The Fall Of Nineveh. Book The Fifth Poem by Edwin Atherstone

The Fall Of Nineveh. Book The Fifth

Within his splendid chamber; by all flowers
Of fragrance rare and exquisite perfumed;
Beneath a silken canopy, gold--dropped,
Reposed the guilty king. One crystal lamp,
With oil sweet--scented fed, its soft, pure ray
With the pale moonlight mingled. As he slept,
Again the murderous deed he acted o'er:
The pale stern seer again cried out, ``beware!''
Again with boundless rage his bosom heaved;
He rushed again to dash him headlong down;
But griped, instead, some hideous, nameless thing,
That with him struggled; crushed him to the earth;
And held him there; all shattered, yet alive.
Such was his agony. Above the couch
Azubah leaned, and gazed upon his face;
Guessing what stirred him thus: for, down his brow
The big drops ran; his teeth were set; hands clenched;
His limbs, as with the spasms of death, convulsed.

``Unhappy king!'' she said; ``by night and day,
The prey of passions strong and terrible!
Fierce in thy love; and fatal in thy rage;
Yet of a nature noblest,--wake, awake.''

Speaking, she stirred him: but the dream was strong,
And held him like a spell. He woke at length;
Started, with trembling limbs, and grasped her arm;
Glaring upon her with distorted face,
As on some monster. But, with soothing voice,
``'Tis I,'' she said; ``Azubah.'' At the sound,
His hands relaxed their gripe; his look grew calm;
One deep--drawn sigh he breathed; then backward sank;
Spake not; but on her gentle face gazed long,
Pressing her hand; for her of all he loved
With passion least debased. But, at the gate
A trumpet--blast was heard. Half starting up,
He listened; and again the clang burst out.
``'Tis Salamenes,'' cried he! ``get thee hence;
Stay not to question; for that timeless note
Great good, or evil, omens.'' Stooping then,
His brow she kissed, and went. A rapid foot
Ere long upon the marble staircase rang;
And, soon, within the chamber, bright in arms,
Stood Salamenes. Breathless with his haste,
Into the ear of the indignant king
The new revolt he told; the Bactrians fled;
And all the nations of the farthest east.

Fierce as a roused--up lion sprang the king.
``Call up the soldiers,'' he cried out, ``pursue:
Soon shall we overtake them. Arms! my arms!
Traitors, and cowards! not a foot shall tread
Its native soil again! Away, away--
Sound out the trumpets.'' Salamenes then:
``Let not my lord judge rashly. The wild boar
Escaping, who would stay, when toward himself,
He saw the tiger coming? Better far
That they should fly, than with our enemies league.
More than enough, the audacious Mede to crush,
With us remain: but, by an ill--timed stroke,
Urge not the fliers, for commutual help,
Their arms with his to join; lest harder strife
Await us; and, by bad example lured,
Others as false may prove.'' To him the king:
``Wisely thou counsel'st: but the vengeful stroke,
Though for a while delayed, shall surely fall.
To--day the Mede shall sink; to--morrow they.
Away at once! the dawn begins to peep.
Arouse the camp; but silently. The bolt
Shall strike them, ere they dream the thunder nigh.
Worms! they shall know their lord.'' Speaking, he donned
His glittering arms; and dreadful was his wrath.

But, in the Median camp, meanwhile, calm sleep,
And silence reigned. With the pale moonlight now
Mingled the opening dawn. Their dull round trod,
With weary foot, the watchers of the night:
A thick grey mist o'erhung the earth; the trees,
The tents, all dripping with the plenteous dew.
Unstirred by any breath of air, down hung
The banners heavily. From out his tent,
Bare--headed, and unarmed, Arbaces came;
And looked into the morn. On the moist earth,
Beneath the standard, lay the warrior--priest,
Face upward turned, as though he read the stars;
Yet in deep sleep. On him first looked the Mede;
Then toward the east; but thought day distant still;
And drew again the curtain of the tent;
Stooping to enter. But the tramp of steeds,
Far off, he caught, and paused. At rapid speed,
Nearer they came. Stirred by the Median's foot,
Uprose Belesis: from his mantle shook
The beaded dews, and spake. ``Already up?
Befits it well the leader of a host,
Thus to watch heedfully. What light is this?
Of dawn? or clouded moon?'' ``Of both, methinks,''
Quickly the Mede replied. ``But who be these,
Spurring so early? From Iberia,
The ancient Syria, and Hyrcania,
The hosts expected, long since have arrived.
Comes, then, unhoped--for aid?'' Even while he spake,
Down from their smoking steeds two horsemen leaped,
And toward them hasted: Azareel the first;
And Japhet, who the panting horses led.
To them Arbaces. ``Latest at the night,
At morn the earliest, ever welcome, friends:
What stirs you now, ere dawn hath oped her eyes?''

