Beric the Briton
G. A. Henty
Part 7 out of 8
"Yes, 'tis a long detour, but it will matter little. We shall
skirt round the foot of the hills, cross the Lyris below Praeneste,
and then make straight to the mountains. They will not search for
us in that direction, and we will take shelter in a wood when day
breaks, and gain the mountains tomorrow night. Once there we shall
be safe, and shall move farther south to the wild hills between
Apulia and Campania, or if it is too hot for us there, down into
Bruttium, whence we can, if it be needed, cross into Sicily. I am
not thinking of making war with Rome. We intend to live and die as
free men, and methinks that in the mountains we may laugh at the
whole strength of Rome."
"You will find plenty of others in the same condition there, Beric;
escaped slaves and gladiators constantly make for the hills, and
there have been many expeditions against the bands there, who are
often strong enough to be a danger to the towns near the foot of
"We are not going to turn brigands," Beric said; "there is game on
the hills, and we are all hunters, and I have money enough to pay
for all else we require did we live there for years. But fetch me
Porus. We must be far from here by daylight."
Porus soon came out, much surprised at being suddenly roused from
sleep, and silently brought out of the house by Scopus. As soon as
Beric explained to him what had happened, he joyfully agreed to
join him, and stole in and fetched his arms. Then with a hearty
adieu to Scopus Beric placed himself at the head of his band and
struck off by the road to Praeneste. Walking fast they arrived
at the bank of the Lyris before daybreak, crossed the river in
a fisherman's boat they found on the bank, and just as daylight
showed in the sky entered an extensive grove, having walked over
forty miles since leaving Rome. They slept during the day, taking
it by turns to watch at the edge of the wood, and when it was again
dark started afresh, and were, when morning broke, high up on the
slopes of the Apennines.
"I feel a free man again now," Boduoc said. "It does not seem to
me that I have drawn a breath of fresh air since I entered Rome;
but fresh air, good as it is, Beric, is not altogether satisfying,
and I begin to feel that I have eaten nothing since I supped the
day before yesterday."
"We will push on for another hour," Beric said, "and then we shall
be fairly beyond the range of cultivation. At the last house we
come to we will go in and purchase food. Flour is the principal
thing we need; we shall have no difficulty in getting goats from
the herdsmen who pasture their animals among the hills."
An hour later Beric, with Boduoc and two of his followers, went up
to a farm house. The farmer and his servants ran into the house,
raising cries of alarm at the sight of the four tall armed figures.
"Do not fear," Beric said when he reached the door, "we are not
brigands, but honest men, who desire to pay for what we need."
Somewhat reassured, the farmer came out. "What does my lord require?"
he asked, impressed by a nearer view of Beric's dress and arms.
"How much flour have you in the house?" Beric asked, "and what is
the price of it?"
The farmer had three sacks of flour. "I will take them all," Beric
said, "and three skins of wine if you have them. I would also buy
two sheep if you name me a fair price for the whole."
The farmer named a price not much above that which he would have
obtained in the market, and Beric also bought of him a number of
small bags capable of containing some fifteen or twenty pounds of
flour each. Then one of the men fetched up the rest of the band;
the flour was divided and packed in the small bags; the sheep were
killed and cut up; three of the men lifted the wine skins on to
their shoulders; the rest took the flour and meat, and they marched
away, leaving the farmer and his family astounded at the appearance
of these strange men with fair hair and blue eyes, and of stature
that appeared to them gigantic.
Still ascending the mountain the band halted in a forest. Wood was
soon collected and a fire lighted. The contents of one of the bags
was made into dough at a stream hard by, divided into cakes and
placed on red hot ashes, while the meat was cut up and hung over
"We have forgotten drinking horns," Beric said, "but your steel
cap, Porus, will serve us for a drinking cup for today."
After a hearty meal they lay down for some hours to sleep, and then
resumed their march. They were getting well into the heart of the
mountains when a figure suddenly appeared on a crag above them.
"Who are you?" he shouted, "and what do you here in the mountains?"
"We are fugitives from the tyranny of Rome," Beric replied. "We
mean harm to no man, but those who would meddle with us are likely
to regret it."
"You swear that you are fugitives," the man called back.
"I swear," Beric said, holding up his hand.
The man turned round and spoke to someone behind him, and a moment
later a party of fifteen men appeared on the crag and began to
descend into the ravine up which Beric's band were making their
"It is the Britons," the leader exclaimed as he neared them. "Why,
Beric, is it you, tired already of the dignities of Rome? How fares
it with you, Boduoc?"
Beric recognized at once a Gaul, one of the gladiators of Scopus,
who had some months before fled from the ludus. In a minute the
two bands met. Most of the newcomers were Gauls, and, like their
leader, escaped gladiators, and as Beric's name was well known to
all they saluted him with acclamations. Both parties were pleased
at the meeting, for, akin by race and speaking dialects of the same
language, they regarded each other as natural allies.
"The life of an outlaw will be a change to you after Nero's palace,
Beric," Gatho, their leader, said.
"A pleasant change," Beric replied. "I have no taste for gilded
chains. How do you fare here, Gatho?"
"There are plenty of wild boars among the mountains, and we can
always get a goat when they are lacking. There are plenty of them
wild all over the hills, escaped captives like ourselves. As for
wine and flour, we have occasionally to make a raid on the villages."
"I do not propose to do that," Beric said; "I have money to buy
what we require; and if we set the villagers against us, sooner or
later they will lead the troops after us up the mountains."
"I would gladly do that too, but the means are lacking. We owe the
peasants no ill will, but one must live, you know."
"Have you any place you make your headquarters?"
"An hour's march from hence; I will lead you to it."
The united bands continued to climb the hills, and on emerging from
the ravine Gatho led them for some distance along the upper edge
of a forest, and then turned up a narrow gorge in the hillside with
a little rivulet running down it. The ravine widened out as they
went up it, till they reached a spot where it formed a circular
area of some hundred and fifty feet in diameter, surrounded on all
sides by perpendicular rocks, with a tiny cascade a hundred feet
in height falling into it at the farther end. Some rough huts of
boughs of trees were erected near the centre.
"A good hiding place," Beric said, "but I see no mode of retreat,
and if a peasant were to lead a party of Romans to the entrance
you would be caught in a trap."
"We have only been here ten days," Gatho said, "and never stop long
in one place; but it has the disadvantage you speak of. However,
we have always one or two men posted lower down, at points where
they can see any bodies of men ascending the hills. They brought
us notice of your coming when you were far below, so you see we
are not likely to be taken by surprise, and the Roman soldiers are
not fond of night marches among the mountains."
As it was some hours since the Britons had partaken of their meal
they were quite ready to join the Gauls in another, and the carcass
of a wild boar hanging up near the huts was soon cut up and roasting
over a fire, the Britons contributing wine and flour to the meal.
After it was over there was a long talk, and after consulting
together Gatho and his band unanimously agreed in asking Beric to
take command of the whole party.
"We all know you, Beric," Gatho said. "None could like you have
fought a lion barehanded, and I know that there was no one in the
ludus who was your match with the sword, while Boduoc and the other
five were infinitely superior to any of us in strength. Besides,
you are well versed in Roman ways, and have led an army against
them, therefore we all are ready to accept you as our leader and
to obey your orders if you will take us."
"I will do so willingly, Gatho. I do not wish to have more than
fifty men with me, for it would be difficult to find subsistence
for a larger number. A hundred is the outside number, and doubtless
we shall be able to gather other recruits should we choose to raise
the band to that number; but all who follow me must obey me as
implicitly as did my own tribesmen in our struggle with the Romans,
and must swear to do no harm to innocent people, and to abstain
from all violence and robbery. I am ready to be a leader of outlaws
but not of brigands. I desire only to live a free life among the
mountains. If the Romans come against us we will fight against them,
and the spoil we may take from them is lawful booty, to be used in
exchange for such things as we may require. But with the peasants
we will make friends, and if we treat them well they will bring us
news of any expeditions that may be on foot for our capture. As I
said I have money enough to buy everything we want at present, and
can obtain more if necessary, so that there is no reason for us
to rob these poor people of their goods. Here we are too near Rome
for them to be disaffected, but further south we shall find them
not unwilling to aid us, for the provinces are ground into the dust
by the exactions necessary to pay for the cost of the rebuilding
of Rome and to support the extravagance of Nero."
The Gauls cheerfully took the required oath.
"You, Gatho, will continue to act as my lieutenant with your
Gauls, Boduoc commands the Britons under me. It may be necessary
at times for the band to divide, as when game is scarce we may find
a difficulty in keeping together, especially if we recruit our band
up to a hundred. I am determined to have no malefactors who have
fled from justice nor riotous men among us. I should prefer that
they should be chiefly your countrymen, but we will not refuse
gladiators of other nations who have been captured as prisoners of
war. We want no escaped slaves among us. A man who has once been
a slave might try to buy his pardon and freedom by betraying us.
We will be free men all, asking only to live in freedom among the
mountains, injuring none, but determined to fight and die in defence
of that freedom."
These sentiments were warmly welcomed by the Gauls. The next day the
number of men on the lookout was increased, and the band, breaking
up into small parties, scattered among the mountains in pursuit of
wild boars and goats. Some were to return, successful or not, at
night to the encampment, and on the following day to take the place
of those on watch, and relays were provided so that during the week
each would take a turn at that duty.
Never did men enjoy a week's hunting with greater zest than
the Britons. To them life seemed to begin anew, and although the
skies were bluer and the mountains higher and rougher than those
of Britain, it seemed to them that they were once again enjoying
their native air, and of an evening rude chants of Gaul and Britain
echoed among the rocks.
Porus, the Syrian, stood somewhat apart from the rest, not
understanding the tongue of the others, and he therefore became
naturally the special companion of Beric; for having been six years
in Rome he spoke Latin fluently.
"It is I who must go down to get you news, Beric," he said one
day. "You Britons could not disguise yourselves, for even if you
stained your cheeks and dyed your hair your blue eyes and your
height would betray you at once. The Gauls, too, though shorter
than you, are still much taller and broader men than the Romans,
and there are none of them who speak the language well enough to
ask a question without their foreign tongue being detected. I am
about the height of the Romans, and am swarthier than the Gauls,
and could, if I borrowed the dress of one of the goatherds, pass
among them without notice. It would certainly be well, as you were
saying, to know what is being done below, and whether there is any
idea of sending troops up into the mountains to search for us.
"You may be sure that after the scare you gave Nero, and the defeat
of his guards, the matter will not be allowed to drop, and that
they will search all Italy for you. I should think that, at first,
they will seek for you in the north, thinking that you would be
likely, after taking to the hills--which you would be sure to do,
for such a party could never hope to traverse the plains unnoticed
--to keep along the chain to the north, cross the Cisalpine plains,
and try the passage of the great mountains."
