Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile: in the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1773/Volume 4/Bk7Ch6
138 TRAVELS TO DISCOVER
Michael attempts to enter Begemder — First Battle of Serbraxos — The Rebels offer Battle to the King in the Plain — Armies separated by a violent Storm,
YASINE had scarcely returned to the camp when all the tents were struck, and the army on its march. The Ras and Guebra Mascal led the van, the king and Guebra Christos the center, Kasmati Kefla Yasous the rear; Netcho the Fit-Auraris being about half an hour's march before us, we proceeded along the plain without interruption; Ayto Engedan, with a small body of horse, was covering the king's right flank at some distance. The church of Serbraxos was on our left upon the side of a hill, and we expected to see the Fit-Auraris take up his ground for encamping there, as it was the field of action determined upon by both parties. The Fit-Auraris, however, first, and then Ras Michael with the van, passed below Serbraxos at so brisk a pace that we in the center found it difficult to keep up with them.
1. King's palace and high walls surrounding it.
6. Debra Berhan, famous church upon the highest part of the hill over the Angrab.
A The centre commanded by the king and Guebra Christos encamped on the South of the hill Serbraxos.
I Ras Michael beat back into the valley, retires under cover of his musketry at K and L, which stop the rebels advancing.
A long valley, having the mountains of Begemder on the south, or farthest end, was what the Ras had now entered, and he flattered himself, by a forced march, to arrive at those mountains. When once in Begemder, he knew that he not only should occasion a revolt among the troops of Powussen, (many of whom had followed him by force rather than inclination) but likewise he was assured that he should be met by many powerful noblemen and friends to the king, both of Lasta and Begemder, whom Powussen dared not force to follow him, and who had staid at home; by this means, he conceived his army would be so much increased that he soon should bring the rebels to reason.
The river Mariam runs along the west side of this valley, shallow, but brisk and clear, and the water excellent, while a small brook, called Deg-Ohha, (that is, the water of honour, or of worth) falling from the mountains on the east, runs close by the bottom of the hill of Serbraxos, where it joins the Mariam. The center of the army was just entering from the plain into the valley, and the king's horse passing Deg-Ohha, when we heard a firing in the front, which we guessed to be from the Fit-Auraris; soon after followed a repeated firing from the van, engaged about a short two miles distance, though a long even hill in the midst of the valley, and its windings, hindered us from seeing them,
Guebra Christos immediately made his disposition; he placed his horse, and foot in the intervals of the horse, in the middle of the valley; his musquetry on the right and left, the former upon the skirts of the hill already mentioned, to run along the valley; the latter up the skirts of the hill of Serbraxos. Orders very soon arrived from Ras Michael, which did not alter the disposition; and Kefla Yafous with the rear arriving at the same time, just joined and doubled the several posts as they had been taken; our position was to the utmost of our wish; but it had not been so with Michael, for he no sooner had got into the plain, where he had the hills no longer either on his right or left, than he was attacked by Powussen, with the whole force of Begemder, who cut off the troops of his Fit-Auraris to a man, he, and two or three common soldiers, only escaping. This was owing to Michael's retreating instead of supporting him; for he had scarcely given time for Powussen to come up; with his horse, who fought more desperately than was their usual custom, than he himself again took possession of the entrance of the valley, and lined the hill on both sides with fire-arms. A very general and sharp fire from Guebra Mascal, and the musquetry, (who had occupied the south end of the long hill) soon obliged Powussen to leave Michael's cavalry, which he would else have inevitably destroyed, and shelter himself in the plain from the violent effect of the shot, which rained upon him alternately from, the hills on each side of the valley.
