Beric the Briton
G. A. Henty
Part 6 out of 8
"It was a trick," Lupus said angrily, "a base trick."
"Not at all," Scopus replied. "You fought as if in war; and in war
if you had an opponent at close quarters, and could not use your
sword's point, you would strike him down with the hilt if you could.
As I have told you over and over again, you are a good swordsman,
but you don't know everything yet by a long way, and you are so
conceited that you never will. I hoped that drubbing Beric gave
you a few days after he joined us would have done you good, but I
don't see that it has. There are some men who never seem to learn.
If it had not been for you our ludus would have triumphed all round
today; but when one sees a man we put forward as one of our best
swordsmen defeated by a raw Briton, people may well say, 'Scopus
has got one or two good men; there is Beric, he is a marvel; and
Porus is good with the net; but as for the rest, I don't value them
The enraged gladiator sprang upon Scopus, but the latter seized
him by the waist and hurled him down with such force that he was
unable to rise until Porus assisted him to his feet. As to Scopus,
he paid him no farther attention, but putting his hand on Beric's
shoulder led him into the shop. A long draught of hot milk did
wonders for Beric, and he proposed walking, but Scopus would not
hear of it.
"Sit down here for five minutes," he said, "till I have a cup
of wine with the others. I should think Lupus must need it pretty
badly, what with the knock on the head and the tumble I have just
given him. I am not sorry that he was beaten by your countryman, for
since he has had the luck to win two or three times in the arena,
his head has been quite turned. He would never have dared to lay
his hand on me had he not been half mad, for he knows well enough
that I could strangle him with one hand. The worst of him is, that
the fellow bears malice. He has never forgiven you the thrashing
you administered to him. Now I suppose he will be sulky for weeks;
but if he does it will be worse for him, for I will cut off his
wine, and that will soon bring him to his senses."
Scopus had gone but a few minutes when he returned with a lectica,
which was a sort of palanquin, carried by four stout countrymen.
"Really, Scopus, it is ridiculous that I should be carried along
the streets like a woman."
"Men are carried as well as women, Beric, and as you are a wounded
man you have a double right to be carried. Here is a bag with all
those ornaments you got. It is quite heavy to lift."
The bearers protested loudly at the weight of their burden when they
lifted the lectica, but the promise of a little extra pay silenced
their complaints. They were scarcely beyond the city when Beric,
who was weaker from loss of blood than he imagined, dozed off to
sleep, and did not wake till the lectica was set down in the atrium
of the house on the Alban Hills.
Next morning he was extremely stiff, and found himself obliged to
continue on his couch.
"It is of no use your trying to get up," Scopus said; "the muscles
of your flank are badly torn, and you must remain quiet."
An hour later a rheda or four wheeled carriage drove up to the door,
and in another minute Norbanus entered Beric's cubicle. There were
tears in his eyes as he held out both hands to him. "Ah, my friend,"
he said, "how happy you must be in the happiness you caused to us!
Who could have thought, when I entertained, as a passing guest,
the friend of Pollio, that he would be the saviour of my family?
You must have thought poorly of us yesterday that I was not at the
exit from the amphitheatre to meet and thank you. But I hurried
home with Ennia, and having left her in charge of her mother and
sister came back to find you, but you had left, and I could learn
no news of you. I searched for some time, and then guessing that
you had been brought home by Scopus, I went back to the child, who
is sorely ill. I fear that the strain has been too much for her,
and that we shall lose her. But how different from what it would
have been! To die is the lot of us all, and though I shall mourn
my child, it will be a different thing indeed from seeing her torn
to pieces before my eyes by the lion. She has recovered from her
faint, but she lies still and quiet, and scarce seems to hear what
is said to her. Her eyes are open, she has a happy smile on her
lips, and I believe that she is well content now that she has done
what she deems her duty to her God. She smiled when I told her this
morning that I was coming over to see you, and said in a whisper,
'I shall see him again, father.'"
"Would she like to see me now?" Beric said, making an effort to
"No, not now, Beric. I don't think somehow that she meant that. The
leech said that she must be kept perfectly quiet; but I will send
a slave with a letter to you daily. Oh, what a day was yesterday!
The woes of a lifetime seemed centred in an hour. I know not how
I lived as I sat there and waited for the fatal moment. All the
blood in my veins seemed to freeze up as she was left alone in the
arena. A mist came over my eyes. I tried to close them, but could
not. I saw nothing of the amphitheatre, nothing of the spectators,
nothing but her, till, at the sudden shout from the crowd, I roused
myself with a start. When I saw you beside her I thought at first
that I dreamed; but Aemilia suddenly clasped my arm and said, 'It
is Beric!' Then I hoped something, I know not what, until Nero said
that you must meet the lion unarmed.
"Then I thought all was over--that two victims were to die instead
of one. I tried to rise to cry to you to go, for that I would die
by Ennia, but my limbs refused to support me; and though I tried
to shout I did but whisper. What followed was too quick for me to
mark. I saw the beast spring at you; I saw a confused struggle; but
not until I saw you rise and bow, while the lion rolled over and
over, bound and helpless, did I realize that what seemed impossible
had indeed come to pass, and that you, unarmed and alone, had truly
vanquished the terrible beast.
"I hear that all Rome is talking of nothing else. My friends, who
poured in all the evening to congratulate us, told me so, and that
no such feat had ever been seen in the arena."
"It does not seem much to me, Norbanus," Beric said. "It needed
only some coolness and strength, though truly I myself doubted,
when Nero gave the order to fight without weapons, if it could be
done. I cannot but think that Ennia's God and mine aided me."
"It is strange," Norbanus said, "that one so young and weak as Ennia
should have shown no fear, and that the other Christians should all
have met their fate with so wonderful a calm. As you know, I have
thought that all religions were alike, each tribe and nation having
its own. But methinks there must be something more in this when
its votaries are ready so to die for it."
"Do not linger with me," Beric said. "You must be longing to be
with your child. Pray, go at once. She must be glad to have you by
her, even if she says little. I thank you for your promise to send
news to me daily. If she should express any desire to see me, I
will get Scopus to provide a vehicle to carry me to Rome; but in
a few days I hope to be about."
"Your first visit must be to Caesar, when you are well enough to
walk," Norbanus said. "They tell me he bade you come to see him,
and he would be jealous did he know that he was not the first in
Norbanus returned to Rome, and each day a letter came to Beric. The
news was always the same; there was no change in Ennia's condition.
Beric's wound healed rapidly. Hard work and simple living had
so toughened his frame that a wound that might have been serious
affected him only locally, and mended with surprising rapidity.
In a week he was up and about, and three days later he felt well
enough to go to Rome.
"You would have been better for a few days more rest," Scopus said,
"but Nero is not fond of being kept waiting; and if he really wishes
to see you it would be well that you present yourself as soon as
"I care nothing for Nero," Beric said; "but I should be glad, for the
sake of Norbanus, to see his daughter. It may be that my presence
might rouse her and do her good. I want none of Nero's favours; they
are dangerous at best. His liking is fatal. He has now murdered
Britannicus, his wife Octavia, and his mother Agrippina. He
has banished Seneca, and every other adviser he had he has either
executed or driven into exile."
"That is all true enough, Beric, though it is better not said.
Still, you must remember you have no choice. There is no thwarting
Nero; if he designs to bestow favours upon you, you must accept
them. I agree with you that they are dangerous; but you know how
to guard yourself. A man who has fought a lion with naked hands may
well manage to escape even the clutches of Nero. He has struck down
the greatest and richest; but it is easier for one who is neither
great nor rich to escape. At any rate, Beric, I have a faith in
your fortune. You have gone through so much, that I think surely
some god protects you. By the way, what are you going to do with
that basketful of women's ornaments that I have locked up in my
"I thought no more about them, Scopus."
"I should advise you to sell them. In themselves they are useless
to you. But once turned into money they may some day stand you
in good stead. They are worth a large sum, I can tell you, and I
don't care about keeping them here. None of my school are condemned
malefactors. I would never take such men, even to please the wealthiest
patron. But there is no use in placing temptation before any, and
Porus and Lupus will have told how the Roman ladies flung their
bracelets to you. I will take them down to a goldsmith who works
for some of my patrons, and get him to value them, if you will."
"Thank you, Scopus, I shall be glad to get rid of them. How would
you dress for waiting on Caesar?"
"I have been thinking it over," Scopus said. "I should say well,
and yet not too well. You are a free man, for although Nero disposed
of you as if you had been slaves, you were not enslaved nor did you
bear the mark of slavery, therefore you have always dressed like a
free man. Again, you are a chief among your own people; therefore,
as I say, I should dress well but quietly. Nero has many freedmen
about him, and though some of these provoke derision by vying with
the wealthiest, this I know would never be done by you, even did
you bask in the favour of Nero. A white tunic and a paenula of fine
white cloth or a lacerna, both being long and ample so as to fall
in becoming folds, would be the best. As I shall ride into Rome
with you, you can there get one before going to see Nero."
On arriving at Rome Beric was soon fitted with a cloak of fine
white stuff, the folds of which showed off his figure to advantage.
Scopus accompanied him to Nero's palace.
"I know several of his attendants," he said, "and can get you passed
in to the emperor, which will save you waiting hours, perhaps,
before you can obtain an audience."
Taking him through numerous courts and along many passages they
reached a chamber where several officials of the palace were walking
and talking, waiting in readiness should they be required by Nero.
Scopus went up to one with whom he was well acquainted. After the
usual greetings he explained to him that he had, in accordance with
Nero's order, brought the young Briton, Beric, who had conquered
the lion in the arena, and begged him to ask the emperor whether
he would choose to give him audience at present.
"I will acquaint his chief chamberlain at once, Scopus, and will
ask him, for your sake, to choose his moment for telling Nero. It
may make a great difference in the fortunes of the young man whether
Caesar is in a good temper or not when he receives him. It is not
often at present that he is in bad humour. Since the fire his mind
has been filled with great ideas, and he thinks of little but making
the city in all respects magnificent, and as he loves art in every
way this is a high delight to him; therefore, unless aught has
gone wrong with him, he will be found accessible. I will go to the
chamberlain at once, my Scopus."
It was half an hour before he returned. "The chamberlain said that
there could not be a better time for your gladiator to see Caesar,
and therefore he has spoken to him at once, and Nero has ordered
the Briton to be brought to him. These two officials will conduct
him at once to his presence."
Beric was taken in charge by the two ushers, and was led along several
passages, in each of which a guard was on duty, until they reached
a massive door. Here two soldiers were stationed. The ushers knocked.
Another official presented himself at the door, and, beckoning to
Beric to follow him, pushed aside some rich hangings heavy with
gold embroidery. They were now in a small apartment, the walls of
which were of the purest white marble, and the furniture completely
covered with gold. Crossing this he drew another set of hangings
aside, entered with Beric, bowed deeply, and saying, "This is the
Briton, Caesar," retired, leaving Beric standing before the emperor.