"At any rate it will be well, Porus, to know what they are doing.
If they are at present confining their search to the northern
range we can stay where we are with confidence. I should be sorry
to move, for we are well placed here; there is good water and game
is abundant. We certainly shall soon lack wine, but for everything
else we can manage. We have meat in abundance, and have flour to
last for some time, for both we and the Gauls eat but little bread;
besides, if pushed, we can do as the peasants do, pound up acorns
and beechnuts and make a sort of bread of them."
"Very well, Beric, I will go down tomorrow."
Early in the morning, however, two of the men on sentry came in
and said that they observed the glitter of the sun on spearhead
and armour far down the hillside.
"If they are after us," Beric said, "as I expect they are, they
have doubtless learned that we are somewhere in this part of the
mountains from the man of whom we bought the wine and flour. I
don't suppose he intended to do us harm, but when he went down to
purchase fresh supplies he may well have mentioned that a party of
strong men of unusual height, and with fair hair, had bought up
his stock, paying for it honestly, which would perhaps surprise
him more than anything. If the news had come to the ears of any of
the officials, they, knowing the hue and cry which was being made
for us, would have sent word at once to Praeneste or Rome. We must
at once recall those who are away. Philo, take a couple of brands
and go and light the signal fire."
A pile of dry wood had been placed in readiness upon a projecting
rock a mile away and standing in position where it was visible from
a considerable extent of the hillside. It had been settled that
the parties of hunters who did not return at nightfall should
occasionally send one of their number to a point whence he could
get a view of the beacon.
"Directly the pile is well alight, Philo, pluck up green bushes
and tufts of grass and throw upon it, so as to make as much smoke
There were eighteen men in the encampment, and four out on guard.
Boduoc and Gatho were both away, and as soon as Philo had started
with the brands Beric and Porus set out with the two scouts.
"That was where we saw them," one of them said, pointing far down
the hillside, "but by this time they will no doubt have entered
the wooded belt."
"We must find out something about their numbers," Beric said. "Not
that I wish to fight; for were we to inflict losses upon them they
would more than ever make efforts to overtake us. Still, it will
be as well to know what force they may think sufficient to capture
"I will go down through the forest," Porus said, "doubtless they
will have some light armed troops with the spearmen; but they must
be fleet indeed if they overtake me after all my training."
"Do not let them see you if you can help it, Porus, or they will
follow close behind you, although they might not overtake you, and
that might bring on a fight."
"I will be careful;" and leaving his buckler behind him, Porus
started on his way down the mountain.
In an hour and a half he returned. "I have had a good view of them,"
he said; "they have halted at the place where we got the flour.
There are a hundred heavy armed troops and a hundred archers and
"They have come in strength," Beric said; "it shows that they do
not hold the Britons cheaply. We will return at once to the camp.
By this time the hunters should be back."
Sending one of the men to call in the other sentries, they returned
to the huts. Boduoc, with a party of ten men, had already come in,
and said that they had seen Gatho's party making their way down
from a point high up in the mountains.
"We will pause no longer," Beric said, "we shall meet them as they
descend; take the flour and what little wine remains, and let us
be going. Scatter the fire and extinguish the brands; unless they
have found some goatherd who has marked us coming and going, they
may not find this place. I hope they will not do so, as it would
encourage them by the thought that they had nearly captured us."
The party had ascended the mountain half a mile when they met Gatho
"I like not to retreat without fighting," he said, when he had
heard from Beric of the coming of the Romans and their force; "but
I agree with you that it is better not to anger them farther."
"I want three of the fleetest footed of your men, Gatho, to stay
behind with Porus and watch them, themselves unseen. We will cross
over the crest of the hills to the eastern side, Porus. Do you mark
that tall craig near the summit; you will find one of us there,
and he will lead you to our camping place. I want to know whether
the Romans, after spending the day searching the hills, go back
through the forest, or whether they encamp here. In the one case we
can return, in the other it will be better to move south at once.
We could laugh at their heavy armed spearmen, but their archers
and slingers carry no more weight than we do, and would harass us
sorely with their missiles, which we have no means of returning."
As soon as the men to remain with Porus were chosen, the rest of
the band proceeded on their way.
CHAPTER XIX: OUTLAWS
It was late at night before Porus with the three Gauls joined the
rest of the band in their new encampment on the eastern slope of
"As soon as the moon rises, Beric, we must be up and moving.
The Romans are in earnest. When they came through the forest they
ascended for some little distance, and then the spearmen halted
and the light armed troops scattered in parties of four searching
the country like dogs after game. They were not very long before
they discovered signs of us, whether footmarks or broken twigs I
know not, but following them they soon came upon the entrance of
the ravine. No doubt our marks were plain enough there, for the
spearmen were brought down. What happened then I know not; no doubt
they entered and found that we had gone. At any rate, in a short
time they set out briskly up the mountain, the spearmen as before
keeping together, and the light armed men scattering.
"All day they searched, and it was well that you crossed the crest.
They halted for the night halfway between the forest and the summit,
and I determined to learn something of their intentions. So after
it was dark I laid aside my arms and crawled into the camp. The
ground was broken and rough, and there was no great difficulty in
getting close to their fires. I learned that the whole of the legion
at Praeneste had been sent into the mountains, and that there were
twenty parties of equal force; they were but a mile and a half apart,
and considered that they could search every foot of the ground for
thirty miles along, and would assuredly discover us if we were still
in this part. More than that, troops from Corfinium and Marrubium
had started to search the eastern slopes, and between them they
made sure that they should catch you, now that they had found, by
the heat of the earth where our fire had been, that we must have
been there but an hour or so before their arrival."
"If that is the case we must make our way to the south at once,"
Beric said. "It is well indeed that we decided to retreat without
fighting, for had we retired, closely pursued by their archers,
their shouts would certainly have been heard by some of the other
parties. It is fortunate we did not light a fire; had we done so it
might have brought some of the troops from Marrubium, which cannot
be far distant from here, upon us. The moon will not be up for
three hours yet, and it is useless to try to make our way among
these mountains until we have her light, therefore let all lie down
to sleep; I will keep guard and will rouse you when it is time to
Beric sat listening intently for any sound that would tell of the
approach of foemen. He had, however, but small fear that the Romans
were moving at present. It would be even more difficult for them
than for his men to make their way about in the darkness; besides,
the day must have been an extremely fatiguing one for them. They
had, doubtless, started long before dawn, had had to climb the
mountains, and had been all day on their feet. They would scarcely
recommence the search before morning. Easy on this score, his
thoughts turned to Rome. That Aemilia had gained the shelter of
the Catacombs he had no doubt, and he wondered how she fared there
among the Christian fugitives. As to Norbanus he had but slight
hopes of ever seeing him alive. Nero's vengeance always extended
to the families of those who offended him, and Norbanus would
certainly be held responsible for the flight of Aemilia. He thought
it indeed probable that as soon as Aemilia left, Norbanus would
have called his friends together, and, having opened his veins,
would die as Piso had done discussing philosophy with them.
As soon as the moon was fairly up he aroused his companions and
they started along the hillside. It was difficult work making their
way on, now descending into a deep ravine, now climbing a rugged
slope, now passing along a bare shoulder. There was no pause until
day broke, when they descended into a gorge and lay down among
some clumps of bushes, one man being sent half a mile down while
two others were posted on each side of the ravine. They had good
reason for hope, however, that they had got beyond the point to
which the searching parties would extend on the eastern side of the
hill. The day passed without alarms, although the sentries above
more than once heard the sounds of distant trumpets. As soon as
the sun set they continued their way, halting again until the moon
rose, and then keeping south until daybreak.
They were sure now that they were far beyond the parties of Romans,
but after a few hours' sleep they again pressed on, and at night
lighted their fires and prepared for a longer stay. But the orders
of Nero were so imperative that the troops, having thoroughly
searched the mountains at the point where they had ascended them,
united, and also moved south in a long line extending from the
summit of the hills to the lower edge of the forest; and after two
days' halt the fugitives again moved south, and continued their
journey until they found themselves among the wild and lofty hills
But their numbers had swollen as they went, for the other fugitive
bands among the hills were also driven south by the advance of
the Romans, and it was a miscellaneous body of gladiators, escaped
slaves, and malefactors, in all over five hundred strong, that crossed
the mountains into Bruttium. There was a general wish among them
that Beric should take the command of the whole. This, however, he
absolutely declined to do, upon the ground that it was impossible
for so large a body of men to keep together, as there would be no
means of feeding them. Scattered about they would find an ample
supply of meat from the wild goats, boars and semi-wild swine,
but together, they would soon scare away the game. From among the
gladiators, however, he picked out sufficient men to raise his
own force to a hundred strong, and separating from the rest he led
them, guided by a charcoal burner, to one of the wildest and most
inaccessible points in the promontory.
Here they were safe from pursuit. Bruttium, now called Calabria,
is a chain of rugged hills, at that time thickly covered with wood,
and although it was possible fairly to search the Apennines in the
centre of Italy with six or seven thousand men, a large army would
fail to find a band of fugitives in the recesses of the mountains
of the south. On the evening of their arrival at the spot they
determined to make their headquarters, Beric held a sort of council
of war, the whole of the band, as was the custom both in Gaul and
Britain, joining in the deliberations.
"So far," Beric began, "we have retreated without fighting; Rome
cannot complain that we have been in insurrection against her, we
have simply acted as fugitives; but as there is nowhere else whither
we can retire, we must turn upon them if they again pursue us. We
must then regard this as our abode for a long time, and make ourselves
as comfortable as we can. Huts we can erect of the branches of
trees, the skins of the goats we kill will provide us with bedding,
and if needs be with clothing. Meat will not fail us, for should
game become scarce we can buy goats and sheep from the shepherds
who come up with their flocks and herds from the villages by the
sea. But besides this we need many things for comfort. We must have
utensils for cooking, and drinking cups, and shall need flour and
wine; we must therefore open communications with one of the towns
by the sea. This is the great difficulty, because of all things I
fear treachery; for nigh a year we fought the Romans at home, and
could have fought them for twenty more had we not been betrayed
"Of that there will always be a danger. I have gold, and shall always
pay for what we require; but the other bands among these hills will
not be so scrupulous, and as, indeed, they will be forced to take
food, they will set the inhabitants against us, and the Romans
will have no difficulty in finding guides among them. So long as we
keep ourselves far apart from the rest we are comparatively safe;
but none of the natives must know of our hiding place. Can anyone
propose a good plan for obtaining supplies?"