At this time we were in the greatest anxiety, from the report of the musquets always, coming nearer us, though by the contrary winds, the smoke was carried from us. The day was far advanced, and excessively hot: the foot soldiers were busy in giving our horses drink out of our own helmets, which they filled from Deg-Ohha. All the troops; were impatient, however, to come to an action upon that ground. At this time an officer from Michael came to Kefla Yasous, who was on horseback near the king, order- ing him to fend a body of fresh horse to support the cavalry of his division, with an intention, if possible, to bring on a general engagement. In the mean time he ordered Kefla Yasous to keep firm, as he then was, in the post of Serbraxos, and not to advance till he was sure that Gusho and Ayabdar had left their ground, joined Powussen, and were engaged with him at the south end of the valley. These instructions were perfectly understood by that sagacious and veteran general. He detached 500 Shoa, with near the same number of horse belonging to Engedan, and commanded by him, and these, joined to the cavalry already in the van, again attempting to pass the plain, were attacked by Powussen and the troops of Begemder, who had been likewise reinforced, and after an obstinate engagement they had retired into the mouth of the valley, not from being actually beaten, but by direction of Ras Michael, in order to bring the enemy purfuing them under the fire of the musquetry, on each side of the entrance of the valley.
I was exceedingly curious to have seen this engagement, and I begged Kefla Yasous to speak to the king to permit me to go singly with Engedan. To this, however, I had a flat refusal, not without some marks of peevishness and displeasure, which Kefla Yasous qualified by saying, "Don't be dismayed, you shall see;" and in that instant the word was given to march to the right, whilst the troops left the valley between the long hill and the mountains, and took post on the side of the river Mariam, with their faces fronting the west. The musquetry was placed upon the eminences to the north and south, as if to defend the ford of the river, thro' which, the entrance was, to the north end of the valley. Mi- chael, in the mean time, had, by the feigned retreat of his cavalry, decoyed the Begemder troops within reach of the musquetry, and they were again put in disorder by the discharge on each side of the hill, without being able to advance a step further; after which he ordered some tents to be pitched upon the hill on his right, as if intending to encamp there.
Kasmati Ayabdar, who commanded the left wing of the rebels, imagining that the whole army had advanced to the south of the valley with Ras Michael, thought this was an opportunity of surrounding the king's troops, and cutting them off from their camp and strong post upon the hill of Serbraxos; with this intention he advanced rapidly to the ford of the river Mariam, thinking to take post on the hill which was to our rear, being that of Serbraxos. When he advanced, however, near that river, and saw the king and his cavalry drawn up on the banks of it, his heart failed him, and he halted within a short quarter of a mile of our troops. In order to decoy and make him more confident, Kefla Yasous ordered the horse to retreat and cross the river as fast as they could, with an appearance of confusion, that he might draw their horse within reach of our musquetry planted upon every eminence. The king shewed great reluctance at this manoeuvre, however wise. He repeated very peevishly. What is this! What is this! Am I retiring before rebels? — Neither did this stratagem succeed but in part, for Ayabdar, either distrusting the trap laid for him, or afraid to enter into an engagement with the king, advanced but a few paces, and again halted, apparently not decided what he was to do. The Edjow Galla alone advanced to the very brink of the river, and when the musquetry began to be fired at them, which would probably quickly have put them into confusion, the king, losing all patience, ordered the black horse, and all the heavy-armed troops, to charge them, which was instantly executed with the greatest speed; the Galla were all borne down, with little or no resistance, by the length of our pikes, and the superior weight of our horses, and those that were not slain were scattered over the plain. But a greater misfortune befel us from our friends than from our enemies, as a volley of shot was poured upon us from Serbraxos hill, on the right hand, which killed seven men, notwithstanding their coats of mail. The king himself was in great danger, being in the middle of the engagement, and unarmed; young prince George, who fought by his side, was shot in the thumb of his left hand. Kefla Yasous, who saw the danger the king was in, riding about, holding out his hand and crying not to fire, was shot through the hair, the ball just grazing his head above the ear, and another wounding his horse just above his thigh, but so slightly, that it was afterwards extracted by a servant's fingers.
