Beric the Briton
G. A. Henty
Part 4 out of 8
CHAPTER X: BETRAYED
The Britons soon discovered that the Romans had retreated, but made
no movement in pursuit. They knew that the legionaries once in open
ground were more than their match, and they were well content with
the success they had gained. They had lost in all but four hundred
men, while they were certain that the Romans had suffered much more
heavily, and that there was but little chance of the attack being
renewed in the same manner, for if their progress was so slow when
they had frost to aid them, what chance would they have when there
was scarce a foot of land that could bear their weight? The winter
passed, indeed, without any further movement. The Britons suffered
to some extent from the damps; but as the whole country was undrained,
and for the most part covered with forest, they were accustomed
to a damp laden atmosphere, and so supported the fogs of the Fens
far better than they would otherwise have done.
In the spring, grain, which had been carefully preserved for
the purpose, was sown in many places where the land was above the
level of the swamps. A number of large boats had been built during
the winter, as Beric and Aska were convinced that the next attack
would be made by water, having learned from the country people to
the west that a vast number of flat bottomed boats had been built
by the Romans.
Early in the spring fighting again began. A great flotilla of
boats descended from Huntingdon, and turning off the side channels
entered the swamp. But the Britons were prepared. They were now well
provided with tools, and numbers of trees had been felled across
the channels, completely blocking the passage. As soon as the boats
left the main river, they were assailed with a storm of javelins
from the bushes, and the Romans, when they attempted to land, found
their movements impeded by the deep swamp in which they often sank
up to the waist, while their foes in their swamp pattens traversed
them easily, and inflicted heavy losses upon them, driving them
back into their boats again. At the points where the channels were
obstructed desperate struggles took place. The Romans, from their
boats, in vain endeavoured, under the storm of missiles from their
invisible foes, to remove the obstacles, and as soon as they landed
to attempt to do so they were attacked with such fury that they
were forced to fall back.
Several times they found their way of retreat blocked by boats
that had come down through side channels, and had to fight their
way back with great loss and difficulty. After maintaining the
struggle for four days, and suffering a loss even greater than that
they had incurred in their first attack, the Romans again drew
off and ascended the river. The Fenmen had joined the Iceni in
repelling the attack. The portion of the swamp they inhabited was
not far away, and they felt that they too were threatened by the
Roman advance. They had therefore rejoined the Iceni, although
for some time they had kept themselves aloof from them, owing to
quarrels that had arisen because, as they asserted, some of the
Iceni had entered their district and carried off the birds from
their traps. Beric had done all in his power to allay this feeling,
recompensing them for the losses they declared they had suffered,
and bestowing many presents upon them. He and Aska often talked
the matter over, and agreed that their greatest danger was from
"They view us as intruders in their country," Aska said, "and
doubtless consider that in time we shall become their masters.
Should they turn against us they could lead the Romans direct to
our islands, and if these were lost all would be lost."
"If you fear that, Aska," Boduoc, who was present, said, "we had
better kill the little wretches at once."
"No, no Boduoc," Beric said. "We have nothing against them at
present, and we should be undeserving of the protection of the gods
were we to act towards them as the Romans act towards us. Moreover,
such an attempt would only bring about what we fear. Some of them,
knowing their way as they do through the marshes, would be sure to
make their escape, and these would bring the Romans down upon us.
Even did we slay all this tribe here, the Fenmen in the north would
seek to avenge their kinsmen, and would invite the Romans to their
aid. No, we must speak the Fenmen fair, avoid all cause of quarrel,
do all we can to win their goodwill, and show them that they have
nothing to fear from us. Still, we must always be on guard against
treachery. Night and day a watch must be set at the mouths of all
the channels by which they might penetrate in this direction."
Another month passed. The Romans still remained in their forts round
the Fens. The natives had now been brought round to the western
side, and under the protection of strong bodies of soldiers were
occupied in clearing the swamp on that side. They made but little
progress, however, for the Britons made frequent eruptions among
them, and the depth of the morasses in this direction rendered it
well nigh impossible for them to advance, and progress could only
be made by binding the bush into bundles and forming roads as they
went on. From their kinsmen in the northwest, Beric learned that a
new propraetor had arrived to replace Suetonius, for it was reported
that the wholesale severity of the latter was greatly disapproved
of in Rome, so that his successor had come out with orders to pursue
a milder policy, and to desist from the work of extirpation that
Suetonius was carrying on. It was known that at any rate the newcomer
had issued a proclamation, saying that Rome wished neither to
destroy nor enslave the people of Britain, and that all fugitives
were invited to return to their homes, adding a promise that
no molestation should be offered to them, and that an amnesty was
granted to all for their share in the late troubles.
"What do you think, Aska?" Beric asked when they heard the news.
"It may be true or it may not," Aska said. "For myself, after the
treatment of Boadicea, and the seizure of all her husband's property,
I have no faith in Roman promises. However, all this is but a
rumour. It will be time enough to consider it when they send in a
flag of truce and offer us terms of surrender. Besides, supposing
the proclamation has been rightly reported, the amnesty is promised
only for the past troubles. The new general must have heard of the
heavy losses we inflicted on the Romans as soon as he landed, and
had he meant his proclamation to apply to us he would have said
so. However, I sincerely trust that it is true, even if we are not
included, and are to be hunted down like wild beasts. Rome cannot
wish to conquer a desert, and you have told me she generally treats
the natives of conquered provinces well after all resistance has
ceased. It may well be that the Romans disapprove of the harshness
of Suetonius, although the rising was not due to him so much as to
the villain Decianus. Still he was harsh in the extreme, and his
massacre of the Druids enlisted every Briton against him. Other
measures may now be tried; the ground must be cultivated, or it is
useless to Rome. There are at present many tribes still unsubdued,
and were men like Suetonius and Decianus to continue to scourge
the land by their cruelties, they might provoke another rising as
formidable as ours, and bring fresh disaster upon Rome. But whether
the amnesty applies to us or not, I shall be glad to hear that
Suetonius has left. We know that three days ago at any rate he was
at their camp opposite Huntingdon, and he may well wish to strike
a blow before he leaves, in order that he may return with the credit
of having crushed out the last resistance."
Two nights later, an hour before daybreak, a man covered with wounds,
breathless and exhausted, made his way up to the intrenchment on
the principal island.
"To arms!" he shouted. "The Romans are upon us!" One of the sentries
ran with the news to Beric's hut. Springing from his couch Beric
sounded his horn, and the band, who were at all times kept to the
strength of four hundred, rushed to the line of defences.
"What is it? What is your news?" Beric asked the messenger.
"It is treachery, Beric. With two comrades I was on watch at
the point where the principal channel hence runs into the river.
Suddenly we thought we heard the sound of oars on the river above
us. We could not be sure. It was a faint confused sound, and we
stood at the edge of the bank listening, when suddenly from behind
us sprang out a dozen men, and before we had time to draw a sword
we were cut down. They hewed at us till they thought us dead,
and for a time I knew nothing more. When I came to myself I saw
a procession of Roman boats turning in at the channel. For a time
I was too faint to move; but at last I crawled down a yard or two
to the water and had a drink. Then my strength gradually returned
and I struggled to my feet.
"To proceed by land through the marshes at night was impossible,
but I found my coracle, which we had hidden under the bushes, and
poled up the channel after the Romans, who were now some distance
ahead. The danger gave me strength, and I gained upon them. When I
could hear their oars ahead I turned off by a cross channel so as
to strike another leading direct hither. What was my horror when
I reached it to see another flotilla of Roman boats passing along.
Then I guessed that not only we but the watchers at all the other
channels must have been surprised and killed by the treacherous
Fenmen. I followed the boats till I reached a spot where I knew
there was a track through the marshes to the island.
"For hours I struggled on, often losing the path in the darkness
and falling into swamps, where I was nearly overwhelmed; but at last
I approached the island. The Romans were already near. I tried each
avenue by which our boats approached, but all were held by them.
But at last I made my way through by one of the deepest marshes,
where at any other time I would not have set foot, even in broad
daylight, and so have arrived in time to warn you."
"You have done well. Your warning comes not, I fear, in time to
save us, but it will enable us at least to die like men, with arms
in our hands."
Parties of men were at once sent down to hold the intrenchments
erected to cover the approaches. Some of those who knew the swamps
best were sent out singly, but they found the Romans everywhere.
They had formed a complete circle round the island, all the channels
being occupied by the boats, while parties had been landed upon
planks thrown across the soft ground between the channels to prevent
any from passing on foot.
"They will not attack until broad daylight," Aska said, when all
the men who had been sent out had returned with a similar tale.
"They must fight under the disadvantage of not knowing the ground,
and would fear that in the darkness some of us would slip away."
Contrary to expectation the next day passed without any movement by
the Romans, and Beric and Aska agreed that most likely the greater
portion of the boats had gone back to bring up more troops.
"They will not risk another defeat," Aska said, "and they must be
sure that, hemmed in as we are, we shall fight to the last."
The practicability of throwing the whole force against the Romans
at one point, and of so forcing their way through was discussed;
but in that case the women and children, over a thousand in number,
must be left behind, and the idea was therefore abandoned. Another
day of suspense passed. During the evening loud shouts were heard
in the swamp, and the Britons had no doubt that the boats had
returned with reinforcements. There were three points where boats
could come up to the shore of the island. Aska, Boduoc, and another
chief, each with a hundred men, took their posts in the intrenchments
there, while Beric, with a hundred of the Sarci, remained in the
great intrenchment on the summit, in readiness to bear down upon
any point where aid was required. Soon after daybreak next morning
the battle began, the Romans advancing in their flat bottomed
boats and springing on shore. In spite of a hail of missiles they
advanced against the intrenchments; but these were strongly built
in imitation of the Roman works, having a steep bank of earth
surmounted by a solid palisade breast high, and constructed of
For some hours the conflict raged, fifty of the defenders at each
intrenchment thrusting down with their long spears the assailants
as they strove to scale the bank, while the other fifty rained arrows
and javelins upon them; and whenever they succeeded in getting up
to the palisade through the circle of the spears, threw down their
bows and opposed them sword in hand. Again and again the Romans
were repulsed with great slaughter, the cries of exultation from
the women who lined the upper intrenchment rose loud and shrill.
