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

The Fall Of Nineveh. Book The Nineteenth

On the next morrow, to the spacious plain
South of the city, Salamenes led
The Assyrian army,--for no foe was there,--
And numbered them. By thousands they passed on.
Four times a hundred thousand was their strength.

To every soldier then, a piece of gold,
Food plentiful, and generous wines, were given,
Their hearts to gladden. In her chariot rode
The queen among them; to the captains spake,
And to the soldiers,--all encouraging,
That they cried out aloud, ``Long live the queen!
Long live the king! The king shall triumph yet;
And put his enemies beneath his feet!''

That day, to aid them, many thousands came;
Horsemen, and charioteers, and men on foot;
For the king's gold allured them. With the first,
Came Gilgath, a huge giant! Cubits six
His stature was; his spear ten cubits long.
Loudly he boasted, saying, ``Let the Medes
Send forth their champion,--face to face, 'gainst me,
In single fight to stand: and let the event
Determine, if the city shall be theirs,
Or they our bondslaves be.'' The boaster charmed
And, of the soldiers, many cried aloud,
Admiring, and approving. But all mute
The captains stood; for inwardly they feared
Lest that Arbaces should himself come forth,
In answer to the challenge. As the eve
Drew on, into the city all retired;
And lighter grew the heart of every man.

On that same day, their numbers also told
The Medes,--eight hundred thousand fighting men.
And, when it was proclaimed, a joyful shout
From all the host went up. To them, not less,
On that same morning came, of horse, and foot,
And chariots, not a few: and, with one voice,
The army sang; ``Behold, the mighty one
Shall be cast down, and shall oppress no more!
Then every man 'neath his own vine shall sit;
Of his own fig--tree eat: our sons no more
Shall for their slaves be taken; nor our wives,
And beauteous daughters, for their concubines.''

Within the blazing chariot of the king,
Drawn by the wind--swift steeds, amid them all
Arbaces rode: and, as he passed along,
Each soldier bared the head, and cried aloud,
``Long live Arbaces! On his fathers' throne
Long may he sit! for he the oppressor hath
From his high place struck down! Long live the king!''

Then, after they had sacrificed,--the host,
Orb within orb, close standing,--in the midst
Belesis knelt, and prayed. Like his, at once
All knees were bent; all heads bowed reverently.

But, when they had arisen, and all again
In silence stood,--he took the golden crown,
Burning with gems, which, on his haughty brow,
Assyria's lord had worn; and on the head
Of their great leader placing it, cried out,
``King of the Medes, long may Arbaces live!''
But when, with eager voice, the multitude
His words had echoed, louder still he cried,
``Long live Arbaces, KING OF KINGS long live!''

Rose then such shouts exultant, that all air,
From earth to cloud--vault quivered: yet again,
Again, again, like thunder--peals they rolled
Above the city; and great wonder grew.

But, from his head Arbaces took the crown;
The helm replaced; and, reverently, thus;
``Let us not boast before the time be come:
The race not always to the swift is given,
Nor battle to the strong. When mightier far
The enemy than we,--upon them came
Total defeat: let us not glory, then,
Lest that our pride be humbled. In God's hand
The fate of nations is; before His breath,
Armies are but as dust.'' As thus he spake,
Far off a trumpet sounded; and, erelong,
Appeared a herald. When, at length, he stood
In presence of Arbaces, and the chiefs,
A challenge to the bravest of the host
Out--spake he,--face to face, in single fight,
Gilgath to meet; ``And let the event decide,
If the eternal city shall be yours,
Or ye our bondslaves be.'' With a great laugh,
The boast was answered. ``To Assyria's king,
Thus, from Arbaces, say: `If, by the gods,
By earth, and sea, and by the realms beneath,
In presence of his people he will swear,
That on the issue of this fight shall rest
Assyria's doom, and ours,--then let him name
The day, the place of combat; and be sure
Our champion shall go forth.' But idle this:
Thy monarch nought of such poor message knows;
Nor in his name thou speakest. Get thee back;
And the huge boaster tell, if over hot
His valour,--when the battle shall awake,
Soon may he cool it.'' With this taunt, retired
The angry herald; and the sound of mirth
Far on pursued him. Till the evening closed,
The army at their temperate feast remained;
Then kindled watch--fires, and retired to rest.

But, in his tent, alone, in solemn mood,
Arbaces sat; and, of the mighty things
Which had been; of the greater yet to be,
Earnestly pondered. Gentle thoughts, at last,
Stirring within him, happier vision came:
Home, mother, sister,--and, bright crown of all,
His own beloved Hamutah. At that hour
Of cool breeze and sweet perfume, well he knew
That in her garden 'twas her wont to walk,
Pensively musing. Even as rose the thought,
Distinct as in the life, he saw her there:
That face soul--beaming; grandly beautiful;
That form majestic, with ineffable grace,
Like a deep, gentle river, silently,
Serenely gliding on. Anon, she stops;
Across her full--orbed bosom folds her arms,
As if embracing. Of whom thinks she, then?
Perchance of him,--beside what river's bank,
On what rich plain, or near what city, now,
With his rejoicing army wending home
From year of hateful service,--he lies camped.
Alas! she knows not that the gentle Peace
By horrid War is slain! that months, nay years,
May drag along, ere to his heart once more
May he compress her! But again she moves;
And now with lighter step; she clasps her hands;
Looks up toward heaven; speaks low, and lovingly.

Her voice was music; fragrance round her breathed;
Her presence was a sunlight. O'er his soul,
Came balmy softness, such as gentle rain
Bringeth at eve in spring time, when the earth
Is parched, and every herb and flower doth droop.

