WHICH is the more beautiful sight of the two,--that outside, or that inside of the room?
Outside,--such moonlight as we under this misty sky never know; the great chain of Caucasus, seen faintly through a flood of golden haze in the distance; the orange groves and lime avenues and lemon plantations of Tiflis, "the earthly paradise," in the foreground, and the faint murmur of the Kour through the near valley.
Inside,--three little beds; but if we could raise the musquito-curtain that hangs at the head of each, we should see three of the loveliest little faces that painter ever imagined for his angels. Each of the tiny canopies is embroidered in gold and silver thread with a coronet; and never could brow be worthier of a coronet than that of this little one,--she is eleven years old, and her name is Tamar,--now so quietly sleeping, one arm carelessly thrown under that cloud of golden hair, the other hand clasping a little silver cross. This next little one, Nina, may be two years younger than her sister; the same golden hair, the same [1/2] marvellous, and even more than Georgian, fairness and delicacy of complexion, but hardly so sweet a smile, hardly a face that you could so much love at the first glance. And the little pet next to her--she is but three months old--will be called by her sisters tomorrow morning their darling Ketevan.
So now you have the two views; and it would be hard to say which, in its way, is the more beautiful.
But the room darkens. The moon is setting behind the distant hills of Imeretia. There is nothing but the uncertain glimmer of starlight in the chamber of rest. The world seems entirely shut out; the voice of the Kour is softer and fainter; the scent of the orange-groves is more delicate and fragrant; and as the darkness grows yet dimmer, I can fancy that at the head of each of the sleeping children a glorious appearance takes shape and form, and is surely like one of the inhabitants of the heavenly country. Each leans over his own charge with looks of inexpressible love: thus far all are alike; but there the resemblance ends. Over the heads of Tamar and Ketevan they hold a crown of such rare beauty, that earthly gems, that the pearls of the Indian sea, that the gold of Californian rivers, would look poor at its side; the guardian angel who watches over the sleep of Nina has in his hand no such diadem; blended with love, there is a sad, sad look of disappointment on his face; and I can hear, or can fancy, the whisper from his lips,--"And thou, too, mightest have possessed it!"
Morning comes up on the mountains; the birds in [2/3] the valleys of Tiflis begin their matins; the bright-crested hoopoo darts across the dewy lane, and shakes the drops from the bushes; the great lizard, a mass of green and gold, basks on the sunny wall; the clouds roll up the sides of the Caucasus, till Tersk, and Khazbeh, and kingly Elbrouz are glorious in their brightness. The chamber of the royal children grows clearer and clearer; the sunbeams pierce through its gauze curtain; it is broad day.
All this happened in the year of grace 750, and in the palace at Tiflis; not then, as now, the capital, but the royal residence, the Windsor, of Georgia. I am treading on ground new to most readers of ecclesiastical history; and it is almost necessary to say a word or two of the time and the place before I can continue the story.
Georgia, or, as the inhabitants call it, Gruzia, is one of the countries that owes its earliest illumination to a woman. Nina, or Nonna,--whatever her real name was, for this is evidently a title of dignity, and answers to our nun,--was made the instrument of converting the king and the court towards the commencement of the fourth century; and thenceforward till the present day Georgia has remained firm to the orthodox faith. Never was Church so persecuted; sometimes by the [3/4] fire-worshippers of Persia; sometimes by the Arian followers of Mobedach; sometimes by the Monophysites of Armenia; but chiefly by the hordes of Mahometan conquerors. At the time of which I am writing this latter kind of persecution was near. Georgia had hitherto been, as she afterwards became again, a powerful kingdom; but at this moment she was divided into several principalities, each very imperfectly connected with the other: Imeretia, Mingrelia, Abkhasia, Kartalenia, and Daghestan. The successors of the false Prophet had hardly, as yet, turned their arms in this direction. The house of Ommiyah, better known as the Ommiadse, sat on the throne of the Caliphs; it was a time of religious dissension in Islam, and undivided Georgia had been a match for divided Mahometanism. But now Meruan, the last and the fiercest of the Ommiades, was the Prophet's vicegerent upon earth; and it is of him that our story will have to tell.
Nothing would more surprise a traveller unacquainted with Georgian history, than to wander from church to church in those lovely valleys, to sketch their towers and spires, to hear their bells, to see their frescoes, to find effigies of knights in chain-armour,--all like mediaeval Europe. These, however, date from the glorious times of Georgia; from the reign of St. David, from the victories of Queen Tamar the Great, and from those of George VII., surnamed the Morning Star. But that great epoch could never have existed had it not been for the [4/5] patient endurance and the bitter persecutions of the century of which I write.
III. George, King of Karlalenia, to Alexander. Prince of Ran and Tiflis.
My dear Lord and Brother,--After salutation in the Lord. I have but just received tidings which it may concern us all to be acquainted with at once. Their purport is this; that the Caliph proposes, without declaration of war or warning of any kind, to burst into our unhappy country,--which God preserve! My spy, who has always proved himself most trustworthy, speaks by rumour of 70,000 foot, and about 14,000 horse. We have learnt, by his other expeditions, that he is not the general to waste time in preparations; and I write to pray you to meet me with the greatest speed possible at Akhaltsik, whither I have also summoned our good brethren, and several of our prelates, more especially the Catholic ot this kingdom. And so I pray God to have you in His holy keeping.
From our palace at Gori, this 4th day of June, in the Era of Martyrs, 466. [This Era counts from the first year of Diocletian, A.D. 284.]
Above the river Kour, and at the end of the palace garden in Tiflis, was an arbour, beautiful with all the [5/6] summer flowers of Georgia. It was perched, like an eagle, on the very edge of the crag, that solemn, stately crag, with its vertical basaltic pillars, at the foot of which the pleasant stream flowed on, murmuring ceaselessly. Honeysuckles and fuchsias hung lovingly over the trellised recess, and a noble passionflower climbed up its sides, and displayed its glorious petals and anthers from the roof. No seclusion could be pleasanter in the depth of a summer day; and a great lime towered up aloft, and flung its delicious coolness below. So steep was the precipice, and so near its edge was the tree, that its shadow fell far, far below on the greensward at the opposite side of the river; and in that shade three brindled cows lay lazily chewing the cud. A scene of as perfect peace as God ever sends on earth: barley-fields, now shewing only the reaped stubble; wheat-fields, white already to harvest; pasture-lands, waving with their second crop.
Within the arbour sat a lady, some seven-and-twenty years of age, and looking, as indeed she was, every inch a queen. But cast one glance on that sweet face, that transparent complexion, and that golden hair, and you will see the very antitype of the dear child by whose bed we stood last night. It is, indeed, the mother of that child, Susanna by name, the wife of King Alexander, and the sister of Archil, King of Daghestan, who is thus gazing over the scene of loveliness. And yet they are sad thoughts, too, that fill her mind. Her husband, but two hours since, has left her with [6/7] a hastily summoned train of fifty horsemen for Gori. She has received his instructions to summon at once his principal vassals; and even now she is awaiting the arrival of the prop of his throne, and her own dear spiritual father, Eustathius of Mtskétha,--(the Church has since reckoned him among the saints). It is but little that she knows of war, except from history and by tradition. The lines had fallen to her in pleasant places, when, a bride at sixteen, she entered the palace of Tiflis: and since then her heritage has been no less goodly. This only is wanting to her complete happiness, that to the three sisters to whom I have already introduced you, a brother should be added. And often and earnestly has she prayed that, if it be God's will, a future infant may be the inheritor of his father's crown, as well as the imitator of his father's goodness.
A quick decided step on the gravelled path of the garden, and, ushered by a page, the Metropolitan of Mtskétha stands before her. Once for all I may remind the reader that he ruled over his suffragan bishops and archbishops, thirty-seven in number, with patriarchal power, owning no superior save God and the Oecumenical Councils. Yet Patriarch he was not called; his proper title was that of Catholic, in the same way that the Church has recognised the Catholic of Axum in Ethiopia, the Catholic of Mosul in Chaldaea, the Catholic of Etchmiadzine in Armenia, as a kind of inferior patriarchs.
"You have heard the news?" he asked.
 "My husband left me this morning for Gori," replied the Queen. "But tell me, my father, (for from you I shall learn the truth,) is the danger so pressing? Have we no hope of successful resistance?"
"The danger, my child," answered the good old Metropolitan, "is great indeed. This Meruan is so situated that he must either fight or cease to reign. He has rebels crowding round him, and he who shall be most energetic in carrying on the war against the Cross will be the chosen leader of the Crescent. And then it is not with us as it once was: were Georgia undivided, she would be, humanly speaking, invincible."
"But at all events," returned Susanna, "her kings and princes are of one heart and one soul. I can answer that my dear lord and husband has not one thought regarding his brother monarchs but a thought of love and peace."
"It is true, and I thank God for it," returned Eustathius. "But this is the worst of all such divisions: the kings may agree as though they were the brethren in deed that they are in name, but it will not be so with their subordinates. Abram and Lot clave to each other as saints; but it is written,' There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and the herdsmen of Lot's cattle.' And what was the end? Why; the two parted asunder, the one from the other."
"Then," said the Queen, looking earnestly at him, "your expectations for the future are dark?"
"No, my daughter, not entirely so; I have no [8/9] power of foretelling the event of the war; and then I cannot but hope that He, Who is the Lord of Hosts, will not forget that, grievous sinners as we all are, and most righteously as we deserve His chastisements, still, on the whole, His name is honoured in these provinces. If He leaves us, it will be His heritage--His heritage indeed, and His loving heritage too--that He is giving to reproach. But your Majesty sent for me: what are your commands?"
"Nothing, my good father, but to ask you what I have asked you, and to enquire when you will execute the commission that my lord and husband entrusted to you?"
"The assembling the nobles? Even now my secretary is preparing the summons: the meeting is to be in four days. And now let me ask this,--more than ask it,--let me desire it in the name of Him Who is King of kings: if his Highness returns he will then speak as none else can; but should he be still absent in Gori, it is you who must address the assembled nobles."
"Oh, my father, anything but this! How can I, a weak woman, advise those who are so much more able to consult how the war is to be carried on? how can my ignorance be of help to the best wisdom of the kingdom?"
"You must not so speak, my child; God has need of you as well as of them. Shew them your children; remind them of their own babes, their own wives,--all threatened, all in danger. Bid them remember [9/10] what have been Georgian acts in former years, when home and religion were at stake; and remind them also how the Most High will, on their behalf, lay hand on shield and buckler, and stand up to help them. Believe me, they will listen to you; this is one of the times when the voice of a woman may be worth that of ten men. And as Mordecai said to Esther, so say I to you now, 'Who can tell that thou mayest have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?'"
The Queen covered her face with her hands, and in about half a minute said, "I will obey you, my father, if only I have your prayers. Oh, my babe! my precious one! are you come, my pet?" and she held out her arms to her baby that, carried by its nurse, almost sprang from her grasp in its efforts to reach its mother.
"Has not my Ketevan grown," said the young mother, proudly, "since the day when your Holiness baptized her? Grown, my pet! yes, you have indeed. Who knows but that you may be a queen yourself one of these days,--that I shall see it, too?" And she took the infant to her breast; for those were not the days, and that was not the place, when the holiest occupation of a mother carried with it any feeling of shame or secresy.
The Patriarch looked out over the glorious landscape. Was he--for he was sometimes, men said--gifted with an insight into futurity? was he contrasting the crown which the fond young mother was promising to her darling with that which He, Who out of [10/11] the mouth of babes and sucklings ordaineth strength, had of a truth in store for her?
A royal pavilion was pitched in a rich meadow on the outskirts of Akhaltsik. Five monarchs were seated at the long table which occupied it. The King of Kartalenia, in right of his age and of his mighty power, took the place of President; at his right sat Constantine, King of Mingrelia, a fair-haired, bright-faced youth, scarcely yet twenty; at his left Archil, King of Daghestan, brother to the Queen whom we have just left in the palace garden at Tiflis; next to him was his brother-in-law, Prince of Ran, and by the side of Constantine was Vachtang, King of Abkhasia, the virtual military chief. Happy, though divided Georgia! These five monarchs--Susanna had said it truly--were all of one heart and of one mind, burning with ardour to repulse the Crescent, ready, each said, to lay down their lives for their fatherland, and, above all, for the Cross.