The apartment was of moderate size, exquisitely decorated in Greek
fashion. One end was open to a garden, where plants and shrubs of
the most graceful foliage, brought from many parts of the world,
threw a delicious shade. Statues of white marble gleamed among
them, and fountains of perfumed waters filled the air with sweet
odours. Nero sat in a simple white tunic upon a couch, while a
black slave, of stature rivalling that of Beric, kneeled in front
of him holding out a great sheet of parchment with designs of some
of the decorations of his new palace. Nero waved his hand, and the
slave, rolling up the parchment, took his stand behind the emperor's
couch. The latter looked long and steadily at him before speaking,
as if to read his disposition.
"Beric," he said, "I have seen you risk your life for one who was
but little to you, for I have spoken to Norbanus, and have learned
from him the nature of your acquaintance with him, and found that
you have seen but little of this young maiden for whom you were
ready to risk what seemed certain death. Moreover, she was but
a young girl, and her life can have had no special value in your
eyes; therefore, it seems to me that you are one who would be a true
and faithful friend indeed to a man who on his part was a friend
to you. You have the other qualities of bravery and skill and
strength. Moreover, you belong to no party in Rome. I have inquired
concerning you, and find that although Pollio, the nephew of
Norbanus, introduced you to many of his friends, you have gone but
little among them, but have spent your time much, when not in the
ludus, in the public libraries. Being myself a lover of books, the
report inclines me the more toward you. I feel that I could rely
upon you, and you would find in me not a master but a friend. Of
those around me I can trust but few. They serve from interest, and
if their interest lay the other way they would desert me. I have
many enemies, and though the people love me, the great families,
whose connections and relations are everywhere, think only of their
private aims and ends, and many deem themselves to have reasons
for hatred against me. I need one like you, brave, single minded,
resolute, and faithful to me, who would be as simple and as true
when raised to wealth and honour as you have shown yourself when
but a simple gladiator. Wilt thou be such a one to me?"
"I am but ill fitted for such a post, Caesar," Beric said gravely.
"I have been a chief and leader of my own people, and my tongue
would never bring itself to utter the flattering words used by those
who surround an imperial throne. Monarchs love not the truth, and
my blunt speech would speedily offend you. A faithful guard to
your majesty I might be, more than that I fear I never could be,
for even to please you, Nero, I could not say aught except what I
"I should expect and wish for no more," Nero said. "It is good
to hear the truth sometimes. I heard it from Seneca; but, alas! I
did not value it then as I should have done. I am older and wiser
now. Besides, Seneca was a Roman, and necessarily mixed up in the
intrigues that are ever on foot, and connected with half the great
families in Rome. You stand alone, and I should know that whatever
you said the words would be your own, and would not have been put
in your mouth by others, and even when your opinions ran counter
to mine I should respect them. Well, what do you say?"
"It is not for me to bargain with the master of Rome," Beric said.
"I am ready to be your man, Caesar, to lay down my life in your
defence, to be your guard as a faithful hound might be; only, I
pray you, take me not in any way into your confidence as to state
affairs, for of these I am wholly ignorant. My ideas are those of a
simple British chief. Rome and its ways are too complicated for me
to understand, and were you to speak to me on such matters I should
soon forfeit your favour. For we in Britain are, as it were, people
of another world--simple and straightforward in our thoughts and
ways, and with no ideas of state expediency. Therefore, I pray you,
let me stand aloof from all such matters, and regard me simply as
one ready to strike and die in your defence, and as having no more
interest or knowledge of state affairs and state intrigues than
those statues in the garden there."
"So be it," Nero said. "You are modest, Beric, and modesty is a
virtue rare in Rome; but I appreciate your honesty, and feel sure
that I can rely upon you for faithful service. Let me see, to what
office shall I appoint you? I cannot call you my bodyguard, for this
would excite the jealousy of the Praetorians." He sat in thought
for a minute. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "you are fond of books, I will
appoint you my private librarian. My libraries are vast, but I
will have a chamber close to mine own fitted up with the choicest
books, so that I can have ready at hand any that I may require.
This will be an excuse for having you always about my person."
"I do not speak Greek, Caesar."
"You shall have under you a Greek freedman, one Chiton, who is
now in my library. He will take charge of the rolls, for I do not
intend that you should remain shut up there. It is but a pretext
for your presence here."
He touched a bell and a servant entered. "Tell Phaon to come to
me." A minute later Phaon, a freedman who stood very high in the
confidence of Nero, entered.
"Phaon," the emperor said, "this is Beric the Briton, he has entered
my service, and will have all my trust and confidence even as you
have. Prepare for him apartments close to mine, and appoint slaves
for his service. See that he has everything in accordance with his
position as a high official of the palace. Let one of the rooms
be furnished with sets of books, of which I will give you a list,
from my library. Chiton is to be in charge of it under him. Beric
is to be called my private librarian. I wish him to be at all times
within call of me. You will be friends with Beric, Phaon, for he
is as honest as you are, and will be, like you, a friend of mine,
and, as you may perceive, is one capable of taking part of a friend
in case of need."
Phaon bowed deeply and signed to Beric to follow him; the latter
bowed to Nero, who nodded to him pleasantly, and left the room with
Phaon. The freedman took him to his private apartment.
"Nero has chosen well this time, methinks," he said after a close
scrutiny of the newcomer. "It is no easy post on which you have
entered, Beric. Nero is changeable in his moods, but you carry
your heart in your face, and even he can have no suspicions of you.
Take my advice, make friends with no man, for one who stands high
in court favour today may be an exile or condemned tomorrow, and
then all connected with him in any way are apt to share his fate;
therefore, it is best to stand quite alone. By tomorrow morning
you will find everything in readiness for you here."
CHAPTER XVI: IN NERO'S PALACE
Upon leaving Phaon, Beric was conducted to the room where he had
left Scopus. The latter at once joined him, and without asking any
questions left the palace with him.
"I would ask nothing until you were outside," Scopus said. "They
were wondering there at the long audience you have had with Nero.
Judging by the gravity of your face, things have not gone well with
"They have gone well in one sense," Beric said, "though I would
vastly rather that they had gone otherwise. I feel very much more
fear now than when I stood awaiting the attack of the lion."
And he then related to Scopus the conversation he had had with
Nero. The lanista inclined himself humbly to the ground.
"You are a great man now, Beric, though, as you say, the place is
not without its dangers. I guessed when Caesar sent for you that
he purposed to use your strength and courage in his service. Your
face is one that invites trust, and Nero was wise enough to see
that if he were to trust you he must trust you altogether. He has
acted wisely. He deemed that, having no friends and connections in
Rome, he could rely upon you as he could rely upon no one who is
a native here. You will be a great man, for a time at any rate."
"I would rather have remained at your ludus, Scopus. I shall feel
like a little dog I saw the other day in a cage of one of the
lions. The beast seemed fond of it, but the little creature knew
well that at any moment the lion might stretch out its paw and
"That is true enough, Beric, though there are tens of thousands in
Rome who would gladly run the risk for the sake of the honour and
profit. Still, as I said to you before we started, I have faith in
your good fortune and quickness, and believe that you may escape
from the bars where another would lose his skin. Tell to none but
myself what Caesar has said to you. The world will soon guess that
your post as private librarian is but a pretext for Caesar to have
you near him. It is not by such a post that the victor of the arena
would be rewarded." They now went together to a goldsmith.
"Ah! Scopus, I have been expecting you. I saw you in the arena
with your two gladiators. Afterwards I saw this tall young Briton
fight the lion, and when I heard that he was at your ludus I said
to myself, 'Scopus will be bringing him to me to dispose of some
of the jewelry to which the ladies were so prodigal.'"
"That is our errand, Rufus. Here is the bag."
The goldsmith opened it.
"You don't expect me to name a price for all these articles, Scopus?
It will take me a day to examine and appraise them; and, indeed, I
shall have to go to a friend or two for money, for there is enough
here to stock a shop. Never did I know our ladies so liberal of
"Ah!" Scopus said, "and you don't often see gifts so well deserved;
but, mind you, if it had been I who had fought the lion--I, who
have nothing to recommend me in the way of either stature or looks
--it would have been a very different thing. Youth and stature and
good looks go for a great deal even in the arena, I can tell you.
Well, Beric will call in a day or two. Here is the inventory of the
jewels; I have got a copy at home. Do you put the price you will
give against each, and then he can sell or not as he pleases. He
is not going to sacrifice them, Rufus, for he has no need of money;
Caesar has just appointed him to his household."
The manner of the jeweller changed at once.
"The list shall be ready for you in two days," he said to Beric
respectfully. "If you have need of money on account now I can let
you have as much as you will." Beric shook his head.
"I have all that I require," he said. "I will return it may be in
two days, it may be more--I know not precisely how much my duties
may occupy me."
"You will get full value for your goods," Scopus said when they left
the shop--"that was why I mentioned that you had entered Nero's
household, for it is a great thing to have a friend at court."
"And how about yourself, Scopus? You have kept me and trained me
for months. Now you are going to lose my services just when you
might begin to get a return. Moreover, I may tell you that I shall
as soon as possible get Boduoc with me. So you must name a sum
which will amply recompense you for the trouble and expense that
you have had with us."
"I shall be no loser, Beric. When captives in war are sent to
be trained in a ludus the lanista is paid for a year's keep and
tuition for them. After that he makes what he can from those who
give entertainments. Therefore I received from the imperial treasury
the regular amount for you and your comrades. Moreover, the senator
who gave the performances sent me a very handsome sum--more than
he had agreed to give me for Porus and Lupus together--saying
that, although he had not engaged you, your deeds in the arena had
delighted the people beyond measure, and that as his show would be
talked about for years, it was but fair he should pay your lanista
a sum worthy of the performance. And now farewell! You know that I
and your comrades at the ludus will always be glad to see you. We
shall be back in Rome as soon as my place is rebuilt."
"You may be sure that I will come, Scopus. You have shown me much
kindness, and if in any way I can repay you I will do so. Tell Boduoc
I hope very shortly to have him with me, and that maybe I shall be
able to find means of withdrawing the others from the arena."
As soon as they separated Beric walked rapidly to the house where
Norbanus had taken up his abode. As he reached the door he paused,
for he heard within the sounds of wailing, and felt that he had
come too late.
"Tell Norbanus," he said to the slave at the door, "that Beric is
here, but that unless he wishes to see me I will leave him undisturbed,
as I fear by the cries that the Lady Ennia is dead."
"She died early this morning," the slave said. "I will tell my
master that you are here."
He returned almost directly.