Beric divided his force into three bodies. The first was to move
down instantly if they saw the defenders of the lower intrenchment
hard pressed; the others were to hold their position until summoned
by Beric to move down and join in the fray. He himself paced round
and round the intrenchment, occupied less with the three desperate
fights going on below than with the edge of the bushes between
those points. He knew that the morasses were so deep that even an
active and unarmed man could scarce make his way through them and
that only by springing from bush to bush. But he feared that the
Romans might form paths by throwing down faggots, and so gain the
island at some undefended point.
Until noon he saw nothing to justify his anxiety; everything seemed
still in the swamp. But he knew that this silence was deceptive,
and the canopy of marsh loving trees completely hid the bushes and
undergrowth from his sight. It was just noon when a Roman trumpet
sounded, and at once at six different points a line of Roman soldiers
issued from the bushes. Beric raised his horn to his lips and blew
the signal for retreat. At its sound the defenders of the three
lower intrenchments instantly left their posts and dashed at full
speed up the hill, gaining it long before the Romans, who, as they
issued out, formed up in order to repel any attack that might be
made upon them.
"So they have made paths across the swamp," Aska said bitterly, as
he joined Beric. "They would never have made their way in by fair
"Well," Beric said, "there is one more struggle, and a stout one,
and then we go to join our friends who have gone before us in the
Happy Island in the far west. We need not be ashamed to meet them.
They will welcome us as men who have struggled to the last for
liberty against the oppressor, and who have nobly upheld the honour
of the Iceni. We shall meet with a great welcome."
Not until the Romans had landed the whole of the force they had
brought up, which Beric estimated as exceeding two thousand men,
did they advance to the attack, pressing forward against all points
of the intrenchment. The Iceni were too few for the proper defence
of so long a circuit of intrenchments, but the women and boys took
their places beside them armed with hatchets, clubs, and knives.
The struggle was for a long time uncertain, so desperately did
the defenders fight; and it was not until suffering the loss of a
third of their number, from the missiles and weapons of the British,
that the Romans at last broke through the intrenchment. Even then
the British fought to the last. None thought of asking for quarter,
but each died contented if he could kill but one Roman. The women
flung themselves on the spears of the assailants, preferring death
infinitely to falling into the hands of the Romans; and soon the only
survivors of the Britons were a group of some thirty men gathered
on a little knoll in the centre of the camp.
Beric had successfully defended the chief entrance to the camp
until the Romans burst in at other places, and then, blowing his
horn, he had tried to rally his men in the centre for a final stand.
Aska had already fallen, pierced by a Roman javelin; but Boduoc
and a small body of the Sarci had rallied round Beric, and had
for a time beaten off the assaults of the Romans. But soon they
were reduced to half their number, and were on the point of being
overwhelmed by the crowds surrounding them, when a Roman trumpet
sounded and their assailants fell back. An officer made his way
towards them and addressed Beric.
"Suetonius bids me say that he honours bravery, and that your lives
will be spared if you lay down your arms."
"Tell Suetonius that we scorn his mercy," Beric said, "and will
die as we have lived, free men."
The Roman bade his men stand to their weapons, and not move until
his return. It was a few minutes before he came back again. Behind
him were a number of soldiers, who had laid aside their arms and
provided themselves with billets of wood and long poles. Before
Beric could understand what was intended, he and his companions
were struck to the ground by the discharge of the wooden missiles
or knocked down by the poles. Then the Romans threw themselves upon
them and bound them hand and foot, the camp was plundered, fire
applied to the huts, and the palisades beaten down. Then the captives
were carried down to the boats, and the Romans rowed away through
the marshes. They had little to congratulate themselves upon. They
had captured the leader of the Iceni, had destroyed his stronghold
and slain four hundred of his followers, but it had cost them
double that number of men, and a large portion of the remainder
bore wounds more or less severe.
Boduoc and the other prisoners were furious at their capture. The
Britons had no fear whatever of death, but capture was regarded as
a disgrace; and that they alone should have been preserved when their
comrades had all been killed and the women and children massacred,
was to them a terrible misfortune. They considered that they had
been captured by an unworthy ruse, for had they known what was
intended they would have slain each other, or stabbed themselves,
rather than become captives.
Beric's feelings were more mixed. Although he would have preferred
death to captivity, his ideas had been much modified by his residence
among the Romans, and he saw nothing disgraceful in what he could
not avoid. He would never have surrendered; would never have
voluntarily accepted life; but as he had been taken captive against
his will and in fair fight, he saw no disgrace in it. He wondered
why he and his companions had been spared. It might be that they
were to be put to death publicly, as a warning to their countrymen;
but he thought it more likely that Suetonius had preserved them
to carry them back to Rome as a proof that he had, before giving
up the command, crushed out the last resistance of the Britons to
Roman rule. As the captives had been distributed among the boats,
he had no opportunity of speaking to his companions until, about
midnight, the flotilla arrived at Godmancastra. Then they were
laid on the ground together, a guard of six men taking post beside
them. Boduoc at once broke out in a torrent of execrations against
"They had a right to kill us," he said, "but they had no right to
dishonour us. We had a right to die with the others. We fought them
fairly, and refused to surrender. It is a shameful tyranny thus to
disgrace us by making us captives. I would not have refused death
to my most hated foe; but they shall not exult over us long. If
they will not give me a weapon with which to put an end to my life,
I will starve myself."
There was an exclamation of fierce assent from the other captives.
"They have not meant to dishonour us, Boduoc, but to do us honour,"
Beric said. "The Romans do not view these things in the same light
that we do. It is because, in their opinion, we are brave men, whom
it was an honour to them to subdue, that they have thus taken us.
You see they slew all others, even the women and children. We were
captured not from pity, not because they wished to inflict disgrace
upon us, but simply as trophies of their own valour; just as they
would take a standard. We may deem ourselves aggrieved because we
have not, like the rest, died fighting to the last, and so departed
for the Happy Island; but it is the will of the gods that we should
not make the journey for a time. It is really an honour to us that
they have deemed us worthy of the trouble of capture, instead of
slaying us. Like you, I would rather a thousand times have died;
but since the gods have decreed it otherwise, it is for us to show
that not even captivity can break our spirit, but that we are able
to bear ourselves as brave men who, having done all that men could
do against vastly superior force, still preserve their own esteem,
and give way neither to unmanly repinings nor to a sullen struggle
"Nothing would please the Romans better than for us to act like
wild beasts caught in a snare, gnashing our teeth vainly when we
can no longer strike, and either sulkily protesting against our
lot, or seeking to escape the pains of death or servitude by flying
from life. Let us preserve a front haughty and unabashed. We have
inflicted heavy defeats upon Rome, and are proud of it. Let them see
that the chains on our bodies have not bound our spirit, and that,
though captives, we still hold ourselves as free men, fearless of
what they can do to us. In such a way we shall win at least their
respect, and they will say these are men whom we are proud of having
"By the sacred oak, Beric, you speak rightly," Boduoc exclaimed.
"Such was the bearing of Caractacus, as I have heard, when he fell
into their hands, and no one can say that Caractacus was dishonoured.
No man can control his fate; but, as you say, we may show that we
are above fate. What say you, my friends, has Beric spoken well?"
A murmur of hearty assent came from the other captives, and then
the Roman sergeant of the guard, uneasy at this animated colloquy
among the captives, gruffly ordered silence.
Beric translated the order. "Best sleep, if we can," he added. "We
shall be stronger tomorrow."
Few, however, slept, for all were suffering from wounds more or
less severe. The following morning their bonds were unloosed, and
their wounds carefully attended to by a leech. Then water and food
were offered to them, and of these, following Beric's example, they
partook heartily. An hour later they were placed in the centre of
a strong guard, and then fell in with the troops who were formed
up to escort Suetonius to Camalodunum.
"What are they going to do to us, think you?" Boduoc asked Beric.
"They are either going to put us to death publicly at Camalodunum,
as a warning against resistance, or they are going to take us to
Rome. I think the latter. Had Suetonius been going to remain here,
he might be taking us to public execution; but as he has, as we
have heard, been ordered home, he would not, I think, have troubled
himself to have made us prisoners simply that his successor might
benefit by the example of our execution. It is far more likely, I
think, that he will carry us to Rome in order to show us as proofs
that he has, before leaving Britain, succeeded in crushing out all
"And what will they do with us at Rome?"
"That I know not, Boduoc; possibly they will put us to death there,
but that is not their usual custom. Suetonius has gained no triumph.
A terrible disaster has fallen upon the Romans during his command
here; and though he may have avenged their defeat, he certainly
does not return home in triumph. After a triumph the chief of the
captives is always put to death, sacrificed to their gods. But
as this will be no triumph, we shall, I should say, be treated as
ordinary prisoners of war. Some of these are sold as slaves; some
are employed on public works. Of some they make gladiators--men
who fight and kill each other in the arena for the amusement of
the people of Rome, who gather to see these struggles just as we
do when two warriors who have quarrelled decide their differences
"The choice does not appear a pleasing one," Boduoc said, "to be a
private or public slave, or to be killed for the amusement of the
"Well, the latter is the shortest way out of it, anyhow, and the
one I should choose; but it must be terrible to have to fight with
a man with whom one has had no quarrel," Beric said.
"Well, I don't know, Beric. If he is a captive like yourself, he
must be just as tired of life as you are. So, if he kills you he
is doing you a service; if you kill him, you have greatly obliged
him. So, looking at it in that way, it does not much matter which
way it goes; for if you do him this service one day, someone else
may do you a like good turn the next."
"I had not looked at it in that way, Boduoc," Beric said, laughing.
"Well, there is one thing, I do not suppose the choice will be given
us. At any rate I shall be glad to see Rome. I have always wished
to do so, though I never thought that it would be as a captive.
Still, it will be something even in this evil that has befallen us
to see so great a city with all its wonders. Camalodunum was but
as a little hamlet beside it."
On the evening of the second day after leaving Godmancastra they
arrived at Camalodunum, which in the year that had passed since
its destruction, had already been partially rebuilt and settled
by Gaulish traders from the mainland, Roman officials with their
families and attendants, officers engaged in the civil service and
the army, friends and associates of the procurator, who had been
sent out to succeed Catus Decianus, priests and servants of the
temples. Suetonius had already sent to inform the new propraetor,
Petronius Turpillianus, of the success which he had gained, and a
crowd assembled as the procession was seen approaching, while all
eyes were directed upon the little party of British captives who
followed the chariot of Suetonius.