Bound them stood the lords and chiefs of their various kingdoms, mingled with the bishops, who had been summoned to that place of council. Among the latter, seated at the same table with the monarchs, and attended with little less pomp and officiousness of service than they, was Miridates, Catholic of Abkhasia. For Abkhasia, with her own king, had also claimed her own patriarch, and Eustathius, rather than endanger [11/12] a schism, had yielded. He, too, was a worthy ruler of the Church; apt, perhaps, to rely rather on an arm of flesh than on the Lord of Hosts, a better adept at earthly intrigue than in that violence whereby the Kingdom of Heaven is taken; but still a good man yet, only far inferior to the Catholic of Mtskétha.
"My lords and brethren," said King George, "our votes seem as unanimous as our hearts, I am sure, are one. We will not listen to this man's proposal of tribute; after all, he is but seeking to pick a quarrel against us: we will meet him face to face and arm to arm, and the God of right defend the right!"
"It is well said, my brother, and like your noble self," said King Constantine. "So far as human calculations go, it is to Him indeed, and none else, that we have to look: reckon our contingents which way you will, at their best and fullest they cannot amount to more than 35,000 foot and 3,500 horse. What are they against his 70,000 and 14,000 cavalry?"
"Rest assured," said King Archil, "that Daghestan will strain every nerve to furnish the very full of her contingent. Every village church will hear to-morrow how it is God's will, and how God's people must obey."
"'Curse ye Meroz,'" quoted Miridates, "'said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.'"
"They are coming, though, good father," returned [12/13] King Vachtang; "not an hour but brings in its fifty or fourscore to head quarters: by the last accounts more than 20,000 have come in."
"And the nobles of Tiflis will join us on Monday," added Alexander of Ran. "Well, the issue of the war is in God's hand; but never did host go forth on His side with higher faith in their cause."
"On Monday, then," said Vachtang, "in God's Name, we advance standards. To-morrow we attend the Liturgy in the cathedral, and the priests will celebrate it at the same hour to the regiments. Some of us will communicate for the last time. My lords and brethren, if any man here I have offended, if to any man here I have spoken harshly in these three days' hurried councils, I crave his pardon heartily. The words of offence, whatever they were, came from the tongue and not from the heart."
"And so say I," exclaimed King George.
"We all say so," said Alexander and Archil.
"And I," pronounced the Catholic Miridates, "give to you and to your standards, in the name of the Lord of Hosts, His blessing. He go out before you and defend you! He come in with you, having triumphed by you!"
Beautifully, in the calm summer sun, behind the circuit of walls, bastions, turrets, and ramparts, rose the two conical towers of the cathedral of Akhaltsik. Clearly rang out its bells on the Sunday morning, responded to by the drums and trumpets and files of the army. And in the sacred building, and on the [13/14] plain at the head of each regiment, the cry of the deacon in the Ectene rose sweetly and plaintively to Heaven,--
"Again and again in peace let us make our supplication to the Lord." [The Litany which occurs in all the offices of the Eastern Church, and the general form and character of which is well known to every one that has studied the Devotions of Bishop Andrewes.]
"My own love! my own darling love! I could not leave you, perhaps for ever, without one more good-bye,--one more kiss!" And Susanna, late on the Tuesday night, as she sat in the turret-room of the palace, her own especial domain, found herself in the tight grasp of her royal husband.
"Oh, my Alexander! how did you come?--and when do you march? O thank God, thank God, for giving you once more to me!"
"We have marched, my own; the army encamps to-night at Isopi. A day's hard ride it has been to see you,--and I must not stay one hour."
You see Susanna in the time of her earthly--not weakness, no--but of the full sway of her earthly affection; and you would hardly guess, under that fragile clinging form, and those soft blue eyes dimmed with tears, and the long, fair hair falling over her husband's shoulders, and streaming down them in [14/15] its golden beauty, what a lion-heart the saint of Tiflis possessed.
Time will shew you.
Rudely and hastily, a bit of chalk his pencil, a piece of dark rosewood his tablet, the Prince of Ran sketched out the situation of the allies. I too, gentle reader, must request your attention while I endeavour to tell you how the Georgian forces were marching, and how Islam was in the advance. You have not a soft, gentle, loving head resting on your shoulder as you lean over the map, but the interest of the story, if for you it has an interest, is at stake in your understanding or not understanding the proposed campaign.
The Turkish forces, advancing from the south, and traversing Persia, had crossed the Aras, the ancient Araxes, at Djulfa, where they left a smoking Armenian church to attest their progress. Striking northwest, they took the way of the ancient Arlaxata; and day by day Ararat towered higher and higher above them with his double-headed summit. And now they were pressing on to Erivan, with the intention of skirting Lake Gokchai, and marching direct on Tiflis.
Following the recommendation of King Vachtatig, who was well acquainted with the country, the allies determined to take up their position at Sivan, about sixty-five miles north of Erivan. Here they could defend the pass between the ravines and outlying spurs of the giant mountain Ali Ghez to their right, and the Lake Gokchai to their left. The river [15/16] Zenghi here crosses the main road, but before doing so splits into two branches, thus:--
and on the northern side of the Zenghi the stake for Georgia was to be thrown.
Night was deep before the King had ended his tale. "And now," he said, "my own darling love, let us see our babes,--and then, farewell!"
They went together to the same room in which those little ones were sleeping when I first introduced you to them; and there they were, in the same deep, sweet rest. "So He giveth His beloved sleep."
"I will not wake them," said their father, "you can tell them to-morrow. Teach them to pray for us; if we fail, there is nothing between a victorious Mahometan host and beautiful Tiflis!"
"They do pray for you, dearest one; and your wife prays for you day and night, poor though her [16/17] prayers are. But be of good courage; all Tiflis is daily up in heaven for you, and the intercessions of Eustathius are in themselves worth a host."
"I know it," replied the King. "It is a glorious thing to remember that all these prayers are fighting on our side; an archery that will reach heaven, whatever effect our bows may have on earth. Come once more into the balcony; we shall not disturb them there!"
A glorious June morning on Lake Gokchai, the holy lake; the mist rolling off its waters, as the sun peers up behind the far-distant Caucasus; to the west, the eternal snows of Ali Ghez have put on that ineffable vesture of pink, more like heaven than anything else on earth; the river Zenghi flows on between its reeds; herons fish in its waters, eagles soar above it, returning to their mountain nest.
But, ere mid-day, clouds of dust from the north, the clang of trumpets, the drum, the fife. Then long dark lines surmounting the crest of the hill,--here descending on a quicker pace into the valley, there deploying at the very brow. Valleys, and fields, and quiet lanes are filled with the Christian soldiery: the city of canvas springs up under the nimble fingers of the army; the streets, and squares, and passages of the camp deface and destroy that country which God made. On one part of the hill over which they [17/18] have passed the attention of the army is fixed. Here stand five huge chesnuts, veteran combatants against many a winter breeze, and accustomed to feed under their huge expanse of shade many hundred generations of autumn swine. To the east of this knoll, the shadows now drifting eastward, the royal pavilion is set up, and the standard of All Georgia floats above it. It is a Saint Andrew's Cross, for to that apostle its tradition referred the enlightenment of their country. Around the larger pavilion others were rising with marvellous speed; while the five leaders of the army, strolling out a little to the west, stood by, or leant upon a huge rock, that cropped up through the soft turf.
"Thank God for this!" cried King Vachtang, sweeping the illimitable horizon with his eagle eye, from the sheet of silver that bounded the view to his left, past the church tower of Pizine that marked the road to Erivan, and finally resting it on Ali Ghez,--"Thank God for this! Satan himself cannot hinder us being in position now! Louarsad," speaking to an officer who stood near, his arm through the horse's bridle, "give orders that the river,--how call you it?--that branches off from the Zenghi." "The Sivan, your Majesty?" "The Sivan--ay,--that it be traced right and left, and the possibility of a ford discovered. A report to be made to me before sunset."
"It shall be done, your Majesty" and the aide-de-camp was soon galloping down the easy slope of the hill, and lost in the living mass below.
 "Now," continued the King-general, "about the bridge: shall we destroy it, or defend it?"
"I am for its destruction," said Alexander of Ran. "Easy enough for us to pursue, if they retreat."
"I know not," said the King of Kartalenia. "If, which God forbid, they force the passage of the river, then they will fight with all the courage of despair; for to fly towards a fordless stream were utter destruction."
"It will matter little to us," answered Archil of Daghestan: "if they once force the river, we are lost; it will no more be in our power to drive them back again than for me to change the course of the stream itself."
"I will not advise," in his turn said Constantine. "I am no soldier, and therefore I hold it the truest wisdom not to interfere in military matters,"
"Then," concluded Vachtang, "I agree with the majority. Sadost,"--and he turned to his aide-de-camp,--"you will see that that bridge is utterly demolished by nightfall. There is none else along the whole course of the river. Now I would fain get information what boats there are on the lake. Nothing sufficient, I know, to influence our calculation; but still, one should be prepared for everything."
"What is the size of the lake?" demanded Prince Alexander of Ban.
"About fifty-six miles in length, by a third so much in breadth," answered Vachtang.
 "I will undertake that enquiry," said Alexander, "and return by sunset. Meanwhile, God have you in His holy keeping."
You must call to mind the peculiar state of Islam at the time of which I write. The house of the Ommiadae now filled the Caliphate, but their course was well-nigh run. This family, the rebels against the lineal descendants of the Prophet, as they had been the haters of his son-in-law Ali, was never popular except in Syria. Elsewhere the Fatimidae, the descendants of his daughter Fatima, and the Abbasidae, who derive their origin from his uncle Abbas, were held, as by divine right, vicars of God. Their three banners,--white for the Ominiadse, green for the FatimidBe, black for the Abbasidse, (whence the latter are by Greek writers called Maurophoroi,)--spoke much of the mutual hatred and dissension of the Mahometans. A hundred years had passed since the death of the great impostor, and the thirteenth Abbaside Caliph, a complete roi-fainéant, ruled at Bagdad in luxury, and preached as the successor of the apostle of God. But the terrible Abbasidae were everywhere fomenting intrigues, everywhere sending out emissaries to proclaim their rights and to obtain partisans: and Meruan, the Caliph's son, found that some military achievement was necessary if he would support the glories of his declining house; [20/21] and hence, more than for any other reason, the expedition into Georgia. Here let me end the history of this chief. On his return to Bagdad, with the honourable appellation of the Ass of Mesopotamia, he in process of time succeeded to the Vicegcrency of the Prophet. But the storm that had so long been threatening soon after burst. The die was cast on the banks of the Zab. The Caliph, at the head of a hundred-and-twenty thousand men, maintained the rights of the house of Ommiyah: against which his rival, Almanzer, the chief of the house of Abbas, could but bring twenty thousand into the field. It was a fierce, bloody day. All earthly power was on the side of the sixfold array; all kingly prestige sat on the banners of the Caliph of Bagdad; yet, who can tell how far the cries of Georgian blood turned the fortunes of the battle? how far the miserable death of Meruan avenged the murders of Tiflis?
A quiet summer morn looked down on the mountain-passes of Georgia. Venerable church-towers cast their dark shadows on the tender grass; peaceful graves sparkled with the dew-drops; the woods scarcely deserved Nsevius's beautiful epithet of "frondifluous," so still were they, so deep a Sabbath set on their verdure, or was broken only by the anthems of their choristers. The Lake Gokchai mirrored the unbroken brightness of the newly-risen [21/22] sun; the camp of the allied princes still lay in profound repose, the canvas streets untenanted save by the patrols,--their night task now nearly over.
"Is the King yet awake?" enquired Alexander, pausing at the entrance of the tent of Vachtang, and speaking to the sentinel.
"No, your Highness," replied the soldier.
"Be so kind as to call his attendant at once; i have intelligence that he must receive without loss of time."
