Beric the Briton
G. A. Henty
Part 1 out of 8
This eBook was produced by Martin Robb
Beric the Briton
A Story of the Roman Invasion
by G. A. Henty
MY DEAR LADS,
My series of stories dealing with the wars of England would be
altogether incomplete did it not include the period when the Romans
were the masters of the country. The valour with which the natives
of this island defended themselves was acknowledged by the Roman
historians, and it was only the superior discipline of the invaders
that enabled them finally to triumph over the bravery and the
superior physical strength of the Britons. The Roman conquest for
the time was undoubtedly of immense advantage to the people--who
had previously wasted their energies in perpetual tribal wars--
as it introduced among them the civilization of Rome. In the end,
however, it proved disastrous to the islanders, who lost all their
military virtues. Having been defended from the savages of the
north by the soldiers of Rome, the Britons were, when the legions
were recalled, unable to offer any effectual resistance to the
Saxons, who, coming under the guise of friendship, speedily became
their masters, imposing a yoke infinitely more burdensome than that
of Rome, and erasing almost every sign of the civilization that had
been engrafted upon them. How far the British population disappeared
under the subsequent invasion and the still more oppressive yoke of
the Danes is uncertain; but as the invaders would naturally desire
to retain the people to cultivate the land for them, it is probable
that the great mass of the Britons were not exterminated. It is
at any rate pleasant to believe that with the Saxon, Danish, and
Norman blood in our veins, there is still a large admixture of that
of the valiant warriors who fought so bravely against Caesar, and
who rose under Boadicea in a desperate effort to shake off the
oppressive rule of Rome.
G. A. Henty
CHAPTER I: A HOSTAGE
"It is a fair sight."
"It may be a fair sight in a Roman's eyes, Beric, but nought could
be fouler to those of a Briton. To me every one of those blocks of
brick and stone weighs down and helps to hold in bondage this land
of ours; while that temple they have dared to rear to their gods,
in celebration of their having conquered Britain, is an insult and
a lie. We are not conquered yet, as they will some day know to
their cost. We are silent, we wait, but we do not admit that we
"I agree with you there. We have never fairly tried our strength
against them. These wretched divisions have always prevented our
making an effort to gather; Cassivelaunus and some of the Kentish
tribes alone opposed them at their first landing, and he was
betrayed and abandoned by the tribes on the north of the Thames. It
has been the same thing ever since. We fight piecemeal; and while
the Romans hurl their whole strength against one tribe the others
look on with folded hands. Who aided the Trinobantes when the
Romans defeated them and established themselves on that hill? No
one. They will eat Britain up bit by bit."
"Then you like them no better for having lived among them, Beric?"
"I like them more, but I fear them more. One cannot be four years
among them, as I was, without seeing that in many respects we might
copy them with advantage. They are a great people. Compare their
splendid mansions and their regular orderly life, their manners and
their ways, with our rough huts, and our feasts, ending as often
as not with quarrels and brawls. Look at their arts, their power
of turning stone into lifelike figures, and above all, the way in
which they can transfer their thoughts to white leaves, so that
others, many many years hence, can read them and know all that was
passing, and what men thought and did in the long bygone. Truly it
"You are half Romanized, Beric," his companion said roughly.
"I think not," the other said quietly; "I should be worse than
a fool had I lived, as I have done, a hostage among them for four
years without seeing that there is much to admire, much that we
could imitate with advantage, in their life and ways; but there
is no reason because they are wiser and far more polished, and in
many respects a greater people than we, that they should come here
to be our masters. These things are desirable, but they are as
nothing to freedom. I have said that I like them more for being
among them. I like them more for many reasons. They are grave and
courteous in their manner to each other; they obey their own laws;
every man has his rights; and while all yield obedience to their
superiors, the superiors respect the rights of those below them.
The highest among them cannot touch the property or the life of
the lowest in rank. All this seems to me excellent; but then, on
the other hand, my blood boils in my veins at the contempt in which
they hold us; at their greed, their rapacity, their brutality, their
denial to us of all rights. In their eyes we are but savages, but
wild men, who may be useful for tilling the ground for them, but
who, if troublesome, should be hunted down and slain like wild
beasts. I admire them for what they can do; I respect them for
their power and learning; but I hate them as our oppressors."
"That is better, Beric, much better. I had begun to fear that the
grand houses and the splendour of these Romans might have sapped
your patriotism. I hate them all; I hate changes; I would live as
we have always lived."
"But you forget, Boduoc, that we ourselves have not been standing
still. Though our long past forefathers, when they crossed from
Gaul wave after wave, were rude warriors, we have been learning
ever since from Gaul as the Gauls have learned from the Romans,
and the Romans themselves admit that we have advanced greatly since
the days when, under their Caesar, they first landed here. Look at
the town on the hill there. Though 'tis Roman now 'tis not changed
so much from what it was under that great king Cunobeline, while
his people had knowledge of many things of which we and the other
tribes of the Iceni knew nothing."
"What good did it do them?" the other asked scornfully; "they lie
prostrate under the Roman yoke. It was easy to destroy their towns
while we, who have few towns to destroy, live comparatively free.
Look across at Camalodunum, Cunobeline's capital. Where are the
men who built the houses, who dressed in soft garments, who aped
the Romans, and who regarded us as well nigh savage men? Gone
every one of them; hewn down on their own hearthstones, or thrust
out with their wives and families to wander homeless--is there
one left of them in yonder town? Their houses they were so proud
of, their cultivated fields, their wealth of all kinds has been
seized by the Romans. Did they fight any better for their Roman
fashions? Not they; the kingdom of Cunobeline, from the Thames to
the western sea, fell to pieces at a touch and it was only among the
wild Silures that Caractacus was able to make any great resistance."
"But we did no better, Boduoc; Ostorius crushed us as easily as
Claudius crushed the Trinobantes. It is no use our setting ourselves
against change. All that you urge against the Trinobantes and the
tribes of Kent the Silures might urge with equal force against us.
You must remember that we were like them not so many ages back.
The intercourse of the Gauls with us on this eastern sea coast, and
with the Kentish tribes, has changed us greatly. We are no longer,
like the western tribes, mere hunters living in shelters of boughs
and roaming the forests. Our dress, with our long mantles, our loose
vests and trousers, differs as widely from that of these western
tribes as it does from the Romans. We live in towns, and if our
houses are rude they are solid. We no longer depend solely on the
chase, but till the ground and have our herds of cattle. I daresay
there were many of our ancestors who set themselves as much against
the Gaulish customs as you do against those of the Romans; but we
adopted them, and benefited by them, and though I would exult in
seeing the last Roman driven from our land, I should like after
their departure to see us adopt what is good and orderly and decent
in their customs and laws."
Beric's companion growled a malediction upon everything Roman.
"There is one thing certain," he said after a pause, "either they
must go altogether, not only here but everywhere--they must
learn, as our ancestors taught them at their two first invasions,
that it is hopeless to conquer Britain--or they will end by being
absolute masters of the island, and we shall be their servants and
"That is true enough," Beric agreed; "but to conquer we must be
united, and not only united but steadfast. Of course I have learned
much of them while I have been with them. I have come to speak
their language, and have listened to their talk. It is not only the
Romans who are here whom we have to defeat, it is those who will
come after them. The power of Rome is great; how great we cannot
tell, but it is wonderful and almost inconceivable. They have
spread over vast countries, reducing peoples everywhere under their
dominion. I have seen what they call maps showing the world as far
as they know it, and well nigh all has been conquered by them; but
the farther away from Rome the more difficulty have they in holding
what they have conquered.
"That is our hope here; we are very far from Rome. They may send
army after army against us, but in time they will get weary of
the loss and expense when there is so little to gain, and as after
their first invasions a long time elapsed before they again troubled
us, so in the end they may abandon a useless enterprise. Even now
the Romans grumble at what they call their exile, but they are
obstinate and tenacious, and to rid our land of them for good it
would be necessary for us not only to be united among ourselves
when we rise against them, but to remain so, and to oppose with
our whole force the fresh armies they will bring against us.
"You know how great the difficulties will be, Boduoc; we want one
great leader whom all the tribes will follow, just as all the Roman
legions obey one general; and what chance is there of such a man
arising--a man so great, so wise, so brave, that all the tribes
of Britain will lay aside their enmities and jealousies, and submit
themselves to his absolute guidance?"
"If we wait for that, Beric, we may wait for ever," Boduoc said in
a sombre tone, "at any rate it is not while we are tranquil under
the Roman heel that such a man could show himself. If he is to come
to the front it must be in the day of battle. Then, possibly, one
chief may rise so high above his fellows that all may recognize
his merits and agree to follow him."
"That is so," Beric agreed; "but is it possible that even the greatest
hero should find support from all? Cassivelaunus was betrayed by
the Trinobantes. Who could have united the tribes more than the
sons of Cunobeline, who reigned over well nigh all Britain, and
who was a great king ruling wisely and well, and doing all in his
power to raise and advance the people; and yet, when the hour came,
the kingdom broke up into pieces. Veric, the chief of the Cantii,
went to Rome and invited the invader to aid him against his rivals
at home, and not a man of the Iceni or the Brigantes marched to
the aid of Caractacus and Togodamnus. What wonder, then, that these
were defeated. Worse than all, when Caractacus was driven a fugitive
to hide among the Brigantes, did not their queen, Cartismandua,
hand him over to the Romans? Where can we hope to find a leader
more fitted to unite us than was Caractacus, the son of the king
whom we all, at least, recognized and paid tribute to; a prince
who had learned wisdom from a wise father, a warrior enterprising,
bold, and indomitable--a true patriot?
"If Caractacus could not unite us, what hope is there of finding
another who would do so? Moreover, our position is far worse now
than it was ten years ago. The Belgae and Dumnonii in the southwest
have been crushed after thirty battles; the Dobuni in the centre
have been defeated and garrisoned; the Silures have set an example
to us all, inflicting many defeats on the Romans; but their power
has at last been broken. The Brigantes and ourselves have both been
heavily struck, as we deserved, Boduoc, for standing aloof from
Caractacus at first. Thus the task of shaking off the Roman bonds
is far more difficult now than it was when Plautius landed here
twenty years ago. Well, it is time for me to be going on. Won't
you come with me, Boduoc?"
"Not I, Beric; I never want to enter their town again save with a
sword in one hand and a torch in the other. It enrages me to see
the airs of superiority they give themselves. They scarce seem even
to see us as we walk in their streets; and as to the soldiers as
they stride along with helmet and shield, my fingers itch to meet
them in the forest. No; I promised to walk so far with you, but I
go no farther. How long will you be there?"
"Two hours at most, I should say."
"The sun is halfway down, Beric; I will wait for you till it touches
that hill over there. Till then you will find me sitting by the
first tree at the spot where we left the forest."