Many of the newcomers had as yet scarcely seen a native, so complete
had been the destruction of the Trinobantes, and they looked with
surprise and admiration at these men, towering a full head above
their guards, and carrying themselves, in spite of their bonds, with
an air of fearless dignity. Most of all they were surprised when
they learned that the youth--for Beric was as yet but eighteen
--who walked at their head was the noted chief, who had during
the past year inflicted such heavy losses upon the troops of Rome,
and who had now only been captured by treachery. As yet he lacked
some inches of the height of his companions, but he bade fair
in another two or three years to rival the tallest among them
in strength and vigour. The procession halted before the building
which had been erected from the ruins of the old city as a residence
for the propraetor. Petronius, surrounded by a number of officials,
came out to meet Suetonius.
"I congratulate you on your success, Suetonius," he said. "It will
make my task all the easier in carrying out my orders to deal mildly
with the people."
"And it will make my return to Rome all the more pleasant, Petronius,
and I thank you again for having permitted me to continue in command
of my troops until I had revenged the losses we have suffered at
the hands of these barbarians. It is, of course, for you to decide
upon the fate of Beric and his companions; assuredly they deserve
death, but I should like to take them with me as captives to Rome."
"I should prefer your doing so, Suetonius. I could hardly pardon
men who have so withstood us, but, upon the other hand, I should
grieve to commence my rule by an act of severity; besides, I hope
through them to persuade the others--for, as you told me in your
letter, it is but a fraction of these outlaws that you have subdued
--to lay down their arms. It is well, indeed, that you have taken
their chief, and that he, as I hear, has partly been brought up
among us and speaks our language."
"Yes, he lived here for some five years as a hostage for his tribe.
He was under the charge of Caius Muro, who returned to Rome after
our defeat of the Britons. I made inquiries about him, when I
learned that he was chief of the insurgents, and heard that he was
tractable and studious when among us, and that Caius thought very
highly of his intelligence."
"They are noble looking men," Petronius said, surveying the group
of captives; "it is an honour to conquer such men. I will speak
with their chief presently."
"I shall make no longer delay," Suetonius said. "Ships have been
lying at the port in readiness for my departure for the last two
weeks, and I would fain sail tomorrow or next day. Glad I shall
be to leave this island, where I have had nothing but fighting and
hardships since I landed."
"And you have done well," Petronius said courteously. "It was but
half conquered when you landed, it is wholly subdued now. It is
for me only to gather the fruit of your victories."
"Never was there such an obstinate race," Suetonius replied angrily.
"Look at those men, they bear themselves as if they were conquerors
instead of conquered."
"They are good for something better than to be killed, Suetonius;
if we could mate all our Roman women with these fair giants, what
a race we should raise!"
"You would admire them less if you saw them pouring down on you
shouting like demons," Suetonius said sullenly.
"Perhaps so, Suetonius; but I will endeavour to utilize their
strength in our service, and not to call it into the field against
us. Now, let us enter the house. Varo," he said to one of his
officers, "take charge of the captives until Suetonius sails. Guard
them strongly, but treat them well. Place them in the house, where
they will not be stared at by the crowd. If their chief will give
you his word that they will not attempt to escape, their bonds can
be removed; if not, they must remain bound."
Varo at once called a centurion of the legion in garrison
at Camalodunum, and bade him bring up his company. These on their
arrival surrounded the captives and marched with them to a guardhouse
near. When they entered Varo said to Beric:
"The orders of the propraetor are, that you shall all be released
from your bonds if you will give your oath that you will not try
Beric turned to the others and asked if they were willing to give
the promise. "In no case could we escape," he said, "you may be sure
we shall be guarded too strictly for that. It were better that we
should remain bound by our own promise than by fetters." As they
all consented, Beric, in their name, took an oath that they would
not attempt to escape, so that the ropes that bound their arms were
at once taken off, and in a short time a meal was sent to them from
the house of Petronius.
Soon after they had finished an officer came in and requested Beric
to accompany him to the propraetor.
"I will bring two of my followers with me," Beric said. "I would
not say aught to the Roman governor that my tribesmen should not
The officer assented, and Beric with Boduoc and another subchief
followed him to the house of the propraetor. Petronius was seated
with Suetonius at his side, while a number of officers and officials
stood behind him.
"How is it, Beric," he asked, "that, as I hear, you, who speak our
language and have lived for years amongst us, come to be a leader
of those who have warred against us?"
"It is, perhaps, because I studied Roman books, and learned how
you value freedom and independence," Beric replied, "and how you
revolt against tyranny. Had Rome been conquered by a more powerful
nation, every Roman would have risen in arms had one tenth of the
tyranny been practised against them which Catus Decianus exercised
against us. We have been treated worse than the beasts of the
field; our lives, our properties, and the honour of our women were
sacrificed at his will. Death was a thousand times better than such
treatment. I read that Rome has elsewhere been a worthy conqueror,
respecting the religion of the tribes it subdued, and treating them
leniently and well. Had we been so treated we should have been, if
not contented, patient under our lot, but being men we rose against
the infamous treatment to which we were subject; and although we
have been conquered and well nigh exterminated, there are Britons
still remaining, and if such be the treatment to which they are
subjected it is not till the last Briton is exterminated that you
will rule this island."
A murmur of surprise at the boldness with which the young captive
spoke ran round the circle.
"Have you inquired since you arrived," Beric went on, "of the
infamous deeds of Decianus? How he seized, without the shadow of
excuse, the property of Boadicea? and how, when she came here for
justice for herself and her insulted daughters, he ordered her
to be scourged? Should we, a free born people, submit to such an
indignity to our queen? I knew from the first that our enterprise
was hopeless, and that without order or discipline we must in the
end be conquered; but it was better a thousand times to die than
to live subject to treatment worse than that which you give to your
"I believe that there is justice in your complaints, Beric," Petronius
said calmly, "and it is to lessen these grievances that Rome has
sent me hither. Vengeance has been fully taken for your rebellion,
it is time that the sword was laid aside. I have already issued a
proclamation granting an amnesty to all who then rose against us.
Your case was different, you have still continued in arms and have
resisted our power, but I trust that with your capture this will
end. You and your companions will go to Rome with Suetonius; but
there are many of your followers still in arms, with these I would
treat, not as a conqueror with the conquered, but as a soldier with
brave foes. If they will lay down their arms they shall share the
amnesty, and be free to return every man to his own land, to dwell
there and cultivate it free from all penalty or interruption. Their
surrender would benefit not only themselves but all the Britons.
So long as they stand in arms and defy our power we must rule the
land with the sword, but when they surrender there will be peace
throughout the island, and I trust that the Britons in time will
come to look upon us as friends."
"If Rome had so acted before," Beric said, "no troubles would have
arisen, and she might now be ruling over a contented people instead
of over a desert."
"There are still many of your tribesmen in the Fens?"
"There is an army," Beric replied. "You have taken one stronghold,
and that by surprise, but the lesson will not be lost upon them.
There will be no traitors to guide your next expedition; by this
time the last Fenman in the southern swamps will have been killed.
There will be a heavy vengeance taken by my countrymen."
"I would fain put a stop to it all," Petronius said. "Upon what
terms, think you, would your countrymen surrender?"
"They will not surrender at all," Beric said; "there is not a man
there but will die rather than yield. But if you will solemnly take
oath that those who leave the Fens and return to their villages
shall live unmolested, save that they shall--when their homes are
rebuilt and their herds again grazing around them--pay a tribute
such as they are able to bear, they will, I believe, gladly leave
the Fens and return to their villages, and the fugitives who have
fled north will also come back again."
"I am ready to take such an oath at the altar," Petronius said. "I
have come to bring peace to the land. I am ready to do all in my
power to bring it about; but how are they to know what I have done?"
"I would say, Petronius, let us, your captives, be present when you
take the oath. Release four of my band; choose those most sorely
wounded, and who are the least able to support the journey to Rome.
I will send them with my bracelet to the Fens. I will tell them
what you have said, and they will testify to having seen you swear
before your gods; and I will send my last injunctions to them to
return again to their land, to send for the fugitives to return
from the north, and to say from me that they will return as free
men, not as slaves, and that there is no dishonour in accepting
such terms as you offer."
"I will do as you say," the Roman agreed. "Suetonius, you can spare
four of your captives, especially as there are assuredly some among
them who could ill support the fatigues of the journey. Return now
to your friends, Beric; tomorrow morning you shall meet me at the
temple, and there I will take an oath of peace with Britain."
CHAPTER XI: A PRISONER
On leaving the propraetor Beric further informed his comrades of
the offer that Petronius had made.
"And you think he will keep his oath?" Boduoc asked.
"I am sure of it," Beric said; "he has been sent out by Rome to
undo the mischief Suetonius and Decianus have caused. His face is
an honest one, and a Roman would not lie to his gods any more than
"But you ought to have made terms with them, Beric," Boduoc said.
"You ought to have made a condition that you should be allowed to
stay. It matters not for us, but you are the chief of all the Iceni
who are left."
"In the first place, Boduoc, I was not in a position to make terms,
seeing that I am a captive and at their mercy; and in the next
place, I would not if I could. Think you that the tribesmen would
then accept my counsels to leave the Fens and return to their homes?
They would say that I had purchased my life and freedom from the
Romans, and had agreed to betray them into their hands."
"No one would venture to say that of you, Beric."
"You may think not, Boduoc; but if not now, in the future it would
be said that, as before I was brought up among the Romans, so now
I had gone back to them. No, even if they offered to all of us our
liberty, I would say, let those go who will, but I remain a captive.
Had the message come to us when I was free in the Fens I would have
accepted it, for I knew that, although we might struggle long, we
should be finally overpowered. Moreover, the marsh fevers were as
deadly as Roman swords, and though for a year we have supported
them, we should in time, perhaps this year when the summer heats
come, have lost our strength and have melted away. Thus, had I
believed that the Romans were sincere in their wish for peace, and
that they desired to see the land tilled, I would have accepted
their terms, because we were in arms and free, and could still
have resisted; but as a captive, and conquered, I scorn to accept
mercy from Rome."
By this time they had arrived at the house where the other captives
were guarded, and Beric repeated the terms that Petronius had
"They will not benefit us," he said. "We are the captives of
Suetonius, and being taken with arms in our hands warring against
Rome, we must pay the penalty; but, for the sake of our brethren,
I rejoice. Our land may yet be peopled again by the Iceni, and
we shall have the consolation that, whatever may befall us, it
is partly our valour that has won such terms from Rome. There are
still fifteen hundred fighting men in the swamps, and twice as many
women and children. There may be many more lurking in the Fens to
the north, for great numbers, especially from our northern districts,
must have taken refuge with the Brigantes. Thus, then, there will,
when all have returned, be a goodly number, and it is our defence
of the Fenlands that has won their freedom for them. We may
be captives and slaves, but we are not dishonoured. For months we
have held Suetonius at bay, and two Romans have fallen for every
Briton; and even at last it was by treachery we were captured.