Then from his harp, with tender touch, he drew
Harmonious breathings; and, with mellow voice,
Subdued and plaintive, sang. The song was one
That she well loved; and oft, in summer eve
Of happier days, had listed. As he sang,
His heart within him melted; and his eyes
With tears were filled. Then lay he down, and slept;
And, in his dreams, through groves, and by the banks
Of whispering brooks, with her walked lovingly;
And thought no more of battles, or of thrones,
Till from his slumber, by the trumpet's blare,
Awakened, and the voice of multitudes,
That to the rising sun their matins hymned.

Then swiftly from the tent he issued forth;
And to the glorious light bowed down, and prayed.
But, ere he ceased, beneath thick clouds again
The sun was hidden; and all day shone not.
Five days, beneath black clouds, from mortal sight
His splendor had been veiled: and gloomy thoughts
In minds of many wakened; for, as yet,
The season of the rains was not at hand.

But, when some days had passed, and still the sun
Was hidden,--more and more the minds of men
Distempered grew. Then, when Arbaces heard
How they were troubled,--with a smiling face,
He went among them; and with cheering words
Their hearts revived. But to his tent he called
The captains; and thus spake. ``This idle time
Unwholesome thoughts engendereth. Though the god
From us hath veiled his glory,--to our foe
As little hath he shown it: wherefore, then,
To us more evil omen? Yet not thus
Thinks the rude soldier. Would the enemy
Blow out his trumpets, and his banners shake,
Inviting battle,--of but small account
Would our rough warriors deem it, that the sun
Scorched not their faces. But, of this no hope:
Behind the shelter of their walls, long time
Will they remain: and here must we abide,
Their pleasure waiting. Then, to cheer the minds
Of those down--cast, who, else, may to the rest
Become infectious,--let it be proclaimed
That, every day of this enforcëd peace,
Throughout the camp shall sports and pastimes be;
Trials of strength, and swiftness, both on foot,
And in the race of chariots. Nor shall we,
The captains, and the leaders, hold aloof.''

These words pleased all; and heralds instantly
Rode forth, and made proclaim. That day again
An insolent challenge from the giant came:
And, as before, was mocked at. But, at once,
Arbaces, his own heralds summoning,
Thus, in the presence of his captains, spake.
``Go ye, and stand before Assyria's king;
Before his rulers, and his men of war;
And say aloud. `Twice hath a boaster sent,
Daring our bravest, in the mortal fight,
Singly to meet him; thereby to decide,
If the eternal city shall be ours,
Or we your bondslaves be. If thou, O king,
And ye, the lords, and rulers of the land,
Will, in the presence of your people, swear
A solemn oath, by earth, and sea, and sky,
By gods above, and the dark realms below,--
Upon the issue of this fight to rest
Your doom, and ours,--then name the day, the place,
And send your champion forth; nor fearful be
Lest ours may shun him. If ye like not this,
Then to the field with all your strength come forth,
To try the battle; and thus surer prove,
Whether to you the mastery belongs,
Or whether unto us.''' Thus having said,
Upon his captains calmly he looked round,
Their voice awaiting. Great was their applause.
The heralds then bowed down; and took their way.

But when, in presence of Assyria's queen,--
With lords, and chiefs, in sudden council met,--
Boldly the heralds spake--in every breast,
Wrath, and amazement rose. From her rich throne
Upstarting--with a countenance of flame,
Fearful, yet beauteous; fire from out her eyes,
As from two sapphires kindled by the sun,
Intensely flashing,--the majestic queen,--
Like angry goddess,--with inflated chest,
And arm of rose--tinged ivory out--stretched,
Proudly thus made reply. ``Begone, old men!
Reverend in years,--but, in your look, and tone,
And bold, bad message, most irreverent!
Assyria's king obeys not yet the call
Of impious rebels. But, erelong, be sure,--
For them perchance too soon,--the avenging hand
Will be put forth, and crush them in the dust!
Bid your imperious masters not o'er--loud
To vent their arrogance; for still the gods
Are over all things; and will vindicate,
Though late, the insulted majesty of kings.
Begone! nor with more insolence taint the air!''

The heralds, as before an angry god,
Rather than aught of human mould,--with awe
Stood trembling, and were mute. The voice, though sweet
As richest stop of organ, like a burst
Of thunder made their very hearts to quake.
A moment thus they stood; nor dared look up,--
So dread the aspect of that beauteous brow,
So withering the lightning of that eye,--
Then turned, and went their way. Down sank at once
The o'er--wrought queen; and, covering up her face,
Wept bitterly. That spectacle, unmoved,
Who might behold? The discontented brow,
The muttering lip, were seen; yet none, at first,
His thoughts dared speak: till Jerimoth, at length,
His pent--up anger scorning all control,
Thus boldly questioned. ``Will the king, then, see
His queen insulted, and his nobles mocked,
And send no chastisement? Where slumbereth he?
And wherefore, in this moment perilous,
And shameful, from his people doth he hide?''

