Beric the Briton
G. A. Henty
Part 2 out of 8
"If you treat a man as you would a dog you must not be surprised
if he bites you," Beric said. "Some of your people not only think
that we are dogs, but that we are toothless ones. Mayhap they will
find their mistake some day."
"But you will never fight against us, Beric," the girl said anxiously,
"after living so long among us?"
"I would not fight against your father or against those who have
treated me well," he replied; "but against those who ill treat and
abuse us I would fight when my countrymen fought. Yet if I could
ever do you a service, Berenice, I would lay down my life to do
The event seemed so improbable to the girl that she passed over
the promise without comment.
"So you are a chief, Beric! But I thought chiefs wore golden
bracelets and ornaments, and you are just as you were when you came
"Because I come here only as a visitor. If I came on a mission from
the queen, or as one of a deputation of chiefs, I should wear my
ornaments. I wear them at home now, those that my father had."
Beric stayed for some hours chatting with Berenice, and his old
instructor, who had been left by Caius in charge of the household.
As he walked home he wondered over the careless security of
the Romans, and vowed that should opportunity occur he would save
Berenice from the fate that was likely to fall upon all in Camalodunum
should the Britons rise.
CHAPTER IV: AN INFURIATED PEOPLE
"A fresh misfortune has occurred," was the greeting with which
Beric's mother met him on his return home. "Prasutagus is dead; and
this is not the worst, he has left half his estates to the Roman
"To the Roman Emperor!" Beric repeated; "is it possible, mother?"
"It is true, Beric. You know he has always tried to curry favour
with the Romans, and has kept the Iceni from joining when other
tribes rose against Rome. He has thought of nothing but amassing
wealth, and in all Britain there is no man who could compare with
him in riches. Doubtless he felt that the Romans only bided their
time to seize what he had gathered, and so, in order that Boadicea
and his daughters should enjoy in peace a portion of his stores,
he has left half to Nero. The man was a fool as well as a traitor.
The peasant who throws a child out of the door to the wolves knows
that it does but whet their appetite for blood, and so it will be
in this case. I hear Prasutagus died a week since, though the news
has come but slowly, and already a horde of Roman officials have
arrived in Norfolk, and are proceeding to make inventories of the
king's possessions, and to bear themselves as insolently as if they
were masters of all. Trouble must come, and that soon. Boadicea is
of different stuff to her husband; she will not bear the insolence
of the Romans. It would have been well for the Iceni had Prasutagus
died twenty years ago and she had ruled our country."
"The gods have clearly willed, mother, that we should rise as one
people against the Romans. It may be that it was for this that they
did not defend their shrines from the impious hands of the invaders.
Nought else stirred the Britons to lay aside their jealousies and
act as one people. Now from end to end of the island all are burning
for vengeance. Just at this moment, comes the death of the Romans'
friend Prasutagus, and the passing of the rule of the Iceni into
the hands of Boadicea. With the Romans in her capital the occasion
will assuredly not long be wanting, and then there will be such a
rising as the Romans have never yet seen; and then, their purpose
effected, the gods may well fight on our side. I would that there
had been five more years in which to prepare for the struggle, but
if it must come it must. This Catus Decianus is just the man to
bring it on. Haughty, arrogant, and greedy, he knows nothing of
us, and has never faced the Britons in arms. Had Suetonius been
here he would not have acted thus with regard to the affairs of
Prasutagus. Had Caius Muro not been absent his voice might have been
raised in warning to the tyrant; but everything seems to conspire
together, mother, to bring on the crisis."
"The sooner the better," Parta exclaimed vehemently. "It is true
that in time you might teach the whole Iceni to fight in Roman
methods, but what is good for the Romans may not be good for us.
Moreover, every year that passes strengthens their hold on the
land. Their forts spring up everywhere, their cities grow apace;
every month numbers flock over here. Another five years, my son,
and their hold might be too strong to shake off."
"That is so, mother. Thinking of ourselves I thought not of them;
it may be that it were better to fight now than to wait. Well,
whenever the signal is given, and from wheresoever it comes, we
Since the news of the capture of Mona had arrived, the tribesmen
had drilled with increased alacrity and eagerness. Every man saw
that the struggle with Rome must ere long take place, and was eager
to take a leading share in the conflict. It was upon them that the
blow had fallen most heavily in the former partial rising, and they
knew that the other tribes of the Iceni held that their defence of
their camp should not have been overborne by the Romans as it was;
hence they had something of a private wrong as well as a national
one to avenge. Another fortnight was spent in constant work, until
one day the news came that Boadicea's daughters had been most
grossly insulted by the Roman officers, and that the queen herself
had started for Camalodunum to demand from Decianus a redress of
their wrongs and the punishment of the offenders. The excitement
was intense. Every man felt the outrage upon the daughters of their
queen as a personal injury, and when Beric took his place before
the men of the tribe, who were drawn up in military order, a shout
arose: "Lead us to Camalodunum! Let us take vengeance!"
"Not yet," Beric cried. "The queen has gone there; we must wait
the issue. Not until she gives the orders must we move. A rising
now would endanger her safety. We must wait, my friends, until all
are as ready as we are; when the time comes you will not find me
backward in leading you."
Three days later came news that seemed at first incredible, but
which was speedily confirmed. Decianus had received the queen, had
scoffed at her complaints, and when, fired with indignation, she
had used threats, he had ordered his soldiers to strip and scourge
her, and the sentence had actually been carried into effect. Then
the rage of the tribesmen knew no bounds, and it needed the utmost
persuasions of Parta herself to induce them to wait until news came
from the north.
"Fear not," she said, "that your vengeance will be baulked. Boadicea
will not submit to this double indignity, of that you maybe sure.
Wait until you hear from her. When measures are determined upon
in this matter the Iceni must act as one man. We are all equally
outraged in the persons of our queen and her daughters; all have
a right to a share in avenging her insults. We might spoil all
by moving before the others are ready. When we move it must be as
a mighty torrent to overwhelm the invaders. Not Camalodunum only,
but every Roman town must be laid in ruins. It must be a life
and death struggle between us and Rome; we must conquer now or be
enslaved for ever."
It was not long before messengers arrived from Boadicea, bidding
the Sarci prepare for war, and summoning Parta and her son to a
council of the chiefs of the tribe, to be held under a well known
sacred oak in the heart of the forest, near Norwich. Parta's chariot
was at once prepared, together with a second, which was to carry
Boduoc and a female attendant of Parta, and as soon as the horses
were harnessed they started. Two long days' journey brought them
to the place of meeting. The scene was a busy one. Already fully
two score of the chiefs had arrived. Parta was received with great
marks of respect. The Sarci were the tribe lying nearest to the
Romans, and upon them the brunt of the Roman anger would fall, as
it had done before; but her appearance in answer to the summons
showed, it was thought, their willingness to join in the general
action of the tribe.
Beric was looked at curiously. His four years' residence among the
Romans caused him to be regarded with a certain amount of suspicion,
which had been added to by rumours that he had been impressing
upon the tribe the greatness and power of Rome. Of late there had
been reports brought by wandering bards that the Sarci were being
practised in the same exercises as those of the Roman soldiers,
and there were many who thought that Beric, like Cogidinus, a chief
of the Regi of Sussex, had joined himself heart and soul to Rome,
and was preparing his tribe to fight side by side with the legions.
On the other hand many, knowing that Parta had lost her husband at
the hands of the Romans, and hated them with all her heart, held
that she would never have divided her power with Beric, or suffered
him to take military command of the tribe, had she not been assured
of his fidelity to the cause of Britain.
Beric was dressed in the full panoply of a chief. He wore a short
skirt or kilt reaching to his knees. Above it a loose vest or
shirt, girt in by a gold belt, while over his shoulders he wore
the British mantle, white in colour and worked with gold. Around
his neck was the torque, the emblem of chieftainship. On his left
arm he carried a small shield of beaten brass, and from a baldric
covered with gold plates hung the straight pointless British sword
that had been carried by his father in battle. Even those most
suspicious of him could not deny that he was a stalwart and well
built youth, with a full share of pith and muscle, and that his
residence among the Romans had not given him any airs of effeminacy.
The only subject of criticism was that his hair was shorter than
that of his countrymen, for although he had permitted it to grow
since he left Camalodunum, where he had worn it short, in Roman
fashion, it had not yet attained its full length.
Beric felt a stranger among the others. Since his return home there
had been no great tribal gathering, for Prasutagus had for some
time been ill, and had always discouraged such assemblages both
because they were viewed with jealousy by the Romans and because he
begrudged the expenses of entertaining. Parta, who was personally
known to almost all present, introduced Beric to them.
"My son is none the less one of the Iceni for his Roman training,"
she said; "he has learned much, but has forgotten nothing. He is
young, but you will find him a worthy companion in arms when the
day of battle comes."
"I am glad to hear what you say, Parta," Aska, one of the older
chiefs, said. "It would be unfair to impute blame to him for what
assuredly was not his fault, but I feared that they might have
taught him to despise his countrymen."
"It is not so, sir," Beric said firmly. "Happily I fell into good
hands. Caius Muro, the commander of the 12th Legion, in whose charge
I was, is a just as well as a valiant man, and had me instructed
as if I had been his own son, and I trust that I am none the less
a true Briton because I except him and his from the hatred I bear
the Romans. He never said a word to me against my countrymen, and
indeed often bewailed that we were not treated more wisely and
gently, and were not taught to regard the Romans as friends and
teachers rather than oppressors."
"Well spoken, young chief!" the other said; "ingratitude is, of
all sins, the most odious, and you do well to speak up boldly for
those who were kind to you. Among all men there are good and evil,
and we may well believe, even among the Romans, there are some who
are just and honourable. But I hear that you admire them greatly,
and that you have been telling to your tribe tales of their greatness
in war and of their virtues."
"I have done so," Beric replied. "A race could not conquer the
world as the Romans have done unless they had many virtues; but
those that I chiefly told of are the virtues that every Briton
should lay to heart. I spoke of their patriotism, of the love of
country that never failed, of the stern determination that enabled
them to pass through the gravest dangers without flinching, and to
show a dauntless face to the foe even when dangers were thickest
and the country was menaced with destruction. Above all, how in
Rome, though there might be parties and divisions, there were none
in the face of a common enemy. Then all acted as one man; there
was no rivalry save in great deeds. Each was ready to give life
and all he possessed in defence of his country. These were lessons
which I thought it well that every Briton should learn and take to
heart. Rome has conquered us so far because she has been one while
we are rent into tribes having no common union; content to sit with
our arms folded while our neighbours are crushed, not seeing that
our turn will come next. It was so when they first came in the time
of our forefathers, it has been so in these latter times; tribe
after tribe has been subdued; while, had we been all united, the
Romans would never have obtained a footing on our shore. No wonder
the gods have turned away their faces from a people so blind and
so divided when all was at stake. Yes, I have learned much from
the Romans. I have not learned to love them, but I have learned to
admire them and to regret that in many respects my own countrymen
did not resemble them."