Ayabdar, after the loss of his Edjow Galla, retreated to the camp, amidst the curses and imprecations of the army, who, not informed of the king's strength, thought the war might have been ended by a proper exertion and perseverance in his part that day. Gusho his nephew, who had staid to guard the camp, but who had reinforced Powussen and Ayabdar each of them with a part of his troops, spoke of his uncle in the bitterest terms of reproach, continually calling him dotard and coward, and declaring him incapa- ble of command or service. Whether this was really his opinion, or only said with a view of forwarding a scheme already laid, I will not say; but certainly it was the foundation of a quarrel which, by its consequences, did greatly weaken the rebels, and contributed much afterwards to maintain the king upon the throne; for Gusho, who, upon the defeat of Ras Michael, was destined by all parties to take the lead, was as lavish in praises of Powussen for his behaviour that day, as he was bitter in condemning his uncle, which created a violent misunderstanding between these two chiefs, insomuch that Asahel Woodage, with his troops of Maitsha, left Ayabdar, and joined Powussen. Confu, moreover, son of Basha Eusebius, and brother to Guebra Mehedin, who had frustrated my first attempt to discover the source of the Nile, endeavouring to promote a revolt among the troops of Foggora, to which he belonged, was put in irons by Ayabdar, from which he was but too soon released to meet, a few days afterwards, a fate that put an end to his profligacy and follies.
Powussen in this conflict had retreated, if not beaten, with a considerable loss; nine hundred of his best troops were said to have been slain that day, and a great many more wounded, most of whom (those I mean that had gunshot wounds) died from the want of surgeons, and the ignorance of those who undertook to cure them. On the part of Michael about 300 men, all of the cavalry, were said to have perished that day, including the troops of Netcho the Fit-Auraris. Of the king's division about twenty-three were killed, seven of these being his guards, I believe mostly by the unfortunate fire of his troops, arising from his own impatience in attacking the Galla unadvisedly, of whom about sixty were left upon the field, all slain in the attack, for they were not pursued, but joined their main body immediately.
Ras Michael fell back upon the army, which had encamped on the hill of Serbraxos; and it now was believed more than before, that the fate of the empire was to be determined on that spot. Another thing, however, appeared plain, that whatever belief Michael pretended in the prophecy, he would not have preferred fighting at Serbraxos, if he could by any means have given the rebels the slip, and marched his army into Begemder. The king was exceedingly pleased at the part he had taken that day; it was the first time he was engaged in person, nor did any body venture to condemn it; he shewed, indeed, very little concern at his brother's wound, which was only a flight one in the fleshy part of his thumb, nor did the young prince trouble himself much about it; on the contrary, when I went to dress and bind it up, he said to me, I wish, Yagoube, the shot had carried the thumb off altogether, it would have made me incapable of succeeding to the throne, and they would not then send me to the hill of Wechne. The king, upon hearing this, said with a smile, George forgets that Hatze Hannes, my father and his, was called to the throne many years after his whole hand had been cut off. Every one agreed that Ras Michael had that day shewn a degree of intrepidity and military skill superior to any thing which had appeared in many former engagements in which he had commanded. No sooner had he refreshed himself with a meal, than he called a council of his officers, which lasted great part of the evening, notwithstanding the fatigue he had undergone throughout the day. This was the first battle of Serbraxos, which, though it contained nothing decisive, had flill two very material consequences, as it so daunted the spirits of the Begemder horse, that many chiefs of that country withdrew their troops, and went home, whilst such discord was sown among the leaders, that I believe they never sincerely trusted one another afterwards; Gusho and Ayabdar, in particular, were known to correspond with the king daily.
On the morrow after the battle, three messengers arrived from Gusho, Powussen, and Ayabdar, and each had a separate audience of the King and Ras before whom they all three severally declared, that their mailers desired to continue in allegiance to him their king, Tecla Haimanout, but under this condition only, that Ras Michael should be sent to his government of Tigré, never more to return. They endeavoured to persuade the king also to take the sense of his army, the majority of which, they asserted, were ready to abandon him. If Michael should agree to return to Tigré, they offered to carry the king to Gondar, place him in his palace, and allow him to choose his own ministers, and govern for the future after his own ideas. This, indeed, was the universal wish, and I did not see what Ras Michael could; have done, had he adopted it; but fear, or gratitude, or both, restrained the young king from such a measure; and the messengers left him after a plain declaration, That they had, endeavoured all in their power to save him, and he must. now abide the consequences, for they washed their hands of them.
