Zadig/Chapter 16

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Zadig by Voltaire
Chapter 16

Chapter 16[edit]

The Queen was receiv’d at Babylon with all the Transports of Joy that could possibly be express’d for the safe Return of so illustrious and so beautiful a Personage, that had run thro’ such a long Series of Misfortunes. Babylon at that Time seem’d to be perfectly serene and quiet. As for the young Prince of Hyrcania, he was slain in Battle. The Babylonians, who were the Victors, declar’d that Astarte should marry that Candidate for the Crown, who should gain it by a fair and impartial Election. They were determin’d, that the most valuable Post of Honour in the World, namely, that of being the Royal Consort of Astarte, and the Sovereign of Babylon, should be the Result of Merit only; and not be procur’d by any Party-Factions or Court-Intrigues. A solemn Oath was voluntarily taken by all Parties, that he who should distinguish himself by his superior Valour and Wisdom, should unanimously be acknowledg’d the Sovereign-Elect.

A spacious List, or Circus, was pitched upon, surrounded with commodious Seats, erected in an Amphitheatrical Manner, and richly embellish’d some few Leagues from the City. Thither the Combatants, or Champions were to repair, compleatly accoutred. Each of them had a distinct Apartment to himself behind the Lists, where no Soul could either see them, or know who they were. They were to enter the Lists four several Times. Those who were so happy as to conquer four Competitors, were afterwards to engage each other in single Combat; in order that he who should remain Master of the Field should be proclaim’d the happy Victor.

Four Days afterwards, they were to meet again, accoutred as before, and to explain all such Ænigmas, or Riddles, as the Magi should think proper to propose. If their Queries should prove too intricate and perplext for them to resolve, they were to have Recourse to the Lists again, and after that, to fresh Ænigmas, before they could be entitled to the Election: So that the Tournaments were to be continu’d till One of the Candidates should be twice a Victor, and shine as conspicuous, with respect to his internal Qualities, as to his Dexterity and Address in heroic Atchievements. The Queen, in the mean Time, was to be narrowly watch’d, and allow’d only to be a Spectator of both their Amusements, at some considerable Distance; and moreover, to be cover’d with a Vail: Nor was she indulg’d so far as to speak one single Word to any Candidate whomsoever, in order to prevent the least Jealousy or Suspicion either of Partiality or Injustice.

Astarte took care, by the Courier, to inform her Lover of all the Preliminary Articles abovemention’d, not doubting but that he would exert both his Courage and Understanding for her Sake, beyond any of the other Competitors.

Zadig accordingly set out for Babylon, and besought the Goddess Venus, not only to fortify his Courage, but to illuminate his Mind with Wisdom on this important Occasion.

The Night before these martial Atchievements were to commence, Zadig arrived upon the Banks of the Euphrates. He inscrib’d his Device amongst the List of Combatants; concealing, at the same Time, both his Person and Name, as the Laws of the Election required; and accordingly, withdrew to the Apartment that was provided for him, according to his Lot.

Cador, who was just return’d to Babylon, having hunted all Egypt over to no Purpose, in Hopes to find his Friend Zadig, brought a compleat set of Armour into his Lodge, by express Orders from the Queen: She sent him likewise One of the finest Horses in all Persia. Zadig knew that these Presents could come from No-body but his dear Astarte, which redoubled his Vigour and his Hopes.

The next Morning the Queen being seated under a Canopy of State, enrich’d with precious Stones; and the Amphitheatres being crowded with Gentlemen and Ladies of all Ranks and Conditions from Babylon; the Competitors made their personal Appearance in the Circus: Each of them went up to the grand Magus, and laid down his particular Device at his Feet. The Devices were drawn by Lot: That of Zadig was the last. The first that advanc’d was a Grandee, one Itabod by Name, immensely rich, indeed, and very haughty; but no ways couragious; exceedingly awkward, and a Man of no acquir’d Parts. The Sycophants that hover’d round about him flatter’d him, that a Man of his Merit couldn’t fail of being King: He imperiously replied, One of my Merit must be King: Whereupon he was arm’d Cap-a-pee. His Armour was made of pure Gold, enamell’d with Green. The Housings of his Saddle were green, and his Lance embellish’d with green Ribbands. Every One was sensible, at first Sight, by Itobad’s Manner of managing his Horse, that he was not the Man whom Heav’n had pitch’d upon to sway the Babylonish Scepter. The first Combatant that tilted with him, threw him out of the Saddle; the second flung him quite over the Crupper, and laid him sprawling on the Ground, with his Heels quiv’ring in the Air. Itobad, ’tis true, remounted, but with so ill a Grace, that an universal Laugh went round the Amphitheatre. The third, disdaining to use his Lance, made only a Feint at him: Then catch’d hold of his Right Leg, and whirling him round, threw him flat upon the Sand. The Esquires, who were the Attendants, ran to his Assistance, and with a Sneer remounted him. The fourth Combatant catch’d hold of his Left Leg, and unhors’d him again. He was convey’d thro’ the hissing Multitude to his Lodge, where, according to the Law in that Case provided, he was to pass the Night. And as he hobbled along, said he, to the Esquires, what a sad Misfortune is this to One of my Birth and Character!

The other Champions play’d their Parts much better; and all came off with Credit. Some conquer’d two of their Antagonists, and others were so far successful as to get the better of three. None of them, however, except Prince Hottam, vanquish’d four. Zadig, at last, enter’d the Lists, and dismounted all his four Opponents, one after the other, with the utmost Ease, and with such an Air and Grace, as gain’d him universal Applause. As the Case stood thus, Zadig and Hottam were to close the Day’s Entertainment in a single Combat. The Armour of the latter was of a blue Colour mixt with Gold, and the Housings of his Saddle were of the same. Those of the former white as Snow. The Multitude were divided in their Wishes. The Knight in [196]blue was the Favourite of some of the Ladies; and others again were Admirers of the Cavalier in white. The Queen, whose Heart was in a perfect Palpitation, put up her secret Prayers to Venus to assist her darling Hero.