"This way, this way, good brother," cried the Commander-in-chief, making his appearance, lightly armed, at the expiration of a few minutes; "we can talk better here." And he led him to the very summit of the hill, (his tent was pitched just under cover of the ridge,) and close to the grove which I so lately mentioned. "Now, what is it?"
"Scouts have come in," said Alexander; "and the enemy has encamped only fourteen miles off."
"That is near indeed! And his numbers?"
"Are about what we guessed; certainly not less than seventy thousand foot and ten thousand horse."
"Well, then, here we take our stand, come what may. Have you summoned the other princes?"
"And, in happy time, here is our brother Archil. Well, good brother, have you heard?"
"Marry, have I," answered the King of Daghestan. "The news will be over the camp. Well, well, some of us shall never see yonder sun set, I think."
 "That is in God's hands," replied Vachtang, "and to Him I leave it. We could not be better off for position, and that and our good cause must make up the odds of numbers."
"Thirty-four thousand to eighty is fearful odds, though," cried Archil.
"How many legions of angels, brother, may be forming on this very hill-side for us?" said Alexander.
"A fair good day to all!" said George, who with Constantine, now made his appearance. "We have heard the tidings; so, I imagine, have you."
"Even so," answered King Vachtang: "shall we go into my tent? The papers are there as we left them last night." And the chiefs accordingly went in.
There were three places, and only three, now that the bridge was destroyed, by which the invading army could advance. The one, by a defile through the very heart of the Ali Ghez; but this road was so narrow, so precipitous, and so dangerous, to say nothing of its being so far out of the direct course, that its adoption was not regarded as within the limits of possibility. Still, the narrowest part of the pass was occupied by a body of about four hundred picked soldiers--quite sufficient for the defence of so very short a defile. The second was the lake itself, at the embouchure of the Zenghi. Here the river spread out wide amidst sand-banks,--so wide that the depth was in most places less than three feet, and in none four. This was the real point of danger. Vachtang [23/24] himself commanded on the northern side; stakes had been driven in everywhere to impede and imperil, and calthrops for the horses had been plentifully strewed about. The third point was a ford about two miles higher up. This, however, was very narrow, and the northern bank was most precipitous. Wooden barricades had been hastily run up, and fourteen hundred Mingrelian archers were here in position. But you must understand that to the left of the point where the Sivan separated from the Zenghi, the former river, though too deep to be fordable, especially as it ran with a very swift stream, presented a perfectly level bank on either side. As the whole defence of the Georgian army lay in the impossibility of passing this stream, great pains had been taken by King Vachtang to assure himself of the depth of the river between the ford that I have just mentioned and the mouth of the Sivan; and his investigations were completely satisfactory.
And now the five kings were assembled for Liturgy. The necessary requirements of the Eastern Church, especially the consecrated corporal, without which, under no circumstances, could it be performed, were in the charge of the staff of priests who accompanied the Catholic Miridates, and the temporary altar was now set up on a projecting buttress of the hill, and in sight of the whole army. It had been arranged that at the same time the Liturgy should be said for the Mingrelians by the ford; the entire rest of the army, drawn up in three sides of a square, followed with [24/25] their eyes, for of course hearing was out of the question, the rite of Miridates. And so the holy Eucharist was celebrated, and after the manner of the Eastern Church, commemoration made of the quick and dead, especially of the saints of Georgia--St. Nina, the apostle of that country, St. Skio, of Mgvime, St. Dodo, of Carecdja, and other saints, whose names, unknown and barbarous to my readers, are not less surely written in the Book of Life. "Particles" were also offered for each of the five monarchs; the Ectene rose up through the summer air like a mounting lark to heaven; again, and evermore in peace, supplication was made to the Lord: the Holy Ghost was invoked upon the proposed gifts, and at the "Holy things for holy persons," and the prayer of Intense Adoration, the whole army fell on their knees, and the dismissal sent each man to that day's labour with a heart resolved to do and to bear anything rather than that of the fair land of Georgia it should be said, "The wild boar out of the wood doth root it up, and the singular beast hath devoured it."
In the meantime, ten or twelve miles to the south lay the host of Islam, in position on the road between Pizine and Erivan. Its right wing rested on the mountains, beyond which lay Lake Gokchai; its left was defended by the fastnesses of gigantic Ali Ghez. It was about mid-day, and Meruan, brought up in all the luxury of Bagdad, was reposing in his tent, the eunuchs and other officers watching in the outer pavilion for the least sign of his will, when a stir was heard [25/26] among the sentinels, and one of them entering, announced that an Armenian, who would not give his name, desired to be admitted to the commander of the faithful.
"It is," said the sentinel, "an important business, so he affirms, connected with the campaign."
"I cannot," said Ebn Kamel, the chief of the eunuchs, "take the pleasure of his Highness till he summons me into his presence; he desires to be alone."
But now the voice of Meruan was heard calling from the inner apartment. Ebn Kamel entered, gave his message, and received instructions to see that the man was disarmed and brought into the pavilion between two strong soldiers. This was done, and a tall, thin, cadaverous-looking man, with the Jewish cast of features, which distinguishes all Armenians, very strongly marked, entered the presence-chamber.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" enquired the Caliph. (I shall take the liberty of occasionally calling him by that title, though at this time, be it remembered, he was only the heir-apparent; he succeeded to the Caliphate shortly after his return to Bagdad.)
"My name," said the stranger, "is Mekhitar; and I am able and willing to point out to your Highness a way by which you shall be able to deprive the Georgian army of the defence of the river behind which they are encamped."
"You mean the Taloun pass in Ali Ghez," said [26/27] Meruan. "But we know it already: it would hardly serve our purpose under any circumstances, and the enemy has occupied it."
"No, your Highness," said the man, firmly. "I do not mean the Taloun pass, nor any other pass; Mid I cannot say more without revealing my secret. I do not wish to be paid till you are satisfied of the practicability of what I say, but neither will I reveal what I know without the promise of a reward."
"Sirrah," said Meruan, "I might threaten you with the bowstring, in case you do not tell me at once and trust to my generosity."
"You might," said Mekhitar, shrugging his shoulders., "but not a whit the nearer would you be to my secret. What I ask is five thousand pieces of gold, and a grant of land at Tifiis of the annual value of five hundred more."
"By the thirty-seven thousand prophets," said Meruan, "but you have no moderate idea of the importance of your information! However, abolish that river--only let me get at the Christian dogs--and I promise you what you ask, and even more."
"I can abolish the river," said Mekhitar, quietly, "as I will prove to any officer whom your Highness will appoint to treat with me."
"But how is this," said Meruan, "are you not a Christian yourself?"
"I am a Christian," said the other; "and just because I am do I hate the misbelieving Georgians, with their accursed Council of Chalcedon; just [27/28] because I am a Christian I would set my heel upon those abominable Melchites and Chalcedonians."
[The reader must remember that while Georgia continued from the beginning in the orthodox faith, the Armenians, (it is to be hoped, more from a defect in their language than from wilful heresy,) rejected the Council of Chalcedon. The bitterness of theological dispute was increased by the rival nationalities of Georgia and Armenia, resembling, so far, England and France. The supporters of the true faith were called, in derision, Melchites, that is, followers of the king, as if it were through complaisance to Marcian, rather than from any other motive, that the doctrine of the two natures of our Lord was adopted.]
"It is," explained Ebn Kamel, "so to speak, a dispute like that of the accursed heretics among us, who maintain that Ali is the first of created creatures, setting him even before the writings of the Prophet--may the graves of their ancestors be defiled."
"I understand," said Meruan. "Well, let Motassem be summoned, and let the Armenian explain the plan to him. If, Christian, you can satisfy him, the five thousand pieces of gold shall be yours at once, and a grant shall be made out to you of the land as soon as we have passed the Sivan."
It is a glorious mountain-scene on which we are now looking,--far up among the ravines of Ali Ghez, whence the Sivan rushes down to the holy lake. We stand on the summit of the range which forms its light bank; the river pours down to our left in a [28/29] series of rapids, girded in by two walls of enormous height. But turn from the river, towards your own right, and there is another gorge, also stretching away towards the champagne country, but without any stream at all; a dry, rocky ravine, perhaps a water-course in ages gone by, but now barren, lifeless, and silent.
Just at this point, Mekhitar the Armenian and the General Motassem were standing, and engaged in conversation. At some fifty yards' distance, on a little plot of table-land rather below them, was a band of ten or twelve soldiers, and, tethered close to them, two tall, strong mules.
"Now your Excellence must see," said Mekhitar, "how easy is the plan I have proposed. Eive hundred men in three days might turn the course of the river. It is but throwing down this rampart of rock, and forming with it a dam in the present bed, and then--"
"You may claim the reward when you will," said Motassem, joyfully. "Why, clearly the river did once run in that direction; an earthquake or a landslip must have changed its course."
"I know it did," said Mekhitar; "and that was what put the scheme into my mind. All you have to do is to harass the Georgians by a continual feint against the two known passages, till this plan can be carried out; and then, the whole army has but to march across the dry bed of the river."
"Truly so," said the General; "just as Musha-ben-Ainram led the Israelites across the Jordan."
 "Or if not he, his general," corrected Mekhitar. "But now, under favour, one great element of success is secrecy. Let a party be told off, and provided with spades and pickaxes, without knowing where they are to be led, and let them be provisioned for four days; then draw a cordon of soldiers round the valley, and the work will go on safely."
"Enough said," cried Motassem; "let us mount our mules without loss of time. You shall go with me at once to his Highness's tent.--What is this, fellow?" as one of the soldiers approached him with a small leathern bottle, and cup.
"Lemon-juice, my lord," said the man, with a smile; and Motassem, never too particular in obeying the laws of the Koran, drank off a moderate-sized glass of excellent wine of Tiflis, and passed it to Mekhitar, merely observing that the heights were cold.
Presently the party was winding down the ravine again, on its way to the camp of Islam.
Three long days of anxiety passed over the Christian monarchs. The Persian forces took up their position between the Zenghi and the lake: on the second day a desperate effort had been made by the light horse of Turkistan to dash across the shallows, and to turn the position of the Christian camp. Meruan, well informed as his scouts kept [30/31] him, knew perfectly that the attempt was not feasible: he carefully concealed that knowledge from the general concerned in the expedition; and when repulsed rather by the hindrances placed in their way than by any active opposition of the Georgian army, the artful Caliph expressed himself grievously disappointed, encouraged the defeated troops by commending their bravery, and ordered that on the next day, which was Friday, special supplications should be made for the success of his arms.
But, thankful as they were to have beaten off the first attack, the confederate kings, and especially Vachtang, their military chief, were not satisfied. They could not accept the enterprise at the Shallows in any other light than as a feint; and this impression was confirmed by the intelligence received from a spy, who at extreme hazard had penetrated the Mahometan camp.
"It is certain," he said, "that something is going on of which the army is to be kept in ignorance. Five times this day"--it was on Thursday evening that he spoke--"a courier has come in from the northwest, and been conducted at once to Meruan's tent. I am persuaded that very few are acquainted with the scheme, and that the Turkistan troops believed that they were to turn your flank by a coup-de-main, but it is not so. And the general in whom the Caliph reposes most confidence, namely Motassem, is absent: I can by no means learn where."
The spy, after ample rewards and unbounded [31/32] commendations, was sent back again into the enemy's camp to learn, if possible, more, and to report it on the Friday evening. Alas, the pitcher had gone to the well once too often! On that Friday evening the poor scout lay amidst a heap of rubbish on the outskirts of the camp, with the marks of the fatal bowstring around his neck.
In the meantime, Meruan, convinced by the frequent reports from the mountains of the practicability of his scheme, urged it on with all the impetuosity of an Asiatic despot. When could it be finished? Answer: Might the Caliph live a thousand years! Only Allah could tell.--Second demand: If a time is not instantly fixed, the engineers may prepare for the bowstring.--Second answer: The servants of the Caliph's servants think it might be ready on Monday.--Third message: On pain of death to all concerned, it must be ready by noon on Sunday.--Third answer: It shall be.