To him, with gentle tone, Nebaioth spake,
Admonishing; and Salamenes placed
His hand upon the fiery warrior's breast,
Patience imploring. But his dangerous speech
The queen had heard; and, while her eyes dropped tears,
Turned, and thus spake. ``Ye murmur that the king
Cometh not forth among you: would he might!
Not now in feasting, laughter, dance, and song,
He revelleth: but, with a mighty grief
Borne down, and with thick darkness round him cast,
Looks like a body which the soul hath left,
While life yet lingereth. Have ye never heard
That, sometimes, in the living human form,
Demons have entered; and the whole man ruled
By their own hellish will? Was not that king
Of Israel, Saul, by Foul Things thus possessed;
And to their bidding bowed? Alas! Alas!
Even so, I fear me, is Assyria's king
By demons entered; for his wretchedness
Passeth belief: and would to tears more move,
Could ye behold him, than to words of wrath.
Alone he dwelleth, and no face will see,
Nor voice will listen: neither food, nor drink,
For two days hath he tasted: all distraught
His looks are; and his hue as of a corpse.
But, as to Saul of old did David go,
And with sweet music from his spirit drive
The Things of darkness,--so, unto the king,
Do thou, young Dara, speed. Without the door,
Take thou thy place; and, gently, from the harp,
Draw forth soft harmony. If not dismissed,
Then enter; and, with louder symphony,
Prelude a strain of battle. Should he stir,
Nor yet command thee go,--then, raise thy voice,
And pour a song heroic, of the deeds
Of Ninus; or of Nimrod; or of her,
The warrior--queen, Semiramis: perchance,
So may the gloomy demon from his heart
Be chased; and with new vigour may he rise.''

Thus having spoken, to the lords she bowed,
The council ending. Bearing in his hand
A golden lyre, then Dara to the door
Of the king's chamber went: but, issuing thence,
Beheld Azubah. In one hand, she held
A dulcimer; and, with the other, stanched
Fast flowing tears. ``Oh! go not in,'' she said:
``Wroth that from bonds I had my father loosed,
Me with most harsh rebuke hath he dismissed;
And no man's face will see.'' Then Dara knew
His errand vain; and mournfully retired.

On the next morning also, and each morn,
Gilgath his boastful challenge sent again;
And still with words more arrogant: for now,
When he beheld that no man answered him,
So swelled his pride that, singly, for them all,
He deemed himself sufficient. Every day,
Arbaces also, with his cars and horse,
Nigh to the city rode; and bade blow out
The trumpets; and the heralds cry aloud:
``When will the king come forth? why tarrieth he
Why comes he not to battle?'' Gilgath then,
When he beheld them, with enormous stride,
Upon the battlement stalked to and fro;
Shaking his spear, uplifting high his shield,
And bellowing forth defiance. But, with mocks
Still was he answered. To the Medes, each day,
Came thousands; chariots, horse, and infantry:
But, to the city, tens of thousands went:
For gold to every man was freely given;
And a rich spoil was promised. All this time,
Through sea of ponderous cloud, the god of light
Gloomily travelled; nor his getting--up,
Nor his down--setting, was beheld at all:
So that in both the hosts was marvel great,
And fearful looking forth for what should come.

All this time, also, on Assyria's king
Hung a thick darkness: neither with his queen,
Nor with his children, nor his concubines,
Nor with his captains spake he; but alone
With wizards, and astrologers conferred.

But, when the day of the new moon had come,
To the south plain once more the Assyrian host
Went forth; and Salamenes numbered them.
Six times a hundred thousand was their strength.

Then were their hearts made glad: and, when she saw
That from his torpor still the king stirred not,
The queen to council summoned the great chiefs,
And battle was resolved on. That same day,
His legions also did Arbaces sum.
Eight hundred, three score thousand fighting men,
Their number was: and, for the combat, all
Ardently thirsted. Then, when eve drew nigh,
Unto his tent the captains he convened,
And thus began. ``The men, ye see, are hot
For conflict; but our enemies come not forth.
How then may they be stirred? Still, day by day,
Thousands to us; but unto them do come,--
So boast they,--tens of thousands; and their strength
Must now be great: yet in their walls they lie
Secure, and will not meet us. Nor can we
Greatly prevent the aid that reaches them:
For, if to round the walls, and bar access,
Our armies we divide,--soon may they fall
With 'vantage on us; and some triumph win.''

Belesis then, uprising, thus replied.

``Have thou no fear, Arbaces: in brief time,
Full surely will they issue. Now some days
Have passed, since they with patience 'gan receive
Our daring to come forth. When they were weak,
Quickly incensed, too, were they. Without wrath,
The taunt to bear, gives proof of conscious strength.
Erelong, then, look to see the gates wide flung;
And streaming banners pour upon the plain,--
Though, by the help of God, in humbler show
Doomed to return. So, patiently await.''

He scarce had ceased, when, rising hastily,
The Arabian king came forward, and thus spake.

``O'er hot ye oft have deemed me; more inclined
By strength to overthrow, than by device
Trip up,--and I confess ye judge me right:
And, rather than thus linger here,--like dogs
Around a fox's hole close crouched, to wait
His coming out,--would I beat down the gates,
If that might be; or, with long ladders, try
The walls to climb. But, hear me patiently;
And ye shall find that, when occasion fits,
I can be subtle also. What if now,
Instead of bursting, I a way devise,
By stealth to ope yon gates, and let you in? . . .

``Ye smile;--but, listen first; and, afterwards,
Perchance ye still may smile; yet not as now,
But with the hope of swift, and sure success.
Hear then my thoughts; not on the heat struck out;
But, during days and nights, well wrought and shaped.

``Each day into the city thousands pass,--
Freely received, no doubt, and questioned not.
Let, then, a hundred of our choicest men,--
By night departing,--at some eastern gate,
With dawn present themselves;--though not at once,
Nor in one body,--but in separate groups,
As chance--met strangers. They will be received;
Welcomed as friends; paid, fed, with arms equipped;
And fitly lodged. Nigh on the mid--hour, then,
Of the first night,--when all the city sleeps,--
Let each man, walking silently and slow,
As if no thing of moment called him forth,
Hie toward the gate of Nisroch. When in force
Assembled there,--but in deep silence still,--
Let them the watchers seize;--and, under pain
Of death immediate, bid wide open fling.