There was a murmur of surprise among the chiefs who had by this
time gathered round, while angry exclamations broke from some of
the younger men; but Aska waved his hand.
"Beric speaks wisely and truly," he said; "our dissensions have
been our ruin. Still more, perhaps, the conduct of those who should
have led us, but who have made terms with Rome in order to secure
their own possessions. Among these Prasutagus was conspicuous, and
we ourselves were as much to blame as he was that we suffered it.
If he knows what is passing here he himself will see how great are
the misfortunes that he has brought upon his queen, his daughters,
and the tribe. Had we joined our whole forces with those of Caractacus
the Brigantes too might have risen. It took all the strength of
the Romans to conquer Caractacus alone. What could they have done
had the Brigantes and we from the north, and the whole of the
southern tribes, then unbroken, closed down upon them? It is but
yesterday since Prasutagus was buried. The grass has not yet begun
to shoot upon his funeral mound and yet his estates have been seized
by the Romans, while his wife and daughters have been insulted
"The young chief of the Sarci has profited by his sojourn among
the Romans. The Druids have told me that the priest who has visited
the Sarci prophesies great things of him, and for that reason
decided that, young as he was, he should share his mother's power
and take his place as leader of the tribe in battle, and that
he foresaw that, should time be given him to ripen his wisdom and
establish his authority, he might some day become a British champion
as powerful as Cunobeline, as valiant as Caractacus. These were
the words of one of the wisest of the Druids. They have been passed
round among the Druids, and even now throughout Britain there are
many who never so much as heard of the name of the Sarci, who yet
believe that, in this young chief of that tribe, will some day be
found a mighty champion of his country. Prasutagus knew this also,
for as soon as Beric returned from Camalodunum he begged the Druids
to find out whether good or evil was to be looked for from this
youth, who had been brought up among the Romans, and their report
to him tallied with that which I myself heard from them. It was for
that reason that Boadicea sent for him with his mother, although
so much younger than any here, and belonging to a tribe that is
but a small one among the Iceni. I asked these questions of him,
knowing that among some of you there were doubts whether his stay
with the Romans had not rendered him less a Briton. He answered as
I expected from him, boldly and fearlessly, and, as you have heard
wisely, and I for one believe in the predictions of the Druids.
But here comes the queen."
As he spoke a number of chariots issued from the path through the
forest into the circular clearing, in the centre of which stood
the majestic oak, and at the same moment, from the opposite side,
appeared a procession of white robed Druids singing a loud chant.
As the chariots drew up, the queen and her two daughters alighted
from them, with a number of chiefs of importance from the branches
of the tribe near her capital. Beric had never seen her before,
and was struck with her aspect. She was a tall and stately woman,
large in her proportions, with her yellow hair falling below her
waist. She wore no ornaments or insignia of her high rank; her dress
and those of her daughters were careless and disordered, indicative
of mourning and grief, but the expression of her face was that of
indignation and passion rather than of humiliation.
Upon alighting she acknowledged the greeting of the assembled chiefs
with a slight gesture, and then remained standing with her eyes
fixed upon the advancing Druids. When these reached the sacred tree
they encircled it seven times, still continuing their chanting, and
then ranged themselves up under its branches with the chief Druid
standing in front. They had already been consulted privately by
the queen and had declared for war; but it was necessary that the
decision should be pronounced solemnly beneath the shade of the
"Why come you here, woman?" the chief priest asked, addressing the
"I come as a supplicant to the gods," she said; "as an outraged
queen, a dishonoured woman, and a broken hearted mother, and in each
of these capacities I call upon my country's gods for vengeance."
Then in passionate words she poured out the story of the indignities
that she and her daughters had suffered, and suddenly loosening
her garment, and suffering it to drop to her waist, she turned
and showed the marks of the Roman rods across her back, the sight
eliciting a shout of fury from the chiefs around her.
"Let all retire to the woods," the Druids said, "and see that no
eye profanes our mysteries. When the gods have answered we will
The queen, followed by all the chiefs, retired at once to the
forest, while the Druids proceeded to carry out the sacred mysteries.
Although all knew well what the decision would be, they waited with
suppressed excitement the summons to return and hear the decision
that was to embark them in a desperate struggle with Rome. Some threw
themselves down under the trees, some walked up and down together
discussing in low tones the prospects of a struggle, and the question
what tribes would join it. The queen and her daughters sat apart,
none venturing to approach them. Parta and three other female chiefs
sat a short distance away talking together, while two or three of
the younger chiefs, their attitude towards Beric entirely altered
by the report of the Druids' predictions concerning him, gathered
round him and asked questions concerning the Romans' methods of
fighting, their arms and power. An hour after they had retired a
deep sound of a conch rose in the air. The queen and her daughters
at once moved forward, followed by the four female chiefs, behind
whom came the rest in a body. Issuing from the forest they advanced
to the sacred oak and stood in an attitude of deep respect, while
the chief Druid announced the decision of the gods.
"The gods have spoken," he said. "Too long have the Iceni stood
aloof from their countrymen, therefore have the gods withdrawn
their faces from them; therefore has punishment and woe fallen upon
them. Prasutagus is dead; his queen and his daughters have suffered
the direst indignities; a Roman has seized the wealth heaped up
by inglorious cowardice. But the moment has come; the gods have
suffered their own altars to be desecrated in order that over the
whole length and breadth of the land the cry for vengeance shall
arise simultaneously. The cup is full; vengeance is at hand upon
the oppressors and tyrants, the land reeks with British blood. Not
content with grasping our possessions, our lives and the honour
of our women are held as nought by them, our altars are cold, our
priests slaughtered. The hour of vengeance is at hand. I see the
smoke of burning cities ascending in the air. I hear the groans of
countless victims to British vengeance. I see broken legions and
"To arms! the gods have spoken. Strike for vengeance. Strike for
the gods. Strike for your country and outraged queen. Chiefs of
the Iceni, to arms! May the curse of the gods fall upon an enemy
who draws back in the day of battle! May the gods give strength to
your arms and render you invincible in battle! The gods have spoken."
A mighty shout was raised by his hearers; swords were brandished,
and spears shaken, and the cry "To arms! the gods have spoken,"
was repeated unanimously. As the Druids closed round their chief,
who had been seized with strong convulsions as soon as he had uttered
the message of the gods, Boadicea turned to the chiefs and raised
her arm for silence.
"I am a queen again; I reign once more over a race of men. No
longer do I feel the smart of my stripes, for each shall ere long
be washed out in Roman blood; but before action, counsel, and before
counsel, food, for you have, many of you, come from afar. I have
ordered a feast to be prepared in the forest."
She led the way across the opposite side of the glade, where,
a few hundred yards in the forest, a number of the queen's slaves
had prepared a feast of roasted sheep, pig, and ox, with bread and
jars of drink formed of fermented honey, and a sort of beer. As
soon as the meal was concluded the queen called the chiefs round
her, and the assembly was joined by the Druids.
"War is declared," she said; "the question is shall we commence at
once, or shall we wait?"
There was a general response "At once!" but the chief Druid stepped
forward and said: "My sons, we must not risk the ruin of all by
undue haste; this must be a national movement if it is to succeed.
For a fortnight we must keep quiet, preparing everything for war,
so that we may take the field with every man capable of bearing
arms in the tribe. In the meantime we, with the aid of the bards,
will spread the news of the outrages that the Romans have committed
upon the queen and her daughters far and wide over the land. Already
the tribes are burning with indignation at the insults to our gods
and the slaughter of our priests at Mona, and this news will arouse
them to madness, for what is done here today may be done elsewhere
tomorrow, and all men will see that only in the total destruction
of the Romans is there a hope of freedom. All will be bidden to
prepare for war, and, when the news comes that the Iceni have taken
up arms, to assemble and march to join us. On this day fortnight,
then, let every chief with his following meet at Cardun, which
is but a short march from Camalodunum. Then we will rush upon the
Roman city, the scene of the outrage to your queen, and its smoke
shall tell Britain that she is avenged, and Rome that her day of
oppression is over."
The decision was received with satisfaction. A fortnight was none
too long for making preparations, assembling the tribesmen, and
marching to the appointed spot.
"One thing I claim," Boadicea said, "and that is the right to fall
upon and destroy instantly the Romans who installed themselves in
my capital, and who are the authors of the outrages upon my daughters.
So long as they live and lord it there I cannot return."
"That is right and just," the Druid said. "Slay all but ten, and
hand them over bound to us to be sacrificed on the altars of the
gods they have insulted."
"I will undertake that task, as my tribe lies nearest the capital,"
one of the chiefs said. "I will assemble them tonight and fall upon
the Romans at daybreak."
"See that none escape," the Druid said. "Kill them and all their slaves
and followers. Let not one live to carry the news to Camalodunum."
"I shall be at the meeting place and march at your head," the queen
said to the chiefs; "that victory will be ours I do not doubt;
but if the gods will it otherwise I swear that I shall not survive
defeat. Ye gods, hear my vow."
The council was now over, and the queen mingled with the chiefs,
saying a few words to each. Beric was presented to her by his mother,
and Boadicea was particularly gracious to him. "I have heard great
things predicted of you, Beric. The gods have marked you out for
favour, and their priests tell me that you will be one day a great
champion of the Britons. So may it be. I shall watch you on the
day of battle, and am assured that none among the Iceni will bear
themselves more worthily."
An hour later the meeting broke up, and Parta and Beric returned
to Cardun, where they at once began to make preparations for the
approaching conflict. Every man in the tribe was summoned to attend,
and the exercises went on from daybreak till dusk, while the women
cooked and waited upon the men. Councils were held nightly in the
hall, and to each of the chiefs was assigned a special duty, the
whole tribe being treated as a legion, and every chief and fighting
man having his place and duty assigned to him.
In Camalodunum, although nothing was known of the preparations
that were being made, a feeling of great uneasiness prevailed. The
treatment of Boadicea had excited grave disapproval upon the part
of the great majority of the inhabitants, although new arrivals
from Gaul or Rome and the officials in the suite of Decianus lauded
his action as an act of excellent policy.
"These British slaves must be taught to feel the weight of our arm,"
they said, "and a lesson such as this will be most useful. Is it
for dogs like these to complain because they are whipped? They must
be taught to know that they live but at our pleasure; that this
island and all it contains is ours. They have no rights save those
we choose to give them."