The rains were now become more frequent, and an epidemical fever had shewn itself in the rebel army on the plain; every consideration, therefore, seemed to persuade a speedy decision, but the consequences of the last engagement seemed to have damped the spirit of the rebels, without having much raised that of the king's army. In fact, the days were dark and wet, and the nights cold, circumstances in which no Abyssinian chooses to fight. The army was thinly cloathed, or not cloathed at all, and encamped on high ground, where fuel, though it had not failed them yet, must soon have done so.
An accident that happened this night had nearly brought about a revolution which the wisest heads had laboured for many years in vain. Ras Michael had retired to bed at his ordinary time, somewhat before eleven o'clock, and a lamp was left burning as usual in his tent, for he was afraid of spirits. He was just fallen asleep, when he felt a man's arm reach into the bed over him, which he immediately seized hold of, crying to his attendants, at the same time, for help. Those that ran first into the tent threw down the lamp and put out the light, so that the man would have escaped, had not the people behind got about him, and endeavoured to hold him down, while entangled in, and struggling with the cords of the tent. The first person that seized him was a favourite servant of the Ras, a young man named Laeca Mariam, of a good family in Tigré; he, not perceiving his danger for want of light, received a stab with a broad knife, which pierced his heart, so that he fell without speaking a word. Numbers immediately secured the assassin, who was found to have dropt one knife within the Ras's tent, with which he had attempted at first to have stabbed him: but he was found to have another knife, two-edged, and sharp in the point, fixed along his arm, with which he had stabbed Laeca Mariam. This wretch was a native of a very barbarous nation near Shoa, S. E. of Gojam. The name of their country is Gurague. They are Troglodytes, and all robbers: their constant occupation is attending the Abyssinian camps, and stealing horses, mules or whatever they can get, which they do in a very singular manner.
They all wear their hair very short, strip themselves stark naked, and besmear themselves from head to foot with butter, or some sort of grease, whilst, along the outside of their arm, they tye a long, straight, two-edged, sharp-pointed knife, the handle reaching into the palm of their hand, and about four inches of the blade above the knob of their elbow, so that the whole blade is safe and inoffensive when the arm is extended, but when it is bent, about four inches projects, and is bare beyond the elbow joint; this being all prepared, they take a leafy faggot, such as the gatherers of fuel bring to the camp, which they fasten to their middle by a string or withy, spreading it over to conceal or cover all their back, and then drawing in their legs, they lie down, in all appearance, as a faggot, and in the part of the camp they intend to rob, crawling slowly in the dark when they think they are unperceived, and lying still when there is any noise or movement near them: In case they find themselves discovered, they flip the faggot and run; and whatever part of them you seize escapes your fingers by reason of the grease. If you endeavour to clasp them, however, which is the only way left, the Gurague bends his elbow and strikes you with his knife, and you are mortally wounded, as was the cafe with Laeca Mariam. This assassin was no sooner secured and disarmed, than a noose, with a running knot, was slipt round his neck, and his hands tied behind his back, in which manner he was carried before Ras Michael, who sat upon a stool at some distance from his tent, after every part of it had been searched. The fellow at first refused to speak, but, being threatened with torture, answered, in his own language, which I did not understand. He was asked, who had employed him to attempt that assassination? He said. The rebels; and named Gusho and Powussen: he then varied, and said the Iteghé employed him. Before he was sent away he contradicted all this, and declared, that Hagos, his brother, had employed him; and that he was then actually in the camp, with four others, who were determined to murder the Ras and Guebra Mascal, whatever it should cost them.