Meantime, be ready, close without the gate,
In darkness couched, a band of chosen men,
Well armed, and numerous, who may pass within.
That done,--three torches, waving in a line
Upon the battlement, might signal be
For all our host,--massed opposite each gate,--
At swiftest to advance: but, first, of horse
Some thousands, who, awaiting not far off,
May rush within; then, skirting close the wall,
East, west, fly on; and every other gate
That fronts the camp, throw open. Like a flood,
Thus may we altogether on them burst;
And with an utter ruin overwhelm.
If, afterwards, we should the city keep;
With fire destroy; or raze unto the ground;
Be food for later thought.'' While thus he spake,--
With faces kindling, and bright flashing eyes,
From man to man the eager captains looked;
Each seeking if, by them, as by himself,
The scheme was relished. When the monarch ceased,
A burst of warm applause rose instantly;
And every man, upstarting from his seat,
Essayed to speak. All, then, with one accord,
Their places quitting, mingled in the midst;
Thronging, and crossing, as, from man to man,
With lifted voice, and gesture vehement,
Sharply they moved,--that, suddenly, the tent,
Rather like scene for some wild dance appeared,--
Mazy and intricate,--than ordered place
For solemn council. One alone stood still,
Nor spake at all,--Arbaces: yet his eye,
And features eloquent, not less delight
Told visibly, than did the loudest tongue.
Nor spake Belesis much: but, when the din
In part had settled, he his hand uplift,
Bespeaking silence: then, when to their seats
All had returned,--to Abdolonimus, first,
Thus he began. ``How well thy scheme is liked,
Needs not to tell thee; for the general voice
Loudly proclaims it. Aspect bright and fair
Truly it hath; and such its quality,
That, once propounded, marvel it appears
To every man, that he so rich a gem,
Open and clear to view, should have o'erlooked.
Yet, 'twixt the first conception of an act,
And its full execution, oft arise
Unthought--of difficulties, which, at length,
Blast the fair promise. Not to damp your zeal,
Thus speak I; but to teach a wary tread
On even the smoothest path; lest pitfalls lurk,
Unseen, undreamed of. When the shaft is shot,
Ye cannot stop it midway in its flight,
Or turn aside--though seeing it must pierce
The heart of wife, or child. Then, ere we draw--
For still in darkness must frail mortals shoot,
When at the future aiming--let all eyes,
At utmost stretch of vision, forward look,
To spy if, 'twixt the arrow, and the mark,
Stand aught to arrest it, or to turn aside.
So, with calm mind, let every man well scan
The object, and the means: and, when our best
In thought, and act, we faithfully have done,
With Heaven be left the event. To me, I own,
Right fair, and hopeful doth, at present, seem
The stratagem,--so, in the acting on't,
Be care, and honesty. In this sole thing,
Aught new do I advise. One hour ere dawn,
Rather than midnight,--so to me appears,--
Were for our action best. The watchers then
Will be outworn, and sleepy; and their ears
Less quick to catch the sound of hoof and wheel.
Nor, at that hour, will less the amazement be,
And terror in the city; while, for us,
The coming light a powerful aid will lend;
And guide us on to victory.'' In few words,
The Arabian king, approving, made reply:
Then, when he saw that no man stirred to speak,
Arbaces rose, and said: ``Belesis, thou
My thoughts hast uttered. Till the morrow's eve,
Let each man on this purpose ponder well:
Then, when we meet again, if any doubt
Perplex his mind; or any thought have risen,
Pregnant with promise,--let him freely speak.
To thee, brave Abdolonimus, the thanks
Of all are due; and warmly are they given,
Be what may be the event: for wisest thoughts,
The gods not favoring, may bad issue bring,
Even as the foolish.'' To their tents then went
The captains; flushed with hope; yet, not the less,
Deeply forecasting of the means, and end.

At eve of the next day, when they had met;
And no man aught of counsel new proposed,--
Ten captains over hundreds were called in;
And thus Arbaces spake. ``Go now; and choose,
Each from the hundred over which he rules,
Ten valiant men; and worthiest of your trust.
Discreet, as valiant, look you that they be,
Else evil may arise. Now take your way:
And, when the men are chosen, bring them here,
That we may speak with them.'' The captains bowed,
And straight retired. In silence sat the chiefs,--
As men, on some great thing resolved, are wont:
Nor seemed it, for a time, that any man
Would break the stillness. But Arbaces soon
Arose; and bade to place before the chiefs,
Dried fruits, and wine; and, like a courteous host,
From one to the other went,--in light discourse
Mingling, by turns, with all. But when, at length,
The captains, with the hundred chosen men,
Were ready at the door, they all went forth,--
For room enough within the tent was not:
And, when the men, in one compact array,
Attentive stood, then first the Arabian king,--
Not claiming precedence, but honored so,
Both by Arbaces, and the general voice,--
To their astonished ears, the bold design,
At large unfolded: all the action's course,
Step after step, went o'er,--repeating oft,
And often questioning, that he might know
If all, by all, were rightly understood.

Then, when it seemed that every man well knew;
He cheered them to their task; and bade to think
Of honors, and rewards awaiting them,
That glorious thing achieved. In every face,
Save one, shone hope and gladness: and when, last,
He questioned them, if, with a willing mind,
They girt them to the enterprise,--``We do,''
As from one voice, came forth the prompt reply.