Beric nodded and walked on towards the town. The lad, for he was
not yet sixteen, was the son of Parta, the chieftainess of one of
the divisions of the great tribe of the Iceni, who occupied the
tract of country now known as Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridge, and
Huntingdon. This tribe had yielded but a nominal allegiance to
Cunobeline, and had held aloof during the struggle between Caractacus
and the Romans, but when the latter had attempted to establish
forts in their country they had taken up arms. Ostorius Scapula,
the Roman proprietor, had marched against them and defeated them
with great slaughter, and they had submitted to the Roman authority.
The Sarci, the division of the tribe to which Beric belonged, had
taken a leading part in the rising, and his father had fallen in
the defence of their intrenchments.
Among the British tribes the women ranked with the men, and even
when married the wife was often the acknowledged chief of the
tribe. Parta had held an equal authority with her husband, and at
his death remained sole head of the subtribe, and in order to ensure
its obedience in the future, Ostorius had insisted that her only
son Beric, at that time a boy of eleven, should be handed over to
them as a hostage.
Had Parta consulted her own wishes she would have retired with a
few followers to the swamps and fens of the country to the north
rather than surrender her son, but the Brigantes, who inhabited
Lincolnshire, and who ranged over the whole of the north of Britain
as far as Northumberland, had also received a defeat at the hands
of the Romans, and might not improbably hand her over upon their
demand. She therefore resigned herself to let Beric go.
"My son," she said, "I need not tell you not to let them Romanize
you. You have been brought up to hate them. Your father has fallen
before their weapons, half your tribe have been slain, your country
lies under their feet. I will not wrong you then by fearing for a
moment that they can make a Roman of you.
"You have been brought up to lie upon the bare ground, to
suffer fatigue and hardship, hunger and thirst, and the rich food
and splendid houses and soft raiment of the Romans should have no
attraction for you. I know not how long your imprisonment among them
may last. For the present I have little hope of another rising; but
should I see a prospect of anything like unity among our people, I
will send Boduoc with a message to you to hold yourself in readiness
to escape when you receive the signal that the time has come. Till
then employ your mind in gaining what good you may by your residence
among them; there must be some advantage in their methods of warfare
which has enabled the people of one city to conquer the world.
"It is not their strength, for they are but pigmies to us. We stand
a full head above them, and even we women are stronger than Roman
soldiers, and yet they defeat us. Learn then their language, throw
your whole mind into that at first, then study their military
discipline and their laws. It must be the last as much as their
discipline that has made them rulers over so vast an empire. Find
out if you can the secret of their rule, and study the training by
which their soldiers move and fight as if bound together by a cord,
forming massive walls against which we break ourselves in vain.
Heed not their arts, pay no attention to their luxuries, these did
Cunobeline no good, and did not for a day delay the destruction
that fell upon his kingdom. What we need is first a knowledge of
their military tactics, so that we may drive them from the land;
secondly, a knowledge of their laws, that we may rule ourselves
wisely after they have gone. What there is good in the rest may
come in time.
"However kind they may be to you, bear always in mind that you
are but a prisoner among the oppressors of your country, and that
though, for reasons of policy, they may treat you well, yet that
they mercilessly despoil and ill treat your countrymen. Remember
too, Beric, that the Britons, now that Caractacus has been sent
a prisoner to Rome, need a leader, one who is not only brave and
valiant in the fight, but who can teach the people how to march to
victory, and can order and rule them well afterwards. We are part
of one of our greatest tribes, and from among us, if anywhere, such
a leader should come.
"I have great hopes of you, Beric. I know that you are brave, for
single handed you slew with an arrow a great wolf the other day;
but bravery is common to all, I do not think that there is a coward
in the tribe. I believe you are intelligent. I consulted the old
Druid in the forest last week, and he prophesied a high destiny
for you; and when the messenger brought the Roman summons for me
to deliver you up as a hostage, it seemed to me that this was of
all things the one that would fit you best for future rule. I am
not ambitious for you, Beric. It would be nought to me if you were
king of all the Britons. It is of our country that I think. We
need a great leader, and my prayer to the gods is that one may be
found. If you should be the man so much the better; but if not,
let it be another. Comport yourself among them independently, as
one who will some day be chief of a British tribe, but be not sullen
or obstinate. Mix freely with them, learn their language, gather
what are the laws under which they live, see how they build those
wonderful houses of theirs, watch the soldiers at their exercises,
so that when you return among us you can train the Sarci to fight
in a similar manner. Keep the one purpose always in your mind.
Exercise your muscles daily, for among us no man can lead who is
not as strong and as brave as the best who follow him. Bear yourself
so that you shall be in good favour with all men."
Beric had, to the best of his power, carried out the instructions
of his mother. It was the object of the Romans always to win over
their adversaries if possible, and the boy had no reason to complain
of his treatment. He was placed in the charge of Caius Muro,
commander of a legion, and a slave was at once appointed to teach
him Latin. He took his meals with the scribe and steward of the
household, for Caius was of noble family, of considerable wealth,
and his house was one of the finest in Camalodunum. He was a kindly
and just man, and much beloved by his troops. As soon as Beric had
learned the language, Caius ordered the scribe to teach him the
elements of Roman law, and a decurion was ordered to take him in
hand and instruct him in arms.
As Beric was alike eager to study and to exercise in arms, he
gained the approval of both his teachers. Julia, the wife of Caius,
a kindly lady, took a great fancy to the boy. "He will make a fine
man, Caius," she said one day when the boy was fourteen years old.
"See how handsome and strong he is; why, Scipio, the son of the
centurion Metellus, is older by two years, and yet he is less strong
than this young Briton."
"They are a fine race, Julia, though in disposition as fierce as
wild cats, and not to be trusted. But the lad is, as you say, strong
and nimble. I marked him practising with the sword the other day
against Lucinus, who is a stout soldier, and the man had as much
as he could do to hold his own against him. I was surprised myself
to see how well he wielded a sword of full weight, and how active
he was. The contest reminded me of a dog and a wild cat, so nimble
were the boy's springs, and so fierce his attacks. Lucinus fairly
lost his temper at last, and I stopped the fight, for although
they fought with blunted weapons, he might well have injured the
lad badly with a downright cut, and that would have meant trouble
with the Iceni again."
"He is intelligent, too," Julia replied. "Sometimes I have him in
while I am working with the two slave girls, and he will stand for
hours asking me questions about Rome, and about our manners and
"One is never sure of these tamed wolves," Caius said; "sometimes
they turn out valuable allies and assistants, at other times they
grow into formidable foes, all the more dangerous for what they
have learned of us. However, do with him as you like, Julia; a woman
has a lighter hand than a man, and you are more likely to tame him
than we are. Cneius says that he is very eager to learn, and has
ever a book in his hand when not practising in arms."
"What I like most in him," Julia said, "is that he is very fond of
our little Berenice. The child has taken to him wonderfully, and
of an afternoon, when he has finished with Cneius, she often goes
out with him. Of course old Lucia goes with them. It is funny to
hear them on a wet day, when they cannot go out, talking together
--she telling him stories of Rome and of our kings and consuls,
and he telling her tales of hunting the wolf and wild boar, and
legends of his people, who seem to have been always at war with
After Beric had resided for three years and a half at Camalodunum
a great grief fell on the family of Caius Muro, for the damp airs
from the valley had long affected Julia and she gradually faded and
died. Beric felt the loss very keenly, for she had been uniformly
kind to him. A year later Suetonius and the governor of the colony
decided that as the Sarci had now been quiet for nearly five years,
and as Caius reported that their young chief seemed to have become
thoroughly Romanized, he was permitted to return to his tribe.
The present was his first visit to the colony since he had left it
four months before. His companion, Boduoc, was one of the tribesmen,
a young man six years his senior. He was related to his mother, and
had been his companion in his childish days, teaching him woodcraft,
and to throw the javelin and use the sword. Together, before Beric
went as hostage, they had wandered through the forest and hunted
the wolf and wild boar, and at that time Boduoc had stood in the
relation of an elder brother to Beric. That relation had now much
changed. Although Boduoc was a powerful young man and Beric but a
sturdy stripling, the former was little better than an untutored
savage, and he looked with great respect upon Beric both as his
chief and as possessing knowledge that seemed to him to be amazing.
Hating the Romans blindly he had trembled lest he should find Beric
on his return completely Romanized. He had many times, during the
lad's stay at Camalodunum, carried messages to him there from his
mother, and had sorrowfully shaken his head on his way back through
the forest as he thought of his young chief's surroundings. Beric
had partially adopted the Roman costume, and to hear him talking
and jesting in their own language to the occupants of the mansion,
whose grandeur and appointments filled Boduoc with an almost
superstitious fear, was terrible to him. However, his loyalty to
Beric prevented him from breathing a word in the tribe as to his
fears, and he was delighted to find the young chief return home
in British garb, and to discover that although his views of the
Romans differed widely from his own, he was still British at heart,
and held firmly the opinion that the only hope for the freedom of
Britain was the entire expulsion of the invaders.
He was gratified to find that Beric had become by no means what
he considered effeminate. He was built strongly and massively, as
might be expected from such parents, and was of the true British
type, that had so surprised the Romans at their first coming among
them, possessing great height and muscular power, together with an
activity promoted by constant exercise.
Beric had fallen back upon the customs of his people as thoroughly
as if he had never dwelt in the stately Roman town. He was as ready
as before to undertake the longest hunting expeditions, to sleep
in the forest, to go from sunrise to sunset without breaking his
fast. When not engaged in hunting he practised incessantly hurling
the javelin and other warlike exercises, while of an evening he
frequently related stories of Roman history to any chiefs or other
guests of his mother, on which occasions the humbler followers
would gather thickly in the background, evincing an interest even
greater than that which they felt in the songs and legends of the
Beric generally chose stories relating to periods when Rome was
hardly pressed by her foes, showing how the intense feeling of
patriotism, and the obstinate determination to resist, in spite of
all dangers, upon the part of the population, and the discipline
and dogged valour of the soldiers, saved her from destruction. He
was cautious to draw no parallel openly to the case of Britain.
He knew that the Romans were made acquainted, by traitors in their
pay, with much that passed among the native tribes, and that at
first they were sure to interest themselves in his proceedings. At
present there could be no thought of a rising, and the slightest
sign of disaffection might bring disaster and ruin upon his tribe.
Only when some unexpected event, some invasion of the rights of
the Britons even more flagrant than those that had hitherto taken
place, should stir the smouldering fire of discontent, and fan it
into a fierce flame of revolt from end to end of Britain, could
success be hoped for.
No Roman could have found fault with Beric's relation of their
prowess or their valour; for he held them up to the admiration
of his hearers. "No wonder Rome is great and powerful," he said,
"when its people evince so deep a love of country, so resolute
a determination in the face of their enemies, so unconquerable a
spirit when misfortune weighs upon them."
