LEAVING the army within a day’s march of the capital, Alroy, accompanied
only by his staff, entered Hamadan in the evening, and, immediately
repairing to the citadel, summoned Jabaster to council. The night
was passed by the king and the high priest in deep consultation.
The next morning, a decree apprised the inhabitants of the return
of their monarch, of the creation of the new ‘Kingdom of the Medes
and Persians,’ of which Hamadan was declared the capital, and Abner
the viceroy, and of the intended and immediate invasion of Syria,
and re-conquest of the Land of Promise.
The plan of this expedition had been long matured, and the preparations
to effect it were considerably advanced. Jabaster had not been idle
during the absence of his pupil. One hundred thousand warriors were
at the capital of the kingdom of the Medes and Persians; of these
the greater part were Hebrews, but many Arabs, wearied of the Turkish
yoke, and many gallant adventurers from the Caspian, easily converted
from a vague idolatry to a religion of conquest, swelled the ranks
of the army of the Lord of Hosts.
The plain of Hamadan was covered with tents, the streets were filled
with passing troops, the bazaars loaded with military stores; long
caravans of camels laden with supplies every day arrived from the
neighbouring towns; each instant some high-capped Tartar with despatches60
rushed into the city and galloped his steed up the steep of the
citadel. The clang of arms, the prance of horses, the flourish of
warlike music, resounded from all quarters. The business and the
treasure of the world seemed, as it were in an instant, to have
become concentrated in Hamadan. Every man had some great object;
gold glittered in every hand. All great impulses were stirring;
all the causes of human energy were in lively action. Every eye
sparkled, every foot trod firm and fast. Each man acted as if the
universal fate depended upon his exertions; as if the universal
will sympathised with his particular desire. A vast population influenced
by a high degree of excitement is the most sublime of spectacles.
The commander of the Faithful raised the standard of the Prophet
on the banks of the Tigris. It was the secret intelligence of this
intended event that had recalled Alroy so suddenly from Persia.
The latent enthusiasm of the Moslemin was excited by the rare and
mystic ceremony, and its effects were anticipated by previous and
judicious preparations. The Seljuks of Bagdad alone amounted to
fifty thousand men; the Sultan of Syria contributed the warriors
who had conquered the Arabian princes of Damascus and Aleppo; while
the ancient provinces of Asia Minor, which formed the rich and powerful
kingdom of Seljukian Roum, poured forth a myriad of that matchless
cavalry, which had so often baffled the armies of the Cćsars. Never
had so imposing a force been collected on the banks of the Tigris
since the reign of Haroun Alraschid.*
Each day some warlike Atabek, at the head of his armed train, poured
into the capital of the caliphs,61
or pitched his pavilion on the banks of the river; each day the
proud emir of some remote principality astonished or affrighted
the luxurious Babylonians by the strange or uncouth warriors that
had gathered round his standard in the deserts of Arabia, or on
the shores of the Euxine.*
For the space of twenty miles, the banks of the river were, on either
side, far as the eye could reach, covered with the variegated pavilions,
the glittering standards, the flowing streamers and twinkling pennons
of the mighty host, of which Malek, the Grand Sultan of the Seljuks,*
and Governor of the Caliph's palace, was chief commander.
Such was the power assembled on the plains of Asia to arrest the
progress of the Hebrew Prince, and to prevent the conquest of the
memorable land promised to the faith of his fathers, and forfeited
by their infidelity. Before the walls of Hamadan, Alroy reviewed
the army of Israel, sixty thousand heavy-armed footmen, thirty thousand
archers and light troops, and twenty thousand cavalry. Besides these,
there had been formed a body of ten thousand picked horsemen, styled
the ‘Sacred Guard,’ all of whom had served in the Persian campaign.
In their centre, shrouded in a case of wrought gold, studded with
carbuncles, and carried on a lusty lance of cedar, a giant, for
the height of Elnebar exceeded that of common men by three feet,
bore the sceptre of Solomon. The Sacred Guard was commanded by Asriel,*
the brother of Abner.
The army was formed into three divisions. All marched in solemn
order before the throne of Alroy, raised upon the ramparts, and
drooped their standards and lances as they passed their heroic leader.
Bostenay, and Miriam, and the whole population of the city witnessed
the inspiring spectacle from the walls. That same eve, Scherirah,
at the head of forty thousand men, pushed on towards Bagdad, by
Kermanshah; and Jabaster, who commanded in his holy robes, and who
had vowed not to lay aside his sword until the rebuilding of the
temple, conducted his division over the victorious plain of Nehauend.
They were to concentrate at the pass of Kerrund,*
which conducted into the province of Bagdad, and await the arrival
of the king.
At the dawn of day, the royal division and the Sacred Guard, the
whole under the command of Asriel, quitted the capital. Alroy still
lingered, and for some hours the warriors of his staff might have
been observed lounging about the citadel, or practising their skill
in throwing the jerreed as they exercised their impatient chargers
before the gates.
The king was with the lady Miriam, walking in the garden of their
uncle. One arm was wound round her delicate waist, and with the
other he clasped her soft and graceful hand. The heavy tears burst
from her downcast eyes, and stole along her pale and pensive cheek.
They walked in silence, the brother and the sister, before the purity
of whose surpassing love even ambition vanished. He opened the lattice
gate. They entered into the valley small and green; before them
was the marble fountain with its columns and cupola, and in the
distance the charger of Alroy and his single attendant.
They stopped, and Alroy gathered flowers, and placed them in the
hair of Miriam. He would have softened the bitterness of parting
with a smile. Gently he relaxed his embracing arm, almost insensibly
he dropped her quivering hand.
‘Sister of my soul,’ he whispered, ‘when we last parted here, I
was a fugitive, and now I quit you a conqueror.’
She turned, she threw herself upon his neck, and buried her face
in his breast.
‘My Miriam, we shall meet at Bagdad.’
He beckoned to her distant maidens; they advanced, he delivered
Miriam into their arms. He pressed her hand to his lips, and, rushing
to his horse, mounted and disappeared.