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Title: A Struggle for Rome, v. 2
Author: Dahn, Felix, 1834-1912
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Struggle for Rome, v. 2" ***

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Transcriber's Notes:
1. Page scan source:
      http://www.archive.org/details/astruggleforrom01dahngoog
2. The diphthong OE and oe are represented by [OE] and [oe].
3. [=e] represents an "e" with a macron above.
4. Footnote is at the end of the book.



                          A STRUGGLE FOR ROME.

                                   BY
                              FELIX DAHN.


           _T R A N S L A T E D  F R O M  T H E  G E R M A N_
                                   BY
                            LILY WOLFFSOHN.


           "If there be anything more powerful than Fate,
            It is the courage which bears it undismayed."
                                                GEIBEL.


                           IN THREE VOLUMES.
                                VOL. II.



                                LONDON:
                        RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON.
                                  1878.
                        [_All Rights Reserved._]



                          A STRUGGLE FOR ROME.

                        BOOK III.--_Continued._

                               THEODAHAD.



                               CHAPTER X.


On the evening of the third day after the arrival of the Gothic escort
sent by Totila, Valerius had terminated his arrangements and fixed the
next morning for his departure from the villa.

He was sitting with Valeria and Julius at the evening meal, and
speaking of the prospect of preserving peace, which was no doubt
undervalued by the young hero, Totila, who was filled with the ardour
of war. The old Roman could not endure the thought of seeing armed
Greeks enter his beloved country.

"I, too, wish for peace," said Valeria reflectively, "and yet----"

"Well?" asked Valerius.

"I am certain," continued the girl, "that if war broke out you would
then learn to love Totila as he deserves. He would defend me and
Italy----

"Yes," said Julius, "he has an heroic nature, and something still
greater than that----"

"I know of nothing greater!" cried Valerius.

At that moment clattering footsteps were heard in the atrium, and
young Thorismuth, the leader of the Gothic escort, and Totila's
shield-bearer, entered abruptly.

"Valerius," he said, "let the carriages be harnessed, the litters
brought out; you must go at once."

They all started from their seats.

"What has happened? Have they landed?"

"Speak," said Julius, "what do you fear?"

"Nothing for myself," answered the Goth, smiling.

"I did not wish to startle you sooner than was necessary. But now I
dare no longer be silent. Yesterday early, the waves washed a corpse
ashore----"

"A corpse!"


"A Goth, one of our sailors; it was Alb, the steersman of Totila's
ship."

Valeria grew pale, but did not tremble.

"It may be an accident--the man was drowned."

"No," said the Goth, "he was not drowned; hi» breast was pierced by an
arrow."

"That means a naval combat, nothing more," said Valerius.

"But to-day----"

"To-day?" cried Julius.

"To-day none of the country people who usually pass on their way from
Regium to Colum, made their appearance, and a trooper, whom I sent to
Regium for news, has never returned.

"That still proves nothing," said Valerius obstinately. His heart
rebelled against the thought of a landing of his hated enemies. "The
waves have often before rendered the way impassable."

"But just now I have been some distance on the road to Regium, and when
I laid my ear to the ground, I felt it tremble under the tramp of many
horses approaching in mad haste. You must fly!"

Valerius and Julius now took down their weapons, which hung upon the
pillars of the room. Valeria sighed deeply, and pressed her hand to her
heart.

"What is to be done?" she asked.

"Man the Pass of Jugum," cried Valerius, "through which the coast-road
runs. It is very narrow, and can be held for some time."

"Eight of my men are already there; I will join them as soon as you are
mounted. The other half of my troop shall escort you on your journey.
Haste!"

But ere they could leave the room, a Gothic soldier, covered with blood
and mire, rushed in.

"Fly!" he cried, "they are there!"

"Who is there, Gelaris!" asked Thorismuth.

"The Greeks! Belisarius! the devil!"

"Speak," ordered Thorismuth.

"I got to the pine-wood before Regium without seeing anything
suspicious, but also without meeting with a soul upon the way. As,
looking eagerly forward, I rode past a thick tree, I felt a pull at my
neck as if my head would be torn from my shoulders, and the next minute
I lay on the road under my horse."

"Badly sat, Gelaris," scolded Thorismuth.

"Oh yes, of course! A noose of horse-hair round his neck, and an arrow
whistling past his head, and a better rider would fall than Gelaris,
son of Genzo! Two demons--wood-devils or goblins they seemed to
me--rushed out of the bushes and over the ditch, tied me upon my horse,
took me between their little shaggy ponies, and ho!----"

"Those are Belisarius's Huns!" cried Valerius.

"Away they went with me. When I came to myself again, I was in Regium
in the midst of the enemy, and there I learned everything. The
Queen-regent is murdered, war is declared, the enemy has taken Sicily
by surprise, the whole island has gone over to the Emperor----"

"And the fortress, Panormus?"

"Was taken by the fleet, which made its way into the harbour. The
mast-heads were higher than the walls of the town. From thence they
shot their arrows, and jumped on to the walls."

"And Syracusæ?" asked Valerius.

"Fell through the treachery of the Sicilians; the Gothic garrison is
murdered. Belisarius rode into Syracusæ amidst a shower of flowers,
and--for it was the last days of his consulate--threw gold coins about
him, amidst the applause of the population."

"And where is the commodore: where is Totila?"

"Two of his ships were sent to the bottom by the pointed prows of the
triremes; his own and one other. He sprang into the sea in full
armour--and is--not yet--fished up again."

Valeria sank speechless upon a couch.

"The Greek general," continued the messenger, "landed yesterday, in the
dark and stormy night, near Regium. The town received him with
acclamation. He will only halt until he has re-ordered his army, and
will then march at once to Neapolis. His vanguard--the yellow-skinned
troopers who caught me--were to advance at once and take the Pass of
Jugum. I was to be their guide. But I led them far away--to the
west--into the sea-swamps--and escaped--in the darkness of evening.
But--they shot--arrows after me--and one hit--I can speak--no more----"
and he fell clattering to the ground.

"He is a dead man," cried Valerius, "they carry poisoned arrows! Up!
Julius and Thorismuth! take my child to Neapolis. I myself will go to
the pass, and cover your retreat."

In vain were Valeria's prayers; the face and mien of the old man
assumed an expression of iron resolve.

"Obey!" he cried, "I am the master of this place, and the son of this
soil, and I will ask the Huns of Belisarius what they have to do in my
fatherland! No, Julius! I must know that you are with Valeria.
Farewell!"

While Valeria and Julius, with their Gothic escort and most of
the slaves, fled at full speed on the road to Neapolis, Valerius
hurried, at the head of half-a-dozen slaves, out of the garden of the
villa, towards the pass, which--not far from the beginning of his
estates--formed an arch over the road to Regium. The rock on the left
hand, to the north, was inaccessible, and on the right, to the south,
it fell abruptly into the sea, whose waves often overflowed the road.
But the mouth of the pass was so narrow, that two men, standing side by
side with their shields, could close it like a door. Thus Valerius
might hope to keep the pass, even against a much superior force, long
enough to afford the swift horses of the fugitives a sufficient start.

As the old man was hastening through the moonless night along the
narrow path which led between the sea and his vineyards to the pass, he
remarked to the right hand, on the sea, at a considerable distance from
the land, the bright beam of a little light, which unmistakably shone
from the mast-head of some vessel. Valerius started. Were the
Byzantines pushing forward to Neapolis by sea? Were they about to land
soldiers at his back? But if so, would not more lights be visible?

He turned to question the slaves, who, at his order, but with visible
reluctance, had followed him from the villa. In vain; they had
disappeared into the darkness of the night. They had deserted their
master as soon as they were unobserved.

So Valerius arrived alone at the pass, the nether or western end of
which was guarded by two Goths, while two more filled the eastern
entrance towards the enemy, and the other four kept the inner space.

Scarcely had Valerius joined the two in front, when suddenly the tramp
of horses was heard close at hand, and soon, round the next turning of
the road, there appeared two horsemen, advancing at full trot.

Each carried a torch in his right hand; and these torches alone threw
light upon the midnight scene, for the Goths avoided everything that
could betray their small number.

"By Belisarius's beard!" cried the foremost rider, checking his horse
to a walk, "this hen-ladder is here so narrow, that an honest horse has
scarcely room in it; and there is a hollow way or---- Halt! What moves
there?"

He stopped his horse, and bent carefully forward, holding the torch far
out before him. In this position, close before the entrance of the
pass, he presented an easy aim.

"Who is there!" he again asked.

For all reply a Gothic spear pierced through the mail of his
breast-plate and into his heart.

"Enemies!" screamed the dying man, and fell backwards from his saddle.

"Enemies! enemies!" cried the man behind him, and, hurling his
treacherous torch far from him, turned his animal and galloped back;
while the horse of the fallen man remained quietly standing at his
master's side.

Nothing was heard in the stillness of the night but the tramp of the
fleeing charger, and the gentle splash of the waves at the foot of the
rocks.

The hearts of the men in the pass beat with expectation.

"Now be cool, men," said Valerius; "let none be tempted out of the
pass. You in the first row will press your shields firmly together; we
in the middle will throw; you three in the rear will hand us the
spears, and be attentive to all that takes place."

"Sir! sir!" cried the Goth who stood in the road behind the pass, "the
light! the ship approaches ever nearer!"

"Be wary, and challenge it, if----"

But the enemy was already at hand. It was a troop of fifty mounted
Huns, carrying a few torches. As they turned round the corner of the
road, the scene was illuminated with patches of glaring light,
contrasted with deep gloom.

"It was here, sir!"  said the horseman who had escaped. "Be cautious."

"Take back the dead man and the horse," commanded a rough voice, and
the leader, lifting his torch, rode slowly towards the entrance of the
pass.

"Halt!"  cried Valerius in Latin; "who are you, and what do you want?"

"_I_ have to ask that!" returned the leader of the horsemen in the same
language.

"I am a Roman citizen, and defend my fatherland against all invaders!"
cried Valerius.

Meanwhile the leader had examined the scene by the light of his torch.
His practised eye recognised the impossibility of avoiding the pass,
either to the right or to the left; and, at the same time, the extreme
straitness of its entrance.

"Then, friend," he said, retreating a little, "we are allies. We are
Romans too, and will free Italy from its oppressors. Therefore give way
and let us through."

Valerius, who wished to gain time by all possible means, spoke again.

"Who are you, and who sent you?"

"My name is Johannes. The enemies of Justinian call me 'the bloody,'
and I lead Belisarius's light horse. The whole country, from Regium
till here, has received us with rejoicing; this is the first hindrance.
We should have got much farther long ago had not a dog of a Goth led us
into the vilest swamp that ever swallowed up a good horse. Valuable
time was lost. So do not hinder us! Life and property will be spared to
you, and you will receive a rich reward into the bargain, if you will,
guide us. Speed is victory! The enemy is bewildered; they must not have
time to recover themselves before we stand before Neapolis, yea, even
before Rome. 'Johannes,' said Belisarius to me, 'as I cannot order the
storm-wind to sweep the land before me, I order _you_ to do it!' So get
away and let us through!"

And he spurred his horse.

"Tell Belisarius--so long as Cnejus Valerius lives, he shall not
advance one step in Italy! Back, you robbers!"

"Madman! would you stand by the Goths and oppose us?"

"By hell, if against you!"

The leader again cast searching glances to the right and left.

"Listen," he said; "you can really stop us here for a time. But not for
long. If you yield, you shall live. If not, I will first have you
skinned alive, and then impaled!"

He lifted his torch, looking for a weak point.

"Back!" cried Valerius; "shoot, friend!"

"The twang of a bow-string was heard, and an arrow struck the helm of
the horseman.

"The devil!" he exclaimed, and spurred his horse back.

"Dismount!" he ordered, "every man of you!"

But the Huns did not like to part with their horses.

"What, sir? Dismount?" asked one of the nearest.

Johannes struck him in the face. The man did not move.

"Dismount!" thundered Johannes again. "Would you go into that
mouse-hole on horseback!" and he flung himself out of the saddle. "Six
climb the trees and shoot from above. Six lie down and creep forward on
each side of this road, shooting as they lie. Ten shoot standing;
breast high. Ten guard the horses. You others follow me with the spear
as soon as the strings twang. Forwards!"

He handed his torch to one of the men and took a lance.

While the Huns were carrying out his orders, Johannes again examined
the pass as well as he could.

"Yield!" he cried.

"Come on!" shouted the Goths.

Johannes gave a sign and twenty arrows whistled at once.

A cry, and the foremost Goth on the right fell. He had been struck in
the forehead by one of the men on the trees. Valerius, under shelter of
his shield, sprang into his place. He came just at the right moment to
repulse the furious attack of Johannes, who ran at the gap with his
lance in rest. Valerius received the thrust on his shield, and struck
at the Byzantine, who stumbled and fell, close to the entrance. The
Huns behind him fell back.

The Goth who stood at Valerius's side could not resist the temptation
to render the leader harmless. He sprang a step forward out of the pass
with up-lifted spear. But this was just what Johannes wanted. Up he
started with lightning swiftness, thrust the surprised Goth over the
low wall of the road on the right of the pass, and the next moment he
stood on the exposed side of Valerius--who was defending himself
against the renewed attack of the Huns--and stabbed him with all his
might in the groin with his long Persian knife.

Valerius fell; but the three Goths who stood behind him succeeded in
pushing Johannes--who had already pressed forward into the middle of
the pass--back and out with the beaks of their shields.

Johannes retired to his men, in order to command a new salvo of arrows.
Two of the Goths silently placed themselves in the entrance of the
pass; the third held the bleeding Valerius in his arms.

Just then the guard at the rear of the pass rushed in: "The ship, sir!
the ship! They have landed! they take us in the rear! Fly! we will
carry you--a hiding-place in the rocks----"

"No," said Valerius, raising himself, "I will die here; rest my sword
against the wall and----"

But a loud flourish of Gothic horns was heard in the rear. Torches
shone, and a troop of thirty Goths hurried into the pass, Totila at
their head. His first glance fell upon Valerius.

"Too late! too late!" he cried in deep grief. "Revenge! Follow me!
Forwards!" And he rushed furiously through the pass, followed by his
spear-bearing foot-soldiers.

Fearful was the shock of meeting upon the narrow road between sea and
rocks. The torches were extinguished in the skirmish; and the dawning
day gave but a faint grey light.

The Huns, although superior in numbers to their bold adversaries, were
completely taken by surprise. They thought that a whole army of Goths
was on the march. They hastened to join their horses and fly. But the
Goths reached the place where the animals stood at the same moment as
their owners, and, in confused heaps, men and horses were driven off
the road into the sea. In vain Johannes himself struck at his flying
people; their rush threw him to the ground; he sprang up immediately
and attacked the nearest Goth. But he had fallen into bad hands. It was
Totila; he recognised him.

"Cursed Flax-head!" he cried, "so you are not drowned?"

"No, as you see!" cried Totila, and struck a blow at the other's helm,
which cleft it through and entered slightly into his skull, so that he
staggered and fell.

With this all resistance was at an end. The nearest of the horsemen
just managed to lift Johannes into a saddle, and galloped off with him.

The scene of action was deserted.

Totila hurried back to the pass. He found Valerius, pale, with closed
eyes, his head resting on his shield. He threw himself on his knees
beside him, and pressed his stiffening hand to his heart.

"Valerius!" he cried, "father! do not, do not leave me so. Speak to me
once more!"

The dying man faintly opened his eyes.

"Where are they?" he asked.

"Beaten and fled!"

"Ah! victory!" cried Valerius, breathing anew. "I die happy! And
Valeria--my child--is she saved?"

"She is. Escaped from the naval combat, and from the sea itself, I
hastened to warn Neapolis and save you. I had landed near the high-road
between your house and Neapolis; there I met Valeria and learned your
danger. One of my boats received her and her companions on board to
take them to Neapolis; with the other I came here to save you--oh! only
to revenge you!" and he laid his head upon the breast of the dying man.

"Do not weep for me; I die victorious! And to you, my son, I owe it."

He stroked the long fair locks of the sorrowing youth.

"And Valeria's safety too! Oh! to you also, I hope, I shall owe the
salvation of Italy. You are hero enough to save this country--in spite
of Belisarius and Narses! You can--and you will--and your reward is the
hand of my beloved child."

"Valerius! my father!"

"She is yours! But swear to me"--and Valerius raised himself with an
effort and looked into Totila's eyes--"swear to me by the genius of
Valeria that she shall not become your wife until Italy is free, and
not a sod of her sacred soil is pressed by the foot of a Byzantine."

"I swear it," cried Totila, enthusiastically pressing Valerius's hand,
"by the genius of Valeria I swear it!"

"Thanks, thanks, my son. Now I can die in peace--greet Valeria--in your
hand is her fate--and that of Italia!"

He laid his head back upon his shield, crossed his arms over his
breast, and expired.

Totila silently laid his hand upon the dead man's heart, and remained
in this position for some time.

A dazzling light suddenly roused him from his sad reverie; it was the
sun, whose golden disk rose gloriously over the summit of the rocks.

Totila stood up, and looked at the rising luminary. The sea glittered
in the bright rays, and a golden light spread over the land.

"By the genius of Valeria!" repeated Totila in a low voice, and
stretched out his hand towards the glorious sun.

Like the dead man he felt strengthened and comforted by his weighty
oath; the sense of having a noble duty to perform elevated his
feelings. He turned back, and ordered that the corpse should be carried
to his ship, that it might be taken and deposited in the tomb of the
Valerians at Neapolis.



                              CHAPTER XI.

During these portentous events the Goths had been by no means idle. But
all measures of vigorous defence were paralysed, and, indeed,
intentionally frustrated, by the cowardly treachery of the King.

Theodahad had soon recovered from his consternation at the declaration
of war on the part of Petros, for he could not and would not part with
the conviction that it had only been made in order to keep up
appearances and save the honour of the imperial government.

He had not again spoken with Petros in private, and the latter must
necessarily have some plausible reason for the appearance of Belisarius
in Italy. No doubt the act of Petros had been a long-determined means
for the accomplishment of the secret plans of the Emperor.

The thought of carrying on a war--of all thoughts the most unbearable
to Theodahad--he very well understood how to keep at a distance, for he
wisely reflected that it takes two to fight.

"If I do not defend myself," he thought, "the attack will soon be over.
Belisarius may come--I will do all in my power to prevent any
resistance being made, for that would only embitter the Emperor against
me. If, on the contrary, the general reports to Byzantium that I have
furthered his success in all possible ways, Justinian will not refuse
to fulfil the old contract, if not wholly, at least in part."

In this sense he acted. He called all the active land and sea forces of
the Goths away from South Italy, where he expected the landing of
Belisarius, and sent them eastwards to Liburnia, Dalmatia, Istria, and
westwards to South Gaul, pretending--supported by the fact that
Belisarius had sent a small detachment of troops to Dalmatia against
Salona, and had exchanged ambassadors with the Frankish King--that the
principal attack of the Byzantines was to be expected by land from
Istria, aided by the allied Franks on the Rhodanus and Padus. The
feigned movements of Belisarius gave colour to this pretext, so that
what is almost incredible took place. The troops of the Goths, their
ships, weapons, and war munition, in great quantities, were led away in
all haste just before the invasion; South Italy, as far as Rome, and
even to Ravenna, was exposed; and all measures of defence were
neglected in the very parts where the first blow was to fall.

The Dravus, Rhodanus, and Padus were crowded with Gothic sails and
arms, while towards Sicily, as we have seen, even the most necessary
guard-ships were wanting.

And the turbulent urgency of the Gothic patriots did not do much good.

The King had got rid of Witichis and Hildebad, by sending them with
troops to Istria and Gaul; and old Hildebrand, who would not quite give
up his belief in the last of the Amelungs, opposed a tough resistance
to the suspicions of Teja.

But the courage of Theodahad was most strengthened by the return of his
Queen.

Shortly after the declaration of war, Witichis had marched with a
Gothic troop before the Castle of Feretri, where Gothelindis had taken
refuge with her Pannonian mercenaries, and had persuaded her to return
voluntarily to Ravenna, assuring her of safety, until her cause should
be formally examined into and decided before the approaching National
Assembly of the people and the army near Rome.

These conditions were agreeable to all; for the Gothic patriots wished,
above everything, to avoid being split into parties at the outbreak of
the war.

And while Earl Witichis, in his great sense of justice, desired that
the right of defence against all accusations should be granted, Teja
also acknowledged that, as the enemy had hurled the terrible accusation
of regicide at the Gothic nation, the national honour could only be
upheld by a strict and formal inquiry, and not by tumultuous popular
justice founded on blind suspicion.

Gothelindis looked forward with confidence to her trial; though the
voice of moral conviction might be against her, she firmly believed
that no sufficient proof of her guilt could be advanced. Had not her
eye alone seen the end of her enemy? And she knew that she would not be
condemned without a full conviction. So she willingly returned to
Ravenna, encouraged the coward heart of her husband, and hoped, when
the day of trial had passed, to find security from all further
molestation in the camp of Belisarius and the court of Byzantium.

The confidence of the royal couple as to the result of the trial was
heightened by the circumstance that the arming of the Franks had given
them a pretext for despatching, besides Witichis and Hildebad, the
dangerous Earl Teja with a third detachment to the north-west of the
peninsula. With him went many thousands of the most zealous adherents
of the National Party, so that the assembly near Rome would not be
overcrowded by adversaries.

And they were ceaselessly employed in gathering together their personal
adherents, as well as the old opponents of Amalaswintha, and the mighty
kindred of the Balthes in all its far-spread branches, in order to
secure friendly voices for the important day.

In this way they had gained composure and confidence. Theodahad had
been persuaded by Gothelindis to appear himself as the advocate of his
wife, in order that such a show of courage and the respect imposed by
his royal person might perhaps, from the very commencement, intimidate
all opponents.

Surrounded by their adherents and a small bodyguard, Theodahad and
Gothelindis left Ravenna and hastened to Rome, where they arrived a few
days before the time appointed for the Assembly, and took up their
quarters in the old imperial palace.

Not immediately before the walls, but in the vicinity of Rome, upon an
open plain called Regeta, between Anaqui and Terracina, was the
Assembly to be held.

Early on the morning of the day on which Theodahad was about to
set forth alone on his journey thither, and while he was taking
leave of Gothelindis, an unexpected and unwelcome visitor was
announced--Cethegus, who had never before made his appearance during
their stay of some days in Rome. He had been fully occupied by the
completion of the fortifications.

As he entered, Gothelindis, struck by his gloomy aspect, cried:

"For God's sake, what evil news do you bring?"

The Prefect only knit his brows, and answered quietly:

"Evil news? For him whom it hurts! I come from a meeting of my friends,
where I first learned what all Rome will soon know. Belisarius has
landed!"

"At last!" exclaimed Theodahad.

And the Queen also could not conceal an expression of triumph.

"Do not rejoice too soon; you may repent it. I do not come to call you
and your friend Petros to account; he who treats with traitors must be
prepared for lies. I only come to tell you that you are now most
certainly lost."

"Lost?"

"We are saved!"

"No, Queen. Belisarius, on landing, published a manifesto. He says that
he comes to punish the murderers of Amalaswintha. A high price and his
favour are assured to those who give you up, alive or dead."

Theodahad grew pale.

"Impossible!" cried Gothelindis.

"And the Goths will soon learn to whose treachery they owe the
unresisted entrance of the enemy into the country. Still more. I am
charged by the city of Rome, as its Prefect, to care for its well-being
in this stormy time. I shall arrest you in the name of Rome, and
deliver you into the hands of Belisarius."

"That you dare not do!" cried Gothelindis, laying her hand upon her
dagger.

"Peace, Gothelindis! Here there is no helpless woman to be murdered in
a bath. But I will let you free--what to me matters your life or
death?--at a moderate price."

"I will grant anything!" stammered Theodahad.

"You will deliver up to me the documents of your contract with
Silverius--be silent! Do not lie! I know that you have treated with him
long and secretly. Once again you have carried on a fine trade with
land and people. I should like to have the bill of sale."

"The sale is now null; the documents without effect. Take them! They
are deposited in the Basilica of St. Martin, in the sarcophagus on the
left of the crypt."

Theodahad's terror proved that he spoke the truth.

"It is well," said Cethegus. "All the exits of the palace are guarded
by my legionaries. I will first get the documents. If I find them in
the stated place, I shall give orders to let you pass. If you then wish
to fly, go to the Porta Marcus Aurelius, and name my name to the
tribune of the guard, Piso; he will let you depart."

He turned and went out, leaving the pair in a state of helpless alarm.

"What shall we do?" said Gothelindis, more to herself than to her
husband. "Shall we yield or defy them?"

"What shall we do?" repeated Theodahad impatiently. "Defy them? that
means stay here? Nonsense! Away as soon as possible. There is no safety
but in flight!"

"Whither will you fly?"

"First to Ravenna--it is strong! There I will take the royal treasure.
From thence, if it must be, to the Franks. Oh, what a pity that I must
leave all the moneys hidden here--many millions of solidi!"

"Here? Here, too?" asked Gothelindis, her attention suddenly aroused.
"You have treasures hidden in Rome? Where? And are they safe?"

"Ah, far too safe! In the Catacombs! I myself should be hours in
finding them all in those dark labyrinths; and minutes are now death or
life, and life is more than solidis! Follow me, Gothelindis, so that
we may not lose a moment. I hasten to the Porta Marcus Aurelius."

And he left the chamber.
But Gothelindis remained motionless. A thought, a plan had crossed her
mind at his words. She contemplated the possibility of resistance. Her
pride could not endure to renounce the government.

"Gold is power," she said to herself, "and power alone is life."

Her resolution was firmly fixed. She thought of the Cappadocian
mercenaries, whom the avarice of the King had driven from his service;
they still remained in Rome, masterless, waiting to embark.

She heard Theodahad hastily descend the staircase, and call for his
litter.

"Fly, fly! thou miserable coward!" she cried, "I will remain here!"



                              CHAPTER XII.

Splendidly rose the sun out of the sea the next morning. Its beams
glittered upon the shining weapons of many thousand Gothic warriors,
who crowded the wide levels of Regeta.

From all the provinces of the kingdom they had hastened by groups, in
families, often with wife and child, to be present at the great muster
which took place every autumn.

Such an Assembly was at once a splendid feast, and the highest national
solemnity. Originally, in heathen times, its immediate intention had
been the grand feast of sacrifice, which, twice a year, at the winter
and the summer solstice, had united all branches of the nation in
honour of their common gods; to this were added a market and exchange
of goods, exercises of arms, and the review of the army. The Assembly
had the power of the highest jurisdiction, and the final decision as to
peace, war, and political relations with other states.

And even now, in the Christian time, when the King had acquired many a
right which once belonged to the people, the National Assembly
possessed a high solemnity, although its ancient heathen significance
was forgotten.

The remains of the old liberties of the people, which even the powerful
Theodoric had not contested, revived under his weak descendants.

A majority of free Goths had still to pronounce sentence, and to award
punishment, even though the King's Earl conducted the proceedings in
his name, and fulfilled the sentence.

Often already had Germanic nations themselves accused, judged, and
executed their kings, on account of treachery, murder, or other heavy
crimes, before a Free Assembly of the people.

In the proud consciousness that he was his own master, and served none,
not even the King, beyond the limit of freedom, the German went in full
armour to the "Ting," where he felt himself safe and strong in union
with his fellows, and saw the liberties, strength, and honour of
himself and his countrymen represented in living pictures before his
eyes.

To the Assembly of which we now speak, the Goths had been attracted by
peculiarly strong reasons. When the summons to meet at Regeta was
published, the war with Byzantium was expected or already declared; the
nation rejoiced at the coming struggle with their hated enemy, and were
glad to muster their forces beforehand. This time the Assembly was to
be, more than ever, a grand review.

Besides this, most of the Goths in the adjacent places knew that
judgment was to be passed on the murderers of the daughter of
Theodoric, and the great excitement caused by this treacherous act had
also contributed to draw the people to Regeta.

While a portion of those assembled had been received by friends and
relatives in the nearest villages, great numbers had--already some days
before the formal opening of the Assembly--encamped in light tents and
huts upon the wide plain, two hundred and eighty stadii distant from
Rome.

At the earliest dawn of day these groups were already in noisy
movement, and employed the time during which they were yet masters of
the place, in various games and pastimes.

Some swam and bathed in the clear waters of the rapid river Ufen (or
"Decemnovius," thus named because it flowed into the sea at Terracina,
nineteen miles off), which crossed the plain. Others displayed their
skill in leaping over whole rows of outstretched spears, or, almost
naked, in dancing amid brandished swords, while others again--and these
the fleetest-footed--clinging to the manes of their horses, kept step
with their swiftest gallop, and when arrived at the goal, securely
swung themselves upon their unsaddled backs.

"What a pity," cried young Gudila, who was the first to arrive at the
goal in one of these races, and now stroked his yellow locks out of his
eyes, "what a pity that Totila is not present! He is the best rider in
the nation, and has always beaten me. But now, with this horse, I would
try again with him."

"I am glad that he is not here," said Gunthamund, who had arrived
second, "else I had scarcely won the first prize in hurling the lance
yesterday."

"Yes," said Hilderich, a stately young warrior in a jingling suit of
mail, "Totila is clever at the lance. But black Teja throws still
better; he can tell you beforehand which rib he will hit."

"Pshaw!" grumbled Hunibad, an elderly man, who had looked critically at
the performance of the youths, "all that is only play. In bloody
earnest the sword is the only weapon that serves a man at the last,
when death so presses on him from all sides that he has no space for
throwing. And for that I praise Earl Witichis, of Fæsulæ! He is _my_
man! What a breaking of skulls was there in the war with the Gepidæ!
The man cleaved through steel and leather as if it were dry straw! He
is still more valiant than my own duke, Guntharis the Wölfung, in
Florentia. But what do you youngsters know about it?--Look! the first
arrivals are coming down the hill. Up! let us go to meet them!"

And now people came streaming in on all the roads; on foot, on
horseback, and in wagons. A noisy and turbulent crowd filled all the
plain.

On the shores of the river, where stood most of the tents, the horses
were unharnessed, and the wagons pushed together to form a barricade.
Through the lanes of the camp the ever-increasing crowd now streamed.
There friends and acquaintances, who had not met for years, sought and
greeted each other.

It was a gay and chequered scene, for the old Germanic equality had
long since disappeared from the kingdom.

There stood near the aristocratic noble, who had settled in one of
the rich Italian towns, who lived in the palaces of senatorial
families, and had adopted the more luxuriant and polite customs of the
Italians; near the duke or earl from Mediolanum or Ticinum, who wore a
shoulder-belt of purple silk across his richly-gilt armour; near such a
dainty lord towered some rough, gigantic Gothic peasant, who lived in
the thick oak-forests on the Margus in M[oe]sia, or who had fought the
wolf in the forests by the rushing [OE]nus for the ragged skin which he
carried over his bear-like shoulders, and whose harsh-sounding speech
struck strangely on the ear of his half-Romanised companion.

There came strong and war-hardened men from the distant Augusta
Vindelicorum on the Licus, who day and night defended the rotten walls
of that outermost northern fortress of the Gothic kingdom against the
wild Su[=e]vi.

And here were peaceful shepherds from Dacia, who, possessing neither
field nor house, wandered with their flocks from pasture to pasture,
still living in the manner introduced into the West by their ancestors
from Asia a thousand years ago.

There was a rich Goth, who, in Rome or Ravenna, had married the
daughter of some Italian moneychanger, and had soon learned to do
business like his father-in-law, and reckon his profits by thousands.

And here stood a poor Alpine shepherd, who drove his meagre goats on to
the meagre pastures near the noisy Isarcus, and who erected his hut of
planks close to the den of the bear.

So differently had the die been cast for the thousands who were here
met together, since their fathers had followed the call of the great
Theodoric to the West, away from the valleys of the Hæmus.

But still they felt that they were brothers, the sons of one nation;
they spoke the same proud language, they had the same golden locks,
the same snowy skins, the same light and sparkling eyes, and--above
all--the same feeling in their hearts: "We stand as victors on the
ground that our fathers forced from the Roman Empire, and which we will
defend to the death."

Like an immense swarm of bees the masses hummed and buzzed, greeting
each other, seeking old acquaintances and concluding new friendships;
and the chaotic tumult seemed as if it would never end.

But suddenly the peculiar long-drawn tones of the Gothic horn were
heard from the crown of the hill, and at once the storm of the thousand
voices was laid.

All eyes were eagerly turned in the direction of the hill, from which a
procession of venerable men now approached.

It was formed of half a hundred men in white and flowing mantles, their
heads crowned with ivy, carrying white staffs and ancient stone axes.
They were the sajones or soldiers of the tribunal, whose office it was
to carry out the ceremonial forms of opening, warding, and closing the
"Ting."

Arrived on the plain, they greeted with a triple long-drawn flourish
the assembly of free warriors; who, after a solemn silence, answered
with the clash and clang of their arms.

The ban-officers shortly began their work.

They divided to the right and left, and enclosed the whole wide field
with red woollen cords, which they wound round hazel staffs fixed into
the earth at every twenty steps; accompanying this action with the
repetition of ancient songs and sayings.

Exactly opposite the rising and setting of the sun, the woollen cords
were raised over the shafts of tall lances, so that they formed the two
gates of the now completely enclosed "Ting-place;" and these entrances
were guarded by soldiers with drawn swords, in order to keep all
strangers and women at a distance.

When all was arranged, the two oldest of the men stepped beneath the
spear-gates and called in a loud voice:

           "According to ancient Gothic custom
            Is the fence erected.
            Now, with God's help,
            The judgment may begin."

After the pause which ensued, there arose a low murmur amongst the
crowd, which gradually grew into a loud, and, at last, almost deafening
uproar of questioning, disputing, and doubting voices.

It had been already remarked, as the procession advanced, that it was
not, as usual, led by the Earl who was accustomed to hold and conduct
the "Ting" in the name and ban of the King. But it had been expected
that this representative of the King would make his appearance during
the ceremony of enclosing the place. When, therefore, this work was
accomplished, and the sentence of the old men called for the
commencement of the tribunal, and still no earl or officer had
appeared, who alone could pronounce the opening speech, the attention
of all present was directed to this deficiency, so difficult to be
supplied.

While everywhere the people asked and sought for the Earl, or some
representative of the King, it was remembered that the King himself had
announced that he would appear in person before his people, to defend
himself and his Queen against the heavy accusation brought against
them.

But when the leaders of the people now sought for the friends and
partisans of the King, to question them concerning him, they discovered
the suspicious fact--which, till now, had been overlooked in the
confusion of general greetings--that not one of the numerous relations,
friends or servants of the royal family, whose duty, privilege, and
interest it was to appear in support of the accused, were present at
the meeting, although they had been seen in numbers, a few days ago, in
the streets and neighbourhood of Rome.

This circumstance excited surprise and suspicion; and for some time it
seemed as if, in consequence of the tumult caused by this singular fact
and the absence of the Earl, the formal commencement of the whole
proceedings would be rendered impossible.

Many speakers had already tried in vain to gain a hearing.

All at once, from the middle of the crowd, a sound was heard, similar
to the battle-cry of some fearful monster, which drowned all other
noises.

All eyes were turned in the direction whence the sound proceeded, and
in the middle of the place, leaning against a lofty ilex-tree, was seen
the tall form of a man, who shouted the Gothic war-cry into the hollow
of his bronze shield, which he held before his mouth.

As the shield dropped, it discovered the powerful face of old
Hildebrand, whose eyes seemed to flash fire.

Enthusiastic applause greeted the appearance of the old and well-known
master-at-arms of the great Theodoric, who, like his master, had, by
means of song and proverb, become a mythic figure amongst the Goths
while still living.

As the applause died away the old man commenced:

"Good Goths! my brave brothers! It troubles and surprises you that you
see no Earl, and no representative of the man who wears your crown. Do
not let it disturb you! If the King thinks thereby to interrupt this
meeting, he is mistaken. I still remember old times, and I tell you,
the people can judge what is right without the King, and hold the
tribunal without the King's Earl. You are all grown up amongst new
manners and customs, but there stands old Haduswinth, scarcely a few
winters younger than myself; he will bear me witness that power is with
the people alone; the Gothic nation is free!"

"Yes! we are free!" cried a thousand voices.

"If the King does not send his Earl, we will choose our 'Ting-Earl'
ourselves," cried the grey-haired Haduswinth; "right and justice
existed before King and Earl! And who knows the old customs of the
nation better than Hildebrand, son of Hilding? Hildebrand shall be our
Ting-Earl!"

"Yes!" was echoed on all sides; "Hildebrand shall be our Ting-Earl!"

"You have chosen me," now said Hildebrand, "and I count myself as well
elected as if King Theodahad had given me a warrant in letter and
parchment. And my ancestors for centuries have often held tribunals for
the Goths. Come, sajones, help me to open the Assembly."

In front of the oak there still lay the ruins of an ancient fane of the
wood-god Picus; the sajones cleared the place, piled up the broadest
stones, and leaned two square slabs to the right and left against the
trunks of the oak, so that a stately seat of justice was thus formed.
And so before the altar of the old Italic sylvan god, the Gothic Earl
held a tribunal.

Other sajones threw a wide blue woollen mantle with a broad white
collar over Hildebrand's shoulders, and gave him an ashen staff, curved
at the top. At his left hand, on the branches of the oak, they hung a
shining shield of burnished steel, and then placed themselves in two
groups on his right and on his left. The old man struck the shield with
his staff till it rung loudly. Then he seated himself with his face to
the east and began:

"I enjoin silence, ban, and peace! I enjoin right and forbid wrong,
quick anger, biting words, ready blows, and everything which can offend
the peace of the Ting. And I ask: is it the year and day, the time and
hour, the place and spot in which to hold a free tribunal of Gothic
men?"

The Goths who stood the nearest stepped forward and answered in chorus:

"Here is the right place, under the wide sky, under the rustling oak;
now is the right time, with a climbing sun, to hold a free tribunal of
Gothic men on the sword-won soil of our Gothic inheritance."

"We are assembled," continued old Hildebrand, "to decide upon two
cases: an accusation of murder against Gothelindis the Queen, and of
cowardice and negligence, in this time of great danger, against
Theodahad our King. I ask----"

But his speech was interrupted by the loud flourish of horns, which
sounded nearer and nearer from the west.



                             CHAPTER XIII.

The Goths turned in astonishment, and saw a troop of horsemen hurrying
down the hill in the direction of the place of justice.

The sun flashed upon the armed figures with such dazzling brilliancy
that they could not be recognised, although they approached rapidly.

But old Hildebrand rose up in his elevated seat, shaded his eagle eyes
with his hand, and at once exclaimed:

"Those are Gothic weapons! The waving banner bears the figure of the
scales: that is the crest of Earl Witichis! and there he is himself at
the head of the troop! and the tall figure on his left is the sturdy
Hildebad! What brings the generals back? Their troops should be far on
their way to Gaul and Dalmatia."

There ensued an uproar of excited voices. Meanwhile the riders had
reached the place and sprang from their smoking horses. Received with
enthusiasm, the two generals, Witichis and Hildebad, went through the
crowd up to Hildebrand's judgment-seat.

"What?" cried Hildebad, still out of breath; "you sit here and hold a
tribunal as if in time of peace, and the enemy Belisarius has landed!"

"We know it," answered Hildebrand quietly, "and would have held counsel
with the King how best to check him."

"With the King!" laughed Hildebad bitterly.

"He is not here," said Witichis, looking round; "that confirms our
suspicion. We returned because we had cause for grave mistrust. But of
that later. Continue where you were interrupted. Everything according
to right and order! Peace, friend!"

And, pushing the impatient Hildebad back, he modestly placed himself on
the left of the judgment-seat amongst the others.

After all had become still, the old man continued:

"Gothelindis, our Queen, is accused of the murder of Amalaswintha, the
daughter of Theodoric. I ask: are we a tribunal to judge such a cause?"

Old Haduswinth, leaning upon his club, advanced a step and said:

"Red are the cords which enclose this place of execution. The National
Assembly has the right to judge red-handed crime; warm life and cold
death. If it has been ordered otherwise in late times, it has been by
force and not by right. We _are_ a tribunal to judge such a cause."

"Through all the nation," resumed Hildebrand, "a heavy reproach is made
against Gothelindis; in the depths of our hearts we accuse her. But who
will accuse her here, in open assembly, in audible words, of this
murder?"

"I," cried a loud voice, and a handsome young Goth in shining armour
stepped forward, on the right of the judge, laying his hand upon his
heart.

A murmur of approbation ran through the crowd.

"He loves the beautiful Mataswintha!"

"He is the brother of Duke Guntharis of Tuscany, who holds Florentia."

"He is her wooer."

"He comes forward as the avenger of her mother."

"I, Earl Arahad of Asta, the son of Aramuth, of the noble race of the
Wölfungs," continued the young Goth with an engaging blush. "It is
true, I am not akin to the murdered Princess; but the men of her
family, Theodahad foremost, her cousin and her King, do not fulfil
their duty as blood-avengers. Is not Theodahad himself abettor and
hider of the murder? I, then, a free and unblemished Goth of noble
blood, a friend of the late unhappy Princess, complain on behalf of her
daughter, Mataswintha. I appeal against murder! I appeal against
blood!"

And, amidst the loud applause of the Assembly, the stately youth drew
his sword and laid it straight before him upon the seat of justice.

"And thy proofs? Speak!"

"Hold, Ting-Earl," cried a grave voice, and Witichis stepped forward
opposite to the complainant. "Art thou so old, and knowest so well what
is just, Master Hildebrand, and allowest thyself to be carried away by
the pressure of the multitude? Must I remind thee, I, the younger man,
of the first law of all justice? I hear the complainant, but not the
accused."

"No woman may enter the Ting of the Goths," said Hildebrand quietly.

"I know it; but where is Theodahad, her husband and defender?"

"He has not appeared."

"Is he invited?"

"He is invited, upon my oath and that of these messengers," cried
Arahad. "Step forth, sajones!"

Two of the officers came forward and touched the judgment-seat with
their staffs.

"Well," continued Witichis, "it shall never be said that a woman was
judged by the people of the Goths unheard and undefended. However she
may be hated, she has a right to be heard and protected. I will be her
defender and pleader."

And he went towards the youthful complainant, likewise drawing his
sword.

A pause of respectful admiration followed.

"So thou deniest the deed?"

"I say it is not proven."

"Prove it!" said the judge, turning to Arahad.

The latter, unprepared for a formal proceedings and not ready to cope
with an opponent of Witichis's weight and steady composure, was
somewhat embarrassed.

"Prove?" he cried impatiently. "What need of proof? Thou, I, all the
Goths know that Gothelindis hated the Princess long and bitterly. The
Princess disappears from Ravenna; at the same time her murderess also.
The victim is discovered in a house belonging to Gothelindis--dead; and
the murderess escapes to a fortified castle. What need, then, of
proof?"

And he looked with impatience at the Goths near him.

"And on this argument thou wilt accuse the Queen of murder before the
open Ting?" asked Witichis quietly. "Truly may the day be far distant
when a verdict is founded upon such evidence! Justice, my men, is light
and air. Woe, woe to the nation which makes its hatred its justice! I
myself hate this woman and her husband; but where I hate I am doubly
strict."

He said this in so simple and noble a manner, that the hearts of all
present were touched.

"Where are the proofs!" now asked Hildebrand. "Hast thou a palpable act?
Hast thou a visible appearance? Hast thou an important word? Hast thou
a true oath? Dost thou claim the oath of innocence from the accused?"

"Proof!" again repeated Arahad angrily. "I have none but the conviction
within my heart!"

"Then," said Hildebrand----

But at this moment a soldier made his way to him from the gate, and
said:

"Romans stand at the entrance. They beg for a hearing. They say they
know all about the death of the Princess."

"I demand that they be heard!" cried Arahad eagerly. "Not as
complainants, but as witnesses of the complainant."

Hildebrand made a sign, and the soldier hastened to bring up the Romans
through the curious throng.

Foremost came a man, bent with years, wearing a hair shirt, and a rope
tied round his loins; the cowl of his mantle hid his features. Two men
in the habit of slaves followed. Questioning looks were fixed upon the
old man, whose bearing, in spite of simplicity and even poverty, was
full of dignity and nobility.

When he reached Hildebrand's seat, Arahad looked closely into his face,
and started back in surprise.

"Who is it," asked the judge, "whom thou callest as a witness to thy
words? An unknown stranger?"

"No," cried Arahad, and threw back the old man's mantle. "A man whom
you all know and honour--Marcus Aurelius Cassiodorus."

A cry of general surprise arose from the Ting-place.

"Such was my name," said the witness, "during the time of my worldly
existence; now only Brother Marcus."

An expression of holy resignation beamed from his features.

"Well, Brother Marcus," responded Hildebrand, "what hast thou to tell
us of Amalaswintha's death? Tell the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth."

"I will. Know, first, that it is not the striving after human requital
which brings me here. I do not come to avenge the murder. 'Vengeance is
mine; I will repay,' saith the Lord. No; I am here to fulfil the last
wish of the unhappy woman, the daughter of my great King."

He took a roll of papyrus out of his dress.

"Shortly before her flight from Ravenna, Amalaswintha directed these
lines to me, which I have to communicate to you as her legacy to the
nation of the Goths. These are her words:

"'The thanks of a contrite heart for thy friendship. Still more than
the hope of safety, I am comforted by the feeling that I have not lost
thy attachment. Yes, I will hasten to thy villa in the Lake of Bolsena.
Does not the road lead thence to Rome, to Regeta, where I will confess
before my Goths, and atone for my crime? I will die, if it must be; but
not by the hands of my enemies. No; by the verdict of my people, whom
I, blind fool, have ruined! I have deserved death, not only for the
murder of the three dukes--who, let it be known to all, died through
me--but still more for the madness with which I repulsed my people for
the sake of Byzantium. If I reach Regeta alive, I will warn my people
with my last breath, and cry: Fear Byzantium! Justinian is false as
hell, and there can be no peace between him and us! But I will warn
them also of inner enemies. King Theodahad plots treason; he has sold
Italy and the Gothic crown to the ambassador of Byzantium; he has done
I refused to do. Be cautious, strong, and united! Would that' dying, I
could expiate the crimes committed while living.'"

The people had listened in deep silence to these words, read by
Cassiodorus in a trembling voice, and which seemed to come to them from
the other side of the grave.

When he ceased, compassion and sorrow prolonged this silence.

At last old Hildebrand rose and said:

"She has erred; she has made atonement. Daughter of Theodoric, the
nation of the Goths forgives thy crime, and thanks thee for thy
fidelity."

"So may God forgive her; amen!" said Cassiodorus.

He then continued:

"I never invited her to my villa; I could not do so. Fourteen days
before I had sold all my property to Queen Gothelindis."

"Therefore her enemy," interrupted Arahad, "misusing his name, decoyed
Amalaswintha into that house. Canst thou deny this. Earl Witichis?"

"No," answered he. "But," he continued, turning to Cassiodorus, "hast
thou also proof that the Princess did not die an accidental death
there? that Gothelindis caused her death!"

"Come forth, Syrus, and speak!" said Cassiodorus. "I answer for the
truth of this man."

The slave advanced, bent his head reverently, and said:

"For twenty years I have had the superintendence of the sluices of the
lake and the waterworks of the baths in the villa; none beside me knew
the secret. When Queen Gothelindis bought the estate, all the slaves
and personal servants of Cassiodorus were sent away; I alone remained.
Early one morning, the Princess Amalaswintha landed at the island, and
the Queen soon followed. The latter at once sent for me, said she would
take a bath, and ordered me to give her the keys of all the sluices of
the lake and the pipes of the baths, and to explain to her the whole
plan of the works. I obeyed; gave her the keys and the plan drawn upon
parchment, but warned her seriously not to open all the sluices, nor to
let all the pipes play, for it might cost her her life. But she angrily
rebuked me, and I heard that she ordered her slave to fill the kettles,
not with warm, but with hot water. I went away; but, anxious for her
safety, I remained in the vicinity of the baths. After some time, I
heard, by the violent roaring and rushing, that notwithstanding, and in
spite of, my advice, the Queen had let in the whole water of the lake.
At the same time I heard the steaming water rise hissing through all
the pipes in the walls; and, as it seemed to me, I heard, dulled by the
marble walls, fearful cries for help. I hurried to the outer gallery of
the baths to save the Queen. But what was my surprise when, at the
central point of the works, at the Medusa's head, I saw the Queen, whom
I thought in danger of death in the bath, standing quietly outside,
completely clothed. She pressed the springs, and exchanged angry words
with some one who was calling for help within. Horrified, and partly
guessing what was going forward, I crept away, happily unobserved."

"What, coward?" cried Witichis, "thou couldst guess what was passing
and creep away!"

"I am only a slave, sir, no hero, and if the Queen had noticed me, I
should certainly not be standing here to bear witness against her.
Shortly afterwards a report was spread that the Princess Amalaswintha
was drowned in the bath."

Loud murmurs and angry cries rang through the assembled crowd.

Arahad cried triumphantly: "Now, Earl Witichis, wilt thou still defend
her?"

"No," answered Witichis, and sheathed his sword, "I defend no
murderess! My office is at an end."

With this he went over from the left to the right, amongst the
accusers.

"You, ye free Goths, have now to find the verdict, and administer
justice," said Hildebrand. "I have only to execute what you pronounce;
so I ask you, ye men of judgment, what think ye of this accusation,
which Earl Arahad, son of Aramuth the Wölfung, has brought against
Gothelindis, the Queen? Speak! is she guilty of murder?"

"Guilty! guilty!" shouted many thousand voices, and not a voice said
"no."

"She is guilty," said the old man, rising. "Speak, complainant, what
punishment dost thou demand for this crime?"

Arahad lifted his sword towards heaven.

"I appealed against murder, I appealed against blood! She shall die the
death!"

And before Hildebrand could put his question to the people, the crowd
was filled with angry emotion, every man's sword flew from its sheath
and flashed in the sun, and every voice shouted, "She shall die the
death!"

The words rolled like a terrible thunder, bearing the people's judgment
over the wide plain till the echo died away in the distance.

"She dies the death," said Hildebrand, "by the axe. Up, soldiers, and
search for her."


"Hold," cried Hildebad, coming forward, "our sentence will be hard to
fulfil, so long as this woman is the wife of our King. Therefore I
demand that the Assembly at once examine into the accusation that we
carry in our hearts against Theodahad, who governs a people of heroes
so unheroically. I will give words to this accusation. Mark well, I
accuse him of treachery, not only of incapability to lead and save us.
I will be silent on the fact that, without his knowledge, his Queen
could scarcely have cooled her hate in Amalaswintha's blood; I will not
speak of the warning which the latter sent to us, in her last words,
against Theodahad's treachery; but is it not true that he deprived the
whole southern portion of the realm of men, weapons, horses, and ships?
that he sent all the forces to the Alps, so that the degenerate Greeks
won Sicily, and entered Italy without a blow? My poor brother, Totila,
stands alone against them, with a mere handful of soldiers. Instead of
defending his rear, the King sent Witichis, Teja and me to the north.
We obeyed with heavy hearts, for we guessed where Belisarius would
land. We advanced slowly, expecting to be recalled at every moment. In
vain. Already there ran a report through the places which we passed
that Sicily was lost, and the Italians, who saw us march to the north,
pulled mocking faces. We had accomplished a few days' march along the
coast, when a letter from my brother Totila reached me: 'Has then, like
the King, the whole nation, and my brother also, forsaken and forgotten
me?' it said. 'Belisarius has taken Sicily by surprise. He has landed
in Italy. The population join him. He presses forward to Neapolis. I
have written four letters to King Theodahad for help. All in vain.
Received not a single sail. Neapolis is in great danger. Save, save
Neapolis and the kingdom!'"

A cry of dismay and anger ran through the listening crowd.

"I wanted," continued Hildebad, "to return immediately with all our
thousands, but Earl Witichis, my commander, would not suffer it. I
could only persuade him to halt the troops, and hasten here with a few
horsemen to warn, to save, to revenge! For I cry for revenge, revenge
upon King Theodahad. It was not only folly and weakness, it was
knavery, to expose the south to the enemy. This letter proves it. My
brother warned him four times in vain. He delivered him and the realm
into the enemy's hands. Woe to us if Neapolis falls, or has already
fallen! Ha! he who is guilty of this shall reign no longer, no longer
live! Tear the crown of the Goths, which he has dishonoured, from his
head! Down with him! Let him die!"

"Down with him! Let him die!" thundered the people, in a mighty echo.

The storm of their fury seemed irresistible, and capable of destroying
whatever opposed it.

Only one man remained quiet and composed in the midst of the turbulent
crowd. It was Earl Witichis. He sprang upon one of the old stones
beneath the oak, and waited till the tumult was somewhat appeased.

Then he lifted his voice, and spoke with the clear simplicity which so
well became him.

"Countrymen! companions! hear me! You are wrong in your sentence. Woe
to us if, in the Gothic nation, by whom, since the days of our
forefathers, right has been ever honoured, hate and force should sit on
the throne of justice! Theodahad is a bad and weak King. He shall no
longer hold the reins of the kingdom alone. Give him a guardian, as if
to a minor! Depose him if you like; but you may not demand his death,
his blood! Where is the proof of his treachery? or that Totila's
message reached him? See, you are silent! Be wary of injustice! It
destroys nations!"

As he stood on his elevated place in the full blaze of the sun, he
looked great and noble, full of power and dignity. The eyes of the
multitude rested with admiration upon him who seemed so superior to
them all in nobility, temperance, and clear-sighted composure. A solemn
pause followed.

Before Hildebad and the people could find an answer to the man who
seemed to be Justice personified, the general attention was drawn away
to the thick forest which bounded the view to the south, and which
suddenly seemed to become alive.



                              CHAPTER XIV.

For the quick trampling of approaching horses and the jingling of
armour was heard in the wood, and soon a little group of horsemen
appeared issuing from under the trees, and far in front galloped a man
on a coal-black charger, which sped on as if rivalling the rushing of
the wind.

The long black locks of the rider waved in the air, as well as the
thick black mane which formed the crest of his helmet. Bending
forwards, he urged his foaming horse to greater speed, and as he
reached the southern entrance to the Ting, sprang from his saddle with
a clash.

All gave way as they met the furious glance of his eye. His handsome
face was ghastly pale.

He rushed up the incline, sprang upon a stone near Witichis, held on
high a roll of parchment, cried with a last effort, "Treachery!
treachery!" and fell prone, as if struck by lightning.

Witichis and Hildebad ran to him; they had barely recognised their
friend.

"Teja! Teja!" they cried, "what has happened? Speak!"

"Speak," repeated Witichis once more, "it concerns the kingdom!"

At this word the steel-clad man raised himself with a superhuman
effort, looked about him for a moment, and then said in a hollow voice:

"We are betrayed, Goths! betrayed by our King! Six days ago I received
orders to go to Istria, not to Neapolis, as I had begged. I felt
suspicious, but I obeyed, and embarked with my thousands. A violent
storm drove numerous small vessels towards us from the west. Amongst
them was the _Mercurius_, the swift-sailing post-boat of Theodahad. I
knew the vessel well; she once belonged to my father. As soon as she
caught sight of our ships, she tried to evade us. I, mistrustful,
chased her and overtook her. Her captain carried a letter to Byzantium,
in the handwriting of the King. 'You will be content with me, great
general,' it said, 'all the Gothic forces are at this moment on the
north-east of Rome; you can land without danger. I have destroyed four
letters from the Count of the Harbour of Neapolis, and thrown his
messengers into a dungeon. In requital, I expect that you will
punctually fulfil our contract, and shortly pay me the price fixed.'"

Teja let the letter fall; his voice died away.

The people uttered deep groans of rage.

"I at once turned and landed, and have galloped here for three days and
nights without pause. I can no more."

And, staggering, he sank into the arms of Witichis.

Then old Hildebrand sprang upon the highest stone of his seat, so that
he towered above the crowd. He tore a lance, which bore a small marble
bust of the King upon its cross-stick, out of the hands of the bearer,
and held it aloft in his left hand. In his right he raised his
stone-axe.

"Sold!" he cried. "He has sold his people for yellow gold! Down with
him! Down, down!"

And with a stroke of his axe he shattered the bust.

This action was the first thunder-clap that unchained the brooding
tempest. Only to be compared to the strife of the elements was the wild
storm which now arose amongst the multitude.

"Down with him! down with Theodahad!" was repeated a thousand times,
accompanied by the deafening clash of arms.

Amidst this tumult the old master-at-arms again lifted up his metallic
voice, silence once more ensued, and he said solemnly:

"Hear it, God in heaven, and men on earth: all-seeing sun and blowing
wind, hear it! Whereas King Theodahad, the son of Theodis, has betrayed
people and kingdom to the enemy; the nation of the Goths, free and full
of ancient fame and born to bear arms, depose him from the throne. We
deprive thee, Theodahad, of the golden crown and of the kingdom; of
Gothic right and of life. And we do this not wrongly, but rightly. For
under all our kings we have been ever free, and we would rather want
kings than want freedom. No king stands so high, that he may not be
judged by his people for murder, treachery, and perjury. So I deprive
thee of crown, kingdom, right, and life. Outlawed shalt thou be,
contemned, dishonoured. As far as Christians pray in their churches,
and heathens sacrifice on their altars; as far as fire burns and earth
grows green; as far as the falcon can fly a whole day when the wind
supports his wings; as far as ships sail and shields shine; as far as
heaven spreads its vault and the world extends; house and hall, and the
companionship of good people, and all dwelling shall be denied thee,
except hell alone. Thy inheritance I divide amongst the Gothic people.
Thy flesh and blood I give to the ravens of the air. And whoever
findeth thee, in hall or court, in a house or on the high-road, shall
slay thee unpunished, and shall be thanked for his deed by the good
Goths, and blessed by God. I ask you, men of justice, shall it be
thus?"

"It shall be thus!" answered the crowd, and struck their swords upon
their shields.

Hildebrand had scarcely descended from the stone, when old Haduswinth
took his place, threw back his shaggy bear-skin, and spoke:

"We are rid of the perjured king! He will meet with an avenger. But
now, true men, we must choose another king. For we have never been
without one. As far back as legend and story reach, our forefathers
have lifted a king upon the shield, the living symbol of the power,
glory, and fortune of the good Goths. So long as Goths exist, they will
have kings; and as long as a king can be found, the nation will endure.
And now it is more than ever necessary that we should have a head, a
leader. The race of the Amelungs rose like the sun in glory--Theodoric,
its brightest star, shone for a long time; but this sun has been
shamefully extinguished in Theodahad. Up! people of the Goths, ye are
free! Freely choose a rightful king, who will lead you to victory and
glory! The throne is vacant. Goths, I call upon you to choose a king!"

"Let us choose a king!" was the answer, in a solemn and mighty chorus.

Then Witichis mounted the Ting-seat, took off his helmet, and raised
his right hand.

"Thou, God, who rulest the stars, knowest that we are not moved by
unwise delight in disobedience, or by wantonness. We use the sacred
right of necessity. We honour the right of royalty, the glory which
beams from the crown; but this glory is dimmed. And in the great need
of the nation, we exercise a people's highest right. Heralds shall go
forth to all the peoples of the earth, and announce that, not because
we despise, but because we honour, the crown, have we acted thus. But,
for God's sake, no disputes, no quarrels now; now, when the enemy is in
the land! Therefore let us first solemnly swear, that he who has
the majority, were it only of _one_ voice, we will all honour as our
king--him and no other. I swear it--swear with me."

"We swear!" cried the Goths,

But young Arahad did not join in the oath. Ambition and love flamed in
his heart. He remembered that after the fall of the Balthes and the
Amelungs, his house was the oldest in the nation. He hoped to win
Mataswintha's hand, if he could offer her a crown; and scarcely had the
voices of the people died away, than he advanced and cried:

"Whom shall we choose, Goths? Reflect well! Above all, it is clear, we
need a man with a young and powerful arm to lead us against the enemy.
But that alone is not sufficient. Why did our ancestors elevate the
Amelungs? Because they were the noblest and most ancient race,
descended from the gods. The first star is extinguished; remember the
second, remember the Balthes!"

"Now there lived only one male descendant of that family, a not yet
adult grandchild of Duke Pitza--for Alaric, the brother of the Dukes
Thulun and Ibba, had not been heard of for years. Arahad was confident
that this boy would not be chosen, and that then the people would think
of the third star of nobility. But he erred. Old Haduswinth came
forward angrily and exclaimed:

"Nobility and race! Are we serfs or freemen? By the Thunderer! shall we
count ancestors when Belidarius is in the land? I will tell thee, boy,
what a king needs. A brave arm, it is true, but not that alone. The
King shall be a rock of justice, a bulwark of peace, not only a leader
in the battle. The King shall have an ever-quiet and ever-clear mind,
as clear as the blue sky; and, like stars, just thoughts shall rise and
set therein. The King shall have an ever-equal power, but still more an
ever-equal measure; he shall never lose and forget himself in love or
hate, as we may, who stand below in the crowd. He shall not only be
mild to friends, but just to enemies. He, in whose heart serenity is
paired with bold courage, and true moderation with true strength--that
man, Arahad, is kingly, even though the humblest peasant had begotten
him."

Loud applause followed the words of the old man, and Arahad fell back
abashed. But Haduswinth continued:

"Good Goths, I think we have such a man! I will not name him: you shall
name him to me. I came here from the distant Alps of our boundary,
towards the Karathans, where the wild Turbidus rushes foaming down the
rocks. There I have lived for more than the usual days of man, free,
proud and lonely. I heard little of the acts of men, even of the great
deeds of my own nation, unless a pack-horse laden with salt happened to
stray my way. And yet the warlike frame of _one_ of our heroes
penetrated even to that desolate height. One who never drew his sword
in an unjust cause, and who never sheathed it without victory. His name
I heard again and again when I asked: Who will protect our kingdom when
Theodoric dies? His name I heard in every victory that we gained, and
in every work of peace that was accomplished. I had never seen him. I
longed to see him. To-day I have both seen and heard him. I have looked
into his eyes, that are clear and mild as the sun. I have heard his
words. I heard how he pleaded for right and justice, even for a hated
enemy. I heard how he alone, when blind passion carried us away,
remained serene and quiet and just. Then I thought in my heart: that
man is kingly; strong in war and just in peace; true as steel and pure
as gold. Goths! that man shall be our king. Name the man!"

"Earl Witichis! yes, Witichis! Hail, King Witichis!"

As the unanimous acclamation rang across the plain, a sudden fear fell
upon the modest man, who had eagerly listened to the speech of the old
orator, and only towards the close suspected that he himself was the
man so praised.

And as he heard his name ring in this thousand-voiced shout, his only
feeling was: "No! this cannot, must not be!"

He tore himself away from Teja and Hildebad, who were joyfully pressing
his hands, and sprang forward, shaking his head, and, as if to protect
himself, stretching forth his arm.

"No!" he cried; "no, friends! not that to me! I am a simple soldier, no
king. I am perhaps a good tool, but no master! Choose another, a
worthier!"

And, as if beseeching them, he held out both hands to the people. But
the thundering cry, "Hail, King Witichis!" was the only answer he
received.

And now old Hildebrand advanced, seized his hand, and said in a loud
voice:

"Cease to resist, Witichis! Who was it who first swore to acknowledge,
without hesitation, the man who gained a majority even of one voice?
See, thou hast all voices; and wilt thou refuse!"


But Witichis shook his head.

Then the old man went up to him and whispered:

"What? Must I urge thee more strongly? Must I remind thee of that
midnight oath and bond; to sacrifice all for the well-being of thy
people? I know--I see through thy transparent soul--that the crown is
more a burthen to thee than an honour. I suspect that this crown will
bring thee great and bitter pain, perhaps more pain than joy; and
therefore I ask of thee, that thou accept it."

Witichis was still silent and pressed both hands over his eyes.

This by-play had lasted far too long for the enthusiasm of the people.
They already prepared the broad shield on which to lift him; they
already pressed up the eminence; and, almost impatiently, the cry
sounded anew, "Hail, King Witichis!"

"Think of thy oath! wilt thou keep it or break it!" whispered
Hildebrand.

"Keep it!" said Witichis, and resolutely looked up. He now, without
false shame or vanity, came forward a step and said: "You have chosen
me, O Goths! well, then take me; I will be your king."

At this each man's sword flashed in the light, and a louder cry arose:
"All hail, King Witichis!"

Old Hildebrand now descended from his place and said:

"I leave this high seat, for the place now belongs to our king. Only
once again let me perform the office of the Ting-Earl. If I cannot hang
the purple on thy shoulders, O King, which the Amelungs have worn; nor
reach to thee their golden sceptre--take, at least, my judge's mantle
and the staff of justice for a sceptre; as a sign that thou wert chosen
for thy justice' sake. I cannot press Theodoric's golden circlet, the
old Gothic crown, upon thy brow, then take the first leaves of the oak
which thou resemblest in trustiness and strength."

With these words he broke a tender shoot of the oak and bound it round
Witichis' brow.

"Up, Gothic warriors! fulfil your office with the shield!"

Haduswinth, Teja, and Hildebad took the ancient Ting-shield, lifted the
King, who was now crowned with wreath, staff, and mantle, and raised
him on their shoulders in sight of all the people.

"Behold, O Goths, your King, whom you yourselves have chosen, and swear
allegiance to him!"

And they swore--standing upright, not kneeling=-to true to him till
death.

Witichis sprang from the shield, ascended the Ting-seat and cried:

"As you swear fidelity to me, so do I to you. I will be a mild and just
king; I will do right and prevent wrong. I will remember that you are
free, like me, and not my slaves. And I dedicate my life, my happiness,
all that is mine, to you, to the people of the good Goths! I swear it
by the God of Heaven, and by my throne."

And taking the Ting-shield from the tree, he cried:

"The Ting is over. I dissolve the Assembly."

The sajones at once knocked down the hazel staffs with the cords, and
in disorderly confusion the masses mingled over the wide plain.

The Romans, who, curiously but shyly, had observed from a distance this
custom of a free people, such as Italy had not witnessed for more than
five hundred years, now also mixed freely with the Gothic soldiers, to
whom they sold wine and meat.

Witichis prepared to go with his friends and the leaders of the army to
one of the tents which were erected on the bank of the river.

There a man in Roman costume--as it seemed, a well-to-do
citizen--pressed among his followers, and asked eagerly for Earl Teja,
the son of Tagila.

"I am he. What would you, Roman?" asked Teja, turning.

"Nought, sir, except to deliver this vase to you. See, the seal, the
scorpion, is intact."

"What shall I do with the vase? I buy no such things."

"The vase is yours, sir. It is full of documents and rolls which belong
to you. My guest desired me to give it to you. I beg you, take it."

And he pressed the vase into Teja's hand, and disappeared amid the
crowd.

Teja broke the seal indifferently, and took the documents out.
Indifferently he looked at them.