But the older settlers viewed the matter very differently. They
knew well enough that it was only after hard fighting that Vespasian
had subdued the south, and Ostorius crushed Caractacus. They knew,
too, that the Iceni gave but a nominal submission to Rome, and
that the Trinobantes, crushed as they were, had been driven to the
verge of madness by extortion. Moreover the legions were far away;
Camalodunum was well nigh undefended, and lay almost at the mercy
of the Britons should they attack. They, therefore, denounced the
treatment of Boadicea as not only brutal but as impolitic in the
The sudden cessation of news from the officials who had gone to
take possession of the estate of Prasutagus caused considerable
uneasiness among this section of the inhabitants of Camalodunum.
Messengers were sent off every day to inquire as to what had taken
place after the return of Boadicea, but none came back. The feeling
of uneasiness was heightened by the attitude of the natives. Reports
came in from all parts of the district that they had changed their
attitude, that they no longer crouched at the sight of a Roman but
bore themselves defiantly, that there were meetings at night in the
forest, and that the women sang chants and performed dances which
had evidently some hidden meaning.
Decianus, conscious perhaps that his action was strongly disapproved
by all the principal inhabitants of the town, and that, perhaps,
Suetonius would also view it in the same light when it was reported
to him, had left the city a few days after the occurrence and had
gone to Verulamium. His absence permitted the general feeling of
apprehension and discontentment more open expression than it would
otherwise have had. Brave as the Romans were, they were deeply
superstitious, and a thrill of horror and apprehension ran through
the city when it was reported one morning that the statute of Victory
in the temple had fallen to the ground, and had turned round as if
it fled towards the sea. This presage of evil created a profound
"What do you think of it, Cneius?" Berenice asked; "it is terrible,
is it not? Nothing else is spoken of among all the ladies I have
seen today, and all agree it forbodes some terrible evil."
"It may, or it may not," the old scribe said cautiously; "if the
statue has fallen by the action of the gods the omen is surely a
most evil one."
"But how else could it have fallen, Cneius?"
"Well, my dear, there are many Britons in the town, and you know
they are in a very excited state; their women, indeed, seem to
have gone well nigh mad with their midnight singing and wailing.
It is possible--mind, I do not for a moment say that it is so,
for were the suggestion to occur to the citizens it would lead to
fresh oppressions and cruelties against the Britons--but it is
just possible that some of them may have entered the temple at night
and overthrown Victory's image as an act of defiance. You know how
the women nightly shriek out their prophecies of the destruction
of this town."
"But could they destroy it, Cneius? Surely they would never dare
to attack a great Roman city like this!"
"I don't know whether they dare or not, Berenice, but assuredly
Decianus is doing all in his power to excite them to such a pitch
of despair that they might dare do anything; and if they dare,
I see nothing whatever to prevent them from taking the city. The
works erected after Claudius first founded the colony are so vast
that they would require an army to defend them, while there are but
a few hundred soldiers here. What could they do against a horde of
barbarians? I would that your father were back, and also the two
legions who marched away to join Suetonius. Before they went they
ought to have erected a central fort here, to which all could retire
in case of danger, and hold out until Suetonius came back to our
assistance; but you see, when they went away none could have foreseen
what has since taken place. No one could have dreamt that Decianus
would have wantonly stirred up the Iceni to revolt."
"But you don't think they have revolted?"
"I know nothing of it, Berenice, but I can put two and two together.
We have heard nothing for a week from the officials who went to
seize the possessions of Prasutagus. How is it that none of our
messengers have returned? It seems to me almost certain that these
men have paid for their conduct to the daughters of Boadicea with
"But Beric is with the Iceni. Surely we should hear from him if
"He is with them," Cneius said, "but he is a chief, and if the
tribe are in arms he is in arms also, and cannot, without risking
the forfeit of his life for treachery, send hither a message that
would put us on our guard. I believe in the lad. Four years I
taught him, and I think I know his nature. He is honest and true.
He is one of the Iceni and must go with his countrymen; but I am
sure he is grateful for the kindness he received here, and has a
real affection for you, therefore I believe, that should my worst
fears be verified, and the Iceni attack Camalodunum, he will do
his utmost to save you."
"But they will not kill women and girls surely, even if they did
take the city?"
"I fear that they will show slight mercy to any, Berenice; why
should they? We have shown no mercy to them; we have slaughtered
their priests and priestesses, and at the storm of their towns
have put all to death without distinction of age or sex. If we, a
civilized people, thus make war, what can you expect from the men
upon whom we have inflicted such countless injuries?"
The fall of the statue of Victory was succeeded by other occurrences
in which the awestruck inhabitants read augury of evil. It was
reported that strange noises had been heard in the council house
and theatre, while men out in boats brought back the tale that
there was the appearance of a sunken town below the water. It was
currently believed that the sea had assumed the colour of blood,
and that there were, when the tide went out, marks upon the sand
as if dead bodies had been lying there. Even the boldest veterans
were dismayed at this accumulation of hostile auguries. A council
of the principal citizens was held, and an urgent message despatched
to Decianus, praying that he would take instance measures for the
protection of the city. In reply to this he despatched two hundred
soldiers from Verulamium, and these with the small body of troops
already in the city took possession of the Temple of Claudius, and
began to make preparations for putting it into a state of defence.
Still no message had come from Norwich, but night after night the
British women declared that the people of Camalodunum would suffer
the same fate that had already overwhelmed those who had ventured
to insult the daughters of the queen of the Iceni. A strange terror
had now seized the inhabitants of the town. The apprehension of
danger weighted upon all, and the peril seemed all the more terrible
inasmuch as it was so vague. Nothing was known for certain. No
message had come from the Iceni since the queen quitted the town,
and yet it was felt that among the dark woods stretching north a
host of foes was gathering, and might at any moment pour down upon
the city. Orders were issued that at the approach of danger all
who could do so were to betake themselves at once to the temple,
which was to act as a citadel, yet no really effective measures
were taken. There was, indeed, a vague talk of sending the women and
children and valuables away to the legion, commanded by Cerealis,
stationed in a fortified camp to the south, but nothing came of
it; all waited for something definite, some notification that the
Britons had really revolted, and while waiting for this nothing
One evening a slave brought in a small roll of vellum to Cneius.
It had been given him at the door, he said, by a Briton, who had
at once left after placing it in his hands. The scribe opened it
and read as follows:--
"To Cneius Nepo, greeting--Obtain British garb for yourself and
Berenice. Let her apparel be that of a boy. Should anything unusual
occur by night or day, do you and she disguise yourselves quickly,
and stir not beyond the house. It will be best for you to wait in
the tablinum; lose no time in carrying out this instruction."
There was no signature, nor was any needed.
"So the storm is about to burst," Cneius said thoughtfully when
he had read it. "I thought so. I was sure that if the Britons had
a spark of manhood left in them they would avenge the cruel wrongs
of their queen. I am rejoiced to read Beric's words, and to see
that he has, as I felt sure he had, a grateful heart. He would
save us from the fate that he clearly thinks is about to overwhelm
this place. The omens have not lied then--not that I believe in
them; they are for the most part the offspring of men's fancy, but
at any rate they will come true this time. I care little for myself,
but I must do as he bids me for the sake of the girl. I doubt, though
whether Beric can save her. These people have terrible wrongs to
avenge, and at their first outburst will spare none. Well, I must
do my best, and late as it is I will go out and purchase these
garments. It is not likely that the danger will come tonight, for
he would have given us longer notice. Still he may have had no
opportunity, and may not have known until the last moment when the
attack was to take place. He says 'lose no time.'"
Cneius at once went to one of the traders who dealt with the natives
who came into the town, and procured the garments for himself and
Berenice. The trader, who knew him by sight, remarked, "Have you
been purchasing more slaves?"
"No, but I have need for dresses for two persons who have done me
"I should have thought," the trader said, "they would have preferred
lighter colours. These cloths are sombre, and the natives, although
their own cloths are for the most part dark, prefer, when they buy
of me, brighter colours."
"These will do very well," Cneius said, "just at present Roman
colours and cloths are not likely to be in demand among them."
"No, the times are bad," the trader said; "there has been scarce
a native in my shop for the last ten days, and even among the
townspeople there has been little buying or selling."
Cneius returned to the house, a slave carrying his purchases behind
him. On reaching home he took the parcel from him, and carried it
to his own cubicule, and then ordered a slave to beg Berenice to
come down from her apartment as he desired to speak with her.
CHAPTER V: THE SACK OF CAMALODUNUM
Upon the morning of the day fixed for the gathering of the Iceni
preparations were begun early at Cardun. Oxen and swine were
slaughtered, great fires made, and the women in the village were
all employed in making and baking oaten cakes upon the hearth. For
some days many of them had been employed in making a great store
of fermented honey and water. Men began to flock in from an early
hour, and by midday every male of the Sarci capable of bearing
arms had come in. Each brought with him a supply of cooked meat and
cakes sufficient to last for three or four days. In the afternoon
the tribes began to pour in, each tribe under its chiefs. There
was no attempt at order or regularity; they came trooping in in
masses, the chiefs sometimes in chariots sometimes on horseback,
riding at their head. Parta welcomed them, and food was served out
to the men while the chiefs were entertained in the hall. Beric,
looking at the wild figures, rough and uncouth but powerful and
massive in frame, was filled with regret that these men knew nothing
of discipline, and that circumstances had forced on the war so
The contrast between these wild figures and the disciplined
veterans of Rome, whom he had so often watched as they performed
their exercises, was striking indeed. Far inferior in height and
muscular power to the tribesmen, the legionaries bore themselves
with a proud consciousness in their fighting power that alone went
a long way towards giving them victory. Each man trusted not only
in himself, but on his fellows, and believed that the legion to
which he belonged was invincible. Their regular arms, their broad
shields and helmets, all added to their appearance, while their
massive formation, as they stood shoulder to shoulder, shield
touching shield, seemed as if it could defy the utmost efforts of
undisciplined valour. However, Beric thought with pride that his own
tribe, the sixteen hundred men he had for six weeks been training
incessantly, would be a match even for the Roman veterans. Their
inferiority in the discipline that was carried to such perfection
among the Romans would be atoned for by their superior strength
and activity. His only fear was, that in the excitement of battle
they would forget their teaching, and, breaking their ranks, fight
every man for himself. He had, however, spared no pains in impressing
upon them that to do this would be to throw away all that they had
"I have not taught you to fight in Roman fashion," he said, "merely
that you might march in regular order and astonish the other
tribesmen, but that you should be cool and collected, should be
able patiently to stand the shock of the Roman legion, and to fight,
not as scattered units, but as a solid whole. You will do well to
bear this in mind, for to those who disobey orders and break the
line when engaged with the foe I will show no mercy. My orders
will be given to each sergeant of ten men to run a spear through
any man who stirs from his post, whether in advance or in retreat,
whether to slay or to plunder. The time may come when the safety
of the whole army depends upon your standing like a wall between
them and the Romans, and the man who advances from his place in the
ranks will, as much as the man who retreats, endanger the safety
Over and over again had he impressed this lesson upon them. Sometimes
he had divided them in two parts, and engaged in mimic fight. The
larger half, representing the tribesmen, advanced in their ordinary
fashion with loud shouts and cries, while the smaller section
maintained their solid formation, and with levelled spears, five
deep, waited the attack. Even those who were least impressed with
the advantages of the exercises through which they had been going,
could not but feel how immensely superior was the solid order, and
how impossible would it have been for assailants to burst through
the hedge of pointed weapons.