A search was on this ordered through all the camp, but no stranger found, excepting one of the same nation, who had planted himself and his faggot near the tent of the Abuna; and who being seized, examined, and promised pardon, declared himself absolutely ignorant of any scheme but robbing, for which purpose three of them, he said, had come into the camp together; one of them had stolen two mules the night before, and gone off, and that he was that night intending to take away two of the Abuna's mules; and he supposed his companion had the same intention with regard to the Ras; but as to murder, or any other plot, he knew nothing of it. Being put slightly to the torture, he persisted in his declaration; and when interrogated, declared, that they all three had come from Gurague with Amha Yasous, to load and unload his baggage, and take care of his beasts: that none of them had been at Gondar before the attempt, except the assassin, who had formerly lived there some years, but whether with Hagos, or any other, he did not know, nor did he ever hear him pronounce the name of Hagos, nor see any stranger, whom he did not know, converse with him: that they all three had lain the last night at the church of Serbraxos: but he further declared, that the person apprehended spoke the Amharic language as well as his own, contrary to what the villain had all along pretended.
This declaration, which I heard from the king's secretary, word for word as it was given, threw all the council into great confusion, the more so, that, being gently talked to, and food given him after his examination, at night the assassin had again repeated what he before said about Gusho, and that Fasil, too, was accessory to the attempt. And what made this labyrinth of lies still more intricate was, that it was certainly known that Hagos, his brother, had constantly lived with Coque Abou Barea, in Kuara, from the time Ras Michael had put his brother to death at Gondar. It was intended therefore to try the effect of further torture in the morning, to make him confess the truth. His guard, however, having fallen asleep, or gone out of the tent, he was found strangled by the running noose that was left round his neck; nor was any further light ever thrown upon this affair at any time after; but it was generally believed the attempt had been made at the instigation of some connection of the Iteghé, and there were some who went so far as to name Welleta Israel Early in the morning some priests came from Powussen, Ayabdar, and Gusho, to take the most solemn oaths before the Abuna, that they never had the smallest knowledge of what the affair had laid to their charge; and they took upon themselves sentence of excommunication, which the Abuna then pronounced conditionally, if they had directly, or indirectly, been principal or accessory, or known, or been consulted, in any manner whatever, as to the designs of that assassin. Several principal officers of the rebels, moreover, who had left Gondar and gone over to Fasil, and who were there in Gusho's camp, came over to congratulate with Ras Michael upon his escape, so that, for a moment, one would have thought the whole country interested in saving him whom all were actually in arms at that instant to destroy. What surprised me most of all, probable as the thing might seem to be, not one man in the camp, from the Ras and King downward, seemed to think that this attempt of the Gurague had been in any shape the plot of the rebels; and yet, in old times, murder by treason must have been very frequent in his kingdom, as appears by their customs preserved to this day; no person, be their station, connexion, or friendship what it will, can offer any one meat or drink without taking it before them.
Proposals of peace followed this friendly intercourse, but the condition being always that Michael should depart, to Tigre, which he thought was but in other terms a proposal to destroy him, thefe friendly overtures ended in defiance and protestation. That to him alone was owing the effusion of human blood, and the ruin of his country, which was immediately to follow. It was the 17th of May, at night, the attempt had been made on the Ras's life; and the 18th was spent in excommunication before the Abuna; and, in the evening, Michael received intelligence, that Ayto Tesfos, from the mountains of Samen, and Heraclius and Samuel Mamino, from Walkayt and Tzegade, were both preparing to join the rebels with a considerable force. We were now arrived at the fatal field of Serbraxos, as we had endeavoured to pass it, but in vain; nothing now remained but to try to which side the devil (the father of lies) had been forced to tell the truth, or whether he had yet told it to either. Darien, a principal man of Belessen, and Guigarr of Lasta, joined the Ras's army about noon, bringing with them 1,200 men, chiefly horsemen, good troops, and they were joyfully received.
A council was held with all the great officers that evening, and the order of battle fixed upon for next day. Kefla Yasous, with the best of the foot from Tigre, with the king's household troops, the Shoa horse, and the Moors of Ras el Feel, with their libds, (in all not amounting to 10,000 men, but the flower of the army) composed the left wing, in the center of which was the king in person, the heavy-armed black horse before him, and the officers and nobility surrounding him; Guebra Christos, and Kasmati Tesfos of Sire, commanded the center, in which was Darion and Guigarr's cavalry, for the Lasta men, though of different sides, could never be prevailed upon to fight against one another, so instead of being with the king against Begemder and Lasta, they were placed in the center against Gusho and Amhara. The right of the king's army was commanded by Welleta Michael and Billetana Gueta Tecla, opposed to the left wing of the rebels under Kasmati Ayabdar, who the left wing of the rebels, under Kasmati Ayabdar, who had lately received large reinforcements from Gojam, by means of the Iteghé, who well knew him to be an inveterate enemy to Ras Michael, and one who would never make peace with him.