To him the Arachosian, hurriedly.
``From both the city, and the Assyrian camp,
The stir of arms is heard. Sudden assault
On us, yet sleeping, doubtless they intend:
Rouse thou the soldiers then, and first assault:
So shall themselves be taken in the toil,
Their cunning lays for us.'' To him the Mede:
``Wisely and bravely dost thou counsel me.
Let, then, the troops be waked; yet, silently:
No trumpet blown,--no noise that may give note,--
Let all in stillness put their armour on:
So, whatsoe'er may chance, we stand prepared.
But, rashly on the foe to make assault,
Unwise would be: for, in yon host, what hearts
Toward us incline, we know not; who, when time
Shall bring occasion; or their wavering minds
Settle aright; may joyfully their arms
With ours conjoin. Such might we wholly lose,
Harsh onset making on them. Our best part,
More to defer, than hasten on the fight:
For the vile worship of tyrannic power,
Too quickly learned, once questioned, quickly dies;
And, in its room, proud thoughts come crowding up,
Gendering defiance. Such in thousands now
Amid yon host are waking: but, when swords
Speak first, then doth the hot and angry blood
Disturb the reason: and to hatred turn
What might have grown to love.'' While yet he spake,
A horseman, riding furiously, drew nigh;
Leaped from his steed, bowed, and in haste began.
``Thus saith Rabsaris: `In the Assyrian camp
The stir of war is heard,--horse, chariots, foot.
Will not Arbaces bid the troops arise,
And arm them for the battle?''' Ere he ceased,
From Abdolonimus another came;
From Azariah; from Almelon too;
Like message bearing each. ``Away at once!''
Cried then the chief; ``let every man take arms:
But, silently; no trumpet blown; no sound,
To tell the foe our rising.'' In brief time,
Through all the camp a thousand ready steeds,
Flew rapidly. Anon was heard the clink
Of sword and mail; the tread of gathering feet;
The hum of earnest voices. Bright in arms,
Quickly Arbaces stood. Brass was his helm,
Thick plated with bright gold; its crest, a plume,
Snow--white and tall, that, like some haughty dame,
Bent proudly as he trod. His shield was gold,

Massive, steel--lined: upon its ample field,
Blazing resplendent in bright--burnished gold,
The glory--circled sun, the moon, and stars
That o'er his birth--hour ruled: his corslet steel,
Bright as a mirror, and impassable deemed
To stroke of human strength: brazen his greaves,
Gold were his sandal--clasps: his ponderous sword--
Not to be wielded save by arm like his--
Damascan--tempered; of the purest steel;
Keen as a razor's edge: his left a spear,
His right hand grasped a mighty battle--axe.

Refulgent thus as from the tent he strode,
Suddenly fixed he stood;--a distant sound
Of onset catching. Instantly, swift horse
For tidings sent he; but himself stirred not:
Cautiously waiting, lest a feigned assault
Should lure him in a snare. Around him soon,
Command attending, many captains stood;
In silence stood, and listened : for the din
Louder arose; yet to the right, far off:
Calm elsewhere all. But now, from out the south,
A gentle wind sprang up. In vast, dim wreaths,
Rolled on the mist; now opening; closing now;
Thickening; and opening still. By fits gleamed out
The distant city; its gigantic walls,
Through the thin vapour, to unearthly bulk
Enlarged; yet unsubstantial as the air
Appearing; or like city of the clouds;
Or architecture false of wizard's spells.
But, as the sun arose, one flood of light
Poured for an instant full upon the walls,
Turning them all to gold. That moment flew
Wide open the great central eastern gate:
And, by the blaze and flashing that came forth,
They knew the chariot of Assyria's king
Was issuing thence. Again the cloudy waves
Rolled on; and all was lost. Nor had appeared
Aught of the combat yet: but many horse
Returned anon, who told how Jerimoth
Had on the Babylonian infantry
Fierce onset made. Him to confront, flew then,
With horse and chariots, the Arabian king;
Close after them Belesis. On the earth,
Prostrate in prayer lay he, when came the word
Of that sharp onset. Starting, up he sprang;
For armour tarried not; but, on his head
Thrusting the helmet, caught up shield, sword, spear,
And leaped into his car. The king, meantime,
From the gate issuing, with amazement heard
The din of war begun. Incensed, he cried,
``What means this boldness? Who, unbidden, dares
The fight commence? Is the king nothing, then?
Or hath the rebel, first, his impious sword
Presumed to draw.'' He asked; but answer none
Knew any man to make. Upon the plain
Drove he a space; then paused; and to the fight
Swift horsemen sent; who, of its course unknown,
Report might bring him. Toward the Median camp,
Upstanding in his car, meantime he looked;
But nought could see--so glaring bright the sky,
The plain so thick with mist. To Michael then,
Who o'er the Assyrian chariots ruled, he spake;
And to Nebaioth, captain of the horse.

``Michael, have ready twice a thousand cars;
For to the battle will I drive anon:
And, with thy two score thousand horsemen, thou,
Nebaioth follow: and, when we shall break
The rebel ranks, and scatter them abroad;
Then come ye in, and trample them to earth:
And let your swords be drunk with rebels' blood;
For mercy shall be none. From out the foot,
His ten score thousand men bid Joshua take:
And, when the chariots and the horsemen go,
Then let them follow; so shall none escape.
But, Salamenes, thou with all the rest,--
For onset ready when the word shall come,--
Behind remain; and witness what we do.''

So he; and many a look impatient cast
Upon the misty veil; and to the left,
Where raged the fight; tidings awaiting still.