By sunset well nigh thirty thousand men had arrived, each subtribe
passing through the village and taking up its post on the slopes
around it, where they were at once supplied with food by the women.
With the fighting men were large numbers of women, for these
generally accompanied the Britons on their warlike expeditions.
Just at sunset a shout arose from the tribesmen on the north side
of the village, and Boadicea, with her daughters and chief councillors,
drove into the village. Her mien was proud and lofty. She carried
a spear in her hand and a sword in her girdle. She had resumed
her royal ornaments, and a fillet of gold surrounded her head. Her
garments were belted in with a broad girdle of the same metal, and
she wore heavy gold armlets and bracelets. She looked with pride
upon the tribesmen who thronged shouting to greet her, and exclaimed
as she leapt from her chariot, "The day of vengeance is at hand."
The fires blazed high all that night round Cardun. Numbers of
bards had accompanied the tribes, as not only had those who lived
in the households of the principal chiefs come in, but many had
been attracted from the country lying near their borders. At every
fire, therefore, songs were sung and tales told of the valour and
glory of the heroes of old. Mingled with these were laments over
the evil days that had befallen Britain, and exhortations to their
hearers to avenge the past and prove themselves worthy of their
In similar manner the night was passed in Parta's hall. Here the
chief bards were assembled, with all the tribal leaders, and vied
with each other in their stirring chants. Beric moved about among
the guests, seeing that their wants were supplied, while Parta
herself looked after those who were gathered on the dais. Beric
learned from the old chief Aska, who had first spoken to him on the
day of their arrival at the sacred oak, that all Britain was ripe
for the rising, and that messengers had been received not only from
the Brigantes, but from many of the southern and western tribes,
with assurances that they would rise as soon as they heard that
the Iceni had struck the first blow.
"The Trinobantes will join us at Camalodunum. All goes well.
Suetonius, with the legions, is still in the far west. We shall
make an end of them here before he can return. By that time we shall
have been joined by most of the tribes, and shall have a force that
will be sufficient to destroy utterly the army he is leading. That
done, there will be but the isolated forts to capture and destroy,
and then Britain will be free from the invader. You think this will
be so, Beric?"
"I hope and trust so," Beric replied. "I think that success in
our first undertakings is a certainty, and I trust we may defeat
Suetonius. With such numbers as we shall put in the field we ought
surely to be able to do so. It is not of the present I think so
much as of the future. Rome never submits to defeat, and will send
an army here to which that of Suetonius would be but a handful.
But if we remain united, and utilize the months that must elapse
before the Romans can arrive in preparing for the conflict, we
ought to be victorious."
"You feel sure that the Romans will try to reconquer Britain?"
"Quite sure. In all their history there is not an instance where
they have submitted to defeat. This is one of the main reasons of
their success. I am certain that, at whatever sacrifices, they will
equip and send out an army that they will believe powerful enough
for the purpose."
"But they were many years after their first invasion before they
"That is true; but in those first two invasions they did not conquer.
In the first they were forced to retire, and therefore came again;
in the second they had success enough to be able to claim a victory
and so to retire with honour. Besides, Rome is vastly stronger and
more powerful now than she was then. Believe me, Aska, the struggle
will be but begun when we have driven the last Roman from the
"We must talk of this again," Aska said, "as it is upon us that the
brunt of this struggle will fall. We shall have the chief voice and
influence after it is over, and Boadicea will stand in the place
that Cunobeline held, of chief king of the island. Then, as you
say, much will depend on the steps we take to prepare to resist the
next invasion; and young as you are, your knowledge of Roman ways
will render your counsels valuable, and give great weight to your
"I do not wish to put myself in any way in the foreground," Beric
said. "I am still but a boy, and have no wish to raise my voice
in the council of chiefs; but what I have learned of Roman history
and Roman laws I would gladly explain to those who, like yourself,
speak with the voice of authority, and whose wisdom all recognize."
In the morning Boadicea said that reports had been brought to her
of the manner in which Beric had been teaching the Sarci to fight
in Roman fashion, and that she should be glad to see the result.
Accordingly the tribesmen proceeded to the open fields a mile away,
where they had been accustomed to drill, and they were followed by
the whole of those gathered round the village. The queen and Parta
drove out in their chariots. When they reached the spot the chiefs
of the other tribes, at Beric's request, called upon their men to
draw off and leave a space sufficient for the exercises. This left
the Sarci standing in scattered groups over the open space, at one
end of which Boadicea and all the chiefs were gathered.
"They are now in the position, queen," Beric said, "of men unsuspecting
danger. I shall now warn them that they are about to be attacked,
and that they are to gather instantly to repel the enemy."
Taking the conch slung over his shoulder Beric applied it to his
lips and blew three short notes. The tribesmen ran together; there
was, as it seemed to the lookers on, a scene of wild confusion for
a minute, and then they were drawn up in companies, each a hundred
strong, in regular order. A short blast and a long one, and they
moved up together into a mass five deep; a single note, and the
spears fell, and an array of glistening points shone in front of
A shout of surprise and approval rose from the tribesmen looking on.
To them this perfect order and regularity seemed well nigh miraculous.
Beric now advanced to the line. At his order the two rear ranks
stepped backwards a few feet, struck their spears in the ground,
and then discharged their javelins--of which each man carried six
--over the heads of the ranks in front, against the enemy supposed
to be advancing to attack them. Then seizing their spears they
fell into line again, and at another order the whole advanced at a
quick pace with levelled spears to the charge, and keeping on till
within a few paces of where the queen was standing, halted suddenly
and raised their spears. Again a roar of applause came from the
"It is wonderful," the queen said. "I had not thought that men could
be taught so to move together; and that is how the Romans fight,
"It is, queen," Beric said. "The exercises are exactly similar to
those of the Romans. I learnt them by heart when I was among them,
and the orders are exactly the same as those given in the legions
--only, of course, they are performed by trained soldiers more
perfectly than we can as yet do them. It is but two months since
we began, and the Romans have practised them for years. Had I time
you would have seen them much more perfect than at present."
"You have performed marvels," she said. "I wish that you had had
more time, and that all the Iceni, and not the Sarci only could
have thus learned to meet the enemy. Do you not think so, chiefs?"
"It is wonderful," one of the chiefs said; "but I think that it is
not so terrifying to a foe as the rush of our own men. It is better
for resistance, but not so good for attack. Still it has great
merits; but I think it more suited for men who fight deliberately,
like the Romans, than for our own tribesmen, who are wont to rely
for victory each upon his own strength and valour."
"What say you, Beric?" the queen asked.
"It would be presumptuous for me to give my opinion against that
of a great chief," Beric said quietly; "But, so far, strength and
valour have not in themselves succeeded. The men of Caractacus
had both, but they were unavailing against the solid Roman line.
We have never yet won a great victory over the Romans, and yet we
have fought against them valiantly. None can say that a Briton is
not as brave and as strong as a Roman. In our battles we have always
outnumbered them. If we have been beaten, therefore, it has been
surely because the Roman method of fighting is superior to our
There was a murmur of assent from several of the chiefs.
"Beric's argument is a strong one," the queen said to the one who
had spoken; "and I would that all the Iceni had learnt to fight in
this fashion. However, we shall have opportunities of seeing which
is right before we have finished with the Romans. March your men
back again, Beric."
Beric sounded his horn, and the line, facing half round, became
a column, and marched in regular order back to the village. The
morning meal was now taken, and at midday the march began. Boadicea
with her daughters, Parta and other women of rank, went first in
their chariots; and the Sarci, who, as lying next to the enemy's
country, were allowed the post of honour, followed in column
behind her, while the rest of the tribesmen made their way in a
miscellaneous crowd through the forest. They halted among the trees
at a distance of four miles from Camalodunum, and then rested, for
the attack was not to take place until daybreak on the next morning.
Late that evening two or three women of the Trinobantes came out,
in accordance with a preconcerted arrangement, to tell them that
there was no suspicion at Camalodunum of the impending danger; and
that, although there was great uneasiness among the inhabitants, no
measures for defence had been taken, and that even the precaution
of sending away the women and children had not been adopted.
No fires had been lighted; the men slept in the open air, simply
wrapping themselves in their mantles and lying down under the trees.
Beric had a long talk with Boduoc and ten of the tribesmen of the
"You understand," Beric said at last, "that if, as I expect, the
surprise will be complete and no regular resistance be offered,
I shall sound my horn and give the signal for the tribe to break
ranks and scatter. You ten men will, however, keep together, and
at once follow Boduoc and myself. As soon as we enter the house to
which I shall lead you, you will surround the two persons I shall
place in your charge, and will conduct them to the spot where the
chariot will be waiting. You will defend them, if necessary, with
your lives, should any disobey my order to let you pass through
with them. As soon as they are placed in the chariot you will be
free to join in the sack, and if you should be losers by the delay,
I will myself make up your share to that of your comrades. You are
sure, Boduoc, that all the other arrangements are perfect?"
"Everything is arranged," Boduoc said. "My brother, who drives the
chariot that brought your mother's attendants, quite understands
that he is to follow as soon as we move off, and keeping a short
way behind us is to stop in front of the last house outside the
gate until we come. As soon as he has taken them up he will drive
off and give them into the charge of our mother, who has promised
you to have everything in readiness for them; the skins for beds,
drinking vessels, food, and everything else necessary was taken
there two days ago. My sisters will see to the comfort of the young
lady, and you can rely upon my mother to carry out all the orders
you have given her. Our hut lies so deeply in the forest that there
is little chance of anyone going near it, especially as the whole
of the men of the tribe are away."
Two hours before daylight the Iceni moved forward. They were to
attack at a number of different points, and each chief had had his
position allotted to him. The Sarci were to move directly against
the northern gate and would form the centre of the attack. Each
man, by Beric's order, carried a faggot so that these could be piled
against the wall by the gate and enable them to effect an entrance
without the delay that would be incurred in breaking down the
massive gates. They passed quietly through the cultivated fields,
and past the houses scattered about outside the walls, whose
inhabitants had withdrawn into the city since the alarm spread.