To the men he addressed all this was new. It was true that a few
princes and chiefs had visited Rome, occasionally as travellers
desiring to see the centre of her greatness, more often as exiles
driven from Britain by defeat in civil strife, but these had only
brought back great tales of Rome's magnificence, and the Britons
knew nothing of the history of the invaders, and eagerly listened
to the stories that Beric had learned from their books in the course
of his studies. The report of his stories spread so far that visits
were paid to the village of Parta by chiefs and leading men from
other sections of the Iceni to listen to them.
Oratory was among the Britons, as among most primitive tribes,
highly prized and much cultivated. Oral tradition among such peoples
takes the place of books among civilized nations. Story and legend
are handed down from father to son, and the wandering bard is a
most welcome guest. Next only to valour oratory sways and influences
the minds of the people, and a Ulysses had greater influence than
an Ajax. From his earliest childhood Beric had listened to the
stories and legends told by bards in the rough palace of his father,
and his sole schooling before he went to Camalodunum had been
to learn these by heart, and to repeat them with due emphasis and
appropriate gesture. His father had been one of the most eloquent
and influential of the chiefs of the Iceni, and had early impressed
upon him the importance of cultivating the power of speech.
His studies in Roman history, too, had taught him the power
exercised by men with the gift of moving multitudes by their words;
he had learned from books how clearly and distinctly events could
be described by a careful choice of words, and attention to form
and expression, so that almost unconsciously to himself he had
practised the art in his relations of the tales and legends of
British history to Berenice and her mother. Thus, then, the manner
no less than the matter of his recitals of Roman story, gained him a
high estimation among his hearers, and he was already looked upon
as a young chief likely to rise to a very high position among
the Iceni. Among the common herd his glowing laudations of Roman
patriotism, devotion, and sacrifice, caused him to be regarded with
disfavour, and the epithet "the Roman" was frequently applied to
him. But the wiser spirits saw the hidden meaning of his stories,
and that, while holding up the Romans as an example, he was endeavouring
to teach how much can be done by patriotism, by a spirit of self
sacrifice, and by unity against a common foe. Parta was also proud
of the congratulations that distinguished chiefs, famed for their
wisdom throughout the tribe, offered to her on the occasion of
"Beric will be a great chief," one of the wisest of these said
to her; "truly his sojourn among the Romans has done great things
for him. It would be well, indeed, if every noble youth throughout
the island were to have such schooling, if he had your son's wit
in taking advantage of it. He will be a great orator; never among
our bards have I heard narrations so clear and so well delivered;
although the deeds he praises are those of our oppressors, one
cannot but feel a thrill of enthusiasm as he tells them. Yea, for
the moment I myself felt half a Roman when he told us of the brave
youth who thrust his hand into the flames, and suffered it to be
consumed in order to impress the invader with a knowledge of the
spirit that animated the Romans, and of the three men who held
against a host the bridge that their friends were breaking down
"If he could stir me thus by his tales of the deeds of our enemies,
what will it be when some day he makes the heroes of Britain his
theme, and calls upon his countrymen to imitate their deeds! I have
heard him called 'the Roman,' Parta. Now that I have listened to
him I know that he will, when the time comes, be one of Rome's most
formidable foes. I will tell you now that Prasutagus, our king,
and his queen Boadicea, spoke to me about Beric, and begged me to
come hither to see for myself this youth of whom they had heard
reports from others, some saying that he had returned a Roman
heart and soul, while others affirmed that, while he had learned
much from them, he had forgotten nothing of the injuries he had
received at their hands in the death of his father, and the disaster
of the tribe. I shall know now what to tell them. To Prasutagus,
whose fear of the Romans is even greater than his hatred for them,
I shall say that the lad is full of the glories of Roman story,
and that there is no fear of his doing or saying aught that will
excite the anger or suspicion of the Romans. To Boadicea, who hates
the Romans far more than she fears them, I shall tell the truth,
and shall inform her that when the time comes, as assuredly it some
day will, that the Iceni are called upon to defend their liberties
against Rome, in Beric she will find a champion of whom I predict
that he will be worthy to take his place in our history by the
side of Caractacus and Cassivelaunus. May our gods avert that, like
them, he fall a victim to British treachery!"
After leaving Boduoc, Beric crossed the bridge built by the Romans
over the Stour, and entered the city. Camalodunum was the chief
seat of the Roman power in England. Although but so short a time
had elapsed since Claudius had occupied it, it was already a large
city. A comparatively small proportion, however, was Roman work, but
all bore the impress of Roman art and civilization, for Cunobeline,
whose capital it had been, was a highly enlightened king, and had
introduced Roman ways and methods among his people. Men instructed
in their arts and architecture had been largely employed in the
building of the town, and its edifices would have borne comparison
with those in minor towns in the Roman provinces.
The conquerors, therefore, found much of their work done for them.
The original possessors of the houses and of the highly cultivated
lands lying round the town were ejected wholesale, and the Romans,
establishing themselves in their abodes and farms, then proceeded
to add to, embellish, and fortify the town. The 2nd, 9th, and 14th
Legions were selected by Claudius to found what was called the
colony, and to take possession of the surrounding country. Plautius
was appointed propraetor, or governor, and establishing himself in
the royal palace of Cunobeline, his first step was to protect the
city from renewed attacks by the Britons. He accordingly erected
vast works to the westward of the town, extending from the sea
to the river, by which means he not only protected the city from
attack, but gained, in case of an assault by overpowering numbers,
the means of retiring safely to Mersea Island, lying a short distance
from the shore.
A council house and a tribunal were erected for the Roman magistrates;
temples, a theatre, and baths raised. The civilian population
increased rapidly. Architects, artists, and musicians, decorators,
skilled artisans, and traders were attracted from the mainland to
the rising city, which rapidly increased in wealth and importance.
Conspicuous on the most elevated position stood a temple erected to
the honour of Claudius, who was raised by the grateful legionaries
to divine rank. So strong and populous was the city that the
Trinobantes, during the years that had elapsed since the Romans
took possession of it, remained passive under the yoke of their
oppressors, and watched, without attempting to take part in them,
the rising of the Iceni and Brigantes, the long and desperate war
of the Silures and Ordovices under Caractacus, and the reduction
of the Belgae and Dumnonii from Hampshire to Cornwall by Vespasian.
Yet, had their spirit remained unbroken, there was an opportunity
for revenge, for a large part of the veteran legionaries had been
withdrawn to take part in the struggle against the western tribes.
The tribe had, however, been disarmed, and with Camalodunum on the
north, and the rising towns of London and Verulamium on the south,
they were cut off from other tribes, and could not hope for final
success, unless the powerful Iceni, who were still semi-independent,
rose in the national cause. Whether their easy defeat of this tribe
soon after the occupation of Camalodunum had rendered the Romans
contemptuous of their fighting powers, or that they deemed it wiser
to subdue the southwest and west of England, and to strike a heavy
blow at the Brigantes to the north before interfering with a powerful
tribe so close to their doors, is uncertain; but doubtless they
felt that so long as Prasutagus reigned there was little fear of
trouble in that quarter, as that king protested himself the friend
and ally of Rome, and occupied himself wholly in acquiring wealth
and adding to his personal possessions.
The scene in Camalodunum was a familiar one to Beric. The streets
were thronged with people. Traders from Gaul and Italy, Roman
artisans and workmen, haughty legionaries with shield and helmet,
civil officials, Greek players, artists and decorators, native
tribesmen, with the products of their fields or the spoils of the
chase, walking with humble mien; and shopkeepers sitting at the open
fronts of their houses, while their slaves called the attention of
passersby to the merits of the goods. Here were the rich products
of Eastern looms, there the cloths and linen of Rome, further on a
smith's shop in full work, beyond that a silversmith's, next door
to which was a thriving trader who sold unguents and perfumes, dyes
for the ladies' cheeks and pigments for their eyebrows, dainty
requisites for the toilette, and perfumed soap. Bakers and butchers,
vendors of fish and game, of fruit, of Eastern spices and flavourings
Druggists and dealers in dyes for clothing and in the pigments used
in wall decorations and paintings were also to be found; and, in
fact, this Roman capital of a scarcely subjugated country contained
all the appliances for luxury and comfort that could be found in
the cities of the civilized provinces.
The only shops at which Beric paused were those of the armourers
and of the scribes, at some of which were exhibited vellums with
the writings of the Greek and Roman poets and historians; and
Beric muttered to himself, "If I am ever present at the sack of
Camalodunum these shall be my share of the spoil, and I fancy that
no one is likely to dispute their possession with me."
But he did not linger long. Boduoc would be waiting for him, and
he could not hurry over his visit, the first he had paid since
his absence; therefore he pushed on, with scarce a glance at the
stately temple of Claudius, the magnificent baths or other public
buildings, until he arrived at the villa of Caius Muro, which stood
somewhat beyond the more crowded part of the town.
CHAPTER II: CITY AND FOREST
The house of Caius Muro had been built six years before on the model
of one owned by him in the Tuscan hills. Passing through the hall
or vestibule, with its mosaic pavement, on which was the word of
welcome, "Salve!" Beric entered the atrium, the principal apartment
in the house. From each side, at a height of some twenty feet from
the ground, extended a roof, the fall being slightly to the centre,
where there was an aperture of about eight feet square. Through this
light and air made their way down to the apartment, the rainfall
from the roofs and opening falling into a marble tank, called
the impluvium, below the level of the floor, which was paved with
squares of coloured marble. On either side of the atrium were the
small sleeping chambers, the bed places being raised and covered
with thick mats and rugs.
The walls of the bed chambers as well as of the atrium were painted
in black, with figures and landscapes in colour. On the centre of
the side facing the vestibule was the tablinum, the apartment of
Caius Muro himself. This formed his sitting room and study. The
floor was raised about a foot above that of the atrium, and it was
partly open both on that side and on the other, looking into the
peristylium, so that, while at work, he commanded a view of all that
was going on in the atrium and in the courtyard. In the centre of
this was a fountain surrounded by plants. From the courtyard opened
the triclinium, or dining room, and also rooms used as storerooms,
kitchen, and the sleeping places of the slaves.
At the back of the peristylium was the oecus, or state apartment,
where Caius received distinguished guests, and where, in the
lifetime of Julia, entertainments were given to the ladies of the
colony. Like the triclinium, this room was also partially open at
both ends, affording the guests a view of the graceful fountain
on the one side and of the garden on the other. In winter wooden
frames, with heavy hangings, were erected across these openings
and that of the tablinum, for the Romans soon found the necessity
for modifying the arrangements which, although well suited for an
Italian climate, were wholly unfit for that of Britain. The opening
in the centre of the atrium was then closed with an awning of
oiled canvas, which admitted a certain amount of light to pass,
but prevented the passage of rain and snow, and kept out much of
the cold. There was a narrow passage between the atrium and the
peristylium; this was called the fauces. Above the chambers round
the atrium was a second story, approached by a staircase from the
peristylium; here were the apartments of the ladies and of the
As Beric entered the atrium, a man, who was reading a roll of
parchment, rose to his feet.
"Welcome, Beric!" he said warmly.
"All hail, preceptor!" the lad replied. "Are all well here?"