There was silence for some time. These men were all good for
fighting, but few of them had heads to plan. At last Porus said:
"We are, as our guide tells me, but two hours' journey from
the hills whence we may look down upon the gulf dividing Bruttium
from Sicily. The lower slopes of these hills are, he says, closely
cultivated. There are many small villages some distance up on their
sides, and solitary farms well nigh up to the crest. It seems to
me that we should use one of these farmers as our agent. He must
be a man with a wife and family, and these would be hostages. If
we told him that if he did our bidding he would be well rewarded,
while if unfaithful we would destroy his farmhouse and slay his
wife and children, I think we might trust him. Two or three of us
could go down with him to the town on the seashore, dressed as men
working under him, and help bring up the goods he purchases. The
quantity might excite suspicion did he always go to the same place
for them, but he need not always do this. If we found it impossible
to get enough by means of one man, we might carry out this plan with
three or four of them. None of these men need know the direction
of our camp; it would suffice that the wine and flour were brought
to their houses. We could always send a strong party to fetch them
thence as we require them."
"I do not think we can hit on any better plan, Porus;" and as there
was a murmur of assent he continued: "I propose, my friends, that
we appoint Porus the head of our victualling department, and leave
the arrangements to him entirely."
This point was settled. The next morning Porus, taking three of the
gladiators who most resembled the natives in appearance, started
on his mission. He was completely successful. The farmers on the
upper slopes of the hills lived in terror of the banditti among the
mountains, and one was readily induced, by the offer of a reward
for his service, and of freedom from all molestation, to undertake
the business of getting up corn and wine. Henceforth supplies of
these articles were obtained regularly. Huts were soon erected;
the men were divided into hunting parties, and the life of the
fugitives passed quietly, and for a time without incident.
The persons with whom Beric had deposited his money had all been
chosen for him by Norbanus. He himself had been too long away from
Italy to be acquainted with any outside the walls of Rome; but among
his friends there were several who were able to recommend men of
property and character to whom the money could be committed with
the certainty that it would be forthcoming whenever demanded. At
present Beric was amply supplied with funds, for the money that
Norbanus had sent to him would last for at least a year; but, four
months after reaching Bruttium, he thought it would be as well to
warn those in whose charge his own stores had been placed, to hold
it in readiness by them in case it should be suddenly asked for.
Philo seemed to him the only person he could send on such a mission,
and upon the more important one of going to Rome and communicating
with Aemilia. He was certain of the fidelity of the lad, and, properly
disguised, he was less likely to be recognized in Rome than Porus
would be. Clothes such as would be worn by the son of a well to do
cultivator were obtained for him, and he was directed to take the
road along the coast to Rome, putting up at inns in the towns, and
giving out that he was on his way to the capital to arrange for
the purchase of a farm adjoining that of his father.
Letters were given him to the persons holding Beric's money; and
one for the goldsmith in Rome, with whom a portion of the money he
had given for the jewellery that Beric had received at the games
was still deposited. This letter was not to be delivered until he
had been to the catacombs and seen Aemilia; as, although Scopus
had spoken very highly of the man, it was possible that he might,
to gain favour with Nero, hand over Beric's messenger to him. Beric
fully impressed upon Philo the risks he would run, and told him to
make all his calls after nightfall, and to be prepared for instant
flight if he mistrusted the manner of any of the men he visited.
"Do not be afraid, Beric," Philo said; "I will not be taken alive.
I know that they would torture me to force me to lead them to your
hiding place, and I would rather die a thousand times first. I was
but a slave when I was allotted to you in the palace of Nero. You
have been kind to me, and trusted me. You have allowed me to go with
you, and have behaved to me as if I had been free and one of your
own people. I have my dagger, and if I see that evil is intended
me I will not wait until they lay hands on me, for then my blow
might fail, but will make sure. But before I start give me full
instructions what I am to say to the Lady Aemilia; for however
fully you may write, she will be sure to want to know more, and,
above all, instruct me what to do if she demands to join you, and
commands me to bring her here. This, methinks, she is sure to do,
and I must have your instructions in the matter."
"I shall tell her in my letter, Philo, that this is no place for
her, and that I cannot possibly have her here, among rough men,
where, at any moment, we may be called upon to make distant and
toilsome journeys, and even to fight for our lives."
"That is all very well, my lord; but suppose she says to me it is
only because Beric thinks that I cannot support fatigue and hardship
that he does not send for me; but I am willing and ready to do so,
and I charge you, therefore, to take me to him."
This was a point that Beric had many times thought over deeply.
He, too, felt sure that Aemilia would choose to be with him;
and accustomed as the Britons were for their wives to share their
perils, and to journey with them when they went on warlike expeditions,
it seemed to him that she had almost a right to be with him. Then,
too, her life must be dreary in the extreme, shut up in caverns
where the light of day never penetrated, in ignorance of his fate,
and cut off from all kinsfolk and friends. The question so puzzled
him that he finally took Porus into his confidence, having a high
idea of his good sense.
"She cannot come here," Porus agreed; "but I do not see why you
should not bring her from that dismal place where you say she is,
and establish her near at hand, either at one of the upper farmhouses,
or in a town by the sea. Let me think it over. In an hour I will
tell you what seems to me the best plan. My counsel is this," he
said, after he had been absent for an hour from the hut, "I myself
will go with the lad to fetch her. A Roman lady, even though
a fugitive, should not be travelling about the country under the
protection of a lad. I dare not go into Rome. I am known to too
many of the gladiators, and, disguise myself as I might, I should
be recognized before I had been there an hour. I will obtain a
dress such as would suit a respectable merchant; I will go down to
one of the ports below and take passage in a trading craft bound
for Ostia. There I will take lodgings, and giving out that my
daughter, who has been staying with friends for her education in
Rome, is about to return to Messina with me, will purchase two or
three female slaves. When she arrives with Philo, who can pass as
her brother and my son, we will take ship and come down hither.
I can then bring her up and place her in the house of one of the
farmers; or can, if you like, take a house in the town, or lodge
her there with people to whom one of the farmers might recommend
her. But, at any rate, she could come up to one of the farm houses
first, to see you, and then you could arrange matters between you.
She would really run no danger. You say she went out but little in
Rome, and it would be ill luck indeed were there anyone on this
coast who met her there. If it were not for your preposterous height,
your yellow hair and blue eyes, there would be no difficulty about
the matter at all, for you would have but to cross the straits into
Sicily, to buy a small property there, and to settle down quietly;
but it is impossible with your appearance to pass as one of the
"Besides," Beric said, "I could not desert my comrades. Whatever
their lot may be, mine must be also. If we are ever to escape, we
must escape together; but for the rest, I think your plan is a good
one, Porus, and thank you heartily. When you get to Ostia you will
learn all that is going on in Rome, what has befallen Norbanus, and
other matters. If Norbanus is alive, Aemilia will certainly be in
communication with him by means of the Christians, and will, of
course, be guided by his advice."
The next day Porus and Philo set out together. Three weeks passed,
and then one morning Philo entered the camp.
"All has gone well, my lord, the Lady Aemilia is at the house of
the farmer Cornelius, with whom Porus arranged to receive her on
the morning we left you. She has sent no letter, for there were no
writing materials in the house, but she awaits your coming."
Beric hastened away at once, accompanied by the lad, who by the
way gave an account of his journey.
"It was as I thought," he said. "When I came to the house you told
me of, I knocked as you instructed me, gave the ring to the man
within and begged him to take it to the Lady Aemilia. He at first
pretended that he knew nothing of such a person; but at last, on my
showing him the letter addressed to her, he said that some friends
of his might know where she was, and that if I called again, two
hours before midnight, he might have news of her. When I came back
the Lady Aemilia was there. She asked many questions about your
health before she opened your letter, the one that you first wrote
to her. When she had read it she said, 'My lord bids me stay here,
Philo, and I am, above all things, bound to obey him; but he says
that he bids me remain, because the hardships would be too great
for me. But I know that I could support any hardships; and kind as
they are to me here, I would rather go through anything with my
husband than remain here; the darkness and the silence are more
trying than any hardships. So you see that my lord's orders were
given under a misapprehension, and as I am sure he would not have
given them had he known that I was not afraid of hardships, and
desired above all things to be with him, I shall disobey them, and
he, when I join him, must decide whether I have done wrong, and,
if he thinks so, send me away from him."
"Then, my lord, seeing that it was so, I gave her your second
letter, in which you said that if she wished to join you you had
made arrangements for her doing so. Then she kissed the letter and
cried over it, and said that she was ready to depart when I came
to fetch her. Then she told me that Norbanus had opened his veins
that night after she had left, and that the soldiers of Nero
arrived just too late to trouble him; that all his property had
been confiscated, and that she had no friends in the world but you.
"It took a week for Porus to obtain two suitable slaves--the one
an elderly woman and the other a young servant.
"The goldsmith handed over your money to me at once, saying, 'I
am glad to hear that Beric is alive. Tell him that he did badly
in not slaying the tyrant when he had him at his mercy. Tell him,
too, there are rumours of deep discontent among the legions in the
provinces, and a general hope among the better class of Romans that
they will ere long proclaim a new emperor and overthrow Nero. Tell
him also to be on his guard. There is a talk of an expedition on
a large scale, to root out those who are gathered in the mountains
of Bruttium. It is said that it is to be commanded by Caius Muro,
who but a week ago returned from Syria.'"
"Is it so?" Beric exclaimed. "I know him well, having lived in his
house for years. I should be sorry indeed that we should meet as
enemies. Heard you aught of his daughter?"
"Not from the goldsmith, but afterwards. She is married, I hear,
to Pollio, who is of the family of Norbanus."
"I am indeed glad to hear it, Philo. He also was a great friend of
mine, and as he knew Muro in Britain, would doubtless have sought
him out in Syria, where he, too, held an office. 'Tis strange
indeed that he should have married Berenice, whom I last saw as a
girl, now fully four years back. And all went well on the voyage?"
"Well indeed, my lord. I took the Lady Aemilia down to Ostia in
a carriage with closed curtains. She stayed two days in the place
Porus had hired, and none suspected on the voyage that she was
other than his daughter."
"And how is she looking, Philo?"
"At first, my lord, she was looking strangely white, and I feared
that her health had suffered; but she said that it was dwelling in
the darkness that had so whitened her, and indeed the sun during
the voyage has brought the colour back to her cheeks, and she is
now looking as she used to do when I carried letters to the house
from Nero's palace."
Once arrived at the brow of the hill, looking down upon the Straits
of Messina, Beric's impatience could be no longer restrained, and
he descended the slope with leaps and bounds that left Philo far
behind. Porus was at the door of the farm; Beric grasped his hand.
"She is in there," he said, pointing to a door, and a moment later
Aemilia fell into his arms.
In half an hour the door opened.
"Come in, Porus and Philo," Beric called. "I must first thank you,
both in my own name and that of my betrothed, for the great service
you have rendered us, and the care and kindness with which you have
watched over her. We have settled nothing yet about the future,
except that tomorrow I shall complete the betrothal, and she will
become my wife. It should be done today, but my faithful Boduoc
must be here as a witness. It would be a disappointment indeed to
him were he not to be present at my marriage. For the present, at
any rate, my wife will remain here.