They halted at a short distance from the gate, for sentries would
be on guard there, and remained for nearly an hour, as many of the
other tribesmen had a considerably longer distance to go to reach
their appointed stations. A faint light was beginning to steal
over the sky when, far away on their right, a horn sounded. It was
repeated again and again, each time nearer, and ran along far to
the left; then, raising their war cry, the Sarci dashed forward to
The shouts of the sentinels on the walls had arisen as soon as
the first horn sounded, and had scarcely died away when the Sarci
reached the gate. Each man as he arrived threw down his faggot, and
the pile soon reached the top of the wall. Then Beric led the way
up and stood on the Roman work. The sentries, seeing the hopelessness
of resistance, had already fled, and the Sarci poured in. A confused
clamour of shouts and cries rose from the town, above which sounded
the yells of the exulting Iceni. Beric gave the signal for the Sarci
to scatter, and the tribesmen at once began to attack the houses.
Placing himself at the head of Boduoc's chosen party, Beric ran
forward. Already from some of the houses armed men were pouring
out, but disregarding these Beric pressed on until he reached the
house of Caius Muro. His reason for haste was that, standing rather
on the other side of the town, it was nearer the point assailed
by one of the other divisions of the tribe than to the north gate,
and he feared that others might arrive there before him. Reaching
the door he beat upon it with the handle of his sword.
"Open, Cneius," he shouted, "it is I, Beric."
The door was opened at once, and he ran forward into the atrium,
which was filled with frightened slaves, who burst into cries of
terror as, followed by his men, he entered. "Where are you, Cneius?"
"I am here," the scribe replied from his cubicule, "I will be with
you in a moment; it is but a minute since we were awoke by the
"Be quick!" Beric said, "there is not a moment to be lost.
"Run up to the women's apartments," he said to a slave, "and tell
your mistress to hurry down, for that every minute is precious."
Almost immediately Berenice came down the stairs in her disguise as
a British boy, and at the same moment Cneius issued from his room.
"Come, Berenice," Beric said, "there is not a moment to be lost;
the town is in our hands, and if others of the tribe arrive I might
not be able to save you."
Hurrying them from the house he ordered the men to close round them,
and then started on his way back. A terrible din was going on all
round; yells, shouts, and screams arising from every house. Flames
were bursting up at a dozen points. To his great satisfaction Beric
reached the point where the Sarci were at work, breaking into the
houses, before he encountered any of the other Iceni. The men were
too busy to pay any attention to the little group of their own
tribesmen; passing through these they were soon at the gate. It
already stood open, the bolts having been drawn by those who first
entered. Fifty yards from the wall stood the chariot.
"Now you can leave us," Beric said to his followers, "I will rejoin
Berenice was crying bitterly, horror stricken at the sounds she had
heard, though happily she had seen nothing, being closely shut in
by the tall forms of her guard.
"Thanks be to the gods that I have saved you, Berenice," Beric said,
"and you also, Cneius! Now I must commit you to the care of the
driver of the chariot, who is one of my tribesmen. He will take you
to a retreat where you will, I trust, be in perfect safety until
the troubles are over. His mother has promised to do all in her
power for your comfort. You will find one of our huts but a rough
abode, but it will at least be a shelter."
"Cannot you come with us, Beric?" the girl sobbed.
"That I cannot do, Berenice. I am a Briton and a chief, and I must
be with my tribe. And now I must away. Farewell, Berenice! may your
gods and mine watch over you! Farewell, my kind teacher!"
He took off the torque, the collar formed of a number of small metal
cords interlaced with each other, the emblem of rank and command,
and handed it to the driver. "You will show this, Runoc, to any
you meet, for it may be that you will find parties of late comers
on the road. This will be a proof that you are journeying on my
business and under my orders. Do not stop and let them question
you, but drive quickly along, and if they should shout and bid
you stop, hold up the torque and shout, 'I travel at speed by my
"Do you both sit down in the chariot," he said to the others. "Then
as you journey rapidly along it will be supposed that you are either
wounded or messengers of importance. Farewell!"
Cneius and the girl had already mounted the chariot, and the driver
now gave the horses rein and started at full speed. Beric turned and
re-entered the town slowly. In those days pity for the vanquished
was a sentiment but little comprehended, and he had certainly not
learned it among the Romans, who frequently massacred their prisoners
wholesale. Woe to the vanquished! was almost a maxim with them. But
Beric shrank from witnessing the scene, now that the tables were
turned upon the oppressors. Nationally he hated the Romans, but
individually he had no feeling against them, and had he had the
power he would at once have arrested the effusion of blood. He
wished to drive them from the kingdom, not to massacre them; but
he knew well that he had no power whatever in such a matter. Even
his own tribesmen would not have stayed their hand at his command.
To slay a Roman was to them a far more meritorious action than to
slay a wolf, and any one who urged mercy would have been regarded
not only as a weakling but as a traitor.
Already the work was well nigh done. Pouring in on all sides
into the city the Iceni had burst into the houses and slain their
occupants whether they resisted or not. A few men here and there
sold their lives dearly, but the great majority had been too panic
stricken with the sudden danger to attempt the slightest resistance.
Some of the inhabitants whose houses were near the temple had fled
thither for refuge before the assailants reached them, but in half
an hour from the striking of the first blow these and the troops
there were the sole survivors of the population of Camalodunum.
For the present the temple was disregarded. It was known that the
garrison did not exceed four hundred men, and there was no fear of
so small a body assuming the offensive.
The work of destruction had commenced. There was but little plundering,
for the Britons despised the Roman luxuries, of the greater part
of which they did not even comprehend the use. They were Roman,
and therefore to be hated as well as despised. Save, therefore,
weapons, which were highly prized, and gold ornaments, which were
taken as trinkets for the women at home, nothing was saved. As the
defenders of each house were slain, fire was applied to hangings
and curtains, and then the assailants hurried away in search of
fresh victims. Thus the work of destruction proceeded concurrently
with that of massacre, and as the sun rose vast columns of smoke
mounting upwards conveyed the news to the women of the Iceni and
Trinobantes for a circle of many miles round, that the attack had
been successful, and that Camalodunum, the seat of their oppressors,
was in flames. Beric, as he made his way towards the centre of the
town, sighed as he passed the shop where two months before he had
stopped a moment to look at the rolls of vellum.
The destruction of the monuments of Roman luxury; the houses with
their costly contents; and even the Palace of Cunobeline, which
had been converted into the residence of the Roman governor, had
not affected him; but he mourned over the loss of the precious
manuscripts which had contained such a wealth of stored up learning.
Already the house was wrapped in flames, which were rushing from
the windows, and the prize which he had looked upon as his own
special share of the plunder had escaped him.
At the edge of the broad open space that surrounded the Temple of
Claudius the Britons were gathering thickly. Beric applied his horn
to his lips, and in a few minutes the Sarci gathered round him.
Bidding them stand in order he moved away to see what disposition
was being made for the attack on the temple, but at present all
were too excited with their success for any to assume the lead or
give orders. At the first rush parties of the Britons had made for
the temple, but had been received with showers of darts and stones,
and had been met on the steps by the Roman soldiers and roughly
repulsed. Walking round he came upon the chariot of Boadicea. The
queen was flushed with excitement and gratified vengeance, and was
shaking her spear menacingly towards the temple; her eye presently
fell upon Beric.
"The work has begun well, my young chief, but we have still to crush
the wolves in their den. It is a strong place, with its massive
walls unpierced save by the doorway at each end; but we will have
them out if to do so we are forced to tear it down stone by stone."
"I trust that we shall not be as long as that would take, queen,"
Beric said, "for we have other work to do."
Just at this moment one of the chiefs of the Trinobantes came up.
"Queen Boadicea," he said, "we crave that we may be allowed to storm
the temple. It is built on our ground as a sign of our subjection,
and we would fain ourselves capture it."
"Be it so," the queen replied. "Do you undertake the task at once."
The Trinobantes, who had joined the Iceni in the attack on the
town, presently gathered with loud shouts, and under their chiefs
rushed at the temple. From the roof darts and stones were showered
down upon them; but though many were killed they swarmed up the
broad steps that surrounded it on all sides and attacked the doors.
Beric shook his head, and returning to his men led them off down
one of the broad streets to an open space a short distance away.
"This will be our gathering place," he said. "Do not wander far
away, and return quickly at the sound of my horn. We may be wanted
presently. I do not think that the Trinobantes will take the temple
in that fashion."
They had indeed advanced entirely unprovided with proper means
of assault. The massive gates against which the Romans had piled
stones, casks of provisions, and other heavy articles were not to
be broken down by such force as the Britons could bring against
them. In vain these chopped with their swords upon the woodwork.
The gates were constructed of oak, and the weapons scarce marked
them. In vain they threw themselves twenty abreast against them.
The doors hardly quivered at the shock, and in the meantime the
assailants were suffering heavily, for from openings in the roof,
extending from the building itself to the pillars that surrounded
it, the Romans dropped missiles upon them.
For some time the Trinobantes persevered, and then their chiefs,
seeing that the attempt was hopeless, called off their followers.
No fresh attempt was made for a time, and Boadicea established
herself in one of the few houses that had escaped the flames, and
there presently the chiefs assembled. Various suggestions were
made, but at last it was decided to batter in the doors with a
heavy tree, and a strong party of men were at once despatched to
fell and prepare two of suitable size. The operation was a long
one, as the trees when found had to be brought down by lighting
fires against the trunks, and it was nightfall before they fell and
the branches were cut off. It was decided, therefore, to postpone
the attack until the next day.
Beric had not been present at the council, to which only a few of
the leading chiefs had been summoned; but he doubted, when he heard
what had been decided upon, whether the attack would be successful.
It was settled that the Trinobantes were to attack the door at one
end of the temple, and the Iceni that at the other. Late in the
evening the chariot returned, and Beric was greatly relieved to hear
that the fugitives had been placed in safety and that the journey
had been made without interference. He was glad to recover his torque,
for its absence would have excited surprise when men's minds were
less occupied and excited. Not until he recovered it could he
go to see Parta, who was lodged with the queen, but as soon as he
recovered it he went in. Every sign of Roman habitation and luxury
had been, as far as possible, obliterated by order of Boadicea
before she entered the house. Hangings had been pulled down, statues
overthrown, and the paintings on the plaster chipped from the walls.
"What have you been doing all day, Beric?" his mother asked. "I
looked to see you long before this, and should have thought that
some accident had befallen you had I not known that the news would
have been speedily brought me had it been so."
"I have been looking after the tribesmen, mother. I should have
come in to see you, but did not wish to intrude among the chiefs
in council with the queen. You represented the Sarci here, and had
we been wanted you would have sent for me. Who are to attack the
"Not the Sarci, my son. Unser begged that he and his tribe might
have the honour, and the queen and council granted it to him."
"I am glad of it, mother. The duty is an honourable one, but the
loss will be heavy, and others can do the work as well as we could,
and I want to keep our men for the shock of battle with the legions.
Moreover, I doubt whether the doors will be battered down in the
way they propose."
"You do, Beric! and why is that?" The speaker was Aska, who had
just left the group of chiefs gathered round the queen at the other
end of the apartment, and had come close without Beric hearing him.