"All well, Beric. We had looked to see you before, and Berenice
has been constantly asking me when you were coming."
"I had been absent over four years, you see," Beric replied, "and
it was not easy to get away from home again. Now I must speak to
Caius." He crossed the apartment, and stood at the entrance to the
tablinum. Caius looked up from a military treatise he was perusing.
"Ah, Beric! it is you! I am glad to see you again, though I am
sorry to observe that you have abandoned our fashions and taken to
the native garb again."
"It was necessary, Caius," Beric said. "I should have lost all
influence with the tribe had I not laid aside my Roman dress. As it
is, they regard me with some doubt, as one too enamoured of Roman
"We have heard of you, Beric, and, indeed, report says that you
speak well of us, and are already famous for your relations of our
"I thought it well that my countrymen should know your great deeds,"
Beric said, "and should see by what means you have come to rule
the world. I received nought but kindness at your hands, and no
prisoner's lot was ever made more easy than mine. To you and yours
I am deeply grateful. If your people all behaved as kindly towards
the natives of this country as you did to me, Britain would be
conquered without need of drawing sword from scabbard."
"I know not that, Beric; to rule, one should be strong as well
as kind. Still, as you know, I think that things might have been
arranged far less harshly than they have been. It was needful that
we should show ourselves to be masters; but I regret the harshness
that has been too often used, and I would that not one of us here,
from the governor down to the poorest soldier, was influenced by a
desire for gain, but that each was animated, as he assuredly should
be, only by a desire to uphold the glory and power of Rome. But
that would be expecting too much from human nature, and even among
you there are plenty ready to side against their countrymen for the
sake of Roman gold. In that they have less excuse than we. Custom
and habit have made our wants many, and all aim at attaining the
luxuries of the rich. On the other hand, your wants are few, and
I see not that the piling up of wealth adds in any way to your
"That is true, Caius. I quite agree with you that it is far more
excusable for a Roman to covet wealth than for a Briton; and while
I blame many officials and soldiers for the harshness with which
they strive to wring all their possessions from my countrymen, I
deem their conduct as worthy and honourable when compared with that
of Britons who sell their country for your gold."
"We must take the world as we find it, Beric. We may regret that
greed and the love of luxury should influence men, as we may grieve
that they are victims of other base passions; but it is of no use
quarrelling with human nature. Certain it is that all vices bring
their own punishment, and that the Romans were a far nobler race
when they were poor and simple, in the days of the early consuls,
than they are now, with all their power, their riches, and their
luxuries. Such is the history of all peoples--of Egypt, of Persia,
of Greece, and Carthage; and methinks that Rome, too, will run the
course of other nations, and that some day, far distant maybe, she
will sink beneath the weight of her power and her luxury, and that
some younger and more vigorous people will, bit by bit, wrest her
dominions from her and rule in her place.
"As yet, happily, I see no signs of failing in her powers. She is
still vigorous, and even in the distant outskirts of the empire
the wave of conquest flows onward. Happily for us, I think, it can
flow no farther this way; there is but one island beyond this to
conquer, and then, as in Western Gaul and Iberia, the ocean says
to Rome, 'Thou shalt go no farther.' Would that to the south, the
east, and north a similar barrier checked our progress, then we
could rest and be content, and need no longer waste our strength
in fresh conquests, or in opposing the incursions of hordes of
barbarians from regions unknown to us even by report. I could wish
myself, Beric, that nature had placed your island five days' sail
from the coasts of Gaul, instead of placing it within sight. Then
I might have been enjoying life in my villa among the Tuscan hills
with my daughter, instead of being exposed at any moment to march
with the Legion against the savage mountaineers of the west. Ah!
here comes Berenice," he broke off, as his daughter, attended by her
old nurse, entered the atrium from the vestibule. She hastened her
steps as she saw Beric standing before her father in the tablinum.
"I knew you would come back, Beric, because you promised me; but
you have been a long time in keeping your word."
"I am not my own master at home, any more than I was here, Berenice,"
he said, "and my mother would not hear before of my leaving her. I
have only come now for an hour's visit, to see that all goes well
in this house, and to tell you that I had not forgotten my promise;
the next time I hope to pay a longer visit. At daybreak tomorrow
we have a party to hunt the wolves, which have so multiplied as to
become a danger in the forests of late."
"I should like to go out to see a wolf hunt, Beric."
"I fear that would not be possible," he said; "the woods are thick
and tangled, and we have to force our way through to get to their
"But last winter they came close to the town, and I heard that some
came even into the streets."
"Yes, they will do so when driven by hunger; but they were hunting
then and not being hunted. No, Berenice, I fear that your wish to
see a wolf hunt cannot be gratified; they are savage beasts, and
are great trouble and no loss to us. In winter they carry off many
children, and sometimes devour grown up people, and in times of
long snow have been known to attack large parties, and, in spite
of a stout resistance by the men, to devour them. In summer they
are only met singly, but in winter they go in packs and kill numbers
of our cattle."
"I should like to go into the woods," the girl said earnestly, "I
am tired of this town. My father says he will take me with him some
day when he goes west, but so far I have seen nothing except this
town and Verulamium, and the country was all just as it is here,
fields and cultivation. We could see the forests in the distance,
but that was all. My father says, that if we went west, we should
travel for miles through the forest and should sleep in tents, but
that we cannot do it till everything is quiet and peaceful. Oh,
Beric! I do wish the Britons would not be always fighting."
Beric smiled. "The British girls, Berenice, say they wish the Romans
would not be always fighting."
"It is very troublesome," she said pettishly. "I should like
everyone to be friends, and then there would be no need to have so
many soldiers in Britain, and perhaps the emperor would order our
legions home. Father says that we ought to look upon this as home
now, for that the legion may remain here for years and years; but
he said the other day that he thought that if everything was quiet
here he should, when I am sixteen years old, obtain leave from the
governor, and go back to Rome for two or three years, and I think,
though he has not said so outright, that he will perhaps retire
and settle there."
"It would be much the best for you," Beric said earnestly. "I should be
sorry, because you have been very kind to me, and I should grieve
were you to leave me altogether; but there may be trouble here
again some day, and I think it would be far better for you to be
back in Rome, where you would have all the pleasures and delights
of the great capital, and live in ease and comfort, without the
risk of your father having to march away to the wars. I know that
if I were your father I would take you back. He says that his villa
there is exactly like this, and you have many relations there,
and there must be all sorts of pleasures and grand spectacles far
beyond anything there is here. I am sure it would be better for
you, and happier."
"I thought that you would be quite sorry," she said gravely.
"So I shall be very sorry for myself," Beric said; "as, next to
my own mother, there is no one I care for so much as you and your
father. I shall miss you terribly; but yet I am so sure that it
would be best for you to be at home with your own people, that I
should be glad to hear that your father was going to take you back
But Berenice did not altogether accept the explanation. She felt
really hurt that Beric should view even the possibility of her
going away with equanimity, and she very shortly went off to her
own apartment; while a few minutes later, Beric, after bidding
goodbye to Caius, started to rejoin Boduoc, whom he found waiting
at the edge of the forest.
That evening Berenice said to her father, "I was angry with Beric
"Were you, child? what about?"
"I told him that perhaps in another three years, when I was sixteen,
you would take me to Rome, and that I thought, perhaps, if we went
there you would not come back again; and instead of being very
much grieved, as I thought he would, he seemed quite pleased at the
idea. Of course he said he was sorry, but he did not really seem
to be, and he says he thought it would be very much better for me.
I thought he was grateful, father, and liked us very much, and now
I am quite disappointed in him."
Caius was silent for a minute or two.
"I do not think Beric is ungrateful," he said, "and I am sure that
he likes us, Berenice."
"He said he did, father, that he cared for us more than anyone except
his mother; but if he cared for us, surely he would be very, very
sorry for us to go away."
"Beric is a Briton, my dear, and we are Romans. By this time he
must have thoroughly learned his people's feelings towards us. I
have never believed, as some do, that Britain is as yet completely
conquered, and that when we have finished with the Silures in the
west our work will be completely done.
"Beric, who knows his countrymen, may feel this even more strongly
than I do, and may know that, sooner or later, there will be another
great effort on the part of the Britons to drive us out. It may be
a year, and it may be twenty, but I believe myself that some day we
shall have a fierce struggle to maintain our hold here, and Beric,
who may see this also, and who knows the feeling of his countrymen,
may wish that we should be away before the storm comes.
"There is but little doubt, Berenice, that we despise these people
too much, still less that we treat them harshly and cruelly. Were
I propraetor of Britain, I would rule them differently. I am but the
commander of a legion, and my duty is but to rule my men. I would
punish, and punish sternly, all attempts at rising; but I would
give them no causes for discontent. We treat them as if their spirit
were altogether broken, as if they and their possessions were but
our chattels, as if they possessed no rights, not even the right to
live. Some day we shall find our mistake, and when the time comes
the awakening will be a rude one. It is partly because I see dimly
the storm gathering in the distance that I long to be home again.
As long as your mother lived this seemed a home to me, now I desire
rest and quiet. I have done my share of fighting, I have won honour
enough, and I may look before long to be a general; but I have
had enough of it, and long for my quiet villa in the Alban hills,
with an occasional visit to Rome, where you can take part in its
gaieties, and I can have the use of the libraries stored with the
learning of the world. So do not think harshly of Beric, my child;
he may see the distant storm more plainly than I do. I am sure that
he cares for us, and if he is glad at the news that we are going,
it is because he wishes us away and in safety before the trouble
"Nero has come to the imperial throne, and the men he is sending
hither are of a widely different stamp from the lieutenants of
Claudius. The latter knew that the Britons can fight, and that, wild
and untutored as they are, it needed all the skill and courage of
Ostorius and Vespasian to reduce them to order. The newcomers regard
them as slaves to be trampled upon, robbed, and ill used as they
choose. I am sure they will find their mistake. As long as they
deal only with the tribes thoroughly subdued, the Trinobantes, the
Cantii, the Be1gae, and the Dumnonii, all may be quiet; they dare
not move. But the Iceni and Brigantes, although they both have
felt the weight of our swords, are still partly independent, and
if pressed too severely will assuredly revolt, and if they give the
signal all Britain may be up in arms again. I am scoffed at if I
venture to hint to these newcomers that there is life yet in Britain.
Dwelling here in a Roman city, it seems to them absurd that there
can be danger from the savages who roam in the forests that stretch
away from beyond the river at our very feet to the far distant
north, to regions of which we are absolutely ignorant. I regard
what Beric has said as another warning."
"But I thought that Beric was our friend, father, and you told me
you had heard that he was teaching his countrymen how great is our
"Beric is a Briton in the midst of Britons, child. He is a partially
tamed wolf cub, and had he been sent to Rome and remained there he
would have done credit to our teaching. He is fond of study, and
at the same time fond of arms; he might have turned out a wise
citizen or a valiant soldier. But this was not done. He has gone
back again among the wolves, and whatever his feelings towards
us personally may be, he must side with his own people. Did they
suspect him of being Roman at heart they would tear him in pieces.