"She would fain go up into the mountains, but that cannot be. Not
only is our life too rough for her, but her presence there would
greatly add to my anxieties. Here she will be safe, and you, Philo,
will remain with her. I am convinced that I can trust Cornelius.
You have told me, Porus, that you are assured of his honesty, and
as I can pay him well, and he can have no idea that the Romans
would be glad to pay a far higher sum for my capture, he has no
temptation to be unfaithful to us; besides, his face is a frank
and open one. I shall charge him that, while Aemilia remains here,
none of his men are to accompany him when he goes down to the port,
for, without meaning harm, they might talk to people there of what
is going on, and the matter might come to the ears of the authorities."
"I think," Porus said, "it would be well, Beric, that I and the
three men who go down with me to bring up goods should take up our
residence here. There is an out house which is unused, and which
we can occupy. In this way we can keep an eye upon the two men on
the farm, and one can be always on the watch to see that no party
of armed men is coming up from the port. I believe in the good
faith of the farmer, but it is always better to take precautions."
"Far better, Porus. The plan you suggest is an excellent one. We
must try and make this chamber a little more fitting for Aemilia's
"That will soon be done," Porus said. "Knowing what your wishes
would be in such a matter, I purchased at Ostia sufficient stuff
to cover these bare walls, with rugs and such furniture as was
requisite. These I brought up in a cart as far as the road extends,
and I will now go down with Philo and the two men and bring them
up here and help the slaves get the room in order."
Before sunset Beric returned alone to the camp, and the next morning
came back to the farm with Boduoc.
"There is one thing I must tell you, Beric," Aemilia said when he
went in alone to see her, "I have become a Christian."
"I thought it was likely you would do so, Aemilia," he said;
"living among these people, and knowing how Ennia had embraced their
religion, it could hardly be otherwise. You shall tell me about it
afterwards. I know but little of its tenets, but I know how those
who held them faced death, and there must be much indeed in a
religion which teaches men so to die."
"You told me that you would not object, Beric, or I would have
abstained from attending their assemblies. Still, it was right I
should tell you before I became your wife."
Porus and his companion had spent the morning in gathering flowers.
These the slaves had made into wreaths and had decorated the room,
which was completely changed in appearance since Beric left it on
the afternoon before. The roughly built walls were hidden by rich
hangings. The floor was covered with matting, on which were placed
thick rugs woven in the East. Two or three carved couches were
placed against the walls, and as many small tables on tripod legs
stood beside them. The farmer and his wife were called in, and
in their presence and that of his three followers Beric performed
the simple ceremony of a Roman marriage, consisting only of taking
Aemilia's hand in his and declaring that, in conformity with the
conditions of the pact before made and signed, and with the full
consent and authorization of her father, he took her to be his
Beric remained three days down at the cottage, and then rejoined
his band. A few days later a messenger came in from one of the
bands at the other side of the promontory of Bruttium, saying they
had obtained news that preparations were being made at Sybaris for
the landing of a very large body of troops, and that it was said to
be the intention of the Romans to make a great expedition through
the mountains and entirely exterminate the outlaws.
"They would have left us alone," Beric said bitterly, "if it had
not been that you made yourselves scourges to the country, pillaging
and ravaging the villages among the hills and slaying innocent
"We were obliged to live," the man said. "Rome has driven us into
the mountains, and we must feed at the expense of Rome."
Beric was silent. He felt that had he himself not had means his
own bands would have also taken to pillage. The men who took to
the hills regarded themselves as at war with Rome. Rome sent her
soldiers against them, and slew every man captured. She hunted
them like wild beasts, and as wild beasts they had to live at her
expense. Beric was not in advance of the spirit of his time. It
was the custom in war to burn, destroy, and slay.
That as Rome warred with them they should war with Rome seemed
natural to every fugitive in the hills, and they regarded their
leader's action in purchasing what he could have taken by force
simply as an act of policy. Their own people had been slain by the
Romans, they themselves doomed to risk their lives for the amusement
of the Roman mob. If recaptured they would, like the followers
of Spartacus, be doubtless put to death by crucifixion. That,
under these circumstances, they should be in the slightest degree
influenced by any feeling of pity or humanity towards Romans would,
if suggested to them, have appeared supremely ridiculous.
Beric felt, then, that for him to say any further word of blame would
only have the effect of causing him to be regarded with suspicion
and dislike, and would lessen his own influence among the mountain
He therefore said, "That you should take what is necessary is not
blamable, against it I have nothing to say; but it was to the interest
of all of us that nothing more should be taken. Rome would not have
been stirred to send an army against us merely by the complaints
of peasants that some of their goats and sheep had been driven off
or their granaries emptied; but when it comes to burning villages
and slaughtering their inhabitants, and carrying fire and sword down
to the seashore, Rome was roused. She felt her majesty insulted,
and now we are going to have a veritable army invade the mountains.
It is no longer viewed as an affair of brigands, but as an
insurrection. However, there is no more to be said, the mischief
is done, and we have now only to do our best to repel the invasion.
Tell your leaders that tomorrow morning I will set out and join
them, and will with them examine the country, mark the lines by
which the enemy are likely to advance, decide where obstacles had
best be erected, and where the first stand should be made. It may
be weeks yet before they come. Roman armies are not moved as quickly
as a tribe of mountaineers."
The following day Beric, taking with him the greater portion of his
band, marched across the hills under the guidance of the charcoal
burner, who had now enrolled himself regularly in its ranks, and
had taken the oath of obedience. Their course lay to the northeast,
as it was in the Bay of Tarentum that rumour reported that the
Romans would land. As, after two days' marching, they neared the
spot fixed upon for the rendezvous, they came upon other bands
journeying in the same direction; and when these united on a shoulder
of the hill commanding a view of the great bay, some eight hundred
men were assembled. Fires had been already lighted, and a number
of sheep killed and roasted. The leaders withdrew from the rest
as soon as they had finished their meal, and seating themselves at
a point whence they could see the plains stretching away from the
foot of the hills to the gulf, began their consultation.
"I wonder why they are coming round here?" one of the chiefs said;
"they might have landed at Rhegium in the straits, and thence
marched straight up into the hills. From where your camp is, Beric,
you should know what is going on there, for the town stands almost
below you. Is nought said there about military preparations?"
"Nothing whatever," Beric replied; "nor do I think it likely that
they will attack from that point, for if they advanced thence, we
should simply retire through the mountains to the north just as we
retired south when they before attacked us. It is clear what their
object is: they will sail up that river and will disembark at
Cosenza; the hills narrow there, and it is but a short distance
across them to the Western Sea. Ascending them they will at once
cut us off from any retreat north. They will have their magazines
close at hand. A thousand men stationed in a chain across the
mountains will suffice to bar our way, while the rest will move
south, penning us up as they go, until they drive us down to the
very edge of the promontory, where, joined perhaps by a force coming
up from Rhegium, they will have us altogether in their grip."
An expression of dismay spread round the circle. They had thought
that the Romans would but march straight through the mountains,
in which case it would be easy to evade them, but they saw at once
that by the erection of a chain of permanent posts across the hill
from Cosenza they would be completely hemmed in, and must sooner
or later be hunted down.
"Then you think that our only chance is to move to the mountains
north of Cosenza before they land, Beric?"
"I do not say that," Beric replied. "To begin with, we are not going
to remain passive and allow ourselves to be driven like a flock of
sheep into the hurdles. Did they bring against us only heavy armed
troops we could laugh at them, for we can march two miles to their
one, and move easily among the rocks where they could find no
footing. It is only their light armed soldiers we have to fear,
but even these must move at the same rate as the hoplites, for if
they ventured far away from the protection of the spearmen we should
make short work of them. We have over a thousand fighting men in
these mountains, and each one of us in close conflict is a match for
at least three of their light armed men. In the plains, of course,
we should suffer greatly from their missiles before we came to a
close conflict; but among these woods and precipices we could fall
on them suddenly, and be in their midst before they have time to lay
arrow to bow. Therefore, you see, the Romans can move but slowly
among the hills, and we will soon teach them that they dare not
scatter, and even twelve thousand men do not go for much among these
mountains, extending some seventy miles from Cosenza to Rhegium,
and from ten to twenty miles across.
"How about food?" one of the others asked.
"In that respect we shall be far better off than they would. We
shall really have no difficulty about food. It would need twenty
legions to form a cordon along the slopes of these hills on both
sides, and we can, while opposing the Romans, always detach parties
to make forays down into the plain and drive off sheep, goats, and
cattle. Besides, among the lower forests there are herds of swine
pasturing, which will be available for our use. The question of
food will be of no trouble to us, but on the other hand, it will
be a vast trouble to the Romans. Every foot that they advance from
their magazines at Cosenza their difficulties will increase. They
must make roads as they go, and their convoys will always be exposed
to our attacks. Very large bodies of men must otherwise be employed
in escorting them. They may form depots at the foot of the hills
as they advance, but even then their difficulties will be prodigious.
"I should propose to fight them as we fought them in the swamps of
my native land--to harass them night and day, to wear them out
with false alarms, to oppose them in the defiles, to hurl down
the rocks on them from precipices, to cut off their convoys, and
fall upon their camps at night, until they lose all confidence in
themselves, and dare only move hither and thither in a solid body.
Not until they have destroyed the whole of the forests between
Cosenza and Rhegium, and made roads everywhere across the mountains,
ought they be able to overcome us. It will be time enough to think
of retiring then. By descending the western slopes a long night
march would take us north of Cosenza, and we could then take to
the hills again; or we could descend upon the coast near Rhegium
at night, seize a fishing village, embark in its boats and cross
the strait, and before morning be among the mountains of Sicily,
which are so vast and far stretching that operations which, though
possible, are difficult here, could not probably be carried on
Beric's words were received with enthusiastic approval. Before all
had felt dispirited, and though ready to fight to the last, had
deemed that the resistance could be but short and their fate certain.
Now they saw before them a veritable war, in which they could hope
to defend themselves successfully, and if beaten here escape to
renew it elsewhere, and which promised them an abundant opportunity
for encountering the Romans. This was what they most longed for.
Not one there but hated Rome with a bitter hatred, as the author
of unnumbered woes to their tribes, their families and themselves.
Death had no terrors whatever to these men, so that they could
die fighting with Romans. Rising to their feet they returned with
exulting shouts to their comrades.
CHAPTER XX: MOUNTAIN WARFARE
The gladiators sprang to their feet as their leaders returned to them,
and eagerly questioned them as to the news that had so reanimated
them. But they only replied, "Beric will tell you," and Beric was
obliged to mount a rock near the spot where they had been feasting,
and to repeat to the whole of the assembly his plan for the campaign
against the Romans. Loud shouts greeted his speech, the Gauls and
Britons clashing their swords against their shields as was their
custom, and the others signified their approval each after the
manner of his country.
