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After The Battle






Source: Hebrew Heroes

There are joys as well as sorrows into which the stranger cannot enter,
and which baffle the attempt of the pen to describe; such was that of
Lycidas and Zarah when they first met after the battle of Bethsura.
The maiden had her happiness tempered indeed with something of anxiety
and even alarm, for she beheld the young Greek pale with loss of blood,
exhausted by excessive fatigue, and with his left arm in a sling, but
her mind was soon relieved, for Lycidas had sustained no serious or
permanent injury. The young proselyte was rather glad than otherwise
to carry on his person some token of his having fought under Judas
Maccabeus, and been one of the foremost of those who had stormed
Bethsura.

With Zarah and her attendant for his deeply interested listeners,
Lycidas gave a graphic and vivid description of the fight. Zarah held
her breath and trembled when the narrator came to that thrilling part
of his account which described his own position of imminent peril, when
he would have been precipitated from the top of the wall, had not Judas
Maccabeus come to his rescue.

"I deemed that all was over with me," said Lycidas, "when the prince
suddenly flashed on my sight! Had I not long since given to the winds
the idle fables that I heard in my childhood, I should have deemed that
Mars himself, radiant in his celestial panoply, had burst from the
cloud of war. But the hero of Israel needs no borrowed lustre to be
thrown around him by the imagination of a poet, he realizes the noblest
conception of Homer."

"And Maccabeus was the one to save and defend you! generous, noble!"
murmured Zarah.

"Ay, it seems destined that I should be overwhelmed with an
ever-growing debt of obligation," cried Lycidas, playfully throwing a
veil of discontent over the gratitude and admiration which he felt
towards his preserver. "I would that it had been my part to play the
rescuer; that it had been _my_ sword that had shielded his head; and
that Maccabeus were not fated to eclipse me in everything, even in the
power of showing generosity to a rival But I must not grudge him the
harvest of laurels," added the young Athenian, with a joyous glance at
Zarah, "since the garland of happiness has been awarded to me."

On the morning after the battle of Bethsura, Simon and Eleazar, the
Asmoneans, both visited their youthful kinswoman in the goat-herd's
hut, where she and Anna had remained during the night. They regarded
her still as their future sister, and offered her their escort to the
house of Rachel, which was at no great distance from the fortress of
Bethsura. As Zarah desired as soon as possible to place herself under
the protection of a female relative, she gladly accepted the offer.
The horse-litter was brought to the door of the lowly hut; and with the
curtains closely drawn, the maiden and her attendant proceeded to the
dwelling of old Rachel, who joyfully welcomed the child of Hadassah.
Zarah, on that morning, saw nothing of Lycidas, and Judas Maccabeus
avoided approaching her presence. The chief could not trust himself to
look on that sweet face again.

Through the Hebrew camp all was bustle and preparation. Tents were
struck--all was made ready for the coming march to Jerusalem; the tired
warriors forgot their weariness, and the wounded their pain, so eager
were all to gather the rich fruits of their victory within the walls of
Zion.

But amidst all the excitement and confusion, with so many cares
pressing upon him from every side, the mind of the prince dwelt much
upon Zarah. He felt that she was lost to him--he would have scorned to
have claimed her hand when he knew that her heart was another's; but he
resolved at least to act the part of a brother towards the orphan
maiden. Painful to Maccabeus as was the sight of his successful rival,
the chief determined to have an interview with Lycidas, that he might
judge for himself whether the stranger were indeed worthy to win a
Hebrew bride. Lycidas had proved himself to be a brave warrior--he had
won the admiration even of the fanatic Jasher; but would the Greek
stand firm in his newly-adopted faith when fresh laurels were no longer
to be won, or fair prize gained by adhesion to it?

"The most remote hope of winning Zarah," mused Maccabeus, "were enough
to make a man espouse the cause of her people, and renounce all
idolatry--save idolatry of herself. I must question this Athenian
myself. I must examine whether he have embraced the truth
independently of earthly motives, and, as a true believer, can indeed
be trusted with the most priceless of gems. If it be so, let him be
happy, since her happiness is linked with his. Never will I darken the
sunshine of her path with the shadow which will now rest for ever upon
mine."