Meantime, in conflict hot and terrible,
The Babylonian foot against the horse
Of Jerimoth contended. Like the blast
Of hurricane through the ripe field of corn,
Rending, wide scattering, breaking down,--came he
On that scared host--all unprepared, unranked,--
Slaying, and trampling. Maddest terror then
On many seized; and, casting down their arms,
In headlong flight they ran. Not so their chief,
Brave Azariah: he, already armed,
With thrice ten thousand bowmen, shaft on string,
Stood firm; and on the advancing horsemen drove
An arrow cloud, that like a hailstorm rang
Upon their armour. As they nearer drew,
Darts, spears assailed them: also slingers cast,
On either flank, great stones; which flesh of man,
Or steed, could pierce; that many horse, at length,
Turned back, and shunned the conflict: many paused,
Dismayed; and looked behind. Yet, not the less,
Fierce as a tiger; laughing at the spear,
The arrow, or the stone, flew Jerimoth;
And with him thrice a myriad mail--clad steeds,
And riders all in mail. Repulsed in vain,
Again impetuous to the charge they rode;
Slaying, or falling; and, on either side,
Terrific was the struggle. But, right on,
Unchecked went Jerimoth; his foaming steed
All clad in brazen armour, dazzling bright,
With gold o'erlaid; himself, in flaming mail
Of gilded brass, and glittering steel, secure.
From horse and rider glanced the spear aside,
The arrow, and the stone. Hundreds, hurled down,
Like grass were trampled: falchions then were red;
And earth with carnage steamed. But, standing firm,
Bold Azariah drew his mighty bow;
And as, all fearless, Jerimoth came on,
Straight toward him speeding--to the glittering head
The arrow drew, and loosed. Right through the eye
The horse it struck; into the brain sank deep;
And smote him dead. As by a thunder--bolt
Stricken, he fell; and fell his rider too,
With arms loud ringing. Then went clamors up
From Azariah, and from all who saw;
And swiftly they pressed on: but, swifter far,
Flew on the Assyrians; and around their chief,
An iron bulwark, gathered. On the ground,
Stunned for a moment, lay he motionless;
And, at that instant, with exulting cries,
Dashed on the Arabian horse--steed against steed
Furiously urging. Dreadful then the din--
Helmet and corslet ringing to the stroke;
Horse 'gainst horse shocking. But, from off the ground
Rose Jerimoth; unhurt, though giddy still:
Another courser backed; and to the fight
Like a galled lion sprang. Now harder waxed
The struggle; and to neither side, as yet,
Vantage appeared; till, in his lofty car,--
His priestly vestments streaming in the wind,--
Came on Belesis. ``Men of Babylon,
On to the battle! God beholds you now!
Heaven fights for you! On! every man press on!
Fear not; for God is with us!'' Crying thus,
Along the Babylonian ranks he drove;
And fired them to the combat. By his voice,
And by his presence moved, with twofold rage,
Backward they bore the foe. Undaunted yet,
Though pressed by whelming odds, fought Jerimoth;
And, with him, thousands of his choicest men,
Proud with their chief to die: but many a look
Behind he cast, expecting aid to come:
``Surely the sound of conflict must be heard;
And they will strengthen us.'' Within himself
Thus he; retiring slowly; fighting still;
And vainly hoping still. Meantime, the king
Sat in his car; waiting return of those
Whom to the fight for tidings he had sent.
Impatiently he sat; still through the mist
Striving in vain to pierce. Louder, more loud,
The din of contest grew: thick tramplings, soon,
Of steeds in flight were heard, or in pursuit;
Shouts, as of triumph; yells, of those who fled.
``Why tarry they?'' he cried, ``and come not back
To tell me of the fight: why tarry they?''

Anon came horsemen, flying like the wind,
Who told how Jerimoth, out--numbered far,
Fled from the combat. At that word, the king,
Upstarting in his chariot, cried aloud:
``Traitor, or madman! Hath he then presumed
To lead the battle? Now let Adriel haste
With twice ten thousand horse to turn the fight;
Ahaz, with all his spearmen; and, of those
That draw the bow, let two score thousand speed
So, of that host accursëd, shall not one
This day escape me. Dara, hither--quick.
Ascend my chariot, and the coursers rule:
Myself will mix in conflict.'' At the word,
From his own car out--leaped the ardent youth;
Into the royal chariot, at a bound,
Lightly upsprang; and from the monarch's hand,
Bowing, took rein and scourge. In every strife
For swiftness, both on foot, and in the race
Of steeds, and chariots, far was spread his fame.
Yet in the fight he joyed not; for his soul
Was with Nehushta, daughter of the king.

But, in his lofty car upstanding now;
A spear, steel--headed, gleaming in his hand;
His arm the monarch raised; and, pointing, cried;
``On to the battle! Yonder lie their hosts
Most numerous; and, perchance, expect us not.
But the mist clears, and soon may we be seen.
Upon them like the thunder--bolt? Away!''