"None of us have begged our lives of Rome. We fought to the last,
and showed front when we were but twenty against two thousand. It
was not our fault that we did not die on the field, and we can hold
our heads as high now when we are captives as we did when we were
free men. We know not what may be our fate at Rome, but whatever it
be, it will be a consolation to us to know that our people again
wander in the old woods; that our women are spinning by their
hearthstones; that the Iceni are again a tribe; and that it is we
who have won this for them."
An enthusiastic assent greeted Beric's words.
"Now," he said, "we must choose the four who shall carry the
message. I said those most sorely wounded, but since four are to
go they can care little who are chosen. Most of us have lost those
we love, but there are some whose wives may have been elsewhere
when the attack was made. Let these stay, and let those who have
no ties save that of country go to Rome."
Only two men were found whose families had not been on the island
when it was attacked. These and the two most seriously wounded
were at once chosen as the messengers. The next morning the whole
of the captives were escorted to the temple, which was but a
small building in comparison with the great edifice that had been
destroyed at the capture of Camalodunum. Here Petronius and all
the principal officers and officials were assembled. Sacrifice was
offered, and then Petronius, laying his hand on the altar, declared
a solemn peace with the Britons, and swore that, so long as they
remained peaceable subjects of Rome, no man should interfere with
them, but all should be free to settle in their villages, to till
their land, and to tend their herds free from any molestation
whatever. Beric translated the words of the oath to the Britons.
Petronius then bade the four men who had been chosen stand forward,
and told them to carry his message to their countrymen.
"Enough blood has been shed on both sides," he said. "It is time
for peace. You have proved yourselves worthy and valiant enemies;
let us now lay aside the sword and live together in friendship. I
sent orders last night for the legions to leave their forts by the
Fenland and to return hither, so that the way is now open to your
own land. We can settle the terms of the tribute hereafter, but it
shall not be onerous."
After leaving the temple Beric gave his messages to the men, and
they at once started under an escort for the camp, the officer in
charge of them being ordered to provide them with a boat, in which
they were to proceed alone to their countrymen.
That evening Petronius sent for Beric, and received him alone. "I
am sorry," he said, "that I cannot restore you and your companions
to your tribe, but in this I am powerless, as Suetonius has captured
you, and to him you belong. I have begged him, as a personal
favour, to hand you over to me, but he has refused, and placed as
we are I can do no more. I have, however, written to friends in
Rome concerning you, and have said that you have done all in your
power to bring about a pacification of the land, and have begged
them to represent to Nero and the senate that if a report reach
this island that you have been put to death, it will undo the work
of pacification, and perhaps light up a fresh flame of war."
There had, indeed, been an angry dispute between Suetonius and his
successor. The former, although well pleased to return to Rome, was
jealous of Petronius, and was angry at seeing that he was determined
to govern Britain upon principles the very reverse of those he
himself had adopted. Moreover, he regarded the possession of the
captives as important, and deemed that their appearance in his
train, as proofs that before leaving he had completely stamped out
the insurrection, would create a favourable impression, and would
go far to restore him to popular opinion. This was, as he had heard
from friends in Rome, strongly adverse to him, in consequence of
the serious disasters and heavy losses which had befallen the Roman
arms during his propraetorship, and he had therefore refused with
some heat to grant the request of Petronius.
The next morning the captives were mustered, and were marched down
to the river and placed on board a ship. There were six vessels
lying in readiness, as Suetonius was accompanied not only by his
own household, but by several officers and officials attached to
him personally, and by two hundred soldiers whose time of service
had expired, and who were to form his escort to Rome. To Beric,
from his residence in Camalodunum, large ships were no novelty,
but the Britons with him were struck with astonishment at craft so
vastly exceeding anything that they had before seen.
"Could we sail in these ships to Rome?" Boduoc asked.
"You could do so, but it would be a very long and stormy voyage
passing through the straits between two mountains which the Romans
call the Pillars of Hercules. Our voyage will be but a short one.
If the wind is favourable we shall reach the coast of Gaul in two
days, and thence we shall travel on foot."
Fortunately the weather was fine, and on the third day after setting
sail they reached one of the northern ports of Gaul. When it was
known that Suetonius was on board, he was received with much pomp,
and was lodged in the house of the Roman magistrate. As he had no
desire to impress the inhabitants of the place, the captives were
left unbound and marched through the streets under a guard of the
Roman spearmen. Gaul had long been completely subdued, but the
inhabitants looked at the captives with pitying eyes. When these
reached the house in which they were to be confined, the natives
brought them presents of food, bribing the Roman guards to allow
them to deliver them.
As the language of the two peoples was almost identical, the Gauls
had no difficulty in making themselves understood by the captives,
and asked many questions relating to the state of affairs in Britain.
They had heard of the chief, Beric, who had for a year successfully
opposed the forces of Rome, and great was their surprise when they
found that the youngest of the party was the noted leader. Two days
later they started on their long march.
Inured as the Britons were to fatigue, the daily journeys were nothing
to them. They found the country flourishing. Villages occurred at
frequent intervals, and they passed through several large towns
with temples, handsome villas, and other Roman erections similar
to those that they had sacked at the capture of Camalodunum.
"The people here do not seem to suffer under the Roman rule at
any rate," Boduoc remarked; "they appear to have adopted the Roman
dress and tongue, but for all that they are slaves."
"Not slaves, Boduoc, though they cannot be said to be free; however,
they have become so accustomed to the Roman dominion that doubtless
they have ceased to fret under it; they are, indeed, to all intents
and purposes Roman. They furnish large bodies of troops to the
Roman armies, and rise to positions of command and importance among
them. In time, no doubt, unless misfortunes fall upon Rome, they
will become as one people, and such no doubt in the far distance
will be the case with Britain. We shall adopt many of the Roman
customs, and retain many of our own. There is one advantage, you
see, in Roman dominion--there are no more tribal wars, no more
massacres and slaughters, each man possesses his land in peace and
"But what do they do with themselves?" Boduoc asked, puzzled. "In
such a country as this there can be few wild beasts. If men can
neither fight nor hunt, how are they to employ their time? They
must become a nation of women."
"It would seem so to us, Boduoc, for we have had nothing else to
employ our thoughts; but when we look at what the Romans have done,
how great an empire they have formed, how wonderful are their arts,
how good their laws, and what learning and wisdom they have stored
up, one sees that there are other things to live for; and you see,
though the Romans have learned all these things, they can still
fight. If they once turn so much to the arts of peace as to forget
the virtues of war, their empire will fall to pieces more rapidly
than it has been built up."
Boduoc shook his head, "These things are well enough for you,
Beric, who have lived among the Romans and learned many of their
ways. Give me a life in which a man is a man; when we can live in
the open air, hunt the wolf and the bear, meet our enemies face
to face, die as men should, and go to the Happy Island without
bothering our brains about such things as the arts and luxuries that
the Romans put such value on. A bed on the fallen leaves under an
oak tree, with the stars shining through the leaves, is better than
the finest chamber in Rome covered with paintings."
"Well, Boduoc," Beric said good temperedly, "we are much more
likely to sleep under the stars in Rome than in a grand apartment
covered with paintings; but though the one may be very nice, as
you say, in summer, I could very well put up with the other when
the snow lies deep and the north wind is howling."
They did not, as Beric had hoped, cross the tremendous mountains,
over which, as he had read in Polybius, Hannibal had led his troops
against Rome. Hannibal had been his hero. His dauntless bravery,
his wonderful resources, his cheerfulness under hardships, and the
manner in which, cut off for years from all assistance from home,
he had yet supported the struggle and held Rome at bay, had filled
him with the greatest admiration, and unconsciously he had made the
great Carthaginian his model. He was therefore much disappointed
when he heard from the conversation of his guards that they were
to traverse Gaul to Massilia, and thence take ship to Rome.
The Roman guards were fond of talking to their young captive.
Their thoughts were all of Rome, from which they had been so long
absent, and Beric was eager to learn every detail about the imperial
city; the days' marches therefore passed pleasantly. At night they
were still guarded, but they were otherwise allowed much liberty,
and when they stopped for two or three days at a place they were
free to wander about as they chose, their great stature, fair hair,
and blue eyes exciting more and more surprise as they went farther
south, where the natives were much shorter and swarthier than those
of northern Gaul.
One of the young officers with Suetonius had taken a great fancy
to Beric, and frequently invited him to spend the evening with him
at their halting places. When they approached Massilia he said, "I
have some relations in the city, and I will obtain leave for you
to stay with me at their house while we remain in the town, which
may be for some little time, as we must wait for shipping. My uncle
is a magistrate, and a very learned man. He is engaged in writing
a book upon the religions of the world, and he seldom remains long
at any post. He has very powerful friends in Rome, and so is able
to get transferred from one post to another. He has been in almost
every province of the empire in order to learn from the people
themselves their religions and beliefs. I stayed with him for a
month here two years since on my way to Britain, and he was talking
of getting himself transferred there, after he had been among
the Gauls for a year or two; but his wife was averse to the idea,
protesting that she had been dragged nearly all over the world by
him, and was determined not to go to its furthest boundaries. But
I should think that after the events of the last year he has given
up that idea. I know it will give him the greatest possible pleasure
to converse with one who can tell him all about the religions and
customs of the Britons in his own language."
Massilia was by far the largest city that the Britons had entered,
and they were greatly surprised at its magnitude, and at the varieties
of people who crowded its streets. Even Boduoc, who professed a
profound indifference for everything Roman, was stupefied when he
saw a negro walking in the train of a Roman lady of rank.
"Is it a human being, think you," he murmured in Beric's ear, "or
a wild creature they have tamed? He has not hair, but his head is
covered with wool like a black sheep."
"He is a man," Beric replied. "Across the sea to the south there
are brown men many shades darker than the people here, and beyond
these like lands inhabited by black men. Look at him showing his
teeth and the whites of his eyes. He is as much surprised at our
appearance, Boduoc, as we are at his. We shall see many like him
in Rome, for Pollio tells me that they are held in high estimation
as slaves, being good tempered and obedient."
"He is hideous, Beric; look at his thick lips. But the creature
looks good tempered. I wonder that any woman could have such an
one about the house. Can they talk?"