The lad coloured. "I spoke only for my mother's hearing, sir," he
said. "To no one else should I have ventured to express an opinion on
a course agreed upon by those who are older and wiser than myself."
"That is right, Beric; the young should be silent in the presence
of their elders; nevertheless I should like to know why you think
the assault is likely to fail."
"It was really not my own opinion I was giving, sir. I was thinking
of the manner in which the Romans, who are accustomed to besiege
places with high walls and strong gates, proceed. They have made
these matters a study, while to us an attack upon such a place is
altogether new, seeing that none such exist in Britain save those
the Romans have erected."
"How would they proceed, Beric?"
"They would treat an attack upon such a place as a serious matter,
not to be undertaken rashly and hastily, but only after great
preparation. In order to batter down a gate or a wall they use
heavy beams, such as those that have been prepared for tomorrow,
but they affix to the head a shoe of iron or brass. They do not
swing it upon men's arms, seeing that it would be most difficult
to get so many men to exercise their strength together, and indeed
could not give it the momentum required."
"But we propose to have the beam carried by fifty men, and for all
to rush forward together and drive it against the door."
"If the door were weak and would yield to the first blow that might
avail," Beric said; "but unless it does so the shock will throw
down the tree and the men bearing it. Many will be grievously hurt.
Moreover, if, as will surely be the case, many of the bearers fall
under the darts of the Romans as they approach, others will stumble
over their bodies, and the speed of the whole be greatly checked."
"Then can you tell me how the Romans act in such a case, Beric?"
"Yes, sir. I have frequently heard relations of sieges from soldiers
who have taken part in them. They build, in the first place, movable
towers or sheds running on wheels. These towers are made strong
enough to resist the stones and missiles the besieged may hurl
against them. Under cover of the shelter men push up the towers to
the door or wall to be battered; the beam is then slung on ropes
hanging from the inside of the tower. Other ropes are attached;
numbers of men take hold of these, and working together swing the
beam backwards and forwards, so that each time it strikes the wall
or door a heavy blow. As the beam is of great weight, and many men
work it, the blows are well nigh irresistible, and the strongest
walls crumble and the most massive gates splinter under the shock
of its iron head."
"The Romans truly are skilled warriors," Aska said. "We are but
children in the art of war beside them, and methinks it would be
difficult indeed for us to construct such a machine, though mayhap
it could be done had we with us many men skilled in the making of
chariots. But sometimes, Beric, they must have occasion to attack
places where such machines could not well be used."
"In that case, sir, they sometimes make what they call a tortoise.
The soldiers link their broad shields together, so as to form
a complete covering, resembling the back of a tortoise, and under
shelter of this they advance to the attack. When they reach the
foot of the wall all remain immovable save those in the front line,
who labour with iron bars to loosen the stones at the foot of the
wall, protected from missiles from above by the shields of their
comrades. From time to time they are relieved by fresh workers
until the foundations of the wall are deeply undermined. As they
proceed they erect massive props to keep up the wall, and finally
fill up the hole with combustibles. After lighting these they
retire. When the props are consumed the wall of course falls, and
they then rush forward and climb the breach."
"Truly, Beric, you have profited by your lessons," Aska said, laying
his hand kindly on the lad's shoulder. "The Druids spoke wisely
when they prophesied a great future for you. Before we have done we
may have many Roman strongholds to capture, and when we do I will
see that the council order that your advice be taken as to how they
shall be attacked; but in this matter tomorrow things must remain
as they are. Unser is a proud chief, and headstrong, and would
not brook any interference. Should he be repulsed in the assault,
I will advise the queen to call up the Sarci, and allow you to
proceed in your own manner."
"I will do my best, sir; but time is needed for proceeding according
to the first Roman method, and our shields are too small for the
second. The place should be taken by tomorrow night, for Cerealis
will assuredly move with his legion to relieve it as soon as he
hears the news of our attack."
"That is what has been in our minds," Aska said. "Well, what do
you say, Beric? After what I saw the other day of the movements
you have taught your tribe I should be sorry to have their ranks
thinned in a hopeless attack upon the temple. I would rather that
we should leave it for the present and march out to meet Cerealis,
leaving a guard here to keep the Romans hemmed in until we have
time to deal with them."
Beric stood for a minute or two without answering, and then said,
"I will undertake it, sir, with the Sarci should Unser's attack
CHAPTER VI: FIRST SUCCESSES
Upon leaving his mother, Beric returned to the spot where the Sarci
were lying. Some of the chiefs were sitting round a fire made of
beams and woodwork dragged from the ruins of the Roman houses.
"We must be up an hour before daybreak; I think that there will
be work for us tomorrow. If Unser and his tribe fail in capturing
the temple we are to try; and there will be preparations to make."
And he explained the plan upon which he had determined.
Daylight was just breaking when the Sarci entered the forest four
miles from Camalodunum. Here they scattered in search of dry wood.
In two hours sufficient had been gathered for their purpose, and it
was made up into two hundred great faggots nearly four feet across
and ten in length, in weight as much as a strong man could carry
on his head. With these they returned to the city. It needed no
questions as to the result of the attack, which had just terminated
with the same fortune that had befallen that on the day previous.
Unser had been killed, and large numbers of his men had fallen in
their vain attempts to hew down the gates. The battering rams had
proved a complete failure. Many of the fifty men who carried the
beam had fallen as they advanced. The others had rushed at the gate
door, but the recoil had thrown them down, and many had had their
limbs broken from the tree falling on them. Attempts had been made
to repeat the assault; but the Romans having pierced the under
part of the roof in many places, let fall javelins and poured down
boiling oil; and at last, having done all that was possible, but
in vain, the tribesmen had fallen back.
Beric proceeded at once to the queen's. A council was being held,
and it had just been determined to march away to meet Cerealis when
Beric entered. Aska left his place in the circle of chiefs as soon
as he saw him enter the door.
"Are you ready to undertake it, Beric? Do not do so unless you have
strong hopes of success. The repulses of yesterday and today have
lowered the spirits of our men, and another failure would still
further harm us."
"I will undertake it, Aska, and I think I can answer for success;
but I shall need three hours before I begin."
"That could be spared," the chief said. "Cerealis will not have
learned the news until last night at the earliest--he may not
know it yet. There is no fear of his arriving here until tomorrow."
Then he returned to his place.
"Before we finally decide, queen," he said, "I would tell you that
the young chief Beric is ready to attack the place with the Sarci.
He has learned much of the Roman methods, and may be more fortunate
than the others have been. I would suggest that he be allowed to
try, for it will have a very ill effect upon the tribes if we fail
in taking the temple, which is regarded as the symbol of Roman
dominion. I will even go so far as to say that a retreat now would
go very far to mar our hopes of success in the war, for the news
would spread through the country and dispirit others now preparing
to join us."
"Why should Beric succeed when Unser has failed?" one of the chiefs
said. "Can a lad achieve a success where one of our best and bravest
chiefs has been repulsed?"
"I think that he might," Aska replied. "At any rate, as he is ready
to risk his life and his tribe in doing so, I pray the queen to
give her consent. He demands three hours to make his preparations
for the attack."
"He shall try," Boadicea said decidedly. "You saw the other day,
chiefs, how well he has learned the Roman methods of war. He shall
have an opportunity now of turning his knowledge to account. Parta,
you are willing that your son should try?"
"Certainly I am willing," Parta said. "He can but die once; he
cannot die in a nobler effort for his country."
"Then it is settled," the queen said. "The Sarci will attack in
As soon as Beric heard the decision he hurried away and at once
ordered the tribesmen to scatter through the country and to kill
two hundred of the cattle roaming at present masterless, to strip
off their hides, and bring them in. They returned before the three
hours expired, bringing in the hides. In the meantime Beric had
procured from a half consumed warehouse a quantity of oil, pitch,
and other combustibles, and had smeared the faggots with them. On
the arrival of the men with the hides, these were bound with the
raw side upwards over the faggots.
Two hundred of the strongest men of the tribe were then chosen and
divided into two parties, and the rest being similarly divided,
took their station at the ends of the square facing the gates.
When Beric sounded his horn the faggot bearers raised their burdens
on to their heads and formed in a close square, ten abreast, with
the faggots touching each other. Beric himself commanded the party
facing the principal entrance, and holding a blazing torch in each
hand, took his place in the centre of the square, there being ample
room for him between the lines of men. The rest of the tribe were
ordered to stand firmly in order until he gave the signal for the
advance. Then he again sounded his horn, and the two parties advanced
from the opposite ends of the square.
As soon as they came within reach the Romans showered down darts
and javelins; but these either slipped altogether from the surface
of the wet hides, or, penetrating them, went but a short distance
into the faggots; and the British tribesmen raised shouts of
exultation as the two solid bodies advanced unshaken to the steps
of the temple. Mounting these they advanced to the gates. In vain
the Romans dropped their javelins perpendicularly through the
holes in the ceiling of the colonnade, in vain poured down streams
of boiling oil, which had proved so fatal to the last attack. The
javelins failed to penetrate, the oil streamed harmless off the
hides. The men had, before advancing, received minute instructions.
The ten men in the front line piled their faggots against the door,
and then keeping close to the wall of the temple itself, slipped
round to the side colonnade.
The operation was repeated by the next line, and so on until but
two lines remained. Then the two men at each end of these lines
mounted the pile of faggots and placed their burdens there, leaving
but six standing. In their centre Beric had his place, and now,
kneeling down under their shelter, applied his torches to the pile.
He waited till he saw the flames beginning to mount up. Then he
gave the word; the six men dropped their faggots to the ground,
and with him ran swiftly to the side colonnade, where they were in
shelter, as the Romans, knowing they could not be attacked here,
had made no openings in the ceiling above. The Britons were frantic
with delight when they saw columns of smoke followed by tongues of
flames mounting from either end of the temple. Higher and higher
the flames mounted till they licked the ceiling above them.
For half an hour the fire continued, and by the end of that time
there was but a glowing mass of embers through which those without
could soon see right into the temple. The doors and the obstacles
behind them had been destroyed. As soon as he was aware by the
shouts of his countrymen that the faggots were well in a blaze,
Beric had sounded his horn, and he and the tribesmen from both
colonnades had run across the open unmolested by the darts of the
Romans, who were too panic stricken at the danger that threatened
them to pay any heed to their movements. Beric was received with
loud acclamations by the Iceni, and was escorted by a shouting
multitude to the queen, who had taken her place at a point where
she could watch the operations. She held out her hand to him. "You
have succeeded, Beric," she said; "and my thanks and those of all
here--nay, of all Britain--are due to you. In half an hour the
temple will be open to attack."
"Hardly in that time, queen," he replied. "The faggots will doubtless
have done their work by then, but it will be hours before the embers
and stonework will be sufficiently cool to enable men to pass over
them to the assault."