But suddenly a vivid flush overspread his pale cheeks, his eyes
flashed, and he convulsively bit his lip. The vase fell to the ground
as he rushed up to Witichis, and said, in an almost toneless voice:

"My King! King Witichis, a favour!"

"What is it, Teja? For God's sake, what wilt thou?"

"Leave of absence! for six--three days! I must go!"

"Go? Where?"

"To revenge myself! Read--the devil who accused my parents, who drove
them to desperation, madness, and death--it is he--whom I long since
suspected. Here is his accusation, addressed to the Bishop of
Florentia, in his own handwriting--it is Theodahad!"

"It is, it is Theodahad," said Witichis, looking up from the letter.
"Go, then! But, doubt it not, thou wilt not find him in Rome. He has
certainly fled long since. He has had a great start. Thou canst not
overtake him!"

"I will overtake him, even if he rides on the wings of the
storm-eagle!"

"Thou wilt not find him!"

"I will find him, if I must pluck him from hell's deepest abyss, or
from out of the midst of the angels!"

"He will have fled with a strong escort," warned Witichis.

"I will reach him in the midst of a thousand demons! Hildebad, thy
horse! Farewell, King of the Goths. I go to fulfil the ban!"



                                BOOK IV.

                               WITICHIS.

"And the Goths chose Witichis for their King, a man of humble origin,
but a famous warrior."--_Procopius: Wars of the Goths_, i. 11.



                                PART I.



                               CHAPTER I.

Slowly sank the sun behind the green hills of Fæsulæ, and gilded the
columns in front of the simple country-house of which Rauthgundis was
the mistress.

The Gothic servants and Italian slaves were busy concluding the day's
work.

The stable-man was fetching the young horses from the pasture; two
other servants were bringing a herd of fine cattle home from the fields
to the stable; while the goatherd, with Roman invectives, was driving
forward his _protégés_, which stopped here and there to nibble the
salty saxifrage which grew upon the broken walls of the road.

Other labourers were housing the agricultural implements in the large
yard, and a Roman freedman, a very learned and superior personage, the
upper gardener himself, left, with a contented look, the place where he
practised his blooming and sweet-scented science.

Our little friend Athalwin, with his crown of bright golden hair, was
just issuing from the stables.

"Don't forget, Kakus," he cried, "to throw a rusty nail into the
water-bucket. Wachis spoke of it particularly. Then he need not beat
thee when he comes home."

And he banged the door to.

"Nothing but trouble with these Italian servants," said the little
master, with an air of importance. "Since father went away, and Wachis
joined him in the camp, everything lies upon my shoulders; for mother
is enough for the maids, but the men need a master."

And the little lad marched with great gravity across the yard.

"And they have no proper respect for me," he continued, pouting his
cherry lips and ruffing his white forehead. "How should they? At the
next equinox I shall be fully nine years old, and they still let me go
about with a thing like a kitchen spoon;" and he pulled contemptuously
at the little wooden sword hanging to his belt.

"They ought to give me a hunting-knife, a real weapon. With this I can
do nothing, and I look like nothing!"

Yet he looked very lovely, like an angry Cupid, in his short sleeveless
coat of the finest white linen, which the loving hand of his mother had
spun, sewed, and embroidered with an ornamental red stripe.

"I should like very much to run into the fields and get the wild
flowers for mother which she loves so much, far more than our finest
garden flowers; but I must look round before they shut the doors, for,
'Athalwin,' said father, as he left us, 'take good care of the place,
and protect thy mother. I rely upon thee;' and I shook hands upon it,
so I must keep my word."

So saying, he went across the yard, past the front of the
dwelling-house, looked into all the offices on the left, and was just
about to turn to the back of the square court, when he was attracted by
the loud barking of some young dogs at a noise which was heard behind
the wooden fence which enclosed the whole.

He went towards the corner, and started back in surprise; for on the
fence sat, or rather climbed, a strange figure.

It was a tall, haggard old man in a coarse doublet of rough cloth, such
as was worn by mountain shepherds; instead of a mantle, an immense
undressed wolfskin hung over his shoulders, and in his right hand he
carried a long staff with a steel point, with which he warded off the
dogs, who angrily sprang at the fence.

The boy ran up.

"Stop, thou strange man! What art thou doing at my fence? Wilt get down
at once!"

The old man started, and looked keenly at the handsome boy.

"Down, I say!" repeated the lad.

"Is this the way one greets a tired wanderer at this house!" asked the
intruder.

"Yes, when the tired wanderer climbs over the back fence. Art thou
honest and meanest honestly--in front stands the great yard-gate wide
open; come in there!"

"I know that very well."

And the man prepared to climb down into the courtyard.

"Stop!" cried the boy angrily; "thou shalt not come down there. At him,
Gruffo! At him, Wulfo! And if thou art not afraid of the two young
ones, I will call the old one! Then take care! Hey! Thursa! Thursa!
stop him!"

At this cry an immense bristly grey wolf-hound darted round the corner
of the stable with a furious bark, and was about to spring at the
intruder's throat. But she had scarcely reached the fence, when her
rage was suddenly changed into joy; she ceased to bark, and, wagging
her tail, sprang up to the old man, who now climbed leisurely down.

"Yes, yes, Thursa, faithful bitch, we remember each other," he said.
"Now tell me, little man, what is thy name?"

"I am called Athalwin," answered the boy, retreating shyly; "but
thou--I believe thou hast bewitched the dog--what art thou called?"

"Like thee," said the old man, in a more friendly manner; "I am glad
thou hast my name. But be quiet; I am no robber! Lead me to thy mother,
that I may tell her how bravely thou hast defended thy home."

And so the two adversaries walked peacefully into the house, Thursa
leaping on in front with joyful barks.

The Gothic housewife had changed, with slight alteration, the
Corinthian atrium of this Roman villa, with its rows of pillars on four
sides, into the hall of the Germanic dwelling.

In the absence of her husband it was not wanted for gay hospitality,
and Rauthgundis had brought her maids here from the women's room, to
enjoy the larger space and fresher air.

There sat a long row of Gothic maidens with their noisy spindles;
opposite to them a few Roman women slaves, occupied in finer work.

In the middle of the hall walked Rauthgundis, and let her own
swiftly-turning spindle dance upon the smooth mosaic pavement, at the
same time turning frequently to look at the maids.

Her dark-blue dress of home manufacture was gathered up above one knee,
and puffed out over a belt of steel rings, which, her only ornament,
bore a bunch of keys.

Her auburn hair was combed, back from the brow and temples, and twined
into a simple knot at the back of the head.

There was much simple dignity in her aspect as she paced the room with
grave and examining looks. She went up to one of the youngest of the
maids, who sat lowest in the row, and bent over her.

"Well done, Liuta," she said; "thy thread is smooth, and thou hast not
so often looked up at the door to-day. Certainly," she added with a
smile, "there is not much merit in that, as Wachis cannot enter."

The young girl blushed.

Rauthgundis laid her hand kindly upon her smooth hair.

"I know," she said, "that thou art angry with me in secret, because I
made thee, the betrothed, work all this year an hour longer, morning
and evening, than the other maids. It was cruel, was it not? Well, see!
it was for thine own good. All that thou hast spun this year of my best
flax is thine; I give it thee for thy new household. Then thou wilt not
need to spin next year, the first of thy married life."

The girl took her hand, and looked up gratefully, with tearful eyes.

"And _you_ they call hard and severe!" was all that she could say.

"Mild with the good, severe with the bad, Liuta. All that is under my
care is the property of my husband, and the inheritance of my boy.
Therefore I must be strict."


Just then the old man and Athalwin appeared at the door. The boy wanted
to call out, but the old man held his hand over his mouth, and, for a
while, observed unremarked the actions of Rauthgundis as she examined
the maids' work, praised, scolded, and arranged new tasks.

"Yes," at last said the old man to himself, "she looks very stately,
and seems to be mistress in the house--yet, who knows all!"

And now it was no more possible to hold Athalwin back.

"Mother!" he cried, "a strange man! who has bewitched Thursa, and
climbed over the fence, and wants to come to thee! I cannot understand
it!"

The stately woman turned to the door with dignity, holding her hand
over her eyes, to shade them from the dazzling evening sun, which shone
full into the doorway.

"Why dost thou lead the guest here? Thou knowest that thy father is not
at home. Take him into the men's hall; his place is not here with me."

"But it is, Rauthgundis! Here, with thee, is my place!" cried the old
man, coming forward.

"Father!" cried Rauthgundis, and threw herself into the stranger's
arms.

Puzzled, and not without displeasure, Athalwin looked on at this
meeting.

"So thou art grandfather, who lives up in the northern mountains? God
be with thee, grandfather! But why didst thou not tell me at once? And
why didst thou not come through the gate, like other honest folk?"

The old man held his daughter by both hands, and looked inquiringly
into her eyes.

"She looks happy and blooming," he murmured to himself.

Rauthgundis composed herself. She cast a quick look round the hall.

All the spindles had ceased whirling--except Liuta's--all eyes were
curiously fixed upon the old man.

"Will you spin directly, curious girls!" cried Rauthgundis reprovingly.
"Thou, Marcia, hast let the flax fell with thy staring; thou knowest
the custom--thou wilt spin another spoolful. You others can leave your
work. Come, father! Liuta, prepare a tepid bath, and meat and wine----"

"No," said the old man; "the old peasant in the mountains has only the
waterfall for bath and drink. And as to eating--outside the fence, near
the boundary-stone, lies my knapsack; fetch it for me. There I have my
wheaten bread and my sheep's-milk cheese.--What cattle hast thou in the
stall, and horses in the pasture?"

It was his first question.

An hour after--it was already dark, and little Athalwin had gone to
bed, shaking his head over his grandfather--father and daughter
wandered into the open air in the light of the rising moon.

"I have not air enough inside," the old man had said.

They spoke much and earnestly as they walked up and down the court-yard
and garden. Between whiles, the old man put questions about the
household, such as were suggested by the implements or buildings near
him; and in his tone lay no tenderness; only sometimes he secretly
examined the countenance of his child with a loving look.

"Do cease talking about rye and horses," at last said Rauthgundis, "and
tell me how it has gone with thee these long years? And what has at
last brought thee down from the mountains to thy children?"

"How has it gone with me? pretty lonely! lonely! and cold winters! Yes,
it is not so pleasant and warm up there as here in the Italian valley."

He spoke as if in reproach.

"Why did I come down? Well, last year the breeding-bull fell down from
the _Firn-joch_, and so I wanted to buy another here."

Rauthgundis could no longer contain herself; she affectionately
embraced the old man and cried:

"And no bull was to be found nearer than here? Do not lie, father, to
thine own heart and to thine own child. Thou art come because thou
couldst not help it, because thou couldst no more endure thy longing
for thy child!"

The old man stroked her hair.

"How dost thou know that? Well, yes, I wanted to see how it went with
thee, and how _he_ keeps thee--the Gothic Earl!"

"Like the apple of his eye!" cried Rauthgundis joyfully.

"Indeed? Why, then, is he not at home with wife and child in his house
and farm?"

"He serves in the King's army."

"Yes, that is just it! What has he to do with service and a king? But,
tell me, why dost not wear a golden bracelet? A Gothic woman once came
our way from the Italian valleys, five years ago; she had gold a hand
broad. Then I thought, such thy daughter wears. And I was pleased, and
now----"

Rauthgundis smiled.

"Shall I wear gold to please my maids? I only put on ornaments when
Witichis sees me."

"Indeed! May he deserve it! But thou _hast_ golden brooches and rings,
like other Gothic wives down here?"

"More than others--chests full. Witichis brought a great booty from the
wars."

"So thou art quite happy?"

"Quite, father, but not because of the gold bracelets."

"Hast thou nothing to complain of? Only tell me, child! Whatever it may
be, tell it to thy old father, and he will see thee righted."

Rauthgundis stopped short in her walk.

"Father, speak not thus! Thou art wrong to speak so, nor is it right
for me to listen. Cast it off, this unhappy delusion, as if I must
necessarily be unhappy because I came into the valley. I verily believe
this fear alone has brought thee down."

"That alone!" cried the old man, striking his staff upon the ground.
"And thou callest thy father's deepest conviction a delusion! Last
night I saw thee and Witichis in a dream. He banqueted in a gilded
hall, among proud men and lovely women, richly clothed; but thou wert
standing outside the door in a beggar's dress, and wept bitter tears
and called to him. But he said, 'Who is this woman? I know her not!'
And I could no longer rest upon the mountains. Something drew me down;
I felt obliged to come and see if my child was well cared for in the
valley; and I wished to surprise him, therefore I would not enter thy
house by the gate."

"Father," said Rauthgundis angrily, "one should not think such things,
even in a dream. Thy mistrust----"

"Mistrust? I trust no one but myself, and the dream told me distinctly
that a misfortune threatens thee! Avoid it! Take thy boy and go back
with me; only for a short time. Believe me, thon wilt quickly love
again the free air up there, where one can overlook all the land."

"I leave my husband? Never!"

"Has he not left thee? The court, and the service of kings, is more to
him than wife and child! Then let him have his will."

"Father," said Rauthgundis, grasping his hand, "not a word more. Didst
thou, then, not love my mother, that thou canst speak so to a wedded
wife? My Witichis is all in all to me; the air and light of life. And
he loves me with all his faithful heart; we are one. And if he thinks
it right to work and act apart from me, then it _is_ right. He serves
the cause of his people, and between me and him there shall not be a
word, not a shadow, not even a father!"

The old man was silent, but his doubts were not removed.

"Why," he re-commenced after a pause, "why does he not take thee with
him, if he has such important affairs at court? Is he ashamed of the
peasant's daughter?" and he struck his staff angrily on the ground.

"Anger blinds thee! Thou art vexed because he has taken me away from
the mountain into the Italian valley, and art equally vexed because he
does not take me to Rome, amongst the Italians!"

"And thou shalt not go there! But he ought to wish it; he ought not to
be able to live without thee. But the King's general is no doubt
ashamed of the peasant's child."

Just then, before Rauthgundis could answer, a horseman galloped up to
the closed gate, before which they happened to be standing.

"Up! open!" he cried, striking the gate-post with his war-club.

"Who is there!" asked the old man cautiously.

"Open! A king's messenger should not be kept waiting so!"

"It is Wachis!" exclaimed Rauthgundis, pushing back the heavy bolt.
"What brings thee back so unexpectedly!"


"It is you who open to me!" cried the faithful man. "Oh, hail! all
hail, Queen of the Goths! Your lord is chosen King. With my own eyes I
saw him lifted upon the shield! He greets you, and calls you and
Athalwin to Rome. In three days you must depart."

In the midst of all her fright and surprise and joy and questioning,
Rauthgundis could not help casting a joyful and proud look at her
father. Then she threw herself upon his neck and wept.

"Well, father," she asked, when she had again composed herself, "what
sayest thou now?"

"What do I say? The misfortune that I foresaw has come! Even to-night
will I return to my mountains!"



                              CHAPTER II.

While the Goths were assembling at Regeta, the powerful army of
Belisarius had invested the hard-pressed city of Neapolis in a wide
semicircle.

Rapid and irresistible as a fire in dry heather, the army of the
Byzantines had advanced from the southernmost point of Italy to the
walls of the Parthenopeian town, meeting with no resistance, for,
thanks to Theodahad's man[oe]uvres, not a thousand Goths were to be
found in all these parts. The short skirmish at the Pass of Jugum was
the only hindrance with which the Greeks had met.

The Roman inhabitants of Bruttia, with its towns, Regium, Vibo and
Squillacium, Tempsa and Croton, Ruscia and Thurii; of Calabria, with
Gallipolis, Tarentum, and Brundusium; of Lucania, with Velia and
Buxentum; of Apulia, with Acheruntia and Canusium, Salernum, Nuceria,
and Campsæ, and many other towns, had received Belisarius with joy,
when, in the name of the Emperor, he promised them deliverance from the
yoke of the heretics and barbarians.

To the Aufidus on the east and the Sarnus on the south-west, Italy was
wrested from the Goths; and the walls of Neapolis was the first
obstacle which broke the rush of the inimical flood which was
threatening to overwhelm all Italy.

The camp of Belisarius was worthy of the name of a splendid spectacle.
In the north, before the Porta Nolana, stood the camp of the "bloody"
Johannes. To his care was entrusted the Via Nolana, and the task of
forcing the way to Rome. There, on the wide levels, in the corn-fields
of the industrious Goths, the Massagetæ and the yellow-skinned Huns
exercised their small rough horses.

Near them were encamped the light-foot of the Persian mercenaries,
dressed in linen coats, and armed with bows and arrows; heavy Armenian
shield-bearers; Macedonians with lances ten feet long, called sarrissi;
and large troops of Thessalian, Thracian and Saracen horsemen, who,
condemned to a hated inactivity during the siege, did their best to
occupy their leisure time by inroads into the neighbouring country.

The camp in the centre, exactly on the east of the city, was occupied
by the main army; Belisarius's large tent of blue Sidonian silk,
with its purple standard, towered in the middle. Here strutted the
body-guard which Belisarius himself had armed and paid, and which only
those who had distinguished themselves by valiant deeds were allowed to
join, gay in richly-gilded breast-plates and greaves, bronze shields,
broad-swords, and halberd-like lances. These men were frequently
promoted to the highest rank.

The kernel of the foot-soldiers was formed by eight thousand Illyrians,
the only worthy troop sent by Greece itself; and here, too, were
encamped, under the command of their native chiefs, the Avari,
Bulgarians, Sarmatians, and even Germans, as well as Herulians and
Gepidæ, whom Belisarius was obliged to enlist at a heavy price, in
order to cover the want of native soldiery. Here, too, were the Italian
emigrants and many deserters.

Finally, the south-western camp, which stretched along the coast, was
commanded by Martinus, who superintended the service of the implements
of siege. Here stood, stored up, the catapults and balistæ, the rams
and slings; here mingled Isaurian allies and the contingents sent by
newly-recovered Africa; Moorish and Numidian horsemen and Libyan
slingers. And almost all the barbaric races of three-quarters of the
globe had here their representatives; Bajuvars from the Donau, Alemanni
from the Rhine, Franks from the Maas, Burgundians from the Rhone, Antæ
from the Dniester, Lazians from the Phasis, and the Abasgi, Siberians,
Lebanthians and Lycaonians from Asia and Africa, all well skilled in
archery.

Out of such heterogeneous materials was the army composed, with which
Justinian hoped to drive away the Gothic barbarians and liberate Italy.

The command of the outposts, always and everywhere, was entrusted to
the body-guard; and the chain of stations extended round the city from
the Porta Capuana almost to the waves of the sea.

Neapolis was badly fortified and weakly garrisoned. Less than a
thousand Goths were there to defend the extensive ramparts against an
army of forty thousand Byzantines and Italians.

Earl Uliaris, the commander of the city, was a brave man, and had sworn
by his beard not to deliver up the fortress. But even he would not have
been long able to withstand the far superior force and generalship of
Belisarius, had not a fortunate circumstance come to his assistance.
This was the premature return of the Grecian fleet to Byzantium. When,
namely, Belisarius, after having rested his troops and re-ordered his
army in Regium, had given the command for a general advance of the land
and sea forces to Neapolis, his navarchus Konon had showed him an order
from the Emperor, till then kept secret, according to which the fleet
was to sail, immediately after landing the troops, to Nicopolis on the
Grecian coast, under the pretext of fetching reinforcements, but in
reality to fetch Prince Germanus, the nephew of Justinian, with his
imperial lancers, to Italy, where he was to observe, control, and, in
case of need, check the victorious steps of Belisarius, and, as
commander-in-chief, to protect the interests of the suspicious Emperor.

With deep vexation Belisarius saw his fleet set sail just at the moment
when he needed it most, and he only succeeded, after much urgency, in
gaining the promise of the navarchus to send him four war-triremes,
which were still cruising off Sicily. So Belisarius, when he prepared
to besiege Neapolis, was, indeed, able to enclose the city to the
north-east, east, and north-west with his land forces--the western road
to Rome, defended by the castellum Tiberii, was successfully kept by
Earl Uliaris--but he was not able to blockade the harbour nor prevent
free communication by sea.

At first he comforted himself with the fact that the besieged likewise
had no fleet, and could therefore derive little benefit from this
freedom of movement; but now he was, for the first time, baffled by the
talent and temerity of an adversary whom he afterwards learned to fear.

This was Totila, who had scarcely reached Neapolis after the fight at
the pass, had scarcely aided Julius in showing the last honours to the
remains of Valerius, and in drying Valeria's first tears, than he
began, with restless activity, to create a fleet out of nothing. He was
commodore of the squadron at Neapolis, but King Theodahad, as we know,
had, in spite of his remonstrances, ordered the whole fleet out of the
way of Belisarius to Pisa, where it was appointed to guard the mouth of
the Arnus. So, from the very beginning, Totila had nothing under his
command but three small guard-ships, two of which he had later lost off
Sicily; and he had returned to Neapolis despairing of every possibility
of defending the city towards the sea. But when he heard the incredible
news of the return home of the Byzantine fleet his hopes revived, and
he did not rest until he had--out of fishing-boats, merchant-craft,
harbour-boats, and the hastily-repaired disabled ships on the
wharves--formed a little fleet of about twelve sail, which could
neither defy a storm at sea nor cope with a single man-of-war, but
could still do good service, such as to provide Baiæ, Cumæ and other
towns to the north-west, which would otherwise have been completely cut
off, with victuals; to observe the movements of the enemy on the coast,
and plague them with repeated attacks; in which Totila himself often
landed in the south at the rear of the Grecian camp, surprised--now
here, now there--some troop of the enemy, and spread such insecurity,
that the Byzantines at last only ventured to leave the camp in strong
detachments, and never dared to stray far, while Totila's success gave
fresh courage to the hard-pressed garrison of Neapolis, who were
wearied by incessant watching and frequent combats.

Notwithstanding this partial success, Totila could not hide from
himself that his position was very grave and that as soon as a few
Grecian ships should appear before the city it would be desperate.

He therefore used a portion of his boats to convoy a number of the
unarmed inhabitants of Neapolis to Baiæ and Cumæ, angrily repelling the
demand of the rich, that this means of safety should be granted only to
those who paid for it; and taking rich and poor, without distinction,
into his saving vessels.

In vain had Totila repeatedly and earnestly begged Valeria to fly in
one of these ships, under the protection of Julius; she would not yet
leave the tomb of her father; she would not part from her lover, whose
praise as protector of the city she was only too much delighted to hear
proclaimed by all voices.

So she continued to reside in her old home in the city, indulging in
her sorrow and in her love.



                              CHAPTER III.

It was at this time that Miriam experienced the greatest joy and the
keenest sorrow that she had ever known.

She could sun herself more frequently than ever in the presence of the
man she loved, for the Porta Capuana was an important point of the
fortifications, and Totila was obliged to visit it often. He daily held
conferences with Earl Uliaris in old Isaac's tower.

At such times Miriam, when she had greeted the guests, and served the
simple meal of fruit and wine, used to slip into the narrow little
garden which lay close under the walls of the tower.

This place had been, originally, a small court belonging to an ancient
Temple of Minerva, the "wall-protectress," to whom altars had been
gratefully erected at the principal gates of various towns.

The altar had disappeared centuries ago, but the gigantic olive-tree,
which had once shaded the statue dedicated to the goddess, still
stretched its boughs aloft, while flowers, cherished by Miriam's loving
hand, and which she had often plucked for the bride of the man whom she
hopelessly loved, filled the air with perfume.

Exactly opposite the tree, whose knotted roots protruded from the
earth, disclosing a dark opening in the ground-floor of the old temple,
there had been placed a large black cross, and below it a little
praying stool, which was made out of one of the marble steps of the
temple.

The Christians loved to subject the remains of the ancient worship to
the service of the new, and to drive out the old gods, now become
demons, by the symbols of their victorious faith.

The beautiful Jewess often sat for hours under this cross with old
Arria, the half-blind widow of the under doorkeeper, who, after the
early death of Isaac's wife, had, with motherly love, watched little
Miriam bloom together with her flowers amid the desolate ruins of the
old walls.

Twice a day did Uliaris and Totila thus meet; reporting their losses or
successes and examining the probability of saving the city.

But on the tenth day of the siege, before dawn, Uliaris hastened on
board Totila's "admiral" ship, a rotten fishing-boat, and found the
commander sleeping on deck, covered by a ragged sail.

"What is it!" cried Totila, starting up and still dreaming; "the enemy?
where?"

"No, my boy; this time it is again Uliaris, and not Belisarius, who
awakens thee. But, by the Thunderer! this cannot last much longer!"

"Uliaris, thou bleedest! thy head is bandaged!"

"Bah! 'twas but a stray arrow! Fortunately no poisoned one. I got it
last night. Thou must know that things are at a bad pass; much worse
than ever before. The bloody Johannes--may God slay him!--digs under
our Castle Tiberius like a badger, and if he gets _that_--then
farewell, Neapolis! Yester even he finished a battery upon the hill
above us, and now he throws burning arrows upon our heads. I tried last
night to drive him out of his works, but it was no use. They were seven
to one against us, and I gained nothing by it but this wound on my grey
head."


"The battery must come down," said Totila reflectively.

"The devil it must! but it will not! I have still more to tell. The
citizens begin to get unruly. Belisarius daily shoots a hundred blunt
arrows into the city, to which is tied the inscription: 'Rebel for
freedom!' They have more effect than a thousand pointed darts. Already,
here and there, stones are cast from the roofs upon my poor fellows. If
this goes on--we cannot, with a thousand men, keep off forty thousand
Greeks outside and thirty thousand Neapolitans inside. Therefore I
think--" and his eyes looked very gloomy.

"What thinkest thou?"

"We will burn down a portion of the city--at least the suburbs----"

"So that the inhabitants may like us all the better? No, Uliaris, they
shall not have cause to call us 'barbarians.' I know of better
means--they are starving; yesterday I brought in four shiploads of oil,
com, and wine; this I will divide amongst them."

"Oil and corn if thou wilt! But not the wine! That I claim for my
Goths. They have drunk cistern-water long enough, the nasty stuff!"

"Good, thirsty hero, you shall have the wine for yourselves."

"Well? and still no news from Ravenna, or from Rome?"

"None! Yesterday I sent off my fifth messenger."

"May God destroy our King! Listen, Totila, I don't believe we shall
ever get alive out of these worm-eaten walls."

"Nor I either," said Totila quietly, and offered his guest a cup of
wine.

Uliaris looked at him; then he drank and said:

"Dear fellow! thou art pure as gold, and thy Cæcubian too. And if I
must die here, like an old bear amongst the dogs--I am at least glad
that I have learned to know thee so well; thee and thy Cæcubian."

With this rough but friendly speech the grey old Goth left the ship.

Totila sent corn and wine to the garrison in the castle, with which the
soldiers regaled themselves far into the night.

But the next morning, when Uliaris looked forth from the tower of the
castle, he rubbed his eyes. For on the battery upon the hill waved the
blue flag of the Goths.

Totila had landed in the night in the rear of the enemy, and had taken
the works by storm.

But this new act of audacity only increased the anger of Belisarius. He
swore to make an end of the troublesome boats at any price. To his
great joy the four triremes from Sicily just then appeared in the
offing. Belisarius ordered that they should at once force their way
into the harbour of Neapolis, and spoil the handiwork of "those
pirates." On the evening of the same day the four immense ships cast
anchor at the entrance of the harbour. Belisarius himself visited the
coast with his followers, and rejoiced at the sight of the sails,
gilded by the evening sun.

"The rising sun shall see them inside the harbour, in spite of that
bold youth," he said to Antonina, who accompanied him, and turned his
dappled-greys back to the camp.

The next morning he had not yet left his camp-bed--Procopius was
standing near him, reading the sketch of a report to Justinian--when
Chanaranzes, the Persian, the leader of the body-guard, entered the
tent, and cried: "The ships, general! the ships are taken!"

Belisarius sprang from his couch in a rage.

"He dies who says it!"

"It would be better," observed Procopius, "that he should die who did
it!"

"Who was it?"

"Oh, sir, the young Goth with the sparkling eyes and shining hair!"

"Totila!" exclaimed Belisarius, "Totila, again!"

"The crew were lying, partly on shore with my outposts, partly on deck,
sound asleep. Suddenly, at midnight, all around became as lively as if
a hundred ships had risen out of the sea."

"A hundred ships! Ten nutshells!"

"In a moment, long before we could come to their help from the shore,
the ships were boarded, the crews taken prisoners, one of the triremes,
whose cable could not be cut quickly enough, set on fire, and the
others towed off to Neapolis!"

"Your ships have entered the harbour sooner than you expected, O
Belisarius," observed Procopius.

But Belisarius had recovered his self-control.

"Now that the bold boy has ships of war, he will become unbearable!
There must be an end to this."

He pressed his helmet upon his majestic head.

"I would willingly have spared the city and the Roman inhabitants; but
I can wait no longer. Procopius, go and summon the generals; Magnus,
Demetrius and Constantinus, Bessas and Ennes, and Martinus, the master
of artillery; I will give them enough to do. The barbarians shall not
rejoice in their victory; they shall learn to know Belisarius."

Shortly there appeared in the tent of the commander a man who, in spite
of the breast-plate which he wore, had more the air of a scholar than
of a warrior.

Martinus, the great mathematician, was of a gentle, peaceful nature,
which had long found its sole happiness in the quiet study of Euclid.
He could not bear to see blood flow, and was even sorry to pluck a
flower. But his mathematical and mechanical studies had one day
accidentally led him to invent a new projectile of fearful power. He
showed the plan to Belisarius, and he, delighted, would not let him
alone, but dragged him before the Emperor, and obliged him to become
"master of artillery to the _magister militum_, for the East"--namely,
the assistant of Belisarius himself. He received a splendid salary, and
was obliged by contract to invent one new machine of war yearly.

Then the gentle mathematician, with many sighs, invented those terrible
tools of destruction which overthrew the walls of fortresses, shattered
the gates of castles, hurled inextinguishable fire into the towns of
Justinian's enemies, and destroyed human lives by thousands.

Every year Martinus delighted in the mathematical problems which he set
himself to do; but as soon as the riddle was solved and the work
completed, he thought with horror of the effects of his inventions.
Therefore he now appeared before Belisarius with a sorrowful
countenance.

"Martinus! circle-turner!" cried Belisarius as he entered, "now show
your art! How many catapults, balistæ, and sling-machines have we in
all?"

"Three hundred and fifty, general."

"'Tis well! Divide them along our whole line of siege. In the north,
before the Porta Capuana and the castle, set the rams against the
walls; down they must come, were they made of diamonds! From the
central camp direct the projectiles in a curve, so that they may fall
into the streets of the city. Make every effort; do not cease a moment
for twenty-four hours; let the troops relieve each other; let all the
machines play!"

"All, general?" asked Martinus. "The new ones too? The pyrobalistæ, the
hot projectiles?"

"Those too; those most of all!"

"General, they are horrible! You do not yet know their effect."

"Well, I shall now see what it is, and put them to the proof."

"Upon this splendid city? On the Emperor's city? Will you win for
Justinian a heap of ashes?"

Belisarius had a great and noble soul. He was angry with himself, with
Martinus, and with the Goths.

"Can I do otherwise?" he asked impatiently. "These stiff-necked Goths,
this foolhardy Totila, force me to it. Five times have I offered
capitulation. It is madness! Not three thousand men stand behind these
walls! By the head of Justinian! why do not the fifty thousand
Neapolitans rise and disarm the barbarians?"

"No doubt they fear your Huns more than their Goths," observed
Procopius.

"They are bad patriots! Forward, Martinus! In an hour Neapolis must
burn!"

"In a shorter time," sighed the mathematician, "if it must be so. I
have brought with me a man who is well-informed; who can help us much,
and simplify the work. He is a living plan of the city. May I bring him
in?"

Belisarius nodded, and the sentry called in a little Jewish-looking
man.

"Ah! Jochem, the architect!" said Belisarius. "I knew you at Byzantium.
You were to rebuild the church of St. Sophia. What became of that
project?"

"By your leave, general, nothing."

"Why not?"

"My plan only amounted to a million centenaria of gold; that was too
little for his Imperial Majesty. For the more a Christian church costs,
the more holy and pleasing to God. A Christian asked double the amount,
and got the order."


"But still I saw you building in Byzantium?"

"Yes, general, my plan pleased the Emperor. I changed it a little, took
out the altar-place, and afterwards built from it a riding-school."

"You know Neapolis thoroughly--outside and inside?"

"Outside and inside--as well as my moneybag."

"'Tis well. You will direct the machines for the strategist against the
walls and into the city. The houses of the friends of the Goths must
come down first. Forward! Mind and do your business well, or else you
will be impaled! Away!"

"The poor city!" sighed Martinus. "But you will see, Jochem, how exact
are the pyrobalistæ; and they work so easily, a child could manage
them. And they act so splendidly!"

And now in all the camp began a monstrous and danger-pregnant activity.

The Gothic sentinels upon the ramparts saw how the heavy machines,
drawn by twenty to thirty horses, camels, asses, or oxen, were brought
before the walls, and divided along the whole line.

Totila and Uliaris went anxiously to the walls and tried to meet this
new danger with effectual means of defence.

Sacks filled with earth were let down before the places threatened by
the rams; firebrands were laid ready to set the machines on fire as
they approached; boiling water, arrows, and stones were to be directed
against the teams and drivers; and already the Goths laughed at the
cowardly enemy when they noticed that the machines halted far out of
the usual range of shot, and completely out of the reach of the
besieged.

But Totila did not laugh.

He was alarmed to see the Byzantines quietly unharness the teams and
arrange their machines. Not a projectile had yet been hurled.

"Well," mocked young Agila, who stood near Totila, "do they mean to
shoot at us from _that_ distance? They had better do it at once from
Byzantium, across the sea! That would be still safer!"

He had not ceased to speak, when a forty-pound stone knocked him, and a
portion of the rampart upon which he stood, to pieces.

Martinus had increased the range threefold.

Totila saw that they were completely without defence against these
terrible projectiles.

The Goths sprang horrified from the walls, and sought shelter in the
streets, houses, and churches. In vain! Thousands and thousands of
arrows, spears, heavy beams, and stones hurtled and hissed in
infallible curves upon their heads; whole blocks of rock came flying
through the air, and fell crashing through the woodwork and slabs of
the strongest roofs; while in the north the rams thundered unceasingly
against the castle with ponderous strokes.

While the thick hail of projectiles literally darkened the air, the
noise of breaking beams, the rattling fall of stones, the shattering of
the ramparts, and the cries of the wounded deafened the ear.

The trembling inhabitants fled terrified into the cellars and vaults of
their houses, cursing both Belisarius and the Goths.

But the horrified city had not yet experienced the worst.

In the market-place, the Forum of Trajan, near the harbour, stood an
uncovered building, a sort of ship's arsenal, heaped up with old,
well-dried timber, tow, flax, tar, and other combustible materials.
Into this building came, hissing and steaming, a strange projectile,
and immediately a flame shot high into the air, and, fed by the
inflammable materials, spread with the speed of the wind.

The besiegers outside greeted the pillars of smoke which now arose with
cries of exultation, and directed arrows and darts upon the place, to
prevent the inhabitants from extinguishing the fire.

Belisarius rode up to Martinus.

"Capital, man of the circle!" he cried. "Capital! Who aimed the shot?"

"I," said Jochem. "Oh! you will be satisfied with me, general. Now, pay
attention. Do you see that large house with the statues upon the flat
roof, to the right of the fire? That is the house of the Valerians, the
greatest enemies of the people of Edom. Attention! It shall burn."

The fiery projectile flew hissing through the air, and immediately a
second flame rose out of the city.

Just then Procopius galloped up and cried:

"Belisarius, your general, Johannes, greets you. The Castle of Tiberius
burns, and the first wall is down!"

And such was the fact; and soon, in all parts of the city, four, six,
ten houses were in flames.

"Water!" cried Totila, galloping through a burning street near the
harbour. "Come out, you citizens of Neapolis! Extinguish your houses! I
can spare no Goths from the walls. Get barrels of water from the
harbour into all the streets! The women into the houses!--What do you
want, girl? leave me.--Is it you, Miriam? You here--among the flames
and arrows? Away! whom do you seek?"

"You," said the girl. "Do not be alarmed. Her house burns, but she is
saved."

"Valeria! For God's sake, where is she?"

"With me. In our strong tower--there she is safe. I saw the flames. I
hastened to the house. Your friend with the soft voice was carrying her
out of the ruins; he wanted to take her into the church. I called to
him, and persuaded him to bring her to the tower. She bleeds. A stone
wounded her upon the shoulder, but there is no danger. She wishes to
see you, and I came to seek you!"

"Thanks, child! But come, come away;" and he took hold of her arm, and
swung her up to his saddle.

Trembling, she wound both arms about his neck. He held his broad shield
over her head with his left hand, and galloped off with her through the
smoking streets to the Porta Capuana.

"Oh! would that I might die now," murmured Miriam to herself; "now,
upon his breast, if not with him!"

In the tower Totila found Valeria, stretched upon Miriam's bed, under
the care of Julius and her female slaves. She was pale and weak from
loss of blood, but composed and quiet.

Totila flew to her side. Miriam stood at the window with a beating
heart, and looked silently at the burning city.

Totila had scarcely convinced himself that the wound was very slight,
than he again sprang up and cried:

"You must go! Immediately! This very moment! In another hour Belisarius
may storm the city. I have once more filled my ships with fugitives.
They will take you to Cajeta, and thence to Rome. Afterwards you must
hasten to Taginæ to your estate. Julius will accompany you."

"Yes," said Julius, "for we go the same way."

"The same way? Whither art thou bound?"

"To Gaul, to my home. I cannot bear to see this terrible struggle
any longer. You know well that all Italy has risen against you. My
fellow-countrymen fight under Belisarius. Shall I raise my hand against
them, or against you? I will go."

Totila turned silently to Valeria.

"My friend," she said, "it seems to me that our star has set for ever!
Scarcely has my father gone to lay your oath at the throne of God, than
Neapolis, the third city of the realm, falls."

"So you have no faith in our swords?"

"I have faith in your swords, but not in your good fortune! With the
falling rafters of my father's house fall all my hopes. Farewell, for a
long, long time! I obey you; I will go to Taginæ."

Totila and Julius now went out with the slaves to secure places in one
of the triremes.

Valeria rose from the bed; Miriam hurried to her to fasten the shining
sandals upon her feet.

"Let it alone, maiden; you must not serve me!" said Valeria.

"I do it gladly," whispered Miriam; "but permit me a question." Her
sparkling eyes were fixed upon Valeria's composed features. "You are
beautiful and clever and proud--but tell me, do you love him? You are
able to leave him at such a moment. Do you love him with devouring,
irresistible ardour? do you love him with such a love as----"

"As yours?" Valeria pressed the lovely girl's glowing face to her
bosom, as if in protection. "No, my sweet sister! Do not be startled. I
guessed it long ago from his accounts of you. And I saw it at once in
your first look at him to-day. Do not be anxious; your secret is safe
with me. No one shall learn it. Do not weep, do not tremble, you sweet
child. I love you the better for the sake of your love. I quite
understand it. He is happy who, like you, can indulge his feelings at
such a moment. But an inimical God has bestowed upon me a mind that
ever looks forward, and so I see before us unknown pain and a long dark
path which ends not in light. But I cannot allow you to think your love
the more noble because it is hopeless. My hopes, too, are ashes!
Perhaps it would have been happier for him had he discovered the
scented rose of your love--for Valeria, I fear, will never be his! But
farewell, Miriam. They come. Remember our meeting! Remember me as a
sister, and take my warmest thanks. Thanks for your faithful love!"

Miriam had trembled like a child found out in a fault, and would have
gladly run out of Valeria's sight, who seemed to see through
everything. But these noble sentiments overcame her timidity, and tears
flowed plentifully over her glowing cheeks. Trembling with shame and
weeping, she leaned her head upon her new friend's breast. They heard
Julius coming to call Valeria. They were obliged to part.

Miriam cast a rapid glance at the face of the Roman lady; and then she
threw herself on the ground before her, embraced her knees, pressed a
burning kiss upon her cold hand, and disappeared into the next room.

Valeria rose as if from a dream, and looked about her. In a vase on the
window-sill stood a dark-red rose. Valeria kissed it, and put it into
the bosom of her dress, blessed, with the motion of her hand, the place
which had afforded her an asylum, and then followed Julius, who took
her in a closed litter to the harbour, where she had time to take a
short leave of Totila, before she went on board with Julius. Shortly
afterwards the ship set sail, and moved proudly out of the harbour.

Totila looked after it. He saw Valeria's white hand signing a farewell.
He looked and looked at the lessening sail, little heeding the
projectiles which now began to fall thicker into the harbour. He leaned
against a pillar, and, for a moment, forgot the burning town and
everything around him.

Thorismuth roused him from his reverie.

"Come, commodore!" he cried. "I have been seeking thee everywhere.
Uliaris wishes to speak to thee.--Come, why dost thou stand here,
gazing at the sea among all these whizzing arrows?"

Totila slowly raised himself.

"Seest thou," he said, "seest thou yonder ship? There they leave
me----"

"Who?" asked Thorismuth.

"My good-fortune and my youth," said Totila, and turned to seek
Uliaris.

Uliaris told him that, in order to gain time, he had proposed an
armistice of three hours, which Belisarius, who wished for a parley,
had accepted.

"I will never capitulate! But we must have time to repair and
strengthen our walls. Will reinforcements never come? Hast thou still
no news from the King by sea?"

"None."


"The devil! Above six hundred of my Goths have fallen under these
hellish projectiles. I cannot even fill the most important posts. If I
had but four hundred men more!"

"Well," said Totila, reflecting, "I think I can procure thee these. In
the Castellum Aurelium, on the road to Rome, lie four hundred and fifty
men. Until now they have declared that they received from King
Theodahad the unreasonable but strict order, on no account to aid in
defending Neapolis. But in this, great necessity--I will go myself,
during the armistice, and do all I can to bring them."

"Do not go! The truce will have ended before thy return, and then the
road will be no longer safe. Thou canst not get through."

"I will get through by force or by cunning. Only keep firm until I am
back. Up! Thorismuth, to horse!"

While Totila, with Thorismuth and a few horsemen, galloped out of the
Porta Capuana, old Isaac, who had remained bravely on the walls without
tiring, took advantage of the armistice to return to his house, see his
daughter, and refresh himself with meat and wine.

As Miriam was bringing these, and anxiously listening to Isaac's report
of the progress of the siege, a hasty and unsteady foot was heard upon
the steps, and Jochem appeared before the astonished pair.

"Son of Rachel, whence comest thou in an evil hour, like a raven before
misfortune? How couldst thou enter? By what door?"

"That is my affair. I come, Father Isaac, once more to demand thy
daughter's hand--for the last time in my life."

"Is this a time for wooing and wedding?" asked Isaac indignantly. "The
city burns, and the streets are full of corpses."

"Why does the city burn? Why are the streets full of corpses? Because
the people of Neapolis hold by the people of Edom. Yes, this _is_ the
time to woo. Give me thy child. Father Isaac, and I will save thee and
her. I alone can do so."

And he attempted to take Miriam's hand.

"Thou save _me_!" she cried, starting back in disgust. "Rather would I
die!"

"Ha, proud girl!" cried the angry wooer; "thou wouldst be saved by the
fair-haired Christian? Let us see if he can save thee--the cursed
fellow!--from Belisarius and me. Ha! I will drag him through the
streets by his long yellow hair, and spit in his pale face!"

"Get thee away, son of Rachel!" said Isaac, rising and taking up his
spear. "I see thou art a friend of those who lie outside--the horn
sounds the recall; I must go down. But this I tell thee: many amongst
you will fall back dead before they can climb over these rotten walls."

"Perhaps," growled Jochem, "we shall fly over them, like the birds of
the air. For the last time, Miriam, I ask thee: Wilt thou leave this
old man and the cursed Christian? I tell thee the ruins of these walls
will soon cover them. I know that thou hast taken the Goth to thy
heart; but that I will forgive thee if only thou wilt be my wife."

And again he tried to take her hand.

"Thou wilt forgive me my love? Forgive what stands as high above thee
as the sun above the creeping worm? Should I be worthy to look upon his
face if I could become thy wife? Away! begone!"

"Ha!" cried Jochem, "too much! too much! My wife! Never shalt thou be
my wife; but thou shalt struggle in my arms, and I will tear the
Christian out of thy bleeding heart as it withers in despair! Thou
shalt see me again!"

And he left the room, and soon disappeared from the precincts of the
city.

Miriam, oppressed by anxious thoughts, hurried into the open air. She
felt that she must pray; but not in the close synagogue. She would pray
for _him_, and she would pray to _his_ God. She shyly ventured into the
neighbouring Basilica of St. Maria, whence, in peaceful times, the
Jewess had often been driven with curses.

But now the Christians had no time to curse.

She crouched in a dark corner of the chancel, and soon forgot herself,
the city, and the world, in fervent prayer.

She was alone with _him_ and with God.

Meanwhile, the last hour of the armistice was drawing to a close. The
sun already declined to the surface of the sea.

The Goths repaired and filled up the breaches of the walls with all
diligence, carried away the rubbish and the dead, and extinguished the
fires.

For the third time the sands of the hour-glass ran out, while
Belisarius, in front of his tent and surrounded by his generals, was
awaiting the signal of capitulation from the Castle of Tiberius.

"I don't believe in it," whispered Johannes to Procopius. "He who gives
such blows as I have seen given by that old man will never surrender.
And it is better so; then there will be a famous storming, and
afterwards a famous plundering."

Earl Uliaris now appeared upon the ramparts of the castle, and hurled
his spear defiantly among the waiting sentries.

Belisarius sprang up.

"The fools desire their own destruction! Well, they shall be gratified.
Up, generals! to the attack! Whoever is the first to plant our standard
on the walls shall have a tenth part of the booty!"

The leaders hurried away on all sides, spurred by avarice and ambition.

Johannes was just turning the ruined arch of an aqueduct, which
Belisarius had destroyed in order to deprive the besieged of water,
when he heard a low voice calling his name.

It was already so dark that he with difficulty recognised the man who
had spoken.

"What do you want, Jew!" asked Johannes. "I have no time to lose. There
is hard work to be done. I must be the first into the city."

"That you shall be, and without hard work, if you will follow me."

"Follow you? Do you know a way through the air over the walls?"

"No; but through the earth _under_ the walls. And I will show it you if
you give me a thousand solidi, and promise me a certain girl as booty."

Johannes stood still.

"You shall have what you like! Where is this way?"

"Here!" said Jochem, and struck the masonry with his hand.

"What? The aqueduct? How do you know?"

"I built it. A man can creep through it; there is no more water in it.
I have just come this way out of the city. The passage leads into an
old temple at the Porta Capuana. Take thirty men and follow me!"

Johannes looked sharply at him.

"And if you deceive me?"

"I will walk between your drawn swords. If I lie, kill me."

"Wait," cried Johannes, and hurried away.



                              CHAPTER IV.

Shortly afterwards Johannes again appeared, accompanied by his brother
Perseus and about thirty brave Armenian mercenaries, who carried,
besides their swords, short battle-axes.

"As soon as we are inside, Perseus," said Johannes, "you must break open
the sally-port to the right of the Porta Capuana at the moment when the
others unfold our flag upon the walls. At this signal my Huns, who wait
outside, will rush into the sally-port. But who keeps the tower at the
gate? Him we must have."

"Isaac, a great friend of the Edomites. He must die!"

"He dies!" said Johannes, and drew his sword. "Forward!"

He was the first to enter the passage of the aqueduct.

"Paukares and Gubazes, take the Jew between you. At the first
suspicion, down with him!"

And so, now creeping on all fours, now stooping and cautiously feeling
their way, in complete obscurity, the Armenians slid and crept after
Johannes, taking care not to make any noise with their weapons.

All at once Johannes cried in a low voice:

"Hold the Jew! down with him! Enemies! Arms! No, no; let him alone!" he
added quickly. "It was only a snake that rustled past me. Forward!"

"Now to the right," said the Jew; "here the passage leads into the
temple."

"What lies here?--bones?--a skeleton! I can bear it no longer! The
mouldy smell suffocates me! Help!" sighed one of the men.

"Let him lie! Forward!" ordered Johannes. "I see a star!"

"It is the daylight in Neapolis," said Jochem; "only a few steps more."

Johannes's helmet struck against the roots of a tall olive-tree, which
spread over the mouth of the passage in the atrium of the temple. We
know this tree. As he avoided the roots, Johannes struck his helmet
with a loud jingle against the side wall; he stopped short in alarm.
But he only heard the rapid flutter of the wings of numerous pigeons
which flew startled out of the branches of the olive-tree.

"What was that?" said a hoarse voice above him. "How the wind howls in
the old ruins!"

It was the widow Arria.

"O God!" she cried, kneeling before the cross, "deliver us from evil!
Let not the city fall until my Jucundus returns! Alas! if he does not
find his mother! Oh, let him again come the way he went that unhappy
day, when he descended into the secret labyrinth to seek the hidden
treasure! Show him to me as I saw him last night in my dream, rising up
from below the roots of the tree!"

And she turned to look at the hole.

"O dark passage! into which my happiness disappeared, give it up to me
again! God! by this way lead him back to me."

She stood exactly before the opening with folded hands, her eyes
piously raised to heaven.

Johannes hesitated as he issued from the hole and perceived her.

"She prays," he murmured. "Shall I kill her whilst praying!"


He waited; he hoped that she would turn away.

"It lasts too long! God knows I cannot help it!"

And he got quickly out from among the roots.

The old woman now raised her half-blind eyes; she saw a glittering form
rise from the earth. A ray of ecstasy flashed across her features. She
spread out her arms.

"Jucundus!" she cried.

It was her last breath.

The sword of the Byzantine had pierced her heart.

Without a cry, a smile upon her lips, she sank down amid the flowers;
Miriam's flowers.

Johannes turned and quickly helped up his brother Perseus, and then the
Jew and the first three soldiers.

"Where is the sally-port?"

"Here to the left. I will go and open it!"

Perseus directed the soldiers.

"Where are the steps to the tower?"

"Here on the right," answered Jochem--it was the staircase which led to
Miriam's chamber--how often had Totila slipped in there! "Be quiet! I
hear the old man."

It was really Isaac.

He had heard the noise from above; he came to the top of the steps with
his torch and spear.

"Who is it down there? is it thou, Miriam? who comes?" he asked.

"I, Father Isaac," answered Jochem; "I wished once more to ask----" and
he stealthily went up another step.

But Isaac heard the rattle of arms.

"Who is with thee!" he asked, advancing and holding out his torch. He
now saw the armed men crouching behind Jochem.

"Treachery! treachery!" he screamed; "die, thou blot upon the Hebrews!"
and he furiously struck his broad partisan into Jochem's heart, who
could not retreat.

Jochem fell dead among the soldiers.

"Treachery!" again cried Isaac.

But the next moment Johannes struck him down, sprang over his corpse,
hurried to the ramparts, and unfolded the flag of Byzantium.

Below the axes were busy; the sally-port fell, beaten down from within,
and with shrill cries--it was already quite dark--the Huns rushed by
thousands into the city.

All was over.

A portion filled the streets with carnage; one troop broke open the
nearest gates, letting in their comrades from outside.

Old Uliaris, with his little troop, hurried from the castle; he hoped
to drive the intruders out; in vain; a spear was hurled which felled
him to the ground.

And round his corpse fell, fighting bravely, the two hundred faithful
Goths who yet surrounded him.

Then, when they saw the imperial banner waving on the walls, the
citizens of Neapolis arose. Led by old friends to the Romans, such as
Stephanus and Antiochus the Syrian--Castor, a zealous friend of the
Goths, had lost his life in attempting to hold them back--they disarmed
the single Goths in the streets, and sent an embassy with thanks,
congratulations, and petitions for mercy on the city to Belisarius,
who, surrounded by his brilliant staff, now rode into the Porta
Capuana.

But he bent his majestic brow gloomily, and, without checking his
charger, answered:

"Neapolis has checked my progress for fifteen days, else I had already
been before Rome, even before Ravenna. How much do you think this delay
has robbed the Emperor of his right, and me of fame? For fifteen days
your cowardice and ill-will has caused you to be governed by a handful
of barbarians. The punishment for these fifteen days shall be only
fifteen hours of--pillage. Without murder; the inhabitants are the
Emperor's prisoners of war; without fire, for the city is a fortress of
Byzantium. Where is the leader of the Goths? Dead?"

"Yes," answered Johannes, "here is his sword. Earl Ularis fell."

"I do not mean him!" said Belisarius; "I mean the young one; Totila.
What has become of him? I must have him."

"Sir," said one of the Neapolitans, a rich merchant named Asklepiodot,
"if you will exempt my house and magazines from pillage, I will tell
you where he is."

But Belisarius made a sign, and two Moorish lancers took hold of the
trembling man.

"Rebel, do you make conditions to me? Speak! or torture shall unloose
your tongue!"

"Have pity! mercy!" cried the man. "During the armistice, Totila went
out with a few horsemen to fetch reinforcements from the Castle of
Aurelian. They may return at any moment."

"Johannes," cried Belisarius, "that man is worth all Neapolis. We must
take him! Have you, as I ordered, blocked the way to Rome, and manned
the gate?"

"In that direction no one can have left the city," said Johannes.

"Away! At once! We must entice him in! Let the Gothic banner fly from
the Castle of Tiberius and from the Porta Capuana. Send armed
Neapolitans upon the walls; he who warns Totila, even were it only with
a wink of his eye, dies! Arm my bodyguard with Gothic weapons. I will
be there myself. Place three hundred men in the neighbourhood of the
gate. Let Totila quietly in. As soon as he has passed the portcullis,
let it fall. I will have him alive. He shall not be wanting at the
triumph in Byzantium!"

"Give me the office, general," begged Johannes; "I owe him a return for
an ill stroke."

And he rushed back to the Porta Capuana, ordered the corpses and all
trace of combat to be removed, and took his further measures.

As the men were busy obeying his orders, a veiled figure forced its way
among them.

"For the good God's sake," begged a sweet voice, "let me get to him! I
will only see his body--oh, take care! Oh, my father! my father!"

It was Miriam, who had hastened home terrified by the noise made by the
plundering Huns. With the strength of despair she pushed back the
spears and took Isaac's grey head into her arms.

"Get away, girl!" said the soldier next to her, a very tall Bajuvar, a
mercenary of Byzantium; his name was Garizo. "Do not hinder us! we must
make the way clear. Into the grave with the Jew!"

"No, no!" cried Miriam, and pushed the man back.

"Woman!" he cried angrily, and lifted his axe.

But, spreading her arms protectingly over her father's body, and with
sparkling eyes, the girl fearlessly stood her ground. The soldier
suddenly fell back as if paralysed.

"Thou hast a bold heart, girl!" he cried, dropping his axe, "and thou
art as beautiful as the wood-nymph of the Liusacha! What can I do for
thee? Thou art wonderful to look at."

"If the God of my fathers has touched thy heart," said Miriam in her
pathetic voice, "help me to hide the body in the garden there--he has
long since dug his own grave near Sarah, my mother--with his face to
the east."

"It shall be done," said the Bajuvar, and obeyed her.

She carried the head, he the knees of the corpse. A few steps took them
into the little garden; there, under a weeping-willow, lay a stone; the
man pushed it away, and they laid the corpse in the grave, with its
face to the east.

Miriam looked into the grave without a word, without a tear; she felt
so forsaken, so lonely. The Bajuvar softly pushed the stone back into
its place, filled with compassion.

"Come!" he said.

"Whither?" asked Miriam in a low voice.

"Well, whither wilt thou go?"

"I do not know. I thank thee," she said, and took an amulet from her
neck and gave it to him. It was made of gold, a coin from the Jordan,
from the Temple.

"No!" said the man, and shook his head.

He took her hand, and pressed it to his eyes.

"So," he said, "that will do me good all my life long. Now I must go;
we must catch the Earl Totila. Farewell."

That name went to Miriam's heart. She cast one more look at the quiet
grave, and then slipped quickly out of the garden.

She wished to go through the gate on to the highroad, but the
portcullis was down, and at the gate stood men with Gothic helmets and
shields. She looked about her in surprise.

"Is all ready, Chanaranzes?" said a voice.

"All; he is as good as taken!"

"Hark! before the walls! horses trampling! It is they! Back, woman!"

Outside, a few horsemen were seen trotting towards the gate.

"Open, open the gate!" cried Totila from a distance.

Thorismuth rode up to him.

"I don't know how it is, I have no confidence," he cried. "The road
was so quiet, and so was the enemy's camp out there; scarcely a few
watch-fires were burning."

From the ramparts came a flourish of the Gothic horn.

"How horribly the fellow blows!" cried Thorismuth angrily.

"It must be an Italian," said Totila.

"Give the watch-word," was called from the walls in Latin.

"Neapolis!" cried Totila. "Dost thou hear? Uliaris has been obliged to
arm the citizens. Open the gate! I bring good news," he called to the
men above. "Four hundred Goths follow at my heels, and Italy has a new
king."

"Which is he!" asked some one inside, in a low voice.

"He on the white horse, the first one."

The gate was flung wide open; Gothic helmets filled the entrance;
torches shone; voices whispered.

"Up with the portcullis!" cried Totila, riding up. Thorismuth looked
anxiously before him, shading his eyes with his hand.

"They assembled yesterday at Regeta," Totila began again. "Theodahad is
deposed, and Earl Witichis----"

The portcullis was slowly raised, and Totila was just about to give his
horse the spur, when a woman rushed from the row of soldiers, and cast
herself before the animal's hoofs.

"Fly!" she cried. "The enemy is before you! the city is taken!"

But she could not finish; a lance penetrated her heart.

"Miriam!" cried Totila, horrified, and checked his horse.

But Thorismuth, who was close behind, and who had long been suspicious,
now reached his arm past the grating, and separated the rope which held
the portcullis up with his sword, so that the portcullis fell with a
loud crash just in front of Totila.

A hail of spears and arrows flew through the portcullis.

"Up with the portcullis!" cried Johannes from within. "Out! Upon them!"

But Totila did not move.

"Miriam! Miriam!" he cried in great grief.

Once more she opened her eyes, with a dying look of love and pain. That
look told everything; it pierced Totila's heart.

"For thee!" she sighed, and fell back.

He forgot Neapolis, danger, and death.

"Miriam!" he cried again, and stretched out both his hands.

An arrow touched his horse's flank; the noble animal reared. The
portcullis began to rise. Thorismuth caught Totila's bridle, wrenched
his horse round, and gave it such a stroke with the flat of his sword,
that it galloped away like the wind.

"Up and away, sir!" he cried, rushing after Totila. "They must be
speedy who would overtake us!"

And the riders flew back on the Via Capuana, the way that they had
come. Not far behind followed Johannes, ignorant of the way, and
confused by the darkness of the night.

Totila's party presently met with the garrison of the Castle of
Aurelian, which was marching towards Neapolis.

They all halted together upon a hill, whence they could see the city
and the ramparts, partially illuminated by the Byzantine watch-fires on
the walls.

Only then did Totila recover from his grief and consternation.

"Farewell, Miriam!" he sighed. "Farewell, Uliaris! Neapolis, I shall
see thee again!"

And he gave orders to march forward to Rome.

But from this hour a shadow fell upon the soul of the young Goth.
Miriam, with the holy right of suffering, had buried herself in his
heart for ever.

When Johannes returned from his fruitless pursuit, and sprang from his
horse, he cried in a furious voice: "Where is the girl who warned him?
Throw her to the dogs!" And he hurried away to Belisarius, to report
the mishap.

But no one could tell how the lovely corpse had disappeared. The horses
had trampled it beyond recognition, thought the crowd.

But _one_ knew better--Garizo, the Bajuvar.

He had borne her away from the tumult in his strong arms like a
sleeping child; had carried her into the little garden, had lifted the
stone from the scarcely-covered grave, and had laid the daughter
carefully by her father's side.

Then he stood still and contemplated her features. In the distance
sounded the tumult from the plundered town, in which the Huns of
Belisarius, in spite of his command, burned and murdered, and did not
even spare the churches, until the general himself, rushing amongst
them with his drawn sword, put a stop to the cruel work of destruction.

Such a noble expression lay upon Miriam's dead face, that Garizo did
not dare to kiss it, as he so much longed to do. So he placed her with
her face to the east, gathered a rose which was blooming near the
grave, and laid it upon her breast.

He wished to take part in the pillage, but he could not leave the
place; he turned back again. And all the night long, leaning on his
sword, he kept watch over the grave of the beauteous girl.

He looked up at the stars and repeated an ancient blessing on the dead,
which his mother had taught him in his home on the Liusacha. But that
did not satisfy him; he added a Christian paternoster.

And when the sun rose, he carefully placed the stone over the grave and
went away.

Thus Miriam had disappeared without leaving a trace behind.

But in Neapolis the people, who in secret were faithful to Totila, told
how his guardian angel had descended to save him, and had then
reascended to heaven.



                               CHAPTER V.

The fall of Neapolis had occurred a few days after the meeting at
Regeta, and Totila, on his march thither, met at Formiæ with his
brother Hildebad, whom King Witichis had at once sent off with a few
thousands to strengthen the garrison at Neapolis, until he himself
could follow with a larger force.

As things stood at present, the brothers could do nothing but fall back
upon the main army at Regeta, where Totila reported the sad events of
the last few days in Neapolis.

The loss of the third city of the realm--one of the main bulwarks of
Italy--changed the whole plan of the Gothic campaign.

Witichis had reviewed the troops assembled at Regeta; they amounted to
about twenty thousand men. These, with the little troop brought back by
Earl Teja on his own account, were, for the moment, the whole available
force. Before the strong divisions which Theodahad had sent away to
southern Gaul and Noricum, to Istria and Dalmatia--although they had
been summoned in all haste--could return, all Italy might be lost.

Notwithstanding, the King had resolved to throw himself, with these
twenty thousand, into the fortress of Neapolis, and there oppose the
superior forces of the enemy, until reinforcements should arrive.

But now that the strong city had fallen into Belisarius's hand,
Witichis gave up this plan. His composed courage was as far from
foolhardiness as from timidity. And the King was obliged to force
himself to a far more painful resolve.

While, during the days following Totila's arrival in the camp before
Rome, the grief and anger of the Goths sought relief in cursing the
traitor Theodahad, Belisarius, and the Italians; while the bold youth
here and there began to grumble at the King's delay, who would not lead
them against these degenerate Greeks, four of whom it took to stand
against one Goth; while the impatience of the army already began to
rebel against inactivity, the King acknowledged to himself, with a
heavy heart, that it was necessary to retreat still farther, and even
give up Rome.

Day by day news came of the increase of the army of Belisarius. At
Neapolis alone he had gained ten thousand men--at once hostages and
comrades. From all sides the Italians joined his flag; from Neapolis to
Rome, no place was strong enough to oppose such a force, and the
smaller towns on the coast opened their gates to the enemy with
rejoicing.

The Gothic families dwelling in those parts fled to the camp of the
King, and told how, the very day after the fall of Neapolis, Cumæ and
Atilla had succumbed; then followed Capua, Cajeta, and even the
fortified Benevento.

The vanguard of Belisarius--Huns, Saracens, and Moorish horsemen--was
already stationed before Formiæ.

The Goths expected and desired a battle before the gates of Rome. But
Witichis had long since seen the impossibility, with an army of only
twenty thousand men, of encountering Belisarius, who, by that time,
would be able to muster a hundred thousand in the open field.

For a time he entertained the idea of being able to hold the mighty
fortifications of Rome--Cethegus's proud work--against the Byzantine
incursion; but he was soon obliged to renounce even this hope.

The population of Rome now counted--thanks to the Prefect--more armed
and practised men than they had possessed for many a century, and the
King daily convinced himself of the spirit which animated them.

Even now the Romans could scarcely restrain their hatred of the
barbarians; it was not only evinced by unfriendly and mocking gestures;
already the Goths dared not venture into the streets except in
well-armed numbers, and every day single Gothic sentries were found
dead, stabbed from behind.

Witichis could not conceal from himself that the different elements of
the popular feeling were organised and guided by cunning and powerful
leaders: the heads of the Roman aristocracy and the Roman clergy. He
was obliged to confess that, so soon as Belisarius should appear before
the walls, the Roman population would rise, and, together with the
besiegers, would overcome the weak Gothic garrison.

So Witichis had unwillingly resolved to give up Rome and all central
Italy; to throw himself into the strong and faithful city of Ravenna;
there to complete the very incomplete armament of the troops, to unite
all the Gothic forces, and then to seek the enemy with an equally
powerful army.

This resolution was a great sacrifice. For Witichis had his full share
of the Germanic love of fight, and it was a hard blow to his pride to
retreat and seek for means of defence, instead of striking at once.

But there was still more.

It was inglorious for a king who had been raised to the throne of the
cowardly Theodahad because of his known courage, to begin his rule with
a shameful retreat. He had lost Neapolis during the first days of his
reign; should he now voluntarily give up Rome, the city of splendours?
Should he give up more than the half of Italy? And if he thus
controlled his pride for the sake of his people--what would that people
think of him?

These Goths, with their impetuosity, their contempt of the enemy! Could
he be sure of enforcing their obedience?

For the office of a Germanic king was more to advise and propose, than
to order and compel. Already many a ruler of this people had been
forced against his will to engage in war and suffer defeat. He feared a
similar thing.

With a heavy heart, he one night paced to and fro his tent in the camp
at Regeta.

All at once hasty steps drew near, and the curtain of the tent was
pulled open.

"Up! King of the Goths!" cried a passionate voice. "It is no time now
to sleep!"

"I do not sleep, Teja," said Witichis; "since when art thou returned?
What bringest thou?"

"I have just entered the camp; the dews of night are still upon me.
First know that they are dead!"

"Who?

"The traitor and the murderess!"

"What! hast thou killed them both?"

"I kill no woman. I followed Theodahad, the traitor-king, for two days
and two nights. He was on the way to Ravenna; he had a fair start. But
my hatred was swifter than his cowardice. I overtook him near Narnia;
twelve slaves accompanied his litter. They had no desire to die for the
miserable man; they threw away their torches and fled. I tore him out
of his litter, and put my own sword into his hand. But he fell upon his
knees, begged for his life, and, at the same moment, aimed a
treacherous stroke at me. Then I slew him like an ox at the altar; with
three strokes--one for the realm, two for my parents. And I hung him up
by his belt to a withered yew-tree on the high-road, a prey to the
birds of the air, and a warning to the kings of the earth."

"And what became of her?"