I believe that as he knows our strength, and that in the end we
must conquer, his influence will always be on the side of peace;
but if arms are taken up he will have no choice but to side with
his countrymen, and should it be another ten years before the cloud
bursts, he may be one of our most formidable opponents. Don't blame
him, child; he only shows his regard for you, by wishing you back
safely in Rome before trouble arises."
"You are just in time, Beric," Boduoc said as the young chief
joined him. "The sun is but a hand's breadth above that hill. Here
are your spear and sword where you hid them, though why you should
have done it I know not, seeing that they have not yet ventured to
order us to disarm."
"And if they did we should not obey them, Boduoc; but as the
Trinobantes have long been forbidden to carry arms, it might have
caused trouble had I gone armed into the town, and we don't want
trouble at present. I went on a peaceful visit, and there was no
occasion for me to carry my weapons. But give me a piece of that
deer flesh and an oaten cake; we have a long march before us."
"Why, did you not eat with them?"
"No. I was, of course, invited, but I had but a short time to stop
and did not wish it to seem as if I had come for a taste of Roman
As soon as the meal was eaten they set out. It was but a track
through the forest, for although the trees had been cleared away for
a width of twenty feet there was but little traffic, for the road
was seldom traversed, save by an occasional messenger from Prasutagus.
It had been used by the legions at the time that Ostorius had
built a line of forts stretching from the Nen to the Severn, and by
it they had advanced when the Iceni had risen; but from that time
it had been unused by them, as the Iceni had paid their tribute
regularly, and held aloof from all hostile movements against them.
Prasutagus was always profuse in his assurance of friendship towards
Rome, and save that the Roman officers visited his capital once a
year to receive their tribute, they troubled but little about the
Iceni, having their hands occupied by their wars in the south and
west, while their main road to the north ran far to the west of
"We shall arrive about midnight," Beric said as they strode along.
"We may or we may not," Boduoc said curtly.
"What is to prevent us, Boduoc?"
"Well, the wolves may prevent us, Beric; we heard them howling
several times as we came along this morning. The rapacious brutes
have not been so bold for years, and it is high time that we hunted
them down, or at any rate made our part of the country too hot to
hold them. I told Borgon before I started that if we did not return
by an hour after midnight it would be because we had been obliged
to take to a tree, and that he had better bring out a party at the
first break of day to rescue us."
"But we have never had any trouble of that kind while we have been
"No; but I think there must have been some great hunts up in Norfolk,
and that the brutes have come south. Certain it is that there have
in the last week been great complaints of them, and, as you know,
it was for that reason that your mother ordered all the men of the
tribe to assemble by tomorrow morning to make war against them.
The people in the farms and villages are afraid to stay out after
nightfall. No man with arms in his hands fears a wolf, or even two
or three of them, in the daytime; but when they are in packs they
are formidable assailants, even to a strong party. Things are
getting as bad now as they were twenty years ago. My father has
told me that during one hard winter they destroyed full half our
herds, and that hundreds of people were devoured by them. They had
to erect stockades round the villages and drive in all the cattle,
and half the men kept guard by turns, keeping great fires alight
to frighten them away. When we have cleared the land of those two
legged wolves the Romans, we shall have to make a general war upon
them, for truly they are becoming a perfect scourge to the land.
It is not like the wild boar, of which there might with advantage
be more, for they do but little harm, getting their food for the
most part in the woods, and furnishing us with good eating as well
as good sport. But the wolves give us nothing in return, and save
for the sport no one would trouble to hunt them; and it is only by
a general order for their destruction, or by the offer of a reward
for their heads, that we shall get rid of them."
"Well, let us press on, Boduoc. I would not that anything should
occur to prevent us starting with the rest in the morning."
"We are walking a good pace now," Boduoc said, "and shall gain but
little by going faster. One cannot run for six hours; and besides
it is as much as we can do to walk fast in the dark. Did we try
to run we should like enough fall over a stump or root, and maybe
not arrive there even though the wolves stopped us not."
For two hours more they strode along. Boduoc's eyes had been
trained by many a long night spent among the woods, and dark as it
was beneath the overarching trees, he was able to discern objects
around him, and kept along in his regular stride as surely and
almost as noiselessly as a wild beast; but the four years spent in
the Roman town had impaired Beric's nocturnal vision; and though
he had done much hunting since his return home, he was far from
being able to use his eyes as his companion did, and he more than
once stumbled over the roots that crossed the path.
"You will be on your head presently," Boduoc growled.
"It is all very well for you, Boduoc, who have the eyes of a cat;
but you must remember we are travelling in the dark, and although
I can make out the trunks on either hand the ground is all black
to me, and I am walking quite at hazard."
"It is not what I should call a light night," Boduoc admitted.
"Well, no, considering that there is no moon, and that the clouds
that were rising when the sun went down have overspread all the
sky. I don't see that it could well be darker."
"Well we will stop at that hut in the little clearing, somewhere
about half a mile on, and get a couple of torches. If you were to
fall and twist your foot you would not be able to hunt tomorrow."
"What is that?" Beric exclaimed as a distant cry came to their
"I think it is the voice of a woman," Boduoc said. "Or maybe it is
one of the spirits of evil."
Beric during his stay among the Romans had lost faith in most of
his superstitions. "Nonsense, Boduoc! it was the cry of a woman; it
came from ahead. Maybe some woman returning late has been attacked
by wolves. Come along," he shouted, and he started to run, followed
reluctantly by his companion.
"Stop, Beric, stop!" he said in a short time, "I hear other sounds."
"So do I," Beric agreed, but without checking his pace. "My eyes
may be dull, Boduoc, but they are not so dull as your ears. Why,
don't you know the snarling of wolves when you hear them?"
Again the loud cry of distress came on the night air. "They have
not seized her yet," Beric said. "Her first cry would have been her
last had they done so. She must be in that hut, Boduoc, and they
are trying to get at her. Maybe her husband is away."
"It is wolves," Boduoc agreed in a tone of relief. "Since that is
all I am ready for them; but sword and spear are of no avail against
the spirits of the air. We must be careful though, or instead of
us attacking we may be attacked."
Beric paid no attention. They had as they passed the hut that
morning stopped for a drink of water there, and he saw now before
his eyes the tall comely young woman with a baby in her arms and
two children hanging to her skirts. In a short time they stood at
the edge of the little clearing by the side of the path. It was
lighter here, and he could make out the outline of the rude hut,
and, as he thought, that of many dark figures moving round it. A
fierce growling and snarling rose from around the hut, with once
or twice a sharp yell of pain.
"There are half a dozen of them on the roof," Boduoc said, "and
a score or more round the hut. At present they haven't winded us,
for the air is in our faces."
"I think we had best make a rush at them, Boduoc, shouting at the
top of our voices as we go, and bidding the woman stand in readiness
to unbar the door. They will be scared for a moment, not knowing
how many of us there may be, and once inside we shall be safe from
"Let us get as near as we can before we begin to shout, Beric. They
may run back a few paces at our voice, but will speedily rally."
Holding their spears in readiness for action they ran forward. When
within thirty yards of the hut Boduoc raised his voice in a wild
yell, Beric adding his cry and then shouting, "Unbar your door and
stand to close it as we enter."
There was, however, no occasion for haste. Boduoc' s sudden yell
completely scared the wolves, and with whimpers of dismay they
scattered in all directions. The door opened as Beric and his
companion came up, and they rushed in and closed it after them.
A fire burned on the hearth. A dead wolf lay on the ground, the
children crouched in terror on a pile of rushes, and a woman stood
with a spear in her hand.
"Thanks to our country's gods you have come!" she said. "A few
minutes later and all would have been over with me and my children.
See, one has already made his way through the roof, and in half a
dozen places they have scratched holes well nigh large enough to
"We heard your cry," Beric said, "and hastened forward at the top
of our speed."
"It was for you that I called," the woman said. "By what you said
this morning I judged you would be returning about this hour, and
it was in hopes you might hear me that I cried out, for I knew well
that no one else would be likely to be within earshot."
"Where is your husband?" Beric asked.
"He started this afternoon for Cardun. He and all the able bodied
men were ordered to assemble there tonight in readiness to begin
the war against the wolves at daybreak. There is no other house
within a mile, and even had they heard me there they could have
given me no assistance, seeing there are but women and children
"They are coming again," Boduoc broke in; "I can hear their feet
pattering on the dead leaves. Which shall we do, Beric, pile more
wood on the fire, or let it go out altogether? I think that we shall
do better without it; it is from the roof that they will attack,
and if we have a light here we cannot see them till they are ready
to leap down; whereas, if we are in darkness we may be able to make
them out when they approach the holes, or as they pass over any of
"I don't know, Boduoc; I think we shall do better if we have light. We
may not make them out so well, but at least we can use our spears
better than we could in the dark, when we might strike them against
the rafters or thick branches."
The woman at once gathered some of the pieces of wood that had
fallen through as the wolves made the holes and put them on the
hearth, where they soon blazed up brightly.
"I will take this big hole," Boduoc said, "it is the only one by
which they can come down at present. Do you try and prevent them
from enlarging any of the others."
There was a sudden thump overhead, followed almost immediately by
"They get up by the wood pile," the woman said. "It is against that
side of the hut, and reaches nearly up to the eaves."
There was a sharp yell as Boduoc thrust his spear up through the
hole when he saw a pair of eyes, shining in the firelight, appear
at the edge. At the same moment there was a sound of scraping and
scratching at some of the other holes. The roof was constructed
of rough poles laid at short distances apart, and above these were
small branches, on which was a sort of thatch of reeds and rushes.
Standing close under one of the holes Beric could see nothing, but
from the sound of the scratching he could tell from which side the
wolf was at work enlarging it. He carefully thrust the point of
his spear through the branches and gave a sudden lunge upwards.
A fierce yell was heard, followed by the sound of a body rolling
down the roof, and then a struggle accompanied by angry snarling
and growling outside.
"That is one less, Beric," Boduoc said. "I fancy I only scratched
mine. Ah!" he exclaimed suddenly, as without the least warning a
wolf sprang down through the hole. Before it could gather its legs
under it for a fresh spring Beric and the woman both thrust their
spears deeply into it, Boduoc keeping his eyes fixed on the hole,
and making a lunge as another wolf peered down in readiness to
spring after the one that had entered.
For hours the fight went on. Gradually the holes, in spite of the
efforts of the defenders, were enlarged, and the position became
more and more critical. At least twenty of the wolves were slain;
but as the attack was kept up as vigorously as at first, it was
evident that fresh reinforcements had arrived to the assailants.
"We cannot keep them out much longer, Beric," Boduoc said at last.
"It seems to me that our only plan is to fire the hut, and then,
each taking a child, to make a rush across to the trees and climb
them. The sudden burst of fire will drive them back for a little,
and we may make good our retreat to the trees."