Arbaces then, with some few parting words,
Dismissed them: and the leaders to their tents,
With joyful hearts, retired. When midnight came,--
All warlike show laid by; in humble guise
Of hunters, or of husbandmen, arrayed;
The hundred chosen men,--with wine, and food,
Refreshed and strong, and full of hope,--set forth.

Far eastward from the city having gone,
Awhile they rested: but, when dawn was nigh,
In separate groups, as each to the other strange,
They parted wide. Welcomed, and questioned not,
Through different eastern gates, erelong, all passed.

But, like a snake amid fair flowers concealed,
Among these valiant men one traitor lurked.
When, for his falsehood, and his treachery,
Stripped of his arms, and driven from out the camp,
With scorn and hissing,--Nahor, filled with rage
And rancour 'gainst the Mede, and Azareel,
Resolved a deep revenge. Their blood alone
His malice could appease. By open stroke,
Not to be dared,--yet, in some secret way,
Vengeance might reach them. Reckless at what cost
This bad end might be gained,--to mean disguise
His pride he stooped: his dark luxuriant locks
First shore he off: his beard, of lordly trim,
To peasant's fashion cut: his eye--brows plucked:
His fair complexion, to a dingy hue,
With villanous mixture, stained: then, in the garb
Of husbandman, and under borrowed name,
Returned, and joined the host. His size, and strength,
And bold demeanour, marked him out as one
Well fitted for all daring enterprise:
And, therefore, of the hundred chosen men,
Among the first was he. Before the tent,
When with the rest he stood; and saw come forth
The two whom on the earth he hated most,--
Arbaces, and the faithful Azareel,--
Heart--sickness came upon him: with teeth set,
And hands hard clenched, he stood--longing to strike.

But, when the Arabian king, the whole design
Had well unfolded,--like the sudden flash
Of lightning in the darkness, through his soul
Shot gleams of coming vengeance. What recked he,
Though with the Medes he stood, if, unto them,
Or to their foe, should fall the victory?
He for himself lived solely: and, to him,
The cup of life no drop so sweet could give,
As satisfied revenge. What though to death,
His noble comrades in that bold design,
He must give up;--what though the general host,
His countrymen, his friends, his sworn allies,
Might fall by myriads,--yet Arbaces, too,
Who had disgraced him; Azareel, who held
The seat from which himself had been cast down,
Must also feel the blow;--and, them to crush,
Through blood of thousands gladly had he trod,
As through a summer--brook. Yet not alone
Revenge invited him: fame, honor, power,
And riches, by the king to be bestowed,
A fit reward for that great treachery,--
He saw awaiting him. When, therefore, he
The gate had passed,--for singly he went in,--
Earnestly prayed he that, without delay,
Into the presence of Assyria's king
Might he be led,--things dark and perilous
To unfold before him. That bold prayer refused,
To Salamenes forthwith hasted he:
Him found a willing listener: and at once,--
In the munificence of the king of kings,
For recompense humbly trusting,--the whole scheme,
From first to last revealed. Before the queen,--
A loathed pollution,--was the traitor brought.
Again the tale was told: a council prompt
Was summoned: messengers to every chief
In haste dismissed: all preparation made,
The enemy in his own toils to take:
Then, when they everything had ordered well,--
The queen, and Salamenes,--hoping now,
By these great tidings, from his lethargy
The downcast king to rouse,--his chamber sought.

Alone, in melancholy mood, sat he:
His robes disordered; his once shining locks
Of curling gold, all dull and drooping now:
His countenance, once radiant as the blush
Of summer's dawn,--now wan, cadaverous,
Like his who in the dungeon's atmosphere
Long years has breathed: so was the mighty fallen!

When it was told him that, with matters deep,
Strange and portentous, charged,--the queen herself,
With Salamenes, instant audience sued,--
Wonder, and fear, shame, and vexation, mixed,
Lighted with hectic flush his pallid cheek;
And kindled his dull eye. Irresolute,
Awhile he sat, and spake not: then the sign
Permissive made; and, with contracted brow,
And look of stern impatience, their approach
Sullenly waited. When the haggard king
She first beheld,--shocked by his ghastly look,
The queen stood speechless: but, recovering soon,
Went, kissed his hand, and said. ``How fares my lord?
Thy look is sad, and sickly. Wherefore thus,
In solitude, and grief, thy health consume?
The past is past: the future calls thee now:
Action invites thee forth: thy people cry,
`Where is the king? and wherefore, in this strait,
Doth he abandon us?' Then, my dread lord,
Be once again thyself: let cowards lie
Despairing, when o'erthrown; but let the brave,
Against the shock of fate stand manfully;
And, though successless, yet deserve success.
Fate holds a balance, wherein doom of man,
For good, or ill, is weighed: as sways the beam,
There is a moment,--be it seized aright,--
When man his own hand in the scale may throw;
And bring down good. King of Assyria, now,
For thee that moment is. This night the foe
Will gather by the wall; in hope, at dawn,
The gates to enter. All their plan is known
The lions will be taken in a net;
The cunning men in their own trap be caught:
And, if the king but rise to aid us now,
Haply may ne'er escape.'' While thus she spake,
The frown that had the monarch's face obscured,--
Like a thick cloud when 'gins the sun to shine,
To cheerful radiance changed. His listless limbs,
With sudden strength seemed filled; his eyes grew bright;
His chest expanded; and deep breath he drew,
Like one who for the race prepares himself.
Starting from off the couch, aloud he said,
And raised his hands toward heaven, ``Then once again
Will I go forth to battle: and, oh gods!
Whoe'er ye be, that rule man's destiny,--
Give me to trample down that foe accursed;
And hecatombs shall on your altars lie;
And with their fragrant smoke your thrones enfold,
As clouds the mountain's top! But now, with speed,
Do thou, my brother, and best counsellor,
This thing in full declare: what wile the foe
Hath plotted; and what sager counterstroke
Ye have to crush him.'' Salamenes then,--
The king permitting,--to his presence, first,
The treacherous Nahor brought; and, by his mouth,
The whole design made known. Dismissing soon
The trembling wretch,--for, like to fiery darts,
Went to the caitiff's breast the keen stern looks
Of those who, using, loathed him,--thus, in brief,
Spake Salamenes. ``The whole deep design
Of our most subtle foe thus known to thee,--
Hear now, dread monarch, by what counterstroke
We aim to foil him: and, if overbold
Perchance it seem that, not consulting first
Assyria's lord, thy queen and brother dared
Council to summon; and the instant means
Devise to save thy city,--let the need
Excuse the daring. Thus, then, have we done.