Started the chariots then; the impatient steeds
Bounded; and, to the leaping of the wheels,
And furious tramplings, the deep shaken earth
Answered in thunder. But Arbaces still,
With all the Median chariots, and the horse,
And thrice a hundred thousand valiant foot,
The tidings of the fight expecting, stood:
And many a prayer to the bright god of day
Went up, that he the misty air would clear,
And show the battle--field. Horsemen, at length,
With falchions waving, crying as they flew,
Proclaimed that Jerimoth, defeated, fled--
The Arabian horse and cars pursuing him.
Then, with a summons like a trumpet--call,
Spake out Arbaces; ``To the battle all!
Strike while they reel! On to the battle! on!
The arm of God is with us!'' At the word,
The fiery steeds uptore the groaning ground;
Thundered the wheels; and, like a torrent's rush,
Sounded the tread of that vast infantry.
Then spake the trumpets out--a thousand tongues
Of blaring brass; timbrels; the ringing clash
Of cymbals; every instrument clear--toned,
That stirs the heart in battle: and the shouts
Of tens of myriads were sent up to heaven,
In peals that rent the air. High in the midst,
The splendid ensign,--azure, silver--starred;
With sun of burning gold,--to the fresh breeze
Rolled out its glorious hues. So moved they on,
Rejoicing: but not far; when, like a fire,
Behold the blazing chariot of the king!
And, after him, a throng of cars and horse,
Hasting to battle. At that sight, his voice
Arbaces lift, exulting, and exclaimed,
``Into our hands hath God delivered him!
Charge every chariot; every horseman charge:
For now his hour is come!'' So he; then stooped;
And to his charioteer, deliberate, thus:
``Darius, what I tell thee, heed thou well;
And fear not. Right against the tyrant's car,
Drive wheel in wheel. His axle we may break,
And hurl him headlong; so, with one sharp blow,
Decide the battle. Nearer--nearer still.
Now--let the flanks of the horses graze as they pass.''
Thus he; and, rising, his tremendous spear,
For the death--stroke lifted. With like dire intent,
His huge lance poising, toward him flew the king:
His mail of steel, and helmet, diamond--starred,
Flashing bright flame. But Dara heedfully,
The shock foreseeing, turned aside the steeds:
Darius also, fearful of the clash,
Drew artfully the rein,--small space between,
That the fierce wheels might pass. They now were nigh.
In the same instant, both their lances hurled:
Both struck: with a loud ring, both weapons glanced:
But, on his shield, Arbaces, all unharmed,
The blow received; aslant upon his helm,
The monarch, and fell senseless. At that sight,
Gloried the Mede: but, marking that the cars
Apart were passing, hastily snatched the reins;
And, in a moment, grinding horribly,
Wheel inside wheel was driven. Like brittle wood,
Black from the fire, the axle of the Mede
Snapped short: the car was dashed upon the ground.
Uninjured passed the chariot of the king;
But darkness veiled his eyes. With violence thrown,
Upon his head Darius fell; and died.
But, on his feet alighting all unhurt,
Arbaces stood; and in a moment saw
The shattered car, amid th' Assyrian ranks,
Whirled by the terrified steeds. His battle--axe--
Thrown from the chariot--and his bow and spears,
Up caught he: then, like lion on his prey,
The king to o'ertake, flew on. But, after him,
With tempest--speed, th' Assyrian chariots came:
Lances and darts whizzed round him: close behind,
Like the hot pantings of the desert--blast,
Within his ear, and on his cheek, he felt
The blowing of the steeds. With voice, and rein,
And sounding thong, the charioteers impelled
The horses on, that they might trample him:
But, turning as he ran, the nearest steed
Upon the forehead with his battle--axe,--
Fatal as stroke of thunder--bolt,--he smote;
And, with loud squelch and jar, unto the ground,
Dead in that instant, drove him. O'er him rolled,
With hideous clash, his fellows: and the car
Flat to the earth was hurled. On flew the Mede:
For now, brief space before, the royal car
Slowly round wheeling saw he,--the hot steeds
Rebellious 'gainst control. Forward he flew;
Close to the chariot reached; and his axe raised,
Aiming the death--blow: but, at highest stretch,
About to fall, while it a moment hung,--
A fierce Assyrian horseman, speeding by,
Upon the shoulder smote him, that his arm,
Benumbed, sank useless: and a brazen dart
In that same instant on his helmet struck,
Jarring his brain, that all the sky seemed fire;
And, staggering, he looked round. On every side
Death stared him in the face. But lo! at hand,
A Median chariot. Him the driver knew,
And curbed the steeds; upsprang he; from his eyes
Passed off the mist; and all his strength returned.

But now in horrid shock the chariots joined:
Dreadful the crash of wheels fast locked; the plunge
Of frantic steeds; the ringing of the shields,
Corslets, and helmets: dreadful, too, the clash
Of mail--elad horse, ten thousand seven times told,
Hurtling in battle. Sense recovering soon,
Sardanapalus, with uplifted voice,
Cheered on his soldiers. Foremost in the fight,
Himself still fought: now, hurled the heavy spear;
Now, from his bow the hissing arrow loosed:
Leaped from his chariot, now; and, sword to sword,
Strove with the foe: nor met the single arm,
That might with his compare. In equal scale
So hung the fight; till now, the Median foot
Advancing, on the enemy's ranks poured down
Clouds of steel--headed arrows; heavy stones
Sent from the sling; lances, and brazen darts,
Winged with swift death. Then on the Assyrians came
Confusion and dismay: and, as they turned,
Shunning the iron tempest,--with loud cries
The foe pursued; and terrified the steeds,
That they fled masterless. Nor, when, at length,
With twice a hundred thousand valiant foot,
Came Joshua to their aid, could they make stand;
So fear unnerved them. Vainly did the king
Call on them to be men: into the midst
Of battle vainly drove he, daring death:
In vain did Michael and Nebaioth urge
The chariots and the horse to stem the flood:
Terror had seized them; and their strength was gone.
Backward the cars ran round,--wheel grinding wheel:
Horse against horse was driven, and man 'gainst man;
Confusion dire! At length cried out the king;
``Haste, Michael,--force a pass through yonder rout.
To Salamenes fly. With horse, cars, foot,
Hither command him. For thy life make speed!''

That hearing, Michael with loud voice cried out
To clear the way: then in his own hands took
The reins and scourge; and, louder shouting still,
Through the close press 'gan force; but many o'erthrew,
Borne by the horses down, and by the wheels.
Yet still impatiently called out the king,
Faster to urge him; for his heart 'gan fail.
Far as the mist, dispersing, gave him scope,
Throughout the flying host his eye he cast;
And everywhere saw terror and despair.