"Beric is our leader! Beric is our leader!" they shouted. "We will
follow him to the death." When the tumult had subsided, Beric raised
his hand for silence.
"I am willing to accept the leadership," he said; "but if I must
lead I must be obeyed. In a warfare like this everything depends
upon the orders of him who commands being carried out promptly
and without question. I only accept the command because, although
younger than most of you, I have already fought the Romans often
and successfully. Each of you will remain under your respective
chiefs, who will act as my lieutenants, and all must be ready to
sacrifice their own wishes and their own opinions to the general
welfare. Those whom I order to fight will fight, I know; those whom
I tell off to fell trees, to raise obstacles, or to pile stones on
the edge of precipices, must labour with equal zeal; while those
who are despatched to drive up cattle, or to guard them until needed
in the forest, will know that their turn for active fighting will
come in good time. The man who disobeys me dies.
"It is only by acting as one man and under one leader that we can
hope to resist successfully. You are free men, and may consider
it humiliating thus to obey the orders of another; but the Romans
are free men too, and yet they submit to the severest discipline,
and without the slightest question obey the orders of their general.
So it must be here. If all are disposed thus to follow me I accept
the command. Let those who cannot so submit themselves withdraw
and fight in their own fashion. They shall be free to depart, none
A great shout followed the conclusion of Beric's speech, and the
whole of those present lifted up their hands and swore implicit
obedience to him. The next few days were spent in making a careful
examination of the mountains above Cosenza, and fixing upon the
points where an active resistance could be best made.
"We must have missiles," Beric said one day when his lieutenants
were gathered round him. "We will not begin the war until the
Romans do so, but we must have weapons. Boduoc, you will tomorrow
take the whole of my band and descend to the plain, fall upon the
town of Castanium at daybreak; the bands of Victor and Marsus will
accompany you and will be also under your orders. My orders are
strict, that no one is to be injured unless he resists. Tell the
inhabitants that we wish them no harm. Ransack the armourers' shops
for arrow and javelin heads, and search all the private houses for
weapons; also bring off all the brass, copper, and iron you can
find, with every axe head and chopper in the town. We can erect
charcoal furnaces here similar to those we used at home, and so
provide ourselves with an ample store of missiles. Bring off from
the carpenters' shops any seasoned wood you can find suitable for
the making of bows. Touch no gold or silver ornaments of the women
--the metals are useless to us here--neither take garments nor
spoil of any other kind. I would show them that, until driven to
it, we are not the foes of the people at large. Above all frighten
no woman; let them see that we, though gladiators and outlaws, are
as well disciplined and as humane as their own soldiery."
Accordingly at sunset Boduoc marched away at the head of two hundred
men, and returned to the mountains late on the following afternoon
with a large store of arms and metal, Beric's orders having been
scrupulously carried out.
"You should have seen the wonder of the people," Boduoc said to
him, "when they saw that we meant them no harm, and that we touched
neither person nor goods save in the matter of arms. They gave us
their best to eat, and many even accompanied us some distance on
our return, overjoyed with the clemency we had shown the town."
There was no lack of charcoal, and in many places the stacks had
been left by the charcoal burners untouched when the bands first
appeared among the mountains. Those who had been accustomed to the
smelting of metals at home were appointed to cast heads for arrows
and javelins, others cut down and split up tough wood and fashioned
the shafts, others made bows; strong parties were set to work to fell
trees and form obstacles in defiles where the rocks rose steeply,
while others piled great heaps of stones and heavy rocks along the
edges of the precipices. As yet there were no signs of the expected
fleet, and when the preparations were complete the bands again
scattered, as it was easier so to maintain themselves in provisions;
and, a party being left to watch for the arrival of the Roman
legions, Beric returned with his band to his former station.
"There will be plenty of time to gather again before they move
forward," he said to their lieutenants. "They will have to collect
the carts from all the country round, to land their stores and to
make their arrangements for victualling. They will know that it is
no easy task that they are undertaking, and that they have desperate
men to meet. It will be a week after they land at the very earliest
before they leave Cosenza."
For a fortnight Beric remained quietly passing the greater portion
of his time at the farmhouse with Aemilia.
"It is terrible to me that you are going to fight the Romans,
Beric," she said.
"I have no desire to fight the Romans, it is they who want to fight
with me," he replied; "and as I have no desire for crucifixion,
or any of the other forms of death which they bestow upon their
captives, I have no choice but to resist. As you do not think any
the worse of me, Aemilia, for having fought your countrymen before,
I don't see that you can take it to heart that I am going to do it
again, especially as you have very small reason to be grateful to
them for the treatment that you and yours have received at their
hands. You must remember, dear, that as my wife, you are a Briton
now, and must no longer speak of the Romans as your people. Still,
were it not for my countrymen, I would gladly bury myself with you
in some cottage far up among the hills of Sicily, and there pass
my life in quiet and seclusion. But without a leader the others
would speedily fall victims to the Romans, and as long as the Romans
press us, I must remain with them."
At the end of the fortnight a messenger arrived saying that a great
fleet had arrived at the mouth of the Crathis River.
"I will from time to time send a messenger to you, Aemilia," Beric
said as he took a tender farewell of his wife, "to tell you how
matters go with us; but do not alarm yourself about me, for some
time there is little chance of close fighting."
The bands gathered in their full force above Cosenza, and during the
week that elapsed before the Romans advanced renewed their labour
at various passes through which it was probable that the enemy would
move. Some of the men were already skilled archers, and the rest
had spent their time for the last fortnight in incessant practice,
and could manage their weapons sufficiently well to be able to send
an arrow into a crowded mass of men.
It was with a feeling of satisfaction that the Roman column was
seen one morning issuing from Cosenza and moving up the road that
there crossed the mountains. Once on the crest they proceeded to
cut down trees and form a camp. While they were so occupied the
gladiators remained on the defensive. Light armed troops had been
pushed by the Romans into the woods, but after being permitted
to advance some distance the sound of a horn was heard, followed
instantly by a flight of arrows, and then by a rush of the gladiators,
who drove these light armed troops before them, killing many, till
they reached the protection of the spearmen.
Again and again during the ensuing week the Romans endeavoured to
penetrate the woods, heavy armed troops accompanying the archers.
Before they had penetrated far into the forest they found their way
arrested by obstacles--lines of felled trees with the branches
pointing towards them, and these were only taken after severe loss,
the defenders shooting through the green hedge, which was only
broken through when working parties with heavy axes came up covered
by the spearmen. One party, pushing on incautiously, was suddenly
attacked on all sides, and after pouring in their missiles
the gladiators charged them, broke the ranks of the spearmen, and
destroyed the whole party, three hundred in number.
After this the advance was delayed until the fortified camp was
complete and stored with provisions. Then the Roman army moved
forward, and was soon engaged in a succession of combats. Every
valley and ravine was defended, invisible foes rolled down masses
of rock among them and a hail of arrows, and it was only when very
strong bodies of archers, supported by spearmen, climbed the heights
on both sides that the resistance ceased. The Romans halted for
the night where they stood, but there was little sleep for them,
for the woods rang with war cries in many languages. The sentries
were shot or stabbed by men who crawled up close to them. At times
the shouts became so threatening and near that the whole force
was called to its feet to repel attack, but in the morning all was
quiet. As before, they were attacked as soon as they moved forward.
No serious opposition was offered to the columns of spearmen, but
the light armed troops who covered the advance and formed a connection
between the columns were exposed to incessant attack.
The third day the Romans, after another disturbed night, again
advanced. This time they met with no opposition, and as they moved
cautiously forward, wondered uneasily what was the meaning of this
silence. Late in the afternoon they learned. They had advanced, each
man carrying three days' provisions with him. Beric, being aware
that this was their custom, had during the night led his men some
distance down the hillside, and making a detour occupied before
morning the ground the Romans had passed over. At midday a great
convoy of baggage animals, laden with provisions, came along. It
extended over a great length, and came in straggling order, the
men leading their animals, and making their way with difficulty
through the thick trees. Five hundred Roman soldiers were scattered
along the line. Suddenly the sound of a horn rose in the woods, and
in an instant, at points all along the line of the convoy, strong
bodies of men burst down upon them.
In vain the Roman soldiers tried to gather in groups. The animals,
frightened by the shouting and din, broke loose from their leaders
and rushed wildly hither and thither, adding to the confusion. Greatly
outnumbered, and attacked by foes individually their superiors both
in strength and skill of arms, and animated by a burning hatred,
the Romans could do little, and the combat terminated in a few
minutes in their annihilation. The men with the convoy were all
killed, a line of gladiators having been posted through the woods,
both ahead and behind it, before the attack began, so that no
fugitives might escape either way to carry the news.
The animals were then collected, and their burdens taken off and
examined. The flour was divided up into parcels that a man could
easily carry on his shoulder, and a large number of skins of wine
set aside. All that could not be taken was scattered and destroyed,
and the animals then slaughtered. As soon as it became dark the
band descended the mountain side, marched for many miles along its
foot, and then again ascended the hills, ready to oppose the Roman
advance; but there was no movement in the morning. Surprised and
alarmed at the non-arrival of the train by nightfall, the general
sent a strong body of troops back to meet them with torches. These
in time came upon the bodies of the men and animals, and at once
returned with the news of the disaster to the camp.
"This is a terrible blow, Pollio," the general said to his son-in-law.
"We had reckoned on an obstinate resistance, but did not dream that
the gladiators would thus oppose us."
"It puts me in mind, Muro, of the work in the fens of Britain; and
indeed more than once I have thought I recognized the war cries
with which the Iceni attacked us. The strategy is similar to that
we then encountered. Can it be possible that Beric is again opposing
us? I heard during the short time we were in Rome that the Britons
in the palace of Nero had risen and escaped. I was too heartbroken
at the fate of my uncle and his family to ask many questions, and
was fully occupied in our preparations. My first thought would have
been to find Beric out had I not been met on landing with the news
of the disgrace and death of Norbanus, and I shunned the palace
of Nero as if the pestilence had been there. No doubt Beric would
have left with the other Britons, and in that case he may well be
at the head of those opposing us."
"The tactics they are adopting certainly look like it, Pollio; and
if they continue to fight as they have done so far, we are likely
to have no better fortune than Suetonius had in his campaign against
them. It is ten days since we left Cosenza, we have made but some
ten miles advance among the hills, and we have lost already eight
hundred hoplites, and I know not how many light armed troops. At
this rate our force will melt away to nothing before we have half
cleared this wilderness of rock and forest. Hitherto in their
revolts the gladiators have met our troops in pitched battle, but
their strength and skill have not availed against Roman discipline.