"That is what I intended," said Meruan.
The Sunday came, a blue balmy morning. The Liturgy was said as usual: Miridates addressed the Kings and those of the Georgian nobility and thousands who could get within hearing; he spoke, and spoke well, of the crown which they who fell in a war against the infidel may claim from the righteous Judge; of the baptism of blood of which many [32/33] among their fathers had been counted worthy; of the precious deposit of the faith, lost among the barbarous tribes of Sarmatia to the north, among the heresies of the Gaïcan [i.e. Armenian] people to the south, but preserved in ever-orthodox Georgia. It was nothing with the Lord to save either by many or by them that had no power; nay, rather, He That putteth down the mighty from their seat and exalteth the humble and meek, loves to defend and give victory to the weaker side, that the excellency of the power may be of Him, and not of us.
While the sermon was proceeding, one of Vachtang's most trusted officers entered and whispered something to his master. The King instantly arose, went out, was absent about five minutes, then returned as if nothing were the matter. At the conclusion of the Office, and as soon as the dismissal had been given, he said, "It seems that the enemy is falling back; that was why I was called out by Sadi."
"Not for good, surely," cried Alexander.
"No, no," returned King Vachtang, with a sorrowful smile; "but what stratagem he can intend, I cannot imagine. We had better, by mounting the hill higher, endeavour to learn. I have sent for David, the longest-sighted man in my kingdom."
For of course in those times when no artificial help to sight had yet been invented, natural quickness of eye recommended a man more than almost any other quality in war time. Accordingly, the kings, some of [33/34] their principal favourites, and the man in question, who had been originally a fisherman, ascended the long ridge of hill, gradually sloping upwards for about a quarter of a mile, and then took up their position on a platform of rock which jutted out from the greensward, and projected over the steep slope of the down. Before them the whole country lay stretched as a map: the great lake boundlessly extended to the left; the Sivan, like a silver line, entering it at the shallows; the disjunction of the Zenghi from the parent stream, and its long serpentine trail through the champagne, till lost in the southern horizon; then to the right, the yet undivided river, issuing from the ravines of Ali Ghez. David, shading his eyes from the sun, and looking steadily on the ' landscape, said at last,--
"Your Majesty must be able to see for yourself that they are crossing the Zenghi lower down." "Why, then, that means an attack on the fords," cried Alexander.
"God grant it may mean nothing worse," said the more experienced Vachtang; "there we are prepared for them."
"Why, what can it mean else?" cried King George; "we know that the passage up the mountains might be safely left without any guard at all."
"I cannot tell," returned Vachtang, "but you remember what our poor spy said on Thursday evening. Poor fellow! his occupation must be over, or he would have returned to us before now."
 And, indeed, it was evident to every one with a tolerable sight that David was right: there were known to be fords some way down the Zenghi, ant' by them the army was manifestly passing.
Now it is time to be up among the heights again; and a wonderful sight the engineering works present. Madly urged on as they had been by the impatience of Meruan,--for the temper of the Ass of Mesopotamia when thwarted was none of the gentlest,--it had been impossible for Mekhitar and Motassem to proceed with the usual caution, and by the ordinary rules of such works. A new bed for the river had been torn through the mountain bank against which the right-hand stream leant; a dam had been prepared across the bed, which waited only the insertion of a huge sliding portcullis to shut off the stream altogether. This already hung suspended in the air by two vast cranes, ready to slip down into its grooves when the time should come. In order to lessen the tremendous pressure of the water, the upper part of the machinery was provided with six or seven huge flaps, themselves kept down by heavy weights, but, able to afford a vent, to some extent, for the water, while the struggle was made to turn it into its new bed, the new, which was also the old, exit from the mountains. Thus it would find its way by another channel into the bed of the Zenghi further down, [35/36] leaving the whole course of the Sivan dry, as also the upper part of that of the Zenghi. The attempt was to be made at precisely noon-day; it was calculated that the effects would not be perceived down at the camp for forty or fifty minutes, and Meruan had given strict orders that the troops should be drawn up as if ready to cross the stream by half-past twelve.
That morning was the critical time of Motassem's life. He knew that if he succeeded there was no honour, second to the Caliphate, which he might not claim; lie knew that if he failed the bowstring would be his probable fate. Everything that the engineer's art at that time could perform had been accomplished: twenty or thirty oxen had been slain only the day before in order that their fat might be boiled down to make the machinery run easily. At this moment the whole trench which was to convey the new river through its right bank was alive with workmen; spades, mattocks, and pickaxes rang out incessantly; there were the shouts of the overseers, the heavy scrambling fall of earth, the creaking of drays carting away rubbish. A cloudless mountain sun, bright, but very cold; and the labourers are more than usually distressed from working at that height, and in such rarity of atmosphere. Motassem and Mekhitar stood close to the stream, by the erection of wood that still kept its waters in their original bed, but which was presently to be thrown down, and to open the new channel. On the ground by their side was a water-glass, the best approximation to [36/37] measuring the time that they possessed; and the drops designed to mark out the fated space were now running very low. Mekhitar cast an anxious glance down the new bed, seeing in long perspective the attitudes of the various labourers, till lost in the far distance; on each side, piles of rubbish, rocks, earth, and trees, the débris of the excavated passage.
"It cannot fail," he said briefly to Motassem.
"If it does," said that General--and the sentence was concluded by a shrug of the shoulders.
"They must allow full time," remarked the Armenian.
"Full time, but not over time," said Motassem. "Our troops must be drawn up on the very edge of the river before the water fails."
At this moment one of the overseers rode up on horseback, and said to Motassem, "May it please. your Excellency, I think all is ready."
"Have you ridden all along the line?" enquired the General.
"I have," said the other; "and I will wager my head that there is no failure anywhere."
"Give the signal, then, Zohrab," said Motassem to a trumpeter who stood by him.
A loud blast was answered by the notes of a trumpet far down the new channel, and that again by a similar sound faint in the distance. The men at work began to collect their tools together, and slowly to scramble up out of the bed of the river. A party of labourers that had been seated by the machinery for [37/38] stopping the old current, got up and began to employ themselves in getting the tackle into readiness; another party, armed with mallets, saws, and pickaxes, moved towards the pile which alone, so to speak, held the river in its place.
Another blast of the trumpet repeated as before, and echoed in the distance. Stragglers began to hurry; the new channel was perfectly clear; here and there a labourer made a hasty rush after some implement that he had carelessly left.
A third blast; and at once there was the echo of mallets and hammers, the grating of saws, and the creaking and shrieking of the machinery that lowered the mighty gate that was to close the old river into its place. It was the work of two or three minutes: and then with a roar like an army of wild beasts, the stream leapt through its new portal, carrying away the remains of timbers, planks, clamps, cross riveters, and the whole wreck of that stupendous erection. For half a minute not a word was spoken: then triumphantly pointing to the seething and surging water that rushed down its precipitous channel, here and there overflowing its banks, and scattering a knot of labourers who had advanced too near, Motassem said, "Your fortune is made."
"I think it is," said the Armenian, quietly. "You ride down to the army; I will stay here to prevent any possible accident; one can never make too sure."
By a little after eleven on that same morning, the whole army having crossed the Zenghi at the lower ford, and marched rapidly up its western bank, were brought to a halt on the very brink of the Sivan. The stream flowed along as bright and as deep as ever. The scouts on the Christian side watched this new manoeuvre with some wonder, but with little apprehension; and presently a small party on horseback was seen riding down to the bank. The five kings and principal officers were there: the Catholic Miridates was among them, and managed his horse with a skill not surpassed by that of Vachtang himself.
"This is most marvellous," cried King George. "It is absolutely impossible that they can cross here, unless they can walk upon the water; we know that the bed is more than eight feet deep."
"Look," said Vachtang, "they are about to rest." And as he spoke, the long lines of the Mahometan army sat down, and were presently engaged in their mid-day meal.
"There is the Caliph," said Vachtang, as Menian, conspicuous on a white horse, rode along and between the lines, forbidding them by a gesture to rise, but evidently speaking to each. One after another he passed them till he came to the very brink of the river, and then cast an eager look upwards towards Mount Ali Ghez. After remaining thus in full [39/40] view of the Christian monarchs for a few minutes, he slowly rode back, and was presently lost amidst his staff.
Next came the wild sounds of Turkistan music, as a body of light horse came in their turn down to the stream, and, like the infantry, having reached its bank, stood immovable.
"This is the most surprising thing," said Miridates, "that I ever knew. It must have been even thus that the children of Israel were drawn up on the banks of the Jordan, before the priests went down to the edge of the water and the whole host passed over right against Jericho."
"Truly it must," said Vachtang; "but we are no children to be terrified with the show of an army like this: there must be some deep-laid scheme either for forcing the shallows, or for an attack upon the fords."
"I can answer that we are prepared for them where-ever they may assault us," said Alexander of Ran. "My lord Catholic and I were at the shallows about day-break; and since then I have ridden over to the ford."
"Always careful," said Vachtang, "for the good of the army! But as we can be of no possible benefit here, and shall probably ere long be wanted at either one or the other of its really dangerous posts, I propose that some of us go down to the lake and some to the fords. How say you, my lord and brother?" addressing himself to George.
"As you will," said the King. "But look! The [40/41] men are getting on their feet again: what does that mean?"
The word of command had evidently been given on the southern side, and the troops, formed into three columns, of ten men broad, were perfectly motionless.
"Hold my horse a moment," said Alexander to his attendant; "I want to see something."
About ten or twelve yards from the place where they were standing there was an old rock embedded in the bank of the river, his head turfed over with moss, his base worn and licked away by the perpetual stream. Thither went Alexander, and seemed to contemplate it earnestly for some seconds.
"What can he be after there?" cried Archil.
"How earnestly he is looking!" said Vachtang.
"What is it, my good lord," shouted George, "that you find to occupy your attention there?"
"You will think me mad," said Alexander, returning, "but I could almost believe that--"
"Well, what?" enquired Vachtang.
"Stand back a little," said Alexander to the attendants. "Well, my lords, I could almost believe that the water is sinking."
"Sinking!" cried two or three voices.
"Judge for yourselves," said Alexander. "Eide a little this way: see where the water-line was just now on this rock: look! there must be a good three inches that the stream does not cover."
Even as he spoke more and more of the base [41/42] became visible: the stream was evidently diminishing.
"Now the Panaghia guard us!" cried the Catholic. "This must be magic."
"They can never be intending to cross," said Archil, in a voice of horror.
"Why, the bed of the river will be dry in half an hour!" said Vachtang. "Look all along the bank! there must be a foot's depth that it has sunk. Prince Alexander, ride at once to the ford, and bring up the forces there; and we, my lords, to the main army. Magic or not, they must be intending to cross."
Each minute the bed of the river became more and more visible. On the Mahometan side each man looked at his fellow, and a murmur of surprise and admiration ran through the front ranks.
The level where the main body of the army was drawn up was at least two miles from the place where the Mahometan troops purposed to cross, the ford was nearly the same distance; long, therefore, before the foremost and readiest of the Georgian soldiers could approach the scene of action, the greater part of the Caliph's forces had crossed the now dry channel of the stream, and were drawn up on the other side. Though their principal defence must have failed them when the stream was turned, yet the dry ditch, eight feet deep, which the river then presented, would have afforded a considerable advantage to the Christians, and would have compensated for some inequality of force; so that their line of defence might possibly [42/43] have been made good, had the Georgian forces been in a position to resist the advance of the enemy. As it was, the battle was lost before it was begun. Never was any stratagem so completely successful; never did any victory cost the conquerors so little and the vanquished so much.