"Her end was terrible," said Teja, shuddering. "When I first passed
through Rome, nothing was known of her but that she had refused to
follow the coward-king. He fled alone. Gothelindis called her
Cappadocian mercenaries together, and promised them heaps of gold, if
they would keep by her, go with her to Dalmatia, and occupy the
fortress of Salona. The men hesitated and wished to see the gold. Then
Gothelindis promised to bring it, and left them. Since then she had
disappeared. When I passed through Rome the second time, she had been
found----"

"Well?"

"She had ventured into the Catacombs alone, without a guide, to fetch
the treasure which had been hidden there. She must have lost herself in
the labyrinth; she could not find the way out. Mercenaries who were
sent to seek her, found her still alive; her torch was not burnt down,
but was almost entire; it must have gone out soon after she had entered
the Catacombs. Madness shone from her eyes; fear of death and a long
despair had overcome this bad woman; she died as soon as she was
brought to the light."

"Horrible!" cried Witichis.

"A just punishment!" said Teja. "But listen!"

Before he could continue, Totila, Hildebad, Hildebrand, and several
other Goths rushed into the tent.

"Does he know!" asked Totila.

"Not yet," said Teja.

"Rebellion!" cried Hildebad, "rebellion! Up, King Witichis! Defend thy
crown! Off with the boy's head!"

"What has happened?" asked Witichis quietly.

"Earl Arahad of Asta, the vain fool! has rebelled. Immediately after
you had been chosen King, he rode off to Florentia, where his elder
brother, Guntharis, the proud Duke of Tuscany, lives and rules. There
the Wölfungs have found many adherents. Arahad called upon the Goths
everywhere to protect the 'Royal Lily,' as they call her, Mataswintha,
the true heir to the throne! They have proclaimed her Queen. She was in
Florentia at the time, and therefore fell at once into their hands. It
is not known if she be the prisoner of Guntharis or the wife of Arahad.
It is only known that they have enlisted Avarian and Gepidian
mercenaries, and armed all the adherents of the Amelungs and their kith
and kindred, together with the numerous adherents of the Wölfungs. Thee
they call the 'Peasant-King;' they intend to take Ravenna!"

"Oh, send me to Florentia, with only three thousand," cried Hildebad
angrily; "I will bring you this Queen of the Goths, together with her
aristocratic lover, imprisoned in a bird-cage!"

But the others looked anxious.

"Things look bad," said Hildebrand. "Belisarius with his hundred
thousands before us--at our backs the wily Rome--our main forces still
fifty miles off--and now civil war and rebellion in the heart of the
nation!"

But Witichis was as quiet and composed as ever.

"It is perhaps better so," he said. "We have now no choice. We _must_
retreat."

"Retreat!" asked Hildebad angrily.

"Yes; we dare not leave an enemy at our backs. To-morrow we break up
the camp and go----"

"Forward to Neapolis!" asked Hildebad.

"No. Back to Rome. And farther! To Florentia, to Ravenna! The spark of
rebellion must be trampled out ere it burst into a flame."

"What? Thou wilt retreat before Belisarius?"

"Yes, to advance all the more irresistibly, Hildebad. The string of the
bow is also stretched backward to hurl the deadly arrow with the
greater force."

"Never," cried Hildebad; "thou canst not--thou darest not do that!"

But Witichis stepped quietly up to him and laid his hand upon his
shoulder.

"I am thy King. Thou thyself hast chosen me. Loud above all the others
sounded _thy_ cry: 'Hail, King Witichis!' Thou knowest--God knows--that
I did not stretch forth my hand for the crown. You yourselves have
pressed it upon my brow. Take it off, if you can entrust it to me no
longer. But as long as I wear it, trust me and obey. Otherwise you and
I are lost!"

"Thou art right," said sturdy Hildebad, and bent his head. "Forgive me;
I will make it good in the next fight."

"Up, my generals," concluded Witichis, putting on his helmet. "Thou,
Totila, wilt hasten to the Frank Kings in Gaul, on an important
embassy. You others hasten to your troops; break up the camp; at
sunrise we march to Rome."



                              CHAPTER VI.

A few days later, on the eve of the entry of the Goths into Rome, we
find the young "knights," Lucius and Marcus Licinius, Piso the poet,
Balbus the corpulent, and Julianus the young advocate, assembled in
confidential talk at the Prefect's house.

"So this is the list of the blind partisans of the future Pope
Silverius--of my envious enemies? Is it complete?"

"It is. I have made a great sacrifice for you, general," cried Lucius
Licinius, "If, as my heart impelled me, I had at once joined
Belisarius, I should have already shared in the taking of Neapolis,
instead of watching here the stealthy footsteps of the priests, and
teaching the plebeians to march and man[oe]uvre."

"They will never learn it again," observed Marcus.

"Be patient," said Cethegus quietly, and without looking up from a roll
of papyrus which he held in his hand. "You will be able, soon enough
and long enough, to wrestle with these Gothic bears. Do not forget that
fighting is only a means, and not an end."

"I don't know that," said Lucius doubtfully.

"Freedom is our aim, and freedom demands power," said Cethegus.
"We must first again accustom these Romans to shield and sword, or
else----"

He was interrupted by the entrance of the ostiarius, who announced a
Gothic warrior.

The young Romans exchanged indignant looks.

"Let him in," said Cethegus, putting his writings into a casket.

There entered hastily a young man, clad in the brown mantle of the
Gothic soldier, a Gothic helmet on his head, who threw himself on the
Prefect's neck.

"Julius!" exclaimed Cethegus, coldly repulsing him. "Do we meet again
thus? Have you, then, become a complete barbarian? How did you come to
Rome?"

"My father, I accompanied Valeria, under Gothic protection. I come from
smouldering Neapolis."

"Aha!" cried Cethegus. "Have you fought with your blond friend against
Italy? That becomes a Roman well! Does it not, Lucius?"

"I have neither fought nor will fight in this unhappy war. Woe to those
who have kindled it!"

Cethegus measured him with cold looks.

"It is beneath my dignity, and beyond my patience, to represent to a
Roman the infamy of such sentiments. Alas! that my Julius should be
such a renegade! Shame upon you, before these your compatriots! Look,
Roman knights, here is a Roman without love of freedom, without anger
against the barbarians!"

But Julius quietly shook his head.

"You have not yet seen the Huns and Massagetæ of Belisarius, who are to
bring you freedom. Where, then, are the Romans of whom you speak? Has
Italy risen to throw off her fetters? Can she still rise? Justinian
fights with the Goths, not we. Woe to the people which is liberated by
a tyrant!"

In secret Cethegus confessed that Julius was right; but he would not
suffer such words to be spoken before his friends.

"I must dispute with this philosopher in private," he said. "Let me
know if anything occur among the priesthood."

And the tribunes went, casting contemptuous looks at Julius.

"I should not like to hear what my friends say of you," said Cethegus,
looking after them.

"It is quite indifferent to me. I listen to my own thoughts, and not to
those of others," responded Julius.

"He has become a man!" said Cethegus to himself.

"My deepest and best feelings have brought me here," continued Julius.
"I feel that this war is accursed. I come to save you, and take you
from this sultry air, from this world of deceit and lies. I beseech
you, my friend, my father, follow me to Gaul!"

"_I_ leave Italy at the moment of the liberators' approach! You must
know that it was I who called them; _I_ kindled this war, which you
call accursed!"

"I feared it," said Julius sadly. "But who will deliver us from our
deliverers? Who will end the struggle?"

"I!" said Cethegus, with quiet majesty. "And you, my son, shall help
me. Yes, Julius, your fatherly friend, whom you think so cold and
indifferent, can also be enthusiastic, though not for girls' eyes and
Gothic friendships. Leave these boys' pastimes; you are now a man.
Give me the last joy of my desolate life, and be the sharer of my
battles and the inheritor of my victories! It is for Rome, freedom,
power! Boy, can my words not move you? Imagine," he continued, more
warmly--"imagine these Goths, these Byzantines--I hate them as heartily
as you do--exhausted by each other and overcome. On the ruins of their
power Italy--Rome--will rise in all its ancient splendour! Again the
ruler of the East and West will sit enthroned upon the Capitoline Hill.
A new Roman Emperor, prouder than ever your Cæsar-forefather dreamed
of, will extend order, blessing, and awe over all the earth----"

"And the ruler of this Empire will be called--Cethegus Cæsarius!"

"Yes; and after him, Julius Montanus! Up, Julius! you are no man if
this goal does not tempt you!"

"I am dizzy," said Julius admiringly. "The goal is high as the stars;
but your ways--are crooked. Ah! if they were straight, by God! I would
share your steps! Yes; call the Roman youth to arms; cry to both the
barbarian forces, 'Out of our holy Latium!' make open war against the
barbarians and against the tyrants, and I will stand or fall at your
side."

"You know well that this is impossible."

"And, therefore--it is your aim!"

"Fool! do you not see that it is common to form a structure from good
material, but that it is divine by one's own strength to create a new
world out of nothing?"

"Divine? By cunning and lies? No!"

"Julius!"

"Let me speak plainly; for that purpose am I come. Oh that I could call
you back from the demoniac path, which will only lead you to
destruction! You know that I ever loved and honoured you. But what I
hear whispered of you by Greeks, Goths, and Romans, is not in tune with
this reverence."

"What do they whisper?" asked Cethegus proudly.

"I do not like to think of it. But everything terrible that has
happened lately--the death of Athalaric, Camilla, and Amalaswintha, the
landing of the Byzantines--is named as the work of a demon, who is the
author of all evil; and this demon--is you! Tell me, simply and truly,
that you are free from this dark----"

"Boy," exclaimed Cethegus, "are you my confessor, and would call me to
account? First learn to understand the aim before you blame the means.
Do you think that history is built of roses and lilies? Who wills what
is great must do great things, whether the small call it good or bad."

"No, no, I repeat. Cursed be the aim which only leads to crime! Here
our paths divide."

"Julius, do not go. You despise what was never before offered to mortal
man. Let me have a son, for whom I can strive, to whom I can bequeath
the inheritance of my life."

"Curses and blood stick to it! And even if I could enter at once
upon this inheritance, I should reject it. I will go, so that I may not
see your image grow still darker. But I beg one thing: when the day
comes--and it will come--when you are weary of all this bloodshed and
crime, and of the aim itself which necessitated such deeds, then call
me. I will come to you, wherever I may be, and I will wrest you from
the demoniac power which enthralls you, were it at the price of my own
life."

At first a smile of mockery passed across the Prefect's lips, but he
thought, "He still loves me. 'Tis good; I will call him when the work
is finished. Let us see if he can then resist--if he will refuse the
Empire of the world."

"Well," he said aloud, "I will call you when I need you. Farewell."

And, with a cold gesture, he dismissed the youth, who was overcome with
emotion.

But as the door closed behind Julius, the Prefect took a small medal of
embossed bronze from a box, and contemplated it for some time.

He was about to kiss it.

But suddenly the sarcastic expression again passed across his lips.

"Shame on thee, Cethegus!" he exclaimed, "before Cæsar's face!"

And he put the medal back into the box.

It was the head of a woman, and very like Julius.



                              CHAPTER VII.

Meanwhile it had become quite dark. The slave brought the pretty bronze
lamp of Corinthian workmanship--an eagle, which carried the ball of the
sun in its beak, filled with scented Persian oil.

"A Gothic warrior waits outside, sir; he wishes to speak with you
alone. He looks very insignificant. Shall he lay down his arms?"

"No," answered Cethegus. "We do not fear the barbarians. Let him in."

The slave went, and Cethegus laid his right hand upon the dagger in the
bosom of his tunic.

A stately Goth entered, the cowl of his brown mantle drawn over his
head. He now threw it back.

Cethegus started forward in astonishment.

"What leads the King of the Goths to me?"

"Softly!" said Witichis. "No one need know what we two transact. You
know that yesterday and to-day my army has entered Rome from Regeta.
You do not know that we leave Rome to-morrow!"

Cethegus looked amazed.

"It surprises you?"

"The city is secure," said Cethegus quietly.

"Yes; but not the fidelity of the Romans. Benevento has already gone
over to Belisarius. I have no wish to allow myself to be crushed
between Belisarius and you."

Cethegus was prudently silent; he did not know to what this would lead.
At last he asked:

"Wherefore are you come. King of the Goths?"

"Not to ask you how far the Romans may be trusted; and also not to
complain that we can trust you so little--you, whom Theodoric and his
daughter overwhelmed with benefits--but honestly and simply to arrange
a few things with you, for our mutual well-being."

Cethegus was surprised. In the proud frankness of this man lay
something which he envied. He would gladly have despised it.

"We shall leave Rome," continued Witichis, "and shortly afterwards the
Romans will admit Belisarius. It is sure to be so; I cannot hinder it.
I have been advised to take the heads of the aristocracy as hostages."

Cethegus started, and with difficulty hid the movement.

"You before all, the Princeps Senatus."

"Me?" said Cethegus, smiling.

"I shall leave you here. I know well that you are the soul of Rome."

Cethegus cast down his eyes, "I accept the oracle," he thought.

"But for that very reason I leave you here," Witichis continued.
"Hundreds who call themselves Romans would like the Byzantines for
masters. You--you would not have it."

Cethegus looked inquiringly at him.

"Do not deceive me. Do not try to deceive me. I am no man of craft or
cunning! but my eye penetrates men's natures. You are too proud to
serve Justinian, and I know that you hate us. But neither do you love
these Greeks, and you will suffer them no longer than is necessary.
Therefore I leave you here; I know you love this city."

There was something about this man which compelled Cethegus to
admiration.

"King of the Goths," he said, "you speak plainly and nobly, like a
king. I thank you. It shall not be said of Cethegus that he does not
understand magnanimous words. It is as you say. I shall keep my Rome
Roman with all my might."

"Good!" said Witichis. "See, I have been warned against your wiles; I
know much of your secret plans; I guess still more; and I know that I
have no weapon against deceit. But you are no liar. I knew that a manly
word would touch you; and trust disarms every enemy who is worthy of
being called a man."

"You honour me. King of the Goths. That I may deserve your trust, let
me warn you. Do you know who are the warmest friends of Belisarius?"

"I know it: Silverius and the priests."

"Right! And do you know that, as soon as the old Pope, Agapetus, is
dead, Silverius will ascend the Bishop's Chair?"

"So I hear. I was advised to take him as a hostage too. I shall not do
so. The Italians hate us enough already. I will not meddle with the
wasps' nest of the priests. I fear martyrs."

But Cethegus would gladly have been rid of the priest, "He will be
dangerous in the Chair of Peter," he said warningly.

"Let him alone! The possession of this country will not be decided by
the schemes of the priesthood."

"Well," said Cethegus, taking the roll of papyrus, "I have here,
accidentally, the names of his warmest friends; there are men of
importance amongst them."

He would have pressed the list upon Witichis, hoping that then the
Goths would take his most dangerous enemies away with them.

But Witichis refused the list.

"'Tis no matter! I shall take no hostages at all. Of what use is it to
take off their heads? _You_, shall answer to me for Rome."

"What do you mean by that? I cannot keep Belisarius away."

"You shall not. Belisarius is sure to come, but, rely upon it, he will
go away again. We Goths will overcome this enemy; perhaps only after a
hard fight, but most certainly. And then there will be a second fight
for Rome!"

"A second?" asked Cethegus quietly. "With whom?"

Witichis laid his hand upon the Prefect's shoulder, and looked into his
face with eyes as clear as sunshine.

"With you, Prefect of Rome!"

"With me?" and Cethegus tried to smile, but could not.

"Do not deny what is dearest to you, man. It is not worthy of you. I
know for whom you have built the gates and ramparts round this city;
not for us and not for the Greeks! for yourself! Be quiet! I know you
meditate, or I guess it. Not a word! Be it so. Shall Greek and Goth
struggle for Rome, and no Roman? But listen: let not a second wearing
war carry off our people. When we have overcome the Byzantines and
driven them out of our Italy--then, Cethegus, I will expect you before
the walls of Rome. Not for a battle between our people, but for single
combat. Man against man, you and I will lose or win Rome."

In the King's look and tone lay such dignity, magnanimity, and
sublimity, that the Prefect was confused.

In secret he would have mocked at the simplicity of the barbarian, but
it seemed to him as if he could never more respect himself, if he were
incapable of esteeming, honouring, and responding to such greatness.

So he spoke without sarcasm.

"You dream, Witichis, like a Gothic boy."

"No, I think and act like a Gothic man. Cethegus, you are the only
Roman whom I would honour thus. I have seen you fight in the wars with
the Gepidæ. You are worthy of my sword. You are older than I; well, I
will give you the advantage of the shield!"

"You Germans are very singular," said Cethegus involuntarily. "What
fancies!"

But now Witichis frowned.

"Fancies! Woe to you, if you are not able to feel what speaks in me.
Woe to you, if Teja be right! He laughed at my plan and said, 'The
Roman will not understand that!' And _he_ advised me to take you with
me a prisoner. I thought more highly of you and Rome. But know: Teja
has surrounded your house; and are you so mean or so cowardly as not to
comprehend me, we shall take you from your Rome in chains. Shame upon
you, that you must be forced to do what is honourable!"

But now it was Cethegus's turn to get angry.

He felt abashed. The chivalry of Witichis was strange to him, and it
vexed him that he could not mock at it. It vexed him to be compelled;
that his free choice had been mistrusted. A furious hatred in return
for Teja's contempt, and anger at the King's brutal frankness, flamed
up in his soul. He would gladly have thrust his dagger into the Goth's
broad breast.

He had been almost on the point of giving his word in good earnest from
a soldierly feeling of honour.

But now a very different, hateful feeling of malignant joy flashed
across his mind. The barbarians had mistrusted him, they had despised
him; now they should certainly be deceived!

Coming forward with a keen look, he grasped the King's hand.

"Be it so!" he said.

"Be it so!" repeated Witichis, giving his hand a strong pressure. "I am
glad that I was right and not Teja. Farewell! Guard our Rome! From you
I will demand her again in honourable combat."

And he left the house.

"Well!" said Teja, who waited outside with the other Goths. "Shall I
storm the house?"

"No," said Witichis; "he has given his word."

"If he will only keep it!"

Witichis started back in indignation.

"Teja! thy gloomy mind renders thee too unjust! Thou hast no right to
doubt a hero's honour. Cethegus is a hero!"

"He is a Roman! Good-night!" said Teja, sheathing his sword. And he
turned another way with his Goths.

But Cethegus tossed all night upon his couch. He was at variance with
himself.

He was vexed with Julius.

He was bitterly vexed with Witichis, more bitterly still with Teja.

But most with himself.


The next day Witichis once again assembled people. Senate, and the
clergy of the city, at the Thermæ of Titus. From the highest step of
the marble staircase of the handsome building, which was filled with
the leaders of the army, the King made a simple speech to the Romans.

He declared that he must leave the city for a short time, but that he
would soon return. He reminded them of the mildness of the Gothic
government, of the benefits of Theodoric and Amalaswintha, and called
upon them courageously to oppose Belisarius, in case of his advance,
until the Goths returned to reinforce them. The newly-drilled
legionaries and the strong fortifications made a long resistance
possible.

Finally he demanded the oath of allegiance, and asked them once more to
defend their city to the death against Belisarius. The Romans
hesitated; for their thoughts were already in Belisarius's camp, and
they disliked to perjure themselves.

Just at this crisis a solemn hymn was heard in the direction of the Via
Sacra; and past the Flavian Amphitheatre came a long procession of
priests, swinging censers, and singing psalms.

In the night Pope Agapetus had died, and, in all haste, Silverius, the
archdeacon, had been appointed as his successor.

Solemnly and slowly the crowd of priests advanced; the insignia of the
Bishop of Rome were carried in front; choristers with silvery voices
sang sweet and sacred airs. At last the Pope's litter appeared open,
richly gilt, and shaped like a boat.

The bearers walked slowly, step by step, in time to the music; pressed
upon by crowds of people, who were eager to receive the blessing of
their new Bishop.

Silverius bent his head to the right and left, and blessed the people
repeatedly.

A number of priests and a troop of mercenaries, armed with spears,
closed the procession.

It halted in the middle of the square. The Arian and Gothic warriors,
who stood sentry at all the entrances of the place, silently watched
the solemn and splendid procession, the symbol of a church which was
their enemy; while the Romans greeted the appearance of their Apostolic
Father all the more joyfully, because his voice could calm their
scruples of conscience as to the oath to be given.

Silverius was just about to begin his address to the people, when the
arm of a gigantic Goth, stretched over the side of his litter, pulled
him by his gold-brocaded mantle.

Indignant at this very irreverent interruption, Silverius turned his
face with a severe frown; but the Goth, unabashed, repeated the pull,
and said:

"Come, priest, thou must go up to the King!"

Silverius thought it would have been more becoming if the King had come
down to him, and Hildebad seemed to read something of this feeling on
his features, for he cried:

"It cannot be helped! Stoop, priest!"

And herewith he pressed his hand upon the shoulder of one of the
priests who carried the litter. The bearers now set the litter down;
Silverius left it with a sigh, and followed Hildebad up the steps.

When the priest reached Witichis, the latter took his hand, advanced
with him to the edge of the steps, and said:

"Roman citizens, your priest has been chosen for your Bishop; I ratify
the choice; he shall become Pope, as soon as he has sworn the oath of
allegiance, and has taken for me your oaths of fealty. Swear, priest!"

For one moment Silverius was confounded.

But immediately recovering himself, he turned with an unctuous smile to
Witichis.

"You command?" he asked.

"Swear," said Witichis, "that in our absence you will do all that you
can to keep this city of Rome faithful to the Goths, to whom you owe so
much, to further us in all things, and to hinder the progress of our
enemies. Swear fidelity to the Goths!"

"I swear," said Silverius, turning to the people. "And thus I, who have
power to bind and to loose, call upon you, Romans, surrounded as you
are by Gothic weapons, to swear in the same spirit in which I myself
have taken the oath."

The priests and some of the nobility appeared to have understood, and
lifted their hands to swear without delay.

Then the mass hesitated no longer, and the place echoed with the loud
shout: "We swear fidelity to the Goths!"

"It is well, Bishop of Rome," said the King, "we count upon your oath.
Farewell, Romans! We shall soon meet again."

And he descended the broad flight of steps. Teja and Hildebad followed
him.

"Now I am only curious--" said Earl Teja.

"Whether they will keep their oath?" interposed Hildebad.

"No; not at all. But how they will break it. Well, the priest will find
out the way."

With flying standards the Goths marched out of the Porta Flaminia,
leaving the city to its Pope and the Prefect. Meanwhile Belisarius
approached by forced marches upon the Via Latina.



                             CHAPTER VIII.

The city of Florentia was full of eager and warlike activity. The gates
were closed; on the ramparts and bastions paced numerous sentinels; the
streets rang with the clatter of mounted Goths and armed mercenaries;
for Guntharis and Arahad had thrown themselves into this fortress, and,
for the present, had made it the main stronghold of the rebellion
against Witichis.

The two brothers lived in a handsome villa which Theodoric had built on
the shores of the Arnus, in the suburb but still within the enclosure
of the walls.

Duke Guntharis of Tuscany, the elder, was a far-famed warrior, and had
been for years the commander of the city of Florentia. Within this
district lay the estates of his powerful family, cultivated by
thousands of farmers and vassals; his power in this city and district
was unlimited, and Duke Guntharis was resolved to use it to the utmost.

In full armour, his helmet upon his head, Guntharis walked impatiently
to and fro his marble-wainscoted room, while his younger brother, in
festive garments and unarmed, leaned silently and thoughtfully against
a table, which was covered with letters and parchments.

"Decide; make haste, my boy!" cried Guntharis, "it is my last word.
To-day thou wilt obtain the consent of the obstinate child, or I--dost
thou hear?--I will go myself to fetch it. But then, woe be to her. I
know better than thou how to manage a capricious girl."

"Brother, thou wilt not do that?"

"By the Thunderer! but I will. Dost think I will risk my head, and
delay the good-fortune of my house, for the sake of thy sentimental
consideration? Now is the time to procure the first place in the nation
for the Wölfungs; the place which by right belongs to them, and from
which the Amelungs and Balthes have ousted them for centuries. The last
daughter of the Amelungs, once thy wife, no one can dispute thy
possession of the throne; and my sword will protect it against the
Peasant-King, Witichis. But we must not delay too long. I have yet no
news from Ravenna, but I fear the city will only acknowledge
Mataswintha, and not us; that is, not us alone. And whoever has
Ravenna, has Italy, since Neapolis and Rome are lost; therefore that
strong fortress must be ours. To insure this, Mataswintha must become
thy wife before we reach the walls of Ravenna; else it will be reported
that she is more our prisoner than our Queen."

"Who desires it more ardently than I? But yet I cannot use compulsion!"

"No? Why not? Seek her and win her, well or ill. I go to strengthen the
guard upon the walls. When I return I must have an answer."

Duke Guntharis went; and his brother made his way, sighing, into the
garden to seek Mataswintha.

This garden had been laid out by a skilled freedman from Asia Minor. In
the background he had formed a kind of park, the glades of which, free
from flowerbeds or terraces, were luxuriantly green. Through the
flowery grass and amongst the thick oleanders flowed a clear brook.

Close to the edge of the brook lay, stretched upon the turf, a youthful
female figure. She had thrown her mantle back from her right arm, and
seemed to be playing, now with the murmuring ripples, now with the
nodding flowers on the brink. She was buried in thought, and at
intervals threw a violet or a crocus dreamily into the water, watching
the blossoms with slightly opened lips, as they were swiftly borne away
by the running stream.

Close behind her kneeled a young girl in the dress of a Moorish slave,
busily weaving a wreath of flowers, which only wanted the finishing
touches. Every now and then she looked at her meditative mistress, to
see if she noticed her secret occupation. But the lady seemed quite
lost in reverie.

At last the pretty wreath was finished; with laughing eyes the slave
placed it lightly upon the splendid auburn hair of her mistress, and
bent forward over her shoulder to meet her eyes. But the lady had not
felt the flowers touch her head. Then the little slave became
impatient, and, pouting, said:

"But, mistress, by the palms of the Auras! of what art thou thinking?
With whom art thou?"

"With him!" whispered her mistress.

"By the white goddess! I can bear it no longer," cried the little
slave-girl, springing up; "it is too bad; I shall die of jealousy!
Thou not only forgettest me, thy gay gazelle, but also thine own
beauty--and all for this invisible man! Only look into the water and
see how beautifully thy bright hair contrasts with the dark violets and
white anemones."

"Thy wreath is pretty!" said Mataswintha, taking it off and throwing it
gently into the water. "What sweet flowers! Greet him from me!"

"Oh, my poor flowers!" cried the slave, looking after them; but she did
not dare to scold. "Only tell me," she cried, sitting down again beside
her mistress, "how all this is to end? We have been here now for many
days, we do not rightly know if as Queen or prisoner? In any case we
are in the power of strangers. We have never set our feet out of thy
apartments or of this well-walled garden, and know nothing of the
outside world. But thou art ever still and happy, as if it must be so!"

"And it must be so!"

"Indeed? and how will it end?"

"_He_ will come and set me free."

"Truly, White Lily, thou hast strong faith. If we were at home in
Mauretania, and I saw thee looking at night at the stars, I should say
that thou hadst read everything there. But in this way I do not
understand it," and she shook her black locks, "and I shall never
understand it."

"But thou shalt and wilt, Aspa!" said Mataswintha, raising herself, and
putting her white arm tenderly round the girl's brown neck; "thy
faithful love has long since deserved this reward, the best that I can
give thee."

A tear rose in the slave's dark eye.

"Reward?" she said. "Aspa was stolen by wild men with long red locks.
Aspa is a slave. Every one has scolded and beaten her. Thou boughtest
me as a flower is bought. But thou strokest my cheek and my hair. Thou
art as beautiful as the Goddess of the Sun, and thou speakest of
reward?"

And she nestled her head upon the bosom of her mistress.

"Thou art my gazelle!" said Mataswintha; "thou hast a heart of gold.
Thou shalt know all; thou shalt hear what is known to none but myself.
Listen; my childhood was without love, without joy; and yet my young
soul needed both. My poor mother had ardently longed for a boy, for an
heir to the throne--and she treated the girl who was born to her with
dislike, coldness, and severity. When Athalaric was born, she became
less harsh but more cold; all her love and care went to the heir to the
throne. I should not have felt it, had I not seen just the contrary in
my tender father. I felt that he also suffered under the coldness of
his wife, and the sick man often pressed me to his heart with tears and
sighs. And when he was dead and buried, all the love in the world was
dead for me. I saw little of Athalaric; he was educated by other
teachers in another part of the palace. I saw my mother still less;
scarcely ever, unless she had to punish me. And yet I loved her so
much! And I saw how my nurses and teachers loved their own children,
and kissed and petted them; and my heart longed with all its might for
similar warmth and affection. So I grew up like a pale flower without
sunshine! My favourite place in all the world was the grave of my
father Eutharic, in the large palace garden at Ravenna. There, with the
dead, I sought the love which I did not find in the living; and
whenever I could escape my attendants, I hurried there to indulge in my
longing and to weep. The older I grew, the more this longing increased.
In the presence of my mother I was forced to hide all my feelings; she
despised me if I showed them. As I grew up I saw very well that
people's eyes were fixed upon me as if in admiration; but I thought
that they pitied me, and that pained me.

"And more and more frequently I took refuge by the grave of my father,
until they told my mother that I always wept there and returned quite
disordered. My mother angrily forbade me to go to the grave, and spoke
of contemptible weakness. But I revolted against this prohibition. Then
one day she surprised me there, and struck at me, and yet I was no
longer a child. She took me back to the palace and scolded me
violently, threatening to send me away; and, as she left me, she said
angrily: why had heaven punished her with such a child! That was too
much. Unspeakably miserable, I resolved to run away from this mother,
to whom I was a punishment, and to go where no one knew me, I did not
know whither. I would most gladly have joined my father in his quiet
tomb. When evening came, I stole out of the palace, and hurried once
more to the grave to take a long farewell. The stars were already out.
I slipped out of the garden and the palace, and hastened through the
dark streets to the Faventinian Gate. I managed to slip past the
sentinel, and ran a little way along the high-road, into the night;
straight to misery. But a man in armour came along the road towards me.
As I tried to pass him, he suddenly came up to me, looked into my face,
and gently laid his hand upon my shoulder, saying 'Whither, Lady
Mataswintha, whither goest thon alone, and so late at night?' I
trembled under his hand, tears burst from my eyes, and I cried,
sobbing, 'I am desperate!' Then the man took hold of both my hands and
looked at me; so kindly, so mildly, so sadly! He dried my tears with
his mantle, and said, in a tone of the warmest kindness, 'Wherefore?
what troubles thee so?' I felt both happy and miserable at the sound of
his voice. And as I looked into his kind eyes, I could no longer
control myself. 'Because my mother hates me,' I cried; 'because there
is no love for me on earth!' 'Child, child, thou art sick,' he said,
'and ravest! Come, come back with me. Thou! only wait. Thou wilt yet be
a queen of love.' I did not understand him. But I loved him, oh so
much! for these words, for this kindness. Helplessly, inquiringly, and
with astonishment I looked into his face. My trembling aspect must have
touched him, or he thought it was the cold. He took off his warm
mantle, folded it round me, and led me slowly back through the gate and
little frequented streets to the palace. Helpless, and tottering like a
sick child, I followed him, my head, which he carefully concealed,
resting on his breast. He was silent, and only sometimes dried the
tears from my eyes. Unremarked, as I believed, we reached the door of
the palace staircase. He opened it and gently pushed me in. Then he
pressed my hand. 'Be good,' he said, 'and quiet. Happiness will come to
thee, be sure; and love enough.' And he gently laid his hand upon my
head, pulled the door to behind him, and descended the steps. But I
leaned against the half-closed door, and could not go away. My feet
denied their service; my heart beat. Then I heard a rough voice below
addressing him. 'Whom dost thou smuggle at night into the palace, my
friend?' it asked. But he answered, 'Is it thou, Hildebrand? Thou wilt
not betray her! It was the child Mataswintha; she had strayed into the
city in the dark, and feared the anger of her mother.' 'Mataswintha!'
said the other. 'She daily becomes more beautiful.' And my protector
said----"

Mataswintha hesitated, and a vivid flush overspread her cheeks.

"Well!" asked Aspa, looking at her with open eyes, "what did he say?"

But Mataswintha drew Aspa's small head down upon her bosom.

"He said," she whispered--"he said, 'She will become the most beautiful
woman on earth.'"

"He said truly," cried the little slave; "why shouldst thou become red?
It is so. But go on. What didst thou do next?"

"I crept up to my bed and wept; wept tears of sorrow, delight, and
love, all at once. That night a whole world, a heaven, was opened to
me. He liked me, I felt it; and he called me beautiful. Yes, now I knew
it. I was beautiful, and I was glad; for I wished to be so for _his_
sake. Oh, how happy was I! Meeting with him had brought light into my
darkness, and a blessing to my life. I knew now that I might be liked
and loved. I took care of my person, which _he_ had praised. The sweet
power in my heart spread a mild warmth over my whole being; I became
softer and more earnest. Even my mother's severity relaxed when I met
her harshness with gentleness; and daily all hearts were turned to me
more kindly, as I became more tender. And for all this I had to thank
him. He had saved me from rushing into shame and misery, and had won
for me a whole world of love. Since then I have lived, and live, only
for him."

And she ceased, and laid her hand upon her beating heart.

"But, mistress, when did you see or speak to him again? Does your love
live on such scanty nourishment?"

"I have never spoken to him again, and have only seen him once. On the
day of Theodoric's death, he commanded the guards of the palace, and
Athalaric told me his name; for I had never dared to inquire about him,
lest my flight, and ah! my secret, should be discovered. He was not at
court; and if he sometimes came there, I was away."

"So thou knowest nothing further of him? of his life; of his past?"

"How could I inquire! My blushes would have betrayed me. Love is the
child of silence and of longing. But I know all about his--about _our_
future."

"About his future?" laughed Aspa.

"Yes. At every solstice there used to come to the court an old woman
named Radrun, and she received from King Theodoric strange herbs and
roots, which he sent for from Asia and the Nile purposely for her. She
had asked for this as the sole reward for having foretold his fortune
when a boy, and everything had been fulfilled. She brewed potions and
mixed salves; they called her in public 'the woman of the woods,' but
in private, 'the Wala, the witch.' And we at court knew--all except the
priests, who would have forbidden it--that every summer solstice, when
she came, the King let her prophesy to him the events of the coming
year. And when she left him, I knew that my mother, Theodahad, and
Gothelindis, called her and questioned her, and what she foretold
always came to pass. So the next solstice I took heart, watched for the
old woman, and when I found her alone, enticed her into my room, and
offered her gold and shining stones if she would tell me my fortune.
But she laughed, and drew forth a little flask made of amber. 'Not for
gold, but for blood!' she said, 'the pure blood of a king's child.' And
she opened a vein in my left arm, and received the blood into her amber
flask. Then she looked at both my hands, and said, 'He whom thou
holdest in thy heart will give thee glory and good fortune, will bring
thee paralysing pain, will be thy consort, but not thy husband!' And
with this she went away."

"That is of little comfort as far as I can make it out."

"Thou dost not understand the old wife's sayings; they are all so dark.
She adds a threat to every promise, so as to be safe in all cases. But
I hold fast to the bright and not to the dark side. I know that he
will be mine, and give me glory and good fortune; I will bear the
accompanying pain. Pain for his sake is delight."

"I admire thee and thy faith, mistress. And for the saying of the witch
thou hast refused all the kings and princes. Vandals and Ostrogoths,
from Gaul and Burgondia, who have ever wooed thee? Even Germanus, the
imperial prince of Byzantium? And you wait for him?"

"And I wait for him! But not only because of this saying. In my heart
lives a little bird, which sings to me every day, 'He will be thine, he
must be thine.' I know it for a certainty," she concluded, raising her
eyes to the sky, and relapsing into her former reverie.

Steps were heard approaching from the villa.

"Ah!" cried Aspa, "thy dainty suitor! Poor Arahad! his trouble is in
vain."

"I will make an end to it," said Mataswintha, rising, and on her brow
and in her young eyes there now lay an angry severity, which told of
the Amelung blood in her veins. There was a strange mixture of burning
passion and melting tenderness in the girl. Aspa had often been
astonished by the repressed fire which her mistress sometimes betrayed.
"Thou art like the divine mountains of my home," she said, "snow on the
summit, roses round the middle, but consuming fire in the interior,
which often streams over snow and roses."

Meanwhile Earl Arahad turned out of the shady path, and approached the
lovely girl with a blush which became him well.

"I come, Queen----" he began.

But she harshly interrupted him.

"I hope, Earl of Asta, that at last thou comest to put an end to this
despicable game of force and lies. I will bear it no longer. Thy bold
brother surprises me--me, the helpless orphan, lost in sorrow for her
mother--in my apartments, calls me in one breath his Queen and his
prisoner, and keeps me for weeks in unworthy confinement. He gives me
the purple, and deprives me of liberty. Then thou comest and tormentest
me with thy vain pursuit, which will never succeed. I refused thee when
at liberty. Dost thou believe, thou fool, that, a prisoner in thy
power, the child of the Amelungs will listen to thee? Thou swearest
that thou lovest me; well, then, respect me! Honour my will and set me
free, or tremble when my liberator comes."

And she advanced threateningly towards Arahad, who, confused, could
find no words with which to answer her.

Just then Duke Guntharis hurried up with a hot and angry face.

"Up, Arahad!" he cried, "make an end. We must away at once! He
approaches; he presses forward with a strong force."

"Who?" asked Arahad hastily.

"He says he comes to set her free. He has gained a victory--the
Peasant-King! He has beaten our outposts at Castrum Sivium."

"Who?" now asked Mataswintha eagerly.

"Well," cried Guntharis angrily, "thou mayest as well know it; it can
be no longer concealed--Earl Witichis of Fæsulæ!"

"Witichis!" cried Mataswintha with beaming eyes and a beating heart.

"Yes; the rebels at Regeta, forgetting the rights of the nobility, have
chosen him King of the Goths."

"He! he my King!" said Mataswintha, as if in a dream.

"I should have told thee when I greeted thee as Queen, but in thy
chamber stood his bust, crowned with laurel. That seemed to me
suspicious. I saw it later more closely; it was an accidental
resemblance; it was a head of Ares."

Mataswintha was silent, and tried to hide the blushes which rose into
her cheeks.

"Well," cried Arahad, "what is to be done now?"

"We must away. We must reach Ravenna before him, Florentia will hinder
him for a time. Meanwhile we shall take Ravenna, and when thou hast
consummated thy marriage with Mataswintha in the palace of Theodoric,
all the people of the Goths will turn to us. Up, Queen! I will order
thy carriage to be prepared; in an hour thou wilt go to Ravenna,
guarded by my troops."

And the brothers hurried away.

Mataswintha looked after them with flashing eyes.

"Yes! lead me away, bound and a prisoner. Like an eagle from the height
my King will swoop upon you, and save me from your cruel clutches.
Come, Aspa, the liberator approaches!"



                              CHAPTER IX.

Scarcely had the Goths turned their backs upon the walls of Rome, when
Pope Silverius--the very day after taking the oath--summoned the heads
of the priesthood and nobility, the officials and citizens, to a
council in the _Thermæ_ of Caracalla.

Cethegus was also invited, and appeared.

Without the least embarrassment, Silverius moved that, as at last the
hour was come in which to cast off the yoke of the heretics, an embassy
should be sent to Belisarius, the commander-in-chief of the orthodox
Emperor--the only rightful master of Italy--to deliver up the keys of
the Eternal City, and to recommend the Church and the faithful to his
protection against the vengeance of the barbarians.

The scruples of a very young priest and of an honest smith, on account
of their yesterday's oath, he dismissed with a smile, appealing to his
Apostolic power to bind and to loose, and pointing to the evident force
put upon them while taking the oath, by the presence of Gothic arms.

Upon this the motion was carried unanimously, and the Pope himself,
Scævola, Albinus, and Cethegus, appointed as ambassadors.

But Cethegus put in a protest. He had silently listened to the motion
and had not joined in the vote. Now he rose and said:

"I am against the motion; not on account of the oath. I need not appeal
to the Apostolic power, for I did not swear. But on account of the
city. That is, we must not unnecessarily arouse the just anger of the
Goths, who may very easily return, and who would not then take the
Apostolic dispensation as an excuse for such open perjury. Let
Belisarius either beg us or compel us. Who throws himself away is ever
trampled on."

Silverius and Scævola exchanged significant glances.

"Such sentiments," said the jurist, "will doubtless be very pleasing to
the Emperor's general, but can alter nothing in our decision. So you
will not go with us to Belisarius?"

"I will go to Belisarius, but not with you," said Cethegus, and left
the place.

As the others were leaving the Thermæ, the Pope said to Scævola:

"That will finish him! He has declared against the surrender before
witnesses!"

"And he goes himself into the lion's den!"

"He shall not leave it again. You have drawn up the act of accusation?"

"Long ago. I feared that he would take the mastery of the city into his
own hands, and now he goes himself to Belisarius! That proud man is
lost."

"Amen," said Silverius. "And so may all fall who in their worldly
endeavours oppose the holy Petrus.--The day after to-morrow, at the
fourth hour, we will set forth."

But the Holy Father erred; the proud man was not yet to fall.

Cethegus had hastened immediately to his house, where his Gallic
chariot awaited him.

"We start at once," he called to the slave who sat on the foremost
horse; "I will only fetch my sword."

In the vestibule he met the two Licinii, who were watching for him
impatiently.

"To-day is the day," cried Lucius, "with the prospect of which you have
so long comforted us!"

"Where is the proof of your trust in our courage, our skill, and our
fidelity!" asked Marcus.

"Patience!" said Cethegus, lifting his forefinger; and he went into his
study.

He shortly reappeared, his sword and many papers under his left arm, a
sealed roll in his right hand. His eyes flashed.

"Is the outermost gate of the Moles Hadriani ready?" he asked.

"Ready," answered Lucius Licinius.

"Is the grain from Sicily stored in the Capitol?"

"All stored."

"Are the weapons distributed, and the ramparts of the Capitol completed
as I ordered?"

"All complete," answered Marcus.

"Good. Take this roll. Break the seal as soon as Silverius has left the
city, and punctually execute every word therein. It concerns not only
my life and yours--but Rome! The city of Cæsar will be witness of your
actions. Go. Farewell till we meet again!"

And the fire in his eyes kindled an answering fire in the hearts of the
young Romans.

"You shall be content!"

"You and Cæsar!" they said, and hurried away.

With a smile that seldom illumined his features with such radiance,
Cethegus sprang into his carriage.

"Holy Father," he said to himself, "I am still in your debt for that
last meeting in the Catacombs. I will repay it well!"

"Down the Via Latina!" he cried to the slaves; "and let the horses
gallop as hard as they can!"

The Prefect had more than a day's start of the embassy. And he used his
advantage well.

He had, with unchecked energy, thought of a plan by which he would
remain master of Rome in spite of the landing of Belisarius. And he set
about its execution with all his habitual caution.

He had been scarcely able to control his impatience during the journey.
At last he reached the outposts of the Byzantines at Capua, where
Johannes, the commander, sent his younger brother Perseus and a few
horsemen to lead him to the head-quarters.

Arrived in the camp, Cethegus did not ask for the commander-in-chief,
but caused himself to be conducted at once to the tent of the
privy-councillor, Procopius of Cæsarea.

Procopius had been his fellow-student in the Schools of Law at Berytus;
and the two gifted men had attracted each other greatly.

But not the warmth of friendship led the Prefect first of all to this
man. Procopius knew the whole political past of Belisarius, and was
probably the confidant of his future plans.

The privy-councillor greeted the friend of his youth with great
pleasure. He was a man of sound commonsense, one of the few men of
science of that time, whose capability of healthy feeling and simple
apprehension had not been suffocated by the artificial ornaments of
Byzantine knowledge in the Schools of Rhetoric.

Clear sense was expressed on his open brow, and in his still youthfully
bright eyes shone delight in all that was good.

When Cethegus had washed off the dust and heat of travel in a
carefully-prepared bath, his host, before inviting him to the evening
meal in his tent, led him round the camp, and showed him the quarters
of the principal divisions, pointing out the most famous generals, and,
in a few words, describing their peculiarities, their services, and the
often singular contrasts of their past lives.

There were the sons of rude Thracia, Constantinus and Bessas, who had
worked their way up from the rank of rough hirelings; brave soldiers,
but without culture, and filled with the presumption of self-made men.
They considered themselves to be the indispensable supports and equally
capable successors of Belisarius.

There was the aristocratic Iberian Peranius, of the royal family of the
Iberians, the hostile neighbours of Persia, who had given up his
fatherland and hope of the crown out of hatred to the Persian
conqueror, and had taken service in the Emperor's army.

Then Valentinus, Magnus, and Innocentius, daring, leaders of
the horsemen; Paulus, Demetrius, Ursicinus, the leaders of the
foot-soldiers; Ennes, the Isaurian chief and commander of the Isaurians
of Belisarius; Aigan and Askan, the leaders of the Massagetæ;
Alamundarus and King Abocharabus, the Saracens; Ambazuch and Bleda, the
Huns; Arsakes, Amazaspes, and Artabanes, the Armenians (the Arsakide
Phaza had been left behind in Neapolis with the rest of the Armenians);
Azarethas and Barasmanes, the Persians; and Antallas and Cabaon, the
Moors.

All these Procopius knew and named, praising sparingly, but expressing
his blame with great enjoyment, in biting but witty phrases.

They had just turned towards the quarters of Martinus, the peaceful
town-burner, on the right, when Cethegus, standing still, asked:

"And whose is the silken tent there on the hill, with the golden stars
and purple ensign? The guards carry golden shields!"

"There," said Procopius, "dwells his Invincible Daintiness, the Upper
Purple-Snail Intendant of the Roman Empire, Prince Areobindos, whom may
God enlighten!"

"The Emperor's nephew, is he not?"

"Yes; he married the Emperor's niece, Projecta; his highest and only
merit. He was sent here with the Imperial Guard to vex us, and to take
care that we do not win too easily. He has been made of equal rank with
Belisarius, understands as little of warfare as Belisarius does of
purple-snails, and is to be Governor of Italy."

"Indeed!" said Cethegus.

"When we encamped he insisted upon having his tent placed to the right
of Belisarius. But we would not consent. Fortunately God, in His
wisdom, had created that hill centuries ago for the solving of our
dispute as to rank, and now the Prince is indeed placed to the left,
but higher than Belisarius."

"And whose are the gay tents yonder, behind the quarters of Belisarius?
Who dwells there?"

"There?" answered Procopius, with a sigh. "A very unhappy woman;
Antonina, the wife of Belisarius."

"She unhappy? The celebrated Antonina, the second empress? Why?"

"It is not well to speak of that in the open camp. Come with me to my
tent, the wine will be sufficiently cooled."



                               CHAPTER X.

In the tent they found the handsome cushions of the camp-bed placed
round a low bronze table of perforated work, which Cethegus admired.

"It is a piece of booty from the wars of the Vandals; I took it with me
from Carthage. And these soft cushions once lay upon the bed of the
Persian King; I gained them in the battle of Dara."

"You are a fine practical scholar!" said Cethegus, smiling. "Are you so
changed since the days of Athens?"

"I should hope so!" said Procopius, and began carving (for he had
dismissed the attendant slaves) the smoking haunch of venison before
him. "You must know that I wished to make philosophy my calling, to
become a sage. For three years I listened to the Platonists, Stoics,
and Academicians at Athens; and studied till I was sick and stupid. And
I did not stop at philosophy; according to the praiseworthy custom of
our pious century, theology must also be grappled with, and for another
year I had to reflect upon the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. Well,
with studying so hard, my reason, which was not at all contemptible by
nature, threatened to fail me. Fortunately, I became seriously ill, and
the physicians forbade me Athens and all books. They sent me to Asia
Minor. I only saved a 'Thucydides' from my books, and took it with me
in my travelling-bag. And then 'Thucydides' saved me. In the tedium of
the journey I read and re-read his splendid history of the deeds of the
Hellenes in war and peace; and now I found with astonishment that the
acts and manners of men, their passions, their vices and virtues, were
really much more attractive and remarkable than all forms and figures
of heathen logic--not to speak of Christian logic. I arrived at
Ephesus, and was one day strolling through the streets, when my mind
suddenly became wonderfully enlightened. I was walking across a great
place; there stood before me a church of the Holy Spirit; it was built
upon the ruins of the old Temple of Diana. On the left stood a ruined
altar of Isis, and on the right the praying-house of the Jews. Then the
thought flashed across me: Each one of these believed, and believed
firmly, that he alone knew the truth about the highest Being. And yet
that is impossible; the highest Being has, it seems to me, no need of
being known by us--neither should I, in His place--and He has created
mankind, that they may live, act rightly and strive honestly here on
earth. And this living, acting, enjoying and striving is really all
that concerns us. If any one will search and think, he should search
the lives and acts of men. As I stood so thinking, all at once I heard
the flourish of trumpets. A brilliant troop of horsemen came trotting
up; at their head a splendid man on a bay horse, beautiful and strong
as the God of War. Their weapons glittered, the flags waved, and the
horses pranced. And I thought: These know wherefore they live, and do
not need to inquire of a philosopher! And while I was admiring the
horsemen, a citizen of Ephesus clapped me on the shoulder and said:
'You seem not to know who that was, nor whither these men are bent?
That is the hero Belisarius, who is off for the wars in Persia!' 'Good,
friend!' I said, 'then I will go with him!' And so I did, the very same
hour. And Belisarius soon appointed me his privy-councillor and
secretary. Since then I have a double calling; by day I make, or help
to make, history, and by night I write it."

"And which is your best work?"

"Alas! friend, the writing! And the writing would be better if the
history were better. For generally I do not at all approve of what we
do, and I only help to do it because it is better than doing nothing,
or putting up with philosophy. Bring the 'Tacitus,' slave," he called
out of the opening of the tent.

"The 'Tacitus?'" asked Cethegus.

"Yes, friend, we have drunk enough of the 'Livius.' You must know that
I name my wines according to their historical character. For example,
to return to what I was saying, this piece of history which we are
about just now, this Gothic war, is quite against my taste. Narses is
right, we ought first to repel the Persians before we attack the
Goths."

"Narses! What is my wise friend doing?"

"He envies Belisarius, and will not confess it even to himself. Besides
that, he makes plans of wars and battles. I will bet that he had
already conquered Italy before we had even landed."

"You are not his friend. Yet he is a man of genius. Why do you prefer
Belisarius?"

"I will tell you," said Procopius, pouring out the "Tacitus," "It is my
misfortune that I was not the historian of Alexander or Scipio. Since I
recovered from philosophy and theology, my whole nature has longed for
men, for real men of flesh and blood. So these spindle-shanked emperors
and bishops and generals, who subtilise everything with their reason,
disgust me. We have become a crippled generation; the hero time lies
far behind us! Only honest Belisarius is a hero like those of the olden
time. He might have encamped with Agamemnon before Troy! He is not
stupid; he has good sense; but only the natural sense of a noble wild
animal for its prey, for his vocation. Belisarius's vocation is
heroism! And I delight in his broad chest and his flashing eyes and
mighty thighs with which he masters the strongest stallion. And I am
glad when, sometimes, his blind delight in blows upsets all his fine
plans. I love to see him rush amongst the enemy and fight like an
infuriated boar. But I dare not tell him so; for then all would be
over; in three days he would be cut to pieces. On the contrary, I keep
him back. I am his 'reason,' as he calls me. And he puts up with my
prudence because he knows that it is not cowardice. More than once I
have been obliged to save him from a difficulty into which the
frowardness of his heroism had brought him! The most amusing of these
stories is that of the horn and tuba."

"Which of the two do you blow, O my Procopius?"

"Neither; only the trumpet of fame and the pipe of mockery!"

"But what about the horn and trumpet?"

"Oh, we were lying before a rocky nest in Persia, which we were obliged
to take, because it commanded the high-road. But we had already, many
times, damaged our heroic heads against its hard walls; and my master,
becoming angry, swore 'by the slumber of Justinian'--that is his biggest
oath--that he would never blow the signal of retreat before this Castle
of Anglon. Now our outposts were very often surprised by sallies from the
fortress; we, in the highly-situated camp, could see the assaulters as
they issued from the fortress, but our outposts, lying at the foot of
the hill, could not. I now advised that we should give our people the
signal of retreat from the camp whenever we saw the danger approaching.
But I met with a fine reception! The slumber of Justinian was such a
sacred thing that no one dare meddle with an oath sworn by it. And so
our poor fellows were obliged to let themselves be taken unawares by
the Persians, until I hit upon the ingenious expedient of proposing to
my master that we should give the signal of retreat to our men not with
the trumpet but with the horn. The idea pleased my honest Belisarius.
And so when we merrily blew the horn to the attack, our men ran away
like frightened hares. It was enough to make one die with laughing to
see those belligerent sounds produce such a despicable effect! But it
availed. Justinian's slumber and Belisarius's oath remained intact, our
outposts were no more butchered, and at last the rocky fortress fell.
Thus I always scold and laugh at Belisarius for his heroic acts, but in
reality my heart is warmed and gladdened: he is the last hero."

"Well," observed Cethegus, "amongst the Goths you will find many such
sturdy fellows."

Procopius nodded reflectively:

"Can't deny that I have great pleasure in these Goths. But they are too
stupid."

"How? Why?"

"They are stupid because, instead of pressing upon us slowly, step by
step, in union with their yellow-haired brethren (they would be
irresistible!) they have planted themselves singly in the midst of
Italy, without right or reason, like a piece of wood in the centre of a
glimmering hearth. They will be ruined by this; they will be burnt, you
will see!"

"I hope to see it. And what then?" asked Cethegus quietly.

"Yes," answered Procopius peevishly, "what then? That is the vexation.
Then Belisarius will be Governor of Italy--for it will not last a year
with the purple Prince--and he will wear away his fine strength here in
idleness, when there is work enough to do in Persia. And then, as his
court-historian, I shall only have to write down how many skins of wine
we empty yearly."

"So you would like, when the Goths are done with, to have Belisarius
out of Italy?"

"Certainly. In the Persian land bloom his and my laurels. I have
thought already of many a plan to get him away from here."

Cethegus was silent. He was glad to have found such an important ally
for his plans. At last he said:

"And so his 'reason' Procopius, rules the lion Belisarius?"

"No," sighed Procopius; "rather his _un_reason, his wife!"

"Antonina! Tell me, why did you call her unhappy?"

"Because she is half-hearted and a contradiction. Nature intended her
for a good and faithful wife; and Belisarius loves her with all his
heroic heart. But she came to the court of the Empress. Theodora, the
beautiful she-devil, is intended by nature as much for vice as is
Antonina for virtue. The circus-girl has certainly never felt the sting
of conscience. But I believe she cannot endure to have an honest woman
near her, because an honest woman would despise her. She did not rest
until she had succeeded in arousing Antonina's coquetry by her hellish
example. Now Antonina suffers tortures of remorse on account of her
dalliance with her adorers; for she loves, she worships her husband."

"And yet? How is it possible that a hero like Belisarius cannot content
her?"

"Just because he is a hero. He does not flatter her, with all his love.
She could not bear to see the Empress's lovers exhaust themselves in
verses, flowers, and gifts, and to live herself without such homage.
Vanity was her snare. But she does not feel at all at ease amidst her
trifling."

"And has Belisarius any suspicion?"

"Not a shadow. He is the only one in all the Roman Empire who does not
know what most concerns him. I believe it would be his death. For this
reason alone he must not remain here in peace, as Governor of Italy. In
the camp, in the tumult of battle, flatterers are wanting to the
coquettish woman and also the leisure to listen to them. For, as if
in voluntary atonement for the sweet crimes of secret verses and
flowers--she is certainly incapable of greater guilt--Antonina outdoes
all other women in the severe performance of her duty. She is
Belisarius's friend, his co-commander; she shares with him the
difficulties and dangers of sea, desert, and battle. She works with him
day and night, if she does not happen to be reading the verses of
others on her lovely eyes! She has often saved him from the snares of
his enemies at the court of Byzantium. In short, she is only good
during war-time and in the camp, there, where also his greatness can
alone flourish."

"Well," said Cethegus, "now I know well enough how things stand
here. Let me speak plainly with you. You would like to have Belisarius
out of Italy immediately after his victory: so would I. You for
Belisarius's sake, I for that of Italy's. You know that I was always a
Republican----"

At this Procopius pushed his cup to one side and looked significantly
at Cethegus.

"All young people are so between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one,"
said he. "But that you are still so--I find--very--very--unhistorical.
Out of these Italian vagabonds, our very amiable allies against the
Goths, you will make citizens of a republic? They are good for nothing
but a tyrant!"

"I will not dispute about that," answered Cethegus with a smile; "only
I should like to preserve my fatherland from _your_ tyrant."

"I don't blame you for it," said Procopius, smiling also; "the
blessings of our rule are--stifling."

"A native governor under the protection of Byzantium will suffice at
first."

"To be sure. And his name would be--Cethegus!"

"If it must be so--that too."

"Listen," said Procopius earnestly, "I would only advise you against
_one_ thing. The air of Rome engenders proud plans. There, as master of
Rome, a man is not willing to be only the second in the world. And
believe the historian--nothing more can come of the universal Empire of
Rome."

Cethegus felt annoyed. He thought of King Theodoric's warning.

"Historicus of Byzantium, I know my Roman affairs better than you.
First let me initiate you into our Roman secrets; then, early
to-morrow, before the embassy arrives from Rome, procure me an
interview with Belisarius, and--be sure of a great success."

And he now began to unfold to the astonished Procopius, in rapid
outlines, the secret history of the latest times and his plans for the
future, wisely veiling his ultimate aim.

"By the manes of Romulus!" cried Procopius, when he had finished, "you
still make history on the Tiber. Well, here is my hand. You shall have
my assistance. Belisarius shall win, but not rule in Italy. Let us
empty a flask of dry 'Sallustius' upon it!"

Early the next day Procopius brought about an interview with
Belisarius, from which his friend returned well contented.

"Have you told him everything?" asked the historian.

"Not quite everything," said Cethegus with a sly smile; "one must
always keep something to say in reserve."



                               CHAPTER XI.

Shortly afterwards the whole camp was full of strange excitement.

The report of the approach of the Holy Father, which outsped his gilded
litter, aroused thousands of soldiers, attracted by feelings of
reverence, piety, superstition, or curiosity, from sleep, feasting, or
gaming. The captains could scarcely keep the sentries at their posts or
the soldiers at their drill.

The faithful had hurried to meet the Pope from places miles distant,
and now, mixed with groups of country people from the neighbourhood,
accompanied the procession into the camp. The peasants and soldiers had
already harnessed themselves to the litter instead of the mules which
drew it--in vain had the Pope modestly remonstrated--and shouting in
exultation: "Hail to the Bishop of Rome, hail to the holy Petros!" the
crowd, upon whom Silverius continually bestowed blessings, entered the
camp. No one noticed his two colleagues, Scævola and Albinus.

Belisarius gravely observed the imposing spectacle from his tent.

"The Prefect is right!" he cried; "this priest is more dangerous than
the Goths! Procopius, dismiss the Byzantine body-guard at my tent, as
soon as the interview begins. Let the Huns and the heathen Gepidæ take
their place."

So saying, he re-entered his tent, where, surrounded by his generals,
he shortly afterwards received the Roman embassy.

Procopius had convinced Prince Areobindos of the necessity of leaving
the camp on an expedition of reconnaissance, an office which could only
be performed by him, and which could not be put off.

Surrounded by a brilliant train of clergy, the Pope approached the tent
of the commander-in-chief. Great crowds of people pressed after him;
but as soon as he, with Scævola and Albinus, had entered the narrow
passage between the tents which led up to that of Belisarius, the
guards stopped the way with their levelled lances, and would allow
neither priest nor soldier to follow.

Silverius turned with a smile to the captain of the guard, and preached
him a fine sermon on the text, "Suffer little children to come unto me,
and forbid them not."

But the German shook his shaggy locks and turned his back. The Gepidian
did not understand a word of Latin beyond the words of command.

Silverius smiled again, once more blessed the crowd, and then walked
quietly to the tent. Belisarius was seated upon a camp-stool, over
which was spread a lion's skin; on his right hand sat Antonina,
enthroned on a seat covered with the skin of a leopard. Her troubled
soul had hoped to find a physician and comforter in the holy Petrus;
but she shrank when she saw the worldly expression on the features of
Silverius.

As the Pope entered, Belisarius rose.

Silverius, without the slightest inclination, went straight up to him,
and laid both hands--he was obliged to stretch his arms uncomfortably
to do so--as if in blessing, on his shoulders. He wished to press
Belisarius gently down upon his knees; but the general stood as stiffly
erect as an oak, and Silverius was obliged to complete his benediction.

"You come as ambassadors from the Romans?" began Belisarius.

"I come," interrupted Silverius, "in the name of St. Peter, as Bishop
of Rome, to deliver to you and the Emperor the city of Rome. These good
people," he added, pointing to Scævola and Albinus, "have attached
themselves to me as the members to the head."

Scævola was about to interfere indignantly--he had not thus understood
his relation to the Church--but Belisarius signed to him to be silent.

"And," continued Silverius, "I welcome you to Italy and Rome in the
name of the Lord. Enter the walls of the Eternal City for the
protection of the Church and the faithful against the heretics! There
exalt the name of the Lord and the Cross of Christ, and never forget
that your path thither was smoothed by Holy Church. God chose me for
His minister, to lull the Goths into blind security, and lead them out
of the city. It was I who won over the wavering citizens to your cause,
and frustrated the designs of your enemies. It is St. Peter who, by my
hand, delivers up to you the keys of his city, and entrusts it to your
protection. Never forget my words!"

With this he handed to Belisarius the keys of the Asinarian Gate.

"I will never forget them," said Belisarius, and signed to Procopius,
who took the keys from the hand of the Pope. "You spoke of the designs
of my enemies. Has the Emperor enemies in Rome?"

Silverius answered, with a sigh:

"Cease to question me, general. Their nets are torn; they are now
harmless, and it does not become the Church to inculpate, but to
_ex_culpate."

"It is your duty, Holy Father, to discover to the orthodox Emperor the
traitors who hide themselves amongst his Roman subjects, and I call
upon you to unmask his enemies."

Silverius sighed.

"The Church does not thirst for blood."

"But she may not prevent justice," said Scævola. And the jurist stepped
forward, and handed a roll of parchment to Belisarius, saying, "I
accuse Cornelius Cethegus Cæsarius, the Prefect of Rome, of treachery
and rebellion against Emperor Justinian. He has called the Emperor's
government a tyranny; he opposed the landing of the imperial army with
all his might; finally, a few days ago he, and he alone, voted that we
should not open to you the gates of Rome."

"And what punishment do you propose?" asked Belisarius, looking at the
roll.

"Death, according to the law," said Scævola.

"And his estates," added Albinus, "are lawfully forfeited, partly to
the fiscus, partly to his accusers."

"And may his soul be recommended to the mercy of God!" concluded the
Bishop of Rome.

"Where is the accused?" asked Belisarius.

"He intended to come to you; but I fear that his bad conscience will
prevent him from fulfilling his intention."

"You err. Bishop of Rome," said Belisarius; "he is already here."

At these words a curtain in the background of the tent dropped, and
before his astonished accusers stood Cethegus the Prefect.

They could not conceal their surprise. With a look of contempt,
Cethegus silently advanced until he stood at Belisarius's right hand.

"Cethegus sought me earlier than you," said the commander-in-chief,
after a pause, "and he has been beforehand with you also--in
accusations. You stand before me gravely accused, Silverius. Defend
yourself before you attack others."

"I defend myself!" cried the Pope. "Who can be accuser or judge of the
successor of St. Peter?"

"The judge am I; in the place of your master, the Emperor."

"And the accuser?" asked Silverius.

Cethegus half turned to Belisarius, and said:

"I am the accuser! I accuse Silverius, the Bishop of Rome, of the crime
of lese-majesty and treachery to the Roman Empire. I will at once prove
my accusation. Silverius intends to wrest the government of the city of
Rome and a great part of Italy from the Emperor Justinian, and,
ridiculous to say, to form a State of the Church in the fatherland of
the Cæsars. And he has already taken the first step in the execution of
this--shall I say madness or crime? Here is a contract with his
signature, which he concluded with Theodahad, the last of the barbarian
princes. Thereby the King sells, for the sum of one thousand pounds'
weight of gold, the government of the city and district of Rome, and of
thirty miles of country round, in case of Silverius becoming Bishop of
Rome, to St. Peter and his successors. All the prerogatives of royalty
are enumerated--jurisdiction, legislation, administration, customs,
taxes, and even military power. According to the date, this document is
three months old. Therefore, at the very moment that the pious
archdeacon, behind Theodahad's back, was summoning the Emperor's army,
he also, behind the Emperor's back, signed a contract which would rob
the latter of all the fruits of his efforts, and insure the Pope under
all circumstances. I leave it to the representative of the Emperor to
decide in what manner such wisdom should be appreciated. By the chosen
of the Lord the morals of the serpent are looked upon as high wisdom;
amongst us laymen such acts are----"

"The most shameful treachery!" thundered Belisarius, as he sprang from
his seat and took the document from the Prefect.

"Look here, priest, your name! Can you deny it?"

The impression made upon all present by this accusation and proof was
overpowering.

Suspicion and indignation, mixed with eager expectation of the Pope's
defence, was written upon each man's countenance; and Scævola, the
short-sighted republican, was the most taken by surprise at this
revelation of the ambitious plan of his dangerous colleague. He hoped
that Silverius would victoriously refute the calumny. The position of
the Pope was indeed highly dangerous; the accusation appeared to be
undeniable, and the angry countenance of Belisarius would have
intimidated many a bolder heart.

But Silverius showed that he wag no unworthy adversary of the Prefect
and the hero of Byzantium.

He had not lost his presence of mind for a moment; only when Cethegus
had taken the document from the folds of his dress, had he closed his
eyes as if in pain. But he met the thundering voice and flashing eyes
of Belisarius with a composed and steady countenance.

He felt that he must now fight for the ideal of his life, and this
feeling nerved him; not a muscle of his face twitched.

"How long will you keep me waiting?" asked Belisarius angrily.

"Until you are capable and worthy of listening to me. You are possessed
by Urchitophel, the demon of anger."

"Speak! Defend yourself!" cried Belisarius, reseating himself.

"The accusation of this godless man," began Silverius, "only asserts,
sooner than I had intended, a right of the Holy Church, which I did not
wish to insist upon during these unquiet times. It is true that I
concluded this contract with the barbarian King."

A movement of indignation escaped the Byzantines present.

"Not from love of worldly power, not to acquire any new privileges, did
I treat with the King of the Goths, at that time master of this
country. No! the saints be my witness! I did it merely because it was
my duty to prevent the lapse of an ancient right of the Church."

"An ancient right?" asked Belisarius impatiently.