"We can wait," the queen said. "A messenger, who left the camp of
Cerealis at daybreak, has just arrived, and at that hour nothing
was known to the Romans of our attack here. They will not now arrive
Not until the afternoon was it considered that the entrances would
be cool enough to pass through. Then the Sarci prepared for the
attack, binding pieces of raw hide under their feet to protect them
from the heated stonework. They were formed ten abreast. Beric took
his place before the front line of one of the columns, and with
levelled spears they advanced at a run towards the doors. A shower
of missiles saluted them from the roof. Some fell, but the rest,
pressing on in close order, dashed through the gateway and flung
themselves upon the Roman soldiers drawn up to oppose their passage.
The resistance was feeble. The Romans had entirely lost heart and
could not for a moment sustain the weight of the charge. They were
swept away from the entrance, and the Britons poured in.
Standing in groups the Romans defended themselves in desperation;
but their efforts were vain, and in five minutes the last defender
of the place was slain. As soon as the fight was over the whole
of the Iceni rushed tumultuously forward with exultant shouts and
filled the temple; then a horn sounded and a lane was made, as
Boadicea, followed by her chiefs and chieftainesses, entered the
temple. The queen s face was radiant with triumph, and she would
have spoken but the shouting was so loud that those near her could
not obtain silence. They understood, however, when advancing to
the statues of the gods that stood behind the altars, she waved
her spear. In an instant the tribesmen swarmed round the statues,
ropes were attached to the massive figures, and Jupiter, Mars, and
Minerva fell to the ground with a crash, as did the statue of the
A mighty shout hailed its downfall. The gods of the Britons, insulted
and outraged, were avenged upon those of Rome; the altars of Mona
had streamed with the blood of the Druids, those of Camalodunum
were wet with the gore of Roman legionaries. The statues were broken
to pieces, the altars torn down, and then the chiefs ordered the
tribesmen to fetch in faggots. Thousands went to the forest, while
others pulled down detached houses and sheds that had escaped
the flames, and dragged the beams and woodwork to the temple.
By nightfall an enormous pile of faggots was raised round each of
the eight interior columns that in two lines supported the roof.
Torches were applied by Boadicea, her two daughters and some of the
principal Druids, and in a short time the interior of the temple was
a glowing furnace. The beams of the ceiling and roof soon ignited
and the flames shot up high into the air.
All day the Trinobantes had been pouring in, and a perfect frenzy
of delight reigned among the great crowd looking on at the destruction
of the temple that had been raised to signify and celebrate the
subjugation of Britain. Women with flowing hair performed wild
dances of triumph; some rushed about as if possessed with madness,
uttering prophecies of the total destruction of the Romans; others
foamed at the mouth and fell in convulsions, while the men were
scarcely less excited over their success. Messengers had already
brought in news that at midday Cerealis had learned that Camalodunum
had been attacked, and that the legion was to start on the following
morning to relieve the town.
The news had been taken to him by one of the Trinobantes, who had
received his instructions from Aska. He was to say that the town had
suddenly been attacked and that many had fallen; but the greater
portion of the population had escaped to the temple, which had
been vainly attacked by the Iceni. The object of this news was to
induce Cerealis to move out from his fortified camp. The chiefs
felt the difficulty of assaulting such a position, and though they
had dreaded the arrival of Cerealis before the temple was taken,
they were anxious that he should set out as soon as they saw that
Beric's plan of attack had succeeded, and that the temple was now
open to their assault.
At midnight the roof of the temple fell in, and nothing remained
but the bare walls and the columns surrounding them. The chiefs
ordered their followers to make their way through the still burning
town and to gather by tribes outside the defensive works, and there
lie down until morning, when they would march to meet the legion
of Cerealis. At daybreak they were again afoot and on the march
southward, swollen by the accession of the Trinobantes and by the
arrival during the last two days of tribes who had been too late
to join the rest at Cardun. The British force now numbered at least
"It is a great army, Beric," Boduoc said exultingly as they moved
"It is a great host," Beric replied. "I would that it were an
army. Had they all even as much training as our men I should feel
confident in the future."
"But surely you are confident now, Beric; we have begun well."
"We have scarcely begun at all," Beric said. "What have we done?
Destroyed a sleeping town and captured by means of fire a temple
defended by four hundred men. We shall win today, that I do not
doubt. The men are wrought up by their success, and the Romans are
little prepared to meet such a force--I doubt not that we shall
beat them, but to crush a legion is not to defeat Rome. I hope,
Boduoc, but I do not feel confident. Look back at the Sarci and then
look round at this disordered host. Well, the Romans in discipline
and order exceed the Sarci as much as we exceed the rest of the
Iceni. They will be led by generals trained in war; we are led by
chiefs whose only idea of war is to place themselves at the head of
their tribe and rush against the enemy. Whether courage and great
numbers can compensate for want of discipline remains to be seen.
The history of Rome tells me that it has never done so yet."
After five hours' marching some fleet footed scouts sent on ahead
brought in the news that the Romans were approaching. A halt
was called, and the chiefs assembled round the queen's chariot in
council. Beric was summoned by a messenger from the queen.
"You must always attend our councils," she said when he came up.
"You have proved that, young as you are, you possess a knowledge
of war that more than compensates for your lack of years. You have
the right, after capturing the temple for us, to take for the Sarci
the post of honour in today's battle. Choose it for yourself. You
know the Romans; where do you think we had better fight them?"
"I think we could not do better than await them here," he said. "We
stand on rising ground, and one of the Trinobantes to whom I have
just spoken says that there is a swamp away on the left of our
front, so that the Roman horsemen cannot advance in that direction.
I should attack them in face and on their left flank, closing in
thickly so as to prevent their horsemen from breaking out on to
the plain at our right and then falling upon us in our rear. Since
you are good enough to say that I may choose my post for the Sarci,
I will hold them where they stand; then, should the others fail to
break the Roman front, we will move down upon them and check their
advance while the rest attack their flanks."
This answer pleased some of the chiefs, who felt jealous of the
honour the small tribe had gained on the previous day. They were
afraid that Beric would have chosen to head the attack.
"Does that plan please you?" Boadicea asked.
"It is as well as another," one of the chiefs said. "Let the Sarci
look on this time while we destroy the enemy. I should have thought
Beric would have chosen for his tribe the post of honour in the
"The Romans always keep their best troops in reserve," Beric said
quietly; "in a hard fight it is the reserve that decides the fate
of the battle."
"Then let it be so," Boadicea said. "Is the swamp that you speak
"It is not too deep for our men to cross," one of the chiefs of the
Trinobantes said; "but assuredly a horseman could not pass through
"Very well, then, let the Trinobantes attack by falling upon the
Romans on our right; the Iceni will attack them in front; and the
Sarci will remain where they stand until Beric sees need for them
In a few minutes the Roman legion was seen advancing, with a
portion of the cavalry in front and the rest in the rear. The queen,
whose chariot was placed in front of the line, raised her spear.
A tremendous shout was raised by the Britons, and with wild cries
the tribes poured down to the attack, while the women, clustered on
the slopes they had left, added their shrill cries of encouragement
to the din. The Romans, who, believing that the Britons were still
engaged in the attack on Camalodunum, had no expectation of meeting
them on the march, halted and stood uncertain as the masses of
Britons poured down to the attack. Then their trumpets sounded and
they again advanced, the cavalry in the rear moving forward to join
those in the advance, but before they accomplished this the Britons
were upon them. Showers of darts were poured in, and the horsemen,
unable to stand the onslaught, rode into the spaces between the
companies of the infantry, who, moving outwards and forming a solid
column on either flank, protected them from the assaults of their
The Britons, after pouring in showers of javelins, flung themselves,
sword in hand, upon the Roman infantry; but these with levelled
spears showed so solid a front that they were unable to break
through, while from behind the spearmen, the light armed Roman
troops poured volleys of missiles among them. Boadicea called Beric
to her side.
"It is as you said, Beric; the order in which the Romans fight is
wonderful. See how steadily they hold together, it is like a wild
boar attacked by dogs; but they will be overwhelmed, see how the
darts fly and how bravely the Iceni are fighting."
The tribesmen, indeed, were attacking with desperate bravery.
Seizing the heads of the spears they attempted to wrest them from
their holders, or to thrust them aside and push forward within
striking distance. Sometimes they partially succeeded, and though
the first might fall others rushing in behind reached the Romans
and pressed them backwards, but reserves were brought up and the
line restored. Then slowly but steadily the Romans moved forward,
and although partial success had at some points attended those who
attacked them in flank, the front of the column with serried spears
held its way on in spite of the efforts of the Britons to arrest
the movement. Presently the supply of javelins of their assailants
began to fail, and the assaults upon the head of the column to grow
more feeble, while the shouts of the Roman soldiers rose above the
cries of their assailants.
"Now it is time for us to move down," Beric said; "if we can arrest
the advance their flanks will be broken in before long. Now, men,"
he shouted as he returned to his place at the head of the Sarci,
"now is the time to show that you can meet the Romans in their
own fashion. Move slowly down to the attack, let no man hasten his
pace, but let each keep his place in the ranks. Four companies will
attack the Romans in front, the others in column five deep will
march down till they face the Roman flank, then they will march at
it, spears down, and break it in."
Beric sounded his bugle, and ten deep the four hundred men moved
steadily down to the attack of the Romans. The five front ranks
marched with levelled spears, those behind prepared to hurl their
darts over their heads. When within fifty yards of the enemy
the Sarci raised their battle cry, and the Iceni engaged with the
Romans in front, seeing the hedge of spears advancing behind them,
hurriedly ran off at both flanks and the Sarci advanced to the
The Romans halted involuntarily, astonished at the spectacle.
Never before had they encountered barbarians advancing in formation
similar to their own, and the sight of the tall figures advancing
almost naked to the assault--for the Britons always threw off
their garments before fighting--filled them with something like
consternation. At the shouts of their officers, however, they again
got into motion and met the Britons firmly. The additional length
Beric had given to the spears of the Sarci now proved of vital
advantage, and bearing steadily onward they brought the Romans
to a standstill, while the javelins from the British rear ranks
fell thick and fast among them. Gradually the Romans were pressed
backwards, quickly as the gaps were filled up by those behind,
until the charging shout of the Sarci on their flank was heard.
Beric blew his horn, and his men with an answering shout pressed
forward faster, their cries of victory rising as the Romans gave
Still the latter fought stubbornly, until triumphant yells and confused
shouts told them that the flank had given way under the attack of
the Britons. Then Beric's horn sounded again, the slow advance was
converted into a charge, the ranks behind closed up, and before
the weight and impetus of the rush the Roman line was broken. Then
the impetuosity of the Sarci could no longer be restrained, in vain
Beric blew his horn. Flinging down their spears and drawing their
swords the Britons flung themselves on the broken mass, the other
tribesmen pouring in tumultuously behind them.