Queen Susanna was seated, as before, in the summer-house that overlooked the valley of Tiflis. It was about sunset: the exquisite beauty of a Georgian summer was at its very height; never did the birds sing their vespers more sweetly in the woods, or the swallows skim more happily round the old turrets of the palace, or the sun sink more gloriously behind the distant mountains of Abkhasia. It was the hour of Compline all over Georgia. I am writing of scenes that have passed away for eleven hundred years; but yet many of the churches in which the sacrifice of prayer and praise was then going up to God, are still standing, still receive the congregations of their descendants who in the troubled century of which I write fought so nobly the fight of faith. Service had been said at an earlier hour in the palace chapels, in order that the Catholic of Mtskétha might officiate in the great church at Tiflis. And those noble words--for it was a festival that was coming on--were still ringing in Susanna's ears,--words in which the Eastern Church seems to challenge all her enemies [43/44] to do their worst,--words which probably had their origin in the very heat and fury of the great Tenth persecution,--words which even now on the Great Apodeipnon of every festival, are echoed by every Church in Russia and the Levant:--
"God is with us: hear it, O ye nations, and be ye subdued.
For God is with us.
Hear it unto the extremities of the earth.
For God is with us.
Having become mighty, ye have been subdued.
For God is with us.
And if ye shall again become mighty, again shall ye be subdued.
For God is with us.
And if ye shall devise any device, the Loud shall scatter it.
For God is with us.
And if ye shall speak any word, it shall not remain in you.
For God is with us.
And we will not be afraid of your fear, neither will we be troubled.
For God is with us.
But we will sanctify the Lord our God Himself, and He shall be our fear.
For God is with us.
And if I trust in Him, He shall be to me for sanc-tification.
For God is with us.
 And I will trust in Him, and I shall be saved by Him.
For God is with us.
Behold I and the children which God has given me.
For God is with us.
The people which walked in darkness have seen a great light.
For God is with us.
They that dwelt in the place and shadow of death, on them hath the light shined.
For God is with us.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.
For God is with us.
Whose government shall be upon His shoulder.
For God is with us.
And of His peace there shall be no end.
For God is with us.
And His Name shall be called the Angel of the Great Counsel.
For God is with us.
The Wonderful Counsellor.
For God is with us.
The Mighty God, the Potentate, the Prince of Peace.
For God is with us.
The Father of the life to come.
For God is with us.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
 For God is with vs.
Both now and ever, and to ages of ages.
For God is with us.
God is with us: hear it, O ye nations, and be ye subdued.
For God is with us."
These responses were still ringing in the ears of Susanna when along the road that wound through the valley from the southward, and by a series of windings and zigzags ascended to the city, a man on horseback came at full speed. News had been received on the preceding evening by the Council of State, of which the Catholic St. Eustathius was president, from the camp by the Sivan; the messenger had left the army on the morning of the preceding day. By that despatch it appeared that things were likely to remain as they were for the present: no immediate attack was expected, and no immediate occasion of sending another message likely to occur. But there was something, even at so great a distance, in the general appearance of the rider that told the Queen of the importance of his errand. And even as he was urging on his weary beast to the top of its speed, it fell--fell, it seemed at that distance, never to rise again; for the rider, dismounting, and without any attempt to raise it, struck from the road, right across the valley, and began to ascend the bill towards the palace precincts.
Susanna's heart beat with anxiety. From the south? a soldier? a horse ridden to death? Some [46/47] great stroke must have been struck; a battle must have been lost or won. What should she do? Should she hurry to the palace, and send out for the newly-arrived messenger? should she try to communicate with him herself? He settled the point for her, by making his way along the narrow path that threaded the upper part of the face of the hill, and ran immediately under the wall on which the summer-house was built. As he came exactly beneath the Queen, she leant over the battlement, and said,--
"Are you from the army?"
"I am, if it please your Majesty."
"And what news?"
A dead, fearful pause.
"You have evil tidings! Have we lost a battle?"
"God strengthen you, Madam, for the tidings!
The Christian army is utterly destroyed; not three thousand men are left together. The Caliph is on my very heels."
"And the King my husband?"
"The report, Madam, goes that he lives. But King Vachtang is dead, King George mortally wounded, King Constantine a prisoner; of King Archil I know not."
"Oh God!--but how happened it?"
Very briefly the messenger described what the reader has heard more fully and more exactly.
"But I pray you, Madam, to remember that no time is to be lost; the day after to-morrow may see [47/48] the standard of Islam in yonder valley,--there is nothing to oppose them, there can be nothing; if Tiflis cannot resist, all is lost."
"Hurry round, good friend, to the palace, there you shall tell your story at more leisure: I will see you again presently."
But before the Queen crossed, for the last time, that glorious garden, she knelt for a moment in the summer-house, and committed into the hands of the King of kings her husband, her children, herself, and miserable Georgia.
"Were there the shadow of a hope," said Eustathius of Mtskétha, in the assembled council, "that Tiflis could resist the conqueror even for a week, could we by holding out, at the certainty of our own destruction, give others time to arm, my advice would be for resistance to the knife. But the officers tell us that the walls could not resist one assault; we should only stimulate anger; we should provoke the Caliph to the bitterest revenge; we should dare him to the worst, and that without a hope of escape."
"Consider, too," said old Louarsab, a venerable man who had seen an hundred and five years, "that we know not where our dear and revered sovereign is,--here, or in a better world. At this moment, it may be, the little Princess, whom God long preserve to us, is none other than Queen Tamar. The [48/49] uncertainty, the suddenness of the stroke, the bitter desolation of every family,--yes, I agree with my Lord Catholicos that we have no course but submission. Let our possessions go; we must be content with our religion and our lives. The latter at least we can lay down, if they will not guarantee to us the former."
"My lords all," said Susanna, "I am but a woman, as little qualified to advise in council as to lead in war: if it be your resolve to yield, I take that as the expression of God's will to me; but if they press us beyond the limits you have laid down, if they force upon us the abominations of the false prophet, that is a warfare in which I well trust that the women of Georgia will not yield one whit to the men."
"I believe it," said Louarsab; "God strengthen all those who shall be called to take part in it! My advice then is,--let the Catholicos and five other of our principal nobles go forth at once, and demand an interview with Meruan; let us offer him whatever sum he may fix on to preserve the city from pillage, and to keep the churches inviolate; and let them learn what are his ultimate views on the state;--for, God help us! whatever they be, we must abide them!--whether he will be content with a tribute, and a sovereign who shall be his vassal till better times come; or whether we must be his mere slaves,--the Crescent supplanting the Cross, and the voice of the muezzin replacing the sweet bells of the cathedral."
 Thus, then, it was agreed. A commission of six, inclusive of the Catholicos, were named, and absolute powers were placed in their hands, subject only to the ratification of King Alexander, if he should be alive.
All that frightful afternoon tidings kept coming in from the south. Many and many a tale of woe was told, the last surpassing all former ones in horror. Reports contradicted each other every moment: on one point alone were all agreed, that never had devastation been greater, never had an army been more completely annihilated. Forty minutes from the time that King Alexander had noticed the fall of the water, all was lost; and the battle of the Sivan thenceforth to be written with the routs of Alcacer Quibir and the fight of Varna, as the most disastrous overthrow of the Cross by the Crescent.
Queen Susanna sat with her three precious children,--more precious now that they were probably fatherless, more precious that palace, crown, sceptre, kingdom were virtually gone. The faithful old nurse, Petronilla, with the freedom that years of faithful service and love gave, supported the throbbing head of her sovereign on her shoulder, and whispered such words of consolation and hope as she might. She had nursed Susanna in her infancy, watched over her in the sports of her girlhood, attired her in the early days of her young beauty, disrobed her for her bridal-couch, attended her in the hour of her anguish as a mother, and now--
 A page entered.
"The Lord Eustathius desires, if it may be, to see the Queen."
"Let him come in.--Nay, Petronilla, you need not leave us; I can have no secrets from you. There; sit down by the window, and call the pets to you."
"God support you, my child, in this hour of distress!" said the good old Patriarch, bowing his head and kissing the pale hand that the Queen held out to him,--a hand so white as to recall that lovely metaphor,--
"As hoary frost with spangles doth attire
The aged branches of an oak half dead."
"God support you! and give you and your husband a better kingdom than that of Georgia, and a better paradise than Tiflis!"
"If I did not verily believe to see that land of the living, dear father, I were lost indeed! I could almost hope that my husband were in possession of it already, though the same moment that opened its gates to him must have made me a widow."
"That, as God's will is," said the Catholicos; "whether he lives, he lives unto the Lord, or whether he dies, he dies unto the Lord; whether therefore he lives or dies, he is the Lord's. And not only so, my child, but he has lived long enough to have immortalized himself in the history of our dear land. II is memory--if he should already have passed out of this evil world--will be as fresh a thousand years hence, as it is now: God be praised therefore! But [51/52] time must very soon tell us more; in the meanwhile, he being absent, I have the chief right in you,--and here you must not stay/'
"Not stay, my father!" cried the Queen.
"No," said the old man, firmly. "If our ambassadors obtain good terms, you may return; but if not, God forbid that you should linger in a city given up to plunder."
"But my husband--."
"Would speak to you as I do," said the Catholicos: "I shall endeavour to persuade all that can to leave the city, for I have not much faith in the success of our attempts; but you first, both as Queen--and because your beauty--."
Susanna shuddered, and grew deadly pale.
"Well, my child, you see that it must be so; you must make your escape to the sea-side. I have already given orders that three litters and sixteen lusty bearers should await you some three-quarters of a mile from the town; I will myself conduct you to the place, and thither you must go afoot."
"This very moment, as soon as you can put together what absolute necessaries you must take, and especially whatever jewels you can easiest lay hands on."
"My nurse and children go with me?"
"Surely, lady: and I have given my nephew, young Clement, charge of your little party. I have directed him to go by way of Gori to Koutais, and [52/53] by information there you must be guided whether you make for Redout Kali or the Phasis. In either place you will easily procure a vessel bound to Constantinople: and whatever be the faults of Leo, he will receive you, I am well certain, as one Christian sovereign should greet another. Now, then, I will leave you; but I beg you to lose no time, and above all, to let none but Petronilla know whither you are gone."
"Oh my father, that you too could accompany us!"
"What! and leave my flock! No, not even for a child so dear as yourself. All cannot flee, and I must remain with them that stay."
And so, for the moment, they parted.
A lovely little wood to the west of Tiflis. The bees have ceased their toil; the lizards no longer bask on the sunny wall; twilight comes in mellowed among the trees; athwart the venerable stems of chesnut and oak, and the lithe and silvery mountain ash, bars of purple and gold tell where the sun has gone down over the Black Sea.
That wood has been solitary all day; now it is alive with fugitives. The litters are there; the strong, sturdy Mingrelian bearers are waiting their orders; Clement of Gori, the nephew of the Catholicos, is standing by his noble horse,--white from nostril to [53/54] fetlock, without a coloured hair,--his arm passed through the reins, his eye fixed on his uncle and the Queen.
"You must first get in, nurse," said the gentle voice of Susanna. "Tamar and Nina, this shall be your litter. Good fellows, I mean to trust myself and my baby to you."
The men looked proud and gratified.
"First, a moment," said the Patriarch: "I think we shall not all meet again; let us part then, if it be an eternal parting so far as this world is concerned, with prayer."
They all knelt, and in a few earnest words St. Eustathius committed that little band to His care who never slumbereth nor sleepeth; besought God that the journey might be safe and holy; that the enemy might have no power over the fugitives, neither the son of wickedness approach to hurt them; and that, if not in this world, in the eternal mansions they might meet with the victor's crown.