"Oh, yes, they talk. They are men just the same as we are, except
for their colour."
"But what makes them so black, Beric?"
"That is unknown; but it is supposed that the heat of the sun,
for the country they inhabit is terribly hot, has in time darkened
them. You see, as we have gone south, the people have got darker
"But are they born that colour, Beric?"
"Certainly they are."
"If a wife of mine bore me a child of that colour," Boduoc said,
"I would strangle it. And think you that it is the heat of the sun
that has curled up their hair so tightly?"
"That I cannot say--they are all like that."
"Well, they are horrible," Boduoc said positively. "I did not think
that the earth contained such monsters."
Soon after the captives were lodged in a prison, Pollio came to
see Beric, and told him that he had obtained permission for him
to lodge at his uncle's house, he himself being guarantee for his
safe custody there; accordingly they at once started together.
The house was a large one; for, as Pollio had told Beric by the
way, his uncle was a man of great wealth, and it was a matter of
constant complaint on the part of his wife that he did not settle
down in Rome. Passing straight through the atrium, where he was
respectfully greeted by the servants and slaves, Pollio passed into
the tablinum, where his uncle was sitting writing.
"This is the guest I told you I should bring, uncle," he said. "He
is a great chief, young as he looks, and has given us a world of
trouble. He speaks Latin perfectly, and you will be able to learn
from him all about the Britons without troubling yourself and my
aunt to make a journey to his country."
Norbanus was an elderly man, short in figure, with a keen but kindly
face. He greeted Beric cordially.
"Welcome, young chief," he said. "I will try to make your stay here
comfortable, and I shall be glad indeed to learn from you about your
people, of whom, unfortunately, I have had no opportunity hitherto
of learning anything, save that when I journeyed up last year to
the northwest of Gaul, I found a people calling themselves by the
same name as you. They told me that they were a kindred race, and
that your religion was similar to theirs."
"That may well be," Beric said. "We are Gauls, though it is long
since we left that country and settled in Britain. It may well be
that in some of the wars in the south of the island a tribe, finding
themselves overpowered, may have crossed to Gaul, with which country
we were always in communication until it was conquered by you. We
certainly did not come thence, for all our traditions say that the
Iceni came by ship from a land lying due east from us, and that we
were an offshoot of the Belgae, whose country lay to the northwest
"The people I speak of," the magistrate said, "have vast temples
constructed of huge stones placed in circles, which appear to me to
have, like the great pyramids of Egypt, an astronomical signification,
for I found that the stones round the sacrificial altars were so
placed that the sun at its rising threw its rays upon the stone
only upon the longest day of summer."
"It is so with our great temples," Beric said; "and upon that day
sacrifices are offered. What the signification of the stones and
their arrangements is I cannot say. These mysteries are known only
to the Druids, and they are strictly preserved from the knowledge
of those outside the priestly rank."
"Spare him for today, uncle," Pollio said laughing. "We are like,
I hear, to be a fortnight here before we sail; so you will have
abundant time to learn everything that Beric can tell you. I will
take him up now, with your permission, and introduce him to my aunt
"You will find them in the garden, Pollio. Supper will be served
in half an hour. Tomorrow, Beric, we will, after breakfast, renew
this conversation that my feather brained young nephew has cut so
"My Aunt Lesbia will be greatly surprised when she sees you,"
Pollio laughed as they issued out into the garden. "I did not see
her until after I had spoken to my uncle, and I horrified her by
telling her that the noted British chief Beric, who had defeated
our best troops several times with terrible slaughter, was coming
here to remain under my charge until we sail for Rome. She was
shocked, considering that you must be a monster of ferocity; and
even my pretty cousins were terrified at the prospect. I had half a
mind to get you to attire yourself in Roman fashion, but I thought
that you would not consent. However, we shall surprise them
sufficiently as it is."
Lesbia was seated with her two daughters on couches placed under
the shade of some trees. Two or three slave girls stood behind
them with fans. A dalmatian bore hound lay on the ground in front
of them. Another slave girl was singing, accompanying herself on
an instrument resembling a small harp, while a negro stood near
in readiness to start upon errands, or to fetch anything that his
mistress might for the moment fancy. Lesbia half rose from her
reclining position when she saw Pollio approaching, accompanied
by a tall figure with hair of a golden colour clustering closely
round his head. The Britons generally wore their hair flowing over
their shoulders; but the Iceni had found such inconvenience from
this in making their way through the close thickets of the swamps,
that many of them--Beric among the number--had cut their hair
close to the head. With him it was but a recurrence to a former
usage, as while living among the Romans his hair had been cut
short in their fashion. The two girls, who were fifteen and sixteen
years old, uttered an exclamation of surprise as Beric came near,
and Lesbia exclaimed angrily:
"You have been jesting with us, Pollio. You told me that you were
going to bring Beric the fierce British chief here, and this young
giant is but a beardless lad."
Pollio burst into a fit of laughter, which was increased at the
expression of astonishment in Lesbia's face when Beric said, in
excellent Latin,--"Pollio has not deceived you, lady. My name is
Beric, I was the chief of the Britons, and my followers gave some
trouble even to Suetonius."
"But you are not the Beric whom we have heard of as leading the
"There is no other chief of my name," Beric said. "Therefore, if
you heard aught of good or evil concerning Beric the Briton, it
must relate to me."
"This is Beric, aunt," Pollio said, "and you must not judge him by
his looks. I was with Suetonius in his battles against him, and I
can tell you that we held him in high respect, as we had good cause
for doing, considering that in all it cost the lives of some twelve
hundred legionaries before we could overcome him, and we took him
by treachery rather than force."
"But how is it that he speaks our language?" Lesbia asked.
"I was a hostage for five years among the Romans," Beric said,
"and any knowledge I may have of the art of war was learned from
the pages of Caesar, Polybius, and other Roman writers. The Romans
taught me how to fight them."
"And now," Pollio broke in, "I must introduce you in proper form.
This is my Aunt Lesbia, as you see; these are my cousins Aemilia and
Ennia. Do you know, girls, that these Britons, big and strong as they
are, are ruled by their women. These take part in their councils,
and are queens and chieftainesses, and when it is necessary they
will fight as bravely as the men. They are held by them in far
higher respect than with us, and I cannot say that they do not
deserve it, for they think of other things than attiring themselves
and spending their time in visits and pleasure."
"You are not complimentary, Pollio," Aemilia said; "and as to
attire, the young Romans think as much of it as we do, and that
without the same excuse, for we are cut off from public life, and
have none save home pursuits. If you treat us as you say the Britons
treat their women, I doubt not that we should show ourselves as
worthy of it."
"Now I ask you fairly, Aemilia, can you fancy yourself encouraging
the legionaries in the heat of battle, and seizing spear and shield
and rushing down into the thick of the fight as I have seen the
British women do?"
"No, I cannot imagine that," Aemilia said laughing. "I could not
bear the weight of a shield and spear, much less use them in battle.
But if the British women are as much bigger and stronger than I am,
as Beric is bigger and stronger than you are, I can imagine their
fighting. I wondered how the Britons could withstand our troops, but
now that I see one of them there is no difficulty in comprehending
it, and yet you do not look fierce, Beric."
"I do not think that I am fierce," Beric said smiling; "but even the
most peaceful animal will try and defend itself when it is attacked."
"Have you seen Norbanus?" Lesbia asked.
"He has seen him," Pollio replied; "and if it had not been for me
he would be with him still, for my uncle wished to engage him at
once in a discourse upon the religion and customs of his people;
I carried Beric away almost forcibly."
Lesbia sighed impatiently. The interest of her husband in these
matters was to her a perpetual source of annoyance. It was owing to
this that she so frequently travelled from one province to another,
instead of enjoying herself at the court in Rome. But although in
all other matters Norbanus gave way to her wishes, in this he was
immovable, and she was forced to pass her life in what she considered
exile. She ceased to take any further interest in the conversation,
but reclined languidly on her couch, while Pollio gave his cousins
a description of his life in Britain, and Beric answered their numerous
questions as to his people. Their conversation was interrupted by
a slave announcing that supper was ready, and Lesbia was relieved
at finding that Beric thoroughly understood Roman fashions, and
comported himself at table as any other guest would have done. The
girls sat down at the meal, although this was contrary to usual
custom; but Norbanus insisted that his family should take their
meals with him, save upon occasions of a set banquet.
"It seems wonderful," Ennia said to her sister later on, "that we
should have been dining with the fierce chief of whom we have heard
so much, and that he should be as courteous and pleasant and well
mannered as any young Roman."
"A good deal more pleasant than most of them," Aemilia said, "for
he puts on no airs, and is just like a merry, good tempered lad,
while if a young Roman had done but a tithe of the deeds he has he
would be insufferable. We must get Pollio to take us tomorrow to
see the other Britons. They must be giants indeed, when Beric, who
says he is but little more than eighteen years, could take Pollio
under his arm and walk away with him."
In the morning, accordingly, Pollio started with his two cousins
to the prison, while Beric sat down for a long talk with Norbanus
in his study. Beric soon saw that the Roman viewed all the matters
on which he spoke from the standpoint of a philosopher without
After listening to all that Beric could tell him about the religion
of the Britons, he said, "It is remarkable that all people appear
to think that they have private deities of their own, who interest
themselves specially on their behalf, and aid them to fight their
battles. I have found no exception to this rule, and the more
primitive the people the more obstinate is this belief. In Rome at
present the learned no longer believe in Jupiter and Mars and the
rest of the deities, though they still attend the state ceremonies
at the temples, holding that a state religion is necessary. The
lower class still believe, but then they cannot be said to reason. In
Greece scepticism is universal among the upper class, and the same
may now be said of Egypt. Our Roman belief is the more unaccountable
since we have simply borrowed the religion of the Greeks, the gods
and their attributes being the same, with only a change of name;
and yet we fancy that these Greek gods are the special patrons of
"Your religion seems to me the most reasonable of any I have
studied, and approaches more nearly than any other to the highest
speculations of the Greek philosophers. You believe in one God, who
is invisible and impersonal, who pervades all nature; but having
formed so lofty an idea of him, you belittle him by making him a
special god of your own country, while if he pervades all nature he
must surely be universal. The Jews, too, believe in a single God,
and in this respect they resemble you in their religion, which is
far more reasonable than that of nations who worship a multiplicity
of deities; but they too consider that their God confines His
attention simply to them, and rules over only the little tract they
call their own--a province about a hundred miles long, by thirty
or forty wide. From them another religion has sprung. This has made
many converts, even in Rome, but has made no way whatever among
the learned, seeing that it is more strange and extravagant than
any other. It has, however, the advantage that the new God is,
they believe, universal, and has an equal interest in all people.