But nearer than he thought, was help even then:
For Salamenes, uncommanded, sent
Fresh forces to the fight. Three anxious hours,
Listening the twofold conflict had he stood.
But, toward the left, where Adriel with the horse,
And, with the spearmen, Ahaz, to the aid
Of Jerimoth had gone,--was heard, at first,
The sound of battle loudest. Thinner grew
The mist; and dimly might he now descry
The far--off combat; horsemen urging on;
Chariots careering; helmets, plumes, and shields,
Together dashing; rolling here and there
In multitudes, like billows of the deep,
Foam--crested. But, anon, whence fought the king,
Came sounds more terrible; the roar of fear,
And utter rout it seemed: yet, farther off,
Wrapped in the mist, all was uncertain still;
And, if the king were victor, who might tell;
Or if the rebel? But, ere long, more near,
Horsemen, as if in flight, were faintly seen:
``Perchance,'' thought he, ``they hasten from the king.
But no; they turn again; his arm prevails;
The traitors fall before him! . . . Yet again
Come they; in number more, and swifter flight. . . . .
And chariots now; but, if Assyrian they,
Or Median, through this dim air who may tell? . . . .
Again they turn, and seek the fight anew.
Why sends he not? Surrounded, perhaps, in vain
He calls for succour. Shall I longer wait;
Or, uncommanded, haste to strengthen him?
Yet that hath he forbidden. But, perchance,
He hath already fallen; or may fall,
Unaided now; and curse me in his heart. . . . .
The rout increases,--chariots, horse, and foot,--
Confusion horrible! Come whatever may,
I pause no longer.'' Inly thus communed
The noble Salamenes; then, at once,
Called horsemen, and cried out; ``To Zadok fly:
With all his cavalry, into the fight
Bid him advance: thou, Abdiel, to him speed,
And Gareb. To Jahaziel, hasten thou,
Zulmanna; and thou, too, Shemiramoth.
Bid him his five score thousand foot lead on.
No moment must he pause. An instant lost,
All may be lost.'' So he, and was obeyed.
Then to Jehoshaphat, who, with his cars
Of iron, thrice three hundred, for the fight
Keenly impatient stood, himself made speed;
Still crying as he went: ``On, like the wind!
Stay not, nor slacken, though your axle--trees
Be hot as in the fire!'' His voice was heard;
And with thick tramplings instantly the ground
Resounded, and the beating of the wheels.

Not far the chariots and the horse had gone,
When, in full flight, the Assyrian cavalry
On--thundering came; and cars, with dust and blood,
Besmeared and foul. His bright sword waving then,
Aloud called Zadok, bidding them return:
Jehoshaphat stood also in his car,
Clamoring, and whirling high his glittering spear.

That aid unlooked for seeing, with new hope,
Back to the field the routed turned again;
Chariots and horse into the thickest fight
Plunging amain. Them, as he hasted on,
Met Michael; and, his errand useless now
Misdeeming, to the conflict turned anew,
Exultingly; and 'gainst the Median ranks,
His chariot drove impetuous. For awhile,
Back rolled the Medes; and, like a broken sea,
Wave against wave uplifted, toiled the hosts,
In doubtful contest. But again came on,
Like to a turning tide, the living deep:
Again, resistless, bearing down the foe,
Poured on the Medes; th' Assyrians fled again:
Till yet again, like to a counter flood,
Jahaziel came; then was the great tide stayed;
Dreadful became the roaring of the waves;
And dire the struggling. For awhile so raged,
With strength and fury equal, both the hosts:
Sword against sword they stood, and foot 'gainst foot;
Chariot with chariot striving; horse with horse;
And neither could prevail. Thus, till the sun
In the blue concave at his summit stood,
And poured down fire upon the steaming plain,
In balanced fight they toiled: and, where the hosts
Of Jerimoth, and Ahaz, 'gainst the men
Of Babylon, and all th' Arabian horse,
And chariots, fought--was also equal strife.

Yet Salamenes still unmoving stood;
Unto the king obedient: and by turns
To either conflict looked; though inly vexed,
And panting for the fight. Within the car
Of Phrygian Abner rode Arbaces now:
From rank to rank he flew; and every heart
With martial ardor filled, and thirst of fame.
Before him no man stood: but, chief, the king
Sought he; intent in him the strife to end;
So saving blood of myriads; vainly else
To be poured out. But, in the glittering host
Of chariots, like the sun amid the throng
Of gorgeous clouds at eve, or ruddy morn,--
The dazzling war--car of Assyria's lord,
Well seen, yet inaccessible, drove on.