Then they parted; he back to the pastoral care of the terrified city, they to their journey, and the soft, sweet fragrance of the summer night. And, as they trotted in their measured steps along, the bearers ever and anon trolled out some lay of the old Georgian heroes: how Nonna healed the king's daughter, and preached the words of faith at Tiflis; how the twelve ascetics evangelized the remotest corners of the mountains, civilizing barbarous races, abolishing human sacrifices, causing the idols to fall [54/55] before the name of Jesus of Nazareth. The moon came out of the eastern mountains; the trees flung wild, fantastic shadows on the road, rippling and wavering in the midnight breeze. The royal children slept as soundly in their litters as in their own chamber, and doubtless, pace for pace, the angels of the little ones moved on athwart the shadows of the night. Susanna, her baby pillowed on her bosom, could not sleep. She thought of that gallant host that had marched out but ten days before, blessed by the Catholic, fighting for the Cross against the Crescent, fighting for hearths and altars against rapine, violence, lust, and murder. Now the cold winds from the El-brouz swept over tlieir mangled remains; now the vultures and wolves of Ali Ghez held royal feast over their ranks. And where was he,--he for whom the tenderness of the bride had ripened into the perfect affection of the wife,--he by whose side she felt safe,--without whom life would be a desert? Then she looked up at the constellations, burning in marvellous brightness: Orion almost immediately over-head; the Great Bear keeping his never-weary watch; Cassiopeia in her golden chair; the Pleiades, like a cloud of misty brightness; and there, rapidly sinking to the horizon, was Jupiter, large and lustrous. She was thinking whether these stars might be the abodes of righteous men made perfect, or whether they were reserved to a better and brighter heaven, when her attention was caught by a kind of halo, which, seemed to form itself round some scarcely visible point of brightness. [55/56] And gazing on this, Georgian legend tells us, she gradually made out the words:--
There stand the letters as she then saw them; and what do they mean? "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." And how dare I, or how dare you, Mr. Philosopher, to say that the legend is not true? He That wrote the Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin on the wall of Babylon, He Who caused armies of warriors to be seen in the sky before the destruction of Jerusalem, and the great luminous cross to stand over the Mount of Olives in the time of the Emperor Constantius,--could He not have encouraged the faith of these Georgians by the like apparition now? And at a far later period, no sober historian will deny that the night before the battle of Ivry, tens of thousands of spectators saw the ghostly representation of that battle in the sky, and especially the white horse and white plume by which Henry of Navarre was distinguished. However, so it was: the Queen's exclamation caused the bearers to stop, her litter and that of Petronilla was set down, and all gave thanks to the God who had performed this wonder.
And now, with renewed speed and fresh courage, onward. Day was beginning to break in the east, [56/57] a morning without clouds, as they toiled up the steep hill that leads into the town of Gori. There stands the church now,--the Sion, it is called, as all the churches are in Georgia which are dedicated to St. Mary,--as it stood then, while its bells rang out for Prime. The news of the Queen's flight had already reached the city, and the bishop, and all the clergy in procession, met the exile on the very brow of the hill. Athanasius was the name of the prelate: he was afterwards honoured by a glorious martyrdom under Meruan. Thus she was conducted--the priests and deacons thundering out the twenty-first Psalm--to the episcopal residence, when Clement told her that she might safely take a few hours of repose.
Leaving the poor persecuted hind here, we return to the tiger.
It had not been without a special cause that Eustathius had so hurried the Queen's departure. Ho knew that her beauty, celebrated all over Georgia, had reached the ears of Meruan, and had been one cause, indeed, why he had determined on advancing against Tiflis rather than Koutäis or Pitzounda.
It was not the custom of the Ass of Mesopotamia to loiter on his expeditions; and leaving a considerable part of his army to ravage the country round the Gotchai, and to turn the position of those who held the pass of the Ali Chez, he himself pushed on, the [57/58] night of the battle, to Dilijen. He was especially anxious to secure the kings, thinking that if lie had the leaders, the people must follow. As you know, three of them had fallen or were prisoners. The fourth, namely, Archil, trusting to the speed of his horse, rode a distance of sixty miles without drawing rein, and then by passes of the Mount Tersh, known only to the natives, succeeded in entering his kingdom of Daghistan. Here he will vanish from our history: I have only to say that for many years he kept up a guerilla warfare against the Mahometans, and died in a good old age and in peace. From him descended that glorious line of princes, of whom the most illustrious were St. David III., the Victorious; the illustrious Queen Tamar; and George VII., surnamed the Morning Star: and certainly not the least illustrious, though the most unfortunate as a sovereign, that St. Ketevan, who, at the end of the sixteenth century, suffered martyrdom under Shah Abbas the Cruel.
King Alexander, when he saw that the battle was lost, accompanied by Miridates,--who, bishop though he was, had fought by his side in complete armour all the morning,--and with a few trusty companions, made his way up the defile of Ali Ghez to the pass of which I have before spoken, and which was still held by the Georgian forces. There were but four hundred employed on that service; the greater part Mingrelian, the remainder Alexander's own subjects. Taking the command of these, he pushed forward by [58/59] bye-roads to Tiflis; hoping, at all events, by a show of resistance to be able to make terms for the city. A long day's ride was closed in a little wood some four leagues beyond Dilijen. The watch was set; the horses tethered in a clearing in the midst of the copse; and Alexander and Miridates, like brothers-in-arms, utterly worn out in body and exhausted in mind, flung themselves on the same cloak, and were soon fast asleep.
As soon as Mcruan, with his victorious forces reached Dilijen, tidings were brought him that a small party of horse had, two hours before, passed that place. The jaded condition of the animals, said his informants, shewed that they could not hold on much further; and though Alexander had not been personally recognised, yet it had been noticed that a chief of considerable rank was at the head of the party. Allowing them four hours' rest, Meruan despatched a body of his lightest horse in pursuit, with orders, if need were, to follow on to the very gates of Tiflis.
Gloriously rose the sun over the eastern mountains. The rude bugle had sounded twice, and Alexander stood, his hand on the mane of his horse, ready to vault into the saddle, when, with a loud wild cry of La illa illa Allah, the Persian light horse was upon them. Outnumbered four to one, taken by surprise, demoralized by previous ill success, and weary with their yesterday's journey, the Mingrelian and Tiflisian horse still made a good defence. But at the end of ten minutes the greater part were cut to [59/60] pieces; a few were made prisoners; Alexander himself was a captive; Miridates, more happy, fell, cloven through the head with a Damascus battle-axe.
All was lost indeed. A few, whose horses were the swiftest, made their escape, carrying terror with them; reporting, as they well might, the death of Alexander, and the second victory of Islam.
Queen Susanna was resting, at the end of her third day's journey, in the old town of Khoutarma, having passed Koutais; when the notes of a trumpet threw her little guard into alarm. Presently rode into the courtyard a Mussulman officer of rank, accompanied by the Lord Aderkhi, one of the courtiers at Tiflis,--a plain, bluff, honest man,--and a guard of honour of fifteen soldiers.
"Go, Clement," said the Queen, "and find out what it is. It seems, anyhow, that our journey ends here."
"P lady, lady," cried Petronilla, "that ever I should have lived to see this day! That you, my dove, my pet-lamb, should be betrayed to these hell-hounds of Islam!"
"Hush!" cried Susanna; "hush, nurse! The Lord Aderkhi is guarantee that no harm is intended. These men may be better than their character."
"O woe is me, woe is me!" cried the poor old woman, rocking the little Ketevan backwards and [60/61] forwards, as she hummed to herself the favourite Georgian song:--
"Thou Dove that hoverest in the air,
The ark of the true Noah is thy dwelling:
Thou righteous Stork of glory,
Thou hast destroyed the Serpent.
Hripsime! Angel surpassing
In beauty, and wisdom, and grace,
Thou cam'st of a royal family
Sent from the Latin race.
Lovely Peacock! nursed affectionately,
Shining delicately with thy golden thread:
Enchanting every beholder,
Adorned with the triple crown [i.e. of royalty, virginity, martyrdom.]
Hripsime! Angel surpassing
In beauty, and wisdom, and grace,
Thou cam'st of a royal family,
Sent from the Latin race."
"Oh! dear nurse!" cried Susanna, "who can tell how soon I, or any of us, shall have to play the part of St. Hripsime!"
Hripsime, the patron saint of Armenia and of Southern Georgia, was the protomartyr of the former country, under Arsaces,--whom her patient endurance converted to the true faith. She and her nurse Garane are the two popular saints of that country.
"God grant then, dearest one! that I may play the part of Garane," said Petronilla. "But hark I there is the Lord Clement."
"Well, and what is it?" enquired the Queen, eagerly.
"I do not above half like the business, Madam," [61/62] said the young Clement. "Meruan is in Tiflis, and has proclaimed an amnesty; and ordered the return of all fugitives, yourself included. He has promised a toleration of Christian worship on the payment of a heavy tribute."
"But the King?"
"Is safe and well, Madam, and on his parole. Lord Aderkhi bears a message from him to your Grace."
"Does he?" cried Susanna, her white face brightening up; "let him come in at once."
Accordingly the old nobleman was summoned. Up he came, much fitter for the toils of the field and the companionship of warriors than the bower of a Queen and to be the associate of fair ladies. But never an honester heart than his beat under a brusque and rough manner.
"God ye good den, Madam!" he began. "I would fain have come on other business, but I must do my errand. First, Madam, that." And kneeling on one knee, he presented a letter from Alexander.
"One moment, my Lord," said the Queen, kissing the precious paper, and breaking the silk. There she read as follows:--
"My own Dove,
"How it has pleased God to chasten us, you have heard. So far as I know, I am the only survivor of the princes of Georgia. But in His wrath he remembers mercy. I am a prisoner, but honourably treated. Meruan promises me complete liberty on your return, which return he is very anxious for: I can see that the [62/63] Catholicos is not much in favour of your coming back, but I am never left to have free and open conference with him, and therefore I know not why. If you should already have sailed, grieved as I shall be to lose you for a while, I cannot say that I shall bo sorry: if the messengers overtake you, as they can compel your return, it will be useless for me to advise you. But I myself anticipate no danger. I have seen the Prince several times: he is very jocund with his victory, hut I think he means well, and I believe in his honesty. So God have you in His good keeping. "Your own husband, faithful to death,
"The King Alexander.
"From the Palace of Tiflis, This 4th day of July, the year 466
"What would you have me to do, Lord Aderkhi?"
"To go on, Madam, if the thing be possible; and if--"
"And if your Grace cares principally for your own safety and that of the princesses."
"I scarcely understand you, my Lord. Mean you that if I continue my flight, I shall endanger my husband's safety?"
"My Lord, I entreat--nay, I desire--you to speak. If I proceed, will my husband be in peril?"
"If I must speak, Madam, I think he will."
"Then not another syllable. God do so to me [63/64] and more also, if aught but death part me and him! I will not think of flight."
"But, Madam," began Clement.
"Not a word, good Clement, to alter my resolution,--that is firm."
"But, might it not be well that the princesses should go forward, if our guard will allow it?"
They thought that little Tamar had not been listening.
"Oh no! oh no, mother!" she cried out, passionately, throwing herself into the Queen's arms. "I will not leave you; I will not, indeed: you shall not send me away; you will not, I know,--will you?"
"No, my pet. Whatever it pleases God we should bear, we will all bear together. Who is that with you, my Lord?"
"A general, high in favour with the Caliph. His name is Motassem."
"And I am to regard him as my gaoler?"
"Not if your Grace really means to return. He has orders to interfere no further than is absolutely necessary."
"Well, then, in three hours I shall be ready for the journey; and may God be with us."
The scene changes to the palace at Tiflis: it is evening.
Gloom and sadness over the city. The Caliph's [64/65] troops keep very fair discipline: but they are quartered in the chief houses; they pitch their tents in squares and gardens; the Sion is taken for a mosque, and thrice in the day the muezzin proclaims that there is no God but God, and that Mahomet is the prophet of God.
The face of nature seems to sympathize with the grief of the nation. "How doth the city sit solitary, she that was full of people! How is she become as a widow, she that is great in the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her." A grey, solemn haze hung over the valley of the Kour: for three days the sun had not been seen, save now and then about noon, as a red and solemn ball of fire. There was not breeze enough to shake the aspen: the heat was excessive: unnatural, fearful weather it was, such weather as has ere now heralded the breaking-out of great plagues.
Two happy hearts there were that evening in Tiflis, Alexander and his wife. They were standing together in their private pleasure garden,--the same which I have shewn you before, and which overlooked the valley. Meruan occupied the larger part of the palace, but two or three suites of rooms had been prepared for the royal family.
"Leave the future, dearest one--leave the future in God's hands," Alexander was saying; "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof: and, thank [65/66] God, sufficient unto the day is the joy thereof also!"
"Oh that is an evil man, my husband! It makes me shudder when I think of him; and remember the way in which he gazed at me. Pray, pray let us beware of him."
