Part 7, Chapter 11

Part VII

Chapter 11

LEAVING the army within a day’s march of the capital, Alroy, accompanied only by his staff, entered Hamadan in the evening, and, immediately repairing to the citadel, summoned Jabaster to council. The night was passed by the king and the high priest in deep consultation. The next morning, a decree apprised the inhabitants of the return of their monarch, of the creation of the new ‘Kingdom of the Medes and Persians,’ of which Hamadan was declared the capital, and Abner the viceroy, and of the intended and immediate invasion of Syria, and re-conquest of the Land of Promise.

The plan of this expedition had been long matured, and the preparations to effect it were considerably advanced. Jabaster had not been idle during the absence of his pupil. One hundred thousand warriors were now assembled59 at the capital of the kingdom of the Medes and Persians; of these the greater part were Hebrews, but many Arabs, wearied of the Turkish yoke, and many gallant adventurers from the Caspian, easily converted from a vague idolatry to a religion of conquest, swelled the ranks of the army of the Lord of Hosts.

The plain of Hamadan was covered with tents, the streets were filled with passing troops, the bazaars loaded with military stores; long caravans of camels laden with supplies every day arrived from the neighbouring towns; each instant some high-capped Tartar with despatches60 rushed into the city and galloped his steed up the steep of the citadel. The clang of arms, the prance of horses, the flourish of warlike music, resounded from all quarters. The business and the treasure of the world seemed, as it were in an instant, to have become concentrated in Hamadan. Every man had some great object; gold glittered in every hand. All great impulses were stirring; all the causes of human energy were in lively action. Every eye sparkled, every foot trod firm and fast. Each man acted as if the universal fate depended upon his exertions; as if the universal will sympathised with his particular desire. A vast population influenced by a high degree of excitement is the most sublime of spectacles.

The commander of the Faithful raised the standard of the Prophet on the banks of the Tigris. It was the secret intelligence of this intended event that had recalled Alroy so suddenly from Persia. The latent enthusiasm of the Moslemin was excited by the rare and mystic ceremony, and its effects were anticipated by previous and judicious preparations. The Seljuks of Bagdad alone amounted to fifty thousand men; the Sultan of Syria contributed the warriors who had conquered the Arabian princes of Damascus and Aleppo; while the ancient provinces of Asia Minor, which formed the rich and powerful kingdom of Seljukian Roum, poured forth a myriad of that matchless cavalry, which had so often baffled the armies of the Cæsars. Never had so imposing a force been collected on the banks of the Tigris since the reign of Haroun Alraschid.* Each day some warlike Atabek, at the head of his armed train, poured into the capital of the caliphs,61 or pitched his pavilion on the banks of the river; each day the proud emir of some remote principality astonished or affrighted the luxurious Babylonians by the strange or uncouth warriors that had gathered round his standard in the deserts of Arabia, or on the shores of the Euxine.* For the space of twenty miles, the banks of the river were, on either side, far as the eye could reach, covered with the variegated pavilions, the glittering standards, the flowing streamers and twinkling pennons of the mighty host, of which Malek, the Grand Sultan of the Seljuks,* and Governor of the Caliph's palace, was chief commander.

Such was the power assembled on the plains of Asia to arrest the progress of the Hebrew Prince, and to prevent the conquest of the memorable land promised to the faith of his fathers, and forfeited by their infidelity. Before the walls of Hamadan, Alroy reviewed the army of Israel, sixty thousand heavy-armed footmen, thirty thousand archers and light troops, and twenty thousand cavalry. Besides these, there had been formed a body of ten thousand picked horsemen, styled the ‘Sacred Guard,’ all of whom had served in the Persian campaign. In their centre, shrouded in a case of wrought gold, studded with carbuncles, and carried on a lusty lance of cedar, a giant, for the height of Elnebar exceeded that of common men by three feet, bore the sceptre of Solomon. The Sacred Guard was commanded by Asriel,* the brother of Abner.

The army was formed into three divisions. All marched in solemn order before the throne of Alroy, raised upon the ramparts, and drooped their standards and lances as they passed their heroic leader. Bostenay, and Miriam, and the whole population of the city witnessed the inspiring spectacle from the walls. That same eve, Scherirah, at the head of forty thousand men, pushed on towards Bagdad, by Kermanshah; and Jabaster, who commanded in his holy robes, and who had vowed not to lay aside his sword until the rebuilding of the temple, conducted his division over the victorious plain of Nehauend. They were to concentrate at the pass of Kerrund,* which conducted into the province of Bagdad, and await the arrival of the king.

At the dawn of day, the royal division and the Sacred Guard, the whole under the command of Asriel, quitted the capital. Alroy still lingered, and for some hours the warriors of his staff might have been observed lounging about the citadel, or practising their skill in throwing the jerreed as they exercised their impatient chargers before the gates.

The king was with the lady Miriam, walking in the garden of their uncle. One arm was wound round her delicate waist, and with the other he clasped her soft and graceful hand. The heavy tears burst from her downcast eyes, and stole along her pale and pensive cheek. They walked in silence, the brother and the sister, before the purity of whose surpassing love even ambition vanished. He opened the lattice gate. They entered into the valley small and green; before them was the marble fountain with its columns and cupola, and in the distance the charger of Alroy and his single attendant.

They stopped, and Alroy gathered flowers, and placed them in the hair of Miriam. He would have softened the bitterness of parting with a smile. Gently he relaxed his embracing arm, almost insensibly he dropped her quivering hand.

‘Sister of my soul,’ he whispered, ‘when we last parted here, I was a fugitive, and now I quit you a conqueror.’

She turned, she threw herself upon his neck, and buried her face in his breast.

‘My Miriam, we shall meet at Bagdad.’

He beckoned to her distant maidens; they advanced, he delivered Miriam into their arms. He pressed her hand to his lips, and, rushing to his horse, mounted and disappeared.