At length, once more, 'mid the dread hurricane,
Assyria's monarch and the Median chief,
By chance of battle met. For, in the ear,
An arrow pierced a courser of the king;
There stuck, and into madness fretted him,
That curb, or voice, he heeded not. From his,
Like fury took the rest: of all restraint
Disdainful; fire emitting from their eyes;
Right through the press they flew; men, steeds, and cars,
Crushing, or casting down. That saw the Mede,
Rejoicing; and to Abner cried aloud;
``See! see! my friend: the gods will aid us now!
The tyrant's steeds with frenzy have they struck,
That he may fall before us. After him!
Quick--lash the horses on.'' With rein and voice,
Vainly, meantime, strove Dara to control
The raging steeds. Unmastered utterly,
O'er dead, and living, recklessly they ran.
Leaping, and rocking, onward went the car;
And, from close press of fight, to the open plain,
Tempest--winged flew. From Dara's hand the king
Snatched then the reins, his stronger arm to try:
But voice, or rein, or scourge, nought heeded they;
And still went headlong on. His spear laid by,
Arbaces now his bow caught up; a shaft
Fixed on the string, and aimed. Him saw the king;
To Dara's hand quickly the reins returned;
And to his seat sprang back; with equal arms
That he his foe might meet. But, suddenly,
As by their driver urged to instant flight,
Aside the wild steeds swerved; and from the Mede
The indignant monarch bore. Then cried aloud
Arbaces, taunting; and his charioteer,
Exulting, smote the horses in pursuit.
Thrice did the terrible arrows of the Mede
Upon the impassable armour of his foe,
Strike, like the glance of lightning. Standing up,
With back now toward the steeds, the wrathful king
His bow bent also; and, to every shaft,
Hissing reply returned; still calling loud
To Dara, bidding him the coursers curb.
But his lashed Abner onward furiously,
Shaking the reins. Soon, shorter space between,
Each laid aside the bow; a glittering spear,
Uplifting, shook; and, the death--stroke to give,
Eagerly thirsted. First out flew the lance
Of the wrath--burning king; yet erring flew;
For, backward in the chariot as he rode,
Less true his aim, standing unsteadily:
But then Arbaces cast. The monstrous beam
Right toward the bosom of the monarch held,
Sullenly whirring. He the coming death
Saw--and stooped quickly. O'er his crest it passed;
Bending the plume. Then stood he up again;
And, with more cautious aim, a second lance
Hurled at the Mede; with all his strength he hurled.
Loud sang the eager shaft; but yet again
Erred from the mark. Well for Arbaces so!
For, with such fury flew it, that, the car
Striking in front,--right through its coat of brass,
And through the oaken plank, and inner plate,
Crashing, it burst; and, in the gaping rent,
Angrily gnarring, jarring, rocked to rest.

Down looked the astonished Mede; and at his feet
The whole bright point beheld. Then, rising, aimed,
And drove the whirring spear; not harmless now.
True to its aim the monarch saw it still;
And leaped aside; so 'scaped. But, on the head,
Striking the wounded courser of the king,
Deep in the brain the stormy weapon sank;
And smote him dead. Down dropped he instantly;
And over him the hindmost horses fell,
And rolled upon the ground. Out sprang the king,
Dagger in hand, the traces to divide;
And with him Dara. Toiling as they stood,
The chariot from the cumbering corse to free,--
Toward them, with sword on high, Arbaces ran;
And, running, cried aloud, ``Turn, tyrant, turn!
Leave thy dead steed; and of thyself have care;
Or surely shalt thou perish!'' At those words,
Started the king; and, his broad shield of gold
From out the car upsnatching, toward the foe
Walked furiously. That seen, Arbaces paused;
For, in his haste forgotten, his own shield
Within the chariot hung; and, if to turn,
And take it thence, he pondered,--or to go,
With odds against him, to the mortal strife.
A moment, but no more, in doubt he stood:
In his good cause then trusting, and that strength
Which ne'er, in battle, or in sport of arms,
Equal had met,--his flaming sword he drew,
And strode on rapidly. To him, now nigh,
Wrathfully thus the king. ``What wretch art thou,
Who, twice this day, hast dared to meet thy lord
In battle insolent? Presumptuous worm!
Learn now that monarchs have the arm of God
To punish traitors. Bend thy giant knee;
And swear allegiance: to my chariot yoke
Thy swiftest courser: back then to the fight:
In rebels' blood thine own rebellion purge;
And I will pardon thee: wealth, honors, give:
Yea, set thee high, that men shall bow to thee,
And call thee lord; for brave art thou, indeed;
And mighty in the battle.'' Scornfully
Spake then the Mede. ``To other king than Him
Whose throne is heaven, this knee shall never bow:
But, least of all, thou sceptred goat, to thee,
Drunken and lewd! To slay me, or be slain,
Prepare; and talk not; for, before thee stands
Thy brother--king, Arbaces.'' Speaking yet,
Sudden as lightning in a cloudless sky,
The gleaming falchion of his enemy
He saw descending. Lightly he leaped back;
And struck not yet again; for, fierce as fire,
Out flamed the king; blow driving upon blow,
Impetuously; the eye with glare of steel
Dazzling; and deafening with loud threats the ear.
Retiring now; now, warding off the stroke;
To this side springing now; and, now, to that;
With arms unequal thus the Mede awhile
Defensive fought; still watching till the shield
Some spot should leave unguarded. But not long
Cool measure kept; for, on his corslet twice,
Loud knocking,--the fierce weapon of his foe
Entrance demanded; and the iron gate,
That ne'er before to arm of man had ope'd,
At the third summons burst. No longer then
The Mede his fury curbed: with giant strength,
Swift as the lightning lifting up his sword,
Down through the crackling shield he drove it; down
Through plume and adamantine helmet drove;
Through the thick--folded silken lining shore;
And grazed, at last, the bone. Amazed, and stunned,
Uttering no sound, a moment stood the king:
From his relaxing hand down dropped the shield;
The sword dropped down; with wide and vacant eye,
And mouth agape, a moment he stood fixed;
Then, helpless, unresisting as a corse,
With heavy jar fell back. Sprang Dara then,
Swift as a leopard; the fallen sword caught up;
And, to defend the body of the king,
The Mede confronted. 'Gainst the eagle's swoop,
As well might stand the dove! But, from his prey,
Sharp summons called the victor. At full speed;
With stretched arm pointing; shouting as he flew,
Came Abner; ``Up into the car,'' he cried,
``Torrents of horse are on us! Up--leap up!''