"What time is it, think you, Boduoc?"
"It must be two or three hours past midnight, and if Borgon carried
out my instructions help ought to be near at hand. I would that we
could let them know of our peril."
"There is a cow horn," the woman said, pointing to the corner of
the hut. "My husband uses it for calling in the cattle."
Boduoc seized the horn and blew a deep hollow blast upon it. There
was a sudden pattering of feet overhead and then silence.
"That has scared them," Beric said. "Blow again, Boduoc; if we can
but gain half an hour our friends may be up."
Again and again the hoarse roar of the cow horn rose, but the wolves
speedily recovered from their scare and crowded on the roof.
"We can't hold out much longer," Beric said, as two wolves that
leapt down together had just been despatched. "Get a brand from
the fire." At this moment there was a sudden scuffle overhead, and
the three defenders stood, spear in hand, ready to repel a fresh
attack; but all was quiet; then a loud shout rose on the air.
"Thank the gods, here they are!" Boduoc said. He listened a moment,
but all was still round the hut; then he threw the door open as
a score of men with lighted torches came running towards it, and
raised a shout of satisfaction as the light fell upon Beric.
"Thanks for your aid, my friends!" he said as they crowded round
him; "never was a shout more welcome than yours. You were just in
time, as you may see by looking at the roof. We were about to fire
it and make for the trees, though I doubt if one of us would have
As the men entered the hut and looked at the ragged holes in the
roof and the bodies of nine wolves stretched on the ground, they
saw that they had, indeed, arrived only just in time. Among the
rescuing party was the man to whom the hut belonged, whose joy at
finding his wife and children unhurt was great indeed; and he poured
forth his thanks to Beric and Boduoc when he learned from his wife
that they had voluntarily abandoned the wood, where they could
have been secure in the shelter of a tree, in order to assist her
in defending the hut against the wolves.
"You must all come with us," Beric said; "the wolves may return
after we have gone. When our hunt is over I will send some men to
help you to repair your roof. Where are the cattle?"
"They are safe in a stockade at the next village," the man said.
"We finished it only yesterday, and drove in all the cattle from
the forests, and collected great quantities of wood so that the
women might keep up great bonfires if the wolves tried to break
A few minutes later the party started on their return. As they
walked they could sometimes hear the pattering of footsteps on the
falling leaves, but the torches deterred the animals from making
an attack, and after three hours' walking they arrived at Cardun.
The village stood on a knoll rising from swamps, through which a
branch of the Stour wound its way sluggishly. Round the crest of
the knoll ran two steep earthen banks, one rising behind the other,
and in the inclosed space, some eight acres in extent, stood the
village. The contrast between it and the Roman city but two-and-twenty
miles away was striking. No great advance had been made upon the
homes that the people had occupied in Gaul before their emigration.
In the centre stood Parta's abode, distinguished from the rest only
by its superior size. The walls were of mud and stone, the roof
high, so as to let the water run more easily off the rough thatching.
It contained but one central hall surrounded by half a dozen small
The huts of the people consisted but of a single room, with a hole
in the roof by which the smoke of the fire in the centre made its
way out. The doorway was generally closed by a wattle secured by a
bar. When this was closed light only found its way into the room
through the chinks of the wattle and the hole in the roof. In
winter, for extra warmth, a skin was hung before the door. Beyond
piles of hides, which served as seats by day and beds at night,
there was no furniture whatever in the rooms, save a few earthen
Parta's abode, however, was more sumptuously furnished. Across one
end ran a sort of dais of beaten earth, raised a foot above the
rest of the floor. This was thickly strewn with fresh rushes, and
there was a rough table and benches. The walls of the apartment
were hidden by skins, principally those of wolves.
The fireplace was in the centre of the lower part of the hall, and
arranged on a shelf against the wall were cooking pots of iron and
brass; while on a similar shelf on the wall above the dais were
jugs and drinking vessels of gold. Hams of wild boar and swine hung
from the rafters, where too were suspended wild duck and fish, and
other articles of food. Parta's own apartment led from the back
of the dais. That of Beric was next to it, its separate use having
been granted to him on his return from Camalodunum, not without
some scoffing remarks upon his effeminacy in requiring a separate
apartment, instead of sleeping as usual on the dais; while the
followers and attendants stretched themselves on the floor of the
CHAPTER III: A WOLF HUNT
Shouts of welcome saluted Beric as with his party he crossed the
rough bridge over the stream and descended the slope to the village.
Some fifteen hundred men were gathered here, all armed for the
chase with spears, javelins, and long knives. Their hair fell over
their necks, their faces were, according to the universal custom,
shaved with the exception of the moustache. Many of them were
tattooed--a custom that at one time had been universal, but was
now dying out among the more civilized. Most of them were, save for
the mantle, naked from the waist up, the body being stained a deep
blue with woad--a plant largely cultivated for its dye. This plant,
known as Isatis tinctoria, is still grown in France and Flanders.
It requires rich ground and grows to a height of three or four
feet, bearing yellow flowers. The dye is obtained from the leaves,
which are stripped two or three times in the season. They are
partially dried, and are then pounded or ground, pressed into a
mass with the hands or feet, and piled in a heap, when fermentation
takes place. When this process is completed the paste is cut up,
and when placed in water yields a blue dye. It can also be prepared
by laying it in the water in the first place and allowing it
to ferment there. The water, which becomes a deep blue, is drawn
off and allowed to settle, the dye remaining at the bottom. Fresh
water is then added to the leaves, which are again stirred up and
the operation is repeated.
Passing through the crowd of tribesmen, Beric entered his mother's
abode, walked up to the dais, and saluted her by a deep bow. Parta
was a woman of tall stature and of robust form. Her garment was
fastened at each shoulder by a gold brooch. A belt studded and
clasped by the same metal girded it in at the waist, and it then
fell in loose folds almost to her feet. She had heavy gold bracelets
on her arms.
"You are late, Beric," she said sternly. "Our tribesmen have been
waiting nigh an hour for you. I only heard at daybreak that Borgon
had gone out to search for you with a party."
"It was well that he did, mother, for Boduoc and I were besieged
in a hut by a pack of wolves, who would shortly have made an end
of us had not rescue arrived."
"What were you doing in the hut?" she asked. "You told me you should
leave the Romans' town before sunset and make your way straight
Beric shortly related the circumstances of the fight.
"It is well that it is no worse," she said; "but Boduoc ought
to have known better than to have allowed you to leave the trees,
where you would at least have been safe from the wolves. What
mattered the life of a woman in comparison to yours, when you know
my hopes and plans for you? But stay not talking. Magartha has some
roasted kid in readiness for you. Eat it quickly, and take a horn
of mead, and be gone. An hour has been wasted already."
A few minutes sufficed for Beric to satisfy his hunger. Then he
went out and joined two or three minor chiefs of experience who
had charge of the hunt. The greater portion of the tribesmen had
already started. Almost every man had brought with him one or more
large dogs trained in hunting the wolf and boar, and the woods
beyond the swamp rang with their deep barking. Instructions had
already been given to the men. These proceeded in parties of four,
each group taking its post some fifty yards from the next. Those
who had the farthest to go had started before daybreak, and it was
another two hours before the whole were in position, forming a long
line through the forest upwards of ten miles in length. A horn was
sounded in the centre where the leaders had posted themselves, and
the signal was repeated at points along the line, and then, with
shouts on the part of the men and fierce barkings on that of the
dogs, the whole moved forward. The right of the line rested on the
Stour, the left upon the Orwell; and as they passed along through
the forest the line contracted. At times wild boars made a dash
to break through it. Many of these were slain, till the chiefs
considered that there was a sufficient supply of food, and the rest
were then allowed to pass through.
No wolves were seen until they neared the point where the two
rivers unite, by which time the groups were within a few paces of
each other. Then among the trees in front of them a fierce snarling
and yelping was heard. The dogs, which had hitherto been kept
in hand, were now loosed, and with a shout the men rushed forward
both on the bluffs in the centre and along the low land skirting
the rivers on either side. Soon the wolves came pouring down from
the wooded bluff, and engaged in a furious conflict with the dogs.
As the men ran up, a few of the wolves in their desperation charged
them and endeavoured to break through, but the great majority,
cowed by the clamour and fierce assault, crouched to the earth and
received their death blow unresistingly. Some took to the water,
but coracles had been sent down to the point the evening before,
and they were speedily slain. Altogether some four or five hundred
wolves were killed.
It was now late in the afternoon. Wood was collected and great
fires made, and the boars' flesh was soon roasting over them. At
daybreak they started again, and retracing their steps formed a
fresh line at the point where the last beat had begun, this time
beating in a great semicircle and driving the wolves down on to
the Stour. So for a fortnight the war went on. Only such deer and
boar as were required for food were killed; but the wolves were
slain without mercy, and at the end of the operations that portion
of the country was completely cleared of these savage beasts, for
those who had escaped the beating parties had fled far away through
the forest to more quiet quarters.
The work had been laborious; for each day some forty miles had been
traversed in the march from the last place of slaughter to the next
beat, and in the subsequent proceedings. It had, however, been full
of interest and excitement, especially during the second week, when,
having cleared all the country in the neighbourhood of the rivers,
the men were ranged in wide circles some ten miles in diameter,
advancing gradually towards a centre. Occasionally many of the wolves
escaped before the lines had narrowed sufficiently for the men to
be near enough to each other to oppose a successful resistance, but
in each case the majority continued to slink from the approaching
noises until the cordon was too close for them to break through.
Altogether over four thousand wolves were slain. All those whose
coats were in good condition were skinned, the skins being valuable
for linings to the huts, for beds, and winter mantles. Many men
had been bitten more or less severely by them, but none had been
killed; and there was much rejoicing at the complete clearance from
the district of a foe that had, since the arrival of the large packs
from the north, made terrible inroads among the herds of cattle
and swine, and had killed a considerable number of men, women, and
children. The previous winter had been a very severe one, and had
driven great numbers of wolves down from North Britain. The fighting
that had been going on for years in the south and west, and at times
in the midlands, had put a stop to the usual chases of wolves in
those districts, and they had consequently multiplied exceedingly
and had become a serious scourge even before the arrival of the
fresh bands from the north. However, after so great a slaughter it
was hoped that for a time at least they would not again make their
appearance in that neighbourhood.
Returning home at the end of their expedition Beric was surprised
as he entered the hall to see a Druid standing upon the dais
conversing with his mother, who was pacing up and down with angry
gestures. That their conference was an important one he did not
doubt; for the Druids dwelt in the recesses of the forests or near
their temples, and those who wished to consult them must journey
to them to ask their counsel beneath a sacred oak or in the circle
of the magic stones. When great events were impending, or when
tribes took up arms against each other, the Druids would leave
their forest abodes, and, interposing between the combatants,
authoritatively bid them desist. They acted as mediators between
great chiefs, and were judges upon all matters in dispute. He was
sure, therefore, that the Druid was the bearer of news of importance.