"Norbanus prays you to enter," he said, and led the way to the
"Ah, my friend," the Roman said, "it is over! Ennia died this
morning. She passed away as if in sleep. It is a terrible grief
to me. Thanks to the gods I can bear that as becomes a Roman; but
how would it have been had I seen her torn to pieces under my eyes?
Ah, Beric you know not from what you have saved us! We could never
have lifted up our heads again had she died so. Now we shall grieve
for her as all men grieve for those they love; but it will be a
grief without pain, for assuredly she died happy. She spoke of you
once or twice, and each time she said, 'I shall see him again.' I
think she was speaking her belief, that she should meet you after
death. The Christian belief in a future state is like yours, you
know, Beric, rather than like ours."
"She was a gentle creature," Beric said, "and as she dared even
death by the lions for her God, assuredly she will go to the Happy
Island, though it may not be the same that the Druids tell us
Britons of. And how are the Ladies Lesbia and Aemilia?"
"My wife is well," the magistrate said. "She has not the consolations
of philosophy as I have, but I think that she feels it is better
for the child herself that she should have so died. Ennia would
always have remained a Christian, and fresh troubles and persecutions
would have come. Besides, her religion would have put her apart
from her mother and her family. To me, of course, it would have made
no difference, holding the views that I do as to the religions of
the world; but my wife sees things in a different light. Aemilia
is worn out with watching and grief, but I know that she will see
you presently, that is, if you are not compelled to return at once
to the hills."
"I return there no more. I have seen Nero today, and he has appointed
me an official in his household. It will seem ridiculous to you
when I say that I am to be his private librarian. That, of course,
is but a pretext to keep me near his person, deeming that I am
strong enough to be a useful guard to him, and being a stranger
am not likely to be engaged in any intrigue that may be going on.
I would rather have remained at the ludus for a time; but there is
no refusing the offers of an emperor, and he spoke to me fairly,
and I answered him as one man should do another, frankly and openly."
"Nero has done wisely," Norbanus said warmly, "though for you
the promotion is perilous. To be Nero's friend is to be condemned
beforehand to death, though for a time he may shower favours upon
you. He is fickle and inconstant, and you have not learned to
cringe and flatter, and are as likely as not to anger him by your
"I shall assuredly say what I think if he questions me," Beric said
quietly; "but if he values me as a guard, he will scarce question
me when he knows that I should express an opinion contrary to his
"When do you enter his service, Beric?"
"I am to present myself tomorrow morning."
"Then you will stay with us tonight, Beric. This is a house of
mourning, but you are as one of ourselves. You must excuse ceremony,
for I have many arrangements to make, as Ennia will be buried
"I will go out into the garden," Beric said.
"Do so. I will send up word to Aemilia that you are there. Doubtless
she would rather meet you there than before the slaves."
Beric had been sitting in the shade for half an hour when he saw
Aemilia coming towards him. Her face was swollen with crying, and
the tears were still streaming down her cheeks. Beric took her
hand, and would have bent over it, when she grasped his with both
of hers and pressed it to her lips.
"Oh, Beric," she cried, "what have you not done for us, and how much
do we not owe you! Had it not been for you, I should be mourning
now, not for Ennia who lies with a smile on her face in her chamber,
but for Ennia torn to pieces and devoured by the lion. It seemed
to me that I too should die, when suddenly you stood between her
and the fierce beast, seeming to my eyes as if a god had come down
to save her; and when all the people gave you up as lost, standing
there unarmed and calmly waiting the lion's attack, I felt that you
would conquer. Truly Ennia's God and yours must have stood beside
you, though I saw them not. How else could you have been so strong
and fearless? Ennia thought so too. She told me so one night when
the house was asleep, and I only watching beside her. 'My God was
with him,' she said. 'None other could have given him the strength
to battle with the lion. He will bring him to Himself in good time,
and I shall meet him again.' She said something about your knowing
that she was a Christian. But, of course, you could not have known
"I did know it, Aemilia;" and Beric then told her of his meeting with
Ennia and the old slave when they were attacked by the plunderers
on the way home from their place of meeting. "She promised me not
to go again," he said, "without letting me know, in which case
I should have escorted her and protected her from harm. But just
after that there was the fire, and I had to go away with Scopus to
the Alban Hills; and so, as she knew that I could not escort her,
I never heard from her. I would that I had been with her that night
she was arrested, then she might not have fallen into the hands of
the guard. Indeed, had I been here I would have gone gladly, for it
seemed to me there must be something strange in the religion that
would induce a quiet gentle girl like her to go out at night unknown
to her parents. Now I desire even more to learn about it. Her God
must surely have given her the strength and courage that she showed
when she chose death by lions rather than deny Him."
"I, too, should like to know something about it," Aemilia said.
"By the way Ennia spoke, when she said you knew that she was a
Christian, it seemed to me that, if you did know, which I thought
was impossible, she thought you were angry with her for becoming
"I was angry with her not for being a Christian, but for going out
without your father's knowledge, and I told her so frankly. If it
had been you I should not have been so much surprised, because you
have high spirits and are fearless in disposition; but for her to
do so seemed so strange and unnatural, that I deemed this religion
of hers must be bad in that it taught a girl to deceive her parents."
"What did she say, Beric?"
"I could see that she considered it her duty beyond all other duties,
and so said no more, knowing nothing of her religion beyond what
your father told me."
"I wish Pollio had been here," the girl said; "he would have thought
as I do about the loss of Ennia. My father has his philosophy, and
considers it rather a good thing to be out of the world. My mother
was so horrified when she heard that Ennia was a Christian, that I
am sure she is relieved at her death. I am not a philosopher, and
it was nothing to me whether Ennia took up with this new sect or
not. So you see I have no one who can sympathize with me. You can't
think how dreadful the thought is that I shall be alone in future."
"We grow accustomed to all things," Beric said. "I have lost all
my relations, my country, and everything, and I am here a stranger
and little better than a slave, and yet life seems not so unpleasant
to me. In time this grief will be healed, and you will be happy
"I am sure I should never have been happy, Beric, if she had died in
the arena. I should always have had it before my eyes--I should
have dreamt of it. But why do you say that until today you have
been almost a slave? Why is it different today?"
Beric told her of his new position.
"If I could take your position, and have your strength but for one
night," Aemilia said passionately, "I would slay the tyrant. He is
a monster. It is to him that Ennia's death is due. He has committed
unheard of crimes; and he will kill you, too, Beric. He kills all
those whom he once favours."
"I shall be on my guard, Aemilia; besides, my danger will not be
great, for he will have nothing to gain by my death. I shall keep
aloof from all intrigues, and he will have no reason to suspect
me. The danger, if danger there be, will come from my refusing to
carry out any of his cruel orders. I am ready to be a guard, but
not an executioner."
"I know how it will end," the girl sighed; "but I shall hope always.
You conquered the lion, maybe you will conquer Nero."
"Who is a very much less imposing creature," Beric smiled. A slave
girl at this moment summoned Aemilia into the house. She waited a
"Remember, Beric," she said, "that if trouble and danger come upon
you, any such poor aid as I can give will be yours. I am a Roman
girl. I have not the strength to fight as you have, but have the
courage to die; and as, at the risk of your life, you saved Ennia
for us, so would I risk my life to save yours. Remember that a
woman can plot and scheme, and that in dealing with Nero cunning
goes for as much as strength. We have many relatives and friends
here, too, and Ennia's death in the arena would have been viewed
as a disgrace upon the whole family; so that I can rely upon help
from them if need be. Remember that, should the occasion arise,
I shall feel your refusal of my help much more bitterly than any
misfortune your acceptance of it could bring upon me." Then turning,
the girl went up to the house.
On arriving at Nero's palace the next morning, and asking for Phaon,
Beric was at once conducted to his chamber.
"That is well," the freedman said as he entered. "Nero is in council
with his architects at present. I will show you to your chamber at
once, so that you will be in readiness."
The apartment to which Phaon led Beric was a charming one. It had
no windows in the walls, which were covered with exquisitely painted
designs, but light was given by an opening in the ceiling, under
which, in the centre of the room, was the shallow basin into which
the rain that penetrated through the opening fell. There were several
elegantly carved couches round the room. Some bronze statues stood
on plinths, and some pots of tall aquatic plants stood in the basin;
heavy hangings covered the entrance.
"Here," Phaon said, drawing one of them aside, "is your cubicule,
and here, next to it, is another. It is meant for a friend of the
occupant of the room; but I should not advise you to have anyone
sleep here. Nero would not sleep well did he know that any stranger
was so close to his apartment. This, and the entrance at the other
end of the room, lead into passages, while this," and he drew back
another curtain, "is the library."
This room was about the same size as that allotted to Beric,
being some twenty-five feet square. Short as the notice had been,
a wooden framework of cedar wood, divided into partitions fifteen
inches each way, had been erected round, and in each of these stood
a wooden case containing rolls of manuscripts, the name of the work
being indicated by a label affixed to the box. Seated at a table
in one of the angles was the Greek Chiton, who saluted Beric.
"We shall be good friends, I hope," Beric said, "for I shall have
to rely upon you entirely for the Greek books, and it is you who
will be the real librarian."
Chiton was a man of some thirty years of age, with a pale Greek
face; and looking at him earnestly Beric thought that it looked an
honest one. He had anticipated that the man Nero had chosen would
be placed as a spy over him; but he now concluded this was not so,
and that Nero at present trusted him entirely.
"This passage," Phaon said, "leads direct to Caesar's private
apartment, a few steps only separate them. The passage on this side
of your room also leads there, so that either from here or from it
you can be summoned at once. Now let us return to your room. It is
from there you will generally go to Nero when he summons you. That
door at the end of the short passage will not be kept locked, while
this one from the library cannot be opened from your side. Three
strokes of Nero's bell will be the signal that he requires you. If
after the three have sounded there is another struck smartly, you
will snatch up your sword and rush in instantly by night or day."
"What are my duties to be?" Beric asked when they had returned to
his room, "for Chiton can discharge those of librarian infinitely
better than I can do."
"You will sit and read here, or pass the time as you like, until
nine o'clock, at which hour Nero goes to the baths. At eleven he
goes out to inspect the works or to take part in public ceremonies.
At three he sups, and the meal lasts sometimes till seven or eight,
sometimes until midnight. Your duties in the library will end when
he goes to the baths, and after that you will be free, unless he
summons you to attend him abroad, until supper is concluded. At
night you will draw back the curtains between the passage and your
room and that of your cubicule, so that you may hear his summons,
or even his voice if loudly raised. You will lie down with your
sword ready at hand. I should say your duties will begin at six
in the morning, and it is only between that hour and nine that you
will be a prisoner in the library."
"I shall not find it an imprisonment," Beric said. "Three hours
is little enough to study, with all that wealth of books ready at
hand. How about Chiton?"
