AT the first streak of dawn the Hebrew cavalry, with the exception
of the guard, charged the advancing columns of the Karasmians with
irresistible force, and cut them in pieces. Alp Arslan rallied his
troops, and at length succeeded in forming his main body in good
order. Alroy and Asriel led on their divisions, and the battle now
became general. It raged for several hours, and was on both sides
well maintained. The slaughter of the Karasmians was great, but
their stern character and superior numbers counterbalanced for a
time all the impetuosity of the Hebrews and all the energy of their
leaders. This day Alroy threw into the shade all his former exploits.
Twelve times he charged at the head of the Sacred Guard, and more
than once penetrated to the very pavilion of Alp Arslan.
In vain he endeavoured singly, and hand to hand, to meet that
famous chieftain. Both monarchs fought in the ranks, and yet Fate
decided that their scimetars should never cross. Four hours before
noon, it was evident to Alroy, that, unless Scherirah arrived, he
could not prevail against the vast superiority of numbers. He was
obliged early to call his reserve into the field, and although the
number of the slain on the side of Arslan exceeded any in the former
victories of the Hebrews, still the Karasmians maintained an immense
front, which was constantly supplied by fresh troops. Confident
in his numbers, and aware of the weakness of his antagonists, Arslan
contented himself with acting on the defensive, and wearying his
assailants by resisting their terrible and repeated charge.
For a moment, Alroy at the head of the Sacred Guard had withdrawn
from the combat. Abner and Asriel still maintained the fight, and
the Caliph was at the same time preparing for new efforts, and watching
with anxiety for the arrival of Scherirah. In the fifth hour, from
an eminence he marked with exultation the advancing banners of his
expected succours. Confident now that the day was won, he announced
the exhilarating intelligence to his soldiers; and, while they were
excited by the animating tidings, led them once more to the charge.
It was irresistible; Scherirah seemed to have arrived only for the
pursuit, only in time to complete the victory. What then was the
horror, the consternation of Alroy, when Benaiah, dashing up to
him, informed him that the long-expected succours consisted of the
united forces of Scherirah and Abidan, and had attacked him in the
rear. Human genius could afford no resource. The exhausted Hebrews,
whose energies had been tasked to the utmost, were surrounded. The
Karasmians made a general and simultaneous advance. In a few minutes
the Hebrew army was thrown into confusion. The stoutest warriors
threw away their swords in despair. Every one thought only of self-preservation.
Even Abner fled towards Hamadan. Asriel was slain. Alroy, finding
it was all over, rushed to his pavilion at the head of about three
hundred of the guards, seized the fainting Schirene, threw her before
him on his saddle, and cutting his way through all obstacles, dashed
into the desert.
For eight-and-forty hours they never stopped. Their band was soon
reduced one-third. On the morning of the third day they dismounted
and refreshed themselves at a well. Half only regained their saddles.
Schirene never spoke. On they rushed again, each hour losing some
exhausted co-mate. At length, on the fifth day, about eighty strong,
they arrived at a grove of palm-trees. Here they dismounted. And
Alroy took Schirene in his arms, and the shade seemed to revive
her. She opened her eyes, and pressed his hand and smiled. He gathered
her some dates, and she drank some water.
‘Our toils will soon be over, sweetest,’ he whispered to her; ‘I
have lost everything but thee.’
Again they mounted, and, proceeding at a less rapid pace, they
arrived towards evening at the ruined city, whither Alroy all this
time had been directing his course. Dashing down the great street,
they at length entered the old amphitheatre. They dismounted. Alroy
made a couch with their united cloaks for Schirene. Some collected
fuel, great store of which was found, and kindled large fires. Others,
while it was yet light, chased the gazelles, and were sufficiently
fortunate to provide their banquet, or fetched water from the well
known to their leader. In an hour’s time, clustering round their
fires in groups, and sharing their rude fare, you might have deemed
them, instead of the discomfited and luxurious guards of a mighty
monarch, the accustomed tenants of this wild abode.
‘Come, my lads,’ said Alroy, as he rubbed his hands over the ascending
flame, ‘at any rate this is better than the desert!’