``The hundred Medes first captured,--man by man,
Sternly were questioned, till the whole stood clear.
The enemy in his own toils to take,
Thus next was ordered. When the sun hath set,--
Chariots and horsemen, two score thousand strong,
Silently moving, will the city leave,
And take wide compass; to the eastward half,
Half toward the west: but when, ere dawn, the Medes
With their whole force move onward from the camp,
Behind them will they close. ``On either flank
Of the exulting rebels, marching on,--
Horse, chariots, twice ten thousand; infantry
Twice fifty thousand,--ambushed warily,
Will wait the sign: and, from the Nisroch gate
At distance fit, wide stretching, east and west,--
In the death--hug so best to grapple them,--
Of infantry, a hundred thousand strong,
Thrice told. But in the city, near the gates,--
All prompt to act as may occasion call,--
Will stand the rest. Then, when at dawn the Medes
Before the gate of Nisroch come, and strike,--
It shall be opened. They will mount the wall,
And show the sign,--three torches, waved abreast,--
For all their host to march. But, when the sound
Of the on--coming shall be heard--behold!
A thousand trumpets on the battlement
Shall signal give; a universal shout
From all our armies answer; and, at once,
Behind, before, on either flank, shall fall
Destruction on them. Retribution fit!
So the great gods smile on us, and assist!''

Well pleased, the monarch listened; all approved;
And once again, to highest heaven of hope
His soul was lifted. But, when left alone,
With solitude despairing thoughts returned;
And with his heart thus darkly he communed.

``All hope is vain! Fate hath our fall decreed!
Why should I toil, and vainly vex myself?
What will be, will be; and no mortal power
Can stay the doom! The banquet was foretold,--
It came; and this great empire to its base,
Was shaken. Tempest--Flood--Earthquake--and Fire,
Are next decreed;--and then the Final Fall!
At what time hence, I know not: all is dark;
Dark as the grave!--The grave? foul thought! Shall worms
Prey on the body of the king of kings,
As on a dog, by the wayside cast out,
At which the passing beggar stops the nose,
Turning aside with loathing!--But, away!
Black thoughts away! Still lives Assyria's king;
Still king of kings he lives, and lord of lords:
And, though the leper on his corpse may spit;
Yet, living, shall the mightiest of the earth
Tremble, and bow before him. And that wretch,
The doubly miscreant, who his monarch first,
In his great need abandoned; and now comes,
Faithless to those he served,--for sordid gold,
To sell the lives of myriads,--he, even now,
Shall feel my power; and know that, if I use
The traitor's counsel, in my inmost heart
I do abhor the traitor.'' Starting up,
Aloud he called; and, when the attendants came,
Thus ordered: ``To the captain of the guard
Make speed. Command him straightway to lead forth
The Arachosian, Nahor: hand and foot,
Bind him with cords: then from the battlement
Fling him down headlong! So shall it be seen
How the king loveth traitors.'' Mutely bowed
The attendants, and retired. A gloomy joy
Burning within him, as at some great act
Of stern, reluctant justice,--on his couch
Again the monarch sank: but, in brief time,
Dark fears returning, he before him called
Magicians, and astrologers, who now
Within the palace dwelt, that nigh at hand
They might await his bidding; and thus said:

``Upon the morrow will the armies meet
In a great conflict. Search, and, by your art,
Foretell to me the issue.'' Lowly bowed
The cunning men, and went. But when, at length,
Before the cheerless king again they stood,
Downcast their faces were; and, for a time,
No man among them spake. Then thus the king:
``Have ye no answer? Wherefore stand ye mute?
Shall we be victors, or again o'erthrown?
And shall the king himself the battle lead,
Or to his brother trust it?'' Stepping then
Before his fellows, Mophis bowed, and said.

``O king of kings! let not thy soul be wroth
With thy poor servants, if the thing they speak
Ill pleasing to thee be. So darkly show
The auguries; that, whether good, or ill,
Upon the morrow wait thee,--with sure eye
Can none of us foresee. Yet, unto one,
Thus is it shadowed. For Assyria's lot,
Evil, and Good, with balanced force contend;
And the dread issue, Fate alone doth know.
But, let the king a solemn sacrifice
To the gods offer; and they, now incensed,
May be appeased, and grant the victory.
And this the manner of the sacrifice.
Let him beside the altar--stone bind safe
A virgin, nobly born, and beautiful
As flowers of summer. If the battle, then,
Go with the king,--the gods demand her not;
And she may live: but, if against him hold
The tide of conflict,--then may he be sure
That wrathful are they still; and do require
The atoning incense of the sacrifice.
Then, let her blood steam upward from the ground;
And on the altar--fire her limbs be spread;
Till in thick curling clouds of fragrant smoke
Her form be melted, and to heaven go up,--
Their wrath appeasing. So the flood of war
Shall, at the smile of the approving gods,
Turn back; and bear the king to victory.''