"He will be on duty whenever the emperor is in the palace; beyond
that he is free to go where he likes, so that he be ready at all
times to produce any book that Nero may call for. Your meals will
be brought up to you by your attendant from the imperial kitchen.
There are, you know, baths in the palace for the use of the
officials. You will find in this chest a supply of garments of all
kinds suitable for different occasions, and here, in the cubicule,
ready to hand, are a sword and dagger, with a helmet, breastplate,
and shield, to be worn only when Caesar desires you to accompany
him armed. If there is anything else that you require, you have
but to give the order to your attendant, who will obtain it from
the steward of the palace."
At this moment a slave drew aside the hanging: "Caesar expects you,
Nero was standing at the top of the steps into the garden when
"Walk with me, Beric," he said. "For three hours I have been going
into the affairs of the city, and hearing letters read from the
governors of the provinces. It will be a change to talk of other
things. Tell me about this Britain of yours. I know about your
wars, tell me of your life at home."
Beric at once complied. He saw that it was not information about
religion and customs that the emperor desired to hear, but talk about
simple matters that would distract his thoughts from the cares of
state. He talked, then, of his native village, of his mother with
her maids at work around her, of hunting expeditions as a boy with
Boduoc, and how both had had a narrow escape of being devoured by
wolves. Nero listened in silence as they strolled under the deep
shade of the trees. At times he hardly seemed to be listening, but
occasionally he asked a question that showed he was following what
"Your talk is like a breath from the snow clad mountains," he said
at last, "or a cup of cold water to a thirsty traveller. The word
Romans never occurred in it, and yet it was in our tongue. You were
brought up among us, as I heard. Tell me of that."
Briefly Beric described his life at Camalodunum.
"It is a strange mixture," Nero said; "the cultivated Roman and
the wild Briton. I understand now better than I did before, your
risking your life for the Christian girl in the arena. You did not
"No, Caesar; we Britons do not think of marriage until we are at
least five-and-twenty. We hold that young marriages deteriorate a
race. Ennia was little more than a child, according to our notions.
She was scarce sixteen, and when I saw her before, for a few days
only, she was a year younger; but I think that I should have done
the same had I never seen her before. We Britons, like the Gauls,
hold women in high respect, and I think that few of my people would
hesitate to risk their lives to save a helpless woman."
"I think we are all for self here," Nero said; "but we can admire
what we should not think of imitating. I like you, Beric, because
you are so different from myself and from all around me. We are
products of Rome, you of the forest; every man here sighs for power
or wealth, or lives for pleasure--I as much as any. We suffer
none to stand in our way, but trample down remorselessly all who
hinder us. As to risking our lives for the sake of a woman, and
that woman almost a stranger, such an idea would never so much as
occur to us. This is not the only girl you have saved. I received
a letter from Caius Muro some months ago, saying that the news
had come to him in Syria that Beric, the young chief of the Iceni,
who had so long withstood Suetonius, had been brought a prisoner
to Rome, and he besought me, should Beric still be alive, to show
favour to him, as he had saved his little daughter, when all others
had been slain, at the sack of Camalodunum, and that he had hidden
her away until after the defeat of Boadicea, and had then sent her
safe and unharmed back to the Romans. The matter escaped my mind
till now, though, in truth, I bade my secretary write to him to say
that I would befriend you. But it is strange that, having so much
life and spirit in that great body of yours, you should yet hold
life so cheaply. It was the way with our forefathers, but it is
not so now, perhaps because our life is more pleasant than theirs
was. Tell me, has Phaon done all to make you comfortable? Is there
aught else that you would wish? if so, speak freely."
"There is one thing I should like, Caesar; I should like to have
with me my follower Boduoc, he who was the companion of my boyhood,
who fought with me in that hut against the wolves, and was ever by
my side in the struggle among our fens. I ask this partly for my
own sake, and partly that I may the better do the duty you have
set me of acting as your guard. The air of palaces is heavy, and
men wake not from sleep as when they lie down in the forest and
carry their lives in their hands. I might not hear your call; but
with him with me we could keep alternate watch through the night,
and the slightest sounds would reach our ears. We could even take
post close to the hangings of your chamber, just as the Praetorians
guard all the avenues on the other side. I might even go further.
There were twenty of my countrymen brought hither with me. All
are picked men, not one but in strength and courage is my equal.
I would say, place them in offices in the palace; make them door
keepers, or place some of them here as labourers under your gardeners,
then at all times you would have under your orders a body of twenty
devoted men, who would escort you in safety though half Rome were
in tumult. They would sleep together among the slaves, where I
could instantly summon them. I can answer for their fidelity, they
would follow me to the death against any foe I bade them attack."
"It is an excellent idea, Beric, and shall be carried out. They
were all sent to the ludi, if I mistake not, and will have skill as
well as strength and courage. I will bid my secretary send an order
for their discharge, and that they present themselves to Phaon
tomorrow. He will find occupations for them, and I will myself
bid him so dispose of them that they shall be well satisfied with
their appointments. Truly, as you say, a guard of twenty gladiators
of your strength and courage might well defend me against a host.
Now it is time that I went to my bath."
Upon the following day the British captives were all disposed as
door keepers in the palace. Beric was present when they presented
themselves before Phaon, and had afterwards a private interview
with them. They were delighted at finding that they were again
under his leadership. All hated as much as ever the occupation of
gladiator, although only the man who had defeated Lupus had as yet
appeared in the arena.
"Your duties will be simple and easy," Beric said. "You will only
have to see that no strangers pass you without authority. Each
of you will have one or more attendants with you, who will take
the names of those who present themselves to those whom they wish
to see, and will, on bringing an authorization for them to pass,
escort them to the person with whom they have business. Of course
the orders will be different at different posts, but these you
will receive from the officials of the chamberlain. You will be on
duty, as I learn, for six hours each day, and will for the rest of
the time be free to go where you please. I suppose by this time all
of you have learned sufficient Latin to converse freely. Remember
that at nine o'clock in the evening you must all be in the palace.
Phaon has arranged for an apartment that you will occupy together.
There you will keep your arms, and be always ready, when you receive
a message from me, to attend prepared for fighting. There is one
thing more: do not mingle with the Romans more than you can help;
listen to no tales relating to the emperor, and let no man discuss
with you any question of state. Everything that is done in the palace
is known, and were you seen talking with any man who afterwards fell
under the suspicion of Nero it might cost you your lives. Remember
that, whatever may be the duties assigned to you here, we are
really assembled as a sort of special bodyguard to him; he is our
general. It is no business of ours what his private acts may be.
It may be that he is cruel to the powerful and wealthy, but on the
other hand he spends his money lavishly on the people of Rome, and
is beloved by them. If they as Romans do not resent his acts towards
senators and patricians it is no business of ours, strangers and
foreigners here, to meddle in the matter. It may be that in time,
if we do our duty well, Nero may permit us to return to Britain."
There was a murmur of approval.
"Nero may cut off the head of every man in Rome for what I care,"
Boduoc said. "I owe nothing to the Romans. They are all our enemies,
from the highest to the lowest; and if Nero is disposed to be our
friend he can do what he likes with them. But I do wish he had
given us something more to do than to hang about his palace."
Six months passed. Beric stood high in favour with Nero. Two or
three times, in order to test the vigilance of his guard, he had
sounded his bell. On each occasion an armed figure had instantly
entered his room, only to retire when he waved his hand; so that
the slave who slept at the other door found Nero alone when he
entered, and brought him a cooling drink, or performed some other
little office that served as an excuse for his summons, the emperor
being well aware how great would be the jealousy of the Praetorian
guard, were report to reach them that Caesar had guards save
Beric often followed in the train of the emperor when he went abroad;
and as it speedily became known that he was a favourite of Nero,
his friendship was eagerly sought by those who frequented the court,
and his good offices solicited by those who had requests to make
of the emperor. Large sums of money had been sometimes offered him
for his good offices, but he steadily refused to accept any presents
whatever, or to mingle in the affairs of others, except in very
occasional cases, where it seemed to him that those who sought his
aid had been cruelly and unfairly dealt with by officials or venal
The sale of his jewels had brought him in a large sum of money,
which he had placed in the hands of Norbanus; and the handsome
appointments Nero had assigned to his office were very much
more than sufficient for his wants. He was always a welcome guest
at the house of Norbanus, and now that he was an official high in
favour with Nero, even Lesbia received him with marked courtesy.
The conversation always turned, when the ladies were present, upon
general topics--the gossip of society in Rome, news from the
provinces, and other similar matters, for Beric begged them not to
speak of the serious events of the day.
"I am one of Nero's guards, and I do not want to have to hate my
work, or to wish well to those from whom I am bound to protect him.
To me he is kind and friendly. At times when I am with him in the
garden or alone in his room he talks to me as an equal, of books
and art, the condition of the people, and other topics.
"It seems to me that there are two Neros: the one a man such as he
was when he ascended the throne--gentle; inclined to clemency;
desirous of the good of his people, and of popularity; a lover of
beautiful things; passionately devoted to art in all its branches;
taking far greater pleasure in the society of a few intimate friends
than in state pageants and ceremonies. There is another Nero; of
him I will not talk. I desire, above all things, not to know of
him. I believe that he has been driven to this war upon many of the
best and worthiest in Rome, by timidity. He is suspicious. Possibly
he has reason for his suspicions; possibly they are unfounded.
I do not wish to defend him. All this is a matter for you Romans,
and not for me. I wish to know nothing about it; to leave all public
matters to those they may concern; to shut my eyes and my ears as
much as I can to all that goes on around me. It is for that reason
that I go so little to other houses save this. I meet those about
the court at the baths, the gymnasium, and in the streets. But at
these places men speak not of public affairs, they know not who
may be listening; and certainly they would not speak before me.
Happily, as I am known to stand high in Caesar's favour, I am the
last person to whom they would say aught in his blame. Thus it is
that, though sometimes I come, from chance words let fall, to know
that proscriptions, accusations, confiscations, and executions take
place; that the Christians are still exposed to horrible persecutions
and tortures; that a gloom hangs over society, and that no man of
wealth and high station can regard himself as safe, it is only a
vague rumour of these things that I hear; and by keeping my ears
sealed and refusing to learn particulars, to listen to private
griefs and individual suffering, I am still able to feel that I
can do my duty to Caesar."
Norbanus and Lesbia alike agreed with Beric's reasoning; the
former, indeed, himself took but comparatively little interest in
what passed around him. The latter was, on the other hand, absorbed
in the politics of the hour. She was connected with many noble
families, and knew that a member of these might fall at any moment
under Nero's displeasure. To have a friend, then, high in the
favour of Nero was a matter of great importance; and she therefore
impressed upon all her intimates that when they found Beric at
her house they should scrupulously avoid all discussion of public
CHAPTER XVII: BETROTHAL
Nero had, within a short time of Beric's establishment in the
palace, spoken to him of his apprehension of the increasing power
of the party who, having reverted to the opinions of the Stoic
philosophers, were ever denouncing the luxury and extravagance
of modern ways, and endeavouring, both by example and precept, to
reintroduce the simplicity and severity of former times.