I have often heard it observed by officers of skill and experience, that nothing is more difficult to describe than a battle, and that as many descriptions as are given of it, they generally disagree, and seem as many different battles. To this I shall add, that I find as great difficulty in giving an idea of the ground on which a battle was fought, which perhaps is not the case with professional men; and though I describe nothing but what I saw, and what my horse passed over, still I very much doubt if I can make myself intelligible to my readers. The hill of Serbraxos was neither very high nor steep, unless on the north and east, where it was almost a precipice. It was not a mountain joined with others, as the bed of a torrent, that ran very rapidly from Belessen south of Mariam-Ohha, divided it from these mountains. The west side of it sloped gently to a large plain, which extended to the brink of the lake Tzana, and upon this our rear was encamped. The S. W. side of this hill was like the former, and about half a mile from it came an elbow of the river Mariam, so called from a church in the plain: on this side of the hill our center was encamped with the king, Abuna, and the princesses; whilst on the south face (which looked down a valley) was Ras Michael and the van of the army: the hill here was considerably steeper, and I have already said ended with the precipice on the north. Along the bottom of this south face of the hill lay the small stream called Deg-Ohha, which flood in pools. and was the safest and readiest supply for the army, as being perfectly under command of our musquets, where our horses could water without danger: immediately south from this ran a valley full half a mile broad, which ended in a large plain about two miles off.
The valley where Michael and the van first engaged was formed by the hills of Belessen on the east, and the river Mariam on the west, and near the middle of the valley there was a low and flat-topt hill, not above 30 yards in height, which did not join with the hill of Serbraxos. Between them there was an opening of about 100 yards through which ran Deg-Ohha, to the ford of the river Mariam, from which you ascended in a direction nearly N. W. up into the plain which reached to the lake Tzana. On the south end of this hill, as I have said, which might have been about two miles in length, the banks of the Mariam are very high, and the river stands in large deep pools, with banks of sand between them. Where this hill ends to the right is another ford of the river Mariam, where a deep and narrow sandy road goes winding up the banks, in a direction N. W. like the former, and leads to the same plain bordering on the lake Tzana: so that the plain of the valley where the Mariam runs, which is bordered by the foot of the mountains of Belessen, and continues along the plain south to Tangouré, is near 200 feet lower than the plain that extends on the side of the lake Tzana. Nor is there a convenient access from the plain to the valley, at least that I saw, by reason of the height and steepness of the banks of the Mariam, excepting these two already mentioned; one between the extremity of the long even hill, and slope of the mountain on the north, and the other on the south, through the winding sandy road up the steep banks of the river, by the south end of that low hill, as I have already said. At these two places are the two fords of the river, which continue passable even in the rainy season, and the water at that time stands in pools below it, till several miles further it joins the Zingetch Gomara, a larger stream than itself, whose banks are low, and where the stream is fordable also; but the banks of the river Mariam continue steep, and run in a southern direction. In this valley, at the south end of this hill near the ford was the engagement between Michael with the van, and the Begemder troops, on the 16th; at the ford on the north end of this hill, in the same valley, was the fight between the light troops and Kasmati Ayabdar, and the king in person, the very fame day; so that the valley was perfectly known by the enemy, and as they had few or no musquetry, was wisely considered as not fit ground for their purposes being narrow and commanded by hills everywhere.