"An ancient right!" repeated Silverius, "which the Church has neglected
to assert until now. Her enemies oblige her to declare it at this
moment. Know then, representative of the Emperor! hear it, generals and
soldiers! that which the Church demanded of Theodahad has been her
right for two centuries; the Goth only confirmed it. In the same place
whence the Prefect, with sacrilegious hand, took this document, he
might also have found that which originally established our right. The
pious Emperor Constantinus--who, first of all the predecessors of
Justinian, received the teaching of the Gospel--moved by the prayers of
his blessed mother, Helena, and after having trampled his enemies under
foot by the help of the saints, and particularly by that of St. Peter,
did, in thankful acknowledgment of such help, and to prove to all the
world that crown and sword should bow before the Cross of Christ,
bestow the city of Rome and its district, with all the neighbouring
towns and their boundaries, with jurisdiction and police, taxes and
duties, and all the royal prerogatives of earthly government, upon St.
Peter and his successors for all time, so that his Church might have a
secular foundation for the furtherance of her secular tasks. This
donation is conferred in all form by a legal document; the curse of
Gehenna is laid upon all who dispute it. And I ask the Emperor
Justinian, in the name of the Trinity, whether he will acknowledge this
legal act of his predecessor, the blessed Emperor Constantinus, or if,
in worldly avarice, he will overthrow it, and thereby call down upon
his head the curse of Gehenna and eternal damnation?"

This speech of the Bishop of Rome, spoken with all the power of
ecclesiastical dignity and all the art of worldly rhetoric, was of
irresistible effect.

Belisarius, Procopius, and the generals, who, a moment before, would
willingly have passed an angry judgment upon the treacherous priest,
now felt as if they themselves were judged. The heart of Italy seemed
to be irrecoverably lost to the Emperor, and delivered into the power
of the Church.

An anxious silence overcame the lately so masterful Byzantines, and the
priest stood triumphantly as victor in their midst.

At last Belisarius, who wished to avoid a dispute and the shame of
defeat, said:

"Prefect of Rome, what have you to reply?"

With a scarcely visible quiver of mockery upon his fine lips, Cethegus
bowed and began:

"The accused refers to a document. I believe I could embarrass him
greatly if I denied its existence, and demanded the immediate
production of the original. However, I will not meet the man who calls
himself the head of Christendom, with the wiles of a spiteful advocate.
I admit that the document exists."

Belisarius made a movement of helpless vexation.

"Still more! I have saved the Holy Father the trouble of producing it,
which would have been very difficult for him to do, and have brought
the document itself with my own sacrilegious hands."

He drew forth a yellow old parchment from his bosom, and looked
smilingly now at the lines thereon, now at the Pope, and now at
Belisarius, evidently enjoying their suspense.

"Yes, still more! I have examined the document for many days with
hostile eyes, and, with the help of still greater jurists than I can
boast of being--such as my young friend, Salvius Julianus--have tried
to invalidate every letter. In vain. Even the penetration of my learned
and honourable friend, Scævola, could have found no flaw. All legal
forms, all the clauses in the act of donation, are sharply defined with
indisputable accuracy; and indeed I should like to have been acquainted
with the protonotary of Emperor Constantinus, for he must have been a
jurist of the first rank."

He paused--his eyes rested sarcastically upon the countenance of
Silverius, who wiped the sweat off his brow.

"Therefore," asked Belisarius, in great excitement, "the document is
formally quite correct, and can be proved?"

"Yes, certainly," sighed Cethegus, "the act of donation is faultlessly
drawn up. It is only a pity that----"



"Well!" interrupted Belisarius.

"It is only a pity that it is false."

A general cry arose. Belisarius and Antonina sprang from their seats;
all present pressed nearer to Cethegus. Silverius alone fell back a
step.

"False!" cried Belisarius in a tone that sounded like a shout of joy.
"Prefect--friend--can you prove that?"

"I should otherwise have taken care not to assert it. The parchment
upon which the act of donation is written shows all the signs of great
age: worm-eaten, cracked, spots of every kind--everything that one can
expect from such an ancient document, so that, sometimes, it is
difficult to decipher the letters. Notwithstanding, the document only
_appears_ to be old; with as much art as many women employ to give
themselves the appearance of youth does it ape the sanctity of great
age. It is real parchment from the old and still existing parchment
manufactory at Byzantium, founded by Constantinus."

"Keep to the matter!" cried Belisarius.

"But it is not known to every one--and it appears, unfortunately for
him, to have escaped the notice of the Bishop--that these parchments,
on the lower edge to the left, are always marked with the stamp of the
year of their manufacture, by the names of the then consuls, in,
certainly, almost invisible characters. Now pay attention, general. The
document pretends, as it says in the text, to have been prepared in the
sixteenth year of the reign of Constantinus, the same year that he
closed the heathen temples, as the pious document observes, and a year
after the naming of Constantinopolis as the capital city; and it
rightly names the right consuls of that year, Dalmatius and Xenophilos.
Now it can only be explained by a miracle--but in this case it would be
a miracle _against_ the Church--that, in that year, therefore in the
year three hundred and thirty-five after the birth of Christ, it was
already known who would be consul in the year after the death of
Emperor Justinus and King Theodoric; for look, here on the lower edge
the stamp says--the writer had not noticed it--it is really very
difficult to make out, unless one holds the parchment against the
lights so--do you see, Belisarius?--and had blindly painted the cross
upon it; but I, with my--what did he call it?--sacrilegious, but
clever, hand have wiped it off; do you see? there stand stamped the
words, 'VI. Indiction: Justinianus Augustus, sole consul in the first
year of his reign.'"

Silverius staggered, and was obliged to support himself by the chair
which had been placed for him.

"The parchment of the document," continued Cethegus, "upon which the
protonotary of Emperor Constantinus had written down the act of
donation two hundred years ago, has therefore been taken from the ribs
of an ass only a year ago at Byzantium! Confess, O general, that the
reign of the conceivable ends here and the supernatural begins; that
here a miracle has happened; and revere the mysterious ways of Heaven."

He gave the document to Belisarius.

"This is also a famous piece of history, holy and profane, which we are
now experiencing," said Procopius aside.

"It is so, by the slumber of Justinian!" cried Belisarius. "Bishop of
Rome, what have you to say?"

Silverius had with difficulty composed himself.

He saw the edifice which he had been constructing his whole life, sink
into the ground before him.

With a voice half choked by despair, he answered:

"I found the document in the archives of the Church a few months ago.
If it is as you say, I have been deceived as well as you."

"But we are not deceived," said Cethegus, smiling.

"I knew nothing of that stamp, I swear it by the wounds of Christ!"

"I believe it without an oath. Holy Father," interposed Cethegus.

"You will acknowledge, priest," said Belisarius, "that the strictest
examination into this affair----"

"I demand it as my right," cried Silverius.

"You shall have it, doubt it not! But I will not venture to judge in
this case. Only the wisdom of Emperor Justinian himself can here decide
upon what is right. Vulkaris, my faithful Herulian! I herewith deliver
into your keeping the person of the Bishop of Some. You will at once
take him on board a vessel, and conduct him to Byzantium!"

"I put in a protest!" cried Silverius. "No one on earth can try me but
a council of the orthodox Church. I demand to be taken to Rome."

"Rome you will never see again. And Emperor Justinian, who is justice
itself, will decide upon your protest with Trebonianus. But I think
your companions, Scævola and Albinus, the false accusers of the Prefect
(who has proved himself to be the best and warmest friend of the
Emperor), highly suspicious. Let Justinian decide how far they are
innocent. Take them too, Vulkaris, take them in chains to Byzantium. By
sea. Now take them out by the back door of the tent, not through the
camp. Vulkaris, this priest is the Emperor's _worst_ enemy. You will
answer for him with your head!"

"I will answer for him," said the gigantic Herulian, coming forward and
laying his mailed hand upon the Bishop's shoulder.--"Away with you,
priest! On board! He shall die, ere I will let him escape."

Silverius saw that further resistance would only excite compulsion
dangerous to his dignity. He submitted, and walked beside the German,
who did not withdraw his hand, towards the door in the back of the
tent, which was opened by a sentry.

The Bishop was obliged to pass close to Cethegus. He lowered his head
and did not look at him, but he heard a voice whisper:

"Silverius, this moment repays me for your victory in the Catacombs.
Now we are quits!"



                              CHAPTER XII.

As soon as the Bishop had left the tent, Belisarius rose eagerly from
his seat, hurried to the Prefect, and embraced him.

"Accept my thanks, Cethegus Cæsarius! Your reward will not be wanting.
I will tell the Emperor that for him you have to-day saved Rome."

But Cethegus smiled.

"My acts reward themselves."

The intellectual struggle, the rapid alternation of anger, fear,
anxiety, and triumph had exhausted the hero Belisarius more than half a
day of battle. He longed for rest and refreshment, and dismissed his
generals, none of whom left the tent without speaking a word of
acknowledgment to the Prefect.

The latter saw that his superiority was felt by all, even by
Belisarius. It pleased him that, in one and the same hour, he had
ruined the scheming Bishop and humbled the proud Byzantines.

But he did not idly revel in the feeling of victory. He knew the danger
of sleeping upon laurels; laurel stupefies.

He decided to follow up his victory, to use at once the intellectual
superiority over the hero of Byzantium which he undoubtedly possessed
at this moment, and to strike his long-prepared and principal blow.

As, full of this thought, he was looking after the generals who were
just leaving the tent, he did not notice that two eyes were fixed upon
him with a peculiar expression.

They were the eyes of Antonina.

The incidents which she had just witnessed had produced a strangely
mixed impression on her mind. For the first time in her life she had
seen her idol, her husband, entangled in the nets of a priest without
the least power to extricate or help himself, and saved only by the
superior strength of this terrible Roman.

At first the shock to her pride in her husband had filled her with
dislike of the victor. But this feeling did not last, and
involuntarily, as the great superiority of Cethegus unfolded itself
before her, admiration took the place of vexation. She felt only one
thing: Belisarius had eclipsed the Church, and Cethegus had eclipsed
Belisarius. To this feeling was added the anxious desire that this man
might never become the enemy, but always remain the ally of her
husband.

In short, Cethegus had made a serious intellectual conquest of the wife
of Belisarius; and not only that, but he was at once made aware of it.

The beautiful and usually so confident woman came towards him with
downcast eyes. He looked up; she blushed violently and offered him a
trembling hand.

"Prefect of Rome," she said, "Antonina thanks you. You have rendered
great services to Belisarius and the Emperor. We will be good friends."

Procopius, who had remained in the tent, beheld this proceeding with
astonishment.

"My Odysseus out-charms the sorceress Circe," he thought.

But Cethegus saw in a moment that the soul of Antonina humbled itself
before him, and what power he thus gained over Belisarius.

"Beautiful _magistra militum_," he said, drawing himself up, "your
friendship is the proudest laurel in my wreath of victory. I will at
once put it to the proof. I beg you and Procopius to be my witnesses,
my allies, in the conversation which I must now hold with Belisarius."

"Now?" asked Belisarius impatiently. "Come, let us first to table, and
celebrate the fall of the priest in fiery Cæcubian."

And he walked towards the door.

But Cethegus remained quietly standing in the middle of the tent, and
Antonina and Procopius were so completely under his influence, that
they did not dare to follow their master.

Even Belisarius turned and asked:

"Must it absolutely take place now?"

"It must," said Cethegus, and he took Antonina's hand and led her back
to her seat.

Then Belisarius also retraced his steps.

"Well," he said, "speak; but briefly. As briefly as possible."

"I have ever found," began Cethegus, "that with great friends or great
enemies, sincerity is the strongest bond and the best weapon. According
to this maxim I will act. When I said my acts reward themselves, I
wished to express thereby that I did not wrest the mastery of Rome from
the false priest exactly for the sake of the Emperor."

Belisarius grew attentive.

Procopius, alarmed at the too bold sincerity of his friend, made a sign
of warning.

Antonina's quick eye remarked it, and she started; the intelligence
between the two men aroused her suspicion.

This did not escape Cethegus.

"No, Procopius," he said, to the astonishment of Belisarius; "our
friends here will far too soon acknowledge that Cethegus is not a man
whose ambition can be satisfied by a smile from Justinian. I have not
saved Rome for the Emperor."

"For whom else!" asked Belisarius gravely.

"First for Rome herself. I am a Roman. I love my Eternal City. She
shall not become the servant of the priests, but also not the slave of
the Emperor. I am a republican," he said, tossing his head defiantly.

A smile passed across the countenance of Belisarius; the Prefect seemed
to him of less importance than before.

Procopius, shrugging his shoulders, said:

"Incomprehensible!"

But this candour pleased Antonina.

"I certainly saw," continued Cethegus, "that we could only beat the
barbarians by the sword of Belisarius. And also, alas! that the time is
not ripe to realise my dreams of republican freedom. The Romans must
first again become Catos; this generation must die out; and I
acknowledge that, meantime, Rome can only find protection against the
barbarians under the shield of Justinian. Therefore we will bow to this
shield--for the present."


"Not bad!" thought Procopius; "the Emperor is to protect them until
they are strong enough to run away from him, in proof of gratitude."

"These are but dreams, my Prefect," said Belisarius compassionately.
"What practical results can they have?"

"These: that Rome shall not be delivered up to the caprice of the
Emperor with bound hands and without conditions. Belisarius is not the
only servant of Justinian. Only think, if the heartless Narses were to
become your successor!" The hero frowned. "Therefore I will tell you
the conditions under which the city of Cæsar will open her gates to you
and your army."

But this was too much for Belisarius.

He sprang up in a rage; his face glowed; his eyes flashed.

"Prefect of Rome," he cried in his loudest voice, "you forget yourself
and your position! To-morrow I start with my army of seventy thousand
men for Rome. Who will hinder me from entering the city without
conditions?"

"I," said Cethegus quietly. "No, Belisarius, I do not rave. Look at
this plan of the city and its fortifications. Your experienced eye will
recognise its strength better and more quickly than mine."

He drew forth a parchment and spread it open upon the table.

Belisarius cast an indifferent look at it, but immediately cried out:

"The plan is incorrect! Procopius, give me our plan out of that
casket.--Look here, those moats are now filled up; those towers are
ruined; the wall here is broken down, those gates defenceless.--Your
plan represents them as of terrible strength. It is obsolete, Prefect
of Rome!"

"No, Belisarius, _yours_ is obsolete. These walls, moats, and gates are
reconstructed."

"Since when?"

"A year ago."

"By whom?"

"By me."

Belisarius looked at the plan in perplexity.

Antonina's eyes rested anxiously on the features of her husband.

"Prefect," he said at last, "if this be so, you understand warfare
well--the warfare of fortresses. But to wage war there must be an army,
and your empty walls will not arrest my progress."

"You will not find them empty. You must acknowledge that a force of
more than twenty thousand men is capable of holding Rome--namely, this
my Rome upon the plan--for days and years, even against Belisarius.
Good. Then, know that these fortifications are held by thirty-five
thousand armed men."

"Have the Goths returned?" asked Belisarius.

Procopius drew nearer, astonished.

"No; these thirty-five thousand men are under my command. For some
years I have recalled the long enervated Romans to arms, and have
unceasingly practised them in the use of their weapons. So at present I
have thirty cohorts ready for battle, each consisting of almost a
thousand men."


Belisarius struggled to repress his vexation, and shrugged his
shoulders contemptuously.

"I acknowledge," continued Cethegus, "that these troops could not
oppose the army of Belisarius in the open field. But I assure you that
they will fight famously behind these walls. Besides that, I have, out
of my private means, enrolled seven thousand picked Isaurian and
Abasgian mercenaries, and have brought them, gradually and unobserved,
in small divisions to Ostia, Rome, and the neighbourhood. You doubt it?
Here are the lists of the thirty cohorts, and the contract with the
Isaurians. You now see distinctly how matters stand. Either you
accept my conditions--and then these thirty-five thousands are yours:
yours is Rome, my Rome, this Rome on the plan, of which you say that it
is of fearful strength, and yours is Cethegus--or you refuse my
conditions.--Then your victorious march, whose success depends on the
rapidity of your movements, is arrested. You will be obliged to besiege
Rome for many months. The Goths will have plenty of time to re-collect
their forces. We ourselves will call them back. They will come to
relieve the city in threefold superiority, and nothing can save you
from destruction but a miracle!"

"Or your death at this moment! thou devil!" thundered Belisarius, and,
no longer master of himself, he drew his sword.

"Up, Procopius, in the Emperor's name! Take the traitor! He dies in
this hour!"

Horrified and undecided, Procopius rushed between the two men, while
Antonina caught her husband's arm, and tried to take his right hand.

"Are you his allies!" cried Belisarius furiously.

"Guards! guards! here!"


From each of the two doors two lancers entered the tent.

But Belisarius had already torn himself from Antonina's hold, and had
hurled Procopius to one side as if he were a child. Raising his sword,
he rushed at the Prefect. But he suddenly stopped short and lowered his
weapon, the point of which already touched the breast of Cethegus; for,
immovable, like a statue, without the least change of countenance, and
fixing his cold eyes penetratingly upon his furious assailer, Cethegus
had remained standing, a smile of unspeakable contempt upon his lips.

"What means this look and smile?" asked Belisarius.

Procopius quietly signed to the guards to leave the tent.

"Pity for your reputation, which a moment of rage might destroy for
ever. If you had killed me, you would have been lost!"

"I!" laughed Belisarius; "I should think _you_ would have been lost."

"And you with me. Do you believe that I put my head into the lion's
mouth like a fool? It was not difficult to foresee that a hero of your
sort would first of all try to put an end to his embarrassment with his
sword. Against this I have protected myself. Know that since this
morning, in consequence of a sealed order which I left behind me, Rome
is in the hands of my blindly-devoted friends. The Mausoleum of
Hadrian, the Capitol, and all the gates and towers of the ramparts,
are garrisoned by Isaurians and legionaries. I left the order with my
war-tribunes, who are youths fearless of death, in case of your
reaching Rome before me."

He handed a roll of papyrus to Procopius.

Procopius read: "To Lucius and Marcus, the Licinii, Cethegus the
Prefect. I have fallen a victim to the tyranny of the Byzantines.
Revenge me! Recall the Goths at once. I demand it of you by your oath.
Better the barbarians than the police of Justinian. Hold out to the
last man! Rather give the city to the flames than to the army of the
tyrant!'"

"So you see," continued Cethegus, "that my death will not open to you
the gates of Rome, but shut them upon you for ever. You must besiege
the city, or agree with me."

Belisarius cast a look of anger, not unmixed with admiration, at the
bold man who put conditions to him in the midst of his thousands.

Then he sheathed his sword, threw himself impatiently upon his stool,
and asked:

"What are your conditions for the surrender?"

"Only two. First, you will give me the command of a small part of your
army. I must be no stranger to your Byzantines."

"Granted. You will have under your command two thousand Illyrian
footmen and one thousand Saracen and Moorish horsemen. Is that
sufficient?"

"Perfectly. Secondly, my independence rests entirely upon my dominion
of Rome. This must not cease during your presence. Therefore, the whole
right shore of the Tiber, with the Mausoleum of Hadrian; and on the
left the Capitol, including the walls on the south as far as the Gate
of St. Peter, must remain, until the end of the war, in the hands of my
Romans and Isaurians. The rest of the city on the left shore of the
Tiber, from the Flavian Amphitheatre in the north to the Appian Gate in
the south, will be occupied by you."

Belisarius cast a glance at the plan.

"Not badly arranged! From those points you can at any moment drive me
out of the city or blockade the river. That will not do!"

"Then prepare for a fight with the Goths and Cethegus together before
the walls of Rome!"

Belisarius sprang from his seat.

"Go! leave me alone with Procopius, Cethegus. Wait for my decision."

"Till to-morrow!" cried Cethegus. "At sunrise I return to Rome, either
with your army or--alone."

A few days later Belisarius, with his army, entered the Eternal City
through the Asinarian Gate.

Endless acclamation greeted the liberator; a rain of flowers covered
him and his wife, who rode at his left hand on a beautiful palfrey.

All the houses were decorated with gay draperies and wreaths. Bat the
object of these rejoicings did not appear happy; he gloomily bent his
head, and cast dark looks at the walls and the Capitol, from which
floated, not the dragon flags of Byzantium, but the banners and ensigns
of the municipal legions, formed after the model of the Roman eagles
and standards.

At the Asinarian Gate young Lucius Licinius had sent back the vanguard
of the imperial army, and the heavy portcullis did not rise until, at
the side of Belisarius on his bay horse, appeared Cethegus the Prefect,
mounted on his splendid charger.

Lucius was astonished at the change which had taken place in his
admired friend.

The Prefect's cold and severe reserve seemed to have disappeared; he
looked taller, younger; the glory of victory illumined his features. He
wore a richly-gilded helmet, from which the crimson mane flowed down to
his mail-coat. This last was a costly work of art from Athens, and
showed upon every one of its round plates a finely-worked relief in
chased silver, each representing a victory of the Romans. The
victorious expression of his beaming face, his proud carriage, and
scintillating armour, outshone Belisarius, the imperial magister
militum himself, and all his glittering staff, which, led by Johannes
and Procopius, followed close behind.

And this superiority was so striking, that by the time the procession
had passed through several streets, the impression was shared by the
mob, and the cry, "Cethegus!" was soon heard more loudly and frequently
than the name of "Belisarius!"

Antonina's fine ear soon began to remark this circumstance; she
listened uneasily at every pause of the procession to the cries and
remarks of the by-standers.

When they had left the Thermæ of Titus behind them, and had reached the
Via Sacra, near the Flavian Amphitheatre, they were obliged to stop on
account of the crowd. A narrow triumphal arch had been erected here,
which could only be passed at a slow pace. "Victory, to the Emperor
Justinian and his general, Belisarius," was inscribed thereon.

As Antonina was reading this inscription, she heard an old man, who
appeared to be but scantily initiated into the course of events,
questioning his son, one of the legionaries of Cethegus.

"Then, my Gazus, the gloomy man with the angry-looking face, on the bay
horse----"

"Yes, that is Belisarius, as I told you."

"Indeed? Well--then the stately hero on his left hand, with the
triumphant look--he on the charger, must be his master, the Emperor
Justinian."

"Not at all, father. _He_ sits quietly in his golden palace at
Byzantium and writes laws. No; that is Cethegus, _our_ Cethegus, _my_
Cethegus, the Prefect, who gave me my sword. Yes, that _is_ a man!
Lucius, my tribune, said lately, 'If he did not allow it, Belisarius
would never see a Roman Gate from the inside.'"

Antonina gave her grey palfrey a smart stroke with her silver rod, and
galloped quickly through the triumphal arch.

Cethegus accompanied the commander-in-chief and his wife to the Pincian
Palace, which had been sumptuously prepared for their reception.

Then he took leave, in order to assist the Byzantine generals in
quartering the troops, partly on the citizens; partly in the public
buildings, and partly before the gates of the city in tents.

"When you have recovered from the fatigues and honours of the day,
Belisarius, I shall expect you and Antonina, with your staff, at a
banquet in my house," he had said before leaving them.

After some hours, Marcus Licinius, Piso, and Balbus appeared to fetch
the invited guests.

They accompanied the litters in which Antonina and Belisarius were
carried. The generals went on foot.

"Where does the Prefect live?" asked Belisarius, as he entered his
litter.

"As long as you are here, by day in the Mausoleum of Hadrian, by night
in the Capitol."

Belisarius started.

The little procession approached the Capitol.

The commander-in-chief saw with astonishment all the walls and works,
which had lain in ruins for more than two centuries, restored to
immense strength.

When they had wound their way through the long, dark, and zigzag
passage which led into the fortress, they arrived at a massive iron
door, which was fast shut, as if in time of war.

Marcus Licinius called to the sentinel.

"Give the watch-word!" cried a voice from within.

"Cæsar and Cethegus!" answered the war-tribune. Then the wings of the
door sprang open; a long lane formed by Roman legionaries and Isaurian
mercenaries became visible, the last clad in iron up to their very
eyes, and armed with double-bladed battle-axes.

Lucius Licinius stood at the head of the Romans with drawn sword;
Sandil, the Isaurian chief, at the head of his countrymen.

For one moment the Byzantines hesitated, overpowered by the impression
of this display of granite and iron.

Suddenly the faintly-illumined space became bright with light, and,
accompanied by torch-bearers and flute-players, without armour, a
wreath upon his brow, such as was generally worn by the giver of a
feast, and dressed in a magnificent indoor garment of purple silk,
appeared Cethegus.

He came forward smiling, and said:

"Welcome! Let flutes and trumpets loudly proclaim that the happiest
hour of my life has arrived--Belisarius is _my_ guest in the Capitol!"

And, amid a tremendous flourish of trumpets, he led his silent guests
into the fortress.



                             CHAPTER XIII.

During these occurrences among the Romans and Byzantines, decisive
events were in preparation on the part of the Goths.

Duke Guntharis and Earl Arahad, leaving a small garrison behind them,
and taking their Queen with them as prisoner, had left Florentia and
gone, by forced marches to Ravenna.

If they could reach and win this fortress, which was considered
impregnable, before Witichis, who pressed forward after them, they
would be able to make any conditions with the King.

They had a capital start, and hoped that their enemies would be stopped
for some time before Florentia. But they lost almost all the advantages
of their start; for the towns and castles bordering the nearest road to
Ravenna had declared for Witichis, and this circumstance obliged the
rebels to take a circuitous route northwards to Bononia (Bologna),
whose inhabitants had embraced their cause, and thence march eastwards
to Ravenna.

Notwithstanding this delay, when they reached the marshy land
surrounding that fortified city, and were only half a day's march from
its gates, nothing could be seen of the King's army.

Guntharis allowed his greatly-fatigued troops to rest for the remainder
of the day, which was already drawing to a close, and sent a small
troop of horsemen under the command of his brother, to announce their
arrival to the Goths in the fortress.

But at dawn the next day Earl Arahad came flying back into the camp
with a greatly diminished troop.

"By the sword of God!" exclaimed Guntharis, "whence comest thou?"

"We come from Ravenna. We reached the outermost ramparts of the city
and demanded admittance; but were roughly repulsed, although I showed
myself and called for old Grippa the commander. He insolently declared
that to-morrow we should learn the decision of the city; we, as well as
the army of the King, whose vanguard is already approaching the city
from the south-east."

"Impossible!" cried Guntharis angrily. "I could do nothing but withdraw,
although I could not understand the behaviour of our friend. Besides, I
held the report of the approach of the King to be an empty threat,
until some of my horsemen, who were seeking for a dry place on which to
bivouac, were suddenly attacked by a troop of the enemy under the
command of Earl Teja, with the cry, 'Hail, King Witichis!' After a
sharp combat they were worsted."

"Thou ravest!" cried Guntharis. "Have they wings? Has Florentia been
blown away out of their path?"

"No! but I learned from Picentinian peasants that Witichis marched to
Ravenna by the coast-road, past Auximum and Ariminum."

"And he left Florentia in his rear unconquered? He shall repent of
that!"

"Florentia has fallen! He sent Hildebad against it, who took it by
storm. He broke in the Gate of Mars with his own hand, the furious
bull!"

Duke Guntharis listened to these evil tidings with a gloomy face; but
he quickly came to a decision.

He at once set forth with all his troops, intending to take the city of
Ravenna by surprise.

His attack failed.

But the rebels had the consolation of seeing that the fortress, whose
possession would determine the result of the civil war, had at least
refused to open its gates to the enemy.

The King had encamped to the south-east, before the harbour town of
Classis.

Duke Guntharis's experienced eye soon perceived that the marshes on the
north-west would also afford a secure position, and there he shortly
afterwards pitched his well-protected camp.

So the rival parties, like two impetuous lovers of a coy maiden,
pressed from opposite sides upon the royal residence, which seemed
disinclined to lend an ear to either.

The day following two embassies, consisting of Ravennese and Goths,
issued from the Gates of Honorius and of Theodoric, on the north-west
and south-east, and brought to the camp of the rebels, as well as to
that of the King, the fateful decision of the city.

This decision must have been a strange one.

For the two commanders, Guntharis and Witichis, kept it, in singular
conformity, strictly secret, and took great care that not a word should
become known to their troops.

The ambassadors were immediately conducted from the tents of the
commanders of either camp to the very gates of the fortress, escorted
by generals who forbade any communication with the troops.

And in other ways the effect of the embassy in both camps was singular
enough.

In the rebel camp it led to a violent altercation between the two
brothers, and afterwards to a very animated interview between Duke
Guntharis and his fair prisoner, who, it was said, had only been saved
from his rage by the intervention of Earl Arahad. Finally, the rebel
camp sank into the repose of helpless indecision.

More important consequences ensued in the opposite camp. The first
answer which King Witichis gave the embassy was the order for a general
attack upon the city.

Hildebrand and Teja and the whole army received this order with
astonishment. They had hoped that the strong fortress would voluntarily
open its gates.

Contrary to all Gothic custom and his own usually frank manner, King
Witichis imparted to no one, not even to his friends, the object of the
embassy, or the reason of his angry attack.

Silently, but with doubting shakes of the head and little hope of
success, the army prepared for the assault.

They were repulsed with great loss.

In vain the King urged his Goths again and again to storm the
precipitous and rocky walls.

In vain he himself was the first, three several times, to climb the
scaling-ladders. From early morning to sunset the assaulters stormed
the place without making the least progress; the fortress well
preserved its old reputation of invincibility.

And when at last the King, stunned by a stone, was carried out of the
turmoil, Teja and Hildebrand ceased their efforts and led the weary
troops back to the camp.

The temper of the army during the following night was very sad and
depressed. They had to complain of great losses, and had now nothing
but the conviction that the city could not be taken by force.

The Gothic garrison of Ravenna had fought side by side with the
citizens on the walls. The King of the Goths lay encamped before his
own residence, before the stronghold of his kingdom, in which he had
hoped to find protection and the time to arm against Belisarius!

But the worst was, that the army laid the whole blame of the unhappy
struggle and the necessity of civil war upon the King. Why had the
negotiations with the city been so abruptly broken off? Why was not the
cause of this breach, if it were a just one, made known to the troops?
Why did the King shun the light?

The soldiers sat dejected by their watch-fires, or lay in their tents
nursing their wounds and mending their weapons; no ancient heroic songs
sounded, as usual, from the mess-tables of the camp; and when the
leaders walked through the lanes of tents, they heard many a word of
anger and vexation directed against the King.

Towards morning Hildebad arrived in the camp from Florentia with his
thousands. He heard with indignation of the news of the bloody defeat,
and wished to go at once to the King; but as the latter still lay
unconscious under Hildebrand's care. Earl Teja took Hildebad into his
tent to answer his impatient questions.

Some time after the old master-at-arms joined them; with such an
expression on his features that Hildebad sprang affrighted from the
bear-skin which served him for a couch, and even Teja asked hastily:

"How is the King? What of his wound? Is he dying?"

The old man shook his head sadly.

"No; but if I guess rightly, judging him by his honest heart, it would
be far better for him to die."

"What meanest thou? What dost thou suspect?"

"Peace, peace," said Hildebrand sadly, and seating himself, "poor
Witichis! it will be spoken of soon enough, I fear."

And he was silent.

"Well," said Teja, "how didst thou leave him?"

"The fever has left him, thanks to my herbs. He will be able to mount
his horse to-morrow. But he spoke of strange things in his confused
dreams--I hope that they are but dreams--else, woe to the faithful
man!"

Nothing more could be got out of the taciturn old man.

Some hours after, Witichis sent for the three leaders. To their
astonishment, they found him in full armour, although he was obliged,
while standing, to support himself on his sword. On a table near him
lay his crown-shaped helmet and a sceptre of white ivory, surmounted
with a golden ball.

The friends were startled by the impaired look of his usually so
composed, handsome, and manly features.

He must have gone through some fearful inward struggle. His sound,
simple nature, which seemed to be all of one piece, could not endure
the strife of doubtful duties and contradictory feelings.

"I have summoned you," he said with great effort, "to hear and support
my decision in our grave position. How heavy have been our losses in
this attack?"

"Three thousand dead," said Earl Teja, very gravely.

"And about six thousand wounded," added Hildebrand.

Witichis closed his eyes as if in pain. Then he said:

"It cannot be helped, Teja. Give at once the command for a second
attack!"

"How! what!" cried the three leaders like one man.

"It cannot be helped," repeated the King. "How many thousands hast thou
brought us, Hildebad?"

"Three; but they are dead tired from the march. They cannot fight
to-day."

"Then we will storm alone again," said Witichis, taking his spear.

"King," said Teja, "we did not win a single stone of the fortress
yesterday, and to-day we have nine thousand men less----"

"And those not wounded are faint, their weapons and their courage
broken."

"We _must_ have Ravenna!" repeated Witichis.

"We shall never take it by force," said Earl Teja.

"We will see about that!" retorted Witichis.

"I besieged the city with the great King," said Hildebrand warningly.
"He stormed it in vain seventy times. We only took it by starving
it--after three years."

"We must attack!" cried Witichis. "Give the command."

Teja was about to leave the tent.

Hildebrand stopped him.

"Remain," he said; "we dare not hide it from him any longer. King! the
Goths murmur. To-day they would not obey thee; the attack is
impossible."

"Stand things so?" said Witichis bitterly. "The attack is impossible?
Then only one thing remains: the course which I should have taken
yesterday--then those three thousand would have been still living. Go,
Hildebad, take that crown and sceptre! Go to the rebels' camp; lay them
at the feet of young Arahad; tell him that he may woo Mataswintha; I
and my army will greet him as our King."

And, so speaking, he threw himself exhausted upon his couch.

"Thou speakest feverishly again," cried Hildebrand.

"That is impossible!" cried Teja.

"Impossible!" repeated Witichis. "Everything is impossible? The fight
impossible? and the renunciation? I tell thee, old man, there is
nothing else to be done, after that message from Ravenna."

He ceased.

His three companions looked at each other significantly.

At last the old man said:

"What was that message? Perhaps an expedient may be found? Eight eyes
see more than two."

"No," said Witichis, "not in this case. Here there is nothing to see,
otherwise I would have asked your advice long since. But it could have
led to nothing. There lies the parchment from Ravenna; but be silent
before the army."

The old man took the roll and read:

"'The Gothic warriors and the citizens of Ravenna, to Earl Witichis of
Fæsulæ----'"

"What insolence!" cried Hildebad.

"'And to Duke Guntharis of Florentia, and Earl Arahad of Asta. The
Goths and the citizens of this city declare to the two armies encamped
before their gates, that they, faithful to the distinguished House of
Amelung, and remembering the benefits of the great King Theodoric, will
firmly cling to his royal line as long as a scion of it lives.
Therefore we acknowledge Mataswintha as sole mistress of the Goths and
Italians; only to her will we open our gates, and we will defend them
against any other to the utmost.'"

"What madness!" said Earl Teja.

"Incomprehensible!" cried Hildebad.

But Hildebrand folded the parchment and said:

"I understand it very well. As to the Goths, you must know that the
garrison is formed of the followers of Theodoric, and these followers
have sworn to him never to prefer a strange king to one of his line. I,
too, swore this oath, but, in doing so, I ever thought of the spear and
not of the spindle. It was this oath which obliged me to adhere to
Theodahad, and only after his treachery was I free to do homage to
Witichis. But old Earl Grippa, of Ravenna, and his companions, believe
that they are equally bound to the females of the royal line. And, be
sure of it, these grey-headed heroes--the oldest in the nation, and
Theodoric's brothers-at-arms--will let themselves be hewn in pieces,
man for man, rather than break that oath as they understand it. And, by
Theodoric, they are right! But the Ravennese are not only grateful,
they are cunning; they hope that Goths and Byzantines will fight out
their affair before their walls. If Belisarius win--who, as he says,
comes to avenge Amalaswintha--he cannot then be angry with the city
which has remained faithful to her daughter; and if we win, then it was
they who obliged the garrison to close their gates."

"However that may be," interposed the King, "you will now understand my
silence. If the army knew the contents of that parchment, they might be
discouraged, and go over to the rebels, who hold the Princess in their
power. There remain to me only two courses: either to take the city by
storm--and that we tried yesterday in vain--or, to yield. You say the
first course cannot be repeated, so there only remains the last--to
yield. Arahad may woo the Princess and wear the crown; I will be the
first to do him homage and protect the kingdom, in concert with his
brave brother."

"Never!" cried Hildebad. "Thou art our King, and shall remain so. Never
will I bow my head to that young coxcomb! Let us march to-morrow
against the rebels; I alone will drive them out of their camp, and
carry the royal child--at the touch of whose hands those fast-shut
gates will fly open as if by magic--into _our_ tents."

"And when we have her," asked Earl Teja, "what then? She is of no use
to us if we do not make her our Queen. Wilt thou do so? Hast thou not
had enough with Amalaswintha and Gothelindis? Once more the rule of a
woman?"

"God forbid!" laughed Hildebad.

"I think so too," said the King, "otherwise I should have taken this
course long since."

"Well, then, let us remain here and wait until the city is wearied
out."

"It is impossible." said Witichis, "we cannot wait. In a few days
Belisarius may descend from yonder mountains and conquer us, Duke
Guntharis, and the city; then the kingdom and people of the Goths are
lost for ever! There are only two ways--to storm--"

"Impossible!' said Hildebrand.

"Or to yield. Go, Teja, take the crown. I see no other expedient."

The two young men hesitated.

Then old Hildebrand, with a sad and earnest and loving look at the
King, said:

"I know of another course to take; a painful, but the only one. Thou
must take this course, my Witichis, even if thy heart should break."

Witichis looked at him inquiringly. Even Teja and Hildebad were struck
by the tender manner of the old man.

"Go out," continued Hildebrand, turning to Hildebad and Teja. "I must
speak to the King alone."



                              CHAPTER XIV.

Silently the two Goths left the tent, and walked up and down, awaiting
the result.

From the tent they now and then heard Hildebrand's voice, who appeared
to warn and argue with the King; and now and then an outcry from the
latter.

"What can the old man be thinking of?" asked Hildebad, stopping in his
walk. "Dost thou not know?"

"I guess," sighed Teja; "poor Witichis!"

"What the devil dost thou mean?"

"Let me alone," said Teja; "it will all come out soon enough."

A considerable time elapsed thus. Ever more violent and more full of
pain sounded the voice of the King, who seemed to defend himself
desperately against Hildebrand's arguments.

"Why does the greybeard so torture the brave hero?" cried Hildebad
angrily. "It is just as if he would murder him! I will go in and help
him!"

But Teja held him fast by the shoulder.

"Remain!" he cried, "he cannot be helped."

As Hildebad was struggling to get loose, the noise of voices was heard
from the other end of the lane of tents; two sentries were trying in
vain to stop a strong Goth, who, covered with all the signs of a long
and hard ride, tried to get to the King's tent.

"Let me go, good friend," he cried, "or I will strike thee down!"

And he threateningly lifted a heavy club.

"It cannot be. Thou must wait. The leaders are with him in his tent."

"And if all the gods of Walhalla, together with the Lord Christ, were
in his tent, I must go to him!"

"I know that voice," cried Earl Teja, advancing, "and the man. Wachis!
what seekest thou here?"

"Oh, master!" cried the faithful servant, "happy am I to find you. Tell
these good folks to let me loose, then I need not knock them down."

"Let him loose, or he will keep his word. I know him. Well, what
wouldest thou then with the King?"

"Pray lead me to him at once. I have sad and terrible news to tell him
of his wife and child."

"Wife and child?" asked Hildebad in astonishment. "What, has he a
wife?"

"Very few know it," answered Teja. "She has scarcely ever left their
estate, and has never been to court. Scarcely any one knows her, but
all who do, honour her highly. I know no one like her."

"There you are right, master, if ever any one was!" said Wachis in a
suffocated voice. "The poor, poor mother! and, alas, the poor father!
But let me go. Mistress Rauthgundis follows close behind. I must
prepare him."

Earl Teja, without more questioning, pushed the man into the tent, and
followed with Hildebad.

They found old Hildebrand sitting calmly, like inevitable fate itself,
upon the King's couch, his chin resting on his hand, and his hand upon
his stone battle-axe.

Thus he sat immovable, fixing his eyes upon the King, who, in the
greatest excitement, was pacing to und fro with rapid steps, and so
absorbed in the terrible conflict of his soul, that he did not remark
those who entered.

"No, no; never!" he cried, "it is cruel! criminal! impossible!"

"It must be," said Hildebrand, without moving.

"No, I say!" cried the King; and turned.

Wachis was standing close before him.

Witichis looked at him wildly; then the servant threw himself at his
feet, weeping loudly.

"Wachis!" cried the King, in terror; "what is it? Thou comest from her?
Stand up--what has happened?"

"Alas! master," cried Wachis, still kneeling, "it breaks my heart to
see you! I could not help it. I have repaid and avenged with all my
might!"

Witichis pulled him up to his feet by the shoulders.

"Speak, man! What is there to revenge? My wife----"

"She lives, she is coming; but your child!"

"My child!" cried Witichis, turning pale, "Athalwin? What of him?"

"Dead, master--murdered!"

A cry as of one wounded to death broke from the tortured father's lips.
He covered his face with both hands; Teja and Hildebad stepped forward
compassionately. Only Hildebrand remained motionless, and looked
fixedly at the group.

Wachis could not bear the long and painful pause; he tried to take his
master's hands. They fell of their own accord; two great tears rolled
down the hero's brown cheeks; he was not ashamed of them.

"Murdered!" he cried, "my innocent child! By the Romans?" he asked.

"The cowardly devils!" cried Hildebad.

Teja clenched his fist, and his lips worked silently.

"Calpurnius?" asked Witichis, looking at Wachis.

"Yes, Calpurnius. The report of your election had reached the estate,
and your wife and child were summoned to the camp. How young Athalwin
rejoiced that he was now a King's son, like Siegfried who killed the
dragon! He said he would soon go to seek adventures, and also kill
dragons and giants. Just then our neighbour returned from Rome. I
noticed that he looked gloomy and more envious than ever, and I watched
well over house and stalls. But to watch the child--who could have
thought that children were no longer safe!"

Witichis shook his head sadly.

"The boy could hardly wait until he should see his father in the camp,
and all the thousands of Gothic warriors, and battles close at hand. He
threw away his wooden sword directly, and said a King's son must wear a
steel one, especially in time of war. And I was obliged to find a
hunting-knife, and sharpen it into the bargain. And with this famous
sword he escaped from Mistress Rauthgundis early every morning. And
when she asked, 'Whither?' he laughed, 'To seek adventures!' and sprang
into the woods. Then he came home at noon, tired out and with torn
clothes; wild with merriment and exultation. But he would not tell us
anything, and only hinted that he had played at being Siegfried. But
when I found spots of blood upon his sword, I crept after him into the
woods. It was exactly as I suspected. I had once shown him a hole in
some steep and rugged rocks, which hung over a running brook, and
warned him that there lay poisonous vipers by dozens. At that time he
had questioned me about everything, and when I said that every bite was
deadly, and that a poor berry-gatherer, who had been bitten by a snake
in her naked foot, had died immediately, he drew his wooden sword in a
minute, and wanted to jump into the hole. Much frightened, I with
difficulty kept him back. And now I remembered the vipers, and trembled
because I had given him a steel weapon. I soon found him in the wood in
the middle of the rocks, down among the thorns and brushwood. He was
just taking out a tremendous wooden shield which he had made for
himself and hidden there. A crown was freshly painted upon it. And he
drew his sword and sprang with a joyous cry into the hole. I looked
round. There lay strewn about dozens of the big snakes, with shattered
heads, the victims of his former battles. I followed the boy, and
though I was so anxious, I could not bear to disturb him as he stood
there fighting like a hero! He drove a swelling viper from her hole
with stones; she erected herself with hissing tongue, but just as she
darted at him, he threw his great shield before him and cut her in two
with a mighty stroke. Then I called him, and scolded him well. But he
looked very brave, bold, and disobedient, and cried, 'Do not tell my
mother, for I shall still do it. Until the last dragon is dead!' I said
I would take his sword away. Then I will fight with the wooden one, if
that please thee better,' he cried. 'And what a shame for a King's
son!' For the next few days I took him with me to catch the horses in
the uncultivated pastures. That pleased him very much; and shortly, I
thought, we shall go away. But one morning he escaped me again, and I
went alone to my work. I returned along the brook, sure that I should
find him among the rocks. But I did not find him. I found only the belt
of his sword lying torn on the thorns and his shield broken on the
ground. I looked round alarmed, and sought, but----"

"Quicker, go on!" cried the King.

"But?" asked Hildebad.

"But there was nothing else to be seen on the rocks. Then I noticed the
large footprints of a man in some soft sand. I followed them. They led
to a place where the rock fell steeply to the brook. I looked over, and
below----"

Witichis staggered.

"Alas! my poor master! There on the shore of the brook lay the little
figure! How I got down the rocks, I know not. I was below in an
instant. There he lay, cut and torn by the points of the rocks, his
little hand still holding fast his sword, his bright hair covered with
blood---"

"Cease!" cried Teja, laying his hand upon the man's shoulder, while
Hildebad grasped the poor father's hand, who sank groaning upon his
couch.

"My child, my sweet child! my wife!" he cried.

"I felt that the little heart still beat," continued Wachis; "water
from the brook brought him to his senses. He opened his eyes and
recognised me. 'Thou hast fallen down, my poor child?' I asked. 'No,'
he said, 'not fallen. I was thrown down.' I was horrified.
'Calpurnius,' he went on, 'suddenly came round the corner of the rocks,
as I was striking at the vipers. "Come with me," he said, "or I will
bind thee." "Bind me!" I cried, "my father is King of the Goths, and
thine also. Dare to touch me!" Then he got angry and struck at me with
his stick and came nearer; but I knew that near me our servants were
felling trees, and I cried for help and retreated to the edge of the
rock. He looked about him in terror, for the people must have heard me;
the strokes of their axes ceased. But suddenly he sprang forward,
cried, "Die, little viper!" and pushed me over the rock.'"

Teja bit his lips.

"Oh, the devil!" cried Hildebad.

And Witichis, with a cry of pain, tore his hand from Hildebad's grasp.

"Cut it short," said Teja.

"He lost his senses again," Wachis continued; "I carried him in my arms
home to his mother. Once again he opened his eyes while lying on her
lap. A greeting to you was his last breath."

"And my wife? Is she not desperate?"

"No, master; that she is not. She is of gold, but also of steel. When
the boy had closed his eyes, she silently pointed out of the window to
the right. I understood her. There stood the neighbour's house. And I
armed all your servants and led them there to take revenge. We laid the
murdered boy on your shield and bore him in our midst. And Rauthgundis
went with us, a sword in her hand, following the corpse. We laid the
boy down before the gates of the villa. Calpurnius had fled on his
swiftest horse to Belisarius. But his brother and his son and twenty
slaves stood in the courtyard. They were just about to mount and follow
him. We uplifted the cry of murder three times. Then we attacked them.
We killed them _all_, _all_, and burnt the house down over the
inhabitants. Meantime Rauthgundis looked on without a word, keeping
watch by the little corpse and leaning on her sword; and the next day
she sent me on beforehand to tell you. Shortly after, as soon as she
had burnt the little corpse, she followed me. And as I have lost a day,
being hindered by the rebels from taking the shortest road, she may
arrive at any hour."'

"My child, my child! my poor wife! This is the first produce of this
unhappy crown! And now," he cried to the old man, with all the
impetuosity of pain, "wilt thou still demand that cruel sacrifice? that
unbearable sacrifice?"

Hildebrand slowly rose.

"Nothing is unbearable that is necessary. Winter is bearable, and age,
and death. They come, and we bear it. Because we must. But I hear the
voices of women, and rustling garments. Let us go."

Witichis turned from him to the door.

There, under the lifted curtain of the tent, stood Rauthgundis, his
wife, dressed in grey garments and a black veil, and pressing a small
black urn to her bosom.

A cry of loving pain and painful love; and the husband and wife were
locked in a close embrace.

Silently the witnesses left the tent.



                              CHAPTER XV.

Outside Teja held the old man back by his mantle.

"Thou torturest the King in vain," he said. "He will never consent. Now
least of all!"

"How dost thou know?" interrupted the old man.

"Peace; I guess it. As I guess all misfortune."

"Then thou wilt also acknowledge that he _must_ consent."

"He--_he_ will not do it."

"But--thou meanest her?"

"Perhaps!"

"She will!" cried Hildebrand.

"Yes, she is a wonder of a woman," answered Teja.

While, during the next few days, the now childless pair lived in quiet
seclusion, and Witichis scarcely ever left his tent, it happened that
the outposts of the royal besiegers and the sentries of the Gothic
garrison of Ravenna--taking advantage of the armistice which, as a
matter of fact, had ensued--entered into frequent communication.

Scolding and disputing, they reproached each other with being the cause
of the civil war.

The besiegers complained that the garrison had closed the gates of his
royal fortress upon the King during the greatest distress of the
nation. The Ravennese blamed Witichis for depriving the daughter of the
Amelungs of her rights.

As old Earl Grippa was making the round of the walls, he listened,
unobserved, to one of these conversations.

He suddenly came forward, and called to Witichis's soldiers who were
standing below, praising their King.

"Indeed?" he cried; "is it acting nobly and rightly to attack us like a
madman, instead of giving an answer to our moderate demand? And he
could so easily spare the blood of the Goths! We only want Mataswintha
for our Queen! Well, can he not remain King? Is it so hard to share
throne and couch with the most beautiful woman in the world, with the
Princess Beautiful-hair,' of whose charms the singers sing in the
streets? Must so many thousand brave Goths die, rather than that? Well
then, let him continue to attack. We will see which breaks down first;
his obstinacy or these walls!"

These words of the old commander made an immense impression on all the
Goths before the walls. They knew of nothing to say in defence of their
King. They also knew as little of his marriage as the rest of the army.
In this the presence of Rauthgundis in the camp had altered little, for
truly she had not come like a queen.

They hastened back to the camp in great excitement, and told what they
had heard; how that the obstinacy of the King had sacrificed their
brethren.

"'Twas for this reason he kept the object of the embassy a secret!"
they cried.

Soon groups were formed in every lane of the camp, all much excited,
speaking of the affair, and blaming the King in tones which grew ever
louder.

The Germans of those times treated their kings with a freedom of speech
which horrified the Byzantines.

In this case, vexation at the retreat from Rome; the shame of the
defeat before Ravenna; regret for their sacrificed comrades, and anger
at this secrecy; all worked together to excite the Goths to a storm of
indignation against the King, which was not the less violent, because
it was still restrained.

This temper of the army did not escape the notice of the leaders. As
they passed through the camp, the words of blame were scarcely
restrained. But they would only have let loose the mischief if they had
angrily rebuked it.

And often, when Earl Teja or Hildebad would have interposed a word in
mitigation, old Hildebrand kept them back.

"Let the tide swell a little more," he said; "when it is high enough I
will control it. The only danger would be--" he added, half to himself.

"If those in the rebel camp opposite were beforehand with us," said
Teja.

"Right, thou guesser of riddles! But things go well for us there.
Deserters relate that the princess steadfastly refuses. She threatens
to kill herself rather than give her hand to Arahad."

"Bah!" said Hildebad; "I would risk that!"

"Because thou knowest not that passionate creature, that child of the
Amelungs! She inherits the fiery blood of Theodoric, and will, after
all, play us, too, a bad trick."

"Witichis is another kind of wooer than that boy of Asta," whispered
Teja.

"I trust to that also," answered Hildebrand. "Leave him in peace a few
days longer," added the old man; "his grief must have its way. Till it
is assuaged he can be brought to do nothing. Do not disturb him. Let
him remain quietly in his tent with his wife. I shall be obliged to
disturb him soon enough."

But the old man was compelled to rouse the King from his grief sooner
and in a different way from what he had intended.

The Assembly at Regeta had made a law against all Goths who deserted to
the Byzantines, condemning [them] to an ignominious death.

On the whole, such desertions occurred very rarely, but still, in parts
of the country where a few Goths lived among a crowded Italian
population, and many intermarriages had taken place, they were more
frequent.

The old master-at-arms was especially wroth with these renegades, who
dishonoured themselves and their nation. It was he who had introduced
this law against deserters from the army and the national flag.

Its application had not yet been necessary, and its intention was
almost forgotten.

Suddenly it was brought to mind gravely enough.

Belisarius had not yet left Rome with his main army. For more than one
reason he wished at present to make that city the principal support of
all his movements in Italy; But he had sent numerous parties of
skirmishers after the retreating Goths, to tease and disquiet them, and
particularly to take possession of the many castles, strongholds and
towns from which the barbarian garrison had been driven out and beaten
by the Italians, or, hindered by no garrison, had simply gone over to
the Emperor of the "Romani," as he called himself in Greek.

Such occurrences took place--particularly as, since the Gothic King was
in full retreat, and, after the outbreak of the rebellion, the Gothic
cause seemed half lost--almost daily.

Partly under the influence of the appearance of Belisarius's troops
before the gates, partly without such pressure, many towns and castles
surrendered.

As, however, most of them preferred to wait until they could plead the
excuse of necessity, in case of an unhoped-for victory of the Goths,
Belisarius had all the more reason to send forth against them small
troops of skirmishers, under the command of the deserters, who were
well acquainted with the country and the condition of things.

And these troops, encouraged by the continued retreat of the Goths,
ventured far into the land; every newly-taken castle became a point of
departure for further operations.

Such a party of skirmishers had lately won Castellum Marcianum, which
crowned a rocky height above an extensive pine-wood near Cæsena, close
to the royal camp.

Old Hildebrand, into whose hands Witichis had given the supreme command
since receiving his wound, observed with indignation this dangerous
success of the enemy and the treachery of the Italians.

And as he did not wish to occupy his troops against Duke Guntharis or
Ravenna--always hoping for a peaceable solution of the difficulty--he
decided to play these bold skirmishers a famous trick.

Spies had related that, on the day after Rauthgundis's arrival in the
camp, the new Byzantine garrison of Castellum Marcianum had dared to
threaten Cæsena itself, the important town in the rear of the Gothic
camp.

The old master-at-arms furiously swore destruction to the insolent
enemy. He put himself at the head of a thousand horsemen, and started
in the stillness of the night, with straw twisted round the hoofs of
the horses, in the direction of Cæsena.

The surprise succeeded perfectly. Unobserved they entered the wood at
the foot of the rock upon which the castle was situated.

Hildebrand divided his men into two parties, one of which he ordered to
surround the wood on all sides; the other to dismount and follow him
silently up to the castle.

The sentinels at the gate were taken by surprise, and the Byzantines,
finding that they were attacked by superior numbers, fled on all sides
into the wood, where the greater part of those on horseback were taken
prisoners.

The flames from the burning castle illuminated the scene.

But a small group retreated, fighting, over the little river at the
foot of the rock, which was crossed by a narrow bridge.

Here Hildebrand's pursuing horsemen were checked by a single man--a
leader, as it seemed from the splendour of his armour.

This tall, slender, and seemingly young man--his visor was
down--fought as if in desperation, covered the retreat of his men, and
had already overthrown four Goths.

Then up came the old master-at-arms, and looked on for a while at the
unequal combat.

"Yield, brave man!" he cried to the lonely combatant. "I will guarantee
thy life."

At this call the Byzantine started; for an instant he lowered his
sword, and looked at the old man.

But the next moment he had leaped forward and back again; he had cut
off the arm of his nearest adversary at one powerful stroke.

The Goths fell back a little.

Hildebrand became furious.

"Forward!" he cried. "No more pity! Aim at him with your spears!"

"He is proof against iron!" cried one of the Goths, a cousin of Teja.
"I hit him three times; he cannot be wounded."

"Thinkest thou so, Aligern?" laughed the old man grimly. "Let me see if
he be proof against stone."

And he hurled his stone battle-axe--he was almost the only one who
still carried this ancient heathen weapon--at the Byzantine.

The heavy axe crashed upon the glittering helmet of the brave defender
of the bridge, who fell as if struck by lightning.

Two men sprang towards him and raised his visor.

"Master Hildebrand," cried Aligern in astonishment, "it is no
Byzantine!"

"And no Italian!" added Gunthamund.

"Look at his golden locks--it is a Goth!" observed Hunibad.

Hildebrand came forward--and started violently.

"Torches!" he cried; "light! Yes," he added gloomily, taking up his
stone axe, "it is a Goth! And I--I have slain him," he concluded, with
icy calmness.

But his hand trembled on the shaft of his axe.

"No, master," cried Aligern, "he lives. He was only stunned; he opens
his eyes."

"He lives?" asked the old man, shuddering. "May the gods forbid!"

"Yes, he lives!" repeated the Goths, raising their prisoner.

"Then woe to him, and to me! But no! The gods of the Goths have
delivered him into my power. Bind him upon thy horse, Gunthamund; but
firmly. If he escape, it is at the peril of _thy_ head, not his.
Forward! To horse, and home!"

When they arrived at the camp, the escort asked the master-at-arms what
they should prepare for their prisoner.

"A bundle of straw for to-night," he answered, "and for to-morrow
early--a gallows."

With these words he entered the King's tent, and reported the result of
his excursion.

"We have a Gothic deserter among our prisoners," he concluded grimly.
"He must hang before sunset to-morrow."

"That is very sad," said Witichis, sighing.

"Yes; but necessary. I shall summon the court-martial for to-morrow.
Wilt thou preside?"

"No," said Witichis, "exempt me from that. I will appoint Hildebad in
my place."

"No," cried the old man, "that will not do. I am commander-in-chief as
long as thou keepest thy tent. I demand the presidency as my right."

Witichis looked at him.

"Thou art so grim and cold! Is it an enemy of thy kindred?"

"No," said Hildebrand.

"What is the name of the prisoner?"

"Hildebrand--like mine."

"Meseems thou hatest him--this Hildebrand. Thou mayst judge; but beware
of exaggerated severity. Do not forget that I pardon gladly."

"The well-being of the Goths demands his death," said Hildebrand
quietly; "and he will die!"



                              CHAPTER XVI.

Early the next morning the prisoner, with his head covered, was led to
a meadow on the north, the "cold corner" of the camp, where were
assembled the leaders of the army and a great part of the troops.

"Listen," said the prisoner to one of his escort; "is old Hildebrand on
the Ting-place?"

"He is the head of the Ting."

"They are and will ever remain barbarians! Do me a favour, friend--I
will give thee this purple belt for it. Go to the old man; tell him
that I know that I must die, but I beg him to spare me, and still more
my family--dost thou hear? my _family_--the shame of the gallows. Beg
him to send me a weapon secretly."

The Goth, Gunthamund, went to seek Hildebrand, who had already opened
the court.

The proceedings were very simple. The old man first caused the law of
Regeta to be read aloud; then witnesses proved the taking of the
prisoner, and afterwards he was led forward. A woolsack still covered
his head and shoulders.

It was just about to be taken off, when Gunthamund reached Hildebrand
and whispered in his ear.

"No," cried Hildebrand, frowning; "tell him that the shame of his
family is his _deed_, not his punishment," And he called aloud: "Show
the face of the traitor! It is Hildebrand, son of Hildegis!"

A cry of astonishment and horror ran through the crowd.

"His own grandchild!"

"Old man, thou shalt not preside! Thou art cruel to thy flesh and
blood!" cried Hildebad, starting up.

"Only just; but to every one alike," answered Hildebrand, striking his
staff upon the ground.

"Poor Witichis!" whispered Earl Teja.

But Hildebad hurried away to the camp.

"What canst thou say for thyself, son of Hildegis?" asked Hildebrand.

The young man hastily stepped forward; his face was red, but with
anger, not with shame. He showed not a trace of fear. His long yellow
hair waved in the wind.

The crowd was moved with compassion.

The mere report of his brave resistance, the discovery of his name, and
now his youth and beauty, spoke powerfully in his favour.

With flashing eyes, he looked around at the crowd, and then fixed them
with a proud expression on the old man's face.

"I protest against this court-martial!" he cried, "Your laws do not
concern me. I am a Roman--no Goth! My father died before my birth; my
mother was a Roman, the noble Cloelia. I have never felt as if this
barbarous old man was my kinsman. I despised his severity as I did his
love. He forced his name upon me, the child, and took me away from my
mother. But I ran away from him as soon as I could. I have always
called myself Flavius Cloelius, never Hildebrand. My friends were
Romans; Roman was my every thought; Roman my life! All my friends
joined Belisarius and Cethegus; could I remain behind? Kill me--you can
and you will! But confess that it is a murder, and not an act of
justice! You judge no Goth; you murder a conquered Roman, for Roman is
my soul!"

The crowd had listened to his defence silently and with mixed feelings.

But the old man rose furiously from his seat; his eyes flashed fire;
his hands trembled with rage.

"Miserable boy," he cried, "thou hast confessed that thou art the son
of a Goth! Then art thou a Goth thyself; and if thy heart is Roman,
thou deservest death for that alone. Soldiers, away with him to the
gallows!"

Once more the prisoner advanced to the foot of the judgment-seat.

"Then be accursed," he cried, "you rude and savage people! May your
nation be accursed! And, most of all, thou, old man with the wolf's
heart! Do not think that your savagery and cruelty will do you any
service! You shall be wiped away from the surface of this lovely land,
and not a trace of you shall be left behind!"

At a sign from Hildebrand, the ban-officers again threw the cover over
the prisoner's head, and led him away to a hill upon which stood a
sturdy yew-tree, deprived of its boughs and leaves.

At this moment the eyes of the crowd were diverted towards the camp,
whence the sound of horses' hoofs were heard. Soon a troop of riders
with the royal banner was seen approaching, Witichis and Hildebad at
their head.

"Stop!" cried the King from a distance. "Spare the grandchild of
Hildebrand! Pardon, pardon!"

But the old man pointed to the hill.

"Too late, King," he cried; "it is all over with the traitor. So may
all perish who forget their nation! The kingdom comes first. King
Witichis, and afterwards wife and child and grandchild!"

This act of Hildebrand made a great impression upon the army, and a
still greater one upon the King. He felt the weight which was given to
any demand of the old man by his sacrifice. And with the conviction
that resistance had now become much more difficult, he returned to his
tent.

Hildebrand did not fail to take advantage of the King's humour.

In the evening he entered the royal tent with Teja.

The husband and wife were sitting silent, hand in hand, on the camp
bed; upon a table before them stood the black urn; near it lay a small
golden locket, something like an amulet, appended to a blue ribbon; a
bronze lamp shed a faint light.

As Hildebrand gave his hand to the King, the latter looked into his
face, and saw at one glance that he had entered the tent with the fixed
resolve to carry out his intentions at whatever cost.

All present seemed silently moved by the impending conflict of feeling.

"Mistress Rauthgundis," began the old man, "I have to speak of sad
things with the King. It will hurt thee to hear them!"

Rauthgundis rose, but not to go. Deep pain and earnest love for her
husband gave to her fair and regular features a noble and elevated
expression.

Without removing her right hand from that of her husband, she laid her
left gently upon his shoulder.

"Speak freely, Hildebrand. I am his wife, and demand the half of these
sad words!"

"Mistress," the old man repeated.

"Let her remain," said the King. "Dost thou fear to tell thy thoughts
before her face?"

"Fear? no! And though I were forced to tell a god that the people of
the Goths was dearer to me than he, I should do it without fear. Know
then----"

"What! Thou wilt? Spare her, spare her!" cried Witichis, throwing his
arms around his wife.

But Rauthgundis looked at him quietly and said:

"I know all, my Witichis. Yesterday, as I was walking through the camp,
unrecognised, in the twilight, I heard the soldiers by the watch-fires
blaming thee, and praising this old man to the skies. I listened and
heard all. What he demands and what thou refusest!"

"And thou didst not tell me?"

"There was no danger. Do I not know that thou wouldst never put away
thy wife? Not for a crown, and not for that wonderfully beautiful
maiden. Who can part us? Let this old man threaten; I know that no star
hangs more safely in heaven than I in thy heart."

This security made an impression on the old man. He frowned.

"I have not to argue with thee! Witichis, I ask thee before Teja--thou
knowest how things stand: without Ravenna we are lost: Mataswintha's
hand alone can open its gates--wilt thou take this hand or not?"

Witichis sprang from his seat.

"Yes, our enemies are right! We are barbarians! Before this heartless
old man stands a splendid woman, unparalleled for her griefs as for her
fidelity; here stand the ashes of her murdered child; and he would drag
her husband away from this wife and these ashes to form another union!
Never--nevermore!"

"An hour ago representatives of all the thousands of the army were on
their way to this tent," said the old man. "They would have forced thee
to do that which I only ask. I kept them back with difficulty."

"Let them come!" cried Witichis. "They can only deprive me of my
crown--not of my wife!"

"Who wears the crown belongs to his people--not to himself!"

"Here"--Witichis took the coroneted helmet and laid it upon the table
before Hildebrand--"once more and for the last time I give thee back
the crown. I did not desire it, God knows! It has brought me nothing
but this urn of ashes. Take it back; let who will be King, and woo
Mataswintha."

But Hildebrand shook his head.

"Thou knowest that that would lead to certain destruction. We are
already split into three parties. Many thousands would never
acknowledge Arahad. Thou alone canst still uphold the kingdom. Wert
thou gone, we should be dissolved. We shall become a bundle of separate
sticks, which Belisarius will break as if in sport. Wouldst thou have
that?"

"Mistress Rauthgundis, canst thou make no sacrifice for thy people?"
asked Teja, drawing nearer.

"Thou too, haughty Teja, against me? Is this thy friendship!" cried
Rauthgundis.

"Mistress Rauthgundis," replied Teja quietly, "I honour thee more than
any other woman on earth, and therefore I ask of thee the greatest of
sacrifices----"

But Hildebrand interrupted him.

"Thou art the Queen of this nation. I know of a Gothic Queen who lived
in the heathen times of our forefathers. Hunger and plague lay heavy on
her people. Their swords were useless. The gods were angry with the
Goths. Then Swanhilde asked counsel of the oaks of the woods, and the
waves of the sea, and they answered: 'If Swanhilde dies, the Goths will
live. If Swanhilde lives, her people die.' And Swanhilde never returned
home. She thanked the gods, and sprang into the flood. But truly, that
was in the hero-time."

Rauthgundis was not unmoved.

"I love my people," she said; "and since these golden locks are all
that remain of my Athalwin"--she pointed to the locket--"I believe I
could gladly give my life for my people. I will die--yes!" she cried;
"but to live and know the man of my heart loving another--no!"

"Loving another!" cried Witichis; "how canst speak thus? Knowest thou
not, that my tortured heart beats ever and only at the sound of thy
name? Hast thou then never felt, never yet, not even at the sight of
this urn, that we are eternally one? What am I without thy love? Tear
my heart out of my bosom, place another in its place; then perhaps I
could forget thee! Yes, truly," he cried, turning to the two men, "you
know not what you do; you little know your own interest. You know not
that my love for this woman and this woman's love for me is the best
that poor Witichis possesses. She is my good genius. You know not that
you have to thank her, and her alone, if in anything I please you. I
think of her in the tumult of battle, and the thought strengthens my
arm. Of her I think when noble decisions must be made in the council;
of her clear and serene soul, of her unblemished fidelity! Oh, this
wife is the soul of my life! Deprive me of her, and your King is a
shadow, without fortune and without strength!"