"All this," Nero said angrily, "is of course but a cloak under which
to attack me. Piso and Plautus, Seneca and Lucan, do but assume
this severity of manners. They have plotted and intrigued against
me. I shall never be safe while they live."
"Caesar," Beric said gravely, "I am but a soldier, but born a free
Briton and a chief. I cannot sell my service, but must give it
loyally and heartily. You honour me with your favour and confidence;
I believe that I am worthy of it. I do not serve you for money.
Already I have begged you not to heap presents upon me. Wealth
would be useless to me did I desire it. Not only have you offered
to bestow estates upon me, but I have learned already that there are
many others who, seeing that I am favoured by you, would purchase
my friendship or my advocacy by large sums. I should despise myself
if I cared for money. You would, I know honour me not only with
your trust that I can be relied upon to do my duty as your guard,
but by treating me as one in your confidence in other matters. At
the risk, then, of exciting your displeasure and forfeiting your
favour, I must again pray you not to burden me with state matters.
Of these I know nothing, and wish to know nothing. Save that
of Seneca, I scarce know the names of the others of whom you have
spoken. I am wholly ignorant of the intrigues of court life, and I
seek to know nothing of them, and am therefore in no position to
give any opinion on these matters; and did I speak from only partial
knowledge I should do these men great wrong.
"In the next place, Caesar, I am not one who has a double face, and
if you ask my opinion of a matter in which I thought that others
had ill advised you, I should frankly say that I thought you
were wrong; and the truth is never palatable to the great. I try,
therefore, to shut my ears to everything that is going on around me,
for did I take note of rumours my loyalty to you might be shaken."
"Perhaps you are right," Nero said, after a long pause. "But tell
me, once and for all, what you do think on general matters. It is
good to have the opinion of one whom I know to be honest."
"On one subject only are my convictions strong, Caesar. I think that
the terrible persecution of the Christians is in itself horrible,
and contrary to all the traditions of Rome. These are harmless
people. They make no disturbances; they do injury to no one; they
are guilty of no act that would justify in any way the tortures
inflicted upon them. I am not a Christian, I know nothing of
their doctrines; but I am unable to understand how one naturally
clement and kind hearted as you are can give way to the clamour of
the populace against these people. As to those of whom you speak,
and others, I have no opinions; but were I Caesar, strong in the
support of the Praetorian guards, and in the affection of the people
at large, I would simply despise plotters. The people may vaguely
admire the doctrines of the Stoics, but they themselves love
pleasure and amusements and spectacles, and live upon your bounty
and generosity. There can then be nothing to fear from open force.
Should there be conspirators who would attempt to compass their
ends by assassination, you have your guards to protect you. You
have myself and my little band of countrymen ready to watch over
"No care and caution will avail against the knife of the assassin,"
Nero said gloomily. "It is only by striking down conspirators and
assassins that one can guard one's self against their weapons.
Julius Caesar was killed when surrounded by men whom he deemed his
Beric could not deny the truth of Nero's words. "That is true,
Caesar, and therefore I do not presume to criticise or even to have
an opinion upon acts of state policy. These are matters utterly
beyond me. I know nothing of the history of the families of Rome.
I know not who may, with or without reason, deem that they have
cause of complaint against you, or who may be hostile to you either
from private grievances or personal ambitions, and knowing nothing
I wish to know nothing. I desire, as I said when you first spoke to
me, to be regarded as a watchdog, to be attached to you by personal
kindness, and to guard you night and day against conspirators and
assassins. I beseech you not to expect more from me, or to deem it
possible that a Briton can be qualified to give any opinion whatever
as to a matter so alien to him as the intrigues and conspiracies
of an imperial city. Did I agree with you, you would soon doubt my
honesty; did I differ from you, I should incur your displeasure."
Nero looked up at the frank countenance of the young Briton.
"Enough," he said smiling, "you shall be my watchdog and nothing
As time went on Nero's confidence in his British guard steadily
increased. He had his spies, and knew how entirely Beric kept himself
aloof from intimate acquaintanceship with any save the family of
Norbanus, and learned, too, that he had refused many large bribes
from suitors. For a time, although he knew it not, Beric was
constantly watched. His footsteps were followed when he went abroad,
his conversations with others in the baths, which formed the great
centres of meeting, and stood to the Romans in the place of modern
clubs, were listened to and noted. It was observed that he seldom
went to convivial gatherings, and that at any place when the
conversation turned on public affairs he speedily withdrew; that
he avoided all display of wealth, dressed as quietly as it was
possible for one in the court circle to do, and bore himself as
simply as when he had been training in the ludus of Scopus. There
he still went very frequently, practising constantly in arms with
his former companions, preferring this to the more formal exercises
of the gymnasium. Thus, after a time, Nero became confirmed in his
opinion of Beric's straightforward honesty, and felt that there
was no fear of his being tampered with by his enemies.
One result of this increased confidence was that Beric's hours
of leisure became much restricted, for Nero came to require his
attendance whenever he appeared in public. With Beric and Boduoc
among the group of courtiers that followed him, the emperor felt
assured there was no occasion to fear the knife of the assassin;
and it was only when he was at the baths, where only his most chosen
friends were admitted, or during the long carousals that followed
the suppers, that Beric was at liberty, and in the latter case
Boduoc was always near at hand in case of need.
Nero's precautions were redoubled after the detection of the
conspiracy of Piso. That this plot was a real one, and not a mere
invention of Nero to justify his designs upon those he hated and
feared, is undoubted. The hour for the attempt at assassination had
been fixed, the chief actor was prepared and the knife sharpened.
But the executions that followed embraced many who had no knowledge
whatever of the plot. Seneca was among the victims against whom
there was no shadow of proof.
After the discovery of this plot Beric found his position more
and more irksome in spite of the favour Nero showed him. Do what
he would he could not close his ears to what was public talk in
Rome. The fabulous extravagances of Nero, the public and unbounded
profligacy of himself and his court, the open defiance of decency,
the stupendous waste of public money on the new and most sumptuous
palace into which he had now removed, were matters that scandalized
even the population of Rome. Senators, patricians, grave councillors,
noble matrons were alike willingly or unwillingly obliged to join
in the saturnalia that prevailed. The provinces were ruined to
minister to the luxury of Rome. The wealth of the noblest families
was sequestrated to the state. All law, order, and decency were
set at defiance.
To the Britons, simple in their tastes and habits, this profusion
of luxury, this universal profligacy seemed absolutely monstrous.
When they met together and talked of their former life in their
rude huts, it seemed that the vengeance of the gods must surely
fall upon a people who seemed to have lost all sense of virtue,
all respect for things human and divine. To Beric the only bearable
portions of his existence were the mornings he spent in reading,
and in the study of Greek with Chiton, and in the house of Norbanus.
Of Lesbia he saw little. She spent her life in a whirl of dissipation
and gaiety, accompanying members of her family to all the fetes in
defiance of the wishes of Norbanus, whose authority in this matter
she absolutely set at naught.
"The emperor's invitations override the authority of one who makes
himself absurd by his presumption of philosophy. I live as do
other Roman ladies of good family. Divorce me if you like; I have
the fortune I brought you, and should prefer vastly to go my own
This step Norbanus would have taken but for the sake of Aemilia. By
his orders the latter never went abroad with her mother or attended
any of the public entertainments, but lived in the quiet society
of the personal friends of Norbanus. Lesbia had yielded the point,
for she did not care to be accompanied by a daughter of marriageable
age, as by dint of cosmetics and paint she posed as still a young
woman. Aemilia had long since recovered her spirits, and was again
the merry girl Beric had known at Massilia.
One day when Beric called he saw that Norbanus, who was seldom put
out by any passing circumstance, was disturbed in mind.
"I am troubled indeed," he said, in answer to Beric's inquiry.
"Lesbia has been proposing to me the marriage of Rufinus Sulla, a
connection of hers, and, as you know, one of Nero's intimates, with
Beric uttered an exclamation of anger.
"He is one of the worst of profligates," he exclaimed. "I would slay
him with my own hand rather than that Aemilia should be sacrificed
"And I would slay her first," Norbanus said calmly; "but, as Lesbia
threatened when I indignantly refused the proposal, Rufinus has
but to ask Nero's approval, and before his orders my authority as
a father goes for nothing. I see but one way. It has seemed to me
for a long time, Beric, that you yourself felt more warmly towards
Aemilia than a mere friend. Putting aside our obligations to you
for having risked your life in defence of Ennia, there is no one
to whom I would more willingly give her. Have I been mistaken in
your thoughts of her?"
"By no means," Beric said. "I love your daughter Aemilia, but I
have never spoken of it to you for two reasons. In the first place
I shall not be for some years of the age at which we Britons marry,
and in the second I am but a captive. At present I stand high in
the favour of Nero, but that favour may fail me at any day, and
my life at the palace is becoming unbearable; but besides, it is
impossible that this orgy of crime and debauchery can continue. The
vengeance of heaven cannot be much longer delayed. The legions in
the provinces are utterly discontented and well nigh mutinous, and
even if Rome continues to support Nero the time cannot be far off
when the legions proclaim either Galba, or Vespasian, or some other
general, as emperor, and then the downfall of Nero must come. How
then could I ask you for the hand of Aemilia, a maiden of noble
family, when the future is all so dark and troubled and my own lot
"I cannot raise my sword against Caesar, for, however foul his
crimes, he has treated me well. Had it not been for that I would
have made for Praeneste, when the gladiators rose there the other
day, and for the same reason I can do nothing to prepare the way
for a rising here. I know the ludus of Scopus would join to a man.
There is great discontent among the other schools, for the people
have become so accustomed to bloodshed that they seem steeled to
all pity, and invariably give the signal for the despatch of the
conquered. As to your offer, Norbanus, I thank you with all my
heart; but were it not for this danger that threatens from Rufinus,
I would say that at the present time I dare not link her lot to
mine. The danger is too great, the future too dark. It seems to
me that the city and all in it are seized with madness, and above
all, at the present time, I would not for worlds take her to the
palace of Nero. But if Aemilia will consent to a betrothal to me,
putting off the period of marriage until the times are changed,
I will, with delight, accept the offer of her hand, if she too is
willing, for in Briton, as in Gaul, our maidens have a voice in
their own disposal."
Norbanus smiled. "Methinks, Beric, you need not fear on that score.