Arbaces looked. Like a great running fire,--
So flashed their arms and armour to the sun,--
Came on the serried squadrons; 'neath their feet,
The firm earth shaking. Balked of his great hope,
Into the chariot sprang the indignant Mede;
And instantly, like arrows from the bow,
Bounded the horses onward. Toward the host
Of Media flew they; and, in close pursuit,
The Assyrian cavalry. But, swift the steeds
Of Abner; and unharmed their riders bore.

Nigh to his legions now, his mighty voice
Arbaces lifted, and cried out, ``Haste!--haste!
Turn every horse and chariot; this way turn.
The tyrant is struck down; perchance is slain:
Upon them every man!'' Far off that voice
Was heard; and, instantly, arched necks were seen
Of coursers turning; chariots wheeling round;
And spears innumerable, toward their chief,
Hasting for quick assault. But, them to oppose,
From the Assyrian host as many sped.
Dreadful grew then the struggle; and the din
Went up to heaven. Meantime, around the king,
Dense was the thronging; and the terror great;
For all men deemed him slain. But, when the helm
Was taken from his head; and on his breast
The corslet slackened--soon to life again
He came; and, in amazement, looked about.
The battle recollecting, from the earth
To rise then strove he; with a feeble voice
Exhorting to the onset. But, not thus,
From that tremendous stroke unharmed to escape
Might mortal hope: slight seemed the wound; the blood
In but scant trickle fell; yet, such the shock,
That from his eyes seemed fire to drop: his breast
Laboriously heaved; his strength was gone.
For combat all unfit he felt himself;
Bade them bind up the wound; his helm replace;
And homeward bear him. For his maimed steeds then,
Four ebon horses, strong and swift, they yoked;
And placed him in the chariot. By his side
Sat an Iberian captain; and upheld
Upon his breast the monarch's drooping head.

But, loud as thunder now went up the cries
From all the Median host; ``The king is slain!
The tyrant is destroyed!--the earth is free!''

Then were the Assyrians troubled in their hearts;
Their strength 'gan fail them; and, when they beheld
The royal chariot, and the fainting king,
Flying from battle, longer strove they not;
But, turned upon the foe their backs, and fled:
Horse, chariots, foot, in hideous tumult mixed,
On fled they; and the earth was heaped with slain.

That rout beholding, Salamenes now,
Unbidden, to the rescue hastened on:
With chariots and with horsemen first went he;
And, after them, the foot, impatient all
To mingle in the fight. Him met the king;
Pallid, and bleeding still; yet, by the air
Refreshed, and by the chariot's rapid whirl.
Upright he sat, though weak; and, tremblingly,
To Salamenes thus: ``Why linger'st thou?
Fly, fly, and turn the fight. Nay--tarry not;
No time for words; I shall return anon:
So tell the soldiers. Quick! my signet take.
The rule of all the host is in thy hands.
Away--and conquer!'' Bending, as he spake,
Within his brother's hand the ring he placed;
And motioned on. At once the rapid cars
Divided: toward the city flew the king;
But Salamenes, with misgiving heart,
To battle hasted. Looking on the field,
Within a watch--tower sat the pensive queen;
And, by her side, Nehushta; in her hand,
Her mother's cold hand grasping. Silently,
Upon the distant contest long they gazed,
With tremulous lip, pale cheek, and anxious eye,
That troubled minds bespake: and often thus,
Within her soul, the melancholy queen
Darkly discoursed. ``What bodes this lengthened strife?
Said not the flatterers of Assyria's might
That, like the grass beneath the giant's foot,
Our foes would be trod down?--Yet still they stand
Undaunted, though the roused--up king himself
Against them in his terrors hath gone forth.
Not thus to meet them looked he,--sword 'gainst sword
Lift insolently: 'neath a monarch's frown,
No rebel, said they, could a moment live;
But, like a tree struck by heaven's thunderbolt,
At the dread glance must fall. Believed he that?
Ah! ever hath he in the flatterer's breath
Found music! Hapless! sensual! fallen! and lost!
Who, in thy unstained youth, didst seem a thing
For common men to worship as a God!
What thoughts are in thy fiery bosom now?
How feelest thou,--thy name and power defied;
Thy throne,--whereon, for thrice five hundred years,
In splendor undisturbed, and awful power,
Thy fathers ruled--now, as the prize set up,
For which with rebels thou must stoop to strive?
And, when the insolent soldier his base sword,
Against thy crownëd and anointed head;
Whereto earth's mightiest would have bent the knee,
And deemed it honor,--bravingly doth lift;
What saith thy proud heart then, Assyria's king?
A stern school hast thou now to learn, how false
The praise of sycophants: yet, with strong soul,
From thy foul, sensual bed hast thou arisen,
And girt thee to the task: that praise be thine;
For little can I give. Oh! turn not back
Into the miry slough: then may the past,
Like a foul corse, be buried from my sight;
And a new, glorious future . . . . . How I dream!
Even now, perchance, the weapon of a slave
Hath left to him no future! Dreadful sight!
How many myriads must this night lie stiff
Upon their gory beds, who with the sun
Rose joyously! how many wives will wail!
How many children will be fatherless!
Kind Heaven! oh! comfort them!'' Thus thinking, long
O'er all the field she watched the battle--storm.
But on one spot of restless light, at length,
Which, from the conflict coming, seemed, she thought,
A chariot--was her gaze intently fixed;
And, seeing it, she thought upon the king.