But in such fighting as this discipline goes for little. They are
fighting on ground they know, can choose their moment for attack,
and hurl all their strength on one point while we are groping
"But how can they have got through our lines in the night, Muro?"
Pollio asked. "Our men were posted down to the edge of the forest
on either side of the hills. There were two thousand under arms
"But there was nothing to prevent them, Pollio, from descending
far below the forest line and coming up again in our rear. This
is what they must have done. Nor have we any means of preventing
their doing so, for nothing short of a force strong enough to reach
down to the sea on either hand would prevent their passing us. At
any rate we must halt here for a time. The whole of our baggage
animals are destroyed, and nothing can be done until another train
The war proceeded but slowly. The Romans indeed made some slight
advance, but they were worn out and harassed by incessant alarms.
To prevent the recurrence of the disaster to the baggage train the
supplies were now carried along the plain at the foot of the hill,
and then taken up under very strong escorts directly to the point
at which the army had arrived. The soldiers, worn out and dispirited
by constant alarms, became reluctant to advance unless in solid
order; and in this way five thousand men, taking nine days' provisions
with them, made their way through the heart of the hills until they
reached the southern slopes, and the sea lay before them. But they
occupied only the ground on which they stood, and their passage
brought them no nearer to the end they desired. The fact that the
army had made a passage right through the mountains was regarded
as a triumph in Rome, and believing that the end was near fresh
reinforcements were sent to Muro to enable him to finish the campaign
rapidly. His reports, however, to the senate left no doubt in the
minds of those who read them as to the situation.
"We are fighting," he said, "an enemy who will not allow us to
strike him. Three months have passed since I entered the mountains,
and yet I cannot say that I am nearer the end than I was when I
began. I have lost three thousand men, of whom half are spearmen.
The gladiators have suffered but slightly, for they always burst
down in overwhelming numbers, slay, and retire. At least twenty
times my camps have been attacked; and although I have lost but
one convoy, the difficulty and labour of victualling the troops is
enormous. If the gladiators would but take to the plain we should
annihilate them in the first battle. As it is, it is they who select
the ground for action, and not we. The troops are utterly worn out
and well nigh mutinous at what they consider a hopeless task. You
ask me what had best be done. My own opinion is, that we should
retire from the mountains and establish the troops in camps near
their foot, so as to restrain the gladiators from making excursions,
and to fall upon them when hunger drives them to leave the mountains.
Treachery may then do what force has failed in.
"Among such a body there must be traitors, and when the war
is apparently ended we may, through shepherds or goatherds, open
communication with them. My great fear is, and always has been,
that as we gradually press them south they may pour down on to one
of the villages on the straits, seize the boats, cross to Sicily,
and take refuge in the mountains there, where they could laugh at
our efforts to pursue them. I should advise that it should be announced
publicly that our army, having traversed the whole mountains of
Bruttium without meeting with a foe, the objects of the expedition
have been attained, and the enemy may now be considered as a mere
mass of fugitives, whom it would be impossible to root out as
long as they take refuge among their fastnesses; but that for the
present the army will be placed in a cordon of camps round the
foot of the mountains, by which means the fugitives will be starved
into surrender. If this course is not approved I have but one other
to suggest, namely, that the whole of the population of southern
Italy should be ordered to take part in the total destruction of
the forests of Bruttium. Every tree must be cut down to the level
of the soil; every trunk and branch be burnt by fire. The task
would be a tremendous one. The loss to the country around by the
destruction of the forests, wherein their flocks of sheep and goats
and their herds of swine find sustenance and shelter in winter,
would be enormous, but thus, and thus alone, I am assured, can
these bands of gladiators be rooted out."
Muro's advice was taken, and the exulting gladiators beheld the
troops descending from the mountains to the plains below. Their
own loss had not exceeded three hundred men, and their shouts of
triumph rose high in the woods, and reached the ears of the Romans
retiring sullenly down the slopes. In a few days the plan of the
Romans became apparent. The camp in the pass above Cosenza was
still strongly held, four well fortified camps were established in
the plains on either side of the hills, and Muro himself took up
his post at Rhegium, where two thousand legionaries were posted.
The gladiators again broke up into bands, Beric returning to his
former encampment, to the delight of Aemilia.
"You must not suppose that our troubles are over, Aemilia," he
said. "We have indeed beaten them on our own ground, but we shall
now have to fight against famine. The wild animals have already
become scarce. You may be sure that the villagers will be allowed to
send no more flocks or herds up the hills to pasture, and before
long it will be necessary to make raids for food. You will see
that, emboldened by their successes, the men will become rash, and
may be cut off and defeated. As for us there is no fear; as long
as we can pay for provisions we shall be able to obtain them, for
although there may be difficulty in obtaining regular supplies,
now that the troops are at Rhegium, all these upland farmers and
villagers will continue to deal with us, knowing that if they do
not we shall take what we need without payment and perhaps burn
their houses over their heads."
It was not long, indeed, before Beric's predictions were verified.
As soon as the provisions became scarce the bands on the other
side of the mountains recommenced their forays on the villagers,
but from the Roman camps parties of soldiers were sent off after
nightfall to the upper villages, and the marauders were several
times surprised and almost exterminated.
"We must be more and more careful," Beric said to Aemilia when he
heard of one of these disasters. "The prisoners the Romans take will
under torture tell all they know, and it will not be long before
the Romans ascertain the general position of our encampment. The
force will dwindle rapidly. In the last two months they have lost
well nigh as many men as in the campaign in the mountains. More
than that, I have seen several of the leaders, who told me they
had determined, seeing that starvation was approaching them here,
to endeavour to pass between the Roman camps with their bands, and
regain the mountains beyond Cosenza, so as to establish themselves
far north; and indeed I cannot blame them. But their retreat adds
to our danger. So long as they roamed the eastern hills there was
no danger of a Roman force surprising us, but when they have gone
some of the captives may be forced to lead the Romans across the
hills to our neighbourhood. Boduoc is vigilant and his scouts are
scattered far round the camp, and at the worst we may have to carry
out my plan of crossing to Sicily. At any rate he has my orders
what to do in case of a sudden surprise. If I am absent, knowing
every foot of the wood now, he will at once make his way north,
leaving it to me to rejoin him as I best can."
But upon one thing Beric had not reckoned. So long as the gladiators
were in force among the mountains the country people on the slopes
above the straits were glad enough to purchase their safety by
silence. But as they heard of one band after another being crushed
by the Romans, and learned that parties from the various camps
had penetrated far into the hills without meeting with a single
opponent, their fear of the gladiators decreased. There were two
thousand legionaries at Rhegium. These could crush the band that
remained somewhere about the crest of the hills with ease, and
they need no longer fear their vengeance. The Roman general would
surely pay a great reward for information that would lead to
his being able to deal a final blow to the gladiators. The farmer
with whom Aemilia lodged had no such thought. He had earned in the
last eight months as much as his farm had brought him in the three
best years since he inherited it. He found these terrible outlaws
gentle and pleasant, ready to lend a hand on the farm if needful,
and delighted to play with his children. As to their chief, he was
a source of never ending wonder to him. Gladiators were, according
to his idea, fierce and savage men, barbarians who were good for
nothing but to kill each other, while this tall man bore himself
like a Roman of high rank, conversed in pure Latin, and could even
read and write. Aemilia, too, had become a great favourite in the
house. The farmer's wife wondered at seeing one, with two slaves
to wait upon her, active and busy, interested in all that went on,
and eager to learn every detail of the housework.
"I could manage a Roman household, Beric," she said. "I did so
indeed all the time we were in Rome; but we may have to live in a
hut, and I must know how to manage and cook for you there."
In Rhegium life was more cheerful than usual. Many of the upper
class of Rome, who shrank from the festivities of the court of Nero
and yet dared not withdraw altogether from Rome, had their country
estates and villas along the coasts, where they could for a time
enjoy freedom and live according to their tastes. Berenice had
joined Pollio three weeks before, when she found that he was likely
to remain stationed at Rhegium for some time. They lived with Muro
in a villa a short distance from the town, and looking over the
"I should feel perfectly happy here, Pollio," Berenice said one
evening as she walked to and fro on the terrace with him, looking
at the water in which the moonlight was reflected, bringing up into
view the boats rowing here and there with pleasure parties with
music and lanterns, "if it were not for the thought of Beric. It
is curious that he should be mixed up with both our lives. He was
my playmate as a boy; he saved me at the massacre of Camalodunum,
and restored me to my father. When we left Britain he was fighting
against Suetonius, and we expected when we left that the news of
his defeat and death would reach Rome before us. At Rome we heard
but vague rumours that Suetonius had not yet overcome the final
resistance of the Britons, and glad we were when Petronius was sent
out to take his place, and we heard that gentler measures were to
be used towards the Britons.
"Then, after a time, when we were in Syria, came the news that
Suetonius had returned, bringing with him Beric, the British chief,
with twenty of his followers, and my father at once wrote to the
emperor praying him that clemency might be extended to him for
his kind action in saving my life. Then when you came out to Syria
Beric's name again came up. You had journeyed with him from Britain
to Rome, and he had become your friend. Then a few months afterwards
a newcomer from Rome brought us the story of how your cousin Ennia,
having turned Christian, had been condemned to the lions; how a
British gladiator named Beric had sprung into the arena and craved
to fight the lion; how Nero had cruelly ordered him to do so unarmed;
and how he had, as it seemed by a miracle, overcome the lion and
bound him by strips torn from his mantle. Then again we learned
from one who came from Nero's court that Beric stood high in favour
with Caesar, that he was always about his person, and that rumours
said he kept guard over him at night.
"Then again, when we returned to Rome, my father was at once ordered
to take command of an expedition against some revolted gladiators,
among whom were, it was said, the British captives who had created
a disturbance in Nero's palace, well nigh killed the emperor,
and after slaying many of the Praetorians, escaped. After you and
my father had left me at the house of my uncle Lucius I made many
inquiries, and found that Beric had doubtless escaped with the
other Britons, as he had never been seen in the palace that night.
I heard too that it had been whispered by some of those who were
present at the supper, that the fault had not been his. He had
been betrothed to your cousin Aemilia, and Nero, urged thereto by
Rufinus, a disappointed suitor, ordered Beric to bring her to the
orgy. Upon his refusal Rufinus attacked him, and Beric slew him
by dashing his head against a marble pillar. Then Nero called upon
the Praetorians, and the Britons ran in to the aid of their chief,
and, defeating the Praetorians, escaped. It was the same night that
your uncle died and Aemilia was missing. It may be that she fled
with Beric, knowing that she would be sacrificed to the fury of Nero.
Is it not strange, Pollio, that this Briton should be so mixed up
in both our lives?"
"It is indeed, Berenice. There is no one to whom I owe so much.