And he passionately folded Rauthgundis in his arms.

She was surprised and startled; overcome with a world of bliss. Never
yet had the calm and reserved man, who habitually controlled his
feelings, spoken so of her or of his love.

Never even when he had wooed her, had he spoken with such passion as
now, when he was asked to leave her. Overpowered, she sank upon his
breast.

"Thanks, thanks, O God, for this hour of pain," she whispered. "Yes,
now I know that thy heart and soul are mine for ever!"

"And will remain thine," said Teja in a low tone, "even if another is
called his Queen. She would only share his crown, never his heart!"

These words penetrated Rauthgundis's soul. She looked at Teja, moved by
his words, with wide eyes.

Hildebrand saw it, and now considered how he should strike his final
blow.

"Who would, who could, tamper with your hearts!" he said. "A shadow
without fortune or strength! That thou wilt only become if thou
refusest to listen to my words, or break thy sacred, solemn oath. For a
_perjurer_ is more hollow than a shadow!"

"His oath?" asked Rauthgundis hastily. "What hast thou sworn?"

But Witichis sank down upon his seat and buried his face in his hands.

"What has he sworn?" repeated Rauthgundis.

Then Hildebrand, aiming every word at the hearts of the husband and
wife, spoke:

"A few years ago a man concluded a mighty bond with four friends at the
midnight hour. The sod was raised under a sacred oak, and they swore by
the ancient earth and welling water, by the flickering flame and
ethereal air. They mixed their living blood and swore a solemn oath; to
sacrifice all that they possessed, son and kindred, life, weapons and
wives and glory, to the welfare of the Goths! And if any one of them
should refuse to keep the oath, when reminded by a brother in time of
necessity, his red blood should run unavenged, like the water under the
wood-sod. Upon his head heaven should fall and crush him, and he should
be for ever subject to all the dark powers under the earth. His soul
should be condemned to eternal torture; good men should trample over
his grave, and his memory be dishonoured and covered with curses
wherever Christians ring bells or heathens offer sacrifices; wherever
the wind blows over the wide world, and mothers caress their children.
This oath was sworn by five men: by Hildebrand and Hildebad, by Teja
and Totila. But who was the fifth? Witichis, son of Waltaris."

And he suddenly drew back Witichis's left-hand sleeve.

"Look here, Rauthgundis, the scar has not yet vanished. But the oath
has vanished from his soul. Thus he swore before he was made King. And
when the thousands of Goths, on the field of Regeta, lifted him on the
shield, he swore a second oath: 'My life, my happiness, all that I
have, do I dedicate to you, the people of the Goths. I swear it by the
God of heaven and by my faith.' Well, Witichis, son of Waltaris, King
of the Goths, I now remind thee of that double oath. I ask thee whether
thou wilt sacrifice, as thou hast sworn to do, thy wife and thy
happiness to the people of the Goths? See, I too have lost three sons
for this people, and, without shrinking, I have sacrificed and
condemned my grandchild, the last scion of my race. Speak, wilt thou do
the like? Wilt thou keep thine oath? or wilt thou break it and live
accursed? cursed by the living and cursed amongst the dead?"

Witichis was convulsed with pain at the words of the old man.

Then Rauthgundis rose. She laid her left hand on her husband's breast,
and stretched forth her right as if to protect him from Hildebrand.

"Cease," she said, "leave, him alone. It is enough! He will do what
thou desirest. He will not dishonour and perjure himself for the sake
of his wife."

But Witichis sprang up, and held her fast in both his arms as if they
were about to tear her from him at once.

"Now go," she said to the two men; "leave me alone with him."

Teja turned to go; Hildebrand hesitated.

"Go, go!" she cried, laying her hand upon the marble urn; "I swear to
thee by the ashes of my child, that at sunrise he shall be free!"

"No," cried Witichis, "I will not put away my wife! never!"

"Thou shalt not. It is not thou who sendest me away--I turn away from
thee. Rauthgundis goes to save her people and her husband's honour.
Thou canst never tear away thy heart from me; I know that mine it will
remain, now more than ever! Go, Hildebrand and Teja, what we two have
now to go through, will admit of no witness."

The two men silently left the place; silently they went together down
the lane of tents; at the corner the old man stopped.

"Good-night, Teja," he said; "it is now done!"

"Yes; who knows if well done? A noble, noble sacrifice! Many more will
follow, and, meseems there, in the stars, it stands written--in vain!
But for honour then, if not for victory! Farewell."

He drew his dark mantle closely round his shoulders, and disappeared
like a shadow into the night.



                             CHAPTER XVII.

The next morning, before cockcrow, a veiled woman rode out of the camp.
A man in a brown war-mantle walked beside her, holding her horse's
bridle, and ever and again looking into her veiled face.

At an arrow's length behind them rode a servant, with a bundle at his
back, where hung a heavy club.

They went on their way for some time in silence.

At last they reached a woody eminence; behind them lay the broad plain
where stood the Gothic camp and the city of Ravenna; before them, to
the north-west, the road which led to the Via Æmilia.

The woman checked her horse.

"The sun is just rising. I have sworn that it shall find thee free.
Farewell, my Witichis!"

"Hurry not so away from me," he said, pressing her hand.

"I must keep my word if my heart breaks! It must be!"

"Thou goest more easily than I remain!"

She smiled painfully.

"I leave my life behind me; thou hast yet a life before thee."

"And what a life!"

"The life of a King for his people, as thine oath demands."

"Fatal oath!"

"It was right to swear it; it is a duty to keep it. And thou wilt think
of me in the gilded halls of Rome, as I of thee in my hut, deep in the
ravine. Thou wilt not forget thy wife, nor the ten years of our faith
and love, nor our sweet boy."

"Oh, my wife, my wife!" cried the tortured man, pressing his face
against the saddle-bow, and putting both arms around her.

She bent over him and laid her hand upon his head.

Meanwhile Wachis had overtaken them; he looked at the group for a short
time, and then he could bear it no longer.

He pulled his master gently by the mantle.

"Master, listen; I can give you good advice. Do you not hear me?"

"What canst thou advise?"

"Come with us! Up, away! Mount my horse and ride away with Mistress
Rauthgundis. I will follow afterwards. Leave those who torture you till
the bright drops stand in your eyes; leave them, and all the rubbish of
crown and kingdom. It has brought you no happiness. They do not mean
well by you. Who would part man and wife for a dead crown? Up and away,
I say! And I know a rocky nest where no one can find you but an eagle
or a chamois."

"Shall thy master run away from his kingdom, like a bad slave from the
mill?"

"Farewell, Witichis. Here, take the locket with the blue ribbon; the
ringlet of our boy is in it, and one," she whispered, kissing him on
the forehead, and hanging the locket round his neck, "one of
Rauthgundis'. Farewell, thou, my heart's life!"

He raised himself to look into her eyes.

She suddenly struck her horse--"Forward, Wallada!"--and galloped away.
Wachis followed.

Witichis stood motionless, and looked after her.

She stopped before the road turned into the wood--once more she waved
her hand, and the next minute had disappeared.

Witichis listened to the tramp of the horses as if in a dream. When the
sound ceased he turned.

But he could not leave the place.

He stepped out of the road. At the other side of the ditch lay a large
mossy block of stone. There the King of the Goths seated himself,
rested his arms upon his knees, and buried his face in his hands. He
pressed them hard against his eyes, to shut out the whole world from
his grief.

Tears trickled through his fingers. He did not notice them.

Horsemen galloped past. He scarcely heard them.

So he sat motionless for hours; so motionless, that the birds of the
wood hopped close to him.

The sun stood in the south.

At last--he heard some one call his name.

He looked up. Earl Teja stood before him.

"I knew well," said Teja, "that thou hadst not fled like a coward. Come
back with me, and save thy kingdom. When, this morning, thou wert not
found in thy tent, the report spread through the camp that, despairing
of kingdom and happiness, thou hadst fled. It soon reached the city of
Ravenna and Guntharis. The Ravennese threaten a sally, and that they
will go over to Belisarius. Arahad tempts the army to give him the
crown. Two, three opposing Kings arise. Everything will fall to pieces
if thou comest not to save us!"

"I come!" cried Witichis. "Let them take care! The best heart in the
world has been broken for the sake of this crown; it is sacred, and
they shall not desecrate it. Come, Teja, back to the camp!"



                         BOOK IV.-_Continued._

                               WITICHIS.

"But the Goths chose Witichis for their king, a man, not indeed of
noble birth, but of great fame as a warrior."--_Procopius: Wars of the
Goths_, i. 11.



                                PART II.



                               CHAPTER I.

When King Witichis readied the camp, he found it almost in a state of
anarchy.

The pressing need of the moment forcibly roused him from his grief, and
gave him sufficient occupation.

He found the army split into numerous parties, and on the point of
dissolution. He acknowledged to himself that, if he had abdicated, or
abandoned the camp, the complete ruin of the Gothic cause would have
been the consequence. He found many of the troops already on the point
of departure. Some were about to join Earl Grippa in Ravenna; others to
go over to the rebels; others again to fly across the Alps. Many spoke
of the choice of a new king, and here, too, the different parties
opposed each other with threats of violence.

Hildebrand and Hildebad still kept together those who did not believe
in the flight of the King. The old master-at-arms had declared that if
Witichis had really deserted them, he would not rest until he had dealt
to him the punishment of Theodoric, while Hildebad rated at those who
could believe Witichis capable of such baseness.

They had guarded the roads to the city and to the rebel camp, and
threatened to oppose force to every movement in those directions; while
Duke Guntharis, having heard a report of the confusion, was already
advancing against the royal camp.

Everywhere Witichis found discontented groups of troops on the point of
departure; everywhere he heard words of blame and beheld uplifted
weapons. At any moment the camp might become a scene of bloodshed.

Quickly resolved, he hurried to his tent, adorned himself with the
coroneted helmet and the golden sceptre, mounted Boreas, his powerful
charger, and galloped through the lines of tents, followed by Teja, who
bore the blue banner of Theodoric.

In the middle of the camp they met with a crowd of men, women, and
children--for the latter generally accompanied a Gothic army--who,
murmuring and threatening, were moving towards the western gate.

Hildebad had sent his soldiers to bar this gate with levelled lances.

"Let us go out," cried the people. "The King has fled, the war is over,
all is lost. We will save our lives."

"The King is no coward like thee!" cried Hildebad, pushing back the
nearest man.

"Yes, he is a traitor!" cried the latter. "He has forsaken and betrayed
us for the sake of a woman's tears."

"Yes," said another, "he has killed three thousand of our brothers and
has fled."

"Thou liest!" said a quiet voice. Witichis had turned the corner of a
tent.

"Hail, King Witichis!" cried Hildebad. "Do you see him, you rabble? Did
I not tell you? But it was high time thou camest--things were getting
to a desperate pass."

Just then Hildebrand came galloping up with a few horsemen.

"Hail, King Witichis!" he cried, and turning to his
companions--"Hasten, heralds, through the camp," said he, "and tell
what you have seen; and all the people will cry: 'Hail, Witichis, our
faithful King!'"

But Witichis turned from him with a look of anguish.

The heralds galloped away in all directions, and shortly there arose
through the whole camp the thundering shout, "Hail, King Witichis!"
Even those who had just been murmuring joined unanimously in the cry.

Witichis listened to these acclamations with a look full of pride and
pain, and Teja whispered to him: "Now thou seest that thou hast saved
the kingdom."

"Up! lead us to victory!" cried Hildebad, "for Guntharis and Arahad
approach! They think to surprise us without a chief and in complete
disorder. At them! They shall find themselves mistaken. At them! and
down with the rebels!"

"Down with the rebels!" thundered the soldiers, glad to find an outlet
for their excited passions.

But the King made a sign.

"Peace! No more shall Gothic blood flow from wounds made by Gothic
weapons. Wait patiently here. Thou, Hildebad, open the gate for me.
None shall follow me. I alone go to the rebels. Thou, Earl Teja,
control the troops until I return. But thou, Hildebrand," he cried,
raising his voice, "ride to the gates of Ravenna, and loudly bid them
open. Their desire is fulfilled, and, before evening, we will enter:
King Witichis and Queen Mataswintha."

He spoke these words with such sorrowful dignity, that the hearers
received them in reverent silence.

Hildebad opened the gate of the camp. Without could be discerned the
rebels, approaching at a quick march; loudly sounded their war-cry as
the gate opened.

King Witichis gave his sword to Earl Teja, and rode slowly to meet
them. The gate closed behind him.

"He seeks death," whispered Hildebad.

"No," said Teja, "he seeks the salvation of the Goths."

On recognising the solitary horseman, the rebels were amazed. Near the
brothers--who marched at the head of the troops--rode the chief of the
Avarian archers. He held his hand over his small and twinkling eyes
and cried:

"By the horse of the war-god, that is the King himself! Now, my boys,
sons of the steppes, aim well, and the war is over!" and he quickly
took his bow from his shoulder.

"Stop, Chan Warchun," cried Duke Guntharis, laying his mailed hand upon
the other's shoulder. "Thou hast sadly erred twice in the same breath.
Thou hast called Earl Witichis the King: that may be forgiven thee.
Thou wouldst murder him who comes as a messenger of peace. That may be
Avarian, but is not Gothic custom. Away with thee and thy troop out of
my camp!"

The Chan started and looked at Guntharis in astonishment.

"Away, at once!" repeated Duke Guntharis.

The Avarian laughed and signed to his horsemen.

"'Tis all one to me. Children, we go to Belisarius. Queer people, these
Goths! Giant bodies with children's hearts!"

Meanwhile Witichis had ridden up.

Guntharis and Arahad looked at him inquiringly.

Unusual solemnity was added to the customary simple dignity of his
manner; the majesty of deep grief.

"I come to speak with you of the welfare of the Goths. Brother shall
slay brother no more. Let us enter Ravenna together, and together
conquer Belisarius. I shall wed Mataswintha, and you two shall stand
nearest to my throne."

"Never!" cried Arahad passionately.

"Thou forgettest," said Duke Guntharis proudly, "that thy bride is in
_our_ tents."

"Duke Guntharis of Tuscany, I might answer that shortly _we_ shall be
in your tents. We are more numerous and not less brave than you, and,
Duke, we have right on our side. I will not speak of that, but only
warn you of the fate of the Goths. Should you conquer _us_, you are too
weak to conquer Belisarius. Even united, we are scarcely strong enough
for that. Give way!"

"It is for thee to give way," said the Wölfung. "If thou lovest the
Goths, lay down thy crown. Canst thou make no sacrifice for thy
people?"

"I can. I have done so. Hast thou a wife, O Guntharis?"

"I have a dear wife."

"I too! I _had_ a dear wife. I have sacrificed her to my people. I have
sent her away, in order to woo Mataswintha."

Duke Guntharis was silent.

But Arahad cried: "Then thou hast never loved her!"

Witichis started; the force of his grief and his love redoubled. His
cheeks flushed, and casting an annihilating look at the alarmed youth,
he cried:

"Talk not to me of love! Blaspheme not, thou foolish boy! Because red
lips and white limbs flash before thee in thy dreams, darest thou to
speak of love? What knowest thou of what I have lost in this wife, the
mother of my sweet child? A world of love and faith! Irritate me not.
My heart is sore. I control my pain and despair with difficulty. Do not
exasperate them, or they will break loose!"

Duke Guntharis had become very thoughtful.

"I knew thee, Witichis, in the wars with the Gepidæ. Never saw I
ignoble man deal such noble strokes. I know that there is nought false
in thee. I know the love which binds a man to a good wife. And thou
hast sacrificed such a wife to thy people? That is much!"

"Brother, of what thinkest thou?" cried Arahad. "What dost thou intend
to do?"

"I intend not to allow the House of the Wölfungs to be outdone in
generosity. Noble blood, Arahad, demands noble acts! Tell me one thing
more, Witichis. Wherefore hast thou not rather sacrificed thy crown,
even thy life, than thy wife?"

"Because it would have been the certain destruction of the kingdom.
Twice I would have yielded the crown to Earl Arahad; twice the leaders
of my army swore that they would never acknowledge him. Three, four
Gothic kings might have been chosen, but, by my honour, Earl Arahad
would never have been acknowledged. Then I tore my wife from my
bleeding heart; and now, Duke Guntharis, remember thou also the people
of the Goths. The House of the Wölfungs is lost if the Goths are lost.
If Belisarius lay the axe to the roots of the trunk, the noblest
branches will fall too. I have renounced my wife, the crown of my life;
renounce thou the hope of a crown!"

"It shall not be sung in the halls of the Goths that the freedman
Witichis was more self-sacrificing than the chief of the nobility! The
strife is at an end; I greet thee, my King."

And the proud Duke bent his knee to Witichis, who raised him and
pressed him to his heart.

"Brother! brother! what shame thou dost me!" cried Arahad.

"I look upon it as an honour," said Guntharis quietly. "And as a sign
that my King sees no cowardice, but rather nobleness, in my homage, I
beg a favour. Amelungs and Balthes have ousted my family from the place
which belonged to it among the people of the Goths."

"At this moment," answered Witichis, "thou hast redeemed that place.
The Goths shall never forget that the generosity of the Wölfungs has
saved them from a civil war."

"And, as a sign of this, thou wilt give us the right to bear the
standard of the Goths before the troops in every battle?"

"Be it so," said the King, giving him his right hand; "and none can be
more worthy."

"Thanks, O King! Let us now go to Mataswintha."

"Mataswintha!" cried Arahad, who had looked on at this reconciliation,
which buried all his hopes, in dismay. "Ha! you remind me at the right
time. You can take the crown from me--let it go--but not my love, and
not the duty of protecting my beloved. She has refused me, but I shall
love her until death! I have protected her from my brother, who would
have forced her to wed me. No less faithfully will I protect her now if
you two attempt to force her to give her hand to my hated enemy. That
hand, which is dearer to me than all the crowns of the world, shall be
free!"

And he quickly mounted his horse, and galloped off to the camp.

Witichis looked after him anxiously.

"Let him go," said Duke Guntharis; "we two, united, have nothing to
fear. Let us now reconcile the troops, since the leaders are friends."

While Guntharis first led the King through his lines of troops, and
called upon them at once to do him homage, which they did with joy, and
afterwards Witichis took the Wölfung and his leaders with him into his
camp, where the victory so peacefully gained was looked upon as
miraculous, Arahad collected together a small troop of about a hundred
horsemen, who were faithfully attached to him, and galloped back with
them to his camp.

He soon reached the tent of Mataswintha, who indignantly rose at his
entrance.

"Be not angry. Princess. This time thou hast no right to be so. Arahad
comes to fulfil his last duty. Fly! thou must follow me!" And, in the
impetuosity of his excitement, he grasped her small white hand.

Mataswintha receded a step, and laid her hand upon the broad golden
girdle which confined her white under-garment.

"Fly?" she asked. "Fly whither?"

"Over the sea! over the Alps! Anywhere for liberty; for thy liberty is
endangered."

"Only by thee!"

"By me no longer; and I can protect thee no more. So long as only my
happiness was at stake, I could be cruel to myself and honour thy will.
But now----"

"But now?" repeated Mataswintha, turning pale.

"They intend thee for another. My brother, the army, and our enemies in
Ravenna and the opposite camp, are all agreed. Soon a thousand voices
will call thee, the victim, to the bridal altar. I cannot bear to think
of it! Such a soul, such beauty, a sacrifice to an unloved marriage
bond!"

"Let them come!" said Mataswintha. "We will see if they can force me!"
And she pressed the dagger which she carried in her girdle to her
heart. "Who is the new despot who threatens me?"

"Do not ask!" cried Arahad. "Thy enemy, who is not worthy of thee; who
does not love thee; he--but follow me--fly! They already approach!"

Horses' hoofs were heard outside.

"I remain! Who can force the will of the grandchild of Theodoric?"

"No; thou shalt not, must not, fall into the hands of those heartless
men, who value neither thee nor thy beauty, but only thy right to the
crown. Follow me----"

At this moment the curtain at the entrance of the tent was pushed
aside. Earl Teja entered. Two Gothic boys, dressed in festive garments
of white silk, followed him; they bore a purple cushion, covered with a
veil.

Teja advanced to the middle of the tent, and kneeled before
Mataswintha. He, like the boys, wore a green spray of rue round his
helmet. But his eyes and brow were gloomy, as he said:

"I greet thee. Queen of the Goths and Italians!"

Mataswintha looked at him amazed.

Teja rose, went up to the boys, took a golden circlet and a green
wreath of rue from the cushion, and said:

"I give thee the bridal wreath and the crown, Mataswintha, and invite
thee to the wedding and coronation; the litter awaits thee."

Arahad laid his hand on his sword.

"Who sends thee?" asked Mataswintha, with a beating heart, but her hand
upon her dagger.

"Who but Witichis, the King of the Goths?"

On hearing this a ray of ineffable joy shone from Mataswintha's
beautiful eyes. She raised both hands to heaven and cried:

"Thanks, O heaven! Thy stars and my true heart are not belied. I knew
it!"

She took the coronet into her white hands and pressed it firmly upon
her golden hair.

"I am ready," she said. "Lead me to thy master and mine."

And she majestically held out her hand to Earl Teja, who reverently led
her out of the tent.

But Arahad looked after her in speechless wonder as she disappeared,
his hand still upon his sword.

He was roused by the entrance of Eurich, one of his followers, who came
up to him, and laying his hand upon his shoulder, asked:

"What now? The horses stand and wait. Whither?"

"Whither?" exclaimed Arahad, starting; "whither? There is only one way,
and that we will take. To the Byzantines and death!"



                              CHAPTER II.

In the peaceful light of late afternoon shone the chapel and convent
which Valerius had built in order to release his daughter from the
service of the Church. It was situated at the foot of the Apennines, to
the northeast of Perusia and Asisum, and to the south of Petra and
Eugubium, upon a rocky precipice above the little town of Taginæ.

The cloister, built of the dark red stone of the neighbourhood,
enclosed in its quadrangle a quiet garden, green with shrubberies.

A cool arched passage ran round all its four sides, decorated in the
grave Byzantine style, with statues of the apostles, mosaics, and
frescoes on a golden background.

This ornamentation consisted in symbolic pictures from the sacred
writings, especially from the Revelations of St. John, the favourite
Gospel of that time.

Solemn stillness reigned over the place. Life seemed excluded from
within these high and strong walls.

Cypresses and arbor-vitæ predominated in the groups of trees in the
garden, where the song of a bird was never heard. The strict conventual
order suffered no bird, lest the sweet song of the nightingale might
disturb the pious souls in their devotions.

It was Cassiodorus who, already inclined to a severe monastic rule when
minister of Theodoric, and full of Biblical learning, had sketched for
his friend Valerius the plan for the outer and inner government of this
convent--similar to the rules of the monastery which he himself had
founded at Squillacium--and had watched over its execution. His pious
but severe mind, so alienated from the flesh and the world, was
expressed in the smallest details.

The twenty widows and maidens who lived here as nuns passed their days
in prayer and psalm-singing, chastisement and penitence, and also in
works of Christian charity; for they visited the sick and the poor of
the neighbourhood, comforting and nursing body and soul.

It made a solemn, poetical, but very sad impression upon the beholder
when one of these pious nuns came walking through the dark avenue of
cypresses, clad in a flowing dark-grey garment, which trailed on the
ground, and a white close-fitting kalantika upon her head, a costume
which Christendom had received from the Egyptian priests of Isis.

Before every cross of the many which were cut in the box-trees the nuns
stood still and folded their hands in adoration. They always walked
alone, and dumb as shadows they glided past each other when they
chanced to meet; for communication was reduced to the absolutely
necessary.

In the middle of the garden a spring flowed from beneath a
dark-coloured rock, surrounded by cypresses; marble seats were fixed in
the rock.

It was a retired, lovely spot; wild roses formed a sort of arbour, and
almost entirely concealed a rough bas-relief sculptured in the rock,
representing the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

Near this spring sat, eagerly reading in a roll of papyrus, a beautiful
maiden, clad in a snow-white garment, held up on the left shoulder by a
golden clasp. A spray of ivy was twined in the dark brown hair, which
flowed back from the brow in soft waves. It was Valeria.

When the columns of her home at Neapolis had been overthrown, she had
found an asylum within these strong walls. She had become paler and
graver in this lonely dwelling, but her eyes still beamed with all
their former beauty.

She read with avidity; the contents of the papyrus seemed to entrance
her; her finely-cut lips moved involuntarily, and at last she began to
read aloud in a low voice:

     "His child to Hector of the brazen helm
      Was given in marriage; she it was who now
      Met him, and by her side the nurse, who bore
      Clasped to her breast, his all-unconscious child,
      Hector's loved infant, fair as morning star;
      Silent he smiled as on his boy he gazed,
      But at his side, Andromache in tears,
      Hung on his arm, and thus the chief addressed:
      'Dear lord, thy dauntless spirit will work thy doom;
      Nor hast thou pity on this thy helpless child,
      Or me, forlorn to lie thy widow soon:
      For thee will all the Greeks with force combined
      Assail and slay: for me, 'twere better far,
      Of thee bereft, to lie beneath the sod;
      Nor comfort shall be mine, if thou be lost,
      But endless grief: to me nor sire is left,
      Nor honoured mother;
      But, Hector, thou to me art all in one,
      Sire, mother, brethren! thou, my wedded love!'"

She read no further; her large eyes grew moist; her voice died away;
her head sank upon her bosom.

"Valeria!" said a mild voice, and Cassiodorus bent forward over her
shoulder; "tears upon the book of comfort! But what do I see--the
'Iliad?' Child, I gave you the Evangelists!"

"Pardon me, Cassiodorus; my heart clings to other gods than yours. You
cannot imagine how, the more the shadow of earnest self-denial presses
upon me since I entered these walls, the more tenaciously my resisting
heart holds fast to the last ties that bind me to the world. And my
mind vacillates between disgust and love."

At this moment a loud and cheerful sound broke the silence; a strange
tone in these quiet precincts, which usually echoed only the low choral
of the nuns.

Trumpets sounded the merry signal of the Gothic horsemen. The tones
penetrated Valerians heart with a life-giving feeling. The gatekeeper
came running from the dwelling-house.

"Master," he cried, "bold horsemen are outside the gate. They make a
noise and demand meat and drink. They will not be refused, and their
leader--there he is!"

"Totila!" cried Valeria, and flew to meet her lover, who appeared in
his glittering armour and white mantle. "Oh, you bring me air and
life!"

"And new hope and old love!" said Totila, and held her in a fast
embrace.

"Whence come you? How long you have been away!"

"I come straightway from Paris and Aurelianum, from the courts of the
Frank kings. Oh, Cassiodorus, how well off are those on the other side
of the mountains! What an easy life have they! There heaven and earth
and tradition do not fight against their German spirit. The Rhenus and
Danubius are near, and uncounted Germanic races dwell there in old and
unbroken strength; we, on the contrary, are like an advanced outpost, a
forlorn hope, a single block of rock, worn away by the envious
elements. But all the greater fame," he continued, drawing himself up,
"if we can create and uphold a kingdom for the Germans in the centre of
the country of the Romans! And what a magic lies in your fatherland,
Valeria! And we have made it ours. How my heart rejoiced when olives
and laurels and the deep deep blue of heaven again greeted my eyes! I
felt that if my people can victoriously sustain themselves in this
wondrous land, mankind will see its noblest ideal realised."

Valeria pressed his hand.

"And what have you accomplished?" asked Cassiodorus.

"Much! Everything! At the court of the Merovingian, Childebert, I
met with ambassadors from Byzantium, who had already half persuaded
him to invade Italy as their allies. The gods--forgive me, pious
father--Heaven was with me and my words. I succeeded in altering
Childebert's sentiments. In the worst case, his weapons will remain
neutral. But I hope he will send an army to our assistance."

"Where did you leave Julius?"

"I accompanied him to his lovely home, Avenio. There I left him among
blooming almond-trees and oleanders; there he wanders, no more with
'Plato.' but almost always with 'Augustinus' in his hand; and dreams
and dreams of eternal peace between the nations, of perfect goodness,
and of the kingdom of God! It is indeed lovely in those green vales;
but I do not envy him his leisure. My ideal is folk and fatherland. And
my only desire is to fight for this people of the Goths. Everywhere in
my backward journey I drove the people to arms. I already met three
strong troops on the way to Ravenna. I myself lead a fourth to our
brave King. At last we shall advance against these Greeks, and then
revenge for Neapolis!" and with flashing eyes he raised his spear. He
was very beautiful to look upon.

Valeria threw herself into his arms.

"Oh see, Cassiodorus!" she cried; "this is _my_ world! _my_ joy! my
heaven! Manly courage and the glitter of arms and love of one's people,
and the soul moved with love and hate--does not this satisfy the human
soul?"

"Yes; while happy and young! It is pain which leads the mind to
heaven."

"My pious father," said Totila, laying his right hand upon the shoulder
of Cassiodorus, and drawing Valeria close to him with his left, "it ill
becomes me to argue with you, who are older, wiser, and better. But I
feel just the contrary. If I could ever doubt the goodness of God, it
is when I see pain and undeserved suffering. When I saw my noble
Miriam's eyes extinguished in death, my doubting heart asked: 'Does
there then exist no God?' In happiness and the sunshine of life is the
grace of the Supreme Being revealed to me. He certainly wills the
happiness of mankind--pain is His sacred secret; I trust that also this
riddle will be made clear to us. But meanwhile let us joyfully do our
best upon earth, and allow no shadow to darken our minds too long. In
this belief, Valeria, let us part. For I must go to King Witichis with
my troop."

"You leave me? Already? Ah, when and where shall I see you again?"

"You shall see me again; take my word in pledge. I know the day will
come when I shall have the right to take you from these gloomy walls
and lead you to life and sunshine. Meanwhile, do not allow yourself to
give way to sad thoughts. The day of victory and happiness will come;
and I rejoice that I draw my sword at once for my people and my love."

While he was speaking the gatekeeper had brought a letter for
Cassiodorus.

"I too must leave you, Valeria," said the latter. "Rusticiana, the
widow of Boëthius, calls me to her death-bed. She wishes to ease her
mind of old guilt. I go to Tifernum."

"My way leads thither also; we will go together, Cassiodorus. Farewell,
my Valeria!"

After a brief leave-taking, the maiden watched her lover set forth.

She climbed a small tower on the garden wall, and looked after him.

She saw him swing himself into the saddle; she saw his horsemen gallop
after him.

Their helmets glittered in the evening light; the blue flag fluttered
merrily in the wind; it was a picture of life, strength, and youth.

She looked after the troop for some time with intense longing.

But as it disappeared more and more into the distance, the joyous
courage with which her lover's visit had imbued her, gradually forsook
her. Sad forebodings arose in her heart, and she unconsciously
expressed her feelings in the words of her beloved Homer:

    "'Achilles, too, thou see'st; how stalwart, tall, and fair!
      Yet must he yield to death and stubborn fate,
      Whene'er at morn, or noon, or eve, the spear
      Or arrow from the bow may reach his life.'"

Sighing painfully, she left the quickly darkening garden, and entered
the damp walls of the convent.



                              CHAPTER III.

Meanwhile King Witichis, in his armed city of Ravenna, displayed all
the arts and activity of an experienced general.

As, week by week, and day by day, larger or smaller divisions of the
Gothic troops which had been treacherously sent to the frontiers by
Theodahad, returned to the city, the King was unceasingly occupied in
arming, training, and regulating the whole army, which was gradually to
be brought to the number of a hundred and fifty thousand.

For Theodoric's reign had been extremely peaceful; the garrisons of the
frontier provinces had alone seen active service against the Gepidæ,
Bulgarians, and Avarians; and during a peace of more than thirty years
the regulations of the army had become somewhat rusty.

Therefore the King, supported by his friends and generals, had work
enough on his hands.

The arsenals and docks were emptied; immense magazines were built in
the city, and, between the threefold walls, endless rows of workshops
were erected for smiths and armourers of all kinds, who were obliged to
labour day and night, in order to satisfy the demands of the ever
increasing army, and the eager exigence of the King.

All Ravenna had become a camp.

Nothing was heard but the hammers of the smiths, the neighing of
horses, the rattle of arms, and the war-cry of man[oe]uvring troops.

In this turmoil and restless activity Witichis sought to deaden his
grief as well as he could, and looked eagerly forward to the day when
he might lead his brave army to meet the enemy.

But though his first impulse was to lose himself in the vortex of a
fierce struggle, he did not forget his duty as King, but sent Duke
Guntharis and Hildebad to Belisarius with a proposal of peace on the
most moderate conditions.

His time thus completely claimed by affairs of state, Witichis had
scarcely a thought or look to spare for his Queen, upon whom, as he
also imagined, he could bestow no greater favour than the undisturbed
enjoyment of liberty.

But since the fatal marriage feast of Witichis and Mataswintha, at the
end of which she had learned in the bridal chamber, from his lips, that
he did not, could never love her, and had but called her wife to save
the nation, Mataswintha had been possessed by a demon: the demon of
insatiable revenge.

The most deadly hatred is that of revolted love.

From her childhood Witichis had been Mataswintha's ideal. Her pride,
her hope, and her love were all centred in him; and she had as little
doubted that the sun would rise on the morrow, as that her longing for
him would be satisfied. And now she was forced to confess to herself
that he had discovered her passion, and did not reciprocate it; and
that, although she was his Queen, her love for him appeared criminal,
with regard to his banished wife, who yet alone reigned in his heart.

He, whom she had looked upon as her destined liberator from unworthy
bondage, had done her the greatest injury; he had caused her to enter
into a marriage bond without love. He had deprived her of her liberty,
and had refused his heart in exchange.

And wherefore? What had been the cause of this sin? The Gothic kingdom,
and the Gothic crown; for, to uphold these, he had not hesitated a
moment to blast her whole life.

"If he had merely failed to reciprocate my love," she said to herself,
"I should have been too proud to hate him. But he draws me to him,
bestows upon me, as if in mockery, the name of wife, leads me to the
very brink of happiness, and then contemptuously thrusts me down into
the night of unspeakable humiliation! And why all this? For the sake of
an empty sound the Gothic kingdom! For a circlet of gold! Woe to him,
and woe to his idol, to which he has sacrificed me! He shall repent it.
Without mercy he has destroyed my idol--his own image. Well, then, idol
for idol! He shall live to see his kingdom destroyed, his crown broken.
I will shatter his ideal, for whose sake he has sacrificed the bloom of
my life; and when he stands despairing and wringing his hands before
the fragments, I will say: See! thus my idol, too, was shattered!"

So, with the unstable sophistry of passion, Mataswintha accused the
unhappy man, who suffered more than herself; who had sacrificed not
only her happiness, but that of his well-beloved wife, to his
fatherland.

Fatherland!--Gothic kingdom! The words fell chilly upon the ear of the
woman who, from her childhood upward, had connected all her sufferings
with these names.

She had lived solely absorbed in the egoism of her _one_ feeling, the
poetry of her passionate love, and her whole soul was now possessed
with the desire of revenge for the loss of her happiness. She wished
that she had the power to destroy the kingdom at one blow.

But the very madness of her passion endowed her with demoniac cunning.

She understood how to hide her deadly hatred and her secret thoughts of
revenge from the King--to hide them as deeply as the love which she
still entertained for him. She was also able to show an interest in the
Gothic kingdom, which seemed to form the only tie between herself and
the King; and indeed she really took a deep interest in it, although in
an inimical sense. For she well knew that she could only injure the
kingdom and ruin the King's cause if she were initiated into all its
secrets, and intimately acquainted with its strength and weakness.

Her high position made it easy for her to learn all that she wished to
know; out of consideration for her powerful party, the knowledge of the
situation of the kingdom and army could not be withheld from the
daughter of the Amelungs. Old Earl Grippa furnished her with all the
information which he himself possessed. In more important cases she was
present at the councils which were held in the King's apartments.

Thus she was perfectly well acquainted with the position of the
kingdom; the strength, quality, and divisions of the army; the hopes
and fears of the Goths, and the plans of attack formed by the generals.
And she longed with impatience for a speedy opportunity of using her
knowledge as destructively as possible.

She could not hope to enter into relations with Belisarius himself,
therefore her eyes were naturally directed to the Italians in her
vicinity, with whom she could easily and unsuspectedly communicate; and
who, though neutral in the presence of the Goths, were, without
exception, secretly favourable to the Byzantines.

But on recalling their names to her memory, she found that there was
not one to whose wisdom and discretion she could entrust the deadly
secret: that the Queen of the Goths desired the destruction of her
kingdom.

These cowardly and insignificant men--for all the best had long since
joined Cethegus or Belisarius were neither worthy of trust nor capable
of dealing with Witichis and his friends.

Mataswintha cunningly tried to learn from the King and the Goths
themselves, which of the Romans they held to be their most dangerous
and powerful enemy; but in answer to such questions, she only heard one
name, repeated again and again, and he who owned this name was beyond
her reach in the Capitol of Rome--Cethegus the Prefect.

It was impossible for her to enter into communication with him. She
could trust none of her Roman slaves with such an important mission as
the bearing of a letter to Rome.

The clever and courageous Numidian, who fully shared the hatred of her
beloved mistress to the rude barbarians, from whom she had always
experienced contempt, had, in truth, offered, with much zeal, to find
her way to Cethegus; but Mataswintha would not expose the girl to the
perils of a journey through Italy during war-time. Therefore she was
already reconciled to the thought that she must postpone her revenge
until the march to Rome. But not the less zealously did she continue to
inquire into the plans and stratagems of the Goths.

One day she was returning from the council of war, which had been
held in the camp without the walls, in the King's tent; for, since
the armament had approached its completion, and the Goths had been
daily expecting the order to march, Witichis--partly to avoid
Mataswintha--had left his rooms in the palace and taken up his abode
among his warriors.

The Queen, accompanied only by Aspa, was walking slowly forward,
pondering upon what she had just heard. She had avoided the press and
noise of the inner camp, and pursued her way between a marshy arm of
the river Padus to the left and the rows of white tents to the right.
While she wandered on, noticing nothing, Aspa's sharp eyes were
watching a group of Goths and Italians which surrounded the platform of
a conjurer, who appeared, from the astonishment and laughter of the
spectators, to be performing new and marvellous tricks.

Aspa lingered a little to see something of these wonders. The conjurer
was a slender youth, a Celt, to judge by the dazzling white skin of his
face and bare arms, and by his long yellow hair; but this supposition
was belied by his coal-black eyes. And he really performed wonders in
the eyes of his simple audience. Now he sprang up, turned over and over
in the air, and fell, now on his hands, now on his feet. Then he seemed
to devour glowing coals with great appetite, and in their place, to
spit out coins; then he swallowed a dagger a foot long and afterwards
drew it out of the back of his head, throwing it up in the air together
with three or four others, and catching them in turn by the handle, to
the great enjoyment of the spectators, who rewarded him with laughter
and cries of admiration.

But Aspa had already lingered too long.

She looked after her mistress, and observed that her path was
intercepted by a troop of Italian carriers and livery-servants, who
evidently had not recognised the Queen, and who passed straight before
her on their way to the river, joking and making a great disturbance.
They appeared to be pointing and throwing stones at some object which
Aspa could not distinguish.

She was just about to hurry after her mistress, when the conjurer upon
the platform near her suddenly uttered a shrill cry. Aspa turned in
affright, and saw the youth take an immense leap over the heads of the
spectators, and rush at the Italians.

He was already in their midst, and, bending down, disappeared for a
moment.

But he quickly rose to his feet, and one and then another of the
Italians fell prone under his blows.

In a moment Aspa stood at the Queen's side, who had quietly withdrawn
from the turmoil, but, to her surprise, stopped short at a little
distance, pointing at the group with her finger.

And indeed the sight was a strange one.

With incredible strength and still greater agility the conjurer held
his assailants off. Springing at his adversaries, turning and bending,
retreating and then suddenly darting forward to pull the nearest down
by his foot, or to overthrow him with a powerful blow, he defended
himself bravely, and that without any weapon, with his right hand
alone; for in the left he held something close to his breast, as if
hiding and protecting it.

This unequal combat lasted several minutes.

The conjurer was pushed nearer and nearer to the water by the angry and
noisy crowd. Suddenly a naked blade glittered. One of the livery
servants, enraged at receiving a severe blow, drew his knife and sprang
at the conjurer from behind. With a cry the latter fell; his enemies
rushed upon him.

"Help! drag them away! help the poor man!" cried Mataswintha to the
soldiers, who now approached from the forsaken platform; "I, your
Queen, command you!"

The Goths hurried to the knot of struggling men; but before they could
reach them, the conjurer, who had broken from his adversaries, sprang
out of the tumbling group, and, with a last effort, darted straight off
in the direction of the two women--followed by the Italians.

What a sight!

The Gallic tunic of the poor conjurer hung in rags from his body; his
false yellow hair was torn off his head, and beneath appeared locks of
glossy black; the white hue of his neck ended in a chest the colour of
bronze.

With a last exertion of strength he reached the women, and recognised
Mataswintha.

"Protect me, save me, white goddess!" he cried, and fell at her feet.

The Italians had already reached him, and the nearest raised his knife.

But Mataswintha spread her blue mantle over the fallen man.

"Back!" she cried with majesty. "Leave him. He is under the protection
of the Queen of the Goths!"

The livery-servants fell back abashed.

"Indeed!" at last said the one with the dagger, "is this dog and son of
a dog to go unpunished? and five of us lie half dead on the ground, and
I have three teeth too few? Is there to be no punishment?"

"He is punished enough," said Mataswintha, pointing to the deep gash on
the neck of the conjurer.

"And all this fuss about a worm!" cried another. "About a snake that
escaped from his knapsack, which we tried to kill with stones."

"See, he has hidden the viper in his bosom. Take it from him!"

"Kill him!" screamed the others.

But now a number of soldiers came up, and procured respect for their
Queen, pushing back the Italians, and forming a circle round the
wounded man.

Aspa looked at the latter attentively, and suddenly cast herself down
beside him, crossing her arms on her bosom.

"What is the matter, Aspa? Rise!" said her mistress, much astonished.

"Oh, mistress!" stammered Aspa, "the man is no Gaul! He is one of my
people. He prays to the Snake-God. Look at his brown skin--as brown as
Aspa's! And here--here is writing; letters are tattooed upon his
breast; the sacred hieroglyphics of my country!" she cried with
delight.

And, pointing with her finger, she began to read.

"Why this disguise?" asked Mataswintha. "It is suspicious. He must be
arrested."

"No, no, mistress," whispered Aspa; "dost thou know what these letters
mean? No other eye than mine can decipher them for thee."

"Well?" asked Mataswintha.

"They say," whispered Aspa, "Syphax owes a life to his master, Cethegus
the Prefect.' Yes, yes, I know him; it is Syphax, the son of Hiempsal,
a friend of my family. The gods have sent him to us."

"Yes, Aspa," said Mataswintha, "the gods have sent him: the gods of
revenge! Goths, lay this wounded man upon a bier, and follow my slave
to the palace. Henceforward he shall be employed in my service."



                              CHAPTER IV.

A few days later Mataswintha again repaired to the camp, this time
unaccompanied by Aspa, for the latter never stirred, by day or night,
from the bedside of her wounded countryman, who was rapidly recovering
under her careful nursing.

King Witichis himself came to fetch the Queen with all his court, for a
most important council of war was to be held in his tent. The arrival
of the last reinforcements had been reported, and Guntharis and
Hildebad were also expected to return with the reply of Belisarius to
the proposal of peace.

"This will be a fateful day," said Witichis to his consort. "Pray to
Heaven for peace."

"I pray for war," said Mataswintha, with a fixed stare.

"Does thy woman's heart so long for revenge?"

"For revenge alone, and it will be mine!"

They entered the tent, which was already crowded with Gothic leaders.

Mataswintha returned their reverent greetings with a haughty bend of
her neck.

"Are the ambassadors here?" the King asked old Hildebrand, as he seated
himself. "Then bring them in."

At a sign from the old man, the curtains at the side of the tent were
withdrawn, and Duke Guntharis and Hildebad entered, bowing low.

"What bring you, peace or war?" Witichis asked eagerly.

"War! war, King Witichis!" cried both men with one voice.

"What! Belisarius refuses the sacrifice I offered him? Hast thou
communicated my proposal to him in a friendly and earnest manner?"

Duke Guntharis stepped forward and answered:

"I met the commander in the Capitol, as the guest of the Prefect, and I
said to him: 'The Gothic King, Witichis, sends thee greeting. In thirty
days he will march before these walls with a hundred and fifty thousand
valiant Goths, and there will be a strife and struggle for this
venerable city, such as her bloodstained soil has not witnessed for a
thousand years. The King of the Goths loves peace even more than
victory, and he swears to yield the island of Sicilia to the Emperor
Justinian, and stand by him in every war with thirty thousand Goths, if
you will at once evacuate Rome and Italy, which belong to us by right
of conquest, as well as according to the treaty with Emperor Zeno, who
conceded them to Theodoric when he had overthrown Odoacer.' Thus I
spoke, according to thy command. But Belisarius laughed, and cried:
'Witichis is very kind to yield to me the island of Sicilia, which
belongs to me already, and is no more his. I will give him instead the
island of Thule! No. The treaty of Theodoric with Zeno was a forced
one, and as to the right of conquest--well, that speaks now for us. No
peace except upon these conditions: that the whole Gothic army lay down
their arms, and the entire nation march over the Alps, sending their
King and Queen as hostages to Byzantium.'"

A murmur of indignation ran through the tent.

"Without making any reply to such a proposition," continued Guntharis,
"we turned our backs angrily and departed. 'We shall meet again in
Ravenna!' Belisarius cried after us."

"Then I turned," added Hildebad, "and cried: 'We shall meet again
before Rome!' Up, King Witichis! to arms! Thou hast done thine utmost
for peace, and hast only reaped humiliation. Up, then! Long enough hast
thou lingered and prepared; lead us now to battle!"

Just then a flourish of trumpets was heard in the camp, followed by the
sound of the hoof-beats of approaching horses.

Presently the curtain of the tent was lifted, and Totila entered in his
shining armour, his white mantle floating round him.

"Hail, my King and my Queen!" he said, bowing, "My mission is
fulfilled, I bring you the friendly greeting of the Frank King. He had
an army ready for the service of Byzantium, and prepared to attack
thee. I succeeded in changing his intentions. His army will not enter
Italy against the Goths. Duke Markja of Mediolanum, who, until now, has
defended the Cottian Alps against the Franks, is therefore free. He
follows me in haste with all his thousands. On my way hither I gathered
together whatever men I found capable of bearing arms, and also the
garrisons of the fortresses. Further: until now we were short of
cavalry. Be comforted, my King! I bring thee six thousand horsemen,
splendidly mounted. They long to caper upon the plains of Rome. _One_
wish alone dwells in all our hearts: lead us to battle, to Rome!"

"Thanks, my friend, to thee and to thy horsemen! Speak, Hildebrand, how
is the army now divided? Tell me, generals, how many men does each one
of you command? Notaries, write the numbers down."

"I command three thousand foot-soldiers," cried Hildebad.

"And I forty thousand foot and horse with shield and spear," said Duke
Guntharis.

"I lead forty thousand foot: archers, slingers, and spear-bearers,"
said Earl Grippa of Ravenna.

"I seven thousand with knives and clubs," counted Hildebrand.

"Then come Totila's six thousand horse, and fourteen selected thousands
led by Teja, with battle-axes--where is he? I miss him here--and I have
raised the number of my troops, foot and horse, to fifty thousand,"
concluded the King.

"Altogether that makes a hundred and sixty thousand," said the
protonotary, writing down the numbers, and handing the parchment to the
King.

A ray of warlike joy and exultation spread over the face of Witichis.

"A hundred and sixty thousand Gothic warriors! Belisarius, shall they
lay down their arms before thee without a struggle?--What repose do you
need before the march?"

Just then Teja hurried into the tent. As he entered he caught the last
question. His eyes flashed; he trembled with rage.

"Repose? not an hour longer; up! revenge, King Witichis! a monstrous
crime has been committed, which cries to Heaven for vengeance. Lead us
at once to battle!"

"What has happened?"

"One of Belisarius's generals, the Hun Ambazuch, besieged, as thou
knowest, the fortress of Petra with his Huns and Armenians. There was
no relief for the garrison far and near. Only young Earl Arahad--he
surely sought death--attacked the superior force with his small troop;
he fell in brave combat. The little company of armed Goths in the
fortress resisted desperately, for all the helpless people of the
Goths, the Aged, the sick, women and children, coming from the plains
of Tuscany, Valeria, and Picenum, and amounting to some thousands, had
taken refuge in the fortress from the enemy. At last famine compelled
them to open the gates, with the stipulation that they should be
allowed to leave unhurt. The Hun swore that he would not allow a drop
of Gothic blood to be shed. He entered, and ordered the Goths to
assemble in the Great Basilica of St. Zeno. This they did, above five
thousand people and a few hundred warriors. And when they were all
assembled----"

Teja paused with a shudder.

"Well?" asked Mataswintha, turning pale.

"The Hun closed the doors, surrounded the church with his troops--and
burnt all the five thousand, together with the church."

"And his promise!" cried Witichis.

"Yes, so cried the desperate people amidst the smoke and flames! 'My
promise?' laughed the Hun, 'it will be fulfilled: not a drop of blood
will be shed. The Goths must be burnt out of Italy, like field-mice and
vermin.' And so the Byzantines looked on, while five thousand Goths,
aged men, women, sick people, and children--King Witichis, dost thou
hear?--_children_! were miserably suffocated and burnt to death! Such
things happen, and thou--thou sendest offers of peace! Up, King
Witichis!" cried the enraged man, drawing his sword. "If thou be a man,
set forth at once to revenge thy people! The spirits of the murdered
will march before us. Lead us to battle! Lead us to revenge!"

"Lead us to battle! lead us to revenge!" echoed the Goths with a shout.

Witichis rose with quiet majesty.

"So be it! the extremity has been reached. And our best armour is our
right. To arms!"

And he gave the parchment, which he held in his hand, to Mataswintha,
in order to take up the blue banner which hung over his chair.

"You see this old banner of Theodoric; he has carried it from victory
to victory. It is now, alas, in weaker hands than his; but do not be
discouraged. You know well that a foolish confidence is not in my
nature, but this time I tell you beforehand that a present victory
rustles in the folds of this flag--a great, proud, and avenging
victory! Follow me! The army will march at once. Generals, order your
troops. To Rome!"

"To Rome!" was echoed through the tent. "To Rome!"



                               CHAPTER V.

In the meantime Belisarius prepared to leave the city of Rome with his
main army, and during his absence he entrusted his command to Johannes.

He had resolved to attack the Goths in Ravenna.

His unchecked and victorious march, and the successes of his advanced
troops of skirmishers--who, through the revolt of the Italians, had won
all the fortresses, castles, and towns till within a short distance of
Ravenna--had awakened in Belisarius the conviction that the campaign
would soon be ended, and that the only thing left to do was to crush
the helpless barbarians in their last strongholds.

For after Belisarius himself had won the whole southern part of the
peninsula--Bruttia, Lucania, Calabria, Apulia, and Campania--and had
afterwards occupied Rome and marched through Samnium and the Valeria,
his lieutenant-generals, Bessas and Constantinus, with his own
body-guard, commanded by the Armenian Zanter, the Persian Chanaranges,
and the Massagetian Æschman, had been sent forward to conquer Tuscany.

Bessas advanced upon the strong fortress of Narnia. For the means of
assault available at that time, this castled town was almost
impregnable. It was situated upon a high mountain, at the foot of which
runs the deep river Nar. The only two approaches to this fortress from
the east and west are a narrow pass and the old lofty and fortified
bridge erected by the Emperor Augustus.

But the Roman population overpowered the half-Gothic garrison which lay
there, and opened the gates to the Thracians of Bessas.

In the same manner, Spoletium and Perusia succumbed to Constantinus
without striking a blow.

Meanwhile another general, the Comes Sacri Stabuli Constantinus, had,
on the east coast of the Ionian Gulf, avenged the death of two
Byzantine leaders--the magister militum for Illyrium, Mundus, and his
son Mauricius, who had fallen at the beginning of the war at Solona, in
Dalmatia--had occupied Solona, and forced the scanty Gothic troops to
retreat to Ravenna.

So all Dalmatia and Liburnia had fallen into the hands of the
Byzantines.

From Tuscany, as we have seen, the Huns of Justinian were already
devastating Picenum and the country as far as the Æmilia.

Therefore Belisarius held the peace proposals of the Gothic King to be
a sign of weakness. It never occurred to him that the barbarians would
advance to the attack. At the same time, he was eager to leave Rome;
for he felt a strong repugnance to being called the guest of the
Prefect. In the open field his superiority would soon be fully
displayed.

The Prefect left the Capitol to the charge of his faithful tribune,
Lucius Licinius, and followed the march of Belisarius.

In vain he warned the latter against too great confidence.

"Remain behind the rock of the Capitol if you fear the barbarians,"
Belisarius had answered sarcastically.

"No," retorted Cethegus; "a defeat of Belisarius is too rare a
spectacle. I must not miss it."

In truth, Cethegus would have been glad to witness the humiliation of
the great general, whose fame inspired the Italians with too great
admiration.

Belisarius had led his troops out of the northern gate of the city, and
had pitched a camp at a few miles distant, in order to hold a review
and make a new division of the army, which was the more necessary as
the influx of Italians who hastened to join his flag was very great.

He had also recalled Bessas, Constantinus, and Ambazuch, with the
greater part of their troops. They had only left a small portion behind
them to garrison the towns which they had conquered.

Vague rumours of the approach of a Gothic army had spread in the camp.
But Belisarius would not believe them.

"They dare not come," he replied to Procopius's warnings; "they lie in
Ravenna and tremble before Belisarius."

Late at night Cethegus lay sleepless upon his coach in his tent. He had
left the lamp burning.

"I cannot sleep," he said to himself. "There is a sound of clashing
arms in the air, and an odour of blood. The Goths are coming; they are
most surely marching down through the Sabine mountains, on the Via
Casperia and Salara."

On a sudden the curtain of his tent was pushed back, and Syphax rushed
up to his couch breathless.

"I know," cried Cethegus, springing up, "what you come to announce--the
Goths are coming!"

"Yes, master; to-morrow they will be here. They advance upon the
Salarian Gate. I had the Queen's best horse; but this Totila, who leads
the vanguard, rushes like the wind over the desert, and here in the
camp no one has any suspicion."

"The great general," laughed Cethegus, "has placed no outposts on the
watch."

"He relied upon the solid tower on the bridge over the Anius,[1]
but----"

"Well, the tower is safe?"

"Yes; but the garrison--Roman citizens from Neapolis--at once went over
to the Goths when young Totila appeared. The body-guards of Belisarius,
who tried to stop them, were taken prisoners and delivered up to
Totila; the tower and the bridge are in the hands of the Goths."

"Things are going on well! Have you any idea of the strength of the
enemy?"

"Not merely an idea; I know it as exactly as Witichis himself. Here is
the list of their troops; Mataswintha, their Queen, sends it to you."

Cethegus looked at him inquiringly.

"Do miracles take place to further the ruin of the Goths?"

"Yes, master, miracles! This lovely woman desires the ruin of her
people, to revenge herself on one man. And this man is her husband!"

"You are mistaken," cried Cethegus. "She loved him from childhood, and
even bought his bust."

"Yes, and she loves him still. But he loves not her; and the bust of
Mars was shattered on the night of her marriage."

"She cannot have told you all this herself?"

"No; but Aspa, my countrywoman and her slave, told me all. She loves
me; and she loves her mistress almost as much as I my master.
Mataswintha wishes you to aid in the destruction of the kingdom of the
Goths. She will write, through Aspa, in the secret cypher of my race.
And if I were Cethegus, I would take this sun-like Queen to my wife."

"I too, if I were Syphax. But your message deserves a crown! A
revengeful and cunning woman is worth more than legions! Now I
defy you, Belisarius, Witichis, and Justinian! Ask a favour,
Syphax--anything except your freedom, for I need you yet."

"My freedom is--to serve you. _One_ favour--let me fight at your side
to-morrow?"

"No, my beautiful panther; I do not need your claws--only your stealthy
step. You will keep silence about the vicinity and strength of the
Goths. Help me on with my armour, and give me the plan of the Salarian
road out of that casket. Now call Marcus Licinius, and the leader of my
Isaurians, Sandil."

Syphax disappeared.

Cethegus cast a look at the plan.

"So they come from the north-west, down the hill. Woe to him who shall
try to stop them there. Then comes the deep valley in which we are
encamped. Here the battle will be fought and lost. Behind us, to the
south-east, our position lies along a deep brook; into this we shall be
inevitably thrown--the bridges cannot be defended. Then a stretch of
flat country. What a fine field for the horsemen to pursue us! Finally,
still farther back, a dense wood and a narrow pass with the ruined
Castle of Hadrian. Marcus," he cried, as the latter entered the tent,
"my troops will march at once. We shall go down along the brook into
the wood; and you will tell whoever questions you that we march back to
Rome."

"March home, without fighting!" asked Marcus, astonished. "You surely
know that a battle is pending?"

"Just for that very reason!"

And with these words Cethegus departed to wake Belisarius in his tent.

But he found him already up. Procopius stood near him.

"Do you know already. Prefect?" said Belisarius. "Fugitive country
people say that a troop of horsemen approaches. The fools ride to their
destruction; they think the road is open as far as Rome."

And he continued to don his armour.

"But the peasants also say that the horsemen are only the vanguard. A
terrible army of barbarians follows," warned Procopius.

"Vain rumours! These Goths are afraid; Witichis dare not meet me. I
have protected the bridge over the Anio with a tower, fourteen miles
this side Rome; Martinus has built it after my plan. That alone will
hinder the barbarian foot-soldiers for more than a week, even should a
few hacks manage to swim across the water."

"You err, Belisarius. I know for a fact that the whole Gothic army
approaches!" said Cethegus.

"Then go home, if you fear it."

"I will take advantage of this permission. I have had fever these last
few days. And my Isaurians suffer from it also. With your leave, I will
go back to Rome."

"I know this fever," said Belisarius; "that is, I know it in others. It
passes as soon as ditches and walls are between the patient and the
enemy. Go, if you will; we need you as little as your Isaurians."

Cethegus bowed, and left the tent.

"We shall meet again, O Belisarius!" he said. "Give the signal for the
march of my Isaurians," he called loudly to Marcus; "and to my
Byzantines also," he added in a low voice.

"But Belisarius has----"

"_I_ am their Belisarius. Syphax, my horse."

As he mounted, a troop of Roman horsemen galloped up; torches were
carried before the leader.

"Who goes there? Ah! you, Cethegus! What? you ride away? Your people
march towards the river! You surely will not leave us now, in this time
of imminent danger?"

Cethegus bent forward.

"Hoho! it is you, Calpurnius? I did not recognise you; you look so
pale. What news from the front?"

"Fugitive peasants say," answered Calpurnius anxiously, "that there are
certainly more than a party of skirmishers. The King of the barbarians,
Witichis himself, is on the march through the Sabine mountains. They
have already reached the left bank of the Tiber. Resistance, then, is
madness--destruction. I follow you; I will join your march."

"No," said Cethegus harshly; "you know that I am superstitious. I do
not like to ride with men who are doomed to the Furies. The punishment
for your cowardly murder of that boy will surely overtake you. I have
no desire to share it with you."

"Yet voices in Rome whisper that Cethegus, too, does not shun an
opportune murder," answered Calpurnius angrily.

"Calpurnius is not Cethegus," retorted the Prefect, as he proudly
pranced away. "Meanwhile, greet Hades for me," he added.



                              CHAPTER VI.

"Cursed omen!" growled Calpurnius.

And he hastened to join Belisarius.

"Command the retreat, quick, magister militum!"

"Why, excellent Calpurnius?"

"It is the King of the Goths himself!"

"And I am Belisarius himself," answered the latter, as he donned his
splendid helmet with its crest of white horse-hair. "How dare you leave
your post in the vanguard?"

"I wished to bring you the news, general."

"Could no other messenger do that? Listen, Roman, you are unworthy of
being liberated. You tremble, you coward heart! Return at once to the
front. You will lead our horsemen to the first attack. You, Antallas
and Kuturgur, take him between you. He _must_ be brave; do you hear? If
he shrink--down with him. Thus Romans must be taught courage! The
watchman has just announced the last hour of night. In another hour the
sun will rise. Its first beams must find the whole army on yonder
hills. Up! Ambuzach, Bessas, Constantinus, Demetrius, advance to meet
the enemy!"

"General, it is as they say," announced Maxentius, the most faithful of
the lifeguards; "innumerable Goths are advancing."

"There are two armies against us," reported Salomo, the leader of the
hypaspistes of Belisarius.

"I reckon Belisarius alone to be a whole army."

"And the plan of attack?" asked Bessas.

"That I will decide upon when in sight of the enemy, while Calpurnius
arrests their progress with his horsemen. Forward! Give the signal.
Bring Phalion out!"

He left the tent. His generals, hypaspistes, pretorians, captains and
lifeguards dispersed in all directions, in order to muster their men.

In a quarter of an hour the whole army was in motion towards the hills.

No time was lost in breaking up the camp, and the sudden movement
caused endless confusion.

Foot and horse got mingled together in the dark and moonless night. And
rumours of the superiority of the advancing barbarians had also spread
discouragement among the soldiers.

Two rather narrow roads alone led to the hills, which circumstance
caused much hindrance, and blocking of the way.

Far later than the hour appointed by Belisarius, the army arrived in
sight of the hills; and when the first beams of the sun shone upon
them, Calpurnius, the leader of the vanguard, saw Gothic weapons
glittering upon all the heights. The barbarians had been beforehand
with Belisarius.

Alarmed, Calpurnius halted, and sent word to the commander-in-chief.

Belisarius plainly saw that Calpurnius and his horsemen could not storm
the hills. He therefore gave orders that Ambazuch and Bessas, with the
best of the Armenian foot-soldiers, should advance upon the broader
road. The right and left wings of the army were led by Constantinus and
Demetrius; he himself led up his body-guard as a reserve for the
centre.

Calpurnius, rejoiced at the change of plan, placed his horsemen below
the steepest part of a hill, where he thought himself safe from an
attack, and waited for the result of the movements of Ambazuch and
Bessas, in order to pursue the flying Goths or support the retreating
Armenians according to circumstances.

On the summit of the heights the Goths placed themselves in an extended
line of battle.

Totila's horsemen had arrived the first; he was soon joined by Teja,
mounted and feverish with thirst for battle. The axe-bearing foot were
far behind, for Teja had begged permission to join in the hand-to-hand
fight when and where he pleased.

Hildebrand followed later; and lastly the King with the main army.

Duke Guntharis, with his own and Teja's men, was expected to arrive
shortly.

Swift as an arrow Teja flew back to the King.

"King," he cried, "beneath yonder hill stands Belisarius. By the God of
Revenge, he is lost! He has been mad enough to advance. Do not suffer
him to be beforehand with us in the attack."

"Forward!" cried King Witichis; "the Goths to the front!"

In a moment he had reached the edge of the hill and overlooked the
valley at his feet.

"Hildebad--the left wing! Thou, Totila, wilt charge in the centre with
thy horsemen down that road. I shall keep the right, ready to follow or
cover thee."

"That will be needless," said Totila, drawing his sword. "I warrant
that they will not be able to withstand my charge down that hill."

"We shall drive the enemy back to the camp, take it, and force them
into that shining brook just behind. Those who still remain, Totila and
Teja, you will drive over the plain to Rome."

"Yes, when we have won the pass in those wood-crowned hills just beyond
the river," said Teja, pointing with his sword as he spoke.

"It appears to be unoccupied; you must reach it before the fugitives,"
said Witichis.

Just then the standard-bearer. Earl Wisand of Vulsinii, rode up to the
King.

"King, thou hast promised to grant me a request."

"Yes, because at Solona, thou overthrewest the magister militum for
Illyrium, Mundus, and his son."

"I have a grudge against all magistri militum. I should like to try the
same spear on Belisarius. Relieve me of my banner to-day, and allow me
to seek the magister militum. He has a celebrated charger, Phalion or
Balion, and my horse is getting stiff. And thou knowest the ancient
right of a Gothic horseman. 'Throw the rider and take his horse.'"

"A good old Gothic right," cried old Hildebrand.

"I cannot refuse thy request," said Witichis, taking the flag from the
hand of Wisand, who at once galloped away.

"Guntharis is not here. Totila, thou shalt bear the banner to-day."

"King," said Totila, "I cannot carry it if I am to show my horsemen the
way to the enemy."

Witichis signed to Teja.

"Forgive me," said Teja, "to-day I need both hands."

"Well then, Hildebad!"

"Many thanks for the honour; but I do not intend to do worse than the
others."

"What?" cried Witichis, almost angry; "must I be my own
standard-bearer? Will none of my friends honour my trust?"

"Give me the flag of Theodoric," said old Hildebrand, grasping the
mighty shaft. "It pleases me that the youths so thirst for fame. Give
me the banner, I will defend it to-day as I did forty summers ago."

And from that moment he rode at the King's right hand.

"The enemy's foot are advancing up the hill," said Witichis, raising
himself in the saddle.

"They are Huns and Armenians," said Teja, looking forward with his
eagle-eyes, "I recognise their long shields!" And spurring his horse,
he cried: "And Ambazuch, the perjured murderer of Petra, leads them."

"Forward, Totila!" cried the King; "and of _these_ troops--make no
prisoners!"

Totila rapidly galloped off to his horsemen, who were placed at the top
of the steep road which led down the hill. He carefully examined the
armour of the Armenians, who were slowly advancing up the ascent in
close columns. They carried very long and heavy shields, and short
spears for thrusting and throwing.

"They must not have time to hurl their spears," cried Totila.

He then ordered his horsemen, at the moment of encountering the enemy,
to change their lances from their right hand to their left, letting
their bridles hang loosely from the wrist, and passing their lances
across the manes of their horses into the bridle hand. In this way they
would hit the enemy on their unprotected side.

"As soon as the encounter has taken place--they will not be able to
withstand it--throw your lances back into the arm-strap, draw your
swords, and kill whoever still stands."

He now placed his men in the shape of a wedge on the road and on each
side of it, outflanking the enemy's column. He himself led the thin
edge of the wedge. He determined to allow the enemy to ascend halfway
up the hill.

Both parties looked forward to the shock in breathless expectation.

Ambazuch, an experienced warrior, quietly marched forward.