I have naturally studied the tenets of this new sect, and they are
singularly lofty and pure. They teach among other things that all
men are equal in the sight of God--a doctrine which naturally
gains for them the approval of slaves and the lower people, but,
upon the other hand, brings them into disfavour with those in power.
"They are a peaceful sect, and would harm no one; but as they
preach that fighting is wrong, I fear that they will before long
come into collision with the state, for, were their doctrines to
spread, there would soon be a lack of soldiers. To me it appears
that their views are impracticable on this subject. In other respects
they would make good citizens, since their religion prescribes
respect to the authorities and fair dealing in all respects with
other men. They are, too, distinguished by charity and kindness
towards each other. One peculiarity of this new religion is, that
although springing up in Judaea, it has made less progress among
the Jews than elsewhere, for these people, who are of all others
the most obstinate and intolerant, accused the Founder of the
religion, one Christus, before the Roman courts, and He was put to
death, in my opinion most unjustly, seeing that there was no crime
whatever alleged against Him, save that He perverted the religion
of the Jews, which was in no way a concern of ours, as we are
tolerant of the religions of all people."
"But Suetonius attacked our sacred island and slew the priests on
the altars," Beric objected.
"That is quite true," Norbanus said, "but his had nothing whatever
to do with the religion, but was simply because the priests stirred
up insurrection against us. We have temples in Rome to the deities
of almost every nation we have subdued, and have suffered without
objection the preachers of this new doctrine to make converts.
The persecutions that have already begun against the sect are not
because they believe in this Christus, but because they refuse to
perform the duties incumbent upon all Roman citizens. Two of my
slaves belong to the sect. They know well that I care not to what
religion they belong, and indeed, for my part, I should be glad to
see all my slaves join them, for the moral teaching is high, and
these slaves would not steal from me, however good the opportunity.
That is more than I can say of the others. Doubtless, had I been
fixed in Rome, the fact that they belonged to these people would
have been kept a secret, but in the provinces no one troubles his
head about such matters. These are, to my mind, matters of private
opinion, and they have leave from me to go on their meeting days
to the place where they assemble, for even here there are enough
of them to form a gathering.
"So long as this is done quietly it is an offence to no one. The
matter was discussed the other day among us, for orders against
Christians came from Rome; but when the thing was spoken of I said
that, as I believed members of the sect were chiefly slaves, who
were not called upon to perform military duties, I could not deem
that the order applied to them, and that as these were harmless
people, and their religion taught them to discharge their duty in
all matters save that of carrying arms, I could not see why they
should be interfered with. Moreover, did we move in the matter, and
did these people remain obstinate in their Faith, we might all of
us lose some valuable slaves. After that no more was said of the
matter. Now tell me about your institution of the bards, of which
I have heard. These men seem not only to be the depositors of your
traditions and the reciters of the deeds of your forefathers, but
to hold something of a sacred position intermediate between the
Druids and the people."
For some hours Beric and his host conversed on these subjects,
Beric learning more than he taught, and wondering much at the
wide knowledge possessed by Norbanus. It was not until dinner was
announced that the Roman rose.
"I thank you much, Beric, for what you have told me, and I marvel
at the interest that you, who have for the last two years been
leading men to battle, evince in these matters. After five minutes
of such talk my nephew Pollio would begin to weary."
"I was fond of learning when I was in the household of Caius Muro,
but my time was chiefly occupied by the study of military works
and in military exercises; still I found time to read all the
manuscripts in Muro's library. But I think I learned more from the
talk of Cneius Nepo, his secretary, who was my instructor, than
from the books, for he had travelled much with Muro, and had studied
Pollio had returned some time before with his cousins.
"I would have come in before to carry you away," he whispered to
Beric as they proceeded to the dinner table, "but it would have put
out my uncle terribly, and as I knew you would have to go through
it all I thought it as well that you should finish with it at once."
"I am glad you did not," Beric replied. "It has been a great
pleasure to me to listen to your uncle's conversation, from which
I have learned a good deal."
Pollio glanced up to see if Beric was joking. Seeing that he spoke
in perfect good faith, he said:
"Truly, Beric, you Britons are strange fellows. I would rather go
through another day's fighting in your swamps than have to listen
to uncle for a whole morning."
As they sat down he went on:
"The girls are delighted with your Britons, Beric. They declare
they are not only the biggest but the handsomest men they ever saw,
and I believe that if your lieutenant Boduoc had asked either of
them to return with him and share his hut in the swamps they would
have jumped at the offer."
The girls both laughed.
"But they are wonderful, Beric," Aemilia said. "When you told us
that you were not yet full grown I thought you were jesting, but I
see now that truly these men are bigger even than you are. I wish
I had such golden hair as most of them have, and such a white skin.
Golden hair is fashionable in Rome, you know, but it is scarce,
except in a few whose mothers were Gauls who have married with
"It is the nature of man to admire the opposite to himself," Norbanus
said. "You admire the Britons because they are fair, while to them,
doubtless, Roman women would appear beautiful because their hair
and their eyes are dark."
"But Beric has not said so, father," Aemilia said laughing.
"I am not accustomed to pay compliments," Beric said with a smile,
"but assuredly your father is right. I have been accustomed for
the last two years to see British maidens only. These are fair and
tall, some of them well nigh as tall as I, and as they live a life
of active exercise, they are healthy and strong."
"That they are," Pollio broke in. "I would as soon meet a soldier
of the Goths as one of these maidens Beric speaks of, when her
blood is up. I have seen our soldiers shrink from their attack,
when, with flashing eyes and hair streaming behind them, they rush
down upon us, armed with only stones and billets of wood that they
had snatched up. What they may be in their gentler moments I know
not, and I should hesitate to pay my court to one, for, if she liked
it not, she would make small difficulty in throwing me outside the
door of her hut."
"You are too quick, Pollio," Aemilia said. "Beric was about to
compare us with them."
"The comparison is difficult," Beric said; "but you must not
imagine our women as being always in the mood in which Pollio has
seen them. They were fighting, not for their lives, but in order
to be killed rather than fall into the hands of your soldiers.
Ordinarily they are gentle and kind. They seemed to Pollio to be
giantesses, but they bear the same proportion to our height as you
do to the height of the Roman men."
"I meant not to say aught against them," Pollio broke in hastily.
"I meant but to show my cousins how impossible it was for you
to make any comparison between our women and yours. All who know
them speak well of the British women, and admire their devotion to
their husbands and children, their virtue, and bravery. You might
as well compare a Libyan lioness with a Persian cat as the British
women with these little cousins of mine."
"But the Persian cat has, doubtless, its lovable qualities," Beric
said smiling. "It is softer and gentler and better mannered than
the lioness, though, perhaps, the lion might not think so. But
truly your Roman ladies are beyond comparison with ours. Ours live
a life of usefulness, discharging their duties as mistress of the
household, intent upon domestic cares, and yet interested as ourselves
in all public affairs, and taking a share in their decision. Your
ladies live a life of luxury. They are shielded from all trouble.
They are like delicate plants by the side of strong saplings.
No rough air has blown upon them. They are dainty with adornments
gathered from the whole world, and nature and art have combined
alike to make them beautiful."
"All of which means, Aemilia," Pollio laughed, "that, in Beric's
opinion, you are pretty to look at, but good for nothing else."
"I meant not that," Beric said eagerly, "only that the things you
are good for are not the things which British women are good for.
You have no occasion to be good housewives, because you have slaves
who order everything for you. But you excel in many things of which
a British woman never so much as heard. There is the same difference
that there is between a cultured Roman and one of my tribesmen."
"Human nature is the same everywhere," Norbanus said, "fair or
dark, great or small. It is modified by climate, by education, by
custom, and by civilization, but at bottom it is identical. And
now, Pollio, I think you had better take Beric down to the port,
the sight of the trade and shipping will be new to him."
CHAPTER XII: A SCHOOL FOR GLADIATORS
As the vessels carrying Suetonius, his suite, and captives sailed
up the Tiber it was met by a galley bearing the orders of the senate
that Suetonius was not to traverse the streets with an armed suite
and captives in his train, but was to land as a private person;
that the soldiers were to march to the barracks on the Capitoline,
where they would receive their arrears of pay and be disbanded; and
that the captives were to be handed over to a centurion, who with
his company would be at the landing place to receive them. Pollio
took the news to Beric, who was on board the same ship, the rest
of the captives being with the soldiers in the vessel which followed.
"I am rejoiced, indeed," he said, "for although I knew that
the general would not receive a triumph, I feared that if he made
a public entry it was possible there might be a public outcry for
your life, which would, by our custom, have been forfeited had there
been a triumph. I doubt not that the hand of Petronius is in this;
his messengers would have arrived here weeks ago, and it may be that
letters despatched as much as a month after we left have preceded
us. Doubtless he would have stated that his clemency had had the
desired effect, and that all trouble was at an end; he may probably
have added that this was partly due to your influence, and warned
them that were you put to death it would have a deplorable effect
among your people and might cause a renewal of trouble. Suetonius
is furious, for he has hoped much from the effect his entry with
captives in his train would have produced. He has powerful enemies
here; scarce a noble family but has lost a connection during the
troubles in Britain, and Suetonius is of course blamed for it. You
and I know that, although he has borne himself harshly towards the
Britons, the rising was due to Catus rather than to him, but as
Catus is a creature of Nero the blame falls upon Suetonius."
"It was the deeds of Catus that caused the explosion," Beric said;
"but it would have come sooner or later. It was the long grinding
tyranny that had well nigh maddened us, that drove Caractacus first
to take up arms, that raised the western tribes, and made all feel
that the Roman yoke was intolerable. The news of the massacre of
the Druids and the overthrow of our altars converted the sullen
discontent into a burning desire for revenge, and the insult to
Boadicea was the signal rather than the cause of the rising. It is
to the rule of Suetonius that it is due that hundreds of thousands
of Britons, Romans, and their allies have perished."
"The fault of Suetonius," Pollio said, "was that he was too much
of a soldier. He thought of military glory, and left all other
matters, save the leading of his troops, in the hands of his
civilians. Petronius is a general, but he has distinguished himself
more in civil matters. Two generals have been sent out with him,
to lead the troops if necessary, but he has been chosen as an
"They should have sent him out ten years ago," Beric said, "and
there then would have been no occasion for generals."