Since the day when you fought the lion in the arena you have been
her hero and the lord of her heart. Even I, although but short
sighted as to matters unconnected with my work, could mark that,
and I believe it is because her mother sees and fears it that she
has determined to marry her to Rufinus. I will call her down to
find out whether she is ready to obey my wishes."
In a minute or two Aemilia came down from the women's apartments
"My child," Norbanus said, "I have offered you in marriage to
Beric. He has accepted, saving only that you must come to him not
in obedience to my orders but of your own free will, since it is
the custom of his country that both parties should be equally free
of choice. What do you say, my child?"
Aemilia had flushed with a sudden glow of colour as her father
began, and stood with downcast eyes until he had finished.
"One moment before you decide, Aemilia," Beric said. "You know how
I am situated, and that at any moment I may be involved in peril
or death; that life with me can scarcely be one of ease or luxury,
and that even at the best you may be an exile for ever from Rome."
She looked up now. "I love you, Beric," she said. "I would rather
live in a cottage with you for my lord and master than in a palace
with any other. I would die with you were there need. Your wishes
shall always be my law."
"That is not the way in Britain," Beric said, as he drew her to
him and kissed her. "The husband is not the lord of his wife, they
are friends and equals, and such will we be. There is honour and
respect on both sides."
"It will be but your betrothal at present," Norbanus said. "Neither
Beric nor I would like to see you in the palace of Caesar; but the
sponsalia shall take place today, and then he can claim you when
he will. Come again this evening, Beric. I will have the conditions
drawn up, and some friends shall be here to witness the form of
betrothal. This haste, child, is in order to give Beric power to
protect you. Were you free, Rufinus might obtain an order from Nero
for me to give you to him, but once the conditions are signed they
cannot be broken save by your mutual consent; and moreover, Beric
can use his influence with the emperor on behalf of his betrothed
wife, while so long as you remain under my authority he could
scarcely interfere did Nero give his promise to Rufinus."
"Will my mother be here?"
"She will not, nor do I desire her presence," Norbanus said decidedly.
"She has defied my authority and has gone her own path, and it is
only for your sake that I have not divorced her. She comes and she
goes as she chooses, but her home is with her family, not here. She
has no right by law to a voice in your marriage. You are under my
authority and mine alone. It is but right that a good mother should
have an influence and a voice as to her daughter's marriage; but
a woman who frequents the saturnalia of Nero has forfeited her
mother's rights. It will be time enough for her to hear of it when
it is too late for her to cause trouble. Now do you two go into
the garden together, for I have arrangements to make."
At six o'clock Beric returned to the house. In the atrium were
gathered a number of guests; some were members of the family of
Norbanus, others were his colleagues in office--all were men of
standing and family. Beric was already known to most of them, having
met them at suppers at the house. When all were assembled Norbanus
left the room, and presently returned leading Aemilia by the hand.
"My friends," he said, "you already know why you are assembled here,
namely to be witnesses to the betrothal of my daughter to Beric the
Briton. Vitrio, the notary, will read the conditions under which
they are betrothed."
The document was a formal one, and stated that Norbanus gave up
his potestas or authority over his daughter Aemilia to Beric, and
that he bound himself to complete the further ceremony of marriage
either by the religious or civil form as Beric might select whenever
the latter should demand it, and that further he agreed to give
her on her marriage the sum of three thousand denarii, and to leave
the whole of his property to her at his death; while Beric on his
part bound himself to complete the ceremonies of marriage whenever
called upon by Norbanus to do so, and to pay him at the present
time one thousand denarii on the consideration of his signing the
present agreement, and on his delivering up to him his authority
over his daughter.
"You have heard this document read, Norbanus," the notary said,
when he had concluded the reading. "Do you assent to it? And are
you ready to affix your signature to the contract?"
"I am ready," Norbanus said.
"And you, Beric?"
"I am also ready," Beric replied.
"Then do you both write your signatures here."
Both signed, and four of the guests affixed their signatures as
witnesses. Norbanus then placed Aemilia's hand in Beric's. "You are
now betrothed man and wife," he said. "I transfer to you, Beric,
my authority over my daughter; henceforth she is your property to
claim as you will."
A minute later there was a sudden movement at the door, and Lesbia
entered in haste. "News has just been brought to me of your intention,
Norbanus, and I am here to say that I will not permit this betrothal."
"You have no voice or authority in the matter," Norbanus said
calmly. "Legal right to interfere you never had. Your moral right
you have forfeited. The conditions have been signed. Aemilia is
betrothed to Beric."
Lesbia broke out into passionate reproaches and threats, but Norbanus
advanced a step or two towards her, and said with quiet dignity,
"I have borne with you for her sake, Lesbia. Now that she belongs
to Beric and not to me, I need not restrain my just indignation
longer. I return your property to your hands."
Lesbia stepped back as if struck. The words were the well known
formula by which a Roman divorced his wife. She had not dreamed
that Norbanus would summon up resolution to put this disgrace upon
her, and to bring upon himself the hostility of her family. Her
pride quickly came to her aid.
"Thanks for the release," she said sarcastically; "far too much
of my life has already been wasted on a dotard, and my family will
see that the restitution of my property is full and complete: but
beware, Norbanus, I am not to be outraged with impunity, and you
will learn to your cost that a woman of my family knows how to
Then turning she passed out of the door, entered her lectica and
was carried away.
"I must apologize to you, my friends," Norbanus said calmly, "for
having brought you to be present at an unpleasant family scene, but
I had not expected it, and know not through whom Lesbia obtained
the news of what was doing here. I suppose one of the slaves carried
it to her. But these things trouble not a philosopher; for myself
I marvel at my long patience, and feel rejoiced that at last I
shall be free to live my own life."
"You have done well, Norbanus," one of his colleagues said, "though
I know not what Nero will say when he hears of it, for severity
among husbands is not popular at present in Rome."
"I can open my veins as Seneca did," Norbanus said calmly; "neither
death nor exile have any terrors for me. Rome has gone mad, and
life for a reasoning being is worthless here."
"I shall represent the matter to Nero," Beric said, "and as it is
seldom that I ask aught of him, I doubt not he will listen to me.
When he is not personally concerned, Nero desires to act justly,
and moreover, I think that he can weigh the advantages of the
friendship of a faithful guard against that of his boon companions.
I will speak to him the first thing in the morning. He frequently
comes into the library and reads for an hour. At any rate there is
no chance of Lesbia being beforehand with me. It is too late for
her to see Rufinus and get him to approach Nero tonight."
"Let us talk of other matters," Norbanus said, "all these things
are but transitory." He then began to talk on his favourite topic
--the religions of the world, while Beric drew Aemilia, who had
been weeping since the scene between her parents, into the tablinum.
"It is unlucky to weep on the day of your betrothal, Aemilia."
"Who could help it, Beric? Besides, as it is not for my own troubles
the omen will have no avail. But it is all so strange and so rapid.
This morning I was in trouble, alarmed at what my mother told me
of her intentions, fearful that my father, who has so long yielded
to her, would permit her to have her own way in this also. Then
came the great joy when he told me that he would give me to you
--that you, who of all men I thought most of, was henceforth to
be my lord. Then, just when my happiness was complete, and I was
formally bound to you, came my mother. Ennia and I always loved our
father most, he was ever thoughtful and kind to us, while even as
children our mother did not care for us. As we grew up she cared still
less, thinking only of her own pleasures and friends, and leaving
us almost wholly in charge of the slaves; but it was not until
Ennia was seized as a Christian that I knew how little she loved
us. Then she raved and stormed, lamented and wept, not because of
the fate of Ennia, not because of the terrible death that awaited
her, but because of the disgrace it brought upon herself. Even after
she was brought here she scarce came in to see her, and loudly said
that it would be best for her to die. Lately, as you know, I have
seen little of her; she spends all her time abroad, has defied my
father's authority; and brought grief and trouble upon him. Still,
to a daughter it is terrible that her mother should be divorced."
"Let us not think of it now, Aemilia. Your father has acted, as he
always does, rightly and well. I know much more of what is going
on than you do, and I can tell you that Lesbia, who was so jealous
of the honour of her name when Ennia was concerned, is bringing
far greater dishonour upon her name by her own actions. And now let
us talk of ourselves. The act you have just done, dear, may bring
all sorts of sacrifices upon you. At any moment I may be a fugitive,
and, as you know, the families of those who incur Nero's wrath
share in their disgrace; and if I am forced to fly, you too may be
obliged to become a fugitive."
She looked up brightly. "I shall not mind any hardships I suffer
for your sake, Beric. Rome is hateful to me since Ennia stood in
the arena. I would rather share a hut with you among the savage
mountains of the north than a palace here."
"I trust that trouble is still far distant, but I shall, as soon as
I can, find a retreat where, in case I fall under Nero's displeasure,
you can lie hid until I can send for you."
"I have such a retreat, Beric. Since Ennia's death I have seen a
good deal of the Christians. Lycoris, you know, was captured at the
same time as Ennia, and was put to death by fire; but her daughter,
married to a freedman who had purchased her liberty from my father,
managed to escape with her husband when the place was surrounded.
I have met her several times since. She and her husband are living
hidden in the catacombs, where she tells me many of their sect have
taken refuge from the persecutions.
"The last time I saw her she said to me, 'No one's life is safe
in this terrible city, and none, however high in station, can say
that they may not require refuge. Should you need an asylum, Aemilia,
go to the house of a freedman, one Mincius, living in the third
house on the right of a street known as the Narrow one, close behind
the amphitheatre at the foot of the Palatine Hill, and knock thrice
at the door. When they open, say, 'In the name of Christ,' then
they will take you in. Tell them that you desire to see me, and
that you are the sister of Ennia, the daughter of Norbanus, and
they will lead you to us. There is an entrance to the catacombs
under the house. As the sister of Ennia you will be warmly received
by all there, even although you yourself may not belong to us. The
galleries and passages are of a vast extent and known only to us.
There is no fear of pursuit there.'"
"That is good news, Aemilia; it is sad that, but an hour betrothed,
we are forced to think of refuges, but it will be happiness to me
to know that if danger threatens, you have a place of retreat. You
see this ring; Nero himself gave it me; mark it well, so that you
may know it again. It is a figure of Mercury carved on an amethyst.
When you receive it, by night or day, tarry not a moment, but wrap
yourself in a sombre mantle like that of a slave, and hie you to
this refuge you speak of; but first see your father, tell him where
you are going and why, so that he may fly too, if he choose."
"He will not do that," Aemilia said, "and how can I leave him?"
"You must leave him because you belong to me, Aemilia, and because
you are acting on my orders. The danger to you is far greater than
to him. You are my wife, he only my father in law, and they would
strike at me first through you. Besides, there are other reasons.