For a few minutes a desperate conflict raged, each man fighting for
himself, but numbers prevailed, the Roman shouts became feebler,
the war cries of the Britons louder and more triumphant. In ten
minutes the fight was over, more than two thousand Roman soldiers
lay dead, while Cerealis and the cavalry, bursting their way through
their assailants, alone escaped, galloping off at full speed towards
the refuge of their fortified camp. The exultation of the Britons
knew no bounds. They had for the first time since the Romans set
foot on their shore beaten them in a fair fight in the open. There
was a rush to collect the arms, shields, and helmets of the fallen
Romans, and two of the Sarci presently brought the standards of
the legion to Beric.
"Follow me with them," he said, and, extricating himself from the
throng, ascended the slope to where Boadicea, surrounded with women
who were dancing and joining in a triumphant chant of victory, was
still standing in her chariot.
"Here are the Roman standards, the emblems of victory," Beric said
as he approached the chariot.
Boadicea sprang down, and advancing to him, embraced him warmly.
"The victory is yours, Beric," she said. "Keep these two eagles, and
fix them in your hall, so that your children's children may point
to them with pride and say, 'It was Beric, chief of the Sarci, who
first overthrew the Romans in the field.' But there is no time to
be lost;" and she turned to her charioteer, who carried a horn.
"Sound the summons for the chiefs to assemble."
There were several missing, for the Britons had suffered heavily
in their first attack.
"Chiefs," she said, "let us not lose an instant, but press on after
the Romans. Let us strike before they recover from their confusion
and surprise. Catus Decianus may be in their camp, and while I seek
no other spoil, him I must have to wreak my vengeance on. See that
a party remain to look to the wounded, and that such as need it are
taken to their homes in wagons." The horns were at once sounded,
the tribesmen flocked back to the positions from which they had
charged, and resumed their garments. Then the march was continued.
They presented a strange appearance now. Almost every man had taken
possession of some portion or other of the Romans' arms. Some had
helmets, others shields, others breastplates, swords, or spears.
The helmets, however, were speedily taken off and slung behind
them, the heads of the Iceni being vastly larger than those of the
Romans, the tallest of whom they overtopped by fully six inches.
The arms of the officer who commanded under Cerealis were offered
to Beric, but he refused them.
"I fight to drive the Romans from our land," he said, "and not
for spoil. Nothing of theirs will I touch, but will return to the
forest when all is over just as I left it."
By evening they approached the Roman camp. A portion of the legion
had been left there when Cerealis set out, and in the light of
the setting sun the helmets and spearheads could be seen above the
massive palisades that rose on the top of the outworks. The Britons
halted half a mile away, fires were lighted, and the men sat down to
feast upon the meat that had been brought in wagons from Camalodunum.
Then a council was held. As a rule, the British councils were
attended by all able bodied men. The power of the chiefs, except
in actual war, was very small, for the Britons, like their Gaulish
ancestors, considered every man to be equal, and each had a voice
in the management of affairs. Thus every chief had, before taking
up arms, held a council of his tribesmen, and it was only after
they had given their vote for war that he possessed any distinct
power and control.
When the council began, one of the chiefs of the Trinobantes was
asked first to give a minute description of the Roman camp. The
works were formidable. Surrounding it was a broad and deep fosse,
into which a stream was turned. Beyond this there was a double vallum
or wall of earth so steep as to be climbed with great difficulty.
In the hollow between the two walls sharp stakes were set thickly
together. The second wall was higher than the first, and completely
commanded it. Along its top ran a solid palisade of massive beams,
behind which the earth was banked up to within some three and a
half feet from the top, affording a stand for the archers, slingers,
The council was animated, but the great majority of chiefs were in
favour of leaving this formidable position untouched, and falling
upon places that offered a chance of an easier capture. The British in
their tribal wars fought largely for the sake of plunder. In their
first burst of fury at Camalodunum they had, contrary to their
custom, sought only to destroy; but their thirst for blood was
now appeased, they longed for the rich spoils of the Roman cities,
both as trophies of victory and to adorn their women. The chiefs
represented that already many of their bravest tribesmen had fallen,
and it would be folly to risk a heavy loss in the attack upon such
What matter, they argued, if two or three hundred Romans were left
there for the present? They could do no harm, and could be either
captured by force or obliged to surrender by hunger after Suetonius
and the Roman army had been destroyed. Not a day should be lost,
they contended, in marching upon Verulamium, after which London
could be sacked, for, although far inferior in size and importance
to Camalodunum and Verulamium, it was a rising town, inhabited by
large numbers of merchants and traders, who imported goods from
Gaul and distributed them over the country.
Beric's opinion was in favour of an instant assault, and in this
he was supported by Aska and two or three of the older chiefs; but
the majority were the other way, and the policy of leaving altogether
the fortified posts garrisoned by the Romans to be dealt with after
the Roman army had been met and destroyed was decided upon. One of
the arguments employed was that while the capture of these places
would be attended with considerable loss, it would add little
to the effect that the news of the destruction of the chief Roman
towns would have upon the tribes throughout the whole country, and
would take so long that Suetonius might return in time to succour
the most important places before the work was done. Aska walked
away from the council with Beric.
"They have decided wrongly," he said.
"I do not think it much matters," Beric replied. "Everything hangs
at present upon the result of our battle with Suetonius. If we win,
all the detached forts must surrender; if we lose, what matters
"You think we shall lose, Beric?"
"I do not say that," Beric said; "but see how it was today. The
Iceni made no more impression upon the Roman column than if they
had been attacking a wall. They hindered themselves by their very
numbers, and by the time we meet the Romans our numbers will be
multiplied by five, perhaps by ten. But shall we be any stronger
thereby? Will not rather the confusion be greater? Today the Roman
horse fled; but had they charged among us, small as was their number,
what confusion would they have made in our ranks! A single Briton
is a match for a single Roman, and more. Ten Romans fighting in order
might repel the assault of a hundred, and as the numbers multiply
so does the advantage of discipline increase. I hope for victory,
Aska, but I cannot say that I feel confident of it."
Marching next morning against Verulamium, they arrived there in
the afternoon and at once attacked it. The resistance was feeble,
and bursting through in several places the Iceni and Trinobantes
spread over the town, slaughtering all they found. Not only the
Romans, but the Gauls settled in the city, and such Britons as
had adopted Roman customs were put to the sword. The city was then
sacked and set on fire. It was now decided that instead of turning
towards London they should march west in order that they might be
joined by other tribes on their way and meet Suetonius returning
There was no haste in their movements. They advanced by easy stages,
their numbers swelling every day, tribe after tribe joining them,
as the news spread of the capture and destruction of the two chief
Roman towns, and the defeat and annihilation of one of the legions.
So they marched until, a fortnight after the capture of Verulamium,
the news arrived that Suetonius, marching with all speed towards
the east, had already passed them, gathering up on his way the
garrisons of all the fortified posts. Then the great host turned
and marched east again. Beric regretted deeply the course that
had been taken. Had the garrisons all been attacked and destroyed
separately, the army they would have to encounter would have been
a little more than half the strength of that which Suetonius would
be able to put into the field when he collected all the garrisons.
But the Britons troubled themselves in no way. They regarded victory
as certain, and expressed exultation that they should crush all
the Romans at one blow in the open field, instead of being forced
to undertake a number of separate sieges. Still marching easily,
they came down upon the valley of the Thames and followed it until
they arrived at London. They had expected that Suetonius would give
battle before they arrived there. He had indeed passed through the
town a few days previously, but had disregarded the prayers of the
inhabitants to remain for their protection. He allowed all males
who chose to do so to enlist in the ranks and permitted others
to accompany the army, but he wished before fighting to be joined
by Cerealis and the survivors of his legion, and by the garrisons
of other fortified posts. The Britons therefore fell upon London,
slaughtered all the inhabitants, and sacked and burned the town. It
was calculated that here and in the two Roman cities no less than
80,000 persons had been slain. This accomplished, the great host
again set out in search of Suetonius. They were accompanied now by
a vast train of wagons and chariots carrying the women and spoil.
Beric was not present at the sack of London. As they approached
the town and it became known that Suetonius had marched away, and
that there would be no resistance, he struck off north. Since they
had left Verulamium the tribesmen had given up marching in military
order. They were very proud of the credit they had gained in the
battle with the Romans, but said that they did not see any use
in marching tediously abreast when there was no enemy near. Beric
having no power whatever to compel them, told them that of course
they could do as they liked, but that they would speedily forget
all they had learned. But the impatience of restraint of any kind,
or of doing anything unless perfectly disposed to do it, which was
a British characteristic, was too strong, and many were influenced
by the scoffs of the newcomers, who, not having seen them in the
day of battle, asked them scornfully if the Sarci were slaves that
they should obey orders like Roman soldiers.
Boduoc, although he had objected to the drill at first, and had
scoffed at the idea of men fighting any better because they all
kept an even distance from each other, and marched with the same
foot forward, had now become an enthusiast in its favour and raged
at this falling away. But Beric said, "It is no use being angry,
Boduoc. I was surprised that they consented at first, and I am not
surprised that they have grown tired of it. It is the fault of our
people to be fickle and inconstant, soon wearying of anything they
undertake; but I do not think that it matters much now. We alone
were able to decide the fight when there were but two thousand Roman
spearmen; but when we meet Suetonius, he will have ten thousand
soldiers under him, and our multitude is so great that the Sarci
would be lost in the crowd. If the Britons cannot beat them without
us, we should not suffice to change the fortunes of the day."
It was partly to escape the sight of the sack of London, partly
because he was anxious to know how Berenice and Cneius Nepo were
faring that Beric left the army, and drove north in a chariot. After
two days' journey he arrived at the cottage of Boduoc's mother.
The door stood open as was the universal custom in Britain, for
nowhere was hospitality so lavishly practised, and it was thought
that a closed door might deter a passerby from entering. His
footsteps had been heard, for two dogs had growled angrily at his
approach. The old woman was sitting at the fire, and at first he
saw no one else in the hut.
"Good will to all here!" he said.
"It is the young chief!" the old woman exclaimed, and at once two
figures rose from a pile of straw in a dark corner of the room.
"Yes, it is I," he said. "How fares it with you, Berenice? You are
well, Cneius, I hope? You have run no risks, I trust, since you
have been here?"
"We are well, Beric," the girl said; "but oh the time has seemed
so long! It is not yet a month since you sent us here, but it seems
a year. She has been very kind to us, and done all that she could,
and the girls, her daughters, have gone with me sometimes for rambles
in the wood; but they cannot speak our language. Not another person
has been here since we came."
"What is the news, Beric?" Cneius asked. "No word has reached us.
The old woman and her daughters have learned something, for the
eldest girl goes away sometimes for hours, and I can see that she
tells her mother news when she returns."
Beric briefly told them what had happened, at which Berenice
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