"As far as we can, love: and if we are in his power, he is in God's. Meanwhile, here we are; here we have our pets safe and sound: (do you know, I really think that baby is grown!) and more faithful friends than the Catholic, and Aderkhi, and Clement, fallen monarch need never ask."
"Do not call yourself a fallen monarch, my own husband; I cannot bear it: God will raise you up again."
"He may, or He may not, darling: His Name be blessed either way! But why not confess the truth bravely to ourselves? Fallen we are, as low as ever monarch fell; and let us shew, if we can, that in this state of humiliation, no less than in prosperity, we know and feel that 'this God is our God for ever and ever, He shall be our guide even unto death.'"
So they talked, deriving strength each from the other, and both from God.
Night came down on the earth; the voice of the Kour sounded deeper and hoarser; lights shone out from the palace windows; and the kingly prisoners went in. The good Catholic, at their request, and Aderkhi, shared their supper,--and they talked of the future of Georgia.
 Be of good cheer, poor captives! you cannot see it, but the guardian angel of that kingdom could tell you of victories and glory beyond your imagination! He could point to the noble deeds of David the Restorer: how churches, schools, colleges shall spring up from the Black to the Caspian Sea; how warriors in chain armour shall ride with the Crusaders to Jerusalem; how a Bishop shall go forth into Asia Minor, to re-establish and re-invigorate the Church there. He could shew your Queen Tamar, with her host of three hundred thousand men; he could tell you how twice the whole power of Islam, concentrated against Georgia, shall be shattered to pieces; he could shew you the Morning Star, George VII., carrying terror into the heart of Persia; ay, and even as late as the eighteenth century, Vachtang VI. raising the dear "Gruzia" once more to be a first-rate power. And who knows, patient sufferers for righteousness' sake! how far your prayers before the throne of God may not have accomplished this?
Darkness is over the earth. Once more the Queen's head--and for the very last time--is pillowed on that dear breast, the counsellor and soother of all her troubles, the pole-star of her love. Oh how happy that they cannot see beyond the present! Oh how fortunate that the fiery trial is as yet unknown! The revel in the Mahometan quarters of the palace lasted almost till daybreak; but the shouts, and mirth, and hubbub did not disturb the quiet slumbers of the royal pair. The moon went down the sky; [67/68] the early cocks began to crow; the first sheet of light broadened and deepened; the east glowed out in a deep crimson--it was broad day.
And the first hours of that day passed over quietly. The children went forth with Petronilla into the garden; Susanna and her husband were seated in a projecting window, and enjoying the sweet fragrance of the morning,--when the page announced a visitor,--and Motassem entered.
"The Vicegerent of the Prophet," said he to Susanna, "desires your attendance in the Hall of Lilies, where he awaits you."
"I will wait on his Highness," said Susanna, turning very pale. "But may not my husband go with me?"
"Such are not my orders, Madam. I have a private message for him, for his own ear only."
"Must I leave you?" asked the Queen, so tenderly and sorrowfully, that even Motassem seemed touched.
"You must, indeed, love," replied her husband, trying to smile. "God will take care of us both. You will soon return, I doubt not."
Taking one of her attendants, and escorted by Motassem, Susanna bent her way to the Hall of Lilies. This was so called, because, all along either wall, the choicest and rarest lilies were cultivated in an indoors bed. The further end held a throne of state; one side opened on to a pleasure garden; and a passage, the walls enamelled in arabesques, led hitherto from the principal hall of the palace. Meruan, in his gorgeous [68/69] robes as heir to the Caliphate, sat there: and in a moment Susanna stood before him alone.
"Nothing--nothing that you can say can move me to regard you otherwise than as I do now, with horror, and contempt, and abhorrence that I cannot express. This from the Vicegerent of the Prophet! Advice to dishonour a husband,--to sin against God,--to commit a crime that even your own law would punish with death!"
"Well," said Meruan, "you have my offer. Grant me this one thing, and make what conditions you will for your husband and yourself. The tributaries of Bagdad you must be, but your tribute shall be light; your palace and kingdom shall be restored to you, and who, save ourselves, need know that a price was paid for it?"
"I verily believe that Satan himself must inspire you," said Susanna. "But, thank God! nothing that you can offer or can threaten, ever, ever could make me think twice of your proposal,--further than to loathe it, to hate it, to spit at it, as now."
"Have your choice," said Meruan. "You are utterly in my power: what I ask for, I might take: but have your choice; you have dared me to do my worst; so be it! Ho! without there!--Let this lady be carried back to her apartments, and see that she be not permitted to leave them."
 In the meanwhile, Motassem had been conversing with King Alexander in the garden. He had enquired as to the resources of Georgia, both civil and military, and had received careful and well-weighed answers, revealing as little as the state of the case permitted. In about half-an-hour, Motassem was summoned to the Caliph: and requesting Alexander to remain where he was, he went to the Hall of Lilies.
In about ten minutes he returned with a guard, and said,--
"I regret that my royal master has altered his intentions regarding you: I am to commit you to prison."
"To prison? Me, an independent sovereign, in a city that surrendered on terms--and--"
"You must complain to the Caliph, when you see him; I have no power to listen to your remonstrances."
"But what has occasioned this change? Where is the Queen? What is going to be done with my children?"
"The Queen!" cried Motassem, with a half-smile.
"I said, the Queen," continued Alexander: "where is she?"
"She has made her own choice," said the other. "She was offered a place in the harem, or death,--and she had sense enough not to provoke the Caliph."
Oh what a glorious thing is perfect trust! Among [70/71] all his miseries, this at least was none. Alexander felt as certain of his wife's resolution as if he had heard her dare Meruan to his face.
"You are telling me a lie," he said, "and you know it. Be very sure that I am perfectly convinced of her purity: and if she has to suffer, God will protect her; so do with me what you will."
The guards, having already provided themselves with the key of the crypt that served as a dungeon, thrust in the fallen monarch, and left him in the painful darkness of that damp, fearful abode: Motassem returning to Meruan, to say that his orders were accomplished.
For two long hours Susanna remained in the room where she had last parted with her husband. A guard was stationed at the door, and all was silence.
At the end of that time, steps came along the passage. Motassem entered, followed by a blacksmith and two or three servants.
"Now, Madam," said Molassem, "you dared the Prince to his worst. Your person he does not intend to touch. But observe.--Sadi, do what you have been ordered."
Producing a chain, the blacksmith stapled one end into the wall, fastening the other, by a kind of collar, to the right arm of the Queen.
 "You intend to starve me to death," she said, quietly: "Well, God's will be done."
"You are mistaken, Madam.--Now, then, the rest of you."
A sofa was placed against the wall at that part where Susanna was confined, the length of the chain allowing her to lie down on it, and even to walk a few steps both ways.
"Your meals, Madam, will be served at the proper time.--Now, fetch the other prisoner."
A child's wail in the passage. A carpet was spread on the other side of the room, and poor little Kete-van, screaming with fear, was brought in by a soldier. She held out her little arms to her mother,--imploring, with the inarticulate words of infancy, to be taken to her. The baby was then laid down on the carpet, a very light chain fastened round one of its ankles, and stapled in like manner to the wall.
"Now, Madam," said Motassem, "that child will have no food but what you give it, and you will be allowed to give it none till you ring this bell,"--a bell had been placed by her;--"but if you do ring it, you will be considered as having accepted Meruan's proposal: and so farewell for the present."
"0 God!" cried Susanna, as the door closed behind him, and was immediately locked and barred,--"give me grace to bear this bitter, bitter trial! O my baby, my own darling baby, how can I see you dying before my very eyes, and not help you?" She threw herself down by the side of her couch, covered her [72/73] face with her hands, and, with sobs that quite shook her frame, called on God for help.
For a little while the infant, relieved from its immediate alarm, was quiet, and then fell asleep; and the mother prayed as earnestly, but more composedly. Half-an-hour,--an hour,--an hour and a-half went by, and still Ketevan slept on. It wanted but a little to mid-day, a glorious unclouded mid-day without, when with a start and a scream the baby awoke.
And then came the mother's trial indeed. The poor little one saw her, stretched out its tiny arms, made every infantine effort to get to her, while the big tears of hunger stood in its eyes, and its screams were heart-breaking. For six hours the Christian Queen endured: sometimes hiding her face in a silent agony of sorrow, sometimes lavishing the tenderest words and phrases of that tender Georgian language on the poor little unconscious creature. Sometimes it seemed as if the struggle would be too much for her mind. "O Lord Jesus," she almost shrieked out, "I will do anything, I will bear anything for Thee,--Thou knowest it, O Lord,--Thou canst sec into the very depths of my heart,--but have I any right to murder my infant?" And then a long pause of silence, broken only by the baby's wailing. "O my own, my darling one, shall I never feel those dear little soft lips again? will you never draw your little life again from your poor mother? O God, if it be Thy will that I should be thus tried, take my poor little baby out of the world! Thou wast Thyself a [73/74] baby once, Thou knowest what hunger is. I do not ask Thee to spare me, only to deliver my infant from this misery."
About six, two of Meruan's attendants entered the apartment, bringing a table and a small but sumptuous repast, and proceeded to set it down by the Queen.
Oh how she pleaded with them! "Look! here are jewels: take them all! I promise you never to inform who has them,--I promise you gold to your very heart's desire, if you will only bring her to me for ten minutes! As you were born of women yourselves, you cannot be men, if you can look on such a sight and not be moved! For that God's sake whom we both worship, oh do, do, do!"
But to all her entreaties the cold, polite answer, "We should wish to oblige you, Madam, but we dare not!"
And so she was left again to that sore agony. The child's wailing was lower now; the mother fondly hoped that its strength was already beginning to pass. But it pleased God to try His saint to the uttermost.
News were brought to Meruan, three hours later, that the captive Queen had tasted nothing all that day.
"She must be made to eat," said the tyrant, "or I shall lose her. But how?"
"If I might recommend, my lord," said the eunuch [74/75] Hafiz, who had been brought up a Christian, and had apostatized, "I would send to her the Patriarch. He will not, I know, allow her to commit suicide, and she will obey him."
"It is well thought of," replied the Caliph; "let him be summoned."
"And if I might also suggest, my lord, I would give orders that the child should be removed while he is there; the Queen is more likely to take food in its absence."
And thus it happened that, about ten at night, the door of Susanna's apartment once more opened, and one of the attendants who had brought in dinner reappeared.
"Your child will be brought back again, Madam, in half-an-hour; but at present the Patriarch is to see you alone." The moanings of the poor infant grew fainter along the passage, and presently Eustathius entered.
"You need not tell me, my daughter," he said, "I know all. This whole day I have not ceased to pray for you, praying as I never did in my life before."
"You do not know all; for you do not know how once or twice I have all but yielded: nay, it seemed to me as if the guilt were in doing what I am doing; as if better anything than to be the murderer of one's own infant." And her agitation grew so extreme, that for some time the Catholic's words were quite thrown away.
"One thing, my child, you have no right to do," [75/76] said he, "to throw away your own life. This was the reason why I am here. The Caliph had heard that you had taken no food, and however evil his purposes may be, they must not make you sin."
"You do not know what you ask," cried Susanna, almost angrily. "My baby starving before my very eyes, and I to feast!"
"I do know very well, my poor child," said Eustathius; "and far more than that, He who Himself bare all our sorrows knows what this is."
"Ah, my father," cried the Queen, "but there has been my difficulty, there has been my misery to-day."
"How?" he enquired kindly, as the Queen seemed to find it not easy to explain herself.
"I cannot say it without your thinking it sinful."
"Not," returned the Bishop, "if you say it for the sake of asking advice. What is it, my child?"
"I have always thought," said Susanna, "that the martyrs in their greatest sufferings looked on the full and entire sympathy of Him who is the Martyr of martyrs. But it seems to me that in this grief He cannot sympathize. Do not be angry with me, father; I do not mean that He cannot sympathize as God, but that He cannot as man: He never knew, or could have known, what the love of a mother for her infant is."