On the 19th of May, word was brought that the whole rebel army was in motion, and before eight o'clock (reckoned in Abyssinia an early hour for such business) a great cloud of dust was seen rising on the right of the rebels towards Korreva, and this was the moment the Begemder troops got on horseback in the dusty plain; soon after we heard their kettledrums, and about nine o'clock we saw the whole troops of Begemder appear, drawn up at such a distance in the plain, above the road up the steep bank of the Mariam, as to leave great room for us to form with the road on our left, and a little on our rear; Michael easily divined Powussen's intention, which was to beat us back by a superior force of horse, and then making a num- ber of troops glide below unseen, along the river in the valley, take possession of the round hill, at the north ford of Mariam, and cut off our retreat to our camp at Serbraxos; the Ras immediately dispatched some single horsemen to take a view of the enemy more nearly, and report what their numbers were, and where Gusho and Ayabdar were posted, for we could distinguish the colour of the horses, and all the movements of the Begemder troops, not being much above three miles distance, yet we did not know whether they were alone, or whether one or more of the other generals were with them: we saw indeed Powussen's standards, but they were so weather-beaten and faded, that we could not distinguish their real colours, which were blue and yellow.
The king's whole army was descending into the valley, and passing over the ford of the Mariam, to the plain above where Kefla Yasous was riding to and fro with great earnestness, encouraging his troops. In a very short time the left was formed; the Ras, having given all his orders, and taken to himself the charge of the camp and the reserve, sat down, as was usual, to play at drafts with the black servants. The army was now all in the plain, when the scouts arrived, and brought word that Gusho and Ayabdar had both taken their ground, not directly in a straight line from Powussen, square with the lake, but as it were diagonally declining more to the southward, so that the most advanced, or nearest to us, were the troops of Begemder; and this was probably done, in order that, our backs being more turned to the lake, we might be easier cut off from our camp, and surrounded in the plain, between their army and the Tzana, if Powussen was so fortunate as to beat the king and the left; but this disposition of these troops was out of our light, being down nearer the lake. Nor is it to be understood that I mean here to give any account of their movements, or of any other, unless those of the left wing under the king, where I was myself engaged.
Several spies came into Ras Michael at this time, and they, and the horsemen that had been sent on the service, all agreed, that in the center of the Begemder horse a large red standard was displayed, with a number of kettle drums beating before it, which the Ras no sooner heard, than giving his draft board a kick with his foot, he overturned the whole game, and afforded, at lead, a bad omen of the future engagement. He then called for Kefla Yasous, and Guebra Mascal, and having conferred with them both, he detatched Guebra Mascal with five hundred musqueteers to take possession of the hill in the valley below, and coast along the left flank, of our left without appearing in fight.
The day had been exceeding close, seeming to threaten violent thunder, and we were now come so near as to see distinctly the large red standard, which being pointed out to the king, he said, smiling with a very chearful countenance, "Aye, aye, now we shall soon see what miracle king Theodorus will work." The clouds had been gathering ever since we went down the hill, and some big drops of rain had fallen. The soldiers were now covering their lighted matches, for fear of more, when first a most violent storm of thunder, lightening, and rain began, then a tempest of rain and wind, and left a dead calm, with such a heavy shower that I scarce ever saw the like even in the rainy season, Had I been commander of the Begemder troops that day this shower should have been the signal of charging; for all the king's fire-arms were useless, and the matches wet; but the Begemder horse seemed most uneasy under the fall of rain; they began to be unmanageable, and turn tail to the wind, which now arose and was directly in their faces, and in a few minutes they wheeled about, and retired to their camp. The king halted on the ground where he was, ordered the kettle-drums to beat, and the trumpets to found; and having continued half an hour till the heavy shower began, he fell back as did the whole army, and retired to the camp. When he got up the hill, and passed the brow where Ras Michael was sitting with some slaves, who held up a piece of sail-cloth over his head to keep off the rain, the servants raised the Ras upon his feet; without any previous salutation, he then asked the king what he had done with king Theodorus? and was answered, "Begemder brought him, and Begemder took him away, we saw nothing but his flag." Lasta carried his flag, says one of the nobility. He is a peaceable prince, says the king; yet he begins with fighting, but he will make amends afterwards, if he governs this country in peace a thousand years. If he does that, says the Ras, Powussen is to die at the next battle, for the thousand years peace will never begin, as long as he is alive.