First I owe your life to him, then I owe that of Ennia, my cousin;
for although she died afterwards, it was in her father's house,
and not a terrible and disgraceful death in the arena. And now we
have been fighting against him for months, and though of course
we made the best of matters, there is no doubt that we had all the
worst of it. We had twelve thousand men against a thousand, and
yet Beric kept us at bay and inflicted some terrible blows upon
us, for we lost a third of our number. After the first battle there
was no longer any doubt that Beric was the leader of our opponents.
Even had we not heard them shout his name as they attacked us, we
who had fought against him in Britain would have recognized that
he was again our opponent; for he used the same tactics among the
mountains that he had done in the swamps. We know from prisoners
we have taken since that he was unharmed in the struggle with us,
and certainly neither he nor any of his Britons have been among
the raiding bands whom we have surprised and destroyed. Indeed the
Britons never joined in any of the attacks upon the country people
before we came hither. I have questioned many of the sufferers by
their depredations, and none of them had seen among the plunderers
any tall men with light hair. The only time that they have been seen
on the plains was a fortnight before we landed, when they entered
Castanium and carried off all the arms. The Britons were among that
party, and a Briton commanded it; but from the description it was
not Beric, but was, I think, his principal follower, a man with a
British name which I forget."
"Was it Boduoc?" Berenice asked. "I have often heard him speak of
a friend of his with such a name, and indeed he came once or twice
to see him when he was with us."
"That was the name--Boduoc," Pollio said. "They behaved with the
greatest gentleness, injuring no one and taking nothing, neither
jewels, nor ornaments, nor garments, but departing quietly after
taking possession of all the weapons in the town.
"Your father reported the fact to Rome, bringing into prominence
the fact that this was the first time the Britons had ever descended
from the mountains, and that the inhabitants of Castanium were filled
with gratitude and admiration for the treatment they received. Last
week he wrote to Rome saying that so far as he could learn all the
bands that had not been destroyed had gone north, save one composed
of Britons and Gauls, about fourscore in number, commanded by the
Briton Beric, and suggested that as months might pass before they
could be captured, he should be authorized to treat with them,
and to offer them full pardon if they would lay down their arms,
especially as they had taken no part whatever in the misdeeds of
the other gladiators, and had injured no one either in person or
property. I know that it was a great disappointment to him, as well
as to us, when the letter came yesterday saying that they were to
be hunted down and destroyed, and that all not killed in fighting
were to be crucified. But we had better go in, Berenice, the dew
is beginning to fall."
They entered the villa. The general was alone in the atrium.
"Is anything the matter, father?" Berenice asked, as she saw that
he looked disturbed.
"Yes, Berenice, I have received news that as a Roman general ought
to delight me, but which, as Caius Muro, your father and the father
in law of Pollio, vexes me greatly."
"What is it, father?"
"A man arrived half an hour since saying that he had news of
importance to communicate. He was brought in here. He told me he
was a cultivator whose farm lay far up on the hillside. For upwards
of a year he had, in fear of his life, as he said, been compelled
to sell food to the bandits in the mountains. He acknowledged
that he had been well paid, and that he had no cause of complaint
against them; but he now professed a desire to do service to Rome,
for which he evidently expected a handsome reward. I told him I
could not bargain with him. He had aided the enemies of Rome, and
by his own account his life was forfeited, seeing that for a year
he had been trafficking with them, instead of doing his duty and
reporting their first visit to the authorities here.
"He said that he was not alone, and that most of the farmers high
up on the hills had been compelled to do the same, and had kept
silence, knowing that the brigands would have burned their houses
and slain their wives and families had they reported aught against
them to the authorities, and that, indeed, they were altogether
ignorant of the position of the camp of the outlaws beyond the
fact that it was somewhere among the mountains. 'What, then, have
you to report?' I said angrily, for I hate to have to do with
traitors. 'It is this,' he said: 'for some months there has been
living a lady, supposed to be the wife of the chief of the outlaws,
at a farm next to mine, belonging to one Cornelius. The chief often
visits her and stays there; five of his followers live in an out
house adjoining the farm, and one of these is always on guard night
"'The chief himself is a very tall young man, and is called Beric
by his followers. Four of them are also of his race, tall and very
fair like him. There is also a youth who lives in the house. He
belongs to the band, but appears to be a native of Rome. He sometimes
comes down and makes purchases in Rhegium. The house cannot be
approached from below without an alarm being given, owing to the
strictness of the watch; but I could lead a body of troops high
up above it, so as to come down upon the rear of the house and cut
off all escape when another band comes up from below.' I told him
that his information was valuable, and that he was to come here
to-morrow evening at eight o'clock to lead a party of light armed
troops up into the hills."
"And you will send them, father?" Berenice broke in; "surely you
will not take advantage of this treachery."
"I have no choice but to do so," the general said gravely. "As
a father I would give my right hand to save the man who preserved
your life; as a Roman soldier my duty is to capture the outlaw,
Beric, by any means possible. Pollio will tell you the same."
Berenice looked at her husband, who stood in consternation and
grief at the news. "Do you say this too, Pollio?"
Pollio did not answer, but the general spoke for him. "He can say
nothing else, Berenice. To a Roman soldier duty is everything, and
were he ordered to arrest his own father and lead him to execution
he could not hesitate."
"But I am not a soldier--" Berenice began passionately.
The general held up his hand suddenly. "Hush, Berenice, not a word
farther! I am a Roman general. If you say one word that would clash
with my duty I should order you to your chamber and place a soldier
there on guard over you. Now I will leave you with your husband;"
and the general left the room.
"What do you say, Pollio? Will you suffer this man, who saved your
wife, who risked his life for your cousin, and is, as it seems,
your cousin by marriage, to be foully captured and crucified?"
"I am a soldier, Berenice; do not tempt me to break my duty. You
heard what your father said."
Berenice stamped her foot. "Does your duty go so far, Pollio, that
like my father you would place a guard at my door if I said aught
that would seem to run counter to your duty?"
"Not at all, Berenice," he said with a smile; "say aught you like.
I hear as a husband but not as a soldier."
"Well, that is something," Berenice said, mollified. "Well, Pollio,
if you will not warn Beric of his danger I will do so. Have I your
permission to act as I choose?"
"My full permission, dear. Do as you like; act as you choose; you
have beforehand my approval. If you fail and harm comes of it I
will stand by you and share your punishment; but tell me nothing
of what you would do beforehand. I trust you wholly, but for my
sake, if not for your own, be not rash. Remember, if by any means
it becomes known that you aided Beric to escape, both our lives
are surely forfeited."
"Thank you, Pollio," Berenice said, throwing her arms round his
neck, "that is spoken like my husband. You shall know nothing, and
I will save Beric."
CHAPTER XXI: OLD FRIENDS
Beric and Aemilia were sitting on the following day in the shade
in front of the house, where Porus had erected a verandah of boughs
to keep off the sun, when they observed a female peasant and an
elderly man ascending the hill. They were still some distance down,
and the man spoke to one of the farm men who was on his way down
"They are coming this way," Aemilia said; "they have passed the
point where the paths fork. She seems to find that basket she is
carrying heavy, and no wonder, for it is a steep climb under the
Stopping once or twice to get breath the two peasants approached.
"She is a good looking girl, Beric," Aemilia said.
"Our host has two or three nieces down in the town," Beric replied;
"I expect it is one of them. Yes, she is certainly pretty, and not
so browned and sunburnt as most of these peasant girls are."
As they came close the girl stopped and looked at the house, and
then, instead of going to the entrance, left her companion and
walked across to the verandah. A smile came across her face.
"Shall I tell you your fortune?" she said abruptly to Aemilia.
"It is told," Aemilia said; "to be a farmer's wife. But what do
you know of fortunes?"
"I can tell you the past if not the future," the young woman said,
setting down her basket. "May I do so?"
"You are a strange girl," Aemilia said, "but tell me what you can."
"I can see an amphitheatre," the girl went on, "a great one, greater
than that across at Messina, and it is crowded with people. In the
front row there sits a man past middle age and a lady and a girl.
In the centre of the arena is a young girl in white."
"Hush, hush!" Aemilia cried, leaping to her feet, "say no more.
You know me, though how I cannot guess."
"I see another scene," the girl went on without heeding her; "it
is a hut. It must belong to some savage people. It is quite unlike
our cottages. There is an old woman there and a man and a young
girl. The old woman does not speak to them; she does not seem of
the same race; the other two are Romans. The mat at the door is
pushed aside and there enters a tall youth. Not so tall as this
man, not so strong; and yet like him, just as a boy might be to a
"The girl jumps up and exclaims 'Beric.'"
Beric had risen to his feet also now. "Is it possible," he cried,
"that as the boy has grown into the man, so has the girl grown into
--" and he stopped.
"Into a young woman, Beric. Yes, don't you remember me now?"
"It is Berenice!" he exclaimed.
"It is indeed, Beric, the child you saved from death. And this is
your wife Aemilia, the daughter of Norbanus, who is the uncle of
my husband Pollio. And do you not know who that is standing there?"
"Why, surely it is my tutor and friend Nepo;" and running towards
him he embraced him with heartiness and then led him to the verandah,
where Berenice was talking with Aemilia.
"But why are you thus disguised, and how did you know that Aemilia
and I were here?"
"We have come to warn you, Beric. You have been betrayed, and tonight
there will be troops ranged along above the house to cut off your
retreat, and a company of soldiers will advance from below straight
upon the house. My father told me, I think, in order that I might
save you, though as a Roman general he could do nought save his duty.
Pollio, too, though he said he would willingly give his sanction,
knows not that I have come hither. He pretended that his duty as a
soldier prevented him from warning you, though I believe that had
not I been with him his friendship and gratitude would have been
too much for his duty. However, I was with him, and he gave me
permission to come; though, mind you, I should have come whether
he gave me permission or not. You did not ask permission of anyone
when you saved me, and even if Pollio had threatened to divorce me
if I disobeyed him I would have come; but as I needed a disguise,
and did not like to trust any of the slaves, I took Nepo into my
confidence, and he managed everything."
"We are, indeed, grateful to you," Aemilia cried, embracing Berenice
warmly. "It was brave of you indeed to come."
"It requires less bravery to come up here with a message, Aemilia,
than to run away from Rome with an outlaw who had just bearded
Caesar in his palace."
"I did not do that, Berenice. It was not because I was unwilling,
but because Beric would not take me with him. I stayed for months in
Rome, hidden in the Catacombs with the Christians, until Beric sent
for me to join him here; but come inside and take some refreshment,
for you must be weary indeed with your long walk up the hill."
"No one else must see me," Berenice said. "There may be inquiries
when they come tonight and find that you are gone, and I would not
that any should see me."