"Let them come on," he said to his people, "until you feel their
horses' breath upon your faces. Then, and not before, hurl your lances.
Aim low, at the breasts of the horses, and immediately after draw your
swords. In this way I have always succeeded in overthrowing horsemen."

But it turned out otherwise.

For when Totila gave the order to charge, it seemed as if a thundering
avalanche were descending the hill upon the terrified enemy. The
shining, clattering, snorting, threatening mass rushed on like a
hurricane, and before the first row of the Armenians had found time
even to raise their spears, they lay upon the ground, pierced through
by the long lances. They had been swept away as if they had never stood
there.

All this had taken place in a moment of time; and when Ambazuch was
about to order his second line, in which he himself stood, to kneel and
shorten their spears, he found it already ridden over; the third rank
dispersed; and the fourth, under Bessas, able to offer but a faint
resistance to the terrible horsemen, who now began to draw their
swords.

He tried to rally his men; he flew back and called to his wavering
lines to stand and fight; but just then Totila's sword reached him; a
mighty stroke crushed in his helmet.

He fell on his knees, and held the hilt of his sword towards the Goth.

"Take a ransom!" he cried. "I am yours!"

Totila was about to stretch forth his hand to take the sword, when Teja
cried:

"Remember Petra!"

A weapon flashed, and Ambazuch sank dead on the ground.

At this the last lines of the Armenians, carrying Bessas away with
them, fled in terror. Belisarius's vanguard was annihilated.

With loud cries of joy King Witichis and his followers had witnessed
Totila's victory.

"Look! now the Hunnish horsemen, who stand just below us, advance
against Totila," said the King to the old standard-bearer. "Totila
turns to meet them. They are much more numerous. Up, Hildebad! Hasten
down the road to his aid."

"Ha!" cried old Hildebrand, bending forward in his saddle, and looking
over the edge of the rocks, "who is that tribune between the two
body-guards of Belisarius?"

Witichis bent forward also.

"Calpurnius!" he exclaimed with a sharp cry.

And suddenly, seeking no path, just from where he stood, the King
galloped down the hill towards his deadly enemy. The fear that
Calpurnius might escape him overpowered every other thought.

As if on wings, as if the God of Revenge were guiding him over bush and
crevice and ditch and pointed rock, the King galloped madly on.

For an instant the old master-at-arms was horrified; such a ride he had
never beheld. But the next moment he waved his blue flag and cried:

"Forward! follow your King!"

And, the horsemen first, the foot after, the centre o£ the Gothic army,
leaping, jumping, and sliding down upon their shields, suddenly
descended the steep side of the hill upon the Hunnish cavalry.

Calpurnius had looked up. It had seemed to him as if he heard his name,
and the cry sounded like the last trump of judgment.

He turned, and would have fled.

But the grim soldiers on his right and left caught his bridle.

"Halt, tribune!" said Antallas, pointing to Totila's horsemen--"_there_
is the enemy!"

A cry of pain to the left caused him and Calpurnius to turn. The Hun
Kuturgur, the second of the body-guards, sank with a crash from his
saddle, felled by the sword-stroke of a Goth who appeared to have
dropped from the sky. And behind this Goth, the rocky steep, which yet
seemed inaccessible, was filled with climbing and leaping men, and the
Huns were suddenly taken in the flank by this enemy from above, while
at the same time they were attacked in front by Totila.

Calpurnius recognised the Goth.

"Witichis!" he cried in terror, and his arm fell powerless at his side.

But his horse saved him. Wounded and startled by the fall of Kuturgur,
it galloped wildly away. Antallas threw himself furiously upon the King
of the Goths, who was far in advance of his men.

"Down, madman!" he cried.

But the next moment he was slain by Witichis, who irresistibly,
trampled down all those who stood in his path.

Through the crowd of Hunnish cavalry, who, terrified at his look,
yielded to right and left, Witichis pursued Calpurnius.

The latter had recovered the mastery of his horse, and now sought
protection in the thickest press of his soldiers.

In vain.

Witichis did not lose sight of him for a moment, but followed him
closely.

However he might hide himself among his men, however rapidly he rode,
Calpurnius could not escape the King, who beat down all who stood
between him and the murderer of his son.

Group after group, knot after knot, dissolved before the terrible sword
of the revengeful father. The lines of the Huns were broken through by
the fugitive and his pursuer. They were not able to close again, for,
even before Totila could come up, the old standard-bearer, with horse
and foot, had broken their right flank, dividing it into two parts.

When Totila galloped up, he found only flying foes. The portion to the
right was soon taken between Totila and Hildebrand, and destroyed. The
greater part on the left fled back to Belisarius.

Meantime Calpurnius galloped over the field as if pursued by the
Furies.

He had a good start, for Witichis had been seven times obliged to hew
his way through the enemy.

But Boreas galloped bravely on, and carried Witichis ever nearer to his
victim.

The fugitive heard the call to stand and fight. He only spurred his
horse the faster.

All at once it fell beneath him, and before he could rise, Witichis
stood over him.

Springing from his saddle, Witichis now silently pushed the sword of
the fallen man, which had dropped from the latter's hand, towards him.

Then Calpurnius took courage--the courage of despair.

He rose to his feet, took up his sword, and sprang at the Goth with a
leap like that of a tiger.

But in the middle of his leap he fell prone to the ground; the sword of
Witichis had split his forehead open.

The King set his foot upon the breast of the corpse, and looked into
the distorted face. He sighed deeply.

"Revenge is sweet, but it will not bring back my child!"

With deep ire Belisarius had witnessed this unhappy commencement of the
battle. But his confidence and composure did not abandon him, even when
he saw the Armenians swept away, and the horsemen of Calpurnius
overthrown and scattered.

He was now convinced of the strength and superiority of the enemy. But
he determined to advance upon his whole line, leaving a gap in which to
receive his fugitive horsemen.

But this the Goths were quick to perceive; and, Witichis foremost, they
followed Totila and Hildebrand--who had annihilated the surrounded
Huns--and pressed forward so furiously that they threatened to reach
and break through the lines of Belisarius at the same moment with the
fugitives.

This could not be permitted.

Belisarius himself filled the gap with his bodyguard on foot, and
shouted to the fugitive horsemen to halt and turn.

But it seemed as if the terror which had possessed their cowardly and
fallen leader had entered their hearts. They dreaded the sword of the
Gothic King behind them even more than their thundering chief before
them, and without pause or stay they rushed on at a gallop, as if they
intended to ride down their own comrades.

For one moment a fearful shock--a thousand-voiced cry of fear and
rage--a confused turmoil of mingled horse and foot--among them
slaughtering Goths--and suddenly a dispersal to all sides, amid shrill
cries of victory from the enemy.

The body-guard of Belisarius was ridden down; his main line of battle
broken.

He ordered the retreat to the camp.

But it was no longer a retreat, it was a rout. The footmen of Hildebad,
Guntharis, and Teja had now arrived upon the field of battle. The
Byzantines saw their order of attack broken, they despaired of further
resistance and fled in great confusion to the camp.

Notwithstanding, they would still have been able to reach it a long
time before their pursuers, had not an unforeseen occurrence stopped
the way.

Belisarius had set forth with such certainty of victory, that he had
ordered all the carriages and baggage of the army, and even the herds
of cattle--which, according to the custom of the time, were driven
after--to follow the troops upon the high-roads.

The retreating masses now encountered this slowly advancing body,
difficult to move and difficult to disperse, and indescribable
confusion ensued.

Soldiers and drivers came to blows; the order of march was broken
against the wagons, carriages, and chests. The lust of booty was
awakened, and many of the soldiers began to plunder the wagons, before
they should fall into the hands of the enemy.

On all sides arose altercations, curses, laments, and throats,
accompanied by the crash of broken wagons, and the bleating and
bellowing of the terrified herds.

"Sacrifice the baggage! Fire the wagons! Gallop through the herds!"
cried Belisarius, who, sword in hand, now broke a path through the
turmoil with the remnant of his body-guard.

But it was all in vain.

Ever thicker, ever more entangled became the coil; it seemed impossible
to unravel it.

Despair at length tore it asunder.

The cry, "The barbarians are upon us!" sounded from the rear.

And it was no idle rumour.

Hildebad, with his foot-soldiers, had descended to the plain, and his
foremost ranks now attacked the defenceless mass. There ensued a
fearful press to the front; cries of terror--of rage from the
body-guard, who, mindful of their former valour, attempted to fight,
but could not--of anguish from those trampled and crushed; and suddenly
the greater part of the wagons, with their teams and the thousands who
were crowded upon them or jammed between them, fell with a thundering
crash into the ditches on the right and left of the high-road.

So at last the way was open--and impetuously, all discipline at an end,
the stream of fugitives rushed on to the camp.

With loud cries of victory the Gothic foot-soldiers followed, slaying
their easy prey with arrows, slings, and spears; while Belisarius, in
the rear, resisted with difficulty the unceasing attacks of Totila and
the King.

"Help, Belisarius!" cried Aigan, the leader of the Massagetian
mercenaries, as he rode up from among the scattered groups, wiping the
blood from his face. "My countrymen swear they see the devil amidst the
enemy. They will not stand. Help me! Usually they fear you much more
than the devil!"

Grinding his teeth, Belisarius looked across at his right wing, which
was flying in disorder over the fallows, pursued by the Goths.

"O Justinian, my imperial master," he exclaimed, "how badly I keep my
word!"

And, entrusting the further defence of the retreat to the camp to
Demetrius--for the uneven ground upon which they had now entered
embarrassed the pursuit of the enemy's horse---he galloped across
country with Aigan and his mounted guard to join the mercenaries.

"Halt!" he thundered; "halt, you cowardly dogs! Who flies, when
Belisarius stands? I am with you; turn and win!" And he raised his
visor, and showed them his majestic countenance.

And such was the power of his personality, so great the belief in his
invincibility, that all who recognised the tall form of the commander
on his roan, hesitated, halted, and with a cry of encouragement, turned
once more to face the pursuing Goths.

Here, at least, the flight was at an end.

Up came a tremendous Goth, easily forcing his way.

"Ha, ha! I am glad you are tired of running, you swift-footed Greeks! I
could no longer pant after you! Your legs are superior to ours; let us
see if your arms be so too. Ha! why do you fall back, my lads? Because
of him on the roan? What of him?"

"Sir, that must be a King among the southerners; one can hardly bear
the glance of his angry eye."

"That would indeed be curious. Ah! that must be Belisarius! I am glad
to meet thee, thou bold hero!" he cried across to Belisarius.
"Dismount, and let us measure the strength of our arms. Look, I too am
on foot. Thou wilt not?" he cried angrily. "Must I fetch thee down from
thy hack?"

And he swung his immense spear in his right hand.

"Turn, sir, avoid him!" cried Aigan: "that giant hurls small masts!"

"Turn, general," repeated the hypaspistes anxiously.

But Belisarius, raising his short sword, rode quietly a horse's length
nearer to the Goth. Whizzing came the mighty spear, straight at his
breast.

But just before it touched, a swift stroke of his short Roman sword,
and the spear fell harmless on one side.

"Hail to Belisarius, hail!" cried the Byzantines, and they pressed
forward anew.

"A famous stroke!" laughed Hildebad angrily. "Let us see if thy fence
can parry _this_!"

And, bending forward, he lifted from the ploughed field an old jagged
boundary-stone, swung it in both hands backward and forward, lifted it
above his head, and hurled it with all his might at the advancing hero.

A cry from the Byzantines--Belisarius fell backwards from his horse.

All was over.

"Belisarius down! Woe, woe! All is lost!" cried the Byzantines, as the
tall form disappeared, and fled madly towards the camp.

A few ran on without pause until they reached the gates of Rome.

It was in vain that the lance and spear-bearers threw themselves
desperately against the Goths; they could only save their chief, but
not the battle.

The first sword-stroke of Hildebad, who now rushed up to Belisarius,
was received on the faithful breast of Maxentius. But also a Gothic
horseman, who was the next to reach the place, and who had killed seven
men before he could make his way to the magister militum, fell from his
horse. His followers found him pierced by thirteen wounds. But he was
still alive, and he was one of the few who fought through and outlived
the whole war--Wisand, the bandelarius.

Belisarius, who, lifted on to his horse by Aigan and Valentinus, his
groom, had quickly recovered his senses, raised his general's staff in
vain, and cried to the fugitives to stand. They could not and would not
hear. In vain he struck at them right and left; he was irresistibly
carried away by the press to the very camp.

There, behind the solid gates, he at last succeeded in arresting the
pursuit of the Goths.

"All honour is lost," he said indignantly; "let us at least save our
lives."

With these words he closed the gates, without any regard to the large
masses of people still outside.

An attempt of Hildebad to enter the camp without more ado was
frustrated by the strong oaken palisades, which defied the spears and
stones hurled at them.

Leaning on his sword, Hildebad cooled himself for a moment. Just then
Teja, who, like the King and Totila, had long since dismounted, turned
the corner of the wall, which he had been examining and measuring.

"This confounded wooden fortress!" cried Hildebad, as Teja came up.
"Neither stone nor iron can do any good here."

"No," said Teja; "but fire can!"

He stirred with his foot a heap of ashes which lay near.

"These are from last night's watch-fires. Here are still some sparks,
and brushwood lies near. Come, my men, put up your swords and kindle
the brushwood. Set the camp on fire!"

"Splendid fellow!" cried Hildebad rejoicingly. "Quick, lads! burn them
out as you would a fox in his hole! The brisk north wind will help us!"

The dying watch-fires were speedily fanned into flame; hundreds of
fire-brands flew into the dry planks of the palisading.

Very soon bright flames rose to the sky.

The thick smoke, driven into the camp by the wind, blinded the
Byzantines, and rendered the defence of the walls impossible. They
retreated to the centre of the camp.

"Oh that I were dead!" sighed Belisarius. "Evacuate the camp! Out by
the Porta Decumana! Retreat in good order to the bridges behind us!"

But the command to leave the camp broke the last ties of discipline and
order.

While the charred beams of the gate fell under the thundering strokes
of Teja's axe, and the Black Earl was the first to spring into the camp
through the flames and smoke, the fugitives tore open all the gates
which led to Rome, and hastened in confused masses to the river.

The first comers reached the two bridges unhindered and unfollowed.
They had some time to spare before Hildebad and Teja could compel
Belisarius to leave the burning camp.

But suddenly--oh, horror!--the Gothic horns sounded close at hand.

Witichis and Totila, as soon as they knew that the camp was taken, had
mounted at once, and now led their horsemen from the right and left, to
attack the fugitives in the flank.

Belisarius had just galloped out of the camp by the Decumanian Gate,
and was hurrying to one of the bridges, when he saw the threatening
troops of horsemen rushing up on both sides.

The great general still preserved his composure.

"Forwards at a gallop to the bridges!" he commanded his Saracens;
"defend them!"

It was too late. A dull crash; then a second--the two narrow
bridges had broken beneath the weight of the crowding fugitives,
and by hundreds the Hunnish horsemen and the Illyrian
lance-bearers--Justinian's pride--fell into the marshy waters.

Without reflecting, Belisarius, who had just reached the steep bank,
spurred his horse into the foaming blood-flecked river, and swam to the
other side.

"Salomo," he said to one of his pretorians, as soon as he had landed,
"take a handful of my guards and gallop as hard as you can to the pass.
Ride over the fugitives; you must reach it before the Goths! Do you
hear? You _must_! It is our last plank of salvation!"

Salomo and Dagisthæos obeyed, and galloped away as swift as the wind.

Belisarius collected together all whom he could reach. The Goths, as
well as the Byzantines, were detained for a time by the river.

But suddenly Aigan cried:

"Salomo is returning!"

"General," cried Salomo, as he galloped up, "all is lost! Weapons
glitter in the pass! It is already occupied by the Goths!"

For the first time on this unhappy day Belisarius started.

"The pass lost? Then not a man of my Emperor's army will escape. Then
farewell fame, Antonina, and life! Come, Aigan, draw your sword; let me
not fall living into the hands of the barbarians."

"General," said Aigan, "I have never heard you speak thus!"

"I have never before felt thus. Let us dismount and die!"

He was taking his left foot out of the stirrup, in order to spring from
his horse, when Dagisthæos galloped up.

"Be comforted, my general! The pass is ours--it is Roman weapons that
we saw there. It is Cethegus, the Prefect; he occupied the pass in
secret!"

"Cethegus?" cried Belisarius. "Is it possible? Is it certain?"

"Yes, my general. Look! It was high time!"

It was indeed. For a troop of Gothic horsemen, sent by King Witichis,
had arrived at the pass, crossing the river by a ford, before the
fugitives. But just as they were about to enter it, Cethegus, at the
head of his Illyrians, broke out of his ambush, and, after a short
combat, drove back the surprised Goths.

"The first gleam of victory on this black day!" cried Belisarius. "Up!
to the pass!"

And, in better order than before, the commander led his newly-rallied
troops to the woody hill.

"Welcome to safety, Belisarius," cried Cethegus, as he cleansed the
blade of his sword. "I have waited for you here since daybreak. I was
sure that you would come."

"Prefect of Rome," said Belisarius, reaching out his hand, as he sat on
his horse, "you have saved the Emperor's army, which I had lost. I
thank you!"

The Prefect's fresh troops stood in the pass like an impenetrable wall,
allowing the scattered Byzantines to pass, and repelling without
difficulty the attacks of the first fatigued pursuers, who pressed
forward over the river.

At the close of day. King Witichis withdrew his troops to pass the
night on the conquered field, while Belisarius and his generals, at the
back of the pass, mustered, as well as they could, the scattered
remnants of the army as they arrived, singly or in groups.

As soon as Belisarius had once more a few thousand men together, he
rode up to Cethegus, and said:

"What think you, Prefect of Rome? Your men are still fresh, and mine
have yet to blunt their weapons. Let us sally forth once more, and turn
the fortune of this day. The sun will not set yet awhile."

Cethegus looked at him with astonishment, and quoted Homer's words:

"'Truly thou hast spoken a terrible word, thou mighty one!' You
never-to-be-satisfied man! Is it so hard for you to leave a
battle-field without victory? No, Belisarius. There beckon the ramparts
of Rome. Thither lead your harassed men. I will keep the pass until you
have reached the city; and I shall be glad if I can succeed in doing
so."

And so it was arranged. Under such circumstances Belisarius was less
than ever able to oppose the will of the Prefect. So he yielded, and
led his army back to Rome, where he arrived at nightfall.

For a long time he was refused admittance; for, covered with dust and
blood, it was difficult to recognise him, and many fugitives had
brought word from the field of battle that the commander had fallen,
and that all was lost.

At last Antonina, who waited anxiously upon the walls, recognised her
husband.

He was admitted at the Pincian Gate, which was afterwards named Porta
Belisaria.

Beacons on the walls, between the Flaminian and Pincian Grates,
announced his entrance to Cethegus, who then, under cover of night,
accomplished his retreat in good order, scarcely followed by the
wearied victors.

Teja alone, with a few of his horsemen, pressed forward to the hilly
country, where the Villa Borghese is now situated, and as far as the
Aqua Acetosa.



                              CHAPTER VII.

The following day the immense army of the Goths appeared before the
walls of the Eternal City, which it surrounded in seven camps.

And now began that memorable siege, which was to develop the military
talent and inventive genius of Belisarius no less than the courage of
the besiegers.

The citizens of Rome had with consternation beheld from the walls the
interminable march of the Goths.

"Look, Prefect, they outflank all your walls."

"Yes, in breadth! but in height? They cannot get over them without
wings."

Witichis had left only two thousand men behind in Ravenna; eight
thousand he had sent, under Earl Uligis of Urbssalvia, and Earl Ansa of
Asculum, to Dalmatia, to wrest that province and Liburnia from the
Byzantines, and to reconquer the strong fortress of Salona. These
troops were to be reinforced by mercenaries recruited in Savia.

The Gothic fleet--against Teja's advice--was also to repair thither,
and not to Portus, the harbour of Rome.

But the King now surrounded, with a hundred and fifty thousand
warriors, the city of Rome and its far-stretching ramparts, the walls
of Aurelian and the Prefect.

Rome had at that time fifteen principal gates and a few smaller ones.

The weaker part of the ramparts--the space between the Flaminian Gate
in the north (on the east of the present Porta del Popolo) to the
Prænestinian Gate--was completely surrounded by six camps, thus: the
walls from the Flaminian Gate eastwards as far as the Pincian and
Salarian Gates; then to the Nomentanian Gate (south-east of Porta Pia);
farther towards the "closed gate," or Porta Clausa; and finally
southwards, the Tiburtinian (now Porta San Lorenzo), the Asinarian,
Metronian, and Latin Gates (on the Via Latina), the Appian Gate (on the
Via Appia), and the St. Paul's Gate, which lay close to the Tiber.

These six camps were erected on the left bank of the river.

But in order to prevent the besieged from destroying the Milvian
Bridge, and thus cutting off the way across the river and the whole
district from the right bank as far as the sea, the Goths erected a
seventh camp upon the right bank of the Tiber, on the "field of Nero,"
which reached from the Vatican Hill nearly to the Milvian Bridge (under
Monte Mario).

So this bridge was dominated, and that of Hadrian threatened, by a
Gothic camp, as well as the road to the city through the "Porta Sancti
Petri," as the inner Aurelian Gate, according to Procopius, was already
called at that time.

It was the entrance nearest to the Mausoleum of Hadrian.

But also the gate of St. Pancratius, on the right bank of the river,
was especially watched by the Goths.

This camp upon the field of Nero, between the Pancratian and Peter's
Gates, had been assigned to Earl Markja of Mediolanum, who had been
recalled from the Cottian Alps. But the King himself often repaired
thither in order to examine the Mausoleum. He had undertaken the
command of no particular camp, reserving to himself the general
supervision; and he had divided the other six camps between Hildebrand,
Totila, Hildebad, Teja, Guntharis, and Grippa.

He caused each of the seven camps to be surrounded with a deep moat,
throwing up the excavated earth in high banks between the moat and
camp, and strengthening them with stout palisades, as a protection
against sallies from the city.

Belisarius and Cethegus also divided their generals and their men
according to the sections and gates of Rome.

Belisarius confided the defence of the Prænestinian Gate in the eastern
quarter (now Porta Maggiore) to Bessas, and the important Flaminian
Gate, close to which lay the camp of Totila, to Constantinus, who
caused it to be almost closed with blocks of marble, taken from ancient
temples and palaces.

The Prefect jealously kept the western and southern quarters of
the city under his own strict surveillance, but in the north
Belisarius settled down between the Flaminian and Pincian--or now
"Belisarian"--Gates (the weakest part of the ramparts), and formed
plans of sallies against the barbarians.

The remaining gates were entrusted to the leaders of the foot-soldiers:
Piranius, Magnus, Ennes, Artabanes, Azarethas, and Chilbudius.

The Prefect had undertaken the defence of all the gates on the right
bank of the Tiber; the new Porta Aurelia on the Ælisian Bridge near the
Mausoleum, the Porta Septimiana, the old Aurelian Gate, which was now
named the Pancratian; and on the left bank, that of St. Paul.

The next gate to the east, the Ardeatinian, was again under the
protection of a Byzantine garrison, commanded by Chilbudius.

The besiegers and the besieged proved themselves equally indefatigable
and equally inventive in plans of attack and defence.

For a long time the only thing the Goths could attempt was to harass
the Romans before storming the walls. On their side, the Romans
prepared to defend them when attacked. The Goths--lords and masters in
the Campagna--sought to distress the besieged by cutting off all the
fourteen splendid aqueducts which supplied the city with water.

As soon as Belisarius learned this fact, he hastened to block the
mouths of the aqueducts within the city.

"For," Procopius had said to him, "since you, O great hero, Belisarius,
have crept into Neapolis through such a water-runnel, the same idea
might occur to the barbarians, and they would scarcely think it a shame
to crawl into Rome by a similar hero-path."

The besieged were now obliged to deny themselves the luxury of their
baths; the wells in the quarters of the city at a distance from the
river scarcely sufficed for drinking water.

But by cutting off the supply of water, the barbarians had also
deprived the Romans of bread.

At least it seemed so, for all the water-mills of Rome were stopped.

The garnered grain bought in Sicily by Cethegus, and that which
Belisarius had, by force, caused to be brought into Rome from all the
neighbouring country, in spite of the outcry of farmers and husbandmen,
could no longer be ground.

"Let the mills be turned by asses and oxen!" cried Belisarius.

"Most of the asses and oxen were too wise to allow themselves to be
shut up with us here, O Belisarius," said Procopius; "we have only as
many as we shall want for the shambles, and it is impossible that they
should first drive the mills and then be still fat enough to afford
meat to eat with the bread thus gained."

"Then call Martinus. Yesterday, as I stood by the Tiber counting the
Gothic tents, I had an idea----"

"Which Martinus must translate from the Belisarian into the possible!
Poor man! But I will go and fetch him."

But when, on the evening of the same day, Belisarius and Martinus
caused the first boat-mills that the world had ever known to be erected
in the Tiber, by means of boats ranged one near the other, Procopius
said admiringly:

"The bread of these boat-mills will rejoice men longer than your
greatest deeds. Flour, ground in this wise, savours of immortality."

And indeed these boat-mills, imagined by Belisarius and practically
carried out by Martinus, fully compensated to the besieged, during the
whole siege, for the loss of the powerless water-mills.

Behind the bridge which is now called Ponte San Sisto, on the flat of
the Janiculum, Belisarius caused two boats to be fastened with ropes,
and laid mills over their flat decks, so that the wheels were driven by
the river, which streamed from between the arches of the bridge with
increased force.

The besiegers, who were informed of these arrangements by deserters
from the city, soon attempted to destroy them.

They threw beams, rafts, and trees into the river above the bridge, and
in a single night all the mills were destroyed.

But Belisarius caused them to be reconstructed, and ordered strong
chains to be drawn across the river above the bridge, which caught and
arrested everything that floated down.

These iron river-bolts were not only intended to protect the mills, but
also to prevent the Goths from reaching the city on boats or rafts.

For now Witichis began to make preparations for storming the city.

He caused wooden towers, higher than the ramparts, to be built, which,
placed upon four wheels, could be drawn by oxen. Then he caused
storming-ladders to be prepared in great numbers, and four tremendous
rams or wall-breakers, which were each pushed and served by fifty men.

The deep moats were to be filled up with countless bundles of brushwood
and reeds.

To defeat these plans, Belisarius and Cethegus, the first defending the
city in the north and east, the latter in the west and south, planted
catapults and other projectile machines on the walls, which were able
to cast immense spears to a great distance, with such force that they
could pierce the strongest coat of mail.

They protected the gates by means of "wolves," that is, cross-beams set
with iron spikes, which were let crashing down upon the assaulters as
soon as the latter approached the gate.

And, lastly, they strewed innumerable caltrops and steel-traps upon the
space between the town-moats and the camp of the besiegers.



                             CHAPTER VIII.

In spite of all this, it was said by the Romans that the Goths would
long since have climbed the walls, had it not been for the Prefect's
"Egeria."

For, strange to say, each time the barbarians prepared an assault,
Cethegus went to Belisarius and warned him of the day and hour.

Whenever Teja or Hildebad attempted to carry a gate by storm or sweep
away a redoubt--Cethegus foretold their coming, and the assaulters met
with double the usual number of defenders at that particular point.

Whenever the chains across the Tiber were to be broken in a night
surprise--Cethegus seemed to have guessed it, and sent fire-brands and
fire-ships against the boats of the enemy.

So passed many months.

The Goths could not hide from themselves the fact that, in spite of
continual assaults, they had made no progress since the commencement of
the siege.

For a long time they bore with patience the betrayal and frustration of
their plans.

But by degrees discontent not only began to spread in the army,
especially as now the scarcity of provisions made itself felt, but also
the King's mind was darkened with deep melancholy when he found all his
strength, perseverance, and military science rendered vain. And when he
returned to his royal tent from some thwarted undertaking, some
abortive assault, the haughty eyes of his Queen rested on him with a
mysterious and terrible expression, from which he turned away with a
shudder.

"All has happened as I foretold," Witichis said gloomily to Teja; "with
Rauthgundis my good-fortune has forsaken me, as joy has forsaken my
heart. It is if a curse rested upon my crown. And this daughter of the
Amelungs, silent and gloomy, follows me like misfortune personified."

"Thou mayst be right," answered Teja; "perhaps I can break the spell.
Grant me leave of absence to-night."

On the same day, almost at the same hour, Johannes, in Rome, asked
Belisarius for leave of absence for that night. Belisarius refused to
grant it.

"It is no time for midnight pleasures," said he.

"It will be small pleasure to spy amongst damp old walls and Gothic
lances for a fox who is ten times slyer than either of us."

"What do you think of doing?" asked Belisarius, becoming attentive.

"What do I intend to do? To make an end of the cursed position in which
we are all placed, and you, O General, not the least. All goes well.
For months the barbarians have been encamped before these walls, and
have accomplished nothing. We shoot them as easily as boys shoot crows
from behind a hedge, and can laugh at them and all their efforts. But
who has accomplished all this? Not, as would be right, you, the
Emperor's commander-in-chief, not the Emperor's army, but this icy
Roman, who can only laugh when he scoffs. He sits up there in the
Capitol and mocks at the Emperor, the Goths and us, and most of all,
give me leave to say, at you. How does this Ulysses and Ajax in one
person know so exactly all the plans of the Goths? By means of his
demons, say some. Through his Egeria, say others. And some maintain
that he has a raven which can speak and understand like a human being,
and that he sends it every night into the Gothic camp. Old women and
Romans may believe such things, but not the son of my mother! I think I
know both the raven and the demons. It is certain that the Prefect can
only learn what he knows in the Gothic camp; let us see if we cannot
use that source as well as he."

"I thought of this long since, but I saw no possibility of carrying out
my idea."

"My Huns have watched all the Prefect's movements. It is cursedly
difficult, for his brown Moor follows him like his shadow. But
sometimes Syphax is absent for days together, and then it is easier: so
I have found out that Cethegus often leaves the city at night,
sometimes by the Gate of Portuensis, sometimes by the Gate of St. Paul.
He commands the guard of both these gates. Farther my spies dared not
follow him. But to-night--for to-night the time has come again--I have
a mind to stick to his heels. But I must wait for him _outside_ the
gate, for his Isaurians would never let me pass. I shall make a round
of the walls, and remain behind in one of the trenches."

"'Tis well. But, as you say, there are two gates to be watched."

"Yes; and so I have engaged Perseus, my brother, to be my fellow-spy.
He will watch the Gate of St. Paul, I the Portuensian Gate. You may
depend upon it, that before sunrise to-morrow one or other of us will
know who is the Prefect's Egeria."

Exactly opposite the Gate of St. Paul, at about three arrow-shots,
distance from the outermost trench of the city, lay a large and ancient
building, the Basilica Sancti Pauli extra muros, or St. Paul's outside
the walls, which only completely disappeared at the time of the siege
of Rome by the Connétable of Bourbon.

Originally a temple dedicated to Jupiter Stator, it had been
consecrated to the Apostle two centuries before the time of which we
speak, but the bronze colossal statue of the bearded god still stood
erect; only the flaming thunderbolts had been taken from its right
hand, and a crucifix put in their place; otherwise the sturdy and
bearded figure was well suited to its new name.

It was the sixth hour of the night.

The moon shone brightly above the Eternal City, and shed her silver
light upon the battlements and the plain between the Roman ramparts and
the Basilica, the black shadow of which fell towards the Gothic camp.

The guard at the Gate of St. Paul had just been relieved. But seven men
had gone out, and only six re-entered.

The seventh turned his back to the gate and walked out into the open
field.

Cautiously he chose his path: cautiously he avoided the numerous
steel-traps, covered pits and self-shooting poisoned arrows which were
strewn everywhere about, and which had already brought destruction to
many a Goth while assaulting the city.

This man appeared to know them all, and easily avoided them. He also
carefully shunned the moonlight, seeking the shade of the jutting
bastions, and springing from one tree to another.

After crossing the outermost trench, he remained standing in the shadow
of a cypress, the boughs of which, had been shattered by a catapult,
and looked about him.

He could see nothing far and near, and at once hurried with rapid steps
towards the church.

Had he looked round once more, he surely would not have done so.

For, as soon as he left the tree, a second figure rose from the trench,
and reached the shade of the cypress in three leaps.

"I have won, Johannes! This time fortune favours the younger brother!"
said this personage.

And he cautiously followed the man, who was rapidly walking on.

But suddenly he lost sight of him; it seemed as if the earth had
swallowed him up.

And when he had reached the outer wall of the church, where the man had
disappeared, the Armenian (for it was Perseus) could discover neither
door nor any other opening.

"No doubt about it," he said to himself, "the appointment has been made
within the temple. I must follow."

But at that place the wall could not be climbed.

The spy turned a corner, feeling the stones.

In vain. The wall was of the same height everywhere.

He lost about a quarter of an hour in this search.

At last he found a gap; with difficulty he squeezed himself through.

And now he found himself in the outer court of the old temple, across
which the thick Doric columns threw broad shadows, under cover of which
he succeeded in reaching the centre and principal building.

He peeped through a chink in the wall, which a current of air had
betrayed to him. Within all was dark.

But suddenly he was blinded by a dazzling light.

When he again opened his eyes, he saw a bright stripe amid the
darkness; it issued from a dark lantern, the light of which had been
suddenly uncovered.

He could distinctly see whatever stood in the line of light; but not
the bearer of the lantern.

He saw Cethegus the Prefect, who stood close to the statue of the
Apostle, and appeared to be leaning against it. In front of him stood a
second form, that of a slender woman, upon whose auburn hair fell the
glittering light of the lantern.

"The lovely Queen of the Goths, by Eros and Anteros!" said the spy to
himself. "No disagreeable meeting, be it for love or politics! Hark!
she speaks. What a pity that I came too late to hear the beginning of
the conversation!"

"Therefore, mark well," he heard the Queen say, "the day after
to-morrow some great danger is planned to take place on the road before
the Tiburtinian Gate."

"Good; but what!" asked the voice of the Prefect.

"I could learn nothing more exactly. And I can communicate nothing more
to you, even if I should hear anything. I dare not meet you here again,
for----"

She now spoke in a lower tone.

Perseus pressed his ear hard against the chink; his sword rattled
against the stone, and immediately a ray of the lantern fell upon him.

"Hark!" cried a third voice--it was a female voice, that of the bearer
of the lantern, who now showed herself in its rays as she quickly
turned in the direction of the wall where stood the spy.

Perseus recognised a slave in Moorish costume.

For one moment all in the temple were silent.

Perseus held his breath. He felt that his life was at stake. For
Cethegus grasped his sword.

"All is quiet," said the slave; "it must have been a stone falling on
the iron-work outside."

"I can also go no more into the grave outside the Portuensian Gate. I
fear that we have been followed."

"By whom?"

"By one who, as it seems, never sleeps--Earl Teja."

The Prefect's lips twitched.

"And he is also one of a secret company who have sworn an oath against
the life of Belisarius; the attack on the Gate of St. Paul will be only
a feint."

"'Tis well," said Cethegus reflectively.

"Belisarius could never escape, if he were not warned," continued the
Queen. "They lie somewhere, I fear--but I do not know where--in ambush.
They have a superior force, Earl Totila commands them."

"I will take care to warn him!" said Cethegus slowly.

"If the plan should succeed!"

"Be not anxious. Queen. Rome is not less dear to me than to you. And if
the next assault fail--they must renounce the siege, be they never so
tough. And this Queen, is your doing. Let me this night--perhaps the
last on which we meet--reveal to you my wonder and admiration. Cethegus
does not easily admire, and where he must, he does not easily confess
it. But--I admire you, Queen! With what death-despising temerity, with
what demoniac cunning you have frustrated all the plots of the
barbarians! Truly, Belisarius has done much--Cethegus more--but
Mataswintha most."

"Would that you spoke truth!" said Mataswintha with sparkling eyes.
"And if the crown falls from the head of this culprit----"

"It is _your_ hand which has decided the fate of Rome. But, Queen, you
cannot be satisfied with this alone. I have learned to know you these
last few months--you must not be taken, a conquered Gothic Queen, to
Byzantium. Such beauty, such a mind, such force of will must rule, and
not serve, in Byzantium. Therefore reflect--when your tyrant is
overthrown--will you not then follow the course which I have pointed
out to you?"

"I have never yet thought of what will follow," she answered gloomily.

"But I have thought for you. Truly, Mataswintha"--and his eyes rested
upon her with fervent admiration--"you are marvellously beautiful. I
consider it as my greatest merit that even your beauty is not able to
kindle my passions and seduce me from my plans. But you are too
beautiful, too charming, to live alone for hatred and revenge. When
our aim is reached, then to Byzantium! You will then be more than
Empress--you will be the vanquisher of the Empress!"

"When my aim is reached, my life is completed. Do you think I could
bear the thought of having destroyed my people for mere ambition, for
prudent ends? No--I did it only because I could no other. Revenge is
now all to me, and----"

Just then there sounded loud and shrill from the front of the building,
but yet within the walls, the cry of the screech-owl; once--twice--in
rapid succession.

How amazed was Perseus to see the Prefect hurriedly press his finger
upon the throat of the statue against which he was leaning, and to see
it immediately and noiselessly divide into two parts.

Cethegus slipped, into the opening, which slowly closed again.

Mataswintha and Aspa sank upon the steps of the altar, as if in prayer.

"So it was a signal! Danger is near," thought the spy. "But where is
the danger? and where the warner?"

And he turned and stepped from beneath the wall, looking to the left,
on which side the Gothic camp was situated.

But in doing so he stepped into the moonlight, and in sight of Syphax,
the Moor, who stood in an empty niche before the entrance of the
building, and who, until now, had also been looking sharply in the
direction of the camp.

From thence a man walked slowly forward.

His battle-axe glittered in the moonlight.

But Perseus saw a second weapon flash; it was the sword of the Moor, as
he softly drew it from its sheath.

"Ha!" laughed Perseus; "before those two have done with each other, I
shall be in Rome with my secret."

And he ran towards the gap in the wall of the court by which he had
entered.

For a moment Syphax looked doubtfully to right and left. To the right
he saw a man escaping, whom he had only now discovered; to the left a
Gothic warrior, who was just entering the court of the temple. It was
impossible to reach and kill both.

He suddenly called aloud:

"Teja, Earl Teja! Help, help! A Roman! Save the Queen! There, near the
wall on the right--a Roman!"

In a moment Teja stood at Syphax's side.

"There!" cried Syphax. "I will protect the women in the church!" and he
rushed into the temple.

"Stand, Roman!" cried Teja, and rushed after Perseus.

But Perseus would not stand. He ran along the wall; he reached the
gap, but in his hurry he could not force himself through. With the
strength of despair he swung himself up upon the wall, and was already
drawing up his feet to jump down on the other side, when Teja cast his
battle-axe, and struck him on the head.

Perseus, together with his secret, fell back dead.

Teja bent over him; he could distinctly see the features of the dead
man.

"The Archon Perseus," he said, "the brother of Johannes."

He left the corpse, and at once ascended the steps which led into the
church.

On the threshold he was met by Mataswintha. Behind her came Syphax, and
Aspa with the lantern.

For a moment Teja and Mataswintha measured each other with distrustful
looks.

"I must thank thee, Earl Teja of Tarentum," at last the Princess said.
"I was in danger while pursuing my lonely devotions."

"A strange place and time for thee to choose for thy prayers. Let us
see if this Roman was the only enemy."

He took the light from Aspa's hand, and went into the chapel.

Presently he returned, a leathern shoe, inlaid with gold, in his hand.

"I found nothing--but this sandal by the altar, close to the statue of
the Apostle. It is a man's shoe."

"A votive offering of mine," said Syphax quickly. "The Apostle healed
my foot, which a thorn had wounded."

"I thought the Snake-god was thine only god?"

"I worship whatever can help me."

"In which foot did the thorn wound thee?"

For a moment Syphax hesitated.

"In the right foot," he then answered.

"It is a pity," said Teja, "the sandal is for the left foot." And he
put it into his belt. "I warn thee, Queen, against such midnight
devotions."

"I shall do my duty," answered Mataswintha harshly.

"And I mine!"

With these words Teja turned, and led the way to the camp. Silently the
Queen and her slaves followed.


At sunrise Teja stood before the King and told him everything.

"What thou sayest is no proof," said Witichis.

"But a strong cause of suspicion. And thou thyself hast told me that
the conduct of the Queen was mysterious."

"Just for that reason I must guard myself against acting on mere
suspicion. I often fear that we have acted wrongly by her, almost as
much so as by Rauthgundis."

"Possibly. But these midnight walks?"

"I shall put an end to them, were it only for her own sake."

"And the Moor? I mistrust him. I know that he is often absent for days
together; afterwards appearing again in the camp. He is a spy."

"Yes, friend," said Witichis, with a smile; "but he is my spy. He goes
in and out of Rome with my knowledge. It is he who betrays all their
plans to me."

"And yet it has done no good? And the false sandal?"

"It is really a votive offering. Before thou camest, Syphax confessed
all to me. Once, as he was waiting for the Queen, he got weary, and
began to rummage in a vault of the church; and there he found, amongst
all sorts of things, some priestly garments and hidden treasures, which
he stole. Later, fearing the wrath of the saint, he wished to atone,
and offered up in his heathen manner this golden sandal from his booty.
He described it to me exactly. With golden side-stripes, and an agate
button engraved with the letter C. Thou seest that it is so. Therefore
he knew it well, and it cannot have been dropped by a fugitive. He has
promised to bring the fellow-shoe as a proof. But, more than all, he
has discovered to me a new plan, which will put an end to all our
trouble, and deliver Belisarius himself into our hands."



                              CHAPTER IX.

While the King of the Goths communicated this plan to his friends,
Cethegus, in the early morning, was summoned to speak with Belisarius
and Johannes.

"Prefect of Rome," cried the general in a severe tone, as Cethegus
entered his quarters, "where were you last night?"

"At my post, as was my duty. At the Gate of St. Paul."

"Do you know that, last night, one of my best leaders, Perseus the
archon and the brother of Johannes here, left the city and has not been
seen since?"

"I am sorry for it. But you know that it is forbidden to leave the
walls without permission."

"But I have reason to believe," interposed Johannes, "that you very
well know what has become of my brother; that his blood is on your
hands."

"And by the slumber of Justinian," cried Belisarius angrily, "you shall
answer for it! You shall no longer tyrannise over the Emperor's army
and the Emperor's generals. The hour of reckoning has come. The
barbarians are almost defeated, and we shall see if, when _your_ head
falls, the Capitol will still stand!"

"Do matters stand thus?" thought Cethegus. "Then take care,
Belisarius!" But he remained silent.

"Speak!" cried Johannes; "where did you kill my brother?"

But before Cethegus could reply, Artasines, one of Belisarius's
body-guards, entered the room.

"Sir," he said, "outside are six Gothic warriors. They have brought the
corpse of Perseus the archon. King Witichis sends you word that Perseus
fell last night without the walls, struck by Earl Teja's axe. He sends
the body, that you may inter it with all honour."

"Heaven itself," said Cethegus, as he left the room with haughty steps,
"gives the lie to your malice!"

But slowly and reflectively he passed the Quirinal and went across the
Forum of Trajan to his dwelling.

"You threaten, Belisarius? Thanks for the hint! Let us see if we cannot
do without you!"


Arrived at his house, he found Syphax, who had been waiting for him
impatiently.

Syphax quickly made his report, and concluded:

"But first of all, sir, let the slaves who tie your sandals be whipped!
You see how badly you are served when Syphax is absent. And be so kind
as to give me your right shoe."

"Properly I should refuse to do so, and let you remain in suspense, to
punish you for your impudent lies," laughed the Prefect. "This piece of
leather is worth your life, my panther! How will you ransom it?"

"With important news. I now know all the particulars of the plan
against the life of Belisarius; the place and time, and the names of
the confederates. They are--Teja, Totila, and Hildebad."

"Each one of whom is a match for the magister militum," remarked
Cethegus, with evident pleasure.

"I think, sir, that you have prepared another nice trap for the
barbarians! According to your order, I have told them that Belisarius
himself will sally out from the Tiburtinian Gate to-morrow, in order to
forage for supplies."

"Yes; he goes himself because the Huns, who have so often been beaten,
will not again venture out alone. He will take only four hundred men."

"And the three confederates will place an ambush of a thousand men in
order to surprise Belisarius."

"This news is really worth the shoe!" said Cethegus, and threw it to
Syphax.

"Meanwhile King Witichis will make a feigned assault upon the Gate of
St. Paul, in order to divert attention from Belisarius. So I will now
hasten to the latter, as you ordered, and tell him to take three
thousand men with him, and destroy the confederates and their band."

"Stop," said Cethegus quietly; "do not be in such a hurry. You will
tell him nothing."

"What?" asked Syphax in surprise. "If he be not warned, he will be
lost!"

"One must not always interfere with the commander's guardian angel.
To-morrow Belisarius may prove his good fortune."

"Aye, aye," said Syphax, with a cunning smile, "is such your pleasure?
Then I would rather be Syphax the slave than Belisarius the magister
militum. Poor widowed Antonina!"

Cethegus was just about to stretch himself upon his couch for a short
rest, when Fidus, the ostiarius, announced:

"Kallistratos, of Corinth!"

"Always welcome!"

The young Greek with the gentle countenance entered. A flush of shame
or pleasure coloured his cheeks; it was evident that some special cause
had led him to the Prefect.

"What of beauty do you bring besides yourself?" asked Cethegus in the
Grecian tongue.

The Greek looked up with sparkling eyes.

"A heart full of admiration for you, and the wish to prove it to you. I
beg for permission to fight for you and Rome, like the two Licinii and
Piso."

"My Kallistratos! What have you, our peaceful guest, the most amiable
of Greeks, to do with our bloody business with the Goths? Leave such
hard work alone, and cherish your bright inheritance--beauty!"

"I know well that the days of Salamis have become a myth, and that you
iron Romans have never believed in our strength. That is hard; but yet
it is easier to bear, because it is you who defend our world of art and
noble customs against the dull barbarians; you--that is, Rome, and to
me Cethegus is Rome. As such, I understand this struggle, and,
understanding it thus, you see that it also concerns the Hellenes."

The Prefect smiled with pleasure.

"Well, if to you Cethegus is Rome, then Rome gladly accepts the help of
the Hellenes. Henceforward you are a tribune of the Milites Romani,
like Licinius."

"My deeds shall thank you. But I must confess one thing more; for I
know that you do not love to be surprised. I have often seen how dear
to you is the Mausoleum of Hadrian, with its treasure of statues.
Lately I counted these marble gods, and found that there were two
hundred and ninety-eight. I have made the third hundred complete by
placing amongst them my two Letoides, Apollo and Artemis, which you
praised so highly. They are a votive offering to you and Rome."

"Dear, extravagant youth!" said Cethegus. "What have you done?"

"That which is right and beautiful," answered Kallistratos simply.

"But reflect; the Mausoleum is now a fortress. If the Goths storm----"

"The Letoides stand upon the second and inner wall; and how can I fear
that the barbarians will ever again conquer the favourite place of
Cethegus? Where can the beauteous gods be more secure than in your
citadel? Your fortress is their best, because safest, temple. My
offering shall be at the same time a happy omen."

"It shall!" cried Cethegus with animation. "And I myself believe that
your gift is well protected. But allow me, in return----"

"In return you have allowed me to fight for you. Chaire!" laughed the
Greek, and was gone.

"The boy loves me dearly," said Cethegus. "And I am like other human
fools--it does me good; and that not merely because I can thereby rule
him."

Heavy footsteps were now heard upon the marble of the vestibule, and a
tribune of the army entered.

It was a young Roman with noble features, but of a graver expression
than his years warranted. His cheek-bones made a right angle with his
straight and severe brow, in true Roman outline; in the deep-sunk eyes
lay Roman strength and--at this moment--resolute earnestness, and a
self-will regardless of all but itself.

"Aha! Severinus, son of Boëthius! Welcome, my young hero and
philosopher! I have not seen you for many months. Whence come you?"

"From the grave of my mother!" answered Severinus, with a fixed look at
the questioner.

Cethegus sprang from his seat.

"What! Rusticiana? The friend of my youth? The wife of my Boëthius?"

"She is dead," said the son shortly.

The Prefect would have taken his hand, but Severinus withdrew it.

"My son! my poor Severinus! And did she die--without a word for me?"

"I bring you her last words--they concern you!"

"How did she die? Of what illness?"

"Of grief and remorse."

"Grief!" sighed Cethegus; "that I understand. But why should she feel
remorse? And her last word was for me? Tell me, what did she say?"

Severinus approached the Prefect so closely that he touched his knee,
and looking piercingly into his eyes, he answered:

"She said, 'A curse, a curse upon Cethegus, who poisoned my child!"

Cethegus looked at him quietly.

"Did she die delirious?" he coldly asked.

"No, murderer! Her delirium was to trust in you! In the hour of her
death she confessed to Cassiodorus and to me that it was her hand which
administered the poison--with which you had furnished her--to the young
tyrant. She told us all the circumstances. She was supported as she
spoke by old Corbulo and his daughter, Daphnidion. 'Too late I
learned,' she concluded, 'that my child had drunk of the deadly cup.
And there was no one to hold Camilla's hand as she took it; for I was
still in the boat upon the sea, and Cethegus was in the plantain-alley.'
Then old Corbulo called out, turning pale, 'What! did the Prefect know
that the cup contained poison?' 'Certainly,' answered my mother; 'for,
as I left the garden, I had told him that the deed was done.' Corbulo
was dumb with horror; but Daphnidion cried out in violent grief, 'Alas!
my poor mistress! Then Cethegus murdered your child; for he stood near,
close to me, and watched her drink.' 'He watched her drink?' asked my
mother, in a voice which will ring in my ears for ever. 'He watched her
as she drank,' repeated the freedman and his daughter. 'Oh! then may
his cursed soul be delivered to the devils in hell!' cried my mother.
'Revenge, O God! revenge hereafter! Revenge upon earth, my sons, for
Camilla! A curse upon Cethegus!' And she fell back and expired."

The Prefect preserved his composure. But he secretly grasped the dagger
which was hidden in the breast-folds of his tunic.

"But you," he asked after a pause, "what did you do?"

"I knelt down by the corpse of my mother and kissed her cold hand. And
I swore to fulfil her dying behest. Woe to you, Prefect of Rome,
poisoner and murderer of my sister! You shall not live!"

"Son of Boëthius, will you become a murderer for the mad words of a
stupid slave and his daughter? It would be worthy of a hero and a
philosopher."

"I do not think of murder. If I were a German, I should, according to
their barbaric custom--and just now I think it excellent--challenge you
to mortal combat. But I am a Roman, and will lawfully seek my revenge.
Take care. Prefect, there are still just judges in Italy. For many
months the enemy has prevented me from reaching the city. I only
arrived here to-day by sea, and to-morrow I shall accuse you before the
Senate, who will be your judges. Then we shall meet again."

Cethegus suddenly placed himself between the youth and the door.

But Severinus cried:

"Softly! I am prudent where a murderer is concerned. Three of my
friends accompanied me to your house. If I do not return immediately,
they will come with the lictors to search for me."

"I only wish," said Cethegus, again fully composed, "to warn you against
a shameful course. If you like to prosecute the oldest friend of your
family, in consequence of the feverish words of a dying woman, then do
so; I cannot prevent you. But first a commission. You will become my
accuser, but you still remain a soldier and my tribune. You will obey
when your general commands."

"I shall obey."

"To-morrow Belisarius will make a sally, and the barbarians intend to
attack one of the gates. I must protect the city. But I fear danger for
the lion-hearted Belisarius. I must be sure that he is faithfully
guarded. Therefore I order you to accompany the general to-morrow, and
to defend his life with your own."

"With mine own."

"'Tis good, tribune, I depend upon your word."

"Depend upon my first word too! Farewell, till we meet again, after the
fight, before the Senate. With what ardour do I long for both contests!
Farewell--until we meet in the Senate!"

"We shall never meet again!" said Cethegus, as the steps of his visitor
died away. "Syphax!" he called aloud, "bring wine and dinner. We must
strengthen ourselves for to-morrow's work!"



                               CHAPTER X.

Early next morning Rome and the Gothic encampment were equally full of
life and movement.

Mataswintha and Syphax had learned somewhat, and had imparted it to
Cethegus; but they had not known all.

They had heard of the plot of the three Goths against the life of
Belisarius, and of the earlier plan of a sham assault upon the Gate of
St. Paul.

But they had not heard that the King, changing his plan, had determined
to take advantage of the absence of the great general, in order to try
if Gothic heroism were not yet able to conquer the fortifications and
the genius of Belisarius.

In the council of war, no one had deceived himself as to the importance
and risk of the undertaking upon which they had determined; for if,
like all former ones--and Procopius had already counted sixty battles,
sallies, assaults and skirmishes--this last attempt failed, no further
exertion could be demanded from the harassed and greatly diminished
army.

For this reason they had, at Teja's advice, taken an oath to keep their
plan a profound secret, and thus Mataswintha had learned nothing from
the King.

Even the keen senses of the Moor had been unable to scent out that
anything of importance was in preparation for that day--the Gothic
troops themselves knew not what.

Totila, Hildebad, and Teja had started with their horsemen during the
night, and had placed themselves in ambush on the south of the Valerian
Way, in a hollow near the tomb of the Fulvias, through which Belisarius
would necessarily pass. They hoped to have finished their task soon
enough to be able to take an important part in the events which were
impending against the city.

While the King, with Hildebrand, Guntharis, and Markja, was mustering
the troops within the camp, Belisarius marched at daybreak out of the
Tiburtinian Gate, surrounded by part of his body-guard.

Procopius and Severinus rode on his right and left; Aigan, the
Massagetian, bore his banner, which accompanied the magister militum on
all occasions.

Constantinus, to whom he had entrusted the care of the "Belisarian"
part of Rome during his absence, doubled all the posts along the walls,
and placed his troops under arms close to the ramparts. He sent word to
the Prefect to do the same with the Byzantines under his command.

His messenger met Cethegus upon the walls between the Appian Gate and
the Gate of St. Paul.

"So Belisarius thinks," said Cethegus sarcastically, as he obeyed the
order, "that Rome cannot be safe unless he guard it! But I think that
Belisarius would be in evil plight, had I not protected my Rome. Come,
Lucius Licinius," he whispered to the latter, "we must decide upon what
we must do should Belisarius fail to return from his ride. In that
case, a firm hand must be laid upon the Byzantine army."

"I know whose hand will do it."

"It may perhaps lead to a short struggle with those of the body-guard
still in Rome; either in the Baths of Diocletian or at the Tiburtinian
Gate. They must be crushed before they have time to reflect. Take three
thousand of my Isaurians, and divide them, without attracting
attention, round about the Baths, and, above all things, occupy the
Tiburtinian Gate."

"But whence shall I withdraw the men?"

"From the Mausoleum of Hadrian," said Cethegus after a moment's
reflection.

"And the Goths?"

"Bah! the Mausoleum is strong; it will protect itself, for the
assaulters must first get over the river to the south, and then climb
those smooth walls of Parian marble, in which the Greek and I take such
pride. And besides," he added with a smile, "look up! There stands a
host of marble gods and heroes; they may themselves protect their
temple against the barbarians. Do you see? I told you it would be so.
The Goths only think of attacking the Gate of St. Paul," he concluded,
pointing towards the Gothic camp, whence, just at that moment, a strong
division marched out in the direction he mentioned.

Licinius obeyed his orders, and soon led three thousand
Isaurians--perhaps the half of the garrison of the Mausoleum--over the
river and the Viminalian Hill in the direction of the Baths of
Diocletian. He then replaced Belisarius's Armenians at the Tiburtinian
Gate by three hundred Isaurians and legionaries.

But Cethegus turned to the Salarian Gate, where Constantinus now
remained as the representative of Belisarius.

"I must have him out of the way," said Cethegus to himself, "when the
news arrives.--When you have repulsed the barbarians," he said aloud to
Constantinus, "no doubt you will make a sally. What an opportunity to
gather laurels while your commander is yet at a distance!"

"Yes," said Constantinus, "they shall see that we can fight, even
without Belisarius."

"But you must aim with more composure," said Cethegus, turning to a
Persian archer and taking his bow. "Do you see that Goth, the leader on
horseback? He shall fall."

Cethegus drew the bow. The Goth fell from his horse, pierced through
the neck by the arrow.

"And you use my shooting-machines clumsily too! Do you see that oak-tree?
A leader of one of the Gothic thousands is standing beneath it, clad in
a coat of mail. Pay attention!"

He directed the machine; aimed and shot. The mailed Goth was pierced
through and through, and nailed to the tree.

Just then a Saracen horseman rode quickly up below the wall.

"Archon," he cried to Constantinus, "Bessas begs for reinforcements for
the Prænestinian Gate! The Goths are advancing."

Constantinus looked doubtfully at Cethegus.

"Pshaw!" said the latter; "the only attack to be feared will be made
upon the Gate of St. Paul, and that is well defended, I am certain.
Tell Bessas that he is scared too soon. Besides, I have six lions, ten
tigers and twelve bears in the Vivarium waiting for the next feast at
the Circus. Let them loose upon the barbarians for the present. It will
afford a spectacle for the Romans."

But now one of the body-guard hurried up from Mons Pincius.

"Help, sir. Help, Constantinus! your own gate, the Flaminian, is in
danger! Countless barbarians! Ursicinus begs for assistance!"

"There too?" asked Cethegus incredulously.

"Reinforcements for the broken walls between the Flaminian and the
Pincian Gates!" cried a second messenger, also sent by Ursicinus.

"You need not defend that part. You know that it stands under the
special protection of St. Peter; that will suffice," said Constantinus
encouragingly.

Cethegus smiled.

"Yes, to-day most surely; for it will not be attacked at all."

"Prefect!" cried Marcus Licinius, who just then hurried up, out of
breath; "quick to the Capitol! I have just come thence. All the seven
camps of the enemy are vomiting Goths from every exit. A general storm
is intended upon all the gates of Rome."

"That can hardly be," said Cethegus with a smile. "But I will go up.
You, Marcus Licinius, will answer to me for the Tiburtinian Gate. It
_must_ be mine. Away with you! Take your two hundred legionaries."

With these words he mounted his horse and rode towards the Capitol
round the foot of the Viminalian Hill. There he met with Lucius
Licinius and his Isaurians.

"General," said Lucius, "things look grave, very grave! What about the
Isaurians? Do you persist in your order?"

"Have I retracted it?" said Cethegus severely. "Lucius, you and the
other tribunes must follow me. Isaurians, you, under your chief,
Asgares, will march between the Baths and the Tiburtinian Gate."

He did not believe there was danger for Rome. He thought he knew what
the barbarians really intended at this moment.

"The feint of a general attack," he argued, "is only meant to prevent
the Byzantines from thinking of the danger of their commander outside
the walls."

He soon reached and ascended a tower of the Capitol, whence he could
overlook the whole plain.

It was filled with Gothic weapons.

It was a splendid spectacle.

From all the gates of the encampment poured the Gothic troops,
encircling the whole circumference of the city.

It was evident that the assault was intended to be carried on
simultaneously against all the gates of Rome.

Foremost came the archers and slingers, in light groups of skirmishers,
whose business it was to rid the ramparts of their defenders.

Then followed battering-rams and wall-breakers, taken from Roman
arsenals or constructed on Roman models, though often clumsily enough;
harnessed with horses and oxen and served by soldiers without weapons
of attack, whose sole business it was to protect themselves and their
teams against the projectiles of the enemy by means of their shields.

Close behind, in thick ranks and fully armed, furnished with
battle-axes and strong knives for the hand-to-hand struggle, and
dragging heavy ladders, came the warriors who were to undertake the
assault.

These three separate lines of attack advanced steadily, in good order,
and with an even step. The sun glittered upon their helmets; at
intervals of equal lengths sounded the long-drawn summons of the Gothic
horns.

"They have learned something of us," cried Cethegus, with a soldier's
pride in the fine array. "The man who has ordered these ranks
understands war."

"Who is it?" asked Kallistratos, who, in splendid armour, stood near
Lucius Licinius.

"King Witichis, without doubt," answered Cethegus.

"I should not have thought that simple man, with his modest expression,
capable of such generalship."

"These barbarians are often unfathomable," remarked Cethegus.

And now he rode away from the Capitol, over the river to the ramparts
at the Pancratian Gate, where the first attack seemed to threaten.

There he ascended the corner tower with his followers.

"Who is the old man with the flowing beard, marching before his troop
and carrying a stone axe? He looks as if the lightning of Zeus had
missed him in the battle with the Titans."

"It is Theodoric's old master-at-arms; he marches against this gate,"
answered the Prefect.

"And who is the richly-accoutred man upon the brown charger, with the
wolfs head upon his helmet? He is marching towards the Porta
Portuensis."

"That is Duke Guntharis, the Wölfung," said Lucius Licinius.

"And see there, too, on the eastern side of the city, away over the
river, as far as the eye can reach, the ranks of the enemy advance
against all the gates," cried Piso.

"But where is the King himself!" asked Kallistratos.

"Look! there in the middle you see the Gothic standard. There he is,
opposite the Pancratian Gate," answered the Prefect.

"He alone, with his strong division, stands motionless far behind the
lines," said Salvius Julianus, the young jurist.

"Will he not join in the fight!" asked Massurius.

"It would be against his habit not to do so. But let us go down upon
the ramparts; the fight begins," said Cethegus.

"Hildebrand has reached the trench."

"There stand my Byzantines, under Gregorius. The Gothic archers aim
well. The ramparts become thinned. Massurius, bring up my Abasgian
archers, and the best archers of the legions. They must aim at the oxen
and horses of the battering-rams."

Very soon the battle was kindled upon all sides, and Cethegus remarked
with rage that the Goths progressed everywhere.

The Byzantines seemed to miss their leader; they shot at random and
fell back from the walls, against which the Goths pressed with unusual
daring.

They had already crossed the trenches at many points, and Duke
Guntharis had even erected ladders against the walls near the
Portuensian Gate; while the old master-at-arms had dragged a strong
battering-ram to the Pancratian Gate, and had caused it to be protected
by a penthouse against the fiery darts from above.

Already the first strokes of the ram thundered through the uproar of
the battle against the beams of the gate.

This well-known sound gave the Prefect a shock.

"It is evident," he said to himself, "that they are in good earnest."

Again a thundering stroke,

Gregorius, the Byzantine, looked at him inquiringly.

"This must not continue any longer," cried Cethegus angrily; and he
tore a bow and quiver from an archer who stood near him, and hurried to
the battlements over the gate.

"Here, archers and slingers! Follow me!" he cried. "Bring heavy stones.
Where is the next balista? Where the scorpions? That penthouse must
come down!"

But under it stood Gothic archers, who eagerly looked through the
apertures at the pinnacles of the battlements.

"It is useless, Haduswinth," grumbled young Gunthamund; "for the third
time I have aimed in vain. Not one of them will venture even his nose
above the battlements."

"Patience!" answered the old man; "only keep thy bow ready bent. Some
curious body will be sure to show himself. Lay a bow ready for me too,
and have patience."

"Patience! That is easier for thee with thy seventy years, than for me
with my twenty," grumbled Gunthamund.

Meanwhile Cethegus reached the wall over the gate, and cast a look
across the plain.

There he saw the King standing motionless in the distance with his
centre, upon the right bank of the Tiber.

This sight disturbed him.

"What does he intend? Has he learned that the commander-in-chief ought
not to fight? Come, Gajus," he cried to a young archer, who had boldly
followed him, "your young eyes are sharp. Look over the battlements.
What is the King doing there?"

And he bent over the bulwarks. Gajus followed his example, and both
looked out eagerly.

"Now, Gunthamund!" cried Haduswinth below.

Two strings twanged, and the two Romans started back.

Gajus fell, shot in the forehead; and an arrow fell rattling from the
Prefect's helmet.

Cethegus passed his hand across his brow.

"You live, my general!" cried Piso, springing towards him.

"Yes, friend. It was well aimed, but the gods need me yet. Only the
skin is scratched," said Cethegus, and set his helmet straight.



                              CHAPTER XI.

Just then Syphax appeared upon the wall.

His master had strictly forbidden him to take part in the fight. He
could not spare him.

"Woe--woe!" cried Syphax, so loudly, that it struck Cethegus--who knew
the Moor's usual self-control--strangely.

"What has happened?"

"A great misfortune! Constantinus is severely wounded. He led a sortie
from the Salarian Gate, and at once stumbled upon the Gothic ranks. A
stone from a sling hit him on the brow. With difficulty his people
saved him, and bore him back within the walls. There I received the
fainting man--he named you, the Prefect, as his successor. Here is his
general's staff."

"That is not possible!" shouted Bessas, who had followed at Syphax's
heels. He had come in person to demand reinforcements from the Prefect,
and arrived just in time to hear this news. "That is not possible," he
repeated, "or Constantinus was raving when he said it."

"If he had appointed you he might have been so," said Cethegus quietly,
taking the staff, and thanking the cunning slave with a rapid motion of
his hand.

With a furious look Bessas left the ramparts and hurried away.

"Follow him, and watch him carefully, Syphax," whispered the Prefect.

An Isaurian mercenary hastily approached.

"Reinforcements, Prefect, for the Porta Portuensis! Duke Guntharis has
stormed the wall!"

He was followed by Cabao, the leader of the Moorish mounted archers,
who cried:

"Constantinus is dead! You must represent him."

"I represent Belisarius," said Cethegus proudly. "Take five hundred
Armenians from the Appian Gate, and send them to the Porta Portuensis."

"Help--help for the Appian Gate! All the men on the ramparts are shot
dead!" cried a Persian horseman, galloping up. "The farthest outwork is
nearly lost; it may yet be saved, but with difficulty. It would be
impossible to retake it!"

Cethegus called his young jurisconsult, Salvius Julianus, now his
war-tribune.

"Up, my jurist! '_Beati possidentes!_' Take a hundred legionaries and
keep the outwork at all costs until further assistance arrive." And
again he looked over the breastwork.

Under his feet the fight raged; the battering-rams thundered. But he
was more troubled by the mysterious inaction which the King preserved
in the background than by the turmoil close at hand.

"Of what can he be thinking?"

Just then a fearful crash and a loud shout of joy from the barbarians
sounded from below. Cethegus had no need to ask what it was; in a
moment he had reached the gate.

"The gate is broken!" cried his people.

"I know it. _We_ now must be the bolts of Rome!"

And pressing his shield more firmly to his side, he went up to the
right wing of the gate, in which yawned a broad fissure. And again the
battering-ram struck the shattered planks near the crevice.

"Another such stroke and the gate will fall!" said Gregorius, the
Byzantine.

"Quite right; therefore we must not let it be repeated. Here--to
me--Gregorius and Lucius! Form, milites! Spears lowered! Torches and
firebrands! Make ready to sally. When I raise my sword, open the gate,
and cast ram and penthouse and all into the trench."

