The Golden Violet with its Tales of Romance and Chivalry and Other Poems/The Young Avenger
Dark was the brow, and the bearing proud,
Of the bard who first stept forth from the crowd;
A small cloak down from his shoulder hung,
And a light guitar o'er his arm was slung;
Many a lady's casement had known
The moonlight spell of its magic tone:
But the fire of youth from his cheek had pass'd,
And its hopes and its dreams had faded as fast;
The romance of his earlier time was over,
The warrior had half forgotten the lover;
And the light grew dark in his radiant eyes,
As he told his tale of high emprize.
THE YOUNG AVENGER:
THE SPANISH MINSTREL’S TALE.
The warrior's strength is bow'd by age, the warrior's step is slow,
And the beard upon his breast is white as is the winter snow;
Yet his eye shines bright, as if not yet its last of fame were won;
Six sons stand ready in their arms to do as he has done.
"Now take your way, ye Laras bold, and to the battle ride;
For loud upon the Christian air are vaunts of Moorish pride:
Your six white steeds stand at the gate; go forth, and let me see
Who will return the first and bring a Moslem head to me."
Forth they went, six gallant knights, all mail'd from head to heel;
Is it not death to him who first their fiery strength shall feel?
They spurr'd their steeds, and on they dash'd, as sweeps the midnight wind;
While their youngest brother stood and wept that he must stay behind.
“Come here, my child," the father said, "and wherefore dost thou weep?
The time will come when from the fray naught shall my favourite keep;
When thou wilt be the first of all amid the hostile spears."
The boy shook back his raven hair, and laugh'd amid his tears.
The sun went down, but lance nor shield reflected back his light;
The moon rose up, but not a sound broke on the rest of night.
The old man watch'd impatiently, till with morn o'er the plain
There came a sound of horses' feet, there came a martial train.
But gleam'd not back the sunbeam glad from plume or helm of gold,
No, it shone upon the crimson vest, the turban's emerald fold.
A Moorish herald; six pale heads hung at his saddle-bow,
Gash'd, changed, yet well the father knew the lines of each fair brow.
"Oh! did they fall by numbers, or did they basely yield?"
"Not so; beneath the same bold hand thy children press'd the field.
They died as Nourreddin would wish all foes of his should die;
Small honour does the conquest boast when won from those who fly.
"And thus he saith, 'This was the sword that swept down thy brave band,
Find thou one who can draw it forth in all thy Christian land.'
If from a youth such sorrowing and scathe thou hast endured,
Dread thou to wait for vengeance till his summers are matured."
The aged chieftain took the sword, in vain his hand essay'd
To draw it from its scabbard forth, or poise the heavy blade;
He flung it to his only child, now sadly standing by.
"Now weep, for here is cause for tears; alas! mine own are dry."
Then answer'd proud the noble boy, "My tears last morning came
For weakness of my own right hand; to shed them now were shame:
I will not do my brothers' names such deep and deadly wrong;
Brave were they unto death, success can but to God belong."
And years have fled, that boy has sprung unto a goodly height,
And fleet of foot and stout of arm in his old father's light;
Yet breathed he never wish to take in glorious strife his part,
And shame and grief his backwardness was to that father's heart.
Cold, silent, stern, he let time pass, until he rush'd one day,
Where mouming o'er his waste of youth the weary chieftain lay.
Unarm'd he was, but in his grasp he bore a heavy brand,
"My father, I can wield this sword; now knighthood at thine hand.
For years no hour of quiet sleep upon my eyelids came,
For Nourreddin had poison'd all my slumber with his fame.
I have waited for my vengeance; but now, alive or dead,
I swear to thee by my brothers' graves that thou shall have his head."
It was a glorious sight to see, when those two warriors met:
The one dark as a thunder-cloud, in strength and manhood set;
The other young and beautiful, with lithe and graceful form,
But terrible as is the flash that rushes through the storm.
And eye to eye, and hand to hand, in deadly strife they stood,
And smoked the ground whereon they fought, hot with their mingled blood;
Till droop’d the valiant infidel, fainter his blows and few,
While fiercer from the combat still the youthful Christian grew.
Nourreddin falls, his sever'd head, it is young Lara’s prize:
But dizzily the field of death floats in the victor's eyes.
His cheek is as his foeman's pale, his white lips gasp for breath:
Ay, this was all he ask'd of Heaven, the victory and death.
He raised him on his arm, "My page, come thou and do my will;
Canst thou not see a turban'd band upon yon distant hill?
Now strip me of my armour, boy, by yonder river's side,
Place firm this head upon my breast, and fling me on the tide."
That river wash'd his natal halls, its waters bore him on,
Till the moonlight on the hero in his father's presence shone.
The old chief to the body drew, his gallant boy was dead,
But his vow of vengeance had been kept, he bore Nourreddin’s head.