Your father is a Roman of the old type, and like Seneca and Plautus,
and others of the same school, will deem it no loss when the time
comes to quit life. However, you will tell him of the danger, and
he must make his own choice. I shall beg him to hand to you at once
the money which I placed in his care now a year ago. Do you hand
it over to the woman you speak of, and ask her to hide it away in
the caves till you ask for it again; these Christians are to be
trusted. I have much money besides, for Nero is lavishly generous,
and it would anger him to refuse his bounty. This money I have
placed in several hands, some in Rome, some elsewhere, so that if
forced to fly I can at any rate obtain some of my store without
having to run into danger."
"One more question, Beric. Should I ever have to take refuge among
the Christians, and like Ennia come to love their doctrines, would
you be angered if I joined their sect? If you would I will not
listen to them, but will tell them that I cannot talk or think of
these things without my husband's consent."
"You are free to do as you like, Aemilia. Since Ennia died I have
resolved upon the first opportunity to study the doctrines of these
people, for truly it must be a wonderful religion that enables
those who profess it to meet a cruel death not only without fear
but with joy. You know Ennia said we should meet again, and I think
she meant that I, too, should become a Christian. Ask the woman if
I also, as a last resource, may take refuge among them."
"I will ask her, Beric; but I am sure they will gladly receive you.
Have you not already risked your life to save a Christian?"
The other guests having now left, Norbanus joined them, and Beric
told him of the arrangements they had made in case of danger. He
warmly approved of them.
"It will be a relief to me as to you, Beric, to know that Aemilia's
safety is provided for. As for myself, fate has no terrors for me;
but for you and her it is different. She is yours now, for although
but betrothed she is virtually your wife. You have but to take her
by the hand and to declare her your wife in the presence of witnesses,
and all is done. There is, it is true, a religious ceremony in use
only among the wealthier classes, but this is rather an occasion
for pomp and feasting, and is by no means needful, especially as
you have no faith in the Roman gods. What are the rites among your
own people, Beric?"
"We simply take a woman by the hand and declare her our wife. Then
there is feasting, and the bride is carried home, and there is the
semblance of a fight, the members of her family making a show of
preventing us; but this is no part of the actual rite, which is
merely public assent on both sides. And now I must be going. Nero
will be feasting for a long time yet; but Boduoc has been on guard
for many hours and I must relieve him. Farewell, Norbanus; we have
been preparing for the worst, but I trust we shall escape misfortune.
Farewell, my Aemilia!" and kissing her tenderly Beric strode away
to the palace of Nero.
He had not seen Boduoc since early morning, and the latter, standing
on guard outside the private entrance to Nero's apartments, greeted
his arrival, "Why, Beric, I began to fear that some harm had befallen
you. I came in this morning after the bath and found you had gone
out. I returned again at six and found your chamber again empty,
but saw that you had returned during my absence; I went on guard,
and here have I been for four hours listening to all that foolish
singing and laughter inside. How Caesar, who has the world at his
command, can spend his time with actors and buffoons, is more than
I can understand. But what has kept you?"
As there was no fear of his voice being heard through the heavy
hangings, Beric, to Boduoc's intense surprise, related the events
of the day.
"So you have married a Roman girl, Beric! Well, I suspected what
would come of it when you spent half your time at the house of
Norbanus. I would rather that you had married one of our own maidens;
but as I see no chance of our return to Britain for years, if ever,
one could hardly expect you to wait for that. At any rate she is
the best of the Roman maidens I have seen. She neither dyes her
hair nor paints her face, and although she lacks stature, she is
comely, and is always bright and pleasant when I have accompanied
you there. I am inclined to feel half jealous that you have another
to love you besides myself, but I will try and not grudge her a
share of your affection."
"Well, hand me your sword, Boduoc, and betake yourself to your
bed. I will remain on guard for the next four hours, or until the
feasting is over. Nero often opens the hangings the last thing to
see if we are watchful, and he likes to see me at my post. I wish
to find him in a good temper in the morning."
The next morning, to Beric's satisfaction, Nero came into the
library early. Chiton, as was his custom, retired at once.
"I was inspired last night, Beric," the emperor said. "Listen to
these verses I composed at the table;" and he recited some stanzas
in praise of wine.
"I am no great judge of these matters, Caesar," Beric said; "but
they seem to me to be admirable indeed. How could it be otherwise,
when even the Greeks awarded you the crown for your recitations at
their contests? Yesterday was a fortunate day for me, also, Caesar,
for Norbanus betrothed his daughter to me."
The emperor's face clouded, and Beric hastened to say:
"There is no talk of marriage at present, Caesar, for marriage
would interfere with my duties to you. Therefore it is only when
you have no longer an occasion for my services that the betrothal
will be converted into marriage. My first duty is to you, and I
shall allow nothing to interfere with that."
Nero's face cleared. "That is right," he said graciously. "You might
have married better, seeing that you enjoy my favour; but perhaps
it is as well as it is. Norbanus is a worthy man and a good official,
although his ideas are old fashioned; but it is reported of him
that he thinks of nothing but his work, and mixes himself up in no
way in politics, living the life almost of a recluse. It was one of
his daughters you championed in the arena. She died soon afterwards,
I heard. Has he other children?"
"Only the maiden I am betrothed to, Caesar. He is now alone, for
his wife has long been altogether separated from him, being devoted
to gaiety and belonging to a family richer and more powerful than
his, and looking down upon her husband as a mere bookworm. He has
borne with her neglect and disobedience to his wishes for a long
time, and has shown, as it seemed to me, far too great a weakness
in exerting his authority; but his patience has at last failed,
and when yesterday, in defiance of him, she would have interfered
to prevent my betrothal to his daughter, he divorced her."
"Divorce is the fashion," Nero said carelessly. "I know his wife
Lesbia, she has frequently been present with members of her family
at my entertainments. She is a fine woman, and I wonder not that
she and the recluse her husband did not get on well together. She
will soon be consoled."
"I have mentioned it to you, Caesar, because she is a revengeful
woman, and might cause rumours unfavourable to her husband to be
reported to you. He is the most simple and single minded of men,
and his thoughts are entirely occupied, as you say, with the duties
of his office and with the learned book upon which he has long been
engaged; but although a philosopher in his habits he holds aloof
from all parties, and even in his own family never discusses
public affairs. Had it been otherwise, you may be sure that I, your
majesty's attendant and guard, should have abstained from visiting
"I know this to be the case, Beric. Naturally, when I first placed
you near my person, I was interested in knowing who were your
intimates, and caused strict inquiries to be made as to the household
of Norbanus and his associates; all that I heard was favourable to
him, and convinced me that he was in no way a dangerous person."
Nero left the room, and returned shortly bearing a casket. "Give
these jewels to your betrothed, Beric, as a present from Caesar to
the wife of his faithful guard."
Beric thanked the emperor in becoming terms, and in the afternoon
carried the jewels, which were of great value, to Aemilia.
"They are a fortune in themselves," he said; "in case of danger,
take them from the casket and conceal them in your garments. No
one could have been more cordial than Nero was this morning; but
he is fickle as the wind, and when Rufinus and others of his boon
companions obtain his ear his mood may change altogether."
CHAPTER XVIII: THE OUTBREAK
It was not long, indeed, before Beric found that hostile influences
were at work. Nero was not less friendly in his manner, but he more
than once spoke to him about Aemilia.
"I hear," he said one day, "that your betrothed is very beautiful
"She is very fair, Caesar," Beric replied coldly.
"I know not how it is that I have not seen her at court," Nero
"Her tastes are like those of her father," Beric said. "She goes but
seldom abroad, and has long had the principal care of her father's
"But you should bring her now," Nero persisted. "The wife of one of
the officials of the palace should have a place at our entertainments."
"She is not at present my wife, Caesar, she is but my betrothed; and
as you have yourself excused me from attendance at all entertainments,
it would be unseemly for her, a Roman maiden, though betrothed to
me, to appear there."
"There are plenty of other Roman maidens who appear there," Nero
said pettishly. Beric made no reply, and the subject was not again
alluded to at that time; but the emperor returned to it on other
occasions, and Beric at last was driven to refuse point blank.
"I am your majesty's guard," he said. "I watch you at night as well
as by day, and, as I have told your majesty, I cannot perform my
duties properly if I have to be present at your entertainments. I
should not permit my wife or my betrothed to be present in public
unless I were by her side. Your majesty took me for what I was, a
simple Briton, who could be relied upon as a guard, because I had
neither friends nor family in Rome, and was content to live a simple
and quiet life. I am willing to abstain from marriage in order that
I may still do my service as heretofore; but if I have to attend
entertainments, you cannot rely upon my constant vigilance. It is
for you to choose, Caesar, whether you most require vigilant guards,
who could be trusted as standing aloof from all, or the addition
of two persons to the crowds you entertain. I am sure, Caesar," he
went on as the emperor made no reply, "it is not yourself who is
now speaking to me; it is Rufinus, formerly a suitor for the hand
of the daughter of Norbanus, who has been whispering into your ear
and abusing the favour you show him. He dare not show his animosity
to me openly, for one who has conquered a lion would make but short
work of him. Your majesty, I pray you, let not the word of men like
this come between yourself and one you know to be faithful to you."
"You are right, Beric," Nero said. "I will press you no farther;
it was but a passing thought. I had heard of the beauty of your
betrothed, and though I would see if she were as fair as report
makes her; but since you do not wish it to be so, it shall not be
spoken of again."
But Beric knew enough of Nero to be aware that, like most weak
men, he was obstinate, and that Rufinus and his friends would not
allow the matter to drop. Every preparation was therefore made for
sudden flight. Aemilia was warned on no account to trust any message
she might receive purporting to be from him, and the Britons in the
palace, who were heartily sick of their monotonous duty, were told
to hold themselves in readiness for action. Beric knew that he could
depend on the slave who had been assigned to him as an attendant.
He was not the man who had at first served him, and who, as Beric
doubted not, had acted as a spy upon him. When it was found that
there was nothing to discover this man had been removed for other
work, and a slave boy of some seventeen years old had taken his
place. To him Beric had behaved with great kindness, and the lad
was deeply attached to him. He had several times taken notes and
messages to the house of Norbanus, and Beric told Aemilia that
when it became necessary to send her the ring, he should probably
intrust it to him.
A week later Boduoc was on guard at ten in the evening. In the distant
banqueting hall he could hear sounds of laughter and revelry, and
knowing the nature of these feasts he muttered angrily to himself
that he, a Briton, should be standing there while such things
were being done within. Suddenly he heard a step approaching the
hangings. They were drawn back, and one of the court attendants
said, "Caesar requires the attendance of Beric the Briton in the
"I will tell him," Boduoc said. "He will come directly." Beric was
sitting reading when Boduoc entered and gave the message.
"This means mischief, Boduoc," he said. "I have never been sent
for before to one of these foul carousals. Philo, come hither!"