Well pleased, the monarch heard. Dismissing then
The augurs, he his youthful charioteer
Summoned, and thus: ``To Salamenes haste.
Say--`on the morrow doth the king intend
A solemn sacrifice, the gods to soothe,
And goeth not to battle: therefore thou
His armies lead: and look for victory.'''

Lowly bowed Dara, and with speed withdrew;
But sorrowing; for he knew the word had flown
Throughout the armies, that the king himself
Would lead his hosts to combat; and much now
He feared, lest in the soldiers should arise
Disheartening thoughts. To Salamenes soon
He bore the unwelcome message. Shame, wrath, grief,
And terror racking her when this she heard,
At once the queen set forth; even on her knees
Resolved to fall, from his ill--boding end,
The fickle king to turn. But, unassured
Of welcome; and misdoubting, lest more hard
His bosom should be hardened at her prayer,--
Her daughter first she sought; and thus, with tears
Dimming her lustrous eyes, in haste began.

``Nehushta, thou, of those whom most he loves,
Art to thy father dearest: to thy voice
Oft hath he listed, when, to all beside,
Deaf as the rock. Oh! may he hear thee now,
And grant thy prayer; else, will a crushing ill
Fall on us, and Assyria may be lost!
He promised, with to--morrow's dawn, once more
To lead his armies 'gainst the rebel crew,--
And glad thereat, and strong, was every heart:
But he revoketh now the word; and saith,
A solemn sacrifice he hath to make;
And, in his place, must Salamenes lead;
And look for victory.--That fatal word
Made known unto the soldiers,--half their strength,
And their whole heart will melt like mist away.
Go then, my daughter: fall before his feet:
Embrace his knees; and pour out all thy soul
In prayer and tears,--from this ill--boding course
To turn him back: else, may the day of joy
That dawneth on us, change to one long night
Of weeping, lamentation, and despair.''

Nehushta heard, and trembled: to the arms
Of her loved mother, with a fond embrace,
Sprang hastily; a duteous daughter's kiss
Pressed on her cheek; then, with a fluttering heart,
But soul resolved, went forth. The king, meantime,
Alone and gloomy sat: but thus, at length,
In words, to thought gave shape. ``Auspicious most
The occasion seems. Well every snare is set,
The enemy to take; and surely now
Ruin should seize them: yet, when I would look
On a bright future, I behold it not;
But, in its place, a cloud that covers all,
As with a grave--cloth. Equal in their strength,
For, and against me, Good, and Evil, fight;--
So say the wizards,--and the final end
Their art shows not: but, with this sacrifice,
If I the gods appease, then shall the Good
Vanquish the Evil; and the king shall stand
For aye triumphant o'er his enemies.
So they: but not as these the prophet spake;
Both in the flesh, and when before mine eyes,
On that dread night, his bloodless spectre came:
No conquest promised he; but, tempest,--flood,--
Fire,--earthquake, threatened; and the utter fall
Of me, and mine, and this great Nineveh!
If he the truth, then have they uttered lies:
If they the truth, then are his threatenings false.
How may I know? I read not from the book
In which man's fate is written: nor have proof
That any rightly read,--or read at all,
Save in their own imaginings. Too well,
One evil did the Israelitish seer
Predict to me: but, have not also they,
Chaldea's prophets, oft of good forewarned,
And evil, which the time hath brought to pass?
Why, therefore, unto them, as unto him,
Credence should I not give?--since, by the event,
Have both alike been proved. Come then what may,
The issue will I try. As they have said,
So everything shall be. Beneath the rule
Of Salamenes shall the host go forth:
The victim, bound, shall by the altar sit;
And wait the gods' disposal. If with us
The battle go, then shall her bonds be loosed:
If with our foes, then shall her blood be shed;
Her body on the altar--fire be burned:
And I, even I myself, will single forth
The victim for the offering. Yet not I,
But heaven, shall choose her.'' On his knees he fell,
And lifted up his hands. ``Hear, all ye gods
Who rule man's destiny! By you I swear;
By earth, and sea, and sky! by heaven above,
And by the realms below! by all that is,
All that hath been, and all that yet shall be!
By these I swear!--the virgin, nobly born,
Youthful, and chaste, on whom I first shall look;--
Be she the sister, or the one loved child
Of lord, or chief, or prince, who to my heart
Is dearest upon earth,--yet, as your choice,
Almighty Powers! her will I single forth
Her solely, irredeemably: her limbs
Beside the altar--stone the priest shall bind:
Thereon, demanded, shall her blood pour forth;
Her body utterly consume with fire!
So may the sacrifice accepted be!
And, if I falsely swear, then, ye great gods,
Strike down my throne! the eternal walls throw down!
Make me a mock and hissing unto men!
Let the brute rebel spit upon my corse!
Give to me not the honored sepulture
Of a long line of kings; but let foul birds
Devour my flesh, and wild dogs gnaw my bones!''