It was with no small anxiety that Lycidas obeyed the summons of the
prince, and entered his presence alone, in one of the apartments of the
fortress which he had aided to capture. The Greek could not but
conjecture that his fate, as regarded his union with Zarah, might hang
on the result of this interview with his formidable rival.

The interview was not a long one: what occurred in it never transpired.
Not even to Zarah did Lycidas ever repeat the conversation between
himself and the man whose earthly happiness he had wrecked. As the
Greek passed forth from the presence of Maccabeus, he met Simon and
Eleazar, who had just returned from escorting their young kinswoman to
the dwelling of Rachel.

The Asmonean brothers frankly and cordially greeted the stranger whom
they had seen for the first time in the thick of the conflict of the
preceding day. The bandage round his temples, the sling which
supported his left arm, were as credentials which the Athenian carried
with him--a passport to the favour and confidence of his new associates
in the field.

"You have leaped into fame with one bound, fair Greek!" cried Eleazar.
"You had reached the highest round of the ladder ere I could plant my
foot on the lowest. I could fain envy you the honour you have won."

Eleazar, accompanied by Simon, then passed on into the presence of
Maccabeus, while Lycidas pursued his way. The smile with which the
young Hebrew had spoken was still on his lips when he entered the
apartment in which the prince sat alone, but the first glance of
Eleazar at Judas banished every trace of that smile.

"You are ill!" he exclaimed anxiously, as he looked on the almost
ghastly countenance of his brother; "you have received some deadly
hurt!"

The chief replied in the negative by a slight movement of the head.

"The weight of responsibility, the lack of sleep, the exhaustion of
yesterday's conflict, are sapping your strength," observed Simon
gravely. "Judas, you are unfit to encounter the toils of the long
march now before us."

"I was never more ready--never more impatient for a march," said
Maccabeus, rising abruptly, for it seemed to him as if violent physical
exertions alone could render life endurable.

"I marvel," said Eleazar, "if our graceful young proselyte will bear
hardships as bravely as he has proved that he can encounter danger.
Methinks he shows amongst our grim warriors as a marble column from
Solomon's palace amongst the rough oaks that clothe the hill-side. If
Lycidas is to be--"

"He is to be--the husband of Zarah," interrupted Maccabeus. His voice
sounded strange and harsh, and he turned away his face as he spoke.

"The husband of Zarah!" re-echoed Eleazar in amazement; "why"--Simon's
warning pressure on the young man's arm prevented his uttering more.
The brothers exchanged significant glances. That was the last time
that the name of Zarah was ever breathed by either of them in the
hearing of Maccabeus.

Zarah found that her residence in her new home would be but a brief
one, and that she was likely to return to Jerusalem far sooner than she
could have anticipated when she had set out on her night journey so
short a time before. Rachel--a woman who, though well stricken in
years, had lost none of the energy and enthusiasm of youth--was filled
with triumphant joy at the victory of Bethsura, and declared to Zarah
her intention of starting for the city in advance of the army.

"I have a vow upon me--a solemn vow," said the old Jewess to the
maiden. "Long have I mourned over the desolation of Zion; and I have
promised to the Lord that if ever holy sacrifices should again be
offered up in the Temple at Jerusalem, my heifer, my fair white heifer,
should be the first peace-offering. I have vowed also to go up myself
to the holy city, and make there with my own hands wafers anointed with
oil, to eat with the sacrifice of thanksgiving. The time for keeping
my vow has arrived. We will go up together, my daughter, and my
bondsman shall drive the white heifer before us. My soul cannot depart
in peace till I have looked upon the sanctuary in which my ancestors
worshipped, and with a thankful heart have performed this my vow to the
Lord."

Zarah made no opposition to the wishes of her relative, which, indeed,
coincided with her own. Arrangements for the proposed journey were
speedily made. The horse-litter in which Zarah had travelled to
Bethsura would avail for the accommodation of both the ladies on her
return to the city. The faithful Joab would resume his office of
attendant, and Anna join company with the handmaidens of Rachel. It
was under joyful auspices that the travellers would set forth on their
way to the city of David.





Next: The Victor's Return

Previous: Bethsura



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