"You are very daring, my general!" cried Lucius Licinius, taking his
stand close to Cethegus with delight.

"Yes, now there is cause to be daring, my friend."

The column was formed; the Prefect was just about to give the sign,
when, from behind, there arose a noise still greater than that made by
the storming Goths; screams of pain and the tramp of horses. Bessas
came up in great agitation; he caught the Prefect's arm--his voice
failed him.

"Why do you hinder me at this moment?" asked. Cethegus, pushing him
aside.

"Belisarius's troops," at last panted the Thracian, "stand sorely
wounded outside the Tiburtinian Gate they beg for admittance--furious
Goths are at their heels--Belisarius has fallen into an ambush--he is
dead."

"Belisarius is taken!" cried a gate-keeper, who hurried up breathless.

"The Goths--the Goths are upon us! at the Nomentanian and Tiburtinian
Gates!" was shouted from the streets.

"Belisarius's flag is taken! Procopius is defending the corpse of
Belisarius!"

"Give orders for the Tiburtinian Gate to be opened," persisted Bessas.
"Your Isaurians are there. Who sent them?"

"I," answered Cethegus reflectively.

"They will not open without your orders. Save at least the corpse of
our noble commander!"

Cethegus lingered--he held his hand half raised--he hesitated.

"I would gladly save his _corpse_!" he thought.

Just then Syphax rushed up to him, and whispered:

"No, he still lives! I saw him from the ramparts. He moves; but he will
be taken prisoner directly. The Gothic horsemen are close upon him.
Totila and Teja will be up with him immediately!"

"Give the order; let the Tiburtinian Gate be opened," insisted Bessas.

But the Prefect's eyes flashed; over his countenance spread an
expression of proud and bold decision, and illumined it with demoniac
beauty. He struck his sword against the shattered wing of the gate
before him and cried:

"Sally! First Rome; then Belisarius! Rome and triumph!"

The gate flew open. The storming Goths, already sure of victory, had
expected anything rather than such a bold attack from the Byzantines,
whom they believed to be completely cowed. They were crowded about the
gate without order. They were completely taken by surprise, and were
soon pushed into the yawning ditch behind them by the sudden and
irresistible attack.

Old Hildebrand would not leave his battering-ram. Raising himself to
his full height, he shattered Gregorius's tall helmet with his
stone-axe. But almost at the same moment Lucius Licinius pushed him
into the trench with the spike of his shield. Cethegus cut the ropes
which held the battering-ram, and it fell crashing down over the old
man.

"Now fire all the wooden machines!" cried Cethegus.

Quickly the flames caught the beams.

The victorious Romans immediately retired within the walls.

But then Syphax, meeting the Prefect, cried:

"Mutiny, master! Mutiny and rebellion! The Byzantines will no longer
obey you! Bessas calls upon them to open the Tiburtinian Gate by force.
His body-guard threaten to attack Marcus Licinius, and the Huns to
slaughter your legionaries and Isaurians!"

"They shall repent it!"  cried Cethegus furiously. "Woe to Bessas! I
will remember this! Up, Lucius Licinius! take half the remaining
Isaurians. No take them all--_all_! You know where they stand. Attack
the body-guard of the Thracian from behind, and if they will not yield,
strike them down without mercy. Help your brother! I will follow
immediately."

Lucius Licinius lingered.

"And the Tiburtinian Gate?"

"Must remain closed."

"And Belisarius?"

"Must remain outside."

"Teja and Totila have almost reached him!"

"So much the less dare we open! First Rome; then the rest! Obey,
tribune!"

Cethegus remained behind to order the reparation of the damaged gate.
It took a considerable time.

"How was it, Syphax!" he asked his slave. "Was he really alive?"

"He still lives."

"How stupid these Goths are!"

A messenger arrived from Lucius.

"Your tribune sends word that Bessas will not yield. The blood of your
legionaries has already been shed at the Tiburtinian Gate. And Asgares
and the Isaurians hesitate to strike; they doubt that you are in
earnest."

"I will show them that I am in earnest!" cried Cethegus, as he mounted
his horse and galloped away like the wind.

He had to go a long way. Over the bridge of the Janiculum, past the
Capitol, across the Forum Romanum, through the Via Sacra and the Arch
of Titus, leaving the Baths of Titus to the right; out over the
Esquiline Hill, and, lastly, through the Esquiline Gate to the outer
Tiburtinian Gate--a distance which extended from the extreme western to
the extreme eastern limit of the immense city.

When he reached the gate, he found the bodyguard of Bessas and
Belisarius showing a double front.

One line prepared to overpower the legionaries and Isaurians under
Marcus Licinius at the gate, and to open the latter by force; while the
second line stood opposed to the rest of the Isaurians, to whom Lucius
gave the order to advance in vain.

"Mercenaries!" cried Cethegus, checking his foaming horse close before
them; "to whom have you sworn obedience--to me or to Belisarius?"

"To you, general," said Asgares, the leader, stepping forward; "but I
thought----"

The sword of the Prefect flashed; and, struck to the heart, the man
fell.

"Your duty is to obey, stupid rascal, and not to think!"

The Isaurians were horrified.

But Cethegus quickly gave the word of command.

"Lower your spears! Follow me! Charge!"

And the Isaurians now obeyed him. Another moment, and a fight would
have commenced in the city itself.

But just then, from the west, in the direction of the Aurelian Gate,
was heard a terrible, all-overpowering cry.

"Woe! woe! all is lost! The Goths are upon us! The city is taken!"

Cethegus turned pale, and looked behind him.

Kallistratos galloped up, blood flowing from his face and neck.

"Cethegus," he cried, "all is over! The barbarians are in Rome! The
wall is forced!"

"Where?" asked the Prefect, in a hollow voice.

"At the Mausoleum!"

"Oh, my general!" cried Lucius, "I warned you!"

"That is Witichis!" said Cethegus, closing his eyes as if in pain.

"How do you know it?" asked Kallistratos, astonished.

"Enough! I do know it."

It was a fearful moment for the Prefect. He was obliged to confess to
himself that, recklessly following his plan for the ruin of Belisarius,
he had for a short period neglected Rome.

He ground his teeth.

"Cethegus has exposed the Mausoleum! Cethegus has ruined Rome!" cried
Bessas, at the head of the body-guard.

"And Cethegus will save Rome!" cried the Prefect, raising himself in
his saddle. "Follow me, Isaurians and legionaries!"

"And Belisarius?" whispered Syphax.

"He may enter. First Rome; then the rest! Follow me!"

And Cethegus galloped off the same way that he had come.

Only a few mounted men could keep up with him; his foot-soldiers and
Isaurians followed at a run.



                              CHAPTER XII.

At the same time a pause ensued before the Tiburtinian Gate.

A messenger had recalled the Gothic horsemen from the useless fight.

They were to send all the men they could dispose of as fast as possible
round the city to the Aurelian Gate, through which their comrades had
just entered the city; there the greatest available force was
necessary.

The horsemen, turning to the left, galloped towards the gate which had
now become the centre of the struggle; but their own foot-soldiers,
storming the five gates which lay between--the Porta Clausa, the
Nomentanian, Salarian, Pincian, and Flaminian Gates--blocked their
progress so long, that they arrived too late for the result of the
attack upon the Mausoleum.

We recollect the position of this favourite resort of the Prefect.
Opposite the Vatican Hill, at about a stone's throw from the Aurelian
Gate, with which it was connected by side walls, and protected
everywhere, except on the south, where ran the river, by new
fortifications, towered the "Moles Hadriani," an immense round tower of
the firmest masonry.

A sort of court surrounded the principal building. On the south, before
the first and outer wall of defence, flowed the Tiber. The ramparts of
this outer wall, and the court and battlements of the inner wall, were
usually occupied by the Isaurians, whom, in an evil hour, the Prefect
had withdrawn in order to carry out his plot against Belisarius.

On the parapet of the inner wall stood the numerous statues of marble
and bronze, which had been raised to the number of three hundred by the
gift of Kallistratos.

The King of the Goths had chosen for himself a position far back in the
middle of the wide semicircle which his army had drawn around the city
to the west. He had stationed himself upon the "field of Nero," on the
right bank of the Tiber, between the Pancratian (old Aurelian) and the
(new) Aurelian Gates, a post usually occupied by Earl Markja, of
Mediolanum.

Witichis founded his plan upon the fact that the general storming of
all the gates would necessarily disperse the forces of the besieged;
and as soon as some part of the ramparts should be more than usually
exposed by the withdrawal of its defenders, he intended to make use of
the circumstance, and attack at that point.

With this view, he had quietly remained immovable far behind the
storming columns.

He had given orders to his leaders to call him at once should a gap in
the line of defence be observed.

He had waited long--very long.

He had had to bear many a word of impatience from his troops, who were
forced to remain idle while their comrades were advancing on all sides.
Long, long they waited for a messenger to call them into action.

At last the King himself was the first to notice that the well-known
flags and the thickly-crowded spears of the Isaurians had disappeared
from the outer wall of the Mausoleum.

He observed the place attentively. The Isaurians could not have been
relieved, for the gaps were not filled up.

Then he sprang from his saddle, gave his horse a stroke with the flat
of his hand, and cried, "Home, Boreas!"

The clever animal galloped straight back to the camp.

"Now forward, my Goths! forward, Earl Markja!" cried the King. "Over
the river there! Leave the wall-breakers behind: take only shields and
storming-ladders, and the axes. Forward!"

And at a run he reached the steep bank at the southern bend of the
river, and descended the hill.

"No bridge. King, and no ford!" asked a Goth behind him.

"No, friend Iffamer; we must swim!"

And the King sprang into the dirty yellow water, which splashed,
hissing, high above his helmet.

In a few moments he had reached the opposite bank, the foremost of his
people with him.

Soon they stood close before the lofty outer wall of the Mausoleum, and
the warriors looked up inquiringly and anxiously.

"Bring the ladders!" cried Witichis. "Do you not see? There are no
defenders! Are you afraid of mere stones?"

The ladders were quickly raised, and the outer wall scaled. The few
soldiers who had remained to defend this wall were overcome, the
ladders drawn up and let down on the inner side.

The King was the first in the court.

There, it is true, the progress of the Goths was for a time arrested.

For Quintus Piso and Kallistratos stood on the ramparts of the inner
wall, with a hundred legionaries and a few Isaurians. They had hastened
thither from the Pancratian Gate. They hurled a thick hail of spears
and arrows at the Goths as they descended singly into the court. Their
catapults were also not without effect.

"Send for assistance to Cethegus!" cried Piso, on the wall; and
Kallistratos immediately rushed away.

Below in the court the Goths fell right and left at the side of
Witichis.

"What shall we do?" asked Markja.

"Wait until they have exhausted their projectiles. It cannot last much
longer. They shoot and hurl too hastily in their fright. Do you see?
Already more stones are flying than arrows, and there are no more
spears."

"But their balistas?"

"They will presently be able to hurt us no longer. Prepare to storm!
See, the hail is much thinner; now be ready with the ladders and axes.
Follow me quickly!"

And the Goths ran at a quick step across the court. Very few fell. The
greater part reached the second and inner wall in safety, and a hundred
ladders were raised.

And now all Procopius's balistas and machines were useless; for being
directed for a wide range, they could not be placed in a perpendicular
direction without great trouble and loss of time.

Piso observed this, and turned pale.

"Spears! spears! or all is lost!"

"They are all cast away," panted fat Balbus, who stood near him, with a
look of despair.

"Then all is lost!" sighed Piso, letting fall his wearied arms.

"Come, Massurius, let us save ourselves," cried Balbus.

"No, let us stand and die," cried Piso.

Over the edge of the wall appeared the first Gothic helmet.

All at once a cry was heard upon the steps leading on to the wall
citywards.

"Cethegus! Cethegus the Prefect!"

And he it was. He sprang upon the ramparts, and attacking the Goth, who
had just laid his hand upon the breastwork before swinging himself
over, he cut off hand and arm. The man screamed and fell.

"Oh, Cethegus!" cried Piso; "you come in the very nick of time!"

"I hope so," said Cethegus, and overturned the ladder which was raised
against the wall just in front of him.

Witichis had mounted it--he sprang down with agility.

"But I must have projectiles; spears, lances! else we can do nothing!"
cried Cethegus.

"There is nothing left," answered Balbus; "we hoped that you would come
with your Isaurians."

"They are still far, far behind me!" cried Kallistratos, who was the
first to arrive after Cethegus.

And the number of ladders and the rising helmets increased. Ruin was
imminent. Cethegus looked wildly round.

"Projectiles," he cried, stamping his foot; "we must have them!"

At that moment his eye fell upon a gigantic marble statue of Jupiter,
which stood upon the ramparts to his left hand. A thought flashed
across him. He sprang up, and with his axe struck off the right arm of
the statue, together with the thunderbolt it held.

"Jupiter!" he cried, "lend me thy lightnings! Why dost thou hold them
so idly? Up, my men! shatter the statues and hurl them at the enemy!"

Before he could finish his sentence, his example was followed.

The hard-pressed defenders fell upon the gods and heroes with hammers
and axes, and in a moment the lovely forms were shattered.

It was a frightful sight. There lay a grand Hadrian, an equestrian
statue, man and horse split in two; there a laughing Aphrodite fell
upon its knees; there the beautiful head of an Antinous fell from the
trunk, and hurled by two hands, fell crashing upon a Gothic shield of
buffalo-hide. And far and wide upon the ramparts fell fragments and
pieces of marble and bronze, of iron and gold.

Down from the ramparts, thundering and crashing, fell the mighty weight
of metal and stone, and shattered the helms and shields, the armour and
limbs of the attacking Goths, and the ladders which bore them.

Cethegus looked with horror at the work of destruction which his words
had called into action.

But it had saved them.

Twelve, fifteen, twenty ladders stood empty, although a moment before
they had swarmed with men like ants; just as many lay broken at the
foot of the wall.

Surprised by this unexpected hail of bronze and marble, the Goths fell
back for a space.

But presently Markja's horn called them to the attack. And again the
tons of marble thundered through the air.

"Unhappy man, what have you done?" cried Kallistratos, full of grief,
and staring at the ruin.

"What was necessary!" cried Cethegus, and hurled the trunk of the
Jupiter-statue over the wall. "Did you see it strike? two barbarians at
one blow." And he looked down with great content.

At that moment he heard the Corinthian cry:

"No, no; not this one. Not the Apollo!"

Cethegus turned and saw a gigantic Isaurian raising his axe over the
head of the statue.

"Fool, shall the Goths come up?" asked the mercenary, and raised his
arm again.

"Not my Apollo!" repeated the Greek, and embraced the statue with both
arms, protecting it with his body.

Earl Markja saw this movement from his stand upon the nearest ladder,
and believing that Kallistratos was about to hurl the statue at him, he
cast his spear and hit the Greek in the breast.

"Ah--Cethegus!" gasped Kallistratos--and fell dead.

The Prefect saw him fall, and contracted his brows.

"Save the corpse, and spare his two gods!" he said briefly, and
overthrew the ladder upon which Markja was standing; more he could
neither say nor do, for already a new and more imminent danger
attracted his attention.

Witichis, half thrown, half springing from his ladder, had remained
standing close under the wall, amidst a hail of stone and metal,
seeking for new means of attack.

For, since the first trial with the storming-ladders had been rendered
futile by the unexpected and novel projectiles, he had scarcely any
hope left of winning the wall.

While he was thus looking and waiting, the heavy marble pedestal of a
"Mars Gradivus" fell close to his feet, rebounded and struck one of the
slabs of the wall. And this slab, which seemed to be made of the
hardest stone, broke into little pieces of lime and mortar.

In its place was revealed a small wooden door, which, loosely covered
and concealed by the mortar, was used by the masons and workpeople as a
means of exit and entrance when obliged to repair the immense edifice.

Witichis had scarcely caught sight of this wooden door, than he cried
out exultingly:

"Here, Goths, here! Bring axes!" and he himself dealt a blow at the
thin boards, which seemed anything but strong.

The new and singular sound struck the ear of the Prefect; he paused in
his bloody work and listened.

"That is iron against wood, by Cæsar!" he said to himself, and sprang
down the narrow stairway, which led on the inner side of the wall into
the faintly illuminated interior of the Mausoleum.

There he heard a louder stroke than all which had preceded it; a dull
crash; a sharp sound of splintered wood; and then an exultant cry from
the Goths.

As he reached the last step of the stair, the door fell crashing
inwards, and King Witichis was visible upon the threshold.

"Rome is mine!" cried Witichis, letting his axe fall and drawing his
sword.

"You lie, Witichis! for the first time in your life!" cried Cethegus
furiously, and, springing forward, he pressed the strong spike of his
shield so firmly against the breastplate of the Goth, that the latter,
surprised, fell back a step.

The Prefect took advantage of the movement and placed himself upon the
threshold, completely blocking up the doorway.

"Where are my Isaurians!" he shouted. But the next moment Witichis had
recognised him. "So we meet at last in single combat for Rome!" cried
the King.

And now it was his turn to attack. Cethegus, who wished to close the
passage, covered his left side with his shield; his right hand, armed
only with a short sword, was insufficient for the protection of his
right side.

The thrust of Witichis's long sword, weakly parried by Cethegus, cut
through the latter's coat of mail and entered deeply into his right
breast.

Cethegus staggered; he bent forward; but he did not fall.

"Rome! Rome!" he cried faintly; and convulsively kept himself upright.

Witichis had fallen back to gain space for a final thrust.

But at that moment he was recognised by Piso on the wall, who hurled a
splendid sleeping Faun which lay near him down upon the King. It struck
the King's shoulder, and he fell.

Earl Markja, Iffamer and Aligern bore him out of the fight.

Cethegus saw him fall, and then himself sank down upon the threshold of
the door; the protecting arms of a friend received him--but he could
recognise nothing; his senses failed him.

He was presently recalled to consciousness by a well-known sound, which
rejoiced his soul; it was the tones of the tubas of his legionaries and
the battle-cry of his Isaurians, who had at last arrived, and, led by
the Licinii, fell upon the Goths, who were disheartened by the fall of
their King.

The Isaurians, after a bloody fight, had issued through a breach in the
outer wall (which had been broken outwards by the Goths who were
inside).

The Prefect saw the last of the barbarians fly; then his eyes closed
once more.

"Cethegus!" cried the friend who held him in his arms, "Belisarius is
dying; and you, you too are lost!"

Cethegus recognised the voice of Procopius.

"I do not know," he said with a last effort, "but Rome--Rome is saved!"

And his senses completely forsook him.



                             CHAPTER XIII.

After the terrible exertion of strength in the general attack and its
repulse, which had begun with the dawn of day, and had only ended at
its close, a long pause of exhaustion ensued on the part of both Goths
and Romans. The three commanders, Belisarius, Cethegus, and Witichis,
lay for weeks recovering from their wounds.

But the actual armistice was more the effect of the deep discouragement
and oppression which had come over the Gothic army when, after striving
for victory to the uttermost, it had been wrested from them at the
moment of seeming success.

All day they had done their best; their heroes had outvied each other
in deeds of valour; and yet both their plans, that against Belisarius
and that against the city, were wrecked in the consummation.

And although King Witichis, with his constant mind, did not share in
the depression of his troops, he all the more clearly discerned that,
after that bloody day, he would be obliged to change the whole plan of
the siege.

The loss of the Goths was enormous; Procopius valued it at thirty
thousand dead and more than as many wounded. On every side of the city
they had exposed themselves, with utter contempt of death, to the
projectiles of the besieged, and had fallen by thousands at the
Pancratian Gate and before the Mausoleum of Hadrian.

And as, on the sixty-eight earlier attacks, the besiegers had always
suffered much more than the besieged, sheltered as were these last
behind walls and towers, the great army which, a few months before,
Witichis had led against the Eternal City had been fearfully reduced.

Besides all this, hunger and pestilence had raged in their tents for a
considerable period.

In consequence of this discouragement and the decimation of his troops,
Witichis was obliged to renounce the idea of taking the city by storm,
and his last hope--he did not conceal from himself its weakness--lay in
the possibility that famine would force the enemy to capitulate.

The country round Rome was completely exhausted, and all seemed now to
depend upon which party would be longest able to bear privation, or
which could first procure provisions from a distance.

The Goths felt severely the loss of their fleet, which had been damaged
on the coast of Dalmatia.

The first to recover from his wounds was the Prefect.

When carried away insensible from the door which he had closed with his
body, he had lain for a day and a half in a state which was half sleep,
half swoon.

When, on the evening of the second day, he again opened his eyes, his
first glance fell upon the faithful Moor, who was crouched at the foot
of the bed, and who had never ceased to watch him. The snake was twined
round his arm.

"The wooden door!" was the first scarcely audible word of the Prefect.
"The wooden door must be replaced by--marble blocks----"

"Thanks, thanks, O Snake-god!" cried the slave; "now he is saved and
thou too! And I, my master, have saved you." And he threw himself upon
the ground and kissed his master's bedstead; his feet he did not dare
to kiss.

"You have saved me? how?"

"When I laid you, as pale as death, upon this bed, I fetched my
Snake-god and showed you to him; and I said, 'Thou seest, O Snake-god,
that my master's eyes are closed. Make them open. Until thou dost so,
thou shalt not receive one drop of milk or crumb of bread. And if he
never open his eyes again--then, on the day when they burn his corpse,
Syphax will burn by his side, and thou, O great Snake-god, also. Thou
hast the power to heal him, then do so--or burn!' Thus I spoke, and he
has healed you."

"The city is safe--I feel it. Else I had never slept! Is Belisarius
alive? Where is Procopius?"

"In the library with your tribunes. According to the physician's
sentence, they expected to-day either your recovery, or your----"

"Death? This time your god has saved me, Syphax.--Let the tribunes
enter."

Very soon Piso, the Licinii, Salvius Julianus, and some others stood
before the Prefect; they would have hurried up to his couch with
emotion, but he signed to them to compose themselves.

"Rome, through me, thanks you! You have fought like--like Romans! I can
say nothing more, or more flattering."

He looked at the row of men before him reflectively, and then said:

"One is missing--ah, my Corinthian! His corpse is saved, for I
recommended it, and the two statues, to Piso. Let a slab of black
Corinthian marble be placed upon the spot where he fell; set the statue
of Apollo above the urn, and inscribe on the latter, 'Here died, for
Rome, Kallistratos of Corinth; he saved the god, and not the god him.'
Now go. We shall soon meet again upon the walls.--Syphax, send
Procopius to me. And bring a large cup of Falernian.--Friend," he cried
to Procopius as the latter entered, "it seems to me as if, before I
fell into this feverish sleep, I had heard some one whisper, 'Procopius
has saved the great Belisarius!' A deed which will give you
immortality. Posterity will thank you--therefore I need not. Sit by my
side and tell me all. But wait--first arrange my cushions, so that I
may see my Cæsar. The sight of that statue strengthens me more than
medicine. Now speak."

Procopius looked sharply at the sick man.

"Cethegus," he then said, in a grave voice, "Belisarius knows
everything."

"Everything?" said the Prefect with a smile. "That is much."

"Cease your mockery, and do not refuse admiration to nobleness of mind,
you, who yourself are noble!"

"I? I know nothing of it."

"As soon as Belisarius recovered his senses," continued Procopius,
"Bessas naturally informed him of all that had passed. He described to
him minutely how you had ordered the Tiburtinian Gate to be kept
closed, when Belisarius lay outside in his blood, with Teja raging at
his heels. He told him that you commanded that his body-guard should be
beaten down if they attempted to open the gate by force. He repeated
your every word, also your cry: 'Rome first, then Belisarius!' And he
demanded your head in the Council. I trembled; but Belisarius said: 'He
did right! Here, Procopius, take him my sword, and the armour which I
wore that day, as a sign that I thank him.' And in the report to the
Emperor he dictated these words to me: 'Cethegus saved Rome, and
Cethegus alone! Send him the patricianship of Byzantium.'"

"Many thanks! I did not save Rome for Byzantium!" observed Cethegus.

"You need not tell Belisarius that, you un-Attic Roman!"

"I am in no Attic humour, you life-preserver! What was your reward?"

"Peace. He knows nothing of it, and shall never learn it."

"Syphax, wine! I cannot bear so much magnanimity. It makes me weak.
Well, what was the joke with the ambush?"

"Friend, it was no joke, but as terrible earnest as I have ever seen.
Belisarius was saved by a hair's-breadth."

"Yes; it was one of those hairs which are always in the way of these
Goths! They are clumsy fools, one and all!"

"You speak as if you were sorry that Belisarius was not killed!"

"It would have served him right. I had warned him thrice. He ought by
this time to know what becomes an old general and what a young
brawler."

"Listen," said Procopius, looking at him earnestly. "You have won the
right to speak thus at the Mausoleum. Formerly, when you depreciated
this man's heroism----"

"You thought I spoke in envy of the brave Belisarius? Hear it, ye
immortal gods!"

"Yes; certainly your Gepidian laurels----"

"Leave those boyish deeds alone! Friend, if necessary, a man must
despise death, but else he must cherish his life carefully. For only
the living laugh and rule, not the dumb dead. This is my wisdom, call
it cowardice if you will. Therefore--there was an ambush. Tell me
briefly, how went the fight!"

"Briskly enough! After we had scoured the neighbourhood--it seemed free
from enemies and safe for foraging--we gradually turned our horses'
heads in the direction of the city, taking with us a few goats and
half-starved sheep which we had found. Belisarius went foremost with
young Severinus, Johannes, and myself. Suddenly, as we issued from the
village _ad aras Bacchi_, there came galloping out of the trees on
either side the Valerian Way a number of Gothic horsemen. I saw at once
that they far outnumbered us, and advised that we should try to rush
between them straight on the road to Rome. But Belisarius thought that
though they were many, they were not too many, so he turned to the left
to meet and break through one of their lines. But we were ill received.
The Goths fought and rode better than our Mauretanian horsemen, and
their leaders, Totila and Hildebad--I recognised the first by his
flowing yellow locks, and the last by his enormous height--made
straight at Belisarius. 'Where is Belisarius and his courage?' shouted
tall Hildebad, audible through all the clash of arms. 'Here!' at once
replied Belisarius, and before we could prevent him, he faced the
giant. The latter lost no time, but struck the general's helmet so
furiously with his heavy battle-axe, that the golden crest, with its
plume of white horse-hair, fell to the earth, and the head of
Belisarius was bowed to the saddle-bow. The giant immediately aimed a
second and fatal blow, but young Severinus came up and received the
stroke upon his round shield. The barbarian's axe pierced the shield,
and entered deeply into the noble youth's neck. He fell----"

Procopius paused, lost in painful thought.

"Dead?" asked Cethegus quietly.

"An old freedman of his father, who accompanied him, bore him out of
the fight, but I hear that he died before they could reach the
village."

"A noble death!" said Cethegus. "Syphax, a cup of wine."

"Meanwhile," continued Procopius, "Belisarius had recovered himself,
and now, thoroughly enraged, struck his spear full at Hildebad's
breast-plate, hurling him from his horse. We shouted with joy, but
young Totila----"

"Well?"

"Had scarcely seen his brother fall, than he broke furiously through
the lances of the body-guard, and attacked Belisarius. Aigan, the
standard-bearer, would have protected Belisarius, but the Goth's sword
pierced his left arm. Totila caught the banner from his powerless hand,
and threw it to the nearest Goth. Belisarius uttered a cry of rage and
turned to meet his enemy; but young Totila is quick as lightning, and
before Belisarius knew what he was about, two swift strokes fell on the
latter's shoulders. He wavered in his saddle, and then sank slowly from
his horse, which fell dead the next moment, pierced by a spear. 'Yield,
Belisarius!' cried Totila. The general had just strength enough to
shake his head, and then sank insensible. I had quickly dismounted, and
now lifted him upon my own horse, and placed him under the care of
Johannes, who rallied his body-guard about him, and carried him quickly
out of the fight to the city."

"And you?"

"I fought on foot, and I succeeded, with the aid of our rear-guard, who
now came up--we had been obliged to sacrifice our forage--in resisting
Totila. But not for long. For now the second troop of Gothic horsemen
had arrived. Like a storm of wind, up rushed the black Teja, broke
through our right wing--which stood nearest to him--then through the
front rank, which faced Totila, and dispersed our whole array. I
counted the battle lost, caught a riderless horse, and galloped after
the general. But Teja also had observed the direction of his flight,
and galloped after us. He overtook the escort at the Fulvian Bridge.
Johannes and I had placed more than half of the rest of the body-guard
on the bridge, to defend the crossing, under Principius, the brave
Pisidian, and Tarmuth, the gigantic Isaurian. There, as I heard, all
the thirty men, and, lastly, their two faithful leaders, fell by Teja's
hand alone. There fell the flower of Belisarius's body-guard; amongst
them many of my best friends: Alamundarus, the Saracen; Artasines, the
Persian; Zanter, the Arminian, and many more. But their death bought
our safety. At the other side of the bridge we overtook the foot-soldiers
we had left behind, who now checked the enemy's horse until, late enough,
the Tiburtinian Gate was opened to the wounded general. Then, as soon as
we had sent him upon a litter to Antonina, I hastened to the Mausoleum
of Hadrian--where, I had heard, the Goths had entered the city--and found
you in danger of death."

"And what has Belisarius now decided?"

"His wounds are not so dangerous as yours, and yet they heal more
slowly. He has granted to the Goths the armistice which they desired,
in order to bury their numerous dead."

Cethegus started up from his cushions.

"He should have refused it; he should have suffered no useless delay of
the final result. I know these Gothic bulls; they have blunted their
horns; they are tired and done for. Now is the time to strike the blow
which I have long contemplated. Their giant bodies can ill bear the
heat outside in the glowing plains; less can they support hunger; still
less thirst--for the German must be drinking if he be not snoring or
fighting. It is now only necessary to intimidate yet more their prudent
King. Greet Belisarius from me, and my thanks for the sword is this
advice: Send Johannes, with eight thousand men, through Picenum towards
Ravenna; the Flaminian road is open, and will be but slightly defended,
for Witichis has collected here the garrisons of all the forts, and we
can now more easily win Ravenna than the barbarians can win Rome. And
as soon as the King hears that Ravenna, his last refuge, is in danger,
he will hurry thither to save it at any cost; he will take away his
army from these impregnable walls, and will become the persecuted
instead of the persecutor."

"Cethegus," said Procopius, springing up, "you are a great general!"

"Only by the way, Procopius! Now go, and take my homage to the great
victor, Belisarius."



                              CHAPTER XIV.

On the last day of the armistice, Cethegus was again able to appear
upon the walls of the Mausoleum, where his legionaries and Isaurians
greeted him with loud cheers.

His first walk was to the monument of Kallistratos. He laid a wreath of
laurels and roses upon the black marble slab.

While he was superintending the strengthening of the fortifications
from this point, Syphax brought him a letter from Mataswintha.

The contents were laconic enough:


"Put an end to it. I cannot bear to see this misery any longer. The
sight of the interment of forty thousand of my countrymen has broken my
heart. The death-choruses all seem to accuse me. I shall succumb if
this continue. Famine rages fearfully in the camp. The army's last hope
is a large convoy of corn and cattle, which is on the way from South
Gaul. In the next calends it is expected off Portus. Act accordingly;
but make an end."

"Triumph!" said the Prefect. "The siege is over. Hitherto our little
fleet lay idle at Populonium; but now it shall have work enough. This
Queen is the Erinnys of the barbarians."

And he himself went to Belisarius, who received him with noble
generosity.

The same night--the last of the armistice--Johannes marched out of the
Pincian Gate, and wheeled to the left, towards the Flaminian high-road.
Ravenna was his goal.

And swift messengers sped by sea to Populonium, where a small Roman
squadron lay at anchor.

The fight for the city, in spite of the expiration of the armistice,
was scarcely renewed.

About a week after this the King, who was only now able to leave his
bed of pain, took his first walk through the lines of tents,
accompanied by his friends.

Three of the seven camps, formerly crowded with soldiers, were
completely desolated and abandoned; and the other four were but
sparsely populated.

Tired to death, without complaint, but also without hope, the famished
soldiers lay before their tents.

No cheer, no greeting, rejoiced the ears of their brave King upon his
painful way; the warriors scarcely raised their tired eyes at the sound
of his approaching footsteps.

From the interior of the tents sounded the loud groaning of the sick
and dying, who succumbed to wounds, hunger, and pestilence. Scarcely
could healthy men enough be found to occupy the most necessary posts.

The sentries dragged their spears behind them, too weak to carry them
upright or to lay them across their shoulders.

The leaders arrived at the outwork before the Aurelian Gate; in the
trench lay a young archer, chewing the bitter grass.

Hildebad called to him:

"By the hammer, Gunthamund! what is this? Thy bow-string has sprung;
why dost thou not bend another?"

"I cannot, sir. The string broke yesterday as I shot my last shot; and
I and my three comrades have not strength enough to bend another."

Hildebad gave him a drink from his gourd-bottle.

"Didst thou shoot at a Roman?"

"Oh no, sir!" said the man. "A rat was gnawing at that corpse down
there. I happily hit it, and we divided it between us."

"Iffaswinth, where is thine uncle Iffamer?" asked the King.

"Dead, sire. He fell behind you, as he was carrying you away from that
cursed marble tomb."

"And thy father Iffamuth?"

"Dead too. He could no longer bear the poisonous water from the
ditches. Thirst, King! burns more fiercely than hunger; and it will
never, never rain from these leaden skies."

"Are you all from the Athesis valley?"

"Yes, sire; from the Iffinger mountains. Oh! what delicious spring
water there is at home!"

Teja observed another warrior at some distance drinking from his
helmet. His features grew darker and darker.

"Hey, thou, Arulf!"  he cried to the warrior; "thou seem'st to suffer
no thirst."

"No; I often drink," said the man.

"What dost thou drink?"

"Blood from the wounds of the newly-fallen. At first it disgusts one
terribly; but in despair one gets used to it."

Witichis passed on with a shudder.

"Send all my wine into the camp, Hildebad; the sentries shall share
it."

"All thy wine? O King! my office of cup-bearer has become very light.
There are but one and a half skins left; and Hildebrand, thy physician,
says that thou must strengthen thyself."

"And who will strengthen _these_, Hildebad? They are reduced to the
state of wild animals!"

"Come back to thy tent," said Totila; "it is not good to be here." And
he put his hand on the King's shoulder.

Arrived at the tent, the friends seated themselves silently round the
beautiful marble table, upon which, in golden dishes, lay mouldy bread,
as hard as stone, and a few pieces of meat.

"It was the last horse in the royal stables," said Hildebad, "except
Boreas."

"Boreas must not be slaughtered. My wife, my child, have sat upon his
back." And Witichis rested his weary head upon both his hands. A sad
pause ensued. "Friends," the King at last began, "this cannot go on.
Our people perish before these walls. After a hard struggle, I have
come to a painful decision--"

"Do not pronounce it yet, O King!" cried Hildebad. "In a few days Earl
Odoswinth, of Cremona, will arrive with the ships, and we shall
luxuriate in good things."

"He is not yet here," said Teja.

"And will not our heavy loss of men be replaced by fresh troops when
Earl Ulithis arrives from Urbinum with the garrisons which the King has
summoned from all the forts of Ravenna, in order to fill our empty
tents?"

"Ulithis also is not yet here," said Teja. "He is said to be still in
Picenum; and if he happily arrive, then the greater will be the want."

"But the Roman city hungers too," said Hildebad, breaking the hard
bread upon the table with his fist. "Let us see who can bear it the
longest!"

"I have often wondered, during these heavy days and sleepless nights,"
the King slowly said, "why--why all this must be. I have ever
conscientiously weighed right and wrong between our enemies and us, and
I can come to no other conclusion but that we have right on our side.
And, truly, we have never failed in strength and courage."

"Thou least of all," said Totila.

"And we have grudged no sacrifice," sighed the King. "And yet if, as we
all say, there is a God in heaven, just and good and almighty, why does
He permit this enormous and undeserved misery? Why must we succumb to
Byzantium?"

"But we must not succumb!" cried Hildebad. "I have never speculated
much, about our Almighty God; but if He permits _that_ to happen, we
ought to storm heaven and overthrow His throne!"

"Do not blaspheme, my brother," said Totila. "And thou, my noble King,
take courage and trust. Yes, a good God reigns above the stars;
therefore the just cause must win at last. Courage, my Witichis; hope
till the end."

But the heart-broken man shook his head.

"I confess that I have been able to find but _one_ way out of this
error; one way to get rid of this terrible doubt of God's justice. It
cannot be that we suffer guiltless. And as our nation's cause is,
without doubt, a just one, there must be hidden guilt in me, your King.
Repeatedly, so say our heathen songs, has a King sacrificed himself for
his people when defeat, pestilence, or scarcity had persecuted the
nation for years. Then the King took upon himself the hidden sin which
seemed to weigh upon his people, and atoned by his death, or by going
sceptreless into exile, an outlawed fugitive. Let me put off the crown
from my unfortunate head. Choose another King, with whom God is not
angry; choose Totila, or----"

"Thou ravest still in the fever of thy wounds," interrupted the old
master-at-arms. "_Thou_ weighed down with guilt--thou, the most
faithful of all? No! I tell you, you children of too young days, who
have lost the old strength of your fathers with your fathers' old
belief, and now know of no comfort for your hearts--I tell you, your
distrustful speeches grieve me!" and his eyes flashed with a strange
radiance as he continued, "All that rejoices or pains us here upon
earth is scarcely worth our notice. Here below there is but one thing
necessary, and that is, to have been a true man, and no perjurer, and
to die on the battle-field, and not upon a straw bed. Then the Walkyri
bear the faithful hero from the bloody field, and carry him on rosy
clouds to Odin's halls, where the Einheriar greet him with full cups.
There he daily rides forth at dawn to the hunting-field or the
fencing-court, and at eve he returns to the banquet and the song in the
golden halls. And lovely virgins caress the youths, and the elders chat
about wise primeval times with the old primeval heroes. And there I
shall meet again all the valiant companions of my youth; bold Winithar
and Waltharis of Aquitania, and Guntharis of Burgundy. There I shall
again behold him for whom I have so longed. Sir Beowulf; and I shall
see the Cheruskians of ancient days, the first who ever beat the
Romans, and of whom the singer of the Saxons still sings. And again I
shall carry the shield and spear of my master, the King with the eagle
eyes. And thus we shall live for all eternity in light and joy, the
earth below and all its woes forgotten."

"A fine poem, old heathen!" said Totila, with a smile. "But if all this
can no longer console us for actual and heart-rending suffering? Speak
thou also, Teja, thou gloomy guest. What is thy opinion of our sorrows?
Thy sword never fails us; why dost thou withhold thy words? What makes
thy comforting harp dumb, thou singer of singers?"

"My words?" answered Teja, rising; "my words and my thoughts would be
perhaps harder to bear than all our suffering. Let me yet be silent, my
sun-bright Totila. Perhaps a day will come when I may answer thee.
Perhaps, also, I may once more play on my harp, if but a string will
vibrate."

And he left the tent; for outside in the camp a confused and
inexplicable noise of calling and questioning voices arose. The friends
looked silently after Teja.

"I guess his thoughts," at last said old Hildebrand, "for I have known
him from his boyhood. He is not as other men. And in the Northland
there are many who think like him, who do not believe in Thor and Odin,
but only in necessity and in their own strength. It is almost too heavy
a burden for a human heart to bear, and it makes no one happy to think
as he does. I wonder that he can sing and play the harp
notwithstanding."

Just then Teja, returning, tore open the curtain of the tent; his face
was still paler than before; his dark eyes flashed; but his voice was
as quiet as ever as he said:

"Break up the camp. King Witichis. Our ships have fallen into the
enemy's hands at Ostia. They have sent the head of Earl Odoswinth into
the camp. And upon the walls of Rome, before the very eyes of our
sentinels, they slaughter the cattle taken from the Goths. Large
reinforcements from Byzantium, under Valerian and Euthalius--Huns,
Slaves and Antians--have been brought into the Tiber by many ships. For
Johannes has marched through Picenum."

"And Earl Ulithis?"

"Has been killed and his troops beaten. Ancona and Ariminum are taken,
and----"

"Is that not yet all?" cried the King.

"No, Witichis. Johannes threatens Ravenna, He is only a few miles
distant from that city. And urgent haste is necessary."



                              CHAPTER XV.

The day after the arrival of this news, so fateful for the Goths, King
Witichis abandoned the siege of Rome and led his thoroughly
disheartened troops out of the four remaining camps.

The siege had lasted a whole year and nine days. All courage and
strength, exertion and sacrifice, had been unavailing.

Silently the Goths marched past the proud walls, against which their
power and good-fortune had been wrecked. Silently they suffered the
taunting words cast at them from the battlements by Romans and
Byzantines.

They were too much absorbed by their grief and rage to feel hurt by
such mockery. But when the horsemen of Belisarius, issuing from the
Pincian Gate, would have pursued them, they were fiercely repulsed, for
Earl Teja led the Gothic rearguard.

So the Gothic army, avoiding the strongholds occupied by the
enemy--Narnia, Spoletium and Perusia--marched with expedition from Rome
through Picenum to Ravenna, where they arrived in time to crush the
dangerous symptoms of rebellion among the population, some of whom,
upon hearing of the misfortunes of the barbarians, had already entered
into secret negotiations with Johannes.

As the Goths approached the latter withdrew into the fortress of
Ariminum, his last important conquest.

In Ancona lay Konon, the navarchus of Belisarius, with the Thracian
spearmen and many ships of war.

The King, however, had not taken to Ravenna the whole of the army which
had besieged Rome, but had, during the march, left several regiments to
garrison the fortresses which he passed.

One thousand men he had left under Gibimer in Clusium; another thousand
in Urbs Vetus, under Albila; five hundred men in Tudertum under
Wulfgis; in Auximum four thousand men under Earl Wisand, the brave
bandalarius; in Urbinum two thousand under Morra; and in Cæsena and
Monsferetrus five hundred.

He sent Hildebrand to Verona, Totila to Tarvisium, and Teja to Ticinum,
for the north-eastern part of the peninsula was also endangered by
Byzantine troops, coming from Istria.

In acting thus he had been also influenced by other reasons. He wished
first of all to check Belisarius on his march to Ravenna. Secondly, he
was afraid, in case of a siege, that if all his troops were with him,
they would speedily be exposed to the evils of starvation, and, lastly,
he wished to attack the besiegers in their rear from various sides.

His plan was to occupy his stronghold of Ravenna, limiting himself to
defensive proceedings until the foreign troops which he expected,
Longobardians and Franks, should place him in a position to take the
open field.

But his hope of checking Belisarius on his way to Ravenna was
disappointed, for the Byzantine contented himself with investing all
the Gothic fortresses with a portion of his army, marching on with the
main army to the capital city and last important refuge of the Goths.

"If I have mortally wounded the heart," he said, "the clenched fists
will open of themselves."

And so, very soon, the tents of the Byzantines were seen stretching in
a wide semicircle round the royal residence of Theodoric, from the
harbour-town of Classis to the canals and branches of the Padus, which,
particularly to the west, formed a natural line of defence.

The old aristocratic city had indeed, even at that time, lost much of
the glory in which it had rejoiced for nearly two centuries as the
residence of the Roman emperors; and the last rays which the splendid
reign of Theodoric had shed over it, were extinguished since the
breaking out of the war.

But even thus, what a different impression must the still
thickly-populated city--similar to the present Venice--have made at
that period, in comparison with its aspect at present; when the
interior of the city, with its silent streets, its deserted squares and
its lonely basilicas, appears to the beholder no less melancholy than
the plain outside the walls, where the desolate and marshy levels of
the Padus stretch far away, until they are lost in the mud of the
receding sea.

Where once the harbour-town of Classis was filled with active life on
land and sea; where the proud triremes of the royal fleet of Ravenna
rocked on the blue waters, now lie swampy meadows, in whose tall reeds
and grass the wild buffalo feeds; the streets foul with stagnant water;
the harbour choked with sand; the once joyous population vanished; only
one gigantic tower of the time of the Goths still stands near the sole
remaining Basilica, of Saint Apollonaris in _Classe fuori_, which,
commenced by Witichis and completed by Justinian, now rises sadly out
of the marshy plain, far from any human abode.

In the time of which our story speaks the strong fortress was
considered impregnable, and for that reason the emperors, when their
power began to decay, had chosen it for their residence.

The south-eastern side was at that time protected by the sea, which
rolled its waves to the very foot of the walls, and on the other three
sides nature and art had spun a labyrinthine network of canals,
ditches, and swamps, begotten by the many-armed Padus, among which all
besiegers were hopelessly entangled.

And the walls! Even yet their mighty ruins fill the traveller with
amazement. Their colossal width, and less their height than the number
of strong round towers, which even now (1863) rise above the
battlements, defied, before the invention of gunpowder, every means of
attack.

It was only by starving the city that, after a resistance of nearly
four years, the great Theodoric won this, Odoacer's last place of
refuge.

In vain had Belisarius attempted to take the city by storm, as soon as
he had reached the walls.

His attack was bravely repulsed, and he was obliged to content himself
with closely investing the fortress, in order by cutting off all
supplies, as had formerly been done by Theodoric, to force that city to
capitulate.

But Witichis was able to look upon this proceeding with composure, for,
with the prudence which was peculiar to him, he had, before marching to
Rome, heaped up provisions of all kinds, principally corn, in
extraordinary quantities. He had stored them in granaries built of wood
and erected within the walls of the immense marble Circus of
Theodosius. These extensive wooden edifices, situated exactly opposite
to the palace and the Basilica of Saint Apollonaris, were the pride,
joy, and comfort of the King.

It had been impossible to convey much of the provisions to the army
before Rome, and with reasonable economy these magazines would without
doubt suffice for the wants of the population and the no longer
formidable army for another two or three months.

By that time the Goths expected the arrival of an allied army, in
consequence of the newly-opened negotiations with the Franks. On its
arrival the siege would necessarily be raised.

But Belisarius and Cethegus knew or guessed this as well as Witichis,
and they indefatigably sought on all sides for some means of hastening
the fall of the city.

The Prefect, of course, tried to make use of his secret relations with
the Queen for the furtherance of this end. But, on the one hand,
communication with Mataswintha had become very difficult, for the Goths
carefully guarded all the entrances to the city; and, on the other
hand, Mataswintha herself seemed greatly changed, and no longer so
ready and willing as before to allow herself to be used as a tool.

She had expected the speedy destruction or humiliation of the King. The
long delay wearied her, and, at the same time, the immense suffering of
her people had begun to shake her resolution. Lastly, the sad change in
the manner of the usually strong and healthy King, the resigned but
profound grief which he evidently felt, touched her heart.

Although she accused him, with all the injustice of pain and the bitter
pride of insulted love, of having rejected her heart and yet forced her
to give him her hand; although she believed that she hated him with all
the passion of her nature, and did indeed in some sort hate him, yet
this hatred was only love reversed.

And now, when she saw him humbled by the terrible misfortunes of the
Gothic army and the failure of all his plans--to which failure she had
so greatly contributed by her own treason--so humbled, that his mind
had begun to be affected by sickly melancholy, and he tormented himself
with reproaches; the sight powerfully affected her impulsive nature,
strangely compounded as it was of the contradictory elements of
tenderness and harshness.

In the first moment of angry grief, she would have seen his blood flow
with delight. But to see him slowly devoured by self-reproach and
gnawing pain that she could not endure.

This softer feeling on her part had, besides, been greatly brought
about by her having noticed, since their arrival in Ravenna, a change
in the King's behaviour towards herself.

She thought that she observed in him traces of remorse for having so
forcibly encroached upon her life, and she involuntarily softened her
harsh and blunt manner to him during their rare interviews, which
always took place in the presence of witnesses.

Witichis considered the change as a sign that a step had been taken
towards reconciliation, and silently acknowledged and rewarded it, on
his part, by a more friendly manner.

All this was sufficient to induce Mataswintha, with her emotional
nature, to repulse the overtures of the Prefect, even when they
sometimes reached her by means of the clever Moor.

Now the Prefect had already learned from Syphax during the march to
Ravenna, that which was known later by other means, namely, that the
Goths expected assistance from the Franks.

He had therefore forthwith renewed his old and intimate relations
with the aristocrats and great men who ruled in the name of the
mock Kings of the Merovingians in the courts of Mettis (Metz),
Aurelianum (Orleans) and Suessianum (Soissons), in order to induce the
Franks--whose perfidy, even then become a proverb, gave good hope that
his efforts would be successful--to renounce the Gothic alliance.

And when the affair had been properly introduced by these friends, he
himself wrote to King Theudebald, who held his court in Mettis,
impressively warning him of the risk he would run if he supported such
a ruined cause as that of the Goths had undeniably become since their
ill-success in the siege of Rome.

This letter had been accompanied by rich gifts to his old friend, the
Major Domus of the weak-minded King, and the Prefect impatiently
waited, day by day, for the reply; the more impatiently because the
altered demeanour of Mataswintha had cut off all the hopes he had
entertained of effecting a more speedy conquest of the Goths.

The answer came--at the same time with an imperial letter from
Byzantium--on a day which was equally pregnant with the fate of the
heroes both in and out of Ravenna.



                              CHAPTER XVI.

Hildebad, impatient at the long pause of idleness, had, one day at
dawn, made a sudden sally upon the Byzantines from the Porta Faventina,
which was under his special command. He had at first won great
advantages, had burnt a portion of the enemies' implements of siege,
and had spread terror all around.

He would, without doubt, have done still more mischief had not
Belisarius, hurrying up, displayed at once all his heroism and
generalship.

Without helmet or armour, just as he had hurried from his tent, he had
first checked his own flying outposts, and had then thrown himself upon
the Gothic pursuers, and by the utmost personal exertion had brought
the fight to a standstill.

Afterwards he had man[oe]uvred his two flanks so cleverly, that
Hildebad's retreat was greatly endangered, and the Goths were obliged
to retreat speedily into the city.

Cethegus, who lay encamped before the Porta Honorius with his
Isaurians, had found, on hastening to the assistance of Belisarius,
that the fight was already over. He could not, therefore, avoid paying
a visit to the commander-in-chief in his tent, in order to express his
admiration of the heroes conduct, both as a general and a soldier;
praise which was greedily listened to by Antonina.

"Really, Belisarius," concluded the Prefect, "Emperor Justinian can
never requite your valour sufficiently."

"There you speak truly," answered Belisarius haughtily; "he can only
requite me by his friendship. The mere honour of bearing his marshal's
staff would never have induced me to do that which I have already
done, and shall yet accomplish. I do it only because I really love him.
With all his failings, he is a great man. If he could but learn one
thing--to trust me! But patience--he will learn it in time."

Just then Procopius entered, bringing a letter for Belisarius, which
had been delivered by an imperial messenger.

With a countenance beaming with delight, Belisarius, forgetting his
fatigue, sprang from his cushions, kissed the letter, and with his
dagger cut the purple cord which tied it. He unfolded the paper with
the words:

"From my Emperor himself! Ah, now he will send me the gold and the rest
of the body-guard!"

And he began to read.

Antonina, Procopius, and Cethegus observed him attentively. His
features grew darker and darker; his broad chest began to heave; both
the hands with which he held the letter trembled.

Antonina anxiously approached him, but before she could question him,
Belisarius uttered a low cry of rage, cast the letter on the ground,
and rushed madly out of the tent. His wife followed him.

"Antonina alone dare now approach him," said Procopius, as he picked up
the letter. "Let us see; no doubt it is another piece of imperial
gratitude." And he glanced over the letter. "The commencement is, as
usual, mere phrases. Ah, now comes something better: 'Notwithstanding,
we cannot deny that we expected, according to your own former boasts,
a more speedy termination to the war against these barbarians;
and we believe that, with greater exertion, this would not have
been impossible. For this reason we cannot comply with your
repeatedly-expressed wish to have the remaining five thousand
body-guards sent from Persia, and the four thousand centenari of gold
which lie in your palace at Byzantium. Certainly, both, as you rather
superfluously remark in your letter, are your own property; and your
offer to carry this war to a conclusion, paying the expenses out of
your own purse, because of the existing exhaustion of the imperial
exchequer, is worthy of all praise. As, however, all your property, as
you more justly add in the aforesaid letter, is at the service of your
Emperor, and as your Emperor considers the desired employment of your
treasure and body-guard in Italy superfluous, we have decided to
appropriate it otherwise, and have already sent troops and treasure to
your colleague, Narses, to be used in the Persian wars.' Ha! this is
unheard of!" cried Procopius, interrupting himself.

Cethegus smiled. "It is a tyrant's thanks for the services of a slave!"

"And the end seems to be just as pleasant," continued Procopius. "'An
increase of your power in Italy seems to us the less desirable, because
we are daily warned against your boundless ambition. You are reported
to have said lately, while sitting at wine, that the sceptre originated
in the general's staff, and the general's staff in the stick. Dangerous
thoughts and unseemly words! You see that we are faithfully informed of
your ambitious dreams. This time we will warn without punishing; but we
have no desire to furnish you with more wood for your general's staff;
and we would remind you that the tree, which most proudly tosses its
summit, is nearest to the imperial lightning.' It is shameful!" cried
Procopius.

"No, it is worse; it is silly!" said Cethegus. "It is whipping fidelity
into rebellion."

"You are right!" cried Belisarius, who had caught these words as he
again rushed into the tent. "Oh, he deserves that I should desert him,
the base, ungrateful, wicked tyrant!"

"Be silent, for God's sake! You will ruin yourself!" cried Antonina,
who had entered with her husband, and now tried to take his hand.

"No, I will not be silent!" cried the angry man, as he paced to and fro
close to the open door of the tent, before which Bessas, Acacius,
Demetrius, and many other leaders stood listening in astonishment. "All
the world shall hear me! He is an ungrateful, malicious tyrant! He
deserves that I should overthrow him! that I should confirm the
suspicions of his false soul!"

Cethegus cast a look at those who stood outside; they had evidently
heard all. Glancing at Antonina, he now went to the door and closed it
carefully. Antonina thanked him by a look. She again drew near her
husband, but he had thrown himself upon the ground before his couch,
striking his clenched fist upon his brow and stammering:

"O Justinian! have I deserved this from you? It is too much, too much!"

And the strong man burst into tears.

At this Cethegus contemptuously turned away.

"Farewell," he said in a low voice to Procopius, "It disgusts me to see
men blubber!"



                             CHAPTER XVII.

Lost in thought, the Prefect left the tent, and went round the camp to
the rather distant outwork, where he had entrenched himself and his
Isaurians before the Gate of Honorius.

It was situated on the south side of the city, near the harbour wall of
Classis, and the way led partly along the sea-shore.

Although the lonely wanderer was at this moment preoccupied by the
great thought which had become the pulse of his life, although he was
oppressed by anxiety as to how Belisarius--that man of impulse--would
act, and worried with impatience for the arrival of the answer from the
Franks, his attention was yet involuntarily attracted by the singular
appearance of the landscape, the sky, and the sea.

It was October; but the season had seemed for weeks to have altered its
laws. For almost two months it had never rained. Not a cloud, not a
stripe of mist had been seen in this usually so humid part of the
country. But now, quite suddenly--it was towards sunset--Cethegus
remarked in the east, above the sea horizon, a single, dense, and
coal-black cloud.

The setting sun, although free from mist, shed no rays.

Not a breath of air rippled the leaden surface of the sea; not the
smallest wavelet played upon the strand.

Not an olive-leaf moved in all the wide plain; not even the
easily-shaken reeds in the marshy ditches trembled.

No cry of an animal, no flight of a bird could be heard or perceived;
and a strange choking smell, as if of sulphur, seemed to lie
oppressively over land and sea, and to check respiration. The mules and
horses in the camp kicked uneasily against the posts to which they were
tied. A few camels and dromedaries, which Belisarius had brought with
him from Africa, buried their heads in the sand.

The wanderer heaved a deep breath, and looked about him in surprise.

"How sultry! Just as it is before the 'wind of death' arises in the
deserts of Egypt," he said to himself. "Sultry everywhere--outside and
inside. Upon whose head will the long-withheld fury of Nature and
Passion be let loose?"

He entered his tent.

Syphax accosted him.

"Sir, if I were at home, I should think that the poisonous breath of
the God of the Desert was coming over us." And he handed a letter to
the Prefect.

It was the answer of the King of the Franks. Hastily Cethegus tore open
the great shining seal.

"Who brought it?"

"An ambassador, who, as he did not find you, immediately asked to be
conducted to Belisarius. He desired to go the shortest way--through the
camp."

So thus Cethegus had missed him.

He read eagerly:


"'Theudebald, King of the Franks, to Cethegus, the Prefect of Rome.

"'You have addressed to us wise words, and still wiser words you have
not trusted to the letter, but have sent to us through our Major Domus.
We are not disinclined to act accordingly. We accept your advice, and
the gifts which accompany it. Their misfortunes have dissolved our
treaty with the Goths. They may blame their evil fate and not our
withdrawal. Whom Heaven forsakes, men, if they be pious and wise,
should forsake also. It is true that the Goths have paid beforehand the
price for the army of alliance. But, in our eyes, that is no hindrance.
We will keep the treasure as a pledge, until such time as they shall
cede to us the towns in South Gaul, which lie within the frontier
formed by God and nature for the kingdom of the Franks. But, as we have
prepared for a campaign, and our brave soldiers, who already scent the
battle, would but impatiently bear the tedium of peace and might become
dangerous, we are inclined, notwithstanding, to send our valiant troops
over the Alps. Only, instead of fighting _for_ the Goths, they will
fight against them. However, we do not wish to serve the Emperor
Justinian, who continually denies us the title of King, and inscribes
himself on his coins, 'Master of Gaul;' who will not allow us to
impress our own image on our own coins; and has offered other
unbearable affronts to our dignity. We rather think of extending our
own power in Italy. Now, as we well know that the whole strength of the
Emperor in that country is embodied in his commander-in-chief,
Belisarius, and that the latter has a great number of old and new
injuries to complain of, inflicted by his ungrateful master, we shall
propose to the hero, Belisarius, to set himself up as Emperor of the
West, to which end we will send him an army of a hundred thousand
Frankish heroes. In return, we desire the cession of only a small part
of Italy, extending from our frontier to Genoa. We hold it to be
impossible that any mortal can refuse such an offer. In case you will
co-operate with us, we promise you a sum of twelve centenari of gold;
and, upon a return payment of two centenari, we shall place your name
on the list of our messmates. The ambassador who brings you this
letter--Duke Lintharis--has our order to communicate with Belisarius.'"


Cethegus had read to the end with difficulty. He now broke out:

"Such an offer at such a moment! In such a humour! He will accept it!
Emperor of the West, with a hundred thousand Prankish warriors! He must
not live!"

And he hurried to the door of his tent; but he suddenly checked
himself.

"Fool that I am!" he laughed, "Still so hot-blooded? He is Belisarius,
and not Cethegus! He will not accept. He can rebel as little as the
moon can rebel against the earth, or a tame house-dog suddenly become a
raging wolf. He will not accept! But now let us see to what purpose we
can put the cupidity and falsity of this Merovingian. No, King of the
Franks!" and he looked bitterly at the crumpled letter. "As long as
Cethegus lives, not a foot of Italian soil shall you have!"

He paced rapidly through his tent.

Another turn--with a slower step.

And a third--then he stood still, and over his mighty brow came a flash
of light.

"I have it!" he joyously cried. "Syphax," he called, "go and fetch
Procopius."

As he again paced the tent, his eyes fell upon the fallen letter of the
Merovingian.

"No," he laughed triumphantly, as he took it up from the ground. "No,
King of the Franks, you shall not win as much of Italy's holy soil as
is covered by this letter."

Procopius soon appeared. The two men sat talking earnestly through the
whole night.

Procopius was startled at the bold and daring plans of the Prefect, and
for some time refused to enter into them. But the genius of the man
held him fast, overcame every objection before it was expressed, and at
last he was so entangled in an inextricable network of argument, that
he lost all power of resistance.

The stars were pale, and the dawn illumined the east with a grey stripe
of light, when Procopius took leave of his friend.

"Cethegus," he said, rising, "I admire you. If I were not the historian
of Belisarius, I should like to be yours."

"It would be more interesting," said the Prefect quietly, "but more
difficult."

"But," continued Procopius, "I cannot help shuddering at the biting
acrimony of your spirit. It is a sign of the times in which we live. It
is like a poisonous but brilliant flower in a swamp. When I recollect
how you have ruined the Gothic King by means of his own wife----"

"I have something to tell you about that. Lately I have heard very
little from my fair ally----"

"Your ally? Your ways are----"

"Always practical."

"But not always---- But never mind. I am with you--for yet a little
while, for I wish to get my hero out of Italy as soon as possible. He
shall gather laurels in Persia instead of thorns here. But I will only
go with you as far----"

"As it suits you, of course."

"Enough! I will at once speak with Antonina. I do not doubt of success.
She is tired to death here. She burns with desire, not only to see many
an old friend in Byzantium, but also to ruin the enemies of her
husband."

"A good bad wife!"

"But Witichis? Do you think he will believe a rebellion on the part of
Belisarius possible?"

"King Witichis is a good soldier, but a poor psychologist. I know a
much cleverer man, who yet, for a moment, believed it possible.
Besides, you will bring proofs in writings and just now, forsaken as he
is by the Franks--the water is up to his neck--he will snatch at any
straw. Therefore I, also, do not doubt of success. Only make sure of
Antonina----"

"That shall be my care. At mid-day I hope to enter Ravenna as an
ambassador."

"Good--and do not forget to speak to the lovely Queen."



                             CHAPTER XVIII.

At mid-day Procopius rode into Ravenna.

He carried with him four letters: the letter of Justinian to
Belisarius, the letters of the King of the Franks to Cethegus and
Belisarius, and a letter from Belisarius to Witichis.

This last had been written by Procopius and dictated by Cethegus.

The ambassador had no suspicion of the mood in which he should find the
King of the Goths and his beautiful Queen.

The healthy but simple mind of the King had begun to darken, if not to
despair, under the pressure of continual misfortune. The murder of his
only child, the terrible wrench of parting from his beloved wife, had
shaken him to the very soul; but he had borne it all in the hope of
securing victory to the Goths.

And now this victory obstinately tarried.

In spite of all efforts, the state of his people became more hopeless
every month. With the single exception of the battle fought and won on
the march to Rome, fortune had never smiled upon the Goths.

The siege of Rome, undertaken with such proud hopes, had ended in a
woeful retreat and the loss of three-fourths of the army. New strokes
of fortune, bad news that followed each other like rapid blows,
increased the King's depression, until it degenerated into a state of
dull despair.

Almost all Italy, except Ravenna, was lost. Belisarius, while yet in
Rome, had sent a fleet to Genoa, under the command of Mundila the
Herulian, and Ennes the Isaurian. The troops had landed without
resistance, had conquered the sea-ruling harbour of Genoa, and, from
that point, almost all Liguria.

Datius, the Bishop of Mediolanum, himself invited the Byzantines to
that important city. Thence they easily won Bergomum, Comum, and
Novaria.

On the other side, the discouraged Goths in Clusium and the half-ruined
Dertona surrendered to the besiegers and were led prisoners out of
Italy.

Urbinum, after a brave resistance, was taken by the Byzantines; also
Forum Cornelii and the whole district of Æmilia by Johannes. The Goths
failed to retake Ancona, Ariminum, and Mediolanum.

Still worse news presently arrived to increase the despondency of the
King. For meanwhile famine was making ravages in the wide districts of
Æmilia, Picenum and Tuscany.

There were neither men, cattle, nor horses to serve the plough. The
people fled into the woods and mountains, made bread of acorns, and
devoured grass and weeds.

Devastating maladies were the consequence of insufficient or
unwholesome nourishment.

In Picenum alone perished fifty thousand souls; a still greater number
succumbed to hunger and pestilence on the other side of the Ionian
Gulf, in Dalmatia, Pale and thin, those still living tottered to the
grave; their skins became black and like leather; their glassy eyes
started from the sockets; their intestines burned as if with fire.

The vultures despised the corpses of the victims of pestilence;
but human flesh was devoured by men. Mothers killed and ate their
newly-born children.

In a farm near Ariminum only two Roman women had remained alive. These
women murdered and devoured, one after another, seventeen men, who,
singly, had sought a shelter in their house. The eighteenth awoke as
they were about to strangle him in his sleep. He killed the fiendish
women, and discovered the fate of their earlier victims.

Lastly, the hopes placed in the Franks and Longobardians were utterly
destroyed.

The Franks, who had already received large sums for the promised army
of alliance, were silent. The messengers of the King, who were sent to
urge the fulfilment of their promise, were detained at Mettis,
Aurelianum, and Paris; no answer came from these courts.

The King of the Longobardians sent word that he could decide nothing
without the consent of his warlike son Alboin. That the latter was
absent in search of adventures. Perhaps he would at some time reach
Italy; he was an intimate friend of Narses. Then he could observe the
country for himself, and advise his father and his countrymen as to the
course to be taken.

It is true that the important fortress of Auximum withstood, for
months, all the efforts of the powerful army which besieged it under
Belisarius, accompanied by Procopius. But it wrung the King's heart
when a messenger (who had, with much difficulty, stolen his way through
the two investing armies to Ravenna) brought him the following message
from the heroic Earl Wisand:

"When Auximum was entrusted to my care, thou saidst that therewith I
should hold the keys of Ravenna; yea, of the kingdom. Thou badest me
resist manfully until thou camest thyself with thy whole army to my
assistance. We have manfully resisted not only Belisarius, but famine.
Where is thy relief? Woe to us if thy words are true, and with this
fortress the keys of our kingdom fall into the enemy's hands! Come
therefore, and help us; more for the kingdom's sake than for our own!"

This messenger was soon followed by a second: Burcentius, a soldier
belonging to the besieging army, who had been bribed with much gold.
His message ran--the short letter was written in blood:

"We have now only the weeds that grow between the stones to eat. We
cannot hold out longer than four days more."


As this last messenger was returning with the King's reply, he fell
into the hands of the besiegers, who burnt him alive in sight of the
Goths before the walls of Auximum.

And the King could give no help.

The small party of Goths in Auximum still resisted, although Belisarius
cut off the supply of water by destroying the aqueducts and poisoning
the remaining wells with the corpses of men and animals, thrown in with
lime.

Wisand still fiercely repelled every attack. On one of these occasions
Belisarius only escaped death at the sacrifice of one of his
body-guard.

Finally, Cæsena, the last of the Gothic towns on the Æmilia, was the
first to fall; and then Fæsulæ, which was besieged by Cyprianus and
Justinus.

"My poor Fæsulæ!" exclaimed the King, when he learned this last
disaster, for he had been the Count of that town, and close to it lay
the house where he had lived so happily with Rauthgundis;--"My poor
Fæsulæ! the Huns will run riot in my deserted home!"

