Part 7, Chapter 12

Part VII

Chapter 12

A BODY of irregular cavalry feebly defended the pass of Kerrund. It was carried, with slight loss, by the vanguard of Scherirah, and the fugitives prepared the host of the caliph for the approach of the Hebrew army.

Upon the plain of the Tigris the enemy formed into battle array. The centre was commanded by Malek, the Grand Sultan of the Seljuks himself, the right wing, headed by the Sultan of Syria, was protected by the river; and the left, under the Sultan of Roum, was posted upon the advantageous position of some irregular and rising ground. Thus proud in the number, valour, discipline, and disposition of his forces, Malek awaited the conqueror of Persia.

The glittering columns of the Hebrews might even now be perceived defiling from the mountains, and forming at the extremity of the plain. Before nightfall the camp of the invaders was pitched within hearing of that of Malek. The moving lights in the respective tents might plainly be distinguished; and ever and anon the flourish of hostile music fell with an ominous sound upon the ears of the opposed foemen. A few miles only separated those mighty hosts. Upon to-morrow depended, perhaps, the fortunes of ages. How awful is the eve of battle!

Alroy, attended by a few chieftains, personally visited the tents of the soldiery, promising them on the morrow a triumph, before which the victories of Nehauend and Nishabur would sink into insignificance. Their fiery and excited visages proved at once their courage and their faith. The sceptre of Solomon was paraded throughout the camp in solemn procession. On the summit of a huge tumulus, perhaps the sepulchre of some classic hero, Esther, the prophetess, surrounded by the chief zealots of the host, poured forth her exciting inspirations. It was a grand picture, that beautiful wild girl, the groups of stern devoted warriors, the red flame of the watch-fires mixing with the silver shadows of the moon as they illumined the variegated turbans and gleaming armour of her votaries!

In the pavilion of Alroy, Jabaster consulted with his pupil on the conduct of the morrow.

‘This is a different scene from the cavern of the Caucasus,’ said Alroy, as the high priest rose to retire.

‘It has one great resemblance, sire; the God of our fathers is with us.’

‘Ay! the Lord of Hosts. Moses was a great man. There is no career except conquest.’

‘You muse.’

‘Of the past. The present is prepared. Too much thought will mar it.’

‘The past is for wisdom, the present for action, but for joy the future. The feeling that the building of the temple is at hand, that the Lord’s anointed will once again live in the house of David, absorbs my spirit; and, when I muse over our coming glory, in my fond ecstacy I almost lose the gravity that doth beseem my sacred office.’

‘Jerusalem; I have seen it. How many hours to dawn?’

‘Some three.’

‘’Tis strange I could sleep. I remember, on the eve of battle I was ever anxious. How is this, Jabaster?’

‘Your faith, sire, is profound.’

‘Yes, I have no fear. My destiny is not complete. Good night, Jabaster. See, Asriel, valiant priest. Pharez!’*

‘My lord!’

‘Rouse me at the second watch. Good night, boy.’

‘Good night, my lord.’

‘Pharez! Be sure you rouse me at the second watch. Think you it wants three hours to dawn?’

‘About three hours, my lord.’

‘Well! at the second watch, remember; good night.’