He stood waiting in the centre of the hall until his mother's eye
fell upon him.
"Come hither, Beric," she said, "and hear the news that the holy
Druid has brought. Think you not that the Romans have carried their
oppression far enough when they have seized half the land of our
island, enslaved the people, and exacted tribute from the free
Britons? What think you, now? The Roman governor Severus, knowing
that it is our religion as well as love of our country that arms
us against them, and that the Druids ever raise their voices to bid
us defend our altars and our homes, have resolved upon an expedition
against the Sacred Island, and have determined to exterminate our
priests, to break down our altars, and to destroy our religion.
Ten days since the legion marched from Camalodunum to join the army
he is assembling in the west. From all other parts he has drawn
soldiers, and he has declared his intention of rooting out and
destroying our religion at its centre."
"The news is terrible," the Druid said, "but our gods will fight
for us, and doubtless a terrible destruction will fall upon the
impious men who thus dream of profaning the Sacred Island; but it
may be otherwise, or perchance the gods may see that thus, and thus
only, can the people of Britain be stirred to take up arms and to
annihilate the worshippers of the false gods of Rome. Assuredly we
are on the eve of great events, and every Briton must prepare to
take up arms, either to fall upon the legions whom our gods have
stricken or to avenge the insult offered to our faith."
"It is terrible news, indeed," Beric said; "and though I am but a
lad, father, I am ready when the call comes to fight in the front
ranks of the Iceni with our people. My father fell fighting for
his country by the sword of the Romans, and I am ready to follow
his example when my mother shall say, 'Go out to war.'"
"For the present, Beric, we must remain quiet; we must await news
of the result of this expedition; but the word has gone round,
and I and my brethren are to visit every chief of the Iceni, while
the Druids of the north stir up the Brigantes; the news, too, that
the time of their deliverance is at hand, and that they must hold
themselves in readiness to rise against the oppressors, is passing
through the Trinobantes and the tribes of the south and southwest.
This time it must be no partial rising, and we must avoid the ruinous
error of matching a single tribe against the whole strength of the
Romans. It must be Britain against Rome--a whole people struggling
for their homes and altars against those who would destroy their
religion and reduce them to slavery."
"I would that it could have been postponed for a time, father," Beric
said. "During the four years I passed as a hostage at Camalodunum
I have been learning the tactics that have enabled the Romans
to conquer us. I have learned their words of command, and how the
movements were executed, and I hope when I become a man to train
the Sarci to fight in solid order, to wheel and turn as do the
Romans, so that we might form a band which might in the day of
battle oppose itself to the Roman onset, check pursuit, and perhaps
convert a reverse into a victory."
"Heed not that," the Druid said enthusiastically. "It would be
useful indeed, but there is but scant time for it now. Our gods
will fight for us. We have numbers and valour. Our warriors will
sweep their soldiers aside as a wave dashes over a rock."
The conversation between the Druid and Parta had been heard by
others in the hall, and the news spread rapidly among the tribesmen
as they returned from the chase. Shouts of fury and indignation
rose outside, and several of the minor chiefs, followed by a crowd
of excited men, poured into the hall, demanding with loud shouts
that war should be declared against the Romans. The Druid advanced
to the edge of the dais.
"Children," he said, "the time has not yet come, nor can the Sarci
do aught until the word is given by Prasutagus, and the whole of
the Iceni rise in arms, and not the Iceni alone, but Britons from
sea to sea. Till then hold yourselves in readiness. Sharpen your
arms and prepare for the contest. But you need a chief. In the
ordinary course of things years would have elapsed before Beric, the
son of your last brave prince, would have been associated with his
mother in the rule of the tribe; but on the eve of such a struggle
ordinary customs and usages must be set at nought. I therefore,
in virtue of my sacred authority, now appoint Beric as chief next
to his mother in the tribe, and I bid you obey him in all things
relating to war. He has learned much of Roman ways and methods,
and is thus better fitted than many far older than he to instruct
you how best to stand their onset, and I prophesy that under him no
small honour and glory will fall to the tribe, and that they will
bear a signal share in avenging our gods and winning our freedom.
Come hither, Beric;" and the Druid, laying a hand upon the lad's
head, raised the other to heaven and implored the gods to bestow
wisdom and strength upon him, and to raise in him a mighty champion
of his country and faith. Then he uttered a terrible malediction upon
any who should disobey Beric's orders, or question his authority,
who should show faint heart in the day of battle, or hold his life
of any account in the cause of his country.
"Now," he concluded, "retire to your homes. We must give no cause
or pretext for Roman aggression until the signal is given. You
will not be idle. Your young chief will teach you somewhat of the
discipline that has rendered the Roman soldiers so formidable, so
that you may know how to set yourselves in the day of battle, how
to oppose rank to rank, to draw off in good order, or to press
forward to victory. The issue is ever in the hands of the gods,
but we should do all we can to deserve it. It is good to learn even
from our enemies. They have studied war for ages, and if they have
conquered brave peoples, it has not been by superior valour, but
because they have studied war, while others have trusted solely to
their native valour. Therefore deem not instruction useless, or
despise methods simply because you do not understand them. None
could be braver than those who fought under Caractacus, yet they
were conquered, not by the valour, but by the discipline of the
Romans. It was the will of the gods that your young chief should
dwell for four years a hostage among the Romans, and doubtless
they willed it should be so in order that he might be fitted to be
a worthy champion of his country, and so to effect what even the
valour of Caractacus failed to do. The gods have spoken by me. See
that you obey them, and woe to the wretch who murmurs even in his
own heart against their decrees!"
As he concluded a loud shout was raised throughout the crowded hall,
and swelled into a mighty roar outside, for those at the open door
had passed his words to the throng of tribesmen outside. When the
shout subsided, Beric added a few words, saying, that although he
regretted he had not yet come to his full strength, and that thus
early he should be called upon to lead men, he accepted the decree of
the gods, and would strive not to be wanting in the day of trial.
In matters connected with war he had learned much from the Romans,
who, oppressors as they were and despisers of the gods of Britain,
were skilled beyond all others in such matters. In all other respects
he had happily his mother's counsel and guidance to depend upon,
and before assuming any civil authority he should wait until years
had taught him wisdom, and should then go through all the usual
ceremonies appointed by their religion, and receive his instalment
solemnly in the temple at the hands of the Druids.
That night there was high feasting at Cardun. A bullock and three
swine were slain by order of Parta, and a number of great earthen
jars of mead broached, and while the principal men of the tribe
feasted in the hall, the rest made merry outside. The bard attached
to Parta's household sang tales of the glories of the tribe, even
the women from the villages and detached huts for a large circle
round came in, happy that, now the wolves had been cleared away,
they could stir out after nightfall without fear. After entertaining
their guests in the hall, Parta and her son went round among the
tribesmen outside and saw that they had all they needed, and spoke
pleasantly even to the poorest among them.
It was long before Beric closed his eyes that night. The events of
the day had been a complete surprise to him. He had thought that
in the distant future he should share with his mother in the ruling
of the tribe, but had never once dreamed of its coming for years.
Had it not been for the news that they had heard of the intended
invasion of the Holy Isle he should not have regretted his elevation,
for it would have given him the means and opportunity to train the
tribesmen to fight in close order as did the Romans. But now he could
not hope that there would be time to carry this out effectually.
He knew that throughout Britain the feeling of rage and indignation
at this outrage upon the gods of their country would raise the
passions of men to boiling point, and that the slightest incident
would suffice to bring on a general explosion, and he greatly feared
that the result of such a rising would in the end be disastrous.
His reading had shown him how great was the power of Rome, and how
obstinately she clung to her conquests. His countrymen seemed to
think that were they, with a mighty effort, to free Britain of its
invaders, their freedom would be achieved; but he knew that such a
disaster would arouse the Roman pride, and that however great the
effort required, fresh armies would be despatched to avenge the
disaster and to regain the territory lost.
"The Britons know nothing of Roman power," he said to himself.
"They see but twenty or thirty thousand men here, and they forget
that that number have alone been sent because they were sufficient
for the work, and that Rome could, if need be, despatch five times
as many men. With time to teach the people, not of the Sarci tribe
only, but all the Iceni, to fight in solid masses, and to bear the
brunt of the battle, while the rest of the tribes attacked furiously
on all sides, we might hope for victory; but fighting without
order or regularity, each man for himself, cannot hope to prevail
against their solid mass.
"If I could have gained a name before the time came, so that my
voice might have had weight and power in the councils of the chiefs,
I might have done something. As it is, I fear that a rising now
will bring ruin and slavery upon all Britain."
Beric thought but little of himself, or of the personal danger he
should encounter. The Britons were careless of their lives. They
believed implicitly in a future life, and that those who fell fighting
bravely for their country would meet with reward hereafter; hence,
as among the Gauls, cowardice was an almost unknown vice.
Beric had faith in the gods of his country, while he had none
whatever in those of Rome, and wondered how a mighty people could
believe in such deities; but, unlike the Britons in general, he did
not believe that the gods interfered to decide the fate of battles.
He saw that the Romans, with their false gods, had conquered all
other nations, and that so far they had uniformly triumphed over
his own. Therefore, mighty as he believed the gods to be, he thought
that they concerned themselves but little in the affairs of the
world, and that battles were to be won solely by valour, discipline,
and numbers. Numbers and valour the British had, but of discipline
they were absolutely ignorant, and it was this that gave so tremendous
an advantage to the Romans. Hence Beric felt none of the exultation
and excitement that most British lads of his age would have done
on attaining to rank and command in the tribe to which they belonged.
The Britons despised the Romans as much for their belief in many
gods as for their luxury, and what they considered their effeminacy.
The religion of the Britons was a pure one, though disfigured by
the offering of human sacrifices. They believed in one great Supreme
Spirit, whose power pervaded everything. They thought of him less
as an absolute being than as a pervading influence. They worshipped
him everywhere, in the forests and in the streams, in the sky
and heavenly bodies. Through the Druids they consulted him in all
their undertakings. If the answer was favourable, they followed
it; if unfavourable, they endeavoured to change it by sacrifices
and offerings to the priests. They believed firmly in a life after
death, when they held that the souls of all brave and good men
and women would be transported at once to an island far out in the
Atlantic, which they called the Happy Island. The highest places
would be theirs who had fought valiantly and died in battle; but
there was room for all, and all would be happy. Holding this idea
firmly, the Britons sought rather than avoided death. Their lives
in their separate tribes were quiet and simple, except when engaged
in the chase or war. They were averse to labour. They were domestic,
virtuous, frank, and straightforward. The personal property of
a stranger was sacred among them, and the most lavish hospitality
was exercised. It was not strange that a simple hardy people,
believing firmly in the one supreme god, should have regarded with
contempt alike the luxury of the Romans and their worship of many
gods in the likenesses of men and women, and that the more Beric had
seen of the learning and wisdom of the Romans in other directions,
the more he should wonder that such a people should be slaves to
what seemed to him childish superstitions.