"No one will see you. The room is situated at the back of the
house, and though I shall take the slaves with us in our flight,
they shall not catch even a glimpse of your face. I will set them
some needlework to do."
They were soon seated in Aemilia's room, and Beric brought in fruit
and wine, goat's milk, cheese, and bread.
"There is no hurry for me to return," Berenice said. "The slaves
believe that I have gone out to pay some visits, and I do not wish
to get back until after sunset. There is so much for Beric to tell
"You do not know, Beric, how often Nepo and I have talked about it,
and how we have longed to see you, and I believe that what drew me
first to Pollio was his praises of you. But before you begin there
is one thing I must tell you. My father has received private news
from Rome; there is a report there that the legions have proclaimed
Galba emperor, and that ere long he will be in Rome. At present it
is but a rumour, and of course at court all profess to disbelieve
it, and Nero openly scoffs at the pretensions of Galba; but the
friend who wrote to my father says that he believes it true. Now
my father is a great friend of Galba's. They were much together
as young men, and served together both in Gaul and Syria; and he
feels sure that if Galba comes to the throne he will be able to
obtain a pardon for you and those with you, since you have done no
one harm save when attacked. He attempted to procure it from Nero,
but altogether without success; with Galba it will be different,
especially as a new emperor generally begins his reign by acts of
clemency. Now, as I have given you my news, Beric, do you tell us,
while we are eating the fruit, everything that has happened to you
since I last saw you at that hut."
"So much has happened that it will be impossible to tell you all,
Berenice; but I will give you the outline of it. The principal
thing of all is, that I have taken a wife."
Berenice pouted. "It is lucky for you, Aemilia, that I was not at
Rome when Beric arrived, for I had as a girl always determined that
I should some day marry him and become a British chieftainess. He
had not seen you then except at Massilia, and I should have had
him all to myself at Rome, for you did not get there, Pollio tells
me, until months later."
Aemilia laughed. "I should not have entered the lists against you,
Berenice. It was not until after he saved Ennia from the lion in
the arena that I came to love him."
"Well, I must put up with Pollio," Berenice said. "He is your
cousin, and I have nothing to say against him as a husband; he is
kind and indulgent, and a brave soldier, and all one could want;
but he is not a hero like Beric."
Beric laughed. "You should have said a giant, Berenice, which
would have been much nearer the truth. And now I will tell you my
story;" and during the next two hours he gave her a sketch of all
that had passed since they had last parted in Britain.
"There, Cneius Nepo," Berenice said when he had finished. "You
never thought for a moment that your pupil, who used to pore with
you over those parchments, till I often wished I could throw them
in the fire when I wanted him to play with me, was to go through
such adventures--to match himself first against Suetonius, and then
against my father, both times with honour; to be Nero's bodyguard;
to say nothing of fighting in the arena, and getting up a revolt
in the palace of Caesar."
"I expected great things of him," Nepo said; "but not like these.
I fancied he would become a great chief among the British, and that
he might perhaps induce them to adopt something of our civilization.
I had fancied him as a wise ruler; and, seeing how fond he was of
the exercise of arms, I had thought long before the insurrection
broke out that some day he might lead his countrymen to battle
against us, and that, benefiting by his study of Caesar and other
military writers, he would give far more trouble to the Romans than
even Caractacus had done. But assuredly I never dreamt of him as
fighting a lion barehanded in a Roman arena in defence of a Roman
girl. As to marriages, I own that the thought crossed my mind that
the union of a great British chief with the daughter of a Roman of
rank like your father would be an augury of peace, and might lead
to better relations between the two countries."
"That dream must be given up," Berenice said seriously, "there are
two obstacles. But I have no doubt Aemilia would make quite as good
a chieftainess as I should have done. Some day, Aemilia, if you
return to Britain with Beric, as I hope you will do, and Pollio
becomes a commander of a legion, I will get him to apply for
service there. It is cold and foggy; but wood is a good deal more
plentiful and cheaper than it is at Rome, and with good fires one
can exist anywhere. And now it is time for us to be going. We will
take another path in returning down the hills, so that any one who
noticed us coming up will not see us as we descend. Nepo's toga and
my stola are hidden in a grove just outside the town, and it will
be dusk by the time we arrive there. Kiss me, Aemilia; I am glad
that I know you, for I have heard much of you from Pollio. I am
glad that Beric has chosen so well. Goodbye, Beric; I hope we may
meet again before long, and that without danger to any of us. You
may salute me if Aemilia does not object--I told Pollio I should
permit it;" and she laughingly lifted up her face to him. "He never
used to kiss me when I was a child," she said to Aemilia. "I always
thought it very unkind, and was greatly discontented at it. Now,
Nepo, let us be going."
Beric and his wife stood watching them until they were far down
the hill. "She makes light of it," Beric said; "but it is no common
risk she has run. Nero can punish women as well as men, and were it
to come to his ears that she has enabled me to escape his vengeance,
even the influence of her father might not avail to save her."
"I shall remember her always in my prayers," Aemilia said earnestly,
"and pray that she too may some day come to know the truth."
Beric did not answer. Aemilia had explained to him all that she knew
of her religion, but while admitting the beauty of its teaching,
and the loftiness of its morals, he had not yet been able to bring
himself to believe the great facts upon which it was based.
"We must be moving," he said, and summoned Philo, who had been much
surprised at Beric's being so long in conversation with strangers.
"Send Porus to me," he said, "and bid Cornelius also come here."
The two men came round to the verandah together. "We are betrayed,
Porus," he said, "and the Romans will be here this evening."
Porus grasped the handle of his dagger and looked menacingly at
the farmer. "Our good friend has nought to do with it, Porus; it
is some one from one of the other farms who has taken down the news
to Rhegium. Do you order the others to be in readiness to start
for the camp. But first strip down the hangings of our room, roll
them and the mats and all else in seven bundles, with all my wife's
clothing and belongings."
"We need leave little behind. We can take everything," Porus said.
"The six of us can carry well nigh as much as the same number of
horses, and Philo can take something. I will see about it immediately."
"Now, Cornelius," Beric went on when Porus had left, "you must
prepare your story, and see that your men and the rest of the
household stick to it. You will be sharply questioned. You have
only the truth to say, namely, that some of my band came down here
and threatened to burn your house and slay all in it unless you
agreed to sell us what things we required; that, seeing no other
way of preserving your lives, you agreed to do so. After a time
a young woman--do not say lady--came with two attendants, and
you were forced to provide her with a room; and as five men were
placed here constantly, you still dared give no information to the
authorities, because a watch was also set on you, and your family
would have been slain long before any troops could arrive here.
What you will be most closely questioned about is as to why we all
left you today. They will ask you if any one has been here. You
saw no one, did you?"
"No, my lord. I heard voices in your room, but it was no business
of mine who was with you."
"That is good," Beric said. "That is what you must say. You know
someone did come because you heard voices; but you saw nobody
either coming or going, and know not how many of them there were,
nor what was their age. You only know that I summoned you suddenly,
and told you I had been betrayed, and that the Romans would soon
be coming in search of me, and therefore I was obliged to take to
the mountains. But go first and inquire among the household, and
see if any of them noticed persons coming here."
"One of the men says that he saw an old peasant with a girl who
asked which was my farm."
"Then that man must go with us to the mountains. He shall return
safe and unharmed in a few days. The Romans must not know of this.
This is the one point on which you must be silent; on all others
speak freely. It is important to me that it should not be known
whether it was man or woman, old or young, who warned me.
"I do not threaten you. I know that you are true and honest; but,
to ensure silence among your household, tell them that I shall
certainly find out if the Roman soldiers learn here that it was
an old man and a girl who visited me, and that I will take dire
vengeance on whomsoever tells this to the Romans. Discharge your
man before we leave with him, so that you may say truly that those
the Romans find here are your whole household, and maintain that
not one of them saw who it was who came to me today."
"I can promise that, my lord. You and the Lady Aemilia have been
kind and good to us, and my wife, the female slave, and the hired
men would do anything for you. As for the children, they were not
present when Balbus said that he had been questioned by the old
man, and can tell nought, however closely they may be questioned,
save that Balbus was here and has gone."
"I had not thought of that," Beric said. "Better, then, tell the
soldiers the truth: you had two serving men, but we have carried
one away with us."
In half an hour all was ready for a start. The two female slaves,
although attached to their mistress, were terrified at the thoughts
of going away among the mountains, although Aemilia assured them
that no harm could happen to them there. Then, with a hearty adieu
to the farmer and his wife, Beric and his companions shouldered the
loads, and with Balbus, Philo, Aemilia, and the two female slaves
made their way up the mountain. As soon as they started, Beric gave
orders to Philo to go on with all speed to the camp, and to tell
Boduoc of the coming of Aemilia, and bid him order the men at
once to prepare a bower at some short distance from their camp.
Accordingly when the party arrived great fires were blazing, and
the outlaws received Aemilia with shouts of welcome.
"I thank you all," Beric said, "for my wife and myself. She knows
that in no place could she be so safe as here, guarded by the brave
men who have so faithfully followed her husband."
So heartily had the men laboured that in the hour and a half that
had elapsed since Philo had arrived a large hut had been erected a
hundred yards from the camp, with a small bower beside it for the
use of the female slaves. A great bonfire burnt in front, and the
interior was lighted by torches of resinous wood.
"Thanks, my friends," Beric said. "You have indeed built us a leafy
palace. I need not exhort the guards to be watchful tonight, for
it may be that the traitor who will guide the Romans to the house
where we have been stopping may know something of the mountains,
and guessing the direction of our camp may attempt to lead them to
it. Therefore, Boduoc, let the outposts be thrown out farther than
usual, and let some be placed fully three miles from here, in all
the ravines by which it is likely the enemy might make their way
Three days later Philo went down to learn what had passed. He was
ordered not to approach the house, as some soldiers might have been
left there to seize upon any one who came down, but to remain at
a distance until he saw the farmer or one of his household at work
in the fields. He brought back news that the Romans had arrived on
the night they had left, had searched the house and country round,
had closely questioned all there, even to the children, and had
carried off the farmer and his man. These had returned the next
evening. They had been questioned by the general, who had admonished
the farmer severely on his failure to report the presence of the
outlaws at whatever risk to his family and property; but on their
taking an oath that they were unable to give any information
whatever, either as to the outlaws' retreat or the persons who had
brought up the news of the intended attack by the Romans, they were
Balbus was then sent back to the farm with presents for all there,
and it was agreed that the camp should be broken up. The general
would, in compliance with the orders of Nero, make fresh efforts to
hunt down the band; and as he knew now the neighbourhood in which
they were, and treachery might again betray the spot, it was better
to choose some other locality; there was, too, no longer any occasion
for them to keep together. They had the mountains to themselves
now, and although the wild animals had been considerably diminished,
there were still goats in the upper ranges, and swine and wild
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