighty strong, they arrived at a grove of palm-trees. Here they dismounted. And Alroy took Schirene in his arms, and the shade seemed to revive her. She opened her eyes, and pressed his hand and smiled. He gathered her some dates, and she drank some water.

‘Our toils will soon be over, sweetest,’ he whispered to her; ‘I have lost everything but thee.’

Again they mounted, and, proceeding at a less rapid pace, they arrived towards evening at the ruined city, whither Alroy all this time had been directing his course. Dashing down the great street, they at length entered the old amphitheatre. They dismounted. Alroy made a couch with their united cloaks for Schirene. Some collected fuel, great store of which was found, and kindled large fires. Others, while it was yet light, chased the gazelles, and were sufficiently fortunate to provide their banquet, or fetched water from the well known to their leader. In an hour’s time, clustering round their fires in groups, and sharing their rude fare, you might have deemed them, instead of the discomfited and luxurious guards of a mighty monarch, the accustomed tenants of this wild abode.

‘Come, my lads,’ said Alroy, as he rubbed his hands over the ascending flame, ‘at any rate this is better than the desert!’