The lad, who was lying on a mat by the door, rose. "Philo, take
this ring. Follow me to the door of the banqueting room, and stand
behind the hangings. If I say 'Run, Philo!' carry out the orders
that I have before given you. Speed first to the room where the
Britons sleep, and tell them to arm and come up by the private
stairs to my room instantly. They know the way. They are then to
pass on through the passage and the next room and wait behind the
hangings, when Boduoc will give them orders. Directly you have
given my message speed to the house of Norbanus, and demand in my
name to see the lady Aemilia. If she has retired to her room she
must be roused. If the slaves make difficulty, appeal to Norbanus
himself. He will fetch her down to you. Give her this ring, and
say the time has come."
"I will do it, my lord. Where am I to join you afterwards?"
"I shall take the road to the Alban Hills first; I think that if
you are speedy, you may be on the Alban road before me. Now follow
me. Boduoc, do you come as far as the hangings of the banqueting
room, and stand there with Philo. You will be able to hear what
passes within. Do not enter unless I call you. Bring my sword with
Beric passed through two or three large apartments and then entered
the banqueting room. It was ablaze with lights. A dozen men and as
many women, in the scantiest costumes, lay on couches along each
side of the table. All were crowned with chaplets of flowers, and
were half covered with roses, of which showers had fallen from
above upon them. Nero lay on a couch at the end of the table; his
features were flushed with wine. Beric repressed the exclamation
of indignant disgust that rose to his lips, and walking calmly up
to Nero said coldly, "I am told that you want me, Caesar."
"I do, my fighter of lions," Nero said unsteadily. "I would see
this paragon of whom Rufinus tells me, whom you guard so jealously
from my eyes. Send and fetch her hither. She will be a worthy queen
of our revels."
"It is an honour to me to obey your majesty's commands in all matters
that regard myself," Beric said; "but in regard to my promised
wife, no! This is no place for a Roman lady; and even at the risk
of your displeasure, Caesar, I refuse to dishonour her by bringing
her into such an assembly."
"I told you he would refuse, Caesar," Rufinus, who was lying on
the couch next to Nero, laughed.
Nero was speechless with surprise and anger at Beric's calm refusal
to obey his orders. "Do I understand," he said at last, "that you
refuse to obey me?"
"I do, Caesar. It is not a lawful command, and I distinctly refuse
to obey it."
"Then, by the gods, your life is forfeit!" Nero said, rising to
"You may thank your gods, Caesar, that I have more sense of honour
than you. Were it otherwise, I would strike you dead at my feet.
But a British chief disdains to fight an unarmed foe, and I who have
eaten your bread and taken your wages am doubly bound not to lift
my hand against you." Then he lifted his voice and cried, "Run,
The revellers by this time had all started to their feet. Nero,
shrinking backwards behind them, called loudly for help. Rufinus,
who had shown bravery in the wars, drew a dagger from beneath his
toga and sprang at Beric. The latter caught his uplifted wrist, and
with a sharp wrench forced him to drop the weapon; then he seized
him in his grasp. "You shall do no more mischief, Rufinus," he
said, and raising him in his arms hurled him with tremendous force
against a marble pillar, where he fell inert and lifeless, his
skull being completely beaten in by the blow.
The hall rang with the shrieks of women and the shouts of men.
There was a sound of heavy footsteps, and eight of the Praetorian
guards, with drawn swords, ran in on the other side of the chamber.
"Boduoc!" Beric shouted; and in a moment his follower stood beside
him and handed him his sword and buckler.
"Kill him!" Nero shouted frantically. "The traitor would have slain
Beric and Boduoc stepped back to the door by which they had
entered, and awaited the onset of the Praetorians. For a moment
these hesitated, for Beric's figure was well known in the palace,
and not one of them but had heard of his encounter with the lion.
The emperor's shouts, however, overcame their reluctance, and
shoulder to shoulder they rushed forward to the attack. Two fell
instantly, helmet and head cloven by the swords of the Britons,
who at once took the offensive and drove the others before them,
slaying three more and putting the others to flight. But the success
was temporary, for now a great body of the guard poured into the
"Step back through the doorway, Boduoc," Beric said; "their numbers
will not avail them then."
The doors were ten feet in width. This gave room to but three men
to enter at once and use their arms to advantage, and for two or
three minutes the Britons kept the Praetorians at bay, eight of
them having fallen beneath their blows; then there was a shout,
and the Roman soldiers came running in at a door at the end of the
chamber. "Fall back to the next door," Beric said; but as he spoke
there was a rush behind, and nineteen Britons ran into the room,
and uttering the war cry of the Iceni flung themselves upon the
Roman soldiers. These, taken by surprise at the sudden appearance
of these tall warriors, and ignorant of what further reinforcements
might be coming up, gave ground, and were speedily beaten back, a
score of them falling beneath the Britons' swords.
"Now retreat!" Beric cried as the room was cleared; "retreat at
full speed. Show them the way, Boduoc, by the staircase down into
the garden. Quick! there is not a moment to lose. I will guard the
They ran down the passage, through Beric's room, down a long
corridor, and then by stairs leading thence into the garden, which
was indeed a park of considerable size, with lakes, shrubberies,
and winding walks. The uproar in the palace was no longer heard by
the time they were halfway across the park; but they ran at full
speed until they reached a door in the wall. Of this Beric had
some time before obtained a key from the head gardener, and always
carried this about with him. As they stopped they looked back
towards the palace. Distant shouts could be heard, and the lights
of numbers of torches could be seen spreading out in all directions.
Beric opened the door and locked it behind him when all had passed
out. "Now," he said to his companions, "make your way down to the
road leading out to the Alban Hills. Break up and go singly, so
that you may not be noticed. It will be a good half hour before the
news of what has occurred is known beyond the palace. Do not pass
through the frequented streets, but move along the dark lanes as
much as possible. When half a mile beyond the city we will reunite."
An hour later the whole party were gathered beyond the city. All
were delighted to escape from what they considered slavery, and
the fact that they had again bucklers on their arms and swords by
their sides made them feel as if their freedom were already obtained.
"This puts one in mind of old times," Boduoc said joyously; "one
might think we were about to start on an expedition in the fens.
Well, they have taught us all somewhat more than we knew before,
and we will show them that the air of Rome has robbed us of none
of our strength. Where go we now, Beric?"
"First to the ludus of Scopus; I learned a week since that he had
taken his band out again to the Alban Hills for the hot season. I
believe that most of his men will join us, if not all. As soon as
the news is spread that we are in arms we could, if we wished it,
be joined by scores of gladiators from the other schools. There are
hundreds who would, if the standard of revolt were raised, prefer
dying fighting in the open to being slain to gratify a Roman mob."
"Ay, that there are," put in another of the band. "I have never
ceased to lament that I did not fall that day on our island in the
"Think you there will be pursuit, Beric?" another asked.
"No; the first thought of Nero will be to assemble all the
Praetorians for his protection; they will search the palace and
the park, expecting attack rather than thinking of pursuit. In the
morning, when they find that all is quiet, and that it is indeed
only us with whom there is trouble, they will doubtless send parties
of searchers over the country; but long before that we shall be a
day's march ahead. My wish is to gain the mountains. I do not want
to head a great rebellion against Rome--disaster would surely
come of it at last, and I should have only led men to their death.
A hundred men is the outside number I will take. With that number
we may live as outlaws among the mountains to the south; we could
move so rapidly that large forces could not follow us, and be
strong enough to repulse small ones. There is plenty of game among
the hills, and we should live as we did at home, chiefly by hunting."
Just as they were approaching the hills a quick step was heard
behind them, and the lad Philo ran up.
"Ah, you have overtaken us, Philo! 'tis well, lad, for your life
would have been forfeited had you stayed in Rome.
"Well," he asked, drawing him aside, "you saw the lady Aemilia.
What said she?"
"She said, 'Tell my lord that I obey, but that I pray him to let
me join him and share his dangers if it be possible; but be it
tomorrow or five years hence, he will find me waiting for him at
the place he knows of.' Norbanus was present when she spoke. I told
him what I had heard in the banqueting room, and he said 'Beric
has done rightly. Tell him that he has acted as a Roman should do,
but as Romans no longer act, caring less for their honour than do
the meanest slaves, and that I thank him for having thus defended
my daughter against indignity.' He was glad, he said, that his life
would end now, for it was a burden to him under such conditions.
He gave me this bag of gold to bring to you, saying that he should
have no farther need for it, and that, leaving in such haste, you
would not have time to furnish yourself with money. It is heavy,"
the boy said. "I should have caught you some time earlier, but
twenty or more pounds' weight makes a deal of difference in a long
On arriving at the house of Scopus Beric bade the others wait
without, and stepping over the slaves lying at the entrance, he
went quietly to the sleeping chamber of the lanista.
"Who is this?" Scopus asked as he entered.
"It is I, Beric; throw your mantle on and come outside with me,
Scopus. I would speak with you alone, and do not wish that all
should know that I have been here."
"In trouble?" Scopus asked as they left the house. "Ay, lad, I
expected it, and knew that sooner or later it would come. What is
"Nero ordered me to fetch Aemilia to his foul carousal. I refused.
Rufinus, at whose instigation he acted, attacked me. I hurled him
against a pillar, and methinks he was killed, and then Nero, in alarm
for his life, called in the Praetorians. Boduoc and my countrymen
joined me, and we slew some thirty of them, and then made our
escape, and are taking to the mountains."
"And you have come to ask my gladiators to join?" Scopus said
"No," Beric replied; "when I started I thought of so doing, but as
I walked hither I decided otherwise. It would not be fair to you.
Did I ask them some would join, I know, others might not. The loss
of their services I could make up to you; but if it were known that
we had been here, and that some of your band had joined me, Nero's
vengeance would fall on you all."
"I thank you, Beric; if some went I must go myself, for I dare not
remain, and though I wish you well, and hate the tyrant, I am well
off and comfortable, and have no desire to throw away my life."
"There is one I should like to take with me--Porus; we were good
friends when I was here, and I know that he hates this life and
longs to be free from it. He would have run away and joined the
gladiators when they rose at Praeneste had I not dissuaded him. He
could leave without the others knowing it, and in the morning you
might affect a belief that he has run away, and give notice to the
magistrate here and have him sought for. In that way there would
be no suspicion of his having joined us. I know that he is valuable
to you, being, I think, the best of your troop, but I will pay you
whatever price you place his services at."
"No, no," Scopus said, "I will give him to you, Beric, for the sake
of our friendship, and for your consideration for me in not taking
the rest with you. I have done well by you and him. Stay here and
I will fetch him out to you; it may be that many will desert both
from me and the other lanistae when they hear that you have taken
to the mountains, but for that I cannot be blamed. You have come
far out of your way to come hither."
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