Chapter 3

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Alroy, Edited by Sheila A. Spector


Part IV

Chapter 3

THE bandits hurried their captive through a street which appeared to have been the principal way of the city. Nearly at its termination, they turned by a small Ionian temple, and, clambering over some fallen pillars, entered a quarter of the city of a more ruinous aspect than that which Alroy had hitherto visited. The path was narrow, often obstructed, and around were signs of devastation for which the exterior of the city had not prepared him.

The brilliant but brief twilight of the Orient was fast fading away; a sombre purple tint succeeded to the rosy flush; the distant towers rose black, although defined, in the clear and shadowy air; and the moon, which, when he first entered, had studded the heavens like a small white cloud, now glittered with deceptive light.

Suddenly, before them rose a huge pile. Oval in shape, and formed by tiers of arches, it was evidently much dilapidated, and one enormous, irregular, and undulating rent, extending from the top nearly to the foundation, almost separated the side to which Alroy and his companions advanced.

Clambering up the remainder of this massive wall, the robbers and their prisoner descended into an immense amphitheatre, which seemed vaster in the shadowy and streaming moonlight. In it were groups of men, horses, and camels. In the extreme distance, reclining or squatting on mats and carpets, was a large assembly, engaged in a rough but merry banquet. A fire blazed at their side, its red and uncertain flame mingling with the white and steady moonbeam, and throwing a flickering light over their ferocious countenances, their glistening armour, ample drapery, and shawled heads.

‘A spy,’ exclaimed the captors, as they dragged Alroy before the leader of the band.

‘Hang him, then,’ said the chieftain, without even looking up.

‘This wine, great Scherirah,* is excellent, or I am no true Moslem,’ said a principal robber; ‘but you are too cruel; I hate this summary punishment. Let us torture him a little, and extract some useful information.’

‘As you like, Kisloch,’* said Scherirah; ‘it may amuse us. Fellow, where do you come from? He cannot answer. Decidedly a spy. Hang him up.’

The captors half untied the rope that bound Alroy, that it might serve him for a further purpose, when another of the gentle companions of Scherirah interfered.

‘Spies always answer, captain. He is more probably a merchant in disguise.’

‘And carries hidden treasure,’ added Kisloch; ‘these rough coats often cover jewels. We had better search him.’

‘Ah! search him,’ said Scherirah, with his rough brutal voice; ‘do what you like, only give me the bottle. This Greek wine is choice booty. Feed the fire, men. Are you asleep? And then Kisloch, who hates cruelty, can roast him if he likes.’

The robbers prepared to strip their captive. ‘Friends, friends!’ exclaimed Alroy, ‘for there is no reason why you should not be friends, spare me, spare me. I am poor, I am young, I am innocent. I am neither a spy nor a merchant. I have no plots, no wealth. I am a pilgrim.’

‘A decided spy,’ exclaimed Scherirah; ‘they are ever pilgrims.’ ‘He speaks too well to speak truth,’ exclaimed Kisloch.

‘All talkers are liars,’ exclaimed Scherirah.

‘That is why Kisloch is the most eloquent of the band.’

‘A jest at the banquet may prove a curse in the field,’ replied Kisloch.

‘Pooh!’ exclaimed Scherirah. ‘Fellows, why do you hesitate? Search the prisoner, I say!’

They advanced, they seized him. In vain he struggled.

‘Captain,’ exclaimed one of the band, ‘he wears upon his breast a jewel!’

‘I told you so,’ said the third robber.

‘Give it me,’ said Scherirah.

But Alroy, in despair at the thought of losing the talisman, remembering the injunctions of Jabaster, and animated by supernatural courage, burst from his searchers, and, seizing a brand from the fire, held them at bay.

‘The fellow has spirit,’ said Scherirah, calmly. ‘’Tis pity it will cost him his life.’

‘Bold man,’ exclaimed Alroy, ‘for a moment hear me! I am a pilgrim, poorer than a beggar. The jewel they talk of is a holy emblem, worthless to you, to me invaluable, and to be forfeited only with my life. You may be careless of that. Beware of your own. The first man who advances dies. I pray you humbly, chieftain, let me go.’

‘Kill him,’ said Scherirah.

‘Stab him!’ exclaimed Kisloch.

‘Give me the jewel,’ said the third robber.

‘The God of David be my refuge, then!’ exclaimed Alroy.

‘He is a Hebrew, he is a Hebrew,’ exclaimed Scherirah, jumping up. ‘Spare him, my mother was a Jewess.’

The assailants lowered their arms, and withdrew a few paces. Alroy still remained upon his guard.

‘Valiant pilgrim,’ said Scherirah, advancing, with a softened voice, ‘are you for the holy city?’

‘The city of my fathers.’

‘A perilous journey. And whence from?’

‘Hamadan.’

‘A dreary way. You need repose. Your name?’

‘David.’

‘David, you are among friends. Rest, and repose in safety. You hesitate. Fear not! The memory of my mother is a charm that always changes me!’ Scherirah unsheathed his dagger, punctured his arm,14 and, throwing away the weapon, offered the bleeding member to Alroy. The Prince of the Captivity touched the open vein with his lips.

‘My troth is pledged,’ said the bandit; ‘I can never betray him in whose veins my own blood is flowing.’ So saying, he led Alroy to his carpet.

Published @ RC

January 2005

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