With strained eye looking, that same fiery spot
Nehushta saw; and in her fearful heart
Sad thoughts arose. ``Oh! is my father there?
His chariot surely 'tis that burns so bright!
Why comes it from the battle? And thou, too,
Dara; oh, where art thou? Ye Powers of Good!
Protect them; and this hideous conflict end!''

So they: but, nearer as the chariot drew;
Within their hearts both said, ``It is not he:
His steeds are white as snow; these, black as night:
It cannot be the king.'' Yet, nigher still
As it came on, doubt darkened into fear;
And, with unsteady voice, thus spake the queen.
``See'st thou yon car which from the battle comes,
Driving so rapidly? the steeds are black;
Or, by the splendor that around it burns,
Thy father's it might seem.'' Nehushta then;
``Oh! not my father's! Yet, if his it be,
Nought ill may it betoken. Of a truth,
Like his the flash; but other cars are bright;
And, in this blazing sun, might splendor fling,
Dazzling as that. Three forms methinks I see . . . .
Perhaps some wounded friend he brings from fight.
Or . . . Heaven have mercy!'' Trembling, she stopped short:
And, for awhile, breathless, with beating hearts,
Faces death--white, fixed eyes, and quivering lips,
They gazed in silence. But the queen, at length,
Started, stood up, and cried, ``It is the king;
Sore hurt, I fear! Hence let us instantly.''

Down from the watch--tower hurriedly they went,
And sprang into their car. The charioteer
Flung up the reins: like wind the horses flew:
They reached the palace. Through the gate of Bel
Glanced, like a meteor dimmed, the monarch's car;
Blood--sprinkled, fouled with dust; the ebon steeds
With creamy foam bespattered; their full eyes
Flashing; and their loud--blowing nostrils spread.
They who beheld it, as it thundered on
Through street and square, lifted the hand, and groaned,
Fearing the king was slain. Arrived, at length,--
To his night--chamber, pallid, gore--bestained,
And with bewildered aspect, was he borne.
To meet him there, Nehushta, and the queen,
With anxious faces, stood; and question put,
With tremulous voice, kind 'tendance offering.
But coldly did he greet them: on a couch
His languid limbs outstretched; for wine called out;
And signed to them to go. Yet, tenderly,
His helm the queen removed; with her own robe
Wiped from his brow the blood: and softly thus:
``Take not, I pray thee, of the wine--cup now;
For thou art wounded; and 'twould fever thee.''
Nehushta too implored; her father's hand
Tenderly kissing; her bright loving eyes
Swimming in tears. On her the king looked not;
But, to Atossa, with a peevish tone,
And frowning, thus replied. ``Thy kindness now
Unwelcome is; unsought: thy proper place,
O'erproud, thou dost disdain: but stoop not then
To the poor nurse's office. When I sued,
Haughty thou wert; and colder than the snow;
Reproachful, and contemptuous: be so still;
And leave me; for thy look offends me now.''

To him the queen replied not; but, with grace
Majestical arising, on the arm
Her daughter pressed, and whispered, ``Stay thou here,
And keep from him the grape--juice: haply thou
Better may'st move him.'' Still incensed, the king
Cried out, ``At once away! why linger ye?
I would be left.'' That hearing, they withdrew:
Nehushta, with bowed head; sobbing aloud;
But, with calm brow, the queen, and bearing high;
Yet full of womanly grace. From off his couch
Half rose the king, relenting as he gazed
On that majestic beauty, passing forth;
And softly called, ``Atossa.'' She heard not:
And he, self--scorned, sank back. ``Thou woman's fool!
When wilt thou wisdom learn? Is this an hour
For dalliance, when thy very throne and life
Hang on the battle's chance? Why am I here?
Why came I from the field? My strength returns:
I will go forth again; and from my head
Pluck off this bloody witness that the king
Is, like the slave, but mortal.'' While he spake,
Uprising, he the bandage tore away;
Placed on his brow the helm; and cried, ``My car!
I will go forth again.'' But, reeling, sick;
Blood from the opened gash fast trickling down;
Giddy, and faint, upon the couch he sank;
Cursing his helplessness. ``Bring wine!'' he cried;
``Bind up the hurt again; for even thus
Will I unto the field.'' While yet he spake,
Came Peresh, the physician; in his hand
Herbs bearing, and fine linen for the wound.
The bleeding king beholding; on his head
The helm; and that strange wildness in his look;
By madness struck, he deemed him; and replied:
``Thy wound, O king of kings! will I bind up,
The juice of healing herbs infusing first,
The blood to stanch, and bid the flesh unite;
But, drink not of the wine--cup, I implore;
For, now, 'twere poison to thee.'' ``Peace, old man!''
Exclaimed the king. ``Thy foolish counsel keep
For fools that heed it. To the fight must I:
Bind then my wound: but, my lost force to gain,
The goblet give me; for sure strength is there;
Prate as thou may.'' He ceased; stretched out his hand,
And took the cup: but, as by frenzy struck,
Stared--shuddered--gasped--and dashed it on the floor.
``Hence with that loathsome thing!'' wildly he cried,
``Break it to pieces! cast it in the fire!
His blood is on it! Peresh, thou sayst true;
Poison is in the grape--juice; madness, guilt;
I will not drink. Quick--do thine office now.
Bind up the hurt; and some of you bid forth
My chariot: I will haste unto the fight.''

Yet speaking, he stopped short; sank on the couch,
Dizzy, and faint; and in a long swoon lay.

But, when to sense he came,--with healing herbs
His wound they dressed, and with fine linen bound:
The heavy armour from his limbs then took;
With cooling drinks, and drugs of slumbrous power,
His anguish soothed; and left him to repose.

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