He ended; bowed, sank down,--his trembling hands
Touching the floor, as though beneath a load
Of fate mysterious crushed: for now he felt,
A chain invisible had girt him round,
From which was no escape. At length, he rose;
And, with white face, and sharply quivering lip,
Sat silently; as in a fearful dream
Brooding on what should come. But, suddenly,--
For he the opening door, the advancing steps,
So deep his musing, heard not,--at his feet
A veilëd woman knelt. Some concubine
He judged her, who, leave asking not, had come,
In hope to soothe him; or some boon, perchance,
Intent to beg; and angrily exclaimed:
``Rise, woman! Wherefore hast thou thus presumed?
Hence--vex me not.'' But, lifting up her veil,
With tremulous tone she murmured, ``Oh forgive!
Forgive me, my dear father!'' Like the cry
Of tortured maniac, from the king burst forth
A long, loud yell of anguish. From his knee,
Madly he thrust her; sprang upon his feet;
Tore out his hair; his teeth gnashed; stamped the floor,
And rent his garments. In a wild affright,--
Deeming her father by a frenzy seized,--
Nehushta shrieked; ran forth, and called for aid.

The king, meantime, like to a caged--up beast,
To and fro bounded: and, when, terror--struck,
His servants entered,--with a fierce rebuke,
Drove them before him: the strong silver bolt
Shot in the staple; and to bitterest woe,
Rage, and remorse, gave way! ``Oh horrible!
Most horrible!'' he cried. ``Blood--loving gods!
Is this the victim, then, that ye demand?
My child? my dearest child? If such your will,
Demons, not gods, ye be! I brave you then!
I do defy you! I revoke my vow!
Inflict your worst; flood, earthquake, fire, and death;
I will endure them all, before one hair
Of that fair child, the bloody priest shall touch!

``Magicians cursed! ye knew the victim then!
Ye willed the father, in the daughter's blood,
To dip his hands! But, cry now on the gods,
The demons whom ye serve; and see if they
Your own foul blood can save.'' Wide flew the door:
He called. A captain of the household guard
Before him trembling stood. Like coals of fire,
Glowed his large eyes, his lips were thick with foam,
As thus,--word choking word,--his fury burst.

``Treason is here! The accursed magicians! Fly!
Strike off their heads! Fool! stare not,--but away!
Slay all! Dost hear me? Leave but one alive,
And in his room thou diest! Off every head!
Fling their vile bodies from the battlement,
A prey to dogs, and vultures! When 'tis done,
Appear, and tell me. Hence! I cannot breathe
While they pollute the air.'' All horror--struck,
Yet dreading to delay, the captain went;
And saw the doom performed: with heavy heart,
Then to the king returned, and told their fate.

A savage joy the tyrant's breast inflamed:
Deeply he breathed, like one who hath his thirst
Well satisfied: then to his chamber went;
The massive bolts shot to; a goblet huge
Of wine quaffed off; and on the gorgeous bed,
His outworn body stretched, to seek repose.

Heavily slept he soon: but hideous dreams
Brought torture. Now, of Nahor, from the wall
Headlong cast down, he thought; his death--shriek heard;
Saw the wild gleaming of his anguished eye;
And felt the dull jar, as the body struck
Upon the trembling ground: anon, behold!
He stood beside his daughter at the pile:
He saw her bosom pierced; her blood poured forth;
Her beauteous corpse upon the altar--fire,
In lurid clouds exhaling: yet, from high,
Faces of angry gods upon him looked:
Corpse--like, yet living, the slain prophets mocked;
And bade him to the fight. At set of sun,
From thrice a hundred gates that faced the camp--
Like deep streams flowing noiselessly, went forth
Horse, chariots, foot,--four mighty armaments:
Half eastward, westward half, across the plain,--
By the fresh kindled watch--fires of the foe
Directed,--their appointed stations sought;
And formed array for onset. On his steed,
The rider motionless,--the charioteer,
With reins in hand, and scourge,--like gloomy ranks
Of ghostly warriors, dark and silent all,
Sat waiting the gray dawn. At later hour,
Went forth, of foot, three hundred thousand strong:
Eastward, and westward,--from the central gate,
At distance fit,--in broad, deep lines, that front
And flank alike should threaten,--formed at last;
And, as commanded, on bare earth, lay down,
Slumber to seek,--ere earliest tint of day,
That they might rise for combat. Yet, long time,--
Fired by expectance of the coming morn,--
Hearts throbbing, eyes wide open, did they lie,
Visioning battle. But dark night, at length,
And the dead stillness, like a magic spell,
Wrought on their senses: gently closed the lids;
Slow came the breath; and imperceptibly,
Like cool dew sinking in a parched--up soil,
O'er all the ardent host soft slumber stole.

'Twas midnight: silent as the solitude
On the broad ocean, when all winds are dead,
And on the glassy deep the stars shine clear
As in the sky,--the wondrous city lay.

But Salamenes,--watchful till the last,
Upon the battlement, above the gate
Of Nisroch, took his stand; and earnestly
Across the plain looked forth. No motion there.
The myriad watch--fires of the Medes flared high;
Their deep soft moaning, like a mother's song,
Lulling the drowsy night. Less distance off,
Toward east, and west, where couched the ambushed foot,
His eyes then cast he. All in darkness lay,
And silent as the grave. No bed, that night,
The anxious leader sought; but, armed complete,
His weary frame within a lion's hide
Enfolded; and, along the battlement,
Above the gate lay down, and sank to rest.

Throughout the Median camp, not less, was all
For combat ordered. Ready to the hand,
Spear, sword, shield, axe, dart, bow, and quiver lay.
In even ranks the brazen chariots stood,
Silent and dreadful,--as with life instinct,
Longing to thunder. O'er his fragrant corn,
Snorted the war--horse; or, with ears erect,
Listed his rider's coming,--for he knew
The battle was at hand: and, as he lay,
The steel--clothed warrior, sleeping or awake,
Beheld the mighty city's overthrow.

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