"I am glad you have told me," said Eustathius; "but, indeed, you are mistaken. For holy Church believes that our Lord on the cross did take upon Himself, by His own almighty power, all the [76/77] individual sufferings of His people to the end of the world; and that, as much more fully and perfectly than they suffer, as His human nature was perfect above theirs. Think of this; and the more you think of it, the more comfort it will give you."
So Eustathius argued with the Queen, and gradually he taught her to look on beyond the present anguish to the future weight of glory. "Remember," he said, "glory not for you only, but for your infant; if she suffer, she will have the crown too. Or why do we count those blessed children of Bethlehem happy?"
Before he left her, the Queen had been induced to take some of the simplest of the refreshments that were set before her. The Catholic could tell her nothing of her husband, nothing of her other children, nothing of what was likely to be his own fate. All the future was dark, as dark as it could be to any pilgrims in this world. "But there is light behind the clouds, my daughter, and so some day we shall acknowledge."
I have not the heart to go through the hours of that sad night: to tell you how sometimes the poor infant lay comparatively still, moaning its little life away; how sometimes its shrieks and cries pierced to the very heart of the mother; how gradually, towards morning, its strength seemed failing, and its cries grew hoarser, and its moanings lower.
 The pale, calm light of a June morning began to deaden the glimmer of the lamp which the cruelty of Meruan had ordered to be left in the apartment. All else was still in the palace. There was the faintest possible breeze over the citron and orange trees, loaded with their golden fruit and silver blossoms at once; the voice of the Kour was heard faintly from the valley below; long dark streaks over the eastern horizon were beginning to burn in crimson and purple. Yes; there never was a more lovely morning than that on which the Good Shepherd, now having tried His servant enough, sent forth an angel to fetch this new lamb to His fold. And herein were the prayers of Eustathius and of the mother answered,--that although, as every one knows, infants generally have the hardest deaths, as if their new principle of life were so strong within them as not easily to be dislodged by its great enemy, in this case, as soon as daylight had broken, the infant seemed to suffer but little. And that text came into Susanna's mind as if inspired by God Himself,--"Let me go, for the day breaketh." She cast her thoughts backward to that day when, in the Sion of Tiflis, amidst all the pomp and grandeur of a royal rite, bishops attending from every part of the kingdom, deacons again and again in peace making their supplication to the Lord, little Ketevan had been received into the ark of Christ's Church by the Catholic of Mtskétha, from him had received the holy oil of confirmation, from him, also, the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. A more glorious illumination now was [78/79] that which was about to burst on those poor little dying eyes; a more glorious Sion than the Sion of Tiflis was that into which the infant wanderer was to be received. Now, trusting that the bitterness of death was passed, Susanna watched the clouds, brightening and brightening in the sunset, and tried to send her thoughts beyond them, beyond the suns that set and rise, beyond the earthly sky, to that place where the Lord God giveth them light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.
Straining eye and ear to catch the little breath, growing fainter and fainter, slower and slower, and to mark the exact moment when mortality should be swallowed up of life, Susanna knelt till a bright spot of gold falling in high up on the wall of the chamber told that the sun had risen. The Queen's eye wandered for one moment to that; and when it returned to the dear little form she had been watching all night, it fell only on the shrine from which the dweller had gone forth. The guardian angel had fulfilled his charge, and was presenting Ketevan before the throne of God as the proto-martyr of this persecution.
While Meruan is yet revolving in his mind the fate of his other captives,--while even where through Imeretia, Mingrelia, Abkhasia, and Daghestan, Mahometan governors are turning Christian churches into [79/80] mosques, defacing frescoes, breaking up bells, profaning altars, let us take a glance at the future, and see what became of little Ketevan's memory.
There never was, there never will be, in all Christendom such a monastery as that in which we now stand. Five immense courts, four disposed in a square with the church forming the interior angle of each, the fifth, and by far the largest, interposed between them and the city, the imperial city of Constantinople.
In these courts sixteen hundred monks have embraced the religious life. All the learning, all the talent, all the literary power of the Eastern Church is here laid up as in a treasure-house. Yonder is the enormous library, filled with precious manuscripts that would perish long before printing can come to make them known to the world. In that other direction are the granaries, the brewhouse, (or, as they would call it, the manufactory of barley-wine,) the bakehouse, the wine-cellars, the store-houses, the pigeoneries--every building that could be necessary for so vast a multitude. If we were to look into the bakehouse, we should find one room floored with costly tiles from Chios, the walls lined with the same, and hallowed by many a repetition of the cross, with a dresser of cedar-wood stretching from one end to the other. Look! four monks in their black Basilian habit are seated round that sack of wheat, picking grain by grain of the whitest and plumpest; these are put into a small silken bag, and sealed with the monastery seal. What are they for? Come into this [80/81] next apartment and you will see. Here two ecclesiastics,--deacons I take them to be,--in their alb and stole, the latter impressed with the words, "Hagios, Hagios, Hagios," are opening one of these silk bags, and pouring its contents into a hand-mill. And while one of them plies the handle of that mill vigorously, the others chant the sweet Ectene, and the flour runs out into a copper-gilt vessel, stamped with the mystical IHC XC. In another place, from a silver ewer they pour a few drops of water from the Jordan into the flour, and from a silver vessel take the leaven with which the cake is to be leavened. And still further on, it is stamped with the Holy Lamb, and baked by two priests in a consecrated oven. This is the way in which they prepare their Lambs in the great monastery of the Studium. But this is not what I brought you here to see.
Come with me into this library, and notice the rolls of parchment stowed away, each in its shelf with the little metal plate attached to it which tells what it is. In this apartment a venerable old monk is sitting, bending over a table where lie many sheets of vellum, some inscribed with musical notes, some with verses of unequal length: it is the famous Greek poet Theophanes. He has been commanded by the Patriarch to compose a "Canon" against the festival shortly about to recur of the Georgian martyrs. There poor little Ketevan will find her place; and the living, burning words which fall from that old man's quill will be a portion of the inheritance of the Eastern [81/82] Church for ever, and another proof that out of the mouth of babes and sucklings God has ordained praise.
I told you when I first shewed you those two dear children, Tamar and Nina, that a crown hung over the head of the one, but that I could see nothing but darkness surrounding the pillow of the other.
"What will it please your Highness to have done with the two princesses?" said Motassem, when the Ass of Mesopotamia had given his orders respecting Susanna.
"Done with them!" said Meruan: "how old are they?"
"The eldest of them not twelve," replied his minister.
"Let them be sent to Bagdad, then," said Meruan; "if they will embrace our most holy faith, in time they may take their places in the Caliph's harem."
"And if they will not?" said Motassem.
"Get rid of them anyhow you like," replied the Prince, "only let me hear no more about them; I have enough to attend to without concerning myself with children."
Tamar and Nina had been left with Petronilla when their mother was confined to her own chamber. And earnestly did the good old woman pray, and [82/83] heartily did she warn them against the dangers to which they were to be exposed.
"Tell us once more, nurse," said Tamar, "tell us once more about those that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do."
And so, in plain, childish words, Petronilla related the histories of former Georgian martyrs, for that country, fruitful no less spiritually than temporally, abounded with them. She knew not what had become of her beloved mistress; she knew that the King was in a dungeon and in the power of his enemies; she was utterly ignorant of the fate of her own darling treasure of an infant; and yet you might have envied the calm and the trustfulness which filled this poor old woman's heart.
While she was thus talking to her children, the eunuch entered who had been charged to supply the Queen with food. A true servant of the devil, if Satan ever had one. He spoke of Susanna, he spoke of Alexander; he said that they had both promised to embrace the faith of the conqueror, and that they and their children would meet happily at Bagdad: the princesses had only to do what their father and mother had done; the Caliph would love them as his own children, would bring them up like princesses as they were, would provide for them all their lives.
"Do not believe him, my own darlings," said Petronilla; "he only seeks to destroy you body and soul. I am sure that your royal father and mother could not deny Christ; but if they did, God forbid [83/84] that you,"--and the old woman used the Georgian term of endearment,--"O pea-fowls of my heart, should follow their example."
Warm waxed the conflict between the faithful nurse and the wretched eunuch: Nina took no part in it on this side or on that; but Tamar said,--"I shall never meet my father and mother again, if I do as you would have me: I am a Christian now, and with God's grace I hope to remain one."
The eunuch rang a bell which stood on the table. "Bring what I told you," said he to the slave who entered. In a few moments the latter made his appearance with a lighted taper, and set it down on the table.
"As to you, old woman," said the eunuch, "your fate is sealed; but I would save these silly children if I can. And so," he said, seizing hold of Tamar, "you mean to live and die a Christian, do you?"
"Yes," said the little girl, trembling very much.
"We will see," said he. "Sadi, call in one or two of your companions, and keep this woman out of the way;" for Petronilla also had caught hold of her darling, as if to defend her. "Tie her arms behind her, and keep her off," said the eunuch. "Now then, child, what do you say to this?"
And the eunuch, a strong, tall, brawny barbarian, held Tamar's hand in the flame of the candle.
Why should I go on to tell you all that followed? It is written, "My strength is made perfect in weakness," and little Tamar had plenty of it, and cried [84/85] and screamed as any other child would have done. Nevertheless, after two or three repeated efforts, the strong, tall savage was baffled, and owned himself vanquished.
Nina only said,--"I will do what you wish me, Sir; I will go to Bagdad."
It is not always those who have merited most that receive the highest fame even in the annals of the Church: Petronilla died in God's cause; but how or when, I know not.
As little was it ever known for certain what happened to Alexander. But the common belief went, that after he had been kept without food for two days, a piece of meat was let down to him in the dungeon, saturated with brine; and that when lie had eaten plentifully of it, as a starving man would, the trap-door was closed, and he was left to die of thirst. But this only is certain, that he was never more seen alive.
It was on the afternoon of the same day, the morning of which had seen Ketevan received into glory, that Susanna heard the key of the door unturn, and in a moment was holding Tamar to her heart. Shy as Tamar generally was of expressing her feelings, the Queen was astonished at the ecstasy of joy with which the child threw herself into her mother's arms; but a few words explained all.
 "You have talked to me about martyrs before now, mother; now we are to be martyrs together."
The facts were soon stated at full length. Meruan, baffled alike by mother and child, had given orders that they should be beheaded together. Yielding to his own barbarous disposition, he had at first decreed that Susanna should be roasted alive; but Mekhitar, whose influence was at that time all powerful with the Caliph, shrank, fallen as he was, from so horrible a crime, and represented the political danger of thus treating a Georgian Queen.
In the hall of the palace where the nobles and Thawards of Georgia had so often banqueted, the block was set up which was to send Susanna and her child to glory.
The hall was crowded with spectators,--mostly Mahometans; one or two Christians only were fortunate enough to make their way in. It was towards evening; the evening of a cloudless day. There stood the executioner, a gigantic-looking man, leaning on the massy axe, which for the Queen of Georgia, but still more for the poor little neck of Tamar, seemed strangely misplaced. Hand in hand they came into the hall, mother and daughter; Tamar's wounded hand having been, by her mother's last act of earthly love, suspended in a sling.
"I have one request to make," said the Queen, in a voice perfectly calm and composed; "and if it be granted, I will reward it. I should like my child to be the first."
 "And how can you reward it?" said the eunuch, roughly.
"By this," returned the Queen, shewing him, but not putting into his hands, a diamond ring.
"Well," said the eunuch, "I have no orders one way or the other; give me the ring, and it shall be so."
Even among those Mahometan warriors, men with hearts as hard as the nether millstone, there was a kind of emotion of pity as Tamar, without the least hesitation or delay, bent her head before her mother, in order that she might so arrange the hair as to prevent no obstacle to the axe. That done,--
"One kiss more, dear mother," said the child, "if it is worth while."
"One more," said her mother, "kissing her, and the next will be a happier one."
Two seconds more, and the little head with its bright hair had fallen into the basket prepared for it. The officials cleansed the block with sawdust, and Susanna, having arranged her own hair, knelt before it, requesting them to give her half a minute for prayer. The half minute passed; the executioner looked to the eunuch, as if expecting his order; the axe fell, and St. Susanna was reckoned among the martyrs.