They were now approaching Rome, and Beric's attention was entirely
occupied by the magnificent scene before him, and with the sight
of the temples and palaces rising thickly upon the seven hills.
Massilia had surprised him by its size and splendour, but beside
Rome it was only a village. "Rome would do well," he said to Pollio,
"to bring the chiefs of every conquered country hither; the sight
would do more than twenty legions to convince them of the madness
of any efforts to shake off the Roman yoke."
"I will see you tomorrow," Pollio said as they neared the landing
place. "I shall see many of my friends today, and get them to
interest themselves in your behalf. I will find out for you where
Caius Muro is at present; doubtless he too will do what he can for
you, seeing that you lived so long in his charge;" for Beric had
not mentioned to his friend aught of the manner in which he had
saved Muro's daughter at the sack of Camalodunum.
As soon as the centurion came on board Pollio recommended Beric
to his care, saying that he was the chief of the party of British
captives, and that during the journey he had formed a close friendship
"I shall not be in charge of him long," the centurion said. "I have
but to hand him over to the governor of the prison, but I will tell
him what you have said to me. He must now go on board the other ship
and join his companions, for my orders are that they are not to be
landed until after dark." Pollio nodded to Beric; this was another
proof that it was determined the populace should not be excited
in favour of Suetonius by the passage of the captives through the
Beric rejoined his companions. "Well, Boduoc, what think you of
"I have been thinking how mad our enterprise was, Beric. You told
me about the greatness of Rome and from the first predicted failure,
but I thought this was because you had been infected by your Roman
training; I see now that you were right. Well, and what do you
think is going to be done with us?"
"It is evident there is going to be no public display of us, Boduoc.
Suetonius is at present in disgrace, and we shall be either sent
into the school for gladiators, or set to work at some of the
palaces Nero is building."
"They may do what they like," Boduoc said, "but I will not fight
for their amusement. They may train me if they like and send me
into the arena, but if they do I will not lift sword, but will bid
my opponent slay me at once."
There was a murmur of assent from some of the others; but another
who said, "Well, I would rather die fighting anyway than work as
a slave at Roman palaces," found a response from several.
The next day they were marched up to Nero's palace.
Surprised as they might be by the splendour of the streets they
traversed, and by the grandeur and magnificence of the palace, they
betrayed no sign whatever of their feelings, but marched through
the vast halls with their wealth of marble and adornments with calm
and unmoved faces. At last they reached the audience hall, where
the emperor was seated with a throng of courtiers behind him.
Nero was five-and-twenty, but looked older, for his dissolute
habits had already left their marks upon his features. He had an
air of good temper, and a rough frankness of manner that rendered
him popular among the mass of the people, whom he courted by
every means in his power, distributing with lavish hand the wealth
he gained by confiscation and spoliation of the rich. The Britons
bowed deeply before him and then stood upright and fearless.
"By Hercules," the emperor said to the councillor standing next
to him, "but these are grand men! No wonder Suetonius has had such
trouble in subduing them. And this young man is their chief? Truly,
as Petronius said in his letter, he is but a lad. You speak our
language too?" he went on, addressing Beric.
"I was brought up as a hostage among the Romans," he replied, "and
was instructed in their language and literature."
"Then you should have known better than to rise against us, young
"Two years ago I was but a boy, Caesar," Beric replied, "scarce
deemed old enough to fight, much less to give an opinion in the
presence of my elders. I was well aware that the struggle must end
in our defeat; but when the chiefs of my nation decided for war,
I had nought to do but to go with them."
"But how is it, then, that you came to command so many, and became
in time the leader of so large a band?"
"It was because I had studied your military books, and knew that
only by an irregular warfare could we hope to prolong our existence.
It was no longer an insurrection; we were simply fugitives trying
to sell our lives dearly. If Suetonius had offered us terms we
would gladly have laid down our arms, but as he simply strove to
destroy us we had, like animals brought to bay, to fight for our
own lives. The moment Petronius offered to allow my people to return
to their homes and pay tribute to Rome I advised them to submit."
"So Petronius tells me, and he has said much to excuse your conduct.
"I would I could enlist this band as my bodyguard," Nero said in
a low voice, turning to his councillor, "but the praetorian guards
are jealous of their privileges, and none save a Roman can be
enrolled in their ranks."
"It would be dangerous, Caesar; the praetorians are well affected
to your majesty, and in these days when there are so many ambitious
generals at the head of armies it would be unwise to anger them."
"Then we will send them to the schools to be trained. Send this
lad with the four best of the others to Scopus, and divide the
rest among three other schools. The Romans have never seen such
men as these in the arena. We must not spoil it by matching them
at present with men whose skill more than makes up for their want
of strength. Two years in the schools will make marvels of them.
The lad will want more than that before he gains his full bulk and
strength, but he will some day turn out such a gladiator as Rome
has never seen; and if after a time we can find no champion to
withstand him, we can match him against the lions. I will myself
give Scopus orders concerning him."
So saying he waved his hand. The guards closed round the captives
and they were led away.
"What is it all about, Beric?" Boduoc asked.
"We are to go to the school for gladiators," Beric said; "but as
the emperor considers that you will all need two years' training
at the exercises before you will be fit to appear in the ring, we
shall have time to think matters over. Much may happen before that.
Nero may be liked by the mass of the people, but he is hated and
feared, as I hear, by the upper classes. He may be assassinated or
overthrown before that."
"I don't see that it will make much difference to us," Boduoc
"I don't know that it would. At any rate we have time before us. We
shall be well taken care of, well fed, and have plenty of exercise.
Before now the gladiators have shaken Rome to its centre. What has
happened once may happen again."
As they passed along the streets of Rome the news that a party of
fair haired giants were being escorted under a guard spread rapidly,
and a crowd soon filled the streets. Windows opened and ladies
looked curiously down at the procession. Beric marched at the head
of his party, who followed four abreast, and their air of calmness
and self possession, their proud bearing, and the massive strength
of their figures roused the admiration of the multitude, who, on
learning from the guards that the captives were Britons, greeted
them with shouts of approval. So thick became the crowd before they
reached their destination, that the Roman soldiers had difficulty
in forcing their way through. As they turned into the street in
which stood the great school of Scopus the crowd at once guessed
the destination of the captives.
"By all the gods!" one of the lookers on said, "these fellows will
furnish us with grand sport in the arena."
"It is a shame to turn such grand looking men into gladiators," a
"What, would you like to pick a husband out among them, dame?" the
first speaker laughed.
"I would not mind. At any rate, I would prefer any of them to such
an ill looking scarecrow as you," she retorted. "It is bad enough
when they kill off some of those Gauls, who are far too good for
such work; but the best of them I have seen in the arena lacks six
inches, both in height and breadth of shoulder, of these Britons."
"Ah!" the man grumbled, "that is always the way with women; they
think of nothing but strength."
"Why shouldn't we? Men think of nothing but beauty."
And so, amid a chorus of remarks, for the most part complimentary,
the Britons strode along, surrounded by their escort, until they
reached the entrance to the school of Scopus. The master, attracted
by the noise in the street, was standing at the entrance. He was
a broad built man, but without an ounce of superfluous flesh, with
muscles and sinews standing up in knots and ridges, and evidently
possessed of extreme activity as well as strength.
"Nero has sent you five fresh scholars, Scopus."
"By Hercules," Scopus said, "they are splendid barbarians! Whence
"They are Britons."
"Ah! Yes, Claudius brought back a few with him, but that was before
I was here. I would they were all a few years younger. They are in
their prime now; and to make a man first class, one should begin
with him young. This youngster here is just the age. I warrant me
there will not be many who can hold their own against him when I
have trained him."
"He is their chief," the centurion said, "and speaks our language
as well as you do."
"That is good. I can speak a little Gaulish; but there is always
trouble with newcomers from out of the way countries when we have
no one who speaks their language."
"Well, I will leave them with you; they are in your charge. I have
the other fifteen to divide among three other schools."
"I will take care of them," Scopus said. "There is good feeding
and good drinking here, and no one runs away. There is nowhere to
run to, that is one thing. Still, what could a man want more than
to be well housed, well fed, and have the companionship of plenty
of good fellows? Don't you think so?" and he turned to Beric.
"It is of no use asking for more if one is not likely to get it;
certainly we might do worse."
"Well, follow me," Scopus said. "I will introduce you to your
Beric and his companions took a hearty farewell of the others, Beric
telling them that doubtless they would have frequent occasions of
meeting; he then followed Scopus into a large hall. Here some forty
or fifty men were assembled. Some were swinging weights round their
heads, others were engaged at gymnastic exercises. Two men, under
the direction of an instructor, were fighting with blunted swords;
one great fellow, armed with sword and shield, was hotly pursuing
an active man of little over half his weight, carrying a trident
in one hand and a net in the other, amid the laughter of a group
At the entrance of Scopus and his companions the proceedings were
"Here are some fresh hands," Scopus said, "who have come to fill up
the vacancies made in the games ten days since. They are Britons,
and I should imagine will require a lot of training before they are
fit for the arena. One of them talks Latin. The rest, I fancy, will
have, for the present, to content themselves with the companionship
of you Gauls, who are, as I believe, of kindred race, though it
seems to me that either you must have fallen off in size, or they
have increased since you separated."
Some seven or eight Gauls stepped forward and addressed the Britons,
and the latter, glad to find men who could speak their language,
responded heartily. The gladiators were of many races. Besides the
Gauls there were four or five Goths; some Iberians, lean swarthy
men; Numidians, fleet of foot, lithe and active--these were used
more often for contests with wild beasts than in the gladiatorial
conflicts, for which they lacked strength and weight--Parthians
and Scythians, together with a score of natives of Italy, Romans
and others, who had taken to the profession of gladiator as they
might have done to any other calling.
"Now," Scopus said to Beric, "you are free of the place; there
are no prisoners here. There are regular hours and exercises; but
beyond that your time is your own, to walk in the city, to see
the shows, or to remain here. As you see, all here dress somewhat
after Roman fashion, so that as they go abroad they may not be stared
at. There is no obligation that way, but it is more comfortable.
There are upwards of a hundred schools in Rome. Some are larger than
mine, and some smaller, but there is not one that stands higher.
When one of my men enters the ring the audience know that they are
going to see good sport."
"Do we have to fight against each other, or against strangers?"