The next morning, after a consultation with some of the minor chiefs,
a hundred men were summoned to attend on the following day. They
were picked out from families where there were two or more males
of working age, so that there would be as little disturbance of
labour as possible. It was principally in companies of a hundred
that Beric had seen the Romans exercised, and he had learned every
order by heart from first to last. The manoeuvres to be taught were
not of a complicated nature. To form in fighting order six deep,
and to move in column, were the principal points; but when the next
day the band assembled, Beric was surprised and vexed to find that
the operations were vastly more difficult than he expected. To
begin with, every man was to have his place in the line, and the
tribesmen, though eager to learn, and anxious to please their young
chief, could not see that it mattered in what order they stood.
When, however, having arranged them at first in a line two deep,
Beric proceeded to explain how the spears were to be held, and
in what order the movements were to be performed,--the exercise
answering to the manual and platoon of modern days,--the
tribesmen were unable to restrain their laughter. What difference
could it make whether the hands were two feet apart or three, whether
the spears were held upright or sloped, whether they came down to
the charge one after another or all together? To men absolutely
unaccustomed to order of any kind, but used only to fight each in
the way that suited him best, these details appeared absolutely
Beric was obliged to stop and harangue them, pointing out to them
that it was just these little things that gave the Romans their
fighting power; that it was because the whole company moved as one
man, and fought as one man, each knowing his place and falling into
it, however great the confusion, however sudden the alarm, that
made them what they were.
"Why do they conquer you?" he said. "Chiefly because you can never
throw them into confusion. Charge down upon them and break them,
and they at once reunite and a solid wall opposes your scattered
efforts. You know how cattle, when wolves attack them, gather in
a circle with their horns outwards, and so keep at bay those who
could pull them down and rend them separately. At present it seems
ridiculous to you that every position of the hand, every movement
of the arm, should be done by rule; but when you have practised them
these will become a second nature; so with your other movements.
It seems folly to you to do with measured steps what it seems you
could do far more quickly by running together hastily; but it is
not so. The slowest movement is really the quickest, and it has the
advantage that no one is hurried, that everything is done steadily
and regularly, and that even in the greatest heat and confusion of
a battle every man takes his place, as calm and ready to fight as
if no foe were in sight. Now let us try this again. At the end of
the day I shall pick out some of those who are quickest and most
attentive, and make of them officers under me. They will have more
work to do, for they will have to understand and teach my orders,
but also they will gain more honour and credit."
For hours the drill went on; then they broke off for dinner and
again worked until evening, and by that time had made sufficient
progress in their simple movements to begin to feel that there
was after all something more in it than they had fancied. For the
first hour it had seemed to them a sort of joke--a mere freak on
the part of their young chief; but they were themselves surprised
to find by the end of the day how rapidly they were able to change
from their rank two deep into the solid formation, and how their
spears rose and fell together at the order. Beric bade them by
the next morning provide themselves with spears six feet longer.
Britons were more accustomed to fight with javelin than with spear,
and the latter weapons were shorter and lighter than those of the
Romans. Beric felt that the advantage should be the other way, for
the small shields carried by the Britons were inferior as defensive
weapons to those of the Romans, and to preserve the balance it was
necessary therefore to have longer spears; the more so since the
Britons were taller, and far more powerful men than their foes,
and should therefore be able, with practice, to use longer weapons.
The next day Beric chose Boduoc as his second in command, and appointed
ten men sub-officers or sergeants. After a week of almost incessant
work that would have exhausted men less hardy and vigorous, Beric
was satisfied. The company had now come to take great interest in
their work, and were able to go through their exercises with a fair
show of regularity. Even the older chiefs, who had at first shaken
their heads as they looked on, acknowledged that there was a great
deal to be gained from the exercises. Parta was delighted. It was
she who had foreseen the advantages that might be derived from
Beric's stay among the Romans, and she entered heartily into his
plans, ordering the men engaged to be fed from the produce of her
flocks and herds.
When the week was over two hundred more men were summoned, a sufficient
number of the brightest and most intelligent of the first company
being chosen as their sub-officers. Before the drill commenced,
however, the first company were put through their exercises in
order that the newcomers might see what was expected of them, and
how much could be done. This time several of the chiefs joined the
companies in order that they might learn the words of command and
be fitted to lead. This greatly encouraged Beric, who had foreseen
that while he himself could command a company, he could do nothing
towards controlling ten or fifteen companies unless these had each
officers of rank and influence enough to control them.
The exercises after the first company had been drilled were carried on
in the forest some miles away from the village, the men assembling
there and camping beneath the trees, so that no rumour of gatherings
or preparations for war should reach the Romans, although at present
these were not in a position to make any eruption from Camalodunum,
as the greater portion of the legionaries had marched with Suetonius.
Returning one day to Cardun with Boduoc, Beric was surprised to
hear loud cries of lamentation. The women were running about with
dishevelled hair and disordered garments. Fearful that something
might have happened to his mother, he hurried on to the hall. Parta
was sitting on the ground rocking herself to and fro in her grief,
while the women were assembled round her uttering cries of anguish.
"What is the matter?" Beric asked as he hurried forward. The bard
stepped forward to answer the question.
"My son," he said, "misfortune has fallen on the land. The gods
have hidden their faces and refused to fight for their children.
Woe and desolation have come upon us. The altars are thrown down
and the priests slaughtered."
"Mona is taken!" Beric exclaimed.
"Yes, my son, Mona is taken. The Druid Boroc but an hour ago brought
the news. The Romans having reached the strait, constructed flat
bottomed boats, and in these approached the island, the horsemen
towing their horses behind them. There were assembled the women
of the Silures and the Druids from all parts of Britain, with
many fugitives who had fled for shelter to the island. The Druids
remained by their altars offering up human sacrifices, the men and
women assembled on the beach waving torches, hurling imprecations
upon the invaders, and imploring the gods to aid them and to crush
the impious foe. For a time the Romans paused in mid channel,
terrified at the spectacle, and the hopes of all that the gods
had paralysed their arms rose high; but, alas! the halt was but
temporary. Encouraging each other with shouts, they again advanced,
and, leaping from their boats, waded through the water and set foot
on the sacred soil.
"What was there to do? The men were few, and though the women in
their despair rushed wildly at the enemy, it was all in vain; men
and women were alike slaughtered; and then, moving forward, they
advanced against the holy circle and slew the Druids upon the altars
of the gods they served, and yet the gods were silent. They saw,
they heard, but answered not; neither the clouds rained fire upon
the invaders nor the earth shook. Ah! my son, evil days have fallen
upon the land. What will be the end of them?"
Throughout the length and breadth of Britain a thrill of horror was
felt at the news of the massacre of Druids at Mona, and everywhere
it was followed by a stern determination to prepare for battle to
clear the land of the Romans. The Druids went from tribe to tribe
and from village to village stirring up men's hearts; the women,
even more deeply excited than the men at the news of the calamity,
behaved as if possessed, many going about the country calling upon
the men to take up arms, and foretelling victory to the Britons
and destruction to the Romans; even in the streets of Camalodunum
at night their voices were heard crying out curses upon the Romans
and predicting the destruction of the city.
A week after the news came, Beric, in fulfilment of the promise
he had given to Berenice, paid another visit to Camalodunum. There
were no signs in its busy streets of uneasiness or fear. The new
propraetor Catus Decianus, who commanded in the absence of Suetonius,
was holding a sort of court there, and the bearing of the Romans
seemed even more arrogant and insolent than usual. The news of
the destruction of the Druids at Mona had by them been hailed as
a final and most crushing blow to the resistance of the Britons.
Since their gods could not protect their own altars what hope
could there be for them in the future? Decianus, a haughty tyrant
who had been sent to Britain by Nero as a mark of signal favour,
in order that he might enrich himself by the spoils of the Britons,
was levying exactions at a rate hitherto unknown, treating the
people as if they were but dirt under his feet. His lieutenants,
all creatures of Nero, followed his example, and the exasperation
of the unfortunate Trinobantes, who were the chief victims, had
reached such a point that they were ready for revolt whensoever
the signal might come.
On arrival at the house of Caius Muro, Beric found Berenice at home;
she received him with joy. "I am glad that you have come, Beric;
it is so dull now that father has gone away to the war. I have been
expecting you here for the last fortnight. I suppose you have been
amusing your-self too much to give a thought to me."
"I have been very busy, Berenice. I am a chief now, and have had
much to do in the tribe. Among other things we have been having
great war with the wolves."
"Yes, you told me when you were last here that you were going to
set out next day on an expedition against them."
"They began first, as it turned out," he said smiling, "and very
nearly made a meal of me that night on my way homeward."
"Sit down and tell me all about it," she said. "You know I love
Beric recited to her the story of the fight at the hut.
"And there was a woman there! How terrible it must have been for
her to be alone with her children before you arrived, and to think
of her killing wolves with the spear. How different your women must
be from us, Beric, for we are only taught to embroider, to dress
ourselves, and to care for pretty things. Why, I should be frightened
out of my life at the sight of a wolf if I were all alone and had
no one to protect me."
"Our women are brought up differently, Berenice. We regard them as
altogether our equals, and many of our tribes are ruled by women.
My own, you know, for example. They do not go into battle with the
men; but when a camp is attacked they are ready to fight in its
defence, and being brought up to lead a vigorous life, they are well
nigh as strong as we are. Among all the Gaulish nations the women
are held in high respect. Of course with you this is so sometimes.
Your father was wont to listen to the opinions of your mother; but
you know that is not often so, and that with many Romans women are
looked upon as inferior creatures, good only for dress and pleasure,
useful in ordering a house and in managing the slaves, but unfit
to take part in public life, and knowing nothing of aught save
domestic affairs. And what has been going on here, Berenice?"
"Nothing," the girl said; "at least I have been doing nothing. I
went to the footraces the other day, and saw the propraetor, but
I don't like him. I think that he is a bad man, and I hear stories
among the ladies of his being cruel and greedy; and there have been
mad women going about at night shrieking and crying; I have heard
them several times myself. Some of the ladies said they wish that
my father was back here with his legion, for that there are but few
soldiers, and if Decianus continues to treat the people so badly
there may be trouble. What do you think, Beric?"
"I cannot say," he replied. "It seems to me that the Romans are
bent upon crushing us down altogether. They have just captured our
Holy Island, slaying the priests and priestesses, and overthrowing
the altars, while Nero's officers wring from the people the last
coin and the last animal they possess. I fear that there will be
trouble, Berenice. No men worthy of the name could see their gods
insulted and themselves despoiled of all they possess without
striking a blow in defence."
"But they will only bring more trouble upon themselves," the girl
said gravely. "I have heard my father lament that they forced us to
fight against them, though you know he held that it was our fault
more than theirs, and that if they were ruled kindly and wisely,
as were the people in Southern Gaul, where the legion was stationed
before it came over here, they would settle down and live peaceably,
and be greatly benefited by our rule."
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