When, later, the garrison taken prisoner at Fæsulæ were led in chains
before the eyes of the defenders of Auximum, and reported to the latter
the hopelessness of any relief from Ravenna, the famished troops of
Wisand compelled him to surrender.

He stipulated for himself a free escort to Ravenna. His men were led
prisoners out of Italy.

And, so deeply sunk was the courage and patriotism of the conquered
troops, that, led by Earl Sisifrid of Sarsina, they accepted service
against their own countrymen under the flag of Belisarius.

The victor had strongly garrisoned Auximum and then led the army back
to the camp before Ravenna, where he now again took the command, which
had been entrusted to Cethegus during his absence.

It was as if a curse rested upon the head of the Gothic King, who so
sorely felt the weight of his crown.

As he could not ascribe the cause of his failure to any weakness or
oversight on his own part; as he did not doubt in the justice of the
Gothic cause, and as his simple piety could see nothing but the hand of
Heaven in all his misfortunes, he conceived the torturing thought that
God was punishing the Goths for some unforgiven sin committed by
himself, a conviction imparted to his conscience by the then dominating
doctrine of the Old Testament no less than by many features of the old
Germanic legends.

Day and night the King was tortured by this idea, which undermined his
strength and resolution. Now he tried to discover his secret guilt; now
he reflected how he could at least turn aside the curse from his
people.

He would long since have abdicated, but that such an act at such a
moment would have been considered cowardly both by himself and others.
So this escape from his misery--the quickest and best--was closed to
him.

His soul was bowed to the very earth. He often sat motionless for
hours, silent and staring at vacancy; at times shaking his head or
sighing deeply.

The daily recurring sight of this resigned suffering, this dumb and
hopeless bearing of an oppressive fate, was not, as we have said,
without effect on Mataswintha. She thought that lately the eyes of
Witichis rested upon her with an expression of sorrow and even of
beneficence.

And vague hope--which is so difficult to destroy in a living
heart--remorse and compassion, attracted her more powerfully than ever
to the suffering King.

They were now often thrown together by some common errand of mercy.

For some weeks the inhabitants of Ravenna had begun to suffer want,
while the besiegers ruled the sea from Ancona, and received plentiful
provisions from Calabria and Sicily.

None but rich citizens could afford to pay the high price asked for
corn.

The King's kind heart did not hesitate, when he had provided his
troops, to share the wealth of his magazines--which, as we have seen,
contained sufficient for the wants of all for more than double the time
required for the arrival of the Franks--amongst the poor of the city.
He also hoped for the arrival of many ships laden with corn, which the
Goths had collected in the northern districts of the Padus, and which
lay in that river, waiting for an opportunity to reach Ravenna.

In order to avoid any misuse of his bounty, or extravagance in the
granting of rations, the King himself superintended the distribution;
and Mataswintha, who one day met him among the groups of grateful
people, placed herself near him upon the marble steps of the Basilica
of Saint Apollonaris, and helped him to fill the baskets with bread.

It was a touching sight to see this royal pair standing before the
church doors, distributing their gift to the people.

As they were standing thus, Mataswintha remarked among the crowd--for
many country-people had fled to the city from all sides--sitting upon
the lowest step of the Basilica, a woman in a simple brown mantle,
which was half drawn over her head.

This woman did not press forward with the others to demand bread, but
leaned against a high sarcophagus, with her head resting upon her hand,
and, half concealed by the corner pillar of the Basilica, looked
sharply and fixedly at the Queen.

Mataswintha thought that the woman was restrained by fear, pride, or
shame, from mixing with the more importunate beggars who pushed and
crowded each other upon the steps, and she gave Aspa a basket of bread,
telling her to go down and give it to the woman. With care she heaped
up the sweet-scented bread with both her hands.

As she looked up, she met the eye of the King, which rested upon her
with a more soft and friendly expression than she had ever seen before.

She started slightly, and the blood rushed into her cheeks as she cast
down her beautiful eyes.

When she again looked up and glanced towards the woman in the brown
mantle, she perceived that the place by the sarcophagus was empty. The
woman had disappeared.

She had not observed, while filling the basket, that a man, clad in a
buffalo-skin and a steel cap, who had been standing behind the woman,
had caught her arm and drawn her away with gentle violence.

"Come," he had said; "this is no place for thee."

And, as if in a dream, the woman had answered:

"By God, she is wonderfully lovely!"

"I thank thee, Mataswintha," said the King, in a friendly manner, when
the rations for the day had been distributed.

The look, the tone, the words, penetrated her heart.

Never before had he called her by her name; he had ever met and spoken
to her only as the "Queen."

How happy those few words from his mouth had made her; and yet how
heavily his kindness weighed upon her guilty soul!

Evidently she had earned his more affectionate feeling by her active
compassion for the poor.

"Oh, he is good!" she cried to herself, half weeping with emotion. "I
also will be good!"

As, occupied by this thought, she entered the court of the left wing of
the palace, which was assigned to her--the King inhabited the right
wing--Aspa hurried to meet her.

"A messenger from the camp," she eagerly whispered. "He brings a secret
message from the Prefect--a letter, in Syphax's handwriting--in our
language. He waits for a reply."

"Leave me!" cried Mataswintha, frowning. "I will hear and read
nothing.--But who are these?" And she pointed to the steps leading from
the court to her apartments.

There, upon the cold stones, crouched women, children, and sick people,
clothed in rags--a group of misery.

"Beggars," said Aspa; "poor people. They have lain there the whole
morning. They will not be driven away."


"They shall not be driven away," said Mataswintha, drawing near.

"Bread, Queen! Bread, daughter of the Amelungs!" cried many voices.

"Give them gold, Aspa. All that thou hast with thee; and fetch----"

"Bread, bread. Queen--not gold! No more bread is to be had for money in
all the city."

"It is dispensed freely outside the King's magazines. I have just come
thence. Why were you not there?"

"Queen! we could not get through the crowd," said a haggard woman. "I
am aged, and my daughter here is sick, and that old man is blind. The
strong and young push us away. For three days we tried to go in vain.
We could not get through."

"Yes, and we starve," grumbled the old man. "O Theodoric! my lord and
King, where art thou? Under thy rule we had enough and to spare!
Then the poor and sick were not deprived of bread. But this unhappy
King----"

"Be silent," said Mataswintha. "The King, my husband"--and a lovely
flush rose into her cheeks--"does more than you deserve. Wait here. I
will bring you bread. Follow me, Aspa." And she hastened away.

"Whither goest thou?" asked the slave, astonished.

Mataswintha drew her veil closely over her face as she answered:

"To the King!"

When she reached the antechamber of the King's apartments, the
door-keeper, who recognised her with amazement, begged her to wait a
moment.

"An ambassador from Belisarius has been admitted to a private audience.
He has been in the room already for some time, and no doubt will soon
leave it."

Just then the door of the King's apartment was opened, and Procopius
stood hesitating upon the threshold.

"King of the Goths," he said, as he once again turned round, "is that
your last word?"

"My last; as it was my first," answered the King, with dignity.

"I will give you time--I will remain in Ravenna till to-morrow----"

"From this moment you are welcome as a guest, but not as an
ambassador."

"I repeat: if the city be taken by storm, all the Goths who are taller
than the sword of Belisarius--he has sworn it--will be killed! The
women and children will be sold into slavery. You understand that
Belisarius will suffer no barbarians in _his_ Italy. The death of a
hero may be tempting to you, but think of the helpless people--their
blood will accuse you before the throne of God----"

"Ambassador, you, as well as we, are in God's hand. Farewell."

And these words were uttered with such majesty, that the Byzantine was
obliged to go, however reluctantly.

The simple dignity of the King had had a strong effect upon him; but
still more upon the listening Queen.

As Procopius slowly shut the door, he saw Mataswintha standing before
him, and started back, dazzled by her great beauty. He greeted her
reverently.

"You are the Queen of the Goths!" he said. "You must be she."

"I am," said Mataswintha. "Would that I had never forgotten it!"

And she passed him with a haughty step.

"These Germans, both men and women," said Procopius, as he went out,
"have eyes such as I have never seen before!"



                              CHAPTER XIX.

Meanwhile, Mataswintha had entered her husband's presence unannounced.

Witichis had left untouched all the rooms which had been occupied by
the Amelungs--Theodoric, Athalaric, and Amalaswintha--and had
appropriated to his own use the apartments which he had formerly been
accustomed to inhabit when on duty at court.

He had never assumed the gold and purple trappings of the Amelungs, and
had banished from his chamber all the pomp of royalty.

A low camp-bed, upon which lay his helmet, sword, and various
documents, a long wooden table, and a few wooden chairs and utensils,
formed the simple furniture of the room.

When Procopius had taken leave, the King had thrown himself into a
chair, and, supporting his weary head on his hands, leaned his elbows
upon the table. Thus he had not noticed Mataswintha's light step.

She remained standing near the door, reluctant to advance. She had
never before sought an interview with her husband. Her heart beat fast,
and she could not muster courage to address him.

At last Witichis rose with a sigh, and, turning, saw the motionless
figure at the door.

"Thou here, Queen!" he asked with surprise, as he approached her. "What
can have led thee to me?"

"Duty--compassion--" Mataswintha answered quickly; "otherwise I had
not---- I have a favour to ask of thee."

"It is the first," said Witichis.

"It does not concern me," she added hastily. "I beg for food for some
poor people, who----"

The King silently stretched out his right hand.

It was the first time he had ever offered it. She did not dare to clasp
it, and yet how gladly she would have done so.

Then the King took her hand himself, and pressed it gently.

"I thank thee, Mataswintha, and regret my injustice. I never believed
that thou hadst a heart for thy people. I have thought unkindly of
thee."

"If thy thoughts had been more just from the beginning, perhaps many
things might be better now."

"Scarcely! Misfortune dogs my heels. Just now--thou hast a right to
know it--my last hopes have been destroyed. The Franks, upon whose aid
I depended, have betrayed us. Relief is impossible; the superiority of
the enemy has become too great, by reason of the rebellion of the
Italians. Only one thing remains to me--death!"

"Let me share it with thee," cried Mataswintha, her eyes sparkling.

"Thou? No. The granddaughter of Theodoric will be honourably received
at the Court of Byzantium. It is known that she became my wife against
her will. Thou canst appeal to that fact."

"Never!" exclaimed Mataswintha with enthusiasm.

Witichis, without noticing her, went on:

"But the others! The thousands, the tens of thousands of women and
children! Belisarius will keep his word. There is only one hope for
them, one single hope! For--all the powers of nature are in league
against me. The Padus has suddenly become so shallow, that two hundred
ships with grain, which I had expected, could not be brought down the
river, and fell into the hands of the enemy. I have now written for
assistance to the King of the Ostrogoths; I have asked him to send a
fleet; for ours is lost. If the ships can force their way into the
harbour, then all who cannot fight may take refuge in them. And, if
thou wilt, thou canst fly to Spain."

"I will die with thee--with the others!"

"In a few weeks the Ostrogothic sails may appear off the city. Until
then my magazines will not be exhausted. That is my only comfort. But
that reminds me of thy wish. Here is the key to the great door of the
granaries. I carry it with me day and night. Keep it carefully--it
guards my last hope. Upon its safety depend the lives of many
thousands. These granaries are the only thing that has not failed. I
wonder," he added sadly, "that the earth has not opened, or fire fallen
from Heaven, to destroy this my work!"

He took the heavy key from the bosom of his doublet.

"Guard it well, it is my last treasure, Mataswintha."

"I thank thee, Witichis--King Witichis," said she, and would have taken
the key, but her hand trembled so much that it fell to the ground.

"What is the matter?" asked the King as he picked up the key and put it
into her hand. "Thou tremblest? Art thou sick!" he added anxiously.

"No--it is nothing. But do not look at me so--do not look at me as thou
didst this morning----"

"Forgive me, Queen," said Witichis, turning away, "my looks shall no
more offend thee. I have had much, too much, to grieve me lately. And
when I tried to find out for what hidden guilt I could have deserved
all my misfortune--" his voice grew very tender.

"Then? Oh, speak!" cried Mataswintha; for she could not doubt the
meaning of his unspoken thought.

"I often thought amid all my doubt, that it might be a punishment for
the cruel, cruel wrong I did to a noble creature; a woman whom I have
sacrificed to my people----"

And in the ardour of his speech he involuntarily looked at his
listener.

Mataswintha's cheeks glowed. She was obliged, in order to keep herself
upright, to grasp the arm of the chair near her.

"At last," she thought, "at last his heart awakes, and I--how have I
acted towards him! And he regrets----"

"A woman," continued Witichis, "who has suffered unspeakably on my
account, more than words can express----"

"Cease," whispered Mataswintha so softly that he did not hear it.

"And when I lately saw thee so gentle, so mild, more womanly than ever
before--it touched my heart, and tears came into my eyes!"

"O Witichis!" breathed Mataswintha.

"Every tone of thy voice penetrated deeply into my heart, for the sweet
sound reminded me so vividly, so sadly----"

"Of whom?" asked Mataswintha, and she turned pale as death.

"Of her whom I have sacrificed! Who gave up all for me; of my wife
Rauthgundis, the soul of my soul!"

For how long a time had he never uttered aloud that beloved name! At
the sound of his own voice, grief and longing overcame him, and sinking
into a chair, he buried his face in his hands.

It was well that he did so, for it spared him the sight of the Queen's
sudden start, and the Medusa-like expression which convulsed her
features.

But the sound of a fall made him spring from his seat.

Mataswintha lay upon the ground. Her left hand grasped the broken arm
of the chair near which she had fallen, while her right was pressed
convulsively upon the mosaic floor. Her pale face was bent down; her
splendid golden hair, loosed from its bonds, flowed over her shoulders;
her mobile nostrils quivered.

"Queen!" cried Witichis, bending to lift her up, "what ails thee?"

But before he could touch her, she started up, swift as a serpent, and
stood erect.

"It was only a weakness--which is already over," she panted.
"Farewell!"

She tottered to the door, and, closing it behind her, fell senseless
into Aspa's arms.


During all this time, the mysteriously threatening appearance of the
atmosphere had increased.

The little cloud which Cethegus had remarked the day before, had been
the forerunner of an immense black wall of vapour which had arisen in
the east during the night, and which, since morning, had hovered
gloomily, as if brooding destruction, over the city and the greater
part of the horizon.

In the south, however, the sun shone with an intolerable heat from a
cloudless sky.

The Gothic sentries had doffed their helmets and armour; they preferred
to expose themselves to the arrows of the enemy rather than suffer the
unbearable heat.

There was not a breath of air. The east wind, which had brought up the
wall of cloud, had dropped again.

The sea was grey and motionless; not a leaf of the poplars in the
palace garden moved.

The animal world, silent the day before, was uneasy and terrified. Over
the hot sands on the shore swallows, seagulls, and marsh-birds
fluttered hither and thither, without cause or aim, flying low above
the ground, and often uttering shrill cries.

In the city the dogs ran whining out of the houses; the horses tore
themselves loose from their halters and, snorting impatiently, kicked
and pranced; cats, asses, and mules uttered lamentable cries; and three
of the dromedaries belonging to Belisarius killed themselves in their
frantic efforts to get loose.

Evening was approaching. The sun was about to sink below the horizon.

In the Forum of Hercules a citizen was sitting upon the marble steps of
his house. He was a vine-dresser, and, as the dry branch hung at his
door indicated, himself sold the produce of his vines. He glanced at
the threatening thundercloud.

"I wish it would rain," he sighed. "If it does not rain, it will hail,
and then all the fruit that has not been trampled by the enemy's horses
will be completely destroyed."

"Do you call the troops of our Emperor enemies?" whispered his son, a
Roman patriot. But he said it very softly, for just then a Gothic
patrol turned the corner of the Forum. "I wish Orcus would devour them
all, Greeks and barbarians! The Goths at least are always thirsty. See,
there comes that long Hildebadus; he is one of the thirstiest. I shall
be surprised if he has no desire to drink to-day, when the very stones
are cracking with heat!"

Hildebad had just set the nearest watch. He held his helmet in his left
hand; his lance was carelessly laid across his shoulder.

He passed the wine-house--to the great astonishment of its
owner--turned into the next street, and soon stood before a lofty
massive round tower--it was called the Tower of Ætius.

A handsome young Goth was walking up and down upon the wall in the
shadow of the tower. Long light locks curled upon his shoulders, and
the delicate white and red of his complexion, as well as his mild blue
eyes, gave him almost a girlish aspect.

"Hey! Fridugern," Hildebad called up to him. "Hey! How canst thou bear to
stay up there on that gridiron? With shield and breastplate too!
_Ouff_!"

"I have the watch, Hildebad," answered the youth gently.

"Bother the watch! Dost thou think that Belisarius will attack us in
this blazing heat? I tell you he is glad if he can get air; to-day he
will not thirst for blood. Come with me; I came to fetch thee. The
fat Ravennese in the Forum of Hercules has old wine and young
daughters--let us put both to our lips."

The young Goth shook his long ringlets and frowned.

"I have the watch, and no desire for girls. But thirsty I am,
truly--send me a cup of wine up here."

"Aha! 'tis true, by Freia, Venus, and Maria! Thou hast a bride across
the mountains! And thou thinkest that she will find it out and break
her promise if thou lookest too closely into a pair of black Roman
eyes! Oh, dear friend, how young thou art! No, no; no malice! It is all
right. Thou art nevertheless a very good fellow and wilt get older
by-and-by. I will send thee some old Massikian--then thou canst drink
to Allgunthis all alone."

Hildebad turned back, and soon disappeared into the wine-house.

Presently a slave brought a cup of wine to the young Goth, who
whispered, "Here's to thee, Allgunthis!" and he emptied it at one
draught. Then he took up his lance, and slowly paced to and fro on the
wall.

"I can at least think of her," he said; "no duty can prevent that. When
shall I see her again?"

He walked on, but presently stopped and stood, lost in thought, in the
shadow of the great dark tower, which looked down upon him
threateningly.

In a short time another troop of Goths passed the tower. In their midst
they led a man blindfolded, and let him out at the Porta Honorii.

It was Procopius who had in vain waited for three hours, hoping that
the King would change his mind. It was useless. No messenger came, and
the ambassador left the city ill at ease.

Another hour passed. It had become darker, but not cooler.

Suddenly a strong blast of wind rose from the sea. It drove the black
cloud toward the north with great rapidity. It now hung dense and heavy
over the city. But the sea and the south-eastern horizon were not
thereby rendered clear, for a second and similar wall of cloud closely
followed the first.

The whole sky had now become one black vault.

Hildebad, drowsy with wine, went towards his night-watch at the Porta
Honorii.

"Still at thy post, Fridugern?" he called to the young Goth in passing.
"And still no rain. The poor earth, how thirsty it will be! I pity it!
Goodnight!"

It was insufferably sultry in the houses, for the wind blew from the
scorching deserts of Africa.

The people, alarmed by the threatening appearance of the heavens, came
out of doors, walking in companies through the streets, or sitting in
groups in the courtyards and under the colonnades of the churches.

A crowd of people sat upon the steps of Saint Apollonaris.

And, though the sun had scarcely set, it was already as black as night.

Upon her couch in her bed-chamber lay Mataswintha, the Queen, in a kind
of heavy stupor, her cheeks pale as death. Her wide open eyes stared
into the darkness. She refused to answer Aspa's anxious questions, and
presently dismissed the weeping slave with a motion of her hand.

As she lay thinking, these names passed continuously and monotonously
through her mind: Witichis--Rauthgundis--Mataswintha!
Mataswintha--Rauthgundis--Witichis!

Thus she lay for a long, long time; and it seemed as if nothing could
ever interrupt the unceasing circle of these words.

Suddenly a red light flashed into the room, and at the same moment a
peal of thunder, louder than she had ever before heard, clattered over
the trembling city.

A scream from her women caught her ear, and she started upright on her
couch.

Aspa had divested her of her upper garment; she wore only her
under-dress of white silk. Throwing the falling tresses of her splendid
hair back over her shoulder, she leaned on her elbow and listened.

There was an awful stillness.

Then another flash and another peal.

A rush of wind tore open the window of feldspath which looked into the
court.

Mataswintha stared out at the darkness, which was illuminated at every
moment by a vivid flash of lightning. The thunder rolled incessantly,
overpowering even the fearful howling of the wind.

Mataswintha felt relieved by this strife of the elements. She looked
out eagerly.

Just then Aspa hurried in with a light. It was a torch, the flame of
which was protected from the wind by a glass globe.

"Queen, thou--but, by all the gods! how dost thou look? Like a
Lemure--like the Goddess of Revenge!"

"Would that I were!" said Mataswintha, without taking her eyes from the
window.

They were the first words that she had spoken for hours.

Flash after flash, and peal after peal.

Aspa closed the window.

"O Queen! the Christian maids say that the end of the world has come,
and that the Son of God will come down upon fiery clouds to judge the
living and the dead. Oh! what a flash! And yet there is not a drop of
rain. I have never seen such a storm. The gods are very angry."

"Woe to those with whom they are angry! Oh, I envy the gods! They can
love and hate as they like. They can annihilate those who do not adore
them."

"O mistress! I was in the streets; I have just returned. All the people
stream into the churches, praying and singing. I pray to Kairu and
Astarte. Mistress, dost thou not pray?"

"I curse. That, too, is a kind of prayer."

"Oh, what a peal!" screamed the slave, and fell trembling on her knees.
The dark blue mantle which she wore slid from her shoulders.

The thunder and lightning had now become so violent, that Mataswintha
sprang from her couch and ran to the window.

"Mercy, mercy!" prayed the slave. "Have pity upon us, ye great gods!"

"No, no mercy--a curse upon us miserable mortals! Ha! that was
splendid! Dost thou hear how they scream with fear in the streets?
Another, and yet another! Ha! ye gods--if there be a God or gods--I
envy ye but one thing: the power of your hate and your deadly
lightning. Ye hurl it with all the rage and lust of your hearts, and
your enemies vanish. Then you laugh; the thunder is your laughter. Ha!
what was that!"

A flash and a peal of thunder which outdid all that had gone before.

Aspa started from her knees.

"What is that great building, Aspa? That dark mass opposite? The
lightning must have struck it. Is it on fire?"

"No, thanks to the gods! The lightning only lit it up. It is the
granaries of the King."

"Ha! has your lightning failed?" cried the Queen. "But mortals, too,
can use the lightning of revenge." And she left the window. The room
became suddenly dark.

"Queen--mistress--where art thou? Whither hast thou gone?" cried Aspa.
And she felt along the walls.

But the room was empty, and Aspa called her mistress in vain.

Below in the streets a procession wound its way to the Basilica of
Saint Apollonaris.

Romans and Goths; children and old people; very many women. Boys with
torches walked first; behind came priests with crucifix and banners.

Through the growling of the thunder and the roaring of the wind sounded
the ancient and solemn chorus:

           "Dulce mihi cruciari,
              Parva vis doloris est;
            Malo mori quam f[oe]dari;
              Major vis amoris est."

And the choir answered:

           "Parce, judex, contristatis
              Parce pecatoribus,
            Qui descendis perflammatis
              Ultor jam in nubibus."

And the procession disappeared into the church.

The overseers of the corn-magazines had also joined the crowd of
worshippers.

Upon the steps of the Basilica, exactly opposite the door of the
magazines, sat the woman in the brown mantle, calm and fearless amid
the uproar of the elements; her hands not folded, but resting quietly
on her lap.

The man in the steel cap stood near her.

A Gothic woman, who was just hurrying into the church, recognised her
by the light of a flash of lightning.

"Thou here again, countrywoman? Without shelter? I have offered thee my
house, often enough. Thou appearest strange here in Ravenna?"

"I am so; but still I have a lodging."

"Come into the church and pray with us."

"I pray here."

"But thou neither singest nor speakest."

"Yet still God hears me."

"Pray for the city. They fear that the end of the world is at hand."

"I am not afraid."

"Pray for our good King, who daily gives us bread."

"I do pray for him."

Just then two Gothic patrols came clattering round the corner, and met
opposite the Basilica.

"Aye, thunder till the skies crack!" scolded the leader of one of the
bands; "but do not hinder me in my duty. Halt! Wisand, is it thou?
Where is the King? In the church also?"

"No, Hildebad; upon the walls."

"That is right; that is his place. Forwards! Long live the King!"

Their steps died away.

A Roman tutor, with some of his pupils, passed by.

"But, magister," said the youngest boy, "I thought you were going to
the church? Why do you take us out in this storm?"

"I only spoke of church to get you out of the house. Church! I tell
you, the fewer roofs and walls about one the better. I am going to take
you out into the great meadow in the suburbs. I wish it would rain. If
Vesuvius were near, as it is in my native place, I should think that
Ravenna was about to become a second Herculaneum. I know such an
atmosphere as we have to-day--it is dangerous."

And they went on.

"Wilt thou not come with me, mistress?" the man in the steel cap asked
the Gothic woman. "I must try to find Dromon, else we shall get no
lodging tonight. I cannot leave thee alone in the dark. Thou hast no
light with thee."

"Dost thou not see that the lightning never ceases? Go; I will come
afterwards. I have still something to think of--and to pray for."

And the woman remained alone.

She pressed both hands against her bosom and looked up at the black
sky; her lips moved slightly.

Just then it seemed to her as if, in the high outer galleries,
passages, and upper rooms of the mighty wooden edifice which towered in
a dark mass opposite, a light came and went, wandering up and down. She
thought it must have been a deception caused by the lightning, for any
open light would have been extinguished by the wind. But no; it really
was a light, for its appearance and disappearance alternated at regular
intervals, as if the person carrying it were hurrying along the
galleries and passing behind the pillars and supports.

The woman attentively watched the changing light and shadow---- But
suddenly--oh, horror!--she started up.

It seemed to her as if the marble step upon which she was sitting had
been some sleeping animal, which, suddenly awaking, moved slightly,
then rose--and turned itself--violently--from left to right.

Thunder, lightning, and wind ceased all at once.

There! from the granaries sounded a shrill scream. The light flamed up
brightly, and then disappeared.

But the woman in the street also uttered a low cry of fear, for now she
could no longer doubt--the earth quaked under her.

A slight movement; then two, three strong shocks, as if the ground had
heaved from left to right like a wave.

Screams of fear rose from the city.

The people rushed out of the doors of the Basilica.

Another shock!

The woman kept her feet with difficulty.

And, from the farther side of the city, sounded a dull and distant
crash, as if of heavy falling masses.

A fearful earthquake had shaken all Ravenna.



                              CHAPTER XX.

As the woman turned in the direction of the sound, she stood for a
moment with her back to the granaries. But she suddenly looked round,
for she thought she heard the bang of a heavy door. She looked
attentively in that direction, but it was too dark to see anything. She
heard, however, something rustling along close to the outer wall of the
building, and she thought she caught the sound of a low sigh.

"Stop!" she cried, "who moans there?"

"Peace, peace!" whispered a strange voice. "The earth--disgusted--shook
and trembled! The last day has come--it will reveal all. He will soon
know.--Oh!"

A groan of pain--a rustle of garments--then complete silence.

"Where art thou? Art thou wounded?" asked the woman, seeking on the
ground.

A flash of lightning--the first since the earthquake--showed her a
shrouded form lying at her feet. A woman dressed in white and blue.

The Gothic woman stretched out her hand, but the prostrate form sprang
up at her touch, and, with a scream, disappeared into the darkness.

All this had passed rapidly, and seemed like some frightful dream, but
a broad gold bracelet, ornamented with a green serpent in emeralds,
remained in the Gothic woman's hand, a proof of the reality of the
mysterious vision.

And again the iron steps of the Gothic patrol approached.

"Hildebad, Hildebad, help!" cried Wisand.

"I am here! What is the matter? Where shall I go?" asked Hildebad,
advancing with his men.

"To the Gate of Honorius! The wall has fallen, and the tower of Ætius
lies in ruins. Help! Into the breach!"

"I come! Poor, poor Fridugern!"

Outside, in the camp of the Byzantines, Cethegus the Prefect rushed
into Belisarius's tent.

He was in full armour, his plume of crimson horsehair tossed upon his
helm. His bearing was proud. His eyes flashed.

"Up! Why do you linger, Belisarius? The walls of your enemy's citadel
fall of themselves! The last refuge of the last King of the Goths lies
open before you! Why do you remain in your tent?"

"I adore the Almighty," said Belisarius with composure. Antonina stood
near him, her arm about his neck.

A praying-stool and a tall crucifix showed in what occupation the
stormy entrance of the Prefect had disturbed them.

"Do that to-morrow, after the victory. But now, storm the city!"

"Storm the city now?" cried Antonina. "What sacrilege! The earth is
shaken to its foundations, for God the Lord speaks in this elemental
strife!"

"Let Him speak! We will act. Belisarius, the tower of Ætius and a
portion of the walls have fallen. I ask you, will you not storm the
city?"

"He is not wrong," said Belisarius, in whom the lust of battle was
awakening. "But it is a dark night----"

"To victory and the heart of Ravenna I will find my way even in the
dark. And it lightens besides."

"You are all at once very eager for the fight," said Belisarius
hesitatingly.

"Yes, for there is good reason. The barbarians are startled. They fear
God and forget their enemies."

At this moment Procopius and Marcus Licinius hurried into the tent
together.

"Belisarius," cried the first, "the earthquake has thrown down the
barracks by the northern trench, and has buried half a cohort of your
Illyrians!"

"My poor people!" cried Belisarius, and at once left the tent.

"Cethegus," said Marcus, "one of your cohorts also lies buried under
their barracks."

But, impatiently shaking his head, the Prefect asked: "How is the water
in the Gothic moat before the tower of Ætius? Has not the earthquake
lessened it?"

"Yes, the water has disappeared--the moat is quite dry. Hark, what a
cry! It is your Illyrians! They cry for help!"

"Let them cry!" said Cethegus. "Is the moat really dry? Then give the
signal to storm. Follow me with all the Isaurians that are still
alive."

And in the midst of thunder and lightning, which now again raged
unceasingly, the Prefect hurried to the trenches where his Roman
legions and the rest of the Isaurians stood under arms. He quickly
counted them. There were far too few to take the city alone, but he
knew that a moderate success would immediately cause Belisarius to join
him.

"Lights! torches!" he cried, and stepped to the front of his Roman
legions with a torch in his left hand. "Forward!" he cried. "Draw your
swords!"

But not a hand was raised.

Dumb with astonishment and terror, the whole troop--even the leaders,
even Licinius--looked at the demonic man, who, in the midst of all
Nature's rebellion, thought only of his goal, and of using the strife
of the elements and the terrors of the Almighty as means to prosecute
his own ends.

"Well? which is your duty? To listen to the thunder, or to me!" he
cried.

"General," said a centurion, stepping forward, "the men pray; for the
earth quaked."

"Do you think that Italy will devour her own children? No, Romans; see!
The very earth quakes at the tread of the barbarians. It rises, breaks
its bonds, and their walls fall. Roma, Roma æterna!"

His words took effect.

It was one of those Cæsarian speeches which move men to great deeds.

"Roma, Roma æterna!" cried, first Licinius, and after him thousands of
Roman youths; and through night and storm, through thunder and
lightning, they followed the Prefect, whose grand enthusiasm
irresistibly carried them away.

Excitement lent wings to their feet. They were soon across the wide
moat which usually they scarcely dared to approach.

Cethegus was the first to reach the opposite side.

The wind had extinguished the torches.

But he found his way in the dark.

"Here, Licinius!" he cried, "follow me! Here must be the breach."

He sprang forward, but ran against some hard body and staggered back.

"What is that!" asked Lucius Licinius behind him. "A second wall?"

"No," said a quiet voice, "but a Gothic shield!"

"That is King Witichis!" said the Prefect furiously, and with bitter
hatred he looked at the dark figure before him.

He had counted upon a surprise. His hope was frustrated.

"If I but had him," he said to himself, "he should never hinder me
again!"

Looking behind, he now saw many torch-lights and heard the flourish of
trumpets. Belisarius was leading his troops to storm the walls.

Procopius reached the Prefect.

"Well, why do you stop? Do new walls keep you back?"

"Yes, living walls. There they stand," and the Prefect pointed forward
with his sword.

"Under the still tottering ruins, these Goths! Truly," cried
Procopius--

          "'Si fractus illabatur orbis,
            Impavidos ferient ruinæ!'

They are courageous men!"

But now Belisarius was at hand with his compact lines, ready for the
assault.

One moment more--the leaders were still hurrying to and fro, giving
orders--and a terrible slaughter would begin.

But suddenly all the sky above the city was flooded with a red light.

A column of flame shot up into the air, and countless sparks descended.
It seemed to rain fire from heaven. All Ravenna glowed in the crimson
light. It was a fearful but beautiful spectacle.

Both armies, ready to mingle in a hand-to-hand combat, halted and
hesitated.

"Fire! fire! Witichis, King Witichis!" shouted a horseman, who came
galloping from the city; "it burns!"

"We see it. Let it burn, Markja! First fight and then extinguish."

"No, no, sire; all the granaries burn! The grain flies in myriads of
sparks through the air."

"The granaries are burning!" cried Goths and Byzantines.

Witichis had no heart to ask questions.

"The lightning must have kindled the interior long ago. It is quite
burnt out. Look! look!"

A stronger gust of wind fanned the fire, which flamed up higher than
ever. The flames caught the nearest roofs, and, at the same time, the
wooden ridge of the lofty building seemed to fall, for, after a heavy
crash, the sparks shot up thicker than ever.

It was a sea of fire.

Witichis tried to lift his hand to give an order--but his arm fell,
faint and powerless. Cethegus saw it.

"Now!" he cried; "now let us assault!"

"No; halt!" thundered Belisarius. "He who lifts his sword is the
Emperor's enemy and dies! Back to the camp--all. Now Ravenna is mine!
To-morrow it will fall without a struggle."

His troops obeyed him and drew back.

Cethegus was in a fury. He alone was too weak to oppose the order. He
was obliged to yield.

His plans were ruined. He had wished to take the city by storm in
order--as he had done in Rome--to take possession of its principal
defences. And he foresaw that it would be now delivered completely into
the hand of Belisarius. He led his troops away in disgust.

But the events which actually occurred afterwards, were very different
to what either the Prefect or Belisarius had expected.



                              CHAPTER XXI.

The King had left the breach in the wall and the Tower of Ætius to the
care of Hildebad, and hurried at once to the place of the
conflagration.

When he arrived he found the fire dying out--but merely for want of
more combustibles.

The whole contents of the magazines, together with the wooden walls and
roofs, and everything that could burn, had been destroyed; not a
remnant of corn nor a splinter of wood was left. The naked smoke and
soot-blackened stone walls of the marble Circus alone still rose into
the sky. Not a sign of its having been struck by lightning could be
seen. The fire must have glimmered for some time after the lightning
had kindled the woodwork, and spread slowly and unseen through the
interior of the building; and when smoke and flame had burst through
the apertures in the roof, it was too late to save the structure. The
inhabitants had enough to do to save the neighbouring houses, of which
many had already caught fire in various places.

The rain, which began to fall shortly before daybreak, came to their
assistance. The wind, thunder and lightning had ceased; but when the
sun broke through the clouds it only illumined, instead of the
granaries, a miserable heap of rubbish and ashes in the middle of the
marble Circus.

The King leaned against one of the pillars of the Basilica, sadly and
silently looking at the ruins.

For a long time he stood motionless, only sometimes he drew his mantle
more closely over his heaving chest.

A painful resolution was ripening in his soul, which seemed to have
become as still as the grave.

But round about him the place was full of the misery of the poor people
of Ravenna, who prayed, scolded, wept and cursed.

"Oh! what will now become of us?"--"Oh, how sweet and good and white
was the bread which we received but yesterday!"--"What shall we eat
now?"--"Bah, the King must help us."--"Yes, the King must give us
bread."--"The King? Ah, the poor man! where will he get it?"--"He has
no more."--"That's another thing!"--"He alone has brought us to this
pass!"--"It is his fault!"--"Why did he not surrender the city to the
Emperor long ago?"--"Yes, to its rightful master!"--"Curses on the
barbarians! It is all their fault!"--"No, no, it is only the
King's fault!"--"Do you not understand? It is a punishment from
God!"--"Punishment? Why? What wrong has he done? Has he not given bread
to the people?"--"Then you do not know? How can a bigamist deserve the
grace of God? The wicked man has two wives. He lusted for the beauty of
Mataswintha, and did not rest until she became his. He put away his
lawful wife."

Witichis indignantly descended the steps.

He was disgusted with the people.

But they recognised him.

"There is the King! How gloomy he looks!" they called to each other,
avoiding him.

"Oh, I don't fear him! I fear hunger more than his anger. Give us
bread. King Witichis! Do you hear? We are starving!" cried a ragged old
man, catching at the King's mantle.

"Bread, King!"

"Good King, bread!"

"We are in despair!"

"Help us!"

And the crowd gathered round him with wild gestures.

Quietly but decisively the King freed himself.

"Have patience," he said gravely; "before the sun sets you shall have
bread."

And he hurried to his room.

There a Roman physician and some of Mataswintha's attendants awaited
him.

"Sire," said the physician, "the Queen, your wife, is very sick. The
terrors of last night have disturbed her mind. She speaks as if in
delirium. Will you not see her?"

"Not now. Have a care of her."

"With an air of great distress and anxiety she gave me this key," added
the physician. "It appeared to be the principal subject of her
wandering speeches. She took it from under her pillow, and she made me
swear to give it into your own hands, as it was of great importance."

With a bitter smile the King took the key and threw it on one side.

"It is no longer of importance. Go; leave me: and send my secretary."

An hour later, Procopius admitted Cethegus into the tent of the
commander-in-chief.

As he entered, Belisarius, who was pacing to and fro with hasty steps,
cried out:

"This comes of your plans, Prefect--of your arts and lies! I always
said that lies are the source of ruin. I do not understand such ways!
Oh, why did I follow your advice? Now I am in great straits!"

"What mean these virtuous speeches?" Cethegus asked Procopius.

The latter handed him a letter.

"Bead. These barbarians are unfathomable in their grand simplicity.
They conquer the devil by virtue of their childlike minds. Read."

And Cethegus read with amazement:


"'Yesterday thou didst acquaint me with three things: that the Franks
had betrayed me; that thou, allied with them, wilt wrest the West from
the ungrateful Emperor; and that thou offerest the Goths a free
departure, unarmed, over the Alps. Yesterday I answered that the Goths
would never give up their arms, nor Italy, the conquest and inheritance
of their great King, and that I would rather fall here with my whole
army than do so. This I answered yesterday. I say so still, although
earth, air, fire, and water are allied against me. But last night, as I
watched the flames which were devouring my stores, I felt sure of what
I have long dimly suspected. That a curse lies upon me. For my sake the
Goths perish. This shall go on no longer. The crown upon my head has
hitherto prevented me from taking an honourable course; it shall
prevent me no longer. Thou art right to rebel against the false and
ungrateful Justinian! He is our enemy and thine. Well then--instead of
placing thy confidence in an army of faithless Franks, place it in the
whole Gothic nation, whose strength and fidelity are known to thee!
With the first thou wouldst share Italy; with us thou canst keep it
all. Let me be the first to greet thee as Emperor of the West and King
of the Goths. All the rights of my people remain untouched; thou simply
takest my place. I myself will set my crown upon thy head, and verily,
no Justinian shall then tear it from thee! If thou rejectest this
offer, prepare for such a battle as thou hast never yet fought. I will
break into thy camp with fifty thousand Goths. We shall fall, but with
us thy whole army. The one and the other. I have sworn it. Choose.

                                                     "'WITICHIS.'"

For one moment the Prefect was terribly alarmed. He cast a swift and
searching look at Belisarius.

But a single glance sufficed to set him at ease.

"It is Belisarius," he said to himself, "but it is always dangerous to
play with the devil. What A temptation!"

He returned the letter, and said with a smile: "What an idea! To what
strange things can desperation lead!"

"The idea would not be bad," observed Procopius, "if----"

"If Belisarius were not Belisarius," said Cethegus, smiling.

"Spare your smiles," said Belisarius. "I admire the man, and I cannot
take it amiss that he thinks I am capable of revolt. Have I not
pretended to be so?" and he stamped his foot. "Now advise and help me!
You have led me to this miserable alternative. I cannot say yes; and if
I say no--I may look upon the Emperor's army as annihilated, and, into
the bargain, must confess that I pretended to revolt!"

Cethegus reflected in silence, slowly stroking his chin with his left
hand. Suddenly a thought seemed to flash across his mind. A ray of joy
beautified his face.

"In this way I can ruin them both," he said to himself.

At this moment he was exceedingly contented with himself.

But first he wished to make sure of Belisarius.

"Reasonably, you can only do one of two things," he said hesitatingly.

"Speak: I see neither the one nor the other."

"Either really accept----"

"Prefect!" cried Belisarius in a rage, and put his hand on his sword.
Procopius caught his arm in alarm. "Not another such word, Cethegus, if
you value your life!"

"Or," continued Cethegus quietly, "seem to accept. Enter Ravenna
without a stroke of the sword, and send the Gothic crown, together with
the Gothic King, to Byzantium."

"That is splendid!" cried Procopius.

"It is treason!" cried Belisarius.

"It is both," said Cethegus calmly.

"I could never look a Goth in the face again!"

"It will not be necessary. You will take the King a prisoner to
Byzantium. The disarmed nation will cease to be a nation."

"No, no, I will not do it."

"Good. Then let your whole army make its will. Farewell, Belisarius. I
go to Rome. I have not the least desire to see fifty thousand Goths
fighting in despair. And how Emperor Justinian will praise the
destroyer of his best army!"

"It is a terrible alternative!" cried Belisarius.

Cethegus slowly approached him.

"Belisarius," he said, with a voice which seemed to come from his very
heart, "you have often held me to be your enemy. And I am, in some
sort, your adversary. But who can be near Belisarius in the field of
battle and not admire him!" His manner had a suavity and solemnity
seldom seen in the sarcastic Prefect. Belisarius was touched, and even
Procopius wondered. "I am your friend whenever possible. In this case I
will prove my friendship by giving you good advice. Do you believe me,
Belisarius?"

And he laid his left hand upon the heroes shoulder, and offered him his
right, looking frankly into his eyes.

"Yes," said Belisarius. "Who can mistrust such a look!"

"See, Belisarius! Never has a noble man had such a distrustful master
as yours. The Emperor's last letter is the greatest offence to your
fidelity."

"Heaven knows it!"

"And never has a man"--here he took both the hands of Belisarius--"had
a more splendid opportunity to put ignoble mistrust to shame, to
revenge himself gloriously, and to prove his fidelity. You are accused
of aspiring to the Empire of the West! By God, you have it in your
power! Enter Ravenna--let Goths and Italians do you homage and place a
double crown upon your head. Ravenna yours, with your blindly devoted
army, the Goths and Italians--truly you are unassailable. Justinian
will tremble before Belisarius, and his haughty Narses will be but a
straw against your strength. But you--who have all this in your
hand--you will lay all the glory and the power at your master's feet
and say: 'Behold, Justinian, Belisarius would rather be your servant,
than ruler of the Western Empire.' So gloriously, Belisarius, has
fidelity never yet been proved upon earth."

Cethegus had hit the mark. The general's eyes flashed.

"You are right, Cethegus. Come to my heart. I thank you. It is nobly
thought. O Justinian, you shall blush with shame!"

Cethegus withdrew from the embrace, and went to the door.

"Poor Witichis," whispered Procopius, as he passed; "he is sacrificed
to this masterpiece of truth! Now he is indeed lost."

"Yes," said Cethegus, "he is lost most surely."

Outside the tent he added, as he threw his mantle over his shoulder:

"But you, Belisarius, more surely still!"


Arrived at his quarters, he found Lucius Licinius in full armour.

"Well, general!" asked Lucius. "The city has not yet surrendered. When
shall we fight?"

"The war is over, my Lucius. Doff your arms and gird yourself for a
journey. This very day you must carry some private letters for me."

"To whom?"

"To the Emperor and Empress."

"In Byzantium?"

"No. Fortunately they are quite near, at the Baths of Epidaurus.
Hasten! In fifteen days you must be back again. Not half a day later.
The fate of Italy awaits your return."

As soon as Procopius brought the answer of Belisarius to the Gothic
King, the latter summoned to his palace the leaders of the army, the
principal Goths, and a number of trustworthy freemen, and communicated
to them what had happened, demanding their acquiescence.

At first they were exceedingly surprised, and complete silence followed
his words.

At last Duke Guntharis, looking at the King with emotion, said:

"The last of thy royal deeds, Witichis, is as noble, yea, nobler than
all thy former acts. I shall ever regret having once opposed thee.
Long since I swore in my heart to atone by blindly obeying thee. And
truly--in this case thou alone canst decide; for thy sacrifice is the
greatest--a crown! But if another than thou shalt be King--the
Wölfung's can better endure to serve a stranger, a Belisarius, than
some other Goth. So I agree to what thou sayest, and tell thee that
thou hast acted well and nobly."

"And I say no! a thousand times no!" cried Hildebad. "Think what you
do. A stranger at the head of the Goths!"

"Have not other Germans done the same before us--Quadians; Herulians,
and Markomannians?" said Witichis calmly. "Even our most glorious
Kings--even Theodoric? They served the Emperor and received land in
exchange. So runs the treaty with Emperor Zeno, by which Theodoric took
possession of Italy. I do not count Belisarius less than Zeno, and
myself, truly, not better than Theodoric!"

"Yes, if it were Justinian," interposed Guntharis.

"Never would I submit to the false and cowardly tyrant!" cried
Hildebad.

"But Belisarius is a hero--canst thou deny it? Hast thou forgotten how
he thrust thee off thy horse?"

"May the thunder strike me if I forget it! It is the only thing in him
which has ever pleased me."

"And fortune is with him, as misfortune is with me. We shall be as free
as before, and only fight his battles against Byzantium. We shall be
revenged on our common enemy."

Almost all those present now agreed with the King.

"Well, I cannot contradict you in words," said Hildebad; "my tongue has
ever been more clumsy than my sword. But I feel sure that you are
wrong. Had we but the Black Earl here, he would say what I can only
feel. May you never regret this step! But permit me to quit this
monstrous kingdom. I will never live under Belisarius. I will go in
search of adventures. With a shield and spear and a strong hand, a man
can go a great way."

Witichis hoped to change the intention of his trusty comrade in private
conversation. At present he continued to carry forward that which he
had at heart.

"You must know," he said, "that first of all Belisarius has made it a
condition that nothing should be published until he has occupied
Ravenna. It is to be feared that some of his leaders, with their
troops, will hear nothing of a rebellion against Belisarius. These, as
well as the suspicious quarters of Ravenna, must be surrounded by the
Goths and the trustworthy adherents of Belisarius before all is made
known."

"Take care," said Hildebad, "that you yourselves do not fall into a
trap! We Goths should not try to spin such spiders' toils. It is as if
a bear should try to dance on a rope--he would fall, sooner or later.
Farewell--and may this business turn out better than I expect. I go to
take leave of my brother. He, if I know him, will soon reconcile
himself to this Roman-Gothic State. But Black Teja, I think, will go
away with me."

In the evening a report ran through the city that terms of capitulation
had been made and accepted. The conditions were unknown. But it was
certain that Belisarius, at the desire of the King, had sent large
stores of bread, meat, and wine into Ravenna, which were distributed
amongst the poor.

"He has kept his word!" cried the people; and blessed the name of the
King.

Witichis now asked after the health of the Queen, and learned that she
was gradually recovering.

"Patience," he said, taking a deep breath; "she also will soon be at
liberty, and rid of me!"

It was already growing dark, when a strong company of mounted Goths
made their way through the city to the breach at the Tower of Ætius.

A tall horseman went first. Then came a group, carrying a heavy burden,
hidden by cloths and mantles, upon their crossed lances. Then the rest
of the men in full armour.

"Unbolt the gate!" cried the leader; "we want to go out."

"Is it thou, Hildebad?" asked Earl Wisand, who commanded the watch, and
he gave the order to open the gate. "Dost thou know that to-morrow the
city will surrender? Whither wilt thou go?"

"To freedom!" cried Hildebad; and spurred his horse forward.



                             CHAPTER XXII.

Many days passed before Mataswintha fully recovered from the delirium
of fever and the uneasy slumbers, haunted by terrible dreams, which
followed.

She had become dull and impassive to all that passed around her, taking
no interest in the great changes which were in preparation. She
appeared to have no other feeling than that of the enormity of her
crime. The triumphal exultation which she had felt while rushing
through the night with her torch, had given place to devouring remorse,
horror, and dread.

At the moment of committing the wicked deed, the earthquake had thrown
her upon her knees, and in her excitement, in the pang of awakening
conscience, she thought that the very earth was rising up against her,
and that the judgment of Heaven was about to fall upon her guilty head.

And when, on reaching her chamber, she presently saw the flames, which
her own hand had kindled, reddening all the sky; when she heard the
cries and lamentations of Ravennese and Goths; the flames seemed to
scorch her heart and every cry to call down curses upon her.

She lost her senses; she was overwhelmed by the consequences of her
deed.

When she came to herself and gradually recollected all that had passed,
her hatred of the King was completely spent. Her soul was bowed down;
she was filled with deep remorse; and a terrible fear of ever having to
appear before him again came upon her, for she well knew, and now heard
from all sides, that the destruction of the magazines would oblige the
King to surrender to his enemies.

Himself she did not see. Even when he found a moment in which to ask
personally after her health, she had conjured the astonished Aspa on no
account to let him approach her, although she had left her couch many
days ago, and had frequently admitted the poor of the city; had,
indeed, invited the sufferers to apply to her for help.

At such times she had given the provisions intended for herself and her
attendants to the poor with her own hands, and divided amongst them her
jewels and gold with unlimited generosity.

It was one of these visits that she was expecting, after having been
petitioned by a man in a brown mantle and steel cap to grant a private
audience to a poor woman of her nation. "She has a message which
concerns the King. She has to warn you of some treachery which
threatens his crown and perhaps his life," the man had said.

Mataswintha at once granted his request.

Even if it were a mistake, an excuse, she could now never more refuse
to admit any one who came with a message concerning the King's safety.
She ordered the woman to come at sunset.

The sun had gone down.

In the south there is almost no twilight, and it was nearly dark when a
slave beckoned to the woman, who had been waiting in the court for some
time, to come forward.

The Queen, sick and sleepless during the night, had only fallen asleep
at the eighth hour. She had just awoke, and was very weak.
Notwithstanding, she would receive the woman, because she said her
message concerned the King.

"But is that really true?" inquired the slave----it was Aspa. "I should
not like to disturb my mistress without cause. If you only want gold,
say so freely; you shall have as much as you wish--only spare my
mistress. Does it really concern the King?"

"It does."

With a sigh, Aspa led the woman into the Queen's chamber.

The form of Mataswintha, clad in light white garments, her head and
hair covered by a folded kerchief, was relieved against the dark
background of the spacious chamber, lying upon a couch, near which
stood a round table in mosaic. The golden lamp, which was fixed to the
wall above the table, shed a faint light.

Mataswintha rose and seated herself, with an air of fatigue, upon the
edge of her couch.

"Draw near," she said to the woman. "Thy message concerns the King? Why
dost thou hesitate? Speak!"

The woman pointed at Aspa.

"She is silent and faithful."

"She is a woman."

At a sign from the Queen, the slave reluctantly left the room.

"Daughter of the Amelungs, I know that nothing but the strait in which
the kingdom stood, and not love, led thee to Witichis.--(How lovely she
is, although pale as death!)--Yet thou art the Queen of the Goths--his
Queen--and even if thou dost not love him, his kingdom, his triumph,
must be all in all to thee."

Mataswintha grasped the gilded arm of her couch.

"So thinks every beggar in the nation!" she sighed.

"To the King I cannot speak, for special reasons," continued the woman.
"Therefore I speak to thee whose province it is to succour and warn him
against treason. Listen to me." And she drew nearer, looking keenly at
the Queen.--"How strange," she said to herself; "what similarity of
form!"

"Treason! still more treason?"

"So thou too suspectest treason?"

"It is no matter. From whom? From Byzantium? From without? From the
Prefect?"

"No," the woman answered, shaking her head. "Not from without; from
within. Not from a man; from a woman."

"What dost thou say?" asked Mataswintha, turning still paler. "How can
a woman----"

"Injure the hero? In the devilish wickedness of her heart. Not openly,
but by cunning and treachery; perhaps with secret poison, as has
already happened; perhaps with secret fire."

"Hold!"

Mataswintha, who had just risen, staggered back to the table and leaned
upon it. But the woman followed her and whispered softly:

"I must tell thee of an incredible, shameful act! The King and the
people believe that the lightning set the magazines on fire, but I know
better. And _he_ shall know it. He shall be warned by _thee_, so that
he may discover the rank offender. That night I saw a torch-light
passing through the galleries of the magazines, and it was carried by a
woman. _Her_ hand cast it amongst the stores! Thou shudderest? Yes, a
_woman_. Wherefore wilt thou go? Hear one other word, and I will leave
thee. The name? I do not know it. But the woman fell just at my feet,
and, recovering, escaped; but as she went, she lost a sign and means of
recognition--this snake of emeralds."

And the woman held up a bracelet in the light of the lamp.

Mataswintha, tortured to death, started upright. She held both arms
over her face. The hasty movement disturbed her kerchief. Her red-gold
hair fell over her shoulders, and through the hair gleamed a golden
bracelet with an emerald snake, which encircled her left arm.

The woman saw it and screamed:

"Ha! by the God of the faithful! It was thou--thou thyself! _His_
Queen--his _wife_ has betrayed him! He shall know it! Curses upon
thee!"

With a piercing cry, Mataswintha fell back upon her couch and buried
her face in the cushions.

The scream brought Aspa from the adjoining room. But when she entered,
the Queen was alone.

The curtain of the door still rustled. The beggar had disappeared.



                             CHAPTER XXIII.

The next morning Procopius, Johannes, Demetrius, Bessas, Acacius,
Vitalius, and many other Byzantine leaders arrived in the city, and, to
the great astonishment of the Ravennese, entered the King's palace.

They assembled there to take counsel as to particular stipulations, and
to decide upon the form of surrender.

Meanwhile the Goths heard only that peace was concluded. The two
principal considerations, for the sake of which they had endured all
the grievous war, were obtained. They would be free, and remain in
undisturbed possession of the lovely Southland, which had become so
dear to them. That was far more than could have been expected,
considering the desperate state at which the Gothic cause had arrived
since the retreat from Rome and the inevitable loss of Ravenna; and the
heads of the great families, and other influential men in the army, who
were now made acquainted with the intentions of Belisarius, were
completely satisfied with the conditions agreed upon.

The few who refused acquiescence were freely allowed to depart from
Ravenna and Italy.

But, apart from this, the Gothic army in Ravenna had already been
dispersed in all directions.

Witichis saw that it was impossible to feed the Gothic army and the
population, as well as the hosts of Belisarius, from the produce of the
exhausted land; he therefore agreed to the proposal of Belisarius, that
the Goths, in companies of a hundred or a thousand, should be led out
of the gates of the city and dismissed in all directions to their
native places.

Belisarius feared the outbreak of despair when the terrible treachery
practised should become known, and he therefore wished for the speedy
dispersal of the disbanded army. Once in Ravenna, he hoped to be able
to quell any possible rebellion in the open country without difficulty.

Tarvisium, Verona, and Ticinum, the last strongholds of the Goths in
Italy, could not then, for any length of time, resist the forces which
would be sent against them.

The execution of these measures was the work of many days. Only when
very few Goths were left in Ravenna did Belisarius decide upon entering
the city. And even of the few who remained, half were transferred to
the Byzantine camp, the other half being divided amongst the different
quarters of the city, under the pretext of being ready to crush any
possible resistance on the part of Justinian's adherents.

But what surprised the Ravennese and the uninitiated Goths the most
was, that the blue Gothic flag still waved upon the roof of the palace.
Certainly it was guarded by a Byzantine instead of by a Gothic
sentinel. For the palace was already full of Byzantines.

Belisarius had taken particular measures against any attempt of the
Prefect to make himself master of the city, as he had done of Rome.

Cethegus saw through this and smiled. He did nothing to prevent it.

On the morning of the day appointed for the entrance, Cethegus entered
the tent of Belisarius, clad in a magnificent suit of armour. He found
only Procopius.

"Are you ready!" he asked.

"Perfectly."

"At what time shall it take place?"

"At the moment when the King mounts his horse in the courtyard of the
palace in order to ride to meet Belisarius. We have thought of
everything."

"Once more of everything!" said Cethegus, with a laugh. "Yet one thing
you have left to me. It is certain that as soon as our plan has
succeeded and become known, that the barbarians all over the country
will fly into a rage. Revenge and compassion for their King may cause
them to commit furious deeds. But all their enthusiasm for Witichis and
anger against us would be nipped in the bud; they would consider
themselves betrayed by their King, and not by us, if we could get him
to sign a document to the purport that he did not surrender the city to
Belisarius as the King of the Goths and a rebel against the Emperor,
but simply to Justinian's commander-in-chief. Then the revolt of
Belisarius, which will actually not take place, would seem to the Goths
to have been a mere lie invented by their King in order to hide from
them the shame of the surrender."

"That would be excellent; but Witichis will not do it."

"_Knowingly_, scarcely; but perhaps unknowingly. He has only signed the
treaty in the original yet?"

"He has signed only once."

"And the document is in his possession? Good. I will make him sign the
duplicate which I have drawn up, so that Belisarius also may possess
the valuable document."

Procopius looked at it.

"If he sign this, then, indeed, not a Goth will raise his sword in his
defence. But----"

"Let me manage the 'buts.' Either he will voluntarily sign it to-day,
unread, under pressure of the moment----"

"Or?"

"Or," concluded Cethegus gloomily, "he will sign it later, against his
will. I will now go before you. Excuse me if I do not assist at your
triumphal procession. Many congratulations to Belisarius."

But as he turned to go, Belisarius himself entered the tent, unarmed,
and looking very sullen. He was followed by Antonina.

"Hasten, general," cried Procopius, "Ravenna waits for her conqueror.
The entrance----"

"Speak not of it!" cried Belisarius angrily. "I regret the whole
affair! Recall the soldiers!"

Cethegus remained standing at the entrance of the tent.

"Belisarius!" cried Procopius, horrified, "what demon has put you into
this temper?"

"I!" said Antonina proudly. "What do you say now?"

"I say that great statesmen have no business with wives," cried
Procopius angrily.

"Belisarius told me your intentions only last night," said Antonina,
"and with tears----"

"Of course!" grumbled Procopius. "Tears always come when wanted."

"With tears I prayed him to refrain. I cannot bear to see my hero so
spotted with black treachery."

"And I will not be so," said Belisarius. "Rather would I ride into
Orcus a prisoner, than as _such_ a conqueror into Ravenna! My letters
to the Emperor have not yet been sent away--so there is still time----"

"No!" cried Cethegus imperiously, coming forward from the doorway,
"fortunately for you there is _not_ still time. I wrote to the Emperor
eight days ago, told him all, and congratulated him on his general's
having won Ravenna and put an end to the war without the slightest
loss."

"Indeed, Prefect!" cried Belisarius. "You are very ready! Wherefore
this zeal?"

"Because I know Belisarius and his wavering mind. Because you must be
_forced_ into taking advantage of your good fortune, and because I wish
to make an end to this war which so cruelly devastates my Italy!"

And he approached Antonina threateningly, who again could not avoid the
demonic fascination of his glance.

"Dare it! try it now! Dare to retreat, to undeceive Witichis, and
sacrifice Ravenna, Italy, and your whole army to a whim of your wife!
Then see if Justinian would ever forgive you! On Antonina's soul the
guilt! Hark! the trumpets sound! Arm yourself! There is no choice!"

And he hurried out.

Antonina looked after him in dismay.

"Procopius," she asked, "does the Emperor really know it already?"

"Even if he did not, too many are initiated into our secret. In all
cases he would learn afterwards that Ravenna and Italy were his,
and--that Belisarius strove for the Gothic and the imperial crown.
Nothing can justify Belisarius in the Emperor's eyes, except the fact
of gaining Ravenna, and delivering it to Justinian."

"Yes," said Belisarius, sighing, "he is right. I have no choice left."

"Then go!" said Antonina, intimidated. "But excuse me from accompanying
you. It is no triumph, but a laying of a trap."


The population of Ravenna, although in the dark as to the particular
conditions, were still certain that peace was concluded, and the long
and terrible suffering they had endured at an end. In their joy at this
deliverance, the citizens had cleared away the ruins caused by the
earthquake in many of the streets, and had festively decorated the
city.

Wreaths, flags, and carpets were hung out; the people crowded the
forums, the canals of the lagoons, and the baths and basilicas, curious
to see the hero, Belisarius, and the army which had so long threatened
their walls, and had, at last, overcome the barbarians.

Already some divisions of the Byzantine army marched proudly through
the gates, while the scattered and scanty Gothic patrols beheld, in
silence and indignation, the entrance of their hated enemies into the
residence of Theodoric.

The Gothic nobles assembled in a hall in the gaily-decorated palace,
near the apartment of the King.

The latter, as the hour for the entrance of Belisarius approached,
prepared to don his royal garments--with great contentment, for it was
the last time that he would ever wear the signs of a dignity which had
brought him nothing but pain and wretchedness.

"Go, Duke Guntharis," he said to the Wölfung, "Hildebad, my faithless
chamberlain, has left me; thou, therefore, must take his place. The
attendant will show thee the golden chest which contains the crown,
helm, and purple mantle, the sword and shield of Theodoric. To-day, for
the first and last time, I will array myself in them, in order to
deliver them to a hero who will wear them not unworthily. What noise is
that?"

"Sire," answered Earl Wisand, "it is a Gothic woman. She has tried to
force her way in thrice already. Send her away!"

"No; tell her I will listen to her later. She shall ask for me this
evening at the palace."

As Guntharis left the room, Bessas entered with Cethegus.

The Prefect had given Bessas--without initiating him into the
secret--the duplicate of the capitulation, which the King had yet to
sign. He thought that Witichis would take the document more
unsuspiciously from an innocent hand.

Witichis greeted them as they entered; but at the sight of the Prefect
there passed a shadow across his countenance, which had before been
brighter than for many months. But he forced himself to say:

"You here, Prefect of Rome? The war has ended very differently to what
we expected! However, you may be satisfied. At least no Grecian
Emperor, no Justinian, will rule over your Rome."

"And shall not, as long as I live."

"I come, King of the Goths," interrupted Bessas, "to lay before you the
treaty with Belisarius, in order that you may sign it."

"I have already done so."

"It is the duplicate intended for my master."

"Then give it me," said Witichis, and stretched out his hand to take
it.

But before he could do so, Duke Guntharis hurried into the room with
the attendant.

"Witichis," he cried, "the royal insignia have disappeared!"

"What sayest thou?" asked Witichis. "Hildebad alone kept the key!"

"The golden chest and other chests are gone. Within the empty niche,
where they usually stood, lay this strip of parchment. The characters
are those of Hildebad's secretary."

The King took it and read:

"'Crown, helm and sword, purple and shield of Theodoric are in my care.
If Belisarius will have them, he may fetch them.' The Runic character
H-- for Hildebad!"

"He must be followed until he yield them up," cried Cethegus.

At this moment Demetrius and Johannes hurried in.

"Make haste. King Witichis," they cried. "Do you hear the trumpets?
Belisarius has already reached the Gate of Stilicho."

"Then let us go," said Witichis, allowing his attendant to place the
purple mantle, which they had brought instead of the missing one, upon
his shoulders, and pressing a golden coronet upon his head. Instead of
the sword, a sceptre was handed to him; and thus adorned, he turned to
the door.

"You have not yet signed, King," said Bessas.

"Give it to me," and now Witichis took the parchment from the hand of
the Byzantine. "The document is very long," he said, glancing over it;
and then began to read.

"Haste, King," said Johannes.

"There is no time to read it," said Cethegus, with an indifferent
voice, and took a reed-pen from the table.

"Then there is no time to sign it," said the King. "You know I am the
'_Peasant_-King,' as the people call me. And a peasant never signs a
letter before he has read to what he commits himself. Let us go," and,
smiling, he gave the document to the Prefect and left the room.

Bessas and all present followed, except Cethegus. Cethegus crushed the
document in his hand.

"Wait!" he whispered furiously. "You shall yet sign!" And he slowly
followed the others.

The hall leading to the King's apartment was already empty. The Prefect
went into the vaulted gallery which ran round the quadrangle of the
first story of the palace. The Byzantine-Roman arches afforded a free
outlook into the large courtyard. It was filled with armed men. At all
the four doors were placed the Persian lance-bearers of Belisarius.

Cethegus leaned against an archway and, watching the course of events,
spoke to himself.

"Well, there are Byzantines enough to take a small army prisoner!
Friend Procopius is prudent. There! Witichis appears at the door. His
Goths are still far behind upon the staircase. The King's horse is led
forward. Bessas holds the stirrups. Witichis is close to it; he lifts
his foot. Now comes a blast of trumpets. The door of the staircase is
closed and the Goths shut into the palace! Procopius tears down the
Gothic flag on the roof. Johannes takes the King's right arm--bravo,
Johannes! The King defends himself valiantly--but his long mantle
hinders him--he staggers! He falls to the ground! There lies the
kingdom of the Goths!"


"There lies the kingdom of the Goths!" with these words Procopius also
concluded the sentences which he wrote down in his diary that night.

"To-day I have assisted in making an important piece of history," he
wrote, "and will take note of it to-night. When I saw the imperial army
enter the gates and the King's palace of Ravenna, I thought that indeed
it is not always merit, virtue, or number that ensures success. There
is a higher power, inevitable necessity. In number and heroism the
Goths were superior to us, and they did not fail in every possible
exertion. The Gothic women in Ravenna scolded their husbands to their
faces when they saw the slight forms, the small number of our troops as
they marched in. Summa: in the most righteous cause, with the most
heroic efforts, a man or a nation may succumb, if superior powers,
which have not always the better right on their side, oppose him. My
heart beat with a sense of wrong as I tore down the Gothic flag and set
the golden Dragon of Justinian in its place, as I raised the flag of
evil above the flag of righteousness. Not justice, but a necessity
which is inscrutable, rules the fate of men and nations. But that does
not confuse a true man. For not _what_ we do, live, or suffer--_how_ we
do or bear it, makes a man a hero. The Goths' defeat is more honourable
than our victory. And the hand which tore down their banner will
chronicle the fame of this people for future generations.
Notwithstanding, however that may be--there lies the kingdom of the
Goths!"

FOOTNOTE:
[Footnote 1: Procopius, in his "Wars of the Goths," vol. i., pp. 7, 18,
places here, in mistake, the Tiber instead of the Anio.]



                            END OF VOL. II.



             BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS, GUILDFORD, SURREY.

                                                      _H. L. & Co._





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