"Against strangers," Scopus said. "When there is going to be a show
day, so many schools are warned to send three or four men, as the
case may be, and the master of ceremonies matches them against
each other. Sometimes there may be ten couples, sometimes forty or
fifty, it depends whether it is a great occasion or not; and of
course each school hopes to see its champions win. That fellow you
saw running with a net, he is a Scythian, and so quick and nimble
that he always gets away, and is ready for a throw again before his
opponent can overtake him. He is a great favourite of the public,
for he has been in the arena twelve times and has always conquered."
"What do you consider to be the best weapon--the trident or the
"If a man is active without being strong, I should make a retiarius
of him," Scopus said. "If he is strong without being active, he
would naturally fight with sword and buckler. Then there is the
caestus, but the Romans do not care for that, though, to my mind,
it is the finest of all the exercises; for that both strength and
activity are required, but it is not bloody enough for the Romans.
Perhaps the thing that demands the greatest skill and nerve and
strength at the same time is to fight wild beasts. However, we
settle none of these things at first. After a few months' training
we see what a man's capabilities are, and what he himself has
a fancy for. I always let a man choose, if he has any very strong
wish in the matter, for he is sure to succeed best in that. There
are many who, even with all my care, never turn out first class.
These are reserved to fight in what may be called general contests,
which have become popular lately, ten against ten, or fifty against
fifty. On two or three grand occasions there have been as many as
a thousand engaged. For these no particular skill is required; it
is one side against the other. Lastly, there are a few who turn
out so useless that it would be a waste of pains to try to make
anything of them. These are sent to the galleys, or to the public
"You never find any unwilling to learn?" Beric said.
"Not one," the man said carelessly. "A man has to defend himself,
and even with blunt swords he will get awkward cracks if he cannot
protect his head. Besides, in the arena a man's life depends upon
his skill, and the conquered is sure to have no mercy shown him
unless he has borne himself well. Therefore, each man is anxious
to learn. I have had a few obstinate fellows, for the most part
Goths, who would do nothing. I simply send them down to the galleys,
and I warrant me that they are not long in finding out what fools
they have been, and would give a good deal to exchange their beds
of hard boards and their coarse food for a life of pleasure and
"As long as it lasts," Beric said.
"Yes, as long as it lasts. But with all its dangers it is likely
to last as long as that of a galley slave. What with bad food and
hardship and toil and the taskmaster's whip and the burning sun, a
galley slave's life is a short one; while a skilful gladiator may
live for many years, and in time save money enough to set up a
school as I have done."
"Were you a gladiator once?" Beric asked.
"Certainly I was; and so were all the masters of the schools,
except, perhaps, a few Greeks, whose methods differ from ours.
"I was ten years in the arena, and fought thirty-five battles. In
thirty I was victorious, in the other five I was defeated; but as
I was a favourite, and always made a good fight, the thumbs were
turned up, which, as you may know, is the signal for mercy."
"Are you a Roman?"
"No, I am a Thessalian. I took to it young, having got into trouble
at home. We have blood feuds there, and having killed the chief of
a house with which my people had a quarrel I had to fly, and so
made to Pola. Thence I crossed to Brundusium. I worked there in
the dockyard for a year or two; but I was never fond of hard work
of that sort, so I came on here and entered a school. Now, as you
see, I am master of one. A gladiator who distinguishes himself
gets many presents, and I did well. The life is not a bad one after
"It must be hateful having to fight with men with whom you have no
quarrel," Beric said.
"You don't feel that after the first minute or two," Scopus laughed.
"There is a man standing opposite to you with a sword or a trident,
and you know very well that if you do not kill him, he is going
to kill you. It makes very little difference, after you once face
each other, whether there was any quarrel between him and you
beforehand or not; the moment the fighting begins, there is an end
of all nonsense of that sort.
"What is an enemy? A man who wants to do you harm. This man facing
you is going to kill you, unless you kill him. There cannot be a
worse enemy than that. After all, it is just the same with soldiers
in a battle. They have no particular quarrel with the men facing
them; but directly the arrows begin to fly, and a storm of javelins
come singing through the air, you think of nothing but of trying to
kill the men who are trying to kill you. I thought as you do before
I entered the arena the first time, but I never felt so afterwards.
All these things are matters of usage, and the gladiator, after
his first combat, enters the ring with just the same feeling as a
soldier marches to meet an enemy."
Beric was silent. He had no doubt that there was some truth in
what Scopus said; his own experience in battle had shown him this.
But he was still determined in his mind that, come what would, he
would not fight for the amusement of the Romans. But it was of no
use to say this now; it might be a long time before he was required
to enter the arena, and until then he might as well apply himself
to gaining strength and science in arms. It did not seem to him
that there was any possibility of escape, but he might at least
take to the woods, and stand at bay there, and be killed in a fair
open fight. The next morning the exercises began. They were at first
of a moderate character, and were only intended to strengthen the
muscles and add to the endurance. For the first six months they were
told that their work would consist only of gymnastic exercises--
lifting weights, wielding heavy clubs, climbing ropes, wrestling,
and running on foot. Their food was simple but plentiful. All
adopted the Roman costume, in order to avoid observation when they
went abroad. Being a strong body, and individually formidable, they
were free from the rough jokes generally played upon newcomers,
and when, after six hours of exercise, they sat down to a hearty
dinner, the general feeling among them was that things were better
than they expected, and the life of a gladiator, with the exception
of his appearances in the arena, was by no means a bad one. Pollio
called in the afternoon, as he had promised, and had a long talk
"In the first place, I have some bad news for you, Beric. Caius
Muro remained here but a month after his return from Britain, and
was then sent to command the legion in the north of Syria."
"That is bad news indeed, Pollio. I had looked forward to seeing
him. I had made sure that I should find one friend at least in
"It is unfortunate indeed, Beric, for he would have spoken for you,
and might have obtained a better lot for you. I hate seeing you
here," he said passionately, "but it is better than being executed
at once, which is the lot that generally befalls the chief of
captives taken in war. Scopus is not a bad fellow when things go
well, but they say that he is a fiend when his blood is up. He is
one of the finest fighters we ever had in the arena, though he left
it before I was old enough to go there. I know him well, however,
for I used to come here with my elder brother, who was killed four
years ago in Africa. It is quite the fashion among the young Romans
to go the round of the schools and see the gladiators practising,
and then when the sports come on they bet on the men they consider
the most skilful."
"A fine sport," Beric said sarcastically.
"Well, you see, Beric, we have been bred up to it, and we wager
upon it just as you Britons do on your fights between cocks. I never
felt any hesitation about it before, because I had no particular
personal interest in any of the combatants. After all, you know,
life is dull in Rome for those who take no part in politics, who
have no ambition to rise at the court, and who do not care overmuch
for luxury. We have none of the hunting with which you harden your
muscles and pass your time in Britain. Therefore it is that the
sports of the arena are so popular with our class as well as with
that below it. You must remember, too, that the greater portion of
the gladiators are captives taken in war, and would have been put
to death at once had they not been kept for this."
"I do not say they have anything to complain of, Pollio, but I am
sure that most of them would much rather perish in battle than be
killed in the arena."
"Yes, but it is not a question of being killed in battle, Beric;
it is a question of being captured in battle and put to death
afterwards. It may be the fashion some day or other to treat captives
taken in war with generosity and honour, but it certainly is not
so at present, either with us or with any other nation that I know
of. I don't think that your people differ from the rest, for every
soul who fell into their hands was slain."
"I quite admit that," Beric said; "and should have had no cause for
complaint had I been slain as soon as I was captured. But there is
something nobler in being killed as a victim of hate by a victorious
enemy than to have to fight to the death as a holiday amusement."
"I admit that," Pollio said, "and though, since Nero came to the
throne, there has been an increase in these gladiatorial displays,
methinks there are fewer now than in the days before the Empire,
when Spartacus led twenty thousand gladiators against Rome. There
is one thing, if the creed of those Jews of whom Norbanus was
speaking to you ever comes to be the dominant religion, there will
be an end to the arena, for so averse are these people to fighting,
that when placed in the arena they will not make even an effort to
defend themselves. They do not, as do the Goths sometimes, lower
their swords and fall on the points. Suicide they consider wrong,
and simply wait calmly like sheep to be killed. I have been talking
with some friends over the persecutions of two years ago, just
after I left for Britain, and they say it was wonderful to see
the calmness with which the Christians meet death. They say the
persecution was given up simply because the people became sick
of spectacles in which there was no interest or excitement. Well,
Beric, are you ready to go out with me?"
"You will not be ashamed to walk through the streets with a gladiator,
"Ashamed! on the contrary, you must know that gladiators are in
fashion at present, Beric. The emperor prides himself on his skill,
and consorts greatly with gladiators, and has even himself fought
in the arena, and therefore it is the thing with all who are about
the court to affect the society of gladiators. But as yet you are
not one of them although you may have commenced your training for
the arena. But fashion or not, it would have made no difference to
me, you are my friend whatever evil fortune may have done for you.
The only difference is that whereas, had you not been in fashion,
I should have taken you with me only to the houses of intimate
friends, as I did at Massilia, now you will be welcome everywhere.
Besides, Beric, even in Rome a chief who has kept Suetonius at bay
for a year, and who is, moreover, a Latin scholar accustomed to
Roman society, is recognized as being an object of great interest,
especially when he is young and good looking. I am glad to see that
you have adopted clothes of our fashion; they set you off to much
better advantage than does the British garb, besides attracting
"I hope that you are not going to take me today to meet any people,
Pollio; I want to see the temples and public buildings."
"It shall be just as you wish, Beric."
For hours Beric wandered about Rome with Pollio, so interested in
all he saw that he was scarce conscious of the attention he himself
attracted. From time to time they met acquaintances of Pollio,
who introduced them to Beric as "my friend the chief of the Iceni,
who cost us a year's hard work and some twelve hundred men before
we captured him. Petronius has written so strongly to Nero in his
favour that his life has been spared, and he has been placed in
the school of Scopus;" and the languid young Romans, looking at
Beric's height and proportions, no longer wondered at the trouble
that the Roman legions had had in overcoming the resistance of
a mere handful of barbarians. Beric on his part was by no means
surprised at the appearance of these young courtiers. He had seen
many of the same type at Camalodunum, and had heard Caius lament
the effeminacy of the rising generation; but he knew that these
scented young nobles could, if necessary, buckle on armour and
fight as valiantly as the roughest soldier; though why they should
choose to waste their lives at present in idleness, when there was
so much work to be done in every corner of the vast empire, was
altogether beyond his comprehension.
"Why is there a crowd gathered round that large building?" he asked
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