The two Champions making their Passes and their Volta’s, with the utmost Dexterity and Address, and keeping firm in their Saddles, gave each other such Rebuffs with their Lances, that all the Spectators (the Queen only excepted) wish’d for two Kings of Babylon. At last, their Horses being tired, and both their Lances broke, Zadig made use of the following Stratagem, which his Antagonist wasn’t any ways appriz’d of. He got artfully behind him, and shooting with a Spring on his Horses Buttocks, grasp’d him close, threw him headlong on the Sand, then jump’d into his Seat, and wheel’d round Prince Hottam, while he lay sprawling on the Ground. All the Spectators in general, with loud Acclamations, cried out, Victory! Victory! in favour of the Champion in white. Hottam, incens’d to the last Degree, got up, and drew his Sword. Zadig sprang from his Horse with his Sabre in his Hand. Now, behold the two Chieftains upon their Legs, commencing a new Trial of Skill! where they seem’d to get the better of each other alternately; for both were strong, and both were active. The Feathers of their Helmets, the Studs of their Bracelets, their Coats of Mail, flew about in Pieces, thro’ the dry Blows which they a thousand Times repeated. They struck at each other sometimes with the Edge of their Swords, at other Times they push’d, as Occasion offer’d: Now on the Right, then on the Left; now on the Head, then at the Breast; they retreated; they advanc’d; they kept at a Distance; they clos’d again; they grasp’d each other, turning and twisting like two Serpents, and engag’d each other as fiercely as two Libyan Lions fighting for their Prey: Their Swords struck Fire almost at every Blow. At last, Zadig, in order to recover his Breath, for a Moment or two stood still, and afterwards, making a Feint at the Prince, threw him on his Back, and disarm’d him. Hottam, thereupon, cried out, O thou Knight of the white Armour! ’Tis you only are destin’d to be the King of Babylon. The Queen was perfectly transported. The two Champions were reconducted to their separate Lodges, as the others had been before them, in Conformity to the Laws prescrib’d. Several Mutes were order’d to wait on the Champions, and carry them some proper Refreshment. We’ll leave the Reader to judge whether the Queen’s Dwarf was not appointed to wait on Zadig on this happy Occasion. After Supper the Mutes withdrew, and left the Combatants to rest their wearied Limbs till the next Morning; at which Time the Victor was to produce his Device, before the Grand Magus, in order to confer Notes, and discover the Hero whoever he might be.

Zadig slept very sound, notwithstanding his amorous Regard for the Queen, being perfectly fatigu’d. Itabod, who lay in the Lodge contiguous to his, could not once close his Eyes for Vexation. He got up therefore in the Dead of the Night, stole imperceptibly into Zadig’s Apartment, took his white Armour and Device away with him, and substituted his green One in its Place.

As soon as the Day began to dawn, he repair’d, with a seemingly undaunted Courage, to the Grand Magus, to inform him, that he was the mighty Hero, the happy Victor. Without the least Hesitation, he gain’d his Point, and was proclaim’d Victor before Zadig was awake. Astarte, astonish’d at this unexpected Disappointment, return’d with a Heart overwhelm’d with Despair, to the Court of Babylon. Almost all the Spectators were mov’d off from the Amphitheatre before Zadig wak’d: He hunted for his Arms; but could find nothing but those in green. He was oblig’d, tho’ sorely against his Will, to put it on, having nothing else in his Lodge to appear in: Confounded, and big with Resentment, he drest himself, and made his personal Appearance in that despicable Equipage. The Populace that were left behind in the Circus, hiss’d him every Step he took, they made a Ring about him, and treated him with all the Marks of Ignominy and Contempt. The most cowardly Wretch breathing was never sure so sweated, or hunted down as poor Zadig! He grew quite out of Patience at last, and cut his Way thro’ the insulting Mob, with his Rival’s Sabre; but he did not know what Measures to pursue, or how to rectify so gross a Mistake. It was not in his Power to have a Sight of the Queen; he could never recover the white Armour again which She had sent him; That was the Compromise, or the Engagement, to which the Combatants had all unanimously agreed: Thus, as he was on the one Hand, plung’d in an Abyss of Sorrow; so on the other, he was almost drove distracted with Vexation and Resentment. He withdrew therefore, in a solitary Mood, to the Banks of the Euphrates, now fully persuaded, that his impropitious Star had shed its most baleful Influence on him, and that his Misfortunes were irretrievable, revolving in his Mind, all his Disappointments from his first Adventure with the Court-Coquet, who had entertain’d an utter Aversion to a blind Eye, down to his late Loss of his white Armour. See! said he, the fatal Consequence of being a Sluggard! Had I been more vigilant, I had been King of Babylon; but what is more, I had been happy in the Embraces of my dearest Astarte. All the Knowledge of Books or Mankind; all the personal Valour that I can boast of, has only prov’d an Aggravation of my Sorrows. He carried the Point so far at last, as to murmur at the unequal Dispensations of Divine Providence; and was tempted to believe, that all Occurrences were govern’d by a malignant Destiny, which never fail’d to oppress the Virtuous, and always crown’d the Actions of such Villains as the green Knight, with uncommon Success. In one of his frantick Fits, he put on the green Armour, that had created him such a World of Disgrace. A Merchant happening to pass by, he sold it to him for a Trifle, and took in Exchange nothing more than a Mantle, and a Cap. In this Disguise, he took a solitary Walk along the Banks of the Euphrates, every Minute reflecting in his Mind on the partial Proceedings of Providence, which never ceas’d to torment him.